Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center

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Template:TOCnestleft Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center was a Maoist alliance that existed circa 1978 to 1980.


In February 1978, four of the groups which had constituted the Committee of Five – the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC), Socialist Union of Baltimore, Potomac Socialist Organization and the Detroit Marxist-Leninist Organization – met in Detroit with other smaller collectives and founded the Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center (OCIC). PWOC leader Clay Newlin was elected as its chair.

A number of groups declined to join the OCIC. These included the Guardian and the rectification movement. El Comite/MNIP did not affiliate, arguing that the objective conditions necessary for a viable new movement were lacking. The Bay Area Socialist Organizing Committee (BASOC), also declined to join, arguing that the OCIC’s points of unity were shallow and did not represent a coherent enough political program to guide a national organization and that the OCIC’s formulas made little provision for the theoretical work or strategic discussions that BASOC felt were necessary. Nonetheless, the OCIC encompassed the bulk of the anti-dogmatist, anti-revisionist forces.

By early 1979, the OCIC included over 20 organizations in twenty cities, with a combined membership of some 350 individuals. Most of the groups were small. Only 4 had over 20 members; half of the remaining groups had 11-20 members, while the rest had 1-10 members. All OCIC groups were less than ten years old; only a handful were over four years old and, of those, half had been democratic centralist formations for a much shorter period of time. Indeed, only half of the OCIC groups were “democratic-centralist or in the process of developing democratic-centralism.”

OCIC groups were also weak in working class and minority composition. While membership was equally divided between men and women, the Steering Committee report indicated that only 3% of all OC members were workers and only one organization was composed of people who “developed out of the class struggle.” The OCIC membership contained only 25 national minority members (7%) with ten groups having national minority members, but only one being “really multi-national.”

The major struggle in the OCIC in its first year was over Point 18 of its Points of Unity – the definition of US imperialism as the main enemy of the peoples of the world. This fight demarcated the OCIC from those anti-left opportunist forces who continued to argue that “Soviet social imperialism” was an equal or greater threat. By the OCIC’s second conference, in September 1979, this issue was largely settled and the OCIC turned its attention to organizational consolidation through the building of local and regional centers and the struggle against federationism.

However this effort was hampered by lack of unity within the OCIC around a party building strategy, OCIC groups being divided between proponents of the fusion line, those advocating “primacy of theory” and those which either had not studied the question or failed to adopt a position. As a result or this and similar ideological differences, the OCIC was unable to get its projected theoretical journal off the ground and failed to mount any nationally coordinated campaigns.

Notwithstanding these weaknesses, after the second OCIC conference, the Steering Committee abandoned its original cautious and consensus-building approach and turned to a high-intensity ideological campaign to consolidate the network. The campaign’s target was white chauvinism and identified the alleged racism within the membership as the OCIC’s key problem. Beginning in PWOC itself, the campaign consisted of lengthy criticism sessions dissecting individuals’ attitudes and psychology. The effort was all but completely divorced from any kind of grounding in practical work, demagogy ran rampant, and during its peak the campaign turned into the worst kind of sterile purification ritual.

The chief targets of the white chauvinism campaign were opponents of the OCIC’s consolidation around the Steering Committee and its line. When members protested the way the campaign was being conducted, the leadership responded that its critics were merely defenders of racism. Soon members started leaving in droves. During 1981 every OCIC activity except the campaign ground to a halt, and in October PWOC’s Organizer newspaper admitted that the OCIC was “near-collapse” with “functioning local areas reduced from 18 to 6 and 80% of the membership resigned.” PWOC itself was also in shambles. By the spring of 1982 both PWOC and the OCIC were defunct. [1]

"An Open Letter to the Party Building Movement"


This open letter is signed by past and current members of the Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center (OCIC), and others in the party building movement who have had close contact with the OCIC. As a result of important recent events in the OCIC, we want to make known our urgent concerns regarding the line and practice of the Steering Committee (SC) of the OCIC and its impact on the party building movement as a whole.

There has been a conspicuous nationwide exodus from the OC in recent months as a result of numerous expulsions and resignations. The list is quite long and includes: the expulsion of the Socialist Organizing Committee from Southern California in March; the expulsion of the North Star Socialist Organization of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in April; the resignation and expulsion over the past several months of many members of the Philadelphia Workers’ Organizing Committee; the expulsion and resignation of a number of individuals in the Detroit area; and most recently, the expulsion and/or resignation of approximately 40% of the Western Region of the OCIC, including the Tucson Marxist-Leninist Collective, the Mayday Collective (from Eugene, Oregon), and close to half of the members of the Bay Area Workers’ Organizing Committee. The significance of this upheaval in the OCIC demands that all members of the party building movement carefully analyze the cause for this serious turn of events.

When it was founded in 1978, the OCIC set out to unify the tendency and create a single leading ideological center which would promote broad, open, tendency-wide discussion and debate. Today, two and a half years later, it is clear that rather than contributing to the creation of such a center, the SC is sowing disunity and division. Important forces in the movement have decided to remain outside of the OCIC, including rectification, MINP-El Comite, and many independent forces. The SC has refused to respect the existence of forces outside the OC and, in fact, has become increasingly antagonistic towards them.

The SC has put forward the sectarian demand that all forces accept their leadership or be branded as opportunists. Instead of placing the interests of the entire tendency first and foremost, the SC has pursued the narrow interests of gaining and consolidating its own following. It has increasingly avoided the ideological, theoretical, and political struggle which is the necessary basis for building real and principled unity. All this has resulted in an increasing sectarianism towards the broader party building movement and is a setback for the unification process which is sorely needed.

In recent months, this sectarian deviation has been directed inwards on the membership of the OCIC itself. The SC has launched two campaigns, one against federationism and one against white chauvinism. These campaigns, initiated for the purpose of “consolidating the OC membership,” have instead led to expulsions, resignations, and demoralization of many cadre.

The struggle against federationism is important in our efforts towards constructing a Leninist party. We unite in principle with the need to transcend the present composition of our movement, which is mainly made up of local organizations. We must develop a higher form where individual Marxist-Leninists participate in the national ideological debate and theoretical struggle. The SC, however, has reduced the struggle against federationism to a set of legalistic, organizational rules which demand the subordination of all OC members to the SC line and agenda prior to open, democratic debate and struggle on the fundamental questions facing our movement.

One of the best examples of deviations in conducting the struggle against federationism is the expulsion of the Socialist Organizing Committee (SOC). SOC was expelled allegedly because of non-compliance with the SC rule that all OC members participate in OC local centers. However, a review of the developments surrounding their expulsion makes it very clear that the real issue was their differences with the “limited party building line” of the SC. These differences over important questions related to party building strategy, e.g. relationship of theoretical to practical work in party building, relationship between national work and local organizations, were never addressed. Rather, the SOC was summarily expelled.

The campaign against federationism structures the line of the SC into an organizational framework which insulates it from political struggle and criticism. It is a campaign which views loyalty to the SC as the highest virtue of OC membership. Furthermore, rather than stress the development of cadre’s capacity to actively participate in national ideological debate and theoretical struggle, the campaign has increased the membership’s dependence on the SC and institutionalized uneven development in the OC. Though the SC boasts about its leading role in promoting open, democratic ideological and theoretical struggle, the OC process makes a mockery of real democracy.

Instead of promoting communist unification at a national level, the campaign has brought disunity and political deterioration. Instead of posing the question of unifying the OC in the context of unifying the tendency as a whole, the SC’s campaign is objectively a drive for organizational hegemony which results in the strengthening of the SC’s sectarian line within the OC and an intensification of sectarianism by the SC towards non-OC forces.

More recently, the SC has launched a campaign against white chauvinism which debases the struggle against racism and abuses the process of criticism/self-criticism. The struggle against racism is central to our party building efforts. As Marxist-Leninists, we must demonstrate our commitment and capacity to unite the communist movement and the workers’ movement in aggressively taking up this struggle. We believe the key to advancing this goal at this time is the development of theory and a political line that can guide anti-racist practice.

It is also clear that an integral component of anti-racist practice is the struggle against racism and white chauvinism in the communist movement. This includes taking up the struggle over individual errors of white chauvinism. The racism that is so pervasive in capitalist society manifests itself in very real and damaging ways in the interactions among communists, holding back the development of equality and unity in our ranks. In this sense, the SC’s campaign against white chauvinism targets a very significant problem. However, the SC’s campaign against white chauvinism has served neither the struggle against racism and white chauvinism nor the struggle to build solid ideological unity among communists.

The campaign has developed into a destructive ritual, permeated with moralism and a crusade-like atmosphere. Individuals targetted by the campaign are called upon to confess to possessing grossly exaggerated, even hideous expressions of racist attitudes. For example, in a paper, “Self-Criticism On My White Chauvinism,” a member of the national SC states:

I have to give up every image of myself that I’m anti-racist, come to grips with the reality that I’m racist thru and thru; So no racist error would be beyond me, however gross; that it’s probable I hold on to the grossest racist myths; that I’m capable of doing everything from lying to using black people out of racism. And the only, only way I’m ever going to understand all these ugly racist ideas in me is to welcome every exposure of my racism so I can begin to combat it.

This type of self-criticism, expounded in great detail, is unfortunately characteristic of the campaign.

The campaign against white chauvinism has been taken up irresponsibly; there is no struggle for clearly defined, objective standards for identifying racist errors, and those making charges of racism have virtually no accountability. Instead of creating an atmosphere where higher levels of unity and understanding can be reached, the campaign has resorted to intimidation and demagogy. Instead of creating conditions which promote a genuine struggle against white chauvinism, it has created conditions conducive to a particularly paternalistic and patronizing form of white chauvinism which prevents genuine criticism and ideological struggle with minority comrades for fear of being criticized for racism.

Cadre are our most valuable resource. Yet, instead of “curing the sickness to save the patient,” instead of seeking to educate, the campaign seeks to “expose” and humiliate individuals. One tragic result of this campaign is that a number of cadre, including many with a significant amount of experience, are becoming demoralized and cynical about the capacity of communists to wage constructive ideological struggle. This is not surprising, for the SC and others “leading” the campaign have abused cadre and show no appreciation of how ideological struggle can be used to strengthen cadre. The campaign, pursued in the name of “sharp ideological struggle,” has no constructive approach enabling comrades to overcome racist practices and chauvinist attitudes.

More importantly, the SC’s campaign contributes nothing to the development of a scientific analysis of the nature of racism and white chauvinism in capitalist society and in the communist movement, or of the process through which our movement will overcome them. In fact, the campaign is being pursued in a manner which promotes anti-theoretical attitudes through countless demagogic charges of “petty bourgeois intellectualism” and “anti-working class bias.”

Furthermore, concepts alien to Marxism have been introduced, such as the existence of a “white chauvinist conspiracy.” Marxism rejects the notion of a “conspiracy” to explain the means through which ideology and social relationships develop and are propagated. This concept instead mystifies the working of racism and white chauvinism by evoking the imagery of concealed forces and ulterior motives. It places the source of racism and white chauvinism within individuals by indicting them for their role in a “conspiracy” rather than elucidating the class relations which breed racism.

Within the OC, the “conspiracy” theory is being used to stifle the struggle over the content of political line differences on the nature of racial and national oppression and the means to combat them. It is also being used to objectively liquidate the struggle against sexism. While the SC correctly argues for the centrality of the struggle against racism, it has developed a mechanical ranking system among the struggles against racism, anti-working class bias, and sexism. Evidence of this mechanical approach can be found in the SC’s June 1980 bulletin in which it boldly proclaims that, ”. . . anti-working class bias is secondary to racism . . . and plays a more important role than sexism in impeding the advancement of the party building movement.” Unfortunately, this has led the SC to adopt an antagonistic approach to the struggle against sexism. Any attempt by cadre to raise the importance of the struggle against sexism is met with charges of “petty-bourgeois feminism, racism, and anti-working class bias” for allegedly “equating” the struggles against racism and sexism. In many instances, women who have fought to ensure the struggle against sexism is not abandoned in the OC have borne the brunt of some of the most hideous aspects of the campaign against white chauvinism. Thus, the SC’s developing backward line and practice on the struggle against sexism is yet another indication of its continuing degeneration.

Given the centrality of the struggle against racism and white chauvinism for our entire movement, the profound mishandling of the campaign is of movement-wide significance and concern. The SC’s line and practice is a setback for the party building movement. It is repeating the worst features of the legacy of the anti-revisionist movement’s approach towards ideological and political struggle. It is employing opportunist methods to whip the cadre into line and eliminate all opposing views rather than face political struggle on the fundamental questions before our movement head-on. And it trots out the inglorious and well-worn “blame the cadre” line to explain why the OCIC is faltering, and apparently views purifying the ranks by driving out the “bad” cadre as the solution to its problems.

It is our responsibility as communists active in the struggle to forge a genuine vanguard party of the working class to raise these criticisms and objections to the present line and practice of the SC. We are concerned that the OCIC, which once had the potential to positively contribute to the party building movement, is degenerating into a sectarian organization that will actually hinder the ability of the communist movement to unite. We call on the membership of the OCIC to put the interests of the movement above all and reject the SC’s sectarian line towards forces outside the OC process. We call on the membership of the OCIC to reject the destructive campaigns against federationism and against white chauvinism and replace them with principled struggle on the questions of promoting communist unification and combatting racism. As Marxist-Leninists, we call on the membership of the OCIC and all others to reject the present line and practice of the SC.

October 1, 1980.