First Published: Forward, No. 4, January 1985.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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More than three years have passed since the breakup and disintegration of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) (CPML) – one of the largest and more promising organizations that united a core of revolutionaries from the upheavals of the 1960s.
At its peak the CPML had nearly a thousand active members and several thousand sympathizers. At one point, about half of its ranks came from working class origins, while the other half came from the intelligentsia and other middle strata. About one-third were from the various minority nationalities; half were men, half women.
It was a young, militant and active organization. Most members were under 35 and directly involved in mass struggle – in the trade unions, minority communities, student groups, women’s organizations and other forms of political action. The CPML also included a small but important core of veterans from the communist movement of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. They provided invaluable guidance.
The CPML went through a process of organizational development. It started with the October League (OL), which itself was constituted initially by a merger of two local circles of less than 50 people. But at the CPML’s peak, it had functioning districts in about 30 cities, with the districts ranging in size from a dozen to more than 100 members.
The party’s press was relatively well developed. At its peak, The Call newspaper had a weekly circulation of 12,000 – although most were single-copy sales and not regular subscribers. Liberator Press published several books and dozens of pamphlets – some selling in the tens of thousands. There was a theoretical journal with 1,500 readers.
For a new group, the CPML’s basic units were also well positioned. Most units or cells were factory based and situated in basic and light industries. Growing numbers of cadres were being elected to union positions in their locals. CPML members held posts in the Black United Front and in the United League of Mississippi, in the National Lawyer’s Guild and the U.S.-China Peoples Friendship Association, and in groups the CPML had set up, like the National Fight-back Organization and the Communist Youth Organization.
While more achievements can be pointed out, this brief accounting already underlines one key question: What happened? In the short period of about a year, all this was blown away. Many of those involved denounced what they had been doing and dropped out of political life. Why?
There are no simple or commonly agreed upon answers to these questions. What follows is not meant to be a complete history or even a thorough sum-up. Instead, it is a statement of some of the main lessons and conclusions that I have drawn and would summarize as follows:
The CPML was destroyed by revisionism, particularly of a rightist, social democratic variety. An anti-party clique representing this viewpoint formed in the leadership and worked to disintegrate the organization. Some did so by staying inside to the end, others by resigning and intriguing from without. In the end, these misleaders all openly denounced Marxism-Leninism and called for the CPML’s liquidation.
The CPML was also destroyed because its leadership made some serious mistakes that were not adequately corrected. These included both flip-flops in political line and poor methods of leadership, especially in failing to practice the mass line. The leadership often made immature and onesided assessments of conditions in the country. At times it tried rashly to “seize the leadership” of mass struggles through various campaigns. When these get-rich-quick schemes failed, they would be replaced without adequate sum-ups or self-criticisms.
One of the main conditions setting the stage for the CPML’s liquidation was the persistence of a mainly left deviation in its program and political line. The ”anti-left campaign” meant to rectify this deviation, however, was itself overblown, subjective and idealistic. In fact, it served to shield the right and hamstring the genuine left.
One critical destabilizing factor was the CPML’s social and historical makeup. Its leadership was young and inexperienced. The core came out of the student and youth rebellions of the 1960s, a fact giving the intelligentsia and petty bourgeoisie a preponderance of influence. Activists from this stratum are prone to rapid shifts from one extreme to another and historically have been the main recruiting ground for both the left social democrats and ultraleft formations. The fact that a number of those who were the most doctrinaire “leftists” in the CPML quickly transformed into social democratic activists is a case in point.
The founding congress of the CPML was a basically positive event. By that time, the organization had drawn clear lines of demarcation with the revisionists on the main points of principle and strategy. Also, dozens of local circles had been united into a single organization set up along Leninist lines. While not complete, it was a definite step forward in the process of party building.
Nonetheless, the CPML started off with serious problems. The founding congress itself was, in part, the culmination of an ill-conceived ideological battle – called the anti-Nicolaus campaign – that skewed the organization’s political analysis in the direction of ultraleftism. (Nicolaus had been a CPML leader.) While the debate often took obscure and abstract forms, several key questions stood out.
The first was over the nature and number of advanced workers in the U.S. in the 1970s. The position that won out was that there were “tens of thousands” of advanced workers “standing on our doorstep” waiting to be recruited to the CPML. This was a gross exaggeration, but it was genuinely believed and served as a rationale for a great emphasis on propaganda work.
The second was over the nature of the enemy camp. Was liberalism collapsing and the conservative right on the rise? The position that won out said no. Liberalism was viewed as the most dangerous trend.
The third was over the nature of alliances with reformists. For the most part, these alliances were to be disallowed, and the most militant reformists were to be made the “target of the main blow” in our agitation.
These mistaken assessments of conditions in the country and within the mass movements obviously had an impact on the founding documents of the CPML – its Program and Political Report. While generally correct, a careful reading will show that in every section there are also erroneous positions, policies and assessments of conditions – all in the direction of ultraleftism. Here are some examples:
On the trade unions: All trade union officials, without regard to their level or position, are labeled as “agents of imperialism” and, together with the revisionists, the “target of the main blow.”
On the woman question: Feminism is presented only as “serving the interests of imperialism,” and all feminists are attacked, without regard for the conditions or without making distinctions among them.
On the national question: The middle and backward forces within the oppressed nationality united fronts are lumped together as “bourgeois elements” who “promote reforms” rather than “fight national oppression.”
On political parties and trends: The strength of the CPUSA revisionists is repeatedly overstated while the social democrats are mostly ignored as irrelevant. Also, the CPML is represented as the only party that is not a defender of capitalism, ignoring actual or potential third parties, oppressed nationality parties or a labor party.
On socialism: The Program asserts that “under communism, the abolition of classes makes possible the enormous development of the productive forces and the production of abundant social wealth.” Actually the converse is correct: the development of the productive forces is needed in order to abolish classes.
There were a number of events in the first year of the CPML’s life that served to minimize the negative impact of these views. One was the apparent success of a number of mass activities and the fact that many activists did join us in spite of our weaknesses. Another factor was our liaison work. The CPML established relations with dozens of parties in other countries, including the Communist Party of China. In the main, this work was positive and served to educate our members in internationalism. To a certain extent, however, it also served to give us an overblown conception of ourselves, leading us to think that we had achieved more than we actually had. As for other Marxist-Leninist groups in the U.S., we believed that with persistent liaison work, we would be able to unite with most of them in a single organization. The Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) at this time went through a major split, which we viewed as very positive. Even though the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters (RWH) (the split-off from the RCP) initially expressed hostility toward us, we believed that it was temporary and could be overcome.
The split in the RCP had another meaning for us. It meant, for the first time, we were now the largest multinational Marxist-Leninist organization in the country. Previously, we had been a minority in the Marxist-Leninist trend. Now we believed that if a majority of the Marxist-Leninists had not already joined with us, they would do so very soon.
It was also apparent as this first year progressed that we had many problems to overcome. Neither the mass work nor our party building efforts were growing fast enough for us. We gained only 12% in the first year, when we had hoped for much more. The Fightback work and trade union work were not taking off. In many areas our cadres had become isolated and confused.
The leadership attempted to deal with this through what we called the “Three Evils Campaign” – combating subjectivism, sectarianism and bureaucracy. The main thrust of this rectification was to “get in tune with the actual conditions” and to base our policies on realistic assessments rather than proceeding from abstract principles or dogma. For the first time, we began describing our current conditions as those of an “ebb” in the class struggle rather than an “upsurge.” This meant adjustments were in order.
The three evils campaign was taken up with a lot of enthusiasm by the rank and file. Many dedicated activists had experienced firsthand the frustration and isolation stemming from the errors of the “anti-rightism” fight against Nicolaus. They had been aiming their main blows at center and even left-center forces in their areas of mass work. The trade union units particularly summed up their mistakes and called for new policies and tactics. The same was true in nationalities work. Under the previous policy, for instance, our cadres in the Black United Front in Brooklyn had the line of aiming their main blow at “reformist preachers” like Rev. Herbert Daughtry, when he was clearly a progressive force to be united with and developed.
In sum-up after sum-up, then, CPML members were concluding that the main errors they had been making were connected to a left deviation. In the spring of 1979, the Central Committee met and discussed the issue. I presented a paper on the ideological roots of right errors in reformism and left errors in anarchism. Looking at our practice, I argued that our erroneous policies in mass work had been mainly ultraleft while our mistakes in organizational work were mainly rightist.
Another paper was presented by the Southern regional organizer. She argued that our main errors since the founding congress were ultraleft and correcting them was the main task at hand. At the same time, she upheld the program as basically correct and warned about a growing right danger. Three or four other views on various aspects of the issue were also put forward at this meeting.
One claimed that the issue of “right” or “left” errors being the main danger was a diversion. This was from a Black Central Committee member from the South, who argued that the real main danger was white chauvinism and that other problems were secondary.
This comrade’s viewpoint was combined with the fact that considerable struggle and tension were developing among the rank and file along nationality lines in several districts. There had been some instances of blatant white chauvinist errors and a strong response to it. There had also been some nationalist errors.
One key problem was weaknesses within the central leadership. The Puerto Rican Commission and Chicano Commission, for instance, were weak, politically unclear and poorly led. The Standing Committee did little to deal with the problem decisively and at one point was accused of “benign neglect” – a term that had been applied to the Nixon Administration.
The response of the leadership to these criticisms was to organize a party-wide conference on nationalities work. The aim was to air the criticisms, struggle over their meaning and, hopefully, unite on a firmer, clear basis. The conference was held toward the end of 1979, and, while I did not personally attend, the reports of almost everyone immediately after the conference who had attended were enthusiastic. Later, however, a number of attendees would reverse their verdicts.
The main lessons of the conference were summed up at its close in a speech by Mike Klonsky, CPML chairman. The text was printed soon afterwards in a special issue of Class Struggle on the national question.
This was seen as the best issue of our theoretical journal and the only one where we sold almost every copy. Klonsky’s speech mainly dealt with the method of inner party struggle. He also traced the history of errors in the U.S. left around the national question and made a good effort at applying the substance of Mao Zedong’s “On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among The People” to our problems. Moreover, he stressed the link that existed between the “three evils” – sectarianism, subjectivism and bureaucracy – and mistakes on the national question.
He did not, however, deal with some of the basic differences that had arisen. Which was the main source of our problems – a “left” deviation in the basic line or white chauvinism?
I argued at the Central Committee meeting and later that our main problem was the left deviation and that it affected everything, including the national question. This was not to say that there were not right errors or that errors around chauvinism did not have an independent thrust and basis of their own. At various times, the CPML made both rightist errors and straight-up chauvinist errors on the national question.
I argued that this was initially evident in our work within the Black United Front in New York. We were following a policy of aiming our main blow at the middle forces – a classic error in the direction of “left” opportunism, not rightism, even though its impact was certainly white chauvinist in practice. But to argue that the main problem here was white chauvinism, I concluded, was to fail to get at the roots of why we were making these kinds of mistakes.
Other comrades came at the problem from a different angle. Harry Haywood and a Black Central Committee member from the South, for example, focused on the question of nationalism. They agreed that ultraleftism was the main error to be corrected and that white chauvinism generally took priority over nationalism in errors in that area. But they also held to the “Leninist division of labor.” They saw that part of their responsibility to minority cadre was to deal with nationalism among the minority party members, and they did so.
Another important feature of the spring 1979 Central Committee meeting that would have big implications later was a long report by Dan Burstein, editor of The Call. He had just returned from China, Kampuchea and some international meetings with several other Marxist-Leninist parties.
His report, in the form of a discussion paper, presented us with the “crisis in Marxism” thesis that placed us at what he called a “crossroads” in history. He was deeply affected personally, I believe, by his experiences in China and Kampuchea. Crimes committed under the cover of ultraleft policies in those countries, he argued, had given us “an unprecedentedly enormous task” of proving that “socialism is the way of the future, even in the eyes of militant workers and progressive people.”
With these problems now on the table, the Central Committee called for a second congress. It set a period for discussion and debate, while warning against a tendency for liquidating organizational tasks.
A debate immediately broke out within the Standing Committee over what would be the scope of the pre-congress discussion. Burstein called for virtually unlimited debate, focusing on “calling into question” the validity of concepts of the dictatorship of the proletariat, armed struggle and the need for a Leninist party. Others, particularly Klonsky and myself, opposed this position. We said the discussion should mainly be aimed at summing up our experience and correcting our errors, on the basis of practice and in a step-by-step fashion. The “big questions” could be discussed as part of our theoretical work after the congress, but to do so in the pre-congress debate was diversionary and would hurt the rectification of ultraleftism.
Burstein at first agreed to this restriction, but later changed his mind and insisted on carrying out his polemic. He won over half the Standing Committee, thus splitting the top leadership and promoting a rightist faction. Other CPML leaders soon began taking sides on the regional and local levels. In short order, there were several factions – the right, the left and the center. The “center” faction had two wings; one defended the left and attacked the right, while the other defended the right and attacked the left – thus becoming known as the “left center” and “right center” respectively.
The key problem at this point was the fact that many rank and file members viewed these disputes as “abstract battles between intellectuals.” Since they did not see an immediate connection between the debate and their problems in the mass work, they tended to be neutral or sympathetic to Burstein simply because he was opposed to the incumbents. The genuine left, moreover, for the most part, failed in giving direct political guidance in a number of important local struggles.
The reasons for this were complex. In some cases, rightists in charge of districts actually blocked leaders from the center from contacting the units directly. In other cases, the left blocked itself by being bureaucratic – a certain struggle was not their area of responsibility, so if it was being misled, then it was not their problem. But none of this was insurmountable, and in that sense the real problem was the left’s weaknesses in taking initiative and organizing support for correct views and methods throughout the party, even if it meant bypassing normal procedures.
In general, the emergence of two lines within the leadership of a Marxist-Leninist organization need not be seen as a crisis or even viewed negatively. It can be an opportunity for an organization to practice democracy, sum up its work and unite the entire organization on a higher level.
But this was not to be the case with the CPML.
There were a number of important reasons. One group of them can be summed up as weakness in the leadership and its practices – both in the immediate struggle and over the previous period from the time of the founding congress. First, there were serious abrogations of inner party democracy. Prior to the Nicolaus campaign, for instance, the OL’s internal journal was a rank and file forum for debate and sum-ups. But after Nicolaus’ expulsion, the journal consisted almost entirely of top-down reports and articles from Standing Committee members. When differences did emerge in the districts, unorthodox views were usually quickly labeled as “revisionist,” since every idea had to be either “proletarian” or “bourgeois.” For newer cadres or those lacking in self-confidence, this atmosphere effectively stifled inner party democracy.
The lack of democracy also meant weaknesses in the leadership’s practice of the mass line. When problems arose, a style of commandism and a practice of shifting blame to the ranks often emerged. While the leading core at the center worked very hard and made many personal sacrifices, they also fell into bureaucratism. In many cases, they became divorced from contact with the masses, spending what free time they had together in a manner that promoted cliquishness.
This self-isolation of the leadership in the center also meant serious shortcomings in its ability to organize the struggle and to rely on the ranks in summing up experience. The struggle became one-sidedly a “battle of ideas” between leading figures, which was viewed by the ranks as an arrogant disregard for their opinions.
The developing right wing took full advantage of these weaknesses. They elevated past errors and styles of work over the actual political substance of the issues at stake. Attempts by the genuine left to criticize erroneous ideas in the debate were immediately labeled as “undemocratic” and “attacks on the rank and file” or “refusing to break with the old ways.” In addition, key figures in the leadership were subjected to slander campaigns concerning their personal honesty and morality. Once the charges were made, they were often retracted, but the damage had been done, often in the classic style of police agents.
Thus the genuine left core in the leadership was put on the defensive and made the target of the main blow. This weakness was compounded, moreover, by the inability of the left to unite among itself and to organize a left trend throughout the party. Some of this was inevitable due to conditions. But it was also a result of abdication on the part of some, especially the chairman, and mistaken tactics on the part of others, including myself.
These difficulties were to be heightened by a development that shook the organization from top to bottom – the resignation of Dan Burstein. After unsuccessfully trying to express the views of the right in a paper that would be acceptable for the congress debate, he decided to go all the way with a conclusion he had been wrestling with for some time privately: the real source of the CPML’s problems was Marxism-Leninism. He announced that he now believed this and left the organization.
This placed his defenders remaining in the CPML in an awkward position. On one hand, they claimed Burstein wasn’t really rejecting Leninism. On the other, they were now faced with his admission that he was doing just that. As a result, several more Central Committee members, including the vice chairman, also resigned. This happened at an emergency conference organized by the center faction, which, in turn, abolished the entire Central Committee and took over the remnants of the central office.
The CPML thus approached its second congress in a severely weakened condition. The chairman of the party had resigned his post while remaining a participant in the left faction. He had been immobilized, partly by choice and partly by difficult circumstances. A slander campaign had put him “on trial” for certain “crimes,” later shown to be gross distortions. He was also threatened, both openly and covertly, with physical violence.
But whatever can be said for Klonsky’s role, it was not decisive in what was to follow. In many ways, the die had already been cast. Many of us were relatively certain of the outcome of the impending events. Nonetheless we felt compelled to play out our parts to the finish, for the sake of future party building efforts as well as for our own sense of our personal integrity.
A key development was the stand taken by a Central Committee member from California. Previously he had presented himself as a voice of “the center.” In private discussions with the left, he assured us that he held to the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism and opposed the Burstein line. He argued, however, that it was necessary to move as close to Burstein’s position as possible if a majority of the party was to be united and saved.
But this member faced a crucial choice once the leaders of the right resigned. Either he could denounce them and unite with the left, or he could take up their position himself.
He chose the latter course and at the congress became the main spokesman for the right. He dropped all his former hedges and arrived at the first day of the congress with a new document where he embraced all Burstein’s main points – abandonment of the Leninist party, rejection of the proletarian dictatorship, etc. It was a classic case of conciliation with rightism leading one to become a rightist oneself.
By the opening of the second congress, the CPML was reduced to less than 400 members, a loss of nearly two-thirds. Of these, only 22% were minorities, a decline from 33%. (Of the minorities, 66% were Afro-American, 12% Chicano, 14% Puerto Rican and 2% others.) The proportion of men to women was still 50-50, but the percentage of those from the working class had declined. Liquidationism was clearly virulent and at an advanced stage.
Dozens of resolutions, reports, papers and amendments had been put forward for consideration by the congress delegates. Most dealt with the problem of ultraleftism in one form or another, and, if the effort had been made, a systematic rectification of our past errors could have been distilled from these writings. But the right insisted on dealing with the “big questions,” and most of these documents were set aside or adopted with little or no discussion. The main events, then, were relatively straightforward. There was a series of panels where the right, left and center put forward their views. The main issues boiled down to two – first, what was the cause of our problems and how could we correct them; second, where did we stand on the fundamentals of Marxism?
In the end, the key debate turned on only one issue: would we unite on the Leninist theory of the state, explicitly advocating the proletarian dictatorship as our strategic goal in the transition to communism. The left faction asked me to draft our position, which I did reluctantly. I wrote a summary of the theory as clear and concise as possible, knowing that it would split the organization. But since the issue had been forced, meaning that the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat was about to be voted up or down, the left caucus at the congress decided to stand firmer than ever. The dictatorship of the proletariat and other basic tenets of Marxism-Leninism, we insisted, were neither “models” nor abstract “dogmas.” Rather, they represented the summed-up experience of our class in over 100 countries in 100 years. We would improve it, add to it, look critically at it, and further develop it. But we would never reject or abandon it, especially as a result of the waverings and whinings of the petty bourgeoisie’s despair and the instability of a handful of intellectuals.
In short, if we did not draw the line here, then we had no right to call ourselves communists. However left our rhetoric, we would be nothing but common liberals.
At one point, the right, using a number of intermediaries, approached me with a “compromise.” They would support my resolution, including the wording of all analysis of the state, if I would do one thing: just eliminate four words – “dictatorship of the proletariat.”
The left rejected the compromise, remembering Lenin’s adage that if you want to stop people from vacillating, then you must not vacillate yourself. After some parliamentary maneuvering, however, a delegate from the center faction put forward a counter proposal. It stated that the congress should set aside all sections of the party program except those dealing with the dictatorship of the proletariat. He argued that it was the right’s task to prove these sections false. Until then, they should stand. The left and center united on this resolution and defeated the right.
But it meant little in the end. In one of the meetings of the left faction at the congress, the Southern regional organizer asked us, ”What is the worst that can happen?” I answered that a victory for the right and a split would be the biggest disaster. “No,” she replied, “the worst would be a standoff, where they win some and we win some, but no one wins or loses decisively. That will prolong and aggravate the disintegration and despair. It would be better to have a clean split, where we are either a clear minority or majority. At least then we would be intact and in a position to move forward.”
She was proved correct on this point.
It was becoming clearer and clearer that no matter what happened at the congress, that petty bourgeois and semi-anarchist methods of organization were widely accepted. In part, this was due to earlier abuses of democratic centralism. But to leave it at that would be wrong. It was also due, in large part, to the vacillation of many of the cadre who, for various reasons, were rejecting a Leninist party. But with nothing to take its place, it meant that further disintegration lay ahead of us.
The congress closed by selecting its new Central Committee, which met briefly at the end of the gathering. It was quickly decided to put ongoing responsibility in Chicago, site of the much-scaled-down national office, into the hands of a comrade from the Afro-American Commission, and a Chicago comrade, who spoke for the left-center and right-center forces respectively. To be blunt, the mess was dumped in their laps so everyone could leave as quickly as possible. One straw that center forces, both left and right, clung to throughout this period was the hope that “the merger” would arrive in time to save the day. This was the plan for uniting organizationally with the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters. Apart from uniting more Marxist-Leninists into a single organization, this prospect was seen as one which could double our size and give us a firmer footing in some trade unions.
It was a plan supported by everyone, including myself at the time, as the only basis for optimism. The only hesitation came from some minority comrades, who were concerned about two issues. First, since RWH was practically all white and had a dubious past record on the national question, would this help or hinder their work? Second, if we merged with the RWH, would it hinder our ability to merge with the League of Revolutionary Struggle?
Both turned out to be moot points. The merger was an illusion which the left should have exposed but did not. The fact was that the closer we united with the RWH, the quicker was the pace of our own liquidation. It should not have been surprising. The outline of the RWH’s theory for liquidationism was put to us quite sharply during a leadership-to-leadership liaison meeting prior to the congress. One RWH leader, speaking for the RWH, told us not to be so “worried about liquidationism.” They had, he said, faced the problem ”and even gone over to the other side.” “It’s not such a bad place to be,” he explained. “The way we describe it is that we exist on three levels of federation. The national organization is a federation of districts, the districts are a federation of the local branches, and each branch is a federation of individual activists.”
The great irony is that, in one sense, the CPML-RWH merger was a big success. Members of both groups embraced this viewpoint and have put it into practice. The result is that neither exists any longer except as an amorphous and shrinking group of people who have each other’s phone numbers.
Could things have turned out differently for the CPML? I believe the organization would have gone through a crisis of one sort or another even if its leadership had made fewer mistakes. This is because of the impact of external factors – the repudiation of the cultural revolution in China, and the rightward shift of the U.S. bourgeoisie, including its impact on the petty bourgeoisie.
But the damage did not have to be as severe as it was. If the genuine left in the leadership had acted differently, I believe an organized core of several hundred activists could have weathered the storm and gone on to rectify its errors and unite with others in building a party. In this regard, a key mistake was “upholding party unity at all costs” – it would have been necessary at an earlier point to call for a clean break, a split away from social democracy and revisionism.
There is little disagreement among Marxist-Leninists that the liquidation of the CPML was a serious setback for the communist movement in the U.S. This brief account tries to point to some of the lessons and errors to be avoided. One remaining question, however, is what should those people who consider themselves pro-party do now?
The fact is that their numbers are dwindling. Thousands who were members of Marxist-Leninist organizations in the 1970s and early 1980s no longer consider themselves part of the communist movement. And growing numbers of these are no longer active even in the various mass movements – they have simply “burned out” and retreated into private life.
One prescription for fighting this bitter fruit of liquidationism was put forward at the close of the congress by a delegate representing the left center. “Stay active, stay together and stay red” – that was the slogan his district united around as a way to move ahead. The organization was held up as a district where the CPML-RWH merger had already been accomplished. What had actually happened, however, was that a local circle had formed in opposition to what remained of both the CPML and RWH. After continuing some positive work for a year or more, it is now practically disintegrated.
I believe there is some truth in the “three mainstays” slogan. At least implicitly, they go against the tendency of some ex-Marxist-Leninists to join up with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) or to have the RWH’s “three levels of federation” suck them deeper into the swamp. But there are some problems with vagueness.
“Staying Red.” Here the problem is the necessity of combining a firm class stand on the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism with a scientific method in the further application of Marxism-Leninism to the actual conditions in our country. When faced with the tendency toward revisionism and social democracy, we must not waver on upholding the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism. This theoretical work represents the summed-up experience of our class. It should be modified, further developed and changed only through new discoveries based on the summation of new revolutionary experience or a deeper knowledge of the past.
At the same time we must recognize that much theoretical work remains to be done. I would stress three areas: (1) an immediate tactical program and a deeper strategic program that would take as their starting points an analysis of classes and current conditions in the U.S.; (2) further elaboration on how class struggle and national struggle are interconnected and separate; and (3) an elucidation of the internal laws of development of the Soviet Union and the Soviet-bloc countries.
“Staying Together.” Obviously, it is better to be organized than unorganized. For many of the people we are talking about, even joining a study group or discussion circle would be a step forward. But there are also different types of organizations, such as those based on federationism or on democratic centralism.
“Staying together” should mean using democratic centralism to combat and reverse the “three levels of federation.” In certain cities, where no Marxist-Leninist collective or district exists, teams of activists and study groups should unite to form one. However, their aim should not be to remain a local circle. As Leninists, their responsibility is to link up with all pro-party forces, especially nationwide organizations.
Today this means linking up with and joining the League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L) (LRS). As the only group of our trend that survived the liquidationist barrage, the LRS deserves the support of all those who still want to see Marxist-Leninists unite in a single party. This nationwide organization of revolutionaries has not only survived, it has continued to develop a generally correct line, internal structure and methods of leadership.
Communists need not have complete unity on every aspect of political line and program in order to be in the same Marxist-Leninist organization. Instead, they need to uphold a common program on which there is general agreement. On certain points, naturally, there will be majority and minority positions, which can be debated, discussed and resolved internally in due time and with good methods.
The LRS recently concluded its Second Congress. In the pre-congress period, there was wide and thorough discussion. At the congress sessions themselves, minority and majority positions were presented. In certain cases, the minority won over a majority and achieved a higher level of unity. This shows a healthy practice of democratic centralism.
The LRS also has a foothold among working class and oppressed nationality activists, which was gained over ten years of struggle and is now growing. It has a revolutionary press suitable for regular agitation and propaganda work. It has the means to sum up work and to practice the mass line collectively. Communists know they cannot last long without these things.
“Staying Active.” Politically inactive people rarely remain or become communists. If they are cynical about the past and burned out, then inactivity will gradually deepen their cynicism and drift into liberalism. So encouraging and finding opportunities for former comrades to become active again, on whatever level, is quite necessary. They may never become active communists again. But they can use their skills in the mass struggle, and they can become a network of sympathizers that helps and assists a communist organization and its press. And in time, some will be won back to communism and the party.
But there is another lesson about the role of political activity. Most of those active now are from a new generation of people and struggles. The history of revolution shows that successful parties are mainly comprised of young people, the new and dynamic element in their class and in society. Of course, the door must stay open to those of the previous generation. They have much to offer in terms of experience and leadership. But the main source of strength in our efforts to establish a party will be found among the new and rising generation of fighters. They are our first priority for the future.
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Carl Davidson was the editor of Class Struggle, CPML’s theoretical journal, and a member of the Standing Committee of the CPML. He is currently a contributing editor to UNITY newspaper, and on the editorial board of Forward.