Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Party For Workers Power

Special Bulletin


Community Club Discussions Reveal Deeply Reformist Outlook

Recently the community club held several discussions about the goals fix of people’s day-to-day work. The discussions revealed that the winning of certain reforms was the main goal of many of the members, particularly those who are the most serious involvement with people.

Subsequently the steering committee discussed the problem. We related it to the party’s development since the split. What follows is a synopsis of these discussions and the steering committee’s conclusions.

WHAT IS THE GOAL OF OUR WORK IN THE SCHOOLS?

When asked this question one of the most active members said the goal was to improve the learning in her school. She pointed out some of the conditions and the attitudes that made learning difficult or impossible.

One of the teachers in the club seemed to have goals that were more to the left:
a) to get people to act together and make decisions collectively
b) to find out what holds people back from doing this
c) to learn how to listen and get an objective picture of what people are thinking.

The next question was, “To what end do we want people to act together?”

This teacher responded that we need to change the low reading scores in the school and the attitudes that people have that hold them back from this, especially the anti-working class and racist ideas that lead teachers to blame the children for not learning.

When asked what our friends think of the party the reaction of the first member who had spoken was surprise. “People don’t know anything about the party. They know about the paper and like the investigation and exposure it does. We need to talk more in the club about the party and how to explain it since no one knows what it is.”

In the ensuing discussion we came to some of the following conclusions: First, it was clear that the goal of the members in their daily work was not to change people’s political outlook. Rather changing their outlook on certain questions was necessary if we were to obtain improvements in the way kids learn. Rather than using people’s experience in reforms struggles to win them to a different outlook, we were using our outlook to win the reform struggles.

Our friends didn’t know about the party because we haven’t had a lot of discussion about the party’s goals but also because the kind of discussions we were having (how to improve education) were so limited that the party and its goals seemed unrelated.

What goes on in the schools we’re involved in seemed to some of us unrelated to political questions such as the growth of a racial mass movement in the city. Bad ideas such as racism were seen as harmful because they interfered with teaching, not that they laid the basis for a very bad mass movement.

DO BAD PLANS TURN PEOPLE AGAINST INTEGRATION?

In a seemingly unrelated discussion, one member claimed that all the bad desegregation plans and the educational cuts turned people against integration. Several members felt this was the party’s line.

But this has never been the party’s line. The party says that racist reactions against integration are organized by racist leaders who give people a wrong explanation of why the schools are so bad. It would be impossible for a bad plan, purely by itself to cause the racism. Otherwise why wouldn’t one expect people to say, “This is a bad plan” instead of “This proves integration is no good.?”

Clearly the bad plans create the basis for the racist leaders to win the argument with a lot of people. It makes it possible for them to argue that integration has caused worse schools since integration and worse schools are happening at the same time. But the argument that the plans themselves have caused the racism is the essence of the racist position ”I never used to be racist til busing.” Or, more sophisticated, ‥Busing sets black and white working people against each other.” (quote from city councilor Patrick McDonough.)

The line that the bad plan is the cause of the racism is in essence the same as the reformist line about making the schools better. In both cases the goal is the reform. Thus a good plan would alleviate the racism so all we have to do is fight for the good plan or against the cuts. The role of ideas is secondary to the role of concrete changes in the schools.

“STOP THE CUTS”

In later discussions we discussed the school cutbacks proposed by various politicians. Everyone felt these cuts would have a harmful effect on education. Class size would be higher on the average and many services would be cut.

Though there were a few schools where classes were quite small there were others that were overcrowded. Club members felt teachers in the emptier schools should be used to alleviate the overcrowding in other schools. In any case members felt there should be no cuts and no consolidation and that biracial parent councils in each school should organize reviews of the school by parents and teachers to recommend changes in each school.

After some discussion we decided that this position was wrong. Of course the cuts need to be opposed, but merely opposing the proposed cuts without discussing the abuses already present in the schools would be harmful.

Why? Consider the discussion we had about the situation at a Dorchester school.

A club member who teaches there said she understood why the kids weren’t learning in the classes with the worst teachers. The question was why the kids weren’t learning in situations that seemed better.

She gave the following example. One of her friends teaches a fourth and fifth grade class with 22 children. 22 is well under the teachers contract limit of 26 and the teacher had good attitudes toward the children. Yet the kids weren’t learning.

Club members raised several questions to find out more about the situation. During the discussion it became clear that the club member who taught at the school had left out crucial facts about the situation in that class.

It turned out that 7 of the kids in this class couldn’t read at all. It became clear that this teacher was faced with a choice if either trying to teach the 7 to read while ignoring the rest, ignoring the 7 while trying to teach the rest, (many of whom were also way behind), or trying to teach the class by using only oral or audio visual methods, i.e., leaving out reading. Either way none of the kids would be helped much and some would be doomed to complete neglect despite the teacher’s best intentions.

According to this club member’s original perception, the situation in the class seemed good. Why the kids weren’t learning seemed a mystery, though if things in the class were really OK then the only other explanation for the lack of learning was that something was wrong with the kids. Once we saw what was really going on in this class it was clear that the lack of learning isn’t the kidsí fault, that effective teaching there is impossible.

How could our club member’s perception be so off base?

I think there’s a tremendous pressure on us to adopt the positions that many people, including our friends, put forward. The Teachers union, which is presently leading the fight against the cuts, strictly limits its criticisms of the schools by talking about class size and the bad effects of the cuts while pretty much ignoring what’s happening to black and white kids in class. Unless we’re very clear what’s going on it’s easy to get swept away by these influences. That’s where the party comes in. It’s up to the party to develop the kind of discussion that enables us to get clear enough to win over our friends instead of simply being caught up in the popular views.

As I’ve said the idea that everything was fine in that classroom implied that the kids themselves must be at fault for not learning. Our club member hesitated to adopt that position. But other people are not so hesitant.

Right now the main thing the racist movement is saying about the schools is that blacks are holding b whites. This line, though of course a complete lie, is more sophisticated than what they were saying a year ago that whites would get attacked in black neighborhoods. The latter was based on fears of people who’d had no contact with blacks. And it worked only in places where whites were most isolated from blacks–S Boston, E. Boston, and Charlestown.

When the attacks on whites in black schools didn’t materialize (and when ROAR did attack blacks in some white areas) the racists movements base in the rest of the city fell apart. But the new approach has more potential to build a mass movement. It seems to correspond to people’s experience since often minority children, because of past abuses of the schools, are the farthest behind. Thus while the present situation gives the racists a chance to build their movement, our talking only about how the cuts would be bad makes it easier for them.

COMMUNISM AND REFORMISM

The discussions cited above showed that many people in the community work had as their main goal the winning of certain changes or reforms. What people thought was important mainly in terms of whether it helped or hindered this fight. According to this view bad desegregation plans make people racist and so the key to defeating racism is in winning good desegregation plans.

Communists would criticize the above approach. They would argue that major reforms aren’t possible under capitalism. Therefore you have to change people’s ideas so that they’ll organize to get rid of the capitalist system . Once socialism is organized they could say you would then have the economic basis w to really change what people think and they way they relate to each other.

In one sense this is true. Major long term reforms in education or anything else are not possible in a capitalist system that’s deeply in crisis.

In a more important way, though, the communist view is completely wrong. The Communist view still uses changes in people’s ideas as the means to the goal-which is socialism. But this is really the ultimate reformism. The destruction of the capitalists’ power is the ultimate reform.

Our main goal, both short and long term should be to change the way thousands and later millions of people think. The experiences we have now in fighting for reforms or later in fighting to abolish capitalism are useful only to the extent people learn how to make a pro-working class analysis of situations and develops a collective approach to solving problems. No matter how the the society is organized economically the future is determined by what millions of people think.

STEERING COMMITTEE DISCUSSION

The steering committee tried to put the community club’s discussions into historical context.

Right after the split the party took a sharp left turn. We rejected PL’s idea of seeking tactical leadership in reform struggles as the be-all and end-all of the party. PL said we have to prove that the party is the best leader in getting reforms. We said the party exists to win people to the political lessons.

As time went on it became clear that the problems we had inherited from our experience in PL were very deep. We’d learned to screen out the feedback we got from people around us. PL systematically trained people to do this so that they’d continue to believe that the national committee was doing great. As a result we’d become isolated and sectarian.

(By constantly testing the membership’s loyalty with increasingly crazy strategies and super militant actions, the PL national committee weeded out many people , including us. That’s how they developed a following so blind to reality as their present party. And that concept of loyalty to the party or socialism has been used by communists to teach the membership contempt for what people think. That’s how they created the machines of suppression that now run much of the world.)

To solve the problem of sectarianism and isolation, the PWP steering committee put forward the need for our members to “dig in” at the schools, jobs, and communities. The idea was to become seriously involved in reform struggles, to learn how to listen to people. Our line was not to put forward the party as the thing to follow but to fight for the left line on what people were interested in. We wanted to be involved with people in a series of experiences where two approaches to solving problems emerged: the right wing approach and the pro-working class approach. The goal was to teach the approach mainly, though of course we also wanted to win the reforms.

In some ways this change has been highly successful. There’s no comparison between the kind of relations we now have with the kind we had two years ago. The paper and many of us as individuals are now taken seriously in many areas.

But it’s also become clear that the “digging in” approach by itself is inadequate. We discussed at the meeting three approaches to political work:

First, we can apply to specific situations only that part of our line that’s useful to get the reforms people are working for. For instance if people at a school are trying to stop the cuts we’d show how larger classes and fewer remedial teachers would hurt learning and perpetuate racism.

Second, people could take a very sharp left line on the specifics. We could talk about how the present situation in the schools is an attack on the children already abused by the segregated system and how the cuts would make things worse in the name of integration.

Third we could do what’s involved in number two plus discuss all kinds of broader questions and relating these to the goals of the party.

Without the third approach, winning people to the left on the specifics quickly deteriorates into pure reformism. Since, all we and our friends are concerned with is the immediate reform, the tendency is to contain and play down the politics, weeding out everything that doesn’t relate narrowly to the reform struggle we’re in.

Learning how to do number (3) is a challenge to the party. And it definitely doesn’t mean that we won’t take reforms seriously. The steering committee planned a lot of discussion on the party’s goals. This should be a big help in learning how to integrate serious involvement with the mass movement with our goal of winning people to the party’s outlook.

Steve R.