Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Oleta O’Conner Yates

The Struggle Against Deviations and Factionalism in San Francisco

First Published: Political Affairs, Vol. XXV, No. 12, December 1946
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The building of the Communist Party into a powerful mass party of the American working class must be based upon a correct Marxist line and policy, maintained in the struggle against deviations to the Right or the “Left,” and brought to life in the struggle around the vital issues facing labor and the nation today.

The resolution of the National Convention in July, 1945, emphasized that American monopoly capitalism has become the chief stronghold of world reaction, seeking to establish its domination over the world. In this period, consequently, the main aim is to block the onslaught of the trusts, to smash their anti-labor, anti-people’s domestic program, as well as their imperialist foreign policies. The struggle against Wall Street and its program requires the welding together of all anti-fascist, anti-monopoly, democratic forces into a broad coalition that can prevent new wars and aggression, and stop the advance of reaction and fascism in the U.S.

It is within the framework of this basic approach that the Party’s position on economic and political sues, campaigns, and struggles is developed, with constant struggle against the distortion of our line by trends or tendencies toward either Right opportunism or “Left”-sectarianism. This necessitates raising the ideological level of the entire Party learning to estimate correctly the relationship of forces in given periods and situations, and becoming fully involved in mass struggles on the economic and political front–struggles that will sharpen as the result of the G.O.P. electoral victory. In San Francisco, during the last year, the application and further development of the line of the National Convention have brought to the surface evidences of both Right opportunism and “Left”-sectarianism. These tendencies have taken the form either of direct challenge to the Party’s main strategy and tactics; or of an apparent “agreement” with its basic line, but an attack on the manner in which this line is applied to specific campaigns and activities, such as strike struggles, the election campaign, and the fight for peace. Where, however, the same handful of people were consistently in opposition to the Party’s policies, however much they pretended to accept line of the Convention, it was that there was a basic difference between their line and the Party’s.

The entire history of the Communist movement, as well as the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, have amply demonstrated that Right opportunism and “Left”-sectarianism grow from the same social roots. Both are the results of bourgeois ideology and influences, and are carried into the Party either by elements who have failed to rid themselves of these capitalist influences, or by alien forces who deliberately seek to disrupt the Party’s program and activity. Those who defended “Left”-sectarianism maintained that only Right opportunism reflects the pressure of the bourgeoisie, while “Left”-sectarianism represents the pressure of “working-class militancy,” and is, therefore, not such a serious deviation. In fact, both reflect bourgeois pressures. “Left”-sectarianism is a mirror of the impatience and frustration of petty-bourgeois elements who are “driven to frenzy by the horrors of capitalism, and reflects the pressure of these petty-bourgeois elements.” Objectively, both aid the class enemy. The danger from the Right results in capitulation to the bourgeoisie, passivity, avoidance of struggle, hesitancy and unwillingness to advance the Party’s independent role and program. The “Left” danger, advancing a line which cloaks itself with revolutionary phrases but entirely disregards the existing conditions and relationship of forces in given periods or situations, results in isolation of the Communist Party from the working class, the working class from its allies, and the defeat of all by the bourgeoisie. Either would weaken the Communist Party, and thereby weaken the struggle against the bourgeoisie, its program and its policies. Both must be fought simultaneously and relentlessly.

What have been the experiences of the Communist Party in San Francisco in the struggle on two fronts? How have Right and “Left” deviations expressed themselves in major campaigns and activities?


The Party’s policy in the election campaign was directed toward defeating the program and candidates of reaction and fascism, mainly centered in the Republican Party; advancing the independent role of labor and its allies, and strengthening the unity of these forces as a necessary step toward a third party; converting the election campaign into a campaign of struggle around the issues; and bringing forward the program and candidates of the Communist Party.

In the early stages of the campaign, there were some comrades who showed hesitancy to support a policy of running candidates in selected districts who were independent of the bourgeois political machines. These comrades failed to grasp the relationship between such independent candidacies, and the mass activities around them, to the third party perspective. Later there were instances of reluctance on the part of a few trade unionists to exert the pressure of the independent forces upon Democratic candidates in order to move them toward stronger commitments to the program of the labor and progressive groups. A few comrades objected to running a Communist write-in candidate on the ground that it would “interfere with the broad progressive campaign.”

Fundamentally, these Right-opportunist tendencies were signs of revisionist hangovers which could lead only to submerging the Party and denying its vanguard role, to making labor and other progressive groups completely subservient to a bourgeois political party. The Party leadership conducted a struggle against such Right opportunism throughout the campaign.

“Left” opposition to the Party’s policy consisted of the following:

1. An outright attack upon the concept of an anti-fascist, anti-monopoly coalition and upon the third party perspective.

2. Consistent objection to an immediate program of partial demands as a “reformist” program.

The attack upon the building of a coalition and the outlook for a third party grew out of the “Left” theory that there is no difference between the character of the coalition envisaged by the Party today, and the concept of the coalition developed by Browder. The “Leftists” maintained that it could result in nothing more than a new, capitalist third party, the progressive program of which could not be guaranteed; that the Communist Party should wait until it is strong enough to lead any coalition before we consider building or participating in one.

The policy of an anti-fascist, anti-monopoly, anti-imperialist coalition of which the Communists would be a recognized part, developed by the National Convention and the National Committee, clearly has nothing in common with, and is the exact opposite of, the coalition proposed by Browder. The one proposed by Browder is a coalition with monopoly capital and is based upon the revisionist view that monopoly capitalism has become progressive. It includes the Truman Administration within such a coalition. It is based upon a perspective of the permanence of the two-party system and excludes any perspective of a third party. It is therefore based on an acceptance by the working class of the political leadership of the bourgeoisie and minimizes labor’s independent action. It not only proposed but actually resulted in the liquidation of the Communist Party which it considers an obstacle to the building of such a coalition.

In sharp contrast to this, the Party seeks to build a coalition, not with, but against monopoly capital. Sue a coalition does not include the Truman Administration. Such a coalition is oriented toward realizing the perspective of a third party at the earliest possible date. Its aim is to free the working class from the political leadership of the bourgeoisie. with labor playing a leading role, it must include the allies of labor: the Negro people, the poor farmers, the city middle classes, as well as certain capitalist elements who are prepared t0 go along with it. Such a policy is based, not on the liquidation, but on the building of a mass Communist party as a recognized part of such a coalition.

A third party growing out of such a broad movement based on struggle against the trusts would not be a “third capitalist party,” but an independent anti-imperialist, anti-monopoly, people’s party, fighting in defense of democracy and peace, against fascism and war. This coalition policy of the Party is predicated upon recognition of the fact that large sections of the American people, who do not yet have a socialist perspective, do have a common will to fight the trusts, to block the drive toward fascism and war. The Communist Party leads that fight and will wholeheartedly join with other democratic, anti-fascist forces in common struggle. For the Communist Party to wait until it is strong enough to lead any coalition before participating in it, as demanded by the “Left”-sectarians, is to blind ourselves to the fascist danger or to accept its inevitability. Further, it is axiomatic that the Party increase in size and influence to the degree that it reacts to the immediate dangers confronting the Masses, provides leadership that will mobilize them for the solution of their problems, and fights in coalition with all other democratic forces against the common enemy.

Significantly, the “Left”-sectarian elements minimized or ignored the struggle against fascism, and took note of the fight for peace chiefly by fatalistic references to the time when “the war against the Soviet Union will be ready.” This amounts to passivity and defeatism which, consciously or unconsciously, plays into the hands of monopoly capital, and which would result in generating moods of hopelessness and despair in the working class.

With regard to the Party’s election platform, “Left” tendencies revealed themselves in proposals that we should not put forward demands for immediate reforms, demands which will also be advanced by other sections of the progressive movement, because this would create illusions about the bourgeois state. Specific reference was made to the campaign for a California Fair Employment Practices Act, to which objection was made on the grounds that it would cause the Negro people to think that their problems were soluble within the framework of our present social order.

There is indicated here an obvious confusion between the maximum program of the Party, Socialism, and the minimum program, the fight for immediate demands under capitalism. Our maximum program cannot be realized under capitalism, and today obviously is supported only by those whom we have already won for Socialism. Our immediate program of partial demands, which are in fact demands for bourgeois-democratic reforms, flows from the burning issues of the day and the needs of the masses to which the Party gives articulate expression. This immediate program can be supported by other democratic, anti-fascist forces and is actually the basis upon which we establish our place in the coalition movement, as has been demonstrated by the experiences of the Communist Parties in many countries.

As the level of the anti-fascist movement becomes higher, more of the progressive forces will support the immediate demands advanced by the Party, to no small extent stimulated by the Party’s lead. The Communist Party, however, wins the increasing support of the workers and advances their political level and class consciousness by the consistent, vanguard manner in which it fights and organizes the workers to fight to win their immediate demands. It accompanies this by widespread mass education for Socialism, through its agitation and propaganda, and the building of the Party. The State Election Platform of the Communist Party in California, upon which our candidate for Governor, Archie Brown, conducted his campaign, contained both an extensive program of immediate demands, and a section dealing with the ultimate goal of the Party, socialism.

Both Right opportunism and “Left”-sectarianism, if not fought against and defeated, would have immobilized the Party for election work. It is a measure of the Party’s success in combatting them that the last phases of the election campaign saw an increasing number of Party and non-Party workers actively engaged in the struggle against reaction which was represented by the Hoover-Republican Warren-Knowland ticket.


On October 29, 1945, A. F. of L. Lodge No. 68 of the I.A.M. in San Francisco, and Local No. 1304 of the C.I.O. Steel Workers Union in Alameda County, went on strike, their main demands being a 30 per cent pay increase, double-time for overtime, two weeks’ annual vacation with pay, and nine paid holidays per year. Without any prior consultation with other unions whose membership would be affected, they shut down virtually all of the Bay Area shipyards, involving some 50,000 A. F. of L. metal workers of other crafts. Lodge No. 68, which had previously withdrawn from the A. F. of L. Bay Cities Metal Trades Council– body holding the master contract to all A. F. of L. metal trades workers –was unable from the outset even negotiate for marine machinists.

Uptown San Francisco machine shops over which Lodge No. 68 had jurisdiction were also shut down, and union leadership moved at once to spread the strike to the waterfront, fringe shops and warehouses, where 3,500 workers were kept out by 125 maintenance machinists. Machinists’ picket lines were respected by workers of all other crafts, A. F. of L. and C.I.O., throughout the entire strike.

The harmful policies of the union leadership, in which the basic weaknesses of the strike were inherent, may be stated briefly as follows: they sought to tie up the waterfront, including troop ships; they intended to isolate themselves from the rest of the labor movement; they refused community support; they conducted the strike on an extremely undemocratic basis with a hand-picked strike committee; and they followed adventurist strike tactics which ultimately made it possible for the Grand Lodge of the I.A.M., in the person of Harvey Brown, to move in and declare a receivership in Lodge No. 68.

These policies, advanced by the union’s business agents, Harry Hook and Ed Dillon, represented a combination of factors, including hangovers from their anarcho-syndicalist backgrounds, a narrow craft concept of the superior role of the machinists, and a Trotskyist line emanating from their own direct Trotskyist connections as well as from the Trotskyist-influenced group in the C.I.O. Steel Workers with whom they cooperated.

The Party’s policy was founded upon recognition of the legitimacy of the machinists’ demands, called for support of the strike, but stressed the need for an independent program that would free the machinists from the disastrous consequences of the Hook and Dillon line. The State Board of the Party, in the interests of winning the strike, pointed out that it was essential to prevent the tie-up of the waterfront and troop ships; called upon all shipyard workers to respect the picket lines, and for coast-wide action by all shipyard workers behind their own demands; urged cooperation and not conflict between the Machinists and other local unions; and showed the necessity for an organized retreat when the prolongation of the strike would have led to disaster.

This policy was established only after a determined struggle against tendencies to Right opportunism and “Left”-sectarianism.

Tendencies from the Right were expressed by some who characterized the strike as a “phony strike,” without seeing the difference between the justified demands of the workers and the dangerous policies of the Machinists’ leadership. This led some people to wild and irresponsible talk of violating picket lines, and tended toward immobilizing the Party at critical periods. The Party leadership condemned and rejected such views as well as the estimate of the strike on which they were based. The comrades most directly involved in this, after extensive discussion in the Party, admitted their mistakes and proceeded to correct them. On the part of some comrades, there was some passivity displayed and an inability to give leadership to the rank-and-file strikers along the lines indicated by the Party’s policy.

The Party leadership, on the other hand, was responsible for slowness in bringing the issues before the Party membership, insufficient development of independent Party activity in support of the strike, failure to enforce Party decisions, and indecisiveness in carrying out the policy that was adopted. A sharper struggle against Right and “Left” distortions of our policy should also have been made.

The majority of machinist comrades in San Francisco, on the other hand, adopted a “Left” position which actually amounted to their going along with the wrong and harmful policies of the union leadership. They underestimated the danger of the Trotskyist-influenced policies of Hook and Dillon, not only failing to differentiate themselves from these policies but actually carrying them into the Party. Although the Trotskyite press enthusiastically hailed the policies of the union’s leadership, and one of the union business agents had written an article for the Militant during the war, these comrades saw no Trotskyite danger, and even placed this business agent on the progressive slate in the union elections!

There was further evidence of “Left”-sectarianism in the concept advanced by some comrades that strikes automatically bring class consciousness, and are therefore always a gain for the working class, regardless of whether they are won or lost and in the demand raised for a general strike to support the machinists without taking into consideration the existing relationship of forces in the local labor movement, particularly the metal trades.

The machinist comrades who upheld these “Left”-sectarian views maintained that the Party leadership was merely throwing up a “smokescreen of Trotskyism,” in order to conceal its own shortcomings, a position which was, in reality, a conciliatory attitude toward Trotskyism. Their opposition to Party policies, which they sought to spread among the Party membership, led them to factional attacks upon the Party leadership, as well as to violation of Party discipline and the principle of democratic centralism.

Their “Left” position was overwhelmingly rejected by the Party membership at a county-wide meeting where an analysis of the strike was made.


The June 30 settlement in the maritime industry followed closely after the birth of the Committee for Maritime Unity, which marked a new high point in maritime unity and organization.

Prior to June 30, the unions involved were deeply immersed in strike preparations, around a program of economic demands covering wages, hours, and working conditions. Extensive plans were made and ready to be put into effect on the organization of the strike itself, as well as the mobilization of public support in the community as a whole.

During this period, the shipowners, the Hearst press and other anti-labor newspapers cried out hysterically that this was not a “legitimate strike” for economic demands, but a “political strike.” This was an effort to pave the way for employer or government strike-breaking, to alienate support of the A. F. of L. and the community, and to create confusion among the maritime workers.

The Party’s characterization of the situation was that the strike would be primarily a struggle for economic demands, but with a deep political significance because of the time in which it was occurring. It was in a period marked by the anti-labor offensive of the government and the employers to pass strike-breaking and union-smashing legislation. Big Business was pushing its inflationary Program against the people’s living standards. The monopolists, who were cracking down on labor at home, were simultaneously driving for an imperialist foreign policy, and sought to crush those progressive sections of the labor movement that were a bulwark against reaction.

At the eleventh hour, a settlement was reached that was acceptable to the membership and leadership of the maritime unions, and was recognized as a substantial gain by the National and State Boards of the Party. It was not so regarded by the “Left”-sectarian elements within the Party, who firmly maintained from the outset that this was a “political strike,” a “strike against imperialism.” They contended that no gains were made as a result of the settlement, which they characterized as “worse than a sell-out”; and that the strike should have gone on, even if the port of San Francisco had to go out alone! These views were spread, not only within the Party, but were even transmitted to non-Party waterfront workers as well.

Again the solid unity of the Party membership was demonstrated by the overwhelming endorsement the membership gave to the strike analysis made by the State Board from which the following extract is taken:

This was primarily a struggle for economic demands. But the political significance of the maritime workers’ struggle and their victory cannot be underestimated. The drive of the big monopolists aims at crushing the fighting capacity of the labor movement, and especially the most militant and progressive sections, as the main bulwark of the fight against the imperialist war drive and the drive to lower the people’s living standards.

That is why they threw the full force of the government into the fight against the maritime unions. The maritime unions’ success in beating back this attack was therefore a great victory no less important than the economic gains they won. It has laid the foundation for greater labor unity and international solidarity, for building a national industrial organization in the maritime industry, and for greater independent political action by labor and its allies against the reactionary policies of the Truman Administration.

It effectively exposed and defeated the Lundberg-Trotskyite strategy which was in alliance with the shipowners against the C.M.U., whose program won a wide response among the rank-and-file of Lundberg’s union as well as generally among A. F. of L. workers in spite of the Red-baiting disruption of the A. F. of L. top leadership.

It is all the more necessary, therefore, to bring to the attention of the whole Party that a line is being advanced by a few people in the Party that the maritime strike settlement was a “sell-out.” The State Board declares that this is an anti-Party line and closely parallels the estimate made by the Trotskyites of the maritime strike situation. This characterization of the strike settlement flows out of the theory advanced that the projected strike was a “political strike.””

The State Board declares that such a characterization of the strike is pure adventurism which if not combatted and rooted out of the Party could lead only to the most disastrous consequences for the labor movement.”

The experiences of the San Francisco Party on these major issues, as well as a series of lesser ones, was making it clear that a very real and present danger from the “Left” existed, the most serious in that it had crystallized into a “Left”-sectarian factional grouping in which alien anti-Party forces were operating.


One of our first and most pressing tasks following the National Convention was to root out the revisionist passivity and organizational laxity into which the Party had sunk under Browder, to transform all bodies of the Party into initiators and leaders of struggle, capable of transmitting our Marxist program to the masses. This task was greatly complicated in San Francisco by the existence of a “Left” factional grouping.

Political immaturity and inexperience, lack of training in the principles of Marxism-Leninism, can easily lead to “Leftist” mistakes, especially when the Party is in revulsion against our revisionist past. But this is quite different from the deliberate systematization of a “Leftist” program on al current questions, including that of the principles of Party organization, of which the small but hardened core of people who formed a faction in the San Francisco Party organization were guilty-Admitting they had ideological differences with the Party, they demanded the right to continue them within the Party, comparing themselves to Lenin in the struggle again* the Mensheviks! One person stated. “I will say that within the Party or the working class there will always be different and conflicting ideologies. This is because the working class is not homogeneous, and its party is not homogeneous. The fact that all workers and all Party members do not think alike may be deplored; but it is inevitable.”

The existence of basic, consistent ideological differences within the Marxist Party of the working class would wreck it and render it ineffective. The Party’s greatest strength comes from its monolithic unity–unity of ideology, of program, of action. Those who disagree with the fundamental ideology, policy, and strategy of the Party must either renounce their views or take themselves elsewhere.

This does not imply that there is no room for any differences within the Party. It is when these “differences” become consistent, persisting in every situation that comes along, flowing from a basic ideological conflict, that they cannot be tolerated because they would weaken and destroy the Party.

The “Left” faction further launched an insidious attack upon the principle of democratic centralism. Pretending to accept it “in principle,” they interpreted it to mean that the Party would “abide by,” and “carry out,” majority decisions, but the factionalists would reserve the right to agitate and continue to seek support for their position. Any other interpretation was regarded as “stifling” the criticism and opinion of the membership. Within the Party there is the right of discussion and criticism–we must find more and more effective channels for it, and strengthen the political development of the membership so that greater contributions to such discussion will be made. Discussion and criticism, however, must be within the bounds of the program and policies of the National Convention; or, if there are basic disagreements, they may be expressed as provided for in the Constitution of the Communist Party. On all such questions, of course, in between conventions the decision of the National Committee is binding.

Finally, the “Left” factionalists advanced a conception of the requirements to be placed for admission into the Party which would definitely tend to prevent the Party from becoming a mass Party of the working class. This was most clearly illustrated in the suggestion of one person that no new members should be accepted unless they understood the Marxist theory of surplus value. Such an ultra-purist approach belongs only in some narrow sect, not in the Communist Party which attracts workers through their experiences and struggles as well as through study, and in which new members must be given the opportunity and responsibility of learning the theories of Marxism-Leninism.


The existence of the “Left”-sectarian faction, which later proved to have connections outside of San Francisco, and even outside of the state, was becoming increasingly discernible some time before decisive action against it was taken.

Factionalism results in the disruption of Party unity, and the disintegration of Party discipline. It is an attempt to create a Party within the Party, with loyalty to a factional grouping taking precedence over loyalty to the Party and its program. All members of a faction do not always meet together regularly, although this may be the case. There may, sometimes, be a number of groupings, which get together on a casual basis, with communication between groupings carried on by one or two people. Factional associations may also be maintained largely on an individual basis, through use of the telephone, by mail, and by means of social relationships. Nearly all of these methods were used in San Francisco. The most important point, however, is the faction’s consistent projection of an anti-Party political line, in the present instance a “Left”-sectarian one.

A number of factors contributed to the development of this “Left” faction, among which were the following:

a. The unsatisfactory social composition of the Party membership, too low a percentage of which had its roots and background in basic industry;

b. The slowness of the Party to undertake independent activities and struggles around burning local, state or national issues;

c. Lack of understanding of democratic centralism by sections of the Party membership, as well as distortions of democratic centralism by factional elements. Indecisiveness on the part of the Party leadership in enforcing the line and decisions of leading Party committees;

d. Political immaturity of the San Francisco County leadership in conducting an ideological struggle for the line and policies of the National Convention; and inexperience in constantly showing the relationship between our basic theoretical principles and our day-to-day problems and tasks. This was important because it was the struggle for political line which was the key to exposing the “Left”-sectarian distortions of the faction, and exploding the myth they invented that they were the only real Marxists;

e. Remnants of anarcho-syndicalism which still persist among the working class on the West Coast, and penetrate into the ranks of the Party;

f. Finally, as the letter of the National Board on the factional situation pointed out, “the pressure and penetration of other, alien class influences and ideologies within our own ranks,” was a significant factor Enemy agents were either directly or indirectly involved in fomenting disruption which would immobilize the Party in a critical period of mass economic and political struggles. The slowness of the Party leadership to eliminate the factional condition may be explained, in part at least, by hesitancy or inability to distinguish between “Left”-sectarianism such, and the operation of alien forces. It was further contributed to an insufficient speed and drive in vigorously conducting the struggle on two fronts simultaneously.

Action was finally taken against this “Left” factional grouping. Vern Smith, Walter Lambert, Ed Lee and a number of their followers were expelled from the Party for participation in an anti-Party, “Left”-sectarian factional grouping, and the membership was warned against further association with these expelled people. The report of the County Committee and of the Security Commission to the membership, covering the ideological line of the faction and the manner in which it operated, received overwhelming support. In fact, many Clubs and individual members, worn out by months of disruption, considered the expulsions long past due.


Subsequent developments have fully confirmed the correctness of the Party in ridding itself of the anti-Party faction.

Today this little group of expelled people have organized themselves and meet regularly. They have centered their attention on the waterfront during the present strike, where they have formed a bloc with other anti-Party elements who have long played the shipowners’ game, to fight the line of the Party and sow confusion and disunity. They are engaged in the circulation of documents, some prepared locally, others written by persons who have been expelled elsewhere, including anti-Party material being circulated by Sam Darcy. They hope, through the use of their documents and through personal contact, to re-establish their faction within the Party. They have rapidly entered into the camp of the renegades.


Our Party has become more strongly united in the course of this struggle, growing more steeled and vigilant, gaining in political maturity. Attitudes of liberalism are being dissipated as the path of the expelled anti-Party elements becomes more clearly defined. Alertness to the infiltration of enemy forces and ideology is reaching a new level, and a deeper appreciation of the need for Marxist theory as a guide to meeting practical problems is developing.

The annual Party registration of members, recording its numerical growth and industrial composition, will prove the basic unity of the membership and the advance in political understanding that has taken place since the National Convention.