Letter to the RCP Central Committee Appealing My Expulsion
By Scott H.
November 15, 1977
Chairman Bob Avakian,
Dear Comrade Avakian,
At 3:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon, Oct. 30, 1977, I was expelled from the Party by my branch for being a “proven opportunist”. I am hereby appealing that decision in accordance with the Party Constitution.
The decision of the branch and the local leadership results from a prolonged struggle that has occurred over the mass line and our work among San Francisco Muni Railway transit drivers. Two lines emerged and my line was judged to be “a consolidated opportunist, counter-revolutionary line.” This (naturally) I dispute.
I contend that:
First, the line which I defended is correct and should be affirmed by the Central Committee, and that the line of the other comrades in the work and the local leadership is incorrect and should be criticized and repudiated, and,
Second, even if the line which I defended is judged to be incorrect my expulsion is wrong.
I am enclosing the following documents from this struggle for your examination:
The argument for my interpretation of the mass line and the other political issues which are in dispute is contained in these various papers. In the rest of this letter, however, I would like to:
First, give a brief history of this struggle, and
Second, say why I should not be expelled even if you judge that I am in the wrong on the political questions at issue.
A Brief History of This Struggle
The roots of this struggle go back a long time, into the days of the RU. In the early 1970s I worked for quite a while on the RU mass newspapers in San Francisco. Originally I had no clear notion about what such a newspaper as the Wildcat and later the Bay Area Worker should be or do, how it should be written, and so forth. Over the several year period in which I participated in this newspaper work, as well as through attempts at on the job organizing, through political study, and through political experience generally with the RU, I came to recognize some serious weaknesses in our newspaper work. I wrote several papers on newspaper work which unfortunately did not seem to have any effect. Briefly, it seemed to me that our newspapers were not playing much of a role among the masses, that they were generally pretty dull and lifeless, uninformative and uninspiring, filled with rhetoric, and so on. It came to seem to me that the main problems in our newspaper work were a failure to use the mass line, on the one hand, and economism on the other (lack of serious attempts to raise consciousness about the nature of society, the need for revolution, socialism and communism, etc.) There was even general confusion about such basic questions as who the audience of the Worker was, the importance of frequent publication, etc. Over the years, and with the founding of the Party, there have been substantial improvements in our mass working class newspapers. And yet, frankly, I believe many of these same criticisms still apply. In any case the matter was debated locally several years ago, I was told that I was in the wrong, and to the relief of all sides I was removed from newspaper work.
However I carried into my new assignment of working at Muni some of the appreciation for the mass line, and for what is now called in the Party “doing strictly Marxist work”. My experiences at Muni have reflected this. At the first lay-out session of our former caucus newspaper (Draggin’ the Line) which I attended, a dispute arose between me and E.T. (an older worker now retired) over a few phrases in an article I had written for the paper in which I pointed to the need for revolution. I tried to struggle with E.T. about this but comrade D. sided against me and any hint of revolution was purged from my article.
From that time on a pattern set in. On the one hand I was uneasy about the way the work was being handled and in particular the two outstanding weaknesses—economism and failure to use the mass line and to really rely on the masses—and I struggled against these weaknesses. On the other hand I was somewhat unsure of myself, had a lot of respect for D. and his organizing ability, etc., and consequently did not in fact struggle very hard against these errors. My typical behavior was to somewhat meekly put forward a view and then accept its being overruled by D.
Over the years, however, leadership has on numerous occasions taken note of the errors in the work at Muni and criticized them—especially the economism and rightism. And to a degree comrade D. and all of us in the work, have been forced to recognize this error and try to correct it. More effort was focused on May Day, the May First Workers Organization (and later the UWO), political demonstrations and so forth.
The high point of this struggle against economism was reached during the period of the formation of the Party. Although the mass organizing work at Muni was not particularly outstanding during this period (in fact it was pretty weak) a lot of very good work was done with a smaller number of advanced and/or active workers. One worker made a qualitative leap during a very short period and was recruited into the RU just before the formation of the Party. Another made some very great advances in this period and was later recruited into the Party. Several other workers made great advances in consciousness at this time. One, for example, began referring to the RCP as “our Party” and “the workers’ Party” even though he was not a member. The attempts we made to organize political study, distribute Revolution, the Party Programme and so forth—even though they were somewhat hit and miss and rather disorganized—led to some real gains in consciousness and organization among the relatively small number of active forces we were working with. These advances were only possible of course because of the previous work done at Muni trying to organize mass struggle. And a great deal of the credit for the success of this work at this period is due to comrade D. (though even more is due to the new comrade recruited at that time). The other comrade in the work at that time and myself also made significant contributions but on a lesser scale.
However since the period of the formation of the Party and its immediate aftermath, economism has once again reared its ugly head. Overall our strictly Marxist work has deteriorated—though it has never quite slipped to the depths of the pre-Party days. We have not organized and led study groups since the formation of the Party. Our leaflets and newspapers have been “toned down” and more and more infrequent. Our distribution of Party literature has certainly not gone up and has I believe declined. (It is my belief that many newspapers which comrades have been consigned for the purpose of distributing to the masses have remained piled up in the comrades’ homes, for example. Many times I have suggested that we systematically organize this distribution and discuss just exactly who is getting the literature and who else who should be, isn’t.)
There has moreover been a change in the style of our relations with the masses. Since the formation of the Party we have in fact intensified the already existing trend which was leading to our isolation and alienation from the masses of drivers. This is, I believe, due to the failure to apply the mass line and other related bad styles of work, and not to the fact that a little (very little) Marxist agitation and propaganda is going on. This trend has in turn led to reverses among the formerly active and advanced elements. The (formerly) advanced worker who was once referring to the RCP as “our Party” has dropped out of the caucus and is now trying to escape the working class by forming his own mail order business. Another (formerly) advanced worker (Cl.) has dropped out of the caucus and is hoping to return to college and find an escape from the working class. Other formerly advanced or active workers (Ch., J.H., H.D., E.B., etc.) have dropped out of activity either entirely, or almost so. In fact there really are no advanced workers who we are working with at Muni at the present time even though over the years at least a dozen workers (if not twice that) who fit this category have come forward only to drop back.
Our ability to mobilize the masses in struggle has been dropping at least since the failure to effectively fight the dismissal of Billy Ellis from union office in 1975. However for a long time this trend was not obvious to comrade D., and it was in fact denied up until at least the spring of this year. (It is only in the last few months when this trend has been fully admitted, along with the sudden accusation that I am responsible for it.)
After the removal of Billy Ellis there was another serious setback for Muni workers—the dues increase and by-laws changes at the end of 1975. The failure to prevent these changes was viewed by the workers as a heavy and discouraging defeat. But the obvious turning point in Muni work was the aftermath of the city craft strike during the spring of 1976 and the union election at the same time. In point of fact Concerned Muni Drivers collapsed as an effective force among drivers at the end of that strike and has yet to show any signs of recovery. And it is this same period which marks the real birth of the struggle which has led to my expulsion.
During the craft strike itself I was arguing with comrade D. over each leaflet that we turned out, saying that they should raise some basic questions about the nature of the enemy and his system, that they should include mention of the coming May Day celebration, etc. D. opposed this, showing once again the chief source of the economism in our work. He said that these things should only be raised later, after the strike, in summation of it. (Which never happened either.) When I reminded D. on Oct. 30 of our disputes over these leaflets (and other examples as well), in answer to his accusation that I have an economist line, he tried to sidestep these embarrassing reminders by claiming that these disputes were simply over “wording”, with me mechanically trying to stick in words like “capitalism”, “revolution” and so forth. It is true that I lean toward using plain language with the workers and telling it “like it is”—using words such as those I am “accused” of preferring, whereas D. prefers to put things abstractly or in a round about way. (Look back at the various “revolutionary” editorials he he has written for Draggin’ the Line in past years for example. Sure, there are occasional hints and veiled references to the need for revolution there, but how much did the workers ever get out of this kind of stuff??) But the dispute has never been over just “words”, comrade D.! Whenever he would complain about the “words” in a draft of a leaflet that I prepared I would invariably say: “Well maybe it isn’t written very well. Go ahead and rewrite it if you want to—but I think this content should be in there.” The lack of any consciousness raising content in the leaflets written by D. (or produced under his strict direction) speaks for itself.
With the virtual collapse of Concerned Drivers at the end of the 1976 craft strike, the failure to engage in struggle over many questions at Muni, the limited and unsuccessful attempts to mobilize the masses on any issue, the withdrawal of the formerly active and advanced workers from any participation in the work, the failure even to sum up events for the workers, I began to raise questions and criticisms more frequently and more insistently. For over a year I tried to get a serious study and discussion of the mass line going among us which D. consistently resisted. Even when the Party center called for the serious study of the mass line on the basis of the Party pamphlet and other documents our branch did nothing. We did after six months or so finally get around to one superficial discussion which did not even bring out the differences among us, let alone resolve them.
In January of this year I got sick and was off work until July. This gave me the opportunity to do a little reading and writing, and in order to sharpen up the struggle in our branch I prepared the “Chinese Return Address” paper enclosed with this letter. This paper came down pretty hard on comrade D., pointing out many weaknesses in his leadership and style of work. It really offended him, and he never has forgiven me for writing it. Since that paper was written our relationship has not been cordial—in fact it has been a relationship of barely restrained hostility. As for the substance of my criticisms of his leadership and style of work which are contained in this paper—they were never discussed, even briefly. In our branch meeting of April 17, 1977 we supposedly discussed the paper, but comrade D. restricted the discussion to my outline of the mass line method of leadership.
In the 6 or 7 months since that first paper was written, every branch meeting has been dominated by this struggle. Every discussion was steered by D. into being an attack on my views, and since this was the case I did my best to defend my point of view. Meanwhile I began a more systematic study of the mass line. Some of my first notes were pulled together into the “Draft Notes” paper (which is enclosed with this letter) and submitted on June 14, 1977. Although even now I still consider that I have just begun to study the mass line, I submitted this second paper as a means of further sharpening the struggle, attempting to get at its essence, and as an aid to the people in local leadership who I was informed were writing a reply to my first paper.
You see I thought then that this was a very important struggle for the work at Muni (and perhaps beyond), that it should be engaged in more seriously and intently (not with steady sniping attacks at every branch meeting), but that we ought to get it over with one way or the other, come to a decision and get on with the work.
Finally on the evening of Oct. 24 the regional leadership paper was given to me (item #3 listed above). This was the first and only formal response from leadership to the criticisms and views I had been raising. From its tone I realized immediately that both comrades D. and G. had taken such offense to my criticisms of them that they most likely intended to try to expel me, and “resolve” the debate that way. However I thought that as a matter of form there would be a discussion of the two papers, my views would be repudiated and the other line upheld, and I would be required to uphold that line. After a couple months they would say I hadn’t done so and throw me out. (If these two comrades plan to continue with this bureaucratic means of dealing with disagreements within the ranks let me give them some Machiavellian advice: don’t be so impatient—it looks bad.)
I realized that anything further I had to say about the struggle had to be said on Oct. 30th and after that I would have to keep my views to myself and bend over backwards to prevent the dispute from arising later in any form. So I worked as fast as I could to respond to the regional paper in the 5 days before the Oct. 30 discussion. The evening of Oct. 29 I presented a draft of my reply to D. His response was that the next day we would not be debating two views—that the only paper to be discussed would be the regional paper.
However at the all day meeting on the 30th I was allowed to read a few pages of my reply. As for the “Draft Notes” paper, it was never discussed. (A few references were made to it, of course, in the context of discussing the regional paper.) Early in the discussion one person referred to me as “comrade” and then took back the term. I couldn’t help but be a bit amused at this accidental disclosure of what had already been decided. We all proceeded with the discussion—I should say “trial”—and at the end of the meeting I was expelled from the Party.
Why I Should Not Be Expelled—Even If I Am Judged To Be Wrong
Actually I do not relish in the least the possibility of being brought back into the Party, at least into my hostile branch, unless my views about the mass line and the other basic political questions at issue are in the main upheld by the Central Committee and those of the other side are criticized and repudiated. But there are more important issues at stake here than whatever personal difficulties this possibility would mean for me.
It is, simply stated, wrong to expel people from the Party for holding what the Party views as incorrect ideas. This must be immediately qualified: of course the Party should expel anyone who opposes the basic Marxist-Leninist viewpoint. But most errors in political line do not fit this category. (I am not speaking here of other kinds of errors such as serious violations of democratic centralism.)
Any party that has genuine Marxists as members will inevitably develop differences of opinion among those members. Why? Because real Marxists are people who are able to think and analyze events and situations for themselves, and not simply follow orders blindly. If thinking is not only allowed but demanded, as it has to be in a genuine communist party, then divergent thoughts are bound to arise.
Are we afraid of a hundred schools of thought contending either in society or in the Party? Of course not! Such a condition is essential for the success of the revolution. All correct ideas are at first held by a few people, a minority, sometimes even a single individual. To suppress minority views is therefore to suppress all new ideas, all corrections to what is erroneous, all suggestions for dealing with new situations.
The MPR5 states (p. 41):
This is first of all a confirmation of the view of the mass line which I have been trying (not very successfully) to defend. But it is also a statement of the obligation, the duty, of every comrade to submit criticisms, suggestions, divergent ideas, etc. to the Party for consideration. The whole Lin Piao affair in China made a big impression on me, particularly the absolute correctness of being honest and above board—even if this means airing embarrassing differences with the line of the Party, and so forth. (This is why I especially resent the accusations of dishonesty and of “insidiously” hiding my real views which have been leveled against me.)
Criticisms, suggestions, diverse ideas—many of which are bound to be mistaken and even “dangerous”—are not things to be afraid of and to stamp out. On the contrary the Party must encourage them. Of course it is the responsibility of all comrades and of leadership bodies especially, to weed out the incorrect criticisms and ideas just as much as it is their responsibility to adopt and implement what is correct. And to be sure, what is deemed incorrect should be criticized and repudiated.
But a party that suppresses criticism from the ranks, which expels those with different opinions, is on the road to disaster. (I don’t say that this characterizes the RCP—from all I know it does not. But a case like mine sets a very dangerous precedent.)
In no way can the encouragement of intra-party democracy, criticism, airing of views, etc., be set up against discipline and unity of will. While every comrade should be thinking and analyzing situations for his or herself, it is certainly necessary that the Party as a whole strive to put a single political line—a single view—into effect. Once the line is set on an issue all comrades should defend it and implement it, though naturally they may reserve their own private opinion. I have always firmly believed in this principle and have practiced it.
The comrades in my branch said that they did not believe I could carry out the line of the Party and therefore should be expelled. But in 1972 I carried out the line of the RU on McGovern even though I disagreed with it—and even surprized myself with the good results I got while doing so. (This in itself was evidence of the political error I was making on the question.) Another example of the same thing is my defeated position on newspaper work mentioned above. Although I have continued to hold those same views I have kept them to myself so successfully that my opponents in this current struggle did not even think to bring up the matter, despite their attempts to recall all my “past mistakes” in order to discredit my present position. I believe I have proven my ability to defend and carry out the line of the Party even in those (few) areas where I privately disagree with it. I have in every case put my views forward, and if they were criticized and a contrary line established, I have reserved my own opinion and tried to carry out the line of the Party. I believe in this principle.
But what about the present struggle—hasn’t it gone on for ever? It’s gone on a long time, all right. But if you look back you will find that at every step it was me that tried to sharpen, hasten and finish the struggle—one way or the other. It is the other side which has dragged its heels, avoided intensive discussion and settled on a long term strategy of sniping at my opinions without ever hashing out the issues in depth. Under their direction the struggle has dragged on and on; the papers I wrote were not discussed or at least not discussed in full; and the paper they wrote was half a year in coming. Up until I learned (around June 1) that local leadership was writing a paper in response to my views on the mass line I had no inkling of which side leadership would take on the branch struggle. Even then it was only an inference. Not until regional leadership distributed its paper was the line set and thereforefore I don’t see how I can be accused of disruption and so forth before that time. In my “Reply to Regional Leadership”, as well as verbally on numerous occasions, I have plainly stated my intention of abiding by the decision of leadership and to do my best to impliment the line they set.
In one of the most profound statements from a very profound man indeed, Mao said: “We must have faith in the masses and we must have faith in the Party. These are two cardinal principles. If we doubt these principles we shall accomplish nothing.” (Quotations, p. 3) I have always kept my faith in the Party even when I believed it was making an error on one point or another. Faith in the Party, for me, has never meant a blind, religious faith any more than has “faith in the masses”. Despite the unfortunate tendency of all parties (including the RCP) to insist on their absolute correctness, I have never quite believed this. It is undialectical. Correctness and incorrectness interpenetrate each other and nothing is absolutely pure. Sure there is a correct line and incorrect lines, but in the real world people and parties only approximate the correct line to one degree or another. Not only are there shortcomings and errors in every single party member (some more than others, of course) but the Party as a whole has its shortcomings too. This should not frighten us; we should recognize it and strive constantly to make the Party line ever more correct, to improve our grasp of the revolutionary process and our knowledge of the concrete situations we find ourselves in. Even if it were possible to know one situation exactly and to establish a perfectly correct line for dealing with that situation, we must recognize that reality is constantly changing and that our ideas inevitably tend to lag somewhat behind. The fact that our Party’s line—that no party’s line—is ever “perfectly” correct does not mean that we cannot make revolution. Fortunately absolute perfection is not required. Neither the Bolsheviks nor any other party which has led a successful revolution was ever “perfect”. Of course generally speaking a party’s line must be correct or revolution is impossible. And every effort must be made to rid the Party of errors and make its line more correct.
But ridding the Party of errors and alien class ideas does not for the most part mean expelling members who raise criticisms and who put forward different ideas. In fact such suppression makes it more difficult for the Party to make its line ever more correct. Unity of will is necessary and unity of action—but not absolute unity of ideas. In fact it is just these differences with the Party line which among them (together with much that is false and erroneous) contain the corrections to the errors in the Party line itself. Differences of opinion, contrary ideas, criticisms, and the like should be highly valued—not because most of them are right, since actually most of them are wrong—but because some of them are right and it is just these that the Party needs to correct its mistakes and errors.
I believe it is just this viewpoint which has found expression in the MPR, the Party Programme, and other important documents from the center—but which is missing in my (former) branch and among local leadership. It is not just the Party center which needs a largeness of mind and a willingness to consider and evaluate different views, but every Party body and every comrade.
Am I arguing for “freedom of criticism”, freedom of speech for the bourgeoisie (or for the reflection of bourgeois ideas within the Party)? Not at all. I am only saying that every comrade has a duty to put forward all his or her criticisms and ideas in the proper way and at the proper time and that the Party should welcome and value these ideas, should give them full consideration, should not suppress them, and should definitely not discipline or expel comrades who put them forward.
But what about “consolidated opportunist lines”—doesn’t the Party have an obligation to clear out these lines and those who champion them once and for all? Sure it does, if it is absolutely certain that a line fits this category. The line of the Franklins in the RU is a clear example, or the lines of Trotsky, Browder, Liu Shao-chi, etc. No serious question can be raised about the correctness of clearing these lines out of the various parties. (But even in these cases it was more the opportunist actions and violations of democratic centralism which necessitated the expulsion of such individuals, than their opportunist opinions as such.) Much care must be taken not to wrongly characterize what are evidently incorrect lines as “consolidated opportunist lines”.
From the point of view of the CPC central committee before 1935 Mao Tsetung’s line on the Chinese revolution was incorrect. Whether they characterized his line as a “consolidated opportunist line” I don’t know, but I would be surprized if they didn’t. It is very fortunate indeed that the CPC did not expel Mao even though they did improperly strip him of various important Party posts. History has demonstrated very clearly in this case just which side really had a “consolidated opportunist line”.
I don’t compare myself to Mao Tsetung! But I have tried to take his behavior before 1935 as a model whenever I have had a disagreement with any part of the Party’s line.
We should think about this example long and seriously. It is not wrong to repudiate an incorrect line, or a line we believe to be incorrect. But at least as far as a sincere comrade goes, someone who though he/she holds what seems certainly to us to be an incorrect line, but who is willing to do his/her best to put the line of the Party into practice while reserving his or her own opinion, who continues to abide by Party discipline and so forth—such a comrade should not generally be expelled. (Removal from Party posts however seems more reasonable.) There are three reasons why the Party should (usually) not expel such a comrade: First, the comrade may ultimately be shown to be right. Second, the comrade may come to see his or her own errors, and change his/her mind. And third, even if neither of the above occurs and the comrade continues indefinitely to privately reserve his/her own opinion on a question, he/she may still be able to provide service of value to the revolution as a Party member.
Consequently, I believe it was wrong to expel me and that the Central Committee should reverse this decision.
* * * *
One of the comrades in the branch said: Go ahead and appeal to the Central Committee. But what do you expect? That they will disagree with everything the regional leadership has been saying and doing?
I don’t know what I expect, beyond a reading of what I am sending you—itself no small task—rather than simply accepting the characterizations of my views by regional leadership as accurate. On the one hand there is the statement from the other side about what my line “really” is; on the other is what I have actually written. On the one hand there are all these comrades who have been selected for leadership positions on the basis of their work, who oppose everything I say; on the other hand there is the lonely voice of a single person. But it still seems to me that I am upholding the correct view of the mass line as expressed not only by Mao but also by the RCP in the Party pamphlet on the mass line and in many documents, and it seems to me that somehow this should be recognizable from what I have written.
But since there is the real possibility that this will be my last communication with the Party, I would like to add a final few words. In the past whenever I disagreed with any aspect of the Party line I always tried to keep the excellent model of Mao before 1935 in mind. In this new situation I hope to keep a different model before me—that of Anna Louise Strong. Though she was wrongly accused and dealt with by both the Soviet and U.S. Communist Parties she nevertheless continued steadfastly to struggle for revolution and communism, and refused to oppose those Parties.
At the time of my expulsion I was practically invited by D. to join OL or some other opportunist outfit. Such a move, and/or attacks on the Party by me, would (as I said at that meeting) be welcomed by D. and G. since it would “prove” they were right about me. Well perhaps my failure to oppose the Party in any way will not prove that I was right, but at least I will have the satisfaction of disappointing these two. I have been asked by the local Party organization not to distribute Party literature or in any way associate myself with the Party. I intend to respect this request. But I cannot be kept from the supporting the Party and its line in various other ways, nor from engaging in revolutionary work. I am still a communist, though in an exceptionally difficult situation in which to continue communist work.
“...We must have faith in the Party...” It’s tough to maintain when the Party unjustly expels you; but I hope to be able to do it just the same. I will continue to support the overall political line of the RCP even if my expulsion is upheld—because I believe it to correct. And as for the relatively small areas of differences, if the Party is in error I firmly believe that you will eventually discover it and make the necessary corrections. It is unfortunate that I cannot continue to work as a Party member; it is, I believe, a mistake that I have been expelled. But genuine faith in the Party is not shaken by such relatively small mistakes and errors—even if they loom so very large in personal terms.
Notes1 Scott H., “Draft Notes On the Mass Line and Our Work”. The theoretical parts of this 24-page paper constituted the first version of what eventually became my book on the mass line. Most of that book is now posted at: http://www.massline.info/mlms/mlms.htm
2 Unsigned [but written by two members of the regional leadership of the RCP], “Defeat Bourgeois Idealism and Economism!! Raise High the Banner of the Working Class in All We Do!!!” Now available online at: http://www.massline.info/rcp/expel/charges.htm
3 Scott H., “Reply to Regional Leadership” (Revised Version, 11/15/1977). Now available online at: http://www.massline.info/rcp/expel/reply.htm
4 Scott H., “The ‘Capital Shortage’ Myth: A Dangerous Error in Political Economy” (Jan. 1977). This paper criticized the RCP position on a question in Marxist political economic theory. It was originally an internal criticism, but many years later—long after my expulsion—I posted it on the Web. It is now available online at: http://www.massline.org/PolitEcon/ScottH/capshort.htm
5 “MPR” refers to the “Main Political Report” of the RCP leadership which was adopted at the founding convention of the Party. As far as I know this document was never made public. Too bad; it had lots of good material in it. (As well as some error, of course; nothing is ever 100% pure!)
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