Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

MLEP Response to MGM Paper


First Issued: as an unpublished paper, n.d. [1981].
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Bay Area MLEP has witnessed a particularly sharp and protracted ideological struggle this year. Although the principal area of this struggle has been one of the classes, it has affected the MLEP as a whole; therefore, it is essential that everyone is involved in the summation of the struggle, both to settle accounts factually and to draw out the general lessons concerning the handling of ideological struggles. The purpose of this paper is not to summarize the events or the decision to expel two of the comrades involved, but to respond to the paper written by Marc N., Gabriel C. and Mark D. (hereafter referred to as MGM).

This paper, entitled “On Ideological Struggle,” puts forward a critique of MLEP’s general orientation to, and handling of, ideological contradictions. While the paper addresses some important issues and makes a few valid points, the excessively antagonistic tone of the paper does not set the best conditions for struggling to a higher level of unity. And while we fundamentally disagree with the main content of the paper, we feel that a discussion of the issues raised can be a positive step towards deepening and refining of the role of ideological struggle in the MLEP.

At the same time, we must recognize that we cannot entertain a discussion of the ideas contained in the paper, completely divorced from the practice which flows from these ideas. While it certainly would have been prefferable to include all three of the authors in an exchange of views, this proved to be impossible. The decision to expel Marc N. and Gabriel and to exclude them from further participation in the MLEP had to be made primarily on the basis of their actual practice in the MLEP. The necessity of maintaining the unity of theory and practice, between ideas and their concrete manifestation, should in no way detract from a thorough examination of the important issues framed by this debate.

In this paper, we don’t intend to answer MGM’s every point, but to concentrate on the key areas of disagreement. We begin by restating our general orientation to ideological struggle, followed by a discussion of the major points of contention: building collectivity; the struggle against racism, sexism and class oppression, and building strategic relations.

MLEP and Ideological Struggle

To begin with, there are a number of fundamental points upon which the MLEP leadership and MGM all seem to agree. The suggested amendment in their paper which calls for including method in the MLEP’s original definition of ideology is a useful one; so, we all seem to agree that ideology can be defined as “a world outlook and method associated with a particular class and based on the class’ relationship to the means of production.” Furthermore, there seems to be unity on the view that ideology and ideological struggle must be placed in a concrete political context, although the existence of this unity has not been so widely acknowledged. For the MLEP’s part, we think it is essential for Marxist-Leninists to take a materialist approach to ideological struggle, making it an integral part of the political tasks ahead of us. As revolutionaries, we must build a movement capable of seizing state power and building socialism, in the course of which we take on many political tasks: party building, leading strikes, studying Marxism-Leninism, etc. In all of these activities we engage in the ideological struggle in order to meet our political goals. Thus we don’t set out, in the course of building a demonstration, to rid the activists involved of all vestiges of individualism; but we do struggle against this problem as it becomes an impediment to realizing the political task before us. Our task is not to build “perfect cadre” who are purged of all vestiges of bourgeois ideology. Our task is to train and develop a political movement of revolutionaries and ideological struggle must be a feature of that process.

On all this there seems to be general agreement. However, the controversy arises when we set out concretely to apply these general principles. According to MGM, the MLEP leadership has distorted the definition of ideology by including “petty criticisms” and the question of “an individual’s personal orientation to other students” under the heading of ideological struggle in the study circles. Yet, in our view, to leave ideological struggle solely in the realm of the general definition put forth above (as struggle over world outlook and method) is to make ideological struggle a lifeless and academic concept. In order to proceed with ideological struggle in a healthy and materialist fashion, we must take this general definition and apply it to the particular circumstances of the MLEP. Thus, it is unlikely that we will encounter any explicit advocates of a bourgeois world outlook and method in the study groups. Few students will come into the MLEP and argue for economic private property or for the right of an individual to exploit anyone else. But this doesn’t mean that the struggle against the bourgeois world outlook and method will not take place. A bourgeois approach to study will not always announce itself as such when it arrives on the scene. It may take more subtle forms such as holding onto individual ideas as if they were private property and not putting them up for collective scrutiny or taking a competitive and elitist stand toward other members of the group. Not all attitudes and actions represent a consolidated bourgeois approach to study, but this doesn’t mean that we should dismiss the more subtle manifestations of bourgeois ideology. Furthermore, a person doesn’t have to be a tried and true sexist, racist, individualist, or elitist in order to interact in the study group in a manner which is objectively bourgeois. Bourgeois ideology manages to creep in the door in many different ways and, unfortunately, will probably be doing so for quite a long time to come. The sooner we acknowledge this, the better will we be able to meet it when it makes it entrance.

True, there may be some criticisms which are petty, but we must create an atmosphere where struggle and criticism occurs and where the collective assesses what is petty and what is not. The problem comes in determining what is a petty criticism. MGM seem to think that the MLEP has incorrectly assessed the ideological struggles and seized on minor and trivial points. Frankly, we don’t [page missing from EROLís version of this text] will we create the conditions for developing the advanced theory and political lines that are the prerequisite for re-establishing the party. Only through the education of hundreds, eventually thousands, of cadre will we ensure that Marxism-Leninism becomes a material force in the working class movement, and that the party cadre will maintain the critical orientation to theory that is the hallmark of an ideologically healthy party. MGM argue that in the MLEP, the “means determine the ends” – in Other words, that we elevate process (collectively) over results (theoretical training). We think this stems from their erroneous view that collectivity means feeling good about each other, and not that it is the indispensable method necessary to insure that we achieve our goal of training Marxist-Leninists.

What, concretely, does building collectivity in the MLEP mean? As the orientation lecture stated, in entails “all of us taking collective responsibility for the health and growth of one another and the study as a whole.” Realizing this goal requires more than lip service to collectivity as a “fine ideal.” It requires regular evaluation of how all students are progressing, discussions of the class dynamics, raising of criticisms and self-criticism, and struggling against various manifestations of bourgeois ideology such as elitism and individualism, which impede the progress of all or part of the class.

The Struggle Against Racism, Sexism and Class Oppression

The main complaint made by MGM here is that MLEP overemphasizes the question of fighting racism in the communist movement, without giving commensurate attention to the questions of sexism and class oppression. To substantiate this accusation, they refer exclusively to the orientation lecture”, which does focus primarily on the struggle against racism. Of course, this lecture was largely drawn from a summation of last year’s experience, and made no pretence of being comprehensive.

We agree with MGM when they identify racism as the key division among the ranks of the working class movement. Furthermore, we would maintain that, aside from ideological/political differences, racism poses the most serious obstacle to uniting the communist movement as well. Our trend, on a national level, remains overwhelmingly white, and a racially biased “division of labor” between theoretical workers and practical workers has yet to be qualitatively overcome. This is why the struggle against all manifestations of racism, subtle or overt, has to be waged, especially in the area of theoretical training.

Of course, the ultimate elimination of racism, as MGM pointed out, depends upon the destruction of its material basis in the capitalist system. But recognition of this fact shouldn’t lessen our determination to combat both the material and ideological manifestations of racism in the communist movement.

But in stressing the question of fighting racism, has MLEP ignored the contradictions of sexism and class oppression? We donít think so. When examples of these contradictions are raised, we have attempted to lead a struggle to objectify criticisms, and to move the groups to a higher level of awareness of their manifestation and negative effect on both individuals and the whole collective. (The charge that MLEP has neglected the struggle against sexism is particularly ironic, since the first notable incident in the struggle with Marc N. and Gabriel arose over their opposing an attempt to objectify a criticism of sexism directed at Gabriel.)

Actually, while these contradictions all have their particularities, there is also a considerable dovetailing between them. For example, the struggle against racism also entails a struggle against class chauvinism, since racial minorities in the U.S. are largely a part of the working class. In addition, the struggle against elitism, individualism,” theoretical chauvinism and paternalism are implicitly, if not explicitly, directed against class and sexual oppression as well as racism. Although our experience with the specific types of sexist and class contradictions has yet to be fully summarized, MGM totally misrepresents our practice in asserting that we have negated these struggles.

The central difference between MLEP and MGM’s orientation in the area of struggles against racism, sexism and class oppression can be found in their opinion of “impact.” They state that they are in agreement with the validity of raising these struggles in the MLEP. The problem, though, is how to substantiate the objective existence of such contradictions.

MGM argue that in the MLEP the “subjective impression of a minority or woman student is a sufficient basis for establishing the existence of a racist or sexist dynamic. Objectivity, to be brief, is simply being thrown out the window.”

Of course, the mere raising of a criticism does not de facto validate the point, and we challenge the authors to point to an instance where such criticisms have been taken at face value, without any attempt to objectify them.

Here is where the question of impact, or the effect of bourgeois ideology, is important. Racism, sexism and class chauvinism are not simply “bad attitudes” or prejudices which one does or doesn’t hold. They are objective dynamics which operate in bourgeois society (of which we are all products) independently of our subjective intentions. It is idealism to say for example, “I didn’t mean to be sexist, therefore my remark wasn’t sexist.”

The only way to determine whether such a dynamic is actually operating is to draw out its material impact, while at the same time sorting out associated factors such as subjectivity, emotionalism and interpretation, which are often intertwined. This is the approach that MLEP has tried to take, and while there have undoubtedly been errors in implementation, these are largely due to inexperience rather than a fundamental deviation from a materialist approach to ideological struggle.

(One final note on the tone of MGM’s paper. The repeated implications of class bias, tokenism and the like, are dishonest attempts to condemn the MLEP by association with incorrect lines that are practiced in the left. If MGM have actual criticisms to make regarding these issues, they should straightforwardly state them, and cite concrete examples. Vague accusations in the form of innuendo and intrigue is no substitute for principled struggle.)

Building Strategic Relations

When we talk about forging strategic relations in the MLEP we are talking about building the type of atmosphere of struggle and unity that exists among cadre of a communist party. At the risk of sounding “neo-psychological” we are talking about building a “party spirit.”

This does not mean that we have declared the party building period over, nor does it mean, as MGM suppose, that we have “jumped the gun by several stages.” To talk about building strategic relations in this period is to acknowledge that our movement has quite a ways to go in order to develop the type of ideological and political atmosphere that prevails in a communist party. But MGM have raised an important question as to the political basis of these strategic relations in the pre-party period (although their sarcasm has masked just how important this question really is).

As we lack a general line and party, MGM question the validity of forging strategic relations. They write, “in the context of the actual state of affairs that the anti-revisionist, anti-left opportunist trend finds itself today, it should be clear that we do not share a common strategy” and thus see no basis for strategic relations. We disagree. Party building is not a process in which one moment you don’t have a party and in the next moment you do. Party building proceeds in a step-by-step manner – politically, ideologically, and organizationally. MGM are correct to point out that we have not fully rectified the general line of the U.S. communist movement, but the communist movement today does have a political basis of unity, it does have a political line. The MLEP, as an institution of the anti-revisionist, anti-left opportunist trend, embraces the political foundations of that trend: the demarcations with anarchism, trotskyism, social democracy, revisionism and left opportunism and the recognition of the centrality of forging a Leninist party in this next period. In addition, the trend has begun to tackle key outstanding political questions of the U.S. revolution. As this political process of party building unfolds, so does the ideological process. True, unity (and struggle) without politics is unity (and struggle) built on sand. But here in the MLEP we can and must overcome the organizational barriers that exist in our movement and forge strategic relations on the basis of a common political task and outlook.

Using a similar argument, MGM have protested against all-sided assessments. In their paper they write, “How can (the MLEP leadership) make an ’all-sided assessment’ of a comrade’s development, when they themselves confess that they lack ’all-sided’ theory, ideology, politics and organization to base this assessment on?” But assessments have to begin at some point. We can’t wait for the “all-sided” theory before we make assessments because we might wait forever. After all, our theory will never be completely all-sided. Beginning with the political, ideological, and organizational lines and practice which we have developed, we can begin to make all-sided assessments of comrades’ development. Of course, we can’t give all-sided guidance to comrades which may be what MGM have confused all-sided assessments with. A party center would, on the basis of its general line, all-sidedly guide the practice of its members in all areas of work and development. In the MLEP we are talking about making all-sided assessments of students’ theoretical, political, ideological, and organizational strengths and weaknesses so that we can facilitate their development as more than just participants in a ten-month study program, but as long-term fighters for the revolution.

So why all the resistance to all-sided assessments and strategic relations? We think there is more than just a difference here with the nature of ideological struggle in the pre-party period. There is also a strong current of individualism and anti-communism underlying MGM’s arguments. After all, what are the alternatives to all-sided assessments and strategic relations? In the case of all-sided assessments, the alternative is to take a narrow and circumscribed view of comrades development and hold onto, for as long as possible, an individually-determined assessment of each comrade’s position to the revolution. In the case of strategic relations, the alternative is to maintain a distance and separateness among comrades even when the political basis exists to forge unity; i.e., to hold yourself accountable only to yourself and not to the movement as a whole. This hesitancy to becoming part of a trend-wide process of activity and development underlies the questions posed by MGM: “Just why in the world would MLEP even attempt to set itself this task (of making all-sided assessments)? Just who is it who wants to make an “all-sided assessment” of each of us – and why?” It is the trend and the revolutionary movement of which MLEP is a part that wants to make this assessment in order that comrades may be better prepared to take up the political tasks before us. But MGM have fallen back on the all too familiar anti-communist stereotype of some secret and mysterious hand (or central committee) which is going to catch unsuspecting activists in its web of all-sided assessments and strategic relations. It is unfortunate that MGM have sewn this type of anti-communist intrigue into their argument, but it also helps to reveal what we think are the underlying ideological weaknesses which are at the heart of their position.

Summation

In the end, we find that there are many flaws with MGM’s position on ideological struggle. Although they claim to have general agreement with some of the MLEP’s principles on ideological struggle, when it comes down to a concrete analysis and implementation of these principles, they objectively come down on the side of abandoning ideological struggle altogether. They look at the concrete manifestations of bourgeois ideology in the MLEP; i.e., one’s practice and orientation in the study groups, as “petty criticisms.” They look at the collective process as a fine “ideal”, but certainly not as something we should push for too hard or regard as an integral part of the study process. While they acknowledge the importance of the struggle against racism, sexism, and class chauvinism, they avoid a full struggle over these questions by raising the smokescreen of “impact.” And in the case of strategic relations and all-sided assessments, they openly declare themselves opposed to this type of ideological struggle which they say must wait until the party is formed. We think that these are serious shortcomings and in the case of two of the authors of the paper, we feel that this incorrect orientation to ideological struggle has been borne out in practice. We also feel that although the MLEP leadership has made some errors in carrying out its line, that our position on ideological struggle has proven to be correct.

We hope that all comrades involved will think seriously about the situation that has occurred this past year in the MLEP and about the larger questions concerning the role of ideological struggle in the communist movement which have been raised. We certainly don’t think the debate has ended with the exchange of these two papers. These questions will be discussed for some time to come.