Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Proletarian Unity League

More on Dogmatism and the Main Danger


First Issued: November 1, 1976. Published in The Ultra-Left Danger and How To Fight It, January 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In our reply of September 1 to the DMLO, El Comité/MINP, PWOC and SUB, we put forward three points of unity as an alternative basis for the conference on party-building which those organizations had proposed. Although imprecision on our part has left the contrary impression with some, we did not intend to call for such a conference independently of the forces who had already raised that possibility. We simply wanted to indicate what errors we saw in the conference-organizers’ proposed basis of unity, and suggest a different basis on the key questions at issue for organizing such a conference. Should a conference on party-building take place around a more acceptable basis of unity, we would work for its success.

In the light of the comments printed above[1] and other criticisms, we want to elaborate a bit on our proposed three points of unity for organizing a conference on party-building.

Analyses of the main danger to the communist movement fall into two big camps. The majority of the larger, better-known organizations believe that Right opportunist influence accounts for the principal problems among anti-revisionist forces. They see reformism, Right economism, and the conciliation of revisionism, etc., as the main threats to communist work among the masses and the unification of Marxist-Leninists around Marxist-Leninist principle.

For a number of years now, this view has dominated discussions of the main danger. But under its influence, the communist movement has not advanced its leadership among the working class in any qualitative way. Nor has this view built much Marxist-Leninist unity. In fact, under its influence, the communist movement has undergone continuous division, and these divisions have assumed a rigid organizational form. The Communist League and associated collectives, the Revolutionary Union, the October League and associated collectives, the Workers Viewpoint and associated collectives – all these groups held or now believe that Right opportunism constituted the main danger, and all these groups have formed or promise to form the authentic Communist Party of the U.S. working class. And among the remaining groups who share this perspective, there is very little unity.

In the face of the continuing problems of the communist movement, and the inability of this first position to aid significantly in their practical or theoretical resolution, a second view has increasingly gained ground among smaller organizations. This view says that the main danger to the communist movement comes from the “Left,” not the Right. It sees “left” opportunist influence as the chief obstacle to the unification of Marxist-Leninists around Marxist-Leninist principle. It points to “left” sectarianism towards the masses and to^ wards other communists, to “left” phrasemongering, “left” economics, “left” dogmatism and adventurism as the characteristic errors of the present-day U.S. communist movement. To argue that Right opportunism constitutes the main kinds of errors will therefore only compound the weaknesses of the Marxist-Leninist forces.


Of the groups who believe Right opportunism constitutes the main danger, many, although not all, believe that political line is the “key link,” the key focus of struggle in the fight for a Marxist-Leninist party. In approaching the work of Marxist-Leninist unification, they put their primary emphasis on matters of political line (although some understand this term very broadly): strategy for revolution, specific tactics adopted in different situations to advance this strategy, positions on the USSR and international affairs, etc.

Though it too has won the allegiance of a majority of the larger, better-known organizations for a number of years, this view has not produced much unity either. It has not produced much unity for at least two good reasons. In the first place, the elaboration of political line – defined as the line guiding the proletariat’s struggle for political power – necessarily depends to a large extent on the proletariat “taking the field” in the struggle for political power. But the proletariat can only take the field as an independent class fighting for its own rule where it has a Party to lead it in that fight. Without a Party, the proletariat’s strategy and tactics remain abstract and rudimentary. Historically, for example, Communist Parties have not formed around fully worked-out political lines, but rather mainly around the principles guiding their strategic and tactical line, around the ideological basis for their political activity. The actual political lines adopted have had an undeveloped character. Therefore, to expect a complete political line to emerge from the “inter-group” struggle is Utopian; to make the unification of Marxist-Leninists dependent upon that complete political line means sabotaging the fight for unity.

In the second place, and perhaps more importantly, a focus on political line as the “key link” ignores the current situation in the communist movement. The existence of many weak, scattered groups, isolated from one another, distrustful and competitive, places tremendous obstacles before the conduct of any common ideological struggle. Taking political line as the “key link” provides no guidance on how we should organize this struggle, except to say that we should judge groups by their political line, and not by their line on communist unity. But in the absence of a perspective on how to organize the struggle for unity, the forces for disunity grow unchecked.

Given the failures of this position, a second view has begun to assert itself. In approaching the work of Marxist-Leninist unification, this view calls for taking the line on Marxist-Leninist unification as the key link. In other words, it says that party-building line is key.

We believe that the struggle for a Communist Party concentrates itself at this time at the organizational level. The disorganization and the mis-organization of the Marxist-Leninist forces are the key factors holding back the accomplishment of our tasks: the unification of Marxist-Leninists, the elaboration of a Party Program, the winning of the class vanguard to communism. The ideological and political justifications for the disorganization of the communist movement pose the main danger to the anti-revisionist camp. At the present time, this means a sectarianism with its ideological roots in ultra-leftism. Therefore, our key task is the defeat of “left” sectarianism, or “left” opportunism in party-building line. We can sum this up in the propagandistic slogan: defeat “left” sectarianism so as to unite Marxist-Leninists and win over the vanguard to communism!

Though we think “left” sectarianism is the main danger to the communist movement at this time, we did not suggest this as a point of unity for the proposed conference. A need exists to deepen the understanding of “left” opportunism among all those who generally agree that the main danger comes from the “Left,” not the Right, and among those open to struggle on the question. Owing to the widespread influence of the “left” line, little systematic study of “ultra-leftism” has taken place in the movement, and a great deal of confusion surrounds the nature of “left” opportunism. In this situation, to draw strict lines of demarcation between “left” sectarianism as the main danger and “left” dogmatism as the main danger will weaken the fight against ultra-leftism unnecessarily. Further, a low level of understanding of “leftism” leads some who recognize it in some form as the main danger to make “left” errors in the fight against it. The October League (M-L) provides the best example of an organization which originally made some contributions to the communist movement while fighting ultra-leftism, but never grasped the historical, social and ideological roots of the problem, and finally fell under the complete domination of the “left” opportunist line. Unless we deepen our understanding of “left” errors, they are bound to reappear in a slightly different guise. Splitting the forces committed to developing a comprehensive analysis of “ultra-leftism” will hold back this important work, and constitutes a sectarian error.


The Tucson Marxist-Leninist Collective and other comrades have found our first two points of unity “too broad” and say they “would not really advance the theoretical struggle within our movement.” On the contrary, we believe that saying the main danger comes from the “left” says something quite specific. It points to the historical and ideological roots of the principal errors among the Marxist-Leninists forces: in “left” opportunism rather than Right opportunism. This “left” opportunism “borrows,” in Lenin’s word, from anarcho-syndicalism and anarcho-communism. Sharing some of the ideological presuppositions of anarchism, contemporary “leftism” draws upon a particular tradition in the workers’ and communist movements:

Present day struggles are a continuation and development of those in the past. All anti-Marxist trends of thought that appear in society today have their historical origins. To discern them, it is necessary to link present day struggles with those in the past and trace the “stream” to its “fountain-head,” so as to study how they go back to their “predecessors” and how they inherit those viewpoints that have already been overcome and put on a new farce of counter-revolutionary restoration by invoking the dead souls of history. (Peking Review)

In identifying “left” opportunism as the main danger we trace the present “stream” of errors back to its “fountain-head” in the anarchist forms of bourgeois ideology, and link the communist movement’s struggle against ultra-leftism with Marx’s fight against Bakunin, Lenin’s against “Left-Wing Communism,” Mao’s against Li Li-san, and the early CPUSA’s against anarcho-syndicalism, and many others.

Calling dogmatism the main danger, on the other hand, does not say anything specific, While “left” opportunism has a definite ideological source in reformist ideology, dogmatism has no ideological source at all, no specific ideological content whatsoever. Simply put, the view that dogmatism constitutes the main danger cannot stand on its own, because by itself it is only a symptom, not a disease. The real content of this position lies in those other positions which the anti-dogmatists find “dogmatic.” The TMLC and the original conference organizers almost admit as much by tacking on their second principle of unity, without which, the TMLC writes, the position on dogmatism remains “abstract.” “Anti-dogmatism” thus frequently serves as a stalking horse for particular positions on other questions, most commonly, questions of political line.

In fact, an examination of the original joint statement by the conference organizers, the TMLC position, the party-building resolution of the PWOC, and other documents of the “anti-dogmatist trend” shows that the opposition to dogmatism can amount to a different version of taking political line as the key link. Just as some who take political line as the key link talk about “political line on party-building,” so some who oppose dogmatism as the main danger include dogmatism on party-building. But the question arises for the first group: if political line includes political line on party-building, then what is the key link? And if “political line on party-building” is the key link, then why call political line the key link at all? The same question stands before the anti-dogmatist trend: dogmatism around what is the key link?

So far, the main proponents of the anti-dogmatist trend most often answer: dogmatism around international line. In the case of the conference, they chose to make political line on the international question the key link for a meeting on party-building. They did so without establishing why international line plays such an absolute role in discussion of party-building; and they did so without establishing why the opposing line on the main enemies of the peoples of the world represented dogmatism. We do not think disagreements over international line, even important ones, should act as a barrier at this time to joint discussion of party-building line. And we do not understand why general agreement with the international perspectives of the Chinese, Albanian, and other Marxist-Leninist Parties should automatically qualify as dogmatism.

Of course, some anti-dogmatists protest that they do not mean the Chinese Communist Party when they speak of the “dogmatist” international line, but rather their U.S. “imitators.” This is sort of a funny argument: it is not as if the two superpowers could loom as the main enemies of the world’s peoples from where the Chinese sit, but from U.S. shores some other alignment of world forces becomes visible. And it is disingenuous of the TMLC, for example, to suggest that this point of unity would not found an “anti-revisionist and anti-dogmatic trend” in opposition to the line of the CPC, when the TMLC explicitly states that “dogmatism, especially ’China flunkeyism’ . . . has become the main form of opportunism in the anti-revisionist communist movement” (see their paper “On the International Situation”).

Just as some comrades have set off at a gallop to lay claim to the Party, so some comrades seem in a rush to claim the “anti-dogmatist” mantle for themselves. But as the old expression goes, saying it don’t make it so. Many of the arguments for the “anti-dogmatist” line on the USSR and the international situation have as much right to the dogmatist title as we do. The assumption that because the U.S. was the main enemy of the world’s peoples in the 1960’s it must play that role today falls into this category. So does the mechanist notion that because the U.S. has the largest capital investments in the world, it must rank as an aggressive imperialist power in a class by itself. So does the belief that because juridical “private property” has not reappeared as the main form of property in the USSR, capitalism does not exist. And what is the TMLC’s thesis that the “bourgeoisie under socialism” cannot “regain state power without a violent counterrevolution” if not a dogmatic application of the Marxist thesis on the necessity for the forcible overthrow of the bourgeoisie under capitalism? Why shouldn’t we start an “anti-revisionist, anti-dogmatist trend” based on opposition to these dogmas?

Because the interests of the fight against “left” opportunism dictate otherwise.

The communist movement and the working class do not need three or four trends fighting the “left” line – they need one such trend, a powerful, unified trend. For that reason, we should start from the unity we have and struggle over our differences in the spirit of unity/criticism and self-criticism/ unity. We can agree that revisionism represents the interests of the bourgeoisie. We can agree that the CPSU is a revisionist party, and that the CPSU exercises state power in the USSR. With that agreement in hand, let us explore together what the rise to power of revisionism represents, economically and politically, for the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the construction of communism. From there we can discuss what it would mean for a country as centralized economically and politically and as powerful militarily as the Soviet Union to restore capitalism. And from there we can discuss its position in the world today.

That struggle should take place. But that struggle should occur in the course of struggling over party-building and the tasks of Marxist-Leninists, and in the course of deepening our understanding of “left” opportunism. In fact, given the present situation in the communist movement, the very organization of that struggle – a struggle over political line – depends on the line adopted on communist unification – party-building line. If the “anti-dogmatists” oppose such an approach then they should explain the party-building line on which they base their opposition. Baiting groups as “class-collaborationists” or “China flunkeys” will not shake anyone from their convictions on the nature of the USSR or the basic features of the international situation, and it certainly won’t help the fight against “left” sectarianism.


We included the second point – that the U.S. communist movement is presently relatively isolated from the worker’s movement – for three reasons.

First, this point helps define the tasks of communists at this time. Marxist-Leninists do not immediately face the task of giving leadership to the broad masses, not because that isn’t desirable, but simply because they cannot – they are isolated not only from the broad masses but also from the masses of the class vanguard. Rather we face the task of taking our first step towards the workers’ movement. This task demands certain forms of activity and certain dispositions of our small forces.

Second, we need to confront the weaknesses of the Marxist-Leninist movement head-on, and not through the bias of our own self-conceptions or what we wish the movement represented. If the living soul of Marxism is the concrete analysis of concrete conditions, then the only hope for the communist movement lies with a concrete analysis of its concrete conditions. Whether or not we recognize that the Marxist-Leninists are relatively isolated from the working class provides one test of whether or not we carry out concrete analysis.

The belief that the movement wields a great deal of influence in the working class frequently accompanies the view that Right opportunism poses the main danger, since to some extent the former supports the latter. Those groups which believe Rightism is the main danger but recognize the movement’s isolation from the class are serious and can be struggled with. But those groups who declaim about the “increasingly influential role of Marxist-Leninists in the workers’ movement” or about the “fire at the tree trunks” are kidding themselves and us. Of course, recognizing the Marxist-Leninists’ relative isolation from the working class doesn’t mean we are good at concrete analysis, but it does indicate that we are interested in doing some. Believing that the communist movement marches at the head of large sections of the masses means we are interested in something else – the sound of our voices, for example.

Lastly, a recognition of the communists’ relative isolation from the workers’ movement speaks to the social base of the communist forces and the social base of its errors. Drawn primarily from the middle strata, from “newcomers” (Stalin) to the proletariat, that base provides fertile ground for the growth of ultra-leftism. Correspondingly, the struggle against “left” sectarianism will require a transformation of the social basis of the Marxist-Leninist organizations. We sum up this task in another propagandistic slogan: win the vanguard to communism so as to defeat “left” sectarianism and unite Marxist-Leninists!


The need for a “common literature” rests on a general principle and a specific analysis.

The general principle concerns the dialectical relationship between organization and ideology. On the one hand, most Marxist-Leninists agree that organizational unity follows ideological unity. On the other hand, organizational measures can advance or hinder the development of the ideological unity necessary for further organizational steps. True, an organization demands a common ideological framework; but just as surely, a common ideological framework cannot reinforce itself in the absence of some definite material unity – in the absence of organization. We therefore cannot agree with the criticism of the TMLC, who reject this point of unity as “primarily an organizational question.” Will such a “primarily organizational question” advance the ideological struggle, or obstruct it? And if it will advance it, then we need to create some ideological and political unity around the necessity for this organizational step.

The specific analysis concerns the importance of the organizational level within the U.S. communist movement today. We have said that the disorganization of the Marxist-Leninist forces constitutes the key factor holding us back from accomplishing our tasks. This is nowhere more evident than in our attempts to build deeper ideological and political unity in the anti-revisionist camp. We have fifteen or more newspapers and journals, some published regularly, some irregularly. Each devotes itself almost exclusively to the views of the group whose organ it is. To know what the various groups think about a given issue, you must buy every one; there are not even any notices mentioning other publications in most of them. So a great many statements are issued, on all sorts of topics, but there is very little organized relationship among them – they do not build on positions put forward by others, they do not necessarily talk about the same issues, they do not comment on what other statements have said, and for the most part, they do not even recognize any common debate outside their own strictly defined tendency. Theoretical positions do not undergo the test of theoretical struggle, because there is no organized struggle.

To forge the ideological unity necessary to overcome the organizational dispersion of the movement, we need to centralize the ideological struggle: to determine and then concentrate on the key issues, to engage the full range of Marxist-Leninist opinion, to draw out the principles involved, sum up lessons learned and raise the debate, and with it our ideological unity, to a new level.

This is how we understand “common literature.” Common literature serves the whole movement and not simply a strictly defined tendency or local area; it discusses the key problems facing the movement as a whole; and it engages every shade of communist opinion. It does not mean that we set up a joint editorial board tomorrow for a newspaper or a journal, and we regret that imprecision on our part has left that impression with some comrades. Some type of joint literary effort might make a fine goal, but we do not think the unity exists to bring it about at this time, probably even among those who oppose the “left” line. We believe that initiatives can nevertheless be taken to centralize debate somewhat, and opening up the pages of the separate organs would be a good first step.

Finally, some comrades have seen veiled attacks on the need for “lines of demarcation” and for a leading line in our references to “democratic” ideological struggle, “common literature,” printing other views, etc. No one denies the necessity of a leading line, by which we understand a line which actually leads the communist forces in overcoming their disunity and in fusing Marxism-Leninism with the workers’ movement. If talk about the need for one would make it appear, we would have it. Since it won’t, the question becomes how to get such a line.

Generally speaking, the process of elaborating a leading line for a collection of communist forces is not so different from that process within a single communist organization (with certain obvious differences). Both require the application of the mass line. Both require the synthesis of the contradictory ideas derived from social practice and put forward by different sections of the masses, the concentration of correct ideas, and the formulation of a policy or line based on them which is returned to the masses. Without a “strictly defined” point of view, the application of a mass line, the work of synthesis, concentration and formulation would collapse.

In regard to this process, what does the U.S. communist movement lack? Quite obviously, it lacks the synthesis of correct ideas, the development of a deeper and more steadfast ideological unity. But just as obviously, it lacks the organized expression of differences, an organized freedom for criticism and counter-criticism. The only way to centralize discussion and concentrate correct ideas at the level of the movement as a whole lies in introducing greater democracy not simply to a benign toleration of other groups’ viewpoints, but in fact to the encouragement of the organized expression of those viewpoints. Greater unity can be achieved only through giving fuller play to contradictions which already exist. Suppression of those contradictions, the refusal to allow them to be aired in the fifteen or so newspapers and journals, will insure our failure to resolve those which can and must be resolved if the Marxist-Leninist movement is ever to emerge as a real political force in this country.

A communist movement which cannot organize its own ideological struggle cannot organize either its own ranks or those of the working class.


[1] This referred to other papers we expected to print with this article.