Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Philadelphia Workers’ Organizing Committee

The Workers’ Party and Modern Revisionism

First Published: The Organizer, Vol. 1, No. 3, May-July 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

To many working people today, the word “communism” means the same thing as “the Communist Party.” But to the new communist movement being born in the factories and working-class communities across the country, the two are very different. Simply put, we in the PWOC and in the new communist movement as a whole feel that the “Communist Party of the United States of America” (CPUSA), as it is officially known, is no longer a truly revolutionary party, no longer a truly communist party capable of leading the working class of this country to socialism.

The modern-day CPUSA, along with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the various other “official” Communist Parties throughout the world that follow the leadership of the Soviet Party, have revised the basic lessons of the historical experience of the working class in order to rob those lessons of their revolutionary content – this is why they are known among the new communist movement, both here and abroad, as “revisionists.”

While these “Communists” still talk a great deal about socialism and revolution, this talk merely serves to conceal their actual service to the capitalist class as a force for misleading and taming the revolutionary movement. Revisionism as a political theory and practice has many aspects and expressions but the guiding idea at the root of this outlook is the denial of the necessity of revolution.

In its stead the revisionists have developed a number of theories that basically project a peaceful evolution of world society from capitalism to socialism. In the international arena the revisionists hold that through the practice of detente, imperialism will peacefully whimper off into oblivion. In the US, as in other advanced capitalist countries, the revisionists, represented by the CPUSA, believe that the working class will come to power and establish socialism without overthrowing the capitalist state.


This is the strategy of the peaceful, parliamentary road to socialism. The CPUSA believes that the working class and its allies can elect a popular “anti-monopoly” government to power and that this government will then take steps to “overhaul” the capitalist state in order to make it a fitting vehicle foe working class power. It will carry out measures aimed at weakening the capitalist controlled courts, armies and bureaucracies while simultaneously carrying out a program of radical social and economic reforms that will undercut the economic and political power of the monopolies. All this will be done within the framework of the constitution and capitalist legality. This period of anti-monopoly government will serve as a transition to socialism.

This strategy stands in stark contradiction to the fundamental principles of revolutionary Marxism and flys in the face of the historical experience of the working class movement. Marxists have always held that the state is not a neutral institution to be freely employed by whatever forces gain hold over it for whatever purposes. The state is rather seen as an instrument of class rule. Its whole form and character is tailored to the needs of the ruling class, in our case the monopoly capitalist class.

The Constitution, the legal and political foundation of the US government, provides for a body of law and a web of institutions that facilitate the rule of the capitalist class. For example, the rights of private property, without which capitalism could not exist, are guaranteed in the constitution and have always been held to be above mere human rights.


The US government is deliberately structured in such a way as to thwart the popular will of the majority and defuse mass movements for change. The doctrine of the separation of powers, which divides the government into. executive (the President and his administration), legislative (the two houses of Congress), and judicial (the Supreme Court) branches is a good example.

The founding fathers, wise old capitalists that they were, set up this system as a means of checks and balances against us. And it works very effectively. We all remember from our civic lessons how torturous a path a bill must take to become law. Of course, the constitution’s defenders will point out that the constitution can be amended. But an amendment is a long drawn out process. This process gives the capitalists maximum time to mobilize their considerable resources into squashing or diverting the movement for change – just look at what’s happened with the Equal Rights Amendment. By the time that passes, the women who first pushed for it may be so old they won’t be able to take advantage of it.

But aside from the problems posed by the structure of the government (which theoretically could be made more formally democratic) there is a far greater obstacle. The US government does not just exist on paper. The people that command the control of the courts, the military and the state bureaucracy are tied by a thousand threads to the capitalist class. They are schooled in its values, and its methods. They are handsomely rewarded for their loyalty in the form of high position, huge salaries, and opportunities for greater profit and influence.

The whole well constructed facade of formal democracy makes the actual workings of the government more difficult to see. 95% of the important discussions and decisions that go into shaping the government’s policy are held away from public view. The real center of power in the US government is the executive branch which includes not only the president and his cabinet but the huge administrative machine made up of the different government departments and agencies. Here’s where the action is – not on the floor of Congress where the politicians put on a daily show for our viewing.

The exposure of “dirty tricks” in government, symbolized by Watergate, in recent years is really only the tip of the iceberg. The monopoly corporations do not simply “interfere” in government to buy influence or manipulate decisions. The ordinary day to day workings of the government are shaped, both directly and indirectly, by this no longer so invisible hand.

To put it simply the big bureaucrats in the government agencies, the pentagon generals and the judges on the high courts along with the bulk of their underlings in the middle ranks of the state machinery know where their bread is buttered.

As long as this state machinery exists there is the ever present danger of counter-revolution – of the resources of the state being employed to repress and destroy the working class movement. To successfully establish its rule and build socialism, the working class must dismantle the old state and to do so it must be armed and organized.

The root of the disagreement between Marxist-Leninists and revisionism over the strategy of revolution is not violence vs. peaceful methods of change, although that is often how the question is treated by the bourgeois mass media. Marxist-Leninists hold no special brief for violence and we do not make a principle out of it. We believe peaceful transition to socialism is a possibility but only if the working class is armed and well-enough organized so that the capitalist class realizes that if they unleash civil war they will be decisively defeated.

Given the clearly demonstrated fact that the capitalist class will cling desperately to its rule and will not hesitate to unleash its military machine against the masses, it is unlikely that the transition to socialism will be peaceful. But the point is that it is the capitalist class that is the perpetrator of violence and civil war. This position on the possibility of a peaceful transition is in contrast to the revisionists who make no preparations to organize and arm the working class and instead rely on the capitalist state machinery to effect the transition.


In the face of this reality the revolutionary working class movement has always held that the working class must break up this state machinery and replace it with a state based on its own institutions. It cannot lay a hold of (to use the words of Marx) the old state and use it for its own purposes. The capitalist state has a mind and a purpose of its own and it does not do the bidding of any master except the monopoly capitalists.


The most clear cut and dramatic example of how the revisionist strategy works in practice is the case of Chile. Here a popular government representing the working class and the broad masses of the Chilean people was elected to power. The Popular Unity Government, headed by Salvatore Allende, was committed to democratic reforms and a policy of struggle against the imperialists and their allies among the Chilean capitalists and big landowners.

The Popular Unity government saw this struggle leading to the eventual emergence of a Socialist Chile. The revisionist Chilean Communist Party was a leading force in the Popular Unity government and sought to develop the struggle in Chile along the lines of its peaceful, parliamentary strategy.

It was certainly not wrong for the Popular Unity coalition to seek to get elected and utilize the position it won to further the interests of the masses. The major mistake that the Popular Unity made was that it relied on the supposed neutrality of the Chilean state, particularly the military and refused to organize the masses into popular institutions that could have eventually supplanted the bourgeois government, including a people’s militia of armed peasants and workers. Because it remained within the framework of capitalist legality it was unable to effect its reform program and the imperialists were able to effectively sabotage the economy.

Because it refused to carry out measures aimed at breaking up the old state machinery the forces of reaction were able to retain their control over the vital resources of the state power. The disastrous consequences of this policy was the coup by the Chilean generals (shattering the illusion of the Allende government and the CP that these generals would not break with “legality” and would remain neutral in the struggle for power.)The Generals proceeded to establish one of the most vicious fascist regimes in the world. The trade unions, political parties and people’s organizations were smashed and driven underground. Thousands have been jailed, tortured, and killed. The progressive reforms of the Allende years have been replaced by capitalist austerity.

The lessons of this disaster are obvious enough. Of course in any event the path to power for the working class would have been difficult. Had the Popular Unity government taken measures to dismantle the capitalist state while simultaneously mobilizing, organizing, and arming the masses, victory would not have been automatically assured. The balance of power in Chile and in the hemisphere was such that it could have gone either way. But what is clear is that only a revolutionary policy could have won and the revisionist strategy of peaceful parliamentary transition was doomed from the outset.


The revisionists, of course, have also read their Marx and Lenin. They fully understand that their new theories fly in the face of the classical teachings of Marxism-Leninism on the class nature of the state. The revisionists argue that these theories are now outmoded by new developments that have occurred in the world since the time of Marx and Lenin. It is quite true that Marxist-Leninists base their theories not on dusty dogma from times gone by, but on a concrete analysis of current conditions. We do not hesitate to “contradict” the great revolutionary thinkers of the past when events alter the political realities.

Marx, for example, had believed in his day that a peaceful parliamentary transition was possible in the US. Lenin later rejected this. This did not mean Marx was wrong and Lenin was right. Before the development of monopoly capitalism in the US (and with it a huge state bureaucracy and military machine) it was possible that the proletariat could have won power by the parliamentary route and Marx noted this. Lenin altered his thinking to take account for the development of imperialism (monopoly capitalism) which qualitatively changed the situation in the US.

The revisionists argue that today a similar qualitative change has occurred that again forces us to bring our thinking up to date – to make it conform to the new realities.

That change is the emergence of the socialist bloc of nations led by the Soviet Union and the subsequent shift in the balance of forces between imperialism and the socialist countries to the socialist advantage. Socialism is on the rise and imperialism is on the decline and this trend has reached the point where the socialist forces now have the upper hand in the world.

It is this situation that provides the framework in which a peaceful parliamentary transition can occur. The imperialists, on the defensive everywhere in the world, can no longer afford to unleash civil war on the working class. The overwhelming superiority of the socialist bloc will compel them to submit peacefully to the popular forces.


This argument gains a certain force because it contains important elements of truth. It is true that the emergence of socialist nations after 1917 altered the world situation in favor of the working class and this development has become even more significant in this period with the emergence of new socialist countries (China, Cuba, Korea, Vietnam, etc.) It is also true that the balance of world forces has shifted against imperialism in the wake of new victories by the socialist nations, the enormous gains of the movements for national liberation and the upswing in the class struggle in the imperialist countries themselves.

There can be no question that these developments greatly strengthen the prospects of the revolutionary working class movement in the US and other advanced capitalist countries. But it is quite another thing to argue that these developments make it possible to hang our strategy on the parliamentary hook – this argument amounts to a gross underestimation of the continuing strength of the imperialists and their sworn hostility to socialist revolution.

Given the present balance of forces in the world today, we see that the strength of the world revolutionary forces is a great reserve of the oppressed peoples and the proletariat. We see this clearly in Vietnam where the material aid of the socialist nations and the political support of the world-wide anti-war movement was essential to the victory of the liberation forces. But was the victory of the liberation forces attributable to peaceful parliamentary methods? Hardly – it took decades of people’s war to route the imperialists.

The mass mobilizations of the world’s peace forces, the diplomatic and military support of the socialist countries these things as important as they were, could not be substituted for the correct strategy of the Vietnamese liberation forces and the enormous determination of the Vietnamese people. Had these elements been lacking there is no way the favorable international situation in and of itself could have assured victory.


Within the advanced capitalist countries the dominant reality continues to be the internal balance of class forces within each country. The bourgeoisie has shown no signs in these countries that it is willing to abide by a peaceful parliamentary verdict on the future of capitalist rule. It continues to count on powerful imperialist support from the outside which bolsters the forces of reaction and poses the threat of intervention on the side of counter-revolution in the event capitalist rule is threatened.

Portugal is a good case in point. The imperialists are determined that socialism will not succeed here and they are doing all that they can to insure the collapse of the present revolutionary government. If the Portuguese Revolutionary movement was largely defenseless, as it was in Chile, its prospects for success would be slim indeed. But fortunately, the revolutionary forces in Portugal have a strong base of support in the military and this in conjunction with the weakened international posture of imperialism enhances the chances for the winning of socialism.

Thus a look at the actual revolutionary process in the world does not bear out the revisionists contention that the new alignment of world forces makes it possible for the working class to forego the obsolete methods of Marx and Lenin in favor of reliance on the ballot box and constitutional change. The superiority of the world revolutionary forces and the declining fortunes of imperialism enormously strengthen our hand in the struggle to overthrow the capitalist system, but they do not negate the necessity for a strategy and revolutionary practice based on the breaking up of the old capitalist state and the erection of a state based on workers power in its stead.