Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Clay Newlin for the Committee of Five

Dogmatism, the Main Enemy, and “Left” Opportunism


First Issued: May 22, 1978. Published in Party Building and the Main Danger, September 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The emerging Marxist-Leninist trend stands at a turning point. From its very inception it has had to fight for its right to exist in the face of an ultra-left line which has progressively consolidated its hold on the bulk of the party-builders. The largest and best organized forces have recently proclaimed themselves ”vanguard parties” while unifying around a political line which is opportunist in its most fundamental features. Within those forces, the CPML, which represents the most consistent expression of the prevailing “left” line, has steadily strengthened its position. It has progressively gained hegemony by placing the RCP on the defensive, aggravating the internal contradictions that eventually split it in two. And it is presently advancing towards a fusion with ATM and IWK. The consolidation of our “lefts” in a single dominant organization looms on the immediate horizon.

In the face of this situation, those forces trying to go against the opportunist tide have made little headway. Many of these forces have yet to make a thorough break with “left” opportunism and still have unity with one or more of the central aspects of the “left” line. In fact, recently BACU [The Bay Area Communist Union – EROL], one of our more important voices, has repudiated its commitment to the struggle against ultra-leftism and joined the trend towards unity with the CPML. Moreover, the anti-“lefts” have been unable to unify on either the roots of the “left” opportunism in our movement or on a common plan to wage the struggle against the ultra-left line. There are a number of different and competing perspectives which have been advanced on how to best fight the ideological influence of the “lefts” and the struggle around these differences is just beginning. More recently a conciliationist tendency has begun to emerge.

Unless our trend can overcome this situation, it will never leave its embryonic stage. If it is to become a central force in the rectification of the party-building movement, it must consolidate a clear and definite break with the ultra-left line and strive for unity on the major components of that line, its ideological essence, and the errors in methodology which have allowed it to gain hegemony. And it must also reach unity on a common plan for waging the struggle against the “left” danger, clearly defining a correct tactical orientation towards waging that struggle. In the development of such a plan it is vital that all tendencies towards conciliationism receive a fitting rebuke and all forces strive to go on the offensive against the ultra-left line.

This is the context in which it is necessary to view the differences between the Committee of Five and PUL. As we see it, those differences center in two areas of immediate significance. In the first place, we disagree on the nature of and the key element in the prevailing “left” line. We argue that dogmatism is central to the durability of ultra-leftism in the US whereas PUL sees sectarianism as key. Secondly, we diverge on the importance the question of the main enemy of the peoples of the world has for the development of a trend in opposition to “left” opportunism. In our view, it is necessary to uphold the view that the main blow internationally must be directed at US imperialism in order to break thoroughly with “left-wing” communism. PUL sees disagreements on international line as having little or no significance for opposition to ultra-leftism. In this paper we will concentrate our discussion on these two questions.

There are, however, a number of points raised in PUL’s statement, “Bring Home the Struggle Against ’Left’ Sectarianism,” which we will not address –partly because of space limitations and partly for reasons of focus. Some of these points are distortions (that either PFOC [Praire Fire Organizing Committee – the former Weatherman group – EROL] or Sojourner Truth Organization has been considered as forces within the emerging Marxist-Leninist trend, that the PWOC maintains that the anti-“left” trend has reached the “threshold of maturity” for party-building, that the PWOC thinks that the “world’s peoples need not fear the military might of the Soviet Union nor its expansionist designs” and supports the invasion of Czechoslovakia, etc.). Others are questions that the Committee of Five as a whole has not taken a position on (the role of political line in party-building, the timeliness of certain criticisms of Cuba, and whether socialism can be overthrown without struggle and violence, etc.). And still others are questions around which there are differences in the Committee of Five (the character and nature of an ideological center and whether it should be forged now or not). In any case, most of these points are only tangentially related to the most important differences between PUL and ourselves; a response to them will have to await another time.

WHAT IS DOGMATISM?

Before we undertake a discussion of our disagreements on the nature of the ultra-left line, it is necessary to put those differences in perspective. In particular, it is important to emphasize that our dispute is secondary to a more fundamental unity.

Both PUL and ourselves agree that the main opportunist danger which is sapping the strength of the communist movement is “left” in form. We both hold that “leftist” thinking manifests itself in a “left” opportunist approach to the basic political questions facing the working class, and also in a sectarian attitude to ideological struggle and towards reformist elements among the masses. We also agree that this “left-wing” communism is dominant over Marxism-Leninism in the communist movement. Our divergence is on the question of the central feature of the ultra-left line.

In our opinion, the key element in the prevailing “left” line is dogmatism. It is dogmatism which has led to the development of “program and strategy” which is incapable of guiding the maturation of the US revolution because it is unable to orient Marxist-Leninists to the actual development of the two central revolutionary social movements in our society – the movements of the working class and the oppressed nationalities. It is dogmatism which has led to a systematic overestimation of the actual content of the class struggle, of the rate at which the masses are abandoning reformist positions and moving to adopt a revolutionary stance. It is dogmatism that has led to the adoption of a sectarian policy of propagandizing the masses for revolution but refusing to organize them and an adventurist policy of engaging in “exemplary revolutionary actions” instead of leading them. In short, it is dogmatism which provides the theoretical basis for “left” opportunism and sectarianism.

Dogmatism is, in essence, a methodological error, an error in the application of Marxist-Leninist principles. For the dogmatist, theory takes on a life of its own and becomes an end in and of itself. Instead of viewing theory as a guide to action, the dogmatist divorces theory from revolutionary practice and transforms it into a schema, a set of immutable propositions, whose truth is determined solely by their internal coherence and not by the criterion of social practice. The dogmatist denies the necessity of making a thorough investigation of concrete conditions, of integrating the international principles of Marxism-Leninism with the national forms of the class struggle in each country and of solving the new problems raised by the actual course of social development. For the dogmatist, the “grasping of” (or more appropriately, “clutching at”) theory is of supreme importance and its application is of no significance whatsoever.

Thus, the dogmatist mechanically applies conceptions which were developed in a specific time and place to other and vastly changed conditions, seeking to force all new reality into a straightjacket of ready-made formulas. Characterizations of a phenomenon in a concrete historical context are transformed into definitions of all similar phenomena in every context. The study of actual conditions is negated in favor of argument by quotation, historical analogy and pedantry. All one has to do is to memorize the classics and be able to choose the right quote or make the right analogy; one has but to learn “to pick out passages from a book like a scholar whose head is a card-index-box filled with quotations from books, which he picks out as he needs them; but if the situation arises which is not described in any book, he becomes confused and grabs the wrong quotation from the box.” (Lenin, Wks., Vol. 29, p. 364)

For the dogmatist all theoretical problems have already been solved, and our movement has no creative tasks. Theoretical work is reduced to the mere recapitulation of the “inherited legacy of scientific socialism,” to copying from Marx’s works, or from Lenin’s polemics against the Economists, Mensheviks, social chauvinists and centrists, or Mao’s writings against Liu Shao-chi, Lin Piao and – with some present embarrassment – Teng Hsiao-peng. In many cases the entire line of former or present communist parties is adopted with little or no concern with its applicability to any particular context. For example, the line of Iskra, the Communist International’s work on Bolshevization and its “third period” line, and particularly the CPC’s international perspective have all been upheld as absolutely correct in present world conditions. Thus Marxism becomes static; it needs no development.

Stalin, writing about the Mensheviks, accurately summed up their dogmatism (and that of our “lefts”) as follows:

... (this) group usually confines itself to an outward acceptance, to a ceremonial avowal of Marxism. Being unable or unwilling to put it into practice, it converts the living, revolutionary principles of Marxism into lifeless, meaningless formulas. It does not base its activities on experience, on what practical work teaches, but on quotations from Marx. It does not derive its instructions and directions from an analysis of living reality, but from analogies and historical parallels. Discrepancy between word and deed is the chief malady of this group. Hence the disillusionment and perpetual grudge against fate, which time and again lets it down and makes a ’dupe’ of it. Comrade Tyszka ... described this group very aptly ... when he said that it does not stand by, but lies down on the point of view of Marxism. (Works, Vol. 4, p. 3-7; emphasis in original)

It is precisely dogmatism which provides the theoretical basis for ultra-leftism in the communist movement. While from an ideological standpoint, the current “left” opportunism has its foundations in anarchist ideology its theoretical roots lie in dogmatism. It is dogmatism which has caused organizations like the RCP and the CPML to advance as “program” concoctions assembled by piecing together formulas borrowed from the Bolsheviks, parts of the line of the Communist International and the old CPUSA, and transcriptions of entire portions of the program of the CPC. The fact that these jerrybuilt manifestos have proven inadequate in practice is of no concern to them. It is also dogmatism that has caused these same organizations to ignore the particularities of the US scene. For example, their conceptions of the united front against imperialism have more in common with the Chinese experience than they do with the US, since they systematically underestimate the importance of the trade union movement and the impact of the electoral tradition on the masses. And it is dogmatism which prevents these organizations from correcting their errors by analyzing their won practice. Although the practice of the RCP and the CPML has led to their increasing isolation in the working class, neither organization shows any signs of questioning their political lines.

DOGMATISM AND “LEFT” OPPORTUNISM

In fact, it is dogmatism that provides the theoretical basis for upholding some of the most fundamental errors of the ultra-left line. Revisionism has been held to be the main opportunist danger to the communist forces developing in the US just because it is the main danger in the international communist movement presently and has been historically, and this in spite of the fact of the ultra-left tradition of the bulk of the forces that make up the communist movement. Revisionism has also been held to be the main form of opportunism in the US working class movement because Lenin said it was at the beginning of World War I, and this in spite of the fact that the CPUSA has only slight influence and the dominant opportunist force in the trade unions does not even give lip service to socialism, let alone revolution. The building of a vanguard party has been held to be, in essence, a question of uniting Marxist-Leninists around a break with right opportunism, because Lenin said so in What Is To Be Done and this in spite of the fact that most party-builders are poisoned by “left” opportunism and are isolated from the advanced workers. And finally, the Soviet Union is held to be the main enemy of the peoples of the world, because it is one of the two largest powers in the world, its influence is on the rise whereas the US’s is on the decline and, most importantly, because the CPC says it’s so, and this in spite of the fact that it has been US imperialism which has been at the forefront of the opposition to the most important struggles for national liberation, socialism and peace in the last few years. Scratch the line of the RCP or the CPML and dogmatism emerges every time.

The fact that dogmatism has led to “left” opportunism and sectarianism is hardly unique to the development of our movement. As the Chinese explain, dogmatism commonly leads to “left” errors:

Dogmatists distort Marxism-Leninism. ... Divorcing themselves from reality, they contrive abstract, empty formulas, or mechanically take the experience of foreign countries and force it on the masses. Thereby, they cramp the mass struggle and prevent it from achieving the results that it should. Leaving time, place and conditions out of account, they obstinately stick to one form of struggle. They fail to understand that in every country the mass forms of struggle required have to be used simultaneously and complement each other; they fail to understand that when the situation changes it is necessary to replace the old forms of struggle by new ones, or to utilize the old forms but fill them with new content. Therefore, they very often cut themselves off from the masses and from potential allies, so falling into errors of sectarianism.

If the leading body of a Party commits errors of dogmatism, it becomes unable to grasp the laws of the actual revolutionary movement. In the field of theory, it is bound to be lifeless, and in the field of tactics, it is bound to make all kinds of mistakes. A Party of this kind cannot possibly lead the people’s revolutionary movement in its country to victory. (“More on the Differences Between Comrade Togliatti and Us”, Peking Review, No’s. 10 & 11 (March 15, 1963), p. 53)

The Chinese Communist Party, of course, had good reason to understand the relationship between dogmatism, “left” opportunism and sectarianism. Beginning in November of 1927 through January of 1935 the CPC was inflicted with a succession of three ultra-left lines, the worst being that perpetrated by Wang Ming who gained ascendancy in September of 1931. Wang Ming, according to the 1945 Central Committee “Resolution on Some Questions in the History of our Party”[1], advocated a “left” line which deviated from Marxism-Leninism in the political, military, organizational and ideological spheres. Politically, he advanced erroneous views on the nature of the relations between classes in China and the main tasks of the Chinese Communists in that period; he clouded distinctions between the democratic and socialist stages of the revolution, advocating a struggle against the entire bourgeoisie and the upper stratum of the peasantry and arguing that the communists should direct blows of equal weight against the Chinese bourgeoisie on the one hand and the landlords and the imperialists on the other. Militarily, he erred on the issue of how to pursue armed struggle and where to center communist military activity, by urging a focus on armed insurrection in the cities, positional warfare as opposed to guerilla activity and the development of a regular army. Organizationally, Wang Ming’s line demanded “sharp” struggle against all who disagreed or dissented from its “leftism”, branding all opponents “advocates of the rich peasants” and “double-dealers”. Wang Ming’s supporters shifted around cadre according to whether they agreed with their line, ridiculed some of the more experienced communists and expelled many. The Resolution sums up Wang Ming’s line as follows:

To sum up, comrades who followed the ’left’ line of different periods particularly that of the third period, knew nothing but closed-door sectarianism and adventurism and continuously suffered unnecessary and avoidable defeats on their fanatical conviction of “struggle above all, all for struggle”, and “incessant expansion and intensification of the struggle”. (loc cit., p. 201)

Unfortunately, the CPC was not successful in fully liquidating this ultra-leftism until 1945 in spite of the fact that the three individual ’left’ lines themselves were defeated. The Resolution states:

The defect in these (previous rectifications) struggles was that they were not consciously undertaken as a crucial step to rectify the petty-bourgeois ideas which existed in the Party to a serious extent and consequently failed to explain fully the ideological essence and source of these mistakes and to indicate the proper methods to rectify them, thus giving them a chance to crop up again...” (ibid, p. 216)

And according to the Central Committee,

...all the political, military and organizational mistakes stemmed invariably from the ideological violation of Marxist-Leninist dialectical materialism and historical materialism... (ibid, p. 210)

The task that faced the CPC, therefore, was to identify the key error that had led the Party cadre to deviate from Marxism-Leninism and institute a campaign which could succeed in rooting out that error and the other mistakes which accompanied it.

On the basis of the 1945 resolution and, even more clearly, based on a study of the documents circulated in the CPC’s three year rectification campaign,[2] it is clear that the key error was “doctrinairism” or – as it is commonly termed today – dogmatism. The rectification campaign took up the struggle against empiricism as well as dogmatism since empiricism had played a role in abetting the influence of dogmatists. However, in the Party’s opinion, the empiricists “generally played second fiddle in their association with doctrinaires”, and it was chiefly dogmatism that “spread the poison (of “left” opportunism) throughout the Party”, (ibid, p. 195)

DOGMATISM AND REVISIONISM

Whereas in the Chinese context dogmatism developed as a reaction to the conciliationist errors of the CPC’s united front policy of 1927, in the US dogmatism originated as a reaction to the sins of revisionism. The historical experience of the Civil Rights movement and the student/anti-war movement of the 1960’s demonstrated the clear bankruptcy of the program and strategy of the CPUSA. For the duration of these movements the CP consistently worked to undercut the development of any revolutionary sentiments among the masses. It stayed away from SNCC, was frightened by Malcolm X and totally contemptuous of SDS. In short, the CP was hostile to the most militant sections of the regenerated mass movements.

Since the bulk of the forces that make up our movement were drawn from Civil Rights and student activists, it is not surprising that they had little respect for the CPUSA. As these activists began to turn towards Marxism-Leninism they were attracted to the perspective of the Chinese Communist Party generally and particularly its pioneering critique of international revisionism. A major thrust of the CPC’s criticism of the Soviet aligned parties, including the CPUSA, was to demonstrate their divergence from the theories of Marx and Lenin. On such questions as that of the struggle for national liberation, the nature of the revolutionary process in the modern world, the character of proletarian class rule, and how to conduct the struggle against war and for peace, the Chinese demonstrated that those who followed the lead of the Soviet Communist Party clearly discarded Marxist theory in an effort to accommodate US imperialism.

In addressing the task of attempting to develop a revolutionary alternative to the CPUSA, the embryonic US communist movement correctly took up a study of the classics of Marxism. Aiming to resuscitate the revolutionary core of Marxism-Leninism, our early comrades plunged into an examination of the principles of scientific socialism and Lenin and Mao’s application of those principles in particular. Our young movement was nurtured on such works as On Contradiction, State and Revolution, Imperialism and What Is To Be Done?.

Unfortunately, however, most of the aspiring revolutionaries got bogged down in their study. Instead of attempting to draw out the revolutionary kernal of Marxism so as to apply it to the realities of the United States, the classics themselves began to become al1-important. The correctness of politics began to be determined not on the basis of its adherence to the principles of dialectical and historical materialism applied to US conditions, but on the basis of its correspondence to passages from the writings of Marx or Lenin – and these often selected without regard to their historical context. Instead of developing line in accordance with actual conditions, the correlation of a line with what Lenin, Stalin or Mao wrote became all-important. In an effort to overcome revisionism by resuscitating Marxism-Leninism, the bulk of the young revolutionaries drifted into dogmatism.

That dogmatism should result from the effort to overcome revisionism is not that surprising given that dogmatism is often the wages for the sins of revisionism. This stems from what dogmatism and revisionism have in common and where they diverge. Dogmatism and revisionism share a common separation of theory from practice. While both claim to start from dialectical and historical materialism – and thus nominally begin within the sphere of Marxist methodology – both are fundamental departures from that method. Both fail to consistently follow a scientific approach, refusing to apply the dialectical kernal of Marxist thought to an ever-changing reality of social development. Both fail to carry through the integration of theory and practice.

But while both dogmatism and revisionism depart from Marxist method, each does so in a different way. A correct application of scientific socialism calls for starting from the principles of dialectical materialism on the one hand and the objective content of the class struggle on the other. It calls for elaborating from these principles a line which correctly gauges the correlation of class forces and therefore is capable of advancing the masses in the direction of socialist revolution; it demands integrating international principles with the concrete development of the revolution in each country. Both dogmatism and revisionism, however, take a onesided approach to the integration process. One sees only principle, the other only the concrete; dogmatism clinging to principle and refusing to apply it, revisionism discarding principle in the name of application. Where dogmatism holds that Marxist doctrine is immutable whatever the conditions, revisionism holds that the entire doctrine must be discarded with each changing decade. And where dogmatism negates the new reality and sweeps away all development in the name of principle, revisionism negates the principles of scientific socialism and sweeps away revolutionary theory in the name of “reality”.

It should be apparent then that in the struggle against revisionism there is an inherent tendency to go over to dogmatism. Desiring to overcome the revisionist proclivity to discard Marxist doctrine, it is relatively easy to fail to recognize that that doctrine is nevertheless subject to change. In desiring to combat the revisionist inclination to demand that all “theory” be created anew, it is easy to be captured by the view that all problems have been solved and there are no new creative theoretical tasks. It is easier to overcome an error by adopting its formal opposite than it is to negate the essence of an error.

PUL’S OBJECTIONS TO “DOGMATISM”

PUL raises a number of objections to our view that dogmatism provides the theoretical basis of the prevailing ultra-left line. Since dogmatism can lead to both “left” and right errors, they argue, one obscures more than he reveals by characterizing our “lefts” as dogmatists. Second, that “dogmatism” does not provide the theoretical basis for the current “left-wing” communism. And finally, PUL maintains that using the term “dogmatism” will serve to split the anti-lefts. We will address these objections briefly.

PUL is, of course, correct that dogmatism can lead to both left and right errors. The history of the world communist movement has many examples of right manifestations of dogmatism, where the idea of the immutability of Marxist doctrine was used to justify adopting a course of conciliating the exploiters. Plekhanov, for instance, argued that a socialist revolution was impossible in Russia of 1917 because the country had not undergone sufficient capitalist development. To justify this position he quoted numerous passages from Marx, arguing that only the development of capitalism prepares the material base for socialism and that, therefore, a socialist revolution only results when the antagonisms of capitalist society have matured. Consequently, Plekhanov maintained, to advocate a socialist revolution, as Lenin did, was sheer adventurism.

But while dogmatism has often led to right errors, it has been more commonly a source of “leftist” thinking. Historically, Trotsky adopted an argument similar to Plekhanov’s to justify his “left” position that “socialism in one country” was impossible. The German “lefts” attempted to use Lenin’s writings on the struggle against economism to justify their repudiation of work in reactionary trade unions and bourgeois parliaments. But the classic example of dogmatism serving as the source of an ultra-left line comes from the history of the Communist Party of China. There, the Wang Ming line (mentioned above) – the “ideological essence” of which, according to the Chinese, was dogmatism – was an ultra-left line. And since that time dogmatism has most often produced “left” errors – particularly in the recent history of the international communist movement.

To argue that just because a deviation from Marxist method can manifest itself in either a right or left form it is wrong to characterize an incorrect line by its methodological root is ridiculous. In the first place, as long as it is clear what form that line takes, “left” or right, no one will be misled. Secondly, to be consistent with this view, one would have to argue that Lenin was wrong to have characterized social-democracy as “revisionism” and likewise the Chinese for the characterization they have made of the CPSU and its line. For like dogmatism, revisionism is also, strictly speaking, a methodological error and thus can manifest itself in both left and right forms. (Lenin referred to syndicalism as “’left’ revisionism”.)

Furthermore, by characterizing an incorrect line by its root error, we serve to deepen rather than obscure an, understanding of how to overcome it. History has shown that an incorrect line can only be corrected to the extent that Marxist-Leninists understand not just what form it takes but what caused that form to become manifest in the first place. It is necessary to trace that line to its root, identify the deviation from Marxist method that allowed it to develop and show how a more correct method leads to a different analysis. To just identify the form a line takes, right or “left”, while a step forward, cannot lead to the development of a more correct alternative – only the adoption of the correct Marxist method can do that. Thus by characterizing a line by its methodological deviation we indicate both what props it up and how to correct it.

PUL’s second argument that dogmatism is not the theoretical basis for the ultra-left line stems from a confusion in terminology. To our position that dogmatism provides the theoretical basis for the ultra-left line PUL counterposes the formulation that the “ideological foundation” of the left line is anarchist or semi-anarchist ideology. If, as it would appear, by “ideological foundation” PUL means to point to the ideology that our “lefts” reflect as a result of their deviation from Marxist method then they are correct; our “lefts” do draw from the anarchist tradition.

However, to argue that therefore dogmatism is not the theoretical base of the “left” line is to commit a serious error. In turning towards Marxism-Leninism the key error of our “lefts” was that they became bogged down in dogmatism. This resulted in two interrelated difficulties. On the one hand, because they failed to pursue a Marxist method they were unable to break with their petty-bourgeois ideological baggage – mostly borrowed from the anarchist tradition. On the other hand because they deviated from the proletarian standpoint, they were inevitably forced to draw on a non-proletarian ideology – in our case anarchism. In both cases the central error, the theoretical basis of their mistakes and the root of their deepening commitment to anarchism was dogmatism. It is in this sense that we argue that dogmatism is the theoretical base of the prevailing “left” line.

PUL’s final objection is the most serious one. Their contention that characterizing the “left” line as “dogmatist” would serve to split the anti-”lefts” does manifest some insight; apparently, PUL recognizes that implicit in the fight against dogmatism is opposition to one of its popular manifestations – flunkeyism. Flunkeyism is the wholesale adoption of the line of another communist party as one’s own line. As the Chinese comrades point out:

Errors of dogmatism will be committed... if one mechanically copies the policies and tactics of another Communist Party, submits blindly to the will of others or accepts without analysis the program and resolutions of another Communist Party as one’s own line. (The Polemic on the General Line of the International Communist Movement, Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1965, p.48)

To be a bit more precise, PUL recognizes that opposition to dogmatism demands opposition to the wholesale adoption of the present line of the Chinese Communist Party on the international situation – a line which, as we shall see, is very dear to PUL.

It is quite true, of course, that, just as real opposition to revisionism separates one from the CPSU’s international views, so genuine opposition to dogmatism makes it impossible to fully uphold China’s international line. But in this case our emphasis on the role of dogmatism can only serve to alienate those who are unwilling to criticize the view that the main blow must be directed at the Soviet Union. And, as we shall see, those who advocate allying with US imperialism against the USSR can only compromise the struggle against “left” opportunism.

DOGMATISM AND OUR “LEFTS”

The shallowness of PUL’s understanding of the role of dogmatism is further exhibited in the examples these comrades raise to “prove” that dogmatism is only a minor problem among the “lefts”. “Did Workers’ Viewpoint Organization’s “anti-revisionist premises” and its “third period of bourgeois democracy” or RCP’s “proletarian nation of a new type” and its “third period of the national question” come from parroting Marxist-Leninist works?” PUL asks. No, but they do have their theoretical base in dogmatism. The motivation behind WVO’s “anti-revisionist premises” was the desire to see that the communist movement was “vaccinated against new strains of germs and diseases” or, in other words, to achieve an ironclad guarantee against revisionist errors. By defining the fundamental “ideological premises” of revisionism, WVO reasoned, we can ensure that the communist movement will be able to avoid being infected by “new strains” of revisionism whatever questions it may face. This conception is itself characteristic of a dogmatist mentality: revisionism can be reduced to a few fundamental premises which once grasped become a warranty against right errors.

WVO’s “third period of bourgeois democracy” is borrowed with only minor alterations from the “third period” line of the Communist International, adopted at the Sixth World Congress in 1928 and only reversed at the Seventh Congress in 1935. Both WVO and the “third period” line hold in common that the proletariat has no particular interest in the preservation of democracy under imperialist rule because bourgeois democracy is the best form for maintaining capitalist hegemony. Democratic reforms only serve to strengthen that dominance. And thus there is no basis for advancing democratic demands short of the demand for “proletarian democracy” or the dictatorship of the proletariat.

But the RCP’s “nation of a new type” and “third period of the national question” provide even better examples of the key role of dogmatism. Manifestly, the concepts of a “proletarian nation” or a “third period of the national question” represent revisions of Marxist-Leninist theory. Any study of Marxist writings on the national question will demonstrate the idea of a “proletarian nation of a new type” contradicts all the essential features of nationhood and reduces the distinction between a “people”, a “national minority” and a “nation” to one of pure subjective impulse. And if there is to be any “third period of the national question” its existence will only be ushered in by the overthrow of imperialism and not before. Both concepts were developed to provide ideological justification for RCP’s attempt to square its flawed position on the Afro-American people with the actual conditions of the Black people today.

However, the motivation behind both these revisions of Marxist theory was dogmatism. In developing its position on the Afro-American national question the RCP worked itself into a contradiction. On the one hand, from the very beginning they maintained the dogma that since historically a key aspect of revisionism in the US had been its denial of the Black people’s nationhood, to be anti-revisionist meant upholding that the Black people were a nation. On the other, they found that the reality of the material existence of the Black people did not fulfill the requisites of a nation as outlined in Leninist theory. The choice posed to the RCP was either accept the truth as manifest in present reality or uphold the dogma that the Black people are a nation. They chose the latter and then revised Marxism in order to bring “theory” in line with their dogma. Thus, both the concepts “proletarian nation” and “third period of the national question” represent revisionism in the service of dogmatism.

It is also indicative that PUL grossly underplays the influence of dogmatism on party-building. For these comrades the problem with our “lefts” is not an excessive emphasis on theory (which they imagine “dogmatism” implies) nor “a lack of practice, but a kind of practice that too often serves sectarian, groupist ends.” Now, it would be silly to argue that the main problem with the practice of “left-wing” communism is one primarily of quantity not quality; unquestionably, the practice of OL/CPML and RU/RCP etc. has been characterized by the most unbridled sectarianism. Nor can one argue that our “lefts” overrated the importance of theoretical work. But then dogmatism does not necessarily lead to either error.

In fact, in the final analysis dogmatism always appears as an underestimation of the importance of theoretical work. This becomes quite apparent if one examines the methodology of dogmatism itself. The essential feature of dogmatism is the refusal to apply the principles of Marxism to the concrete problems that face the working class movement; it assumes that theoretical work reduces itself to a question of study - that is, one has only to study Marxist-Leninist works, find where the appropriate question has been addressed and adopt the previous answer as one’s own line. Thus dogmatism stops its development where real theoretical work begins and where further progress becomes more difficult – at the point when one has to view the previous answer critically in light of new conditions, to refine it and modify it in order to bring it into accordance with both the generalities and the particularities of modern reality. Far from taking theory too far, dogmatism, by contenting itself with recapitulation of the ideas of previous times, refuses to engage in serious theoretical work.

Furthermore, while it is true, as PUL points out, that the party building strategies of our “lefts” have no real historical justification in previous experiences such as that of Albania, China, or Russia, the “left” line on party building nevertheless has its roots in dogmatism. To the extent that the leading forces among the “lefts” developed a clear plan for laying the foundation for a revolutionary party in the US, their conceptions were drawn totally from a superficial reading of Marxist-Leninist literature. Universally, they failed to address the particularities of reality, especially the serious concrete obstacles facing party-building in the US. None of our “lefts” clearly identified the essence of party-building, the main prerequisites for a party, or how one could go about systematically preparing to realize them. Nor did they analyze the concrete level of development of the working class in the US, identify the main questions posed by that development or set forth how answers to these questions could be evolved. Rather such problems as who are the advanced workers, how to combine propaganda and agitation, our theoretical tasks etc. were defined almost totally by the Bolshevik experience. In the final analysis the “left” party building strategy came down to this: advance the slogans “Marxist-Leninists Unite!” and “Win the advanced to communism”; build a national organization which engages in “theoretical work” and “mass practice”; draft and circulate a “program”; and organize a “Founding Congress”. A serious attempt to grapple with party-building in US conditions was avoided and thus where dogmatism set the stage, spontaneity and voluntarism were left to direct the play.

In summary, it should be clear that PUL’s liquidation of the role of dogmatism makes them not just incapable of identifying the main deviation from Marxist method which has led to the prevailing ultra-leftism. Even more significantly it leaves them incapable of directing Marxist-Leninists towards the correct method for taking up their theoretical tasks in the US. And this error is of extreme importance, because without the development of a more correct line, communists will neither be able to defeat “left” opportunism nor win the most advanced elements to communism. Quite obviously, neither the bulk of honest Marxist-Leninists under the influence of ultra-leftism, nor the bulk of advanced elements in the movements of the proletariat and oppressed nationalities will be won to Marxism-Leninism solely on the basis of its ability to critique incorrect lines. On the contrary, it is the ability to elaborate a correct line which is decisive, and without the defeat of dogmatism no such line can or will be developed.

THE MAIN ENEMY

The second major disagreement that PUL has raised with our points of unity for developing a stable anti-“left” trend is on the question of the main enemy of the world’s peoples. PUL’s objections are twofold. First, in their opinion it is not necessary to demarcate on international line in order to consolidate our forces against “left” opportunism. Second, PUL disagrees with the formulation that “US imperialism is the main enemy of the peoples of the world.” At present, we are in agreement with PUL that their first objection takes precedence.

But before we respond to this objection it is necessary to clarify what we are calling for unity on. This is essential because PUL (and others) have incorrectly characterized our position as call calling for unity with the idea that the world’s peoples “need not fear the military might of the Soviet Union”, that the Soviet Union is internationally an “ally”, that it is a “socialist country”, etc. Or that we demand that comrades support the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, Cuba’s international role, or expressions of antagonism towards the People’s Republic of China and the like. These – and other similar distortions – can only serve to obscure the issues between us.

In the first place, the statement that US imperialism is the main enemy of the world’s peoples – i.e. that it provides the major block to social progress on a world scale – does not stem from any “agnosticism” as PUL implies; it is a statement of fact. We (and other Marxist-Leninists who uphold this view) base our position on an analysis of the present world situation, its main contradictions, and its balance of forces. That analysis has been repeatedly confirmed by the major clashes between the forces of progress and those of reaction in recent years, confirmed by confrontations in Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. In short, it is the summation of the concrete experience of the proletariat and its democratic and revolutionary allies in their actual struggles for national liberation, socialism and peace.

It is also a statement with important tactical implications. By identifying the main enemy of the peoples of the world, we imply that the world’s working class and oppressed peoples must direct their main efforts internationally at weakening the hand of U.S. imperialism. Where U.S. imperialism is a direct and an immediate enemy like in Southern Africa, this means striving to unite all available resources in the struggle against it. Where the danger posed by the U.S. is more remote and where there is another more immediate enemy, like Eastern Europe, the struggle against the immediate enemy must be pursued in such a manner as to avoid strengthening the international position of U.S. imperialism. Thus, tactically, we are calling for the main blow internationally to be directed against U.S. imperialism.

But at the same time, we are not as PUL has said, attempting “to push through without discussion, the view that the Soviet Union is a socialist country and does not pose a threat to the world’s peoples.” The question of the class character of the Soviet Union, whether it is an ally or enemy of the working class, and the character of its foreign policy are all open questions – as is the question of whether the united front against the two superpowers or the united front against imperialism is the correct international strategy. It is conceivable to argue – as the Chinese Communist Party did in the late 1960’s and early 1970ís – that the Soviet Union is state capitalist, that it poses a major threat to the peoples of the world and that its relations with oppressed peoples and nations are characterized correctly in the term “social imperialism” and at the same time uphold that U.S. imperialism remains the main threat to the peoples of the world. Just as it was possible to hold that Germany was the main enemy prior to World War II without at the same time arguing that Britain was an ally, so it is possible to maintain that the U.S. is the main enemy without arguing that the Soviet Union is a friend.

THE MAIN ENEMY AND PROLETARIAN INTERNATIONALISM

Why is it necessary to uphold that U.S. imperialism is the main enemy and to demand demarcation with all those who oppose this view? First, because without a correct perspective on the question of the main enemy the practice of proletarian internationalism is inconceivable. In the imperialist epoch, real social progress becomes impossible without consciously striving to forge a worldwide united front of all democratic and revolutionary movements in the struggle against reaction. If this united front is to make headway it is important to take advantage of all the contradictions among the reactionary forces and isolate in particular that imperialist force which provides the strongest base for counter-revolution. To the extent that that main enemy becomes isolated and is weakened, the worldwide front will gain strength and all the forces within the united front will advance towards their goal. But to the extent that some forces within the united front fail to pursue their immediate objectives based on the common tactic of isolating the main enemy those forces can only serve to undermine the common struggle. Inevitably, by focusing their attention on a secondary enemy in the camp of the reactionaries, they will help to bolster the position of not only the main bulwark of reaction but also that counter-revolution as a whole.

For those standing at the heart of the main bastion of world imperialism, however, a special question is involved. The logic of the worldwide struggle will continually drive the U.S. imperialists to the forefront of the sharpest and most significant struggles to stem the tide of social progress; since every advance of the movements of national liberation and socialism will always come, at least partly, at the expense of the main enemy, it will constantly be drawn to actively intervene in almost every struggle. In this situation, revolutionaries in the U.S. can only assume a place in the united front to the extent that they consistently oppose every reactionary thrust of their “own” bourgeoisie. If they deviate from this course, even for an instant, they will not only undermine the worldwide united front but, objectively, aid their own imperialists. It is for this reason that we have argued that to live in the heart of the world’s foremost imperialism and to fail to uphold directing the main blow against the U.S. bourgeoisie is inevitably to fall into class collaborationism.

A brief historical parallel will serve to further illustrate this point. Suppose the revolutionaries during the Second World War in Germany had failed to support the main blow internationally being directed at Hitler’s dictatorship. Suppose for example they had not only supported the Irish Republic’s neutrality during the war but had encouraged the revolutionaries in Ireland to direct their main blow not at Hitler but at British imperialism. Quite obviously their position would have been one of collaboration with the aims of fascism. Is it not equally obvious, that while the content of the world situation is profoundly different today, a failure to support the main blow being directed at U.S. imperialism similarly leads to collaboration with the U.S. ruling class?

In fact, we have witnessed a several year history of objective collaboration with U.S. imperialism by those who refuse to acknowledge it as the main enemy. One of the earliest examples was provided by the OL’s refusal to participate in demonstrations called by Iranian students against U.S. arms shipments to the Shall. The Shah is one of the prime props of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East; he played a key role in supplying Israel with oil during the 1973 war and has been a major force in the suppression of not only the Iranian masses but the peoples of Oman as well. To fail to oppose arms sales to his repressive and brutal dictatorship only serves to strengthen the overall position of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East. And to argue, as OL did, that the Shah deserves support because he is a prime bulwark against Soviet penetration in the Middle East can only serve to provide cover to U.S. imperialism’s self-serving propaganda and strengthen its supporters in the working class.

Angola provides a second example. In Angola the U.S. fomented a civil war in order to establish a neo-colonial government favorable to its designs for Southern Africa. Such a government would have meant a profound setback to the liberation struggle being waged in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. Had the U.S. achieved its designs, it is safe to say that Smith’s illegal regime would not be facing defeat, South Africa would not have been forced to take steps toward ending its illegal occupation of Namibia, and the Soweto uprising would have been postponed for several years. Thus, to have supported U.S. imperialism in Angola would inevitably mean support for reactionary forces in Southern Africa, particularly strengthening the hands of Smith and Vorster.

And yet both the OL and the RCP (and unfortunately PUL as well) did so. These comrades backed the CIA financed “national liberation movements”, FNLA and UNITA in their struggle against the legitimate aspirations of the Angolan people. Even when South Africa invaded Angola – in order to help the feeble FNLA-UNITA alliance make up in military might what it lacked in popular support – our “lefts” did not pause to consider whose side they had placed themselves on. Instead they tried to escape their discomfort by engaging in a campaign of slander against the MPLA and fabricated evidence about the timing and character of the Vorster invasion. And while even the CIA had to admit that the U.S. made the key move to initiate the civil war and that Cuban fighters were requested by the MPLA only after the South African troops moved in, our “lefts” printed bold headlines in their papers about how “Soviet Aggression Initiates War” and “Cuban Mercenaries Invade Angola” – showing that while U.S. imperialism might have to grudgingly admit the truth, they were really steadfast in maintaining pro-imperialist propaganda.

A more recent example is provided by developments in the Middle East. Several years ago when Sadat broke with the Soviet Union and threw its advisors out of Egypt our misguided comrades applauded his moves as “courageous blow against imperialism.” But when Sadat reversed the Nasser reforms, opened Egypt to imperialist investment and instituted a policy of austerity for the masses – all the time steadily easing into U.S. imperialism’s orbit – these comrades remained silent. And now when Sadat has unilaterally decided to bring about an “end” to the conflict in the Middle East by selling out the Palestinian cause, we find these same comrades have found their tongues in time to join the chorus of bourgeois accolades for the Egyptian president’s “peace initiative.”

In all three of these examples, our “lefts” entered into collaboration with their own ruling class precisely because they failed to remember that US imperialism is the main enemy. In the case of Iran, OL chose to support the Shah rather than the Iranian people because the Shah was an “ally” in the struggle against the Soviets. In Angola, the “lefts” were willing to collaborate with Vorster and US imperialism because the MPLA received aid from the Soviet Union. And now in the Middle East these comrades are willing to rush the Palestinians to the sacrificial altar because Sadat’s sell-out is opposed by the Soviet Union. In each case, while it was US imperialism that played the main reactionary role, our “lefts” collaborated with their own government because they perceived the Soviet Union to be a greater danger.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE MAIN ENEMY

A correct position on the question of the main enemy of the world’s peoples, however, is not just of concern to those who might “organize a conference to raise arms for some liberation organization overseas” as PUL seems to think, but a vital and immediate question facing all those concerned with laying the foundation for a new communist party. In the modern world, the position of US imperialism is pre-eminently international. As the worldwide struggle tends more and more to assume the form of a broad alliance of revolutionary forces arrayed against imperialism centered in the US, international issues have been central to the political struggle in this country. If communists are capable of analyzing international developments correctly, these developments can offer tremendous opportunities to advance the consciousness and struggle of the US proletariat.

This has been particularly true in recent years, since the sharpest conflicts with US imperialism have not been domestic ones. On the contrary while the masses in this country are still in the process of shaking off the effects of years of collaborationism and are generally on the defensive, the peoples of Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa have been on the march. In fact, if the international arena were a battlefield, Cuba, Vietnam, and Angola would mark the sites of imperialism’s major defeats.

Vietnam provides a good example of the decisive role that a correct international line can play in the fortunes of communists. No struggle did more to advance the class and revolutionary consciousness of the US people than Vietnam did. It not only destroyed the position of two US presidents but opened up a whole series of political exposures of the US ruling class – exposures that ran from the manipulation of the Tonkin Gulf incident to the revelations of the Pentagon papers and the unearthing of the “plumbers” unit. It not only provided the impetus for a break with imperialist foreign policy for a major section of the Black liberation movement but for a substantial section of the student anti-war movement as well. And who but the Vietnamese bear more responsibility for the regeneration of Marxism-Leninism in the US?

Had there been a conscious Marxist-Leninist force with a correct international line, the gains from Vietnam would have been even greater. Instead of having to stumble upon the correct lessons from Vietnam, instead of groping blindly towards Marxism-Leninism, thousands of activists could have spread the lessons of Vietnam much more widely. Such strategically important sectors as the industrial proletariat which only began to assimilate – and at that superficially – a few lessons from Vietnam could have been much more enlightened and undoubtedly this would have forced the trade union movement to become much more active against the war.

With a collaborationist perspective on international line, however, such potential is lost. Taking Angola as the example of this case, it is clear that the bulk of the communist movement spent its time not in deepening the lessons of Vietnam through further exposures of US imperialism’s role in Africa, but occupied itself with disseminating imperialist propaganda. Instead of exposing CIA financing of FNLA-UNITA, instead of revealing the US government’s impetus for civil war, the MPLA was maligned and the Soviets blamed for the course of events. Instead of baring the ugly facts about the South African invasion at US imperialism’s behest, our “lefts” kept themselves busy by slandering Cuba’s internationalism with falsehoods such as calling Cuban troops “mercenaries” and asserting that Cuba was acting as the “puppet of Soviet social imperialism”. In short, instead of strengthening popular opposition to US imperialism, our “lefts” chose to bolster its waning support!

While collaborating with US imperialism has been a policy of our “lefts” for a number of years, their most significant section – the only “left” organization that has been officially anointed with Chinese oil – has begun to pass over to a policy of social chauvinism. For several years now the OL/CPML has been berating the US ruling class for pursuing a dangerous policy of appeasement towards the Soviets. According to them, this second edition of the “Munich Policy” is the dominant line of the US ruling class generally and is particularly strong in – of all places – the Pentagon. The clear implication of this criticism is that the US should be more, not less, aggressive in pursuit of its hegemonist designs; it should expand its military, strengthen its anti-Soviet resolve and intervene more decisively to stem Soviet advances abroad.

The impact of the struggle against the “appeasement policy” can only serve to undermine not only the CPML’s opposition to imperialist foreign policy but its opposition to the bourgeoisie’s domestic policy as well. This will become clear if one considers the question of defense allocations in the federal budget. One of the main arguments of the US ruling class is that the defense needs of the US prevent it from meeting the social needs of its people; they argue that the maintenance of a “strong national defense” entails sacrifices in funds for jobs, health care, income support, rebuilding the cities, etc. A choice is placed before the masses: either support a strong defense against the threat of Soviet invasion or have your social programs.

In the most fundamental sense, of course, this choice is a false one both because the Pentagon’s expenditures are not directed at defense but aggression and, even more significantly, because the expropriation of monopoly capital would provide sufficient resources both for defense and social needs. But in the present reality of the US the contradiction is real enough; given the present balance of class forces little social progress can be made without challenging, at least implicitly, the nest egg of the Pentagon. The logic of the CPML’s position, however, makes such a challenge impossible since opposition to appeasement inevitably implies support for a large allocation for defense. Given this it is not surprising that the Call never advocates cuts in the Pentagon’s budget.

If one considers the impact advocacy of expanded defense expenditure has on the struggle to develop class consciousness it is clear that the CPML’s ability to oppose right wing political currents is strictly compromised. Are not the most reactionary elements in the trade union, the George Meanys, the Albert Shankers, and other rightwing social democrats, the most consistent forces in opposition to “appeasement” of the Soviets and the most steadfast in opposition to cuts in defense? Is it not the darlings of reaction, the Reagans, the Byrds and the Eastlands who are loudest in their clamor for opposition to Soviet “aggression” and who are always the first to urge deployment of each new weapon in the arsenal of the imperialists? How can one possibly talk of fighting class collaborationism by joining with the Meanys or the Reagans?

We have drawn out the logic of the “left” international line in order to demonstrate how it inevitably leads to abandoning the vital interests of the US working class. While all our “lefts” may not take their collaborationism as far as the CPML does, their differences albeit significant remain differences in degree and not in kind. In the present international context, to fail to uphold that US imperialism is the main enemy means, whether PUL likes it or not, to advocate collaborating with the aims and aspirations of the US bourgeoisie. And while PUL is correct that the advocacy of unity with one’s ruling class is not an obstacle to entering into discussions on party building, it does prevent its adherents from assuming advanced political leadership of the US masses. Consequently, there can be no question of the advocates of “left” internationalism playing a practical role in advancing any trend or formation in the direction of the formation of a viable revolutionary party for the US working class.

“LEFT” INTERNATIONALISM AND THE CRISIS OF OUR MOVEMENT

Secondly, demarcation with “left” collaborationism must be made because the struggle around international line has played the major role in the crisis of our movement. While the “left” position on party-building, the relationship between reform and revolution and the struggle for democracy have been the source of great dissension among Marxist Leninists no question has caused as much fallout as the “left” approach to internationalism. It no accident that the organization which has achieved predominance among the “lefts” has made a point of emphasizing its international line. As a result of its adherence to not just the spirit but the letter of “left” collaborationism, the CPML has to establish itself as the most authoritative voice of the “lefts”. No organization except the CPML has been in a position to issue a call for unity behind its program that other significant sections of the ultra-left trend (ATM, IWK, BACU) have taken seriously.

Furthermore, while disagreements on international line have been a source of disunity even among the “lefts” those disagreements have been kept within the parameters of class collaborationism with US imperialism. Although RCP has made much of its differences with the CPML’s application of the “left” line, it has not diverged significantly with its rival on concrete events. Both supported the “main blow at the Portuguese CP” thesis, both declared support for Kissinger’s line on Angola, and both have expressed unity behind Mobutu’s suppression of the popular uprising in Shaba Province. While their differences have been largely confined to exchanges in their respective journals, their essential unity is expressed in their practical stands.

Significantly, “left” internationalism has also been a major boon to revisionism. Although the sectarian posturing by our “lefts” in the mass movements has driven some forces into the arms of the CP, nothing has had the impact on advanced elements (and particularly those from oppressed nationalities) that the dominant policy of alliance with Washington’s foreign aims has. Given the CPUSA’s consistent compromising with the aims of U.S. imperialism overseas, Marxist-Leninists should have a clear opportunity to use each conflict with the US ruling class to deepen the workers’ consciousness of the nature of revisionism. And since the CPUSA makes as much of its fealty to Moscow as our “lefts” do of their homage to Peking, these conflicts should serve to expose the reactionary character of the Kremlin.

Unfortunately, recent conflicts with US imperialism have served to do the opposite. The “lefts” championing of South Africa and Zaire, of Iran and Egypt, their implied support for NATO and Japanese militarism, have only served to lend revisionism invaluable aid in its efforts to obscure the revolutionary character of Marxism. The revisionists have been able to point to the practice of our “lefts” and contrast it to their revolutionary posturing; they have been able to say to the advanced elements: “Look at the practice of those who criticize our Party from the “left” – alliance with US imperialism is the essence of their loudly proclaimed anti-revisionism”. Indeed the “left” errors on international line are key to the CPUSA’s credibility.

A third reason that the question of the main enemy of the world’s peoples forms a line of demarcation is that “left” collaborationism has been a key element in the ultra-left line. Like the “left-wing” notions on party-building, the reform struggle and the battle for democracy, “left” internationalism pursues ultra-left tactics in the struggle against revisionism. It elevates the Soviet Union to the status of the main enemy, carrying out the struggle against a lessor enemy as if it were supreme and striving to divert the focus of the masses from the main bulwark of world reaction. Violating a proper approach to unstable forces in the united front, it denounces the Soviet-aligned Communist Parties and associated organizations as “fifth columns for Soviet social-imperialism” and “social-fascists”, demanding that they be excluded from the anti-imperialist alliance at all costs. It compromises support for more stable allies of the proletariat in the national liberation movements by branding them as “Soviet puppets” if they accept aid from the USSR. And “left-wing” internationalism is willing to liquidate the socialism of any country that adopts part of the Soviet international line, even if that country has proven its true character over decades of revolutionary struggle.

Not only has “left” collaborationism been a key element of the ultra-left line, it has been one of its most durable components. A study of the history of our “lefts” will reveal that most have been consistent exponents of “leftism” on international line. Prior to its call for a Party Congress, while RU/RCP held a rightist line on party-building, it nevertheless maintained a consistently “left” international perspective. The OL/CPML, which at present represents the most consistent expression of ultra-leftism, maintained a “left” stance on the international situation even when it was vacillating between a “left” and a rightist position on such questions as the relationship of reform to revolution, democracy to socialism and party-building. (In fact, a strong argument can be made that the CPML’s “leftism” on the international situation lies at the heart of their entire ultra-left perspective.) Similarly WVO, MLOC, ATM, RWL, BWC, and PRRWO have all been consistent exponents of “left” collaborationism.[3]

THE WATERSHED OF THE “LEFTS”

The fourth reason for drawing such a line is the fact that the break with “left” collaborationism was the single most important watershed of the anti-“lefts”. This is shown by the fact that the overwhelming majority of those who identify the primary opportunist danger facing the communist movement as coming from the “left”, uphold the proposition that US imperialism is the main enemy of the peoples of the world. And similarly, most of those trace their history of opposition to ultra-leftism to Angola.

Angola provided a major test for the ultra-left line in general and “left” internationalism in particular. Prior to the outbreak of the second stage of the Angolan people’s quest for freedom, almost all Marxist-Leninists shared common assumptions with the dominant “left” organizations not only on the international situation but also on the perspective that the main opportunist threat came from the right And while there was much criticism of the lines of both RU and OL, most independents expected one or the other to provide a substantial part of the core for a revolutionary vanguard.

But Angola changed all that. Seeing both organizations openly espouse support for the CIA financed FNLA-UNITA attempt to seize power and subsequently, for the South African invasion shocked many Marxist-Leninists into a critical re-examination. Revolutionaries in the US were faced with clear choices: support a neo-colonial regime in Angola or an anti-imperialist one, support the invasions of Angola by a fascist, apartheid regime, or the internationalist aid of a socialist country, and finally, support alliance with the forces of worldwide imperialism, war and counter-revolution or those of national liberation, peace and socialism. To be more concise, for US revolutionaries Angola allowed only two choices: alliance with US imperialism or opposition to it. Fortunately, (or lamentably if you are of PUL’s persuasion) thousands chose the latter. Thus, it was not “OL’s self-interested campaign against ’centrism’” as PUL believes but the concrete manifestations of “left” internationalism which caused the bulk of the present critics of “left-wing” communism to recoil.

That the main watershed of the anti-“lefts” should develop on international line is not at all surprising. The real nature of imperialism, its inhumanity and barbarism, is always best exposed where its power is most threatened. In such circumstances it is willing to go to great lengths to ensure its survival – even at the expense of undermining an image carefully created by years of systematic propaganda. That is why no event served to better illustrate the real character and to expose the real essence of imperialism than Vietnam. And it is also the reason that the Vietnam War did more to move the US people in the direction of Marxism-Leninism than any other event in the last twenty-five years.

Since World War II – and continuing right up until the present – the area of sharpest conflict between the forces of reaction and those of progress has been the contest between national liberation and imperialism. Beginning with the Chinese revolution, through the Korean War, Vietnam, Angola, several conflicts in the Middle Fast and the events in Chile, the most determined and revolutionary struggle for freedom has been waged by the oppressed peoples of the Third World. It is here where the masses have risen up, have waged protracted revolutionary struggle and while suffering both victories and defeats have been in the van of the forces of progress. It is in conflicts with the Third World that US imperialism’s power has been most significantly threatened and consequently its real character exposed.

But the sharpest struggles against imperialism serve not only to reveal its true essence; they also serve to expose bankrupt ideology. Examine the ideological conceptions that broke on the rocks of Vietnam. Bourgeois liberalism, even in its more progressive forms such as pacifism, was thrown into crisis by the struggle in South East Asia; one could get away with advocating passive resistance to the military draft but how could you advocate pacifism in the face of an enemy that used napalm? Trotskyism revealed its counter-revolutionary nature by its position of “a plague on both your houses” towards the opposing sides in South Vietnam. And revisionism was put on the defensive by its efforts to resolve the Vietnamese struggle by relying on the combination of imperialism’s moves towards “detente” and Soviet pressure. Given this, how could anyone be startled when “left” internationalism was thrown into crisis by Angola!

However, demarcation with “left” internationalism has proven to be not just the initial watershed but an essential division with the ultra-left line. The recent history of the emerging Marxist-Leninist trend has demonstrated that demarcation with ultra-leftism which does not include demarcation with “left” collaborationism is both inconsistent and inherently unstable.

One of the only organizations to go back on its commitment to the struggle against ultra-leftism since Angola is the Bay Area Communist Union (BACU). In fact BACU was one of the few pioneering voices in the critique of ultra-leftism. Their initial pamphlet, “A Beginning Analysis”, states:

Of the two contradictions, that between dogmatism and Marxism, and pragmatism and Marxism, today’s Marxist-Leninist movement errs most in the direction of dogmatism.

and:

Of these two contradictions, ie. that between sectarianism and Marxism-Leninism and reformism and Marxism-Leninism, today’s Marxist-Leninist movement errs primarily towards sectarianism.

However, a little over a year and a half later the Political Report to their “Fourth General Meeting” states: “We now believe revisionism and political backsliding to be the main danger to our movement.” And more recently they sent a letter to the Call hailing the founding of the CPML as “an important blow to US imperialism, to modern revisionism and to all reaction” and arguing that it “stands out as the largest and best organized organization in the US that upholds Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought and consistently opposes revisionism.” BACU has rejoined the ultra-lefts – and with a vengeance!

What made BACU reverse its previous stand? What caused one of the more significant groups opposed to ultra-leftism to come to the conclusion that the main danger came from the right and not the “left”? From its very inception BACU had maintained unity with one of the principle components of the ultra-left line – “left” collaborationism. And according to a discussion with a former leading member of that group it was precisely “left” internationalism which led BACU to reverse its conclusions on the nature of the main danger facing the party-building movement.

The process developed along the following lines. Over a period of time it became clear to the “left” elements in BACU that any thorough-going critique of ultra-leftism would inevitably have to be extended to fighting the “left-wing” conceptions of internationalism. In addition, it was also clear that what William Hinton had said about the evolution of China’s international perspective (ie. that it was evolving in the direction of a united front with US imperialism against the Soviet Union) was manifest in the positions that the CPC was taking around a number of practical developments in the world (aid to Chile, NATO, US-Japanese military agreement, US military installations in the Phi11ipines, rightist forces in Western Europe, detente with Yugoslavia, etc.). Given that the main forces opposing that international line were forces who upheld that the main danger came from the “left”, it was apparent that their perspective contained a hidden contradiction: on the one hand they held that the main danger to the communist forces lay in “left-wing” notions of how to struggle against revisionism and on the other they had unity with an international perspective which elevated the struggle against revisionism above all other considerations. This contradiction was resolved by turning back on their view of what posed the main danger to the communist movement; for BACU, the “lefts” were right – it had been revisionism all along!

What the BACU experience demonstrates is the instability of any perspective which maintains opposition to ultra-leftism but is unwilling to carry through on that opposition by separating itself from “left” internationalism. It is true, of course, that “left-wing” notions of party-building, reform and revolution and socialism and democracy are such that they too will necessarily undermine any commitment to struggling against ultra-leftism. But the difference is that “left” internationalism has proven to be much more compelling than sectarian attitudes towards other questions.

THE SEDUCTIVE CHARACTER OF “LEFT” COLLABORATIONISM

Why has “left” internationalism been so seductive? Apart from the common roots in dogmatism it shares with other aspects of the ultra-left line, the single most important factor in the influence of “left-wing” collaborationism has its source in the isolation of the communist movement. The weakness of the US left has long been a factor in its tendency to seek legitimacy not from recognition by the advanced elements of its own working class but from endorsement by international authorities. Many elements in the Socialist Party, even in its heyday, upheld the German Social Democratic Party and Karl Kautsky as the supreme arbiters of socialist wisdom, and the reliance of the Communist Party on the Communist International and the Soviet Communist Party is legendary. In many cases the influence of such authorities was positive, but that does not justify the historical tendency of revolutionaries in the US to fail to view advice from abroad critically until it has proven itself in the class struggle.

Unfortunately, there has been a similar tendency to arrogate the development of line and policy in the recent communist movement. As a movement directing its energies towards re-establishing a revolutionary vanguard in opposition to revisionism, it is natural that our fledgling movement would seek advice from those, like the CPC, who pioneered in the critique of revisionism. And it is also natural that they would be vested with special authority on international questions. So it was that international authorities came to be the touchstone of orthodoxy on international line.

This faithfulness towards the CPC, more than anything else, accounts for the CPML’s dominant influence in the Marxist-Leninist movement. During its whole existence the OL made a principle of nothing but its adherence to every shade and nuance of China’s policy; when Teng Hsiao-ping was out of favor, the OL joined in condemning him as an “arch-revisionist and reactionary”. Now they repeat all the Chinese criticisms of his adversaries, the “Gang of Four”, including that they were “capitalist roaders” and not ultra-leftists. And since the CPC has repayed the CPML’s loyalty with official recognition of their “vanguard” status in the US, the rest of the “lefts” have been thrown into crisis – some scrambling for Albania’s recognition and others for unity with their erstwhile enemy.

It is worth noting that this same reliance on the tremendous prestige (mostly deserved) of the Chinese Communist Party to sustain a demonstrably incorrect international line, is clearly exhibited in PUL’s treatment of our differences. Bristling with righteous indignation, PUL argues that for us to demand unity with the “US is the main enemy” formulation amounts to a call for “organizing a trend in opposition to the international line of the CPC, the PLA (Party of Labor of Albania), and quite a few other Marxist-Leninists.” They then proceed to argue that the “theoretical basis” of the Chinese position is the “analysis of the restoration of capitalism in the USSR”, and that one necessarily adopts an “agnostic” position by arguing that US imperialism is the main enemy without publishing a thoroughgoing analysis of the class character of the USSR.

But here PUL lets its overwhelming desire to defend its “authority” overcome its avowal of Marxist method (and falls into, of all things, dogmatism). In the first place, the argument that ”analysis of the restoration of capitalism” is the “theoretical basis” of disputing the US’s position as the main enemy is incorrect. The CPC disputes the proposition that the US is the main enemy by arguing that there has been a change in the balance of forces between the two “superpowers” (the US and the USSR), that the US is in decline whereas the Soviets are on the rise and that the USSR is more aggressive and thus more dangerous. While such arguments would be untenable without the thesis of capitalist restoration, by itself, an analysis of the class character of the Soviet Union cannot provide the “theoretical basis” for China’s view that the main blow internationally should be directed at the Soviet Union.

It is also indicative that PUL, like its “left-wing” comrades, “disputes” the proposition that US imperialism is the main enemy by trying to hide behind the Chinese position. PUL does not even attempt to present an analysis which shows that US imperialism is a lessor enemy than the Soviet Union (or even its equal). It does not dispute the fact that US imperialism has been the backbone of reaction in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Western Europe, and Latin America – with the exception of Europe – precisely the areas of sharpest contest between the forces of reaction and the forces of progress. PUL makes no analysis of such recent clashes of the proletariat and its allies with imperialism as Chile, Portugal, Angola, Zaire, etc. The reason, of course, is that any analysis that both goes beyond a self-serving choice of evidence and avoids fabrication clearly demonstrates that US imperialism is indeed the main enemy of the peoples of the world.

A QUESTION OF TACTICS

The final reason that it is necessary to insist on demarcation around the question of the main enemy of the peoples of the world has to do with the tactics for laying a foundation for a trend in opposition to ultra-leftism. While it is always the aim of communists, as the saying goes, “to unite all who can be united” in opposition to any perceived enemy, the method for determining the correct basis for that unity is not the same in each case.

In particular, it is necessary to distinguish between a situation in which the revolutionary line is dominant and that in which the opportunist one has hegemony. In any struggle between a Marxist-Leninist line and its opposite, there is always a center element which attempts to adopt an “intermediate” position, agreeing partly with the revolutionaries and partly with the opportunists. While the net effect of this center is always to shield and buttress opportunism, how one takes up struggle with the center is a tactical question. Where the Marxist-Leninist line is dominant, a policy of patient persuasion of the center within the context of struggle against the opportunists can be adopted. But when the situation is reversed and opportunism has hegemony, it is absolutely essential that revolutionaries call for a break with both the opportunists and the center. Any policy of temporizing with the center necessarily means strengthening the hand of the opportunists and thus helping them preserve the status quo.

In our situation, it is obvious that the ultra-left line is hegemonic. Therefore our lines of demarcation must be drawn so as to break with the center. While the center has only recently emerged, it is clear that it is made up of those forces which claim to oppose ultra-leftism on the one hand and desire to hold on to their previous adherence to “left” internationalism on the other. On the one hand they want to separate themselves from the most obvious excesses of the “lefts”, (e.g. the sectarian methods of ideological struggle, the name-calling and slander, the organizational chauvinism, etc.) but on the other they are in full agreement with the “lefts” that revolutionaries must uphold direction of the main blow at the Soviet Union.

Consequently, it is impossible to reduce the lines of demarcation with ultra-leftism to just the formulation that the main danger comes from the “left” as PUL demands. The history of our movement has certainly demonstrated that we cannot judge political forces by their words alone when it comes to the struggle against “left” opportunism. After all, the CPML gave lip service to the struggle against “left-wing” communism at one point in its history but then proceeded to adopt the worst aspects of the line it criticized, and the RCP occasionally speaks of its opposition to dogmatism. On the contrary, it is necessary to judge those who espouse opposition to ultra-leftism primarily by their deeds; it is essential to demand that those forces who desire to join our effort to develop a trend which genuinely opposes “left” opportunism demonstrate their critique of “left-wing” communism by separating themselves from “left” internationalism. Otherwise, we will sacrifice the whole future of Marxism-Leninism for a false sense of unity.

In summary, our reasons for upholding the question of the main enemy as a correct line of demarcation have nothing in common with the sectarian tactics of the CPML and other “lefts”. Their primary objective was always the establishment of organizational hegemony over the communist movement, and they drew their lines of demarcation with that end in mind. In contrast, our concern is, first and foremost, to develop a genuine trend in opposition to ultra-leftism by uniting with all those who have manifested a real commitment to breaking the stranglehold of “left-wing” communism. We also desire to strengthen the stand of forces who are unwilling to make a thoroughgoing break with the ultra-left line, but are convinced that this objective will only be achieved to the extent that a stable trend opposed to “left” opportunism takes shape.

FOR GENUINE UNITY

It is also our concern that the development of any such trend be consistent with a real step in the direction of the development of a viable vanguard party. Admittedly, the actual organization of such a Party is a ways off, but that does not mean that we should sacrifice the vital interests of the US working class for the sake of a superficial uniting of communists. We are not opposed to entering into discussion with PUL (or similar groupings) on either the international situation or party-building and will use such discussions to try to advance the cause of unity. But we do stand firmly in opposition to the unprincipled unity, avoiding a fundamental demarcation with the “lefts”, that PUL advocates. In Lenin’s words, we favor:

a policy that really brings about unity, not easily, not smoothly, and by no means immediately, but in a way that will produce actual results, as distinguished from the heap of quack promises of an easy, smooth, immediate fusion of ’all’ factions. (Wks., Vol. 17. p. 259)

We don’t want to mislead anyone. As PUL will undoubtedly assert, it has never advocated “an easy, smooth, immediate fusion of all factions” of the anti-“lefts”. But nevertheless, they do call for unprincipled unity among our forces. And the reason for this is not difficult to see. Since PUL is, itself, a dedicated adherent of “left” internationalism on the one hand and recognizes on the other that the bulk of the anti-“lefts” have broken with class collaborationism, it has no choice but to advocate unprincipled unity. For PUL’s ability to gain an audience among those who oppose ultra-leftism most deeply depends on the submerging of its “left-wing” internationalism. Is it not apparent that this more than anything else is the source of PUL’s desire to avoid struggle around international line?

It should also be apparent that PUL’s advocacy of “left” collaborationism is bound up with its underestimation of the role of dogmatism. In our discussion of PUL’s objections to our use of the word dogmatism to describe the “left” line, we showed that the essence of that opposition stemmed from PUL’s recognition that criticism of dogmatism inevitably leads to exposure of “left” internationalism. Similarly, opposition to “left” internationalism demands a struggle against dogmatism; any objective study of the international situation will demonstrate by such a wide preponderance of evidence that the US is the main enemy, that one can only dispute the fact by retreating from reality. It is necessary to belittle the significance of scientific analysis by attempting to frighten one’s opponents with references to respected international authorities. In short, our “lefts” can only “defeat” the facts to the extent that they rely on dogma.

Nevertheless, while both our differences with PUL on the role of dogmatism in the ultra-left line and on the necessity to demarcate on the question of the main enemy are of long run significance for the rectification of “left-wing” communism, they are not both of equal immediate import. Whereas the latter is a necessary line of demarcation to even take the initial steps towards developing a stable anti-“left” trend, the former is not. It is sufficient at this point to recognize that the main danger comes from the “left”. The question of the main features of the “left” line, its ideological foundation and its theoretical base are secondary to repudiation of “left” opportunism. They are important questions, but it would be sectarian to demand complete unity on the nature of the “left” line at a time when our anti-“left” tendency is only in embryo.

But as the anti-“left” trend grows, and as the rectification movement it leads gains impetus, the question of the role of dogmatism in the “left” line will take on increasing significance. The anti-“left” trend can only take on genuinely positive form – that is, it can only become a Marxist-Leninist trend – to the extent that it is able to elaborate an alternative to the program of the “lefts”. Since there can be no such elaboration without a break with dogmatism, those who negate the role of dogmatism, like those who adhere to “left” internationalism, do so at the expense of a thoroughgoing rectification of ultra-leftism. And even more significantly, they do so at the expense of the development of a viable revolutionary party for the US working class.

Clay Newlin, For the Committee of Five

Note: All of the organizations in the Committee of Five after reviewing this statement have affirmed their agreement with its general thrust. This general unity, however, should not be taken as an indication of accord with each and every argument and formulation.

Endnotes

[1] Mao Tsetung, Selected Works, (New York: International Publishers, 1956) IV, pp. 171-218.

[2] Reprinted in: Boyd Compton, ed. Mao’s China: Party Reform Documents, 1942-44 (Seattle, University of Washington Press, 1966)

[3] The only apparent exception to this is the CL/CLP. But this organization has different roots from the rest of the forces that make up the Marxist-Leninist movement. Its genesis stems not from the Vietnam era but from the CPUSA and its critique of Stalin; for CL/CLP what has always been central is not agreement with Mao and China but adherence to Stalin. Given Stalin’s position on the character of the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialism, it was inevitable that, in the long run, CL would tend more to a rightist position on the international situation than an ultra-left one. In fact, CLP’s rightist international line is the chief reason that it won over so few of the “lefts” in its “vanguard” and remains isolated from the bulk of the communist movement.