Marxism or Idealism? Once Again on Party Building and our Tasks

The following is a response to the “It Won’t Stop Until We Stop It” May Day statement, published on People’s Voice news and signed by a number of organizations which emerged from the breakup of the Organizing Committee for a Maoist Communist Party (MCP-OC). The statement asserts the existence of certain objective conditions – namely, the “growing strength of the FTP movement [sic]” and “the development of the FTP organizations as instruments of class struggle” – in order to justify the re-constitution of a national formation to coordinate leadership and unity of action among the organizations bearing the FTP name.

This claim should be cause for serious concern – those of us who participated in the experiment of the MCP-OC know firsthand the dangers of premature attempts at national coordination, and in particular national coordination on the basis of flimsy unity around abstractly conceived political principles without meaningful struggle over ideological line.

Indeed, it was precisely our identification of this paper unity which preceded the dissolution of the MCP-OC: our failure to develop a serious position on the actual party-building question, coupled with organization around essentially practicalist “points of unity” and a strategic orientation informed by a politically immature line (characterized by the “So you want to start an FTP?” and “Developing Organs of Political Power “papers), led to the conference resolutions which dissolved the national organization.

We do not see in this document a clear answer to any of those concerns, and consequently find ourselves bewildered at the proposal that we should, essentially, resume the national organizing work right where we left off, despite our collective identification that such work was premature less than a year ago.

We are particularly aghast at the absence of any context or summation of the political sequence of the MCP-OC from 2017 to 2020, context without which it is entirely irresponsible to expect an informed decision to endorse this proposal from the many younger organizations who did not participate in that national work. This absence belies the same level of needless hastiness and political immaturity which marked the experience of the MCP-OC overall.

As was asserted in the resolutions passed in the 2020 conference of the MCP-OC:

“Only a period of protracted struggle over line and methods of work, rooted in the shared experience of practical attempts at party building on the local level, can bring about the real unity necessary for organizing a national vanguard formation […] Premature [national] centralization will…stunt the development of a real culture of democratic centralism by forging the organization on the basis of paper unity rather than a real unity arrived at through struggle.”

We furthermore point to the line advanced in one of our recent documents:

The disorganization we discovered over the course of that struggle was reflected in the formalistic centralization which defined the last year of our national work. While some of these errors can be traced to the ecletic or petit-bourgeois “Mao-ish” politics of many sectors of the former MCP-OC (ourselves included), others can only be attributed to a premature attempt to construct a national organization on the basis of a false unity around a style of work whose supposed strategic value was taken for granted.

Has there been real rectification of these errors? We do not believe so; indeed, much of the document in question attempts to advance positions essentially identical to those of the former MCP-OC orientation, not least of which being the affirmation of decidedly intermediate “points of unity” as the basis for a unification of Maoist forces in the u.s. Likewise, has there been protracted struggle over line or method rooted in summations of practical work among the masses? Certainly not.

To be clear: much of the content of this document is, more or less, politically inoffensive. For example, we largely agree that affirming the principality of the oppressed nations – imperialism dialectic, re-assessing many of the received strategies on labor organizing still dominant in the u.s. communist left, and shifting focus towards class struggles in sectors dominated by national oppression are key points of orientation for the communist left today.

Missing, however, is any articulation whatsoever of concrete strategic line beyond the same old emphasis on mutual aid (albeit with added vagaries about “more militant work,” apparently tacked on to avoid charges of economism) and the abrupt call to form a broad “United People’s Front” (apparently from a different intermediate pool than that composing the proposed national coordinating committee, although how one intermediate organization is expected to meaningfully lead another is left to the imagination).

We do not dispute the claim that mutual aid can be a productive avenue for identifying and developing mass contacts (provided it is employed as a tactic rather than determining overall organizational strategy). However, mutual aid programs are (i) far from the only method for identifying mass contacts, and (ii) a relatively time- and resource-intensive method at that (as the document acknowledges). More to the point, in the absence of a strategy around what shape that “broader, more militant” work should take, or how mutual aid style programs get us there, mutual aid ceases to be a secondary tactic used for identifying mass contacts and their struggles and becomes instead the primary strategy, regardless of the intent or goal of the organization.

It is not dogmatism to describe this orientation as economism – it is by definition economism. The error lies in misunderstanding the nature of economism, setting it in opposition to “militancy,” as though economism was a measure solely of whether a particular course of action is combative or not. This, by and large, misses the point; that is, the economism ascribed to mutual aid is not a consequence of its lack of combativity alone, but that it limits itself to meeting economic needs rather than pursuing political struggle to change the conditions which determine those needs. In fact, the most militant, violent (even armed!) strike action may similarly be circumscribed by the same kind of economism if it is solely organized to win a particular economic demand without a broader political objective.

Accordingly, the problem is not militancy or lack thereof, at least in the general sense, but whether or not the struggle for economic demands is synthesized with the politico-military conditions necessary to achieve them (that is, whether a particular course of activity is guided by a clear strategic line ultimately aimed at the conquest of state power). The work of both the MCP-OC and the FTP organizations, ourselves very much included, has been marked, historically, by its failure to successfully carry out such a synthesis (and, with the significant exception of Chicago’s Albany Park OC, to even meaningfully generate political organs with a mass character).

Far more than abstract points of unity, what must be decisive as the basis for political unity is exactly this problem of strategic line: how do we go from here to the party, from the party to the initiation of armed struggle, from armed struggle to the liberation of territory and seizure of power? How do we situate a particular sequence of work (from something as marginal as flyering in a neighborhood to the massive undertaking of carrying out a military campaign) within this strategic perspective? Only a process of ideological struggle over these questions, carried out with the goal of unity in mind, can lay the groundwork for a serious organization of revolutionaries capable of providing leadership to the struggle at the national level.

Furthermore, our answers to these questions can only meaningfully be evaluated by summing up sequences of mass work and discussing our discoveries: the ideas of the masses, new tactics, what works and what doesn’t, etc. To reflect on the real political stakes and efficacy of our activity means to engage in struggle over, in criticism and self-criticism of, the actual practices in which we are engaged.

The line of the vanguard can be nothing other than such a systematization of the lessons learned over the course of work among the masses (ie, the centralization of mass initiative). In turn, the basis for political unity among communists should follow from ideological struggle over the lines developed out of summations of interventions in concrete class struggles.

To instead attempt to forge unity out of abstract theoretical principles is, in practice, idealism: it asserts that shared ideas play the primary role in the determining the line of the communist organization. Rather than the “real movement to abolish the present state of things,” this approach reduces Marxism to a utopian idea, a list of concepts rather than a scientific framework. In turn, communist organizations become little more than propaganda clubs, and mass work becomes simply activism, possessed, at best, of a revolutionary veneer but devoid, in reality, of a revolutionary outlook.

This error was key to the failure of the MCP-OC as a political project, and we see its exact reproduction in the proposal to reform a national organization on an identical ideological basis.

We anticipate the objection that this organization will deliberately be an intermediate one, apparently unlike the MCP-OC, and that therefore the problem of party building is not on the table: what matters is the immediate ability to coordinate work.

While also revealing a dangerously mechanistic approach to the concept of the party (here reduced to a developmental stage determined subjectively by the party leadership itself), this position also implicitly attempts to negate the necessity of communist leadership. Setting aside the serious theoretical problems with the “intermediate organization” concept itself, we wish to point out that even its originators are clear that such organizations can only function under the leadership of an advanced detachment (ie, the party or pre-party formation):

An intermediate organization allows new communists to get involved in political work with a lower level of commitment than party membership would entail, but still under the political leadership of the party. [from The Mass Line and Communist Methods of Mass Work, emphasis ours]

Without such political leadership, it isn’t even clear what the actual goal of an intermediate organization is, since the original theorization argues that it is specifically the relationship with a leading body which provides the utility of such organizations.

This leaves us with two interpretations: either the proposed national coordinating committee is implicitly meant to serve as a pre-party formation (in which case our criticism stands: the expressly intermediate ideological level of both the constituent organizations and their “points of unity” do not compose an even marginally qualified basis for such an organizational leap) or the proposal instead (deliberately or not) leaves all pretenses of leadership behind and openly liquidates the necessity of the party. In both cases, the only outcome will be an amateurish, underdeveloped organization floundering without real guidance. In concrete terms, this means the continued accumulation of intermediate elements without direction, and the dilution of the already low ideological level of the milieu, that is, the reproduction of the exact dynamics which characterized the MCP-OC project.

The motion to dissolve the MCP-OC was not a decision made without regard for the importance of leadership and the eventual necessity for national organization. Our position, both then and now, is that the basis for such leadership could not be conjured out of thin air but needs to be forged through struggle and rooted in a mass movement from which we were objectively isolated, and from which the “FTP movement” remains basically isolated today. The objective of dissolving our national organization was to allow ourselves to step forward, “getting rid of the baggage” in order to “start up the machinery.” Instead, despite our best efforts, we assert without a shred of irony that the decision to move forward with a new national organization is taking two steps back.

Only by intervening in the struggle of the masses, summing up that work and struggling over the ideological lessons learned can we forge the basis for real political unity. In the current conjuncture, the principal task before the small-group communist left is to organize the masses, not to organize our own organization, which will always remain stunted and backwards without the momentum they provide.

We re-iterate the immediate objectives:

  1. the political organization of the masses through mobilization in specific class struggles with concrete stakes;
  2. the generalization of the confrontation between generated mass organs and the bourgeois class state into open partisan struggle wherever possible;
  3. the summation and systematization of the dispersed ideas and experiences which emerge over the course of class struggles into a unified revolutionary perspective through two-line struggle within the communist camp – that is, the creative application of the revolutionary-scientific theory of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to the concrete conditions of our context through the mass line method of leadership.

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