Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Charles Loren

Debate: What Road for Communists in the ’80s?

First Published: The Call, Vol. 9, No. 11, February 11, 1980.
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.

Call Note: The following letter was submitted by Charles Loren as a response to the article, “Communist Movement in 1970s: Strengths and Weaknesses” by Call editor Dan Burstein which appeared in our issue of Jan. 7, 1980. We encourage other readers to comment on these important issues. Burstein will reply to Loren’s letter in a future issue of The Call.

* * *

Editor Daniel Burstein’s article in The Call (Jan. 7) advocating creative application of Marxism-Leninism to the U.S. revolution makes many timely, important points. The following comments aim to carry this discussion a little further and to criticize some views in the article.

First, let me state that I regard the CPML and the organization to which I belong, The New Voice, to be in a common movement. As Burstein says, we “are dedicated to fighting for a socialist revolution and to building solidarity with those all over the world oppressed by imperialism of either the American or Soviet variety.” Burstein notes that the emergence and development of this movement is a great achievement of the 1970s and a good beginning for further advance in the 1980s.

It was a comprehensive and correct point Burstein made when he took care to state that our movement’s advance faces two kinds of obstacles: one, the set of political, economic and cultural tools that the capitalist system has for maintaining itself and two, the problems with our own political understanding that cause us to make errors, lose time and dissipate energy. We must pay attention to our work while never losing sight of the conditions under which we necessarily act.


Besides the problems that Burstein discussed which require creative application of Marxism-Leninism to the U.S. revolution, we should lay some stress on these:

•We need to agree on a basic class analysis of the United States–definitions, sizes and economic importance. The goal of a revolution is largely determined by the class conflicts in the society. The revolutions in Russia and China were not immediate socialist ones but rather two-stage revolutions because large peasant classes existed in the two countries. The role of foreign imperialists in China further affected the definition of the new democratic revolution.

What about the United States? If there is no longer a significant petty bourgeoisie, then we must develop and take to all the working class the link between their class situation and the goal of socialism that we advocate.

•We need to define our revolutionary goal. It is not enough to say that it is socialism. In order to isolate the monopoly capitalists as the target, we need to make it clear to the petty bourgeoisie and small capitalists that their property would not be seized in a revolution. Obviously, this problem of elaborating the revolutionary goal is closely intertwined with the shape of our class struggle.

•We need to integrate the search for a variety of methods of political struggle with a parallel development of our ability to imbue people with our outlook. For all the narrowness of methods that Burstein identifies as ultra-“leftism” and for all the attention we should give to elections and other methods, we cannot forget that the communist movement has done a weak job of spreading Marxism-Leninism. Here, too, we should strive to do better. A reminder of these parallel tasks for The New Voice is the second of its three key points, which is summed up in the slogan, Make the workers’ struggles the Party’s struggles, Make the Party’s outlook the workers’ outlook.

In general, the creative application of Marxism-Leninism requires that we fill in the perspective and principles all along the line from our general socialist goal to our daily activity in a non-revolutionary situation. Right now, the discussion leans toward breaking down stereotypes about tactics–elections, mass work other than strikes and demonstrations, trade union work, how to work with different strata, and how to propose solutions to specific problems like the energy crisis and inflation.

However, we still have a long way to go on the more general yet crucial issues of principle like the analysis of classes and overall socialist program. For example, when Burstein lists the initial attempts to apply Marxism to concrete U.S. conditions, he cites the leading role of the working class, the need for a party-type organization and the revolutionary potential of the national movements. The first two items are more universal principles of Marxism-Leninism, while the third is the kind of specific reflection of U.S. conditions we still need to work on.


While I agree with much of Burstein’s demand for creative application of Marxism, I think it detracts from this call to weave in the question of rightist and ultra-“leftist” deviations, particularly with his emphasis at the level of tactics. The argument over whether our problems come from Right or “Left” becomes sterile unless we demand a deepening of Marxist analysis.

We are all too familiar with debates over whether the main danger is Right or “Left” and with clever switches based on the argument that ultimately the two deviations meet and become the same. We need to be more concrete about the correct approach–the Marxist approach–both in matters like class analysis of our society and in problems like how to work in coalitions with all kinds of tendencies.

For example, Burstein identifies reliance on book knowledge and experiences of other countries as the opposite of what our own life and work teach us. Don’t we need concrete knowledge of the United States not only from our own life and work but also from objective studies that happen to be published in books?

Dogmatism is not sound book knowledge but worship of phrases ripped from standard texts. We cannot learn all we need to know from our direct experience. Marx and Lenin made masterful use of objective and statistical information about whole societies, and we must do the same for the United States.

Of course, I am not dismissing problems of tactics. The New Voice was able to achieve some small success in the campaign to overturn the Weber case’s assault on affirmative action by setting specific tactical goals and methods and by avoiding preconceived notions about who could be in the coalition and whether we had to be its formal leaders.

But it is necessary to forge unity on more than tactics, which shift rapidly with partial changes in the current situation. Firm unity of the communist movement will require the development of a class analysis and revolutionary program, too. If we can join to do this, then we will assemble more rapidly the revolutionary machinery to meet the stormy times that our society is heading into.

Burstein calls for study, discussion and new practical initiatives by the communist movement. I welcome this call and join him in hoping that it will involve the widest participation by all who support our cause.

Charles Loren