First Published: In Class Struggle, theoretical journal of the October League (Marxist-Leninist), No.1, Spring 1975
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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October League (M-L) Introduction: Harry Haywood is a veteran Black Marxist-Leninist, now living in Detroit. He has spent several decades as a leading member of the Communist Party USA and as a fighter against modern revisionism.
In 1928 and 1930, Haywood helped draft the Resolutions of the Communist International as well as the position of the CP on the Afro-American national question. His thoughts on this question were summed up in his famous book, “Negro Liberation.”
Haywood broke from the CPUSA in the late 50’s after the party had thoroughly abandoned the revolutionary struggle for socialism and Black liberation. Along with other anti-revisionists, he helped form the Provisional Organizing Committee (POC). The POC, like many of the new communist organizations of today set as its main task, the building of a new Marxist-Leninist party.
The POC failed in this first attempt at a new, anti-revisionist party. Haywood’s letter upon leaving the POC shows some of the reasons why it failed and serves as a lesson to those who might try to follow in the ultra-“left” footsteps of these sectarians.
Dec. 9, 1958
On October 25, I wrote a statement formally disassociating myself from the Provisional Organizing Committee to Reconstitute a Marxist-Leninist Party, its organ, The Vanguard, and the August 16-17 Conference which resulted in a split-off of an important section of the Left forces from the Party.
As I said in that statement, “The guiding political line of the POC has crystallized into a left-sectarian, dogmatist position which represents a fundamental revision from the Left of Marxist-Leninist political and organizational principles.”
While the National Executive Committee (of the CPUSA) claims that it is carrying out a struggle on two fronts-against Right Revisionism and Left Dogmatism – in reality, it is incapable of fighting against either danger, allowing both to grow. The crudest opportunism, liquidationism, and anti-Sovietism have found acceptability within the Party on all levels. At the same time, due largely to frustration and disgust with Revisionism and conciliationism, many comrades who opposed the line of the 16th Convention (of the CPUSA) fell into serious left errors, going along with a political leadership which condemned compromises of all kinds – a leadership which failed to distinguish between necessary compromises on questions which do net involve principle, and unprincipled compromises, which are impermissible.
The New York Left was gradually oriented towards the narrow, inflexible tactic of attack and exposure at all times. Under these conditions, the fundamental political questions upon which the caucus was founded became relegated to secondary importance. No positive political position was presented to the rank and file. We failed to fight for a correct position and its application in all fields, but rather largely confined ourselves to attacking the Party’s position. Our purely oppositionalist tactics, combined with a refusal to participate in mass work in form – enabled the revisionist bureaucrats to portray us as anti-party, disruptive elements—and with considerable success. Thus, the revisionist leadership succeeded in avoiding the political issues, which we failed to join.
To Armando (leader of the POC – Class Struggle ed.), the projection of flexible tactics amounted to the abandonment of ’principle.’ This was the first clear-cut expression of a left deviation, and explains what this leftist means by ’principles.’ According to this position any compromise ‒ any tactical retreat – any temporizing is identical with compromise on fundamental political questions – is, in fact, “conciliationism”. . .We can only remind ourselves of what Lenin said about such ’principled’ leaders:
“To accept battle at a time when it is obviously advantageous to the enemy and not to us is a crime; and those political leaders who are unable to act, to maneuver, to compromise in order to avoid an obviously disadvantageous battle are good for nothing.”
The emergence of this leftist line was also clearly shown in the stubborn resistance to participating in concrete mass work, and fighting for a correct mass line within the Party. Certainly, the formulation and fight for a correct mass line and its implementation as an inseparable part of the fight for ideological clarity is a key task of the left forces in advancing the struggle against revisionism and conciliationism. Only in this way could the struggle be brought out of the realm of what many less developed comrades feel to be abstract theory of no particular importance to them, into the realm of practical application which these comrades could grasp more easily. For it is in the field of practical work that all differences become clearly focused at every turn – at every point where a choice of what course of action to follow must be made.
Any attempt to even discuss the question of mass line was stubbornly resisted. Indeed, an elaborate rationale was developed to the effect that the fight for a correct mass line was impossible without the existence of a full-fledged, national, Marxist-Leninist vanguard party. According to this argument, any local initiative would inevitably die out without national support, and would therefore be a waste of time.
It was further argued that involvement in mass work would detract our limited forces from the main job – the struggle against the revisionists.
It is needless to say that this dogmatic position, which falsely counterposed the struggle against revisionism to participation in mass work, helped greatly to wreck the Waterfront and Lower Harlem sections, which no longer had a reason for existence as separate bodies from the caucus.
This dogmatist position played right into the hands of the leadership (of the CPUSA), who were quick to take advantage of the desire of the rank and file to get to work, enabling them to adopt the posture of the great champions of mass work (reformist mass work, of course), charging the Left with obstructionism – with seeking to prolong the inner struggle forever along abstract theoretical lines ‒ preventing the Party from “getting to work.”
At first, I felt that it was only a question of unprincipled conniving and disruption. But on further reflection and study, it became clear to me that these insistent splitting tactics as well as the leftist errors in conducting the inner-Party struggle could not be accidental. I felt that there must be a political explanation for this crass distortion of the struggle against revisionism.
This leftist position makes absolutely no distinction between fundamental principle questions on which there can be no compromise, and secondary, purely practical questions, on which there must be compromise both within the party and in the context of the mass struggle, or there can be no movement. The rejection of all compromise, on principle, is the ideological basis for disruptive activities both within the party and within the mass movement. Any organization subjected to this disintegrating force is bound to be disrupted, regardless of the sincerity of the devotees of the “uncompromising” struggle. It is therefore safe to predict that the POC, if it survives and develops a mass line, is bound to move in the direction of a semi-Trotskyite wrecking crew.
The rejection of compromise “on principle” which is the thinking behind the redefinition of conciliationism, is the other side of the conciliationist coin – conciliationism abandoning principle for the sake of so-called “unity.” The left deviation negates the vital necessity for unity based upon fundamental principle. Thus, both right and “left” errors, regardless of their outward form, have the common content of denying the decisive significance of fundamental principles, and of the necessity to carry out in an uncompromising way only principled inner-Party struggles and avoid unprincipled struggles.
It is clear that the conciliationist leadership (of the CPUSA) would like to use our break with these leftists against all those who oppose the line of the 16th National Convention, claiming that this is the inevitable result of the opposing line. Actually, the main responsibility for the growth of this “left” deviation lies with the conciliationist line of the 16th Convention itself, which prevented correct ideological struggle against both right and left deviations.
This futile attempt to justify conciliationism by attacking the left deviation will not substitute for serious self-criticism of the leadership of the Party for their own errors.
However, it is not sufficient to explain the left deviation as an over-reaction to conciliationism. The left deviation has its roots in society, and represents the influence of non-proletarian ideology within the ranks of the Party. The petty-bourgeois class roots of the left deviation also accounts for the petty-conniving style of work of the POC, and the extreme individualism of its style of leadership.
But fortunately, the marriage between the “leftists” and the Marxist-Leninists was short-lived, and we can go about our constructive work free from their disruptive influence.
When it comes down to applying Marxist-Leninist science to the U.S. – to working out a correct line and mass policy – the POC has already proven itself bankrupt. It seems that we are dealing with “inner-struggle-specialists”, or to put it more bluntly, brawlers, who do not know what to do with themselves if there is no one to attack. They go on at great lengths about what is wrong with the Party’s position on this question, or that, but never state what their own position is.
In this open letter, I have tried to draw a clear line of demarcation between the correct Marxist-Leninist opposition to the line of the 16th Convention and the ”leftist” opposition in the hope that this experience will help the Marxist-Leninist Left in finding the correct path of struggle in a very difficult, complicated and unprecedented situation. These mistakes have been very costly, but they will not be in vain if we can learn from them, and maintain our vigilance against both right and left deviations.
With full confidence that we will win the struggle for a Marxist-Leninist vanguard Party in the United States, and eventually for socialism, I am