First Published: The Communist, Vol. III, No. 4, March 1, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Because the bourgeoisie’s class interests are split among competing capitalist groups, bourgeois political life always reflects the tendency to develop several competing political parties. But the proletariat acts with a unity of will and a unity of action. There will be only one party capable of leading the U.S. proletarian revolution and it is the duty of every revolutionary to support and strengthen that vanguard.
Therefore when four Marxist-Leninist organizations consider themselves the sole vanguard of the revolution in the U.S. and alone capable of immediately forming a new communist party according to the revolutionary style of Marxism-Leninism, at least three are wrong. In fact in our movement all four are wrong because none has taken on the task of preparing the conditions for the formation of a new revolutionary party out of the scattered forces and circles that make up that movement.
A decisive victory has been won for the line that party building is our central task. But in taking up that line, comrades have been slow to pose the far-reaching national tasks required to establish a vanguard party. Lacking a disciplined Marxist-Leninist method, party building has given way to party declaring.
This also is a question of bowing bowing to spontaneity. We treat party building as if it were a question of organizing a demonstration in front of City Hall and follow the line of least resistance. The movement is supposed to determine where the action is and link up quickly before it is too late. In THE COMMUNIST, v. III, no. 2 (Dec. 23 1976), we summed up this situation as follows:
The struggle begun in 1974 when communists took up party building as the central task has never been fully or adequately unfolded. There has been no consolidation on the need to prepare the conditions for a party. Instead there has been a hasty search in one direction after another for a party congress or organizing committee.
It is the failure to pose correctly the task of preparing the conditions for the formation of a party–which is the essence of party building–that accounts for the pompous self-righteousness associated with the circle sectarianism that has accompanied each party forming enterprise. The same failure lays the basis for confusion and demoralization with the collapse of another party bubble.
Summing up the preparations undertaken to prepare the congress where the actual formation of the Russian revolutionary Marxist party took place, Lenin wrote:
We were, in fact, guided by the maxim: measure your cloth seven times before you cut it; and we had every moral right to expect that after the cloth had been cut our comrades would not start complaining and measuring all over again.
Among those in our movement that have taken to cutting, which one has measured – not seven times, but once?!
Instead, our party formers are mired down by circle narrowness.
In the first place party building has been conducted virtually without plan. In fact the only plans put forward have been for back room arrangements among this or that “leading circle”–from the Revolutionary Union’s (RU) National Liaison Committee to the Revolutionary Wing’s Party Building Commission. After the collapse of the Liaison Committee and under attack for its economist line of building the mass movement, RU declared party building the central task “for a brief period” and during that period failed to put forward a plan to consolidate the revolutionaries in our movement. Without a plan, the Worker’ Viewpoint Organization (WVO) declares the formation of the party a “settled question”. As the only “true Bolsheviks” the “Leninist Core” of the Revolutionary Wing probably has no need for a plan. And the October League (OL), which alone has openly put forward a plan, was wrong from the jump – form the party first and elect a temporary leading body, then draft a program and call a party congress. The Organizing Committee’s hesitations and delays are the inevitable result of working without a plan and of drawing together what has not been consolidated. Party forming can only take place once the tasks of party building have been accomplished. We cut only once we have measured.
The plan required is not a plan for calling a Congress but for building a party. In this the experience of the Bolshevik party, summed up by Lenin in WHAT IS TO BE DONE remains, as we have insisted, our best resource. The essential elements of Lenin’s plan are applicable to our movement today not because the conditions between tsarist Russia and the imperialist U.S. are the same, which they are not, but because the character of the party we intend to build is the same.
What are the conditions which must be prepared in order to forge that party out of the scattered circles of advanced forces that comprise our movement?
According to Lenin the plan required needed to accomplish two things: (1) it must point the way to a demarcation of trends between revolutionary Marxism and opportunism, and (2) it must point to the steps for organising the scattered circles of the movement into a network of professional revolutionaries capable of unfolding all-embracing nationwide political agitation.
A demarcation of trends is the first step in building any proletarian party. It is a question of setting the independent political life of the proletariat on its feet. Only by demarcating itself from trends of revisionism, chauvinism, petty bourgeois liberalism and all forms of opportunism can a party of the proletariat lead the fight for the independent class interests of the proletariat. For Lenin this was a fight against every form of bowing to spontaneity and especially against the influence of economism. For our own movement it is a question of settling accounts with modern revisionism and rooting out the economist and social democratic influences which arise spontaneously in our work and are the chief means by which revisionism penetrates our ranks.
Secondly, Lenin insisted on gathering the resources of the Russian movement and establishing real contacts between the scattered circles of revolutionary forces, giving their work a stable, systematic, nationwide and professional character. He insisted on the necessity for a struggle against amateurishness to accomplish this task. In his own case, this meant overcoming amateurishness which left young revolutionaries victim to the wholesale raids of the political police under the tsarist autocracy. In our case we have not only the political police, but also liberalism – which is the product of the traditions of legality and due to the influence of the bribed sector of the labor aristocracy and the petty bourgeoisie – which also disrupts our revolutionary work, keeps our forces scattered and dispersed, and can only be overcome by an attack on amateurishness.
Lenin also fought for the systematic organization of revolutionaries in closely knit groups and repudiated the view that this meant an isolation from the mass movement, On the contrary, he insisted that the tightly disciplined systematic character of these groups was the basis for all-embracing, nationwide political agitation:
Nadezhdin is confused because he imagines that troops, which are being systematically organized, are engaging in something that isolates them from the crowd, when as a matter of fact they are engaged exclusively in all-sided and all-embracing political agitation, i.e., precisely in work that brings closer and merges into a single whole the elemental destructive force of the crowd and the conscious destructive force of the organization of revolutionaries.(WHAT IS TO BE DONE, Peking Edition, p.214)
How do our party formers measure up to these criteria?
On the question of demarcating trends, none of the organizations primed to declare themselves a party has offered to the movement for discussion and debate a draft party program setting forward in a precise way their views. The RU, which offered a draft shortly before its party congress paused neither for open debate in the movement over its draft nor responded to criticisms of it (THE COMMUNIST, v. I, no. 11, August, 1976) and as a result did not take up the task of fighting for the hegemony of its programmatic views, using the program to demarcate trends and to unite the movement on that basis. Given its line it could not –and after all, party building was only for a “brief period”. Like RU others also have apparently relegated the program to an administrative chore to be accomplished prior to the party congress, but have not openly offered to the movement a draft for struggle.
The demarcation of trends in our movement has suffered from this lack of precise struggle over programmatic views. No one has spoken more about demarcation than the former members of the Wing and yet their polemics have principally concerned the justification of splits and circle narrowness without contributing to the presentation or resolution of programmatic questions essential to our revolution. For its part the Organizing Committee of the OL, which has been in existence for almost a year, has yet to take up the struggle of trends at all. WVO counterposes the burning questions of our movement to party building by complaining about a discussion of the Chicano National Question, demanding instead to “discuss Party Building”; the OC counterposes the burning questions of our movement to party building by maintaining a discrete silence, in “party building forums” encouraging revolutionaries to join “the unity trend” without any presentation of views on key problems.
The goal of Lenin’s plan for a network of revolutionaries was to “gather and organize all the revolutionary forces for a general attack upon the autocracy and for the leadership of a united struggle.” (WITBD, p. 205) Notice the significance of the words Lenin emphasizes. All the revolutionary forces and not the forces of only one region or circle; a general attack and not one narrowed by or limited to the spontaneous demands of the trade union or mass movement; and a united struggle, and not one fragmented among innumerable “leading circles”.
Which one of our party formers has gathered and organized according to these criteria? The task of winning hegemony over and uniting the scattered forces and circles of our movement has not been genuinely posed. RU claimed it had all the ”genuine” forces mobilized and OL, WVO and the “Leninist Core” follow in succession. But none have gathered and organized with a vision to match the breadth of our movement. Lines of demarcation are drawn not between Marxism-Leninism and opportunism but between circle adherents and others. The network is established on that basis. Party building tasks are reduced to circle size rather than stretching our circles to meet the demands of our tasks.
What explanation can we give for this? First and foremost, there has been the lack of a leading line. No “leading circle”, in spite of self-proclamation, has put out a stable and comprehensive line around which the scattered forces of our movement could unite and then take up the tasks actually required to fight in a protracted way for the hegemony of that line. Secondly, the low level of theoretical development of the movement as a whole has been a barrier. Confusion and vacillation persist on fundamental questions of line around which we must unite. Third there has been a lack of mutual contact and common work, a narrowness overall in our approach to organizational and political questions, and even where there is a common line there has been little effective common work.
We are to build a systematic organization of professional revolutionaries closely merged with the masses, but from the press of the party formers there has been little summing up of the experience of factory cores and nuclei or guidance on the day to day tasks of factory groups. There has been virtually no discussion of questions of inner party life both in the sense of internal organizational questions such as reporting, discipline, criticism, self-criticism, etc.– questions of guidance which can serve to draw a local collective toward a common center–nor in the sense of contact among revolutionary forces of our movement. None of them has spoken to the question of inner party publicity. Yet in his ISKRA writings, Lenin more than once emphasized the need to take up organizational problems in the press.
Nor have any of the party formed established hegemony in the task of leading a network of revolutionaries in unfolding the work of all- embracing, nationwide political agitation. In the first place, stable and consistent political agitation depends on training our cadres and the masses by means of political exposure and the exposure which have appeared in the movement press have not yet attained the thoroughness and scope covering the broad range of issues and the full analysis of class forces required for a general attack on the political power of the bourgeoisie. Lacking such political exposures we cannot have political agitation that is all-embracing and nationwide in scope as well as stable and consistent in principle.
Secondly, agitation remains basically local and regional for the overwhelming majority of our movement. Even the possibility of nationwide political agitation seems abandoned by the “Leninist Core” which is prepared to declare the party of a region. Throughout the movement the narrowness associated with local and regional work has yet to be overcome. While efforts have been made at nationwide political agitation, these remain limited an inconclusive. They do not reflect a gathering of all our forces and common political lines around busing and the ERA, for example, which ha been struggles of fundamental importance to our movement but which has not given rise to corresponding agitation. Our responses have been 1ocal. Nor have we responded to the nationwide attacks of the bourgeoisie – as for example, around the energy crisis and unemployment. The problems of narrowness and economism are revealed in the failure of our political agitation to raise the political struqgle of the proletariat for state power – as, for example, in the RCP’s support for the Sadlowski campaign which pursued trade unionist rather than communist politics.
The question of preparing the conditions for party forming is not a question of time. The process can be either fast or slow. The question is whether we address ourselves to the tasks required. It is a generation since the CPUSA degenerated into a revisionist party. If we fail to prepare the conditions for the formation of the party, we will not accomplish our goal in another generation.
The errors of the party formers on party building reflect the incomplete rupture between Marxism-Leninism and the petty bourgeois democratic trend which persists in our movement. In COLIAPSE OF THE SECOND INTERNATIONAL Lenin explains that the “European type” of development of the labor movement leads to an alliance between the intelligentsia and other sectors of the petty bourgeoisie, the liberal bourgeoisie and the labor aristocracy based on the morsels of loot obtained from Great Power privileges which fall from the table of monopoly capital into the laps of sectors of the working class and the petty bourgeoisie. The Russian form of this was Economism and its successor, Menshevism. Lenin wrote:
During the Russian Revolution, it (Menshevism) pursued tactics that objectively meant the dependence of the proletariat on the liberal bourgeoisie, and expressed petty bourgeois opportunist trends. (Lenin’s COLLECTED WORKS,v.21,p.222]
In the spontaneous upsurge of the 1960’s, such petty bourgeois opportunist trends emerged closely allied with the liberal bourgeoisie/ the labor aristocracy and the reformist Black bourgeoisie. Feigning distictness from or opposition to the ”C”PUSA, this trend was able to cover itself with the cloak of Marxism Leninism and ally itself with the developing Marxist Leninists for two reasons: first the opportunist trend came forward in the correct struggle against ultra-“left” adventurism and terrorism – an example of the truth brought forward by the Chinese comrades that the struggle against one error covers another. Second, the alliance could continue through the period where Marxist-Leninists saw their principal task as building the mass movement because this trend could cover its true colors as in Lenin’s day, with “references to the ’masses’ in order to justify opportunism.”
But as the Marxist Leninist line on the necessity of building a proletarian party of a new type began to be understood by genuine communists, and as the significance of this line began to be grasped, it meant changing the character of our work, it meant a strenuous struggle to overcome our amateurishness and backwardness and to become professional revolutionaries. As we realized the extent of our backwardness in the face of the magnitude of our tasks in all areas – theoretical, political and organizational – the ability of the petty bourgeois democratic trend to cover itself in alliance with Marxism-Leninism began to rupture. To the extent that we grasped the significance of party building as our central task, it forced a break with the methods of organization and style of work that allowed coexistence with the opportunist trend of the petty bourgeoisie to be maintained. The split in the BWC was an example of that. The effort to break with the loose, decentralized social democratic character of the organization, to break with the narrowness of its political work and to break with a limited view of its tasks brought forth an attack from movement forces in the organization who wanted things to remain as they were. They wanted party building, because there was no longer a cover without it, but they wanted it without its revolutionary content. That is the essential aspect of the Workers Congress (M-L)’s sum-up of the split in the BWC. It was in defense of the principles of orthodox Marxism Leninism on the relationship of consciousness to spontaneity, on the relationship of centralism and professionalization (Bolshevize The Ranks!) to primitiveness and playing with democracy, on the national scope of our tasks against a narrow focus on local concerns, and above all on the role of a national newspaper in relationship to undertaking the struggle for party building, that our organization was formed.
The underlying significance of the fact that in seizing on party building as our central task, our movement has been confronted with a proliferation of organizational efforts at party declaring rather than planned conscious efforts at preparing the conditions for the “formation of a party, means that the rupture between Marxism Leninism and the petty bourgeois democratic trend has been incomplete. The tendency in our movement to follow the line of least resistance even on our central task, to bow to spontaneity even on party building, to proceed without plan, program or a gathering of forces – all this reflects the persistence of a liberal petty bourgeois opportunist trend in our midst that would, a Lenin teaches, cast away the living soul of Marxism.
Our own contributions to these errors have been as serious as any and we can only advance the slogan “prepare the conditions” on the basis of a self-criticism. As much as any organization the BWC justified the notion that party forming could be accomplished without preparation of the conditions. Above all this characterized the effort of the BWC to whip honest forces into motion around the bankrupt line and program of the Communist League’s (CL) National Continuations Committee (NCC). Not only did we call for forces in our movement to join the NCC in the face of open contradiction of the line of the CL and the international line of Marxists Leninists led by the Communist Party of China, as well as CL’s open conciliation with Soviet revisionism, but after joining the NCC the BWC declared that there was only one road to the Party and that was to join CL in a party congress in September of that year (1974). There was no question here of a demarcation of trends – no demarcation on modern revisionism, the most fundamental question; no question of gathering a network – the Continuations Committee had done it; and no question of all-embracing nationwide political agitation. Presumably such matters would be resolved after the party congress.
Objectively the BWC’s role in this was to lend the neo-revisionist forces of the CL a legitimacy and influence in our movement that they had never earned and readily lost. In addition, the BWC’s decision compromised the good contributions the organization had made to the struggle against the Revolutionary Union (R.U.) on the Black National Question and around Party Building. Most important it contributed to the notion that we could have a party soon and easy.
This error reflected the serious ideological weaknesses of the BWC leadership and its organizational instability. No sooner had the line that party building is the central task been grasped than we were supposed to have a party. Movement “hype” was substituted for recourse to the science that would deepen our understanding of the conditions that needed to be prepared and on that basis further our grasp of the line through its application in practice.
The state of affairs surrounding the BWC’s error of joining the NCC was bound to lead to confusion and demoralization and, after the break with CL, directly precipitated the split in the BWC. The decision to join the NCC had fatally compromised the BWC’s efforts, correctly charted, to deepen the line on party building by taking up the task of bolshevizing the organization.
The WC(ML) was a product of the split in the BWC. We fought for and defended the tasks of bolshevization, but made the error of justifying the decision of the BWC to join the NCC. The confusion which had resulted from the BWC’s motion on the question let loose a resurgence of longstanding social democratic tendencies. Forces arose which sought not only to repudiate the error made regarding the NCC, but also the gains which had been made in the struggle around party building. These forces came forward to liquidate the organization’s efforts to establish a national center, to perpetuate the autonomy of the local districts, to liquidate THE COMMUNIST and get back to building the mass movement. They sought to perpetuate the former character of the organization. A basic cover for this retrograde offensive was an attack on the decision to join the NCC as a “left” error. The WC (ML) was founded in a repudiation of this attack on all fronts and a defense of the positive gains that had been made in the struggle against economism, liberalism, petty bourgeois democracy and other manifestations of bowing to spontaneity which carry the seeds of revisionism and opportunism in our ranks. We correctly repudiated the proposition that tailing CL was a “left” error because we had joined “too quickly” (thereby “skipping stages”) and insisted on a political evaluation of the essentially right opportunist character of CL’s line, above all its conciliation with revisionism. But we went further. Instead of exposing the errors of the opportunists and exposing how they attacked the decision to join the NCC only to cover their own opportunism, we justified the decision to join. This position on our part fundamentally undermined our ability to deepen the correct aspects of our line on party building. Instead of focusing on the necessity to prepare the conditions for a Marxist Leninist party and the need to dig in to accomplish that work – a task that was called for by the ISKRA plan – we put forward a line that negated the necessity to prepare the conditions and perpetuated the tendency to bow to spontaneity on our central task. It substituted the hasty search for a party congress or organizing committee for the struggle to prepare the conditions. We wrote:
We think it was our revolutionary duty to join the NCC and fight within it for Marxism-Leninism. We think that during this period we are under a duty to join in virtually any call under the banner of Marxism Leninism Mao Tsetung Thought to prepare a Party Congress, We should join every such call in order to struggle for line and to win honest comrades in the movement to genuine Marxism Leninism.
As if we would promote struggle for “honest” comrades by covering over the tasks required to prepare our movement for the formation of a party! As if we could treat so lightly the decision to call a party congress! By saying that we should join any and all party building efforts regardless of their essence, we fostered a spirit of tailing behind anyone with the relative organizational strength to call a conference or a party. This approach led to going along to see what happens rather than consciously charting a course based on historical and dialectical materialism and pursuing it consciously without wavering. It encouraged comrades in our own organization to look for where the action was, perpetuating the notion that the party was just a step away rather than pointing to the necessity for every comrade to develop his independent bearings and ability to contribute to and evaluate the struggle to prepare the conditions.
The error itself was clearly the most flabby sort of petty bourgeois liberalism. We didn’t need to decide whether joining the NCC or any other party forming motion was right or wrong because our duty was to join any such call. Its source was our own failure to insist on and carry out in a thorough way the rupture between Marxism Leninism and the petty bourgeois opportunist trend masquerading as Marxism Leninism.
The error also compromised our ability to give guidance and leadership around the party building motion of the RCP and around the OL/ OC where there was vacillation and wavering in the ranks of leadership based on our failure to apply a systematic method of evaluation which looks first to whether the cloth had been measured before we decide to cut. The question is based on scientific criteria and we hesitated in taking up the science. Thus, although we correctly identified the fundamental errors in OL’s original plan (see THE COMMUNIST, v. II, no. 4, 1975), we remained trapped by the proposition that we must join any call.
Most important, the notion that we should join any call weakened our grasp on the development of the ISKRA plan. While the experience of Lenin’s ISKRA to which we appealed was nothing if it was not a plan to prepare the conditions for the formation of the party, our ability to apply that line came into conflict with the line that we would join any call. The undercurrent of that line conflicted with the correct course we had charted. We did not grasp firmly enough the main link – a single, common nationwide newspaper of the ISKPA type as a means to gather the resources of the Leninist trend of our movement, to draw clear lines of demarcation and to organize a network of agents’ capable of giving revolutionary direction to all-embracing, nationwide political agitation.
Our revolutionary party will be measured – as any Marxist Leninist party – by its ability to teach on the basis of its mistakes. Our movement will be measured by its ability to repudiate the party forming efforts which are now reducing party building to circle size and by its ability to take up instead in the disciplined spirit of revolutionary Marxism the task of preparing thoroughly the conditions for establishing a party to lead all the revolutionary forces of the US for a general attack on the monopoly capitalist state in a united struggle.
PREPARE THE CONDITIONS!