Revolutionary Initiative is publishing this 10 Year Assessment because we know that we are not the only ones to have made the errors identified within this report. We encourage comrades building revolutionary communist organizations to circulate this document, and to write us and share your own experiences of party-building. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep in mind that this is not an encrypted channel of communication, but this does not prevent us from sharing general experiences and perspectives.
This assessment will appear in the forthcoming Issue #8 of Uprising, which will also contain two yet-to-be published pieces that expand upon aspects of our assessment. One piece elaborates upon the Two Line Struggle in the history of RI’s development; the second is a document on the correct conception and practice of communist leadership, which is one of the points of contention in the two-line struggle in R.I. over the most recent period of our development. Stay tuned!
“If we do not carry out public summations, if we engage in self-criticism only regarding issues of personal behaviour, and not regarding the material stakes of our politics and tactics, then we cannot advance, even one step, towards building a Maoist communist party…We must popularize our summations: if we exclusively sum up our experience internally, then we have offered nothing to the revolutionary camp – indeed, our work will be ‘summed up’ by the class state. As Mao puts it, we must ‘sum up concrete experience and spread it rapidly among the masses so that what is correct will be promoted and what is wrong will not be repeated.’”
–Maoist Communist Group, Three Documents of the MCG (our emphases).
Organizational assessments move with ease when we succeed. Successes are rarely interrogated, and summing up victories makes for easy accounting. By contrast, when we fail, falter, or fall far short of what’s demanded of us, the task of assessment is so laden with our past mistakes that it can seem impossible to push forward. However, if we fail to sum-up and evaluate in the face of shortcomings, we allow demoralization to set in, and soon self-liquidation follows. Furthermore, we fail to register our lessons in the larger revolutionary communist movement, potentially allowing the same mistakes to be made again elsewhere.
As revolutionary communists, if we must as Amilcar Cabral advised, “Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories,” then we must be even more stringent in our application of this principle when it comes to how we account for our efforts within the revolutionary camp.
In the mid-2000s, RI emerged as a break from a lot that was politically stale, dogmatic, reformist, and opportunist in the Greater Toronto Area. We effected a rupture, a fresh initiative. But we did this without a spectacle: No self-aggrandizing declarations were made. We were quietly trying something … if not new, something that hadn’t been done in our context for some time.
The essence of this rupture from the existing “Left” is that we chose to immerse ourselves in a massive proletarian community where the class enemies of the people were tangible and known. We were neither seeking to capture the dues base of a union local or student union, nor were we looking to make a splash in the bourgeois media to effect a short-term reform. We were seeking long-term entrenchment in the proletariat for the re-initiation of a revolutionary communist movement.
But then, after just a couple baby steps up the hill, we encountered obstacles and found ourselves unsure how to proceed. As we explain in more detail further below, we slowly pulled away from building a base in the proletariat, and unconsciously drifted back into a mode of activism that we had previously tried to break from, albeit with a new veneer of anti-capitalism, anti-imperialism, socialism, revolution, Maoism. This cost us the better part of the first decade of our organization, and we’ve had to swallow some bitter pills to come to terms with how and why this happened. We took short-cuts to build our organization, and in the end, we took our party-building into a cul-de-sac that we had to spend a great deal of time backing out of.
After ten years, the last two of which have entailed deep processes of assessment, rectification, and internal struggle, our party-building continues and we’ve returned to building a base in the proletariat. We also have a much clearer view of the pitfalls that lay within our immediate horizon. In a way, we’re back where we started, but on a higher level.
After some time in a renewed practice of proletarian struggle, the major lessons of our first decade of party-building have come into sharp focus, and it is time to share these with comrades who, like ourselves, are struggling to build a movement of revolutionary communists in the decadent and putrefying old imperialist centres.
It is in a spirit of humility and in the interest of advancing the party-building movement of revolutionary communists in Canada, across the imperialist countries, and across the world that we offer up these lessons in our ten years of party-building.
A General Overview of the Bourgeois Deviation and the Principal Lesson of Our First Ten Years of Party-Building
Our decade of party-building can be broken down into three distinct phases: (1) our initial consolidation and first base-building attempt from about 2006-2008; (2) the drift of our mass work away from the proletarian masses from 2008-2013, over the period of which we experienced significant quantitative growth but overall qualitative stagnation; and (3) finally, between 2014-2016, a sequence of crisis, consolidation, and rectification, ultimately culminating in two-line struggle by the end of this period.
The principal lesson we have taken away from this first decade of our party-building is that the revolutionary communist party cannot be developed outside a proletarian base. The proletarian vanguard must be constituted through proletarian class struggle. This statement seems tautological, but contemporary communist praxis, including our own erroneous practice between 2008-2013, requires an assertion of this point. Many have attempted or believe we can build up a “vanguard” organization on campuses, through international solidarity work, or by participation in social justice coalitions. Maybe a half dozen or so comrades can be grouped together in this way. But the proletarian class struggle is the real test for a revolutionary communist and a revolutionary communist organization. Why?
There exists a disjuncture between those segments of society most easily attracted to communism in the first instance, and that stratum of society that will most militantly take up communism if it can prove itself to be a real philosophy of praxis.1 In the last five years or so, North America has witnessed a burgeoning Maoist groupings, but few if any have really succeeded in integrating themselves into the proletariat, in advancing the philosophy of praxis or scientific socialism for our era. In a way, we are in an historical moment akin to the mid 19th century when socialism was an intellectual trend that had not yet embedded itself with the working-class movement. In our ten years of party-building, we have learned the most and our fighting spirit has been the highest when we were cultivating revolutionary theory through practice within the proletariat.
But for all those years and for all those documents that we published defending the significance of mass work in relation to party-building, the truth is that our practice of mass work was wrong for the majority of our organization’s history. We were not building proletarian power, we were not advancing proletarian revolutionaries, and we were not establishing a political centre for the proletariat. This was not for lack of effort. The problem is that our mass work for the majority of our decade of party-building was not strategically oriented: it was situated in segments of the people who were overwhelmingly not proletarian2, and our areas of work did not constitute a coherent base that could be organized around a common class enemy. Consequently, our mass work wasn’t training our comrades to become proletarian revolutionary cadre, and it did not serve as a forge for revolutionary theory. But this wasn’t how our organization got started…
Our founding years of 2006-07 represented a real rupture from the stagnant morass of the opportunist and petty-bourgeois “Left” in the Greater Toronto Area.
As one can read in our foundational Basis of Unity document,3 however brief and underdeveloped that internal document was, we were making some significant points of ideologico-political rupture from the existing “Left”:
- We declared the necessity for armed struggle as an element of revolutionary struggle in Canada,
- We identified Canada as an imperialist country, and identified the aristocracy of labour as a parasitical and politically conservative force,
- We declared the unqualified right of self-determination of Indigenous peoples,
- We declared the necessity for proletarian revolutionaries to immerse themselves amongst the proletarian masses guided by mass line practice and in dedication to building a revolutionary communist party.
But these declarations (internal and strictly for our own internal coherence at the time) meant nothing without their actualization into a practical political sequence. We knew that we needed a Party, but we also believed that we couldn’t just declare one. We also believed that any further study and ideological development without developing our practice would be erroneous. We needed to separate the wheat from the chaff, and this is what mass work did for us.
As we found ourselves unifying around Maoism, we seriously considered joining the precursor to the PCR-RCP, the Organizing Committees of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Canada (RCP-OCs). We conducted an intensive study of its draft Programme, and attended their 1st Canadian Revolutionary Congress. We attended with the intention and expectation of a substantive discussion on the draft program. Instead, we sat through a long program of presentations, speeches, and scripted statements in support and solidarity for the RCP-OCs. Unable to find immediate unity with the Programme, especially around questions of how the Party relates to the masses and mass organizations as well as what exactly was the RCP-OCs strategy of a Protracted People’s War, we decided to remain independent and maintain fraternal relations with these comrades.
So with our basis of unity providing some provisional cohesion, we threw ourselves into a proletarian base rich with class conflict. We entered into a vast proletarian neighbourhood where youth were shooting each other dead over petty rivalries and for market share at the lowest strata of the drug trade; where community members were getting caught in the crossfire; where whole families were being evicted for their kids’ participation in criminalized industries; where mothers were having their kids taken away from by the modern-day baby snatchers of Child Apprehension Services; where people’s ceilings were literally falling in on their beds in the middle of the night; where people were trying to re-establish their lives after fleeing from imperialist-backed civil wars, only to be told that their new community was going to be destroyed through “revitalization”. There were no shortage of contradictions or class enemies in the base we chose.
For a year, we made serious inroads into building contacts among and developing rapport with proletarians in this hood. We investigated and agitated around the main concerns of the people. But after a year or so of work, at the first signs of impasse, difficulties, and false-starts in trying to bring people into organization as leaders and active participants in the struggle, a rift opened up within our ranks concerning the prospects for class struggle in the neighbourhood.
This didn’t happen all at once and it wasn’t completely conscious, but it was an expression of some of those among us looking to take paths of lesser resistance in the face of challenges in our mass organizing. Some began to blame the masses in subtle ways. Some suggested maybe we chose the wrong hood, or the wrong issues.
As any new communist project that had yet to be tempered by the tests of class struggle, we were bound to hit walls that we wouldn’t immediately know how to overcome. No one we knew anywhere was attempting what we were doing, at least not in our region, and we knew of no contemporary points of reference to study for lessons and inspiration. We were rookies in class struggle with few to no mentors of our own. Our points of inspiration were distant: the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, or revolutionary struggles distant times and places. Under these circumstances, rather than dig deep into assessing our own work, our people began to rebound. The more petty-bourgeois and worker-elite elements were the quickest to express their lack of faith in the masses. The beginning of our deviation within our base expressed itself as an increasingly social service orientation towards the masses under the guise of a “Serve the People” rhetoric. The arguments put forward by comrades advocating and taking up this work was that this is how we would gain more contacts and trust with the masses. So we conducted legal workshops on people’s rights and cultural activities for youth. But this work did nothing to gain “a deeper trust” with the masses: not a single advanced element among the people was brought forth by these initiatives, and this work was undertaken with no proof that our door-to-door social investigation and propaganda were failing in earning the political trust of the masses.
When it comes to errors made in the course of struggle, a line needs to be drawn between those errors arising from inexperience and those made under the force of liberalism. We will refer back to this distinction throughout our assessment. But the errors made in our first base-building project were definitely a mix of the two.
A defeatism began creeping into our ranks as the social service oriented approach proved its inability to push us beyond the limits of where our first attempts at organizing had brought us. This should have been the basis for our first two-line struggle in the organization and through the ranks of activists around us. But we didn’t know any better. Instead, our leadership allowed for a reassignment of our members and other activists in the orbit of RI into new and seemingly promising areas of work.
But tragically, this dispersal came at the cost of untethering our young project away from a major faultline4 in our region and into areas of work which, for the most part, lacked both a definite and stable proletarian base and clear and tangible class enemies. RI members and other activists were dispersed into a series of new projects lacking both an analysis of class and conjuncture of the new terrains we were entering into.
As we began to pull away from base-building in the proletariat, the organizations we built began to look more and more like the creatures of the activist “Left” that we had previously tried to break from. Rallies, seminars, and fora with more and more of the activist “usual suspects” and no clear political Subject. Major mobilizations with no clear enemy — just abstract condemnations of capitalism and imperialism, after which we were left feeling spent, with few or no new recruits and no qualitative advance in our level of organization, number of people, or quality of cadre.
The more the center of gravity of our work shifted into spaces overlapping with the activist “Left”, the more we had to deal with internecine conflicts with anti-communist social justice warriors where there was little more at stake than the egos of the activists involved. We abandoned the principle of keeping proletarian politics in command the moment we removed our organizing from contexts with palpable class antagonisms. RI became more bureaucratic and less democratic centralist as our mass-line practice waned. We were becoming more of a valourized study group with a dues paying membership where people were required to have their activism centrally directed (albeit with no clear strategic plan and no debate on strategy, and thus little democracy). Most of us were convinced that what we were doing was right because our quantitative growth masked our qualitative stagnation, and because in many ways we looked at a lot better than the rest of “the Left” (which isn’t saying much).
In essence, this marked the beginning of a bourgeois trend in the organization that would take hold for the next five years. The proletarian revolutionary impulse that founded the organization gave way to a bourgeois trend that chose multiple paths of lesser resistance. What made this trend bourgeois is that we retreated more and more into activism with an entirely distinct and non-proletarian social base. Areas of work were chosen not on the basis of a clear strategic plan with a sharp or deepening class analysis, but on the personal whims of leading members. This would eventually create more opportunities for opportunists inside our ranks and around us. Any political work done exclusively or mostly within the segments of the people that are not the leading or main forces of the proletarian revolution will amount to nothing more than jockeying for influence, power, prestige, and position within bourgeois society.
Why and how was this deviation able to occur? We must remember that a bourgeois deviation within a communist organization almost never expresses itself through an openly bourgeois program. It arises spontaneously by the omnipresence of bourgeois ideology around us that is going unchallenged when the proletarian revolutionary line is weak in an organization. We identify this as a bourgeois deviation not because the organization was wholly bourgeois, not because the leadership was counter-revolutionary. No. But any political line that fails to push forward the proletarian revolution – which in our phase, is the establishment of a viable revolutionary communist organization – and instead pushes us clearly in the opposite direction, is a bourgeois line.
So how did the bourgeois deviationist trend take hold? Instead of analyzing closely the hiccups and failures we faced in our first attempts at organizing the proletarian masses between 2007-2008, we dispersed our members into a series of new fronts that seemed to offer more “low hanging fruit” and a quicker pace of growth. Some of these new areas, such as struggles against police brutality, held out great possibility; but most other areas of work simply opened the way for a drift into movementism and embassy politics.5
Ultimately, abandoning our base-building would carry the consequence of not only holding back our organization’s qualitative development, but degenerating it for the better part of a decade. We shrank from the task of figuring out how to do proletarian revolutionary organizing effectively. New projects were taken up without serious reflection upon existing limitations and past failures. Our still underdeveloped methods of work not only remained tainted by our past experiences in the petty-bourgeois activist “Left,” they were renewed afresh in the milieu of petty-bourgeois activism that we returned to. Our only distinction, the only edge we had, was the outward façade of a proletarian and anti-imperialist politics, and this edge made us a trend for a while.
We can perhaps take some credit for resuscitating the political primacy of the working-class (however vaguely defined and perhaps only rhetorically) as well as asserting an anti-imperialist politics in our region. We carried out very widespread and very active propaganda in our founding region, propaganda that swept far beyond the reach of campus Trotskyists and revisionist groups. And our proletarian and anti-imperialist propaganda was a source of wide appeal. We were able to pursue the expansion of the party across the country, as comrades from other regions sought unity with our anti-imperialism and mass-oriented work. But in deeds, there were no proletarian politics. We had cracks in our foundations stemming back to our first base project and rather than address them, we proceeded to build a massive edifice upon it that was bound to collapse, as it indeed did, rendering years of effort into little more than bitter lessons that only some would have the guts to swallow.
What exactly was erroneous about our methods of work, and what were the consequences of untethering ourselves from a project of proletarian class struggle, needs to be named and studied if we are to more effectively break the hegemony of petty-bourgeois activist methods and guard against these errors in the future. We know better now what these problems are, and the purpose of this summation is to share these lessons, for, to repeat the opening quote of this assessment from the Maoist Communist Group, “If we exclusively sum up our experience internally, then we have offered nothing to the revolutionary camp… As Mao puts it, we must ‘sum up concrete experience and spread it rapidly among the masses so that what is correct will be promoted and what is wrong will not be repeated.”
Thus far, we have given a roughly chronological account of the bourgeois deviation in the organization. But the major consequences of our untethering from the proletariat cannot be accounted for in simple sequence form. The most coherent way to takes stock of the consequences of our untethering is to step back and view them as developing over the long arc of the bourgeois deviation. We break down these consequences into ideological, political, and organizational categories.
Ideological consequences of the untethering
In the realm of our ideological development, our studies were divorced from the practice of proletarian class struggle. First of all, the practical experiences we shared in our first base area was not properly evaluated and theorized. The failure to assess our common experience in struggle was the first way that our theory was divorced from our practice. Then, the dispersal of our members into a series of new projects after 2008 deprived the organization of a common political terrain from which to distill a proletarian revolutionary outlook and ideology. We missed our first opportunity when we shared a common terrain to enrich our class analysis, teach us valuable lessons about a concrete class enemy, and train us in building proletarian organization. Then, after 2008 our ideological development became increasingly disarticulated from practice as our work became altogether fragmented. A kind of book worship came to replace a nascent praxis that was developing in 2007, and the only reason we could get away with it was because the mostly-student demographic that made up our first wave of members could sift through the assigned readings without much of a fuss.
But this practice of book worship would have never been applicable in our base-building project, where at least half of the proletariat did not have English as a first language. Had we remained immersed in the proletariat, we would have been compelled to popularize revolutionary theory. Instead, our methods remained more didactic than pedagogical, trapped too much within the bourgeois modes of instruction that we receive in school and from petty-bourgeois activism.
As for our propaganda, while it was generally accessible and spoke to many of the concrete contradictions people faced in their lives, we could have tapped into people’s experiences in a much deeper way through a more dialogical approach to our agit-prop. We were over-reliant on printed propaganda and had no theory of, and would later realize that we desperately needed to theorize, the practice of face-to-face agitational dialogue.
To the extent that we could get by with book study divorced from practical class struggle, it should be noted that this practice ultimately did not even advance most of the youth and students who were attracted and recruited to our mass organizations and RI. Many of these comrades could have been moulded into effective leaders of mass struggle and communist cadre. But book study alone could never achieve this. We learned about capitalist imperialism in the abstract, but ignored the visceral reasons that pushed any given comrade into struggle to begin with. We didn’t dig into people’s personal experiences with capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy; we didn’t cultivate the personal stakes of our comrades in class struggle… because there wasn’t class struggle. We not only failed to push ourselves to sit down and dialogue with proletarians on a regular basis and draw out how the struggles in their lives are a reflection of their class’s position in bourgeois society, we also failed to do this with ourselves. In other words, there was no pedagogical praxis in our organization.6 We were not cultivating a philosophy of praxis.
Study disarticulated from practice had repercussions on the whole ideological development of the organization. We had always maintained, and continue to maintain, that we need a program and a sound strategy for revolution and that this must be based upon a deeper class analysis of Canadian society. We have always believed that it is only through intensive and extensive SICA conducted in the course of class struggle and mass organizing that we could formulate a correct strategy for revolution in Canada. One of our immediate concerns with the RCP’s 2006 Programme was what we believed to be a weak class analysis of Canadian society, and one which established no clear basis for the strategy of protracted people’s war. Even while we saw the RCP’s 2006 Programme as the best there was in Canada’s small revolutionary left, we didn’t believe it to suffice. To be sure, we have yet to produce anything better, but we haven’t claimed to. We’ve always believed that it’s worse to bluff at having answers that we really don’t have. After ten years, certainly the lack of a program is a sign of failure. But our failure was not that we did not attempt an analysis of Canadian society.
In fact, substantial effort was directed towards program development. But this task became overly intellectual given its detachment from concrete class struggle. We invested significant time and resources into a class analysis of Canadian society. But the work undertaken was more bookish than it was based upon the social investigation and class analysis of the struggles of the proletariat in Canada. This is not to say that a program can or should be written strictly from within the domain of immediate experience of the leading elements of an incipient vanguard. We certainly must draw upon the experience of the international communist movement as a whole, and certainly we can draw upon journalism, academia, government reports to aid us. But there is no ready-made program for revolution out there in the annals of academia and NGO reports that is just waiting to be taken up. There is no shortcut to knowing the concrete conditions and circumstances in which a revolutionary movement could be latent without being involved in those concrete conditions and circumstances. By abandoning base-building in the proletariat, we abandoned the context out of which a revolutionary program would begin to take shape.
As much as our retreat from a proletarian base impacted our ideological development in all the ways elaborated, we also repeatedly made the mistake of not sufficiently studying and theorizing the practice we did have. We made annual summations of our work, but they were as mechanical as they were routine, and the absence of struggle against tangible enemies to ground and focus us stripped our political work of the urgency to sum-up. The stakes were low in the absence of class struggle, and so the act of summation became an act of literally making an account of things done over the previous year. Since throwing ourselves back into a proletarian base once again, we have discovered afresh the urgency and significance of the act of summation and assessment.
Political consequences of the untethering
In the realm of our political development, pulling away from base-building and proletarian class struggle shifted the class basis of our mass work. When we shifted our work and dispersed our members in 2008, we not only lacked a clear class analysis to guide us forward, we did not force ourselves to conduct a deep class analysis of the new sectors or areas of work we were about to venture into. So we did not anticipate that our new work would have long term consequences for the class composition of our recruits and the class outlook of our organization.
Most of the new initiatives undertaken after 2008 had no clear strategic purpose or class analysis to guide or justify those interventions. And with an underdeveloped class analysis at our disposal, we opened the door to right opportunism in the choice of new areas of political work: We indulged in the whims of comrades wanting to take on this work or that work, with little strategic focus or clarity, and more guided by their comfort zones or types of work maybe compatible with current or future career moves or employment situations. Or, new initiatives were justified on an identitarian basis, wanting to establish a stronger base in the “women’s sector” or this or that ethnic community, but again, with no class analysis or strategic clarity. So the social base of our mass work shifted more and more towards students, even as we avoided campuses; more and more towards the worker elite, even as we avoided organizing within unions proper; and more and more we attracted petty-bourgeois elements. We were always conscious of not letting a flood of petty-bourgeois members into our organizations. But we weren’t conscious of letting petty-bourgeois politics flood our organizations.
To be sure, this wasn’t the exclusive character of all mass work being conducted by RI members. Some initiatives against police brutality and national oppression had better instincts and established work well within the proletariat, but these initiatives also remained limited by the same weakness of lacking an overall strategic conception of the work in relation to party-building. Furthermore, RI having never overcome the limitations in our mass organizing tracing back to our first base area, these problems merely resurfaced in new areas of work.
In any case, these initiatives that found their way into the proletariat were in the minority, and were taken up more at the individual level by a few RI members in spite of the overall bourgeois deviation in the organization. These initiatives received little strategic direction or material support from the central leadership of the organization at the time. However, these more promising fronts, rather than being reinforced, were in fact giving some legitimacy to other areas of work which were, ultimately, destined for failure.
As our party-building shifted away from our early proletarian base, we became increasingly pre-occupied with competing for terrain with the pre-existing “Left” that existed in or around campuses, unions, and a few of the extant left-wing associations in diasporic communities. Our political work became increasingly devoid of class struggle (unless you consider our generalized rhetorical assaults on Canadian imperialism as class struggle), and instead became a struggle with and against other segments of the “Left”. All in all, the class composition of our organization shifted more and more in the direction of the petty-bourgeoisie and the worker elite, thereby making it harder and harder to reassert the primacy of proletarian politics in the organization.
Organizational consequences of the untethering
In the realm of our organizational development, we had a technocratic conception of leadership, we pursued quantitative development and ignored our qualitative development, and we expanded without consolidation. We viewed leaders as people with some combination of technical know-how, charisma, book smarts, and/or great initiative. In short, anyone well-adapted to managing an organizational post. Although these are important skills for any political organization, skills that our cadre should hone, the petty-bourgeoisie as a class has an edge over the proletariat as a class in these skills, which is a general reflection of the overall division in society between mental and manual labour. But such skills are not what transform people into conscious participants in the struggle. What the petty-bourgeoisie is not trained in or equipped with by virtue of its membership in its class is how to move proletarians ideologically, politically, and organizationally into the class struggle, and how to train and transform them into people who could in turn move others. Leaders are those who transform people’s consciousness into conscious action, and in turn, train those people to do this to other people. And in fact, the petty-bourgeoisie tends to have a major barrier to doing this effectively with the proletariat: the petty-bourgeoisie is thoroughly polluted with all sorts of anti-people ideas on a spectrum ranging from, at best, pity for the masses, and at its worst, outright contempt and fear of the masses.
Having useful technical skills for the struggle, being charismatic, being book smart and well-read do not necessarily translate into being able to really move someone into class consciousness and towards revolutionary resolve. Charisma without pedagogy is demagogy. Having book smarts without being able to clearly communicate with the masses is a stain of petty-bourgeois intellectualism. One’s degree of effort or input doesn’t necessarily show greater commitment than the next comrade: it can also reflect the extent to which petty-bourgeois class privilege affords more surplus time to devote to political work. Having the technical skills to run an organization without leading and elevating new people in organization to do the same is a sign of bureaucratism. In short, we had quite a technocratic view of leadership.
Real communist leadership, we now see, entails recruiting and developing people; managing inter-personal conflicts as they arise while keeping politics in command and avoiding the pettiness that interpersonal conflicts can entail; soliciting criticisms and unearthing the discontents that reside below the surface of a comrade who is faltering; pushing comrades on the internal barriers holding them back. Being able to do all this while maintaining the discipline to be taken seriously and followed as a leader, possessing the humility to be able to learn from those you lead, and having the political resolve to guide all this in the direction of advancing proletarian struggle – this is what communist leadership entails.7
Our erroneous conception of leadership was just one aspect of our qualitative development that was not improved as we pursued growth without consolidation. As we expanded across multiple areas of work and regions across Canada with neither one successful project nor any common political project to learn through together only compounded the challenge of consolidating. Expansion without consolidation was a recipe for implosion, as we would learn in 2013. We should have channeled the resources necessary to advance our qualitative development much earlier. We have come to learn the truth in the phrase “fewer but better” both in terms of comrades and organizations.
The Collapse of the Bourgeois Trend and our Consolidation, Rectification, and Two-Line Struggle (2014-2016)
By early 2014, it was becoming widely acknowledged that there were serious problems with our methods of work as our growth flipped into attrition across our various organizations and within RI itself. Even if the reasons people were giving for leaving political work were “personal” or incorrectly formulated political reasons, there was a clear trend of alienation from the work. The bourgeois trend had failed. What was built was not sustained. And the majority of leading members of RI responsible for this trend turned their backs on party-building altogether without making a proper summation of their work or a self-critical evaluation of themselves. Among those who remained, some of us were propagators of, or went along with, the wrong line and wrong methods. Some others among us had better instincts all along, but failed to articulate these feelings into a proper intervention that could have brought forth a proletarian revolutionary line clearly and forcefully enough to change the organization’s trajectory.
Given the very real crisis that we faced as an organization, those who remained or now found themselves in leading positions sought to slow things down and enter a phase of consolidation and assessment. But the moment of crisis also provided the opportunity for new erroneous trends to surface that we did not immediately recognize or challenge decisively: this was the challenge of an identity politics trend.
The Momentary Reign of Identity Politics
In 2014, as we refocused, two entirely new errors presented themselves in RI. These errors reflected a shift in ideological balance in the organization as the departure of old members schooled in the organization’s orthodoxy departed while newer members who were still quite tainted by the identity politics and postmodernism that dominate academia and activism were not sufficiently challenged. It is worth noting how quickly these ideas became a force within the organization in the period of crisis and uncertainty within the organization.
In the wake of the implosion of our central leadership body, the first mistake we made was to hastily reconstitute our leading bodies with members who were not leaders in the organization, and had no real experience in leading people. In the context of discussions on women’s liberation and revolutionary feminism that happened to be unfolding in our organization at the time,8 the necessity to reconstitute some sort of leading body was expressed in the form of prematurely elevating a number of women into leadership positions they had no training and insufficient experience to take on. The elevation of very new members of RI into the Central Committee was unprecedented, and this decision would ultimately undermine the leadership of these women in the long run. At the time, there was a strong and legitimate feeling that we had to address the long-standing dearth of women leaders in the organization, but we did this in haste and with a germ of identity politics. There was this view going around – not clearly articulated, but a diffuse belief – that working-class women, by virtue of their experiences of patriarchal forms of oppression and exploitation, had deeper stakes in the revolution, and somehow this translated into being more prepared and committed to lead in a communist organization. This was an erroneous extrapolation of the analyses on the super-exploitation of women that were circulating within our organization at the time. We were horribly wrong, as practice would bear out. Nobody is born a communist, a revolutionary, or a leader. These short-cuts proved to be a damaging and regressive: it reflected an incorrect conception of leadership. Ultimately, we set a number of sister comrades up for failure by prematurely “advancing” them into positions they were not prepared for.
A second error arose in part (but certainly not wholly) as a consequence of the premature elevation of these comrades in the organization. This error was the mishandling of contradictions and criticisms amongst comrades that reflected the ascendance of identity politics in the organization that happened as a consequence of our mistakes in how we reconstituted our Central Committee. This is what happened: A humiliating, exhausting, and uncomradely “accountability process” was imposed on two comrades to resolve an outstanding tension between them that should have been resolved with one solid and decisive criticism and self-criticism (CSC) session. Some further context is necessary so there is no confusion or uncertainty about just how petty the content of this accountability process was in relation to the amount of energy and resources diverted to it.
Weaknesses in our CSC Practice
Prior to 2014, the processes of CSC in the organization were weak and ineffective – this despite ‘Criticism and Self-Criticism’ being a routine agenda item in our meeting schedule. The problem is that we didn’t criticize our comrades deeply: we only addressed superficially the actions or behaviours that were worthy of criticism. We treated symptoms but not the disease. And the problem is that we didn’t know how to really push comrades to overcome things that held back their ideological, political, and organization development as revolutionary communists. Or perhaps we simply didn’t have the will to. In the absence of involvement in class struggle there was little impulse to actually compel people to transform. Not compel as in force comrades to adapt themselves more to the struggle. In our experience, when the stakes are high, many comrades threw themselves willingly and forcefully into the work, and those unable to rise to the occasion show their weaknesses or reveal what’s holding them back. Prior to 2015, we had no successful practice of actually remoulding comrades to revolutionary struggle, even though this was an internal organizational principle of RI. But this context of weak and ineffective CSC in the organization was merely the objective condition, but not the subjective factor for why contradictions were mishandled in 2014.
We had these two comrades in the organization, a male comrade and female comrade, who had mutual political work tracing back to before they joined RI or even entered its orbit. In this period, the brother comrade had on a few occasions made misogynous comments to the female comrade in their mutual work together before either of them had become Marxists, let alone communists.
Sometime after they had come into RI’s orbit, in and around 2011, outstanding tensions between the two comrades became increasingly apparent and they were subjected to a series of mediated CSC sessions that brought their prior history to light. Nothing was revealed in the course of CSC that required any discipline for either comrade. The brother comrade self-criticized for long-past misogynous behaviours, and he took his own initiative to study and engage in workshops on feminism and patriarchy. The brother comrade, who happened to be from an oppressed nation, also raised gripes that the sister comrade had made what could be interpreted as national chauvinist comments, arguably made in jest (the female comrade was also non-white and from another national minority grouping), to him once or twice; and on another occasion hit him in a “playful” way that made him feel humiliated in front of other comrades. Basically, these comrades had long-standing tensions that were not being resolved, and interactions between them that pretty much any other combination of two comrades in the organization would have taken in jest were deeply incensing one another. The first set of mediated CSC sessions in 2011 ended with their prior interactions completely laid out but with each simply refusing to work with the other. The comrades assigned to their CSC sessions failed in getting these two comrades to bury the hatchet and move on. But given the low stakes of things in the organization at the time, given our absence of a connection to class struggles, we just settled with assigning the two comrades to different areas of work. Most comrades in the organization didn’t even recognize that these comrades didn’t like each other.
Fast forward three years, to the period of our 2014 crisis at a time while we just so happened to be discussing patriarchy and women’s liberation in RI. When a sign of this unresolved tension between the two comrades came to light in a general plenary of the organization, the conflict was immediately blown up into a massive crisis in a way that was framed as the long-standing suppression of women’s leadership in the organization and a damning example of “patriarchy in the organization.” Comrades who knew nothing about the prior interactions of these two comrades, who hardly knew these comrades, who were from regions of RI not shared by these two comrades, couldn’t help but see a woman comrade who was “being held back” by having to work around a “patriarchal” comrade in the organization. In the middle of this general plenary, an unelected body calling itself the Emergency Women’s Caucus (EWC) convened itself and decided to strip the brother comrade of speaking rights for the remainder of the plenary, so that the woman comrade would feel more comfortable in her participation. Additionally, the EWC mandated an “accountability process” to treat the matter as soon as possible. It is worth noting at this point in time that allowing the EWC to emerge was a mistake far more born out of liberalism than political immaturity in the organization: only one Central Committee member articulated opposition, while the rest, or at least those who knew better, failed to intervene to put this process to an end. There was a liberal instinct at play of not wanting to be “called out” by women leaders in the organization in a plenary which was treating the topic of women’s liberation. Ironically, women’s liberation was not discussed. Most of the plenary was derailed by the EWC.
The questions that this accountability process provoked ended up preoccupying the organization for a total of dozens and dozens of hours of meetings at all levels of the organization for more than the next half year. Lengthy investigation and discussion to the point of nausea revealed virtually nothing beyond what we already knew from the CSC sessions in 2011. The resolution to this ridiculous diversion only came by way of an intervention from the Central Committee in the second quarter of 2015 after it had itself spent dozens of hours of debate on the Emergency Women’s Caucus and a whole series of questions that it raised. In conclusion, after exhaustive struggle, the CC determined that the essential problem to begin with was that inadequate CSC in the organization failed to resolutely bring to end the tensions between the two comrades, and this problem was made far worse by the blunderous mishandling of the contradictions between them. Both comrades in question would eventually leave the organization.
There is some further context that is worth mentioning to understand the mood in the organization when this all unfolded. Many comrades at the time were quite vigilant about the erroneous methods of certain comrades past and present in the organization, specifically men; and an overly reductionistic “patriarchy in the organization” analysis was being imposed on the situation.
Just before the Emergency Women’s Caucus (EWC) debacle, the organization had been experiencing serious political problems in one of its smaller regions. A petty-bourgeois white male member of the organization was leading mass work and was playing a leading role in a regional party unit with a dizzying array of errors and deviations. He was advancing a right opportunist program that was masked with left adventurist rhetoric, and was railroading through a political agenda in his region with a shocking degree of arrogance, narcissism and commandism.9 But the broader organizational problems that made his errors possible and led them to not be checked fast enough were not being considered by many who simply reduced this RI member’s behaviours to a damning example of “patriarchy in the organization.” The problem wasn’t that this one member’s only-belatedly criticized behaviours and actions defined the trend, but that our organization was expanding without consolidating, and unable to guide or give proper leadership to its newer regions.
So in mid-2014, before the Emergency Women’s Caucus (EWC) was called together in an organizational plenary, many were on edge about the outstanding criticisms against this male RI member. But, in fact, this RI member was actually being subjected to a CSC process that, due to the gravity of this member’s errors, was more stringent than any one else had ever experienced in the organization. Everyone knew that this CSC process was unfolding. Ultimately, his unremoulded and unrepentant actions earned him the status of being the first person to have ever been expelled from the organization. For once, RI had actually drawn out a CSC to a proper conclusion.
But when the EWC emerged and took its position against another male comrade in the plenary, the background frustration was against this not-yet-expelled white petty bourgeois member who just happened to be absent from the plenary. But the major, major problem with the EWC’s actions is how the male comrade who was in the plenary became a whipping boy for frustrations and concerns about patriarchy that had nothing to do with anything he did. He was humiliated and disciplined prior to any investigation by the EWC or before any explanation of past and recent attempts to resume CSC with the brother and sister in question.
It is noteworthy how in a period where we were in collective admission that there were serious problems in the organization, a new petty-bourgeois line smuggled itself into the organization that framed everything in terms of patriarchy and began casting the internal struggle as one between men and women. This momentary ascendance of identity politics not only unduly disciplined a comrade whose track record of commitment and discipline to the organization had actually been quite good, it also chewed up and spit out many of those pulled into its ludicrously misplaced “accountability process”. Further, the female comrade of the two was also not treated in a comradely way, but rather as a victim: she was not being held to account for her own (minor and secondary) role in the unresolved conflict. But the fault principally lay with neither of the two comrades, but rather with the organization as a whole, the organization which failed to swiftly resolve and treat their inter-personal conflict, and the organization which subsequently applied an erroneous identity politics, which failed to advance either comrade.
In practice, the identity politics line ended up being a completely liquidationist line in a period when we were working hard to rectify and course-correct our past errors. It was organizationally cannibalistic. The proletarian revolutionary line had to meticulously fight to untangle our past experiences in order to show at every step that our errors were not simply reducible to “patriarchy in the organization” and that such an analysis of nearly a decade of work would not push us forward. To a large extent, this very assessment is the product of pushing ourselves to scrutinize our work in order to overturn the erroneous conclusions that were being drawn about it, and to arrive at the correct conclusions and lessons.
The losses to the organization through this internal struggle included most of those who participated in the “accountability process,” as well as some others who were affected by the profoundly demoralizing waste of time and energy spent on this diversion. The brother who was party to the tensions ultimately quit, but only after dutifully participating in the misplaced discipline imposed upon him. The sister who was party to the tensions was not to blame for any of this. The organization failed her by not helping her to better articulate her criticisms properly and to uncover the deeper source of the frustrations she was experiencing in the organization. One of the biggest lessons taken away from our experience with these two comrades is that a communist organization must push people forward when they hit their limits, and we cannot fear pushing them away by struggle. But we’ve also come to see that when the stakes are low, we don’t tend to push one another to rise above pettiness, rise above our limitations, and take our commitments to the next level.
To be clear, on this whole experience of identity politics, we have not disavowed much of theoretical interventions that were being made at the time concerning women’s liberation and proletarian revolutionary feminism. There may have been a germ of some wrong ideas in those interventions. But these ideological interventions also had some positive impact in guiding us back to the proletariat by elucidating the feminized nature of the lower and deeper ranks of the working class and revealing the role of reproductive labour in the production of surplus value. So the problem wasn’t that we dared talk about patriarchy and women’s liberation: this is not what constituted the identity politics deviation. The problem is how lines of struggle in the organization and how the substance of our problems came to be framed incorrectly under the influence of identity politics; how this politics led to the treatment of comrades in an antagonistic manner; and how the proletarian revolutionary line was ill-equipped and unprepared to deal with the destructive array of ideas and practices that were inflicted on our organization at a time when we were weakest and least prepared to combat it.
The reassertion of the proletarian revolutionary line and the two-line struggle in RI
By mid-2015, the identity politics line had been defeated after much internal struggle. Further attrition was the consequence of this struggle, but we found internal unity once again. But by the end of 2015, a seemingly new internal struggle was forming up around questions of methods of mass work, communist leadership, and our criteria for the development of our cadre.
In mid-2015, our organization published an internal document on cadre development and leadership that spelled out in no uncertain terms the criteria for the advancement of comrades through the mass work and in the party. At the time of its publication, this document had been consulted upon for six months already, and we have achieved unity on the document across the entire organization. But as we moved into implementation, a new struggle began unfolding in the organization concerning how to apply these principles of leadership and cadre development across the organization. A debate opened up around whether Central Committee members in RI should be given these responsibilities based on substantial relationships of leadership they have within and outside the organization – in recruiting, developing, guiding, mentoring both inside and outside RI – or whether members could merely be elected on the basis of the merits of their ideological contributions. We had a long experience with ideologues in the organization having more formal leadership than their actual political capacities ever proved them worthy of.
At this point in the organization, mid-2015, this internal struggle was politically reducing itself into two politically opposing lines of march: would everyone in the organization be expected to immerse themselves in proletarian struggle in order to hone their cadre development, affirm their commitments, unite with the advanced masses, and recruit from the mass struggle; or would comrades with supposedly exceptional circumstances, comrades in smaller regions, and comrades with other “leadership” skills be granted exceptions, while those refocusing on immersing in the proletariat would do so on a voluntary basis? The line that we must all immerse ourselves in proletarian struggle and that only people who are developed through mass struggle can be recruited into RI is the one that won out. To have liberally meted out exceptions at a phase when our organization was small would have left our project dead in the water. We needed every single member of the organization to immerse in and learn from proletarian struggle. No specialists, no technocrats, no ideologues would be allowed to occupy positions in the leading body of the organization. On paper, we seemed to have cross-organization unity on this position.
But in practice, the internal alignments around the struggle concerning whether and how to pursue cadre development, how we establish communist leadership, and how to mobilize our resources for a consolidated push back into proletarian struggle, roughly paralleled how alignments played out during the struggle around identity politics. The key difference, however, is that with our struggle against identity politics, virtually all of us erred. That certain people may have been more avid flag-bearers of the identity politics line is less significant than the fact that we nearly all failed, especially our leading members, in effectively and decisively rooting out this petty-bourgeois line when it reared its head. To paraphrase Mao, when the revolution fails, we can only blame the vanguard, or the leadership of the vanguard. Ultimately, after extensive internal struggle, the Central Committee, five of seven of whom were women, condemned the errors made in the name of women’s liberation. So, at least on paper, we overcame these errors all together and through protracted and painstaking ideological struggle, winning over even those who had been the most avid flag-bearers for the erroneous trend.
But when it came to the struggle around what leadership means and the necessity to consolidate our limited capacities into fewer and more effective mass interventions, what we saw was two diametrically-opposed and well-articulated lines square off against one another. A two-line struggle clearly emerged, with suspicious and bad faith beginning to characterize the exchanges amongst comrades. One line provided many well-articulated reasons for why ideologues and militants should be on the Central Committee, a convenient articulation for comrades resisting their own immersion into proletarian struggle. The line that prevailed, the proletarian revolutionary line, is that what marks someone as a communist leader is the ability to move people (from the masses to rank-and-file RI members) ideologically, politically, and organizationally into struggle, into organization, and into and through the ranks of the Party, and that the ONLY way forward for our organization was a complete and total return of all comrades to proletarian struggle. This party would have to be constituted alongside renewed proletarian mass struggle, our own cadre development could only be assured through this approach, and no leader in the organization would be recognized without being tested by these means.
This struggle continued at the level of ideas for some time throughout 2016 until practice revealed the difference. Comrades that had most assiduously applied the line of returning to the proletarian masses and pursuing a strict, criteria-based approach to cadre development were able to reconstitute a dynamic and once-again growing RI branch, while comrades who resisted applying this line in their regions were experiencing ongoing stagnation if not big setbacks and implosions due to their own feet-dragging and retention of erroneous methods. By the end 2016, practice had clearly demonstrated which line was advancing the organization and which was holding it back, marking the end of the two-line struggle in the organization. It was a two-line struggle that should have been waged as far back as 2007/08, but which had finally won out after its validation in practice.
To be clear, at this point in time, the only success that the proletarian revolutionary line can claim is that it has overcome many of our past weaknesses in membership and cadre development in RI, and that guided by our new understanding of communist leadership, these new methods are yielding the most dedicated and resolved RI members we have ever seen in ten years of party-building. No one has ever claimed, as the sceptics maintain, that this line has made revolutionary “breakthroughs in mass struggle.” Not yet. This will take time. But if this will happen, it will happen through the initiative and leadership of the combative and highly-motivated cadre that are being moved by the resumption of the proletarian revolutionary line in RI, not by ideologues and technocrats who fear mass work and fear commitment to the masses.10
A Summary of Lessons Learned
The central thesis of this assessment is that the weaknesses and errors of our party-building were heavily influenced by or a direct consequence of our untethering from the proletariat. Furthermore, the limitations we had as young revolutionary communists with no prior experience in revolutionary organization could not be overcome in the absence of a developing practice of proletarian struggle. To the extent that we managed to recognize some of these errors, weaknesses and limitations along the way,11 they were not seen as a system of errors until we could trace their overall relationship to the principal error of untethering from the proletariat. The secondary errors and lessons that we learned as a consequence of our principal error have been treated above throughout this document, and are summarized immediately below as well. We have categorized them into ideological, political, and organizational categories for ease of recollection and apprehension.
- Our theoretical work and program development reflected petty-bourgeois intellectualist methods. Given the lack of class struggle(s) that the organization and its members were involved in, the research and writing for the program was not being driven by class struggle and ultimately it was reduced to an assignment for a single comrade with little to no input from the rest of the organization. We do not need a mere historico-sociological analysis of Canadian society. The research agendas of our party-building must be pushed forward by the beating heart of the class struggle(s) that our comrades are engaged in. This is how we will produce a class analysis to guide and a set of strategy and tactics to win the revolutionary war. Participation in class struggle and knowing the proletariat directly must be a driving force in developing a new program for communist revolution.
- We failed to sum up our practice before making major shifts in our political work. We failed to clearly identify the weaknesses, obstacles, or challenges we faced in our first base-building attempt. There was a fear to admit and confront the challenges we faced, because we didn’t know what the answers were. But the consequence of not analyzing our experiences was that a defeatism concerning the organization of the proletariat was allowed to seep into the minds of some comrades, a petty-bourgeois anti-masses mindset emerged, and this quietly plagued the organization in an unspoken way for years to come. Every major shift in political direction in the organization must go through a deep and thorough assessment amongst all members. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, errors. Claim no easy victories.
- We failed to perform a class or situational analysis of new areas of work that were undertaken. We had no sound strategic conception of how new areas of work would push our party-building forward to the next level, except for crudely establishing new recruiting grounds for RI. Every major political move by revolutionary communists must be justified by a concrete analysis of the concrete conditions. Every new undertaking should present an analysis of the class forces at play and the prospects for advancing the mass struggle and building the party in that situation.
- We had no clear political Subject. In abandoning a proletarian base area and in trying to build the party in spaces and places that were heterogeneous in class composition, we could not call into being the political Subject of the proletariat. Our appeals to the lowest and deepest ranks of the working-class in our propaganda and mobilizing rang hollow once we detached ourselves from the day-to-day struggles of proletariat. Party-building will only to the extent that we constitute the proletariat as a political Subject through class struggle.
- We had no clear and tangible class enemies in our work. Our untethering deprived us of the base from which to fight a common class enemy. This lesson is distinct from the previous one because not every grouping of proletarians can be mobilized against clear and tangible class enemies. Our base, by contrast, offered up very clear and very tangible class enemies: a reviled slumlord that was out to displace a whole community; poverty pimps in the social service sector whose depoliticization of people’s struggles could easily be exposed; the police whose constant harassment and profiling of youth could have been an added source of indignation to the main struggle in the neighbourhood; and politicians and bureaucrats at various levels of government frantically trying to preempt and head-off a resistance to the plans of developers and various levels of government. Concrete class enemies, when engaged directly by the masses in struggle, personify and reflect the wickedness and putrefaction of capitalism in general, and give the masses a tangible object to overcome our fragmentation. And when actively engaged through class struggle, class enemies bring forth in us the daily urgency and seriousness of our party-building that our studies can only teach us in the abstract. The proletariat cannot know itself, cannot become a class for itself, without knowing and engaging its class enemies. The party must be built around and through the struggle against tangible class enemies.
- We failed to foresee the extent to which a shifting class composition of the organization’s areas of work towards non-proletarian masses would ripen grounds for opportunism. This is not a position against engaging broadly with progressive non-proletarian class forces and class elements that can be allied with through united front work. But a stable base of proletarian struggle is necessary to focus and guide any work that appeals to progressive allies and revolutionary elements within the petty-bourgeoisie and worker elite. The fight against opportunism in the organization is a losing battle when we lack a center of gravity for the organization in proletarian struggle.
- We had a narrow and economistic interpretation of what it meant to “Serve the People” that amounted to nothing more than unfunded social service provision. As the center of gravity of the organization shifted into non-proletarian segments of the masses, those in the organization who did remain connected to proletarian communities did not know how to break from this “Serve the people” economism. The principal expression of our service to the people must be the ideological, political, and organizational work we do in the service of the class struggle. Economic struggles, mutual aid, and the fight for immediate gains cannot be ignored, but these must be the fruits of class struggle, not the handouts of communists.
- We lacked sufficient focus and concentration of our cadre and members to effect a process of political accumulation, to learn from experience, and develop a deep camaraderie. We permitted too much “do-your-own-thing’ism” and small-project initiatives with no central guidance or strategic plan. Once dispersed, it became increasingly difficult to produce assessments that could draw out meaningful lessons for the organization as a whole. We were working in qualitatively different places, all of which were arguably under-resourced with RI members and mass activists. We lacked a critical mass in most places we organized to make the impact we needed to make. Hence, the annual assessments that we did produce were mechanical and quantitative, they were produced more to convince ourselves and our members that we were growing (which we were), but they kept us from seriously interrogating the qualitative stagnation of our organization. Focused and unified political projects with sufficient resources are essential for party-building at its infant stage. Focus and consolidation allows for the development of unity in our methods of work, a common organizational culture, and a camaraderie that can only be strengthened in common struggle.
- We failed to develop a pedagogical praxis from the start of our organization, and this problem was far from corrected as we deviated more and more into petty-bourgeois activism. We placed book study far and above gaining an intimate understanding of the lived experiences that brought our comrades into communist organization to begin with. This was principally an organizational problem because it concerns how our comrades related to one another. By not analyzing well our own people, we could not clearly differentiate between people who came to communism out of pity for the exploited and oppressed versus those who come from the exploited and oppressed or strongly find identity with them. This difference was for a long time blurred. Our own experiences of oppression, exploitation and alienation should be the fires within us that drive us forward as revolutionaries. When we do not understand, harness, and temper these fires within us, they can burn us out and or burn down the wrong things around us. We must seize upon the personal experiences of our comrades with exploitation, oppression, and alienation to become a motor force in their cadre development.
- We confused quantitative advance for qualitative advance. We prioritized recruitment into our mass organizations and RI above the qualitative development of our organizations. We ignored and put off the qualitative development of our people and the infrastructure required to assure the advancement of our people into communist cadre, because we were too busy with activism. We were unwilling to slow down quantitative growth in order to direct resources to the qualitative advancement of our organization, especially in terms of our educational and training capacities and making proper assessments. A fixation on quantitative growth also held us back from pursuing struggles within the organization that risked (and perhaps should have) pushed some people out. This was an easy error to persist with as we gravitated towards petty-bourgeois activism and away from proletarian class struggle. The constant push to grow also meant that we spent precious resources on cross-country party-building without the ability to consolidate these networks and with little valuable direction to actually provide comrades from new regions. Qualitative development and quantitative development are two aspects of growth, and we must ensure our qualitative development keeps up with quantitative growth.
- We organized things not people. Once disengaged from base-building and proletarian class struggle, we focused more and more on organizing things (events, rallies, meeting cycles, propaganda production deadlines) rather than people. While organizing things is part of organizing people, we lost sight of the people themselves. Our organizational endeavours must, in the final analysis, be subordinated to the ideological, political, and organizational development of our organizers at all levels. The ideological, political, and organization development of our people must be made a priority at all levels of work. This is what it means for the masses the makers of history.
- We had no coherent theory or practice of proletarian revolutionary mass organizing. Our thinking was marred by a spontaneist view of mass organizing. We then backslid into petty-bourgeois methods of activism in the face of our challenges. We failed to see how much we still had to learn in the realm of agitation, social investigation, cadre development, and in differentiating the advanced from the intermediate and backward masses. We expected quick advances in our organizing without having a clue about how to organize the masses through painstaking social investigation, agitation, and struggle with the advanced and intermediate masses. We relied heavily on mobilizing over organizing and propaganda over agitation – typical petty-bourgeois activist errors. Party-building needs the context of proletarian struggle to weed out the petty-bourgeois activist modes, hone the practice of effective mass organizing, and ultimately, to build the party. Party-building and strong mass organizing are inseparable from one another.
- The absence of a rich mass-line practice rendered more bureaucratic than democratic the centralism of our party-building. Our party-building was not being driven by class struggle, not being informed by the input, action, or fighting spirit of proletarian masses. Lacking rich inputs “from the masses…”, whatever we put out “…to the masses” lacked the conviction, urgency, and faith that exists whenever we have been embedded in proletarian struggle. Our party-building agenda was not driven by the urgency of class struggle and the fire of a fight, but instead plans and intentions, however well-intentioned, coming from on-high that rank-and-file members just sort of went along with and couldn’t or didn’t much contest or engage with. By contrast, our organization’s return to proletarian struggle has lit a fire in our inner-party life, enlivening debate, discussion, and criticism in the organization. The elevation of the stakes, the reality of actual fights playing out that people have committed everything they can to, has raised the stakes of each and every inner-party discussion, Democratic centralism requires mass line practice amongst the oppressed and exploited, and mass line practice requires democratic centralism of a communist organization.12
- We had an erroneous view of political leadership that over-valued the role of technical know-how, charisma, book smarts, degree of effort, and the ability to perform technocratic organization tasks. Proletarian leadership is the ability to move proletarians over a trajectory that begins with a materialist understanding of their situations towards class consciousness and revolutionary will. Proletarian leadership means the demonstrated ability to move proletarians ideologically, politically, and organizationally.
- We allowed for the tokenization of women and took short-cuts towards the leadership development of women in RI. Pushing a series of women into leading positions in the organization and assigning them responsibilities that they were not ready for (that no one would have been ready for at their level of organizational development), ultimately undermined the revolutionary development of the women comrades affected by these policies. Nobody, regardless of national background or gender, is an automatic communist, revolutionary cadre, or leader of anyone. Cadre development takes years of ideological, political, and organizational development that unfolds through struggle. A communist organization that is rooted in and leading proletarian struggles will have no problem recruiting and advancing a membership that reflects the proletariat, that is filled with women and members from oppressed nations and national minorities. The corrective to this problem has been a uniform program of ideological, political, and organizational development for all comrades (regardless of identity group) in the context of a refocusing our party-building within the proletariat.
- We mishandled contradictions amongst comrades. We allowed for the treatment of comrades like they were representatives of the enemy within our organization. This came about in part due to the failure of our CSC processes to bring about a timely and decisive resolution to tensions, conflicts, or outstanding criticisms. We have learned to both not defer a criticism but also to relegate its treatment to the appropriate venue within our organization. Most importantly, we cannot evade the push that’s required on a comrade to advance them as a proletarian revolutionary. Just as there is no long-term stasis in class struggle, there is no stasis in one’s development as a revolutionary. If criticism reveals critical shortcomings in a comrade, they must be addressed without delay. But this can only be done in a context where there is deep camaraderie: revolutionary trust and revolutionary love cultivated and tested in struggle is the foundation for deep ideological and political remoulding. Through revolutionary trust and revolutionary love born in struggle, we must not fear pushing our comrades forward, with all due support, and we cannot hold back for fear of pushing comrades out.
* * *
These errors and their corresponding lessons, each in their singularity and ultimately as a totality, came into sharp focus as we returned to a proletarian base to develop a combative proletarian class politics. The ultimate corrective for us has been a return to proletarian class struggle. This point cannot be overemphasized. Returning to a new proletarian base has been the crucible for reconstituting Revolutionary Initiative from the ground up. It is how we’ve placed politics – proletarian politics – back in command of RI.
To all those who are reading this who were not party to our experiences but have been or are involved with their own party-building projects: the only reason this summation has been made a public document is to share the mistakes we’ve made and the lessons we’ve learned so that other comrades and organizations in the revolutionary camp may be able to address any parallels in their own experiences faster and more resolutely than we did.
To all those once involved with RI, and perhaps alienated or unconvinced by our previously erroneous methods: you are the casualties of a learning curve that we will not easily forgive ourselves for, and we hope many of you will return to revolutionary struggle.
To all those who played their own leading part in authoring the above-named methods and errors only to disappear when your ideas proved bankrupt, rest assured that we don’t blame you, no more than we can blame Nikita Khrushchev or Deng Xiaoping for revisionism. We are proletarian revolutionaries, and as such when bourgeois ideas and trends take hold, we can only blame the ill-equipped thought and practice of proletarian revolutionaries for letting this happen. We hold no grudges. We can only hold to account our failure to articulate a correct, timely and proletarian revolutionary line against incorrect, outmoded, and/or bourgeois lines.
And to all those who remained to pick up the pieces and find a way forward in the midst of all the confusion, uncertainty, and setbacks in 2014-2015; to all those who persisted through tough periods of assessment with only a distant promise of revitalized mass work; to the rank-and-file and newly-emergent cadre of RI: you are exemplars, you are torch-bearers of a new people and a new revolutionary communist movement. You are the most serious, disciplined, and effective comrades we have known because you are the product of the correct line, the proletarian revolutionary line, firmly in command. This summation has been for you more than anyone else.
1 Many young people come to one expression of Marxism or another in post-secondary school through their formal studies, through campus activism, or through social media. But these Marxisms are not revolutionary – or to use Gramsci’s expression, they do not constitute a philosophy of praxis – until they are transformed through revolutionary practice.
2 RI defines the proletariat as that section of the working class that is exploited and super-exploited, including all those who have recently faced or continue to face processes of dispossession that re-proletarianize them and their children (especially Indigenous peoples) into low-wage and precarious workers, if not altogether casting them into the growing mass of people pushed indefinitely into the informal economy to survive. By contrast, we exclude the worker elite from our definition of the proletariat, given the historical departure of this class stratum from the realities of proletarian life. Our provisional analysis on this point of class analysis can be found in Stella B.’s “Class Analysis and Class Structure in Canada,” (Uprising #7, Fall 2015). Admittedly, the empirical substantiation and analytical clarity of this class analysis still requires a lot of work, but it is an advance on our previous categories.
3 See our “Basis of Unity,” in The Theoretical Journal of Revolutionary Initiative: Volume 1 2006-2009 Ideological Documents, p.2-3.
4 By faultline, we mean a site in society where there is a palpable friction between bourgeois and proletarian segments of the population, a class antagonism that is latent with the potential to organize and mobilize the proletariat against immediate and discernible class enemies.
5 As we untethered from our proletarian base areas, our work became movementist to the extent that our basis for aligning with other activist groups was not the urgency of concrete class struggle, but rather jockeying for influence and command within paper-tiger alliances. We may have had different intentions than the typical activist groups within our alliances: we didn’t actually believe reform was possible through our alliances. We sought to make ideological interventions for socialism, in defence of the proletariat, and against Canadian imperialism. We sought to bring class analysis and anti-imperialism to activism. But with no firm base of our own in the proletarian, our defence of class struggle was on very weak footing. And few other organizations within the alliances we built or participated represented the masses in class struggle. They were as much or more composed of activists grouped together along lines of identity or issues with no common strategic purpose: only short-term, event-oriented objectives.Within this movementist milieu, an independent but related problem was the opportunist drift of our internationalist activities throughout the years of our bourgeois deviation. This trend has been partially identified and criticized by Comrade Pierce in his piece “A Strategic Approach to Proletarian Internationalism” (Uprising #6, Summer 2015). But what was not named in that document in particular was a distinct trend that should be named, criticized, and guarded against in the future: embassy politics. In the midst of lack lustre mass work and no proletarian struggle, we drew legitimacy through our connection or orientation to third world struggles. Some of these, as in Nepal or the Philippines, were clearly revolutionary and we would in no way discount the importance of our solidarity with the revolutionary struggles in these countries. But in other cases, the movements we connected to, especially in Latin America, were more social movements than revolutionary organizations, at best; and at worst, comrades were linking to the social democratic states in the Bolivarian movement within which the roles of the national bourgeoisies and newly emergent Bolivarian bureaucratic capitalists were not being critically interrogated. This uncritical gravitation towards Bolivarianism by some in our organization, which came at the expense of a lack of real investigation and solidarity into Latin America’s revolutionary communist movement, ultimately proved to be motivated less by international solidarity with revolutionary forces and more by the careerist aspirations of some seeking ties with the growing bureaucracies of those social democratic states.
6 In the summer of 2015, Comrade Amil published “The Pedagogy of Party-Building: Reflections on communist leadership development in light of Freire, Gramsci, and Mao,” in which some preliminary points of organizational assessment were put forward and some of problems analyzed. While that document is limited and off-the-mark in its assessment of the organization as a whole (as this was not a collective assessment of the organization, but the provisional reflections and observations of one comrade), there were some valuable points in that document that we have carried forward in terms of our understanding of leadership development and pedagogy. In that piece, Comrade Amil relates the ideas in Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed to Mao’s concept of the mass line. Amil defined pedagogical praxis as “the practice of consciousness-raising through a dialogue between two people or a small number of people, whereby the teacher/communist organizer advances the dialogue through questions that engage with the actual contradictions in the consciousness of her/his interlocuter” (Uprising Vol. 6., p. 27). When we say that we had no pedagogical praxis in RI, we mean that we had a poor practice of consciousness-raising amongst both our members and the masses. We did not interrogate and unravel the particular contradictions in the consciousness of comrades and the masses alike, because our methods of teaching, instruction and learning were didactic and bookish.
7 For a full articulation of our new conception of communist leadership, which is one of the main fruits of our internal rectification, see the article by Comrades Jameel, Arulgurunathan, and Val “Communist Leadership, mass work, and building power,” in Uprising Issue #8 (Spring 2017).
8 As far back as 2009, the Central Committee had found itself at an impasse on how to analyze patriarchy and how to understand women’s liberation. A decision was made to compile materials for a more extensive study, and this task was not completed by the comrade to which it was assigned. It took our leadership until 2012 to find a comrade with the experience to compile a study on these questions, and the results came in 2014 in the form of Comrade Stella’s two ideological interventions dealing with material basis of patriarchy under capitalist imperialism and the path to women’s liberation. Half of the content of Uprising #5 deals with women’s liberation, and this is where Comrade Stella’s “The super-exploitation of women…” (pp.5-21) can be found. This was followed by the publication of Comrade Stella’s “Revolutionary Feminism: Economic Transformation and Women’s Liberation” in September 2014, later published in Uprising #7.
9 First of all, it should be noted that the very existence of RI work in this region under such a reckless person was itself the final ill-fated expansionary move of RI just before the implosion of its leadership body and major attrition in late 2013 and early 2014.
10 Again, for a full elaboration of our new conception of communist leadership, one of the main products of our two-line struggle and internal rectification, is to be found in the article by Comrades Jameel, Arulgurunathan, Val, and Anna, “Communist Leadership, mass work, and building power,” in Uprising Issue #8 (Spring 2017).
11 The most substantial criticisms made of our party-building prior to the 2014 crisis came from Comrade Jameel in an internal discussion document in late 2013, later published as “Two Problematic Tendencies, and Two-Three Problematic Practices in RI” (Uprising #6, Summer 2015). While this critical evaluation of incorrect tendencies in the organization was limited in scope, this was a crucial intervention that began to push our organization back in the correct direction.
12 This thesis is the subject of forthcoming essay by Comrade Amil, “Proletarian Democracy: The Other Side of the D.o.P.” that has been subject to internal discussion and exchange for two years now. This article will be published in Issue #9 of Uprising, which could be released by Summer 2017.