Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Clay Newlin

A Response to PUL: Clearing Away the Fog

First Published: The Organizer, Vol. 5, No. 6, June 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In polemics, when in doubt, engage in a bit of fogging. Shroud the landscape so that its sharp contours can’t be seen. Cover everything with a fine mist and hope that the forest will not be seen through the trees. Training for this discipline consists in learning how to dodge the central points at issue, treating every difference, no matter how secondary, as if it were of equal political weight, and attempting to steadily shift the focus of discussion from one point to the next, providing no sense of the interconnections between the points, and especially avoiding any effort to grapple with the dispute as a whole. For coloring, this art charges ambiguity or contradictions in the opposing point of view, the misuse of important technical terms and mysterious changes in position. In essence it all comes down to developing the ability to cast a deep fog over a debate, a fog so thick that those following the controversy will be unable to determine even the essential points at issue, let alone the more correct position.

It is unfortunate that the Proletarian Unity League (PUL) has chosen to provide us with a lesson in this art. In its reply to our critique of PUL’s book, Two, Three, Many Parties of a New Type? (the critique appeared in the December 1977, January, February, April and May 1978 issues of the Organizer), PUL does touch upon some of the important differences between us. But the thrust of their remarks seems less designed to clarify the real substance of those differences than to create the impression of inconsistencies or contradictions in our perspective. Whatever their intentions, PUL consistently avoids going to the heart of the matter, and avoids in particular, any attempt to set our differences in the context of the US communist movement and its main tasks.

In order to clear away the fog, we will direct our reply towards clarifying the main points of contention between PUL and ourselves. In addition, we will demonstrate that these differences have a common root in a divergence of a more fundamental character. And we will discuss how this latter divergence relates to the basic tasks facing anti-revisionists.

Presently, the US communist movement is divided into two contending wings – an ultra-left (or more precisely, a dogmatist) one and a Marxist-Leninist one. The ultra-left wing has developed views on almost every major question posed by the US revolution, is in by far the most favorable position organizationally, and its main political current has the added advantage of international ties with the Communist Party of China (CPC). It exerts considerable influence over the anti-revisionist forces as a whole, has established its ideological hegemony’ and must be considered a consolidated opportunist trend.

The Marxist-Leninist wing suffers from an immature viewpoint and is defined by a partial or embryonic system of politics. It exists mainly in the form of local organizations, study groups and a considerable number of individuals, and has some ideological affinity with other groupings internationally but no real ties.

Given its ill-defined politics, its weak and disorganized condition, it is only a trend in embryo.

The immediate task facing Marxist-Leninists is the maturing of the latter wing into a genuine revolutionary trend. The future of the anti-revisionist movement depends on the development of a scientific system of politics with broad influence among Marxist-Leninists, a set of views which is not only capable of contending with ultra-leftism, but eventually, of supplanting the hegemony of “left-wing” communism with the hegemony of Marxism-Leninism.

In broad outline PUL and ourselves are in agreement on this analysis. There are some differences in the way we each characterize the situation. PUL, for example, wrings its hands at the attachment of the term “Marxist-Leninist” to our tendency. PUL thinks that the whole movement suffers from ultra-leftism (it’s just that some suffer more than others, you see) and that none can really claim to bear the mantle of Marxism. And the use of the term “trend” in association with the Marxist-Leninist wing causes the PUL to become greatly agitated since they prefer the word “tendency.” But these differences are really of secondary importance.


The primary and most significant divergence between PUL and ourselves has turned on the role of international line in constructing a genuine anti-“left” trend. PUL is of the opinion that it is incorrect to demarcate around the question of the main enemy of the peoples of the world; to demand unity around the view that US imperialism constitutes the centerpiece of international reaction, they argue, is sectarian. Instead, a genuine anti-“left” tendency can be built which includes a wide range of views on the international situation, including the view that it is the Soviet Union which constitutes the main enemy of the world’s peoples.

We, on the other hand, hold that it is impossible to build any genuine tendency in opposition to ultra-leftism without starting from the point of view that the US should be the main force opposed on the international scene. We are convinced that this is correct for a number of reasons. First, because all opposition to identifying the US as the chief enemy is rooted in “leftist” thinking generally, and an infantile exaggeration of the danger posed by the USSR in particular.

Second, the perspective that the US is not the main enemy has been central to the hegemony of the ultra-left line in the communist movement. In every instance where an organization has not seen the US as the primary target internationally, it has completely failed to maintain any genuine opposition to “left” opportunism. And finally, without breaking with those who oppose the idea that the US is the main enemy, there can be no genuine break with ultra-leftism without parting company with the CPC as it is to posit a separation from revisionism without distinguishing oneself from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

In the almost three year struggle over this difference, PUL has adopted various ruses to avoid confronting its real basis for opposing a demarcation on this point. At first PUL argued that international line is an aspect of political line and that it was incorrect, on principle, to split on any questions of politics at this stage in the development of the anti-“left” tendency. Instead, they asserted, we should demarcate with the ultra-lefts solely on the question of party-building line (i.e., the line on how the party should be built).

To buttress this position, PUL made a number of assertions. They said that since party-building is our central task and since party-building line is key to carrying out this task, all other aspects of political line should always be subordinate to it. They also asserted that both the earliest and most pronounced manifestations of “left” opportunism had emerged historically in the area of party-building strategy.

In response, we pointed out that the argument that party-building is our central task or that throughout the party-building process, party-building line will generally be pivotal, does not mean that it is incorrect to demarcate on political line. In a situation where opportunism has become hegemonic, Marxist-Leninists must identify central manifestation of the opportunist line among the communist forces and concentrate their fire against it. If that manifestation is on a question of party-building strategy, then party-building line becomes the main question, but if it is on political line, then political line is key. To proceed from the abstract and general truth that party-building line is pivotal, and to fail to concentrate one’s struggle against the concrete and particular manifestation of the bourgeois line can only mean that backhanded support will be given to opportunism. (And in fact this has been precisely PUL’s failing in the struggle against ultra-leftism.)

In this connection, the question of what has been the main manifestation of the opportunist line historically becomes very important. And here PUL’s analysis of the main errors of the ultra-left comes up short. It was not on the question of how to build the party that the main opportunist deviation has become manifest. Rather it is on a political question – and in particular, systematic support for an ultra-left line on the international situation. But since PUL recognizes no ultra-leftism whatsoever on international line, it is totally incapable of grasping the real history of opportunism in our movement.

Underlying PUL’s inability to accurately assess the genuine errors of anti-revisionism is its unwillingness to carry through on its critique of ultra-leftism. While PUL does a fairly decent job of exposing the “leftist” thinking which serves as the foundation of much of the lines of our “lefts” on various domestic issues, it is unwilling to grapple with similar thinking that is so clearly manifest in “left” internationalism. The reason for this is that any genuine attempt to unearth the ultra-leftism on international line leads straight to the “Holy Office” in Beijing.

It is this desire to cover up the international headquarters of ultra-leftism it the CPC which has been the driving force behind PUL’s struggle against any demarcation on international line. But it not only caused PUL to deny the existence of “left” internationalism but it also caused them to refuse to acknowledge the key role of dogmatism in the ultra-left line.

PUL realizes that to the extent that dogmatism is perceived as providing the theoretical basis for modern “left-wing” communism, the orthodoxy of “Mao Ze Dong Thought” will be called into question. But rather than made a straight forward defense of its dogma, PUL has sought to cover up its real reasons for opposing the struggle against dogmatism by arguing that it was only a “general philosophical error” and therefore could not be used to characterize a form of opportunism. (We will not repeat o response to these scholastic arguments here.)


Unfortunately, PUL has not entirely abandoned its attempt to cover up the real basis for its opposition to characterizing the present ultra-leftism as dogmatism. The most recent cover up is its attempt to manufacture a mysterious change in the PWOC’s view on the nature of the ultra-left line.

PUL would have its readers believe that the PWOC originally held that dogmatism as opposed to ultra-leftism was the main opportunist danger to anti- revisionists, but has now changed its position. To verify this charge, PUL points to a series of articles that were published in the Organizer several years ago on the key role of dogmatism in the anti-revisionist movement. They contrast these earlier pieces to one published in June of 1978. According to PUL a drastic change in our position is indicated by fact that the latter article “...has 16 references to ’ultra-left,’ 13 to ’left’ this or that, 9 to ’left’ opportunism, 7 to ’lefts’, 4 to ’left-wing communism,”, etc., and no reference to dogmatism. Apparently PUL judges its opponents’ line on the basis of standards borrowed from “Count de Count” of Sesame Street.

But as PUL knows full well, there has been no fundamental change in PWOC’s characterization of the nature the ultra-left line. In a meeting of anti-revisionists held in May 1976, (well before PUL had published any of its views on the nature of the main danger the PWOC advanced the following formulation on the nature of opportunism in our movement:

Dogmatism, which is ’left’ in form right in essence, is the main form of opportunism in the communist movement. It is dogmatism which provides the theoretical foundation for a political and organizational practice of ultra-leftism and sectarianism.

This same perspective was incorporated in the Draft Principles of Unity for a Marxist-Leninist Conference published in January, 1977. And it was also substantially elaborated in the paper Dogmatism, the Main Enemy, and ’Left’ Opportunism which PUL and the Committee of Five jointly published two months after the article which PUL thinks proves that PWOC has abandoned its formulation on dogmatism.

In spite of these efforts to shift the terrain of the debate, the very logic of the struggle around the role of international line in constructing an anti-“left” tendency has continually forced PUL to become more and more open about its burning passion to shield the international center of ultra-leftism.

This fact is not only demonstrated by the pamphlet On the Progressive Role of the Soviet Union and other Dogmas where PUL desperately attempts to defend virtually every shade and nuance of China’s reactionary foreign policy. An even better example was provided in recent conferences on the role of international line in building a genuine anti-“left” tendency. A representative of a PUL supporting group made a long emotional appeal against any break with the line of the CPC – arguing that such a break will inevitably lead to propaganda films that compare Mao Zedong to Hitler. A PUL representative followed with a similar statement. The essence of the arguments of both was the same: “a break with the line of the CPC or with Mao Ze Dong Thought is by definition revisionism.”

In practice, PUL’s call for constructing an anti-“left” tendency gives way to conciliation of the “left” line. The siren song of unity with the CPC and its “left” internationalism draws the PUL like a magnet. In the last few years, PUL has devoted almost all of its attention on trying to prevent a break with the “left” line on the international situation in general and, in particular, any consolidation around such a break among the forces grouped in the Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center. Objectively, PUL’s role in the ideological struggle has been in support of “left-wing” communism and not against it.

While fighting the consolidation of the genuine anti-“lefts”, PUL has not been hesitant about uniting with the CPM-L. For example, consider the implications of its participation in a recent trip of anti-revisionists to China initiated by Klonsky and Co. According to the Call, the delegation included representatives of the Bay Area Communist Union, the CPM-L, the League of Revolutionary Struggle, Revolutionary Workers Headquarters, Portland Red Star Collective (which recently merged with the CPM-L) and PUL – all firm adherents of “left” internationalism. The participants set two goals: “First, to strengthen the unity between US Marxist-Leninists and the Communist Party of China. Second, to promote prospects of unity among the US Marxist-Leninists.” (The Call, February 12, 1979; emphasis added – CN).


No astute observer could fail to grasp the significance of this delegation. In the first place, the delegation was entirely composed of organizations that uphold (in deeds if not in words) the CPC as the international center of the communist movement. Not one of the groups has any substantial differences with Beijing’s line, even the “Three Worlds” theory of collaboration with US imperialism. Second, it is no great secret that China has officially recognized the CPM-L as the “communist party” of the US working class. Surely they will use their influence to press all those on the delegation to unite with the CPM-L and subordinate their differences with its line to the common good of support for the CPC’s united front against hegemonism – i.e., the Soviet Union.

Given these two facts, and especially given that building unity with the CPC was given top billing in the delegations’ objectives – can anyone seriously doubt that the effect of this trip will be to promote ultra-leftism? Is it not utter hypocrisy to speak of waging the struggle against “left” opportunism, while at the same time giving top priority to building unity with the CPC?

PUL’s marching to the baton of the CPC has not only compromised its struggle against ultra-leftism, but also distorts its whole attitude to the ultra-left. Obviously, if one upholds the CPC as the epitome of Marxism-Leninism, one’s approach to the CPM-L and similar forces is necessarily going to diverge radically from those who see the CPC as the center of ultra-leftism. It is this which, more than anything else, explains PUL’s failure to give any serious thought to how to build a trend in opposition to ultra-leftism. It is the source of PUL’s failure to offer any concrete plan for drawing lines of demarcation with the “lefts” or to unify the anti-“lefts” around a genuine critique of the ultra-left line. And it also underlies PUL’s attempt to brand the only genuine effort to unite those who oppose “left-wing” communism as “sectarian”.

From all this it can be seen that it is PUL’s adherence to the international center of ultra-leftism – which in essence amounts to unity with “left” opportunism itself – that provides the foundation for each of the most significant differences around the role of political line in general and that of international line in particular. It underlies our differences around the nature of the ultra-left line and the key role of dogmatism in it. And it determines our widely divergent approaches to the task of consolidating a trend in opposition to “left-wing” communism.

Given that our sharpest differences are in these three areas, it is unfortunate that the PUL decided to give them short shrift in its reply to our review of their book. Instead, apart from distorting our views on the question of dogmatism, PUL focuses much of its reply to disagreements between us on the question of fusion.

In contrast to the other differences treated above, our divergence on fusion could easily be accommodated within the confines of a genuine anti-’left’ tendency. While the distinct points of view on this matter do have real political consequences, only those who place their own narrow circle concerns above the shared interests of the anti-“lefts” as a whole, could uphold them as the basis for a split in our tendency.


Taking up these differences, it is apparent that the criticisms of our view advanced by PUL (except for the third one) bear a great deal in common with the so-called critique of fusion advanced by Silber and the Guardian. PUL argues that we belittle the task of uniting Marxist-Leninists, we exaggerate our movements’ ability to test its theoretical work in mass practice, that the PWOC does not understand the role of fusion in the process of uniting Marxist-Leninists, and that we also do not grasp the essence of the errors of the ultra-lefts on party-building line.

The argument that fusion belittles the task of uniting Marxist-Leninists rests entirely on the incorrect view that fusion can not really advance until communist unity has been achieved. While we are well aware that disunity among revolutionaries definitely weakens our ability to fuse communism with the advanced elements, we think that it is nevertheless necessary to maintain that during the party-building process fusion must be primary in relation to uniting Marxist-Leninists.

This is true not in the sense that the integration of communists in the workplace – which is not real fusion anyway – should receive priority over ideological struggle among Marxist-Leninists. Rather, it is correct because it is only the kind of unity among communists which serves to advance our ability to merge, scientific socialism with the advanced that is genuine unity. All other unity is a sham and should be opposed. By failing to grasp the primacy of fusion in relation to communist unification, PUL objectively raises to the level of principle, advocacy of the kind of false unity that it has tried to foist upon the anti-“lefts”.

The charge that the PWOC exaggerates the opportunity for testing our theoretical conceptions in practice is also unfounded. We have never maintained that all of the theoretical work of our movement could be fully confirmed in the limited practice of the pre-party period, nor have we disputed the fact that, as PUL puts it, “theoretical struggle among...Marxist-Leninists constitutes the first...test our theory must pass.” However, as opposed to certain idealists, we have maintained that practice is nevertheless important in the party-building process.

If one denies that the practice of the masses is not the sole criterion of truth in the period of party-formation, one inevitably loses any method for evaluating the quality of communist theoretical work. Who can deny, for example, that the practice of both the RU and the OL sharply exposed the retrograde character of their theory? To uphold our tenuous links to the mass movement as an argument for downplaying the need to test theory in practice prior to party formation as PUL and others do, can only mean support for the dogmatist methodology of the ultra-lefts and the backward conceptions that they reached as well.

As for PUL’s claim that the PWOC fails to grasp the significance of fusion in the process of uniting Marxist-Leninists, we doubt that anyone will give serious credence to this charge. The charge is contradicted by the whole history of our argumentation with Silber and Co. around the role of fusion. We have always held – and still hold today – that unity apart from fusion is narrow, partial, and can even become fraudulent if it is held to be a sufficient basis for forging a party.

PUL’s final, and frankly, only serious objection to our view of fusion is that we are incorrect to hold that “the liquidation of the ’fusion question’ has characterized the ultra-left line in our movement.” As proof that we are wrong on this point, PUL argues that “Avakian and the RU were the noisiest proponents of ’fusion’.” Now, we think that the PUL would do well not to take Avakian at his word; the fact that he gave lipservice to work among the masses proves nothing about the real line that guided the RU’s party-building efforts. Nor does the fact that none of the ultra-“left” ’parties’ gave any serious attention to the specific demands of communist unification prove that the main error in their party-building lines stemmed from an underestimation of the need to unite Marxist-Leninists.


The question is not what these forces said about themselves but what conceptions provided the foundations for their practice in party-building. If the question is looked at in this way, it is clear that the main ultra-left circles gave only verbal support to the task of fusing communism with the class struggle while placing their main effort behind “uniting all who can be united” around their embryonic “left-wing” politics. Everywhere and always, the line was the same: whatever best served to advance their organizational hegemony (which they understood to be “uniting Marxist-Leninists”) was in the best interest of the communist movement.

Apart from our differences on fusion, it is clear that the contention between PUL and ourselves results from PUL’s inability to carry through on its critique of ultra-leftism. PUL is caught in a contradiction from which it cannot escape. On the one hand, it has staked its initial intervention in the communist movement on its ability to unite with the strong currents of reaction to ultra-leftism. On the other, it finds these forces rapidly probing the roots of the “leftist” impulse by identifying the “left” opportunist features of “Mao Ze Dong Thought.” PUL is left with only two choices: either renounce the struggle against ultra-leftism or reexamine “Mao’s Thought.”

Of course, this approach did not lead to real unity among revolutionaries. But the reason for this is not just a simple lack of attention to the task of building unity as PUL would have us believe. Rather, their failure to unite anti-revisionists stemmed from their inability to advance the fusion of communism with the most conscious elements among the masses. Instead of placing a premium on the development of the theory which would allow for a genuine fusion to develop, the dominant ultra-left circles concentrated on regurgitating dogma, manipulating anti-revisionist fears and prejudice, or whatever else provided the quickest road to a large following. Such efforts could produce some measure of “communist unity” in the short run, but could not provide the kind of durable foundation that only the fusion process can yield.

It is this very contradiction which has disarmed PUL in the struggle with the genuine anti-“lefts”. The more it combats these forces, the more it comes upon the contradiction in its own line. It is this contradiction and the unfolding of it which is the source of PUL’s attempt to cast a fog over its divergence with the PWOC.

April 24, 1979