Red Papers 8 - The Founding Congress of the RCP

Red Papers 8 - Appendix B

The Founding Congress Of The RCP

This section discusses several questions of line that were key struggles around the fornation of the RCP in 1975 and the repudiation of every point by the current RCP leadership.

The bringing home of Marxism to the working class movement in order to fuse them was the guiding principle in the development of the RU and the founding of the RCP. In this the RU and the RCP distinguished themselves from those who had distorted and revised Marxism to make it harmless, as well as from those who made of it a dogma separated almost entirely from the lives of the people. In struggles against the Communist Party, Progressive Labor and various “leftist” sects, as well as the opportunists of the OL and the Guardian variety, the RU and the RCP played a leading role in restoring Marxism as a science to change this world and build a new world.

Internally, too, the struggle to develop political line was mainly taken up from the same point of view, that of promoting the struggle of the working class. Unlike other so-called Marxist organizations who ran from the real world to get purity of line, the RU took up the struggle against dogmatism and economism in the course of the struggle. Even on the question of building the Party, the RU bad a correct orientation and exposed the dogmatists who called for a long retreat from the mass struggle.

Because of this correct orientation, the period before the formation of the RCP in 1975 was one filled with struggle over how to form the Party based on a correct orientation and Programme. The struggle over these questions was good and the changes that were adopted at the Founding Congress represented in large part the defeat of a left idealist line that arose over several key questions, especially in the working class work.

This left idealist line came out in the working class work in this period in the form of pitting the present consciousness of the working class against their daily struggle. In-plant organizations at this time sometimes were formed based on what we thought was correct and the masses be damned. This led to in-plant workers’ organizations being set up around the old 5 spearheads of struggle of the RU, rather than on the basis of investigating the felt needs of the masses and concentrating them in the form of building struggle and the sense of organization in the plants. In some cases this meant that to be in a shop group you had to support the struggle in Palestine or the coal miners in Southern Africa. This line was politically “left” in that it overstepped the consciousness of the masses based on a philosophic idealism that proceeded not from the masses, but from an idea of what the masses need.

This “left” line in the period of the Founding Congress took particular form in the opposition to a formulation in the Draft Programme written by the RU which said that workers learn through their day to day struggle.

Those behind this “left” line rejected this formulation because they felt that it did not stress consciousness enough and the role of the subjective forces in building consciousness. As a blow against this incorrect line, the Main Political Report adopted at the Founding Congress quoted Lenin in saying:

“…Our basic guideline must be the principle set down by Lenin: ‘The Party’s activity must consist in promoting the working class struggle. The Party’s task is NOT TO CONCOCT SOME FASHIONABLE MEANS OF HELPING THE WORKERS, but to join up with the workers’ movement, TO BRING LIGHT INTO IT, TO ASSIST THE WORKERS IN THE STRUGGLE THEY THEMSELVES HAVE ALREADY BEGUN TO WAGE.’ (1)

“This principle must be firmly grasped by the entire Party: it is through the course of struggle that the masses learn, it is in CHANGING REALITY that the masses are able to learn more about it - and in turn change it further, and more fundamentally. This is why, in formulating our central task, the Party Programme BEGINS with ‘Build the STRUGGLE…’”

The big struggle in the pre-Party period around working class work was over the role of intermediate workers organizations (IWOs). The struggle broke out of the experience in two areas (New York-New Jersey and San Francisco) where area-wide workers organizations had been built, although shop and industry IWOs had been built up in other areas as well.

In the period right before the formation of the Party, the struggle around the IWOs took shape around the formulation on IWO in the Draft Programme. The Draft Programme said, “while these organizations must be based mainly in the plants and other work places, their overall role is to apply the single spark method to take up every major struggle of all sections of the people against the ruling class.”

Two articles were written based on study of the Draft Programme. The first was based on summing up the experience of the May lst Workers Movement (which had been built as an area-wide IWO in the Bay Area in California by the Revolutionary Union). The M1WM supported the formulation (the draft had been written based on the experience and practice of the M1WM) in the Draft Programme. The May 1st Workers Movement was an organization composed of advanced working class fighters who were brought together to take up the key battles of the day. In addition to the M1WM, there were also several industry caucuses that fought in the shops almost exclusively around the issues there, but organizationally had no real links to the N1WM.

As opposed to this and to the formulation in the Draft Programme, comrades in NY-NJ wrote a criticism of the Draft emphasizing the need for the IWO to be rooted in the shops and industries, to unite with and build the day to day struggle in the shops, as well as to take up the broader social questions. The N.Y.-N.J. position also criticized the Draft for the tendency to separate off, politically and organizationally, the day to day struggles around wages, working conditions, etc. from broader social questions.

At the Congress itself there was discussion over the Draft and it was changed to stress being based in the shops and rooted in the struggle there. (Following is the entire section on IWOs from the first Central Committee report following the Founding Congress of the RCP.)

“(c) On IWOs
The Congress adopted the following change in the Programme, dealing with IWOs: Rewrite (p. 31, col. 1, 3rd complete par., old DP) as follows: ‘These organizations must be based in the plants and other workplaces and must take an active part in building the fight there and helping to give leadership to the struggles of the rank and file workers. Their overall role is to apply the single spark method to take up the most important battles that workers are involved in, together with key battles of other sections of the people against the ruling class, mobilize masses of workers in these struggles and develop them into campaigns of the working class.’ (Next sentence in par. the same.)

“Along with this, the Congress decided to change the order of a part of this subsection, so that the par. beginning ‘These organizations act as conveyor belts...’ be put after the par. rewritten just above and the one following it (which begins ‘These workers’ organizations are intermediate...’) to stress, again, that the main role of these organizations is to build the struggle of the working class and that it is only in this way that they can act as conveyor belts.

“This change - and the rewrite specifically - stresses several important points. First, it takes out the word ‘while’ which had the effect of a disclaimer, downplaying the importance of the day to day struggle of the working class in the plants. The ‘while’ fed the line that ‘while we have to put up with some of this low-grade economic stuff, what we really want to do is take up the important things, OUTSIDE the plants.

“Second, it is not enough to say ‘based mainly in the plants and other workplaces.’ It must be made clear, as the rewrite does that IWOs must actively unite with and play a leading role in the struggles in the plants and must be firmly rooted in these struggles. This, of course, does not mean that unemployed workers, wives or husbands of workers, etc. cannot be members of the IWOs, but it correctly emphasizes that their main base is among the employed workers in the plants and other work places

“Third, the wording (in the original DP) that the IWOs ‘take up every major struggle of all sections of the people against the ruling class’ tends to pull us back to the line that the working class is just one equal contingent in the ‘grand coalition, ‘ back to the erroneous concept of the ‘five spearheads,’ instead of the correct, proletarian line of recognizing and building the struggle of the working class as a class for itself and in this way building the united front under proletarian leadership. The change emphasizes the struggle of the working class as a class for itself, and the role of the IWOs in building this struggle, while at the same time, emphasizing the role of the IWOs in helping to rally the working class ‘to take up and infuse its strength, discipline and revolutionary outlook into every major social movement.

This was a victory over the same “leftism” and dogmatism as cited before. While this was objectively a blow against the M1WM line at the Congress, there was an uneasy truce between the nature of the M1WM and the line in the Programme. At the Congress comrades doing this work in New York and the Bay Area each did self-criticism for errors in their analysis, but what the correct organizational form should be was not fully struggled out.

Avakian had held the line of the M1WN but said nothing about it at the Congress. The lack of deep unity around the incorrectness of the M1WM form was to resurface in full when the sane line as the M1WM was to again be put forward as the leading line of the National United Workers Organization (NUWO) when it was founded in 1977.

A couple of points need to be made about this struggle at the Founding Congress. The target was a left dogmatist line that separated consciousness from struggle and the advanced from the masses of workers. It was an idealist line in that, in opposition to the analysis made of where the struggle of the workers was at, it wanted the workers to fight the big battles against all oppression.

The majority of the delegates at the Congress united with the correct criticism of this left idealist line and the RCP united around the CC report that summed up the advances of the meeting. Now the Avakian crew has said there was a “revisionist headquarters’ operating at the Congress. But what line did it hold? To a man, the “revisionists” pushed for the line in the working class work that was adopted in the Programme and the MPR. In fact, leaders in the “bourgeois headquarters” helped write the new sections, which were the products of broad discussion and general unity. This was not a revisionist line or even a right line, it was the correct line as upheld by the Congress.

Now, of course, there were sharp and serious line deviations at the Congress. There were some who were leaning, or developing a line of, “everything through the center of gravity,” confusing this with the Party’s central task. But this line didn’t come from the “revisionist headquarters” as the Avakian rectification bulletin says. Rather, it was precisely these people who led the struggle against this line at the Founding Congress. In fact, someone who is presently helicoptering to the top of the RCP held to this incorrect line more stubbornly than anyone else in the entire workers movement committee at the Congress. This was a straight-up line of substituting center of gravity for central task, of downplaying the importance of contact between the working class and other strata in developing class consciousness. This line led this person to oppose May Day and fail to develop the July 4th campaign because “it took away from center of gravity work.”

As for Avakian, he has since claimed that he saw all kinds of rightism at the Founding Congress which led him to draw back and caused a lack of open political participation on his part. Did he not agree with the resolutions? Considering his line on the major line question in the working class work, the room should have been filled with self-criticism.

In fact the two tines he spoke during all the plenary sessions of the Congress, we don’t get one word about economism, syndicalism or overemphasis on industrial concentration. We are not talking about a major attack on rightism. But wouldn’t some political points and guidance from the chairman have been in order - such as watch out for the confusion of the center of gravity and central task. What’s the deal anyway - are we next going to be told that someone from the “bourgeois headquarters” held a gun to his head during the Congress?

No, the silence was self-inflicted. Avakian had a different line and he decided to keep quiet about it. Talk about the Party being a qualitative leap in the breaking down of individualism and idealism!

But now with the split the leaders of the RCP have an opening to change the Programme and the Main Political Report. They have certainly seized the time. And they have certainly laid out for all to see what kind of petty bourgeois socialists they are.

In an RCP secret document (soon to be public we suppose) the original section of the Draft Programme on the questions of IWO’s, that was changed at the Founding Congress and criticized by the quoted section of the first CC report above, has now been upheld as correct.

“There is plenty of correct emphasis given in the Programme to the economic struggle, but as experience in building IWOs - and especially in building the NUWO and at its convention has underlined - the key point about them is their political role in the struggle. They cannot play this role if the core of workers who must form their backbone is not won to understand this and specifically to the question of the working class leading the fight against all oppression. The original version the Draft Programme -ed.] gives this proper emphasis and the second version (in the Programme) tends toward eclectically muddling this point. (Nonetheless, the Programme can stand ‘as is’ - but the Mensheviks [current RCP jargon for the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters -ed.] can’t.)”

In addition the formulation of the center of gravity of our work was a key part of the line of the Founding Congress; and this too has been thrown out. The CC report after the Founding Congress said the following on the question of the “center of gravity.”

“(a) On the Center of Gravity: Much of this discussion and struggle revolved around the question of center of gravity, as laid out in the DMPR (Draft Main Political Report). The Congress united around the line that the analysis of the center of gravity in the DMPR is correct, and it is vital for the whole Party to grasp this firmly.

“The Congress went deeply into why this analysis of center of gravity is correct and what it means for the work of the Party and the struggle of the working class, in opposition to various incorrect tendencies that have arisen around this question. The Congress summed up that this correct line represents a repudiation of the old period petty bourgeois line that the working class learns nothing in its day to day struggles. This erroneous line says that really the working class is NOT the revolutionary class or - in a new, slightly more sophisticated form - that ‘we have to build these day to day struggles, in order to be able to get workers involved in the other struggles, the ones that REALLY MATTER’ - such as against national oppression, police repression, etc. This, in fact, is completely opposed to building the struggles of the working class as a class for itself and instead tries to use the working class as a social force to fight in the interests of the petty bourgeoisie to make life a bit better for it under capitalism.

“Of course, as the Programme and MPR emphasize, the struggle of the working class is not and cannot be limited to the fight around wages, working conditions, etc. But this truth cannot be used to deny that today the heart of the attack by the bourgeoisie and the resistance of the proletariat is exactly around increased exploitation. To deny this truth will lead to nothing less than withdrawing from the class struggle.” (underlined points our emphasis -ed.)

Now to quote again from the latest RCP Internal document, on this point:

“The paper [our original US paper that Avakian is attacking -ed.] carries on about the ‘center of gravity’ and related questions for a while and then ominously poses the question, are the ‘left idealists’ out to reverse this verdict? OK, Mensheviks, we’ll bite. It is necessary to sum up this line and the way you blew it up into an economist wind in our Party.

“Even the phrase ‘center of gravity of our Party’s work’ does tend to make a separate stage out of our Party’s work in the economic struggle, making concentration there, which is generally necessary and correct today into a qualitative thing. This is something we should sum up and correct, while grasping that the main deviation was not a phrase that appeared once (yes, once - with all the hubbub it’s hard to believe) in the MPR. The main deviation was to the tendency to turn it into a special slogan.”

In fact, to help the comrades in the RCP we have developed a sectarian scoring system to measure the actual RCP flight to the side lines. In the pre-party period there were five basic questions to be considered. They were:

1) the center of gravity; 2) intermediate workers organizations; 3) whether socialism was a leap over capitalism or not (until recently the position of the RCP was that socialism was a leap); 4) the three worlds analysis; and 5) the relationship between theory and practice.

So far the first two have been summed up by the RCP current leadership as wrong lines. The third has been turned over in essence (see especially the third section of the RCP CC report on China). The fourth is still the public line, but from what we have already heard (in public meetings) from RCP members, the three worlds analysis is soon to go. And finally as presented in the last part of this paper, the RCP has in fact reversed the correct relationship between theory and practice.

Not a bad record, if you want to throw out the positive contributions to the struggle of the RU and the REP. Clearly with these changes you would think the RCP leadership would in fact be reconsidering whether the Congress was an advance at all. It seems from what has now been summed up and what has been overturned that the Congress was, nothing but a festival of the “revisionists.” The CC report that came out after the Congress which was written by Avakian is titled “Consolidate The Great Advance. Unite To Carry Out The Line And Tasks Of Our Party.” In the face of all the so-called wrong lines, where is the advance? Maybe Avakian now sees the advance in the resolutions that were defeated at the Congress. Who knows, but at least from this we can understand their line on downplaying results. You can’t be too hot on results when you promote a Congress whose line you have basically repudiated.

In summation – The main thrust of the Founding Congress was against left idealism, against the failure to grasp where the working class was at and on that basis move forward. This tendency was struggled against, the line was repudiated in the documents from the Congress, but the line was not wiped out and continued to gain strength in the face of new tasks in the period that followed.

One point needs to be made here on how the struggle against idealism was conducted. There was a lot of unity built in the RCP over the need for such struggle. This continued to a certain degree through the work in the next period with the mass line campaign. While the struggle was not as deep as it should have been, and all sides made big errors in the process, some unity was reached. But this start would be very short-lived as the events of the next year would put Avakian and the rest of his clique on the lookout for their chance to strike a blow rather than for opportunities to build off the unity that had been achieved.

After the Congress the RCP took up the task of reorganization, new areas were opened up and the work at the center of gravity proceeded but with much difficulty. As was to be summed up at the next CC meeting, there was still a lot of idealism around both in relationship to where the workers were actually at and, over thinking all the problems in the past would be solved because we were now THE PARTY.

(1) V.I.Lenin, “Draft and Explanation of a Programme for the Social-Democratic Party,” Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow) vol 2, p 112 (emphasis added in MPR)