First Published: In Struggle! No. 274, December 1, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Our cell is active in internationalist support in Toronto. Recently we organized the first of a series of discussion meetings to prepare the 4th Congress. The subject selected for this first discussion was “the cause of the political crisis in IS!”. In a departure from the past, two people were asked to give presentations, followed by a free debate.
According to one of the speaker, a member of the Ontario regional committee, there were two immediate events which sparked the crisis: the research into the history of socialism started by IS!, and the opening up toward the masses which revealed our inability to answer many questions.
The basic and underlying cause of the crisis, however, goes back much further to the actual adherence of IS! to Marxism-Leninism: adherence to an international current of opinion and body of principles. One of the main political bases of the M-L movement of the 1960’s and 70’s was the conclusion that the setback in the USSR was caused by betrayal by its leaders. This has led the M-L movements to seek for the purity of principles as the solution to political problems.
IS! has not fallen into the worst excesses of dogmatism. But our desire to be democratic and to do concrete political analysis have been in constant conflict with our adherence to Marxism-Leninism. The organization has experienced this conflict for many years, but it has now reached the explosive point.
The second speaker, an activist in the Latin American support movement, agreed that Marxism-Leninism was a dogmatic trend in the world revolutionary movement. This dogmatism she felt, has had a strong effect on democracy in the organization.
In IS’ the development of political line has been very centralized, and far from the base of the organization and the practical work. As a result, the line has developed according to the logic of an intellectual process, rather than in response to the requirements of our practice. Theory is produced as a complex whole by the leadership, which must then be “assimilated” and spread by the base. Theoretical work becomes something “terrible”, something apart from practice for the members.
Another consequence of our adherence to Marxism-Leninism is that we have created a very highly structured and sophisticated Organization before the basis was laid in the masses, and before such an organization was a necessity arising out of the needs of our mass work. Our leaders are leaders only “inside” the organization because they have the whole complex structure to bear, and they have little time left to be leaders in the masses.
The organization we have built was seen as valid in relation to itself and in relation to organizational principles. Instead, our main objective should be to build the revolutionary movement in the masses. We should draw from those organizational principles what is useful to do this.
In the following discussion, most cell members agreed with the criticisms of IN STRUGGLE!’s past contained in the article by the newspaper editors (No. 267). At the same time, most everyone disagreed with the article’s specific conclusion that our objective should be a broad left organization. Some felt that it was just an intellectual desire, and that our common practice with other left forces showed it would be a practical impossibility. Others said that this type of broad organization, even if practical. could not offer the type of revolutionnary leadership needed.
It is vital to develop revolutionary theory now, most speakers agreed, to answer the questions posed by the crisis of Marxism-Leninism. But there was also consensus that we need a new approach. We cannot develop sound theory unless the organization is deeply involved in the people’s struggles, and the theoretical work is based on the experiences and problems arising out of our mass work.
When the discussion turned to the stakes of the Congress, there was not a common evaluation of the Programme among members of the cell. Some felt that the Programme was still basically sound, although in need of some modifications. According to others, the debate so far has shattered the basis of the Programme. It no longer reflects the organization’s political unity and must be fundamentally rethought.
For this correspondent, who has been feeling very discouraged recently in the face of all the questions and the weak debate, the meeting was very encouraging, a feeling which seemed to be shared by others.