Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee

On Party Building

First Published: Guardian May 28, 1975
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The following contribution to the Radical Forum is from the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC), an independent Marxist-Leninist organization founded in 1971. The article below represents its views on party-building. PWOC can be contacted by writing P.O. Box 11768, Philadelphia, Pa., 19101.

Guardian readers are encouraged to submit articles to the Forum on a wide variety of subjects from many ideological perspectives. Articles should present a strong point of view, avoiding sectarianism and sloganeering. Send manuscripts (typed, triple-spaced, 2000 words or less) to the Guardian, 33 W. 17th St., New York, N.Y. 10011.

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There is now–since the Revolutionary Union (RU) has opportunely reversed its former position–general agreement that the central task of our movement is the building of a revolutionary vanguard party. Marxist-Leninists hold that without such a party, communists cannot lead the working class in the struggle against capitalism. Without a vanguard party there can be no question of the overthrow of monopoly capitalism.

In the view of the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC), the most important question confronting the Marxist-Leninist movement is not whether building the party is the central task. The real touchstone of Marxism-Leninism in the present period has become how to correctly build the party. It is on this question that the lines of demarcation between Marxism and opportunism must be drawn.

There is considerable disagreement on how to build the party. At present, the various different views on the question can be grouped around two conflicting positions.

The first position asserts that our movement has accumulated the necessary forces and that the way forward is to consolidate the already matured forces around a revolutionary program and found the party.

The second position, and we think the more correct one, argues that our movement is not mature enough to make the formation of the party an item on our immediate agenda. It argues that our strategy must be devised so as to bring about the most rapid possible maturation of our forces so as to clear the way to build the party on a sound foundation.

In order to answer properly the question of how to proceed in the most orderly way to build the new revolutionary party, we must first know not only what kind of party we want to build, but also what forces are necessary in order to bring the party into being on a firm foundation. After answering these two questions correctly, we can analyze the objective state of our movement and point out the path ahead.

There is, in general, a fair degree of clarity in the Marxist-Leninist movement on the nature of the vanguard party. Drawing on the teachings of the great revolutionary thinkers, most of us know that the vanguard party is the most advanced detachment of the working class. Further, we know that the party must weld together in a single revolutionary organization, guided by the most advanced theory, all the most militant fighters the proletariat has to offer. The central task of this party will be to take on the task of organizing the revolution. It will transform the spontaneous and disconnected manifestations of the class struggle into a conscious and organized movement of the working class. The aim of this movement will be the revolutionary overthrow of monopoly capitalism.


On the question of the prerequisites for the party there is much less clarity. The development of the revolutionary party represents a stage in the struggle to organize the revolution; it becomes possible only when the class struggle has reached a definite stage of development. To organize the revolution two different elements must be fused together–the class struggle of the proletariat and communist theory.

In the present period the struggle to join communism with the class struggle takes the form of merging revolutionary theory with the most advanced workers produced by the class struggle. The Marxist-Leninist movement must seek out the most advanced workers, draw close to them by participating directly in their practical struggles and win them over to socialism. It is only upon the fusion of the advanced workers with communism that the party can be built.

In order to bring about the most rapid possible fusion of communism with the workers’ movement we need to do two things. First we must create a workers’ communism–a concrete application of Marxism-Leninism to the particular conditions in the U.S. today. (We use the term “workers’ communism” to contrast sharply what must be developed in the way of revolutionary theory to what is masquerading as revolutionary theory in our movement. In contrast to workers’ communism the present dogmatism is petty-bourgeois intellectuals’ communism!)

We must develop the revolutionary theory which is capable of pointing out the road to socialism in the United States and, in addition, solving along the way all the concrete problems which the working-class movement inevitably poses. To do this we must make a thorough study of the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao, drawing from these teachers the revolutionary essence of their thought. We must also make an equally thorough study of the specific concrete conditions in the U.S. today. By properly combining the knowledge so gained and testing it in the practical struggle, we can construct a concrete revolutionary theory which will be capable of leading the proletariat to victory.

Secondly, we must concentrate our energies in the industrial proletariat among the advanced workers. The industrial proletariat is the most highly socialized sector of the proletariat as a whole and it is in this sector that the greatest numbers of advanced workers exist in most concentrated form. The advanced workers are those who are actively leading their fellow proletarians in the struggle against monopoly capitalism. After years of exploitation and sell-out leadership, the advanced workers are everywhere organizing and struggling against their increased exploitation. There are thousands of these workers all across the United States, actively leading the rank-and-file workers’ movement.

Most of the advanced workers are not yet communists, but they are open to Marxism-Leninism. By joining directly with them in their practical struggles and demonstrating concretely that our revolutionary theory can help them to win these struggles, we can win them over to communism. For our theory will be able to show them how to advance their struggles against the effects of capitalism to the level of struggles against the system of capitalist exploitation itself.

On this basis, that is by joining workers’ communism with the advanced workers concentrated in the industrial proletariat, we can lay the foundation for the party. We will have accumulated not only a tested theory on which to unify, but we will also have accumulated a base in the industrial proletariat and trained communist cadre. Moreover, we will have succeeded in once again bringing about the fusion of Marxism-Leninism with the class struggle of the proletariat–a fusion that was broken some 17 years ago by the triumph of revisionism in the Communist party U.S.A.

How will we know when we have reached an adequate stage of union of communism with the class struggle of the proletariat? In the first place, our theory will not be hanging in the air. In the hands of the advanced workers, it will demonstrate concretely that it can point out the proper path and solve the problems posed by the growing movement.

Secondly, significant numbers of advanced workers will have been won over to communism. They will have joined Marxist-Leninist organizations and will continue to lead the workers’ movement. However, their leadership will have a different character than it has presently; they will be leading the movement as open communists. The advanced workers will everywhere and always be determining the character of the movement, to paraphrase Lenin. And consequently this movement will have acquired “extensive political significance.”

It should be obvious that we have not yet reached this stage of development. In the first place, the theoretical development of our movement is in its earliest stages. For example, take the October League’s (OL) position on the national question. They are circulating a pamphlet “For Working Class Unity and Black Liberation,” which they maintain has “lent clarity to the discussion of the national question in the U.S.” (The Call, January 1975) This pamphlet, in our view, provides little” clarity. Its theoretical essence was summed up more concisely in the 1928 and 1930 Comintern resolutions. More significantly, it fails to make even the slightest attempt to treat the changes in the conditions of Black people in the United States brought about by nearly 40 years of intense industrial development. Another example comes from a discussion with the RU national tour. One of their representatives, in arguing their infantile “jam the unions” line, maintained that there was no such thing as a strategy for the struggle in the trade unions; the trade union question was merely a tactical question. It seems that, for RU, the united front against imperialism strategy, once defined, answers all subsidiary questions automatically!

Secondly, the proletarian character of our movement is insufficient. For the most part, the various organizations which make up the Marxist-Leninist movement are just beginning to link up with the advanced workers and have not yet succeeded in winning significant numbers over to communism. And finally, our movement has not developed sufficient multinational unity to mirror the objective interests of the proletariat. This can be seen in the fact that most of our organizations are either lopsidedly national minority or lopsidedly white.

All of these weaknesses in our movement exhibit our failure to bring about an adequate fusion of communism with the class struggle of the proletariat. This should not be difficult to see, especially in the last two weaknesses identified above. The insufficient proletarian character of our movement obviously reflects our failure to win over the thousands of advanced workers in the United States today. The same is true of the insufficient multinational unity. This should be especially clear when it is remembered that the national minorities are overwhelmingly proletarian in class composition and that they are heavily concentrated in the industrial proletariat.

Even the theoretical poverty of our movement reflects the relative alienation of communism from the workers’ movement. For the workers have no need of abstract dogma which is incapable of pointing the way forward. They will not tolerate it; there can be no question of fusing dogmatism with the workers’ movement.

We are not trying to belittle the great strides made by the Marxist-Leninist movement in the last few years. There has been extensive growth in our movement both in terms of quantity and quality. Our theory has developed and so has our practice. The point is, however, not that we are ready to build a party as a result of this growth, but that we are all the more prepared to weld communism to the working-class movement.

We have not advanced to the point where the convocation of the party is the order of the day. To call for a party congress now or in the future is to argue against the formation of a revolutionary party. For a party built on the basis of the present level of development of our forces would be a party in name only. It would be a party without a firm foundation, a party that would inevitably slide into the opportunist marsh.

Instead of getting caught up in the party fad, Marxist-Leninists must continue our struggle to develop our theory and fuse it with the workers’ movement through the advanced workers. Moreover we must struggle sharply with those who would divert our movement from its proper path. We must expose their shabby and superficial analysis, showing them to be focusing on narrow features of our development and placing quantitative considerations above qualitative ones. For we must not allow our correct desire to build the party as rapidly as possible overcome our knowledge that the party can only be constructed on a firm foundation. We must not allow our desires to run away with our heads.