Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Pacific Collective (M-L)

Learning From Past Mistakes to Avoid Future Ones in the Struggle for Unity

An Urgent Letter to Comrades in the ATM, the CPML, IWK, and the MLOC, With a Word to Those Who Would not Touch Either Unity Plan With a Ten-Foot Pole


First Published: July 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In December, 1977, the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) proposed a Unity Committee to “serve as a unifying center for all U.S. Marxist-Leninists.” Organizations which agreed on a broad statement of principles identifying genuine communists would participate as equals, with their representatives struggling over how to unify U.S. communists into a single party and, presumably, going on to implement a plan which the majority accepted. In May, 1978, the August Twenty-Ninth Movement (M-L) and I Wor Kuen announced that they would work jointly with the CPML for the formation of such a committee.

In the meantime, in March, the Marxist-Leninist Organizing Committee published a draft program for a new Communist Party U.S.A. (M-L), offering to discuss it with any communists and calling for those who agree with their program to merge with them into the party.

We have major line differences with all four of these organizations, but we responded to these calls in a serious manner because of the importance which we attach to communist unity. Strong communist parties pride themselves on their ability to maintain the unity of will and action of the proletarian revolutionaries in their countries. The results of our own fragmentation in the U.S. show, by negative example, why unity is so important. We are plagued by inability to coordinate and concentrate our forces in the same campaigns; much duplication of effort and lack of a rational division of labor; the damage done to the work of educating and organizing the proletariat because many comrades apply incorrect lines in trying to do that work; and the competitive, sectarian backbiting in struggles where several groups participate, which demoralizes our worker contacts and undermines our ability to do effective mass work.

Unfortunately, the latest proposals to overcome this disunity are so seriously flawed as to be doomed to failure. Both repeat mistakes that already “united” only fractions, of the U.S. communists into separate, antagonistic parties. The most important of these were (1) failure to open the struggle for unity to all Marxist-Leninists, regardless of present political differences; (2) failure to include the rank and file of every participating party and organization in some study and discussion of the questions taken up, so that comrades unknowingly following opportunist leaders could be exposed to other lines; and (3) failure to see that this kind of a struggle would take some time, probably several years, to unite all who can be united into a single party, but that this is what the interests of the working class require.

We explained what we thought was missing from the latest unity plans in letters to the newspapers of all four organizations involved. Only the MLOC would print and respond to what we wrote, so we are publishing one of those letters ourselves.[1]

There are a few differences in the texts of the letters submitted to each group, but they all express the same line. The one we reprint here is that sent to the newspapers of the ATM and IWK, with some minor revisions for greater clarity. It is fully applicable to the MLOC unity plan. (The major difference between the two plans is that the CPML, to its credit, proposes a committee where the groups involved participate as equals, rather than the private bilateral meetings which the MLOC has offered to hold with other groups. There is nothing to be gained, and much productive struggle and development of contacts to be lost, by one organization monopolizing the knowledge of who says what on the questions discussed.)

The letter is followed by an “Afterword,” in which we elaborate on some points that could not be discussed fully in letters to the newspapers which we wrote. However, there are two points which we should explain before the reader proceeds. First, our attempt to show how communists should struggle for unity does not mean that we hold the illusion that the methods we call for here will be widely adopted in this period. Second, this pamphlet deals with the question of how to conduct the ideological aspect of the struggle for communist unity, which was the part most emphasized in the original CPML and MLOC proposals. However, we do not mean to suggest that correct methods of ideological struggle would alone enable communists to overcome the differences which prevent unification in a single party. Principled argument by itself frequently fails to resolve differences. Moreover, even agreement in words often turns out, in practice, to mean entirely different things to different people. When we are able to publish a more comprehensive statement of our views on party-building, we will state the many reasons why we consider practice essential in this period, including the role of practice in helping prove the correctness or incorrectness of the political lines which communists must study and discuss. But correct methods of ideological struggle are essential as well, and that is what we deal with here.


May 30, 1978


Anyone who works in a plant where there are members of several communist organizations knows that the disunity, and frequent antagonism, prevailing among U.S. communists is a tremendous obstacle to our attempts to lead the working class. So is our widespread confusion about correct political and tactical lines. The question of how we can unite, around a correct line, is an urgent one to anyone seriously committed to the interests of the working class.

The CPML’s proposal for a committee to discuss how to unite Marxist-Leninists into a single party, followed by the ATM-CPML-IWK decision to work jointly for such a committee, could be a positive step. However, this proposal for unifying U.S. communists in a single party fairly soon, largely through discussions in a unity committee, could work only if the current deep divisions in our movement did not exist, or else if it were correct to cease to regard as communists the comrades in organizations whose leaders do not fairly quickly see the correctness of the CPML’s line.

Your lack of interest in involving the rank-and-file communists of the various organizations in a lengthy ideological struggle, which also implies a willingness to unite only with those who can be won over to seeing things your way, make your unity plan the same, in its essentials, as those that led to the formation of the Communist Labor Party, the Revolutionary Communist Party, and the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist). Since none of those initiatives contributed to settling any questions dividing the movement as a whole, both your proposal and the similar recent MLOC party-building plan show a real failure to learn from our own recent history. That history shows that the missing element in all of these attempts to unite is a willingness of the organizations involved to listen to other communists, as well as to try to convince them of the correctness of your own line.

Each party and party-like organization wants to win over as many communists as possible to its organization. Each tries to do so by arguing the correctness of its line, never really considering the possibility that others could show it why their line is correct on some issues. In the history of the struggle for unity to date, we have rarely seen one of the larger organizations learn something about its errors from another group and make a major line change as a result. Absent such changes, the divisions necessarily remain, and the progress towards unity is minimal.

Members of the CPML, ATM, IWK, MLOC, RCP, CLP, WVO, etc., all seem to think that their party or organization is nearly free of serious opportunist errors in its line and should reject all criticisms which go to the heart of that line. If this were true of any of you, you would have gone against all the odds created by your non-proletarian social base, and the other factors which have made most forces involved in the founding of communist parties, historically, suffer through severe growing pains. True, some countries had their Lenins and Maos to put forward a consistently correct line, but even in those countries many honest comrades followed opportunist, but persuasive, leaders, before the consistent Marxist leaders were widely recognized as such.

Yet each party and party-type formation in the U.S. today acts like it has that kind of leadership. Obviously somebody–in fact almost everybody-has to be wrong. (For even if any one group is putting forward a consistent Marxist-Leninist line, it is still being rejected by a majority of communists.) In order for any new struggle for unity to get anywhere, members of every participating group must take seriously the possibility that its leaders are not the Lenins of our movement, and that others will be able to show it a few, or many, important mistakes in its line.

None of us, the groups initiating the committee included, has any reason to participate in such an effort unless we see objective evidence of this kind of openness to struggle on the part of other comrades involved.

Yet somehow the CPML finds it acceptable to demand, in advance of the discussions the three groups call for, that others will have to be won over to most of its political line in order for there to be unification (see The Call, 5/15/78). We, too, believe that we are correct on the questions which we have studied. But we also know that communists with serious differences will never move towards unity unless they recognize that not all of us who think we are correct really are. So what we seek in unity efforts is conditions for open struggle and an understanding that merger into a party requires agreement on program. But those who assume in advance that it will have to be their program might as well go confer with themselves, as each organization which previously declared itself the vanguard party ultimately did.

The CPML states that they have evaluated the strengths and weaknesses of previous unity efforts, including their Organizing Committee for a Marxist-Leninist Party. They should publish that summation, and not just the March 20 statement evaluating what they see as its successes. In our opinion, it is obvious that the O.C. effort failed to unite those who had more than minor differences with the October League. The main reason was that it was evident from the beginning that the O.L. did not really consider its line open to question. For those who were fairly sure of serious differences with the O.L., the effort thus appeared fruitless. The same was true in the “unity efforts” that preceded the formation of the RCP and the CLP.

There is a way to avoid this mistake, to actually insure that all organizations that participate in another unity effort are willing to listen as well as speak, if this is in fact your aim. We must prove in deeds that we understand that we may not be correct about everything (even if we honestly think we are), and that the leadership of those organizations with central leading bodies must be promoting serious opportunist deviations (along with correct aspects of their lines) in most of those organizations.

To do this, it is necessary to open the deliberations of a Committee to Unite Marxist-Leninists to the entire membership of every participating party and group and to encourage every comrade to study all views with an open mind.

We do not mean that everyone should come together in one room, of course. But participants in the committee could write statements–not too long–on the major questions which the committee considers, starting with the question of how to build communist unity in one proletarian party. These papers should be published and distributed widely. More important, each group should require all its members to study and discuss these major documents, and give them time to do so.

Further, the rank and file should receive a written directive explaining that Stalin and Mao taught that we should always look for what is true in criticism of us, no matter whom it comes from, and even if only 5% of it is correct. The directive should also state that in a movement as inexperienced and divided as ours, most of us must be making some important mistakes. So others’ criticisms of us may even be 95% correct (although, of course, the organization presently doubts it).

An important first step would be for each group’s press to immediately change the typical policy of publishing only minor criticisms and statements of disagreement, to Lenin’s policy of offering its columns for debate over serious differences. (The Call, after soliciting comment on the original CPML unity proposal, would not print an earlier, and shorter, version of this letter. If we were in the ATM or IWK, we would wonder what evidence there is that the CPML’s openness to struggle has become more than its earlier one-way street.)

Similarly, forums on questions dividing communists should permit spokespersons for each side to state their positions fully and to follow up on each others’ arguments. Allowing one line to be presented and defended, while bits and pieces of another emerge in disconnected questions and three-minute statements, may seem like open struggle; but it does not give an audience a genuine chance to evaluate the contending lines.

One (but not the only) source of the disorganization, sectarianism, and inability to resolve differences plaguing our movement was the premature formation of organizations where the division of labor was so complete that a very high level of responsibility for ideological guidance was placed in the hands of leaders who had yet to prove, through practical results, that they could consistently solve the problems facing U.S. communists. The rank and file, fully confident in their own teachers, were rarely encouraged to study propaganda supporting the lines of other organizations, and then only to see why it was all wrong.[2] The U.S. practice of early and near-total reliance on each group’s leadership eliminated an important condition for the full flowering of internal two-line struggle to rectify errors in each organization. (Lenin opposed making the loose-knit Russian party into a democratic-centralist one until after open struggle among the Marxists allowed them to agree on all the line questions dealt with in a party program. By then the roles of various leaders were more evident as well.)

The fact that most members of these parties and groups have been insulated from views other than those of their own leaders is one reason why it would be wrong for anyone to write off those members as unchangeable opportunists, even though opportunism is always an element in accepting an erroneous line. For none have been exposed to systematic, careful polemics taking up the subjects dividing U.S. communists, one or two issues at a time, and in a manner aimed at taking opponents’ arguments seriously and settling the questions for a majority of active communists. (More often the polemics just arm the faithful with reasons for seeing others as extreme opportunists.) The experiences of other parties, however, show that open polemics over major differences can help resolve them, when combined with the experience of implementing different lines.

This insulation from others’ views must be torn away now, for any attempts at unity to have any meaning. Willingness to do this should be a condition for participation in a unity committee. This would be a bitter pill for many parties and organizations to swallow, but they could do so with the knowledge that, as they put forward their lines, for once they will have access to the rank and file of the other groups as well. And it is on those terms that the organizations initiating the different unity efforts would be able to struggle not only to unite with each other, but to win over–or learn from–those of us who have sharp differences with you on fundamental questions.

So we agree with the CPML’s proposal that each group or organization should have an equal right to present its views on how to unify the movement to the committee. It must also have an equal right to be heard by the members of the participating organizations, not just the leaders, since all are agreed that most of the leaders (everyone else’s!) are opportunists. That equal right to be heard is each group’s only assurance that its views can help others to change, if those views are correct or partially correct.

Carrying this out would require two modifications in the immediate goals of many of the participants. First, those organizations which devote almost all their resources to mass work, as if there were no need for the rank and file to study-from all sides–the serious questions dividing communists, will have to diminish their practical work somewhat to give comrades time for the necessary study and discussion. We definitely do not mean they should cut it back so much as to destroy or badly impair it, for many reasons, including the fact that practice assists the struggle for unity. But so many rushed to form parties and party-like organizations to lead the mass movement, before we settled basic questions of how and where to lead it, that a partial retreat is unavoidable. There is no other way to unify far more of our forces. And if we do not, much of the mass work itself will be counterproductive because it will continue to be guided by opportunist lines.

Making such a choice has its precedents. Lenin wrote that in a period of “disunity, dissolution, and vacillation,” the Russian Marxists centered “their main attention... on clearing up and deciding various internal Party questions.” As their differences were resolved, they could “boldly call again for deeper and more widespread practical work.” (Collected Works, Vol. 5, p. 518 and Vol. 6, pp. 210-11.)

The other adjustment of goals would be to recognize that the struggle to unite most honest communists and leave die-hard opportunists isolated must be a protracted process, taking several years, when the differences are so deep and cover such a broad range of issues. In Russia, for example, unification around a basic program and views on party organization took over four years after the 1898 attempt to form a communist party, and the line struggle had actually begun some time before that.

But there are no shortcuts. If comrades are sincerely seeking to unite the divided communist movement (and not just small sections of it which are already in basic agreement on most major questions), they must adopt the historic communist practice of opening up the line struggle to all who are putting each organization’s line into practice. The rank and file ought to hear why others disagree with important parts of what they are doing, and it is they who must eventually make changes that opportunist leaders will resist.

If you think that our particular proposal for opening up this struggle is impractical, you should suggest your own solution to the problem. Perhaps there is a better one. But failure to take the problem up at all would mean just one more minority “unity trend,” while rank-and-file communists, who do not even really understand why their opposite numbers in rival groups believe the lines that they believe, continue to treat each other as opportunist enemies incapable of change.

An organization’s acceptance of this proposal need not, of course, be an admission that its members need to reduce their practice and devote some time to letting others struggle against opportunism in their line. It would only be recognition of the fact that opening up in this manner is the price it must pay to enable it to carry out that struggle with the honest rank-and-file communists who follow lines it considers wrong.

It would also mean finally recognizing that none of us can serve the proletariat by washing our hands of all the other communists out there in the real world, that we must take responsibility for unifying our fragmented forces for the common implementation of a correct line.

To be frank, the sectarianism which the initiating organizations have demonstrated for some time makes us think that you will reject this proposal. Despite differences between this unity effort and those which led to the formation of the existing parties, in essence you are acting on the same desire for impossibly rapid unification and the same desire to be the true vanguard, whose serious critics can be dismissed as consolidated opportunists; and we expect these subjective desires to continue to win out for some time to come.

However, for us to think that a communist organization cannot correct its errors would be metaphysical, and acting as if it cannot would itself be sectarian. So we are making a good-faith effort to state what we see as a minimum condition for the success of any new attempt at the unification which the interests of the proletariat demand of us.

With communist greetings,
Pacific Collective (M-L)


The Rank and File’s Role in Line Struggle–Some History

The ATM and the CPML solicited responses to their unity proposals. The fact that neither they nor IWK would publish or otherwise respond to our reply is sad confirmation of our prediction that they would reject our proposal for open struggle over differences. This is a poor footing on which to begin new struggles for unity. How far will the CPML’s unity effort go if, instead of struggling publicly over how to unite all communists, they limit themselves to talking privately with those they consider closest to them politically? How open to struggle are the ATM and IWK, if they judge even a criticism of this line on communist unity to be unfit to submit to their membership and other readers of their press.[3]

The line on unification shared by these groups–rapidly consolidating a small portion of U.S. communists into The Communist Party, by “demarcating” major parts of the communist movement out of that movement, combined with sectarian refusal to expose the rank and file to challenges to one’s line and to risk having to recognize errors in that line–this line on unification has a fine track record. The Communist League’s Continuations Committee, the Revolutionary Union’s National Liaison Committee, and the October League’s Organizing Committee all appealed in fine words to the need for unity, and all “united” one little segment of the movement which was already practically consolidated to the line of the initiating organization. The “Revolutionary Wing” of the ATM, the PRRWO, the RWL, and the WVO fared even worse. Failure to bring the rank and file into the deliberations was one (not the only) factor that practically eliminated the possibility for the line changes which were prerequisite to the unification of broader sections of the movement.

It is these edifying experiences which proponents of the new unity efforts choose to emulate, rather than the way the great communist movements and parties of the world sought and won unity–by open struggle to win over the active rank-and-file communists. When the Iskra newspaper defeated Economism’s influence among Russian Marxists and laid the basis for founding a single Russian party, spokespersons for all points of view had access to its columns. The revolutionaries read the polemics, argued over them, and decided what they thought; they did not rely on designated leaders to digest the material and tell them what was the correct line.[4]

Similarly, Stalin and Mao both called for differences to be resolved by broad campaigns of intra-party struggle. They would not have relied solely on negotiations or debate among factional leaders, with those leaders alone reporting back to their own camps. The fact that we are not in a single party does not mean that we should behave differently. If anything, our present disunity and confusion make it even more important for all communists to ”use their own heads” and ”always go into the whys and wherefores of anything,” as Mao admonished, rather than put near-total faith in their choice of the central committees of our movement, and thereby perpetuate our disunity.

With Whom Should We Seek Unity?

The letter we reprint also implicitly rejects an assumption that we think the initiators of these unity plans probably share with those who would not touch a plan promoted by the CPML or the MLOC. This is the opinion that large sections of those U.S. activists who consider themselves Marxist-Leninists should be excluded from any serious struggle for unity, using various lines of demarcation (e.g., the international situation, the Black national question, the nature of class society in the USSR). We call for wide-open, though organized, debate, while others seek only to resolve differences with whatever fraction of the movement with which they already have agreement on many essentials of a program. This would be fine if our movement had gone through a period of ideological struggle and of experience which had discredited erroneous lines among all but a few confirmed opportunists. However, nothing even approaching such a process has occurred in the United States. Instead we have the same “prevailing confusion” as Lenin faced when he made his oft-quoted call for a movement-wide struggle to establish lines of demarcation.

Comrades who would not think of including “the social-chauvinists,” “the dogmatists,” “the Centrists,” “the hegemonists,” or whomever, in the attempt to settle differences, forget that people can be won away from opportunist lines. This may not apply to so many leaders perhaps, but it surely does to many rank-and-file revolutionaries. In Russia, a significant Economist influence among the Social-Democrats (communists) was defeated in the early 1900’s.[5] In 1917, the Bolsheviks won over the bulk of the followers of Menshevism.[6] In China, in the 1930’s, “[t]he erroneous ’Left’ line dominated the party for a particularly long time (four years).... However, the overwhelming majority of the errant comrades have realized and corrected their mistakes through a long process of learning from experience. ..[7] and the party as a whole corrected its line dramatically.

Finally, in Albania, “[t]he newly founded Communist Party of Albania was in great danger of ceasing to exist due to blows dealt by... the Trotskyites of the ’Zjarri’ Group” and others. But within a year, after some successes in mass work and circulation of an influential article by Enver Hoxha, “[m]any members of the ’Zjarri’ Group, perceiving the treachery of their chiefs, abandoned them and went over unconditionally to the side of the CPA.”[8]

None of these victories came easily (nor did they end the two-line struggle). And in our own movement, we doubt that the open ideological struggle which we call for will even take place until a new trend arises with enough success and prestige to compel it, and in conditions where the comrades in the other parties have become disillusioned with their own groups’ inability to play a vanguard role singlehandedly. But the principle is correct, and all who truly wish to struggle for unity should begin propagating it now.

The temporary nature of opportunism’s hold on many comrades has important implications for those promoting the current unity efforts. It means that their struggle should be to win the majority of comrades away from what they consider to be opportunist lines. History shows that this can be done, but only if consistent Marxist-Leninists struggle with such comrades, not abandon them to their current ideas and leaders by “demarcating” them out of the unity effort.

The fact that those following opportunist lines can change also makes it wrong for others, who consider these unity plans and their proponents to be extremely opportunist, to refuse to take the proposals seriously. Why do we write a polemic to the supporters of these plans, as if those supporters were sincere revolutionaries who could be won over by principled argument? Because the fact is that many of them, probably most, are sincere revolutionaries (although their openness to persuasion remains to be seen). Even if the originators of these unity plans are mainly trying to recruit a few more comrades and dishonestly hoist the banner of unity for the sectarian aim of improving their image, it would be a serious mistake to ignore or simply denounce them. For one thing, even some people who fit this description may be capable of change. Second, there is no evidence that the majority of the rank and file of these groups support these plans for any reason other than a belief that this is the way to a unified party.

Put aside for a moment the nature and the capacity for change of the leadership of these groups. In our opinion, their leading bodies have all demonstrated enough opportunism that they would have to undergo serious rectification before they should lead anybody. Even leaving out what we see as their political line deviations, their return to sectarian unity plans that have failed so-many times in the past raises serious questions about their capacity to put the interests of the working class as a whole above the interests of their organizations as they consider solutions to the problem of unity and struggle among communists.

But this is not the issue. What about the many members and close contacts of these four organizations? Granted, communists who accept deviations from the proletarian line have their internal opportunism that allows their own fears and desires to influence their judgment, along with bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology. But it is sheer metaphysics to conclude today that these people, most of whom are making real personal sacrifices to try to serve the proletariat and build the same revolutionary movement we all want to build, are less capable of change than the comrades who followed opportunist leaders among the Russian Marxists, the early CPC central committees, or the Albanian Trotskyites.

Nor do today’s “lines of demarcation” prove which individual communists are for now firmly consolidated to opportunism. For example, some of these forces undermine their own declared opposition to imperialist war preparations by denouncing as “appeasers” those bourgeois politicians who want to slow the pace of those preparations. We firmly believe that these comrades have taken several steps down the path to a social-chauvinist disaster. But we see no evidence that the rank and file who accept this line have done so after study and discussion of all-sided polemics against it. And the line itself is put forward by the prestigious Chinese party, buttressed by sophisticated arguments, and at the moment still blurred over in papers like The Call with frequent correct demands that the U.S. cease its imperialist war preparations, a-long with exposures of those preparations.

Whoever is wrong on this and the other serious issues that divide U.S. communists will, if they prevail, do untold damage to the proletarian revolution, and we do not for a moment want to suggest otherwise. But the question–for those on any side of any of these debates–is not how disastrous is the line which is believed to be a departure from revolutionary Marxism. The question is how to conduct the struggle to defeat that line’s influence. And the answer is to engage as many comrades as possible in an organized and open struggle over these questions, while testing the different lines in practice, not to boycott those who are wrong.

This is why we aimed our letters at the many comrades honestly pleased to be part of new attempts at building communist unity, rather than ignoring them as confirmed opportunists. Others would dwell on the full spectrum of their differences with these groups to avoid “promoting illusions” about them. Our own political differences with each of them are numerous and serious as well, and we certainly do not think that if sectarianism disappeared tomorrow, U.S. communists could suddenly become one big happy family.

But the audience that is mainly in a position to influence what these groups do is their own members and close contacts. And this audience already has its illusions. For communists critical of their unity plans to dwell on denunciations of these readers, or those whom they trust far more than they trust us, would defeat the attempt to communicate with them. We prefer to spend our time carefully explaining why they should adopt a new approach to communist unification, if they are serious about unity.[9]

Taking Up the Struggle

We have a pressing practical reason for addressing these last remarks to comrades who, like the League for Proletarian Revolution, would only ignore or denounce “another sham call for unity” by the CPML, or the MLOC’s party-building plan. For those who can see the fundamental weaknesses of these unity proposals are the only ones who can conduct the struggle with rank-and-file comrades in and close to the initiating organizations. If the reader of this pamphlet agrees, in the main, with our critique of these plans, it is your duty to approach comrades with whom you are in common practice, who support one of the unity proposals, give each a copy of this pamphlet, and say, “Comrade, here is something I think you should read. You and I have major differences, and I don’t agree with every word in the pamphlet either. But it raises some questions I really think you should be thinking about if you want to work for communist unity. Read it and then let’s discuss it.”

Only such one-on-one propaganda, whether using our statement or another that better expresses your own views,[10] will take the struggle to those who need to be struggled with. Our placing this pamphlet in a few bookstores cannot lead to a significant number of those comrades who should be reading it to do so. But for comrades in common practice to learn, on a nationwide scale, to discuss their differences as they fight the common enemy, would be tremendously significant. As for doing that on this particular struggle, no one can predict the results in advance with any assurance.

Our own guess is that the immediate impact would be slight– a few questions would be raised internally, a few minds opened a little bit, with sharp struggle for the correct line being taken up by members of the CPML, ATM, IWK, or the MLOC only in isolated instances. It is very unlikely that any of these organizations will fundamentally rectify their sectarianism at this time, so that they could be relied on to organize the struggle for communist unity. (For this reason, we will soon join the public discussion on the party-building tasks of comrades outside of these and the other parties, with a longer pamphlet that includes concrete proposals on how these unorganized forces can take the initiative. There we will consider how to create and unify a consistent Marxist-Leninist trend within the movement, under conditions in which the movement-wide struggle for unity which we call for here is rendered impossible by the organizations we address, among others.)

But the dim prospects for immediate victory in the struggle with comrades promoting sectarian unity plans is no reason to a-void actively taking up that struggle. In line struggles–with workers or with each other–often we can plant the seed now for someone to decide two or three years later that we were right, as they start questioning why they have failed to attain their goals. What better time to plant those seeds than when these comrades have themselves put the question of communist unity back on their agendas?

A Political Correction

We have tried to show here how the main parties and party-like organizations have, despite tactical differences, followed the same general line on the conduct of struggle over political differences, a line that by now has proved its bankruptcy. However, in focusing on this subject, rather than on the other important questions dividing communists, we have tended to see no significant differences in the degree to which each organization applies a mix of Marxism and opportunism to its work.

This was brought home to us when MLOC representatives reminded us that we agree with them on most programmatic questions. This is true, although we have sharp disagreements in a couple of crucial areas. (that the MLOC would see, if they compared their program to the lines of most other groups, is that the same situation generally holds true among most U.S. communists–basic agreement on most of the essentials of a political program, but with sharp disagreement on some key points and varying degrees of concurrence or lack of it on important, but subordinate, questions of tactics.)

One important area where we agree with the MLOC, and not the others, is on the international situation. In our opinion the MLDC applies a theory that leads to consistent internationalist positions, while those who accept the Theory of Three Worlds are seeking guidance from a doctrine which is full of class-collaborationist and social-chauvinist implications. However, we hasten to add that no communist organization in this country is presently even near accepting these full implications, despite major opportunist deviations in analyzing some particular issues.

So it is significant that we agree with the MLOC on fundamental principles that could ultimately determine whether comrades choose to help overthrow the U.S. bourgeoisie, or conclude an alliance with them until the U.S. is again the world’s undisputed superpower. This agreement means that we should not consider the groups criticized here as political equals in all respects. Our doing so stems from one-sidedness in our struggle for recognition of the fact that it is incorrect party-building lines, more than the serious errors that abound on various questions of program, strategy, and tactics, that are the most immediate obstacles to the work of U.S. communists. In addition, like the movement of which we are a part, we have sectarian tendencies to avoid analyzing the particular strengths and weaknesses of different forces, once we conclude that they manifest a high level of opportunism.

On the other hand, we still insist that now is not the time for those with either line on the international situation to treat that question as one which presently identifies those with whom one should struggle for eventual unity. And we remind the MLOC that even if their program correctly answered every strategic question facing the proletariat, which it does not, their party’s ability to serve the revolution would be crippled if they did not know how to struggle with those who gravitate towards opportunist lines.


[1] The MLOC has informed us that they will print our letter and their response in Class Against Class, #11.

[2] Some comrades who work with the ATM were even persuaded that they should not discuss a draft of this pamphlet with us. What perversion of democratic centralism makes it improper for communists to talk politics with each other, outside of formal liaison channels?

Would the ATM tell its members not to interfere in our organization by urging some P.C. members to read an article on the Theory of Three Worlds and to discuss it with them?

[3] Refusal to accept serious challenges to its line is not the normal, acceptable behavior for a party confident in the correctness of that line. Such a party would not expect its line to change in the course of the struggle, but it should have no fear of bringing its members into such a struggle, if that is what is required for the communists of the country to work towards unification. As Mao wrote:

“We are for the policy of “opening wide”... to let all people express their opinions freely, so that they dare to speak, dare to criticize, and dare to debate; ... to encourage argument and criticism among people holding different views. . .. Marxism is scientific truth; it fears no criticism and cannot be defeat ed by criticism. . . .We must promote what is right and oppose what is wrong, but we must not be frightened if people come in contact with erroneous things. It will solve no problem simply to issue administrative orders forbidding people to have any contact with perverse and evil phenomena and with erroneous ideas. ... It is not at all strange that erroneous things should exist, nor should this give us any cause for fear; indeed, it will help people learn to struggle against them better. . . .Truth develops through its struggle against falsehood. “Speech at CPC National Conference on Propaganda Work,” Selected Readings, pp. 493, 495. Of course today’s parties have no need to “issue administrative orders” to keep their members from studying what they see as the wrong ideas of other groups; members have long since learned to dismiss such ideas in their entirety with a sneer about “the opportunists” or “anti-party elements” promoting them.

[4] Lenin explained the reason for Iskra’s policy in words that reject the whole idea of a unity committee or bilateral meetings of groups’ representatives as sufficient to resolve major differences:

“. . .[U]nity cannot be decreed, it cannot be brought about by a decision, say of a meeting of representatives; it must be worked for. . . .[A]nd to this end it is, in our opinion, necessary to have an open and all-embracing discussion of the fundamental questions of principle and tactics raised by the present-day “Economists,” Bernsteinians, and “critics.” . . .Open polemics, conducted in full view of all Russian Social-Democrats and class-conscious workers, are necessary and desirable. . .. “Declaration of the Editorial Board of Iskra,” Collected Works, Vol. 4, pp. 354-55.

[5] History of the CPSU(B), pp. 30-39.

[6] “Left-Wing” Communism–An Infantile Disorder, Part VIII.

[7] Editorial note in Mao, Selected Works, Vol. I, pp. 2 50-51.

[8] History of the Party of Labor of Albania, pp. 115, 139.

[9] Part of the problem is that some comrades make an artificial distinction between methods of exposing serious opportunists and of struggling with those who are basically honest. In fact, the only way to begin the exposure of any who really will not listen to reason is to publically attempt to reason with them. This applies equally when dealing with opportunists with a following in the revolutionary camp, and those who are still unexposed leaders within the trade unions or other mass organizations. It is also the only way to discover any who can actually change through persuasion, no matter how wrong they are now.

[10] And we make no claim for originality here. The general call for open ideological struggle was made by the Proletarian Unity League and others in response to the October League’s first unity plan two years ago (see PUL, On the October League’s Call for a New Communist Party), and also raised in the LPR’s attack on the current CPML plan (Resistance, Vol. 9, #2). The New Voice (1/23/78) printed a cogent argument for including all anti-revisionist, non-Trotskyite Marxist-Leninists in any struggle for unity, explaining in particular, as a defender of the current political line of the Communist Party of China, why opponents of that line should be included as well. In a short pamphlet (Reply to LPR), they also explain why it is wrong to boycott the CPML unity initiative, rather than struggle against its defects. The call to organize the struggle over questions of political line has been put forward eloquently by the PUL in their book 2, 3, Many Parties of a New Type.?. (Note: Our agreement with these organizations on these points does not, of course, necessarily mean that we have broad-based unity with them, any more than they share such unity with each other.)

What we have added is the identification of premature use of democratic centralism (which we will explain more fully in a later pamphlet) as a major element in the sectarianism prevailing in the movement, and the concrete proposal for liquidating its divisive impact by struggling for active rank-and-file consideration of points of view that come from outside the party or organization.