Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Martin Nicolaus

Marxism or Klonskyism?

How the October League’s top circle, led by M. Klonsky, uses method of suppression and demagogy to consolidate Browderite line on way to its “founding congress.” A lesson by negative example in party-building.

M-L Forward Note: The Call, organ of the October League, published in its issue of Nov. 30 an announcement of the ”expulsion” of Martin Nicolaus and a polemic against his alleged political views. Nicolaus, it asserted, ”promoted revisionism on every question.” Below is Nicolaus’ reply to these allegations and his account of the controversy.


Ideological struggle is the life-blood of a Marxist-Leninist organization. Countless experiences in the history of the communist move-have shown that it is only in course of Struggle against the incorrect line that the correct, Marxist-Leninist line emerges and moves forward.

In the long run of history, the correct line inevitably emerges victorious, and revisionism will be defeated. This is because the people of the world, who are the real makers of history, will not stand for anything else. In the short run, however, it is not so simple.

Sometimes the Marxist-Leninist line triumphs over the revisionist line; the current struggle in China led by Comrade Hua Kuo-feng against the “gang of four” is an example. At other times the revisionist line carries off a temporary victory; the Khrushchov “gang’s” usurpation of power in the USSR is an example of the latter kind. In the one case, the struggle led to the consolidation of Marxism-Leninism and the ouster of revisionists; in the other, to the consolidation of revisionism and the ouster of Marxist-Leninists.


While firmly believing in the inevitable victory of Marxism-Leninism in the long run, therefore, Marxist-Leninists insist also on examining each particular struggle on its merits, to see whether victory in this particular case went to the Marxist-Leninist or, temporarily, to the revisionist line. Nothing is more thoughtless and revealing of the opportunist spirit than the notion that whoever won must have been correct. Careerism thinks this way, not Marxism-Leninism.

To judge each struggle and its outcome according to its particular features is a Leninist principle. When the opportunists of his day, the Mensheviks, succeeded after the Second Congress in 1903 in gaining control of the Russian Party’s central committee and of its central organ, Iskra, they crowed that they had “made a revolution.” Lenin replied:

They did indeed make a revolution after the Congress; and it is true, too, that generally speaking the world does move through revolutions. But the concrete significance of each concrete revolution is not defined by this general aphorism; there are revolutions which are more like reaction, to paraphrase the unforgettable expression of the unforgettable Comrade Martov. We must know whether it was the revolutionary or the opportunist wing of the Party that was the actual force that made the revolution, must know whether it was revolutionary or opportunist principles that inspired the fighters, before we can determine whether a particular concrete revolution moved the ’world’ (our Party) forward or backward. (One Step Forward, Two Steps Back in Collected Works Vol. 7 p. 412)

Today in our movement, it is the turn of the top leadership of the October League to shout “victory” – over “revisionism,” over the “circle spirit” and what not. It too claims to have made a revolution of sorts in achieving a rupture of the organizational ties that formerly bound us. It prints the news of my “expulsion” – the break was, in fact, mutual – in big red letters, bigger and redder even than its message of greetings to the Albanian Party of Labor; and it concludes its “polemic” (if this frantic laundry list of accusations can be called a polemic) with the cry of “Death to Revisionism,” as if the only event that it would celebrate as an even greater “victory” would be the receipt of an invitation to my funeral.

All this big fuss, though serious, has a comical aspect for someone who knows the circumstances. As if Nicolaus had been the head of a major department, or leader of some organized trend, grouping or faction! On the contrary. I never attempted to form anything of the sort. Contrary to the insinuations of the Klonsky circle, I followed punctiliously the rules of procedure in our ideological struggle, even when the Klonsky circle flagrantly violated them. Though formally I was a member of the leading body, my major assigned responsibility in the last few weeks was to proofread The Call. All this noise over the departure of a proofreader!

Why then the hullaballoo? What “threat” did I represent that occasioned this display of melodramatics on a scale the Klonsky circle doesn’t ordinarily even devote to Gus Hall (whose party, incidentally, it has started to treat as an insignificant magnitude)? The answer is that I had the temerity, unknown in the immediate environment of Chairman Klonsky, to disagree with, then to oppose, to expose and to refuse to submit to the ideological and political line of what I shall call “Klonskyism.”

There was a time when this was not a mortal sin. In those days, Klonskyism – despite persistent weaknesses – moved on the whole on the Marxist-Leninist road; and in those days Klonskyism confidently permitted and encouraged ideological struggle in a democratic-centralist way within the organization. That was a long time ago. Things have changed since then. Today, Klonskyism has departed in its heart from the Marxist-Leninist road, and lacks the confidence to permit itself to be disagreed with and to resolve the differences in a Marxist-Leninist fashion. Today Klonskyism is like petty warlord bully-ism, anxious, insecure, and therefore given to lashing out, to loosening torrents of abuse, howling “revisionist” at every leaf that stirs and shouting “death!” at all who don’t prostrate themselves in the dust at its feet. Klonsky is wrong; that is why he shouts and threatens so. . .

The advanced workers and Marxist-Leninist intellectuals will not allow themselves to be impressed by such melodramatics. They will not be swayed by glib comparisons with other struggles in other times and places. They will demand a full account of the differences, the aims and methods of struggle each side employed, and they will not rest content with hearing one side only, but will insist on a more rounded picture.

The members of the October League are in an especially favorable position in this regard. There exists a fairly extensive documentary record of this controversy. It runs to nearly 200 pages of internal documents, of which about two-thirds is my papers on various occasions, including the lengthy paper I submitted with my letter of resignation. Any member of the October League who wishes really to be able to speak on this controversy should investigate that record, make a full and independent study of the documents, analyze the issues, and form a judgment without preconceptions, just as Lenin urged the members of the Russian party to study the minutes of the Second Congress. Now that the divergences have turned into a breaks what possible reason can -there be for the Klonsky circle to deny OL members access to the record? (While I was a member of the organization, the Klonsky circle blocked every one of my papers from general distribution to the membership.)

If they do achieve access to the record, however, OL members will find that matters did not develop quite as they have been painted in The Call. Our differences of line, emerging, developing and deepening over a period of months, involve the basic theory and method of party-building; they involve basic points of policy toward different trends in the U.S. imperialist ruling class and in the labor bureaucracy; they involve some points of history and theory regarding the restoration of capitalism in the USSR, and they involve some points concerning the world situation. Saving the last two points for the next issue of M-L FORWARD – the differences on these scores are not irremediable – I shall lay out our major disagreements in the course of this article.

Basically, taken all together, the differences in this particular struggle all come down to the difference between Marxism-Leninism and “Klonskyism.”

What is “Klonskyism”? The reader will see in the following pages its distinguishing features. Klonskyism, the ideology and methods of M. Klonsky, chairman of the October League, signifies an incomplete break with the bourgeois – democratic and petty-bourgeois revolutionist movements of the 1960s. It means an incompleted rebellion against the revisionism of the CPUSA. Klonskyism means a shallow, superficial advance from the historical sources of much of our movement; it means failure to advance completely and thoroughly to Marxism-Leninism, and thus it means relapse and regression into the old ideology, carrying the colors of the new along with it. If one word can describe what Klonskyism has become today, as a result of its unconquered bourgeois and revisionist heritage, it is Browderism. Browderism means revisionism at the top of a revolutionary organization; it means a line of capitulation to the bourgeoisie promoted from the summit of an organization dedicated to overthrowing the bourgeoisie; it means a line of liquidating the Party nestling in the very leadership of that party. Klonskyism today has degenerated into Browderism.

Yes, Klonskyism has won a “victory” for the moment. It has consolidated its grip on the October League – by what means, I will show – and will not be unfastened by ordinary, routine measures. The “victory” of Klonskyism in this particular struggle is indisputable. But what kind of victory was it? It was like the outcome of that struggle described by Lenin in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back:

The furious gale raised all the mud from the bottom of our Party stream; and the mud took its revenge. The old hidebound circle spirit overpowered the still young party spirit. (Vol. 7, p. 413)

The victory of Klonskyism, of the hidebound spirit of the Klonsky circle, was such a “revenge of the mud.” However, just as there are revolutions which are more like reaction, as Lenin said, so there are “victories” which turn out to be more like defeats. This triumph of the mud will be temporary. It will serve as a valuable lesson by negative example in party-building, and thus it will contribute despite itself, and over it, in moving the Party – the single, unified Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of the U.S. – nearer within reach.