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.

3. Klonskyism “versus” Liberal Politics

The Klonsky leadership’s errors of two and three years ago on the question of the liberal wing of the ruling class and of the trade union bureaucracy are by now fairly widely known, and some of them have been at least formally acknowledged as errors. But how deep did this acknowledgement go? Was the root of this chain of errors – this bourgeois-democratic deviation – exposed and pulled out? The test lies in the “new” line of the Klonsky circle on these questions, i.e. the line that took the place of the one that was acknowledged as erroneous, at least in part and in words. This “new” line, the line currently in effect, forms the subject here.

What does this “new” line consist of? In a word, it is the old line with a facelift. Instead of a relatively open and “frank” line of tailing behind the liberal wing of the ruling class, there is a policy of evasions, feints and screens, both in practice and in theory, which continues the old policy in a more disguised, and hence more dangerous form. The “new” line is related to the old as “centrism” is related to revisionism; that is to say, in essence it is the same, but in its appearance it is more polished, more sophisticated, more camouflaged and more insidious.

Let us study one by one the major evasions, disguises and feints in order to strip them away and get to the real content of Klonskyism, its capitulationism.


Between 75 and 100 million people in the U.S. watched the three presidential debates in the past election campaign. The Call, as organ of the Klonsky circle, devoted to this mass bourgeois campaign of political education a total of about six inches of space, and all of that devoted to Ford’s blunder on Eastern Europe.

This policy of non-coverage, this benign neglect of political affairs, was a glaring case of leaving the political education of the workers in the hands of others. Somehow the “centrist” Guardian, the openly revisionist Daily World, the Trotskyite Militant, not to mention the big bourgeois news media, all found in these debates sufficient material for teaching their audiences their political philosophies and views, but the only Marxist-Leninist weekly in the U.S. could find nothing to say, no way to use the events to teach Marxist-Leninist philosophy and politics. The basic assumption under this indifference is that the workers are supposedly too “apathetic” or “uninterested” to hear the Marxist-Leninist analysis of political affairs; and this amounts to blaming the workers for one’s own backwardness.

Given such an indifference on the part of the Klonsky circle to political material in general, there is even less exposure devoted to the role of the liberals in particular. Out of 26 issues of the weekly Call – half a year – only three carried sizeable articles focusing the exposure on liberal politicians (Nos. 1, 5 and 15).

None was a product of the Klonsky circle’s initiative or effort; at least half a dozen others were killed by the Klonsky circle’s discouragement of such efforts before they were produced. Of the three that appeared, I wrote two myself, and my next was suppressed after the first draft. The Klonsky editorial policy displays the same “enthusiasm” for exposures of the liberal politicians and labor bureaucrats as the Silber policy shows for exposures of Soviet social-imperialism; the difference is that the Klonsky editorial censorship is more effective because of its “Marxist-Leninist-Mao Tsetung Thought” disguise.


For the Klonsky circle’s basic “view” of the liberals, the reader should consult The Call editorial of Aug. 30 on the conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties.

“Despite the bitter internal struggles going on within both ruling class parties,” it says there, “the conventions were filled with common calls by all factions for continued racial segregation, renewed aggression against the third world, continued, superpower rivalry with the Soviet Union, and even greater tightening of the domination, exploitation and repression of all working people.”

Except for repeating for the nth time, again without any fresh facts or data, the same general (and true enough) formula about a “detente” and an “anti-’detente”’ wing, nothing at all is said about the substance of the “bitter internal struggles” within the parties. All we hear is of “common calls by all factions for continued racial segregation...”!

Were The Call editors (more accurately, was the Klonsky circle) on the moon at the time these conventions were held? This description is not even accurate far the Republican convention, where the consensus lay rather in denying that problems like “racial segregation” etc. exist; but as to the Democratic convention it is sheer fantasy. The editorial pretends that there does not exist a sizeable faction of these imperialist politicians who, instead of calling for continued segregation, called for just the opposite. They called for an end to U.S. support of third world dictatorships, they called for an end to superpower rivalry, they called for higher wages, justice and freedom for working people and minorities, etc. etc. ad infinitum. The keynote address by Rep. Barbara Jordan summed up this liberal demagogy to the highest degree of rhetorical perfection, and also got the biggest ovation of any speech including Carter’s.

The Klonsky circle’s sum-up pretends that liberal politicians don’t exist! Of course, if liberals don’t exist, if all imperialist politicians openly call for what they really stand for, then there is no need to take up the laborious task of exposing them, no need to expand the scope and content of political agitation. . . As Marx said, if appearance coincided with essence, there would be no need for science.

In reality, the Klonsky circle’s indifference to the liberals – here carried to its logical extreme of complete blindness – is only a way of demonstrating impotence in the face of the liberal rhetoric. Avoiding the existence of liberals is one of the surest ways of leaving them a free hand for educating the workers in their point of view, the point of view of the bourgeoisie.


Moreover, as the same editorial demonstrates by example, blindness to liberalism is also a step toward (consciously or unconsciously) echoing their campaign rhetoric. In the next to last paragraph it says:

Ford also made hay off of the lie that he had ’pulled the country out of its crisis.’ While unemployment continues to soar, Ford used his massive TV exposure to claim that an era of prosperity lies ahead.” Hear! Hear! Except for the “folksy” grammar (“made hay off of”), this line could have been lifted verbatim from a Democratic Party press handout.

For a supplementary illustration of the truth that those who are indifferent to the liberals are condemned to repeat them, the reader should study the front-pager in No. 19, titled “Jobless Rate Climbs.” The focus from the outset is the “Ford administration,” as if the source of all evils lay there, and the article rakes Ford and his spokesmen again and again over the coals of the rising jobless rate, just in the manner of a Democratic Party after-dinner fundraising speech. A sentence about “the capitalist system itself” is tacked on the end, long after the audience has fallen asleep. Only one bland paragraph is slipped in about the Democrats’ reaction to the rising unemployment rate, and Carter’s highly interesting (and un-liberal) statements on the occasion to the effect that balancing the budget was his first priority are passed over without comment. There is even an oblique pat on the back for the liberal Democrats in a sentence that contrasts the 4 per cent unemployment rate ”during President Kennedy’s administration” with the 7 per cent rate under Ford. The Klonsky circle calls this a model article. It is. It is a “model” of capitulating to and flattering the liberal bourgeoisie.


Sharply challenged on this score in our struggle, the Klonsky circle then took a slightly different tack. In the context of a discussion over the political significance of the recent widespread cutbacks in liberal-sponsored government reform programs, the Klonsky circle issued a “warning” to the effect that the U.S. ruling class still has a great capability for restoring the reforms they have been cutting back, and thus “co-opting the struggle.” Watch out for the liberal politicians, was the message, because once they get into government they will pass reform after reform and thus co-opt the revolution.

Well and good; this is a point well taken in the abstract. It would be foolish to draw from the facts of the present deepening economic crisis the conclusion that capitalism is incapable of temporarily restabilizing itself. It would be absurd to believe that capitalism has exhausted its potential for making reforms to coopt the revolution. It would be nonsense to believe that capitalism could collapse of its own accord under the weight of its contradictions, without being hit. These general points, however, are not at all the issue. The issue is, how to fight the liberals’ ideological and organizational influence over the spontaneous movements here and now, in order to replace that influence with the influence of Marxism-Leninism and of a Marxist-Leninist Party? How can we prepare the ground of public opinion now $o assure that these movements will come under Marxist-Leninist rather than under liberal leadership in the earliest possible future? How to agitate against the liberal politicians here and now, that is the question.

In this concrete context, the Klonsky circle’s warning to ’watch out, the liberals will make reforms’ is nothing more than an echo and endorsement of the liberals’ campaign promises to the masses.


It is like stepping before an audience of workers, following, say, a Mondale campaign speech, and saying: “Workers! The liberal politicians have promised you that if you do no more than go to the voting booth and cast your ballot for them, they will restore the cutbacks, oust the rotten judges, bring justice to the minorities and women, and give you large-scale measures of relief and reform. Well, we warn you, if you follow the liberals’ leadership, reform is exactly what you are going to get...”

Long before this speech can get around to pronouncing the conclusion, “we however offer you revolution!” it will have been drowned out by laughter. The Klonsky circle’s “warning” is based on the Santa Claus theory of the liberal bourgeoisie, namely the idea that the liberal bourgeoisie keeps its campaign promises and concedes reforms and relief for the workers – without being forced to do so by the spectre of revolution.

Let’s look at history. The Great Depression of the 1930s, as everyone knows, brought about an enormous increase in the misery and oppression of the masses. It also brought forth, first slowly, then with mounting intensity, a spontaneous movement of resistance verging at points on spontaneous rebellion. In the course of this crisis, the then-revolutionary CPUSA was able to win ideological and then organizational leadership, in whole or in part, of the most important spontaneous movements; it was able, to a greater extent than had previously been achieved, to channel, concentrate and convert spontaneous resistance into organized, conscious revolutionary action.

It was not out of any goodness in their hearts, but out of fear of the mounting power of the working class movement – fear of revolution – that the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie in that crisis struggled (in its bourgeois fashion) against the conservative wing and overcame it to a sufficient degree to produce the government reform programs that the conservatives still today sometimes call “socialistic”: the “progressive” income tax, Social Security, unemployment compensation, welfare, the right to form unions and bargain collectively, the beginnings of civil rights legislation, etc. etc.


These were not “gifts” from the liberal bourgeoisie, they were byproducts of revolutionary struggle. The intent of the bourgeoisie in yielding these reforms was precisely what Stalin indicated in Foundations of Leninism, namely to use this policy as “an instrument for strengthening that regime, an instrument for disintegrating the revolution.” It is always this way under the bourgeois dictatorship. Nothing is “given” to the workers and oppressed minorities except as a byproduct of revolutionary struggle; whatever is “given” is given only in order to disintegrate the revolutionary struggle; and when the revolutionary threat has temporarily disintegrated, receded and waned, whatever was won before is taken away again.

Why was the liberal policy of the imperialist ruling class at that time – essentially the policy of Roosevelt – successful in disintegrating the revolutionary threat, while the fascist demagogues and the stand-pat Hooverite policies utterly failed to do so? Evidently, errors and weaknesses on the part of the CPUSA, stemming from the influence of Browderite revisionism, must bear a very large share of the blame. But how, precisely, did these errors manifest themselves? No doubt those who point to a lack of Marxist-Leninist education and study within the CP as an error are correct; but this does not really answer the question, no more than saying the wreck of the Titanic was due to lack of education in the principles of navigation and meteorology. More particular, specific factors need to be identified. One of them was certainly this: the CP’s failure, due to the Browderite influence, to conduct systematic political agitation (exposure) of the liberal bourgeoisie; indifference and benign neglect of the liberal bourgeoisie; in short, failure to practice Lenin’s teachings on political agitation and the ’class point of view.’

During the 1960s there was a modified, smaller-scale second edition of the reform policy of the 1930s. This time there was no genuine Communist Party (its secondary weaknesses had become the principal aspect), but the ruling class had the war in Indochina to carry on, and the spontaneous rebellions in the ghettoes, the growth of the Black Power movement in the South, and all the other outbreaks of resistance during the period compelled the bourgeoisie to resort to the “War on Poverty,” the Peace Corps and Vista, some child care and a few Black Studies and bilingual programs and some other crumbs.


At the present time, in 1976, we are in a period of “taking away again.” On practically every front, the trend is to erode and to cut back again the “house that the liberals built” to save capitalism from revolution in previous decades. Even the Social Security program, financially the mammoth among the Depression-era reform creatures, is being steered toward a gradual extinction.

The economic factors making for this trend are, in general, not very mysterious. The sharpening economic crisis, the accumulated burdens of deficits and debts, the weakening world position of U.S. imperialism, the strain of stepped-up war preparations in face of the other superpower’s expansion account in the main for the economic side of the trend. This will hardly be cause for debate among Marxist-Leninists.

It is on the political side that certain Marxist-Leninists have trouble penetrating the “mysteries” of what is going on. In reality there is no great mystery to it. The Number One political factor why the ruling class is today embarked on its takeaway policy is that the mass movements of resistance to its established order are by and large “safely” under liberal leadership and liberal organizational control. And the number one cause of this cause is the retrograde trend among Marxist-Leninists which capitulates to this influence and does not, instead, make the exposure of this influence its number one concern.

How should Marxist-Leninists answer the promises and blandishments of the liberal politicians? Certainly not by “warning” the workers – before the election– that the liberals will keep their campaign promises.

This Klonskyite notion makes agitation of any kind impossible. Especially when combined with the Klonskyite idea that all agitation is inherently rightist (an idea for which Tung warmly applauded Klonsky in the September Workers’ Viewpoint), this thinking must paralyze not only Party work, but also Fightback work. The depressing effect of Klonskyism, of the theorizing of M. Klonsky, is one of the chief factors behind the extent of ideological confusion in the National Fight Back Organization, which has prevented it from keeping pace either with the bright prospects raised at its founding conference a year ago, or with the objective pace of development of the economic crisis and of the spontaneous movements.


Workers! The liberals have promised you, in exchange for your votes, all kinds of reform and relief. They are lying through their teeth. They will not keep one out of a hundred of their pretty promises. If you want reform and relief – and we all know how hard the situation is – the first thing you must do is to break with these liberal leaders, who lie to you year after year that the way the working class gets anything is to rely on them and to rely on the rules of this political system. This political system is designed and run for one purpose only . . .

In such a way, approximately, but with fresh material of political exposure taken from daily events for illustration, is how a Marxist-Leninist speech in the present circumstances (this was written before the election – MN) ought to start out. With such a beginning – but never with the beginning that takes liberal promises for whole coin – a Marxist-Leninist will get a hearing from the workers, will be able to expose the nature of the democratic shell that conceals the capitalist dictatorship, will be able to explain the necessity of revolutionary tactics and to make clear the senselessness of the existing system and the inevitability and desirability of a wholly different form of state in which the workers are the ruling class, etc. In such a way, a Marxist-Leninist will be able to begin to undermine and to defeat the ideological influence of the liberals over the working class, to destroy the credibility of the liberals as masters of the political education of the workers, and thus to prepare the ground of public opinion for smashing the liberals’ organizational leadership as well, and replacing it with the leadership of Marxist-Leninists.

To raise the warning that the liberals will be able to co-opt the struggle in the future is also a singular form of blindness to where the struggle stands today. The liberals co-opted the present struggles years ago, they are daily co-opting them right under our noses; the task precisely is to un-coopt the struggles. The immediate danger is not so much the ability of the bourgeoisie to co-opt a revolutionary mass struggle that does not yet exist, led by a revolutionary party that has not yet been built, as the much more subtle ability of the bourgeoisie to co-opt the revolutionary party and the revolutionary struggle before it begins, in embryo, by way. of a quiet, almost imperceptible and “unpunishable” – as Lenin put it – corruption of the Marxist-Leninist party-builders.

In the last analysis, this Klonskyite talk of warning about a future co-optation is a cover for not attacking the co-optation that is presently in the saddle. It is a “clever” excuse for retreating from the spontaneous mass movements, another form of capitulation to liberal leadership.


In the course of several of the more important factory and community struggles in which the October League was involved in earlier years, it formed tactical alliances with various reformist leaders. For example, there was an alliance with Early Mays in the Brotherhood Caucus at GM’s Fremont assembly plant in California; the alliance with Hoseah Williams in Atlanta; and more or less ’platonic’ alliances with Arnold Miller in the UMW and Ed Sadlowski in the USWA. The latter consisted more of ideological support (hence ’platonic’) than of actual working relationships, but the question at bottom is the same.

Virtually all the leaders who figured as allies in these struggles of two or three years ago no longer do so today – to put it mildly. A recent OL leaflet from Fremont, for example, showed Early Mays (now a UAW bureaucrat) tied to a railroad track with the “rank and file express” bearing down on him. Hoseah Williams has set up a manufacturing business with a loan from one of Atlanta’s more notorious racists; Miller helped expel The Call from the UMW convention, and so forth and so on.

How are these experiences to be summed up?

The Klonsky circle maintains two sets of dishes on this question, one for display when company comes, and the other for actual use.

For display, the Klonsky circle writes in its series of articles on the trade union question that tactical alliances with bourgeois trade union and community leaders are sometimes necessary and permissible, but that, within them, the Marxist-Leninists must maintain their right to criticize their allies and must keep the initiative and exercise independence.

This is in substance correct. In following this line of analysis, one is led to examine the past alliances entered into by the OL to see whether or not the proper conditions existed, and whether or not the OL maintained the independent role and the initiative that are the key to the success of the relationship. One will be led to see that in a number of cases the answer is “no;” that the initiative was lost, and that the alliances became a cover for tailing the liberal leaders. In some cases, it was not even recognized that the allies were in fact liberals, i.e. leaders following a bourgeois line within the workers’ movement; and thus, when the alliance came to its inevitable end, there are feelings of surprise, shock, revenge, etc. etc.

In public, the Klonsky circle correctly defends the permissibility of tactical alliances in the proper conditions. But in actual use there is a different set of dishes. In its own kitchen, the Klonsky circle shouts “damn all alliances with bourgeois leaders,” and denounces the very idea of them as “right opportunism.”

Thus, when I had the temerity to suggest in the internal struggle that our past tactical alliances in trade union and community struggles had not yet been thoroughly summed up and the errors within them analyzed, the Klonsky circle roared back that all tactical alliances represent “unprincipled compromise.” It is for upholding the permissibility of tactical alliances, under the proper conditions, in trade union and community struggles, that the Klonsky circle accuses me of “advocating alliance with the liberal imperialists.” Since the liberal trade union and community leaders – of the stripe of Mays, Williams, Sadlowksi, etc. – are in essence ideological and/or actual agents of the U.S. imperialists, “therefore” tactical alliances with them are tantamount to alliance with U.S. imperialism. This is how the Klonsky circle reasons. Profound, isn’t it?

In fact, the Klonsky circle does not believe its own public analysis of the question of tactical alliances, but has evolved an internal line of phrasemongering isolationism. It sums up its past alliances in the way that romantic lovers, three times burned, swear never to hold hands again, and go off to a monastery.

Along this line of analysis, one is led not to examine the errors committed in the course of past alliances, but rather to imagine oneself very pure and correct, and to shout and curse the “dirty bastards” of allies who “tricked us.“


This way of summing up the experience of the OL shows that the Klonsky circle, in reality, still does not understand what alliances are, what their purpose is, and what is to be expected of this kind of allies.

Only those who are not sure of themselves can fear to enter into temporary alliances even with unreliable people; not a single political party could exist without such alliances,” Lenin pointed out already in What Is To Be Done. “But,” he added, “an essential condition for such an alliance must be the full opportunity for the socialists to reveal to the working class that its interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of the bourgeoisie.” (Collected Works Vol. 5, p. 362.)

In other words, there is nothing wrong in principle in entering into alliances with people who are “unreliable,” and who may at any time turn into open antagonists and try to stab one in the back – like Mays, Miller, etc. The point is not to enter into alliances with one’s eyes clouded by romantic illusions about the nature of the ally. The error of the OL’s policy lay not in making alliances per se, but rather in failing, within the alliance, to “reveal to the working class that its interests are diametrically opposed” to the interests of its ally; and it failed to “reveal” this because in most cases, it did not, itself, “see” it. Moreover, to this day the Klonsky circle does not see that any leaders who arise spontaneously from within the ranks of the workers’ movement will – unless Marxist-Leninists intervene and win them systematically to Marxism-Leninism – inevitably be reformists, liberals in outlook. To this day the Klonsky circle promotes illusions about such leaders; at one and the same time as it foams at the mouth against “alliances ’with bourgeois leaders” it preaches trust and reliance on leaders who are no less bourgeois in ideology than were Mays, Miller, etc., before they achieved prominence, office, spoils etc.

Stalin continued and defended the Leninist policy on alliances. He said:

... political agreements, political blocs ’ between the Communists and reactionary leaders ’ of the working class are quite possible and permissible....
”But why are such agreements necessary at all?
”In order to gain access to the working-class masses, in order to enlighten them as to the reactionary character of their political and trade-union leaders, in order to sever from the reactionary leaders the sections of the working class that are moving to the Left and becoming revolutionized, in order, consequently, to enhance the fighting ability of the working class as a whole.
”Accordingly, such blocs may be formed only on two basic conditions, viz., that we are ensured freedom to criticize the reformist leaders, and that the necessary conditions for severing the masses from the reactionary leaders are ensured. (On the Opposition, FLP, pp. 357-58.)

Somewhat later in returning to the theme, Stalin emphasizes:

Care must be taken, however, that such agreements do not restrict, do not limit the ’freedom of Communists to conduct revolutionary agitation and propaganda, that such agreements help to disintegrate the ranks of the reformists and to revolutionize the masses of workers who still follow the reactionary leaders. (On the Opposition, p. 800.)


It follows from this that it is quite wrong to confuse the concept of alliances with the concept of friendship. Some alliances are based on friendship; others are not, and it is harmful to get them mixed up, as does the Klonsky circle. The sort of alliances we are discussing here – tactical, temporary alliances with reformist, liberal leaders in the working class and oppressed nationality movements – are alliances with enemies. These alliances (provided the proper conditions are assured) are nothing more than the continuation by other means of the war against these antagonists. The purpose of such alliances is not to form lasting bonds with the ally, not to help and support the ally, but quite the contrary, to assure the downfall of the ally, to disintegrate the ally’s forces, and to form lasting bonds with the workers who had been misled by that ally.

(Alliances are one form of war; but they are not the only form. I say this against WVO’s making a fetish of this tactic under the banner of “unite to expose,” and even applying this notion to revisionist front groups. This ignores Stalin’s insistence on the proper conditions. History has shown that revisionist front groups by their very structure, aims, and composition, do not offer the conditions in which the tactic of alliance “to expose” succeeds in its aims; on the contrary, in those conditions this tactic only serves the revisionists. WVO offers several vivid illustrations of this truth in its own experience . . . The only correct tactic in regard to the revisionist party and its front groups is strict boycott; not “unite to expose” but “break to expose.”)


Tactical alliances with liberal leaders in the working class movement are one form of carrying on the strategic war against liberal leadership of the working class movement. Provided the proper conditions exist, such alliances are entirely permissible, consistent with Marxist-Leninist principles, and even obligatory.

Those who take an absolutist stance against alliances with bourgeois leaders of the working class, as does the Klonsky circle, are depriving the Party of the proletariat of one of the indispensable weapons in its arsenal for exposing the liberals and building the leadership of Marxist-Leninists. To reject tactical alliances with bourgeois leaders “on principle,” to howl and shout that such alliances amount to “alliance with the liberal wing of the U.S. imperialists,” to forget altogether about the difference between tactics and strategy – all these stratagems of the Klonsky circle are nothing more than another form of abandoning the battlefield, of capitulation to bourgeois leadership.

This is the hidden internal connection, the consistent opportunist logic that links the Klonsky circle’s evasions on the question of fighting the liberal leaders of the working class with the Klonsky circle’s phrasemongering against alliances. The “leftist” phrasemongering, as always, is a cover for Right opportunism.

From a relative open form of right opportunism to a phrase-covered continuation of the same error; from active tailing to passive withdrawal; from tailism to capitulationism – this is the “progress” of the Klonsky circle.


The Klonsky circle’s acknowledged right-opportunist errors of two years ago were all associated with the spectre of the “fascist tide” or “fascist threat.” At that time a policy of more or less open support and praise for the liberal bourgeoisie and its labor lieutenants was promoted under the banner of “unity against fascism.” In effect, this line adopted the rhetoric, or part of it, of the United Front Against Fascism, without studying too closely the conditions under which it is appropriate or taking seriously the Party’s obligations to maintain its independence and its proletarian stand.

It is worth noting, therefore, that the Klonsky circle has been trying since The Call No. 18 to conjure up the spectre of a fascist tide again. The front page article in that issue begins with the assertion that “the government, along with fascist-led front groups, has markedly stepped up its racist propaganda and violence aimed at maintaining segregation.” This is also the message of the banner headline: “Racist Terror As Schools Open.” It is not until we go further into the article that we are told, as a point of “fact,” that out of 29 cities with school busing projects, racist violence at the opening of school occurred only in Boston, Louisville, and unnamed “other cities.” Finally, at the very end of the article, it says: “Many of the fascist-led organizations that were able to build a mass base temporarily in Boston and Louisville have declined in influence in the last year.”

Which is it? The declining fascist threat reported in the final paragraphs, the limited number of fascist incidents reported in the middle of the story, or the “stepped-up” fascist tide proclaimed in the lead paragraph and emblazoned across the front page? You can take your pick. A serious, all-sided investigation of political trends in a concrete and factual way has never been the forte of the Klonsky circle.

The banner headline and the lead paragraphs, however, show clearly enough, without the need to spell out details, how the Klonsky circle interprets the mixed and contradictory evidence it gives: the “fascist tide” is on the rise again.

This time, however, with a twist: as a means of “exposing” the liberals. The issue of the liberal wing of the U.S. imperialists had become a point of struggle; the Klonsky circle has to try to show that it is not true that it conciliates and capitulates to the liberals; and thus we have “exposures” of the liberals against the lurid backdrop of the fascist threat.

The main point of these “exposures” is the charge that the liberals conciliate to the fascist threat, that they downplay the real scope of it; in short, that the liberals capitulate to fascism, and thus bear a share of the responsibility for its growth.


Exposing concrete instances of liberal conciliation to the fascist trend, it must be admitted, is a step forward over pretending that liberals don’t exist, or that they are Santa Clauses, or that, like lepers, they must not be approached with a ten-foot pole. But does it take us into the political essence of liberalism; does it elevate the view of the proletariat above the horizons of bourgeois democratic politics? Is it, in short, Communist political exposure?

No. The best proof that it does none of these things is in the line of WVO, which has been “exposing” the liberals for conciliation to fascism for many, many months before the Klonsky circle picked up the same theme, and which has even tried to puff up this half-truth into a “dialectic” which it accuses the October League of “not understanding.” (See Workers Viewpoint, Nov. ’76, p. 10.) There is truth to this charge: the October League does not understand the “dialectic” of the liberals and fascism any more than WVO does; but at least the Klonsky circle has met WVO’s criticism more than half way by trying to foist the same metaphysics off as “exposure” of the liberals.

The thesis about the liberals’ conciliation to the fascists is a half-truth, a conditional and relative truth and not an absolute. There are times, places and conditions when the liberal (as well as the conservative) trends in the ruling class conciliate and capitulate to the fascist trend in the ruling class; other times and conditions where they oppose and restrict the fascist trend. Otherwise, if the thesis of liberal capitulation to the fascists were an “iron law,” then the entire U.S. imperialist ruling class would have become thoroughly and completely fascist decades ago, and so would every other imperialist bourgeoisie. To raise the conditional truth of liberal conciliation to fascism into an immutable idea is to tamper with Lenin’s teaching in State and Revolution that the democratic republic, i.e. the state form of bourgeois democracy, is the “best possible political shell” for the exercise of the capitalist dictatorship. Whether the liberal and conservative ruling class trends act to preserve that shell, which carries immeasurable advantages for their rule, or whether they act to abandon this shell and resort to the “open, terroristic dictatorship of the most imperialist, most chauvinist” of their ruling-class brethren – this depends on conditions. There is no abstract “inevitability” about it. Any attempt to raise up a “dialectic” on the foundations of half a truth is bound to produce metaphysics. Whether this metaphysics is used as a rationalization for becoming indirect auxiliaries of the fascists, or direct ones, (as in the case of WVO and RCP, respectively, in the Boston busing crisis of two years ago); or whether it is used as a ground for reducing Communists to bourgeois democrats, for turning Communists into liberals, a la Klonsky, in either case this metaphysics remains captive within the bounds of bourgeois democracy. We either imitate the aspect of the liberals that conciliates to fascism, or we imitate the aspect of the liberals that acts to preserve the “democratic” shell covering the capitalist dictatorship. The whole argument between these two alternatives remains on the ground of bourgeois democracy; it is a quarrel between the two faces of liberalism.


Wherein lies the danger posed by the liberals? We come to the essence of the liberal politics, and teach the proletariat Communist political lessons, only when we examine the dialectic of liberalism in relation to the dictatorship of the proletariat. Whether the liberals defend the bourgeois dictatorship in its naked, fascist form or whether they defend it in its concealed, “democratic” form, this depends on conditions. But their defense of the bourgeois dictatorship in one form or another, and their opposition to any form of the dictatorship of the proletariat – this is not conditional; it is absolute.

The other trends of bourgeois ideology, it goes without saying, are as opposed to the dictatorship of the proletariat as liberalism is. But the liberals’ defense of the bourgeois dictatorship, and the liberals’ incessant campaign against any idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat, is by far the most dangerous, and indifference to liberal politics must be condemned as by far the most harmful form of political indifference in general.

Bourgeois ideology in its liberal form has a far greater grip on the minds of the workers and oppressed nationalities in their masses than any other form of political thought. Open conservatism has a “labor” following mainly among the labor aristocracy and among the backward strata of the working class; it is a minority. A fraction of the most backward segments is attracted to fascism, but neither this nor conservatism has been able to claim a dominant position among the working class, especially not the core of the proletariat in basic industry, for many decades in the U.S., and is not likely to be able to do so in the future. Anyone who cares to analyze the evidence of working-class political thought and action in the U.S. at least during the past three decades, will be able to see that the mass of the workers stands not merely to the “right” of Marxism-Leninism, which is obvious, but also to the “left” of conservatism and fascism. The ideological ground it occupies is one or another shading of liberalism, reformism; and it is on this basic ground that virtually all the forward-moving elements, the more politically awakened workers, the spontaneously-emerging rank-and-file leaders and activists, will be found to stand. Liberalism is the specific form of bourgeois ideology that is spontaneously developed and reproduced by the masses of the working class and oppressed nationalities under the bourgeois dictatorship in the U.S.

This is one main reason why Marxist-Leninist agitation and propaganda, in analyzing and exposing the different varieties and trends of bourgeois political flora and fauna, must give pride of place to the analysis of the liberals and of liberal ideology. To educate workers in Marxism-Leninism means, in the majority of cases, to help and lead them in the struggle against bourgeois ideology in the liberal form. The task of moving workers from the conservative form of bourgeois ideology to the liberal form, by contrast, which more than a few Marxist-Leninists (including the Klonsky circle) confuse, consciously or not with the former, is the function of the liberal ideologists of the bourgeoisie. The “old” trade union line promoted by M. Klonsky for more than two years, under the slogan of “Move the Trade Unions to the Left,” was a case of such a confusion of roles. (The “new” one is the same, as we shall see.)

The liberal ideologists, for their part, have polished to a high degree the art of imbuing the working class with reformism, and of relighting the candle of faith in the bourgeoisie each time a storm of political experience blows it out. The liberal politicians are professionally distinguished from their colleagues of the other trends by their rhetoric of concern for the plight of the masses of workers and minorities, by their pose as champions of the poor and downtrodden against the “rich” and the “Establishment,” and by their promises to relieve the burdens and solve the problems of the masses through one or another set of political and economic reforms. In the great division of labor among the electoral politicians of the bourgeoisie, to the liberals falls as a rule the role of misrepresenting the dissatisfied, leaving to the conservatives the less strenuous work of representing the satisfied. Although the ranks of the liberals are constantly being diminished by fatigue, decay, and disillusion – every few years a newer generation of liberals condemns an older for having sold out – these ranks are as constantly refreshed again with recruits not only from the universities, but with skilled graduates of the spontaneous struggle – still more artful practicioners who know how to disguise bourgeois ideology in the latest fashions of speech and of political posturing, be it “radical,” “socialist,” “communist” or “Marxist-Leninist.” By this means the liberals achieve a far greater and more continuous hearing before the working class, and their networks of communication are far better implanted in the masses, than those of any other form of bourgeois political thought.

It follows that the liberal ideologists and leaders are not merely as dangerous as other bourgeois trends, but more dangerous; and that those who wish to take up the task of preparing the ground of public opinion for a revolution must take as their primary target of exposure and analysis precisely the liberal theoreticians, the liberal propagandists, the liberal agitators and the liberal organizers, in all their shades and varieties. To make this exposure a secondary task, to try to get by with phrasemongering, or to put it in boldface in general position papers but not to practice it day after day, means to liquidate it in fact. To wait to take up this task for the moment when the liberals directly attack the Marxist-Leninists, when they begin their red-baiting and smear campaigns, is to wait too long. Exposure of the liberals is not a question of defense, but of seizing the offensive; it is not a matter of occasional skirmishes, but a matter of the basic strategy of proletarian revolution.


The profession of the liberals is to divert the proletariat from its historic task of smashing the bourgeois dictatorship and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is the liberals who have made it their specialty to agitate against the dictatorship of the proletariat among the working class, to give defense of the bourgeois dictatorship a “popular,” even “working class” flavor; and it is the liberals who are the most effective, the most skilful, the most expert in leading the working class into a compromise with the bourgeois dictatorship and thus undermining and liquidating the revolution.

There, and not so much in the related and dependent question of the liberals and fascism, lies the principal danger posed by the liberals. This is the principal reason why the liberals are the most dangerous of all the trends in the U.S. ruling class.

The dialectic of the relation between liberalism and fascism, insofar as it really is treated in a materialist, dialectical manner, is by no means without importance for the proletariat. The shell of bourgeois democracy concealing and supporting the bourgeois dictatorship has its temporary advantages for the proletariat as well. The reactionary destruction of this shell, the reduction of the bourgeois dictatorship to its openly, completely terroristic form, is a powerful setback to the proletariat and its revolution. History has proved this many times. But it must never be forgotten that the defense and preservation of this democratic shell is of basic interest to the proletariat only because and insofar as it permits the proletariat to unfold its class struggle more freely and openly against the bourgeois dictatorship, only because and insofar as it permits the proletariat to advance the revolutionary destruction of this shell and the achievement of its own dictatorship.


There is not a hint of this dialectic in the Klonskyite “exposures” of the liberals; on the contrary, in our struggle on The Call staff, the Klonsky editorship consistently censored out any references to the dictatorship of the proletariat, claiming this was “dogmatism.” Instead of working to convey the ideas of the dictatorship of the proletariat to the working class in an ever more lively, topical, vivid and all-sided form, Klonskyism labors to conjure up the pessimistic spectre of the fascist tide, and then throws in a few phrases about “liberal conciliation” in the guise of “exposure.”

Back in the 1960s, in the days of the bourgeois-democratic movement, this sort of “exposure” of the liberals had a name. It was called “guilting the liberals,” and was a widely used ploy for raising money from liberals at their cocktail parties. Whether it still raises money today I don’t know; but in any case, experience has shown that it is not a policy for freeing the working class from liberal hegemony but rather for chaining revolutionaries to liberal dependency. For all the years that have passed since those days, the Klonsky line on the liberals has not made one real step forward.


We now pass from the ’particular’ to the ’general’; from the Klonsky circle’s feints and evasions on the question of the liberals in this and that particular aspect, to the Klonsky circle’s general formula on the liberals as such.

The reader who scans the pages of the weekly Call in its first half year for a theoretical formulation on this question will search in vain. A theory is certainly implicit there, in the de facto policy of downplaying and neglecting exposure of the liberals; but an explicit formulation has not been published.

Lack of publicity, however, does not necessarily mean lack of a position. To find the Klonsky circle’s present position on the liberals, we must unearth one of the principal theses of the Klonsky circle’s “credo,” i.e. of the document that you must unite with or be labeled “revisionist” and a “lover of the bourgeoisie,” etc. etc.

This Klonskyite thesis, stated verbatim and in full, is that:

The liberals are every bit as much of the imperialist ruling class as the conservatives.”

Let’s note in passing that this thesis of October 1976 represents an advance over the Klonsky circle’s views of May 1976, when it denounced the whole idea that differences exist within the ruling class between liberals and conservatives (an idea that had crept into the April Call) as a bourgeois and revisionist fabrication. As late as May, in other words, the Klonsky circle recognized within the ruling class only the distinction between liberals and fascists – exactly the same notion that underlay the errors of the “fascist tide” deviation, and of course a notion that i8 very flattering to the liberals in their competition with the conservatives.

Two points must be made about the Klonsky circle’s “new” thesis that “the liberals are every bit as much of the imperialist ruling class as the conservatives.”

In the first place, if it is meant to be taken in the strict sense, it is nonsense. Only a tiny fraction of liberals (those who hold the liberal ideology) are literally part of the imperialist ruling class. The vast majority of people with this form of political philosophy are members of other classes and strata, most of all the working class. Moreover, each particular class and stratum gives to the basic stock of liberalism its own particular stamp, which Marxist-Leninists must also learn to recognize and to overcome.


More noteworthy, however, is the main part of the Klonskyite thesis, namely the notion of “every bit as much.” The same idea is also often expressed in the words “they’re all the same,” accompanied by a gesture of dismissal. “Six of one, half dozen of the other,” “not a dime’s worth of difference” are other ways of saying it.

And, of course, this is true in the abstract and in general. All imperialists, all reactionaries of every stripe and in every period of history are, in general, the same. They must all be hit, as Chairman Mao said, or they won’t fall. Neither Chairman Mao nor any other leader and teacher of the proletariat, however, believed that a knowledge of this universal truth was adequate as a guideline for making war on any concrete set of enemies in particular. It is necessary to grasp not only the universal aspect, but also and especially the particular features of the situation. Which of the generals that the enemy sends against us does us the most harm? Which of his tactics is the most effective against us? To which kind of enemy propaganda are our troops, our supporters most susceptible? Etc. These are questions that cannot be ducked in politics in “peaceful” times any more than in politics by means of war. The commander who answers such questions with a few puffy phrases about “they’re all the same” will certainly go down to defeat; the enemy could not ask for a better friend than a windbag such as that in command.


The Klonskyite thesis of “every bit as much” is such a form of windbaggery. Which of the leaders, tactics and lines of propaganda that the U.S. imperialist ruling class sends against us today is the most dangerous to our cause? “The one is every bit as bad as the other,” answers “General” Klonsky. Such an answer is really a way of ducking the question, and ducking the question is a way of ducking the fight.

To say that the liberals are “every bit as much” imperialists as the other ruling class trends is a roundabout way of saying that the liberals are not more dangerous to the cause of proletarian revolution, that we should not make them the special focus of attention, that we should not assign the highest priority to defeating this most insidious and most dangerous of enemy policies. The Klonskyite thesis of “every bit as much” is really a shield to protect the liberals; it is another, somewhat more subtle and sophisticated form of conciliating and capitulating to their hegemony as teachers and leaders of the proletariat.

This Klonskyite thesis is really a form of “centrism.” It applies to the contradictions between different trends in the U.S. imperialist ruling class, as regards the internal class struggle, the same smokescreen tactics as the editors of the Guardian used to do in face of the contradictions between the two superpowers in the world situation. The Guardian editors also used to say a few phrases about how the USSR was “every bit as much” a superpower and an imperialist as the U.S.

Even today the Guardian “centrists” occasionally sprinkle in some of this rhetoric. But this abstract phrase, taken as a principle of policy on the international situation, is nothing more than a screen to prevent exposure of the more insidious, more perfidious, more aggressive, ambitious and dangerous features of Soviet social-imperialism in particular. The theory of “every bit as much” is a cover for saying “not a bit as much” and for practicing “not a bit.” To screen the more insidious and dangerous form of imperialism is in essence to promote it. As Carl Davidson very truly said in his article on the Guardian’s position on Angola (In Class Struggle No. 4-5, p. 33), “those who conciliate to social-imperialism and revisionism tend to become advocates of revisionism and social-imperialism.” The same truth holds for domestic politics. Those who screen’ the liberal wing of U.S. imperialism in effect promote it; and this will be forced out into the open, inevitably, in the course of struggle.

The Klonsky circle’s “centrism” on the domestic class struggle in the U.S., as regards policy toward the different trends within the ruling class, is the twin brother of the Guardian editors’ “centrism” on the different forms of imperialism in the world today.

From a more or less open and now discredited form of promoting liberal ruling-class hegemony, the Klonsky circle has “advanced” to a more sophisticated, disguised form of the same policy. From a bourgeois-democratic deviation that has been exposed to another form of the same deviation, not yet exposed; from open right-opportunism to “centrism” – this has been the Klonsky circle’s “progress” and “victory” in its “struggle” against (its own) opportunism. There can be no doubt that this “progress” is really a regression, that this “new” and more disguised defense of the liberal wing of the U.S. imperialists is more dangerous than the older, cruder and now discredited form.


We now follow the Klonsky circle’s line of reasoning down into the narrower and more restricted political world of the trade union movement.

Our raw material is the “new” Klonsky line on the trade union question, propounded in a series of articles in late summer. The intent of the “new” line is to “rectify” the past years’ right-opportunist deviation in trade union work, which showed itself in errors of relying on liberal labor leaders under the banner of opposing “the fascist labor front.” The chief slogan of the old line was “Move the Trade Unions to the Left.” Both the old bourgeois-democratic line and the “new” line that is supposed to rectify it are the direct responsibility of the OL’s top leadership, i.e., of the Klonsky circle.

What are the principal features of the “new” line? When we examine its content, we will see that the content is the same as the old. But the form is novel (if not exactly new); the old opportunism now takes, in the first place, the form of eclecticism, and in the second place the form of “left” phrasemongering. On both scores the “new” line is an anti-party line, a line which leads not to party-building but to the dissolution and liquidation of the Party.

Let us see.

In the concluding, summary article, the following two propositions are advanced within a sentence of each other. They are the key theses for giving particular guidance in trade union policy.

(1) “The main enemy of the workers in the trade unions is the reformist and revisionist union leaders. It is these opportunists who have the greatest hold on the workers ideologically and organizationally.”
(2) “Today the trade union leadership as a whole, including Meany as well as Sadlowski, are reformists.”

These two propositions are mutually contradictory. As guidelines to policy they cancel each other out. Their combination is an eclectic one, a muddling of correct and incorrect, of a basically Marxist and a basically revisionist policy.

The first proposition is in substance a correct one. It tells us that the liberal trend in the trade union bureaucracy, the reformist union leaders generally seconded and supported by the revisionists, are the more dangerous enemies of the proletarian revolutionary cause, and that it is on these that the exposure must concentrate. It says, in other words, that it is both more difficult and more necessary and more important to expose the Sadlowski types than the Meany types.

The second proposition immediately cancels out the first, and takes us directly onto the same path as in the case of the wings of the ruling class: it says that the Sadlowski types and the Meany types are both “reformists,” that they are the same, that the one is every bit as much a danger as the other, that exposure of the one is every bit as difficult and important as of the other.

Again, we are given an abstract truth in place of correct concrete policy guidance. True, the Sadlowski types and the Meany types are both in their way agents and servants of the imperialist ruling class, both labor bureaucrats, etc. etc. This must never be forgotten or downplayed. As a guideline for policy, however, this general truth amounts to the same puffery and the same “centrism” in the face of different imperialist lines in the labor bureaucracy as in the case of these lines in the larger political arena.


This lumping together of Meany and Sadlowski, as if the same tactics that apply to one could work against the other, has, in addition, particular ironies of its own. It was hardly two years ago that Klonskyism proclaimed this same George Meany as kingpin of the “fascist labor front”! Yesterday a fascist, today a reformist . . . will miracles never cease? Truly, the Klonsky circle’s version of the “dialectic of reformism and fascism” puts to shame anything that WVO was ever able to achieve in this line of work. In reality, as the saying goes, the truth lies somewhere in between. Meany is today and has for decades been the almost archetypal leader of conservatism in the trade union movement, the long-term champion of the most hidebound, most craft-unionist stream of the labor aristocracy, and ally, friend and agent of conservative Democrats and Republicans alike. The only reforms Mr. Meany much cares about are those which directly concern the craft union elite of the working class, such as the ’common situs picketing bill.’ On practically every other question of trade union and ruling class politics, not least of all on foreign policy, Meany and his ilk split down the line with the labor lieutenants of the liberal wing of the ruling class, i.e. the Woodcocks, Millers, and the Sadlowski types. Their mutual struggle for influence, position and a larger slice of the pie is to a great extent a reflection of and an echo of the internecine struggles among the different wings and groupings of monopoly capitalists who pull their strings.


Who are “Sadlowski types”? It means the so-called challengers to the top echelons of the bureaucracy – the challengers, usually, to the “Meany types.” It means the “challengers” and “opponents” of the chief agents of U.S. imperialism in the organized labor movement, who are themselves in fact not challengers to the domination of the organized workers by imperialism, but whose line is a line of compromise and conciliation with imperialism, with the imperialist state power, and whose victory means that reformism gains a fresher, firmer grip on the mass of the workers in the given circumstances, until they in turn are exposed.

It is these opportunists, these “Sadlowski types” (whether in fact they are liberal, social-democrat, Trotskyite or revisionist in affiliation, whether they represent U.S. or Soviet social-imperialism) who specialize in capitalizing on the growing rank-and-file discontent with the established and in most cases thoroughly conservative top union bureaucrats in order to channel this discontent into the safe outlet of reformism, compromise and “fresher” forms of collaboration with the ruling class. It is these opportunists who have the greatest ideological grip not necessarily over workers “in general” but over the more dissatisfied workers, over the workers who are most aroused against the top bureaucrats, the companies and the government; it is these opportunists who have the greatest influence on the workers who are politically advancing.

It is above all among the workers who are influenced by these opportunists that the Party must concentrate its work, if the phrases “winning the best elements” and “winning the advanced” (by some definitions) are to be more than phrases, and if party-building itself is to be more than a phrase.

It follows that if it is these workers, above all, who must be won to Marxism-Leninism and to the Party, then the main focus of exposure must be aimed in such a way as to win these workers away from precisely these opportunists, the “Sadlowski types,” the liberals.

This is the correct content of the first proposition. It is above all these opportunists that Lenin refers to in that fine and clear statement of his, quoted in the OL trade union articles:

The thinking worker knows that the most dangerous of advisers are those liberal friends of the workers who claim to be defending their interests, but are actually trying to destroy the class independence of the proletariat and its organization.

If you wish to win the thinking worker to Marxism-Leninism, if you wish to assist more workers to think more deeply and to become “thinking workers” in the sense Lenin indicates, then you must take as your chief topic of study and exposure these “liberal friends of the workers.” In no other way can you promote the class independence of the proletariat and build its organization, its Party.


The Klonsky circle’s other proposition, directly combined with this correct one and cancelling it out, is a wholly opportunist proposition. By lumping the Sadlowski and the Meany types together, making no distinction between them, it asserts that the new, rising reformism which is misleading the more discontented workers, the advancing workers among the mass of the rank and file, holds no greater threat than the old decayed reformism that has grown conservative (if it ever was anything else), and that only the more privileged and backward workers, the labor aristocrats, are not sharply dissatisfied with. This proposition tells us that winning the best and more advanced elements among the workers, of conducting agitation and propaganda among the mass of the “ordinary” workers, is no more urgent and has no higher priority in this period than winning the labor aristocrats and conducting work among the more retrograde elements. It is a proposition that asserts, in so many words, that leading the working class is no different and no more urgent than lagging behind it.

By combining into one “line” two antithetical propositions, two contradictory political lines, the Klonsky circle perpetuates and augments an eclectic muddle – and muddles are the natural habitat of opportunism and revisionism. Directly related to this particular muddle is the Klonsky circle’s continuing inability (and in fact unwillingness) to set on paper any clear line of demarcation between the present-day labor aristocracy and the mass of the workers, or to define the relation between the concepts “labor aristocracy” and “labor bureaucracy.” You cannot fight opportunism within the labor movement without etching a sharp line of demarcation against the labor aristocracy; a passing phrase will not do the job. The Klonsky circle has acted in a highly “conservationist” manner toward this long-standing muddle in the OL’s theorizing; it has sought by any means to preserve this ideological marsh.


All this eclecticism is in no way salvaged or redeemed by the Klonsky circle’s new slogan for trade union policy. In place of the old slogan, “Move the Trade Unions to the Left,” we have the banner of “Revolutionize the Trade Unions” or “Turn the Trade Unions into Revolutionary Organizations.”

What is the “progress” here? It lies in an escalation of phraseology. Add to the old Right opportunist slogan a rah-rah-revolutionary flourish (e.g., “Move the Trade Unions to the Left – All the Way!!”) and you have the real content of the “new” slogan. This procedure of patching up opportunist lines with a “revolutionary” phrase or two is, unfortunately, all too characteristic of our Klonsky circle.

Phrases are cheap, it is often said, and in general this is true. There are some times, however, when phrases can be very costly. We are now, in particular, in a time of completing the laying of the ideological foundations of the Party (or of relaying them where they have been mis-laid), a time when theoretical clarity is of the utmost importance; and at such a time all phrasemongering ought to be punished more severely than usual. The most harmful kind of phrasemongering in this period, however, is the kind that blurs over the distinction between what a Party organization of the Leninist type is and for what purpose it exists, and what mass organizations such as trade unions are and for what purpose they exist. To make even casual phrases about trade unions as “revolutionary” organizations, much less to inscribe this idea into one’s banner for trade union policy, is precisely to promote this most harmful kind of confusion. Only the Leninist Party deserves the name revolutionary organization. The trade unions and other mass organizations ought to be and can be auxiliaries to this Party, they ought to and can be supporters of the Party’s policy, they ought to and can be won to follow the leadership of the revolutionary organization; but to demand that they rise to that same level and become the equivalent of the Party is not only to demand what is strictly speaking impossible, it is also to resurrect an old Right-opportunist, Economist fallacy.


What was the central point of dispute between Lenin and the anti-party opportunists at the Second Congress of the R.S.D.L.P. which Lenin analyzes in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back? The dispute took place around Paragraph One of the Party Rules, and the central issue was precisely whether or not the trade union type of organization – broad, open, loose – could be termed revolutionary. The Mensheviks argued that it could, that a party – a revolutionary organization – could and should be modeled more or less on trade union lines; they sought to stretch and to extend the meaning of the term “revolutionary” so as to cover both the Party and the trade unions, and to blur over the difference between them. Lenin fought this blurring tooth and nail. Comrades who are presently studying Steps under the guidance of the OL should pay particularly sharp attention to section “I. Paragraph One of the Rules,” which contains Lenin’s arguments why trade unions cannot be termed revolutionary organizations. It is a polemic, in effect, against the Klonsky circle’s “new” trade union slogan. Instead of carrying the spirit of party-building more deeply into trade union work, the Klonsky circle’s phrasemongering carries the spirit of trade-unionism more deeply into party-building.

It must be pointed out in addition that the basic idea of “turning the trade unions into revolutionary organizations” is not new in the U.S. Marxist-Leninist movement, either. It represents the earliest theorizing on the trade unions of the RCP when it was still the RU, and was one of the reasons why that organization was baptized the “Revolutionary Union.” The Klonsky circle’s “new” line is a throwback to this old opportunist dream of creating “revolutionary unions” under capitalism. The RCP today has still not abandoned this basic conception. It merely flips from time to time into one or the other of the alternative deviations to which this concept lends itself: either the pretense that trade-unionist work is in itself revolutionary (the openly Right opportunist variant), or the attempt to build “pure,” “really revolutionary” trade union organizations in place of the existing ones (the “left”-opportunist, dual-unionist variant). The RU flipped from the Right variant to the “Left” in 1972, and back from the “Left” to the Right at the time, it became the RCP in 1975.


The Klonsky circle’s “new” trade union line, in its main points, is a sham critique and a real continuation and consolidation of the Klonsky circle’s old Right opportunist deviations on trade union work. Even the strong points in the new version, as we shall see, are not for real but only for show. The more it advances toward the organizational formation of its party, the more the Klonsky circle backtracks and retreats ideologically and picks up anti-party rubbish. The more it advances toward giving its “trend” an organized form, the more it blurs the lines of demarcation between itself and others. The more it “criticizes” its own past rightism, the more it tries to cover itself with “revolutionary phrases,” the more it sinks into the morass of opportunism. This is the “progress” being made by the Klonsky circle on its way to its party.

In a word, is the Klonsky circle becoming sharper and more vigorous in its defense of the independence of the proletariat in the face of the “workers’ liberal friends”? Just the opposite. The Klonsky circle is more and more turning into that kind of ’friend’ itself.

With “progress” like that, who needs retrogression?