Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Progressive Labor Party

“Chicken Little in Boston”

A letter from PLP member answering factionalism

Wally: I sent this letter to Jeff and Missy in response to their hour-long phone call on the night of February 5. I wanted you to see it. It may not be sharp enough but I am speaking under the assumption that the two of them are winnable. Perhaps some type of open letter could be written by the party to all the comrades in Boston.


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February 6, 1974

Dear Jeff and Missy,

I was unable to sleep much last night after receiving your phone call and so I am writing you this morning to let you know some of my feelings on what you told me.

Perhaps because I was half asleep I misheard some of the things you told me. I thought you said that Jared and Ellen Israel and Marty Riefe had been expelled last night, while this morning I learned that Milt had told the Feb. 5 Boston meeting that he would propose to the National Committee that Jared and Ellen be expelled for organizing a faction and that Marty be removed from the N.C. This means that the N.C. will discuss it fully beforehand and that it was not, as you seemed to imply, a one or two-man decision. Second, I have learned that Jared had previously agreed to come to N.Y. instead of leading the work in Boston.

As for some of the political “disagreements” which you seem to feel is at the heart of these events, I am having great difficulty figuring out who you “disagree” with. It is simply an undeniable fact that most people in the party, especially the leadership, would agree with you that we have been weak in pursuing the anti-racism struggle, “30 for 40”, and recruitment of “quality” members (or any members). I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t feel that way. The entire thrust of the pre-convention discussion was the need to reverse these right-wing tendencies. It wasn’t only the people in Boston who felt this way, but rather it was many members and friends, including the present leadership, throughout the country. While I respect the role that some Boston comrades played in this struggle, it should be clear that the struggle against revisionism in the party was not one of Boston vs. the rest of the party or Jared vs. the rest of the leadership. To give only one of many examples, I spent a good deal of tine at the party convention in the workshop on Challenge, where a number of party leaders fought for the position that Challenge should be politically sharper as opposed to those comrades who had suggested the paper be toned down. I distinctly remember that it was Milt who spoke most persuasively on the need to make Challenge an even sharper communist tool.

It seems inevitable to me that there be revisionist tendencies to one degrees or another in any Marxist-Leninist party, especially as we do more and more work in the mass movement. When such tendencies exist, they generally affect every area. Boston can’t be excluded. Consider, for instance, the pamphlet on “I.Q., Racism, and the Working Class”, put out in Boston, which, while excellent in many ways, is fairly weak in explaining why it is in white worker’s interests too oppose racism and why, in the final analysis, racism can only be eliminated after a revolution and socialism.

The important question. however, is what do we do about revisionist tendencies in the party. This seems to be the crux of our differences. It seems to me crucial to remember at this point that a communist party is not necessarily revisionist when it is either following a incorrect policy or failing to practice the agreed-upon correct policy. Nor is the leadership necessarily revisionist. As long as the party bases itself on the fundamental tenets of Marxism-Leninism and permits full discussion of its policies and practices, it is still possible for an incorrect line or practice to be changed. To see that this is so, consider our past support of the North Vietnamese and Chinese Communist Parties. Was PL a revisionist party at those points? I would say not because we stood on the Marxist-Leninist ideas of internationalism, fighting for socialism, and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Furthermore, the process of democratic centralism enabled us to review our position and collectively agree to change (RR III). In general I would say, and I think you would agree, that the political line and practice of the party has improved (turn to the unions, more involvement in the mass movement, greater concentration on opposing racism). All these changes occurred precisely because some people (including many of our present leaders), using Marxism-Leninism, developed better ideas of how the party can serve the working class and these ideas were first discussed and then accepted by the rest of the membership.

So what’s different in this case? From what you said last night, I don’t see any major political differences involved here. In fact, what you seemed to be saying is that you would like to see the party more vigorously pursue its own line, which was agreed upon at the convention. You don’t feel that this is presently being done and most of us would probably agree. But if that’s the case, then you should see it as your, communist responsibility to suggest ways in which the party can better carry out the agreed-upon line. These suggestions can be made in internal bulletins, at meetings, etc.

However, the wrong way to go about this would be not to openly and fraternally present your criticisms for discussion but instead to immediately write off the leadership and the rest of the membership and organize a faction. It was not without good reason that Lenin opposed factionalism. Lenin knew, and we should know, that the existence of factions weakens the party, destroys democratic centralism, and if permitted to flourish opens the door to any revisionist elements to form their own little groups within the party. (Examine for a while the history of the innumerable Trotskyite sects – all of which developed as factions). I’m sure you know why Communists always considered factions to be incompatible with the M-L concept of the party.

I have also thought about some of the examples you gave me of the right-wing trend. I don’t feel its necessary to respond to all of them, since even if they were all true, it wouldn’t contradict what I have written above. However, the point about Barbara B. being the main obstacle to our not raising “30 for 40” and anti-racism quickly enough in the Rank-and-File-Caucus at the AFT convention I would like to answer, as I was there and disagree with your assessment (which, by the way, you did not bring up at any of the party meetings in Washington).

For one, we had discussed in N.Y. that the shorter work week ought to be proposed as a demand for the caucus. Two specific things were done toward that end. First, a 2-page leaflet (“Why Teachers Should Support the Shorter Work Week”) was written, carefully explaining the relationship between teacher’s and student’s needs and “30 for 40”. Teacher comrades from Boston told me they thought the leaflet was good. Second, I sent a letter to every party teacher before the convention explaining how important it was for us to raise the shorter work week and anti-racism for adoption at the RAFC meetings. The leaflet was handed out at the first two RAFC meetings yet no one during these first two days brought up either of the above 2 points for adoption. Isn’t it clear that this failure was every party member’s fault and not just Barbara’s?

It was our own fears and opportunism that held us back from initiating a big discussion those first couple of meetings on why the caucus should adopt anti-racism and “30 for 40”. Neither Barbara or anyone else was twisting our arm, telling us not to raise what everyone knew ax was correct. As a result of the PL meeting which took place on the second day, we were able to reverse our mistakes somewhat, resulting in some very good workshops on what teachers can specifically do to oppose racist ideas and practices in the schools. Furthermore, it was Barbara who on the third day confronted Shanker and before 70 people denounced him as a racist. It was also Barbara who was one of the few PLers who marched in the AFT demonstration with the “Smash Racist Farah, Bust the Wage Freeze – PLP” banner and was consequently attacked by union goons.

It’s always easy to point the blame for our mistakes at the leadership. While the leadership certainly deserves and has accepted part of the blame for not opposing more vigorously certain bad tendencies, no one is holding a gun to our head demanding that we be opportunists. On the other hand, it seems to me that most of us have developed as communists to the extent we have because we were consistently struggled with by the present leadership to overcome the various bourgeois ideas we held when we came into the party or before. To say simply that the party leadership is revisionists and is now the main obstacle holding back the party is wrong because it ignores 3 facts:
(1) the leadership initiated and encouraged the struggle against the right wing trend, criticizing the same weaknesses that you are mentioning now (!)
(2) the harmful ideas (racism, individualism, etc.) which leads to poor political practice are held by every member of the party to one degree of another and this is the source of revisionism, and
(3) both the membership and all levels of the leadership are making a serious attempt to overcome these weaknesses and welcome all suggestions toward this goal.

Given all this, splitting the party over “your” criticisms (many of us share them), is completely unnecessary.

I hope you will view this letter in the spirit of friendly criticism in which it was written. My wife and I enjoyed working with both of you at the AFT convention and when you stayed at our house during the Party Convention. We sincerely hope that you will remain comrades. The party leadership in N.Y., I am sure, is hopeful that all the Boston comrades will continue this discussion within the party in a fraternal manner and avoid factionalizing and personal power plays. I imagine that the N.C. will call a meeting in Boston for all Boston party members. I urge you to attend.



P.S.: I examined the PLP Third Convention Report and found a good deal more on racism that simply saying we should recruit black workers and involve ourselves in electoral campaigns (See pages #20, #33-3.4 #54-56). It is also worthwhile to note that the resolution on #38-39 was eventually adopted and opposition to racism is part of WAM’s program.