Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

New York Communist Workers’ Organization

A Party or a Sect?

Issued: As a typewritten document, n.d. [1974]
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Almost the entire anti-revisionist movement in determined to build a party in the next few months. Even groups, such as the RU, that once waged struggle against premature party-building, are seized with the party-building fetish. As we will show, the time is far from ripe for undertaking such a task, but first we will examine the faulty reasoning that has led the RU among others to “party-building”.

In 1969 RU had a generally correct position on how to develop the party: ”The proletariat cannot be the leader of the United Front today nor proceed to take power tomorrow, unless its white section is aroused to political consciousness, unites with the more advanced Black proletariat in common struggle and unless a Communist Party is built primarily from the united proletariat. (RP 2)

While it was incorrect for RU to say the Black proletariat is “more advanced,” it was quite correct for RU to assert that a party must be built in a process of unifying the proletariat. Put in more practical terms, this means that the party must consist of cadre who have proven themselves capable of uniting masses of Black and white workers on the basis of a revolutionary program. That is, the party is not to be made of self-proclaimed “leaders” who have had no significant success uniting the workers.

But today we find a different theme emerging in RU’s literature. The old theme is there only in a weak-hearted way. For example, in Red Papers 6, RU weakly suggests that progress has been made in uniting the class and therefore a party can be built. The examples given ore the work of a snail group in the New Jersey post office and the tiny Farah Strike Support Committees. We are told these groups developed “workers’ unity and consciousness.” Presumably, we are to conclude that the cadre involved are proven leaders belonging to the vanguard of the class.

On closer examination, however, we see that neither of these groups affected the political nature of the clans. For the last year these groups participated in narrow economic struggle. In fact, while these groups were functioning, we witnessed a growing disunity in the working class. Racial incidents, such as Canarsie, Kawaida Towers, Operation Zebra, the Shea killing, Shockley filled the newspapers while the predominantly white labor movement either supported the side of the bourgeoisie or was “neutral.” Such incidents continue to multiply and no anti-revisionist force has united the class in opposition to such practices. RU’s bragging about its “successes” is very weak indeed. In fact, the position that significant progress must be made in uniting the class before a party can be built is subtly being abandoned by RU.

The new theme emerging in contradiction to RU’s original correct position is as follows:

But at this point the overall primitiveness of the revolutionary movement, and the lack of a unifying, leading center – a party – is holding back the work of developing a revolutionary workers’ movement. While communists in any one industry can unfold alot around the struggles waged in that one industry, a revolutionary workers’ movement can’t be built in one industry. Only by joining with workers from other industries ... can we overcome the tendency to limit the workers’ movement. The next crucial step in doing that is to develop the programme that can serve as the basis...of work of the now party. (Red Papers 6, pg. 126)

That is, for the RU, at this time because there is no party the political struggle can only be developed within isolated industries and in relation to the particular economic struggles in those industries. Wo are told that before we can proceed farther than this and unite the class rather than workers of a particular union, wo must first undertake the development of a party, i.e. we must now focus our energy on the struggle for a party programme. This position is diametrically opposed to RU’s previous position that said large strides had to be made in uniting the class before a party could be built.

RU’s new position can be found with further elaboration in their newspaper:

Put objectively the mass movement has come up against the lack of a genuine communist vanguard... What is still missing, what the masses are in fact demanding, is for someone to show them how to build unity, how to identify the enemy and how to fight him. (p. 9. 5/74 Revolution)

Here we are told a party must be built to show the how to unite as a class and how to fight. How will the communist movement now not only divided over the issue of national question but also divided along national lines teach the workers anything about unity? How will organizations that have yet to succeed in the important fights, the fight of the working class against national oppression for example, teach the workers how to fight? Will the RU teach the workers how to fight for higher wages? The workers don’t need to be taught such things.

History has demonstrated repeatedly that this position of the RU (and the BWC, PRWWO, CL, etc...), this claim that a political movement of the class cannot and need not precede the party – this position is thoroughly ultra-“left.” We will prove that point. But first we briefly note the process by which RU abandoned its former, basically sound position for the new one.

The newspaper article referred to above provides the key to this problem. We are told that the mass movement and the communist movement are at a “crossroads.” We are told that although some “advances and victories” have been scored, “it must be stated frankly that at this point in the development of our movement there is a certain amount of pessimism and demoralization. This seems to stem primarily from the fact that many of us have learned through experience that it is easier to read Marxism-Leninism than it is to apply it...” (ibid., p. 1) From that report of pessimism we are to conclude that “The lack of... a Party has been a serious obstacle to the development of the struggle...” Therefore, comrades, chin up! We will build a party and the masses will respond to our calls!

What was the nature of the RU’s successes and advances? Why in the face of these advances has pessimism become the order of the day? RU has “successfully” led a few economic struggles in the past couple years There was for example the New Jersey postal strike for better work schedules and the Everbrite strike for better wages and conditions In general RU achieved some success in that sort of narrow struggle. But in What Is to Be Done?, Lenin points out that such “success” is of lessor importance, for the workers can by themselves achieve victory in the economic field. Lenin stresses that it is in waging the political struggle, the broad struggle of the workers against the state, that the communists must exercise their greatest initiative.

And RU’s political work is a justification for pessimism, a history of utter failure to rouse more than a handful of workers to political struggle. Over a year ago RU and PRRWO together could bring a couple hundred workers to a pro-NLF demonstration in New York and Washington, D.C. In addition to those workers RU and PRRWO and a few other allies could muster 5-10,000 people, (Nov. 4 and Jan. 20 demonstration). Despite numerous attempts to bring this work forward such as the workers’ committees against Nixon, the activities of the Nov. 4 Coalition, the work among the unemployed and with the Farah workers, the publication of new “anti-imperialist newspapers” by both RU and PRRWO – despite all these and more efforts to draw the workers into the broad political struggle, the number of workers involved steadily declined and RU began to engage not in political struggle but rather political nonsense. A handful of RU students seized, the Statue of Liberty. A handful of RU cadre sang anti-Nixon Christmas carols on the streets of New York. And PRRWO and BWC faced with similar failure, ran to join the corrupt CL. They explained that the reason they had failed, was because no struggle was, after all, possible without a party.

Instead of recognising their failures as subjective failures, failure of line and policy, the leadership of these groups put the blame on the “objective” need for a party. Instead of analyzing the many “left” sectarian practices[1] that led to failure in the political struggle, the RU and PRRWO pat themselves on the back for their “successes,” wisely instruct their cadre that better days are ahead, and proceed to the sectarian premature “party-building.”

Such is the logic of “party-building.” The logic of cowardly and demagogic leaders of the RU, PRRWO and BWC. (The OL and CL have always been in the mire of premature party-building and will be dealt with in another paper.) Instead of deep self-criticism, the cowards produce a cure-all and then spread it demagogically among their cadre. History will leave their “parties” behind.

To put an end once and for all to all such claims that conditions are ripe for the building of a party we will briefly examine the history of pre-party movements in China, Russia and several other countries. Let the reader conclude on the basis of these facts what party-building is about and what the deception of our “party-builders” is about.

The Political Movement and Party-Building

The CL has a talent for expressing in the clearest form all the most backward tendencies in the RU, PRRWO and BWC. Thus they assert:

nowhere in the history of the struggle for scientific socialism has a party been built in any country out of the mass movements, or revolutionary mass movements... (3/74, People’s Tribune)

The RU though only recently coming to its position on party building has lately promoted a similar view of history:

This is not China in 1921 and a dozen people or so can’t get into a room, see the need and declare themselves (a party). Then it was possible... because they had the help of an international communist movement.(Red Papers 5, p. 6)

Notice that in the above passage RU in still fighting the ultra-left path towards party-building. But its history reveals that the incorrect (and present) line has already begun to emerge. For, with or without the help of the Comintern, the Chinese Communists never just sat down in a room and “declared themselves.” That is the ultra-left interpretation of history that today upholds the party-building fetish.

In fact the twelve who sat down in that room had established connections among the workers, peasants and intellectuals in many of the major cities two years before 1921. “It should also be remembered that the twelve or thirteen intellectuals who founded the communist party had all had real experience in the labor movement...and were thus to some extent entitled to speak in the name of the workers in the cotton mills of Shanghai, the railwaymen of Changsintien, the rickshaw men of Wuhan and the printing workers of Changsha.” (p. 177, The Chinese Labor Movement, J. Chesneaux). These communists had not just limited themselves to the economic struggle. Many of their ties were developed during and in connection with the May 4 movement of 1919.

This movement was the political struggle that brought the tested political vanguard of the proletariat to the fore and thereby laid the basis for a party. The scope of this anti-imperialist struggle has been described by Han Suyin:

All business firms and factories in Shanghai went on strike. The strike spread like prairie fire. By noon it covered the whole city ... involving 90,000 workers... Up and down the Yangtze River transport stopped. Labor unions until then proscribed suddenly bloomed. (The Morning Deluge, p. 70)

The communists associated with this movement published numerous Marxist newspapers, set up political night schools for the workers and in many instances led their political movement. As a result of work done in May 4 movement, only a few months after the announcement of the party foundation, Mao was elected as an open communist as head of 22 affiliated unions in Hunan Province and was editing a Marxist journal with 40,000 readers What workers will Avakian lead after the formation of the new party? What workers will RU’s twelve speak for when they discuss the programme of the new party? Perhaps, as usual, RU will claim that things were different in China; after all Russia must be our model. But the RU et al will find no support in Russia’s pre-party history.

In l895, three years before the formal establishment of the Russian party and eight years before the actual founding, Lenin “proposed to the Marxists of St. Petersburg to pass from the propaganda of Marxism” (CL, PRRWO and BWC heed this!) among the few politically advanced workers to political (note, RU, not just economic but also political) agitation among the broad masses” (not just those in the “anti-imperialist organizations” but also on the union floor). (HCPSU, p. 35)

By 1896 this agitation resulted in “a strike of 30,000 textile workers, led by the League of Struggle.” The chief demands were presented not just to the individual employers but wore presented in a united way to the Tsar’s factory inspectors. Even with that enormous mass political struggle, thousands of times greater than RU’s Farah Strike work, for example, Lenin still could, look back (in 1901) and declare that the attempt to form a party in 1898 had been premature:

Unfortunately this first attempt (to form a party in 1898 – our note) was not crowned with success: the elements necessary for building up a strong and unified communist party did not yet exist. On the one hand the very forms of the practical activity of the Russian Social-Democrats were only just beginning to take place. (p. 307-308, vol. 6, CW)

After leading a political strike involving tens of thousands, Lenin summarizes the event by declaring the practical activity was insufficient for a party! For both RU and CL and all the rest that statement must be a mystery.

We understand Lenin to mean that the leaders of the class must be tried, and tested in the movement of a massive section of the class in close alliance with its revolutionary allies. The leaders, those who earn the name vanguard must be those who in practice lead the class.

Lenin clarifies this point in the same article:

Unification, the re-establishment of a united party (after the premature party of ’98) is the most pressing task (this was written in 1901). This task is a very difficult one, for it is not the unity of a few handfuls of revolutionary-minded intellectuals that we need, but the unity of all leaders of the working class movement which has roused the whole of a large class of the population to independent life and struggle. (same source, our emphasis)

How can the RU etc. unite the leaders of a movement that has yet to develop? Yet that is what this trend involves, uniting self-proclaimed leaders, non-leaders. Engels has said that history repeats itself first as a tragedy and then as a farce. It was a tragedy when the Progressive Labor Movement fell into “party-building” in 1965. Though it had bravely led some struggles, such as the Harlem ghetto rebellion in ’64, that step was the beginning of PL’s transformation into a Trotskyite sect. But now when RU, with its pitiful political practice declares itself party-bound, that is no longer the tragedy of PL but the farce of RU’s self-important leaders. Leaders who deny history to the extreme.

Perhaps RU will still object. After all Russia was different; it was a backward capitalist country, they will say. There wasn’t as large a labor aristocracy, it was easier to mobilize the workers. To that we reply, look at advanced capitalist Britain, with its highly developed labor aristocracy. They too built a broad, political movement before they built a party.

In Left-Wing Communism – an Infantile Disorder, Lenin writes, “There is no Communist Party in Great Britain as yet, but there is a fresh, broad, powerful and rapidly growing communist movement among the workers which justifies the best of hopes.” Notice that Lenin did not suggest that there is a narrow, weak, isolated Farah Strike Committee, UWOC, but a broad, powerful communist (not just militant trade unionist) movement among the workers. Let us look at the nature of this highly political movement that justified Lenin’s hope for a party in the near future of Britain.

In England from about 1916-18, a political movement was developed under the leadership of forces that later made up the core of the British party, founded in 1920. This movement was known as the Shop Stewards’ Movement because it took the practical form of lower level union leadership breaking away from top level class collaborationists. The central issue addressed with enormous mass mobilizations and strikes was British participation in the imperialist war and subsequent war measures. Shop committees were formed representing tens of thousands of workers united on the basis of revolutionary principles (with, unfortunately, strong anarcho-syndicalist tendencies):

The Clyde Workers’ Committee stated as its objects “to obtain an ever-increasing control over working conditions, to regulate the terms on which workers shall be employed, and to organize the workers upon a class basis and to maintain the class struggle until the overthrow of the wages system, the freedom of the workers... (British Trade Unionism, Allen Hutt)

The committee that drafted the above participated in massive strikes against the imperialist state along with the workers of the fifteen shops they led. This draft of principles became a model for many other committees who merged in 19l6 to form the National Shop Stewards’ Movement.

In his speech to the Second Congress of the Comintern, Lenin insisted that “all Communist organizations and groups in the Anglo-Saxon countries, even if the...Shop Stewards’ Committees do not immediately affiliate to the Third International..,.(should) establish closer ties with them and not desist from further efforts to amalgamate with these organizations to form a single Communist Party.” Furthermore, “the measure in which genuinely Communist parties succeed in winning mass proletarian elements rather than intellectuals.... is a criterion of the success of those parties.” (p. 201, Vol. 31, CW)

Thus the Shop Stewards’ movement leaders became the leaders of the CP of Britain. By linking the political struggle against the imperialist state with the struggle against class collaborationist union leaders, those leaders had set in notion broad sections of the working class. Thereby they earned the right to consider themselves the vanguard; they were the proven leaders a party must have in its ranks.

Finally, we note that the error of a rush to premature party-building was made, but corrected, in the early period of the Albanian communist movement. “’Leftists’ and many honest elements had formed party cells prematurely. A change was in order.” Therefore, “the Comintern proceeded from the fact that the cells were detached from the masses.. . they and their leading forms (were) dissolved and (were to be) reorganized on a party basis after having established sound foundations among the masses...” (HPLA, P. 52) These ties were to be established and were actually established in the broad anti-fascist and anti-feudal struggle. During negotiations between groups to build the PLA anew, “The communists stood at the head of this (anti-fascist) movement.” (Ibid., p, 70)

There are even more examples to prove that all genuine communist parties were built out of massive political struggle. The cadre were not self-proclaimed, but were the proven leaders of the political as well as economic struggle of the working class.

In the advanced capitalist countries, the political, pre-party movement generally took the form of a red trade union movement, because the masses could not be set into political motion without breaking the political paralysis of the labor bureaucrats. In our country, the political movement will most likely have to take the same form.

Furthermore, in our country such a movement within the trade unions will have to wage the struggle of the Black people or no political unity will be effected, between the Black and white proletarians.

The path towards such a movement is extremely difficult; the building of sects is much easier. What is required to build such a movement is first of all a rejection of all the sectarian forms of practical activity that characterize the political work of RU and company. Instead of developing political agitation outside the trade union movement, in so-called anti-imperialist organizations, this agitation must be carried on in the heart of the union movement in close connection with the exposure of the union bureaucrats.[2] Agitation must no longer be phrasemongering “calls to action” based on little or no political analysis. Agitation must contain concrete exposures of the bourgeois state.

There is much more that could be said about the real causes of the failure to politicize the masses of workers. But it is not in the scope of this paper to analyze that in depth. What this paper intended, rather, was to show that “party-building” arose in groups such as the RU as an escape from failure, a self-delusion: they had failed to build a political movement because of “objective lack of a party.”

History has shown conclusively, that regardless of conditions, it was both necessary and possible to build a massive political movement thousands of times as great as the RU’s “successes” before a party was built in various revolutionary nations and countries.

That history is a mirror in which the general failure of the anti-revisionist movement of the US and many other capitalist countries is reflected. The last ten years of anti-revisionism in the US and several other countries has produced not a workers’ anti-revisionist movement but a series of isolated organizations. We will analyze the roots of this failure in a later document. And we call upon all honest revolutionaries to abandon delusions of grandeur about being the proletarian vanguard and to join us in rooting out and correcting the “left”-ism that is destroying our movement and the movement of the proletariat.


[1] For an analysis of the RU and BWC “left” sectarian policy towards the unions see our paper, The Opportunism of the RU and BWC.

[2] see footnote, p. 3 of this paper.