Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Proletarian Unity League

Response to the Committee of Five by the Proletarian Unity League


First Issued: September 1, 1976. Published in Party Building and the Main Danger, September 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Four Marxist-Leninist organizations have recently issued a joint statement on party building. In it, the Detroit Marxist-Leninist Organization, the Socialist Union of Baltimore, El Comité/MINP, and the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee survey the current state of the U.S. communist movement, describe what they see as the two major trends within it, and raise the possibility of organizing a conference to promote the growth of an “anti-revisionist and anti-dogmatist trend” as a step in building a new Marxist-Leninist party.

Now obviously the communist movement has quite a few declared trends, not to mention several self-announced Marxist-Leninist Parties. So any Marxist-Leninist or other revolutionary-minded worker has a right to ask: what purpose would yet another trend serve?

Unprincipled polarization and relative isolation from the workers’ movement presently characterize the communist movement. In our view, “left opportunism, particularly “left” opportunism in party-building line, or “left” sectarianism, bears the principal responsibility for this state of affairs. “Left” opportunism has prevented the growing anti-revisionist forces from making real breakthroughs in their fusion with the proletarian vanguard. The interests of the proletariat, and therefore of the Marxist-Leninist movement, lie with the eradication of sectarian self-interest, the uniting of Marxist-Leninist principles, and the winning of the class vanguard to communism.

The basis for the emergence of such a trend exists. It exists in the widespread reaction to “left” sectarian practices and to our annual fall Founding Party Congresses. With the collapse of the “Revolutionary Wing” into anarchism, the study of and opposition to “leftism” has spread to ever-broader sections of the communist movement. Insofar as the proposed conference will re-open principled ideological struggle and fight “left” sectarianism, every Marxist-Leninist would support it. And insofar as this new trend will transform resistance to “leftism” into a conscious ideological trend, and build unity on the basis of Marxism Leninism, we dedicate ourselves to its creation.

Will the proposed conference in fact serve this purpose? Will the proposed trend in fact take up these tasks?

To these questions, the joint statement gives an incomplete answer. The conference organizers plainly state that their trend does not yet have a definitive existence, that they wish to discuss with others the nature of such a trend, “the unities and differences existing within” it. This procedure represents a break with the unilateral declaration of “revolutionary” trends which play at revolution, or “unity” trends which play at unity, and we agree with it. Trends cannot be wished into existence; they emerge as the product of struggle. The conference organizers have taken a good initiative in opening up this struggle to other forces.

At the same time, the organizers have set out two principles of unity for their conference and for their trend. In our opinion, these principles of unity will serve to hamper principled ideological struggle, sidetrack the fight against “left” sectarianism, and hold back the emergence or the trend which the U.S. proletariat and its communist movement presently require. For this reason, we would like to address a few comments to the conference organizers, in the interests of Marxist-Leninist unity.

The first principle of unity reads, “dogmatism, and its cohort, sectarianism, are the main forms of opportunism within the party-building movement.” With this definition as a guide, the comrades organizing the conference describe the struggle within the movement as one between two trends, the Marxist-Leninist and “dogmatist trend.” Unquestionably, there is a lot of dogmatism running about in our movement. But as a description of the “main form of opportunism,” or main danger, dogmatism has three serious shortcomings.

First, dogmatism is not in itself a form of opportunism. Dogmatism figures as a feature of many opportunist lines, just as its “cohort”, sectarianism, may characterize many opportunist forces. But it does not define a distinct form of opportunism. For example, modern revisionists are generally dogmatists, Trotskyists are invariably dogmatists, anarchists have their special dogmas, and so do Social-Democrats. Dogmatism usually marks both “Left” and Right deviations. In the U.S. communist movement today, dogmatism most often accompanies “left” errors, but this is really just another way of saying that the main danger comes from the “left.”

Second, the movement does not divide into dogmatist and Marxist-Leninist trends. Such a division exaggerated the mistakes of one set of groups, and the correctness of another. The term “trend,” after all, does not refer to agreement on a few positions, or even simply to positions at all:

We can call a trend only a definite sum of political ideas which have become well-defined in regard to all the most important questions of both the revolution...and the counter-revolution, ideas which, moreover, have proved their right to existence as a trend by being widely disseminated among broad strata of the working class. Both Menshevism and Bolshevism are Social-Democratic trends...As for small groups not representing any trend--there have been plenty during this period, just as there were plenty before. To confuse a trend with minor groups means condemning oneself to intrigue in Party politics. The emergence of unprincipled tiny groups, their efforts to have “their say,” their relations with each other as separate powers”all this is the basis of the intrigue taking place abroad... (Lenin, CW 17, pp. 271-72)

Agreeing with the comrades organizing the conference that the communist movement remains relatively isolated from the working class, we conclude that by these criteria our movement has precious few trends – more tendencies, ”moods,” or deviations. To take our groups, or even collections of groups, for full-fledged trends means on the one hand condemning those who have made errors as full-blown opportunists, and on the other, flattering oneself about one’s own correct “trend.”

A deviation is not yet a full-blown trend. A deviation is something that can be rectified. People have somewhat strayed or are beginning to stray from the path, but can still be put right. (Lenin, Marx, Engels, Lenin on Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 331.)

The various groups whose errors have manifested a certain dogmatism do not add up to a single, well-defined trend. On the other hand, those who disagree with various positions of the largest groups do not become a trend simply by virtue of their ideological disagreement. To claim otherwise means defining trends on what the organizers call ”a purely theoretical plane, isolated from the struggles of the working class.”[1]

Third, dogmatism, which the comrades define as “bookworship,” incorrectly identifies the problems with both the theory and the practice of the communist movement. Our movement does have some bookworshippers. But the main problem, theoretically and practically, does not stem from “grasping Marxism-Leninism as if it were the ’new religion,’ to be quoted and parroted as a series of lifeless maxims,” but rather from the “left” deviation in the movement. The RU/RCP did not find the “proletarian nation of a new type” or the “third period of the national question” in books, nor did the Workers Viewpoint Organization, whom the PWOC cites as an “ultra-dogmatist,” find its “anti-revisionist premises” or its “third period of bourgeois democracy” in some classic of Marxism-Leninism. What the comrades proposing the conference call “dogmatic” acceptance of old formulas can, in these cases, best be described as the invention of new ones.

The practice of today’s communist forces reveals still more sharply the inadequacy of “dogmatism” as a definition of our errors. The signers of the joint statement counterpose leadership of the mass movements with the theoretical tasks of the communist movement: “the dogmatist trend...see[s] building the party on a purely theoretical plane, isolated from the working class and behind closed doors.” But few groups in our movement actually fail to emphasize in both theory and practice, the link between ideological struggle among Marxist-Leninists and communist work among the masses. The main reason the communist movement remains relatively isolated from the masses is not a lack of practice, but a kind of practice that too often serves sectarian, groupist ends. This is true both of communist work among the masses and of practical attempts at communist unification. Consistent propaganda, agitation, and organization among the working class is subordinated to adventuristic schemes designed to promote illusions of proletarian leadership in support of one’s own trend.

Nothing in the party-building experiences of Russia, Albania, China, Vietnam, or even the U.S. could possibly authorize the party-building adventures recently launched in the U.S. movement, and the proof lies in a series of Parties and Parties-to-be, each of which includes only a small minority of the Marxist-Leninist forces.

To sum up, the problem in the communist movement is less with a “purely theoretical approach,” as the comrades have argued in the joint statement and in other publications, than with a ”left” opportunist approach to theory and practice. It follows that the solution does not lie with “less reading, more practice, stop quoting things.” To the “left” opportunist line towards the masses, we must oppose a Marxist-Leninist one. And to the false “orthodoxy” of our “Left-wing” comrades, we must counterpose the scientific “orthodoxy” (in Lenin’s sense) of Marxism-Leninism.

In our view, the weaknesses of the joint statement’s approach to party-building emerge more clearly in its treatment of the international situation.

The second principle of unity says, “U.S. imperialism is the main enemy of the peoples of the world.” We disagree with this as a procedure for building a trend or conducting discussion; and we disagree with this point. In the context of organizing a conference, the former disagreement takes precedence.

As a party-building line, this procedure urges organizers of a trend to begin, after consultation only among themselves, by declaring the principles of unity, instead of a set of groups forging principled unity through comradely ideological struggle. Regardless of the intentions, this does not differentiate the comrades’ conference from the October League’s unity conference, or any number of other party-building efforts. With respect to international line, for example, no ideological struggle has occurred on what importance it should play in the struggle for the party. No ideological struggle has occurred over what level of unity is minimally acceptable for a party, or even as in this case, for discussion, for joint ideological struggle, Yet the conference organizers make international line the one and only question of political line necessary to conference participation.

Why not our current tasks? Why not the relationship between struggles for democratic rights and proletarian revolution? The joint statement leaves out the women’s emancipation movement from its list of mass movements, yet some would make a point around women’s oppression a basis of unity.

Is the main contribution of U.S. revolutionaries really their opinions on international matters? Why do the comrades absolutize this one point over all others in defining anti-revisionism (leaving aside the fact that the revisionists agree with it)? And why absolutize it for this conference? This is not a conference to raise money for arms for some liberation organizations overseas, but rather a conference on party-building. Yet the comrades define the minimal level of unity for participation in a conference on party-building as agreement with their political line on international questions. This certainly raises the question of whether this point of unity does not serve more to exclude certain forces than to organize ideological struggle, “define unities and differences,” and determine their relative importance.

In the absence of democratic, joint ideological struggle, the comrades organizing the conference have concluded, in the joint statement and other publications, that those who generally agree with the line of the Chinese Communist Party and the Party of Labor of Albania on international affairs are dogmatists and not proletarian internationalists. Only among those who disagree with the CPC’s and the PLA’s position do the comrades find the proletarian internationalists and those “free of dogmas and idealist conceptions.” On this basis, they propose organizationally excluding the former collection of groups.

We put the matter this way because in fact the principle of unity can only be seen as directed against another position, one first developed by the CPC and the PLA. And this reveals a certain weakness in the conference organizers’ position: while they present arguments in opposition to the results of the application of the CPC’s line, they remain silent on its theoretical basis – namely, the analysis of the restoration of capitalism in the USSR. If you disagree with the strategic basis, then of course your tactics may be different. But if you believe the strategic basis is wrong, say so. And if you want others to follow you in organizing a trend founded on opposition to the international line of the CPC, PLA, and quite a few other Marxist-Leninists, then you had better prove your case.

As far as we know, none of the signatory groups has ever published an analysis of which class holds state power in the Soviet Union, and what implications this carries for its role in the world today. The October League and some other comrades incorrectly term this silence “centrism.” At this point, we do not believe this constitutes true “centrism,” an attempt to mediate between two irreconcilable positions, to straddle that which cannot be straddled. We think the term agnosticism fits better.

The agnostic argument currently runs something like this: “the USSR was socialist, so let’s leave it to any who now says differently to prove it.” Or, “U.S. imperialism was the main enemy of the world’s peoples, so the burden of proof lies with those who say the two superpowers are the main enemies,” and it ends by concluding, “we have not seen the evidence for...” or “we are not convinced that..”

Agnosticism is not a tenable position for a Marxist-Leninist, in this case both because the analysis of the USSR is the keystone of one’s views on the international situation, and because it involves far more than international line. The Chinese and Albanian positions on the USSR and the world begin with a set of concepts about what socialist construction means, what capitalist relations of production and distribution are, what the dictatorship of the proletariat is, etc. In the final analysis, no position on the USSR is tantamount to no position on the dictatorship of the proletariat and the construction of socialism, except that one is for them. Here lies not only the strength and coherence of the CPC and PLA views, but also the theoretical and practical unity of their domestic and foreign policies – both are built on an analysis of what the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat means for the construction of socialism, its victories, and its defeats. Without first putting forth one’s own views on the Soviet Union, labeling as “class collaborationists” those comrades who raise an anti-Soviet-social-imperialism banner, smacks of, well... dogmatism.

Let us be clear. We do not fault the comrade organizations for not having an analysis of the USSR. Such an analysis is a long and arduous undertaking, one requiring a complex division of labor. We do not have one ourselves, and we realize that we will not have an adequate one, “independently elaborated,” (Lenin) without the combined efforts of many Marxist-Leninist organizations and individuals, without the benefit of prolonged, democratic and centralized debate.[2] We recognize too that the OL’s self-interested campaign against “centrism” has brought forth a strong reaction against the CPC international line and against principled ideological debate on international questions, around which a great deal of confusion reigns. We ask that the comrade organizations do not bar the path to the necessary discussion by excluding those who, like themselves, lack a detailed analysis yet, on the basis of similarly incomplete knowledge, have reached different conclusions. We ask that comrade organizations not organize a party-building trend on the basis of opposition to the line of the CPC without first debating that line and debating the place of international line in party-formation.

In place of the original two points of unity, we would like to suggest three points as a basis for organizing a conference on party-building.

1. The main danger to the building of a new Marxist-Leninist party in the U.S. today comes from the “left.” Serious advances on the struggle against “left” opportunism will be required in order for our movement to form a unified Communist Party.

Such a point, we feel, is specific enough to focus discussion, while broad enough to leave room for struggle over the importance of sectarianism, dogmatism, etc., within “leftism,” and how to struggle against the “left” deviations. Further, we believe that the conference should not exclude those organizations who may agree on the kinds of problems we face, disagree on the main danger, yet have demonstrated a committment to anti-sectarian, principled ideological struggle.

2. The U.S. communist movement is presently relatively isolated from the workers’ movement. To overcome that isolation, it must put an end to the dominance of “leftism” within its ranks.

3. The unification of the communist movement requires in the first place the creation of a “common literature,”

common, not only in the sense that it must serve the whole of the...movement rather than separate districts, that it must discuss the questions of the movement as a whole and assist the class-conscious proletarians in their struggle instead of dealing merely with local questions, but common also in the sense that it must unite all the available literary forces, that it must express all shades of opinion and views prevailing among [Marxist-Leninists] . . . (Lenin, CW 4, p. 323)

At the present time, no single organizational form can represent that common literature, as Iskra and Zarya did for the predecessors of the Bolsheviks. But Marxist-Leninist organizations need to demonstrate a committment, both ideologically and organizationally, to bringing such a common literature about. That committment should begin in making available sections of the organs for the expression of other comrades’ points of view.

It is a step in the right direction to say, as the comrades proposing the conference do, that the “forces which have started to internalize the scientific essence of Marxism-Leninism” are not limited to their own organizations. This statement a-lone distinguishes the conference organizers from some other trends we can think of. But it is a step off in a wrong direction, in a very familiar wrong direction, to denounce without proof those who disagree as opportunists and dogmatists, and to adopt organizational measures against them in the absence of a principled ideological struggle.

The proletariat needs a strong, unified Marxist-Leninist party. The communist movement needs a trend dedicated to breaking the stranglehold of “left” opportunism. How soon we get either depends on how seriously the various Marxist-Leninist forces take the struggle against “left” sectarianism.

September, 1976

Endnotes [Summer 1977]

[1] Some comrades have found this passage incomplete. It intended to make three major points: first, that trends differ from deviations or errors, that use of the term “trend” demands more of a concrete argument than the conference organizers have so far attempted, and that individual groups themselves, while they might belong to a trend, do not constitute one; second, that all those viewed a “dogmatists” by the comrades organizing the conference – a range on the international question which includes everyone from the PRRWO to ourselves and others who believe that ultra-“leftism” poses the main danger to the Marxist-Leninist forces–do not form one objective trend; and third, that those groups who identify with “anti-dogmatism” do not as yet constitute a real trend either.

We do think that a definite ultra-“left” trend exists in the communist movement. We give reasons for this, and discuss other problems related to the question of trends in Two, Three Many Parties of a New Type?, pp.96-102.

[2] This phrase has given rise to misunderstanding among a few comrades. At least one organization has interpreted this passage to mean that we have abandoned the thesis of capitalist restoration in the USSR. Although both we and some other critics of our response think that a definite perspective on the USSR informs the article, we would like to dispel any confusion.

By the term “analysis,” we intended something very specific–an historical materialist analysis encompassing the “sum total of facts” relevant to the history of the class struggle in the USSR. Constructing such an analysis requires more than simply accumulating empirical facts about the Soviet Union. It also requires work on Marxist theory itself, particularly on the theory of the transition to communism, on the nature of proletarian dictatorship, and on the reproduction of capitalist relations of production and distribution under that dictatorship.

We distinguish this kind of scientific analysis from the descriptive positions held by various forces in the U.S. communist movement today. In brief, we hold that capitalism has been restored in the Soviet Union, and a bourgeois dictatorship consolidated; that the restoration of capitalism has led to the development of imperialism-Soviet Social Imperialism; and that the USSR today stands with the US as one of the two main enemies of the world’s peoples. These views imply a certain perspective on other features of the present international situation which we will not elaborate here.