Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The New Voice

Book Review: Sooner or Later?


Published: The New Voice, Vol. IX, No. 8, July 21, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Sooner or Later: Questions & Answers on War, Peace & the United Front is an important book that forces readers to identify and confront the principal issue of world politics. The authors identify the issue, but their proposals for dealing with it need overhauling.

Written by the Communist Unity Organization (CUO), the book documents that the principal contradiction in the world today is between the Soviet imperialists and the rest of the world.

It reminds us of the trend of U.S. imperialism’s instability and retreat: the Indochina war, Watergate-bred cynicism, and breakaways by such ’secure’ countries as Iran and Nicaragua. (p. 8) The text and a series of charts make up a virtual handbook on the disposition of international forces as measured by the stationing of troops, production figures for military vehicles, and economic comparisons of the U.S., the Soviet Union and the Common Market.

The assessment is honest and accurate; it notes both Soviet strengths and weaknesses. “Soviet projection capabilities still cannot match the absolute capability of U.S. forces.” (p. 10) Soviet diplomatic isolation after the invasion of Afghanistan is handily summarized in the UN roll call vote (p. 53). The book is loaded with data on economic relations that are the stuff of world power politics (West Germany imports 100% of its tin and manganese and nearly all its titanium and aluminum from Africa – ores that must travel by Soviet-threatened sea routes – p. 13).

Sooner or Later also takes pains to describe political trends carefully. “For example, there are not two but “three basic responses to this Soviet challenge by the American bourgeoisie.” (p. 96) The Reagan-Goldwater “go it alone” school wants to revive U.S. power singlehandedly. Reagan’s May 17 call to renew official relations with the Kuomintang on Taiwan, and thereby wreck normalized relations with China, is the most recent example of this response. Another approach comes from the appeasers, whose economic ties with the Soviet capitalists are exposed (pp. 26-30). “Tranquilizing the American masses [with lullabies of peace in our time], they would permit the Soviet Union to swallow huge sections of the Third World, seize Europe and prepare an attack on China, leaving the U.S. isolated.” (p. 97) The third response is prepared to make alliances around the world in order to halt Soviet aggression. Although not strong, this trend does exist and will grow. Senator Henry Jackson is emerging as one spokesman in contrast to both cold warrior Reagan and appeaser Kennedy.


Recognition of the principal contradiction – the Soviet imperialists against the rest of the world – takes us a long way. We can unite to oppose pro-Soviet forces, criticize the outlook left over from the days of U.S. world domination, and carry on political education with people about the world situation today.

But there are still problems. One is to handle the principal contradiction in a Marxist-Leninist way, and another is to work out specific measures accurately in both content and timing. Here we must disagree with the CUO’s proposals.

The CUO supports reinstituting the draft and retention of U.S. bases in the Philippines. In a marvel of understatement the CUO solemnly advises that the United States “is capable of using its military to oppress other countries and prevent national liberation” (p. 58). While a mass fight is building against simply registering for the draft, the CUO demands that communists support conscription. While tens of thousands march in Washington against registration, the CUO presents technical reasons for conscription: pilots and other skilled personnel are in short supply, and trained reservists are lacking because so few people are getting military experience. The answer to such problems is better military pay and working conditions, along with short-term militia training for civilians – not support for the method that squeezes working-class youth.

A united front with the U.S. capitalist class against Soviet imperialism should be discussed, but the CUO’s anxiety to form it leads to an excess of concessions by the working class in return for too little from the bourgeoisie.

For example, the CUO lists some concessions forced on U.S. imperialism worldwide (in southern Africa, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Iran) and then asks, “But what about our [the U.S. workers’] compromises?” (p. 67) The wily traders of the bourgeoisie would welcome such faulty logic of exchange: because the U.S. has been forced to make some concessions overseas that indirectly benefit both us and them in the interests of the united front, therefore U.S. workers should make concessions without direct reciprocation by the capitalists.

Supposedly, the U.S. capitalists made economic concessions during World War Two. The CUO lists only the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) order by FDR in 1943 and the increase of trade union membership in 1940-45. The FEPC was mostly window dressing, and the trade unions established themselves by hard struggle in the 1930’s; the comparatively peaceful addition of members during 1940-45 is hardly a capitalist concession. Furthermore, failure to consolidate new members opened the way for the fierce anti-union attack of the late 1940’s.

Sooner or Later does advance democratic demands and recognizes in principle that alliances between classes involve both unity and struggle. But the CUO effectively postpones all revolutionary work until after the Soviet Union is defeated – contrary to the lessons of World War Two in China and the European resistance movements.

Politicizing the masses today means a combination of demands, education and action against both appeasement and oppression by U.S. capitalists. The strength of the movement derives in large degree from the masses’ growing consciousness, which compels the capitalist class to take some correct actions in an attempt to show people the system can work. This is the revolutionary way to act on the principal contradiction.


The CUO’s political errors should be confronted, not ignored. The fact remains that Sooner or Later is a substantial, timely book on the principal contradiction in the world. In general, the movement needs more open discussion on crucial issues like world war, how to analyze classes, and revolutionary strategy as a whole.

When a group tackles a significant problem, naturally giving its own response, the movement as a whole should publicize the positive contribution rather than shun the whole effort. Marxist-Leninists can at least demonstrate the ability to form a united front against hegemonism among themselves.