First Published: In Struggle! No. 266, October 6, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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Our study of the history of the struggle for socialism and internal educational activities associated with it hare already provoked several comments within our ranks. Recently there was a debate held on the subject to permit a better understanding of the differences around this point. We publish the viewpoint of a comrade who was at the debate, and intend to return to this issue. Please note that this letter was not written for the paper which explains the references to certain internal documents.
“The nature of the questions to be solved by the Central Committee (CC) in the fairly near future means that, more than ever, all the comrades of the Organization should feel concerned and should not hesitate to make known their point of view when appropriate by transmitting it directly to a member of the CC or by writing without delay to the Political Bureau(PB).” (excerpt from an internal IN STRUGGLE! text, March 1981)
The third (and most recent) study session held not long ago under the leadership of a comrade who does propaganda work left me (and many other participants) extremely dissatisfied. So I decided to write and give my points of view on how the study programme within the Organization is organized.
“As a number of people, and in particular those who have left the Organization, gradually find their convictions slipping away, I think it is especially urgent to take up a resolute defence of Marxism, of a materialist vision of things. This is why propaganda and educational activities are so important.” (excerpt from the same internal text, signed by the Secretary-General)
First of all, I entirely agree with the S.-G.’s point of view. In fact, I think this should have been said long ago, that the “resolute defence of Marxism” begun with Charles Gagnon’s article on “Determinism or free will?” in no. 24 of PROLETARIAN UNITY should have been undertaken quite some time ago.
It seems to me that our Organization has not defended much of anything in the past year – be it within or outside our ranks. Just the opposite. It would seem that every time a problem arose, every time we have been confronted with a complicated situation, we have made a point of putting our previous positions into doubt, of questioning and questioning and questioning. The one thing we have not tried to do is give some answers; any answers we do offer are put in a very conditional way. We can operate like that for a while, but only for a while. There comes a point when we have to dare to formulate hypotheses and propose solutions and, above all, to debate them openly and frankly, so as to understand things better.
And after more than a year of questioning, and sometimes too much questioning, the time has more than come, I think, to debate with a view to finding answers, however imperfect or partial they may be.
Many very important questions have been raised in the past year. I think most of them warrant serious examination by the Organization. But none of them has really been seriously tackled in the study sessions.
None of the fundamental questions raised by our study of the history of the struggle for socialism and some of the documents published in the newspaper has been dealt with in the sessions.
In these conditions, it is not surprising that the political crisis is growing in our own ranks, that more and more members are demoralized and resigning. What have we done to remedy the situation.
On the one hand, we recognize that our members are asking themselves questions about the meaning of our work and the very necessity of an organization like ours. They are asking questions about the dictatorship of the proletariat, the role of the party, its relations with the masses and its vanguard or mass character, democratic centralism, and so on. On the other hand, we carefully avoid broaching these questions in the very sessions we all originally thought were set up to deal with these questions.
The result is persistent and growing disarray among our members. As well, since the debate is not organized, it occurs anyway, but in round-about, “unofficial” ways – in some committees where active supporters insist on having a debate (assuming that the members must surely debate these questions themselves...); in some meetings of cell members that are all too often too short or poorly prepared; or informally in our living-rooms; or else people stew alone in their corner. In short, there is no debate going on; or what there is is totally anarchic. All this can only lead to more frustration, disarray and demoralization...
In my opinion, the study sessions we have had so far in no way meet the need in the organization for study and debate. If I try to sum up their main flaw with a single word, I would say they are strongly marked by intellectualism. Why? Because they totally ignore the concrete and severe problems (including the theoretical problems) we are faced with; and because the way they are conceived means that we are forced to study “History for History’s sake”.
For communists, for materialists, study should always have one primary purpose: it must help us solve the concrete problems of the revolutionary struggle in our country. What are the problems that hinder our revolutionary work today? What are the causes of the political crisis in our Organization? These problems were not mentioned or discussed in the study sessions (at least not in the last two), and it would certainly seem that they are not planned for in future sessions.
I think we would make great progress in resolving the current crisis if we openly and frankly broached the questions that are most controversial right now in our own ranks. The starting point should be a historical materialist point of view.
For example: if we examine the question of the party, its importance, its type (vanguard or something else), and the way it is organized (democratic centralism), we necessarily have to do it from a historical point of view, referring to past experiences. But the purpose of studying would be to understand the question of the party better. The historical lessons brought out in the debate would simply have helped achieve this understanding. So far, the purpose of the study sessions has been to study capital-history, period.
I am convinced we have to study the history of the working-class and communist movement. But I am just as convinced that we have to study it in direct relation to our tasks today, the problems we are confronted with today, the unresolved theoretical problems – all that is there, waiting for us, today. We cannot put all these problems and tasks on hold, or store them away in a cupboard for another year...
The last two sessions were nothing more than courses in 19th century history; that’s all. Meanwhile, disarray, demoralization and feelings of frustration are rampant in our ranks... Perhaps it would have been useful to organize the two courses, leaving them optional – for the comrades who felt they needed them most. But we cannot pretend that we have organized study and debate in our ranks on the major questions being raised by all left-wing groups these days. That remains to be done.
In conclusion, I would like to quote a sentence written by the S.-G. in the same internal text:
“We could stop and discuss the way the first bulletin which launched the study of the history of revisionism started things, the ambiguities it contained or the misunderstandings that reading it gave rise to. But that is not what is principal in understanding the current situation.”
As for me, I think there is a link between the way the first bulletin started things, the way the study movement is organized and the current political crisis in our ranks.
We are a communist organization, an organization of people who have been involved in daily revolutionary struggle for years and years now. We have tasks to accomplish; work plans to put into practice; goals to attain; a Programme to defend.
We cannot act as if we were simply a group of professors examining a certain number of concepts over and over again in isolation in our offices. We are a revolutionary organization. We do not have the right to raise so many such fundamental questions in internal texts, the newspaper and the journal without organizing systematic discussions of them as soon as possible.
The questions raised in these texts are worth raising. Once again, this is not what I am objecting to. What I am objecting to is the method. For if the method is not responsible for the political crisis in our Organization, it has certainly made it much worse, in my opinion.
I think it is now high time to deal directly with the questions that are most controversial in our ranks, The sooner we start, the better.
A member of IN STRUGGLE! in Montreal