Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Ron Whitehorne

An analysis of the Guardian’s Party-building view (part 1)
Deepen the Criticism of Dogmatism

First Published: The Organizer, Vol. 3, No. 7, September 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In June in a much heralded supplement, the Guardian newspaper put forward its “views on the key party-building tasks confronting Marxist-Leninists in the US today.” The supplement outlines 29 principles of unity that are to serve as the basis for Marxist-Leninists “uniting ... at their present stage of organizational development and moving on to a higher stage.” The proposed form of this unity is a network of Guardian clubs which wouId engage in “party-building, local political action, and work directly connected to building support. . . for the Guardian.”

In our view, the Guardian’s party building views are seriously flawed. The heart of our differences do not center on the 29 principles of unity. While we have disagreements with some of these principles, for the most part they express the common ideological orientation of our movement and as general formulations serve to draw lines of demarcation with both revisionism and dogmatism. It is the analysis which accompanies them and the perspective in which they are placed where our principle differences lie.


The Guardian’s errors flow from a mistaken conception of party building that sees unity of the existing Marxist-Leninists around ideological principle as the only precondition to party formation. In our view, the unity of our movement around what Irwin Silber has termed “the ideological legacy of scientific socialism” while clearly necessary, is not sufficient.

The essence of the party building process is the attempt to fuse Marxism Leninism with the working class movement. It is only in conjunction with the effort to win over the advanced workers to Marxism Leninism and build a Communist current in the workers movement that the full range of our tasks. . . theoretically, politically, and organizationally. . . become clear. It is only in conjunction with the struggle for this fusion that revolutionary theory and political line acquire any degree of validation. It is only the imperatives posed by fusion that provide urgency and reality for the efforts of Marxist-Leninists to unite. But the Guardian insists that the task of fusion only can be taken up after the formation of the party and this point of view profoundly influences their analysis. (For a full discussion of our differences with the Guardian on the question of fusion see Fan the Flames, 3/16/77 and 5/4/77, Radical Forum 4/13/77 in the Guardian and last month’s Organizer.)

The Guardian’s attitude toward fusion, its liquidation of the role of the advanced worker in party building runs like a thread throughout the errors in their party building analysis.

In its introduction to the supplement, the Guardian makes many points that we along with most other Marxist Leninists would certainly second. . . the need for a party, the bankruptcy of revisionism and the degeneration of the RU and the OL as tendencies which could resuscitate Marxism-Leninism.

In its analysis of the OL and the RCP, however, their are some significant errors. First of all in relation to both organizations, the Guardian analyzes their errors almost solely in terms of political line and largely in relation to their international line at that. Certainly the political line of these organizations and their repudiation of proletarian internationalism especially, are central to their degeneration. We agree with the Guardian wholeheartedly when they say: “The problem with these organizations was not that they emphasized political line but the political line that they emphasized.”


Nevertheless there is a certain onesidedness in this analysis. While it is true that errors in political line were central to the failures of both groups, we also have to look at their party-building approach as part of the effort to learn from the mistakes of the past. Both in relation to party building and political line the RCP and the OL were guided by ultra-leftist assumptions rooted in a dogmatist misunderstanding of Marxism-Leninism.

In essence both organizations pursued a voluntarist approach to party-building. Their mere desire to form the party overrode any considerations of the actual readiness of the conditions for party formation. Both organizations in somewhat different fashion ran roughshod over the key preconditions by either ignoring them or inventing their realization out of thin air. Neither organization succeeded in uniting the Marxist-Leninists but instead only united a handful of’ sympathizers with the existing pre-party organization. To represent this as “uniting the Marxist-Leninists” necessitated reading the rest of the movement out of the anti-revisionist camp. Neither organization succeeded in achieving any real degree of fusion with the working class movement. Instead the recruitment of a handful of advanced workers who were as isolated as the rest of the RCP-OL cadre was conveniently substituted for a genuine communist current in the workers’ movement.

This approach to party-building cannot be separated from the political line of these organizations. It was in large part their political line which prohibited them from making progress toward meeting these preconditions. Their failure to elaborate a revolutionary theory and political line capable of addressing the real questions facing the revolutionary movement prevented them from winning over the advanced workers in real numbers and expanding the influence and prestige of Marxism-Leninism in the workers’ movement. Such a failure was readily apparent to the bulk of Marxist Leninists who were thus unwilling to unite behind their banner.

While party building and political line are inseparably bound up with each other, they are also distinct parts of a whole. The failure of the Guardian to treat the party building efforts of OL and RCP as distinct aspects of their overall degeneration is a significant oversight. The reason is readily apparent. The Guardian itself subscribes to the same voluntarist approach to party building and thus has no real critique of this aspect of OL or RCP’s work. In fact the Guardian even goes them one better. While the OL and RU at various points paid lip service to the line that fusion is the critical element in party building, the Guardian does not even pretend that it is a requisite to party formation.

The Guardian argues that the unity of Marxist Leninists on the basis of political line must precede taking up the task of fusion. In other words, this is a task that can only be seriously addressed after the formation of the party. The attempt at winning over the advanced workers and the development of a communist current, however embryonic, are viewed as largely incidental to the process of party-building. Laudable activity perhaps, but only if it does not divert us from the real business at hand. . . the building of unity among Marxist Leninists. This is the essence of Irwin Silber’s “Which comes first” logic on party building (see Fan the Flames 3/16/77).

While the RU and the OL both attempted to fabricate a bit of fusion with the advanced workers and puff their influence in the class struggle, the Guardian simply says we do not need the advanced workers. . . we do not need to have established any degree of Communist leadership in the working class. . . in order to form a vanguard party. All three organizations rest their approach on the same voluntarist assumptions – that our will to form the party is sufficient and can overcome all else. Never mind that such a party will not have established its vanguard character in any respect. Our intention to be the vanguard will suffice. But as the experience of OL and RU shows, the road to sectarian isolation and impotence is paved with such good intentions.


The Guardian’s rejection of the task of fusion in relation to party-building in favor of voluntarism represents an accommodation with dogmatism. Unfortunately the failure to break decisively with dogmatism is not limited to this point alone. The Guardian is fond of reminding us of its contributions to the fight against dogmatism. And we readily acknowledge them, particularly in relation to forthrightly opposing the line that the USSR constitutes the main danger with all its offspring in Portugal, Puerto Rico, and Angola.

At the same time, we think the Guardian has vacillated in its willingness to extend and deepen its criticism of dogmatism and has shown a reluctance to burn its bridges. Its party building document reflects this. First it fails to identify dogmatism as the main danger within the anti-revisionist movement as a whole.

Instead, “class collaboration around international line” is seen as the main deviation. This is certainly a central expression of the opportunist line, but it is a symptom and not the root of the problem. We agree this is a necessary line of demarcation but it is not sufficient. We have to be clear that dogmatism represents a definite trend, and is not simply a deviation on one or more questions of line.

The partial and shallow nature of the Guardian’s anti-dogmatism is also present in their treatment of the RCP. Like the dogmatists, the Guardian argues the “principle errors of the RCP have been right opportunist.” The Guardian is able to arrive at this determination because it completely ignores the voluntarist nature of the RU’s rush to the party (clearly a (left error) and the ultra-left character of its practice in the working class movement. Seeing fusing Marxism Leninism with that movement as largely incidental, the Guardian does not regard the failure of the RCP to provide communist leadership in the trade unions and win over significant numbers of advanced workers as having any special import.

Certainly the RU-RCP has made right errors. (The Guardian correctly cites their stand on busing and the ERA – we would add their fetish-like separation of Communist propaganda and agitation and aversion to the ideological development of the advanced workers). Nevertheless, in the main, the RCP is characterized by left opportunism as evidenced by its voluntarism in party building, its dogmatist international line and its relentless sectarianism in the workers’ movement. These errors have the same theoretical roots in dogmatism that characterize the OL, WVP, etc. The Guardian fails to recognize this because it too has not completely broken with dogmatism.


Another illustration of the same point is the Guardian’s attitude toward the attitude of what is the main danger within the anti-dogmatist trend. The Guardian sees the “principle opportunist dangers” as pragmatism, economism, and conciliation with revisionism. It talks of the danger of “an extreme swing to the right.”

In our view this is not only incorrect, but a dangerous characterization that could seriously hamper the effort to consolidate a Marxist Leninist trend. Certainly there are right tendencies in our movement and we do have to combat them. We do have to face right tendencies in our movement.

In large part, these tendencies are expressions of our backwardness – they grow out of our fragmentation and isolation – they reflect the uneven and generally low level of ideological development in our movement – and they are in some degree an immature reaction to dogmatism. At this point in time, we do not think there is a consolidated right trend within our movement although if we do not combat these right tendencies undoubtedly they will congeal into such a form. To combat the tendency toward right opportunism we must raise our movement’s ideological level, deepening its grasp of dialectical and historical materialism. And we must transcend the narrow, local quality of our practical work, giving our activity broader political scope.

However, if we do not place these right tendencies in proper perspective, we will not succeed in correctly combatting them. The main danger come not from the right but from the left. The dominant problem is that our movement has not yet completed the break with dogmatism.

Its critique of dogmatism remains in many respects shallow and uneven. There is not agreement on what the content of dogmatism really is or even if dogmatism accurately characterizes the roots of the ultra left deviation. Both in relation to party building and political line, the influence of dogmatism has hardly been routed. Its roots in our movement are very deep and the process of pulling them out will be necessarily protracted and difficult. In light of this to pose right errors as the main danger represents a dangerous diversion from our most pressing task – the struggle against dogmatism and ultra-leftism. If our main focus is to be on our right errors, we will not succeed in uprooting dogmatism and we run the danger of strengthening its hold. This is the real danger, that our movement in spite of a promising beginning, will, because of its failure to understand the character and depth of dogmatism, end up falling prey to it.


The history of the struggle against ultra-leftism in the Chinese Communist Party provides us with some instructive parallels. In A Resolution on Some Questions in the History of our Party, adopted at an enlarged plenary session of the Central Committee in 1945, the Party analyzes the struggle against the “three left lines” which plagued the movement from 1927 to 1935. While the details of this struggle need not concern us here, its broad outlines have a definite relevance for our movement.

In the wake of the crushing defeat suffered by the Party in the cities at the hands of the Kuomintang reactionaries, both left and right deviations arose in the Party. The right line represented a capitulation to the reactionaries, calling for the liquidation of illegal work, opposing building the Red Army, claiming that the bourgeois democratic revolution in China had already been concluded and that the proletarian revolution was postponed to the far distant future. In the course of the fight to overthrow the right line a left deviation developed. The left line stood for an adventurist military policy, blurred over the national democratic character of the Chinese Revolution and took a sectarian posture toward middle forces among the Chinese people. In its internal manifestations this line was characterized by a militant factionalism and deviation from the practice of criticism-self-criticism.

The left line triumphed briefly in the party but was repudiated by the 6th National Congress in 1928. But almost simultaneously it re-emerged in the form of the 2nd left line, associated with Li Li San. The 2nd left line retained all the essential features of the first, only in a more refined and sophisticated form. This line too was briefly dominant in the Party during 1930 but was rejected that same year. Once again the left line re-emerged.

The third left line, whose leading exponent was Ch’en Shao-yu, was even more successful in hiding its essence, and thus was not so easily routed. It remained s dominant in the Party until defeated by Mao Tse Tung in 1935. Both the second and third left lines paid lip service to the struggle against the left deviation which had preceeded them. And both in fact recreated the left line in all its essentials in the name of aiming the main blow against the right danger.


Why had the struggle against the left line failed to correct the deficiency? According to the Party resolution: “The defect in these struggles was that they were not consciously undertaken as a crucial step to rectify the petty bourgeois ideas which existed in the, Party to a serious extent and consequently failed to explain fully the ideological essence and source of these mistakes and to indicate the proper methods to rectify them, thus giving them a chance to crop up again.”

And what was the “ideological essence” of the left line? In its most mature expression, again according to the Party resolution, the left line took “the form of doctrinairism. . .starting not from actual conditions but from certain words and phrases torn at random out of books.” The resolution also identifies empiricism “as the main collaborator and accomplice of doctrinairism.” Empiricism, the infatuation with narrow practical experience, shared a common ground with doctrinairism in that both rejected dialectical and historical materialism. The empiricist’s “lack of independent, clear and comprehensive views on questions concerning a situation as a whole” either made them easy prey for the doctrinaires or enabled them to play “second fiddle” by adopting their viewpoint on different questions.

The Party Resolution locates the social roots of these ideological flaws in its own predominantly petty bourgeois composition and in the fact that the Party is “externally surrounded by this enormous social stratum.” Given this, it was “inevitable that petty-bourgeois ideology of various shades should often be reflected in our Party.” The Party’s response, of course, was not to turn away from the peasantry, which, constituted the main force of the Chinese Revolution as well as the largest source of the Party’s cadre. Instead the Party stressed the need for a conscious, protracted struggle against petty bourgeois ideology in all its varied forms.


The parallels with our movement are not exact but they are striking none the less. The history of the anti-revisionist movement in the U.S. has its own version of “the three left lines” in the form of first the Provisional Organizing Committee, secondly the Progressive Labor Party, and thirdly the RCP and CP-ML, each of which has covered it’s own refurbished, more refined brand of leftism in a repudiation of the leftism that preceeded it. We see too how in our movement, like the Chinese movement in the period covered by the Party Resolution, the slogan: direct the main blow at the right line has served as a cover for left opportunism and has fed it’s rise.

To date our movement too has failed to rout this left deviation, in spite of the fact that each individual variant of the left line has in time been discredited. The continual “cropping up” of the left line in our movement also has its roots in a failure to get at and rectify the “ideological essence” of this line. And of course the social basis of left opportunism here as in the Chinese situation is the predominantly petty bourgeois composition of our movement.

We also have considerable experience with empiricism acting as the handmaiden of doctrinairism. How many times have we seen collectives dominated by narrow practicalism and economism go over, often within a matter of months, to the standpoint of the most hidebound dogmatism?

In light of all this the implications of saying that the main danger within the anti-dogmatism trend comes from the right should be clear. Will this not serve to divert us in getting at the ideological roots of dogmatism and digging them out? Will it not encourage a continuation of the kind of “rectification” of rightism that results in a caricature of leftism? And finally will it not ultimately carry the risk that our movement, having failed in it’s self-diagnosis, will fall victim to the very disease it seeks to cure in others?