Re-Examination, Re-Direction and Democratization in Line of March

This excerpt from Revolution in the Air: Sixties Radicals Turn to Lenin, Mao and Che (Third Edition, Verso, 2018, pages 297-299) describes the crisis, ‘re-examination, re-direction and democratization’ effort, and then dissolution of Line of March:  

The Main Survivors Collapse
The sum total of all these developments in world socialism – along with the demise of the Rainbow – confronted the last significant survivors of the new communist movement with a whole new set of problems. It’s no surprise they were engulfed.

Not that Marxism-Leninism’s crisis per se was the immediate trigger for the dissolution of either LRS or Line of March. Rather, the catalysts in both cases were practical difficulties that under other circumstances might have been overcome. But the worldwide crisis of communism made it impossible for either group to traverse even minor bumps in the road without facing ideological questions that called their basic identity into question.

Line of March went into crisis first. Having scored modest success especially in the 1984 Rainbow, during the mid-1980s Line of March saw numerous openings for its United Front Against War and Racism perspective to gain influence. The prospect of increased clout tantalized the organization’s leadership, which turned from its earlier stress on theoretical analysis and careful organization-building toward an advance-on-all-fronts push in mass organizing. Demands on cadre were increased and by 1986 the organization was immersed in a voluntarist attempt to attain a following comparable to the far larger CPUSA or DSA. For a year or so the toll taken by this crusade was hidden by the organization’s growing influence, but such a frantic pace could not be sustained. By late 1987 Line of March was overstretched and any one of a dozen things could have punctured its bubble. As it happened the center of the organization cracked under the pressure first. The chair of the Line of March executive committee, Bruce Occeña, developed a debilitating case of substance abuse. After this was discovered in September 1987 the rest of the leadership was forced to confront the fact that the group had been operating in a dysfunctional manner for some time,

Initially, the center attempted to correct matters by slowing the pace of activity and taking a few small steps toward leadership accountability. But when the center opened up discussion of the organization’s problems to the full membership, the terms of debate quickly shifted. For two years the Line of March had been promoting the value of glasnost, perestroika and democratization in the USSR, and the membership decided that a new level of openness, restructuring and democracy was necessary within their own organization. The result was a two-year long campaign of “re-examination, re-direction and democratization” which progressed from self-criticism for voluntarism and an undemocratic internal structure to a critique of vanguardism and sectarianism rooted in some of the traditional orthodoxies of Marxism-Leninism.

A short-lived minority faction balked, arguing that Line of March still represented the nucleus of a new vanguard. But the overwhelming majority felt enthusiastic about a re-evaluation which targeted ideological and structural problems (rather than individual failings) as the cause of the organization’s (and the broader left’s) difficulties. Cadre also felt that in some small way the process they were going through was linked to the renovating currents then inspiring communists across the globe. This provided the basis for the Line of March to continue its mass work and to play as prominent a role in the 1988 Rainbow/Jackson effort as it had in 1984. The critique of vanguardism also pushed the organization to reach out to other socialist groups and individuals and share its self-criticisms. Line of March had long paid more attention to tracking other socialist trends than other party building groups, and now it sought to transform longstanding rivalries into cooperative relationships, particularly with others in the Rainbow Left and with the CPUSA.

Line of March succeeded in improving its ties with other activists but this in itself could not keep the organization afloat. Most cadre still agreed with the broad contours of the United Front Against War and Racism strategy, but in shedding allegiance to Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy and to party building as the central task the organization was left without a foundation. And for obvious reasons the group’s self-confidence and political prospects were hard-hit by the demise of the Rainbow and the failure of Soviet perestroika. So when the re-examination process ended in fall 1989, the 200 or so remaining members sought to engage with other socialists in a broader left renewal project. The group voted to disband Line of March and devote their remaining resources to a new regroupment-oriented magazine. Their main partner was the North Star grouping, and the organizational scaffolding of the new endeavor would come from merging Line of March’s biweekly newspaper Frontline with that network’s magazine, North Star Review.

The new publication, CrossRoads, was launched in 1990 on the basis of funds and cadre mainly from the former Line of March and a left regroupment approach first advocated by North Star. Other circles and individual activists – from other sections of the new communist movement as well as other socialist traditions – also participated. Formed just as the upheaval in world communism was reaching its height, the magazine soon found itself intersecting with the even broader left convergence that following the explosion in the CPUSA at its December 1991 Convention. The dissident CPUSA members who left to form the Committees of Correspondence after that gathering were those who had been most positive about the Rainbow and most in agreement that Soviet society was in need of radical change. Thus on a number of key political points they had arrived at similar conclusions as the former anti-revisionists who were at the core of CrossRoads. Likewise these former CP’ers aimed to bring a dose of democratization into the communist tradition, and were eager (to varying degrees) to work with activists from a variety of traditions in building a new activist, socialist group.

With 500-1,000 ex-CPers as an initial core, the pole set by the new Committees attracted a reasonably broad range of activists from the socialist left. CrossRoads, while not formally affiliating with the Committees, gave the group extensive and positive coverage, and many individuals from CrossRoads circles joined. The first national conference of the Committees was held in Berkeley in July 1992, drawing 1,300. While veterans of the new communist movement played a role in the Committees, they were not central in shaping the group’s direction. That role was held by the ex-CP core along with a few other prominent individuals, most notably Manning Marable. After 1992 the Committees of Correspondence lost much of its initial momentum and energy, but it has survived and established itself as an active and non-sectarian, if small, force on the much-shrunken socialist left. CrossRoads, on the other hand, was unable to sustain itself past the period (1990-1994) where left regroupment was not simply a hope but a practical movement gripping at least a few thousand activists. After making a determined but resource-starved effort to link up more closely with the new 1990s generation of activists, CrossRoads ceased publication in 1996.