Line of March

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Line of March was an Oakland based Maoist organization founded in 1980 by Irwin Silber. It became the Frontline Political Organization and later Crossroads, founded in conjunction with the Freedom Road Socialist Organization.[1]

It was part of a movement of communist organizations in the 1970s called, The Trend. Other organizations included the Communist Party USA, Maoist New Communist Movement, the Guardian newspaper, Guardian Clubs, CrossRoads, Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center, El Committee-MINP, and other groups.[2]

Line of March published Frontline. In 1990 the organization briefly morphed into the Frontline Political Organization.

Origins

Leading the initial effort to found the rectification network in December 1976 were Union of Democratic Filipinos leaders Bruce Occena and Melinda Paras and Max Elbaum, then a leader of the Northern California Alliance. Soon thereafter, Third World Women’s Alliance leader (TWWA) Linda Burnham joined the group. Believing that the organizational side of party building needed to be conducted mainly in secret, the network was initially clandestine and had no formal name, its members and supporters becoming known loosely as “rectificationists.”

In 1978, rectification leaders built close ties with two members of the Guardian staff – Executive Editor Irwin Silber and former Third World Women’s Alliance leader Fran Beal who were subsequently recruited into the rectification network. At their urging, other network members joined the just-being-formed Guardian Clubs. And Silber – who had authored many of the Guardian’s ideological polemics – began to propound key elements of the rectification perspective in his Guardian columns and in debates in the Club Network.

By late 1978 differences over the Clubs’ direction and the party-building line of the Guardian led to a split, with the Guardian Club membership – supported by Silber and Beal – breaking away to form the National Network of Marxist-Leninist Clubs (NNMLC) in March 1979. This new group enabled the rectificationists to go public and publish the first comprehensive statements of the rectification line. But as Max Elbaum notes, the NNMLC’s “public attacks on the Guardian were extremely harsh, as were its broad-stroke criticisms of the OCIC. This did not auger well for the Rectificationists’ capacity to establish friendly relations with communists who held differing views.”

In the spring of 1980 the rectification network began issuing a journal, Line of March, drawing on a phrase taken from the Communist Manifesto. The title immediately became the name commonly used for the rectification network as well. Line of March proceeded to produce theoretical materials targeting central premises of the New Communist Movement and the Communist Party of China: first, the thesis that capitalism was restored in the Soviet Union under Khrushchev and Brezhnev; second, the Comintern Black Nation thesis as basis for the analysis of racism in the U.S. and racial divisions in the U.S. working class.

Ideologically, the rectification tendency was initially dominated by the orthodoxy of the CPP, which was heavily influenced by Stalin and Mao. As Max Elbaum described them, “the central rectification activists considered themselves the most orthodox defenders of Leninism around”. For its strategic orientation, rectification rejected the “United Front Against Imperialism” line favored by many in the New Communist Movement and elaborated a strategy it termed the “United Front Against War and Racism.” Rectificationists initially saw the development of the “anti-revisionist, anti-dogmatist” trend as the basis for a rectified CP. However, with the collapse of the OCIC in 1980, Line of March turned toward the Communist Party USA and the Democratic Socialists of America as the potential core of a future United Front.

In its mass practice, Rectification targeted four social movement arenas for direct intervention: anti-racism, anti-imperialism, women’s liberation and labor. The National Anti-Racist Organizing Committee (NAROC) was formed on the basis of mid-1970s work organizing the National Committee to Overturn the Bakke Decision. A Southern Africa Organizing Committee was formed (helping shift the focus of the solidarity movement from the former Portuguese colonies to the fight against apartheid), which later became a broader, national US Anti-Imperialist League (USAIL). However, USAIL’s ties with non-Line of March forces withered, and the group was re-christened the Peace and Solidarity Alliance (a public move away from the New Communist Movement’s shunning of rhetoric of “peace” and toward the Soviet goal of “peaceful coexistence” of the global camps). The TWWA was renamed the Alliance Against Women’s Oppression and focused on the struggle for reproductive rights, while attacking the predominant left force in that movement, socialist feminism. The NCA fragment that joined Line of March turned its attention to the labor movement. All four “revolutionary mass organizations” attempted to bring the United Front Against War and Racism proposal to the fore in their assigned movements, but had little success.

Rectification also launched the Marxist-Leninist Education Project (MLEP): classes for activists that drew on a Comintern-style distillation of Marxism-Leninism. MLEP launched critiques of Mao’s dialectics (which it considered an idealist backstep from Stalin’s Dialectical and Historical Materialism), dependency theory (the subject of a debate in the journal Latin American Perspectives), and Western Marxism (particularly Althusser and Poulantzas). Line of March also attempted to engage non-Trend intellectuals in debate on the crisis in Poland (specifically, Paul M. Sweezy of Monthly Review and Jonathan Aurthur of the Communist Labor Party). LOM’s own reputation reached its lowest point around that issue, when it supported the imposition of martial law in Poland against Lech Walesa’s Solidarity union movement.[3]

Theoretical Journal

The Line of March theoretical journal was simply named - Line of March:A journal of Marxist-Leninist Theory and Politics. It was published by the Institute for Social and Economic Studies, PO Box 2809, Oakland California.

Personnel

In 1980 the Line of March editorial board consisted of co-editors Bruce Occena and Irwin Silber, managing editor Margery Rosnick and Linda Burnham, Max Elbaum, Melinda Paras and Bob Wing. [4].

In 1980, contributing editors to Line of March were Tom Angotti, Fran Beal, Ralph Beitel, William Bollinger, Dale Borgeson, Jim Dann, Michael Downing, Cam Duncan, James Early, Phil Gardiner, Steve Hamilton, Fred Lass, Dan Lund, Jan Newton, Tim Patterson, Mel Rothenberg, Ann Schwartz, Albert Szymanski.[5]

In 1987 the Line of March editorial board consisted of Linda Burnham, Max Elbaum, Bruce Occena, Melinda Paras, Irwin Silber and Cathi Tactaquin.[6]

Regional contacts

In 1980, Line of March regional contacts included;[7]

Los Angeles District Groups?

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DG#1

In a circa 1980 report "Consolidated rectification forces", in the Los Angeles area were named as Bruce Embrey, Joe Hicks, Michael Downing, Francoise Spaulding, Virgie Sanchez, William Bollinger, Dan Lund, Laurie Mayeno, Mike Silverberg, Ceci Kahn, Jaime Geaga, Cyrus Keller, Marilyn Taylor.

Karen Bass, Alfred Herredia, Maribel Saloman, Gregg Santillan, Alan Constantino, David Kimbrough, Adele Wallace were named as the "forces working directly under the guidance of the rectification line/unity with line", of what would become Los Angeles Line of March.

"Broader forces" included Fred Beebe (subscriber), Sarah Shuldiner (ex Communist Party USA), Max Shuldiner, Paul Carlo (works with Naroc Klan work), Ben Yanto (KDP, mass activist), Jeff Kremen (used to be in club, looking at TR), Nancy Parsons (anti-imperialist activist), Rhoda Shapiro (anti-imperialist activist, interested in party building), Constance Coiner (was in US history class), Ken Cloke (academic intellectual)

DG#2

All participants in DG#! except Sarah Shuldiner, Max Shuldiner, Nancy Parsons, Ken Cloke.

Additional consolidated rectification forces, Phyllis Bennis

"Forces working directly under the guidance of the rectification line/unity with line" Joan Andersson, Sylvia Castillo, Danny Estrada.

Seattle conference delegates

An apparent Line of March Seattle conference delegates list, circa mid 1980s included this list of partial names;

Gay and Lesbian Conference

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page 2
Page 3

The invitation list for a mid '80s Line of March gay and lesbian conference included these names;

Jackson campaigns

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Frontline April 11 1988

Line of March was heavily involved in both the 1984 and 1988 Jesse Jackson presidential campaigns.

The end

The end of Line of March was described by former member Ethan Young;

In 1989-90 LOM decided to make a move from a cadre group to a looser association. In spirit it was something like the Democratic Socialist Party of Australia dissolving into the Socialist Alliance [and in fact some DSPers were present at the last national meeting, as well as Peter Camejo].
The transition didn't take. When people work for years in a group with tight discipline and orders from above [or as we liked to euphemize, "the center"], shifting gears is very hard. The successor group lasted a year before members decided to concentrate on the lives they left behind - jobs, finishing school, new families. Most went into careers in social services, nonprofits or unions.

One reason why the transition was particularly hard was that the leader of the group, who had been an inspiration for everyone - no, it wasn't Irwin Silber - fell into drugs and began to burn out, first secretly and then to the entire membership's horror and disorientation. There was a split - and anyone who ever took part in a cadre group knows how devastating a split can be, especially if the group is large enough that few people knew all the members, but small enough so that everyone would be affected personally.
I think the leadership wisely and empathetically brought the project to a slow, steady stop, allowing members to regain their bearings and move on.
A core of members [including Max and Irwin] turned over the group's resources to a new project, CrossRoads magazine, which was a direct unitary response to the crisis in the organized left as the whole. Among the more illustrious supporters were Gil Green, Harry Hay, Elizabeth Martinez, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, David McReynolds, Muhammed Ahmad [Max Stanford] and Camejo.[8]

CrossRoads

Louis Proyect first ran into Line of March when he was a member of Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) in the early 80s. They and the Communist Workers Party were the only left groups who worked in CISPES. The CWP, a Maoist sect, was best known for its disastrous confrontation with the KKK in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1979 that left five of their members dead. They had made the mistake of choosing to utilize armed self-defense as a tactic rather than building a mass movement against Klan terror.

In 1984 the CWP, LofM and the CISPES leadership decided to support the Jesse Jackson presidential campaign. For Marxists coming out of the CWP and LofM tradition, voting for Democrats is a tactical question. If there was ever any tactical motivation for voting for a Democrat, Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition might meet all qualifications. Many people, including Proyect, hoped that the Rainbow Coalition could develop into a third party but Jackson was too much of a careerist to make the kinds of tough choices Ralph Nader made. One year after the end of the Jackson campaign, the CWP dissolved itself with a number of its members finding a home in the Democratic Party, including Ron Ashford, a very capable African-American who represented the CWP in CISPES. Today Ashford is a HUD bureaucrat.

The Line of March dissolved in 1989 with some of their former members deciding to work with Peter Camejo on a magazine called CrossRoads. When it finally stopped publishing in 1996, the magazine reflected on its experience:

On the ISES Board [that published Crossroads], members of the Communist Party USA, Democratic Socialists of America, and smaller groups from the Maoist and Trotskyist traditions worked alongside ‘independents’ and former members of Line of March and North Star Network–not in a tactical, single-issue coalition or in organizing a one-shot conference, but on a common, ongoing socialist project. This was almost unprecedented on the U.S. left, and was decisive in institutionalizing CrossRoads non- sectarian character. Even further, the interaction between once-warring activists proved to be substantive, democratic and exciting. People found it politically and intellectually stimulating to get to know one another and tear down previously insurmountable barriers.

Bob Wing was a member of the ISES board and probably had a major role in the editorial policy of CrossRoads. In keeping with the erstwhile attraction LofM members had to the CPUSA, Wing was solidly behind the formation of the Committees of Correspondence in 1992, a Eurocommunist split from the CP. Peter Camejo, who was probably adapting somewhat to the views of the ex-LofM’ers he worked with on Crossroads, joined the CofC and, if I remember correctly, backed the Jackson campaign. I was still not ready to vote for Jackson but did join the CofC. After going to one of their meetings, I resigned. It was filled with people, mostly in their sixties, getting up and talking about the work they were doing in their Democratic Party club. Camejo quit not long afterwards, writing a sharp rebuke of their orientation to the DP.[9]

References