First Published: The Communist, Vol. II, No. 5, January 15, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The National Fight-Back Conference, initiated and led by the October League (OL) was held in Chicago on December 26 and 27. The conference was attended by a relatively large number of workers and progressive forces from across the country. The fact that many people came is a reflection of the desire of the masses of the U.S. people for change. For Marxist-Leninists there can be no doubt that the organization of a broad united front against imperialist war and crisis as a component part of the world wide united front against the two superpowers is a top priority of our activity. The Chinese Communist Party has called on the people of the world to get prepared for war, that the conditions for a third world war exist now, and that the danger is imminent. The crisis of imperialism has also led US monopoly capitalists into savage attacks on US working people in an effort to stabilize the present economic crisis. In key industries they openly slash real wages – with the spineless capitulation of the trade union bureaucracy – and a pattern of continuing layoffs with no cutback in production goes on in auto and elsewhere.
In this situation it is the duty of Marxist-Leninists to take the lead in mobilizing not only communists but the broad masses of workers and progressive people against imperialist crisis and war. Only Marxist-Leninists grasp the real seriousness of the war danger and the turbulent forces driving the present crisis. Only Marxist-Leninists therefore can provide the kind of leadership necessary to genuinely mobilize the masses of the people in protracted resistance. This mobilization is an urgent and major task of our movement.
As an effort by Marxist-Leninists to initiate such a United Front, the Fight-Back Conference called by OL was an important step. Unfortunately it was undermined by serious errors. Advanced forces that we met with from around the country who attended the conference left frustrated and confused. Many pointed to the absence of communist leadership that could bring forward the role of the advanced and lay the basis for solid united front work. Overall the conference was characterized by economist politics and a narrow sectarianism completely alien to genuine united front activity. It reflected above all OL’s failure to break firmly with the right opportunist and social democratic errors which continue to plague our movement. OL is still trying to build the party by building the mass movement.
Since Fight-Back was a mobilization not only of communists but also of other progressive forces it was necessarily an effort to build a United Front organization. The source of the confusion that crippled the conference can be pinpointed as OL’s failure to correctly handle the contradiction between building the United Front and building the Party. OL wanted the conference to do both. Because of its social democratic style it accomplished neither.
What is the difference between a Leninist and a social democratic approach toward building the United Front? To build the genuinely broad based united front we now urgently require on a massive nationwide scale demands first of all the consolidation of a Marxist-Leninist core. A Marxist-Leninist core is the basis, the precondition for building a United Front that will in fact reach out to all who can be united against imperialist war and crisis. To ignore or deny this is to repudiate the ABC’s of Marxism. Where a genuine revolutionary party exists the party is that vanguard core. But for any single organization in the Marxist-Leninist trend of the US today to pretend that it alone constitutes that core is to condemn the United Front from the start to narrowness and sectarianism. In our situation where we are still engaged in the struggle to build a genuine revolutionary party of a new type there are no shortcuts and what is required to build a broad united front is to take on the hard task of establishing the unity of Marxist-Leninists around a common program, principles of unity and organizational framework. This would include, for example, serious efforts to consolidate the organizations responsible for the dozen or so Marxist-Leninist publications OL referred to in its “Call to Build a Party” (November CALL) around a common united front program. Obviously this would mean dealing with some hard differences among these organizations but it is essential to boldly deal with such difficulties in a situation as dangerous and severe as the one that confronts us. To fail to do so is to belittle the real nature of the crisis.
On the other hand the right opportunist or social democratic approach to building the United Front means relying on the spontaneous mass movement rather than a Marxist-Leninist core. It means ignoring the principle that we can reliably mobilise the broad masses only once we have consolidated a leading core and instead bowing to the spontaneous movement leads necessarily to organizational exclusiveness and right sectarianism. Right sectarianism arises because the refusal or inability to consolidate the Marxist-Leninist vanguard on the basis of line leads to organizational maneuvering, factionalism and unprincipled methods of struggle. In mobilizing the masses for united front activity other vanguard forces are either controlled through the use of organizational muscle or excluded.
This is the same form of right sectarianism demonstrated by the RCP and rather than being a manifestation of what some incorrectly call “leftism” shows the continuing influence of right opportunism and the petty bourgeois democratic trend in our movement.
OL’s approach to planning, mobilizing and carrying out the Fight Back Conference was social democratic and right sectarian above all because there was no effort to consolidate a Marxist-Leninist Leninist core that could give unified central leadership to the work of the conference. Although OL took responsibility for deciding what organizations would participate in Fight Back a number of independent Marxist-Leninist organizations in our trend were not contacted by OL. Others were frankly excluded. Those Marxist-Leninist organizations independent of OL who did participate were not instrumental in planning the conference and were not consolidated as a vanguard prior to the conference.
Our own experience is a good example. In early November we responded to OL’s open call to build a party by requesting a meeting with OL’s national leadership to discuss their proposals. They replied immediately and set up a meeting. A few days later they cancelled the meeting saying that they needed time to study our views and that they would call us back–which they never did and have yet to do. Shortly thereafter we requested a meeting with the leadership of Fight Back to discuss our participation in the December conference. We were told that we could not attend unless we met with OL’s central committee and they wanted us there, In addition a person who registered for the conference and who was not a member of our organization was told he could not participate because he was too close to the WC (M-L). At the conference itself our organization was slandered to many of the forces attending as Trotskyite.
This kind of right sectarian stance is inexcusable for a communist organization. If OL were really serious about getting prepared for war and mobilizing widespread resistance to the crisis they would make genuine and aggressive efforts to unite Marxist-Leninists and build a United Front against the two superpowers. But OL refused to take up the difficult task of consolidating Marxist-Leninists in order to build the United Front. Instead they took the easier path of whipping up the mass movement. It is also clear that neither prior to nor during the conference did OL sum-up in a Leninist fashion their work with the local fight back and solidarity committees, pointing to strengths and weaknesses, so that when people did unite in carrying out common tasks they could avoid pitfalls and maximize their strength and effectiveness. A bold and critical evaluation of our work is always a powerful weapon in building unity among Marxist-Leninists and the masses. We can never claim to be infallible, but we must prove that we are capable of correctly analyzing our practice and not repeating old mistakes. In fact we feel such a sum-up should have uncovered the basic error in OL’s approach to building the United Front and the party, as reflected for example in the correspondence from New York (correspondent B), summing-up OL’s work in a coalition there.
What all this makes clear is that OL was not genuinely interested in building a united front. However the conference was billed publically, for OL it was basically a fundamental step toward declaring the party. OL leaders said that the conference would provide the basis for the party to come into being and prove their ties with workers. They sought to build the Fight Back not as a genuine mass organization of resistance to the current crisis and the imminent danger of war, but to use the united front to build the party. Although OL has held that party building is the central task of Marxist-Leninists since 1972, they have never broken in practice with the economist line of building the party by building the mass movement.
But as a vehicle to build the party Fight Back had to be inadequate. The economist character of the conference is reflected in some of the other correspondence in this issue. OL stifled the presentation of advanced ideas and hindered the efforts of advanced forces to raise ideas from a frankly communist perspective. Where they could not adequately narrow the scope of issues by the agenda, they maintained their control through the exercise of organizational muscle. They could not promote the initiative of the advanced nor strive to win people, whatever their political opinions, to unite with communists openly and around the leading role of communists within the United Front.
This is the real point about united front work which OL has consistently failed to understand. Communists always disdain to conceal their views. Instead they openly fight for their views and for the leading role of those views. What characterizes the United Front is not that communists hide or soft pedal Marxism-Leninism but that they do not make Marxism-Leninism a precondition for participation or unity within the united front. Instead they recognize the basis for broad unity between communists and non-communists and found the organization on common principles which reflect that unity.
There are a number of important lessons the Leninist trend can learn from the Fight Back conference. The most important lesson is the necessity to understand the crippling effect of a social democratic approach to the relationship between building the party and building the united front. OL’s persistence in the petty bourgeois democratic style of building the party by building the mass movement has stifled both the effort to build the united front and the effort to build the party. In party building it puts mass agitation in front of propaganda, caucuses and intermediate workers organizations in front of nuclei, organizing the broad masses rather than welding a core of the advanced and belittling our ideological and theoretical tasks rather than actively taking up the struggle against opportunism.
On the other hand in building the united front it fails to consolidate a Marxist-Leninist core and therefore limits and narrows the broad scope a genuine united front organization must have as well as stifling the initiative of the advanced in every way.
The second important lesson to grasp is the lack of unity, organization and cohesion among the Leninist trend at the conference. There was opposition to the economist character of the conference, but it was scattered. This state of affairs encourages cynicism and capitulation by many forces, including comrades in OL, in the face of a consolidating social democratic trend. We must work swiftly to gather and consolidate the Leninist forces in our movement and move to overcome cur backwardness and fragmentation.
The third important lesson of Fight Back is the need for Marxist-Leninists to take up vigorously the task of building the solidly based united front organization that can genuinely lead popular resistance to the effects of the crisis and the danger of imperialist war. The people of the whole world must get prepared. No Marxist-Leninist organization in the US can take on this task alone. We must consolidate our forces and consolidate the core around which a mighty united front against the two superpowers and against imperialist war and crisis can be built. Party building is and regains our central task and the current world situation underscores the urgency of our efforts. But this situation also requires that we simultaneously move to establish a united front around which all communist and progressive forces can build their resistance. Correctly handled and approached in a Bolshevik style joint action among Marxist-Leninists to this end will not only mobilize the large masses against imperialist crisis and war but promote our own unity on the path to a revolutionary party of a new type.