Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Stephen Torgoff

YLP Congress transforms party into workers group

First Published: The Guardian, July 12, 1972.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The first national congress of the Young Lords party held in New York City June 30-July 3 has resulted in a fundamental change in the party’s direction.

The YLP’s decision to rename itself the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization is not just a change in title, but reflects a whole new conception of what the group is and what it should do.

The congress – announced as “the first and last congress of the YLP” – was indeed the first national meeting and elections in the group’s three-year history. Leading cadre prepared for the conference by developing an extensive self-criticism of the YLP’s practice and ideology in the past.

About 100 YLP members and supporters along with a number of delegates and observers from other organizations were involved in the four-day conference. The invitation by the YLP of what they termed “the three fraternal groups” was a major aspect of what they now consider their main tasks as an organization.

The fraternal organizations are the Black Workers Congress, the Revolutionary Union and I Wor Kuen. They were invited because the YLP considers them Marxist-Leninist, anti-revisionist organizations, developing roots in the working class, out of whose common work and discussions may emerge a multi-national communist party able to give leadership to the whole U.S. proletariat.

This theme – the necessity for a new communist party – was the main note of the conference.

Along with the delegates from the fraternal organizations, there were observers representing a number of “anti-imperialist and patriotic organizations,” such as the Puerto Rican Socialist party, the Rising Up Angry group in Chicago, the Venceremos organization from northern California and a number of Asian-American groups. These organizations were brought together to discuss a unified, national anti-imperialist movement.

The conference began with a presentation and discussion of the YLP’s self-criticism, which was occasioned by a general stagnation within the party and a recent split which saw a number of members, including two from the YLP’s central committee, break away and join the Puerto Rican Socialist party.

This self-criticism can be summed up by the dropping of the term “party” from the group’s name and the redefining of its position on the class and national question.

Tracing the development of the Young Lords from a street gang in Chicago to “a revolutionary anti-imperialist organization guided by Marxist-Leninist-Maoist principles,” the criticism marked three fundamental errors.

Three errors

–“Left extremism” – the belief that the lumpenproletariat was the leading revolutionary class in the U.S.
–The divided nation theory – the analysis that Puerto Ricans in the U.S. are part of the Puerto Rican nation.
– Thinking that the YLP was a party of the Leninist type, ready to provide leadership for the oppressed classes of both the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

The document prepared by the YLP leadership characterized the group’s history as of first right and then “left” deviations. The document argued that only the proletariat could provide the leadership to overthrow the old society and the vision necessary for the construction of a new society. It said that Puerto Rican workers in the U.S. are members of the U.S. proletariat and that therefore, while a national workers party is necessary in Puerto Rico, there should be no special party of Puerto Rican workers in the U.S. Further, no small group without strong roots in the masses could claim to be a party – and the YLP’s previous claim was the source of continual errors.

Another document outlined the leadership’s view of the present world situation and a third paper presented for adoption gave the fundamental tasks for the new organization.

This paper explained in detail the need for a multi-national communist parry in the U.S., concluding that at this point the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Worker? Organization should build toward that party by organizing Puerto Rican workers and at the same time working closely with other, similar groups – in practice, the three fraternal organizations.

As to the YLP’s work in Puerto Rico, largely stymied by the recent split in which most of the party’s cadre in Puerto Rico left the party, the resolution said ”revolutionaries who feel their work is primarily the national liberation of Puerto Rico should be there .. . to build the party of the proletariat in Puerto Rico.” The YLP leadership felt that no such party now exists on the island and that Lords should work there to start one, but that there is no reason to organizationally link the U.S. and Puerto Rican parties. The best way to fight for Puerto Rican independence in the U.S., they said, is to build toward a communist party in this country.

YLP, PSP differences

From this presentation it seemed that there are two main ideological differences between the YLP and the Puerto Rican Socialist party. First, the YLP criticizes the PSP for not taking a clear stand on the dispute between the USSR and China.

Second, the PSP believes that the independence of Puerto Rico may be won while the U.S. is still capitalist because of strong attacks against imperialism all over the world and the creation of a political crisis for imperialism in Puerto Rico. The YLP holds that the U.S. proletariat should be considered the main ally of the Puerto Rican people and that the independence of Puerto Rico and socialism in the U.S. will be won simultaneously. After workshop discussions of the three papers on July 1, the Lords members met separately the next day while the others present held discussions on anti-imperialist unity. The Lords meeting adopted the documents as official policy with minor changes and elected a new central committee, retaining the four old members remaining from the split and adding five new members. The July 3 session involved a presentation by the YLP and the three other organizations on proletarian unity and party building, followed by a long discussion period.

Bob Avakian of the Revolutionary Union, a national “pre-party formation,” one-fourth of whose membership is front the oppressed nationalities spoke on why there could be no such thing as a “white” revolutionary organization. He explained that a class-wide organization has to reflect the composition of the U.S. working class, which is multi-national. With the proletarianization of black people, Avakian said, they have become “a nation of a new type,” so that while black people have retained their national identity front their slave heritage, black workers are part of the U.S. proletariat. Thus, only a party whose leadership and membership came from the black nation and the Chicano. Puerto Rican and other national minorities as well as from the white working class could lead the whole class.

Mike Hamlin, chairman of the Black Workers Congress, an all-black Marxist-Leninist organization based on industrial workers, began with a self-criticism of the BWC’s previous position on trade unions. He explained that the BWC “had mistaken the leadership for the membership” in confusing the reactionary nature of most trade union leaders with trade unionism itself.

From now on, he said, the BWC’s plant organizers would form caucuses of class-conscious black and white workers within the existing union structures. Hamlin also concluded that the only way to unite the whole working class was through the leadership of a multi-national communist party. Only in this way, he said, can revolutionaries concretize the demands of the masses and take them one step higher in the development of revolutionary consciousness.

Gordon Chen of I Wor Kuen, a group of Marxist-Leninist Chinese in the U.S., discussed racism and the class structure of the Chinese minority in this country. Like the others, he stressed the necessity for a new class-wide communist party.

In the discussion that followed, many delegates felt that Avakian was wrong – still holding the view that there should be, at least in this stage, an organization of white communists in the same way that Asians, blacks and Puerto Ricans were organized. He was also criticised for the strong role in the revolutionary movement that he had ascribed to intellectuals.

The anti-imperialist groups reported that they would meet to discuss a proposed antiwar demonstration on election day and other national united front actions.

The conference closed with the singing of the Puerto Rican national anthem – La Borinquena–and the Internationale.