Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee

In Response to the Boston Party-Building Organization

First Issued: January 18, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The BPO sees us at a “turning point.” If we continue on the course recommended by the Committee of Five we will “succumb to the sickness of ultra-leftism in party-building.”

What are the signs of the onset of this “sickness?” It is that the Committee of Five “first called for our participation in a conference to establish...a trend within Marxism-Leninism, they were now calling us to a conference of the ’leadership’ of the genuine Marxist Leninists.”

In the view of the BPO this constitutes the original sin in party-building.

We are eating of the same apple that led to the fall of CLP, RCP, CP-ML etc.

The fundamental error of these groups was that “they put their part of the communist movement above that of the movement as a whole.”

And the Committee of Five is making the same error. This mentality has led the Committee of Five to indulge in “wishful thinking”,“grossly overestimating the maturity of our forces.

As against the proposals of the Draft Resolution the BPO advocates the sober course of returing to where we were in June of 1976 to start anew to organize a conference, this time uninhibted by the 18 principles of unity.

* * *

Is the notion that the forces around the Committee of Five represent “the leadership of the genuine Marxist-Leninists” an accurate characterization of the Committee of Five’s attitude and if so does it herald a degeneration into left opportunism?

To our knowledge the Committee of Five has never used the formulation “leadership of the genuine Marxist-Leninists,” which is objectionable on the grounds that it implies that it is the sole and exclusive leadership and all those who do not share its orientation are fakers or hopeless opportunists. Surely we wish to avoid such sectarian connotations.

On the other hand the PWOC at least has no hesitation in stating that at the present time the forces grouped around the Committee of Five are providing the predominant leadership in the party building movement and our purpose should be to strengthen and further develop that leadership which is presently inadequate to the tasks before us. The largest and best organized forces in our movement are dominated by ultra-leftism. Given this, the only possible source of leadership in the struggle for rectification can come from those who have broken with left opportunism and have begun to evolve a critique of it based on Marxism-Leninism. The forces around the Committee of Five are the broadest based, best organized and most politically consolidated of the anti-“lefts.” It is a comment on the state of our movement that this is true in spite of our limitations – our isolation, fragmentation and political immaturity.

In saying this we recognize that there are forces outside the orbit of the Committee of Five that are in varying degrees anti-“left.– There also is undoubtedly ferment within those organizations under the sway of ultra-leftism. Our formation does not exercise a monopoly on leadership in the struggle against left opportunism. Nevertheless it does not seem sectarian arrogance to us to argue that a formation that has a certain national character, that has engaged the efforts of those organizations whose activity goes beyond study and propaganda and has successfully involved the overwhelming majority of those groups which have consciously and explicitly broken with ultra-leftism can provide the center for building a trend in opposition to left opportunism.

If BPO’s concern is with broadening our formation than it is sorely misplaced in our view. To render our formation looser and more diffuse which is the effect of the BPO proposal, is not the way to strengthen anti-“left” currents beyond the boundaries of our own formation. On the contrary we must move in precisely the opposite direction.

Why does the BPO wring its hands so much over this question of leadership? Because for the BPO the striving of DMLO, SUB, PSO and PWOC to create a leading center (which it caricatures as the claim to represent the ’genuine’ Marxist Leninists) is a repetition of “the party-building error of the CLP, RCP and CP-ML.”

We sharply disagree that the assumption of the mantle of the ’genuine’ constituted the root or primary error of these organizations. In our view it was the generalized ultra-left line of these organizations which disqualified them as centers for party-building and made their claims of leadership so preposterous. We reject the whole analysis that holds that “the group spirit” is at the heart of our movement’s failures in party-building. This analysis draws an artificial line between party building and political line and by so doing elevates secondary errors to primary ones.

But we do agree that an important aspect of the failure of these groupings was their extreme voluntarism in party-building which expressed itself as an overestimation of their own maturity and thus their ability to lead and unite the Marxist Leninists. It is exactly this charge which the BPO levels at the Committee of Five.

The BPO hangs much of its argument that the Committee of Five is gripped by “wishful thinking” on it’s use of the term trend to describe our emerging formation and similarly the division of our movement into two wings. For the BPO there can be no justification for speaking of our forces constituting a trend or a wing given their present objective state. The fact that the Committee of Five employs these terms is evidence in the BPO’s mind that the Committee suffers from “wishful thinking” and an inflated estimate of the maturity of our forces.

We might share BPO’s concerns if the Committee of Five had not repeatedly made clear its view that our forces are “disunited, theoretically impoverished, backward, fragmented, hardly terms which suggest a giddy overconfidence. The Committee has repeatedly qualified it’s use of the term trend, reminding us that we are a trend only in embryo...that is a trend in the earliest stages of development. To become a trend in the fullest sense will obviously entail a long and arduous process. Has anyone really been misled by the Committee of Five on this score? Isn’t it clear that the concrete proposals endorsed by the Committee’s majority are predicated precisely on the immaturity of our trend and the requirements of such a protracted process?

Given this it seems to us the question of whether it is correct to describe our forces as a trend is largely a quibble over words. The BPO, having located the appropriate text from Lenin, believes the Committee of Five’s use of the term is unscientific. It seems to us that Lenin’s concern was not with providing posterity with a textbook definition of the term trend. Rather he wanted to show that Pravda, the organ of a tiny group of exiles around Trotsky with no ties to the workers’ movement and an eclectic political viewpoint, had no claim to be a trend. We think given the sense of Lenin’s conception we can speak of our formation as at least an embryonic trend. But perhaps the term, tendency, conveys this sense more accurately. Provided we agree about the reality we are describing, the specific terms we employ are of secondary important.

* * *

The Committee of Five has not argued that a mature trend already exists. What it has claimed is that sufficient maturity exists to take the next step forward. The BPO not only opposes this next step, namely the construction of a center, but opposes the step already taken, that is the adoption of the 18 principles of unity. This is the real core of the differences between the Committee of Five and the BPO.

In our view the adoption of the 18 principles has served to further the political definition and coherence of our forces, necessary first steps in the development of a trend. The BPO sees it otherwise. They argue that the points of unity, particularly principle 18, are “inappropriate” given our level of development. They further argue that because unnecessary barriers have been erected, any center we establish will be divisive and become the vehicle of a particular grouping rather than the means for developing a broad trend.

Principle 18 is the crux of the matter. Principle 18 in BPO’s view is “too narrow” in that it excludes forces “who fall within our overall unity” in viewing left opportunism as “the main danger” but who disagree about issues that do not appear to relate directly to the construction of a trend. For BPO principle 18 “clarifies or defines no substantial unity among us” and has little if anything to do with our present tasks. It is sufficient for the moment to simply unite against “left opportunism” and to demand any higher level of unity is unnecessary, harmful and a manifestation of ultra-leftism. In this scheme the left opportunism that we unite against is rendered so abstract, so empty of any real content, that our unity is largely meaningless.

We, of course, disagree that principle 18 does not “relate directly to the construction of a trend.” Historically the struggle over the question of the main enemy internationally has been the single most important debate in differentiating opportunism from Marxism-Leninism within the anti-revisionist movement and clearly has had a great deal to do with our emergence as a distinct force. The Committee of Five did not invent principle 18 out of thin air. Principle 18 was not arbitrarily imposed but emerged as a line of demarcation in the struggle over international line that developed in the wake of events in Angola and elsewhere.

Furthermore the concept of the main enemy supplies the rudiments of an international orientation without which we cannot develop a communist current in the working class.

BPO’s discussion of principle 18 shows that they do not understand the strategic character of the concept of the main enemy. According to BPO “Principle 18 is the basis for a degree of programmatic unity around certain struggles, such as those in Southern Africa. It does not provide a definitive line of demarcation on the question of the concrete application of proletarian internationalism to the world today. Do all our forces agree on the main enemy of the people of Eastern Europe? Of the people of China? Of the people of Eritrea and the Horn of Africa? Clearly not!”

Principle 18 may not be “definitive” in the sense that it provides all the elements in every particular international struggle. But what BPO misses is that principle 18 provides the strategic framework in which we analyse every particular struggle be it South Africa or Eastern Europe. Proletarian internationalism requires that the class struggle be carried out in a way that serves to isolate and weaken the main enemy. It demands the subordination of the immediate and particular interests of the workers in any one country to the long range and general interests of the working class as a whole. Without such a subordination there can be no international united front.

The period of World War II and the international anti-fascist alliance provides a clear example of this subordination and its necessity. The interests of the world’s peoples in defeating fascism and defending the Soviet Union had very definite implications for all national liberation struggles and overrode in many instances their immediate and particular interests.

It meant for example that the people of Ireland had to subordinate their struggle against British imperialism to the international struggle against fascism. Similarly the peoples of Latin America had to subordinate their struggle against U.S. imperialism to fight the main enemy. In short the concept of a main enemy was not applicable only in situations where that main enemy was the immediate oppressor or aggressor, but conditioned the attitude of the national liberation movements in all situations. And while the content of the world situation is profoundly different today the general point that the concept of a main enemy has universal implications remains unchanged. We might very well disagree over the nature of these implications in any number of particular situations but that is a different matter.

Rather than being merely the “basis for a degree of programmatic unity around certain struggles” Point 18 is the principle element in determining international strategy and shapes our attitude toward every single struggle in tie world today. Let us take China for example. It very well may be that the main threat to the sovereignty of the Chinese people in the present period comes from Soviet hegemonism. Nevertheless 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. It is the crux of our differences with the present foreign policy of the People’s Republic that this has not been done. Isn’t it crystal clear that the concept of the main enemy is at the root of what attitude we take toward China’s foreign policy? But according to BPO the concept of the main enemy of the world’s people has little to do with China.

BPO also considers it self evident that those who agree on the class nature of the USSR but disagree, on the main danger to the world’s peoples have “more fundamental unity around international line and the duty of proletarian internationalism” than those who disagree on the Soviet question but agree as to whom is the main enemy.

Again we have to dissent. Abstractly considered unity on the class character of the Soviet Union appears more “fundamental” than unity on the main danger in that it at least suggests a more developed and profound common ideological foundation (we say “suggests” because it seems to us that this unity is more often than not a product of superficial investigation or worse yet a reflex, like and uncritical identification with the Communist Party of China rather than an indication of a common appreciation of Marxist methodology). We also readily concede that a unity which converges on the main enemy question while diverging on the class character of the USSR is a unity of a most limited sort.

But when we look at the question from the standpoint of the unity necessary to carry out our tasks at the present time we get a different reading on which is more fundamental. To fuse Marxism-Leninism with the class struggle...to develop a communist current in the working class requires a sound international orientation that will enable us to pose the internationalist tasks of the workers in the U.S. in correct terms. This in fact is what the “duty of proletarian internationalism”, to use BPO’s phrase, consists of. BPO to the contrary, to carry out this task requires a correct estimate of the main danger to the world’s peoples but it does not require unity on the class character of the USSR. Without a correct estimate of the main danger we cannot orient ourselves in the workers movement. If we adopt the posture of agnosticism on this question (as the BPO demands) we will feed the tendency to limit Marxist-Leninist work to propaganda activity of the most abstract sort or restrict the scope of our work to essentially economist aims. Our efforts to further the process of fusing Marxism-Leninism with the class struggle, which is at the heart of party-building”, will be crippled.

We cannot agree the unity we have achieved around principle 18 is insubstantial. It has been a critical element in our development to date and is a necessary element of the unity we require to move forward.

* * *

The BPO is concerned because we have so little “clarity and understanding” on the nature of left opportunism. But ironically while the Committee of Five has sought to further define the concrete content of left opportunism by pointing to it’s manifestations in relation to international line, the BPO continues to oppose any effort to draw lines of demarcation which will serve to clarify the nature of left opportunism in our movement. They only want that we agree that left opportunism is the main danger and divorce it from its manifestations as a definite political line. For all intents and purposes they reduce left opportunism to the malady of imagining you are the party when you are not.

To further it’s analysis that the Committee of Five is degenerating into voluntarism, the BPO has discovered a shift in intent between the Committee’s initial efforts and its present aims. The BPO bases this divergence on a reading of the January 31st letter. Whereas formerly the Committee of Five sought to develop a trend, it now deludes itself that it represents the ’genuine’ Marxist-Leninists.

The essence of this letter is the call to create a leading ideological center. In our view this call is in no way inconsistent with the attempt to develop a trend. On the contrary it is the next step we must take in that direction. The BPO finds a sinister significance in the Committee of Five speaking of our forces as “the Marxist-Leninist wing of the party-building movement.” This phrase is a sign of degeneration according to BPO. We do not find this formulation either indicative of any shift in the aims of the Committee or an indication of voluntarism, given its context.

To say our forces represent the Marxist-Leninist wing of the party-building movement is not a bit of self-congratulation. It is a candid recognition that in a movement dominated by ultra-leftism and dogmatism, it is the anti-“left” forces who represent, whoever imperfectly, the fortunes of Marxism-Leninism. Our forces, as everyone recognizes, suffer from serious shortcomings associated with our immaturity. Nevertheless in a movement as disoriented as our own we approximate the Marxist Leninist wing of that movement.

The BPO apparently thinks that it is better not to distinguish between a Marxist Leninist wing and an opportunist wing. In effect the BPO argues: “We are all Marxist-Leninists. We all suffer from the disease of left opportunism. But some more than others. Our comrades in the CP-ML, RCP and CLP more, those of us of the anti-left persuasion less (although we are far from being sufficiently cured so that we can speak of ourselves as a wing, understand). Letís be done with the opprobrium of “genuine” Marxist Leninists and opportunisms. Let’s recognize that we all are diseased. This way we can better unite and combat our common illness.” This is a prescription for conciliating left opportunism rather than combating it. The view of the BPO manages to underestimate the degree of consolidation among those forces under the sway of left opportunism while simultaneously misjudging the extent to which our own forces have progressed in breaking with it. A conciliatory posture toward these forces will not aid us in clarifying left opportunism and waging struggle against it. And while we can hardly disagree that it would be a serious mistake to overestimate our own development, it would be just as serious to underestimate it.

* * *

At various points the BPO implies that the PWOC is guilty of confusing an effort to consolidate it’s own supporters with the work of constructing a trend or the “nucleus of a party.” There is also the implication that the Committee of Five is the instrument of the PWOC. The BPO makes these points by way of innuendo and offers no evidence to support them. These are unprincipled and divisive accusations. They serve to buttress BPO’s bogey of “groupist” intrigue. They generate unfounded suspicions regarding the real character of the Committee of Five and it’s efforts.

We thus feel compelled to point out the following. In it’s work in relation to the Committee of Five the PWOC has consistently sought the broadest involvement of our forces. In approaching the original unity principles our concern was with formulations that would reflect broad unity rather than narrow agreement with the line of the PWOC. When some comrades objected to principle 15 because of it’s identification of dogmatism as the main danger, on the grounds that this did not reflect the view of all our forces, the PWOC readily agreed to the modification of the principle. We did not try to make agreement with what is the PWOC’s (and others) particular formulation a splitting question. Within the Committee of Five we agreed to other less significant changes in the draft principles in the same spirit.

In our role in relation to the formation and consolidation of the Committee of Five the PWOC sought the inclusion of representative organizations which had a basis for building unity. Again we were not guided by the criterion of closeness to the line of the PWOC. We argued for the inclusion of the Guardian in the Committee of Five and the importance of it’s involvement in spite of our own often sharp disagreements with the Guardian.

The development of the Committee of Five has been a collective effort to which all organizations involved have made important contributions. The sponsorship of the various conferences by the different organizations is only one reflection of this. The Committee is composed of five equal and autonomous organizations and the PWOC has conducted it’s relations with those organizations with this understanding. Our interest has been and remains the development of a broad trend. If our interest was in building a national formation linked with the PWOC we can assure the BPO we would have proceeded quite differently.

* * *

The BPO argues that the approach of the Committee of Five, particularly in framing the 18 principles of unity, has served to narrow our forces by excluding important anti-“left” elements. But who in fact has been excluded. The only two organizations with any claim to being anti-“left” which were excluded on the basis of the unity principles were the PUL and BACU. BACU hardly counts since at this point it would be excluded even by the criteria of the BPO given that the BACU does not regard left opportunism as the main danger.

As for the PUL we think it’s exclusion was principled and necessary. While the BPO and others continue to insist that our differences with the PUL are at this stage of a secondary character, we think otherwise. PUL’s critique of ultra-leftism, while it contains much that is positive, does not in our view decisively break with left opportunism and in the final analysis accommodates it. We do not think the PUL is a consistent anti-“left” force and see it as maintaining a foot in both camps. We must engage in ideological struggle with the PUL toward the end of building unity. But at the present time their inclusion would stand in the way of our developing a coherent and effective center.

While we naturally regret the exclusion of the PUL in the sense that we regret the loss of any organization with which we share important areas of unity, we hardly think their exclusion indicates a tendency toward sectarianism and threatens our formation with degeneration into a faction. We continue to think the formation has a broad, representative character. To broaden it still further will require an active effort to engage those forces, particularly national minority Marxist Leninists, who share unity with the 18 principles, but either are not familiar with the work of the Committee of Five or who have remained aloof. This is where we should be directing our concern rather than modifying our principles of unity in order to accommodate those whose break with left opportunism is compromised.

* * *

The BPO’s opposition to the formation of a center is bound up with their continued opposition to the 18 principles and the logic behind them. Their proposal reflects this opposition. The PWOC urges comrades to reject these arguments and take the next step forward.