Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The League for Proletarian Socialism

Against Sham Leninism


Published: 1977.
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.

From its base in Eugene, Oregon, a group calling itself the Movement for a Revolutionary Left (MRL) (which modestly takes the name of Chile’s MIR–Movimiento de la Izquierda Revolucionaria, Movement of the Revolutionary Left) is circulating a ninety-page, single-spaced document called “A Critique of Ultra-Leftism, Dogmatism, and Sectarianism.” Certainly a noble undertaking, which any good anti-dogmatist should support! However, the manuscript is not a critique of ultra-leftism, dogmatism and sectarianism; it is an attack against Leninism, disguised as a critique of dogmatism. It is also an attack against the League for Proletarian Socialism and a defense of the New American Movement. Our purpose here is to demonstrate that the MRL position is anti-Leninist, anti-working class, and utterly opportunist–in short, that it represents the stance of the petty bourgeois social democrats in the guise of Leninist rhetoric.

Before proceeding with our analysis, let us determine: Who is the Movement for a Revolutionary Left? The paper gives no identification other than being based in Eugene, Oregon (home of the University of Oregon). However, a chunk of this manuscript was submitted to the League by Albert Szymanski as a reply to Judah Hill’s critique of him in Synthesis, Vol. I, No. 2. (Szymanski’s reply is reprinted in Synthesis, Vol. I, No. 3.) Thus, we shall assume that Szymanski takes responsibility for the entire manuscript, and we shall refer to it as Szymanski’s position.


For the benefit of those who have not had the opportunity to read Szymanski’s manuscript, let us briefly summarize its argument. The correct strategy for socialist revolution in the advanced capitalist countries, Szymanski argues, is alliance with the petty bourgeoisie as a class, according to the principles laid out by the Comintern in 1934, and organizationally expressed in united front politics and participation in reform movements. Of course, he does not seem to recognize that powerful, well organized Communist parties existed in the 1930’s (and in Europe today) which is not the case in the U.S. Nonetheless, in this pre-party period in the U.S., the task of honest, non-dogmatic, non-sectarian revolutionaries in regard to party-building is to join in a “regroupment” or reconstitution of the left. This “regroupment” will be “a merger of individuals, organizations, and small groups dropping out of the existing sects, joining with independent individuals and local collectives to form a new organization....” This line, it must be said, was put out by various NAM offshoots at least four years ago, and is now being resurrected in Eugene. The manuscript, which was written to encourage this “coming together” of the various “anti-dogmatic” forces on the left, ends with a warning about the negative effects of “too much centralization and discipline prematurely,” that is, a warning against a Leninist party. In short, Szymanski is offering “sane revolutionary forces” in the U.S. an alternative to “sectarian” Leninist organization, which in fact is a rejection of the very principles of Leninist organization he claims to represent.


In a section entitled, “The Role of the Party” (in a united front, alliance with the petty bourgeoisie, of course), Szymanski pontificates against the “obsession” with building a party–after all, “a pre-party period has never more clearly existed anywhere than in the U.S. today.” He continues, “One wonders if the obsessive party-building enthusiasts have an understanding of what a Marxist-Leninist party really is.” That Szymanski has no such understanding becomes evident from his call for “regroupment” of the left. Specifically, he proposes:

a merger of individuals, organizations, and small groups dropping out of the existing seats joining with independent individuals and local collectives to form a new organization somewhat on the model of the Chilean MIR, an organization which would start with a moderate level of unity and discipline and gradually tighten up on the basis of its involvement in mass struggles and sum ups of its own practice (as the basis on which to resolve the political differences which obviously will be imported into such an organization).[1]

This potpourri will he drawn from seven “revolutionary currents:” disaffected Maoists; disaffected members of the CP; disaffected Trotskyists; “dissipated remnants” from Prairie Fire Organizing Committee and other New Left anti-imperialist groups; Third World revolutionaries; “Marxist-Feminists” and gay activists; and disaffected NAMites and other social democrats (“the Gramscian tendency” (??) and “other vaguely Leninist orientations”) and miscellaneous independent Marxist intellectuals. Note that this merger includes drop-outs from every tendency in the petty bourgeois left; what it leaves out is the working class. More damning still is the glaring fact that Szymanski doesn’t bother explaining how all these different folks can be expected to reach political, much less organizational, unity. To our knowledge, it would require a major miracle before disaffected trotskyists, CP Communists, Maoists, and Prairie Fire anti-imperialists would agree on anything!

The fundamental anti-Leninism comes through even more clearly in the organizational aspect of the MRL’s proposal. How will a merger of petty bourgeois leftists evolve into a disciplined organization? “Gradually,” says Szymanski. The task for the moment is to create “somewhat disciplined and high-energy local collectives and national organizations,”[2] and “rather loose associations” of those collectives and organizations. One wonders why the MRL bothers with all of this, when all they really need to do is sign up as a NAM chapter, However, to justify his proposal, Szymanski opportunistically cites the precedent of the MIR in Chile, implying that it came together in this fashion. But this is an absolute distortion of the MIR’s history. Despite their initial political heterogeneity, the founders of MIR were clear about the need for a cadre structure and understood from the very outset the difference between a coalition and a disciplined organization!

What does Szymanski’s “somewhat disciplined” mean? Read on:

This loose association can only gradually grow into a more and more disciplined body as experience is achieved in leading mass struggles.... Gradually as experience was gained, and the unity of most of the people in the association rose organically on the basis of mutual trust and collective wisdom achieved on the basis of struggling together, a genuine pre-party organization would emerge.[3]

And in regard to local groups,

At first people should come together to form groups which spend equal amounts of time (a) studying... .and (b) discussing and evaluating the individual practice and on the gob problems of various members of the group....without yet developing a collective practice or group discipline around external practice. Gradually, as the members of the group gain confidence in each other, lose their fears of being manipulated and forced to do something they don’t want to do.. ..a collective practice can begin to develop.[4](Emphasis ours.)

A high level of democratic centralism and discipline must wait until the development of a national organization with in-depth and multi-faceted experience and the necessity for disciplined national actions. Too much centralization and discipline prematurely could well inhibit creative practice and promote splits among people who do not accept the group’s line and, probably rightfully argue that the group does not have a sufficient basis to make a given decision.[5] (Emphasis ours.)

What then does “somewhat disciplined” mean? Not disciplined at all. After all, no one should be “forced to do something they don’t want to do.” Discipline should be replaced by brotherly love:

We should strive to support each other’s work in coalitions. ... Polemics should be comradely and supportive.... and should be limited to forms such as journals.[6]

But, as any serious Leninist knows, discipline does not evolve out of a merger or coalition of this kind, based on good vibes and friendship networks. Discipline is an act of conscious submission by an individual to a collectivity. It does not evolve; an individual either chooses or refuses to join a disciplined organization. In fact, the kind of merger proposed by Szymanski is designed to avoid discipline–which is precisely why an individualistic petty bourgeois collective like MRL and “leaders” like Szymanski could thrive there. In fact, since all splinter groups and individuals would have equal status within this happy merger, perhaps a MRL heavy could become its leader! The New Left rides again!

But there’s more to it. Since in this period, according to Szymanski, no one organization has been recognized by the working class as its vanguard (66-7), only a sectarian individual could profess loyalty to (accept discipline from) a particular organization. Here we reach the crux of Szymanski’s polemic against “dogmatism and sectarianism.” What he means by sectarian is the very acceptance of Leninist discipline.

Thus us far we have seen that Szymanski’s “regroupment” has nothing in common with Leninism and everything in common with social-democratic coalitions. If this obvious fact were all, we could conclude that he is proposing simply another non-Leninist, non-disciplined coalition. But he goes much farther because he is attacking all organizations based on democratic centralism while defending social-democratic organizations: he treats Leninist organizations as enemies and social democrats as friends–all the while claiming to be a Marxist-Leninist.

Having stated that polemics are to be directed against “consolidated enemies of working class struggle,” Szymanski admonishes that “great care must be exercised in avoiding the mistake of hostility attacking Reformist forces” in a pre-revolutionary period.[7] However, there is “a role for hostile criticism in attacking consolidated ultra-left sects.”[8] He specifies that this refers primarily to Trotskyists. But let us focus on his practice: this paper itself, “A Critique of Ultra-Leftism, Dogmatism, and Sectarianism,” is a hostile polemic against all Marxist-Leninist groups–since it rejects their basic organizational principle and expresses nothing but contempt for them:

One wonders if the obsessive party building enthusiasts have an understanding of what a Marxist-Leninist party realty is, or whether they maintain a Christian-like messianic conception that knowing the truth and having the right name will produce salvation?[9]

The road of all ultra-leftist grouplets (whether PLP, RCP or OL) is essentially the same... .it leads to irrelevance, isolation, and impotence, its terminus is the dust bin of history.[10]

Contrast this arrogant, contemptuous denunciation with Szymanski’s gentle and conciliatory comments about winning over NAM and other social-democratic organizations even further to the right:

Since the center social democratic trend can be expected to incorporate much of the working class and many left professionals and intelligensia who are honestly anti-capitalist it is clear that everything must be done by a revolutionary communist party to win it to, or hold it on the side of working class revolution against capital through united front tactics (from above and below).[11] (Emphasis ours.)

Any struggle against capitalism, even when waged by pacifists, feminists, nationalists, reformists, etc. is a good thing....The most effective way of keeping the transmission belt open and avoiding isolation is to maintain popular front type relations with (them)....[12]

If we are serious about winning a revolution we must have the patience to build a solid mass base for such an action and not launch uncomradely attacks against centrist (social-democratic) leadership until it is clear that they have pretty much already been exposed in the eyes of their followers as class traitors....[13]

Working with the Communist Party, NAM, and the center social democratic tendency that is bound to develop in the working class movement, is important in waging and winning working class struggles, making the struggles waged more meaningful and central to the concerns of the working class, and giving Marxist-Leninists the opportunity to win the respect and confidence of workers.[14]

Finally, Szymanski includes organizations like NAM (which he regards as “not a consolidated social democratic organization”) as a source of members for his revolutionary merger.[15] But his united front with the social democrats has nothing in common with a Communist united front, with the Communist party as the hegemonic core; in his words:

The notion of united front from below (the idea that various classes such as the petty bourgeoisie will follow the leadership of the working class party) amounts to the same thing as unprincipled recruiting from social democratic organizations, and as such provokes counter-reactions and considerable sectarianism.[16]

If it is unprincipled to recruit from social democratic organizations, then what could leadership by a Party possibly refer to?

Put it all together, and what does it mean? On the one hand, Leninists who do not work very closely in coalitions with social-democratic organizations are “sectarian.” But on the other hand, what would happen to Leninists who attempted to operate as Leninists within such a coalition? We would doubtless be accused of unprincipled and sectarian recruiting of those members of social-democratic organizations who were willing to submit to discipline. In short, Leninists would be necessarily excluded the moment they acted as Leninists.

Szymanski is drawing his line of demarcation very clearly in calling for a coalition with the social democrats against the “dogmatists,” a coalition with the anti-Leninists against the principal Leninist organizations. Objectively, this is an anti-Communist attack. To put it in class terms, Szymanski’s merger is a coalition of the petty bourgeois “independent” left with the petty bourgeois social democrats, against the only groups that adhere to the organizational form and ideology of the working class, that is, Leninism. Indeed, we do agree that a class line of demarcation divides Szymanski and MRL from all Leninist organizations; we in the League have far more in common with those who are building disciplined working class organizations–which Szymanski cells dogmatic and sectarian–than with MRL and its “progressive” social-democratic allies.


Analyzing the class content of the Szymanski thesis, we find a direct attack on the working class–both explicitly (in overt statements) and implicitly (in the logic of the argument). As noted above, the proletariat is basically non-existent in Szymanski’s coalition and irrelevant to his politics. For example, Szymanski explains that the New Left “moved to Marxism-Leninism because of identification with the struggles of the Cubans, Vietnamese and Chinese.[17] He makes no suggestion that any sectors of the working class might have participated in or given impetus to the movements of the 1960’s, or that they might have moved to Marxism-Leninism out of their own desire for liberation from capitalist exploitation. After denying any revolutionary impetus from the proletariat, Szymanski explains that actually the proletariat in advanced capitalist countries is responsible for revisionist and reformist politics:

The main danger for massive working class Communist parties such as those of France, Italy, and Japan in times of stability is “revisionism,” i.e. reformism. With a stable mass base of workers whose conditions of life are showing slight improvement rather than deterioration, during stable periods, such a party is under pressure from its base to do something about the oppressions of capitalism.[18]

Never does he consider the possibility that the pressures for revisionism in the Euro-Communist parties come from another class, the petty bourgeoisie!


Furthermore, Szymanski appears unable to deal with the working class except in stereotypes: “Working class people who develop their consciousness in a far more empirical and practical manner than students, have a greater respect for practice and more of a distrust of abstract ideas,...” It might come as a surprise to Szymanski that the working class can read, and has tremendous respect for book-knowledge and theoretical ideas as well as experience; and the proletariat, unlike the petty bourgeoisie, is able to grasp the complex idea–essential for any revolutionary–that things could be different from the way they currently are.

Aside from these explicit slanders against the working class, the very logic or strategy of Szymanski’s position is anti-proletarian by virtue of being anti-Leninist and by virtue of his class line. Why do we say that anti-Leninism is an attack on the working class? Because it deprives the working class of the only weapon by which it can ever hope to challenge bourgeois rule (and the only means by which this has been successfully done in the past). And because any other form of organization, such as the New Left collective or social-democratic “mass organization,” allows the petty bourgeoisie to operate freely, to maintain hegemony over the working class.

Without analyzing Szymanski’s class line in detail here (as the League has done elsewhere–see Judah Hill, in Synthesis, Vol. I, No. 3, we will say a few words. Szymanski’s strategy for revolution in advanced capitalist countries is a united front alliance between the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie:

Perhaps the most central fact Marxist-Leninists in the advanced capitalist countries must face is our almost total failure to successfully lead, a revolution in a developed capitalist country.... In part, our failure must be attributed to our inability to mobilize the petty bourgeoisie behind a revolutionary program....[19]

Szymanski moves easily to the conclusion that “Winning over the petty bourgeoisie as a class has historically been and will remain as necessary to achieve a proletarian revolution as winning national minorities.”[20] This pat formula ignores the fact that the old petty bourgeoisie (self-employed artisans, professionals, small farmers, small proprietors, etc.) bore a very different relationship to the working class than does the new petty bourgeoisie (salaried managers and professionals employed by or in the service of capital), which directly oppresses the proletariat and controls its labor power. Despite these and other complexities of the question, Szymanski clings tenaciously–and with a dogmatism unmatched by any of the groups he attacks–to the universal “united front” formula.

As Judah Hill has shown, Szymanski misuses and totally distorts Marxist-Leninist theory and historical experience, in order to demonstrate his point. To prove the universality of the alliance between the proletariat and the petty bourgeoisie, Szymanski cites the case of Chile in the early 1970’s. In his infatuation with the Comintern United Front strategy, however, he betrays his real ignorance of what happened in Chile. Elsewhere, for example, Szymanski has written:

The Comintern policy of a four-class alliance including both the national and petty bourgeoisie has proven most successful in Third World countries in cases where the communists have been strong such as Chile in the early 1970’s, revolutionary attempts have failed because the petty bourgeoisie was mobilized by the Right instead of the Left.[21]

Now it just happens that this very point is the line of demarcation between the revisionist left (Communist Party and right wing of Socialist Party) and the revolutionary left (MIR) in Chile. During the Allende era, the CP pushed for more concessions to the national bourgeoisie in order to appease them and secure their support for Allende–while the MIR argued in work and deed against the sacrifice of proletarian interests to those of the non-proletarian “allies.” In fact, the MIR characterizes the Allende government as a “petty bourgeois government of the Left” which “refused to base its support on the working class, the people and the soldiers....” Since the 1973 coup as well, the CP has maintained its strategy of broad “anti-fascist front” and alliance with the entire Christian Democratic Party (dominated by the lesser national bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie), while the MIR has opposed an alliance with that Party as a whole (undertaking only limited tactical agreements with the Christian Democrats). About class alliances, MIR maintains:

This policy (of alliances) should be expressed in the drawing up of a minimal tactical agreement of the entire left with the PDC, in relation to concrete goals, limited in content and time. It cannot compromise our agitational and propagandistic independence... .In addition it must be based on a categorical rejection of any kind of historical compromise which would give up the independence and the ideological, political, organizational and military strength of the working class, the people, the left, and the revolutionaries.[22]

And this refusal to compromise the interests of the proletariat is precisely the line of demarcation between Al Szymanski and ourselves.

Underlying the entire debate over class alliances and their organizational expressions is the fundamental issue: what kind of socialism? In his own discussions of socialism, Szymanski reveals himself to be a petty bourgeois socialist:

The Soviet Union is not a market capitalist country, it is guided by an economic plan.[23]

There is no real middle ground between capitalism and socialism. Either the economy is organized essentially by capitalist principles relying at heart on markets and competition among enterprises with decisionmaking concentrated in owners or managers, or it is at heart organized by a central plan geared to the interests of the working class and reliant on popular mobilization rather than elites and markets to keep it running.[24]

What this mumbo-jumbo boils down to is the proposition that the difference between capitalism and socialism is the difference between a market economy and a planned economy. Well, we are under the impression that socialism is not simply a plan, but the dictatorship of the proletariat, and control over the labor process by the working class. In fact, as Charles Bettelheim has pointed out, market and plan can coexist, and do in the Soviet Union. Szymanski’s socialism is petty bourgeois socialism, in which the petty bourgeoisie (in charge of the plan) appears to replace the bourgeoisie at the top, while the proletariat remains at the bottom, its labor power controlled, commanded, organized, and disciplined by the petty bourgeoisie. Szymanski implies that this kind of “socialism” is a stage on the way to true socialism (which we call proletarian socialism); in fact, we believe, it is a rip-off substitute. It is not socialism, but a form of state capitalism. Given this vision of “socialism,” Szymanski’s alliance with the petty bourgeoisie makes perfect sense: why shouldn’t the new petty bourgeoisie fight to increase its power-so long as it keeps the working class under control!


By now, many of you may wonder: Why does the League bother with types like Al Szymanski? Since they organize no one, does it really matter what they think or write? We answer: Yes, because Al Szymanski is not just an individual; he is part of a current on the “independent” (unaffiliated) left, whose opportunism and anti-Leninism must be exposed. Let us see the various aspects of his opportunism.

The very logic of Szymanski’s attack on Leninist organizations, and on the very principles of Leninist organization, is the essence of opportunism. Listen to his sweeping, leveling, contemptuous judgments, as he consigns all “ultra-Left grouplets” to “the dustbin of history:”

The dogmatist theory of knowledge thus generates a plethora of tiny seats each holding on to their sacred dogma defending it against all comers, in the process launching a holy war against all other sects.[25]

Just how self-serving Szymanski’s position is becomes clear if we put this together with his statement that in a pre-party period:

a wide range of differing, competing organizations and strategies is not only inevitable....but also a good thing.. . .If all serious revolutionaries were united in one centralized, organization in a pre-party period this could well prove to be a major hindrance and block the development of a revolutionary movement since only one analysis and strategy could be tried out at a time....[26]

In fact, if all revolutionaries were united in one centralized organization, this would eliminate the room for maneuver currently enjoyed by entrepreneurial leaders like Szymanski. Szymanski completes the argument:

Because none of us has the practical basis to say that our line is correct and that the others are wrong... .we must-strive for a higher degree of unity among our various groups. ...The petty bourgeois social basis of tiny sectarian grouplets in pre-party periods necessarily drives each group into mutual antagonism to the others.[27] (Emphasis ours.)

The message is clear. We’re all just equally backward, Comrade Leninists! One organization is as good as the next; no Marxist-Leninist party is much more developed than Szymanski’s collective in Eugene, Oregon. The proposed coalition or merger of equals, with “some” discipline, is the perfect setting for a collective like MRL and a “leader” like Szymanski. How can any group claim to have a greater base in the working class than MRL? How can any individual do more for the working class than Al Szymanski? In fact, who would be better suited to lead such a coalition than Al Szymanski, renowned for his ability to “demolish” dogmatists, sectarians, and ultra-leftists in his polemics?

But this self-serving opportunism has a class content, it does represent class interests. In a very real sense, Szymanski speaks with the voice of the petty bourgeoisie as a class-for-itself. This class stand reveals itself in both his organizational analysis and his class analysis. Just as Szymanski is willing to do a little manual work (as he puts it with characteristic class chauvinism, “After all, is it really so bad to do some physical labor under socialist conditions?”), so long as professionals are guaranteed “secure and rewarding employment,”[28] so too he is willing to accept “a moderate level of unity and discipline,” so long as his collective is free to operate as it likes and no one is forced to do anything they don’t want to do. Just as the privilege of the petty bourgeoisie must be preserved at least another generation or two under socialism, so too it would take at least that long for Leninist discipline to “evolve” in a political organization.

Szymanski’s blatant opportunism shows itself in many other ways. He has not the slightest hesitation about rewriting history and the experience of other revolutions to suit his conclusions. We have already seen Szymanski’s attempt to explain the failure of Allende’s UP in Chile as the result of not applying the Comintern four-class alliance. In fact, we draw (as does Szymanski’s model, MIR) the opposite conclusion.

Similarly, Szymanski’s treatment of the CPUSA during the 1930’s and ’40’s is tailored to fit his worship of the Comintern United Front strategy, with the thesis that (p. 3) the CPUSA “got itself together and became a major force within the U.S. working class movement” only after its adoption in 1934-5 of the united front strategy. In fact, the united front strategy, as misapplied by the CPUSA, was the seed of Browderism, revisionism, and the virtual self-destruction of the Party (e.g. dissolution of its factory nuclei–and eventually, of the Party itself). Finally, Szymanski credits the Comintern with having “successfully guided” the Chinese Revolution among others–a statement which flies in the face of the historical evidence that Mao Tse-tung led the Chinese Revolution in opposition to the Comintern strategy.

In addition, Szymanski lifts quotations from Lenin and Mao out of context and distorts them with the greatest of ease. For example, he does not hesitate to reduce Lenin’s famous discussion of Social Democrats as a “tribune of the people” to just another justification for the united front with the petty bourgeoisie. As Judah Hill argues elsewhere for the League, “There is a world of difference between doing political work among the new petty bourgeoisie in order to win progressive individuals to the cause of the proletariat and building a class alliance with the new petty bourgeoisie as a class.” There is a world of difference between Lenin’s urging Communists to speak out against every manifestation of tyranny and oppression especially in an autocracy (Lenin’s argument was directed against Economists and narrow trade unionists) and Szymanski’s urging Communists to enter (subordinate themselves to) a class alliance with the petty bourgeoisie as a class. And this is to say nothing of the historical differences between the petty bourgeoisie in Lenin’s time in Russia and in the U.S. today. Similarly, Szymanski’s distortion of the Maoist concept of mass line leadership turns the mass line into another justification for the united front and participation in reformist struggles[30]–hardly what Mao had in mind! Not even the thought of Mao Tse-tung is safe in the hands of this leveling, New Left opportunist.

We are not alone in noticing Szymanski’s outright distortions of history and theory. In a recent Monthly Review article, Harry Magdoff exposed the systematic misinterpretations and distortions in Szymanski’s attempt to “disprove” Lenin’s theory of imperialism, and to sever any “necessary” connection between capitalism and imperialism; as Magdoff puts it (p. 2):

On the whole Szymanski substitutes a broad faith in the feasibility of substantially reforming capitalism for what he considers to be conventional radical dogma....[31]

In demonstrating that Szymanski subordinates fact, theory, and logic to his thesis of the “liquidation of imperialism,” Magdoff catches Szymanski using the same opportunist method of argumentation as in this “critique,” to come to the same opportunist conclusion–reform, economic planning and massive government spending-petty bourgeois socialism.

A further element of opportunism and anti-Marxism-Leninism is Szymanski’s consistent denial of the subjective factor in history. Marxism-Leninism is nothing if it is not the assertion that human beings organized into a disciplined organization can intervene to shape their own hi story and liberation. Simply to accept historical circumstances as given, to explain events as the result of external causes, to dismiss all defeats for the left as “inevitable,” negates the very essence of Marxism-Leninism and of revolutionary politics. Yet this is Szymanski’s mode of analysis on almost every concrete experience he discusses. Regarding the CPUSA:

There was little that the CPUSA could have done to maintain its strength and influence in the working class and among progressives in the 1947-56 period. The forces of the most powerful ruling class in the world were too strong and the roots of the Communist Party in the working class were too weak. It was inevitable that Communist influence would be pretty much weeded out of the unions, mass organisations and schools.... There was nothing the revolutionary left could have done that could have significantly affected (the strength of the U.S. ruling class)....No strategy followed by the CP in the 1930’s and 1940’s could have resulted in a firm rooting in the U.S. working class.[32]

Inevitable? Hardly! But it serves Szymanski’s argument to see it that way: it relieves him of the need to seriously evaluate the effects of the united front policy for the CPUSA. To take another example, regarding the Soviet Union:

To be a Marxist-Leninist is to appreciate the grave problems faced by the Soviet Union in its first thirty years.... (which) necessarily produces a distorted form of socialism. And further to understand that there was no realistic possibility that much more could be hoped for... .[33]

He further criticizes Maoists for their “lack of appreciation for necessary compromise” in the Soviet Union. This is not Marxism-Leninism: this is vulgar determinism, its antithesis. This spirit finds its final expression in Szymanski’s pronouncements about the “lessons of Chile:”

The masses must team from their own experience what is necessary to make revolution.... The memory of the heroic Allende years will live and grow among the Chilean masses and eventually burst forth in a genuine revolution. The tragic events of 1970-73 were more or less necessary.[34]

Szymanski’s historical determinism is indeed the liquidation of politics! It is also very convenient. If all history can be explained by external forces beyond our control, how can anyone be held responsible for anything? And how can Szymanski be expected to do anything more than write ninety-page calls for unity?

Related to the above, Szymanski’s opportunism and anti-Leninism show themselves fully in his discussion of violence and extra-legality:

A clear distinction should be made between the understanding that a dictatorship of the proletariat is necessary and the idea of the necessity of a violent and bloody revolution.... In fact although all successful socialist revolutions have involved dictatorships of the proletariat... .only a minority have in fact come to power through violence and bloody revolutions.[35]

Of course there are times when both guerrilla warfare and insurrection are the appropriate strategies because there really is a revolutionary situation....But it is only during such truly revolutionary crisis situations that insurrection and guerrilla warfare are revolutionary... [36]

Undue public emphasis an the violent nature of revolution at this stage is likely to be objectively anti-revolutionary, since it can scare workers away, isolate Marxists as extremists and bring down premature repression.[37] (Emphasis ours.)

The essential question is then not legality-extra-legality, violence-not-violence, but rather whether or not there is a mass revolutionary movement capable of seizing state power or not. If there, is such a movement it may well be able to use parliamentary forms to gain legitimacy for its cause, neutralizing opponents because the law is on its side... .and it would be foolish to resort to violence if it already had, the right intimidated and isolated, since gratuitous violence might mobilize support for the counter-revolution.[38]

Along the same lines, the opportunism shines through Szymanski’s analysis of Chile. Berating the “ultra-Left around the world” for drawing from the Chilean experience the conclusion that Allende should have armed the working class or developed an insurrectionary strategy, Szymanski intones “Such ultra-Left criticisms are based more on dogmatic assertions about never-never land than they are on a cold hard look at concrete Chilean conditions.” He has erected a simpleton straw man, in order to knock it down. Far wiser than these ultra-Leftists, Szymanski has the answer:

Allende’s ascendancy to the Presidency in 1970 was an accident... .There was no revolutionary crisis in Chile at the time and there was no clear popular upsurge for rapid and revolutionary change... .So long as the masses retain considerable faith in parliamentary forms, i.e. held illusions about the process of socialist transformation, the election of Allende was inevitable. It was likewise inevitable that Allende would be unable to generate military hegemony either before or after his election, because of the reformist illusions among the masses and the absence of a revolutionary crisis.... The illusions of parliamentary democracy must be shattered by experience, the advanced, consciousness of leading cadres is insufficient (see Stalin: Notes on Contemporary Themes....). The memory of the heroic Allende years will live and grow among the Chilean masses and eventually burst forth in a genuine revolution. The tragic events of 1970-73 were more or less necessary. [39] (Emphasis ours.)

Aside from being totally contradictory (Allende’s election was both “an accident” and “inevitable”) , this is an outrage – this easy explanation about the “reformist illusions of the masses” –and this easy assessment that these “tragic events were more or less necessary.” In the living rooms of Eugene, Oregon, perhaps it seems comfortably inevitable. But to the Chilean working class–and the Chilean MIR–there was nothing inevitable about this slaughter.

The analysis which Szymanski dismisses with a stroke of the pen–that the events of 1973 could have transpired differently if the workers had been armed militarily, as well as ideologically and organizationally–is key in the analysis and the practice of the MIR, Szymanski’s model. In MIR’s words, “The reformists in Chile, by submitting to the bourgeois order, refused to develop a strategy for the seizure of power.” This is MIR’s response to the reformists who blame the “ultra-Left” (MIR) for the 1973 coup. Furthermore, MIR criticized Allende for “disarming the masses” and the MIR prepared militarily (as well as in other ways) for a confrontation with the bourgeoisie. But Szymanski never lets facts get in his way – and after “demolishing” a straw man and criticizing the essential position of MIR, he imperviously continues, “The correct line for revolutionaries during this period seems to be that of MIR.”

For the advanced capitalist countries, Szymanski holds out the hope that if “everything goes right,” a socialist revolution will occur without resort to extra-legality or violence.[40] Who is it, then, who is scared off by talk of violence–the working class? Or Al Szymanski and his valiant petty bourgeois friends in the MRL? Again Szymanski invents arguments to stave off anything–Leninist, discipline, revolutionary initiative, violence–which would disrupt his comfortable campus existence.

We are struck by the contrast between Szymanski’s timid politics and his arrogant, swaggering tone, confident in his denunciation of everyone and everything in the Marxist-Leninist left. This reaches the limit in his lofty pronunciation:

The task of fighting sectarianism may well prove to be equal to the tributlations of Job. Refusing to answer hostile polemics in kind, bearing accusations of revisionist, adventurist, and centrist with a smile, supporting actions led by the CP, the IS, the OL and the RCP without batting an eyelash, consistently and without guilt or hesitation repeating over and over in a comradely supportive manner the argument against sectarianism, dogmatism, and ultra-leftism, can and should prove very persuasive in defeating these three banes on the working close movement.[41] (Emphasis ours.)

Turn the other cheek and build the coalition! But unlike Szymanski and his crew, the League sees political struggle as class struggle–which is why we are writing this polemic against his brand of petty bourgeois ideology, No doubt, Szymanski will regard us as “sectarian” for revealing the political implications of his position–and in his next treatise will despair that yet another Leninist organization has gone down the tubes of “dogmatism, sectarianism, and ultra-Leftism!”


On the face of it, perhaps Szymanski’s polemic seems opportunist but harmless; in fact, however, it is more pernicious. For all the apparent confusion and contradiction in these ninety single-spaced pages, there is method in Szymanski’s madness. His proposal is an organizational expression of the antagonism to disciplined organization, to Leninism itself. But unlike the open anti-Leninism of NAM and other social democrats, this brand tries to disguise itself as Leninism. Why Szymanski persists in claiming he espouses, or even comprehends, Leninism escapes us. What does not escape us is that this incredible effort is principally an attack against the League and a defense of NAM, for one requires the other.

Further, the League’s differences with Szymanski and the two-line struggle in the U.S. left are part of a deep split in the world socialist movement–a split equal to that of the Second International during World War I. This split takes different forms in different parts of the world. In the advanced capitalist countries, its most consolidated expression is Euro-Communism, which is based on precisely the class alliance (proletariat/petty bourgeoisie) espoused by Szymanski, and on the organizational revision of Marxism-Leninism. Szymanski sees Euro-Communism (French and Italian CP’s) as demonstrating that this class alliance has been “reasonably successful” in the advanced capitalist countries.

Yet Szymanski misses the real point of the Euro-Communist phenomenon, which is that the French and Italian parties are disciplined Communist parties with mass working class membership. Szymanski cannot comprehend that a united front policy has not and never will be feasible without strong Communist parties. It is the fact of strong Communist parties that makes the Euro-Communist “historic compromise” possible, In order to transfer Euro-Communism to North America directly, as Szymanski would do, the political and economic conditions would have to be comparable, which they are not. If and when a powerful American Communist party appears, capable of mobilizing millions of workers, then it. might, under certain conditions, make sense to pursue a strategy of coalition government (not coalition parties!). The fact today is that the American working class is the least powerful and most vulnerable in the advanced countries–so much so that German, Belgian and French corporations are moving shops to the U.S. to take advantage of lower wages and worker passivity.

There is no question that, what the American working class desperately needs is its own Communist party! The historic task before all genuine Marxists today is to labor toward the creation of working class (not petty bourgeois) organized political and economic power–and that means a Leninist party of and in the actual working class. Given the existence of such a force, united fronts can be made and unmade on terms set by the working class, as is the case today in Europe. Until that day, alliances with the petty bourgeoisie will foreshadow defeat for the working class, as was the case in the true (as opposed to Szymanski’s) history of Chile.

For fifteen years the petty bourgeoisie, in the guise of various “anti-” and student movements, has either ignored or attacked the American working class and continues to do so today. Szymanski, NAM, and all the rest are presently anti-working class, have historically been anti-working class, and will continue to be enemies of the working class. When, and only when, the American working class speaks with its own voice, wielding its own power in its own interests, will it be possible to afford a tactical “compromise” (for there are always compromises and compromises) with the numerically, economically, and politically weak new petty bourgeoisie–and not one day before.

The European parties labored for sixty years to build the power they wield today. We too may have to labor sixty, or a hundred years. If so, so be it. We know there is no way a hundred Szymanskis or a thousand NAMs can halt the class forces presently in motion toward inevitable confrontation. We stand with the working class, and all others are either with the class or against it. So it has been for one hundred years; so it will be for a hundred more.


[1] “A Critique of Ultra-Leftism, Dogmatism and Sectarianism”, p.80.

[2] Ibid., P-86.

[3] Ibid., pp. 86-7.

[4] Ibid., p. 88.

[5] Ibid., P-89.

[6] Ibid., P-68.

[7] Ibid., pp. 32-3.

[8] Ibid., P-33.

[9] Ibid., P-61.

[10] Ibid., P-6.

[11] Ibid. PP. 16-7.

[12] Ibid., p. 30.

[13] Ibid., P-34.

[14] Ibid., p. 66.

[15] Ibid., P-84.

[16] Ibid., P-65.

[17] Ibid., p. 10.

[18] Ibid., P. 20.

[19] Ibid., PP. 69-70

[20] Ibid., P-32.

[21] Quoted in Synthesis, Vol. I, No. 2, p. 29.

[22] MIR Chilean Resistance Courier, #6, March, 1977, p. 51.

[23] “A Critique of Ultra-Leftism, Dogmatism and Sectarianism”, p. 46. Ibid., p. 55.

[24] Ibid., p. 55

[25] Ibid., p. 29

[26] Ibid., p. 67

[27] Ibid., p. 68

[28] Ibid., pp. 76-77

[29] [missing in text – EROL] Ibid., p. 69

[30] Ibid., pp. 62-3

[31] “How to Make a Molehill out of a Mountain”, Monthly Review, Vol. 28, No. 10, March, 1977.

[32] “A Critique of Ultra-Leftism, Dogmatism and Sectarianism”, p. 3.

[33] Ibid., p. 11

[34] Ibid., p. 58

[35] Ibid., pp. 19-20

[36] Ibid., p. 49

[37] Ibid., p. 52

[38] Ibid., p. 56

[39] Ibid., pp. 57-58

[40] Ibid., p. 59

[41]Ibid., p. 87