First Published:The Forge, Vol. 2, No. 3, February 3, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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We request that both In Struggle and the League reprint this open letter in response to IS’ invitation to the Vancouver Socialist Group to participate in its second “unity conference”.
Comrades of In Struggle,
You have proposed that our group participate in the second of your conferences, that we join with your group in promoting an opportunist line on the unity of Marxist-Leninists. We reject this proposal on these grounds:
1. As you know from our letter of October 8 regarding the first conference proposal, our group does not agree with IS’s definition of the movement. IS claims the first conference was a success, yet even the most basic question, who is to be united, has not yet been answered. As you say yourself, there is far from unanimity on this point even now, either on the criteria or their application. If we should come to any useful debate and valid decisions, it would have to be very clear who participates and on what basis.
We wonder how, apart from everything else, you will make the conference a “place of inquiry on groups”, when you yourselves keep switching positions between defining the movement (as you implicitly do in your invitation list to the conference) and then claiming the – undefined! – movement should define itself at the conference! Clearly this is absurd.
2. Either we have the ability to elaborate positions on the important questions of strategy and tactics for the Canadian revolution or we do not. If we do, our task is to elaborate these positions and to struggle them out on the basis of unity-criticism-unity, to demarcate Marxist-Leninist from anti-Marxist-Leninist positions. You, however, state that the ML movement has a long way to go before it can base “itself on a serious class analysis” – but you suggest that we all contribute what must then be mere opinions on important questions – to be elevated to the level of conference positions.
This kind of manipulation is most typical of the conference approach you have taken on “unity” – berating one organization which tries to base its political line on Marxism-Leninism as “sectarian” (because, of course, it is heresy to claim to have taken a correct position) and then promulgating lines on the most important questions that vary without explanation from issue to issue of IS! The recent flip-flop by IS concerning the imperialist character of the Canadian bourgeoisie is a prime example. IS proposes that positions on such critical questions be merely stated and then voted into truth or falsehood at a conference.
3. The question of the principal contradiction in Canada cannot be relegated to a “democratic vote” from among the ranks of everyone who choses to call her or himself “communist”, as you propose. Because the IS position changes from time to time (self-criticized only after being criticized by other MLs) does not mean that IS is not one of the two organizations which have taken on the tasks – and responsibilities – of giving political, organizational, and ideological leadership in the struggle for the party. These tasks cannot be circumvented by hiding behind some ultra-democratic cover where every on-the-spot statement from participating groups is brought out with equal weight for a vote. The fact is, many groups on your list of MLs (revised) have not submitted public positions and-or engaged in public struggle over the several crucial questions of the day – and you bow to this backwardness with your “vote among equals” line on unity.
You talk about the primacy of demarcation and ideological struggle, yet there is nothing proposed beyond everyone having an opportunity to present their “positions”, “free debate”, and a possible “evaluation”. This seems to be going to a lot of trouble just to ensure that both spurious and correct positions can coexist in the garb of Marxism-Leninism!
4. Finally, we do not understand how we suddenly appeared in your definition of the Marxist-Leninist movement (from which we were absent on the first conference list – although with no less “credentials” than than now). Certainly we gave you no reason to believe that we agreed with your definition: our most recent correspondence to you explained that we did not agree with your formulations.
Our group has had no serious, continuous, and steady practice in the (working) class based on the ideological principles and political lines we hold. Until we have rectified our errors, we are not a Marxist-Leninist group and have no business participating in any conference as a Marxist-Leninist group.
Vancouver Socialist Group