Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The American Battlefield: An Interview with Comrade Michael Laski, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the United States of America (Marxist-Leninist)

First Published: Red Front [organ of the Marxist-Leninist Organization of Britain], Vol. 2, No. 1, March-April 1968.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba and Sam Richards
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QUESTION: Could you outline for our readers the history of the development of the Marxist-Leninist movement in the United States of America?

COMRADE LASKI: There are, apart from the C.P.U.S.A.(M.L.), four groups in the United States which call themselves “Marxist-Leninist”.

In 1958, at the l6th Convention of the revisionist-led C.P.U.S.A., a split occurred centred around a leading individual, Armando Roman, who was a member of the New York State Central Committee of the party. The split occurred over certain central questions, namely, the role of Comrade Stalin, the analysis of the Hungarian counter-revolution (to which the C.P.U.S.A. took an attitude of partial support), the national question in the United States, the attitude towards the trade union movement and, of course, the basic questions of the transition to socialism and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The right-wing revisionists – Dennis, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Gus Hall – were able to gain effective control of the party, while Foster played a centrist, conciliationist role of “trying to hold the Party together”.

There had been a tremendous influx of petty bourgeois and intellectual elements into the party in the thirties and forties, and these had provided the basis for revisionism. This had led in 1944 to the triumph of Browderism and the complete dissolution of the party, which was transformed into the “Communist Political Association”. The subsequent “reconstitution” was mere window-dressing: the elements who had adopted Browderism merely used him as a scapegoat and then proceeded to carry through the same policies in a more subtle way.

When the l6th Convention was over, the right wing moved to expel the small, scanty opposition, which was centred mainly among the Negro and Puerto Rican workers and the remains of the party’s working class base on the waterfront of New York City, in Cleveland and Chicago, together with a small scattering on the west Coast. These anti-revisionist elements formed in 1958 the Provisional Organising Committee to Reconstitute a Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (known as the P.O.C.) and began to publish the “Marxist-Leninist Vanguard”, This was the first group to emerge and it is still in existence.

In I962, after the Chinese and Albanian Parties had begun to expose international revisionism publicly, the Progressive Labor Movement (later the Progressive Labor Party) was formed mainly from elements who had come out of the revisionist party; its leading elements had been expelled from the party as trotskyite. Rosen, the leading figure in Progressive Labor, astutely capitalised on the situation brought about by the polemics in the international Communist movement to muster whatever support he could across the country among those who had dissociated themselves from the revisionist party.

About the same time Homer Chase was expelled from the Central Committee of the Communist Party and, with a number of collaborators set up “Hammer and Steel” and the now defunct “New England Party of Labor”. The paper still exists but it and the movement around it has made no growth.

In the winter of 1962-3 an organisation called the “Ad Hoc Committee to Reconstitute a Marxist-Leninist Communist Party” came into existence in Chicago. This has an anonymous leadership and is allegedly formed of members of the Communist Party who are in opposition to its revisionist line and believe that it is possible to transform the party by means of inner-party struggle.

The Communist Party of the United States of America (Marxist-Leninist) developed out of the P.O.C. in 1965 because, as a result of the Watts uprising at this time, it became clear that the P.0.C. was adopting a sectarian stand, refusing to wage a political struggle, to give any political, leadership, to expand its forces or to give any lead on the formation of a Marxist-Leninist Party.

The founding conference of the C.P.U.S.A.(M.L.) was held on September 4-5th, 1965. Its general organ is “The People’s Voice” (established shortly before the founding conference in August I965). Its theoretical organ is the journal “Red Flag”.

QUESTION: On what organisational principles is the C.P.U.S.A.(M.L.) constructed?

COMRADE LASKI: On the organisational principles of the “party of a new type” elaborated by Lenin and Stalin. It is democratically-centralised, capable of forming the leading force of the working class movement. Its Central Committee is the leading organ of the Party, apart from the Congress which elects it.

QUESTION: What is the basic policy of the C.P.U.S.A.(M.L.) towards the trade union movement?

COMRADE LASKI: We hold that our main task in the trade union field must be to break what we call “the fascist labour front”, which is actually the incorporation of the bureaucratic organs of the trade unions into the monopoly-capitalist state. We do not believe that the bureaucratic leaderships can be replaced merely by seeking election to official positions in shop stewards committees or trade unions. Our policy is to concentrate on the political education of the rank-and-file primarily by leading them in struggle; only then will the trade union elections have a firm, stable basis.

QUESTION: How does the C.P.U.S.A.(M.L.) view the national question in the United States?

COMRADE LASKI: The U.S.A. is a multi-national state, made up of three nations: the American nation, the Negro nation in the south, and the Puerto Rican nation. Our viewpoint is based on Stalin’s teachings on the national question embodied in his classic “Marxism and the National Question”.

The existence of the Negro nation was settled in 1928 by the C.P.U.S.A. as a result of a decision of the Third International. Stalin pointed out that the Negro nation did exist, and that the demand for its right of self-determination was an obligation for American Communists to fight for in order to solve the national antagonisms within the United States.

This correct position was liquidated by the revisionists in 1956, and in its place was put support for “civil rights”; the policy of equal rights within the American nation and of self-determination for the Negro nation was discarded.

Our Party takes the following stand on this matter: that there is in fact a Negro nation in the south and that it has the right of self-determination. The question of the relationship of the Negro nation to the American nation – whether the former should form an independent socialist republic, an autonomous section of a unitary socialist American republic, or a republic of a federated American state, or whether it should fuse with the American nation – this question is a matter for the working people of the Negro nation to determine. Marxist-Leninists in the American nation fight for the right of self-determination for the Negro nation, while those in the Negro nation (who are part of the same Party) fight for fusion with the American nation.

This Marxist-Leninist position on the national question is a powerful weapon against reactionary nationalists. Reactionary Negro nationalism is the complement of chauvinist Anglo-American nationalism put forward by the most reactionary sections of the U.S. imperialists.

QUESTION: What is the attitude of the C.P.U.S.A.(M.L.) towards the slogan “Black Power”?

COMRADE LASKI: We do not advocate “Black Power” in any sense of the term. This is essentially a nationalist slogan, not a Marxist-Leninist slogan. The Marxist-Leninist slogan is “self-determination for the Negro nation”, and not “Black Power”.

However, we do recognise that there is an anti-imperialist aspect to the “Black Power” slogan, and where this slogan is used to mean the right of self-determination for the Negro nation – self-determination which can be realised only by means of struggle against U.S. imperialism – we support it.

But where it is used – as by certain representatives of “Black Power” like Stokely Carmichael – to mean fighting for black institutions, for black teachers in black schools, for black policemen and black firemen, we oppose it as reactionary and divisive.

The majority of Negro workers do not support the conception of “Black Power” put forward by Carmichael and his ilk. This is merely a demand the Negro bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie put forward for a share in “the American dream”.

QUESTION: What is your analysis of the disturbances that have taken place in recent months and years in various American cities?

COMRADE LASKI: We regard the disturbances in Watts, Newark, Detroit and New York City over the past two years primarily as class disturbances not national disturbances, in their origin and composition. They represent militant struggles by the most oppressed and exploited sections of the United States proletariat, which are for the most part made up of national minorities. However, other sections of the working class participated in these struggles, especially in Los Angeles and Detroit. Of course, the nationalists stepped in to try to utilise the matter, and the entire bourgeois press has tried to present these class struggles as racial disturbances.

We hold that the essential contradiction within the American nation is the class struggle, while the national question is secondary. The national question is a factor which enters into it because the exploitation of Negro, Puerto Rican and Mexican workers is especially intense.

QUESTION: How does the attitude of the C.P.U.S.A.(M.L.) on the national question differ from that of “Hammer and Steel” and the Progressive Labor Party?

COMRADE LASKI: “Hammer and Steel” holds that the national question is the main contradiction in the United States today. We recognise that national liberation struggles are the focal contradiction in the world, but not in the United States.

The Progressive Labor Party, like most opportunist organisations, stands for: “self-determination of the Negro people” and “Black Power”, both at the same time.

But by “self-determination of the Negro people” they mean self-determination for Negroes wherever they may be, whether in Harlem, Seattle, or in Birmingham, Alabama, in the heart of the Negro nation. They consider Harlem and Watts “Negro nations” and stand for their “self determination”, but they deny the existence of the real Negro nation in the south. The effect is to give support to reactionary nationalism.

Two years ago it was fashionable to cell for “integration”. But “integration” means in practice integration for the wealthy bourgeoisie of the Negro nation or of the Negro national minority in the north with the American bourgeoisie. It meant nothing for the Negro workers – how can you “integrate” rich and poor? We reject the slogan of “integration” in favour of that of “equal rights”. But we make, it clear that equal rights are impossible under imperialism, and that the struggle for equal rights is an important aspect of the struggle for socialism under which alone there can be equal rights.

Who were the strongest advocates of “integration” two years ago? The Student Non-violent Co-ordinating Committee (SNCC), supported by the Progressive Labor Party. Now the P.L.P. is just as strongly backing SNCC in its advocation of the “Black Power” slogan and the use of indiscriminate violence as a catch-all threat. This is typical of the dual aspect of the petty-bourgeois opportunist radical.

Now it is fashionable to support “Black Power”, and the P.L.P. now supports this slogan in the crassest terms. Two years ago the Progressive Labor Party was saying: “No discrimination in the state schools! No all-black and no all-white schools in areas of mixed populations! No segregation!” Now these very same people are calling for all-black teachers, for all-black schools, for all-black cops. If we didn’t know better we might think that Governor Wallace was speaking to us.

Thus, what is going on is an opportunist tailing by the Progressive Labor Party of everything that moves in the United States. But Marxist-Leninists gain nothing by hiding their position, by changing their position to suit every transient petty-bourgeois fashion. The way to deal with petty-bourgeois progressives and intellectuals and their movements is to work with them and explain to them the Marxist-Leninist standpoint in the course of struggle.

QUESTION: What, then, is your estimate of the Progressive Labor Party?

COMRADE LASKI: It is a party composed mainly of petty-bourgeois intellectuals, led by unprincipled opportunists. However, we regard the rank-and-file of the Party as fundamentally progressive elements who can be won to Marxism-Leninism by proper polemic exchange. We are, in fact, perfectly willing to enter into negotiations with the Progressive Labor Party – as also with “Hammer and Steel”, the P.O.C. and the Ad Hoc Committee – for the purpose of discussing our differences and laying the basis for Marxist-Leninist Unity in the United States.

It must be said that the Progressive Labor Party has responded to some extent to our criticism. In the last five months, for example, there has been a complete shift in their attitude to the Peace Movement. Whereas before this they were working hand in glove with the Trotskyite “Socialist Workers’ Party” and with the “Sparticists” (a breakaway group from the “Socialist Workers’ Party”), and to a lesser extent with the “Workers’ World Party” (an earlier split from the “Socialist Workers’ Party”) and also with the revisionists – this collaboration with trotskyites has now ceased as the result of criticism of it.

The Progressive Labor Party has considerable financial resources, although its membership throughout the United States is not large.