Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Lexington Communist Collective

Statement Presented at the Denver Party Building Forum, March 1977

First Published: Party Building: The Overall Situation in the Communist Movement and How to Complete the Central Task, April 1977, by Colorado Organization for Revolutionary Struggle (M-L-M).
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Lexington Communist Collective originated as a study circle for movement activists in the fall of 1972. Later the study circle was reorganized as a communist group.

Right from the beginning the LCC recognized that party building was the central task which ML had to take up and complete without delay. At the time, however, our grasp of ML was very rudimentary. This led us to greatly oversimplify the problem of party building and of communist work in the mass movement. We had no concept of how to use the general principles of ML to make a concrete analysis of concrete conditions, nor how to translate general principles into correct programs and policies.

We took the attitude that as a small collective our main role was to decide which of the larger collectives had the correct line and to support the party building initiatives of one of the larger groups.

As a result we failed to grasp the importance of taking the initiative ourselves. Although we did actively seek out some of the larger groups and held discussions with them, our efforts were erratic and inconsistent. Some organizations we dismissed without really understanding the essence of their lines. If larger groups were not interested we never made the effort ourselves to press them for regular discussions, correspondence or joint activities. We never tried independently to assess the level of development of the Communist movement or to locate other collectives or organizations besides the well-known national groups.

As a result of our weaknesses we tended to come under the influence of whatever larger organization actively sought to cultivate a relationship with us. The only two national groups which showed any interest in our small collective at that time, were the Communist League and the so-called American Communist Workers Movement. We relied on CL and later ACWM for leadership in uniting the MLs nationally and for information and analysis about other organizations and the national movement as a whole.

In the summer of 1973 we united with ACWM in the formation of the bogus Central Organization of U. S. Marxist-Leninists. This was our most serious political mistake. It led to the practical liquidation of our work for a long period of time and later to the splitting of our group which was already very small. Further, the participation of our collective tended to give ACWM’s sham party building scheme a credibility which they would otherwise lack.

In July 1974 after gradually coming to realize that we had no possible basis for a relationship with ACWM we broke with them and reorganized ourselves. Although the main aspect of our relationship with ACWM was negative, through summing up our mistakes and criticising them we were able to make a number of advances. The first point we could grasp clearly was the importance of political line. We realized we did not have a common political line with ACWM. Instead of unity around line ACWM demanded unity around support for their leadership and around recognition of ACWM’s “leading role” in the Communist movement. The struggle with ACWM’s leadership led us to go more deeply into the classics of ML. We also seriously took up the study of different Communist groups in the U.S. and other capitalist countries in a more thorough way than ever before.

From our experience and study we began to understand that struggle for political line was the basis for uniting the MLs into a vanguard party. We saw that party building was a complex and many-sided task and we realized how our earlier oversimplification had led us to make serious errors.

ACWM’s definition of political line as the “decisive task facing the organization at a particular time” was an erroneous and extremely sectarian concept. Political line is much more than a task facing the organization. Its focus is not on the organization, but on society as a whole. Political line discloses and evaluates the fundamental contradictions in the various historical stages of the revolution and on this basis defines the party’s programmatic aims and tasks; political line is the application of ML to the concrete conditions of a particular country; it is the key link between the party and the class, while organization is the method of implementing political line.

Once we had raised our grasp of theory to a higher level we were able to make further advances. We saw the reactionary essence of ACWM’s line and published a criticism of that group for other MLs. More important we put forward general views on most of the major political questions facing our movement in a political statement. Through this statement and our other document which we distributed nationally, we were able to initiate discussion with groups in other parts of the U.S. Although we no longer promote the political statement and have criticisms and reservations about certain things in it, the statement was extremely useful to us in our work in the mass movements. The statement gave us a general line to follow in different struggles and a basis for working our programs and tactics. With this guidance we were able to play a leading role in a number of important local struggles. Within the Left we were able to develop a consistent line of criticism against revisionism, New Left and Trotskist lines.

During this same period, however, the LCC began to develop a line which was generally right opportunist. The source of this opportunism was an erroneous line on party building which is apparent in the political statement. We criticized in a general way the incorrect party building schemes of RU and CL, arguing that the party cannot be organized in the U. S. until a correct basic line is formulated and until an organization can be formed which meets Stalin’s criteria of a Leninist party. This position opposed premature party building, but no view was given on how to resolve the problem of developing political line or the corresponding organizational tasks.

In contrast with our vague ideas about party building we had definite strategy, tactics and program for our work in the mass movements. Consequently our mass work leaped ahead while our specifically communist work drifted and tailed behind. Another error contributing to our right opportunism concerned democratic-centralism. This is extremely important to any small group. Because we were a very small group of people who were in constant and close contact we minimized the importance of holding regular meetings, division of labor, organizing regular study, criticism/self-criticism, etc. Very often important decisions were made on the spur of the moment, meetings were held more or less spontaneously, study and discussion were pretty much left up to the individual, and everyone participated in every aspect of work equally.

Finally there was a tendency to put off open communist work on the basis that this couldn’t be done in the local area until the national situation improved–until we could be part of a larger organization with a newspaper we could use, etc.

The period since January 1976 through the present has been a slow struggle to correct right errors in our local work and nationally to carry through investigation of the ML movement initiated at an earlier state and to systematize relations with fraternal groups to the extent possible.

* * *

The present communist movement has completed two definite stages in its development. The first period is represented by the line of building small isolated collectives put forward by the RU in Red Papers 3. This line which was given its most concentrated expression by the RU was also held in a more diffuse form by the OL, the Guardian and a majority of groups, collectives and individuals. The reactionary feature of this line was not so much that it emphasized building the mass movement over party building, as that it put building the mass movement by small isolated groups in opposition to any attempt by the MLs to build a higher level of unity than what existed at that time. What is most reactionary is that the line says that the MLs must remain scattered and disunited until the task of gaining experience in leading the mass movements is completed.

Moreover the concept of gaining experience in the mass movements as communists is not really put forward as a definite task, because no conception is ever given of exactly how the task can be carried through step by step to completion. It would be more exact to say that ”building the party in the heat of the mass struggle” and other such slogans served to conceal ignorance of how to change the backward state of the movement. This was a period of stagnation and retrogression and drift. The theoretical state of the movement was extremely low and little effort was made to change the situation. Work in the mass movements never got beyond the stage of different groups leading local struggles in different areas. The unprincipled division of the movement into groups without clear political reasons gave rise to rampant sectarianism and small groupism. The tendency to take a passive attitude towards unity of MLs and persistent sectarianism are a legacy which we still retain from this period.

Because the largest and best organized forces at this time– the RU and OL–were unable to provide leadership to our movement, various tendencies such as the CL and the ACWM which were completely reactionary non-Marxist groupings were able to gain influence among those forces who realized party building could not be postponed into the indefinite future. This period comes to a close with the CL’s phony party congress and marks the opening of the second period.

Once CL had called its party congress neither the RU or the OL could hope to maintain credibility without at last taking a definite stand on party-building. The result was that both organizations issued calls to organize a party congress. It appears that several, other tendencies will follow suit. As a result of these bogus party building schemes, intense struggle developed between the RU, CL and the forces they were attempting to organize. These struggles greatly heightened the ability of all honest MLs to distinguish between genuine and sham ML. Moreover many organizations which in the past had followed along behind the OL, RU or CL began to assert their initiative, to strengthen their own organizations, develop their work at a higher level, and deepen their grasp of ML. A number of important documents were produced criticising the lines of the larger groups.

The period which we are entering is characterized by the collapse of the BWC and PRRWO –symbolic of increasing splits and divisions among all the forces which to a certain extent were initially united on the basis of opposition to OL-CL-RU. These splits and divisions we consider to be a temporary set-back. The basis for change in the present situation is characterized by developing forces including some national organizations, collectives and individuals which have been through a number of bitter experiences, but have thus heightened their political and ideological level. In general they have a sober estimation of the difficulties in the way of party building but are not inclined to become passive or give up. At the same time there is a dangerous countercurrent of passivity and sectarianism among sections of the movement rooted in earlier failures.

* * *

Since the degeneration of the CPUSA the central task of our movement has been party building. We view political line as the key link. Without a common political line the development of further organizational unity is out of the question. We do not believe that the non-opportunist forces can build their own organizations among the working class on the basis of ideology–the general principles of ML alone. It is political line that is the link between the party, or any communist group, and the masses. Whether or not the line is correct determines the ability of communists to lead the masses and to win over the advanced. Furthermore, it is political line which is key to overcoming the right opportunism of vacillation, liquidation and amateurism which have persisted within the movement for years.

At this time uniting the MLs is principal over winning the advanced workers. It is extremely important that we grasp the relationship between uniting the MLs and developing a common political line. Developing a correct political line requires as its basis: ...the fundamental principles of Marxism-Leninism; the scientific analysis of the internal and external conditions, of the ratio of class forces within the country and at the international level; the revolutionary experience accumulated within the country; the experience of the international communist movement.

The work of making this analysis requires at this point, investigation, study and summing up of experience. In addition, as the line is developed, it must begin to be tested out in practice. This is our task–study, investigation, testing theory in practice, summing up. Organization is the method of implementing a political task.

The present division of the MLs into groups, collectives, scattered individuals is rooted in an earlier period and can no more be the organizational basis for accomplishing the present task than using stone age tools can be the method for building a Cadillac.

Complete organizational unity cannot be achieved without the development of political line on which it can be built. But this shouldn’t be taken to mean that during this period we wash our hands of the necessity of developing any further unity. To do this puts developing political line in opposition to the organizational measures necessary to develop political line and hence liquidates this task and party building.

The necessity of developing a common political line presupposes joint work and struggle. The task of developing a detailed correct line on important questions cannot be done adequately by any existing group, even if it is relatively large. Only by raising the level of organizational unity can the joint investigation and study by many ML necessary to develop political line be done, and done without sacrificing on-going mass work. At this time the organizational form corresponding to this struggle is the development of a common literature. This struggle can’t take place between different groups who have never heard of each other and have no way of getting in contact, between groups which occasionally visit each other or exchange letters, between groups which don’t read or subscribe to each others literature. The closest thing our movement has to a common literature at this time is the Guardian. We found, for example, that in our experience we had absolutely no way of making contact with most of the groups which we have since developed relations with other than using the Guardian.

Can we rely on ads in the Guardian to develop the struggle for a common political line; do we really see this struggle as a struggle of the whole movement or the struggle of a few groups who happen to be in contact and read each others literature? No, at this time we must take the initiative ourselves–organize some form of common literature, organize forces which are now passive to participate in its production, and to see that this literature gets into the hands of every ML and every advanced element in the U.S.!

Many comrades have raised the difficulty of groups which are thousands of miles apart carrying out joint work, either theoretical work or work in the mass movements. When a party is finally organized New York will still be 3000 miles from Los Angeles. If we don’t make the effort to develop joint work now even though we are thousands of miles apart the problem is not going to be solved by magic later on. Joint work of a theoretical and practical nature must begin to be organized now.

To say that unity around a political line is the basis for unity of MLs in a party obviously does not mean that only after 100% unity reached on every political question can there be a party. This is an abstract view of unity. Within any party at a given time there are serious political differences. Based on democratic-centralism these differences are resolved through unity-struggle-unity, and through summing up practical experience.

At a certain point where the struggle for a common political line has been raised to a higher level, when there are much larger areas of definite political agreement than now and when forces which are still scattered and unconnected have much greater first hand knowledge of each other, our group, for example, will have to ask two questions: First are our differences or unities with other forces the main aspect of our relationship? Second where the question of uniting with a larger group or groups arises with which we have mainly unity but disagree on some important questions we will have to ask–what is the attitude of these groups to ideological struggle, to criticism/self-criticism, to uniting with other MLs on a principled basis? If the answer to the second question was that the forces always followed a consistent line of trying to unite the MLs on a principled basis without seeking hegemony then we would probably be willing to unite under democratic-centralism. At this point democratic-centralism within a larger organization rather than polemics between groups would have become the method of resolving differences.

The struggle for a correct political line and against incorrect political line is not the same as the struggle between groups, because every struggle that takes place among groups is not necessarily based on the struggle for correct line. For example there may be two groups which have different lines on trade unions but neither are very sure of their position. If both groups sat down together to do joint theoretical work to determine whether both their lines are a bit one-sided and incorrect, this is just as much a struggle for correct political line as if the groups waged 10,000 pages of polemics. The most concentrated distortion of two-line struggle is held by the Worker’s Viewpoint Organization. They believe every group must take a hard and fast line on every question and fight to the death for their line against every other group, no matter how uncertain any group might feel about their own line. The struggle for political line is a struggle to develop a correct line, not a subjective argument between windbags.

Comrades, the beginning of this period has seen the initiation of several bogus parties and the collapse of a number of organizations which once made important contributions to the communist movement in the U.S. There is no doubt that these events are a setback to our movement. But these setbacks did not take place without a series of struggles. In the course of these struggles honest forces have greatly heightened their understanding of the problems of party building in the U.S. and their ability to distinguish sham from genuine ML. Comrades, if we build on this development, if we take political line as the key link and if we take bold and resolute action to unite the MLs it will not be long before the present period of the domination of opportunism, sectarianism, amatuerism and vacillation is far behind us!