First Published: In What Went Wrong? Articles and Letters on the U.S. communist Left in the 1970’s, Edited and Introduced by Charles Sarkis, 1982.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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March 4, 1977
To: The Workers’ Congress (Marxist-Leninist)
From: The Proletarian Unity League
We are responding to your letter of November 2, 1976. We would like to clear up some confusion about our statement regarding the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee et al, confusion for which we bear responsibility. Our position on the Soviet Union has not changed: we recognize that the CPSU is a modern revisionist party in power, that revisionism in power means the bourgeoisie in power, that capitalism has been restored in the Soviet Union, and that the restoration of capitalism has changed the USSR into an aggressive, imperialist superpower. Strictly speaking, this is a position, a taking of sides, a set of strategic conclusions: it is not, in and of itself, a scientific analysis. Although some interesting papers have been written, the current positions in our movement represent at best descriptive analyses. These descriptive analyses are important, both politically and theoretically; it is certainly possible to make a strong, Marxist case for this position, and, within the bounds of a descriptive analysis, to prove it, to demonstrate it. But it does not add up to a historical materialist analysis of the kind Lenin describes in “Statistics and Sociology”: “historical phenomena being presented in objective interconnection and interdependence and treated as a whole.” That would mean a history of the class struggle in the USSR.
That is what we meant when we said “we do not have one [an analysis] ourselves.” Admittedly, this explanation may be a bit obscure, and also we recognize that that phrase, torn out of context, might give a misleading impression about our position. For this, we are self-critical; we will definitely add a footnote to that phrase and explain our meaning. We are grateful to you for bringing this to our attention.
So far, however, no one else has understood our position as you have. When we introduce the proposed point of unity, we state “we do not agree with this point.” We then say that in this statement, we will give a priority to the party-building line behind this proposed point of unity, and not to the point of unity itself. But from what position do you think someone can disagree with the view that the US is the main enemy of the peoples of the world? We know of only two possible alternative positions: the view that the Soviet Union is the main enemy, and the view that sees both superpowers as the main enemies of the peoples of the world. Both positions obviously rest on the conclusion that capitalism has been restored in the USSR. Our view is that the two superpowers constitute the main enemies of the peoples of the world, although we are presently studying recent articles in Peking Review which describe the USSR as the main enemy of the Third World as well as the statements on the international situation presented at the Albanian Party of Labor’s 7th Congress. We think this position of ours underlies the rest of the discussion of the international question in our statement. Obviously a lot of other people think so too. We know that it is because of our position, as expressed in this statement, that we have not been invited to the conference discussed by the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee, El Comite/MINP, etc. And the expressions of support and criticism we have received have all (with the exception of yours) understood our international position accurately, we think.
In our opinion, your letter of response ignores the main issue raised by our paper, which concerns not the international situation or the character of the USSR, but rather party-building line. We say, “no ideological struggle has occurred on what importance it should play in the struggle for the party. No ideological struggle has occurred over what level of unity is minimally acceptable for a party, or even as in this case, for discussion, for joint ideological struggle.” From our knowledge of your activities, you have not contributed to this ideological struggle anymore than the PWOC has.
It is all very well to say that “no vacillation on this question is acceptable,” as your letter does. But just as the PWOC has not specified what level of unity is acceptable for a party or a conference, you have not told us for what “no vacillation is acceptable.” If for a party program, we would agree. If for a conference, a discussion, or a polemic, then we would disagree. Out there in the real world, there are a large number of groups and individuals who consider themselves Marxist-Leninists yet do not agree with our positions on the Soviet Union. Some are true centrists; some are true vacillators; but a large percentage of them are simply honest people who may be unclear about a whole series of theoretical and political issues which this question raises. The struggle for communist unity based on communist principle around international questions has not succeeded in winning very many of these forces to our position as yet. If anything, it has created a more receptive audience for revisionist positions. Our polemic attempted to speak to these forces, and to argue the necessity for a broad discussion of the issues concerned. Against those who want to exclude organizationally what we understand as a Marxist-Leninist position, we sought to enter what Lenin somewhere calls “forbidden premises” so as to make our views and the views of many other Marxist-Leninist organizations heard. In response you tell us that no vacillation on this question is acceptable. Acceptable or not, “vacillation” as you use the term is taking place; the question is how Marxist-Leninists should approach the broad forces influenced by it.
We could develop the same point around your claims that “A number of organizations in our movement, including our own, have written effectively on the subject.” The question is: “effectively” for whom? Yes, the positions of the Chinese, Albanian and other comrades have won a large number of revolutionary-minded people to a Marxist-Leninist view of the international situation. Yes, the writings of our own movement have propagated these positions, explained them to some extent, and “effectively” won many revolutionary-minded people to them. Nonetheless, many revolutionary-minded workers, students and intellectuals are not convinced. They are not convinced about what level of unity around these questions is required for a party; they are not convinced of the usefulness of many of the polemics that have been written; and they are not convinced of the Marxist-Leninist position itself. To this extent, a lot of the writing of our movement has been “ineffective.”
You write that “to suggest three points as a basis for organizing a conference on party building which consciously fails to mention revisionism, the CPUSA or the struggle against modern revisionism with its center in the social fascist CPSU has nothing to do with the party building effort we are involved in.”
Our points of unity were suggested as alternatives to those put forward by the PWOC et al. Their proposal does include a description of the “’Communist Party’ USA” as “revisionist, class collaborationist and reformist.” More importantly, both their proposal and our own statement take as a given the existence of an anti-revisionist movement. Who recognizes the existence of a communist movement except those who reject modern revisionism? Do you really think that we do not oppose modern revisionism? Or are you “manufacturing differences,” in Lenin’s words, in order to support your particular analysis of the communist movement?
And on this question we do have some serious differences. We are not willing at this time to call them “fundamental,” as you do, but we do agree that they are serious. We have a forthcoming statement on the communist movement, and following its publication we would be happy to hear your criticisms and explore the unity and disunity of our views. We will say a few words in response to your remarks, however.
The strength of either of our analyses of the communist movement depends on our respective abilities to master both Marxist-Leninist theory and to take account of the concrete situation in the movement. You say, “we have yet to see in your analysis more than moralizing of the sort that complains that no one wants to get along.” We have yet to see in your analysis more than quotations from What Is To Be Done?, sometimes incisive empirical observations about the amateurishness of our movement, and elaborate analogies between the US today and Russia of 1900. There is a lot of value in your papers, we think: the emphasis on the development of a “common literature,” an emphasis you have given concrete expression in the pages of your newspaper; the stress on the amateurishness of the Marxist-Leninists; the call to analyze the ideological sources of disunity, to mention a few points. But the weakness of your analysis lies in its inability to either prove that right opportunism constitutes the main danger to our work, or to demonstrate that in the recent history of the communist movement, right errors have been mainly responsible for maintaining divisions, and creating them, in our ranks.
You have your view of the source of our errors: “This [“moralizing” etc.] is obviously a consequence of your failure to grasp the significance of the struggle against modern revisionism.” You are entitled to your opinion, but whatever our “failures” in the struggle against modern revisionism, you have revealed certain ideological and political weaknesses yourselves. Your organization originated in a split with another wing of the BWC. Its founding documents lay out a view of the movement which sees “Economism and Petty-Bourgeois democracy” as the dominant characteristics of one trend in the communist movement. Yet in discussions with us your representatives told us that they were unaware of Lenin’s analyses of “left” economism, particularly those found in Vol. 23. In other words, you wrote pages of analysis of the economism of our movement, and yet did not realize that economism can be of both the “left” and right types.
We were happy to learn that you did not know of those works, and we eagerly awaited the necessary reformulations in your views which we felt this discovery would lead to. Nothing of the sort has occurred, despite the obviously strengthened grip of leftism in our movement. We would still be interested in how you square the documents on which your split took place with Lenin’s discussions of “left” economism, “Left-Wing Communism,” and anarchism in questions of organization.
The content and polemical style of your letter raise some other interesting issues which we cannot pursue in this letter. We are interested in pursuing discussion, however, despite what we recognize as important differences on a number of issues. In this spirit, we sent you and several organizations which are probably closer to your positions than ours a copy of our statement, along with our offer to publish your response. We knew you could not agree to the position on the main danger, but we felt your criticisms of it would be important and worth widespread discussion. Our discussion in Chicago, and several discussions with your former New York district have shown us that we “agree on the kinds of problems we face, disagree on the main danger” but that we can nevertheless conduct an “anti-sectarian, principled ideological struggle” over our differences (quoting from the first point of unity in our statement). We still believe this to be the case. We look forward to hearing from you.
With communist greetings – in unity and in struggle,
The Proletarian Unity League
 The statement referred to is Two, Three, Many Parties of a New Type? Against the Ultra-Left Line.