First Published: In Struggle! No. 238, February 17, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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When IN STRUGGLE! sets itself a goal, we have the habit of deciding exactly how we should go about achieving it. This is an excellent habit, but it does have its limits, as we have learned the hard way more than once. A number of unforeseen problems have cropped up in the past few months, leading some to think that we should reconsider the way we have gone about improving our understanding of the history of the struggle for socialism and the lessons to bedrawn from this history.
An important aspect of our method was that the study and debate within the ranks of the Organization were to be carried on simultaneously with the publication of the results of our research – simultaneously, therefore, with the debate with the readers of the newspaper and journal and the supporters of the Organization. In other words, we decided to make public the questions we were asking ourselves before we had begun to answer them. Furthermore, in the educational work within our ranks, the plan called for members to study history and theory at the same time as they debated the action of communists at various stages in the struggle. Meanwhile, the positions and points of view expressed in articles in our publications and other internal documents would not necessarily represent the positions the Organization would ultimately adopt.
It is not surprising that this plan caused some turmoil within an organization like ours. IN STRUGGLE!’s members are spread throughout the country from Halifax to Victoria, and there are major inequalities among them in terms of their knowledge of history and theory. Some of the comrades would like to catch up with the more advanced ones all at once. They sometimes find themselves at a loss to respond to the questions or objections raised by the readers they are in contact with; or again, they are reticent about expressing points of view that differ from those put forward in the Organization’s publications.
This also involves a question of democratic centralism: do not the members of IN STRUGGLE! have the obligation to defend the Organization’s line against other opinions that are expressed? How can we justify saying today that the expression of their personal opinions should come ahead of defending the line? And above and beyond the question of democratic centralism, is there not the question of the Organization’s credibility?. Doesn’t the process currently under way threaten to confuse more things than it clarifies?
There is one thing that should be clear as far as the expression of personal points of view is concerned: democratic centralism does not forbid a person to think and to express what she is thinking! In fact, our Constitution says that members have a duty to “express their views frankly” (Art. 2.3 c). Our Constitutionalso says thatdemocratic centralism obliges members to apply decisions “once (they) have been made”, but these decisions must be made “following open discussion” (Art. 3.1 a).
It should be clear for the comrades of IN STRUGGLE! and for everyone who is interested in our work that our Organization has undertaken to study the evolution of the struggle for socialism up until today. Originally, this was to be a mainly historical study leading up to an evaluation of the work of communists and the identification of the sources of revisionism. Our field of study has necessarily had to be broadened to include some basic theoretical notions; without these concepts, our understanding of the class struggle is reduced to little more than a series of confrontations between “good guys” and “bad guys” – between Lenin and Kautsky, Stalin and Trotsky, etc. Such a vision of history is anti-Marxist; it is not materialist, but rather profoundly idealist.
It should also be clear that the study of the developments in the struggle for socialism cannot be dissociated from the study of the evolution of capitalism, which is the dominant mode of production on a world scale, the mode of production in relation to which the struggle for socialism is defined. Taking the evolution of capitalism into account in studying the history of the struggle for socialism provides us with a better foundation for the concrete analysis of class relations in the world and in different countries today. This is what we meant when we referred recently to “bringing our analysis of imperialism up to date”.
The vast majority of the comrades in our Organization consider that this approach is justified and indeed very stimulating. It provides each person with an opportunity to deepen their knowledge of history and theory. It equips them to better appreciate the revolutionary potential of the current situation at the same time as it brings out more clearly the requirements of the struggle, the conditions on which its success depends. Since this approach excites our enthusiasm, there is no reason why we should not involve the greatest possible number of the people who support our work, are interested in our activities or simply read our newspaper or other publications in it, as well as the greatest possible humber of people in other organizations who are interested in the same problems.
But our approach is a collective approach. The experience of the past few months has taught us that this imposes a certain number of constraints. The first is to eliminate the inequalities that exist within our own ranks with respect to our knowledge of history and theory. This is why, despite the constant pressures to accord less importance to history and theory and more to the most current political questions, we must subordinate these burning issues.
This is not an arbitrary choice. To understand today’s reality, we have to understand the historical evolution that has resulted in the current situation. And to understand history correctly, we need more than an accumulation of facts; we need to improve our understanding of the laws governing the development of the class struggle. In other words, we have to examine the facts in the light of historical materialism.
Once this first step has been accomplished, it will be possible to identify the major issues, and problems that must be thought through and solved to give our action a solid grounding in a scientific analysis of reality and the lessons to be drawn from history. We can then proceed with the second step of our approach, a stage that should enable us to provide a rigorous explanation of the various elements of our Programme – and if need be to correct and complete it. At the same time, it will enable us to proceed with a vigorous criticism of the various revisionist programmes and the various ideologies in contradiction with a coherent and consistent struggle for socialism that are present among progressive forces in our country today.
At first glance, this approach seems complex and very laborious. But the goal remains the same: to make our Organization into an instrument that can move forward the struggle for socialism and provide revolutionary perspectives for the many specific struggles that the working people in Canada wage every day.
This does not magically dissolve the confusion and hesitations that have accompanied our work so far and that will undoubtedly persist. At the same time as we pay special attention to the work of study and analysis just described, our Organization remains fully engaged in the battles of the working class and working people. It must continue to take standson many different questions.
But one thing should be clearly understood: the confusion is not solely or even primarily due to confusions specific to IN STRUGGLE!. The confusion that characterizes the situation today is due first and foremost to the fact that there is no revolutionary alternative with a solid grounding or following in the masses. We should be lucid enough to recognize that this is the situation and mature enough to face up to it. And we should do so without resorting to the kinds of false solutions that some find in the servile repetition of a certain number of “principles” and slogans divorced from the reality of today and lacking-any real basis in the history of the past sixty years.