Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Philadelphia Workers’ Organizing Committee

Dogmatism and the Struggle for the Party

First Published: The Organizer, Vol. 2, No. 5, October-November 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

In September and October, 160,000 workers struck the Ford Motor Co. Thousands of workers were prepared to battle the second largest auto manufacturer and one of the largest monopolies in the world. They had raised the critical demand for the short work week with no cut in pay. And yet in October the strike ground to a close, a poor settlement was accepted with no organized opposition except in the skilled trades.

At the same time, there are already several newly-created vanguard parties’ and one more on the way. Not one was able to provide leadership to this critical struggle. Not one had the slightest influence on the course of the strike. Each was reduced to lecturing the workers from the sidelines, calling on them to “throw out the class collaborationist traitors,” while all the while braying that they represent the advanced guard of the working class.


No doubt party-building is the central task facing our movement. Without a vanguard party the working class cannot possibly transcend its present state. Its picket lines, demonstrations and strikes will remain sporadic and disorganized. Revolutionary leadership and class conscious political content will continue to be absent. Spontaneity will deal the cards, and the bourgeoisie will dominate the bidding.

Although the centrality of developing a new vanguard party was identified fully 18 years ago, the working class still suffers without its ’general staff’. In recent years there have been almost as many vanguards proclaimed as there are commercials in a half-hour TV show. But all these self-declared parties—and the one which is presently organizing its own christening as well—share a marked resemblance to a soap opera; both present distorted pictures of reality.

Why is it that all previous efforts to found a vanguard party have failed? Basically, because the forces that organized them did not understand the essentials of the party building process. Each effort adopted a voluntaristic approach to party-building which was based on a mad scramble to capitalize on a vacuum of leadership.

For each, party-building reduced itself to an effort to unite sufficient numbers of Marxist-Leninists behind the banner of a single, hastily assembled organization. The primary consideration was the development of a following, the establishment of a hegemony over the existing stock of revolutionaries. Party-building therefore, became primarily an organizational question, a mere numbers game.


None of these jerry-built national organizations developed a clear and consistent approach to party-building. Each assumed that the question of the party was adequately addressed by the classics of Marxism-Leninism, that revolutionaries had no creative theoretical tasks in the U.S. Each reduced the development of political line on party-building to the mere defense of the historic necessity of a vanguard party and the recapitulation of what had already been said, and said better, by Lenin or Stalin.

Not one identified clearly in advance the prerequisites for the founding of a party. And not one stated how their practice demonstrated that they were ready to assume the mantle of the working class’ vanguard. Each based its call for the formation of the party on a combination of: 1) The rather profound observation of the fact that there was no such party in existence, 2) The quantitative growth in the number of revolutionaries, and 3) the growing dangers of war and fascism.

And what is even more revealing is that none of the organizations that have organized ’parties’ or are now calling for their immediate formation have developed a though-going critique of their predecessors in failure. To the extent that they voiced criticisms, they were criticisms of imperfections in the line of the previous organizations which were only indirectly related to party-building. Not one recognized that there was a fundamental flaw in their forerunners’ basic approach to laying the foundation for a party.

All of these attempts have shown that they did not understand the essence of the party-building process. They failed to understand what ties together all the tasks of communists in the party-building stage and what defines the key tasks. They have not been able to identify the basic contradiction which must be overcome in order to establish a viable vanguard.

In our opinion that basic contradiction is the one between the aims of communists and the objective state of the consciousness of the working class movement. The essence of the party-building process is the struggle to join communism with the most advanced fighters from the movements of the working class and the oppressed nationalities.


As Lenin pointed out, the historical experience of all countries shows “a constantly growing urge to fuse socialism with the working class movement into a single Social-Democratic movement.” (Col. Wks. Vol. IV, 257; Lenin’s Italics) In our time the term communism should be substituted for socialism and Communist for Social Democratic.

In the earliest stages, communism and the working class movement exist apart, in isolation from one another. On the one hand the workers struggle against the capitalists, engaging in strikes, and developing their trade union organizations. On the other hand the communists develop first among intellectual strata and therefore stand outside the working, class movement, developing their critique of the capitalist society and demanding its replacement by a higher social system.

This situation inevitably leads to fundamental defects on each side. As Lenin explains, “The separation of the working class movement and socialism gave rise to weaknesses in each: The theories of the socialists unfused with the workers’ struggle, remained nothing more than Utopias, good wishes that had no effect on real life; working class movement remained petty, fragmented and did not acquire political significance, was not enlightened by the advanced science of its time.” (Ibid.)


The first stage in the resolution of this contradiction is the development of the vanguard party. However this can only come about as a result of a step forward in the fusion of communism and the workers’ movement. Lenin wrote, “When this fusion takes place, the class struggle of the workers becomes the conscious struggle of the proletariat to emancipate itself from exploitation by the propertied classes, it is evolved into a higher form of the socialist workers’ movement–the independent working class Social-Democratic party.” (Ibid, italics).

In the United States, we have to repeat this process. While communism was at one time fused with the working class movement, (as represented by the CPUSA), that fusion ended with the triumph of revisionism. For nearly twenty years, the workers struggled again capitalism without communist influence. On the other hand, our movement originated predominantly among intellectual strata who developed as Marxist-Leninists apart from the mass movements of the working class and the oppressed nationalities.

Thus in our concrete circumstances, the development of an independent working class Communist party demands the joining of communism and the workers’ movement. More concretely, it demands the merger of the concrete application of Marxism-Leninism to the practical problems facing the working class with the most advanced fighters drawn from (but not out of) the movement of the working class and the oppressed nationalities.

While this may seem elementary, it has not been understood. The various party-building movements have not succeeded in fusing themselves with the working class movement, a fact which is demonstrated not only by their political line, but also, and even more so by their practice. The practical isolation of the ’self-declared vanguards’ in the working class movements is a fact!!

What attempts these movements have made to merge with the class struggle of the proletariat have only succeeded in isolating the advanced workers. The October League affords the best example of this fact precisely because it has had the most success in developing roots in the working class.


In the last year it has become quite clear that the small minority of October League cadre that have been drawn from the working class have become isolated in the process. The OL has encouraged them to retreat from the nerve centers of the growing mass movement against capital into more ’pure’ organizations, organizations whose purity is based on the revolutionary phrase.

Thus in Philadelphia, the OL has urged the advanced workers to leave the rank and file movement and enter its National Fight Back Organization (NFO). The rank and file movement, they maintain, is too reformist whereas the NFO (or is it UFO?) is r-r-revolutionary.

But in this city, far from being a mass organization, the NFO is little more than a Call committee. The rank and file movement, on the other hand, is a mass movement which is objectively attacking capital. At times it has reached thousands of workers with mass action not just with leaflets!

Nor is Philadelphia an isolated exception; our experience has been confirmed by individuals and organizations all over the country. Moreover, it is confirmed by the Call itself.

In an article entitled “Present Tasks in the Unions”, the Call fails to even discuss the critical tasks facing communists in actively organizing the rank and file movement. To the extent that it treats the rank and file caucuses, it discusses them “as instruments for derailing and suppressing the genuine rank and file rebellion.” It sees the rank and file movement as a totally spontaneous movement from which the advanced workers must be diverted.

Furthermore, they attack the progressive Sadlowski campaign in the United Steelworkers. Sadlowski, who has called for an end to the no-strike Experimental Negotiating Agreement, a rejection of the racist Consent Decree and the abolition of the anti-communist clause in the Steel worker’s constitution, is one who should be supported, albeit critically.

Certainly Sadlowski is open to criticism on a number of counts and no movement built around his candidacy should assume that he will carry through on his promises without an organized and independent rank and file movement to maintain pressure on him after his election. However, to treat Sadlowski as just another I.W. Abel is both childish and a ticket to isolation.

No wonder the Call, which used to have substantial coverage of the rank and file movement, more and more speaks with the shrill and frenzied tone of an isolated and irrelevant outsider!

A movement which merges communism with the working class movement at the expense of isolating the advanced workers from the masses does a profound disservice both to Marxism-Leninism and the advanced. The working class movement will never attain any ’political significance’ if the advanced workers are unable to give concrete leadership to the practical struggles of the masses. ...

Moreover, the question of fusion cannot be reduced to the mere winning of a handful of workers to Marxism-Leninism. In order for the fusion of Marxism-Leninism with the advanced workers to represent a real step forward in the overall struggle to merge communism with the working class movement, the advanced workers must continue and strengthen their role as active leaders of the day to day practical struggles of the masses.


Of course, their leadership will have changed in character. They will not lead the mass struggle as they did formerly, but as open communists. Thus the fusion of communism with the advanced workers assumes the development of a communist current in the working class movement. Such a current, quite obviously, does not yet exist.

It is not just because they lack understanding that October League and its fellow dogmatists have been unable to grasp the question of fusion with the class struggle of the proletariat. Like children with learning disabilities, they have a mental block. That mental block is modern dogmatism.

Dogmatism on the question of party-building means failure to study the historical lessons of the development of vanguard parties in other countries in conjunction with an examination of the concrete conditions of the U.S. Thus the dogmatists fail to identify the critical weakness in our movement—that it still exists in isolation from the working class movement and will thus remain–to the extent that it retains this isolation–powerless.

Failing to recognize this critical weakness, they have failed to address themselves to the tasks for solving this very concrete practical problem. Instead, they have merely borrowed from Lenin’s What Is To Be Done applying it crudely and mechanically to the U.S.

Because Lenin in What Is To Be Done emphasizes that the current task in Russia was to defeat “economism”, a form of right opportunism, and to unite Marxist-Leninists, our dogmatist party-builders play monkey-see-monkey-do. And because Lenin did not outline how to lay the foundations for a revolutionary party, our dogmatists are totally incapable of giving anything but the most general guidance.

For the dogmatists, the preconditions for the formation of a party reduce themselves to the ’correct line’ and sufficient cadre to implement it. On the question of how that correct line will prove itself and what kind of cadre are necessary, they have had—and continue to have— little to say.

The dogmatists do not recognize that the testing ground for theory is the class struggle and its verifiers are the advanced workers. Theory proves its correctness based on its ability to address the practical question facing the working class movement, and consequently aid the development of the political side of the class struggle. And the dogmatists do not recognize that the cadre for a vanguard party have to demonstrate their advanced capabilities in the practical struggles of the workers.

Thus, for the dogmatists, the question of party-building is understood in a purely quantitative fashion. For them the foundations of a party are laid by accumulating sufficient cadre, addressing enough ’theoretical questions’ and having enough practice. Whether those cadre demonstrate vanguard capabilities, whether their theory was capable of solving the real questions facing the working class movement and whether their practice demonstrates a real fusion with the class struggle is irrelevant.

It is just this kind of dogmatism which has led so many self-proclaimed ’vanguard parties’ down the primrose path. And this dogmatism continues to hang like a storm cloud over our movement. The failure to recognize the critical question of fusion leads inevitably to a voluntaristic approach, a course which advocates ’boldness’ without a reference to material conditions. Such boldness always proves itself to be nothing more than adventurism.

Those who have recognized that the essence of party-building is the development of the union of communism and the advanced fighters will do well to learn from the errors of dogmatism.

As Marx pointed out, history does repeat itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. The failure of those Marxist-Leninists who broke with revisionism in the ’50’s and ’60’s to create a vanguard party was a tragedy. The fact that the largest and most influential anti-revisionist organizations today are traveling the same road of dogmatism and left sectarianism increasingly resembles farce.