Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Line of March Editorial Board

The OCIC’s Phony War Against White Chauvinism and the Demise of the Fusion Line

Clay Newlin

The Second Crisis of U.S. Anti-Revisionism

Only five years after its first crisis, the anti-revisionist movement is again facing a moment of truth. In 1975, the civil war in Angola provided a critical test of our movement’s commitment to proletarian internationalism. In 1980 we have come up against what is likely to prove to be an equally decisive test of our commitment to building a genuinely proletarian vanguard.

On its face, this second crisis would appear to have been initiated by the leadership of the Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center (OCIC). Based on the resolutions of its Second National Conference, the OCIC’s Steering Committee (SC) decided to undertake a vigorous campaign against white chauvinism in the communist movement. As an initial step, the SC encouraged a process of criticism and self-criticism of racist practices within the OCIC.

This relatively modest initiative has been met with a veritable storm of defensiveness, protest and opposition. Many white comrades have gone to unusual lengths to avoid facing their errors–and particularly the white chauvinist ideology that lies beneath them. Comrades have not been above attempting to shift the blame for errors to other cadre, stonewalling criticisms and even lying. And some have fallen into long periods of demoralization, depression, and self-pity.

Out of the effort to justify avoiding confronting racist errors, a racist line has begun to emerge. It is argued that criticisms of white chauvinist practice should await the development of political line on national oppression in U.S. society and how to combat it. The old theses that white chauvinism is the main block to multinational unity in the party-building movement and that racism is a qualitatively larger problem than sexism in our movement have been challenged. Some maintain that something other than white chauvinism (they do not know what!) underlies racist practice. And some have even gone so far as to assert that the campaign against white chauvinism is nothing more than a sinister SC ploy to avoid responsibility for the “theoretical and practical collapse of the fusion party building line.”

As could be expected, the major opposition centers within the anti-“left” tendency have all been eager to capitalize on this white chauvinist reaction. Shifting its focus from defense of organizational opportunism, ultra-democracy and federationism, Theoretical Review has resigned from the OCIC in order to more effectively rally those opposing the SC’s campaign. The Guardian has recently come out of retirement and attempted to reassert itself as a force in the party-building movement by championing white chauvinism. And finally Line of March has thrown its hat into the ring with a broadside attack on the campaign.

But the most remarkable feature of the current crisis is the number of those who have given up on communism as a result of the struggle. Approximately 100 people have voluntarily quit the OCIC rather than participate in the campaign. The bulk of these comrades have not regrouped behind any of the centers of opposition but have decided to abandon Marxism-Leninism outright.

The significance of this development should be noted. It is in the first place a confirmation of the importance of the campaign. For the fact that comrades who are challenged to face their own white and petty-bourgeois chauvinism see fit to give up on Marxism-Leninism is a clear statement of what “communism” meant to them.

No, communism was not first and foremost a doctrine embracing the leading role of the working class and national minorities in the U.S. social revolution. It was rather a doctrine which justified their view that they had a secure right to place themselves at the head of the proletarian line of march (no pun intended!).

But at an even deeper level it is also a clear indictment of the fundamental weakness of the existing communist movement. By their practice those who have left have said, “I was with you in the struggle against ’left’ internationalism. I stood by you in the struggle to construct a single center for our tendency. But now when you demand that I apply Marxism to combatting my own white and petty-bourgeois chauvinism, I must draw the line. I supported Marxism as a theory of transforming national minorities and workers into revolutionaries, but I draw the line at the demand that I too must change.”

What kind of communist movement is it that when challenged to combat white and petty-bourgeois chauvinism in its ranks suffers not only extensive opposition but even a mass of resignations? How hollow is our claim to developing a vanguard character if many of our comrades would rather give up on communism than systematically support the view that national minorities and workers are indeed capable of taking their destinies in their own hands!!

Progress Comes Slowly

While opposition to the campaign has risen quickly and dramatically, forward progress has been painfully slow. Though the majority of white and petty-bourgeois OCIC comrades have been willing to face up to the white chauvinism in the communist movement, their understanding of how to combat it is only at a beginning level. This necessarily compromises not only their ability to advance their own practice but to struggle with other white and petty-bourgeois comrades as well.

In addition, national minority and working class comrades, while finding new struggle and respect from their white and petty-bourgeois counterparts, have barely begun to break with their own internalized views of inferiority. As a result many continue to hold back from asserting their equality and leadership in practice. Some, rather than face their capitulation, have even joined the ranks of white petty-bourgeois flight. The effect of these weaknesses is inevitably to further conciliate white and petty-bourgeois chauvinism among party-builders.

The slow, and as yet tenuous, advances in the struggle against white chauvinism on both the white and national minority sides of the fence can only feed opposition to the campaign. The real bedrock of opposition to the campaign is the unspoken but nonetheless firmly entrenched view that the campaign constitutes an unwarranted abuse of the white and petty-bourgeois comrades in our movement.

“Yes,” this view maintains, “white and petty-bourgeois chauvinism are a problem. But the supporters of the campaign really go overboard when they assert that national minority and working class comrades are fully capable of assuming the leadership of the communist movement at this stage of its development. Maybe at some point they can. . . after the party has been formed, perhaps. . . but they are not ready now. To struggle so hard to promote their leadership now is clearly idealist and only discriminates against white and petty-bourgeois intellectuals.”

To the extent that white chauvinism continues to operate and national minority comrades continue to capitulate to it, this view receives empirical verification. With so many white and petty-bourgeois comrades in a tailspin on the one hand and national minority and working class comrades slow to step forward on the other, it can only appear that the campaign is indeed Utopian.

Thus while opposition–in both its covert and more open forms–is large, support for the campaign rests on a narrow and relatively fragile base. For a number of reasons this is likely to continue to be the case in the near future.

The history of the communist movement does provide both theoretical groundwork for and some positive practical experience in combatting white chauvinism. But both the theoretical and the practical legacy are flawed and reflect clearly the weaknesses of the historical period in which they were developed. Thus, this legacy cannot be merely transposed to the present day; it must be significantly updated.

And significantly even the positive history of the Communist Party’s struggle against white chauvinism is largely unknown, and what is known, little understood. Nothing attests to this better than the fact that the SC of the OCIC is the first and only force in the 23-year history of the anti-revisionist movement to put the question of combatting white chauvinism among communists squarely on our party-building agenda.

Moreover, given the strength of white and petty-bourgeois chauvinism in our movement, no campaign can possibly produce substantial changes in the next period. The first year of the campaign has been largely devoted to getting comrades to take the question seriously. And whatever further progress can be expected, it will clearly be nothing so dramatic as the continuing flight from the struggle is likely to be.

United Front Opposes SC

It should be further noted that for the first time the SC is faced with a united front of its competitors. Theoretical Review, the Guardian, and Line of March all share essential unity in opposition to the campaign. They have even taken up each other’s arguments in order to solidify their common front.

And not only do these theoretical defenders of white chauvinism have essential unity, but they can count on broad opposition to the campaign on the left. However low the standards of our movement, the norms on the left are generally even lower.

To see just how low, consider the example of the Coalition for a People’s Alternative. The coalition is a broad-based but progressive organization dedicated to assembling an electoral alternative to the Democrats and Republicans. But in this formation every attempt to accord the struggle against racism its true central importance met determined resistance. In fact, the coalition finally settled on a perspective which objectively ranked racism and prejudice against the handicapped as equal in political significance.

This extremely shallow grasp of the centrality of racism makes the left fertile soil for the SC’s critics. Opposition to the campaign clearly sells better than support for it. Take note, for example, of the Guardian’s exploitation of petty-bourgeois feminism to mobilize opposition to the campaign.

Thus, the SC’s fight against white chauvinism is likely to face continued opposition. It is still supported by the bulk of OCIC members, but that support is, as we have shown, compromised. And beyond it, the campaign faces a nearly solid wall of opposition.

Just how precarious is the base of support for the campaign should be especially clear if account is taken of the racial and class composition of our tendency. The overwhelmingly white character of our tendency clearly compromises our ability to continue and deepen the campaign. A larger number of national minority cadre would clearly not only heighten the pressure on white comrades to take up their racism but also undermine those pressures which currently foster conciliation of white chauvinism by national minority comrades.

While less obvious, the effects of class composition are even more profound. Though predominately white, our tendency is almost exclusively petty-bourgeois. This means that the base for petty-bourgeois chauvinism is both extremely broad and cuts across racial lines. National minority comrades in the tendency are thus no more immune to class prejudice than the bulk of white cadre.

The base for petty-bourgeois chauvinism can only reinforce white chauvinism. The class prejudices of national minority comrades inevitably tend to dovetail with and reinforce the white chauvinism of white comrades.

As a result, it is not uncommon for a white comrade and national minority cadre to share essentially the same view of, say, a Black worker. White comrades think that a Black worker is incapable of becoming a leader of the communist movement because of his race. National minority comrades view the same worker as being incapable because of his class. Thus, though coming from different forms of chauvinism, both the white and the national minority comrade share agreement on the essential point–that is, the Black worker is qualitatively inferior to those presently predominant in the movement.

Unstable Allies

The petty-bourgeois class basis of our tendency, however, is not just a factor reinforcing the potential base for white chauvinism. More than anything else, it accounts for the extreme defensiveness, theoretical slush, tendency-wide opposition and white flight brought forth by the campaign.

Marxism has always held that the petty-bourgeoisie is at best an unstable ally of the working class. The oppression of this stratum at the hands of monopoly capital does impel it toward an alliance with- the working class. This is, of course, fundamental.

But at the same time the petty-bourgeoisie fears the proletariat. It is afraid that the working class will deprive it of the petty privileges it has derived from its social status intermediate between the workers and the bourgeoisie. It thus tends to waver in its allegiance to the proletarian cause.

Historically, our movement (both white and national minority) evolved as the left-wing of this class. Radicalized by the experiences of the civil rights, anti-war and student movement, we gradually decided to abandon the ruling class and cast our lot with the proletariat.

Though consciously breaking with the bourgeoisie, we have only begun to break with the petty bourgeois mentality of our class, nor would we have been likely to do so earlier. Much of our political experience, our daily lives and our theoretical inadequacies have served to reinforce that mentality. Unfortunately, those who do not have the petty privileges associated with the rest of our former class are the exception and not the rule.

Moreover, little even in our history as communists has fundamentally challenged the commonly held view that our class privileges are principally a function of our greater intelligence and humanity and not of the greater exploitation of the working class. On the whole we have not seen the masses of workers in this country affirm their revolutionary (and this in the finest sense intelligent and human) potentials on a broad scale. And the few flashes of this potential that we have observed have soon become smothered by mountains of contrary propaganda.

Up until recently our petty-bourgeois conceit had not fundamentally been challenged. So while giving lip service to the view that the working class is the vanguard of revolution in U.S. society, we continue to maintain in practice that it was we, the petty-bourgeois intellectuals, that were the true and rightful leaders of the revolution.

The campaign against white and petty-bourgeois chauvinism comes as the first forthright challenge of this prejudice. It has challenged white and petty-bourgeois comrades on the one hand and national minority and working class cadre on the other to actualize their expressed commitment to the leading role of the workers.

That a sharp and forthright confrontation of these prejudices should provoke a tendency-wide crisis should, then, really come as no surprise. The ideas of white and class superiority are deeply ingrained in our society and are systematically buttressed by the most sophisticated propaganda machine ever developed by a ruling class.

For a Proletarian Vanguard

Inevitably, such ideas would find especially fertile soil in a movement whose class position was already in some measure based on privilege. And just as inevitably it will take a sharp and protracted struggle to root them out.

The campaign against white and petty-bourgeois chauvinism has taken up this task. It is indeed only in its initial and beginning stages. In the short run it is clear that the ranks of the opposition will continue to grow and that their defense of white chauvinism will become ever more bold. It is also likely that there will continue to be doubts and vacillation within, and even defection from, the ranks of those pushing forward the campaign.

Instead of losing heart as a result of these developments and being swept away by them, they should be seen as the inevitable result of a movement compromised by both its history of toleration of white and petty-bourgeois chauvinism and its class composition. Our recognition of the extent of these weaknesses should only cause us to become even more determined to overcome them.

For fundamentally the struggle we are waging is a definitive test of the vanguard potential of our movement. By following through on it we will demonstrate that we are truly committed to forging a proletarian vanguard and not just one more petty-bourgeois sect!

9 December 1980