Published: The Communist, Vol. IV, No. 3, December 5, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The San Diego Organizing Committee (SDOC) recently liquidated its local organization and joined the Workers Congress(M-L). This is the result of a protracted struggle for principled unity within the framework of the ISKRA PLAN and we think its lessons are important to the party building movement.
The SDOC originated in the spring of 1975 as a Marxist-Leninist circle born out of local struggles in the San Diego area. We took as the original basis of our line that party building was the central task and that party building required winning the vanguard to communism, that right opportunism was the main danger to the communist movement and that capitalism had been restored in the USSR.
As we investigated the lines of organizations in the communist movement in relation to party building, we recognized that the ISKRA PLAN of the Workers Congress was the only serious effort to propose a method to prepare the conditions for uniting the scattered forces in our movement. It was the only plan that addressed itself to the principal weaknesses of our movement, amateurishness, fragmentation and disunity, and the only plan that proposed concrete steps to overcome these weaknesses. Thus while we did not have 100% unity with the line of the Workers Congress, we enthusiastically took up work within the ISKRA PLAN to build a single, common ISKRA type newspaper as the main link in the struggle to build a new vanguard communist party. As we said in our original article, “SDOC Joins the ISKRA Effort,” “Lenin makes clear the critical importance of ISKRA in building unity through its role as the first practical common work (writing, polemicizing, distribution, and study) of all revolutionaries in the country.’
We also made clear that while we joined the ISKRA effort and defended the ISKRA PLAN, we intended to maintain active contact with other national organizations. As we pursued these contacts, particularly with the August Twenty Ninth Movement (ATM) and the Marxist-Leninist Organizing Committee (MLOC), we learned by negative example that to proceed without a plan for party building was to proceed without a means to struggle for principled unity or to resolve differences on the basis of the science of Marxism-Leninism. These organizations published newspapers to put out their line, but did not use their newspapers as an essential, part of a plan to prepare the conditions for unity. With them our discussions always came down to their saying “here is our line. . .the best overall line in the communist movement.. . if you don’t agree with it there is nothing left for us to do.” But we quickly realized that this kind of demagogy was unjustified in terms of the ideological confusion and instability which characterized their leadership. Furthermore, the fundamental issue was not shallow agreement, but training a core of. professional revolutionaries. In sum, contacts with national organizations often encouraged a tendency to sink back into localism and autonomism rather than struggle for unity, and we saw other collectives do that, immersing themselves in the day to day activity of their particular area. This served to perpetuate the weaknesses not only of these groups, but of our movement as a whole.
In the end we realized also that for national organizations to proceed without a plan led necessarily to one of. two consequences: (1) organizations could declare themselves a party, reducing party building to circle size; or (2) organizations could retreat from the tasks of party building and attack the basic principles we had consolidated around such as propaganda as the chief form of activity and winning the vanguard to communism. We saw RCP, WVO and the CPML make the first mistake and ATM, MLOC and IWK make the second.
By contrast the ISKRA PLAN of the Workers Congress proposed common tasks and a method to struggle for unity. These tasks, which unfolded around a national political newspaper, proposed a means to train ourselves as revolutionaries theoretically, politically and organizationally.
The struggle over our differences, which were sharp on one or two points, was taken up in the framework of this common work. The ISKRA PLAN did not make its emphasis instant unity. It did not demand that we sacrifice our independence without preparing the conditions for unity. It did insist that we take up from the start an unrelenting struggle against any manifestation of circle narrowness. It did insist that we sum up and generalize our local work for the movement as a whole, that we report regularly on our evaluation of the newspaper and of our use of it, that we contribute in a regular way topical political exposures and polemics on questions in the national and international communist movement. On this basis we were encouraged to raise the level and broaden the scope of our activity.
As a result, in learning to use and rely on the paper we moved forward in our struggle to resolve our differences with the Workers Congress. As those differences were overcome and we achieved fundamental ideological unity, it became our duty as Marxist-Leninists to transform ideological unity into the material unity of organization. We wholeheartedly took that step, seeing it as a means to intensify our struggle to gather and centralize the resources of the revolutionary trend of our movement.
When we first took up study of the ISKRA PLAN, we had plans to put out a local monthly newspaper and in fact had copy ready for press when we made the decision to contribute to the ISKRA effort instead. We were persuaded by Lenin’s arguments in WHAT IS TO BE DONE that a local newspaper would not advance the struggle for a party. Because of the local character of our circle, such a newspaper would necessarily have been characterized by its narrowness. It would have been all-consuming in its expenditure of time and energy and sharply limited other work. We saw the ISKRA PLAN as a means to centralize and gather our resources in a more efficient way. It was also a means for us to train ourselves as professional revolutionaries more effectively. Rather than the narrow scope of a local paper, we could contribute broader exposures to a national newspaper.
Overall the ISKRA PLAN for us was a means to rely on our strengths to overcome the weaknesses that characterized our circle. Concretely this can be seen in the increased regularity and frequency with which we have taken up exposures for THE COMMUNIST in the recent period as compared with our initial efforts.
We cannot too strongly urge other local collectives to take up the task of regular and frequent political exposures. As Lenin says, it is only through the systematic appraisal of day to day political events that we can train revolutionary leaders. Failure to take on this responsibility is a weakness that undermines every local collective and is an obstacle to moving forward. It is one factor that explains how activity can go on year after year without its level being raised or its scope broadened.
Local circles and collectives which concentrate on practical work, study, the publication of an occasional pamphlet on line or a local newsletter simply do not get the same political training as collectives which allocate a definite number of their cadres to newspaper work – Lenin suggests one-fourth in WHAT IS TO BE DONE – and which undertake the regular task required by frequent topical exposures of systematically appraising day to day political events for a national newspaper.
The regular use of the newspaper in our ranks and, as we gained experience, in our plant work was the main thing that moved our organization forward. Late in 1975 we were deeply involved in a local IAM strike and a struggle emerged between our organization and other communist forces over the question of the role of trade union leadership. We held that local district as well as international leadership had collaborated with the company against the rank and file and were bought off. We could see this clearly in the practical work we were involved in. However, our theoretical understanding of this question needed to be developed. We were limited by the narrow scope of our theoretical development.
It was exposures in THE COMMUNIST on opportunist leadership of the trade unions that pushed forward our understanding of this question. Through study and consolidation we became more aggressive in our struggle to expose these traitors and played a more effective strike role.
This experience also prompted us to review other sum-ups of factory work which had appeared in THE COMMUNIST and to review our factory work generally, especially in terms of the line put forward by the Workers Congress in 1975 on creating plant cores as a step towards establishing factory nuclei and developing a nucleus style of factory work. We began to grasp the importance of relying on the advanced, and in our work with advanced workers, THE COMMUNIST proved to be a decisive tool in winning the best representatives of the class to Marxism-Leninism. In addition, THE COMMUNIST, was virtually alone among Marxist-Leninist newspapers in providing guidance on organizational problems we confronted in our collective life.
From all this we learned that the scope of a national political newspaper could push forward local activity more effectively than we could have done relying solely on our own resources.
We were also trained by THE COMMUNIST on the democratic struggle, including the Black National Question, and the ERA and the question of reforms generally. At first we had a tendency to want to study each of these questions on our own from scratch. We learned to rely on the line of the paper as the starting point, testing it and using it as a foundation for further advance.
Our position on party building tactics is a good example of the success of this method. By relying on the Workers Congress criticism of the so-called “revolutionary wing” and connecting that with our own study of strategy and tactics, we saw that the ISKRA PLAN was a tactic for party building – a form of organization and a form of struggle. This formulation had not been put forward by the Workers Congress and was an advance in our common understanding of the ISKRA PLAN and in our grasp of the plan as the main link in this period.
We should point out that the struggle for unity between our organizations was not achieved without the resolution of strong differences. What is important is the way in which the ISKRA PLAN contributed to resolve those differences.
Two things were decisive. In the first place, from the Workers Congress we learned respect for, orthodoxy. In sharp contrast to other organizations, with the WC we were always encouraged to test line against our study of the teachings of Marxism-Leninism, never to “accept and adopt.” In fact, this respect for orthodox Marxism Leninism seems to us chiefly responsible for the stability of the line of THE COMMUNIST and its ability to clarify the confusion generated by the polemics of other organizations in the communist movement. For party building, orthodoxy-is a question of whether or not to establish unity on the basis of the science of Marxism-Leninism.
Second, we had developed mutual confidence through our common work around a common plan. Tasks such as exposures and regular reporting on the newspaper and its use gave our organizations confidence in the serious character of our relationship. Thus in spite of differences this fostered a disciplined approach to struggle – something that was a far cry from our relationships with other forces on these issues. As a result of the exchange of views on the question and based on the common study of Engels, THE ORIGIN OF THE FAMILY, PRIVATE PROPERTY AND THE STATE and of the socialist experience on the question of women and the family under the dictatorship of the proletariat, we came to recognize the incorrectness of our stand on homosexuality. We saw how the influence of the radical intellegensia was the basis of our incorrect line of support for this type of social practice and saw the need for a thorough break with this trend.
We are all familiar with the weaknesses that we have addressed in terms of the scattered and numerous circles which exist throughout the country. All the national organizations bemoan the existence of such circles and yet other than the WC none of them take up the task of organizing the initiative and commitment that such circles possess.
The ISKRA PLAN alone uses those strengths to overcome the weaknesses of narrowness and localism. The ISKRA plan recognizes that fragmentation and independence exists and has a material base. It recognizes that this condition cannot be overcome either by demagogy or intimidation or pious good wishes. It must be overcome by common work in a step by step way, taking up tasks and testing results.
That is the significance of the ISKRA PLAN as a tactic. It is a form of struggle and a form of organization that relies on the strengths of local collectives to overcome their weaknesses and that relies on their initiative and commitment and practical work in the class to overcome circle narrowness. Unity is not a matter of intentions but of method and plan. The lesson we learned in taking up the struggle against our own tendency to elevate the importance of local work above national responsibilities and to perpetuate an independent status almost as a matter of principle was that if you are not struggling to unite, you are promoting local autonomy. The point that must be grasped is that in the struggle to unite there is an orthodox method and a practical plan does exist.
We firmly reject the line of the opportunists who oppose the ISKRA PLAN as just so much paper work or the dogmatists who claim that the ISKRA PLAN does not apply to the conditions of our movement. In our experience we have seen the active way in which the paper has become a material force in our work, has trained us as revolutionaries and has promoted our struggle for unity with other Marxist-Leninists.
At this time when our movement remains plagued by instability of principle, amateurishness and narrowness on the one hand, and when on the other Marxist Leninist collectives and advanced workers are coming forward from every side, we call on every comrade to join us in supporting a party building plan that does take up the tasks of preparing the conditions for our unity in a step by step way.
What we need is the common effort to contribute to a national political newspaper in order to create a lively forum for national debate on the burning questions of our movement. THE COMMUNIST has laid the foundations for that struggle and we encourage every local collective to take up the task. At this time the publication of a single, common newspaper, for the Leninist trend must be the main line around which we develop our work to build a new communist party.