Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

UNITY New Year editorial: Our tasks in 1981

First Published: Unity, Vol. 4, No. 1, January 9-22, 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In this our first issue of 1981, we at UNITY would like to take this opportunity for a traditional New Year’s reflection on the past year and present situation, and assess our tasks for the coming year.

The beginning of the New Year is a time when many hope for the best for the coming 12 months, but this year a realistic look at the situation in the country and world shows there are dark clouds on the horizon.

World tensions are mounting, with little letup in sight. 1980 began with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and now this year starts with Soviet troops poised on the borders of Poland ready to crush the Polish people’s movement for democracy and workers’ rights. Soviet forces continue to occupy Afghanistan and back up the Vietnamese military in Kampuchea.

Washington, not to be outdone by its rival imperialist superpower, is struggling to maintain its influence around the world. The U.S. still backs up the repressive regimes of south Korea, Turkey, the Marcos dictatorship of the Philippines and the junta of El Salvador, among others.

No corner of the globe is free from the turbulence stirred up by the competition of the two superpowers for world domination. This rivalry is threatening to unleash a new world war.

More and more people, however, are recognizing this danger, especially from the Soviet Union. There is sentiment among third world countries such as Iran and Zimbabwe to keep out Soviet interference as well as Yankee imperialism. The Polish people, too, have expressed strong solidarity in the face of Soviet threats. These stands help frustrate superpower designs, and in the coming year the conflict with either of the superpowers and between the superpowers can be expected to increase. The world arena will become more, not less, unstable, especially as the conflict between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. grows this coming year.

The new Reagan administration is sure to contribute to the problems in the international situation. Reagan will step up the shift in U.S. foreign policy towards a more interventionist and confrontational approach that was begun under Carter last year. The Carter Doctrine, which declared that the Persian Gulf was an area of vital U.S. national interest and that the U.S. would use force to preserve these interests, signaled this shift in U.S. policy. The rapid deployment force formed by Carter has just finished its first practice maneuvers in the Egyptian desert.

All indications point out that Reagan will step up arms production and more openly strive to protect and expand U.S. power at the expense of the people of the world. Reagan has even threatened to resume official relations with the regime in Taiwan, jeopardizing the normalized relations between the U.S. and China.

Thus, in this coming year, while domestic economic problems will be of most immediate concern for many here in the U.S., the foreign policy actions of Washington will become more and more prominent as U.S. imperialism draws ever closer to war.

Domestic scene

The horizon also is not bright for working and oppressed nationality people. We are entering 1981 with officially at least a 10% inflation rate and unemployment at 7.5% or close to eight million workers out of a job. The actual figures are really much higher. No economist is predicting a significant lowering of these levels for this next year, and many forecast even higher levels before they begin to fall.

In areas of the Midwest industrial belt, unemployment is over 20%, with some cities such as Youngstown, Ohio, looking like ghost towns due to the avalanche of plant closings this past year. Whole industries are disappearing, leaving thousands without jobs. There is also the danger that many people’s unemployment benefit funds are being exhausted with no new jobs on the horizon.

To bolster their profits, employers are making it even more difficult for workers who have jobs. Employers are on an offensive to “take back” what workers have won through struggle in previous years. Workers face deteriorating working conditions, declining income and diminishing benefits. More and more workers find that one income is insufficient to support their families and many workers now have to hold down two jobs. These conditions were largely responsible for the widespread dissatisfaction with the presidential election last year. Workers gave little support to Carter, even less to Reagan, and overall turned out for the election in record low numbers. This decline of interest in politics has been a steady trend since the Viet Nam War and Watergate days.

On the other hand, many in the corporate ruling circles of the U.S. are enthusiastic about the incoming Reagan administration. The defeat of the Democrats in November marked the end of an era – since the end of World War II, liberalism in social policy and large-scale government spending to stimulate the economy have been the dominant approaches in Washington. Today, though, the troubles of the U.S. internationally and its deep-seated economic problems have forced the ruling circles to turn away from these old policies and towards Reagan’s “new” conservatism.

It should be no surprise this coming year when Reagan starts to cut back on social welfare, while giving huge tax breaks and other business advantages to the monopolies as his solution to the economic situation. More than ever, the saying “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” will be true for the U.S. in 1981.

Overall living conditions, too, in 1981 will continue to deteriorate. Housing and utility costs will keep climbing. 1980 witnessed a significant widening of concern over environmental issues, ranging from the dangers of the disposal of toxic waste materials to nuclear power. The Reagan administration, however, is likely to go backward and not forward in developing laws and standards that will protect the health and safety of people in the U.S. Reagan has already appointed James Watt as Secretary of Interior, a man known for his strong anti-environmental stands. Reagan has also stated his desire to significantly weaken the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Afro-Americans, Chicanos, Asians, Native Americans, Hawaiians, Puerto Ricans and other oppressed nationalities in the country also face more struggle in the coming year. The ruling class’ shift to the right has resulted in stepped-up repression for minority peoples. The most conspicuous of this has been the rapid revival and growth of the Ku Klux Klan, not just in the South but throughout the U.S. Klan members and Nazis got off scot-free for openly murdering demonstrators in Greensboro, North Carolina, last year. Open Klan members ran for political office in several states in November. At the same time, the general climate in the country has become more openly racist as seen in the spate of reactionary movies such as Beulah Land, Borderline, Fu Manchu and the like.

1980 saw even further eroding of the advances made in minority rights gained in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. Affirmative action has practically disappeared and now bilingual education is on the way out.

In the area of women’s rights, the conservative shift of the ruling class is also being felt. The campaign for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which was stalled by Carter, will most likely be killed by Reagan. Conservative church groups such as the Moral Majority, which was a strong backer of Reagan, have been in the forefront of attacking women’s rights such as abortion.

These reactionary religious groups are sure to step up their activities in the coming year.

Mass movement

While the masses of people in the country are facing steadily deteriorating living conditions, heightened racism and violence, the mass movement against these conditions is still relatively undeveloped.

The labor movement, which is facing its greatest crisis since the 1930’s, is largely inactive. The top bureaucrats continue to stifle any struggle from the ranks and have opted for the path of least resistance to the current crisis. Other than a handful of leaders, the labor establishment came out uniformly for the candidates of big business, Carter and Reagan.

The rank and file movement in the trade unions and the activity among unorganized workers is uneven. There are some pockets of nationwide resistance, such as in auto, steel, the Teamsters Union and in some local areas, but these are not yet strong. The coming year will be an important one for workers to develop a militant movement and break from the chains imposed by the employers and bureaucrats.

Some of the key struggles this year will be around keeping wages up with the soaring cost of living, maintaining cost of living provisions in contracts and job security.

Labor unions face the problems of declining membership as a result of years of not organizing unorganized workers, as well as the growing number of unemployed union members. Workers must move their unions to take up organizing nonunionized workers.

Upcoming battles will give an indication of the mood of workers this year. The contracts for 550,000 postal workers will soon be up for negotiation, as will the contract for the coal miners who have a strong tradition of struggle. There are also indications that the unorganized workers are becoming especially active. In the deep South and the Southwest, many unorganized workers have been in motion to advance their situation. In the past few years, the battles of the J.P. Stevens workers in the South and the Vogue Coach workers in Los Angeles were examples of these.

These various areas may become focuses of labor activity in the coming year, and how these contracts or ongoing organizing efforts shape up will give good indications as to the immediate direction of the labor movement.

In the movements of the oppressed nationalities, the currents of struggle are stronger. Last year, we saw the Miami rebellion, and the founding of the National Black United Front and numerous other local organizations that are breaking away from the confines of the traditional civil rights organizations. Last year, too, 5,000 commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Chicane Moratorium, the rally reflecting the regrowth of the Chicano Movement for power and self-determination. Among the Hawaiian and Asian nationalities, too, there are important movements for rights, such as the demand for redress and reparations for Japanese Americans interned into prison camps by the U.S. government during World War II.

The intensified class and national oppression suffered by minority people have made the oppressed nationality movements key centers of struggle, and in this coming year, there is sure to be some sharp battles, whether around anti-Klan activity, worsening living conditions or police repression.

Women have mobilized in large numbers to defend their right to abortions against attacks from the Hyde Amendment and the “right-to-life” forces, for the Equal Rights Amendment which has yet to be passed, and against the daily violence against women in this society. The fight for women’s rights and equality will continue in the coming year.

Another sector that will be coming more into motion is the students. This last year, the student movement was rekindled with the threat of reinstitution of the draft. This issue plus the growing threat of U.S. military intervention in the world, environmental problems, racism and women’s oppression, and educational matters like increasing tuition are giving rise to much struggle among students.

This situation in the mass movements presents challenges and complex problems for revolutionary-minded activists.

The Marxist-Leninist movement

The situation in the U.S. Marxist-Leninist movement underwent many changes in the past year. In the midst of heightened world tensions and a rightward trend in domestic politics, there were also developments among different forces in the communist movement. U.S. communists are discussing what are the characteristics of the current period, the tasks of communists today, and in that context summing up the earlier history of the U.S. revolutionary movement.

Many communist and progressive forces looked to hopeful signs in recent years in the efforts of U.S Marxist-Leninists to forge a single, unified communist party. These efforts continued in 1980, but there were some unforeseen twists and turns as new conditions and problems arose.

The year began with efforts to start trilateral discussions between the League of Revolutionary Struggle (Marxist-Leninist), the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist), and the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters. The meetings were meant to be one form and method for seeking greater unity, featuring presentations and discussions to help clarify line unities and disagreements.

While there was agreement among the three organizations to engage in trilateral discussions, there were differences over what the trilateral meetings should actually consist of, and what constitutes a principled and above-board method of forging unity, a method that upholds equality and mutual respect among ail organizations. These posed some serious difficulties, but there also developed a growing difference of views on some important political questions.

On party building, differences developed in the communist movement over line and method. Some believed that in order to forge principled unity in one party, it is necessary to resolve major differences and arrive at unity on line and programme. Others wanted to defer all major differences and deal with them after uniting organizationally.

In the early part of the year, debate developed inside the communist movement on international line, especially after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the U.S. declaration of the “Carter Doctrine.” Some saw the Carter Doctrine mainly as a positive policy, while others opposed it. The difference on the Carter Doctrine was an important one because it stemmed from different perceptions of the present alignment of world forces. Some forces in the U.S. communist movement adopted or are leaning towards a line that includes U.S. imperialism in the worldwide strategic united front, no longer directing that united front against both superpowers.

On the basic line of the U.S. revolution, there is a growing tendency of belittling the revolutionary role of the national movements, liquidating it as only a workers’ struggle or reducing it to tailing after reformist forces.

On communist work in this period

This past year has seen intensified discussion, too, on what should be the character of communist work in this period. In general orientation and practice, divergencies are developing.

Some in the communist movement reported on a rectification process of line and methodology that aimed to overcome problems of isolation from the masses They attribute the relatively small forces and lack of wide-scale mass political influence of communism in the United States to ultra-leftism alone and propose building a “left movement” or “left-wing movement” as the path to making communists a major force in society The “left wing” is vaguely defined, but generally means the various left-liberals, social-democrats and anti-imperialist-minded social forces in the U.S. The class basis of these forces is primarily among the petty bourgeoisie, but also among some sectors of the labor aristocracy.

On the question of ultra-leftism, we believe that ultraleftism has been a great pitfall in the history of the U.S. anti-revisionist movement. At times it has been prominent among some organizations and caused serious setbacks. In the 1970’s, various ultra-left slogans became catchwords among some, such as “build the Bolshevik Wing, Smash the Menshevik Wing,” “party building is the only task” or direct communist work ”only to the advanced,” and others.

During that period, some organizations adopted lines and tactics which did not recognize the necessity for communists to unite all who can be united and work with non-proletarian class forces. But it would be one-sided to criticize only ultra-leftism, because other errors have been made, such as tailing after liberal reformists as a shortcut to trying to gain credibility in the mass movements.

In general, we believe that modern revisionism poses the greater danger to the communist and working class movement in the recent history of the U.S. The Communist Party U.S.A., agents of the Soviet social-imperialists, and their apologists have exerted considerable influence among sectors of the revolutionary movement and also have some influence among activists in the trade unions. In fact, the CPUSA has more credibility today in the general left movement than in the beginning of the 1970’s. The trends of liberalism and reformism are also deeply rooted in American politics and the left.

It should not be forgotten that larger sectors of the general left movement and even of the Marxist-Leninist movement veered off into centrism and united with revisionism around Angola and other key questions in the 1970’s than were won over by the “left” opportunists.

Today, the tendency to explain away all problems under an ideological banner of “anti-leftism” is too easy. Not only is it one-sided, but its proponents are using the formula or slogan as a catch-all answer to difficult and complex problems and consequently are evading genuine solutions, responsibility for errors made and the need to put forward a clear political line that will lead the mass movement forward.

Making communism a force

On the question of how to make communism a real force, we believe that it takes patient and hard work integrating among the masses of working and oppressed people, taking up their daily struggles and helping to lead and organize them in a militant way. In the course of struggle and experience, the masses are trained, and communists educate them to the ideas of revolution and Marxism.

Making alliances with other progressive and left forces is a very important part of the mass work communists must engage in. The united front is important both as a strategic and tactical weapon of the proletariat, and it would include a variety of class forces. Communists today should learn how to utilize this weapon more skillfully.

But some are shortsighted now in thinking that trailing behind liberals and social-democrats is the path to making communism a major force. The proponents of this strategy raise it without understanding or regard for the need to build a proletarian trend in the mass movements. The independent role of communists is either fully negated or reduced to becoming a disorganized loosely knit “wing” or just another variant within the petty-bourgeois left-wing movements. Among those who do speak about communist propaganda, it is limited to voicing general truths about socialism, liquidating the integration of Marxism-Leninism into the actual struggles of the people to become a vital, living force in the mass movement. Such propaganda becomes ineffective because it is divorced from the task of building communism as a real, definite trend in the working class, national movements and other mass movements.

Communism becomes meaningful to the masses when communists demonstrate their ability to lead through the correctness and clarity of their vision, the comprehensiveness and precision of their analysis and the soundness of their policies and method and organization. Communism can never become real to the masses by making its methods and aims more vague and less discernable from various petty bourgeois socialists.

While some may seem to have found a quick path to overcoming isolation, shortcut methods that don’t answer how to build the independent strength of the proletarian trend in the course of uniting broadly with other forces will bode bigger problems later on.

These are some of the points on which different views were developing over the past year. On the national question, labor work and other points of political line there have been standing differences.

Forging a vanguard communist party

In this period of trying to forge a communist party, the League continues to place importance on uniting with other Marxist-Leninists and winning advanced elements from the mass movement to communism. At the center of these processes must be the development of a clear and precise communist line and programme for the U.S. revolution.

Such a line and programme will lend the necessary clarity of aims and strategy for the U.S. revolution that will more sharply distinguish communism from other non-proletarian trends. The League will continue to try to contribute to the development of this line and programme. We believe that Marxist-Leninist organizations should develop and put forward their views and engage in principled struggle to clarify a correct line and programme. This line will provide a basis on which Marxist-Leninists can unite.

Rather than turning any one slogan or formula into a catchword, today’s conditions challenge communists to more deeply analyze classes in U.S. society, the interrelationship between the various nationalities, how to forge the strategic alliance between the multinational working class and the national movements and forge the united front with other class forces. Today’s conditions demand that communists become better in the task of giving greater, not less, cohesion, solidity and direction to the struggles of the masses.

Communists must boldly meet these challenges. After a period of unrealistic expectations and inflated self-images among some, there is now a tendency to swing in the opposite direction of demoralization and even cynicism. It is important to persevere in struggle and uphold principle.

There is no get-rich-quick scheme that can succeed in building a truly vanguard communist party. In a country where the foundations of monopoly capitalism have their strongest economic base, where bourgeois democracy has its proudest traditions, a true communist party most certainly will be founded in struggle – in no other way can it lead the masses through the complicated turns of battle, using flexible tactics while preserving its revolutionary orientation to the end.