Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Workers’ Collective

RWC Strike Sum-Up: Party Building Tasks


First Published: The Communist, [newspaper of the Workers Congress (M-L)], Vol. IV, No. 17, July 31, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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This is a summation written by the Revolutionary Workers’ Collective of work done by it and other communists during a strike at a major plant in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before, during and since the strike, the RWC cadre working at this plant conducted their work through a fraction consisting of themselves as well as members of the Pacific Collective (M-L). We think that our work in this fraction represents an advance in our struggle for communist unity and provides a lesson for other communists as wall. The work in the joint fraction has enabled the two small organizations involved to have a far greater impact at this plant than either would have been capable of alone. Through struggle within the fraction, both collectives have deepened their understanding of how to do communist work within the trade unions.

While the RWC is primarily responsible for the writing of this summation, which represents the unity that we have achieved, the Pacific Collective contributed substantially to it by suggesting and helping to write several of the sections and by criticizing earlier drafts produced by us.

Strikes are schools of warfare for the working class and for communists as well. The anti-revisionist communist movement in the US is still young and its ties with the working class remain quite tenuous, despite the fact that young communist intellectuals have been working in industry for almost a decade, attempting to fuse the communist and working class movements. Our efforts to form a genuine anti-revisionist communist party remain unfilled, despite pretentions of the Communist Labor Party (CLP), the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) and the October League (OL – now the Communist Party (M-L)) to have completed the task. Our view is that no organization can claim to be the vanguard party of the working class in this country until it has both united large numbers of advanced workers and Marxist-Leninists around its program for revolution in the United States, and demonstrated its ability to provide correct leadership to a broad range of mass economic and political struggles.

It is with this perspective that our cadre approached the recent strike at a company in the Bay area. At the beginning of the strike we had very few cadre in the plant, and their experience was quite limited. None had worked there for as much as a year. We were somewhat unclear as to how strong a role the main union in the plant would play during the strike, but assumed that it would both be strong and conservative. We were unprepared to discover how weak and ineffective the union would be and how small was the leadership’s base among the 1600 members in the plant.


In formulating our goals for the strike, we grouped them according to: (1) Party building, (2) Work in the union and (3) Struggle with the company. Our party building tasks we saw as, first, refining and developing our political line on the tasks of communists in the trade unions and within the working class movement; second, struggling for the greatest level of unity possible with the other Marxist-Leninists working in the plant; and third, winning advanced workers to communism and working with intermediate and class conscious workers to help raise their political level.

We saw our work within the union as the first step towards the long term goal of transforming the union into a mass revolutionary organization. To accomplish this transformation we must teach the rank and file the irreconcilability of class contradictions under capitalism, the role of the state, the strength which the workers can build through unity and organization, and the historic mission of the working class. The bureaucrats who serve capitalism must be exposed, isolated, and replaced by class conscious workers and communists.

Towards the company we formulated our main goals for strike work as wresting the greatest amount of economic concessions possible from the company. At the same time we planned to use the opportunity provided by the strike to carry out educational activities using the company as a model of a huge multinational corporation during the period of advanced capitalism. Our tasks were to expose the company’s role throughout the world, explain the connection between advanced capitalism and worsening economic conditions, and do education on the nature of the state.

It is in the context of these goals, which we believe to have been correct, that we can sum up our work during the strike.


At this point in history, communists must evaluate all of their planned and completed work within the context of party building, our central task. No class within society can contend for or hold power without a political party (or parties) that represents its interests and can lead the class in battle for those interests. The working class in this country has been without such a party for at least 30 years since the degeneration of the CPUSA into reformism and class collaboration. But a party cannot be proclaimed into existence. There are dozens of organizations in the OS that have announced that they are the true vanguard of the working class. None of them has yet been able to convince many workers of the truth of these assertions. The question becomes: When is a party a party? We hold that for an organization to deserve the name, communist party, it must demonstrate, in concrete practice, its ability to unite communists, win advanced workers to communism, and lead the masses in struggle.

Key to this process is the development and implementation of a correct political line on the major questions facing people of this country today and in the period ahead. When we say “political line”, we do not mean a set of simplistic slogans such as those found in the OL’s November 1975 call to unite or the Marxist-Leninist Organizing Committee’s (MLOC) outline party program. Nor do we mean that it is necessary to develop encyclopedic treatises on every aspect of the domestic and international situation. What we do mean is that on the major questions facing the American people: the international situation, the Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican and other national questions, the, question of women’s oppression, the building of a united front against imperialism within the US, the struggle for democratic rights, and particularly, work within the trade unions and the working class movement generally, communists must be able to set out a general but complete and accurate summation of the objective situation, an elucidation of overall goals and the strategy for reaching those goals, and tactics for waging struggle during the immediate period.

During the strike, we ware able to develop our understanding and political line on work within the established industrial trade unions. In general, we think that our goals for the strike work demonstrated an overall correct analysis of this question. Rather than attempting to summarize that analysis point by point at this juncture, we will try to bring it out as we go through the various aspects of the work.


The most important lesson we learned about the task of uniting communists during the strike confirmed a lesson previously summed-up from our study of the Albanian and Vietnamese revolutions: that is, that Marxist-Leninist unity is most significantly advanced under pressure from the masses and in response to the needs of the mass struggle. Prior to the strike, none of the communists in the plant had demonstrated either significant leadership in the day to day struggle or the existence of a strategy for work in the plant. Most were even newer to the company than we were. Just before the strike, a loose caucus was formed to do agitation around strike demands. The caucus included members of our collective, individual communists, and members of the August Twenty-ninth Movement (ATM) and Bay Area Communist Union (BACU).

Our plan for working with other ML’s in the plant was to begin to develop liaison relations that would deal specifically with the work with those communists with whom we had some degree of principled fraternal relations; to investigate their line and plan for work in the plant; to put out our line; and to see what unity could be developed to build the struggle. We went through a period of investigation, having had limited experience with some groups. As a result we saw ATM and later BACU as organizations with which we could unite around different forms of practice related to the strike.

RCP’s practice during the strike was very low profile. Their line during the strike was totally economist. They struggled against any criticism of the trade union bureaucrats (TUBs) and would not take up the struggle against anti-communism which was an attack on all progressive forces in the strike. Other left groups, such as CLP, did not want to have any association with either communists or work with them in any form for fear of being redbaited, and in their practice around the strike saw working out contradictions with the TUBs rather than rely on rank and file to resolve them through struggle. The OL, which had no one in the plant despite a long history of selling their paper outside, sold THE CALL, talked to workers on the picket line, and issued some leaflets, most of which duplicated the information and points being made by caucus leaflets. Their effect was negligible. The “Revolutionary Wing” was not in the union, but still managed to play a thoroughly disruptive police agent role. They did three or four long propaganda leaflets during the strike, striking the main blow against the “phony” communists. They named individuals and communist organizations in the plant, criticized the errors these organizations and individuals were making, and claimed they ware selling out the rank and file. Many of those they exposed ware not open communists. They also told very destructive lies to workers on the picket lines about the other communists and distorted those events they could not lie about. In the short run they had a negative effect, adding much fuel to the anti-communism which both the TUBs and the backward Workers were using to isolate our leadership in the strike. In the long run the wing’s leaflets left a lasting impression that communists are just a bunch of crazy fanatics, not unlike the religious cults who spend half -their time denouncing each other, and are more interested in recruiting people to their organizations than really changing the conditions in society.

The main critique of communist organizations in the strike will be of ATM and BACU for two reasons: (1) that besides ourselves, they had the most cadre and influence in the strike, and (2) we had some degree of unity with them around the practical work.

ATM’s errors were thoroughly rightist throughout the strike. The} began the strike with their energies going into developing the strike machinery, and ended the strike discouraging workers from attempting to shut down the plant when it was clear that militant action was necessary to show the company and the TUBs that we wanted a decent contract soon, and to keep production from going out of the plant.

ATM put out two very simple, economist leaflets towards the end of the strike. The closest ATM came to going beyond trade union agitation were occasional statements/speeches at union meetings. They were never open in any way publicly as communists, and in our experience did very little one to one communist agitation. The main difference we had with them at the outset of the strike was over our seeing the primacy of political agitation, i.e. a strike committee bulletin as well as other higher level agitation; and their concentration on the organization of the struggle, for example to get coffee and donuts to the picket lines, or to get people to sign up to do various tasks to develop the bureaucracy to carry out the strike. We said that both are necessary, but for people to get involved in the strike, they must understand it politically. ATM felt that if you could just get people to volunteer for strike tasks, that would bring them into the struggle. This was referred to as a “social worker” mentality by several workers.

It is our view that ATM’s failure to be open communists, even to close contacts, was the main reason they failed to consolidate anyone politically as a result of their work in the strike. A secondary reason was their failure to take on the anti-communist attacks in an aggressive way.

During the first half of the strike, ATM’s line was that some of the TUBs were in the united front and they should not be criticized. Nor did they think that we should reconstitute our pre-strike caucus for fear of alienating the more backward workers and TUBS. This was a clear error of liquidating the independence and initiative of communists. These lines changed midway as the TUBs became very much exposed for their treachery.

ATM cadre held the line that they would discuss the day to day practical work, but refused to meet organizationally to struggle out line differences or develop a higher level of unity around the work. We made several overtures but ATM never followed up. ATM clearly liquidated MLs Unite.

Overall, ATM’S role in the strike reflected that organization’s swing to the right early in 1977. When ATM determined that party building was no longer the central task, it liquidated its cadres’ role as communists and turned them into militant trade unionists. Abandoning the work of uniting, Marxist-Leninists and winning the advanced to communism ATM cadre were reduced to being generally reliable, but almost apolitical participants, not leaders, in the mass struggle.

BACU’s errors were also of the rightist, economist type. They had a clear strategy about laying low, and lay low they did. Their presence as communists was non-existent. They did play a progressive and strong role in organizing and occasionally leading many of the day to day struggles, but their leadership was consistently of the middle course.

BACU did no communist agitation in the strike. They did play a role in writing/organizing the strike committee bulletins and caucus leaflets.

Their practice was to get it on socially with people but we saw little evidence of consolidating people politically. In fact their consistent cautious, economist approach – to strike tactics/strategy was criticized many times by our intermediate worker contacts. No BACU people were ever open as communists, and they took a very defensive posture in respect to the anti-communist attacks. This is contrary to their line about the necessity of having an open communist presence. Both ATM and BACU clearly underestimated the progressive workers they were dealing with and opportunistically act as though by being friends with people/workers you can win them to the struggle for socialism.

Throughout most of the strike they struggled against any public criticism of the TUBs and had the line of mainly unity and very little struggle with some of the backward, rabidly anti-communist stewards who ware trying to destroy our influence at every opportunity. They did have a base among the stewards but they failed to give political leadership and did little to unite the more progressive stewards.

During the strike BACU had a positive, non-sectarian approach towards other ML’s and engaged in discussions of the strike work. Upon returning to work, relations degenerated between us due to heightened political differences and scapegoated us for errors in the strike work and other yet to be summed up reasons.

In day to day practice, the workers forced the communists to work together, and this was generally good. The combined resources of the various organizations allowed us to issue frequent leaflets through the mass caucus that developed, organize demonstrations and fund-raising activities, etc. However, the working unity that did develop evaporated as soon as the strike ended, with the usual differences surfacing. Both ATM and BACU have consistently shied away from struggle. They flatly refused to respond to overt red-baiting that broke out within the plant after the strike. They argued against the caucus putting out its summation of the strike “because the climate is not right,” and helped to kill the caucus by refusing to help organize meetings and bring people to them. They have also been very reluctant to engage in struggle with us to clarify unities and differences, always pleading that they were “not ready”. The result of all this is that not only has unity not been achieved, but also there has been a failure to clarify differences.

Our view of both ATM and BACU is that while they both often contributed valuably to the strike work, their overall roles were economist. Their actions were, at best, those of militant trade unionists – not communists.

At the same time, we must share substantial blame for the failure to further the unity of Marxist-Leninists. Meaningful unity can be developed only on the basis of political line, an impossible task when an organization (such as ours) has failed to develop, clarify, and put out its line. Had we been able to do so prior to and during the strike, this would have provided a basis for both discussions and struggle, and possibly greater unity. Our weaknesses in this work reflect our lack of maturity as an organization as well as our small size and limited resources. Prior to the strike we had failed to carry out thorough research and investigation; consequently we had only a very limited understanding of a plan for strike work and could do little to provide leadership to other communists in the plant. We must also admit a somewhat sectarian approach to work with the other M-L’s and so we did not consistently pursue consultation and struggle with them.


Prior to the strike, we had set out as one of our most important goals the consolidation of a group of class conscious workers into a core that would study Marxism-Lenin-ism and apply it to the strike situation and to a long range plan for winning leadership over the union.

Early in 1977 we attempted to organize a rank and file caucus. We developed an outline plan for such a caucus which included much of what is still our plan for work today – i.e. a shop newspaper, election of BA’s, etc. A few workers were attracted, one of whom joined the core.

The caucus never got off the ground for several reasons:
(1) We neglected the objective conditions. We ware too new, had too superficial an understanding of the conditions/contradictions, and most importantly, we had no real base to draw upon.
(2) We had a general plan but it was too abstract.
(3) We were immediately redbaited which helped to isolate us.

We dissolved the group after meeting several times and not expanding. Also ATM and BACU left, saying we were too “left” in our approach, that a caucus like this was too much, too soon.

We summed up our attempt as a “left” error, although we did learn a lot from talking to workers about the caucus and hearing their feedback both in the plant and in our caucus meetings.

When we had our union contract proposed meeting, we spoke along with other left forces, agitating around contract demands and how to determine priority demands. Following this meeting there was much more movement in the plant among progressive stewards and other workers for some form of organization – i.e. a strike committee to prepare for the strike. Things were now concrete and real to people to make it worth their time and energy to begin to organize and meet about the upcoming strike.

We (ATM, several progressive stewards, and ourselves) organized an informal strike committee which included workers, stewards and other left forces, BACU, and CLP. (CLP soon dropped out – the committee was too critical of the TUBs for them). The group became the basis for what was later a strike caucus. We met for four or five weeks before the strike and put out three leaflets, summarizing the most important contract demands for the rank and file and other strike related information.

It became clear to us that given the developing political relationship we had with several workers that we needed another form in which to discuss tactics and strategy which would be on a higher level than in the caucus, where communists and progressive workers could then give more conscious leadership to the strike.

We then decided to organize a core of class conscious workers and communists in order to:
(1) Develop tactics and strategy for the upcoming strike.
(2) Develop a long range plan for work in the plant and in the union.
(3) Develop the leadership of these workers in agitation and organization.
(4) Study Marxism-Leninism – bring the science to the plant.

Simultaneously, we had been following the polemics between the League for Proletarian Revolution(M-L) and the Marxist-Leninist Collective on the nature and composition of cores. We united that a group of the most class conscious workers active in the day to day struggles, willing to work closely with communists and open to study M-L would aid us in developing intermediate and active lower strata workers into advanced and thus deepen fusion. We differed from views put forward by these two organizations on the level of development of the workers to be included in the core and on the level of unity necessary for core members (we did not hold that workers had to unite on the central task of party building, etc.) We proposed a lower form level of unity because: (1) We had not seen (nor have we seen) any advanced workers in this plant; (2) To demand that potential core members unite around following leadership of one particular organization and to demand their unity on the central task would have overed (overread, ed.) the concrete conditions in which we were working (in these conditions workers were just becoming familiar with communists, the communist movement, and the tasks of communists – the level of class struggle prior to the strike was relatively low and there had beer previously a dearth of socialist agit/prop.)

Our criteria for core members was that they (1) were active in the struggle in the plant and in the union, (2) that they were willing to study/check out ML, (3) that they would work with communists and (4) that they were committed to developing and implementing a long range plan for political work in the plant and in the union.

Those workers who eventually became our core were talked to and worked with in the day to day struggle before being asked to join the core. We were open as communists

Initially, the core meetings focused on the general plan for the core. Early on we summed up that the plan developed by our fraction for the core was overly ambitious, so we deleted a proposal that related to research and investigation tasks for the core. We saw early that the core members were eager to discuss tactics for the strike and were responsive to the study materials to the degree that they were linked to real questions that members had regarding the conduct of the strike. In regard to core study plans, our plan did not reflect a scientific view of the level of core members. Rather, it reflected what we felt it would be important for them to study in order to win them over to M-L, in general. Consequently, we ran into several obstacles:
(1) Resistance on the part of core members to disciplined study and discussion;
(2) Inappropriate study materials;
(3) Lack of adequate preparation on the part of M-L members of the core to lead discussions in such a way that core members would grasp the principles we were seeking to teach.

We made both right and “left” errors regarding study:

The right error we made was on the role and frequency of the study. In our bowing to spontaneity during (and after) the strike, we underestimated the importance of study in consolidating the core and raising its level of class consciousness. We didn’t struggle for study consistently enough, let it slide whenever we ran into the various forms of resistance (lack of preparation, late for meetings, spontaneously discussing tactics, etc.) that core members displayed.

Simultaneously, and principally in our view, we made the “left” error. We overestimated the level of the subjective factor, didn’t do a thorough analysis of the level of the individuals in the group and tailor our study plan to reality. Rather, we often jumped too far ahead of individuals that composed our core who were predominantly progressive, class conscious but lower strata workers. We assumed that core members grasped the content of the study and would be able to integrate the principles and the analysis into their developing views on strategy and tactics. We hoped that this was occurring, but did not, in a materialist manner, check the developing views of the core to see if this integration was actually occurring. This reflects some voluntarism on our part. Actually, the core did need a lot more focused and specifically prepared study materials and discussions to make a qualitative leap in their grasp of the stand, viewpoint and method of Marxism-Leninism to be applied to our concrete conditions.

Summed up, while we did introduce study from the perspective of M-L to core members, our method was erroneous.

Core members did begin to see that they could learn from a communist analysis of history, that the role of communists in this country had been in the interest of the working class. The most successful study was on the TUBs––where we used TWO OPPOSING LINES IN THE WORLD TRADE MOVEMENT by Kota and writings of William Z. Foster on TUBs and the labor aristocracy.

All core members shared the desire to have joint discussion of tactics, especially during the strike. Attendance and participation in meetings that focused on tactics was high. As our work developed we were able on several occasions to discuss our approach to a particular situation in advance and then carry out the agreed upon tactics. On the other hand, sometimes we were too liberal/too ruthless in our methods of struggle. When this occurred we obtained false unity. In our view this was the strongest area of our work with the core.

The main achievements of the core during the strike were:
(1) The tactical leadership of the core was instrumental in the rank and file pulling off many of the most important events and actions of the strike: rallies, the picnic, shutting down the plant, etc.
(2) Core members saw their ideas translated into successful tactics. There were different levels of understanding in linking theory with practice within the core.
(3) Core members saw the importance of planning and organization in leading a struggle.
(4) An important breakthrough in our work was the close, principled working relationships we built with the workers as a result of our working together. We demystified the myths they had heard about communists.

Note: The preparation of the communists for these discussions of tactics was often times not as thorough as it should have been based, we think, on not summing up periodically the current conditions and developing a general view as to what was to be done.


Following the strike, the work of the core degenerated dramatically. This was due to many factors:
(1) Demoralization and fear of repression after the strike allowed for individualism on the part of the members to flourish. We had not adequately prepared ourselves or core members for the retreat period.
(2) Belittling theory – the core, with the exception of one intermediate worker, never grasped the relationship of the study to our practice. They did not internalize the importance of grasping M-L to developing a scientific analysis of the situation and developing a plan in the interest of the working class flowing from this analysis. Additionally, but no less important, the belittlement of theory was an important factor in the resurgence of individualism following the strike. Members were not armed to wage the ideological struggle internally in changed conditions, and thus capitulated to the pessimism that permeated the atmosphere after the strike.
(3) We did not sum up our work systematically enough for the core to experience some sense of progress (or limited successes). We did not recruit. Since the core was composed of intermediate and lower strata workers who were not communists, they viewed our size and our impact in a somewhat static one-sided way. We did not do our work correctly to alter these perceptions.
(4) Finally, we did not help core members concretely to develop agitational skills (speaking, writing, etc.) so necessary to raise their level, and essential for them to function as the key connectors between the communists and the broad masses. The same weakness can be observed regarding their organizational skills.

Overall, our work with the core showed us that Lenin’s definitions of advanced, intermediate, and backward workers in “A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social Democracy” remain valid today. The pragmatic substitution of the concept of the “relatively advanced” for the advanced leads to serious errors when the “relatively advanced” worker does not respond favorably to the demands placed upon him by communists. We have found that there are very few advanced workers who want to “study, study, study, and turn themselves into conscious (communists)” and are ready to “become fully independent leaders of the (communist) working class movement.” Advanced workers are themselves products of objective conditions and their number reflects in particular both the development of the working class movement and the role of communists within it. As communists within the working class movement, we are part of the objective development of the future advanced workers. We hold at this time that the development of advanced workers from among the ranks of intermediate and class conscious workers is key to the fusion of the working class and communist movements. This development is a slow process that demands patience on our part. We have no other choice. The composition of both the O.L. and the R.C.P. reflects the voluntarism inherent in pretending that a militant, possibly class conscious worker is in fact the equivalent of the working class intellectual described by Lenin. Many of the individuals recruited by the O.L. and the R.C.P. from the working class are of course well meaning and dedicated, but their low level of political development and lack of standing within their own class contributes to their organizations’ failure to develop leadership in the working class and their continued domination by the former students and intellectuals who formed them. Our experience with a core of class conscious workers has validated this understanding. During the strike their work and our work with them was in the main positive. They were eager to help analyse the objective situation and formulate and carry out strike strategy and tactics. Study, particularly that which was most relevant to the objective situation, was taken up eagerly. Since the end of the strike, however, objective conditions have taken their toll. We have had to deal with increased repression by the company, red-baiting by some reactionary workers in the plant, increased disunity among the conscious forces, and exhaustion and escapism on the part of large numbers of the rank and file. The result of this is that members of the core have in different ways shown a desire to retreat at least temporarily from the struggle and from disciplined activity.

We do not hold that in any plant at any time a core should be formed. The “left” error on core formation would be to seek to form a group at the defined level in the absence of concrete conditions to do so; e.g., when level of class struggle is objectively low, when active workers see no need to study ML, when work is being done in a plant that has no previous exposure to socialist agit/prop and when the communists have just entered the plant and haven’t, investigated the level of the most progressive workers. When a combination of the above factors is present, a group of workers united around the need to put out a newsletter, or united around planning tactics in union meetings might be more appropriate until the consciousness of the workers and the objective conditions change. The right error would be to seek to form only caucus level groups with a much lower level of unity; e.g., uniting around struggle for democracy in the union when objectively workers are present who are open to study of ML.

While our work with members of the core was overall consistent and systematic, we failed almost totally to work systematically with other class conscious workers or to engage in activities to develop the class consciousness of workers as a whole. The most important aspect of this failure was the fact that throughout the entire strike we did not issue one piece of written communist agitation or propaganda. This was not due to a lack of prolixity on our part. Within the rank and file caucus and on the union’s bulletin committee we helped issue a score of broad agitational leaflets to help popularize strike demands and activities and to expose the sell-out roles of the trade union leaders. What we failed to do, except verbally, was to take advantage of the many opportunities that existed to take these issues to a higher level by, for example, showing the connection between the company’s hard-line stance during the strike and the crisis of capitalism, or explaining the material basis for the bribery of the trade union bureaucrats. We can’t think of many “excuses” for our failures in this area: we were worried about breaking the unity of the caucus by acting independently, we did not want to lose our jobs, we didn’t have enough time, etc. The truth of the matter is that our failure represented economism on our part and was a significant failure to take advantage of an important opportunity to do independent commnist work.

Because we failed in our responsibility to raise the political level of the spontaneous economic movement, we contributed to the atmosphere of helplessness and defeat which developed at the end of the strike. Because in the end they were forced back to work with a contract containing many negative features and because of the increased company repression after the strike, many workers have concluded that the strike was a failure, or, at best, a waste of time and money. In this situation, one of the most important tasks of communists is to explain the long-term nature of the struggle against capital and to link the partial victories and partial defeats that develop in every spontaneous movement to the overall struggle, If we had done this effectively, we would have helped dispel the negative atmosphere that existed in the plant following the strike and armed the working class for the daily battles on the shop floor.