Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Proletarian Unity League

The Ultra-Left Danger and How to Fight It. Three Articles on “Anti-Dogmatism”


On the Small Consequences of Sectarianism

For Fifteen months, we have argued that the Committee of Five’s trend-building activities unnecessarily exclude certain forces. For example, the Committee of Five has insisted that their proposed conference be open only to those groups and individuals who believe that the United States, and only the United States, constitutes the main enemy of the peoples of the world. While regarding the Soviet Union and the United States as the main enemies of the peoples of the world, we have struggled for a conference which left this question open to struggle. To pretend to settle this matter in advance of an open debate would unnecessarily weaken the struggle against “left” opportunism. It would also weaken our commitment to the struggle against imperialism.

To some extent, those responses which have been made to our views have addressed themselves to the issues of principle. To some extent, those responses have addressed themselves to matters of expediency. Aside from the Proletarian Unity League, whom, after all, will be excluded? some of the comrades defending the Committee of Five proposal ask.

A number of comrades with whom we agree on these general issues have also found themselves unable to answer this question. They have repeated to us, whom, aside from yourselves, do you have in mind? In this article, we will try to reply. But first, we would like to reply to a different question, namely, why can’t the comrades defending the Committee of Five proposal answer their own question? The answer to this second question goes to the very heart of the Committee of Five proposal itself.

TO SEE THE FULL RANGE OF THE ANTI-“LEFT” REACTION, WE HAVE TO TAKE OFF THE “ANTI-DOGMATIST” BLINDERS

The Committee of Five has defined dogmatism as the main danger to the communist movement. In fifteen months, however, they have failed to define either the ideological source of dogmatism or its ideological content. They have not because to a large degree they cannot. As we wrote in the article, “More on Dogmatism and the Main Danger,”

Simply put, the view that dogmatism constitutes the main danger cannot stand on its own, because by itself it is only a symptom, not a disease. The real content of this position lies in those other positions which the anti-dogmatists find “dogmatic.” ...“Anti-dogmatism” thus frequently serves as a stalking horse for particular positions on other questions, most commonly, questions of political line. (November 1, 1976)

So in the past year the Committee of Five have sought to bolster the position on the main danger both by qualifying it (dogmatism is now described as the “theoretical foundation of a political and organizational practice of ultra-leftism and sectarianism”) and by adding to the list of examples of “dogmatism” in political line. Most of these examples are not very controversial among groups and individuals who believe that the main danger to the communist movement comes in some way from the “Left” and not the Right. The point on international line, however, remains. And here lies the problem.

The attempt to push through without discussion the view that the Soviet Union is a socialist country and does not pose a threat to the world’s peoples can only narrow the anti-“left” struggle. In identifying those who oppose ultra-leftism (or dogmatism) with those who” oppose the two superpower theory, the Committee of Five blinds itself to the real breadth of the anti-“left” reaction taking place in the communist movement. It cannot reach other anti-“left” forces or those increasingly aware of ultra-left errors because it has already defined them out of the so-called “Marxist-Leninist wing of the party-building movement.” At the same time, those groups and individuals who might otherwise have an interest either in organizing an anti-“left” tendency or in its work show little or no interest in the Committee of Five proposal. That proposal starts by labelling them “dogmatists,” outside the true “wing.” And this raises a second issue.

For fifteen months, we have struggled against the Committee of Five’s view that the anti-“left” reaction somehow constitutes such a consolidated entity that we can call it a trend or a wing. We have opposed the usage of the term “trend” not only by the comrades of the Committee of Five, but also by some comrades who agree with some of our criticisms of the conference organizers’ activities. We have instead talked about an anti-“left” reaction, a certain tendency in the movement as a whole.

This is not some quibble over semantics. It does no good to change the word “trend” to “tendency” but retain the general assumptions which go along with the term “trend.” In the place of those assumptions we have to put a different analysis of the communist movement today.

As against the notion of some already consolidated “Marxist-Leninist wing,” we need to grasp the uneven development of different forces’ understanding of ultra-leftism. The communist movement is fragmented in many different ways: geographically, according to type of communist work, obviously ideologically and organizationally, and just as obviously, by nationality. The understanding each group reaches of ultra-leftism, as well as of anti-revisionism in general, necessarily comes out of these different experiences. And this understanding must come precisely in the absence of any recognized Marxist-Leninist trend, one which has evolved an established and coherent set of views on all major questions of the revolution, and one which has rooted those ideas in a section of the working class. This situation can only exaggerate the uneven development of different Marxist-Leninist organizations.

Rather than smugly congratulating ourselves on belonging to the “Marxist-Leninist wing” or even to the anti-“left” tendency, we should attempt to link up with a variety of other forces, exchange experiences around the dangers of the ultra-left line and around our work generally, and struggle out differences. Once comrades begin to realize that we share the same general social, historical and ideological roots as our “Left-Wing” comrades, they can give up the illusion that the dangers of ultra-leftism have somehow passed us by. And then they can also see that many “Left”-leaning groups can be won away from “left” opportunism and are even now struggling against ultra-leftism. Even a former member of the “Revolutionary Wing” like the August Twenty-Ninth Movement (M-L) has in the last year sought to break decisively with “left” opportunism, and their efforts have had some positive, effects in the “Left-Wing” generally. Groups who formerly held “Left” views have a particular role to play in building a real anti-“Left”, anti-revisionist trend. Having once cured themselves of the “Leftist” disease, they will be that much more immune to it a second time around. Those who have yet to catch it, and think themselves immune, have more reason to worry. They could use the former “Lefts” help.

The disorganization of the Marxist-Leninist movement conditions the uneven development of the anti-“left” position. Groups and individuals throughout the country try to follow the debate within the anti-revisionist camp. Because the movement has been dominated by ultra-leftism, the terms of the ideological struggle have been defined bv the ultra-“lefts.” The viewpoints of many small groups are therefore to some extent influenced by the ultra-“lefts,” just as many groups who now identify with the critique of ultra-leftism once shared “Left” assumptions. Even the struggle that has gone on has been plagued by disorganization on a massive scale: haphazard distribution of materials, chance exposure to other perspectives, inability to communicate easily with this or that group, impossibility of undertaking joint work, etc. To reach these many small groups requires patient, protracted efforts. And we can’t reach them by beginning with their exclusion from the “Marxist-Leninist wing,” or complacently wondering if anybody else exists out there.

It is with these groups and individuals in mind, as well as others, that we have struggled with the Committee of Five to make the debate over dogmatism and related issues a public one. Naturally enough, those who can’t see any other Marxist-Leninist forces don’t feel any urgency about having a public struggle.

ANTI-“LEFTISM”: THE WHITE MAN’S BURDEN?

The disorganization and uneven development of the communist movement are aggravated when we consider the relationships between the predominantly oppressed nationality groups and the predominantly oppressor nationality groups. So far those groups identifying with the “anti-dogmatist trend” are with few exceptions overwhelmingly white. To call that the “Marxist-Leninist wing” betrays not only an overworked imagination but also a narrow, white-oriented conception of the history and tasks of the revolutionary movement in this country. The anti-revisionist forces have yet to manage to elaborate a concrete analysis of the factors giving rise to groups representing predominantly one nationality (including the oppressor nationality). Nor has the movement solved in theory or in practice how these initially disparate forces can best contribute to forging a true multinational Party. To look over an overwhelmingly white assemblage of Marxist-Leninists and ask, whom, after all, have we excluded?, strains credibility. Unless, of course, one thinks that the predominantly white groups come blessed with a Marxist-Leninist insight denied to the oppressed nationality comrades.

None of this changes our view of what should constitute the points of unity for the proposed conference. We do need to draw a line of demarcation with ultra-leftism on that basis, we can begin to develop the tactical plan necessary to reach the many honest Marxist-Leninists not yet sympathetic to our perspective. But the above considerations do underline the need for rejecting any trace of a sectarian approach to the task of constructing an authentic multinational, Marxist-Leninist trend. We therefore cannot agree that the Committee of Five initiative “must be seen as a step forward for all of us in our tendency.” (emphasis in original) If criticized and rectified, it has that potential. Until then, it leaves part of the anti-“left” tendency out in the cold. If defended, clung to, and consolidated around in all its features, it will mark a step backward for a significant part of the anti-“left” forces.

ON SECTARIAN ACTIONS WITH SMALL CONSEQUENCES

There is a final aspect of this whole question which should nag at a communist. To oppose our view, to expose its erroneous bases and draw out its harmful practical implications is a principled obligation of all those who disagree with us. But to oppose our perspective and add that, anyway, who besides the PUL is excluded is not a principled way to approach disagreements. An argument which makes references to this kind of pragmatic calculation tacitly admits its own shakiness. Yes, the PUL is a very small group and you can safely ignore us. But the issue isn’t us. Principles are less easily ignored, and the history of the anti-revisionist movement contains quite a few examples of big groups who felt they could ignore the questions posed by some little group only to find that they had landed themselves in a bad predicament.

A just cause is bound to win support. Groups and individuals throughout the country who formerly identified with the “Left-Wing” are seeking the causes behind the weaknesses of the present-day Marxist-Leninist movement. We have met with a few of these comrades and found them open to an anti-“Left” critique, with much to contribute to our collective understanding of revolutionary tasks in this period. Our interest should lie with the broadest possible struggle against ultra-leftism. Small group mentality will not build it.