Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Clay Newlin

The PWOC’s “Leftism”: A Self-Criticism

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First Published: The Organizer, Vol. 5, No. 2, March 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In July of 1977, the majority of the Committee of Five (DMLO, PSO, SUB and PWOC, but not El Comite-MINP) advanced their conception of the party-building process in a document entitled, “Draft Resolution for a Leading Ideological Center” (hereafter referred to as ’DR”). This document centered around a call for an ideological center for the emerging Marxist-Leninist trend. “What is needed most, at present,” it reads, “is a form to organize, centralize and give leadership to the independent elaboration of Marxism-Leninism for the specific condition in the U.S.”

While never formally adopted, this statement played an important role in laying the basis for the successor to the Committee of Five – the Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center (OC). The specific nature of an ideological center, the identification of its main tasks and the method for establishing it were explicitly left open to further debate, but all who joined in forming the OC agreed that the development of an ideological center was a key task.

The OC’s Steering Committee is presently engaged in drafting a plan for an ideological center. In light of this, it is necessary to reassess the DR and determine how it stands up in light of developments since July 1977, particularly the ()Cís first year of existence.

On the whole we think that the DR is correct. Its analyses of the state of the working class movement, the consolidation of revisionism in the CPUSA, and the failures of successive efforts to restore a viable vanguard party are still generally accurate. The thesis that the party-building movement exists as a unity of two contending wings – the dogmatist or ultra-left trend and the Marxist-Leninist trend – retains validity. And its summary of the state of the anti-revisionist, anti-dogmatist forces as an “embryonic Marxist-Leninist trend. ..characterized... (by) theoretical underdevelopment, amateur methods of organization and work, and fragmentation” has lost none of its poignancy.

But the strong point of the whole document – and the key to its predominantly positive contribution – is its call for the development of a single national center for anti-revisionist, anti-dogmatist elements, a center directed towards advancing the application of scientific socialism to the concrete problems of the US revolution. In essence, this was then, and remains so today, a concrete call for all anti-“lefts” to commit themselves in both word and deed to the development of a common plan for party-building.

THE QUESTION OF PRE-PARTY ORGANIZATION

Nevertheless, the DR is severely flawed. In particular, the document states that the main objective of a national center would be to lay the foundation for a “national pre-party organization.” (A pre-party organization is one that explicitly views its main task as party-building and attempts to conduct all-sided work towards that end.) And further, it maintains: “Such an organization is an absolutely essential transitional step towards the development of a real vanguard party.”

The scenario laid out here is this.

First, develop an ideological center which will allow all opponents of “left” opportunism to contribute to the process of resolving the outstanding theoretical questions and unite around the solutions arrived at. Then, consolidate that unity in a single organization which will continue to deepen the work generated by the ideological center up to the point when it would be possible to call the Party Congress. Thus, a national pre-party organization is the “transitional step” between an ideological center and the Party.

This scheme is wrong on a number of counts. First, and most importantly, it fails to recognize that an ideological center can only really be supplanted by the Party and nothing short of it. As (correctly) defined in the DR, an ideological center has two main tasks: first, it must generate the basic program, strategy and fundamental principles of tactics for the US revolution which will allow for the principled unification of the bulk of genuine communists; second, it should create the conditions where revolutionaries can be voluntarily won to this program through a protracted process of open, movement-wide ideological struggle.

The maturation of this two-sided advancement will complete the welding of the core for the class vanguard. The resolution of the theoretical questions of program and the uniting of communists around those results – a process that can only ripen in the context of fusing communism to the class struggle – is at the heart of the development required for forming a Party. Once it has reached its culmination, the time will be right for the Party’s Founding Congress.

Theoretically speaking, then, an ideological center can only be dialectically negated – i.e. replaced by a higher form – by the Party. Short of the formation of the Party, there will still be a basis for a single center open to the participation of all Marxist-Leninists regardless of whether they are part of a communist organization, study group or join in the movement as individuals.

The DR’s failure to reflect this truth only serves to blur the real character of the pre-party period. It fosters the illusion that the development of communist unity on the basis of program for the US revolution – the unfolding of which would inevitably mean the realization of the vanguard relation in embryo – is insufficient for the formation of the Party. It thus opens up the door for a quantitative view of party-building – that is, that it somehow turns on such questions as the number of members in communist organizations, the circulation of the chief organ of the movement or the multinational or class composition of the party-builders.

A related error of the DR is that it creates the impression that it is possible to make the ideological center for the movement’s theoretical struggle the same as the organizational center for its practical activity. While, in principle, genuine communists will strive to unite the ideological center with the organizational one, they must recognize that the full identity of the two can only be realized in the Party.

IMPLICATIONS OF ERROR

This becomes apparent if one considers the limitations on any communist organization directing practice in the pre-party period. No pre-party organization will have a fully matured program. This necessarily leaves certain fundamental questions unresolved. Where it does not have program, it clearly will not be able to intervene and provide communist leadership to the class struggle. And even where it does have aspects of a communist program, its abilities to guide activity will be limited both by the inadequacies of what already has been elaborated and by the lack of program in other areas.

For example, take the PWOC. The PWOC has achieved its furthest programmatic development on the trade union question, but is only in the initial stages of developing a conception for the electoral arena. In addition to the limitations imposed by the still insufficient clarity in the trade union struggle, the failure to have a more developed perspective on electoral work further blunts our ability to fully respond to the impact of bourgeois-democratic influences on the advanced workers.

The failure to be clear on this fact can only lead to the premature polarization of communist forces. To the extent that some revolutionaries think that the ideological and organizational centers for Marxist-Leninists can become one in the pre-party period, they will tend to demand that everyone immediately unite in a single national organization.

This demand will be made without reference to the degree of maturity of the particular organization’s program and strategy. Those outside the given formation will be asked to base their unity on the general need for communist unification instead of their concrete agreement or disagreement with the organization’s program.

The detrimental effect of this kind of thinking can be illustrated by the following, unfortunately not far-fetched, example. Suppose a predominantly white organization demands that all Marxist-Leninists unite behind its banner prior to having developed a genuine program for the struggle against racism. What will be the impact of its call on national minority communists? Will not the call itself be both profoundly racist and also objectively sectarian?

A third difficulty of the conception developed in the DR is that it tends to imply that no national pre-party organizations should be created prior to the completion of the ideological center’s agenda. Since, as we have seen, the fulfillment of that agenda prepares the way for the formation of the Party itself, a rigorous application of this view effectively rules out any role of national pre-party organizations whatsoever.

While some forces subscribe to this view, to us it seems one-sided. Certainly, the anti-revisionist movement is replete with examples of pre-party organizations that did have a destructive influence on the process of ideological struggle. But this is not inherent in the nature of the form itself.

Instead, whether such an organization’s role is positive or not depends on the line it pursues in its intervention in the party-building movement. A key question would be clarity on the need to subordinate its development in both word and deed to the overall progress of an ideological center. If it saw its role as one of deepening and strengthening the process generated by the center, it would more than likely make a positive contribution – provided, of course, it did not have a general opportunist orientation.

PART OF “LEFT LEGACY” ON PARTY BUILDING

All three of these errors flow from a mechanistic view of the relationship between ideological struggle and organizational unification in the pre-party period. The primacy of the struggle for ideological unity is not taken in the context of interpenetration and interdependence of ideology and organization where each contributes something of value to the other but with the ideological aspect playing the principal and leading role. Instead, the primacy of ideology is taken to mean that full ideological unification must be achieved first and then, and only then, can national organization be created.

This incorrect perspective resulted from the failure to rigorously follow through on the critique of the ultra-left party-building line. The DR did represent a break with the “left” economism underlying much of the dogmatist approach to party-building, but not a thorough one.

In particular, it did separate itself from the narrow pursuit of organizational hegemony practiced by the “lefts.” The DR’s emphasis on the importance of developing an ideological center is a clear recognition of the need to engage the common efforts of all the anti-“lefts” in the process of elaborating Marxism-Leninism for the US revolution. And it also demonstrates clarity that the unification of Marxist-Leninists can only develop through a protracted process of open, movement-wide ideological struggle.

But by calling for a pre-party organization as the “absolutely essential transitional step,” it stops short. It actually concedes one of the principal points of “left” economism – that the ideological center and the organizational center can have identical boundaries in the pre-party period. True, it postpones that development to a later stage of the party-building process, but allows that it can occur prior to the formation of the Party just the same.

For a number of reasons this serious error did not have a dramatic impact on the formation of the OC. Since the DR was never submitted for adoption, the question of the role of a pre-party form was not raised sharply. And, because the OC clearly left this and related questions open to further discussion, no one who disagreed with the DR would have any reason to leave the OC in any case.

Nor was it a primary question in the, opposition to the OC by El or PUL and its adherents, or the Guardian. El Comite-MINP was opposed to any attempt to centralize the ideological struggle; they felt that the molding of communist cadre in localized revolutionary struggle should be primary.

PUL and its circle opposed the formation of the OC primarily because of its break with “left” internationalism. They did attempt to drape their cause with anti-sectarian rhetoric. But, as been recently revealed, the essence of their opposition was the charge that the identification of US imperialism as the main enemy of the peoples of the world “conciliates” revisionism.

And finally, the Guardian’s opposition to the OC was rooted in its own “leftism.” Both factions in the Guardian staff at the time desired to bypass centralized ideological struggle and establish themselves as the central committee for their own national pre-party organization.

(Those who have doubt about Silber’s unity with the rest of the Guardian staff on this score should, among other things, consider his “Fan the Flames” column of August 16, 1978; in this article he belittles the danger of “leftism” on party-building line only a few weeks before he was to begin to denounce his own previous line as sectarian!)

Nevertheless, the DR could only serve to strengthen the hand of the OC’s opponents. Each, to one degree or another, did try to play on peoples’ fears that the OC would become a form for the Committee of Five – and the PWOC, in particular, to pursue hegemonist ambitions along the lines of the CL, RU and OL.

Given the DR’s perspective on national pre-party forms, it cannot be said that such fears were entirely without foundation. To the extent that comrades really saw the development of a single national pre-party organization looming on the horizon, they had a basis to raise questions as to the real intentions of the Committee of Five.

In our view, the majority of the Committee of Five shares some responsibility for both the incorrect views advanced in the DR and their impact on the OC. But with that majority, the PWOC and especially this writer must be especially self-critical for fostering a bad line. We played a leading role in the DR’s development.

By publishing this self-criticism, we call on the whole anti-revisionist, anti-dogmatist trend to break with the DR’s wrong-headed approach to pre-party formations. If our movement is truly to advance along the path of creating a single national ideological center for our tendency, it can ill afford to be burdened with any baggage laiden with “Left-wing” communism.

January 17, 1979