Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Clay Newlin

Party-building: PWOC view of the Proletarian Unity League

On theory, unity and fusion (first in a series)

First Published: The Organizer, Vol. 3, No. 10, December 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Marxist-Leninist movement is in crisis, as the general drift of the party-building forces continues towards opportunism. Fragmented into small organizations, circles and study groups, narrow perspectives hold the upper hand in the great bulk of the movement. Three “vanguard parties” have been proclaimed, each consolidated around a political line which is opportunist in its most fundamental features. Even those forces trying to go against the tide have made little headway; their break with dogmatism is not yet complete.

And yet, the unification of the Marxist-Leninist movement on the basis of scientific socialism, its welding into a single organization, and the establishment of its irrevocable connection with the class struggle of the proletariat becomes more essential with each passing day.


Given these dire circumstances, it is incumbent upon all honest Marxist-Leninists to take up the struggle to rectify our movement. If we hope to succeed, we must proceed according to a conscious plan. The development of such a plan demands that we seriously, and, of course, critically study every proposal that is directed towards overcoming the opportunist drift and advancing our movement towards the formation of a viable vanguard party.

In this light, we urge that all revolutionaries make a thorough examination of the views of the Proletarian Unity League (PUL) on the present situation and our main tasks as elaborated in their book, Two, Three, Many Parties of a New Type?

Most Marxist-Leninists will recognize many positive features of this book. PUL argues that party-building requires a conscious strategy, and that the lack of such a strategy has been a prime weakness in our movement. Emphasizing that the main opportunist danger comes from the left, PUL maintains that a step forward requires the defeat of the prevailing ultra-leftism. And they end their book with a strong call for the centralization of the ideological struggle in the communist movement.

But in spite of these contributions, PUL’s analysis is seriously flawed. In a series of articles we will evaluate PUL’s approach to party-building strategy, their outlook on ideological struggle, their, critique of the ultra-left line, and their plan for uniting Marxist-Leninists. We have asked PUL to respond to this series in the pages of the Organizer. The present article will be the first of two in which we discuss their view of party-building.


On the whole, the PUL’s discussion of party-building is a healthy corrective to the prevailing views on the question in our movement today. As opposed to the more common characterization of the party as a national organization of Marxist-Leninists, PUL defines the party “as the union of Marxism-Leninism and the workers’ movement, a union which expresses itself in the fusion of the politically advanced workers and the Marxist-Leninist organizations.” (p. 10; all quotations in this article, unless otherwise noted, come from the book mentioned above.)

Nor is the PUL content just to accept Lenin’s definition as if it were merely a general description of a vanguard with no practical significance for the U.S. They argue that “we will have to establish an organic link between Marxism-Leninism and the workers’ movement before party-formation heads up the orders of the day.” (p. 229)

Moreover, PUL places great emphasis on its critique of the subjectivism which has characterized the previous “Party Congresses” of the CLP, RCP and CP M-L. Instead of arguing that the failure of these parties stems merely from their incorrect attitude to program and strategy for the U.S. revolution, PUL draws out the connection between their ultra-left lines in general and their voluntarist approach to party-building.

Furthermore, PUL counteracts the sectarian view which is rampant in the dogmatist wing of our movement which elevates every question to the level of a “splitting question” no matter what its significance for party-building. This, they argue, has led to an “unprincipled polarization” of our movement. Failing to distinguish between essential and nonessential questions has set back the fight for communist unity.

But in spite of these contributions, PUL manages to repeat some of the critical errors that continue to hold back the Marxist-Leninist movement. First and foremost, they do not grasp the unifying character that the struggle to fuse Marxism-Leninism with the advanced workers provides for the party-building process.

To begin with, PUL repeats the fundamental error of the dogmatist wing of the anti-revisionist movement by accepting in principle the ultra-left division of party-building into two tasks of equal weight: “winning the vanguard to communism” and “uniting Marxist-Leninists”. Early in their book they write approvingly: “The U.S. communist movement is relatively united in viewing the general tasks of (party-building) as the uniting of Marxist-Leninists and the winning of the class vanguard to communism.” (P. 14)


There are several problems with this formulation. In the first place, it underplays both the special importance of our theoretical tasks and the primary emphasis which must be accorded to the theoretical struggle in the party-building period. Theoretical work is essential not only in order to settle accounts with revisionism, but also in order to evolve the necessary elements of program, strategy and tactics, which alone can provide a firm basis for our party.

In fact, theoretical work plays the determinant role in our ability to establish a vanguard. If we are incapable of elaborating an application of the principles of Marxism-Leninism to the concrete practice of the U. S. revolution, we will not succeed in constructing a revolutionary organization – no matter how many Marxist-Leninists we unite or how many workers we win to communism.

Secondly, “winning the vanguard to communism” cannot be, properly speaking, a “general task” of party-building, nor even one of two general tasks. As defined by Stalin, this task includes efforts to “build up cadres, create a Communist Party, work out the program, [and] the principles of tactics.” {Collected Works, Vol. 5, pp. 82-3) On the contrary, like the call to “fuse communism to the class struggle of the proletariat”, it is a statement of the very essence of party-building.

Thirdly, it is wrong to imply, as the above formulation of our “general tasks” does, that “uniting Marxist-Leninists” and “winning the vanguard to communism” are of equal importance to the party-building process. While in any particular period of party-building, efforts to unite Marxist-Leninists or to win over the advanced elements may come to the forefront of our particular agenda, over the entire process clear priority must be accorded to the latter. Our struggles to fuse communism with the advanced workers must predominate over our quest for communist unity; otherwise we will not be serving the U. S. revolution.


This is true for several reasons. First, fusion raises the questions around which we must unite. It is. only by solving the problems posed by the actual class struggle that our movement can assume a vanguard character. Unity around correct solutions to these problems will be the unity which aids the development of our vanguard.

Second, fusion allows us to give real weight to our calls for unity. As our movement matures, its theoretical work will be refined and receive increasing verification at the hands of the advanced workers. To the extent that this work proves its vanguard character in practice, we will have the right to demand unity around it.

Finally, fusion allows us to differentiate between principled and unprincipled unity in each phase of party-building. At each level we must distinguish between those whose lines serve to push forward our work of winning the advanced and those whose lines serve to retard it. We must unite with the former, and demarcate with the latter.

Of course, no one would deny that a united communist movement working in a uniform direction could contribute greatly to our ability to win over the advanced elements. On the contrary, we will have to achieve such unity if we are ever to really reach the advanced. Nevertheless, it is clearly not just any Marxist-Leninist unity that will press forward our work among the advanced. The recent history of our movement is filled with examples of efforts for communist unity which served not to advance but to retard this work. The formation of the CLP, the RCP, and the CP M-L have only operated to drive the advanced workers either into the arms of the CPUSA, or, more often, towards anti-communism.

A final problem with this formulation is that it leaves the door open for the very subjectivism that has dominated previous efforts to establish a vanguard. Because the essential (or central) task of party-building is formulated as just one of two “general tasks”, and because it is accorded, at best, equal consequence to the task of uniting Marxist-Leninists, the quest for unity becomes, conceptually, one step removed from its necessary connection to the actual class struggle.

Since our movement is composed primarily of a radicalized petty-bourgeois stratum which has a strong tendency to substitute itself for the masses, the struggle for Marxist-Leninist unity inevitably takes on a life of its own. The centrality of winning the vanguard recedes into the background, being seen, primarily, as a task that should be taken up after unity is forged. Thus the subjective urges of the present Marxist-Leninists predominate and party-building becomes an exercise in voluntarism.

The error of the PUL exists not just at the level of formulation of our tasks. Not only does the PUL deny the primacy of fusing Marxism-Leninism with the class struggle, the rough equality it accords this task is more apparent than real. As we shall see in our next article, the whole weight of PUL’s view is toward the line that the forging of unity among the Marxist-Leninists precedes the active pursuit of fusion.