First Published: on EROL, December 6, 2010
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Author’s Note: The following is intended as a correction and addition to “The Five Retreats.”
The statement that “the CCP founded PLP” is only accurate insofar as PLP would never have achieved even a portion of its influence in, the mass movement if not for the influence and inspiration of the CCP of the early sixties. Most of the PL leaders who came into the movement at that time owe their Marxist ideology to the CCP. But the founders of PL, themselves, those who were in before 1964 owe little or nothing to the CCP. They came to their ideology mainly through William Z. Foster.
In 1945 Foster was induced by the International Communist Movement to lead the fight against Browderism, which he had but meekly and weakly fought – not on principle but as a tactical difference – in 1943. For the leadership of the newly reconstituted CPUSA in 1945, Foster nominated some of Browder’s most loyal adherents, men like Eugene Dennis, John Gates, Gil Green and Gus Hall. Nevertheless, between these Browderites on the one hand, and Foster and his adherents on the other, there raged a deep and constant factional struggle for the next twelve years, until finally in 1958 the issue was resolved in favor of the Browderites, then led by Gus Hall. The Foster-Browderite struggle was never over real principle out over tactical differences such as: whether to work with the Progressive Party or the Democratic Party; the tactics for defense at the Smith Act trials; the role of the Left in trade unions, etc. The Browderites generally took a more openly capitulationist stand, while Foster’s group clung to leftist rhetoric to cover up the revisionist essence of all CP politics in this period.
The founders of PL were a product of this struggle. They were ideologically molded in the inner-party struggle of Foster, Ben Davis and Foster’s closest ally, New York State Chairman, Robert Thompson against the open Browderites. The latter was the most important since the future PL’ers awed their positions to Thompson, Mort Scheer was chairman of the Buffalo Party. Milt Rosen was in charge of industrial work in Buffalo and later became Thompson’s successor as N.Y. State trade-union organizer, Wally Linder was head of New York’s railroad work. Fred Jerome, son of V.J. Jerome, Foster’s cultural collaborator, was a N.Y. student leader. These were the most important founders of PL, (Most of the other original PL’ers were also from Thompson’s New York faction), and since these four have been the only truly influential PL leaders.
Thus much of PL’s subsequent politics, both its strengths and weaknesses, bear a striking resemblance to the politics of Foster and Thompson, in the 1945-1957 period. The insistence on the working class as the key force for revolution was a Foster contention against the more middle class oriented Dennis-Hall clique. The slogan “30 for 40” was a Foster initiative of the early sixties. “Racism is the Achilles Heal of capitalism” was a Foster phrase. On the minus side, Rosen’s anti-theory bias is an echo of Foster’s, as is the general contempt for the democratic movement. PL’s wild vacillation on the national question 1964-1968 is but a replay of Fosters similar vacillations of 1949-1953. Even the stubborn insistence on the imminence of war and fascism, and how this will save the Party, is not a new invention of Rosen. Foster had warned constantly from 1945-1956 every year that war and fascism were inevitable and around the corner – and that this would give the CP its chance.
More tragically the PL leaders learned their methods of leadership from Foster and his faction. It was from Foster that Rosen learned to demand adulation from the membership, as well as the method of decision making in secret, the use of cliques and inner circles to obstruct democratic discussion. From Foster Rosen picked up the notion that right-wing ideas come from the rank and file members and that the duty of the leadership is to resist the revisionism of the members. (The majority of the CP was undoubtedly inclined toward the politics of Dennis-Hall, but Foster was able to obstruct this until 1956.) From Foster, too, the PL founders also learned the technique of giving every pragmatic-subjective speculation of theirs the authority of a new breakthrough in Marxist-Leninist theory. (This proclivity of Fosters’ was a standing joke in the Comintern during the forties.)
As noted, Foster’s contention with the Browderites was entirely over TACTICS. Foster generally favored more militant (or in some cases more sectarian) tactics than the Dennis-Hall faction. But Foster never questioned the revisionist LINE or underlying philosophy of the CPUSA, though he wrongly considered his “better” tactics as a difference in line. PLP, on the other hand, in the early sixties, thanks to the influence of the CCP, did repudiate the CPUSA line. But once this was done PL’s development of line ceased and henceforth they reverted to Foster’s confusion between line and tactics. PL, like Foster judged other leftists (and ultimately even the CCP and the Bolsheviks) by their TACTICS. PL’s line was said to be superior because it favored more “left” tactics. This failure to understand the difference between line and tactics, inherited from Foster, was at the heart of PL’s pragmatic, subjective and anarchistic approach to politics. And that is why they were utterly incapable of comprehending Lenin’s book “left-wing Communism”, where the relationship between line and tactics is elaborated.
Despite the obvious victory of the Browderites in the CP after 1957-1958, Rosen and company did not break with the CP until their mentor, Foster dropped out of activity. Then they never made an analysis or an examination of their origins in the Foster faction and thus were unable to understand and transcend the weaknesses of Foster. Thus they repeated these with a vengeance. “Those who won’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
 Incidentally, as they once admitted, their prejudice against that book came directly from Fester and his faction.