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


For two years now, a debate has been going on among those Marxist-Leninist organizations, collectives and individuals who take sharp issue with the dominant ultra-left line in the communist movement. This debate began with a statement circulated by the Committee of Five which analyzed the two “trends” in the Marxist-Leninist movement (the “dogmatist” and “anti-dogmatist”) and raised the possibility of organizing a conference to promote the growth of the “anti-dogmatist trend” as a step towards building a new revolutionary party in this country. Since that time, we have written four articles laying out our views on the proposals of the Committee of Five and the analysis supporting those proposals. The Guardian newspaper and a number of other collectives have also expressed opinions about either the Committee of Five initiative itself or features of the line put forward by the Committee or its constituent groups. The publication of our book in May, 1977, (Two, Three, Many Parties of a New Type? Against the Ultra-Left Line) has of late also become a subject of debate between ourselves, the Guardian, and the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee, a member of the Committee of Five. The paper, “Dogmatism, the Main Enemy, and ’Left’ Opportunism,” signed by Comrade Clay Newlin for the Committee of Five, represents the first formal response to the views we have presented on the Committee of Five initiative, although in a variety of other ways, the PWOC and others have been responding to our perspective and that of like-minded organizations for some time.

Now that this debate has finally come out in the open, at first sight it looks like a tempest in a teapot. Many debates in the communist movement give this appearance, especially when measured against the small, weak and terribly splintered character of the communist organizations, their isolation from many of the most significant struggles, which every class-conscious worker feels, and the awe-inspiring tasks which lie before them. This particular debate may give an even stronger impression of this irrelevance: there are charges and counter-charges flying back and forth about dogmatism, sectarianism, who has or hasn’t really broken with the line of the ultra-lefts, who is or is not consistently opposing imperialism in all its forms, etc. But comrades concerned about the future of the Marxist-Leninist movement, the workers’ movement, and the national revolutionary movements should not let themselves be put off by appearances. For in fact a number of the questions at issue in this debate go to the heart of the present attempts of the Marxist-Leninist forces to regroup, to learn from recent mistakes, and to build a movement of real importance to the people of this country. These include such issues as the nature of the main problems that have affected the anti-revisionist movement here; the state of the forces seeking to rectify those errors, and how to go about rectifying them; the character of the Soviet Union; and others.

There is a further reason for conscientiously attempting to follow and participate in this debate beyond the issues listed above. This struggle first began over the Committee of Five plan for calling “a conference of Marxist-Leninists.” This plan naturally included certain groups and excluded others. We disagreed with the way it did so and the reasons behind those decisions. So from the beginning, this debate has included questions such as openness to struggle, correct methods of struggle, willingness to practice criticism and self-criticism, etc. – in short, issues related to (though not at the core of) what we and others have called the “left” sectarian danger in the communist movement. We believe that carefully weighing the positions presented by each side, when and in what order they were presented, and the kinds of responses they brought from each side, will help Marxist-Leninists and other revolutionary-minded people understand better the true character of the positions represented here, and of course, the character of the organizations themselves. Shying away from a serious consideration of the various issues raised and methods pursued in this debate would represent short-sightedness extremely harmful to a communist movement attempting to meet the challenge of its theoretical and practical tasks.

In this regard, the paper of Comrade Clay Newlin is nothing short of revelatory.[1] Having attempted to avoid responding directly to our criticisms, the PWOC now flagrantly distorts our views, when it doesn’t continue to ignore them altogether. Equally flagrantly, it attempts to cover up its own positions, past and present, on some of the more troubling questions under discussion. Mainly, it tries to sweep the central issues under the rug. These are very serious charges. To prove them, and to expand further on our perspectives, we will have to go into a good deal of detail. We must necessarily quote often from the Committee of Five’s, the PWOC’s, and our own documents, something that Comrade Newlin scrupulously and, considering his position, cleverly, avoids. From this, we can both clarify our views on some matters, and shed light on the PWOC’s notions of “principled” struggle and how to move the Marxist-Leninist forces forward with the peop1e’s movements.


[1] For the purpose of this reply, we will consider the paper as the position of the PWOC, a member organization of the Committee of Five. Comrade Newlin is a leading spokesperson for the PWOC. Although the paper is signed “For the Committee of Five,” and all of its organizations “have affirmed their agreement with its general thrust,” this general unity “should not be taken as an indication of accord with each and every argument and formulation.” Since we don’t know which organizations agree with which arguments or formulations, and since a reply to that paper must obviously respond to its arguments and formulations, we can only hold Comrade Newlin and the PWOC responsible for them.