Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Tom Kerry

Considerable Birth Pains Evident

The Progressive Labor Party’s Founding Convention

First Published: The Militant, Vol. 29, No. 19, May 10, 1965.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The crisis that hit the American Communist Party following Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization speech at the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party (1956), the Poznan revolt and the Hungarian uprising, gave rise to a protracted internal struggle that terminated in a whole series of splits and splitlets. The faction led by John Gates, former editor of the Daily Worker, which sought to accelerate the process of de-Stalinization and “independence” from Moscow, was defeated by the group led by William Z. Foster.

The Foster faction balked at interpreting Khrushchev’s attack on Stalin as a complete repudiation of the genial butcher and insisted that his “good deeds” outweighed his bad and his “errors” were offset by his “positive achievements.” This bookkeeper’s approach to politics carried the day against the Gatesites who, stigmatized as “revisionist,” voted with their feet, abandoning the CP to disappear into the limbo of political oblivion. Seriously ill, Foster later retired from active leadership responsibility.

It was not long, however, before the new CP heads came under attack from the “left” for succumbing to “revisionism.” There followed a series of “leftist” splitlets led by the “Provisional Organizing Committee to Reconstitute the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party in the U.S.A.,” a group in New England organized around the mimeographed publication, Hammer & Steel, and a group in New York led by Milt Rosen, former CP trade union director, which formed the Progressive Labor Movement, in that order.

What characterizes all of these grouplets is the claim of each that they, and only they, are the true exponents of “Marxism-Leninism,” the legitimate heirs to Stalin’s mantle and the indefatigable warriors against “revisionism” and “Trotskyism.” Each, of course, accuses the other of knuckling under to “revisionism” and being soft on Trotskyism. Each takes a dim view of the other’s prospects of emerging as “the” Marxist-Leninist Party of the U.S.A.

The January 1965 issue of Hammer & Steel Newsletter, for example, announces the launching of its contender, the “New England Party of Labor,” and advises Progressive Labor and Progressive Organizing Committee to give up the ghost. We are instructed that: “PL & POC may take a positive position on one or another question; they may champion certain necessary reforms, but their aversion to self-criticism, their dislike for theoretical discussion, their contempt for theory, guarantees that they cannot develop a Marxist-Leninist Party in a thousand years.”

Despite this disheartening perspective, PL decided to proceed with the formation of its version of a reconstituted “Marxist-Leninist Communist” party, an event which took place in New York City during the recent Easter weekend. After some three years of existence the transition from “movement” to “party” was consummated, not without considerable birth pains.

By its very nature, a “movement” implies the presence of diverse and conflicting tendencies. Lenin’s great contribution to Marxism in the sphere of organization was his insistence on maximum programmatic clarity to ensure effective striking power. Lenin always began first with the party program as the axis around which to assemble the party cadre. Those steeped in the Stalin school of politics begin the other way around.

The leaders of PLM set out to cheat history by forming an “action” organization which was to provide the spark to “electrify” the masses. Many of those corralled in one action or another could by no stretch of the imagination be considered either “Marxist” or even reformist socialist. The result was a series of forays of an adventuristic character which fizzled out, sometimes with individual victimizations, other times in repudiation as in Hazard, Ky., Monroe, N.C., etc.

This experience led to considerable “self-criticism” at the PL convention and the decision to function, hereafter, as an “open” organization; i.e., to openly avow the “communist” character of the group when taking part in any actions. We doubt whether this will provide the necessary correction. For after three years of existence the only document on program introduced to the convention, “A Proposal Concerning the Formulation of a Program,” begins by asserting: “At the present stage in the development of the movement it will probably not be possible to formulate a definite revolutionary program.”

While not yet ready to “formulate a revolutionary program,” the leaders of PL came to the convention fully armed with a set of organizational proposals culled from the arsenal of Stalinism. To begin with, factions, tendencies or groupings, which Milt Rosen stigmatizes as “Trotskyite notions,” are banned. In addition: “Every member and every body of the Party must participate in organized sessions of criticism and self-criticism on a regular basis.”

What this latter exercise in individual and group therapy means, was spelled out by Milt Rosen in an article in the Jan.-Feb. 1965 issue of Progressive Labor. “Some of our cadre receive criticism, accept it in words, and don’t change one iota,” Rosen complains. “They continue their harmful ways. They in fact act in such way as to undermine the movement, unintentionally. No matter how persuasive, patient, or correct the criticism is, the comrade shows no change; perhaps he gets sicker. This requires a different approach. One must become a little rougher. Actually, the patient is not sick enough to recognize his illness. Make him ’sicker.’ Yell at him, ’knock’ him in the head. When he is sick enough maybe he will respond to loving care. If not he needs a leave of absence to reflect more on his attitudes, his political development. Remove him from the scene, temporarily, before more damage is done.” Thus Doctor Rosen on the application of Stalinist therapy in the gentle art of “criticism and self-criticism.”

The same graduate practitioner of Stalin’s quack medical school (in the article cited above) sets forth as one of his proposed “organizational principles,” the edict that: “No club will recruit a member who presently belongs to any Trotskyite, CP, or other counter-revolutionary sect.” This was later changed by “Doctor” Rosen in his prescription to the convention: “A member may not hold dual membership in organizations whose policies are objectively counter-revolutionary. Revisionist and Trotskyist organizations are objectively counter-revolutionary . . .”

This medicine proved a bit too bitter for the taste of the convention delegates who voted to retain only the first sentence leaving to the discretion of the good doctor and his associates to decide which organizations are or are not “objectively counter-revolutionary.” They also corrected a small oversight in Rosen’s “organizational principles” by amendments from the floor providing that: “Members who are to be considered for expulsion have the right to trial by the club. They are to be considered innocent until proven guilty; be acquainted with the charges against them in advance of the trial; have the right to question and present witnesses,” etc.

There was a healthy note of suspicion in the ranks over the horribly mutilated version of “democratic centralism” presented by the Stalinist-impregnated tops. It is estimated that some 25 per cent of the organization, including practically the whole of the top leadership, came out of the CP saturated with the virus of Stalinism. Their professed aim is to restore the Stalin image, to ape his organization methods, to refurbish the myth of Stalin as heir and continuator of the theory and practice of Marxism-Leninism. A hopeless task.

Gone forever are the conditions that created a Stalin. The attempt to turn back the clock of history can only result in creating a hideous caricature which all of the medicine men who matriculated in the school of Stalinism cannot invest with either health or hope.