Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Boston Organizing Committee

Forging a Ideological Center

First Issued: November 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Our contribution to working out a clear line of development for the tendency will consist of several parts.
1. Introduction,
2. Responses to the Five Questions Put by the Committee of Five,
3. A Comment on the Iskra Period,
4. A Criticism of the Committee of Five.


Let us say at the start that we agree with the main features of the draft proposal put forward by the PWOC, DMLO, PSO, and SUB. We would characterize these as:
1. The recognition of the development of two wings in the party building movement. A consolidated ultra-left wing which exercises hegemony in the movement, and an embryonic, but developing, anti-ultra-left wing.
2. The identification of theoretical struggle as the key link in advancing the development of the Marxist-Leninist wing.
3. The specification of the nature of our theoretical tasks in this period as the independent elaboration of Marxism-Leninism for the specific conditions of the US. In short, a concrete Marxist-Leninist political line which addresses the actual problems of the revolutionary movement in the US.
4. The identification of the main forms of opportunism which, from opposite poles, threaten this independent elaboration. Revisionism on the one hand, which belittles the general principles of Marxism-Leninism, And dogmatism on the other, which belittles the role of concrete conditions in the struggle for correct political line. Further, a recognition that the theoretical struggle cannot be successfully waged without a simultaneous struggle against these forms of opportunism.
5. A clear recognition that organisational unity is dependent on and must be built on the basis of political unity. Particularly in this period, when the struggle for theoretical clarity is primary, organizational form which is in advance of the political unity which is its content, can only retard the theoretical struggle by obscuring essential differences and thereby hindering their elimination. Specifically, the recognition that sufficient political unity does not exist at present to build a national organization.
6. The strategic goal of building a leading ideological center as the instrument for advancing the theoretical struggle.

We would like to thank El Comite for their response to the draft proposal. Although we disagree, with their conclusions and support the draft proposal, many of the concerns that they raise are quite valid and significantly influenced our thinking on a number of valid points, especially on the kind and degree of centralism which is appropriate in this period and the attention which should be payed to local organisational development. El Comite’s general concern about advancing to organizational forms which outstrip the objective conditions is particularly well justified in view of the recent history of the party building movement. We should pay careful attention to it.

Responses to the Five Questions Put by the Committee of Five

1. What should the relationship of national work to local work be in this period?

All-sided national work can only take place within a national organization. Our tasks in this period should be devoted to laying the foundation for a national pre-party organization. And the fundamental requirement for a national pre-party organization is solid unity around a political program. This political program must satisfy two requirements. First, it must be deep enough to ensure real unity and therefore allow the form of democratic centralism which is appropriate to a national pre-party organization to function in a way that advances the development of the trend rather than hinders it. Second, it must be preliminary and tentative enough to correspond to the very real limitations on the development of program which are imposed by the low level of development of the class struggle and the meagre influence of the tendency’s forces on that struggle.

Recognizing that our work in this period should be devoted to laying the foundation for a national pro-party organization, and the central role of political line to this, defines our key task in this period – advancing the theoretical struggle, the struggle to unite the universals of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete reality of the revolutionary movement in the US. It is only on the basis of a qualitative advance in the theoretical struggle that we can elaborate the political lines which can weld the various local organizations into a higher organizational form.

The elaboration of a program will develop along with the local work of the center’s adherents. As the elaboration of political line develops, it will certainly spur the development of local work. This local experience must be summed up and reported on to the center and win influence the further refinement and development of political line. (The need for local organizations to sum up their work and systematically report on it will itself spur the development of Marxist-Leninist methods of work by local organizations.) Since a leading ideological center is not a democratic centralist organization with firm discipline, there will no doubt be uneven and incorrect application of the programmatic leadership of the center, even when that leadership is accepted, and relatively unsystematic reporting. The ability of local organizations to adequately sum up their work is probably also very limited at this point. All this will mean that the interaction of theory and practice will be far from perfect.

Establishing a really firm link between theory and practice on the national level will have to wail; until we can novo to a higher organizational form. But the interaction, as tenuous as it no doubt will be, is vital for keeping our developing theory grounded in the reality of the US class struggle – looked at from a national perspective.

There is another important way in which we see national leadership being brought to bear on local work. Theory cannot be put into practice unless there is organization to implement that theory. Many if not most, of the potential adherents of a center are very primitive organizationally. We’re speaking here of such matters as leadership functioning, cell structure, cadre development, and division of labor. A national center should address these questions and develop the means by which the knowledge and experience of the tendency can be brought to bear in helping local organizations advance as rapidly as possible in their organizational development.

Concretely, we would suggest that the center should select one or two of its members with particular organizational knowledge, talent, and experience who can do a fair amount of traveling, spending some time with various organizations, going over their particular problems, and advising them. The center should also see that organizational questions are seriously taken up in the journal and at conferences, sponsored by the center.

We should add that it should not be forgotten that organization only implements – politics is key. Theoretical clarity around Marxist-Leninist line is the primary aspect of the development of local organizations into effective communist participants in the class struggle. Speaking from our own experience, we can say that an important factor in forming the BOC into a coherent organization which was capable of beginning seriously to enter the class struggle was the availability of the PWOC’s theoretical work on the trade unions.

The center should continue to sponsor the kind of conferences which were initiated by the Committee of Five on various aspects of our work, A major effort should be made however to raise the theoretical level of the conferences on practical work by attempting to place discussion within the framework of key theoretical questions facing the tendency. We must raise “experience sharing” to the theoretical level.

There is one additional way in which we see the leadership of the tendency being brought to bear on local work. Building the multi-national unity of the tendency must be a crucial concern, A national center must address this question not only at the theoretical and programmatic level, but must address the concrete problems that local organizations face in becoming multi-national organizations – in struggling against their own racism and, in many cases, in developing solid anti-racist practice without the benefit of national minority members in their organizations.

2. Can there be a leading ideological center which is not a party?

We see no reason at all why a leading ideological center must be a party. The experience of Iskra is a concrete historical case in point. We do not accept the arguments that the RSDLP was in fact “a party”.

In fact, without a leading ideological center we condemn the tendency either to the spontaneous development of unity, or to unity through “organizational hegemonism”.

3. Under what conditions would it he correct to establish such a center?

(a) First and foremost, there needs to be solid clarity and unity on the goals, tasks, and nature of the proposed center among the forces that are committed to building it. It is on the basis of this unity that, at least initially, the center will be bound to its adherents.

In this regard, we do not feel that the present level of unity is sufficient. The lack of clarity on principle 15 at the August meeting is an indication of the confusion that presently exists on the nature of the tendency, the key link in moving it forward, and the obstacles it faces. Without a high level of unity and clarity on these questions, establishing a leading ideological center would be premature. It would lead either to a center which would be doomed to ineffectiveness because of confusions and divisions over what its goals and tasks should be, or a center that was relatively united cut whose “adherents” didn’t know what they were adhering to.

Without this unity the formation would be crippled in two other respects. First, it would not be possible to make a meaningful choice of leadership without clarity on the tasks for which the leadership was being chosen. Second, it would not be possible to make an objective evaluation of who to unite with in the effort. Second, it would not be possible to make an effective evaluation of who to unite with in the effort unless it was clear what in fact the effort was. Much of the confusion over principle 18 stemmed from the way that the discussion of the leading center was separated from the discussion of the principles of unity.

As a question of party building, the correctness of principle 18 as a line of demarcation derives in large measure from the centrality of the theoretical struggle in this period, and therefore the crucial importance of guarding the center against those forms of opportunism which moot threaten advances in the theoretical struggle – dogmatism and revisionism. To be concrete, in an effort to build a center to provide leadership to the theoretical struggle, it is clear that PUL would hinder the effort. But in an effort to build a center that would merely “coordinate” the anti-ultra-left forces, there is a much less compelling reason why PUL should be excluded. In short – “unite all who can be united”. But keep in mind that “can be” depends very much on what you’re uniting for.

Of course, this paper and the present discussion are devoted precisely to clarifying and uniting people around a view of the goals, tasks, and nature of a center. We would only caution that this discussion should be carried through deeply before we attempt to move forward. As part of this discussion we should reach unity on the original version of principle 15. In our opinion, if we can’t reach unity on the main danger facing the tendency, we don’t have sufficient unity on the nature of our tasks in this period to launch a leading ideological center.

(b) In order to establish a center, there must be individuals of national leadership caliber who can be freed up by their organizations to devote much of their effort to national work. How many organisations can “spare” one of their leading cadre? In view of the relatively unconsolidated state of many of the organisations in the tendency, this is a serious question. Of course, organisations will also gain a great deal from the existence of a center so that the loss of a leading cadre is at least partially made up for in the short run, and certainly in the long run.

We as a local organisation without extensive national ties, are not in a good position to answer this question. The Committee of Five should make a full report on this, and the issue should be discussed and resolved before proceeding with the formation of a leading center.

We would like to stress the vital importance of the Committee of Five (and whatever committee follows them) making full reports on the objective state of the tendency. Decisions on now to proceed particularly tactical decisions, cannot be intelligently taken without, this knowledge. Asking expanded groups, like the groups assembled at the national meeting, “to” make decisions on how to proceed without having as firm a grasp as possible on the state of the tendency nationally, is to invite subjectivism and confusion.

(c) Before we proceed to establish such a center, we need to analyse the effect that this step would have on our effort to build a multi-national tendency. We must be very clear that the effort to build the tendency on as firm a multi-national basis as possible is of crucial importance. It certainly may be that a leading center itself is the correct instrument for building this unity. On the other hand, it may be that advancing to the level of organisation represented by the center would place obstacles in our path and that further preliminary steps should be undertaken prior to calling a conference and establishing the center.

Without a detailed knowledge of the multi-national character of the potential adherents of the center, and even more importantly, a detailed knowledge of those multi-national or national minority organisations who are potential adherents of the center and the specific factors which may hold them back from participation, it is in possible for us to objectively judge the correct approach to building this absolutely essential multi-national unity. The Committee of Five should also make as full a report on this as security allows, and the issue should be discussed and resolved before proceeding with the formation of a leading center.

4. How much emphasis should be put on efforts towards centralization as opposed to coordination at the national level in this period?

The problem we face is, at one level, the problem of how best to unify and consolidate the tendency. There are counteracting forces – forces pushing towards unification and forces pushing towards fragmentation. What we must do is adopt the correct approach to strengthening the unifying forces and weakening the fragmenting forces.

The major unifying force is of course the tendency’s rejection of the ultra-left line of the CPML, RCP, CLP, etc. on the one hand, and the revisionist line of the CPUSA on the other. Within these poles the tendency has begun to define itself and develop. But it must be clearly recognized that it exists in a very embryonic state, with serious internal contradictions. It is still groping towards a Marxist-Leninist line.

The fragmenting forces are many. In the first place, ultra-leftism still has clear hegemony within the anti-revisionist movement and most organizations within the tendency have not thoroughly broken with ultra-left assumptions and methods. Until a clear alternative to ultra-leftism and revisionism is consolidated, the tendency is threatened with growing disunity. The “relapse” of BACU is a case in point. Although the tendency has demonstrated some ability to correctly unite the universals of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete reality of the US revolutionary process, this has been confined to a relatively few organizations. Until the tendency deepens and broadens its grasp of the principles and methods of Marxism-Leninism and its ability to utilize them in solving the concrete problems of the revolutionary process, its integrity and forward motion is in question. Secondly, the relative isolation of most organizations in the tendency from the mass movements means that what ultimately must be the focal point for Marxist-Leninist unity, the objective class struggle, plays a relatively weak role in this period. And finally, localism threatens the unity and development of the tendency in that different organizations can reach quite different political conclusions which manifest local peculiarities rather than real ideological differences. This is not confined to local peculiarities in the mass movements. Localism also promotes disunity in that the ideological influences which local organizations are subjected to from other communist organizations are, to a large degree, local in character rather than representative of the important ideological currents within the US communist movement as a whole.

There is one unifying force that is particularly relevant to this discussion. Although the tendency is only in its embryonic stage of development, a leadership has begun to emerge. We would point to the PWOC in particular, although several other organizations have played important roles. In our opinion, this emerging leadership should be employed by the tendency as a whole in order to advance its development. To a certain extent, this is already happening. What is required is a conscious plan to systematize and make this leadership available to the tendency as a whole. This is a major aspect of our view of a leading center.

What is needed most in this period, at the organizational level, is a form to allow the tendency’s embryonic leadership to develop and to exert itself in a way that will advance the development of the tendency. The question is of course - What is the correct way for the tendency’s emerging leadership to exert itself in this period?

The relationship of organization and politics is complex and contradictory. Organization is, at the some time, an expression of political unity and a powerful force in the development of political clarity and unity. But if an organizational form is too much in advance of the political unity which it expresses, it does not serve to advance the development of real clarity and unity, but serves to retard it. Each organizational form requires a certain level of political unity in order to function correctly. Attempting to proceed without that level of unity lends either to disfunction or to bureaucratic centralism. And the arbitrary imposition of unity characteristic of bureaucratic centralism leads not to real unity but rather places obstacles in the path of achieving that unity. The consolidation of the tendency demands not the masking of differences under the formal unity imposed by arbitrary centralism, but the full and frank working out of the internal contradictions in the tendency through unity-struggle-unity and the test of practice.

As the draft proposal points out, the level of political unity of the tendency is not sufficient to provide the basis for a national organization. Not by a long shot we would add. But this by no means implies that efforts towards centralization are premature. However, the relations between the leading body and local organizations must, at this time, be of such a nature that the many differences within the tendency (and no doubt even within the center itself) are not obscured. Indeed, a key aspect of the work of a leading body must be exactly to pinpoint the differences, pick out the key contradictions within the tendency, and organize the process of resolving these contradictions. But this is not all. Apart from organizing the process of resolving these contradictions, the center itself must be an active force in this process.

What we propose is “centralization without discipline”. Centralization in that the center would consciously see its task as shaping the development of the tendency on a national level, and the center’s adherents would unite around this task – agreeing to participate in and support a process which, hopefully, would lead to the formation of a national organization built on the foundation of a theoretical perspective elaborated by and through the center, and projected by the center. Without discipline in that the adherents of the center would be bound to the center not by subjecting themselves to the discipline of the center, but by freely uniting with the political perspective of the center.

The center will consolidate political line. But each adherent would not be under obligation to make that line its own. The center will propose certain plans for joint practical work, which will be taken up by many of the center’s adherents. But they will not be under organizational obligation to take up this work.

Of course, at a certain level of disagreement with the center, or failure to take up the practical activities projected by the center, an organization’s status as an adherent comes into question. In this way there will be considerable impetus towards unity. But this is qualitatively different than discipline in the organizational sense, Only after a qualitative advance in the development of the tendency, most particularly in its political unity and its capacity as an active force in the class struggle, will we be able to take the step of providing that unity with the organizational form of a national pre-party organization.

(It may be that this scenario is somewhat stagist and at some future point, before actually forming a national pre-party organization, the correct tactical step might be to agree to some level of discipline. But this would clearly be a major step and would require considerable discussion and a higher level of unity than now exists. Advances in organizational development must be based on advances in political development.)

If local organizations are not bound to the center by discipline, what formal ties are there? We would propose (for purposes of discussion) the following points:
1. Adherents of the center must support it materially.
2. Adherents of the center must make the center a major focus of their political development. To the extent that the leadership of the center is rejected, either in questions of political line or practical activity, adherents are committed to struggling with the center over their differences and making every effort to resolve them.
3. Adherents of the center must support the statement of goals, tasks, and nature of the center.
4. The center, by a 2/3 vote, can declare an organization no longer an adherent – either by violation of the principles of unity or by violation of the above three points.

5. What is the next step that our trend must take?

This question has, for the most part, already been answered under the other questions. The immediate steps we should take are those which will insure that the necessary conditions for establishing a leading center are satisfied.

A Comment on the Iskra Period

The draft proposal draws heavily on the experience of Iskra. It is important however that we grasp one key difference between the Iskra period and the present period in the US. The revolutionary Marxist trend within the socialist movement in Russia which Iskra represented was not in any way an embryonic trend. In fact, at an earlier period it had had hegemony in the movement. Iskra’s task was not that of consolidating and developing an embryonic trend but that of struggling for the hegemony of an already consolidated trend within the movement.

The implications for us are that a leading center, at least in its early stages, will have to be more inwardly directed towards its adherents than outwardly directed towards establishing the hegemony of the center within the movement. An all out struggle against “the parties” will depend upon establishing a higher level of unity of the center and its adherents. Of course, these two aspects of the struggle for Marxist-Leninist unity should not be seen in isolation but in dialectical interpenetration. But as a question of emphasis, it should not be neglected.

We should also be aware that the unconsolidated nature of the tendency, the multiplicity and depth of its internal contradictions, place many pitfalls in our path. Our tendency faces a much greater danger of making sectarian errors than the Iskra forces faced because our problem is not only that of resolving contradictions between the tendency and the other forces within the party building movement. We are simultaneously faced with the complex problem of resolving the serious internal contradictions within the tendency itself. Sectarian pitfalls abound.

A Criticism of the Committee of Five

At the national meeting, we raised a criticism of the Committee of Five for not promoting a fuller discussion of the draft principles of unity before that meeting. We felt, and still feel, that, at the very least, the major responses to the draft principles of unity should have been circulated to the organizations who were going to attend the national meeting – sufficiently in advance of that meeting to allow for adequate discussion. Decisions on how best to consolidate and advance the tendency depend heavily on a knowledge of the objective state of the tendency. The Committee of Five had a good part of this knowledge and the other organizations did not. The Committee of Five made a recommendation that principle 15 should be “softened” because in their estimation it was too far in advance of the level of clarity of the forces present at the meeting. How was anyone not on the Committee of Five, without access to the many responses to draft principle 15, supposed to make a decision on this issue?

We had serious questions if the level of clarity around principle 18 – specifically, how it relates to a general strategy for party building – was sufficient. But without a knowledge of the tendency which a circulation of the responses to the draft principles of unity might have provided, it was impossible for us to arrive at a sound decision. Even after the national meeting, we are not convinced that there is sufficient clarity around this point.

The adoption of principle 18 should have been proceeded by an in-depth discussion of its relation to party building. It is not an accident that there is a strong correlation between those organizations who think that the original version of principle 15 (dogmatism is the main danger) is correct and those organizations who think that the adoption of principle 18 was incorrect. Different views on the main danger, which is essence part of the party building question, lead to different views of the wisdom of excluding groups on the basis of principle 18. The methods and techniques employed in building a Marxist-Leninist party are not the same as those employed in building an anti-imperialist coalition. The adoption of principle 18 should have been considered as part of the party building question. We feel that many organizations at the meeting did not fully understand what was at stake, from the point of view of party building strategy and tactics, in the adoption of principle 18. Fuller discussion of the draft principles before that meeting might have prevented this and allowed us to come to a deeper unity.

Several members of the Committee of Five present at the national meeting did accept the criticism and plans for discussion prior to the next national meeting are a concrete sign that the criticism has not only been accepted but a certain degree of rectification has taken place.

But in view of the importance of the question of the relation of any future center and its adherents, we feel that it is important for the Committee of Five to make an explicit self-criticism of this aspect of their work. What is important is not merely to acknowledge that an error was made, this has in effect already been done. The important thing Is to locate the source of the error so that the experience can he used to prevent related errors from occurring in the future.

We hope that the self-criticism will demonstrate “the potential for rigorous self-examination, a forthright confrontation of errors and an unswerving pursuit of their rectification”. We would also hope that the error be examined in light of the understanding that the draft proposal shows of the importance of careful resolution of the differences within the adherents of the center.

These differences clearly exist at present, and are inevitable in the early stages of the center’s development. The center therefore, could hardly avoid them and would only serve to retard the development of the trend’s unity if it attempted to sweep them under the rug. Thus, an essential aspect of the center’s main tasks would be to organize discussion of these differences to strive to see that their real character and essence is clarified ... (draft proposal, page 9, our italics)

Even though the work of the Committee of Five has been of a different character than that of a leading center, we believe that the principle embodied in the quote is a good one and applicable to the work of the Committee. In our work of building a national center, we ignore that principle at our peril.