Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Charles Loren

Reply to Davidson on party-building

First Published: The Guardian, April 24, 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The following contribution to the Radical Forum is from Charles Loren, author of the booklet, “Struggle for the Party; Two Lines in the Movement.” Loren answers Carl Davidson’s criticism of the work in the March 6 Guardian. Davidson’s thesis was that the principal task of building a new communist party should not be taken up in isolation from mass practice.

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“The Struggle for the Party. Two Lines in the Movement,” was criticized by Carl Davidson’s column (“Which Side Are You On?” Guardian, March 6). For those who have not seen the book, may I point out some of Davidson’s misstatements?

The book exposes the anti-party opportunists, who are saying that the way to form the party is to engage in the reform struggles of the day. Davidson tries to change the question to shall we engage in daily struggle or not? By selective quotation, he then tries to have me appear to be opposed to engagement in reform struggles. Supposedly, the book advocates a stage theory in which participation in such struggles is put off, given last priority, and finally, not done.

Of course, the book does not oppose engagement in struggle. A whole chapter (the fourth) is devoted to offering some concrete aid in this endeavor. I also wrote:

“Applying Marxism-Leninism is something which every communist must learn by doing. . . . Normally, the career of a communist in this respect passes through three phases. First, the militant from a particular struggle becomes involved in the communist movement. Second, a passion to master the basics of Marxism-Leninism dominates him. . . . But the communist cannot remain in this phase and only conduct agitation and propaganda. Third, he must return to the struggle, where he will be engaged in a lifelong process of learning from events while striving to return periodically to the basics of the science. He will find them enriched by his experience each time.”

Davidson’s attempt to substitute his question–pro-struggle or anti-struggle–fails. Let us return to the original question: is the way to form a party to engage in the reform struggles of the day? Davidson quoted the book. “A party, the opportunists tell us, cannot be formed until revolutionaries go out to the masses and join them in current struggles.” But Davidson omitted the next sentence: “These current struggles are of an economic or other limited, reformist character.” For while we believe in engagement in such struggles, we know that the party–the class-conscious part of the working class–does not arise spontaneously from such activity. The book goes over this point from many aspects–the evidence in the words and deeds of the anti-party opportunists, the pragmatic philosophy underlying such bowing to spontaneity, the history of party formation, the theory of Lenin, etc.


With all his allusions, Davidson evades or denies this point: that the party embodies Marxism-Leninism and integrates it with the entire working class; the party does not arise out of the spontaneous struggle. The book goes on to give the evidence that actually the anti-party opportunists oppose the formation of the new and genuine communist Party and sabotage the spread of Marxist-Leninist theory.

There is a third question which Davidson’s column raises by its absence. Namely, how shall we, as communists, work in mass movements? The anti-party opportunists advocate and practice non-revolutionary modes of participation in mass movements. Which leads the movement–Marxism-Leninism or bourgeois ideology? By attempting to suppress this issue, the anti-party opportunists participate in movements not as communists (class-conscious workers) but as peddlers of “non-class” lines or other forms of bourgeois ideology. Many examples, from the antiwar, anti-racist and other movements are given in the book.

To put it in the language of the day, Davidson and the anti-party opportunists are guilty of the following:
1. They have tried to say we are opposed to the united front (activity and alliances in current struggles).
2. They have tried to block party-building by substituting, as the road to party building, the united front.
3. In united front work itself, they have tried to evade the central question–what class and what world outlook leads?

Davidson says that the book derides base-building: “integrating with the masses amounts to ’learning an easy manner.’” Of course, the book criticizes the anti-party opportunists’ anti-Marxist style of base-building: “The sole and primary way to serve the working class, you see, is to know the worker at the next station in the shop. True, if he should become seriously interested in the struggle of his class, he will want you to be more than a pleasant fellow and a hard worker in the caucus. He will want to know the general theory of the struggle of the proletariat. But you will have nothing to contribute, because of neglect of all history and of the laws of motion of society distilled from human experience by the great theoreticians. At least you and he can feel fraternal in ignorance.”


Davidson began his attack by writing: “An important achievement of the new communist movement in the past several years has been its transition from student-oriented propaganda circles to agitational work in the mass movements.” This is a typical economist line: Necessarily and regretfully, students had to be allowed access to Marxist-Leninist theory (propaganda) but the workers, who are in the mass movements, must be given only slogans (agitation). And Mensheviks can thus escape all Marxist-Leninist theory–truly an “important achievement”! Who is truly “arrogant”? Who is saying that workers do not need or wart to become class-conscious?

In making up his topsy-turvy picture of the book, Davidson took all his extended quotations from the first 13 pages of a 96-page book. He quotes no specific criticisms of the Revolutionary Union, the October League and the Guardian. May I suggest that Guardian readers read the whole book? To enable them to do so, Davidson might have followed the usual review practice of giving the details of the book: Cardinal Publishers, Box 207, Davis, Calif., 95616, $1.95.