Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Dan Burstein

Political Report (Working Draft)

Written: November 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and 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.

Nov. 24, 1980

Dear Comrades,

Although I have resigned from the CPML, I think it is still relevant that people have the chance to see the draft of the political report for the party congress I had been working on at the time of my resignation.

This document will provide a fuller elaboration of my views, although I would caution that this, in my mind, wan only a draft with much work still needed. If it can play any role in the party’s debate–either to provide a basin for those who largely agree with it to work on and develop it, or to present a crystalization of my views for those who disagree with them–this will be beneficial.

Dan Burstein

* * *

To The Political Report Committee Members

Dear Comrades,

Attached is a working draft for the political report that I was assigned to submit for our mid-November meeting after our last meeting.

You will find that it is significantly different than my previous draft. Aside from being reorganized to give much greater weight to certain things and lesser weight to others, the main change is that I have decided I was wrong in my approach to the last draft which left the “broader questions” of principle and strategy only a very small place, acknowledging only that such questions exist and that we should take the “affirm and question” approach.

I have become increasingly convinced that without introducing at least some aspects of this debate now, we will never have the chance. The future relevancy of our party, or any party that comes out of the merger efforts, to me hinges on its commitment to extend the fight against ultra-leftism into the realm of basic principles and strategy. Therefore, I feel it incumbent on me to at least share with other comrades the way in which I believe these issues should be addressed in a political report at this time.

I was not able to finish writing up the “salient points” of parts 2 and 3 from our previous conception of the report, which we agreed should be incorporated into this one even while working towards a fleshed-out, joint statement on points 2 and 3 with the RWH [Revolutionary Workers Headquarters – EROL] comrades. However, you will find some of those salient points, especially on tasks, reflected in what I have written here.


The CPML faces a life-or-death crisis. Through the last period of self-criticism and efforts at rectification, we have come down out of the clouds of some of our earlier overblown conceptions about our party and have begun to face the sobering realities. We have recognized that after approximately ten years of hard and dedicated work to build this party, it remains a very small grouping of people, isolated in many respects from the mainstream of the working class, the rational movements, the social movements and American political life as a whole.

It has been a struggle to acknowledge these realities, but by and large, they have now been at least formally recognized by most of our comrades. The question for us now is, can we successfully unite on identifying the causes of our isolation and lack of growth, and can we find the cure? Can the organization that emerges from this process actually become relevant to its members and to broad sections of the people in contributing to the posing of and fighting for a path of revolutionary social change? Or will we stop part way down the critical road we have been following, short-circuit the process, and return to some of the imagined comforts of our status as a small left sect?

This is the crossroads we have arrived at after more than a year of pre-Congress discussion. Clearly, the first step in trying to go down the road of political relevancy is to summarize as best we can our critique of the past so that we can really learn something from our mistakes, correctly distinguish mistakes from those things about the past that were positive and should be affirmed, and in doing so, get a better perspective on the tasks that lie ahead. This report is an attempt to make that kind of summary.

PART l: An assessment of past strengths and weaknesses and where we stand today

For the last three years, we have often spoken of combating subjective assessments of things, of “seeking truth from facts” and of “basing our work on the concrete conditions.” Nowhere is it more important to apply this method of thinking than to ourselves. We must arrive at a sober, factual assessment of exactly where our party stands after these last 10 years of work to build it, and an understanding of the main strengths and weaknesses we have exhibited in arriving at where we stand today.

Too many times in the past, our method of looking at the party has been simply one of making an overall judgment–such as saying that things were “mainly good” or “70-30.” We rarely spelled out the particulars of what was good and what was bad, and we often diffused the discussion of what was wrong by insisting that things were mainly good and that the negative, or the “30” didn’t matter much in that context.

In trying to break with this unscientific method of the past, we should take as our starting point drawing up a real balance sheet of what is positive and what is negative about the party, so that we can examine these factors in the cold light of day, and on that basis, make an overall judgment about where the party stands and what its tasks ought to be.

The Positive Side

On the positive side, our greatest strength lies in our membership. For whatever the mistakes of the past have been, we have succeeded in grouping hundreds of dedicated revolutionaries together into a political party. Some of these people have become or already were genuine leaders of the masses and have earned significant respect for their ideas and their work. Some have gained influential positions in the trade unions, the nationality struggles and other movements. Our members have shown an enormous capacity for self-sacrifice in the cause of revolution.

Having an organization of hundreds of such people – including different nationalities, sexes, ages and political areas of work, dispersed into more than 20 key American cities– is a very positive thing and a genuine achievement. Our numbers in absolute terms may be extremely small, but the quality of our people is high. They have creative abilities that the party has only begun to tap after a long period of policies which objectively served to stifle the initiative of many of these fine people.

Furthermore, we must look at the positive aspects of the political line around which these hundreds of revolutionary activists have been grouped. On several key points it is very sound and very much of an advance over the views that existed before we began the work of building this party. We have, for example, adhered to a perspective of revolutionizing society, rather than reliance on piecemeal reforms to end the oppression of the working class and other sections of the people. We have grasped the key role of the working class in making such a revolutionary transformation, and have correctly stressed the importance of working in the basic organisations of the working class. We have understood in a generally correct way the revolutionary potential of the national movements and the need for multinational unity on the basis of genuine equality. We have correctly identified the Soviet Union as an enemy, and, in a basically correct way, understood the contention between the superpowers leading in the direction of war, as well as the role of various political forces in the world, i.e., the broad outlines of the three worlds conception.

Next, we can say that structurally and organisationally, some positive basis exists as well. While our national leadership, commissions, fractions, regional, district, and unit mechanisms are all fraught with problems, the fact that some organizational fabric exists and that some leadership has been trained and developed is certainly a step forward and enables us to even carry on the debate we are now engaged in. Externally, a few of the mass forms of organization and institutions we have played a role in getting set up have succeeded in being taken up by at least a small section of the masses. Some of the struggles we have worked in or led have produced real, tangible victories for the people and have raised their level of consciousness.

Our newspaper, although it is in deep crisis now, has also succeeded in influencing the ideas and thinking of some thousands, and perhaps even tens of thousands of people, at one time or another. It has certainly contributed to gaining whatever influence Marxism-Leninism now has in the U.S., as has our publishing house.

Although our practice has been uneven, we have stood in principle for the unity of the revolutionary forces. In the most recent period, as part of a cooperative process with other Marxist-Leninists, we have begun to lay the basis for significant new unity efforts.

We have contacts with revolutionaries in many countries and fraternal relations with a number of revolutionary parties and organizations. We have a longstanding fraternal relationship with the Chinese party and now we are starting to develop our contacts with other socialist countries as well. These relationships are of considerable value in developing our internationalist orientation, although we must recognize that in the past, we have placed far too much weight on such relationships and been unduly influenced by them.

These are some, certainly not all, of the positive? hallmarks of where we stand today. We must turn next to an examination of the negative factors.

The Negative Side

To begin with, while acknowledging that it is good to have as many people as we do, our total numbers are far lower than it would seem they should be, given the intensity and amount of work that has been put into building this party.

We now have ____(500?) members, but we have lost hundreds of other good people, as many or more than those who remain.

Several whole districts have collapsed altogether in the last three years, and, to take one indicator of Party activity, a full third of our 28 districts paid no dues at all in the first nine months of 1980.

While we have succeeded in recruiting some members from our areas of concentration, in only a very few places can we say that we have actually built a base for the party that is still intact today.

While we have made some steps in building a multinational organization, we have serious weaknesses in this regard. In fact, a crisis situation presently exists in the party in relationship to the minority membership. We have lost a great number of our minority members over the last period. Special training work has been consistently weak. At key levels of policy-making in the party–particularly in the Standing Committee and in the central operations–there is almost no minority representation. Widespread criticisms of chauvinism in the party are held by the minority members. Attempts to address some of these questions–such as at the party nationalities conference in 1978 –have been squashed in some cases by the leadership.

In terms of structure and organization, while some of it can be looked on as positive, a great deal of it is negative, and has been the source of the greatest internal criticisms in the pre-Congress period. Our party has functioned exceedingly undemocratically until recently. Policy has been set overwhelmingly by a handful of leaders in the Standing Committee, often times not drawn very directly or concretely out of the experiences of our organizers and our districts. Initiatives that come from the base of the party, meanwhile, have often been caught up in the bureaucracy of the center and never acted upon. The Central Committee as a whole has, until recently, not been a place where real debate and discussion took place among leading members. Outside of the leadership, many other good and strong cadres exist who have not been given much role to play in party decision-making or the leading of work.

The center of the party was built often at the expense or to the neglect of the base, particularly in regard to finances, personnel and other resources. We have been poor at practicing criticism and self-criticism, particularly in the top leadership. This has set a tone in the party where mistakes and errors have not been looked at objectively, accountability assessed, and changes made. Instead, problems have gone unrectified for long periods of time and criticisms from the rank and file have bean stifled. Our internal political struggles have often been launched out of tune with the real conditions in the party and have resulted mainly in stifling debate, isolating individuals and creating an abnormal internal life for the party. Among such struggles were the anti-Nicolaus campaign, the campaign against rightism in the southern work, the internal aspects of the labor campaign, the 1978-9 struggle against narrow nationalism, and the conception of the three evils campaign as a campaign chiefly against rightism and as a campaign that was supposed to simultaneously solve major problems around the nationals question.

Our finances have been managed on an incorrect political and economic basis, and, combined with other factors of crisis in the party, we have arrived at a situation where we lack the necessary capital to continue operating much of our central work.

The readership of our newspaper has been steadily shrinking ever since it was launched as a weekly in 1976. Despite the expenditures of huge amounts of money and the allocation of far more fulltime cadres than any other area of work, the newspaper has not succeeded. After more than eight years of publication of a newspaper that was designed to be the “scaffolding” of the party and at the “center of its work”; we reach only about 2,000 people in the U.S. with the paper apart from the party members themselves.

The party has not had a consistent spirit of opposing male chauvinism internally, nor taking into account the special problems and needs of women members. In the last period, many women members have become inactive, including many of the women leaders of the party.

We have done very little organized theoretical or analytical work, nor have we attached much importance to this task. The result is that our basic knowledge of the world and the class struggle has not been fundamentally deepened for a number of years. We have few answers to the most pressing questions posed by the people’s struggles except in broad generalizations on such questions as the economic crisis, energy, taxes, health care, etc.

We have erroneously set up mass organizations and institutions based on pre-conceived notions or incorrect assessments of the situation. The result is that the forms we have developed for our work–like the NFBO [National Fightback Organization – EROL] and the CYO [Communist Youth Organization – EROL] have fallen apart, and while good new experimentation is going on now in how to do work in these areas, we have as yet no organized or systematic plan.

At the same time, we have stood outside a number of key areas of struggle, issues and organizations, owing to sectarian policies or a wrong emphasis in our work. For example, we held a sectarian view towards the anti-nuke movement when it first began to take shape, opposing its main demand of shutting down nuclear reactors. We deliberately stayed outside of the mass women’s movement for many years and withdrew from organizations like CLUW on a sectarian basis. We stood outside the Black United Front when it first evolved, because it didn’t conform to our pre-conceived ideas about united fronts and multinational unity. We have often neglected support work around Latin America, particularly Puerto Rico, but other struggles as well, because the leadership of many of the existing movements are revisionist-led or influenced.

Our view of open and secret work has been seriously in error, resulting in the fact that we have little that is actually secret, while at the same time having little that is actually open. The masses view us as a conspiratorial, underground group, largely alien to their way of thinking and doing things, while the FBI knows a great deal about our internal operations. “Security” has been used as a reason not to publish a lively internal journal of debate and struggle, for comrades not to have contact with each other to exchange experiences, and for accountability of the leadership over such matters as finances and organizational growth to be reduced.

These are some of the positive and negative factors in looking at the present state of our party. In discussing the negative, this outline does not yet begin to really address the serious errors in consciously articulated political theory and line–that will be discussed in the next section. But even in looking just at the surface of things, we can see from this brief accounting that while there are many positive things about the party and many achievements, there is also a great deal that is negative and wrong. While not losing sight of the positive, the negative stands out in such sharp relief that it demands our immediate and deep attention. The negative factors cited above threaten to render meaningless any positive achievements we have so far made. Our orientation in the coming period must be one that is centered chiefly on struggling to overcome this great number of negative factors.

PART 2: The Ultraleft Political Line in Our Work

There has been a growing consensus inside the party over the last two years that behind many of the problems and weaknesses we face, lies an ultraleft political line. In many areas of work, we have put forward political views, policies and tactics which we now recognize to have been in error–generally in the direction of an ultraleft deviation. This report cannot provide an exhaustive account of all these errors, but it is important to summarize at least the chief ones:

NOTE TO READERS OF THIS DRAFT: I suggest that this section cover the following questions:)
1. Labor work
2. Nationalities
3. Women
4. Youth and students
5. Call and propaganda
6. International work
7. Fightback
8. Electoral
9. United front movements: culture, anti-nuke, USCPFA [U.S.-China People’s Friendship Association – EROL], Guild [National Lawyers Guild – EROL], etc.
10. Party organizational work.
(In my last draft report I put together some comments on most of these questions, either written up myself or taken from the DEPL. Comrades can refer back to that last draft where this material was put forward in section 2. But I think a better method of getting a deeper, more precise and all-round statement on our errors, would be to specifically solicit the appropriate commissions, pre-congress committees of individuals to write up a 150-450 word statement for each of the above 10 sections. Much of this work is already going on–HW’s paper on nationalities work, JD’s paper on youth work, etc. We should ask the appropriate bodies and individuals to sum up and distill their thinking into these brief statements to go into this section).

PART 3: Origins of the Ultra-left Line

Where do the erroneous political views, policies, tactics and organizational methods described in the last section come from? What are their origins and sources?

There is not of course one easy answer to this question. But it is the contention of this report that the reason we have been so isolated, the reason we have suffered many of the setbacks we have, the reason we have found ourselves in crisis at this juncture, is attributable primarily to an ultra-left political line.

It has been a line of dogmatism, meaning trying to apply the principles, policies and tactics developed in the classic writings of Marxism without regard to the different times we live in and concrete conditions of our own country and struggle.

It has been a line of doctrinareism, meaning substituting the theoretical and analytical work done by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, the Comintern or the old CPUSA for the work we must do and fearing that to creatively develop theory based on our own practice is synonomous with “revisionism” or “American exceptionalism.”

It has been a line of metaphysics. subjectivism and idealism, meaning seeing the world, the people in it, and ourselves as we choose to, rather than as they really are. As the first major internal self-criticism made by the Standing Committee pointed out in early 1980, we have had an idealist and metaphysical view of building the revolutionary movement, overestimating the consciousness of the masses and failing to grasp the concrete conditions and the level of struggle presently existing. While placing our main stress on the development of “principles” and in mass work on propaganda, we have failed to develop our immediate programmatic demands, slogans and forms in accordance with the objective conditions.

But having said all that, we must still look further. We must ask ourselves, what is the cause of all this dogmatism, doctrinairism, subjectivism, metaphysics and idealism that has plagued us? We must work to understand the answer to this question, or risk not breaking with leftism at its root.

There are undoubtedly many causes and factors at work. But it is the contention of this report that the origins of much of our ultra-leftism reside first and foremost in what we have loosely called so far in the internal CPML debate the “big questions”–the basic premises, principles and strategy that our trend has upheld which are largely summarized in the documents of the Founding Congress.

What exactly are these erroneous premises, principles and strategic conceptions? Some examples are the views:

l) That a “vanguard-style” party, organized for insurrection, is the best political form of organization for the present period.
2) That the CPML is the vanguard party of the working class, the only party that the masses need, and that all other parties are agents of capital.
3) That the achieving of political power for the working class hinges strategically only on waging the armed struggle, and not also on successful use of peaceful means and the influencing of the existing state structure.
4) That the society we are fighting for is a “proletarian dictatorship” described in our party program roughly in the same terms used by the Chinese in the gang of four period to describe their state apparatus.
5) That the petty bourgeoisie is a dying class and plays a mainly negative role in the class struggles; that we are moving toward a situation where only two great classes exist and confront each other–bourgeoisie and proletariat.
6) That the general crisis of capitalism has meant an absolute and continual worsening of the living standards of the masses.

This is by no means a complete list, but found in the above formulations is a significant measure of what has defined our trend politically–and what can now be seen to be wrong with our trend politically.

Although many of the above formulations exist primarily in the documents and theoretical statements of our trend, they are not abstract or apart from the concrete work of our party.

Much of the negative in our work can be traced directly to those ideological premises. Much of the positive new directions in our work in fact run counter to many of these premises.

To make this point more clearly, let us look at each one of these premises, and with it, one example of its concrete manifestation in our work:

l) The party. To ultimately make a revolution, it is, in all probability, necessary to have a party that is capable of leading an insurrection. But setting our party up on that basis at this time is has been self-defeating in many ways. An insurrectionary party is one which, by necessity, must be structured very much top-down. In the equation between democracy and centralism, centralism is generally the main aspect. In the equation between open and secret work, secrecy is generally the main aspect. In the equation between development of line and implementation of line, implementation is generally the chief aspect.

Our party has put its emphasis on the same aspects of these equations, and on every point it has been wrong. Given the fact that we are young, inexperienced, confronted by the most complicated of all societies in the world, and that the revolutionary tradition in America is relatively weak, the emphasis ought to be on democracy and openeness, at least internally: on the widest possible ability of the cadres to experiment with different kinds of organizing and propaganda and to be able to consult each other and share experiences as broadly as possible. Given the complexities of the society we live in, the sophistication of the ruling class, the inordinate number of new questions that have been thrown up to the communists by the twists and turns of the international communist movement, the emphasis between development and implementation of line should be on development. We shouldn’t say that we “don’t know anything” but frankly, we should admit, especially after all we have looked at in the preceding sections, that there is a great deal we don’t know. Making a revolution hinges not just on being the best possible organizers, but also on answering those questions. We have not been organized to do theoretical and analytical work, we have not been set-up to really be able to make use of all our cadres’ rich experiences to sum-up and distill correct understandings of major questions.

The crisis in The Call is a manifestation of our line on building the vanguard party at the present time. The Call is designed largely on the “Iskra” model. It is supposed to be an “interventionist” paper (and that was one of the main reasons for it becoming weekly) so that it can give timely guidance to a11 different fronts of the mass struggle. That is a very noble aim, and when a party exists that really is a vanguard revolutionary party, undoubtedly it should have such a press. But to pretend that we are capable of giving leadership to all different fronts of the mass struggle through a CPML-published newspaper, is out of touch with reality.

When selling The Call was the main thing our comrades did, certainly we were able to sell quite a few newspapers. But when they started really trying to go into the mass struggles, The Call became very peripheral in many cases. The masses are not looking to the CPML for guidance at this stage of the struggle. To try to build a mass newspaper on the promise that they are, or should be or will be soon, results in the kind of crisis we have now entered with The Call, where aside from the Marxist-Leninists and a handful of advanced people, it has no market.

2) The CPML and other parties. In our program, we say that all existing parties except the CPML are agents of capitalism. We have historically (until recently) opposed the conception of building a labor party or some other type of is mass party. This is one of the premises that have left us with an “apocalyptic” vision of how a revolution is made. “There is no real strategy of development in our thinking of how we go from the very tiny party we now have, to a party that leads the whole united front against imperialism, organized an insurrection, seizes power and becomes the institutionalized party of state rule. The only bridge for how to get from here to there in our current strategy is the “apocalypse”: maybe nuclear war will break out, maybe a vast and devastating economic crisis will hit, or something to that effect, and the masses will suddenly turn to us in great numbers.

This view of the CPML as the only genuinely revolutionary political force has also fostered much of the sectarianism towards groups like the Black United Front, La Raza Unida, the Citizens Party, etc. The simplistic view that holds that the CPML is the vanguard party, ought to lead the united front, and will some day be the party of state power, leaves a lot of unanswered questions about how we are supposed to work with other parties or distinct political groupings who want some kind of revolutionary changes, but who have no intention at this time of accepting “leadership” from the CPML. This view sets into motion an inevitable tendency towards trying to establish hegemony over various fronts or movements, and has been directly responsible for much of the past sectarianism.

3) Armed struggle. There is no doubt that any real change of class relationships in U.S. society will involve the working class having recourse to arms. But our past understanding of this question has been that armed struggle alone is the way the working class gains power. The effect of this view has been to relegate electoral work and other forms of peacefully trying to influence the state structure, to the category of “revisionist betrayal” at worst, or, at best simply a tactic to be used to get a hearing for our views or to make a particularly useful alliance. This is thoroughly out of touch with the reality of bourgeois democracy in U.S. society–both the way the masses view it and the possibilities that exist to utilize it.

No successful armed revolution has yet taken place in any advanced capitalist country. There is no “proof” that the armed road is the only road, nor is there even very much of an understanding of what an armed struggle in the U.D. might look like as the means of taking power. Our past confidence that we had solved the question of the road to power by criticizing the revisionist line of peaceful transition has led us not to have any serious discussions in our ranks over how, in fact, we intend to seize power. This becomes one more factor promoting the “apocalyptic” vision that those who would follow us to take it on faith that we know what we are doing, and doesn’t present any clear battle plan.

4) The dictatorship of the proletariat. We have made our support for this particular conception a keystone of our line and a hallmark of our differences with revisionism. Yet by and large, it has served to isolate us from far more of the working class that it has allowed us to attract . The American people are opposed to dictatorship of any kind, and are particularly opposed to the gross violations of democracy that have taken place in countries where socialist revolutions went bad. We not only have no real explanation of how we could avoid the same pitfalls, but our program makes no specific references [text missing here in original – EROL] have already won. Questions of freedom of the press, religion, personal property rights etc. are near and dear to the hearts of the masses, yet we have managed in eight years of publishing The Call, for example, to never address questions of how such freedoms are to be guaranteed under socialism except in one article at the time of the pope’s visit to the US.

Moreover, there is a certain method of thinking that is epitomized and fueled by our view on the dictatorship of the proletariat. It runs like this: The reason our party exists is to change society, bring an end to oppression, liberate the working class. The dictatorship of the proletariat is the form we advocate through which this will be done when we take power. We have gotten this idea largely from books–from the writings of Marx and Lenin and so on–from what we have seen in the positive experiences of the Bolshevik and Chinese revolutions and, in a very limited way, from our experience in the class struggle. So far, so good. But what about all the negative experience? What about the serious errors of Stalin and the total reversal of the dictatorship of the proletariat by Khrushchev and Brezhnev? What about how the fascist autocracy of the gang of four came about, and the fact that even now in China serious new debate is going on about how the state ought to function? What about the experiences of Vietnam, Albania, Kampuchea, Cuba and the East Bloc?

Is it sufficient to say things like “well, socialism is a relatively new system so it’s bound to have difficulties, but we’re still sure that the dictatorship of the proletariat is what we’re fighting for and will provide the liberation demanded by the oppressed people of this country”?

To uphold the dictatorship of the proletariat as the goal of our struggle–without either being able to flesh out how it will work in America or answer why it has failed elsewhere– sets in motion a certain kind of dogmatic, blind faith, that more or less justifies a method of not seeking truth from facts and not basing ourselves on reality as it is.

5) View of the petty-bourgeoisie. This is just one example of our serious errors in making class analysis and understanding the united front. The specific implications of this view have been to abstain from most of the arenas where the petty bourgeoisie is concentrated and engages in its political discussions and activity. In particular, we have given virtually no importance to the role of the intelligentsia in the modern capitalist society. While our party should and must strive to build a grassroots base among the working class and minorities as its chief task, side-by-side with this must be a vigorous effort to influence what is happening in the universities, the professional associations, the press circles, cultural circles, scientific work etc.

The idea that we are moving towards a society where all other classes will become extinct except the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, as expressed in the program, is a piece of dogma that merely serves to blind us to the realities of America and keep us from basing our work on those realities.

6) The general crisis. The view expressed in the Political Report of the founding Congress paints a picture of a growing impoverishment [text missing here in original – EROL] further argued that this crisis has been going on uninterrupted ever since World War I, and that this is the era when world capitalism is in rapid decline and socialist revolution is sweeping the world.

It is from views like these that the great overestimation of the consciousness of the masses and the rapidity with which we expect the revolutionary storm have come. In a very concrete sense, it was these views which allowed us to believe that a party-led fightback organization should be the way to respond to the economic crisis, and that it could rally the broad masses to its side. In a broader sense, these views have kept us from taking a long-term view of the revolutionary struggle, entrenching ourselves in a number of different kinds of key positions, learning through trial-and-error how to do our work.

These views again serve to foster the “apocalyptic” view of revolution: we don’t need to develop much theory, find new forms of organization etc. because the crisis is deepening and the masses are bound to rise up and storm the barricades.

* * *

The above points are only some examples–some key ones to be sure–but by no means a complete list of the basically ultra-left principles and strategic assumptions we have been working under. We have tried to build a movement around principles enunciated by Marx, Lenin or Mao in other times and places under vastly different circumstances, without ever going through a process of scientifically determining which of these principles are applicable to our struggle, which are partially applicable but need development, which are inapplicable and which new principles are dictated by our own situation.

Out of time, place and step in our basic principles with the conditions we are working under, it is no wonder that we fell prey to a wide variety of ultra-left lines of thought, policies, tactics and forms.

The basic factor that led us into this situation was the influence of the split with revisionism and, more particularly, the Cultural Revolution. Radicalized by the experiences of the 1960s, many of us began to gravitate towards an understanding that revolution was necessary to solve the fundamental problems of society. But the Soviet Union and the CPUSA didn’t look very revolutionary to us. We began to see something very wrong with revisionism, which claimed to be for revolution, but always ended up on the other side of the struggle from us.

In the Chinese experience, we thought we found the answer, and to a much lesser degree, with Albania. Here socialism was being saved. Marxism was being defended. The revisionist road was being rejected. It was people who came largely out of those experiences that played the main role in getting the Marxist-Leninist movement off the ground in the early 1970s. The early ideas about what a party should be, how to make a revolution, how to look at philosophical and ideological questions etc. were largely conditioned by the model offered by the Cultural Revolution, as well as the Cultural Revolution’s method of taking all the writings of the “Big Five” of Marxism to be gospel truth.

The trend grouped around the OL and later the CPML, held the Cultural Revolution to be the “greatest event in history.” We stated openly that it was the Cultural Revolution that gave birth to our party, and that it was Mao Zedong’s leadership in smashing Liu Shaoqi’s revisionist headquarters that saved socialism on a world scale. We believed Mao Zedong Thought–with the theory of continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat as its cornerstone–to be the pinnacle of Marxism in the contemporary era.

These were not just empty phrases, or things we only said when the subject of China came up. The fact is that the majority of our party leadership and a significant section of the membership as a whole learned Marxism-Leninism and developed our understanding of the party and the tasks in making revolution largely through the distorted prism of the Cultural Revolution in China.

By probing a little more deeply into the way the line of the Cultural Revolution negatively influenced us, it is easier to see the whole system of ultra-left ideas and practice that often characterized our work:
*To begin with, there were ideas about the party itself that came out of slogans and propaganda from the Cultural Revolution: that the history of any party is chiefly a history of two-line struggle; that there is a constant struggle between representatives of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat inside the party; that every single idea is stamped with the brand of a certain class. These conceptions led us to an untenable situation in terms of being able to have real debate and democracy inside the party. The clearest example is the Nicolaus struggle, where instead of being able to distinguish the many correct ideas Nicolaus was raising from incorrect ones, we looked on all his ideas as a reactionary mass, categorized him as an “enemy agent” and purveyor of the “right deviationist wind” inside our ranks. On a lesser scale, the same situation developed around many people and the ideas they raised that may have been, correctly or incorrectly, at odds with the established line at any given time.
*It was no coincidence that the Cultural Revolution turned out to be an all-out assault against the revolutionary intelligentsia and actually stultified culture, while in our ranks, intellectual and cultural work was practically prohibited early on by the exclusive concentration on factory work, and to this date, has only achieved a small and unofficial niche in the party’s work.
*Another premise of the Cultural Revolution that we absorbed was the view in China that existing institutions and organizations were corrupt and reactionary almost across the board, and should be replaced wholesale by new, “pure” proletarian ones, which would succeed on the basis of their red political line. There is a close connection here to our zeal to set up new, independent organisations and movements–from the fightback and CYO to our film company and some bookstores, to our concept of a “new women’s movement,” without much to back them up besides political line, and without studying how best to combine independent forms of work with working through existing organisations.
*The Cultural Revolution view that Mao’s Red Book could answer any political question certainly had a deep impact on us in the early period, where our internal documents, and theoretical articles almost sounded like they came straight from the Red Book. But even today, the legacy of that view is still with us. Many leading members of the party remain much more familiar with Mao than with anything else from Marxism, and much more familiar with Marxism than they are with American history, economy, or other questions.
*The stress of the Cultural Revolution against any manifestation of individuality within the party or any interests apart from political interests was another negative influence on us. A similar stress in our ranks made many good people feel unwelcome in the party, and was an aspect of our erroneous cadre policy.
*The near-mystical qualities ascribed to Mao Zedong Thought by the Cultural Revolution contributed to our tendency to look on Marxism-Leninism more as a religion than a science. Our very insistence on upholding Marxism-Leninism Mao Zedong Thought in the program as the ideology that will guide us to victory, when we knew that we had no real formulated definition of Mao Zedong Thought, is a good indicator of this metaphysical tendency.

The Chinese never forced these ideas on us. We chose to accept them because they seemed right. Similarly, the ideas we assimilated whole without digestion from Lenin, the Comintern or the historical experience of the CPUSA, were not forced on us, but were chosen by us.

We were receptive to dogmatism and doctrinairism for several reasons:
1) Youthfulness. Our movement was initially made up of young people who lacked the balanced vision of maturity and experience. In many ways, we suffered from the zealousness and fanaticism that often captures the youth and leads to seeing things as all black or all white.
2) Class base. Intensifying the problem of youthfulness was the fact that most of us came from the petty bourgeoisie, with the tendency towards romanticizing revolution and adventurism that often characterizes that class. Lacking stable roots in the working class, it was easier to believe that this or that particular gospel was the answer.
3) Inexperience. Cut off by the split with revisionism from veteran comrades who had been through the struggles against leftism so pervasive in the history of the U.S. movement we got caught up in the immediate fight against the right, without also understanding fully the danger of left errors.
4) Influence of anarchistic trends. A long history of anarchistic trends in the American labor and progressive struggles and a great deal of anarchism current in the movements of the 1960s, influenced some of our thinking leading us at times, for example, to policies that bordered on dual unionism.
5) The character of the movement in the 60s. The big mass upsurge of those times led us to think that revolution was a much more immediate possibility than it turned out to be. The emphasis of those times on direct tactics of confrontation–generally useful in a period of upsurge– stayed with us even when the upsurge died down.
6) Our internal organization. In the 1975-8 period, when we took a turn towards even more consolidated ultra-left policies than we had followed in the earlier period, lack of internal party democracy greatly facilitated this shift. The main erroneous decisions and campaigns of that period–the founding of the CYO and Fightback, the labor campaign, the anti-Nicolaus struggle, the line on Call networks, the policies towards SCEF [Southern Conference Educational Fund – EROL], the setting up of “anti-revisionist committees”, etc. were formulated overwhelmingly by the top leadership in the center, based on very little knowledge, investigation or consultation. The leadership then went out and “won” the rest of the party to these things. Some opposition was stifled, particularly around the labor campaign and the anti-Nicolaus struggle. But mostly the party enthusiastically went along with what the leadership had decided. A wrong method of internal operations created a situation where there were no checks and balances to keep erroneous policies from being formulated in this way.

All of the above factors played a role in the development of our ultra-left line. There are additional factors and influences as well. But none of these are the main factor. To seek to understand our errors chiefly in light of youthful immaturity or our class base or anarchist influences missed the point. The real point is this one:

There arose in the 1960s and early 70s a political trend in the international communist movement, of which we became a part, which tried to cure the obvious ills of revisionism largely by dogmatically reasserting the basic principles of Marxism. China and Albania were in the forefront of this movement, but shortly thereafter, dozens of parties began to spring up or develop along this road.

This trend has now accumulated more than a decade of experience. But outside of a few instances (such as in the guerrilla struggles of Southeast Asia), this view of making revolution has not been able to take hold and grow.

The leftism engendered by this trend has not only been a fetter on the development of the revolutionary forces, but in some situations, has actually led to the most perverse and corrupted forms of Marxism being carried out under its banner, such as the gang of four in China and the RCP and CWP here.

This trend is now in tremendous disarray internationally. The Chinese, have broken almost totally with the thinking of the Cultural Revolution, and have denounced almost every one of its policies, decisions and political formulations. In some other countries, the Marxist-Leninists are moving towards a good summation of some of these problems. Elsewhere, however, the tendencies towards either a reassertion of dogmatism or total dissolution prevail.

For ourselves, we must now sum-up where we stand.

We thought we had “rediscovered” the principles of Marxism and “rebuilt” the revolutionary party. But in fact we have not. We have gained experiences and we have had some successes, but the overall political framework of our party has proven not to be sound. The revisionist road is clearly still wrong, but now so too is the Cultural Revolution road.

We must get organized to discover a new road, a more correct road. To discover such a road is not simply an intellectual task of theorizing. That is a part of it, but there can be no theory divorced from practice. We must break with the theories that shackle our practice, and recognize that for some time ahead we may lack a full-blown theoretical framework, until we can sufficiently sum-up our new experiences. But that will be infinitely preferable to a theoretical framework that continues to keep us an isolated sect.