First Published: in a supplement to the IWK newspaper Getting Together, February 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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[EROL Note: This is an excerpt from a longer document entitled: Learn From Negative Example: Lessons from the Degeneration of the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization]
In late 1974 and early 1975 after breaking with the CL, PRRWO continued to consolidate its opportunist and metaphysical and idealist tendencies. PRRWO therefore quickly became attracted to WVO which had similar tendencies.
WVO is a split-off from the Trotskyite PLP. From its inception, WVO pawned off its opportunist line behind posing as "Marxist theoreticians" and "leaders of the theory trend." In fact, WVO's objective was to replace revolutionary Marxism with its own revisionist "theoretical system" and its idealist "premises." (See IWK Journal #3.) To promote itself, WVO tried to rewrite the history of the revolutionary movement in the U.S. and to disorient the revolutionary forces by confusing right and wrong. All this became part of the foundation of the self-proclaimed "revolutionary wing," composed of PRRWO, WVO, ATM and the Revolutionary Workers League. This revolutionary alliance lasted until the spring of l976 when at that time, it split apart.
The Basis of Unity of the "Revolutionary Wing"
Some forces in the communist movement simply called the "wing" an unprincipled bloc, pointing out that many differences existed among the various forces in the "wing," such as on the international situation, women's question, trade union work and others. Yes, there were real differences among them, but the "wing" also had a definite basis of unity. If there had been no unity at all, there could not have been this alliance. Being an unprincipled alliance does not negate the fact that they had some basis for being an alliance, and in order to draw lessons from this negative example, it is necessary to analyze this basis.
We believe that several things held the "wing" together. Principal among them were metaphysics, idealism and careerism, aspects we have traced in the development of PRRWO. These serious deviations from Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought were manifested in their unity in frenzied attempts at proclaiming themselves the new center of the U.S. communist movement, the "vanguard" on the verge of forming a party, their idealist list of Bolshevik qualities which supposedly distinguished the "revolutionary wing" from the "opportunist wing," their rewriting of the history of the revolutionary movement, and their metaphysical and distorted "key link theory."
The Idealist "Bolshevik Qualities" of the "Revolutionary Wing"
The wing" held as a basis of unity a common idealist conception of certain so-called "Bolshevik qualities" which distinguished themselves from the rest of the communist movement. These "qualities" were such things as "honesty," "willingness to make self-criticism" and "repudiation," "accepting theory as the leading factor" and "standing on open polemics."
The wing's conception of these qualities was idealist, for they raised them divorced from discussing them in relation to moving the revolution forward. They raised these qualities as if they could be discussed unrelated to one's stand and impact on the real world.
For example, genuine revolutionary honesty is a characteristic of those who in theory and in practice selflessly contribute to the revolution. The "wing's" conception however was a bourgeois and idealist one, for they held that "honesty" was a characteristic above class struggle and a trait they could bestow on whomever they wished. Of course, they were always honest. Such a view inevitably leads to confusion and subjectivism, and this is what happened with the wing: the various groups in the wing could never arrive at unity on who was "honest" and "dishonest." Their evaluations of the ''honesty" and "dishonesty" of other groups would change from week to week. The "wing's" self-proclaimed "honesty" was actually dishonesty, It was deception to cover over their unprincipled alliance and to proclaim their own unequaled Bolshevik qualities.
In a like way, the "wing" looked at "self-criticism and repudiation" divorced from class struggle. For the "wing," "self-criticism" was a mechanism to "prove" your "honesty" and temper yourself, not to derive truth and correct errors. "Wing" forces did not care whether an organization made correct "self-criticism," just so long as it made a criticism. Viewed in such a way, it is obvious that "self-criticism" could not strengthen the revolution but only weaken it. PRRWO in particular practiced "self-criticism" only to criticize what was positive and correct about the past and to make excuses for its errors including why it repeatedly united with major opportunist forces in the communist movement. The "wing's" view of self-criticism has led them to their well-known flip-flopping, changing their positions from one day to the next and excusing their irrationality by making "self-criticism and repudiation" of their previous views This was nothing more than making "self-criticism" in order not to make any real self-criticism.
"Theory as the Leading Factor"
The "wing's" declaration that it alone took "theory as the leading factor" in the revolution really meant only taking their own "theory" as the leading factor, especially WVO's revisionist theory.
Theory is very important to the revolutionary movement, for it must guide and serve our practice. What we need, though, is genuine Marxist-Leninist theory, not the type of theory which the "wing" tried to pawn off to replace Marxism-Leninism. WVO in particular has the ambition of nothing less than replacing Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought with their own idealist and metaphysical system. WVO, for example, has the audacity to claim that its own "theoretical premises" and not Marxism-Leninism and class struggle are the "only safeguard against degeneration, the only guarantee to detect shades and forms of revisionism, defeat its particular manifestations and repudiate it as an integral whole." (WV, V. 2, No. 1, p. 27) All those communists who would not accept WVO's theoretical leadership were naturally labeled "empiricists." Such was the "revolutionary wing's" so-called "theory as the leading factor."
And when the "wing" talked about engaging in "polemics," they were never concerned with bringing clarity to the questions facing the communist movement, nor with seeking to unite Marxist-Leninists around a correct line. They conducted polemics as ends in themselves. The objective of the "wing's" polemics was to attack other communist forces so that they could maintain their self-proclaimed "vanguard" title. This is evident when we examine the results of the "polemics" conducted by the "wing" (with themselves and with other forces) – what questions, what clarity have the "wing's" polemics accomplished? There has been none, and in fact, the "wing's" polemics have caused only confusion, the spreading of anti-Marxist views and splittism.
The "wing's" "Bolshevik qualities" only succeeded in mocking genuine proletarian honesty, self-criticism, Marxist-Leninist theory and polemics which the working class does not separate from the class struggle for revolution. The "wing" can only genuinely claim to have promoted self-cultivation, sectarianism, metaphysics and idealism.
The Wing's Analysis of the History of the Revolutionary Movement
PRRWO, WVO and the "wing" also tried to rewrite the history of the revolutionary movement in order to bolster their own claims to be the "revolutionary vanguard This rewriting actually labeled good things bad and bad things good.
According to PRRWO and WVO, the 1960's was simply a period of "eclecticism" or spontaneity – groups such as YLP, IWK and others made little or no contributions to the revolutionary movement In fact, this is nothing hut a slander of much of the origin of the anti-revisionist communist movement.
In the 1960's the main struggle was between, on the one hand, the revolutionaries represented by such groups as the YLP, IWK, BPP and groups from other sectors of society, and on the other hand, the revisionists of the CPUSA and the Trotskyites of the PLP. The new revolutionary groups, though young and immature, represented a great vital force, a historic break with the bourgeois politics that had chained the revolutionary movement. The analysis of these groups and that period must be that they were overwhelmingly positive and stood for all that was revolutionary; and the analysis of groups such as PLP must remain that they were thoroughly counter-revolutionary.
The young revolutionary groups made the first big contribution to the anti-revisionist communist movement, something which the present communist movement should never forget. In opposition to the opportunists, they stood for revolution, not reformism; for internationalism, not national chauvinism; for the revolutionary significance of the national struggles, and not their liquidation.
But what was the purpose of the "wing's" rewriting of this history? For PRRWO it was part of their attempt to justify the repudiation of their history and their rationalization for liquidating their previous work, especially in the Puerto Rican movement. It was also an attempt to elevate their role throughout the history of the communist movement to the position of "vanguard in the struggle against opportunism," and negate the fact that they had united with one opportunist force after another.
For WVO, on the other hand, in order to proclaim themselves the vanguard of the communist movement, it had to slander the struggle against PLP, the direct predecessor of WVO, and prettify PLP's Trotskyism. Thus, this rewriting of the history of the revolutionary movement served to enable WVO to resurrect PLP's counter-revolutionary and thoroughly reactionary Trotskyite line.
Closely related to this rewriting of the history of the revolutionary movement was PRRWO and the "Wing's" "profound" key link theory. In actuality, this "theory" was simply a further rationale of their histories and a reflection of their metaphysics.
PRRWO formulated the "key link" theory which incorrectly defined the stages that the movement for a new communist party has gone through. This "theory" stated that the first stage, roughly from 1957-1972, was when the "key link" was the "struggle to reaffirm the ideology of the proletariat, dialectical and historical materialism" (PRRWO, Party Building in the Heat of Class Struggle, p. 28), while the "key link" after 1972 was the application of Marxism-Leninism to concrete conditions. This view justified their separation of ideology and politics, and their own long-term divorce from social practice.
PRRWO erroneously believed that one can arbitrarily separate the "reaffirmation" of the general principles of Marxism-Leninism from their application. They used this rationale for their past dogmatism, and their inability to practice Marxism.
In contrast, we believe that all our work should be judged by whether or not it proceeds from Marxist-Leninist dialectical and historical materialism, and whether or not it proceeds from the basic interests of the proletarian revolution and the interests of the masses of oppressed and exploited peoples.
The "key link" formulation was also used to explain why there were so many contradictory views within the 'wing." They simply stated that they had "ideological unity" yet had "political disunity." They had "unity around Marxism-Leninism" but had "disunity around its application to concrete conditions." This is an absurd mockery of Marxism-Leninism.
The "key link" theory like all of the "wing's" concoctions did not place attention on one's actual line and stand in the revolution or on helping to "give the movement confidence, the power of orientation and an understanding of the inner relations of surrounding events." (Stalin, Foundations of Leninism.) Rather, the "wing" developed formulations to rationalize their own history or popularize their metaphysical view of the revolution.
The "Revolutionary Wing" Disintegrates
Careerism and metaphysics are no foundation for lasting unity. By early 1976, the "revolutionary wing" split apart. Differences that had always been present erupted into fundamental contradictions.
The metaphysics which bound the "wing" together now turned into its opposite and became a basis for their disunity. The "honest" forces of the "genuine revolutionary wing" became the most "dishonest forces." The "staunch comrades" of this or that group became the "vacillators" and "hegemones." The "comrades who do Bolshevik self-criticism" became "philistines in struggle." The "leading communist forces" became the "leading revisionist forces," all in spite of the fact that none of the forces had fundamentally altered its line.
How could such a turnabout take place so rapidly? In the first place, because the revolutionary wing was based on subjectivism. This subjectivism is petty bourgeois ideology which by nature is volatile and erratic. This outlook is one of vacillation and inconsistency, for it has no firm grasp of the laws of development. It allows them to rapidly accept and just as rapidly discard principles and policies at will.
Secondly both the leadership of PRRWO and WVO are marked by ambitious careerism, each wishing to proclaim itself the leading force of the communist movement. Since the split up of the "wing," this is in fact exactly what each of them has done. PRRWO now proclaims itself the "Leninist core of the Bolshevik party" and WVO calls itself the vanguard of the "theory trend," the "proletarian headquarters" which has been "correct for nine years" (i.e., since the days of PLP).
Since the break up of the "wing," PRRWO has not drawn any lessons for themselves nor tried to correct what originally led them into such a series of opportunist alliances. PRRWO has basically ignored this question and has moved in a further dogmatist and sectarian direction.