Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Mary Wexler

Building the Factory Cell

A Party unit’s work sum-up


First Published: Class Struggle, No. 8, Fall 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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With the recent founding of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist), it is important to clarify and deepen our understanding of building factory cells. The constitution of the CP(M-L) states clearly that the Party “bases itself primarily at the point of production, through the factory cell,”[1] and later, “the Party cells, and principally the factory cells, are the foundation of the Party organization.”[2] However, an ongoing struggle must be waged to make the new Party’s factory cells grow in number and strength.

The October League (Marxist-Leninist), which recently united with other organizations to form the CP(M-L), was primarily based in the factories. The experience of one of its factory cells, formed two years ago in a medium-sized plant in heavy industry, can show by concrete practice the struggles involved in building the Party in this way.

When this cell was formed, it was first necessary for the cadre to understand why they were there and what their tasks were in the present period. Basing the Party in the factories is a Marxist-Leninist principle. The proletariat is the only thoroughly revolutionary class in history. It is the only class capable of overthrowing the brutal, decaying rule of the bourgeoisie and reconstructing society along socialist lines. It is destined to do this because its place at the point of socialized production enables it to grasp most clearly the fundamental contradiction within the capitalist system. It is in the factories, mills, and mines that the social production of the proletariat rises in sharp contradiction to the private ownership of the tiny capitalist class. It is here that the organizational base for the proletariat’s armed insurrection can and must be situated.

Today, however, the basic organizations of the workers in the factory, the trade unions, are controlled by revisionist and reformist misleaders who work as agents for the capitalists. The Party must lead the struggle to drive out these misleaders and win the broad masses of workers in the trade unions to the struggle for socialism.

The cell is the Party’s link to the masses. In this period, we are still building our Party, placing it firmly on its feet, and rooting it among the masses. This means we are mainly in a period of revolutionary education of the masses. We combine this education with mass action against the system in order to prepare for the upcoming period of mass revolutionary upheaval. The present task of each cell can be summed up by the slogans, “Win the advanced to communism and the Party” and “Build the Party in the heat of class struggle.”

From this basic understanding of the Party’s tasks, our factory cell began to center its work around The Call/El Clarin, using it as a collective organizer, agitator and propagandist. The cell began to build a secret distribution network in the factory, selling the newspaper secretly to contacts. Within the cell, consistent study of Marxism-Leninism was carried out to guide our practice. At the same time, the cell began to put forward a mass program for struggle in the union. But, as Mao Tsetung pointed out, correct ideas do not fall from the sky. Our experience is no different-a correct line is only developed through two-line struggle and learning from our successes and mistakes in the actual class struggle.

Some of the first agitational work this cell did was around an upcoming contract negotiation. We put out some leaflets, signed by the October League, popularizing several contract demands. These also exposed the bureaucrats for opposing the mass demands of the workers and keeping the negotiations secret. We put forward wage, pension and cost-of-living demands, as well as demands around health and safety, against forced overtime, against segregation in departments by nationality and sex, and for translations of the contract and job postings into the various languages that the workers speak.


Through the use of these agitational leaflets and The Call/El Clarin, we got to know many workers who were interested in changing the union, a core of whom were advanced workers interested in making revolution. We held meetings with active workers. In these meetings leaflets were written and then distributed throughout the factory. The leaflets mainly focused on the contract struggle. During this period, an OL member was elected to the contract negotiating committee.

As the negotiations developed, the company and the union misleaders kicked the OL member off the negotiating committee to prevent him from exposing their sellout deals. The workers were furious. The company and the union brought the police into the factory to prevent the workers from having meetings and to arrest two communists. The workers shut down their machines and staged a four-hour wildcat. Communist agitation united the workers while bosses and union officials tried to split the workers and send them back to work.

During the wildcat, communists did broad agitation exposing the role of the state and the police. They also showed concretely the role of the union leadership as these traitors openly worked with the bosses and the police to attack the workers. Communists exposed the system and put forth the need for revolution. By continuing the struggle and relying on the masses, the workers won the best contract in the company’s history. After a prolonged struggle, one of the communists who had been arrested and fired won his job back with full pay. The other won his back pay, but was not rehired.


After the contract struggle, the cell combined ongoing work around the demands that were raised during the contract period with a campaign in the union to support the struggle to free Gary Tyler. We put out leaflets, used The Call widely, circulated a petition, and built for a union meeting to demand that the union support the Gary Tyler struggle. During this campaign we did a great deal of education on the national question, Afro-American self-determination, and the role of the state as an instrument of class oppression. We also linked the Tyler case to the struggle against discrimination in the factory and exposed the chauvinism of the union leaders locally and nationally. We brought out the necessity of building the alliance between the workers’ movement and the national movements in order to overthrow imperialism.

In summing up this work, we saw that our use of The Call and our development of secret Call networks had given us the ability to mobilize the workers, to lead the wildcat and to carry out broad revolutionary education. On the other hand, our main weakness was in not consolidating the gains of the wildcat, the contract struggle, and the Gary Tyler campaign by actually recruiting the advanced workers into the OL cell. We didn’t grasp the decisive role of propaganda, when correctly combined with agitation, in winning the advanced to communism and the Party. We had thought that communist agitation was sufficient and at times had confused mass agitation with propaganda work. The result was that some of the advanced workers fell away from us, while others stayed close due to their determination to make revolution.

This weakness was reflected in the uneveness of our Call sales. In general, between 10% and 20% of the workers in the plant read the paper weekly. But sometimes this would drop to 5%.

In order to push our work forward and to rectify our mistakes, we needed to bring out two-line struggle in our cell to criticize incorrect lines and move ahead with the correct line. During that time, the struggle against Martin Nicolaus’ revisionist line was developing within the OL. Although Nicolaus was unable to win any significant number of cadre consciously to follow him, errors reflecting his revisionist line were being exposed through mass criticism throughout the organization. This struggle, especially around the questions of agitation and propaganda and the trade unions, were crucial in clarifying our work. We saw that we had mainly been separating communist agitation from propaganda and downplaying propaganda with the advanced.

We set out to rectify our errors and began organizing Marxist-Leninist study with several workers. At first, however, in trying to correct our practice of “agitation only,” we fell into the practice of doing “propaganda only” for a short period of time. The result of this line was that we drew back from our widespread use of The Call and mass agitation. The bankruptcy of this “propaganda only” line became clear to the cell in practice. The cell became temporarily isolated from the mass struggles of the workers. We were drawing the advanced out of the struggle and trying to do propaganda work detached from class struggle. During that period we bowed to spontaneity in our trade union work–only putting out leaflets in response to some attack by the company, such as a firing or speedup. We were separating party-building from the class struggle. Only by continuing and deepening the struggle against the Nicolaus line inside the cell could we grasp how to correct these errors.


Throughout the organization, the Nicolaus line on the labor aristocracy was also being criticized. Our cell carefully studied and criticized his view that we should unite with the so-called liberal wing of the labor bureaucrats. We saw that the bourgeoisie is promoting a certain brand of their agents in the workers’ movement. They are pushing such misleaders as Miller of the United Mine Workers, Sadlowski of the United Steel Workers, and Fraser in the United Auto Workers in order to stem the rising tide of rank-and-file anger. In words, these traitors use militant rhetoric; in deeds, they attack the workers. For example, Miller rode to power on the issue of the right to strike over health and safety, but since he has been in office he has viciously attacked all such wildcats. For his part, Sadlowski never even opposed the bureaucrats’ so-called Experimental Negotiating Agreement, which took away the steel-workers’ right to strike over the national contract. He only called for a vote on it. This brand of misleader especially has to be exposed in order to win the workers away from the influence of reformism.

At this time the OL labor campaign was initiated. This campaign of revolutionary education was aimed at winning workers away from the influence of the reformist and revisionist trade union leaders and providing communist leadership to spontaneous struggles of the masses. It was also aimed at consolidating and putting into practice the theoretical gains we had made in our struggle against the Nicolaus line. Through the campaign we sought to deepen our roots in the factories, build the Party, and expand our influence in the workers’ movement.

The campaign was organized around two slogans: “Build Class Struggle Unions!” and “Drive Out the Bureaucrats!” Nationally, the campaign focused on a boycott of the national steelworkers’ election and a demonstration of autoworkers at the UAW convention in Los Angeles. This campaign moved our cell forward in its mass work, organizational work and ideological work.

Our cell took the national campaigns into the factory, explained them and built support for them. Within the union our campaigns against speedup, forced overtime and discrimination exposed the labor leaders as agents of the imperialists. In our leaflets we began to give an overall view of what a class struggle union would be, as opposed to a union led by class collaborationists. We put forward concrete demands for democracy in the union by proposing changes in the union constitution and by advocating measures that would strengthen the right to strike. We drew out the line of the misleaders, showing how they serve the capitalists on every issue. We brought many political issues into the shop, i.e., the fight against the segregationist movement, the struggle against deportations, International Women’s Day, May Day, the independence struggle in Puerto Rico, the struggle against superpower war preparations, support for the third world, etc.

We explained how our stand on these questions reflected the interests of the working class in contrast to the chauvinism and class collaboration of the bureaucrats. We exposed the bureaucrats’ complete support for the capitalists’ attack on the workers in the face of the economic crisis, as well as their open support for war preparations. Through this exposure of the bosses and the bureaucrats, we showed the necessity for revolution and the need for a Marxist-Leninist party.

At the same time we took up more study of Marxism-Leninism with the advanced workers, linking the study with practice in the shop. We also expanded our Call networks, and internally the unit took up extensive study on the trade union question.


The campaign was a way that the cell tested the OL’s line on the trade unions in practice and developed it. Through it, we strengthened our understanding of the period we are in, how to combine agitation and propaganda, and the decisive role of propaganda in winning the advanced. We raised the woman question to unite men and women and to draw the women into the struggle. We fought against all forms of national oppression to unite the class, as well as to build the merger of the workers’ movement and the national movements. We saw in our practice that our firm line on the national question clearly differentiated us from the bosses and the bureaucrats, and also from every opportunist trend within the communist movement.

An important aspect of the campaign was developing a deeper understanding of tactics. Through the campaign we gained experience in applying a wide range of tactics in our trade union work. In other cases, we made tactical errors that did not help us move closer to our strategic goals. Correct tactics in the campaign flowed from applying our Marxist-Leninist line to the concrete conditions we face. They flowed from correctly understanding the mass line. Only the masses of workers can carry out the slogans to drive out the bureaucrats and build class struggle unions. We cannot substitute the vanguard for the masses. We have to have a protracted view of learning from the workers, of summing up their correct ideas in a class struggle program, and winning the workers themselves to carry out this program as their own. We also must build the independence and initiative of the Party while constructing a secret apparatus to withstand all the attacks of the bourgeoisie.

The work of our cell advanced when we grasped the mass line, united with the majority of the workers, and brought forward Marxism-Leninism. However, certain tactical errors tended to isolate us and set the struggle back. For example, some of our leaflets made it seem as if only communists could participate in and lead the struggle to revolutionize the unions. This is incorrect since the great majority of the workers can be won to fight the bosses and the bureaucrats and many class fighters who are not yet communists will play a leading role.

As we continue to carry out our task of building class struggle unions, the Party’s influence is growing and many workers are being won to the cause of socialism. The battle we are waging to build strong factory cells is a struggle we must continue and deepen.

In doing so, we can look to present-day opportunist organizations as teachers by negative example. Also, we can look to the history of our movement, drawing both positive and negative lessons from the past.


The practice being developed by the CP(M-L) clearly shows the link between a revolutionary political line and revolutionary organization. In sharp contrast to a Marxist-Leninist view on the role of the factory cell is the line and practice of the revisionist Communist Party, (CPUSA). In a pamphlet by Daniel Rubin entitled “How a Communist Club Functions,” the CPUSA completely negates revolution as a strategic goal, Marxism-Leninism as a guiding science, and the industrial proletariat as the leading force. Rubin is the CPUSA’s organizational secretary, one of the party’s top officials.

First, Rubin stresses that the club’s focus of work among the masses is election campaign work: “The club should know the various election districts, the election calendar, the particular character of the political parties and the electoral formations in the area.”[3] Furthermore: “Every Club should have a strategic aim and line for its area of responsibility. If the club territory embraces a councilmanic, assembly or congressional district, achievement of the strategic aim might be registered in an election of a candidate of that (anti-monopoly) coalition.”[4] In the factory, which is not seen as any more important than a community club, Rubin says, “the strategic aim is to change the balance of forces in the shop between the bosses and the workers.”[5] He goes on to describe this as building a “left current” in the shop, meaning uniting with the reformist trade union leaders. Nowhere in the pamphlet does he refer to independent communist work, revolutionizing the unions, or overthrowing the capitalist system. Instead, he advocates uniting with the labor bureaucrats.

In discussing the tasks of the club education director, Rubin states that study should simply be aimed at solving problems in mass work, and that it is impossible to study Marxism-Leninism within the club because of lack of time. He thus completely eliminates Marxism-Leninism as the science of revolution and as a guide to action.

The revisionists also attack internal struggle and the communist principle of criticism and self-criticism. Says Rubin: “Longer meetings indicate either rigid, mechanical approaches, trying to predetermine every detail of mass activity or an unhealthy situation of inner struggle...” (Emphasis added).[6]

The CPUSA’s downplaying of the factory “club” and opposition to Marxist-Leninist training clearly shows that this organization is no longer the leader of the industrial proletariat. In fact, its main focus is to live within the rotten system of imperialism, not to overthrow it. As Rubin puts it: “In every activity all clubs should constantly seek to increase the acceptance of the policies of the party as a legitimate and progressive organization on the U.S. political scene.”[7] But legitimate in whose eyes? It could only be in the eyes of the U.S. bourgeoisie.


These two lines–one represented by the CP(M-L), the other by the CPUSA–represent the historical struggle between Marxism-Leninism and revisionism on the question of the factory cell. This struggle has been waged since the development of the Russian Bolshevik Party and clearly draws out the link between political line and organization.

In Lenin’s day, the Bolsheviks took up the struggle against the Menshevik line. Described in Lenin’s classic work, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, these opportunists called for a loose organizational structure where every striker could join and every professor could declare himself a member of the party. This view of organization was a direct result of their revisionist line. The Mensheviks did not require a mainly secret party with strict membership requirements. Their party organization would never be capable of leading the masses in waging armed struggle against the bourgeoisie, smashing its state apparatus, and seizing the means of production. In fact, they had no intention of carrying out such a proletarian revolution.

Throughout Europe a similar incorrect line was upheld by most parties of the Second International. These revisionist parties based themselves electorally in the communities. Within the factories they held the leading posts in the trade union bureaucracy and were tied to the labor aristocracy, not to the rank-and-file workers. These parties also eventually showed that they opposed proletarian revolution. They sided with their own bourgeoisie during World War I and abandoned the working-class struggle.

The victory of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 clearly showed the correctness of Lenin’s line on organization and its link to revolutionary politics.

The Bolsheviks practiced democratic-centralism and their cells were based in the factories. Groups of Marxists who supported and united with Bolshevism in power split from the Second International to form new parties and a new international, the Third or Communist International. (It was at this time, 1919-21, that Marxists in the U.S. split from the Second International affiliate, the Socialist Party, to form the Communist Party, U.S.A.) Although these communist parties had broken with the political line of the Second International, an automatic move toward basing their organizations in the factory did not occur. Struggle continued intensely throughout the history of the Communist International.

Many of these new parties were still based primarily in the communities. Organizationally, this reflected a revisionist line on the state. It meant mainly relying on elections as the chief means of achieving power.


In the U.S., an intense struggle went on to base the CPUSA in the shops. The Central Committee put forth the slogan “Into the Shops” from the years 1925 to 1929. Nonetheless, the Central Committee stated in 1930 that “less than 10% of the Party membership is organized into factory nuclei.”[8] While the Party had a revolutionary line on the factory nuclei, there were real problems putting it into practice. The Central Committee said in 1930: “While there is no open opposition to work inside the factories and the building of factory nuclei, there exists a considerable unclarity and no less passivity in the ranks of the Party.”[9] During this period much of the struggle was aimed at getting the leading bodies to pay more attention to the work of the factory cells and to combine the work among the employed and unemployed.

The most important struggle, however, was waged against the traitorous, revisionist line of Browder, who would eventually use this “unclarity and passivity” to totally liquidate the factory nuclei. Under his leadership, the CPUSA was actually dissolved for a short period in the 1940s. In the late 1930s, factory concentrations were attacked and shop papers and trade union fractions were liquidated.

Browder’s line advocated alliance with the bourgeoisie and a total liquidation of all communist independence and initiative. When the genuine Marxist-Leninists were able to force the reestablishment of the Party, it was still constructed mainly along electoral district lines, where it remains today. Even after Browder was thrown out of the Party, his line remained strong, though the Marxist-Leninists struggled hard against it.

Finally in the late 1950s, after the traitor and revisionist Krushchev made his slanderous attack on Joseph Stalin and restored capitalism in the world’s first socialist state, the Dennis-Hall clique of American revisionists were able to oust the Marxist-Leninist forces from the CPUSA. With full control of the Party now, and with support from the revisionists in power in the USSR, the Dennis-Hall clique completely turned the remnants of this once-revolutionary party into the revisionist swamp it is today. It now acts as a fifth column of the Soviet social-imperialists.

For twenty years, due to the revisionist betrayal, the U.S. working class and oppressed nationalities have had to struggle against imperialism without their general staff, a genuine communist party. But now with the founding of the CP(M-L), true revolutionary leadership is being again established in the U.S. But we must continue to build this young Party and put it firmly on its feet. In doing this, the building and strengthening of the factory cells is very significant. The factory cells must remain the basic strongholds of the CP(M-L). The cells are where workers are recruited and systematically trained in Marxism-Leninism. The cells must be able to carry out agitation and propaganda during this period, correctly combining this revolutionary education with mass action. This is what it means to build the party in the heat of class struggle, preparing the masses for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism.


[1] Documents from the Founding Congress of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist), (Chicago: CP(M-L), 1977), p. 160.

[2] Ibid., p. 163.

[3] Daniel Rubin, How a Communist Club Functions, (New York City: New Outlook Publishers, 1971), p. 7.

[4] Ibid., p. 8.

[5] Ibid., p. 8.

[6] Ibid., p. 19.

[7] Ibid., p. 12.

[8] Theses and Resolutions for the Seventh National Convention of the CPUSA, (Asia Books and Periodicals Reprint), p. 64.

[9] Ibid., p. 66.