First Published: In Struggle! No. 269, October 28, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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I didn’t like the latest article on the “Beyond the Fragments” debate (issue 261) and here’s why.
I doubt that the opinion of one militant from IS! became the focus of this meeting (even though it’s given over 1/3 of the space of a full page article).
We’ve tried to break with this kind of reporting which misrepresents reality. From the other comments it seems that the debate was around whether the women’s movement should give more attention to developing theory.
I also think that when the newspaper acts like a selective tape recorder (which it did in this case) then the opinion of one militant will be equivalent to the collective stand of our Organization. When a person disagrees with the Organization’s stands then this collapsing of positions isn’t a good method for promoting debate.
I also found that the comments referring to the kind of party that is needed should be looked at quite carefully. This is what I mainly want to talk about in this letter.
The debate on “what kind of party we need” doesn’t revolve around the words “a revolutionary party” or “the vanguard party” as the militant quoted puts it. The debate really centres on the differences between a vanguard party and a mass party.
Generations of socialists who supported a vanguard party organization did so because this kind of party was different from all the rest on two essential points (and this was recognized by all sides):
– the call to overthrow the State and capitalist class and necessary strategy is included in the program;
– organizationally, all members have to be political activists. The reasoning is quite straightforward and not at all “touchy”. Real revolutionary situations
– where the political economy is in crisis, where people are in revolt and will die for their demands... and where the ruling class is incapable of ruling – don’t occur every day: When they do they don’t last for a long time. What then is the best way to prepare ourselves to “seize the time”?
Other issues related to ’parties’ (and a lot of myths about Leninism besides) found their way into this article. I’ll comment on just a few.
When it comes to the question of “consciousness from the outside” it’s true that MLists don’t think that political work should stop at summing up people’s existing consciousness (and hence our view of the kind of party and program required). Let’s face it – the present “external and outside” consciousness that we are literally born into is that of the ruling class. Shouldn’t it be challenged in all its forms and in all areas of people’s lives including that of personal experience? To be more specific, – on questions related to women’s oppression and the struggle against male chauvinism/privilege, the women’s movement and many women aren’t satisfied with “existing consciousness”. Is this elitist? Or authoritarian? So, for instance, when a participant at this meeting says that “State power is not the most pressing issue right now... so I’m not out to discover some ready-made strategy about how to seize State power”, should we consider that what we have to say is “purist, sectarian, and elitist”?
As to “Leninist” party membership, no communist aims to restrict this to a select number of “professional revolutionaries”. For instance, IS! thinks that it would be great if the majority of a union membership joined a rank and file ’opposition caucus’ (How else will this country’s trade union movement eventually be for workers’ interests?). Likewise, if thousands of women and men joined and actively supported a party because of its program and practise that would be great (isn’t this what we’re trying to accomplish under socialism?). Indeed, the Bolshevik Party went from 8,400 members in January 1905 to 79,204 in May of 1917, 200,000 in August of 1917, and up to 400,000 by November of the same year.
And what about the way IS! sees the party’s relation to the people? No one familiar with the history of our Organization (and its militants), where the Maoist tradition “from the masses to the masses” is a way of working, can conclude in all fairness that we see “the relationship between the party and people as one of authority/submission/consciousness/blind spontaneity”, and “not mutual interdependence”. These are allegations that come rather close to anti-communist caricatures, especially if we aren’t given some facts. As the person quoted is a cadre of IS! the examples would be quite important to discuss.
Indeed, let’s talk about and evaluate our personal experience as members of IN STRUGGLE!. We should look at our Constitution, our internal policies on questions like membership, cadre, finances, etc., and our practice of democracy. In brief, what changes since the Third Congress have promoted democracy? What has limited the exercise of democracy (including the specific conditions faced by women as a whole and workers that were ignored, etc.)?
In my opinion everyone’s “experience” should not be given the same weight. I’m convinced that real differences exist between workers (both women and men) and petty-bourgeois intellectuals, between women and men, between the rank-and-file and the leadership, and between collective ways of working and ’individual’ responsibility... Indeed, we must change those practises, policies, and our constitution where we are ’favouring’ petty bourgeois intellectuals, men in general, a leadership elite, and individual qualities per se. If our politics don’t favour those named above and they don’t, then neither should the way we organize ourselves ’internally’ or in our ’mass work’.
From where I stand, a movement toward changes of this kind (which I support) does not automatically call into question the kind of party we want to build, nor the kind of organization that is its predecessor. In fact, such a movement is at the heart of building a truly vanguard party.
A woman comrade from IS! (BC)