Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Developing the Subjective Factor

The Party Building Line of the National Network of Marxist-Leninist Clubs


(reprinted from the Guardian, Fan the Flames, 25 April 1979)

What is an ideological center?

The term has developed considerable currency in the party-building movement in the recent period. Last year, some two dozen local Marxist-Leninist organizations formed an Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center (OCIC) as what they considered the key step toward ultimate formation of a revolutionary party.

Other groups and individuals have likewise noted that a leading ideological center is an essential precondition to give political orientation to the Marxist-Leninist movement at every stage of its development.

There is nothing at all surprising about any of this. Every communist movement is guided by a leading ideological center. In a period when communists are organized into a party, that center corresponds to the political commission of its central committee. When, as the result of 2-line struggle, a leading center emerges which is not located in the political commission, then the party goes through a period of crisis in which key aspects of its line are reexamined and in which leading cadre may be removed from their positions.

In a preparty period, such as ours, ideological centers develop in response to the party-building tasks of the movement. Where there is a high degree of unity on party-building and on the outstanding questions of political line, one ideological center may quickly emerge to unite the entire movement. But where there are fundamental differences in outlook, invariably expressed in differences over the principal question facing the movement at the moment, then we should not be surprised if more than one center were to develop.


An ideological center is a grouping united around a world outlook which jointly takes on responsibility for the work and progress of the entire movement and attempts to develop the movement along a particular path. Such a center does not necessarily have to take a concrete organizational form in its early stages. At that point it might well be an informal grouping of leading Marxist-Leninists who develop close ties and begin to hold each other mutually accountable within their common frame of ideological assumptions.

One of the problems with the ideological center the OCIC proposes to establish is that its essential unity is postulated primarily on the basis ol its opposition to ultra-“leftism.” Here is the way they put it: ’ ’In our view, the most pressing task facing honest revolutionaries is the establishment of an ideological center for the anti-“lefts.” Our tendency desperately needs a single center, a single national focal point for its strivings to overcome the ultra-left line. In order to successfully reckon with “left” opportunism, we must unite the present distinct and competing centers behind a common effort both to overcome any leftist thinking in our ranks and to combat the ideological hegemony of the “lefts.” And we must join together to fight the tendency to allow secondary differences among us to obscure our more pressing unity in opposition to “left-wing communism.”

Now this is all very admirable, but several questions immediately come to mind. The first is whether an anti-“left” ideological center really affords a sufficient and appropriate basis of unity that can enable such a center to give the requisite leadership to our movement. Clearly the line of demarcation with “left” opportunism has become every bit as decisive as the demarcation with revisionism. But that struggle has been underway for almost four years now and while we cannot say that we have completely settled accounts with “left” opportunism, it is obvious that new questions corresponding to the next period are already coming to the fore.


Doesn’t the OCIC’s call to “overcome any leftist thinking in our own ranks” suggest that there are already developed and conflicting views on other questions?–Questions on which the OCIC thinks others are making “left” errors? Doesn’t the designation of certain differences as “secondary” already imply a political view with its own built-in judgement that those who may attach a greater importance to these “secondary” differences are sectarian? Hasn’t a sharp political difference over a question of the utmost importance–party-building line–emerged in our tendency in the past several years? Or were all those forums, polemics and debates over the “fusion” strategy on party-building mere exaggerations over “secondary” questions?

To speak, therefore, of establishing an ideological center for our tendency in the present period without recognizing that such a center must be based, not only on the lines of demarcation with revisionism and left opportunism, but equally decisive, on a common party-building line is to deny the real movement of politics as it has actually unfolded in our ranks.

Can we conceive of an ideological center without unity on the most pressing task before our movement? Some comrades apparently can. They believe that the function of an ideological center is to “systematize debate” and to “coordinate theoretical tasks”–in short to be an administrative center to supervise what all agree will be a period of intense ideological struggle in the effort to forge a leading line for our movement.


But in considering the arguments for systematizing and coordinating, we must ask what is this fetish for neatness in the ideological struggle? Are we a movement of bookkeepers that we must map out the ideological struggle in some orderly fashion? It is one thing to develop joint work and planning, simple forms of cooperation between forces holding different views on important questions but determined to proceed in a principled fashion. That much is elementary.

But genuine ideological struggle is not so neatly managed and the very attempt to impose rules on it is itself part of the struggle. To paraphrase Engels, haven’t these comrades ever seen or been in an ideological struggle? It cannot be systematized. It breaks out everywhere and violates all the rules of orderly debate. Proponents of one view or another do not bide their time or wait their turn to obtain a few pages of space in the common theoretical journal. They rush out and start their own journals just as Lenin did with Iskra.

All this activity makes some comrades unhappy. They think that communist unity in the present period will be achieved by reasonable people holding reasonable discussions in order to arrive at reasonable conclusions. But the character of the present period is that Marxist-Leninists are forged and tempered in the heat of the ideological struggle. Naturally, if the ideological struggle is promoted merely as a pretext for organizational exclusiveness, then this is sheer opportunism. But if ideological struggle is down-played and restricted in order to maintain organizational unity, this too is opportunist and can never lead to the formation of a genuine leading center for our movement.


The criterion by which we can determine whether comrades are truly committed to forging a single ideological center for our movement cannot be organizational affiliation to any particular structure which, inevitably, will be a reflection of a particular party-building perspective. Rather, we should judge groups and individuals by the actual role they play, their willingness to take on theoretical tasks both jointly and on their own, their willingness to engage in principled struggle, their openness to every form of joint activity within the tendency.

In other words, a genuine ideological center can and will be formed in the course of a widespread rectification movement. This will happen as leading Marxist-Leninists begin to identify each other as that core willing and able–on the basis of a common ideological outlook – to take on mutual responsibility for the movement as a whole.


For this to occur, each of these individuals will have to begin looking at their own organizations tactically. At a certain point they will have to transfer their political “loyalty” to the emerging center and away from their local organization. They will have to begin to hold each other accountable for their actions and views and begin to develop a common discipline.

This coming together of leading Marxist-Leninists united not by previous organizational ties but solely by a common ideological perspective and unity around the principal questions before the movement at the time is the only way in which a leading ideological center can be forged.

Such a center cannot be elected. In time, formal elections may confirm its leadership. Such a center cannot be built by delegates from different organizations or emerge from a bargaining process between them.

An ideological center asserts itself as a political force in the movement and becomes a leading center through its demonstrated ability to address and solve the principal questions facing the communist movement.

A widespread rectification movement sets the best conditions for a leading ideological center to develop because it engages all the cadre, all the leaders, organizations and individuals in taking up communist tasks in such a fashion that all can be held accountable for their views and their actions.


This rectification movement cannot, of itself, lead directly to the reestablishment of the party. The bridge between rectification and reestablishment is provided by the leading ideological center. That center will take prime responsibility for moving ahead with the particular political and organizational tasks of reestablishment. It is able to do so because it has already won the confidence of the cadres as a result of the role it plays in the rectification movement.

This is the ultimate task of the leading center. Because that task is of such great importance, we cannot afford to trivialize its meaning or function. We cannot reduce it to a coordinating body with lowest common denominator unity on a handful of political propositions.

Nor can we simply “agree” to establish such a center. Rather, we must agree to establish the most favorable conditions for a leading center to emerge. Therein lies the essence for the proposal that our movement as a whole and jointly take on the task of rectification of the general line of the U.S. communist movement as the key to party-building in the present period.