Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Irwin Silber

’...fan the flames’

First Published: The Guardian, May 22, 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The new communist movement has come to a turning point.

The question of party-building, debated in something of an abstract fashion heretofore, has now come to the fore.

A year ago, at the Guardian’s forum on “What Road to Building a New Communist Party?” significant differences simmered below an appearance of political unity between the participating groups. At the same time, the large audience to this discussion (1200 people) and the subsequent interest in the tapes and transcripts of the meeting, revealed the widely felt need for serious discussion on the question of bringing a new party into being.

In the following months, the differences among these groups–around the national question, strategy and tactics of the united front, work in the trade unions, the struggle for women’s emancipation–came out into the open. Inevitably, these ideological differences led to tactical clashes in various coalitions, competition between organizations for hegemony in areas of mass work, shifting and momentary alliances between different groups and a general heightening of contradictions within the Marxist-Leninist movement.

The revisionists, who were at first dismayed by the sudden surge of Marxist-Leninist forces and the enthusiasm their emergence generated, took new heart as they watched the mass work of the new communist organizations frequently get bogged down in inter-organizational rivalries and polemics.

Today, the fragile unity which seemed to be within the grasp of the young communist movement a year ago appears to be further away than ever. Relations between virtually all of the Marxist-Leninist organizations are strained and, as the Revolutionary Union (RU) points out in an important article in the May issue of its newspaper, Revolution, “at this point in the development of our movement, there is a certain amount of pessimism and demoralization.”


One significant development has been the shattering of the working alliance that existed a year ago between the RU, the Black Workers Congress (BWC), and the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization (PRRWO).

This alliance broke up over both ideological questions and also as a result of the different stages of development of the various organizations. The two crucial ideological issues were on party-building and the Afro-American national question. Differences in line also led to factional clashes, not only among these groups but with other organizations as well. Sharpest of all have been the differences between the RU and the October League (OL) leading to situations where achieving unity within coalitions even on the simplest tactical matters seemed to be virtually impossible.

In the wake of all this, it is hardly surprising that some Marxist-Leninists would become so disoriented that they fell victim to a pernicious form of sectarian dogmatism that is always standing in the wings ready to seize upon the mistakes and difficulties that develop in mass work. This dogmatism was articulated most elaborately by Charles Loren whose pamphlet, “The Struggle for the Party, Two Lines in the Movement,” advanced the idea that all mass work at this time was basically a form of economism and opportunism. According to Loren, building a new party is not only the central task of communists, it is virtually their sole task. Undismayed at the prospect of building a new communist party in isolation from the mass struggles of the people. Loren’s notion of party-building seems to consist essentially in extensive reading of (or at least quotations from) the Marxist-Leninist classics, interminable ideological polemics conducted in separation from the mass movement and verbal sallies against all who oppose this sectarianism as “bowing to spontaneity.”


Loren’s little diatribe might be dismissed as an exercise in self-promotion were it not for the fact that it articulates something more significant–an organizational form. That organization is the Communist League (CL), which is clearly aiming to transform a forthcoming congress (scheduled for September, 1974) into a “founding convention” for a new communist party.

To achieve this aim, CL in recent months has created a loose infrastructure which it calls the National Continuations Committee. Their purpose here is to provide a facade of ”breadth” from other organizations and a few “collectives” so that they can proclaim their new “party” with some show of participation beyond their own small ranks.

Ordinarily, such a move would die a-borning. But because the need for a new party is so widely felt and because there has been a certain demoralization due to the shortcomings and mistakes of such organizations as RU and OL, the Communist League has managed to make some headway with its plan.

This is not the place for a fully detailed analysis of what CL stands for, but for the moment, readers may judge for themselves the following positions of the organization:

–In the international struggle, their line is hardly distinguishable from Trotskyism; they oppose the concept of “the third world” and see the principal contradiction everywhere in the world between monopoly capitalism and socialism, rather than between oppressed peoples and nations and imperialism. In effect, they adopt the Trotskyist theory of “single-stage” revolution everywhere in the world.


–The CL proclaims the existence of a “Negro nation” in the south, a physical land mass all of whose inhabitants–whether white or Black–are Negroes. This projection of two separate nations in this form really adds up not just to “self-determination” but an endorsement of secession.

–The CL charges that the U.S. working class is “bribed” by imperialism, utterly distorting Lenin’s thesis on the labor aristocracy and the privileged sectors of the working class to develop an essentially defeatist view of the revolutionary capabilities of American workers.

A good example of CL practice was provided at the recent Conference of Black Trade Unionists where CL representatives put forward the line that the only important question to be discussed was the “dictatorship of the proletariat.”

This, is the kind of ideology and practice advanced by the Communist League. Naturally, its prospects for providing the foundations for a genuine Marxist-Leninist party are about as dismal as its narrow sectarianism. Nevertheless, precisely because of the political vacuum that has developed on the left, CL has found some room to maneuver and attract a few adherents.

In this connection, the article in the May Revolution is an encouraging development. In this article, the RU declares, “Our movement is coming to the end of one period–one characterized by the development of separate collectives and organizations working in relative isolation from one another–and entering a new period, a period in which the various revolutionary forces and individuals must come together to form a single vanguard Communist party that can lead the working class and the masses of people in general.”

The RU evaluates the recent period and concludes that the accumulation of experience in the mass movement, particularly with the working class at the point of production, has helped to bring the movement to this new stage. The RU also acknowledges that it had a tendency, while concentrating on participation in mass struggle, “to downplay the importance of the other major tasks, and the importance of building towards the party, in particular.”

In now advancing the idea that the creation of the new communist party “has become the central task of U.S. communists for a brief period ahead,” RU emphasizes the importance of continuing and developing the role of communists in the mass movement.

This statement by the RU (it should, of course, be read in full) is indeed heartening to communists. The Guardian, the OL and other groups have held for some time that party-building is the central task of communists today. The new position of RU means that a high level of unity has been achieved on this question in the new communist movement. As the largest of the new communist organizations, RU plays a key role in defining both the substance of the questions the new communist movement confronts and the tone with which it engages those questions. No matter what their political differences with RU may be, all communists must recognize that RU cadre have been spirited, militant and disciplined and that the organization has made a major contribution to the growth of the new communist movement. At the same time, in all candor, it must be said that at times RU has behaved as though it thought it was the new communist movement.

The principal ideological shortcoming of RU has been its narrow definition of the united front. It has often seen “middle forces” as the enemy and even treated potential allies as foes. At the same time, its devotion to exposing all aspects of revisionist influence in the left has been a positive one, although it has on occasion been indiscriminate with its characterizations. In this context, while the Guardian was in error in giving credence to the bourgeois press in its accounts of popular reaction to the SLA, the RU’s charge of “social pacifism” was in turn an over-response.


RU now projects the development of a draft program for a new communist program and adds, “In formulating a draft program (or programs), it will be necessary for the various revolutionary forces and individuals to sum up work together, hold discussions, and conduct tough, principled struggle with each other.” This explicit rejection of a go-it-alone path to the creation of a party is especially important in view of the current tactic of the Communist League to, in effect, impose the party from above.

The RU has taken a commendable initiative. It is, however, just a first step. It is important that other organizations and small collectives respond and make their views known. Clearly, the path to unity of the revolutionary forces is not an easy one–and should proceed both through public exchange of views and private meetings as well.

Likewise, unity for the sake of unity is insufficient. The ideological struggle in the coming period must go beyond the statement and restatement of organizational positions. There must be willingness not only to debate but to consider differing views in a fraternal manner.

RU points out that the pessimism and demoralization which has developed arc unfounded; that objective reality will demonstrate that for all the mistakes and difficulties of the left, the movement continues to grow and that “when all is said and done, it is not us, but the imperialists who are really in trouble.”

That’s a good starting point for the present discussion.