Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Proletarian Unity League

Party-Building Line and the Fight against “Left” Opportunism

Written: November 4, 1977.
First Published: In The Ultra-Left Danger and How to Fight It: Three Articles on “Anti-Dogmatism” by the Proletarian Unity League, in two parts, October 12 and 19, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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We would like to thank Comrade Irwin Silber for his serious and detailed review of our book, Two, Three, Many Parties of a New Type? Against the Ultra-Left Line (TTM). At a time when large sections of the communist movement hardly recognize any Marxist-Leninist organization beyond the boundaries of their own party or narrowly defined “trend,” the Guardian should be commended and encouraged for allowing some differing views a forum in its pages. And as Comrade Silber’s review of our book has demonstrated, our views do differ.

Silber ends the first part of his review by referring to our “alternative strategy for party-building and view of a Marxist-Leninist political line for our movement.” Yet the second part of his review consists entirely in a criticism of our alleged “downplaying of international line.” He finishes without ever having discussed this alternative strategy for party-building. For a newspaper which considers party-building our central task, and for a review of a book which devotes whole chapters to party-building line, this seems like a strange omission. But it stems from the Guardian’s agreement with crucial elements of the ultra-left line on party-building. That such an avowed opponent of sectarianism and dogmatism should agree with our present-day “Left-Wing” Communists on certain issues of party-building line indicates that the Guardian has not developed an adequate understanding of “Left” opportunism.

Like our “Left-Wing” comrades, the Guardian ignores the practical preconditions for party-formation, which lie in a definite level of contact being established between Marxism-Leninism and the most conscious fighters from the working class, creating an “organic connection with the working class movement” (TTM, p. 230), It does so by separating ”building a new communist party” on the one hand from “’fusing’ communism with the workers’ movement” on the other (3/16/77), thereby opening the road to all manner of isolated and factionalist groupings parading as the revolutionary vanguard of the working class. Again, like the ultra-lefts, the Guardian considers political line “primary” in the struggle for communist unification: “The problem with these organizations [RCP and OL] was not that they emphasized political line but the political line that they emphasized” (6/1/77). We, on the other hand, think that party-building line itself, even more than political line, is the key site of struggle for establishing the ideological bases for Marxist-Leninist unity.

On both these points, then, the Guardian shares the spontaneously “Left” drift of the communist movement as a whole. This shows two things: that the Guardian has so far failed to get at the ideological roots of the characteristic errors of our movement; and connected to this, that the Guardian does not have an analysis of the present party-building period and our tasks. Insofar as the Guardian has analyzed these roots, it describes them as “dogmatism.” Since we have criticized this conception in a number of other places (including TTM), we won’t repeat ourselves here. But because the Guardian has not correctly analyzed the ideological roots of the characteristic errors in our movement, it doesn’t draw out their full implications for various areas of work and policy.

In practice, the Guardian’s and some others’ conceptions lead to vacillation away from a consistent stand against both “left” and Right opportunism. For example, the first part of Comrade Silber’s review is devoted mainly to the TTM chapter, “’Left’ Opportunism in Political Line,” which uses the RCP, OL, WVO and others as supportive evidence. Silber finds this “the strongest section of the book,” saying that we “demonstrate through the ultimate acid test – practice – the political dead-end to which the ultra-left line inevitably leads.” Yet scarcely four months before, the Guardian – like the “left-wing” in our movement – was characterizing the RCP’s errors as mainly Right opportunist (6/1/77), and using as proof the RCP’s approach to the reform struggle as exemplified in its stand on busing and the ERA.

Another example: whereas we have described an ultra-left trend having its ideological roots in semi-anarchism, the Guardian talks of an “internationalist wing” and a “class-collaborationist wing” determined not on any ideological basis, but rather by their positions on the single issue of international political line. Yet if this is the case then the Communist Labor Party, for example, would belong to the “internationalist wing,” despite the ultra-left ideological basis of its politics and party-building position. In our book, the line of the CLP receives a lot of attention. While quietly acknowledging the existence of three parties, Silber, like some other comrades, conveniently mentions only the RCP and OL/CP (M-L) by name, thereby avoiding the embarassing confrontation of his theories with the historical reality of U.S. party-building efforts. For some anti-dogmatists this omission has the additional benefit of allowing them to pass over in silence their theoretical affinities with the CLP’s analysis of the Soviet Union. And as any glance at the Trotskyite or modern revisionist movements would show, a history of exclusive support for the MPLA proves nothing about the Marxist-Leninist or anti-class collaborationist basis of an organization’s politics.


Comrade Silber’s critique of our book focuses on a single point – political line on the international situation. Our alleged “downplaying of international line” is “of a piece. . . with the views of. . . neo-social democrats,” “reflecting and promoting national chauvinism” and sounding “an unconscionable retreat for revolutionary forces.” It is enough to “make a mockery of their otherwise sound critique of ’left’ sectarianism in our movement.”

He writes, “Korea, Algeria, Vietnam and Angola have already demonstrated that in our time counterrevolutionary colonial wars have become an immediate and practical ’domestic’ question before the workers and the people in general. Today, there are few places in the world – least of all southern Africa – where the role of the U.S. as the principal promoter of neocolonialist solutions and the bulwark of white settler regimes doesn’t make U.S. foreign policy a burning question before the U.S. workers.” That U.S. imperialism’s role in every corner of the globe should be a burning political question for the U.S. working class – amen. But that the U.S. organized anti-war movement proved incapable of tapping the tremendous spontaneous resistance of the working class, particularly among Black, Chicano and other oppressed nationality youth; that it failed to bring out the central role white supremacy played in building support for the war at home; that it failed, in short, to bring a revolutionary proletarian perspective to bear on wars in Indochina, of this there can be no question either. The fledgling organizations dedicated to solidarity with the struggles of southern Africa today have also so far failed to root themselves among the working class masses. These are also burning political questions before the U.S. workers’ movement. It is intellectualist demagoguery to point to all the issues which objectively concern the U.S. working class, yet fail to link those issues to the tasks of educating and organizing the working class to its true interests as a class, as a detachment of the international proletariat. It is a perspective of those who have not grappled sufficiently with the concrete, everyday problems of working class organizing and the no less concrete, everyday problems of a weak and terribly divided communist movement.

Contrary to Comrade Silber’s allegations, we have never suggested that the U.S. working class can grasp its revolutionary interests apart from its interests as a detachment of the world proletariat. The proletariat is internationalist or it is nothing. But proletarian internationalism does not consist in cheering on the world revolution, or issuing correct communiques on the international situation. It consists first and foremost in making revolution in one’s own country while doing the utmost possible for the development, support and awakening of the revolution in all countries. The debate over the internationalist stand and activity of the working class occurs in a situation in which even the mass of the true class vanguard doesn’t yet consciously recognize a distinctive viewpoint for the revolutionary proletariat. So when we draw lines of demarcation around questions of international line, we have to do so in strict relationship with the immediate revolutionary tasks facing the working class. This means that while not compromising on principle, we have to learn to live with some differences around some questions which are less immediate at this point. Certain detailed questions of international line fall into this category.

Despite the anonymous “supporter” whom Comrade Silber has so conveniently uncovered to carry our side of the argument, we do not consider international questions “foreign.” Nor did we dismiss the debate over Angola as “merely one more example of ’whatever question the movement is choosing up sides about that month,” though ripped out of context the quotation might look that way. Our point concerned both how the movement spontaneously poses questions and draws lines of demarcation and how the primitive divisions of labor within our small organizations prevent groups from tackling major issues in a systematic fashion. We did not dismiss the issues themselves, which included questions as immediate as tactical alliances with trade union reformists, budget cuts and super-seniority, the Soviet Union, etc. But we insist that lines of demarcation should be drawn with regard to Marxist-Leninist principle and the tasks of this period.


Having allegedly given the proper weight to international line, waged a serious and principled struggle around it, and of course upheld the correct positions, the Guardian sounds the charge and suddenly finds very few folks listening. Scarcely two weeks after Comrade Silber sternly reminded us that U.S. foreign policy in every corner of the globe was a burning question before the U.S. workers, the fire had apparently begun to die. “We have to say that we have not succeeded in communicating this understanding [around southern Africa] to any large number of people outside of our own immediate ranks.” There follows a statement which in our opinion inaccurately singles out the Black community for its “illusions” about Carter’s African policies. Then the Guardian asks, “To what extent has the debate over Angola – and its implications for the rest of southern Africa – created an atmosphere in which anti-imperialist unity is impossible?” (11/2/77) While the Guardian is pondering the question, it might ask itself what contribution to that atmosphere its own positions have made. Small wonder that anti-imperialist unity becomes more difficult faced with a tendency in the communist movement to treat differences over international line as absolute and the equally dangerous tendency to adopt hasty, ill-supported positions on complicated international questions. Small wonder that anti-imperialist unity becomes more difficult when comrades like Irwin Silber expound in feverish tones about our internationalist responsibilities, yet give no thought to how we can organize the masses to take them up.

And small wonder that anti-imperialist unity becomes more difficult when comrades like Irwin Silber throw up their hands when confronted with the question of the Soviet Union. Silber appears more interested in citing the Guardian’s “leading role in the struggle around international line” than in clarifying the strategic basis for the Guardian’s position. For all sides of the anti-revisionist spectrum agree that the Guardian’s position contains a flagrant contradiction when examined from a Leninist perspective. The Guardian criticizes the social-imperialism of the USSR on the one hand, but denies that capitalism has been restored there on the other. Unless imperialism is being used in a metaphorical fashion, the Guardian’s view makes no sense. Yet instead of explaining the this position, Comrade Silber has only managed to say that the Guardian “has a lot of questions” (6/16/76) about the Soviet Union. Many people have questions about the Soviet Union. But in order to work out a coherent international line, some of those questions – particularly the class character of the Soviet state – have to be answered. And here the Guardian has been too long on conclusions and too short on argument.

As for the Guardian’s struggle around internationalist line, it seems more concerned with disagreeing with the Chinese (and, for that matter, the Albanians) than with laying out some alternative perspective. Jack Smith picks over the proceedings of the CPC 11th Congress with great suspicion, but the Guardian passes on the opportunity to analyze the tendencies at work at the First Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, for example. It prints Charles Bettelheim’s critical remarks on the present Chinese leadership, but has never bothered to excerpt his far longer and far harsher views on the Cuban leadership, not to mention on the USSR today. It devotes many pages to alleged “flunkeyism” towards the Chinese Communist Party, but fails to deal with important statements like that of the 1975 conference of 24 pro-Moscow Latin American Communist Parties, sponsored by the Cuban Party. We are not calling for criticism of the Communist Party of Cuba as such. But without taking away from the Guardian’s forthright and consistent stand around issues like the imperialist occupation of southern Korea, we are noting that the Guardian’s “independent” internationalism has a double standard to it. This double standard works against the international perspectives of a number of Marxist-Leninist Parties and groups, particularly the Communist Party of China, and it certainly won’t help the cause of anti-imperialist unity.

In order to construct a new Marxist-Leninist anti-“left” trend, we have to elaborate a rigorous concrete analysis of our present situation and our immediate tasks. Then we have to set about uniting all who can be united to accomplish them. Without an analysis of our immediate tasks, there is no need for unity to accomplish them, and calls for principled unity will remain what they have been for the past nine years – covers for all manner of sectarian and adventurist intrigues. Comrade Silber’s failure to deal with party-building line reflects a deeper failure to understand the nature of the tasks of this period or the nature of the main obstacle to accomplishing them – “left” opportunism, and especially “left” opportunism in party-building line, or “left” sectarianism.

Instead of addressing our current tasks in their interrelationships, instead of addressing the problems of party-building line, the Guardian wraps itself in the cloak of the “internationalist wing.” But to simply declare “trends” and “wings” into paper existence means shrinking from the real problems: of organizing the broad struggle necessary for building a true anti-revisionist and anti-“left” trend; and of overcoming the relative isolation of communism from the working class in order to found a true Communist Party.