Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Scott Robinson

Letter from the Tucson Marxist-Leninist Collective and the Red Boston Study Group to the OCIC Steering Committee

First Issued: September 13, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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To the Steering Committee of the OCIC:

When the Tucson Marxist-Leninist Collective and the Red Boston Study Group joined the OCIC it was understood that membership required only endorsement of the 18 points, and agreement with the general tasks of the Founding Statement. On other key questions within our movement, not specifically addressed in these documents, we were led to believe that we would be allowed complete freedom to adopt, pursue, and raise principled struggle around our own views without retaliation. As we publicly stated, we believed the OC to be “fluid rather than static, developing rather than predetermined, . . . and open() to change and transformation.” (Theoretical Review #1l, p.9) It was on this basis that we joined and actively participated in the OC.

However, by the end of the first day of the recent national conference it became clear from statements made by various delegates and observers – statements which went uncontradicted by the SC—and the statements and practice of the SC members themselves, that, an entirely different basis of unity was being put forward. Definitive views on fundamental questions of party building as they relate to the rectification line and the NNMLC, and the nature of the anti-revisionist movement were presented in the most unprincipled fashion, with little political or theoretical support, and a campaign against all opposition was unleashed.

Instead of cultivating a Leninist basis of unity on firm political principles which had been developed and elaborated through open and comradely ideological struggle with all lines aired, unity at any cost around all major issues was the rule. The SC’s practice was to equate the unity of the OC with unity with the SC. With this view, inherent limits were set on the type of opposition tolerated in a comradely fashion.

After raising their views in a principled mariner, our delegates were, subject to the most curt political responses, snide innuendos, and thoroughly uncomradely slurs. Although Clay Newlin opened the conference with a call for frank and open discussion, the SC reacted to most opposing views with unprincipled retaliation throughout the rest of the conference.

Our enthusiasm and commitment to working in the OC was predicated on the OC’s commitment to oppose ultra-leftism in all its forms. We took this to mean that the bureaucratic centralism, characteristic of the ultra-left (and in fact many revisionist) sects would never find a place within the ranks of the OC. The practice of this conference seemed to indicate we were mistaken. The clear implication is that varying positions on party building will no longer be tolerated in the OC and will be suppressed if any major aspect of the SC line is challenged. Bureaucracy and intimidation have apparently become the substitute for clear political and theoretical—struggle in the OC.

The SC may respond that what occurred was only sharp struggle which should actually be fostered in the OC. However we qualitatively distinguish between sharp struggle waged after thoroughgoing debate and discussion with all views fully aired, from sharp demagogy which cuts off that debate. “Freedom of debate” at the conference was reduced to a parody inasmuch as the real debate and discussions had already taken place behind the SC’s closed doors. This is all too reminiscent of the bureaucratic centralism that has characterized much of the international communist movement.

This objective pre-determination of the outcome was reinforced by two organizational mechanisms. First, many delegates at the conference had had little preparation for critically assessing the various positions put forth. Not only were they unable to grapple with the SC’s line in any critical manner but many were even unaware that alternative positions on these issues existed within our movement and/or what the political and theoretical bases were for those other positions. This ignorance of the breadth of the political positions was further reinforced by allowing all comrades only three minutes to speak, regardless of whether it was a comment, a minor criticism, or a full-blown alternative to the SC’s line. While we feel we did the best we could in presenting our positions in a clear and concise fashion, anyone in that position is hard put to lay out a thorough political basis sufficient to challenge the SC line in the minds of the delegates in that amount of time. In this context, “freedom of debate” becomes merely a legitimization for a rubbers tamping of the SC’s doctrines.

Perhaps the process as we have laid it out was not apparent to you or even supporters of the majority positions. But to those waging the struggle to even raise minority views, it was all too apparent. A few examples should suffice to give concreteness to our view:

It should be recalled that Clay Newlin opened the conference with a call for a sharp but principled polemic against the NNMLC, avoiding all sectarianism; he called on all forces to study the rectification line and to put the Network’s “splittists” behind us in the interests of building unity in the movement. Unfortunately, this advice was heeded neither by most delegates nor the SC itself.

The attack on the NNMLC was characterized by the most extreme sectarianism and demagogy (for example, “the clubs are the headquarters of opportunism”, “smash the right wing of the clubs, unite with the left wing”, “the clubs tried to build federationism into the OC so they could attack us for it later”, etc., etc.) The “debate” around the NNMLC focused entirely on the organizational level and rarely, if over, addressed the political line, “rectification”, of the NNKLC, Moreover, even the organizational attack on the Network was devoid of any substantive political or theoretical analysis of the Network’s reasons for not joining the OC which delegates could rationally assess.

We in the TMLC and the RBSG also opposed the failure of the NNMLC to join the OC, yet through the Theoretical Review we attempted to provide a firm but comradely political/theoretical critique of this decision and the rectification line itself. This type of critique lays the basis for future principled struggle and, whore possible, joint work, such that we may build unity in our movement. Contrast this with Clay Newlin’s comparison of the Network with Workers Viewpoint Organization (Organizer, Aug.’79), one of the most sectarian ultra-left sects in the new communist movement, and the numerous charges by delegates that the network is now the headquarters of opportunism. Such statements are entirely inappropriate for building unity and run counter to the style of polemic against comrades within our tendency.

The SC summed up the tirade against the Network’s circle spirit with the statement that we must call “a spade a spade”. This statement’ was a fair reflection of the low level of analysis of the NNMLC’s line at the conference; however, if you’ll excuse prolonging the metaphor, for Marxist-Leninists a spade is only a spade when it is politically, ideologically, and theoretically shown to be so. That is, we have no fears of calling a line sectarian or opportunist when it is such, but to throw these charges around without thoroughly elucidating the political, ideological, and theoretical basis for the charges serves only to retard the development of our cadre in the science of Marxist—Leninist analysis and principled ideological struggle.

In spite of Clay Newlin’s opening remarks, the SC made its intentions clear in its response to the comrade’s (from BAWOC) proposal that while targeting the Network line for sectarianism and ultra-leftism, we must focus less on organizational chauvinism and more on the Network’s political line. The SC opposed this resolution.

For those of us who raised the struggle around sectarianism in our dealings with the NNMLC, and the nature of the anti-revisionist movement, we were met with utterly unprincipled retaliation. For example, instead of opposing the line we were putting forth with a political critique, one OC member attacked us personally as “conciliators with opportunism” and individuals “who are scared to fight opportunism”. This statement and others like it went unopposed by the SC. This sort of personalizing of the struggle over political line only serves to suppress opposition, intimidate various comrades, and to debase our quest for unity. Te sincerely hope however that this is not the basis upon which one line is victorious over another in the OC.

Numerous other examples of the SC’s bureaucratic and repressive style arose around the issue of the National Minorities conference resolution. While the resolution asserted that making agreement with a: single ideological center was not sectarian, even though it was bound to exclude numerous forces within our tendency, there was literally no political discussion of the reasons underlying this assertion. It seems as if we were to take it on faith that this was a principled point of unity because the Planning Committee and the SC said so.

Our faith was also called upon when we were asked to resolve that the conference was a success. There was certainly no basis for this summation since no documents were provided delegates concerning the National Minorities conference, and no one even knew that this item was on the agenda until we arrived at the conference. Yet on the words of a few delegates, Clay, and Tyree, we were asked to support this blanket assessment of the National Minorities conference. The OC majority fell into line and duly declared the conference a success. We too fell into blind acceptance and we now feel it was a great error on our pert to support the resolution without a principled political basis. Only Kwazi and a number of those who abstained maintained a principled position in this vote.

While the SC may claim that more struggle should have been raised on the controversial issues in the resolution and that more opposition and abstentions should have been registered to voice discontent, this would be to wish away the repressive atmosphere which had congealed by that point in the conference. We spoke with a number of delegates who expressed fear of raising opposition or criticism of the SC’s line by that point in the conference. Others felt that they could not articulate as clear a reason for an opposition or abstention vote as Clay Newlin seemed to have demanded from others in the conference.

There was however one bold move to counter the one—sided view we were being given of the preparation for the National Minorities conference: Phil’s (DMLO) resolution to allow all observers, including the NNMLC, to speak to this issue. As Phil stated, the morning session concerned the Network’s line on the OC which was already well-documented. The Network position on the national Minorities conference however was, for the most part, a mystery to the delegates. Phil’s resolution was thoroughly in line with Lenin’s position that all lines should be heard in an ideological struggle in order that a sound basis of unity may be reached.

After the vote, however, Clay Newlin saw fit to denounce those Who supported the resolution. Moreover, instead of dealing with the political character and questions raised by the resolution, he declared that all those who supported it were racist, paternalist, and liberal. Phil was called on to self-criticize for racism and paternalism. When he repeated the defense of his resolution, it was not accepted and a further self-criticism was demanded by a number of delegates. This is certainly an odd demand in an organization which is not democratic centralist. It is even odder when we recall that only bureaucratic centralism demands total submission of all minority views and what one delegate described to us as “monolithic unity”.

As one delegate stated on the second day of the conference, there is serious question as to the respect being given minority views within the OC. While his concern went unanswered, the SC would do well to consider it carefully. The future of the OC and the IC hinge upon it.

Finally, contrary to Clay Newlin’s charge that the forces grouped around the Theoretical Review are trying to divert the consolidation of our tendency, we hope it is clear from the issues raised here that our tendency’s consolidation is of primary importance to us. The question is how and on what basis do we consolidate? Do we allow all lines to be heard and debated in order to unite the tendency on a firm and confident basis, or do we allow the organizational suppression of opposing lines in order to maintain the hegemony of the OC’s line? Do we attempt to expose the political and theoretical deficiencies in opposing lines, or do we attack those who support those lines by impugning their motives? Do we cultivate a critical ability on the part of all comrades in the OC to evaluate the various positions put forth, or do we suppress criticisms through rhetoric, demagogy, and appeals to the prestige of leadership?

We should make it clear that while we left the conference after the first day, we have not withdrawn from the OC. On the contrary, we are raising these very serious issues as members of the OC for debate and discussion throughout the OC in the interest of both breaking with the bureaucratic/repressive style of ideological struggle of the ultra-left and revisionist communist organizations and building the IC. We ask the SC to respond as to whether the basis of unity has in fact been altered such that we can no longer participate in its ranks. We also ask that the SC confront these criticisms and respond to them. Finally, we ask what is the actual place of minority views in the OC, how are they to be treated, what protection is there from bureaucratic retaliation and what channels, are there for comrades of all lines to raise fundamental criticisms of and alternatives to the SC line.

The view we had of the OC as fluid, developing, and open to change was severely shaken by the events of the recent conference. The character and content of the response of the SC, and OC members in general, to the issues raised in this letter will determine the extent to which we are able to participate in the OCIC.

In Struggle Toward Unity,

Scott Robinson
for the TMLC and the RBSG