Centrism and the Fight for Leninist Leadership
We print below, edited for publication, the reports by I.S. Secretary G. Perrault and SL/U.S. National Chairman Erica Jones to the National Conference session that elected the new SL/U.S. Central Committee.
Perrault: Well, what just happened? I’ll try to explain a little bit what happened. One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. Comrades should all go and read that after the conference. So, in the course of the first day and a half, we pretty convincingly defeated the right wing, politically crushed it. Some still held out and tried to talk, but I think they were pretty exposed by the proceedings of the two days. What this did, it compressed the center and put extreme pressure on both the center and the left. That’s what it did. It was posed very decisively in this last point. The whole course of the conference culminated in this last point, which is also the question of the American revolution: the black question. And it posed very decisively the line—the qualitative line—between reform and revolution. In this case, it was posed as a qualitative break with liberalism.
This process has been difficult, this conference and the period leading up to this conference have been extremely intense. High heat. Mettles were tested. Some broke. But we need a leadership that is going to hold under the pressure. That’s the difference between the fulls and the alts on the next Central Committee: those who have proven that they can hold the line under the most difficult circumstances and sustain that pressure.
I go back to One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. I’ll explain a little bit for the comrades who are not familiar and maybe a bit younger. This book by Lenin describes the course of the 1903 conference of the RSDLP [Russian Social Democratic Labor Party], where after years of struggle the Iskra faction won on the program. They defeated the Economists at this conference of the Russian Social Democracy, defeated the Bundists, and the RSDLP agreed on a program. But then when it was posed to draw the line on the leadership question, the center wavered, and there was a rotten bloc. The Bolshevik-Menshevik split—what was it? Against the Bolsheviks, it was a bloc between the center and the right who did not want to draw the conclusions of the hard, programmatic lines that had been fought for years. Now, that’s what we want to avoid.
We don’t want that split, but that is the danger comrades have to keep in mind. I’ve been warning about things during the whole proceedings of this conference. This one, really think about it. This is the main danger. The main danger is that you have a right wing that is defeated, that is waiting in the aisles for a champion, a champion from the center, a Martov, who’s going to break with Lenin, who’s going to break with the Bolsheviks. I implore you comrades, do not do that! But as I’ve been saying lots of times during this whole process, you don’t learn from other people’s mistakes. So true!
So, we will accept unity on the basis of a qualitative break with liberalism. We will accept unity with those who accept this qualitative break. We need the center; it is necessary to rally the center and to win the right, even. We will keep struggling for that. We will go forward. Comrades probably have to take a few days and study the lessons of this conference. Learn the lessons from this. Bolshevism is not kind; it’s brutal. Brutal on the side of the oppressed. Bolshevism cannot tolerate vacillation. I also recommend all comrades go read Trotsky’s What Is Leninism? I think that will also be a good guide. Now, I have explained throughout this conference what’s happening. Leading up to this culminating moment, this second round of discussion, where everything that has happened in the last months came to a head. So, I explained this, and now there are political conclusions to be drawn from that, and I will let the next reporter motivate those.
Jones: The first part of my last report was to fight against the liberalism in the party on the black question, which is the key question for revolution in the U.S. It’s the black question, it’s the question of revolution, and it’s the question of leadership. And in regards to the proposed leadership that we had, in particular the fulls on the slate, the majority—when it came to testing in the fight to make a break with liberalism, to fight against liberalism in the party, the purpose of this conference—you flinched.
It’s the duty of American communists to take a stand in defense of the revolutionary program on the black question inside the party and out. And if you can’t defend it inside the party, you’re not going to be able to do a good job defending those politics that I was pushing in my report outside of the party. You have to draw a really clear line, not just take up whatever tertiary point. I’m talking mainly to the comrades who were proposed on the slate and have been working hard on this conference. When it came time to really fight on this question, you didn’t do it.
Your heads were down in your lap, you passed on the second round. At first, I was a little soft on the comrade who passed because I thought, “Well, maybe he can’t make the political points.” I don’t think that is the point of what he did. It is that he didn’t want to wage the hard fight that needed to be waged today to defend the report that I gave, which was difficult to do, over how we’ve totally capitulated to liberalism on this question.
I don’t know how else to say it, but if you don’t get it in here, you’re not going to get it out there, where it matters. And we can’t afford any more time dealing with conciliation on this question. We have dealt with it too long. We need to draw a hard line, we need to get propaganda out which draws a sharp line. Yes, when Perrault spoke at the beginning of the second round of the black question discussion, he said the task was to declare war against liberalism inside the party. I’ve seen you this whole weekend, you gave some really strong interventions, but when it came to this question, it was mushy. Basically, what we’re proposing in terms of a slate is a change and that change is based on the interventions of the comrades on the last round who understood this crucial test that was posed this last day of this conference and really waged a fight to draw a line against liberalism inside the party.
In my report “For Black Trotskyism (II),” I talked about guilty white liberalism in the party, etc. It’s not just up to the black comrades to defend our program on the black question. It’s really important to understand that we need a leadership that is going to really go to bat inside the party and outside the party over this question. And like I said, I think for different reasons some of you may not have fully understood some of the questions that were involved to draw the line. And I think others just flinched.