Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Bay Area Workers’ Organizing Committee “Minority” and Tucson Marxist-Leninist Collective

Draft Outline for Statement on Federationism and the OCIC


First Issued: June 6, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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I. Federationism and Democratic Centralism

The struggle against federationism, also historically referred to as federalism, is a key aspect of the struggle for democratic centralism and the Leninist conception of the party. Federationism historically has attempted to undermine the Leninist form of the party, arguing that the party should be built through federating or joining various organizations which are independent of each other and whose relations are based on negotiations and agreements. Under such a conception, there is no single party center and party program, which inevitably leads to anarchism in the party, with minorities not bound by majority decisions and no unity of action. The party is based on equal representation from the independent federated organisations and only., those decisions agreed to by all the independent organisations are implemented.

Such views are antithetical to democratic centralism and Leninism. Under democratic centralism, there is one single party center; lower bodies submit to higher bodies, minorities submit to majority decisions. Likewise, under democratic centralism, line and policy of the party is not based on agreements among representatives of independent organizations but rather through democratic and open ideological struggle in the party by all members. Under democratic centralism, there is one party program, while at the same time there is autonomy as to the different methods of carrying out the program in practice and agitating for it depending on local, racial, national, cultural, and other differences. Thus, democratic centralism provides the greatest democracy and flexibility of organization, while at the same time unity of action.

II. Historical Examples of Federationism

The struggle against federationism has historically come to the fore at the time when communist parties were struggling to form at a national level. The struggle, against federationism has also been primarily one which, has been taken up in relation to particular nationalist deviations. In Russia in 1903, prior to the second RSDLP congress, the Bund or Jewish Labor Party argued for a federationist party based on its view that it was the only legitimate representative of the Jewish working class and liquidating itself would sell-out the Jewish working class movement.

In the US at the time of the formation of the CPUSA in 1919 numerous nationalist and language federations existed reflecting the large immigrant composition of the communist movement at that time. As a result, strong federationist tendencies infested the formative process of the CPUSA.

III. Sectarianism, Localism, and the New Communist Movement

Before we enter into the discussion of federationism and the OCIC, we want to briefly examine the question in terms of the last 10 years or so of the New Communist Movement. The new communist movement has been racked by a deeply entrenched circle spirit and sectarianism. Each circle or grouplet has put it’s own interest above that of the movement as a whole, often by making the two synonymous. Ideological debate was reduced to rank polemics and mud-slinging. Charges of opportunism and Menshevism, usually made fanatically, caused endless splitting of the ranks. Every question became a splitting question. And worst of all, the struggle for organizational hegemony took center stage while principled ideological struggle and theoretical-political clarity was scarce, if not nil. Such is the legacy of the new communist movement–the key being the substitution of the struggle for organizational hegemony for the struggle for ideological unity.

This substitution of the struggle for organizational hegemony for ideological unity had particularly negative consequences for the two major national, centers set up by the dogmatists–the National Liaison Committee and the National Continuations Committee. The RU and the CL, respective leaders of the two centers, struggled for all “genuine” Marxist-Leninists to join the centers. Those that remained outside were charged with small circle mentality and sectarianism, not to mention organizational opportunism. Forces who refused to link up or who left the centers were often written out of the movement as opportunists.

In response to the dogmatist and ultra-“leftists”, an anti-revisionist, anti-dogmatist trend has developed. While certainly the cornerstone of the break with the dogmatisms has been with their theoretical practice and political lines, a key aspect of the break: has also been over the question of sectarianism and small circle spirit. The bulk of the forces within the anti-revisionist, anti-dogmatist trend have shown, relative to the dogmatists, a striving to put the interests of the movement first and foremost instead of their own circle; to place principled ideological struggle center stage instead of the struggle for organizational hegemony; and have attempted to unite and split on major theoretical-political questions instead of each and every minute point.

Related to the struggle against sectarianism and circle spirit is the struggle against localism. The anti-revisionist, anti-dogmatist trend has struggled for Marxist-Leninists to see the question of party building on a national scale, to understand the present-day organizational make-up is a transitory phenomenon, and the need to break out of localist thinking which tends to submerge forces in the immediate day-to-day work with which they are faced.

We think it is important to make the distinctions between these different deviations very clear. Sectarianism, localism, and federationism, while related, are distinct departures from Marxism-Leninism. We believe the distinctions have become increasingly* blurred, as the term-federationism now seems to be employed by the SC when referring–to sectarianism and localism. As such, the cadre of the movement are being mis-trained theoretically and politically.

IV. Federationism and the OCIC

We think the struggle against federationism, while important, is not the key struggle before our trend or the OCIC. Instead, the key struggle is against sectarianism and localism. It is only the defeat of sectarianism and localism which will lay the basis for principled, national party building debate and a future single ideological center for our trend.

We are not arguing to liquidate the struggle against federationist thinking in our ranks at this time. But to see it as the key struggle is a total misreading of the conjuncture, as well as turning the relationship, between organisational struggle and ideological struggle on its head. We cannot do away with our present situation, which objectively is a period of the existence of different circles, through edict and organizational bullying. The dogmatists tried this method and the results were disastrous. The only way to move from a circle existence to a future unified national-movement is through ideological struggle and theoretical-political clarity and unity, not by demanding mandatory organizational adherence.

Circles will break down based on unity around political line. At this time, they key question dividing our movement is the question of party building line. Since the OC is founded on only a set of minimum political principles and no single, all-sided party building line, it flies...in the face of reality for the SC to develop what we would, call “central committee” mentality and to cultivate a “party” mentality within the ranks of the OC.

The SC has launched the campaign against federationism based on its mechanical application of the lessons from Lenin’s One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, which was written when the party was struggling to reform in 1904. Our present conditions are as different as night and day. In fact we can find passages within this work of Lenin’s which do reflect more our own present conditions:

As long as we had no unity on the fundamental questions of programme and tactics, we bluntly admitted that we were living in a period of disunity and separate circles, we bluntly declared that before we could unite, lines of demarcation must be drawn; we did not even talk of the forms of joint organization, but exclusively discussed the new...problems of fighting opportunism on programme and tactics. At present... this fight has already produced a sufficient degree of unity...; we had to take the next step...working, out the forms of a united organization... (LCW #7, 337-88)

We fought opportunism on the fundamental problems of our world conception, on the questions of programme... We fought opportunism on the tactical issues... We must now vanquish the opportunism...on questions of organization, which are, of course, less fundamental than questions of tactics, let alone programme, but which have now come to the forefront in our Party life. (LCW #7, 404)

Thus, a careful reading, a non-dogmatic reading, of this work clearly shows that in a period of disunity on programme, strategy, and tactics, Lenin admitted it was a period of separate circles. Once unity on these questions is arrived at, then the question of organizational opportunism comes to the fore. This is a correct understanding of the relationship between organization and politics.

Our assessment of the present period is that we are in a period of disunity, without agreement on how to develop program and tactics, much less unity around them. Our movement is, to be blunt, a grouping of separate circles which stand apart not just organizationally, but politically. If any historical period from the Russian experience corresponds to ours, we think the period in Russia from about 1899-1902 is more similar, although certainly not identical. During that period Lenin argued that:

...unity cannot be decreed, it cannot be brought about by decision, say, of a meeting of representatives; it... must be worked for...In the first, place, it is necessary to work for solid ideological unity which should eliminate discordance and confusions, that – let us be frank! – reign among Russian Social-Democrats at the present time. (LCW #4, 354)

V. Combatting Circle Warfare

To overcome the period of distinct circles, a diligent struggle against sectarianism and localism must be pursued. We must be materialists, however, and accept the fact that we are in a period of disunity and separate circles. The OC is objectively one circle in our movement and is not, nor does it seem it will become in the near future, synonymous with the entire trend.

The SC must restore the correct relationship between organization and politics. The organization over politics line was first promulgated by the PUL which argued that the organizational question was primary in this period and accused the OC, as a whole, of having a small circle mentality and a sectarian practice. The PUL liquidated a key difference within the anti-revisionist movement over international line and proletarian internationalism, The SC has unfortunately taken up where the PUL left off. The SC now wants to liquidate key differences on the central question facing our trend–party building line. The difference between the PUL struggle and the present struggle is, of course, that the differences with the PUL put them outside of our trend while the differences over party building line at this point do not represent lines of demarcation.

Communist unity will be genuine and long lasting when it is built on a common theoretical, political, and ideological foundation. The struggle to build this kind of unity can only come from the committment of each group to put politics in command in its relations with others. For the SC to make comradely relations and comradely struggle with forces conditional on their joining the OC is not only to elevate the OC as an organisational form above the political requirements of our movement as a whole. It is also to postpone the necessary political struggle which is required if our movement is going to-ultimately unite.

Because of the low level of theoretical development and political unity in our trend we have the de facto existence of several distinct party building centers based on distinct interpretations of Marxism-Leninism in general and the nature and tasks of party formation in particular. These centers include the OCIC, Theoretical Review, Line of March, and MINP. The existence of distinct circles, while not desirable, is not inevitably an unhealthy condition. Unhealthy conditions can be avoided if the different centers, in pursuing their tasks, also pursue the maximum degree of respect and mutual cooperation, always aiming for clarity and conducting struggle on the basis of unity-struggle-higher unity. However, when centers instead place the narrow interests of gaining and consolidating their own following above the interests of the entire trend, the result is “circle warfare”.

The SC, instead of combatting circle warfare, is promoting it – like throwing gasoline on a fire. Its struggle for a single center at this time is objectively a smokescreen for organizational hegemony. It flies in the face of objective reality which is a reality of separate circles. Instead of accepting objective reality, and recognizing the lines dividing our movement, the SC avoids the struggle around them and conjures up a sectarian line of its own: either join the OC, subordinate to our agenda, or be a left-opportunist or a concilliator of left-oppportunism. The SC line is voluntarist – it simply desires to wish away circle existence without the political basis to do so. The result: circle warfare. Because the SC has, in the name of struggling against circle warfare, collapsed the distinction between eliminating circle warfare and eliminating circles, it has unfortunately perpetuated some of the worst manifestations of circle warfare since our trend’s emergence.

We do not think the existence of separate circles necessarily must result in circle warfare as it did among the dogmatists. It existed for them because the struggle for organizational hegemony instead of ideological, unity took center stage. Isn’t this the same path, the present SC is traveling? Isn’t this feeding the flames of circle warfare? Instead of winning a leading role for itself by its advanced line and the practice of the OC, isn’t the SC trying to dominate by organizational means?

To avoid circle warfare, the SC and the OC as a whole must begin to take up the key questions facing our trend, placing the ideological struggle center stage and allowing all points of view to come forward and be struggled out. Furthermore, such struggle must be pursued in a conscious fashion and we must demand all existing circles in the-trend to take up joint national projects and theoretical work. No circle should struggle for organizational hegemony. No circle should become submerged in their own local existence. This is what will prevent circle warfare.

VI. Federationism and Racism

On the question of federationism and racism, the way the SC has posed the question, while true in some respects, is problemmatic in others. The SC correctly recognizes that the racism in the organized party building movement generally, and in the constituent groups of the OC in particular, has discouraged the participation of many minority Marxist-Leninists. Therefore, the struggle against racism is objectively bound up with the struggle against federationism. While there is some truth in this view, it presents us with a lopsided and distorted picture of reality. Certainly, it is strikingly true and apparent that minorities stand outside of the OC. However, we do not think the struggle against federationism is the key to resolving this situation, as the SC would lead one to believe. The SC promotes an Incorrect view by implying the reorganizing of the OC on a non-federationist basis will remove the major obstacle to the struggle against racism and significantly transform the racial composition of the OC, Hence, once again the SC promotes the struggle against federationism as a kind of panacea, solving ail of our movement’s ills, when a concrete analysis of our move-sent shows that this struggle is not even at the fore.

More specifically, the problems with this view of federationism are as follows: First, while minorities arc no doubt discouraged by the racism of the OC’s constituent groups, by transforming the participation of these groups into the participation of their individual members will not change the existence of racism in the OC.

Second, while a number of minority Marxist-Leninists stand outside the predominantly white organizations in the OC, there are also a number of organizations composed predominantly of minority Marxist-Leninists that stand outside the OC. Therefore, just as one may argue that federationism discourages the participation of non-affiliated minorities, the struggle against federationism as well may discourage participation in the OC of minority Marxist-Leninist groups. That is because the existence of separate organizations of minority M-Ls is principally due to the existence of racism in the communist movement (Certainly, we do not want to liquidate problems of narrow nationalism, particularly since historically it has been bound up with federationism. However, narrow rationalism is, in large part, a reaction to racism and the struggle against it can only progress to the extent that real strides are made in the struggle against racism). Therefore, if it were mainly a question of racism that kept these groups from participating in the OC, they would surely find no comfort in releasing their cadre to participate as individuals in a formation plagued by racism. Are we advocating that distinct groupings of minority Marxist-Leninists are outmoded?

Finally, our ability to build a multi-national party in the future and to bring more minorities into the organized party building movement presently rests on our view towards developing the program, strategy, and tactics for the US revolution in general and our line and practice on racism in particular. While some minorities stand outside the OC due to racism, (and we would add the moralistic manner in which the struggle against racism is being handled by the SC), we musn’t lose sight of the fact that minorities stand outside the OC due to the central question facing Marxist-Leninists at this time–party building. Minorities are not only concerned with one’s line and practice on the question of racism and national chauvinism, as the present SC would lead one to believe. On the contrary, the central question facing minority M-Ls is no different than the question facing all genuine M-Ls–party building. Thus, in taking up the struggle against racism, we must also break with the paternalistic view that minorities are only concerned with one’s line and practice on the question of racism and realize that principled unity with minority M-Ls must be built on theory and politics on all. questions facing the movement. Otherwise, we run the risk of ghettoizing minority comrades and prevent them from playing a leading role in party building overall.

VII. Concluding Remarks

The struggle for theoretical-political unity and the eventual breakdown of the circle existence is a protracted struggle. It cannot be decreed, it must be worked for. As such, breaking the circle existence and building the party spirit is not a matter of rules and policies, as the paper Forging the Party Spirit would like us to believe. Rules are not the concrete form in which the party spirit develops, as the paper asserts. Rules and policies are the reflection of the conscious committment and subordination of independent communists to the collective unity of will and action based upon the unity of communist politics. It is the politics, the ideological/theoretical unity and the communist practice of democratic centralism that must be the foundation of any rule or policy.

In this period, then, it is the struggle against sectarianism, circle mentality, and localism which are key. The struggle against federationist thinking must also begin to unfold, of course. All cadre must understand the party will not be built through the merger of local democratic centralist organizations or circles, as the dogmatists practiced through their struggle for organizational hegemonism, but through the unity of individual M-Ls based on line. Present organizational forms are transitory. Once a leading program, strategy, and tactics or general revolutionary line has been articulated, then those forces who seek to maintain the circle existence will be opportunists and it is at that time –at the time of party formation–when the struggle against federationism will likely come to the fore.

Up until that time, however, we must begin to take some steps towards breaking with federationist thinking. As such, we support the idea that groups, collectives, and individuals should participate in the OC and that local democratic centralism cannot be absolute, i.e. those in local democratic centralist organizations should participate in the national debate free to develop and change their positions In the course of the national ideological struggle. We also support the formation of local centers to organize the work of OC members in a locality when OC members are not all part of a local circle. At the same time, cadre organizations must continue to be seen as absolutely essential for Leninist political-practice and cadre development.

The trend is presently not part of one single center. The existence of different party building lines at this time is embodied in organizations of varying strengths and development, due to historical reasons. These organizations were originally founded in most cases, to give a presence and coherence to a particular party building-line. Moreover, given the small and amateurish character of the movement, it must be recognized that the present balance of forces among the various lines in no way foretells the future leading line of the communist movement and the workers’ movement.

The SC campaign against federationism is trying to undue this objective reality by reducing the party building movement to a mass of individuals and placing them under the leadership of the SC in the absence of unity on fundamental questions facing our movement. The SC has stated the OC is not democratic centralist because its unity is based on only the general 18 principles. It also explicitly states the OC has no unity on a fully developed party building line but rather a “partial” line or what we would call a view of organizing the ideological struggle. If this is the case, what is the theoretical-political basis to begin to dismantle local circles in this period? For the SC to argue that separate circles should begin to dismantle themselves in the absence of unity on “fundamental questions of program and tactics” is reversing the necessary order of things and elevating questions of form over the real political differences which now exist. It seems to us the only basis, or at least the result of such a view, is that local circles which presently enjoy more prestige and influence will tend to dominate the movement, while those who are weaker or presently find themselves in the minority will be further weakened or forced to dissolve.

The SC could only make such demands of OC member organizations if it could lay claim to a unified and all-sided party building line. Since it cannot, and in fact refuses to do so, the call for the breakdown of local circles is without justification in this period. As such, the SC to continue to maintain that we are a single center is a fiction. This is to confuse subjective desire with objective reality. The OC is one circle, albeit the largest, among others,

The expulsion of the SOC is material evidence that the trend is not united in a single center–the OC cannot keep its own forces in the OC, much less bring in rectification. While we think OC members should participate in local centers where they exist, we think the manner in which the SOC was expelled was bureaucratic. The SCís interpretation of the “mandate” (as it puts it) from the Labor Day Conference is seriously overestimated. What the situation with the SOC represents is confusion over the OC’s “partial” party building line. The no line/“partial” party building line of the SC has never been taken up in the OC as a whole. SOC left because of differences with the “partial” party building line of the SC. While we do not necessarily agree with the SOC’s party building views, we think their situation is not an anomaly; many others have similar and related questions, and for the SC to argue that party building line is not on our immediate agenda flies in the face of objective reality. The SC could only get away with this line of argumentation as long as it argued the OC had no party building line. Now that it at least admits to a “partial” line, it is absurd to argue that party building line is not on our agenda.

The SC must recognize that the political conditions which will render the circle existence obsolete do not exist, but they have to be created. The SC can contribute to this process by ceasing its circle warfare against other circles who stand outside the OC, most notably the rectification forces, and Initiate joint campaigns to develop collective national theoretical and political study and struggle. At the same time, internally the SC can organize the dissemination and discussion of various lines on what can be collectively determined to be central political issues. Organizational decisions and exclusions should follow clarification rather than precede it. Our movement is very fragile–we can either begin to strengthen it politically, or we can shatter it organizationally.

BAWOC “Minority”
Tucson Marxist-Leninist Collective
6 June 1980