Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Philadelphia Workers’ Organizing Committee

Resolution on Party Building

First Published: The Organizer, Vol. 2, No. 1, January-March 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The road to the vanguard party is anything but straight and level. It is a steep and winding path, climbing rocky inclines and traveling along narrow ledges where the mere loss of footing can result in a plunge to death waiting on the rocks below. Heavy rain and thick fog have obscured the path in some places. In others, rockslides have placed huge boulders in the way.

Like so many climbers, the Marxist-Leninist movement is struggling up the path. Its progress though slow has been steady. And while some forces have taken the wrong path and others have fallen behind, the column continues its relentless advance.

Both the numbers and the dedication of the party building movement continue to grow. The movement has deepened its ties to the working class from which it gains nourishment; there are larger numbers of activists in the trade unions than ever before and their influence is growing. The movement has also strengthened its grasp on the science of revolutionary struggle; it has sharpened its critique of revisionism and continues to accumulate ammunition for the struggle against dogmatism. Further it has developed its multi-national character both in terms of its work in the mass struggles and its own organization.

It is true that there have been setbacks – setbacks which are serious and must not be underestimated. There has been a definite consolidation of dogmatism in two of the leading national organizations. The RU has consolidated its bankrupt, racist ultra-left line; they now call themselves the Revolutionary Communist Party. They maintain that the new revolutionary party has been founded. And it appears that they have been able to hoodwink some honest revolutionaries into placing a vanguard label on rearguard practice.

The OL, never wanting to be left far behind RU, has also declared itself solidly behind dogmatism. While OL has always had strong dogmatist tendencies, there were countervailing pressures which for a time seemed to be making some headway. In the last year, however, dogmatism and its cohort, ultra-leftism, have gained the upper hand. This is demonstrated by OL’s recent rejection of any ’unity of action’ with the revisionists and, in addition, by their June Congress which altered their party building line. In June, party building became a “question of immediacy” and now they are calling for the “actual organizational work of party construction” to begin. It seems that we are to suffer two dogmatist ’vanguard parties.’

Beyond the RU-OL masquerade lie some even better examples of what our movement should not be. Organizations like Worker’s Viewpoint and Marxist Leninist Organizing Committee, while they have stumbled upon some correct criticisms/have chosen to compound RU and OL’s political errors. Rejecting dogmatism in favor of ultra-dogmatism, they advocate sounding a retreat from the working class movement, a retreat from the stormy seas of class struggle to the cushioned rooms of intellectualist study and debate.

It would be equally wrong, however, to overestimate these setbacks. While real enough, this dogmatist trend does not include the majority of those taking the road to the new party; its main strength comes from petty bourgeois elements – those who are most susceptible to dogmatist opportunism. There are many schooled Marxist-Leninists who have not fallen prey to its wiles and it has been unable to make significant inroads into the bulk of the advanced workers who every day become more open to communism.

Opposed to these dogmatist forces are a growing number of activists who are searching for a different kind of movement. They seek a movement which bases itself primarily on the historical experience of the working class here in the US rather than in China or elsewhere. They seek a movement formed and shaped in the crucible of a real live class struggle, not in the dull grey reflection of that struggle in revolutionary literature. They seek a movement which expresses its internationalism through national forms of struggle, a movement led by real Marxist-Leninists, not by dogmatic, unschooled Bible-thumpers.

Experience has led these activists to break with dogmatism on four key points. First, they identify US imperialism as the main enemy of the worldwide struggle for socialism and national liberation. Second, they regard dogmatism and ultra-leftism as the main forms of opportunism in the party building movement.

Third, they take the position that the Black people are an oppressed national minority and understand the centrality of the struggle for democratic rights. And finally, while recognizing the centrality of party building, they realize that our movement is not sufficiently mature as yet to take up the actual organization of such a party as an immediate task.

Taken together these four attitudes express an embryonic Marxist-Leninist trend. The first point embraces a concrete and objective internationalism rather than the abstract and subjective “united front against the two superpowers.” The second shows a recognition that the harmful, attachment to dogmatic and simplistic solutions to complex problems plays into the hands of revisionism and that it is the main block to strengthening our movement.

The third represents a break with an emotional attachment to the outmoded Black “nation” theory. And the fourth expresses a recognition of the real weaknesses of our movement and the need for a long range struggle to overcome them.

However promising, this embryonic Marxist-Leninist trend has significant weaknesses. In the first place, there is a great unevenness in understanding of those who share an anti-dogmatist perspective. Some, while they reject dogmatism on all points, have yet to bring that rejection to a positive expression. They can critique dogmatism but they have yet to provide an adequate alternative.

Others break with dogmatism on only one or two points and share common assumptions on the remaining ones. And many oppose dogmatism on instinct rather than analysis; their anti-dogmatism is necessarily superficial and uncritical. Secondly, while Marxism-Leninism is combatting dogmatism in many localities, here too there is great heterogeneity. In a few cities the Marxist- Leninists have the upper hand, but in most the dogmatists are stronger, better organized and further consolidated.

But by far the most important weakness lies in the fact that the Marxist-Leninist trend lacks a center. In spite of its uneven development our trend has significant strength which is not being mustered and thrown into battle. Highly developed Marxist-Leninist positions on critical questions do not reach into many areas, whereas the dogmatist clap-trap is everywhere. The revolutionary trend struggles to publish and distribute its contributions from isolated localities while the dogmatists have established national networks.

Furthermore, there is a great and unnecessary duplication of effort in our trend. Many organizations must pick their way through ground already crossed by others without the benefit of advice; the various localities are not gaining from the experience of others. The dogmatists, on the other hand, can coordinate local activities and develop a national division of labor.

A national center, however, would not just serve to allow the Marxist-Leninists to exercise the full weight of their influence; it would also be a great aid in the consolidation and building of the trend. The most developed elements could with the proper division of labor greatly accelerate their theoretical work; and accelerated theoretical work leads to expanded practice. The most developed would also be able to help those who are either still influenced by dogmatism or are rejecting it on instinct alone develop their critique and their understanding of the alternative. The same could be accomplished in the practical arena with the most developed practice blazing the trail ahead.

In addition, a national center would aid in strengthening the struggle against dogmatism. Not only could Marxist-Leninists strengthen their own anti-dogmatism but they could win new adherents by waging a coordinated national attack. Where formerly the dogmatists could spread their pablum unscathed they would be challenged. Eventually a concerted attack would force them on the defensive and gradually further their isolation.

However, it is not sufficient to merely declare in favor of such a center, for it will not arise spontaneously. Nor is a center possible given the general unevenness and disunity among the organizations which make up the Marxist-Leninist trend. A center built on the basis of a mere commitment to the struggle against dogmatism would be both unwieldy and ineffective; elements whose rejection of dogmatism is more rhetorical than analytic would operate as equals to those with a more advanced understanding. The main lines of the struggle would have to be developed first.

Thus the first step towards a national center consists in the drawing of demarcation lines between Marxism-Leninism and dogmatism. The Marxists must put forward clear and concise positions which not only expose revisionism but dogmatism as well. In order to maximize their impact these positions must draw on concrete practical experience in the struggle against dogmatism.

The correct path to the vanguard party, which is the central question facing our movement, is also the central question in the struggle against dogmatism. The dogmatist approach to the question serves as an obstacle which must be overcome. By maintaining that party building consists of the mere uniting of available revolutionaries around a ’correct’ line, the dogmatists place the struggle for the party on an abstract and intellectual plane.

The question becomes one of various lines contending for hegemony within the given party-building movement; the movement is accepted at face value with no attempt made to analyze its weaknesses, let alone correct them. By accepting our movement as it is – a movement which for all its strength remains separated from the working class movement and thus predominantly intellectual in character – the dogmatists advocate a party of intellectuals separate from the working class.

Marxist-Leninists, on the other hand, hold that the party will be shaped by the struggle to fuse the communist movement to the class struggle of the proletariat. For them, party building consists in winning over the advanced workers to revolutionary theory through direct participation in their practical struggles. By developing the necessary theoretical and practical tools to help the advanced workers, the movement will not just win them over. The movement itself will be transformed, giving up its petty bourgeois baggage.

This critical difference – the difference between posing the question of party building as an intellectual exercise and posing it as a question of winning over the advanced elements in the working class movement – provides the starting point for the struggle against dogmatism. It is a difference which is so basic, so fundamental that even the most inexperienced revolutionary can grasp it. And while not profound, the point that a correct approach to party building must begin with a recognition of the central weakness of the party building movement immediately exposes the uncritical and un-dialectical nature of dogmatism.

But it is only the starting point. Beyond the question of the struggle for the party, lines of demarcation must be drawn on other questions as well. The Black national question is already a critical question in the struggle against dogmatism and the international question becomes more critical with the passing of events. In the future the question of the correct approach to the united front will become equally important.

Drawing lines of demarcation will not yield a center by itself. It will lay the ideological foundation, but an organizational foundation is needed as well. The Marxist trend must be consolidated in several local organizations that are united around a firm understanding of the main lines of battle. They must also be organizations which are rooted in the working class movement.

These organizations could then assemble and hammer out the initial principles of unity for a Marxist-Leninist trend steeped in the US working class. The proper principles of unity, of course, would be a question open to struggle. It is important that the level of unity not be characterized so high as to cut the most advanced elements of the trend off from those who are just groping in an anti-dogmatist direction. And it is equally certain that the level of unity has to be sufficient to muster the greatest overall impact in the struggle against dogmatism.

A conference of all who could adhere tp the determined principles of unity could then be called. Full discussion on the Marxist-Leninist views on the essential questions would take place and efforts would be made to move the whole assembled body forward, furthering the level of unity.

If the conference is successful – and there can be no guarantee of that – it could proceed to establish a viable center. At the early stages this would consist in providing the trend with a means to establish a national identity and in addition the means to expand its influence and struggle for hegemony in the broader anti-revisionist movement. The most likely form would be a national theoretical journal - or even better a newspaper – which would draw on the strengths of the movement in each of its localities. To ensure a real leading and coherent center an editorial apparatus would have to be developed, elected on the basis of agreed upon principles.

Just where, and how fast, the trend would develop from here is a matter for speculation. It would depend partly upon the real level of unity and partly on the strength of the local organizations. Eventually a national pre-party organization needs to be built but a discussion of how, is at this point, premature.

The PWOC has a vital role to play in this effort. We have already begun to develop lines of demarcation on the Black national question and the struggle for the party. And we plan to take up the international question and the united front. In addition, we have a reasonably mature organization which has established as good a base in the working class movement as any other anti-revisionist organization we know of anywhere. Furthermore, locally we have the upper hand in the struggle against dogmatism. We are an important base of anti-dogmatism now and barring any catastrophe, should remain so.

For the present, we should greatly expand our efforts at national outreach. We should distribute our position papers, our pamphlets and our newspaper more widely paying particular attention to the most important base areas of Marxism-Leninism. We should spur on the development of our work on the party building question and the national question. And finally, we should expand our national traveling with an eye to helping other organizations to consolidate.

Beyond that, the way forward calls for a continued emphasis on strengthening our work in every arena – education, propaganda, organization, in the trade unions, in CLUW, among the unemployed, in the struggle for democratic rights of national minorities and women, and in the mass political struggle. For us this constitutes the way forward.