Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Philadelphia Study Group

Debating Strategy: A New Turn for the Movement

Issued as an unpublished document: April 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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For the last four or five years our left movement has been stalled. We are, and have been, largely a movement of intellectuals; we wish to become a revolutionary socialist workers movement. We have made some progress toward this goal, but only in certain limited areas.

On the one hand, the way to build a general workers movement is obvious: practical political work among members. Our movement has made some progress in this area. Some leftists have become skilled organizers with professional methods and organization, agitating around immediate demands of the working class in the workplace and the community, as well as sharing in the struggles against the (special oppression of minorities and women. Some leftist newspapers and leaflets have appeared which are directed to and comprehensible to the masses. Also, some leftists have begun socially and culturally integrating themselves with the working class, living in the same communities, working in the same places. Moreover, the left has occasionally displayed a certain unity in some of these practical struggles–at times groups have formed alliances in various coalitions over limited practical issues. All this marks a tremendous change for what had once been largely a student movement.

So that, although our practical work has been marred by sectarianism and by purist approaches to practice, we have on the whole Wade substantial practical progress, and much of this progress (such as labor organizing) has been pioneered by some of the sect groups and collectives which later took an unreasonable sectarian turn.

However, for all our progress toward building a general workers movement, we have been held back from building this into a revolutionary and socialist workers movement. Five years ago a large portion of our movement had already achieved an elementary Marxist understanding: we understood that U.S. oppression overseas is part of an imperialist dynamic, dictated by our economic system; we realized our society, economic system, culture, state, and other institutions are based on class oppression, and that we are in the midst of a class struggle and must work among workers to develop their consciousness and organization so that they will overthrow the system; and we understood that the class is deeply divided along lines of race and sex and fighting these special oppressions is a crucial part of our work. Much in this elementary Marxism was developed, in fact, by sects and collectives which later became unreasonably sectarian; indeed, a realistic understanding of the need for working class organizing came largely from people who are now sectarians. By the word “sect” we refer to all left groups which see themselves as the national party of the working class or as “poles of party-building.” Later we will make clear the meaning of “sectarian activity” which is by no means limited to sect groups.

But during the last five years we hove not moved substantially beyond this understanding, although more and more people accept and act on this elementary Marxism. No common, concrete analysis which can explain the particular situations various workers and organizers face and which can give them a clear, accurate plan of action has been developed. Rather, our theoretical debate and discussion has grown increasingly intellectual, increasingly obscure to workers and activists, and increasingly irrelevant as a tool for analysis of concrete situations or as a guide to action. The gap between our theoretical debate and the workers movement has widened. The old sects have split up over questions only a scholar could understand; new groups have sprung up with just as obscure dogmas.

Look what confronts the class conscious worker who is interested or open to our movement. Consider a worker, for example, who has been active in the labor movement for several years and, as a result of his or her experience, has come to the conclusion that some sort of workers movement is necessary to radically change the unions and the rest of society. This worker will undoubtedly have many questions: what exactly is the problem with the unions and how can they effectively be changed? What strategies can make the unions more democratic, more militant, more egalitarian with regard to women and minorities? How can the unions become a fighting force in the broader social and political struggles of the working class? What is the real meaning of the unions’ present involvement in politics (COPE committees, etc.)? What exactly is the role of the government in the labor movement and how can we change the influence of the NLRB, OSHA, and the EEOC? This worker wants to see how we answer these questions, to see what the aims of our movement are, to see whether we aim to build the same kind of workers movement that he or she roughly envisions and to see whether we have the knowledge and skill to actually build that movement.

Most of those in our movement don’t quite know how to answer this worker’s questions. Very few people can present a convincing, practical strategy for the labor movement or the workers movement in general. We lack a clear program which expresses our aims in concrete terms.

But there is a vocal minority with well-practiced answers. “Your aims are the same as ours” they say. “We are communists and communists represent the true interests of the working class.”

And our worker will ask, “I know communists aren’t Russian spies, but what exactly does it mean to be a communist?”

And our worker will be told, “True communists believe in establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat through armed struggle led by a democratically centralized vanguard party of the new type rising both open and secret methods of work. Communists believe the party, armed with the scientific principles of Marxism-Leninism, will smash the bourgeois state machinery and establish socialism, building for the transitions to communism, etc. Communists believe we must bore within the trade unions fighting the main enemy, the labor aristocrats. The unions must be won to the leadership of the party and transformed into revolutionary organizations, etc. This is what you must believe in to be a true communist.”

Now our advocate may be quite “correct” in all of these statements, but this does not really explain In practical terms what it means to be a communist; it does not say concretely what the aims of our movement are in the different struggles of the class; it does not tell our worker how to transform his or her union into a “revolutionary organization” tomorrow at the plant; it does not make clear that communists do, in fact, represent the best interests of the working class.

If this worker is persistent in trying to answer his or her questions and find out what the aims of our movement are, he or she will soon find out that there are forty different brands of “true communists” each with a slightly different list of beliefs. To understand the differences our worker must become an expert on a wide range of matters from classics of Marx and Lenin through Stalin, Trotsky, Mao, on the nature of the U.S.S.R. and China, on the ins and outs of Chinese foreign policy, etc. A worker must become a scholar just to understand what it means to be a communist, just to understand the aims of our movement.

This is no way to run a political movement; certainly no other successful political movement required a degree in Marxist-Leninist Studies just to understand what was going on. If one must be a scholar to participate fully in the left, then our movement will consist largely of intellectuals rather than activists. A worker who joins a sect group who is not also a scholar will not have a critical understanding of what he or she has gotten into. Many people have joined a sect because they like the people in it, or that sect seemed to be doing the best practical work, or because they like the position of the sect on certain issues even though they don’t fully understand their other positions, or because that sect may be simply the only revolutionary group in their area. Too often, reservations on important questions are rationalized, “If I disagree, I’ll be able to fight for change within the organization.”

More important, workers who join sect groups will still not have their real questions answered. A worker may be willing to accept the idea that the U.S.S.R. is state capitalist as opposed to capitalist or “merely on the road to capitalism,” but this does not mean this worker will have a well-developed understanding of how the labor movement can be practically transformed. Very few people in our movement do have an understanding of this sort. While a few left groups have worked out elementary approaches to the labor movement, none has the experience and analysis of specific situations to formulate an accurate, comprehensive strategy. A comprehensive strategy would explain how our practical work in specific workplaces can be directed step by step through a series of stages to develop the sort of workers movement each group talks about. No group clearly states how its specific labor activity will lead step by step to the “revolutionary transformation of the unions,” to the ideal “democratically centralized Party,” and to the theoretically “correct” dictatorship of the proletariat. While many groups have a limited base of experience and limited success, none has printed and demonstrated a strategy that can make its theoretical doctrines a reality.

And so the worker looking at our movement has much reason to be confused. For the aims of our movement are confused. Is a communist someone who accepts a long list of “correct” doctrines? Or is a communist someone who consistently fights in specific practical struggles Of the class to build the consciousness and organization of the workers movement? Does our movement primarily aim to win a following to “correct revolutionary doctrine”? Or does our movement aim to build the present workers movement step by step so that it can eventually become a revolutionary force?

To many workers our movement must appear as some sort of messianic religion. We lack a clear program for building a workers movement; yet our theoretical life does not seem particularly concerned with developing this kind of analysis. Rather, we seem primarily concerned with winning recruits to abstract dogmas. We seem to be recruiting to the True Faith so that when the Millenium comes we can save mankind. This is how far our theoretical life has become removed from the workers movement.

Something is wrong with the way we discuss and debate our theory, and we will not be able to build a socialist workers movement until we correct it. Some people describe our problem as dogmatism; others call it sectarianism or ultra-leftism.

These terms “dogmatism,” “sectarianism,” and “ultra-leftism” are used to describe certain destructive activity in our movement. But if we are to solve this problem, we need more than a rough description of what is wrong; we need a precise understanding of the problem, the specific activity which causes it, and what we can do to solve it. Calling Someone dogmatic, sectarian, or ultra-left does not tell him or her what he or she should be doing.

For instance, many people have recognized that our movement cannot be built solely on the basis of quotations from Lenin. But while these people recognize the errors of extreme dogmatism, many lack a precise understanding of the theories our movement does need, and therefore tend to he dogmatic, using rigid or abstract formulas to describe the situations our movement faces.

Also many people recognize that the purpose of political work is not merely to maintain purity of “correct” line. These people understand that certain compromise is necessary; they recognize the extreme sectarianism of those groups which split from all others so that their colors will remain purest red; they recognize the ultra-leftism of those who avoid workers struggles which do not have revolution as the immediate goal. But nevertheless, many of the people who recognize these errors do not have a precise understanding of which compromises are correct and which reforms do lead to the revolutionary development of the class. They therefore tend toward sectarianism or ultra-leftism.

The problems of our movement are not confined only to the extreme dogmatists and sectarians; our entire movement lacks a clear, unified analysis of what to do, and as a result many very reasonable comrades make occasional dogmatic or sectarian mistakes. But the problem of our movement is not merely that we make mistakes; the problem is that our system of theoretical debate encourages these mistakes. Historically, dogmatists and sectarians have dominated our theoretical debate. And there is a tendency for groups to become increasingly dogmatic and sectarian. Groups which were once quite reasonable with good practices, such as RU and OL, seem to have taken unreasonable sectarian turns.

Indeed, our problem is a problem of our system of theoretical debate, with the way our entire movement discusses theory and decides which analysis to accept. We lack a common, accurate analysis of our tasks, but more than that, our system of debate fails to encourage the development of this analysis. Our system of debate fails to sort out which theories are necessary to advance our movement and it fails to spread this understanding throughout our movement. Rather, all sorts of dogmatic and sectarian theories spring up, each with its own competing little following. Over the last five years, our debate has not made progress toward a common, accurate theory.

This paper argues that our debate has lost sight of its purpose. The purpose of our theory is supposedly to explain in concrete terms the specific situations faced by our working class movement; our theory is supposed to determine where the best interests of the class lie in each situation and how these interests may best be practically advanced. Instead of this, our movement argues about Trotskyism vs. Stalinism, the Black Belt, or the Soviet economy, without making clear the specific influence that these forces have on the particular political situations facing activists in different cities under different conditions–the day-to-day struggle in Plant X or Neighborhood Y. We debate these topics in general, in the abstract–as if we could answer workers’ theoretical questions without actually looking at individual workers and their specific conditions.

An analysis of Trotskyism vs. Stalinism, of the Black Belt, or of the Soviet economy may (or may not) be important. Also, someone may have a “correct” understanding of these subjects. But the point here is that our movement argues these topics without making clear what their exact importance is, in practical terms, to the workers movement. Our debate fails to make clear their historical relevance. Groups which call themselves Stalinist are called Trotskyite by their competitors; groups which hold the same analysis of the Black Belt have different positions on the practical questions of busing and super-seniority (and vice versa); groups Which hold different views of the Soviet economy share the same views on the CPUSA; and no one explains clearly why these discrepancies arise. Theory seems to be more of a religious quality like grace or karma than a precise understanding to guide practical affairs.

* * *

Let us examine the real nature of our ideological struggle by examining one particular split: the activity of the October League (OL) around a particular incident. We do not choose the OL because some see the OL as an unreasonable group. We are not concerned with general reasonableness, but seek to understand the specific nature of OL’s ideological activity. As we shall see, this activity is shared by large numbers throughout our movement, many of whom are very reasonable and many who are highly unreasonable. In the following we are not “taking the Guardian’s side,” but trying to examine and criticize OL’s specific activity.

The OL and the Guardian newspaper split bitterly over the question of whether the U.S.S.R. is capitalist (OL) or “merely on the road to capitalism” (Guardian). This dispute manifested itself also over the Angola question where the two groups argued about whether to support the Soviet-backed MPLA faction against the U.S.-backed factions (Guardian) or to oppose the Soviet intervention (OL). The OL argued (The Call, May, 1975, p. 16) that the Guardian’s position on the U.S.S.R. “conciliates with revisionism” and that it is crucial to OPPOSE this conciliation. In this article, the OL refers extensively to Guardian reporting on international affairs, but not once do they mention any activity our movement is actually involved in, nor anything that is of immediate importance to American workers (not even the CPUSA). Let us quote from this article.

...we should do everything possible to heighten and intensify [this struggle], to draw clearly the two lines on the question and expose the danger of conciliation.

In What Is To Be Done?. Lenin said, “Under these circumstances, what at first sight appears to be an ’unimportant’ mistake may lead to the most deplorable consequences, and only the shortsighted people can consider factional disputes and a strict differentiation between shades inopportune or superfluous. The fate of Russian social-democracy for many years to come may depend on the strengthening of one or the other ’shade.’”

A vanguard party of the working class must expose the two imperialist superpowers as the main enemy of the people of the world and take a concrete stand of opposition to modern revisionism in all its forms. To unite Marxist-Leninists around this principle will require considerable Ideological struggle, but this struggle is of tremendous importance as our relatively young movement seeks to give genuine Leadership to the working class. This Struggle will determine the fate of the communist movement in the U.S. for some time to come.

The OL tells us that in order to give “genuine” leadership to the working class, we must:

a. Accept the doctrine that the two superpowers are the main enemy of the people of the world.
b. Expose the superpowers as such.
c. Struggle (and split) with those who do not accept this doctrine.
d. Unite all those Marxist-Leninists who do accept it.

OL justifies its entire activity around Angola by saving that this is all necessary to give “genuine leadership to the working class.”

To determine the exact nature of OL’s activity, then, we must look at the leadership OL provided the working class. We must look at OL’s following in the working class and see how OL’s activity led in organizing action, molding opinions, and building organizations.

As the Angola events unfolded, numbers of workers clearly saw their immediate class interests in this matter. Numbers saw U.S. involvement leading to another Vietnam; they saw clearly the danger of war; that the working class would pay for this war both economically and in terms of soldiers. They saw that this war was not at all in their interest; many, particularly black workers, saw that foreign interference would only hurt their African brothers and sisters. Indeed, when black mercenaries were being recruited, a protest was heard throughout many black communities. While these progressive-thinking workers were only a small percentage, they made up a substantial number who were ready to enter this elementary struggle of the class. Let us examine what leadership OL provided these workers to develop their struggle to a higher level.

The OL could have chosen several strategies to win the leadership of this workers struggle. They could have chosen to organize around the issue of mercenary recruitment in the black communities. They could have had some effect on reducing this recruitment and the spontaneous outcry against it could have been effectively linked to demands for jobs, particularly for the many unemployed Vietnam veterans who were especially sought for recruitment. And this issue could have been linked to criticism of CORE and other black reformists who supported mercenary recruitment – the relation between their stand on Angola and their strategy for black liberation could have been clearly demonstrated. Or perhaps OL could have organized around the issue of CIA involvement.

Leftist researchers had taken some leadership in the attack on the CIA generally and some were undoubtedly aware of CIA intentions in Angola well before the liberals began attacking CIA involvement. Early demonstrations against CIA involvement could have pressured Congress to act and would have increased the prestige of OL. Indeed, the liberals in Congress eventually did capitalize on support for this issue and mounted an effective attack to limit CIA involvement.

But OL chose to actually organize around a much more limited issue. When the liberals had largely stopped CIA involvement, when the MPLA was clearly dominant in Angola, OL finally massed its forces for a small demonstration outside the Russian embassy in Washington to raise the “correct” slogan, “Two Superpowers Out of Angola.”

And this activity failed to actually lead the working class’s struggle around Angola. Those workers who had developed an elementary anti-imperialist understanding and were ready to support certain limited struggles around Angola were not included in OL’s demonstration. Nor did this demonstration evoke their sympathy or support. These workers were looking for activity that would actually alter the course of events, activity which would actually advance their own class interests and the interests of the Angolan people. To them, the OL demonstration appeared at best merely symbolic.

Indeed, OL’s demonstration was only meaningful to those few who followed the Guardian and the Call (OL’s paper). Only there Marxist-Leninists could understand the point of OL’s activity: that it was an advertising stunt, to make clear the OL’s differences with the Guardian over the nature of the U.S.S.R. The OL strategy was to “do everything possible to heighten and intensify” its struggle with the Guardian, to “unite Marxist-Leninists around this principle.” And so OL’s activity did not reach workers and it did not develop their consciousness or organize them around proletarian internationalism. OL did nothing to give workers an elementary anti-imperialist analysis, let alone a sophisticated analysis of the two superpowers.

Rather it was the liberals who actually led the anti-imperialist (anti-interventionist) effort around Angola. Many workers who were opposed to U.S. imperialist aggression followed and supported the liberal activities to limit CIA involvement. They were motivated to follow the news of the liberal efforts in Congress, some to write their Congress-people, and when the Congressional effort won, they felt the liberals had won them a victory. Many anti-imperialist workers quite naturally followed the liberals because the liberals were clearly the most effective political tendency against overt U.S. aggression. And although these workers followed the liberals passively, many were undoubtedly willing to join demonstrations or other actions like those against the Vietnam war–demonstrations and actions often led by liberals.

And the liberals used their leadership to develop the reformist consciousness of workers. They argued that the Republican conservatives were making a “foreign policy mistake” as they had in Vietnam, and that our liberal “friends in Congress” would correct this mistake. And so the liberals also reaped the organizational gains. They convinced their worker-followers to re-elect their liberal, largely Democratic, Congress-people, their “friends.” Who knows how many black votes for Carter were votes against Kissinger’s African policy?

The OL tells us that its split with the Guardian and other actions around Angola were necessary to provide “genuine leadership to the working class.” Yet it is clear that the liberals actually led the working class movement around Angola–that is, anti-imperia1Ist workers followed the liberals–and OL provided little contest to the liberals.

Let us examine what leadership is really in the best interests of the class. The liberals clearly did not act in the best interests of the working class. They argued that the cause of the Angola problem was “foreign policy mistakes”; they failed to educate workers that this was not an isolated mistake which could easily be remedied by our “friends in Congress”; they obscured the fact that our “friends in Congress” do not act consistently to prevent U.S. aggression and to defend the rights of oppressed nations; that “our friends” are not about to eliminate CIA covert operations, but just want to tone them down; that “our friends” support heavy defense spending, deportation of illegals, and tax benefits to multinational corporations; that “our friends” do not consistently uphold international workers solidarity nor do they consistently represent the best interests of American workers on other issues.

But what are the best interests of the class? In each specific situation we must concretely examine the immediate struggle of the class taking place and determine where the interests of the class lie in that struggle. We must then determine a strategy to guide this struggle so as to most effectively develop the class consciousness of workers, their willingness to act in their class interests, and the organization to allow them to act together. The best interests of the class are served by a strategy of waging immediate struggles so as to best develop the overall ability of the class to act as a class. A fully conscious and organized working class will be revolutionary.

For example, in the Angola situation, numbers of workers were ready to act to:
a. prevent the U.S. working class from paying for U.S. aggression economically and in terms of soldiers and mercenaries, and/or
b. defend the rights of the Angolan people.

Objectively this immediate struggle arose on these two batt1efronts. Workers’ motivations varied from narrow self-interest to pan-African sentiment to moral outrage, but these workers were willing to support this struggle which was objectively in the interest of the entire class.

The interests of the class would have best been advanced by a strategy for leading activities in one or both of these immediate struggles, Actual leadership with an actual following among workers could have be en used to give this following organization and to broaden the consciousness of these workers through the concrete lessons of struggle. The authors of this paper do not know the exact organization and the exact lessons which would have been best for the Angola situation. We do not pretend to have the theory necessary to determine the best strategy. But we can point out some strategic criteria for advancing the class.

a. Develop some understanding among workers that U.S. aggression in Angola is related to oppression of the class at home. This is necessary so that workers participate in Angola activities consciously as part of their broader class struggle, so that they will respond consistently to other forms of class oppression. These workers must see, for instance, that we must not oppose mercenary recruitment without also demanding jobs.
b. Develop some understanding that Angola is not an isolated situation, but part of a system of imperialism pitted against liberation struggles world-wide; that the Angolan people are fighting the same enemy we are. This is necessary so that workers do not view Angola as a “foreign policy mistake” but realize that they must fight consistently against all forms of imperialism, for example against the defense budget the CIA, and economic imperialism.
c. Develop some degree of independent political organization. This is necessary so that we need not rely on our liberal “friends in Congress” but can rely instead on mass tactics.
d. Explain that, only limited lessons can be drawn fOR a limited number of workers and only limited organization can be built around the Angola struggle.
e. Explain that these gains must be seen as one step in a larger strategy which seeks to develop, step by step, the class consciousness and organization of the entire working class.

Only a strategy which develops workers’ conscious and organization can have long term effect on U.S. imperialism. The liberal strategy, on the other hand, won limited concessions on the Angola issue, but when the next Angola rolls around, the working class will be no better prepared to fight, and the liberals cannot be depended on. The above sort of strategy advances the best interests of the class: it wages the immediate Angola struggle so as to best develop the working class overall. This, in turn, is the best long term solution to the immediate struggle against U.S. imperialism. The Liberals, then, clearly did not represent the best interests of the class.

But neither did OL. OL’s “genuine” leadership involved no serious effort at leadership of the workers’ immediate struggle it involved no serious strategy to develop workers’ understanding or organization in this struggle; it had no significant effect on workers’ thinking or activity. The OL was merely proclaiming itself as “genuine” or “vanguard” leader. The OL called itself “genuine” merely because it had the “correct” doctrine on the two superpowers. Gaining acceptance for this doctrine was the motive behind OL’s activity. As in the above quote, OL sought to unite with all who accepted it and split with those who didn’t; OL’s demonstration at the Russian embassy was to advertise this doctrine; it is this doctrine which is necessary to be “genuine” leader and “vanguard party”; it is this doctrine which will “determine the fate of the communist movement.”

But OL fails to explain why this doctrine is so important. We have already seen that OL did not voice or act on any strategy for leading the actual workers struggle around Angola. The OL’s entire strategy and activity were geared to winning recruits to the two superpowers doctrine. And by the nature of this doctrine, it was necessary to seek recruits not among anti-imperialist workers, but among Marxist-Leninists who followed the Guardian and the Call.

More than that, without seeing the practical strategy at work, it is not clear exactly how to interpret this doctrine. Indeed, while OL proclaimed the cosmic significance of their two superpowers doctrine, their actual activity suggests that they considered the Guardian, not the two superpowers, the “main enemy.” It is not apparent what “main enemy” means. The OL aimed its energies at the Guardian when it could have been undermining one of the superpowers and building a workers movement that could eventually challenge both of them.

There may very well be an accurate theory of the two superpowers which implies a comprehensive strategy for practical work in this country around such issues as Angola. This theory may very well be “correct.” But the OL has clearly not developed it. In place of this theory they have given us a verbal formula which lacks concrete, practical, strategic meaning. And this “theory” has a different use: instead of guiding a practical strategy, “theory” is the basis for seeking recruits. The OL’s activity around Angola was specific: they acted to win recruits to a verbal formula, to an abstract, undeveloped doctrine. The OL did not go about the business of advancing the class; they did not lead activities around immediate struggles and build workers’ consciousness and organization; OL did not actually lead the movement around Angola; rather, they only claimed to be the leader. The OL claimed it was “genuine” leader and that it was exposing the “conciliators to revisionism.” But the liberals and revisionists could hardly prefer a better conciliator than OL. OL abandoned any attempt at leadership of the anti-imperialist movement for the sake of an intellectual squabble with the Guardian. As long as leftists are competing to call themselves “genuine” leaders, the liberals can feel secure that they will remain the actual leaders of the working class struggles.

The OL warns us that the struggle over the superpowers doctrine “will determine the fate of the communist movement in the U.S. for some time to come.” Yet the OL has failed to make this struggle important even to the immediate fate of our movement. This question has had no substantial impact on the course of our developing workers movement. All that is at stake is whether several hundred Marxist-Leninists will pledge allegiance to the Guardian or to the OL.

Perhaps, at some time, the correct nature of the U.S.S.R. and U.S. imperialism may be of tremendous importance to our movement. But one thing is clear. The OL has failed to make it relevant now. The OL has failed to develop and apply a theory that can achieve actual leadership in our present anti-imperialist struggles. We have no reason to believe OL will be able to answer the many theoretical questions necessary for actual leadership in the future, either. Indeed, our future theoretical tasks may be far more complex than at present, and our present tasks are far more complex than a simple verbal formula about the “main enemy.”

* * *

We may describe the activity of the OL around the Angola incident as follows: the OL wanted to attract a following to a particular “abstract doctrine” without clearly relating that doctrine to the actual, practical advancement of the workers movement. Theory had a specific use: theory was used to build a following, not as a direct aid to practical work. OL sought to win people’s allegiance to an “abstract doctrine” instead of actively involving them in activities around a clear strategy to advance the class.

A strategy to advance the class would have made three things clear.

1. A precise objective. For example, an anti-imperialist strategy might have as objectives: bringing workers into activities in some sort of independent anti-imperialist organization, developing an elementary understanding of U.S. imperialism among these worker-activists, an understanding of other class struggles, etc. This anti-imperialist strategy might be part of a general strategy to develop a corps of workers active in various immediate struggles of the class. These workers would understand at an elementary level all the present class struggles (anti-imperialism, labor, minorities, women, etc.), and provide rank and file leadership in this movement. These objectives would give us precise strategic criteria for evaluating programs, tactics, and campaigns around immediate struggles. Thus a program which brings X workers into a specific organization, y workers to a demonstration, z workers to a particular understanding, etc., can be precisely compared with other programs.
2. A general process for reaching these objectives. A strategy must state a general direction of activity, the role played by allies and enemies along this course, etc. Thus an anti-imperialist strategy might indicate the need to lead immediate struggles, the liberals’ role as limited allies in some of these struggles, etc.
3. The significance of these objectives in terms of our movement’s long-range goals. The general objectives above of building a corps of conscious worker-activists could be seen as a key step in building a workers’ party which could give greater organization to the workers movement and allow the more rapid development of class consciousness. And this would be a major step toward opposing the liberals’ leadership, building socialist hegemony of the class, and preparing the class for revolution and socialism.

The OL tells us its Angola activity was guided by a “Party-building strategy.” They argue that party-building consists precisely of drawing lines of demarcation within the movement and uniting Marxist-Leninists around the “correct” line. But, in fact, this “Party-building strategy” is not a comprehensive strategy as we have defined the term. Their strategy has a clear objective: to build a party united around certain doctrines, including the two superpowers doctrine. OL also has a clear process for reaching this objective; for example, in the Angola incident they clearly sought to treat the Guardian as a “main enemy” and heighten competition with the Guardian. But the OL has no clear explanation of how this Party, united around their “crucial” doctrines, would translate into the actual revolutionary development of the class. The “Party” as they put it themselves in one pamphlet, was merely a “magic weapon” to make a revolution. They had no strategy to advance the class, but, if anything, were following a strategy to merely attract a following to what we will term “abstract doctrines.”

We define the term “abstract doctrine” to mean specifically a doctrine which has never been applied and developed into a comprehensive strategy for the workers movement. We use this phrase in quotes throughout the rest of the paper to connote this specific definition. We want to make clear that we do not use the phrase “abstract doctrine” to refer to the quality of an idea; a doctrine, regardless of whether it seems abstract or concrete, may or may not be developed into a complete strategy.

At first sight this error of recruiting a following to “abstract doctrines” seems like a relatively minor error, an error of omission; the OL just didn’t do the theoretical work to explain step by step how their “Party” would advance the class. In an isolated case this may be a minor error. But the fact is, a very large part of our movement consistently and repeatedly makes this error. Virtually every sect group, most publications, and even many individuals seek to attract a following to “abstract doctrines” instead of acting on a strategy to advance the workers movement. Indeed, in the above Angola example, the Guardian was also involved in recruiting a following to “abstract doctrines”–the Guardian just had a different doctrine from the OL on Russia and the main international enemy.

The Guardian wrote extensively on its views on the factions in Angola, the Russian economy, and Chinese foreign policy. But the Guardian did little or nothing to educate its readers on the real strategic questions facing the Angola effort. Guardian readers were not taught how to direct their activity around Angola to best benefit the growth of an independent anti-imperialist movement and the workers movement. Guardian readers were instead merely encouraged to accept the Guardian’s “abstract doctrines” and to support the Guardian on this basis.

This building of followings is a whole distinct mode of activity and it has little to do with whether one’s politics seem overtly reasonable or unreasonable. And our movement has developed a whole catechism, a whole set of explanations to justify this activity of “party-building.”

Most discussions of “party-building” begins with a description of the ideal party, what abstract “principles” form its ideological unity, and how it should be structured (the particular form of democratic centralism, etc.). And after each sect or pre-sect has drawn the blueprints of its party, party-building is simple: the sect is a “little party” which must grow up to be the real party and this is done mechanically by recruitment, especially recruitment of indigenous workers well as minorities and women. Every sect sees itself as the revolutionary party already or as a “pole of party-building,” that is, the sect will not only recruit, but might also merge with, other organizations which are in very high ideological agreement with it. In some variation there are explicit theories explaining how one sect will “win out” lead in recruiting and establish leadership on the left.

But this describes sect-building, not party-building. This kind of party is not the organizational vehicle which can actually advance the present interests of the working class. This kind of party claims to represent the class only by what it knows, not what it does. The sect claims to possess the “correct principles,” the special abstract secrets necessary to liberate the class. This kind of party does not unite leaders and activists of all the various workplace and community struggles of the class into one organization–one organization which can combine its efforts for maximum political effect. No, this kind of party unites a small assortment of movement types and “advanced” workers– workers who accept the sects’ “abstract doctrines,” not actual rank and file leaders. This kind of party cannot provide vanguard leadership.

Vanguard leadership directs the activity of the class along a strategy in its best interests. But to direct the actual activity of the class, vanguard leaders must actually lead these immediate struggles. This “Party” does not have the organization, nor the skilled, experienced rank-and-file organizers strategically situated to actually lead practical struggles nationwide; nor does it have the theoretical understanding of strategy to best direct these struggles. Instead, our sects merely proclaim themselves “vanguard”–“vanguard leaders,” like “genuine” leaders, merely know the “correct” doctrines. This “vanguard” poses no threat to the actual leadership of the liberals.

According to the catechism, the theory to guide the party will be built out of a process of ideological struggle. But their kind of “theory” cannot guide the practical work of our movement; it is merely a list of “abstract doctrines.” This “theory” has no strategy which explains clearly bow practical work can be directed to best benefit the long range interests of the class.

Similarly, “ideological struggle” today does not mean a struggle between ideologies; rather, it merely means competition between “abstract doctrines.” Ideology means the entire worldview of a particular class or strata, including all aspects of analysis and thought – interpretations of events, programs, strategies, economics, philosophy, sociology, and also political doctrines. Different doctrines may reflect different ideologies or class perspectives, but our movement rarely develops and applies its ‥abstract doctrines” so that the underlying class interests are reflected.

The OL implies in the quote given above that even an obscure, intellectual “shade of difference” justifies its split with the Guardian. Lenin is quoted that

Under these circumstances what at first sight appears to be an “unimportant” mistake may lead to the most deplorable consequences, and only shortsighted people can consider the fractional disputes and a strict differentiation between shades inopportune or superfluous. The fate of Russian Social-Democracy for many years to come may depend on the strengthening of one or the other “shade”.

Indeed, many in our movement use the Lenin model to justify tHEIr efforts in recruiting a following to “abstract doctrines.” As they interpret Russian history, for twenty years Lenin and his “rugged band” engaged in splits and polemics which, at the time, seemed irrelevant to the immediate development of the workers movement – they seemed to split hairs over “shades of difference” meaningful only to a few intellectuals. While mass work was important, this policy of maintaining “correctness” on abstract shades of difference paid off in the long run when the Bolsheviks proved to he the genuine leaders of the Russian working class in 1917.

And so, our sects assure us, their splits and polemics are not counterproductive or irrelevant, and “when the revolution comes” their “correctness” will make all the difference. It is more important, they say, to be “genuine” leaders who have the “correct” doctrine on the U.S.S.R. than actually to lead the anti-imperialist movement. While the relevance of the Soviet Union may not be clear now, in a revolutionary situation it may be crucial; and so, the OL assures us, when the revolution comes they will have the “correct” policy on the U.S.S.R. and they will emerge as genuine leaders of the class,. This “shade of difference” will “determine the fate of the communist movement.”

The fact is, this catechism is a common and serious distortion of Russian history. Lenin did not act according to some special intellectual “principles” separate from the actual, immediate concerns of the workers movement. If the Bolsheviks had not provided actual leadership to a substantial part of the workers movement for twenty years, no verbal formula could have saved them from irrelevance in 1917.

An examination of Russian party-building history in an upcoming article will make clear the distortion this catechism makes. Lenin’s splits were, in fact, over fundamental differences of strategy, not mere intellectual doctrines; and Lenin united closely at times with people who agreed with his party-building strategy, yet whom he considered to be “bourgeois democrats.” This point can be illustrated here by looking at exactly what Lenin meant by “shade of difference” in the above quote. This “shade” was directly relevant to the actual struggles of the class at that time. Lenin was specifically criticizing the economists, who were ineffective in leading the Russian struggle for democracy and who had only a primitive understanding of organization. This difference was practical and not purely intellectual; it was crucial to the current development of the workers movement, and the implications for organization and practical work were spelled out clearly to all movement activists.

The OL, while invoking Lenin’s authority, failed to make clear any current relevance of its “shade of difference” but only referred vaguely to the “fate” of our movement.

But what is even more important, even though he considered the economists “conciliators with revisionism,” Lenin did not split over this difference. His faction remained united with the economists in the local Russian committees. While a sharp polemic was carried on (and it was a particular feature of that struggle that a sharp polemic could be carried on without causing a split), Lenin clearly saw that the best interests of the class were better served by unity. Lenin’s “genuine” leadership did not arise from an abstract Intellectual purity of line; rather, it stemmed from a deep, strategic understanding of how the actual interests of the class could be advanced.

* * *

Thus the error of OL and the sects–the error of recruiting a following to an “abstract doctrine” rather than using theory to practically advance the class–implies a whole, different mode of activity with an entire catechism of justifications and explanations. Our whole vocabulary has been distorted and given subtly different meanings. Words like “leadership,” “ideological struggle,” and “party-building” no longer refer to the concrete development of our movement’s organization or level of understanding; rather, they relate to the acceptance or rejection of abstract formulas.

In a separate article we will discuss the historical forces which produced the dominance of this mode of activity in our movement. Here we may briefly point out some of the pressures on groups and individuals to make this error. Our entire movement is struggling with basic questions of what to do. It is quite natural to look toward general political doctrines for some guidance. Many people, for instance, look to doctrines derived from earlier revolutionary movements; these doctrines already have a well-developed literature and inspiring traditions of heroic following.

But whether a general doctrine is new or old, much difficult theoretical work must be done to develop and apply it to our practical activity. Given the difficulty of developing strategic theory, many groups postpone or ignore this task. Many are convinced that certain general doctrines are “correct” in the abstract (often because they were important to other revolutionary movements), and so they seek to build followings to these doctrines rather than develop them into strategies. Confused about what to do, yet impressed with general doctrines, groups and individuals choose to recruit followings to these doctrines, hopeful that someday, somehow, their following will decisively advance the class and an actual strategy to advance the class gets lost in the rush to recruit. This error, then, is understandable.

But, the fact is, large numbers make this error. They have developed a whole mode of activity distinct from the work of actually advancing the class. In fact, it is this activity which lies at the root of our movement’s ideological problems. An individual or a group may rather innocently choose to recruit a following to “abstract doctrine” but once this choice is made, there are strong pressures to become dogmatic, sectarian, or opportunist. Recruiting a following is a distinct mode of activity with its own dynamic, its own logic, in fact a life of its own, which may well differ from the best interests of the class.

Let’s see how this works. Consider an individual who chooses to recruit a following to the formula “Two superpowers are the main enemy of the people of the world.” As soon as this doctrine is advanced, it must be defended against many competitors. Many others are competing to build a following to different doctrines on the nature of imperialism, the U.S.S.R., and international affairs. Even those doctrines which differ only by a shade of meaning are potential competitors.

And out of this competition, only the fittest will survive. Some doctrines will be able to attract large, relatively powerful followings, while others will not. Since many people have assumed that the most fertile ground for recruiting to an “abstract doctrine” is the Movement – the ex-college student radicals from the anti-war, student, civil rights, and other struggles of the 1960’s and ’70’s, doctrines have been tailored to appeal to those people. Many different factors affect a doctrine’s appeal. Some theories which are intellectually impressive or complex may appeal to intellectuals. Thus we see why the OL is motivated to buttress its two superpowers doctrine with a 187-page text by Marxist scholar Martin Nicolaus. Some theories may attract a following because they seem more orthodox, more concerned with the lessons of history and the world socialist movement. Thus many groups emphasise study of the “classics” of Marxism. Some theories may attract a following because they appear less rigid and more flexible than others. For example, NAM’s doctrine of a broad-based socialist movement has appealed to many ex-student radicals.

The successful groups do not, of course, prefer to recruit ex-college students, but this is their hottest market. A group will, in fact, have greater appeal if it does recruit indigenous workers and minorities and can display them in leadership. Also, it is important to show off successful examples of mass work and to carry out reasonable practical activity. A group will have greater appeal if it can assuage the guilt feelings of ex-college students, and if it resembles a real political movement–although in many cases the resemblance has been stretched rather far. This is not to say that no groups carry out good practical work. However, the criterion which determines whether a group is successful is not a precise measure of how well a group may be advancing the class through political work, but is a measure of the overall appeal a group may have to largely ex-college student revolutionaries. So there are strong pressures on a group to tailor and modify its doctrines to have maximum appeal.

In this system, the success of a doctrine may have more to do with the way the doctrine is packaged and marketed than the actual content and meaning of the doctrine. It is more important for a doctrine to impress intellectuals than to educate practical political workers in a precise course of action. Doctrines do not have to be presented with concise concrete meaning and clear practical implications. Theoretical debate does not need to relate to actual class struggles. The theoretical differences which cause such vicious competition may be insignificant to the present working class movement. They are like the difference between plain aspirin and brand-name Bayer aspirin – there is a major difference, in price and profit, only as long as buyers are fooled into believing there is a major difference.

And this competition makes theoretical progress impossible, as a theory (even a “correct” theory) cannot be understood in concrete terms, accepted, and put into common practice by a substantial part of our movement. We can only make real progress toward an accurate, common understanding when doctrines are accepted on the basis of their concrete, demonstrable ability to advance the workers’ cause.

But this competition to recruit not only makes real ideological progress impossible; it also turns the following in a dogmatic and sectarian direction. To have maximum appeal, a doctrine must seem important, unquestionable, and unchanging. In the midst of political movement about Angola, it is very dangerous, for instance, for the OL to admit that its doctrine of two superpowers may not be very important for the Angola effort in this country; it is dangerous to suggest that more practical analysis is more important for leading thin movement; it is dangerous to suggest that the real concrete meaning of this doctrine has yet to be developed and that it must be developed, through practical applications; it is dangerous to suggest that practical experience might demonstrate inadequacies of this doctrine. All of these might prove dangerous because they make the two superpowers doctrine look less impressive and make it more difficult to recruit to. It is much safer to maximize the OL’s appeal by emphasizing the importance of their doctrine; safer to keep the discussion at an abstract level to avoid looking at the OL’s actual, dismal performance, it is much safer to make the doctrine into a dogma.

Similarly the pressures of competition push the Oh in a sectarian direction. To build a following every opportunity must he used to advertise political differences; every opportunity must be used to recruit to the “correct principle” and to discredit all other doctrines; all differences of doctrine must be played up, even at the expense of unity. Thus, for example, the OL and the Guardian played up their differences at the expense of the “U.S. Hands Off Angola” movement; the OL held a small but “correct” demonstration outside the Russian embassy as an advertising stunt. This was instead of a large, unified demonstration at Congress to demand “CIA Out of Angola.” Sectarianism is the inevitable result of this sort of competition.

Another aspect of this dynamic is that it gives rise to an elite within our movement. The ideological heavies of our movement are given the power and prestige of their following without proven ability to actually lead the class. They are not leaders who provide real theoretical guidance to our practical work. They do not initiate and coordinate strategic campaigns that can advance the class. Their leadership, instead, largely consists of telling us the “correct abstract doctrines” and trying to win the acceptance of these doctrines. Every movement has a division of labor between theoretical workers and practical workers (and divisions among these), but our movement’s dynamic has elevated this stratum of intellectual heavies into a privileged elite.

* * *

Our movement is dominated by competition among sects, tendencies, publications, and individuals, all trying to attract followings to “abstract doctrines.” Clearly the solution to this problem lies in somehow changing the focus of our ideological struggle from “abstract doctrines” to concrete strategies with clear practical implications.

At this point the reader may wonder why we have dissected the sectarian activity of OL around Angola above in such painful detail. To many readers, the problem and solution to our movement’s problem are obvious: our movement is dogmatic and sectarian; we can overcome the dogmatists and sectarians by forming an “anti-dogmatist trend” which will criticize the dogmatists and encourage real ideological struggle over concrete strategies.

This analysis and call for an anti-dogmatist trend is heard from many quarters of our movement, most notably from the Bay Area Communist Union and from the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee. These efforts mark an important first step in our movement’s current development. But they are only a first step. Our path is not yet clear. It is not exactly clear what an anti-dogmatist trend is; it Is not quite clear who should be included and who not. As above, we cannot merely blame our movement’s problems on the most extreme dogmatists. It is not even clear what exactly is meant by “dogmatism.” Different people mean different things, and if we hope to generate an effective current of criticism, we must have a precise understanding of the specific activities we wish to call “dogmatic.”

If we understand dogmatism in vague terms, as a style rather than a specific activity, then even dogmatic people who are open to our criticism will not understand exactly what they are doing wrong. Our criticism will not be able to change things; at best, it will amount to name-calling.

At worst, we risk becoming dogmatic and sectarian ourselves: our “anti-dogmatic trend” merely a cover for efforts to build a now sect. We cannot hope to remain immune from the problems of dogmatism merely by calling ourselves “anti-dogmatist.” Our movement has already seen too many splits which, having raised the charge “Dogmatism,” then produced two followings equally dogmatic. For example, the RYM II faction of SDS split from PL, charging PL in part with a dogmatic approach to working class organizing. Yet RYM II spawned OL and RU (later RCP) which have a more dogmatic approach to labor organizing than PL itself does today.

We can only combat the dogmatism within our own ranks by developing a clear understanding of the specific activity underlying it. Unless we do this, “anti-dogmatism” itself may become one more “abstract doctrine.” Already one group with an anti-dogmatist analysis (PWOC) has indicated that it will exclude another group with an anti-dogmatist analysis (BACU) from its “anti-dogmatist trend” because of differing views on the “main international enemy.” This suggests that our present, vague idea of “anti-dogmatism” is not sufficient for guiding activity that will overcome dogmatism and sectarianism.

Our anti-dogmatist trend will only be effective if it criticizes the specific activity underlying our dogmatism – namely, recruiting followings to “abstract doctrines”–and makes this criticism clear to our entire movement–to those who call themselves anti-dogmatist, to those who belong to sect groups, and to the confused majority in between. We must provide productive criticism to all who recruit to “abstract doctrines,” even those who now call themselves “anti-dogmatists.” More than that, the strategy of our anti-dogmatist trend cannot merely be to quarantine the worst dogmatists from the “genuine anti-dogmatists.” Rather, our strategy must be directed to change the actual activity of all those who recruit to “abstract doctrines.” Let’s sec how our criticism could have had this effect in the Angola incident.

The OL was criticized extensively over its Angola stand, but much of this criticism was not effectively directed. The Guardian, for instance, criticized at length the OL’s analysis of the factions in Angola, of Russia’s role, and of China’s foreign policy. But little criticism was made of the actual effect OL had on the anti-imperialist movement and the broader workers movement.

Suppose, instead, that the Guardian had directed a strong current of criticism toward OL’s actual performance in advancing the class; if instead of limiting its criticism to OL’s “abstract doctrines” and discrediting OL’s intellectual abilities, it had criticized the actual activity of OL. Suppose it was made clear that OL’s activity concretely affected the activity and consciousness of thousands of anti-imperialists; that OL sabotaged the growth of a real anti-imperialist movement, making left, vanguard leadership impossible; that if anything the OL delayed CIA withdrawal from Angola and hindered the emergence of a strong anti-imperialist movement.

This concrete criticism could have been accepted by a large part of our movement. OL’s actual failure, demonstrated in practical terms, could have been accepted even by those who agree with the doctrine that the two superpowers are the main enemy, otherwise potential recruits. Only a small part of our movement is ready to accept wholesale the Guardian’s doctrine on Russia, China, and the MPLA over the OL’s doctrines–only a small part of our movement has the Scholarly knowledge to make any reasonable judgment on these more obscure matters one way or the other.

Precisely because concrete criticism of OL’s actual performance could have been widely understood, this criticism could have changed OL’s behavior. The OL, after all, did not act in a sectarian manner out of sheer, unchangeable perversity. Rather, the OL split from the Guardian and others over the Angola issue for the concrete reason that the OL wanted to recruit a following to its two superpowers doctrine.

If our criticism had convinced a part of OL’s potential recruits that OL acted badly around Angola, then our criticism would have begun to change some of the rules of the game. OL would no longer have been able to argue that it had the “correct.” doctrine; it would have been pressured to talk about its real efforts to build an anti-imperialist movement. If the current of criticism had been strong enough, OL would have faced a clear choice: either it would have had to participate in building a united anti-imperialist movement around Angola or spilt from this movement, losing substantial support. A strong current of concrete criticism would have made the real effect of OL’s activity clear to many more people, and greatly increased its isolation.

This kind of criticism can change the objective conditions of our movement. At present, the 0L can most effectively build its following by competing with other political groups and tendencies, splitting wherever possible; only the most extreme sectarian actions will result in a loss of following. But with a strong current of criticism directed at OL’s actual effect on the class, many more people will he able to recognize all their competitive actions as sectarian. As this kind of criticism grows, the OL will only be able to effectively build its following by taking part in building a united anti-imperialist movement, by demonstrating its actual ability to advance the class.

OL will be pressured to put forth a comprehensive strategy for the working class on anti-imperialism. This strategy would HE BASED 0n the activity of the masses as opposed to the election of liberal senators. It would seek to relate the anti-imperialist struggle TO THE struggles of labor, minorities, and women. It would try to develop worker’ consciousness, leadership, and independent organization. If OL fails to put forth a concise strategy, it will lose recruits. If OL PUTS forth a clear strategy, then it will have created the conditions for a broad anti-imperialist alliance–a unity of all those who agree with OL’s strategy. This unity may even include those who disagree with OL’s view of the U.S.S.R. The OL can still debate its two superpower doctrine, but this doctrine will be most effectively debated within the context OF real anti-imperialist work.

An alliance based on a firm principle of opposition TO U.S. IMPERialism is not merely an intellectual unity, which pledges allegiance to the same abstract “principle,” it is a unity of action. It is a concrete unity, where there may be differences on the role of Russia Internationally, but solid, practical unity around the position to U.S. imperialism and solid ideological unity around a working class analysis and strategy for the anti-imperialist movement. If in the future it becomes strategically necessary to understand the nature of Russia’s international role, then we will see a clear, principled split with a clear difference in strategy.

A similar current of criticism directed at all dogmatic: and sectarIAN acts in all struggles of the class can fundamentally change our ENtire movement. Dogmatism, sectarianism, and opportunism will not be eliminated, but they will no longer dominate. They will no longer hold back in the development of our theoretical understanding and our organization. In place of uncontrolled competition we will have real, cooperative, ideological struggle and an emerging ideological unity. In place of an elite of “genuine” leaders, intellectual heavies, we will have an emerging vanguard leadership of our movement and of the class. This will be our cultural revolution.

* * *

Theoretical criticism then, is capable of influencing the activity of our sectarians and dogmatists. This criticism does not guarantee that the sectarians will change. It does, however, provide them with a strong incentive: well-focused criticism will inhibit their recruiting unless they change their behavior.

But our aim is not just to change the behavior of a few sects and sectarians. Our overall aim is to develop the theoretical and practical work of our movement; our movement’s particular brand of sectarianism and dogmatism is a key obstacle to this development. However, even if no sect changes its behavior, we can still make important progress. We will never really overcome sectarianism and dogmatism until our movement reaches a new level of unity.

Sectarianism and dogmatism were not always such obstacles. Five or ten years ago, while they certainly existed, the key problem was the basic separation of our movement from the working class. We lacked practical experience in worker struggles, such as the labor movement, and while many workers were involved or supported the civil rights and anti-war movements, we lacked the basic leadership and strategy to develop these into an all-inclusive workers movement – a working class movement to take on the struggle of labor, minorities, women, imperialism, etc. Today we have a better practical base in labor struggles (although still limited), more theoretical clarity on the general importance of an all-encompassing workers movement, and more experience (though still limited) in directing our practical work toward the development of such a movement.

We can and must continue to expand our numbers doing practical work within the workers movement. But our practical work in the class has several serious qualitative weaknesses. Everywhere, socialists in worker struggles lack precise objectives to evaluate and guide their work; practical workers do not understand bow best to direct their work toward the development of a revolutionary movement rather than mere reform; they are not sure how their activity can be used to educate workers in socialist ideology; they don’t know how to relate the theoretical debate of the left to their practical work; all too often, sectarian differences destroy practical unity.

Our movement’s competition over “abstract doctrines” poses a serious obstacle to overcoming these weaknesses. Because our debate and discussion are dominated by “abstract doctrines,” we have been unable to develop a comprehensive understanding of strategy. Very few activists have precise objectives in their practical work that are clearly related to the long term development of the class. Very few activists consistently direct their work toward such specific objectives and few consistently evaluate their work in terms of such objectives. In the Angola situation, for instance, very few leftists had precise objectives for developing the consciousness or organization of the workers movement. Leftists gave their “support” to certain issues, demonstrated for certain demands, but few of them can say today exactly what organizational gains the workers movement consolidated as a result of such Angola activity, or exactly what lessons specific groups of worker-activists learned.

Because our activity is not consistently guided toward meeting long range aims, it fails to demonstrate that our aims are fundamentally different from those of other ideological tendencies. For example, in the Angola situation, we raised many of the same demands s the liberals, even marching in the same demonstrations. We said we were different from them; we said we wanted to build an anti-imperialist movement not dependent on Congress; our activity, however, did not demonstrate a consistent effort to consolidate an independent anti-imperialist movement. We said the anti-imperialist movement should be linked with other worker struggles, but our activity did not demonstrate any consistent efforts to do this. We did raise rhetorical demands about the factions in Angola and the role of the U.S.S.R., which were not concerns of the liberals, but our activity did not concretely demonstrate that our analysis of immediately relevant issues was fundamentally different from the liberals’ analysis. In other words, our activity was ineffective at politically educating workers and activists in the fundamental differences of ideology.

These weaknesses of our movement arise because we lack a clear strategy, and our efforts to develop this strategy are blocked because our debate and discussion are dominated by competing abstract doctrine to overcome dogmatism, sectarianism, and the weaknesses they create, it is clear we must develop our strategic theory, encouraging our movement theoreticians to apply their skills to questions of strategy. But in order to develop the strategic understanding of our entire movement, if is clear we must shift the focus of our discussion and debate from “abstract doctrines” to strategies. We must direct criticism at theories and doctrines which have never been developed into strategies and encourage debate between proponents of different strategies.

This sort of debate can aid activists in clarifying the objectives of their practical work, and this, in turn, can aid these activists in making clear the aims of our movement in concrete terms. In addition, strategic debate can make clear fundamental differences in ideology and allow us to draw lines of demarcation based on these differences. Let us see how this might work.

At present, lines of demarcation are drawn largely over difference in “abstract doctrines.” Many of these differences are not clearly fundamental differences in ideology, although they are considered so by large numbers in our movement. And even differences that may well be fundamental are not well understood. For example, many consider the CP to be revisionist and think that this revisionism is a fundamentally different ideology. But how well to this ideological difference understood? Many anti-revisionists consider the CP revisionist because
a) the CP supports the U.S.S.R. and considers it socialist; therefore they see the CP as part of a worldwide revisionist trend, or
b) the CP gives credence to the idea of a “peaceful transition to socialism.”

But these are only criticisms of “abstract doctrines,” and a difference in doctrine does not necessarily imply a fundamental ideological difference. An ideology is an entire worldview. Marxists bold that different ideologies represent the perspectives of different classes or strata and a fundamental difference in ideology is a fundamental difference in class perspective. A different class perspective implies differences in all aspects of thought and activity. Marx demonstrated, for instance, that bourgeois philosophy, sociology, economics, political interpretation, law, etc. rest on the particular outlook and assumptions of the bourgeoisie.

The CP has well-developed views on a wide variety of academic subjects; it also has a sophisticated strategy and a program for labor, minority, and women’s struggles, for anti-imperialist work, electoral activity, etc. based on this strategy. If the CP has, in fact, a fundamentally different ideology, a revisionist ideology, then it is important that our movement understand this difference. Our movement’s theoreticians must understand the fine points of the theoretical differences; our expert economists must understand the problems with the CP’s approach to economic planning, our sociologists must understand the problems with the CP’s analysis of the family, etc. It is important for the activists and organizers of our movement to understand the concrete, practical implications of revisionist ideology as they are demonstrated in CP strategy.

It is this strategic understanding of ideological differences our movement especially lacks, that understanding which makes ideological differences clearest to activists. Differences over “abstract doctrines” may reflect different ideologies, but unless these doctrines are applied and developed into comprehensive strategies, they do not clearly demonstrate the concrete, strategic, significance of those ideological differences. This is the kind of understanding our movement needs. Undeveloped “abstract doctrines” do not provide our movement’s activists with the necessary theory to guide their practice in a socialist direction rather than a revisionist direction.

There are anti-revisionists with well-developed analyses of the history of the U.S.S.R., how it became non-socialist, and what it is today. It is clear that these anti-revisionists have a very different definition of socialism than the CP. Other anti-revisionists have studied the Second International, have read Lenin’s State and Revolution, and have a sophisticated critique of the “Peaceful Transition” doctrine. These anti-revisionists may well have a fundamentally different view of the class struggle and fundamentally different long range alms from the CP. But few anti-revisionists have presented a comprehensive strategy which makes their aims clear in concrete terms. They have written many books, pamphlets, and articles on the U.S.S.R., but (to our knowledge) no comprehensive critique of the CP’s actual program, demonstrating what classes and strata are served by the CP’s aims. They do criticize the CP generally for allying too closely with the liberals or union bureaucrats, for electoral activity, etc., but this criticism is not based on a precise, thorough evaluation of strategy; rather, it appears to be based on intuitive feelings that electoral activity or close alliance with the liberals is incorrect in some vague way.

If the CP is revisionist, we must be able to concretely demonstrate to members of the working class that the specific strategic objectives of the CP’s program are not in their best interests. We must he able to show that our strategy offers a distinct practical alternative, and we must make clear that this strategy is based on a different ideology.

Strategic debate could effectively develop this understanding within our movement. Criticism could focus on the activity and program of the CP and raise questions about what class interests their strategy does serve. For instance, does their anti-monopoly strategy develop workers’ class consciousness or does it only develop a limited consciousness of democratic rights among workers, small capitalists, professionals, managers, bureaucrats, etc.? Does their strategy develop the independent activity of workers in all struggles of the class, or does it simply channel workers’ activity into electoral goals? Does their strategy develop the independent organisation of the working class, or does it instead bring workers into organizations that cannot and will not act independently of the petit-bourgeoisie and professional strata? Will their strategy prepare the working class to rule society or will it prepare “enlightened” managers, bureaucrats, and professionals to run our society “progressively and democratically”? Is their strategy really based on a working class ideology?

This sort of debate can be based on facts and incidents familiar to workers, facts and incidents out of their own practical experience in class struggles. The actual activity of local CP members can serve as concrete object lessons. Criticism can point out the strategy their activity 19 based upon and can expose the real class interests underlying this activity. If the CP does not act in the best interests of the working class, then exposure of CP activity in various struggles across the country will reveal the true interests behind the CP’s thought and activity.

This sort of debate can provide effective political education. One does not need to be an expert on the Soviet economy or Russian history to understand a discussion of revisionism. Such a debate is not restricted to weighty theoretical tracts and intense study groups which propagate the “correct line”; rather, it can arise in newspaper articles, in discussions, and in arguments anywhere. Also such debate develops the intuitive understanding of the workers. For instance, workers may feel that the CP allies too closely with the liberals in some cases, but this sort of debate can examine the nature of different alliances possible with the liberals; it can make clear the strategies these alliances are based on and then argue specifically whether the CP’s alliance really develops the consciousness and independent organization of the working class in the best way. Political intuition is replaced by precise, consistent analysis.

Our present political education is ineffective because it relies heavily on the book study of “abstract doctrines.” This type of political education is not effective in making clear that our aims are fundamentally different from the aims of revisionists, liberals, and oilier ideological tendencies. It does not effectively demonstrate that our alms are in the best interests of the working class and are, in fact, based on a consistent working class ideology. The result is that our movement is ineffective in becoming a real alternative and in recruiting large numbers of workers. The worker-activists who do enter our movement are not effectively educated; they can only participate fully in the life of the left if they become worker-intellectuals. We are unable to integrate our left movement with the workers movement; our movement leads a double life: one life for radical intellectuals who study and debate “abstract doctrines,” and another for activists.

The lessons of history are important. Our movement has much to learn from studying the history of revisionism in Russia, in Germany, etc. But, in order to be useful, these lessons must be applied, developed into an analysis of the particular form revisionism takes in this country today. The lessons of history must not be carved in stone tablets by some brilliant Moses on the heights of Mt. Sinai and learned by rote. We must prove and demonstrate, in example after example that the activity and thought of our present day revisionists are indeed guided by a distinct ideology that is not in the best interests of the class. This point must be proved not only for the economists and historians of our movement, but especially for the worker-activists.

Thus it is clear that strategic debate can provide real political education on fundamental differences in ideology. By the same token, this debate can develop a clear understanding of a working class strategy and build a unity of action around this strategy. We have already seen where strategic criticism of the OL can lay the foundations for an alliance around a common, anti-imperial 1st strategy. In the same manner, general strategic debate and criticism can lay the foundation for an alliance around a common comprehensive strategy for the whole class. This would be an ideological alliance, an alliance of those whose thought and activity were, at an elementary level, consistently guided by the Interests of the working class. This alliance would not be united on all aspects of ideology–economics, history, philosophy, etc. Rather, it would only be unified around a common analysis of matters which have strategic bearing on the present class dtruggle, This sort of ideological alliance would effectively demarcate itself from other ideological tendencies representing other strata or classes.

This sort of ideological alliance is very different from the “ideological unity” our sectarians talk about. Their “ideological unity” means allegiance to a list of “abstract doctrines.” A list of “abstract doctrines,” even if “correct,” may not represent working class interests. An individual who knows only “abstract doctrines” does not have the understanding to act consistently in the best interests of the class. On the other hand, our sort of ideological alliance provides the theoretical (ideological) framework to guide action consistently in the class interests. It is a unity which does not just exist on paper but can exist in the minds and actions of activists throughout our movement.

Unity around strategy is a necessary precondition for a political party which could significantly advance the class. A comprehensive strategy provides the logical basis to coordinate and centralize activity in order to most effectively benefit the class overall. A party of activists, organizers, and rank-and-file leaders united around a common working class strategy would mark an important advance in the organization and overall solidarity of the class. This sort of party is very different from a sect group.

A real party can accelerate the development of class consciousness where a sect cannot. A party united around strategy can consistently relate its activity in various struggles, both to the other struggles and to the long range development of the class. Workers can see this party fight for the class in all areas of struggle and can see the contrast between our activity and strategy and that of other political tendencies. Our base of practical work in different struggles and our strategy relating this work to our long range goals will argue effectively that we socialists represent the best interests of workers. Numbers of workers will come to see us as their best alternative and will begin themselves to take a consistent view of class struggle, to develop, in fact, a working class ideology. This growth of class consciousness would set the stage for socialist leadership of the class.

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To summarize, our movement’s lack of strategy, and the accompanying lack of unity, clear aims, and effective political education, stand as major weaknesses at this time. The key obstacle to overcoming these weaknesses Is our movement’s particular form of sectarianism, namely, that numbers of people compete to recruit followings to “abstract doctrines” instead of building activity around a strategy to advance the class. This activity diverts our theoretical discussion and debate from questions of strategy to arguments over “abstract doctrines.”

This analysis of weaknesses does not arise from some ideal “abstract doctrine” of “The Tasks of Our Movement at This Time.” Many people throughout our movement understand at different levels these problems and are struggling in one way or another to bring about change. Study groups wrestle with questions of what to study, of how to meet the theoretical needs of their practical work and, at the same time, the pressing needs of our entire movement. Socialists in coalitions and other mass organizations wrestle with questions of what they should be doing, of how they should evaluate their work, of what unity they should try to build. The sect groups and socialist collectives also go through much turmoil, stirred up by members frustrated that they belong to a group claiming to “embody” theory, yet lacking consistent aims in practical work.

It is no accident that our socialist organizations are unstable, that they so often split, so often lose large numbers of frustrated members. It is no accident that our sect groups are often forced, through internal pressures, to make wild swings in their political line. Sometimes this conflict is the work of sectarians out to create their own, new domain. But sometimes it is the work of sincere revolutionaries who have recognized the weakness of our current movement and who are acting to change; for example, the Bay Area Communist Union–a group which has begun an analysis of dogmatism, sectarianism, and the objective state of our movement–arose from the sectarian ashes of RU.

All this struggle creates the conditions for basic change. There are many of us–the “silent majority”–who are trying to develop our theoretical understanding, our practical work, and to build the unity necessary for a party. Our efforts are often weak, inconsistent, mis-directed. We must struggle to make these efforts consistent and fully conscious. We must act on a consistent strategy based on a precise analysis of where our problems lie.

This paper is an initial attempt to define our key problems; and to identify their basic cause. We have presented a comprehensive analysis which we feel corresponds to the critical frustrations felt throughout our movement We have suggested a potential focusing of activity that may be key in changing our movement: we have shown that debate and criticism of strategy can be used to pressure sectarians and dogmatists, to develop our strategic understanding through effective political education, and to clarify our aims, laying the foundation for real theoretical and practical unity.

Let us formulate a precise strategy for our movement based on this analysis. This strategy is called a “Party-building Strategy,” not because it sketches out blueprints for an ideal party, but because it shows how we may establish a basic theoretical and practical unity which can be the foundation for a real workers party.

This strategy is only a partial strategy for our movement at this time. In the first place, this strategy is only concerned with our theoretical development. It assumes that our practical work in struggles of the class will continue to expand and that our theoretical development will encourage more and better practical work. Secondly, this strategy calls for the development of strategic theory. But we do not argue that strategic theory is the only theory we should be developing. Other less practical theory is also important. We merely argue that the development of strategic theory should be our top theoretical priority at this time; this area of theory has remained highly underdeveloped and is now crucial to our further progress.

Lastly, we must make clear that this is a strategy to develop strategy It is a strategy for our movement with the objective of building a corps of activists united around a common strategy to advance the class. This party-building strategy for our movement describes this objective, it describes a general process for reaching this objective, and it indicates the long-range significance of this objective.

A Party-building Strategy


1. The development of a strategy to most effectively guide our movement to develop the consciousness and organization of the working class. This strategy must describe as concretely as possible:
(a) strategic objectives stating what particular understanding, activity, and organization must be developed in different sectors of the working class and other strata,
(b) a general direction of activity for reaching these objectives, including allies, enemies, obstacles, and advantages, and
(c) the long range significance of these objectives in terms of advancing the class to socialism.

2. The unification of as many activists as possible around this strategy, especially those who have the theoretical understanding, practical skill, experience, and base to consistently apply this strategy in the major struggles of the class.

Process for Reaching This Objective

1. This corps of activists can emerge through a process of debate that develops the strategic understanding of a substantial number of the activists in worker struggles. This debate can provide real political education by focusing on strategic questions: What are the strategic objectives of different programs and activity? How do these objectives relate to the long range development of the class? Do these objectives actually advance the consciousness and organization of the entire working class in the long run, or do they primarily advance the interests of other strata or classes? This debate must clarify the long range significance of different practical work. Worker-activists must see the practical implications of different strategies guided by different ideologies. In this way they can understand different strategies and ideologies in the clearest terms. This debate must take place in the context of ever-increasing practical work in the struggles of the class. Yet it will not be merely a discussion of nuts and bolts practice; this debate must incorporate both the lessons of history and practical experience.

2. The key obstacle to developing this debate is the activity of our sectarians and dogmatists; their efforts to recruit followings to “abstract doctrines” divert our movement’s debate from a discussion of strategic questions. To counter this, our debate must make clear the difference between a real strategy to advance the class and activity limited to recruiting a following to “abstract doctrines.” Our debate must include a current of criticism directed at all such sectarian activity, to provide incentive for sectarians and dogmatists to change their activity.

Also, at the practical level, we must realize that sectarians and dogmatists will seek to use every forum as an opportunity to uphold their “abstract doctrines.” Our analysis of sectarianism must guide our efforts to focus debate on strategic questions. Debates and discussions must be firmly chaired, newspapers and periodicals must exercise firm editorial policy so that they may include a diversity of views yet exclude disruptive attempts to divert discussion. The better we understand the nature of sectarian activity, the better leadership we can provide in these efforts.

3. In order to build the broadest possible corps of activists around a common strategy, our debate must be movement-wide; it must actively involve the vast majority of our activists in argument and discussion; it must be comprehensible and meaningful to our whole movement and easily accessible in terms of newspaper, periodicals, discussion groups, debate forums, etc. It must be comprehensible to worker-activists unfamiliar with the sophisticated jargon of our movement; on the other hand, it must include sectarians and dogmatists unless they are disruptive. It must actively involve activists from all sorts of backgrounds with all levels of experience and with a wide variety of political views.

Debate of movement-wide scope does not exist now. Of national publications, only the Guardian offers a limited opportunity for the exchange of different views. At the local level, discussion groups usually involve narrow selection of views and content and are often merely recruiting grounds for sects; public debates or other forums are rarely held. Our sectarians and dogmatists make this sort of debate difficult, but it is not impossible, and it is tremendously important.

Initially, our debate cannot recognize many of the current divisions of our movement. At present, most divisions of the left are not over actual differences in ideology and strategy, but vague divisions over “abstract doctrines.” Many of these differences in doctrine may reflect underlying ideological differences, but these more basic differences are not widely understood. Assume for instance, that the CP represents petti-bourgeois interests with a “revisionist ideology.” If this basic difference is not well understood by activists (because debate with the CP has focused on the obscure issue of the U.S.S.R.), then activists who sincerely wish to advance the working class may follow the CP because they have seen CP activity which has provided immediate benefits to workers.

As much as possible, our debate must reach and actively involve people who follow the CP, or who consider themselves Maoists, Trotskyites, New Left Socialists, or whatever, and who also seek to build an all-around workers movement as an independent political force to fight labor, anti-imperialist, minority, women’s, and other struggles. Our debate must involve this whole trend–this amalgam of activists, both those in organizations and all the independent activists who have reached this elementary level of Marxist understanding.

Our debate must begin with this general trend, then refine a more developed, more limited trend, a trend of activists with a common, comprehensive strategy, in addition to their common commitment to an all-around workers movement. Our debate will create lines of demarcation, but these must be understood to delineate distinct strategies based on different ideologies. In order to educate our entire movement in ideological differences, we cannot have our debate limited by vaguely understood demarcations. Divisions drawn, exclusions made only on the basis of “abstract doctrines” will confuse and delay the creation of real lines of demarcation. There is a tremendous difference between a split among a handful of revolutionary intellectuals and a line of demarcation that runs deeply throughout the progressive movement.

We must unify our debate in order to make these differences clear. We must pressure the leadership of every political tendency to state its strategy clearly. And then our debate must expose the real interests that each strategy serves: the narrow interests of a sect or the interests of the working class or those of other classes or strata. We must leave no doubt in the minds of all activists; we must give our entire movement a clear opportunity to choose, between a working class strategy and other strategies. Then we can demarcate a corps of activists with a common working class strategy.

4. In order to create forums for debate, in order to make sure debate focuses on strategic questions, in order to generate effective criticism of sectarianism and dogmatism, numbers of people must take up leadership. To take the first step, we define a “Party-building Tendency” as all those leftists who fundamentally agree with this Party-building strategy. This tendency must now develop its analysis of the problems of our movement and of how this Party-building strategy can be clarified, developed, and implemented. It must organize itself to implement this strategy.

This Party-building Tendency is only a temporary formation; it is distinctly not a “little party” someday to grow into a big one. We well recognize that individuals and groups may disagree with the Party-building Strategy at this time, but hope that in the future they may he able to unite around a common comprehensive strategy for the class. We also recognize that many who may agree with this present Strategy for our movement may later disagree with the strategy for the working class that emerges.

Long Range Significance of This Objective

This Party-building Strategy is initially a strategy to transform our movement, not a strategy for the class. But its significance lies in its potential to change the activity of the class. It aims to unite as many as possible of the sincere working class activists, organizers, and rank-and-file leaders around a strategy that will guide their work in the major struggles of the class. This Party-building Strategy is specifically concerned with that part of the left which is involved in the workers movement; it assumes that leftists will be increasingly involved in the workers movement and that worker-activists will increasingly see themselves as leftists. While those leftists who are involved in the academic, professional, and other strata have an important role to play in transforming our movement, we feel that our efforts at this time must be measured primarily in terms of the development of a corps of activists in worker struggles united around a common strategy.

This corps of activists, organizers, and rank-and-file leaders of worker struggles will have a substantial base and leadership in the workers movement; they will also have a fundamental theoretical unity based on socialist ideology. This corps of activists will constitute the foundation of a real revolutionary workers party.

This party will have clear aims and a definite strategy, accompanied by a concrete program of activity. It will thus be able to effectively vie for leadership of the working class. The activity of this party will serve to politically educate workers and to develop their class consciousness. The growth of socialist consciousness in the working class along with the growth of socialist leadership will enable the class to mount ever more intensive and coordinated struggle against capital.

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Marx wrote about the sect groups of his time,

The International was founded in order to replace the socialist or semi-socialist sects with a real organization of the working class for struggle....On the other hand, the International could not have maintained itself if the course of history had not already smashed sectarianism. The development of the socialist sectarianism and that of the real working-class movement always stand in inverse ratio to each other. Sects are justified (historically) so long as the working classes are not yet ripe for an independent historical movement. As soon as they attain this maturity, all sects become essentially reactionary (Letter to Bolte, Nov. 23, 1871).

The time has come for an independent working class movement. Our task now is to defeat sectarianism and to build the maturity, the consciousness, and the organization of the working class movement.