Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Proletarian Unity League

On The “Progressive Role” of the Soviet Union and Other Dogmas: A Further Reply to the PWOC and the Committee of Five

IV. Now You See It, Now You Don’t: The “Anti-Dogmatist Trend”

From the very beginning of the polemics between the “anti-dogmatists” on the one hand and ourselves and other organizations on the other, debate has centered on three issues:

...the nature of the main danger to the communist forces; the place of differences around international line in current party-building discussions; the analysis of the present-day Marxist-Leninist movement and the party-building line underlying some of the differences on the first two points. (“Bring Home the Struggle Against ’Left’ Sectarianism,” p. 1)

This third question has concerned notably whether or not a definite “anti-dogmatist trend” has emerged m the communist movement today, and in general the character and strength of what we have called the “anti-’left’ reaction.”

In his polemic on behalf of the Committee of Five, Comrade Newlin recognizes only two issues. “As we see it, those differences center in two areas of immediate significance.” (p. 1) We might ask, then, why Comrade Newlin chooses to ignore this third main issue. The answer helps to illuminate the styles of work employed by Comrade Newlin, and the quality of leadership the PWOC currently provides in combatting “left” opportunism.

For years now, the PWOC has firmly held to the view that an anti-dogmatist trend has emerged in the communist movement. For documentation of this, we refer comrades to our earlier polemics, and to numerous statements from the Committee of Five and the PWOC, including such papers as the Joint Letter of June 9, 1976, the PWOC Resolution on Party-Building published in The Organizer, and the “Draft Resolution for a Leading Ideological Center,” signed by the Detroit Marxist-Leninist Organization, the Potomac Socialist Organization, the Socialist Union of Baltimore, and the Philadelphia Workers’ Organizing Committee. In opposition to this view, we have argued two interrelated propositions: that the anti-“left” reaction lacks the theoretical coherence and ties with a definite section of the masses to qualify as a trend in the Marxist-Leninist sense of the term; (see the “Response” of September 1, 1976, pages 2-3 in mimeod form; Two, Three, Many Parties of a New Type?, Chapter 6, Section E entitled “An Anti-’Left’ Tendency”; “Bring Home the Struggle Against ’Left’ Sectarianssm,” pages 1-3; and “On the Small Consequences of Sectarianism,” page 37 in The Ultra-Left Danger and How to Fight It); and, following from our now mysteriously vanished disagreements with the PWOC on the “ideological essence,” “nature,” “theoretical basis,” etc., etc., of the ultra-left trend, that this reaction should be termed anti-“left” rather than anti-dogmatist.

For a long time, the PWOC tried to tough it out on its “trend.” The comrades issued statements or gave speeches which admitted many of our specific descriptions of the fragmentation, ideological disunity, inexperience, and other weaknesses of those fighting ultra-leftism. At the same time, they continued to claim that a definite “Marxist-Leninist wing of the party-building movement” existed (see the Draft 18 Principles of Unity), that it constituted a true trend and that it had reached its “threshold of maturity.”

Now the PWOC has embarked on a new tack. Comrade Newlin flails away at us for “distorting” the PWOC’s view of the anti-dogmatist groups:

Some of these points are distortions (that either PFOC or Sojourner Truth Organization has been considered as forces within the emerging Marxist-Leninist trend, that the PWOC maintains that the anti-’left’ trend has reached the ’threshold of maturity’ for party-building. . . (“Dogmatism,.. .”, p. 1-2)

In the case of Comrade Newlin’s past estimates of the PFOC and Sojourner Truth Organization, it is simply our word against his. Having documented abundant examples of Comrade Newlin’s self-serving memory, or his self-interested practice of selective non-quotation, we think there is reason to consider our word on this, but we have no outside proof.

In the case of the “threshold of maturity,” however, we can very easily demonstrate that Comrade Newlin is up to his old tricks.

First, if we compare Comrade Newlin’s alleged quote with what we said, we find that he has tried to cover himself nicely:

In a recent Boston speech, a comrade from the PWOC asserted – without any explanation or concrete evidence – that the ’anti-dogmatist trend’ had somehow reached its ’threshold of maturity.’ Unsupported by any definite criteria or preconditions, such a claim bears no small resemblance to those of our ’Parties,’ who have crossed any number of those ’thresholds.’ Just as ’the multiplication of parties, pre-parties and other groups belies’ the CLP’s, the RCP’s, CP (M-L)’s, etc., declarations that the period characterized by many disunited groups has drawn to a close (Two, Three, Many Parties of a New Type? Against the Ultra-Left Line, p.40),–so the “continued existence of real differences within the emerging anti-’left’ tendency belies the PWOC’s rosy view of the anti-dogmatist ’trend.’” (“Bring Home the Struggle Against ’Left’ Sectarianism,” p. 2)

Comrade Newlin denies that “PWOC maintains that the anti-’left’ trend has reached the ’threshold of maturity’ for party-building.” (pages 1-2) Notice how “for party-building” slips into the denial. In this way, Comrade Newlin can truthfully claim that the PWOC did not say “threshold of maturity for party-building,” understanding party-building here as something like party-formation. In fact, he is trying to deny his estimate about the “threshold of maturity.” He made this analysis in the speech we have cited before, which occurred in June, 1977, before a fair-sized audience. But here we need not depend on everyone else present to expose Comrade Newlin’s convenient memory. Because the same statement appears in a paper of the four groups, a paper dated July 12, 1977, i.e., at about the same time:

Theoretical competency, professionalism and unity are, themselves, the products of conscious struggle which has reached a certain level of maturity. Our trend has reached the threshold of that maturity. (“Draft Resolution for a Leading Ideological Center,” p. 5; our emphasis. This Resolution bears the signatures of the Detroit Marxist-Leninist Organization, the Potomac Socialist Organization, the Socialist Union of Balitmore, and the PWOC).

Comrade Newlin’s denial allows him to sweep under the rug the points we have made about the overwhelmingly white character of the “anti-dogmatist” forces the Committee of Five initiative has reached – what that fact reflects and what implications it has for the way forward.

More astonishingly, the PWOC has now dropped the idea of a definite “anti-dogmatist trend.” Sure, an occasional reference to the trend shows up here and there (“the emerging Marxist-Leninist trend” on page 19), but this just shows Comrade Newlin’s newness to the other terms he has picked up. Because lo and behold, Comrade Newlin now advocates the usage of the terms we argued for two years ago: “anti-’left’ forces” (page 17), and “our anti-’left’ tendency” which is “only in embryo.” (page 23)!!

As we have stressed in our earlier papers and in our book, the differences in assessment over whether an actual trend has emerged or not has important practical implications. The belief that a trend exists in the Marxist-Leninist sense depends on the view that a thorough-going break with “left” opportunism has occurred, that those making this break have not merely rejected ultra-leftism, but gone on to elaborate a coherent set of positions on all major questions of the revolution and the counter-revolution, and have diffused these views widely in the working class, establishing organic links with a section of the masses. If all this has occurred, then the work of consolidating this trend becomes a relatively simple process. It remains only to publish the major perspectives defining the trend, and proceed relatively quickly to major organizational measures.

Conversely, our argument that a trend did not exist carried very different implications. Based on that estimate, we called for broad discussion and struggle to enable those opposing ultra-leftism to sort out their views, and to deepen their understanding of “left” opportunism both practically and theoretically. For this reason, we polemicized against both the “dogmatism is the main danger” point of unity and that around the main enemies of the world’s peoples.

Comrade Newlin wants it both ways. In the face of overwhelming evidence, he has begun to admit that a true trend does not exist. He talks now of “forces,” of a “tendency,” though occasionally he reverts back to his ”Marxist-Leninist trend.” But at the same time, he wants to cling to all the procedures and methods which followed from his original “trend” discovery. In doing so, he inadvertently substantiates part of our argument. He demonstrates by his actions that some “anti-dogmatists” have yet to break with the dominant practices of our movement. Describing those practices, the PWOC and other groups summed up the matter very accurately:

...our movement has not been able to subject itself to critical self-examination. The most significant errors are either denied or swept under the rug with a few easy phrases. Rigorous criticism is reserved for the movement’s enemies and only light-hearted criticism applied to itself. Therefore, the corrective function of criticism is lost. (“Draft Resolution for a Leading Ideological Center,” page 2)


Having retreated on the point of unity on dogmatism as the main danger; having ditched the idea of an “anti-dogmatist trend”; having stopped referring to “dogmatism” and “anti-dogmatism” at all except on rare polemical occasions; having talked out of both sides of their mouths regarding whether the Soviet Union is socialist or not, an ally or not, a member of the united front against imperialism or a “secondary enemy in the camp of reaction” – having done all this and more, and all of it without so much as a single word of self-criticism, the PWOC has only two choices: it can modify its previous proposals and broaden discussion; or it can find some fresh justification for everything it has supported, all the while crying that the PUL seeks “unprincipled unity.” No surprise then, that Comrade Newlin has discovered a new principle of tactics:

...it is necessary to distinguish between a situation in which the revolutionary line is dominant and that in which the opportunist one has hegemony. In any struggle between a Marxist-Leninist line and its opposite, there is always a center element which attempts to adopt an ’intermediate’ position, agreeing partly with the revolutionaries and partly with the opportunists. While the net effect of this center is always to shield and buttress opportunism, how one takes up struggle with the center is a tactical question. Where the Marxist-Leninist line is dominant, a policy of patient persuasion of the center within the context of struggle against the opportunists can be adopted. But when the situation is reversed and opportunism has hegemony, it is absolutely essential that revolutionaries call for a break with both the opportunists and the center. Any policy of temporizing with the center necessarily means strengthening the hand of the opportunists and thus helping them preserve the status quo.

In our situation, it is obvious that the ultra-left line is hegemonic. Therefore our lines of demarcation must be drawn so as to break with the center. While the center has only recently emerged, it is clear that it is made up of those forces which claim to oppose ultra-leftism on the one hand and desire to hold onto their previous adherence to “left” internationalism on the other. (“Dogmatism,...”, pp. 21-22)

This charming little “principle” is nothing less than a “general recipe” for splits. For, as Mao says, in the beginning of a struggle the truth often lies in the hands of a minority. According to Newlin’s piece of advice, the minority should then issue a call for a “break” both with the wrong line and with the so-called “center.” Need we point out that the ultra-left line in the Marxist-Leninist movement has both urged and practiced just such a type of “struggle” for a number of years?

Consider this “principle” in the light of the late 1920’s. The Social-Democrats then held dominant positions in the trade unions and many mass organizations throughout Europe. In most major countries, the Communists had yet to dislodge the Social-Democrats as the main party of the working class. Within the Social-Democratic parties, left-wings emerged who argued for close cooperation with the Communists, and in their speeches and activities before the masses advocated policies closer to those of the Communists. According to the PWOC’s logic, it was therefore necessary to call for “a break” with the left Social-Democrats and the Social-Democrats equally. We congratulate Comrade Newlin: He has rediscovered the line of the Comintern Third Period.

Comrade Newlin may protest that he is only dealing with cases of struggle among Marxist-Leninists. We would wonder about a “principle” of tactics which has no application to trade union work, or other struggles among the masses, but for the sake of argument we will accept this and look at the PWOC’s own example. Writing in The Organizer, Comrade Newlin says:

A historic example of the character of the ’center’ forces is provided by the development of the Russian communist movement. In the struggle against the right opportunist trend which gripped the Russian revolutionaries between 1898 and 1902, Iskra consistently opposed ’economism’ whereas Rabocheye Dyelo vacillated. At one point Iskra entered into negotiations with the adherents of Rabocheye Dyelo. The vacillators were willing to accept unity on the basis of general opposition to opportunism and even specify their objection to ’Bernsteinism’ (the name for international revisionism at that time). But they would not agree to fight the concrete manifestation of revisionism among the Russian communists–namely, the incorrect attitude towards the political struggle advocated by the economists. Recognizing that Rabocheye Dyelo opposed opportunism only in words, Lenin held that unity with the vacillators was impossible. (See the appendix to What Is To Be Done for a discussion of these negotiations). (June, 1978)

Everyone concerned with the struggle around point 18 of the Committee of Five proposal, or with the anti-dogmatist line either pro or con has to ask themselves this question: what analogy exists between this historical example and Comrade Newlin’s tactical plan?

A small analogy, and it all goes against Comrade Newlin. First, the negotiations between Rabocheye Dyelo and Iskra concerned an attempt at uniting Iskra and Rabocheye Dyelo. Has the PUL made any proposal about uniting with the PWOC? Not for a moment: we have simply called for inclusion of ail representative anti-“left” forces at a conference supposedly about “defining the unities and differences existing within” the “anti-dogmatist trend.” Second, the vacillators were called vacillators by Lenin not because they ”were willing to accept unity on the basis of a general opposition to opportunism and even specify their objection to ’Bernsteinism’.., but... not agree to fight the concrete manifestation of revisionism among the Russian communists – namely, the incorrect attitude towards the political struggle advocated by the economists.” If we turn to the passage referred to, we find Lenin saying something completely different: “...the Economists had once more gained the upper hand, and the Editorial Board, which veered with every ’wind’, again set out to defend ’the most pronounced Bernsteinians’ and ’freedom of criticism,’ to defend ’spontaneity’ and through the lips of Martynov to preach the ’theory of restricting’ the sphere of our political influence... (CW 5, p. 525)

So far from agreeing to fight Bernsteinism, the Economists had defended “the most pronounced Bernsteinians.” Has the alleged “center” in this case, the PUL and those who think as we do, gone back on its analysis of the main danger, and taken to defending “the most pronounced ultra-leftists” on the broad range of ultra-left policies? Third, despite these differences, Lenin and Iskra agreed to a broad struggle with the adherents of Rabocheye Dyelo, as well as the Emancipation of Labor group, and helped organize a Conference for this purpose. Moreover, after the unsuccessful conclusion of this struggle, Iskra nonetheless fought for the “fullest representation” of Social-Democratic organizations at the Second Congress two years later, including Rabocheye Dyelo. (CW 7, p. 211) There Iskra stood firmly for its principles. But it also stood firmly for the broadest possible discussion and representation in those discussions of every legitimate tendency. We needn’t remark on Comrade Newlin’s very different approach, which emphasizes excluding certain anti-’left’ groups from the very beginning, even while taking over wholesale a number of their central points. But then Lenin did not fear ideological struggle; he never changed his position without acknowledging as much and explaining the change; and he never attempted to prosecute polemics through selective non-quotation and denials of fact to which many can have access. Comrade Newlin has his reasons for not following Lenin’s example.

We can think of some examples in which communists followed something like what the PWOC prescribes here (some, though by no means all of the formations of Communist Parties in the 1918-1920 period). But no tactical gadget good for all occasions comes out of these experiences. And they depend on two premises : that the center in fact urges ideological and organizational unity with the M-L line, as was the case with some center elements in the early Comintern period; and that some tendency actually qualifies as a center, that it actually “shields and buttresses” the opportunist line. But this never meant for the Comintern parties that open struggle before all legitimate tendencies should not take place. On the contrary, the Comintern believed that open struggle before all legitimate tendencies could only win it influence. Why does the PWOC hide from that struggle, unless it thinks that would only lose it influence?

What the PWOC digs up as a gem of Marxist-Leninist tactics in fact represents just another variant on some familiar themes. Other groups in the communist movement have put forward very similar prescriptions. In fact, the PWOC “principle” bears striking resemblance to the theory of such ultra-leftists as PRRWO and the WVO that in order “to utilize...contradictions, we must first have initiative in the struggle, on our own grounds, to propagate proletarian democracy,” (Workers Viewpoint, volume 2, #1, pages 5-6) or that “The united front from above must come from a position of strength.” (Palante, #11, page 9) For the PWOC, we must have “dominance” before “patient persuasion of the center within the context of struggle against the opportunists can be adopted.” All three claim we must have hegemony before we can practice united front tactics. How comrades expect to win hegemony without practicing united front tactics remains a mystery.

The PWOC has not manufactured this “principle” mainly out of “dogmatism,” though in attempting to raise a relative truth to the level of an absolute truth, it surely lapses into metaphysical dogmatism. Rather it has done so out of a need to justify two years of sectarianism, to avoid convening a representative conference of anti-’left’ forces in which it would have to struggle for its line, and because of other unexamined ideological errors. Equally important, the PWOC has invented this sectarian and splittist principle because it does not have a deep understanding of “left” opportunism. It does not have that understanding because it has basically not done its own analysis, but borrowed that of others. Paradoxically, this helps account for its indulgence in arrogant, self-congratulatory and ultimately dishonest attacks on those who oppose its erstwhile position.


The PWOC draws up a melodramatic picture of its valiant struggle against those who claim to oppose ultra-leftism but in reality do not. On the one hand, we have the PWOC, that stalwart in the fight for a Marxist-Leninist line. On the other hand, we have a “center,” represented by groups like the PUL. This “center has only recently emerged.” (“Dogmatism,...”, page 22) “Characteristically, the ’center’ draws its perspectives partly from the revolutionaries and partly from the opportunists, but always maintaining essential unity with the latter.” (The Organizer. June, 1978) “...there are already forces (e.g. Proletarian Unity League, PUL’! which hold to fundamental features of the ’left’ line and nevertheless maintain that the main danger comes from the ’left’.” (ibid) PWOC doesn’t tell us what those fundamental features in the plural are, beyond so-called “’left’ internationalism.” In any case. PUL must try to weasel its way in among the consistent and stable opponents of opportunism in all forms. So it allegedly calls for “unprincipled unity” among the anti-’lefts’.

And the reason for this is not difficult to see. Since PUL is itself, a dedicated adherent of “left” internationalism on the one hand and recognizes on the other that the bulk of the anti-“lefts” have broken with class collaborationism, it has no choice but to advocate unprincipled unity. For PUL’s ability to gain an audience among those who oppose ultra-leftism most deeply depends on the submerging of its “left-wing” internationalism. Is it not apparent that this more than anything else is the source of PUL’s desire to avoid struggle around international line? (“Dogmatism,...”, pp. 22-23)

But we can’t let organizations like PUL ride in on the coattails of the true anti-“lefts,” PWOC tells us.

In order to root out an incorrect line, we must attack it concretely and not just raise objections to the general deviation which underlies it.

We must demarcate not just on the main form of opportunism but also on its primary concrete manifestations. (The Organizer, June, 1978)

As a kind of summation of the tactics of Comrade Newlin, let us examine this schema point by point.

“The center has only recently emerged.” In almost the same breath that he announces the recent emergence of the alleged “center,” Comrade Newlin remarks that the BACU was “one of the few pioneering voices in the critique of ultra-leftism.” (“Dogmatism,...”, page 19) The PWOC acknowledges this only in order to take it away again - falsely claiming, as we showed before, that BACU sees the main danger coming from the Right – and then itself pose as one of, if not the only stable, consistent “pioneer voices.” But this acknowledgement places the position of those anti-“lefts” who also oppose both superpowers not in the very recent past, but at the onset of the renewed struggle against ultra-leftism. (The BACU pamphlet, “A Beginning Analysis,” appeared in February, 1976). In this regard, we might note that our first public document, “It’s Not the Bus”: Busing and the Democratic Struggle in Boston, 1974-1975, explained that we saw “left” sectarianism as the main danger, and consisted partially in a critique of the ultra-left line on the busing struggle (more on this later). This appeared in September, 1975. Further, we know of other organizations who also oppose both superpowers and ultra-leftism whose first analyses date back a couple of years as well. This discrepancy raises a first question: why does Comrade Newlin want and need to claim that the alleged “center” position has only recently emerged?

“The ’center’ draws its perspectives partly from the revolutionaries and partly from the opportunists, but always maintaining essential unity with the latter.” According to this, the late-coming, “recently emerged” centrists draw on the work of the true “revolutionaries” in order to camouflage their “essential unity” with the opportunists. But just who is drawing on whose work? The PUL hasn’t published any analyses which refer only to “dogmatism,” to “dogmatism” as a proper line of demarcation, to “anti-dogmatism,” and to the “anti-dogmatist trend,” while failing to refer to “left” opportunism, “left” sectarianism, “Left-Wing” Communism, semi-anarchism, ultra-leftism, the main danger coming from the “left” as a proper line of demarcation, and the “anti-’left’ tendency.” The PWOC, on the other hand, now publishes articles by itself or contributes to positions through the Committee of Five that make little or absolutely no reference to some of the central, distinctive features of its own previous positions.

The PWOC instead draws on the analyses of others. For the PWOC never did its own analysis of “left” opportunism; in its place, it presented an analysis of something very different – something it called “dogmatism.” It described dogmatism as the opposite opportunism from revisionism; it published a series of articles in its newspaper on dogmatism; it subtitled its major pamphlet “Against Dogmatism on the National Question,” not against ultra-leftism on the national question. Now the PWOC has obviously reconsidered its whole previous position on the “main opportunist danger,” “dogmatist opportunism.” (“Resolution on Party Building”). Its leading members now casually declare that the ideological source of ultra-leftism lies in anarchist ideology, as if the PWOC had been saying that all along. It unceremoniously dumps the “anti-dogmatist trend.” Because it never did its own analysis of “left” opportunism, the PWOC now publishes articles which, whatever their other weaknesses, draw on the terms, formulations, historical examples and arguments of ourselves and other organizations. Comrade Newlin’s polemic “Dogmatism, the Main Enemy, and ’Left’ Opportunism,” contains example after example to which Two, Three, Many Parties of a New Type?? devotes long discussions and even entire sections: the ultra-lefts’ claims that because Right opportunism constitutes the main danger historically or the main danger internationally it poses the main danger to the U.S. communist movement; the ultra-left elevation of the Iskra experience into the Iskra principle; the ultra-left usage of the Comintern’s Bolshevization experience; etc., etc. Comrade Newlin’s contribution in these and other examples consists in tacking the term “dogmatism” onto these examples, as if that proves something about them, and ignoring the extensive arguments we provided when we first used them. If dogmatism explains so much, how can the PWOC now do without it in major articles? We challenge the PWOC to take up their “dogmatism” analysis (in all its 57 varieties) and develop it, using it to explain the ultra-left line.

Because the PWOC has never done its own analysis of “left” opportunism it must now do insult to history in order to salvage some elements of its line. This explains its poor mastery of historical examples. Comrade Newlin’s examples from Lenin combatting Kautsky or Stalin fighting the Mensheviks give acceptable definitions of dogmatism, but they do not tell us anything about “left” opportunism, its theoretical or practical features. The 1945 Chinese Communist Party “Resolution,” which figures prominently in Two, Three, Many Parties of a New Type?? as an analysis of unsuccessful struggles against “left” opportunism, does not prove any of the things Comrade Newlin wants it to. Nor does the example from Iskra’s struggle with Rabocheye Dyelo, or Lenin’s fight against, precisely, “Left-Wing” Communism and “semi-anarchism,” not “dogmatist opportunism.”

In sum, can anyone doubt that it is because of our position and of those like it that Comrade Newlin today can write articles that do not mention “dogmatism,” that “key feature,” “ideological essence,” very “nature,” “theoretical basis,” “main force,” etc., of the ultra-left line, formerly known as “dogmatist opportunism”? Can anyone doubt that it is because of PUL and other organizations that the PWOC today says that making “dogmatism as the main danger” as a line of demarcation “would be sectarian” in its Committee of Five polemic and in The Organizer (June, 1978)? Can anyone doubt that it is again because of those positions that the PWOC now talks of the “anti-’left’ forces” and the “emerging anti-’left’ tendency”? Comrades, the Committee of Five drew up points of unity “not so high as to eliminate those that could make a positive contribution at this point.” (Joint letter of the Committee of Five, January 31, 1977). It included that point of unity that “would be sectarian.” We submit that the exclusion of the PUL and others from those conferences was a mistake, since we have clearly made a positive (though not a thorough enough) contribution - to the present line of the PWOC!

We can now answer the question about why Comrade Newlin had to make the alleged “center” “recently emerged.” He does so for the same reasons that it took the Committee of Five over one year and eight months to make its first reply to our first polemic of September 1, 1976. He does so in order to cover up for the Committee of Five’s unwillingness to enter into debate earlier, and to hide its obvious reversals of position on central, distinctive features of its line.

“We must demarcate not just on the main form of opportunism but also on its primary concrete manifestations.” We agree whole-heartedly. With this in mind, we attempted to make a comprehensive analysis of the ultra-left line, its ideological, historical, social and philosophical roots, complete with dozens of concrete examples. We know other organizations who have also written long analyses of “left” opportunism, including the BACU and The Way Forward Collective, which also deal concretely with ultra-leftism. As if to show how little the PWOC has digested of this critique of “left” opportunism, Comrade Newlin concocts his absurd splittist principle concerning under what conditions we can adopt the tactic of “patient persuasion.” But an even more obvious example exists, which we dealt with in an earlier paper, and which the PWOC does not bother to reply to: the relation between reform and revolution.


Within the Marxist-Leninist movement, no domestic event had a greater impact than the Boston busing struggle, and following that, busing struggles in Louisville and elsewhere. Around the Boston busing struggle, even more than around the ERA, the ultra-left line on the relationship between reforms and revolution emerged full-blown and in all its disastrous practical implications. A large section of the communist movement denounced partial desegregation through busing as a “sham reform” and actively organized against it. This position flowed from a typically semi-anarchist conception of democratic reforms under capitalism as measures which only confuse the masses, divert them from the true socialist struggle, and stabilize bourgeois rule.

The PWOC, The Guardian and some other “anti-dogmatists” regard the opposition to busing and the ERA as stemming not from ultra-leftism, but rather from Rightism. (The Organizer, July, September, 1977) This is no small claim. While the PWOC cites the RU/RCP opposition to busing and the ERA, in fact that opposition takes in a much broader section of the communist movement, including such organizations as the Workers Viewpoint Organization, the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization, the Revolutionary Workers League, the Revolutionary Communist League (MLM), the New Voice, the League for Proletarian Revolution (M-L). If the RU/RCP’s errors around busing and the ERA come from the Right then the errors of all these organizations do as well, since they make substantially the same arguments (cf. our pamphlet on busing). Moreover, since their opposition draws from a whole theory of “sham reforms,” then by implication, the dominant “left” position on reforms, namely “left” economism, qualifies as “Rightist” for the PWOC.

We suspect that having done more study of “left” opportunism under the prodding of other positions, the PWOC would by now like to take back its descriptions of “left” economism as Rightist, along with so many of its other characteristic perspectives. We are certain that if and when the PWOC does so, some “rigorous self-examination” will accompany it. But if not, then again we challenge the PWOC to disprove our description of these “primary concrete manifestations” of the ultra-left line. Let the PWOC, that “consistent” foe of ultra-leftism who has, in its self-description “internalized the scientific essence of Marxism-Leninism,” (Joint letter of the Committee of Five, June 9, 1976) explain how the opposition to busing, the ERA, and a host of other alleged “sham reforms” stems from Right Opportunism. Further, since the PWOC holds that the RU/RCP’s opposition to busing and to the ERA (i.e., its view on the relationship between reform and revolution), its “fetish-like separation of Communist propaganda and agitation,” its “aversion to the ideological development of the advanced workers,”[1] (September, 1977 Organizer), its position on racism (July, 1977 Organizer), and its “line on party-building” “prior to its call for a Party Congress” (“Dogmatism,...”, page 17) all stem from Rightism, exactly what makes the RU/RCP a dominantly ultra-leftist group, aside from its so-called “left’ internationalism” and its line on intermediate workers organizations?

All this relates to one last question in analyzing the ultra-left line, that of the current array of forces within the Marxist-Leninist movement. Comrade Newlin describes the OL/CP-M-L as “the most consistent expression of ultra-leftism.” Such a judgment badly misrepresents the current movement. The CP-M-L upholds an ultra-left line on united front tactics, on trade union work, on party-building and a number of other questions. But historically it has not given way as consistently to “left” economism. The OL supported partial desegregation through busing, it has supported the ERA, and it has strongly supported affirmative action and similar programs. Although this doesn’t change the OL/CP-M-L’s basic ideological tendencies, it does show that the CP-M-L has something less than an unconditional adherence to “left” opportunism.

These mistakes in concrete analysis illustrate more than the PWOC’s weak theoretical and practical understanding of “left” opportunism. They also illustrate the complete inadequacy of considering “dogmatism” as the main danger to the communist movement, or as the “ideological essence,” “nature,” “theoretical basis,” “root error,” etc. of that danger. A theoretical analysis of the main danger must be capable of guiding concrete analyses of specific situations, specific errors, and specific organizations. The view that “left” opportunism or that “left” sectarianism (“left” opportunism in party building line)constitutes the main danger, and that the ideological roots of this deviation lie in anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism does provide that guide. It enables us to look at contemporary ultra-leftism in the light of a particular theoretical and political tradition. We can look at the variations within that tradition and the results they have had in different historical situations and compare those with the theory and practice of today’s major “Left-Wing” Communist organizations. Such an overall analysis puts us on our guard against anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist principles.[2]

Taking “dogmatism” as the main danger does none of this. Earlier we said that:

A description which can serve to “accurately sum up” the “ideological essence” or “theoretical basis” of both a Right revisionist trend like the Mensheviks and present-day ultra-leftism in the U.S. is not a very scientific or useful analysis of the “nature” of the main danger.

This description is not useful because it does not put us on our guard against any specific kinds of errors, but simply against “taking quotes out of context” or “failing to make concrete analyses.” We see the relative uselessness of this definition of the main danger whenever its adherents try to apply it to the current communist movement. Like the PWOC, they may sometimes put their finger on real problems or produce a strong and accurate criticism of this of that facet of the ultra-left line. But they cannot relate this criticism to the conception of the main danger they started out with, and show how that conception is integrally connected to their particular analysis. When they try to reason from their conception, they come up with very weak analyses. While we only see this weakness, Comrade Newlin has experienced it first-hand. And this explains why the PWOC has increasingly abandoned its definition of the main danger as dogmatism: because that definition does not explain anything. In order to explain something, the PWOC must constantly resort to some ad hoc solution to square its theory with reality.

We have already mentioned a number of examples of this problem. The PWOC cannot fit the RU/RCP’s line on reforms and revolution into its “dogmatism” box, so it decides that the opposition to the ERA, busing, and by implication all other political reforms comes from the Right. The Committee of Five reply provides another example. Comrade Newlin attempts to respond to our pointing out the contradiction between claiming that the “single main enemy” position constitutes a true line of demarcation with “dogmatism” or ultra-leftism when the Communist Labor Party, an organization with an ultra-left history, subscribes to the same position taken by the PWOC.

...this organization has different roots from the rest of the forces that make up the Marxist-Leninist movement. Its genesis stems not from the Vietnam era but from the CPUSA and its critique of Stalin; for CL/CLP what has always been central is not agreement with Mao and China but adherence to Stalin. Given Stalin’s position on the character of the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialism, it was inevitable that, in the long run, CL would tend more to a rightist position on the international situation than an ultra-left one. In fact, CLP’s rightist international line is the chief reason that it won over so few of the “lefts” in its “vanguard” and remains isolated from the bulk of the communist movement. (“Dogmatism,...”, pages 17-18)

This kind of “explanation” brushes aside any analysis of the line and policies of the CLP, whether it expresses Right opportunism or “left” opportunism, and what relation it has with Trotskyism, by simply saying “they defend Stalin.” Yes, they do defend Stalin in a more unconditional way than most (though not all) other organizations. But why do they defend Stalin so? What about their line and policies does that reflect? What effects does that defense have, and why must it be so unconditional? It is no explanation to point to the past CPUSA history of some of their leaders: though those leaders have more influence in the CLP than in other organizations, the bulk of the CLP certainly did not come from the CPUSA. It is no explanation to say the CL won over few “lefts,” either. Few compared to what? The RU party-building plan, which won over one small group? The OL party-building plan, which won over a number of collectives formed with the OL’s help so that they could then be won over? The WVO party-building plan? And were those they won over “lefts” or not?

While we are on the subject of the CLP: if the PWOC considers the CLP’s international line “rightist,” then what makes it rightist for the PWOC, and how does it differ in its essentials from the PWOC’s own line? The CLP, like the PWOC, considers the CPSU a revisionist party, but believes the Soviet Union is socialist. The CLP, like the PWOC, puts forward the vulgar economist idea that a distinct socialist mode of production exists, with its own specific laws of socialist reproduction. The CLP, like the PWOC, supports detente. The CLP, like the PWOC, shares the Soviet view of many critical international events. Further, it is no secret that supporters and members of the Committee of Five consider the CLP’s book on the socialist nature of the Soviet Union substantially correct. What explains this convergence between the CLP’s and the PWOC’s positions?

One final illustration of the total insufficiency of the “dogmatism” theory, even for the PWOC. The PWOC tells us that “the abandonment of Marxism-Leninism in favor of petty-bourgeois moralism and nationalism is the essence of the dogmatist approach to the Afro-American national question.” (Black Liberation Today, page 48) We disagree completely. We submit that while ultra-leftism has dominated Marxist-Leninists’ approach to the relationship between national-democratic and proletarian struggles, the main deviation among anti-revisionists has not been towards “Bundism” and petty-bourgeois nationalism, as the RU/RCP and PWOC claim, but rather in the direction of “left” economist white chauvinism, as the RU/RCP, and in an earlier phase the PLP, exemplify. The PWOC’s analysis here shows specific errors in analyzing the national question. It also shows the content-less character of its dogmatism formulation, whose “essence” on the national question is “petty-bourgeois moralism and nationalism,” whose essence on the international question is “flunkeyism,” whose key feature in relation to the CLP is “defense of Stalin,” and whose essence elsewhere is doubtless summed up in another equally vague attitude, rather than in a system of concepts with some definite coherence to it. Indeed, the PWOC’s “essences” have a way of chasing themselves around in circles: here we have the “essence” of “dogmatism,” which in turn has recently been proclaimed the “ideological essence” of the ultra-left line.


[1] For a reply to these points, see “Bring Home the Struggle Against ’Left” Sectarianism,” pages 5-6.

[2] For an interesting concrete analysis which proceeds from an understanding of anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism as the ideological roots of “left” opportunism, see Nicos Poulantzas’ account of the ideological crises of the German and Italian working class movements in Fascism and Dictatorship, especially pages 200-204.