Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Workers Committee (M-L)

RWL: Building the Party on Bourgeois Ideology

A call to struggle against ’left’ opportunism


The U.S. multinational working class has been without a genuine communist party since 1944 to lead the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat to smash capitalism, establish the dictatorship of the proletariat, and build a classless society. The central task facing communists today is building a genuine communist party firmly based on the science of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought (MLMTT).

The following polemic by the Communist Workers Committee (M-L) puts forth the position that the Revolutionary Workers League (M-L) is operating under a bankrupt “left” opportunist line, and has historically failed to break with bourgeois nationalism[1] which is the principal form of bourgeois ideology underlying all their errors and deviations. It is our view that the base of RWL is largely honest, but they are vascillating on this “left” line because they have not broken with bourgeois nationalism. Our position is based on two years experience with the RWL, our study of the WVO-RWL-PRRWO polemics, and our struggle to apply the principles of MLMTT to the concrete situation facing the U.S. communist movement and the working class today. In this introduction we briefly analyze the development of the CWC and the relationship of the RWL district #34 to this development. Then we discuss the development of the RWL and their failure to break with bourgeois nationalism.

The CWC has its origins primarily in the spontaneous struggles of the 60’s, the student, women’s, civil rights movements, and especially in the struggle against U.S. imperialism’s role in the war in Vietnam.

The comrades in CWC made a connection between the struggles of the Vietnamese workers and masses and the struggles of the working class and spontaneous movements in the U.S. This took us into involvement with the masses especially in community organizing and the character of this work was thoroughly reformist and economist. While the dead-end nature of this work became clear, our quest for answers was dominated by our petty bourgeois class outlook and prejudices. Three years ago we formed a collective of community organizers as a chapter of the New American Movement (NAM), a petty-bourgeois socialist organization. About a year ago (March, 1975) a trend within our group that was pushing the need to base ourselves and our work on the proletariat and on its science, Marxism-Leninism, became dominant, although our grasp of MLMTT was still largely determined by our petty bourgeois class outlook and stand. This growing grasp of the science was greatly moved forward by a very sharp internal struggle against a major “theoretician” of NAM’s revisionism, a struggle that lasted the whole summer of 1975. Our grasp of MLMTT was also moved forward by our relationship with comrades from the RWL 34, This culminated in our group declaring itself a communist organization last fall and starting a process of transformation and of breaking with petty bourgeois socialism not only organizationally, but also ideologically and politically.

We have identified 10 line struggles which have moved our organization forward since last fall. Some of these have been fully resolved; with others, the struggle is continuing to consolidate the entire organization around the correct line. Briefly, the line struggles are:

1. Economist work in the mass movement versus party building as the central task. After our organizational break with NAM in the fall of 1975, we saw practice as primary and “left” errors as the main danger in the communist movement. The basis of these errors was pragmatism. RWL’s correct line on this was an important condition in our establishing that party building was central and that right errors were the main danger.
2. Centrism on the international question versus the M-L position of the United Front against U.S. imperialism and Soviet social-imperialism, Irwin Silber and the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC) were helpful in our break with NAM, and we initially gravitated towards them. We wavered between their centrist line on the international situation and the correct line throughout the fall and winter of 75-76. The struggle was finally brought to a head during coalition work with the RWL in IWWD event (March 8th) by the RWL’s resolute struggle against all forms of our centrism.
3. OL’s “belittling of theory, bourgeois democratic illusions, and pragmatism versus party building on the ideological plane. There was a strong OL trend in our organization. We developed a liaison relationship and participated in Fight Back conferences. WVO’s critiques of OL was the major condition helping our break and our beginning understanding of placing party building on the ideological plane. There was also a weaker trend towards the RCP and again WVO’s critique was decisive in its defeat.
4. Ultra-democracy versus democratic centralism. In the course of the struggles around centrism, we recognized a deviation towards ultra-democracy resulting from our continuing petty bourgeois class stand. This manifested itself in our organization not putting forth any lines until they were fully consolidated in the membership. We came to recognize that it was incorrect to hide behind the cover of “underdevelopment” but that a communist group through its leadership must always put forth its most advanced position, and then struggle to consolidate the organization around this position.
5. Economist work in the trade unions versus open communist work in the trade unions. Despite the fact that we were striving for M-L, we continued to do economist work in the trade unions. We tailed the RWL’s right line in district #34 because of our line of unprincipled unity with the RWL (see #10) and because of our own pragmatist approach to mass work. We are still struggling to change the nature of our work to develop communist work in the trade unions. This means diverting the working class movement from the spontaneous bourgeois politics of trade unionism to the proletarian politics of socialist revolution.
6. Break with right opportunism versus flipping into left errors. As we struggled to break with right opportunism, we began to make- many “left” errors. We recognized the need to break with reformism and to raise the question of revolution in the mass movement. But in doing so we flipped from the right to the “left” by starting to absolutize party building and liquidating our responsibility of giving communist political leadership to the mass movement,
7. Vulgar proletarization line versus the conscious development of a proletarian class stand. Our error was seeing that industrial work was the basis, or part of the basis, for establishing a proletarian class stand and breaking with our petty bourgeois stand. We have struggled to grasp that developing a proletarian class stand, that of MLMTT is NOT a spontaneous process but a conscious one of criticism-self-criticism, study, involvement in class struggle, and scientific experimentation. At the same time we uphold the principle that communists must thoroughly integrate themselves with the masses in order to constantly learn from the masses and to fuse the communist movement with the workers movement.
8. Black-white unprincipled unity versus scientific understanding of the national question and the struggle to build the principled unity of the multi-national working class. Through our study we had recognized that the oppression of Black people has a national character. Our mass practice, however, reflected the line of building unity of Black and-White workers against the bosses and fighting racism as part of that struggle. This position tails the spontaneous consciousness of the movement because the average worker, including white workers, today recognize that black and white must unite to fight the boss and that racism divides, people. The correct role for communists is to lead, not tail the spontaneous mass movement. Communists must struggle with workers, especially white workers, to recognize that the oppression of Black people is a national question – the historic, political, cultural, economic oppression of a whole people – and that it is in the interests of the proletariat to lead the struggle against this oppression. The oppressed nations and national minorities are the main allies of the U.S. proletariat and only through taking up the struggle for national liberation can the true unity of the multi-national working class be built.

Our spontaneous line of building unprincipled Black-White unity was based on national chauvinism and pragmatism. We are currently waging struggle within the CWC to root out this bankrupt line and to take up the study of the Afro-American national question in order to develop a scientific position on this major political question.

9. Petty bourgeois vacillation in our membership versus development of a staunch communist organization based on consolidated proletarian stand. In the last three months staunch cadre in the organization have led an effort by the CWC to make a decisive break with petty bourgeois class stand and to rid the organization of any and all elements who, even if honest, do not consistently stand with the proletariat and therefore do not belong on the General Staff of the proletariat. This struggle has deepened our grasp of placing party building on the ideological plane.
10. Unprincipled unity with the RWL versus a scientific analysis of the communist movement and struggling to build the principled unity of Marxist-Leninists. Our attitude towards the communist movement had two contradictory aspects. First, a positive determination to fight small circle spirit and to unite with the communist movement. This aspect was principle overall. Second, an instability of principles and a failure to staunchly uphold principles in the struggle for unity. In the course of our struggles with the Guardian, PWOC, OL, and RCP, the RWL’s more correct line against centrism and pragmatism (actually the line against pragmatism was put forth by WVO), had helped us break with these trends. Our view was that, on the whole, the local RWL cadre (district 34) were staunch communists that had a good grasp of the science, and we empirically generalized this onto the rest of RWL. We therefore pushed for unprincipled unity with the RWL. This was a failure to uphold the leading role of line as the sole basis of unity.

The unprincipled unity line led to several errors. First of all, it led to our immediately unifying with PRRWO’s and RWL’s “purge” of WVO from the revolutionary wing. We united with this view on the basis of superficial perceptions. But the main aspect was our falling into opportunism, was our setting aside the science and bowing to spontaneity. This was particularly serious because we were somewhat familiar with WVO’s work. In fact WVO’s journals had been key in our grasping the bankruptcy of RU and OL and had armed comrades in struggles both internally and externally against these, trends.

A second error was that we separated the criticisms we had of the two districts of RWL from our view of the national organization. This was a continued manifestation of our centrism, our conciliationist tendency which leads to a philistine attitude towards struggle. This hesitation to go against the tide is bankrupt and has to be broken with to take up the stand of the proletariat. The CWC is determined to wage this important struggle and to uphold the interests of the proletariat whatever the consequences may be. As part of this break with opportunism, we have earnestly taken up the study of the polemic raging between RWL-PRRWO versus WVO and the task of vigorously putting forth a view. This polemic has greatly sharpened our growing understanding of the questions facing the revolutionary movement in the U.S., and in particular, the “left” opportunist line we had been moving towards.

The CWC upholds the use of criticism-self-criticism, repudiation, and transformation as the method for breaking with opportunism and developing Marxist-Leninist politics and a proletarian class stand. We have been determined not to simply drop out of NAM, but to get to the root of what NAM was all about, to deal with the basis for our involvement, and to expose this to the revolutionary movement in the U.S. We are struggling to break with the petty bourgeois class stand in all the forms it takes. The two major ideological deviations which underlie the line struggles above are centrism and pragmatism. Whenever we become conscious of an error, we struggle to deepen it to its ideological roots so that we can thoroughly criticize and self-criticize the error, repudiate it and transform our work.

In the past the local RWL comrades in district #34 have had a contradictory but overall positive influence on our struggle against opportunism. These comrades consistently (in both intended and unintended ways) represented a force which set some very good examples, opened the way to our grasping many important questions, and especially in understanding the leading role of theory. On the negative side was the RWL’s general no struggle attitude towards us.

In April, 1976, the CWC criticized the RWL for failing to work to unite Marxist-Leninists and a no-struggle attitude. We saw bourgeois nationalism and pragmatism as the basis of these errors. Since then events have confirmed that the RWL is indeed operating under an incorrect line.

These events included:
1. A split in RWL district 35. We have consolidated the view that the group that left are genuine communists and that the group that remained is a consolidated opportunist body.
2. The problems in the liaison relationship in district 34 between RWL and CWC culminating in April, 1976 in the RWL liquidating the liaison relationship.
3. Study and observation of the polemic between RWL and WVO.

Study and struggle has consolidated our view that the RWL has been operating under a “left” opportunist line. The essence of the line is vulgar and mechanical materialism, metaphysical absolutizing of one aspect of a contradiction (for example, “party building as the central and only task”) and a self serving method of struggle characterized by sophistry and demagogy. These will be thoroughly examined in this paper.

Right opportunism is the long-term, main danger in the communist movement, both domestically and internationally, and it is also the main danger in our movement today. Opportunism, however, can also take a “left” form and the struggle against it should not be belittled.

Lenin, in ’Left Wing’ Communism: An Infantile Disorder explains that although right opportunism is the principle enemy of Bolshevism,

Something different must be said of the other enemy of Bolshevism within the working-class movement... Bolshevism grew up, took shape, and became steeled in long years of struggle against petty-bourgeois revolutionism, WHICH SMACKS OF, or borrows something from, anarchism, and which falls short, in anything essential, of the conditions and requirements of a consistently proletarian class struggle... Anarchism was not infrequently a sort of punishment for the opportunist, sins of the working class movement. The two monstrosities were mutually complementary. (p. 16-17, FLP)

The main struggle recently within the communist movement has been against the right opportunist lines of the OL, RCP, and the Guardian. But in the course of this struggle, as a punishment for the sins of right opportunism, the other monstrosity has arisen – the “left” opportunist line of RWL and PRRWO.

Although “left” opportunism has characterized their line since sometime after January, 1976, before that time the RWL was dominated by a right opportunist line. Underlying both of these incorrect lines has been the deeper problem – bourgeois nationalism. It is the position of the CWC that bourgeois nationalism has been the fundamental problem within the RWL since its formation three years ago. Until this error is rooted out in a complete and thorough way, the RWL will continue to operate under bourgeois ideology, and consequently, incorrect lines, right or “left”, of the two, national chauvinism and bourgeois nationalism, national chauvinism is the greater. National chauvinism is the main danger within the communist movement as well as within the working class as a whole. Bourgeois nationalism, both within the working class and within the communist movement is a response to, a product of, national chauvinism, another “punishment for the opportunist sins of the working class movement.” We must continue the resolute struggle against national chauvinism in all its manifestations the most blatant form it takes in the RCP, the more subtle guilty liberal form it takes in OL, and the Black-White unprincipled unity line in our own organization. But we cannot underestimate the danger of the other monstrosity of bourgeois nationalism.

One point that we thoroughly develop in this polemic is the way that RWL absolutizes one aspect of a contradiction. Because right opportunism is usually the main aspect of the contradiction between right and “left” opportunism, and because national chauvinism is usually the main aspect of the contradiction between national chauvinism and bourgeois nationalism, the RWL fails to seriously deal with “left” opportunism or bourgeois nationalism. Although right opportunism and national chauvinism are principal within the general communist movement, within the particular of the RWL, “left” opportunism and bourgeois nationalism are principal. A correct line must be developed through the struggle against errors on both sides, of these contradictions.

The RWL does recognize bourgeois nationalist errors. In discussing the development of the RWL in the Bolshevik, they state in describing their origins:

...our almost exclusive involvement in the BLM provided objective conditions for the development of the Bundist deviations which we temporarily fell into even while fighting the ’blue-eyed devil’ line (p. 59)...We had struggled hard to defeat the vulgar and blatant line on spontaneity that permeated the BLM (’Black people are a natural people,’ ’Black people naturally do what’s right’) (p. 60)...Based on our work within the. BLM, our knowledge of the national divisions within the working class and our struggles against white chauvinism, we elevated national factors above the question of class and committed a Bundist deviation. This deviation... led us into a sectarian attitude toward the communist movement which, focusing on the RU-OL, we considered mainly white. (pp.62-63)

Although the RWL struggled against the more blatant forms of bourgeois nationalism within the BLM, and did represent a step forward, it did not break with bourgeois nationalism. During the process of formation, the article states

...our identification of the key link was determined in relation to moving the BLM forward and not the communist movement and party building. How deep this error ran will become clear when we examine the initial principles of unity on which the RWL was formed (p. 63)...(In the principles of unity ’Black revolutionaries’ is substituted for communists. In addition, though the principles upheld the need to build the working class movement, it made no mention of the need to actively build multi-national unity.) (p. 65).

In summing up its origins, the RWL states:

Emerging out of the eclecticism within the Black Liberation Movement we had just begun to break with metaphysics and idealism, which is the essence of bourgeois ideology. The ideological basis of our deviations was bowing to spontaneity; the root of all opportunism, regardless of its “infinite variety of forms. (p. 56)

What the RWL leaves out is the specific ideological deviation that characterized the organization – bourgeois nationalism.

Because the RWL generalized their ideological deviations – Metaphysics, idealism, bowing to spontaneity, and later “empiricism, rationalism, volunteerism” (p. 57), without getting at the specific form they took, the RWL is unable to break with this error.

The RWL’s inability to break with bourgeois nationalism “becomes clear when they describe the five major line struggles the organization has been through. In the first line struggle “the basic question was one of communism or revolutionary nationalism. However, the struggle took the form of struggle over organizational questions” (p. 66) The section goes on to describe the organizational struggles, and never again mentions the “basic question” of “communism or revolutionary nationalism.” In other words, this contradiction was not addressed and not resolved. Ignoring it, however, did not mean it would go away.

The third line struggle:

The question was one of national or multinational forms for communist organizations, in particular for the RWL. This struggle was relatively shallow as it was being eclipsed by the emerging struggle around the RU line on party building. Out of these struggles, the RWL repudiated its former line of national forms being a tactical question, identifying the fact that, in essence, we had upheld a Bundist deviation on the question of organization. The basic deviation was elevating nationality over class and thus raising barriers to welding the unity of the working class as a whole...The basis of the error was again bowing to spontaneity, to the influence of the nationalists within the BLM and RWL. (p. 69)

Again RWL generalized the error to bowing to spontaneity without particularizing the ideological deviation of bourgeois nationalism. Instead the problem is the influence of individual narrow nationalists, not the underlying influence of bourgeois nationalism that permeates RWL. The above quote goes on to state, “It is a clear example of determining our conduct ’from case to case...’ [going on to quote Lenin]” (p.69-70) The point is not that RWL determines its conduct from case to case, but that bourgeois nationalism underlies all the cases.

This failure to decisively and fully struggle to root out bourgeois ideology means that the organization is still dominated it. All their Party building efforts are stamped with this fact. At one point this took a right form, and now it has flipped into a flat “left” opportunist line. As we will show below, RWL has failed to grasp the kind of Party we are building and how it has to be built on the ideological plane. We will show how their dogmatism in formulating the tasks facing the movement, their pragmatic use of criticism and self-criticism, sophistry, demagogy and bourgeois maneuvering in polemics and struggling in the communist movement, their growing abstentionism from the mass movement, their wrecking mass organizations, etc., all work against the interest of the proletariat. They fail to unite Marxist-Leninists and are dominated by circle spirit and organizational chauvinism. In sum, they fail to build the revolutionary, vanguard Communist Party of the U.S. proletariat.

Comrades! This raggedy “Left” opportunist line must be smashed. But the struggle against bourgeois nationalism must be conducted if the RWL is to consolidate around a correct line.

Comrades! Build the genuine vanguard Communist Party of the multinational U.S. working class!


[1] All communists must stand firmly on the principle of proletarian internationalism. Therefore, any form of nationalism within the Communist movement represents bourgeois nationalism as opposed to proletarian internationalism. Within society, however, nationalism can take on a revolutionary character, representing the aspirations of the oppressed nationalities (the main ally of the proletariat) for liberation. Communists unite with the revolutionary and anti-capitalist aspects of revolutionary nationalism, while struggling against the narrow nationalist aspects.