Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Irwin Silber

Guardian Clubs and Party-Building

First Issued: November 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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One of the principal questions on everyone’s mind – both Club members and others in the movement – is the connection between Guardian Clubs and party-building. Let us first say what Guardian Clubs are not.

They are not a national preparty formation, let alone the nucleus for a party.

They are not seen as the only possible or legitimate national organizational form for Marxist-Leninists.

They do not represent a hegemonistic force within the party-building movement.

They are not democratic-centralist and are not based upon a particular or exclusivist strategy for party-building.

They are not developed in competition with or antagonism to other Marxist-Leninist organizations with whom we share the same general political outlook.

Then what are Guardian Clubs in relation to party-building?

To answer this question properly, it is necessary to put forward our view of the present state of the party-building movement.


The antirevisionist movement in the U.S. entered into its present period between two and three years ago. At that time, the tendency towards dogmatism and ultra-“leftism” which had been a developing characteristic of the movement emerged in its most pronounced form in the struggle around international line.

This question was neither the first nor the only point where ultra-“leftism” expressed itself; but in many ways it was the most important. Previously this ultra-“leftism” had expressed itself most sharply in certain forms of dual unionism and in a failure to appreciate the significance of the struggles for democratic reforms (especially around racism).

But starting in early 1975, a whole series of “international” questions posed themselves before the Marxist-Leninist forces with a new urgency. A pattern began to emerge in the stand taken by certain groups around Iran, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Chile in which genuine progressive and revolutionary forces were attacked and solidarity broken because certain liberation and resistance forces did not adopt the same stand toward the Soviet Union as did the Communist Party of China and various U.S. Marxist-Leninist groups.

This came to a head around the question of Angola where U.S. imperialism, in collaboration with South Africa, made a concerted effort to rob the Angolan people of the fruits of their 15-year-old independence struggle through the device of a neocolonial solution based on U.S.-backed “liberation” organizations. Angola became a symbolic question for our movement – and an urgent one; symbolic because it represented a clear-cut choice between proletarian internationalism and class-collaboration and because it was just as clearly establishing the pattern for other developing struggles. It was urgent because the concrete situation in Angola and southern Africa demanded a mobilization of the people of the U.S. to prevent military intervention and a cutting off of arms assistance to the South African-backed groups. It was also urgent because the political integrity of the antirevisionist left was at stake before the masses of the American people.

It is necessary to recall these matters in order to demonstrate that the present lines of political demarcation on the antirevisionist left are not mere caprices but grew out of concrete realities imposed upon our movement by the course of events.


Dogmatism was undeniably the principal ideological source for the deviations cited above. In some cases, that dogmatism took the form of a metaphysical approach to the principles of Marxism-Leninism, quotation-mongering instead of analysis and a mechanical application of certain concepts completely out of their context. In other cases, dogmatism covered for the resurgence of traditional anarcho-syndicalist tendencies in our movement, with highly selective quotations offering glib justifications for anti-Leninist positions. In still others, this dogmatism took the form of flunkeyism – an uncritical and mechanical adoption of the world views of the Chinese Communist Party to the general perspective and international line of U.S. Marxist-Leninists.

There are, of course, many material reasons for the dominance of dogmatism in the antirevisionist left. But one in particular must command our attention – and that is the historic underestimation of (even antagonism to) the important role of theory in the U.S. communist movement. We frequently see pragmatism and economism in our movement as reflections of this underestimation of theory. This, of course, is true. But we do not as often see that dogmatism is equally antagonistic to theory, because it comes disguised as being respectful of theory.

Understanding these points is indispensable to making an evaluation of the concrete conditions of the antirevisionist movement at this time. They not only describe the present circumstances, they help explain them. They help explain why it is now necessary to define the forces of Marxism-Leninism in the U.S. today as both antirevisionist and antidogmatist. (We say this knowing that there are hundreds of potentially good communists who, at this time, are members of various ultra-“left” sects and even some in the revisionist CPUSA. We do not condemn to eternal ideological perdition those who have made these serious political errors.)


But the conditions in which the Marxist-Leninist (antirevisionist, antidogmatist) forces find themselves are extremely primitive. Some are in local Marxist-Leninist collectives, but these vary considerably in organizational and political level. Some are in “affinity group” collectives with extremely limited organizational goals. Many are in small study groups. Thousands perhaps are not in any form of Marxist-Leninist organization whatsoever, but are active in one or another form of mass work.

Small circle mentality is a powerful force and frequently accompanies marked tendencies toward economism and the glorification of the existing spontaneous movement or political movements among other sectors of the oppressed. Economic determinism and political fatalism express themselves more and more frequently in the party-building process – with the development of certain “objective conditions” given primacy over the development of the “subjective factor.” In the absence of national organizational forms, localism predominates and a “party spirit” which would go beyond the concerns of one or another small group has yet to take hold.

These are the negative conditions. But there are many positive signs as well. Let us cite the principal ones:
1. The Marxist-Leninists have begun to settle accounts with some of the main deviations from a revolutionary outlook. These include, in addition to the break with revisionism, rejection of various “new working class” theories which liquidate the leading role of the proletariat in the making of socialist revolution; rejection of the outlook reflected by theories of “white skin privilege” which promote separatism rather than working-class unity; the identification of ultra-“leftism” and dogmatism as the principal deviations within the anti-revisionist movement, and, most importantly, the rejection of a class-collaborationist view in relation to the international question generally and in relation to solidarity with national liberation struggles in particular. In other words, Marxist-Leninists have been able to recognize those firm and indispensable lines of demarcation imposed by life itself.
2. The massive upsurge of interest in Marxist-Leninist theory, expressed in the spontaneous emergence of a Marxist-Leninist study group movement, demonstrates a new awareness of the leading role of theory at this particular stage of the party-building movement.
3. The summed-up knowledge of Marxist-Leninists coming out of the mass struggles of the sixties, providing a vast reservoir of practical experience that will help root the present party-building process in social reality. Despite the fact that this experience is not primarily based on the spontaneous working-class struggle, it has a particular value insofar as millions of people – including most of the present party-building cadre – were obliged to confront deep political questions having to do with the nature of imperialism and the role of the state. Only a small number of the present party-building forces have come directly out of the university into Marxism-Leninism. Most have had some experience – some considerable experience – in one or another mass movement.
4. The rudimentary beginnings of communist experience in the working-class movement points the party-building forces in the direction of their ultimate class objective of making Marxist-Leninist theory into a material force by fusing it with the spontaneous class struggle of the workers.

To these we must add a fifth very material asset of the Marxist-Leninist forces, and that is the existence of a national newspaper – the Guardian – which has served to introduce a national presence and consciousness into our movement and which has played a vanguard role in the struggle against all of the various retrograde trends in the party-building movement.


In addition we should now note certain new features of the present period which are beginning to emerge.

First, we must recognize that while the theoretical preparation of the Marxist-Leninist cadre is very far from complete, the study group period is coming to an end. This is an inevitable development since the essence of Marxism-Leninism is summed up in the concept that the task of communists is not simply to understand the world but to change it. It is inevitable, therefore, that developing Marxist-Leninists are bound to outgrow and become impatient with the study group as a principal organizational form. A study group, by its very nature, can do nothing but study. Once it takes up other tasks it must confront the political basis for its work and, by so doing, bring itself to the point of extinction.

This does not mean the end of study. It does mean a higher level of theoretical practice than can be encompassed within a “pure” study group. It means the organized linking up of study with the central task of building (or, as some would have it, reconstituting) a communist party. Now the classics continue to be studied, but more selectively. Attempts are made to direct the study toward certain of the principal political questions facing the movement in its struggle for a general line. It also means the initial attempts at making a concrete application of Marxism-Leninism to the actual conditions and circumstances of the time – including the actual conditions and circumstances of the party-building movement.

Clearly, such a form of study requires a higher level of organization than an independent “pure” study group.

Secondly, among those Marxist-Leninists already functioning in some collective way we see developing the felt need to go beyond small circles and local forms of organization. This is reflected in the initial attempts by some local Marxist-Leninist organizations to link up with each other with the aim of creating a national ideological center and a common theoretical journal. This plan, largely initiating with the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC), includes the perspective of bringing additional Marxist-Leninist organizations into the proposed ideological center. The political sentiments underlying this plan are positive, indicating the recognition of the need for national forms in our movement and the further development of our common ideological tasks.

However, the PWOC plan also has some serious shortcomings. Virtually built into it is a federationist plan for party-building which, instead of overcoming localism, would simply reinforce it on a new plane. The groups who have so far been involved in the process are characterized by uneven levels of political development and have not all ”settled accounts” with some of the backward political tendencies cited earlier. There are even some willing to effect a compromise on the question of international line, a stand which would be a major step backward in the party-building movement. And a large number of these groups are dominated by the PWOC’s “fusion” concept of party-building which, in effect, makes the development of “a communist current in the working class movement” a precondition for party-building.

Nevertheless, the fact that a large number of Marxist-Leninist collectives have seriously taken up the question of national forms of organization in the context of theoretical development is in itself a positive sign reflecting a higher level of political maturity.

These two new features of the communist movement – the closing out of the study group period and the attempts at national forms of organization – are thus important indicators that the time is ripe for bold, new initiatives among the party-building forces.

It is in this context that the appearance of the Guardian Clubs network at this time should be placed.


The idea for Guardian Clubs has been germinating for a long time. Ever since the formation of the first Guardian bureaus back in 1973 it was apparent that there were scores of readers and supporters ready and willing to take on concrete responsibilities in the news-gathering and circulation work of the paper. The bureaus helped bring about a qualitative change in the Guardian’s coverage of national events and strengthened its role as a national voice of our movement. They also brought into being a core of politically committed cadre who became, in effect, part of the Guardian’s organizational structure.

With the growth and consolidation of the bureaus, it was apparent that the basis existed for expanding the functions of the bureaus to include such activities as circulation building, fund raising and the running of public events. But with the surfacing and resolution of the fierce two-line struggle in our movement over the question of international line, the need for a national structure that could go beyond the limited activities of the bureaus presented itself with a new urgency.

This developed simultaneously with and in correspondence to the new situation confronting the party-building movement as a whole. The leading role of the Guardian in the struggle against class collaboration on international line had projected the paper as a major political force among Marxist-Leninists in a manner that was entirely new from its previous role. Many Marxist-Leninists correctly saw that supporting and building the Guardian was a significant political act in the struggle for a new party founded on firm Marxist-Leninist principles. The Guardian Sustainer program took a sharp upward leap. Some collectives became Guardian Sustainers as a group. Others voluntarily took on circulation and fund-raising tasks. Some sponsored public meetings with Guardian speakers.

But the Guardian also projected two other tasks of our movement. It represented a force for the further development of the movement’s theoretical tasks and it helped instill a national consciousness in a movement characterized by localism and small circle outlook. Furthermore, its own practice provided an example of the struggle for a revolutionary line in the context of the struggle against sectarianism and dogmatism.


Guardian Clubs can be a significant contribution to our movement’s party-building efforts if they accomplish two principal objectives: 1) they become a national support network for the Guardian, thereby strengthening a leading force in our movement in the struggle for a revolutionary political line, for the taking up of theoretical work as a key task before Marxist-Leninists and for helping, to develop a “party spirit” in our movement; 2) they help to train a corps of Marxist-Leninist cadre who will have the theoretical equipment and will have overcome the localist and small circle outlook characterizing our movement at present, so that they can play a leading and exemplary role, along with others, in future organizational tasks before the party-building forces. In addition, we hope that the Clubs will become a force in local political activity, helping to build mass support for liberation struggles, struggles for democratic rights, etc.

Guardian Clubs are not the only force in our movement attempting to make a breakthrough on party-building. We should not see our efforts as the “only” correct path, but as one path among several that Marxist-Leninists will pursue in the present period. Our practical goals are modest and by limiting the size of the Club3 we are showing in practice that we are not interested in “raiding” other organizations or becoming a hegemonsitic force in the party-building movement. To the contrary, we plan to work with others, cooperate in both theoretical and practical work and engage in comradely ideological debate from the viewpoint of unity-struggle-unity with other Marxist-Leninist forces.

It would be wrong for us to project more than this at the present time since only time and experience will permit us to sum up our work – on the basis of which we can project the next level of tasks before Guardian Clubs.