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

I. The Campaign Against White Chauvinism

Beyond a doubt the crisis in the OCIC has been precipitated by its ill-fated Campaign Against White Chauvinism. Although the OC malady cannot be reduced simply to this latest negative development, the campaign represents the most concentrated expression of the underlying problems which characterize the OCIC process and the fusion line in general. In addition, the campaign provides a unique opportunity tojudge the political capacities of the OC center in analyzing one of the central contradictions in the U.S. class struggle–the struggle against racism. The campaign’s gross mishandling, both theoretically and practically, of this contradiction is a telling indication of the opportunism in the line and practice of the OCIC.

The Steering Committee of the OC itself has chosen to thrust this controversy to the forefront of any general assessment of the OCIC through their stubborn defense of the Campaign Against White Chauvinism in the face of mounting criticism. The OC leadership has equated the defense of this particular campaign with the defense of the OCIC, of the fusion line, and for that matter, the proletariat. Forexample,Newlin asserts (Reply to Open Letter, Guardian, November 26, 1980) that the ex-OCIC members who criticized the campaign were opposing “the sole attempt ever made to forthrightly confront white chauvinism among anti-revisionists” and that they “objectively advocate a moratorium on the process of criticizing racist errors.” Aside from being self-serving and highly dubious, Newlin’s attempt to equate opposition to the OCIC’s particular Campaign Against White Chauvinism with general opposition to conducting the struggle against racism is the height of demagogy. Clay Newlin has even gone to the extent of implying that the defense of the Campaign Against White Chauvinism constitutes a line of demarcation with all those who refuse to take up the struggle against racism:

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. (The Organizer, December 1980.)

Most comrades will correctly conclude that to equate the struggle over the OC’s Campaign Against White Chauvinism to the significance of the struggle over Angola is, to say the least, somewhat pretentious, indicating the extent to which the OCIC leadership has lost touch with reality. But is also reveals the depths of the sectarianism which has now enveloped the OCIC. If nothing else, it establishes that no serious analysis of the errors of the OCIC can be taken up without an in-depth examination and critique of the Campaign Against White Chauvinism.

Racism in the U.S. Communist Movement

Clearly racism is a problem central to U.S. life. As a particular form of capitalist oppression, it has qualitatively impacted the class structure, politics and culture of this country from its origins. Consequently the struggle against racism must be at the heart of both the theory and practice of the U.S revolution. It follows that the struggle against racism must also be taken up within the revolutionary ranks. Communists are not immune from the noxious influence of racism because they are products of the very societies they attempt to change. In taking up this struggle in a serious and responsible manner, we must begin by examining the historical experience of the U.S. communist movement and the more particular legacy of our trend from the New Left and the New Communist Movement.

The Communist Party USA (CPUSA) accumulated rich experience in recruiting minority cadre, integrating communist ranks and struggling against white chauvinism, experience which reflected the quality of its political line and work in the mass anti-racist struggles of the time. However the continuity of the U.S. communist movement was qualitatively broken by the 1960s as the revisionist line crippled the party, rendering it incapable of seizing the center of the spontaneous anti-racist and anti-war movements and harnessing the revolutionary forces which stepped forward. Consequently a whole generation of U.S. revolutionaries had to find their own way, through trial and error, to Marxism-Leninism. In the course of this process, the spontaneous impulse toward racial separation, reflecting the deep racial divisions within the broader U.S. society, gained substantial headway within the revolutionary and communist movement. This impulse toward racial and national separation, in turn, contributed to the fragmentation and primitiveness of Marxist-Leninist ranks. The party building efforts, in the early ’70s, of the New Communist Movement began to challenge somewhat this tendency theoretically and practically. However the overall “left” infantile character of Maoism stunted the growth and development of this trend, preventing it from fully grasping its party building tasks and achieving qualitative breakthroughs in a number of crucial areas, including the task of drawing minorities to Marxism-Leninism and thoroughly integrating the communist ranks.

Unfortunately, this is our legacy and the struggle against racism within our trend must be placed in this context. Any responsible campaign against white chauvinism should reflect an appreciation for this history and these conditions.

The majority of forces within our trend are relatively inexperienced practically and undeveloped theoretically. Many of the more experienced communists forged in the mass struggles of the ’60s have failed to break with “left” opportunism or have fallen out of political life into cynicism in the course of all the twists and turns of the New Communist Movement. Many of the local organizations and collectives which make up our trend are all white or overwhelmingly white, with negligible collective experience in the anti-racist struggle, or none at all. The minority communists in our trend, on the other hand, have generally gained their principal political experience in the anti-racist struggle and have survived the New Communist Movement through either functioning as “independents” for years or developing within revolutionary organizations based principally within minority communities.

It is with activists from such diverse political backgrounds that we are attempting to forge a Marxist-Leninist trend and mature it eventually into a party. Central to this process is directing the collective attention of our trend to the knotty theoretical, political and practical problems which have kept Marxist-Leninists from the center of the anti-racist struggle for many years. Simultaneously, we must take steps to thoroughly integrate the communist movement. This entails carefully addressing the inevitable contradictions which will emerge among communists stemming from racist dynamics and incidents. The correct handling of these contradictions is crucially important, especially in light of the legacy of relative racial separation and gross mishandling of this problem inherited from the ’60s.

These are the complexities which objectively condition both the OCIC’s Campaign Against White Chauvinism and our movement’s judgment of it.

Is the OCIC in Need of A Campaign Against White Chauvinism?

Certainly we are not calling for the OCIC to declare a moratorium on the struggle against racism within its ranks. In fact, in our opinion, the OCIC has been in dire need of a thoroughgoing campaign against racism for quite some time now. From its earliest days there were fairly conspicuous indications that the OC leadership was grossly ill-equipped to handle the contradiction of racist dynamics within the OCIC correctly. The OCIC leadership consistently displayed a marked propensity to swing from the grossest insensitivity to the problem over to the most emotional and demagogic appeals reminiscent of the SDS/ Weatherman/Prairie Fire syndrome.

The OC founding conference (at which two members of our present Editorial Board were observers) was already a forewarning of things to come. At this meeting the party building line struggle with MINP-E1 Comite was conducted in a most perfunctary manner, characterized by both liberalism and manipulation. The mishandling of this political struggle had obvious racist overtones. At stake was the withdrawal of the largest organized formation of Puerto Rican activists within our trend from what was regarded by the OCIC leadership as the center of the party building movement. And yet, on the part of Newlin and the other initiators of the conference there was a clear reluctance to draw out the issues involved and to wage a principled struggle over MINP’s views. Ironically while this racist practice was swept under the rug, the same conference was later disrupted when Clay Newlin opposed electing an OCIC Steering Committee based solely upon “group representation,” arguing simplistically that it would be racist since most minority cadre “stood outside” organized trend collectives. Although we agreed with Newlin’s organizational point against a federationist approach to electing a communist center, as well as the fact that many minority cadre remained hesitant to join all-white collectives, the atmosphere created around this struggle was principally moralistic, playing more upon the guilt of white comrades rather than their grasp of Marxism-Leninism. In fact by immediately charging all opponents of (or even waverers on) this organizational point with racism, Newlin established the precedent for the way in which the OCIC would take up all political question in the future.

Whatever reservations and fears we had concerning the OCIC leadership’s inability to check racist dynamics within the OC were confirmed within a year’s time. We refer of course to the controversy surrounding the OCIC-initiated “National Minority Conference.” This conference was held in June, 1979, with approximately 50 people in attendance. Participants were restricted to minority activists. The event was announced, discussed and prepared for a year or so in advance. And it was generally recognized to be the OCIC’s attempt to take responsibility for leading our trend in taking up the crucial question of racism and the need; to draw more minorities into the party building movement.

However the exact purpose and theme of the conference remained vague and contradictory, shifting again and again right up until the conference itself. Forces associated with the rectification and MINP-E1 Comite centers were conspicuously and intentionally excluded from participation. The proceedings themselves were poorly organized and the resolutions to come out of the conference were theoretically shoddy and in part politically incorrect. The whole activity was shrouded in fierce controversy from beginning to end and the OCIC has to this day refused to advance any comprehensive and straightforward summation of what turned out to be a thinly disguised fiasco.

Four of our present Editorial Board members were central to this controversy. In our opinion, the racism of the OCIC Steering Committee was sharply highlighted in both the despicable paternalist treatment accorded minority cadre within the OCIC, and the blatant, arbitrary, and sectarian treatment accorded minority cadre outside the OCIC.

Both gross and subtle racist practices characterized the conference from the outset. The planning committee for the conference was launched by leading forces within the PWOC and the OCIC who guided it in all its basic policies. Yet the OCIC Steering Committee denied all political responsibility for the policies guiding the conference, arguing the legalistic fiction that the “minority” planning committee was completely “independent” of the OCIC. No one seriously believed this farce in light of the fact that the conference planning committee was conspicuously restricted to OCIC members or those united firmly with the OCIC. This amounted to a racist fronting off by the OCIC leadership of the “minority” planning committee, especially as the policy inconsistencies became clearer and the criticisms mounted.

The opportunism involved was classic. On the one hand, the OCIC leadership wanted to get “credit” for making an attempt to draw more minority Marxist-Leninists into the life of the trend. They also wanted to reap the direct benefits of this effort by bringing these comrades into the OCIC, a goal which would have been hampered if other party building forces were permitted to participate in the conference. At the same time, the OCIC leadership did not want to take political responsibility for whatever problems the conference might encounter. It left this thankless task to the all-minority planning committee.

The racist manipulation and tokenism was aggravated by the fact that the planning committee was collectively ill-equipped–both politically and theoretically–to organize such a conference. The result was one of the most politically confused and disorganized events in the trend’s history, for which the minority planning committee was left holding the bag.

To add insult to injury, in the midst of trend-wide controversy and criticism over the conference, the OCIC Steering Committee pushed through a resolution at its Second National Conference hailing the Minority Conference as a great advance and strongly supporting “the high level of unity reached by the conference participants.” In a fine example of racist parternalism, a body of Marxist-Leninists chose to applaud the results of a “minority conference” without even distributing or examining critically the political resolutions from the conference! Meanwhile minority activists who were observers at the OCIC Conference and critical of the National Minority Conference were not even permitted to speak and air their criticisms.

Therefore, we take strong exception to Newlin’s assertion that all the critics of the OCIC’s Campaign Against White Chauvinism are calling for a “moratorium” on the struggle against racism within the OCIC ranks. Such a campaign is so clearly overdue that we say proceed, comrades, with all deliberate speed–it’s about time! In our opinion the OCIC has consistently demonstrated serious weakness in dealing with racism, beginning right from its center and right from its formation. Our criticism is not that the OCIC was in no need of such a campaign, but rather that the present campaign is serving to aggravate and intensify an already serious problem of racist dynamics and practices within the OCIC and within our trend, whereas a communist campaign against white chauvinism would be taken up in a manner reflecting the complexity of the contradiction and would serve to unify and strengthen the communist movement.

The Campaign Against White Chauvinism–Self-Described

But what of the Campaign Against White Chauvinism itself? First, how is it described by its authors? In March 1980 the SC adopted a “resolution on an Ideological Campaign Against White Chauvinism,” as follows:

Whereas the struggle against every manifestation of white chauvinism is a precondition to multi-national unity and an indispensable precondition for the emancipation of the workers of the oppressing nation; Whereas the OCIC is predominantly white and therefore has a special responsibility to lead in the struggle against white chauvinism; Whereas the influence of white chauvinism within the OCIC is the main obstacle to our developing a firm understanding of the centrality of the struggle against racism and to laying the foundation for genuine multi-nationality; Whereas the struggle against white chauvinism is predominantly carried out by ideological means and is ideally suited to a process of centralized ideological struggle. .. Be it resolved that the SC and its Anti-Racism Task Force unite and promote an ideological campaign against white chauvinism. (Emphasis ours.)

The resolution is based on the following logic:

1. The white chauvinism of white communists is the main obstacle to building multinational unity in the OC, as well as in the trend. By “white chauvinism” is meant racist prejudices and attitudes that minorities are inferior, attitudes which do not necessarily need to be linked to racist practices.

2. White chauvinist ideology underlies all racist errors.

3. The OCIC cannot and should not attempt to develop a more advanced political line on racism and the struggle against it until the campaign against white chauvinist ideas has led to the transformation of the predominately white racial composition of the OCIC. As a document from the New England Regional Steering Committee expresses it:

... those comrades who claim the campaign against white chauvinism should be connected to developing political line on the national question and the struggle against racism in the mass movement... would have us believe that the OC is capable of this work. But we’re not. The present predominantly white, petty bourgeois OC forces are too narrow and lack the ideological consolidation and development.. . to develop correct theory on these and other questions. . . [to think otherwise is to] defend their own and other white chauvinism and class bias.

4. There exists a “white chauvinist conspiracy” within the ranks of the OCIC which serves to promote white chauvinism and prevent the struggle against it. The source of the “conspiracy” is principally the deeply ingrained racism of the white communists (which initially is often at a sub-conscious level) and has resulted in a partial “white flight” from the OCIC. The secondary cause is the petit bourgeois class chauvinism of some minority communists within the OCIC, which causes them to “conciliate white chauvinism.” The most incorrigible petit bourgeois minorities have also left the OCIC.

5. The main method of struggle against white chauvinism is centralized “sharp ideological struggle,” with a conspicuous stress on the underlying attitudes, prejudices, motivations, and orientation of the comrade being targetted (“centralized” means that the campaign is led by the OCIC Steering Committee).

6. It is the special responsibility of white communists to lead in the struggle against white chauvinism (as defined by the lines of the OC campaign). This is the litmus test of their commitment to ”forging a genuine proletarian vanguard and not just one more petty bourgeois sect” (The Organizer, December 1980). In this light, the SC of the OCIC deserves special credit for being “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,” (The Organizer, December 1980) despite the apparent turmoil and controversy surrounding the campaign. The PWOC is given special recognition as having gained advanced experience in conducting the struggle against white chauvinism. The PWOC campaign, along with the summation document, Racism Within the PWOC, is seen as a model for the broader OCIC campaign.

The Actual Results of the Campaign Against White Chauvinism

That this line itself is thoroughly backward and incapable of leading the anti-racist struggle we shall demonstrate later. But we cannot leave the definition of the Campaign Against White Chauvinism simply at the level of the OCIC’s self-serving description of it. It must also be described and judged by its objective results. Of course, the definitive judgment of the long-range goals of the campaign must await the test of time. Will the Campaign Against White Chauvinism substantially increase the OCIC’s capacity to intervene in and lead the anti-racist struggle among the masses? Will it qualitatively improve the OCIC’s racial composition and correct its unhealthy race dynamics? Will it break the fetter on the fusion line and result in the flocking of advanced workers to communism and into the OCIC? In our opinion, the OCIC, despite the Campaign Against White Chauvinism, will fail in accomplishing all these long-range goals. If we examine some of the more immediate effects of the campaign, the handwriting is already on the wall.

Early last year, the Campaign Against White Chauvinism took off in what the OCIC admits was somewhat of an unplanned and spontaneous fashion. But it rapidly gained such a momentum and “life of its own” that it has become the dominant feature of the OCIC’s internal life and is the principal dynamic in its relations with other groups. A careful observer can even detect in Newlin’s latest defense of the Campaign Against White Chauvinism (The Second Crisis of U.S. And Revisionism) a desperate admission that the campaign has gotten out of hand and will have to be toned down before all is left in ruins. Unfortunately for Newlin and the OCIC, the destructive forces unleashed through this campaign cannot be easily reined in merely through some superficial self-criticism about a few “excesses” here and there.

Even an outsider can see that the OCIC’s Campaign Against White Chauvinism has triggered a dramatic internal cataclysm, producing some of the most outrageous formulations and bizarre occurrences to be seen in the U.S. communist movement in years. As a direct or indirect result of the campaign, OC groups have been expelled, a number have split and dozens of individuals have left. Even Newlin has admitted this much:

This relatively modest initiative [Campaign Against White Chauvinism] has been met with a veritable storm of defensiveness, protest and opposition .... 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 in opposition but have decided to abandon Marxism-Leninism outright. (The Organizer, December 1980.)

Every day that this campaign goes on further disorients and corrupts OC cadre. White cadre pursue endless hours of psychological self-exploration which, while typical of bourgeois “human potential encounter sessions,’’ bear little resemblance to Marxist-Leninist practice. The campaign appears to have ground on mercilessly in large conferences, small group meetings, and individual to individual sessions. The collective result has been to disorient cadre politically, deteriorate their materialist outlook and unleash an atmosphere of subjectivism, intimidation, and anxiety. (Three members of our Editorial Board have had the unforgettable experience of observing first hand the outrageous implementation of the Campaign Against White Chauvinism at regional OCIC conferences.)

However, it is not necessary to witness these eerie purification rites first hand, since the participants have taken to writing up and circulating “self-criticism papers” of some of their leading “racists.” A few choice selections from several of these “true confessions” will suffice to illustrate the degree of the subjective malady:

. . . Since writing the first two drafts of this self-criticism I have come to see that saying ’I think black people are inferior’ is way too mild, doesn’t go nearly far, deep enough. I have treated black comrades like shit–I have used them, lied to them, not really cared about them–both because I thought they were very inferior, and to promote my image as a revolutionary–cover my racism. I have never treated a black comrade as an equal. So these examples I’m writing about are anything but isolated examples. Since I’m racist thru and thru, it comes out in every relationship I have with a black person. And I still got a hell of a long way to go to uncover all the racist garbage inside me, that’s still just below the surface of my consciousness.

. . . Even though I’ve committed myself to destroying this system which has developed and maintains racism, I still haven’t given up my white chauvinism. I have to break with it; I can begin to do that by breaking the conspiracy which maintains it. I understand this conspiracy to consist of an unprincipled unity between me and other whites in which I/we protect my relatively priviledged position in society and in our movement by being liberal with one another around our racism. By participating in the conspiracy I keep national minority and working class folks down. . . . Shockley is in my closet. I’ll put him on a leash and take him for a walk. It’s no surprise to me, it’s not a surprise to other white comrades, and it’s certainly no surprise to the minority comrades and my fellow workers. This white chauvinism is going to stay in there in my closet causing me to walk quickly through (certain) neighborhoods, to assume that people of color won’t take pills regularly and so give them a shot instead, (because they’re unreliable, and don’t value or respect themselves), and assume that minorities don’t have anything to teach me, so I’ll not listen to them, and much more. These things will continue to happen unless I bring it out into the open.. . . I’m beginning the process of breaking with the conspiracy. The end of the conspiracy means open season on racism.

I’m beginning to realize that to ever try to get a better understanding of my racism in all its ugly manifestations, I have to wage a consistent struggle against my individualism. I have to give up every image of myself that I’m anti-racist, come to grips with the reality that I’m racist through and through; so no racist error would be beyond me, however gross; that it’s probable I hold on to the grossest racist myths; that I’m capable of doing everthing from lying to using Black people out of racism. And the only, only way I’m ever going to understand all these ugly racist ideas in me is to welcome every exposure of my racism so I can begin to combat it. . . . Finally, it doesn’t matter one iota how racist I look. The only thing that matters is how I act, how I take up the struggle against white chauvinist ideas in me and every other white comrade and working class person. Every time I hesitate to act for fear of exposing my racism, I will have to wage a mighty struggle–which I really want to come first– my image and short term personal stake or the long term interests of all of us working people? And the minute I think I am in any way less racist, more superior, than any other white person, I am in for trouble and had better combat that idea for it will breed defensiveness and complacency and individualism because I’ll have this image of being a little less racist than someone else to protect. That will make me defensive and unwilling to grapple with my racism.

On one level it is difficult to take these confessions seriously. If these comrades actually held such ideas as a functioning part of their world view, we would expect to find them in some neo-fascist white rights organization–not in the communist movement! On the other hand, we cannot stand back and simply laugh it off. The comrades caught up and victimized by this campaign can be needlessly destroyed emotionally and disoriented politically for years. And our Marxist-Leninist trend is young and fragile enough as it is. It can ill afford such a setback.

Attempted Cover Up

Newlin attempts to cover up the more embarrassing features of this campaign in his response to the signers of the Open Letter. Charging that the critics are irresponsible in fabricating “unsubstantiated” and “sensationalized” stories, he argues:

The ’open letter’ does attempt to make an example of a quotation drawn from a self criticism written by a SC member. But the quotation consists in only two (admittedly exaggerated) sentences drawn from a 17-page, single space document. Beyond this, the authors of the ’open letter’ offer not a single concrete example of the SC’s supposedly ’hideous’ practice. (Guardian, November 26, 1980; emphasis ours.)

No, no, comrade Newlin, this will simply not do! The overall character and contours of this campaign are far too blatant and exposed before our movement to even attempt to dismiss the criticism as merely some fabricated exaggeration. To attempt to hide this elephant behind a fig leaf adds ridicule to the contempt the majority of our trend already has toward the SC of the OCIC. What did this SC comrade in question possibly do to require a 17-page single-spaced self-criticism to begin with? Why are there so many confession documents, all of the same general character circulating within the OCIC? What about all the tearful verbal confessions of racist guilt which have replaced any semblance of political work and caused the “postponement” of numerous OCIC agendas in order to “conduct sharp ideological struggle”? What about the cadre who have been so senselessly convinced that they are incorrigible racists that they are no longer confident they can become communists?

Even when the demagogue Newlin attempts to rise to the defense of this travesty, he is forced to admit the shambles in which the Campaign Against White Chauvinism has left the OCIC.

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. . . . 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... . 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 Organizer, December 1980; emphasis ours.)

Yes, indeed, the OCIC and its Campaign Against White Chauvinism rest on an increasingly precarious base! Of the hundred comrades (the number grows weekly) spun off the OCIC, many are so disoriented they may drop out of political work altogether. Of those who remain, many are dispirited, confused, and intimidated. The hard core of zealots shows evidence of having qualitatively lost touch with the political realities of the crisis situation they have created, with neither the courage nor the inclination to face their mistakes squarely. The worst among them have become thoroughly corrupted demagogues in the process of this degenerate campaign, with the power to arbitrarily denounce and intimidate activists on the basis of the flimsiest political standards, giving full play to all their subjective and opportunist tendencies.

The Campaign Against White Chauvinism at its Worst

Perhaps nowhere does the bourgeois depths of the unhealthy racist dynamics within the OCIC become more apparent than with the shocking pronouncements concerning interracial personal relationships among their cadre. Again the PWOC, being one of the few OC organizations with some minority members, takes the lead. After first noting (self-critically) that it “has historically had an attitude of uncritical support for these relationships,” the PWOC bluntly states:

What is true in all of these situations is that, independently of the struggle that may develop within the relationship against both racism and sexism, there invariably develops a tendency for the Black partner to experience isolation from the Black community at large. As a result of racism there develops among Black people a quite legitimate reaction against inter-racial relationships. The inter-racial couple is viewed as an attack on the Black community, Black People’s culture, and sense of national pride, for it is symbolic of the constant pressure of the white majority to assimilate Black people into the dominant culture. This antagonism to inter-racial relationship then is a defensive reaction, a reaction to racism.

Irrespective of our desires or wishes, the impact of inter-racial relationships on Black people is their isolation from the Black masses, and in the context of the revolutionary movement this means isolating the most advanced and conscious forces from the Black Liberation Movement. In recognition of this reality and its political consequences for the struggle for Black Liberation and socialism, it is the perspective of the PWOC that Inter-racial relationships should be discouraged, while at the same time we defend, without reservation [!] the rights of individuals to enter into such relationships. To do otherwise would be to capitulate to the ideology of racism. (Racism in the PWOC, p. 26, contained in Racism in the Communist Movement, by the OCIC Steering Committee, December 1980; emphasis ours.)

What kind of racist nonsense is this? If a member of the KKK says, “Niggers should stay with their own kind”–it is racist. If a liberal says, “Some of my best friends are Black, but inter-marriage is going a bit too far”–it is racist. And if a communist says, “Inter-racial relations should be discouraged because the Black member is invariably in the inferior position and gets isolated from the Black masses”–it is still racist!

Certainly the suspicions which divide the Black section of the working class from the white section is a real material force based on concrete negative experiences with discrimination and dehumanizing treatment of all kinds. However, the consistent pragmatism of the PWOC blinds them to some of the most conspicuous political errors, in this case a racist error, in handling this contradiction. Communists must remain firm that the advanced, class conscious sector of the working class, both minority and white, will begin to see beneath the surface phenomena and place their negative personal experiences and unfounded prejudices in a more objective class perspective. It was bad enough when the PWOC glorified the spontaneous militance of the working class. But now to accede to the most backward ideas prevalent in the class vividly demonstrates the ultimate resting place for communists who shamelessly tail behind the masses.

Moreover, the communist sector is the most thoroughly class conscious sector of the working class. Although communists are products of the present social system, at the same time they have the most scientific grasp of the future and are the seeds of that future. Consequently, it is natural (not unnatural) to expect that among this communist sector, in the course of work and struggle, love relationships would develop between minority and white comrades. Such inter-racial relationships will of course face all the general strains of personal relationships under decaying capitalism, as well as the particular contradictions stemming from different racial experiences. However, two communists in such a relationship have a comparatively good basis, politically and ideologically, to successfully handle these contradictions.

What we find in the racist line of the PWOC/OCIC is the open conciliation of the more backward sectors of the working class, both white and minority. While communists must be sober and realistic about the prevailing sentiments and contradictions among the masses, realism is not the same as pragmatism. Communists must stand firm on principle, even if large sections of the working class are not yet prepared to grasp and support them. One such principle is that we intend to unify this class into a revolutionary formation. In the course of accomplishing this historic task, love relationships between white and Black, white and minority people will inevitably develop.

Can the communist movement defend inter-racial relationships in society as a whole as part and parcel of the struggle against racism and apply a racist double standard to itself? Hypocrisy will be among the lesser charges that the working class and minority communities will rightly hurl at the communist movement if it adopts such a stand. The PWOC’s line is the ultimate expression of the pragmatic world outlook, promoting some short-term advantage (and a highly dubious one at that) at the expense of the long-range political and ideological tasks of the movement. Far from “discouraging” inter-racial relationships, the communist movement must be exemplary before the masses in indicating that within its ranks such relationships will be respected and given all appropriate support. On this principle we cannot flinch without conceding to the pervasive racism of the very society we intend to change.

The existence of such a racist line on inter-personal relationships and the influence it enjoys inside OCIC circles is proof in itself of the prevailing unhealthy political and racial dynamics. In addition, this line shamelessly flies in the face of the exemplary tradition forged by the communist movement in an earlier, more difficult period in defying all of the dominant prejudices and establishing a vanguard standard concerning inter-racial personal relationships.

A Campaign on a Foundation of Sand

Perhaps the most significant negative characteristic of the OCIC’s Campaign Against White Chauvinism is the conspicuous absence of any serious theoretical analysis of the broader phenomenon of racism and its relationship to U.S. capitalism, as well as to the question of communist intervention and leadership in the mass anti-racist struggle. But even more telling is the fact that to even bring up this obvious omission in OCIC circles is to invite certain attack upon oneself for either deflecting criticism or avoiding self-criticism. Even minority comrades who venture to point out the conspicuous political shallowness of the campaign are attacked for their petit bourgeois class bias and their tendency to conciliate racism.

Thus we once again see Clay Newlin engaging in his by now characteristic double talk, admitting (Guardian, Nov. 26, 1980) that “for the party building movement as a whole the development of theory to guide the struggle against racism is key,” while going on to argue that in the present struggle against racist errors among communists the struggle for such a theory “is not pivotal.” True to form, he caricatures the position of all critics who raise this point as tantamount to calling for a moratorium on criticizing racist errors. He says, “particularly when counterposed to the current struggle against racist errors, this formulation can only postpone the struggle against white chauvinism among communists.” This criticism has been further vulgarized within OC circles in a typical anti-intellectual manner as the position that “a book needs to be written about the theory of racism before we can criticize racism.”

However no amount of obscurantism can save the present OCIC campaign from this legitimate criticism. Certainly criticism of individual, specific racist errors among communists should not wait upon a full-blown and developed theory and political line on racism. But to envision and unfold a “major ideological campaign” without the slightest evidence of such a component–this is a whole different matter. And this is the essential thrust of the criticism directed to the SC of the OCIC and their Campaign Against White Chauvinism.

There is a biting irony in this whole ludicrous controversy. For all the OCIC’s ranting and raving about defending the last besieged island of proletarian consciousness in a sea of petit bourgeois racism, their Campaign Against White Chauvinism shows all the characteristic tendencies toward moralism and inter-personal “encounters” associated with the subjectivist extremes of the radicalized petit bourgeoisie who are neither sufficiently grounded in the science of Marxism-Leninism or sufficiently rooted in the mass struggles of the working class. A revolutionary movement with such a social base can easily lose its political bearings and become disoriented, especially around a contradiction so complex and volatile as racism. It is painfully obvious that this is what has transpired in the Campaign Against White Chauvinism.

Does this mean, as the fusionists have argued, that the social base of the communist movement has to be changed before we can move ahead with our political and theoretical work? This is clearly the view of the PWOC/OCIC leadership which has steadily escalated its self-righteous and shrill denunciations of the forces who presently make up our movement. We have long disagreed with the contempt and impatience displayed by the OCIC leadership toward the “existing stock of Marxist-Leninists.” Now it is undeniably the case that to some extent the trend, and in particular the majority of the activists in the OCIC, are white and from petit bourgeois origins. They are also relatively inexperienced, with low political and theoretical levels, and subject therefore to numerous problems and shortcomings. But we would argue that precisely because this is the human material with which we have to work, any campaign against racism must be based on the firmest political foundations possible. One of the principal reasons the OC’s Campaign Against White Chauvinism has gotten so out of hand is its conspicuously weak political moorings.

The general lesson to be drawn from the Campaign Against White Chauvinism is the danger and consequences of separating “sharp ideological struggle” from the political tasks at hand. Remolding one’s worldview is an ongoing process which must be framed by the altering conditions and tasks of the class struggle. Major ideological problems in viewpoint or method usually take years of protracted, patient struggle to correct. This is why it is important to unite cadre around the political work in the midst of struggling over ideological problems. Ideological problems gain their necessary substance and concreteness when they pose themselves as obstacles to carrying out political tasks. Whenever this link is broken, whenever the political context for ideological struggle is unclear, it tends to degenerate. The struggle tends to soar into the realm of “attitudes,” in the case of the OC campaign, “white, petit bourgeois conspiracies.”

This development is not surprising. The OCIC has worked itself into a serious impasse. Throughout its history it has consistently downplayed attention to the further development of political line (in this instance the line on racism and national oppression). In addition, it has popularized the myth that somehow the practical political work of its activists will be handled by groups like PWOC, the Boston Organizing Committee, the Socialist Union of Baltimore, and the planned nation-wide preparty organization, while the OC structure will be reserved for and restricted to ideological and theoretical struggle. With such a mechanical division, it is no wonder that the OC’s “ideological” Campaign Against White Chauvinism has such weak political moorings.

No matter from what standpoint–from the OCIC’s own narrowly pragmatic view or from a genuine communist political standard–the Campaign Against White Chauvinism has been an unmitigated disaster. But the failure goes far beyond the campaign. It highlights the fact that the OCIC itself, already three years old, has made no progress whatsoever in moving our trend toward a party or in addressing the principal political and theoretical questions before our movement. It has not even made any progress in its own narrow vision of “fusion.”

Is the OCIC advancing steadily and confidently along the road to the party, consolidating around a proletarian, anti-racist line as Clay Newlin, on behalf of the SC, contends? Are there no “innocents” left in the OCIC prepared finally to shout, “The emperor has no clothes! The emperor has no clothes!”? No, the OCIC is not advancing at all. It is degenerating–and at a speed that is almost hard to believe. No, the OCIC is not consolidating around an advanced proletarian line at all. It is falling apart ideologically, politically and organizationally. Nor has the OCIC at all distinguished itself in the vanguard of the struggle against racism in the communist movement. It has only distinguished itself by its gross mishandling of this contradiction.

But true to form and with characteristic arrogance, Newlin scolds the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend for the failures of the OCIC leadership; in particular he blames the OCIC’s own cadre, attributing the marked lack of progress in the OCIC’s stated goals to the ideological backwardness of the organization’s base.

To accomplish this task, Newlin is obliged not only to distort the present but to distort history as well.

Lessons of History Distorted

The OCIC’s present Campaign Against White Chauvinism is not, of course, the first time that the communist movement has addressed the problem of racism within its own ranks. Newlin, one of the few people in the OCIC with a measure of historical continuity in the communist movement, is certainly aware of this, which only makes his own negative role in the current campaign that much more unjustifiable.

The history of the communist movement does provide both theoretical groundwork for and some positive practical experience in combatting white chauvinism. . . 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. (The Organizer, December 1980)

Yes indeed, and of what little is known, even less is understood! This applies first and foremost to the SC of the OCIC and Newlin himself.

On two occasions in the history of the CPUSA, the question of racism within communist ranks came to the fore in campaigns which the whole party took up. The first, in the early ’30s, highlighted by the Yokinen trial, was overall a positive and advanced experience. The second campaign, in the late ’40s and early ’50s when the party was besieged on all sides and disoriented, was principally negative and contributed to the overall decline of the party’s ideological health during the 1950s.

The Yokinen campaign came in the wake of a major breakthrough in the political line of the party in the late 1920s. With the assistance of the Comintern, the CPUSA put an end to the racist, liquidationist line which until then had held sway in the U.S. socialist movement. Previously the movement had relegated the struggle against racism, in particular Black liberation, to a secondary and peripheral role in the strategy for proletarian revolution in the U. S. But in 1928-30 the party adopted a new orientation, one which saw the struggle against racism as a central and indispensable aspect of the U.S. revolution.[1] With this orientation the CP boldly and quickly moved to the center of the mass struggles against racist inequality. In the next few years, thousands and tens of thousands of advanced minority workers were won to the party and its mass initiatives.

As the new line began to unfold, there was evidence to show that many white party members continued to hold and/or conciliate racist attitudes and practices towards Blacks. In this period, ideas of racist segregation and Jim Crow practices were overwhelmingly dominant within the U.S. working class, especially the white sector. Yet the party leadership stood firm on the question of principle and decided to make an example of one incident in order to clarify to party members and the masses the anti-racist standards which would be demanded of the most advanced sector of the U.S. working class.

Yokinen was a white party member who had failed to come to the aid of a number of Black people who were being excluded from a social club in which he was employed. After Yokinen was brought up on charges within the party, a decision was made to hold a public trial. This trial was held in Harlem and was linked closely to the party’s mass work there. The party utilized the trial to popularize its revolutionary line on the centrality of the Black liberation struggle and the anti-racist standards it expected of its membership. Yokinen was suspended from the party, his rectification was assignment in areas of anti-racist work, and he was later reinstated to party membership. The party center held firm control of this campaign, politically and ideologically, from beginning to end.

The campaign of the 1950s, on the other hand, was different in many key respects. The party had failed to recover from the negative impact of the Browder line, when it was hit hard with the postwar Smith Act trials and McCarthyism. In the course of this attack, the CPUS A lost its political bearings; much of its position and base was lost in labor and also in the Black and anti-racist struggles. This was also a period of a general racist assault on the gains minorities had made during the war. Laboring under a rightist line, the party tended to conciliate this mounting racist attack and moved to the periphery of the anti-racist struggle. In the midst of this overall confusion, it was not surprising that racist dynamics began to reemerge as a conspicuous feature in the relations between white and minority party members.

This was the political context of the CPUSA campaign of the 1950s. It was launched while the party center was scattered and divided, with no clear guiding political line. The campaign quickly got out of hand and developed a life and momentum of its own. Actual instances of racism were buried under an avalanche of relatively arbitrary and petty grievances. Party expulsions and resignations proliferated, with a noticeable corrupting effect on minority cadre who could easily intimidate fellow members through bringing them up on charges requiring very little political substantiation. Government agents exploited the campaign to further disrupt the party in general and to drive honest cadre out. In hindsight, not a single observer or participant has summed up this confused campaign as a positive step forward for the party or the struggle against racism (except now with the possible exception of the OCIC). William Z. Foster commented, in his attempts to finally put an end to the campaign, that the campaign had a “big dose” of a “left” deviation that was “mainly the tendency to separate the fight against white chauvinism from the struggle of equal rights for the Negro people. . . . this mistake was expressed ideologically by the general idea that our party was unable to fight for Negro rights until it first cleansed itself completely of all traces of white chauvinism. . . .”

Looking at the present OCIC campaign against white chauvinism one is left with a somewhat disheartening sense of deja vu.


[1] We are not here arguing that the particular political and theoretical formulation adopted by the CPUSA at that time, usually known in the communist movement as the “Black Nation thesis,” was itself scientifically correct. In our view, it was not and the reformulation of the communist movement’s analysis of this question is a key task of line rectification before us. But however theoretically flawed or inadequate the line was, it clearly posed the struggle against racism as a revolutionary question before the U.S. proletariat. In this sense it was a major qualitative breakthrough from the past.