First Published: February 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
Note: The following article was submitted by us for publication in the radical forum feature of the Guardian newspaper. It is derived from a longer analysis by us of party-building and the present state of the movement which we hope to publish shortly in pamphlet form. At the time of this writing, we have not heard from the Guardian whether they plan to publish this article or not.
Everyone was striving for himself, each thinking that the essential thing was to form groups and to make themselves into a “party”, by abusing the others, pointing out their “mistakes”, saying that the others were to blame for everything, while they alone were “absolutely right”. FROM: Report delivered to the First Consultative Meeting of the Activists of the Communist Party of Albania by Enver Hoxha. April 8, 1942.
What attitude should Marxist-Leninists take toward the October League’s call to unite to form the new communist party? Should they pretend they didn’t hear it? Should they stand on the sidelines and predict its failure? Or should they unite with its aims and struggle to realize its stated objectives?
What attitude should the October League take towards these objectives? Should they pretend they didn’t say them? Should they wear them like ceremonial ornaments, but drop them at their convenience? Or should they struggle to adopt a plan and methods of struggle which will best serve the interests of the future party?
The uniting of the present communist movement into a single revolutionary party at the earliest possible time should be the primary objective of all Marxist-Leninists. In this spirit, the OL published a call to unite what OL Chairman Michael Klonsky describes as “twenty different centers” into a single vanguard party. To accomplish this task, the comrades of the OL proposed uniting the “nearly dozen ML publications” into an ML paper which comes out “at least weekly.”
The recognition of many different centers and the announced intention to unite them come none too soon. Contrary to the OL’s view that unity constitutes the main trend, the facts prove that disunity is growing. For large sections of the movement are mired in self-congratulation and mutual excommunication. Some have declared their own parties and turned their backs, on the rest as “new leftists”, or ”kautskyists”, and so forth. Some fancy themselves the “revolutionary wing,” regard everyone else as a pack of “opportunists,” and produce newspapers which read like a movement “hit parade”, complete with the “top five” and the real losers. Some recognize themselves as the “genuine trend”, and call on all others to split and wreck their organizations. Some claim to be the Leninist trend, while still others applaud their own “independence”, dismissing the “non-independents” as dogmatists and flunkeys. At this critical moment, the October League looks the movement in the face and recognizes an obvious truth: there are twenty different centers (in fact, far more than twenty) and at least a dozen different M-L publications. And the OL pledges their not inconsiderable organizational and political resources to the work of unification. This is a laudable recognition and these are laudable objectives.
But what the OL gives with one hand, it takes back with the other. On the one hand, they say there are many different trends, many genuine Marxist-Leninists. On the other, they publish thinly-veiled attacks on “new appeals to legalism, electoral cretinism, narrow nationalism.” On the one hand, they say the decisive factor in party-building is political line; on the other, they attack the small groups–the “independents”–for being small, and condemn them for allegedly “baiting the Marxist-Leninist movement for its low theoretical level.” They call for “above-board and principled struggle,” but then go on to dismiss every criticism of their political leadership as “opposition to any and all efforts to concretely organize a new party.”
How are we to explain this contradiction? In our view, the OL finds itself in a dilemma. They have proposed a plan which has many faults. For some very good reasons, this proposal has excited little positive interest. Because of their own sectarianism, and because of certain hegemonistic ambitions, the OL refused to acknowledge the problems with their plan or to discuss politically any serious differences with their line. Consequently, they must redefine the communist movement and come up with a definition which excludes any recognition of other legitimate centers. This process will only exacerbate the unprincipled polarization of the communist movement, further the OL’s isolation from other Marxist-Leninist trends, and ensure the continued proliferation of Marxist-Leninist parties.
Therefore, the OL faces a choice. It can welcome constructive criticism of its plan, struggle honestly to overcome differences, unite the many to defeat the few, and play an important part in the building of a new party. Or it can damn the many, unite the few, and declare itself that Party. In the interests of that first choice, in the interests of communist unity and the future Party, we would like to address some comradely criticisms and questions to the October League.
Comrade Klonsky said that the key to succeeding in our efforts to build the party is the building of the Marxist-Leninist press. He goes on to say that “building the Marxist-Leninist newspaper is a tried and tested road to building the party.” He invokes the example of Iskra to support his view. Yet his description of this newspaper does not conform to the example of Iskra. For instance, he says explicitly that the new newspaper will not be open to all points of view. This raises serious questions about the OL’s use of the Iskra example.
What does Iskra’s role in the building of the Bolshevik Party teach us? First, the “Iskra tactic” (Stalin) aimed at “establishing unity among all Russian Social-Democrats. For this purpose, Lenin held that “it must unite all the available literary forces, that it must express all shades of opinion and views prevailing among Russian Social-Democrats.” (LCW 4: 323) This did not mean that Iskra was to be “merely a jumble of various views.” Rather, Lenin believed that ”an organ having a definite tendency will prove quite suitable...both for the purpose of expressing various viewpoints and for comradely polemics between contributors.”
The OL’s plan presents a very different picture. Instead of opening its pages to “all shades of opinion and views prevailing among US communists, the OL’s “Iskra” would exercise “dictatorship” over other views, which OL Chairman Klonsky characterizes as either “revisionist”, “centrist”, or “neo-Trotskyist”. Klonsky apparently does not recognize any principled difference with the October League’s views, and therefore offers no plan which includes representation for these views. Or if he does, he does not say so.
The Call has recently reminded us to judge the communist forces by their deeds as well as their words in the struggle for communist unity. Now, many comrades have jumped to the conclusion that the OL intends to declare The Call the new Iskra, itself the new Party, and its leadership the temporary Party leadership. We admit that when Chairman Klonsky raises the slogan, “On to the Party, Build the Weekly Call,” he tends to confirm some of these suspicions. But the question is not, will the Call be declared the new Iskra? Instead, we should ask; has the Call functioned as such a paper in the past? What contributions has it made in practice to the principled unity of all Marxist-Leninists?
Iskra had two main functions: it opened its pages to all shades of opinion and views and it represented a definite and independent tendency. Has the Call demonstrated adherence to these two features? Without a doubt, it has not.
On the first point, the Call has never expressed other points of view from that of the October League. In three and one half years of publishing, it has printed maybe three pages of polemics by others among the “twenty centers” or “dozen publications” the OL now pledges itself to unite. Three pages in three and one half years! And not one page critical of the OL!
Even after publishing its plan, the October League has provided no mechanism for broad discussion of it. Instead, they say we all should come talk to them. At the same time, they say we need to conduct polemics in full view of the masses.
Does the Call represented a definite tendency? Of course, the Call has always represented the October League. But does the October League itself represent a definite tendency? We need to be convinced. Let us look a little at the history of the Call and the October League.
Two years ago, the October League put forward the slogan, “Dump Nixon – stem the Fascist Tide.” Articles in the Call portrayed an immediate fascist threat to the multinational working class. The OL called for a “broad united front of forces opposed to the fascist tide that is sweeping the country.” The Call wrote,
“Today, the pivotal question is whether the rising fascist tide will be able to engulf the whole country or whether the peoplesís forces will awaken to this real danger and be able to lead the working class and its allies to victory.” (Nov,’74). Of late, we have heard next to nothing from the Call about the “fascist tide”.
What happened to it? Did Nixon’s resignation stem it? Did the Fightback fight it back? Did it go underground? It must have been a very special kind of fascist tide to threaten to engulf the country one day and disappear the next. The OL seems more at home with discovering, new “periods” than it is with summing up work, or making an occasional self-criticism.
In remarking on the organisational amateurishness of our movement, comrade Klonsky says, “Every city you go to, you can speak to people in these groups and they will run down a different line to you.” Yet what should we make of the OL’s views on the united front against imperialism or on united action with the CPUSA? For years the OL has told us that the UFAI is the strategy for revolution in the US. They have never written a theoretical explanation of this position, and they have never answered the many criticisms other comrades, have raised of it. Recently, however, comrade Klonsky has alled the UFAI a “tactic” and in their proposed points of unity, the OL terms the united front our “vehicle for defeating imperialism and establishing the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”. Will the new party, then, have no strategy for revolution? Since when are parties equipped with “vehicles” and not strategies? Doesn’t this resemble the “creative” formulation of the Communist Labor Party, which boasts not a strategy, nor a tactic, but rather a “bridge to revolution” through the United Front Against Fascism?
And what about “no unity of action with the revisionists?” Back in April, the Vice Chairperson and another Central Committee member wrote that “In the October League’s view, making a thorough and complete break, including an organizational break with the revisionists, is not a ’momentary tactic’ as Silber calls it, but a question of principle.” Yet in the September Call, we read that “no united action with the revisionists” is “our tactical line.” We think the first quote confuses two separate matters, but still we have to ask: do principles transform themselves into tactical lines? Can a strategy become a tactic? What sorts of things become vehicles? Can it be that the October League does not know the difference between principles, tactics, and strategies?
Declaring one’s paper an Iskra is a simple matter, about as simple as declaring one’s group a party. Understanding and applying the Iskra experience to our own situation is quite a different matter. These examples do not inspire confidence that the Call is ready for an Iskra role.
Do these reservations mean that we should ignore the OL’s plan? Not in the least. The October League has hoped “that this paper...can serve as the basis for concrete discussion leading to Marxist-Leninist unity.” We have shown that the OL’s peculiar perspective on forging revolutionary unity will frustrate rather than advance the merging of our “twenty centers”. Since the proposal contains these serious flaws, it cannot serve as the basis for discussion, and we hope that the OL will realize this.
For our part, we would like to make four concrete proposals to advance this historic task:
1) Since Comrade Klonsky says that “these are tasks not just for the October League, but for all Marxist-Leninists,” discussion of the OL proposal and all other proposals should not be limited in any arbitrary way. On this basis, we think the OL was wrong to call for all Marxist-Leninists to discuss this paper with us and to hold meetings where it can be debated and unity forged. Instead of a series of bilateral negotiations, the OL should take the initiative in organizing meetings where representatives of many tendencies can struggle for unity. All organizations involved in this process should have the opportunity to exchange views: the October League cannot monopolize the knowledge of who participates.
2) The October League should open the pages of its newspaper and theoretical journal to the views of other communist organizations. The OL says “our efforts are above board and principled. They are based upon principled struggle and patient work. We reject get-rich-quick schemes of all types.” It one believes in conducting polemics in full view of the masses, then one has the responsibility to do so. Other comrades should in turn open up the pages of their papers to the views of the October League and other groups. This is the quickest way to organize discussion and settle differences.
3) The October League should publish a draft program and provide a vehicle for its public discussion by all concerned. Communist unity ultimately depends on one line settling accounts with all other lines. If, as the OL suggests, “the main trends have already been demarcated”, then this should not be so awesome a task. If, as we suggest, the OL’s political line displays certain inconsistencies, then the program would help clear up some of the prevailing confusion. In either case, organizational unity depends on ideological consolidation around a coherent program. It is hypocritical for the OL to criticize the RU’s draft program for “burying” their views in vague generalities, yet refuse to produce a draft program of its own. It is disingenuous of the OL to denounce the RU for including only a few paragraphs on the woman question, when its point of unity amounts to five sentences.
The OL responds in the latest Call that the points of unity only “lay the groundwork for those truly desiring to come together.” If this is so, why call their coming together around these points of unity a Party? Why not call it a Continuations Committee, or something else? Of two things, one: either the “main trends have already been demarcated,” in which case these points of unity and the ensuing discussion are a charade, and the Party can be formed immediately; or the main trends have not been demarcated, broad ideological discussion is on the agenda, and the Party cannot be formed this spring around vague principles of unity.
4) Only in the wake of a broad ideological struggle can organizational unity take place. In our view, this unity should be reached at a full Congress, where elections can be held on the positions advocated by different individuals, and their commitment to a Party, rather than a group, spirit. The OL only creates suspicion by advocating the immediate formation of a Party and the election of national leadership before any significant gains are made in the struggle for ideological unity among the “twenty centers”. “I again leave it to the reader to judge whether a grosser and more mechanical method of struggle...can be imagined than installing people in Party institutions before the Party has been convinced of the correctness of their views, and before these views have been set forth to the Party.” (LCW: 364)
We would like to take the October League at their word when they declare their intention to place their organization at the service of uniting the “twenty centers” and the “dozen publications”. They would make a terrible mistake if they proceeded now to pronounce themselves the party. The next few months should demonstrate to all concerned the seriousness of the OL in their call for unity, and their willingness to make objective and not subjective criteria the foundation of the new party. There are two cautions we would like to raise in ending.
First, the Klonsky speech makes much of the OL’s undeniable organizational advances: the circulation of Class Struggle, the Call, and the size of the Fightback Conference. We trust that the comrades of the October League realize that wide circulation or numbers are not measures of the revolutionary character of any organization or journal. Similarly, it does no good to attack the OL’s critics as “small organizations”. The OL should instead ask whether or not some of these critics raise good points, and whether these criticisms are shared by a large section of the communist movement. This type of box office reasoning is characteristic of the mass revisionist parties, and has no place in a Marxist-Leninist publication. Second, the Fightback Conference was in many respects a success, and demonstrated the growth of the OL’s and the Congress of Afrikan People’s work among the multi-national working class. But activities of this type are very different from consolidating the vanguard of the class around Marxism-Leninism, though they may (or may not) serve as a means to this end. The Fightback Conference did not reveal the social base for the consolidation of a proletarian party, and the OL should not construe it as such. As for the claim that “the fact that a number of Marxist-Leninist groups were able to unite to build the conference was also a good indication of the growing unity in the direction of a single communist party”, CAP has reached very different conclusions: “there was a glaring absence of other anti-revisionist formations”. (Unity and Struggle, Feb,’76)
We stand at a critical juncture in the short history of the present-clay communist movement. All will be judged by their willingness to place the long-term interests of their class and their Party above the short-term interests of any particular group. All will be judged by their willingness to present, with the maximum clarity possible, their full views before every revolutionary. The largest organizations such as the October League bear the heaviest responsibilities in this regard. Marxist-Leninists Unite!