The Freedom Road Socialist Organization suffered the first split in our history in 1999. Our districts in Chicago and Minnesota and a scattered handful of other comrades left the organization. The differences had developed over a long period of time and at the root reflected in large part differing evaluations of the efforts to build socialism in the 20th century. The immediate cause of the split was a difference over the merits of FRSO’s promoting the idea of unity among various revolutionary and socialist forces remaining in the U.S. (See the paper “Meeting the Challenge of Crisis and Opportunity: Left Refoundation and Party Building.”)
We have published here both our statement on the split and the one published by the grouping which left FRSO. They are referred to here as “Fight Back,” the name of their publication. We have to do this to avoid confusion. Regrettably, they continue to use the name “Freedom Road Socialist Organization.”
This claim is understandable—our organization has a proud heritage. But facts are stubborn things. There is a Freedom Road Socialist Organization, and they ain’t it. When they split, the “Fight Back” folks were a minority on our leading body, a minority of the districts, and a minority of the members. Furthermore, they included only one section of the diverse political currents which have come together over time to form Freedom Road—no one from the Proletarian Unity League, no one from the Organization for Revolutionary Unity, no one from the Amilcar Cabral/Paul Robeson Collective, and only one member of the Socialist Organizing Network. And they have already dropped one of the three documents which lay out the basic line of Freedom Road: our Statement on the Crisis of Socialism.
We nevertheless regret the departure of the “Fight Back” comrades, and we expect to be side by side with them in combat against the U.S. ruling class in the years to come, and perhaps someday, back in the same organization as well.
FRSO statement on the split:Freedom Road Socialist Organization Loses Two Districts in Split
The Freedom Road Socialist Organization has to report, with considerable regret, that two districts, Minnesota and Chicago, have chosen to split away from our organization. They have been joined by a handful of individuals from other districts. This means the loss to Freedom Road of some fine comrades, including three members of the National Executive Committee, and of some outstanding political work, most notably among the urban poor.
Splits are rarely beneficial, however necessary they may appear at the time. Some members of Freedom Road were active in organizations of the new communist movement which arose in the US in the 1970s, many of which experienced wrenching internal struggles and splits. None of the groups born of these splits survived to become larger than the original organization. In the current period, one in which many practical and theoretical questions remain for revolutionary socialists and Marxist-Leninists to tackle, weakening the organized forces of the revolutionaries is a grave disservice to the struggle.
The group which has split identifies itself as “the Marxist-Leninist trend” within Freedom Road. In fact, it is a minority which has refused to abide by the democratic centralism to which it claims to adhere. It represents a minority on the leading body of the organization, a minority of the districts in the group and a minority of the members of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. (This makes what appears to be a claim by the comrades who are splitting that they have somehow become the “real” Freedom Road not only opportunist but frivolous.)
FRSO expect that polemical statements from the split grouping will be forthcoming, explaining their actions and laying out the story they will be telling anyone interested–and themselves–about what happened. As is always the case in such internal battles, the issues in the split in Freedom Road are complex.
We will make a few brief points on this matter. A basic issue which must confront every revolutionary socialist and Marxist-Leninist organization is the inevitable existence of different trends, different currents of thought within a group’s ranks. FRSO chose to recognize such trends in an effort to give them play and see what could be learned from them. By harnessing them, we sought to avoid paralysis and sharp division. We will have to engage in a deeper sum-up of the reasons for the failure of this effort, but the idea that a given trend must seek either to crush its opponents or split from them holds little attraction for us.
The immediate cause of the split was bitter opposition by the comrades from the split grouping to an initiative by one of the other trends within Freedom Road. This trend advocates a position called Left Refoundation–exploring new approaches to party building and to cooperation with other revolutionary and self-identified socialist forces in this country, both organizations and unaffiliated individuals. Such exploration was denounced by the split grouping as a “social democratic” betrayal of Marxism-Leninism. (The split grouping has chosen to recast other differences in FRSO’s history as ones between their “M-L” line and “social democracy,” such as different estimates of the state of the labor movement and the best way to strengthen the fighting capacity of the working class.)
A deep underlying ideological difference which informs all of this concerns how to sum up the crisis of socialism. Freedom Road adopted a “Statement on the Crisis of Socialism” at our 1991 Congress and reaffirmed it over the strenuous objections of several comrades from the split grouping at our most recent congress, in 1997. In short, FRSO has long held that there exists a crisis of socialism, based on actual and deeply rooted internal contradictions in the model of socialism established by the Russian revolution. Many of the most vocal of the split grouping’s members deny that any crisis exists. They uphold the idea that the Soviet bloc was socialist until its complete collapse in the 1989-1991 period, in contradiction to FRSO’s line and tradition, which are based in the Maoist critique of the Soviet Union. And they say that all the critical and sobering developments in the world socialist movement in recent decades call not for deep analysis and new thinking but only for more rigorous application of the classic texts of Marxism-Leninism.
What will happen now? Both Freedom Road and the split grouping will face challenges in building organizational structure and fighting erosion of morale among comrades who find themselves members of a group significantly smaller than the not-so-large one they were in just months ago. For our part, we do not want a big ongoing political conflict with the comrades of the split grouping. It would drain energies better spent elsewhere and increase the level of antagonism which comes with any split. FRSO comrades will surely find ourselves working and fighting side by side with people from the split grouping and we don’t want our differences to hurt the struggle.
The loss of the comrades from the Chicago and Minnesota districts and their supporters is a setback for the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. In turn, the weakening of FRSO is a setback, though we cannot claim it is a monumental one, for the struggle overall. As with any setback, we will struggle to understand and overcome it. We have the line and practice accumulated in the course of the 15 year history of our organization to draw on. We will continue to dedicate ourselves to building the popular movements against white supremacist US imperialism and to winning the advanced fighters from those struggles to socialist revolution.
A Luta Continua!
The National Executive Committee,
“Fight Back” statement on the split:Public Statement on the Future of FRSO
Freedom Road Socialist Organization is moving forward. We have put an end to the period of political and organizational crisis which threatened our very survival. Building on our best traditions and practice, we have reaffirmed our commitment to building a revolutionary movement in this country. As part of this we have reaffirmed that this movement must have Marxism-Leninism as a foundation.
The handful of billionaires who dominate the political and economic life of this country has no right to rule. They have built an empire on the foundations of exploitation, oppression, and inequality. We will continue to make our best contributions to the struggle to break their power.
We will work to unite all who can be united against our rulers – to build a united front under the leadership of the working class. At the core of this united front is a strategic alliance, between the oppressed nations within the U.S. borders on one hand, and the multi-national working class on the other. It is the unity of these two powerful forces that will ultimately overturn the exploitative system we live under.
A hallmark of our organization has been, and will continue to be our practical work to build the peoples’ struggles and movements. We will continue to do so, with the sprit of learning from others, as we teach.
Our organization is not large. While we have had substantial successes in our work, there is no reason to be arrogant or boastful. We have always opposed narrow sectarianism, and will continue to do so.
The recent struggle in FRSO called into question both our identity as revolutionaries and our very survival. Under the banner of building a “new socialist party” a right wing section of our organization adopted the standpoint of social-democracy and anti-communism, and insisted that FRSO pursue this strategy. In an exercise of sectarianism, the rightists said there was no socialist movement that met their criteria of what a revolutionary movement should be (either in the U.S. or internationally) so it was their task to “refound it”. They said that Marxism-Leninism was a failure, as well as an obstacle to building socialism, and that a “new revolutionary theory” was needed. They convened a meeting to solidify their strategy to build an organization that corresponds to their thinking over the next 5 years.
All this was contrary to the line, strategy, and plans we adopted at our past Congress which is the highest decision making body of our organization. It was also contrary to Marxism and democratic centralism. Unfortunately another section of our leadership refused to struggle for the decisions adopted at our past Congress, and instead pledged FRSO support for this left refoundation strategy. There was a real danger that Freedom Road would cease to be Freedom Road.
The oppressed and exploited peoples of this country do not need a reformist new social-democratic party. We need a Marxist-Leninist one. While we were willing to make some space for the tactics advocated by the left refoundationists in FRSO, we would not and do not support a project that elevates social democracy to our main revolutionary strategy.
Fortunately, many have rejected this road to liquidation and disintegration. Our highest decision making body, the National Executive Committee was almost evenly divided. We do not know what those who have left Freedom Road by abandoning our strategy will do next, but we repeat what we have already said. The train has left the station but we have no intention of dynamiting the tracks behind us. We welcome discussions with anyone about what has happened and how to move ahead. This includes our friends in other organizations in the U.S. and other countries.
FRSO realizes that the task of building communist organization is by no means easy or simple. We have much work in front of us. That being said we have every confidence in the future. In one of his poems, the leader of the Chinese revolution, Mao Zedong noted “the world cries out for things to be done.” We will continue to advance in the ranks of the doers and shakers. We will build on our successes and do all that we can do to build revolutionary Marxist-Leninist organization. The future is bright!
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