Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

San Diego Organizing Committee

Party Building Tactics

First Published: The Communist, Vol. III, No. 8, April 12, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Workers Congress (M-L) Introduction: The following article from the San Diego Organizing Committee (Marxist-Leninist) cuts through confusion spread in our movement regarding the slogan “political line is key”. A comment by the WC(ML) follows the article.

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In this period when the revolutionary movement is without a vanguard, party-building is not only a strategic task, it constitutes our central task as well. All of our political work must be subordinated to the central task of party building.

Although the Leninist trend has consolidated ideologically behind this view, objectively we have yet to make a decisive breakthrough on the essence of this task – winning the vanguard to communism and away from opportunism ideologically, politically and organizationally.

The first step in rectifying the Marxist-Leninist movement’s weaknesses on party-building lies in understanding how the tasks of communists must be developed in general to defeat economism and revisionism in all aspects of our work. We unite with the WC(ML)’s views on party building because the Iskra principle and Plan address exactly this point.

Our own understanding of these views has been advanced by seeing the necessity for proletarian tactics to implement our main strategic task. To move forward on our central task (or any task) we must employ tactics.

Tactics are the forms of struggle and the corresponding forms of organization that we utilize in order to overcome the obstacles that prevent us from accomplishing our tasks. Thus tactics are a part of and not separate and distinct from our overall strategy for revolution – they are subordinated to our strategy and they serve it. While a strategy remains unchanged throughout the stage of the revolution, the forms of struggle, as well as the forms of organization for the particular form of struggle, we employ do change according to the flow or ebb of the movement, the rise or decline of the revolution.

With respect to our central task, the Leninist trend of our movement has made the initial (though still fragile) break with opportunism; we are at the point where we must decide how we will carry out the task – what tactics we must employ.

Stalin says that there are two principal conditions that ensure correct tactical leadership. First, it is necessary to ”put into the forefront those forms of struggle and organization which are best suited to the conditions prevailing during the flow or ebb of the movement at a given moment, and which therefore facilitate and ensure the bringing of the masses to the revolutionary positions...” (Stalin, STRATEGY AND TACTICS) Overall, the point of our tactics must be to enable the masses to realize from their own experience the correctness of Marxism-Leninism. The key is that our tactics must correspond to those objective conditions that define the “experience of the masses.”


Second, Stalin says that we must single out the “main link” or the main task, “...the particular immediate task, the fulfillment of which constitutes the central point, and the accomplishment of which ensures the successful fulfillment of the other immediate tasks.” (IBID) The main link must prepare the conditions for achieving strategic success – accomplishing the central task.

The key point with respect to the confusion that presently prevails in our movement is that the main link is a tactic – not ideology, political line or organization. The content of all our tactics is our ideology and political line. But, in order for ideology and political line to become a material force in practice they must assume a form, they must be organized.

With respect to the first condition that Stalin laid out the Leninist trend has ideological unity that propaganda must be the chief form of activity. The concrete conditions are that our movement is confronted by a highly centralized reactionary bourgeois state, which is capable of and willing to carry out organized terror to maintain its existence, but who has even more relied on spreading its ideology in the working class – opportunism with which to divert the proletariat away from revolution. Ideologically, the movement still reflects its long history of right opportunism. In addition the communist movement is fragmented and characterized by a lack of coordination in its work. The movement displays a tendency to vacillate on matters of principle which reflects the inadequacy of its grasp of the science of M-L. On some fundamental questions where unity will be needed to form the party, disunity still prevails. And, in sum, we have yet to consolidate our position in the working class by uniting communism with the workers movement – by taking the science of M-L to those class conscious workers striving spontaneously against imperialism.

These are the concrete conditions that separate us from our central task of winning the vanguard to communism. The main obstacle they present – the main obstacle our tactics must address themselves to – is opportunism, primarily revisionism economism and right opportunism in general. For these reasons we tactically put propaganda in the forefront in this period.

It is on Stalin’s second condition for correct tactical leadership, the determination of the main link, which will define our overall plan for party-building, on which Marxist-Leninists are still fundamentally divided.

In contrast to those forces who put forward abstract categories such as “political line” as a main link to party-building the Workers Congress has put forward the “Iskra-type newspaper for the Leninist trend as the main link in the fight to prepare the conditions for a new communist party...” SDOC unites with this call for an Iskra-type newspaper because it reflects the correct application of Marxist-Leninist strategy and tactics – it is a form of struggle and a corresponding form of organization that we can utilize to overcome the obstacles to party building in this country. The Iskra-type newspaper is a scientific tool developed by Lenin to overcome conditions that generally correspond to our own objective situation – a highly centralized reactionary bourgeois state and a communist movement ideologically and politically dominated by opportunism, economists and organizationally characterized by scatteredness and fragmentation, by amateurishness. Moreover, it is a tactic whose successful accomplishment would ensure successful fulfillment of the other immediate tasks.


The struggle for unity on a main link to party-building has been held back by the confusion created by those forces in our movement who have counterposed political line to organization. They do this by putting “political line” and “organization” in different succeeding stages of party-building.

In WHAT IS TO BE DONE (WITBD) Lenin lays out the correct relation between organization and political line when he writes about the connection between economism and amateurishness. In that work he defines economism as a narrow scope of political activity. In this polemic against economism he begins by looking at groups that have narrowed political activity to trade-unionist politics and shows how it reflects a broad right opportunist trend. The basis of economism is “bowing to spontaneity”. Failing to grasp fully the transforming and organizing role of revolutionary theory the economists inevitably overestimate the restrictions that objective conditions place on the scope of our work. Thus economists bow to what is possible rather than do what revolutionary theory says is necessary.

Amateurishness is raised in connection with a narrow character of organizational work. Lenin describes as amateurish the (pre-Iskra) Marxist Party in Russia which was actually a loosely connected federation of local organizations which had carried out little mutual political support, sharing of resources contacts, etc. In the local organizations amateurishness was reflected in an inability to protect the organization and the continuity of work from police raids, inability to fully utilize contacts and resources, inability to expand political activity beyond local work and local concerns, etc. Fundamental to Lenin’s analysis of this lack of or ganization is that amateurishness of the different separate groups of the Party was primarily something that could not be overcome without taking on the amateurishness and lack of organization of the movement as a whole.

The connection between amateurishness and economism is that, “The character of any organization is naturally and inevitably determined by the content of its activity. Consequently, the Rabocheye Dyelo, by the assertions analyzed above, sanctions and legitimizes not only the narrowness of political activity, but also the narrowness of organizational work. In this case too, as always it is an organ whose consciousness yielded to spontaneity. And yet worship of spontaneously developing forms of organization, failure to realize how narrow and primitive is our organizational work, what amateurs we still are in this important” sphere, failure to realize this, I say, is a veritable disorder from which our movement suffers.”(Lenin’s Collected Works, WITBD, our emphasis)

What Lenin is clearly putting forward is that there is a dialectical relationship between the character of an organization and the content of its activity-between organization and political line. He repeats this in “Retrograde Trend” when he points to the amateurishness of the movement as the main cause for the growth of economism among social-democrats:

...the spread of their agitation brought the social-democrats into contact with the lower, less developed strata of the proletariat; to attract these strata it was necessary for the agitator to be able to adopt himself to the lowest level of understanding, he was taught to out the demands and interests of the given moment in the foreground and to push back the broad ideals of socialism and the political struggle. The fragmentary amateur nature of Social-Democratic work, the extremely weak connections between the study circles in the different cities, between the Russian Social-Democrats and their comrades abroad who possessed a profounder knowledge and a richer revolutionary experience, as well as wider political horizons, naturally lead to a gross exaggeration of this (absolutely essential) aspect of Social-Democratic activity, which could bring some individuals to lose sight of the other aspects, especially since with every reverse the most developed workers and intellectuals were wrenched from the ranks of the struggling army, so that sound revolutionary traditions and continuity could not as yet be developed. It is in this exaggeration of one aspect of Social-Democratic work that we see the chief cause of the sad retreat from the ideals of Russian Social-Democracy. (Lenin’s Collected Works, V. 4, pp.279-80)

The lesson here is that organization is also an ideological question, not a stage which comes after the ideological break has in the main been completed. Without the correct organizational application of our line, even a correct political line will fail; it will stagnate and degenerate as pointed out by Lenin in “Retrograde Trend”.

That is why Lenin developed the ISKRA-type newspaper, not only a collective propagandist and agitator with which to confront the economism and revisionism in the revolutionary movement, but also a collective organizer which overcomes its amateurishness.

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WC (M-L) Commentary

As we pointed out on page one, the key point in the article above is to dispel the confusion accumulated around the slogan “political line is key”. Forces in our movement have run with this line for well over a year now and it has led to frustration and demoralization. It has not promoted an understanding of our tasks or guided efforts to move on them. SDOC clearly identifies the reason – the main link in carrying out our central task is a tactic, not political line, ideology or organization set apart from the full scope of our work. The main link is a form of struggle and a form of organization necessarily involving at all times aspects that are ideological, political and organizational. The effort to isolate this or that aspect of our work and hold it apart in a particular party building ”stage” is mechanical and one-sided from the standpoint of method. Political line is decisive because it guides our work, but in itself it is only plan or policy and not a form of struggle. A tactic must be guided by a correct political line, but if it is to accomplish a revolutionary task, it must be unfolded in terms of corresponding forms of organization and struggle.


By the Party’s tactics we mean the Party’s political conduct, or the character, direction, and methods of its political activity. (LCW, v.9, p.22)

The significance of Lenin’s Iskra plan is exactly this – it is a tactic for party building.

It speaks to the character, direction and method of party work necessary to overcome fragmentation and circle narrowness, amateurishness and ideological confusion. It proposes forms of organization and struggle to carry out the fight for stability of principle in defense of orthodox Marxism, laying the foundation for party organization.

The contribution of SDOC is a good example of how local communist collectives can work to overcome the fragmentation of our movement and gather the resources of the Leninist trend. Fragmentation has too often given rise to local passivity. Though active in local work, many circles and collectives have not grasped the national scope of their responsibilities. Instead they have adopted the habit of following, but essentially waiting on national developments rather than pushing them forward.

This passivity is a manifestation of the circle spirit, which – contrary to illusions spread in our movement – will not be magically overcome with the formation of a party or, all the more so, simply by joining a national organization. Circle narrowness must be defeated through a day to day struggle to rise above the parochial limits of local work and meet our national tasks. It is a struggle that involves every local collective.

Concretely this means that comrades must participate actively and publically in the polemics on the burning questions of our movement. Local collectives must not fail to speak to questions of policy and program which shape the development of our work. We are weakened and the process of our consolidation is held back when local collectives do not submit their views to the test of national debate.

Secondly, comrades must see the importance of summing up and generalizing local work, submitting this too publically to the test of the national movement. A good example is “Communist Factory Work” in v. III, no. 1. Sum up of work allows us to confirm its correctness or identify error, to take wider and fuller advantage of our common mistakes and to add to the store of our common experience. All of this is lost if the lessons of our work are only summed up for the benefit of local workers. Furthermore, the training essential to professionalize the style of our work is also lost.

Finally, comrades must see the necessity to take up the task of submitting topical political exposures on international and domestic issues. This also, as Lenin emphasizes in WHAT IS TO BE DONE, is a question of training ourselves as professional revolutionaries. There is no other way, he writes, to train the masses or ourselves, except by means of topical political exposures. Here too collectives rise above local and circle narrowness by taking up this responsibility in a disciplined and sustained way.

The Iskra plan put forward by our organization is a party building tactic which speaks to the conditions of circle narrowness and the means to overcome it. Speaking regularly through the pages of a national communist newspaper is the first step. Therefore we open the pages of THE COMMUNIST to polemics, exposures and other contributions from comrades. We encourage every collective to recognize the national scope of the tasks it must take up and use THE COMMUNIST as a weapon in the struggle to prepare the conditions for a genuine revolutionary party.

SDOC can be contacted at P.O. Box 1332, San Diego, Cal., 192112. They have published a collection of articles from Peking Review entitled THE GROWING DANGER OF WAR–THE IRRESISTIBLE TREND OF REVOLUTION which can be obtained for 25 cents.