Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Michael Klonsky, Chairman of the CPML

A look at first Three Years of CPML

First Published: The Call, Vol. 9, No. 23, June 9, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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This week marks the third anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party Marxist-Leninist. But unlike our Party’s first anniversary celebration, a gala affair attended by 1,200 at Chicago’s Raddison Hotel, there will be no big festivities this year.

The occasion calls for more sober reflection on the past and future of the U.S. communist movement. The joy and enthusiasm which followed the June 4 founding congress of the CPML was well justified, like the feelings which are common when any new baby is born. Now that the party has taken to walking on its own feet, the tone must turn to one of concern about the conditions for its development, its past errors and the tasks for tomorrow.

Three years after its birth, the CPML is preparing for its Second Party Congress scheduled to take place this year. Party members and supporters as well as non-party activists and comrades in other organizations are all offering their help in summing up our first three years. They are contributing their criticisms and suggestions to make the Marxist-Leninist movement in the U.S. a real mass political force.

It is already clear that the CPML and the entire communist movement have made some important gains since 1977. We have grown in size and scope and broadened our base and influence among sections of the working people and the progressive movements. There has also been some progress in combining the communists of several organizations into one single unified party. But it is just as clear that this growth has been too slow and limited, and that a number of major problems exist which threaten the very life of this movement.

The main criticism and self-criticism that is being voiced is against ultra-“leftism” and doctrinaire thinking which has severely hindered the progress of the revolutionary movement in the U.S.

Some have attributed these problems to the abnormal influences on us from other parties and other countries, particularly from the Cultural Revolution in China or the split between the Marxist-Leninists and Soviet revisionists two decades ago. Others argue that while these external factors may have played a role, the U.S. movement has historically been plagued by ultra-“leftist” as well as rightist (reformist) errors. It is also true that the young American communists have paid very little attention to summing up these problems in the history of the U.S. struggle.

U.S. communists have been plagued by sectarianism and dogmatism from the earliest days of the Socialist and Socialist Labor Parties through the post-Browder period of the late ’40s and ’50s (though this is seldom mentioned alongside the more common criticisms of the right-wing, sell-out leadership which ultimately liquidated the Communist Party USA and turned it into an appendage of Moscow politics), and up through the ’60s and ’70s. The youthfulness of the contemporary Marxist-Leninist movement, along with the large influx of students and revolutionary intellectuals, has laid a basis for ultra-“left” radicalism as well.

Without a balanced estimate of the past and the present, the future is bound to be filled with mistakes. The attitude taken towards one’s own mistakes is the best measure of real communist organization. The CPML has set itself to the task of self-criticism seriously It is examining its program and its general line along with its tactics and policies to separate out those parts that have shown themselves in practice to be wrong.

It is clear that the Party’s trade union work, for example, was established on too narrow a basis with sectarian policies towards the unions and their leadership, often negatively affecting our organizing efforts.

Our fightback work against the crisis is another example of running too far ahead of the masses. The National Fight Back Organization carried out excellent work across the country, including mobilizing thousands in a March for Jobs, in the ’70s. But, in the opinion of many of its best activists, that organization was set up prematurely, without enough regard for the independent political trends that were and are developing within the heart of the already-established movements and organizations under reformist leadership.

The Party’s youth and student work also suffered from some of this doctrinaire thinking and narrowness, sticking to preconceived forms without enough regard to the concrete conditions and sentiments of the masses of militant youth. At least this is the conclusion reached by the leading Communist Youth Organization (CYO) activists at this point who are shifting their emphasis more towards the existing activist trends and movements of young people.

The criticisms of past work will deepen. They are already being applied to the Party’s nationality work, its press (The Call, Class Struggle, etc), international work, trade union organizing and other areas.

There has been some fear expressed that such a self-critical examination at this time and in such a deep-going way, will produce demoralization and confusion, especially at a time when the mass movement seems to be making a turn upward. There is also the danger of raising self-criticism before we are able to pose answers to all the problems we face.

Others feel that this deep-going self-criticism is absolutely necessary precisely in order to save the movement from demoralization and enter into these movements on a sound footing. It seems that both sides have something important to say on this question.

On the one hand, the rectification of the Party’s style of work must be made the central theme internally or our party will degenerate into a small, isolated sect, irrelevant to the inevitable upsurge that lies ahead.

On the other hand, the difficult part is to carry out this shift while maintaining the independent line and political work and organization of the Party.

The CPML has moved rapidly forward since 1977, in getting the Party planted firmly on its feet. But in a certain sense it has veered off to the “left” in its effort to play its leading role in the class struggle. Now some retreat is called for.

But this retreat must be charted carefully. Already, as this self-critical attitude has taken hold in many of the Party’s districts, the mass work of the Party has broadened out and increased to new areas. Many feel pleased with the effort to expand the scope of our newspaper work and even to expand our influence within the bourgeois press and media.

Many people have also expressed approval of the Party’s growing concern with electoral politics and with the new independent and third-party trends that are developing rapidly in the country.

With this broader approach, there is also a tendency to drop the independent work of our Party. The circulation of the party press and literature has decreased in the recent period as has work to promote the Party and its line. These failings exist even while the Party’s mass work is broader than ever.

Of course in correcting one problem, there is always a tendency towards the other extreme. This is understandable. Many are raising the need for vigilance and to fight on “two fronts.”

The real test lies ahead. Can we root out the problems while at the same time maintaining the solid unity which has always characterized our Party and increasing our unity efforts with our comrades in other organizations?

Can we carry out this internal rectification while continuing to heighten our mass work in building the people’s struggle and carrying out our internationalist duty to build support for the world revolution?

Can we rectify our style of work and still maintain our economic and political stability? For example, can we continue to put out our weekly press which hasn’t missed a publishing date since it began four years ago?

A Marxist-Leninist Party must be able to straighten its course when it errs. It relies, not on some little, self-serving elite, like the capitalist parties and opportunists do, but on the masses themselves for supervision. It uses both democracy and centralism’ in order to involve the broadest numbers while at the same time going into combat as one strongly united force.

The Marxist-Leninist Party also is guided by its scientific analysis embodied in its theory drawing upon the collective experience of the masses in the millions throughout the course of history. This theory is embodied in its basic principles, aims and strategy and tactics.

The enemies of socialism may find comfort in the weaknesses of our movement and may try to make capital from our self-criticism as they have in the past. But if they were more realistic, they would sing a different tune. What is happening in our movement today, particularly the break that is slowly being made with “leftism” and doctrinaire-type thinking, is opening up the broadest horizons ever for the communists in the U.S.

The first three years of the CPML’s existence have been years of difficult and slowly-developing struggle, just as they have been for the mass movement overall. The workers’ movement is still in a general ebb period. But the smoking clouds over Miami, the worsening economic struggle, the growing fight against war and aggression -all signal that a decade of rich revolutionary experience lies ahead in the 1980s.

On this its third anniversary, the CPML is preparing itself to make the struggle for socialism in the U.S. a central part of those battles.