Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Rafael, Scott and Norman

Line of March and the Anti-revisionist, Anti-“left” Opportunist Trend


A. The Events

MLEP is an educational institution, run by Line of March, which defines its task as educating active communists within the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend in the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism. MLEP, originally founded by the Union of Democratic Filipinos (KDP), is a national organization which is about three years old.

The struggle in this year’s Bay Area MLEP had rather humble origins, despite the heat which it ultimately generated. A woman in one of the study circles complained that some of the concepts which other students had been using were too advanced for the level of study. Rafael, a working-class Latino in the same study circle, disagreed and argued that the study should not be reduced to the lowest common denominator. Another student in the study circle, a paid functionary of Line of March, criticized Rafael, asserting that his comment had been elitist and sexist, and that his tone of voice had been abusive. Rafael strongly disagreed with this criticism. However, the woman who had made the initial complaint, a cadre of KDP, insisted that she had been grievously insulted, almost broke out in tears, and succeeded in getting the entire study circle to agree with the criticism of Rafael, with the exception of Rafael and Scott, a white worker.

After this incident there were several more discussions at subsequent meetings concerning this criticism. Some members of the study circle proceeded to elaborate further complaints about Rafael’s allegedly elitist and sexist behavior, although these complaints were quite vague. The study leaders actively encouraged this development. Rafael and Scott became increasingly frustrated with what was perceived to be a decided tendency for the study circle to take on the characteristics of a petty-bourgeois encounter group, using Rafael as a scapegoat for the circle’s need of emotional catharsis. As even the MLEP leadership had to later admit, the study circle quickly developed an “instinctive” antagonism towards Rafael, and later towards Scott.

That such a minor criticism, whether valid or not, could provoke such an extended controversy is only an indication of the subjectivism and petty-bourgeois moralism within the U.S. left. Finally, after this controversy had boiled for several weeks, two of the students in the study circle disrupted a meeting to criticize Rafael for reading a Guardian newspaper during a discussion (not an uncommon practice for MLEP students in the long study sessions). At this provocation, Rafael finally exploded and began yelling that he was tired of this kind of petty criticism, and that he was not going to put up with it any more. The meeting proceeded, but the situation had clearly reached crisis proportions.

Rafael and Scott then attempted to take up this problem with the Bay Area MLEP leadership, hoping to get a more objective airing of the situation than was possible in the emotion-charged atmosphere of their study circle. The MLEP leadership met with Rafael and Scott once, but refused to seriously consider any criticism of the process unfolding in the study circle. Instead, they responded by encouraging a rumor-mongering campaign of slander about the alleged racism, sexism and elitist of Rafael. Scott was also a target of this campaign, for the sole reason that he had joined Rafael in a critique of the process of struggle within the study circle. At the same time, the MLEP leadership attempted to divide Rafael and Scott, refusing to meet further with them together, and proposing to conduct separate “all-sided” evaluations of Rafael and Scott’s political practice inside and outside of MLEP. This proposal was made despite the fact that none of the MLEP leadership had any serious common practice with either Rafael or Scott on which to base this “all-sided” evaluation, much less any clear political standards on which to base such an evaluation.

At this point, Rafael, Scott and Norman, a black working-class member of a separate MLEP study circle, wrote a paper outlining our view of what was going on, and presented it to the MLEP leadership. Norman joined Rafael and Scott in this project because he had seen similar tendencies in his own study circle. The MLEP leadership responded to this paper by declaring that the criticisms of their line and practice were wrong, and that our paper was not written in the spirit of unity. They announced that they were going to immediately write a reply to our paper, and organize an MLEP-wide meeting to defend their line and practice. Privately, we were informed by the MLEP leadership that we would have little input into the structure of this meeting, and that they would not even schedule it to make sure that all three of us could attend. When we tried to explain this to other MLEP students, we were called liars by the leadership.

By this time the emotional level in Rafael and Scott’s study circle had been whipped up to the point of near-hysteria. At a special meeting of the study circle, called allegedly to prepare for the MLEP-wide meeting, two members of the Editorial Board of Line of March showed up unannounced, although they had previously, to our knowledge, had nothing to do with this struggle. The MLEP leadership laid out its position, claiming that the essence of this struggle was that Rafael had been unwilling to admit to his allegedly elitist and sexist behavior, and that Scott had “blocked” with Rafael and provided him with a “theoretical cover”. Before the meeting had gotten half-way through its agenda, one of the members of the Editorial Board cut in and announced that the National MLEP leadership was upset with Rafael and Scott’s refusal to show any “movement”. He then declared that the National MLEP leadership was going to take action to “resolve” this problem. A few days later Rafael and Scott were informed verbally that they were being expelled from MLEP, effective immediately.

Now that Rafael and Scott had been removed from the scene, the MLEP leadership delivered on its promised written reply to our paper. This reply, predictably, was crammed full of crass distortions of our views, but of course neither Rafael nor Scott were around to question their erroneous assertions. The MLEP reply summed up this struggle by baldly asserting that we were unwilling to struggle against racism, sexism and anti-working class bias, that we were opposed to the collective process, and that we were anti-communist.

Last, but not least, the MLEP leadership held their special MLEP-wide meeting to present their views. Rafael and Scott were barred from attending. Norman, who was still a member of MLEP, was allowed to present our views, but was met with a series of highly-subjective accounts of the events in Rafael and Scott’s study circle which he obviously could only discuss second-hand. In addition, the MLEP leadership allowed him to be interrupted at several points, and gave a nod to considerable snickering and some open ridicule. Norman asked for this meeting to be taped, as had previous MLEP general meetings, but was told that this could not be done for “security reasons”. Simply put, this meeting amounted to little more than a kangaroo court, held in abstencia, and after the sentence had already been decided and meted out.

B. MLEP’s Line on “Ideological Struggle”

The reader is entitled to ask just how such a travesty could have been foisted upon the entire membership of MLEP with so little opposition. To answer this question, we must examine the ideological, theoretical and political justifications which the MLEP leadership used to defend their line and practice, and demonstrate how they conciliated with the inexperience and weak class stand of many of the MLEP students. We will break this down into three sections. First, we will discuss MLEP’s definition of “ideological struggle; second, their concept of “strategic relations”; and third, their understanding of collectivity.

The Definition of “Ideological Struggle”: The controversy in MLEP was exacerbated by the repeated assertions of the MLEP leadership that this affair was an important “ideological struggle” which required serious attention from all concerned. Curiously, the MLEP leaders used an operative definition of “ideological struggle” which was restricted to questions of interpersonal relations. While the criticisms of Rafael and Scott’s behavior were alleged to be part of an “ideological struggle”, all other work in MLEP, from elaboration of the meaning of dialectical materialism to discussion of the dictatorship of the proletariat, was categorized as distinct “theoretical work”. Thus the MLEP leaders tore the criticisms of Rafael and Scott completely out of the context of the far broader ideological tasks before both MLEP and the communist movement, and magnified the seeming importance of these criticisms a hundredfold.

Operating under this confused definition, Rafael and Scott’s study circle was increasingly led to view the study of the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism as nearly impossible until this alleged “ideological struggle” had been resolved. But since we did not agree with the petty and vague criticisms that had been made, first of Rafael and later of Scott, there was no way to resolve this controversy. At this, the whole study circle was thrown into despair.

The MLEP leadership’s explanation of this phenomenon was that Rafael and Scott were mere academics who were “unwilling to engage in ideological struggle”. This became the refrain, repeated time and time again, implanted by the MLEP leadership in the minds of the study circle. It did not matter how many hours we spent discussing this situation with the study circle, with the study leaders, or with the MLEP leadership. Since we would not agree with the criticism made of us, and continued to object to the subjective process that was unfolding, was it not obvious that we were unwilling to engage in ideological struggle? Such was the picture painted by the MLEP leadership.

While the MLEP leaders employed an original theoretical device, this tactic is a familiar one. There is a long history in the U.S. left of investing such inflated importance to a group’s interpersonal dynamics, and of distorting the process of criticism/self-criticism into a near-mystical, purgative rite that draws upon all the subjectivism, sentimentality, pity and guilt that are the hallmark of petty-bourgeois moralism. In short, the grossest kinds of squabbling are transformed into the most serious political controversies, while the most significant political differences are viewed as mere squabbling.

“Strategic Relations”: The centerpiece of the MLEP leadership’s defense of their line and practice was their concept of “strategic relations”. According to the MLEP leadership, all the forces who are “objectively” part of the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend share these strategic relations. When Rafael and Scott, in the midst of the struggle within their study circle, protested that they did not understand or accept this concept, this was taken as a sure sign of their elitism, sexism and racism.

The precise meaning of these strategic relations was never made clear by the MLEP leadership. In one of MLEP’s introductory papers, strategic relations is explained as the “struggle for higher levels of unity”, the need to “tear down the barriers within our movement”, the necessity of building “strategic ties stage by stage”, etc. “The building of strategic relations within our movement has been an important arena of struggle in deepening our unity as comrades, enabling us to accomplish the political and theoretical goals of MLEP.” Such vagaries result in strategic relations meaning any number of things to all people at any given time. Yet this concept was presented to the MLEP students as if it were a scientific category that true Marxist-Leninists would not dare to challenge. Of course, one could search the classics of Marxism-Leninism in vain for any reference to strategic relations or anything even similar.

Long after Rafael and Scott had been expelled from MLEP, in large part based on their refusal to support the concept of strategic relations, the MLEP leadership was still struggling for a definition of this concept. At their final summation meeting in June, over three months after Rafael and Scott had been expelled, they admitted that the definition of strategic relations still needed “more work”.

It would seem obvious that any supposed strategic relations should at least be based on the acceptance of some common political strategy. Yet the rectificationists, more so even than most others within the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend, admit that our movement lacks anything even approaching a common political strategy. In fact, the political unity of this trend is limited to a rather short list of what it is not; not revisionist, not ultra-“left”, not Trotskyite, not “Maoist”. There is even substantial disagreement over the meaning of these terms. This lack of common strategy is implicit in the recognition of the absence of a general line sufficient for reestablishing the party, much less contending for state power. We are not even unified around a common strategy for reestablishing the party. To confuse matters more, the concept of strategic relations is stretched to include such forces as the Communist Labor Party (CLP), who the rectificationists claim are “objectively” in the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend, despite the fact that they long-ago constituted themselves into a separate political party.

That the need for firm political unity could so easily be replaced by the concept of strategic relations is a sad reflection of the immaturity of the communist movement in the U.S. We must learn to recognize that the process of reestablishing a genuine communist party is going to be far less simple than just “transforming the Trend into a communist party”, as the rectificationists have been putting it lately. This is sheer idealism, for it assumes a degree of political unity that simply does not yet exist.

In practice, MLEP’s conception of strategic relations was destructive within Rafael and Scott’s study circle. From the very first moment, it served to foster among the students a whole series of false expectations about the depth of their political unity. Although neither Rafael nor Scott had previously met any of the other students in their study circle, and barely knew each other, they were all expected to have already been bound together by some deep and everlasting political tie. Given the absence of any firm political basis for this kind of relationship, it was hardly surprising that strains could develop so easily. Given the absence of even common practice among many of the students, it is not surprising that these strains could develop from the most minor and insignificant incidents, both real and imagined. The result was an “ideological struggle” shrouded in the unfortunate political rhetoric of “strategic relations”.

The concept of strategic relations serves the aspirations of the leaders of the rectification movement by fostering organizational ties among aspiring Marxist-Leninists based, not on common politics, but on instinct and personal trust. It is a theoretical excuse for placing organization above politics, and can lead to the most narrow form of sectarian manipulation imaginable, as was concretely demonstrated by the struggle in MLEP. Since, so the theory goes, we are all opposed to revisionism and ultra-“leftism”, doesn’t it follow that we must have strategic relations? If your answer is no, then you are refusing to be “accountable” to the trend, and are, ipso facto, a bourgeois individualist. This line of argument thoroughly confuses the distinct categories of strategy, tactics and political relations.

In this light, it is interesting to examine a recent statement by the Editorial Board of Line of March, contained in their pamphlet, “The OCIC’s Phony War Against White Chauvinism and the Demise of the Fusion Line”, on page 41:

...with the development of the rectification movement, the terrain on which our trend’s future maturation will proceed has already been established. Ideologically our trend has already become accountable to more advanced communist criteria. Politically our trend is achieving its correct focus – rectification of the U.S. communist movement’s general line. Organizationally, the key institutions for an all-sided, all-embracing rectification movement are already in place. (our italics)

One can only assume that the organizations which the Editorial Board are claiming are “already in place” are Line of March, MLEP, their various associated study projects, and the organizations led by rectification forces such as the National Anti-Racist Organizing Committee (NAROC), the Northern California Alliance (NCA), etc. Of course, it is a condition of participation in any of these rectification organizations that comrades recognize their “strategic relations” with the Editorial Board of Line of March. Otherwise, one will sooner or later find yourself outside of “the terrain on which our trend’s future maturation will proceed.”

Ironically, this arrangement bears no small resemblance to the schemes of the leaders of the OCIC. The OCIC claimed that it was necessary for all of the forces in the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend to unite organizationally in the OCIC in order to subsequently establish a political basis for unity. This, of course, turns politics on its head. The rectificationists version, on the other hand, is that the prerequisite for political unity is not a particular organizational form, but the recognition of strategic relations. This also turns politics on its head, but not quite so nakedly. While the OCIC declares any forces who refuse to affiliate with their organization to be sectarian, the rectificationists attempt to read out of the trend all those who refuse to recognize their strategic relations with the Editorial Board of Line of March.

The concept of strategic relations is, in the final analysis, the rectificationists version of that old call for “unity” of the revolutionary movement before the actual political basis for genuine unity has been laid. It is the tried and true tactic of those budding leadership groups who think that they have established sufficient hegemony over a broad-enough base to get away with such a call for unity, of course behind their leadership. They stretch the particular contributions which they have made into a claim to be the vanguard of the revolution in the U.S., long before they, or anybody else, has even the remotest right to this position.

The Collective Process: Another accusation leveled at us was that we were “displaying contempt for the collective process”.

Collectivity – putting the whole above any of the individual parts – is a goal which nearly all of the organizations of the new left and the new communist movement have set for themselves. This has been both a reaction to the bourgeois individualism that is fostered by competitive capitalism, and a recognition that the tasks of waging a struggle to overthrow capitalism will require the maximum participation and effort of literally millions of people.

However, collectivity has often been vulgarized, misunderstood and grossly abused. More than a few new left and new communist organizations have fallen into the trap of ultra-democracy, fearful of not fulfilling the collective ideal. The result, of course, is neither democracy nor collectivity.

MLEP makes just such a deviation towards ultra-democracy in their so-called process of “ideological struggle”, that is struggle over interpersonal dynamics. They postulate that whenever a student has a criticism of another student, the only proper way to deal with this is to bring the criticism first to the study circle as a whole, and discuss it fully. It is then the “collective” responsibility of the study circle, as a whole, to decide if the criticism is correct or not, and worth discussing further.

One must keep in mind that this is in a study circle, not an ongoing collective or political organization. As such, MLEP study circles include students of widely varied backgrounds and stages of development, from those who have just begun to look to the science of Marxism-Leninism, to those who are quite theoretically-developed.

This frank encouragement of ultra-democracy in the process of “ideological struggle” is an abdication of the responsibility on the part of the MLEP leadership to guide the process of criticism/self-criticism. It opens the door to endless talk fests about sometimes minor, sometimes major, and sometimes imagined incidents. It gives a green light to the most backward forms of subjectivity, moralism and petty squabbling, while making light of any serious attempt to objectify criticism.

Alternatively, we proposed to the MLEP leadership that once a serious criticism is raised, the study leaders should make an objective investigation and assessment before there is extended discussion by the study circle. The MLEP leadership rejected this suggestion out of hand.

While the MLEP leadership encourages this ultra-democratic process of “ideological struggle”, the “theoretical work” of MLEP is directed by a highly-centralized process. There is relatively little input by the students of which works are to be read, of the amount of time to be spent on particular subjects, or on the process of discussing this material, except in after-the-fact summations. We have no quarrel with this, provided of course that the MLEP leaders are qualified for their responsibilities, and that provision is made for opposing viewpoints on unsettled theoretical questions to be aired. Students who are studying the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism generally need strong guidance, and should be given it.

But, just as many MLEP students are new to the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism, many are also new to the group dynamics required to do genuinely collective study and work. It should be apparent to an experienced leadership that such students require firm guidance in order to properly conduct criticism/self-criticism. The MLEP leadership, however, showed no interest in providing this guidance. Quite the contrary, they actively encouraged the grossest forms of ultra-democracy, as well as outright rumor-mongering and character assassination.

This process took on a particularly strange form as the result of the introduction by the MLEP leadership of a concept which we dubbed the “impact thesis”. According to the MLEP leadership, if a minority or woman student feels that an action “impacted” them in a racist or sexist way, this is sufficient basis for establishing the objective existence of a racist or sexist dynamic. It does not require a great deal of astuteness to recognize that this thesis thoroughly negates the need for any kind of objective assessment, and completely throws materialism out the window. Simply put, the belief that a racist or sexist dynamic is in operation doesn’t make it so.

Of course, there is no doubt that minority and women students are generally more capable of recognizing racism and sexism than white or male students. But this concept of “impacting” goes far beyond this recognition. It is instead a very crass form of paternalism, which puts certain minority and women students on a pedestal, and actually discourages critical thinking on the part of students of all races, nationalities and sexes.

At times, especially in individual discussions with us, the MLEP leaders would be quite frank about this strange idea. At other times they would deny holding to this conception, while practicing it nonetheless. When pushed, they would claim that the perception by a single student of an alleged racist or sexist dynamic did not make it so, but that the perception by a majority of a study circle did. “How else can we decide?” we would be asked. For instance, as this struggle developed, there were repeated references to our line and practice having been “proven wrong” by virtue of the fact that the study circle had been won to the view that our practice was racist, sexist and elitist. This is sheer ultra-democracy and idealism – reality could now be determined by consensus, rather than by material analysis. Or, as any liberal knows, the majority is always right.

Probably the best example of the fruits of this process took place in Norman’s study circle. A white, male student stated during the course of discussion that he disagreed on a particular theoretical point with another student, a theoretically-developed KDP woman cadre. The white student was then accused of making a racist comment by disagreeing with the KDP student! This allegation was not based on the content of his disagreement with her, nor on any evident hostility, but was based simply on the fact that he had disagreed with a minority student.

The white student was then directed that in the future he should not be so blunt as to say that he disagreed with a minority student. Instead he should say something to the effect that “I don’t think I understand your point fully.”

We know this may be hard for the reader to believe, but it is true. While this gross example was certainly not the norm in MLEP, the fact that it could happen at all, pass virtually uncriticized, and even be given the approval of the MLEP leadership, is indicative of the paternalism fostered by the MLEP leadership, under the rubric of “collectivity” and “ideological struggle”.

MLEP’s Line on “Ideological Struggle” Summed Up: The theoretical and political justifications which the MLEP leadership used to defend their line and practice during the struggle with Rafael and Scott are an eclectic grabbag of assorted deviations from the science of Marxism-Leninism. Their botched definition of ideological struggle, their confused concept of strategic relations, the ultra-democracy and idealism inherent in their misuse of the collective process, the paternalism which they foster – all this is testimony to the political muddle which results from allowing the sectarian impulse to dominate political line. Instead of appealing to the interests of the working class to conduct a genuine rectification of the general line of the communist movement, they end up appealing to the most backward prejudices of the petty-bourgeois base of the present communist movement. This is a road which leads nowhere but back into the old sectarian swamp of the new left and the new communist movement.