Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Ann Arbor Collective (Marxist-Leninist)

Against Dogmatism and Revisionism: Toward a Genuine Communist Party

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First Published: November 1976. Reprinted in the Theoretical Review, No. 20, January-February 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Introduction to the 1981 Theoretical Review edition

The Ann Arbor Collective was formed in the summer of 1976 in response to the crisis in the new communist movement provoked by the liberation struggle in Angola, the increasingly negative line of Chinese foreign policy, and the developing crisis of the small dogmatist sects which had already, or were about to, declare themselves to be the one and only “Communist Party.”

A number of important influences helped to shape the thinking of the new organization. Some comrades had come from a heavy mass-work-experience background of anti-imperialist struggles. One had been working with the October League; another had recently left the Revolutionary Communist Party, in which he had been a leading local cadre. Still another had been involved with the Tucson Marxist-Leninist Collective and shared its emergent “primacy of theory” party building line. Others were new to the organized communist movement. The formation of the Collective itself was influenced by the Guardian’s developing critique of Chinese foreign policy and the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee’s call for an anti-dogmatist, anti-revisionist communist movement.

After several months of collective study, writing and struggle, the following pamphlet, Against Dogmatism and Revisionism: Toward a Genuine Communist Party was printed in November 1976. It was the first political expression of the line which now guides the work of the Theoretical Review and the various national collectives and study groups which have developed in connection with it.

The first Ann Arbor pamphlet placed our line in the context of the world and US communist movements both theoretically and politically, even if only in a rudimentary way. While its overall strategy for building a new party is weak, its presentation of the key errors of the past and the nature and array of tasks before us remain its strength. In this pamphlet we can grasp the roots of the line and reflect on how and why these roots have grown in the past four years. What still remains before us is to develop the line in an increasingly concrete political process linked to the unfolding of the conditions of the present conjuncture.

From its inception “primacy of theory” embodied three interrelated aspects. Each one, taken separately, would distinguish us from a number of groups on the Left. Taken as a whole (a whole which we are only now beginning to put together), they represent a qualitatively different conception of Marxism-Leninism and party building than exists anywhere else in the US communist movement.

The first aspect is our interpretation of world and US Communist history. We now sum up this aspect as the victory of the Stalinian deviation over Leninism in the late 1920s. The second aspect is the recognition that the centrality of communist politics can only be assured in the present period by making theoretical work primary. Theory is primary because Marxism-Leninism is in crisis, theoretically and politically, and the necessary transformation of political practice will not come about spontaneously. Instead it must be consciously fought for with the only weapon that can give back to our politics its revolutionary content: scientific theory. The third aspect consists of our assessment of the present state of the communist movement. We are still lacking the adequate politics and ideology to fuse communism with the workers’ movement. To break out of this impasse we must organize the production and elaboration of the necessary theory and politics which will make genuine fusion possible, starting from the limited unity which is provided by our general orientation.

The Ann Arbor paper provided the first formulation of these aspects, and as such it was sometimes vague, imprecise or marred by a theoreticist tendency. Nonetheless, four years later one is struck not so much by its inadequacies as by its timeliness. The paper speaks about building unity around a direction of development. The progress which has been made by “primacy of theory” and the Theoretical Review in deepening, broadening and rectifying our direction of development will be the subject of another article we hope to publish soon.

* * *


This paper is intended to contribute to the ongoing discussion which reflects the struggle to create a new communist party.[1] The paper has a two-fold purpose: (a) to present a theoretical perspective on the historical lessons of previous US communist organizations, and (b) to clarify and demarcate the new communist party from both past and present dogmatist and revisionist conceptions.

The creation of a new communist party in the US requires the clear identification of the two main trends which have historically dominated American communism– revisionism and dogmatism–and a recognition of the specific international and national forms these trends have taken under the conditions in the United States.

Yet it is not enough for us to merely understand the errors of past attempts to build a communist party. Marxist-Leninists must demarcate at every level the current differences between the forces progressing toward a genuine communist movement, and those who refuse to break with the past; particularly in this period which is marked by the hegemony of the latter, and the weak and confused state of the former. It is unfortunate that at present much of our movement is just beginning to find itself instinctively reacting against what it recognizes to be the errors of the dogmatists and the revisionists. What is required is advanced theory to set the movement on the correct path toward a genuine communist party. We are convinced that this paper is a step in that direction.

To formulate the problem of the history of US communism as one of the hegemony of revisionism and dogmatism is to recognize that this problem has as its basis, errors in the domain of theory. Thus it is necessary to analyze the theory and methodology of the communist movement in order to understand these errors and their consequences. To understand American communism, we must begin with an understanding of Marxism in the modern epoch–Leninism.

Historical Foundations

Leninism’s revolutionary significance lay in its treatment of Marxism as a living science. Marxism, like any other living science, develops in a constant process of expansion, self-correction, and renewal according to definite laws and relationships; most importantly, its relationship to the world which it explains and to the practice of communists which it guides. However, Marxism is not automatically or spontaneously a living science; it is and remains so only to the degree that it is consciously fought for, against all efforts to turn it into a non-science (ideology), whether that be in the form of a series of lifeless dogmas or liberal generalities.

Marxism is not like other sciences which explain the natural world, sciences such as physics and chemistry. Marxism is the science of human societies and, as such, given societies’ organization on the basis of modes of production and their division into classes, divisions which are social rather than-natural, societies cannot be treated in the same way that the natural sciences treat their objects of study. Historical materialism, the Marxist science, is not only an understanding of the world as it is, but it encompasses a second understanding as well: the necessity to change the world. Thus Marxism unites within itself both science and revolution.

Leninism arose out of the need to renew and further develop Marxism in the face of its betrayal at the hands of the social democratic parties. The victory of the Russian revolution and the formation of Leninist parties on a world scale confronted the world communist movement with the unprecedented tasks and problems for which no solution could be found in the simple reading of Marx and Engels. In the handling of these tasks, and in the theory which was developed in response to these problems, Marxism-Leninism, as a living science, began to be transformed. This was due to the effect of a number of objective and subjective factors.

The main objective factors in this process were the immensely complex conditions facing communists on a world scale; (a) the vast difference between those conditions in developed capitalist countries and those in the colonial world, and (b) the difference between the capitalist and colonial worlds on the one hand, and the world’s first socialist state on the other. The principle subjective factor was the particular nature of Leninism as the continuation of Marxism, uniting universally applicable developments of communist theory with the specific application of Marxism to the unique conditions of the Russian Empire.

Lenin himself recognized this situation when he wrote to the Communists of the Soviet Republics of the Caucuses: “Do not copy our tactics, but think out for yourselves the reasons why they assumed these particular features, the conditions that gave rise to them, and their results; apply in your republics, not the letter, but the spirit, the sense, the lessons of the experience of 1917-1921.”

Unfortunately the development of the world communist movement did not follow the path indicated for it in Lenin’s advice. Some of this was due to the particular period in which Marxism-Leninism found itself in 1917. Marxism was still relatively young at this time, and while Marx left us a fully elaborated theory of the capitalist mode of production in Capital, his remarks on other modes of production are fragmentary. And as regards Marxist philosophy, as Lenin put it, “If Marx did not leave behind him a “Logic” (with a capital letter) he did leave the logic of Capital.” In other words, dialectical materialism was not presented to us in so many words. It must be extracted from a study of Marx’s application of it in his writings.

Though Marxist science and philosophy had been advanced by Lenin (whose works were almost unknown to the world before the revolution) it still was not fully developed in its concepts, its methodology, or even in its concrete application to various societies. Nor had there developed in the world revolutionary movement a sufficient number of genuine Marxist theoreticians, knowledgeable and linked to the class struggles of their countries, to prevent Marxist theory from lagging dangerously behind the requirements of communist practice.

At the same time the specific conditions of Russian revolutionary society and the problems, both theoretical and practical, of building socialism in the USSR created the specific conditions in which the deficiency developed and the particular forms that the response to this deficiency assumed.

The victory of the revolution, the defeat of the White Guard forces in the Civil war, as well as the various opposition blocs within the party, all made possible the rise of a growing theoretical complacency. With the death of Lenin and the failure of the European revolution, this complacency took the form of a widespread assumption that the strategy, tactics, methods and forms of all revolutionary struggles were fully understood, and that the only task remaining, was to teach them; first to the world’s communists, and then to the international proletariat.

This transformation of Leninism from a reliance on the “spirit, the sense, the lessons” (to quote Lenin) of the revolutionary experience of the Bolshevik party, to that of mechanically transposing Soviet lessons froze Leninism at the point where it achieved its greatest success–the October Revolution. In this way the living science became increasingly superceded by the popularization of simple outlines of Lenin’s works, which while necessary, could not take the place of theoretical development itself. Theory increasingly became a series of abstract truths, general enough to be dogmatically and mechanically imposed.

In the 1928-34 period this dogmatism in theory was accompanied by a strong sectarianism in practice (characterized by the line that all social democrats were “social-fascists” and that communist trade union work consisted in the construction of “revolutionary” [i.e. Communist] unions.) These manifestations of sectarianism and dogmatism came under sharp attack at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in 1935. While not challenging the system of dogmatism itself, the Congress transformed Communist relationships to other parties and classes from one of uncompromising struggle to one of compromise and alliance and thus ushered in the era of the united and popular fronts.

At the heart of this change was the definition which the Congress gave to fascism and the consequences flowing from it. Now the Communist International defined fascism as the “open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, most imperialist elements of finance capital.” Left undefined was the question of the degree to which these elements exercised hegemony over the entire capitalist class, the degree of independence of other strata of the bourgeoisie, and consequently, the degree to which any section of the bourgeoisie could genuinely become part of an anti-fascist alliance.

Had there been a developed Marxist-Leninist theoretical level in the leadership in various communist parties, this incomplete analysis would not have had the tremendously damaging results which in fact occurred, for it would have been corrected in time. Yet in the absence of developed theory and with the pressures on the parties as a result of the capitalist crisis and the fascist danger, this deficiency was seized upon by certain communists around the world (the Browder group in the CPUSA, for example) who created a “theoretical solution” which was in essence a bourgeois ideological formulation.

This solution was the formulation that significant sections of the bourgeoisie could indeed be won to the fight against fascism, and that, in fact, in the absence of a strong proletarian movement they could be the leading anti-fascist force. Browder put forth this line based on a revisionist analysis of bourgeois democracy. As he told the Tenth Congress of the CPUSA in 1938: “a full and complete application of Jefferson’s principles . . . will lead naturally and inevitably to the full program of the Communist Party. . .”

By thus postulating the “natural” transition from bourgeois democracy to proletarian democracy Browder liquidated the revolutionary class struggle. By tying the advances in bourgeois democracy not to the struggles of the masses but to “principles” of bourgeois leaders, Browder negated the historical role of mass action and replaced it with one of reliance on bourgeois leadership. From here it was a small step to subordination of the Communist Party to the Roosevelt regime. It was this type of subordination which two years earlier had led the Party to give “critical support” to Roosevelt in the 1936 election campaign.

The Development of Revisionism and Dogmatism in the USA

In addition to the international factors discussed above, what are some of the specific national factors which enabled opportunism to take hold of the CPUSA with such ease? The answer to this question can only be located in the context of a discussion of the relationship between a class and its conscious element, or in other words its organic intellectuals.

Intellectuals do not constitute a class themselves nor do they together form a strata of some other class. Instead every class produces from its midst intellectuals who either serve it or cross class lines to serve another class. However it is only those intellectuals who actively help to produce, reproduce, or represent the interests and consciousness of one class in its social practices who can be called organic intellectuals of that class. It is in this sense that we say that communists are the organic intellectuals of the workingclass.

Yet Marx wrote that “the dominant ideas of every society are the ideas of the ruling class.” From this it follows that under capitalism the workingclass produces its organic intellectuals under generally unfavorable conditions. The most important obstacle facing the proletariat in this regard is the ability of the bourgeoisie to “buy off potential workingclass intellectuals. The US bourgeoisie has been particularly favored in this respect.

The dynamics of US capitalism and its effect on all classes, the relative absence of pre-capitalist relations, a revolutionary tradition, and lastly, a continuously favorable position in the world balance of power have all given the US bourgeoisie tremendous power and room to maneuver. Louis Althusser has written about the French bourgeoisie in words that can be said with equal justice about the US ruling class: that class has been able “to use both its position of strength and its past standing to offer to intellectuals a sufficient space and future, sufficiently honorable functions and sufficient margin of freedom and illusion to keep them within its authority and under the control of its ideology.”

This strength of the US bourgeoisie has effectively blocked (1) the development of a body and tradition of proletarian intellectuals serving the interest of their class and (2) the development of a theoretical space in which the workingclass and its intellectuals might recognize the science of their own liberation (Marxism). Thus when the first major Marxist party in the USA, the Socialist Party, developed, it had neither the Marxist tradition nor a core of revolutionary theoreticians to enable it to overcome the handicaps imposed on it by capitalist hegemony.

Instead the Socialist Party turned for its Marxism to the European Social Democrats, particularly the German Social Democratic Party, whose size, influence and parliamentary strength gave added weight to the tendency of American socialists to leave “theorizing” to the Europeans while Americans engaged in “practical politics.” Thus began a tradition which has characterized the Marxist movement in the USA to this very day.

For example at the height of its influence in 1912, the Socialist Party became involved in a bitter battle between its left and right wings. By means of a letter from Karl Kautsky and the presence of Karl Legien, head of the German trade unions, the right wing leadership was able to defeat the left at the Socialist Party convention held that year. Similar situations which occurred time and again in more or less subtle forms evolved into a system which decisively shaped US socialism, thus holding back the elaboration and application of Marxism to conditions in the United States.

Despite this theoretical poverty, ferment developed within the Socialist Party and the radical left in response to World War I and its aftermath. The Russian Revolution and the mistaken belief that it would soon be followed by a world revolution were crucial factors in spurring the Socialist Party’s left wing into breaking away and taking up the banner of the Third International. The crucial role of the Bolshevik victory and the enthusiasm it generated in the US heavily influenced American Communists. And, like the Socialist Party, they became entangled in the same structure of dependence for theory on external sources; once more the formation of Marxist theoreticians concretely applying scientific socialism to US conditions was delayed.

The early years of the CPUSA were given over to the emulation of the Bolsheviks and the effort to overcome the legacy of the Socialist Party. Given its mass base, the CP also intervened in the post World War I class struggles, the Great Steel Strike of 1919 and the still-born attempt to form a Farmer-Labor Party. On the eve of the great depression, divided and rent by factional in-fighting, the Party spent more time on internal struggles than it did on providing leadership to the working class.

The Party began to change in the 1929-33 period; it consolidated itself by expelling the Trotskyite and Lovestoneite factions and took on new members as a result of the great depression and the rising struggles against unemployment. The end of the long factional battling brought with it the influx of new members and the growing influence of Communists created new demands for the popularization of the Party’s line in such a way as to increase its effectiveness and its mass appeal.

The response to these demands threw the theoretical leadership of the Party into a crisis. In a world situation of slowly ossifying Marxism, a thorough application of Marxism-Leninism to the United States had hardly begun. In 1919 the CPUSA had issued leaflets during a trolley car strike in Brooklyn calling for Soviets, and armed insurrection! Yet as late as 1932 William Z. Foster could still write a book entitled Toward Soviet America which declared:

When the American working class actively enters the revolutionary path of abolishing capitalism it will orientate upon the building of Soviets...The decision of the Soviets are enforced by the armed Red Guards of workers and peasants. . . . The American Soviet government will be organized along the broad lines of the Russian Soviets.

Thus after thirteen years of activity and intervention in class struggles, the Party had still not advanced beyond the most general repetition of the “broad outlines” of the Soviet example concerning the transition to socialism in the USA. In sharp contrast to this abstract and mechanical concept of Soviets, stands the Italian example where, under the leadership of Antonio Gramsci and others, the Soviet concept was creatively applied in the 1919-20 period with some success.

The crisis which the CPUSA leadership faced could not be solved by renewed appeals to old abstractions alone. And yet the ossified theory with which they worked was itself incapable of producing the answers and analyses required. Consciously or not, the logic of the situation forced them to incorporate bourgeois ideological concepts into Party theory. Thereby an uneasy alliance was effected between the traditional dogmas and the new ideas, through a structure of theoretical practice and a resulting problematic (2) which contained two antagonistic, but inter-related aspects.

The first aspect of the problematic, essentially dogmatism, was the particular form of the traditional principles of Marxism-Leninism which the Party used and relied on. The Party leadership paid lip service to and invoked them at all times to give itself legitimacy, but they had already been rendered harmless, having been made into generalities, divorced from the day to day and year to year practice of the membership, many of whom had never even studied these principles.

The second aspect of the problematic, essentially revisionism (secondary at first, but becoming more and more prominent throughout the Browder period), was the body of pragmatist and empiricist policies and lines which served as the real guide to the Party’s practical work in all its aspects. This eclectic mixture was never comprehensively articulated on a theoretical level inasmuch as it would have sharply contrasted with Marxism-Leninism; nonetheless, it was this “theory” with which the membership was educated and which guided their work.

We have to look no further than Earl Browder himself for confirmation of the existence of this problematic in its two aspects. In his book Socialism in America, Browder states:

... the CP ... gradually merged with the organized labor movement and the New Deal in all practical activities, while retaining the facade of orthodox Marxism for ceremonial occasions. It became the most successful reformist party in the Marxist tradition that America had seen, while remaining unchallenged as spokesman of revolutionary Marxism in its ideological aspects. While championing the Soviet Union in international affairs, it turned to the Jeffersonian American tradition as equally authoritative as that of Marx.

Two facts stand out in the contrast between the two aspects of the CPUSA’s theoretical problematic:[2] while the two aspects are not compatible, each is developed in such a way as to not present a sharp contradiction to the other, and (2) the aspect which formally consists of the principles of Marxism-Leninism is both so generalized and so divorced from the concrete conditions of the work of the Party, that it is itself incapable of providing the basis for the effective critique of the revisionist aspect. The living science of Marxism, had it developed, would have been able to provide such a critique.

What was the structure of the theoretical production which arose along side this problematic? It was a structure characterized by the systematic lack of theoretical education of the vast majority of the membership, coupled with the restriction of “theoretical” production to a handful of leading figures. Thus, not only did most of the Party members not study Marxism, nor think for themselves, they in fact were constantly encouraged to assimilate the works of Browder, Foster, and others as a substitute for such study. The result was a widespread theoretical poverty among the members and supporters of the Party.

In this way, all the anti-revisionist forces within the CPUSA were effectively disarmed inasmuch as they were a product of the theoretical poverty and they operated within the Party’s theoretical problematic; a fact which explains the almost unopposed rise of Browderism, even after the dissolution of the Party itself in 1944. How else can we explain the fact that the struggle against Browder did not begin until after the intervention of the French Communist Jacques Duclos, who criticized Browder’s line in the French Communist press?

If we can say that Browder forces, in dissolving the Party, attempted to divide one (the CPUSA’s problematic) into two and organize American communism on the basis of the revisionist aspect alone, we can say also that the reconstruction of the Party and the anti-Browder campaign led by William Z. Foster are essentially only attempts to put two back into one and reorganize the Party once more on the basis of the old problematic. It is this fact that both the dogmatists and the revisionists alike ignore when they attempt to declare that a genuine communist party was reborn in 1945. And this fact must be understood if we are to comprehend the factors which led the CP to its crisis in 1956.

Again let us examine the problematic concretely, this time in the work of William Z. Foster. In his 1955 book The History of the Three Internationals he writes:

Ever since the appearance of the Communist Manifesto the principles of Marxism have been under incessant attack from the open bourgeois enemies and from opportunists within labor’s ranks. Marxism has also had to stand the severe test of life itself in the tremendously complex development of society during this long period. But Marxism emerged victoriously from all these attacks and tests.

Yet in the same book Foster could also write:

The working class is the great peace force in the world and always tries to accomplish the advance to socialism by the most peaceful means.... The Communist Party of the United States also ’advocates a peaceful path to socialism in the U.S.’ . . . The wholesale persecution of Communists in the United States upon the allegation that the Communist Party advocates the forceful overthrow of the U.S. government is a lie and a frame-up. . .

How do these quotes from Foster elucidate the two sides of the problematic? The first demonstrates the peculiar form in which Foster pays lip service to the principles of Marxism-Leninism as interpreted by the CPUSA. For while it is true that Marxism has had to defend itself, from its inception, from all attempts to distort and debase it, it is equally true that this struggle has not proceeded merely as a defense of original principles, laid down once and for all in 1848. The history of scientific socialism is not one of simple defense, but of active growth, development and self-criticism, a growth accompanied by many setbacks, defeats, and false starts.

The second quote illustrates the other aspect of the problematic more clearly. Here Foster is frankly giving notice that the CPUSA poses no genuine revolutionary threat to the capitalist system, that it has abandoned the basic Marxist truths on the nature of revolution, bourgeois democracy and the transition to socialism, in favor of working within capitalism to reform it within the bounds of bourgeois laws and bourgeois reformist ideology.

Thus Foster reproduced the old problematic, but with a significant difference: while Browder developed it in the period of expansion and growth of the Communist Party and its influence in the workingclass, Foster reconstructed it in a period of the decline of the Communist Party, its expulsion from the labor movement and persecution at the hands of the government: the period of the cold war and McCarthyism. In this new period the Party leadership was once again thrown into crisis, unable to guide either the membership or the non-Party masses who looked to it for leadership.

In this unfavorable situation the Party increasingly vacillated between reliance on one or the other aspect of the problematic in which to formulate its policies, with different sections of the leadership gravitating to one or the other consistently, leaving the membership torn and powerless.

In 1946, for example, the CPUSA officially endorsed a resolution adopted at the CIO’s Eighth Convention. The resolution read: “We resent and reject efforts of the Communist Party or other political parties to interfere in the affairs of the CIO. This convention serves notice that we will not tolerate such interference.” The Communist Party openly supported this resolution, on the claim that it was in the interests of “trade union unity.” Yet after this suicidal capitulation the Party, a few years later, swung around in the opposite direction and adopted another, equally suicidal policy–it demanded that the unions endorse the Party’s opposition to the Marshall Plan–even though Communists had never laid any groundwork for such an endorsement, having repeatedly avoided introducing class struggle politics into the unions in which they worked.

Another example of the vacillation and confusion which marked the Party’s work in those years is its response to the Smith Act persecution of its leaders around the country. While originally in 1951 the Party predicted that war and fascism were imminent in the USA and it prepared to go underground, in the trials themselves Communist leaders went to enormous lengths to prove that the Party had always been against violent revolution, as had been Marx and Lenin as well, and that in fact Communism stood for a constitutional and “democratic” transition to socialism.

All these factors–the repression, the isolation, the lack of coherent leadership–resulted in widespread defections from the ranks, which decimated the CPUSA and isolated it even further. The remaining members became increasingly divided between those who were basically revisionists and those who were basically dogmatists, in their understanding of the nature of the Party crisis. The series of events which began with the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and ended with the intervention of Soviet troops in Hungary transformed this schism into a full-blown crisis.

The significance of the 20th Congress of the CPSU highlighted by the famous Khruschev secret speech against Stalin, lies in two main areas. Its positive significance lies in its recognition of the fact that the dogmas and inapplicable generalities of what passed for Marxist theory in the 1930s and 1940s could serve to guide neither the world communist movement nor the Soviet Union in the post-World War II era. By so saying the 20th Congress reopened the discussion which had remained closed for years: that of the strategy and tactics of the world communist movement and the theoretical and practical problems of socialism in the USSR and elsewhere.

The negative significance of the 20th Congress consists in its answers to these problems and the methods it proposed to solve them. The 20th Congress introduced as “new developments in theory” methodology and concepts taken from modern bourgeois ideologies to replace the discarded dogma. Nowhere is this more evident than in Khruschev’s attempt to explain away the entire Stalin period on the basis of a concept drawn straight from bourgeois sociology–the concept of the “cult of the personality.” And while claiming to oppose dogmatism Khruschev provided no critique of the problem and instead proceeded to elevate new dogmas to the level of “theory,” once more to be memorized and mechanically copied.

The 20th Congress of the CPSU and subsequent events brought into the open all the contradictions festering within the CPUSA, which had been covered up by the Foster leadership but remained unresolved. Once again one divided into two (i.e., two distinct problematics) with the tragedy consisting in the fact that both sides–the revisionists and dogmatists–although grasping certain correct lessons from the history of the CPUSA, formulated these lessons within the context of a revisionist or dogmatist problematic, thus eliminating the possibility of a complete break and the emergence of a revolutionary Marxist-Leninist basis for American communism.

Let us examine some of the lessons grasped by each of the two sides. The revisionists in the CPUSA (divided into several factions, the two most important of which were led by John Gates and Eugene Dennis) quickly raised the central question of the Party’s complete dependence on external forces (the CPSU) for its every tactic and policy and for its general orientation. They were also the ones who emphasized the vital necessity for Communists to apply and enrich Marxism on the basis of concrete conditions in the USA. They seized upon William Z. Foster’s admission that the CPUSA was too “foreign” and that it had to “Americanize” itself to expand upon this theme. Likewise they claimed the needs of the Party demanded the reevaluation of what had always been considered fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism and their further development to enable it to overcome dogmatism.

While such talk on a general level was sound, the revisionist program showed that, in essence, it stood, not for the application of Marxism but for its repudiation and its replacement with a bourgeois democratic program. These revisionists raised the question of replacing the Party with another “more democratic” form of organization. They urged the cooperation of Communists with “democratic” sections of the bourgeoisie and in the face of the rising civil rights struggles, advocated the abandonment of the battle for proletarian hegemony in the Black liberation movement.

The dogmatists (loosely organized around William Z. Foster and Benjamin Davis, but also including a group which would later split off to become the Provisional Organizing Committee), having been put on the defensive by the revisionist attack, conceded that the Party had to be critical of past dogmatist and sectarian errors. In contrast to the revisionists, however, they pointed out the historical tradition of revisionism of which the CPUSA had also been guilty and consistently raised the question of Marxism-Leninism’s incompatibility with bourgeois ideology. Certain dogmatists even urged a deepening of the struggle against bureaucracy and the lack of inner party democracy, from a leftist rather than a rightist perspective.

While espousing these correct positions, however, the majority of the dogmatists, particularly the Foster-Davis group, considered these formulations to be merely a concession, made to preserve their positions within the leadership. They meanwhile resolutely refused to make a break with the cherished dogmas of by-gone times.

An attempt was made to resolve the Party crisis in 1957 at the 16th Convention where conciliators on both sides came together and compromised on all the issues dividing them. The long period of coexistence between the two sides in the pre-1956 period made some kind of unity possible. The revisionists who refused to conciliate were driven out of the Party or resigned. The unrepentant dogmatists organized themselves into the Provisional Organizing Committee which after a year was reduced to less than fifty members. The several thousand people who remained in the CPUSA reaffirmed their dependence on the CPSU for their general orientation but continued to develop their own line in the day-to-day struggles in which they participated. The revisionism of the CPSU and their own were entirely compatible. The debate opened up by the 20th Congress was once again closed.

The “New” Communist Movement

Throughout this period a fruitless battle had been fought on both sides. Due to the context in which the discussion was contained–the above discussed problematic–those who wanted to fight dogmatism were forced unavoidably into revisionism, and those who wanted to fight revisionism were forced into a dogmatist dead-end. Throughout this period the key question facing American Communists was never posed as it can be now: How can we break not just with dogmatism or revisionism, but with the entire structure which produces both of them? This break must be the precondition for reconstituting the living science of Marxism-Leninism, and for constructing for the first time a real communist party; a party rooted in the class struggle and which creatively develops and concretely applies the Marxist-Leninist science.

This question proposes not just a break with the structures of the old CP, but with the structures of capitalist society which forced the development of the CP problematic. In addition, the question proposes not to merely begin the development of Marxist theory on a narrow basis, but to challenge the bourgeoisie at every level; to carry Marxism-Leninism everywhere that the class struggle is being conducted. Everywhere that the bourgeoisie is undertaking “theoretical” production, we, as communists, must begin to challenge them and defeat them with a correct theory.

But this question was not posed and the debate was closed, not to be reopened until the early 1960s. It was reopened, however, not because of events in the United States, but once again due to external influences; this time the polemics undertaken by the Communist Party of China against the line of the CPSU in the international communist movement. At that time, only a small number of communists in the US, largely organized around the Progressive Labor Movement (later the Progressive Labor Party) took up the Chinese line. It was not until the tremendous upheavals of the Cultural Revolution that “Maoism” became a significant factor, among significant sections of the anti-war and civil rights movements.

In fact, it was out of these two elements, the “Maoist” revolutionary theory and the spontaneous mass anti-war and civil rights movements, that the “new” communist movement was born. While taking much that was progressive and important from each of these elements, the “new” communist movement also inherited their weaknesses. For many sections of the “new” communist movement, it was not the revolutionary side of the Cultural Revolution that most influenced them, but its dogmatic and mechanical side, (most evident in the ultra-left Lin Piao period), which gave rise to the waving of red books and the shouting of slogans as a replacement for the serious study and the critical assimilation of the lessons of the Chinese experience.

From the mass struggles of the 1960s, the “new” communist movement inherited a petty bourgeois narrowness and an isolation from the working class. The indifference for history and theory in the New Left produced contradictory results in the “new” movement. Among some, a demand for theory resulted in the acceptance of easy answers and simple solutions, provided that they satisfied the demands of practice oriented activity (in the narrow sense of the word “practice”) and were couched in the language of Marxist theory. As an over-reaction to the anti-theoretical side of the New Left, other sections of the “new” communist movement raised theory to the level of absolute and unquestioned dogma, and as an over-reaction to the New Left’s organizational anarchism, they turned to super-centralism and, in effect, the militarization of their own organizations.

The problematic which began to evolve in the “new” communist movement in the late 1960s, has sufficiently developed today for us to begin to characterize it. By its theoretical dependence on China, it has reproduced the old CP dependence on external theoretical leadership; and thus once again the important task of the elaboration and development of real Marxist theory in the US has been postponed. While its dogmatist nature has long been clear, in its mechanical treatment of the line and policy of the Chinese party and state, its revisionist nature in capitulating to bourgeois pressures has also begun to show in its treatment of busing (the RCP) and its class collaboration with the US ruling class on the question of Cuba (RCP, OL), Iran and Puerto Rico (OL), and more recently, Angola (too many to mention). And by the universal cult of the old CPUSA, the “new” communist movement has attempted quite consciously to re-create the old CP in the modern period, oblivious to the impossibility of such an undertaking, and to the failings of the organization they seek to resurrect.

Thus the “break” which the “new” communist movement made with the problematic of the CPUSA is really no break at all–just its reformulation in a new period under a new form. The recognition of this failure brings with it the question of whether or not it is inevitable for American communism to follow this path now and in the future. We are of the opinion that at present, conditions exist for us to make a qualitative break with this situation; we now have the potential of reconstituting the living science of Marxism-Leninism, and of building a new communist party on that basis.

Bases for a Genuine Communist Movement

What are the new factors present in this period which have the potential, taken together, of enabling us to achieve what was hitherto impossible?

(1) For the first time since 1917 there is no undisputed center of the world communist movement to which everyone is bound to look for leadership, and on which revolutionaries can uncritically lean, as an excuse for their own backwardness and theoretical poverty. Increasingly, communists are coming to understand not just that China’ like the Soviet Union before it, is not perfect, but that there is something wrong with the very notion of looking elsewhere for guidance and theory itself.
(2) There is an increasing awareness in the ranks of communists that the “new” communist movement as presently constituted is overwhelmingly dominated by a number of dogmatist sects which have failed to provide a genuine alternative to the CPUSA, and which have indeed begun to move in the same direction as the CP before them. As surely as the revisionism of the CPUSA, the dogmatism of the sects represents a dead-end in the struggle for communism.
(3) For the first time, communists in the United States have available to them the theoretical basis with which to break with the ossified “theory,” which has so crippled our movement. The writings of such outstanding theoreticians as Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser and his circle, Charles Bettelheim, and others have all contributed in various fields to constitute a genuine revival in revolutionary Marxism. They have given us elements of a methodology and system which will be central factors in the successful development and application of Marxism-Leninism, and in solving the problems of building a new party in the U.S.

To avoid any misunderstandings, let us clarify our understanding of the relationship between the work of these theoreticians and the classics of Marxism-Leninism. We are not seeking a replacement for the classics. At the same time, however, we know that everyone from NAM through the RCP and OL to the WVO read Marx and Lenin; yet the simple reading of the classics is no guarantee that the result will be genuine Marxism, as these groups show. A simple “reading” of the classics can guarantee nothing so long as the key question remains unposed–how does one read?

If the revisionists and dogmatists do not ask this question in their reading it is because they have two other questions in mind: (1) What is being said in this work?, and (2) What is the importance of what is being said for us here and now? On the surface these appear to be entirely reasonable questions; however, let us examine them more closely.

The first question in fact reflects the bourgeois idealist conception of what it means to read, for it assumes that truth shows itself immediately in the words used to express it. Every Marxist will agree that the Bible shows its “truth” differently to the faithful and the atheist, but when it comes to the classics of Marxism-Leninism, the average Marxist never stops to think that the same situation is in effect here. The text is assumed to be transparent with its truth simply showing through.

This idealist discovery of the “truth” having been accomplished, our reader goes on to answer the second question: what is its significance for today? In so doing the reader again adopts an idealist outlook. For, as we know, Marxism provides a concrete analysis of a concrete situation, and therefore one cannot make a leap from a series of analyses scientifically grounded in one situation to another entirely different situation, without doing violence to Marxism-Leninism itself. To attempt it is to fall prey to the idealist notion that theoretical analyses are ahistorical, a notion which Marx and Lenin unceasingly opposed.

If this is the idealist approach to reading, how then can we learn to read as Marxists, as Marx himself read? To begin with, only by recognizing that any work and any work of Marxism-Leninism in particular, poses a problem in a specific terrain and within the definite structural field of a given theoretical problematic (in our case here–Marxism-Leninism).

The truth of a work of Marxism-Leninism can only be ascertained by a labor which examines the text with an eye to reconstructing from it the definite structural field and its corresponding methodology within which the problem was posed and the solutions were derived. Such a reading does not assume that truth is apparent, on the contrary it asserts that it must be produced by a careful theoretical labor. And once this truth has been produced we recognize that it is entirely different from the truth which an idealist reading arrives at: theirs are simple conclusions unavoidably tied to an historical moment; ours is a particular field of Marxist-Leninist theory embodying both a definite conceptual system and its methodology.

Only the truth derived from the Marxist method of reading is capable of transcending the time in which the work was produced and of becoming a tool with which to analyse and transform our knowledge of the present moment. This is then the difference between a Marxist and a non-Marxist reading and we owe to Louis Althusser and his followers both the consciousness of the difference and its concrete application to a number of important Marxist texts. Such knowledge is an enormous step forward for the rebirth of the living theory of our movement.

We consider the combination of the three factors listed above, the absence of a world center, the decline of the hegemony of dogmatism, and the theoretical developments in the recent period, as constituting a basis for the successful emergence of a genuine communist movement. We realize nonetheless that there is an imperfect understanding of them on the part of the revolutionary forces in the USA who consider themselves communists, and that different sections have responded differently to the influences and merits of each.

All the participants in the communist movement are affected in some way by the influence of these three factors. The continued division, splitting and antagonisms within the movement is primarily a result of this influence, as each group reacts in its own way, with its own limited recognition the unfolding process. Forces such as the former “revolutionary wing” (PRRWO, RWL, WVO) perceived in their own peculiar way the theoretical poverty of US Marxist-Leninists. They recognized the pressing need for a rectification of this situation in the current period (a subjective reflection of the present possibilities) and have put forward the correct demand for theory to be “the leading factor in all our work” (in spite of their own inability to do so).

The October League, on the other hand, recognizing but unwilling to accept the fact of the declining influence of China as an international center for the communist movement, is wildly flailing about against all those forces which either welcome or have become demoralized by this development. At the same time forces such as the Communist Labor Party which welcome the growing disillusionment of honest forces with regard to the dogmatist sects and international centers have perceived these developments as a license to dilute the necessary struggles against revisionism in general and the revisionism of the CPUSA in particular.

In every major case the crises and transformations which the communist forces are undergoing at present are a mirror in which is reflected the maturation of the effects of the three factors. The crises result from a failure to understand this maturation and the consequent failure to respond to it scientifically and consciously.

The Guardian newspaper for instance, a leading force in the communist movement, has for some time taken a clear stand on the bankruptcy of the dogmatist sects. Only recently however in its discussion of Chinese foreign policy has it begun to call into question the existence of a world center and the need for an independent assessment of the revolutionary process on an international and national scale. Unfortunately, the Guardian, while recognizing the need to further the study of Marxism-Leninism, has so far neglected the advances in Marxist theory in the recent period.

Perhaps the most important result of the maturation of the effect of the three factors has been the development within the last year and a half of an anti-dogmatist anti-revisionist trend within the communist movement. Unfortunately, though, its recent origin and inexperience coupled with an effort to avoid the disunity of the sects has resulted in a distinct agnostic tendency within this trend which blurs over differences and avoids taking clear stands in the face of traditional dogmas of one kind or another. Nonetheless we consider this the most promising development within the communist movement in recent years.

In this situation the principle task of genuine communists in the present period is to carry forward comradely polemics and discussions on the basis of the three points with all honest forces with the aim of accelerating the process of clarification within the communist movement. We must begin the slow and painstaking process of the unification of communists, revolutionaries and advanced workers, proceeding from where we are, not from where we would like to be.

In addition we must clearly comprehend the kind of party we must build, and know how it will distinguish itself at every level from the organizations and ideologies of the sham communist forces. We present the following discussion as our conception of the needs and tasks which the new Communist Party will have to encompass and resolve.

Communists and the Question of “Practice”

Traditionally, the communist movement in the USA has vulgarized the concept of “practice,” reducing it to its lowest form of narrow practical activity and ignoring the distinctive but inter-related forms of practice which Marxism-Leninism recognizes. This occurs in spite of the fact that the importance of the different practices was first pointed out by Engels in The Peasant War in Germany and later repeated by both Lenin and Mao.

Why is it necessary to distinguish between the various forms of practice? Because many of the deviations which have plagued the communist movement have their basis in the confusion of the effects of one practice with that of another. For example anarcho-syndicalism is the result of attributing to economic practice effects which are produced in political practice; whereas voluntarism is the result of attributing to political practice effects which can only be produced in economic practice. Likewise spontaneism results in attributing to other practices effects which can only be produced in theoretical and ideological practices.

As Engels said, the “strength and invincibility” of our movement lies in the harmonious and well-planned unity of all the practices of the Party. Thus we, in beginning the construction of the new Communist Party, must clarify our separate but inter-related practices: economic, political, ideological and theoretical, and distinguish the differences between ourselves and the sham communists in each practice.

Economic Practice

The intervention of communists in the economic practice of the workingclass is the work of organizing and advancing the economic struggles which the workers wage against the capitalists, an economic struggle whose chief organizational form is the trade union. The trade union is thus the organized center of workingclass resistance at the economic level, a fact which has not been lost on the capitalists. As a result of the specific forms which the class struggle has taken in the developed capitalist countries, and in the USA in particular, as the leading imperialist power, the structure and role of the trade unions has been transformed from one of workers defense to one of class collaboration at the expense of the workingclass. In this process the structure of the trade unions has more and more been transformed in its function to replicate the structure of the bourgeois state, a fact which prompted Lenin to use the term bureaucracy, appropriate to the state, to the trade union structure of class collaborationist unions.

Traditionally, communists have recognized the class collaborationist nature of the trade unions at the policy level, while remaining ignorant of it at the structural level and thus unaware of the implications of a structural transformation. Therefore they have been content to understand “trade union democracy” as primarily a question of electing communists to trade union office. We on the contrary must recognize that just as the state machinery cannot merely be taken hold of, but has to be smashed, so too the trade union bureaucracy has to be smashed. Just as imperialism is not just a policy of capitalist government, but an integral part of the structure of capitalism, so class collaboration is not just a policy of the trade union bureaucracy, but an organic part of the structure of bourgeois bureaucratic unionism.

And finally, just as the struggle for state power is not just an electoral struggle, so the struggle to transform the trade unions is not one that begins and ends at the ballot box. A new unionism, built on class struggle, must be forged to end the hegemony of the labor bureaucracy over the trade union movement as a precondition to ending the hegemony which the labor aristocracy exercises over the entire class. The precondition for this, however, is the creation of a “consistent left” within the unions. Not a left defined in a spontaneist-economist manner as all those workers who are ready to fight, but a left whose leading core brings to the trade union struggles a political and class consciousness and in which communists are active. The strength and influence of such a left will then raise the possibility of a left-center coalition, and the problems of winning left hegemony within that coalition.

The political aspect of our intervention in economic practice is the bringing of a political content to the economic struggle, through the campaign against economism and reformism, and for drawing the workers into the broader political struggles. Communists neither ignore economic struggles for reforms nor do they lead them as ends in themselves. Rather, communists view reforms as byproducts of struggle, and economic battles as part of a broader struggle to transform the workingclass into a force fighting for revolution. The low level of consciousness of the workingclass in the United States has exerted strong pressures on communists to abandon revolutionary work within it. And as the CPUSA and the RCP have shown, economism can take on either a right or a left character. On the other hand, other forces have brought the narrowest politics to the workers, often only simplifications of the conditions the workers face. For us as for Lenin:

The consciousness of the masses of workers cannot be genuine class consciousness unless the workers learn to observe from concrete, and above all from topical political facts and events, every other social class and all the manifestations of the intellectual, ethical, and political life of these classes. . .

The ideological aspect of our intervention in economic practice is based not on the abstract glorification of an idealized proletariat, but rather it proceeds from a concrete analysis of a concrete class. It recognizes that for the majority of the workers (still unorganized), militant trade union consciousness would be a great advance. It recognizes that for the majority of the workingclass, divided and poisoned with bourgeois prejudices, class consciousness would also be a great advance, and a basis for class struggle unionism.

At the same time, however, we are aware that sections of the workingclass are definitely moving toward a break with bourgeois ideology and are thus open to communism. It is these advanced workers around whom the new party will have to orient its work, for they are key to establishing our base within the workingclass, they are our concrete link to the rest of the class.

The theoretical aspect of communist work at the economic level involves the production of conceptual knowledge on matters necessary to scientifically guide our work, knowledge which we have never had because communists have been too busy using the term “workingclass” or “proletariat” abstractly to stop and examine the real workingclass in the concrete. We need to determine which sections of the salaried workforce can truly be said to constitute the workingclass and those which are strata of other classes. The question of the size and influence of the labor aristocracy must be tackled, as well as that of super-profit bribery and its influence on the class in all its sections. We must widen and deepen our theoretical conception of the trade unions and their role as an organized force of the class within capitalism, and their transformation into organs of struggle.

Political Practice

The political practice of communists is the organization of the masses for political struggle and the eventual seizure of state power from the bourgeoisie; its highest organizational form is the Party. The party is thus the principal organization which transforms the spontaneous fight-back of the masses into a consciously fought struggle.

The question of the organization of the party, or of its organizational practice, is central to its ability to organize and direct the political, and indeed all the practices of communists.

The legacy of the CPUSA and the dogmatist sects is one of bureaucratic, anti-democratic centralism coupled with coercive discipline, mindless obedience to leadership, and ruthless sectarianism, which has made a cruel caricature of the Leninist principles of organization. Only a genuine communist party can apply Lenin’s principles to the particular conditions of advanced bourgeois democracy, extant in the USA today.

Only genuine Leninist democratic centralism, which means the conscious and voluntary subordination of the parts to the whole, and the widest and unrestricted participation of the membership in all decisions and policies of the party, can win the masses to communism. And only the highest level of communist consciousness of the membership can guarantee the success of such democratic centralism.

Thus, the development of internal education, and the introduction of a critical communist spirit into the party at every level is key to democratic centralism, and a safe-guard against bureaucratic degeneration. Only the ignorance of the membership, their blind reliance on leaders, and the absence of inner-party discussion and debate hold together the revisionist and dogmatist sects. Their continued existence stands as a warning to all communists.

The organizational form of the party at a basic level must embody the particular function of the party as a revolutionary organization. For this reason we must master the forms of the factory and street cells and that of the fraction. We must do so however, not by copying those of the old CP from the thirties, for while communist factory nuclei did much good work in shops and plants around the country, and communist fractions did well in mass organizations (particularly the trade unions), they failed in one noticeable respect. Although they were effective action bodies of the Party, they came to play less and less a part in the formulation or decision-making process concerning the policies and plans of action; a function which became almost the sole domain of the leadership. New structures will have to be created to ensure that the cells and fractions of the new party function in a context which insures both their maximum effectiveness and the maximum of influence in the process of democratic centralism.

While the party is the highest form of political organization of the masses, there are other forms which play a role in developing the political participation of the working class, such as community organizations, tenant unions, mass anti-imperialist coalitions, etc. In the total absence of developed national political organizations which are independent of the ruling class, the main political practice of communists in the present period is primarily one of building the party, and secondarily, building other political organizations in which the workers and oppressed peoples begin to actively struggle at the political level for the transformation of their own lives. The transformation of the masses from passive pawns of the ruling class to active fighters on the political stage, is the essence of communist political practice.

The principal ideological aspect of communist political work must be the struggle to break the grip which the two parties of the bourgeoisie have on the political consciousness of the masses. Today the masses’ understanding of politics and political struggle is almost entirely inscribed within the limits and forms which the bourgeoisie has either developed or conceded to them. This understanding is not merely restricted to electoralism. It is organically related to legalism and non-violence on the one hand, and passivity and tailing behind bourgeois leadership on the other.

Not only the broad masses, but sections of the advanced workers and even some of those claiming to be communists, have not entirely freed themselves from elements of bourgeois political thinking. The revisionists, for example, never cease to call on workers to put their faith in either bourgeois liberals or in the bourgeois courts, rather than in themselves and their own struggles.

On the other hand, many sections of the dogmatist trend ignore the reality of the masses’ consciousness, for as Lenin wrote in Left Wing Communism: “For the Communists ... parliament is, of course, ’politically obsolete’; but–and this is the whole point–we must not regard what is obsolete for us as being obsolete for the class, as being obsolete for the masses.” To ignore elections, to ignore political participation by the masses, is the error of the dogmatists.

For us, the question is how to analyse and participate in the political activity in which the masses engage without giving bourgeois politics legitimacy, and at the same time in such a way as to win the masses to revolutionary politics; to win them to the party. This entails a decisive rupture with the whole of bourgeois political thinking and the reorganization of communist political practice on a scientific basis. As always we must work first among the advanced, but keeping in mind always the class and the masses as a whole to whom they link us.

The theoretical tasks of our political practice center around two main problems: the party/class relationship, and the problem of the state. The first question, that of the relationship between the communist party and the workingclass and the masses, has never been seriously posed in the US communist movement. Instead, it has been automatically assumed that the party is the vanguard of the class, without ever considering the relationships and forms that proletarian class leadership requires; without ever recognizing that the vanguard role is not something which exists of itself, but something that must be struggled for.

This idealist view of the vanguard role has deprived communists of scientific knowledge of the party/class relationship and resulted in two errors: first, by reducing the party to just a section of the class, scarcely distinct from it and certainly not its advanced component (the liquidationism of the revisionists) or, secondly, developing the party in such a way as to isolate it and divorce it from all sections of the class so that it has no one to follow its leadership (the sectarianism of the dogmatists).

The correction of these errors and the formulation of the question in a correct way can only come from a thorough study of the historical question of the party, of the nature and forms of its vanguard role, the concrete forms in which this role was recognized by the masses at all levels, and the process of the development of these parties in becoming vanguard organizations. At the same time, only a concrete analysis of the US workingclass, its production of a spontaneous vanguard out of mass struggles, and the attempts of the CPUSA and others to either become the vanguard itself, or to win the spontaneous vanguard to communism, is necessary for our own specific work with the proletariat.

The second key theoretical question in political practice is the question of the US state today. The successful struggle against the leading imperialist power demands scientific information and analysis of the role of the state in US state monopoly capitalism, the different sections of the bourgeoisie which operate within the state apparatus and their relationship to each other, and the question of which section at present exercises hegemony and to what extent. Also important in the context of the limits of bourgeois democracy is the need to know the degree to which the bourgeoisie allows other classes (most notably the petty bourgeoisie) to share or play a role in political power at local levels around the country, and the degree to which the spontaneous neo-fascist organizations are beginning to develop links with elements in the bourgeoisie.

Another area of importance in which scientific knowledge is lacking is that of the international role of the US state, its effect on the world economic crisis, and its role in the internationalization of capital. To what extent does its role alleviate or exacerbate the crisis, and how does this affect its role within the US, is also a question to which the new communist party must not only provide answers but prepare for strategically and tactically.

Ideological Practice

The ideological practice of communists is struggle in the field of ideology, of popular consciousness. Marx called ideology “false consciousness,” in order to distinguish it from scientific consciousness or scientific knowledge. For Marx, ideology contained the dialectic: allusion/illusion; being at the same time an allusion to the real world and an illusion of it. If we can say that for bourgeois ideology, illusion is the main aspect, we can say for Marxist ideology, allusion is the main aspect.

What is Marxist-Leninist ideology? It is the formulation of the scientific truths of Marxism-Leninism in the language of popular consciousness, in a particular context which is neither fully scientific nor the complete picture (hence the aspect of illusion), but which creates in the consciousness of the reader or listener a contradiction between his/her previous conceptions and the new Marxist-Leninist ones being presented. Marxist-Leninist ideology, whether it is agitation or propaganda, forces people to choose, to maintain old ideas or to break with those old bourgeois ideological conceptions. This is the essence of ideological struggle.

As communists we recognize that the capitalist mode of production produces and reproduces daily an infinite variety of elements which make up the totality of bourgeois ideology. Bourgeois ideology is produced not only in bourgeois institutions, but out of the very relationships that are characteristic of capitalism itself. Bourgeois ideology is so strong and pervasive because there is not a significant ideological system to challenge it which has any importance in the United States at this point. The absence of such an ideology is a result of the absence of any united class, conscious of itself and of the need to oppose the bourgeoisie on the field of ideology. For us therefore the principal ideological task is to break those key ideological structures which keep the workingclass divided, as the basis for creating a fighting force necessary to overcome the whole of bourgeois ideology.

We find four of these key ideological structures; three which divide the workingclass within itself, and one which divides the class from the science of its liberation. These are (1) racism and white chauvinism, (2) national chauvinism, (3) male supremacy, and (4) anti-communism. In ideological struggle there are a number of current errors which have to be guarded against. Some forces in the communist movement are of the impression that these erroneous ideologies will disappear spontaneously, as a result of economic or political struggles in which workers unite. This is nothing more than a liquidation of the ideological struggle. On the other hand, sections of our movement conduct the ideological struggle in a vacuum, aside from other struggles, and even attempt to treat it as a moral issue in and of itself. This error flows from the mistaken view that ideology exists entirely in the realm of ideas where false views can be defeated by reason and logic alone.

On the contrary, we see bourgeois ideology as a reflection of bourgeois society and thus recognize the material basis for these ideas. And we also realize the ability to decisively defeat bourgeois ideology will not exist until its material basis has been destroyed. We thus understand the ideological struggle as being an integral part of all struggles and having as its purpose the mobilization of the masses to recognize the ideology which divides them, and to take up the revolutionary struggle against all the institutions, structures, relationships, and ideas which compose bourgeois society and bourgeois ideology.

The theoretical aspect of the ideological struggle is the organization and development of the party’s knowledge of the concrete state and forms of popular consciousness. Taking the tremendously important work of Gramsci in this field as our theoretical starting point, we must thoroughly understand the thinking of the workers, grasp their approach to events and ideas, and learn to operate and work with them in order to transform it. At the same time, we must grasp the distinctions between the thinking of the most backward strata of the masses and that of the intermediate and advanced workers. Given our present small size, genuine communist forces must concentrate on propaganda among the advanced workers as our most important ideological work. Consequently, we must develop it consciously and effectively, always keeping in mind the audience for which it is intended. The lessons of Boston and Louisville are that the reactionaries have understood far better the ideological level and consciousness of the masses than have the communists, and thus were able to mobilize them during crises which rendered our forces helpless.

Theoretical Practice

While economic, political and ideological practices are domains in which struggles develop independently of Marxist-Leninists, the domain of theoretical practice is the result of the conscious activity of communists. The theoretical practice of the party is the organization and production of Marxist-Leninist theory and its dissemination. Marxist theory is the unity of two interrelated but distinct scientific disciplines: a science– historical materialism; and a philosophy–dialectical materialism. Historical materialism has as its object of study the various modes of production and social formations, their structure, constitution and functioning, both in the present conjuncture and historically, and the forms of transition from one social formation to another. Dialectical materialism has as its object the production of knowledge, that is, the structures and functioning of the thought process itself.

Theoretical practice can neither be the domain of a few party intellectuals nor the simple popularization of the classics for the rank and file. Given the tremendous power of the anti-theoretical ideologies of the bourgeoisie, such as pragmatism and empiricism, both in general and within the left (even among communists), we must demand that theory be the concern of the entire party. Therefore given the complexity of advanced theory and the training necessary for its production, the party must provide for and organize its theoretical production with the same care and serious concern it gives its trade union or political work.

While the CPUSA long ago gave up the effort to train its membership in the theory of Marxism-Leninism, the dogmatist sects have organized the study of the classics through superficial reading and blind memorization. For communists the struggle to master the classics is a two-fold struggle: (a) to deepen our own grasp of theoretical concepts and methodology and (b) to master the application of theory to problems posed by work in all the practices. The party must provide its members the necessary conditions for theoretical production. Comrades must be provided with the necessary time and facilities and all members who so desire should be encouraged to undertake theoretical work and investigations. The party must provide one or more theoretical and discussion journals in which articles can be published, discussed and debated. Such journals would stand out in sharp contrast to publications such as Political Affairs, and Class Struggle which, while claiming to be devoted to theory, are in fact given over to the narrow repetition of the official lines of the organizations which publish them.

The situation in which policies and lines are debated by the leadership behind closed doors, with only the winning view being presented to the membership, must come to an end. Likewise, the restriction of the membership to discussion only of the implementation of policies, not their formulation, is alien to a genuine communist party. The organization of real ongoing discussions, without turning the party into a debating club, is not possible unless the membership is both highly conscious and highly disciplined at the same time, factors which are guarantees of both the most thorough-going democracy and the highest level of active implementation of decisions.

On the basis of the theory we develop we will begin to define the strategy and tactics which will guide all the party’s work. An overall strategy for proletarian revolution in the USA is one of the most important tasks facing us: one which requires us to break with the two dominant strategies of the sham communist forces–the anti-monopoly coalition and the united front against imperialism. The first is a faithful echo of the revisionists line of the CPSU, on class alliances of the proletariat in advanced capitalist countries. The second is a mechanical transposition of the Chinese line as a strategy for proletarian revolution. Both elevate class alliances to the principal aspect of the strategy. Whereas the real question for any strategy has to be the nature of the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, and the forms it takes. The question of the alliances which the proletariat will make in its struggle is subordinate.

As important as the question of an overall strategy, is the question of the special forms of oppression characteristic of advanced capitalism, oppression which must be fully understood if it is to be combated successfully. Theoretically understood, oppression exists as complex structures consisting of institutions, ideologies, and relationships. Under advanced capitalism, moreover, the oppressed suffer not only from one, but several structures of oppression.

The Black population in the United States, for example, is forced to live in the intersection of racial, national, and class structures of oppression. Historically, communists have only weakly grasped the existence of these structures, although they have recently come to recognize that the three are not combined simply but each has its own importance in the history of American Blacks. With the growing proletarianization of the Black population, clearly the class structure is growing in importance as a critical factor in Black oppression. For communists to provide genuine leadership in the struggle for Black liberation, this knowledge is not enough. We must have scientific knowledge of the functioning of the structures of oppression, an assessment of the relationship between them, and a strategy which seeks out the weak link in the chain of oppression, and which aims to break it as the first battle in the assault on all oppression.

Likewise, the oppression of the Chicano people, the Puerto Rican people and the various Native American peoples is a specific and unique combination of structures of oppression which are not reducible to each other, nor can they be generally lumped together simply as oppressed peoples. Like practice, oppression is not simple but complex, and the specific combination of the structures of oppression must be understood by communists if the struggle against oppression is going to cease being idealist (utopian) and instead become scientific.

The oppression of women is also a question which communists must face not on an idealist basis, nor on the basis of simple solutions, ignorant of the key structures of capitalist society which inscribe women’s role in conditions of oppression. Within capitalist production, within the family, in the sexual relationships in capitalist society, and in their role in the socialization of children, women are inscribed into structures which create and perpetuate their oppression.

Marxists can no longer only issue platitudes about integrating women into the labor force (an economist error), nor raise sexual contradictions as primary (bourgeois feminism). We must recognize the inter-related need for the liberation of women in all aspects. And communists must actively take part in the women’s movement to provide revolutionary strategies to transform the structures that oppress women and avoid the twin pitfalls of reformism and voluntarism.

Another theoretical question of importance is that of the uneven development of capitalism within the United States, and the relative backwardness of the south and southwestern regions. This problem has never been recognized as such within the communist movement. Instead, it has been obscured by the effort to create a nation in the Black belt south, and even a Chicano nation in the southwest. Without any basis in fact for the assertion that there is a qualitative difference between the black belt counties and the rest of the south, beyond the concentrated Black population, a difference that is growing less all the time, the Black or Negro nation thesis has been a simple solution to a difficult problem.

In fact, the situation of the south as a backward region and the opportunities this has provided both for the ruling class in the south, and the rest of the nation, as well as the central role of the Black population in that region, have never been adequately studied. The situation in the southwest is similar to that of the south, and both require the most serious attention from US Marxist-Leninists.

A final but certainly not minor theoretical problem facing us is our relationship to the world communist movement and to those countries which have in some way broken with capitalism. The problem of upholding proletarian internationalism is complicated by an historical problem of socialist states: the relationship between party and state, and between the requirements of a national state and an internationalist party.

The new communist party cannot let itself be guided by idealism or wishful thinking in response to this problem. The Marxist science is not just reserved for analyzing capitalism; it likewise must be sharpened as a tool for the analysis of the transition to socialism, and we welcome the recent works of Charles Bettelheim as a positive contribution in this direction.

It is only when such a Marxist-Leninist understanding of the nature of socialism as a transition period, complete with laws, contradictions, and motions specific to it, becomes understood in our movement that we can begin to accurately assess the direction of motion of the USSR and others, free of the pressures to parrot the analyses tied to particular state interests.

Wider than the question of the internal direction of development of the USSR, is the question of Soviet impact on the world situation, and its intervention therein. The situation in Angola has shown us that simple solutions are no answer to complex questions of anti-imperialist struggles, nor is the role of the USSR or China reducible to abstract formulations.

It is precisely such abstract formulations which led the CPUSA into the blind justification of every foreign and domestic policy decision of the USSR, a blindness which the dogmatist sects have transferred to their own view of the People’s Republic of China. For us on the contrary no state is above criticism, for the interest of our party must be primarily world revolution, and only secondarily the defense and interests of a socialist state.

Toward a Genuine Communist Party

Such is, in broad outline, our view of what must be the new communist party. Still to be answered is the question of how are we to go from the scattered collectives of today to such a national organization. Given the recent origin of genuine communist forces, their lack of unity and geographical isolation, it would be premature for any one group to expect unanimity around its own line on each issue as the basis for the new party. Rather a balance will have to be achieved between unity on a definite number of lines which clearly demarcate our trend in contrast to that of the dogmatists and revisionists, and unity around the general direction in which the new party must develop.

The concept of “unity around the direction of development” rather than around a fully developed line, is not a defense of the agnosticism which is a dangerous current among genuine communist forces. Rather it is a recognition that, given our limited theoretical work and practical experience, our forces can neither expect that they are at present sufficiently developed, nor that it is possible for this work and experience to reach a sufficiently high level nationally under present circumstances, before we begin to build the party.

To begin the process of coalescence of our movement we propose that consultations and conferences on party building and related problems be held around the country consisting of organizations and individuals who consider themselves part of the genuine communist movement and who endorse a minimal number of points of unity. We suggest the following as starting points of discussion and as the basis for future cooperation:
(1) US imperialism is the main enemy of the peoples of the world.
(2) The revisionist-dogmatist problematic is the main historical and current problem which has to be overcome in the US communist movement.
(3) There does not and should not exist an international center in the world communist movement. US communists need to develop Marxism-Leninism on the basis of our own analyses while critically assimilating the lessons and experiences of the world communist and revolutionary movements.
(4) We recognize the central importance of the need for the development of Marxist-Leninist theory, both historical and dialectical materialism, in all its aspects.
(5) We recognize the need to unite the broadest sections possible of the communist movement and the revolutionary left in the US in the party building movement.

The results of these consultations and conferences around the country should be the eventual convocation of a national conference in which a form of a provisional organizing committee would be constituted of all the participating organizations and adherent individuals who support its results and resolutions. The provisional organizing committee would then proceed with the creation of a propaganda newspaper on the one hand and a theoretical-discussion journal on the other. Through participation in the provisional organizing committee on a national and local level the basis of the new communist party would be laid.

In the words of William Shakespeare:

There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures. (Julius Caesar, IV,3,218)


[1] Our use of the term “new communist party” is in no way to be confused with that of those forces who think that the CPUS A, either before 1956 or else before 1944, should be reconstituted, because the party was then revolutionary. Our use of the term means we advocate a communist party, but one qualitatively different from previous communist organizations in the USA.

[2] The problematic is a theoretical or ideological framework which puts into relation with one another its basic concepts, determining the nature of each by its place and function within that framework. Concepts can only be properly understood in the context of the problematic; fundamentally different problematics give what appear to be identical concepts fundamentally different meanings. Of particular concern to us here is the fact that a problematic is a specific field of vision which both sees that which falls within its scope and cannot see that which falls outside of it. Consequently, a change of problematic is not a mere incremental change of vision but a qualitative transformation of the entire process of seeing.