Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Dave F.

Speech on the Draft Plan for a Leading Ideological Center

Delivered: November 25, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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OCIC Note: The following speech was given by Dave F., representing the Steering Committee of the Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center. Dave made the speech at a forum sponsored by the Marxist-Leninist Education Project that took place on November 25, 1979, in San Francisco.

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Comrades, on behalf of the OCIC’s Steering Committee, I would like to thank the MLEP for this opportunity to speak on the topic of the OCIC’s Draft Plan for a Leading Ideological Center. My speech will briefly cover the history of our movement, but in the main focus on the need for building a leading center for our tendency. In addition, I will take time to go into how the Ideological Center will be related to our practical work in the mass movements, and discuss the differences between the draft plan and the ideas proposed by the rectification forces. I will conclude by discussing some of the concrete initiatives the OC is involved in order to lay the basis for building a national center.

When I sat down to write my speech, I counted the number of organizations which claim to be the vanguard party of the U.S. working class. Do you know that there are at least 12 such organizations? You would think that with over a dozen vanguard parties that the working class would have more than enough leaders.

But in thinking about the dozen self-proclaimed vanguards: the CPUSA, RCP, CP-ML, CWP. .. well you know all the initials, I think I am safe in saying that none of these organizations, in reality is leading the working class in their struggle for state power.

The revisionists abandoned this road long ago arguing for a peaceful transition to socialism, and dealing with the dictatorship of the proletariat as an outmoded marxist concept. The CPUSA’s reformist anti-monopoly coalition strategy, and their flunkeyism towards the Soviet Union, offer no hope for revolutionary change in the U.S.

And although the anti-revisionist movement recognized the bankruptcy of the CPUSA, for over 20 years our movement has not been able to consolidate a real working class alternative to revisionism. The ant-revisionist movement, and its organizations which comprise over-half of the dozen parties I mentioned, have been mired in ultra-leftism including dogmatism, left-opportunism, and sectarianism.

I am sure that these organizations do not represent the working class when I think of how the OL opposed progressive reformer Ed Sadlowski in his bid for the presidency of the United Steel Workers, arguing that such a reformer was more dangerous than an open reactionary. I am equally sure when I think of the RCP opposing busing in Boston, and the Equal Rights Amendment for women, on the basis that these reforms divide the class or sow bourgeois democratic illusions among the class. And how could these organizations represent the best elements of the working class, when they failed to support the MPLA, attacked Cuban aid, and aligned themselves with the reactionary forces in Southern Africa, not to mention their own bourgeoisie. Yet these organizations hailed themselves the new leaders of the U.S. proletariat, despite the lack of a sober analysis of the state of the working class and communist movements. Each formed their own self-proclaimed vanguards, despite the fact that each remains basically isolated from the major struggles of the class.

In opposition to the ultra-left trend our anti-ultra-left tendency emerged. It enjoyed a rapid growth after the exposure of the ultra-left class collaborationists around Angola. Today, the anti-left tendency consists of a variety of organizations, collectives, and individuals. It includes a number of fairly small local organizations who have begun serious organizing in the working class movements. Some national practical and theoretical work exists. Our tendency includes the Guardian newspaper, the forces surrounding the OCIC, and the NNMLC. It includes forces who hold divergent party-building lines including fusion, rectification, as well as positions developed by El Comite MINP, the Tucson Marxist-Leninist Collective, exc. And it includes a large number of individual activists and intellectuals who are presently part of no organized form.

But on the whole our tendency is very young and underdeveloped. We lack trained cadre, professional practice in the working class, and national forms of organization. We have not even fully critiqued the legacy of ultra-leftism, and revisionism, much less begun the elaboration of an alternative revolutionary program, strategy, and tactics to the U.S. revolution. In the present conditions, we are best described as a tendency, or an emerging trend.

IT IS IN THIS PRESENT CONTEXT, THE LEGACY OF ULTRA-LEFTISM AND LOW LEVEL OE DEVELOPMENT THAT THE OCIC IS CALLING FOR DISCUSSION AROUND THE DRAFT PLAN FOR A LEADING IDEOLOGICAL CENTER. The plan is seen as a step to bring together all of our forces into a common center. A center whose purpose would be to engage our tendency in common theoretical work, centralized debate and work towards the development of leadership necessary for our future party. It is a plan designed to help us overcome our present state of backwardness, to unite our forces, and forge ourselves into a viable revolutionary Marxist Leninist trend.

The Draft Plan stresses building a center for the bulk of forces in our tendency. Therefore, the basis of unity is the 18 points. We feel that these 18 points correctly identify the fundamental propositions of revolutionary Marxism-Leninism: the leading role of the proletariat, the need for a new vanguard party, the necessity of smashing the state machinery and establishing socialism, etc. In addition, the 18 points demarcate with the main deviations from marxism: revisionism, trotskyism, and left opportunism. Finally, the 18th point upholds proletarian internationalism against “left” internationalism, by targeting US imperialism, and not the Soviet Union as the main enemy of the world’s peoples.

The 18 points are broad enough so as not to exclude any genuine forces in our tendency. Participation in the center will be open to all who share the 18 points, in addition to the commitment to forge a single center for our tendency at this time. The center will not subscribe to one of the existing all-sided party-building lines, either fusion’ or rectification, nor other positions. The center will not be the exclusive domain of this or that circle.

Why does the Draft Plan emphasize the need for a single center to draw the bulk of our tendency’s forces into? First, because we do not believe that the revolutionary theory, or leadership which we need to guide our party presently exists. No single circle encompasses these lines or leaders. Therefore, we believe that we need, a common process, a common center, for our fragmented forces to work together in a common effort.

Secondly, the Draft Plan stresses the need for a single center to carry out our immense theoretical tasks: the independent elaboration of Marxism-Leninism to U.S. conditions. Presently, our theoretical formation is low, and theoretical work is carried out by a few cadre spread between various organizations. With such a large theoretical task, and dispersed theoretical resources, it is in our tendency’s interest to combine its efforts in a common center.

Thirdly, the Draft Plan calls for centralized ideological struggle. It does so to avoid the legacy of ultra-left party building efforts where competition between organizations predominated over a process conducive to principled unification of forces. Ideological struggle has often taken the form of a struggle between organizations, instead of between different political lines, even where those lines cut across organizational divisions. Within a single center, ideological struggle is taken out of the straitjacket of competing circles. Every cadre in our tendency participates in the ideological discussions as an individual, not bound by organizational discipline. In this way, ideological unity is forged between individual Marxist-Leninists around leading line.

Fourth, the Draft Plan stresses the need for a single ideological center as the best process for building and developing our revolutionary leadership. The Draft Plan calls for every practical worker in our movement to be a member of the center. We do not want to leave theory to a few leading individuals alone, but create a process where everyone benefits and contributes to the national theoretical process. Every member of our tendency must take up our theoretical tasks. It is in the course of this open, and systematized ideological struggle that new leaders will be developed, and eventually the leading core of our party will be forged.

The Draft Plan does not expect the center to have a leading character overnight. The development of revolutionary theory and leadership is a protracted process. According to the Draft Plan, a step forward would be to create a national theoretical center that would begin on our most pressing theoretical tasks: a critique of ultra-leftism and party building strategy.

All of the organizational aspects of the national center have not been worked out, but the founding statement of the OCIC describes the type of process we need: national study teams could be established, drawing together the most advanced cadre from the entire tendency and engaging them in joint theoretical work. Such teams could pursue intense investigation for a period of time, draft up working papers and circulate them for bread discussion. Periodic forums and conferences could also be organized to sum up progress and allow for regular input from the tendency as a whole.

It would also be possible to publish a regular national theoretical journal which would engage the bulk of the anti-lefts. By specifying topics for dialogue and opening its pages for contribution from its adherents, such a journal would allow’ for a continuous process of comradely debate in full view of the communist movement. Finally, the center would sponsor regular conferences to sum up areas of practical work, e.g. in the trade unions, anti-racist and women’s movements, etc.

How does the OCIC’s Draft Plan view the present mass work going on, and the efforts of various organizations to organize the working Glass movement? How will the process of practice be related to the building of the ideological center?

First of all, the ideological center’s primary purpose is to develop revolutionary theory, and leadership for our tendency. As such it is not a center built to guide practice. And it is important to grasp the distinct character of the ideological center, and centers built to guide communist practice, such as democratic centralist organizations.

Even if the OCIC wanted to guide practice, it couldn’t guide practice with its present level of political unity. It takes more than the very broad 18 points, to give guidance to the class struggle. The various organizations which presently work in the mass movements have more developed unity on political lines in trade union work, racism, etc.

Secondly, even when the ideological center debates and discusses more developed political lines it will not attempt to guide its adherents1 work. Organizations will be encouraged to test the lines, but not required to do so under democratic centralism. The ideological center must remain separate from the various organizations which guide practice, because until a full party program develops every organization’s line will necessarily be limited. An ideological center, distinct from practical centers, will be necessary up until the time that we can unify the bulk: of tendency forces around a common party program. At this time of party formation, the practical and theoretical center of our movement will be one. Our party center will guide both our theoretical work and our practice. Before that point, for our center for theoretical activity to direct practice would require a sectarian narrowing of its basis of unity, it would make it impossible for the theoretical center to really be open to the tendency as a whole.

By explaining the distinct processes of building an ideological center, and guiding centers for practice, I by no means want to fail to talk about the interrelationship between the two. For revolutionary practice in the working class and mass movements will be absolutely essential to the process of developing cur revolutionary theory. Organizations engaged in practice bring a rich experience which should be shared within the ideological center process as part of developing our political lines.

Secondly, revolutionary organizations can contribute to testing the various lines and theoretical propositions developed by the center’s adherents. Thirdly, practice in the working class movement guided by organizations contribute to the development of cadre for our future party. And finally, if the mass work of organizations is good, it should win over advanced elements from the working class and minority movements into the ideological center process, improving the working class character of the center.

Concretely, within the ideological center that the Draft Plan proposes, there is to be forms to guide the summation of advanced experiences in mass work. The ideological-center must provide systematic conferences and workshops to sum-up the lessons which are being learned in the mass work. For example, recently the tendency cadre in the UAW developed a communist caucus to put out a propaganda analyzing the contract. In the course of the work there were two different positions over whether affirmative action should be made a central demand in the contract struggle. This type of struggle must be shared to all the forces in our tendency, and the lessons drawn out around the correct approach to taking up the struggle against racism.

In addition to developing mechanisms for summarizing practice, the Draft Plan allows for the freedom of organizational form. Communists are encouraged to join with others in the highest forms of communist organization possible at this time. The ideological center should look favorably upon democratic centralist organizations, national fractions, and other forms of organization designed to guide the mass work of tendency forces. All these forms are valuable so long as they are pursued in such a way that does not compromise the process of open ideological debate among the forces in our tendency.

The OCIC has not had much discussion about the role of national pre-parties, that is national democratic centralist organizations. At present we have many local democratic centralist organizations with higher level of unity than the OC’s 18 points. Theoretically in the conception of the ideological center layed out in the Draft Plan, there would be no reason that some forces could not choose to build a national democratic centralist organization and still participate in the ideological center process. The OCIC itself has no intention of beginning such an organization, but participation of a number of such national forms established to guide practice in the class would not violate the ideological center process so long as these formations adhered to similar procedure as other democratic-centralist organizations presently do. That is that cadre from such an organization would participate in the ideological center as individuals, without binding -instructions from their organization, and the national pre-party would have to subordinate its process to the overall process1 of forging a tendency wide center.

Before I go on to talk about the more immediate steps that will be necessary to forge a national theoretical center, I would like to talk about the main differences between the Draft Plan for a leading ideological center, and the ideas on these—topics put forward by the leadership of the rectification-party-building line. The Draft Plan differs with the rectification leadership over: the characterization of our tendency or trend, the extent to which we have demarcated with ultra-leftism, the degree to which we can centralize theoretical work and ideological struggle, whether a fully developed party-building line is necessary to build a single center.

The first difference is over the characterization of our forces. Rectification forces, and others, believe that we are no longer part of a single anti-revisionist movement, that a full demarcation with, left opportunism has been made and presently we constitute a separate Marxist Leninist movement. The OC Steering Committee feels that this characterization overstates our demarcation with ultra-leftism and exaggerates our tendency’s present level of development.

First, we must realize that our anti-left forces are united primarily on what we are against; we haven’t forged a positive theory or doctrine. We have made a partial break with ultra-leftism but have not fully consolidated this among our forces. We remain primarily local in form, and fragmented. For these reasons we haven’t developed a distinct viewpoint on all the main questions of revolution and counter revolution, as Lenin would say, which is required for a full fledged political trend. That’s why we characterize ourselves as a tendency or a trend in embryo.

Linked closely with, the rectification’s forces overestimation of the maturity of our tendency, is a downplaying of the immediate theoretical task of developing full critique of ultra-leftism. The rectification comrades are dangerously secure that our movement has already broken from the ultra-lefts and therefore underestimate the dangers of the legacy of ultra-leftism in our own tendency.

In contrast, the Draft Plan targets the critique of ultra-leftism as our most immediate task, and an important building block to unify the tendency and for future theoretical work. A brief glance at our movement’s history for the last twenty years, should be enough to convince anyone of the necessity of this task. Most anti-revisionist organizations began in a positive way, criticizing the ultra-leftism of their predecessor. The Provisional Organizing Committee of the late ’50’s criticized the anti-revisionists of the late ’40’s for ultra-leftism and dogmatism. In the early ’60’s, PL criticized the POC for the same errors. The RU and OL both began by criticizing PL, and later the OL criticized the ultra-leftism of the RCP. But as the history shows, none of these organizations were able to avoid the shoals of left-opportunism.

Within our own wing of the movement ultra-leftism has continued to be a major obstacle. Since the beginning of our tendency, we have had to fight against a left international line, by those who did not want to adopt point 18. In addition, we have had to fight the sectarian approach to party-building represented by the Guardian Newspaper, and today, we believe carried forward by the leadership of the rectification forces.

Our tendency cannot be satisfied with the line of demarcation we have achieved against the ultra-left international line. Any substantial break must not only identify this or that line, but must probe the theoretical underpinnings and ideological roots of the various ultra-left lines. A comprehensive critique of modern left wing communism is necessary to push forward on our future tasks of critiquing revisionism and developing an alternative to both the ultra-lefts and the revisionists.

The second major difference between ourselves and the rectification forces is over whether we can centralize the ideological struggle and theoretical work in a single center at this time. The NNMLC calls for a multitude of organizational forms and competing centers, to rectify the general line. The Draft Plan calls for the development of a single center for our tendency to take up these tasks in common.

The Draft Plan is an argument against the NNMLC approach of a multitude of forms, and decentralized theoretical work. This bows to the present state of affairs where most of our tendency’s theoretical work is done in various organizational centers. Given the immensity of our theoretical tasks and the low level of theoretical development in our tendency, in particular the lack of advanced theoreticians, the Draft Plan calls for a process which centralizes the theoretical work. It makes the best use of our scarce resources, and advances us from our present theoretical fragmentation. Unfortunately, the NNMLC call for more decentralized work bows to the theoretical backwardness in our movement. I’d like to point out that total unity on party-building line is not necessary for joint theoretical work. Right new comrades holding the rectification and fusion lines are doing such work together. The NNMLC says that this joint theoretical work cannot go on within a single center, but if we look a little closer we can see that this is based on a worship of spontaneity in the theoretical struggle. For example, look at the views of the rectification leadership on the question of centralizing the ideological struggle.

The chairperson for the NNMLC, Irwin Silber, described his view of ideological struggle in his article, “The Ideological Center Idea.” He argues that “ideological struggle cannot be systematized. It breaks out everywhere and violates all the rules of orderly debate. Proponents of one view or another do not bide their time or wait their turn to obtain a few pages of space in a common journal. They rush 0ut and start their own journals, just as Lenin did with Iskra. Or look at Rectification vs. Fusion, where Silber writes that: “Genuine ideological struggle is not a tea party to be so neatly ordered. If the differences being taken up are subject to such polite organization they are probably not worth struggling over. But when the issues are urgent, then they cannot be bound by systematizing and coordination.”

I’m afraid that Irwin’s characterization of ideological struggle is a glorification of precisely the circle warfare that has existed in our movement for 20-years. This method of starting your own journal each time their is a difference may satisfy the spontaneous tendencies of the intellectuals in our movement, but it is not a principled Marxist-Leninist position of building unity in our tendency.

The Draft Plan advances a way to struggle against the centrifugal forces that have torn apart the anti-revisionist movement, by building a single center in which we can systematize the ideological struggle and lead to the unification, and not fragmentation of our forces.

The third main difference between the Draft Plan and the rectification forces is over whether a single center can be built without unity on a fully developed party-building line. The rectification forces erroneously argue that the Draft Plan represents the fusion position, and the OCIC is nothing but a front for the PWOC. They argue that it is incorrect to put forward a plan for a single center, in light of unresolved differences between fusion and rectification. According to their view, each leading line should organize its own center and contend for, as they put it, “dominant influence in our movement”.

The Draft Plan rejects these arguments for a number of important reasons. First, we do not believe that the basis of unity of the national theoretical center must be on one of the fully developed party-building lines. The Draft Plan does not represent a fully developed line, but a limited, and particular line on building an ideological center. We feel that both fusion and rectification forces can agree to the basic tasks which the center proposes: settling the outstanding theoretical questions and developing leadership for our future party.

Secondly, the best form to continue the struggle over party-building line is in the type of national theoretical center which the Draft Plan proposes. A common center could make a real improvement in the quality of the struggle between fusion and rectification. In addition, a nationally centralized debate could allow the whole tendency not just to focus on these lines,: but the more general questions of what the essence of party-building is, what the primary and secondary tasks are, how do we go about building the party, etc.

What lies beneath the rectification’s leadership’s insistence that our -tendency not unite in a single center, that it must carry out’ its theoretical tasks in a multitude of forms, that our tendency should divide along the lines of competing centers? The rectification leadership proposes a process whereby each divergent political line builds its own center, and struggles to win over the movement’s cadre. In this schema, the rectification forces will establish their journal and following, and they will encourage PWOC, El Comite, TMLC and who knows how many more circles to do the same. The struggle begins and let the best center win. Or perhaps more accurately, every circle for itself and let the devil take the hindmost.

The OC Steering Committee believes that this line pursued by the rectification leadership represents a circle approach to our party-building tasks. We say it is a circle approach because they are struggling to establish the hegemony of their own circle over our party-building tendency.

We say it is a circle approach because the rectification comrades would set our theoretical agenda primarily to do battle with the PWOC. This is why they insist that we immediately debate fusion and rectification, and struggle over the situation in southeast Asia, a topic which they have differences with the PWOC on. They insist, despite the fact that our tendency’s most pressing theoretical task at the moment is to complete the critique of left-wing communism which we have begun.

We say it is a circle approach because the rectification leadership arrogantly characterizes the OCIC as nothing but a front for the PWOC, insulting all those Marxist-Leninists who agree with the Draft Plan’s call for a single center for our movement.

We say it is a circle approach because the rectification leadership not only refuses to participate in the building of a common center for our tendency, but recently has even demanded that we withdraw the Draft Plan altogether. They argue that the tendency should not discuss building a common center, but take sides around the question of building a national pre-party or not.

But the OCIC will not withdraw its Draft Plan for building a leading ideological center. We feel that the Draft Plan represents a beginning attempt to articulate a non-sectarian party-building approach to our tendency’s unification. We think that the Draft Plan if broadly discussed and debated throughout our tendency will strengthen a correct approach to our theoretical tasks and developing leadership. So by way of conclusion, I would like to talk briefly about the type of immediate steps the OCIC is taking to lay the basis for building a national theoretical center.

In addition to circulating the Draft Plan before the whole tendency, soliciting criticisms and suggestions, the OCIC Steering Committee will be establishing task forces around ultra-leftism, racism, and local centers. The ultra-leftism task force will begin the job of developing a body of material, and beginning critiques of modern left-wing communism. The racism task force will be responsible for improving the consolidation of OC forces around taking up the struggle against racism. This is particularly important given the heritage of racism in the communist movement, if we are to build a national center which encourages substantial participation of minority Marxist-Leninists.

And finally, the OC Steering Committee is establishing a local centers task force to oversee the building of OCIC local centers. These centers are a very important step in laying the basis for the implementation of the Draft Plan. In centers, all OCIC adherents will be drawn together to participate in theoretical discussion and ideological struggle. In addition, these centers can become focal points in engaging the broader tendency in discussion of the need for a common center, and the Draft Plan.

The local centers are important because it will break down the existing divisions between different circles in a locality. And it will provide a forum for individuals to participate in OCIC discussions as well. The local centers will strike a blow against the small circle existence of our movement. They are a form which rises above any particular organization. In addition, the local centers will be able to deepen adherents’ consolidation around the OC’s 18 points of unity, and ensure that all the practical workers of the movement are brought directly into the party-building discussions.

Comrades, the OCIC is dedicated to forging a shared, tendency-wide critique of ultra-leftism, so that we can break with the legacy of past errors in the anti-revisionist movement. We are dedicated to building a single center for our entire tendency, so that we can break with the left-sectarian circle warfare of the past. We want to make sure that our tendency doesn’t just become the thirteenth set of initials making an empty claim to be the vanguard of the U.S. working class – or the fourteenth, fifteenth, or sixteenth.

To avoid these errors, our tendency needs a common process, a common plan, and a common organizational center for the theoretical struggle. I urge you all to join with the OC in our effort to forge that single center.