Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Progressive Labor Party

“Chicken Little in Boston”


“The Boston Masterpiece” – Or why I want out from the workers

To all members of PL in New England:

MOST OF YOU HAVE BEEN IN STUDY GROUPS ON THE RIGHT-WING trend over the past two weeks. Pretty much everyone agrees this trend is very strong nationally. The struggle over the party’s move to the right has been going on between party leaders and others in New England and the Steering Committee leadership in New York for over a year (closer to two years). Until recently we in the Boston Leadership almost completely avoided discussing this. This was based on party discipline, and was correct at the time. But now, we feel, the struggle has gotten much sharper. The SC, especially Milt, have decided to solve these political differences with harsh organizational measures. Since we feel the future of PL as a revolutionary party is at stake, we have fully discussed the whole thing. It’s now clear the political disagreements are extremely sharp. Already the party here has gained from the political discussion. We are pretty sure PL will emerge much stronger from this struggle – as a more revolutionary working class party.

MILT CALLED JARED DOWN TO THE JAN. 23rd STEERING COMMITTEE (SC) meeting in NY. There Milt said Ellen & Jared had to move to NY, and Ellen had to quit the National Committee (NC) too. Comparing Jared to Bill Epton and other renegades, Milt said that Jared and Ellen’s effect on the Boston work had been so harmful – in the form of promoting Boston factionalism – that their continued presence in Boston would be worse than removing them even if it meant destroying the work in New England. “It would be a small price to pay for nipping this in the bud,” said Milt.

The rest of the SC agreed with Milt. All of them but Chris R. from Chicago had apparently been won to this before the meeting. Virtually no discussion occurred concerning the state of political work in Boston – except that Milt said it was no better or worse than anywhere else.

Milt said Ellen and Jared’s (and Boston’s) weaknesses not their fault. He attributed it to being from a student background. “When you scratch a student, you find a factionalism” said Milt. “Stalin’s genius lay in surrounding himself with working class leaders who could produce so much that was brilliant. We should do likewise.” He promised a more detailed report later on innate weakness of students.

Proof of Jared’s deterioration are his bad relations with certain party leaders – especially in NY. He is too nasty, especially with the Challenge editor. Milt made clear he thought rest of political leadership had been seriously misdeveloped by Jared and Ellen. He claimed he thought they could handle the job, but later on the phone said that “if they put up a fuss over this decision it will make clear the problem’s a lot worse and more serious steps are needed.” Janet cited Marty as an example of somebody who gave little leadership to Boston student work. When Jared disagreed, saying she was an example of somebody who’d developed a lot, Milt replied that “That’s the problem ” what you think is development for the better is what I think is development for the worse!”

Later, on the phone, Milt said that if Ellen refused to go to NY she would be expelled. At the meeting Milt and the SC insisted, and Jared “agreed” not to talk with anybody about this until a Boston area leadership meeting that Milt could come up to. (It took place Tues.) There Jared was supposed to convince everybody about this decision – “I want you to hang yourself” – so there would be no trouble about the two going to NY.

AN ATTEMPT TO CRUSH POLITICAL DISAGREEMENT

The Boston Area Leadership discussed this terrible development. We reject Milt’s stand 100%. Later on we comment specifically on the charges against Jared and Ellen – in brief, they are bullshit. Worse, we know there are serious disagreements, and this is how Milt and the SC are trying to crush them. We realize that if they succeed here, they will move to “cure” the “factionalism” (crush the left stand) of the rest of the Boston leadership. We demand this be dropped. Let’s reopen the political discussion that was kept in very narrow limits before the Convention, then basically suppressed at the Convention. Since the Convention, the SC has presided over the party’s movement to the right. As very loyal communists we will fight with all we’ve get to keep PL from being destroyed – by any forces, including the chairman, who we know has made contributions, but now is killing the kid.

SIGNS OF DECAY...

There are a lot of signs of decay – of the party’s move to the right. For instance, many have noted the spirit of gossipyness and ciiquishness among comrades in NY. A tremendous deal was made out of the Mack Stamping Plant action – and yet, since then silence. There are almost no articles dealing with racism among white workers – especially STRUGGLE articles – in Challenge, outside of New England stuff. CAR chapters still hardly exist – outside the 8 (going on 12) in New England. There were virtually NO auto-related STRUGGLES related in the SIT-DOWN issue of Challenge. That issue has a headline attacking “Racist Layoffs in Auto” and yet the articles inside barely mention racism! At the cadre school, there was almost no discussion of WHAT ARE THE KEY IDEAS we want to raise with workers. Instead the emphasis was on techniques of organizing and the need for tactical boldness, with a lot of sentimental stories about the old CP and Stalin by Milt and Wally. The Sat. Challenge before the SIT DOWN issue (the “BE BOLD etc” issue) has an article on Soldsomshitsin [PL’s name for Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – EROL] which, completely euologizes Stalin – a far cry from (even the weak) stand in Road to Revolution 3.

Paper sales have stayed pretty much the same – some are a little better, some worse. Maybe some slight improvement.

Where there’s smoke, there’s something happening. What’s happening?

WHICH IS KEY: IDEOLOGICAL STRUGGLE OR TACTICAL LEADERSHIP?

The pre-convention documents were supposed to be the focus of a fight against the “right wing trend.” But what was really fought in those documents? Mainly, the ultra-rightist position on Challenge – that it should be liberal. The implication of this was NO PARTY. In opposition to this, the SC led a struggle for selling more papers, raising more money and recruiting. But these things do not necessarily build the left. Any serious political force has to sell its paper, raise $$ and recruit. That goes for everything from us to the Nazi’s!! The REAL right wing trend was always avoided in these discussions – with the partial exception of a minority of the pieces, which tried to be self-critical, mainly written by comrades in New England.

The right wing trend has always existed in our practice, and is now being embodied in the line of the SC. What is this trend?

The main question in our practical work has always been: what is key? Simply gaining tactical leadership and being loved for gains we deliver? Or is the party’s main task to seek out the ideological obstacles to the development of the movement and defeat these?

Very little of the latter gets done. Thus in Wally Linder’s critique (Bull #3) of the 1199 strike he completely concentrates on a) the tactical methods of leading a strike (which any sensible group of workers can figure out without us, given the incentive) b) the need for the party to guarantee these tactical steps. He barely mentions any ideological problems among the workers that we have to deal with. Racism is either never mentioned, or well hidden?

During periods when things aren’t so bad for the workers, you can’t even launch a mass movement without fighting serious ideological obstacles. This is for instance still true at Lynn, G.E. It takes constant ideological work to launch serious struggles. It is already less true at places like Mack, where things MUCH sharper and the workers start our much more rebellious. In any case, as things get much sharper, it gets a lot easier to launch struggles without this ideological approach. People will rebel without our presence if things are real bad. If things are objectively sharp enough, we can become involved in what seem like very sharp struggles (and ARE in the sense of a big attack which upsets bosses) but during which we do no ideological work. This is very dangerous because it gives the illusion of great political accomplishments, when none have been made. At a later stage, if things get worse, (for workers) it would be possible to recruit lots of workers DESPITE THEIR PROFOUND DISAGREEMENT WITH A PARTY LIKE OURS WHICH HAD NEVER STRUGGLED MUCH WITH THEM. Pretty soon, we would drop the pretense and have a plain revisionist party.

A small example of this is the Mack sit-down. The main reason it was possible was the workers were furious – they’d been being killed and mauled, worked like oxen, etc. We did very little political work other than C-D [Challenge-Desafio, the PL newspaper – EROL] sales beforehand. No examination of what the main political problems existed in the movement at Mack or in the attitudes of specific workers. Then we pulled off a coup – and made a name for ourselves. This was made a symbol of what we needed to do everywhere. Afterwards, the workers all got fired and we made no serious political efforts around consolidation. But party members go around with the “giddy-with-success” illusion that “we’re getting somewhere” in auto.

The pre-convention, convention, and post-convention periods SHOULD have mainly been devoted to correcting these weaknesses. Instead we’ve seen a weakness develop into a line. Be good tacticians. Be bold. Recruit so we can plan the struggle collectively. Let workers in. Develop a semi-religious spirit of enthusiasm in the party. Let’s look at how this has developed.

AUGUST ’72 NC

This NC saw the acceptance of Jim Dann’s report, printed as Bull #1, Article #1. Dann (and the majority at that NC) agreed that a) history of class struggle shows long periods where things get a lot better or a lot worse. Reactionary and revolutionary periods. Now we are in a down-period. Will stay that way for some time. We should not expect to make that many gains. We should build more united fronts from above and ease up on uniting with organizations with bad leadership. In addition, Dann played down need for a party under socialism.

After the Aug. ’72 NC, things in the party got real bad. Paper sales, fund raising and recruitment were small-scale. Milt and SC feared party might well disappear. Started struggle vs. right-wing trend to combat this. But from the outset, this struggle was the struggle was CENTRIST. That is, it focused around preserving the party, not around serious critique of our right-wing practice (in relations to workers and the mass movements) and moving these relations to the left. There was a lot of big-time talk about fighting right wing trend, but little content. In some areas, apparently, people thought bulletins were mainly supposed to be a sounding board “where we could get out our feelings” (a quote from someone, very right-wing, at convention. This comrade was shocked that people in Boston had discussed his right-wing article on culture as an example of right.)

The convention was much sharper. There the left was systematically suppressed. At same time, left-forces were given free-rein in the C-D workshop – where we dutifully fought to uphold the paper! But in the workshops on line – racism, TU, student, intellectuals – centrists held sway. Racism is good example. What actually came out during discussion was Harris’ (west coast organizers) position: recruitment of blacks, not fighting racism among white workers, is key task of party. What this meant was have to concentrate on making friends with blacks, and “let them in.” Instead of problem being that our lack of serious fight on racism of whites (Wagler, that type thing) is what keeps black workers away from PL. This was very rightist line. Its victory is proved by already mentioned lack of non-Boston articles reflected struggle vs. racism among white workers. In TU workshops there was a euphoric mood, a romantic glorification of workers who we only have to let into PL. No discussion of problems in winning them, Ellen tried to raise something around that and was cut off by Eddie Lemansky. (In racism workshop, L. was similarly silenced when trying to raise primacy of fighting white workers racism, by Harris who pointed to allegedly small number of blacks in Boston party as reason we saw fighting white workers racism, not just recruiting blacks as key.) Harris’ concluding speech was typical of convention: full of rah-rah, very little that was political: The high-point of convention was supposedly a) the presence of many foreign students (big deal! how hard is that to achieve?) and fact that about a dozen joined PL. (Many or most out by now. One – Eliot – who Wally referred to in his intro. to the TU workshop report as the typical example of the success of the convention – had been working the night shift before coming to convention, was exhausted, never came to a club meeting!) The aim of the SC at the convention was a) to produce enthusiasm despite fact that crumby rightist practice has produced insufficient results b) make sure nobody raised anything too left c) make sure no struggle got too sharp and d)get a mandate for recruiting on a low level as objectively improving situation makes that possible.

Since the convention things have gone downhill fast. The MACK avenue thing has been put forward as the golden example – despite fact that it is symbolic of our weaknesses. At Detroit WAM convention a rah-rah spirit dominated, with everyone asked to emulate Mack.

There was no critical and self-critical discussion of strengths and weaknesses of Mack which would have helped others build warn chapters – since all our efforts share the weaknesses of Mack. This would have put people in a realistic frame of mind vis a vis their own work.

Instead: be bold, follow Mack. Party leaders there made a giant fuss over the “hero” who’d led this and people went away with their heads in the clouds over a) what simple boldness could achieve and b) the lack of necessity of improving. When this was raised with Milt he countered that “people liked it a lot” – which of course, could well be the proof of our point, that the party was getting into a very unrealistic, bravado frame of mind, focusing on tactics instead of political struggle (heretofore our hallmark!) (though always too weak!)

Since the Mack thing, there have been two NC’s. The first (Oct.) seemed hopeful – Lemansky was removed from NY TU lead for being impossible to criticize and having wrecked NY WAM work. Milt said had tried to get him out for years. But after that, things got steadily worse. No serious attempt to stem rightist tide – in fact SC-led Cadre school was very right-wing – tactics and boldness. C-D articles (somewhat exception of Boston) have gotten duller and reflect less struggle and less ideological struggle too! Before last NC (early Jan.) we had workshops. In them it became clear the SC had moved far to right. Bob reported that Milt felt key weakness in party was lack of commitment. People had to learn to be ready to move, leave family, die, be like Stalin who walked through a prison camp gauntlet of flailing sticks reading a book by Lenin. (We feel this dead wrong. Main task is to give daily leadership to each other on how to fight among masses over key obstacles to forward-movement of work. See welfare struggle article in next C-D, after one on SIT-DOWN.) Milt said at NC that right wing trend was not being bold enough. (We say it is not thinking politically.) In meeting itself, when one Boston comrade tried to criticise rightist cadre school, Milt answered for 45 minutes concluding that “what’s the big difference, as long as people liked it? If people go to see Deep Throat and like that, make the most of it! Be thankful for small favors.” Later that day, when Jared tried to raise a few serious criticisms of work in NY, and then answered question why he sounded nervous by saying he’d been trying to raise such points with Milt and expected to be given hard time, the roof fell in. Basically, followed by demand Jared and Ellen move.

A NOTE ON CAR

The Committee Against Racism is a group we think is basically positive, work with. In NY, despite help from PL, this group barely exists. Very healthy in Boston. Bob raised with a comrade who leads Boston work with CAR that a) problem with faculty is they’re very hard to organize (not fault of NY comrades!) and b) therefore CAR should be expanded so that broader forces involved – like those in communities and c) this would be useful anyway, since it would give inactive NY community section something to do. In other words, they want to make CAR a garbage pail. This reminds us of way Milt virtually destroyed SDS after split. He forced the CWSA on us, never listened to objections (very strong) or to reports of its disastrous consequences. Only time party membership in Boston declined was based on this horrendous decision to stop fighting around war and racism other than CWSA.

A NOTE ON HARVARD

Milt makes big point of Boston’s student background. Only partly true, and anyway, so what? This is essentially a form of racism vs. students. In addition, he says we always talk about Harvard strike, proof of our student centered outlook. Two points on this. First, the Harvard strike is WORTH talking about because we recruited more good people to PL from it than from any other struggle before or since. Close to 100 joined party. Most are still in. They are key forces in many areas. Why not study that???? Second, the main reason why Bostonians have raised a discussions around fighting right-wing trend is that it is so DIFFERENT from present type work reflected in much of Challenge. Harvard strike was prepared for in the main POLITICALLY-IDEOLOGICALLY. Not tactically (a la Wally on 1199), We spent at least a year (really more) moving that campus to left and building party’s ideological base.

We systematically geared our work both in terms of the types of fights vs. administration which we launched, and the types of ideological campaigns around these fights, to winning people away from wrong ideas. We trained about 35 people BEFORE strike in how to do that, and another 150 were partly trained. People spent all their time figuring out how to defeat key weaknesses. The night before we seized people we won vote through more ideological struggle on necessity to do that. When 35 of us seized building, it was with a carefully thought out plan – we were convinced that based on work we’d done, this would touch off the explosion. That all was prepared. Not simply objective situation, but ideas of people. The administration could do what they wanted with us TACTICALLY (beat us up, throw us in jail) but strategically we had them on political defensive – which is key. So we ended up with 100 won to PL through seeing us IN DAILY LIFE teach the lessons of revolution in theory and practice.

Contrast this to BE BOLD line; Leaves out all but the most obvious kind of TACTICAL preparation. Politics is thrown to the wind. As if all workers are waiting for is our boldness. As if there aren’t serious ideological obstacles. This typified the terrible article in SIT DOWN issue of C-D on the 10 members and friends of PL who almost seized the union office. Very much like old student resistance strategy – no discussion of political preparation, just a bold tactical move to seize the – what tactical leadership/political bankruptcy.

The SC line has the following features: stresses bold tactical moves (devoid of serious political work) and careful tactician-planning (as if that’s main problem). Sees party and Challenge very much in terms of consolidating some thing out of struggle – instead of that struggle should be to win people to certain ideas. Pushes recruitment on lowest level (Bob C., possibly Bonnie B.) anti-student (with a big chunk of population including many poor people written off that way! More and more eulogization of Stalin and this false-heroics approach to “the professional revolutionary ready to die.” Allows gossip in party and constant violations of all the rules – while cracking down hard on left. A totally unrealistic, bravado line taken in Challenge BE BOLD, BE BOLD, BE BOLD, etc.

ON OUR WORK

Our work seems to be a good deal better, say, than in NY. Just check out Challenge. Disproportionate number of struggle articles from Boston. Only struggle articles around white workers. Most politically sharp articles. Only ones (almost) dealing with fighting white workers’ racism.

After convention we went down hill. ALL were demoralized by it. Then Wagler thing woke us up, we started to get back in shape. Since then, much leadership discussion of fighting the right wing trend of not dealing with obstacles among the people as key task - this struggle in leadership has perked up work considerably. At its best. NOW we want to keep SC from destroying this work. Instead let’s discuss whole thing out nationally in party. Build towards new convention that can REALLY lick the right wing trend in all our practice.

On criticisms of Jared

We have agreed with some of Milt’s criticisms of Jared in past. Disagreed with others. Have some of our own. Main point is we think criticisms have been mainly geared to suppressing the left, on Milt’s part. Example was Milt’s attack on Jared in steering committee meeting and to many people for having saved the May Day SDS conference in NY from certain disaster. Milt claimed conference was being organized fine, that Jared used wizardry to make people think there was a problem. This reflected two things: a) some people probably didn’t like Jared interfering and criticising them for near-failure of conference - this reflects their bad training. b) Milt didn’t like implicit criticism of him for letting thing nearly flop. At same time, Milt’s criticism then that Jared didnít involve broad enough forces in planning has truth, but is fairly hollow given a)near disaster and b)fact that SC often sets up phony-center committees to give appearance of broad forces, involving all kinds of odds and ends, which only muddies the picture. Example: AFT convention.