Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Boston Party-Building Organization

On Our Differences over Party-Building: A Reply to the PWOC

Issued: n.d.
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According to the PWOC “the adoption of the 18 principles of unity [is] the real core of the differences between the Committee of Five and the BPO.” (“In Response to the BPO,” p. 3, All references are to this paper unless otherwise noted.) We do not see things exactly this way. For us, the struggle over Point 18 (not “the 18 principles”) is a decisive struggle. We think the outcome of this struggle will indicate whether the forces around the Committee of Five intend to realise their potential to help construct a tendency to fight against left-opportunism, or whether on the other hand they will move in the direction of forming yet another property organisation out of a restricted part of the party-building forces. In other words, our differences ever party building strategy have become focused on the struggle over Point 18. We do not know, as yet, whether even more fundamental differences (“the real core”) lie behind this difference over party building, or if they do, what they are. In any event, it is a step forward that the PWOC has written three pages explaining their understanding of Point 18 (pp. 3-5 of “In Response”) since “real core” or not, this is the key struggle facing our forces today.

We do not think that the PWOC’s explanation of the meaning they attach to the concept “main enemy” makes the case that Point 18 is a necessary line of demarcation for constructing a tendency to oppose left-opportunism in the present period. Indeed, it bolsters owe arguments that this line of demarcation is incorrect. The PWOC’s main point is that the concept “main enemy” is a strategic one. We agree. Indeed, acceding to the PWOC, “Point 18 is the principle [sic] element in determining international strategy.” (4) This raises a lot of questions for us. Let us mention the most important: What is this strategy of which Point 18 is an element? Where did it come from? What arguments support it? Do we have the “principal element” but not the strategy itself? What is the exact connection between an international strategy, party-building strategy, and building a tendency to oppose left opportunists? Why have none of these questions been treated in the publications of the PWOC?

From time to time we have asked groups close to the Committee of Five (including the PWOC) how they arrived at the conclusion that U.S. imperialism is the main enemy of the world’s people. The most frequent answer is that a concrete study of the “storm center” of the world reveals this to be true. Since this study has not to our knowledge, been published and shared we are essentially being told that it is an obvious and self-evident “fact” that U.S. imperialism is the main enemy of the world’s people. Indeed, this has been said in so many words on occasion. To counter this argument we raised questions about the Horn of Africa and China where the “fact” is not so “obvious.” In answer to this the PWOC new explains that the concept “main enemy” is strategic. It was precisely because we understood this in the first place that we raised our questions. Strategic lines are not determined by empirical examination the world’s storm centers. They are not simply self-evident facts. Indeed, as the PWOC correctly says, strategy “shapes our attitude towed every single struggle in the world today,” (4) In other words, we approach our analysis of the world’s storm centers from the point of view of cur strategy and not the reverse. Thus the PWOC seems to agree that their view that U.S. imperialism is the main enemy of the world’s people did not come from a simple examination of the “facts.” So we continue to ask: what analysis has led to this strategic view?

Now a frequent answer to this question is that Point 18 “emerged as a line of demarcation in the struggle over international line that developed in the wake of events in Angola and elsewhere.” (3) In other words, Angola was the crystallisation of a general struggle over international strategy. In the first place, we find Angola and the MPLA to be rather slim reeds on which to hang such a serious matter as an “international strategy.” Why Angola and not the Horn of Africa, where international forces appear in a somewhat different alignment? But even acre importantly, what are the terms of this general struggle over strategy? Strategies not only tell us the direction of the main blow, they answer the question, “Who are our friends; who are our enemies?” The PWOC (and the Committee of Five) is pretty quiet on this aspect of their strategy, particularly in regard to the status of the USSR and the PRC. Let us ask how they evaluate these forces as friends and enemies. Is the USSR a friend of the world’s people? Is the PRC an enemy? Or is the reverse the case as the BPO believes? Or is it the PWOC who is agnostic here by making no analysis of either?

We may be pardoned for drawing some tentative conclusions about these matters from some evidence we have before us, We were pretty surprised by the arrogance of the remark that “we demand that the People’s Republic of China carry out the struggle against the Soviet revisionists in a way that does not play into the hands of the main enemy, that is U.S. imperialism.” (4, our emphasis) From this and other statements it appears to us that the PWOC is not averse to directing its secondary blows against the PRC. The Committee of Five does not feel that its principles of unity need even to address this question. They have no difficulty in joining with people who think the Soviet Union is an ally of the world’s people. We wonder whether the groups around the Committee of Five really want to go down a road which seems to be directed to making “demands” of the PRC while regaining agnostic on the question of the Soviet Union.

The PWOC says that “Without a correct estimate of the main danger we cannot orient ourselves in the workers movement.” (5) No doubt this is true as a general statement. It is also true for many other questions, some of which seem more important to us in terms of our ability to orient ourselves in the workers movement. Without a correct trade union strategy we cannot orient ourselves in the workers movement. Without a correct analysis of the national question we cannot orient ourselves in the workers movement. Indeed, without a correct analysis of “Who are our friends; who are our enemies,” we cannot orient ourselves in the workers movement. All of this is evident. Why then is Point 18 singled out to be the line of demarcation in constructing a tendency to fight left opportunism? This is a question of party-building strategy. Generalisations like “fusing Marxism-Leninism with the class struggle, is at the heart of party-building” (5) do not take us very far in answering these questions.

It is good that the PWOC has begun to clarify its understanding of the meaning of Point 18. Many of the points made in its “Response” have not been made previously. It is obvious to us that this shows a lot more debate and clarification is necessary before we will all have a clear grasp of the implications of Point 18. For this reason, we maintain, along with the Worker Unity Organization, that the 18 principles should remain draft principles at this time. Let’s have the debate and clarify the two lines. Only this will allow us to get to the “real core” of the difference; only after this is done will we be able to distinguish those truly concerned with building a tendency from those who do not see this as a real task, but instead want to run ahead with yet another sectarian party-building effort. The struggle over whether or not the principles should remain draft principles is a struggle over whether we are constructing a tendency or a pre-party formation. Our efforts should be directed to deepening our understanding of this question.

Although the struggle around Point 18 is the focus of the differences between ourselves and the PWOC, this struggle concentrates our differences over party-building strategy itself. Our view is that in party-building our main blow must be aimed against left-opportunism. The construction of a tendency to combat left-opportunism (and not the “slow” construction of a pre-party organisation) is our immediate task. We see the key link in that struggle as being the organisational level. The PWOC belittles these ideas without actually arguing against them: “This analysis draws an artificial line between party-building and political line and by so doing elevates secondary errors to primary ones.” (2) In other words, for the PWOC there is no distinction between party-building and political line. Even were this true, we don’t see how drafting a line between them would lead as a consequence to the elevation of secondary errors (around party-building presumably) to primary ones. However, the distinction is not artificial at all; we ignore it at our peril. The BPO sees a lot of similarity in the party-building strategies of the CLP, the RCP and the CP(ML); on the other hand, these are great differences among them on political questions. In fact, the CLP has a lot of unity with Point 18. How does the PWOC deal with the party-building errors of the CLP in their framework which liquidates party-building as a distinct question? Since the CLP is also not excluded by Point 18, it would seem that the PWOC should struggle with them to agree with Point 15, they argue for their inclusion in the efforts of the Committee of Five. This is the consequence of failing to distinguish between the organisational and political levels.

For the PWOC “it was the generalised ultra-left line of these organisations which disqualified them as centers for party building...” (2) Of course, we agree that these organisations (including the CLP, about which we must ask the PWOC: Is it too a holder of the generalised left line?) are left-opportunist on all levels. But we cannot struggle with a “general” error. We must struggle concretely over specific things. This is the meaning of a strategy, as the PWOC discussed in the section of its “Response” devoted to international line, We think that the main area of struggle is party-building strategy itself. This is not a question of drawing lines artificially, but is the product of a serious analysis, found in great detail in “the Proletarian Unity Leaguers pamphlet, “Two, Three, Many Parties of a New Type?” We see the necessity to unite all those who can be united in this struggle. The PWOC, however, wants to “move in precisely the opposite direction,” (2), that is, to narrow our forces. From our point of view this is a prescription for sectarianism and sterility, we think everyone ought to think very carefully before taking this very wellborn path.

There are some very obvious differences between the PWOC’s and our own concrete analysis of the forces grouped around the Committee of Five. These differences are connected to our differences over party-building strategy. However, in the absence of a detailed concrete analysis, which only the Committee of Five is in a position to make, we cannot say for sure what the connection is. We can only point to these differences and ask people to judge who is closer to reality.

As a first point we would like to criticise the PWOC for the chauvinism toward national minorities exhibited in their “Response.” We are all concerned with the whiteness of the grouping relating to the Committee of Five. It is our duty to find, the explanation for this, and come up with and carry out a plan to rectify it. What is the PWOC’s explanation for all this? National minority Marxist=Leninists “either are not familiar with the work of the Committee of Five orů have regained aloof.” (8) Is the PWOC saying that the Committee of Five has failed to energetically make its work known to national minority Marxist-Leninists? We doubt it. For if this were the meaning of that sentence then it should have been accompanied by a substantial self-criticism. But the only other explanation of that sentence is that the PWOC believes that national minorities are simply not as aware as the rest of us, or are not as capable of finding out what is going on. Blaming national minority Marxist-Leninists for their “aloofness” has some pretty unpleasant connotations to our ears. We think the PWOC ought to reflect pretty seriously about the implications of this sentence. We wonder if they would want to explain and defend it to our national minority comrades.

The PWOC “has no hesitation is stating that at the present time the forces grouped around the Committee of Five are providing the predominant leadership in the party-building movement.” They are “the broadest based, best organised and most politically consolidated of the anti-’lefts’.” (1) We have a lot of hesitation in following the PWOC in this judgement. And so do many of the other forces involved with the Committee of Five if we read their papers correctly. The BOC, for example, criticised the Committee of Five for its failure to provide a concrete analysis of our forces, and called for such a report as a precondition for moving ahead. We second their criticism. In the absence of such a report, statements such as those of the PWOC seem to be based on costly wishful thinking as we stated. In the absence of this report we cannot understand the PWOC’s lack of “hesitation.” We would think that at best this kind of judgement would have to be tentative. The PWOC, however, does not seem to exercise caution and maturity in these matters. This, of course, makes self-criticism difficult. Let us recall that the OL too, had no hesitation in asserting that the forces grouped around it were the leadership of the party-building movement. Of course, if there is no such thing as a left error in party-building line, as the PWOC asserts, then a careful appraisal of our forces is hardly as important as getting the show on the road.

On the other hand, the PWOC points out that the Committee of Five does indeed make a realistic estimate of the immaturity of our forces; that it has “repeatedly” drawn attention to our shortcomings; and that its plans are produced with this in mind. Here we shall simply remark that we are hardly the only group that has noticed the glaring leaps of logic in the Draft Resolution, in which reference to the immaturity of our forces is immediately followed the assertion that we are on the “threshold of maturity.” In addition, we would point out that in recent months we have been treated to a dazzling succession of plans emanating from the Committee of Four, from the Draft Resolution, to the PWOC response, to the Concrete Proposal. There has been no explanation of the changes from plan to plan (which the Worker Unity Organisation has carefully documented.) It seems to us that far from taking the development of our forces into account in its strategy, the Committee of Four simply reacts to criticisms of its plans, which, it appears, it is never very committed to in the first place. We do not think this is an indication of mature leadership for a tendency on the “threshold of maturity,”

The PWOC takes us to task for “the implication that the Committee of Five is the instrument of the PWOC.” (6) We implied no such thing. In our view (and the view of the vast majority of forces participating in these efforts, including some Committee of Five members) the PWOC clearly provides the leadership of the Committee of Five, (For at least one group, Mayday, this is so evident that they addressed a recent communication to the “PWOC trend.”) Do we criticise this? No we do not, We are in favor of leadership, not opposed to it. If we oppose the PWOC’s leadership it is because we disagree with the direction it wants to lead us, not because wo are opposed to leadership. The PWOC assures, us it does not get its own way in every instance. We hardly need tell the PWOC that leadership is not the same thing as getting your own way. We would not even bring these things up had the PWOC not gone to such lengths in its “Response” to us to deny that it exercises leadership in the Committee. Our view is not that there is something “sinister” in the PWOC’s leadership, but that it should lead in a responsible way. Denying that it does lead is tantamount to hiding behind the Committee, which makes criticism almost impossible and self-criticism very unlikely. This is not a very good state of affairs.

As we said in our paper “On Breaking with the Left-Opportunist Party-Building Line,” we “are at a turning point today.” The PWOC attempts to ridicule this idea, associating it with the doctrine of “original sin,” “eating of the apple,” and claiming that the BPO “wrings its hands,” (l) We maintain our position. The struggle over Point 18 is a turning point. Nothing the PWOC has said has convinced us otherwise. The PWOC believes that certain issues brook no compromise; so do we. For them it is the necessity of Point 18 as a line of demarcation; for us it is the incorrectness of drawing this line of demarcation. We don’t think that smearing each other with religious labels is going to help resolve this struggle, Perhaps the PWOC would like to clarify why it feels that issues of Marxist-Leninist principle can be clarified by using religious analogies. We call for principled ideological struggles of which there has been precious little so far within the grouping organised by the Committee of Five. We see this exchange of papers as a small step in exploring the underlying issues. We urge the assembled groups to take no irrevocable step which could do permanent damage to party-building in the U.S. until these differences have been fully debated.

Finally, we call upon the PWOC to clearly state its party-building strategy. We do not think it is correct to call people together, appealing to their initial revulsion to left-opportunism to explore unities and differences in forming a trend, only to denounce “centrists” who don’t have enough unity with you to move towards a rational pre-party formation. If you are setting out to consolidate a trend as such, employ principles of unity for a trend. To us, that means, for example that if an organisation accepts their responsibility to target U.S. imperialism and are otherwise within the principled unity of a trend against left-opportunism they should be made part of the process of consolidating more unity, and developing trend-wide organisational forces, whatever their views on the “main enemy of the world’s people.”

On the other hand, if the PWOC is out primarily to build a federation or a pre-party organisation, call people together for that purpose, and with that sort of unity. It should not call for a unity conference to help build a trend, then drop that goal once many honest forces are assembled in favor of creating a pre-party formation. That’s very much like calling for Marxist-Leninists to unite into a party, but then just building one’s own organization – something we’ve seen all too often.

It does not seem to us that the PWOC recognises that building a trend and building a part of a trend, while interrelated, are significantly different activities. We think that the PWOC wants to proceed, albeit somewhat more cautiously than before, with the creation of a pre-party organization, but it is calling this building a trend. We share a common desire to see the forces grouped around the Committee of Five make the maximum contribution to the party-building movement. If we are sincere we should be able to iron out our differences, and proceed fortified with even greater unity. In any event, wo are not afraid of being proven wrong, if that is the case – we are much more concerned with moving the common work of party-building forward.

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