Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Clay Newlin

Party-building: PWOC view of the Proletarian Unity League

PUL’s Distortion of the ’left’ Line (fourth in a series)


First Published: The Organizer, Vol. 4, No. 4, May 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In the third installment of our critique of the book, Two, Three, Many Parties of a New Type?, we closed with the remark that PUL’s flawed approach to the ideological struggle stemmed partly from their appraisal of the nature of the ultra-left line. Their argument that the struggle against “left” opportunism on political questions should be subordinated to the fight against “left” sectarianism at the organizational level is only consistent with a perspective which downplays both the seriousness and the depth of the political errors in our movement.

In PUL’s view, ultra-leftism in the present communist movement originally became evident on organizational questions. They write:

In summary, the sectarianism which plagues the communist movement is not a simple sectarianism. It is a ’left’ deviation which has first developed at the level of party-building line (organizational line – CN) and exists there in its most pronounced form, but which expresses itself elsewhere. (Two, Three, Many Parties, P. 119)

As evidence for this conclusion, they point to the RU/RCP’s original conception of party-building strategy which PUL characterizes as “syndicalist evolutionism.” (See ibid., pp. 82-5)

Unfortunately, a study of the history of the Marxist-Leninist movement does not support the view that ultra-leftism first manifested itself on questions of party building strategy. Taking, as PUL does the RU/RCP as an example, it is apparent that “leftism” developed earliest on political questions.

From its very inception, the RU/RCP maintained a “left” opportunist approach to the political struggle in the US. For example, in Red Papers 2 (1969), the RU advanced a conception of the united front which is ’“left” to its very core. In a statement entitled “The United From Against US Imperialism: Strategy for Proletarian Revolution,” one finds such familiar signboards of “left-wing” communism as the assertion that the Party must be “based on the most oppressed sectors of the working class,” that the proletariat is confined only to those workers “directly involved in the creation of surplus value” (waitresses, sales personnel, hospital workers are “allies”), and that the Black and Chicano people are both “nations”. In addition, we are told that in the US the bourgeoisie is “rapidly turning more and more” towards fascism, that “white revolutionaries must join now with Black and brown (sic) revolutionaries in armed self-defense and other forms of armed struggle,” and that communists must build “a workers movement intermediate between the trade unions and the communist collectives.” And finally, RU anticipates the OL/CPML’s “no united action with revisionists” by over five years!

At the same time, the RU’s discussion of party-building strategy, although sketchy, bears more in common with a right opportunist perspective than it does with ultra-leftism. Their basic argument is not, as PUL asserts, that the communists are not proletarian enough, but that the proletariat in general and the white workers in particular are too backward to make a real Party possible. Consequently, party-building becomes possible only after developing the united front:

As the strength of the united front grows, so will the strength of the proletariat, as the more backward workers are drawn into motion by the gathering momentum of the movement. And, as the workers movement gains impetus and more and more workers are brought into active struggle, the building of a vanguard party of the proletariat as a whole will be the order of the day. (A Selection from Red Papers 1,2 & 3, p. 56)

In fact, up until the fall of 1973, the RU/RCP’s party-building line, while it remained a hodge podge of both empiricist and syndicalist conceptions, continued to be predominantly rightist in both form and content. This is shown by the RU’s formulation that prior to November 1973 (when they called for a Party Congress) the “central task (was) to build the workers movement into a class conscious political movement leading the anti-imperialist struggle.” (See Red Papers 6, p. 19) In the introduction to this same issue of Red Papers, they argue that the main reason that party-building was not the central task before November was that there was “no revolutionary line that had withstood the test of practice,” and thus revolutionaries were incapable of formulating “a Marxist-Leninist line and Program.” The key element that had been missing, they maintained, was sufficient practical experience in the working class movement. (PUL’s interpretation of RU’s early party-building line seems to be largely a case of trying to make the toe fit the boot.)

The OL/CPML history is similar. One has only to recall OL’s earliest period when it termed the RU “social fascist” and demanded that we model ourselves after the Comintern’s “Third Period” line. Even when it tried to correct its “left” errors, OL continued to uphold an ultra-left line on the CPUSA (characterizing it as a “fifth column”) and on the international situation (refusing to participate in demonstrations against the Shah). Moreover a whole string of “left” errors (“no united action with revisionists,” Portugal, the Havana Conference, etc.) and the characterization of the RU’s “Draft Programme” as “basically rightist and reformist” proceeded the development of OL’s push for a Party Congress. Thus, for both RU/RCP and OL/CPML ultra-leftism appeared “first...and...in its most pronounced form” on questions of political line.


That “left-wing” communism would find its primary expression on political questions should surprise no student of our movement. The bulk of our forces were drawn from the extreme left wing of the two main revolutionary social currents of the 60’s – the oppressed nationalities movements and the student/antiwar movement. The politics brought by these forces were characterized by contempt for the reform struggle and for democracy in general, a fetish for direct action and adventurism and an ultra-democratic and anarchic theory of ideological struggle and organization.

Moreover, the early Marxist-Leninists took the perspective of the Communist Party of China as the touchstone of revolutionary orthodoxy. Owing to the tremendous – and for the most part deserved – prestige the CPC has gained from its seminal critique of Soviet revisionism on the one hand, and the ideological immaturity of the US revolutionaries on the other, communists here were unable to avoid copying the worst features of the “left” line that is just now beginning to be rectified in the CPC.

PUL is also incorrect to hold that “leftism” on “party-building line” is the “most pressing manifestation of present day ’Left-Wing’ Communism, and ’left’ opportunism in political line a secondary but growing problem.” (op. cit., p. 119) While voluntarism in party-building strategy is a major component of the prevailing “left” line, its continued sway is largely dependent on the strength of “left” opportunism in political line. The “left” conceptions of the relationship of reform to revolution, the struggle for democracy and on international line serve as the main ideological justification for both the continued stampede of our “lefts” into yet another “party” and the fortress mentality of the existing “vanguards.”

The present “parties” vindicate their formation based on the “left-wing” politics expressed in their “Programs.” These programs, they maintain, both provided the historical basis for uniting the leading core of revolutionaries into a vanguard political organization, and continue to provide a rallying point for “genuine communist unification.” The CPML, for example, while recently recognizing that some “genuine revolutionaries” remain outside their organization and that the struggle for “communist unity must be in the forefront” of their efforts, asserts that its “Program and Political Report to the Founding Congress have become major guiding documents for Marxist-Leninists throughout the country.” Their “Road to Communist Unity” statement then proceeds to brand those who have major differences with that program and report as “opportunists who (have) conciliated with modern revisionism.” (See the Call, December 26, 1977) Thus, just as “leftism” in political line generated the voluntarist perspective on party-building in the past, so today it is the primary bulwark of the circle spirit.


In addition to reversing the relationship of the “left” approach to party-building and “left” opportunism, PUL makes an extremely significant error in their treatment of ultra-leftism on political line. In the section of their book discussing the “left” line on political questions, PUL takes up: the reform struggle, the battle for democracy, the woman question, the united front, and analysis of social classes. And while they do maintain that they are only reviewing “some of the principal “left” political positions within the anti-revisionist camp” (op. cit., p. 119; emphasis added), most anti-“lefts” would be astonished that PUL seems to think that ultra-leftism on international line is of such little consequence.

The “left” line on the international situation stems mainly from an exaggeration of the danger posed by revisionism. The “lefts” take the development of a revisionist line in a communist party in power to be the equivalent of the full restoration of capitalism, thus collapsing important distinctions between a socialist country taking the capitalist road and one in which capitalist relations of production have become predominant. In the name of the overriding importance of the class struggle, these comrades are willing to liquidate the struggle of the socialist proletariat to preserve and protect its power as soon as that class loses its vanguard. Thus for the “lefts” capitalism can be restored to supremacy in a country after years of proletarian dictatorship not only in a single stroke but peacefully, without struggle or violence, in the final analysis, their view can be summed up as follows: “Let an element of revisionism penetrate the socialist vanguard and BINGO – capitalist restoration!”

In the case of the Soviet Union, the “lefts” have really allowed their fear of revisionism to get the better of them. They have contrived arguments to support the view that Brezhnev and Co. have not only restored capitalism to power, but have also been able to move their “social-imperialist” country into being the co-equal – or even the superior – of US imperialism. They maintain that the Soviets have surpassed the US in military strength, are the most likely to provoke the inevitable world war, and – with obvious reference to the World War II situation and the strategy that flowed from it – that the Soviet Union is now a “fascist state of the Hitler type.” Of course, all those who dare to dispute these claims with hard facts are dismissed as either “conciliators of revisionism” or worse.

In the US this “left” line has produced particularly disastrous results. Our movement has a several year history of “left-wing” collaboration with US imperialism – on Portugal, Angola, Zaire, and most recently on Sadat’s “peace initiative.” We have observed the CPML upbraid the Pentagon and the most rabid, racist and reactionary sections of finance capital for being “soft” on the Soviet Union and, at the same time, advocate a strategy of aiming the main blow at the Soviets – even within the US.

In their zeal to oppose revisionism, hundreds of activists have elevated the struggle against international revisionism over the international struggle against US imperialism. Pursuing the logic of this wrong-headed policy, these activists have been willing to applaud fascist attacks on the Portuguese Communist Party, read national liberation movements of proven character out of existence, and deny the socialist character of Cuba. Worse yet, some of these comrades have been willing to contemplate the development in the near future of not just a tactical but a strategic alliance with their own ruling class. Such “left” opportunism is hardly inconsequential.

Nor has it played a minor part in the crisis in our movement. It has caused the major split on political line in the 20 year history of our forces. For the CPML, “leftism” on the international situation has drawn them into a more or less open alliance with US imperialism. For RCP, the difficulty of attempting to juggle the demands of “left” collaboration with a reflection of the real interests of the workers and oppressed nationalities in the US, has caused it to pass through an 18 month crisis and eventually split in two. And significantly, the majority from that split has reached the conclusion that the Chinese Communist Party is revisionist and that China is in danger of succumbing to capitalist restoration!

Moreover, the reaction to this aspect of the “left” line has been responsible for freeing the great bulk of the forces that presently make up the embryonic anti-dogmatist, anti-revisionist trend from the sway of ultra-leftism. And it is also apparent that those that have refused to break with “left” collaborationism have only a tenuous committment to combatting the ultra-left line; BACU, one of the earliest anti-“left” voices, has recently returned to the dogmatist fold, precisely because of their unity with the “lefts” on the international situation.

And yet PUL can discern no “left” opportunism on international line. The reason for this is that, unfortunately, PUL – like BACU before it – is, itself, an advocate of “left” collaborationism. (See ibid., p. 218)


Related to PUL’s failure to grasp the nature of the “left” international line, is its belittling of the role of dogmatism in generating the ultra-left line. PUL raises three main objections to the characterization of the ultra-left line by the term “dogmatism.” First, they argue that dogmatism is not in itself a form of opportunism and can lead to both left and right errors. Second, that dogmatism does not constitute the theoretical basis for the ultra-left line. And third, that calling the ultra-left line dogmatism will split the anti-“lefts.”

PUL’s first objection is of little consequence. While from a strict point of view dogmatism is not a form of opportunism but a methodological error in applying Marxism-Leninism, in the modern usage of the international communist movement the term has taken on a broader meaning. Just as Lenin applied the term revisionism – which, strictly speaking, is also a methodological error – broadly, so “dogmatism” is used in the Moscow Statement, the Moscow Declaration, and China’s early polemics against revisionism to describe a form of opportunism.

It is also true that there is both a “left” and the right form of dogmatism – the Mensheviks being the classic example of the latter. But then revisionism can also lead to left errors; Lenin for example, called syndicalism “’left’ revisionism.” However, just as revisionism tends to yield right errors, so dogmatism tends to produce “leftism” – particularly, as in our situation, when it develops in reaction to the former. In any case, the PWOC – and others that have used the term – have made it quite clear that modern dogmatism is “left” in form.

PUL’s second objection that dogmatism is not the theoretical base for the ultra-left line stems from a confusion in terminology. Since they see the theoretical base as identical with its ideological foundation, they argue that, ideologically speaking, the “left” line draws on the anarcho-syndicalist and anarchist traditions and not dogmatism.

But the theoretical base of an incorrect line and its ideological foundation are two different things. The theoretical base of an opportunist line is that deviation from correct methodology which allows those developing the line to depart from Marxist-Leninist principles and borrow their ideas from an alien ideology. From the Marxist standpoint, the twin departures from scientific method are dogmatism and revisionism; in the name of upholding Marxism-Leninism, dogmatism refuses to make a thorough study of concrete reality whereas revisionism renounces scientific principles in the name of modern conditions. Either deviation inevitably leads to subordination to anarchist ideology on the “left” or reformism on the right.

Just as revisionism provides the theoretical base for the reformism of the CPUSA, so it is dogmatism which induces our “lefts” to depart from Marxism-Leninism. It is dogmatism which causes these comrades to ignore the paramount importance of independently elaborating scientific socialism for US conditions. It is dogmatism which allows them to rationalize their proven isolation and impotence by seeking cover in carefully chosen passages from Lenin, Stalin or Mao. And it is dogmatism which permits the “lefts” to plagiarize whole sections of the program of the CPC even though history has demonstrated that program to be wanting in significant respects.

The heart of PUL’s opposition to the term “dogmatism” lies in their third objection – that the use of the term will split the anti-“lefts”. Here PUL recognizes that opposition to dogmatism implies opposition to flunkeyism as well. As the Chinese comrades wrote in their famous June 14, 1963 letter to the CPSU:

Errors of dogmatism will be committed...if one mechanically copies the policies and tactics of another Communist Party, submits blindly to the will of others or accepts without analysis the programme and resolutions of another Communist Party as one’s own line.

To be even more precise, PUL understands that opposition to dogmatism implies opposition to the ultra-left line on the international situation.

Who, then, will be “split” by upholding opposition to dogmatism? Only those who are unwilling to carry through on their critique of ultra-leftism, and who, while they desire to oppose the “circle mentality” demand the right, at the same time, to keep one foot in the camp of the “lefts.”

The upshot of PUL’s critique of the ultra-left line is to severely underestimate the danger posed by our “lefts.” By denying the key role of “left” opportunism on political questions, by negating the existence of a “left” collaborationism on international line, and by recoiling from the use of the term dogmatism to describe the “left” line, PUL reduces the prevailing opportunism to a mere question of the “apologetics of the ’group spirit.’” (Ibid., p. 42)

In our final article we will review what tactics PUL’s narrow critique leads them to advocate.