Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers Congress (Marxist-Leninist)

Against the Circle Spirit

Published: The Communist, Vol. II, No. 12, October 10, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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It is an elementary lesson of struggle that to declare a battle is not to win it. The WCML has won important victories over the last year in the battle initially launched against petty bourgeois democracy in the Black Workers Congress. But we have paid for the idealism with which we undertook the struggle and learned some hard lessons.

The significance of the split in the BWC was that it was the first struggle under the line that party building was the central task to really confront the responsibilities of a Bolshevik line on party building. Like other organizations in our movement, the BWC was deeply infected with the erroneous line of tailing the spontaneous movement. Local autonomism and the small circle spirit governed district activity and the centralization of the organization had by no means been accomplished. As we first began to take up the struggle against backwardness, amateurishness, the local circle spirit, liberalism and economism which holds back our movement, an attack was raised by those who sought to preserve the social democratic tendencies of the BWC. While calling party building the central task – they no longer dared attack party building itself – they sought to escape the responsibilities required to build a Leninist party and to make party building easy by continuing the social democratic habits of the past: no reporting, little discipline, no effort to develop our industrial work along nuclear lines, failure to make propaganda the chief form of activity, failure to take up the task of winning the advanced, etc.

These clear right opportunist attacks on party building came under the guise that “left” opportunism was the pain dancer in our organization and in the Marxist-Leninist movement, and it was in the struggle against these open attacks that the Workers Congress (M-L) was formed. The Unity Conference held by our organization in August of 1975 marked our victory over the anti-left line in the BWC and was a good step forward for our movement.

Unfortunately our grasp of the demands of the struggle around which we had consolidated was uneven.

First of all, a leading member of the BWC who had led the struggle within the BWC was obviously fighting for standards which he refused to apply to himself. We were immediately faced with the task of ridding our ranks of blatantly anti-proletarian practices on the Woman Question and of a liberalism on the question that had corroded collective life.

At the same time some persons who had been staunch and active in the struggle within the BWC resigned. Commitment to the organization was secondary to the commitment to their own personal or circle activity. The pattern in virtually each case was the same. There was no attack on the line of the organization, but these people left, withdrawing from struggle, pleasure seeking, at the most spreading rumors about differences. They did not fight for any views within the organization or carry out struggle within the organization. They did not fight for leadership and by resigning showed how little they valued the precious weapon of a national organization. When views were written it was always long after they had left the organization when they were accountable to no one for the correctness or incorrectness of their views. Instead of taking up the hard task of fighting for the organization or professional revolutionaries we need, these forces took the easy and unproletarian path of resignation.

The errors against which the WCML had consolidated had raised their heads in our own ranks in a different form. Small circle autonomy which sought to continue affairs in the old way, liberalism which leads to passivity in the face of struggle, lack of discipline which leads to a shirking of responsibilities to the organization and the revolution all reflected a right opportunist tendency to demoralization and a capitulation before difficulty.

This is a very important party building lesson. Our leading bodies failed to grasp the depth of the struggle required around these questions in our own ranks and failed to move swiftly enough to accomplish the ideological and organizational steps necessary to consolidate our ranks – above all establishing and insisting upon the fullest inner party publicity and providing clear leadership on the ideological, political and organizational tasks we had set. For example, while we had won a decisive victory over the line of whipping up or tailing the spontaneous movement and led the call to build factory nuclei, we did not give adequate guidance to the work and did not adequately mobilize cadres toward that goal. We must all recognize the importance of this task to our movement.

If we are in fact to build our party on a solid factory basis and a nuclear style, we will have to give good guidance, drawing on the best experience of the past and summing up the lessons of comrades in their work.

What we did do was to continue to apply rigorously the principles and standards we had fought for and we persisted in our militant determination to continue on that path. On that basis we could learn from our mistakes and continue the struggle.

It was our insistence on those standards that led to the purge from our ranks of one former leader, Don Williams, for anti-proletarian practices and a consistent refusal to subordinate himself to the leadership and discipline of the organization.

The errors of liberalism, passivity and the autonomy of the circle against which we have fought over the last year have in every instance manifested themselves most importantly in violations of democratic centralism. Opportunism in matters of organization is opportunism, on the question of democratic centralism.

The best example of how a perpetuation of local circle autonomy, the spirit of factionalism and the “stuck in a hole” attitude can corrode democratic centralism, is shown by the struggle which led to the indefinite suspension of the entire New York district of the WCML from our organization this summer.

The New York district was suspended for their failure to carry out a directive from the organization’s leading body to hold a workshop on the question of War to commemorate May Day. In spite of the objections the district raised to the directive, it is an elementary principle of democratic centralism, that it was their duty to carry it out and take up struggle in a disciplined fashion about those aspects which they felt were incorrect. There can no compromise on this principle. A unanimous Central Committee called for a self-criticism from the district and from its leading member. However, this directive also met with refusal and defiance and, on that basis, the district was suspended from the organization.

Now New York justifies its action with the notions that they are upholding the true line of the organization and that a unanimous CC has set itself up as an autonomous faction above the organization and is distorting the line of the organization. On this basis they justify their refusal to carry out discipline. The question raised in this situation is what you do in a communist organization when an individual cadre or district holds one position and the CC holds another. That is how democratic centralism is presented in this situation. Obviously it is an ABC of Marxism that the line of the higher body prevails over the line of the lower body and that the individual and the district are subordinate to the Central Committee. No other solution is possible. This is the basic issue around the NY district’s refusal to recognize the collective leadership and authority of the organization.

They also justified their action by saying that in fact the Central Committee was violating democratic centralism because it was putting out a line before it had been fully discussed in the organization. In other words, stuck in a hole, they insisted on the bankrupt line of “democratic centralism from, below.” Mao scorned this error: “No longer,” he said, “does anyone bring up such erroneous demands as that the Red Army should apply ’democratic centralism from the bottom to the top’ or should ’let the lower levels discuss all problems first, and then let the higher levels decide.’” Unfortunately, one still hears such things in New York. For them an Iskra newspaper is a newspaper where they have a chance to debate out their views before higher bodies decide. For them centralized leadership is bureaucratic hegemonism by that hated “faction” in the organization – the Central Committee.

The petty bourgeoisie’s aversion to discipline has always played a wrecking role in proletarian organizations. Though we called for a resolute break with Menshevik and petty bourgeois democratic tendencies on matters of organization, many in our ranks never broke with these Social Democratic errors. These persons have never broken with the factional, local circle spirit we have recently criticized in PRRWO and which plagues our movement as a whole in a variety of forms. One good example in NY is their consistent failure to report. Another is their failure to turn over the names of their contacts. Here again is an ABC of Marxism – in LETTER TO A COMRADE Lenin makes clear that turning over the names of contacts to central bodies is a first responsibility of those involved in local work in their efforts to build a national organization. These persons, however, insisted on preparing their contacts before national leadership could deal with there. This again is nothing but an attitude which sacrifices organization to local circle ambitions.

It is inevitable that errors of organizational opportunism are connected to ideological and political errors. In the most serious of these errors was a willingness to conciliate and compromise with neo-revisionist forces for short term advantage in the struggle against PRRWO in that city. Acting autonomously, though still as members of the WCML, this district contacted PSP and the CLPUSNA in an effort to form a bloc opposed to the physical attacks by PRRWO against Marxist-Leninists in New York last spring. We will not belittle the seriousness and significance of PRRWO’s errors on this matter for which they are justly condemned by the entire communist movement. But the WCML repudiates the contact with PSP and CLP carried out in our name. It is important to recognize how this action is the direct product of local autonomy and defiance of discipline that corroded the NY district’s relationship with our national organization. Without a doubt our movement as a whole has not grasped the truth that the struggle against modern revisionism and the struggle against the penetration of modern revisionism in our midst begins with the struggle against social democratic tendencies in our organizations.

The ideological errors of the former district also show the inherent instability of a line which places its primary emphasis on circle autonomy and the circle spirit. First they were advocating a proletarian line on the Equal Rights Amendment, but then came their defiance of the workshop directive, and with it, a change to an ultra-“leftist” position of opposition to the ERA based on reasoning that negates the sex oppression of women and narrows the struggle for democracy (including an attack on the Civil Rights Act as a “sham reform”). Ultimately their errors on the woman question have their source in belittling the significance of private property as the origin of the oppression of women. Furthermore in a chauvinist way, they oppose the ERA because:

ERA can and will be used to get more women into US imperialism’s demoralized and ineffective army, as well as lay the basis for the introduction of large numbers of women into the factories for increased war production, as in WW2.

This backward view reinforces the petty household slavery of women.

The same instability and inconsistency of line is evident in their attack on the WCML’s line on war. Under the super-revolutionary guise of upholding the growing trend of revolution, the former NY district attacks the line of the Chinese Communist Party that imperialist war between the US and the USSR is inevitable and that the conditions for that war now exist. Among other things their argument separates the factors for war and the factors for revolution and does not clearly see that they are interconnected – that the growth of one necessarily means the growth of the other.

But then they also put forward the bankrupt view that it is too soon to call for preparations to turn imperialist war into a civil war against our own bourgeoisie because the US imperialists might give up their striving for hegemony and subordinate their imperialist interests to fight in a just war. This view reduces imperialism to a policy pursued by the US bourgeoisie.

As we have said, given an attack on the socialist countries by Soviet social imperialism, the first duty of communists everywhere would be to defend the dictatorship of the proletariat.

In this case there are conceivable circumstances under which the call for Civil War would change. Not, however, because US imperialism, had subordinated its interests or given up striving for hegemony. But the more important point is we base our preparation for war now on the system’ of political relations that exists now and the necessity for a united front against both superpowers. The source of war today is the fierce contention between the US and the USSR – inter-imperialist contradictions – and therefore we prepare for, an inter-imperialist war. Our task in an inter-imperialist war is to turn that war into a civil war against our own bourgeoisie.

Although there are definite particularities to the struggle in the WCML over the past year, the source of those struggles the persistence of social democratic habits and economist tendencies in our ranks, menshevik and petty bourgeois democratic attitudes toward organization and organizational responsibilities, amateurishness, liberalism and the circle spirit – all these exist throughout our movement and cripple our ability to overcome our backwardness, our fragmentation and our disunity; all are the basis for the penetration into our movement of the influence of modern revisionism, ideologically, politically and organizationally; all are the basis for the penetration of our organizations by wreckers, agents and spies.

It is a success for our organization that we have persisted in the struggle on this front for it is only by taking up the struggle that the problem will clearly appear in the forms which we must confront in the course of US revolution. As long as we conciliate with these tendencies they will live with us as silent partners sapping our strength. Ignore the struggle against these tendencies and we build our party on sand. But if we persist in these struggles throughout our movement, remaining staunch and firm, we will certainly overcome our fragmentation and disunity and build a party that will be invincible.