A Commentary on the Revision of the Single Spark Collective’s
“What We Believe” Statement in September 2007

      [This is not a document from the Single Spark Collective itself. It is a commentary by Scott H. written after the SSC dissolved in October 2008, about an apparently small change made to the principles of unity of the group in September 2007.]

      In September 2007 the Single Spark Collective changed point 14 of its “What We Believe” statement (its principles of unity) from this:

The basic approach we promote toward the masses of people is to join up with them in their existing struggles for their own collective interests and, in the course of that, to bring the light of revolution to them. As an important part of this, in all our work we try to promote the mass line, the leadership method of ‘from the masses, to the masses.’

      To this:

We are committed to bringing revolutionary ideas to the people. As an important part of this, in all our work we try to promote the mass line, the leadership method of ‘from the masses, to the masses.’

      At that time the SSC gave an open public explanation of why it made this change in a “Revision Statement” now available on MASSLINE.ORG. I’ll refer to that some more below.

      Although after some heavy struggle and with great reluctance I went along with this change back then, I believed then and still believe now that this was a change for the worse.

      While it is often viewed as quite strange for those not familiar with radical politics how seemingly minuscule points of phraseology may loom so large in debates, there is often a lot riding on them. Much more than initially appears on the surface. Here are my specific complaints about the change to point 14:

  1. The original version emphasized the importance of joining up with the workers and masses in their own struggles. The revised version dropped that point completely.

  2. The original version said that in the course of that (i.e., in the course of joining up with the masses in their own struggles) we should try to “bring the light of revolution” (revolutionary ideas) to them. The revised version does say that we should bring revolutionary ideas to the masses, but omits the key importance of especially doing that while engaged with them in their struggles. This is an important matter, because people are far more willing to listen to revolutionary ideas when they are personally in the midst of serious struggle. Their minds are much more open then than normally. This is something that is true for all of us. Thus to drop any reference to the greatly increased effectiveness of revolutionary education in the midst of mass struggle is a serious error. This is not something that most American revolutionaries already understand! It was an important point of demarcation between SSC and other groups.

  3. The original version talked about both leadership of the masses in struggle via the mass line, and revolutionary education (“bringing the light of revolution” to the masses), but it didn’t confuse the two. The revised version makes this all much vaguer, and can even be interpreted to suggest that what we mean by “leadership” is mostly (or entirely) a matter of bringing revolutionary ideas to the masses. This is the view of the RCP, but it is quite wrong. What we should, at least, mean by “leadership” is helping to guide the masses in their actual struggles against the enemy, though of course that also means attempting to lead those struggles in a revolutionary direction. And, yes, we also have our extremely important educational tasks, in addition to our leadership tasks; and overall our tasks of revolutionary education actually are the most important of the two! But we also engage with the masses in their struggles, and provide guidance and leadership to these struggles when we can, in large part because that allows us to do a much better job in our primary task of revolutionary education.

      So why did we make the change to point 14, anyway? It came about because we were meeting with several other revolutionaries who were formerly connected to the RCP, hoping to unite with them in a single organization (whether or not it would still be called “Single Spark”). And they demanded the change as a precondition of that unity. Moreover, they made some arguments (such as about how Lenin supposedly changed his ideas on these matters when he wrote What Is To Be Done?) that also convinced one of our existing SSC members that we should make this change to our principles of unity.

      But even though we made that compromise, and showed we were willing to bend on points that some of us, at least, considered very important, the former RCPers decided not to join with us after all. (An unrelated additional conflict also soon developed.)

      As implied in the “Revision Statement”, one of the specific things the ex-RCPers didn’t like about our original point 14 was the phrase about “bringing the light of revolution” to the masses. Why did that bother them?! After all, they had no objection to the less poetic but equivalent phrase “bringing revolutionary ideas” to the masses. Apparently the main reason for their objection was the implicit reference to Lenin’s 1895 comment which they disagreed with.

      But, as this suggests, the main issues were really about how to understand the mass line, and whether we revolutionaries should actually join up with the masses in their own struggles at all. The ex-RCPers had not then broken with the RCP dogma that participating with the masses in their day-to-day struggles is a form of “economism” or “opportunism”. (The ideas of these ex-RCPers—like everyone’s—have continued to evolve, and it is quite possible that they may now no longer hold these same views.)

      The “Revision Statement” says that “the ‘Bring the Light’ formulation is one approach to mass work, which we no longer consider a dividing line question.” But really we gave way in our formulation of point 14 on a somewhat different matter: was it still a dividing line question whether we were determined to join up with the masses in their own struggles or not? Alas, we seem to have formally decided, by changing point 14, that it was not! However, I think in practice that all of us who remained with Single Spark still really thought that we should do so.

      At any rate that is still what I believe!

      I have written up this little commentary mostly for the benefit of those others who were members of Single Spark, who are still my comrades and friends. It is important that we work to correctly summarize our own history and development, and this is one step toward doing that.

      Scott H.       (Oct. 10, 2008)

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