Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Pacific Collective (Marxist-Leninist)

Party-Formation and the Circle Spirit: A Reply to the MLOC


First Published: February 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The sorry spectacle of U.S. Marxist-Leninists grouped into half a dozen antagonistic parties, while many communists remain outside all of them, can demoralize serious revolutionaries. The better members of the parties might even wonder if their own organizations are doing something wrong, but this potential source of demoralization and doubt has not escaped the attention of those most responsible for it. Thus as the central committee of each group in turn decides to formalize its program and claim to be “the party,” it finds a way to “prove” that the organization has united all who can be united.

Most create one or another mechanism which supposedly opens the struggle over program to all communists. When It becomes apparent that only a bare handful of new circles are being won to the initiating organization, that the “new” party will not have made even significant quantitative progress in unifying the communist movement, the comrades solve the problem of a bitterly divided movement by declaring those not joining their party to be revisionists, or at least to be such petty-bourgeois careerists as to be not worth further struggle. A founding congress is held, an historic occasion is proclaimed, and the comrades tell themselves and anyone else who is listening that they are both the vanguard of the working class and the organization of the great majority of true Marxist-Leninists.

If it takes, say, ten steps to travel this path, we knew that the Marxist-Leninist Organizing Committee reached step nine with Unite!’s December 1, 1978, publication of your own and the Committee for a Proletarian Party’s articles denouncing all local circles not close to joining the MLOC (or the CPUSA(M-L)). The problem, you write, is not with the MLOC. Nor is it that differences are taking longer to resolve than you expected. No, there are no principled reasons for not working to join your party, at least if one has the same general analysis of the international situation. Rather, the local circles “hold the view that the Party should not yet be built,” have “virtually no ties to the local proletariat,” “would prefer to carry on endless study and ’theoretical work’ totally divorced from the class struggle,” are heavily influenced by revisionism and Trotskyism, and are guided by leaders who “are moved by their careerism and Individualism, refusing to place themselves under the discipline of a single Party.”

The hand of unity has been extended; all those who rejected it (the vast majority of U.S. communists) did so because they are confirmed opportunists; the CPUSA(M-L) can go on about its business, knowing that most serious Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries are within your ranks. A comforting thought. And a false one.

No doubt there are groups that show the forms of opportunism which the CPP and the MLOC describe, but, in addition, the MLOC Itself has refused to struggle for unity in a manner that offered any expectation of success to those of us who presently differ with you on matters of principle.

Contrary to the MLOC article, we do not object to your formalizing your status as a party, for as we explain below, you have been a party for quite some time. But persisting in your sectarian notion that you are, by and large, the party of U.S. communists will 1) minimize your contribution to the struggle to truly unite the communists of this country (and thus to defeat the various forms of opportunism flourishing among them), and 2) shield your members from others’ criticisms of your own mistakes, some of which are very serious.

We reply In this article to several points covered in the MLOC and CPP articles: whether you are forming a party prematurely; whether you really sought unity with other forces such as our collective; whose circle spirit was proven by the process that produced your declaration on Albania; whether others who consider themselves communists are actually consolidated revisionists; and some subordinate criticisms.

The MLOC’s Premature Party-Formation: Water Under the Bridge

The term party names a particular form of organization. A political grouping might be a democratic-centralist party, a social-democratic-type party, a national federation of circles, a regional federation of circles, a local circle, a study group, or just two comrades living together. The question of what a group’s form of organization is does not depend on the correctness of the comrades’ line, their political success, their class backgrounds, or even the degree to which they have united Marxist-Leninists. If it is a party, such factors would help us identify its most urgent tasks, and they would tell us whether it is an effective party or an Ineffective one, one just beginning its work or one that is well developed, a revolutionary one or a revisionist one.

But an organization which is geographically dispersed (i.e., not concentrated in a single locality) and applies well-developed centralism (authoritative party press, central decisions to undertake nationwide campaigns, disciplined adherence to tactical decisions of the majority or of leadership bodies, etc.) has adopted the Leninist party form, regardless of what it calls itself and regardless of whether it is in fact the vanguard party of the working class. This form permits most members to concentrate on trying to lead the proletarian struggle, in a unified way, for they can rely heavily on centralized ideological and practical guidance and use agitational and propaganda materials written by those who are trusted to analyze topical events in the name of the organization.

The very nature of such an organization creates three preconditions for its formation: 1) an agreed (and correct) understanding of how the organization should function internally; 2) reliable leadership, i.e., leaders who not only seem persuasive and “more developed,” but who have, to at least some extent, proven their ability to solve the problems raised by revolutionary practice; and 3) agreement on the “aims and objects”[1] of the organization, i.e., its program.

Failure to study and struggle over the question of how democratic centralism functions paves the way for ultra-democratic or bureaucratic-centralist errors. Failure to insist on tested leadership before dividing the labor so that some comrades are entrusted with overall guidance opens the door to opportunism. And for an organization seeking to lead the class struggle and educate the workers concerning the events of the day and the system which those events expose, absence of a program means that no agreed-upon principles guide the work. For a program is what will formulate our basic views; precisely establish our immediate political tasks; point out the immediate demands that must show the area of agitational activity; give unity to the agitational work. . ..[2] In this country, lack of programmatic unity in organizations functioning as parties has meant that comrades largely, if unconsciously, committed themselves in advance to accept whatever plausible lines leadership evolved in the organization’s press, even on basic and controversial issues, rather than encouraging and joining a full ideological struggle for the correct line.

In order to make a principled decision to subordinate themselves to the decisions of a large organization and its leadership, comrades must know that members of the organization are agreed on its “aims and objects,” “basic views,” “immediate political tasks,” “immediate demands,” etc. This is why Lenin wrote,

As long as we had no unity on the fundamental questions of programme and tactics, we bluntly admitted that we were living in a period of disunity and separate circles. . .. [By] fighting opportunism on programme and tactics. . . [we have achieved] a sufficient degree of unity, as formulated in the Party programme and the Party resolutions on tactics; we had to take the next step, by common consent, we did take it, working out the forms of a united organization that would merge all the circles together.[3]

For the party-type organizations in this country, the opposite was the case. Rather than a program being required for building a united organization on a principled basis, the MLOC’s political bureau has written us that “a correct program. . . can only arise out of the protracted struggle of a democratic centralist, national organization to organize the proletariat and its allies against the U.S. bourgeoisie and to combat opportunism.”

Instead of developing its program in open polemics that took up in a systematic way those programmatic questions which are controversial among U.S. communists, the MLOC–again like the other parties–elaborated much of its line through a process of its leadership determining the answers and its rank and file accepting them.

This has caused at least three undesirable results. First, whether by intention or not, comrades have received several years’ training in giving little credence to the views of communists outside your organization who differ with you. Second, despite a program which is certainly Marxist-Leninist overall, there remain in it a few fundamental, and very serious, opportunist errors. They are on matters for which the MLOC leadership seems to have a blind spot. But an open, serious, organized political struggle–like the several years of struggle that preceded the Russian Marxists’ adoption of a program–could have produced a clear majority for the correct line.

Third, the absence of such an open struggle in our movement, with polemics printed and debates held in a manner that all ordinary communist activists could follow them, has perpetuated our disunity. Large numbers of comrades who accept one or another opportunist line have never been forced to examine their own views In the light of a serious challenge to them. (Obviously this is not solely the fault of the MLOC. And some people will hold to opportunist views after even the best of struggles.)

But to return to the original point. . . Though the MLOC wrongly formed a party some time ago, we cannot fault you for now making your program more explicit, trying to recruit more members, and changing your name to reflect the fact that your are indeed a party. You are entirely wrong, then, in placing us among the local collectives who oppose these steps. But why will we not be joining that party?

MLOC’s Take-it-or-leave-it Unity Proposal

In response to the MLOC’s “Open Letter” of March, 1978, we met a number of times with representatives of the organization. Many topics were covered during these meetings, including the draft program. There was no page-by-page discussion, but we explained our disagreement on three major points: the Black national question, the CPUSA(M-L)’s relationship to other parties and groups in this country, and the temporary ability of an imperialist superpower to hinder the spread of a revolutionary socialist perspective by granting relative privileges to broad strata of its working class. We also offered to forward some secondary criticisms later, and said that in general we agreed with the rest of the program. We emphasized that the areas of agreement were substantial but that the disagreements were very serious. We never wrote up the secondary criticisms–by the time we could have the MLOC had already stopped answering our letters–but we did submit lengthy internal documents about our differences with you on the Black national question.

So If it is true, as you state, that “several of these groups have never, to this date, presented in any systematic way their views or their disagreements about the Program,” the Pacific Collective is not one of them.[3a] There was, however, no systematic, continuing struggle over programmatic differences. For we and the MLOC had fundamentally different proposals for how to conduct that struggle, and you broke off contact with us Instead of holding a planned meeting to try to resolve the differences on how to conduct that struggle.

Those differences emerged after several meetings and some correspondence had outlined the general areas of agreement and disagreement between us and you, on both programmatic and other questions. Despite serious and reasoned differences on the major questions listed above, and on some serious but non-programmatic matters as well, your representatives proposed a four-point program of joint work: 1) the MLOC would lead our members in study of the draft program; 2) we would engage In Joint mass work; 3) we would jointly distribute and criticize Unite!; 4) the P.C. would contribute funds for the party treasury.

We responded that we wanted to struggle over the program, not just be led in “study” of it, with it being a foregone conclusion that unity could be achieved only by our changing our views. On the second point, we were interested in common practice.

The third and fourth points were wholly unrealistic. Though we felt we could use Unite! with some close contacts, with whom we could discuss the articles, it would be totally unprincipled for us to engage in mass distribution of a paper when our programmatic disagreements with its editors meant that we would consider its content to be profoundly mistaken in a significant number of articles. And when there are very serious doubts about whether two groups can resolve differences and merge in the immediate period, neither should divert money from Its own work to assist the other organization.

We made a counter-proposal. We wanted to establish a relationship between the MLOC and ourselves that would commit both to a long-term struggle for unity, since there was no basis to either expect rapid unification or to sever relations. We proposed common practice, if possible; occasional exchanges of views on local practical work that we were not carrying out in common; and continuing to attend programs that either organization sponsored. The MLOC had offered to assist us to travel and talk to comrades in mass work elsewhere, and we said that we would like to do that, paying our own way and making other investigations as well, at some point in the future. A leading comrade had also said that your organization could help us relocate to a more industrial area, while we continued the struggle for unity there, and we said that there was a good chance that we would welcome such assistance for some of our members.

Our proposal for discussing major programmatic differences diverged from yours in two important ways. First, we called for bilateral discussions with the different circles with which you were meeting to be replaced by a multilateral form. And we called for assurances that major polemics on the questions taken up would be published, or would at least reach the rank and file of each participating organization, including the MLOC.

We proposed multilateral exchanges of views because meetings between your representatives and those of each circle separately waste time In duplicated discussions, perpetuate the fragmentation of the local circles Instead of helping them get to know each other and build on whatever unity may exist among them, prevent each of us from learning from what the others say to the MLOC and from what you say to them, and prevent the constructive process by which various comrades who take one position can reinforce each others’ arguments and help win over those with whom they differ.

Bilateral meetings, which were also employed by the Revolutionary Union during the months it tried to win people to its draft program, have no significant strengths. . . .Unless, of course, one considers it a strength to give the MLOC a monopoly of the knowledge of who is saying what. Such a monopoly serves to avoid any possibility of different circles uniting with or gaining Influence with each other, at your expense, if broader unity is not achieved. Keeping the local circles separate during this “unity” struggle applies, to supposed friends, the tactic of “concentrating a superior force to defeat the enemy one by one.”

The second part of our proposal, that important documents in the struggle over major questions reach the rank and file of each participating organization, should not have been that difficult for your leaders to fathom. For they mentioned several times that they wanted to meet with all of us, not just designated representatives. The reasons for our proposal were stated in our response to your “Open Letter”:

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 MLOC, CPML, ATM, IWK, RCP, CLP, WVO, etc., all seem 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 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 were 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 MLOC 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.

And that openness to struggle requires not just relying on leaders who have promoted and may be all too firmly committed to defending the lines In question, but using open polemics so that the rank and file of each group can decide for itself. There is nothing new about this. The MLOC claimed to “have approached the distribution and discussion of the Draft Party Program In the spirit of Lenin and the Bolsheviks” (Unite!, 8/15/78), but you have disembodied Lenin’s “spirit” from his concrete actions. In a pamphlet called Learning From Past Mistakes to Avoid Future Ones in the Struggle for Unity, we described “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.

(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 open and all-embracing discussions of the fundamental questions of principles and tactics raised by the present-day “Economists,” Bernsteinlans, and “critics.” . . .Open polemics, conducted in full view of all Russian Social-Democrats and class-conscious workers, are necessary and desirable. . ..)[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.

Your representatives have vehemently denied that you offered the local circles the essentials of your program on a take-it-or-leave it basis, that the MLOC was unwilling to listen. This denial was largely refuted by your own actions, in insisting on struggle hidden from the rank and file of your organization, among whom are the people most likely to be able to repudiate errors promoted and firmly defended by the leadership.

But the denial was refuted quite clearly by your words, as well. The original “Open Letter” did not say that organizational merger would require agreement on a program, which could be reached either by others’ agreeing with the basics of the MLOC program or by the MLOC being shown errors in it. Rather, “Where these discussions [on the draft program] show a very high level of unity around the strategy and tactics set out in the Draft Party Program and the Marxist-Leninist stand, viewpoint, and method, the MLOC would look forward to a merger of organizations. (Emphasis added.)

Two weeks later you concluded that “genuine unity is being forged around the Draft Party Program. . ..” (Unite!, 4/1/78, p. 6.) And what changes could be expected from criticism of it? “In the coming months, more discussion, criticism and redrafting will take place In order to tune the program to the finest pitch.” (Emphasis added.) It was in the context of all these statements that you offered to “lead us in study of” the program, you also told us how differences of principle between our collective and your party should be handled; we should simply subordinate our views to yours. In a meeting in July, the political bureau representative stated that our differences on the question of unity and struggle among communists were only tactical and should not prevent organizational unity (though you now write that our views are a “social-democratic view of party-building” which seeks to unite Marxist-Leninists and revisionists–a “tactical” difference?). As to our differences on what social phenomena would call for demanding self-determination for Blacks or Chicanos, the comrade agreed that they concern a fundamental, strategic question. Nonetheless, he called on us to reserve our views on that issue and join the CPUSA(M-L) anyway, giving ourselves a couple of years to be won over to Its line, and only then leaving if we were not won over.

Ninety per cent of your political bureau representative’s comments on open forms of struggle rejected our views as “social-democratic freedom of criticism.” However, he also made one or two comments that seemed to show some openness on this question (e.g., in a letter, “we have no hesitation to provide our cadre with any serious statement of a programmatic or critical nature which reflects a serious grasp of Marxism-Leninism and can sharpen our struggle to forge a Marxist-Leninist party program”).

Because of this ambiguity, we told your local and national representatives that we wanted to meet to further discuss what methods might be agreed on to conduct ideological struggle over major differences. At the beginning of August this was formalized into a written proposal submitted by us, along with the Revolutionary Workers Collective and the Marxist-Leninist Collective. Your local representative, after consulting with Chicago, said that the only real obstacle to such a meeting was preparation for the September 1 conference on a declaration supporting Albania. But he suggested that the meeting we had been asking for could take place either at the close of the conference or later in September, when the political bureau representative would return to this area.

We never heard another word from the MLOC about this or any other aspect of our future relations.

We did receive, and respond to, documents about the Chicago Conference. We published, despite the MLOC’s insistence that we refrain from open polemics, Learning From Past Mistakes. . .; and we sent the organization a letter in which we patiently explained why open struggle over differences is a good thing, not a bad thing, and need not signify a break. We also responded to a political bureau letter demanding an explanation of our submitting a summation of some of our practice to The Communist, a pro-Theory-of-Three-Worlds paper which is willing to publish views contrary to those of its editors. We repeated our request for the meeting to discuss how to struggle over differences.

We received no reply to any of these letters. The national representative made his September trip to this area, but we were never contacted. We telephoned the local representative to see what was going on, only to learn that his phone had been disconnected.

Now you declare, “The question is often asked, has the MLOC made enough effort to win over these groups? We firmly believe that we have.” Our own experience, and that of others we have heard about, make it clear why “the question is often asked.” And your “belief” is wrong, regardless of how “firm” it is.

The Conference on Albania

The authors of the Unite! article do not stop with falsely claiming that we resisted struggle for unity. They also write that our failure to attend your Chicago conference after China’s attacks on Albania proves that we “prefer to continue to operate on a narrow local basis placing their own concerns over and above the interests of the working class movement, nationally and internationally.”

The comrades simply quote our statement that we did not see the strengths of attending the conference as outweighing its demands on “our quite scarce human and financial resources.” What they omit is that:
1) We wrote you, “We would be pleased to join in composing and signing an appropriately-worded declaration” of the three basic points stated in the original MLOC proposal.
2) Before we received the MLOC’s draft declaration, we took the initiative to forward some suggestions concerning its content.
3) Eight days after receiving the MLOC’s draft declaration, we tried to help improve it by sending a five-page letter suggesting specific changes and explaining our criticisms.
4) In that letter we stated that we definitely saw “the basis here for a joint declaration that could be a positive step in what It expresses to comrades in this country and elsewhere, and we hope that the final product of the conference is a declaration which we can sign.” We also suggested that comrades be permitted to express general agreement with the declaration while reserving disagreements on some of its formulations.
5) There was no response to these letters, and we were not shown the final draft or asked if we wanted to sign it.
6) All of this took place in the space of three weeks, because you first told us what the September 1 conference was about on August 9. We could see that there was almost no time for preparatory discussions that would help work out differences and assure the success of the conference.

Since you set such a short timetable for this project, the serious attention we gave it occupied a big block of our time for those three weeks, contrary to your charge that we made no time for an activity that was outside our local interests. In effect, what you are denouncing us for is our refusal to empty our treasury for a 4000-mile round trip, on three weeks’ notice, to go to a very small, single-issue conference and have our views ignored in person instead of when presented in writing!

We and the others were set up for this denunciation in advance. When you were ballyhooing this sudden conference as being about to produce “an important advance in the unity of Marxist-Leninists,” we replied prophetically:

The comrades may honestly believe that one brief instance of joint work to express ideas that we already agree on can be a major step in resolving important differences separating a number of the forces Invited, in which case they are being incredibly Idealist. Either that or the statement [about the value of the conference] is an opportunist attempt to overrate the significance of the MLOC’s making this initiative, to pressure comrades to join in this event on three weeks’ notice, and to lay the groundwork for a denunciation of those who decline to try to make an “important advance” in our unity. [Emphasis added.]

If this conference invitation was not, in part, a trap, why did you invite the COUSML, whom you do not consider to be Marxist-Leninists, to join in signing a joint statement of U.S. Marxist-Leninists?

State of the Communist Movement

According to the MLOC, some of the local circles who are supposedly incapable of contributing to party-building give “widespread confusion” in the U.S. communist movement as an excuse for opposing your forming your party. The P.C. certainly believes that there is widespread ideological confusion. To us, though, this is separate from the question of when a group of comrades should form a party, since an organization which is unified on a consistent Marxist-Leninist program, grasps how a party should function, and has reliable leadership, can better fulfill all its functions, including uniting ever-larger sections of the movement, if it adopts the democratic-centralist party form. If none of the ideological confusion affected the MLOC, then, we would not consider opportunist lines influencing the rest of the movement to be an obstacle to our joining your party.

So we do not raise either “confusion” or, as you claim, lack of lines of demarcation, to oppose your decision to finally call yourselves a party. But these questions do remain because they are at the crux of some of the party’s “aims and objects,” those regarding the rest of the movement.

Given the many and serious differences among those who look to Marxism-Leninism as a guide to action, it is only possible to deny that there is widespread ideological confusion among U.S. communists by “demarcating” most Marxist-Leninists out of not only a particular organization that has reasons for maintaining a higher level of unity, but out of the movement. And this is what you do.

One never finds in your leaders’ statements anything like Lenin’s recognition that opportunism is a matter of degree, and that before the qualitative leap to revisionism is reached, there are quantitative deviations from the correct line as well. Lenin wrote often of the need for “consistent Marxist” leadership, knowing well that there were inconsistent Marxists. And those who deviated were not all identical. For example, he wrote that participants in the Russian party’s Second Congress broke down into “four groups: 1) consistent revolutionary Social-Democrats; 2) minor opportunists; 3) middling opportunists; and 4) major opportunists (major by our Russian standards).”[5]

But you rarely recognize that there can be very serious opportunist deviations among communists, and that ideological struggle and their own experience can win some away from their deviations. Lenin wrote What Is to be Done? and other polemics to defeat Economlsm, which was far from consistent Marxism and several steps towards revisionism, but he called it “A Retrograde Trend In Russian Social-Democracy.” (And he did help defeat the influence of that trend, which means that he won most Marxist revolutionaries away from it.) There is a difference between comrades who still seek to apply the universal principles of Marxism-Leninism and can be struggled with on the basis of those principles and classical works of Marxism-Leninism–whatever their opportunist deviations in the application of those principles–and those who look to Trotsky for guidance or who stand on reformist principles because they consider revolutionary Marxism outdated. We believe that this difference makes itself felt both in the class struggle and in the struggle to unite socialists around revolutionary Marxism-Leninism.

You have written,

The MLOC has carried out in practice the teaching of Lenin regarding polemics: “If the polemic is not to be fruitless, if it is not to lead to a confusion of views, to confounding of enemies and friends, It is absolutely essential that the question of the programme be introduced into the polemic.” [Unite!, 8/15/78, p. 6.]

The passage in Lenin continues,

The polemic will be of benefit only if it makes clear in what the differences actually consist, how profound they are, whether they are differences of substance or differences on partial questions, whether or not these differences interfere with common work in the ranks of one and the same party.

If you grasped the meaning of these sentences, you would have a far more scientific view of the extent of your differences with other communists, including a better grasp of how far even the various pro-Theory-of-Three-Worlds forces have travelled down the opportunist path. In evaluating their theory on the International situation, you should focus on how they use it to answer the main programmatic question which calls for an analysis of that situation. That question is “What are the internationalist duties of the U.S. working class?”

Now we can see clearly that the Theory of Three Worlds leads to a revisionist answer to that question: support the U.S. bourgeoisie’s imperialist alms, as a counterweight to the USSR, “the greater danger”; in times of crisis, rally your nation to oppose the USSR, and avoid rallying your class to oppose the U.S. bourgeoisie, because such opposition would weaken your nation’s ability to resist. Furthermore, the rationale for the Theory of Three Worlds is giving large numbers of comrades a revisionist education on how to tell enemies from friends in general and on how to build a united front.

But even most CPML and L.R.S. members are not at all prepared–today–to go so far as to support U.S. Imperialism in general and to embrace a consistent program of supporting the bourgeoisie Instead of fighting it. In fact, it is a real distortion to write of the CPML, as you do,

They don’t oppose the U.S. bourgeoisie–they chastize it for not building B-1 bombers. They praise Tito for calling for an end to the presence of Soviet troops in Africa, but they leave the U.S. bourgeoisie alone. [Unite!, 4/1/78.]

We do not particularly enjoy defending the CPML, but such caricatures will make it absolutely Impossible for CPUSA(M-L) members to struggle with CPML members or sympathizers. For the CPML people will recognize lies about their organization when they hear them. The parts about the B-1 and Tito are true. But any comrades who doubt that the CPML still opposes the U.S. bourgeoisie in the domestic sphere and exposes and opposes its imperialist war preparations (even while it attacks “appeasers”!) and exposes some of its imperialist maneuvers in the international arena should read a couple of issues of The Call. The many deviations from consistent opposition to the U.S. bourgeoisie’s international role are extremely serious and portend far worse, but they are part of a line which, today, is eclectic enough to dupe comrades who would not accept the consistent collaborationism which you claim is the CPML line.

One can recognize this without denying the seriousness of the current opportunist errors and distortions, and without denying that comrades in parties like the CPML and the LRS are headed towards adoption of a full class-collaborationist program.

Introducing the program question into the polemic, the question of each group’s position on the internationalist duties of the U.S. working class, means that it is even less justifiable for you to lump forces like the R.C.P., the Workers’ Congress, and the League for Proletarian Revolution Into a “consolidated revisionist” camp. They struggle against going even as far as the CPML leadership will go at present, though they try to reconcile the social-chauvinist Theory of Three Worlds with internationalism. (Note: Since writing these words, we learned that the “consolidated” R.C.P. has repudiated the Theory of Three Worlds. Revolution, 11/78, p. 3.)

The MLOC writes,

For the Pacific Collective, the social chauvinists of the Communist Party/Marxist-Leninist and company should be considered communists and we should try to bring them back to the correct road. . .. Though the Pacific Collective may think that the CP/ML is not consolidated in its revisionism, there is not a shred of evidence in the real world to speak otherwise.

We would be very surprised if any significant group of the CPML leadership changed its line for the better, but as for the members, we must ask, what “shred of evidence” can the MLOC produce to justify its policy of abandoning them to that leadership! Certainly CPML members have enough internal opportunism, trust in their own and the CPC’s leadership, and acceptance of opportunist lines so that the struggle will be difficult; and they no doubt become more consolidated with each month that passes. But that cannot be the end of the inquiry Into their capacity to be won over. We elaborated on this in our letter agreeing with your proposal for a joint declaration regarding the attack on Albania:

Several facts show the present lack of consolidation among many such communists. First, there are a number of organizations which try to “uphold Chairman Mao’s theory” while opposing Its social-chauvinist and anti-revolutionary implications, in different degrees. Second, we know comrades in organizations which firmly support the CPC line who would at least like to hear a clear defense of the opposing line. Third, even the most consistent U.S. upholders of the Theory of Three Worlds mix open social-chauvinist stands and anti-Marxist evaluations of events in other countries with exposures of U.S. war-mongering and what, for now, remains a definite program of overthrow of the U.S. bourgeoisie. Those who seek to promote full class-collaborationism know that they must use the Theory of Three Worlds to lead comrades down this path only gradually. Their own assessment of the forces they lead, and the objective fact that those forces are not in the least won over to open class-collaborationism, is further proof of the need to seriously seek access to, and try to win over, those among such forces who can be reached.

Yet none of the organizations who congratulate themselves for opposing the Theory of Three Worlds on paper are taking the steps that could reach these people: setting up series of forums where a defined part of the problem is covered at each session and where each line is fully defended and debated, attempting to force some of these organizations to agree to print an exchange of polemics In their own press, etc. Comrades “struggle against opportunism” by correctly trying to consolidate close worker and other contacts to the Internationalist line, but they tend to leave the forces presently led by the opportunists practically untouched, giving them up to opportunism by default.

To treat these forces as if they are consolidated, and as if a fairly consistent social-chauvinist line has already been adopted, during what may be a fairly short period when neither is true, is a criminal case of the self-fulfilling prophecy. This is a “left” sectarian error which has already helped strengthen the right in this country.

Our belief that a serious struggle would–or could have if timely waged–produced some positive results stems not from wishful thinking, but from the history of line struggles within communist parties and movements, in Learning from Past Mistakes. . . we cited many examples from the Russian, Chinese, and Albanian experiences of rectification of very serious and deep-rooted line deviations.

Can Only the MLOC Change?

Furthermore, comrades should know from your own experience that it is possible to be firmly wedded to one view, and then realize that you were wrong. Was it revisionists who at one time wrote, “With the consolidation of revisionism in the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the socialist camp in 1963, the globe was divided into three worlds. . .”? (Communist Line #5, p. 12.) Revisionists who explained the development of a “new international economic order” in which third world countries would be able to undertake balanced economic development without revolution? (Ibid., p. 13.) Was it wrong to “try to bring back to the correct road” those who wrote, “The Soviet Union, in its quest for world hegemony, is the greatest threat of a new world war–a war which will certainly involve [!] the United States”? (MLOC, Superpowers, Out of Angola!, p. 4.) Was there “a shred of evidence in the real world” that those who quoted Teng Hsiao-ping’s explanation of how international relations could be understood by studying the contradictions between three worlds might later see their mistakes? (Ibid.) Was there no opportunism among the Unite! editors who, in November, 1976, refused to print a letter that one of our present members wrote in opposition to the O.L.’s newly-stated position on aiming the main blow at the USSR?

Nor is your own shift on the Theory of Three Worlds the only experience that should permit you to understand that comrades can change their views. Something has changed since you wrote,

The purging of the “gang of four” and the intensification of the two-line struggle against all bourgeois elements, right Inside the Communist Party of China, are signs of the health and vanguard nature of the Communist Party of China. . .. (Unite!, 12/76, p. 2.)

Your grasp of the relation between reforms and revolution has changed, fortunately, since you criticized the slogans “jobs not war” and “Jobs or income now.” Besides pointing out genuine weaknesses, you believed that the first inherently “encourages the illusion that imperialism can provide jobs” and that the second “reflects the same right opportunist, economist tendency, as if imperialism can provide either.” (Unite!, 2/15-4/15/76, p. 17.) Now your program correctly demands both “The right of all people to work” and support for those who cannot.

And something changed dramatically since the days when you recognized, as the former Committee for a Proletarian Party apparently still does, that today the workers’ movement and the communist movement are largely separate social phenomena, with different goals and basically composed of people from different class backgrounds. For now you hold that you accepted “Trotskyite” views to even think that such a thing was possible.

And something changed from when you saw the Black national question as dividing line between communists and revisionists that was as firmly established as you think that the question of the international situation is today. (Unite!, 8/75, p. 3). For your leaders could not have still believed this when they said that we should try joining the CPUSA(M-L) for a period If our only major difference was on the Black national question.

We raise these examples not to claim that you should never change your minds, nor to highlight the weakness In your self-criticism when you do so, nor to imply that we have changed our own views any less, but to remind you from your own experience that other communists, too, could make mistakes–some very serious–without being committed to opportunism forever.

Equally important, CPUSA(M-L) members should remember that you can still make serious mistakes, so you will pay some attention when other communists try to point them out to you In the future.

Lines of Demarcation

A related issue is your certainty that lines of demarcation have been drawn. You correctly use the concept, line of demarcation, to refer not only to those lines which just show who should presently be in a single organization, but which distinguish those who are not communists from those who, despite their errors, are. You have, however, a totally subjective notion of how lines of demarcation are drawn: once your organization has become clear on a key question, or thinks that it has, then others’ failure to agree almost Immediately can only be explained by their own opportunism or revisionism. Thus In ridiculing the Idea that there is ideological confusion the communist movement, the authors of the “small circles” article wrote, “Nor is there confusion around the strategy for revolution in the U.S. The Draft Program lays out this strategy correctly. . ..” Never mind whether the majority of communists have actually read articles explaining how and why that program differs from others, and polemics answering the arguments of its opponents. For you, confusion in the movement disappears when you see the light. Or, as we wrote a political bureau member after a meeting a year ago,

In your discussion with us, you emphasized over and over that the “lines of demarcation have been drawn,” even claiming that your unpublished position on the Chicano National Question will [immediately] draw sharp lines. When Lenin said “we” must draw sharp lines of demarcation, he meant the Russian Social-Democrats had to settle the questions that would separate revolutionary Marxists from confirmed opportunists, not that he and a section of the movement, once they possessed the correct answers, needed only to erect literary and organizational barriers to demarcate their group from anyone who did not see things the same way yet. He engaged in countless polemics which aimed at, and succeeded in, winning over rank-and-file Social-Democrats from opportunist lines.

The difference between a correct line representing the interests of the proletariat and any opportunist lines exists objectively In the world whether zero, two, or two thousand communists recognize the correct line at any given time. What establishes such a line as a line of demarcation is the extent to which both ideological struggle and events in the world have actually proven the correctness of the line to comrades who are basically willing to put the interests of the international proletariat above their personal interests, desires, and fears. The question is not “how revisionist, how dangerous, Is the opportunist line?”. The question is “under the circumstances, how thoroughly has it been exposed?”. And the answer cannot be, “As soon as the MLOC has opposed it, any genuine Marxist-Leninist will agree.” After all, the fact that Lenin had already grasped the basic program for Russian Marxists did not prevent him from calling for open polemics to draw lines of demarcation.

True, polemics have been written against the Theory of Three Worlds. But in claiming that our June, 1978, call for struggle with the membership of the pro-Theory-of-Three-Worlds parties over this and other issues reflects our “concern about uniting Marxist-Leninists and revisionists,” MLOC and CPP comrades ignore the failure of the polemics to reach many of these comrades, who rely almost exclusively on their own leaders for ideological guidance.

Who Wanted to Win Over “The Revisionists”?

Strangely enough, it was in response to your calling for discussions to resolve differences with the CPML, the R.C.P., and many others, in your “Open Letter,” that we made the proposal which you now so vehemently denounce. Though, as the Communist Committee has pointed out, you had earlier called these parties revisionist agents of the bourgeoisie, your “Open Letter” offered to seek “unity over the correct path for proletarian revolution in this country,” a goal that real revisionists do not even share. You asserted, correctly fn our opinion, only that they “have committed fundamental revisions of Marxism-Leninism,” not that revisionism is at this time primary over their adherence to revolutionary Marxism. You contrasted the struggle for unity with them to the “no-basis-of-struggle” policy applicable to ̶o;consolidated counter-revolutionary organizations of long standing like the CPUSA.”

It was this proposal that we responded to In Learning From Past Mistakes. . .. And all we did was explain what would be required in a serious struggle for unity among all the forces that you addressed. We never argued that you should delay consolidating yourselves into an announced party until you won unity with these other forces.

All we said was that if you were serious about eventually uniting all U.S. communists who could be united, including those you named, there was no point In proposing the leadership-to-leadership negotiations that have always failed in the past. If you learned from the mistakes of previous efforts at communist unity, you would recognize their fatal

failure[s] 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. . . fallure[s] to see that this kind of 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.

Not only did your “Open Letter” propose–even if not sincerely–discussions aimed at eventual unity with forces like the CPML and the R.C.P., but when we struggled with you on the question of winning over the rank and file of these parties, your political bureau wrote us,

We have no doubt that there are cadre of several revisionist organizations who will, in the course of the class struggle, be won away from revisionism and into the ranks of the genuine Marxist-Leninist party. . . .[W]e expect to carry out a protracted struggle to win the workers away from these organizations.

If your disagreement with us was not over whether to try to reach these comrades, but over whether they had to be won to communism from revisionism, this should have been the extent of your criticism of our proposal for carrying out your alleged goal of seeking unity with the members of these groups. For the rest, you should have appropriated it as your own and jumped at the idea of challenging these parties to forms of struggle that would give each access to the rank and file of the others, who are presently almost unreachable by any polemicist aside from their own leaders.

Instead you are outraged that we took seriously your proposal to try to achieve “unity over the correct path for proletarian revolution” with those “who have committed fundamental revisions of Marxism-Leninism” but are not “consolidated counterrevolutionary organizations of long standing like the CPUSA.” You obviously wanted your offer of leadership-to-leadership meetings to be futile gesture, one that would automatically be rejected by those whom you addressed, before finally claiming that you represent practically all the Marxist-Leninists In this country. Then, of course, it could only be embarasslng for a small collective to publically point out how to transform your futile gesture into a real one, and encourage you to adopt more than a momentary posture of willingness to struggle with the members of these other groups.

How Many Marxist-Leninist Parties?

You write that local circles that will not join you suffer from

a deep-going influence of revisionism. . .. For example, Chinese revisionism promotes fragmentation, that there can be several “Marxist-Leninist” groups and parties in a country at the same time. This essentially denies the need for a single vanguard to lead the proletariat.

One of the historical tasks of communists has always been the struggle to maintain their unity. Yet here the MLOC declares as a matter of principle that the real world has never known and can never know an unnecessary, mistaken split among Marxist-Leninists. For such a spilt would produce more than one Marxist-Leninist group or party in a country at the same time, and such a thing cannot be.

You must also think that communists cannot disagree on any points of principle and yet remain communists; If they could, there would be communists in separate parties or groups, assuming that they did not opt for unprincipled unity. Obviously there is only one correct answer to each question, and there can be no more than one consistent Marxist-Leninist party, one with a line essentially free of opportunism (but there can be less than one, unfortunately). But among those who agree on the struggle for socialism, the leading role of the proletariat and its party, multinational unity and equality, and the violent overthrow of the bourgeois state and its replacement with the dictatorship of the proletariat, not every serious mistake means that revisionism–the “amending” of Marxism into reformism–is the primary aspect of the comrades’ line.

We have not read any writings of the Chinese revisionists about several Marxist-Leninist parties coexisting. We do, however, know what Lenin wrote to a British comrade who described the fragmentation among British communist groupings, including their split on the question of participation in parliament:

If. . . no union of the supporters of Soviet power proved possible in Britain because of a difference over parliamentarism and only because of that, then I should consider a good step forward to complete unity the immediate formation of two Communist Parties, i.e., two parties which stand for the transition from bourgeois parliamentarism to Soviet power. Let one of these parties recognize participation in the bourgeois parliament and the other reject it; this disagreement is now so immaterial that the most reasonable thing would be not to split over it. But even the joint existence of two such parties would be immense progress as compared with the present situation, would most likely be a transtion to complete unity. . ..[6]

When we recognize the existence of several communist parties in this country and consider the likelihood that we will have to participate In the building of yet another, we do not consider this a good or even tolerable state of affairs, especially since the disagreements here are by no means “immaterial.” But we can see facts, and if the MLOC decided to be the latest party to proclaim that it is the only party, it is only because of your distaste for such facts and your going beyond the honest and understandable belief that you are the only consistently revolutionary party, to a sectarian desire to pose as the sole communists of this country.

It is those who make up universal principles to oppose recognizing the existence of several communist parties who will perpetuate this state of affairs, who in practice “deny the need for a single vanguard to lead the proletariat.” For in wishing the problem out of existence, you refuse to take steps to overcome it.

Objective Conditions and Retreats

Before concluding, we will respond to three other points raised by the MLOC and the C.P.P. One is whether objective conditions permit the partial retreat from mass work required for rank-and-file members of the CPUSA(M-L) and other existing parties to study various positions on the questions that are unsettled among U.S. communists. Second is whether the Pacific Collective and others are isolated from the working class and “would prefer to carry on endless study and ’theoretical work’ totally divorced from the class struggle.” And third is whether we stand on a “refusal to step forward to build the Party” and “moan about disunity and confusion and search around for a plan.”

The question of devoting somewhat less time to mass work arose when we responded to your proffered willingness to seek unity with even the CPML and the R.C.P. In Learning From Past Mistakes. . . we pointed out these obvious truths: 1) such unity is unattainable through negotiations with opportunist leaders, so forms must be created in which it is agreed that major polemics will reach the rank and file; 2) no group can demand this of another party without offering to have its own rank and file study the polemics, too; and

[3)] 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 that 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.”[7]

The MLOC replies,

Only isolation from the working class movement could result in a proposal which calls for a retreat from the class struggle. It is quite amazing that such proposals could be made in the face of escalated attacks upon health and safety, the living standard, the democratic rights of the working class; when imperialist war preparations are being stepped up; when opportunists and reformists are consolidating their forces to mislead the working class. Such a plan can only be considered a betrayal of the working class.

This is the classic logic of ultra-lefts who oppose every retreat by citing the terrible things our enemies are doing and concluding that therefore we must throw all into the battle. Good Marxist-Leninist tacticians know that the state of the forces on both sides of the battle lines must be examined first. It is “in the face of escalated attacks upon. . . the working class” that the proletariat cannot afford the total fragmentation of those who seek to give Marxist-Leninist leadership to its defense. It is the accelerating war preparations that make it mandatory for us to defeat–among communists who are actively trying to lead the working class–the influence of the line that is increasingly leading those activists to support the war preparations. And it is when opportunist leaders are consolidating their forces that we must take up, not abandon, the struggle to win the forces away from that leadership.

Think about how many people were represented at your recent congress, comrades. If you were forced to rely on only your own small numbers to bring Marxism-Leninism to the working class, in the face of the bourgeois attacks and the war preparations of the most powerful Imperialists In the world, that would be one thing. But it is positively adventurist for anyone–you, the R.C.P., the CPML, the W.V.O., or whoever–to throw a small section of U.S. communists into the fray so wholeheartedly that you have time for only sham calls for unity with the rest of us, instead of devoting some of your members’ time to a movement-wide struggle to consolidate our forces. Such adventurism is as much “a betrayal of the working class” as would be the passivity towards the class struggle of which you accuse us.

Isolation From the Class; Sterile Theory

It is easier for you to justify your inability to unite local circles if those circles have “virtually no ties to the local proletariat, and none nationally,” and they “prefer to carry on endless study and ’theoretical work’ totally divorced from the class struggle.”

It is true that we have no ties to the proletariat nationally, and we are painfully aware of how the absence of a national organization which we can be a part of perpetuates this weakness.

The rest of your allegations are made in total disregard of the facts, at least as they apply to us and to the M.L.C. and the R.W.C., the other two San Francisco Bay Area collectives whom you name. We are all deeply involved in practice and have achieved a substantial degree of contact with and knowledge of parts of the working class locally.

P.C. will publish, in the spring, a pamphlet on the party-building tasks of those unable to unite with any of the existing parties. Besides a lengthy section on why, in a pre-party period, serious work of educating and organizing the working class is essential, we do call for a great deal of theoretical work that no existing party has completed or appears to be undertaking. But this is no abstract call; every word of the argument–like the one we made verbally to your representatives–is tied to the practical needs of the class struggle and explains how careful and detailed study of the classes, institutions, economy, etc., in which communists operate will serve our practice. Unfortunately, the fact is that we have been unable to even begin this work.

The accusation of preferring sterile theoretical work to a serious approach to the practical side of the class struggle Is Just a convenient fabrication.

The Road Forward for Local Circles

The MLOC castigates the circles that have not joined you for resisting your supposed unity proposals, though we ourselves “have no coherent plan for overcoming [our alleged] confusion.” We, too, have criticized comrades who both lacked a viable party-building line and appeared uninterested in developing one. But the MLOC is wrong In making this criticism across the board. The Kansas groups, the MLC, and Demarcation had at least called for systematic struggle among those who cannot join the existing parties in order to develop a common party-building plan. And we, as we had mentioned In passing in Learning From Past Mistakes. . ., do have views which we plan to publish on the party-building tasks of such circles. The MLOC ignores this. The CPP, with at least more honesty, attacks us for it, accusing our group of “pompously threatening to take steps to build its own independent trend.”

There is no pomposity about it; we know that we are no leading center, and our tardiness in publically putting forward our views on how collectives outside of the parties can help build a consistent Marxist-Leninist trend comes in part from our underrating our responsibility to make what contributions we can.

But the MLOC is right. Local circles should evaluate carefully and in a party spirit, not a sectarian one, whether conditions exist for them to struggle for unity with an existing party. And if they do not, rather than passively continuing in whatever local work they are carrying out, they must join the struggle over party-building line and seek unity on a plan for developing, in a joint way, the party-building work of those forces who can agree on what that work consists of. And this is what we are doing, whether the C.P.P. considers us to be making pompous threats or not.


The MLOC authors began their article with these words:

Today, nearly all the tasks for the reconstruction of the Marxist-Leninist party have been completed. One of these tasks the MLOC put forward in its party-building plan was the unification of Marxist-Leninists.

There are two ways to evaluate your failure to win over more than a handful of new forces to the CPUSA(M-L). One is to recognize that others’ sectarianism was not the only reason for the failure of your attempt, or alleged attempt, at an open struggle to overcome differences with the many organizations addressed in your original “Open Letter” of nearly a year ago. A key reason was your refusal to conduct the struggle In the form of open polemics or to otherwise contradict your statements that others would have to accept the essentials of your program, i.e., that you were only willing to struggle to change others’ views while avoiding serious challenges to your own. This policy guaranteed that few would find it worth their while to struggle with you.

This is one way to evaluate the striking disparity between those to whom you extended the hand of unity and those who are now with you. The other Is to claim that you were successful, by holding that the handful who rallied to your organization proved themselves to be, by and large, the only remaining communists in this country.

Unless CPUSA(M-L) members independently and honestly evaluate the facts, you will believe the second answer, your leaders answer. But perhaps in the years to come, as the class struggle really does intensify, you will learn how to tell your friends, and your vacillating or potential friends, from your enemies in this country. If you do, you will serve the proletariat far better than you can now. You will try far more seriously and patiently to win over those activists who deviate towards opportunism, and you will listen to those of us able to point out your own deviations, though we are far from perfect ourselves.

Concretely, you will have to do two things. First, abandon the claim that your program and the little that has been written about it have settled, for all real communists, the questions dividing U.S. Marxist-Leninists. And second, adopt a standing policy of willingness to struggle over those questions, in ways in which your members will read or listen to the opposing lines, provided only that enough other communists participate to justify the effort and that they, too, start dealing with the divisions among communists in a communist manner.


[1] History of the CPSU[B], p. 38.

[2] “A Draft Programme of Our Party,” LCW 4: 230.

[3] One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, LCW 7: 385. (Note: Lenin often used the term tactics as we use strategy now.)

[3a] One of your two examples of groups that would not present their views is the M.L.C., ’ who, you write, repeatedly ”cancelled or postponed meetings. . . because they were unprepared.” According to the M.L.C., there was a period when they were not ready to meet when you were. But several meetings were held, though in recent months you cancelled one meeting, simply missed another, were poorly prepared for a third, and only responded to a proposed date for another In a security-breaking phone call the night before.

[4] “Declaration of the Editorial Board of lskra,” LCW 4: 354-55.

[5] One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, LCW 7: 334.

[6] Letter to Sylvia Pankhurst, LCW 29: 565.

[7] What is to be Done?, LCW 5: 518, and “Preface” to second edition of The Taks of the Russian Social-Democrats, LCW 6: 210-11, quoted in Proletarian Unity League, Two, Three Many Parties of a New Type?, p. 20.