Issued: September 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Enclosed is our (the Detroit Marxist-Leninist Organization’s) response to the October League’s call for the immediate formation of the anti-revisionist communist party. Please share with us any of your responses.
Together with Marxist-Leninists throughout the U.S., DMLO considers party-building on the immediate agenda, and one of the key tasks in the development of revolutionary struggle in the U.S.
A part of the process involved in building the new party is to: 1) initially examine concrete conditions in the U.S. and its relationship to the rest of the world; 2) look at the line and practice of revolutionaries within the U.S. and around the world; and 3) to engage in ideological struggle around specific lines and practice. It is within this context that we offer our thoughts on OL and party-building.
In addition, serious ideological struggle can he carried out only within the context of practical struggle, and we look forward to elevating our knowledge of each other “beyond polemics around line into struggle around line as it is applied in our day-to-day practice.
We are aware of the fact that OL has defined their position beyond the documents we used as a basis for this paper. After looking at the latest issues of The Call, we found that the substance of our arguments remains the same and decided to put it out as is.
We welcome and encourage a critical look at our analysis of OL and party-building.
Central Committee Detroit Marxist-Leninist Organization
* * *
As is true with all countries, and actual or potential revolutionary periods, the U.S. needs a revolutionary, M-L communist party. Lenin knew it. Mao knew it. Ho Chi Minh knew it. Castro learned it. We’re struggling with it.
Given an economic history of being born out of capitalist revolution, developing on the backs of slave labor, and consolidated as the most advanced imperialist nation in the world; given a political history that holds central to its life a most sophisticated form of bourgeois democracy, and an ideological history that takes as givens the virtues of pragmatism (if it works it must be alright) and the static reality of idealism, we have a very particular set of conditions to understand as we set about the task of party building.
Failure to correctly understand our development as a people and as a nation, failure to correctly apply the science of Marxism-Leninism to the conditions found in the U.S. led to two fundamental errors by the CPUSA:
1. Dogmatism – resulted from the idealistic, non-thinking, mechanistic application of the Russian revolutionary process to our situation in the name of “proletarian internationalism.”
2. Revisionism – resulted from the abandonment of proven and established revolutionary principles (i.e., the nature of the state and class struggle, specifically the necessity of armed struggle and the dictatorship of the the proletariat) in the name of dealing with the “particular conditions’ of U.S. history.
The anti-revisionist movement developed out of the struggle of the 60’s. It was within this framework of no communist leadership that many of us emerged looking towards revolution as the only solution. As spontaneous struggles withered and our consciousness grew, it was only too apparent that revolutionary change would come only if we could see beyond the virtues of mass actions, resistance to the system, and moral indignation. We were left with the task of answering “what is to he done?” for our time and place. M-L study groups developed throughout the country, local collectives began developing a national perspective, and folks began holding cut the necessity of a communist party to a movement that had strong anti-leadership tendencies. We have grown and all components of the anti-revisionist movement agree that the working class is the vanguard class, and that our class needs a revolutionary communist party. The emergence of no less than two anti-revisionist parties (CLP and RCP) within the past three years, and one more on the immediate horizon (O.L. and comrades), indicates the seriousness with which people are attempting to carry out the task of party-building. Unfortunately the analysis, line and process put forward indicates we haven’t yet learned a hell of a lot from the difficulties of idealism in our revolutionary history. Our immediate concern is OLís recent call for a party – NOW!!
Idealism in practice has a number of different forms. Based on our (DMLO’s) practice in Detroit, dogmatism is the practical form of OL’s idealism. Our beginning definition of dogma and dogmatism is taken from Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 1973 edition: “Dogma – a point of view or tenet put forward as authoritative without adequate grounds; dogmatism – a viewpoint or system of ideas based on insufficiently examined premises.”
Since its inception O.L. has put forward a strong and initially correct emphasis on the need to build our anti-revisionist party. In 1973 OL identified “leftism” as the greatest danger among the party building forces;
Let’s examine some of the ways (leftism) manifests itself among the groups working for the building of a new party....(they) have isolated the tasks of party-building from work within the mass movement of people (the super-leftists) will ultimately declare themselves ’the new communist party.’ But we ask, what kind of a party will this be? How will it differ from the dozens of Trotskyist and previous sects like POC (Provisional Organizing Committee) and PL (Progressive Labor)? The answer is that it will not,... Building the party, according to OL, takes “years of difficult work, developing an experienced core of cadre, raising the theoretical level and deepening the ties with the masses. Party Building in the U.S. October League (M-L)
History, it appears, moves very quickly. Using OL’s criteria for the process of party-building, it now appears that we have carried out years of difficult work, and the anti-revisionist movement has in its possession a core of experienced cadre, we’ve raised the theoretical level and deepened ties with the masses – so that now is the time to place party-building on the immediate agenda, and to recognize that the present period calls for the actual organizational formation of the party. In addition, “leftism” (having been isolated) is no longer the main danger to party-building. In its place have emerged “right centrists”, i.e., the Guardian (which OL says is outside the M-L movement and must be exposed), PWOC, and in Detroit, forces around the Detroit Marxist-Leninist Organization (formerly the Detroit Independent Coalition).
Three years seems an awfully short time for all those qualitative leaps to have happened. Conditions, however, do change and there is the constant danger of moving too slowly. Unfortunately, a close examination of OL’s Call to Unite (The Call, Nov. 1975), and their practice in Detroit, lead us to conclude that the main danger within the anti-revisionist left continues to be dogmatism – or “leftism” as OL said – and that many of the criticisms OL directed at CL in 1973 are ones we share in regard to OL in 1976. These dogmatic errors, it appears, flow from an idealistic understanding of our world and particular conditions in the U.S.
OL sees as central to the international revolutionary-movement the struggle between consolidated Soviet revisionism/social imperialism and their lackies on one side, and the People’s Republic of China and Albania on the other. OL distorts reality by contending that the entire revolutionary communist movement has lined up one way or another:
The struggle against....modern revisionists’ trend has produced new parties and pre-party organizations throughout the world.... inspired by the principled stand of China and Albania against Soviet revisionists and by rapid advances of the world revolutionary struggle, our movement is gaining strength and growing large.
This contention is made easier by dismissing revolutionary struggle in which OL’s view of the world isn’t accepted as revisionist. OL needs to ask itself, where has this growing movement lining up totally with China or the USSR won state power? To put forward absolute polarity distorts the fact that Viet Nam, North Korea, and many African countries – areas in which revolutionary struggle and consolidation are presently taking place – do not line up so neatly. At worst, the logic of this position is to ignore the concrete conditions within a given country, and in the case of Angola, objectively line up with U.S. imperialism. At best our world’s material reality is ignored (How does OL view Viet Nam?) and an analysis of how OL wishes the international communist movement to be emerges as a substitute for looking clearly at what exists and why it exists.
Within the U.S., OL has made the view a given M-L organization holds on the USSR to be the test for who’s a real M-L and who’s sham. Of equal importance, a ’correct’ view of the Soviet Union and China has been put forward by OL as a part of the criteria for uniting with left groups around mass issues. Given that the international communist movement hasn’t any real unity around this question, it seems limiting to demand agreement with China’s international line and foreign policy as essential before we unite in our common struggle against U.S. monopoly capitalism. Convinced that their world view is correct (a logical position), OL seems more interested in exposing and isolating the USSR, and on the basis of this, recruiting people to their organization, than they are in developing a clear analysis and strategy for revolutionary struggle in this country.
OL bases the need for a party NOW!! on the fact that:
1. “With the increased efforts of the bourgeoisie to shift the burden of their crisis onto the backs of the masses, millions more have been forced into a life or death battle against the rule of giant monopolies. The anti-imperialist united front is surging forward ...(it is an undeniable fact that M-L’s are increasingly playing an influential role in the present fight back...under communist leadership a significant number of workers have joined the various fightback organizations and through them have been recruited to the communist movement and into its leadership.”
Analysis of struggle within the U.S. goes no further than these general statements. What concrete struggles have made the qualitative leap between 1973 and l976? Where is the “surging forward of the anti-imperialist united front?” What forces are in motion? What is the specific relationship of M-L’s to these struggles? With 24 million people as part of the industrial working class and many times that a part of the larger working class, what is a “significant number” of workers joining the fightback? Generalized statements may be true – but without substance they become questionable, dogmatic, and meaningless.
What is missing is a concrete analysis of concrete conditions of developments in the U.S. Resting with platitudes and generalizations as a basis for organizing the new party forces us to raise the question OL posed in 1973 – How will the new party be any different from the many sects that already exist?
2. “A relentless struggle against both CLP and RU has crippled the enemy’s efforts to destroy our movement from within (from the ’left’)...isolated and exposed the new so-called Communist Labor Party has been forced into rapid retreat and has disappeared from view...”
We’d have to conclude from this statement that OL has no people in Detroit. The situation in Detroit simply doesn’t meet their reality. It may be true nationally, but given the strategic importance of Detroit and the auto industry, we cannot ignore the local strength of CLP, They have more cadre in plants than OL, DMLO, and RCP put together. CLP has a larger membership than any other of the “party of a new type” folks, has more of a multi-national character than any of us, and is engaged in mass struggle throughout the city. Much can and will be said about the quality of that work and CLP’s analysis of the revolutionary process, but pretending they’ve disappeared ignores material reality.
3. “The ideological struggle against “left” and right opportunism has served to raise the theoretical level of our movement qualitatively.... the ideological leap over the last three years is one of the main reasons we can confidently call for formation of the party.”
Leaps in ideological struggle and clarity are easy when you take the idealistic, dogmatic approach of dismissing as revisionists, centrists, or Trots, anyone who disagrees with you. Since OL has declared the country’s ripeness for the new party, their quality of struggle has been to name-call, dismiss, or ignore M-L’s they are in disagreement with. An ideological leap based on dogmatism, is no leap at all. More importantly, an ideological leap with no demonstrated leap in the quality of mass struggle and M-L’s as respected leadership within the working class movement, seems more a hop than a leap.
...it is not enough to stand back and criticize the revisionists or the trade union leadership. The people can learn only from their experience. This brings up the importance of putting theory into practice.... There are some elements of the movement generally characterized by ’ultra-leftism’ who think a party can be called into being or ’declared’ at one or another conference. These people have distain for the mass struggle of the people and view communists only in a narrow sense of holding certain Marxist ideas. Party Building in the U.S. OL, 1973
In declaring that now is the time for the party and assuming that OL has remained true to this dialectical analysis of the relationship between party-building and the mass movement, one must assume that OL can point to mass struggle in which M-L’s have played a qualitative role, and that a decisive number of folks have emerged from these struggles understanding the need for revolutionary struggle. On close examination of OL and the quality of leadership it has offered to mass struggles in Detroit, this assumption is quickly dropped. Pour examples:
a. Kilbourne St.: OL, along with CLP, showed good revolutionary initiative in responding to white racist attacks un a family on Detroit’s east side. In carrying through on this initiative, however, OL was content to engage in left one-upmanship with CLP. This approach replaced taking a serious and hard look at the working class nature of the city, at the highly-conscious Black population in the city, and drawing from that an action that could show how much unity exists in the city against these kinds of attacks. What happened instead was a hastily-called left demonstration that didn’t begin to tap the dimension of struggle possible in the city. During the course of this struggle DMLO put forward two approaches:
1. to struggle for the development of a neighborhood organization that could, on a day-to-day basis, deal with attacks on their neighbors and in the process begin to grapple seriously with white chauvinism and develop a basis of unity where a white and black working class neighborhood could move on the necessity to struggle for the right of all people to live and go to school where they want without harassment and attack.
2. to develop a city-wide mass coalition of organizations and individuals prepared to unite in opposition to all forms of racist attacks in the city. OL doubted the viability of developing a neighborhood organization, but initially agreed that a broad-based coalition was needed. Their practice over the long run, however, was limited to individual OL members and friends providing guard service to the family, recruiting to Fightback and the Fred Hampton Contingent (which disappeared almost as fast as it appeared) and organizing individual people into the OL orbit. None of these specifics are negative; what is negative is that an issue which had the potential to raise the struggle for full equality in Detroit remained, under OL leadership, at a very primitive level. While OL gave lip-service to the need for mass struggle, it seems that their desire for hegemony overrode their responsibility as M-L’s to help build a mass movement that could give real support to the family and the general fight against racism.
b. Right back Committee: DMLO cadre who went to the Fightback Conference were very impressed by its strong working class and national minority base. For the most part the program and directions adopted at the conference promised some important anti-imperialist, fightback work throughout the country. Within Detroit we looked forward to M-L’s in the city learning from OL’s initiative. Again nothing visible or qualitative has happened. Detroit’s Fightback Committee may exist, but if so, we don’t know where it is or what it’s doing. Why?
c. Busing: In theory OL understands busing as a part of the struggle against white chauvinism and the struggle for full equality of the Afro-American people. Their organizational involvement in Boston was positive and stands out in stark contrast to the chauvinism of RCP. Detroit’s busing plan was no less important and yet OL (in contrast to other M-L organizations) did nothing when the plan was debated throughout the city and subsequently implemented. Why?
d. Basic industry: Within the framework of our experience with OL in a Detroit auto plant, OL’s profile has been very low. So low that one person close to OL who had a job in auto was pulled (at the point when jobs were especially hard to get) to work on The Call. In addition, a specific request to another OL person in the plant to work together around the contract negotiations was never responded to, one way or the other. Why?
The M-L left remains embryonic and small within the framework of real and potential mass struggle in Detroit. Each of us can lay claim to a few individuals that have come into the communist movement as a result of our practice. A “few” however, doesn’t lay the material base of experience or people necessary to build the new party. As of yet, M-L’s haven’t shown themselves in practice and are no where near being recognized as leadership. Given the specifics of OL’s mass practice, where is their base? Most importantly, given the quality of their leadership in Detroit, what is there to give us confidence that OL will become any more a leadership force because it declares itself a new party, than it did when it was a pre-party organization?
DMLO cannot align with a call for a party that ignores reality and material conditions. Along with this overall opposition to idealism as a basis to communist analysis, we have some specific disagreements around the proposed principles of unity:
1. The International Situation: We don’t have a fully worked cut position on Soviet social imperialism, but we are far enough into our analysis and practice to know that U.S. imperialism is the greatest danger to the world’s people and revolutionary struggle. Taking this view puts us into direct opposition to OL’s line.
2. The National Question: OL views Afro-American people as a nation and the Black Belt as the national territory. Out of DMLO’s study in the fall of ’75 definite tendencies emerged in direct opposition to this tendency. We are in the process of fully consolidating a position and begin from the premise that the struggle against the special oppression of Black people is an integral part of our struggle against monopoly capitalism and for state power.
3. United Front: OL holds the view that M-L’s should not engage in actions that include revisionists. Given that the majority of the working class is not yet engaged in revolutionary struggle and haven’t yet seen the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat, much less the effect of revisionism, this position will undoubtedly isolate OL from a number of important mass actions. Revisionists and revisionism don’t go away because we isolate ourselves. Given the level of struggle within the U.S. and the fact that the CPUSA doesn’t isolate itself from mass struggle, to operate from the outside looking in, as OL suggests, is idealistic and suicidal in terms of developing mass revolutionary consciousness. To dismiss, for instance, the importance of 40,000 people marching in Philadelphia on July 4 (except to sell The Call) is sectarian, dogmatic, and self-defeating. Revisionism will be isolated, but only as a result of our ability to apply M-L principles to the day-to-day practice of millions of people. More importantly, to view the struggle against revisionism from an ostrich position leaves open the possibility that good people will be attracted to revisionist ideas because that’s their only experience.
In rejecting OL’s idealism and dogmatism as a “base to party-building we recognize our responsibility to more clearly define what material conditions must exist in order to bring into being the anti-revisionist communist party as a real vanguard party. The following is some beginning thinking:
1. The new party must have a materialist understanding of our concrete conditions. This includes:
A. An understanding of our revolutionary history – How did revisionism get a foothold? It isn’t enough to say Browder did it; what material conditions existed to allow his line to take hold of the CPUSA? How do we avoid similar errors?
B. A concrete analysis of the U.S. today and the present stage of revolutionary struggle. What specific strategy and tactics are appropriate for long-ranged revolutionary struggle?
C. A concrete analysis of the international movements.
2. It must in fact be recognized revolutionary leadership within the mass struggle. This means sustained trust and respect as opposed to sporadic flashes in the pan and momentary spontaneous recognition. Specifically we must recognize in practice:
A. A clear analysis of classes and class struggle in the U.S.
B. The central role of the industrial working class and trade union struggles. Definition of how other sections of the class and other classes relate to this sector.
C. The material reality and effect of the special oppression of all people of color and women.
D. Struggle for principled unity and united front actions between all sections of our class.
3. It must achieve real and principled unity between all sections of the M-L left. Specifically:
A. Abandoning all forms of localism and provincialism and seeking working ties and communication with M-L’s throughout the country. M-L is not compatible with idealism or dogmatism and given these tendencies within the anti-revisionist left, our emphasis will be to struggle with people who seek a M-L understanding of the world, our country, and party-building.
B. We welcome ideological struggle and actively seek the forms for sharing consolidated positions based on respective study and practice.
C. We actively seek left unity within common basis of work and particular united front actions. At all times we will struggle to share differences in a principled, above-board manner that can help clarify and move activities forward. We expect to be given the same respect in return.
4. It must demonstrate the ability to unite theory and practice.
A. Study, study, study:
1. The Marxist classics
2. Our history
3. Lessons from international struggles
B. Develop the ability to make M-L understandable in our mass work. Develop mass educational forms.
C. Develop exemplary methods of criticism/self-criticism.
What we’ve offered is only an outline and much too general. What it does is give us a beginning out of which our practice, struggle, and theoretical study will add more substance.
The anti-revisionist movement is maturing, but we have a ways to go. It is a positive thing that ideological struggle and the quality of our practice is sharpened. DMLO sees this as a period of changes, testing and struggle, out of which will emerge our communist party. OL has historically played an important role in the anti-revisionist left. Hopefully over time, they will leave behind the comfort of idealism and dogma for serious M-L analysis and practice.