Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Barbara Miner

950 Hear Guardian Editor on U.S. Left


First Published: The Guardian, June 16, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The international line of the U.S. left is obviously a topic of great interest for Marxist-Leninists.

Some 950 people–Guardian readers and supporters and members of various organizations–showed up at New York City’s Washington Irving High School June 4 to hear executive editor Irwin Silber put forward the Guardian’s views on the subject.

The setting for the meeting was the two lines that have developed within the Marxist-Leninist movement over the question of against whom to strike the main blow–U.S. imperialism or Soviet hegemonism.

The Guardian called the meeting, largest of its kind in New York in well over a year, to argue emphatically that the main blow must be directed at U.S. imperialism. By and large, the diverse audience–including many third world people–was in agreement.

This was evident from the beginning when managing editor Jack A. Smith was greeted with loud and enthusiastic applause for stating that the principal contradiction in Angola was between U.S. imperialism and the aspirations of the people for national liberation, led by the MPLA, and for saluting the “heroic Cuban volunteers who came to the assistance of the Angolan people.”

Guardian news editor Karen Gellen, who chaired the gathering, set the overall context for the evening. She explained that resolving the international line of the U.S. left is a crucial step in a key task–”that of building a new communist party in this country.” It was a theme Silber elaborated on throughout the night.

“We are here for a very frank talk among people who consider themselves anti-imperialists and revolutionaries,” began Silber. “In the U.S. today there is no revolutionary party of the working class that can give leadership to the struggle. ... So our discussion is in the context of what must be the political assumptions that will unite those who want to make revolution. . . .

“What we are witnessing is really a fruition of certain differences which may at first have seemed relatively minor or tactical, but which now reflect the existence of a fundamentally different view of the principal task facing revolutionaries in the U.S. and throughout the world.”

Silber then laid out the three principal factors that have to be considered in making an analysis of the world situation: the fact that U.S. imperialism is ”still the single most powerful, oppressive and exploiting force in the world,” the hegemonic interests of the Soviet Union and the revolutionary power of the third world.

Rejecting a “Marxist version of papal infallibility,” Silber stressed that U.S. Marxist-Leninists must analyze these factors for themselves and not blindly follow any other party. In order to truly learn from the experience of other countries, he said, “It is not merely enough to be acquainted with it, or simply to transcribe the latest resolutions. What it requires is the ability to treat this experience critically and to test it independently.”

In response to a later question from the floor stating the Guardian was using its plea for independence of the U.S. left as a “cover” for attacking China’s foreign policy, Silber replied:

CLASS COLLABORATION

“This has not been a disguised attack on China. It has been a very blunt attack on the political line of certain U.S. left organizations. . . . China will take responsibility for what it says. But we have to take responsibility for what we say. We’re in the same movement, in the same country. . . . That’s why we direct our fire at those in our own movement who we think are making a very serious class-collaborationist error.’’

Silber then outlined the three general lines that exist on the principal task of revolutionaries: detente and peaceful coexistence; the struggle against U.S. imperialism; the struggle against Soviet social imperialism.

“In the past, this [last] position has seen the struggle against both the Soviet Union and the U.S. as a unified principal task. ... In all candor we have to recognize that today the position is that the main blow should be struck, must be struck, at Soviet social imperialism.”

Emphasizing that “we cannot escape the implications of this line,” Silber delivered a lengthy critique of the position of some U.S. Marxist-Leninists–particularly the October League–on Angola, Puerto Rico and other national liberation struggles.

“At this very moment, when the life of Angola remains at stake, what do some revolutionaries have to say?” Silber asked. “The October League calls for ’worldwide protests with a thundering denunciation of the jailings and threatened executions of ’patriots and revolutionary fighters’ in Angola because the MPLA government is taking measures to see to it that all kinds of left adventurers and petty-bourgeois elements do not upset the situation in Angola at this moment.

“The October League, which has never raised its voice in protest at the jailings and execution of patriots by the Shah of Iran, is calling for worldwide, thunderous protests against the jailings in Angola. And that’s supposed to be proletarian internationalism.

“Angola will come again,” continued Silber. “It is bound to. The struggles of the peoples of the world against U.S. imperialism are unfolding more and more rapidly. The dominoes are falling. We have to determine whether we are going to be props of those dominoes or whether we are going to help in toppling more of them.”

Silber went on to bring the case much closer to home and referred to the Revolutionary Communist Party’s (RCP) analysis of Cuba.

“At the very moment when Henry Kissinger and Gerald Ford were threatening a military attack on Cuba, that week is when the RCP decided it was time to expose Cuba as being a satellite and puppet and colony of the Soviet Union. . . . This organization took eight pages to prove that Cuba is a colony of the Soviet Union. They’ve never taken four pages to prove to the American people that Puerto Rico is a colony of the U.S.”

“One could go on and on–that’s the unfortunate thing. ... In England there is a party of Marxist-Leninists which has just come out with a position calling for the restoration of compulsory conscription to the English armed forces so that England may be defended from the threat of Soviet social imperialists. Where does it all lead? Will it wind up with an endorsement of Ronald Reagan? . . . Should we go out and raise money for Radio Free Europe?...

“We have to note the irony,” said Silber. “A movement born out of the struggle against U.S. imperialism and against revisionism–against class collaboration–at least one section of that movement now stands in peril of undertaking class collaboration in a left guise and of becoming apologists for U.S. imperialism. That is the danger.”

Silber also stressed the danger of Soviet national chauvinism. But one does not guard against this danger by witholding support from genuine liberation movements because they happen to receive Soviet aid, he said. “It is only through a broad front of support that we can help people guarantee their hard-won independence.”

CAPITALIST RESTORATION

In the brief but sharp question and answer period that followed Silber’s talk, the queries largely centered around the Guardian’s analysis of the Soviet Union. In response to these questions Silber answered:

“What has happened in the Soviet Union has been the emergence of a class of managers, party bureaucrats, military people who effectively control the state institutions, the means of production. . . . We think that’s true. We think it corresponds to reality.

“It was not just some quirk that compelled us to put some qualification when we ran Martin Nicolaus’ series [on the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union.] We said that in our view, while there is much evidence demonstrating that the Soviet Union has gone down the road of capitalism, we are not convinced on the basis of the evidence that this process has been completed or that capitalism has been fully restored and consolidated in the Soviet Union.

“We have a lot of questions, questions having to do with the following:
The problems of the lack of private ownership of the means of production.
The question of production for private profit. Has it replaced completely or in the main production for social needs?
The question of unemployment. Because as Marxists, we understand that a reserve army of labor is indispensable as part of the process of capitalist production. Yet all of the evidence seems to indicate that there is, if anything, a labor shortage in the Soviet Union.
The question of the appearance of the cycles of economic crisis and whether or not the Soviet economy is fundamentally a market economy. Has anybody demonstrated yet how the law of the falling rate of profit operates in Soviet capitalism?
Has anybody been able to effectively demonstrate that typical capitalist chaos and planlessness–in which all enterprises follow the dollar or the ruble as the case may be–is now the dominant trend?
Has it been demonstrated that the export of capital is a compulsion that flows inexorably out of the Soviet system?
Has it been demonstrated that this Soviet class which has taken effective control of the state institutions has been able to conduct the kind of necessary transformation in the superstructure, in the legal and juridical structure, that would correspond to a capitalist economic base? Has it been able to restore the inheritance of social property?

“. . . . These are serious questions . . . and there are, as we have demonstrated tonight, some very serious implications to the conclusion.”

THE NEED FOR A PARTY

In concluding the night’s discussion, Silber again emphasized that the general purpose of the meeting was to further the process of building a new communist party in the U.S.

“A lot of the questions that we are debating here tonight unfortunately stay somewhat in the realm of debate so long as we do not have a revolutionary party that will give guidance and leadership to our movement,” Silber noted.

“In closing, I would like to repeat with the utmost seriousness that we think that the central task confronting all revolutionaries and Marxist-Leninists in the U.S. continues to be the creation of a new communist party. It is our hope that this discussion and debate tonight made some contribution to clarifying some of the questions that must be resolved in developing the political line of that party, most particularly, its international line.

“It is clear, at this point at least, that the different tendencies expressed here tonight are irreconcilable. It means that each tendency will have to find organizational form and test its line in practice. Therefore, it is a challenge to you sitting here–those of you who applauded at the appropriate moments here tonight–that you too have to take part in that organizational process. That is the only thing that will give concrete meaning to a political point of view. That is your challenge. That is what we would like to leave you with.”