First Published: IWK Journal, No. 3, January 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In this section, we present a preliminary review of our own past ideas on the particular question of party building. Because this is not an overall summation of the history of our organization (something which we are in the process of doing), this review is necessarily incomplete. We are presenting it nevertheless in the hope that it will contribute to that necessary process which the entire communist movement must undergo to summarize past practice and pinpoint contributions and mistakes, and draw appropriate lessons.
Our position on party building states that party building has been the central task for all communists since the time the CPUSA degenerated and became revisionist. We also state that party building is a struggle in the conscious realm. Our organization has not always held the position that the central task of all communists is party building, nor have we fully understood the decisive importance of ideological struggle in the process of party building. In summarizing our history on the party building question, we have learned from criticisms and struggle raised by other comrades in the communist movement. In this section, we present a self-criticism of our organization’s past positions on this question, with further elaboration so that we can all learn from past errors and avoid them in the future.
Out of the tremendous mass movements of the oppressed nationalities, of students and of the resistance against the war in Indochina in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, many revolutionary organizations formed based on a particular oppressed nationality or in a local area. Such organizations for the most part refused to follow the path of reformism and revisionism as put forward by the CPUSA, nor to follow the national chauvinism and Trotskyism of Progressive Labor Party (PLP). While none of these organizations began as Marxist-Leninist, they objectively contributed in this historical context to the development of the anti-revisionist revolutionary movement. There were many shortcomings and weaknesses inherent in such a young, immature movement which included weakness in grasp of revolutionary theory, and weakness in understanding the leading role of the working class and its vanguard party. But the principal aspect was the break with the politics of the CPUSA and PLP. This new movement recognized that the many problems in U.S. society could only by solved with the overthrow of the capitalist system by the masses of the American people; it recognized the revolutionary role of the oppressed nationalities in the U.S.; it recognized the importance of supporting the liberation struggles worldwide against imperialism. It brought a new militant stand to the revolutionary movement. And thus, it opened a new chapter in the American revolutionary movement.
By early 1972, many of these new revolutionary organizations, including IWK, faced numerous theoretical and practical questions which needed to be answered in order to understand the direction for the future and to move the work forward. Some organizations, including ours, began to see that such clarity and direction could only come through struggling to understand and apply Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought.
Thus in 1972 we wrote a paper on our principles and perspectives, our first attempt to systematically analyze from a Marxist-Leninist perspective the revolutionary situation and the role of our organization. This paper was an important and qualitative step forward for our organization and we think at that time contributed to the intensifying struggle among revolutionaries for a correct ideology and political line. In it we placed our organization on the foundation of MLMTT, recognized the leading role of the working class, and the need for a multinational communist party, analyzed the international situation and affirmed the necessity of dealing with the national question in this country in a revolutionary way.
While this paper was, in the whole, positive, it also contained errors. From the perspective of reviewing our past positions on party building, this paper contained a naive and idealist view of how the various revolutionary forced would unite to form such a party. Our underlying assumption was that there would be a common development of forces working in the diverse sections of the revolutionary movement and that at some unspecified time in the future these various forces would come together to form a party. We confused the struggle to unite the various mass movements of peoples with the struggle for the unity of Marxist-Leninists. This error stemmed from our inexperience and weak grasp of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought, and we feel was understandable at that time given the fact that we had just begun the study and application of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought.
This original error was the basis in the next period (roughly mid-1972 to 1973) for our erroneous position on party building which failed to recognize that in the formation of a vanguard party the struggle for ideological and political line is key and that the unity of Marxist-Leninists must be forged through conscious struggle. From this error came several erroneous ideas on the question of party building.
For example, we placed the struggle for communist unity on only the most immediate questions which arose in specific situations. We also put forth that a prerequisite to forming the party was that communists must have won the respect and leadership of the mass movement. While it is true that communists must engage in mass struggle in order to develop an understanding of the conditions of the masses, concretize our theoretical work, raise the political consciousness of the masses and develop communists from among the advanced elements, it is not true that the formation of the party is dependent upon communists having won the leadership of the mass movement. Rather, the party must be formed around a correct communist line which must be consciously struggled for. This means that the correct line will not automatically arise from our mass work. Communists must consciously and systematically integrate MLMTT with a concrete analysis of concrete conditions and struggle against all opportunism in order to forge the correct line for our revolutionary movement.
A concrete example of how the above cited error manifested itself was in our struggle with the Revolutionary Union during this period. We objected to the RU’s sectarianism in the National Liaison Committee (NLC) (for example, we questioned why other groups who would agree with the NLC’s principles were excluded from the NLC) but did not and were not able to pinpoint the ideological source of the RU’s errors and link it up to their overall party building line. In the anti-war movement we disagreed with the way the RU promoted opposition to the war in Indochina based on how the war economically affected one’s pocketbook, but we did not deepen this criticism so that we could trace this difference to the RU’s economism and general right opportunism.
We believe that all of the criticisms we had of the RU were basically correct. However, because we were unable to and did not see the importance of raising these differences to a general theoretical level, others could not really learn from our struggle. And for ourselves, because we could not link the source of the RU’s errors in practice to their general line and ideological source, our ability to thoroughly repudiate their opportunism and thereby develop a correct approach was hindered.
To summarize, in the period mid-1972 to fall of 1973 we failed to recognize the key role of theoretical tasks in this pre-party period. Because of the absence of a correct understanding of the theoretical tasks of the movement and the lack of establishing party building as the central task we did not participate fully and contribute to the communist movement and the necessary process of forging conscious unity of Marxist-Leninists. These errors in belittling the role of the ideological struggle in forging unity in the communist movement and not struggling to understand party building were serious ones. They were a right deviation.
When we left the NLC in the fall of 1973 we knew that we had many differences with the RU and other erroneous tendencies in the communist movement but we also recognized that we had been unable to raise these differences to a theoretical level. Struggle intensified within IWK in late 1973 and throughout 1974 to evaluate the state of our organization, the communist movement and to summarize our history. We began to deepen our understanding of the theoretical basis of our differences with other tendencies as well as beginning to comprehend the errors we had made in the past on party building.
Throughout 1974 the main task for our organization became internal consolidation, the principal aspect of which we saw as ideological strengthening. We came to recognize the importance of consciously struggling for the unity of Marxist-Leninists, and the need to develop a correct view on party building. We developed these understandings in opposition to incorrect tendencies within our organization. However, we still did not firmly establish party building as central task and seriously take up this issue. In the absence of a clear and correct consolidated position on party building we continued to make similar right errors in this period. We continued to belittle the importance of conscious struggle among Marxist-Leninists for a correct line to build the new party and did not take up in a serious way the struggles in the communist movement.
We did not immediately take up the various issues that were being discussed in the communist movement and we did not place our internal consolidation within the context of struggles in the communist movement and neglected these struggles. Consequently, as an example of this incorrect attitude we did not publish our stands on the important debates taking place in the communist movement at that time.
These errors show a tendency of narrowness, of not placing as primary the demands of the whole communist movement. This narrowness was in part a legacy from an earlier period in the history of the new communist movement which saw communist organizations established on a local basis as well as a reflection of our belittling of the theoretical tasks. In not consciously, actively and thoroughly struggling for a correct understanding of how unity would be built in the communist movement, we committed errors of narrowness in our scope and approach to our tasks in relation to party building.
As we began to recognize our errors and correct them we tried to take a more active role in the ideological struggle among communists. The publication of our Journal in mid-1974 is a reflection of this struggle to contribute more to the communist movement. While the first Journal was an advance in our theoretical work, it also showed a weak understanding of party building. We still erroneously failed to see the importance of establishing a clear central task for the communist movement and did not develop a correct position on party building. This is shown in the first Journal, in which we failed to put forward the importance of establishing party building as our clear central task, and as the central task for the communist movement.
We believe that our general line on the national question is still correct and correctly links the national struggles to the proletarian revolution as well as stresses the necessity of communists to struggle for the leadership of the national struggles to win the oppressed nationalities to proletarian revolution. The source of the errors in the first Journal is therefore not narrow nationalism but the continuing narrowness around our own work, which we discussed previously.
In 1975 we struggled more vigorously to overcome the right errors we had made and thus we strived to deepen our understanding, grasp and application of MLMTT. We tried to integrate theory and practice, deepen our line through struggle with other Marxist-Leninist forces, provide more systematic communist leadership in all areas of our mass work, and scientifically summarize our work, and raised our understanding and practice of democratic centralism. We also intensified our theoretical work to further develop our line on such questions as the trade union question and the national question. All these related tasks were aspects of our work to the development of our position on party building.
Regarding the form of our organization, it is the movements of the oppressed nationalities of the 1960’s that are the context of our development as a national form of organization. We have not placed the national form of IWK over politics, and have always evaluated people on the basis of politics, and worked with individuals of all nationalities. We have consistently tried to promote the unity of all revolutionaries and peoples. We have never advocated a “Bundist” or “federationist” view of party building.
We have concluded that it would no longer be correct for IWK to remain national in form. As we began to recognize and correct our past shortcomings and errors, especially in clarifying the central task of party building and the role of ideological struggle in all aspects of our work, we consciously began to expand the scope and responsibilities of our work. We consciously began to clarify our understanding of our role as communists in consolidating advanced elements of all nationalities and of providing communist leadership to the masses as part of the struggle for correct ideological and political line upon which to forge unity of Marxist-Leninists. Concretely, from this understanding, membership in IWK is now open to communists of all nationalities based on agreement with our line. This decision reflects a correct understanding of our responsibility to develop communists of all nationalities towards building the new communist party.