Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Jim Jacobs

“The OCIC’s White Chauvinism Campaign and its Lessons for U.S. Marxist-Leninists”

Part I: The White Chauvinism Campaign and My “Resignation” from the OCIC

This paper is an analysis of what is happening to the Organizational Committee for an Ideological Center. It is written to inform people what has happened to this circle. However, it has the intent of re-enforcing the overall purpose of uniting with all those who struggle to develop relevant Marxist-Leninist thought.

For many people serious about the concrete application of Marxist-Leninist ideology to the class struggle in the United States, the constellation of groups that emerged two years ago (calling itself the anti-dogmatist, anti-revisionist trend, or more simply the Trend) represented the most reasonable and correct approach to the construction of a multi-racial, Marxist-Leninist Party. These groups included the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee, the Baltimore Socialist Union, Detroit Marxist-Leninist Organization, and Potomac Socialist Organization. They developed 18 points of political unity and launched a process for party building which started with the creation of an Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center (OCIC).

While many groups and important individuals chose to remain outside the OCIC process, and those within it had many criticisms, clearly, this was a force that had the potential to create a political and theoretical center for the party building process.

In its barest form, the OCIC was composed of individuals (many of whom were also members of the local “Trend” groups) who established a “Local Center” in their areas. A member was anyone who had “no principled opposition” to the 18 political points. The Local Centers were not to lead practice (it was assumed that different Trend organizations would continue to do that), but provide a plan to centralize ideological debate. The Local Center activity was directed by a seven person National Steering Committee which was elected at the Convention held Labor Day 1979.

Unlike other party building efforts among anti-revisionist forces in recent years, the OCIC approach was expressly based upon the participation of individuals, not the combination of groups. “Federationism” had in the past resulted in subjective bickering between groups. There were advanced Marxist-Leninists who were not in any of the major groups of the Trend, and this was especially true of national minority individuals. While the process was open to the participation of individuals and the sole focus was to be the development of theoretical struggle, it was assumed that many of the organizations would continue to engage in practical work which would strengthen rather than detract from the party building process. In addition, it was assumed that the process would be a lengthy one, in which maximum unity would be achieved with as many forces as possible. Unlike the RCP, OL, CLP, the process would bring together new forces and not be simply the same people who started the process, emerging to declare themselves the vanguard.

As a member of DMLO [Detroit Marxist-Leninist Organization – EROL] I accepted the general Draft Plan concept and worked to implement it. Like many others in the Trend, I was excited that the tendency would at last have a mechanism for centralizing political debate. While the original Point 18 debates of the Spring of 1979 had initiated some very promising political struggle, many of the groups of the Trend had many divergent positions upon key issues (such as the national question), and there needed to be a means of centralizing debate to clarify differences.

Immediately, however, the Local Center proceeded into “understanding the centrality of racism in the party building efforts.” This was an outgrowth of some discussions that had occurred in the OCIC Second Convention of 1979, and they became the sole form of attention for the Local Center. There were some very good reasons in Detroit for local attention paid to the problem of racism in the party-building movement. Minority cadre had both left DMLO and the DSC [the Detroit Socialist Collective – EROL] over specific charges of racism, and there were important specific questions that needed to be taken up. However, the national campaign predominated the discussions which meant only a superficial lip-service was paid to the specific questions in the Detroit situation, with the bulk of time spent assimilating the national approach to dealing with “racism” as articulated by the national steering committee.

The “struggle against racism” became all encompassing. While all members of the local center affirmed its importance (indeed, despite all the efforts to paint a picture of white flight – people leaving the OCIC process because they did not want to deal with their racism – not one person who has left argued the issue was insignificant), it was not enough for the leadership. Our silence was interpreted as a sign of “racist behavior.” Our refusal to bring out all former aspects of “racist behavior” was proof of our inability to deal with the question. Furthermore, the local leadership of the OCIC began informally to suggest that those people “who were not dealing with their racism,” would not be tolerated in the local center, or any new organizational formation that might emerge to undertake mass work.

Instead of remaining silent, I took immediate exception to the entire process and wrote a short paper outlining my views (see Appendix A). While it had a number of weaknesses, it attempted to point out the premises of the campaign were incorrect (as they had been in the white chauvinism campaign of 1949-1953). I presented the paper for debate, willing to struggle over the views. There was none, and for six months a discussion of the paper was always postponed because there “wasn’t enough time.” However; in private some of the local leadership told members it was “another sign of Jacob’s racism,” or “Jacobs hasn’t written anything in the past three years, and now he opposed the first real struggle against racism.”

More disturbing than those responses was the intensification of the very practices I was attempting to criticize! Here are some specific instances catalogued by a comrade who resigned in disgust over this behavior:

There are at least seven incidents of weirdness over the past three months in the LC. First, was the criticism of A in a couple of meetings which all started out with criticism of whites for remaining silent during a discussion of the relationship of federation and racism. This later developed into a criticism of A’s racism for the tone of his response to B’s criticism of him. Second, the incident between B and C, where C told B to stop lecturing him during a discussion of whether the LC was going to target primarily independent ML’s or advanced workers. D later criticized C for racism around his response to B. Third, B’s verbal intimidation of E during a discussion at which F was present. Fourth, the criticism of F in a fraction meeting – where he was accused of racism – which originated in his insecurity toward black workers because of his wife’s sexual opportunism. Fifth, the criticism by B and others of G during a meeting at G’s and H’s house in which B urged whites to admit that they felt that Black people are really savages, rapists and whores. Sixth, the criticism of G in the regional LC meeting where G was reduced to the self-criticism that since she was the oldest person in the room, she must therefore be the most racist. And seventh, the meeting of the 18 point study commission where B urged the whites in the meeting to “stop telling lies” about their feelings and admit that they felt that all Blacks were “savages, rapists and whores,” and that white women are subject to be being raped by Black men. At this point one white woman felt moved to admit that this was, in fact, her true feelings and that, moreover, she wanted B to sleep with her.”

The high water mark of this white guilt was reached at the Mid-West regional Conference when a national minority woman was elected to the regional leadership, having only elevated herself into prominence through her attacks upon the trade union work of another OCIC comrade whose work was consistently praised in the past. Despite the fact that her criticisms were explicitly rejected by the caucuses of workers from that Local (who urged that she be expelled from the group for her irresponsible accusations), they were praised as exemplary, and she was elevated. Her previous political experience was three years in the Progressive Labor Party, and it was unclear what unity she had with any of the 18 Points. After three days of regional, she resigned. The National Steering Committee overturned the election, and the Local Center’s summary was that she resigned because she refused to deal with “her racism!”

The launching of the white chauvinism campaign corresponded to the politicization of members of both Trend organizations – the DMLO and the DSC. In the case of DMLO, the activities of the local center continually deferred a long planned “Convention” which was to settle some political and mass work priorities. The DMLO leadership was gradually drawn into the white chauvinism battles and DMLO became paralyzed for over six months unable to summarize mass work, or even struggle ever differences. Comrades began leaving as the organization became irrelevant to their work. Finally, in June of 1980, the local DMLO leadership decided not to hold the convention, but dismantle the organization (because it was all white and therefore racist) without any political sum-up of work. The result, all DMLO comrades were on their own and the level of collective responsibility vanished entirely except for casual encounters or discussions before the Local Center meeting. In a matter of a few months, an organization which founded the Trend disappeared.

The DSC experience was even more astonishing. Here the local OCIC Leadership ordered one leading comrade purged from the organization for allegedly refusing to accept criticisms of her racist behavior. The merits of the charges were not only unworthy of expulsion, but the conscious attempt to split the organization (which also included the attempt to split up the particular couple) were openly proclaimed by the Local leadership. The result was that DSC split down the middle with the major leadership not only leaving the group but the OCIC as well. This was of course trumpeted as a progressive thing to get rid of those comrades unwilling to deal with their racism.

In the midst of this I remained waiting to struggle out my paper. The Local Center leadership continued to defer the debate. I no longer believe there was any real intention to debating the paper by the local center leadership. Instead, a “verbal resignation” was manufactured by a local steering committee member – who stated I had made this decision to resign at a social gathering. I returned from a summer vacation to find that my resignation had been announced at a Local Center meeting, and despite my efforts to state that I had not resigned, I was told that comrades would “hold me accountable for what I had said.” Furthermore to lend credibility to the view of the local steering committee, members of the Local Center were presented with a statement concerning my resignation and asked to approve it (see Appendix B). This was undertaken at a meeting which I was prohibited from attending since I had “resigned.”

Many comrades refused to accept the document at face value and demanded I be present to refute it. They were criticized for being anti-leadership and sexists (because the main accuser was a woman) to question the validity of the conversation it related in the document. During the 4 and a half hour meeting the basis on which I was being excluded was my petit bourgeois, racist views, and after a vote (14 to 5) I was formally excluded, or “my verbal resignation was formally upheld.”

The matter appeared closed. The local center did not formally even communicate the decision to me. However, at a national steering committee meeting (the highest body of the OCIC), it was “informally” suggested to the local steering committee that my exclusion was an ultra-left error. Indeed, my exclusion contradicted the mythology of the OCIC that all serious people were welcomed in the process and no one has been excluded. The people who disagreed simply “walked-out” (of course, there were expulsions of people on the West Coast, for racism, as well as DSC comrades driven out of the OCIC here in Detroit).

My reinstatement, however, would not mean there would be self-criticism of the “ideas” I represented and the process that lead to my expulsion. The Local Steering Committee admitted a “tactical error” was made by refusing to accept my desire to remain in the OCIC, but still “stood by” everything in the letter! I was invited to rejoin, although first the membership would have to overturn the decision.

At the meeting, the steering committee issued their “tactical error” statement and then proceeded to criticize the membership for their “acceptance of the original resignation letter!” And to this the membership, with some exceptions, responded by blaming themselves with the usual litany of their racism, liberalism, and willingness to accept uncritical leadership. There was little interest in dealing with the contents of the letter, until I raised the question. Then the local membership immediately withdrew it, but stated they still believed it was true!

With the exception of a few comrades who tried to argue this was a serious error, not just tactical, and who also argued that the 18 points were the only basis of unity with the OCIC, the majority of the local center voted to invite me back with no dissent, or even question the steering committee’s decision.

With the end of the meeting, I was informed that another session would be held to deal with my white chauvinism, party building views, and “my paper” would be “seriously” discussed.

At this point, I began to distrust the ability of anyone in the Local Center to struggle for any political position. Despite the fact that many of the comrades in private stated they agreed with me, at the meeting their fear of being criticized as “racists” paralyzed their ability to struggle over theoretical lines. No matter how many “sessions” would be held, little would be clarified or even developed. The Local Center had degenerated into a sect, and further struggle in that circle was useless. Thus, I decided to refuse their invitation, let my resignation stand, and devote my political energies in other directions.

This experience with the OCIC revealed the following major errors that have doomed the process to fail as a serious party building movement.

a. The absence of political struggle: During my experience in the Local OCIC process and the specific actions around my own “resignation,” there was never a specific political struggle developed where lines were drawn, positions taken and perspectives developed. Indeed, in contrast to the preceding quotation from the Draft Plan’s call for no “back room struggle,” there was no political struggle in the Local Center itself. If there is one universal trait from the experience of Lenin, Mao, the development of the Vietnamese Workers Party, and all other major communist movements, it is that these parties were developed through continuous struggle over theoretical position and political line. The Chinese formulation – unity-struggle-unity – or the emphasis on cadre development of Le Duan finds no support in the OCIC practice at meetings.

Even the “issue” which encompassed 90% of what was substantially discussed, racism, was never articulated in a political or theoretical manner. There was no effort to connect struggle around racism with positions on the national question, let alone the relation of the issue to class struggle. In a very interesting defense of this apolitical struggle against racism, Newlin argued in the Guardian that: (first “while for party building as a whole the development of theory to guide the struggle against racism is key, it is not the pivotal task in relation to white chauvinism at present.” [Guardian, Nov. 26, 1980]) This view rejects the essential aspect of all party building efforts of sharp ideological struggle. It also denies the local OCIC of the major means by which a real leadership will emerge as described in the Draft Plan, except to guarantee those who criticise themselves the most, will emerge as leadership.

b. The lack of political and theoretical struggle merely intensifies the depoliticalization of the entire process. Since there are not attempts to focus upon political issues, the bulk of the meeting discuss the personal characteristics of comrades, their fears, their “hidden feelings.” Indeed, an entire para-psychological language has emerged which aids in divorcing discussion from any class perspective, let alone normal Marxist categories.

Members of the OCIC “hide out,” i.e., when they remain silent and refuse to criticize themselves for racist, or “speculate upon feminism” which means to use common ties as women to hold back discussion of racism, or “conspire to remain silent,” i.e., remain uncritical or another’s racist behavior so that you will not be criticized.

What these and many other aspects of the OCIC language share is their assumption that only negative interpretations exists for a variety of responses by people who disagree with the thrust of the campaign. It is supposedly only through some sort of painful encounter with your own past will you even be able to purge yourself of this racist baggage. This approach denies that racism is a material force, that gets re-enforced daily by a variety of institutions which must be struggled against by political means in order to counter racism.

It reduces political struggle to merely consciousness raising concerning one’s past, and even then, offers no clear path at individual rectification.

Second, the entire depoliticalization process is so draining upon individuals that it is extremely difficult to fight from within.

The long meetings, the enormous amount of mandatory dues, virtually makes an individual a captive of the process unable to initiate any significant mass political work. The result is that individuals draw back from their independent ties with the masses of people, perhaps their only real hope in understanding the lunacy of the process in which they are enmeshed. At the Detroit OCIC meetings, the only individuals who made announcements of practical work meetings, or events were those who stood most clearly in opposition to “white chauvinism” campaign. The greatest supporters found themselves defining their entire political lives within the perspectives of the OCIC. Not only was this incorrect, because the OCIC only did theoretical, as opposed to practical work, but the complete identification with the OCIC made it impossible to develop any organizational thrust into mass movements. You either joined the OCIC, or remained outside of it.

c. The depoliticalization of the OCIC membership established the precondition for the third major problem: the development of an internal leadership that was unaccountable for its actions. In the beginning of the Detroit Local Center a “temporary” leadership was appointed. This was to become a functioning group which met regularly and which decided upon the business of the Local Center and communicated that to the membership. Any questioning of those decisions was regarded as anti-leadership, and since the majority were non-white, it was also “objectively racist.” Thus, there began emerging precisely what the Draft Plan had criticized in other party building efforts – an internal set of leaders who use their own control of the process to justify their leadership, not their willingness to initiate political or theoretical struggle. The circle spirit was reborn within the OCIC.

The new leadership maintained its position in power through control over who got criticized at the meetings, and who was praised. The opponent to the leadership were immediately isolated and even though they held positions (such as those who argued my expulsion was an ultra-left error) which were eventually upheld in the local center, they were never given any credit for their correct views, or the contributions that they made to the group. On the other hand, loyal members were always allowed to “confess” to the most bizarre charges (such as “I really believe that black people are savages”) and then passed over without the slightest suggestion that such a view might be incompatible with any sane person in the United States let alone this party building movement! The local leadership was not simply an unaccountable elite. There was a political basis for their unity. These were people who shared most agreement with the PWOC analysis, particularly the critical fusion party building perspective. Most of the major OCIC leaders in Detroit referred to themselves as a “fusionists.”

Many of the local leaders were curiously “out of town” at other meetings, suggesting various journeys to Philadelphia for discussions. Regularly the local leadership would refer to events in other cities, which members were unaware of or even shown papers. Certainly, the PWOC material, study methods, and general orientation were consciously pushed as the most outstanding representation of the sort of work that should be done by the Local Center.

In brief, what emerged in the Local Center were the methods of struggle that we were all warned to reject by the Draft Plan. Precisely because there was no open struggle encouraged, there was no political growth and development. Out of this vacuum emerged a self-selected leadership that appeared to be unaccountable for its actions, and appeared to pursue an agenda that emerged from outside the OCIC. Finally, in the one major issue that continually took up the bulk of our time, racism was discussed in such a non-political manner as to encourage all the historically erroneous and self-defeating precedents to reemerge.

But what was most pivotal in my decision to leave was the response of the other Local OCIC members, With some very significant exceptions, they appeared to embrace this concept of political development and appeared content with the “progress” of the Local Center, For the most part, these were people with little political experience (the experienced people had already left the process, or were clearly in the “opposition,”) and almost no mass work. They found the approach very undemanding because they were willing to always criticize themselves for “their racism.” In a real sense, they represented the mirror image of the “mindless true believer” some of our anti-communist friends have developed into over the years. The emergence of this group is extremely disappointing. As someone who stressed recruitment and political education, the behavior of many of these people in the Local Center forces us to reconsider some of the basic principles of Marxist-Leninist organizations and the way political education and development have been conducted. The fact that politically incorrect leadership emerges in an organization is a problem of the objective conditions In the United States. But the willingness of individuals not simply to accept this leadership, but to hold on to it despite all the twists and turns reveals a particular bankruptcy that cannot be solely blamed on the present “difficult period.”

For me, there were times when the Local Center possessed some of the cult behavior that we have associated with the Weatherman, and the People’s Temple. At its best the OCIC was a harmless little “hobby group” – with an internal language, a style and a certain compassion for the skills members practiced. All the time, however, one thing was clear: this was not a political organization. The belief that this group could reach advance workers, let alone provide the nucleus for any contention for state power could not be taken seriously. Since the OCIC had left politics, it was necessary to severe all ties.