Against the Circle Spirit
Published: The Communist, Vol. II, No. 11, August 28, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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One of the most serious obstacles to party building in our movement is the persistence of the local circle spirit in our ranks. This social democratic tendency is a product of the history of our movement, its class composition and the powerful influence of economism and the worship of the spontaneous movement, and our failure to rigorously apply the orthodox science of Marxism-Leninism. In Lenin’s writings from the Iskra period Lenin emphasized how fragmentation hinders our work. Listen to what he says in WHAT IS TO BE DONE:
All without exception now talk of the importance of unity, of the necessity for gathering and organizing; but in the majority of cases what is lacking is a definite idea of where to begin and how to bring about this unity. Probably all will agree that if we ’unite’, say the district circles in a given town, it will be necessary to have for this purpose common institutions...genuinely common work, exchange of material, experience, and forces, distribution of functions, not only by districts, but through specialization on a town-wide scale. ...the same thing applies to the co-ordination of activities of a number of towns, since even a specific locality will be and, in the history of our Social Democratic movement, has proved to be, far too narrow a field; ...What we require foremost and imperatively is to broaden the field - establish real contacts between the towns on the basis of regular, common, work; for fragmentation weighs down on the people and they are ’stuck in a hole’... not knowing what is happening in the world, from whom to learn, or how to acquire experience and satisfy their desire to engage in broad activities. I continue to insist that we can start establishing real contacts only with the aid of a common newspaper, as the only regular, all Russia enterprise, one which will summarize the results of the most diverse forms of activity and thereby stimulate people to march toward untiringly along all the innumerable paths leading to revolution, in the same way as all roads lead to Rome. WHAT IS TO BE DONE pp. 206-7.
In struggling to guide our organization based on the principles advanced by Lenin, particularly in ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK, we have had to wage, and continue to wage a sharp struggle against the spirit of the circle, the spirit of factionalism, fear of centralized leadership, disregard for discipline, and the failure to struggle for unity in building M-L organization and the Party.
One of the most consolidated expression of this tendency in our movement is the Revolutionary Wing. Lenin says our backwardness is one thing if we recognize it and struggle consciously to overcome it, where it is quite another thing to justify and perpetuate it as does the Wing. It is this tendency and its various aspects that we will take up in this polemic. Before we go any further let us point out that we do not discount the common history of struggle we share with the comrades in PRRWO, nor the unity we have on some of the basic formulations concerning the defence of orthodox Marxism-Leninism, and party building. But this tendency of local circle spirit within our movement weighs us down and denies us the revolutionary sweep and practicalness that we must have to win the vanguard of the mighty proletariat in this country to communism and to join with us in forging a Bolshevik party. As this kind of trend develops, it serves to blunt and disrupt the sharp and protracted struggle we must wage against right opportunism in all its forms, in the course of forging a genuine vanguard party. Like any form of opportunism, it serves the bourgeoisie within our ranks. This ideology must be soundly defeated and purged from out midst as we win honest comrades who are temporarily confused to the side of Marxism-Leninism.
The clearest and most important example of the Wing bowing to and perpetuating the backward aspects of our movement is its failure to hit “head on” the fragmented character of our movement. In “Party Building in the Heat of the Class Struggle,” p.41, they point to the problem, speaking of “Our conditions – that is, the fragmentation of groups, collectives, etc. –provide a basis for factionalism, small groupism to develop within the party, which will provide the ground for the bourgeoisie to corrode the party from within.” That is a fine and correct observation, but what practical plan do they put forward to overcome this situation? Listen to what they say, “By the end of the year, most of the organizations in the Revolutionary Wing will have a national newspaper. Let’s unite on a division of labor which, of course, must be guided by a centralized plan. “Party Building in the Heat of Class Struggle”(PBHCS) p. 40. There you have it. Not only do they bow to the backward state of affairs but they call on their Wing to perpetuate it guaranteeing that even the organization(s) that they share unity with can maintain and sustain their regional and fragmented character guaranteeing, as they say in the preceding sentence, “We will continue to be narrow in our scope because our line is not developed sufficiently to reach advanced elements even in places where there is not significant communist presence, like in the Southern U.S.” This call to build “many newspapers”, from what we read is the only practical “Plan” advanced by the Wing. It is a clear perpetuation of the local circle spirit and fragmented character of our movement when in fact vanguard organizations must begin to advance plans to overcome this fragmentation and amateurishness. This bowing to the backward character of our movement by the Wing is why we say they are “stuck in a hole.”
The WC(M-L) since its beginning has insisted that our movement struggle for ideological unity and we have upheld the powerful weapon of an Iskra type newspaper in accomplishing this. We have struggled for the Leninist trend to unite to build a common newspaper which Would enable us to develop common propaganda, pool the resources of our trend, centralize the leadership of our trend, and enable our trend to establish the hegemony of orthodox Leninism and defeat economism.
THE COMMUNIST is written as an instrument to achieve that goal. Our objective is one newspaper that represents and consolidates the unity of the Leninist trend, not the proliferation of many “Iskra” type newspapers, and the perpetuation of the local circle spirit and fragmentation that still drags on our movement like a ball and chain. In order to facilitate this development we will struggle with the various organizations in our movement to have more exchange of papers and publications, to take up correspondence over various issues, with the objective of developing a common ideological view of the burning questions of our movement and where possible developing a common editorial policy. This can serve as one tool to strengthen the ideological unity of our movement and to lay the basis for organizational unity and the forging of a genuine party based on a revolutionary program. It is the responsibility of Marxist Leninists to advance, fight for and unite around a plan to gather the forces and resources of our movement and in a step by step way forge them into one centralized vanguard party. Despite all its phrasemongering on bolshevizing, the Wing advances their “plan” which serves to perpetuate the backward primitive character of our movement.
The Wing upholds that propaganda is the chief form of activity in this period, but in practice they narrow and belittle our tasks. In this period of winning the vanguard to communism and forging a party, we must take propaganda to the working class in every way possible to defeat revisionism and opportunism in all its forms, winning a complete ideological and political victory over these alien influences on the vanguard of the proletariat In order to do this we must confront the tasks of revolution in the U.S. and a major aspect of our propaganda must be developing communist policies and analysis of the events affecting the working and oppressed masses–the need of topical political exposures. This is the “essential and fundamental condition for training the masses in revolutionary activity”. (WHAT IS TO BE DONE) But this is not what these forces mean when they say “political line is key”. For the Wing, working out political line has very little to do with topical political exposures despite PRRWO stating that “cadres must be trained to do political exposures”(p. 49 PBHCS) These exposures, along with the other forms of our propaganda such as summations of practice, polemics, etc. are a vital tool in winning the advanced, taking this propaganda into the plants and exposing the nature of capitalist society and developing and showing our leadership in advancing a communist policy of struggle. Their newspapers, or now PALANTE, grow weaker and weaker in this regard with the latest (Vol. 6, no. 6) sounding like defensive personal messages to their “Menshevik” opponents rather than scientific polemics, along with a few reprints from “Peking Review”.
Their practice regarding propaganda, reflects the basic underlying errors of subjectivism and empiricism. Mao says, “In approaching a problem a Marxist should see the whole as well as the parts. A frog in a well says, “The sky is no bigger than the mouth of the well”. (SW, v. l, p 159). Increasingly the Wing in failing to take up the writing of topical political exposures and the broader tasks of propaganda, stay isolated within their own little world. They do not try to transcend their own narrow framework by training themselves and those who read their papers but instead justify their own backwardness. Not only does this fail to meet the standards advanced by Lenin and Stalin regarding our building a party, but it also corrodes or retards the ability of the comrades themselves to gain their bearings politically, in spite of all their talk that political line is key. This couldn’t be clearer than in their line on the democratic strugqles, such as busing and the Equal Rights Amendment.
In belittling the struggle for democratic rights, the Wing has further exposed its tendency to bow to the backward aspects of our movement as well an demonstrating the dangers of failing to transcend their spirit of local autonomy, isolation, empiricism and subjectivity. In looking at their motion we can see how a left form can emerge out of a basically right error. In the first place they bow to their isolation and primitiveness, covering it with all sorts of militant left sounding rhetoric. Listen to revolutionary Workers League (RWL) in its organ BOLSHEVIK, p-23, “Comrades, the question of whether to support the ERA or not will be of little importance in a year or two” – and this comes after they acknowledge and bow to their “limited” ability to develop lines on these issues!
But then of course they do take a line which ironically tails the RCP and WVO stating that “bourgeois reactionary reforms such as the ERA, (and) forced busing, are designed to take away already existing rights of women and divide the working class, as well as to channel the struggle of working class women and oppressed nationalities away from revolution and into bourgeois reform.” (PALANTE, v. 6, #6) If they had done some work and investigation, they would have perhaps grasped Lenin’s line on this question. He says, “The Marxist solution of the problem of democracy is for the proletariat to utilize all democratic institutions and aspirations in the class struggle against the bourgeoisie in order to prepare for the overthrow and assure its own victory. He goes on to add “that, to ’fight opportunism’ by renouncing utilisation of the democratic institutions created and distorted by the bourgeoisie of the given capitalist society is to completely surrender to opportunism.” (LCW, v.23, p. 26)
As PRRWO can remember, it was these kinds of issues like the democratic struggle of the Afro American Nation and debate over seemingly limited things like slogans that sparked the struggle that exposed the revisionist line of the RU on the national question and served to raise significantly the theoretical level of our movement.
Another manifestation the Wing’s perpetuation of fragmentation and small circle autonomy is their capitulation to narrow nationalism. This is particularly manifested in PRRWO as seen in their line on busing (See THE COMMUNIST, Vol. 1, no, 9) and in matters of organization. As one of the organizations that had their roots in national form of organization, PRRWO continues to uphold this national form seen in holding onto their name Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization. Despite all the claims of bolshevization, they cling to this identity. Our movement must make every effort to wipe out the narrowness that characterized our ranks for so long including narrow nationalism. We must uphold the standards of the party. As Stalin writes in ANARCHISM OR SOCIALISM, “....This party must be an international party; the doors of the party must be open to every class conscious proletarian. ..From this it is clear that the more closely the proletarians of the various nations stand together, the more thorough going the destruction of the national walls which have been erected between them, the stronger will be the party of the proletariat, the easier it will be to organize the proletariat into one indivisive class.”
PRRWO arose from the struggles of a national minority located in one region. In itself, this is a good thing. What is wrong is to continue to cling to and justify this narrow, local form and to fail to transcend it and develop communist scope and perspective. To continue this error represents bowing to the spontaneous movement of the oppressed nationalities and to the backward, social democratic features within our movement.
By now the Wing’s phony attack on “organization is key”, has been exposed as nothing but an ideological cover for their own opportunist organizational practice of forming an unprincipled alliance which is not based on the struggle for ideological and political unity or tempered by criticism and self-criticism.
This liberalism and failure to put politics in command is part and parcel of a tendency which encourages local circle autonomy. This developed tendency of opportunism in organizational affairs has been a consistent trait with PRRWO in the last period. It was true in their relations with RU, CL, WVO, the Bloc, ATM, etc.
The formation of the Wing itself began on the basis of these unprincipled kinds of alliances, characteristic of bourgeois politics. For instance, PRRWO has now discovered that WVO is a band of “traitors”. But what is different today about WVO’s line and practice than it was last year when you both announced your “Wing”? WVO came out with its “premises” in May of 1975, and has pursued a consistent line. In PRRWO’s pamphlet, “Party Building in the Heat of the Class Struggle”, of Feb. 1976, they tell us that while they have criticisms of right errors by WVO, that WVO has “been leading the struggle against OL and ”We do believe firmly that our comrades of the WVO are honest and will repudiate the positions that are not in the interests of the proletarian revolution and will move forward.”
Then two months later in PALANTE they write, “In fighting against the party, the OL and WVO are no different than the Triangle Shirtwaist factory boss who locked the doors to prevent any kind of job action by workers. OL and WVO and all Mensheviks are trying to put a dagger in the heart of the party – this is their reason.” From gallant leaders in the struggle against opportunism to traitors overnight. It seems that a little M-L cement of politics in command would have prevented a few of those feathers from falling off and, leaving the bones behind.
The unprincipled alliance not based on ideological unity in addition to a “plan” which promotes and justifies these kind of alliances and autonomy spell opportunism in matters of organization.
We have also witnessed a similar policy in the way the wing has stood in regards to groups who they “differ” with or place in the “opportunist wing”, such as ourselves. As in the unity they have “forged” with various forces, we see a failure to investigate or to pursue struggle in a Leninist fashion. In the first place, when the split took place in the BWC, which was the birth of the WC(M-L), MLOC, RWC, and the Revolutionary Bloc, PRRWO united with the Revolutionary Bloc who they called, “honest and down to build the party”, and “represented the most correct stand in the BWC split”. (HCS p. 37)
This so called “Revolutionary Bloc” was formed when two members of the Bloc along with a supporter resigned from a leading body of 5 people, which began the split in the BWC. They then whined about how they were supposedly bullied by the other two. Normally we would expect Marxist-Leninists to exercise their majority over the minority, but this was not the case with the “Bloc” who instead defended a line of capitulation and demoralization as well as attacking the basic principles of forming a Leninist party such as the chief role of propaganda, centralized organization, winning the advanced, etc.
The failure of the “Bloc” to ever put forward its views in writing and in public is a testament to the contradictions between those views and Marxism -Leninism. The same reason applies to PRRWO and their failure to put forward the paper on the BWC split that they have promised to do twice in writing! (Check it out on pp.48 and 90 in HCS).
The wing constantly raises its insistence on the role of polemics and criticism-self-criticism. Twice the WC (M-L) has taken up PRRWO’s line in comradely polemics: once on their stand on busing (vol. 1, #9 in June of 1975 and on their general line in vol. 2 #6, THE COMMUNIST) and never has there been a response. Also their analysis has changed from characterizing us as first “left” and then “right” with no explanation. This unprincipled method of struggle can only serve to encourage slavishness among cadre and supporters and serve to split and disrupt the movement, and is characteristic of the bourgeois kind of politics that we must leave behind with the forging of a genuine party.
Another example of the same unprincipled attitude is their placing the RCP outside of the communist movement. While we certainly do not recognize the RCP as a vanguard party, and will continue the struggle against their contributions to the consolidation of opportunism in our movement, we still consider them part of the movement because of their opposition to modern revisionism, their stand on class struggle up to the dictatorship of the proletariat, and their stand on Marxism-Leninism-Mao-tseTung-Thought.
The Wing’s failure to put politics in command in their struggle within our movement flows from the local circle spirit which means that they want to perpetuate their circles at all cost – even the sacrifice of M-L principles.
It is important to comment on the Wing’s formulation that party building is their only task. If communists fail to link themselves firmly with the working and oppressed masses and fail to take up their spontaneous struggles giving them a planned conscious character, they will fail in winning the vanguard of the class to communism and welding them into a conscious core. For example, in the trade unions we must take the lead of the struggle to expel the traitors and bring the unions under revolutionary leadership. In doing so, communists must lead the spontaneous struggle for the contracts, for democracy within the union, etc. At all times our central task is party building, – but to see our task only as party building would represent a failure to distinguish between the masses and the party and in its opportunist form would result in seeing every striker as a party member, or in its “left” form would lead to isolation from that struggle.
The Wing has made a “left” error on this matter in relation to African Liberation Support Committee, They wanted ALSC to adopt party building as the central task. That is incorrect. The main job of mass organizations like ALSC should be to build mass support for the struggle of the Third World against the two superpowers. We work within them to contribute to that effort and to lead it. It is the same with organizations struggling for women’s rights. We take up this work in both examples and in others like them because it contributes to the cause of revolution.
Without a doubt in the course of that work, we strive to win the advanced elements to communism. If you do not go to where the masses are you cannot win the advanced. Within those organizations, lines of demarcation will also be drawn, such as around the ERA, but the purpose of mass organizations is to build the struggle of the masses. That work is not our main task in this period, but neither do we belittle or neglect it or distort it by saying our “only” task is party building. Such a line about our “only” task is one of pure metaphysics and idealism «of the outraged petty bourgeois intellectual.
In sum, we feel the Wing is pursuing an opportunist line on party building, which despite all the phrasemongering, stands exposed in line and in practice as one which perpetuates small circle autonomy and stands in the way of forging a genuine vanguard party. Complimenting this line are consistent stands and policies which bow to backwardness in our movement such as sectarianism, narrow nationalism, narrowing the scope of propaganda, and departing from the Leninist method, and a belittlement of the struggle for democratic rights by women, oppressed nations, and the masses of oppressed and exploited people.
We call on the Wing to repudiate its errors and unite on the principles that we share and to join in the struggle for the principled unity that the proletariat and oppressed masses who are rising in struggle demand, forged in a genuine vanguard communist party.