Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers Congress (M-L) Friends on the East Coast

ML Collective Struggle: Leadership selection summed up

First Published: The Communist, Vol. V, No. 14, July 30, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The following contribution from friends on the East Coast deals with errors made in selecting leaders for their collective and how they came to correct these errors. Specifically, they show how national chauvinist and anti-working class tendencies influenced their decisions. These same tendencies are common throughout our movement.

Within the WC(ML) we have made similar errors towards comrades who are oppressed nationalities, working class and women. During this period of internal rectification we have begun to investigate and sum-up our chauvinist errors. We need to expose and understand what particular forms these errors took and the political lines used to justify them. We plan to publish our lessons so that our experience, good and bad, can be used by the movement as a whole.

Likewise, this contribution from our friends serves the same purpose. It is by sharing these lessons that we contribute to the defeat of chauvinism within our ranks and within the working class as a whole. Without such a struggle we cannot build a communist party that is firmly rooted in the multinational working class and democratic movements.

Our collective went through some growing pains a while back when trying to get better organized. We thought other groups might be able to learn from and/or identify with some of the struggles we had, as well as, some of the errors we made. So here’s our story.

Our collective had been meeting with alternating chairpersons, with every decision a collective one, with a “volunteerist”, i.e. spontaneous, division of labor – in short, with little real planned direction. After a while we began to see how much we needed organization. With some guidance from the Workers Congress we started to study about democratic centralism, about Dimitrov’s “Criteria for choosing cadre”, and about the idea of the “most advanced”. One division of labor we considered involved having three leaders. Under this plan each one would deal with political (i.e. united front etc.) or ideological (i.e. theoretical education), or organizational (i.e. group life) work. Each would have specific duties under each one of these work categories.

Over the next few weeks we studied some and struggled about the questions of how many leaders were appropriate for a group of our size and who would make good leaders. It took us quite some time to finally get to the point of voting. It seemed that most of us were resisting a higher form of organization than just a study group and having someone “in charge”. Many of us still looked at things with a petty-bourgeois mentality of “let everyone be in charge”, “do your own thing”, “freedom of choice” etc. This outlook made our group weak, disorganized, and motionless.

Finally, we got down to business. Prom a previous meeting we saw that three people were consistently considered good choices for leader. It should be added here that our group was one-half female, one-third minority, and all but one of us had petty-bourgeois backgrounds. So our group centered its discussion around two points: 1) How many leaders we should have; and 2) Who the leaders should be. The group decided that two people in leadership was the most correct number for a group of our size. Now the hard thing was deciding who of the three should be leaders.

After some discussion, struggle, and indecision, we cast our votes. Our group chose (not unanimously) a male and female, both white and both with petty-bourgeois backgrounds as our leaders. The person who lost out in our reduction from three leaders to two leaders was the only Black member of our group, as well as the only working class member of the group.

The group’s decision troubled some members. Concerns were raised between meetings about what our decision represented, what our decision neglected and if our decision was even based on any concrete information of the backgrounds of the people being considered. We decided to backtrack a little and have the three people present the group with short auto-biographies. We hoped that in this way we could be more systematic and less superficial in our decision making.

At our next meeting the Black member presented us with a typed outline summarizing his involvement in the Movement and his political development. The other two members gave oral summaries of their political developments. Others, in the group, became aware of the fact that our Black member was just as qualified as the other two white members who were initially chosen. So, why wasn’t our Black member one of the two leaders chosen? Was our group displaying tendencies of racism and/or white chauvinism? Was our group just paying lip service to the Marxist-Leninist belief in the dictatorship of the proletariat in theory and not promoting working-class leadership in practice? Around the same time our group was get ting involved in affirmative action work but where was the concept of affirmative action when it came to choosing leaders????

These questions and more were the center of our discussion that evening. There were moments of sharp struggle when some white members were forced to be introspective about the reasons for their choices. They had to ask themselves and be asked: Am I being racist? Am I being chauvinistic? Our discussion was curtailed by a reconciliation. The white male initially chosen, (who, by the way, is very active in affirmative action work), stepped down as leader and suggested that the Black male and the white female remain as leaders of our group. This the group decided on although, again, it was not a unanimous decision.

Several months passed before our group analysed our struggle over the question of leadership. In retrospect, we feel that our errors were, primarily, due to the spontaneous manner in which we held our elections. Lenin states in WHAT IS TO BE DONE? that the error of “bowing to spontaneity” is generally due to lack of training and low theoretical level. Our group suffers from both. We put more emphasis on the act of choosing leaders than on developing a study plan and a good method for choosing leaders. We made the mistake of not laying out clearly and thoroughly, beforehand, what kind of leaders our Marxist-Leninist collective should have.

We should have, given the make-up of our group, established principles to answer the questions of:
1. Does our group support working class leadership?
2. Does our group support national minority leadership?
3. Does our group support women leadership?

In speaking to these questions we could have identified and sorted out, from the beginning, our petty-bourgeois and chauvinistic tendencies. Instead we ignored the class and national character of our group. We should have struggled and gotten a clear understanding, through theoretical study and discussion, of the errors we did not want to make, or should we say, what principles we wanted to uphold.

But from the jump we got off on the wrong foot. We were in a rush to get organized. We did things backwards. We were haphazard in our methods; superficial in our study. We, in essence, continued in the same spontaneous way that had characterized our group for months. Even in our efforts to become less spontaneous, (i.e. more structured), we were spontaneous! Objectively, the result of our lack of ideological struggle, was to support, in practice, the most backward tendencies in our group. These tendencies of white chauvinism and petty-bourgeois ideology were not even challenged until a call for re-election came. Only then did we engage in any real struggle.

Stalin said:

The theory of spontaneity is the theory of belittling the role of the conscious element in the movement, the ideology of ’khvostism’ (tailism), the logical basis of all opportunism. (FOUNDATIONS OF LENINISM, Peking ed., p.24)

We feel that our lack of training and low theoretical level led us to be spontaneous in everything we did. This spontaneity, in turn, led us to make right opportunist errors. Our first election objectively stated that we, in fact, did not uphold the importance and necessity of working class or national minority leadership. Our first election results objectively showed that our group supported chauvinism and petty-bourgeois qualities over proletarian internationalism and proletarian qualities.

Only through sharp ideological struggle did we begin to see what our decision represented. Because of our spontaneous methods we easily made right opportunist errors. Looking back, we were glad that the group had decided on having the Black male member and the white female member remain in leadership.

Our group has learned a lot in our summation of our leadership question. We now strive harder not to be spontaneous in any aspect of our collective life. We know that as Marxist-Leninists we need to strive to raise our theoretical level and to become more expertise. Our collective seems to have consolidated some over our analysis of our leadership struggle and we thought other collectives might benefit from hearing about ours.

Friends from the East Coast