Perseverance Pays

Observations on Building a Base

Road to Revolution (IV) calls for a party of the masses, for winning over millions to our line. This presupposes that millions can be won. We believe that this is correct, and that despite setbacks due to worldwide revisionism, we can move forward now if the party devotes more of a priority to basebuilding, and if individual comrades change some ideas that have held us back in the past.

Our task in basebuilding is mainly to overcome the irrational fears of communist ideas and leadership that exist among many workers. The logic of our arguments is usually not the key problem, because we select people to win, who are generally in agreement with our line, or at least with our critique of capitalism.

But the bosses have beaten us to the punch with people, and filled them with a lot of ideas which divide them from us, such as: racism, anti-communism, individualism and illusions of individual escape from the contradictions of capitalism, nationalism, and cynicism.

How can we win bur base away from these ideas? Lecturing usually isn't the method, nor is action alone. We win the trust of people; win them to our leadership as opposed to that of the bosses' ideologues. The relationship with a party member is absolutely crucial. This takes time. One of the things that hold back many comrades in winning abase is a short-term outlook coupled with shallow relationships with others.

Looking back over the people we have won, we see they have almost all been close friends over a long period: One was a friend of four years, active in the anti-Vietnam War movement. We struggled mightily with her to join at one point, but she decided to go off and try liberalism first, which took her out-of-state. We were redbaiting ourselves for our struggle and were embarrassed to call her. Finally we had a baby and felt inspired to call her. This resulted in a visit in which she read a whole bunch of PL Magazines. Her experiences with liberalism had made her hungry for our ideas. She was won to the party seven years after we met. The main lessons of this experience were: first, that close friends are valuable assets who should never be lost because we are most likely to win our friends, and second, that perseverance pays off and non-perseverance is foolish.

Perseverance flows from the recognition that objections to the party are subjective. We can remain friends, and continue the relationship around points of unity. We can continue to sell the paper to the person. Over time, the person will often see his/her own subjectivity in relation to events in life or in the world. One friend didn't want to be in the party for a couple of years because of nationalism and fear of persecution because he was black. The party continued to work with him. Finally he was with us one day when we were attacked by undercover police and the Revolutionary Union, a fake-left group. He was won over by the collective and decisive way we fought back. Another friend couldn’t take the redbaiting of her friends. Over a period of a year or so she saw that while the party was fighting racism and the bosses, her redbaiting pals were sitting on their hands. She decided to join. Too often comrades become cynical about good people and give up. They don’t think about the process of internal development that will lead to triumph for communist ideas over capitalist ones, even though the battle may be protracted.

One reason for a short-term approach is our own internal individualism. We want to feel good and successful about our work in the party. We want to look good, and we regard our base as recalcitrant would-be revolutionaries who are holding us back. We’ve got to be a little tougher. Objectively, winning people to the party in this historical period takes time. Later, as capitalism crumbles and fascism is imposed, it will take less time, as it took less for the Bolsheviks during WWI, or us during the Vietnam War.

Related to this is the big anti-communist fit everyone goes through before joining. A number of comrades seem to basebuild just fine up to this point and then back off. They can’t take the heat. But objectively, every birth involves a struggle, every change an upheaval. We have to increase and sharpen the struggle at this point, not back off. Not doing so is simply protecting one’s ego. Get hurt a little. We have a world to win at the cost of just a few personal scars.

One idea that really helped our work was that anyone can build a base with anyone (from the article on racism in PL Magazine (Vol. 12, No.3, Summer 1979). This led to working with a lot of people of different backgrounds. If nothing else this experience demands more and makes us think about what's going on in other people's minds more. Usually it's about the same ideas, perhaps in different forms. For example, a working-class teenager may want to become a professional athlete, while a petit-bourgeois student may want an elite graduate program. Both are looking for an individual escape from capitalism. When working with people of different backgrounds, we don't need to transform ourselves into them or ape them, but only to be sensitive to their interests and their objections to the line. Often we will need to seek creative ways of getting politics across, such as going to movies, or talking about the political aspect of everyday events.

Another thing that really helps is massive, consistent distribution of C-D. First, we see from the response that most people are at least open to our ideas. It is very encouraging. Second, it raises the line with our friends. People remark on the articles, or we can ask what they think. It puts the whole relationship on an explicitly political basis. Third, constant distribution to the same people builds the party. Life teaches people that the line of C-D is correct. C-D teaches them the significance of events. Several people we have sent the paper to for years have given money. Others have joined in time, or rejoined after a period of inactivity.

In addition to C-D, constant political discussions about everything are good. Whatever comes up is political, actually. Most people like to talk about the main current events in the world. This point seems trivial, but a lot of comrades seem to equate basebuilding with bourgeois friendship -- unity based on opportunism. Then they bring up politics to ask people to do something. It works better in the end to build a political relationship, and discuss disagreements around all sorts of issues over a long period. This article is not intended to down-grade the value of action, demonstrations, etc., but it seems that our main error is not taking the ideological development of our base seriously enough.

It really helps to build a base in groups. Those who do it win a lot more people, a1otmore rapidly. We once had a group that was active together and also socialized on weekends. We had barbecues and picnics and went out to shows and clubs. We also met regularly to study. Several years later these people are all still in the party or active supporters. The interaction among the people was most useful in breaking down anti-communism and other subjective barriers. A regular study group led to a relatively good grounding in ideology, though we could have done a lot better in this respect.

Who we work with is important. There was a series of letters in last summer's C-D on lumpen. Some comrades think it's racist or anti-worker to reject lumpen or even to call people lumpen. Some comrades who fear or disdain working with others in their own social group tend to work with lumpen because they don't really think workers can be won to the party, or that they can win them. Lumpen, having practically no place to attach themselves, view the party as a haven and the members as saviors. We aren't a welfare group. The party needs the strongest, most levelheaded and stable members of the working class as its members and allies. Often such people are the most involved with other activities, but they are also the: ones who are capable of leading the working class to victory. In contrast, lumpen always try to take advantage of the party and never build a base. Further, they give us a bad image with workers, who are their victims in daily life.

One of the main obstacles to the approach advocated here is pragmatism –substituting

The Party needs the strongest, most stable, levelheaded workers as its members and allies.

 tons of activity for real substantive progress with the base. This sometimes results in bringing a lot of different people all the time, and kidding ourselves that we are contributing to the work of the party. It's true that attendance at events is an objective measure of our progress. But it can't be substituted for a qualitative evaluation of the progress of individual members of our base. Close friendship ties and consistent political struggle using C-D and other party literature, and winning them to being openly active with us in our campaigns, are the only ways to win people to the party. Pragmatism (opportunism) is an alternative that must be rejected. Related to this is the mistaken idea that doing things 'for' the party or pleasing the leadership will build the party.

In summary, to build, a mass base of millions for communism, we in the party will need to put more priority on basebuilding, and use a more protracted approach