Speech at the Second National Conference
of the Marxist-Leninist Party, USA -- Fall 1984
Reprinted from the Workers' Advocate Supplement (1),
vol. 2, #1, January 15, 1986.
* The Key Issues At Stake
* Marxism-Leninism Stresses the Unitary Organization of the Working Class
* Experience in Austria and Russia
* Experience in the U.S. in the 1960's and 70's
* We Stand for Unitary Organization of the Working Class
* Workers of All Nationalities Must Be Mobilized in the Struggle Against Racism and National Oppression
* Anti-racist Organization Should Combine Workers of All Nationalities
* Nationality Organizations May Play A Progressive Auxiliary Role
* An Example from the History of the CPUSA
* The Reorganization of the Party
* Some Issues in Organizing the Immigrant Workers Today
* Nationality Organization and the Black Workers
* When Nationality Organization Arises Independently of the Party
* In Conclusion
. This speech concerns the question of nationality organization.
. The formation of nationality organization, of organization composed solely of people from an oppressed nationality, is a reoccurring phenomenon in U.S. history. Numbers of the organizations which we are discussing in the course of this conference have been nationality organizations including such all-black groups as Garvey's United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), or in the '60's the Black Panther Party (BPP) and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (LRBW), or more recently the Caribbean Progressive Study Group (CPSG).
. Nationality organizations have at times played important roles in the struggle against national oppression. Some, like the League, have also played a role in the workers' movement. In the late 1960's such organizations occupied key places in the black liberation movement and to some extent in the workers' movement as well.
. Because the phenomenon of nationality organization appears and reappears in the course of the class struggle, and because at times it plays an important role in that struggle, it is necessary to discuss the Marxist-Leninist approach to the question of nationality organization.
In 1979 the National Committee of the COUSML, the predecessor of the MLP, in discussing the CPSG, concluded that "The organizations of the workers' movement, including the Party itself, must be unitary. Nationality organization, in general terms, has an auxiliary role to the unitary organizations of the workers' movement." A half decade of work and study since that time permit us to state in somewhat greater depth the issues and factors at stake in this question.
. It should be stated from the outset that, while the ideas to be presented in this speech do provide a general orientation for this question, they do not provide a formula or ready-made solution for any particular case. When we speak of nationality organization we are speaking of a wide range of different organizations, embodying various social phenomena, with varying programs, coming up under varied historical conditions, and therefore playing different roles. The UNIA, the BPP, the LRBW, the CPSG, and Karenga's United Slaves (US) are all very different organizations, and represent different social phenomena. Each case of nationality organization has to be examined on its own merits. The starting point for such an examination is the questions of content, that is, what social phenomenon it embodies and what program it carries out.
. As well, since we hold that nationality organization should play an auxiliary role to that of the
principal, unitary organizations of the workers, it is necessary to examine the form of nationality
organization in each particular case. It is necessary to look at the relationship of this form to the
content embodied by an organization and to determine the role of this form. In short, it needs to
be seen what it means for a particular phenomenon to have taken on the form of a nationality
organization in its specific historical context.
The Key Issues At Stake
. Here are the basic ideas which this speech will deal with.
. Marxism-Leninism strongly stresses the unitary organization of the working class. The interests of the socialist revolution and of the day-to-day struggle require that the workers of all nationalities be united in the organizations of the working class. The Party, as the class conscious, organized, advanced detachment of the class, must unite all the Marxist-Leninists irrespective of nationality. The other principal organizations of the working class, such as the trade unions, must also unite all the workers irrespective of nationality.
. The struggle against racism and national oppression is an important front of struggle against the bourgeoisie. This struggle also has particular importance for uniting the workers of different nationalities. This struggle must be taken up by the whole working class. The principal unitary organizations of the class, in the first place the Party, must take an active part in this struggle. As well, on this front, just as on others, the masses must be encompassed with a variety of organizational forms in order to extend the organization of the masses and of the struggle as widely as possible. There is thus a role for anti-racist organization, and this too should be unitary organization.
. Marxism-Leninism thus lays great stress on the unitary organization of the working class, and this is a basic orientation of the Marxist-Leninists at all times.
. Marxism-Leninism also teaches us the need for sensitivity to the national sentiments of the oppressed nationalities. The existence of national divisions, above all the existence of national oppression, tends to foster national sentiments among the workers of oppressed nationalities, including national distrust toward the workers of the oppressor nationality. The Marxist-Leninists work constantly for a proletarian internationalist stand among all the workers, combating both national chauvinism among workers of the oppressor nationality and bourgeois nationalism among the workers of the oppressed nationalities.
. But if this work is to be effective among the workers of the oppressed nationalities, it must take account of their national sentiments and not ride roughshod over them. It is in this regard that a possibility arises of the Marxist-Leninists, at particular times, and in particular circumstances, acceding to the formation of nationality organization. This is, in a sense, a compromise, a compromise with the historical conditions which give rise to national sentiments. But the aim is not to maintain or reinforce division of the workers into different nationalities by keeping them organized separately. Rather the aim is to facilitate drawing the workers of oppressed nationalities into the struggle, to be able to bring them into a united struggle, and eventually into unitary organization of the class.
. Now, from this it follows that the role of nationality organization must be auxiliary to that of the role of the principal organizations of the class. It cannot be substituted for them. For nationality organization to fulfill this role requires, among other things, that it correctly combine work against national oppression with attention to the general class struggle. Whether nationality organization can fulfill this role, whether it facilitates or hinders the drawing of workers of an oppressed nationality into unitary struggle and the unitary organizations, also depends on the particular circumstances under which it arises, especially upon the state and direction of motion among the masses. Therefore whether the Marxist-Leninists agree to the formation of nationality organization in any particular case depends greatly upon the particular circumstances.
. Objective factors bring nationality organizations into existence independently of the views and influence of the Marxist-Leninists. The Marxist-Leninists may work in such organizations, just as they work in other mass organizations. And in this work they will combat reformism and bourgeois nationalism, just as they do in other organizations.
. Politics must be put to the fore in this work. The Marxist-Leninists must fight for, and defend, a progressive program in such organizations. In connection with this, the Marxist-Leninists must promote the general class struggle and must find concrete ways to encourage proletarian internationalism. The struggle against bourgeois nationalism, and especially the fight for the idea of unitary organization, must be intimately linked with, and not counterposed to, the fight on the questions of program.
. These are the basic points which I'm going to go on to elaborate at some length.
Marxism-Leninism Stresses the Unitary Organization of the Working Class
. First, Marxism-Leninism stresses the unitary organization of the class. This is true in terms of the party. It is true in terms of the other principal organizations of the class, for example, the trade unions. In fact, Marxism-Leninism emphasizes extending unitary organization as far as possible, in every sphere. This is necessary from the standpoint of the social revolution, which is a unitary struggle of the working class. It is necessary even from the standpoint of the day-to-day struggles, because the day-to-day struggle, as waged by the workers in a particular factory, or in a particular industry, or in a particular locality, requires the participation of workers of different nationalities. The division of that struggle along national lines spells sure death for it.
. Unitary organization has another significance as well. The participation of the workers of different nationalities in united struggle and in unitary organization helps to break down the national barriers which class society erects among them. It helps to forge the unity of the class.
. In the 1960's and 1970's in the U.S., various alternatives were put forward to the idea of unitary
organization among the workers in the U.S. These "brilliant new ideas" prove, upon examination,
to be the same ideas advocated in the first decade of the twentieth century by the Austrian
Social-Democrats and by the Bund in Russia. Namely, this was the organization of the working
class along national lines.
Experience in Austria and Russia
. In the pre-World War I period in Austria, where there were several different nationalities living interspersed with one another, the Austrian Social-Democrats attempted to build the party, and other organizations of the working class, along national lines. Internally, the party was divided among national sections. An attempt was made to do the same thing to other working class organizations as well. This was not the original line of organization of the workers' political party, but something introduced later, at a time when the party was growing and becoming an important factor in the working class movement in Austria.
. The results were devastating. The party lost many members, and many of the organizations around it folded up their tents. This was because, in effect, the party went to the class conscious workers and said, "Why should you be united across national lines? What's so wrong with petty-bourgeois nationalism?" And the workers said "Well, in that case, why should I be in the party, if I'm a petty-bourgeois nationalist?" Now this is oversimplifying it, but one important point here is that not only does the idea of nationality organization come up in close connection to petty-bourgeois nationalism, but the very fact of being organized along nationality lines -- that fact itself -- will tend to give rise to petty-bourgeois nationalist thinking.
. In Russia the Bund advocated a separate party for the Jewish workers. Here too the Jewish
population was interspersed with the Russian population and the population of other nationalities
in the big cities. This raises an interesting question. How is any struggle going to proceed, let
alone how is the revolution going to proceed, on the basis of having the workers of different
nationalities organized into different parties? It means either advocating a separate Jewish
revolution or arguing that some kind of coordination between the nationalities can be worked out
on the basis of good will.
Experience in the U. S. in the 1960's and 70's
. This was a popular theory in the U.S. in the 60's and the early 70's, when the idea of a black revolution was widespread. You'll all be organized separately, but somehow you'll be able to coordinate. Somehow! And the somehow never materializes. When you start this way, you're never going to have monolithic organization. In fact you're not going to make a revolution by coordination. Among other problems that will arise in carrying out this plan, divergent tendencies are going to arise in the different nationality parties. And in fact, interlaced with those divergent tendencies, will be petty-bourgeois nationalist tendencies, because you've been organized along national lines. And the final thing is you are not going to organize the workers on that basis. I mean, you can just see the basic units in the factories -- "Sorry, I can't organize you, you're the wrong nationality."
. There was a further variation of this theory which arose in 1973. By 1973 there was a proliferation of nationality organizations in the U.S. which called themselves Marxist-Leninist. At that time you had the Black Workers Congress (BWC), which called itself the Black Marxist-Leninists; you had the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization (PRRWO), which was the remnants of the Young Lords, who called themselves the Puerto Rican Marxist-Leninists; you had the August Twenty-Ninth Movement (ATM), which called itself the Chicano Marxist-Leninists; and you had the I Wor Kuen (IWK), which regarded itself as the Chinese Marxist-Leninists. And they formed a coordinating committee together with the Revolutionary Union (RU) to carry on unity negotiations.
. In this coordinating committee the IWK advocated, straight up, that there was no need to unite the Marxist-Leninists of different nationalities in a single party. Meanwhile the PRRWO, BWC and, I believe, ATM argued that, yes, there was need for a united party ultimately, but in order to bring that about a long period of transition was needed because of the existence of national distrust; i.e., "We don't trust you." So they envisioned an entire period leading up to the formation of a united party and then the socialist revolution, during which they would perpetuate separate nationality organization among the Marxist-Leninists and among the other workers' organizations.
. This, by the way, is an example of a compromise position; it's a compromise position which we
reject. It doesn't lead to unity; it leads to disunity. (In passing, we may note however that this
position of separate "nationality Marxist-Leninist groups" was so impractical that within a few
years even these groups, every one of them, had withdrawn the nationality clauses from their
organizational rules and had opened their doors to admissions from activists of other
nationalities. At the same time, this did not mean to an end to the promotion of national
separatist concepts in these circles.)
We Stand for Unitary Organization of the Working Class
. We are hostile to any idea of organizing the Marxist-Leninists along the lines of nationality. It is obligatory that the Marxist-Leninists, as the class conscious vanguard of the class, should be exemplary in this regard. The party should unite all the Marxist-Leninists irrespective of nationality, and within the party there should be no sort of national divisions.
. We similarly reject the idea of organizing trade unions along the line of nationality. We hold that on such a mass level it is necessary to unite the workers irrespective of nationality. Every episode in the history of the trade union movement in the U.S. shows that every proposal to organize trade unions along the line of nationality is doomed to failure, that any division of the workers along national lines simply leads to playing off one section against another.
. Historically separate nationality trade unions have come up chiefly under two circumstances.
. Firstly and mainly, they arose with racism, with the organization of segregated locals for the black and Mexican nationality workers. In that case the Marxist-Leninist position was very simple. The Marxist-Leninists fought against segregation and demanded unitary trade unions. Where they lost those fights, the Marxist-Leninists went ahead to form separate union locals of the oppressed nationalities, but only to ensure that the nationality workers were organized and could continue to fight even more forcefully for unitary unions.
. The other main circumstance under which this idea has come up with any sort of relevance is in
certain very limited cases in the 1960s when a tendency emerged towards black syndicalism.
That phenomenon I'll go into later in this speech. So the first point is that the revolutionary
struggle of the proletariat, the interests of socialism, the interests of the day-to-day struggle,
require unitary organization of the working class.
Workers of All Nationalities Must Be Mobilized
in the Struggle Against Racism and National Oppression
. The second point is that the anti-racist struggle must also be a united struggle.
. We do not agree that the struggle against racism and national oppression is a struggle simply for, or mainly for, the workers of the oppressed nationalities, even if at certain times in history that is mainly who was engaged in that struggle. When the workers from oppressed nationalities fight racism they are carrying with them the interests of the whole working class. And experience has shown that whenever the anti-racist struggle has taken place over a period of time in a big way it has not been fought by the oppressed nationalities alone.
. From the standpoint of the socialist revolution, the anti-racist struggle is a matter of concern to
the entire working class. The anti-racist struggle is a front of struggle against the bourgeoisie. As
well, the anti-racist movement has particular significance for uniting the workers of different
nationalities. The participation of the workers of different nationalities in united struggle against
racism is one of the most powerful factors possible for overcoming national distrust and bringing
about unity of the workers of different nationalities. In point of fact, any development of the
anti-racist struggle, even at a time when the anti-racist struggle is mainly being carried by
oppressed nationalities themselves, is a favorable factor for the unity of the working class.
Anti-racist Organization Should Combine Workers of All Nationalities
. Now the general Marxist-Leninist approach to the question of organizing the class includes, as one of its points, the idea of embracing the class with various forms of mass organization, with a variety of different organization, in order to extend the organization of the class as far as possible. This includes building up organizations on different fronts of the mass struggle, and the anti-racist struggle is one such front. We hold that anti-racist organization too should be unitary organization; that even if at a given time it is largely the national minority workers who are carrying the anti-racist fight, it is still by far preferable to build unitary anti-racist organization, and to fight for the mobilization of the white workers into it.
. This raises a very important point, namely, that anti-racist organization and nationality organization are two different categories. Anti-racist organization is organization for the anti-racist struggle. It may be unitary organization or it may be nationality organization. Nationality organization in the narrowest sense of the word is simply any organization composed of a particular oppressed nationality.
. In point of fact nationality organization may or may not be anti-racist. There are examples of all-black organizations whose programs have revolved around the anti-racist struggle, but not necessarily from a consistent point of view; of those who combine the anti-racist struggle with various other things; and of those whose whole point is to detract from the anti-racist struggle. For example, it takes a great stretching of the facts to portray Ron Karenga's US as an anti-racist organization. So anti-racist organization and nationality organization are two distinct categories.
. For the anti-racist struggle, we want to work for two things.
. Firstly, we want the unitary organizations of the class to take part in the anti-racist struggle. Above all, the Party must play an active role in this struggle. And we also work to encourage other organizations of the workers, including the trade unions, to participate in the anti-racist struggle. In reality this is a serious problem since the trade unions are dominated by the aristocracy of labor and are imbued with all of the consequent filth and corruption. Part of the fight against the corrupt union bureaucracy is to expose its betrayal of the oppressed nationalities and to rally the rank-and-file workers to the anti-racist struggle.
. Secondly, Marxist-Leninists also favor the development, given conditions which make this
possible, of unitary anti-racist organization -- organization, on the front of the anti-racist struggle,
that is unitary in composition. This gives another means of drawing masses into the struggle and
Nationality Organizations May Play A Progressive Auxiliary Role
. Another point must be made. Objective factors give rise to the formation of nationality organizations. There are reasons why they keep showing up on the stage of history.
. The existence of national divisions, due to differences in language, culture and so forth are a factor in this. But a hundred times more important is the fact that, in class society, the existence of different nationalities means the existence of national oppression, including the specially heavy exploitation of the workers of the oppressed nationalities, the chauvinist attacks and racism against them, and segregation, including their exclusion from common organizations. And the weight of that oppression is an important factor in the coming into being of nationality organizations.
. Another factor is the flaring up of deep-felt national sentiments among the oppressed nationalities, especially at times of upsurge in the struggle against national oppression.
. Another factor still: the attempts of the bourgeoisie, and those petty bourgeoisie aspiring to be bourgeois, of the nationalities to organize the masses of those nationalities under their banner.
. All of these factors can give rise at times to the formation of nationality organization, especially
when the general proletarian movement is weak or under chauvinist or social-chauvinist
influence. Nationality organization can at times play a progressive role auxiliary to that of the
unitary organization of the working class. This is possible given a number of specific conditions.
An Example from the History of the CPUSA
. I would like to go into an example which shows both the limitations of nationality organization and the possibility for it to play a progressive role.
. At the time of the founding of the Communist Party U.S.A., the majority of its membership was immigrant workers organized into separate language federations. This was a heritage from the old Socialist Party. In the Socialist Party the immigrant workers were mainly organized along nationality lines into autonomous federations. This was a product to a small extent of the real existing divisions, the fact that immigrants came here speaking different languages, living initially in communities mainly of their own nationality, and working in work places or sections of work places consisting mainly of their own nationality, being unfamiliar with the specific features of the overall class struggle in the U.S., and so forth.
. However, the creation of these autonomous nationality organizations had much more to do with the fact that the leadership of the Socialist Party was disinterested in organizing the immigrant workers. The earliest of the language federations, such as the Italian federation, were actually organized independently of the Socialist Party because it was simply not organizing the immigrants in quite a few places. As a consequence, when the immigrant workers came to socialism, as a great many of them did, they were organized separately, into autonomous federations within the party.
. The question of how to deal with the language federations was a matter of debate for years in
the Communist Party. In the earliest years it was a matter of debate between [the two parties that
were originally formed before the communists united into a single party] the Communist Party
and the Communist Labor Party. Later the debate took place within the united party over such
questions as defining the degree of autonomy of the federations, defining their relationship to the
party, and so forth. Ultimately the debate turned to the question of the existence of the language
The Reorganization of the Party
. In 1925 the Fourth Convention of the Workers' Communist Party decided to abolish the position of the language federations as basic organizations of the party. It held that, "The foreign language branch tends greatly to isolate the activity of the party members belonging to them into the channel of propaganda only among workers of their own nationality, and to deflect them away from active participation in the general class struggle." Therefore, the foreign language branches were no longer to be basic organizations of the party. And all the party members were to be organized into basic organization in the factories or into basic organization based in the neighborhoods, but not based upon lines of nationality.
. The foreign language press -- at this time the party had newspapers in some 19 different languages -- was preserved. But these papers were oriented toward giving greater weight to the class struggle in the U.S. Prior to this time the different papers showed a great unevenness in their coverage of the U.S. workers struggle.
. The former language federation branches were not dissolved. They were no longer to be basic organizations of the party. Instead they were reconstructed as workers' clubs, admitting to membership not only party members, but also nonparty workers of the same nationality who accepted the platform of the class struggle.
. So what we see here is two things.
. First, the language federations, as basic organizations of the party, played a limiting role. They tended to hold back the party members organized into them from participating in the mainstream of the party's work in the working class, from actively being involved in those politics. There were literally cases where in a given work place there would be three different party members, each belonging to three different language federations, and no party work in the workplace. Therefore it was necessary to reorganize the party along unitary lines.
. The reorganization of the party along unitary lines was an important step in the Bolshevization of the party, and in drawing the whole party membership into the mainstream of the party work.
. Second, however, the fact remained that there were millions of immigrant workers, a large number of whom were still fluent primarily in their native tongues, a large number of whom were more oriented still to the class struggle in the homeland than in the U.S. Moreover the practical fact of the matter remained that the language federations had not only had as their membership the party members; they also had a certain following in the communities. Therefore two things were done.
. First, reorganization of the party itself along unitary lines.
. Second, the preservation of certain forms of work along nationality lines. The foreign language press was continued but a greater emphasis was given to the class struggle in the U.S. And the basis of the foreign language workers' clubs, according to the 1925 convention, was to be the platform of class struggle. In other words these were ways and means to draw the immigrant workers into the class struggle in the U.S.
. The results, the ways in which this was carried out, were not perfect. There were many problems in actually reorganizing the party along unitary lines. And there were also numbers of problems with the foreign language press and with the foreign language workers' clubs, which often became new forms for the old bad habits.
. But the reorganization did bring thousands of former language federation members into the mainstream of party work, many of whom subsequently made important contributions in the party's work in auto, in steel, among the ironworkers, and in a whole series of other industries.
. And the foreign language forms which were preserved did to some extent help to further draw immigrant workers into the mainstream of the class struggle.
. To sum up, the foreign language federations, as they were originally constituted, came into existence in part because of the objective factor of the existence of millions upon millions of immigrant workers with different languages who were not yet well oriented in the class struggle in the U.S. and so forth. But, more importantly, they came into existence because of the social-chauvinism of the leaders of the SP.
. The language federations in content were quite progressive. They were formed by immigrant workers who wanted to become communists and to make socialist revolution in the U.S. But the form of nationality organization limited them. It cut against the communist sentiment. It actually held back its membership from these aspirations. Therefore it was replaced with the reorganization of the party along unitary lines. There continued, however, to be a role for some type of forms to draw immigrant workers into the general class struggle. And the forms which were used were nationality forms.
. This example provides an indication of the idea of a nationality organization which has an
auxiliary role to that of the main organizations of the working class.
Some Issues in Organizing the Immigrant Workers Today
. In organizing the immigrant workers today we continue to face a number of the same questions as the language federations faced earlier. And it is essential to find the way to draw the immigrant workers into the general class struggle here in the U.S.
. Historically our Party has followed an essentially three-point orientation in its work among the immigrants. Although this has been formulated in various ways, it comes down to the following. First, solidarity with the struggle in the homeland. Second, advancing the fight of the immigrant workers against the discrimination and other oppression which they face. And third, their participation in the class struggle in the U.S.
. This orientation turns out to be close in spirit to the orientation followed in the foreign language work in the 1920's. This is the content of the work. The form for this work may or may not be nationality organization. In the case where it takes the form of nationality organization the work to orient the immigrants toward the class struggle in the U.S. becomes all the more important to ensure that the organization actually plays a progressive role. In our recent experience we find two contrasting examples on this question.
. The first is the example of the Caribbean Progressive Study Group. One of the key points to the historical development of the CPSG is that it did take up, encouraged by the work of the Party, an orientation toward the class struggle in the U.S. In fact the development and consolidation of the CPSG on a progressive basis hinged upon this. The orienting of the CPSG towards the class struggle in the U.S. had a tremendous impact on its orientation toward the anti-racist struggle, toward other issues in the West Indian community, and toward its approach to building up the solidarity movement.
. [Here the speech went on to discuss a negative example from the work of an organization in another immigrant community in the U.S. This organization held that the immigrant community should orient itself exclusively with respect to the struggle in the homeland and should build branches of the party in the homeland. Although it briefly claimed to be concerned with the revolutionary movement in the U.S. , to want to take part in building a party in the U.S. and even to accept the three-point orientation set forward by our Party for work in the immigrant communities, in fact it failed to orient itself to the class struggle in the U.S. This was one of the main factors resulting in its inability to build solid organization or to sustain serious revolutionary work. Failure to regard itself as part of the general revolutionary movement in the U.S. and to take up the tasks of party-building in the U.S. , far from increasing the support this organization was able to render to the struggle in the homeland, helped lead to the collapse of all its work.]
. So these are examples of the question of nationality organization, examples involving
Nationality Organization and the Black Workers
. I would like to turn to another case -- the question of the development of nationality organization among the black workers. This was a very strong phenomenon in the late 1960's.
. During the mid and late 1960's there was a tremendous outpouring of struggle by the black people, and, as well, there was an outpouring of strong national sentiment. One of the results of this was the formation of nationality organizations. Not only did such organizations flourish at that time, but it was widely regarded as a principle that blacks should organize themselves separately, based on ideas that tended in general to negate the existence of the working class, and in particular to negate the existence of class divisions among blacks.
. In the 1960's the formation of black nationality organization was directly tied to the upsurge in national sentiments. I mean it was not a case of black people arriving here within the past generation. There is not a significant language barrier. And in fact the black workers in many cases tend to be very much in the heart of the working class. Thus this is not quite the same question that we often face with the immigrant workers.
. Moreover, the launching of all-black organization was associated not only with the upsurge of black struggle and the sentiments which it unleashed, but also with attempts of the black bourgeoisie and aspiring petty bourgeoisie to organize the masses under their leadership, as a means of developing their political and economic strength. In fact, in the history of the struggle, prior to the 1960's, all-black organization was an unusual phenomenon, usually a direct product of Jim Crow. There was actually a strong line among blacks against all black organization.
. During the late 1960's and early 1970's there was tremendous mass sentiment for forming nationality organizations. Since that time, this tremendous sentiment no longer exists in the same way. But it does still exist as a norm. There are various types of black organization around. And it is now a basic point of black bourgeois politics that you should have black organization of all types. For example, the Family Leadership Plan of the Black Congressional Caucus hinges upon the idea of having black churches, black educational organizations in schools, black political organization, all-black organization in every sphere of life.
. We have discussed, in fact we have discussed repeatedly, the theoretical question of whether, in a time of upsurge of national sentiment, the Marxist-Leninists might launch all-black organization. If the situation was such that the national sentiments and the national distrust were so strong that your choice was to have unitary organization in name which included no blacks, or to actually, by compromising on this point, be able to mobilize and organize a section of the black workers, and through careful work and experience, win them over to proletarian internationalist stands, to the ideas of united organization and a united struggle -- the answer is maybe. A definite maybe. But in general our slant is against forming separate black organization and toward building unitary organization.
. Unfortunately, the Party didn't exist in the 1960's, and it is difficult to engage in historical hindsight on what we would have done back then. But it would seem, since the orientation of the Marxist-Leninists is toward unitary organization, we would strive with might and main to develop unitary organization. If this were not possible, if for instance during the wildcat movements in the late '60's it was not possible to develop unitary organization among the workers, the Party would then be faced with a tactical choice. We would have to decide if we should take a loss in influence at that time and to work for further development of the movement which would win a section of the workers over to unitary organization, or if we should take the step of developing some type of nationality organization with the aim of facilitating bringing the more conscious section of the workers to conclusions in favor of unitary organization.
. This hypothetical example shows quite clearly that what we are talking about is something along the lines of a compromise. And the complexity of the question largely centers around this. Whether such a compromise is a good compromise or a bad one hinges both on the conditions under which it is made and on the content of the program and work of such an organization.
. If the formation of a black organization is a means by which you're able to draw workers, who might otherwise be abandoned, into struggle and toward the idea of united struggle and unitary organization, then it may be a positive step and a compromise worth taking. If it is a compromise which sets back the motion of the workers towards unitary struggle and organization, which in some way limits or hinders that motion, then it is a bad compromise.
. With regard to the content, one essential issue is to orient the organization toward the general class struggle.
. Another basic issue is that nationality organization cannot be substituted for the unitary organization of the class. It must exist side by side with unitary organization.
. Still another basic issue is that it is obligatory for the Marxist-Leninists, under any conditions, to work for proletarian internationalism, and to find the ways and means of doing so. In fact to enter into such a compromise has to mean that you are creating a field in which you are going to carry out work for proletarian internationalism, and not that such work is allowed to go by the boards because you've formed nationality organization.
. These are some of the basic issues at stake.
When Nationality Organization Arises Independently of the Party
. In fact, most nationality organizations arise independently of the influence of the Party. And this will tend to continue to be the case. Therefore our tactics in this situation become very important.
. Our tactics in this work are closely linked to how we evaluate such organizations. The point which must be stressed here is the point of content. The Marxist-Leninists, if they have the ability to do so, will work in a wide variety of different organizations. If our Party had 500,000 members, we might have work in the PTAs. But we also consider the difference between the PTAs and, for example, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers.
. In evaluating an organization we look, in the first place, at what social phenomenon it embodies. This was very clearly highlighted in the earlier speech at this Conference on the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. At a certain time in the 1960's you had the emergence of a black workers' movement which had important revolutionary features as well as certain backward features. The League was significant because it embodied a section of this black workers' movement, even though it interlaced the black workers with petty-bourgeois nationalists. This example shows something of the importance of judging the social phenomena that an organization represents.
. The question of what program an organization carries out is also important. If the Party's influence is predominant in the formation of organization, there will be a close correlation between the social phenomenon it represents and its program. If you look, on the other hand, at the example of the League, you find that the League's program embodied both various of the demands of the black workers (not always expressed in the best way or in the best direction) and various demands of the black bourgeoisie.
. You also have to look at the political trends which exist in an organization, and particularly those which dominate it. And you do have to look at the question of it being nationality organization.
. Let us consider what tactics we might have followed towards the League. Here we have an organization of black workers which are headed in a revolutionary direction. At the same time it is dominated by petty-bourgeois nationalists. Although the Party would not have agreed that the League should have excluded other nationalities and would have preferred that it was an organization of all militant workers, there is a good chance we would have decided to work in it. In such work we probably would not have begun by fighting on the national composition of the organization. Instead we would probably have stressed the question of politics, of leading the workers forward in the struggles they were waging and fighting for a revolutionary stand on the multitude of questions that confronted the League members daily. On this basis we would have developed the struggle against the reformism and petty-bourgeois nationalism manifested among the leadership.
. If comrades recall some of the particulars from the talk on the League, every day in the life of the League there were issues as to what direction the organization would take, what stand to take, and so forth. And it is precisely these fronts which would have to be put in the fore in work inside the League and where an effective fight could take place with the inconsistency and reformism of the leadership of the League. One of these fronts was the question of the mobilization of the white workers into the League. But such a question should generally have been dealt with in close connection with the other questions of political direction of the League, in close connection with accomplishing the revolutionary objectives of the rank-and-file of the League. This would have been the way to develop the struggle for Marxism-Leninism among the League membership. Either one walks into a League meeting and says "What's wrong with you damn petty-bourgeois nationalists", or one fights on the question of how the League was going to organize and lead the struggles it was in, such as "Why in hell is the League telling the white workers to ignore the picket line and go in to work when you are trying to win a wildcat strike." A very concrete question.
. It is generally the case in our work in mass organizations that we put the fight over the political
issues of the day in the center. And it is probably true that most often in a progressive
nationally-exclusive organization we would not necessarily put our disagreements with its
composition in the fore. But this should not be taken as an absolute. There are indeed occasions
where we may want to wage a sharp fight against an organization limiting its composition along
national lines. This may come up, for example, when an organization is being initiated. And in
those instances there could very well be situations where it may even be relatively easy to win
such a fight, such as when the idea for a nationally-exclusive composition may be embraced less
by determined choice than by a somewhat unthinking going along with the prevalent norms. Of
course, in all circumstances our tactics would be determined by analysis of the particular
. To conclude, I would like to return to the beginning.
. The first point is that Marxism-Leninism strongly stresses the unitary organization of the workers, and this is our basic orientation.
. Second, Marxism-Leninism also teaches us to take into account the national sentiments of the workers of the oppressed nationality; this does not mean to conciliate petty-bourgeois nationalism, but it is necessary to understand why such phenomena as national distrust arises, and to find concrete ways to overcome them.
. It is in this context that the possibility of our acceding to the formation of nationality organization arises. It arises in a sense as a compromise. It should not be a substitute for unitary organization of the class, but a means under very particular circumstances for drawing the workers of an oppressed nationality into struggle, for creating conditions for them to take up the general orientation toward the class struggle and proletarian internationalism, and for bringing them to conclusions for a united struggle and also for unitary organization.
. In most cases we will be dealing with nationality organizations which the Party has not launched and in which the Party does not have predominant influence. Nevertheless, it is necessary to work to implement the above orientation. One must find concrete ways of approaching activists, issues that are comprehensible to the activists, to show the need for an orientation towards the class struggle and for proletarian internationalism, and this generally involves putting the questions of overall politics to the fore.
. These are the basic points which we wanted to stress on this front. <>
Notes -- September 2008
(WAS) The Workers' Advocate, and Workers' Advocate Supplement, which carried additional
materials including many of the longer theoretical articles, were publications of the
Marxist-Leninist Party of the US. The MLP, which was founded on Jan. 1, 1980 and dissolved
in November 1993, stemmed from the anti-revisionist movement of activists who wanted to push
forward the mass struggles and root them in the working class, saw Marxism as an essential
guide for the revolutionary struggle, and rejected the sell-out reformism of the official pro-Soviet
communist parties. It was opposed to both Soviet revisionism and Trotskyism. Its roots went
back in the mass movements of the 1960s, such as the anti-racist, anti-war, student, women's, and
workers' movements, and the WA itself was published from 1969 to 1993. The cause of
anti-revisionist communism is upheld today by the Communist Voice Organization, and the
Communist Voice is a theoretical journal which is a successor to the Workers' Advocate. (Return
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Posted September 19, 2008.