Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Charles K.

Speech on the Degeneration of the OCIC

Presented At a Line of March Forum on October 26, 1980 in San Francisco

Delivered: October 26, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Good evening. I, along with a number of other people who were members of the OCIC local center here in the SF Bay Area recently resigned or were expelled from the OCIC. My speech tonight represents, in the main, the views of those of us who were also in BAWOC, sometimes referred to as the “BAWOC Minority”. However, the BAWOC Minority is not an on-going functioning political collective and so is not necessarily unified on every aspect of the analysis I will put forward.

In my presentation, I will analyze the degeneration of the OCIC over the last year or so which led up to our leaving, as well as other numerous expulsions and resignations nation-wide. Comrades are encouraged to pick up a copy of the open letter to the party building movement available here which is signed by many of these groups and individuals.

I intend to cover the following points in my presentation:
1) How the line and practice of the Steering Committee (SC) of the OCIC has been pursued in the organizational realm, leaving theory and politics behind.
2) How the lack of theoretical work in the OC flows from the fusion party building line, and
3) How the campaign against white chauvinism presently raging in the OC is an idealist and “left” sectarian deviation lacking any positive theoretical or political contribution.

When it was founded in 1978, the OC set out to unify the tendency and create a single ideological center which would express that unity. The OC’s formation played a strong role in contributing to the critique of and break with the sectarian practices of the anti-revisionist movement which found each circle contending for and proclaiming vanguardism. What was particularly encouraging was the OC’s stated commitment to pursuing the interests of the entire tendency by promoting a broad, open, tendency-wide discussion and debate.

However, it wasn’t long after its founding that the actual practice of the OC began to contradict the goals it set out to accomplish. In short, the efforts of the OC to create a single center degenerated into the narrow consolidation of a sect battling for organizational hegemony in the movement at the expense of theory and politics. That is, the task of promoting the ideological center has been replaced by a drive for organizational consolidation behind the SC line.

Instead of unifying the tendency through clarifying and resolving the actual theoretical and political questions holding back unification, the SC reduced the process to the following schema: first found a center and then demand that all forces in the tendency join and subordinate themselves. The SC based this design on a rather shallow critique of “circle spirit” in the anti-revisionist movement, concluding that circle warfare is the main obstacle toward unifying the tendency.

Circle warfare is certainly something that must be combatted if we are to unite. It can be avoided if the different forces put the interests of the movement first and foremost, always aiming for clarity and higher unity. However, when the narrow interests of gaining and consolidating one’s own following are placed above the interests of the whole, the result is circle warfare.

The SC, instead of combatting circle warfare, is promoting it–like throwing gasoline on a fire. That the leadership has been bent on pursuing its own narrow interests became apparent in its handling of the decision by the NNMLC to not join the OCIC. The SC clamoured to Isolate and expose rather than struggle to clarify the theoretical and political differences. In fact, the SC brushed aside those’ differences arguing that the struggle over party building line is “not key” at this time and will divide the movement prematurely, as if it wasn’t already. In calling for a single center, the SC sought to portray itself as the genuine promoter of unity while it characterized the NNMLC as secretive and elitist, bent on intrigue and splittism.

This sectarian stand of the SC quickly became the general policy of the OC toward other forces in the tendency. Today, the emptiness of the SC’s single center slogan is shown by its inability to draw in unaffiliated forces, particularly minorities, and how forces once in or close to the OC have become increasingly antagonistic towards it.

This reliance on organizational methods of struggle also resulted in all-too-familiar bureaucratic practices to appear in the OCIC internally. In spite of statements which spoke of the importance of open, tendency-wide debate and discussion, the line of the SC has been developed in a commandist fashion with the SC simply putting forward its line and seeking approval from the membership. To cover up for these practices, the SC has invoked mythical “mandates” which it claims are represented by various votes which have occurred during the life of the OCIC – many of which, by the way, were hastily arranged and bureaucratic in nature. There are numerous examples of this deviation, e.g., the position adopted on the state of the anti-revisionist movement being a single movement, the nature of the CPUSA before 1956, and most recently the campaign against white chauvinism.

This last point is important since leading forces in our tendency, specifically rectification, have argued that the OC was ultra-democratic in both form and content. The NNMLC claimed that there “would be no doubt that the process would proceed very democratically and that it will fully take into account all the prevailing views in our trend and not advance too far ahead of the less developed groups and cadre” (Rectification vs. Fusion, p. 18). The reality of the OC is exactly the opposite, While it is true the SC pandered to ultra-democratic prejudices and constructed forms which gave the appearance of broad democracy, its practice is one of consistent avoidance of theoretical and political struggle through bureaucratic means. The line of the SC is structured into an organizational framework which insulates it from political struggle and criticism. The function of the rank and file is not to make policy, but to study and implement it. This is not a plan for overcoming backwardness by developing advanced critical cadre – it is a proposal for institutionalizing the backwardness of the OC by increasing their dependence on the SC. As a result, the highest virtue of OC membership is reduced to loyalty to the SC and organizational allegiance. Any criticism from the base is attacked and immediately labeled with any one of a number of charges, including localism, small circle spirit and factionalism. The struggle for communist unification thus becomes reduced to a set of legalisitic, organizational rules which demand the subordination of all OC members to the SC line and agenda prior to open, democratic debate and struggle on the fundamental questions facing our movement. This is not politics in command, this is organizational consolidation in command.

Thus, ins summation we see that while the OC had the goal to break with the sectarian legacy of the anti-revisionist movement and promote a new approach to unifying the tendency, it has repeated the worst features of that legacy – namely placing organization over politics and utilizing bureaucratic methods to stifle real debate and discussion, making a mockery of democratic ideological and theoretical struggle.

The Role of the Fusion Party Building Line in the OCIC

To fully understand the degeneration of the OCIC, it is our contention that we must look at the role of the fusion party building line in the process, specifically the fusion view of theory.

The SC has consistently claimed that the OC would be the primary arena for the tendency’s theoretical work. Unfortunately, this claim could only correspond to reality if the SC substitutes the OC for the tendency as a whole. But leaving that aside, even a cursory examination of the OC’s work shows that during its almost three year existence it has produced no significant theoretical contribution, unless one includes theoretical expediency. We do not consider this theoretical poverty to be some accident. All SC members and the overwhelming majority of the membership adhere to the fusion party building line – a line which has a particular perspective on the nature of theory and its development; a perspective which is clearly distinct from other leading party building lines. It is therefore hardly surprising that the theoretical practice of the OC should basically reflect that fusion perspective.

We maintain that the fusion line incorrectly poses the relationship between theory and practice, the role of theory as a guide to practice, and therefore, the way in which theory is developed. Fusion proponents see the relation between theory and practice in a mechanical and narrow way, such that theory becomes a distinct product of practical activity. Theory is produced out of practice and then reinserted into it. Theory is then something that can only be developed and articulated in the context of mass work among the class which, in turn, becomes the basis for new practice among the masses, and so on. Now, while some of the elements in the process of theoretical development do proceed in such a context, this cannot be the whole story. Theoretical development must assume a role of relative independence from immediate practical activity otherwise, it cannot move beyond the parameters of that immediate activity. In a word, theory cannot perform its essential task, that of being a guide to revolutionary practice.

This mechanical approach has also necessarily led those holding the fusion line to incorrectly pose our theoretical tasks, as well as the process through which our theory will be verified. Concretely, it has led to a narrowing and simplifying of our theoretical tasks by claiming the advanced workers will raise the theoretical questions our movement must address; that without advanced workers we are incapable at this time of developing genuine revolutionary theory; and that advanced workers are the prime verifiers of our theory. All these formulations are flawed and pander to the backwardness and anti-theoretical and workerist prejudices in our movement. While theoretical work is not taken up in isolation from the class struggle and is tested in the actual class struggle, the theoretical tasks are not posed by the advanced workers but by the class struggle itself based on the Marxist-Leninists’ understanding of the world through a concrete analysis of concrete conditions; the struggle to develop revolutionary theory is an activity that takes place among the conscious forces–the Marxist-Leninists; and third, only aspects of our theory can be verified in the immediate class struggle.

Therefore, due to the mechanical and incorrect view of theory, which downplays the role of the conscious forces and glorifies the immediate conditions and the role of the advanced workers, we maintain the fusion line necessarily leads to rightist errors of empiricism in the development of theory, and tailism and pragmatism in political practice. This view of theory has left the OC in a state of limbo. It has resulted in the utter failure of the OC to develop any theory worthy of the name, regardless of how much lip service is given to the concept.

In addition to the theoretical impotence of the OC, the fusion line is failing in other ways. No significant advance in the degree of fusion with the working class is occurring, let alone any progress in the development of the communist current, embryo or not. What resulted from all this was a crisis for the SC and the fusion line itself. The fusionists were not fusing and the OC had neither united Marxist-Leninists into a single center or produced any significant theoretical contribution. The SC was faced with some hard decisions. In our opinion the only way it could begin to resolve the crisis would be through a critique of the fusion line and the entire OC process. There are, of course, two other options open to the SC. Either blame itself, i.e. the leadership, or blame the cadre for the failures.

The SC has, not surprisingly, decided against evaluating the fusion line. In fact, the SC has consistently argued that party building line is not on our agenda, as I mentioned before. To re-evaluate the line would necessarily place party building at the top of the agenda. The second choice, evaluate the leadership, is virtually inseparable from evaluating the line. Any evaluation of the leadership would necessarily lead to evaluating the line under which they are operating. Rather than take accountability for the theoretical and political views put forward, which the SC has consistently refused to do, they had to find another way out. Since all members of the SC hold the fusion line, we think the SC knew very well that any serious evaluation of its work would spill over into evaluating the fusion line itself. This was untenable, since the political credibility and careers of the SC members are totally bound up with the fusion line.

The SC has indeed decided on a way out of this crisis–a way out that has provided all the other corrupt leaders in the anti-revisionist movement a solution to their particular crises–namely, the inglorious and well-worn “blame the cadre” line. The SC has adopted this counter-offensive approach by perverting genuine ideological struggle in general, reaching its lowest depths in the campaign against white chauvinism presently raging in the OC.

The Destructive Campaign Against White Chauvinism

In the name of “sharp ideological struggle”, the SC has promoted a sad caricature of genuine ideological struggle. The SC has created a kind of artificial environment where ideological questions become divorced from their actual basis in social practice and their political significance. In fact, ideological struggle comes to replace the badly needed struggle to resolve theoretical and political differences. Opposing positions to those of the SC are simply labeled bourgeois, racist, feminist, and anti-working class in the absence of any genuine effort to explore the political content or theoretical underpinnings of those positions,

This deviation has come to a head with the SC’s campaign against white chauvinism. Several months ago, the SC launched an extensive and aggressive campaign against errors pf white chauvinism. The basis of the campaign was expressed as “popularizing examples of white chauvinism”. The analysis underlying the campaign, the theoretical view of racism and white chauvinism, and the methods of taking up the struggle were never opened up for discussion. Rather, an abusive torrent of criticisms was unleashed on individuals throughout the OC.

Let us be clear. The struggle against racism and white chauvinism is central in our fight against capitalism. As Marxist-Leninists, we must demonstrate our commitment and capacity to unite the communist movement and the workers movement in aggressively taking up this struggle. This has been a serious weakness in the US communist movement, especially in our tendency.

It is also clear that an integral component of anti-racist practice is the struggle against racism and white chauvinism in the communist movement. This includes taking up the struggle over Individual errors of white chauvinism. The racism that is so pervasive in capitalist society manifests itself in very real and damaging ways in the interactions among communists, holding back the development of equality and unity in our ranks. Such manifestations have surfaced in the OC. It is in this sense that the SC’s campaign targets a very significant problem.

In order to evaluate the campaign, we must of course critique the line under which it is operating. This is not any easy task, since the SC has never put forward its line for debate and discussion, except for a resolution which it adopted unilaterally. We maintain the campaign is based on the following argumentation:
1) there is a need to build a multinational party;
2) that white chauvinism within the OC and the tendency is the main obstacle to developing a firm commitment to the struggle against racism and laying the foundation to building multi-national unity;
3) that the struggle against white chauvinism within the ranks of the communist movement is primarily conducted through centralized ideological struggle; and
4) that such a struggle will lay the basis for bringing in advanced workers, particularly minorities.

To be blunt, we think the SC’s campaign is a destructive one. The campaign has been taken up as if the problem of racism is racist ideas in people’s heads, i.e. that white chauvinism is a problem rooted in racist individuals, rather than racist society. Individuals are ruthlessly exposed as racists, in a campaign which has taken on the atmosphere of a moral crusade. Racism is reduced to a sin to be confessed and purged through ritualistic criticism/self-criticism. Individuals targetted by the campaign are called upon to confess to possessing grossly exaggerated, even hideous expressions of racist attitudes. For example, a self-criticism written by Toni V., a SC member, includes the following:

I have to give up every image of myself that I’m anti-racist, come to grips with the reality that I’m racist thru and thru; So no racist error would be beyond me, however gross; that it’s probable I hold on to the grossest racist myths; that I’m capable of doing everything from lying to using black people out of racism. And the only, only way I’m ever going to understand all these ugly racist ideas in me is to welcome every exposure of my racism so I can begin to combat it.

This type of bizarre excursion into self-flagellation is unfortunately characteristic of the campaign. It may sound unbelievable, but this type of self-criticism is considered exemplary by the SC.

The SC would have us believe that their campaign is leading our tendency to higher levels of consciousness is the struggle against racism. We hold that it shows the opposite, despite its super-revolutionary posturing. We believe that the struggle against racism and white chauvinism is a serious and complex issue facing Marxist-Leninists and the working class. The key to combatting racism at this time is through the development of a clear theoretical understanding and the creation of a political program to organize the political struggle against it. Only on this basis, can we build a genuinely multi-national communist movement, win minorities to Marxism-Leninism, and combat white chauvinism.

Unfortunately, the communist movement in the US has always looked for short cuts to achieving these important and complex goals and the SC is no exception. This is most evident in the sloppy and superficial development of the campaign which the SC is substituting for longer and more difficult development of theory and struggle over political line. The campaign makes abundantly clear that the SC does not truly grasp the centrality of the struggle against racism in the party building process and is content on ramming through this campaign rather than allot the necessary time and effort. Instead, they resort to intimidation, demagogy, and organizational means, including expulsions, to guarantee acceptance of the campaign.

The campaign has abandoned any semblance of a Marxist-Leninist approach to criticism/self-criticism. Marxist-Leninists use criticism to educate cadre, not to expose and humiliate. Criticism/self-criticism should be a constructive process, enabling comrades to overcome weaknesses, hot an abusive process seeking to smash them. The collective carrying out the criticism takes responsibility for the comrades’ rectification, recognizing the common interest of all members in strengthening each other’s ideological stand and political practice. Our goal must always be to cure the sickness to save the patient and to be able to advance the struggle and reach higher levels of unity.

The campaign, on the other hand, has been taken up irresponsible; there is no struggle for clearly defined, objective standards for identifying racist errors and those making charges of white chauvinism have virtually no accountability. Instead of creating conditions which promote a genuine struggle against white chauvinism, it has created conditions conducive to a particularly paternalistic and patronizing form of white chauvinism which prevents genuine criticism and struggle with minority comrades for fear of being criticized for racism. It has also created conditions which strengthens narrow nationalistic tendencies among minorities.

The SC’s campaign contributes nothing to the development of a scientific analysis of the nature of racism and white chauvinism in capitalist society and in the communist movement, or of the process through which our movement will overcome them. Quite the contrary. The campaign is being pursued in a manner which promotes anti-theoretical attitudes through countless demagogic charges of “petty-bourgeois intellectualism” and “anti-working class bias”, claiming there is a “marriage” between white chauvinism and anti-working class bias. As if this wasn’t bad enough, concepts alien to Marxism have also been introduced, such as the existence of a “white chauvinist conspiracy”. Anyone who disagrees with the campaign in any way, either in form or content, is accused of defending their own white chauvinism and/or the white chauvinism of others. This, in turn, becomes evidence of the conspiracy. What a perfect example of circular reasoning. Having started out with the premise that comrades are engaged in a conspiracy, the SC arrives at the conclusion that comrades who disagree with the campaign prove the existence of the conspiracy. This analysis is completely anti-Marxist. It places the source of racism and white chauvinism within individuals by indicting them for their role in a conspiracy rather than elucidating the class relations which breed racism.

But even those who have gone along with the campaign have not been safe from abuse. Even if one confesses to his/her sins, more often than not they have been criticized for posturing and appearing “more anti-racist than thou”. Therefore, what has resulted is a no-win, Catch-22 situation. If you don’t confess and/or attempt to raise any differences with the campaign, you are either hiding out or covering your chauvinism. If you do confess, you are posturing. The only way out left is to submit to the corrupt and perverted whims of the SC. Those who refuse to submit are driven out and accused of hoisting a for-sale sign and beating a rapid retreat in a “white flight” to the suburbs. Frankly, this type of process smacks of psychological manipulation and abuse.

In addition to being a destructive caricature of the struggle against racism and white chauvinism, the campaign provides a justification for liquidating the struggle against sexism. According to the SC, any attempt by cadre to raise the importance of the struggle against sexism detracts from the struggle against racism and is met with charges of petty bourgeois feminism and racism for allegedly equating the struggles against racism and sexism. What they are doing objectively counterposes the two, making it an either/or proposition, thus abandoning any dialectical understanding of the relationship between racism and sexism, leading to the objective liquidation of the struggle against sexism.

In the way of an alternative approach to the struggle against white chauvinism, we would suggest that communists do not carry out ideological struggle in a vacuum. For materialists, the struggle for a proletarian ideology and class stand necessarily occurs in a social and political context. Racism is a system of oppression that has a material base in capitalist society and an ideological component that is a reflection of that material base but also has a life of its own. The material1 base is centered in economic super-exploitation and denial of democratic rights for minority people under capitalism. The ideological component is that form of bourgeois ideology known as white chauvinism or white supremacy. The struggle against racism will only be successful in so far as it analyses and understands the connection between these two components. The leadership’s approach clearly does not understand this connection. The campaign is taken tip in such a way that gives the impression that racism is only an ideology and that if we can just change ourselves the problem can be solved short of the overthrow of capitalism.

The SC’s campaign, which by the way initially broke out in the PWOC and was then brought into the OC, is admittedly modeled after a similar campaign which took place in the CPUSA between 1949-1953. That campaign, interestingly enough, has been universally condemned from all parts of the political spectrum as destructive and a setback for the CPUSA in general and their anti-racist practice in particular. Harry Haywood, in his book Black Bolshevik , has summed up the campaign as a “phoney war” against white chauvinism and states:

A kind of moral crusade was launched which was completely divorced from any mass work...It was assumed that chauvinist practices could be eliminated by wiping out wrong ideas and attitudes of the Party rank and file...A view developed which contended that the Party could not move forward, that mass work had to wait, until all vestiges of white chauvinism were driven from the ranks. This view was thoroughly idealist... (p.587-88)

William Z. Foster, in putting an end to the campaign in 1953, had this to say:

It is a typical sectarian attitude to consider white chauvinism as a sort of detached phenomenon, especially within the Party, and to shoot it on this basis. But this whole trend is basically incorrect and tends to cripple our work generally among Negro people. White chauvinism cannot be fought as a thing in itself by a separate campaign. It can only be fought in connection with the struggle of the Negro people for full economic, political, social, and cultural equality. (Left Sectarian in the Fight for Negro Rights and Against White Chauvinism, Political Affairs, July 1953, p.23)

And finally, we could even go back to the article by Pettis Perry published in 1949 which initiated the campaign in the CPUSA which spoke to the importance of connecting the ideological struggle with the political struggle:

Clearly, it would be suicidal for the Party if these struggles were disconnected, that is, if we were to try to wage one without the other. If we simply took up the ideological struggle and failed to engage in the practical struggle, the Party would be tied up in an endless debate divorced from real life, and would be torn asunder with no tangible results. (Destroy the Virus of White Chauvinism, Political Affairs, June 1949, p.11)

Due to the extensive opportunism of the SC’s campaign, we are forced to ask the question, “If the motives of the campaign were above board, why no discussion prior to its initiation?” Surely, the SC is well aware of the history I just described. Surely, the SC is aware that with an issue and complex and central as racism, the maximization of discussion around the proposed campaign would facilitate unity around its operating principles and therefore the chances for its success. One would think so, if the campaign was honest. But, if the real goal of the campaign was something other than combatting white chauvinism, then such prior discussion might reveal ulterior motives. For if we view the campaign as an honest effort to combat white chauvinism, it appears as a mockery and a farce. But if we view it as a weapon in the hands of an opportunist leadership wielded for the sole purpose of organizational consolidation and eliminating all opposition and deflecting all criticism of the fusion line, then the campaign appears as a resounding success.

We think the evidence points to the latter conclusion. The campaign has objectively resulted in the consolidation of a limited number of loyal forces around the major lines of the PWOC. This process is certainly not new in the anti-revisionist movement; it has been repeated over and over again. And we can say where it leads–straight to the formation of yet another sect.

Needless to say, defects in the fusion line, which we maintain are the root problem in the OC, have not been discussed. Quite the contrary. The fusion line has been re-asserted more strongly than ever, with the SC now arguing that the OC is incapable of producing genuine revolutionary theory because it is impure, i.e. it contains within it white chauvinists, anti-working class cadre, and petty-bourgeois feminists. Of course, this does not include the SC. The answer is obviously to purify the ranks which will then lay the basis to win the advanced workers in to the OC, particularly minorities. Thus, the fusion line, rather than being re-evaluated, is now openly leading the OC process.

In summation, the SC’s campaign against white chauvinism is thoroughly bankrupt and is a setback for our movement. It lacks political content, a theoretical understanding of racism, and is therefore incapable of mounting an effective struggle against racism and white chauvinism. The campaign is steeped in idealism and separates politics from the real world, abandoning any semblance of a materialist approach. As a result, the campaign has not moved people forward in their understanding of racism and white chauvinism. It’s not that the campaign goes too far, as some have accused us of arguing, but that it’s going in the wrong direction, that it is a dead end.

In political terms, we would characterize it as a “left” sectarian deviation similar to the campaign in the CPUSA from 1949-53. We say “left” due to the super revolutionary posturing around the issue of racism. In our minds, a right error would be one in which the centrality of the struggle against racism and white chauvinism was either denied or questioned; this is not the case in the OC. We say sectarian because the SC is not posing the question of communist unification in the context of the tendency as a whole but rather is pursuing the consolidation of a small section of the movement behind its leadership. Such practice is also sectarian towards the working class and oppressed peoples as it sacrifices both their short-term and long-term interests. Unfortunately, this “left” sectarian deviation will tend to strengthen rightist tendencies, which are predominate in our movement and the greatest danger in the long run in regards to the question of racism and white chauvinism, i.e., downplaying the centrality of the struggle against racism and white chauvinism.

Concluding Remarks

I would like to end with a brief thought. As a former member of the OC, it has been extremely difficult to come to terms with the ugly reality of the OC today. Most of us were convinced that the type of things I have just described could never have happened in our tendency–that these deviations were a problem that cursed the “left” opportunists and dogmatists and that we were somehow immune from such opportunism. The stark reality of the situation is that this type of opportunism has reared its ugly head right here in our own back yard, so to speak. Regardless of the differences on any number of questions–be it international line, the Black National Question, the ERA, gay rights, etc.–the same phenomenon has repeated itself.

Exactly where the OC will end up cannot be predicted, although it is degenerating into irrelevance. A recent SC document boasts of an impending campaign against anti-working class bias. OCIC cadre who have remained in during this upheaval have adopted the well-worn ”smaller but stronger” argument, admitting that the OC is smaller and has lost people, but iŁ stronger and more pure. And recently, some OC cadre have hinted that they think the struggle among communists is unimportant since the party building movement is predominantly white and petty-bourgeois and intend to “go to the class” to work with real proletarians.

Thus, we can see the lines of demarcation we thought we had made with the “left” opportunists did not prevent the SC from adopting the worst sectarian features of the legacy of the anti-revisionist movement to date, adding yet another communist grouping to the wreckage of the last 25 years. We could be content to simply attribute this to the immaturity and underdevelopment of our movement. But somehow that seems totally inadequate. The underlying reasons for this destructive phenomenon which has appeared time and time again remain to be explored and answered.