Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Potomac Socialist Organization

On the Party-Building Question


Published: October 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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There has been much discussion in the last few years about the building of a new Communist Party. Many people have come to the understanding of why we need a new party. But there remain many divergent views on how to build a party, and what preconditions are necessary to build it. These views have not remained as simply different theoretical positions – the correctness or incorrectness of which could be worked out in practice. Some of the elements in what has been characterized as the “new communist movement” have apparently answered for themselves all of the major questions and have gone as far as saying the preconditions exist and the time is now (now for the Revolutionary Communist Party was last Fall and “now” for the October League is within the next year).

We believe that the present state of development and integration of Marxism-Leninism within the working class and the steps needed to build a successful revolutionary communist party have not been stated and sufficiently discussed. The following comments state our present views On The Party Building Question.


Presently there is no organization representing the working class in this country that can bring revolutionary change and can lead it and its allies to power. There are organizations which represent working people, but these revisionists who raise the tactic of reform to the level of strategy cannot bring about revolutionary change. On the other hand, there are groups which claim to be for revolutionary change, but do not represent the working class. They believe they will bring revolution to those people. This represents the bourgeois attitude of paternalism.

There was an organization that made a real attempt to lead the working class in this country toward revolutionary socialism: the Communist Party USA. During the course of its revolutionary existence it experienced successes and failures, as all parties and organizations are bound to do. But it failed to learn from many of its mistakes. Eventually it achieved ultimate failure, becoming a party of class collaborationism.

We are not completely clear on the mistakes which led to the demise of the CPUSA as a revolutionary force. We see it as an important question to study. There are those individuals and groups who claim the explanation is clear. They lay the blame on Earl Browder and his revisionist cronies who somehow snuck in the backdoor and took over the Party. We see this view as simplistic. Whether it is due to a need to get a line out as soon as possible; or to an insufficient study of Marxism; or to a slavish, unreasoned distortion of the policies of the Communist Party of China; this view is undialectical and reflects the same type of self-serving analysis that the CPUSA now attempts to pass off as historical materialism.

History teaches us that only a vanguard party, disciplined to its core and adhering to the principles of democratic centralism, can unite the working class into the force necessary to seize state power. Nowhere is that clearer than in the U.S. Without a vanguard party, the working class flounders, grasping at individualistic and reformist “solutions.” Without a multinational vanguard party of people from all sectors of the class, which effectively applies dialectics to concrete conditions, we cannot move forward!


The essence of party-building is the struggle to build each of three elements in dialectical relationship with each other: (1) a large, radicalized sector of the working class; (2) dedicated, full-time working class militants or cadre, and (3) experienced and proven working class leaders.

The first element is the radicalized mass – large numbers of working people who no longer imagine any benefit to themselves or their families from the continuation of capitalism and who have begun to have a socialist outlook. This element will clearly develop and articulate immediate demands–and fight for them.

The second element are working class militants or cadre. These dedicated Marxist-Leninists have committed their lives to the liberation of the working class. They are full-time revolutionaries who scientifically summarize experience, and apply the method of dialectical materialism. They serve as the vital link in both directions from the masses to the leadership, and from the leadership to the masses.

The third element, developing out of the cadres’ relationship to the mass, are proven and experienced leaders who have demonstrated the ability to summarize accurately, analyze the principal contradictions, develop innovative ideas, program and strategy to resolve them, and have the organizational skill needed to lead the working class movement forward.

To repeat, the essence of party-building is the struggle to build each of these three elements-radicalized mass, working class militants or cadre, and leadership–in dialectical relationship to each other. Clearly, the masses of people grow more radical with stronger leadership; cadre develop faster through struggle within the radicalized mass; and working class leadership grows stronger with the experience of strong cadre, accountable directly to an articulate, radicalized mass.

The job of communists, as Lenin said, is to fuse revolutionary thought with working class consciousness. The communists’ task today is clear. We must develop these three essential pre-conditions for a vanguard party.


Many people in our movement talk incessantly of the rising tide of class struggle, as if revolution was on the immediate agenda. We think this attitude does not correspond to reality. The truth is that since the Korean War, the U.S. working class has been in a period of retreat while the monopoly capitalists have been moving toward further centralization and consolidation of their power.

In 1975 gains made by workers through collective bargaining were modest. Often organized workers took losses in real wages (buying power was down 5.3% from 1973). Accompanying this loss in material gains, the strike activity of organized workers was down by 30% in the industrial sector between 1973-75. The effects of the capitalist crisis–inflation and unemployment–have been felt almost entirely by the working class and the petty bourgeoisie, the pressure on the latter group pushing them “down” into the working class. The result of the crisis has been the temporary intimidation of parts of the working class, making it in many ways more difficult for us to organize.

In 1976 there were contract expirations in eight major industries. In practically every case the union leadership urged the workers to take the first “final offer” the bosses made and to feel lucky they didn’t get laid off.

A third index to the low level of consciousness and militancy of the working class is that of union membership. As a percentage of the total work force, it has been declining since its most recent highpoint in the mid-1950’s. Hospital workers won the democratic right to vote in a union election two years ago, but since then, in Washington, D.C., only one hospital and a nursing home have been unionized.

A notable exception is the large growth in the public employee unions–particularly the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents one-third of all federal government workers, has declined in membership and ability to advance significantly. It recently lost a major legislative goal when Ford vetoed the Hatch Act revision.

While most workers have been forced into retreat, corporate profits rose over 19% in 1975. Few large businesses have failed during the present stage of the crisis of capitalism. In Washington, we are experiencing one of Fortune’s 500 top businesses, the Washington Post’s breaking of one of the most militant craft unions in the Potomac area, while severely weakening and splitting 10 other craft unions representing over 2,000 workers. The Post is doing all this to raise its net profits from 11% to 15% – the highest in the newspaper industry.

The retreat of the working class movement has been with the help of the union bureaucrats. Since the 1950’s when the labor aristocracy cooperated with the ruling class to throw communists out of the unions, these class collaborationists have continued to consolidate their power.

There have been signs recently of the growth of rank-and-file militancy, among certain groups of workers; such as the 1975 and 1976 wildcat strikes in the West Virginia coalfields, the rank-and-file movement within the steel-workers, and the growth of trade unionism in previously unorganized sectors and geographic areas such as the farmworkers and the South.

As internal class contradictions in the U.S. intensify because of defeats to U.S. imperialism, such as already have occurred in Indochina and Africa, we will see an acceleration of such militant workers actions.

At present, however, these signs of a developing radicalized mass of workers are still the exception, rather than the rule. Although this is primarily due to a lack of communist agitation, nevertheless our strategic and tactical planning must be geared to these objective conditions or we will make extremely serious errors.


At present the influence of the Left is small within the working class. Just as a lack of communist agitation has held back socialist consciousness within our class, it has also held back the development of a radicalized mass of workers, strong cadre and leaders. Looking at its relative growth, however, gains have been made. In the past few years more and more people are starting to look for fundamental answers to their problems. Moral outrage has proven fruitless. More and more people have seen the need for a more scientific approach in the face of recurring struggles and crises. Many of those who were active in the civil rights, student, women’s, free speech, and anti-war movements–as well as trade union struggles–have felt a lack of coherent political-economic analysis. Many of them have begun to look toward Marxism, although at present some have only taken Marxism to the level of study, not of action.

Many of these left activists are in white collar, intellectual, and small business jobs, and most of those in the working class are in the service sector.

Some of these new Marxist-Leninists have gotten together and declared themselves to be a “party”–such as the Revolutionary Communist Party, the Workers World Party, the Progressive Labor Party, the Communist Labor Party, etc. etc. The October League–which says it is forming a party in the near future–has made the judgment that the pre-conditions for a party exist now in the working class.

We have observed OL make some extremely serious errors based on this judgment. We observed their members handing workers the OL book on the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union, instead of doing the necessary base building, teaching Marxism and effective class struggle. They have tried to get workers to “FightBack” meetings instead of urging them to come to union meetings. The October League has either not analyzed, or it has incorrectly analyzed, the concrete conditions in the U.S. We think their opportunism stems from their own petit bourgeois impatience. They have consistently put their own narrow organizational concerns above those of the working class.

Another recent trend is one that puts forth the position that clarification of political lines is primary, that study is all-important. Practice and work with the masses is secondary. This is not scientific socialism, but rather library science. Book worship becomes theory while polemics become practice. Correct political theory, we have learned, comes from consistently putting theory into practice, analyzing our practical experiences and our work with the masses and then refining the theory once again. Theory practiced in isolation from the masses and daily practical work is bound to land in the junk heap of history.

Besides these tiny groups of dogmatists, there is a second, much larger group of Marxists who are still unclear or confused. Some of them do not understand what a vanguard party is and the necessity for it. Others do not see how to build it. Still others who have good working class consciousness do not see any clear Marxist-Leninist tendency.

There is a third group of Marxists-Leninists which has developed in the past few years. These people are deepening their roots among working people, striving to bring about the necessary conditions for a communist party. We think this is the correct road. These people are both building a radicalized mass and bringing advanced workers to understand revolutionary socialism and dialectics. They are doing the base work necessary to build cadre and leadership from these workers. They are not mouthing party lines developed in the abstract, but rather are learning how to apply Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions on their jobs, in their unions, in their communities, and in other mass organizations. At the present time they are studying the important questions facing communists.


1. Deepen Ties Within the Working Class: First of all we must deepen our roots within the working class. It is not enough just to be working, even if it is in the industrial sector. We must reach out to get to know our co-workers so that they come to trust our honest careful analysis, serious study, and militant struggle.

We need defense organizations against the attacks of the bosses, so we must work to develop militant and democratic trade unions. This cannot be done through lip service. We will fight the labor bureaucrats and sell-outs where necessary, but not to the exclusion of fighting the principal enemy–the bosses. Where local or international leadership is unwilling to defend us against the boss’s attacks, we will build caucuses. Where it is necessary to elect new leadership, we will take part in elections. Where unions refuse to organize, we will help organize them.

2. Develop Communist Cadre: The problem of theoretical development and consolidation with our co-workers is central to the question of party-building. We must learn from them about the strengths and weaknesses of the unions and other working class organizations. At the same time, we must share with them our experiences, ideas and theories, studying basic Marxist works, dialectics and current problems together. It is ourselves and our co-workers with whom we study who will develop into the cadre and leadership necessary to build the Party and carry on revolutionary struggle.

The form of study will be flexible, meeting our practical needs. Our study will evolve from the practical problems we face at our workplace and in other mass organizations. We will present communist theory and revolutionary strategy in this context. Our experience is that out of this materialist approach to study, our theory will become alive and meaningful, and real working class theorists will emerge.

3. Initiate and activate Local Communist Organizations: Local communist organizations should be initiated. Where they already exist, they should begin to take more of an active role in mass work. These groups must deepen their understanding of dialectical materialism, historical materialism, and political economy. They need to study the history of the international and U.S. communist movements, and learn from these experiences. They must develop revolutionary theory geared to today’s conditions, studying and coming to positions on such issues as the woman question, trade unions, the national question, international struggles and the gay question. These positions should come from their own study and from their day-to-day experience in activity at the work place.

4. Build a National Organization: The need for a national organization is imperative. Local organizations are a first step toward building a national organization based on the principles outlined here. Only through a national organization can we eliminate the inevitable duplication of efforts that will go on between local organizations, develop and implement effective national strategies, and significantly advance the level of our revolutionary theory.

We should work to develop communications among groups to tie together experiences from around the country. As soon as possible the different questions and positions should be struggled out toward unity. The speed with which this can be accomplished will depend on our developing the three necessary elements for the forming of the new Communist Party – a radicalized mass of workers, dedicated revolutionary cadre to develop and carry out programs with the masses of workers, and proven experienced leadership.