Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

MINP-El Comité

Presentation of the First Secretary of MINP-El Comité [at the 10th Anniversary Celebration]

First Published: Obreros En Marcha, Vol. 5, No. 6, August 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Comrades, Friends and Guests,

Anniversaries and birthdays are festive occasions: full of joy, comraderie and memories. Our celebration today shares these qualities; but ours is not the celebration of an individual’s longevity and accomplishments. Rather, it is the recognition of a collective process–a process of an organization, of individuals who have committed themselves to contribute to the building of a genuinely just and democratic society for working people–men and women, who, in pursuit of that aim, strive to overcome political and personal weaknesses and struggle to become better human beings–better revolutionaries.

As you heard from some of our founding members and saw in the slide show, MINP-El Comité’s history is a rich one. Along with commitment and dedication, political objectives and struggle have molded our process. It has been a history written by many authors: some of those authors are here with us today but sadly many are not. Of our founding members, most are no longer in MINP today. We have political agreements with some and political differences with others. But today we give grateful recognition to the contributions they all have made.

There have been many chapters in our history, but our purpose here is not to recount for you the experiences and lessons of each one.

Instead, we will highlight the most outstanding of these experiences. By so doing, we hope to give you a better understanding of our process, of where we are today and the basis on which we look toward a future of struggle and growth.

“Cling to the masses, share their strugles, learn from them, unite with them.”

These words of Mario Roberto Santucho reflect for us one of the most important lessons that we have learned in our 10 years of development–that in order to play its leading role, a revolutionary organization must be situated among the masses, in particular among the working class. It must do this in order to exert influence and raise their class-consciousness, educating them as to the need for a total transformation of society as the only way to end exploitation and oppression. If a revolutionary organization does not earn the respect and acceptance of the masses, then it will not be able to play this role. We have learned this crucial lesson through the experiences we have had. Our experience has shown us the need to have a close relationship with the people and to be a part of their struggles, and to learn from them. In fact, it was their struggles that gave rise to MINP-El Comité.

The people’s struggles of the 60’s and early 70’s for civil rights and against the Vietnam War spawned many grass roots organizations. El Comité was one of those organizations.

As you heard and saw in our slide presentation, in the summer of 1970, a group of 200 families took over various buildings slated for demolition in the West Side. The courageous action of these squatters to secure decent, affordable housing motivated a group of young people from the community to take over a storefront on 88th Street and Columbus Avenue. Their goal was to convert it into an office, and establish a place to discuss how to become active in the community’s struggles. Their idea was to build an organization that would serve the community. They named this group El Comité.

During its early period, El Comité’s activity was among the squatters and the surrounding community in the Upper West Side. Our objectives were to bring about social changes within this immediate area.

One of the first difficulties we encountered was one of communication: we were unable to communicate with other members of the community. We spoke in English to a community that predominantly spoke Spanish. When we did speak Spanish, we spoke it poorly. We began to see the different cultural levels and lifestyles which existed in our community as well. As we discussed these differences, we came to understand more concretely the process of integration in the U.S. of Puerto Ricans and other Latins and the particularities of each generation. These early experiences showed us the need to grasp our culture and learn from our history. We came to understand that, if we were to be effective in organizing our community, we would have to further understand and grapple with this reality, as part of our work.

These experiences motivated us to struggle for a bilingual program for the schools in our community. Instruction on Puerto Rican history and culture were part of our demands. Along with hundreds of parents, we mobilized and organized militant demonstrations. These mobilizations were effective and District 3 became one of the first school districts in New York City to implement a district-wide bilingual program. Significantly, the victory included the right of parents to supervise the functioning of the program.

Our early community involvement was an invaluable school which introduced us to political influence. These struggles helped us to better understand how the city government worked and in whose interests it worked. We began to understand the inner workings of the Board of Education. We learned which bureaucrats were responsible for what, and where to exert pressure.

Our experiences also taught us the importance of making alliances with forces with whom we had differences but with whom we could agree on given actions and objectives. This was a particularly important lesson for us, one that over the years has guided us through difficult political situations where our inclination might otherwise be to throw up our hands in disgust and say we can not work with these people.

What became increasingly clear to us through those early political experiences was the commonality of interests and aspirations that working and oppressed people have–whether they are Puerto Rican, Dominican, Haitian, white or black. The gains won for bilingual education and low-income housing gave us concrete evidence of the capacity that working people have when they are united on a common goal and exert militant action.

Our early community work played an important role in moving us to become a different type of organization–one whose goals were broader than improving conditions in our immediate community. Although the community had won a few victories, we saw that people still continued to face problems of discrimination, poverty, unemployment, underemployment and other injustices. We began to see and experience the complicity between the government and economic interests in the city and our community in particular. This raised discussions within our organization about why these injustices existed and what actions we needed to take to overcome them.

At the same time, we were becoming involved in the movement to support Puerto Rico’s independence. We began to see the complicity between the U.S. government and the economic interests in Puerto Rico and its relationship to the experiences of the Puerto Ricans in this country. We became aware that we needed to struggle not only for the immediate issues of better housing, education and health services, but also for social changes that would touch the basic conflicts that created and perpetuated the injustices we faced daily.

Our growing understanding and commitment to this work was influenced by the politics and social practice of some of the other minority grass roots organizations of the period, such as the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords–who then openly called for a society organized on socialist principles. Our exposure to and gradual embrace of socialist ideas and concepts, such as class struggle, were also inspired by the heroic struggles of the Cuban and Vietnamese peoples and their victories against U.S. imperialist domination.

Fundamentally, our early experiences imprinted on our organization a commitment to be involved in the people’s struggle. This we have never lost. In fact, if has become deeply rooted in our collective consciousness. This is not to say that our mass work has always been effective; nor does it negate that we have gone through periods when our mass work has gone into decline– because indeed there have been such periods. But we consider it important that we have always viewed those periods of decline in our mass work as signs of weaknesses, not to be accepted passively, but to be struggled against and overcome. Significantly, we have consistently tried to impress upon other Marxist-Leninists in this country the importance of rooting our movement among the working class and the oppressed–not as an end in itself, but rather as the only concrete basis upon which to build a revolutionary process in this country.

The young people who formed El Comité were representative of the community they wished to serve. They were men and women, Puerto Rican and non-Puerto Rican, employed and unemployed. They were products of different experiences and had different skills; there were workers, housewives, students, ex-marines, ex-offenders. But they were all bound together by their determination–some more than others–to serve their community and to further El Comité’s goals.

This determination was reflected in their willingness to come together on a voluntary basis. Because of their consolidating social and political awareness, they soon discussed and adopted principles of unity that reflected their objectives and that would strengthen their collective capacity to achieve the work before them. At the same time, they realized that certain patterns of conduct and activities would weaken their ability to function collectively and carry out their work effectively. Thus, they adopted rules which were aimed at dealing with this situation. The rules included a commitment not to use narcotics of any type and not to get drunk; not to lie or to treat one another or the community in a disrespectful manner. In total, there were “ten commandments.” During its first year, these principles of El Comité were to determine who could or could not be a member as well as which members would remain in the organization and which would not.

Although we do not want to belittle the content of these rules–most of which continue to be upheld by our organization–we would say that what was most important about them was the process they reflected– a process concerned with achieving voluntary unity based on goals and principles that would further our organization’s political objectives.

At the time the “rules” were adopted, the organization’s political goal was limited to serving the community. This commitment has of course become much broader and at the same time, more concrete and defined. Today, we are committed to contributing to building a revolutionary process in the U.S. Since our beginnings as a community group, we have strived consistently to engage in principled struggle both internally and with others in order to better grasp reality and advance our political goals. This does not negate that there have been heated discussions and debates within our organization, discussions where emotions have run high and subjectivity has been rampant. Nevertheless, even in those moments–such as the period when we were discussing and debating the relationship between our commitment to Puerto Rico’s national liberation struggle and our role and tasks in the revolutionary process in this country–we never lost our ability to bring our discussions back to the issues and to be self-critical about any emotional or subjective outburst.

This character of our organization is one that helps explain the comradely relationships that exist among our membership– from leadership to base. In our organization there are genuine expressions of love and affection among our membership. For us a personal tragedy or unhappiness in the lives of any one of our comrades, family members or those with whom we struggle, is a tragedy which in some way touches us all. Just as importantly, we also share the pride and joy which emerges when any of us finds strength in a meaningful relationship, a hard-won academic or technical achievement, a new-born baby or any of the other happy occasions that are part of the human experience–and that thus are an integral part of political struggle and growth.

During its ten years, our organization has taken on many tasks and responsibilities. For the most part we have met these challenges and responsibilities to the best of our ability. Indeed, we have many things of which to be proud. Besides our contributions to the squatters and education struggles in the Upper West Side, there was our work in the education struggle of the Lower East Side. We are very proud of the role we played in organizing the first conference in this country to call for the freedom of the five Puerto Rican Nationalist prisoners in 1972, and later in the formation of El Frente Unido to free all political prisoners. We also point with pride to our role in the construction workers’ struggles at City College. More recently, there is work in the Coalition to Save Metropolitan Hospital and in the Coalition in Defense of Puerto Rican and Hispanic Rights. Throughout these and other struggles, we have remained firm in our concern to root our activity and invest our human and material capacities in those endeavors which would further the interests of the working class. We have attempted to be as objective and realistic as possible in assessing those interests and needs and our own capacity to respond to them.

Today our organization is guided by the principles of Marxism-Leninism. Our path to Marxism has been a long and arduous one. Since our organization did not emerge from the campuses or from marginalized study groups of petty-bourgeois intellectuals, but rather from the grass roots struggles of a working class community, the academic skills of most of our members were limited. Reading, writing and math skills were low and only a minimal understanding of science and philosophy existed. Nevertheless, in response to the need to answer questions emerging from our social practice and to understand the world around us and the forces that were shaping it, we undertook the study of Marxism-Leninism.

We began the rigorous study of Marxism after our Formative Assembly in January 1975. Today we continue to place great stress on our theoretical development–particularly our ability to use the science to understand the content of concrete contraditions and their concrete solutions.

Our experience with Marxism has unmasked to us the myths spread by the bourgeoisie about Marxism as a worthless, Utopian philosophy, or the posture of pseudo-revolutionary Marxists who make of Marxism incomprehensible rhetoric. Our experience has demonstrated to us the nature of Marxism as a science rooted in the experiences and struggles of workers and humanity, a science capable of being understood by them, and capable of guiding their struggles toward a society free of exploitation and oppression.

Early in our process of politicization and study, we came across the slogan that “Women hold up half the sky.” Since our beginnings, women have participated in the formative process and struggles which led to the transformation of El Comité into MINP. While initially women were a minority in our organization, we say proudly that today in MINP, women cadres hold up more than half our organization. The majority of our cadres are women. As you can see by looking at the table at which the Central Committee is seated, some of our most advanced and developed cadres – leaders – are women. Women play a key role in all aspects of our work and functioning. However, in the history of our organization, this has not always been the case.

Initially, some of the women who joined El Comité did so because they wanted to be with their husbands and to struggle alongside their companeros. Like all the members of the organization, they were assigned tasks. For women with families, this created added responsibilities. Not only did they have political tasks, but they also had to cook for their companeros, clean house and look after their children.

As women in El Comité began to study and take leadership in the organization, the women began to criticize the men for “male chauvinism” and to engage in acts of protest. For example, some of the married women refused to cook or wash dishes for their husbands; one companera went as far as to break any dishes which her companero refused to wash. But although these actions graphically expressed the anger among the women in the organization, they served to antagonize rather than to educate most of the men. In addition, these actions, though militant, did not deal with the passive political role the majority of the women played in the organization. As a result, in that early period, the organization made no significant advances in its understanding of women’s oppression. These advances were to come as the organization matured politically and the women began to exert themselves politically in all aspects of the organization’s work. Clearly, our study of Marxist literature on the woman question helped us to put our experience into perspective, giving us the tools to combat bourgeois feminist and male chauvinist conceptions, and to understand more concretely and theoretically the roots of women’s oppression. In the process, we have become steadfastly committed to the conception that the true liberation of women will take place through the working class struggle.

Our discussion of the woman question and women’s role in the organization would be incomplete if we did not touch upon our experience with the organization’s children. Children have always been a part of our process. Unfortunately, however, during our early period, we were, for the most part, insensitive to their needs. Our children were often taken from meeting to meeting, some that went on for hours. They were also often forced to suffer for long periods of time the absence of one or another of their parents. It has taken years for our organization to come to terms with these issues. But today we can say that we are more conscious of our responsibility to respond to the particular needs of our children so that they may experience a rewarding childhood that will instill in them the values that will bring them to identify with our politics and goals. If we are among those struggling for a just society today, then we must create the conditions so that our children form part of the ranks of those who struggle for that goal in the future.

In our process of formation, we became active in the struggle for Puerto Rico’s national and social liberation. We have already spoken about the factors and realities that brought us to identify with this struggle. At the same time, from our very beginnings, we also took interest in, and spoke of, the struggles in Latin America and other parts of the world. It was in part our identification with the struggles in Latin America which led us to call our first newspaper Unidad Latina. Later, it was our internalization and understanding of the principles of proletarian internationalism which enabled us to deepen our grasp of the international character of the struggles of working people. With this knowledge we were able to learn much from the liberation struggles being waged against U.S. imperialism. In particular, we came to understand the struggle of the people of Puerto Rico and other Latin American peoples within the context of the struggle between classes in capitalist societies.

Through our active support of the struggles in Latin America, Asia and Africa, we formed ties with companeros and companeras active in the solidarity organizations–as well as with those engaged in struggles within those countries.

Throughout our ten years, therefore, El Comité and later El Comité-MINP, became known in New York City as an organization committed to taking up its proletarian internationalist tasks. This was so much the case that often times comrades and friends confused El Comité and then MINP as a solidarity and not a revolutionary organization. This view resulted from a lack of knowledge about the history and process of our organization, as well as from a lack of understanding of the internationalist responsibilities of a revolutionary organization. Nevertheless, this view was a testament to our active involvement in the solidarity movement.

We learned much from our Latin American comrades about strategy and tactics, about cadre formation, about revolutionary morality. We learned about the kind of sacrifices that must be made by those who are committed to the struggle of the working class and oppressed masses. And most of all, we became clearer about the importance of taking up as our own the struggles of the masses, learning from them, and winning their confidence through our social practice. This is why we thought the words of Mario Roberto Santucho were particularly appropriate to raise on this occasion of our 10th anniversary celebration.

Over the years, we’ve deepened our understanding that solidarity work cannot be done in isolation from the reality and struggles taking place in this country. We have learned that the struggles at home are also part of a worldwide struggle against U.S. imperialism. This further clarified to us that the struggle of the Puerto Rican people for national and social liberation was important not only for Puerto Ricans” in the U.S. but for the entire working class. And that, furthermore, support for this struggle was the responsibility of all Marxist-Leninists and progressives.

We also learned that when one lives in the center of the worldwide imperialist system–the United States–solidarity work is difficult and often frustrating. At the same time, we grasped the importance of doing that work, precisely because the U.S. is the main enemy of the world’s peoples.

Recently, we have lessened our involvement in some areas of our solidarity efforts.

This has caused some concerns among comrades and friends, particularly those involved in these areas. To these comrades we say that we will continue to give support to the extent that we are able. During the period of U.S. aggression in Vietnam, the Vietnamese comrades would be asked many times by U.S. activists how they could better support the Vietnamese struggle. The comrades answered by saying that the best way to support the people of Vietnam was to intensify you own work and struggles at home.

In this light, while we continue to meet our commitments to the solidarity movement, we also understand that it is to the extent that we deepen our roots among the working class–particularly the Puerto Rican national minority–and massify MINP, that the impact of our solidarity work will multiply.

In our presentation today, we have spoken about experiences, lessons, strengths and weaknesses which have characterized our ten-year process. We have spoken about the common effort to build, to struggle, to overcome our shortcomings and to gain strength from our collective process.

Through the periods of ebb in our work among the people, through the periods of many contradictions and questions which needed resolution; through moments when each of us individually, and the organization as a whole, was immersed in activities and study which seemed to call for perhaps twice our numbers; throughout periods of uncertainty when our limitations seemed to cloud and overshadow our strengths– throughout all of these times our organization has not only persevered but has also moved forward.

This underscores what we see as one of our greatest strengths, and perhaps it is the most important: a morality and determination rooted in a commitment to revolutionary change and to serving the people. Ours is a willingness to set aside personal convenience and aspirations. Ours is a unity of will to implement decisions arrived at through collective analysis, debate and struggle. Ours is a confidence based on the belief that the final victory will be the victory of the people, of the working class.

This is the content of what we consider revolutionary morality.

Comrades and friends, it has been over a year an a half since our organization held its First Assembly. This period has been rich with new experiences, problems and contradictions. Our cadre and leadership have faced these challenges directly, conscious that our solutions must respond to the needs of the masses and our organization. We, the cadre and leadership of MINP, are committed to wage the struggle to resolve the contradictions that have and will continue to emerge from our social practice.

In the words of Che: “The present is struggle. The future is ours.”