Sent: May 2, 1979.
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May 2, 1979
To: Minority Conference Planning Committee
From: Frances M. Beal and Bruce Occena
Based on recent discussions in Detroit with members of the OCIC Minorities Commission, we have agreed to present our proposal again concerning your planned minorities conference. We have done this in a more informal manner in the past, but have yet to receive any official response from your committee. Instead unfortunately, we have experienced six months of rumor mongering throughout the party-building movement and a complete distortion of the original proposal. For our part, we have had to take the initiative on a number of separate occasions to raise this with you comrades and place it squarely on the table in order to invite more principled discussion and struggle. The atmosphere that has been created between us is extremely awkward and characterized by liberalism.
We feel this situation has emanated principally from you comrades.
We hope that recently a turn has been effected and that our relationships can be elevated to a more frank and comradely plane.
In this spirit, we have agreed with a proposal of Leslie’s not to restrict this letter narrowly to a restatement of our original proposal, but to also include our opinions of the underlying contradiction in this whole controversy and why we feel it should be “diffused” for the sake of the whole.
We are all too well aware that the relations between those forces united around our party building perspective and those united around the OCIC are deteriorating steadily. This negative trend has been worsened conspicuously lately with Clay Newlin’s sectarian attack on behalf of the steering committee of the OCIC on the recently formed National Network of Marxist Leninist Clubs. It will undoubtedly discourage principled struggle, cooperation and joint work.
In brief, our party building line is being characterized as lacking any substance whatsoever, despite our long-standing and openly-expressed differences on the “fusion perspective” associated with the OCIC process. We are being accused of artificially manufacturing “differences” simply in order to “split the movement” and engage in “circle warfare.” Undoubtedly, you are all well aware by now of the thrust of this line and there is no sense for us to dwell on it at this time nor in this forum.
For our part, we maintain our differences on party building perspective are substantial and are becoming clearer day after day. If forces in the OCIC are confused about their party building line we maintain that it is primarily the result of the sloppy theoretical work of the PWOC in leading the OCIC process. The “fusion line” has collapsed and lost much of its internal logic. It is now so eclectic and amorphous it can mean almost anything one wants it to mean. Recently, it has receded into the background of the OCIC process.
However, current obscurantist attempts to maintain that there is now little connection between the CCIC and the “fusion perspective” on party building is simply unacceptable. Forces in the OCIC are certainly free to engage in such political self-deception, but we refuse to participate in. the charade. Party building is a highly conscious activity of Marxist-Leninists, unlike the class struggle, it simply does NOT proceed spontaneously. Most especially, a process which has sustained itself for a number of years and has grown into a nationwide phenomenon must have a guiding line! We maintain it is the fusion party building line. If many of the cadre involved in the OCIC have still not been consciously and sufficiently trained around the line and in defense of it, then this merely speaks ill of the process and the line itself. But to say that the OCIC is a neutral body which does not yet have a party building line is simply absurd and amounts to little more than a cruel joke being played on the theoretically less developed cadre.
Nevertheless, differences which may exist among us on party building are not the most immediate problem. The question is in what manner and atmosphere do these differences get identified, handled and struggled out? In this we agree with Newlin that sectarian “circle warfare” has begun. But we would locate the source’ within the steering committee of the OCIC and in particular within the political committee of PWOC. Unfortunately, most indications point to the fact that relations are more likely to deteriorate even further before any improvement can be expected. We think it may take some time before unity on party building line can be achieved. In the meantime, we predict that the present line of the OCIC will serve to discourage active political struggle, cooperation and joint work. We would be glad to be proven wrong on this count, but unfortunately, our particular experiences around the minorities conference only serve to reinforce this pessimism.
Again, in our opinion, most of the strain and antagonism which surrounds this controversy stems not from any political differences, but rather from the liberal and sectarian fashion in which these differences were handled.
We advanced our proposal in a straight-forward manner to central comrades associated with the minority conference (i.e. Mike Simmons and Tyree Scott – November, 1978). We spent over three hours discussing our proposal. At the time the discussion appeared to be fruitful and in fact we were somewhat optimistic about the outcome. Mike and Tyree agreed to place our proposal before the entire planning committee and give us a response within a month.
At the end of the same meeting, in a distinct and separate agenda item, Bruce raised what has become known as the famous “Sylvia controversy.” This discussion lasted for approximately 15 minutes. Since then, as we all know, it has been at the center of numerous “summation meetings.” Although we still do not have complete unity on this incident, Bruce wrote a letter to Tyree concerning it in December which we assume you have all read and discussed by now.
During November and December, we received no word from your planning committee. Instead, Tyree began recruitment efforts on the West coast. This in itself is no problem. However, his efforts went hand-in-hand with explicit criticisms of our general party building efforts and our devious “intentions” around the proposal for the minority conference which were characterized as “sectarian” and “elitist.” Meanwhile, all these reports came back to us second hand and Tyree made no attempt to confront us with his criticisms face-to-face.
At about the same time (mid-December), a meeting was held between Sylvia, Margo & David and Bruce & Melinda. It was principally a KDP/CB meeting to exchange criticisms on the manner in which the “Sylvia controversy” had been handled. In the course of this meeting, Brice asked Sylvia whether the Minority Conference Planning Committee had discussed our proposal. She said they had, but she did not feel prepared to talk about it. Sylvia stated that Tyree had written us a letter concerning our proposal. She then had to leave the meeting early.
Later, during the same meeting, David was indiscrete enough to “spill the beans.” He informed us that in fact the party building movement would judge our growing “sectarianism” based a lot on our attitude toward the minority conference: Tyree and Sylvia had nothing to say to us directly, but David became the “bearer of bad news.” Bruce asked David what he actually knew about our proposal on the minority conference – could he recount it in detail? The comrade floundered. It became all too obvious that he was “out on a limb” in possession of a “conclusion” with few substantive facts to back it up.
What a ludicrous sight this presented! The racism and arrogance contained in David’s awkward position aside(!), Bruce advised him to exercise more caution in dealing with such delicate matters and to be better informed before choosing to make such sweeping proclamations. We must admit that our “restraint” in this situation comes from our gradual maturation as communists. If this had occurred a few years earlier, we probably would have “blown him right out of the water” as the saying goes.
We anxiously awaited Tyree’s letter, but it never arrived. In the face of this, we decided to initiate meetings to place this contradiction “on the table” before it got any further “out of hand.” Fran went to Philadelphia to meet with Mike and Bruce went to Seattle to meet with Tyree.
We assume your committee has received reports from Mike and Tyree on both of these meetings. From our point of view, it became clear in the course of those meetings that the source of the contradiction was much deeper than any differences over this particular minority conference. Our respective summations of the first New York, meeting in November were miles apart – like night and day. It was as though we had been at two separate meetings! In the face of such vastly different accounts, our sense is that it is impossible to locate the principal source of the subjectivism concentrating on the November meeting alone. Instead, the whole process of the controversy would have to be examined in attempts to regain our bearings and some degree of objectivity.
Fran’s meeting with Mike to clarify the issue, ask for a response to the proposal and to track down the source of the rumors concerning our original proposal (on January 4, 1979) was not very productive. Unfortunately, no other comrades were present who might assist in objectively verifying the accounts of this meeting. From our point of view, Mike distorted our proposal, denied he knew anything about the origin of the sectarian label placed on our proposal, challenged Fran’s “right” to have been present even at the November meeting (even though we sat together discussing the minority conference for three hours, during which neither Tyree nor Mike raised objections to Fran’s participation), and then asserted that Fran would not even be allowed to attend the minority conference as an observer! (We dare say, the putrid stench of sectarianism embodied in this position, stinks, to high heaven, especially in light of the fact that there are only a handful of third world communists in our trend who are as much in the midst of the party building efforts as Fran.)
On the whole, Bruce’s meeting with Tyree seemed to be positive. (A number of other comrades were present who could confirm this.) Although a qualitatively higher degree of unity was not achieved, the liberal atmosphere was broken and differences were “on the table.” A frank discussion took place on our different summations of the controversies around Sylvia and the minority conference. In addition, the underlying differences in party building perspectives were discussed extensively. Rather than continue to squabble over the November meeting, Bruce restated our proposal concerning the minority conference. Tyree took note of it and gave the indication that he would raise it once again to the planning committee.
In the last three months or so since these respective meetings we have received a number of second band reports that your conference preparations are underway and mobilization efforts are mounting.
Naturally, we relatively central “colored” people in our movement have been asked a number of times to define our relationship to this effort. Since your committee has still not responded to our proposal, we are placed in a very awkward position. Liberalism has once again enveloped the whole controversy. We can only assume our proposal is still being caricatured as a “sectarian sham” and that we are still not welcomed to participate even as observers. Meanwhile, within the OCIC ranks a “summation” (of sorts) spreads and consolidated “quietly” (i.e. similar to the one David held and advanced to us.) Yet NO ONE is prepared to “get out there” with it and struggle over it openly. Meanwhile, a corrosive sectarian atmosphere began to steadily pervade our political relations with OCIC comrades.
This negative phenomena became evident at the recent Point 18 conference in Detroit. The relations between Bruce, on the one hand, and Leslie and Gwen on the other were strained due to the whole way this issue had been handled. Both comrades were already in possession of extensive summations and analysis of this whole controversy, yet chose not to take advantage of the opportunity to raise it to Bruce directly for further struggle. In subsequent discussions, it became clear that neither comrade had a serious general problem with liberalism. Therefore, their hesitancy to raise it for further struggle with Bruce was an indirect indication to us of the subjective and sectarian manner in which our political differences must have been discussed within your planning committee. Apparently, we were painted as somewhat “hopeless cases” politically or minimally as forces “to be careful and cautious with.”
Our speculations aside, the point is that Bruce took the initiative to place the issue squarely on the table again in another attempt to “clear the air” of liberalism and to conduct more straight forward and principled political struggle.
In summation: We do not mind the existence of political differences and struggle per se – this is the process by which correct ideas and lines are forged. Our criticism here is the liberal and sectarian manner in which this struggle has been conducted thus far. From our point of view, we advanced a proposal; it got distorted beyond recognition; your committee never responded to us directly (even to reject our proposal and criticize our “sectarian motivations”); other comrades, not directly involved, have been organized around a “summation” and criticism of our proposal in different parts of the country (i.e. David, and we assume a number of others); this irresponsible behavior has only–served to aggravate the already unhealthy dynamics within the communist movement; on our part, we have accepted the burden of initiating efforts to place this issue “on the table” on numerous separate occasions in order to prevent a complete deterioration and break in our ties.
We think you comrades must accept the principal responsibility for the liberal and sectarian fashion in which this political struggle has been conducted thus far. Of course, as we have indicated earlier, the problem is deeper. Style of work and methods of struggle cannot be separated from one’s party building line. Central to such a perspective is the conception of what a truly Leninist party, would be and how rigorous and principled inner party struggle would be conducted. The confusion over this particular incident is extremely telling since the political difference involved is a relatively minor one, Heaven only knows how very serious political differences would ever get handled and sustained over a period of tine while maintaining overall party unity and spirit. In short, we feel you comrades are being trained under an incorrect party building line which is beginning to have a negative effect both on the pace of your political development and your methods of struggle.
To begin with, we never had any difficulty in appreciating and uniting with the initiative taken by the OCIC concerning this minority conference. Our sense that it could serve to benefit our trend’s party building efforts immensely remains unchanged. In the past we have never had any difficulty interacting constructively with OCIC initiated conferences and activities. (If there are any criticisms of our participation, they have never been brought to our attention.) Little did we expect that this (of all activities) would present such a problem for our participation.
When we approached you comrades we had two main questions. The first concerned what the political level (or mass line) of the conference would be. We had heard talk about it being directed towards “advanced workers” and were not sure then whether the focus would still be the need to draw more third world cadre into the center of the party building movement. Once Mike and Tyree informed us that the conference would assume participants were already at the point where they understood the role of a communist vanguard and the importance to forge a new party, then we considered that our first question had been answered satisfactorally in the immediate sense.
We stress in the immediate sense because we all recognized that there was a deeper line difference here based on our disagreements over the fusion perspective and the relationship of communists to advanced workers. For our part, we make more of a distinction between communist elements and the working class and give_ less significance to the class origins of communist cadre than you comrades do. However, we agreed that so long as we were agreed on the mass “line” of this particular conference, our immediate question was answered.
Our second question was how closely the conference would be tied to recruitment into the OCIC. We were extremely frank about the fact that this would determine the extent and level of our participation since we had no intention of joining the OCIC since our different perspectives on the party building process was crucial. Since the initiative has been with the OCIC. we respected the fact that the answer also, would not rest with you comrades. We wanted only to advance a proposal for your consideration and we made it clear that we would abide by whatever decision you arrived at.
Our political argument in brief was as follows: The issue at hand is key to our whole trend, not solely to the OCIC forces. Conscious efforts needed to be spent convincing minority communists to begin to take up the party building question much more seriously.
Failure to do so would have a serious negative impact on both the process as well as the future character of the party. Based on this broader, common concern we could unite all of our efforts in planning and building for this conference.
A conference limited to minority cadre is acceptable only to the extent that the political objectives are spelled out clearly. In our opinion, there are times when such activities are called for because they can provide the best external conditions to address problems and contradictions that if resolved, will advance the whole. In this light, our suggestion was that the main theme of the conference be examination of two major reasons why third world communists have tended to either abandon or shy away from the party building movement: (1) white chauvinism within communist ranks, and (2) narrow nationalist deviations among minority cadre.
Our sense is that in a conference of minority cadre the atmosphere would be conducive to frank discussion and struggle around these matters and much progress could be made. However, the planning and preparation work would have to be as thorough-going as possible (i.e. close attention to drafting working papers in advance to guide the discussion, etc.)
Concerning the differing perspectives on how the party will actually get forged, in our opinion there could be some organized presentation and discussion of the various lines in contention, but this should not be the major theme or focus of the conference. Our reasoning is that it would be far too narrow an orientation and could also lead to serious political errors. As we mentioned above, to conduct such “specialized” conferences (i.e. restricted to minorities, women, etc.) within the communist movement – the political objectives must be crystal clear otherwise a positive thing can turn into its opposite and retard the development of the communist ranks as a whole.
In our opinion, it is acceptable to organize a minorities conference around the theme of the importance for third world cadre to begin to more actively and seriously take up this central task. However, we would oppose anything that would even slightly suggest that there is such a thing as a “minority people’s perspective on party building.” Every third world communist who takes up the party building struggle must stand on their own two feet as Marxist Leninists. The fact that they are colored recedes to a secondary consideration in these matters. All too often the communist movement, with the best of intentions has ghettoized minority cadre in the peripheral and lower strata of the party’s life and leadership or restricted our responsibility to the party’s “third world concerns.” This has come from confusing “special efforts” at recruitment with “special treatment” (usually patronizing) once within the communist ranks. For us, minority cadre will reach their full potential as communists only to the extent they are challenged to assume all-sided responsibility for the class as a whole, the movement as a whole, the party as a whole.
If we are attempting to recruit more third world communists into the center of the party-building movement, they should in no way be sheltered or given an impression that the process is more developed than it actually is; that the process is simpler or clearer than it actually is, etc. The guiding line and direction is not all that clear at present; there are numerous contradictory lines in contention, the struggle will be difficult and demanding. We want them not only to enter this process, but to exert themselves fully and actually help forge the line in the course of struggle. For this reason, we think it would be a serious mistake to tie an initial minority recruitment conference too closely and directly to the OCIC process. (We would hold this position, even if we had initiated the conference in reference to our party building line.)
Therefore, our proposal in brief was to broaden the theme of the conference and open up the planning committee to allow for the active participation of third world cadre who are central to the party building movement of our whole trend, but who might have differences with the orientation of the OCIC process. This would allow us an opportunity for close joint work around a common concern, despite differences we may presently have over party building line.
To tell the truth, we were somewhat excited about the potential of such a joint undertaking after the November meeting. Since then our enthusiasm has declined drastically in light of our negative experience around this whole incident. However, for the sake of unity and principled struggle, we have decided not to withdraw the proposal, but to keep it on the table for your consideration. This in brief, is our proposal concerning the minority conference and the political perspective underlying it.
A few secondary comments: We have heard our proposal characterized as an appeal for some “privileged position” vis-a-vis the OCIC process.– that we want “in” to the activities we like, while holding “out” on the question of joining. We feel a bit embarrassed for the OCIC on this count, but will respond nonetheless.
To begin with, we have never given the false impression that we ever had confidence and agreement in the orientation or direction of the OCIC process. Yet we have never opposed nor obstructed your own efforts at internal consolidation and testing the validity of your party building line in practice. In this sense, we have attempted to be principled and “know our place.” In Point I8 conferences, for example, we are satisfied with observer status and do not demand “in” on the planning and direction of that OCIC effort.
But as Lenin would say, there are OCIC activities and OCIC activities! Certainly there is a substantial difference between an OCIC-sponsored Point 18 conference and an OCIC-initiated minority Marxist Leninist conference! Needless to say we are correct in thinking we have a different relationship to this latter activity.
There are so few third world cadre in the midst of our trend and party building efforts, it is not even funny. In addition, the OCIC process has not been able, up to the present time, to successfully attract to itself either the majority nor many of the more developed third world cadre who are active in party building. This in no way is meant as an insult to you comrades, but rather as a conspicuous statement of fact. Therefore, we are a bit embarrassed for your sake. It appears all too clear to us why we have chosen to attempt (albeit unsuccessfully) to involve ourselves centrally in this particular OCIC-initiated activity. We owe an apology to no one. The charge itself – whether articulated by white or third world cadre – is obviously stupid and objectively racist.
The situation has reached a rather messy stage. We agree with Gwen and Leslie that possibly the only way to rescue it at this point is to have your committee respond to our proposal and either accept or reject it based on its political merits. In this manner, the political differences may still stand, but much of the unnecessary subjectivism and antagonism can be eliminated.
Comrades, as we’ve mentioned in the beginning of this letter, we are convinced that the profound subjectivism surrounding this conference is not an isolated incident.
At its root is the deepening struggle over party building line. But even this line difference does not explain the liberalism and antagonism which have entered into our relationship causing you comrades to view us with such mistrust, zero in on our supposed motivations and intentions while being relatively ignorant of the factual political substance of our proposal– or worse yet, actually refusing to pursue the political differences, but insisting that our position is sectarian and opportunist, pure and simple.
We think this is a good example of subjective assertion trying to pass itself off as fact. But as Lenin said, “facts are stubborn things,” and it’s clear that you comrades have been extremely liberal in avoiding any substantive political discussions on our actual proposal. Consequently, we do not think party building differences can fully explain the present problem.
We agree with Clay Newlin that it is more a development of a sectarian deviation and circle warfare mentality within the movement which explains the phenomena of dissipation of party spirit. However, we locate the deviation within the steering committee of the CCIC and the political committee of PWOC. Unfortunately, all initial indications (including this particular experience), point to the conclusion that it will take some time and struggle before it gets sufficiently flushed out as to where the sectarian impulse principally lies. In the meantime, relations look like they will get worse before they will get better. There have been a whole series of new attacks upon our line and class standpoint (i.e. the charge of sectarianism). We assume you are fairly familiar with them, since it is apparently taking the character of a full blown OCIC campaign. The battlecry seems to be “After Point 18, then the rectification people are the next target. If the minority conference controversy is any sort of preview, we are obviously in for a period of hell and frustration.
Nevertheless, from our point of view, there is too much at stake here for us to become squeamish in the face of this attack. The essence of sectarianism is “placing the part before the whole.” In our view, the struggle for the party is the “whole” in this period, and the struggle over correct party building line is central to that. Shades of differences or so-called embryonic differences on party building line cannot be glossed over or obscured– it can mean the difference between success and failure in this awesome undertaking and we cannot afford to “play with history.”
For us, you comrades are a good political barometer since the conspicuous weakening of ties between third world cadre (given our common experiences) does not come about easily nor spontaneously and must be guided by a fairly strong and consolidated line. Also, in our political interaction, we feel many of you have reflected the line in a straight-forward manner. For example in the midst of discussing the details of the minority conference struggle, comrades would stop and say straight out – o.k., why don’t you folks join the OCIC? Clearly, that is the line you are being asked to swallow and the real source of our “differences” over the minority conference.
What is particularly telling to us is that when we have tried to actually pursue discussions about our differences in party building line, you comrades are hesitant and not prepared to discuss it. Rather, the struggle gets reduced to whether or not we will join the OCIC. When we raise criticisms of both the line and process of the OCIC, comrades are unable to defend it adequately. From our point of view, this is essentially a sectarian standpoint disguised in a vague “call for unity.” The whole here is the rigorous struggle for a correct party building line – to insist upon an organizational affiliation, i.e. OCIC, as a prerequisite starting point, while at the same time being unwilling and unprepared to discuss differences in party building line – is in fact placing the part above the whole and the secondary above the principal.
From our observations, you comrades are being trained under an incorrect line to shun thoroughgoing theoretical and political struggle. Instead you are being taught to blunt, obscure and avoid line struggle. This will not provide us with the human material with which to forge a Leninist party. Moreover, it serves to hinder and retard your own theoretical and political development while consolidating backward ideas and prejudices, e.g. anti-intellectualism. While we are critical of the fusion line for the negative impact it has on all the cadre under its influence, we are particularly sensitive (for obvious reasons) to how poorly it trains and develops third world cadre in particular. In short, what we have seen so far, we don’t like; the more we see, the less we like. Therefore, attempts to coerce or pressure us into the OCIC short of thoroughly thrashing out this difference on party building perspective will prove fruitless.
Comrades, we were encouraged to be as frank as possible in this letter. Clearly, we have taken you at your word. The main contours of the brewing line struggle and its protracted character is hopefully clearer to all of us by now. In this light, we would suggest that we “diffuse” this particular controversy over the minority conference and move it off the front battle lines. Surely, we will have no shortage of particular controversies which will embody this general line struggle! For the sake of not further aggravating the already difficult struggle against racism within the communist ranks, let’s make sure that this particular struggle does not become a “football.” To the extent that we can reach unity on this, we can hopefully all cooperate in handling this contradiction better.