Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Irwin Silber

’...fan the flames’

First Published: The Guardian, December 10, 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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New communist parties are being announced regularly in the U.S. these days.

A little over a year ago, a relatively small sect previously known as the Communist League (CL), announced that it had become the Communist Labor Party. This October, the Revolutionary Union (RU) informed us that it was now the Revolutionary Communist Party. Judging from the pronouncements which have appeared regularly in The Call since last January, the time cannot be too far off before the October League (OL) follows suit. Given the heated polemics aimed at all the above by such organizations as Workers Viewpoint, Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization (PRRWO), the various remnants of the Black Workers Congress and others, a further proliferation of new communist parties seems possible.

What are we to make of all this?

Considerable time is needed in the reading and comparison of the various documents, program(mes), analyses and polemics issued by each of these organizations. Each, of course, is convinced that it and it alone occupies the place of the “genuine left.” All others are either masked revisionists or covers for social imperialism, although an opponent from time to time may be designated as having been guilty of some ultra-“left” error.

There was a time when some unity of antirevisionist forces seemed possible. The political betrayals of the revisionist Communist Party (USA) were so glaring, its obsequiousness to Moscow so thoroughly reinforced, that a meeting ground of all honest revolutionaries who saw the need to build a party based on the fundamental principles of Marxism-Leninism and a proletarian stand on the immediate questions of the day presented itself as a necessary and viable alternative.

Of course, it did not happen. Alliances were made between various organizations only to be subsequently sundered. Important political differences on several questions emerged–the most substantive of which revolved around the stand to be taken in Boston last year in response to the racist attacks on the Black community. But while the RU’s white chauvinist position in Boston effectively isolated it from virtually every other group on the left, those who opposed the RU still were not able to find the political basis for a unity which might eventually find an organizational form.

What has made the formation of a genuine Marxist-Leninist party so difficult? It is a problem that is hardly confined to the U.S. The situation is not so different in Western Europe, although in some cases one particular group seems to have emerged with more legitimate credentials than others. Even in these cases, however, very few parties have much influence outside a relatively small circle of adherents.

In trying to answer this important question, I should like to focus on three factors. They are not the only factors, but they strike me as particularly pertinent.


(1) The continued hold of revisionism and other forms of opportunism (national chauvinism, economism, etc.) over the working class–and the inability of the Marxist-Leninists to devise a strategy which will win them the political respect of the workers in the process of exposing this.

Working in the trade unions is a long and tedious business, and far different than it was in Lenin’s day when the labor bureaucracy was not nearly so entrenched and the bourgeoisie not nearly so sophisticated in its tactics.

And yet, every sign points to the growing spontaneous ferment in the working class. Rank-and-file cynicism toward the union bureaucratic apparatus has never been deeper. The workers are justly bitter over the ways in which the burden of the economic crisis has fallen on them through unemployment, a drop in real wages, speed-up and the general cutback in social services outside the workplace. Black workers, constituting today a larger percentage of the industrial proletariat than ever before, have brought the militancy of the struggle against national oppression into the front ranks of class struggle.

These are the conditions that cry out for a communist presence that is bold but not adventurist, principled but not sectarian–one that will win leadership for revolutionary forces on the basis of accomplishment rather than pronouncement.

(2) The inability of several Marxist-Leninist forces to overcome their largely petty-bourgeois student and intellectual origins. This is not merely a matter of recruiting more workers into the various organizations, although that would indisputably be a sign of important political growth. But have the communists adopted a genuinely proletarian (as opposed to pseudo-“workerist”) style of work? Have they really imbued themselves with the class outlook of the proletariat? Are their connections with the daily lives of workers such that they can properly estimate the political sensibilities of the working class on various questions? Are their ties with the workers deep enough so that the communists not only can understand the workers’ present outlook, but can also fight against the backward consciousness of the workers without losing their influence?

The posing of these questions does not imply an unqualified “no” as an answer to each. Compared to five years ago, the Marxist-Leninists certainly have closer connections to the working class today. But actually, they have only taken the first step, and it is only by the most thorough and consistent attention to these questions that the communists will be able to overcome whatever petty-bourgeois illusions they have brought into the struggle with them and adopt the stand of the proletariat.

(3) The continued strong hold of dogmatism in the movement (itself a reflection of its petty-bourgeois “scholastic” origins) which has tended to apply Marxist-Leninist theory in a sterile and ahistoric fashion and which has frequently resulted in a less than independent stand and analysis on important international questions.

Quotation-mongering, which is only one symptom of this political sickness is widespread; but being its own worst enemy, is readily exposed. More pernicious is the failure to make a concrete analysis of political developments in the U.S. the starting point of political line and strategy, an analysis that can only proceed in light of world contradictions and under the guidance of Marxism-Leninism.


And, to be completely frank about it, there continues to be an underestimation of how an independent revolutionary party is built and develops its world view. In this connection, it would be useful to consider the views of a Marxist-Leninist party with a long history of militant anti-imperialist, antirevisionist struggle, the Workers Party of Korea. The following is taken from “The Present Situation and the Tasks of Our Party,” a report to the conference of the Workers Party of Korea in 1966:

“We deem it necessary to respect the experience of other parties and learn from each other. What we are against is the tendency to follow others blindly without independence, depend wholly on others without faith in one’s own strength, swallow the experience of others in one gulp without digesting it critically....

“The policies of fraternal parties cannot be the same, because the actual conditions and revolutionary tasks in each country are different from those in other countries...

“A communist should not argue haughtily that whatever he does is right and whatever others do is wrong. It is impermissible to behave like this among comrades fighting for the common cause. Communists may have different opinions on this or that matter, though they are all guided by Marxism-Leninism....

“A communist, if he really is one, cannot follow in the wake of others blindly, parroting what they say and moving about in others’ footsteps without following his own conviction. It is not on instructions from anyone nor to curry favor that communists are engaged in the revolution. Communists carry on the revolution out of their own faith in Marxism-Leninism for the emancipation of the working people in their own countries, for the great cause of the international working class. It is a noble trait of communists to adhere to their conviction and fight unyieldingly for it.”