First Published: In Struggle! No. 286, May 4, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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About 50 activists met over the April 24-25 weekend to review the international support work done by IN STRUGGLE!.
People gave numerous examples of good work that had been done. But one issue kept coming up: how should we link up support for struggles with our communist work? The views expressed by the two persons interviewed below reflect the two main approaches to this issue.
Another biggie: did the plan we advanced for uniting the communist movement internationally really take account of the state of the revolutionary forces around the world? One answer to this question was that, despite the good things we did, our narrow approach prevented us from developing contact with a whole range of revolutionary forces which often had more mass influence than the ML groups we confined ourselves to. A second answer was that our objective of unity remains valid and that the work should not be abandoned just because we were idealist in the past.
There was a lot of talk in the workshops about our sectarianism. Some argued that our way of looking at struggles mainly in terms of political lines and political organizations often resulted in our taking a stand of conditional support where there was excessive focus on differences and demarcations. Others responded by defending the approach: political action necessarily takes the form of parties and organizations: an organization like ours has to make choices and give high priority to debate and demarcation.
The issue of women’s struggles was a major topic of discussion in the closing plenary. Most participants agreed that international support work was an important avenue for contacting immigrant women. Not to speak of the function it plays in educating women here about the struggles of other peoples, the condition of women in underdeveloped countries etc. Many people warned that the Canadian feminist movement should not try to impose the demands of Canadian women on women in societies fighting for national liberation. The demands of the struggle might or might not lead to the women’s struggle being subordinated, depending on the concrete situation. Others emphasized that recognizing this should not be used to justify ignoring the specific dynamics of each struggle. Indeed, national liberation movements give rise to a whole series of struggles, the women’s struggle being prominent among them. It should not be automatically assumed that if and when women’s demands are downgraded it is because of the overriding demands of the national struggle.
The interviews below express the two approaches to what and how we should be doing international work after the 4th Congress aired in the closing plenary.
To sum up, although the turnout was disappointing, it was a good conference. There were lively exchanges of views that will provide grist for preparing for the 4th Congress.
The following interview asks the same three questions of two comrades: Mario Rosende, member of a Montreal cell doing work among national minorities; and Pierre Hebert, national staff journalist on international affairs.
1. Q. Do you think that IN STRUGGLE! gave high enough priority to international support work in the past?
Mario: IN STRUGGLE! has always been active in giving concrete support to the struggle of the proletariat and oppressed peoples and nations of the world. The 3rd Congress represented a qualitative leap forward in this regard. To begin with, the programme we adopted was based on an internationalist approach to the struggle for socialism. It contained fundamentally correct theses which provided a guide for a revolutionary international practice. Furthermore, the policies we adopted at the congress enabled us to get a better handle on our international work.
Some examples: the appeal which we sent out for the unity of the International Communist Movement; the importance we gave to analyzing the international situation regularly and to investigating the various revolutionary movements around’the world; the approach we took to support work which tried to promote a variety of forms of support. These policies enabled us to deepen our analysis of national liberation movements later on and to rectify certain errors (like on the PLO). They led us to undertake trips abroad to investigate various struggles on the spot. It stimulated us to develop more far-reaching and varied ways of providing material support (such as the Nicaragua Work Brigade initiated by two female comrades). It was the basis for the important role we played in the Salvador support movement etc.
The work reflected the idealism in our programme about the building of socialism and the inadequate knowledge we had of the international situation. The biggest problem though was the poor leadership given to the work at least in Quebec, There were some efforts to take up those leadership responsibilities but they didn’t succeed. This was especially true with respect to the organizing of debates and political education around international issues. For example, the weak turnout at the Montreal meeting where our journalist who had been in El Salvador spoke was mainly due to this. It was not due to the sectarianism which some people argue stopped us from working with the Salvador support groups.
I do not agree with the tendency that was apparent during the weekend conference to try to explain all our shortcomings as due to sectarianism which was supposedly the main characteristic of our work. It is true that we did not denounce all the injustices in all the countries in the world. However, I think it is idealist to think that the conditions existed for doing so. Such a simple-minded criticism could be equally applied to any other organization for that matter.
Pierre: The answer to the question is both yes and no. After the 3rd Congress IN STRUGGLE! did in fact put considerable resources and energy into internationalist work. However, when you look back at the work we did a number of shortcomings are evident. First of all, the main thrust of our work, which was aimed at uniting the International Communist Movement (ICM), is a dead letter. Not that the work we did was useless to do. We did manage to learn a lot about the problems with the ICM. However, our idea of building international solidarity based on the militant unity of the working class never even got close to getting off the ground.
Second, the work we did to mobilize as much internationalist support as possible from among the Canadian people was a poor cousin of the ICM work when it came to time and resources invested. In fact, with the exception of the Salvador support movement recently, our own membership did not exhibit any kind of pronounced awareness of the importance of doing support work. And on top of all that, issues like the starvation and illiteracy in the Third World were virtually ignored.
In other words, we did lots of worthwhile things but there are serious problems with the general policy orientation we had. In particular, I don’t think we ever really fully came to terms with just how much of a priority international solidarity must be in relation to our other tasks in an imperialist country like Canada.
2. Q: After the debates this weekend how do you see the work of communists within the movement of support for struggles in other countries? What perspectives do you see for the future?
Mario: Communists should be prepared again in the future as they have been in the past to get involved in the concrete support work and to work alongside other revolutionary forces and other progressive and humanitarian individuals and organizations. We must support and promote a democratic broadening of the support movement. Communists can play an important role especially in providing analyses of what the stakes of each struggle are from a class viewpoint. That means explaining the different class interests behind the various trends in the revolutionary struggles. It may mean explaining the concrete situation in oppressed countries which are the basis for the policy adopted by the working class or the women’s movement in those countries. This is very important to do for example for Nicaragua right now where the independent women’s organization (AMLAE) does not see the right to abortion as the same kind of priority as Canadian feminist organizations do.
Pierre: There was a fair amount of debate during the weekend on the issue of sectarianism and the relative importance of doing political demarcations in our international support work. It is a relevant debate to have in relation to the work we did over the past few years but we should be careful not to get too bogged down into a sterile either-or argument either. The issue is more than just whether we should do more or less demarcation. It is also on what basis we should demarcate.
To begin with, I feel that our principal objective should be to broaden the active support for the revolutions and movements of revolt against oppression around the world, not to make political demarcations. And it must be recognized that at the present moment there is a huge gulf separating the thinking and ideological debates within the left over the strategy for world revolution from the carrying out of tasks related to broadening support for struggles. Futhermore, in my opinion the debates and thinking in the left have fulled so far to recognize and explain the profound contradictions which are ripping. apart “the” revolutionary movement on a world scale.
Indeed, it is not good enough to throw ourselves into broad support work and leave it at that. There are objective political problems which screw up the work of broadening support which the demarcations we make, which may not always be to the point, alone won’t resolve. The most flagrant example of the kind of problem I am referring to is the fact that the workers in Poland and the revolutionaries in Central America oppose one another. The increasing danger of world war makes this fact ail the more tragic.
To put it mildly, the Polish workers did not exactly show any tendency to move rapidly towards the true principles of Marxism-Leninism, rigidified or otherwise, in their rebellion against the “real existing socialism” in Poland. Just the opposite. In 1970, Polish workers sang the International in Gdansk; today they are singing hymns to the Virgin Mary and have not turned aside support from Reagan. On the other hand, the Central American revolutionaries, which are closer to us ideologically, have lots of good reasons to consider Cuba as an ally and model for their struggle. However, in seeing Cuba this way they have also taken up the whole rest of the pro-Soviet line including on Poland and Afghanistan. You don’t have to wrack your brains for too long before it becomes evident that in both Poland and Central America, given the circumstances, it would be hard for things to be otherwise.
Given this reality, is our job really to assign blame on all sides in the appropriate proportions? Another example is the thorny one of Iran. Another problem we have yet to broach: how to do support work for struggles in other imperialist countries.
When you get down to the point where every struggle with any life in it seems always to be a deviation of one kind or another from the correct line (which doesn’t exist in practice anywhere) it is time to start taking a second look at the assumptions which underly all the demarcations we are making.
We have no choice but to continue doing our best to build as broad support as possible for the revolutionary struggles that are going on with all their shortcomings. We have to live with the contradictions which may appear unresolvable in the short term and realize that all is possible in the future. Our research and political education work in the masses should focus on this.
3. Q: Does an organization like IN STRUGGLE! have a role to play in developing the work of the international support movement?
Mario: Which IN STRUGGLE! are you referring to? If you mean the IN STRUGGLE! which managed to avoid saying a single word about international workers day in its May 1st issue the answer is no. The answer is yes if you mean the IN STRUGGLE! which has always based itself on the fundamental interests of the international proletariat, which never was afraid to correct its errors once they were clearly recognized and has always taken the time and energy to promote public debate together with all the other forces it has worked with.
The communists of IN STRUGGLE! should get together after the 4th congress and continue to sum up our work. We should deepen our analysis of the international situation and the evolution of certain countries like Cuba. We should continue to seek unity with the communists and other revolutionary forces around the world and take stands on the major events of the day. We ought to remain actively involved in, the international support movement.
Pierre: The answer to that as well as to other questions is that the Organization, whatever may become on it, can certainly play a role. However, it will only be able to do so if we recognize that there are deep-seated problems in the carrying out of revolutionary struggles at the present time, problems to which we have no solutions. This requires that we start looking critically at all the assumptions we held dear in the past. I am not saying we should reject those old assumptions all at once. However, it is quite clear that we don’t have a programme worthy of the name. We can continue to do the same kinds of worthwhile things we did in the past. And we can and should make our contribution, based on our own experience, to the solution of those problems. However, the solutions will be developed in relation to the left as a whole not by us alone.