Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Aileen Armstrong

Radical Forum: An Analysis of the Revolutionary Union’s Incorrect Line on Party-building. (Excerpt)

First Published: The Guardian, September 18, 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Guardian introduction: The following contribution to the Radical Forum is by Aileen Armstrong and is excerpted from, a longer document entitled “An Analysis of the Revolutionary Union’s Incorrect Line on Party-building.” It represents the views of an independent group of Marxist-Leninists active in San Francisco.

We agree with the Revolutionary Union’s (RU) June 1974 issue of Revolution when they say that the thousands of independent Marxist-Leninists have an important role to play. At present, one of our most important tasks is to develop and put forward the conclusion we have drawn from working with the organizations claiming to represent Marxist-Leninist-Mao Tsetung Thought and from our independent work among the working class and other oppressed people. We must do this in order to help determine which forces and which lines can be united with in order to build a genuine Marxist-Leninist party and bring about the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Through our experience and our study of Marxism-Leninism, we have come to the conclusion that the RU’s line on party-building is revisionist and economist and does not lead toward proletarian revolution. . .

“The time has come for U.S. communists,” says RU in Red Papers 6, “to do some hard thinking and straight talking because there are tough decisions we have to make on how to build the revolutionary mass movement.” In literature, speeches and in conversations, RU hammers home its position that the task of communists in the mass movements consists of pointing out the links between various strikes and struggles in order to build the mass movement and the class-consciousness of the workers.

Our experience has been that by applying this line, RU cadre spend most of their time linking up strikes and other spontaneous struggles in a mechanical, shallow reformist fashion. They do not link up struggles to help point the way toward proletarian revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. These ideas are too “dogmatic” and “fossilized” for the American working class, according to the RU. By “class consciousness” the RU means a worker saying “right on” to one of their pre-packaged pablum chants, such as, “Nixon, you jerk, do some honest work” or “California workers say, we don’t want no 10-hour day.” These are progressive sentiments but should communists make this level of agitation their primary focus? We don’t think so. Communists in the mass movement should introduce the science of Marxism-Leninism and link up the communist movement with the workers’ movement, in order to build a genuine Marxist-Leninist communist party.

For us, this difference about the role of communists is at the heart of the party-building question. The RU has attempted to sidestep the issue in two ways: First, by claiming that ”linking up the various struggles” is taking Marxism-Leninism to the working class; and secondly, by focusing on incorrect aspects of the Communist League’s line and practice, in an attempt to take the spotlight away from their own position.

How can the RU “build the leadership of the proletariat in the united front against imperialism” without making available to the proletariat the science of Marxism-Leninism? How can any truly successful united front leading to proletarian revolution be firmly built without a vanguard party to establish the leading role of the proletariat and its ideology: Marxist-Leninist-Mao-Tsetung Thought. The working class is the only class capable of leading a successful proletarian revolution, because of its strategic position in society and its highly socialized nature; which enables it to grasp firmly and apply Marxism-Leninism better than any other class. In essence, the RU has put forth the line that Marxism-Leninism must be sneaked in the back door to the American working class.


How can the task of taking Marxism-Leninism to the working class be carried out concretely? As independent, partially-developed Marxist-Leninists, who for a time were led astray by the RU, we cannot yet give a full answer to this question. However, certain fundamental requirements stand out clearly.

A strong emphasis must be placed on the importance of worker’s study circles. (Our experience with the RU has been that study was and is at the bottom of their priorities.) A program for bringing Marxism-Leninism to the working class must include a strong commitment to the development of cadre, for how can a cadre introduce Marxism-Leninism to anyone if he or she does not yet firmly grasp it?

Propaganda and agitational literature also play a most important part in any program. Propaganda should be putting forward advanced theory and ideological struggle to attract and develop the advanced and intermediate forces. Agitation focuses on particular issues and lessons that are being put forward within propaganda. Agitational literature must introduce the fundamental aspects of Marxism-Leninism to the working class and other progressive forces in a lively, understandable way, linking them up with the spontaneous struggle.

Taking these ideas to the working class is initially more difficult (because of anticommunist sentiment instilled through bourgeois control of culture and the media) but they are more profound and necessary than RU’s economist slogans, such as “Unite to Fight Back,” ”Stand up for our families, our jobs and our rights,” etc.

Any program must include locating the advanced elements of the proletariat, involving them in the ideological and practical task of building the party. The following is RU’s definition of an advanced worker, as summed up by Bob Avakian in his September 1973 speech at the Guardian forum:

“In our opinion, the really advanced worker is ’the one who has the respect of fellow workers, to whom they come when they are in trouble and need to discuss their problems, whom they rally around when they face a collective problem, (and this is most important and the essence of it) those who provide leadership in struggle.’” According to the Red Papers 5 an advanced worker can even be anticommunist. Now this is a very new idea. The term “advanced worker” was used and defined very specifically by Lenin in “Retrograde Trend in Russian Social Democracy:”

“Every working-class movement brings (the advanced workers) to the fore, those who can win the confidence of the laboring masses, who devote themselves entirely to the education and organization of the proletariat, who accept socialism consciously, and who even elaborate independent socialist theories. . .who, despite their wretched living conditions, despite the stultifying penal servitude of factory labor, possess so much character and will power that they study, study, study and turn themselves into conscious Social-Democrats—’the working class intelligentsia.’ This ’working class intelligentsia’ already exists in Russia, and we must make every effort to ensure that its ranks are regularly reinforced, that its lofty mental requirements are met and that leaders of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor party come from its ranks?”

Why did the RU make such a drastic change in the definition of advanced workers, changing them from ”conscious social-democrats” to basically good shop stewards? What does this change illustrate about their theory and practice?


Amazingly enough, in its written material the RU doesn’t even bother (as far as we have been able to tell) to offer an explanation for this basic change. From verbal conversations, we gather the main reasons were that the RU didn’t really think there were workers in the U.S. who met Lenin’s definition and that there were very few workers who were even ready to be pushed in that direction. What an arrogant, class chauvinist stand!

Certainly it is true that in the 1960s there was not a large visible outcry from workers clamoring for Marxism-Leninism as was the case in Russia at the time “Retrograde Trend” was written. But we believe that the essence of Lenin’s writing still holds true. Communists do not create the mass movements. They do not create revolutionary fervor. They are not even the main force creating the conditions which make it possible to link up the various struggles of oppressed peoples and the working class. The grinding contradictions that exist under declining imperialism are producing these conditions, and these conditions are producing workers who are ready for Marxism-Leninism.

Communists should be working side-by-side with the proletariat, in an effort to advance the workers’ and their own understanding of the more than 100 years of Marxist-Leninist theory and practice. There were workers during the 1960s who considered themselves to be Marxists-Leninists, many of whom had passed through decades of struggle in the CPUSA. You would never guess this from reading Red Papers. Just as important, there were many, many workers who were open to learning about Marxism-Leninism, who could have been developed into advanced workers In Lenin’s sense of the word, hot just the shallow RU definition.

The RU tries to make it sound as if Lenin’s definition of an advanced worker would be an insult if applied to the American working class, since only a very small percentage of workers (if any, perhaps the RU would say) meet the lofty requirements.

But we say it is the RU who insults the working class with a definition that ignores the ability of the American working class to grasp Marxism-Leninism, and ignores the vital role advanced workers must play in the entire revolutionary process. It is these advanced workers, under the leadership of the party, who are capable of truly leading the masses toward socialism. (For that matter, it is primarily these workers who are capable of providing correct Marxist-Leninist leadership to the spontaneous struggles–since they are intimately familiar with conditions.)

According to the RU, people who understood that party-building was the central task facing Marxist-Leninists before May 1974 were, among other things, “divorcing theory from practice.” There were too many political lines running around, and the revolutionary forces were too inexperienced and isolated from the working class. Therefore, according to the RU, building for a party before 1974 would have led people into becoming sectarian armchair revolutionaries, locked away in a closet. They never put forward any other possibility. But now the RU says the magic moment is here to build a party.

We contend that RU is “bowing” to its critics while paying lip service to self-criticism. The May Revolution article “Build the New Party to Lead the Masses!” is one of the most opportunist pieces RU has ever written. Eight months earlier in September 1973, Avakian had insisted (in a Guardian forum) that RU’s line was “diametrically opposed to the line that says that the central task is party building.”

What criteria would we expect RU to discuss in explaining its change of line? We would expect to see concrete specifics on the successes in developing the intermediate organizations (which RU calls ”the key to building both the united front and the communist party as the leading force) in developing “advanced workers” in cadre, in uniting all that can be united around a minimum program, in building proletarian and third world leadership in an expanding united front.

What does the May article offer us? A few generalities on accumulating “a great deal of important experience” and “scoring significant victories and advances.” But we get no concrete discussion of these significant victories and advances, although in conversations with cadre and later documents, it becomes nauseatingly clear that the RU is trying to take credit for having successfully played a significant part in building the recent spontaneous upsurge in strikes. They do talk about difficulties of the present period, including this line in Red Papers 6:

“But objectively the mass movement has come up against the lack of a genuine communist vanguard to lead the struggle and build a united front under proletarian leadership to overthrow the enemy.”

Well! At last RU has seen where its line has led, we might say. But no, while presenting a sprinkling of vague self-criticism, RU maintains its line has been correct all along. And after RU builds a party (with whom?) in “this brief period ahead,” we can rest assured that “all the major tasks we have today” (as formulated by the RU) “will still be the major tasks.” Really nothing much will have changed, except that the RU will have declared itself a party.

We agree with the RU that if a group of intellectuals had gotten together in 1967 and, after only reading Russian and Chinese revolutionary classics and writing polemics back and forth, had declared themselves to be the vanguard party of the proletariat, this position certainly would have been an incorrect, bourgeois line. However, we are not convinced that 500 white, petit-bourgeois ex-students running around “building the mass movement” for seven years and then summing up their limited experience, provides much more of a base for a genuine Marxist-Leninist communist party.

The crucial importance of the party of the proletariat is emphasized throughout communist writings. For instance, Lenin says:

“The Marxists have a fundamentally different view (from that of liquidationists and anarchists–ed.) of the relation of the unorganized. . .masses to the party, to organization. It is to enable the mass of a definite class to learn to understand its own interests and its position, to learn to conduct its own policy, that there must be an organization of the advanced elements of the class, immediately and at all costs, even though at first these elements constitute only a tiny fraction of the class.”


In building the party, communists must not ignore the struggles being waged by the working class. They must energetically investigate conditions and influence them by taking part in and helping to lead struggles. How can they develop a correct analysis and platform and recruit advanced workers into their organization if they do not participate in struggles?

However, saying that participation in these struggles is a secondary aspect of party-building in no way contradicts maintaining a correct relationship between theory and practice. Party-building was not, is not now, and never can be solely a theoretical task, as the RU suggested in its undialectical, opportunist arguments against party-building. But to put forward as the RU has that the party will somehow grow out of “building the mass movement” is an idealist, economist attack on the science of Marxism-Leninism.

What does building a party require? It requires locating the advanced workers and uniting with them; learning together through study and practice to grasp firmly and wield the weapon of Marxism-Leninism, and sharing this knowledge with the masses through propaganda and agitation.

Building the party requires developing a profound, living analysis of all the present classes in society, of the nations and national minorities oppressed by U.S. monopoly capitalism and of the overall world situation. It requires developing a program for moving the working class and other oppressed people toward proletarian revolution. It requires intense ideological struggle to arrive at a correct line on all the burning issues facing the proletariat. It requires developing a democratic-centralist organization with iron-clad discipline, steeled in the science of Marxism-Leninism. All this and much more would have been and is now required to build a genuine, Marxist-Leninist communist party.