Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Jim Jacobs

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

Part II: The OCIC’s Fusion Party Building Line and the Relation Between Theory and Practice

This account of an individual “horror story” within the OCIC can be repeated countless times. But the recitation of tales cannot divert us from the more fundamental task: why has all of this happened? While no doubt there are subjective manifestations that could explain the certain particularities of the white chauvinism campaign, and the incredible speed with which the process degenerated the OCIC, the major reason for the deviations within the OCIC are based around mistaken political line. Furthermore, the goals and specific methods of struggle cannot be reduced to simply an attempt by PWOC to control the development of the Trend. There are far too many experienced political people who have accepted this type of analysis to suggest it is the manipulation of a few individuals.

Rather any analysis must begin with the location of the source of the error within the existing political assumptions. While it is true that the stated process of the OCIC is that there are no party-building lines, only the “flushing out” of the 18 points, it is also clear that almost all leading individuals and organizations are united around the application of “fusion” to the party building perspective. It certainly was the major distinguishing factor of the Trend from other party building attempts for the last five years and the basic understanding in which many comrades (myself included} carried on party building efforts. Clearly, the white chauvinism campaign can be linked to a specific concept of fusion. The major political error which underlines the deterioration of the OCIC is related to the specific treatment of fusion and its application to the party building process.

While many organizations and individuals within the Trend have developed their own perspectives on fusion, the most articulate and certainly most influential has been articulated by the PWOC. While the PWOC concept or fusion has taken many twists and turns, of specific concern for us has been the way fusion deals with the interrelationship of theory and practice. In a document often used for internal study by OCIC groups, the formulation made by PWOC stated a commonly agreed upon perspective.

In the present period the struggle for revolutionary theory plays a primary role in deciding the success of failure of our efforts. We are striving to develop a revolutionary party and without correct revolutionary theory there can be no such party.

Moreover, we can not even fulfill the requirements of the present period without revolutionary theory. Those that downgrade the importance of revolutionary theory really downgrade the importance of a revolutionary movement.

But the primacy of theory in this period should not be taken to mean that theory is primary in relationship to practice as many dogmatists and even some anti-dogmatists have argued. For as Lenin said–and this in the pre-Iskra period:

“In thus emphasizing the necessity, importance and immensity of the theoretical work of Social-Democrats, by no means want to say that this work should be postponed until the former is completed.”

In a footnote he elaborates why theory should not take precedence:

“The practical work of propaganda and agitation always take precedence, because...theoretical work only supplies answers to the problems raised by practical work.” – Speech on Party Building, Summer, 1977.

To begin, these often cited passages do not encompass Lenin’s entire party building strategy. Indeed, in almost all of PWOC “definition” of fusion are taken from Lenin’s writings in the late 1890’s, when he was responding to a particular problem facing the emerging Social Democratic formation. They do not represent the totality of Lenin’s thinking in the interrelationship between theory and practice.

Indeed, the specific context is worth considering. In the preface to The Tasks of The Russian Social Democrats, (often cited by the “fusionist perspective”) Lenin justifies the particular emphasis upon practice by stating “now the main and basic features of the theoretical view of Social Democrats have been sufficiently clarified.” That is certainly not the case in the United States today. Indeed, the thrust of Lenin’s writing on party building, particularly in this earlier period, are always to place the struggle within a detailed analysis of the specific historical conditions. In addition, he is always emphasising the primacy of theoretical and political struggle to achieve clarity, and a basis of unity. These major themes cannot be dismissed by a few quotations about “fusion.” In short, the PWOC tends to give the concept a greater centrality to party building than Lenin had intended.

Nevertheless, even accepting these quotations as a party building view, as the sum total they raise some very disturbing concepts. First, is the way theory is used to “only supply answers to the problems raised by practical work.” On the one hand, of course, theory and practice are inter-related and the ultimate testing ground for any political line is the ability in practice to be successful. However, what is being argued here is that theory emerges from practice, which is simply empiricism. Communists do not practice and then figure out what theory is needed. They develop theoretical concepts and test them in practice, so that they can be refined and developed further.

It is also clear that all theoretical questions cannot be “proven” or “disproven” by practice. It would be irresponsible, for example, to say that the national question is disproven by the responses of five minority workers in a plant. There cannot be a practical test of many theoretical questions at this point.

Perhaps, more significant is the question of theoretical questions arising out of practical struggles. Does this mean that we are limited to examine only those issues which emerge from political struggle? Indeed what about those that transcend and mold the nature of intervention in the struggle? Isn’t that a theoretical question? One of the major theoretical questions today is how to win advanced workers to Marxist-Leninist thought, it is not simply a practical matter. The gap between the socialist movement and the worker’s struggle, if anything, is more real today that in the time of Lenin, and in order to even begin to address the problem, we need to raise on a theoretical level the problems involved. The PWOC formulation to see theoretical questions emerging from political work obscures the broader issue of whether the entire practical process is moving us any closer to that fusion of movements.

By way of an example: for the past fifteen years in my practical work experience countless comrades have made valiant efforts to construct a broad based socialist movement among auto workers. Despite their significant work, there is no more coherent movement opposed to the social democratic policies of the UAW, let alone the actions of auto corporations in bringing about a crisis in the wages and working conditions of auto workers. Moreover, in terms of party building there are not large numbers or even small numbers of workers closer to the development of a Marxist-Leninist perspective (on party building). Indeed, most definitions of “advanced workers,” employed in Marxist-Leninist circles barely relate to the reality of who people encounter in the plants.

From this experience the “fusion” approach by PWOC would argue that probably not enough was done or that the specific issues were taken on by “dogmatists” who did not relate the real concerns of workers to the party building process. This, even if true would not explain any of the real questions at hand. We need more of a correct theoretical understanding of the role of the UAW in the auto industry, the effect of the economic crisis upon the auto workers and many other questions before (and I use this term not to mean that no mass work should be done, indeed some mass work if summarized will aid in the analysis of the principal theoretical questions) any of the strategic or tactical questions can be answered. It does not matter if all the cadre are in the correct plant, if they cannot articulate a Marxist analysis of the trade union. And most important, this analysis will not emerge spontaneously from the workplace, it will only be developed by communists (whatever their class background) undertaking theoretical work. The very fact these questions are absent from immediate experiences makes them so significant. In other words the “real” theoretical questions are often those that do not emerge from day to day the mass struggles. But by understanding them, you can conduct the day to day struggles in a clearer, more correct fashion.

In other words, there is a relationship between theory and practice, but to understand that linkage you must first recognise that they are two separate distinct entities that cannot be merged into one. The refusal to recognize theoretical work as critical in itself, and the continual assertion that theoretical questions will grow out of mass work, seriously mis-reads what Lenin meant by fusion. Moreover, in our specific historical context it is particularly damaging. The problem of Marxist-Leninists in America is they cannot attract advanced workers to their ranks. This is not because they have not tried, but because what they said had little relevance to the working class. As a result we are content to pick off a few “advanced” workers i.e., some capable and sometimes not so capable people who are attracted for a number of reasons to join struggles and they become developed into the party building movement. Marxist-Leninism as a material force remains with no real effect upon the trade union movement and does not, except in some rare cases, need to be taken seriously. The only way out of this dilemma is some very clear thinking of what we are doing in trade union work–not simply “looking at our practice.”

The fundamental problem is the lack of theoretical clarity among American Marxist-Leninists and until it is met, the fusion perspective is bankrupt. This incorrect understanding “of fusion” lies at the heart of what is passing for the “white chauvinism campaign.” The initial perspective raised by PWOC and articulated through the Steering Committee’s plan for a conference of Minority Marxist-Leninists in June 1979 was precisely based on an “empirical” summary of practice: there were not enough minority people involved in the present party-building Trend forces.

It should be obvious that there is a need for struggling against racism, and it is incumbent upon any party building movement to recognize the ways chauvinism and racism effects not only mass work of comrades, but party building efforts. However, the question is how to take up that work, what to emphasize and the perspective which one brings to the questions involved. There are not to be answered by “looking at our mass work experience.”

The fusion perspective, as articulated by PWOC raised the question of racism among the Trend from the experience of its mass struggles, i.e., there are not enough national minority people active, or better yet, what can be done to politically link up struggles to involve black Marxist-Leninists. The PWOC posed the question only in the narrowest form; how can we gain a greater composition of black comrades in the Trend? The PWOC fusion perspective posed the question of racism in the Trend as a tactical one– we need more black cadre to proceed, so how do we attract them? In a real sense this method can be applied to the absence of significant sections of the working class, and the answers will probably be the same (there is some indication this is going on among Trend forces as there are signs of a new “anti-working class“ campaign).

Since the OCIC is concerned with composition, and has no political line that understands racism except to say it is important, then how would the fusion perspective answer the question posed: why are there not more black members to the Trend? Very simply, they are being kept out by the racists or racist practices now present. These must be rooted out first, so that black people can be attracted, and then the “real” theoretical questions can be asked. This approach has two major effects.

First, it reduces the struggle around racism to that of an internalized process of analysis of racist errors and holds back the development of theoretical or mass practice around racism.

Second, it makes the question of party building one of composition instead of theoretical correctness, or even practice. If we have the “requisite” number of blacks, workers, or any other “essential” group, then we can go ahead to form the party. The political views of these desired groups, or their overall commitment to party building are not as important as their willingness to participate. And this willingness to participate is dependent on how well the white petit bourgeois Trend members recognize their racism and proceed to “really” struggle within themselves to adopt new attitudes. Party building is reduced to a body count.

If these are the errors, how did this come about so easily? In large part the issue must rest with some of us who so uncritically not only accepted the fusion perspective (because it did discuss the interrelationship between mass work and party building), but did little to challenge their own theoretical backwardness. We were also too willing to reject those who were raising questions about “fusion” as basically intellectuals, or “people who have no practice,” without making clear that our own practice was often a substitute for our theoretical impoverishment. Finally, we sided with the process because we possessed a “new left” style of work which saw the “movement” raising and answering the questions, emphasizing the subjective factors as opposed to the objective conditions. In the sense, because we did not raise questions around fusion and tended to deflect the criticisms of others, we were unable to respond to the errors of the white chauvinism campaign and unable to see that the root of them lay in a policy that we had supported. In the absence of any agreed upon theoretical agenda, the call for fusion is a step away from the party building road.