Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Proletarian Unity League Responds: Fusion and the “Anti-Dogmatist” Phrase

First Published: The Organizer, Vol. 5, No. 6, June 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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We appreciate Comrade Clay Newlin’s review of our book, Two, Three, Many Parties of a New Type? Against the Ultra-Left Line (TTM), and the Organizer’s offer to print our response. It is of course impossible to respond in a single short article to all the points raised in his wide-ranging five-part review. Our pamphlet On the “Progressive Role” of the Soviet Union and Other Dogmas; A Further Reply to the PWOC and the Committee of Five, available from United Labor Press (P.O. Box 1744, Manhattanville Station, N.Y., N.Y. 10024), goes at length into our differences, with Cde. Newlin’s perspectives on many critical issues, including international line and the nature of the main danger to the communist movement; some of this response is drawn from that longer paper. Here we will limit ourselves to certain problems in Cde. Newlin’s party-building line: his ambiguous treatment of the “fusion” question, his changing view of the main danger (once dogmatism, today “left” opportunism), his sectarian tactics for the construction of a Marxist-Leninist trend, and the conception of party-building line itself. We will also touch on Cde. Newlin’s inability to analyze some of the key errors of political line in our movement, an inability closely related to his incorrect view of the main danger.


Newlin spends a considerable part of his first two articles pursuing demons of his own invention. In his zeal to ascribe to us that same “unity view” which allegedly “guided the practice of the CLP, the RCP, and the CP-ML” (Jan. 1978 Organizer), Cde. Newlin unfortunately ignores major elements of our position while distorting others. Meanwhile, his own perspective remains somewhat confused.

The communist movement exists in order to accomplish

...the fusion of Marxism-Leninism and the workers’ movement, a fusion which proceeds in and through the Communist Party. Through the Communist Party: the formation of a Party serves as the instrument for the rallying of the vanguard in such numbers that it may truly be considered the advanced detachment of the working class, But first of all in the Communist Party: without that fusion, you may have a revolutionary trade union movement or a propaganda association, but you do not have a Communist Party. (TTM, p.230)

If the communist movement fails to accomplish this fusion, it has no reason to exist and will inevitably wither away. Fusion thus describes both our goal and the party-building process as a whole, but It does not explain our key task or their interrelations, the main direction of attack, or which way our tiny and divided forces must set out in order to accomplish it. No goal or “essence,” as Newlin would have it, can guide the struggle for the Party.

Because we do not embrace all the claims Cde. Newlin makes for the process of fusion, he thinks we belittle that work in favor of uniting what he calls the “existing stock” of Marxist-Leninists. We don’t agree, and believe instead that Cde. Newlin incorrectly separates winning the class vanguard and communist unification, and ultimately belittles what real fusion is all about.

First, while he speaks at great length of our need to concentrate on “the problems raised by the practice of the advanced workers,” by the “actual class struggle,” he considers one problem too remote to have much of a bearing on their practice or on that struggle: the very real problem of communist unity. We think the lack of connection to experienced communists working throughout the country (especially in areas of such strategic importance as the Black Belt South, the Southwest, and much of the industrial heartland); the enormous shortcomings of nationwide political agitation; the lack of a national presence in the trade unions or the organizations of the national revolutionary and women’s movements – all severely hamper the practice of the non-communist advanced workers and that of the Marxist-Leninists. Surely every local organization must recognize the limitations of their work to win the politically-active workers to Marxism-Leninism in this situation. Forging principled communist unity is therefore one of the most pressing “problems raised by the practice of the advanced workers.”

Second, Newlin says that our theoretical work must prove “its vanguard character in practice” before “we will have the right to demand unity around it.” (Dec. 1977) He also calls the advanced workers the “prime verifiers”. This sounds good, but again it substitutes fine phrases for a concrete analysis of the relations among theoretical struggle, communist unification and mass practice at different points in the party-building process. How do we test theory or have the advanced workers “verify” it when our connections to the bulk of the class vanguard remain so tenuous? Mao once said, “The only yardstick of truth is the revolutionary practice of millions of people.” (On New Democracy) He did not say “the revolutionary practice of twenty, forty or a hundred local collectives.” Can the PWOC, for example, adequately test its “anti-dogmatist” position on the Black national question within the confines of Philadelphia? In the absence of real roots in the workers’ and national revolutionary movements, theoretical struggle among the “existing stock” of Marxist-Leninists constitutes the first (though not the final or even the best) test our theory must pass.

For reasons having to do with these first two points, we must put in the first place struggle against the “left” line in our movement, in order to unite Marxist-Leninists on a principled basis and win the proletarian vanguard to communism.

Third, Newlin’s abstract conception of fusion prevents him from understanding why in our movement genuine communist unification depends to a large extent on establishing an organic link between Marxism-Leninism and the workers’ movement. In TTM we argue that “a certain state of fusion of Marxism-Leninism with the working class movement must exist before party-formation has any meaning.” (p.229) We explain, ”A strategy for party-building, for the defeat of ’left’ sectarianism, requires the transformation of the proletarian vanguard from a secondary factor, largely outside the communist movement, into the motive and leading force in the struggle for the Party.” (p.231) Specifically, “the broadening and deepening of our fusion with the class vanguard cannot await Marxist-Leninist unity, for the simple reason that we cannot get that unity without overcoming our isolation from the workers’ movement, without enlisting a large section of the presently ’non-Party’ vanguard in the struggle for the Party.” (P.232)

In opposing this view, Newlin asserts that we can have communist unity–real communist unity–prior to having achieved this state of fusion. Not only does he claim that “we can unite all genuine Marxist-Leninists prior to having achieved ’a certain state of fusion’ with the class struggle”; he goes on to insist that this “could be real unity nonetheless.” (Jan. 1978) Where Newlin earlier downplayed the need for communist unity, here he downplays the irreplaceable role the class vanguard must play in the struggle for the Party if we are finally to overcome the “left” line.

For all the talk about fusion, Newlin apparently fails to grasp why we must establish this “certain state of fusion” as a precondition to communist unification. A concrete analysis of the present situation in the communist movement shows that a united Communist Party consisting of more than a single narrowly-based tendency cannot be brought into being without the overthrow of the “left” line. And this opportunist line cannot be overcome without the direct participation of a section of the class vanguard in the struggle against it and in the development of a Marxist-Leninist line in theory and in practice. The continued relative isolation of the Marxist-Leninist groups from the proletariat nourishes the ultra-left line, which is the main source of our disunity. Unlike those middle strata from which our movement draws its main recruits, the class vanguard has a definite material basis in its conditions of existence and daily struggles for opposing the ruinous effects of “left” opportunism.

In sum, Newlin speaks of the vanguard’s party-building role in terms at once too narrow and too general. The advanced workers become simply practical workers, “verifiers” of the theory which presumably the petit-bourgeois intellectuals develop. He presents no view of what definite relation winning the vanguard has to the defeat of “left” opportunism in our movement, and to the communist unification which can only follow this defeat. In fact, the advanced workers will not and cannot be second-class citizens in the struggle for the Party: they must become the main column in the fight for a Marxist-Leninist line, against ultra-leftism and modern revisionism. Only if we take steps now to win the proletarian vanguard to communism can we defeat the “left” line and unite the Marxist-Leninists.

The self-contradictory, undialectical character of Newlin’s position emerges clearly whenever he has to deal with the communist movement as it exists today. Then he leaps into the “unity” camp. He admits that “in any particular period of party-building, efforts to unite Marxist-Leninists ...may come to the forefront of our particular agenda” (Dec. 1977; he does not identify the “particular period” in which we find ourselves, however). He agrees that “...we will have to achieve such unity [“a united communist movement working in a uniform direction”]...to really reach the advanced.” (ibid.) Finally, he calls for a “center to both unify the anti-’lefts’ [we will return to this phrase] and to organize the struggle against the ultra-left line.” (May 1978) Doesn’t all this bear a curious resemblance to the so-called “unity view” Newlin spends so much time criticizing?

After all these concessions, what remains of Newlin’s earlier criticisms?

One final point. Newlin believes that the liquidation of the “fusion question” has characterized the ultra-left line in our movement. There can be no question that the “Left-Wing” organizations have not proceeded very far in fusing Marxism-Leninism with the working class movement. But the issue is not whether they have succeeded, but rather what line has helped account for their lack of success. And here Newlin misrepresents the history of our communist movement and the dominant party-building line within it. For do “the ultra-lefts advocate building a vanguard in isolation from the advanced fighters of the working class”(June 1978; our emphasis), as Cde. Newlin claims? Has the “unity view” really “guided the practice of the CLP, the RCP, and the CP-ML” (Jan. 1978)? Not at all. Avakian and the RU were the noisiest proponents of “fusion” as against the CLP, who after flirting with the “advanced of the advanced,” in turn broke with the “petit-bourgeois New Left” in favor of integration with the masses. The OL likewise once claimed to “build the Party in the heat of class struggle” as against everyone else. Each of these groups, in opposition at various moments to the “dogmatists,” the “armchair intellectuals,” the “sideliners,” the “petit-bourgeois crybabies,” etc. have prided themselves on being the only ones willing to “get their hands dirty.” Every organization hell-bent on declaring itself the Party has vowed (and has had to vow) that its line had proved or would prove itself “in practice.” We doubt that Newlin can show that any of the “parties” gave serious attention to the specific demands of communist unification.

After two articles on the so-called unity/fusion controversy, Newlin goes on to take issue with TTM’s emphasis on party-building line. From what he says, you’d think we argue for concentrating the ideological struggle on “how to chair meetings” and the like. He fails to recognize that indeed his own five-part review concentrates on questions of party-building line.

Party-building line is the line which guides the construction and development of the revolutionary vanguard organization, the proletarian Party. That line is by no means confined to questions of organizational forms or even to “uniting Marxist-Leninists,” as Newlin would have us believe. For example, our two-year struggle with the PWOC and other comrades of the Committee of Five, and Newlin’s own debates with Cde. Silber of the Guardian, have often centered first on party-building line, and on that basis have touched on the unity/fusion question, the place of political line in the initial struggles to construct an anti-“left” Marxist-Leninist trend, the nature of the main danger, etc. Yet Newlin apparently considers these areas of party-building line “secondary organizational questions.” (May 1978)


Now one of the most important questions of party-building line concerns the nature of the main danger to our work; we have debated just this question with the PWOC for over two years now. In brief, we have argued that the main danger comes from the “left,” not the Right, that the ideological roots of the main danger lie in anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism, and that “left” sectarianism, which we define in our book as “’left’ opportunism in party-building line,” constitutes the key expression of this danger. The PWOC, on the other hand, has presented an analysis of something very different—something it called “dogmatism.” It described dogmatism as the opposite opportunism from revisionism; it published a series of articles in its newspaper on dogmatism, arguing that “dogmatism” and specifically not “ultra-leftism” or “left” opportunism best characterized the main danger; it subtitled its major pamphlet “Against Dogmatism on the National Question,” not against ultra-leftism on the national question; it published article after article referring only to “dogmatism” as the main danger, to “dogmatism” as a proper line of demarcation, to “anti-dogmatism,” and to the “anti-dogmatist trend” while failing to refer to “left” opportunism. In July 1977. Cde. Newlin posed the alternatives for us in the starkest terms: “ULTRA-LEFTISM OR DOGMATISM?”

Once the centerpiece of PWOC’s analysis of opportunism’s main form in our movement, their concept of “dogmatism” informed their view of a wide range of theoretical and practical problems. Today everything has changed, and we find the last piece of evidence against the “dogmatism as the main danger” formulation in the fact that Cde. Newlin doesn’t even believe it anymore himself.

Today, after two years of polemics with ourselves and other organizations over its incorrect formulations, we witness the most obvious backpedaling on the part of the PWOC, which reduces its references to dogmatism with each passing week. Not only have Cde. Newlin and others quietly changed the point of unity for the Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center, but the PWOC has basically abandoned its own perspectives on the main danger. Its leading members now casually declare that the ideological source of ultra-leftism lies in anarchist ideology, as if the PWOC had been saying that all along. It unceremoniously dumps the “anti-dogmatist trend” in favor of an “anti-’left’ tendency.” There are many references these days to ultra-leftism, but few to the alternative Cde. Newlin posed back in July 1977.

Consider the June, 1978 Organizer, where Newlin has an article entitled “Lines of demarcation with ’left’ opportunism.” It has 16 references to “ultra-left,” 13 to “left” this or that, 9 to “left” opportunism, 7 to “lefts,” 4 to “left-wing” communism, 5 to anti-“leftism,” and 1 each to “left-wing” and “leftism.” It literally contains no reference to “dogmatism,” “anti-dogmatism,” or “dogmatist opportunism,” to what Cde. Newlin has variously called the “nature,” “key element,” “ideological essence,” “central feature,” “theoretical basis,” “root error” of “opportunism in our movement”!!! (see the 50 page paper by Cde. Newlin for the Committee of Five, “Dogmatism, the Main Enemy, and ’Left’ Opportunism,” available in Party-Building and the Main Danger from United Labor Press) Yet these are the same Organizer readers who were told by Cde. Newlin back in July 1977 that “while some may consider a discussion of which term most accurately conveys the essence of the ultra-left line not worthy of debate, a correct resolution of this discussion is essential to the future of the Marxist-Leninist movement” (our emphasis). And they were told that dogmatism, not “left” opportunism or ultra-leftism, most accurately did so. Within less than a year’s time, a question whose resolution is regarded as nothing less than “essential” for the future of the Marxist-Leninist movement is answered in two completely different ways, with no explanation given for this utter reversal. Does Cde. Newlin think that as events recede into the past, no one will remember what views he formerly supported? Where is the “rigorous self-examination” on which the former Committee of Four (including PWOC) prided itself?

The PWOC has not simply agreed to a different point of unity for an organizing committee. In articles like these, it has abandoned its entire conceptual framework for thinking about the main danger. The example of the RU’s line on democratic reforms provides a case in point.

Cde. Newlin accuses us of downplaying “both the seriousness and the depth of the political errors in our movement.”(April 1978) Why, we wonder was our first publication in 1975 an analysis of the Boston busing struggle including detailed analyses of our movement’s political errors in that battle? Why did we include an entire chapter in our book on “left” opportunism in political line, going at length into the “left” errors of the RU and others? In any case, Cde. Newlin’s faulty (and fast disappearing) analysis of the main danger has caused him to misunderstand the very nature of many of the “political errors in our movement.” Within the Marxist-Leninist movement, no domestic event had a greater impact than the Boston busing struggle, and following that, those in Louisville and elsewhere. Around the Boston busing struggle, even more than around the ERA, the ultra-left line on. the relationship between democratic reforms and socialist revolution emerged full-blown and in all its disastrous practical implications. A large section of the communist movement denounced partial desegregation through busing as a “sham reform” and actively organized against it.

When confronted with this widespread opportunist position, the “dogmatism” analysis simply falls apart. The PWOC and some other anti-dogmatists regard the opposition to busing and the ERA as stemming not from ultra-leftism, but rather from Rightism (see for example the Sept, 1977 Organizer, where the RU/RCP’s “stand on busing and the ERA” is cited as one of several “right errors’). This is no small claim. While PWOC cites only the RU/RCP’s stand, in fact that stand takes in a much broader section of the communist movement, including such organizations as the Workers Viewpoint Organization, the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization the Revolutionary Workers League, the Revolutionary Communist League (MLM), the New Voice, the League for Proletarian Revolution (M-L), and others. If the RU/RCP’s errors around busing and the ERA come from the Right, then the errors of all these organizations do as well, since they make substantially the same arguments (cf. our pamphlet on busing).

The RU’s line on busing and the ERA did indeed conciliate and effectively converge with the reactionary opposition to these reforms. But it stemmed not from “semi-liberalism” (one of Lenin’s terms for reformism or Right opportunism) but rather from “semi-anarchism.” Specifically, their position derived from an ultra-left conception of the relation between reforms and revolution, between the fight for consistent democracy and the fight for socialism. It flowed from a typically semi-anarchist conception of democratic reforms under capitalism as measures which only confuse the masses, divert them from the true socialist struggle, and stabilize bourgeois rule. Ultra-leftism gets its opposition to reforms, particularly political and democratic reforms, from the anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist tradition. To describe this specific form of “opposition to struggle for reforms and democracy as ’contradictory’ to socialist revolution,” Lenin coined the term “imperialist economism,” an economism of the ultra-left type. (See Lenin, CW 23, pp. 13-77.)

The PWOC thinks that the RU/RCP gets its dogmas around busing and the ERA from the Right. Moreover, since the RU’s position (and that of others) draws from a whole theory of “sham reforms,” then by implication the dominant “left” position on reforms, namely “left” economism, qualifies as “Rightist” for the PWOC. It therefore sees the Marxist-Leninist position as somewhere to the left of the RU position. We on the other hand think that the RU gets its dogmas around the relationship of reforms and revolution from the “left,” from petit-bourgeois revolutionism. We therefore see the Marxist-Leninist position as somewhere to the right of the RU position. The implications of this difference for the struggle for democracy and reforms are potentially very great.

The PWOC’s confusion about the nature of the main danger, and Newlin’s apparent willingness to alter his position without explanation, is bound to affect their leadership in the struggle against that danger. Many of our criticisms of the PWOG’s party-building line over the past two years have concerned the sectarian tactics they have advocated for the construction of an anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend. In his article of May 1978, Newlin goes at length into our views on the necessity of what Lenin called a “common literature,” as well as other questions of tactics. Newlin not only distorts our views on this question, but also misrepresents Lenin’s on the role of Iskra, while in his June 1978 article he exhibits his own confusion as to the analogy of that historical situation to our own. In these articles he tells scare stories about the CP-ML applying for entry into the “trend,” declares his opposition to united action with “The Center” on grounds of its especially dangerous role, and issues grave warnings that “PUL urges us to submerge ourselves in common publishing activities with the ’lefts’.” Here we must restrict ourselves to one comment.

Newlin asks rhetorically about the need for a “common literature”: “WILL ’LEFTS’ AGREE?” Better he should ask, “Will the ’anti-dogmatists’ agree?” Newlin assures us that “the centralization of the ideological struggle is central to the defeat of the ultra-left line,” but we have only to examine the practice over the past two years of the PWOC and the Committee of Five to see real weaknesses in the comrades’ commitment to the organization of democratic debate among the anti-“lefts”. If, as Newlin claims, we “give no attention to the means by which such a tendency could be built,” just what have we been struggling over these past two years? Has the PUL recently concentrated its energies on “utopian schemes for common publishing with the ’lefts’,” as Newlin would have us believe, or on (perhaps not much easier) efforts to get the PWOC and other comrades to organize some productive struggle, to open wide rather than restrict the struggle against, variously the “dogmatist” or the ultra-left danger?

Cde. Newlin makes great claims for PWOC’s own “plan.” But what exactly does it amount to? An ill-defined “Ideological center” which attempts to ignore or suppress opposing points of view among the anti-“left” forces, fails to rally major groups with whom it shares important unities (El Comite-MINP, the Guardian), has so far rallied overwhelmingly white M-L organizations, and pays little attention to the rest of the communist movement.

All this would not be so bad, but Newlin has gone on to baptize it “the Marxist-Leninist wing of the party-building movement.”

The U.S. M-L movement has seen quite a few “centers,” “wings,” and “trends” over the last 20 years. What it has not seen is much communist unity relevant to the working class and national revolutionary movements. The PWOC has shown that in the main it recognizes the problems with our past, but it has not shown that it understands how to rectify them. No amount of unexplained line changes, or fine, empty phrases about fusion can substitute for that understanding. And no sectarian plan will help build it.

Proletarian Unity League
December 7, 1978