Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

National Network of Marxist-Leninist Clubs

Rectification vs. Fusion

The Struggle Over Party Building Line


“Circle Warfare” in our Trend: Who is Responsible? A Reply to Clay Newlin’s Sectarian Attack on the National Network of Marxist-Leninist Clubs

The attack on the National Network of Marxist-Leninist Clubs (Club Network) launched by Clay Newlin on behalf of the steering committee of the OCIC in Oakland April 4, 1979, poses some grave questions before our movement.

First we must note that the content of this attack is thoroughly irresponsible. Nowhere does it take up the Club Network’s line on party building and attempt to refute it theoretically or to demonstrate its impracticality. Nor does Newlin even bother to defend his own party building line. He has become so intent on demonstrating that any suggestion of line differences between the Club Network and the OCIC is a mere pretext for the “circle spirit” that he has abandoned line struggle altogether.

Second, we must note that the tone, content and context of Newlin’s speech are sectarian to the core. Newlin apparently believes that he can cater to the residue of ultra-democratic and anti-intellectual prejudices in our ranks by defining the issues at stake in this unfolding struggle in terms of membership in the OCIC. This is unfortunate, but also quite telling, since it reveals the essential pragmatic bent of the “fusion” line. Newlin and the OCIC leadership are in effect arguing that political unity grows out of organizational unity. On this matter we stand with the legacy of Marxism-Leninism which teaches us that political unity provides the basis for organizational unity–and not the other way around.

The position held by Newlin and the OCIC steering committee is basically a bourgeois conception of organization and politics, in which organization takes precedence over politics. In essence, this is the standpoint of pragmatism. The proletarian position, by contrast, puts politics in command and sees the development of a leading line as the precondition for the development of a leading center for our movement. This is the standpoint of dialectical materialism.

But–and this is what comrades in our movement should note–it is precisely because we are upholding (and not just as an abstract principle but around a very real and burning question) the Leninist conception of the relationship between organization and politics that we are being charged with promoting “circle warfare.” We hope that the irony of this charge will not be lost on our movement, considering the fact that the attack launched by Newlin and the OCIC steering committee is itself an expression of nothing but the most blatant form of circle warfare that obscures and attempts to liquidate the essential political content of the issues at stake.

Newlin’s attack on the Club Network strikes three main themes:
1. He argues that the break with left opportunism has not been made and that we are still in the period of “a single anti-revisionist movement.”
2. He argues that the Club Network is sectarian, operating out of a “circle spirit” rather than in the interests of the movement as a whole. To make the point, he charges that: (a) there is no substantial difference in the approach to party building taken by the Club Network and the Guardian staff majority; (b) the disagreements between the Club Network and the OCIC are really only “embryonic political differences”; and (c) the Club Network’s decision not to affiliate with the OCIC shows that we are “planning for a split.”
3. He argues that our party building line, the line on “rectification,” is merely the warmed-over party building line of the left opportunists in new packaging; and that furthermore, the line is elitist, secretive and undemocratic.

In taking up these themes, we must ask ourselves the following questions: first, are the statements factually true, recognizing that in this case especially the determination of “fact” is itself a political judgement; second, what are the political consequences of the statements made and of the contrary points of view they are criticizing? and finally, what do these statements tell us about the point of view of those making them?

We suggest that comrades in our movement apply these criteria both to Newlin’s remarks and our response.

Let us take up these themes one at a time.

1. Are we still in the period of a single anti-revisionist movement?

Newlin apparently thinks we are. He says: “We oppose the view strongly, advanced by some, that a single anti-revisionist movement no longer exists. 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 and have yet to consolidate a thorough critique of the left opportunism that has plagued the anti-revisionist movement. And second, a positive alternative has yet to be developed.” Newlin goes on to argue that rather we have “two wings” of “a single anti-revisionist movement.”

We do not mean to quibble over words, but whatever happened to the “anti-revisionist, anti-dogmatist trend?” Why have we now been reduced to a “wing?”

Newlin’s view that we are still in the period of a single anti-revisionist movement is a step backward for our movement.

Factually, it is incorrect. Actual breaks in life occur politically even before they are summed up theoretically. Would anyone seriously contemplate inviting the CP(ML) to a communist caucus around one or another mass struggle? Or the Workers Viewpoint Organization to a planning meeting of party building forces? This may seem to be a small piece of evidence, but it actually demonstrates that the comrades in our trend know that the principal aspect of breaking with left opportunism has already been accomplished in life.

We certainly agree that an all-sided summation of the break with left opportunism has not yet been made. We believe that this is one of the tasks of the rectification movement. But the very fact that this summation is now on our agenda demonstrates that the break has already taken place.

Further, on what basis can it be argued that the absence of “a positive alternative” is the necessary precondition for knowing that a break with left opportunism has been made? We might, by this same token, argue that we do not yet have “a positive alternative” to revisionism–we have certainly not yet rectified the general line of the U.S. communist movement–and that a genuine and thorough break with revisionism has not yet been made. But denying the reality of a decisive and recognized break with revisionism would be nonsense–although we would agree that the failure to have an adequate summation and critique of revisionism and the absence of a fully developed alternative line certainly helps to reinforce tendencies towards revisionism in our ranks.

Let us examine this question of whether or not there has been a break with the principal expression of left opportunism, what Newlin calls “left internationalism.”

Newlin concedes that the break with this deviation “is in the process of being made and consolidated.” Frankly, we think that the break with what Newlin calls left internationalism was actually made some time ago, it was made by many more forces than Newlin recognizes and that it has only been some unfortunate temporizing by leading groups in the OCIC that has dragged this process on for more than a year when it has been clear to one and all that the claims by the Proletarian Unity League and the Boston Party Building Organization that they had not made up their minds on the chief international question was, to be charitable about it, ingenuous. Still, it would seem after the round of Point 18 conferences that the OCIC has finally settled accounts with these grouplets left over from an earlier period. (Are those groups anti-left? So they would have us believe. But they are anti-left on everything but the principal expression of left opportunism in the international communist movement–the CPC’s “Theory of the Three Worlds” and the general foreign policy of the People’s Republic of China.)

But even though the OCIC has been unpardonably lethargic in consolidating its formal break with the left opportunist international line, do comrades really think that this line of demarcation has actually not been drawn? Perhaps the PWOC, which is apparently impressed by the fact that groups like PUL, Revolutionary Workers Headquarters and others nominally hold to a “fusion” line on party building, has failed to see the decisive character of the struggle over international line and continues to harbor illusions about winning these only “half-lost” sheep back into the fold. This merely shows the danger in the “fusion” line which tends to unduly exalt the question of the influence of communists in the working class movement in the preparty period and to underestimate the decisive character of the line which is supposedly being “fused.”

But such a phenomenon will not be terribly convincing to the great majority of communists in our movement who know from very direct and frequently painful experience that the lines of demarcation with left opportunism have indeed been drawn and are being deepened every day. Newlin therefore goes on to argue that it is the leading comrades in the Club Network who have not made the break with left opportunism and that they “have paid only lip service to the struggle against ultra-leftism while devoting their main attention to the struggle against right opportunism.” Well, we make no apologies for continually reminding our movement that it is anti-revisionist as well as anti-left opportunist. But we would remind Comrade Newlin that these same comrades played a leading role in the struggle around Angola, fought the October League around its sectarianism on International Women’s Day (March 1975), polemicized against the slogan of “no united action with revisionists,” supported and participated in the International Conference in Solidarity with Puerto Rico in Havana when the left opportunists called for a boycott, initiated a public critique of the Three Worlds theory and, more recently, have taken the initiative in deepening the critique of left opportunism and targeting its principal international headquarters in the central committee of the Communist Party of China. Lip service? Which movement have you been in for the last four years, Comrade Newlin? And when China attacked Vietnam and some in our movement– including both the Guardian and the PWOC–lost their bearings on the Vietnam-Kampuchea situation, it was leading comrades from the Club Network who spoke out to expose the role of left opportunism in provoking the contradictions in Indochina.

No, the argument that we have not yet drawn a line of demarcation with left opportunism in its principal political manifestation– international line–simply will not stand up. And the suggestion that the leadership of the Club Network has somehow lagged behind in this struggle must appear totally incongruous to any OC comrades who attended the Point 18 conferences, where leading comrades from the Club Network, including two authors of this paper, played active roles in drawing out the essence of the left opportunist line.

All this is so obvious that it is somewhat difficult at first to understand on what basis Newlin can argue that the break with left opportunism has not been made. There must be more to this than the unfortunate temporizing exhibited by the PWOC and others in their on-again-off-again consultations with the PUL and Revolutionary Workers Headquarters.

And there is. For Newlin argues that there are two manifestations of left opportunism to be dealt with–not only left internationalism, but the “circle spirit.”

This latter ailment, as everyone knows, is supposedly characteristic of the Club Network and other proponents of the “rectification” line.

But this is a strained and strange juxtaposition. Just trying to equate a “line” and a “spirit” should suggest that there is something amiss here. On the break with the left opportunist international line, the differences are fairly clear-cut–no matter what stand one takes. The different positions are well-defined on every question from Angola to Iran to the “principal enemy.” There are clear and unmistakable touchstones. True, there are occasional ambiguities: The liberalism which for a time conciliated the PUL’s argument that it isn’t necessary to draw a line of demarcation on the international question; or the floundering by PWOC and the Guardian on the Vietnam-Kampuchea question. But in general, the forces opposing what Newlin calls “left internationalism” know precisely where they disagree with the opportunists on every major international question. Nor is there much lack of clarity on the other side either.

But where is the “Angola” that makes clear who is practicing the form of left opportunism that Newlin calls the “circle spirit?” What is the watershed? In fact, there is none. In effect, Newlin and the OCIC Steering Committee are trying to tell us that the Club Network’s decision not to affiliate with the OCIC is the “Angola” on this question.

Now we ask comrades to follow the “logic” of this charge closely. It goes something like this:
a. The Club Network is “sectarian,” carrying on the tradition of the left opportunists. Why? Because they will not join the OCIC.
b. Why is this decision sectarian? Because the differences between the Club Network and the OCIC are “embryonic.”
c. What makes these differences “embryonic?” Because we are still in the period of a “single anti-revisionist movement” where the principal task is to make a break with left opportunism. Therefore, differences among the anti-left forces themselves must be secondary and “embryonic”–even if they are over the line guiding our central task, the line on party building.
d. How do we know that we are still in the period of a “single anti-revisionist movement?” Because we are still plagued by the ultra-left “circle spirit.”
e. What is the evidence that we are still plagued with an ultra-left “circle spirit?” The decision by the Club Network not to affiliate with the OCIC!

Newlin has turned the debate between Marxist-Leninists over party building line into a Catch 22.

What is the reason for this invention? So long as the claim can be made that we are still a “single anti-revisionist movement,” then all who argue that the struggle over party building line is the decisive question before the movement are out of order. Worse. They are sectarian. They are practitioners of “the circle spirit.” The “fusion” line on party building does not have to be defended. (It is only embryonic anyway and, therefore, somewhat defenseless.) And the “rectification” line can be dismissed as the expression of those who are obviously still bound up with ultra-leftism. Better yet. It can be dismissed as a device used to justify the “circle spirit.”

And so, perhaps, we have finally discovered the reason for Newlin’s sudden discovery that we are not an “anti-revisionist, anti-dogmatist” trend after all. Perhaps we now know why we are supposedly still in a period that most of us thought had been closed out some time ago.

We suggest that there is a consistent pattern here. Its ideological underpinning is mechanical materialism and, more particularly, pragmatism. Politically speaking, it underestimates the decisive role of political line and liquidates the vanguard character of the party. And organizationally–shall we say that it manifests itself in a “circle spirit?”

2. So now let us turn to the general accusation of sectarianism leveled at the Club Network, the charge that the Clubs are operating out of a circle spirit.

As we pointed out earlier, this is based on three assumptions: a) there is no substantial difference between the Guardian and the Club Network on the question of party building; b) the disagreements between the OCIC and the Club Network are “embryonic”; and c) the Club Network is “planning for a split.”

We will now examine these assumptions in greater detail.

a. Is it true that the party building perspective advanced by the Club Network and by the Guardian are substantially the same?

Self-description is concededly of limited political value, but it is nevertheless surely worth noting that neither the Clubs nor the Guardian view their differences as minor or insubstantial. The Clubs (and several leading Guardian staff members) disassociated themselves thoroughly and completely from the Guardian’s general party building perspective, characterizing it as “sectarian.” The Executive Editor of the Guardian resigned his position over the question. The Guardian Clubs rose up in open revolt against it. The Guardian itself says that the Clubs were united “around a party building perspective the Guardian disagreed with” and that when these “differences became irreconcilable...we felt obliged to dissolve the Clubs.”

At the least we can say that something was going on and if the OCIC Steering Committee does not think that it was a struggle over party building line, they ought to say what they think it was. In fact, all one has to do is examine the many documents and position papers that were developed in the course of this struggle and it immediately becomes obvious that basic, substantial differences over party building were precisely the cause of the split between the Guardian and the Clubs. (The Club Network has now made available the full texts of the major documents of this struggle.)

What was the essence of those differences? The Guardian developed a “plan” for party building that rested on the assumption that it represented a “left” trend in the party building movement, that this trend had to be consolidated organizationally, and that the party would eventually be formed by the “merger” of this trend with other trends in the movement. In actuality, it was a scheme designed not to unite Marxist-Leninists around a leading line but to promote the narrow, organizational interests of the present Guardian leadership. In fact, it was not a plan for party building at all, but an attempt to perpetuate the movement’s present state of backwardness within which context the importance and centrality of the Guardian newspaper would be enhanced.

Even if the OCIC Steering Committee fails to recognize it, the fact is that the Guardian leadership–in its struggle with the Clubs–had already declared war on the “rectification” line.

By contrast, the leading forces in the Clubs and within the Guardian who opposed the opportunist scheme were already beginning to identify the principal features of the “rectification” line and make them public. This was being done despite the opposition of the Guardian leadership.

All this is readily obvious. What, then, is the source of the confusion? The answer is a political phenomenon which is generally characteristic of two-line struggles. The Guardian had become identified with the critique of the ’ ’fusion’’ line on party building which was advanced particularly during the period when one of the authors was the paper’s Executive Editor and the person chiefly responsible for its work in the party building movement, including the various theoretical propositions advanced. But as subsequent events have shown, not everyone who joined in the critique of “fusion” did so for the same reasons or based on the same motivations. This is not surprising.

In every two-line struggle, there are forces who unite in defense of the correct line for very different reasons. One may as well note that since revisionists are opposed to the left opportunist line of the Communist Party of China, all those who oppose that line are revisionists. (In fact, isn’t this the precise argument advanced by forces like the Proletarian Unity League and its supporters at the recent Point 18 conferences?) For the revisionists, the attack on left opportunism is a cover for their own brand of class-collaboration and flunkeyist relationship to the Soviet Union. Should we therefore conclude that our critique of left opportunism which may well employ many similar arguments, has no standing and does not have to be taken seriously?

Let us apply the same approach to the split between the Guardian and the Clubs and the split within the Guardian itself. As the documents make clear, one sector of the Guardian leadership was opposed to any close association with the OCIC or the Committee of Five for strictly opportunist reasons. Should it be so surprising to learn that they would utilize a legitimate critique of the “fusion” line on party building in order to buttress their arguments? Should it surprise us that by uniting behind a legitimate critique they could then disguise their opportunist motivations? This disguise was sufficient when the opportunist goal was simply to maintain distance from the OCIC–although there was considerable struggle within the Guardian over the concrete manifestations of this contradiction. But when an attempt was made to go beyond this point and establish the Guardian as an organizational force in the party building movement on an unprincipled basis, the internal struggle broke out into the open with all of the consequences that our movement now knows.

One of the most important tests of genuine Marxist-Leninist leadership is the capacity to sum up concrete political experiences correctly and draw from them the lessons and conclusions that give us a greater awareness of reality and help advance our movement towards its goals. In this instance, Newlin, the OCIC Steering Committee and the Political Committee of the PWOC have failed the test.

For the ultimate evidence is the content of the split itself. Whatever formulations were agreed upon when the Guardian Clubs were founded–formulations which inevitably represented a compromise at that time between the two positions which ultimately expressed themselves in sharp line struggle–the fact is that the Clubs were founded, guided and trained on a Marxist-Leninist, anti-sectarian line.

Instead of grasping the political essence of the struggle between the Guardian and the Clubs, Newlin and the OCIC have chosen to take advantage of that struggle in a decidedly sectarian manner. Indeed, it is ironic that Newlin should inveigh against the “circle spirit’’ when he has offered our movement an almost classic example of how the prevalence of a “circle spirit” has distorted his analysis of this struggle.

Thus Newlin argues that “the essence of the so-called critique of the fusion strategy for party building” is nothing but an “exaggeration of genuine differences that did exist on an embryonic level.”

Comrades of the OCIC must take note of the self-serving and irresponsible character of such remarks. Is it correct to reduce the critique of the “fusion” line to a “so-called” critique? One without substance? A mere invention? Surely, those who would defend the “fusion” line can do better than to dismiss the arguments against their line by this wave of the hand which obviates the necessity for principled ideological struggle. Lenin pointed out in “What Is To Be Done?,” that in order to defeat the line of the “economists” he will take it on in its strongest expression–not its weakest. Let those who uphold the “fusion” line do the same thing. To defend the “fusion” line by pointing out that some who oppose it do so for opportunist reasons is no defense at all and strongly suggests a reluctance–if not an inability–to mount a convincing defense of the line.

b. How significant are the differences between the Club Network and the OCIC?

Newlin, speaking on behalf of the OCIC, argues that the Club Network is “planning for a split on the basis of embryonic political differences.” (Really, Comrade Newlin, you must abandon this infatuation with embryonic imagery.) On the one hand, the fusion “embryo” is deemed sufficient to test our line in the heat of class struggle; on the other, your “embryo” suggests differences so microscopic that merely by calling attention to them one is immediately called “sectarian.” Marxist-Leninists should compare Newlin’s dismissing of “embryonic differences” with Lenin’s call to struggle over “shades of difference,” shades that can be of life-and-death importance to the revolution.

First of all, we are not talking here about a range of political differences. We undoubtedly have different points of view on many substantial political questions ranging from the nature of revisionism to the particular characteristics and requirements of the class struggle in the U.S. But none of these are “settled” questions and we do not see differences on such matters as primary at this time. Indeed, within our own organization we have political differences among cadre and even within the leadership on many of the same questions.

No, when we cite our differences with you, we focus primarily on the chief question before our movement–party building line. We think that we have made it overwhelmingly clear that we have a thoroughly different conception of party building than you do and that this manifests itself in a hundred directly related questions. It will do no good to obscure this fact even if we wanted to since those differences lead to diametrically different conceptions of the nature of the immediate tasks before our movement and the appropriate ideological, political and organizational means for taking up those tasks.

But we must also point out that Newlin is not being completely candid when he attempts to trivialize these differences on party building line. In Oakland he argued that the Club Network’s party building line is nothing but “the old party building slogan of the ultra-lefts, ’Unite Marxist-Leninists around a break with revisionism,’ ...wrapped in tinsel and (now) refloated.” Comrades will judge for themselves, of course, whether or not this is accurate, but isn’t there something odd here?

Back in 1976, the PWOC described its differences with the line on party building which it says the Clubs are now merely echoing: “By maintaining that party building consists of the mere uniting of available revolutionaries around a ’correct’ line, the dogmatists place the struggle for the party on an abstract and intellectual plane....The difference between posing the question of party building as an intellectual exercise and posing it as a question of winning over the advanced elements in the working class movement provides the starting point for the struggle against dogmatism. It is a difference which is so basic, so fundamental that even the most inexperienced revolutionary can grasp it.”

Now in no way do we concede that the line on “rectification and re-establishment” is nothing but the party building line of the left opportunists dressed up in fancier language. (In fact, an examination of the actual lines on party building put forward by the left opportunist groups reveals an amazing degree of emphasis on “fusion” with the working class movement as a precondition for party building.) But the point is that the PWOC says that our party building line is just the same old ultra-left line and yet they also claim that the differences between us are really trivial.

So we must ask the PWOC, what has happened since 1976 to transform this “basic, fundamental difference” into one which is now “embryonic” and which has been exaggerated?”

Comrades of the PWOC, explain this to us. Are we being “sectarian” for noting that there is a “basic fundamental difference” between us on the most important question facing our movement– party building? Are we being “sectarian” in noting that the entire plan for the formation of the OCIC was put forward by you in 1976 in the very same article in which you pose the sharpness of the alternatives and that the plan was seen by yourselves and others as the organizational expression of your line on party building? Are you asking us to separate your party building line from its organizational expression (the OCIC) simply because you have made a tactical decision not to make agreement with the “fusion” line a “principle of unity” for the formation?

But we do not have to go back to 1976 to make our point. In April, 1979, responding to a question from the audience during his Oakland presentation, Newlin said of the Club Network’s party building line: “On this question of party building line, we think, and we have not made any bones about it, that the line pursued by the Club ’Network is an abandonment of the interests of the working class in the United States. We think it speculates on the spontaneity of an intellectually based movement. This line can never lead to the restoration of a viable vanguard party.”

Consider the content of Newlin’s remarks. On the one hand he believes that our party building line “is an abandonment of the interests of the working class in the U.S.” On the other, he considers that the difference between that line and the PWOC’s is merely “embryonic” and of little immediate consequence. So we must ask what kind of game is being played here?

Opportunism in the ideological struggle–and we are obliged to characterize this demagogic use of clearly contradictory arguments in that manner–is a grave disservice to our movement and its cadres. It attempts to “settle” questions by floating arguments which are not obliged to be consistent with each other and which are advanced solely for the purpose of defusing and obscuring genuine ideological struggle.

If this is to be the substance of the OCIC’s view of the Club Network and its party building line, the comrades responsible have embarked on a perilous course which can only help consolidate the present backwardness in our movement. Any momentary unity it may achieve will be insubstantial and temporary. It is far better to acknowledge the differences that exist, identify them properly, agree towage principled ideological struggle around them, than to attempt to obscure them. To trot these differences out only when it suits your purpose and to trivialize them when it doesn’t is to condemn our movement to the jockeying for position of small circles and the domination of bourgeois ideology.

c. Is the Club Network working to promote a “split in our movement” over “embryonic” political differences?

First we must say that we are not intimidated by the word “split” even though the charge is designed to evoke unsavory memories of the unprincipled ways in which the bulk of the left opportunist forces conducted ideological struggle in the period of the new communist movement. Splits are not necessarily bad things when political urgencies require them–as witness our splits with revisionism, left opportunism and, in our own case, with the sectarianism of the Guardian staff. In fact, we would urge the comrades in the leadership of the OCIC likewise not to be intimidated by the concept of a split and to end the lingering remnants of their temporizing with left opportunist forces and recognize that the lines of demarcation have been drawn and that this is a good thing.

But our appraisal of the political differences that prevail in the party building movement does not at all lead to the conclusion that a split would be desirable, necessary or a good thing. This is not to deny that the differences over party building are sharp and ultimately decisive. But we do not think that the positions have yet been drawn out thoroughly enough or that the majority of comrades in our trend have had a sufficient opportunity to take up the line questions involved. In our view, most adherents to the “fusion” line on party building have gravitated toward it out of a positive reaction to dogmatism and sectarianism. The low theoretical level of our trend, the relative newness of many forces to communist practice and ideological struggle, the fact that many comrades are currently being trained under the guidance of an incorrect line, the dominance of local rather than national forms, and the failure of the OCIC leadership to take up its responsibilities in a thoroughly communist fashion–all these contribute to setting conditions in our movement that tend to perpetuate its most backward characteristics.

The “rectification” line is only now being advanced in a fully developed and amplified form giving comrades, for the first time, an opportunity to consider a concrete alternative to the “fusion” line and to struggle against it from the vantage point of a Leninist conception of the party.

Our objective is frank and our methods are forthright. We hope to win our entire movement over the line on “rectification”–and to do so by the process of political debate and persuasion and also by demonstrating in life the fact that the line on “rectification” can solve the concrete problems before the Marxist-Leninist forces.

But comrades in our trend know this already not just from our words but from our practice. When Club Network comrades attended and participated in the Point 18 conferences, did they unite with the OCIC forces in the struggle against left opportunism or did they, to quote Newlin, “devote almost exclusive attention to building their own narrow following at the expense of the tendency?” Haven’t these comrades proposed not only “joint work” in the abstract but also very concretely initiated both theoretical and practical projects in which OCIC forces and others have been centrally involved? We are forthright in our views, but we have cooperated with comrades from the OCIC on every possible occasion whether in the “internal” work of the communist movement or in joint interventions in the spontaneous mass movements. Everyone knows this out of their own experience.

What, then, is the basis for the accusation of splitting? A few moments’ thought yields the answer: it is because we have decided not to affiliate with the OCIC. But as comrades must surely know by now–if they have gotten this far in this pamphlet and if they have studied our line on “rectification”–we believe that the OCIC is founded on and guided by a backward line and that it is incapable of fulfilling the tasks it has set for itself, no matter how well-intentioned the great majority of its members undoubtedly are.

Simply put, we do not believe that the OCIC is or can become a leading center for our movement. Nor do we believe that a leading center can be forged through the general approach that has been taken.

And yet, we will continue to work and promote closer relations with the OCIC and its constituent groups–as well as with many other non-Club and non-OCIC forces in our movement. We suggest that comrades in our movement who are rightfully concerned about the possibility of unwarranted splits pay closer attention to the way in which the leadership of the OCIC is now trying to define the “genuine” communist forces in our movement primarily on the basis of whether or not they affiliate with the OCIC. We suggest that those who are rightfully concerned with small circle warfare, petty bickerings and power struggles pay closer attention to the content and tone of the speech Newlin delivered in Oakland on behalf of the OCIC leadership.

3. Now we turn to the third theme of Newlin’s speech: is the “rectification” line the ultra-left line on party building–only with a new name?

When Newlin on behalf of the OCIC is not arguing that the differences between the “rectification” line and the “fusion” line are embryonic, his fall-back position is that the line is ultra-left. We should not surprised that those who uphold the “fusion” line on party building would see “rectification” as ultra-left since it definitely stands in left opposition to a line characterized by mechanical materialism, down-grading of the subjective factor, and subordination of the leading role of theory to the limited social practice of a preparty period.

But the shorthand which says that the “rectification” line is essentially the same as that put forward by the leading left-opportunist organizations of the new communist movement is nothing but a contrived myth. To charge, as the PWOC does, that the RU, the OL and the Club Network all subscribe to the idea that Marxist-Leninists should unite around political line may sould like proof positive to some; but we would then ask Newlin, what should Marxist-Leninists unite around if not political line? Good vibes?

The problem with the left opportunist groups was not that they wanted to unite Marxist-Leninists around political line–at least to the extent that they really wanted to and tried. No, the problem fundamentally was the conception they had of the process of line development and the line they united around.

In point of fact, there is no resemblance between the “rectification” line and both the lines and actual practice of the chief left opportunist groupings. All of them made efforts to “win the advanced” to their organizations through mass organizing. All of them, in fact, put forward a “fusion” line of one sort or another, claiming that they had to create a ”communist current” in the working class before they could form their respective parties. (This process was simplified by the not unfamiliar device of simply declaring the existence of a “communist current” in the working class when the forces involved deemed it advisable to launch their parties.)

None of these groups developed a plan for rectifying the general line of the U.S. communist movement. Most of them did not even take responsibility for the history of the communist movement. Their general lines and party programs bore little resemblance to social reality. Rather, they combined the international view holding sway in Peking with a hasty regurgitation of a handful of classical Marxist-Leninist propositions and a view of class struggle in the U.S. characterized by dogmatism and petty bourgeois infantile leftism. The theoretical work proceeded with little regard for rigor and even less for facts. And each grouplet’s work around line development was jealously guarded as the respective private property of each–with the anticipated coronation of their efforts by the CPC the ultimate goal.

The few attempts made to enter into joint theoretical or practical work were characterized by factionalism and the drive towards hegemonism. The left opportunists did not take responsibility for the movement as a whole; they had no concept of developing genuine “party relations” with each other in the preparty period, nor did any of them even project the concept of helping to develop a leading center for the movement as a whole, a center which would rise above all of the existing organizational forms and, on the basis of a leading line, periodically sum up the progress of the movement as a whole and develop a concrete plan for the organizational re-establishment of the party.

In essence, the left opportunists never took up the complex task of developing a correct general line for the U.S. movement in a rigorous, scientific fashion. Their oversimplification of the task of generating political line led inevitably to the oversimplification of the organizational problems of the preparty period as well.

Thus, what was particularly characteristic of all the left opportunist attempts at party building was the building of all-sided, democratic centralist, rationally organized “preparty formations” as the only appropriate form of communist organization in the preparty period. Such a view is, in fact, consistent with a “fusion” line and so we are not surprised to learn that PWOC holds to the legitimacy of this form.

What is wrong with this approach is that it fails to see the particularity of communist organization in a preparty period. Of course, communists must always attempt to develop the most advanced organizational form possible in a given period. But the basis for organization can only be a political line and a political task. In the preparty period, we lack a general line for the seizure of state power in the U.S. Only such a line can provide the basis for all-sided guidance of the work of Marxist-Leninists, the basis for all-sided democratic centralism. Without such a line, there are inherent limitations in the work of communists, and this is reflected organizationally in the limitations on the application of democratic centralism in organizations of the preparty period. And not only are these limitations important to note to prevent illusions about the work that can be accomplished in the preparty stage; they are crucial to note because all-sided democratic centralism in the preparty period will fetter rather than push forward the crucial ideological and political line struggle that must take place in the Marxist-Leninist movement as a whole to rectify the general line and provide the basis for the qualitative change from the preparty period to the party period.

Thus, in this period there will be (and should be) a multiplicity of organizational forms to carry out the complex tasks of line rectification.

Thus, the line on “rectification” in its ideological, political and organizational aspects is anathema to all left opportunist concepts of party building as well as to those who see ’ ’fusion” as the key to party building. It would be better for Newlin and the Steering Committee of the OCIC to attempt a genuine critique of the “rectification” line than this small-minded attempt to combat it by invoking the unfounded spectre of ultra-leftism.

But doesn’t the “rectification” line base itself on an elitist, undemocratic conception of party building?

We welcome the fact that Newlin has chosen to introduce this charge into the current debate, even though it has been introduced “between the lines,” so to speak. With this charge we begin to come close to the definite differences in party building line that actually exist in our movement. In that sense, it is a step forward from the hopelessly muddied argumentation over whether or not we are still a single anti-revisionist movement, or whether there were any differences of substance between the Club Network and the Guardian staff or all of the assorted obfuscations dealing with embryos.

In his speech, Newlin says that the process of “forging a leading ideological core...must be public, open and movement-wide as far as practicable.” He wants to “maximize the involvement of the practical workers in the tendency so as to allow them to have input to the process of testing and refining our formulations.” He is opposed to “secret, behind the scenes negotiations” between leaders. He urges “broad movement-wide criticism” and warns against “conceptions that only a small and narrow elite can fully grasp.” He argues that “the process of forging the ideological struggle 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.”

Given the overall context of Newlin’s speech, we believe it reasonable to conclude that these remarks are directed at the line on “rectification” in general and the Club Network in particular.

So let us be very clear about our views. We are in a period where the Marxist-Leninists lack a general line. Formulating such a line is an immense theoretical task and the gravest problem before the Marxist-Leninist movement is its low theoretical level and its greatest lack is the absence of trained and developed revolutionary leadership. Under such conditions it is the height of irresponsibility to be reinforcing the anti-intellectual and ultra-democratic prejudices which the great majority of our cadres have brought with them as petty bourgeois baggage from earlier periods.

It is absolutely demagogic to be prattling about involving “practical workers in our tendency” or warning against “conceptions that only a small and narrow elite can fully grasp” in the absence of a general plan for raising the theoretical level of our movement as a whole. Newlin’s injunctions reflect the concerns of petty-bourgeois democracy–not of proletarian democracy. The petty bourgeois says that we are “all equal,” thus obscuring the differences in level that exist in life and glorifying the backward state of the movement. And this is the petty bourgeois point of view even if it is advanced by a worker. The proletarian says that our movement exists in history and that therefore we are not all equal; and that it is the responsibility of leadership to reduce that inequality by raising the level of the movement to that of its most advanced and not by reducing its level to the most backward. And that is the proletarian point of view even if it is advanced by an intellectual.

The petty bourgeois views leadership as a source of power, privelege and prestige and is constantly concerned about putting checks on leadership, insisting that its activity be conducted openly and publicly in full view of all. The proletarian views leadership as a responsibility and holds leaders accountable on the basis of results. The proletarian recognizes that consultations among leaders must generally be conducted in such a way as to maximize preparation, benefit from division of labor and proceed on the basis of the most advanced experiences.

Leninist principles of organization and leadership which characterize the structure of the party must be applied to the process of party building itself. In relation to the class, the party is a vanguard. And, in the preparty period, in relation to the mass of comrades associated with the party building movement, the leading center is the vanguard.

Under party conditions, the lower bodies are subordinate to the higher bodies. The only body higher than the national leadership is the national congress. But what are we to do in a preparty period when there are no common criteria for “membership” in the party building movement; when each local organization selects its own leadership and there is no national center that can establish the criteria for the selection of leadership?

Just as the party wins its vanguard role in the class by asserting itself, a process which is verified by the degree to which its revolutionary line becomes a material force among the masses, so in the preparty period, a leading center likewise asserts itself and becomes recognized as a leading force primarily through the quality of the leadership it gives.

Unfortunately, our movement is still characterized by tendencies to see party building like coalition-building. A party cannot be organized on the basis of that line which simply records the prevailing level of political unity among Marxist-Leninists of disparate political and theoretical development at any given moment. A party is organized on the basis of a leading line, an advanced line, a line which–at the beginning–may be held by only a minority of comrades. The period of ideological struggle is characterized by the process of winning comrades to the advanced line–not by reducing the line to make it compatible with the views of “the practical workers in our tendency” or any other euphemism that will be used to disguise a prevailing low theoretical level.

Are these views elitist? Undemocratic? Only to those who find their own comfortable niche in the present backward state of our movement.

Our problem today is not that our leaders are consulting behind the backs of the cadres. Our problem is that we do not have enough trained leaders with a breadth of vision taking responsibility for the movement as a whole. And if we had such leaders, we should insist that they act like leaders–and that they consult with each other–and collectively take on the task of raising the level of our movement, training the cadres under an advanced line and formulating broad plans for every aspect of our movement’s responsibilities.

Our problem today is not the absence of democracy in our ranks or formal barriers to the “practical workers” making an input into the line. Our problem is a low theoretical level that makes a mockery of democracy because we have insufficient cadre trained to make the needed inputs into line rectification.

In appointing himself the defender of the “rank-and-file” of our movement against the designs of a “small and narrow elite,” Newlin has risen to the defense of our movement’s backwardness and primitive state of development. Precisely at a moment when our desperate need is for bold leadership, he sows suspicion of leadership, suggesting that leadership is not to be trusted if it meets out of sight of the cadre.

The hallmark of bourgeois democracy is eclecticism–the view that fundamentally sees all ideas as equal or at least equally legitimate. (This is, of course, also the standpoint of pragmatism.) So Newlin argues that we must guarantee “the input and criticism and intervention of any force in the Marxist-Leninist movement.” Comrades should think that over in view of Newlin’s assertion that we are still “a single anti-revisionist movement.”

Our problem is not the lack of opportunity for “any force” in the movement to make its views known. Our problem is the lack of advanced views and a tendency to avoid ideological struggle on the pretext that differences are merely “embryonic” and have been exaggerated in order to promote splits.

In point of fact, the essence of the line on “rectification” is precisely the development of a movement-wide rectification process which will involve all cadres and leaders of our movement. The “rectification” line does not simply argue for the involvement of the cadres in party building work. It lays out a program to make it possible–both in form and content.

At the same time–and this is the point that Newlin, the OCIC and all of our common predecessors in the new communist movement missed completely–we see a distinction between the “rectification” movement and the process of re-establishing the party. “Rectification” should be open, broad, as wide-ranging as possible–in full view of the entire trend. (It should also be guided, a process which can take place correctly only the basis of a leading party building line.)

But do Newlin and the Steering Committee of the OCIC want to argue that the process of re-establishing the party should also take place openly, widely and in full view of the entire trend–and also in the full view, therefore, of the state’s repressive apparatus? If so, we strongly disagree. We believe that the key task of a leading ideological center–and such a center can only be organized, as we have said over and over again, on the basis of a mutually held leading line–is to sum up the rectification movement and take the necessary steps to re-establish a party organization proceeding on the Leninist principle of “from the center out.”

And we will defend this view of the organization aspect of party building no matter how many times we are charged with elitism or with advocating a course of action that is not subject to “the intervention of any force in the Marxist-Leninist movement.”

Newlin’s remarks are an appeal to backwardness. As such, they offer every cadre in our movement a choice. They can unite with that backwardness and mount their guard against “elitism” thereby helping to perpetuate the present situation of our movement. Or they can reject that appeal and, in the process, take a crucial step in the ideological rectification of our movement, knowing that as we shed the baggage of petty bourgeois prejudice we are emancipating ourselves for the tasks of proletarian revolution.

What is the thread that unites all these three themes of Newlin’s sectarian attack? It is backwardness. On every question that is posed, Newlin takes the stand of obscurantism and distortion.
By declaring that we are still “a single anti-revisionist movement,” Newlin again attempts to undo the gains made over the past several years and return us to a stage of even more pronounced backwardness than the present one. There are several reasons for this stand. One is that it becomes a means of reformulating the “fusion” line on party building without having to take responsibility for its history, since if we are still in the stage before lines of demarcation have been completed, then the questions of party building line can only be in their “embryonic” period. Another is that it becomes the means for justifying the organizational unity of our trend in opposition to left opportunism rather than on the bsais of party building line; and finally, it is the device for justifying the view that the principal danger within our ranks comes from the left–since left opportunism is the dominant force in the anti-revisionist movement as a whole–and denying the charge that within our trend, the chief deviation is from the right. In our view, this latter characterization is correct, since it is the “fusion” line, its ideological underpinnings and its organizational expression which present the biggest obstacle to party building in our trend at this time.
By charging that the position of the Club Network and of the Guardian staff on party building is essentially the same, Newlin prevents our movement from drawing the full political lessons of a signal development in the whole process of rectification. And it is not hard to figure out the reason for this approach. By charging that the split between the Guardian and the Club Network is insubstantial (it eliminates the “warts” but not “the cancer” the PWOC noted in one of its less savory images) Newlin hopes to discredit the very substantial critique of the “fusion” line on party building which has already been put forward. If the critique can be discredited, it does not have to be refuted–a task which the PWOC has not yet demonstrated any ability to accomplish.
By charging that the differences between the Club Network and the OCIC are merely “embryonic,” he sets our movement back several years and says, in effect, that the agenda of 1976 is still before us. The reason for this is likewise obvious. The “fusion” line has lost its theoretical coherence. But so far it has been the PWOC’s passport to leadership in our movement. It therefore clings to the line in a formal sense but finds it extremely difficult to defend. It continues to modify the line, borrowing a phrase here and a formulation there desperately trying to plug the holes in the theoretical dike. This refusal to surrender a line when it has lost its cogency is the opposite of a proletarian approach to political questions. Instead, we have another obscurantist effort, this one designed to pin the “sectarian” label on the Club Network, since we can all agree that the exaggeration of political differences is indeed an example of sectarianism.>But what shall we label the attempt to trivialize political differences? It is opportunism.
By charging that the Club Network is “planning for a split,” Newlin attempts to prejudice our movement against the initiative on party building that is now being put forward. The reason for this is to enhance the authority of the OCIC as the only legitimate Marxist-Leninist formation in our trend; and if that is not “circle warfare,” then the term has lost its meaning.
By charging that the “rectification” line is merely the resurfacing of left opportunism on party building, Newlin again tries to set out movement back to that time when “fusion” was new and its only alternative seemed to be the sectarianism and dogmatism characteristic of the left opportunist grouplets. The reason? If the “rectification” line can be categorized as ultra-left even before comrades have taken it up for discussion and debate, then the most effective challenge to the “fusion” line to develop in our movement so far will be dismissed beforehand.
Finally, by raising the spectre of “elitism” and the dangers of an anti-democratic leadership, Newlin is strengthening the very fetters that hold our movement back. The reason for this? The comrade has lost his ideological bearings and stands in grave danger of abandoning the Leninist conception of the party.

All comrades should be judged on the basis of their role in the ideological struggle itself and whether they clarify or obscure.

This is one statement in Newlin’s speech which we heartily endorse. And we ask our movement now to judge Newlin by exactly those criteria. Read and study his sectarian attack on the Club Network. Does it clarify–or does it obscure? Does it advance our movement–or does it push it back? Does it engage the ideological struggle–or does it run away from it?

What is the significance of all this? The two general perspectives on party building that have been put before the communist movement–the “rectification” line and the “fusion” line–stand in sharp contradiction to each other. That contradiction is between the Leninist conception of a party and a non-Leninist conception, a Leninist conception of the role of communists and a non-Leninist conception.

It is no accident that the “fusion” line caters to and reinforces the anti-theoretical prejudices of our movement since its fundamental assumption–that a communist current can be created in the working class even without a general line or a communist party–demonstrates conclusively its worship of spontaneity and its criterion of “palpable results”; nor is it an accident that the “fusion” line should bring to birth a federationist type of organization as its national vehicle, since the very process of tailing after the mass movement gives rise to that ultra-democratic outlook that reinforces localism and promotes suspicion of Leninist leadership; nor is it a coincidence that its conception of a leading ideological center and how it is formed should be characterized by the view that the center is organized in order to create the leading line–whereas we hold that it is the leading line which creates the center.

Let us be very explicit. We believe that the “fusion” line on party building is a backward line which downgrades the leading role of theory and political line in the present period and which liquidates the subjective factor as the particular characteristic of communist organization. This line cannot lead to the re-establishment of our party. Nor can it train the cadres who follow the line to become communists capable of taking on the enormous tasks history has set for the U.S. working class movement.

Comrades of the OCIC: the ideological struggle which you want to systematize has already broken out. Its focus is on party building line. It simply will not do to insist that one set of views in the struggle may be dismissed as a “pretext” for promoting disunity. On the outcome of that struggle rests the future of our movement. Politically speaking, therefore, it is a life-and-death struggle.

We believe that this struggle is, itself, a particular and necessary stage in the development of a rectification movement and that it demonstrates the fundamental soundness of the line on rectification–since this is a question that only communists can settle in their interaction with each other.

The struggle now unfolding is–or at least it can be–a very good thing for our movement. Revolutionaries and communist organizations are forged in the heat of ideological struggle.

We believe that the great majority of cadre in our trend want to practice Marxism-Leninism, want to build the party and want to make revolution. If we keep those criteria in mind throughout, then the unfolding ideological struggle will not only be systematized and centralized; it will lead to the consolidation of a correct Marxist-Leninist line on party building for our movement as a whole.

Irwin Silber
Melinda Paras
Bruce Occena
Marcia Altman