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Communist Voice

Volume 1, Number 1


April 15, 1995

Debate on the tasks of anti-revisionism

On El Machete and Zapatista strategy

Is opposing Cuban revisionism important?

On Labor Notes and the labor bureaucrats

The rebirth of communism


Inside this issue


Where we stand


Announcing a new theoretical journal, the CV


On changes in the working class, by Pete Brown


On Labor Notes and on Spark:

Oleg on the Labor Notes conference


Mark replies to Oleg on the Labor Notes conference


Review of Kim Moody’s views on the working class


Oleg on Spark


Pete Brown on Spark‘s workplace organizing


The debate on endorsing El Machete:

CWVTJ #5’s endorsement of El Machete


Joseph Green vs. endorsing El Machete, and some views on Zapatista strategy


Oleg’s reply on El Machete


CWVTJ #6 on El Machete


Tim Hall’s protest


El Machete and “occupied Mexico”

NC on petty-bourgeois nationalism


A nationalist article


What should we say to the masses about Cuba?

El Machete: Long live Cuba but...socialist


CWV on Cuba and the blockade


Joseph Green: Should we build an anti-revisionist trend among the masses?


More on endorsing El Machete & on communist tasks

Frank on El Machete, organization, the movement of the 70's, and theory


A reply by CV of the LA Workers’ Voice


A reply by NC of the LA Workers' Voice


Frank replies on organization, El Machete, and theory


Ongoing controversy

Jake inquires about minority meeting


Regarding communist work and mass work,by Jake with help from Julie


On complacency, part 4, by Joseph Green


NC replies


RE: NC’s reply by Mark


In this issue

This issue of Communist Voice contains three articles announcing who we are: the “Rebirth of communism,” “Where we stand” and “Announcing a new theoretical journal, the Communist Voice” The section “Our political roots” of “Where we stand” describes our origin in the Marxist-Leninist Party, which dissolved at its Fifth Congress in Nov. 1993.

Many of the other articles in this issue are concerned with the political disagreements that led us to found the “Communist Voice” rather than continue working with the Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal (CWVTJ), produced by the Chicago Workers' Voice group. There are far too many letters and documents on these disagreements to reproduce here. We instead are going to deal with the disagreements according to topic, and carry them in different issues of CV.

These disagreements center on whether we should strive to build an anti-revisionist trend in the movement. This issue of CV contains a number of articles concerning the attitude to groups in the left that are committed to seriously wrong orientations. The CWV knows that these groups aren’t Marxist, but it downplays the struggle to clarify right and wrong orientations for the movement.

For example, a large number of articles deal with the controversy over CWVTJ endorsing the Mexican journal El Machete as an example of communism. The CWVTJ glossed over the non-proletarian and petty-bourgeois nationalist political stands of El Machete, thinking it sufficient that El Machete gives left-wing slogans, supports the Zapatistas and opposes the mainstream reformists in Mexico. We feel that support for the activist uprising in Chiapas requires having a realistic assessment of their strategy, and that only such an assessment can inspire the Mexican workers to independent class organization. Encouraging the strengthening of the proletarian left both in Mexico and the U.S. is the best support for the heroic Chiapas toilers fighting against injustice. We also feel that only open discussion of El Machete's views, with the same zeal and enthusiasm as El Machete shows in propagating them, can be of any help to activists here or in Mexico who are seeking to develop an independent proletarian movement and build an anti-revisionist trend.

Some of the articles in this issue concern the nature of present-day Cuban society. One of the questions concerning El Machete concerns its endorsement of Cuban revisionism as socialism, but the issue of Cuba is quite important in its own right. As one of the remaining state-capitalist regimes that calls itself communist, the analysis of Cuba has much to do with one’s view of what socialism really is. The CWV has criticisms of the Castro regime, but doesn’t see any point to making a big issue of it. We oppose imperialist pressure on Cuba, but believe that Cuban revisionism must be vigorously denounced as well. Castroism is a backward influence on the movement here, and also the Cuban workers must be supported against the state- capitalist Castro regime as well as imperialism.

Other articles in this issue discuss two groups in the U.S.

One of these groups is Labor Notes. Oleg, a comrade in the CWV grouping, is excited about the prospects of Labor Notes to build some type of rank and file labor movement. An article by Pete Brown of the DMLSG discusses the analysis of Labor Notes concerning changes in the working class. It shows that while Labor Notes talks of an alternative to today’s “business unionism”, it still holds that the body of trade union bureaucrats and reformist leaders will build that alternative. An article by Mark of the DMLSG discusses the relationship of Oleg’s fascination with Labor Notes to the low priority he gives to building an anti-revisionist trend.

Two articles discuss Spark. This group concentrates at the workplace, but it talks down to the workers and avoids political issues. It focuses the attention of the workers only at the concerns of their own workplace, and even on those issues it has trouble taking an independent stand.

We also include an exchange of views between Frank, a comrade in Seattle, and the Los Angeles Workers' Voice group. Frank discusses the political significance of endorsing El Machete. He also compares the present tasks of the movement to issues that came up in the late 60s and early 70s. Back then the mass struggle was much higher. Some groups thought that the main issue for communists was to work in separate collectives. They downplayed theoretical tasks, the open propagation of communism in the mass struggle, and the need to unite the communist organizations. Today the mass struggle is very low. Yet there is still downplaying of the theoretical tasks facing us.

Another section of this CV carries up-to-the-minute controversy, with the objections from the CWV grouping and its supporters against our work. We reproduce a article from Jake and Julie of the CWV entitled “Regarding communist work and mass work” They hold that attention should be focused on more and more agitation, and don’t see much point to worrying about whether the anti-revisionist grouping is united or not. It denies the breakup of the grouping around CWVTJ was even a critical situation for them. Jake and Julie’s article make many serious charges against us which are simply factually wrong, and the discussion of their charges will continue next time This issue does contain a few preliminary replies and counter-replies.

Finally, we also have a report from Pete Brown on the investigation of the changes in the size of the working class, what occupations it engages in, what its political stand is, etc. He sums up the state of research work among us on this question. His article on Labor Notes, referred to above, also is relevant to the issue of the changes in the working class.

A note on terminology: “majority” and “minority”

Such terms as “majority”, “minority”, CWV (Chicago Workers’ Voice), etc. abound in this issue. The final section, “Our political roots”, in “Where we stand”, explains some of them.

The term “majority” refers to the majority of the MLP, which had grown discouraged at communist work after well over a decade of stagnation of the mass movement, and started to have doubts about Marxism, socialism, and anti-revisionism.

The term “minority” refers to those who wished to continue to uphold communism. Altogether there were comrades in Chicago, Detroit, New Jersey, Seattle, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. This includes the comrades now around Communist Voice and those around the Chicago Workers’ Voice Theoretical Journal. After the dissolution of the MLP, the CWV group began to produce the CWV Theoretical Journal, which for a time served informally as the voice of the minority and most of its articles came from outside Chicago. But a common minority organization was never formed. When disagreements arose on the importance of anti-revisionism and other issues, the CWV insisted on the CWVTJ reflecting their views only. The breakup of the minority is described in “Announcing a new theoretical journal, the Communist Voice.” []

The rebirth of communism

by Joseph Green

Today it is said that communism is dead. The Berlin Wall has fallen. The Soviet Union has dissolved.

And if communism was the state-capitalist regimes in Eastern Europe and Soviet Union yesterday, communism would indeed be dead. If communism is the regimes in China and Cuba today, communism would be taking its last gasps. And good riddance.

But communism is something else. Communism is the struggle of the working class against its oppressors. Communism is the future society where the means of production, the world's environment, and the intellectual and scientific knowledge of humanity will no longer be the private property of a few, but the precious heritage of all. Communism is not the old Soviet bloc, but the theory that denounced the old regimes as a travesty.

Few believe in this communism today. The neo-conservative and neo-liberal atmosphere of the time preaches an eternal marketplace, an eternal struggle of one against all for personal enrichment. But each day's news shows that the necessity for communism is growing rapidly.

The gap between rich and poor is growing in the U.S. The working class isn't disappearing -- it's being squeezed to the bone. From the Republican "Contract with America" to Clinton's own cutbacks, from the spread of racist ideas to rampant nationalism and religious fanaticism, free enterprise is rotting alive. And not just in this country. Everywhere one looks one finds intolerance and cutbacks and even civil wars. Living standards are being slashed in Mexico -- and yet Mexico was reasonably successful as developing countries go. Western Europe is stagnating. Africa is in agony. Migrant laborers wander the earth, and millions of young children in Asia slave long hours in sweatshops.

And capitalism is as deadly to the environment as to the workers. Each new environmental catastrophe shows that private property over the earth's resources means the earth's ruin. We have just seen a political crisis over overfishing in the north Atlantic. The destruction of the world's rain forests continues. The East Asian boom is straining the region's water supplies and bringing other environmental disasters. It's not that scientists and thoughtful people didn't see these catastrophes -- it's that marketplace forces are calling the shots. The marketplace is ravishing the environment. It's a deadly mixture: capitalism with the gigantic technological forces of today.

This is the moment of the greatest triumph of modern capitalism. And it is the moment of its bankruptcy. If it is going backward today, if all it can bring is more wars and ethnic massacres, more enrichment of the few at the expense of the many, then it is a system which has lived beyond its time.

The working people are being squeezed around the world. The seeds of new class struggles are multiplying. All the old prescriptions for reforming capitalism are being blown up by the development of capitalism itself. "Regulated capitalism" is turning into unregulated capitalism. Long-established "safety nets" are being torn to shreds. State capitalism has gone into crisis. Insecurity is growing daily.

But to prepare the way for the abolition of the ownership of the modern forces of production by a handful, to prepare the way for abolishing the division of humanity into those who decide and those who bear the consequences, it is essential to tear down all the lies that have hamstrung the past movements of the working class and its friends.

We do not lament the fall of the fake "communist" regimes. This is clearing the way for a rebirth of real communism. It would have been better if the workers could have replaced false socialism by real socialism, but one way or another, the fraud had to be punctured."Revisionism" used the words of Marxism but turned its ideas on their head in order to present a bureaucratic variant of capitalism as communist liberation. The collapse of revisionism will help clear the way for the real ideas of Marxism-Leninism, as opposed to such tragic parodies as Stalinism and its twin brother, Trotskyism.

We look towards the working class, not the reformist trade union bigwigs who dominate and hamstring the labor movement. A durable liberation movement will only arise on the basis of overcoming the old reformism, revisionism, and class collaboration. The proletariat (working class) faces disorganization around the world -- with the overwhelming majority of its organizations either destroyed or in the hands of leaders with false agendas. The task of proletarian reorganization is looming around the world.

We call on others to join us in helping to prepare the way for proletarian reorganization. We will show the root of current evils in capitalism, the ownership of the means of production and the domination of life by the rich. Capitalism can provide no way out, whether run by the most traditional of old-style capitalists or the most reformist of petty-bourgeois. It is a system of never-ending oscillation between liberal and conservative, between hot wars and cold wars, between overwork in times of boom and starvation in times of bust.

But exposing capitalism is not enough. It is necessary to deal with the tragedy that befell the revolutionary movement. The workers and toilers put their mark on this century by overturning many dictatorships, defeating a world fascist offensive, overturning the colonial system and making attempts to build socialism, but the regimes they established all degenerated. In this journal, we will not shed tears over the collapse of the different forms of revisionism and class collaboration, but we will help discredit them further. We will not repeat the outmoded theories of reformism or revisionism or anarchism, but help discredit them further. We aim to revitalize communism, to once again bring Marxism to life, to preserve the spirit of the best accomplishments and struggles and theorizing of the past by rejecting all that has proved false and analyzing the needs of the new class struggle that is coming into being. We aim to lay a strong foundation for an anti-revisionist communism, a communism of the future, not a mere repetition of the past. We are Marxist-Leninists because real Marxism is critical and never-complacent and the only theory that can encompass the dramatic developments in the world today.

It is the banner of communism that will emerge as the true answer to the neo-conservative atmosphere of today.

Let those who see revolutionary collective action of the proletariat, and its reorganization around the world, as the means for liberation join together with us.

Let those who wish to explore the meaning of the collapse of the revisionist ("communist" regimes) and build a new communism join with us.

Let those who wish to fight the imperialist world order, not by support for bourgeois regimes in the third world nor by tinkering with the social agendas of the imperialist governments and world agencies, nor by the dreams of petty-bourgeois nationalism, but by encouraging the class struggle of the oppressed, join with us.

Let those who are not satisfied to blame the present difficulty of the left on the poor objective conditions, but who want to expose the internal weaknesses of the left and go beyond the all-too-widespread catchwords of revisionism, Trotskyism, petty-bourgeois nationalism, anarchism and reformism join with us.

Let all those who are not intimidated by being, for now, a handful against the neo-conservative ocean unite.

Our watchword is no compromise with the jailers of the spirit, with the fanatics of the marketplace or the bureaucrats of state capitalism. It is time to lay the basis for the revolutionary communism of the future by revitalizing the communist theory and practice of today.

Where we stand

Statement of the Detroit Marxist-Leninist Study Group

The forces who are collaborating to produce Communist Voice are Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries. We stand for a working class alternative to capitalist society.

Capitalism thrives on exploitation and oppression

The present social order in the U.S. rests on the exploitation of tens of millions of workers. Year after year, the living standards of the workers and poor deteriorate. Meanwhile, this misery goes hand-in-hand with huge profits for the corporate giants, multi-million dollar bonuses for the CEOs, and the good life for the rich in general.

It is a social system that has created technological wonders and great productive powers. But in the hands of the capitalists, these great powers are turned against the workers. They mean speedup and layoffs. They mean swelling the army of unemployed workers and the huge “underclass” which lives on the edge of destitution. And while the need for social welfare grows, social programs are being cut to ribbons. This profit-driven system is the breeding ground for rampant racism, the hounding of immigrant workers and the oppression of women. Capitalist greed constantly leaves environmental devastation in its wake.

The political system serves the needs of capitalist exploitation. American democracy means the class rule of the corporate giants. The president, the Cabinet and Congress are tied to the capitalists by a thousand threads, as are the Republican and Democratic parties. The legal system and the various police agencies keep the downtrodden from threatening the profits of the wealthy. The social ills bred by capitalism are “solved” by more police measures and a “boom” in jails. Capitalist democracy is democracy for the rich and repression for the poor.

Meanwhile, American capitalism is the world’s imperialist superpower. It is the global cop and the largest international exploiter. It heads up a world order of oppression along with the other imperialist powers. It is a system where multinational corporations exploit labor, plunder resources and exercise political influence around the globe. It is a system where the U.S. and other imperialists seek to impose their will around the world through economic pressure, international agencies, and war. Militarism, power politics, spheres of influence and the division between haves and have nots are not an accident or a mere policy choice but are an inherent feature of capitalism in its monopoly stage.

The workers and poor need a new social system

The workers and poor need a new society. They need a society that is free of the profit motive and therefore can use the great productive powers and technological marvels of today to benefit the masses. Such a new society can only be achieved through the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by the class rule of the workers. The workers must stepwise learn how to run the new society, convert the economy to social ownership and abolish anarchy of production, end exploitation, and build up the common productive powers. The construction of such a socialist society creates the basis for eliminating the social ills born of capitalism. And it will create the conditions for passing over to a classless, communist society.

The new society is not some scheme dreamed up by utopian planners. The groundwork is being laid by modem capitalism itself. It has created productive powers that have the potential to eliminate want. Large-scale production has laid the basis for social ownership. It is the billions of exploited workers and poor peasants worldwide whose class interests make them the potential vehicle of revolutionary change.

The DMLSG believes that the working class alternative is not just a future goal. Its achievement is the outgrowth of the development of the class struggle. The struggles of today not only are a necessity for survival, but provide the training ground for the greater battles of tomorrow. We support the day-to-day battles of the workers to defend themselves against the capitalist offensive of unemployment, wage and benefit-cutting, speed up, etc. We stand with the masses straggling against imperialism and the war machine, against racism, sexism and anti-gay bigotry.

The DMLSG holds that for the workers and poor to achieve their immediate and long-term goals, they must be able to express their own class stand. They must get organized independently of the capitalist parties, the Republicans and Democrats. As well, they must fight such vehicles of capitalist influence as the trade union bureaucrats and the reformist misleaders in the anti-racist movement, the women’s movement, etc. They must rely on mass action and class organization, not the establishment.

Without an anti-revisionist theory, there will be no communist movement

We think that the success of the working class straggle depends on it being guided by revolutionary theory. That theory is Marxism-Leninism. The DMLSG does not think that theory provides some standard recipe for revolution. Rather it provides a basic framework and principles that must be applied to present conditions.

Many have falsely labeled themselves Marxist or Leninist. There are the “Leninists” who back repressive state-capitalist regimes such as the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe of yesterday, or the China and Cuba of today. There are “Marxists” who are banking on the reformists or trade union bureaucrats to move the struggle forward and “socialists" who preach about the wonderful new societies that can allegedly come about without overturning the old oppressive social orders. Such “Marxists" have revised Marxism beyond recognition. The DMLSG holds that Marxism-Leninism is nothing if not anti-revisionist. We aim to carry through the anti-revisionist critique of such theories and of the tyrannies that posed as “communist." We stand opposed to Soviet revisionism from Stalin to Gorbachev. We also stand opposed to Trotskyism, Chinese revisionism, Castroism, social-democracy and anarchism.

We believe that study of the entirety of the Soviet revolution and its subsequent decay is part of developing socialist theory. This must include examining the period under Lenin’s leadership. We do not believe this means rejecting Leninism. We support the Leninist framework and draw a distinction between that framework and the evaluation of particular policies.

The revolutionary workers' party

The DMLSG believes that the class struggle requires a revolutionary party to guide and organize it. Such a party would be made up of the most class conscious workers and other dedicated activists and be guided by Marxism-Leninism. As the class struggle develops, numerous other forms of organization will come into being and pass away. But unless there is a party representing the interests of the class as a whole, a party with the political clarity to influence the diverse struggles, the struggles cannot converge on a common path against the capitalist exploiters. A party of the most clear-sighted sections of the class is vital to guide the proletariat amidst the confusion spread by reformist and opportunist trends. A vanguard party is needed to both strengthen the present struggles and to develop within them the consciousness and organization that will prepare for the bigger battles of the future. The DMLSG is not a party, but hopes its work can make a contribution to the eventual rebuilding of a communist party worthy of the name.

For world proletarian solidarity

The struggle of the American working class is part of a global struggle of capital and labor, of exploiter and exploited. The American workers must stand with the workers and poor peasants around the world. This requires special attention to support for the creation and building of revolutionary class organizations of the proletariat all over the world. It also requires overcoming the national and ethnic divisions among workers. This is inseparable from the American workers opposing their “own" imperialist bourgeoisie, its oppression of toilers around the world, and its national rivalries with the competing bourgeoisies of other countries.

Our political roots

The founders of the DMLSG were former members or supporters of the Marxist-Leninist Party, USA. which produced The Workers' Advocate newspaper. The MLP dissolved at its 5th Congress in November 1993.

The MLP was a staunch defender of the workers' interests and consistently fought to spread revolutionary class consciousness and defend the Marxist-Leninist theory. Under the pressure of over a decade of lull in the mass movements and of the neo-conservative ideological climate of the times, however, a section of the party gave up their previous belief in the need for building an anti-revisionist trend although another section held that the present times cried out for continued communist organization. Despair over revolutionary work also gradually took hold among a majority of the MLP’s leaders who sought to eliminate the party’s revolutionary stands and publications.

Thus the ideological unity of the party fragmented and the growing liquidationist mood was reflected in varying ways. The liquidators turned Lenin’s views into cardboard caricatures and then dismissed them. Modern capitalism was prettified and imperialism reduced to incidental “flaws” rather than the world order of capitalism in its monopoly stage. In the difficult conditions and backwardness of the times, they no longer saw much point in imbuing the masses with revolutionary class consciousness and the perspective of socialism. Indeed, some eventually went so for as to put up for grabs even the basic Marxist theses that capitalism would give rise to socialism and that the working class was the vehicle of this revolutionary change. For some, the only thing that was realistic at present was “free market" development and petty-bourgeois dreams of ever-growing democracy which would supposedly take place under the rule of the capitalist and imperialist exploiters.

As the MLP dissolved, a section of former members and supporters fought to continue the discussion of the controversies that tore apart the MLP These comrades came together as a grouping at and following the 5th Congress of the MLP, which dissolved the party. This grouping (the “minority") fought against the anti-Marxist liquidationist (“majority”) views. But within this grouping itself, some shared the skepticism of the liquidators towards anti-revisionism. As well, they substituted anarchist anti-organizational phrasemongering for a serious critique of the strengths and weaknesses of the MLP. The grouping that had come up to carry on the debate on the controversial issues in the MLP proved incapable of declaring any common platform. The Detroit Marxist-Leninist Study Group and other comrades are continuing, however, to uphold anti-revisionist Marxism, and to that end, we are publishing Communist Voice. []

Announcing a new theoretical journal, the Communist Voice

This statement was originally issued on March 9, 1995.

1. The Detroit Marxist-Leninist Study Group will soon be publishing, with the cooperation and support of other comrades, a new journal. Below we outline the reasons behind our decision.

2. The Detroit Marxist-Leninist Study Group wanted to see the “minority” define itself as an organization. We called for a loose network, the only organizational form suitable for the present low level of ideological agreement. We wanted to see the “minority” define itself as a political trend not a fragment of the past, adopt a statement of purpose, and reorient its flagship publication to take up the present tasks.

But the Chicago Workers Voice group is unwilling to join. It has declared that its differences with the DMLSG — concerning anti-revisionism, the attitude to different political trends, MLP history, the historical role of various individuals, etc. — preclude unity at present. Comrades in LA and Seattle have also pointed out that the existence of these differences among the “minority” preclude a general “minority” organization at this time. The differences include such basic questions as what is anti-revisionism, the attitude to the struggle against opportunism, and the role of theoretical work. There doesn’t appear to be any possibility at present of a national organization embracing the former “minority”

3. There is also little chance that the CWV's journal, the Chicago Workers Voice Theoretical Journal, can continue to function as an informal central voice of the “minority” grouping. The CWV doesn’t even see that at present we have reached a critical juncture. It is complacent before the pressing theoretical tasks, which are crucial for maintaining an anti-revisionist trend, analyzing today’s world, and developing Marxism-Leninism as a live revolutionary theory. It is intolerant of differences — for example, it failed to put forward the range of minority views on its endorsement of the journal El Machete in a timely way. And it is too self-absorbed, its imagination too constrained by the narrow concerns of a small circle, to deal with the needs of the rest of the “minority”.

The CWV has embarked on the path of using CWVTJ as its exclusive voice, rather than as the chorus of the “minority”. It is trying to create a rationale for this position by presenting CWV (as the successor of the former Chicago Branch of the MLP) as the hero of the last years of the late Marxist-Leninist Party, whose allegedly correct position was ignored by others. It upholds its mistaken criticism from several years back of basically correct Workers' Advocate articles as the real fight against liquidationism, and this too helps blind it to the theoretical questions that face us today. At the same time it has a sectarian attitude to other comrades who were opposed to the development of liquidationism in the MLP

4. Indeed, the CWV also refuses unity based on its grievances against various other comrades of the “minority". Rather than seriously looking into the history of the MLP. it looks at outsiders with a jaundiced eye no matter what the weight of evidence shows. Its view of history’ is that itself bears little responsibility for the past, but was just put upon by others. Instead of seriously examining the pluses and minuses of the MLP, as well as its own role in the final years of the MLP, it seeks to find mainly organizational reasons to explain why other comrades didn’t accept its views. And yet it bears the heritage of the Chicago branch, one of the powerful organizations of the MLP, which took full part in the conferences, congresses, and regional meetings of the MLP; and whose views were circulated in a timely fashion in the Information Bulletin of the MLP, through the MLP sending Chicago branch members around the country to talk to other comrades, and through party conferences. And with respect to organizational questions, both at present and in the study of MLP history, the CWV is showing an inclination to anarchist phrasemongering.

5. These stands of the CWV signify the fragmentation of the “minority". The former unity around the CWVTJ as chief “minority” journal was based on enthusiastic agreement about the need for the debate with the “majority”; the view that CWVTJ should be an open forum for all comrades; and the expectation that CWV, although formally free to do as it pleases, would informally show the same tact and consideration towards others that the elected editorial board of a national organization is supposed to show towards the organization’s members. None of these conditions are satisfied today.

The “minority” — which came together at the fifth and last Congress of the Marxist-Leninist Party — succeeded in continuing the debate which the leaders of the “majority” sought to silence. It brought news of the struggle to other activists here and abroad. It succeeded in bringing together a number of comrades, thus overcoming for a time the impulse to fragmentation given by the collapse of the MLP It provided a platform for comrades to put forward political views and encouraged continued theoretical and political work.

But the “minority” never even succeeded in defining what it was — to the very end, it relied on the makeshift term “minority”. It never was able to overcome ideological fragmentation. And it never succeeded in developing any encompassing organization at all, relying solely on informal arrangements which it is not even possible to completely ascertain.

6. Under these conditions, the “minority” as a cohesive political grouping doesn’t exist any more.

The DMLSG will seek further clarification of the different stands of the different circles of the former “minority” grouping. And we will seek to maintain cooperation with all of the circles and individuals of the former “minority”, both those who agree with the DMLSG on various issues and those who are critical of us. But we will not subordinate our work to decisions taken without our consultation and consent. We would be happy if further discussion restores unity, and would at that time advocate journals responsible to a united organization as a whole. But we will not suspend our work while waiting for the outcome of future discussions.

7. In this situation, the DMLSG will publish its own theoretical journal, tentatively to be called the Communist Voice, to encourage theoretical and political work and to facilitate closer relations with those who see the tasks of the movement as we do. The aim of this journal is to further the anti-revisionist trend which we seek to build. It will also publish materials and correspondence from comrades with other views, but lack of resources prevents us from making it into an open forum that would automatically accept all interesting contributions of whatever standpoint. The existence of other journals such as the CWVTJ will allow materials which we cannot publish to appear elsewhere.

8. The DMLSG will also adopt a new statement of purpose. We will start with one similar to that we proposed for the “minority” organization. But we will gradually work to sharpen it further. We will seek to unite with all those who agree with us on the main issues, while maintaining dialogue with other comrades.

9. The Communist Voice will come out frequently, perhaps monthly or every month and a half. It will aim to satisfy a number of different needs. It will carry theoretical articles and polemics. It will carry some controversies and different views — especially (but not exclusively) those from within the former “minority” circles. It will also welcome political articles, and reports on demonstrations, world developments, etc., brief materials as well as detailed ones. And it will carry additional parts of the “unpublished” research materials of the MLP.

It will also seek to encourage comrades to write in with views concerning the theoretical materials it carries. We are also considering having a section, possibly in different typeface to mark it as distinct, which carries rough materials: possibly some study group reports, informal discussions between comrades, and other materials presently carried only in e-mail. Its heart will be the theoretical materials, but it will carry a variety of materials.

10. The Communist Voice will not only carry our own materials, but those of others. This includes contributions from those who don’t agree with us but who have prepared materials of theoretical or political or historical interest. At the same time, the Communist Voice will seek to show activists the need to break with traditional but bankrupt leftist phrases and instead take up anti-revisionist communism. In regard to activist work, it will aim to orient it towards strengthening the independent links of anti-revisionism with the masses, and not to mere floating in the left or the mere repetition of popular phrases which no longer have a cutting edge.

11. The Communist Voice will be produced as simply as possible, and laid out simply, so as to minimize the technical work and avoid unnecessarily diverting comrades from other work. It will be produced in modest quantities. But there will be attention paid, in producing it, to ensure that it can be xeroxed easily by those who need extra copies of a particular issue.

12. The Detroit Marxist-Leninist Study Group endorses other circles from the former “minority” making use of our articles and work for their journals, and looks forward to these circles showing us the reciprocal courtesy.

13. You can get in touch with the DMLSG at the following address:

P.O. Box 13261

Harper Station

Detroit, MI, 48213-0261. []

Special Issue of the Chicago Workers’ Voice Theoretical Journal

The special issue of the CWVTJ of March 7,1995 contains 59 letters and articles on the differences between the CWV and other comrades of the “minority”, and an overall editorial summing up CWV's side of the issue. It contains a good deal of interesting material. Unfortunately, it is slapped together in a way that makes it hard to follow, which its own "Editorial Guide" apologetically admits. It also leaves out some relevant documents from the other side, even within the time range it claims to cover. All this is probably related to the irritation the Editorial Guide displays over the CWV having to publish the material at all, calling the discussion “inopportune”, “acrimonious” and “force(d)” on them, and adding that “comrades have Detroit have said they intend to publish a journal.” The CWV also announced elsewhere that it would refrain from circulating its own special issue except to subscribers and those who wrote in for it.

However, for those who are interested, the special issue is available from CWV for $3.00 by mail. Write to Chicago Worker's Voice, P.O. Box 11542, Chicago 60611.

As for as regular issues of the CWVTJ, they are available from Chicago Workers’ Voice for $3 an issue by mail, or six issues for $20. Their mailing address is CWV, P.O. Box 11542, Chicago IL 60611. []

Study of working class composition

some points in summation (April 8,1995) — by Pete Brown

The following is a report summing up the work of a “minority” research team on working class composition. This team consisted of Gary, Jake and myself. Our goal was to deal with some of the anti-working class ideas raised by ex-members of the MLP. Portions of this debate were previously published in the Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal: “Statement of the Boston Communist Study Group” in #2 and my reply, “On class structure” in the same issue; also Gary’s reply, “Flaws in Boston’s study...” in #5.

As part of this research I read and reviewed some standard sociology texts on working class composition. These books were:

The Proletariat: A Challenge to Western Civilization by Gustav Briefs, published in 1937. My review of this book was published in CWVTJ #6.

White Collar by C. Wright Mills, pub. 1951.

The Affluent Worker by J.H. Goldthorpe and others, pub. 1969. Reviews of the latter two books may be published later in Communist Voice.


Major points raised by Fred, Joe, Michael on working class composition were:

1) the technical/managerial stratum is proletarian in outlook and should be the focus of organizing efforts.

2) the technical/managerial stratum is important and must be allied with as a first step towards revolution.

3) the t/m stratum is the largest (or very large) and is the fastest growing social stratum.

4) the working class may be becoming obsolete.

In dealing with these points, Gary did some statistical work on present changes in the working class. I did some book reviews of mainstream sociologists to help analyze the concepts involved. In answering the 4 theses above, we came up with these results:

1) All of the authors I reviewed (Briefs, Mills and Goldthorpe) showed that major differences remain between the t/m stratum and the working class. They did show a trend of equalization between blue-and white-collar workers. But there is a wide diversity within the “new middle class”, and sharp differences between the mass of low-level white-collar employees and the t/m stratum.

2) None of these authors look to the t/m stratum as the basis of a new society. They aren’t numerous enough. They aren’t in political opposition. Etc. Mills in particular argues that the intelligentsia is politically backward, bought off, etc. He argues that the new middle class is divided and politically weak, even though it may be numerous and economically active.

3) Mills gives some stats which show that the new middle class is fast growing. But these stats mainly back up the view that proletarian (or working-class) white-collar types are the fastest growing. Some stats we’ve seen show’ some strata such as lawyers to be rapidly growing, but they're still a very small segment of the population. And the very fact that factory workers are no longer a rapidly growing segment should make one suspicious of extrapolations. There was a time when, based on the growing number of factory workers, one would have expected the society to become 100% factory workers by 1960. based on extrapolations. Certain occupations grew rapidly in the 1980s, but that doesn’t mean everything else is insignificant or will be.

Gary showed that Boston was manipulating the numbers question. When it came to fast-growing t/m strata, they said we have to pay attention to them. When it comes to the rapidly growing low-paid service workers, the dishwashers and sales clerics, the unemployed and underemployed, their attitude was, who cares? But Gary still raises this as an issue for further research: what are the numbers of professional jobs? What is the significance of these numbers? How do these numbers relate to proletarianization (an issue ignored by Joe and Michael)?

4) Briefs and Goldthorpe would laugh at the idea of the working class becoming obsolete. Briefs does hope that “proletarians” (deprived workers) are becoming obsolete. Goldthorpe argues that old-fashioned proletarians are still with us, though they’re more highly paid than before. Mills is the main one who argues that the working class political viewpoint, with its alternative to imperialism, has become obsolete. He doesn’t see much alternative. In my review I pointed out certain features of his time that Mills missed, certain possibilities for political movements and labor organizing which came to fruition in the 1960s. This doesn’t necessarily prove anything today — those movements have now come and gone — but they suggest that those who are pessimistic about today’s situation may, like Mills, be overlooking something.

Oftentimes the very problems are themselves possibilities. For example, Mills says that white privilege is one thing preventing workers from getting into motion. He didn’t think of the other possibility, that this would be a powerful motivating factor for black workers to get into motion. Today, it’s said that it’s hard for workers to get organized because many of them are in part-time and temporary jobs. But that itself could be a powerful motivating factor, workers demanding full-time and secure jobs. It’s often forgotten that in fact that was a powerful motivating factor for the industrial organizing drives of the 1930s, when factory jobs were very insecure.

Basic concepts

We have to distinguish Economic obsolescence from Political obsolescence. Joe and Michael took up a crude numbers game, of extrapolating from some present-day trends and concluding that the working class is obsolescent in both senses. The mainstream sociologists are more sophisticated. They understand that the working class is the foundation of the economy and will remain so. The more subtle question they raise is, will the working class become a class subjectively ? Will the workers establish an independent movement, a genuine alternative to present-day society or not? This was the real issue being raised by Fred, Joe and Michael, though they covered it over with statistical verbiage about the disappearing working class.

At the same time, the economic and political issues interact Thus the facts and arguments on wages, etc. dealt with by the sociologists has some bearing on the question of workers’ attempts to establish an independent political movement.

Two long-range trends observed by all of these sociologists:

A) Workers are not as deprived as they used to be. Especially after World War II, workers enjoyed a raise in real wages and living standards.

B) White-collar workers are much more numerous and also less privileged, less of an elite, than they used to be.

Thus we have two-way motion: deproletarianization of blue-collar workers combined with proletarianization of white-collar occupations.

Briefs hopes that deproletarianization will occur and coincide with the victory of reformism, to eliminate the workers’ political independence. Mills, writing later, says that this has in fact occurred, and bemoans it. Goldthorpe, in the 60s, says the higher living standards won’t necessarily wipe out the workers’ political movement.

None of these authors mention the workers left behind by deproletarianization — those laid off, their jobs eliminated by automation, those stranded in pockets of poverty in inner-city slums, Appalachia, etc. In fact, even during the “good years”of the 1950s and 60s there was growing poverty and underemployment in the U.S. And of course they didn’t see the developments of the 1970s and 80s, when the core industrial workers suffered de-unionization, falling real wages and living standards, large-scale unemployment combined with long hours of overwork. All of these things indicate that we have to be very careful about generalizing about “deproletarianization.” Capitalist development is complex, often impoverishing sections of workers while it improves the lot of others.

One note on Ben’s “infotopia” ideas: All of these authors would laugh at the idea of an intellectual elite, of knowledge as the basic criterion of class differentiation. They recognize economic classes as basic. They aren’t into the “information” era of Ben, Fred, etc. Briefs hopes that the t/m stratum can function as a transmission belt of reformism, but he's very clear about who the ruling class is. Mills polemicizes against the idea of the intelligentsia or the t/m stratum being a politically mature ruling class. He also denounces the idea of the “managerial revolution,” that managers supposedly take power away from the capitalists. Goldthorpe, hoping for a workers' movement, insists there must be a restructuring of ownership or radical limitations on it All of them recognize the importance of economics and ownership as basic, although they also recognize education as differentiating strata within the working class.

Differences in approach

Our “minority” research team came to these results in arguing against the views of the “majority.” But within the research group itself differences came up. I’m referring to Jake’s predilection, similar to Oleg, that the issue was to simply dump on the MLP and its CC. Jake was focused on criticizing Joe’s report to the 4th Congress, a report which I considered basically OK. Jake insisted it was way off base and contained Joe’s later errors. But then he never backed this up with any written exposition. So we are left with the impression he was simply indulging some vague, left-over grievance from MLP days. This impression is buttressed by Jake’s profundities on preppies, in which he wraps himself up in superficial and contradictory statements in the process of blowing off steam about old grievances.

The point is not to defend everything the MLP and its CC ever did. We are all interested in reviewing MLP history. But this can’t be limited to guesses and finger-pointing. Even when someone is clearly wrong, as Boston was in its article cited above, the issue is not just to dismiss their ideas but to take some interest in analyzing them. The work Gary and I did settled some questions; it also raised some new questions for us about the value and use of the government’s statistics, the distinction between productive and non-productive labor, etc. Grappling with these questions puts us in better position to deal with revisionist notions of working class composition the next time they emerge. []

On Labor Notes and on Spark

The difficulties facing the left aren’t just due to objective conditions. There’s an issue of how one reacts to these conditions. The methods of the reformist or of the Trotskyist groups just won’t do. This is one of the reasons it is necessary to build up an anti-revisionist trend. It’s not enough to say that one doesn’t endorse various groups; it’s necessary to know what is right or wrong in the orientation of these groups to the class struggle, and it’s necessary to work hard to build up an alternative trend.

The following articles on Labor Notes and Spark illustrate some of our differences with the CWV grouping with regard to opportunist political trends in the left. Oleg argues that he doesn't endorse them, but he has quite a few expectations concerning them. Mark and Pete of the Detroit Marxist-Leninist Study Group analyze the actual work of these groups. The matter at stake is not whether to ever go to their meetings. Mark and Pete speak from the point of view of various sorts of experience with these groups. []

Oleg on the Labor Notes conference

To: Detroit MLSG

CC: Minority

From: Oleg 3-26-95

Dear comrades,

Last week I attended a forum designed to start discussion of some of the issues which will be dealt with in the upcoming Labor Notes conference April 28-30 in Detroit. First let me make sure that you realize that I am not “endorsing” this organization in any way shape or form. They are not revolutionaries; they are social democrats, revisionists, trots, and such.

The point that I want to call your attention to, however, is that they have their finger in a lot of the sparks of struggle that are occurring among the American working class. Their approach is not the approach of the conservative, mainstream trade union bureaucracy. They don’t simply rush to points of struggle and try to smother them. They want to contain the struggle, direct it in reformist, trade unionist directions, but they do seem to want to keep up and maybe even build a certain level and type of working class movement. For that reason I think it is worthwhile to pay attention to their views, the information they give about workplace struggles, etc. I noticed that the man, Kim Moody, whom Pete polemicized against is on the national staff of Labor Notes.

At the meeting I attended, a woman named Jane Slaughter who is also on their national staff spoke at length about the need to build a broad struggle of workers against overtime and for a reduction in the workweek. She proposed this struggle as a means for uniting the upper section of the working class which has “good” jobs but horrendous overtime with the massive lower sections of the working class which is underpaid and has high employment I think this is an interesting idea altho I am not at all convinced it can be done the way they are proposing.

Labor Notes has also developed a lot of material on bow to deal with the myriad forms of labor/management collaboration that have be springing up all over for the last decade and a half.

So, I think you should consider going to the Labor Notes Conference. You would definitely hear about rank and file struggles in various pans of the country. You would learn of the schemes these reformists have for building the kind of labor movement they warn. You will hear plenty about Labor Party Advocates which is being pushed more and more for the trade union activists. You might even meet a couple activists who are worth knowing. It is expensive tho; they want $75 registration. I would probably try to go if that were my weekend off, but it’s not.

At least I would recommend that you subscribe to Labor Notes. Their address is Labor Notes.1435 Michigan Av.., Detroit, MI 48210. They give a phone number (313) 842-6262.

In struggle, Oleg []

Reply to Oleg’s remarks on the Labor Notes conference —

by Mark

Oleg feels it necessary to prod the Detroit Marxist-Leninist Study group to attend the Labor Notes conference in April. (See Oleg’s e-mail message of March 26,1995.) In fact, Oleg feels attending this meeting is so urgent that he bemoans the fact that he will be unable to travel 250 miles and pay $75 to attend it. Oleg assures us that he is in no way “endorsing” this organization since they are “social-democrats, revisionists, and trots, and such.” Paying $75 to hobnob with a bunch of rotten opportunists wouldn’t sound very appealing to someone who considered these trends as undermining the building of a truly independent movement. After all, at $75 admission price, it is unlikely that anyone but the devotees of Labor Notes will be there. So there would have to be some pretty compelling reason to attend such a meeting.

But the reasons Oleg gives for attending are the reasons that could be given for just about any event called by some other group. You could learn about the group’s views and maybe meet someone worth knowing. With this criterion, we could spend eight days a week chasing the opportunist left. Oleg would never, never, never endorse Labor Notes. But he wishes to exert every effort to attend their meetings and advises others to follow suit, though he gives no plausible reason why this should be such a high priority.

For Oleg, clearly this is far more important than dealing with the issues that he thought were necessary to resolve in order for the erstwhile “minority’’ to have a common platform and a minimal organizational structure. On the aforementioned matters, Oleg announced that he had no sense of urgency, even though the “minority" national meeting in November, 1994 thought these issues were important enough to call another national meeting in March, 1995 to deal with them. (The March meeting was never held.) Oleg also hasn’t had time over the last few months to translate El Machete so that anyone could make an informed evaluation of their politics. But, of course, he felt a sense of urgency about carrying an announcement portraying El Machete as proletarian revolutionaries in the unofficial national journal of the “minority” which, of course, was never really an endorsement according to Oleg. When Labor Notes calls a meeting, he’s ready to move mountains. But the internal consolidation of the Marxist-Leninist forces, grappling with the problems they face in organizing themselves, is a minor matter for Oleg.

Oleg and some others brood about how abused they were by the old MLP. Meanwhile, they carry on as if the national Marxist-Leninist force that the MLP was, still existed. At a time when there is no common organization of Marxist-Leninist circles, they act as if doing mass work in the local areas is building some unified trend. At a time when there is disagreement over basic questions among these circles, at a time when all the circles say the MLP died because of ideological controversies and when all the circles proclaim the tackling of theoretical problems to be of the utmost importance, they think the problems of developing our theoretical work can be shunted aside under the pretext of developing the practical work. And I say “pretext,” not because the local circles do not do any practical work, or because practical work is pointless at this time in general, but because the practical work of local circles who are so divided they cannot agree upon any united platform or organization, is not work that is building up a common trend.

Oleg claims this meeting is important because we “learn of the schemes these reformists have for building the kind of labor movement they want.” Here in Detroit we may not be completely up to date about everything that Labor Notes is doing. But we have a long history of dealing with this trend, and, as a matter of fact, the present editor of a local postal workers’ union paper, Paul Felton, writes articles for Labor Notes. And in our postal work we have also encountered the Solidarity Organizing Committee grouping which is participating in the Labor Notes conference.

Felton’s idea of the working struggle includes talk about building a mass movement. Only one problem. Felton relies on the trade union bureaucracy to lead this struggle. Sure, he says some things the top bureaucrats won’t say. But it is notable how little Felton has to say against the mainstream bureaucrats. Consider for instance that the postal unions’ bureaucrats have not lifted a finger against management’s takeback demands during months of fruitless contract negotiations. In the last issue of his local union paper, Felton writes three articles but you cannot find a single word against the mainstream bureaucrats. And Felton also seeks to build the movement on the shoulders of the establishment “civil rights groups” and even “veteran’s groups” These are the forces he is relying on to carry the ball against post office privatization. And then there is the Democratic Party. Felton does say that things went downhill for postal workers under Democrats and Republicans. But he still has hopes in the Democrats. Thus in a recent article in his local paper, he reports on attending an annual bash the union hacks hold with their Congressional representatives here and uncritically reports Congresswoman Lynn Rivers boasting about being “in bed with labor.”

Labor Notes has had their national conference in Detroit every year for quite a while. One year I was “fortunate” enough to attend. (They did not charge $75 for that one.) When I tried to distribute literature, I was told I would have to leave. Why? The conference, I was told, did not allow “parties” to distribute literature. After all, this was a meeting of unionists. This anti-communist drivel came from none other than William Roundtree, a big name in the Workers World Party. Of course, the problem was not parties per se, but the fact that our party emphasized in its agitation that a serious workers’ struggle could only be built in opposition to the trade union bureaucracy.

Maybe there has been some exciting new developments in Labor Notes since then. But the last I looked they were not touting building a real class trend but fawning over reformist Teamster boss Ron Carey. However, when I look at how Oleg does not in any way endorse Labor Notes, I am puzzled. True, Oleg calls them “reformists.” But what is his attitude to the actual policies of these reformists? We learn that Labor Notes is not identical to the conservative bureaucrats, but we aren’t informed that Labor Notes promotes faith in the trade union bureaucracy. We learn that we should pay attention to their views because they are not the worst bureaucrats. But how this distinguishes Labor Notes from anything else in the opportunist left, we are not told. Oleg says the distinction between the mainstream bureaucrats and Labor Notes is that the former tries to “smother” struggles while the other only wants to “contain” them. But we are never told what the significance of this distinction is. In my opinion, it’s a difference without much distinction. Even in these neo-conservative times, the mainstream bureaucrats call for some strikes and protests. They want to “contain” the workers however, and not let the struggle get out of hand If Labor Notes policy is to “contain” struggles, it isn’t really outside the bounds of AFL-CIO policy. Oleg sees that Labor Notes is directing the struggle in “trade unionist directions” but yet “they do seem to keep up and maybe even build a certain level and type of working class movement.” But does Oleg believe that these are two aspects of one rotten policy, or that the Labor Notes policy is sometimes good and sometimes bad or what?

Oleg finds a lot of Labor Notes' views “interesting.” Once again, does this clarify anything? Are we supposed to be excited that Labor Notes too has raised the demand for a shorter work week when their policy undermines the fight for such a thing? (By the way, there is nothing new about such a demand. The trade union bureaucrats themselves have long ago raised it as well as a lot of left groups.) Are we to be encouraged about Labor Notes' ideas on “how to deal with the myriad forms of labor/management collaboration” when Labor Notes cannot clearly distinguish itself from the collaborators running the unions?

It would be of some use for Oleg to try to write and circulate a report on what was actually said at the meeting he attended rather than just write how interesting everything is and how everyone really must go and see for themselves. In it, he could include a description of what sort of work he carried out there on behalf of the Chicago Workers’ Voice group beyond merely fact-finding, what was the response to this work, and what, if anything beyond learning who’s who in the movement, did he find worth knowing about those he met there. He might also include on the basis of what analysis of the work of the DMLSG, does he conclude that our attending this conference is so important.

Back in August 1994, Oleg urged the DMLSG to go to a picnic organized by the trotskyite Spark group. A CWV member was also supposed to be carrying out joint research with a member of Spark who was trying hard to recruit in CWV circles. What role, if any. the contacts with Spark played in building up an anti-revisionist trend was never discussed, nor has there been any discussion of what role CWV thought it would play. Now Oleg is excited about circulating in the Labor Notes crowd.

To be sure, Oleg has stated to us that he has “big differences” with Spark. But what do such statements mean when the CWV declares that serious differences divide it from the DMLSG and other former “minority” forces, too? Two months after Oleg announced he had big differences with Spark, members of CWV began a campaign against any common platform with the “minority” Marxist-Leninist circles left over from the demise of the Marxist-Leninist Party. At first the objections seemed to be over minor matters, but later the CWV group made it clear that they considered the disagreements to be over basic issues.

No one could object to attending other groups’ events in general. But when enthusiasm for one reformist group and then another replaces concern for the present tasks needed to consolidate the Marxist-Leninist forces, then there is every reason to object. Oleg is hot to attend a Labor Notes conference but he and others in the CWV group had little concern for the now-defunct March meeting of Marxist-Leninist forces. Oleg can make the tired old reformist politics of Labor Notes sound new and exciting (without endorsing it, of course), but there is little enthusiasm to build up the critique against opportunism. But without this critique, it is impossible to talk of building an anti-revisionist trend. []

The U.S. Working Class”

review of an article by Kim Moody which appeared in Crossroads magazine #45 (October 1994) — by Pete Brown

Kim Moody is on the national staff of Labor Notes, a Detroit- based journal and left-trade unionist organization. His (her?) article attracted our attention because it deals with some of the same issues dealt with in our research on composition of the working class. Moody provides some statistics on recent changes to the class, statistics which tend to confirm the continuing central importance of the working class.

From another angle Moody’s article is also of relevance to our attempts to establish a Marxist, anti-revisionist working class organization. Moody is not just a stand-offish theoretician, but takes a practical attitude toward organizing the class. Unfortunately his ideas on this are misguided and fall into the old opportunist framework. Moody talks about developing an alternative to the “business unionism” of the bureaucrats; but in the end he can’t see any alternative to the ideology and politics of the bureaucrats.

Background: the capitalist offensive

In the beginning of his article Moody gives some analysis of the present situation facing the workers. He notes that

... better-paying jobs are being replaced by ’contingent’ low-paying jobs. Poverty has spread and inequality has grown....

“ ’Lean’... production is increasingly characterized by outsourcing and sub-contracting every kind of work.... part-time, temporary and contract jobs... now compose a third of the workforce in the U.S. and over half the new employment created each year.”

There is a fairly substantial body of statistics around these days to back up these assertions. Such stats are used by conservatives and demoralized leftists to promote “the end of the labor movement”. It’s notable, however, that Moody doesn’t take that road. Instead he argues for the continuing importance of

The core industrial sector

He says:

... the core industrial working class produced 44% of U.S. private sector GDP in 1989 — actually up in real terms from 43% in 1960.

"... much of the service sector tests on this production. Also, their productivity is much higher than other sectors. For example, while productivity grew 14% from 1982 through 1995 for the private sector as a whole, it grew almost 29% in manufacturing.”

Moody connects the importance of this core working class to the continued concentration of capital:

"the Multinational Corporations (MNCs) directly control 40% of world assets, 40% of world trade, and dominate the chain of contracted production that runs from capital-intensive plant to sweatshop...”

Moody doesn’t provide a lot of statistics here, but from other sources I’ve seen the point seems correct. The position of core industrial workers is more important than ever to the modern economy. The vast shakeup of old industry has made this difficult for workers to recognize, however. As Moody says, there is a constant process of “regrouping” among large units of capital — mergers, breakups, etc. And as this takes place workers’ job security is destroyed. But even as workers are being pulled apart, “behind their back they are being pushed together under the heel of the largest, most centralized concentrations of capital in history.” On the shop floor itself, Moody notes that this is producing highly stressful jobs.

Moody thinks there’s a potential for revival of the labor movement among the core industrial working class, which continues to hold an important position. But he thinks this potential may be blocked by racial/ethnic divisions among workers.

Moody raises the question: division or diversity?

You’d think leftists would regard a diverse working class as a positive field for organizing. Bringing in workers from different backgrounds is a good way for workers to learn about internationalism in a very practical way. But Moody regards it as a problem that may well be insurmountable. This distrust of the masses is an attitude Moody shares with labor aristocrats, even though he seems to be against the racist and chauvinist attitudes promoted by the aristocrats.

On the positive side, Moody does critique the capitalists for their divide-and-conquer schemes. Moody shows the fallacy of the bourgeois myth that capitalist economic growth will spontaneously eliminate discrimination; on the contrary, the capitalists constantly generate new forms of discrimination to keep the workers divided and wages pushed down.

But Moody doesn’t show any faith in the ability of the workers to overcome discrimination and build united, anti-capitalist organizations. He moans that the present influx of Asian and immigrants makes the working class in the U.S. more divided today than it ever was. This is simply not true. New immigrants are actually a much smaller portion of the U.S. population than they were, say, before World War II. But militant working class organizations of those days didn’t regard the large number of immigrants as a problem; on the contrary , they concentrated among them and built multi-language organizations.

This shows that it’s not a question of numbers, of how many immigrants; it’s a question of orientation. If organizers don’t take a firm stand against the chauvinism of the labor aristocracy, then they’ll always find ethnic divisions of some kind to moan about, no matter how homogeneous the workers are. Of course, workers from different backgrounds are forced to compete for jobs. This, along with the creation of a reserve army of unemployed, is the basis of capitalist profit-making. But recognition of a common experience of exploitation and the need to fight against it can be the basis for common, multi-ethnic organizations. It can be a factor serving to inspire and mobilize working class people, that they can overcome differences in facing the common enemy.

A new transnational working class

When it comes to workers residing in different countries, Moody sees the potential for international organization. He notes that economic links across national borders are more extensive and more intense than ever before. Workers in different countries are employed by the same multinational corporations or “are linked in common production or service delivery systems.” Hence he concludes, “... the potential for cross-border contact and solidarity is real if the political and cultural barriers can be overcome.”

In the midst of this Moody has some discussion of NAFTA, in which many of the myths about it are obliquely opposed. Moody clarifies that NAFTA is in many ways a “culmination” rather than a “cause” — that much internationalization of investment between U.S. and Mexico has already taken place. Thus Moody opposes the hysteria promoted by trade union leaders that NAFTA would decimate basic industry in the U.S.

Moody’s points about NAFTA are quite insightful, and the point about the potential for international working class organization very important. It’s notable, though, that in making these points Moody opposes any direct criticism of the trade union leaders who promote chauvinist narrowness among the working class and oppose the building of anti-capitalist class organizations (whether domestic or international).

The reserve army of labor

Moody talks about the growing underemployment in the U.S., how this puts pressure on all workers, and then gives the call for an alternative:

... More militant, creative and solidaristic tactics conducted by more democratic, mobilizing organizations are required even to bold the line. It is also clear that politics ‘as usual’ will not help much, as the current Democratic Party idea of job creation and labor law ‘reform’ reveals. The elements of a new type of union strategy involve a new politics as well.”

Moody even gets in a little mild criticism of trade union leaden, noting that “the U.S. labor bureaucracy was willing to embrace cooperation and the competitive imperatives of capital without a fight... ” Then he gives the call:

Towards a new labor movement

Here Moody calls for a revival of activism — organizing drives, militancy, etc. Interestingly, this call is backed up by noting changes that create some new conditions for bringing this off. For example, the structural changes in industry that have disorganized and confused the working class — Moody notes that previous upsurges in the labor movement were also preceded by structural changes in the economy. This is an interesting antidote to the demoralized views spread around today. It opens the perspective of organizing among the newly employed, low-wage, part-time and temporary workers. This sounds like a good call to activism; but Moody connects this to a particular scheme of his:

The multi-organizational model

Here Moody gives a scenario for reviving the labor movement:

We need a labor movement that is political in a wholly different way than the U.S. business union model of pressure politics — politics as real and potential power, not simply legislative results. Labor must have its own political wing(s) and its own class presence in the diverse working class communities.

The model we should promote is not so much the social democratic model of Europe (trade unions plus party), as that of Latin America (and South Africa) where unions, parties, and mass urban community- based organizations (frequently led by women) increasingly function as arms of a single working class movement.”

Generally speaking, in the last decades, the movement in Latin America and South Africa has been more widespread and militant than in Europe and North America. Moody is excited about this and wants to reproduce it here. The problem is, you can’t simply reproduce a large mass movement by importing some organizational forms. The movement in these countries has its own history unique to those countries. And even in those countries, the movement was not produced because someone had the idea of building community-based organizations, as opposed to just building trade unions.

The issue for working class organizers today is not to wish that some particular form of organization will be the magic solution to their problems, as in “If we just give the call to build community-based organizations, the masses will rally behind us.” The working class can and will support many different types of organizations as its movement gets under way. In fact many community-based organizations — environmental, political, etc. — already exist today. The problem is, these organizations are usually smothered with the same kind of bourgeois politics that smothers the official trade unions. If we can’t help the masses sort out political trends and break free of establishment ideology, developing a new form won’t mean that much.

Moody himself expresses a certain desire to fight against the reactionary politics of the trade union bureaucrats:

... today’s movements ... should unite the fight against the employer with that against leaders who bend to capital and the structures that promote apathy and powerlessness.”

But this expression of opposition is very weak. Moody' promotes Ron Carey’s “reform movement” as the example of a fight against “the labor leadership” And despite Moody’s call for a new scenario of community-based political organizations, this call remains basically trade-unionist in outlook. Moody sees these organizations as sort of extended trade-union caucuses, supportive of the trade unions, which remain at the center.

Moody thinks the problem with the present trade unions is just that of a few bad apples. Fight against the leaders who bend to capital, and all will be well. He covers over the feet that the official AFL-CIO unions are led by an entrenched class-collaborationist bureaucracy. The last thing this bureaucracy wants is a militant workers’ movement. Despite the change in administration at the Teamsters, this bureaucracy has not been very upset about the election of Ron Carey

The important thing today is to help workers sort out the different political trends and to help them open up a perspective for struggle. This may be at a very low level. But anything based on the perspective of class struggle is liberating to workers, regardless of its level, its size or specific form. A small group that rejects the bourgeois “end of history” myth is worth a lot more to the workers than a trade union with thousands of members led by sellout bureaucrats.

In his defense, Moody will say he himself recognizes the need for alternative politics. He discusses this in the last section of his article:

Independent politics and links to socialism

As the culmination of his article, Moody argues for a labor party and a pro-socialist movement. But what does Moody take as the most important “link to socialism” present today? The fight against NAFTA! He says:

The fight over NAFTA took shape as a class issue to a degree that few other recent legislative conflicts have .... The entire debacle has provoked a level of anger and a sense of betrayal in labor circles

Moody promotes this as a rank-and-file movement:

While the top levels of the AFL-CIO are prepared to forgive [the Clinton administration] all, many in the lower and middle ranks are not. Talk of alternatives reached a new crescendo ...” And this talk is just what’s needed: “... it is clear that an opening has occurred for the idea of a new party based in the working class.” And, “The fight for a new political party of the working class is the first step toward a bolder idea of class political power.”

So, according to Moody, workers feel betrayed by the Democrats, and an opening may exist for the idea of alternative, class-based politics. That sounds fine. But where did this sense of betrayal come from? Moody doesn’t notice any sense of betrayal arising from, say, Prop. 187, the Rodney King trial, the Persian Gulf war, or the murder of doctors at abortion clinics. Apparently those aren’t working class issues. The only thing he sees as generating resentment among the masses is the anti-NAFTA campaign — which was mainly a chauvinist crusade launched and led by the trade union bureaucrats Moody is supposedly against! This is the basic problem, or contradiction, in Moody’s whole approach. He wants a new labor movement, a movement based on internationalism; but if the bureaucrats can generate some “militancy” and “anger” by waging a chauvinist crusade, then he’s quite willing to take that, too.

Moody pretends to be opposed to the opportunism of the trade union bigwigs. But when they get off their butts and do something — no matter what! — he turns around and yells “Hooray!” The disgusting thing is, this comes after he himself has clarified how far off from reality their campaign against NAFTA was, in the section “Transnationalized Working Class” There he debunked the bureaucrats’ opposition to NAFTA. But of course he avoided naming names. He did so in a quiet, academic manner, to separate himself from the bureaucrats' chauvinist crusade while leaving their reputations intact. Then he tries to cover up his own cowardice by saying the workers are angry about NAFTA.

So Moody’s “independent politics” turns out to be nothing more than the old liberal-labor politics of the trade union bureaucracy. This is confirmed by his promoting Tony Mazzochi’s Labor Party Advocates as the supposed “alternative.” What?! I thought Moody was looking for an alternative to the “European model” of trade unions cum social-democratic party. But that’s exactly the sort of model LPA is trying to emulate in the U.S.! Mazzochi’s plan is to keep his labor party firmly under the thumb of the bureaucrats. And as long as the present trade union bureaucracy remains entrenched, it's not going to matter very much whether the party they’re tied to is called the Democratic Party, the New Democrat Party, the Labour Party, or the Socialist Party — in any case it means keeping the working class stuck in the same old ruts.

The workers themselves are angry about this situation. Workers have expressed their resentment against the present system in a variety of ways in recent years: in urban rebellions such as after the Rodney King verdict; in anti-war demonstrations; in demonstrations against the scapegoating of immigrants; in defending abortion clinics and denouncing the anti-woman forces serving bourgeois reaction. The militancy and anger expressed by workers at such events — this is what needs to be consolidated by working class organizations. This is what’s needed to really shake up the trade union bureaucracy and to provide the base for a new labor movement — either remolding the old unions into organs of class struggle or building entirely new unions. Workers involved in this will go on to build organizations of all kinds — community and political organizations as well as trade unions. But the key thing is keeping a firm class perspective, working for internationalism and fighting chauvinist rot.

Moody’s article is notable for trying to turn a bad situation — the present decline in the strike movement and political activity — into something good. Unlike some ex-MLPers who have given up on the working class, he’s still interested in building organization and maintains faith in the masses. This makes his article refreshing to read. But for the workers to get organized so they can be delivered over to the tender mercies of Tony Mazzochi and the bureaucrats’ chauvinist politics — thanks, but no thanks! We already have a labor “movement” led by chauvinist bureaucrats; we need something new. []

Oleg on Spark

To: Detroit “minority”

From: Oleg 8-13-94

Dear comrades,

There is an event that I promised to inform you of next Sunday that I forgot about until yesterday. The trot organization, The Spark, is having a picnic for all their worker contacts in a park in Detroit next Sunday (Aug. 21) from 1 pm to 7 pm. A man from this organization named Guy whom we have known for several years is urging us to come — lots of workers, games for the kids, a fun time in the park with workers organized on at least a partially political basis. None of us from Chicago are going altho Spark has car-pooling available. Our family is going to L.A. that day for my week’s vacation. Anyway I promised to tell you about it. Maybe you know their Detroit people and can judge from that if you want to go. Guy is very serious, doesn’t rant and rave, but he is a Trot and there are big differences in our politics. If I were free that day and the event was in Chicago, I would be tempted to go. The flyer I have doesn’t say where the event is exactly so I guess you have to sign up in advance. Let me or Jake know and we can notify Guy, or you can contact the Detroit Spark if you know them. The flyer says you get a full dinner. The price is $6.30, children under 12, $3.30.

Guy seems to be making a real effort to recruit us. He has come to the bookstore the last three Fridays that I have been there. He also comes on Saturday when Rene has study meetings with his Mexican contacts. We are a long way from being recruited, however. They seem to have a line against participating in the general mass movement. All they want to do is workplace organizing and they do put a huge effort into that. However, their method of workplace organizing is not the same as ours. Perhaps you are familiar with it. Anyway I said I would let you know about their big summer picnic and I did.

( ... )

Keep up the struggle.

Oleg []

On Spark’s workplace organizing

To: Oleg

From: Pete


RE: Staley & Spark

Dear Oleg:

( ... )

On Spark: They do regular distribution at the Detroit main post office, and have done so for years. They are known by workers as “the green sheet”, since their leaflets are printed on green paper. They used to come out once a week. After the massive early retirements a couple years ago, their work disappeared for awhile — it looks like they lost their main contact But recently they have started up again, appearing about once a month. They also concentrate at an auto plant in Warren.

You’re right that they concentrate on in-plant issues rather than society at large. I’ve always characterized their line as economist — workers should concentrate on the economic struggle and avoid politics. They like to focus all their fire on “concrete”, relatively trivial issues involved with working conditions. And even there, their line isn’t great.

For example, since the shootings in Royal Oak and Dearborn postal management has been on a crusade about security — as if criminal gangs or international terrorists were responsible for the shootings. Spark has dragged along in their footsteps, constantly doing agitation about “poor security” at the Detroit main p.o. Of course, there are incidents of postal workers being victims of crime in downtown Detroit. But the point is that Spark agitates on this at the same time as postal management, and makes no effort to differentiate their view from that of management. The only point they make against management is that management only “talks” about security, while Spark insists they want “action.” They don’t say anything about management’s harassment being responsible for the shootings, or about stepped up security measures actually adding to the stress and harassment at the post office.

Well, they finally got their wish this month. Management is finally taking “action” and installing new fences and gates with electronic-card access to parking lots, etc. I’ll be interested to see if Spark claims this as a victory for their agitation.

Spark used to be popular among workers for their humorous, abusive names for supervisors. There was one they called Barracuda, another one Shark, etc. They used to heap abuse on these supervisors. But even then, much of their criticism was personal rather than political or even economic. They never clarified what the line of management was, how lower level supervisors were carrying out the orders of upper-level management. Their main criticism of lower-level supervisors is that they do no production work — which is true, but also they’re forbidden by the union contract from doing any. And then, oddly enough, Spark leaps to the defense of low-level supervisors whenever any of them get into trouble with upper management, saying “Supervisors are workers too.”

Spark tries to avoid dealing with concrete political issues. For example, when the entire left in Detroit was consumed with the racist beatings at Harpo’s nightclub, Spark had nothing to say about it, and they never showed up at any of the demonstrations. Finally (very late), they mentioned it in one of their leaflets, graciously giving the demonstrations a meager endorsement, saying “people are right” to be upset — but still not calling on workers to attend or to support. They’ve followed a similar line on every major political question — (the racist police murder of] Malice Green, the Gulf war, etc. Generally they regard all such issues as “diversions” rather than issues on which to take a stand.

One positive thing to note: they do regular propaganda for socialism. Every leaflet they put out has one major article in which they examine some issue and say “there is a better way... the working class can take over production...” etc. It’s kind of generalized, but it does keep the idea of socialism alive.

Their other activity is a series of semi-public meetings in the city at which they give a speech or show a movie.

I saw publicity about their annual picnic in Detroit. I hadn’t considered attending (I don’t know anyone else who’s going or even talking about going), but if this Guy is going to be there I might try to go and meet him. Let me know if you have any more info.

Yours, Pete []

[End of article group]

The debate on endorsing El Machete

CWVTJ’s endorsement in issue #5 of the Mexican journal El Machete gave rise to a major disagreement in the "minority" This issue of CV has several sections relevant to that controversy. We do not reproduce here all the back and forth on whether CWVTJ really endorsed El Machete — we include what CWVTJ #5 said, and the reader can judge. Instead we concentrate on the related political issues that are important in their own right. In this section we reproduce the article on El Machete from CWVTJ #5. Also we include the article by Joseph Green (DMLSG) which discusses the strategy of the Zapatistas and the Mexican left, and puts forward a view on what democratization will look like in Mexico. We have Oleg’s (CWV) reply, which avoids most of these issues. As well, we include how CWVTJ #6 covered the issue in CWVTJ #6, and Tim Hall’s protest. Other sections of this issue of CV relevant to the El Machete debate include the sections on Castroism, petty-bourgeois nationalism, and the exchange of letters between Frank (Seattle) and the L. A. Workers’ Voice comrades. []

CWVTJ #5 on El Machete

The following article appeared in the Chicago Workers’ Voice Theoretical Journal #5, Dec. 1,1994:

ANNOUNCEMENT: El Machete available by Oleg, Chicago

The Chicago Workers’ Voice/Voz Obrera has begun receiving a revolutionary newspaper from Mexico called El Machete. You can get an idea of the paper’s stand from its masthead which gives the slogan, “Proletarios de todos los paises, unios!” (workers of all countries, unite!), and says it is a “periodico obrero y campesino” (newspaper of the workers and peasants). The masthead has a hammer and sickle inside a star on one side and a clenched fist on the other.

Since the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas in Jan. of 1994, the attention of revolutionary minded activists in the U.S. and in other countries has been drawn much more to Mexico. El Machete reprints many of the important statements of the EZLN.

At the call of the Zapatistas, a convention of all the leftist forces in Mexico was held in Chiapas and the CND (Convencion Nacional Democratica) was formed. Inside the CND a fight is going on between the reformist, opportunist section which is allied with the PRD (Cuauhtemoc Cardenas’ party) and the left forces which are more revolutionary minded. El Machete is in the left-wing camp, the so-called (by the right) ‘‘ultras’’. It carries commentaries opposing and exposing the maneuverings of the opportunist, pro-PRD section inside the CND.

El Machete also carries news of mass struggles and organizations of workers and peasants in other parts of Mexico.

We will send El Machete, for the cost of mailing, to any of our readers who are interested. Please send $1 (U.S.) for each issue you want to

CWV, P.O.. Box 11542, Chicago, IL 60611.

You can write directly to El Machete to subscribe

El Machete”, Apartado Postal 1687, Puebla, Puebla, MEXICO. They are asking NS60 (New Pesos) for 20 issues.

The CWV is distributing El Machete because it gives a more left-wing revolutionary perspective than any other paper we have seen from Mexico. []

Against endorsing El Machete, and some views on Zapatista strategy

To: Minority

From: Joseph Green

December 21, 1994

Dear comrades,

Issue #5 of the CWV Theoretical Journal has recently appeared. Each issue of the CWV TJ has taken on something of a distinct character. This time it is notable that with topical issues such as Haiti and Palestine. Here in Detroit we are excited to distribute the journal.

Since the CWV TJ reflects real ongoing life, it’s natural that it would reflect different conceptions of things as well. In this case, I want to point to the announcement on the back page concerning distribution of the Mexican journal El Machete. This is in effect the first international endorsement by our trend, and it also is relevant to an ongoing mass struggle—the ongoing revolt in Chiapas, which is again flaring up. It is worthwhile to pay some attention to this endorsement. Who we endorse, and why, and on what basis, is important.

The announcement endorsing it was signed by Oleg, and speaks on behalf of the CWV group. So it represents not just another opinion, but a view of the CWV group. While I am skeptical about the endorsement of El Machete, I support the right of the CWV group to make and express its own endorsements. But this is also a matter of interest to the minority as a whole, and the journal is being supported widely because it aims to speak for the minority. So it also is right for all comrades to discuss the issues raised by such an endorsement, and whether it is helpful or premature or a political mistake.

The first thing that strikes the eye is how little the announcement says about El Machete. It talks about the graphic on the masthead, and the slogan, and that El Machete is fighting against Cardenas’ reformist PRD inside the Democratic National Convention (Convencion Nacional Democratica) created at the call of the Zapatistas (EZLN). I do not know whether this means that El Machete wants to expel the PRD, or to work with it on a “united front” basis, or to win it to armed struggle, or simply to oppose individual stands of the PRD (such as its desire to gag or expel the “ultras”). The article doesn’t say. As well, it says that El Machete carries news of the struggle and of various organizations in Mexico. The article concludes that “The CWV is distributing El Machete because it gives a more left-wing revolutionary perspective than any other paper we have seen from Mexico.”

It seems to me that this article actually doesn’t say what trend El Machete is. It is to the left of the PRD and it flies the hammer and sickle and it’s part of the left-wing popular movement, that’s all.

From what I have been told, it seems this announcement springs from the fact that Rene demanded an endorsement of El Machete in this issue of the CWVTJ. He was told that he could write an article giving his views on this and related issues, but he wouldn’t do it. And he was offended that his assessment of El Machete — a verbal one at that — should not just be accepted on his word. So Oleg instead of Rene wrote this article. Meanwhile, the last I heard, Rene separated himself from the journal because it failed to carry the type endorsement he wanted of El Machete.

It seems to me that Rene’s insistence on El Machete being endorsed, and endorsed without having a clear idea of its trend, and his withdrawal from the journal directly follow from what he said at the recent minority meeting. He was skeptical of anti-revisionism. He held that our work of critical analysis was religious, and implied how could we, such a small number, have the arrogance to criticize big struggles and mass movements. He stated that the struggle inside the National Democratic Convention was an anti-revisionist struggle, and a far greater one than what we regarded as anti-revisionism. And he refused the invitation to provide material on this struggle. We are to take it on his word. In effect, why should we have to know the content?

Now El Machete has been endorsed. I don’t think that giving in to the ultimatums of Rene is helpful to his learning communist methods of organization, nor to the political integrity of the minority. Moreover, although some Chicago comrades have examined some issues of El Machete, we apparently don’t yet know what El Machete is, so this endorsement is a stab in the dark. It seems to me that this manner of endorsing El Machete goes against having articles with analysis on Mexico, the Zapatistas, and the issues in the Mexican movement. It implies that we are just to follow in the wake of the mass struggles. It would be excellent to have articles on Mexico and the Chiapas revolt and the stands of the Zapatistas and the left in the CWV TJ, if there are comrades who have done the research and can prepare useful material. But it goes against this when first there is an endorsement, which says in effect that this analysis is not needed to make a judgment about Mexico. It relegates this analysis to a mere frill, as if to say: “let those who wish waste time on political analysis, but the real issue is associating oneself with the struggle as it is.”

I have not been doing the research about Mexico. I assumed that others — excited and doing agitation about Chiapas — were doing it, and I had confidence that they would present material on it I now have some doubt that this research is being done. And it looks doubtful whether it will be done unless questions are raised which show that analysis is needed, and that it is not sufficient to just say that something just sort of looks revolutionary. So I am going to stick my neck out, despite my lack of detailed work on Mexico, and suggest one possibility about what the situation with the Zapatistas and the Democratic National Convention might be. This possibility would suggest that there are serious reasons why not to endorse an organization without knowing its trend. Our proletarian internationalist duty to the Mexico workers and toilers is not the same as that of an ordinary solidarity group or a left columnist in some journal. It requires our supporting proletarian reorganization: in Mexico as well as elsewhere. Indeed, if anti-revisionist communism is not desirable or needed in Mexico for the revolution, if left-wing EZLNism is really what is needed, then anti-revisionism is not needed elsewhere either.

* * * *

To begin with, the attitude to and analysis of the Zapatistas seems to me to be central to the endorsement of El Machete. El Machete is endorsed as sort of a revolutionary left wing of the Zapatistas. It works in the national convention they called for, but opposes in some way the reformist PRD of Cardenas. So I will start by looking at the EZLN (Zapatistas). I will not be concerned here with the particular words of the EZLN and various left groups, but with the general plan which their actions seems to indicate. Due to my lack of much knowledge, I may be wrong on one individual assessment after another. But I hope I at least point to some sore points and inspire others to further analysis of what’s going on in Mexico and what is the path for the Mexican proletariat.

But what happens if we can’t endorse many parts of the strategy and views of the EZLN leaders? Does facing this openly mean undermining this heroic struggle? The Chiapas revolt was and is inspiring to progressive people around the world. It justly has the support of Mexican activists. But in my view such support doesn’t preclude a realistic assessment of the forces in this revolt, their strategy and views, and of their class basis. In fact, in my view, real support for the Chiapas toilers requires such a critical standpoint. They don’t need honeyed words — they need class allies who have an independent idea of what is needed in their own struggle.

Well, the movement in the Mexican state of Chiapas goes back a number of years, as was made clear on the video shown at the May Day meeting in Chicago earlier this year. The peasants and indigenous peoples in Chiapas suffered from incredible oppression, even more so than the toilers as a whole in Mexico. They were not going to let themselves be stamped into the ground, but have formed a powerful movement.

They realized that they themselves could not overthrow the Mexican establishment, and this establishment was not likely to even give them reforms. Therefore they are intensely interested in whether there are other forces in Mexico to ally with or form a movement with.

They do not look to the Mexican proletariat. By this I do not mean that they don’t talk about the workers in the way other leftists do. But they don’t see the Mexican proletariat rising up in strong independent organizations. While the left looks much bigger in Mexico than its presently cadaverous pallor in the U.S., in fact the situation is similar in many ways. The proletariat has not broken through PRI (the ruling party’s) unionism and does not rally en masse around a party of its own. If it had, the EZLN, which probably has many rural and village handicraftspeople and workers, might gravitate around it But the class nature of the EZLN is such that it won’t fight for such an reorganization of the proletariat by itself. It is a toilers’ movement, not a proletarian movement. And its leaders come from the general left and reflect certain trends in it.

I doubt that they see the Mexican radical left (referring here to the organizations to the left of PRI and outside Cardenas’ reformist PRD) as able to overthrow the establishment either. And in fact, this left has been unable to arouse the proletariat and itself faces a severe crisis, just as the left elsewhere does.

But they did see that the PRI was tottering. The timing of their rebellion may well have been connected with expectations about a collapse of PRI rule. In fact, a political crisis is deepening in Mexico, even if the PRI survived the election. The fact that PRI survived doesn’t mean that the EZLN’s expectations were absurd. And the Chiapas revolt helps deepen the political crisis.

But the EZLN’s expectations say something about their strategy. If they were counting on a break-up of PRI, but don’t see the proletariat or the radical left as the decisive forces, it has some implications. First of all, it helps explain their emphasis on democratization as their goal. And secondly, it means they were looking towards Cardenas’ PRD or other PRI splits. This was not just a side point of an otherwise revolutionary strategy, but a central feature of their views.

The tyranny of PRI rule has clamped down on politics and has to be overcome. But democratization of Mexico will not usher in a utopia. The reformist left will gain more power, probably allied with some PRI fractions, but so likely will the right-wing PAN also with some allied PRI splinters. The most likely outcome—if both sides maintain support—is some sort of coalition or accommodation of both major bourgeois fractions. In the absence of the proletariat having an independent voice (the traditional left opposition to PRI having failed this test), there is hardly any other possibility. The proletariat will have to go through an intense period of development during this democratization to become a real power.

But moreover, this strategy means that the EZLN will be continually looking towards Cardenas’ PRD or other PRI split-offs. It won’t merge with them, because it would be destroyed if it agreed to PRD prescriptions. The PRI government is currently not giving the EZLN even the most elementary concessions and is presenting it with the choice of capitulate or fight. The EZLN cannot respond to this according to PRD methods. But it is not an accident that they called a convention that includes pro-PRD forces, and it is not a minor blemish. It’s an illustration of their class position.

Meanwhile the radical left which is critical of the PRD is not strong enough to offer the EZLN an alternative for transforming Mexico. Rather, most of them probably want to gain strength from the EZLN. In effect, they want to ride EZLN rather than offering EZLN a horse. (Moreover, I suspect that the reality is a bit different from the sounds of the revolutionary rhetoric in the radical left. The Mexican left was put in crisis by the issue of how to deal with the PRD. And the Trotskyist framework is such that groups can denounce reformism in the most militant phrases in one breath and unite in the next, if only it’s not a “popular front” but a “united front” or some variant of their idea of “military but not political support”.)

It’s hard not to believe that thoughtful EZLN leaders aren’t well aware of the general position of the radical left. They also need support for their armed struggle and militant tactics, and the pro-PRD forces aren’t going to give it to them. So the present dual nature of the Democratic National Convention.

The idea that this simply represents the narrowness of EZLN, that one has to play down its various stands because what does one expect from a force with that class basis, etc., is profoundly mistaken Support for a just struggle doesn’t mean glossing over the class nature of the forces involved, but instead bringing to the fore this class nature. Ultimately real support for the Chiapas toilers’ demands requires reorganizing the proletarian movement in Mexico. This requires clarity, clarity, clarity about the different forces, and not sentimental phrases about extending the EZLN struggle but purged of its narrowness. The idea that the Zapatista armed struggle can simply be extended all over Mexico — if only local narrowness is overcome — is phrasemongering. And the same idea expressed more vaguely, leaving out the tactics, but throwing in lots of words about revolution, is not any better. Some variant of this idea of simply overcoming the EZLN’s narrowness seems to be associated with Rene’s approach to the matter and some CWV agitation. Yet the Zapatistas have their class nature which has to be taken seriously, and not just used as an excuse for the EZLN’s stands. They are a toilers movement, which the working class should seek to build as many links with as possible, but they are not going to solve the issue of proletarian reorganization.

The article on El Machete concentrates on the Democratic National Convention. Naturally this convention is important for seeing what the EZLN is and what the left is. But the task of revolutionary communists is not to get submerged in EZLN maneuvers. If one’s viewpoint centers on the convention and its internal fights, it leads nowhere. The proletarian revolutionary stand in Mexico, a stand which doesn’t rely on phrasemongering about revolution but actually prepares the way for revolution, requires finding the ways of bringing the proletariat to political life. This means, in part, being willing to go against traditional phrasemongering and looking honestly and openly at what various forces in Mexico represent. It means taking inspiration from the Chiapas revolt — not in imitation of EZLN maneuvers, but to stand up for rebuilding a proletariat movement Without that solidarity ends up meaning little. I was at a meeting in Detroit on Nov. 18, when Alexander Cockburn spoke on “From Chiapas to Haiti: a hemisphere in crisis” I warrant everyone from Cockburn to the audience thought highly of the EZLN. But the audience and Cockburn was bogged down in the most incredible pessimism, and talking about this pessimism, and apologizing for talking about what’s going on, because it sounded so pessimistic. It sounded like a rally of our own moribund “majority”, if such could be conceived. They couldn’t simply imitate Chiapas, and so it ultimately didn’t inspire them. One has to be inspired to the tasks of proletarian reorganization to convert the desire for solidarity into action. One has to see something growing at the present — not in phrases, but in reality.

Well, what about El Machete? What did it put forward? Did it simply repeat traditional left phrases or is it fighting for proletarian reorganization? Is it bogged down in EZLN maneuvers. or does it have a broader perspective? 1 don't know. But the account in the announcement in CWVTJ #5 and Rene’s account at the minority meeting are centered on the convention. If El Machete in fact put forward a revolutionary orientation, why doesn’t the announcement describe it? And to simply say that El Machete is mote revolutionary than others is no description. If the revolutionary stand simply amounted to opposing PRD’s pacifism and give-up-the-struggle-ism. well. fine, but this is not sufficient to be endorsed as the proletarian alternative. And if El Machete put forward more, it apparently was not understood.

Whatever El Machete’s standpoint, Rene's discussion at the minority meeting and the announcement in the current CWVTJ didn’t get beyond purified EZLNism. And a revolutionary stand can’t mean simply redefining the Zapatista struggle as objectively more revolutionary than they themselves say and correcting their statements. Instead one must be able to face the fact that the proletariat will have a difficult road in the coming years, partially because it is not organized in face of increasing destitution and the growing political crisis. The proletariat should be inspired by the Chiapas revolt, but it can’t get carried away with the particular forms of struggle — which doesn’t generalize across Mexico—and it isn’t revolutionary to predict great things unrelated to what the next steps of proletarian organization actually are. The issue isn’t how grandiose and revolutionary one sounds, but whether one prepares the proletariat for the next steps of class organization.

* * * * *

From this standpoint, I think the endorsement in the CWV TJ of El Machete, without a sufficient examination of its stand, was a mistake. I also think it is a mistake to substitute promotion of El Machete for providing materials on the struggle in Chiapas and on the political movement in Mexico.

The endorsement of El Machete is only a small part of CWV TJ #5. I am raising this question in this letter neither as an evaluation of the CWV TJ nor as denigration of the hard work of the CWV group that goes into producing this journal, but to discuss an issue that is important in itself. There is the issue of what it means to learn from and support the mass struggle in Chiapas. And there is the issue of our stand towards anti-revisionism.

I doubt most CWV members considered the announcement in this way. I think they regarded it more as a practical issue, and that, by using a signed announcement, they could avoid the implications of an endorsement.

But Rene posed the issue of our overall orientation at the last minority meeting. And I think this question deserves to be taken seriously, and answered directly. Rene believed that the struggle in the Democratic National Convention was the big anti-revisionist struggle, and presumably we could learn what was needed about anti-revisionism by following El Machete. Such views are connected to Rene’s attitude towards the CWV TJ, his demand for a no-questions-asked endorsement of El Machete, and his withdrawal of support from the CWV TJ. I think this issue of the relation of anti-revisionism to the support of the Chiapas revolt has to be answered consciously and not evaded. And the implications of endorsing El Machete as the clearest revolutionary voice in Mexico also have to be considered. Rene’s way of handling these issues seems to me to raise some big questions:

If we are going to restrict our appeal concerning Mexico to mainly the maneuvering of various groups around the EZLN, then what happened to the anti-revisionist tasks we are taking up? What happened to our determination that the proletariat should once again build up its class parties? Is anti-revisionism just a phrase which can be used to cover over any movement or political trend that happens to grow big and militant? Are we to be carried away by the first mass force or mass rebellion which appears, and drop our insistence on critical analysis and independent proletarian action, and simply say — “oh. my. how revolutionary! And so many people are involved!”?

I hope not.

But if the endorsement of El Machete in the CWV TJ #5 results in a thoughtful discussion of these issues, then it will end up having served a useful purpose, whatever El Machete turns out to be.

Communist regards and season’s greetings to everyone in the minority,

Joseph []

Oleg’s reply on El Machete

To: the minority

From: Oleg

Jan. 4,1994

Dear comrades,

Joseph has objected strongly to the announcement on the back page of the latest Theoretical Journal about El Machete. He considers that this is in effect an endorsement and he strongly questions the politics of this paper. Since I am the one who wrote and signed that article, I will try to give some reply to Joseph’s comments.

First of all, from a purely formal angle, I believe that the announcement can be easily defended. For one thing the Chicago Workers’ Voice has had policy for some time of making available all sorts of left newspapers that we receive to anyone who asks us for them. We have a special section of the bookstore where we display newspapers from U.S. left groups, all of which we have serious disagreements with, as well as all the international periodicals that come in to us. So El Machete is not the only left wing political newspaper we distribute that is not directly “our trend” Secondly we made a decision several months ago in the Chicago Workers' Voice to ask for and distribute El Machete in Chicago. This decision may be questioned as having been taken too lightly and without enough information, but it was discussed and taken at least a couple of times several months ago. Nothing really happened on this for a while because Rene couldn’t get them to send us any quantity until two bundles arrived about the time we held the minority meeting early in Nov. We did, however, run a short article from El Machete entitled “Errors of the PRD” in the Voz Obrera that we put out for Mexican Independence Day in Sept. The introduction to that article did make clear that we have no particular connection to El Machete. When the issue came up of putting an ad for El Machete into the Journal (raised by Rene), there was a decision of those who participated in the next CWV meeting (which Rene and I both missed, for different reasons) not to run just a straight ad but to try to get an article explaining the significance of El Machete.

Therefore from a strictly formal point of view the announcement that CWV was distributing El Machete was perfectly correct. Did I word everything perfectly in the article? No, of course not. In particular the last line overstates the reasons we are suggesting people might want to read El Machete.

Joseph considers the announcement to be tantamount to an endorsement of El Machete. In the broad sense that Joseph is using the term endorsement, I disagree. The intent of the announcement was to let those who are interested in news of the struggles in Mexico know that we have available an alternative resource which has a generally more left-wing stand than any other paper which we have found from Mexico. The main intent in getting El Machete in the first place was to provide it to activists and workers in the Mexican community who were hungry for news of the struggles in Mexico and particularly relating to the Zapatistas. It seemed to me that there might also be some readers of the Journal who might want an alternative source of news on Mexico. So, why not let them know we have this paper? Workers’ Advocate is no longer in existence. We in Chicago can not produce timely articles on developments in Mexico. At least if one combines El Machete with social democratic and bourgeois sources, an activist might be able to keep up with events there.

Thus, I am trying to explain that the “endorsement” of El Machete in the Journal, if you can call it that, was as an alternative, more left wing, in broad terms, source of news about struggles in Mexico. I did not and do not endorse El Machete as the revolutionary alternative for the working class in Mexico. I did not say that they are the Marxist-Leninists of Mexico. I don’t know of any group which is. I don’t think it is fair to read that kind of endorsement into this article. I certainly did not recommend El Machete as a source of discussion and analysis of issues of Marxist-Leninist theory. I couldn’t because they don’t even carry such articles. If fact, I have not seen any statement in El Machete that it is a Marxist-Leninist publication.

The announcement does not endorse El Machete's political analysis. I considered including an explicit statement trying to make clear that CWV and El Machete are separate political organizations with no particular ties and that each is responsible for its own views and statements. My wording was fuzzy , Julie didn’t like what I wrote and I gave up. I was not that worried that readers would jump to the conclusion that CWV and El Machete were in some way politically united.

I stand by my “endorsement” of El Machete as an alternative and left-wing, in the broad sense, source of news about the struggles in Mexico. I can see by the comments from Joseph that this point needs to be further clarified in subsequent issues of the Journal.

Julie has been pushing me that we need to write some more analytical article about the situation in Mexico both for the Journal and for agitation at events which are coming up in the next month in Chicago. I agree in theory. We have quite a bit of material I’m going to give it a try, but I can’t give any guarantees.

Joseph raises a number of other points in his letter of Dec. 21. I can’t respond in detail to them right now. For one thing he claims that there was bad relationship between Rene and the “A” unit, that Rene bullied the unit, etc. At first sight I don’t agree with that assessment I am going to take some more time before I discuss that issue which I consider to be somewhat separate from the issue of what stand we should take to El Machete or to the Zapatistas or to the Mexican political movement. The issue of Rene is less urgent since he has ceased all political cooperation with Chicago Workers' Voice. I think I can take some time and think about this more at my leisure.

Joseph also suggests a political analysis of the Zapatistas. Many of his points seem to be close to or on the mark. I don’t have time to comment in detail on them. I do think he has a point that there is some tendency for those political activists who are involved in or dose to the Mexican nationality political movement to get carried away in their enthusiasm for the militancy and successes of the Zapatistas. We do need to understand that this is a peasant movement which is different from a proletarian movement. We do need to make our own assessment of the Zapatista strategy. I think Joseph is right that the Zapatistas know full well what rotten opportunists the PRD are and decided for strategic reasons that they needed to try to use them.

In relation to this last point I strongly recommend that any comrades who can stumble through the Spanish read the article on page 2 of No. 54 and the editorial on page 3. I’m sorry but I am still working on the Spanish translation of our election article and I won’t have time to translate them anytime soon. El Machete makes sort of oblique complaints about the Zapatistas endorsing opportunists to run the CND.

Anyway I appreciate Joseph’s comments on the Zapatistas. They will be of use if I can get to write an article on the struggle in Mexico. (Anyone else who wants to write on Mexico, feel free!) I did notice two more or less factual points that I think Joseph may not have quite right. One point is that the CND is not just a convention that is called periodically by the Zapatistas. It is a definite coalition type body that has continuing political activity. E! Machete is complaining about some of this. Joseph also says that the Mexican working class has not broken through the PRJ-dominated trade union leadership. To a large extent this is true, but it is my impression that there is some independent trade union activity outside of the PRI-dominated unions. There is an organization called FAT (Frente Autentico de los Trabajadores, I think) which is an independent trade union center, not necessarily independent of all trade unionist narrowness or bourgeois politics, but independent of the CNT I believe that unions such as the UE and ACTWU in the U.S. are working with the FAT unions to some extent. Every year there is an alternative trade unionist march (usually militant and with large numbers) on May First opposing the PRI-sponsored march. Certainly the Mexican working class as a whole has not built an independent movement in the way we see as necessary. However, there are definitely some oppositional currents within the Mexican working class; I think probably more so than in the U.S. Of course they also face greater repression than we do here in the U.S.

Enough on analysis of Mexico for now. I do think we need to work a lot more on this analysis. It has a lot of significance for effective participation in the political movement in Chicago and Los Angeles at least.

There are some points on the actual content of El Machete that I should mention at least in passing. I have found a couple of articles in El Machete that I definitely disagree with. I would bet that other comrades in the minority would also disagree with them. NC [of the Los Angeles Workers Voice — ed.]found one of the most serious; their article on the struggle against prop. 187 is very bad. It gives a totally nationalist line, never even raising the issue that attacks on the Mexican nationality divide the working class and harm the working class movement. Another bad article is their statement on Cuba where they call for solidarity with Cuba not just on a humanitarian basis but on the basis of support for socialism. That’s not why I oppose the U.S. blockade on Cuba. There was also some little, relatively innocuous report from L.A. by their “brother paper” the People "s Tribune!

I still think that El Machete is worth reading and circulating to some extent because it is an alternative source on the movement in Mexico. I certainly am not going to tell anyone that El Machete is the anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist center in Mexico. (Of course, I never did.) I’m not sure whether it is worthwhile to carry on polemics with El Machete, but knowing their stands on 187 and Cuba makes me want to look harder at what they say about other issues that I know less about. Julie is probably right that it’s more important to develop our analysis of Mexican politics than to get in a polemical battle with El Machete. (Besides the point that I doubt if they care what we say about them.)

Joseph also accuses the announcement and “some CWV agitation” of not going “beyond purified EZLNism” Frankly I don’t quite get his point. Anyway, to hit my main point once again from a slightly different angle, I do not agree that the announcement was a broad political endorsement of El Machete, and especially not an endorsement of them as the anti-revisionists of Mexico. I do “endorse” El Machete as an alternative and useful source of news about straggles in Mexico. I believe there exist outside of our direct circles, numbers of activists and workers who are struggling to keep informed about struggles in Mexico and particularly about the Zapatista-led struggles and who are trying to analyze these struggles. I think it is proper and natural to offer to share with anyone who is interested the sources of information that I have. It’s not that easy for many people in Chicago, for example, to locate the actual statements of the Zapatistas. Nor are there other readily available sources outside of El Machete which give a more intimate look at the political maneuvering around the Zapatistas. Both types of information are important for anyone to have who wants to try to understand more about the Zapatista-led struggle than comes from the bourgeois media or the social democrats. Along with providing these resources, if we can provide some of our own analysis, so much the better. But our ability to do this is limited. 1 think it is a useful service to activists and interested workers to provide them with this material even if we can’t give them our own analysis.

I will try to return to these topics later, but this is all I can manage to write for now.

Bright red greetings, Oleg []

CWVTJ #6 on El Machete

Below is an excerpt from the “Editorial Guide” to the Chicago Workers ’ Voice Theoretical Journal Issue #6, Feb. 10,1995. CWV refused to carry dissenting views on El Machete in CWVTJ #6 or to include materials on El Machete‘s standpoint and analysis. They were asked to at least say that there were disagreements. Below is what they wrote.

Please note that the next issue of CWVTJ will continue our coverage of Mexico including some topics of controversy within the ranks of our own supporters. In CWVTJ #5 we carried an announcement that El Machete, a left-wing Mexican newspaper was available through CWV. We note that several supporters of the CWVTJ strongly oppose any endorsement of El Machete and disagree with Oleg’s announcement in the last issue. Joseph Green has written his concerns on this and Oleg has replied. This is being discussed among supporters of the CWVTJ. The disagreements include the relative merits or demerits of printing an announcement for a newspaper which comes out of a different trend and experience than ours, assessment of what the trend El Machete represents, assessment of the Zapatista revolt and other issues. The CWVTJ will carry materials on this discussion in the next issue. []

Letter to the Editors of Chicago Workers' Voice Theoretical Journal

Tim Hall,

February 17,1995

Dear Comrades,

I wish to vehemently oppose the characterization of the El Machete controversy in the editorial guide for the sixth issue of CWVTJ, which, unfortunately, has already gone to press. The commentary implies that there is a section of the minority that considers the fact that EM “comes out of a different trend and experience than ours” equally as important as an assessment of EM's politics in judging this group. This paints the objections of Joseph, Mark, and other comrades to the endorsement of EM by CWVTJ in a sectarian light and is highly unfair. The objections of these comrades were never made on the grounds of EM coming from a different trend; this is absurd. It is entirely possible for a group to emerge from another trend and develop politics with which we could agree. Or one could emerge with politics which cause us to have reservations while still recognizing the group as an oppositional trend. And it is also possible, obviously, for one to emerge with politics which we completely oppose. The issue is not the question of emergence from another trend at all; at best, this may be an explanation for the group's politics. The issue is the politics. Unfortunately, many other readers on the left, to which the CWVTJ editors are so attuned, will be quick to read the editorial guide's words as a veritable signboard saying: BEWARE OF THOSE JOSEPH-PEOPLE SECTARIANS! THEY LISTEN TO NO ONE BUT THEIR OWN LITTLE GROUP!

It is precisely here that the CWVTJ comrades are practicing an even bigger deception, I hope unwittingly. For it is Joseph and those who agree with him on this issue who have repeatedly asked CWVTJ to translate, and possibly print in the journal, an article from El Machete illustrating its politics, followed by a commentary assessing their stands. This would be quite the opposite of sectarianism. Joseph and others repeatedly asked Chicago to provide translations of EM articles for all comrades to judge. First we were met by Rene’s arrogant refusal at the November meeting. Now, after his departure, things are handled more diplomatically perhaps, with Julie's statement that making such translations would be “too painful." But the results are the same: still no translations, still no in-depth presentation of EM's politics in their own words or in an analysis, and an endorsement of EM has been imposed on our whole trend by the CWVTJ editorial board. Technically, yes, the CWVTJ board is independent; in fact, as we all know, it has been regarded by us and others as the rallying point of our trend. If the Chicago comrades had wished to act in a comradely way on an issue they knew to be controversial among us. they would have declined (temporarily at least) to exercise their technical right and delayed decision on an EM endorsement until comrades could have read their material and expressed themselves. Instead, they imposed the endorsement on the rest of us as a decision of their small group alone. (Is this not an “organizational fiat”?) And Julie now has the temerity to describe Mark and Pete's suggestion that the whole trend consider (and decide democratically, I might add) a change in the CWVTJ's editorial board as an "organizational fiat”. Now, which would you say is or would be an "organizational fiat”, the decision of a small group imposed on the whole trend, or a decision of the whole trend, in which the small group had their full say? Please!

And now we have the aspersion of sectarianism cast upon Joseph and others by the editorial guide. Those who have called for study, discussion and democratic decisions are painted as sectarians. Over the years we have all felt the sting of similar unfounded charges at the hands of the opportunist left who have tried to prevent the clarification of issues in the light of Marxism-Leninism. It is painful now to experience such distortions at the hands of old comrades, especially some who have weathered the betrayal by our majorityites. I hope that you will repudiate these statements.

Tim []

[End of article group]

El Machete and “occupied Mexico”

We include material on one of the political stands of El Machete and its supporters. We carry two letters from comrades of the LA Workers' Voice on this. This, by the way, does not mean that LAWV agrees with us on the debate over El Machete. Oleg of Chicago Workers' Voice, who wrote CWVTJ's endorsement of El Machete, is also quite aware of these stands. He refers to them in his very letter of Jan. 4 that defends his endorsement of El Machete. (This letter appears elsewhere in this issue of CV.) But he didn’t write in CWVTJ on this, and apparently didn’t regard it as important in characterizing El Machete political standpoint.

NC on petty-bourgeois nationalism

Date: 10-Jan-95

From: NC

Subj: PB Nationalism, etc.

Dear cde. Oleg,

Received yours today on the sorting out of what to do on El Machete political problems.

Yes, Cdes. SP and CV have had discussions with Guillermo of the MLNM (Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional Mexicano) at various actions in the last few years here. For some reason, he is usually cold toward me personally however. Maybe if I try a different deodorant — things will change!!!

I don’t think we go overboard with too much hubris on the nationalists here. We try to take a level-headed approach on the overall political terrain to gauge things in their objective and subjective change and progress (& some regressions). But when activists want to deal with the tactics and social analysis of the movement, we are open with exposing the impotence, class collaborationism and deceit of petty-bourgeois nationalists who do have influence, but mainly amongst students — & much less among wage workers! In other words, we don’t have the PL-ish knee jerk denunciatory approach on the nation question because after all, we are dealing with issues profoundly affecting extremely nationally oppressed and super-exploited segment of the workers here.

I think Guillermo and co. should explain the social class relationship between the mainly white racist ruling class and the significant caste of rich chicanos (their politicos use nationalist rhetoric too!) whose CLASS interests are in joint exploitation of workers brown, black, white, asian, native, etc. in "Occupied Mexico” Guillermo said ALL Mexicanos should unite to the MLM banner — and this is nothing but a sucking up line to the national bourgeoisie and petty bourgeois, no matter he uses the term socialism, every so often.

MLM is eclectic — to put it mildly. How far back should we go? What about liberation for the remnants of the native peoples who the Conquistadores made slaves of? Using MLM reasoning all of us ‘settlers’ should just get the hell out and let the Native peoples have some ‘liberation’ for a change!!! Of course this borders on the absurd, but no more absurd than the MLM programme!

Nationalists got real egg on their face in the late seventies here and last year, when Mexicano-chicano workers launched strikes against various garment sweat shop bosses. Turned out the bosses were White, Asian and Latino as well!! Now what do the "left’ nationalists do? Can they tell the workers striking the White and Asian bosses — we’re with you Gung-Ho! — BUT don’t you dare strike the Latino bosses because they are part of the ‘liberation’ forces?? In fact this is what they try to do!!

I am sending you copies of the latest Turning the Tide anti-racist paper via snail mail because they have another revealing article by the MLM! Let me know your views.

Best wishes nc/LA

Distribution: To Julie, Oleg

cc: Joseph Green

An article from El Machete’s trend

To: Chicago + Detroit minority

From: LA Workers’ Voice

Subj: MLM nationalist article in Turning the Tide

Date: 011095

Dear cdes,

Enclosed anti-racist journal has revealing article by MLM (on back page). The article was passed out en masse at the Oct. 16th mass action in East L.A. Please study—give views please!

Highest regards, nc/LA

(Below is the MLM article:]

Genocide against Mexicans

Prop. 187 is much more than simple denial of human rights to Mexican people. 187 continues the historic attempts at genocide against our people by the european colonizers. 187 is a declaration of WAR against the Mexican people in the militarily occupied northern half of our Mexican nation.

Since the europeans first arrived in 1521, they began the genocide against our people. But Cacama, Cuitlahuac and Cuauhtemoc taught us that we can and must resist, culminating in the U.S. invasion of 1846-48. Even they [then?], they gave us one year to leave our homeland. But we stayed and we continued to resist.

Then they stole communal land grants. They unleashed the Texas rinches on us. They cared a special federal police force (la Migra) to keep us in our place. During the so-called Zoot-Suit Riots, they again unleashed their military personnel against our people. The local police departments are nothing more than glorified armies of occupation in our barrios, colonias, and homeland Their attempts at selective assassinations have failed to intimidate us. In a version of low intensity warfare, they have attempted to destroy our political movements.

In the late 1980’s, the genocidal attacks escalated with the English Only movement. They sought to outlaw the Spanish language and make English the official language. The same forces behind English Only, including the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Pioneer Fund, are also backers of Prop. 187. The Pioneer Fund sponsors racist studies which seek to prove that people of color. Mexicans and Blacks, are intellectually inferior to whites.

The English speaking settlers know that we will eventually reclaim our homeland. HISTORY IS ON OUR SIDE. That is why they are now trying to completely marginalize us, by denying us a historical and cultural understanding of who we are. The concentration camps are ready to use against us.

THIS IS OUR HOMELAND. We are not going anywhere. They cannot deport all of us. Every Mexican must become an enemy of the colonial settler state.

187 is a wake-up call to resist by any and all means. Some will build our own institutions that do not depend on either the federal or state governments. Others will refuse to carry out 187. Still others will understand that we must create the revolutionary clandestine formations that will defend our people and lead to our ultimate national liberation struggle and socialist reunification of Mexico.



Statement from the Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional Mexicano. []

[End of article group]

What should we say to the masses about Cuba?

One part of the debate over endorsing El Machete concerned their attitude to Cuban revisionism. El Machete enthusiastically supports present-day, state-capitalist Cuba as a socialist country. The CWV, while quite aware of this, never thought it worth mentioning when characterizing El Machete's views in CWVTJ #5 and #6.

Here we reproduce an article from El Machete saying that it means nothing to oppose the boycott against Cuba unless one supports it as socialist. We also produce the last leaflet from the CWV that dealt with the Cuba boycott, a leaflet that downplays the issue of opposing Castroism. And we carry Joseph Green’s commentary on the leaflet.

Long live Cuba but...Socialist”

Below is a rough translation of an article from El Machete Internacional for Nov. 1994:

In the times when fire was very difficult to produce, our ancestors had the duty of keeping the sources of this precious element without it ever going off. “The caretakers of the fire” had a great responsibility, since all the communities would light their torches at the places that kept the communal fire.

In these times in which neo-liberalism advances and the propagandists of the death of communism are elevated to gods who always speak the truth, the socialist fires become singularly important that sooner or later will burn the anger of honest hearts.

This is why the defense of Cuba and its revolution cannot be thought of as an act of a beggar that only calms capitalist injustice. More than just the pain the we feel for the unjust economic blockade against the island, or the propaganda that is made against this heroic revolution, the defense of the Cuban process has to impede imperialism turning off the source, which simplifies for all socialists the duties of construction of a new society. That’s why we shout: “Long live Cuba!...but socialist.” The generic solidarity doesn’t do any good since it diverts the attention of the workers from their fundamental duty: Destroy capitalism and build a society without social classes.

The self-criticism has to guide us to correct our error and in the case of the Americas, we can’t put aside our great experiences of communal organization of our ancestors, but we would be wrong to defend Cuba just under the eye of being humanitarian so as not to bind ourselves to the radical transformation of society. It’s dear that those who will be in the front row duty are the Cuban people, but all the honest workers of whatever latitude have to do our part.

From this perspective, El Machete salutes the holding of the International Conference of Solidarity with Cuba.

CWV on Cuba

The following article is from the September 20,1993 issue of Chicago Workers' Voice, then published by the Chicago Branch of the Marxist-Leninist Party.

Stop the U.S. blockade against Cuba!

The U.S. government has recently tightened up its economic blockade of Cuba and is trying hard to starve the Cubans into submitting to the will of U.S. imperialism. The imperialists are still looking for revenge against the Cuban people for their revolution of 1959, which threw out the pro-U.S. dictator Batista and refused to come back into the “family” of U.S. imperialism.

The blockade against Cuba has been much harsher than the fake blockade against the Haitian military. Or even against Iraq. Last year a new law restricting contact with Cuba was passed (the Torricelli Act), which allows for imprisonment for up to 10 years for U.S. citizens who break the blockade. In addition this new law imposes sanctions against any U.S. or foreign company which buys or sells in the U.S. market and that deals with Cuba, even from another country. For example, a Dutch company which sold Cuba millions of dollars in hospital linen washing machines is now refusing to sell Cuba critically needed parts to maintain them because of fear of losing its share of the U.S. market.

Because of the U.S. blockade and the loss of trade with Eastern European markets since the collapse of the “communist” regimes, the Cuban people have suffered enormous hardships, such as rationing of foods and electricity, gasoline and transportation, and shortages of needed machines and baby formula.

The arrogant demands of the U.S. imperialists are allegedly aimed at the Castro regime. Nevertheless, the Cuban people do not seem ready to give up. So far they seem to prefer the current situation to the U.S. and the Cuban “guzanos” from Miami, Florida. The Cuban people’s stoic resistance has found sympathy in many countries in Latin America, the U.S., and, this year, even from Cubans residing in the U.S.

For the second year a caravan carrying 100 tons of humanitarian aid (medicine, crutches, bicycles, baby formula, powdered milk, school supplies) for Cuba crossed the U.S. border at Laredo into Mexico and then was shipped to Cuba. But customs police stopped a yellow school bus which was being donated to a Baptist church in Cuba from crossing the border. Fourteen men and women activists who were on the bus refused to get off and began a hunger strike in protest. The hunger strike ended Aug. 20th after negotiations between the church leaders and Washington. The bus and the hunger strikers were reported all well and on their way to Cuba.

There were protests of the U.S. action in Laredo, Texas, and in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City and in Chicago in support of the strikers and against the U.S. blockade, ridiculing the U.S. determination not to allow this subversive bus to fall into the hands of any Cubans, Baptists or otherwise.

The people of Cuba must defend their gains and independence

The hypocritical actions of the U.S. imperialist regime, echoing the right wing Cubans from Miami and Chicago, are carried out in the name of democracy. But such demagogy is bound to be exposed since the workers in the U.S. and around Latin America can dearly see that it is the same U.S. which has propped up and supported the most reactionary, corrupt bloodstained and anti-democratic regimes in Latin America from Mexico to El Salvador and Guatemala to Chile. On the other hand, the Cuban revolution accomplished many good things for their people, from school reform to health care. All of these gains produced support and admiration for the Cuban people and their revolution from the oppressed people throughout Latin America. In addition, the Cuban regime has supported the independence of Puerto Rico and opposed the U.S. in the U.N. for the war on Iraq and opposed U.S. intervention in Latin America. This is what the U.S. hates and why we need to act now against the blockade. Workers in the U.S. gain nothing from this blockade or from the anti-communist crusade of the right wing Cuban “guzanos” in the U.S. These reactionaries are an important sector of the right wing in the U.S. who are happy to give money to politicians who are pro-capitalist, against the rights of women, and against the workers.

We Marxist-Leninists believe that the current regime in Cuba has deviated considerably from the road of socialist construction. We do not endorse it as a model for socialism. It would make this article too lengthy to give a complete analysis of our views, but two issues come to mind on this subject: 1. The way Castro has supported the capitalist governments of countries like Mexico, Spain and France; 2. The pressure that the Cuban government exerted on revolutionary movements in Central America to abandon revolutionary stands in favor of reformist accommodation with reactionary governments and U.S. imperialism. However, regardless of what we think of Castro and his regime, the U.S. has no right to dictate anything to Cuba or to the Cuban people. The U.S. blockade against Cuba is nothing but another shameful crime of U.S. imperialism.



On the CWV agitation on Cuba:

Should we build an anti-revisionist trend among the masses?

Our controversy with the CWV group over their endorsement of the journal El Machete involves the attitude to building an anti-revisionist trend. Should we seek, through agitation and theoretical work, to build up an anti-revisionist trend? Or in work inside the mass movement, should we believe that opposition to bourgeois reformism or the taking up of anti-capitalist slogans suffices to be anti-revisionism in practice?

The CWV group knows revisionism is wrong, but doesn’t see campaigning on this as very important. They endorsed the journal El Machete in CWVTJ Issue #5 as the most left-wing trend in Mexico, and they continue to promote it as standing against the outright reformists. Privately they may write that El Machete takes this or that bad stand. But in their statements in CWVTJ they have been silent for quite some time on these stands, such as its promotion of Cuban revisionism, or its petty-bourgeois nationalist view of the Southwest as “occupied Mexico” They might call it a “different trend and experience” than theirs, but they have been silent for quite some time about El Machete not being an anti-revisionist trend.

This reluctance to campaign on the issue of revisionism is not something altogether new. Consider their article on Cuba in their leaflet of Sept. 1993 which is, I think, their last major statement on the issue. It wasn’t important for the CWV group (then the Chicago branch of the Marxist-Leninist Party) to bring out sharply the issue of Cuban revisionism and Castroism. Instead their aim didn’t go beyond presenting themselves as militant opponents of the U.S. blockade of Cuba. An influential view in the present-day left equates support for Castroism with opposition to imperialism. Instead of confronting this mistaken view directly, the leaflet somewhat glorifies the Cuban regime’s actions. The CWV had a different view of Cuban revisionism than many other left groupings they worked among, but they didn’t think it important to lay stress on that. Nor did they think that the issue of Castroism was that important for the Cuban workers. They advise the Cuban toilers to uphold national independence, but they said nothing about the need to overcome Castroism.

Since then there are no other CWV writings on Cuba and Castroism. Yet the CWV works among many activists among whom Cuba is a big issue. So let’s look at the article.

The prospect for the Cuban workers

Today the Cuban workers are in a difficult position. They face a ferocious blockade from U.S. imperialism which squeezes Cuba dry. But they also face a state-capitalist regime run in the name of “socialism’’ And its crisis too is part of what is squeezing the people dry. The revolutionary energy from the overthrow of the U.S.-backed dictator Batista in 1959 vanished long ago. The Cuban revolution really shook up U.S. imperialism. But the decay of the Cuban revolution into another revisionist country also has had its impact. Cuba today is not a revolutionary society. It’s a state-capitalist country, not a socialist country nor a partially-socialist country. It’s like China today or the Soviet Union yesterday. Western-style privatization and bourgeois rule is not the answer, but defense of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie of Cuba is also not the answer.

What the Cuban workers need, first and foremost, is to regain their independence of action. They will need to fight both the old reactionaries, whom the U.S. still supports, and the present revisionist bourgeoisie. To do this, they need some clarity. They need to understand what U.S. imperialism is up to. But they also need to see that Castroism is just another revisionist ideology. They need to understand that state capitalism is not socialism, and Castroism is not Marxism-Leninism.

Thus anti-revisionism is a burning issue for the class struggle in Cuba. For the workers and toilers to organize independently in Cuba is going to take sacrifice and dedication. The Castro regime is not likely to welcome critics from the proletarian left. Without an understanding of the historic nature of the anti- revisionist task, there won’t be the revolutionary energy among the proletariat needed for them to play an independent role.

It may well take some time to develop an independent, Cuban proletarian left. The immediate future holds many hardships for the Cuban workers. But hardships can have their revolutionary side. Will the Cuban workers be able to use this time to good advantage or will they be mainly a suffering mass? Will they be paralyzed in the face of the major changes that are coming in Cuba, or will they be able to develop a powerful struggle? This depends on large part on whether they give rise to any political trends or organizations that stand for proletarian communism.

Glossing over the situation

But the leaflet is silent on these issues. It advises the workers and toilers to defend the gains of the revolution. But it doesn’t point out the revolution is no more. Yet the workers cannot defend their basic conditions and past gains, unless they realize the revolution has long been over.

And the leaflet advises them to defend the national independence of Cuba. But the workers cannot reorganize their ranks unless they realize that they face a struggle against the local bourgeoisie as well as the monstrous blockade.

It appears that the authors of the leaflet intended to distinguish between what they support in Cuba — actions of the masses for national independence — and the struggle of the Castroist regime. But it didn’t work. On the contrary, the leaflet ended up glorifying the regime’s actions as the actions of the masses and as an example of the revolution.

Thus the leaflet says that “the arrogant demands of the U.S. imperialists are allegedly aimed at the Castro regime”. But, the leaflet says, it’s really a fight with the Cuban people, whose “stoic resistance has found sympathy” around the world.

But the U.S. isn’t just “allegedly” against the Castro regime. It really is fighting the Castro regime. And the Castro regime is resisting. The people are suffering from both sides. By writing that the U.S. is only allegedly fighting the Castro regime, the leaflet tries to disassociate its opposition to the blockade from direct defense of Castroism. But in fact, this strategy backfires, because it ends up presenting the regime’s steps as those of the masses. The only way to separate one’s opposition to the blockade from support to the regime is to deal openly with the struggle on two fronts facing the Cuban workers.

About the Cuban regime

The leaflet does criticize the regime a bit, but the criticism is mild. There isn’t the proletarian fire that would be necessary to inspire activists to stand up on this point despite heavy pressure from the others on the left, or to inspire Cuban workers to stand up despite the threat of repression. As well, the criticism is mainly directly at Cuban foreign policy.

On Cuba’s internal policy, the leaflet indirectly defends the regime from the charge of being repressive. The leaflet only raises the issue of democracy in Cuba as “demagogy” of “right wing Cubans from Miami and Chicago” and as hypocrisy by U.S. imperialism. No doubt the right-wing Cubans and imperialists are vicious hypocrites on the question of freedom. They don’t want freedom for the Cuban toilers, but to once more exploit them to the bone and to keep them gagged and servile. But for the workers, there is a real issue of political freedom in Cuba.

Is Cuba a state capitalist country?

With respect to internal policy, the leaflet raises nothing concretely. It raises the issue of whether Cuba is socialist — but it doesn’t give any concrete reason why it isn’t. For that matter, it doesn’t even directly say that Cuban isn’t socialist.

The leaflet says that “the current regime in Cuba has deviated considerably from the road of socialist construction” And it gives no example of this deviation.

Well, does “deviating considerably” mean that Cuba is or isn’t socialist? Maybe, in the eyes of those who wrote the leaflet, it means that Cuba isn’t socialist. But many people would talk this way about a socialist regime that had problems. After all, a country might not be a model socialist country, but it still might be socialist or seeking a way to socialism. Does the proletariat become perfect as soon as there is a revolution? Neither Marx nor Lenin thought so, and I don’t either. So when the leaflet says “We do not endorse it as a model for socialism”, it doesn’t quite say whether Castro’s regime is socialist or state capitalist, a workers’ regime or capitalist regime. At the very least, it avoids making a big issue of the matter. It doesn’t say that Cuba is state capitalist.

The leaflet doesn’t give any example of internal Cuban policies that deviate from socialism. It says that “It would make this article too lengthy to give a complete analysis of our views...” This makes it seem as if CWV has other, lengthy writings which it is campaigning on. But such writings are not advertised in the leaflet At the time the leaflet was written the CWV was in the Marxist-Leninist Party, and the MLP had said a few things about Cuba. (And despite the recent assertions of comrade NC of the LA. Workers Voice to the contrary, the MLP analysis included criticism of Cuba’s internal policies and structure, and not just of foreign policy). But these writings aren’t referred to.

Foreign policy

But let’s go back to the sentence in the leaflet that said “It would make this article too lengthy to give a complete analysis of our views...” It continues by saying that “...but two issues come to mind on this subject”

These two issues are both foreign policy questions: Castro’s support for the governments of Mexico, Spain and France; and his regime’s pressure on Central American movements to come to a reformist solution with reactionary governments and U.S. imperialism.

But even the leaflet’s criticism of Cuban foreign policy is quite muted. Earlier on, the leaflet had praised Cuban foreign policy. It suggested that Cuba’s militant foreign policy is why the U.S. is blockading the country. The leaflet says that “the Cuban regime has supported the independence of Puerto Rico and opposed the U.S. in the U.N. for the war on Iraq and opposed U.S. intervention in Latin America. This is what the U.S. hates and why we need to act now against the blockade.”

So in one place, we learn how wonderful Cuban foreign policy is. Indeed, this foreign policy is “why we need to act now against the blockade ” And a paragraph later, we learn that this same foreign policy is the main complaint the CWV has against the regime.

Wait, someone may say. It’s simply that the article supports one aspect of Cuban policy and opposes another. It supports anti-imperialism but opposes accommodation with imperialism and the local bourgeoisie.

But there are different sorts of anti-imperialism. The Castroist sort of anti-imperialism can't be separated from its accommodation with imperialism and with the local bourgeoisie of Latin America, Iraq, Haiti, etc. How much of Castro’s anti-imperialism is defending local regimes, however corrupt if only they have some contradiction with the American government! Nor can one separate Castro’s sort of anti-imperialism from the advice he gives to the movements who are opposed to the U.S. intervention. It cannot be separated from supporting the Mexican government and other bourgeois governments in Latin America, on the grounds that these governments have certain conflicts with U.S. imperialism (which they do).

Instead, our opposition to imperialist intervention has to be linked with supporting the toilers in Latin America, not the various bourgeois governments. It has to be linked to the struggle of the toilers against tyranny, whether local tyranny or that of the imperialist world order, and not linked to the various dictators (Cedras in Haiti or Noriega in Panama or Saddam Hussein in Iraq) who end up in contradiction with the U.S. government. And yet Castro ends up supporting one thug after another.

When you come down to it, the article is downright confused. It isn’t sufficient for it to condemn the U.S. aggression, but instead it has to support something of the Castro regime. So instead of supporting the two-sided task of the toilers, it twists and turns on the analysis of Cuba, blowing hot and cold. It has more than enough qualifiers so that its authors can say that they are not the same trend as Castroism. But it doesn’t put forward anti-revisionism. The article even prettifies the regime and does not call Cuba a state capitalist country. Therefore the qualifiers really don’t mean much for political action, that is, they can’t serve as a basis for rallying an anti-revisionist trend.

Is the Castro regime special?

And indeed there are many reasons given in certain parts of the left for distinguishing between Cuba and the other revisionist countries. The Soviet revisionists may be oppressive, this section of the left admits, and look what the Chinese have become. But it is thought that Cuba is something special. This is a fairly common stand. For many activists, it stems in part from a noble desire to oppose U.S. imperialist dictation over the Caribbean and Latin America — or from a noble desire to say that socialism exists somewhere. But such a stand towards the Castroism cannot survive a scientific analysis.

The Cuban regime, it can be said, sprung from a revolution. It is not a matter of Castroism, but of the Cuban revolution.

But the Bolshevik revolution was certainly one of the earth-shaking revolutions in this century. And so was the Chinese. And the struggles in Albania and Yugoslavia, although they didn’t have anywhere near the same world significance, were major revolutionary uprisings of the masses. But the basic fact that confronts revolutionaries today, is that even revolutionary regimes have decayed. The anti-revisionist critique has to put such questions in the forefront. To hold that Cuba is special because the Castroism came to power in a revolution, is to deny the importance of anti-revisionism at all. And it is deny the reality that the Cuban revolution has been over for a long time.

* Cuba stands against U.S. imperialism, it is said. But so did other revisionist countries, whose foreign policy could be appraised very much the way the leaflet appraises Cuban policy. The contradiction between the Western bloc and the Soviet bloc became so severe that it threatened global thermonuclear war, that’s pretty intense. Indeed, until the Soviet bloc collapsed, Cuba was part of it. But there are different types of struggle against U.S. imperialism. For example, there is the struggle of the masses for freedom; and there is the struggle of rival bourgeoisies for a place in the sun. There are inter-imperialist rivalries and the struggle of local exploiters against the big guys, as well as the struggle of the toiling masses. That’s why the revisionists, while in contradiction with Western imperialism, could nevertheless support bourgeoisie governments, advise accommodation with Western imperialism, etc.

* Cuba is egalitarian, it is said.

But in Cuba the masses don’t rule, but a new ruling class. The new bourgeoisie has privileges and better living standards than the masses. The top leaders live very well indeed. The mass of party members and bureaucrats don’t live that way, and the blockade hurts them too. But they still have privileges over the masses, opportunities to have their children get more schooling, to get scarce commodities, etc.

The reality is that Cuba is a class-divided society. The egalitarianism is at the bottom.

And this is similar to what happened in other revisionist societies. In Poland, elsewhere in Eastern Europe, even in the Soviet Union, etc. there was a much more egalitarian situation among a good part of the masses than typical in Western society. This partially reflected the poverty of the societies and the stagnation of development. It partially could be called a gain of the revolution (a revolution that had long been betrayed). So Cuba was not so special in this regard.

* The Cuban revolution provided gains for the masses, it might be said. Very well. But you would think the conclusion would be to organize the workers for a new revolution, seeing as the old one that laid the basis for these gains no longer exists. The present situation is that a bureaucratic ruling class has formed. It rules in a state-capitalist way, and is shifting over to more Western capitalist features. The Cuban people are faced with either an abrupt shift towards Western-style capitalism (if U.S. imperialism overthrows Castroism, for example) or Castro shifting gradually to these forms. In this situation, it hardly helps the workers to simply tell them to defend the gains of the revolution.

All this is not to say that Castro’s Cuba is a simple carbon copy of other revisionist countries. All these countries have their national particularities. But the Castro regime is well within the general pattern of revisionist state capitalism.

Anti-revisionism is not just a few disclaimers

The leaflet is supposedly written for work among the activists. But it doesn’t deal with the questions on their mind about Castroism and Cuban revisionism. Yet the ideology and influence of Cuban revisionism has had a bad affect not just on Cuban workers but on the American left as well.

For the CWV group, it suffices to have a few disclaimers. Didn’t the leaflet say Cuba wasn’t “a model” of socialism? Didn’t it criticize Cuban foreign policy as well as praising it? That suffices in the mind of the leaflet’s authors to establish their revolutionary and anti-revisionist credentials. And this is the model the CWV followed in endorsing El Machete and in Oleg’s comments on Spark and Labor Notes.

But it’s empty. Anti-revisionism isn’t feeling superior to others by tossing in some disclaimers. Anti-revisionism isn’t a matter of leaving a loophole in the fine print. It isn’t a matter of speaking so subtly that no one’s feathers will be ruffled, even if they support revisionism.

Anti-revisionism requires putting forward the historic tasks that face us now. It means saying what others have neglected to say, not trying to fit in but maybe look a bit more militant It means waking activists up, not putting them to sleep. []

[End of article group]

More debate on endorsing El Machete and on communist tasks

This section of the CV carries an exchange of letters between Frank, a comrade in Seattle, and the Los Angeles Workers Voice (LAWV). Note that “CV-LA” refers to a member of the LAWV, and it’s only a coincidence that the initials of our paper are identical.

Frank on El Machete, organization, the movement of the early 70's, and theory

March 16,1995

Dear Comrades,

I mainly have seconding points to make on what I believe are the most central issues in the debate of the last three months. But in the present circumstances I think it’s important to make them in order to do as much as is possible to sway opinion in favor of organizing the anti-revisionist struggle. All speak in favor of doing this “in general”, just as they did 15 months ago. But a section of the old “minority” is against it when concrete steps are proposed. Five months of discussion and they’re only more against it. So I completely support those comrades who hold it’s time to move on and who are now struggling to sort out how this can best be accomplished. I’m also writing because as one who called for organizing a national Marxist-Leninist group out of the wreckage of the MLP from the beginning, I feel a moral obligation to continue that fight as best I can alongside the several comrades who’ve been struggling hard to turn that dream into a reality during the past period.

My letter of March 8 didn’t spell out where I stood in the debate of the past months. It’s intention was to develop discussion on concrete organizational steps we should take at this time. Thus I need to clarify where I stand on some of the important issues to those I’ve been out of touch with. So most briefly: I don’t agree with the El Machete endorsement. I don’t agree with the positions Oleg, Julie and Jake have taken against organization. I don’t agree with the illogical and specious arguments these comrades have been putting forward to defend their ideas, political acts, and theoretical and organizational complacency. I don’t agree with the evasions of the fundamental political points which have been taking place. I don’t agree that comrades in Detroit (or Gary) have been too “harsh” or that mountains are being built out of molehills. Nor do I agree that some way must be found to reconcile the two basic sides of the debate before we can move forward. As a matter of fact I think a reconciliation with many of the attitudes, methods of thought, and views being expressed would result in the final demise of the trend that gave rise to the ACWM(M-L), the COUSML and the MLP(USA).

In my opinion the “organizational crisis” which arose in the minority is the reflection of an ideological crisis (or crises). The rest of this letter will address just a couple of the many ways this crisis has already shown itself.

The El Machete endorsement and Rene —

I think all comrades outside Chicago thought that CWVTJ #6 should have carried both the criticisms and the defenses of the endorsement of El Machete made in issue #5. This would have been timely and it would have fit nicely with the article regarding Mexico I wrote and also with Oleg’s article on the devaluation of the peso (which was not carried). Had the question come to a vote I’m sure the Chicago comrades would have lost. They probably sensed this and it may have been an important factor in their hardening their stand against further steps toward organization. In any event the editors put forward excuses like maybe more discussion would develop over E-mail, worried about overwhelming our audience, etc. Now all such excuses and worries have been abandoned as they plunge into a special issue of the [CWVTJ] Journal which will wait for no one and present materials on a host of issues from letters often never intended for publication. It will be twice as long as some of the earlier numbers and if you didn’t want your letter published you had to tell Chicago “quick”.

Perhaps the Chicago comrades think this act will prove that they don’t have sectarian tendencies. Perhaps they think that the materials printed will show that the Detroit comrades and Gary are really the sectarians. Their commentary on the El Machete controversy which appeared in #6 certainly tried to do this. But the small problem with it was that it slipped into intellectual dishonesty. That, along with their rapid decision to put out all the materials without giving comrades time to really consider what they wanted printed, what they thought should be deleted, etc, along with no attempt to organize a “minority”-wide discussion on how the materials should be presented, the implication of presenting this or that, the political objectives, etc. doesn’t speak well for democratic methods or the struggle against sectarianism. Sure the CWVTJ technically belongs to Chicago and they can “formally” do anything they please with it But these methods are incongruent with their denunciations of highhandedness by this or that comrade, especially Joseph, in the MLP when it existed, incongruent with their calls for more and more discussion on more and more issues before we can take any more steps toward organization.

Moreover, earlier on (i.e. in his January 25 letter) Oleg said he was sure these materials would be printed (just the letters on the El Machete endorsement at that time) but that he was “strongly in favor of omitting the discussion of the good or bad points of (Rene)”, that he didn’t think it added anything to the political points under discussion, and that he didn’t “want to engage in a lot of public name calling” (The editorial board has now over-ruled this view in the sense that the references to Rene and discussion of his views will be published but they let us in on none of the reasoning behind overthrowing Oleg’s “strong” views.) Oleg also said “I don’t think there is much political principle or value in the materials that we have now” and “suspected)” that it was Joseph’s “subjectivism)” toward Rene which was behind his vehemence regarding the El Machete endorsement

So according to Oleg Joseph’s subjectivity toward Rene was at root of the criticism of the endorsement and criticism of Rene was just “public name calling”. But everyone knows that Rene wanted to go even further than Oleg in endorsing El Machete, everyone knows that while splitting from the minority he was at the same time promoting this paper, etc. And I insist that there were issues of political principle and value in the written materials existing in late January and Rene’s views and stands, even though he’d already left, were very much bound up in one side of the controversy. As a matter of fact Rene carries them to their logical conclusion. Chicago comrades have so far resisted following him all the way into the swamp but until they thoroughly deal with and repudiate his politics they’ll be eclectics. They have to grasp that Rene’s politics must be fiercely fought against if their political activity is going to fundamentally serve the proletarian cause.

So the issue of political principle existing in late January which I’m most insistent on confronting is this: either we fight to build up anti-revisionist work in the U.S. (which includes building organization to serve that work) or we become a tail of El Machete and other trends.

The sequence of events was that Rene had been touting El Machete for some time and Oleg rushed to write an endorsement of it. Knowing very little of the paper’s content (but knowing that it promoted Cuban revisionism as something which was somehow positive, knowing that it devoted a great amount of space to the maneuvering within the Convention, etc.) Oleg wrote an advertisement saying you could “get an idea of the paper’s stand from its masthead which gives the slogan ... (workers of all countries unite!), and says it is a... (newspaper of the workers and peasants)” He went on: “The masthead has a hammer and sickle inside a star on one side and a clinched fist on the other.”

In defense of this endorsement of El Machete, Oleg had put the issue as follows: “We in Chicago can not produce timely articles on developments in Mexico. At least if one combines El Machete with social democratic and bourgeois sources, an activist might be able to keep up with events there.” But wasn’t all this just an attempt to put the best possible face on a paper which he hadn’t studied but which Rene was promoting? A critical standpoint had been abandoned and was justified on the grounds of not having enough time. And even if it were to turn out that El Machete is the organ of a group struggling to find its way forward in a sea of ideological confusion the abandonment of such a critical standpoint (silence on the promotion of Cuba, for example, while hailing the symbols and leftist phrases) would be of no help to them or to activists in the U.S. If such a standpoint is not taken, such a Marxist or anti-revisionist standpoint, we end up just promoting the politics of groups like El Machete and thereby tailing behind them. And isn’t this abandonment of the struggle against revisionism and opportunism, abandonment of our very reason for existence?

Many defenses of the El Machete ad were made by Oleg and others. Nothing was wrong with it “formally”. Technical excuses were made as to why a critique of the endorsement shouldn’t be carried in the next issue of the CWVTJ. And Oleg tried to defend himself on the grounds that he hadn’t said the paper represented Marxism-Leninism in Mexico. But all these defenses were aimed at avoiding the essence of the criticism. For example Oleg had written at the end of the endorsement the following sentence: “The CWV is distributing El Machete because it gives a more left- wing revolutionary perspective than any other paper we have seen from Mexico.” So you see, true enough, he didn’t say it was a Marxist-Leninist paper — even though he had gone out of his way earlier to stress that it carried symbols, slogans, and ideas commonly associated with Marxism-Leninism. But is it the role of Marxists in an oppressor nation such as ours just to uncritically (and perhaps condescendingly) distribute the agitation of the most “left-wing” forces we come across in a countries like Mexico? And what about Marxist-Leninist forces in these countries? Do we also uncritically distribute their agitation? To take such a standpoint, or to promote the idea that this is what should be done (or is all that can be done), is to deny our own worth, is to deny the value of pushing forward the anti- revisionist critique, is to give up the struggle to rejuvenate and reorganize the international proletarian struggle. And is not this is the essence of Rene’s demoralized politics?

Let’s review these politics. At the November meeting [of the “minority”] Rene gave us a certain “definition” of anti-revisionism. According to him the size of the movement fighting the revisionist and social-democratic bureaucrats was everything while the ideology of that movement really didn’t matter. Thus a “real” anti-revisionist fight was taking place inside the Convention in Mexico whereas our efforts were nothing and should be abandoned for the “real” movement. He further implied that we were a bunch of know-it-all sectarians more interested in promoting that we’ve always been right, etc., than in assisting the mass movements. Underlying his comments was one basic theme: advocacy of bowing to the movement as it is while giving a little lip service to anti- revisionism. Oleg took this up under the plea of not enough time. (I certainly sympathize with comrades not having enough hours in a day to get accomplished what they would like to accomplish. But of course one of the benefits of organization, financing professional revolutionaries, etc., is that it can give comrades more time for such things as analyzing events in Mexico. Unfortunately Oleg and Chicago comrades seem to look at organization — at least any organization besides their own, or any organization which doesn’t share their view of the world — with great fear and trepidation.)

Certainly Oleg and the other Chicago comrades have written other things besides the El Machete endorsement since the dissolution of the MLP In my opinion they’ve written some very good articles, advocated good things and worked hard. But these things can’t be used to slough over the implications of the EM endorsement. And the fact that the Chicago comrades fought so hard to defend it only underscores the importance of Joseph’s December comments on the issues involved as well as the critical comments made by others in the months since.

Now since I only met Rene at the November meeting it’s fairly hard to say that I’m just being subjective toward him because of old clashes and the like when I argue against the endorsement of El Machete or give the above views. The other comrades in Seattle also thought the endorsement was wrong and have similar views as mine regarding Chicago comrades needing to thoroughly critique and repudiate Rene’s politics, to stop conciliating them. It would be fairly hard to allege these comrades are giving vent to old grudges either. I suppose one could say we’re just being pulled by strings attached to the hands of Joseph and the other “ideological/emotional cripples from Detroit” (as Fred once said) but I think it would be a little better to consider that there are political issues involved which are of concern to all and which can be seen by all, even one comrade who had little association with the MLP when it existed.

But to continue on. At the November meeting a political split occurred. Rene attacked the value of anti-revisionism and demagogically put forward self-serving distortions of Marxism and his own self-serving spins on the history of the minority and the role of individuals (like Joseph) in the MLP in order to justify his abandonment of the anti-revisionist struggle. He then essentially walked out. Now he’s apparently engaged in the LSM-type politics of supporting petty-bourgeois nationalist or revisionist forces (particularly revisionists with guns) in Asia, Africa and Latin America by "community organizing” in the U.S. (particularly national minority community organizing).

The essential ideological premises of these politics are also held by the RCP(USA) and others. They’re essentially demoralized. They don’t see the working class as capable of smashing up U.S. imperialism through a proletarian socialist revolution. They may profess that as a distant prospect but for now they tail after whatever is popular and appears red while either painting it in more revolutionary colors than it is or launching dogmatic criticisms of it from the “left”. (The Chicago comrades could elaborate on the particularities of Rene’s present political activities. It would be helpful in summing up the implications of the split which occurred in November. But no, from their perspective this shouldn’t be done. We can reargue who said what at which meeting of the MLP several years ago and draw all kinds of political conclusions from that. But analyze a real split in the present and draw political conclusions from it? Well...that’s not so important.)

If the working class is to carry out its historic mission the rose-watered socialism of the petty-bourgeoisie (in three-worldist revisionist, petty-bourgeois nationalist or other forms) must be actively fought against for this "socialism” certainly actively works to tie the working class to bourgeois ideology and politics. The Chicago comrades uphold this idea in theory but in practice (i.e. when it came to Rene) they seem to have held back for many years. Of course they’ve always had reasons for holding back, the main fight was always somewhere else. The Workers’ Advocate was going soft on imperialism, Joseph wasn’t a 100% good guy when he sat on the CC of the MLP, etc., but in my view these reasons were no good. For example it’s a very small step from his [Rene’s] attitude toward the ordinary GIs during the Gulf War to his present writing off of the working class in its entirety. It’s a small step from his tendency to underplay the class struggle in Asia, Africa and Latin America while stridently denouncing colonialism, etc. (during the crisis years of the MLP) to his present fascination with the struggles in the non-proletarian led Convention in Mexico, his painting of the struggles against the most rightist or bureaucratic forces in it as "real” anti-revisionism while ignoring the ideological content of those struggles, etc. With their endorsement of El Machete the comrades in Chicago find themselves taking some of these steps.

We saw above that Oleg was "strongly in favor of omitting the discussion of the good or bad points of (Rene)” He didn’t "think it add(ed) anything to the political points under discussion” He didn’t "want to engage in a lot of public name calling” On the face of it this was such nonsense that it’s hard to not comment further on it. For example, we could critique the "bad points” of members of the “majority” for hundreds of pages for more than a year, and we could critique each other (including giving views concerning Joseph's alleged subjectivity toward Rene), but the same standards didn’t apply to this special person.

But why not? We’ve just undergone a split with Rene yet we’re not supposed to discuss his good and bad points! Politics involves much more than discussion of abstract ideas divorced from the living people carrying those ideas, fighting for them, and resorting to various methods (fair or foul) in that fight And Chicago comrades themselves don’t just discuss ideas in the abstract when they’re engaged in a political struggle. When they argue that we shouldn’t get more organized until we find out what went wrong last time, etc., they certainly discuss the "good or bad points” of Joseph.

And of course the point is that we’re in a political struggle with Oleg defending the politics of uncritically promoting trends like the one represented by El Machete (with one justification being we "don’t have time” to do otherwise). These politics can easily lead into outright abandonment of any effort to rebuild Marxist-Leninist organization. Rene also uncritically promoted El Machete and demanded an endorsement of it in the CWVTJ (although he didn’t agree with Oleg’s endorsement in some way or other). But Rene took this tendency to its logical conclusion. That may be a frightening conclusion to comrades who want to stop half way but I “think it adds (something) to the political points under discussion".

Organization —

Finding the organizational form which will best serve our political activity is a thorny question which can’t be solved with the stroke of a pen. For the “minority" the search for an organizational form was doubly difficult because (1) we had a range of views on what we should be doing right now, what our capabilities are, etc., (2) we had (until recently) mainly underground localist and anti-organizational views in our ranks which are connected to one-sided views on what led to the defeat of the MLP.

Mark’s proposal was for a most modest organization, one that could include both me and Neil (or the Chicago comrades) even though we disagreed on where we should be spending our efforts at this time, one that committed no one to a particular view on the role of various individuals in the MLP, to a particular view on The Worker's Advocate, to a particular assessment of the Party as a whole, etc. But even the modest organizational steps (an elected editorial board for the Journal, dues, responsibility to uphold and defend the ideas in the principles of unity) were too much for some comrades and Mark’s proposal is now history. Nevertheless I think the attempt had to be made and that the results have a beneficial side to them. Issues which were previously lurking underground are now being raised more openly and are therefore easier to deal with. We have a better idea of where various comrades stand, what the “shades of difference” were in the old “minority”, and therefore have a more realistic basis upon which to chart out our work.

I don’t think the declarations of the three Chicago comrades against organization came as a big surprise. In Chicago #1 the Chicago Branch of the MLP reproduced its resolution on the then-imminent dissolution of the MLP. It declared its intention to remain politically active and outlined a program of work (which the comrades set about carrying out and to a great extent continue to carry out). But glaringly absent from this resolution was any call for the anti-revisionist forces remaining in or around the Party to get united nationally in order to continue the anti-revisionist struggle. Yes, the resolution talked of maintaining E-mail communications and exchanges of publications with all branches and areas (all of which melted away like snow in the sun within a few months or even less) and some comrades being interested in participating in a national theoretical/ political journal, but the situation demanded much more than this. Real concern for the national movement wasn’t being expressed. And if we were to save anything out of the situation it was my firm conviction that such concern had to be central to all our thinking. Given the fact that the MLP had undergone a huge amount of ideological, political and organizational disintegration in its last years it was a political requirement of the times that someone stand up for uniting the remaining Marxist-Leninists even if it was on the most minimal of programs (i.e., for Marxism-Leninism, for national organization, against the ideas of Rene and Fred, to carry on in the spirit of the MLP when it was revolutionary, etc.. etc.). But the Chicago statement didn’t do this. It accepted the status quo when it spoke of maintaining E-mail communications, exchanges of publications, and so on. This was one of the reasons I began arguing against localism, against just going on as before in a local area but now without the Party, against the neo-revisionist theory of pre-party collectives but applied to our situation, etc.

Another reason was that the comrades' declarations from L.A. also skipped over this small matter.

A third reason was that Fred’s call for a federation of politically disparate local groups communicating by E-mail, “exchang(ing) publications”, etc., was clearly aimed at opposing any consolidation of a Marxist-Leninist group out of the wreckage of the MLP. It had to be fought tooth and nail. Fred was out to make sure that he never again had to deal with a Marxist-Leninist critique of his views and the best way to prevent that was to keep the remaining Marxist-Leninist forces disorganized. I began attacking his call for a poly-centrist set up as a call for disorganization much before he finally got it out hoping that comrades would see what the politics nearly everyone said they opposed advocated organizationally.

Here I would like to add what I think is a relevant footnote to this. During the days of the pre-dissolution discussion (i.e. when I was still in Ray and Fred’s study group) Fred could overcome all his disagreements with Chicago plus all the denunciations of “pirates in Seattle” coming from L.A. in order to argue that “Chicago and L.A basically agree with us”. Certainly comrades in L.A. and Chicago didn’t agree with Fred’s stands on most issues and Fred knew that well enough (in his own particular way) but from his perspective of wishing the final disintegration of Marxist-Leninist organization in the country he liked the localist orientations he saw coming from the comrades in Chicago and L. A.

Certainly for the past year and one half comrades in both these cities have fought to different extents and in different ways to build up something nationally. But in my view this has to go much, much further if the “Freds” of this world (i.e. revisionism and opportunism) are to be defeated. All the localist conceptions, habits, prejudices, etc. which apparently grew up during the crisis years of the MLP (and which are undoubtedly connected to the differing political stands which also developed in those years) must be abandoned. And even if this is done the big problem of scientifically organizing a very small handful of people around a program of work that really confronts our most decisive tasks remains to be solved. Unfortunately the organizational views and practices of the Chicago comrades lead us away from grappling for such solutions and onto the path of disintegration proposed to us by Fred.

At the present time, the building of collectives on a local basis, and the exchange of experiences between them, can contribute the most to the creation in the near future of a Marxist-Leninist party.”

This line was argued all across the country by the RU in the early ’70s and probably several thousand people took it up. One of the appeals of this line was that many of the leaders of the movement of the time endlessly debated various theories on the university campuses but never linked theory to practice. RU emphasized linking theory to practice constantly (even if it was neo-revisionist theory) and front my recollection the collectives that survived did this linkage although it was very eclectic. You studied some Marxist works (we just didn’t study the Red Book) but you practiced reformist politics. The major questions confronting the movement as a whole were seldom discussed for that took you away from the important local work. In fact the practical local work was raised above everything else. “Practice” was used as a hammer against anyone who wanted to discuss theories other than those promulgated by the RU leaders.

Thus the RU leaders acted to channel people away from the theoretical debates and struggles of the time, away from the motion towards Marxism (as hampered by revisionism as the most advanced conceptions of it then were). And in true sectarian fashion they preached that anyone on the left (besides themselves) was suspect (if not much worse) if they took issue with the RU dogmas based on a study of Marxism.

I alluded to all this in the fall of 1993 not in order to suggest that we have Bob Avakians in our midst [Bob Avakian was the most prominent leader of the Revolutionary Union and then of its successor, the Revolutionary Communist Party (USA)—ed.] but to suggest that we had better look twice at the implications of the “post-party collectives” idea. Our conditions are certainly different than those existing in the early '70s but if one wants to raise “conditions” as an argument for the local collectives line I don’t think it will hold up.

For example, the theory of pre-party collectives was wrong in its time. But being a time of revolutionary ferment with the great issues being broadly discussed one had a good chance of breaking out of its narrow, local, practicalist ideas. And the RU leaders themselves had to adapt to this situation, organize a national campaign to form a party (a sect representing a certain petty-bourgeois tendency of the movement), etc. We’re not existing in a time of mass upheavals, the very opposite is the case. Certainly we’re more ideologically sound, more theoretically advanced, than the collectives of 25 years ago were but these things can change almost overnight. Remember that the MLP was an organization which fought hard against revisionism, worked out very advanced theoretical positions on a number of questions, had the benefits of a national organization (including internal discussions and an internal life, a national newspaper which analyzed national and world affairs from a Marxist perspective and elaborated the line of the party, etc.). Everyone could rightfully feel they were part of something bigger than themselves and share in the victories (whether on the theoretical front or in the mass movements). But under the pressure of the objective conditions even these advantages didn’t save the Party from crisis and then liquidation. How is a local collective, especially one which is already infected with localist ideas, one that just wants to go on as before, one that shows a good deal of theoretical complacency and makes errors in the direction of denying the possibility of anti-revisionist work, how is such a collective going to stand up under the pressure of the objective conditions?

Theoretically and practically I think the “post-party collective” line (or turning federalism into a principle) is profoundly mistaken.

A point related to our ideological formation —

The MLP was known for linking Marxist theory with practice. This was the dividing line between it and both those forces who linked revisionist theories with practice and those who could chew the cud over various Marxist ideas but never connected them to social practice. Over a period of years the COUSML developed its “three-point tactical line” and this became the alpha and omega of the MLP, which developed it even further. From my perspective the history of the struggles to develop the three-point tactical line, the struggles to implement it and develop it further, etc., were the revolutionary heart of our trend. We used to say “theory comes from social practice and serves practice” and that idea remains as true today as it was twenty years ago, remains as exciting now as it did then.

But now we’re without the Party. We’re no longer riding on the crests of mass upsurges or even struggling to make progress in the floes and eddies in an organized way. Both the international communist movement and our own domestic movement are in ideological confusion and organizational disarray. And we’re a very, very small force. What does linking theory with practice mean in our situation? Are we “at extreme peril” or not “serious politically” if we don’t intervene in the mass movements for some period of time?

I think we want to build up a small Marxist-Leninist organization over a period of time which can contribute to preparing conditions for once again founding a MLP in the U.S. (whenever that may be). So, again, how do we set about linking theory with practice to best achieve that aim? Last summer Neil argued that the issue was to “find the proper balance between theory and practice in the current situation based on realistic pace given our tiny forces at hand” and some Chicago comrades likewise stress the need to link theory with consistent practical activities in the mass movements (which was what Neil meant, although I think the comrades in L.A. and Chicago are coming from different ideological positions when they argue for this). If this is either a mechanical attempt to transpose what was correct and most revolutionary in the previous era to the present one, or based in a moralist conception that one must! link revolutionary theory to mass organizing every day or else they’re no good, falling into revisionism, etc., it’s based on wrong ideas and inherently narrow. If it’s raised out of complacency about theory, or to oppose theoretical work in a certain direction because one fears the conclusions which may be reached, it’s wrong (and crooked in the second instance).

Of course I’ve argued many times that our main “practice” for now should be pushing forward the theoretical work. I’m raising this issue again here not so much with the objective of convincing others that they should abandon what they’re now doing but more from the angle of arguing that what I’ve proposed shouldn’t just be written off, shouldn’t be sneered at, ridiculed, or looked down upon.

In this light I’d like to make a couple points. Firstly, this orientation doesn’t mean that I don’t think we shouldn't struggle to build links with circles like the one in L.A. (which is an exceedingly rare group). We want better links (more organized and systematic links and a higher level of political unity) and we want to make contact with other groups of activists as well. But we can only do so much at once and there is an issue of keeping the proper balance. (Of course from my perspective if we have to sacrifice something it would generally be on the side of building more links, although there could be exceptions.) Secondly, I very much support the effort of the Detroit comrades to launch the Communist Voice. Hopefully this journal will become a center around which the theoretical work can develop. But support for a theoretical journal (or even writing books or pamphlets) implies organizing for distribution, organizing to spread the ideas contained in it, organising summations of our experiences, etc. (And one thing I thought was very good in the Detroit announcement was that the journal is going to be laid out in a form which is easy to xerox. Neil and I may differ greatly on what the “proper balance” is between interventionist activities and work in the library but I think we’ll both find this form of layout useful.)

Finally, to argue that we shouldn’t take a narrow or mechanical view on what linking theory to practice means I would like to discuss some practice of communists of an earlier era. Naturally when historical examples such as this are raised we must keep in mind that there are always great differences between the two eras being discussed, different concrete tasks facing the revolutionaries, etc. And actually Jim raised some of the discussion below during his visit to Seattle in the fall of 1993 (for his own reasons of course). Nevertheless I think this practice is worth thinking about.

After the revolutionary upsurge which shook Europe in the mid-1800s had died down, when the communists and other revolutionaries were being hunted, were in organizational disarray and great ideological confusion, no less a person than Marx retreated to a library in order to confront the theoretical crisis. Moreover, Marx didn’t just retreat to the library to individualistically do his own thing. He put the question of advancing the theoretical level in movement circles and sharply castigated those who wanted to persist as of old in trying to build the practical movement. Of course the issue facing Marx was to set socialism on a scientific foundation and one could argue that the theoretical tasks confronting us are less formidable than his were. (But to me they’re just as formidable, until they’re resolved.) And based upon what I know. I wouldn’t try to draw any parallels between the movement of the time I’m referring to and our movement of today — other than that a crisis of theory existed (or exists).

I think Marx lived his life in conformity to his own famous words: “the object is not to understand the world but to change it”. He was “above all else a revolutionary’' (an idea Fred argued against in one of his letters, an idea we must defend, and live, if we’re to be true to our name and heritage). Thus while he spent his years in the library he and his immediate circle did pay attention to maintaining some links with the movement, as well as entering into some of the controversies, etc., for Marx’s aim was never to investigate and study for reasons of personal curiosity, or because he wanted to be a scholar despot, or because he had sectarian aims of “one-upping” his political adversaries, or because he wanted to “retire”, and so on. No, his aim was to change the world and he saw organizing and mobilizing the working class on a firmer theoretical foundation as being the shortest path to effecting real change. (And obviously that theoretical foundation couldn’t simply be built on the basis of summing up the practical experiences of the past decade or two. If such a summation were rigorously objective it would, among other things, only reveal the crisis.)

We also know that Marx and his closest collaborators took a decision at some point to plunge back into the movement. They went all out in building the First International as well as in later projects. Theoretical work wasn’t abandoned. But it took on somewhat of a different character in that much of it was geared toward resolving the most immediate issues in the practical movement, developing speeches and agitation, etc. But all this work now rested on a firmer foundation. Of course Marx didn’t think that foundation was completed and he died before finishing Capital.

With high respect for all,

Frank []

A reply by CV of the LA Workers’ Voice

Subject: Critique of Frank’s Mar. 16 by CV-LA

Date. 19-Mar-95 at 16:10

Dear cdes,

Cde. Frank (03/16) (Seattle) has attempted to make a creditable comradely appeal to join him in his efforts to build a national ML organization headed up by Detroit. However, the analogies he uses from historical organizing from the late 60s & early 70s (a period of upsurge and militancy in the mass peoples movements) to argue for a national organization/de facto party type grouping today (a period of relative reflux and retreats in the workers struggles) do not, in my opinion hold very much water.

All of his comparisons/critiques with RU influenced ‘pre-party collectives’, localism, etc. which may well have applied to the 1960s-early 70s period of mass upsurge and mass struggles by workers are very mechanically applied to the current period of the 90s. This has been a period of mostly defeats, lulls, passivity, confusion and in my opinion hardly serves to make a convincing case for the Detroiters national organization-AT THIS TIME! Now is not the time to try to lash up a mini-MLP (albeit in a more reformed-streamlined model). A new revolutionary Marxist and Leninist type national revolutionary party, will come out of a reconstructed mass based workers movement, which unfortunately does not exist at present in the USA. This kind of Party-style formation Frank/Detroit want cannot be willed into existence by fiat, decrees, programmes, dreams, or mechanistic application of old formulas!

This reconstruction of new organization and class struggle politics is intrinsically linked to our own critique which holds that clarification of class lines of demarcation/politics and ideology linked up to practical organization is a major part of the tasks for revolutionaries in THIS period. Our theory of workers socialism, against marketeer capitalism as well as state capitalism, for the abolition of exploitation of person by person, for class independence, mass struggle tactics must be part of the linkage of theory and practice — otherwise we end up being detached from key real life battles (a la fighting Contract On America cuts and firings) hence we would become stale, dogmatic, and ossified relics of a past age.

Long live the revolutionary Marxism of Rosa Luxembourg and Alexandra Kollontai!

Fraternally CV-LA []

A reply by NC of the L.A. Workers’ Voice

Subject: On Frank’s Mar. 16 — NC

Date: 20-Mar-95 at 02:12

From: NC

Dear cdes,

Obviously along with many certain political/ideological strengths, our groupings all have their weaknesses. To us here , one big ‘open flank’ is the political economy of state capitalism and its MATERIAL and social basis.

Take the critique of Rene’s capitulation to and apologetic for Castroism and Cuba. All and sundry shout Cuba is revisionist — very well. Yes, and when it comes to proving it, most will point out its past alliance with the USSR, it supports the nationalist bourgeois regimes, and petty bourgeois currents in Latin America, Africa, etc, sows illusions in capitalist govts., the IMF, UN, etc. that grant it diplomatic and trade relations, etc. But comrades — where is any analysis of the internal political economy of Cuba (or Vietnam , China, No. Korea—and previous Albania or the USSR!?). Yes we started to get to the roots of the USSR, but this work was cut short. The fact that real advanced Marxists have a case of slack-jaw when dealing with this shows we have very serious shortcomings here. And even as we study and understand the laws of motion here with these societies, the $64 question of activists pops up — How to prevent this from happening again out of future revolutions allegedly for socialism?

As concerns this bravado attacking ’Oleg and other Chicago comrades’ alleged fear of organization. I’ll let them speak for themselves. As far as LA is concerned, we took the old good ship MLP seriously, she waged many fights, some won, others lost. She had greatness at times, but also severe problems — political/economic and hierarchical, we believe. We also think that some of this, unattended to and covered up, cripples any powerful anti-revisionist critique we would probably put forward today. This is the main bone of contention we have with the Detroit cdes. at present. When you get to some of the previous rather 'officer—enlisted person’ methods of looking at comrades and the eventual cave in at the end, you might understand how ’fear and trepidation’ could exist today — amongst serious Marxists. When over half of the leadership of a seemingly revolutionary organization works to scuttle the ship that they and others worked 20 years+ to construct, when its base & superstructure at least may have been kept afloat, (albeit in need of overhaul) and when most other sections are too politically confused and demoralized to even ‘man the battle stations’ any longer and spit it out— I don’t think it’s a big reach to say an inquiry is necessary and that our organization strictures may need changing.

Lovely is some of the falsification by omission of the Chicago cdes. very good work, in practice and in theory. Was it not mainly they who got the book on women and Bolshevism written and published? Have they not tried to and partially succeeded in keeping live contact with motion in working communities and issues? Have they not shared their experience and agitation with the others? They did not demand payment in kind or loyalty oaths either.

We think Chicago erred in its approach to El Machete (EM) and co. Firmer lines of demarcation should have been established between our respective trends. Political lines became blurred. Their ‘sin’ is venial. Correction can be made in practice. Their ‘sin’ is not mortal. Their ship is not scuttled nor has anyone died.

Also I think Julie and Oleg themselves have spelled out both the advances and serious problems this EM group has. Their illusions in Cuba and petty bourgeois nationalism are quite backward. But on Mexico, they are seeing the need for staking out and defending some important lines of demarcation between democratic tinkering and other reformist illusion crowd on one hand and for forging independent struggle oriented groups of oppressed layers on the other. They do not place extensive stock in working class organizing, it is true!

When Frank inaccurately puts the onus on the Chicago group for most party members and sympathizers ‘melting away in the sun’ a few months after dissolution, he in fact pays Chicago an unintended compliment in that their branch at least organized some very strong resistance to the liquidators and quitters and was kept somewhat intact! This in spite of all odds against them! Why only concentrate on the dissolution period here? It this not a bit disingenuous?

On the question of the balancing work, and even which works are primary toward correct theory and practice, Frank is probably correct that Chicago and ourselves do not at this time see eye to eye exactly. We are in the same ballpark however, and want to be on the same team. It is not an ‘ideological divide.’

Frank is upset with what he sees as our 'moralist conception' of the need to link theory and practice (and vice versa). This may be a portion of it! I don’t see the problem here. Would it not be difficult to claim oneself a real communist, a materialist in politics and world view, without making at least a semblance of this linkage?

We are also a bit miffed by Cde. Frank’s scoffing at what he sees as out ‘moralist conceptions’ in political work while he admits (his 1st paragraph) he feels his own ‘moral obligation to continue the fight’. Is not what’s good for the goose, good for the gander as well? There is not really antagonistic contradiction on this issue. Socialism has it’s own morality!

On the contrary, we are not the group who ‘fears the conclusions of theoretical work’ For this smoking gun. one might check out those who went ballistic when Oleg suggested a critique of the old party stands & conceptions and organization strictures. The smoke is coming from that direction, not ours.

Yes. Marx, and especially Engels as well as some of their circles were direct participants in the 1848-9 Bourgeois and democratic revolutions against absolutism in Europe. Nearly for 2 decades reaction held sway. But the communists/Marxists still worked the struggles of workers and oppressed they built up enough influence, even as the working class was still a minority, to form The Int‘1 Workingmen’s Association (1st lnt’l) in 1864. Would this have been possible had they not found effective ways to influence the class?

The current Contract On America assault is almost unprecedented. Marx, Engels, or Lenin did not live to see it. But I think if they did, would they not have advocated mass, militant and fierce resistance? Would they not have gotten involved in the fight-back of the working masses if they could9 Would they not have given their all in theory and practical agitation to help turn bade this vicious onslaught?

Fraternally, nc/LA []

Frank replies on organization, El Machete, and theory

March 23,1995

To: “Minority’’ only

From: Frank

Comments on the Recent Letters from LA.

Comrade C.V says “now is not the time to try to lash up a mini-MLP (albeit in a more reformed-streamlined model)” Why? “This has been a period of mostly defeats, lulls, passivity, confusion” (and therefore Frank’s arguments against “post-party collectives” don’t apply)....”A new revolutionary marxist and leninist type national revolutionary party, will come out of a reconstructed mass based workers movement, which unfortunately does not exist at present in the USA.”

But both Mark's draft principles of unity and proposals for organization and my March 8 letter only called for a most modest kind of organization, for some organization through which we can move the common work ahead. That is rejected on the basis of arguments against something else — “a new revolutionary marxist and leninist type national revolutionary party” If that rejection were made by all then we would be left with a scattered handful of loosely connected collectives (or individuals) who refused to unite around any statement of common principles and refused to really organize joint activity with anyone outside their group. In my opinion that would be the laughably bitter end of the trend which was represented by the MLP. People could still call themselves Marxist-Leninists, swear up and down that they were carrying on in the spirit of the MLP, but it would be a cruel farce. The principle of Marxist-Leninists in a country uniting in order to analyze what to do and then organizing to implement what their analysis tells them to do would have been abandoned.

Making things doubly absurd is the fact that the proposals for unity allowed for a great breadth of opinion on what should be done now. Still, everyone included further developing our theoretical foundation and arsenal in their assessment of what should be done yet modest proposals on how to better organize just that work are rejected with no alternative proposals being put forward.

After taking the above stand against organization C.V writes as follows: “This reconstruction of new organization and class struggle politics is intrinsically linked to our own critique which holds that clarification of class lines of demarcation/politics and ideology linked up to practical organization is a major part of the tasks for revolutionaries in THIS period. Our theory of workers' socialism, against marketeer capitalism as well as state capitalism, for the abolition of exploitation of person by person, for class independence, mass struggle tactics must be part of the linkage of theory and practice..." (underlining added). I don’t think we can possibly accomplish all this without concrete organization.

C.V wants to defend the idea that “post-party" collectives is all that is possible now and implies the discussion I raised on the neo-revisionist “pre-party collective" line is irrelevant because the objective conditions are vastly different now than they were in the early ’70s. So even though I spent most of a long paragraph dwelling on the fact that the conditions are indeed very different and arguing that under these changed conditions this line is still wrong I obviously lost my case (see my March 16 letter, page 9). Nevertheless I’m not sorry I raised this discussion even though some of my original comments may not have been well targeted.

For example, I wrote that I wasn’t suggesting that we have Bob Avakians in our ranks, etc, and I’m not. I actually think that in the early ’70s there were the neo-revisionist leaders who preached this line in order to split the motion toward Marxism and maneuver to gain control of as much of it as possible and the ordinary activists to whom it made logical sense, even if we might say it was a very narrow logic. It’s the rank and file interpretations of the theory of pre-party collectives which I’m most interested in. The thinking of the latter people often was along lines such as these: “The university revolutionists talk and talk about theory and organizing the working class but do nothing. So we’re going to link theory to practice by serving the people. Collectives should be built everywhere to do this and we’ll exchange experiences with them. By summing up this experience (i.e. by applying the mass line) we’ll become better organizers and grow. The masses will tell us when it’s time to form a revolutionary party and it’s really not something we should be thinking about now anyway. Just link the NWRO work with the work in the sewing factory, link everything to the 5 fronts of struggle and the revolution will intensify. Out of this will come a party (which we really shouldn’t be thinking about anyway).”

This characterization of the thinking existing in R.U. collectives — existing among the more political people at least — may not be perfect It’s been 24 years since I participated in some of them and time can distort memory. On the other hand we tend to remember nightmarish situations better I think and the R.U. experience had plenty of nightmares in it for me. Among them were the narrow practicism, the disdain for revolutionary theory, the voluntarism associated with implementing the R.U. line, the incestuous local organizational life which went hand-in-hand with arrogance toward the entire revolutionary movement (of course some R.U. people chased after national minority activists a lot but this didn’t mean they were a whit less arrogant). I could add much more to this list, i.e. disagreements with particular political lines of the organization, but I think it suffices for now.

So this may all be an interesting interpretation of a by-gone era but it has little relevance to our discussion today. The comrades ranging themselves against modest proposals for organization aren’t turning federalism into a principle, they’re going to fight hard to maintain a national perspective, they’re going avoid falling into narrow practicism, they’re not going to raise “practice” against theory, etc. But then again it may be very relevant. R.U. said at the present time building collectives, exchanging information, linking theory with practice in the local area, etc.. was what was called for. Because of the conditions then existing in the revolutionary movement they wrote of creating a Marxist-Leninist party in the near future. Summing up experience gained in the mass struggles, application of “from the masses to the masses” would tell us when it was time. C.V’s approach is almost identical. “AT THIS TIME” (his emphasis) national organization is out. For now we must concentrate on building our local collectives to link theory with practice, exchange experience with the collectives in other cities (now through E-mail and the theoretical journals as well as the old practice of exchanging local papers), etc. The part) “will come out of a reconstructed mass based workers movement, which unfortunately does not exist at present”

Moreover, in adding that “this kind of Party-style formation Frank/Detroit want cannot be willed into existence by fiat, decrees, programmes, dreams, or mechanistic application of old formulas!” C.V raises the level of consciousness and organization of the masses against the concrete tasks confronting the communist movement, as a movement in itself, now. It seems to me that this is precisely what the R.U. did (as well as the economists of old Russia).

So my conclusion from all this is that the discussion I raised on the theory of pre-party collectives in my March 16 letter has some relevance to the discussion former “minority” comrades have been embroiled in for the past several months. It goes without saying that I think the concrete tasks confronting the communist movement today hinge around organizing to push forward the anti-revisionist critique, encouraging everyone to participate in this work, etc. But that has to be done concretely and letters like this one can only play a small role in accomplishing those tasks at best. Hence I think it’s time to end my comments on C.V’s letter and move on to Neil’s.

Neil’s first two paragraphs stress the political/ideological weaknesses of our groupings. And right from November 1993 Neal began developing lists of theoretical questions he felt the “minority” needed to take up. These paragraphs add another specific one I think — analysis of the political economy of Cuba (and perhaps Vietnam, China, North Korea, the previous Albania, and the USSR as well). I’ve generally agreed with Neal that the issues he listed indeed needed further study, but my concern has always been that we needed to establish political priorities as to what were the decisive theoretical issues and then organize a theoretical effort (including supporting a full time comrade). I’ve never believed that it was possible to seriously tackle the questions he’s posed without this and still don’t.

I don’t think Neil has thought enough on how to actually organize to fulfill the tasks he outlines for us. (And actually all of us have had our failings in this regard I think.) So in his third paragraph he falls back to talking about “severe problems — political/economic and hierarchical”.. "previous rather ‘officer — enlisted person’ methods of looking at comrades”, etc. which he thinks existed in the MLP. His conclusion is that “our organizational strictures may need changing " Fine... which strictures in the organizational proposals by either Mark or myself should be changed?

Neil is obviously upset with my statement that "Oleg and other Chicago comrades seem to look at organization—at least any organization besides their own, or any organization which doesn’t share their view of the world—with great fear and trepidation" He says this is "bravado" but also says he’ll let Chicago comrades speak for themselves. (I actually drew my conclusion from the words and actions of the Chicago comrades over the past period, not from what they may say about organization in general.) In his fourth paragraph he writes as follows: "Lovely is some of the falsification by omission of the Chicago cdes. very good work, in practice and in theory." But this is dragging a red herring into the discussion. My letter was trying to address a couple of the ways I think the ideological crisis of the old "minority” is showing itself. Neil’s implication is that because I didn’t list all the good things the Chicago group has done it means that there are sectarian motives behind what I wrote, I just want to throw the book at the other side, totally negate them, etc. That’s not true. And as a matter of fact I made sincere comments more than once in the letter like the following. "in my opinion they’ve written some very good articles, advocated good things and worked hard” When I ended it by writing "with high respect for all" it was very much with thoughts about the work the Chicago comrades have been doing in mind. But whether I made no such comments or whether I went on at length is really a diversion away from confronting the political content of my letter.

In his fifth paragraph Neil agrees that the El Machete endorsement was a mistake (as he has for months) and points out that the "sin” was venial (which I agree with). He says that correction can be made in practice. If it is then I think that would be very good. But consistent correction in practice involves rooting out the wrong thinking which gave rise to the mistake. That was what my letter and many others were about I think.

To me the seventh paragraph raises the interesting question of framework. On the one hand El Machete has quite backward illusions in Cuba and petty-bourgeois nationalism and "they do not place extensive stock in working class organizing, it is true!" On the other hand "they are seeing the need for staking out and defending some important lines of demarcation between democratic tinkering and other reformist illusion crowd on one hand and for forging independent struggle oriented groups of oppressed layers on the other" Neil says this in the context of explaining how he thinks Julie and Oleg have "spelled out both the advances and serious problems this EM group has" But advances from what and compared to whom? What is the real political content of these "advances"? How does Cuban revisionism and petty-bourgeois nationalism come to play in undermining them? What is the real-life meaning of the "problems”? Is this group opportunistically adapting itself to the situation in order to channel the movement into petty-bourgeois nationalist politics? How should we view it and what tactical approach should we take toward it?

I can’t answer these or many other questions which might be raised about El Machete. But I don’t think the framework of "both advances and serious problems" provides an adequate basis upon which to sort out answers of lasting value either. It seems to lead to political lines becoming blurred (which is a criticism of the L.A. comrades regarding the E.M. endorsement). It can lead to leaving things at the level of balancing the good against the bad without really examining the political essence giving rise to both and thereby missing a great deal about both.

With their endorsement the Chicago comrades missed a great deal about El Machete and in my letter I tried to examine aspects of the framework giving rise to this mistake. Raising that Oleg and Julie have contributed information which may help in assessing advances and problems doesn’t really deal with this problem.

In his next paragraph Neil authoritatively states that I inaccurately placed the onus on Chicago for the "majority” of the MLP melting away in just a few months. I don’t see how anything in the long paragraph on pages 6 or 7 of my letter (p. 36 col. 1-2 above — ed.) (which contains the phrase he refers to) can honestly be interpreted that way. Nor do I think it was "disingenuous" to review the stand the Chicago comrades took before the dissolution congress. It’s certainly the case that many of us have developed our ideas during the ensuing period as well as abandoning some ideas and reversing ourselves on others, etc. I’ve done all three of these things. But I thought it was of value to review where comrades stood on a couple of questions we’re now divided on bade in that period. At that time the Chicago comrades weren’t expressing real concern for saving anything out of the national trend besides Chicago. In my opinion the statement of the Chicago Branch of the MLP was accepting the status quo when it outlined a program of local work, spoke of maintaining E-mail communications, exchanges of publications, etc. In the present situation we’re back to knitting our brows over how we can save anything nationally, over how we can concretely move just a few inches forward amid the present difficulties and the Chicago comrades want to maintain the new status quo—a "minority" fragmented into local groups which is dependent on a journal responsible only to the group publishing it. I think there are consistencies between the past and present stands taken by Chicago comrades and that it’s not "disingenuous" to reexamine the past ones in light of the present.

I won’t remark on the rest of Neil’s letter mainly because I would be rehashing positions I’ve already said enough about or repeating points already made by comrades from Detroit as well as by Gary. I also don’t think there’s value in trying to reply to every little thing in a letter such as this. For example I could get up in arms over Neil’s saying I scoff at what he says I say are "moralist conceptions" in political work, or I could 100% agree that 1 was hypocritical on this issue, but in either case I don’t think it would help us much in confronting the challenges before us.

And in many ways Neil’s letter avoids addressing these challenges. He puts spins on what I wrote (in my opinion of course) and corrects than. At every opportunity he stresses the position we all know he has regarding the necessity to link theory with practice. But when it conies to discussing how we can move the theoretical work forward concretely, how we can best organize to do this, he only falls back to interpreting positions taken by Chicago comrades, and somewhat carefully at that (i.e. “I don’t think it’s a big reach to say an inquiry is necessary and that our organization strictures may need changing”). May need changing. But what in particular about the organizational proposals which have been put forward needs to be changed? I would very much like to hear such suggestions. And suggestions on how to prioritize the theoretical work, a tentative plan for it, would be even better.

So neither C.V or Neil have confronted the concrete organizational proposals. They write about other things than what has been proposed, worry that the Chicago comrades' work over the past period hasn’t been appreciated, raise unelaborated assessments of anti-Marxist organizational practices existing in the MLP without in any way showing how they may be embodied in the present proposals (and if such things are so embodied then the present proposals should be amended).

In closing I would like to say that I sincerely believe these comrades should think more deeply about what it would mean for the movement as a whole to have the “minority” completely destroyed because it marked time too long and disintegrated into oblivion. I know comrades don’t consider their present activities as marking time but all those activities and many more were being integrated into a common national program with centralized leadership by the MLP and it didn’t prevent its destruction.

Do we think such destruction is inevitable? Well in discussions with me in Seattle two years ago Fred put forward theses that the destruction of the MLP might be. And now in the second paragraph of his letter C.V seems to imply that it's inevitable for the “minority” as well (and has already occurred). He’s writing about a national party of course, mixing that up with the concrete proposals for something else. But I think the essence of what he says is that the objective conditions in the more or less spontaneous movements make it impossible for Marxist-Leninists to unite to do anything (except in a local area of course). I say I disagree. The test of that disagreement comes in mounting the proletarian will and careful thought needed to devise and carry out a plan which will extricate us from the deepening crisis we’ve faced all this decade. That remains the challenge before us all.

Revolutionary greetings, Frank []

[End of article group]

Ongoing controversy

We had decided to cover the historical material from Joseph Green’s series “On Complacency” in the next issue of our journal. Then we received Jake and Julie’s reply to this series, entitled “Regarding communist work and mass work/by Jake with help from Julie” We are carrying their reply in this issue anyway, so as to keep our readers up with the latest stage of the controversy.

Jake and Julie’s article contains many inaccuracies which we will deal with in our next issue. However, it does give a picture of their general framework as influential comrades in the Chicago Workers’ Voice: their view that political disagreements arise because of one bad individual; their doubts about anti-revisionism; their complacency as an attempt to build an anti-revisionist “minority” falls apart; their doubts about the struggle against opportunism when it deals with groups that give left slogans, as El Machete does; etc.

We also include the latest replies and counter-replies, up to April 13.

Jake inquires about minority meeting

from Jake

April 4,1993

this note to minority only

(the article is being emailed to all)

1) I submit the article below, “Regarding communist work and mass work,” for publication in the Detroit Marxist-Leninist Study Group’s journal Communist Voice.

2) I don’t know the fate of the minority conference that is to be held soon. The original date was mid-March but myself and others couldn’t make it and Chicago proposed the first week of April. In order for there to be a conference of the minority there had to be some agreement on the agenda.

Detroit wanted to form an organization and start their own journal and apparently those are the only reasons that some comrades can see for having a meeting.

Even if we leave aside the most controversial questions of forming a national organization and debating party history, there are other important things to discuss. For example, several comrades in Chicago want to discuss our joint theoretical work along with the orientation for future theoretical work and joint agitational/political articles. Unfortunately Joseph is opposed to such a discussion.

I was disappointed but not surprised to hear from Oleg that in a letter some weeks ago Frank discussed a proposal, apparently from someone else, to hold a minority meeting without Chicago. (I am not on Frank’s email list but I would like to be and I would appreciate it if Frank could send to me as well as Oleg).

I was not surprised, because Joseph in one of his snide asides speculated that Chicago was no longer interested in the conference. It’s undemocratic for Joseph to appoint himself our spokesman. He is also wrong.

I was disappointed because I am still interested in having a minority conference, and I would like to attend even if it is mainly the conference of DWV supporters. I think the most important thing that such meetings can accomplish is to discuss, plan and organize our cooperative ventures. For example, we need to make decisions about the practical collaboration that is already underway.

With the El Machete controversy, with the proposals to reorganize CWVTJ, form a national organization and publish a second journal, I have not been able to do a lot on my project but I still want to consult with Pete and Gary in person on the theoretical work on the composition and role of the working class. Also, I think it is possible for us to take some small steps forward in our agitation.

If it is not possible for me to attend a conference organized by Detroit, I still would like to find some ways to consult with comrades in person.

3) Finally, would Detroit please send me a copy of their statement “Where we stand”?

Regarding communist work and mass work

by Jake with help from Julie

March 31,1995

In several recent letters Joseph of the Detroit Marxist-Leninist Study Group has expressed concern that Julie and the Chicago Workers' Voice might be drifting in the left. Julie replied with via email on March 6. She pointed out that she has written extensively on this topic and that her views haven’t changed. Of course, since Joseph is in a “they-say-yes-then-I-say-no” mode of response her letter was another crime. And the worst sort of crime at that, complacency!

The fact is that there was nothing wrong with Julie’s letter. She has a right to defend herself, particularly since Joseph has attacked her, CWV, CWVTJ and LAWV for supposedly drifting in the left. When Julie cited her theoretical writings of the past several years Joseph sneered that Plekhanov and Kautsky did some good work too, until they betrayed. Unlike Plekhanov and Kautsky however, Julie has not repudiated the articles she cited and her practical politics are still consistent with them.

Moreover along with Julie’s letter of March 6, comrades also received the text of the CWV leaflet of March 8, 1995. Julie wrote the article “Women’s Liberation is tied to the class struggle’' so it is a practical example of her views and the views of CWV on connecting the women’s movement to communism and socialist revolution.

Does Joseph think the CWV leaflet demonstrates drifting in the left? If so he should critique it and explain why.

Our views and our practice are reflected in CWV articles and in the CWVTJ. But where are Joseph’s agitations? Or Joseph’s theoretical writings on the relationship between what he is doing and the mass movement?

I want comrades to note that Joseph has presented no evidence for his charges of drifting in the left and such. There is none. There is plenty of demagogy however, which serves to justify his hostility and his split with CWVTJ and LAWV.

Further, we suspect that Joseph is making a serious mistake with his position in regard to mass work and work in the mass movements.

The situation today

In Joseph’s polemic against Chicago he speaks of the “critical juncture” that we’ve reached and shrieks about how Chicago refuses to recognize and deal with the changed situation. Please note that to Joseph the critical juncture is very recent, something that occurred within the last few months.

Looking at our situation today as compared with a year ago not much has changed. Then, as now, there was no MLP and the mass movements were at a low level (and they still are).

Two years ago, however, there was an MLP Although it had problems, the MLP sustained a regular national press and active local organizations up until it died. For example, it was able to organize contingents to participate in events. MLP contingents not only influenced the politics in demonstrations, they sometimes directed events and had a lasting influence on activists and participants. Such was the case in Buffalo in 1992 during the “Spring of Life.”

Thus if one looks for a critical juncture in the sense of objective events or developments there is none within the last few months, although one could make a case for the death of the MLP being a very critical juncture for its former members who want to remain active.

Today we no longer have a national agitational press. In fact all the publications of the “minority” groups put together do not provide the strong political affairs coverage that we had with the Workers’ Advocate. We no longer have the wide network of contacts in the factories nor do we have the ability to mobilize large contingents for demonstrations. We are more limited in our ability to influence events. These are objective problems.

But Joseph is not talking about anything objective. After the prolonged silence of the ex-MLP majority. Joseph realizes that the polemical exchange with them has ended and he declares that we are at a critical juncture. In the sense that the polemic with the majority is over, the critical situation must have been present in November at our last minority meeting. At that time however Joseph argued forcefully that the debate with the minority was not over and that his polemics were a decisive component of our theoretical work. So the “critical” situation that Joseph is talking about is the lack of an organization where Joseph is the boss and the lack of messages from the MLP “majority” to write polemics against.

In his polemic against Chicago, Joseph has often presented subjective factors as if they were objective political events. For example, in one letter Joseph stated that, “events are moving quickly.” What was going on was that Joseph was sending out a lot of provocative messages and maneuvering as fast as he could.

In order to deal with mass movements we have to deal with objective motion and trends and real events as well as subjective factors.

It’s unfortunate but the situation today is that the mass movements have reached lower ebbs than last year or the year before. However, it’s only slightly lower. We are not sure that it is even significantly lower than what it was 2 years ago.

But as bad as it is to be organizing in such a slow period, we are faced with the additional handicap that what motion does exist is connected to reformists and mostly bears the stamp of reformism. The Democratic Party, the Trade union bureaucracy, the social-democrats (and in Chicago the revisionists as well) dominate the mass movements.

Worse, we are faced with activists who present a revisionist corruption of Marxism-Leninism as communism The Trotskyists are the largest visible section of this part with the CPUSA a significant player but often invisible. Other revisionist trends include the Maoist RCP, News and Letters, Thorbern’s Stalinist group and a few smaller groups. More often than not, the revisionists directly support reformism. Some others who denounce reformism nonetheless play a bad role either by indirectly propping up reformism when their opportunist antics discredit real communism, or by spreading demoralization and pessimism in order to steer activists away from mass activity and organizing (the Sparts have traditionally lead the field in this category).

On top of all this, the most serious handicap may be the loss of the MLP.

Thus our work requires a very sober assessment of what’s possible.

As mentioned above, we lost our national press and a lot of our ability to cover political affairs. Still, we have continued with agitations and political affairs articles through our local presses and CWVTJ.

We can no longer organize contingents and this results in a number of weaknesses. For example, we can’t directly influence slogans in demonstrations as we did in the past. Yet we still influence the politics and slogans of left events through our literature, through talking to people and through our hard work. We have an accurate analysis and a popular reputation for supporting mass action. This is why, even in events organized by others, CWV supporters may be handed the bullhorn for a turn at leading slogans and why some activists outside our trend follow our advice.

In spite of the difficulties we have just described, we can still speak to issues where there is some motion and we are capable of advocating a direction for the masses active in this motion. We can still deal with the immediate demands raised by the masses and further concentrate their demands in our work.

We still face the issue of directing existing motion as well as the issue of organizing new motion, of bringing working people into motion.

In our mass organizing work we fight inside the movement:

* On the politics for the mass movement, what demands it should raise, what slogans.

* What should be the social base for the movement. What people are we trying to mobilize and organize. What methods of work should the movement employ.

* For communism. The class struggle has an end product, socialist revolution. Advocating revolution, upholding socialism as the solution to capitalism and organizing a section of the mass movement to support revolutionary politics is essential.

Not surprisingly, we are still following many of the basic tactics that we did 18 months ago when the MLP was alive.

Lets look at the women’s movement for example. We are still fighting for the demands of working class women, still advocating outreach to working class women and men and still organizing our own independent work to do this, regardless of whether the left agrees to take it up or not We still advocate that only socialism can liberate women and we have a book we wrote that proves it

In the pro-choice movement today ECDC is dead (but the clinic defense and the phone tree apparatus is still functioning). Solidarity is pushing to roll everything back into NARAL. We, on the other hand, are fighting for an alternative to NOW and NARAL, a left alternative. We get some positive response on this. For example, our March 8 leaflet went very well.

Knowing that there is a section of activists that wants an alternative leadership to NOW, we try to build on it by advocating and trying to organize with others more oppositional, more left activities. For example, this year NOW was supposedly organizing the International Women’s Day event and ECDC and everyone else was just going to tail behind it We proposed to activists from other trends that we organize an alternative event or events. We managed to hold a meeting at the bookstore and one activist from outside CWV attended.

As things eventually turned out, the NOW event became a WAC event and more or less it turned out to be a left demo. The demo still had NOW’s name on it since NOW is posturing to the left these days and most of the left has collapsed into that. At times when NOW has shown more of their usual rightism. we have been able to siphon off the oppositional, trouble-making elements into much more oppositional forms of trouble- making. Our tactics for this event were correct and were similar to what we have done when the MLP was alive.

In regard to mobilizing working people into the existing mass movements our work has been less prolific and less successful We have continued workplace agitation but with less frequency. We still attempt to mobilize workers for events. We are not able to pull out contingents of the size we did in the mid-80’s but in truth our local organization was not able to do that in the last few years of the MLP either. The lack of WA and the reduction of our local forces since the end of the MLP have hurt this work but we are still producing and distributing CWV.

Although mass actions are smaller and not as frequent as some years ago they still average two per month for 1995. Active fronts include pro-choice/women's liberation, anti-Proposition 187, Mexican solidarity and Staley committee actions. With the Republican funding cuts we expect more demonstrations (there was one outside the Metropolitan Correction Center last week under the slogan ’'money for jobs not for jails” organized by social-democratic types) and we are seeing more concern and interest from factory workers in politics. We hope to increase our agitation and we expect our appeal to grow somewhat but we realize that things will remain slow for sometime and that our ability to capture upcoming motion is much reduced.

Nonetheless, in the past year and a half without the MLP we continued to have some effect.

For an agitational press

We believe that the issue of organizing “our trend” is not separate from organizing in and for the mass movement.

In the last year there has been no common agitational press but there has been some consultation. For example, Chicago and Detroit have exchanged drafts and discussed leaflets with one another. Chicago made good use of LAWV’s article on the Bell Curve and we are glad to see that Detroit has made good use of our articles, incorporating parts of them into their DWV articles.

To us, it would have been a benchmark indicating that we were ready to develop a national organization if we were ready to take steps toward organizing a national agitational press. Not a newspaper necessarily, but perhaps national leaflets on selected topics or agreements for local organizations to provide some regular coverage of particular topics. Perhaps a division of labor of sorts on political affairs coverage. We are still in favor of this.

Although we couldn’t organize a national press it would be good to consolidate some of the arrangements that we have already made. We want to take things a step further and increase the cooperation between activists of the ex-MLP minority.

Unfortunately, there is strong opposition to even putting the subject of agitation and mass work on the agenda. Joseph claims that Julie doesn’t want to discuss controversies over the orientation of such practical work, she only wants to pour over tedious supposedly to eliminate discussion of politics (see quote below from 2/22/95 letter). Actually, we are pushing for a discussion on orientation. It is Joseph who wants to block such a discussion.

Joseph refused to discuss Oleg’s leaflet on the peso crisis. In fact he said that there is no point to discussing it. One has to wonder then if Joseph sees any point to agitating on it among the masses.

It is strange though, that Detroit would discus Boston’s leaflet on Haiti in detail but Chicago, apparently, is so far beyond the pale that we must be ignored. This is very sectarian (or is it factionalist?). Stranger still when one considers that Joseph refuses to discuss a leaflet on Mexico at the same time that he is screaming foul over an ad for a Mexican newspaper and while Joseph has specifically attacked Oleg for the crime of "drifting in the left” in regard to Oleg’s work in solidarity with the Mexican toilers! Judge Joseph has ruled out admitting evidence that favors Oleg. This is an unprincipled way to debate. We wonder, is there an analogy here with Michael’s Open Letter to WA subscribers, the open letter to close minds? Joseph charges ’‘sectarianism’’ and “drifting in the left” and then combines this with a refusal to discuss political analysis and what comrades actually say and do.

Not long ago Frank (Seattle) stated in a letter on national organization that he wants a national agitational press. We agree but we think that Joseph is largely opposed to it From what he has written, Joseph has no enthusiasm for mass work and he has denigrated mass motion. Joseph counterposes theoretical work (which in his mind is only his polemics) to agitating among and organizing working people.

Take a look at Joseph’s letter of 2/22/95 titled “On Complacency” He states:

Well, Julie does raise one issue of perspective for the future. She backs Oleg’s point that what we really have to keep in mind at present is the ‘necessity to carry out political work among the masses and to participate to some extent at least in the general left movement. ’ She thinks ‘there needs to be more consideration of the living relation between theoretical work and activism.’ And she focuses attention on ‘strengthening our ties to the working class and political movements.’ And meanwhile she is skeptical of my view of the importance of the theoretical work the MLP was on the verge of taking up.

So Julie too thinks there has to be some change. But the change she suggests is more attention to general work among current movements and the left.

In line with this, in her Feb. 10 letter she suggested that the coming ‘minority' meeting include discussion on work over the Israeli-Palestine accords, Proposition 187, the Contract on America and the Mexican financial crisis. That would mean a big focus on them as the ‘minority’ meetings are short with only a few sessions, as the rough notes on them indicate. And I don’t think what Julie is referring to here is theoretical views on the Mexican crisis, nor general controversy over the orientation of such practical work, but that we should spend time on the details of participation in the struggles, where they are going, etc.”

The first point about this quote is that it is skeptical toward practical work in the mass movement.

The second thing is that Joseph puts words in Julie’s mouth. Joseph says he thinks Julie doesn’t want to discuss theoretical views nor general controversies but is advocating that the minority conference “should spend time on the details of participation in the struggles, where they are going, etc.” If Joseph wanted to know exactly what Julie wanted to discuss he could have asked her. He didn’t because clarity might get in the way of sectarianism. So Joseph makes a demagogical accusation that Julie wants to fill the minority meeting full of picayune details.

For the record, Julie and the other comrades in Chicago want to discuss theoretical views and controversial subjects, none of us has said otherwise. In fact Chicago comrades have asked for discussion on the MLP’s history (especially recent history), El Machete, the political situation in Mexico, the definition of anti-revisionism, assessment of the MLP’s anti-revisionist struggle and Soviet history. Joseph, however, has been acting to block discussion, especially on topics where he is likely to be the target of criticism. Besides refusing Oleg’s request to comment on CWV's article on the peso crisis, Joseph declared that he would not discuss MLP history (although he was forced to by Jake). Another supporter of the Detroit MLSG denounced the idea of discussing party history as “flea-cracking.” To him it would merely be bickering over trivial details.

In spite of differences we were interested in establishing unity where we could while working for eventual unity (or definitive disagreement) through study, research and debate on items where we had no agreement. We felt that collaborative ventures was one of the things holding us together and would either give rise to agreement and hopefully to more solid organization or make it clear that we were on different paths.

The third point is that not only Julie, but everyone should be skeptical of Joseph’s claim that the MLP was on the verge of theoretical breakthroughs. Now Joseph doesn’t call it a breakthrough but what else could he mean by stressing “the importance of the theoretical work the MLP was on the verge of taking up.”

Joseph should spell out what was being worked on, what importance it would have and how the work would advance. This is a reasonable request considering that near the end of its life the CC of the MLP and the WA staff went into crisis, that theoretical work by the CC members had stagnated and that the MLP was divided on a number of central ideological questions.

It’s hard to imagine how the MLP would accomplish anything in theoretical work. The Chicago Branch made some advances in its work on women’s liberation and socialist revolutions. Our book "From Baba to Tovaritsch" is the fruit of that work, but we don’t consider it a major breakthrough. What is Joseph talking about? Perhaps Joseph means that he was about to make a major discovery but the party collapsed and set him back.

Joseph continues:

I think this approach is mistaken. A certain work at the workplace and in the left will naturally exist if our other work continues. Anytime our general work advances or someone comes around, the contact with activists and other work among the masses will rebound—especially because at our level of work, simply going to a left meeting or putting out a leaflet or talking to someone at work counts as strengthening links with the masses. Whenever we put out a publication or get an analysis, there will naturally be some circulation of it Whenever our theoretical clarification advances, the resulting clarity enhances other work. But when at a time of theoretical difficulty and extreme lade of time and forces, the suggested solution is more activist work, it’s ludicrous.”

First, it seems our work today is so pitiful that anytime we do any kind of mass work it will count for strengthening our links with the masses.

Secondly, it totally got by us that anyone was suggesting more activist work as the solution to theoretical difficulty. Our solution to theoretical difficulty is theoretical work. At the CWVTJ conferences and at informal meetings (like the closing of the WA center) comrades of the minority discussed and outlined a series of issues that need to be tackled. We made plans to do work on several of them. Comrades have worked on these projects and we have and will continue to publish the results of their work. At none of our meetings, formal or informal, did anyone suggest that more activist work would solve our theoretical problems.

It seems to us that the real disagreements concerning activist work between CWV and LAWV on the one hand, and Joseph on the other, are: whether activist work has significance at this time, whether activist work assists and complements theoretical work or if it hinders it, and what priority such activist work should have today.

Regarding theoretical work we think certain questions have to be addressed. Based on our years of experience in the mass movement and our theoretical knowledge, we felt that it was important to work on the following topics:

* Trotskyism — we are finishing a draft article on Trotsky.

* Anarchism — we are going to update and publish a presentation given at one of our forums.

* Composition and role of the working class — this is still an issue with the left, some people seem to think NOW’s lawyers are the teal heroes and that the trade union bureaucracy deserves to rule. We are working on an article attacking Joe and replies to items taken from the internet left press.

* Questions of the world economy, Mexico in particular — issue number 7 of CWVTJ will have more material on Mexico. We have several articles in the works and with motion developing inside and outside of Mexico it may become more important. This topic is closely connected to the debate on the nature of imperialism.

One of the reasons for holding the minority meetings are to discuss the theoretical work that everyone is doing and work out practical arrangements cooperation and joint projects. No one has said to drop this or even to slow it down. In fact at the last minority meeting Chicago comrades advocated that we run fewer polemics against the old MLP majority and more theoretical articles.

We felt (and still feel) that the polemic against the majority is important but we argued that the style of the polemic should change. The point-by-point refutations of the majorityites, the presentation of proof of who-said-what makes for dull reading and poor distribution. We need polemics that concentrate the general issues and highlight their significance. That would be not only more coherent but much more interesting to activists. The unfortunate and unintentional effect of some of the long- winded polemics is to diffuse the general issues and limit our readership.

For example, we encouraged Joseph to write on Ben’s cooperative anarchy. Ben’s ideas are not original, they are being kicked around in the left. We would have preferred if Joseph had written it in a mote concentrated and popular style. Nonetheless, we’re glad we published it.

Unfortunately, Joseph was quite upset by criticism of his polemics. There are two things to note regarding this from the November meeting of the minority.

Joseph got somewhat emotional about his articles being edited. In preparation for issue of #5 of CWVTJ we decided to condense three of Joseph’s letters, “The debate on imperialism revisited,” parts 1,2 and 3. Joseph agreed that we did a good job on excerpting them, he didn’t find fault with the content but he thought we should have consulted him before we did it. We agreed. We have been putting out literature for a long time and we know that authors are sensitive and frequently testy. Jake urged that in the future, CWVTJ should ask the authors themselves to make the needed cuts in their articles. CWVTJ did exactly that in its next issue where Joseph was asked to condense his series of letters “One year after the MLP” and he did.

The second point is that Joseph insisted the polemical exchange with the majority had not ended. Thus, he argued, his polemics were still important and moreover, they were vital to the theoretical work. Not only were the polemical exchanges defining us as a political trend but for Joseph, his point-by-point refutations of Ben and others was laying the basis for the theoretical advances of the future. We remain skeptical of this.

For one thing, I think Julie’s account of how this work has been going is one-sided. She refers to certain parts of this work which has tended to rebound, such as DWV resuming publication. She doesn’t refer to the small-scale of DWV work; the problems that the work has freed in Chicago with the loss in forces; nor the problems with connecting work among the Mexican community to the CWVTJ, nor the discussion about prospects of work that has gone on between LA and myself; etc.” (Joseph, 2/22/95)

Joseph is so inspiring. We are just pitifully small, and what about ail those problems in the work? Joseph criticizes Julie for supposedly being one-sided and not going into the problems. Well, Joseph doesn't speak to them either! His only proposal for a solution to problems in practical work is to publish more polemics. After the November conference, but prior to the controversy over the ad for El Machete, Joseph proposed that we double our publication schedule. He proposed that CWVTJ come out monthly (see Joseph's letter of Dec. 14,1995). Later, in a letter on Feb. 13, the blow up over El Machete ad, he proposed that Chicago and Detroit take turns publishing the journal in alternate months. With journals coming out monthly, what new material were we going to put in them? The unpublished MLP theoretical work or "black-hole” materials? Political affairs articles? Nope, Joseph wanted a monthly journal to publish absolutely everything that came over the email wires of the ex-MLP minority. Nobody in Chicago thought that it was a good idea.

The main point here is that Joseph is not interested in practical organizing. For him, problems are just excuses to not organize, not something that has to be solved or overcome.

"It’s fine and grand and satisfying to talk about resuming publication of DWV and links with the masses and work in the political movements. But what are we talking about? Much of it is individual participation by comrades, whether at their workplace or in leafletting or attending left meetings. There is also a bit of participation by several comrades at once sometimes. Moreover, there is a very limited ability to write leaflets. It is a real issue what type of independent alternative can be offered in such circumstances.

"So what are we concretely talking about? Influence on the mass struggles? Actually influencing their path as the MLP did in some clinic defenses, movement demonstrations, workplace struggles, strikes, organizing drives, etc.? Just maintaining contact with the life of the masses? Having expectations about various of the reformist coalitions? Just working with whatever is sort of left. (Joseph, 2/22/95)

The first paragraph is pessimistic about the work of the Detroit comrades among the masses. With this attitude the pessimism will be self-justifying.

The second paragraph is worse. It is cynical about the minority’s ability to organize anything. "So what are we concretely talking about.." Well to be concrete, we do influence the path of mass actions to a certain extent. We are still an important voice in the pro-choice movement and we have some effect in the Mexican solidarity work. We still have some influence in some workplaces. Joseph doesn’t exactly say "we can’t influence mass struggles". He just poses the question contrasting today to when the MLP was around. Earlier he made it clear that we are weak compared to the MLP and he has characterized DWV's work as just individual effort. So clearly he wants the reader to believe that we are impotent in regard to influencing anything.

There is no doubt that we are weaker without the MLP. This forces us to scale back our mass work and in Chicago we hare put a greater emphasis on doing theoretical work. It does not. however, force us to give up mass work Worse, he suggests there might be opportunism involved. What’s the point of this work, "Just maintaining contact with the life of the masses? Having expectations about various of the reformist coalitions? Just working with whatever is sort of left?" Everyone coming out of the MLP knows full well that our tactics were not and should never hare expectations in reformist coalitions. Nor is it revolutionary or in any way valid to just work with whatever is "sort of left” Joseph is making backhanded accusations that somebody around here is conciliating reformism. Well Joseph, if you think that is going on then state your case. Otherwise shut up.

"If we don’t take up the issue of independent appeals, and if we don’t put forward a sharp analysis that cuts against the traditional leftism that is now bankrupt, work among the left will turn into merely floating among the left. It will be done with a lot of good intentions. And there will be a lot of disclaimers that of course we are anti-revisionists or Marxist-Leninists and we know that the coalitions we are supporting or the literature we are handing out is from some other trend, and we hare our own opinion, but "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" It’s not sufficient to have a disclaimer.

It’s necessary that we have sufficient literature of our own, sufficient analysis of our own, sufficient independent action of our own. that it makes a difference. You can’t cheat reality with a phrase." (Joseph 2/22/95)

Well maybe you can cheat reality with straw men? Joseph certainly has plenty of them. Point of fact, we do have our own literature, our own analysis, and we do cut against the traditional leftism (i.e. reformism). So what is Joseph talking about? Perhaps traditional leftism in his thinking is not the dominant reformism that we’ve been fighting all along, perhaps "traditional leftism" is activism?

Julie told Joseph that she has given copies of El Machete to activists who were members of other left groups (Spark, News and Letters) in demonstrations. So we presume that Joseph is trying to make the argument that we have somehow merged with El Machete. The reader should note that we do not mass distribute El Machete and that for a long time we have given out literature from other groups, even groups from other trends, to other activists. We have done this frequently in the bookstore and occasionally at events.

Mexico is a hot issue and El Machete is an interesting paper. Julie did not represent El Machete's politics as CWV’s nor did anyone mistake CWV’s politics for El Machete's. If Julie is wrong now than the Chicago Branch of the MLP must have been way off the correct path for quite some time. In the past we sold a wide selection of left papers in the bookstore and when we felt somebody else had hot news, we encouraged people to check it out In some cases we xeroxed and distributed articles from the press of other trends, including hostile ones as well as groups that looked closer to us. It may surprise Joseph but this is not an uncommon practice. OMLWP reprinted our articles to play games with the international communist movement. Anarchists reprinted articles from us because they considered it important news and views. Social democrats have actually taken leaflets from us and mass distributed them at events because they had no literature of their own to pass out. Sure, they would say to each person “I’m no communist but...” or “I’m not with this group but they are right about that son-of-a-bitch Reagan [Carter, Bush, Henry Hyde, Jeff Bodine, pick one].

"Never dirty your hands"

The worst thing about what Joseph is saying in regard to mass work is that you must never dirty your hands with something imperfect.

This means that if you are in a coalition and you distribute the leaflets of this coalition, then you have drifted or merged with its politics.

Was it wrong for us to distribute ECDC leaflets? We did so frequently at the bookstore. On several occasions, we helped mail out their newsletters. Julie also served as clinic captain numerous times. For any organization to participate in a coalitions such as ECDC, its members would have to do some work for the coalition.

Was the Midwest Regional Secretariat wrong when it told the Buffalo Branch that it was ok to join BUC? (Joseph will remember that J. in Buffalo now thinks that the MLP was sectarian. J.’s memory is wrong. The Midwest regional encouraged them to join BUC. The Midwest secretariat had been discussing Chicago’s work inside ECDC for years.) Certainly in their work inside BUC our comrades in Buffalo must have distributed some of the coalition’s literature. Would they have been wrong to do so?

Oleg works with the Staley Committee and LA WV works with SCAN. Is this wrong? Have they “drifted”? We don’t know if LAWV distributes SCAN literature but we would not be surprised or shocked if they did. Should we advise LA WV never to distribute imperfect SCAN newsletters? (Perfect newsletters are, of course, exempted.)

The flip side of Fred

Considering all the effort Joseph put into refuting Fred (Seattle) on many issues including a critique of Fred’s denunciation of “plebeian revolts,” it's shocking to see Joseph sneer at the LA rebellion and the work of the LAWV around the event.

In a letter to LA WV comrades on March 13, Joseph said:

I think that focusing the work on the expectation of great things in the NEXT upsurge is self-defeating Oh joy, maybe soon there will be a 1992 again (LA riot/rebellion].... Well, how much hay did you make of 92? It’s time to stop hoping that the next upsurge will solve our problems, and instead do the hard work needed to build up genuinely independent politics.”

For the benefit of those who never read a single issue of the WA, the work to build up genuinely independent politics includes mass work. It will not be possible to “make much hay” in a future upsurge without staying close to the masses, intervening in mass motion and organizing people to stand up and fight.

Moreover, Joseph is sneering at LAWV for apparently not recruiting or expanding from the LA rebellion

In the same letter Joseph writes:

Anti-revisionist politics is the only way to develop a theory useful to the revolutionary movement... If an upsurge comes soon, the fashionable phrases will be on everyone’s lips, because there is no alternative.

But these phrases will lead nowhere. What will be real and which will last, is the work that establishes an alternative to these phrases.”

So clue us in, what are the fashionable phrases that will lead nowhere? Workers’ of all countries, unite? Clase Obrera a la lucha? Smash capitalism, build socialism? Death to US Imperialism?

And really, isn’t work among the masses part of the work to establish an alternative to revisionism? Didn’t the MLP preach and practice that the repudiation of revisionism had to be reflected in our practical work? In fact a great deal of the MLP’s critique of revisionism came from being nose to nose with it in the mass movements and the factories.

It seems that Joseph sees his anti-revisionist crusade as detached theorizing. He believes that this is the only work that we should do in this period.

The anti-revisionist front is a vital one but unless it has a real connection to active oppositionists, to actions and events, then it will be sterile and no more an alternative to revisionism than News and Letters or The Spark. []

On Complacency

Part 4 —

by Joseph Green

April 8, 1995

Detroit #76

A few days ago Jake sent out two e-mail messages. One was a note, dated April 4, asking what’s up with the upcoming minority meeting. Accompanying it was an article, dated March 31, on what Jake regards as the main issue at stake in the minority. It is titled “Regarding Communist Work and Mass Work".

According to Jake, everything is fine in the theoretical and practical work of the CWV. Why, things are really humming, and the only issue is that the work moves slower due to the poor objective conditions. Those win ask for a realistic assessment of the work of the minority are just bad old pessimists, who pour cold water on activism, sneer at the mass struggle and the activists, and tell people to “never dirty your hands”. Those who suggest that we focus on such major tasks facing communism today as reestablishing the basis of anti-revisionism and socialism, are just talking about theory detached from the masses.

Jake’s articles are an example of closing one’s eyes tight. If the orientation he suggests is followed, the work of the circles of the former minority will fritter away.

The minority meeting

Typical of Jake’s complacency is his request for information on the minority meeting. There’s only one problem. There’s no minority left. The minority grouping has fallen apart.

This is no secret. For example, the statement of the Detroit Marxist-Leninist Study Group of March 9, “Announcing a new theoretical journal, the Communist Voice”, pointed out that the minority had shattered. [See pp. 7-8 of this issue of CV— ed.) If anyone had any doubts about this, the response from CWV clinched the issue. They yawned and didn’t bother to express a view one way or another about the breakup of the minority. It wasn’t that important to them.

So Jake’s concern for the minority meeting doesn’t seem that serious. The meeting was scheduled by the November minority meeting for March. Yet as the time drew near, neither he nor other CWV members had done the necessary preparatory work for the discussion specified by the last November meeting. This work fell on other comrades. Finally the Chicago comrades realized they couldn’t make the March date and proposed an April date. But in the meantime the minority was collapsing; I am not aware that anyone agreed to the April date; and CWV never followed up on it. Finally, a couple of days before the weekend for the meeting, Jake remembers about it and asks, in effect — oh, by the way, is anyone coming?

Is it important whether the minority exists?

Actually Jake himself, in his article “Regarding communist work and mass work", claims that there has been a split. He talks of “his [Joseph’s] split with CWVTJ...”, as if I were the only one upset with CWV policy.

So on one hand, Jake asks us all to come together in a meeting. And on the other hand he says there’s a split. He doesn’t seem to think that a minor matter such a split should interfere with writing leaflets and doing political agitation.

Jake doesn’t take the question of political unity very seriously. And if there’s a split, he thinks he should be invited to be in the deliberations of both sides. Politics, smolitics. Just let Jake float in and out as he pleases.

Was there a crisis?

No one who is seriously building a political trend would have such a casual attitude to a split. But for Jake, it’s— oh well, it fractured, it split. So what? And his attention shifts to other things, such as arranging a personal meeting or talking about some “oppositional trouble-making” against the bourgeoisie.

Jake doesn’t even see the splintering of the minority as a “critical juncture” As the minority was fracturing, Julie wrote on Feb. 19 that she would “like to see more from Joseph on why he considers our present state to be a new critical juncture” And now, after the fracture is an accomplished fact, Jake still defends Julie’s view.

Well, Jake can’t quite get himself to outright deny there is a crisis. But he can’t quite see that there is one either. Basically he is mystified that anyone would regard the months during which the “minority” came apart at the seams as a “critical juncture” By way of contrast, he says that “one could make a case for the death of the MLP being a very critical juncture for its former members who want to be active”. Good grief. Jake says “one could make a case"??!! He isn’t quite sure? And what a strange way he puts it. It’s a crisis for those who want to continue activism. He doesn’t mention that first and foremost it bore on whether an anti-revisionist political trend still existed.

But sometimes Jake astonishes one with his wisdom. He hauls out a trump card. If there is a critical situation now, he says, then “the critical situation must have been present in November at our last minority meeting.” (p.2)

Precisely so, Jake. The views and behavior of some CWV members at the last minority meeting were a profound shock to many of us. The meeting divided into two parts with a completely different atmosphere. In the second part, it even seemed that the minority might be prepared to move forward. Pondering the issues raised by this meeting, and PRIOR to the controversy over CWVs endorsement at El Machete, I came to the conclusion that the minority was facing a critical situation. I wrote about this in my review of the year’s work, which went on e-mail within a few weeks of the minority meeting.

So the issue of the critical situation had been raised in early December, when there was still time to avert the breakup of the minority, if the CWV joined others in taking the danger seriously. Danger? What danger? In April, after the minority is a memory, Jake can still be found mocking me for having said that “events are moving quickly" (p. 2)

What is the importance of anti-revisionism?

Jake’s lack of concern for political unity is not an accident, but it flows naturally from his view of communist tasks at this time. Organizations, or even informal groupings, don’t spring from the air. Their form is related to the objectives of their members. If we are concerned to place anti-revisionism on a firm basis, we will be anxious to develop an anti-revisionist grouping or trend. If we think the main task is to make some “trouble” for the bourgeoisie and to look for some other groups that are militant if not anti-revisionist, then the unity of the minority just isn’t that important. It would still be nice to exchange leaflets and even have a “common agitational press”. And maybe consultation on a deeper article or two would be cool. But it’s not such a big deal. There are a lot of fish in the sea, a lot of groups out there with agitational articles and an interesting view or two.

So it’s not surprising that at the same time as Jake wonders if there’s a meeting, he puts out an article that continues the CWV's skepticism about the task of reestablishing the basis of anti-revisionism. He endorses Julie’s view on this.

I had pointed out that the MLP had collapsed after it had seen through the various anti-revisionist pretenders and was faced with placing anti-revisionism on a firm basis. Julie disagreed. She didn’t see what the issue of giving a firm foundation to anti-revisionism was. Instead, as for as theory goes, she said that the issue was whether the MLP was on the verge of immediate breakthroughs. I had never suggested that our work would be fast. But Julie identified the significance of the work with having immediate results.

And what does Jake say? He calls on everyone to oppose my supposed talk of fast theoretical breakthroughs, even though he admits that I never talked about them. He writes:

"....everyone should be skeptical of Joseph’s claim that the MLP was on the verge of theoretical breakthroughs. Now Joseph doesn’t call it a breakthrough but what else could he mean by stressing ’the importance of the theoretical work the MLP was on the verge of taking up.’ ” (p. 6)

The theoretical work the MLP was on the verge of taking up was revitalizing Marxism-Leninism. Should we give up this work because it is hard and will take a long time? Should we insist on a guarantee that we succeed? Or should we take up this work, because we know that it is what the movement needs? Should we take up this work because it is important for proletarian reorganization around the world and — at this point — few if any other activists will take our place if we falter?

Well, Jake says he doesn't even know what the theoretical issues are. He says “Joseph should spell out what was being worked on. what importance it would have and how the work would advance.” And this is the comrade whose group is supposedly advancing anti-revisionism by leaps and bounds in their practical organizing with the masses. This is a comrade who would like to regard himself as one of the greatest opponents of the CC majority — only he doesn’t recall what serious theoretical issues were racking the party, nor that they concerned the foundations of anti-revisionism and socialism.

Well, I thought Jake had been a member of the MLP, that I had seen him at conferences and congresses, and that he had taken part in the national study programs, etc. I guess I was wrong. I suggest he go back and read party literature or the unpublished material sent Chicago. When he has something serious to say about them, it can be discussed. But if he can’t even remember what issues the MLP was dealing with, then I think it is premature for him to have an opinion on how important these issues are.

More agitational work

Jake thinks the key point lies elsewhere. He and the CWV insist that more agitational work is the key.

Oh yes, Jake vigorously denies that anyone could ever have made this suggestion. He writes that “it totally got by us that anyone was suggesting more activist work as the solution to theoretical difficulty.” (p.6)

So let’s see.

Julie, considering the issue of the theoretical work, wrote that “there needs to be more consideration of the living relation between theoretical work and activism.” (Her letter of Feb. 19) And she focused the reader’s attention on “strengthening our ties to the working class and political movements.”

And Jake’s past views? In his letter to the minority of Feb. 23, he said that “The most important task for CWVTJ is to help solve some of the vexing theoretical problems facing our class.” But how was this to be done? “We must have social practice.” And in his current article “Regarding Communist Work and Mass Work”, what does he say? “For an agitational press” is the main subhead concerning what is to be done. And this reflects the tone of his article. This is what he is emphasizing. This is what he wanted the minority to take up. As he says: “To us, it would have been a benchmark indicating that we were ready to develop a national organization if we were ready to take steps toward organizing a national agitation press. Not a newspaper necessarily, but perhaps national leaflets on selected topics or agreements for local organizations to provide some regular coverage of particular topics. Perhaps a division of labor of sorts on political affairs coverage. We are still in favor of this.” This is Jake’s key issue. He doesn’t have many other ideas about the problems of the theoretical work. Oh wait, he thinks I should write “in a more concentrated and popular style”. He’s obsessed with minor issues on the form of the theoretical articles, or who the polemics will immediately attract That’s about it.

Let’s see. At a time when CWV says that there are important political differences within the minority, the CWV thinks that coordinated work to have national leaflets on Prop. 187, the Contract with America, etc. is the task facing us. The minority never had a common political statement of its own. As a result, it never even had a proper name. But the CWV is calling for, say, a division of labor in writing on topical events. The minority was not able to deal with the problems and disagreements in either its theoretical or political work. And how much attention could it focus on these issues? Well, the CWV even claimed it didn’t have the time to translate the articles in El Machete that it claimed were so important. But for Jake, the important thing is to have more and more leaflets on the events of the day.

This focus would be self-defeating. If building the national agitational press were central to the political unity of the minority — or even to maintaining its agitation — then it’s hard to understand why the MLP died. With the Workers’ Advocate, the MLP had a much more agitational press then the minority could ever had hoped for. Even in the last year, the Workers’ Advocate maintained a lively political commentary. Yet, in the period of the party crisis, this agitation failed to answer the living issues cm comrades’ minds; it failed to spur on the theory, it could not by itself integrate anti-revisionism with the mass movement; and the party lost spirit day by day. It could not provide a rallying point for the struggle against liquidation- ism.

The minority had to first and foremost concentrate on what the Workers‘ Advocate had lacked. Without this, all work including agitation would decay. With it if the minority flourished, agitation would also revive. Could it really be said that the CWVTJ had taken up the issues on comrade’s minds, reflected the theoretical concerns and the practical work, and spurred on the work? At first, publishing anything was a step forward. But the time had come for a change.

In the next installments

Future sections will deal with “drifting in the left”; the communist view of united front tactics and coalitions; what is optimism and pessimism in our circumstance; and the relationship of theory and practice as seen through the MLP’s three-point tactical line. And I will correct some of the many misstatements of fact that are becoming a hallmark of Jake’s writing. []

NC replies

Subject: Your Det #76 — reply

Date: 09-Apr-95 at 03:24

From: NC [of LA Workers' Voice]

Dear Joseph,

I have just received your #76 and am re-studying it I think at this point however your reply to Jake and Julie’s ‘On Relationship of Communist Organization to the Mass Movements’ (040495) is incomplete, kind of eclectic, a bit evasive.

I really hoped your would deal with the Detroit conception of the relationship of Marxist/Leninist organization to the mass movements as the ‘Relationship’ doc. out of Chicago had challenged you to do.

Since you seem to still seem to have a kind of cavalier attitude to the prospects for any effective day to day work in the ongoing struggles, perhaps you can explain how else might we find better ways to improve our politics, make relevant interventions, be able to infuse needed anti-revisionist politics toward specific issues where activists and workers have interests and more open ears?

Your method seems more scholastic, implies we all need to ’take a long breather’ from practical work in existing motion, and are unable to develop better theory while at the same time carrying out paced needed practical interventions and contact work, etc. I don’t think we are geniuses, but I don’t think we are

Comrade Gerald Ford’s either — unable to politically walk and chew gum at the same time!

We kind of think this might be a watershed period for increasing bourgeois reaction now, the rising racism, smashing down affirmative action reforms, Prop 187 laws, and the ‘coup de grace’, the Contract On America cuts and takeaways of tens of billions yearly in needed social services and programs for workers and poor people.

Where is your analysis of The ‘Contract’? I don’t expect a tome, but to tell you the truth comrade, your silence is deafening! How about international imperialism? The Currency crisis and the rising parasitical takeovers —decapitalization, short term profit squeezing, etc. does this not effect the real workers, here and abroad?

As concerns your front — the Anti-revisionist arsenal. This IS of key importance! So where’s the beef? Put your cards on the table. Where is the expose of the revisionist’s political economy? Where is the explanation of the rise of state capitalism out of movements and revolts of the workers and oppressed peoples? What can we do to prevent the state-caps from de-capitating socialist and communist movements and parties?

Concerning today, how can we help develop socialist politics and workers mass organization in struggles to the point where struggles won’t be easily de-railed by AFL/CIA labor fakers whose profession, serving the system, turns the workers actions into the legalist and pacifist activities worthy of labor eunuchs?

Obviously to deal with this takes a certain time investigating and working in the motion of present, however low level.

You, yourself agree that our theoretical arsenal leaves much to be desired. So as concerns your specialty—anti revisionism—would it not help matters to take up the history of the COUSML/MLP on the questions so we can gain from both our strengths and serious shortcomings on this front. How can we grab the mantle of ivory for anti revisionism when our tendency supported it (albeit in far-left guise) for many, many years before repudiation?! Today for example where is our analysis of the political economy of Hoxhaism and Albania, Mao’s and Hua’s China, etc?

You decry ‘complacency’ amongst others. But on the front that you rather one sidedly dwell on, the anti revisionism, your using blunted instruments. Without the history of our ML trend (as well as the outright revisionist crap of the rest of the US left) being ‘put in the road’, the revisionism you boast of will be Revisionist anti-revisionism!!

I realize I have not responded to every point you have raised either. So at this point we are both guilty of rather eclectic (dare I say evasive) responses. For my part, in accordance with ongoing work, will try to have LAWV comrades be more responsive dealing right to the key points raised, which are or great importance to the future revolutionary cause in the USA and in other lands. Polemics are important too. But we also have to find ways to tie it in to our work on the day to day level with workers in fighting for their very livelihoods and that of their families, fellow workers and children.



Re: NC’s April 9 reply to “On Complacency, Part 4”

by Mark

April 13, 1995

Detroit #78

Some brief comments on Neil’s April 9 reply to Joseph. In this message, Neil raises the accusation that Joseph is cavalier toward practical organizing. He takes up Jake’s “proof”, i.e., where is Joseph’s agitation on this or that issue? Yes, it’s true. Joseph has not written leaflets on a whole slew of subjects. And the same could be said about everyone else. Where is the CWV or L.A. leaflet on Palestine? Doesn’t that “prove” that LA WV doesn’t care about the Palestinians or exposing how international imperialism is operating today? Where is the leaflet on the currency crisis? What’s the matter? Don’t you think we should expose international capitalism? And why didn’t Joseph critique every leaflet from Chicago as Jake demands? Oh sure, I could argue that Joseph gave a lengthy critique of what approach to take toward such matters as Haiti, presented an analysis of how the struggle was developing in Mexico and the Zapatista’s role in it. But that doesn’t count, does it?

And Neil, I can’t help it if you can’t seem to remember the correspondence Joseph sent to you on questions of practical organizing. You may not agree with all of his assessments, but do you deny that he was striving to find ways to help comrades in L.A. develop their practical work?

Joseph also urged the CWVTJ to reflect the agitation produced in the local areas.

And what about the analysis of how imperialism works today contained in the polemical works written by Joseph against the “majority.” Or his writings on socialism against Ben and Fred? Or his writings on organization? I think such writings are important not mainly because they show that so-and-so was a bad person, but because they help orient our work today, including our practical work. So you would also have to be blind to the significance of polemical/theoretical articles not to see the value that such articles have for practical work. (Of course, you may think Joseph’s articles were of such low quality that they couldn’t provide any guidance for practical work, but in that case, where is your critique of his polemics?)

The facts are dear. Joseph has played a direct role in helping develop the mass work. And his polemical, theoretical writings are also quite useful in developing the practical work.

But Neil tells us Joseph has advocated we should “take a long breather from practical work.” What’s the evidence Neil? That Joseph has pointed out certain limits that the circumstances place on our work. Well, what about you, Neil? You say our practical work should be “paced.” Why is that Neil? Isn’t it because there ARE limits, and rather severe ones at that? But why is it legitimate for you or Jake to describe the limits of practical work but not Joseph?

The limits to what practical work can go forward are not just the low level of the mass movement or the influence of the reformists or the fact that we don’t have enough forces to organize everywhere. We have to deal with all sorts of ideological issues and controversies that face anyone that wants to establish a trend (both theoretical/practical and organizational) that is really anti-revisionist. Everyone in the former “minority” says we have to do this. But when the question was concretely posed, when the problems of how to accomplish this were raised, the answer from CWV is general phrases about the value of practical organizing or, as in Jake’s latest, let’s have an “agitational press” by swapping leaflets on current affairs. Or we have Oleg stressing how important it is to go to a meeting of whatever opportunist trend he happens to be fascinated by at the time.

It’s true that current events do raise theoretical issues. But the problem the minority faced concretely was not that we had no idea of what issues were important to deal with, but actually organizing ourselves to accomplish the theoretical work that was considered important. If the minority was serious about accomplishing what it claimed was the most important thing to do, it would have to come to grips with how the energy of our very tiny forces should be expended. Writing on more current events or going to more events would not solve theoretical issues because mass work is not the same thing as theoretical work, research is not the same thing as going to another meeting, etc. Jake says, of course, theoretical difficulties can only be solved by theoretical work. But his practical proposal is not better organized theoretical work but more leaflets on the day-to-day issues and more mass work.

There were some in the former "minority” that had particular enthusiasm to pursue the theoretical tasks and there were local areas that had more developed mass work. Neither Joseph or anyone else in Detroit said don’t do mass work. Everyone here was glad to see it and glad we could develop some local agitation in Detroit, too. But the CWV has shown little concern for dealing with the problems coming up in the theoretical work. And when they were challenged on this, they could think of nothing better to do than to falsely charge their accusers with being opposed to mass work.

Neil also complains that since Joseph hasn’t solved every theoretical question under the sun, "where’s the beef as regards 'anti-revisionist' theoretical work". As Neil may recall, the central project of the former "minority” was the CWV Theoretical Journal. Well, by the standard of having answered every mystery of the universe, we have not fared well. But if we take human standards, the picture is a bit different. Of the approximately 48 articles written by the "minority” appearing in the journal, over half were written in Detroit. In comparison with the only other circle of comparable strength, Detroit produced 26 articles and Chicago produced 6. I don’t raise this to knock the other contributions to the journal. But it shows there was a keen interest in Detroit to develop theoretical work and build the journal. Maybe Neil thinks the articles from Detroit were a waste of time. In that case he should produce a critique of these articles and show us a better example. So far, all we have is one more slander. []

[End of article group]