Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The Pacific Collective

Comments on RWC Strike Sum-Up


First Published: The Communist, Vol. IV, No. 19, August 28, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The following article, written by the Pacific Collective (PC), concludes the sum-up of strike work they did with the Revolutionary Workers’ Collective (RWC). The RWC’s sum-up is in the last two issues of THE COMMUNIST.


In a period when so few US communists have learned to do the kind of mass work that permits us to provide real leadership to the working class and win many workers to our ranks, we think that comrades should routinely circulate or publish summations of their practice so that we can all learn from each others’ hard won experience, and not only our own. Therefore we favor the publication of these materials on the joint mass work of members of the R.W.C. and the P.C., even though important inadequacies remain in the ability of both collectives to analyze that work. (In particular, it is necessary to explore more deeply the reasons for the identified mistakes, in order to prevent their repetition.)

We have a high level of agreement with the R.W.C.’s summation, to which, as they mention, we also made some contributions. However, certain differences remain, largely because of lack of time to struggle them out. On those that we consider significant, we add our own comments here. Some concern our evaluation of the work in the strike; others, the broader issues which the R.W.C. takes up in discussing that work.

We want to emphasize that the summation covers a particular period of time. Nothing stands still in the mass work, and the descriptions of our relationships with other communist forces are dated as well, and there are valuable lessons to be learned from the experience of these few months of our work.


We will not try to sunmarize here where we agree and disagree with the R.W.C.’s introductory statements on party-building. Rather, we will state briefly where we see trade union practice fitting in with the tasks of party-building.

Among those tasks which will enable us to build a vanguard party, the P.C. sees Marxist-Leninist study and investigation of U.S. society and the path towards its revolutionary transformation, i.e., the creation and advocacy of theory, as playing the principal role in moving the situation forward in this period. However, practice, particularly in the industrial proletariat, is also absolutely essential, for a number of reasons.

The following are sane of our main goals in such work: (1) deepening the fusion between the communist and workers’ movements by raising the consciousness and degree of organization of the different strata of workers at the plant, and building a close working relationship with the most active and progressive (but including the mass agitation needed to help produce advanced and intermediate workers); (2) helping us direct our theoretical work to those issues which must be studied to permit our agitation and propaganda to address the problems on the workers’ minds and the particular forms of bourgeois ideology that must be refuted; (3) contributing what we can to the communist movement’s pool of knowledge of different sectors of the working class, the union bureaucracy, the capitalists, and the state; (4) contributing to the communist movement ’s pool of knowledge on the correctness and incorrectness of different lines and methods of work, as tested in practice; (5) making some small, local advances in uniting Marxist-Leninists; and (6) helping to remold our own outlook.


The main weakness of both our collectives in this area was “left” sectarianism. We certainly tried harder than the A.T.M. to arrange principled discussions, but neither these attempts nor our attitudes towards the A.T.M. comrades reflected a firm grasp that some communists who today manifest a high degree of opportunism can change under proper conditions of unity and struggle. Nor did we see, as well as the workers did, that in many ways the different communists were trying to do the same thing – with very important tactical differences – and that any tendency to dismiss “those opportunists” with a sneer, only weakens forces that are struggling from an already-weak position. (Comrades from both collectives also made such errors in our attitude towards a small, loosely-knit group of rank-and-file activists who are both a progressive force and also possessors of some real opportunism.) Even though other forces were more sectarian than comrades from our collectives, our deviations were serious enough that we think they should be included in the summation’s final listing of the main weaknesses in the work.

As to the contribution of the R.W.C.’s (and our own) lack of political line development to the perpetuation of the disunity, we completely disagree with the assumption underlying the comrades’ identification of this as a major obstacle to more fruitful struggles for unity. Refusing to discuss a problem with other communists until you can develop your own line on it maintains our divisions. Too many organizations which hold that political line is the key link to party building try to develop their own answers to the main programmatic questions facing the movement and then try to unite with those who can agree fairly quickly, rather than organizing multilateral forms to study questions and struggle to resolve them collectively, or at least narrow the differences.

On the positive side, we would add the following to the list of favorable things to come from the strike: some of the communists at the plant, divided by varying degrees of sectarianism among all of us, other weaknesses of the R.W.C. and the P.C., and serious opportunism in the lines of the A.T.M. and the BACU, were pushed by objective conditions and the masses to begin to see each other as allies with very serious differences, rather than as enemies. Our relations took no qualitative leap; in fact they were quite poor at the end of the strike. But the common work during the strike provided part of the basis for some halting moves towards rectification since then. Just as important, it provided the basis for the more active workers to put substantial pressure on the communists to handle our differences properly, since they could see that in the struggle to organize the workers to defend themselves against capitalist attacks we are all pursuing the same goal.

Also under the topic of Marxist-Leninist unity, we want to add that the two collectives made an advance in this sphere, and in-struggling against our own circle spirit, by breaking down the collective boundaries in working jointly on this practice. The fullest discussions of the work usually take place in a meeting of comrades from both groups (as opposed to merely maintaining liaison to discuss decisions each collective makes separately). This is quite difficult at times, as the differences that emerge in summing up the work may suggest. But it affords the fullest attempts to resolve differences – in a setting where the practice proves who is correct – and permits development of a much more all-sided tactical line and more unified practice.

Finally, our collective sees four main areas of future work at the plant described in the summation. The one we add to the three listed by the R.W.C. is this: a consistent, protracted struggle for the communists to coordinate our work and knowledge as much as possible, avoid unprincipled struggle in front of and with worker contacts, and seek to narrow our differences, avoiding both the trap of believing that such struggle is fruitless or unnecessary and the illusion that such a struggle can be entirely successful.


The P.C. did not consider “winning over the advanced” one of our goals in the mass work. We believed from the beginning that it is necessary to use Lenin’s definitions of strata among the workers, and by these definitions there were no advanced workers in the plant.

We think that some things should be added to what the R.W.C. says about this question. Definitions are conscious choices about what concepts we mean when we use certain words, and the choices should be made to provide the greatest clarity in the theory that guides our practice. But the debate about “who are the advanced in the U.S. today” overlooks this. In fact, we think that there are very few advanced workers in the U.S. today, nor even enough intermediates (the active socialists Lenin described) to significantly affect the direction of the workers’ movement at present. This means that we do need to carefully study the class and develop categories to help identify its more and less progressive strata and learn to raise their levels.

But the terms advanced and intermediate are intimately tied to Lenin’s observations about the roles such workers – who always do develop eventually – play in fusing communism with the workers’ movement. To understand Lenin, we must apply what he says to the same kinds of workers he was writing about. You cannot substitute workers with different characteristics and yet expect them to function in the same way. For one thing, workers who do not have the influence in the class of the advanced, the leaders whom Lenin described, are not going to determine the character of the worker’s movement the way Lenin’s advanced workers did.

Comrades from both collectives vacillated on this in practice, and if the R.W.C. is criticizing itself for “the pragmatic substitution of the concept of the ’relatively advanced,” we agree with the criticism. That this is not an academic matter of formulations can be seen from the “left” errors which we all made towards core members – both in our expectations of the study that would interest them, and in our un-preparedness for the degree to which difficult objective conditions after the strike and the errors of us and other communists could push core members out of the work. Had we recognized consistently that most core members were among the most progressive of backward (i.e., non-socialist) workers, use of the scientific terminology would have helped remind us when we were dealing with.

Our own and others’ “left” difficulties in holding to Lenin’s definitions stem from a reluctance to recognize the enormity of our work in a class where so much backwardness prevails (through no fault of the workers, of course). (There is also a right deviation on this, which similarly lowers the definition of the advanced but is tied to the right error of failing to set for ourselves the task of raising the level of the most progressive workers to what really is possible.) This view of the advanced explains our participation in the broad forms of mass work described here. It also explains why the Pacific Collective does not describe our party-building task in the worker’s movement as “winning over the advanced,” since that expression erroneously implies the existence of a significant stratum of advanced workers and belittles the broad mass agitating and organizing that communists since Lenin have believed is essential to communist work since the Russians discovered the technique in 1895. Our party-building task in the workers’ movement is deepening the fusion between it and the communist movement. Propaganda is one form of doing this, particularly with the most progressive and active workers. But agitation and helping the workers organize are also essential, and they are certainly not secondary in terms of the time they take, either. Moreover, as we will show in a forthcoming pamphlet on party-building, widespread agitation is one of the factors needed to produce advanced workers (the other being sharp class contradictions and a high level of class struggle).

Turning to the question of cores, we agree with the R.W.C.’s observation that sometimes cores are appropriate and sometimes not, depending on the development of the subjective factor; but it may be useful to give the question a broader treatment here. The matter of forms of organization for mass work is a tactical question, which means that we need to combine the lessons of past experience with the greatest creativity and flexibility in solving particular problems. The concept of what form in which to work with the most progressive workers at a plant should never be cast in iron, a tendency we detect in, e.g. last year’s public dialogue between the League for Proletarian Revolution and the Marxist-Leninist Collective on what a core should be in general.

As Mao pointed put, “The masses in any given place are generally composed of three parts, the relatively active, the intermediate and the relatively backward”, and we “must therefore be skilled in uniting the small number of active elements around the leadership and must rely on them to raise the level of the intermediate elements and win over the backward elements.” (“Same Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership”) Unlike the categories of advanced, intermediate, and backward as applied to the kinds of workers who play different roles in the process of fusion, Mao’s categories are entirely relative. That is, they vary widely from place to place. We have worked in a plant where the most the relative activists would do – with some fear and trembling – was serve on an officially-sanctioned strike preparation committee that did criticize the union leadership for hindering its work. In contrast, at the plant described in the summation, a number of workers are actively building an independent newsletter and, we think, will help create a caucus aimed at toppling the opportunist bureaucrats. And we also expect to be able to reestablish a smaller group for higher level propaganda work. Furthermore, in later times, the “relative activists” in a large number of settings will want to fight, gun in hand, for socialism.

Wherever we go, we should set up forms that will enable us to work closely with the relative activists, to (a) broaden the circle of those who will design and implement a conscious plan, (b) strengthen our influence with the broad masses, (c) criticize our work in ways that the masses will not always do directly, and (d) permit us to raise the political level of those activists in discussions, and hopefully study, that others are not yet ready for. The caucus during the strike was one such form; our core within it was another.

The point is to see whom we are working with and objectively evaluate what forms will best serve the work with them, not mechanically go in with the idea that you have to have a core, or that if you do have a core, it has to study Marxism-Leninism or have some predetermined level of unity that communists can agree on in the pages of RESISTANCE. (Nor, we should add, in the light of BACU’s and ATM’s current right line and practice at this plant, do you go in everywhere.) and always with a strategy for a left-center alliance and apply this so that you concentrate your forces almost exclusively on the low-level forms of organization appropriate for all who could enter such an alliance.)

One final comment on cores in general. R.W.C. is mistaken in identifying ultra-leftism only with mechanically trying to form a high-level core even where subjective conditions do not call for it, and tying rightism only to the failure to form one when there are workers who would join it. These deviations do occur. But other “lefts” can try to be the sole vanguard and lead the masses without uniting the relative activists to help and criticize, an adventurist error that leads to isolation.(We have made this mistake elsewhere, and it also characterized a more recent instance of agitational work of the R.W.C. and others in this area.) There are also other right deviations besides not forming a core. It is possible to form one and then over-rely on the workers’ judgment, no matter how conservative (The two collectives agree that such an error contributed to our failure to take a more aggressive stand against some post-strike redbaiting at the plant.)

We do agree with the R.W.C.’s description of strengths and weaknesses in the work of the core, but we think that the “left” errors in evaluating these worker comrades were significant enough to warrant inclusion in the list of main weaknesses, at the end of the summation. (By the way, the study materials which the R.W.C. correctly describes as inappropriate for these particular workers were those that presented Marxist-Leninist theory in its most general form, e.g. Stalin’s “Dialectical and Historical Materialism”.)


Many communists would not seek to create the kind of caucus described in the R.W.C. document, so an explanation of the reasons for it is appropriate. The four principles of unity defined an organizational form that could unite union members willing to take an independent role in building a successful strike. This was required, in the first place, by the interests of the workers. The strike had no chance of success unless we helped organize these activists to mobilize the masses in a strong Strike and in the struggle against the bureaucrats’ capitulation. Second, the caucus was a form that would bring forward the most progressive and active workers, permitting us to develop contacts with them and do higher-level verbal agitation than what the broad masses were prepared to grasp, and perhaps enabling us to recruit more core members. We still think that this level of unity was correct, although a program spelling out more particulars instead of such general principles might have helped bring in more workers.

Some communists believe that our mass work in this period should be limited to educating the workers, doing both propaganda and (perhaps) agitational exposures. Our position, backed by both our own experience and that of communists historically, is that it is necessary to educate and organize the workers. Even if, for some reason, the work of building the unity and organization of the class did not otherwise need to be taken up at this time, those who attempt to educate and criticize, without showing in practice that there is a way to change things, rapidly lose the audience which they are trying to educate.

On the question of agitation concerning the union bureaucrats, we agree completely that the ATM and the BACU resisted exposing the treachery to be expected from the bureaucrats. However, not having struggled over how to sum up the strike with these organizations, we do not join the R.W.C.’s definite statement that the other groups had a different analysis of the relationship of the bureaucrats to the struggle of the workers. The comrades from these groups “did appear to have real illusions about these officials, particularly a militant-talking ex-steward. But it is also possible that they underestimated the amount of evidence of the bureaucrats’ opportunism already before the eyes of the masses, thinking that serious attacks on them at that time would seem to lack a basis in fact and appear divisive. In any event, they were wrong. Caucus members and a very broad group of the workers generally were able to see the role the bureaucrats were playing and the need for independent rank-and file initiative.

On the question of the caucus’s economism, we disagree with the R.W.C.’s making this criticism of a mass form that succeeded in uniting broader grouping than the communists. Our own reliance on the group as the main form for producing independent agitation was the economist deviation. Had we raised a higher level analysis consistently within the caucus, as we should have, some ideas beyond progressive and militant trade-unionism might have made it” into the caucus’s leaflets. However, since it was – correctly – a mass form, and could not have consistently united around a communist analysis, we also should have used leaflets of our own to put out an independent point of view.

Besides economism, another serious weakness in the mass work was spontaneity. Not that we upheld the theory of tailing spontaneous events, but in the intense and rapidly changing conditions of the strike struggle we were usually just trying to keep up with and respond to these events, rather than operating according to enough of a plan and an analysis that could help us and our close worker contacts find our bearings, take the initiative more often, make consistent economic and political exposures, and judge our practice according to predefined goals. We continue to find that this is much easier said than done and that the struggle against spontaneity is indeed a struggle.

We have three more comments on the particularities of this mass work. One is that anti-communism among the workers at this plant is at a fairly high level. Not to the point that we are in physical danger, but to the point where the credibility of communists is weak. Methods of mass work which fail to take this into account as an obstacle to be overcome will fail.

Second, the. R.W.C. statement that we expected “that the bureaucrats and a core of union activists would provide day to day guidance during the strike” does not mean that any of us had real illusions about them organizing a strong strike, for no one did. But we expected more direct action from them, including misleadership, than what actually occurred. They had not been at all hesitant to call a strike (and had been saying for several months that we would have to strike). So we expected them to be a presence, and to have some kind of base. But they had no such base, and they tended to get sick, leave town, etc. so much that there was the vacuum of leadership to which the R.W.C. refers, rather than the type of situation where the bureaucrats are firmly guiding the struggle towards a sellout.

Third, on the role the P.C. and the R.W.C. played in helping mobilize) the rank and file in this struggle, we want to highlight the importance of the objective unity of the progressive forces. Our own effectiveness was definitely heightened by the fact that members of the negotiating committee, another rank and file committee, the ATM and the BACU, and ourselves were all working generally in the same direction, at least in terms of informing the rank and file about the real nature of the company’s offers and urging their continued resistance.


Despite a great deal of agreement with the R.W.C.’s evaluation of where the struggle moved forward and where it did not, we have three important differences. In each area we think the comrades are over-optimistic.

On the question of whether the workers won a victory or suffered a defeat in the contract struggle, we think that they suffered a defeat, although it certainly could have been worse. They began, under the old contract, with a level of real wages higher than what they can expect, with inflation, under the new one. And they began without some of the restrictions on grievance handling that cure now in the new contract. These losses and others, as the R.W.C. agrees, were not offset by other gains.

We think that the R.W.C. confuses this with the tactical question of whether or not it was correct to strike, an important question on which there was no consensus among the workers following the strike’s end. As the R.W.C. demonstrates, the strike helped minimize the defeat. It also may have prevented a situation where, at the next set of negotiations, the losses would be even worse. Had the workers caved in this time, the company would demand even more the next time, the bureaucrats might well capitulate, and the workers – lacking confidence in their own ability to struggle – might accept the new losses.

But these benefits of striking do not convert a setback in the economic struggle into even “a small victory”. The comrades’ method of analysis –comparing the company’s pre-strike offer with the fined settlement – can lead to absurd results. First of all, it allows both sides to claim a victory. For company negotiators can also point out that the final settlement is far more favorable to the company than what the union was initially demanding.

Moreover, in another situation, the workers could be practically crushed, but if the “take-aways” are not as bad as what the company aimed at, we would be analyzing this as a victory. Such subjective conclusions do not sit well with workers, who know full well when they are beaten, but who are open to consider an objective analysis of whether it was correct to undergo the sacrifices of a long strike anyway.

Beyond this, we know that the R.W.C. would agree that, as the imperialist crisis deepens, workers are going to suffer serious attacks on their conditions of work and living standards; those who have at least tolerable lives under capitalism will find them getting much worse. The concrete realization of this process will include innumerable setbacks in contract struggles. The fact that workers must suffer these defeats under capitalism is ”one of the main reasons why they will eventually overthrow it. It would objectively serve the interests’ of those who want to mislead the workers about the need for that overthrow, if we try to convince them that they are winning when they are losing, simply because their struggles have helped prevent the losses from being greater. Analyzing such struggles as victories implies the sufficiency of trade unionism, but our job is to help the workers see clearly the limits of trade unionism.

We also think that comrades are putting a second matter one-sidedly in their conclusions, in stating, “The rank and file has a greater understanding of its own power and the victories that can be won through unified action”. On the positive side, a blow was definitely struck against the common backward idea that the workers cannot do anything together, that it’s about looking out for yourself. Some workers also saw better their own power and the gains that can be won through rank and file action, but there was also very broad sentiment that we sacrificed heavily and lost anyway, so striking is futile.

Finally, we believe there is similar subjectivism in the fourth “over-all gain” listed in the conclusion of the summation: “The basis has been laid for the development with communist initiative and leadership of a broad rank and file organization to fight for workers’ rights in the plant and to win leadership of the union local from the bureaucrats...” This wrongly implies that at the end of the strike conditions for building such an organization were favorable, or at least that we could begin to build it, and that communist leadership would be accepted by a broad mass group. Now certainly the first steps were taken in the exercise of communist and other independent rank and file initiative. Some gains were made in the ability of the masses to see the need for legitimacy of such action, but it will still be an uphill battle to establish the kind of organization which the comrades describe. In a recent discussion about when we could hope to unite today’s activist forces in the nucleus of a caucus, comrades in both collectives spoke of a target date which is over a year after the strike concluded. After it is formed, if it does good work, under correct leadership, it will surely grow into a broad rank and file organization. And through it, and our own independent role, the shaky credibility of the communists will grow much stronger.

In other words, we think that much of the basis for a strong, communist-led caucus remains to be built, though we have already proceeded farther than we were during a period of serious demoralization among the workers after the strike, which is the point where the summation ends. We think that in the main the R.W.C.’s practice shows that they agree with this. But we also think that their contrary statement in the summation can unintentionally mislead others, and perhaps themselves, about the strengths of their own work and the difficulty of the tasks still before us.