Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

National Network of Marxist-Leninist Clubs

Rectification vs. Fusion

The Struggle Over Party Building Line

Clay Newlin

Speech on the “State of the Party Building Movement”

Delivered in Oakland, CA, April 4, 1979

Moderator: We would like to welcome Clay Newlin, chairperson of the Steering Committee of the OCIC.

Newlin: I think when we begin to discuss party building it’s always appropriate to return to the roots of our movement. We have to remember where we have come from and where we are going. I think in particular we have to grasp concretely our development in relationship to past two-line struggles in the history of the communist movement. In particular in our case we have to locate the origins of our movement in the 16th National Convention of the Communist Party USA. In that convention sharp two-line struggles raged over the consolidation of revisionism versus the struggle for Marxism-Leninism. I think if we look at that convention we can see forces that represented the perspective of the trend and tendency that we represent in the communist movement and basically represented our perspective as to what had to happen to the communist movement.

Let me quote from one working class delegate who I think made the clearest expression of the views of the anti-revisionist movement. That delegate said, “It may be true that these things sound good to a lot of comrades here. And I’m quite sure that this is just a voice hollering in the wilderness. But I’ 11 say this: Anyone in this country who talks about peaceful roads to socialism, without first dealing with the whole problem and the specific measures of American capitalism and its relationship to the exploitation of the working class here and its whole rotten robbery of the world today where it’s cooperating with the rest of the imperialist forces to rob all people in colonial countries and other workers. I’ll say what you’re really doing here is degrading and degenerating the whole question of Marxism-Leninism.”

As far as the CPUSA’s convention is concerned this delegate’s voice was indeed hollering in the wilderness. The CPUSA did degrade and degenerate Marxism-Leninism by consolidating revisionism as the core of its general line. Now these facts are well known. But comrades, let us be frank. In the intervening 22 years since these comments were made, in a certain sense, the call to restore and regenerate Marxism-Leninism has remained in reality a voice hollering in the wilderness. Not in the sense the no one has taken up this call. Nor in the sense that no one has tried to restore and regenerate Marxism-Leninism. But in the sense that we have not yet succeeded in our work of regeneration and restoration. We have yet to succeed in our central task of resuscitating a viable vanguard party. Because only the founding of such a party can answer this worker’s voice. Because only by establishing such a party can we really make a decisive break with the degradation and degeneration of Marxism-Leninism that was culminated in the 16th National Convention of the CPUSA, and restore the science of revolution to its rightful place at the vanguard of the US working class. But in order to take up this call, we must begin with a concrete analysis of the anti-revisionist movement today.

In our view there is one anti-revisionist movement. One movement that is divided into two wings–an ultra-left wing and a Marxist-Leninist one. We oppose the view strongly, advanced by some, that a single anti-revisionist movement no longer exists. And we oppose it for two reasons. First, a genuine and thorough break with ultra-leftism has yet to be made. We are just in the process of drawing lines of demarcation. We have yet to consolidate a thorough critique of the left opportunism that has plagued our anti-revisionist movement. And second, a positive alternative has yet to be developed. In order to consolidate a break with ultra-leftism, it is necessary to elaborate Marxism to the concrete conditions of the US today. It is necessary not just to have a negative critique, but a positive doctrine. And until both of these tasks have been taken up, both the critique of ultra-leftism and a programmatic alternative, at least in broad outlines, it is incorrect politically to talk about the end of the single anti-revisionist movement. Why is this? Because only these two things can provide a basis for a thorough break with and a supplanting of the ultra-left line. And only these two things can provide the basis for separating the many genuine communists under the influence of ultra-leftism from those consolidated behind an opportunist system of politics. Before these two tasks are complete, to talk of the dissolution of the anti-revisionist movement is not only incorrect, it is sectarian. Objectively, it writes off those under the influence of left opportunism, and reads them effectively out of the communist movement.

Let’s take up the two wings that compose this movement. The largest and dominant wing is the wing of ultra-lefts. This wing is composed of two political currents. The largest and strongest current is united around the three worlds theory, and is represented by the CP (ML), the League of Revolutionary Struggle, and other forces. A smaller political current in the ultra-left wing of the party building movement is represented by the Albanian view–the MLOC, the so-called CPUSA (ML), yet another, the RCP and a group called COUSML.

The other wing of the Marxist-Leninist movement, or the communist movement, is characterized by those who are making a genuine break with ultra-leftism. And in this wing we find such forces as the Guardian, the Club Network, El Comite-MINP, and forces grouped in the OC.

We think that it is also significant that between these two wings, a separate force has emerged. A force that wants to maintain a foot in both camps, which has some measure of a critique with ultra-leftism, but fails to make a thorough break with left opportunism, in particular, on the international situation. That center force is represented by PUL, and the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters, a split-off from the RCP.

Now I think in judging the balance and weight of these two wings of the party building movement, it should be clear that the ultra-lefts have developed views on every major question of the U.S. revolution. We may not agree with them. We may not think that they should be taken seriously as a political analysis of the U.S. situation. But those views exist. They have views on party building, on the question of reform and revolution. They have views on the relationship of democracy and socialism in this country, and on the international line. And not only do they have a system of politics, but they exercise more hegemony over anti-revisionists and must be considered a fully matured trend in the communist movement. Whereas the Marxist-Leninist wing, the wing that we represent along with others, is only a trend in embryo. We have only a partial set of views–views which have the potential to become a system of politics, but have not reached the stage of being systematic. And it is only in pressing on in the development of the views of this tendency, that we can become a fully matured trend and establish the hegemony of Marxism-Leninism in the party building movement, as opposed to the hegemony of ultra-leftism. So, that is why we say that it is on this developing Marxist-Leninist trend, that the very future of our movement depends. It is the only hope that a force capable of breaking the stranglehold of ultra-leftism will emerge, a force capable of resuscitating a viable vanguard party will emerge, and a force capable of regenerating and upgrading Marxism-Leninism will also emerge. It is the only hope that this voice hollering in the wilderness will not go unanswered.

But if we look at the development of this trend and reexamine it, we will see that it too has been held back by the influence of ultra-leftism. Yes, there are some right-opportunist conceptions, there is localism that influences certain forces in this trend, there is anti-theoretical prejudice, but these errors and these deviations exist mainly at the level of not being elaborated in a fully developed line. They are not mature, they are not part of a systematic political viewpoint the way the ultra-left errors are. And I think if you look concretely at the development of this tendency and its maturation process over the past two or three years, you will see in particular that the sharpest struggles in this tendency have been over the question of consolidating and developing a break with ultra-leftism. And this in two respects. First, and foremost, is the struggle to break with left internationalism. There are certain comrades who are reluctant to break with the ultra-left exaggeration of the danger posed by the Soviet Union–an exaggeration which has led to a year of systematic practice, to open collaboration with U.S. imperialism, even to the point to begin the delineation of a trend which is social imperialist, in Lenin’s sense. And that is the trend which is more aggressive, which is more ruthless, which upbraids the U.S. ruling class for being soft on the Soviet Union. Comrades are also reluctant to break with the heritage of dogmatism–in particular the subordination of the interests of the U.S. proletariat to the narrow stakes and concerns of socialist countries, in our case, People’s China. And finally, comrades are very reluctant to reexamine the ultra-left theory of capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union. It is impossible to build an anti-left tendency without this break. It is impossible to press forward the work of developing a critique of revisionism without the break with this left internationalism. We think this break is in the process of being made and consolidated at this time. And that is the significance, we think, of the recent conferences organized by the OCIC.

The second manifestation of ultra-leftism that is holding back the development of our tendency is the continued influence of the circle spirit. The circle spirit is manifest in the subordination of the common interests of our tendency to the pursuit of narrow circle hegemony over the tendency. The chief exponent of this narrow circle point of view has been the Guardian staff, and it is now being picked up and continued, unfortunately, by the Club Network. This fact has been demonstrated in not only that these comrades have devoted almost exclusive attention to building their own narrow following, at the expense of the tendency and fighting for a split in the tendency. This fact is demonstrated not only by the fact that the leading elements of the Guardian and its continuers have paid only lip service to the struggle against ultra-leftism, while devoting their main attention to the struggle against right opportunism. Nor is this fact demonstrated only by the fact that these comrades devote themselves to preventing the consolidation of fundamental unity in our tendency and are planning for a split on the basis of embryonic political differences. Instead it is demonstrated by the whole history of the struggle between the Guardian and the OC.

The OC, from its very inception, and its predecessors have stood for uniting the tendency in a process conducive for the forging of a single ideological center. Its main effort has been to unite the forces in our trend. It has not subordinated its effort to the line of policy of any single circle but has created the basis for principled unity of all the circles in our tendency. It has excluded neither organization, nor study group, nor individuals. The differences with the Guardian could not be more sharp. The Guardian has stood from the very beginning for imposing its own narrow views on the tendency through organizational means. Its main effort has been to fight for a split in the tendency on the basis of embryonic political differences. It has consciously set up barriers to the participation of all who do not subscribe to its narrow views. And for it, the only way to participate in the party building process is to join one of the Guardian Clubs. From the very beginning it asserted its own intention to develop a trend in our tendency on the basis of the 29 points. And if the present leadership of the Guardian Club Network expressed surprise when this policy matured into a developed sectarian line, if these same leading elements do not grasp the fact that they have failed to make a genuine break from that sectarian history, the reasons are that these comrades refuse to reckon with the real essence of the Guardian struggle with the OC. Underlying that struggle has been a conflict between a narrow circle approach to party building tasks as opposed to a tendency-wide approach which is struggling to assert itself.

The Guardian has opposed vigorously the forging of a single center because it feels that circle warfare provides the best atmosphere for preserving the ideological individuality and influence of small circles and their leaders, whereas the movement to forge a common center threatens to strip those leaders of those circles of all unwarranted influence in the name of genuine ideological unity. Now, obviously, an open defense of this circle mentality will not be put over in the tendency. So the Guardian was forced to elaborate an ideological smokescreen for its circle aim. This smokescreen was achieved principally by playing on political differences. First, it was the exaggeration of genuine differences that did exist, on an embryonic level, but an exaggeration to make it appear that an unbridgeable gulf existed between the Guardian and the OC. And I think that is the essence of the so-called critique of the “fusion” strategy for party building. It was also elaborated through the manipulation of unthought prejudices of anti-revisionism: for example, the charge that the OC conciliated revisionism or it was prepared to support Soviet intervention in China or it did support in the past Soviet presence in Czechoslovakia. And finally, it was achieved through the fabrication of differences. And that I think is the essence of the charge of federationism.

This fall an opportunity arose, an opportunity to break with that narrow circle practice, an opportunity to move away from a sectarian circle approach to the burning interests of our tendency. But, unfortunately, the leading opponents of the Jack Smith line sought only a partial break with sectarianism on the one hand and the maintenance of a small circle approach to party building on the other. I think, for example, that is the only way one can sum up the break on the one hand with Smith’s conjuring up of trends and the call for a Guardian Party Building Organization, which did represent a genuine break with sectarianism, but on the other hand strong support for the critique of the OC and the decision on the part of the Guardian to stand outside the tendency. This critique was elaborated from the very beginning as a smokescreen for a sectarian party building line. And I think recent attempts in the party building movement, recent developments show that this same smokescreen is being attempted to be carried on.

Comrade Silber in particular is trying to buttress the old ideological smokescreen which has been partially exposed as a result of the failure of the critique of the OC to hold up, he is trying to buttress it by development of a new critique of the OC. I think that is the significance of the recent moves of December of this year. In December, Silber took the old party building slogan of the ultra-lefts, “Unite Marxist-Leninists around a break with revisionism,” he wrapped it in tinsel and refloated it in the following words, “Rectify the general line of the communist movement.” And I think that this slogan, even on an immediate superficial assessment, can be shown to cloud, even a correct orientation to our theoretical tasks. Rectification, in their view, has to be directed mainly at revisionism and ignores ultra-leftism. Whereas is it not clear, comrades, that the main rectification work on our immediate agenda is rectification of ultra-leftism? And I think it can also be shown to be inadequate in another respect, an even more important respect. And that is, are our theoretical tasks primarily a question of restoring a general line that already exists, or are they primarily a question of elaborating Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions that have never been spoken to fully in the history of the communist movement?

But even more importantly than this, this slogan is designed mainly to reinforce the argument for a split in the tendency, for an opposition to any process that might be conducive to forging a single center for our trend. That this is the case is shown very clearly by Silber’s response to the criticism of the slogan raised by the Socialist Organizing Committee of Orange County, California. When Silber floated this slogan, he did so with much pomp and circumstance and called for all Marxist-Leninists to discuss it. So the comrades in SOC took it up, they made some criticisms. But Silber responded to these criticisms only superficially, only superficially addressing the substance of the criticisms raised around this slogan, while reserving his main assault for yet another attack on the OC. And although it is the case that the Guardian and the present Club Network have made a great deal of their fundamental political differences and the political significance of those differences with the OC, neither Jack Smith, nor Irwin Silber, have been able to demonstrate how these embryonic political differences prevent common work in consolidating the tendency in general. In particular, how they prevent common work in forging the single center for this tendency. They have been unable to show how profound these differences are in relationship to our present tasks. They have been unable to demonstrate how forward motion of the tendency is impossible without the resolution of these differences at this time. In short they have been unable to elaborate a Marxist and principled argument for a split in the tendency. Until they are able to do so, we can only say that all comrades in the tendency must condemn these attempts to preserve ideological individuality and circle influence, attempts to preserve the politics of circle warfare. We are convinced that it is necessary for our tendency to break decisively with this legacy of ultra-left methods of ideological struggle where every question becomes a fundamental question, where every question calls for a break and a split in the tendency, where every difference, no matter how significant, in terms of its ability to prevent common work, becomes the basis for defining and carrying out a policy of developing one’s own separate and distinct organization, and opposing the organizational efforts of all others.

In addition to the influence of ultra-leftism that continues to retard the development of our tendency, there is the lack of a common plan for this stage of the process of party building. And this lack of a common plan, also hold back our forward progress. We think that if such a plan is developed and is put before the movement, discussed and contributed to by many forces and many circles of different points of view, that it will provide the basis for exposing the ultra-left attempts to hold back the development of the tendency. Now the OCIC is in the process of developing such a plan. It is going to develop this plan in draft form and submit it to the collective discussion of Marxist-Leninists in our tendency all over the U.S. And while I cannot develop fully the thinking of that body, I would like to, tonight, provide a rough sketch of some of our thinking. In our view, and we have been saying this for over three years now, the most pressing task for our tendency is the forging of a leading ideological core for the communist movement. That is, we need mature national leadership, which is capable of leading our tendency first, in the rectification of ultra-leftism, and second, leading it in the independent elaboration of Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions in this country. A core capable of solving the many thorny theoretical problems that are posed to an advanced industrial society, thorny theoretical problems that have prevented the consolidation and the advancement of any viable anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist party anywhere in the developed capitalist world. Such are our theoretical tasks and I think such are the reflections of the demand for ideological unity. We imagine that there is substantial unity in this room, that this is the most pressing task. But the difficult question facing us is how such a core can be forged. How do we foster its development and maturation in a principled and Marxist way? Before we give our answers to this question or a sketch of our views, let us be clear that we are operating on two important assumptions: first, such a core does not yet exist. We are not dealing with a situation where a leading ideological core has emerged in the communist movement and has established its leading ideological character. That is our situation and we must be absolutely frank and straightforward that such a core does not exist. And second, the elements necessary for developing such a core will not emerge from any single circle in our movement, but will be drawn from the many distinct circles that presently exist and from other individuals and study groups. The question facing us then is what kind of process can be constructed that will foster the identification of these elements and their unification in a manner that is consistent with Marxist-Leninist principles.

I think in the first place that process must focus our tendency’s attention on the theoretical struggle in general and the struggle for program, strategy, and basic principles of tactics in the U.S. in particular. Real ideological leadership will demonstrate its capacity chiefly by its ability to solve the pressing problems of the class struggle in this country. Not by its ability to parrot, to quote out of context, and to put forward views of other parties. And what problem is more pressing than that of the development of program and strategy? Thus, it will be in the identification of individuals through their ability to solve these real pressing theoretical problems that the elements for the leading ideological core will emerge.

Second, this process must generate centralized ideological struggle. The principal forging and uniting of a leading core can only occur through a struggle that is centralized in character. Centralized struggle has a distinct advantage of focussing the attention of the whole movement on the key questions of political line facing the tendency and forcing every element and every claimant to ideological leadership to take a stand on those questions one way or another. And it also has the advantage of forcing the subordination of secondary differences in the interests of the contention of primary forms. And finally, centralized ideological struggle has the advantage of minimizing the tendency to cramp ideological struggle in narrow circle forms of debate. Is it not clear that the present ideological struggle that currently rages in the communist movement lives a narrow circle form of existence? That is, genuine ideological struggle emerges largely within the confines of small circles and various democratic-centralist forms and study groups and is not brought forward in a principled way before the rest of the tendency. To the extent that ideological struggle does develop between circles it is more often than not a question of winning points in the struggle, not of clarifying issues and uniting forces in the process, but making points, scoring with the crowd and whatnot.

I think the third key perspective on the process for developing and forging a leading ideological core is that is must be public, open and movement-wide as far as practicable. It must shape itself in such a way as to maximize the involvement of the practical workers in the tendency so as to allow them to have input into the process of testing and refining our formulations. It must encourage unity on the basis of genuine ideological agreement and understanding, and not on the basis of secret behind-the-scenes negotiations and agreements where leaders subordinate differences in order to strive for the hegemony of their own circle. And unity not on the basis of allegiance to a particular circle, on the basis of the history of being involved in one circle or another, but on the basis of real ideological unity with the perspectives that are being advanced. And it must subject the line to broad movement-wide criticism and not be based on conceptions where only a small and narrow elite can fully grasp the essence of the struggle, and only that elite can participate in the process of forging the ideological struggle. It must take place before the tendency as a whole and allow for the input and criticism and intervention of any force in the Marxist-Leninist movement.

A fourth point about the process of forging an ideological struggle: this process must allow free play to the various organizational forms present in the movement. All comrades should be judged on the basis of their role in the ideological struggle itself and whether they clarify or obscure, and not on the basis of whether they belong to a large organization or have a national reputation before the movement, or a long history before the movement or such other matters of secondary importance. On ideological questions, and insofar as the ideological struggle in concerned, individuals and organizations must be seen as equals. This does not means that we should regard organizations as necessarily a fetter on the development of the ideological struggle. This does not mean that we should not encourage the development of organizations on a broad scale in the Marxist-Leninist movement, organizations who see as one of their responsibilities intervention in the party building movement. But it does mean that those organizations and the forces within them cannot see their own circle as the primary point of identification and elevate the identification with that circle above the broad identification with the ideological struggle that rages in the movement.

Finally, the process for forging this ideological core should be organized and conscious. While there must be latitude for flexibility, we cannot foster spontaneity in the ideological struggle. A conscious process is likely to maximize the potential for unity in principled struggle and the growth of clarity. Whereas spontaneity is likely to reproduce circle warfare, political intrigue, unprincipled polarization and obfuscation which have been so much a part of the ideological struggle in the communist movement up to this point.

Now what steps can we take at this point to foster this type of process? Obviously it will not mature over night. Obviously it is not just a question of uniting all the forces, uniting them around a common plan, electing a national leaership and so on. Obviously what we are talking about is a protracted process, a process that will include many alignments and many two-line struggles where forces that previously agreed on many questions may break on certain questions and align themselves with other forces. This process is protracted in character. What we can do at this point, in our view, is establish a single national center for our tendency. This center would have two tasks.

First, it would focus on the theoretical struggle, by identifying the key questions facing our movement, and developing and encouraging the mechanisms to address them. That is, it would encourage the development of study teams, of a theoretical journal, of various conferences and forums and debates, etc. It would also organize, and this, we think, is also an important part of our theoretical work. It would organize conferences to summarize the advanced practical experience in the communist movement, where various activists in mass areas of work, can come together and draw out lessons of that experience, and debate those lessons and try to unify around those key lessons. And it can provide a curriculum and a method for forging and training cadres around education in the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism, and provide study guides and outlines on the key questions before the movement. This will overall raise the theoretical understanding around the basic theoretical questions that we face.

Second, the national center would centralize the ideological struggle. It would insure that the key two-line struggles are identified, raised to a national level, and set before the movement as a whole. It would be on the lookout for these struggles where they emerge within single centers, where they emerge in single localities, or where they emerge between two organizations in a single locality, and insure that these key questions be raised and put before the national movement as a whole. And it would insure insofar as possible that the debate that develops is principled, straightforward, and really attempts to identify and address the key differences and serves to clarify and not obfuscate. And finally, it could serve to organize the summation and consolidation of two-line struggles once unity is reached to insure that the main lessons from that struggle are developed and again put before the movement and consolidated insofar as possible.

The OCIC is dedicated to developing a common plan for forging a genuine center. We do not think that we have all the answers on how this process will take shape. We are not setting ourselves up as the leadership of the tendency as a whole in this sense. We have not even united around a particular perspective such as the one that I have outlined as to how to forge this center. What we have done, and what we are in the process of doing, is preparing a draft plan around which we hope to organize the broadest possible discussion. The present unity of our organization is described by our broadly framed 18 points.

These points are designed and were designed from the very beginning to exclude no genuine forces in the tendency. We have no hidden agenda, no hidden politics that we fear to place before the movement–nothing beyond the 18 points and a genuine commitment to forging an ideological center. And the OC, despite some obfuscation circulated by its opponents, is open to membership and equal participation by individuals, organizations, and study groups. Its sole purpose, its exclusive concern, is organizing the broadest possible discussion around how to forge an ideological center and everyone committed to forging such a center should participate.

In addition to its main task of drafting a plan for the center, the OC has also taken other steps to prepare the tendency for forging a national center. We don’t think that there is any disputing that the OC has played the primary role in consolidating the tendency around the break with the left international line. And in addition to this, the OC has begun to initiate a whole series of local centers for the tendency, centers which are designed to serve as a forum in each local area for the theoretical struggle, centers to unite the forces in the tendency in common theoretical work and ideological debate.

The OC has also been conducting a struggle against the federationist mentality in relationship to forging an ideological center, emphasizing the need for every organization to subordinate itself both in theory and in practice to the interests of the ideological struggle of the tendency as a whole. For example, in the local centers that have emerged, we have established that local organizations are subordinate insofar as the ideological struggle is concerned to those centers. Organizations are not to bind their membership and send their membership with binding instructions as to what course of action, as to what role they should play, as to what position they should support. We have established also that local centers’ steering committees be elected on the basis of individuals and not organizational representatives.

A fourth thing that we have done to encourage the forging of our tendency is the encouragement and support for the development of a conference for national minority Marxist-Leninists in order that they may come together on a national basis and discuss their special role in the party building process. This is not a task led and directed by the OC. Our role has been to provide support and financial backing for this effort.

And finally, by way of preparation for this process of forging a national center, we have put in the area of several hundreds of Marxist-Leninists into the struggle to forge the single leading center for the tendency.

Now we do not deny that there are significant weaknesses in the OC. We do not deny that theoretical underdevelopment is severe. We do not deny that there are tendencies toward localism. We do not deny that the struggle against federationism is only in its earliest stages. We do not deny that there are severe weaknesses in the OC membership, weaknesses on understating the centrality of the struggle against racism and the question of sexism, and its relationship to the revolutionary movement in the U.S. Nor do we deny that there are opportunist errors and deviations in our ranks. We have never tried to hide our weaknesses. We don’t think that it works to hide one’s weaknesses. We don’t think that you overcome weaknesses by propping up your strengths, as some are wont to do. But despite these weaknesses, we think that the OC provides an excellent context for uniting all those who sincerely desire to develop common work toward the forging of a common ideological struggle at this point in our tendency’s development. Perhaps at some future point, the differences that have been raised will become splitting differences. We do not think that these differences now prevent common work in the direction of forging a single center. And it is for that reason that we call on all comrades in our tendency to unite with us in this effort. And in particular, we call on the comrades in the Club Network to abandon their narrow circle approach to the tendency, and their struggle for a split. If we unite in work which is both really conducive to the growth of a common center then we can make certain that our tendency will mature. We can make certain that the necessary and difficult theoretical tasks are completed. We can make certain that program, strategy, and basic principles of tactics for the U.S. revolution are developed. And finally, we can make certain that the voice hollering in the wilderness some 20 years ago does not yet go unanswered once again through the failure to restore Marxist-Leninism and a vanguard party. Thank you.