Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Irwin Silber, The Guardian

“What Road to Building a New Communist Party?”

First Published: The Guardian, April 4, 1973.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Following is the somewhat condensed text of the speech by Guardian executive editor Irwin Silber at the Guardian Forum in New York City March 23.

It is clear from the response to this meeting tonight that in posing the question, “What Road to Building a New Communist Party?,” we are considering the single most important question confronting left forces in the United States today.

For the Guardian, sponsorship of this forum represents an important stage in the crystallization of our own politics. In organizing this meeting here tonight, the Guardian has consciously committed itself not only to writing about a new communist party, but to playing an active role in its formation.

In saying this, we have no illusions about ourselves being the “founders” or “guiding mentors” of such a party. We know that our role must be a modest one and that our contribution to this process can only be made on the basis of close and comradely cooperation with Marxist-Leninist organizations involved in the day-to-day struggles of the working class and oppressed nationalities.

“What Road to Building a New Communist Party?” The significance of the question rests in the very way in which it is posed.


It was only a few years ago that the demanding question on the left was not “what road,” but whether the building of a communist party–new or old–was the correct strategy for revolution. When not ideological hysteria generously known as “counter-culture” held sway over the sensibilities of the left, those who upheld and advanced the need for a Leninist vanguard party of the working class had, at best, a tiny and shaky base.

From the vantage point of the more advanced consciousness of this moment, one looks back at the decade of the 1960s with respect for the spirit of militancy which characterized the two major mass struggles of the period–the near-insurrectionary struggle of black people against national oppression and the mass movement in opposition to U.S. aggression in Vietnam. At the same time, one must also be aware of the fundamental political weakness which characterized both of these struggles–namely, their almost complete reliance on a politics of spontaneity.

This spontaneity and its inevitable failure as a political strategy has its causes, however. As Marxists, we must understand what those causes were. First, there were objective causes in the predominantly petty bourgeois and student character of the antiwar movement. This was the underpinning of two equally negative developments:

(1) An elitist stance towards the working class by many of the most prominent forces in the antiwar movement who, all too often, seemed to be conducting their struggle against what they called “straight America” rather than against “imperialist America.” By arrogantly consigning the majority of the white sector of the working class to the camp of the reactionaries–quite unjustly, let us add, since it is clear that sentiment against the war had a consistent class base from the very beginning–these forces frequently struck a pose of martyrdom while avoiding the arduous and unglamorous task of mass organizing.

(2) Likewise stemming from its class base, the antiwar movement never successfully linked the struggle against the war in Indochina with the struggle against racism and the system of white supremacy at home. True, it often employed the rhetoric of anti-racism, but in concrete terms it was never able to forge the kind of alliance with the oppressed nationalities that could have provided the basis for merging and unifying the two major mass: popular struggles of the 1960s.

But this was largely the result of objective factors, historically determined. I would also suggest that a related factor, not to be underestimated, was the conscious infiltration of ruling class agents into the mass movements with the prime purpose of encouraging the nihilistic tendencies of the movement and to prevent any tendency towards a conjunction of the two main mass struggles.


But there were also subjective factors at work–and this leads us to the very heart of this discussion. For the political vacuum which made it not only possible, but inevitable, for the momentarily radicalized petty bourgeois forces to win leadership of the left in the 1960s stemmed from the abysmal failure of the left parties to provide revolutionary leadership–or, at least guidance–to the movement.

First of all, we are talking about the failure of the Communist party which, throughout this whole period, consistently tailed after the weakest and most class collaborationist forces in the antiwar movement. We also mean the blatant opportunism of the Socialist Workers party which, parasite-like, leeched onto the discontent of the masses; the splitting strategy of Progressive Labor which combined racism with opportunist economism to divide anti-imperialist forces: the hopeless sectarianism of other pseudo-Marxist tendencies ranging from the adventurism of Weatherman to the sundry Trotskyist sects who seemed to be more concerned with the so-called “Stalinist” leadership of the Vietnamese liberation struggle than with U.S. imperialism.

This, in brief, was the self-designated “Marxist-Leninist” left of the 1960s.

With models such as these as an alternative, is it any wonder that spontaneity– rather than politics–was in command?

That is why our question is posed as: “What road to building a new communist party?” Because while one party exists using the name Communist and while other parties say that they are communist parties, the fact is: there is no Communist party today in the very heartland of the world imperialist system. Neither the Guardian nor any of the other organizations represented here tonight have arbitrarily invented this question. The need for a new communist party in the U.S. flows out of the objective conditions of the class struggle, the struggle of the oppressed nationalities for an end to the whole system of white supremacy and all forms of national and class oppression, the struggle of women not only for their just democratic rights, but for full and complete emancipation–and the political bankruptcy of all existing parties that presume to address these fundamental questions.


There is another word in our question, “What road to building a new communist party?,” that is worth focusing on for a moment. That is the word “building,” For we are not talking about bringing into being still one more tiny sect of ideologues with an elaborate critique of the failures of all other tendencies, the repetition of which seems to constitute their primary form of activity.

Building a communist party does not consist in the sudden discovery of historical destiny and the hasty convocation of a founding convention. It is a process which is, at all times fundamentally related to mass work and which cannot be separated from the daily struggles of the working class and the oppressed nationalities.

And so, in considering the road to building a new communist party, I believe that the answer is to be found in knowing what kind of party must be built.

The new communist party must be a party of revolutionary theory. This means concretely that it will be based on the principles of scientific socialism first articulated by Karl Marx and Frederic Engels–in particular the theories of dialectical and historical materialism, the analysis of society in terms of the struggle between classes, the analysis of the bourgeois epoch in terms of the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat and the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

A party of revolutionary theory bases itself upon Lenin’s analysis of imperialism as the inevitable outgrowth of capitalism in its final, moribund stage; and also on the general principles for the building of a proletarian revolutionary party. A party of revolutionary theory incorporates Stalin’s analysis of the national question and recognizes that the struggle against Trotsky and Bukharin were historic defenses of the dictatorship of the proletariat and Marxist-Leninist theory. A party of revolutionary theory incorporates the enormous contributions of Mao Tsetung to, the general theory of dialectics, to the development of revolutionary strategy, the application of the mass line and the nature of the continuing class struggle during the period of socialist construction. In particular, the lessons to be learned from the great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the theoretical analysis of modern revisionism have raised international revolutionary consciousness to a new level.

A party of revolutionary theory rejects the idea that the international class struggle has been reduced to a form of competitive peaceful coexistence between rival advertising agencies in which imperialism will die of mortification because some so-called socialist country may someday produce a better dish-washing machine.


A party of revolutionary theory rejects the class-collaborationist idea that the road to socialism in the U.S. is through an anti-monopoly coalition which includes the so-called “liberal bourgeoisie.” A party of revolutionary theory believes that this revisionist thesis is the revival in only slightly altered form of the Kautsky conception that imperialism, far from being a system which is the inexorable outgrowth of capitalism, is only the policy of one sector of the ruling class leading to the totally idealist premise that an alliance can be made with the “liberal,” “non-imperialist” section of the bourgeoisie. A party of revolutionary theory rejects the illusion that a peaceful transition will be made from capitalism to socialism. It considers such a view as harmful to the working class which must prepare itself for mass, armed struggle against its class enemy.

A party of revolutionary theory rejects the discredited views of Trotsky and his various followers who historically have reflected the emergence of petty bourgeois ideology in the working class movement and who have deservedly earned their reputation as supporters of socialism everywhere in the world except where it exists.

A party of revolutionary theory rejects the Trotskyist theses which pay lip-service to the principles of the dictatorship of the proletariat and democratic centralism while opposing them in practice.

A party of revolutionary theory rejects the Trotskyist premise of “permanent revolution” as a mask for what is in essence permanent petty bourgeois opposition to the construction of socialism.

A party of revolutionary theory rejects the various anarchist, economist, “new working class,” American exceptionalist theories which in the guise of being “new,” “creative,” “up-to-date” extensions of Marxist analysis are fundamentally distortions of Marxism-Leninism which nave nothing in common with the task of developing a class analysis of the U.S. based on a concrete investigation into reality from a revolutionary working class point of view.


The new communist party must be a party of revolutionary practice. Our task, as Marx said, is not to “interpret” the world, but to change it.

A party of revolutionary practice bases itself on the principles of democratic centralism–meaning majority rule, discipline, and party unity.

A party of revolutionary practice employs the tool of criticism and self-criticism as a means for the improvement of work by both leadership and rank-and-file.

A party of revolutionary practice recognizes and values the role of leadership.

A party of revolutionary practice roots itself in mass work–in particular the struggles of the working class and the oppressed nationalities and the general struggle for democratic rights and needs of the people.

A party of revolutionary practice sees the building of the united front against imperialism as the central strategic political task–an undertaking which will be advanced by the coming into being of a new communist party.

A party of revolutionary practice at all times represents the long-range interests of the working class as a whole and struggles against the class-collaborationist policies of the trade union bureaucracy, the reactionary and racist attitudes of the labor – aristocracy and revisionist opportunism.

A party of revolutionary practice is ever wary of the dangers of ultra-left adventurism and sectarian dogmatism and understands that the struggle to develop and implement the mass line of the party is the critical testing ground for revolutionary theory.

The new communist party must be a party that is both rooted in the working class and which, no matter what the class origins of its members, at all times upholds the interests of the working class as a whole and speaks for its most advanced sectors.

The new communist party must be a multi-national party firmly based among the most advanced sectors of the oppressed nationalities as well as the working class as a whole. It recognizes that in the U.S. today it is the black worker who stands at the center of the class struggle and the struggle against national oppression and that building the party within the black proletariat and in the working class of the other oppressed nationalities is a primary task of the party.

The new communist party must be a party of proletarian internationalism–a task which becomes particularly crucial in view of its strategic location in the heartland of world imperialism.

In advancing this traditional precept of the world revolutionary movement, let us be especially aware of the historic tendencies toward American exceptionalism and national chauvinism which have infected the U.S. left in the past. Many people lay great emphasis on the need for an American party. Well, of course that is correct. The lesson of every revolution is that it is based upon the most concrete analysis of the specific conditions in any country and that the revolutionary movement grows out of the concrete conditions of struggle. Likewise, the revolutionary movement is shaped, culturally, by the national characteristics of any people.

But some of those who emphasize this point mean more than that.


Are we going to have an American revolution? Yes, bat we are not going to have a red-white-and-blue revolution. There is a kind of self-red baiting that has had a pernicious influence in the left before. Bourgeois patriotism, jingoism and national chauvinism are part of the cultural paraphernalia with which the U.S. working class is held prisoner. Communists must not mistake the surface “patriotism” of sectors of the working class for anything more substantial than the momentary phenomenon it is. More than 30 years ago, Aunt Molly Jackson of Harlan County, Kentucky, a coal miner’s wife, wrote the following in one of her most famous songs: The bosses ride the big white horse While we walk in the mud; Their flag’s the old red, white and blue While ours is dipped in blood. Aunt Molly Jackson knew that the American flag was a class emblem–the banner of the bourgeoisie. And she knew that the flag of the working class was red, dipped in blood.

There is an American revolutionary tradition–and I don’t mean the revolution whose 200th anniversary Richard Nixon is preparing to turn into a monument of national jingoism. That was a bourgeois revolution and in its time it was progressive. But I am speaking of the revolutionary tradition of Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman and John Brown who dared to struggle on behalf of the most oppressed; of Tecumseh and Sitting Bull who struggled against the wildfire of American genocidal expansionism; of the Molly Maguires and the Haymarket martyrs, of the IWW and the striking Ludlow miners who picked up guns to fight off John D. Rockefeller’s coal company police; of 10,000 blacks lynched–“legally” and illegally–who were murdered for showing a spark of resistance. One could go on and on, for the revolutionary traditions of this country are real and it is to these that a new communist party must address itself in helping the American working class learn its own history.


Finally, the new communist party must be a serious party. Let us recognize that the creation of a communist party is nothing less than a declaration of war against the entire imperialist system. Our business with the ruling class is a serious business that will not end until we or they have been destroyed.

Our concern with building a communist party is no passing passion. It is a long-term commitment to a struggle in which there will be setbacks as well as victories, losses as well as gains. Some–many, perhaps– will die. And there is no guarantee that any sitting here tonight will be in at the finish.

It is precisely because this is a serious matter that the deliberateness with which this task has been confronted is appropriate.

Equally welcome is the modesty and spirit of comradeship which has become a characteristic of the developing Marxist-Leninist forces.

Great difficulties lie ahead–even in completing the task of building a new communist party. There are outstanding questions remaining to be resolved: which comes first–the building of the united front or the building of a party?; a precise analysis of the national question; what is the correct strategy for work in the trade unions?; the need for a class analysis of the struggle for women’s emancipation. Many of these questions will ultimately be resolved not in theoretical debate but in life.

But the process is under way and it is irreversible.

In 1848, Marx and Engels wrote at the conclusion of the Communist Manifesto: “The communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a communistic revolution.”

With this discussion here tonight we, too, are saying that we disdain to conceal our views and aims. Let the ruling class of U.S. imperialism tremble. The spectre of communism is here. We are determined to build the new communist party.