Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

San Diego Organizing Committee

Prop. 14 and the Struggle vs. Opportunism

First Published: The Communist, Vol. III, No. 12, June 20, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

This article was submitted by the San Diego Organizing Committee, Marxist-Leninist. SDOC (M-L) can be reached at POB 1332, San Diego, California, 92112.

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In our first article on reforms and the United Farmworkers’ campaign initiative, Proposition 14, we began a communist analysis of reforms (see THE COMMUNIST, vol. 3, no.3, Feb. 1977). We discussed how communists differ from reformists in taking up the struggle for reforms, which are, as Lenin said, “measures that improve the conditions of the working people without destroying the power of the ruling class.” In this article we take up some of the right opportunist errors made in the campaign.


Stalin summed up these two tactics very well in Foundations of Leninism. He states:

...To a reformist, reforms are everything, while revolutionary work is something incidental, something to just talk about, mere eyewash...To a revolutionary, on the contrary, the main thing is revolutionary work and not reforms...The revolutionary will accept a reform in order to use it as an aid in combining legal work with illegal work and to intensify, under its cover, the illegal work for the revolutionary preparation of the masses for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. That is the essence of making revolutionary use of reforms and agreements under the conditions of imperialism. The reformist, on the contrary, will accept reforms in order to renounce all illegal work, to thwart the preparation of the masses for the revolution and to rest in the shade of “bestowed” reforms. That is the essence of reformist tactics. (Foundations, FLP, pp. 97-99)

Orthodox Marxist-Leninists do not support reforms like Proposition 14 only for the partial and temporary benefits they produce, much less the illusion that they can lead to a decent life. We support measures like Proposition 14 because the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat is waged both by legal and illegal means. As we stated in our earlier article, Proposition 14, despite its weaknesses, could have objectively helped strengthen the legal trade union organization of the rural proletariat in California. It could have served our illegal work of winning the advanced to communism among the rural proletariat and the masses of people, who support the struggles of the farmworkers.


In the election campaign last fall, a local unit of the revisionist Communist Labor Party (CLP) called upon workers to support Proposition 14. In the “NASSCO WORKER”, their shop paper at a large San Diego shipyard, they basically said that farmworkers needed the right to vote for a union of their choice in order to win their “struggle for a decent life”. There was no mention of the need for proletarian revolution, no exposure of the limits of reforms, no criticism of the opportunist leadership of the campaign–in short, there was no “revolutionary use of reforms”. (Stalin)

These right opportunist errors of CLP come from its consolidation around revisionism. The CLP fully unites with the modern revisionism of the Soviet Union and the CPUSA (see THE COMMUNIST, vol. 1, no. 10, July 1975). They have aligned with modern revisionism in opposition to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, the Party of Labor of Albania and the general line of the international communist movement. This is the fundamental dividing line of the international proletariat.

Worldwide, the line of modern revisionism is the “peaceful transition to socialism”. Revisionist parties in the capitalist countries (like the CLP and CPUSA) deny the need to seize state power from the bourgeoisie. Rather, their program relies on partial reforms and the election process– the tactics of reformism.

For example, the other article in the same CLP shop paper was titled, “Don’t Boycott, Vote Communist!” They said, “The workers need representatives in government who will fight in their interests... Voting communist is a concrete way to act in opposition to capitalism. By doing this means putting forward the best representatives of the working class so they can represent us and begin to fight and implement the program of JOBS, PEACE AND EQUALITY.”

What this really meant last November was voting for Gus Hall and the CPUSA!

CLP’s line was in direct opposition to the correct “boycott” slogan of Marxist-Leninists, which spoke to both the spontaneous rejection of both bourgeois parties by the masses of workers and the task of exposing the true nature of the bourgeois state and the empty reformist rhetoric of the election campaign itself.

On Proposition 14 CLP tailed the reformist leadership of the campaign – quoting from Cesar Chavez, Lt. Gov. Dymally and liberal state legislators. In their paper, CLP supported the reformists line that union representation would bring “law and justice to the fields”. Furthermore, they support the reformists’ line that the initiative campaign was needed because “the [California] legislature was not strong enough to stand up to agribusiness and the teamster power to permanently guarantee all the people the most sacred American right – the right to vote!”.

The CLP did no criticism of the opportunism of these reformists, who preached class collaboration with the bourgeoisie instead of class struggle against it. They did no exposure of the true nature of the government as an instrument not of “all the people” but of the capitalist class. Instead they tried to spread illusions about workers being able to have power within bourgeois government through the election process. Their own revisionism led them to unite with bourgeois reformist forces in the effort to vote themselves into power and, like all opportunists, to betray the real interests of the working class they claim to represent.


As the Workers Congress has emphasized, to prepare the conditions for the party we need to draw lines of demarcation between Marxism-Leninism and opportunism. In drawing these lines we must guard against narrowing the struggle to one of only exposing reformism and revisionism. We must recognize that right opportunism is the main danger not only “out there” among the trade union bureaucrats and revisionist parties, but also within the ranks of the communist movement itself. In this period when party-building is our central task we must especially struggle at “rooting out the economist and social democratic influences which arise spontaneously in our work and are the chief means by which revisionism penetrates our ’ranks.” (see “Conditions For the Party”, THE COMMUNIST, vol. 3, no.4, March 1977)

An example of the economism in our movement was the propaganda in support of Proposition 14 put forward by the Marxist-Leninist Fighting Union (MLFU), a local collective which belongs to the October League’s Organizing Committee. MLFU took up the task of criticizing the “left” errors made by the Changing Times Bookstore in opposing Proposition 14 (see our first article for the Changing Times line.)

Nevertheless, the essence of MLFU’s polemic and its support for Proposition 14 was not derived from a Marxist-Leninist understanding of the relationship between the immediate struggle for trade union democracy and the long range struggle for socialist revolution (see “Trade Union Democracy and Our Tasks”, THE COMMUNIST, vol.2, no.11, August 1976). Rather, MLFU’s support for Proposition 14 clearly comes from an economist glorification of spontaneity. As a result, their polemic ended up objectively bowing to the spontaneous reform movement, belittling the tasks of communists in preparing the conditions for the party and proletarian revolution. They have perpetuated the right opportunist errors that are characteristic of their national leadership, the October League, over the past five years.


Throughout their polemic, the MLFU refers to the campaign behind Proposition 14 as part of the “revolutionary mass movement.” Their support for Proposition 14 comes from their view that “every movement of the oppressed and exploited against their enemies is progressive, no matter how confused or counter-revolutionary the leadership of this movement.” They said that this is so because these movements help to get the masses politically active and win some concessions from the enemy that will be helpful in the revolutionary struggle.

While it is true that “progressive” movements do arise spontaneously in response to (and against) the oppression of imperialism, this alone does not make them “revolutionary”. The spontaneous workers movement on its own, can only be guided by trade union consciousness–“the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labor legislation, etc.” (Lenin, What Is To Be Done (WITBD) FLP, p.37) This is the consciousness which develops in the working class because of the everyday experience of that class in struggle against the oppressive conditions of imperialism.

But trade union consciousness is only an embryonic form of class consciousness. Trade union movements like the one behind Proposition 14 are not spontaneously part of a revolutionary mass movement. A revolutionary mass movement is one led by revolutionary class consciousness – the science of Marxism-Leninism. This science must be brought to the class. This is the responsibility of communists.


In order to theoretically justify bowing to spontaneity on Proposition 14, it was inevitable that MLFU would muddle up Marxist-Leninist theory. They summed up their support for Proposition 14 with “Marxism holds that we should use dual revolutionary tactics, employing both revolutionary mass struggle and legal struggle. But the legal struggle is secondary and serves the mass struggle. This is the Marxist line.” And they summed up the incorrect “left” line of the Changing Times as “The economic struggle is everything, the legal struggle is nothing.”

But it is incorrect to counter-pose the legal struggle to the mass struggle or economic struggle, or to say that the legal struggle is secondary to and serves the mass struggle. The legal struggle is part of our mass struggle. It is secondary to and serves our illegal struggle. And communists use both legal and illegal means in giving leadership to mass economic and political struggles. That is the Marxist, line, MLFU!

Furthermore, while MLFU correctly pointed out that communists must expose reformist leadership, they incorrectly do so only to make the spontaneous movement more militant. They summed up their views by saying: “Against the reformists, the communists should point out that while reforms are of some use, they are not the main thing. Building the strike and boycott weapons which force the growers to recognize the union, and preparing the workers to defend themselves against new murderous attacks that are sure to come, this is the main thing. We support the reform to strengthen and intensify the battle on the farms and not to bring a rotten peace. This is why communists should have supported Proposition 14.”


The MLFU supported Proposition 14 because it sees building the spontaneous mass movement the “main thing”. But for Marxist-Leninists, militant strike and boycotts in this pre-party period are not the main thing. As Stalin said, “To a revolutionary, on the contrary, the main thing is revolutionary work and not reforms.” Our most important revolutionary work right now is to fuse communism with the advanced forces in the workers’ movement and build the new communist party. This is our “mail thing”, our central task.

Again they have taken an incorrect line. Militant activity such as strikes and boycotts do not make a movement revolutionary, only revolutionary class consciousness can do that. By counterposing reforms to building up the strike and boycott weapons (which are both part of legal trade union struggle), MLFU left out the task of fusing communism with the working class movement In essence, the line of MLFU reflected their (and OL’s) lack of rupture with the economist, social-democratic line of “build the spontaneous mass movement”.

To take up this task, we must put out an independent communist analysis on reforms such as Proposition 14. It is by putting out a Marxist-Leninist line that we win workers to communism, training them to react to every situation with a proletarian outlook. It is also how we expose reformists and win support for communist leadership.

Instead of doing this, MLFU made the right opportunist erroi of giving uncritical support to a reform, thus tailing the spontaneous movement. They tried to justify their errors by labellir any criticism of a demand of the “revolutionary mass movement” as “contempt for the masses” that would wreck the possibilities oi fusing communism with workers. They made the error of focusing only on the backward instead of the advanced members of the spor taneous struggles. These advanced forces are open to communist ideas and leadership; they are not offended by communist criticism of reformism and reformists within their movements.

Unlike the CLP, the MLFU’s position is not revisionism but a reflection of the dominant tendency within our movement – economism. Furthermore, it is a reflection of the emptiness of the October League’s claim to firm and consistent leadership in the communist movement. The October League’s plans to call their party congress are an opportunist consolidation of the flabby social-democratic trend ii our movement today. They are following the path of the Revolutionary Union (RU) which became the opportunist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) in 1975.

The need to struggle against economism is especially important in this pre-party period when the movement in general shares a low level of theoretical development, amateurishness in our methods of work and fragmentation organizationally.

This tendency, unless it is defeated, will develop into modern revisionism. Lenin emphasized the importance of struggle against right opportunism when he said in WITBD, “all worship of spontaneity of the working class movement, all belittling of the role of the ’conscious element’, of the role of Social-Democracy (Marxism-Leninism, ed.), means, quite independently of whether he who belittles that role desires it or not, a strengthening of the influence of bourgeois ideology upon the workers.”(Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 5, p. 382)