First Published: In Struggle! No. 262, September 8, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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For several months now, while remaining active in mass work, IN STRUGGLE! members have begun to get ready for our Organization’s 4th congress. The preparatory work began with the debates around the Central Committee decisions published in issue 251 (May 19, 1981).
We are publicly announcing this preparatory process today so that friends and supporters of the Organization and readers of our publications can participate fully. The decision to announce this breaks with a kind of tradition in the Marxist-Leninist movement. However, it is in line with what the practise of IN STRUGGLE has been for several years of not cutting off our internal debates from our mass work and the debates going on in mass organizations. Already a number of activists in the union and popular movements and other political groups and organizations have shown a certain interest in the debates over the history of the struggle for socialism and the CC decisions published last May. A number of feminists have in particular got involved unhesitatingly in debates around the resolution on women.
We sincerely hope that the public announcement that we are readying for the 4th Congress will stimulate individual activists and organizations to take an active part in the upcoming discussions. We are in fact of the opinion that such participation will be an important factor in the success of the Congress. We also feel that the forthcoming debates will help out in the thinking and discussions going on among many activists and organizations. After all the political questions and problems IN STRUGGLE! is addressing are not particular to her but confront others also.
But we are not simply going to wish for participation by non-members of IN STRUGGLE!. We intend over the next few months to go out and systematically organize, that participation by setting up talks and public meetings and opening up our publications. Specifically, the newspaper IN STRUGGLE! will run a regular column with the main objective being to report on the debates thet are going on both inside and outside the Organization. Priority will be given to letters written by individuals or groups of individuals either in or outside the Organization and to letters from other groups and organizations. As much as possible we are going to solicit these viewpoints and report on them by conducting interviews and making summaries of discussions.
We are publishing in this supplement a text which was discussed at a recent meeting of the Central Committee. The CC voted, after taking a look at the debates which had taken place within the Organization around the CC decisions published last May, to adopt the text as a “working document which is a positive contribution to the work of clarifying the roots of our current problems and to the working out of the objectives and methods to be set in preparing for our next Congress.” We would suggest to our readers that they go back and read the CC resolutions in issue 251. They are the basic documents to be used in getting ready for the Congress. Rereading them will help you better understand what the problems and issues are that are referred to in the following text.
In the next few months, we want to ensure that our members and supporters have the time and energy to get fully involved in the debates. That may impose certain limitations on our ability to do mass work. This does not mean that IN STRUGGLE! will be withdrawing from all public activity to study and debate. We will remain as active as we can in the struggle that go on. We will keep involved in political events, meetings, conventions and debates in accordance with the guidelines which are put forward in the newspaper. The act of doing the preparatory work for the Congress in a public and dynamic way should serve as a stimulus to our mass work. At the same time our work among the masses will help us see things more clearly in the debates.
Consider yourself invited. Participate actively in the debates. Speak out and give us your point of view.
August 31, 1981
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For several months now IN STRUGGLE! has been experiencing difficulties on various levels. Underlying these many difficulties there is a problem that is becoming clearer and clearer. This problem is that of the very orientation of our activities in the pursuit of the objective which has been the “raison d’etre” of our Organization since its inception: socialist revolution.
In fact this state of crisis is not particular to IN STRUGGLE! it also affects most of the revolutionary organizations throughout the world, particularly those born after the sixties when both social democracy and the communist movement that came out of the Third International that remained faithful to the U.S.S.R. were losing their prestige in the eyes of the various forces favourable to socialism, in particular among the youth of imperialist countries.
The youth of the sixties was inspired by the sharp criticism of Soviet socialism, in particular of Stalin’s regime, and by the various ideological currents which defined socialism as a revolution in individual behavior and the social relations of production. They were witness to a rapid, considerable and unforeseen development of the means of production and of consumer goods which nourished all sorts of hopes – not to say all illusions – of general and immediate well-being. Young people were stimulated by the anticolonial movement’s scope at a time when it was entering its final phase in all those areas of the world which had been dominated by capitalist powers for centuries. The youth of the sixties was to give its full support to Guevara’s slogan: it would wage the struggle on various fronts, not only for a “new society” but also for a “new man” and soon after for a “new woman”.
This is how what is called the New Left came into being, a left which was certainly inspired by Marxism but which has little to do with Leninism and even less to do with the Leninism of Stalin and of the pro-Soviet parties. The Marxist-Leninist movement took root in the imperialist countries in the wake of the New Left: In the oppressed countries it appeared more in the wake of the guerilla movements. It is not incorrect to call it a “Maoist” movement when referring to its origins, in the mid-sixties. Did not the decadent and imperialist Western World need a Cultural Revolution for which China, despite its economic backwardness, provided the model?
The New Left appeared during the period of economic prosperity which marked the 20 years following the 2nd World War. This was also the time when the colonial countries embarked on the road to independence and development. The Marxist-Leninist movement, on the other hand, came into being when the world imperialist system was entering a period of slowdown and afterwards of acute and prolonged crisis which has lasted until today and is now getting even more profound.
But the M-L movement is not the simple product of the present period of economic crisis. It is just as much the result of coming to see the limitations of the various forms of struggle promoted by the most radical movements of the sixties. Those approaches included the fragmenting of forces in numerous isolated struggles: the movement for peace (or against war), the struggle for women’s liberation, “Black power”, “red power” (Native Indians), “student power” and even “imagination power”! It included the lack of any long-term strategy.
Instead, the New Left focussed on the most extreme forms of protest tactics, ones which were short-term and narrowed in on very specific, local targets.
The M-L movement thought it offered an alternative to the spontaneity of the sixties by relying on the experience of the communist movement. All that had to be done was to “trim off” the ugly “fat” represented by the betrayal of Marxism by the modern revisionists and we would rediscover the “immortal principles” of Marxism-Leninism (as the Albanian and Chinese comrades came to describe the traditions of the communist movement) in their leanest, purest form.
IN STRUGGLE!’s origins lie much more in a thorough-going criticism of Quebec nationalism and of social-democracy (reformism) than of either Titoite or Krushovite brands of modern revisionism. Very soon however (at the end of 1974), our Organization threw itself fully into the course mapped out by the Chinese and Albanian communists and by all the M-Ls who accepted their leadership some in fairly reasoned ways, others more blindly. The Organization did so with the same enthusiasm and determination that had characterized the movements of the New Left in the sixties. Meanwhile, the progressive forces and workers’ movement waged struggles on various fronts many of which resulted in victories, e.g. the battle to get COLA clauses into collective agreements in the early 70s.
But at that time there were already two factors in operation which were to change the political situation in the country as in most of the industrialized areas of the world a great deal. In Canada Trudeau still spoke at the beginning of the seventies of changes which had to be made in the capitalist system in order to achieve the “Just Society”. In 1975 he declared that in the face of inflation the time had come to “tighten our belts”. Conscious that his appeal would not be spontaneously followed he decreed a wage freeze. It was the signal for a systematic struggle against labour on the part of Capital; anti-union, anti-worker, and anti-democratic measures by all levels of government increased. Women, immigrants, minorities, students and patients suffered a worsening of their living conditions or losses of acquired rights.
IN STRUGGLE! did all it could to get unions and mass organizations to light back strongly against this attack. At the time, we correctly perceived that the wage freeze was the cornerstone of the offensive because it threatened the very existence of the unions which dared to defy it. Yet, for reasons which remain to be identified better, the working-class movement was progressively won over to a line of capitulation. That line was promoted by the labour bosses who showed a sudden great concern for the health of economy.
These two factors, the attack of the bourgeoisie and the weak resistance of the working class, considerably altered the new balance of power which had been established after the big workers’ strikes at the beginning of the seventies: Firestone in 1973-74, United Aircraft in 1975, etc. Progressively, the undisputed leadership which the workers’ movement had exercized in relation to the popular forces (especially in Quebec) in the early seventies, fell away. Once again a variety of movements and organizations were to be in the vanguard of struggles for specific demands and against the various attacks of the bourgeoisie: the women’s movement; the movements for daycare centers, for decent housing, against unemployment, against racism, for the national rights of Quebec and of the Native peoples; the anti-nuclear movement; the movement against repression of children, of homosexuals, against discrimination against old people, handicapped persons, welfare recipients; movements for the protection of the environment; internationalist movements, etc.
The relative strength of the bourgeois and working class forces was changing considerably – without us being conscious of it. We continued to say that the forces of revolution were developing and that the M-L movement was growing. In fact, the weaknesses in the communist movement were starting to come out. The death of Mao in September 1976 provoked a widespread public hanging out of dirty laundry.
We all know the rest, the split between the Chinese and Albanian parties and the criticism of Mao by Hoxha which led to a series of upheavals and sudden changes of position and later even the disappearance of several M-L organizations.
IN STRUGGLE! resisted as well as it could against the impending break-up of the M-L movement and attempted to maintain the debates at a political level rather than at the level of personalities. But the bottom line in all of the debates, no matter how they were conducted, was China’s about face which compounded the earlier about face of the U.S.S.R. Were all the past successes of socialism to be reversed? Would people draw the conclusion that those successes had been illusory in the first place? At that point, we decided that these problems were sufficiently serious to warrant our full attention. The study of revisionist deviations turned into the study of the evolution of the struggle for socialism and of the role of communists in that struggle. We’re still slugging away at it...
In this framework, our next congress should be seen as a step in that direction. First, it will be necessary to understand our development in the context of the evolution of class relations in our country and in the world in the last decade. It is quite possible that a study of the past will enable us to understand better the disarray which exists among the numerous forces struggling for socialism, including ourselves.
As was noted earlier, IN STRUGGLE! and an important sector of the M-L movement originally defined itself in demarcation with the New Left movements while adopting at the same time some of its basic tenets. These ideas included the presumption that revolution was on the agenda. It would succeed if we could only rid the workers’ movement of the revisionist line and replace it with a genuinely revolutionary one.
The New Left felt that the important thing was not to talk revolution but to “do it”, to live your revolutionary politics by changing your own life here and now, The M-L movement was supposed to correct this statement and explain that revolution would only succeed if the “correct line” was applied. Did not Mao say that “the political line is always the decisive factor”?
Yet, we understand better today, looking at what is happening in the U.S.S.R., in China, in Iran, in Nicaragua, and El Salvador that the revolution takes shape and develops according to a complex interaction of social forces of which the political line is only one aspect. Furthermore, a look at our own history would likely reveal that the workers’ movement and the popular masses in general are not won over to a particular ideology or trend solely due to the efforts of the parties or organizations which consciously express these lines and trends. In other words, our practice, our successes and our failures are also social phenomena which we should be able to subject to an analysis and, as the actors in the situation, draw definite conclusions... just as we can and must pass judgement on the past practice of the communist movement. But such conclusions must not he reached by failing to take proper account of the conditions in which that practice took place.
We have already stated that the criticism of modern revisionism had not been waged to the end and that it had remained superficial. This conclusion is evident even from the incomplete study done to date of the most recent period, the sixties and the seventies. Thus, the New Left criticized the previous forms of revolutionary struggle to some degree: the guerilla movements did the same; and finally came the turn of the M-L movement. But, in most cases criticism remained on the ideological level and in some cases, on that of strategy and tactics. In no case has it led to a scientific analysis of the social forces at work in contemporary societies and of the overall picture of the relative strengths of the opposing sides which results from them.
Even more so, the M-L movement has in general totally neglected to take into consideration the contributions made in this respect by the theoreticians which to some extent – and that extent remains to be determined – fathered the political convictions of the New Left and the guerilla movements. We need only mention Marcuse, Mallet, and more recently, Gunder Frank, Amin, etc.; very often these people have been “labelled” Chinese-style as revisionists without any debate. This sort of “anti-intellectualism” will have to be overcome. Otherwise, we might as well stop pretending we are Marxists since Marxism rests on a scientific criticism of bourgeois society. Then our Leninism would most likely just become a series of rules which would progressively become completely sterile dogmas, the only purpose of which would be to salve the consciences – and would it even do that? – of those that defend them. History offers too many examples of political cretinism for us to ignore the possibility that we could fall into that trap ourselves.
IN STRUGGLE! has not yet reached the point where it has figured out all the political consequences of this evolution over the past five years, both in the society as a whole and in the M-L movement. It is becoming clearer and clearer that there is a gap between what Marxist-Leninists have been saying since 1976 (we have held to some of the old formulations: for example, about how subjective conditions lag behind the objective conditions) and the practice we have had to develop given the fact that there is little prospect of revolutionary conditions coming about in the short term. Surely, there is a strong argument for saying that much of the present crisis is due to the existence of this “gap”. It is very easy to lose sight of the immediate political significance of the work we are doing...
Such a situation would have been very serious even for an Organization or a party with solid roots which had already accumulated a diverse political experience through its successes and failures. Yet, it is taking place in an Organization which is very young politically and which has not known any important setbacks until now, an Organization in which most of the members are in a situation where their personal lives are undergoing important changes and in which all the members have to face increasingly sharp effects of the crisis. Indeed, dealing with the contradictions of being in a stable relationship, raising children, getting a steady job, making ends meet – these concerns have generally taken on an importance which they generally did not have for people when they were students (which most of us were not so long ago). This was especially true for young political activists for whom revolution was the only thing worthy of attention...
And thus, the factors which are “internal” to our Organization (i.e. the social characteristics of the membership; social class, age, marital status, job) combine with the “external” factors (i,e. the evolution of social relationships prevailing in society and of the general political situation) to create a political crisis that is complex and relatively acute.
Such a situation can give rise to two extreme attitudes: the first is to deny that a crisis exists and that it is a social phenomenon existing independent of our will and not simply due to our own practice; this would lead us to cling in desperation to certain principles, to the established rules in the name of the successes that were met in the past when these principles were correctly applied; the second is to reject the past – in deed if not in word – to turn to a future that would come about through a sort of growing together by osmosis of communists and the social forces and ideological currents existing in society. In that case, people are led to doubt, if not to reject outright, the importance of the party and the programme since they are things which have not as yet generated broad interest among the masses in general.
Neither of these attitudes serves the cause for which IN STRUGGLE! exists. We must work out another way to face the present crisis. It would be of no avail to turn our backs on reality or to get so bogged down in it as to lose all sense of perspective. In both cases, it would result in giving up on playing the role of a truly revolutionary force, i.e. a force capable of modifying its practice so as to continue working towards socialism in any and all particular situations.
This is why we can say that the practical problem we have to solve today is that of the tasks of communists. It’s on this level that questions are raised daily: the recruitment of workers, our relations with mass organizations, unions, the women’s movement, the style and content of our newspaper, etc.
It does not take long to realize that these questions and many others cannot be solved one at a time by themselves. In the end, we have to define a general orientation that will enable us to tackle each task more confidently and with greater success. To correctly solve a problem it must be correctly formulated. It must be analyzed until the key elements have been identified; any other attitude would be harmful in the end even though any answer, even a wrong one, to an acute problem many seem better than no answer at all in the short run.
That is how our next congress will be a step in the longer term process we explained before: to draw the lessons to be learned from the struggle for socialism up to now; to deepen our understanding of modern imperialism as a world system, to understand the dynamics of its development; and on this basis, to arrive at a tactic for achieving socialism in the present conditions.
Does this mean that IN STRUGGLE! will have to transform itself into a “learned society” specializing in the history of socialism and the analysis of the political situation?! Not at all. IN STRUGGLE! remains what it has always been: an organization fully engaged in the struggle for socialism, an Organization which intervenes in the struggle through the many battles presently waged on various fronts, from the struggle of women to that of oppressed peoples, including those of workers, minorities, etc.
The problem is not so much to determine whether or not we have to intervene in the class struggle or carry out a critique of imperialism and capitalist society. The problem is mostly to figure out where precisely to intervene and in what way, what the stages we can expect to be going through are, and what priorities must be set in accordance with present conditions. The problem still lies in making our practice conform to the conditions under which it is taking place – as long as “conforming to conditions” doesn’t get reduced to “blind submission to the dictates of the moment”... because our practice is and must remain directed at attaining a definite goal.
When you get right down to it, the basic problem is to figure out what kind of organization we need to carry out our present tasks, what sort will be most sensitive to the contradictions which exist between workers and intellectuals, men and women, etc.
Charles Gagnon, Secretary-General, on behalf of the Political Bureau, August 19, 1981