Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers Viewpoint Organization

ATM: Social Democrats from the National Movement

Competes with OL to be the Vanguard of the Petty Bourgeoisie

III. Reformism


The theory and practice of the dictatorship of the proletariat is the quintessence of Marxism. Whether we advance or oppose the struggle for the proletarian dictatorship is the keynote for distinguishing Marxism from revisionism and bourgeois democracy.

In the imperialist countries, where bourgeois democracy is most highly developed and reformist illusions among the masses are deepest, the most common and skillfully used weapon that the revisionists and the bourgeoisie have to divert the masses from the struggle for the proletarian dictatorship is the bourgeois democratic illusion in abstract equality, in “pure”, “above-class” democracy, and in the idea of a “non-class” state. In the 1890’s the British Fabians and the revisionist Bernstein pushed the ideas of “permeating liberalism with socialism” and “voting socialism into power.” After World I, the renegade Kautsky picked up from them and opposed the October Revolution with his idea of “pure” democracy, and in the late 1950’s Khruschov denounced Stalin and Chairman Mao with his revisionist theory of “peaceful transition to socialism” and the “state of the whole people.”

Like the OL, the ATM has taken the whole of their line and outlook from these revisionists. The crux of our differences with them on the task of the democratic rights struggle, like the crux of our struggle with the OL, turns on the concrete, versus abstract approach to democracy, e.g. the issues of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and the forced Busing Plan in Boston. Like their miserable backsliding on party building, the ATM has also come forward with a line on the democratic rights struggle that is more to the right than the OL, and a total betrayal of the proletariat.


ATM stands in favor of forced busing in Boston (although we believe the Blacks have the right to choose whether they wish to be bused or not), but its starting point is not simply the question of getting Black children a better education but a question of breaking the historically developed segregation pattern with all of its attendant political, economic, and social ramifications. (RC, Vol. 1, No. 3, Feb. 1976, p. 8)

This is a model of petty bourgeois sophistry and evasiveness. The ATM supports forced busing and also believes the Afro-American students have “the right to choose whether they wish to be bused or not.” This is out and out opportunism, because either you support the forced busing plan or you support the right of oppressed nationality students to go to any school of their choice. The WVO supports the latter against the former, but the ATM wants to take both! Second, the ATM supports forced busing from the “starting point” of “breaking the historically developed segregation pattern...”

But does our support for desegregation mean that we should support forced busing?

The busing plan is one of the ruling class’ responses to the Afro-American and other national movements in the 1950’s and 1960’s and to the capitalist economic crisis that started in the early 1970’s. The flow of the national movements that culminated in the late 1960’s forced one concession after another in education and other areas from the panicking ruling class, including school desegregation, bilingual and bicultural education, open admissions and Black, Latin, Asian and other studies program, etc.

The ruling class quickly answered with its reactionary dual tactics, reform and repression, the carrot and the stick, to try to disintegrate the movement. They sent cops, troops and dogs to suppress the struggle, killing, jailing and exiling the most militant revolutionary leaders of the national movements, and at the same time launched their “civil rights legislation” and “urban pacification, programs” to try to lull the movement to sleep and started pumpinging dollars into the NAACP, CORE, SCLC, “Black capitalism programs,” etc.

As early as 1963, Chairman Mao summed up the situation:

The speedy development of the struggle of the American Negroes is a manifestation of the constant sharpening of class struggle and national struggle in the United States; it has been causing increasingly grave anxiety to the U.S. ruling clique. The Kennedy administration has resorted to cunning two-faced tactics. On the one hand, it continues to connive at and take part in the discrimination against and persecution of Negroes; it even sends troops to repress them. On the other hand, it is parading as an advocate of the ’defense of human rights’ and the ’protection of the civil rights of Negroes’, is calling upon the Negro people to exercise ’restraint’ and is proposing to Congress so-called ’civil rights legislation’, in an attempt to numb the fighting will of the Negro people and deceive the masses throughout the country. However, these tactics of the Kennedy Administration are being seen through by more and more of the Negroes. (Mao, “Statement in Support of the Afro-American Struggle,” 1963).

The crux of the matter is that the ATM does support forced busing in Boston. Why is the forced busing plan a ruling class trick and not a democratic right?

All these facts, from the increase of national oppression through the strengthening of the racist, fascist organizations and the police, the heightened splitting of the working class by pitting different working class communities against each other, to the centralized government control over the schools and the continuing deterioration of education – all increase the danger of fascism and expose the lie behind the forced busing plans, show that the forced busing plans achieve the opposite of what the liberals promise. (For detailed exposure of all these, see WV Journal #3, May 1975, p. 2-6, 46-7, and WVO newspaper, Vol. 1, No. 7, Nov. 1976 p. 8-11).

Chairman Mao’s stress on the two-faced counter-revolutionary role of liberals like the Kennedys is an extremely important lesson for us. Chairman Mao had no illusions about such liberals; he hated them as the most advanced and cunning representatives of the bourgeoisie, and he fully recognized the danger they posed to the masses.

The forced busing plans were one of those cunning liberal tactics to disintegrate the national movements and split the working class. In 1968, the ruling class which had all along suppressed and undermined the mass desegregation struggles suddenly became dedicated to the cause of integration, and cranked out their first forced busing plan.

Through lawsuits initiated by the NAACP, the bourgeoisie launched their first test of forced busing in Pontiac, Michigan and San Francisco, California, in 1971. In both cities, the busing plans succeeded in diverting the oppressed nationality communities from their original demands for quality education and the right to learn their own language and culture, to infghting among the people of different communities, while the bad schools continued to deteriorate. In both cases, particularly in Pontiac, the busing plans served to whip up hatred along racial lines and breed the growth of the KKK and other fascist organizations. Boston repeats the same pattern.


Of course, there is not one word from the ATM on the trends in ruling class reformism, on the differences between the reforms won in the 1960’s and the tricks and attacks we see today or on how these trends in ruling class tactics are shaped by the ebb and flow of the mass movements and the growth of the capitalist crisis. There isn’t one word on any of this because the concrete analysis of concrete conditions and the revolutionary approach to reforms are exactly what the ATM totally lacks.

The ATM approaches the busing plan in exactly the same way the OL does. All they know is that the busing plan “seems” to be for “integration,” “democratic rights,” “desegregation,” for “breaking the historically developed segregation pattern with all of its attendant political, economic, and social ramifications.”

But it is pure illusion. In reality, the sole basis for the ATM’s belief in these “democratic rights” is the fact that the bourgeoisie and its misleaders call them “democratic rights.” Ted Kennedy, the NAACP, the Trotskyite SWP, and the revisionist “C”PUSA all call the busing plan a “democratic rights issue,” and the ATM believes them! The ATM just cannot see through these misleaders demagogy, they just cannot get the real results of the busing plan into their thick heads!

It is in the very nature of bourgeois democrats to present democracy abstractly and to resort to all kinds of demagogic tricks to fool the masses. The task of communists is to expose this demagogy by comparing their words and deeds, to reveal the hypocricy of bourgeois democracy to the masses. But the ATM, stuffed full of their own illusions, takes up the misleaders’ slogans as their own, thus repeating the habit of the renegade Kautsky:

Kautsky is pursuing a characteristically petty-bourgeois, philistine policy by pretending (and trying to make the people believe the absurd idea) that putting forward a slogan alters the position. The entire history of bourgeois democracy refutes this illusion; the bourgeois democrats have always advanced all sorts of ’slogans’ to deceive the people. The point is to test their sincerity, to compare their words with their deeds, not to be satisfied with idealistic or charlatan phrases, but to get down to class reality. (Lenin, “The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky”, 1918, FLP, p. 74)

Even in the most democratic bourgeois state the oppressed masses at every step encounter the crying contradiction between the formal equality proclaimed by the “democracy” of the capitalists and the thousands of real limitations and subterfuges which turn the proletarians into wage slaves. It is precisely this contradiction that is opening the eyes of the masses to the rottenness, mendacity and hypocrisy of capitalism. It is this contradiction that the agitators and propagandists of Socialism are constantly exposing to the masses, in order to prepare them for revolution! And now that the era of revolutions has begun, Kautsky turns his back upon it and begins to extol the charms of moribund bourgeois democracy. (ibid, p. 24-5)


For our opposition and exposure of the ERA, the ATM accuses the WVO of “economism,” claiming that we are “capitulating leadership of the women’s democratic movement to the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie” (ibid. p.2). They quote Lenin in battle with the economists:

It is our direct duty to concern ourselves with every liberal question, to determine our Social-Democratic (communist) attitude towards it, to help the proletariat to take an active part in its solution and to accomplish the solution in its own proletarian way. (Lenin, What Is To Be Done? 1902, Collected Works, Vol. 5, p.341)


Like the OL, the August Twenty-Ninth Movement (ATM) has not grasped that today we are in the third period of the development of capitalism – the period of imperialism, where bourgeois democracy is political reaction all along the line. With a thoroughly right line on reforms, the ATM objectively believes that we are in the first period of capitalist development when capitalism was progressive in the sense of fighting feudalism. In WV newspaper, Vol. I, No. 1, we wrote:

The revisionists always laud ’democracy’ in general and in the abstract without placing it in proper historical perspective and concrete class interest. They do exactly what Lenin accused the revisionists of his time of doing: ’plodding along in the rear of the bourgeoisie, abandoning the standpoint of present-day democracy [Social-Democracy in Lenin’s time or socialism – ed] and shifting over to that of the old (bourgeois) democracy to straitjacket that which is on the rise, vital and vibrant, the proletarian movement’. (“Under A False Flag”, LCW, Vol. 21, 1915)

In struggling with the liberal opportunists of his time, Lenin exposed them for having the petty bourgeois viewpoint of always longing for the old period of rising capitalism.

Like all social chauvinists, Posterov is moving backwards away from his own period, that of present day democracy, and skipping over to the outworn, dead, and therefore intrinsically false viewpoint of the old (bourgeois) democracy. (“Under A False Flag”)

In exposing their petty bourgeois outlook on reforms (Revolutionary Cause, May 1976 article on the Equal Rights Amendment), the ATM aids the bourgeoisie’s subterfuge – the ERA. ATM uses two quotes from Lenin on how to fight for a more “democratic ... system of government” and how communists should be concerned with “liberal questions”. (LCW, Vol. 23, p. 73 and LCW, Vol. 5, p. 341) What opportunists – fail to comprehend is the time, place, condition and strategy for a particular stage of revolution being referred to. In these quotes, Lenin lays out the correct orientation towards reforms for communists in the first stage of a two-stage revolution – the stage of overthrowing feudalism. During this stage, the bourgeoisie has a progressive aspect in the sense of fighting the feudal mode of production and laws. In Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, Lenin lays out the basic thesis that even in the first stage (the bourgeois democratic revolution) of a two-stage revolution, the proletariat must seek hegemony from the leadership of the bourgeoisie. Lenin argues that, compared to feudalism, a bourgeois republic is a more democratic system of government. Under feudalism there are no laws for women to have the right to divorce. Though capitalism is the exploitation of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat, the first stage of capitalism is progressive (in relation to feudalism) in the sense that bourgeois constitutions give women the right to divorce.

In Two Tactics, Lenin explains how reforms in rising capitalism “clear the ground for a wide and rapid development of capitalism” and “make it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule as a class” as opposed to the landlord (chapter 6). The Socialist Revolutionaries, Lenin continued, were “unconscious ideologists of the petty bourgeoisie” because they failed to grasp the truth that the bourgeois democratic revolution (though bourgeois in its social and economic substance) would still bring reforms favorable to the peasant and worker. It would bring the democratic reform of laws for women’s right to divorce. Therefore in order to have proletarian hegemony in the bourgeois democratic revolution, communists must concern themselves with “liberal questions”. The bourgeoisie is competing with the proletariat for leadership in the bourgeois democratic revolution and puts forth “liberal questions”. Today, ATM, the proletariat is not struggling with the bourgeoisie to see which class will lead the proletarian revolution! This is precisely ATM’s right line on reforms – unconscious ideologists of the petty bourgeoisie!

Failure to grasp the relation of reforms to the bourgeois democratic revolution leads ATM on a right opportunist line on their definition of socialism. In the same Revolutionary Cause, they wrote:

Socialism will occur as a result of numerous battles on the economic and political front, during which communists try to lead the masses, THROUGH THEIR OWN EXPERIENCE to the conclusion that revolution is necessary and inevitable.

This is the thoroughly right opportunist practice-practice line of the RCP and borders on the incremental democracy line of “by accumulating more victories and reforms on the economic and political front, we get closer to socialism”! This line belittles the role of Marxist-Leninists fusing MLMTTT into the spontaneous movements, belittles the way communists lead in a communist way. It is the Bernstein line of the “immediate aim is everything (’palpable results’), the final goal objectively becomes nothing”.

No, ATM, it is not “WVO’s failure to grasp the relationship between the struggle for democracy [genuine communists never struggle for democracy in general – which is objectively the struggle for reforms of the bourgeois democratic revolution; we struggle for proletarian democracy, democracy of the one-stage proletarian revolution – ed] and the struggle for socialism that leads them to their dead end” (Revolutionary Cause, p. 12), it is ATM!

Lenin teaches:

Revolutionaries, of course, will never reject the struggle for reform...if these will serve to strengthen the attack and help to achieve full victory. They (revolutionaries) will never forget that only by constantly having the ’ultimate aim’ in view, only by appraising every step of the movement and every reform from the point of view of the general revolutionary struggle, is it possible to guard the movement against false steps and shameful mistakes. (”Persecutors of Zemstvo and Hannibals of Liberalism”, LCW, Vol. 5. Emphasis added.)

The OL sees the busing plan as a step toward integration and against segregation. This leads to the revisionist position that places the integration strategy above the revolutionary movement of the oppressed minorities for equal rights. OL labels the struggles of the oppressed minorities in Boston against racial violence and for equal rights of going to the school of their choice simply as a fight against segregation and call it a “a pro-integrationist busing movement.”

Integration only provides favorable conditions for revolutionary struggles and cannot be a substitute for revolutionary struggles. What the OL uses is in fact a gradual integration theory (the theory about creating favorable basis for class unity through busing) as a principal strategy and counterposes it against the revolutionary movements of the oppressed minorities for equal rights and quality education and the working class movement against capitalism. This “creating favorable conditions for class unity theory” is placing integration (in the abstract) above revolutionary strategy. After years of fighting against the “C”PUSA revisionist line on this question, this bankrupt line jumps out again in the communist movement around an unexpected issue.

The ATM’s accusations of “economism” against the WVO is in exactly the same style as the white-skin privilege Proletarian Unity League (PUL), who said the WVO is “economist” because we “only” raise the “economic” demand for “quality education” (which is false to begin with because the WVO raises a series of political demands in opposition to the busing plan), while the PUL raises the “political” demand for “integration”.

The essence of economism was its tail ism, its riveting of the proletariat to the interests of the bourgeoisie. In Russia around the turn of the century, this tailism took the particular form o narrowing the proletariat’s demands to economic demands and leaving the political struggle to the bourgeoisie, and of worshipping the spontaneous mass struggle. Opportunism takes countless forms in different countries in different periods, but its essence is always the sub ordination of the proletariat’s interests to those of the bourgeoisie.

The question is, how will communists lead the masses to “the conclusion that revolution is necessary and inevitable,” how will the masses “learn that only revolutionary struggle can win them any type of meaningful concession” and that “it is not the lack of democracy which underlies their misery – but capitalism?” Is it only “through their own experience” or “through the most consistent struggle for democracy”? No! The communists will prepare the masses for revolution only by exposing the exploiters, by exposing bourgeois, democracy, In the course of leading the masses’ practical struggles.

In this light, the real meaning of the ATM’s stress on the protracted nature of the socialist revolution is clear. The socialist revolution is an entire epoch of class and national struggles, full of ebbs and flows, advances and retreats, partial engagements and civil wars. But the ATM’s stress on this side of the problem while they disdain the communist task of preparing the masses for socialist revolution, amounts to putting the revolution off into the far, far distant future and saying that, for now, our task is to fight for democratic rights.

Finally, the ATM is even worse off when they raise the proletariat’s historical task of establishing its dictatorship.. The “pure” democratic outlook permeates their whole presentation. According to the ATM, the proletariat “will not learn how to do this except through the most consistent struggle for democracy (especially for oppressed nationalities and women) under capitalism!”

The dictatorship of the proletariat is the dictatorship of the masses, which includes the broadest possible democracy among the workers and the exploited, and the exploited, and the ruthless suppression of the exploiters. But there is nothing of this from the ATM, nothing except “the most consistent struggle for democracy.” Democracy for which class? Dictatorship over which class?

One may argue in a Marxist, a socialist way; in which case one would take as the basis the relation between the exploited and the exploiters. Or one may argue in a liberal, a bourgeois – democratic way; and in that case, one would take as the basis the relation between the majority and the minority.

You see, the relation between the exploited and the exploiters has vanished in Kautsky’s argument. All that remains is majority in general, minority in general, democracy in general, the ’pure democracy’ with which we are already familiar. (Lenin, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, 1918, Peking edition, pp. 30,31)

The ATM does not talk about majority and minority in general, but instead about the “consistent struggle for democracy” in general. The “pure” democratic outlook is identical to Kautsky’s. In their eyes, the dictatorship of the proletariat is the outcome of nothing “except” “the most consistent struggle for democracy”!