Jim Dann and Hari Dillon

The Five Retreats: A History of the Failure of the Progressive Labor Party


A question remaining is how the NSC was able to lead four big retreats from the mass revolutionary movement of the sixties and then justify this isolation and withdrawal by issuing an anarchist document like RTR III. Why weren’t the members who opposed at least some of these moves, able to make a dent in the anarchist drift of the Party? There is no one answer but several factors in various portions played their role: (1) the growing gap in theoretical training between leaders and members (2) the effect of PLP-CCP-fraternal relations (3) the specific characteristics of the leadership clique and its peculiar methods of inner-Party struggle (4) advancing totalitarianism within the Party, i.e.: the conversion of democratic-centralism into arbitrary centralism. We will examine these points in turn.

When the PLM was founded in 1963 only the older former CP cadre (full-timers and intellectuals) had had any Marxist-Leninist theoretical training. Since almost all these forces except Rosen and Mort Scheer had quit by 1966, during the period 1965-1966 these last two stood head and shoulders above the rest of the membership in terms of theoretical training and experience in the communist movement. Scheer was personally very loyal to Milt Rosen, which left Rosen virtually unopposed theoretically. It would have been very difficult for the new young activists then entering the Party to challenge Rosen on a point of theory any more than a new student can get away with challenging a professor. Those who tried it were dealt with by Rosen in the manner very reminiscent of an arrogant professor putting down a wiseacre student. After the second cadre school in the summer of 1966 there were no more serious attempts to advance the theoretical level of the membership. In 1967 most study groups were encouraged to stop studying Marxism-Leninism, but instead to study “current PL literature” or labor history. (This was not enforced nationally at that time and study of Marxist-Leninism classics continued here and there until 1973.) The theoretical gap widened from 1966-1971. A few of the new activist PL cadre studied Marxism-Leninism on their own and thus some leaders did learn theory. However, most were encouraged to hold theory in contempt; activism was hailed in opposition to “intellectualizing.” Those who did attempt to refute the leadership theoretically were forced to split and this encouraged a further anti-theoretical backlash which made it all the more difficult to encourage the widespread study of Marxism-Leninism, or to cross swords theoretically with Rosen.

The extremely low ideological level in RTR III was both a result and cause of PLP’s weakness in theory. The writers of RTR III relied on their readers’ having no more than a passing acquaintance with Marxism and no real knowledge of history. Otherwise they could not have so boldly distorted even the most popular of Marx’s works, the Communist Manifesto, nor could they have so ignored historical reality in their idealist prescriptions to the Bolsheviks and the CCP. After publication of RTR III all Marxist works, even those by Marx and Lenin, were considered “revisionist” if they did not conform to RTR III. So that study of theory in PLP was restricted to RTR IN or to a few of Lenin’s works that were misinterpreted to be in line with RTR III.

The CCP, ironically, also played an important role in guaranteeing, the Rosen leadership of PL. The forces who had the most ability to challenge Rosen were also the forces who were first attracted to PL because PL was the closest thing to the CCP in the U.S. As long as the CCP gave their stamp of approval to PLP and never openly criticized the PLP leadership, Marxist-Leninist forces within the PLP who looked to the CCP for leadership of the World Communist Movement would be very hesitant to challenge Rosen directly, appeared, at least until 1969, almost equivalent to a challenge to Mao-Tse-Tung. There is no underestimating the tremendous power this gave Rosen. As we now know the CCP did not approve of PL’s retreat from the anti-war movement nor probably the BLM. But instead of openly criticizing the Rosen leadership the way Stalin in his day had openly criticized the leadership of the old CPUSA in the twenties, the CCP only raised differences in private with the top PL leadership, and these differences were kept from the membership or only distorted versions of the conversations were put out by the NSC.[112] Thus hardly anyone in PL knew these differences existed until late 1969 and the CCP lost a tremendous opportunity to encourage the Marxist-Leninist forces within PLP, if indeed they had had that desire.

As the split with CCP and PLP arose, Marxist-Leninist forces within the PL were disoriented. Under the searing criticism of China, conducted by the NSC during 1970, apparent Rightist mistakes of the CCP were being highlighted to all in PLP, but the most blind Maoists. All the international defeats from Ghana to Indonesia were blamed on the CCP line. This was very disorienting to Marxists who had learned so much from the CCP polemics. It was on a smaller scale comparable to the confusion that reigned in the International Communist Movement after Khrushchev’s anti-Stalin speech in 1956. Within this confusion the NSC came up with a strong and self-confident line and most Marxist-Leninist forces in PLP, who were relatively new to Marxist-Leninist theory in the first place, generally buried their trepidations about RTR III and rallied behind the Party which now seemingly was the only true revolutionary force around, or so it said. Neither the CCP nor the various U.S. Maoist groups made the slightest attempt to reach Marxist-Leninist forces within PLP. So as verbal confrontation with the Maoists turned in late 1971 into sectarian fist-fights the tendency of those forces, who had had criticisms of RTR III and of the four retreats, was to fight to unite the Party around the NSC and forget or put aside the differences around RTR III. Finally there seemed in mid-1971 some hope that the anarchist and sectarian errors of PLP could be corrected. (See below for explanation.) Given the confusion of the time it was not so easy to reject out of hand PLP’s claim to be the new center of revolutionary thought, at least given the level of Marxist-Leninist training that even the best forces in PLP had.

If Rosen and his clique were incapable of leading the mass movement they were capable of dominating PLP. Rosen learned how to totally dominate small meetings by his personality so that all speakers address their remarks to him, always giving the impression of having something utterly profound to say. He had a biting wit and is the past master of the sarcastic put-down; in meetings he always flatters one member while putting down the other. Rosen’s talents for dominating small meetings combined with theoretical greeness of the Marxist-Leninist forces in PLP prevented serious challenge to so right-wing an essence of the four retreats and the anarchist analysis of RTR III.

Around Rosen there grew in the late sixties a clique of admirers, who at least for a while, were absolutely loyal to Rosen. These came to identify the Party with Rosen, Marxism-Leninism with Rosen’s thinking and generally brought all problems in the Party’s work to Rosen directly and privately, avoiding any collective discussion. This way if Rosen thought them in the wrong they would not be put down publicly. These forces by 1970 included Mort Scheer, Walter Linder, Fred Jerome (San Francisco Party chief), Bob Leonhardt and a few other New York leaders. It is not incidental that this clique was 100% made up of middle-class white-male New Yorkers.

Since Rosen in a showdown with any opposition could count on the absolute personal loyalty of this group (Although one or two of his clique would disagree with him at a particular meeting, their personal affection and loyalty to Rosen was never in question.) which was a majority of the NC in 1970, any Marxist-Leninist opposition was automatically doomed before it started. This fact of life, which was well known in the leadership, naturally inhibited Marxist-Leninist forces from challenging Rosen. Instead Marxist-Leninist forces either split from PLP, or tried to influence policy by influencing Rosen privately as a counselor.

This clique of eight to ten admirers was the source of the Rosen cult. In the areas they led, these leaders quoted extensively from Rosen. The cult reinforced not only Rosen’s leadership position, but also in the local areas gave each of Rosen’s chosen representatives a portion of the former’s authority. A corrupting mechanism between leaders and members slowly developed, and the leadership was increasingly seen as a transmission belt from Rosen to the members. Becoming a leader of PLP meant among other things being “won” to that view of leadership.

The club leaders were appointed by the area leader and the area leader was appointed by Rosen. With appointments handled this way, and elections non-existent, not only the NC but also the area committees and the clubs had no collective life. The leaders’ job was to fight for Rosen’s line in the area or in the club. “The primary act of leadership is not one of skill, but of fighting for and carrying out the Party line.”, Internal Bulletin, April 5, 1977 (his emphasis). In other words neither organizational nor political competence, never mind ties with the mass movement is required, but only loyalty to the Party line. There was a historical development toward this view of leadership. As late as 1968 in his “Build a Base” speech Rosen had laid emphasis on the opposite aspect, competence and ties to the mass movement, but the development of the four retreats and the line of RTR III put one increasing premium on loyalty and there was a decreasing utility in competence, while lingering ties to the mass movement among some Party leaders was suspicious if anything. So by 1971 the primary aspect of the contradiction was reversed and loyalty was the primary responsibility of leadership although this was not stated by Rosen in so many words until after the 1975 struggle around united front, and not spelled out in print until after the split with the San Francisco Party. (See below.)

The PL leadership basically never relied on its members nor did it listen to them. Increasingly the membership were regarded as sheep to be herded from one campaign or retreat to the other, always with only the most minimal discussion and never with a two-sided debate or self-critical evaluation. As the Party became isolated from the mass movement and forced to rely only on its own forces the members came to be regarded as so much cannon fodder to be used as the leadership saw fit in this or that anarchistic action. Thus the leadership became entrenched because it lost touch with the people even the rank and file Party members, not to speak of the millions in the shops and the schools.

In early 1966 Fred Jerome wrote a piece for PL magazine entitled “Criticism and Self-Criticism” which typified the PLP approach as to inner-Party struggle. The article was heavily based on Liu-Shao-Chi’s writings which emphasized personal self-cultivation as a communist. Like Liu, Jerome proposed what amounted to a psychological struggle for all the weaknesses in members. Rosen and Jerome were both amateur psychologists and generally had a psychological explanation for every real or supposed weakness in a member. Political opposition was seldom dealt with on its merits but was assumed instead to be the manifestation of alleged psychological problems that the opponent had, which were always diagnosed with great enthusiasm and in great detail by the leadership. “You’re tired.” “You’re afraid.” “You don’t want to win.” were the epithets used when a member raised differences, political or tactical. Jerome in his tenure as West Coast Party leader from 1968-1972 took his more consistent Freudianism to its logical conclusion and grossly interfered in a number of marriages of PL members in an effort to correct their “weaknesses” or failing this to break-up the marriage. Rosen did less of this. He instead was master of the sly behind-the-back joke or police-agent innuendo. Israel in Boston used both the Rosen and Jerome methods and some high-powered browbeating of his own invention.[113]

However it varied the PL method of inner-Party struggle was usually at least two-thirds psychological. This inhibited the political development of the members. Political questions were reduced to “fear” or “guts;” members were not trained to deal politically with the class struggle within the Party or struggle over Marxist-Leninist theory. Even forces within the leadership who tried to avoid this psychological clap-trap were often victims of it themselves when they disagreed and often picked up some of the rotten methods of Jerome, Rosen and Israel. The psychological browbeating reached an intense pitch during the Challenge Summer in order to force the troops out to the plant gates with the Challenges. To the extent this method of inner-Party struggle held sway it was virtually impossible to launch a political challenge to the leadership. And, coincidentally or not, Freudian psychoanalysis was rampant within PLP during the year RTR III was being prepared and circulated.

Servility in the members was built up by playing on middle-class ex-students’ “guilt” feelings. The leadership made them feel ashamed of their “fear” if they hesitated before a particular anarchist action. Their class backgrounds were the reasons for both lack of success in particular campaigns and the continuing desire of many rank-and-filers to form united fronts with “revisionists, nationalists, or other petty-bourgeois forces.” This constant harping on the “weak” members was designed to lead to guilt feelings and thus to servility and to obedience to the “tough, working class” leadership. Rosen never tired of telling younger members “heroic” stories of his brief experience as a shop steward in Buffalo, always clearly implying that younger PLP members had not yet approached his industrial accomplishments. (He actually said this Is his “self-critical” report to open the 1968 pre-Convention discussion.) The members were “weak,” so direction of the Party had to be entrusted to the “proven” few, which mainly meant Rosen.

Rosen tried to justify this petty-bourgeois theory of leadership by falsely invoking Stalin as an example. Besides the gross immodesty involved, Rosen was guilty of a 100% distortion of history. Stalin’s method of leadership was exactly the opposite. Stalin always emphasized that he was merely “one of the pupils of the advanced railroad workers of the Tiflis Railway workshops.”[114] He dealt with his opponents politically in the first place, organizationally if necessary, but never psychologically. Proletarian revolutionaries, like Stalin, never resort to talk about “fear” or “guts” but appeal to the political intelligence of workers and communists.

Additionally it was next to impossible for all but the very top leaders (usually only Rosen and Linder) to have any hard information about the state of the Party or what the other leaders were thinking. Hardly anyone but Rosen and Linder had more than a very approximate notion about things like the numbers of papers sold, numbers of members, growth of the Party if any, the actual outcome of a mass or inner-Party struggle. Rosen never gave out honest membership figures even to NC members; the Challenge sales figures were notorious exaggerations. Challenge articles were never taken seriously as a source of information. At the NC meetings the area reports were often exaggerated either to build up or put down an area leader, depending on the way the wind was blowing at that particular meeting. Occasionally an internal bulletin article gave the true picture of an area or club, but by and large no one in the leadership except Rosen and Linder had any serious information about what was going on in other areas. This system of deception and exaggeration naturally worked against challenges to Rosen’s leadership. The NSC put out the information that would make it look good and any opponent look bad. On that score no one was in a position to challenge the NSC.

The basis of the Rosen clique’s method of inner-Party struggle is idealism. They set up a “plan” based on subjective wishes and then try to whip up pure enthusiasm in the members to carry it out:

“In addition we’re trying to be much sharper in inner-party struggle. Concretely this means a drive to make every member accountable for 75 sales [of CHALLENGE] per issue...”[115]

Thus inner-Party struggle was never seen politically as a struggle against certain well defined political positions, but as mainly pep talks to inject enthusiasm into the membership to carry out the “game plan.” They liked to quote Vince Lombardi, the football coach, who was a master at this type of thing. The other side of the coin was that when opposition developed the opponents were accused of “developing middle-age flab”[116] and inner-Party struggle was seen as a battle by the leadership to prevent the development of “middle-age flab in the members.”

This idealist approach is the opposite of Marx and Lenin’s method, which is to investigate material reality and develop a political struggle based on two lines. But the idealism of the entrenched leadership served a purpose, it created an environment where political struggle, and hence opposition to them, could not survive.

Thus the entrenched Rosen clique never had to bear a serious challenge to their leadership. Yet, born of a split in the CP themselves, they fretted about a split in PLP and constantly took precautions to shore up Rosen’s position. This meant taking step-by-step organizational measures to restrict democracy in the Party and, to enhance Rosen’s authority. Living in constant fear of splits they suffered many:

the split led by Leibel and a majority of the San Francisco Bay Area membership in January 1964 over the publication of “Road to Revolution.”
the split of 20 to 25 of the New York City leaders in the Spring of 1966 over the dissolution of the May 2nd Movement.
the split led by Lee Coe and Van Lydegraf which involved all of the Seattle group and most of the San Francisco trade-union section in December, 1966, over the publication of “Road to Revolution II.”
the split led by Una Mulzac, in January 1969, which involved almost all that was left of the Harlem Club, after the defections of 1967.
the split led by Bill Epton which involved a number of New York Party leaders in late 1970.
the split led by Jared Israel which involved almost all of the Boston Party in January 1974.
the split of the Norwich, Ct., Club, one of the few real industrial clubs still left in the party during the summer of 1976.
the split of 72 California members (50% of the California Party) in April, 1977 after the expulsion of Hari Dillon.

And these were only the major splits. Additionally, top NC Party leaders (Jeff Gordon, Philipe DeJesus, Janet Foley, Eddie Lemansky, Bill McAdoo, Ed Clark, Alice Jerome) quit individually, resignations in which each case caused extremely serious problems for PLP. Furthermore the resignation of some of PL’s very few genuine mass leaders like Willie DeCluitt (Cleveland auto worker), John Levin, Bridges Randle, John Harris, John Ross (S.F. Community leader), the leader of a Midwest Welfare workers union and others was also a serious source of embarrassment. Finally there were a huge number of resignations and expulsions of local leaders and members. An extremely small number of expulsions were justified, many were totally unjustified, but in either case the people who left PLP were rarely dealt with politically.

A healthy democratic Party could have avoided most of these splits and kept 90% of the splittees active as positive forces. This is so even though the splits were of vastly different character. Some splittees like the Epton split, were of Marxist-Leninists, who were driven out of the Party by an anti-Marxist leadership that feared to do battle with them politically. Others like Leibel, Coe and Lydegraf were rightists, who tended toward the revisionism of the CPUSA but even these, or at least the great majority of their followers, could have been kept in had the NSC been willing to permit full and honest debate, as well as discussion at all levels of their positions. Others like the M2M leaders, McAdoo, Mulzac, the Norwich Ct., Club quit over tactical differences, that reflected deep political differences, but the heavy-handed dictatorial methods of the NSC prevented a debate from even beginning and expelled or forced out these people before they had even time to think out the political implications of their differences. Finally there were cases, Jared Israel being the most prominent, of local Milt Rosens asserting their independence from New York. This last type of split is inevitable when a hierarchal method of leadership obtains in a Party.

Through all the splits the Party emerged weaker but more monolithic. Since the splitees were rarely, if ever, dealt with politically but instead were accused of anything from fraud to being police agents, from being “afraid” to not wanting to go to work, the Party united after the split not over a set of political principles but over agreement on what was basically gossip. Thus the Party’s stock-in-trade came to be this one is a police agent, that one defrauded the Party, this one didn’t want to get a job, that one was “tired,” etc. The resulting lack of political struggle retarded the members’ political development and inhibited them from raising political differences lest they be accused of the darkest crimes.

In sum there developed a growing slavishness in attitude and a growing cult around the “wisdom” of RTR III and its chief interpreter, Milt Rosen. But even this “natural” entrenchment of one man power was not enough. Beginning in 1966, the Rosen clique took specific organizational steps to gather all the power in their hands.

The constitution adopted at the founding Convention, April 1965, emphasized democracy; it reflected the healthy civil libertarian emphasis of the mass movement of the time. The constitution carried detailed guarantees of the democratic rights of the members and mandated open debate and open criticism and self-criticism within the leadership. The spirit during the Convention of 1965 and immediately afterwards was fairly democratic and open, as sort of a backlash to the stuffy dictatorial bureaucracy of the CPUSA. And the open, honest, democratic discussions that were so much a part of SNCC and SDS in that period found an echo in PL. But behind this facade a new totalitarian bureaucracy was gathering the levers of power in their hands. At the Convention of 1965 Fred Jerome whispered to one participant: “We could have railroaded that resolution through but we wanted to be democratic”![117] Naturally with that attitude in the leadership it was only a matter of time, and not too much time at that, before the constitution and its spirit were violated.

At the Convention, Rosen proposed a slate of 19 NC members who were duly elected. A twentieth NC member, Eric Johnson, was elected from the floor. The Constitution was reprinted in PL magazine, but when that issue ran out the Constitution was never reprinted. As early as 1967 most new members never saw the democratic constitution of the Party which they were joining. By 1971 most members were not even aware a constitution existed. It was to the advantage of the entrenched leadership to keep the constitution secret from the members.

In late 1966 the NC adopted the rule that democratic-centralism must exist within the NC. This meant that all NC members were to defend NC decisions to the membership, could not mention what, if any, debates went on within the NC, could not criticize another NC member outside the NC. This clear-cut violation of the 18-month old constitution was never submitted to the membership for approval but was merely announced by the NC along with “Road to Revolution II.” This rule was adopted (such a rule never existed in the Bolshevik Party under Lenin) to keep the serious opposition of four NC members to the “Road to Revolution II” program secret from the members. Thus the new program was not the result of honest debate within the Party but at best only of debate within the NC. At this time the new rule worked only imperfectly, Coe and Lydegraf who disagreed, refused to honor it, and so did Eric Johnson who agreed with the position but saw the need for more debate when he returned to San Francisco. But Coe and Lydegraf were expelled, and Johnson was read the riot act, subsequently NC debates became entirely closed. The non-NC members who opposed an NC decision after that had zero chance of effectively making their voices heard. This rule of closed NC debates served greatly to render virtually impossible a cohesive anti-Rosen opposition.

In 1967 two NC members, the voices of conscience, remembering the promises of 1965, made solitary but futile struggles for democracy. In Chicago, Alice Jerome carried forth democratic opposition to the NSC and in San Francisco, Eric Johnson attempted the same. Neither effort got very far, although A. Jerome’s lasted until the Convention of 1968. Ironically A. Jerome’s son, Fred, was the NSC leader sent to San Francisco with specific instructions to crush any opposition there at the same time Alice was struggling for different ends in Chicago.

Caught up in the spirit of the Cultural Revolution then in full swing in China, a pre-Convention West Coast conference in late 1967 was organized by Eric Johnson with Jerome’s blessing. It was to be a “Red Guard Conference” and was organized in such a way that the rank and file would bring forth their criticisms of the leadership. When this actually occurred in front of Milt Rosen, who was attending as the NSC representative, the roof fell in. F. Jerome adroitly switched sides joining with Rosen in a vicious attack on Johnson and on those rank and filers who had expressed criticisms. Various rank and filers were then induced by means of not so subtle pressure by Jerome and Rosen to recant and/or attack Johnson instead and/or make gratuitous pronouncements in favor of the new leadership.[118]

At an NC meeting in early 1968 Rosen went over the slate of the new NC to be elected by the forthcoming convention. Johnson and Alice Jerome (ln mid-1968 she was removed as Chicago Party leader.) were to be dropped from the NC as punishment for their struggles for democracy in the Party. A few others were dropped for various reasons. The new NC had only eight instead of twenty members and was made up entirely of white male New Yorkers, with Epton the only Black member. This narrow character of the NC was criticized at the Convention but no new nominations were accepted, and all eight were easily elected.[119]

The Convention itself did not debate the two main issues presented during the pre-Convention discussion: (1) Alice Jerome’s proposals for more democracy within the Party or (2) the proposals by the Lyn Marcus-Labor Committee Faction. (Two Labor committee-ites were elected as delegates; one had his credentials summarily revoked by the New York City Committee, while the other was expelled by the Convention.) Instead the only debate was over community control and the impending racist teacher walk-out against community control in New York. The high-point of the Convention was Milt Rosen’s speech, “Build a Base in the Working Class,” which outlined an intelligent and thoroughly correct strategy for base-building united-front work and inner-Party struggle. Later reprinted as a pamphlet, Rosen’s “Build a Base” was his most important positive contribution within PL. Long after Rosen himself rejected it, Marxist-Leninist forces within PL were still learning from it. In a nutshell, “Build a Base” called for working with people where they were at. In basebuilding that meant mixing in with one’s fellow workers, students or neighbors, learning from the masses as well as teaching them. In united front work it called for choosing to organize around a slogan that was the lowest common denominator, which still attacked the system. And in inner-Party struggle it called for using the same approach to defeat servility in members. The UF slogan for the anti-war movement was “U.S. Get Out Now” but even this might be too narrow at times, Rosen explained, as the Brooklyn College struggle demonstrated. (See above.)

But in reality the Party was already fairly well into its retreat from the anti-war movement and was already considering “U.S. Get Out, Now” as too broad, since it didn’t attack the Vietnamese for negotiating. And in inner-Party struggle the good advice of “Build a Base” also became a dead letter. Servility increased and opposition to Rosen was put down increasingly roughly. In mid-1969 Epton was booted off the NC for failing to defend Rosen’s retreat from the BLM. Around the same time the student leaders who had led the successful struggle within SDS were removed from key positions of authority. Israel was dropped from NC and ordered to stay out of Boston’s student work; Gordon was removed as national student coordinator as was his West Coast counterpart, John Levin. While Levin was replaced by another mass leader from S.F. State, Gordon was replaced by Bob Leonhardt, a graduate student in French who had never been part of the student movement. The old student leaders roundly opposed Leonhardt’s appointment, but Rosen insisted on having his own man lead the student work.

Finally, in mid-1971 came the NC directive that henceforth all articles in the PL literature would be unsigned. This was said to be in order to combat a cult of the individual. However, in reality the directive was a very important step in the entrenchment of the leadership. In the first place, elections for the national leadership became more meaningless since rank-and-file members could know a leader in another area only by his writings. Secondly and more importantly, by having all articles represent the opinion of the Party as a whole the opportunities for diversity and debate were severely restricted. By contrast all articles in the Bolshevik Press were signed, even if security required psuedonyms, the Party leaders debated one another openly before the masses, and had to take personal responsibility for what they wrote. This method allows the debate to deepen, positions to be historically developed and the membership to identify with various trends and participate in a real way in Party debate. All this was precluded by the PL insistence on anonymity in articles. Eventually even articles for the internal bulletin were largely written anonymously. What written debate existed was carried on anonymously and members had no way of contacting authors except through the censorship of the Party center.

The Convention of 1973 had even less discussion and debate than the two previous ones. In most areas delegates were appointed from above not elected by clubs, and the NC members were previously bound to unanimously follow the Rosen line in all its particulars at the convention.[120] Both these innovations were illegal constitutionally. Rosen’s right-hand man at this convention was Jared Israel, he had been restored to the NC in 1971. Israel used his formidable Boston delegation to support all of Rosen’s proposals. The Boston Party was then as big as New York’s and the Boston delegation acted unanimously to intimidate any opposition to the NSC. The Rosen-Israel leadership saw to it that the proposed workshop on sexism was squelched. Also rank and file proposals on PL relating to cultural work were pidgeonholed in the education workshop, which was entrusted to Leonhardt. This same workshop recommended that further use in the Party of books by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin or Mao be terminated once and for all. The Rosen-Israel leadership passed these resolutions as well as the controversial 30 for 40 teachers’ resolution. (See below.) The new NC was presented as a slate to the Convention; to vote against one you had to vote against them all. The vote, at any rate, was a pro forma voice vote. Israel’s new power was recognized in the newly elected NC which continued the old NC, now grown to 13, only adding two of Israel’s assistants from Boston.[121]

Nonetheless, the very first meeting of this new NC broke down in severe acrimony over an obscure issue (The issue was that the New York Party had recruited a person who had been expelled by the Boston Party.) between Israel and his two cohorts, on the one hand, and Rosen and Linder supported by the other ten on the other. The upshot was a split by Israel and the Boston section in January 1974, amounting to at least 25% of the Party.[122] No substantial issues were involved; Rosen and Israel were in close political agreement. Apparently Rosen had begun to fear Israel’s growing power in the Party, which Israel had flaunted at the Convention six months previously. Israel detected a Rosen move to cut him down to size, so he out-foxed Rosen, gathered his loyalists and secretly planned the split. When Rosen and Linder went to Boston to “struggle” with Israel they were “ambushed” by the unanimously hostile Boston leadership. The highly antagonistic split followed within days. The Israel group (Party for Worker’s Power) soon retreated before the racist tide then sweeping Boston and rapidly shrunk to less than one-fourth its former size, soon eschewing even the name communist and any connection whatsoever with Marxism-Leninism. The right-wing essence of Israel’s ultra-left posturing was now laid bare. In most of this Israel only anticipated the rest of PLP by a few years. (See below.)

A few new people were added to the NC to make up for the loss of Israel and his group. But in 1975 Rosen made two other moves to consolidate his hold on the NC and to “prevent another Boston.” In the same of adding workers to the NC, a sweeper purge of 10 NC members took place during the summer. (Five of the ten were subsequently restored 6 months to a year later. From here on elections were dropped and the NC was a body selected only by Rosen.) All the new NC members were personally appointed by Rosen.[123] Neither the old NC nor the new NC nor any collective body approved the names of the new NC. It was a body totally beholden to Rosen personally. Finally, six months later the NC was split into two for once was a novel PLP “contribution” to the “development” of M-L, since no other Marxist-Leninist Party in history operated with two central committees.) Since only Rosen, the faithful Linder and one or two other New York Rosen lackeys met with both NC’s, Rosen and his two or three hacks became the real NC. The two ostensible NC’s, which now met less frequently were in fact only pep rallies called to hear Rosen’s line.[124] PLP went full circle from a democratic organization of the whole membership in 1965 to an organization where only the NC had some collectivity to finally a classic one-man autocracy by early 1976.

In closing the book on PL’s early period, we should briefly trace PLP’s relations with two other mass movements of the sixties, the community-based movements against exorbitant rents and the women’s movement. PLP put a great deal of energy into community work in the 1963-1968 period. In the early period some of it was quite good. In San Francisco’s large Latin Mission District, the Party organizer, John Ross formed the Mission Tenants’ Union (MTU) which became a small thorn in the sides of the City Fathers. The MTU was responsible for numerous small rent strikes, some successful, as well as fightbacks on other community issues, like the need for stop lights and opposing urban redevelopment. The MTU was responsible for the construction of a new mini-park in the neighborhood. Ross became a well-known figure in the community and when he ran for supervisor in 1967 as part of an electoral rent-control campaign the city was afraid enough of both to rule him and the referendum off the ballot. In New York City community work in the lower East Side and the Upper West Side also had its moments but in general was not as successful because of both the objectively more difficult problems of working in New York’s less cohesive and larger communities and because the New York Party pursued a more sectarian style of work.

At any rate the community work in the lower East Side withered away in 1966 and in 1968-1969 the work likewise died in the West Side and in San Francisco. As the Party in general moved to a more sectarian outlook, the community work, which necessarily depends on a broad united front with all kinds of forces, as well as flexible organizational forms had to go. Ross and the others who had led PL’s community work in San Francisco and New York quit PLP in that period. And the PLP community work was over, another retreat from the mass movement.

There never was a retreat from the women’s movement, since PLP gave the movement against sexism a very wide berth. Beginning around 1968 the movement for women’s liberation was a mass movement not nearly as powerful in mass action or militancy as the anti-war movement or BLM, but in terms of lasting concrete gains and changes wrought in the thinking of North Americans the women’s movement ranks a par with the other two. As the women’s movement was gathering strength in 1968 the PLP national leadership was learning to regard the movement with contempt.

By 1968 the last woman national leader in PLP, Alice Jerome, had been purged. Not until late 1971 had another woman, Janet Foley, had placed on national leadership. In the three and a half years that the PLP NC was all male (and only one Black) the mass women’s movement was at its period of greatest development. But in the PLP NC the women’s movement was not even discussed seriously and if the subject of sexism arose it was treated as a joke.

Rosen on at least one occasion told a stupid anti-woman story to answer a question about sexism.[125]

The Convention of 1965 had mandated a woman’s commission, but it was never implemented. In the more democratic years of 1965-1966 PLP women had met to discuss their mutual problems. There were meetings of this nature in New York and San Francisco in 1966. But first Rosen in New York in 1966, then Fred Jerome in San Francisco in 1967 put a stop to these meetings.[126] As long as Alice Jerome was on the NC she kept up a struggle to implement the Convention Resolution on a Woman’s Commission, but she was blocked at every turn by the NSC. After she was dropped, the leadership, now completely shot through with male chauvinism, blocked every attempt at discussion of sexism, and refused to countenance the Party’s entering into the women’s movement at any level, not even with the Party’s usual sectarian line.

This neolithic mentality continued in the NC unabated (Out of politeness to Janet Foley, sexist stories ceased in the NC after 1971.) until 1973. During the pre-convention discussion that year widespread dissatisfaction with the sexist mentality of the NC burst forth. Numerous articles were written by rank and filers demanding that the Party participate in the woman’s movement and that there be a discussion of sexism in the Party. A widespread demand for a workshop on sexism at the convention could no longer be withstood. At the NC meeting on the eve of the convention, Israel and Rosen, uncomfortable with the situation, proposed that as a way out the Education Workshop could have a subsection on “family problems;” all resolutions and discussions on sexism or the woman’s movement would be considered as part of “family problems.”[127] The same ploy was used to pidgeonhole rank and file demands for a discussion on culture. Somehow a very mild resolution on “family problems” which hardly mentioned PL’s problems with sexism, weaved its way from the sub-workshop to the Education Workshop to the floor of the Convention where it was passed and promptly forgotten.

Nevertheless the struggle had a small effect in that the NSC after 1973 gave lip service to fighting sexism (although never in a mass way) and began promoting women to leadership in the Party. (But by 1973 even General Motors was putting women in leadership positions.) As for the mass movement PLP ignored International Women’s Day, refused to attend any of the myriad women’s conferences or participate in anti-sexist action on any level whatsoever.

The story should end here; PLP was politically dead after 1971. But a serious struggle to reverse the sectarianism and return the Party to Marxism-Leninism was launched in 1971. PLP never returned to its former influence or anything near it, but here and there PL did become a fleeting force in the mass movement, and the Party remained alive and even grew for a time. We will briefly examine the attempt to revive PL (1971-1976) and its ultimate end.


Abbreviations Used in Endnotes

EA: Eyewitness Account: Some 30 former members of PLP contributed to these accounts, including seven former NC members, at least one of whom was present at all NC meetings between April, 1965 and March, 1977. Whenever this citation is used the account has been carefully crosschecked with other witnesses.

CD: Challenge-Desafio, PL’s national newspaper.

PL: PL magazine, PL’s national theoretical magazine.

IB: PL internal bulletin.

CW: Collected works.

[112] EA

[113] EA

[114] Stalin, CW, V. 8, p. 182.

[115] PL, V. 8, No. 1, February, 1971, p. 106.

[116] IB, April 5, 1977, p.4.

[117] EA

[118] EA

[119] EA

[120] EA

[121] EA

[122] EA

[123] EA

[124] EA

[125] EA

[126] EA

[127] EA