Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Ruth Gifford

Waging Class Struggle in the Trade Unions

A summary of the October League’s labor campaign


First Published: Class Struggle, No. 8, Fall 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Under the slogans, “Build class struggle unions!” and “Drive out the bureaucrats!” the former October League (Marxist-Leninist) initiated a nationwide labor campaign in December 1976. Focused nationally around the union elections in steel and the union convention in auto, the campaign was launched at a time of great struggle and great hardship for the masses of workers. The crisis had thrown millions out of work, pushed those remaining on the job even harder and driven down the living standards of the vast majority of people.

The response of the workers was a marked upturn in strikes and a growing interest in revolutionary ideas and organization. Betrayal by the union misleaders had combined with the capitalist offensive to open the floodgates of struggle and fire the well-known anger and militancy of the U.S. proletariat.

What were the objectives of the labor campaign and how was it appropriate to these conditions? What gains were made and what lessons have been drawn from these recent months of struggle?

The campaign had four main objectives and were to be applied in accordance with the actual conditions at the time:

(1) To guide the spontaneous movement along revolutionary lines. This was to be done by drawing a clear line of demarcation between reformism and revolution, thus raising the political consciousness of the workers reached by the campaign about ^he dangers of reformism and pointing out the need to overthrow capitalism.

(2) To strengthen the basic organizations of the working class. This was to be done by fighting to transform the unions from tools of class collaboration into weapons of class struggle, by forging multinational class unity among the workers, and by promoting the alliance and merger of the general workers’ movement with the movements of the oppressed nationalities.

(3) To build a new communist party. This required deepening the fusion between Marxism-Leninism and the working class, strengthening party organization in the factories, and winning advanced workers to communism and the party.

(4) To work toward winning the masses to the side of revolution. This meant that broad forces of workers in the factories where the campaign was being waged would take up the party’s slogans as their own, understanding their correctness on the basis of their own experience.

These objectives reflect the revolutionary principles of the recently founded Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist). The fact that this Party now exists attests, in part, to the overall success of the campaign. The following summary, however, will go into its shortcomings as well as its advances, thus providing an orientation for labor work in the period ahead.

I. Guide the spontaneous movement along revolutionary lines

Karl Marx pointed out more than 100 years ago that a “guerrilla war” is bound to arise between the workers and their employers with the latter always trying to drive down the wages and working conditions of the former, while the workers themselves spontaneously combine forces to try to halt the attacks and improve their lives. That this remains true today is shown by the millions of strike days recorded in 1976 alone, ranging from the massive wildcats in the mines to the huge and sustained national walkouts in rubber, auto and trucking.

But because this resistance is relatively spontaneous, erupting time and again against various instances of oppression and exploitation, it cannot and does not, of its own accord, become a revolutionary movement whose conscious aim is the overthrow of capitalism itself. This is why Marx warned the workers not to be “exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerrilla fights.”[1] It was self-defeating for the workers to fight only the effects of capitalism, he pointed out, “instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the working class, that is to say, the ultimate abolition of the wage system.”[2]

The task of communists, then, is to divert this spontaneous struggle away from the bourgeois ideology of trade unionism and reformism by raising the political class consciousness of the workers. Trade unionism only serves to glorify the economic tug-of-war between labor and capital, proclaiming it to be all the workers need to improve their lives. Where police clubs, federal troops and scabs have been unable to stop the workers’ struggle, trade unionism has been able to cripple it by limiting the fight. Lenin put it clearly:

The stronger reformist influence is among the workers the weaker they are, the greater their dependence on the bourgeoisie, the easier it is for the bourgeoisie to nullify reforms by various subterfuges.[3]


This is why the labor campaign drew a clear line between reformism and revolution. This is why its aim was not mainly a question of raising the level of activity of the workers, but one of raising their pollitical consciousness. Again, Lenin spells it out:

Working-class consciousness cannot be genuinely political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases, without exception, of tyranny, oppression, violence and abuse, no matter what class is affected. Moreover, to respond from a Social-Democratic [i.e., communist–ed.], and not from any other point of view. The consciousness of the masses of the workers cannot be genuine class consciousness, unless the workers learn to observe from concrete, and above all from topical (current), political facts and events, every other social class and all the manifestations of the intellectual, ethical and political life of these classes... .[4] (Emphasis in original)

The outlook of trade unionism tries to limit the workers to focus only on their own plants, their own trade or even their own class. It prevents the workers from getting a complete picture of society and their revolutionary role within it. It prevents the workers from seeing the lies behind capitalist propaganda that blames the oppressed nationalities, women and foreign-born workers for rising unemployment, that blames welfare recipients for the high cost of living, or that blames “communists” as the cause of imperialist war. In brief, trade unionism prevents the workers from learning who are their friends and who are their enemies.

In targeting trade unionism, the labor campaign emphasized that this outlook goes hand-in-hand with chauvinism. It is no coincidence that the trade unions in this country historically excluded the minority nationalities and in one way or another made accommodations to capitalism’s systematic practice of national oppression and discrimination. Marx exposed this to the workers long ago when he wrote, “Labor in the white skin can never be free while in the black skin it is branded.”[5] This revolutionary truth was a vital component of the campaign’s propaganda and agitation.

But the campaign went further than just exposing reformism and chauvinism in general or as an abstract system of ideas. Instead it both narrowed the target and made the struggle concrete by raising the slogan, “Drive out the bureaucrats!” It is not the masses of workers, but the top union misleaders who rush to the defense of capitalism and its policies of war and aggression. It is these bureaucrats, with a social base among an upper crust of privileged workers, who have stood against every struggle for equality for Blacks and women, and who have broken strikes and sold out the workers in one battle after another.

The job of the labor bureaucrats is to convince the workers that the system can be patched up and made to work in their interests. In doing so, they serve as the capitalists’ most influential agents right inside the working class movement. This is why the proletariat must direct its main blow at these and other defenders of imperialism.

“The U.S. working class must storm and crush the fortress of its main enemy, the U.S. bourgeoisie,” wrote CP (M-L) Chairman Michael Klonsky in a recent Class Struggle article. “But this fortress has a number of guardians standing before its gates. These guardians must be smashed and dispersed in order to storm the fortress. This is the substance of the question of the ’main blow’.”[6]


The question of the main blow deals with revolutionary strategy, determining the direction the movement must take in order to overthrow the principal enemy. Stalin explains it when discussing why the Bolsheviks aimed their main blow at the liberal Cadet party during the struggle against the czarist autocracy. The Cadets, he said, were the main party promoting “compromise” between the czar and the people and thus were “the most dangerous social support of the enemies of the revolution.” Bolshevik strategy, then, called for “the isolation of the compromising party in order to facilitate, to hasten the victory over the principal enemy.”

The Bolsheviks also singled out the Cadets because their influence was driving a wedge between the peasantry and the revolutionary proletariat. The peasantry was the main ally, or direct reserve, of the proletariat, Stalin pointed out, and without a revolutionary alliance between the two forces, victory was impossible.

The question of the main blow, then, is directly related to the question of strategic reserves. In the conditions of the U.S. today, the main direct reserve of the working class is the national movements. Building the alliance and merger of these two forces is necessary for the revolution. But to win the workers to take up and lead the struggle against national oppression, the main blow must be directed at the labor misleaders, the main promoters of white chauvinism and national divisiveness.

“Drive out the bureaucrats!” as a slogan does not only apply these principles to today’s conditions, it also sums up the sentiments and present understanding of the masses of workers. In all the recent miners’ wildcats, for example, the workers have directed their fire as much at Arnold Miller and the United Mine Workers (UMW) executive board as at the coal operators themselves. The same is true in steel, where I.W. Abel became the target of mass anger. The Abel machine became a symbol of betrayal 58 throughout the labor movement for its scab deals like the no-strike “Experimental Negotiating Agreement” (ENA) and the racist “Consent Decree” denying workers the right to fight discrimination.

The capitalist response to this growing opposition has been to bring forward some new misleaders who are more militant in their style and more liberal in their promises. These “insurgents” could then appeal to the more dissatisfied sections of the workers and capture the leadership of the opposition movement. They have done this many times in the past. Abel himself, for instance, first came into the leadership of the United Steel Workers (USW) by campaigning against the “tuxedo unionism” of his predecessor, David MacDonald.

Now it is Ed Sadlowski in steel and Doug Fraser in auto who were marched to center stage. The capitalist media proclaimed an epoch of “new radicalism” in the unions and played up their election campaigns. In this situation, the task of communists is to focus their exposures on this new crop of misleaders, since they are the ones most able to give new life to reformist illusions among the workers.

The correctness of the labor campaign’s tactics came out most clearly in the Lloyd McBride-Ed Sadlowski election contest in steel (with McBride being Abel’s successor and the inheritor of his machine). The key question raised by the workers in the course of this contest was: “Is Sadlowski a real alternative to Abel?” Their hatred of the Abel machine was no mere personal grudge or unfocused discontent. It was a mass opposition to its policies on the right to strike, discrimination, health and safety, layoffs, benefits and job security. What the workers wanted was a class struggle alternative to these policies, not just a new, more slick face in office.


The trick of the Sadlowski campaign was its dual tactics. On one hand, Sadlowski went around the country denouncing “business unionism” and taking vague pot shots at Abel’s “pro-company” stand. On the other hand, he made a conscious effort to avoid any in-depth examination of his stand on the key issues. The reason? Sadlowski had already shown in practice, as the head of the US W’s largest district, that his policies were stained with the same yellow, class-collaborationist dye as Abel’s–apologies for company layoffs, support for the Consent Decree and attacks on the rank and file.

The Sadlowski campaign not only had support from liberal circles within the bourgeoisie. It was also strongly backed by the revisionist Communist Party U.S.A. The revisionists have greatly expanded their activity in the workers’ movement over the past few years, making a much more open bid for leading posts in a number of unions, including the USW. Their tactics have been to seek out alliances with the more liberal forces among the misleaders and ride into office on their coattails.

The CPUSA’s trade union program differs very little from the liberals’– giving some lip service to the main demands of the workers, while trying to cripple the emerging rank-and-file movement by keeping it within the bounds of trade unionism. Its policy is to develop a “left-center coalition,” which is described as follows:

The left current would act in coalition with center currents among the workers, struggling for a rank-and-file shop program and seeking to develop trade union consciousness, and, within that, a class conscious group that goes beyond the direct economic questions in the shop. Identification of the enemy is not only a matter of pointing to the company itself and the supervisory employees, but also to any definite company men planted or bought by the company who may be in the union or in the shop... .Election of a union leadership that reflects the left-center coalition, one that is trade union conscious or even class conscious rather than consciously or unconsciously class collaborationist, would be a sign that the balance of forces is shifting.[7] (Emphasis added)

This passage requires several comments. First, for the CPUSA, “class consciousness” means being a conscious agent of revisionism and Soviet social-imperialism. Second, “company men” means simply company spies among the workers and does not apply to the labor bureaucrats as a social force. And third, setting the main task as “developing trade union consciousness” is directly opposed to everything Lenin had to say on the subject.

Sadlowski and his ilk fit right into this scheme. The CPUSA is particularly concerned with promoting these liberals because they are friendly toward the Soviet Union. They promote the charade of “detente,” back trade with the Soviet Union, and call for a “reordering of priorities” from military to social welfare spending. All this helps the U.S. bourgeoisie by covering up for the imperialist war it is preparing, but these pacifist myths about disarmament being a real possibility under imperialist rule especially strengthens the expansionist schemes of the Soviet social-imperialists.


The CPUSA is an even more insidious agent of capitalism in the labor movement because it flies the red flag of revolution. It tries to draw the workers turning to revolutionary ideas toward itself by cashing in on the revolutionary traditions of the CPUSA prior to its takeover by the revisionists. That is why the CP(M-L) includes the revisionists with the trade union bureaucrats (in fact a number are union officials) when it sets the target for the strategic direction of the main blow in the workers’ movement.

The labor campaign articles in The Call also showed how Sadlowski was backed by other opportunists and phony revolutionaries. The so-called Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) and the centrist Guardian newspaper dubbed “oil-can Eddie” a real alternative to the Abel machine and jumped onto his bandwagon. They also downplayed the issues which were the main concern of the workers. So what, said the Guardian, if Saklowski is “weak on discrimination?”[8] So what, said the RCP, if he will “wind up on the ruling class’ side”?[9] He had to be supported anyway, they said, simply because he could muster a sizeable bloc of votes against Abel’s forces.

Contempt for the working class and a lack of faith in its revolutionary capabilities are evidenced in the tailism and opportunism of these groups They glorified the spontaneous movement and defended Sadlowski arguing that his campaign was a vehicle for raising the level of activity of the workers. The line was put forward baldly by the Guardian and echoed by the RCP:

The issue for communists especially in this period when their influence in the unions and the working class is small, is how to create and contribute to the conditions that further politicize and propel the working class into struggle.[10]


This is a classic statement of economism, a right opportunist political trend that Lenin defeated in Russia at the beginning of this century. The economists worshipped the spontaneous struggle. Because the communists were weak, they said, the main thing was to promote and spread this activity of the workers, to stick to its immediate demands for “palpable results,” and to “lend the economic struggle itself a political character.” They denounced Lenin and his supporters as “dogmatists” who were “isolated” from the masses. Speaking through the literary device of a revolutionary worker, Lenin lashed out at these opportunists:

There is nothing clever in your assertion that the Social-Democrats’ [i.e., communists’–ed.] task is to lend the economic struggle itself a political character; that is only the beginning, it is not the main task of Social-Democrats. For all over the world, including Russia, the police themselves often make the start in lending the economic struggle a political character, and the workers themselves learn to understand whom the government supports.. .The ’activity’ you want to stimulate among us workers, by advancing concrete demands promising palpable results, we are already displaying and in our everyday, petty trade union work, we put forward these demands, very often without any assistance whatever from the intellectuals. But such activity is not enough for us; we are not children to be fed on the thin gruel of ’economic’ politics alone; we want to know everything that others know, we want to learn the details of all aspects of political life and to take part actively in every single political event. In order that we may do this, the intellectuals must talk to us less of what we already know, and tell us more about what we do not yet know.. .Just devote more zeal to carrying out this duty, and talk less about ’raising the activity of the masses of the workers’.[11] (Emphasis in original)

Along with the Guardian’s and RCP’s delusions about “propelling the workers into struggle,” they add insult to injury by insisting that the weaker communists must ally with the stronger reformist misleaders to bring it about. Yet nowhere do they talk about safeguarding the independence and initiative of the revolutionary forces. If and when communists do enter into certain tactical alliances with trade union misleaders, such in dependence must be maintained or else the alliance simply serves to strengthen the influence of the reformists.

As to the question of “politicizing” the struggle, the masses of steel-workers knew that Abel was a sellout and didn’t need the RCP or the Guardian to tell them so. What they did not know, and what they could not learn clearly from their own experience alone, was why Sadlowski was no alternative. This is why the labor campaign, in its revolutionary education, presented to the workers a scientific understanding of imperialism, of how and why it develops a labor aristocracy, of how this bribed stratum is paid off through the superprofits plundered from the third world, and of why the proletarian revolution requires that the main blow be delivered against the revisionists and reformist bureaucrats. Again, Lenin spells it out clearly:

No preparation of the proletariat for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie is possible, even in the preliminary sense, unless an immediate, systematic, extensive and open struggle is waged against this stratum.[12]


What did the labor campaign put forward as an alternative to working and voting for Sadlowski? It proposed the tactic of an election boycott, which stood in stark contrast to all the opportunists. This was neither a boycott of the union nor a general refusal to participate in union elections. Rather, given the relative weakness of the communist forces, it was a tactic which could best dramatize the lack of an alternative, hitting especially hard at Sadlowski.

It was an active boycott. Week after week, The Call provided lively exposures of the misleaders, spotlighting the concrete issues–layoffs, discrimination, the ENA and the Consent Decree, safety and the falling income of steelworkers. At union meetings, especially in Sadlowski’s home district, communists demanded answers and actions around these demands of the workers, which served to expose the reformists’ empty promises and phony rhetoric.

The campaign’s emphasis targeting the chauvinism of the bureaucrats showed how national oppression was reflected in the mills and how it was used to weaken the workers’ movement. In addition to opposing the Consent Decree, demands and struggles were raised against the segregation of minorities into the worst departments like the coke ovens, and the discrimination against non-English-speaking workers, especially Mexicans and Chicanos. Support was also mobilized in the mills to win freedom for Gary Tyler, a Black youth threatened with a legal lynching in the Deep South. This enabled communists to carry out education about the Afro-American struggle for self-determination, stressing why the entire working class should take up this fight, white as well as Black.

On the day of the election itself, the OL put out a special national leaflet at polling places. It detailed Sadlowski’s record and explained his role, concluding: “The last six months of campaigning have brought home the fact that the real struggle is not between Sadlowski and McBride. It is between the bosses and bureaucrats on one side, and the rank and file on the other. For the thousands of angry steelworkers looking for a change, Sadlowski means more of the same.”

The steel boycott was a good step forward, but at the same time, there were important weaknesses in the work. For example, there was the error of separating revolutionary education from mass organization and action. In one mill, a steelworker was seriously hurt on the job during the month before the election. There was sentiment among the workers to try to organize around this case. But some comrades had the view that they were already “spread so thin” that this work couldn’t be taken up.

When it finally was taken up, practice showed that the heat of the struggle around the unsafe working conditions and the injury of this one worker, were in fact the best conditions under which to carry out the educational work of exposing Sadlowski and the labor bureaucracy. This incident illustrated the importance of correctly combining what the workers learn through their own fighting experiences with the revolutionary ideas that communists bring to the struggle.

Furthermore, there were many mills where important struggles were going on, which the boycott organizers were unable to hook up with. This showed the still-limited scope of communist activity, and dramatized the need for the Party to boldly expand its work and its efforts to sink deeper roots among the hundreds of thousands of steelworkers and the millions of workers in basic industry.

II. Build class struggle unions

Following the boycott of the steel elections in early February, the labor campaign shifted quickly to its next focus in preparing for the April convention of the United Auto Workers (U AW). Here, the slogan “Build a class struggle UAW” was widely popularized.

As in steel, auto work began with the understanding that is articulated in the Program of the CP (M-L):

The trade unions must be turned into schools of class struggle. The trade unions, under the leadership of the Party, must fight to organize the unorganized, unite men and women workers, the employed and unemployed, and workers of all nationalities.[13]

The program and tactics of the labor campaign were oriented toward expanding the influence and participation of the communists in the day-today union struggles, while showing that the misleaders were the main force out to weaken and destroy the unions.

While mobilizing for union meetings to fight for action around grievances and demands, and preparing the workers for strikes and contract battles, the campaign also put forward communists and other working class fighters as candidates to run in union elections. In contests, the candidates ran on a class struggle program, which was widely discussed through leaflets and resolutions. All this was aimed at building the iron unity of the workers of different nationalities and making the union a fighting organization.

Working towards the UAW convention provided the main arena for these tactics. The Call published a special supplement putting forth six resolutions for the UAW convention. These dealt with working conditions and layoffs, discrimination and the struggle for the equality of languages, union democracy, organizing the unorganized, freedom for Gary Tyler and support for the Azanian people in southern Africa.


More than 20,000 of these supplements were distributed among workers throughout the country. In 20 locals workers fought for the resolutions to be presented at the national convention. The six resolutions served as a common platform for the election campaigns, but in each factory workers particularized the demands to their immediate conditions and carried out broad agitation through meetings, rallies and leaflets.

This activity culminated in a demonstration in front of the UAW convention in Los Angeles. Workers from 10 cities and 15 UAW locals across the country took part. The action was welcomed by many UAW members at the convention and many more who could not go. Its banners and leaflets made it very clear that the action was carried out by auto workers who wanted to build a class struggle UAW and that it was aimed only at the class collaborators at the top. The hopes of Woodcock and Fraser to paint the protest as anti-union or as comprised of “outside agitators” fell flat on its face.

As the labor campaign demonstrated, it is Fraser and the rest of the bureaucrats who are the real union-wrecking force. They are the ones who have worked overtime to build up the privileges of an upper elite of skilled craft workers while helping the bosses keep down the wages and working conditions of the vast majority. They are the ones who have turned their backs on workers in the South, helping the bosses intensify the national oppression of the Afro-American people and maintain the Black Belt as a reserve of cheap labor and a haven for runaway shops.

When confronted with these charges, the bureaucrats try to blame the workers for a supposed “anti-union bias.” But when asked about the large numbers of women, minority and foreign-born workers in the nation’s sweatshops, Fraser tossed it aside by asserting that unions can’t “do much” in small shops other than be “just a dues-collecting organization.”

How have the bureaucrats responded to the labor campaign and the growing influence of revolutionary ideas and organizations? They have launched vicious red-baiting attacks, utilizing the same anti-communist tactics employed in the 1940s to split the CIO and drive out the communists who played such a key role in organizing the unions in the first place.

In the newspapers of the major unions, the bureaucrats are trying to isolate the communists with a red-baiting frenzy. In the last year, officials in the UMW, URW, UAW and USW, to name a few, all attacked the OL directly. They have conspired with the bosses to have workers fired, conspired with police to have workers arrested on the shop floor, and employed their own goon squads and gun thugs.

But when it comes to red-baiting, the CPUSA revisionists have been among the most virulent, exposing their social-fascist character. They regularly join with the bureaucrats in denouncing the “Maoists” as union-wreckers. When The Call was thrown out of the UMW convention a year ago, the revisionists apologized for Miller and voluntarily withdrew from the meeting. They then attacked the OL and other communists, accusing them of destroying the UMW by opposing Miller. Meanwhile Miller had been smashing wildcats and setting up kangaroo courts to suspend militant workers from the union.

The CPUSA has also echoed the lies of the bureaucrats blaming the workers for the problems in the unions today. In a recent book on the labor movement, one revisionist leader describes the workers over the past two decades as “inactive, passive and apathetic.”[14] The book promotes the myth that the workers haven’t been fighting the bosses or organizing unions because of the “post-war prosperity,” thus ignoring the fact that this “prosperity” did not mean much to the majority of workers, especially minorities.


Where does the RCP stand on the question of building class struggle unions? While they have directly and openly backed liberals like Sadlowski, their main line has been one of “jamming” the unions while building separate organizations for the more active workers outside the unions. Their latest attempt has been dubbed the “National Workers Organization” and is supposedly modeled after the Trade Union Educational League set up by the Communist Party in its revolutionary days. The TUEL was not set up, however, to pull advanced workers out of the unions, but to advance the struggle to unionize basic industry.

In contrast the NWO combines elements of dual unionism and syndicalism, by being presented as a substitute for both the existing unions and the party. In a recent pamphlet on the NWO, the RCP attributes all the main weaknesses in the labor movement to the absence of such an organization, thus letting the bureaucrats off the hook and negating the tasks of the unions themselves.

This is clear in RCP’s view of the URW strike: “The 1976 rubber strike could have been even stronger had a national workers organization existed. With it, workers from different plants could have had a way to get together, sum up and decide how to build the strike stronger.”[15] What, then, is the task of the union, of the URW? Because the leadership is reactionary, the RCP wants to sidestep the struggle against it by setting up a separate apparatus to do the work that workers must force the unions to do through a struggle inside the union.

This is not RCP’s only error. They also contend that the workers need a “unified center of leadership” to wage battles on all fronts. This is certainly true, but what then, is the task of the vanguard party? The party must be that center, the general staff of the workers’ movement nationally. And it must exercise its leadership by working within the trade unions and other mass organizations of the people. Liquidating the party and promoting dual unionism–it all adds up to syndicalism, a petty-bourgeois trend in the workers’ movement which dovetails neatly with RCP’s general economist approach.

Communists, of course, can build mass organizations to serve various purposes. The Negro Labor Councils were formed in the late 1940s to organize the struggles of Black workers in the unions and to mobilize the Black masses in the communities. Today there is the National Fight Back Organization, initiated by the OL, to organize in the communities and among the unemployed. It would be incorrect, however, if the NFBO saw itself as an “intermediate organization” standing between the Party and the unions under the guise of “linking” the two.

The RCP’s approach makes them the favorites of the bureaucrats and bosses alike by leaving the unions in their hands. It’s no wonder that the bourgeois media has given such flattering coverage to the NWO. The OL labor campaign, on the other hand, won the hatred of every major union misleader by directing the anger of the workers against their reactionary rule. The RCP merely tails behind the workers’ sentiments, urging the workers who are fed up with the misleaders to give up on the struggle in the union, at least for the time being, because it’s too difficult.

This is opportunism pure and simple. The battle to build class struggle unions will certainly be hard and protracted. But there are no shortcuts, and RCP’s path especially leads straight to the revisionist swamp.

III. Build the new Communist Party

The labor campaign had the task of bringing forward, educating and training the best fighters for the working class and recruiting them to the new Party. Building the Party apparatus in the plants and training its cadres, however, can only be done through the closest contact with the masses and in the course of the day-to-day battles of the workers.

The basic Party unit is the factory cell, a nucleus developed in the shops. It is a protracted struggle to build this nucleus, which organizationally embodies the fusion of Marxism-Leninism with the workers’ movement. It is comprised of the advanced workers who come forward in the shop struggles, who have ties to the masses, and who become trained as communists through studying The Call and other Marxist-Leninist literature.

The opportunists always try to drive a wedge between party-building and the mass struggle of the workers, between the Party and the masses, and between agitation and propaganda. The main thing is to combine these aspects of communist work. Any separation will inevitably isolate the Party from the workers and rob the working class of its leadership.


Within the OL this revisionist line was promoted by the renegade Martin Nicolaus, and the labor campaign was clearly geared toward defeating its influence. It was also geared toward advancing the work of forging the Party’s organization at the point of production–its cells along with the study circles and Call networks built by them. National actions like the UAW demonstration were subordinated to this work and were only possible because this work was carried out.

The Call/El Clarin was the central weapon used to carry out revolutionary education and organization. The paper was truly a collective agitator, propagandist and organizer that served as the scaffolding around the Party in the process of its construction. Week after week, articles appeared in The Call explaining the main slogans of the labor campaign, targeting the misleaders, and showing the scope and nature of the struggles in various mills and auto shops. There were in-depth polemics with Sadlowski’s opportunist backers, materials for study circles, as well as articles for a wider audience. In short, propaganda and agitation were combined.

As the campaign progressed, more and more articles were written by the workers themselves. These applied the campaign’s general line even closer to the actual conditions in the shops. A network of worker correspondents developed, linking sympathizers closer to The Call and the Party.

The use of The Call in one Midwest steel plant provides a good example of how the paper can build the Party. Regular Call sales had been going on here for nearly three years, both on the inside and at the gates. Responding to questions workers had about Sadlowski, distribution of The Call was stepped up and discussion of Call articles expanded. Out of this work, a circle was formed for regular study of the paper. The circle debated the question of reformism and Sadlowski’s particular brand of liberalism. As a result, the workers were won not only to support the OL’s boycott but to actively build for it. Workers from the circle sold The Call in the mill and to unemployed steelworkers at a local unemployment office. Here they became involved in a fight to win benefits for a Black woman steelworker, which in turn drew even more workers into the struggle and united employed and unemployed workers.

The Call circle discussions helped to arm the workers in educating their fellow workers about Sadlowski and to organize a rank-and-file movement in the mill on a class struggle basis. The workers grasped the necessity to overthrow capitalism and smash its agents. They joined a Marxist-Leninist study circle and, in time, joined the Party itself. This experience concretely showed the importance of putting The Call at the center of the work. It showed how winning the advanced to communism and the Party also served to win a broader circle of sympathizers to develop more advanced workers, and to expand the network throughout the mill and on different shifts. And it showed concretely how raising the level of class consciousness in turn raised the level of class struggle.

Criticizing the Nicolaus line was essential to developing this correct approach and balance towards propaganda work, agitation work, and mass organizing.

Nicolaus separated propaganda from agitation, insisting that “agitation be the chief form of activity” while downplaying the decisive role of propaganda in consolidating the advanced workers. He even claimed that there were hardly any advanced workers to speak of in the U.S.


One auto plant provided a good example of the struggle against the Nicolaus line. The communists here acted as if there were no advanced workers, substituting themselves for the advanced. They wrote the leaflets themselves, passed them out themselves, and in this way made their “chief form of activity” the campaign’s agitational tasks. On one hand, they were predicting that hundreds of workers would fly to Los Angeles for the UAW action. On the other hand, they couldn’t consolidate a handful of workers together to write leaflets, read and distribute The Call, or organize a struggle in the plant.

This unit made no advances in their work until the revisionist line underlying it was brought out and struggled against. In addition, rectification required an effort to win over the more active and politically conscious workers, not only through education combining propaganda and agitation, but also through participation in the plant struggles.

The flipside of the Nicolaus line also cropped up in a few places. This was to stress propaganda work to the extent of severing it from agitation. In one case communists even held back from taking part in a strike and other mass activity–all under the guise that propaganda work had to be made primary. Attempts were made–not very successfully–to draw advanced workers into study circles that were completely isolated from the events and issues immediately affecting the workers. One worker criticized the communists in the plant for abandoning the class struggle in the union. From their work, he had drawn the conclusion that Marxism-Leninism “didn’t apply” to the trade unions, but just to “political” questions.

Both of these deviations prevent the fusion of Marxism-Leninism with the workers’ movement. Had these errors been the main aspect of the campaign, it would have been solely a “communist” campaign, with little influence or support among the workers.

IV. Practice the mass line

The labor campaign taught many lessons–through both positive and negative examples–about the importance of correct methods and tactics in building a mass campaign.

First of all, what does it mean to say that the campaign had a “mass character”? When explaining the tactics of the Bolsheviks, Stalin addressed the point in this way: “Correct Party slogans are not enough. For the victory of the revolution one more necessary condition is required, that the masses themselves become convinced through their own experience of the correctness of these slogans.”[16] To have a mass character, then, means that the tasks of the labor campaign were taken up not only by the communists, but by the workers themselves. The way this is accomplished was best stated by Mao Tsetung in his famous description of “the mass line”:

In all the practical work of our Party, all correct leadership is necessarily ’from the masses, to the masses.’ This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas in such action. Then once again concentrate ideas from the masses and once again go to the masses so that the ideas are persevered in and carried through. And so on, over and over again in an endless spiral, with the ideas becoming more correct, more vital and richer each time. Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge.[17]

What were some of the mistakes made in not carrying through this method of leadership in the campaign? At first, some comrades had a narrow view of who the campaign was aimed at, limiting their work to a small circle of the most advanced workers. This sectarian view cropped up in other areas as well. Some comrades thought, for instance, that a class struggle union had to be a union with socialism as a basis of unity. Therefore, they argued, only workers who were willing to fight for socialism could be won to build class struggle unions. Futhermore, the UAW resolutions were criticized because they didn’t talk about the need for socialism.

What these comrades didn’t grasp was the mass line. These resolutions were not for the Party program nor a substitute for that program. Instead they were a general outline for an immediate program concentrating the ideas of the masses on how to transform the unions from class-collaborationist organizations into organizations that would consistently and effectively fight the capitalists. They were resolutions to be put forward and fought for among the majority of workers on the shop floor and at union meetings. A similar, dogmatic error was made around the slogan, “Drive out the bureaucrats!” In some cases, comrades acted as though it was enough simply to label the bureaucrats as traitors and agents and that by repeating these labels, workers would come to see that they were correct.

But this is wrong. Communists must be skilled at uniting with the masses to fight for their demands, at summing up the masses’ own experience in drawing lessons on how best to fight. When workers file a grievance and take it through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to get justice, for instance, it is wrong for communists to stand on the sidelines saying that the bureaucrats work for the bosses or that the NLRB is an arm of the capitalist state. Communists should make their views known, of course, but they should also fight every step of the way with the workers. They should not tail behind them or promote any illusions, but point the way forward. Then when the workers have gained some experience, the communist task is to raise their consciousness in summing it up, in showing concretely the betrayal of the bureaucrats or the class nature of the NLRB.

A case in point was the Ford strike last year. Communists knew that UAW head Leonard Woodcock was a traitor and that a sellout was in the works, and warned the workers accordingly. At the same time, the workers wanted to fight to hold Woodcock to his promise of a shorter work week and ending forced overtime. Communists worked to organize the workers around these demands, building unity and developing the initiative of the rank and file. Had they just stood by predicting a sellout from the sidelines, the workers would have correctly treated them as outsiders. They would have been in no position to win the confidence of the workers in the Party nor to sum up the lessons of the sellout. As it was, when the bureaucrats did sell out the demands, it was their isolation that increased while the influence of the communists expanded. Chairman Mao sums this point up very well:

However active the leading group may be, its activity will amount to fruitless effort by a handful of people unless combined with the activity of the masses. On the other hand, if the masses alone are active without a strong leading group to organize their activity properly, such activity cannot be sustained for long, or carried forward in the right direction, or raised to a higher level.[18]

The task ahead of building the Party and its influence requires a correct application of the mass line. Cadres must learn to organize the struggle better, learn from past mistakes, and learn from the examples of correct work being summed up.

The labor campaign has provided a wealth of lessons, mainly positive, and confirmed the correct orientation of the Party. The task of building class struggle unions and driving out the bureaucrats is a task of the broad masses of workers and must be built under the Party’s leadership. The conditions today are excellent for doing so and winning still greater victories.


[1] Karl Marx, Value, Price and Profit (Peking: Foreign Languages Press), p. 4.

[2] Ibid. p. 4.

[3] V.I. Lenin, “Marxism and Reformism,” Collected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers), Vol. 19, p. 373.

[4] V.I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done? (Peking: Foreign Languages Press), p. 86.

[5] Karl Marx, Capital (Moscow: Progress Publishers), Vol. 1, p. 287.

[6] “Speech By Michael Klonsky,” Class Struggle #7 (Chicago: October League), p. 98.

[7] Daniel Rubin, “How a Communist Club Functions ” (New York City: New Outlook Publishers, 1971), pp. 8-9.

[8] Guardian, January 19, 1977.

[9] Revolution, February 1977.

[10] Guardian, January 19, 1977.

[11] V.I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, (Peking: Foreign Languages Press), pp. 90-92.

[12] V.I. Lenin, “Thesis for the Second Congress of the Communist International,” Lenin on the Trade Unions (Moscow: Progress Publishers), p. 366.

[13] Documents from the Founding Congress of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) (Chicago: CP (M-L)), pp. 117-118.

[14] Gil Green, What’s Happening to Labor? (New York City: International Publishers), p. 159.

[15] “A Powerful Weapon For Our Class,” Revolutionary Communist Party pamphlet, pp. 6-7.

[16] J.V. Stalin, “The October Revolution and the Tactics of the Russian Communists,” Problems of Leninism (Peking: Foreign Languages Press), p. 148.

[17] Mao Tsetung, “Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership,” Selected Works (Peking: Foreign Languages Press), Vol.3, p. 119.

[18] Ibid., p. 118.