Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

OCIC Steering Committee

Conciliation of Ultra-Leftism and OC Membership

First Issued: December 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The recent national meeting of the OC voted almost unanimously to require unity with Principle 18 as a condition for membership in the OC. This concluded a struggle within the anti-“left” tendency which has raged ever since the organization of the tendency was undertaken in earnest by the Committee of Five. This organizational decision was based on the political resolution was adopted to the effect that Principle 18 is a necessary line of demarcation with “left” opportunism.

Considerable controversy developed at the national meeting, however, over the correct attitude to take toward those comrades within the tendency who uphold the content of Principle 18 but who do not agree that the tendency’s development requires a break with “left” internationalism at this time. The SC’s position was that they should be allowed to participate in the OC effort so long as they did not allow their disagreement with the majority view (i.e. that demarcation with “left” internationalism is essential for the tendency’s development) to obstruct the OC’s development of its work along the lines of the majority view. Others took the position that they should be excluded from the OC.

The SC’s position prevailed by a relatively narrow margin. But the discussion around the question was weak. The SC bears a major responsibility for this because it failed to adequately prepare the discussion. This inattention to the question stemmed from the SC’s failure to grasp its significance. The extremely important question of the attitude which the OC would take toward minority views within the OC was at stake. The SC should have pointed out the question at issue and its significance before the meeting, prepared the discussion by writing a short statement and inviting the dissemination of alternate points of view, and summarized its position in a preamble to the membership resolution which it introduced. The discussion around the question suffered from spontaneity as a result of this error and was based to a large extent on pragmatism and sectarianism. Many delegates voted for the resolution on the basis of a narrow pragmatic argument–the best way to win over the remaining comrades who continued to urge conciliation with “left” internationalism was to allow their continued participation in the OC and win them over “from the inside.” And many delegates who voted against the resolution did so on subjective grounds–after all the OC’s energy which the struggle over Principle 18 had consumed, no tolerance should be shown towards those who were still not won over. In this paper, we will attempt to show that the SC’s position was correct –not for pragmatic reasons, but because it represents the principled approach to building Marxist-Leninist unity.

In order to provide the proper basis for understanding the organizational question – the membership rules of the OC – the political question must first be understood. A vigorous struggle was conducted for the recognition that Principle 18 is a fundamental line of demarcation with ultra-leftism. Those comrades who uphold Principle 18 but who do not agree that it is a line of demarcation with ultra-leftism stand in definite contradiction with this line. But we must recognize the qualitative difference between rejecting Principle 18 and rejecting this line on consolidating a Marxist-Leninist trend. In our opinion, those comrades who urged the exclusion of the conciliators from the OC were taking a sectarian view in blurring the distinction between conciliation of “left” internationalism and “left” internationalism itself. It is a rightist error to ignore the truth that “whoever insists on a conciliatory attitude towards opportunists is bound to sink to opportunism itself” (as Stalin put it in the History of the CPSU; p. 45 in the Proletarian Publishers edition) and to hold back from taking up sharp struggle against conciliation of opportunism. But it is a “left” sectarian error to equate conciliation with full-blown opportunism itself.

As the process of building a Marxist-Leninist trend develops, we will be called upon again and again to make principled distinctions between serious opportunist deviations and conciliation of these deviations. There is no magic formula for determining when conciliation of opportunism takes the qualitative leap toward established opportunism. Each contradiction will have to be examined in the concrete historical context. At this time, comrades who conciliate “left” opportunism by refusing to recognize that Principle 18 is a line of demarcation with “left” opportunism, but who unite with Principle 18, should be considered part of the anti-“left” tendency. While we recognize the weakness in their conception of how to forge a Marxist-Leninist trend, we should also recognize that their political stand on Principle 18 objectively places them in sharp opposition to both the ultra-lefts and the centrists.

Those comrades who urged the exclusion of conciliators of “left” internationalism from the OC were, in effect, urging that the OC adopt a 19th principle of unity. This principle would be along the following line:

Principle 19: In the present period, the task of building a Marxist-Leninist trend requires demarcation with “left” internationalism.

But the entire struggle in the OC was around the question of Principle 18 as a line of demarcation with ultra-leftism, not over Principle I9. At no time during the struggle did anyone propose that Principle I9 was a line of demarcation with ultra-leftism. That is, it was never proposed that comrades who opposed “left” internationalism, but who also held that a Marxist-Leninist trend could be built in unity with forces who did uphold “left” internationalism, were not part of the Marxist-Leninist tendency. To do so would have made party-building strategy a splitting question. But splitting the tendency over party-building strategy was never the issue in the debate over Principle 18. The question was always the question of splitting over a matter of political line. That is, the debate was over Principle 18 as a line of demarcation, not Principle 19. The SC argued vigorously that the OC should adopt the party-building strategy embodied in Principle 19. But it never argued that Principle I9 should be adopted as a principle of unity of the OC.

This is an extremely important distinction. We must always keep clear the distinction between advocating that the OC adopt a particular position and advocating that the position should be a principle of unity of the OC (i.e. that the position is a line of demarcation between Marxism-Leninism and opportunism). At its recent national meeting, the OC adopted many positions. But, quite correctly, no one argued that comrades who did not agree with them should be excluded from the OC. The OC would rapidly fragment and lose any potential for developing into a genuine center for our tendency if every majority viewpoint was incorporated into its principles of unity.

We should also be clear that it is a very serious step for the OC to adopt a principle of unity; a step which should only be taken after a thorough and careful discussion of the question. Although our opposition to the adoption of Principle I9 is based on the political principle rather than the inadequacy of the discussion of the question, it is clear that there has been little discussion of the adoption of Principle 19. There had been none before the national meeting.

The OC is striving to build a process which encompasses the fullest possible extent of the anti-“left” tendency. While it would be mechanical to propose that every communist in the anti-“left” tendency should automatically be eligible for membership in the OC, their exclusion from the OC must be carefully weighed. Clearly, the OC must maintain the ability to move forward on the basis of the will of the majority. The OC cannot develop unless ideological struggle within it can be summed up, decisions made, questions closed, and the work of the OC developed along the lines of the decisions which have been rendered. Otherwise, the pace of the OC’s development will be determined by the most backward views in the tendency. Comrades who refuse to submit to this, of course, cannot be allowed to participate in the OC. But the exclusion from the OC of comrades in the anti-“left” tendency who submit to the will of the majority cannot be justified.

It is vital for the development of a non-sectarian approach to building a Marxist-Leninist trend for the OC to learn how to incorporate minority views – even on central questions – on a principled basis.

One clarification is necessary to avoid misunderstanding. The above should not be taken to imply that every majority decision taken by the OC is a closed question within the OC. It is one thing for the OC to make a decision on how to proceed; it is another for the OC to decide that a question is closed. The decision at the conference that there is still a single anti-revisionist movement is an example of a decision on a central political question which does not close the question. Members of the OC who hold that the ultra-left trend is no longer part of the party-building movement are still free to argue their point of view without any restrictions. The decision that Principle 18 is a line of demarcation with ultra-leftism, however, closes the question. Members of the OC who do not agree must recognize that the period for discussion of the question is over. They must not allow their disagreement with the majority view to obstruct the OC’s development along the line of that view.

* * *

One factor which may have induced some delegates to vote against the position of the SC was the feeling that those comrades who refuse to recognize that Principle 18 is a necessary line of demarcation with ultra-leftism are not really consolidated around the correctness of Principle 18. Indeed, the entire experience of the OC has been that those who raised objections to demarcation with “left” internationalism were doing so as a cover for their unity with “left” internationalism. The Boston Partybuilding Organization, the Communist Unity Organization, the Workers Unity Organization, and the Milwaukee Alliance all began by opposing demarcation with “left” internationalism and ended by openly advocating a “left” internationalist perspective themselves. But there is a major difference between these forces and the comrades presently in the OC who maintain a conciliationist position. These comrades uphold the correctness of Principle 18, a very significant difference. The forces who left the OC never upheld the correctness of Principle 18. This distinction should not be underestimated. There is a major ideological contradiction between the conciliationist comrades presently in the OC and the centrists. In spite of their conciliationist posture, they can contribute to the offensive against the politics of the ultra-left trend.

Nevertheless, a doubt may remain as to the depth of the consolidation around the content of Principle 18 of the conciliationist comrades in the OC. One of the delegates who took the lead in opposing the SC’s resolution, for example, said in informal discussion that there were several members of the North Star Socialist Organisation who defended the Theory of the Three Worlds although the organization as a whole united with Principle 18. It would appear that this is what may have been motivating that delegates opposition to the SC resolution rather than the question which was actually being discussed–whether comrades should be excluded from the OC because they disagree with the majority’s strategy for consolidating a break with ultra-leftism. But if it was the instability of the ideological consolidation around the content of Principle 18 that was at issue, it should have been addressed directly. A resolution should have been introduced aimed at guaranteeing the consolidation of all OC members around the content of Principle 18.

A serious federationist error in the way the OC’s membership rules have been developed makes the concern about the consolidation of all OC members around the content of Principle 18 a real one. The OC’s membership rules, as they have been developed, allow for the interpretation that a group can unite with the OC’s principles of unity on the basis of a collective decision without each and every member of the group uniting with the principles of unity. A group can unite with Principle 18, for example, by a majority vote of its membership without each member of the group uniting with it. This is clearly an untenable state of affairs for an organization which is not organised along federationist lines. We cannot allow individuals who could not join the OC as individuals to join the OC by joining a group which belongs to the OC! This could only be justified if groups within the OC exerted organizational discipline on their members activity within the OC – i.e. if the OC was organized as a federation of autonomous groups.

Establishing a consistently non-federationist approach to membership in the OC should be taken up at the next national meeting. The OC must insist that any group which belongs to the OC must have a political basis of unity which is at least as high as the basis of unity of the OC. Every member of an OC group must have a high enough level of unity with the OC to be eligible for OC membership as an individual.

In the interim, it is incumbent upon the SC to ensure the consolidation of every member of the OC around Principle 18. Presumably, those organizations which hold that Principle 18 is a line of demarcation with ultra-leftism exclude those who are not consolidated around the content of Principle 18 from their membership. The situation in the one organization in the OC which does not agree that Principle 18 is a line of demarcation with ultra-leftism may be different. It would be consistent with their view to admit members who are not consolidated around the content of Principle 18 or even those who oppose it. The SC will proceed by first undertaking an investigation of the situation in this organization. The results of this investigation will be made known to the OC and, if necessary, an appropriate course of action will be proposed.

Steering Committee, OCIC
December 1979