First Published: Revolutionary Cause, Vol. 1, No. 11, January 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The struggle for the proletarian party in the United States has produced a variety of opportunist organizations. Very often they undergo a feint on the spectrum from right opportunism to that of “left” opportunism, a feint usually occurring immediately before their “founding party Congress”. Once the Congress has taken place we see a reversion or shift into outright right opportunism. Suffice it to mention the history of the Communist Labor Party, and the current motion of the October League. And now walking through this same “dance of the ages” is the Workers Viewpoint Organization (WVO). In a future article we will examine this metamorphosis of the WVO in detail, especially of its idea of the National Question. But for now we should like to examine a by-product of that change: their claim to be the “leading circle” of the communist movement with the overall correct line. The WVO says that they have become the “theoretical and practical center” of our movement. (WVO Leaflet) We also learn in the latest issue of their paper (Workers Viewpoint, Vol. 1,#7) that WVO has also developed “in the past year” (emphasis ours, ATM), “the national scope and organizational infrastructure to, in fact, organize the genuine forces of the communist movement.”
On November 20 we took on the WVO in a forum they held in Los Angeles. The struggle unfolded around their assertion to be the theoretical, practical and organizational center of our movement. This article will represent a summarized version of the presentation we made at the Los Angeles forum.
Comrades, we might entitle our presentation: “Saying it’s so, doesn’t make it so”. According to the WVO, they have, in a few short years, all but built a new communist party – and most of us didn’t even know about it. Certainly the working class is unaware of it, but to the WVO that is not important, that is not a question of line. But we will return to this question later. In any case we are supposed to attribute our lack of awareness on this question to the modesty of WVO. But maybe before we “slaughter ourselves” (WVO’s directive to all communist groups), we should examine more closely some of WVO’s claims.
At their forum WVO said that since ours is a one-stage socialist revolution we no longer have any democratic tasks. They stated that all democratic tasks have been fulfilled and that it was ridiculous, therefore, to talk about any type, of minimum program demands. WVO has taken to bragging about their “consistency” recently. But in the May, 1975 issue of their journal they said that communists must ”...concentrate the original, spontaneous demands of the working class and all the oppressed and put them forward as our minimum program...” (Workers Viewpoint, May, 1975, page 19). In any case, their present position hinges on their view that we are now in the third phase in the development of democracy and that therefore we no longer have any democratic tasks.
Bourgeois democracy went through three phases. First, in the fight against feudalism, it was revolutionary; it ceased to be revolutionary as capitalism grew. Now, in its last stage, bourgeois democracy is thoroughly reactionary and it becomes the best ’shell’ of bourgeois rule. “Under parasitic, decaying and moribund capitalism, bourgeois democracy’s main role is to contain the proletariat’s struggle, to straitjacket it. Thus it has been transformed into its opposite.” (ibid., p. 28) As we will explain below, WVO does not understand the question of the struggle for democracy and its relationship to the struggle for socialism. It would seem incumbent upon a “theoretical center” to understand this question since Lenin called it an “ABC of Marxism”. (We must also note that WVO contradicts the whole premise of their position by claiming to uphold the democratic right of the Black nation to self-determination. But we shall go more into this question in a later article.)
First of all, is it correct to say that since monopoly capitalism is the epitome of political reaction we therefore have no democratic tasks, only socialist ones? It is absolutely incorrect. Lenin said,
“Capitalism and imperialism,”(take note WVO), ”can be overthrown only by economic revolution. They cannot be overthrown by democratic transformations, even the most ’ideal’.
But a proletariat not schooled in the struggle for democracy is incapable of performing an economic revolution.(LCW, vol. 23, p. 25, 1916).
But then if we are “ideologists of the petty-bourgeoisie” – WVO’s rrrrrrevolutionary term for us –then what is Lenin for spreading such heresy? He even had the audacity to say that:
The Marxist solution to the problem of democracy is for the proletariat to utilize all democratic institutions and aspirations in its class struggle against the bourgeoisie in order to prepare for its overthrow and assure its own victory. (ibid., p. 26)
We must point out that Lenin wrote these words in 1916, during WVO’s “third phase”, when allegedly any talk of democratic tasks is “right opportunism”. They have even accused us of being “more reformist than the October League” for pointing out their imperialist economism. And we must call their view economism if we are to be logically consistent. If we have no democratic (political) tasks, then we must have only economic tasks. Is it any wonder why Lenin referred to this nonsense as imperialist economism? The political reaction of imperialism creates in the masses ever stronger strivings and aspirations for democracy, witness the massive uprisings of the oppressed nationalities in the 1960’s. It is the task of communists to lead these struggles, to formulate revolutionary democratic demands and to organize the struggle in a revolutionary manner in connection with the struggle for socialism. Our failure to do this will doom the movements for democratic rights to bourgeois and petty-bourgeois leadership. We cannot win the leadership of these movements and link them to socialism if we tell the masses that they are wrong to even struggle for democracy. WVO lashes at us for saying that: “Socialism will occur as a result of numerous battles on the economic and political fronts, during which communists try to lead the masses through their own experience, to the conclusion that revolution is necessary and inevitable.” WVO says that this line,
....borders on the incremental democracy line of ’by accumulating more victories and reforms on the economic and political front, we get closer to socialism’! This line belittles the role of Marxist-Leninists fusing MLMTT into the spontaneous movements, belittles the way communists lead in a communist way. It is the Bernstein line of the ’immediate aim is everything (’palpable results’), the final goal objectively becomes nothing’.” (Workers Viewpoint, #7, p. 11).
We must again refer to Lenin:
The socialist revolution is not a single act, it is not one battle on one front, but a whole epoch of acute class conflicts, a long series of battles on all fronts, i.e., on all questions of economics and politics, battles that can only end in the expropriation of the bourgeoisie. It would be a radical mistake to think that the struggle for democracy was capable of diverting the proletariat from the socialist revolution or of hiding, overshadowing it, etc. On the contrary in the same way as there can be no victorious socialism that does not practice full democracy, so the proletariat cannot prepare for its victory without an all round consistent and revolutionary struggle for democracy. (The Socialist Revolution And the Right of Nations to Self-Determination).
But our “theoretical center” says that this is a “Bernstein line”. And how are we to reconcile what Lenin says about the struggle for democracy under imperialism with WVO’s profound assertion that such a position is dangerously close to a theory of incremental democracy? The two, cannot, of course, be reconciled. Lenin represents Marxism, WTO represents imperialist economism. (One small aside: In their response to our polemic on the ERA, where our differences on the question of democracy became crystallized, the “leading circle” offers not one FACT in rebuttal, or to back up their position on the ERA. We invite comrades to examine their position to learn the pitfalls of phrasemongering.)
WVO has said that they are now the “practical center” of our movement. Let’s look at some of their practice, (Note! When we questioned their practice at their forum, WVO could not give us one example beyond a reference to their work in local 1199 in New York. By their own admission they did not organize and lead that struggle; but now it is to serve as an indication that they have become our “practical center”.)
In the United Autoworkers Union in Northern California, the WVO has not led a single struggle, although they are members of that union in the area. Rather they have contented themselves with putting out an 8 page propaganda leaflet. As an afterthought they rubber-stamped in the margin of this 8-legged essay “Vote No on the Sell Out Contract”. Oh, they talked about fascism, opportunism, socialism, the party and all the rest. But they were totally incapable in practice of showing the workers how to organize their struggle in order to move towards socialism, defeat opportunism and fascism, etc. Is it any wonder that one of the politically active workers referred to the WVO cadre as a blowhard?
Or there is the Molders’ Strike which took place in the spring of this year, also in Northern California. Again, a long propaganda leaflet. Again not one bit of practical political leadership to the struggle. Propaganda not linked to the actual struggle is windbagging! But WVO claims that they have a secret nucleus in the Molders which gives leadership. They must be holding strikes and demonstrations in a closet because none of the workers saw their leadership during the strike or during the struggle against trusteeship.
During the Major Safe strike in Los Angeles, WVO adherents came down to the picket line to tell the workers that ATM “does not know how to train its cadre”, and all about the direction of the main blow, socialism, etc. All in the abstract, of course! Funny thing, when the workers were trying to decide how to act on a concrete question–a court injunction against them–the adherents of our “leading circle” sat as silent as a Sphinx. Here was the golden opportunity to educate the workers concretely about the state, the bureaucrats, (or “expose” ATM, if you will), and all the rest, and to organize their struggle. Being that our “leading circle” was not inclined to do this, ATM led the workers to fight the injunction while utilizing the struggle to educate them politically.
But maybe by practical center WVO means a propaganda circle organized around their insufferably boring newspaper, and not a militant party of the working class. We disagree. We cannot recognize WVO as the practical center of our movement because they are not leading the working class or any national movement to any significant extent that we know of. If they are would they please let the rest of us in on it, and stop getting OFFENDED like they did at their Los Angeles forum, when we make bold to ask about their practice.
As to WVO’s organizational infrastructure which will “organize the genuine forces of the communist movement”, everyone in California is aware that the WVO cadres in this state were functioning almost autonomously. The poor cadres in the Los Angeles area didn’t even know how to approach trade union work. Is this the national infrastructure which is to coordinate our revolution? But there’s more.
Our party must be based in the plants – based on factory nuclei. But WVO told us in June of 1975 that to “concentrate on workplace organizing would hamper the development of the line, would narrow the outlook of communist (organizers)”. (From the minutes of our meeting with WVO). They actually said that if we focused on factory work, we wouldn’t have touch with broader issues; that we must first win over the advanced elements from the community and the schools who can later go into the factories. Is it any wonder then that the “leading circle” would go into a frenzy of outrage when we ask them whether they have fused communism with the working class movement to any extent? And is it any wonder that our leading circle has a predominantly petty-bourgeois class composition (as admitted to us by a member of their political bureau) or that the groups that are following them have no history or base in the working class? Or maybe in a country with a proletariat of around 80 or 90 million it is too much to ask that our party have a proletarian class composition!
And WVO cannot understand that THIS is a question of line. But the organizational infrastructure that we are trying to build is based in the plants – the factory cells. We are bending the greater part of our efforts and resources to develop these cells, and a small beginning has been made. WVO does not have this infrastructure, and does not seem to even worry about building it. They seem to be content with a classical Menshevik organizational set-up – based not in the factories, but in the “community”, not in the trade unions, – but in the schools; not among the proletariat, but among the intelligentsia. As we can see then, they are not the organizational center of our movement either. (Note: We ourselves work with, and aim to recruit advanced elements from other strata besides the proletariat, but we concentrate on work among the working class.)
As we can see WVO is neither the theoretical, the practical or the organizational center of our movement. What they seem to be instead is a circle of intellectualist academics who take pride in conferring generalships on each other. May the gods not disturb their dreams!