Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

October League (M-L)

Revolutionary Union: Opportunism in a “Super-Revolutionary” Disguise

Selected Articles from The Call


PART 1: Communist Tasks in the Trade Unions

We suppose the Revolutionary Union (RU) thought they could dismiss the October League simply by printing 11 pages of denunciations of our work and labeling us “revisionists,” “opportunists,” etc. ... (Aug. 1974 Revolution – “October League: A Cover for Revisionism”). But simply saying it doesn’t make it so. The RU article is a barrage, assembled by RU’s best from around the country, and mixing bits and pieces of half-truths, rumor-mongering, and out-and-out lies.

It is only one of many recent attacks on the October League from such diverse groups as RU, the Communist League, Spartacist League, Communist Party, etc. ... These are signs of OL’s growing influence and rapid growth as well as our involvement in the struggles of the people. We refuse to get diverted by such attacks, but instead take the dual approach of 1) trying to learn from them in order to improve our work, and 2) using them to better understand the class outlooks of the various groups attacking us so viciously.

In the case of the RU article in Revolution, we are left with the feeling that this was written mainly for RU’s own members, to reassure them in a situation where RU is wracked with sharp internal divisions and splits, especially from the dwindling ranks of their national minority members. The past few months have seen leading members of that organization leaving, often discouraged and sometimes angered at what they have called, “RU’s increased sectarianism and deep-rooted white chauvinism.” (See Paper by Earl Rose, former member of RU’s Central Committee on leaving RU). Their closest allies of a few months ago such as Black Workers Congress and Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization have openly denounced them as “white chauvinists,” and “Progressive Labor Party Reborn” (PL is an organization which at one time claimed to be Maoist, but was soon exposed as a gang of white chauvinists and police agents).

It is not surprising then that the RU leadership would try and direct the heat away from themselves with this kind of tirade, not just against OL, but against all the other forces that make up the young communist movement in the U.S. It is RU’s way of spreading confusion and discouragement in the ranks. By themselves, these sectarian attacks which view everyone outside the RU as one reactionary mass and are based on the one tactic of “ruthless struggle and merciless blows,” expose the fact that RU has never been interested in building communist unity and a new party, but have seen themselves from the very beginning as “the only Marxist-Leninists.” This accounts for a polemical style which is not fundamentally different from the Trotskyists such as the Spartacist League and others who polemicize with each other, not in the Marxist fashion of trying to seek truth from facts, but rather in phrasemongering attacks which they hope will bury their “opposition.”

But these tactics will not bury us. Through them we are able to distinguish that much better between the two lines, the two roads, and the different class outlooks working within the ranks of the communist movement. This will make us better communists.

The RU attacks have put more light on their own line, which is characterized by “leftism” in its form but rightism (or reformism) in essence. The “leftism” is seen in RU’s policies towards the United Front Against Imperialism which is our general line towards the revolution today. The United Front is a line of uniting all that can be united against the imperialists and their aggressive, fascist policies and, within that united front movement, developing the leadership of the working class in every area. Maintaining its independence and initiative, of course, requires that the working class have its own organizations and, most importantly, its own party – a Marxist-Leninist party which at this time does not exist. Building such a party constitutes the central task of all Marxist-Leninists at the present time.

But even in the absence of such a party, the various communist groups are responsible for carrying out widespread organizing work among the masses in their day to day struggle against exploitation and oppression, and in doing so, to carry on the broadest education among the people (not just the left) in the spirit of socialism and revolution.

RU has in practice abandoned the work of forging this United Front and has in recent months relegated itself to sloganeering and sectarian splitting within the left movement. They have given up the effort to build the broad unity necessary to take on the present assault on the people’s livelihood being waged by the ruling class. Instead of carrying out a policy of uniting all who can be united, the RU is developing the sectarian policy of RU vs. the big reactionary mass. Aside from failing to consolidate its own advanced forces, it is also pursuing a policy of driving the middle forces into the ranks of the enemy and failing to use contradictions in the enemies’ camp – just the opposite of the revolutionary Marxist-Leninist line. Mao Tsetung most clearly stated this general line in his writings on “Problems of Tactics in the United Front.”

The tactics required for this purpose are to develop the progressive forces, win over the middle forces and combat the die-hard forces – these are three inseparable links ...”

The Revolution article attempts to make use of some of OL’s errors in our mass work (which we shall deal with later) in order to paint the OL as “revisionist” (exactly the same as the CPUSA). But the real contribution of their article is that it fully exposes the RU’s anti-united front stand, even to the point of making some backhanded attacks on the People’s Republic of China and its foreign policy. This line which has a “left” appearance, is really right in essence, because it abandons the masses to the leadership and influence of the reformists and opportunist trade union and civil rights leaders, and fails to break the middle forces from their influence.

UNITED FRONT IN LABOR WORK

The first example we can see is RU’s attack on OL’s trade union work, which over the last two years has become stronger and deeply rooted among the industrial workers. RU claims:

... OL’s strategy for building the workers’ movement calls for uniting with one section of the trade union bureaucracy against another section – the ’progressive section’ against the reactionary section. (page 12)

First of all we would like to plead guilty to the charge. To unite with the progressive section of the labor leadership against the reactionaries has always been the Marxist-Leninist approach. This is exactly the course we have taken in the past, on such fronts as the defense of the United Farm Workers in their fight against the scab Teamster leadership, and within the United Mine Workers Union, where the more progressive and democratic sections, headed by Arnold Miller, fought for and won leadership from the reactionary Tony Boyle machine. Both such struggles and such unity are certainly in the interests of the revolutionary movement of the working class. Making good use of such contradictions within the labor leadership is definitely an important part of communist strategy.

It is true, of course, that such alliances carry with them great dangers. If the communists dropped their vigilance and gave up their own independence, such an alliance could be dominated by reformists who would then turn on the revolutionary forces when they were strong enough. This is exactly what the CPUSA did under the leadership of the Browder revisionists when they gave up their leadership after leading in the building of the United Auto Workers Union in 1937, and, in fact, the entire CIO. This is also the policy of the modern revisionists today, who toddle behind the Woodcock UAW leadership and others of his type.

But is this kind of capitulation inevitable within the united front? Does this danger prevent us from uniting with forces in the mass movements of the people who are progressive against the reactionary die-hards? RU says,

“Yes!” Why? The Revolution article explains when speaking of such alliances:

This too, ultimately comes down to relying on the labor bureaucracy as a whole, and also the bourgeoisie because it controls the labor bureaucracy.”

And here lies the heart of RU’s logic. To “unite” to the RU, ultimately comes down to “relying on” the progressive elements in the unions. This same logic is also applied to the petty bourgeois sections of the Black liberation struggle, the women’s movement, the Dump Nixon movement, etc.... Its practical implications are that RU, while paying lip service to the united front, actually becomes the splitter and wrecker of every actual effort to build such a front. They confuse “uniting” with “relying on,” and therefore oppose unity with non-proletarian forces in principle.

RU does make a concession to the unity of the working class:

“Sometimes it is correct,” says the Revolution article, “to unite with trade union officials, depending on the particular conditions, sometimes, it isn’t. But uniting with trade union officials no matter how ’progressive’ can never be the basis of a revolutionary strategy.

Here we have a good example of RU’s clever tricks in covering their rear. They concede that it may be necessary to unite with this or that official. Very well. But then they say this is not the “basis of a revolutionary strategy.” Obviously the attempt here is to make it seem that the strategy of the communists is to have the rank and file of the working class take on the bourgeoisie alone and that every section of every other class and strata is one reactionary mass which does not have to be united with strategically.

Is this a communist strategy? No way! Stalin defined strategy in “Foundations of Leninism”, in the following way:

Strategy is the determination of the direction of the main blow of the proletariat at a given stage of the revolution, the elaboration of a corresponding plan for the disposition of the revolutionary forces (main and secondary reserves), the fight to carry out this plan throughout the given stage of the revolution.

RU is claiming that the progressive sections of the union leaders are not included in the “disposition of the revolutionary forces (main and secondary reserves).” To them, all the various rifts within the various sections of the labor movement are only minutely important and only then in terms of uniting with a few individuals when they are forced to unite with us.

But what is it that will make certain reformist forces within the labor movement and the movements of nationally oppressed peoples unite with us? It is our deep ties among the masses gained through years of patient work, and our position as unifiers and leading fighters for the day to day interests as well as the long-term interests of the class.

The RU article likes to speak of “critical support” rather than “100 per cent support” but this too is a false issue. All support the working class and its leadership gives to other classes and other organizations and forces is always conditional. At the same time, this doesn’t mean struggle is carried out simply through the communists maintaining their “pure” slogans. As anyone fighting the reactionaries in the union leadership knows, struggle must be waged in a protracted way, with caution and restraint and in accordance with the understanding of the masses of workers, even the middle and backward workers. RU claims in the article that:

We did give critical support to the Miller slate (referring to the UMW’s Arnold Miller campaign against the Boyle reactionaries ed ) while at the same time emphasizing that the rank and file should keep the initiative in their own hands and continue to jam the union and not rely on it.” (page 15) (“Jam” is slang for putting the organization “up against the wall” – ed).

There are two things that stand out in this statement. The first is that the RU is not telling the truth. They never lifted a finger within the Miners for Democracy Movement, which attracted support from the broadest sections of the miners. Their “critical support” the tiny bit there was, was limited to articles in their paper, lecturing the workers in the heat of the anti-Boyle struggle, that Miller, whom RU labelled as a “social-fascist”, was bound to betray them. This “crystal ball” method of education has left the RU isolated from the workers in every struggle where it has been carried out. They are doing the same type of splitting activities within the United Farm Workers Union. Rather than helping to build the union in opposition to the fascist assault that made this the key labor struggle in the country, the RU has again given its so-called “critical support” in the sense of building COUNTER-ORGANIZATIONS and holding COUNTER-RALLIES to those built by the UFW.

“JAMMING” A NON-MARXIST APPROACH

The second point that stands out in the above statement by RU is their strategy of “JAMMING THE UNIONS.” It is true that struggle must be waged when even the progressive elements within the union leadership take stands counter to the interests of the rank and file. This is the case presently in the UFW, where the Chavez leadership has pushed their policy of turning in “illegal” Mexican workers to the immigration police and in the UMW where Miller has wavered on the recent 10-day memorial work stoppage. (See July CALL)

But this can never mean “jamming the union” The workers do have to rely on the union as the BASIC ORGANIZATION of the workers. RU’s antiunion line comes out strongly in their article. The RU’s view, like so many ultra-“leftists” and anarchists before them, is that the unions are reactionary organizations and as the revolutionary struggle heightens, rather than moving the unions to the left, the advanced workers will leave them. Their policy is to build pure REVOLUTIONARY WORKERS’ ORGANIZATIONS in place of the trade unions.

J.V. Stalin, summing up the Leninist view of work in the trade unions wrote the following: “Hence it follows from what Lenin says that political agreements, political blocs between Communists and reactionary leaders of the working class are quite possible and permissible...”

But why are such agreements necessary at all?

In order to gain access to the working-class masses, in order to enlighten them as to the reactionary character of their political and trade union leaders, in order to sever from the reactionary leaders the sections of the working class that are moving to the Left and becoming revolutionized, in order, consequently, to enhance the fighting ability of the working class as a whole. (Stalin, “The Anglo-Russian Unity Committee”)

In another work, Stalin writes: “Whether good or bad, it is a fact that the non-party workers...regard the trade unions as their principal strongholds, which help them in their struggle against the capitalists...That explains the fact that the broad masses of the workers regard the direct struggle waged against the present trade unions from the outside by the ’ultra-lefts’ as a struggle against their principal strongholds, which took them decades to build and which the ’Communists’ now want to destroy. Failure to take this specific feature into account means wrecking the entire communist movement in the West.” (Stalin, Letter to Comrade ME-RT, 1925)

The unions are not simply defensive organizations either, as RU pictures them, but must be organizations that as Marx said, “far from being narrow and selfish, aim at the emancipation of the downtrodden millions.” (Marx, “Instructions for the Delegates of the Provisional General Council”)

UNIONS MUST BE BUILT UP

To accomplish this aim of making the unions into organizations which fight for the complete emancipation of the working people, the most protracted struggle must be waged inside of them to build them up-not to “jam them.” This will take a very complicated effort with many twists and turns and will include alliances with various sections of the labor movement. If RU feels that such compromises and alliances will stain their purity, that’s too bad. But they will end up isolated from the workers as they are at present, leaving them under the influence of the labor aristocrats. This is why we say RU’s line is RIGHT in essence. This is why after all their bragging about how they were the “saviors” of the Farah workers, they are isolated in El Paso and have not been able to carry out any independent communist education among the workers and are viewed as chauvinists for their downplaying of the Chicano national question.

While RU has much to say against our support of Sadlowski in the Dist. 31 elections of the United Steel Workers campaign, they can’t understand or refuse to comment on our positive work in building up the rank-and-file movement against Abel and his no-strike (ENA) policies which they have had no role in except for standing on the sidelines or trying to disrupt. They have said nothing about the mass movement of workers that has been built with our efforts and others to stand up and fight against the so-called “Consent Decree” which is a racist company-government trick on the workers. They don’t dare speak of the thousands of workers who were brought by the UAW Brotherhood Caucus for the first time into political activity, by communists in the country’s largest rank-and-file caucus struggle. As usual they stand on the sidelines hoping that these struggles will fail so they can point at everyone’s errors but their own.

They don’t mention these things because it would show in fact who is and who is not building up the independent organization and action of the rank and file against the labor hacks. Many of the errors in our own work of building these struggles are constantly being examined by our comrades. For example, at the time OL people first began to work at the GM Fremont plant and first began to initiate work around the Brotherhood Caucus, their immediate tendency was to do just what the RU does. Rather than digging in to fight within the union and do the slow difficult work of mobilizing the working class through struggle, some comrades were interested only in publishing our own paper and recruiting a few workers quickly, when this wasn’t in accord with the conditions of the struggle inside the plant.

We in the OL have spent the past two years waging a fierce battle within our own ranks against the petty bourgeois sectarianism and phony “leftism” that now characterizes the RU. Coming off of this struggle we have also made rightist errors. This was especially true when the level of struggle was high and the masses were mobilized. Our comrades, who for the most part were young and inexperienced, were at times swept up into the spontaneity of the trade union struggle.

But despite the errors that were made, the overall work was good and it showed in the respect these comrades won from the workers in the plant and the very real gains that were made in building organization there. Victories were won against the company and communist education was carried out through propaganda and study-group work. It was far better that they made those kind of mistakes than the RU kind, of not lifting a finger to build the Brotherhood and then opportunistically sloganeering and criticizing.

In conclusion we must not fail to see the importance of the trade union question in our party-building efforts. Especially in advanced industrial countries like the U.S., where the imperialists rely heavily on their influence within the trade unions in order to maintain their domination over the workers, communists must not skip over this question.

While the main form of opportunism we find within the union movement is that of class collaboration and the reformism associated with the labor bureaucracy and the CPUSA, we must also strike a blow at “left-wing” opportunism. Historically, the ultra-“left” approach to the trade unions was fought by Lenin and Stalin, and in the United States, a sharp struggle to eradicate “dual unionism” was waged by William Z. Foster and others in the revolutionary period of the CPUSA. Today, this form of opportunism has cropped up again and represents a threat to the ability of the young communist movement to root itself deeply in the workers’ struggle. This is why it hampers the building of a new genuine communist party, and why the political line of groups like the RU must be criticized and rectified.

(First published in THE CALL, September, 1974)