Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Gabriel, Mark and Marc

On Ideological Struggle

First Issued: as an unpublished paper, n.d. [1981].
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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A general problem that has emerged within the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend is the development of an aberrant form of “criticism/self-criticism” and “ideological struggle” that concentrates almost exclusively on the alleged errors of individual Marxist-Leninists, torn out of context of their relationship to the revolutionary movement as a whole, or to the rest of capitalist society. This kind of “criticism” and “struggle” all too easily degenerates into personal attacks devoid of any legitimate political basis, into petty squabbling and gossip-mongering, and flings open the door for those who would mask their desire to preserve the old circle-spirit of sectarianism with an “ideological” cover. This aberration draws its strength from the ultra-democratic and petty-bourgeois prejudices that are rampant within the left, and feeds on the disorganization, confusion and immaturity of the revolutionary movement.

In one of its more developed and crasser manifestations, this deviation has given free play to the development of the “campaign against white chauvinism” currently being waged by the Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center (OCIC) and their ideological shepherd Clay Newlin of the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC). This “campaign against white chauvinism”, which is in fact merely a cover for an attempt to purge the OCIC of any comrades who will not pledge their souls to Newlin’s faltering fusion line, has drawn widespread and correct criticism from almost every section of the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend, from the Guardian to the Theoretical Review, as well as rectification forces. Yet, paradoxically, Newlin is speaking in much the same language as those who, while opposing the OCIC’s “campaign against white chauvinism”, speak incessantly of the need for “ideological struggle” against every alleged manifestation of racist or sexist behavior (and even, occasionally, of anti-working class prejudice), no matter how minute or inconsequential.

Within MLEP this year, several controversies have broken out revolving around criticisms of allegedly racist or sexist behavior by the authors of this paper. Those immediately involved in these controversies have not been able to reach unity on these criticisms. For our part, we have substantially rejected these criticisms, while failing to convince the MLEP leadership that they are wrong.

This paper, then, is an attempt to provide a more ideological context to these struggles. It is written because we believe that the criticisms of our behavior, in the main, have been the result of a sharply incorrect orientation toward ideological struggle on the part of the MLEP leadership, an orientation not dissimilar to the formulations presented by Newlin and the OCIC. Although this incorrect orientation is far less developed than that of Newlin and the OCIC, it must be corrected if it is not to degenerate into the same form of sectarian manipulation in the political and organizational arena.

We hasten to add that this paper is only a preliminary attempt to define the problem within MLEP, and not a conclusive document that all-sidely sums up the problem and states the final solutions. At the same time, much of what we have seen in MLEP is an all-too-familiar manifestation of the petty-bourgeois attitudes that infect the left, and not a wholely-new phenomenon which must be studied as if it had somehow emerged only yesterday and is unknown to the movement.

Definition of Ideological Struggle

The most immediate problem that faces us in discussing MLEP’s orientation toward ideological struggle is the confusion that exists as to the very meaning of ideological struggle. The lecture on ideological struggle that was delivered on the first day of this year’s MLEP session stated that ideology is “a world outlook associated with a particular class based on that class’ relationship to the mode of production”. That is, ideology is an entire world outlook, based on class stand. We would add that ideology is not only a world outlook, but also a method for examining and understanding the world. For the proletariat this method is dialectical and historical materialism. With this one important addition, we would agree that MLEP’s stated definition of ideology is consistent with the manner in which Marxist-Leninists have always spoken of ideology and ideological struggle.

Unfortunately, this is not the way ideological struggle has been viewed in practice within MLEP. Instead, every form of contradiction between individual students, ranging from the most absurdly petty criticisms of a person’s behavior to the most outrageous accusations of alleged racist or sexist attitudes, has been labelled “ideological struggle”, while far more fundamental discussions about differences over such subjects as dialectical materialism, proletarian dictatorship, political economy, the Marxist theory of knowledge, for example, have all too often been treated as a separate category of “theoretical work”. In other words, the view has implicitly been expressed that ideological struggle is essentially struggle over an individual’s personal orientation to other students, while struggle over the questions that need to be answered in order to develop a genuinely proletarian world outlook (i.e., a proletarian ideology) are somehow entirely different.

At times, in certain discussions, the leadership of MLEP has been willing to acknowledge that the category of ideological struggle has been used too narrowly. Yet its misuse has continued to this date with disturbing regularity.

We think that it is instructive to recall a passage in the 1939 edition of the History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) where Stalin explains that in the building up of a party

which would serve as a model for all who wanted to have a real revolutionary Marxist party... a fundamental and decisive part was played in this work by the writings of Lenin – What Is To Be Done?, Two Tactics, etc. Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? was the IDEOLOGICAL preparation for such a party. Lenin’s One Step Forward, Two Steps Back was the ORGANIZATIONAL preparation for such a party. Lenin’s Two Tactics of Social-Democracy in the Democratic Revolution was the POLITICAL preparation for such a party. And, lastly, Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism was the THEORETICAL preparation for such a party. (Proletarian Publishers, pages 140-141)

If What Is To Be Done? was, as Stalin states, the ideological preparation for the building of the CPSU, can it be argued that this work was merely an attack on the personal behavior of various individuals within the party? Hardly. Certainly What Is To Be Done? is anything but a complaint that the economists read newspapers during meetings, or spoke too much at meetings, or didn’t speak enough at meetings, or anything of the sort. What Is To Be Done? is a hundred times more than this, with its passionate and forceful demand for the development of revolutionary theory and of a vanguard party, based on a firm proletarian stand. It was, fundamentally, a broad attack on the ideological underpinnings of the economists’ opportunism, not a petty attack on their bad behavior and rude personal habits.

Of course an individual’s bad personal habits may actually be the manifestation of deeper ideological errors or confusion that need to be explored. On the other hand, they may not. Human beings are pretty complex creatures, and many of the irritating things which we do are often the result of nothing deeper than a lack of sleep, hemorrhoids, or an argument with a friend. The trick, of course, is to put ideological struggle on the place of discussion about ideology and politics, and to avoid “ideological” struggle over questions that have nothing whatsoever to do with ideology, politics, or even the real world. Otherwise, the crassest and most petty complaints become the most severe “ideological struggles”, while actual ideological differences are glossed over and covered up in a maze of picayune charges and counter-charges.

This is why it is vitally important to have a correct understanding of what ideological struggle actually is. The fact is that most of the “ideological struggles” that have developed within MLEP so far this year have been precisely of this picayune kind – complaints that certain individuals spoke harshly or out of turn, that they have offended other students by their bluntness or candidness, or that their participation in class has been uneven or rough. These complaints may or may not be of importance, but they are certainly nothing more than an inconsequential part of genuine ideological struggle. To set off these kinds of problems, and talk of them alone as “ideological struggle”, is to tear them out of the context of the far broader ideological tasks before MLEP, to magnify their importance a hundredfold, and to throw us into utter confusion about the very meaning of ideological struggle.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

We expect that at this point a number of people are going to rise in protest and proclaim that the struggles that have taken place in MLEP have actually been of far more significance than we have ascribed to them. “After all, we may be part of a young movement,” we can hear some people protesting, “but we certainly have put this kind of pettiness and personalism behind us. We have put theoretical work foremost, where it belongs, and will not allow personal attacks to divert us from our tasks.”

This would no doubt be a comforting line of argument. And certainly the actual struggles which have taken place need to be examined in all their particularities in order to establish just who is characterizing them correctly. However, it would be the height of foolishness and arrogance to dismiss the possibility out-of-hand that these struggles have been precisely as petty and devoid of ideological content as we believe.

If anyone doubts this possibility, we would suggest that they review two passages from Lenin’s One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, in which Lenin provides an example of just how easy it is for Marxists to fall into the kind of personalism we believe has characterized MLEP “ideological struggles” this year, even when Marxists haw passed into the stage of a formally-constituted vanguard party, a stage the revolutionary movement in the United States has not yet even approached. In the first of these passages Lenin describes a controversy at the Second Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party over the method of election to the Central Committee and the editorial board of the Central Organ, and how it degenerated into a quarrel between “personalities”. In the second passage, Lenin comments on the need for rules to conduct inter-Party debate, and of the opposition to these rules expressed by those who championed “the circle wrangling that goes by the name of the free ’process’ of the ideological struggle”. We have appended these passages to this paper, and will deliver it to you without further comment, except to say that Martov’s “tangled skein of absurdities” and complaints about “injured feelings” should hardly fail to call to mind a number of the lines of argument that have been presented as genuine “criticism” of certain MLEP students; and that Lenin’s remarks about the “stagnant conditions of life” should be similarly recognizable to us today.

MLEP’s Four Categories of Ideological Struggle

In MLEP’s lecture on ideological struggle, four “key ideological struggles” were presented. While MLEP cautioned that these should not be seen as a “check list of what ideological struggle is in the MLEP”, they are clearly a good guide to understanding MLEP’s orientation towards ideological struggle, we think that a discussion of each of these categories, in turn, will provide us with a helpful method of exploring MLEP’s incorrect orientation towards ideological struggle.

1. Orientation toward theory and theoretical work. In this category, MLEP lays out the need to win Marxist-Leninists to the need for theoretical work, and to overcome the prejudice towards pragmatism which is so prevalent within the U.S. revolutionary left. This orientation is undoubtedly correct, and is also MLEP’s greatest strength, in our view. The problem enters, however, when MLEP qualifies this orientation with the next three categories, which are put forward in an incorrect way, and essentially serve to distract MLEP students from the fundamental project of theoretical work.

2. Transformation of our attitude toward the collective process. MLEP introduces this subject by inveighing against individualism and the competitive approach to study. All well and good, if not a little trite. MLEP then proceeds to warn against swinging too far away from individualism into ultra-democracy. Again, this is undoubtedly an appropriate warning. MLEP even states that this problem of ultra-democracy could be seen in the theoretical work “that seemed to wander without direction” at times during last year’s session. But then MLEP falls off this tightrope with a crash with the out-of-the-blue statement that “in taking up the question of building collectivity, we recognized the need for an all-sided assessment of comrades’ development – not only theoretically, but ideologically, politically, organizationally and even socially”! (our italics) Where did this come from? This statement should give us considerable pause. (We will leave aside the “all-sided” assessment of a comrade’s “social” development as much too absurd to comment on: “Gee, Comrade X, why didn’t you come to the Line of March New Year’s Eve Party?”)

It is important at this point to remember that MLEP is led by those forces in the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend who hold to the rectification party-building line. A fundamental tenet of this line is that without a general line, no Marxist-Leninist organization is capable of giving “all-sided” guidance to cadre. How then can these same folks make an “all-sided assessment” of a comrade’s development, when they themselves confess that they lack “all-sided” theory, ideology, politics and organization to base this assessment on? It seems that something is sneaking in the back door here that was supposed to have been kicked out the front.

We should ask MLEP just who it is that is willing to take responsibility for making these all-sided assessments. Has the MLEP board covertly been transformed into a leading party center with a leading general line that they have forgotten to let us in on? We doubt it. Perhaps each study circle will make these assessments collectively – oh no, that would surely be an exercise in ultra-democracy, so MLEP couldn’t intend that. Maybe the study leaders, each with their own personal general line and their hours of practice with each of us, will be equipped to do this – but we doubt that too. Let’s face it, MLEP is simply not equipped to do this job. Of course, MLEP needs to make some kind of general assessment of each student (one assumes that this was already done to a certain degree before we were invited to become MLEP students), but let us not get carried away with ourselves, dear MLEP leaders.

Even more important, however, is the obvious question – just why in the world would MLEP even attempt to set itself this task? Just who is it who wants to make an “all-sided assessment” of each of us – and why? Obviously related to these questions is another more personal one. Just why is it that this need to make an “all-sided assessment” so far, to our knowledge, has only been concretely raised in reference to the authors of this paper?

We don’t know. We don’t think that it can reasonably be argued that this kind of assessment is necessary for a ten-month study. This can hardly be the reason that MLEP is proposing this. To cloak this proposal under the rubric of “taking up the question of building collectivity” is disingenuous, to say the least. What gives?

We suspect that MLEP is guilty of that same charge which the rectificationists constantly hurl at the pitiful fusionists: namely, of confusing the pre-party period with the party period, of the methods of struggle appropriate to building a party with those methods appropriate within a consolidated party organization, where democratic centralism is not limited by the absence of a general line and firm party ties. MLEP needs at least to explain itself much better here.

MLEP’s lectures continues with the statement that if “this process (of study) is not a collective one, it will not succeed and that the development of study guides, study leaders, the healthy development of discussion within the study groups could not possibly be done by the various individual talents of any set of individuals.” Fortunately, Marx and Engels are long dead and will be saved from the revelation that their individual study did not succeed. (No wonder those Russians are such revisionists!) Come on, MLEP, get your heads out of the fog. Collectivity is certainly a fine ideal, one which we should uphold at all times, but to argue that without the “collective process” our study can not succeed reeks of the old liberal argument that the means determine the ends. It just ain’t so. We should uphold collectivity whenever we can, but to make it a precondition to successful study, even to the development of study guides, is like digging a hole, jumping in, and then crying for help. This kind of attitude does not even lead us towards collectivity, but towards ultra-democracy, where the simplest task must be done “collectively” (or, as a bureaucrat might put it, by committee).

Here it is apparent that MLEP is thoroughly confusing strategy and tactics. Strategically, revolution is most certainly a collective process that requires the maximum participation from the maximum number of people. But tactically, there are any number of times and situations when solitary work, or work done in twos or threes, is absolutely necessary. This really should require no further elaboration. We must be careful to avoid confusing our ideal world with the one we actually live in, and we must insist that the “collective process” must not be raised as a bogy to genuine study or struggle of any kind.

3. Strategic relations. Here, in our view, MLEP really steps off the deep end. “The building of strategic relations within our movement,” MLEP states, “has been an important arena of struggle in deepening our unity as comrades, enabling us to accomplish the political and theoretical goals of MLEP.” Okay, MLEP, what is strategic relations? Where did this term come from? Is it from Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao? We don’t think so, as we can’t find it anywhere. If not, then we think that MLEP should at least offer a definition of this term. But where is this definition? We can’t find this either. The statements in the MLEP lecture are full of flowery verse about the need to “tear down the barriers within our movement”, “struggle for higher levels of unity”, building “strategic ties stage by stage”, the “spirit of unity”, etc., but is devoid of anything more precise. In fact, the lecture even admits that “we are shaped by a movement where calls for unity have meant unity not based on real solid discussion and where calls for rigorous line struggle have often degenerated into sectarian attacks, name calling, etc.” Sound familiar? Of course it does. What opportunist political organization, from the Democratic Party to the most extreme ultra-leftists have not at one time or another inscribed Unity as their chief banner?

But unity without politics is unity built on sand. And when the very people who cry the loudest for the “spirit of unity” are the very people who insist, in accordance with the rectification line, that our movement lacks precisely the political and general line necessary to build unity on anything but sand, are we not obligated to wonder just what is going on?

Ah, but maybe the key is in MLEP’s concept of “accountability”: “What that means is that comrades grasp their accountability to one another, that comrades uphold the various positions that they hold by defending those positions in a very principled way with other workers, etc.” How profound! No wonder we are hearing so much about “accountability”. So what if this kind of “strategic relations” is the kind that all Marxist-Leninists (indeed all workers!) should uphold – that is “defending their positions in a very principled way”. In this sense, “accountability” is certainly a pre-requisite for almost any kind of principled relationship. But to put the cart before the horse, and to claim that “strategic relations” is somehow a pre-requisite for “accountability”, for “defending positions in a principled way”, is only to confuse matters.

We think that MLEP’s concept of strategic relations is quite confused. At best, it is a call that we engage in struggle in a principled way. Principled struggle, of course, is indispensable. But it should not be mystified with this neo-psychological talk of “strategic relations”. Perhaps it should be renamed tactical relations, or tactful relations. Yet even in this regard one would assume that comrades would need to share some kind of common political practice for this concept to have any meaning.

More importantly, however, if there is any reason for such a concept as strategic relations, we would assume that it would be based on different comrades (or organizations) sharing a common strategy for revolution. This would seem kind of obvious. But in the context of the actual state of affairs that the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend finds itself today, it should be clear that we do not share a common strategy (in fact, most of us are lacking any kind of strategy at all). To try to build “strategic relations”, then, in this period, is to jump the’ gun by several stages, and certainly wildly inappropriate for a study circle that will cease to exist in a mere ten months. If students are to maintain relations after the conclusion of the study, it would make far more sense to allow those relations to be built on a firm, ideological, political and practical basis, rather than on some near-mystical concept of “strategic relations” or “accountability”.

We feel that MLEP’s conception of strategic relations has served to foster a whole series of false expectations among students as to the kinds of relations we should have. From the very first moment we entered the study circle, before we had even met each other or discussed the most elementary political questions, we had been led to believe that we are bound by some deep and everlasting tie. Given the absence of any ideological or even political basis for this kind of relationship, it is almost inevitable that strains have developed among some students. Given the absence of even common practice among many of the students, it is not surprising that these strains have developed from the most minor and insignificant incidents, both real and imagined. The inevitable result is a form of emotion-charged “personality conflicts” shrouded in unfortunate political rhetoric about “accountability” and “strategic relations”.

4. Struggle against race, sex and class oppression. This is unquestionably the most emotion-laden and potentially explosive of MLEP’s four “ideological struggle” categories. No one can deny that the left has been guilty of a whole variety of ideological, theoretical, political, organizational, and, alas, even social errors of immense proportions in dealing with racism, sexism and, of course, class prejudice. We all bring quite a few of our own personal prejudices derived from a wide range of practice, into this arena of struggle. It is absolutely necessary to view these questions with the utmost objectivity possible while recognizing that subjectivity is very hard to leave behind when we are dealing with these questions.

We believe that it is necessary, at all times, to maintain a proletarian outlook when dealing with race, sex and class distinctions. By this we mean the understanding that the key to abolishing race, sex and class discrimination in the U.S. will be the overthrow of capitalism, the seizure of state power by the proletariat, and the removal of the material basis of man’s exploitation by man. It is wrong to believe that any racial or ethnic group, or that women, much less the proletariat, will be able to overcome discrimination short of the abolition of capitalism. In addition, this struggle must be led by the most conscious elements of the proletariat of all races and sexes. Only by viewing the world with this clear class stand, can these questions be dealt with correctly.

We freely admit that this is actually a rather common-place statement. Nevertheless, it is a position which is very difficult for many people to adopt in practice.

The first hurdle that many on the left have had to go over is the recognition of the leading role of the working class. The bourgeois conception that the U.S. working class is nothing more than a happily-contented “middle class” has had more than its fair share of influence on the left, and not, of course, without some material basis. It was a long hard struggle for many people to come to view the U.S. working class in its full historical setting – recognizing its long history of struggle, and its inevitable role in the proletarian revolution – not just viewing it in its momentary, shall we say, “bourgeoisified” circumstance: This is indeed a struggle that is still being waged with many “revolutionary” political organizations today, from organizations like Prairie Fire Organizing Committee (PFOC) which declare the “white” working class to be an ally of Imperialism, to organizations like the New American Movement (NAM) which proclaim the existence of a “new” working class almost indistinguisable from any other class, to a whole variety of cultural nationalist and women’s separatist organizations which are unable to grasp the dialectical relationship of the U.S. working class to other oppressed peoples. Surely we would be less than candid if we were to deny the influence of these incorrect political lines on the development of the ideological and theoretical concepts of the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend.

The second hurdle for many on the left is to recognize the leading role of the proletariat without abandoning the real and necessary struggles of all other oppressed peoples – of national, racial and ethnic minorities, of women, of gays, of the old, of the handicapped – and to do this without resorting to mere liberal or moralistic appeals, or to compartmentalized and bureaucratic methods of struggle. This too is an unfortunate legacy bequeathed to us by many of our political forebearers, not the least of which is the CPUSA.

In particular, the ideology of white chauvinism, which is constantly promulgated and promoted by the bourgeoisie, and which guarantees the disunity and political impotence of the working class, must be combatted and ultimately defeated if the proletariat is to fulfill its historic mission.

The complex problem is this. The workers cannot defeat the enemy because they are disunited. They are disunited because they are unequal. They are unequal because the black worker (and other minority workers–ed.) physically cannot, by himself (and herself–ed.), win that equality. The historic color hatred, the white chauvinism, prevents the white worker from joining in that struggle for equality so that they can unite and can fight for the interests of the class.

Just as the whole wheel and axle assembly of a car is held together by a small cotter pin, the whole edifice of world imperialism, led by USNA (that is, USA – ed.) imperialism, rests on this minute and absurd ideology of white chauvinism... The struggle to involve the white worker in the fight for the unity of the class is the nodal line between harmless (to the bourgeoisie – ed.) playing at revolution and the serious business of strategy.”[1]

To unite the entire working class without struggling for the equality of the entire class is utterly and completely impossible.

How, then, does MLEP view the struggle against racism, sexism and class oppression? Does MLEP recognize the leading role of the working class, as well as the need to struggle for the equality of oppressed national minorities and women?

We think that MLEP’s lecture actually reveals some serious weaknesses on this score. Unfortunately, MLEP makes no attempt to assess the relative importance or dialectical relationship of race, sex and class oppression. Instead, the lecture discusses racism at length, while giving only token acknowledgement to class oppression, and almost none to sexism.

Let us quote a couple of items.

“Common assumptions about racism in the ranks of the communist movement are: ’Racism? That doesn’t happen here!’ or ’Well, maybe so and so has a problem with racism but it’s not a general problem in our movement.’” No doubt this is true, but could not the same thing be said about sexism, or more fundamentally, class prejudice? Certainly these are also real problems within the communist movement.

“Historically,” the lecture continues, “our movement has functioned in a segregated atmosphere and few of us have much experience in integrated political settings. In a certain sense, the MLEP represents a new experience for our trend in that it brings political activists into a multi-racial situation.” Frankly, we wonder just how true this is for most of the MLEP students. If this is the case, it is certainly an unfortunate commentary on a deplorable lack of mass practice of those in MLEP. But, we also wonder if some of the students in MLSP are not getting a “new experience” by being brought into a multi-class situation.

“Furthermore,” says MLEP, “racism takes a particular form in the MLEP and in the general context of education work... The white petty-bourgeoisie are groomed for their role as the intellectual leaders of society and channelled through the ’smart’ classes, the elite high schools, and colleges and graduate schools. Working class and minority children, on the other hand, are prepared to take the place of their parents in the ranks of the proletariat... Working class and minority children are discouraged from pursuing intellectual careers and are made to view themselves as less theoretically inclined...”

The truth of this is quite evident. However, while the question of racism in education is drawn out at considerably more length, the question of working class children and the educational system is once again dropped entirely. The question of women’s oppression in education is not dealt with at all. We would add that it is strange, in the light of this analysis by MLEP, that so far the most serious “ideological struggles” within MLEP have been directed precisely against certain minority and working class MLEP students (so as not to be too coy, we are referring to the authors of this paper) who have not allowed themselves to be tracked into this very role within MLEP, but have attempted to assert their own role as intellectuals in the full and proper sense of the word.

Finally, this section of the MLEP lecture concludes by calling for a “fierce struggle” to be “waged against elitism and racism in the communist movement overall and in MLEP in particular.” Now, we are certainly not opposed to “fierce struggle”, but we must wonder just why this struggle alone, the struggle against racism, is the only arena in which MLEP calls for “fierce struggle”. What about the struggle against other forms of bourgeois ideology, against class prejudice, against pragmatism, for the proletarian party, for the dictatorship of the proletariat? Are these not “fierce struggles” which MLEP should wage?

The answer which we expect to hear is that the history of struggle around racism within MLEP has proven to be of paramount importance, especially during last year’s session, as we have repeatedly been told. To this, we must repeat what we have said to several responsible leaders of MLEP – what happened last year? We hear about how “fierce” this struggle was, but whenever we ask for a summary of the events involved, we are given only a very hasty explanation about the problems of one or two individuals, and no explanation of what process MLEP went through to deal with these problems. It should not be surprising, then, that some of us are wondering just exactly what MLEP is planning in the future in the way of “fierce struggle” against racism, given how difficult it seems to be to talk about what happened last year.

It seems evident that the question of class oppression and class stand has taken a back seat to the question of racism in MLEP’s realm of “ideological struggle”. This is more than a little disturbing, especially given the distinct petty-bourgeois background of so many MLEP students.


We must add to this discussion of MLEP’s ideological concepts our criticism of a formulation that has been put forward by the MLEP leadership, but which was not presented in their initial lecture. It is the unique concept, in and of itself capable of producing a storm of confusion, that the subjective impressions of a minority or woman MLEP student is a sufficient basis for establishing the existence of a racist or sexist dynamic. Objectivity, to be brief, is simply being thrown out the window. We believe that the utter absurdity of this position would be very quickly demonstrated to even the most skeptical if one of the authors of this paper were to complain that we felt the “impact” of an anti-working class bias in the study circle. We seriously doubt that our perception would be accepted as an adequate basis for an accusation of class bias, and rightly so.

There should be no doubt that minority and women students are more capable of recognizing racist and sexist dynamics than white male students. It is thus only to be expected that when real race or sex contradictions become a real obstacle to MLEP’s theoretical work, it will likely be minority or women students who first point them out. But it is just plain silly to say that any time a minority or woman student complains about such a problem, that there is no need to make an objective assessment to determine if the complaint is valid or not, and to determine its importance. This seems so obvious, that we feel somewhat pained to have to say it.

Where does this attitude about “impact” come from? It can have many sources, and we feel that we are too unfamiliar with the particular history of both the MLEP leadership and most MLEP students to pin down its source. However, it does suggest a similar phenomenon which is hardly uncommon on the left. This is the attitude of many white and male leftists, as well as any number of left-liberal and “revolutionary” organizations, that find it impossible to criticize minorities or women, and who elevate them onto a pedestal. This operates primarily to relieve these kinds of folks from the necessity of critically examining what these “idols” of theirs have to say. It is a practice that has been exploited both by white and male leftists who seek to guard themselves against criticism by other minority or women’s organizations, and by some cultural nationalists and women separatists who use this attitude to try to batter down any criticism of their politics or practice.

Of course, these are the most extreme examples, but we trust that most people with any experience on the left will recognize the widespread existence of this practice in much mere subtle forms. Newlin’s position within the OC, especially in the light of the current “campaign against white chauvinism” certainly comes to mind. The practical result of this kind of practice is to impede the development of the critical and theoretical capabilities of, on the one hand, minority and women comrades whose ideas are not dealt with in any objective fashion, and on the other hand, of white and male comrades who are discouraged from engaging in critical thinking and theoretical work.

Predictably, this dynamic leads to a situation where the ideas of particular minority or women “heavies” assume dominance over the ideas of other minority or women individuals (or organizations}, since the real world is not one in which all minorities and women naturally find themselves in common agreement on all the pressing issues of the day. As a result, the factions which come into being are not strictly segregated by race or sex. Instead, individuals of ail races and sexes line up behind their respective “heavies”, or behind the different political positions at issue.

Is this happening in MLEP? We are not sure. But we believe that the concept of “impacting” put forward by the MLEP leadership could quite easily lead towards setting up this kind of dynamic. We hope that this hopelessly incorrect ideological misconception will be abandoned by the MLEF leadership before it leads to precisely the kind of problems we are outlining above.


Finally, we must discuss an error which has cropped up in at least one of the study circles. This error, a tendency towards ultra-democracy when handling the inter-personal contradictions (in MLEP parlance, “ideological struggle”) within a study circle. This error is related, we believe, to the incorrect orientation of the MLEP leadership towards collectivity.

It is a curious dichotomy that presents itself when we look at the very different ways in which theoretical work is pursued within MLEP, compared to the handling of inter-personal contradictions. The theoretical work is guided only minimally by the study circles, as the readings, questions (even study guides!), time alloted for discussion, etc. are all handed down to us with little input from the students. We have no quarrel whatsoever with this process. However, when an “ideological struggle”, i.e., an accusation that a given individual is being elitist, racist or sexist in some manner, is spontaneously brought forward, in at least one study circle all caution is abandoned, and it is somehow seen as necessary for each and every individual within the study circle to make their off-the-cuff remarks about whatever incident is involved. Several times now this has literally involved hours and hours of the study circle’s time, while, inevitably the theoretical work suffers. No doubt this can sometimes be necessary. (We will set aside, at least for this paper, any discussion about whether the actual time spent on the particular struggles we have been involved with was necessary.) But it seems clear to us that such time and effort should only be spent if there is in fact an objective basis to the complaint.

Yet, instead of stopping to allow the MLEP leadership to make just such an objective assessment of a situation (as they certainly do with any “theoretical” question that comes up), both the study leaders and the MLEP leadership have actually encouraged the study circles to plunge ahead at full speed and discuss each problem immediately in its most minute detail. This method inexorably pushes us in the direction of moralizing, emotionalism, personalism and that kind of “nervous excitement” that Lenin spoke of in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. The result is to make this “fierce struggle” far more like a petty-bourgeois encounter group session than a communist study circle. By the time the “nervous excitement” dies down, the circle has become so charged with emotion and subjectivity, that it makes an objective analysis a hundred tines more difficult for everyone.

What a strange dichotomy. Centralism for “theoretical” work, ultra-democracy for “ideological” work. Why? What are the forces at work that have produced this division within MLEP? We don’t have the answer. But let us be candid. Ultra-democracy, for all its appearances, is not really a method which allows for the free play of every point of view. Rather it is a method which generally serves to conceal the existence of a line, of a hidden form of centralism, that actually fears democracy, that fears the light of day. We have a hard time avoiding the impression that some of us are being toyed with and examined, however consciously or unconsciously, by some unseen hand that does not want to reveal itself directly, but prefers to operate through this “collective” cover, and that is guiding the “free process of the ideological struggle” in some as-yet unclear direction.


Where does all of this lead us? Obviously, we admit to having a great number of unanswered questions before us. We think that the next step would be for the MLEP leadership to attempt to clarify its views on some of the questions we have raised, and make an objective assessment of these questions. We would hope that such an objective assessment would lead the MLEP leadership to the following conclusions:

1) That they have been using an incorrect definition of ideological struggle, one that restricts the application of this concept to merely inter-personal dynamics and contradictions.

2) That their orientation towards collective struggle has tended towards ultra-democracy in the arena of the struggle over these inter-personal dynamics and contradictions.

3) That their conception of strategic relations is inappropriate, at least to this period of development of the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend.

4) That they should abandon any attempts to make “all-sided assessments” of MLEP students.

5) That the struggle over race, sex and class contradictions among MLEP students should be put back on a clearly dialectical, materialistic and objective basis.

Let us add that we are not calling for any form of organized mass discussion, at least at this point, among MLEP students on these questions. We believe that the MLEP leadership should first address these questions, and state their positions. Of course, informal discussion is inevitable and entirely appropriate, nor do we think that these criticisms should be hidden from anyone. But any attempt at this point to organize a formal discussion of these questions, we believe, would only add to the emotionalism, personalism, and subjectivity that exists at the present time, primarily as a result of the past errors of the MLEP leadership.

In struggle,


[1]This is a quote from the Political Report to the recent congress of the Communist Labor Party (CLP) in The Road to Socialism, Workers Press, pages 45-46. Also of interest from this same section is the CLP’s criticism of “misleaders (who) direct their fire into their own ranks. This is done by black nationalists, the white chauvinists, the ’new left’ formulation that the white workers are the basis for fascism, that they are the main enemy of the black workers, and that they are not receptive to communist agitation and propaganda.... The straategy of the ruling class is based on preventing the white worker from joining in the struggle for equality. The unity of the white petty bourgeoisie and the black worker is acceptable becuase it is no threat. Now skillful, and how clever, the enemy has been!”

We would add to this list of misleaders those descendents of the “counter-culture” who “misdirect their fire into their own ranks” with such tired shibboleths as “you have to change yourself before you can change the world,” and who encourage constant introspection and indulgence in the dynamics of inter-personal relations.

Let us add, in case there is any confusion, that the authors of this paper are not, have not, and will not be responsible for any further aspects of the CLP’s line on racism or any other question.