Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Milwaukee Alliance

Rectify the Communist Movement, Re-establish the Communist Party!


The principle contradiction of the WA/MA was that it never grasped the fact that the ML level of unity was necessary to overcome its low level of ideological, political and organizational unity. Throughout its history, many attempts were made to increase the unity of the organization, but, because we did not recognize the principal contradiction, we remained a multi-tendency organization, and recruited people into an organization with too low a level of unity. This meant that progress was constantly undercut and a real breakthrough was never made.

Descriptive Section on the Wisconsin Alliance

Despite its many weaknesses, the Wisconsin Alliance, in its eight years of existence (1968-1976), involved hundreds of people in an ongoing socialist organization, doing a variety of political work.

The Wisconsin Alliance started in Madison in 1968 as an attempt to take the anti-war movement into Madisons’s working class. The conception of the WA was to build a worker-farmer-student alliance around support for socialism.

The WA became the mainstay of the off-campus anti-war movement in Madison over the years, and was responsible for many anti-war activities around the state. The WA also did a great deal of electoral work, participating in over thirty elections. The WA had people on the Common Council of Madison and the County board. The politics of the campaigns were mainly anti-imperialist, anti-big business, not revolutionary in character.

While overall the WA was weak in struggling against racism, it was heavily involved in the support of the Menominee Indian struggle for restoration and equality from the formation of DRUMS in 1970 through the seizure and aftermath of the armed occupation of the Alexian Brotherhood novitiate by the Menominee Warriors Society in January, 1975.

Except in its last year, the WA did only a little workplace organizing, but supported every major strike in Wisconsin, and significant national strikes like Farah, the Farmworkers, GE, and the pulpwood workers. We were heavily involved with strikes by the Meatcutters and teachers, retail workers and many types of factory workers. We gained valuable experience in the use of primary and secondary boycotts, the role of trade union bureaucrats and the use of coalitions.

The WA also has a history of organizing high school youth, particularly after the leadership of the Wisconsin High School Student Union joined the WA in 1972.

The WA published the Wisconsin Patriot newspaper from December 1971 to the summer of 1976. It reported on local, Wisconsin and national struggles, but, except near the end of its existence, did not clearly put forward the need for socialism. The WA also published a power structure analysis of Dane County (Madison is the center of Dane County), a pamphlet on the Menominee struggles, a pamphlet on Briggs and Stratton (a large plant in Milwaukee), and Unfair to Young People, a Marxist analysis of education.

Other activities included a variety of community organizing projects, a program of farm brigades, and political support for the struggles small farmers. We had a trip to the People’s Republic of China in 1973, many anti-imperialist activities, and cultural activities, including the publication of the Wisconsin People’s History Calendar, and the People’s History Play, “Wisconsin on Tap”.

The WA expanded statewide in 1972 to Appleton, a small northern industrial city, and to Milwaukee, Green Bay and Racine in 1973, with its highest membership being 110 people.

Unfortunately, despite this multitude of political activity, the ideological, political, and organizational aforementioned weaknesses of the WA prevented us from learning from this work, expanding it and building a revolutionary organization.

The WA was started by MLists who had broken with the revisionist CPUSA and the ultra-left Progressive Labor Party. They were reacting both against revisionism and ultra-leftism. However, the general disorganization of the left and their own ideological weaknesses led them to take a wrong view of party building and of organizational form. The WA was conceived of as a classic popular front – an alliance of all classes opposed to capitalism. Unfortunately, the MLists who started the WA didn’t grasp the fact that the working class must be the leadership of the popular front, and MLism must be the guiding ideology. Thus, the organization was consolidated around a very low level of unity, which put forward socialism and communism in concept, but not in name. The WA did not recognize the leading role of the working class or of MLism, and, thus, the level of unity allowed pacifists, opportunists, revisionists, social democrats, populists, Alinsky organizers, Christian minister, and Trotskyists to join. The first struggle to increase the unity of the organization occurred in 1971, when the International Socialists were thrown out of the Madison chapter of the WA, but the organization did not follow this up with a struggle for higher unity.

The Milwaukee chapter was formed in 1973, after two previously unsuccessful attempts. The level of unity was just as low, with the principal right elements in Milwaukee being Alinskyists and social democrats. By the Spring of 1974, the first major attempt to increase the level of unity in the Milwaukee chapter occurred through the organizational task force report. It was a failure in that it did not call for a higher level of ideological and political unity, and did not call for the adoption of democratic centralism. Instead, it called on committees to concentrate on geographic ’bases’ to organize.

From September, 1974 until February, 1976 the statewide strategy commission again attempted to raise the level of unity in the organization as a whole. Its charge was to develop a strategy for the Wisconsin Alliance. It resulted in a 300 page document which also did not address the principal contradiction in the organization. Its primary error was in not taking a class struggle approach to the organization and not using a mass line. The document took a position on every major question facing the movement and developed a general scheme for revolution in the US, instead of analyzing the class forces in the organization, our immediate tasks, and how to proceed. Its failure in the use of the mass line was that virtually nothing was heard from the commission until the final document appeared over a year later! The strategy commission was able to lead the organization to the adoption of democratic centralism in 1976 (the Milwaukee chapter had adopted democratic centralism earlier). In crude form, the organization went around, trying to implement this new level of unity. Obviously, it was difficult, because while we had unity of democratic centralism as a method of work and discipline, we did not have unity on MLism.

By this time, the consolidated right tendency of the Milwaukee Alliance had been forced to leave. This was a sizeable number of people. They had developed a theory which stated that we should not bring socialism into our organizing. They had formed a secret faction within the organization and followed the general philosphy of Saul Alinsky. (Alinsky’s policy involves a two stage concept of organizing, where people are first organized around “narrow self-interests” and later – much later – socialism is injected into the discussion. In practice, the socialism stage gets dropped because its always “premature”, and what is left is out-and-out reformism. Alinskyism in community work corresponds directly to pure and simple trade unionism in labor work, and is just as likely to sink into opportunism and reactionary politics. .. )

The chapter council’s first attempt was to push a major struggle in the labor committee of the organization. It said that all members of the labor committee should concentrate in a few highly socialized work places, in order to do as much collective practice as possible. This was bitterly opposed by some members of the committee, who objected to leadership, and who, individualistically, did not want to change workplaces. The struggle was long, bitter and unprincipled. However, it was unsuccessfully completed.

The next struggle taken up in Milwaukee occurred almost simultaneously. The chapter council put forward the line that our community committee should take hp work around school desegregation, which, at that time was just beginning in Milwaukee, due to a court order. This line was opposed by two members of our organization who took up the line of the Inter Communal Survival Committee. This line stated that white people should be in white organizations and minority people in minority organizations. It opposed the Milwaukee Alliance attempting to initiate a mass, multi-racial organization calling for desegregation and quality education. It also put forward that the lumpen proletariat was the leading force in revolution, not the working class. It called upon white workers to ’follow the lead’ of the Black, Latin and Asian and Native American lumpen proletariat, and secondarily the white lumpen proletariat. The defeat of this line allowed the organization to seriously take up the struggle against racism and for multi-racial unity within the class, and for the first time. It represented a victory, not only against an anti-working class line, but against a line that was essentially racist.

The final struggle of this tumultuous twelve-month period, was led by the chapter council of the Milwaukee Alliance. This was the struggle for the dissolution of the WA. The MA chapter council put forward that class transformation was the primary task for the MA and that the MA could not concentrate on this task and be involved in a statewide organization at the same time. This was because the political unity of the statewide organization was so low. The vote on this question was extremely close, but the MA left the state organization. Within two months, however, the MA had total unity on the fact that leaving the state organization had been the correct decision.

After the statewide dissolution in 1976, the MA went to an intensive period of re-establishing mass work. However, in this period, (October, 1976 to June, 1977) a struggle occurred over class stand in the organization, where it was decisively laid out that class stand is determined by political line. This was necessary to root out the remnants of a position which puts class origin, position and style ahead of political line.

By the spring of 1977 we realized, that our work among the masses was held back by a high level of empiricism. We embarked upon a study of party building to raise our ideological level and the political unity within the organization. The study was exhaustive and resulted in the Milwaukee Alliance reaching unity on Marxism-Leninism, and the fact that party building is now our central task. This period of study and struggle was accomplished without splits or unprincipled methods of struggle for the first time in our history. We look back upon this period with satisfaction, realizing that we have overcome the principal contradiction in the history of the organization. We look forward to the new period where we will work towards the rectification and re-establishment of the communist party.