Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

OCIC Steering Committee Letter to the National Network of Marxist-Leninist Clubs

First Issued: January 17, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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17 January, 1980

National Network of Marxist-Leninist Clubs

Dear comrades:

First, we want to apologize for the long delay in responding to your proposal for joint OCIC-NNMLC work. As you, know, your proposal was received just prior to our Second National Conference. In the following period, we had to give priority to summing up and consolidating the gains made at the conference as well as mapping out plans for rectifying the weaknesses which were uncovered. We have only recently been able to turn our attention to your proposal and give it the serious attention which it deserves.

The central item in your proposal for OCIC-NNMLC “joint work” is an all-sided debate on party-building line. This hardly comes as a surprise to us since the NNMLC has made debate over party-building line (the only political line which the NNMLC has unity on) the central aspect of its intervention in the party-building movement. As you know very well, the OCIC has made it very clear in the past that we oppose a debate of the kind you propose. As we have said before, we regard it as an attempt by the NNMLC to erect a smokescreen to cover its sectarian opposition to an organized and centralized process to foster the emergence of a leading ideological center. We see no reason to change our position at this time and it will surely come as no surprise that we reject this item in your proposal.

There is fairly broad unity in our tendency that that the ideological consolidation of the tendency, a prerequisite to actually proceeding to the organization of the party, depends upon the emergence of a leading ideological center. The OCIC and the NNMLC, at any rate, agree on this. The primary division in our tendency at this time is over the organization of the ideological struggle that is most favorable to the emergence of a truly leading ideological center. The OCIC calls for a common effort, an organized and centralized process, which can break down circle divisions and allow a leading center to gradually emerge as leading comrades from various circles step forward to provide genuine leadership to the process. The NNMLC, on the other hand, calls for a process of contention between the various circles within the tendency with one of these centers emerging as a leading center primarily on the basis of the triumph of its party-building line (i.e. circle warfare).

Rather than confront this difference openly and directly, a confrontation which would expose the sectarianism of the NNMLC, you have adopted a different course. You have attempted to equate the line of the OCIC with the fusion party-building line and used your differences with that line to justify your refusal to join a common party-building effort. In our view, your present proposal is a continuation of that effort. Rather than forthrightly proclaiming your opposition to a common effort and support for circle warfare, rather than clearly and concretely stating why forces holding a rectification line cannot work with the various OCIC forces in a common organized effort to accomplish the pressing tasks of the current period, you choose to wrap your opposition to a common effort in the abstractions of the rectification line and hide behind a formula – party building is our central task, therefore unity on party-building line is essential for a common organized effort.

Of course, unity at some level is essential. But the fact that unity at some level is essential cannot be used to relieve you of the responsibility of concretely demonstrating why specific differences stand in the way of a common organized effort. A formula cannot dogmatically replace concrete analysis. Is unity on such issues as “the particularities of the pre-party period,” or “the role of leadership,” or “the nature of a leading center” (issues which you pose as key questions for debate) necessary in this period of the tendency’s development in order to enter into a common organized effort? We think not. Frankly, we doubt that you even think so. Rather, the significance of differences on these questions is exaggerated by the NNMLC in order to justify its organizational opportunism – opportunism on the key question facing the Marxist-Leninist tendency at this time, the organization of the ideological struggle.

Of course, the struggle over party-building line must be developed and the unity of the tendency around party-building line must be advanced. The question which remains, however, is how this struggle should be developed. This is a question which you evade. Party-building line has many aspects and an entire series of ideological contradictions will have to be resolved in order for our tendency to achieve a high degree of unity on party-building line. It will be a protracted process. It is essential that the struggle over party-building line be correctly handled if confusion is to be avoided, secondary contradictions are not elevated over primary contradictions, and friends are not to be confounded with enemies. What significance do we attach to differences over various aspects of party-building line? How are primary contradictions distinguished from secondary ones? In our view, the best guarantee that the contradictions over party-building line with are tendency are correctly handled is to assess the stand of the different party-building lines on the most important concrete questions facing our tendency – the organization of the ideological struggle, the identification of the key theoretical questions in the current period, the determination of lines of demarcation with opportunism, etc.

Just prior to the Iskra period, Lenin addressed exactly this question of the relation between the general ideological struggle and the struggle between different views on the key concrete questions facing the movement. While hardly belittling the ideological struggle, Lenin correctly insisted that it be grounded in the contention between different views on the concrete questions which the movement faced (in that period, questions of political program).

...if the polemic is not to be fruitless, if it is not to degenerate into personal rivalry, if it is not to lead to a confusion of views, to a confounding of enemies and friends, it is absolutely essential that the question of program be introduced into the polemic. The polemic will be of benefit only if it makes clear in what the differences really consist, how profound they are, whether or not these differences interfere with common work in the ranks of one and the same party. Only the introduction of the program question into the polemic, only a definite statement of the two polemicizing parties on their programmatic views, can provide the ^answer to all these questions, questions that insistently demand an answer. (Lenin, A Draft Program of Our Party, Collected Works 4, p. 231)

This approach offers the best opportunity to develop the contention between the various party-building views in our tendency in the most fruitful manner. The OCIC has united around the centrality of building a leading ideological center and the necessity of an organized and centralized process to foster the emergence of such a center. It has identified the main immediate tasks – unifying as much of the tendency as possible around a definite plan to foster the emergence of a leading ideological center and developing and consolidating an all-sided summation of modern ultra-leftism. Further, the SG of the OCIC has elaborated a definite plan for fostering the emergence of a leading ideological center.

What will advance the tendency is not the kind of abstract debate over party-building line which you propose but a definite statement by the various forces in our tendency of the views on the concrete questions facing our tendency. Consider the questions which you highlight such as “the particularities of the pre-party period,” or “the role of leadership,” or “the nature of a leading center.” If debate over these questions is not to be fruitless, if the debate is to draw out the real significance of the contending views, it must be developed in such a way that the significance of differences over these questions is clearly brought out by the opposing views on the concrete questions facing our tendency which these differences are used to justify. The “Draft Plan for a Leading Ideological Center” is the most advanced statement of the views of the SC of the OCIC on the concrete questions facing our tendency. We believe that rather than an abstract debate around party-building line, the interests of our tendency would be much better served if the forces within it would clearly put forward, as the SC of the OCIC has done, clear statements of their views on the concrete questions facing our tendency.

We must also comment on your suggestion that the process of debate which you propose “would culminate in regional conferences which could proceed along the lines of the OCIC’s Point 18 conferences.” We doubt that you really mean what you say. The conferences on Principle 18 were held among members of a single organization and the results of those conferences had definite consequences for the development of that organization. Are you saying that you would agree to bound by the decision of the majority around a plan (organizational plan, theoretical agenda, etc.) for the development of our tendency? We think that this is not what you intend. Isn’t it precisely your refusal to subordinate the circle interests of the NNMLC to a larger process which keeps you out of the OCIC process? We think that what you have in mind is simply a debate with no definite consequences at its conclusion, a debate which is much more in the sphere of circle contention than the sphere of common effort.

Comrades, your present proposal is one which we have firmly rejected in the past. Our differences over how the contention between various party-building views should be developed is at the core of the present differences between the OCIC and the NNMLC. Given all this, we must frankly admit that we do not regard it as sincere for you to put forward this proposal as an attempt at “combatting tendencies toward sectarianism which have already appeared.” In effect, you propose that the way to combat sectarianism is for the OCIC to adopt the approach of the NNMLC to resolving differences over party-building line. Rather than a sincere attempt at combatting sectarianism, we view it as a transparent attempt to take some of the heat off the NNMLC, whose sectarian approach to the problem of uniting Marxist-Leninists has been broadly criticized throughout our tendency, and to shift the onus onto the OCIC for not accepting the NNMLC’s “non-sectarian” proposal for “joint work.” The formalization into a “non-sectarian” proposal of your sectarian line on uniting Marxist-Leninists will not fool anyone–not for long, at any rate.

Comrades, the problem of sectarianism in our movement is not primarily the lack of a “constructive and principled atmosphere.” It is not primarily “tendencies toward Sectarianism which inevitably emerge in the course of ideological struggle” which can be cured by “working together.” It is not primarily a problem of “a marked tone of sectarianism.” It is primarily a problem of sectarian line on uniting Marxist-Leninists. The sectarianism of our tendency at this time is primarily manifested in the NNMLCs sectarian line, a line which places circle warfare at the forefront of its approach, If we were to agree to your proposal, far from averting sectarianism in our tendency, we would be fostering it by legitimizing the cloud of abstractions with which you have covered your sectarian refusal to support a common organized effort. It would be shortsighted indeed for us to agree to a proposal which might make some short-term contribution to the “tone” of the struggle between the OCIC and the NNMLC but which would compromise the struggle to eradicate the remnants of the ultra-left party-building line which are fighting to survive within our tendency against the rising tide of Marxism-Leninism.

You also propose that the OCIC and the NNMLC take up joint work toward deepening the critique of ultra-leftism. This task is at the center of the OCIC’s priorities. However, as in the case of party-building line, there is a sharp divergence between our approach to the question and yours. We consider it of the utmost importance to extend the critique of ultra-leftism which was begun with the break with “left” internationalism to encompass the other main political manifestations of ultra-leftism–ultra-left lines on the reform struggle, the democratic struggles, and party building. This is for two reasons. In the first place, an all-sided political critique of ultra-leftism is a prerequisite for a stable break with ultra-leftism as well as for laying the foundation for turning our tendency’s attention more fully toward working out program, strategy, and tactics for the US revolution. In the second place, we must push forward our struggle against ultra-leftism until it is understood not only at the political level but at the ideological level. Such a thorough exposure of ultra-leftism is impossible without an all-sided political critique of ultra-leftism.

Furthermore, the recent history of our tendency has established that a break with “left” internationalism is no guarantee of a thorough repudiation of ultra-leftism. Ultra-leftism still has considerable currency within our tendency. The present period in particular demands that the ultra-left approach to party building be thoroughly summed up and understood. A failure to do so will perpetuate the ultra-left errors of our movements recent history.

Rather than grasping the urgent need for an all-sided political critique of ultra-leftism, it appears that the NNMLC conceives of our tasks with respect to deepening the critique of ultra-leftism much more narrowly. This conception, no doubt, is based partially on your view that the break with ultra-leftism has already been consolidated. This is a profound error which can only serve to perpetuate the survivals of ultra-leftism in our tendency and invite their resurgence. History has produced more than one example of an attempt to break with opportunism which was hopelessly compromised by overconfidence about the extent to which that break had already progressed. Our different views on the requirements of a sound critique of ultra-leftism therefore cause us to adopt very different theoretical priorities with respect to the critique of ultra-leftism than those adopted by the NNMLC.

You propose joint work toward deepening the critique of ultra-leftism which would focus on the recent developments in SE Asia. Although we share a desire to deepen the criticism of “left” internationalism, the recent developments in SE Asia provide a poor focus for the kind of theoretical work which really needs to be done. Emphasis should be put, rather, on the re-examination of Mao Zedong Thought and the ultra-leftism underlying the thesis of the restoration of capitalism in the SU. Although some progress has been made toward the rejection of the restorationist thesis, there has been no summation of its ultra-left ideological basis. A general re-examination of Mao Zedong Thought has not even been initiated. If the ultra-left line is to be understood in a thorough way, this body of ideas must be understood in a thorough way since it played such an important role in the ideological formation of the anti-revisionist movement.

The CPC’s present international policies, on the other hand, although using the Theory of the Three Worlds to provide a left cover, are no longer truly motivated by the ultra-left international line. An examination of the US/China/ Kampuchea (Pol Pot) alliance against Vietnam would therefore reveal much about the current policies – of US imperialism and China, but little about the ideological formation of the anti-revisionist movement. The policies of US imperialism and China are obviously of considerable importance to our tendency and must be taken up at some point. But it would be a mistake to give priority to this until we have progressed much further in settling accounts with ultra-leftism.

We think there are two reasons why you assign an analysis of the events in SE Asia an exaggerated role in the critique of ultra-leftism. In the first place, you have demonstrated no sincere interest in pursuing the critique of ultra-leftism. You have never raised the importance of a critique of Mao Zedong Thought. You belittle the importance of an all-sided summation of ultra-leftism, a conclusion which leads you to think that the break with ultra-leftism has already been consolidated. In the second place, it is an expression of the NNMLC’s organizational opportunism. Comrade Silber, your Chairperson, has taken sharp issue with both the PWOC’s and the Guardian’s criticisms of Vietnam’s invasion of Kampuchea. Our tendency’s deep solidarity for our Vietnamese comrades creates a favorable climate to win support for Silber’s views. It seems to us that this situation, the opportunity of promoting the NNMLC’s circle interests over the PWOC’s and the Guardian’s is responsible for the exaggerated role which you give to an analysis of the events in SE Asia in the summation of ultra-leftism, not its actual importance to that summation.

* * *

In addition, you propose “a formalization of policy toward other forms of on-going possible joint work in the more specialized study projects on specific theoretical questions and the development of ’caucuses’ in common areas of mass work.”

Our attitude is that the extent of reciprocal participation in study projects must be determined on a case-by-case basis. One of the major drawbacks of the NNMLC’s opposition to organizing the ideological struggle is that each separate circle is free to determine its own theoretical priorities in relative isolation from the rest of the tendency. Each separate circle is not forced to struggle openly for its conception of the correct theoretical priorities for the tendency and to submit, insofar as the tendency-wide effort is concerned, to the will of the majority. Other forces can simply be invited to “participate” in the projects its own theoretical priorities lead to. If this approach is followed, it will inevitably lead to different forces focusing on very different theoretical agendas and the breakdown of any common effort. The theoretical priorities of the OCIC, as decided on at its Second National Conference, place a priority, first, on developing a concrete plan to foster the emergence of a leading ideological center and, second, on developing an all-sided summation of modern ultra-leftism. In our view, it would be unwise to allow the OCIC to be diverted from these crucial tasks. Our attitude toward various theoretical efforts of other forces, naturally, must be judged in the context of these priorities. Clearly, some such efforts might contribute directly. Others might be a diversion. Limited participation in others might be called for as a valuable secondary effort. In short, no general policy toward participation in NNMLC projects is possible. Each must be judged in the context of our overall objectives.

Our attitude toward the participation of forces outside the OCIC in its theoretical projects is similar. It will have to be judged on a case-by-case basis depending on the contribution we think these comrades can make. Obviously, the NNMLC undertakes some study projects internal to itself, other projects which are internal to the somewhat broader ”rectification forces,” as well as projects which are much broader in character. The policy of the OCIC is the same. Some projects will be restricted to the OCIC and others will have a broader character. We can say that we will make every effort to incorporate comrades outside the OCIC in its projects to the extent that they can further the work toward accomplishing the pressing tasks of the current period.

As far as joint work in the mass movements is concerned, the OCIC has not and does not plan to directly undertake any such efforts. The various efforts which have been undertaken within the OCIC process have been undertaken by various groupings within the OCIC and are under no direction from the SC of the OCIC. As far as we know, they have all been open to NNMLC members. In our view, just as the ideological struggle should not be conducted on the basis of negotiations between circles, the development of embryonic tendency fractions (auto, affirmative action, health, etc.) should not be built on the basis of negotiations between competing circles. Each of these fractions should assume an autonomous tendency-wide character in this period based on the ideological principles of unity of our tendency and a programmatic unity determined by the fraction itself. Obviously, in the long run their autonomous character must be superseded by subordination to the party. But, in this period, the alternative to autonomy of the various embryonic fractions is subordination to one of our tendency’s competing circles or a federationist subordination to the process of negotiations between competing centers. Both alternatives have an inevitably sectarian impact.

The way you pose the question of joint work in such fractions makes us question whether or not you agree with this understanding of how they should develop. You talk of “coordinating our efforts in various areas of mass work.” Are you suggesting that work around affirmative action, for example, should be coordinated between the SC of the OCIC and the SC of the NNMLC? In our understanding, OCIC comrades and NNMLC comrades, along with other tendency comrades, have coordinated their work by belonging to a single formation, an embryonic tendency fraction in affirmative action work. Their mass work related to the fraction is subordinated to the decisions of that formation. It seems to us that this is the most fruitful way to proceed with the various areas of mass work on a tendency-wide basis.

This, in brief, summarizes our attitude toward the various “ongoing forms of joint work.” This probably falls short of the “formalization of policy” which you had in mind. But it seems to us that it is all that can be expected in the given situation. If you have a concrete proposal in mind for such a formalization of policy, we would be more than willing to consider it. We would also consider meeting with you to discuss such a proposal. It does not seem advisable, however, to proceed to a meeting unless there is a concrete proposal to consider.

* * *

In summation, after rejecting the two concrete proposals which you make for “joint work,” we should make a counterproposal. But our proposal is longstanding. Renounce your sectarian opposition to a common organized effort to forge a common center and either join the OCIC or put forward a different conception of what that common organized effort should be. Spell out for the tendency as a whole your conception of how the struggle over the correct theoretical priorities for our tendency should be organized and how comrades* joint work according to these priorities should be organized. In this connection, we are more than open to debate the merits of the Draft Plan with you.

Comrades, we hope you understand the significance of our rejection of your proposals. Since sectarian blinders will make it difficult, we’ll review what we think is the essence of the situation. The OCIC has stressed the need for an organized and centralized process, both in the period leading to the formation of an ideological center, and in the period in which such an ideological center develops into a truly leading ideological center. The OCIC has also stressed the need for all tendency forces to come together arid openly struggle out the important question of the correct priorities in the ideological struggle and to take up work guided by these priorities. At our Second National Conference, such a struggle took place among a broad variety of forces in the tendency and theoretical priorities for the coming year were agreed upon by the OCIC. The NNMLC, on the other hand, proceeded in a very different way. It abstained from the OCIC process, proclaimed any organized and centralized discussion and struggle over the correct theoretical priorities for the tendency leading to a common plan of work to be a mechanical and backwards attempt to impose organization on the ideological struggle. According to the NNMLC, the theoretical struggle is necessarily disorganized and spontaneous. The NNMLC now attempts to impose its own theoretical agenda on the OCIC in the form of a proposal for common work–common work in the areas which the NNMLC assigns priority in its own theoretical agendas all-sided party-building line and the critique of the CPC’s policies in SE Asia.

But the OCIC refuses to be diverted from the theoretical priorities established by the struggle and decision of literally dozens of circles and various individuals in order to take up the theoretical agenda of one of the circles which remains outside of the OCIC process. And most amazingly, the NNMLC will no doubt view the OCIC’s refusal to bow to the circle interests of the NNMLC as sectarian!

Steering Committee
Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center