A new socialist org is born: A report on the Marxist Center conference

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By Alyson Escalante

Full disclosure: I attended the Marxist Center conference as a delegate for United Communists of Lane County, a revolutionary socialist collective from Eugene, Oregon, of which I am a member. I aim to provide an unbiased account and reflection on the events of the conference, but I want to emphasize that these are my personal opinions and view and that they do not reflect the official stance of UCLC or any other organization with which I am affiliated. I write this article with the intention of informing those who were not able to be at the conference and will be focusing on what was accomplished at the conference, with less attention given to the various events surrounding it. 

On Friday November 30th, 2018, I flew to Denver to attend the second annual Marxist Center conference. Up to this point, Marxist Center had been a loose network of local revolutionary socialists collectives united around a commitment to dual power and base building strategies. The network had congregated last year in Philadelphia to collectively discuss strategy and praxis. The previous conference was mostly for networking and information sharing, and did not represent a decision making body for the network.

Unlike the previous conference, this second Marxist Center conference was focused on decision making and working towards formal unity between the collectives within the network. In the year leading up to the conference, multiple proposals were prepared and shared online. These proposals included Points of Unity drafted by a comrade from the Communist Labor Party, a proposal for a Marxist Center website and affiliation requirements drafted by a comrade from Philly Socialists, and a proposal for Revolutionary Left Radio to officially affiliate and cross-promote with the Marxist Center. The goal for the conference was to create a framework for the establishment of a nation-wide Marxist Center organization with more formal unity than the network had up to that point.

Upon arriving in Denver, comrades were gracious enough to pick me up for the airport. We headed to the conference for the first night of activities. On Friday night we heard an opening address from Gabriel Palcic of Colorado Springs Socialists. Afterwords, Boots Riley gave a speech where he emphasized the centrality of class struggle and the necessity of a patient and militant organizing strategy that eschews spectacle in favor of building a revolutionary socialist base. Boots focused on the need for militant labor organizing that is capable of and willing to operate outside the legal limitations imposed by the Taft Hartley act.

After Boots Riley’s speech, we screened his film Sorry To Bother You. Colorado Springs Socialists had advertised the event fairly extensively prior to the conference, and this screening brought out a sizable crowd of community members. The room for the screening was absolutely packed; this was an impressive turnout of community members for an explicitly socialist organization. After the film, Boots participated in an extensive question and answer segment. When one observer pushed back against Boots’ endorsement of militancy and strategic political violence, Boots pushed back by suggesting that a scientific investigation into the conditions of capitalism reveals that violence and militancy will inevitably be needed to overthrow capitalism. Once the question and answer question segment concluded, delegates returned their dwellings to rest before a full day of decision making and debate.

The conference resumed at 8:30am on Saturday. The rather ambitious schedule for the day called for voting on all of the proposals for the conference, so that Sunday could be devoted to workshops. Prior to the conference, myself and other comrades had proposed revisions to the points of unity to make explicit mention of socialism, Marxism, and decolonization. The night before, I had worked with the author of the original points of unity to find a way to compromise and rectify the two documents. This process turned out to be productive and led to us making some changes to the points of unity before the conference. This became a slight issue on Saturday morning when the revised language of the proposed points of unity no longer aligned with the points of unity hand out given to delegates (which contained the original unadvised points of unity). This was eventually resolved and the new revised points of unity were projected above the stage so that all delegates could read them.

Once everyone was on the same page about which points of unity were being discussed, we spent a sizable amount of time working through the points one at a time, while delegates proposed further revisions, suggested additional amendment points, and debated the language used in several of the points. This process led to the proposal of three additional amendments: one in favor of prison abolition, one discussing climate change as an existential threat, and one supporting armed self defense. Once these amendments and revisions had been proposed, we went on to vote on which amendments and revisions we wanted to approve. This presented a problem as no system for voting had been formally established before the conference. This led to a moment of debate about whether or not we should do a majority vote for each individual revision, or if we should use a plurality vote for all of the revisions for a given point. After a somewhat hectic moment of collective confusion, we decided in favor a majority vote for each individual revision.

Once we had decided on a voting mechanism, we began to vote to edit the document. All three of the amendment points were passed with significant modification made to their language. Most the other changes were relatively minor and linguistic in nature, though the points about decolonization and imperialism were ultimately merged together into a single point after some debate about the distinctiveness of imperialism and settler colonialism. Once we had finished voting on all of the revision and all of the amendments, we decided to vote on approving the new document on Sunday. By this point the conference was already significantly behind schedule and we had to move on to discussing the website and affiliation proposals.

To my surprise, the website proposal passed with relative ease and very little discussion. This was a welcome relief, as the affiliation proposal was of utmost importance and we were already falling behind schedule. Moving on to the next proposal, we allowed room for discussion and debate around certain aspects of the proposal. Two contentious sections were the establishment and a national delegate council, and the establishment of national arbiters to operate as conflict resolution officers for the national organization. A sizable debate was had about whether or not at-large members should be represented by a delegate, or if only affiliate collectives should be represented in the delegate council. Another point of contention developed around how many members should be a part of the arbiter council, and whether organizations should be able to adopt arbiters.

The discussion around these last two points dragged on for quite some time, largely because of confusion about several proposed amendments to the arbiter selection process. After collectively spinning our wheels on the issue, a vote passed to table the issue until the next day. At this point, event organizers announced that we would be concluding for the day. This meant that on Sunday we would have to make an up down vote on the entirety of the points of unity, finish voting on affiliation, and hear and vote on the Revolutionary Left Radio Affiliation.

On Sunday morning, we convened for one last day to hopefully approve the outstanding proposals, as well as hear workshops prepared by various comrades. We quickly voted unanimously to adopt the revised points of unity. Despite my own frustrations with the process, this was a particularly impressive accomplishments. Delegates from 24 organizations were present, representing a wide variety of tendencies and ideologies, and somehow managed to come together to unite around 11 points of unity. This level of unity among revolutionary socialists from different tendencies is almost unheard of and represents a serious commitment to centering revolutionary praxis above leftist infighting and bickering.

After voting to adopt the points of unity, we finished revisions to the affiliation document. We voted to allow at large members to have a delegate to represent them on the delegate council, and we gave the delegate council authority to establish the procedure for selecting arbiters. A last second proposal was added to give the delegate council the authority to draft parliamentary procedure to be used at the next conference. This proposal passed with an overwhelming majority. Finally, we voted to approve Revolutionary Left Radio as an official affiliate of the Marxist Center. While the details were left vague, this essentially means that the Marxist Center website will recommend RevLeft as an educational resource, while RevLeft will state their affiliation with Marxist Center on their episodes.

Finally all voting was concluded, and somehow, at the end of hours on hours of debate and editing, we had established a new nationwide revolutionary socialist organization. What is more, this organization was not born out of a split but out of the unification of multiple collectives. This is a very rare occurrence, and at the very least should be seen as a massive organizational accomplishment. I think that at this point many delegates were exhausted, and the transition to workshops was a welcome relief.

While I will not go into details on the workshops for security reasons, I will say that they covered a broad variety of topics such as: cultivating a healthy organizational culture, labor organizing, cooperative organizing, tenants organizing, cyber security, and fundraising. These workshops were very practical in nature, and I can personally say that I learned a lot from them. The skills that were shared will definitely go to help our organizing at UCLC, and I am glad that we were able to send a delegate to learn from the successes and failures of other comrades across the country.

Moving Forward:

Now that I have provided a basic summation of what occurred at the conference, I want to offer some reflections on what this all means moving forward. Marxist Center will convene again in a year, this time to establish a constitution for our newly founded national organization. Before this happens, each individual collective has to vote to adopt the points of unity in order to affiliate. At the time of writing this article, United Communists of Lane County and New River Workers Power had both voted to adopt the points of unity. Over the next few months we should get a clear sense of which organizations will be moving forward with the Marxist Center project.

Despite significant frustrations with the conference, I am hopeful for how we can proceed from here. Allowing the delegate council to establish a parliamentary procedure for the next conference will hopefully resolve a lot of the logistical problems which occurred at the conference. In the days since the conference, members from a variety of tendencies have recognized that we will have to have extensive debates about issues such as the state and decolonization moving forward. I was quite frustrated with the merging of the points on imperialism and decolonization, but I am hopeful that we can have good debate and struggle around these issues moving forward. The Marxist Center remains a group filled with contradictions, but what else could it we ask it to be at this step? Eleven points of unity now exist and give us a basic agreed upon framework to work around, and I believe this will allow us to begin to engage in good faith and honest struggle around more concrete and crucial theoretical and praxical issues. The Marxist Center is not by any means perfect, but it is off to a potentially good start.

While many will have problems with the theoretical underpinnings of the points of unity, I want to draw attention to the important work Marxist Center collectives are accomplishing now. The various collectives within the newly founded organization are already engaged in mass work around tenants organizing, homelessness, labor organizing, community self defense, and mutual aid. That a new organization has been born of various collectives already engaged in this work should be a promising sign for the future of the left. Only time will tell exactly what the Marxist Center will become, and what role it will play in the revolutionary socialist movement, but I think I can confidently say that this will be remembered as a positive step forward.

Alyson Escalante is a Marxist-Leninist, Materialist Feminist and Anti-Imperialist activist.

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