Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Socialist Organizing Committee

History of the Socialist Organizing Committee

First Published: Notes from Orange, No. 1, Fall 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Socialist Organizing Committee is a small independent Marxist-Leninist collective in Orange County, California. The following document is a record of our history over the past year and a half, written primarily for ourselves so that we can learn from our experiences, overcome our mistakes and find our way to the next stage of our development. This history is as frank as we can make it since we and the revolutionary movement in general cannot afford to have any illusions. Orange County has a population of 1.8 million. We are only a small collective–with a somewhat larger periphery which objective conditions and our own present level of development make it very difficult to assimilate at this time.

To many Marxist-Leninists it may seem unusual that we are publishing this detailed study of our own experiences and the lessons we draw from them–written initially for ourselves– before publishing a thorough political statement covering the burning questions of the communist movement. While we are working on a political statement to be published in the near future, we felt that an analysis of our development does have importance for the whole communist movement. No one today has the magic key to building a new communist party. Many party building tasks are similar to the tasks involved in building a small collective, and we feel that those who are serious about learning how to go through the efforts of developing human and political ties, of raising their own theoretical level, of rooting themselves in the working class, of building ties to other groups, of engaging in every form of practice and studying that practice, must encourage more sharing of this concrete organizational experience. We would like to see other groups develop not only political statements, but also self-histories and self-analyses to contribute to the common pool of Marxist-Leninist understanding of the party building task.

I. Our Pre-history in Orange County

To understand where we began, it is necessary to know something of the history of Orange County. Before the 1950s the primary labor force were the Chicanos and poor whites who worked in the orchards and huge farms, typified by the Irvine Ranch. During the great upsurge of union organizing in the 1930s, an attempt to build an agricultural union in the county was brutally suppressed by local police agencies and anti-union “citizens committees” organized by the Associated Farmers.

With the union drive smashed, the Chicano laborers who lived in the many barrios of the county were in some respects no better off than the Black agrarian workers of the South. Not only were their miserable wages and working conditions comparable, but Chicano workers were also oppressed socially: they were not permitted to use many of the public parks and the “better” stores were off limits.

In the early 1950s, Orange County began a transformation into an aerospace and light industrial center. The former agricultural workers began to find jobs in the factories and building trades, as assemblers and as laborers and cement finishers. A new tide of young workers began arriving in the county as well. These were largely veterans of World War II and Korea, drawn by the inexpensive housing which they could now purchase on the GI Bill, even though many still had to commute the 20 to 30 miles to their jobs in Los Angeles.

The privilege of the GI Bill–paid for out of the immense expansion of U.S. Imperialism after the war–was withheld from Black veterans, who were excluded from the new housing tracts by local real estate agents and home lending institutions, with the full knowledge and participation of the federal government. This in part accounts for the very small Black population of the county–almost all concentrated into one tiny ghetto of about 10,000. The fact that these new workers in the county were often home owners had a conservatizing effect on the local work force.

Later in the 1950s, major aerospace firms like Hughes, Autonetics, and Northrup began to locate in the north county, employing tens of thousands in huge factories. These defense jobs, often highly skilled and requiring security clearances, were a further conservatizing force. The only significant sector of the local working class that was organized was the building trades, tied to the most conservative unions in the country. Attempts to organize other sectors had a very difficult time.

In addition to a relatively conservatized workforce, many jobs were in small and scattered light industrial plants, and the employers had an active policy of keeping Orange County the “open shop” Dixie even within the relatively “open shop” Los Angeles industrial area. The unions themselves did little to fight back in the 1950s and 1960s, coming more and more under the control of class-collaborationist national leadership.

In the late 1960s there began a gradual change in the conditions that had brought about the relative quiescence of the county. With increasing inflation and the decline of real wages, the majority of the working people, in particular the young workers, could no longer afford to buy their own homes–especially since most of the new homes being built were in the $70,000 and up category. There were now more apartment dwellers than home owners, and the county wage level remained significantly below the rest of the Los Angeles industrial basin.

Also in the late 1960s, the anti-war movement radicalized students at Cal-State, Fullerton, University of California, Irvine, and community colleges such as Santa Ana College and Orange Coast College. With the growth of a large local Viet Nam Veterans Against the War and a brief Black Panther episode, Orange County saw its first open political activity since the 1930s. A number of radical organizations came into existence locally or were colonized from outside, flowered briefly, and then transformed themselves into other groups or died out. Some of the people who founded our organization experienced the birth, struggles and death throes of local organizations such as Sherwood Forrest, Red Orange, Red Herring and Communist Alliance, and some of us had helped organize the local anti-war movement in collaboration with the Revolutionary Union.

In 1974, many of these people, fed up with what seemed the continual floundering of the New Left, formed a study group to make a thorough analysis of the history of the Communist and left movement in the U.S. At that time, others of us worked with national organizations such as Progressive Labor Party and Revolutionary Union. Still others worked with the New American Movement in Los Angeles. At the time the collective was founded in late summer, 1975, the only radical organization still functioning in Orange County was the RU (later the Revolutionary Communist Party.)

Why Not the RU?

A number of people who entered the collective as convinced Marxist-Leninists had already rejected joining RU because of their experiences with that organization. The RU had worked for a time on a community-based committee set up to help free a Black community organizer, Frank Shuford, who had been framed (for fuller treatment of the Shuford case see the Community Section of this document.) The RU thrust a white cadre, who had no experience of the local Black community, into the lead of the Black and white committee. They refused to give the case any coverage in their press or build support outside the county, and then, to suit their national policy, they tried to turn the committee into another “anti-police repression” committee. When the Blacks resisted this change and demanded a share of the leadership, the RU turned their backs and walked away, refusing even to accept criticism for their behavior.

Our people experienced the RU’s erratic behavior in local plants as well. In one plant, the RU cadres had committed the serious opportunist error of assuming important union positions without telling the workers their politics. For the rest of their history in the plant, the RU cadres were continually debating if, when and how to give up these positions. In one medium-sized plant where our people were attempting to integrate themselves and build a base, the RU was unable to offer any leadership at all, even when asked. The RU newspaper, The Southern California Worker, talked down to the workers and lacked any concrete political exposures, and our people found it useless in educating workers. When they tried to point this out to the RU they were ignored. Our people then tried to write their own pamphlet to explain to the workers the nature of the economic crisis, but the RU refused to co-operate, refused to let them use their mimeograph machine and turned hostile and contemptuous.

One of our people with two years of base-building in another plant offered to co-operate with a newly arrived RU cadre but was turned down cold and then ignored. Without any investigation of the local union, which was severely weakened by a broken strike, of its leadership or its relation to the national union, the cadre proceeded to by-pass all local leaders and circulate a petition of support for a national strike. The petition–relatively meaningless without accompanying propaganda or plans for concrete support activities–was then paraded by the cadre before other locals and printed in The Southern California Worker, all without consulting local workers or union leaders who were attempting to build genuine strike support work. Some workers began to suspect that this cadre was one of those stereotyped “communists” that bourgeois propaganda had told them to fear, and combined with other instances of manipulatory behavior, this reinforced for many workers the classic prejudices against communists as “opportunistic, clandestine, and manipulatory.”

In their experience, our people found the RU lacking any real respect for the wishes and needs of the working class, and so encumbered with a top-down leadership that criticism could never penetrate the organization. They considered themselves the vanguard of the U.S. working class, but there was no indication that the RU had a real base in the class anywhere, nor had it led any working people in significant struggle against U.S. Imperialism.

Our people felt that the RU had neither the preparation, the base, nor the tested cadre to consider itself the vanguard, and given their current practice they were extremely unlikely to overcome their weaknesses. This is why our people decided to help found a different organization in the county.

A New Organization

What eventually became the SOC grew out of a merger of the Marxist-Leninists working independently, the Left History study group, and a number of people who had formed a pre-chapter of the New American Movement for Orange County. There were other individuals, too, who were drawn to the collective as it came into existence. Within a few months of its birth, the organization included students and teaching assistants from UCI, petty bourgeois intellectuals off campus, county workers, and workers in factories and the skilled building trades. The group included men and women from their 20s to their 50s, though it was predominantly male and young. There were (and are) no Blacks or Chicanos.

Initially there were two main political lines within the collective, and each “faction” had a different reason for wanting to affiliate with the New American Movement. One group was the Marxist-Leninists who stated openly that their long-term intention was the formation of a new communist party. They knew that there was a Marxist-Leninist caucus within NAM nationally, and they hoped to link up with it in the hope that this group could eventually contribute to the formation of a new communist party.

The other “faction” was made up of people with little experience in the left except for one who had been in the SDS, and whose political consciousness had been formed in the anti-war and women’s movements. They were attracted to NAM mainly because of the words “democratic socialism” that NAM used to define its political line–and because NAM was the only left group they had heard of in Orange County. Some had heard about NAM on the radio. As time showed, this group did not represent a consolidated political line of social democracy or liberalism, but no more than a difference of background, experience and knowledge from the Marxist-Leninist group.

Nevertheless, the unevenness of political backgrounds did cause initial suspicions within the organization. Some of the Marxist-Leninists saw the people who argued for the immediate consideration of the woman question and the immediate organization of an unemployed information center as attempting to inject liberal-reformist attitudes and practices into the collective, which they had seen occur in other groups. The second “faction,” in turn, saw the Marxist-Leninists’ emphasis on the industrial working class as dogmatic and their attitude toward the women’s movement as sexist. The actual differences between the two groups were often not as large as perceived, but were magnified by the past experiences of both groups.

The suspicions did not degenerate into hostility and bitter division because the entire collective maintained a strong commitment to common practice, common study and principled struggle for correct positions–both internally and within NAM. This commitment not only differentiated the group from earlier Orange County organizations which had blown themselves apart in acrimonious fights, but–as we were eventually to discover–also differentiated the group from all other Southern California NAM chapters, which had little real commitment to study, common practice or internal political struggle.

As the group entered NAM, it fought to be included in the L.A. Steering Committee area, so that it could participate in regional decisions. This was conceded by the L.A. leadership, which became the L.A.-Orange Steering Committee, representing six chapters. Orange County NAM was immediately thrust into the forefront of a growing struggle over NAM’s relations to the Tom Hayden for Senate campaign.

II. Orange County NAM: Struggle and Development August 1975-April 1976

At the outset our major weakness was the unevenness within the group and our impatience to try to leap over this unevenness too rapidly, without adequate struggle or study. We entered a number of county struggles immediately, without studying them beforehand and identifying precisely what role they could have in building a revolutionary movement. This was the first appearance of a tendency toward pragmatic activism that was to surface a number of times within the group. On the other hand, our major strength–a political seriousness among almost all the members that involved a strong commitment to community and workplace practice and to principled struggle, within the chapter and with NAM, showed in our initial activities as well. We began an intensive program of study of the Marxist-Leninist classics, and we started discussing the work we had already leapt into.

The unevenness and tendency toward pragmatism appeared largely in our local work in Orange County; in relation to California NAM, we were united politically and determined to struggle against a. strong opportunist current in the organization. The principled struggle that we waged helped immensely in uniting us further. This external struggle against California NAM soon created the major internal fight of the first period of our existence: whether or not to continue within NAM. “Disillusionment” with the possibilities of working inside NAM developed unevenly, as some members became convinced of the hopelessness of the organization much sooner than others.

As soon as we became a NAM chapter we were forced to oppose a strong undercurrent towing California NAM toward Tom Hayden’s Senatorial campaign. This was the result of both overt and covert moves by a few determined Los Angeles and San Francisco leaders, pulling behind them an organization that was remarkably open to opportunist politics because of its lack of theory, its unwillingness to study or engage in principled political debate, and because–as we were to learn-much of the membership already had a consolidated social-democratic political outlook. Both “factions” of the Orange County chapter were united in seeing Hayden’s campaign for the Democratic Senate nomination–an undefined “leftist” seeking to work inside the Democratic Party and draw others with him–as a reactionary political move that could only reinforce illusions about the capitalist parties. We decided we had to oppose any NAM participation.

In early September 1975, we discovered that some LA NAM chapters and members were informally working for Hayden. We protested vigorously to the Steering Committee. No satisfactory action was ever taken to disavow Hayden publicly, and the matter was put off to a statewide convention in late October. This was probably our first clear experience of NAM’s true character: an organization so loose–in theory–yet so dominated in fact by a few “actives” that no confrontation or change was possible.

For the October convention we prepared a position statement on the Hayden candidacy (see Appendix I.) Through more than a month of discussion, rewriting and consultation among ourselves, we produced a genuine collective document expressing our consensus on the proper role of a revolutionary organization in seeking to build working class struggles independent of capitalist parties. Writing this document had profound internal consequences for Orange County NAM. On at least one key issue, it helped us consolidate our politics toward a genuine and explicit consensus. In addition, the long, painstaking, but necessary, process of drawing everyone into contributing to the document helped immensely in overcoming any remaining suspicions among us. No one dominated the group or forced their ideas on the others.

At the convention, we gave the major speech in opposition to supporting Hayden and we defended our position from the floor and in small group discussions. The convention degenerated into a morass of confusion and bitterness–largely because California NAM was so unused to principled political struggle that it was unprepared, even bureaucratically, to handle it when it arose. A very unsatisfactory resolution was submitted to a “referendum.” What eventually passed in essence deferred the matter once again to a statewide convention in San Francisco in February 1976. Meanwhile, individual chapters were still free to endorse Hayden. This convention gave a few of our less experienced members valuable practice in political struggle. By the end of the two-day brawl, a small minority of our membership was already convinced that NAM, at least in California, could have little role in helping build a revolutionary movement.

Within Orange County, our initial strategy was to enter political struggles to attempt to identify and attract unaffiliated political cadre in the county. During the latter part of 1975, we brought in a few new members and continued our weekly study of Marxism, reading Marx’ Wage Labor and Capital, Maurice Cornforth’s Materialist and the Dialectical Method, and Historical Materialism, and Leontiev’s Political Economy to establish a common ground in the fundamentals of Marxist theory. Without much preliminary study of the possibilities or the role of community and campus organizations, our members put tremendous efforts into the Frank Shuford Defense Committee, into building a broad Orange County Peoples’ Coalition, and a radical united front organization on the UCI campus. Some of our women members were active in a Marxist-Leninist study group on the woman question, and other members continued their efforts at union organizing or union rebuilding campaigns where they worked. There was, as yet, little strategic coordination of these efforts through the whole group. (See Community, Campus and Trade Union Sections for details and analyses of our experiences in these groups.)

We attempted a number of times to contact the Marxist-Leninist Caucus within NAM, located largely in East Coast chapters, hoping at first simply for political contact, and then after hearing that they might be leaving, trying to urge them to stay in the organization and struggle alongside us. As it turned out, they were already deeply involved in internal struggles of their own around leaving NAM, and they only replied to us after their departure. Some of our members also held discussions with Riverside NAM, which had supported our anti-Hayden position, and with a small group of pro-Chinese Trotskyists who were attempting to join NAM. We concluded that neither of these groups was close enough to us politically or represented significant allies within NAM.

Toward the end of the year, two of our members prepared a long and rigorous restatement of our position on the Hayden candidacy for a California NAM discussion bulletin to precede the SF convention. The paper discussed the nature of the state under capitalism, and the necessity of combating electoral illusions and social democracy. In retrospect this document can be seen to have a number of negative aspects: it was abstract, portions were quite difficult to read and it needed further clarification. In addition, it was not a collective document and did little to help us consolidate our own politics as a group. Given the time constraints, these shortcoming would have been difficult to overcome.

The two members who attended the SF convention to fight for Orange County’s position were startled by what they observed there–not by the presence of a social democratic current in NAM, but by its openness and its hold over virtually the whole organization. This was evident not just in the floor speeches, but also in a widespread tendency to view all struggles in top-down bureaucratic terms and a continuing fascination with the California Democratic Council and the “left wing” of the Democratic Party. Even among our allies on this issue, the bureaucratic tendencies were so strong that it was difficult for these two members to avoid a sense of hopelessness about the whole organization. Though the vote was relatively close, the position that passed allowed any chapter that wished to endorse Hayden. The same push toward social democracy was seen later in Los Angeles in a number of favorable presentation regarding the French and Italian Communist Parties.

After this convention, our group was split between those who saw no further possibilities for NAM, and those who wanted to remain–though even amongst the “NAM supporters” disillusionment was growing rapidly. They saw that NAM had serious weaknesses, but some felt there were still possibilities and that belonging to a national organization had real advantages to a small group like ourselves and that NAM was at least better than many of the sectarian Marxist-Leninist groups. The anti-NAM group did not push the issue to a premature conclusion, hoping to develop a consensus before making a break.

In March, 1976, workers at the UCI off-campus bookstore voted to go out on strike, and our members on campus took the lead with some other allies in turning the campus united front into a strike support committee. All of our members took an active role in the strike support (see Campus Section.)

We now began to make systematic analyses of our different areas of work, trying to overcome the pragmatic tendencies which were becoming apparent. We had been unable to find or recruit any more cadre locally, and in the midst of so much activity our own political consolidation had been neglected. In this reassessment of our first six to eight months of existence, first and foremost we felt we had to settle accounts with NAM.

III. Our Break With NAM April 1976

By April we had learned that the Marxist-Leninist Caucus had left NAM, and we saw little chance of developing a new Marxist-Leninist caucus within NAM in their wake. This fact particularly strengthened the will to leave of those members who had entered NAM in the first place in order to work with the Marxist-Leninist wing. Other members had been convinced of the pointlessness of further struggle within the organization because of the growing social democratic influence in NAM. After intensive discussions, those still unsure of leaving became convinced that we had encountered a consolidated petty bourgeois class outlook and political practice and a lack of political seriousness that made further struggle almost impossible and could only lead to a political dead end for the organization.

It also became clear that our association with NAM was holding back our own political development and consolidation in Orange County. As a national organization, NAM offered us no support or direction. Our political affiliation became an embarrassment that made it difficult to recruit allies in Orange County. Finally, we were spending far too much time on internal struggle over NAM and with other NAM chapters.

We decided to leave and become an independent collective–the Socialist Organizing Committee. We discussed writing a document to set out our reasons for the split and to express our own political views developed from the previous months of experience and study. (See Appendix II.) In the discussion around this document, our second major collective statement, and in writing it, we achieved a level of political consensus much higher than we had achieved before. This paper covered five principles: the necessity of a new communist party, the necessity of a working class orientation, the necessity of building organizations of the working class and their allies independent of bourgeois institutions, the necessity of studying Marxism-Leninism, and the necessity of struggling against racism and sexism from a strategic Marxist perspective.

Through the process of writing this paper, many of us came to see the crucial importance of periodic efforts to sum up and formally state not only our past practice but the level of political unity reached in the group. This summing up is a key to overcoming pragmatism because it relates theory to practice and draws the general from the particular– to prevent a continual wallowing in new particulars. Unfortunately, as we were now a small collective without national ties, we felt the need to redouble our commitment to practice. New activity soon submerged this lesson on the need for frequent summing up and it had to be relearned later.

IV. The Socialist Organizing Committee: The First Year

A. April-December 1976

As we became an independent collective, we carried over much the same strengths and weaknesses of our NAM period, though they now showed in new ways. Our strength was still a strong commitment to engage in political practice-particularly as were now a small, isolated group with all that implies in tendencies to become stagnant or turn inward and become “bookish” and sectarian. The tendency to pragmatism still led us to enter struggles without sufficient theoretical preparation. It also led us to underrate the importance of our collective study and kept us from taking the time to sum up our past practice in a formulated way that would allow us to learn from the past and make a sharp break with mistaken tactics. The main struggle of this period was between an overemphasis on practice for its own sake and the necessity to draw back enough to define our work and develop a political program. At no time did hard lines develop between these positions, and the struggle was largely to convince ourselves to put into practice a consolidation that we all acknowledged was necessary.

At the outset we emphasized the importance of growth and of developing ties to other organizations with the same political outlook as ours. We began to make efforts to contact other groups and individuals, both locally and nationally, to enter the current toward a new anti-revisionist communist party. Members held discussions locally with a group of Marxist-Leninists working in Los Angeles plants near Orange County, with a collective in northern Orange County that produced a radical newspaper, and with a group of Marxist-Leninists on campus.
1. The plant group had worked for several years in their area and were developing position statements on a number of political questions. They were studying various party-building efforts, but were not then participating in the effort or developing ties to other organizations. There was no point at the time in doing more than maintaining contact with them.
2. The newspaper group turned out to be a very loose collective with a social composition and political orientation much like NAM’s that was trying fruitlessly to recapitulate the experience of the late 1960s. Their attempt to produce a movement newspaper without a living movement to support it was having little success. There were a number of young radicals and socialists in the group who could have benefitted from leadership and political education, and we maintained contacts. The collective, however, soon decayed and then split into an apolitical journalistic grouping which wanted only to put out a newspaper, and a “political” grouping which wanted to take part in local struggles. Some members of the “political” grouping remained on our periphery and still come to our forums, but none have yet joined us.
3. The campus group responded to our overtures for formal discussions, but insisted that the talks be limited to the role of a student movement. Almost as soon as the talks began, they broke them off, without offering a reason. We had worked with some of these people in campus struggles, but when we invited them to participate in political struggles off campus in the outside community, they insisted that their role was strictly on the campus. Though they described themselves as Marxist-Leninists who were interested in party building, we were forced to conclude that such practice did not contribute to building a new communist party.

At this time, the struggle against our own pragmatic activism began with a reformulation of our internal study, in an effort to put it on a much more systematic basis. We had been studying the Marxist classics weekly, but without an explicit, long-term study program. Members generated a program covering imperialism, the state, the party, class analysis, sexism and racism, or the national question. We also continued to analyze our work in the Frank Shuford Defense Committee, the bookstore strike and the Orange County People’s Coalition. (See Campus and Community Sections.) We began to criticize ourselves for the lack of political input we had had to these organizations.

In June, a struggle began in Orange County against police harassment and deportation of Mexican workers. We entered what became the “July 31 Coalition”–a large demonstration was scheduled for that date–and we struggled for a working class political line within the coalition, although we had not had the thorough internal discussions necessary to develop and present a fully coherent class line, nor had we developed a position on Chicano nationalism or the national question in general. Though we did much work in the coalition, these weaknesses helped undermine some of the work.

After the demonstration, about 50 members of the coalition mobilized to give speeches on the issue at the city council. The speech our representative gave drew class lines sharply and presented the problem as a working class problem. It was only in preparing this speech that we finally worked out a consistent class approach to the raids:

At this time the capitalists definitely want the undocumented workers in the United States, but they harass them and deport token numbers in order to keep them frightened and unorganized, candidates for super-exploitation. The solution is an amnesty for all workers at present in the country and enforcement of minimum wage laws and workers’ rights.

Though this analysis seemed simple and straightforward once it was stated, this was the first time we had formulated it clearly and we realized that we should have done so much sooner and distributed a full statement of our position early on in the coalition struggles. This experience contributed to what was soon to become a serious reappraisal of our pragmatic activism.

Toward the end of the July 31 campaign we sponsored an informal forum on party building. At the forum we presented the five principles we had formulated in our split from NAM, plus three further principles that we felt could serve as the preliminary basis of unity for a new communist movement toward a party: rejection of the Soviet Union as a socialist model, support for the Chinese revolution and the Cultural Revolution as important advances in the science of revolution, without necessarily supporting all aspects of Chinese foreign policy, and proletarian internationalism. We argued that these eight principles could be the basis for a movement toward a new party, and that movement itself would refine them further through its practice and ideological struggle. Few outside persons came to the forum, none immediately drawn to our line and we had to consider the forum a failure.

In light of this failure, and our lack of recruiting, we had to look afresh at our position in Orange County and our strategy. Some of our lack of recruiting was undoubtedly a consequence of not pressing harder, but more important we lacked a base in the working class and therefore we did not have the concrete experience necessary to develop a correct mass line. Also, we were only an isolated group without a well-defined political program or national ties.

We began to create a political statement that would cover the nature of U.S. Imperialism, why imperialism made the creation of a new communist party necessary, and our own suggested path toward that party. It was hoped that the final document, as well as contributing to our own political growth and clarifying our position, could be used to put us in touch with the growing movement toward a new non-revisionist party.

At this time the Workplace Organizing Committee, the subgroup of SOC that had begun holding less and less frequent meetings, was reanimated. The WOC, we hoped) would serve to coordinate the trade and workplace practice of members, would help to draw independent workers to us, and would–through systematic study-help develop a correct Marxist-Leninist approach to trade unionism to avoid the long history of the communist movement swings from economism and opportunism adventurism in relation to trade unions. We discovered that the trade union question is one of the great neglected areas of Marxist-Leninist study, and preparing a study guide and materials took much longer than anticipated, and required going to original sources.

We began to initiate monthly public forums for films and discussions, to maintain contacts with people we had worked with and to establish a public presence in Orange County. This program followed a successful July 4 swimming party, Viet Nam film and discussion which drew about 50 people. The first of the new forums, in September, was a slide show on Cuba by a Venceremos Brigade returnee and it drew about 145 people, more than we had anticipated. Later forums featured films or slide shows on southern Africa, women workers, the struggle in Argentina, and the liberation of Viet Nam. These forums not only drew local people but put us in contact with other political groups in Los Angeles.

The effort put into these forums and our other activity, however, was soon overwhelming our work on the political statement. At the end of 1976 we decided that it was time to make a sharp break from the pragmatic activism that had continually overwhelmed our efforts at theoretical development and political consolidation. We decided to retreat for a time from all but essential mass work–that on which we had long-term commitments–to stop recruiting, and to put all our efforts into summing up our past experiences and preparing a political statement.

B. January 1977-Summer 1977

In the first half of 1977, our nearly two years of seemingly unproductive mass work suddenly began to show results. We drew in a few able and experienced new cadres with whom we had worked, we led a successful unionization drive, organized a mass women’s group, and because of the public presence that we had patiently developed, we found ourselves in a central role in a major political action. As we considered these developments–in contrast to the collapse of more than one sectarian formation in the county–we began to take a new look at the ’pragmatism’ with which we had continually accused ourselves.

Though we recognized that there had been and still were pragmatic weaknesses in our work, we saw that these were objective weaknesses of our inexperience and lack of base and not simply subjective mistakes that “more analysis” alone could rapidly overcome. We felt that it had been correct for us to enter struggles, even without a clear understanding of what we were doing, to carry on exploratory practice and, in Mao’s terms, “learn from the people,” Though our progress was on a very small level, we felt that our mass work in committees and trade unions had given us the beginnings of an understanding of the needs and perceptions of a small section of workers and oppressed people. We feel this experience is as crucial in the struggle to overcome pragmatism as discussion and analysis.

Many of us learned through direct experience the central role of practice and the importance of mass line in the development of Marxist-Leninist theory. We did not dismiss the importance of systematic study of Marxism-Leninism or of principled struggle over theoretical questions, but we could see in practice that only when the theory was illuminated by direct experience of working class and community struggles could it begin to take on concrete meaning. We had learned that the process of building a new communist party in this country was much broader than establishing contacts with other groups or waging ideological struggle for the correct line–developing a correct line and building a party are inseparable from a great deal of mass practice in the working class. In this area, we are still very weak.

By the end of the period, it became apparent that the main contradiction in SOC was now the contradiction between our level of development and our outmoded organizational forms–particularly the lack of identified leadership and of a formal division of labor. We began discussions that would lead to experiments with new organizational forms.

For the first two months of 1977, we concentrated on analyzing and summing up the previous year’s experience and writing this document. We also continued exploring national developments and contacting other groups that seemed to be moving in a direction similar to ours. In early March, we learned of the upcoming visit of the South African Davis Cup tennis team to Orange County, scheduled for mid April. Because of our contacts and our geographic position we soon became, with the Frank Shuford Defense Committee, the organizing center for an Orange County coalition to protest this match, and an important part of a larger Los Angeles coalition that developed. (See Community Work section.)

Through a great deal of work in planning and organizing the demonstration, plus a struggle we led against the opportunism within the coalition of a Trotskyite organization, we developed political ties with a small group of Marxist-Leninist students in Orange County and two independent political groupings in Los Angeles. We opened political discussions with the Orange County students, and maintained more informal contact with Los Angeles. After the demonstration we could not build much work around South Africa in the county, but within our limitations of time we maintained the group-to-group contacts.

In the months after the demonstration, many things developed at once. A union organizing drive that one of our cadres had initiated in 1976 reached a critical point and seemed to be falling apart. Our Workplace Organizing Committee threw its full efforts into the campaign and soon turned the struggle around. Within two months, through the advice and determined efforts of WOC members a local, management-dominated, company union was defeated and an AFL-CIO union established in a new area.

SOC membership was now almost 50% women and our internal study moved at last into the woman question. We began a four-month study covering the theoretical and historical background, the developments following the Russian and Chinese revolutions, the positions of American communist formations, and important women’s issues confronting the left today. During this study, members raised questions relating to leadership, the internal life of a communist organization, style of work and ideological line. By discussing these issues in terms of the woman question, we developed a further understanding of some of the problems the communist movement confronts and will have to overcome.

Out of the women’s study, three of our comrades developed an exploratory women’s study outline to present to a number of women workers, students and others we had worked with. The response was so positive that a women’s study group was formed with the strong possibility of turning itself into a continuing women’s organization.

In the spring, the Frank Shuford struggle came to a head. After months of delay the courts finally yielded to demonstrations and public pressure and agreed to hear the new legal writ containing evidence of Frank’s innocence gathered by the Defense Committee. We then leafleted and car-caravanned through the community with the Committee to draw people into attending the hearing. Despite five days of hearings, the writ was denied by an Orange County Judge, but we plan to carry on the struggle and we remain confident of winning Frank’s release.

A group of medical student comrades plus medical workers close to us began to explore the possibilities for health care work in the county. In addition, the WOC began at last to develop concentrations in at least two areas, for organizing and continuing trade union work. We were also keeping up contacts with other political people we had worked with and planning to send travelers to visit other groups.

With so many demands on our time and only limited growth, our major problems became the lack of cadres to carry on all the work, and the lack of effective organizational forms–particularly identified leadership with specific tasks, and fractions and division of labor. We were forced to begin discussing not only strategic priorities, but the sort of organizational changes that would allow us to carry out our work in responsible and political fashion and also raise it to a higher level.