Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Bay Area Socialist Organizing Committee

Confronting Reality/Learning from the History of Our Movement

Building a National Fraction of Education Workers

In March 1980, members of BASOC’s education workers collective participated in a national conference of education activists sponsored principally by forces in and close to the Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center. In the Conference Planning Committee, and at the conference itself, BASOC put forward an alternative proposal on what a national education fraction should do and how it should be organized. The presentation below was made by a BASOC participant at the conference. We reprint it here to provide readers with a further indication of how BASOC applies its analysis to some of the concrete problems and proposals facing our trend.

A Minority View on Building a “Fraction” of Education Activists


The attached resolution reflects the political perspective of one member of the Planning Committee for the National Education Fraction Conference. I want to make it clear from the beginning that I support the initiative taken by the Planning Committee in calling for the development of a national formation of Marxist-Leninist education activists. I agree with the need to build national fractions of Marxist-Leninists in the education workers movement and in the movement for equality and quality programs in education.

However, I disagree with the majority on how we can best accomplish the agreed-upon goal of building fractions. In this statement I will try to summarize briefly the main criticisms I have of the proposals and basic approach of the majority.

The majority calls for the immediate formation of a “fraction” that would function under “limited democratic centralism.” The majority resolution reflects an incorrect approach to resolving the problems that currently confront us. My basic concerns about the proposal for a “fraction” are the following:

1. It does not accurately take into account the objective conditions and the subjective factors confronting us in this period.

2. It does not lay out clearly the politics and political line that is necessary and sufficient for such a disciplined national formation for our tendency in this current situation.

3. It does not make explicit the theory and line of democratic centralism that can serve as a sound Marxist-Leninist guide for such a formation.

4. It does not indicate where a tested and recognized leadership for such a formation will come from or how it will be developed.

5. It does not lay out with any clarity a view of the principled process of political struggle which will be necessary to unite us on a correct political and organizational line for this formation.

6. It does not explain adequately how forming “fractions” now will help us to unite the anti-revisionist, anti-ultra-“left” tendency and build a genuine communist party.

Objective Conditions and the Subjective Factor

The majority view reflects a misestimation of the objective conditions that confront us in the present period. The “call” for the conference states that “we have seen the beginnings of an understanding of Marxism-Leninism among advanced forces of the working class in a few cities.” Originally the majority put forth the formulation that “the beginnings of a genuine Marxist-Leninist current in the working class can be seen in local work in a number of cities.” I disagree with that claim. It has not been demonstrated to be true, and I do not think it can be demonstrated at this point. While the revised formulation is a less overblown assessment of our actual influence in the working class, I think that in essence it is still an exaggeration of the results of our work. It reflects an overestimation of the actual level of class struggle today and of the level of class consciousness which actually prevails among the advanced and among the working class as a whole. I believe it reflects our subjective desires more than it does our social reality today. It is wishful thinking–an idealist outlook rather than a materialist one.

The majority view also overestimates the development of the subjective factor. The actual level of political development and political unity of the tendency is not very advanced. Unfortunately, it is quite low and it is also very uneven. This is also the case for those of us participating in this conference, as well as for the activists in education we could potentially involve in national work who are not participating at this point. I think the most accurate description of our tendency is that there is a “beginning understanding of Marxism-Leninism.” We will need a thorough grasp of Marxism-Leninism before it would be appropriate to unite under national democratic centralist forms. Our understanding will have to be expressed in a much more developed political line than we currently have. A theoretically and ideologically informed understanding and agreement can only come about through a full democratic discussion and struggle among all the cadre of the tendency. We need a much longer time frame than the one proposed by the majority if we are to develop principled unity.

Organization and Politics–Developing Political Line Is Primary

The “call” enumerates the many errors and limitations that plague our movement. It pinpoints the weaknesses of “our local and isolated organizational forms.” The majority believes that forming a “fraction” now is the key to “combatting localism and empiricism” and “to begin developing a national focus to our work.” I do not agree that this form of organization is the correct solution now for overcoming the many obstacles that hold us back.

What holds back our tendency the most is its lack of a political line. This is the most important obstacle to the unification of our movement and the acceleration of our ability to carry out political practice among the masses–in education and elsewhere.

Our democratic centralism–our organizational unity–should develop over time as our unity on political line advances. However, in this dialectical process, it is the development of theory and a political line that will be decisive. We do not have the principled unity on the political line that would be both necessary and sufficient for testing through national democratic centralism and unity of action in the mass movement. We should not expect such an outcome from this first conference. Instead, we should view this conference as the first step in a longer, more deliberate process.

In other words, I think that the majority proposal for the consolidation of a democratic centralist education “fraction” now is premature. Such a hasty process would be a voluntarist, ultra-“left” error. It would mean substituting our intentions and our will for a scientific analysis of the material conditions which confront us. We would be relying on a quick, simplistic organizational scheme instead of a solid theoretical and political foundation.

The majority proposal calls for us to consolidate organizationally before we unite politically. The majority believes that agreement on their resolutions and presentations on founding the “fraction”, on racism, and on trade union strategy and program will enable us to unite now around these questions at a relatively high level of organizational cohesion that includes “unity of action.” I do not think this will work. Even if we could agree now on the majority proposals, I do not think these positions would be sufficient for us to take up communist work together nationally. Our unity would be superficial and tenuous.

In fact, I think we may have significant disagreements on both the actual content and specific formulations on these issues. I think we may also have differences on the proper scope of the resolutions. Furthermore, I think that the limited time we have at this first conference for full preparation, discussion, and struggle over essential questions is clearly inadequate. We will not be able to resolve these questions in a democratic and scientific way.

In addition, I think we need to struggle for political unity on some other questions besides those proposed by the majority before we can function successfully under democratic centralism. These other questions include an analysis of education, of the revolutionary vanguard party and democratic centralism, of developing a single multinational pre-party organization, of multinational unity and the struggle against racism, and of the special oppression and superexploitation of women and the struggle against sexism. We must have an initial analysis on these questions, especially as they are related in particular ways to our work in education. This is spelled out more fully in the text of the minority resolution (pp. 3-4).

The majority also believes that their “fraction” proposal will “enable our national work to lead our local work and develop a party spirit.” I do not agree. I believe rather that a sound political line developed together through principled struggle and debate will be much more helpful in this regard than a premature organizational structure. I do not mean by this, though, that our theoretical tasks can be successfully completed only through study, discussion, and ideological struggle among ourselves. I do believe that our participation in the mass movements for reforms is also absolutely essential. While practical work does not automatically provide the answers to the questions posed to us by practice, and while the theoretical questions it raises must be rephrased in a scientific manner, the fact remains that our theoretical work must be grounded in a knowledge if the dynamics of today’s class struggle, as well as in a knowledge of the most advanced-theory.

We need to be clear that the emphasis in this period must be that creative theoretical work (not just reappropriating the Marxist theory that already exists) and developing political line are primary. For example, on the question of immediate tasks, I disagree with the majority proposal to “develop propaganda for use among our contacts and co-workers.” Before we can develop propaganda materials appropriate for our use in the mass movements in education, we need to develop unity on a more basic theoretical approach.

Also, before we can do effective “outreach and recruitment to Marxism-Leninism, partybuilding, and the fraction” among the advanced, a more in-depth political line on a number of key theoretical questions will be essential. The same goes for “finalizing” a program for use in the mass movements. Instead, beginning to work out a partial program is one immediate task our agenda for the next year or so should focus on. I believe these considerations more accurately pinpoint our tasks and define the current stage in the process of fusing communism with the working class movement in the class struggle.

Democratic Centralism

One key theoretical question we need to struggle for more developed political unity on is democratic centralism. This question has been poorly understood by the New Communist Movement and by the old one as well. “Democratic” centralism has often been implemented in slipshod and dogmatic ways–in other words, it has really been bureaucratic centralism. It is essential for us to develop a line on this question in order to build fractions and a party.

The question of democratic centralism is only one of several important questions that we need to address in developing a correct line on the vanguard party. Some of these questions inelude the relationship of the party to the working class and its allies, the role of criticism/ self-criticism, mass line, and the relationship of theory and practice. In other words, we need political unity on what kind of party we should be trying to build.

Party Building Line Should Be Explicit

I believe that political unity on party-building line is necessary before we can form a fraction. The majority states that it would be “sectarian and divisive to uphold one or another” theory on party building in “this fraction.” While I do not believe that a fully developed party-building line has been elaborated by any of the forces in the tendency, I think we must try to deepen our unity around a party-building line in order to build fractions. Some comrades may believe that we can avoid having a position on party building, or perhaps that we can agree to disagree on what is primary in party building. I do not think this approach will work, either. In fact, having no explicit party-building line for the fraction would not mean there would be none. Such an approach would reflect one particular line in our tendency now, at least implicitly–the fusion line. Adopting an implicit line does not guarantee that we will avoid sectarianism and divisiveness–only that we will avoid struggle over it, at least in the beginning. I do not believe we can achieve the necessary unity for a fraction without struggle over this question.

One key aspect of party-building line that we will need to struggle for a higher level of unity on is the question of developing national preparty organizations. We need a better understanding of why building a preparty organization should be a component of our party-building strategy. For example, why is it a tactical necessity? What level of unity on political line would be necessary and sufficient for the formation of a national (and multinational) preparty organization? What kind of relationship to the advanced and the mass movements would we need to have in order to form a preparty?

How does building fractions relate to developing a preparty organization? In what ways do the preconditions for forming a preparty differ from what is essential in order to form a party?

The history of the New Communist Movement should show us the importance of getting some clarity on this issue. The national “pre-party” organizations we have seen built by the ultra-“leftists” in recent times seem to have been parties in all but name. It also seems that in these cases “pre-party” forms have actually been parties still somewhat reluctant to claim vanguard status.

The problem we face in all this is that we do not yet have a tested and recognized leadership we can look to for building “fractions”, uniting the tendency, and building the party. Part of the solution to this problem will be proposals that can clearly lay out a process of principled political struggle to develop political line. Of course, the most important part will be providing leadership in the form of correct political and organizational line. By that I mean a line based on an accurate assessment of our social reality and on an objective view of our tasks and how we can best carry them out.

There are other questions and criticisms that probably should be raised about the majority perspective and its resolutions. For instance, how can a “fraction” without a party function and develop? How can we have a plank on independent political action in a trade union program without a developed unity on the theoretical underpinnings and political line on this question? Are the 18 points adequate for doing work from the correct standpoint of proletarian internationalism? What are the roles of national and local forms of organization in the party building movement? What are the contradictions among them and how should we go about resolving them? How do we lay the basis for local and regional units and for fractions that will take initiative and creatively apply Marxism-Leninism to concrete conditions, rather than be mere appendages passively following the “direction” of the national organization and leadership?

Hopefully we can begin to explore the questions I have raised briefly in this statement at this formative conference. I firmly believe that we must have thorough discussion and principled struggle on the basis of struggle-unity-struggle if we hope to resolve the questions posed by this conference. That is essential if we are to set out on the correct path for developing our national work together. If we do not begin from the standpoint of democracy, then we cannot develop the centralism that will enable us to accomplish our tasks.

It is in this spirit that the following resolution from a minority perspective on the Planning Committee is put forward for discussion, and hopefully adoption, by the participants at this first conference.

Bay Area Socialist Organizing Committee (BASOC) March 15, 1980