Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers Vanguard

New Left Maoism: Long March to Peaceful Coexistence

The October League

First Published: Workers Vanguard No. 32, November 9, 1973
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In the early months of its existence the October League attempted to pose as a left opposition to the openly right-Maoist Revolutionary Union. The subsequent evolution of the OL, however, revealed the differences between the two organizations to be at most quantitative and temporary. United by the reformist logic of their Stalinist politics, their desired roles as running dogs of the Chinese bureaucracy and their iron determination to tail after every available left-talking faker in the unions and elsewhere, the RU and OL are today separated only by the organizational ambitions of their respective leaders. Nevertheless, these ambitions are quite ferocious, and we will undoubtedly soon see new “theoretical” justifications for the continued separate existence of two right-Maoist national organizations. In the ensuing competition the OL is likely to come off the worse, partly because of the RU’s larger size, and partly because of the inherent irrationality of trying to build a tendency around the politically footloose Mike Klonsky.

Los Angeles: Left Maoism?

The present October League is the result of a fusion in May 1972 of Klonsky’s Los Angeles October League and the Georgia Communist League headed by Lynn Wells. Both of these local collectives originated in the RYM-II section of 1969 SDS (see article on the RU in WV No. 31, 26 October 1973 for more details). Klonsky, son of a CP bureaucrat, was earlier an anarchist, then head of pre-split SDS and the leading RYM-II spokesman in 1969. Wells was a leader of the Southern Student Organizing Committee.

In the course of his elaborate maneuvers to “Stop PL” at all costs, Klonsky became a leading spokesman for the RYM-II fetish of “white skin privilege.” According to this remarkable “theory,” first put forward by Ted Allen (leader of the Harpers Ferry Organization), white workers, although not directly part of the camp of the class enemy, as Weatherman argued, are a labor aristocracy. Consequently, they could be won to class consciousness only after somehow metaphysically “renouncing” this privilege. Just how this would be accomplished in practice was never explained, although in his inimitable “dumb-worker” style Klonsky would declare that anyone who didn’t recognize the existence of a black nation was a “mother-f–in’ racist”. Klonsky solved the problem of how to “give up” this privilege for himself by dropping the theory a few months later, along with his youth-vanguardist “revolutionary youth movement” strategy, in favor of more orthodox Maoism.

Noted in SDS for his Mafia-style organizational techniques, Klonsky reorganized his closest clique partners from SDS days (i.e., his wife, sister-in-law and brother–no wonder the OL defends the family as a “fighting unit for socialism”!) into the Los Angeles RYM-II collective. LA RYM-II attacked the Revolutionary Union from the left by claiming (accurately) that Avakian’s “strategic united front against imperialism” was in fact a cover for a two-stage revolution theory essentially identical to the reformist Communist farty’s “anti-monopoly coalition”:

The ’Statement of Principles’ [of the RU, in Red Papers No. 1] separates imperialism from monopoly capitalism instead of recognizing imperialism as the monopoly stage of capitalism, as the highest stage of capitalism, with no intermediate rungs between imperialism and socialism. The position, therefore, is simply a carefully veiled resuscitation of the CPUSA(R) anti-monopoly coalition, the “two stage” theory of the American revolution. – Marv Treiger for the LA RYM-II collective to the RU executive committee, September 1969

Treiger, one of the founders of LA RYM-II, split from Klonsky in late 1969. While the latter formed the OL in the fall of 1970, Treiger joined the California Communist League (CCL), now the Communist League, which was emerging at the time. Treiger and a number of comrades soon split from the CCL over the question of Stalin’s crimes and joined with ex-RUers to form the Communist Working Collective. The OL’s development generally tailed the CWC until the two collectives set up a joint study group on Lenin-Trotsky-Stalin in early 1971. Klonsky and family dropped the project after the first session, however, where they insisted on studying Maothought as a precondition to studying anything about the history of the international communist movement. If 600 million Chinese think Mao is right, they argued, that’s good enough for us! (The CWC went on to break decisively with Maoism and, after consolidating around Trotskyism, to fuse with the Spartacist League.)

Atlanta: Party-Building

The other principal component of the OL is the Georgia Communist League. Among the various remnants of RYM-II, the GCL represented the opposite pole to the syndicalist Sojourner Truth Organization (Chicago) on the question of the party. In a May 1971 document, “The Vanguard Party: Invincible Weapon of the Working Class,” the GCL noted:

In reviewing the practice of our group and that of other collectives and organizations, we have found that opportunism has manifested itself principally in the form of the reformist theory of spontaneity and its practice of tailism. ...

This [tailism] was the predominant view in our group for the first 6 months of existence. During that time we developed the theory and practice of ’gazing with awe upon the posteriors’ (quote from Plekanov [sic] printed in What Is To Be Done?) of the working class to a high degree...

Our shop work was considered to be the most important part of our work.

In response to the RU’s “strategic united front” and platonic reference to the desirability of a party in the great by and by, the GCL wrote:

On the other hand, it is not simply a matter of ’uniting all who can be united’ around the need to build a party....

Specifically, a new party must not just be a collection of revolutionaries, but a clearly defined and solidly united organization. This unity must be built around a political program, based on these fundamental principles of scientific socialism applied to the particular situation for revolution in the United States.

OL Turns to the Right

The early militancy of the GCL and the Los Angeles OL was reflected in their fusion statement. Thus while the RU quotes Lin Piao’s statement that “the contradiction between the revolutionary peoples of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and the imperialists headed by the United States is the principal contradiction in the contemporary world” (Red Papers No. 2), the OL tries to make a fundamental distinction between the backward countries and the U.S., claiming that in the latter “the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is the principal contradiction” (“Statement of Political Unity of the Georgia Communist League [M-L] and the October League [M-L],” May 1972). Consequently, while two-stage revolution was correct for Mao it is wrong for Klonsky. The unity statement goes on to proclaim that “the creation of a new communist party–one of a Leninist type–has become the principal task for all communists in the U.S.” To the RU’s emphasis on “united-front work” the OL counterposed “party-building.”

But the right zigzag of Mao internationally and the necessity of competing domestically with the RU for the same turf soon sobered up the OL. Enough of such “ultra-leftism”! Thus while the fusion statement of the OL had stated that the “new communist party” must be built around the slogan “workers of all countries, unite,” the OL sharply opposed PL’s attempts to have this slogan adopted by the Atlanta Coordinating Committee, a local antiwar coalition. The OL’s preference: “People of the World, Unite”! (Against whom–the Martians?!)

On the question of party-building the ex-GCLers are now quite apologetic for their earlier emphasis on the centrality of the struggle for the Leninist vanguard party. At a conference of the NCLC in North Carolina in October 1972, James Skillman of the OL repented: “[we] wanted to build a party, and thought we were building a party, but we saw party building in isolation from mass struggles and in isolation from the united front. You can’t build a party without taking part in the United Front Against Imperialism.” So much for the “fundamental” OL-RU differences on this point! This retreat from earlier “leftism” has reached the point that last spring the OL could declare, in an article on “Building a New Communist Party in the U.S.”:

However, while modern revisionism, or right opportunism is the main ideological enemy which confronts the world revolutionary movement, within the newly-emerging communist movement here, the main danger is ’leftism’ and sectarianism. – The Call, April 1973

OL-RU on the Woman Question: Share the Housework

One of the areas where sharp differences between the two major right-Maoist organizations supposedly exist is on the struggle for the emancipation of women. In a recent issue of The Call (July 1973) the OL levels the profound accusation that the RU is “down on the women’s movement.” The article summarizes the discussion among various Maoists at the May 25 Guardian forum on the Equal Rights Amendment as showing two attitudes toward the women’s movement, one (the OL’s) “that it is a progressive movement” and the other (presumably the RU’s) “that it is a hopelessly confused middle-class movement which should be opposed.”

The Revolutionary Union opposes the ERA as allegedly “part of the attack on the proletariat” while the OL correctly supports it, calling for struggle to preserve gains represented by some of the special protective laws for women workers. However, in typical fashion, the OL takes this stand because “millions of working women and men have struggled [for these gains]”–i.e., because this is a popular position. The Spartacist League, in contrast, supports the ERA as a general democratic right, while calling for struggle to maintain beneficial protective legislation and extend it to cover men (see “ERA and the Struggle for Women’s Equality,” WV No. 24, 6 July 1973).

Despite occasional differences the RU and OL are essentially united in offering nothing but pious pro-worker, men-and women-must-unite homilies, failing to raise a revolutionary proletarian program which offers a class-struggle road for women’s liberation. Neither the RU nor OL carries on the crucial and necessary political fight against the divisive bourgeois ideology of feminism, nor do they seek to follow the early Comintern in calling for a communist women’s movement. Instead their philistine comments about homosexuals and abortion amount to a capitulation to the present backward consciousness of many women workers: “Because of its narrow emphasis on abortion and often on homosexuality, many people have gotten the idea that the movement for women’s liberation is just an anti-children, anti-family and anti-social movement.” – The Call, March 1973

While correctly criticizing the limitations of the SWP-led WONAAC and the single-issue campaign to legalize abortion, the OL simply calls for a multi-issue reform movement focusing on childcare. And on the question of alliances with bourgeois feminists such as NOW, the OL accuses the RU of “rul[ing] out any alliance between working women and such organizations as NOW, even though it is presently fighting for many democratic women’s rights....” The RU replied to OL attacks by mouthing a few words about “tactical alliances” with NOW, while denying it a place in the RU’s “united front against imperialism.”

In their efforts to show that as good Maoists they would not refuse to ally with the “democratic” NOW, the OL and RU fail to pose the struggle for women’s liberation as necessarily tied to the struggle for socialism. The concept of a transitional program of demands which would further the emancipation of women–the call for the socialization of housework (and thereby for an end to centuries of female bondage to the home), for full and equal integration of women into the work force (and into the trade unions)–is totally foreign to Stalinists raised on the reformist methodology of a minimum and maximum program. Thus when the OL and RU speak of “tactical” alliances with NOW, they do not mean a demonstration to legalize abortion but an ongoing political bloc on the basis of “democratic” (i.e., non-socialist) demands.

Like the opportunist ex-Trotskyist SWP, which has already followed NOW down the primrose path to bourgeois feminism, the RU and OL will reserve their platitudes on socialism for obscure passages in their turgid pamphlets on the joys of raising children in China, while in their political practice limiting themselves to what is acceptable to the capitalists. The SL, in contrast, has consistently fought in the women’s movement for free abortion on demand and free quality health care for all and has opposed such mini-popular fronts as WONAAC, which seeks to build a class-collaborationist alliance of ostensibly socialist groups and bourgeois politicians such as Representative Bella Abzug and the Women’s Political Caucus.

Perhaps the most disgusting aspect of the RU-OL workerist pandering to the present backward consciousness of the working class is their back-handed defense of the bourgeois family. Instead of showing how socialization of household work and childcare would liberate women from the slavery of unpaid labor and domestic bondage, and why this requires a united proletarian revolution, the RU comes up with the stunning proposal that “we have to encourage sharing household work at home, especially if the wife, as well as the husband, is working outside the home” (Red Papers No. 3)! Not even sub-reformist, such proposals are utterly apolitical. If the sole problem lay in convincing men to do housework, the millions of women now chained to home and family could presumably be liberated simply by enrolling husbands and wives in encounter groups!

In line with this defense of the family, the OL relates that in Mao’s China one factory worker “told me that all her housework was done by her children, two daughters and a son, because both parents worked” (“Women Hold Up Half the Sky,” 1972). What a stunning achievement! Of course, the OL neglects to mention that this is (unfortunately) already the situation for many working-class families under capitalism. Marx and Engels, at least, were not so pusillanimous when faced with the widespread bourgeois idealization of the family among backward workers:

The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement [prostitution] vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital. “Do you charge us with wanting to stop the exploitation of children by their parents? To this crime we plead guilty. – “The Communist Manifesto”

Soul Power or Workers Power?

Lacking any strategy for proletarian revolution in the U.S., the OL leaders (like the RU, IS and various ostensibly Trotskyist groups–SWP, WL, RSL, CSL, etc.) have instead tailed after the dominant trends of petty-bourgeois opinion. In 1969 Klonsky and Wells were spouting youth vanguardism and white race-guilt; in 1970, at the height of the feminist movement, Los Angeles RYM-II was calling for exclusionist women’s caucuses. With the upsurge of working-class militancy in recent months, the OL has distinguished itself in the labor movement chiefly through its capitulation to black nationalism and reformist out-bureaucrats.

The former is especially evident in the OL’s misleadership of the wildcat strike by workers at the Mead Packaging Corp. in Atlanta. Begun during the summer of 1972, the strike lasted for seven weeks and involved several hundred black workers in a struggle against racial discrimination. The strike ended with a victory for the company, which refused to grant the workers’ demands and fired some 40 militants. Throughout the struggle, the biggest weakness was the scabbing by white workers, which the OL strike leaders could not combat with their emphasis on “soul power” and alliance with the black-capitalist Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

The union (Local 527 of the International Printing Pressmen) had a typical history as little more than a dues-collecting agency. In early August of last year OL members in the plant called together militants to form the Mead Caucus of Rank and File Workers whose demands centered on “unfair treatment and oppression of the black workers.” When management refused to meet the demands, a wildcat strike was proclaimed only 12 days after the caucus was formed. This in itself was a stupid, adventuristic action, for a successful strike requires a recognized, capable leadership and strong organization of the ranks.

As the strike continued it was seen by white workers as solely a “black affair.” Even the OL recognized that “only a small minority of the white workers [have] taken part in the strike while most have scabbed” (The Call, November 1972). In an interview with OL member Sherman Miller who headed the caucus, it is admitted that lack of work among white employees was partially responsible for the sharp racial division, as was the widespread opinion that the caucus was trying to break the union and hesitancy of whites to support special demands around discrimination against blacks. The OL makes a show of recognizing these errors, calling for black-white unity, stating that it is not anti-union, etc. But it ignores two of the principal reasons for the racial divisions which ultimately scuttled the strike.

In the first place, the OL did not fight black nationalism, instead trying to combine “soul power” with “workers power.” Despite the undoubted justice of the complaints against racial discrimination, a strike built around the slogan of soul power will not enlist the support of most white workers. Admittedly it is difficult to overcome centuries of racism, but it is for this reason that it is crucial to place the struggle against racial discrimination in the framework of a class-struggle program which defends the interests of the entire working class. Instead of tailing after the greater militancy of the black workers, the OL should have fought to win the most advanced black workers to such a proletarian program as the minimum condition for a successful strike.

Secondly, the OL tried to implement its new enthusiasm for the “anti-imperialist united front” by appealing to and working closely with the SCLC. Black-power demagogue Hosea Williams was extremely effective in channeling the struggle into racial lines, as well as trying “to influence the workers towards reformism and relying on a few leaders instead of their own initiative. [The SCLC has] also fostered pacifism and a totally negative, onesided attitude toward the whole union” {The Call, October 1972). Despite this indictment the OL still insists that “SCLC’s support has been helpful” – yet the subsequent effective dispossession of the OL from leadership of the strike toward its conclusion by the SCLC with its reformist-nationalist demagogy was a main factor in the defeat that ensued! Again the OL displays the wisdom of hindsight: “The workers are learning that to insure success they must win allies in the community but keep their own independence and insure that control of the struggle rests in their hands.” Not surprisingly, these battle-tested leaders conclude that “the strike was a victory in several ways”–mainly because 700 workers stuck it out for seven weeks before returning to work. With “victories” like this, who needs defeats?

Possibly as a result of sobering up after this fiasco, the OL has since flipflopped to a policy of wholeheartedly endorsing every left-talking bureaucrat who promises to win a few more cents an hour while mouthing empty phrases about “democracy.” Thus The Call recently criticized the RU sharply for giving Arnold Miller of the Miners for Democracy only “critical support” in last December’s UMW elections! The fact that Miller and the MFD were relying on the courts and Labor Department officials to win the election was naturally not mentioned. Even more directly this policy was seen in the October League’s enthusiastic support, along with the RU, for the opportunist Brotherhood Caucus at the Fremont, California GM plant. If there is any difference between the OL’s uncritical support and the RU’s “critical” support for fake militants, this can be only in the former’s closer ties to the out-bureaucrats who dominate the caucus. However, when their erstwhile allies decide to turn on these embarrassing “radical” cheerleaders, both the OL and RU will be given an object lesson in the price of capitulation to reformism.

Faced with the increasing combattiveness of the U.S. working class, the OL and RU appear to be reacting in different directions. Thus the former pretenders to “left-Maoism” of the OL are trying to get as close to the bureaucracy as possible, while the RU is making a mini-left turn by suddenly discovering the danger of “uncritically” supporting out-bureaucrats. RU leader Bob Avakian could thus remark in a recent speech:

We’ve also seen a number of caucuses that have developed around the spontaneous struggle of the workers, but the leaders of these things often have degenerated into opportunism–not because they started off dishonest, but because they don’t have a broader political perspective.

And we have to beware of what we in the Revolutionary Union call the ’Triple O’s’ in the unions–that is, the ’Opportunists Out of Office!’ These people within the unions who are looking for a way to get into union positions, and they feel that rank and file militancy is the way to ride their way in. ... –Revolution, September 1973

That, of course, is a perfect description of the Brotherhood Caucus leadership. And no one can deny that they received a little help from their Maoist friends in riding into office on a wave of rank-and-file militancy! The RU may, like the OL after the Mead strike defeat, some day make a pretense of “self-criticism” for supporting the Brotherhood. But the fact remains that at the crucial point these Stalinist policies led the RU to capitulate to the same “Triple-O’s” denounced in the abstract months later in their press.

Right-Maoist Fusion?

Earlier this year there were rumors of impending fusion of the RU and OL; however, during the summer the two right Maoist organizations appeared to be moving apart for reasons that have not been explained. As a principled-sounding cover for this petty maneuvering the RU is now claiming that its strategy of building the united front (in reality a strategic popular front-from-below) is “diametrically opposed to the [OL] line that says that the central task is party building...” (Revolution, September 1973). As we have shown above, this sharp distinction is a hoax, since the OL has for all practical purposes adopted the same line as the more consistent RU in tailing after reformist labor bureaucrats, black nationalists and just about any other popular movements or leaders that present themselves.

Rather than engaging in obscure semi-polemical shadow-boxing over issues whose only purpose is to mask the basic cliquist appetites dividing the equally cynical, equally reformist RU and OL leaderships, those struggling to crystallize a revolutionary vanguard party must grasp the fact that the U.S. Maoists’ class collaboration, like their repeated capitulation to the reformists, is simply the expression of their Stalinist policies. A real understanding of such betrayals as the support to the Brotherhood Caucus at Fremont GM or the capitulation to the SCLC in the Mead strike can be gained only by understanding the origin of the far more costly capitulation by the Indonesian Maoist CP to Sukarno, which prepared the way for the massacre of 500,000 Communists in 1965. The Stalinist doctrine of “socialism in one country” denies the need for a revolutionary international, for policies of intransigent proletarian internationalism to spread socialist revolution throughout the world. Instead the agents of the Peking bureaucracy must follow a strategy of peaceful coexistence, fundamentally identical to that of the apologists of the Kremlin, not simply in the case of the tinpot despots of Ceylon, Indonesia or Pakistan, but even toward the arch-imperialist U.S. bourgeoisie.

From the failure to fight feminism by advancing any but the most minimal reform demands in the struggle for women’s liberation to the failure to fight for a class-struggle opposition to the pro-capitalist bureaucracy of the unions to the apologies for Mao/Brezhnev’s various “deals” with sections of the imperialist bourgeoisie, Stalinism stands directly counterposed to the interests of the world proletariat. In contrast, the Trotskyist program of independence of the working class from the capitalists and their agents stands revealed as not merely the direct continuation of the Marxist-Leninist tradition but as in fact the only program which can rescue mankind from the horrors of nuclear war and barbarism.