First Published: The Red Banner, Vol. 1, No. 1, Winter 1976-77.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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What has happened to our old friends, the October League, in the past several months? It would seem that they are following the familiar pattern of the various opportunist groups which have formed “parties” in the U.S. in recent years–the Communist League and the Revolutionary Union. They are making that all too familiar “tilt to the left” which seems to precede all the various opportunist “party” congresses. What usually follows, of course, is the immediate reversion to standard right opportunism once the “party” is constituted, along with the purging of those elements taken in temporarily by the “left” feint.
Can this be the same October League which used to blast all those who referred to working with the advanced workers as “ultra-left”, which is now talking about working with the most advanced workers? Now the OL puts the blast on the RU for failing to understand that:
While it is crucial for communists to remain closely linked to the broad majority of workers in all struggles, it is even more essential that they pay special attention to consolidating the advanced workers.” (The CALL, May 10, 1976)
Notice, that unlike the OL of the past advanced workers is not even put in sarcastic quotation marks. Its funny that the October League should be bringing this question up now, years after most of our movement has polemicized with the RU on this question. And of course the OL never mentions their own view of advanced workers–that is, militant trade unionists open to socialism, (see Unity Statement of the OL). In fact in their party building pamphlet the OL mentions the importance of working with the advanced workers (the vanguard) once. But even now the OL never questions RCP’s characterization of the advanced and the relationship between this view (line) and the RCP’s consistently tailist conception of politics. As everyone knows, RCP’s conception of the advanced includes those workers who might also be anti-communist. Funny that the OL chooses to ignore this; or is it because they have no essential differences with the RCP on this question? So here we have it, a little leaning to the left, covered with a little “leftist” phraseology, but the strict maintenance of opportunist essence. If in fact the advanced are those who determine the character of the mass movement, they had better be more than “open” to socialism, they had better grasp it and know how to organize the struggle for it. It is the advanced workers who will constitute the stable core of leadership of our future party–we must ensure that it is truly made up of those who have committed their lives to socialism, to the struggle to understand the science of Marxism-Leninism and how it is to be applied to our revolutionary struggle.
But the October League is smart. They have found some convenient stalking horses to help them set up their “leftist” smokescreen. In CLASS STRUGGLE (vol. 4 & 5, 1976) they print the views of a group called the League for Marxist-Leninist Unity. Now this group is much more “left” than the October League, and in our view they are not an opportunist organization. But we do know something of their history and we question the basis on which they reach several of the conclusions put forward in their CLASS STRUGGLE article “Building the Party Among the Masses.” The League is primarily a group of intellectuals who have no historical connection to the working class movement. The bulk of their current work, according to one of their members, consists of selling the CALL at plant gates. The League also works with OL’s FIGHTBACK organization and has recently begun factory organizing. This is hardly what we would call factory organizing. Given this perspective we are skeptical when they inform our movement that, “our advanced workers are predominantly in the existing pre-party Marxist-Leninist organizations, and are participating in the struggle as communists.” (CLASS STRUGGLE, p. 65) They offer not one shred of proof for this assertion. Like true intellectuals they make an analogy with the movement among the Russian social democrats at the time Lenin wrote A Retrograde Trend In Russian Social-Democracy (1900-1903). Talk about your lazy bones approach. But wait, there’s more. On page 73 of the same article they tell us:
There is no doubt that our movement has made important strides forward in our ties to the masses, and in winning workers to communism. But this development is still very primitive. The primary unit of the various pre-party organizations is not the factory nucleus; in fact, it is nowhere near that as yet. There are whole industries where we have no, or virtually no, presence. The number of plants where communist organizations exist is very small.
So, we have the situation where communists work in only a small number of plants, where whole industries lack communist presence. And yet somehow these same communist organizations have already won over the advanced workers! How this feat of magic was accomplished the League never does tell us, perhaps by selling the CALL at the plant gates? But what is also revealing is that the League offers not one single bit of criticism of the October League’s position on the advanced worker, while at the same time criticising the position of the RCP on the one hand and groups like ATM on the other. Perhaps the October League has changed its position to that of the League without telling anyone. Or maybe the League and the OL have decided that it would not be “polite” to reveal their differences in public. After all, what difference does it make if we disagree on the characterization of those who determine the character of the mass movement? Certainly it can have no effect on our efforts to build a party. And the October League has the audacity to berate the ATM and other Marxist-Leninists for “unprincipled blocking.” We would recommend that the League look at this question more closely and really make a study of the experience of the working class movement in this country before making ridiculous assertions like that in the CLASS STRUGGLE.
But let us have no illusions about the League because it seems to be “more theoretical” than the OL and so will lend a certain amount of credibility to the OL’s party building scheme. And this is precisely their intention. Just like the Communist League chose to cover their tracks with the writings of Michael Miller and the old League for Proletarian Revolution, the October League is fronting off its own “League” as a “left” cover, a net with which to trap unsuspecting communists. Cut the net comrades.
But the new OL doesn’t stop there. Now, believe it or not, they state that, “The tasks of the period require that propaganda be the chief form of activity . ..” (CALL, July 5, 1976). Yes, this is the same October League which once condemned this formulation as ultra “left”. Is this merely a sop to the movement, a meaningless “concession” to the Marxist-Leninists which you never intend to put into practice, and which you will abandon at the first available opportunity? If the OL is going to change their positions, or adopt new ones they might inform the rest of us “ultra-leftists” why so we can tell whether they are putting up smokescreens or really rejecting their former right opportunist positions. But again the League comes to the defense of the OL with the position that “Propaganda is the chief form of activity; the party is an organization of mass agitation”, (ibid, p. 78) The League certainly does not want to be called right opportunist, so they determine that our party can only be built by participating in and providing leadership to the mass struggles (which is correct) where agitation will be our chief form of activity. But wait, they say that actually propaganda is our chief form of activity. How are we to explain this contradiction? We can only surmise that the League (which never once mentions the role of mass propaganda) desires to have its cake and eat it too–they want both agitation and propaganda to be our chief form of activity. No comrades, this is not possible. Rather than letting ourselves wrestle with formulas we must rather grasp the role of propaganda and agitation (and organization) in carrying out our central task and our tasks as communists. All are necessary for our work. We must master them all if we are to build a party worthy of the name communist. We will use both propaganda and agitation in our work, often in combination. And we understand that throughout the pre-party period as we struggle to train ourselves, the advanced and middle strata workers, that propaganda must be in the forefront of our work. But we are leery of those who try to proceed from formulas and who, when life refuses to reconcile itself to these formulas, twist and turn to maintain their formulations rather than change them to correspond to reality. But the League does not seem to worry about this, nor does the October League which printed no disclaimer regarding these contradictory formulations. But if one cares nothing for principle, but only about ones hegemonic efforts to build “the party” then this is a “trifle” not worth worrying about.
It is very interesting that the October League would write a 20 page polemic against the “anti-party bloc” (CLASS STRUGGLE, vol. 4-5, 1976, “Revolutionary Wing or Anti-Party Bloc?”) without even mentioning the Chicano national question except in passing. Maybe they realize that here as nowhere else does their opportunism stands out nakedly and purely. In the past issue of the REVOLUTIONARY CAUSE (vol. 1, no. 4, 1976) we exposed how the OL actually poses this question–in an essentially reformist manner. And of course they are bound and determined to show ATM up as basically “anti-party”. Then why don’t they expose us on this most important of questions? Is it perhaps because we pointed out that in their “analysis” of the Chicano national movement they “forgot” about the period between 1848 and the 1940’s, choosing instead to tell us what was going on in Mexico and not the Southwest? The facts would show that during that period an oppressed Chicano nation was forged in the Southwest, a nation with the right to self-determination. But of course the October League could not rely on the work of the Comintern like they do with the Afro-American question (and the work of Haywood); nor can they look to the Chinese comrades to do the work for them like they do with the international situation. OL’s “self-reliance” has produced only a shopping list of democratic demands (what the Comintern referred to as the program of petty-bourgeois democrats) which does not challenge the rule of imperialism in the Southwest (drugs out of the barrio, free child-care, etc.). What distinguishes this program from that of mass organizations like the La Raza Unida Party? (We must apologise to the old activists of the LRUP for this comparison. Actually the LRUP program called for self-determination for the Chicano nation, as well as putting forward demands for the confiscation of the land in the Southwest from the imperialists. We are referring rather to the program of the “right wing” of the party represented by Jose Angel Guiterrez.) It is clear that the OL has no practical connection with the Chicano movement in the Southwest. How else are we to explain their failure to raise a single demand on the land question? No, their outlook and perspective is strictly “East Los Angeles”. In fact their references to the different forms of struggle in the Chicano movement made in their program, centers on work done only in Los Angeles in 8 out of their 16 demands. Is it any wonder that the OL was practically run out of the Southwest when they held their forums on the Chicano national question in that area? Or are we to believe that those who opposed the OL are all “narrow nationalists”? But never fear, the October League will undoubtedly abandon their position on regional autonomy for the Southwest and take up the demand for self-determination if this will help them to gain some credibility among Chicanos. This is precisely what they have done on the trade union question, where they “renounced” their old position of “move the trade unions to the left” (ally with the “progressive bureaucrats”), for a position of exposing all the social-props in the unions. If it will help them to draw more forces into their organizing committee they will surely change their position, probably with the same sham self-criticism they gave us for the change in their trade union position. In the meantime, the OL contents itself with lies about their work in the Chicano national movement, saying for instance that the historical Alamosa Conference took up their demand for regional autonomy. This is a sad joke indeed. When one of the Marxist-Leninists challenged the OL to put forward their position at the closing of the conference they chose to stay in their seats and keep their mouths shut. Then they have the nerve to say:
The Marxist-Leninists put forward a full program of full democratic rights for Chicano people, return of the stolen lands, honoring the 1848 treaty, and regional autonomy for Chicanos in the Southwest. (CALL, June 14, 1976)
In fact what happened was that the October League openly took a stand against the basic demands of the Chicano national movement (state unity, confiscation of the land and natural resources of the imperialists) as being “not concrete”, or even realizable under capitalism. They proposed that we instead “recognize our limitations under capitalism” (that is renounce revolutionary struggle for the “idealist” demands put forward by ATM), and concentrate instead on drugs out of the barrio. The conference completely rejected this reformist nonsense and the October League then chose to keep mum for the rest of the conference. And now they compound this chauvinism by going around and telling the Chicano movement that self-determination is “unachievable” (their words at one of our forums on the Chicano national question) under capitalism. Really, we must run over and tell this to the Azanian people at once, so they don’t get the crazy idea that they can actually win self-determination from U.S. imperialism. But as the movement begins to take up the struggle for their basic demands we can expect the OL to do one of two things: change their position so they don’t “lose out”; or to continue to tell the movement to come to its senses and recognize their limitation”. Meanwhile in the interest of consistency we must also tell the Afro-American people to give up their “idealistic” struggle for self-determination, and to concentrate instead on partial reform struggles, which are of course “achievable” under capitalism. And of course, the OL will, from time to time, raise the slogan of self-determination (at forums and rallies), to show their “proletarian internationalism”. Ah, October League, thy name is deceit and chauvinism.
We realize that only socialist revolution can solve the national question in this country. But the point is to make a socialist revolution. To do this we must take up the struggle for democracy in a revolutionary, and not a reformist way. This means that communists must formulate demands and slogans which threaten the very foundations of imperialist power, and then organize the struggle for the achievement of these demands. Only the slogan of self-determination achieves this objective as regards the Chicano national movement. Rather than preaching at the Chicano masses about their limitations, we must show them how to wage their struggle for self-determination. At the same time we must always show them through their own experience in the struggle that only socialist revolution provides the real guarantee for their development as a nation, or more precisely for the development of the oppressed masses who make up the majority of the nation. But we must never caution them to wait for socialist revolution, like a distant and unattainable panacea. We must in fact give leadership to their movement for liberation now and lead that movement onto the only path which can ensure its connection to the working class struggle for socialism. That path is the path of struggle for self-determination, the path which alone ensures the equality of peoples so necessary for revolution; the path which alone poses a threat to the fundamental interests of the imperialists. Is there any other way to win the Chicano masses to socialism? We don’t know of any.
In the Summer 1976 issue of CLASS STRUGGLE, Sherman Miller blasts away at the “Revolutionary Wing” in general and at ATM in particular. He uses the old tactic of tarring everyone with the same brush in order to somehow try and merge our line with the ultra-left line of the PRRWO-RWL. But before proceeding we must acknowledge the correctness of one of Miller’s criticisms. He takes us to task for failing to polemicise with PRRWO on some very important areas of difference (e.g., the Equal Rights Amendment, or rather the struggle for reforms under capitalism). Mr. Miller has hit the nail on the head. While we did take up this struggle with Workers Viewpoint Organization (see REVOLUTIONARY CAUSE, no. 5, 1976), we failed to openly state our differences with PRRWO on this question, unless we were explicitly asked at forums. This was unprincipled on our part and a reflection of conciliationism. It succeeds only in blurring over important differences, while causing confusion in our ranks.
Then Mr. Miller proceeds to adopt the familiar style of polemic of the October League–lying. He says that ATM merely pays “lipservice” to the Comintern resolutions on the Afro-American national question. One small fact should serve to illustrate who pays “lipservice” and who does not. In the Oakland based Greg Jones Defense Committee the ATM struggled to have the committee take up the demand of self-determination for the Afro-American nation. Along with the Trotskyite New Voice it was the October League who opposed our position. Why? Because this was not a mass demand. And how is it to become a mass demand, pray tell? Perhaps, we should lure the masses in with “drugs out of the ghetto” and then when they are not looking, or only at special events we can slip in a demand for self-determination. Or maybe ATM was just being “ultra-left” by raising this demand, just as we are being “narrow nationalist” for raising the demand for the right of self-determination for the Chicano nation.
On page 7 of his polemic Miller says that ATM’s position on the international situation is “somewhere in between” that of PRRWO and RWL. We would guess that Miller chose to ignore our various articles on this question, or maybe he didn’t have time to read them. In any case maybe he will read this one. Our view has been clearly stated in the article “Revolution Can Prevent War” (REVOLUTIONARY CAUSE, no. 5, 1976). In that article we try and present an analysis of the balance of forces worldwide. On the basis of that analysis we concluded that revolution is still the main trend in the world, but that the danger of war has increased significantly over the past few years. We also conclude that the Soviet Union, because of its “up-and-coming” status as a superpower, its bloated militarism, and its agressiveness is the number one danger as regards world war, but that both superpowers are the main enemies of the world’s peoples. We then call for turning such a war into a revolutionary civil war, and lay out some general tasks as regards the struggle against the war danger. Rather than responding to this, the OL chooses to imply that we stand with the Revolutionary Workers League’s opportunist analysis of the international situation. Meanwhile the OL says that the statement “revolution is the main trend” is no longer a sufficient characterization of the present world situation. When was it ever a sufficient characterization of the world situation? Did the Chinese lay out four main contradictions (world) for their health? Or were they perhaps trying to tell us that the world is a complex organism in which various contradictions predominate, and which Marxist-Leninists must never lose sight of. If the October League believes that revolution is not the main trend why don’t they just say so and prove it with facts? Or perhaps they would rather use WVO’s logic–that they have not seen the phrase printed in the Peking Review for some time. Ah, October League, you are very slick, we must give you that. But slickness is no substitute for Marxism-Leninism. And our movement is too sophisticated for such tactics. If you want to prove that ATM is in bed with the Guardian on the international situation, please do so with the truth, with an actual analysis of the strength of the two superpowers, and the strength of the working class and oppressed peoples worldwide. Don’t substitute demogogery for analysis, phrases for a precise summation of the position of the working class internationally. In any case if you really do agree with WVO that war and revolution are two equal trends in the world don’t be afraid to tell us.
Miller’s polemic raises an interesting view of tactics, leadership and also shows how to evade a direct question. On pages 8 and 9 of his polemic Miller criticizes us for using “a series of bits of childish gossip” to expose their reformism. We had criticized the OL for the role they played during the Boston Carson Beach march held last year. In REVOLUTIONARY CAUSE no. 3, 1976, we criticized the OL for tailing the NAACP in preparing for this march. As a result of this failure of leadership the march was broken up by the police and white racists without any effective resistance whatsoever. Mr. Miller never mentions this, or the fact that this lack of leadership by communists played right into the hands of the narrow nationalists. Rather he tells us that the OL helped form the Fred Hampton contingent which called upon “working class and minority people to unite and fight back”, and called for “self-defense by any means necessary”. Well, that’s simple enough. No longer is it necessary for communists to organize the actual struggle of the masses, or to show them how to “unite and fight back”. No, let’s just put out a leaflet, organize a contingent and all the rest will follow. Is this what is meant by revolutionary leadership? We hope not. With all this leadership, why was there no effective and organized struggle against the police and the white mob? Maybe people didn’t read the leaflet. Or maybe it never occurred to the October League that such things are necessary. Shades of the old antiwar movement – put out a general call, call yourself anti-imperialist and the masses will surely follow.
But these questions don’t even seem to occur to the OL, or at least Mr. Miller didn’t say anything about it. And the October League is actually going to build a “party” with such a conception of tactics and leadership. A party of windbags, maybe. And what is the essence of such a conception? Well, at Carson Beach it strengthened the hand of the reformists. We’ll leave it to our readers to draw the correct conclusions.
But the October League doesn’t stop there. On page 10 of their polemic they say:
What do you do when a fascist lynch mob is attacking Blacks? Do you promote armed self-defense as the basic strategic line, while at the same time demanding that the police break up the fascist gangs and provide effective legal protection?
This is a reference to the OL’s infamous call for federal troops to protect the Black masses in Boston. The OL seems to interpret “Basic strategic line” as meaning something far off in the misty future when Chairman Klonsky will have published his military writings. Secondly, they seem to “forget” that communists never just ”promote” a basic strategic line, but they do the work necessary to organize the carrying out of that line. If Miller had chosen to tell us that he could not reveal their work in this regard for questions of security we would surely understand this concern. But it is not security which is involved here, but a failure of the OL to understand the basic tasks of communists. Communists don’t just “promote” self-defense, they organize the masses to defend themselves. Or how long must the Black masses in Boston rely on the federal troops – until perhaps the October League decides to go beyond “promoting” self-defense? So the OL sounds very revolutionary, but in fact their cowardice stands revealed once again. And since the October League still calls on federal troops to protect Blacks in Boston we can only surmise that they have not yet gone very far in “promoting” their basic strategic line. In the meantime the OL would have us believe that they have never told the Black masses to rely on the bourgeois state, even though they call for them to be sent to Boston. And why? Because the October League in its leaflets is calling for “self-defense by any means necessary”. And so the October League’s vigorous promotion campaign has magically wiped out any effect of their call for federal troops – even though this call is echoed by every NAACP reformist and “liberal” politician in the U.S. Let the OL refute this “childish bit of gossip.”
We have shown how the OL has “moved itself to the left” in their rush towards the “party”. And of course everyone has pointed out how their original call for the party neglected mention of the program and other such “incidentals”. But the OL has changed, and now they are busy at work developing the party program. In the meantime they weekly reveal some new collective which has chosen to affiliate with their efforts. Funny thing that not one national (or regional) organization has chosen to join up with the OL. Narrow nationalism perhaps? Or maybe small circle spirit? In any case we know for a fact that some of the collectives which have joined the OL’s organizing committee were formed just for this purpose. They have little or no ties to the masses, and they become “collectives” just for the purpose of issuing unity statements to the CALL. If the OL would like we will gladly name names and state the facts on the history of some of these “collectives”. That way we can avoid the charge of “gossiping”. In any case this all boils down to something less than principled unity. We have yet to see a single criticism of the OL by any of its partners or vice-versa. Maybe this is the same type of “detente” that Sherman Miller correctly criticized ATM for? For instance, the League for Marxist-Leninist Unity claims to uphold as correct Lenin’s characterization of the advanced worker (even though they are already in communist organizations, of course). But the October League’s line is surely diametrically opposed to this. Now, how are we to build our vanguard if we can’t even agree on who the vanguard is? Or maybe the League will furnish the advanced and the OL will furnish the “finest elements of the class” (the league’s term for the middle strata workers)? Principled unity, or unprincipled blocking?
An interesting thing about the OL’s efforts to build their “party” – for all their talk about practice, mass work, the mass line, etc., they make no mention of how their organizing committee is going to test the unity of their general line. They say:
When we say that the communist movement has now become prepared to build a new, vanguard party, we mean that the ideological and practical struggle has developed to the point where it is now possible to identify, and to unite the Marxist-Leninists around a general line for the U.S. Marxist-Leninist movement. We can now clearly distinguish between Marxism and revisionism on each of the main questions facing the communist and workers movement. (CALL, July 5, 1976, special supplement, page 2)
Well that’s just fine. All one has to do is proclaim that one upholds a Marxist-Leninist line and one can join the party. How else can we explain the fact that the League for Marxist-Leninist Unity, which has only minimal (revolutionary) practice among the masses is a part of the Organizing Committee. Or how about the collective from San Diego (the Marxist-Leninist Fighting Union) which has almost no history among the working class, the national movements, etc.? Oh, well practice was important when the OL was attacking all those who stressed the importance of Marxist-Leninist theory. But now, well, why don’t we just let bygones be bygones? We have no particular quarrel with the League for Marxist-Leninist Unity, some of whose members we have met with for discussion in the past. But if we were going to seek unity with them we would certainly require that they match their words with their deeds, just as they would have a right to expect the same thing from us. And why should they take our word for anything? The masses certainly don’t – they want to see deeds, they want to see who is really serious about leading their struggles. Should we require less? Is their any other way to ensure the unity of our future party than to weed out the opportunists and blowhards? If there is another way would someone please let us know. But of course the October League is perfectly prepared to overlook this essential component of party building – the testing of stated unities in practice. In this they have a lot in common with the past efforts of the Communist League and the Revolutionary Union, who also built their “parties” on the basis of verbal or written unity with their lines. We see that the Workers Viewpoint Organization seems to have essential unity with this approach to party building. And what opportunist wouldn’t? After all, if you can talk, or write a good game why bother to worry about whether or not you can organize a dinner party, much less a revolution. In our view, party unity must be based upon unity around the ideological and political line as tested and verified in practice. Pardon us our empiricism, but it is just too easy to talk tough and act meek these days. Otherwise all our talk about fusion is just so much hot air. We will unite with those communists who don’t just talk about winning the trade unions to communism, but who actually do revolutionary work in the trade unions; the same goes for every other important question facing us. Don’t just talk about the danger of war – organize against it. We know that people make mistakes (we have made more than our share), we don’t hold that against anyone as long as they own up to them and correct them. But practice must match talk – otherwise our party will be built on quicksand and our movement will really be “stuck in a hole”.
In closing we must state that there has been no essential change in the October League in recent months. They are still right opportunist. While they have made a few shallow “feints to the left” their views, particularly on the Afro-American and Chicano national questions, are a “guarantee” that we will forge no alliance between the U.S. working class and the revolutionary national movements. This is a question of the reserves of the revolution, a question of strategy. And, of course, Stalin once mentioned that opportunists are not concerned about reserves, because they are not concerned about revolution. Reforms are fine, thank you – please don’t bother us (the opportunists) with talk about reserves or strategy. This, more than anything else reveals the right opportunism of the OL – the main danger to our movement.