Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

W. Jean-Pierre

The CPML Congress–The struggle for unity


First Published: The Call, Vol. 10, No. 6-7, August-September 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Call Note: The following article was written by W. Jean-Pierre, a newly-elected member of the CPML Central Committee. The views expressed in the article are his own and not the Central Committee as a whole.

* * *

The CPML held its Second Congress in Chicago May 23, 24 and 25, 1981. Over 130 delegates and observers held 11 sessions and discussed 20 agenda items.

The delegates and observers represented 25 cities from all regions of the country. Of these, about 30% were from the oppressed nationalities–Chicano, Puerto Rican and Afro-American–and about 45% were women.

Not in attendance were many members of the old CPML leadership who had either resigned in the interim, or were removed from leadership. Not present was the CPML’s former Chairman Mike Klonsky, who resigned from the organization after the Congress.

The most important items debated were the roots of ultra-leftism and rectification, “who we are” and what kind of organization do we want, a debate on keeping the “dictatorship of the proletariat” in our program or deleting it, plans for unity with other Marxist-Leninists, and the election of a new leadership.

The CPML Second Congress represented another phase of the political struggle which has been taking place inside the organization for the past two years. This process has resulted in a steep decline in the organization’s membership, lack of unity and perspective on a number of important questions, and the resignation or removal of most of the leadership that was elected at the CPML First Congress four years ago.

Many see this turmoil inside the CPML as a reflection of an “international liquidationist trend” to which many of the Marxist-Leninist parties in Western Europe have recently succumbed. On the other hand some say that this process, even with all its negative features, is a necessary series of growth pains through which a stronger, more unified revolutionary movement will emerge.

The Congress opened with remarks from a leading Afro-American comrade who stated:

Unity and clarity are demanded now more than ever before. Just look at the situation domestically and internationally. We need real unity on how to build an organization to build the revolutionary movement in this country. It is important to take a serious attitude of correcting errors to make us able to play a role in this process. There are two possibilities: 1) complete dissolution of our organization or, 2) play a central role in uniting Marxist-Leninists.

The first session then began with a panel discussion on the roots of past mistakes and plans for rectification. Everyone on the panel agreed that the main problem of the CPML in the past was one of ultra-leftism. This “leftism” was manifested mainly through a policy of putting forth tactics and slogans not suited to the concrete realities of the U.S. today, a blind copying of foreign experience and applying the Marxist-Leninist theory in a dogmatic manner. All agreed that these errors along with a lack of real democracy and centralism had the effect of separating us from the masses rather than bringing us closer.

In the ensuing debate and discussion several different viewpoints which have been loosely labeled as “right, center and left,” emerged.

One view held that though “leftism” had been a problem in the past, it was clear from the present state of things that now liqutdationism and revisionism are the main problems in the CPML. They say the reexamining of the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism, particularly in regards to the Leninist theories of the state and the vanguard party, is the manifestation of this opportunism. They say that party efforts should focus on summing up past practice to develop a program for U.S. conditions.

Harry Haywood, a leading member of the CPML and a former leading member of the CPUSA and proponent of this view stated that this struggle inside the CPML was analogous in many ways to the struggle in the CPUSA in 1956 when the party adopted a revisionist position.

The opposite view held that the struggle against leftism was incomplete unless there was a systematic re-examination of the Marxist principles we based ourselves on. This, they say, is particularly true for those who developed many of their ideas based on the Cultural Revolution in China. This view stated that the very fact that a number of parties in Western Europe and the third world fell apart in the last few years is proof of the need for a complete re-evaluation.

The position of this group was that much if not all of the ultra-leftism was rooted in our adoption of some “outdated” and “unapplicable” tenets of Leninism such as the theory of the vanguard party and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

A third view stated that the positions of both previous lines were wrong. The viewpoint held that it was wrong to confuse the misapplication of Marxism with the basic principles and it was not Marxist-Leninist theory which is wrong but our misunderstanding of it. Because we were sectarian and “left” does not mean that Marxism equals sectarianism and leftism.

The “center” says that while it is necessary to update Marxist-Leninist theory with new experiences and not treat it as dogma, it is also true that we are still in the era of Leninism and imperialism and no new or modern-day experience has disproven Lenin’s views on the need for a vanguard party based on the organizational principle of democratic centralism.

The viewpoint of the “center” in regard to those who adopted the “left” line was that these people underestimated the seriousness of our past errors as well as the complexity of making revolution in the U.S. This “left” view which dominated the organization at least since the first CPML congress proclaimed the CPML as the vanguard party of the U.S. working class before Marxist-Leninist unity efforts had been completed, and as a result caused us to act in a sectarian manner both inside and outside the organization.

While the “lefts” raised correct criticisms of some liquidationist views in the organization, they did so in a manner to stifle debate around serious questions facing the whole international movement.

The style and methods of the “lefts” were also wrong. They were too quick to label people “revisionist” and social-democratic just for raising questions about Marxism-Leninism. When the debate broke out a lot of people were confused–not because they had abandoned revolution-but because a long period of dogmatism and ultra-leftism made it difficult to discern what was genuine Marxism and what was not. This was especially true because the organization never really paid attention to serious study of Marxism in the past.

A great deal of discussion and debate took place around the various aspects of the national question in the following session.

Comrades spoke about how the Chicano question in particular had been ignored inside the CPML to the point of being liquidated. People spoke of the fact that the Chicano question was hardly ever discussed by the Central Committee and even less attention was paid to Chicano mass work. They spoke of how this policy of “benign neglect” had the effect of gradually causing Chicanos to leave the organization. Speaking for the sentiments of the Chicanos at the Congress, one of their members stated: “On the left [a few years back] there was a race for a resolution of the Chicano question. It was good to recognize the revolutionary content of the national question in the U.S., but the method was fundamentally flawed–it was a petty-bourgeois dogmatic method. We didn’t take into account the 150-year experience of the Chicanos in this country.”

Representatives from the Afro-American and Puerto Rican nationalities also spoke of the serious chauvinist mistakes of the old line and leadership. The Puerto Rican comrades gave the example of only one document ever being translated into Spanish and how work around Latin America and the Caribbean was neglected.

Afro-Americans spoke of a “double standard” in the leadership when it came to criticism and treatment of Black comrades as opposed to white ones. They spoke of how Black leaders had limited input when it came to decisions involving money matters and key policy decisions.

After this discussion, an overwhelming majority of the delegates adopted resolutions designed to rectify the errors in our nationality work and strengthen the participation of the oppressed nationalities in the organization as a whole as well as within their particular areas of concentration.

Representative of these resolutions was the Puerto Rican resolution, which read:
1) The recognition by the party of the primary importance of both Puerto Rican independence support work as well as the need to expand our work among the Puerto Ricans in the U.S.
2) The Puerto Rican Commission be given policy-making power over Puerto Rican work.
3) That the Puerto Rican work be given definite material and economic resources to help in a very concrete manner to implement its work; in other words, that words be matched by deeds.
4) That the Puerto Rican Commission be given national representation in the leading bodies of this Party.

Through the various workshop discussions and reports one positive development became apparent. In spite of all the negative effects of the factional struggle, resignations and confusion, important breakthroughs were being made in various areas of mass work. People spoke of how their influence among the working class and oppressed nationalities had increased in the recent period due to the combined effects of the struggle against ultra-leftism and their increasing political experience and maturity. Others spoke of our positive work in groups like the Black United Front and in the Chicano national movement and stated that this was because comrades kept a mass orientation and tested their lines in practice.

The Second Congress also took a critical look at the CPML’s past work around the woman question. The effect of the “left” line in women’s work was to liquidate the independent character of the women’s movement.

While correctly upholding the Marxist position that the “woman question is a class question,” the “left” line in effect denied the democratic, i.e., all-class character of the women’s movement and attacked the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois leadership of this movement for not putting forward working class demands. After working with CLUW (Coalition of Labor Union Women) for a time, the CPML effectively stopped its organizing work in the women’s movement and officially did little more than issue statements on the woman question for International Women’s Day.

Another aspect of the criticism had to do with the strong currents of male chauvinism inside the organization. While the CPML had many women in leading positions, it was also true that especially in the organization’s center the day-to-day secretarial and clerical tasks were mainly women’s tasks while important policy decisions were not.

On another point it was mentioned that questions relating to the family were not seriously taken up, and as a result many of the leading women cadre were overburdened and eventually quit the organization. It was pointed out that immediately prior to the Congress there were no oppressed minority women in the leadership at all. All previously elected minority nationality women in the leadership had resigned long before the Congress was held for one reason or another.

In an effort to rectify the situation, the Congress passed a number of resolutions on the woman question which are summarized in the following points:

a) research and study the history and current forces in the women’s movement.
b) deepen the analysis of the concrete conditions analyzing where are the strategic areas of attacks on women’s rights as a basis for developing specific recommendations for priorities in our work
c) on the basis of the analysis of the actual conditions and contradictions in women’s lives, study the developing body of information as part of raising the level of our theoretical understanding of this question in the U.S. today.
d) prepare a public statement of self-criticism on past errors on the woman question and work in the women’s movement.
e) develop ideological and practical guidelines for the struggle against male chauvinism in our mass work and internally so that we may play an active role in removing the barriers to the full participation of women in our organizational life.
f) each district, should set up a fund for childcare for meetings and develop youth education programs.”

One of the most important debates at the Congress took place over an organizational proposal entitled: “Who We Are.” The focus of the debate was over whether to have the term “dictatorship of the proletariat” in our program. One side wanted to retain it, another side did not.

The people who supported the dictatorship of the proletariat remaining in the program stated that to, delete this concept was tantamount to abandoning Marxism and the revolutionary interests of the working class. They said that it was our adherence to this principle which distinguishes us from the modern revisionists and social democrats.

Those who opposed the dictatorship of the proletariat being in the program objected to the concept from two angles. On the one hand, some said that it was only the term, or the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” that they objected to–not the essence of working class power nor the necessity of preventing the exploiters from regaining power once they have been overthrown. The term “dictatorship” is too much associated with fascism and repressive government to express a socialist state power, they said.

On the other hand, some stated that the phrase as well as its content were outdated in general and not applicable to American traditions of democracy in particular.

An agreement to disagree but keep the dictatorship of the proletariat in the program was reached. A resolution postponing the debate to a later date was passed. Many people voted for this resolution not only because they wanted to avoid a split over this question, but because they did not want to take an “all-or-nothing” approach to the problem before undertaking serious study of the question and have the debate carried out in a less subjective and more organized atmosphere than existed at the Congress. The sentiment was clearly “don’t stifle the debate, but don’t flip-flop and make hasty decisions either.”

Other resolutions were proposed and adopted on the development of a cultural commission–an increase in work on the cultural front, keeping The Call as the central organ, a resolution on developing both student work and Liberator press.

A new leadership was elected. The leadership’s composition reflected the various political tendencies. About half were from the oppressed nationalities. The Congress ended with the singing of the Internationale.

* * *

The CPML’s Second Congress was not a Congress of unity. On the other hand, given the atmosphere which proceeded it (a leadership body unable to function, the resignation and removal of most of the old leaders, rumors of impending splits, etc.), the Congress was successful in preventing the dissolution of the organization and was able to work out a method for resolving the remaining differences in a more principled and organized manner than was possible before. This has to be seen as a big step forward, and something which no left group has been able to do in recent times. Most have just split into separate organizations, or simply dissolved.

While serious political and organizational differences still exist and a split is still a possibility, the Congress did create some basis for rectification and resolution.

The political “center” emerged as the clear majority, and though the viewpoint of, this majority is scattered and unconsolidated, this indecisiveness is based on a recognition that too often in the past organizations were split before people really understood what they were fighting for or against. If splits are the only method for resolving disputes, then the future of our movement is indeed bleak. In this respect, the Second Congress offered a glimmer of hope.

The new leadership met in July to organize the implementation of the Congress’ resolutions particularly in regards to the political debate in the upcoming period. The leadership agreed that this debate should be a six month process within the following guidelines:
1) What is the nature of the present period, and what should be our orientation and tasks for this period?
2) How do we organize against the right-wing capitalist offensive; who should we ally with, and what are our minimum demands and the tasks for communists in this period?
3) How do we build the broadest possible unity with other Marxist-Leninists and forces on the left?

Within this context questions around the dictatorship of the proletariat and problems facing the M-L movement worldwide will also be discussed.

The post-Congress process has been organized with the aim of resolving these questions and others, building the broadest unity with other Marxists, up to and including merger, and orienting ourselves to the mass struggles of the workers, oppressed nationalities and other progressive people in the country.