At present (summer 1973) the communist movement in the United States is divided into a number of circles and a few larger groups. The circles or “collectives” operate in one city, and the larger cities have a number of such circles, disunited from each other. Some groups operate in several major cities. But large or small, no group dominates the scene. The result is that we have a multitude of small groups, the activity of each being necessarily confined to a small scope. In the area of literature, for example, many issue an occasional leaflet or perhaps a fairly regular series of leaflets. Some start a newspaper, only to run out of momentum after six months. The larger groups sustain a newspaper, but it is usually monthly, by which time news and comment is often stale. Among the opportunists, the larger groups make up a newspaper only by watering down its party character, so that The Call (October League) and Revolution (Revolutionary Union) tend to approach the Guardian in nature and tone: the Guardian is a platform for the petty-bourgeois journalist, even a radical and pro-China petty-bourgeois journalist – but it is not a party newspaper, the communist spokesman of the working class, the interpreter of events to which the working class turns. One need only compare The Call or Revolution with The Worker (organ of the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist)) or The New Voice to see the difference between two kinds of newspapers and the basic similarity of the opportunist newspapers to the petty-bourgeois Guardian.
Organization around issues by these circles and groups is still at the old “movement” level, too. Issues and demands arise spontaneously, or are put forward by the “Communist” Party USA and the Trotskyites; then the communist groups join or react. Because they are not united in a single, nationwide party, they are powerless to initiate these campaigns and to frame the demands and spirit of them in a revolutionary way.
The year of 1973, for example, was widely foreseen as a big year of labor negotiations. Contracts covering millions of workers in basic industries were coming up for renewal. But the AFL-CIO, Teamster, UAW and other piecards cooperated with the capitalists and squelched all the possibilities for big strikes. A few scattered actions, as in the rubber industry and local Chrysler wildcats, broke out. Settlements ran behind the gains of 1972. It would not have taken a large communist party to alter this situation, but a national party that could launch a conscious, continual campaign around the issue of real wage gains was needed. Instead, the circles and groups organized May Day marches and rallies in the various cities. They generally trailed behind the pacifist, no-strike leadership of Cesar Chavez with his boycott for farmworkers. This activity could be done without national coordination. If the communists who are now divided into these circles were united into a genuine, national communist party, then a real campaign, with common demands, coordination between cities and between industries, supplied by mass-produced literature, and giving the workers the knowledge that they were not operating by themselves nor in a vacuum but with mutual contact through the agency of such a party-such a campaign would be possible.
The variety of small circles also tends to promote artificial peculiarities and theoretical errors in their work. Resources become concentrated on one or a few kinds of activity, because the situation of the members, their circumstances and particular social position, lead them to such activity. Organizing, for example, means organizing among welfare clients to one group, while to another it means student activity, or organization along “national” lines to a third. Then these accidental beginnings may become enshrined in erroneous theories in justification of them. Group A feels superior to Group B because the former has its members in low-wage industries while the latter is in a city of office workers and adapts its organizing to the fact. Group C holds itself aloof from others because it “represents” such-and-such a “nation.” To the extent that such phenomena exist, the criticism of the “mountain-top” mentality is correct, Obviously, there is a great variety of organizing situations, and a large enough party will send forces into all of them – and with one correct theory, not a variety of distorted conceptions.
Both the practitioners and the critics of “mountain-toppism,” however, overlook basic issues of line which do divide communists. On basic issues of line–such as how to form the party–every communist is under an obligation to study the issues and to form an independent, reasoned opinion, from which he seeks to unite with all others who take the correct path. Whether the communist party should lead the labor movement or whether the communist movement should tail behind the labor movement, the antiwar movement, and the antiracist movement–this is a fundamental question. Whether we carry the class struggle to the struggle against bourgeois ideology in the party, or whether we have contempt for theory (that is, for Marxism-Leninism, while actually operating from bourgeois theories) – this is a basic issue. These are not problems of peculiar and special circumstances; one is not being sectarian by defending Marxism-Leninism.
On the contrary, the first step on the road from a variety of circles to a single, genuine communist party is to draw the line between Marxism-Leninism and anti-party opportunism. To achieve clarity, we must distinguish sharply between the two paths. It is the responsibility of all the communist groups and their adherents to make the maximum contribution to this task. The opportunist leaders, we know, are reluctant to open up polemics. But communists are already asking how we should form the party; now we have to give militant answers to this question, to expose the opportunist line. Such has been the intent of this pamphlet.
The object of this polarization is, of course, to establish the hegemony of Marxism-Leninism and to develop a leading center, This exists not when the incorrigible opportunist leaders crawl away (for we cannot expect this), but when the dead-end, reformist character of anti-party opportunism is clear to the most active portion of the communist movement. Hegemony exists when activists know that they can depend on the opportunist newspapers for truth no more than on The New York Times and when the communists have developed their own channels of communication, a national newspaper or the newspapers of several groups, which breaks the near-monopoly of the opportunist papers. Hegemony exists when there are two strategies on all, or most all, current questions and tasks, and the support and tendency of the opportunist line is clearly recognized as capitalist support and the reformist tendency. In this stage of development of the communist movement, it means that the struggle between the two lines is recognized to coincide with the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Hegemony means that the proletarian revolutionary camp expels the opportunist, bourgeois line and combats it with Marxism-Leninism.
When these two steps are taken, when the line of demarcation has been drawn and the hegemony of Marxism-Leninism established, then the third step, the actual achievement of party unity, will follow. Organizational steps cannot be predicted or prescribed in advance. About a founding congress, this much is clear: the tendency has been toward hasty, unprepared, liberal conferences. Those who call them have failed to prepare them by leading a thorough discussion of the issues before the conference, so that all participants may know what to expect and have a principled line worked out. Instead, the organizers have refused to organize their conferences in a real sense, with one of two excuses. The blatantly liberal excuse was given by many of the organizers of the conferences around Proletarian Cause, the projected theoretical journal which failed. This excuse was that anyone who labeled himself a Marxist-Leninist was welcome, and the line would be worked out at the conferences themselves! This meant that everyone was expected to walk into an unknown situation, put forward their propositions (which often ran past each other, not really meeting common issues), and then decide in the course of an afternoon what to do. Obviously, no correct, steeled plan can emerge from such a manner of proceeding.
What amounts to the same result has also been achieved by the “it’s all settled” approach. Here, the organizers know which views they will accept and will not, and with the organization of the conference in their hands, their will can be implemented. There is nothing wrong with this so far. But the organizers keep the line a secret, discouraging a guided discussion of the line. Once again, the participants are expected to walk into an unknown situation and endorse something they have not fully grasped, simply for lack of preparation. Here, the tendency is toward demagogy: whipping up a stampede atmosphere, perverting the urgency of forming a party to mindless assent, etc.
Instead, we must adhere to the method of Lenin in preparing a conference or congress, especially in the formative stages we are in, which correspond to the period in which Lenin and his group prepared for the 1903 Congress. They did this by developing the proletarian revolutionary position in Iskra for over a year and a half, writing What Is to Be Done?, and encouraging a struggle between the two lines in all circles throughout Russia. We are forming a party, not conducting diplomatic negotiations. “Politicking,” in the diplomatic or trade union politician’s sense of maneuvering and bargaining, will not do where principle is at stake. When the German Marxists were merging with the Lassalleans (a non-Marxist current in the German labor movement of the 1860’s and 1870’s), Marx said:
Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programs. If, therefore, it was not possible–and the conditions of the time did not permit it–to go beyond the Eisenach program, one should simply have concluded an agreement for action against the common enemy. But by drawing up a program of principles (instead of postponing this until it has been prepared for by a considerable period of common activity) one sets up before the whole world a landmark by which the level of the party movement is measured. (Critique of the Gotha Program, p. 34-35)
A landmark by which the level of the party movement is measured–that is what the establishment of a party sets up. It must be set up in a firm foundation in order to stand tall in the winds. This is the importance of a communist party to the working class. Every daily struggle, every stretch along the road, requires the close attention of the workers. But if we are not to wander astray, we must be able to look up and take a sight on the landmark ahead, the principles for which we labor. And this sight will give us renewed impetus in our immediate tasks. Every struggle will be better fought, and its relation to the goal of socialism better known, when it is supported, organized, and guided by the communist party of the working class. As we move to the formation of this party, let us keep this lofty goal in mind, and we shall not miss the mark.