Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Workers Headquarters and the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee

An Exchange on May Day... Unity at What Price?


First Published: The Organizer, Vol. 5, No. 5, May 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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To Comrades and Friends of the PWOC:

Over the past year and a half we’ve developed some unity with each other in the course of doing some joint work. On that basis we’d like to share with you some of our experiences in the RCP in hopes that your organization can avoid some of the mistakes we fell into.

We raise this now because of the struggle around May Day. Because when we see the leadership of the PWOC refuse to build a united May Day celebration with other Marxist-Leninists, trade unionists, and forces from the national movements; when we see them choose instead to hold a narrower, “more Marxist” event where they can put out their “full strategic,” it hits us like an instant replay of our experiences in the RCP.

We are told that differences between the PWOC and the RWHq and other organizations on the international situation are too great for a united May Day. Yet we agree that the main task for US Marxist-Leninists is to oppose our own bourgeoisie. We could readily unite around demands like US out of Puerto Rico and support for the Iranian revolution. We have specifically agreed that we would not expect the question of the two superpowers or Soviet social imperialism, in particular, to be points of unity. But the PWOC says that is not enough, that they still wouldn’t be able to put out their “complete strategic view” around which we have differences in political principle.

Well, it certainly is a difference in principle. But the question is not whether there are principled differences with the Marxist-Leninist movement, but the attitude we take toward them. Do we raise them as a barrier to putting May Day back in the hands of our class and building a left, class conscious section of that class or do we struggle to overcome them? If we learned one thing in the RCP’s fall into “left” opportunism it is this: leadership never comes to the cadre and says, “we’ve decided to take a sectarian position.” Sectarianism is always cloaked in the critical importance of one political line or another. The entire history of the Marxist-Leninist movement for the past twenty years shows how careful we have to be about drawing lines of demarcation that shatter the fragile unity of the left wing of the working class movement.

For over a year we have been asking the PWOC to unite to build a joint May Day. Our line is simple: May Day belongs to the working class but in recent years it has been “sectarian day,” the day when each group builds itself. We have to begin to put it back into the hands of the working class. By uniting with the growing tide of struggle in the Black and Puerto Rican communities and building on the unity forged in the Stop Rizzo campaign, the basis exists to begin to do just that: to unite Marxist-Leninists, unite the actual struggles being waged, unite the small but growing rank and file movement in the city and put on an event that will begin to build a left section of the working class and begin to merge the workers and national movements. It would be something advanced forces could look to and build each year, reflecting the growth of our movement and helping guide its development.

We have presented this outlook to the PWOC since before last year’s May Day. In the middle of March we were told that the PWOC was agreeable and we would be contacted to work out questions of line and practice. On March 29th representatives of our two organizations met and the only reservation your organization raised was whether we could unite the forces we wanted in the time remaining. No question of overall line differences was raised. Then, on April 2, we were told that your organization would not participate and for the first time differences over political line were raised as the reason. We never had an opportunity to even discuss and struggle over these differences.

This decision is a step backward from the task of fusion. And it is a counter-current to the trend of Marxist-Leninist unity which the PWOC has advocated in the past. In short it falls into the same sectarian, ultra-“left” trap that the PWOC warns others against.

For years the PWOC has waged a righteous struggle against the CP(ML)’s sectarian line of “no common platform with revisionism.” What are we supposed to think now? It seems that the PWOC doesn’t disagree with this principle after all, only with who are the real revisionists. Apparently it’s the RWHq and any one else who doesn’t agree with the “US is the main enemy of the world’s peoples” formulation, and “no common platform” with us is quite all right. When is it sectarianism and when is it “political principle?”

Certainly there is a place for educating the forces around us to the lines of our individual organizations. But there are plenty of occasions for forums, etc. There is only one May Day. We are never going to establish a Marxist current in the workers movement by each group walling itself off with a handful of workers and feeding them the “correct line.” The only way we’re ever going to raise the level of the workers movement is to unite with it as it actually exists and battle to raise its level in the course of leading the struggle. But more than that – it is only by jumping into the movement in this way that we can reach clarity on what line will actually move things forward. None of us has all the answers at this early stage.

The international situation, in particular, is a very complex and developing one. It would be miraculous if any one organization held more than a fraction of the truth at this point. A correct line on the international situation will develop with the development of the actual situation and through struggling with each other for clarity. But this cannot be pitted against uniting the advanced to push the class struggle forward, a central task of May Day. In fact, nothing will be advanced by using the international question as a dividing line to split the workers movement.

Is the PWOC going to become just another Marxist-Leninist group that gets hyped on some holy mission or another and loses its bearings on the key tasks of fusion and party building? Is the M-L movement going to bring its sectarianism into the fledgling working class organizations we have built with such great effort, and split them? What, for example, are we going to do in Driving Force? Have it participate in two May Days? Have it split over the question? We’ve seen this before at close hand and have no desire to see it all over again.

We hope that our comrades in the PWOC will reconsider. Let’s unite all who can be united to build May Day as a day of working class celebration and protest, a day in which actual unity of the workers and national movements is put forward and built.

The Revolutionary Workers Headquarters
April 18, 1979

* * *

The PWOC Responds

The Revolutionary Workers Headquarters holds out the prospect of Marxist-Leninists uniting and taking steps to put May Day back in the hands of the working class. Certainly the PWOC supports these aims. No one would deny that the working class pays a heavy price for the fragmentation of the communist movement. It is indisputable that a May Day that seeks to unite the broad masses of workers and oppressed nationalities around a revolutionary platform of struggle is preferable to a series of small events which do not reach much beyond the periphery of the Marxist-Leninist movement.

The question is what stands in the way of such a May Day, or more broadly, what are the obstacles to furthering unity among Marxist-Leninists? The RWHq targets sectarianism – in this particular instance the “sectarianism” of the PWOC. Recognizing that differences between our organizations exist, the RWHq has tailored its slogans so that we can achieve a common ground. But still the PWOC will not unite. The PWOC insists that its international perspective must predominate. This insistence is the essence of our “sectarianism”.

We see matters differently. On International Workers’ Day the theme of proletarian internationalism has an obvious centrality. Solidarity with workers and oppressed peoples throughout the world has a particular importance for us as revolutionaries within the world’s largest imperialist power and biggest oppressor nation. At the level of abstraction all Marxist-Leninists, virtually by definition, agree on the necessity of internationalism. But in the real world of concrete events there is a profound divergence over what constitutes proletarian internationalism.

We do not agree on who really is the main enemy of the international working class and oppressed nations. We do not agree as to what constitutes the principal source of war in the world today. As a result, on almost every front in the class struggle internationally, we have sharply divergent views of what is really occurring and what is at stake. To suggest that these are somehow “secondary” differences that should not prevent us from uniting to build a class conscious workers’ movement here in the US is to draw a wholly artificial line between our tasks as internationalists and as revolutionaries here in the US.

A class struggle trend within the trade unions, for example, must oppose the class collaborationism of the Meanys, the Frasers, and the rest of the labor bureaucracy not only in relation to domestic questions, but on the international front as well. The AFLCIO leadership with its support for an anti-communist, militaristic and aggressive foreign policy supports the most reactionary sections of the ruling class and betrays the interests of workers both here and abroad.

A class conscious movement is necessarily a movement which is internationalist in outlook and understands what its key tasks are in this arena. The plain fact is that we not only differ as to what those key tasks are but that this difference corresponds to a contradiction between an anti-imperialist view of those tasks and a class collaborationist view.


The RWHq says we agree “that the main task for US Marxist-Leninists is to oppose our own bourgeoisie.” But let us look at how the RWHq opposes our own bourgeoisie around the world.

Let’s take the example of Latin America. Here the predominance of US imperialism is indisputable. Here there can be no question that the focus of our propaganda and agitation must be the exposure of US imperialism and that our principal task is to build solidarity with those movements and forces which are actively fighting US imperialism.

The most consistent and forceful opposition to US imperialism in Latin America has come from revolutionary Cuba, which as a result, has been invaded, blockaded, and bullied by the US. Has the RWHq opposed our own bourgeoisie’s vicious attacks? Hardly! Instead, they have competed with our bourgeoisie in heaping slander on Cuba as a colony, puppet, and source of mercenaries for the USSR’s aggressive schemes.

In Puerto Rico, the struggle against US imperialism is intensifying; its most advanced expression is growing support for both independence and socialism. As the island is directly a colony of the US, we have a special responsibility to render concrete support to this struggle.

Cuba plays a particularly important role in relation to the independence movement. It has ties with all the pro-independence forces with the exception of the Puerto Rican Independence Party. Cuba has been the strongest voice in ever every international forum for Puerto Rican independence. This fact has led some, such as the Communist Party Marxist Leninist (CPML) to raise the absurd and reactionary slogan, “Both Superpowers Out of Puerto Rico”.

To its credit, the RWHq has avoided this sort of over-zealous struggle against “social imperialism” and even-handedness in relation to the “other superpower”. But RWHq has also managed to avoid participation in the movement to Free the Four Nationalists and to oppose the attacks on the Puerto Rican labor movement – both litmus tests for solidarity in the present period. Moreover, it is impossible to parrot the State Department’s line on Cuba and simultaneously support the Puerto Rican independence movement.

The RWHq’s class collaborationist stand toward Cuba & their benign neglect toward the anti-imperialist struggle generally in Latin America grows out of a definite strategic perspective. This is a perspective that subordinates, when it does not liquidate entirely, the struggle against “our own bourgeoisie” to the struggle against Soviet hegemonism. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the principle exponent of this view, makes this clear in deeds even as it seeks to obscure it with words.

China’s cordial relations with the Pinochet dictatorship, its absence in the U.N. on a vote on a resolution of support for Puerto Rican independence, and most recently its urging the US imperialists to “teach Cuba a lesson” say more about the real content of the united front against the superpowers than a thousand manifestos. Yet this scabbing on the struggle against US imperialism draws not a single word of criticism from our comrades in the RWHq. Is this what they mean by opposing our own bourgeoisie?

In fact, the logic of the international line of the CCP and the RWHq leads not to opposing but to collaborating with our bourgeoisie all over the world. In Portugal the RCP sided with fascist reaction and US imperialism against anti-imperialist forces which the RCP characterized as a “fifth column for Soviet Social imperialism.” In Angola they united with the State Department in seeing the MPLA as a vehicle for alleged Soviet domination and called for the inclusion of the CIA backed FLNA and the South Africa supported UNITA in the Angolan government.

The RWHq in its attempt to rectify the left line inherited from the RCP has not repudiated any of these positions. More recently in Southeast Asia, the RWHq enthusiastically supported China’s aggression against Vietnam, a measure which clearly has the discreet support of our own bourgeoisie and indeed, the open backing of its most reactionary section.

The RWHq sees the Soviet Union as the main source of the danger of war in the world today. War between the “superpowers” is held to be inevitable (although the RWHq does cite China’s aggression against Vietnam as a fine object lesson in how to combat the war danger). The RWHq, like the CCP, is fond of analogies with World War II. Then the socialist Soviet Union sought to conclude an alliance with the bourgeois democratic imperialist countries against the more aggressive, fascist Axis powers.

Presently socialist China is going about the business of assembling an alliance between itself and European, Japanese and US imperialism aimed at the now “fascist” and “more aggressive” Soviet Union. If the USSR is cast in the role of Nazi Germany and the US is again to get a part in the democratic camp, then where does that leave we Marxist-Leninists in relation to our own bourgeoisie in the event of war? Is it not clear that the logic of both the analogy and China’s view of events in the world today casts us in the role of supporters of our own ruling class?

In short, we do not agree that there is unity on the need to oppose our own bourgeoisie. We do not question that the RWHq honestly wants to fight imperialism. But we are convinced that this desire is distorted, perverted and ultimately negated by its international line.

And we must add that the RWHq is the best of those forces who support this general orientation. The CP-ML, also a party to this May Day unity feast, has been a far more open and blatant advocate of class collaborationism, for example criticizing the Pentagon for its appeasement of the USSR.

We have no desire to further the dissemination of such views and strengthen the credibility of these forces within the people’s movement. We do not think these views contribute in the slightest to the building of a class conscious workers movement. On the contrary – they can only retard it.


But hasn’t the RWHq agreed to put these views on the shelf for May Day? Haven’t they agreed to limit the international slogans to demands on which all can agree? Yes, and this “anti-sectarianism” shows that the RWHq instinctively grasps that their international line is repulsive to the bulk of honest anti-imperialist forces. Perhaps these comrades’ readiness to subordinate their line to considerations of “unity” indicates some amount of discomfort with the line, in which case it is a good thing.

However, we still must decline. Marxist-Leninists do not base their principle slogans and demands on pragmatic considerations of what diverse organizations can live with. In relation to the present discussion we must identify what are the principle tasks for the movement that are posed by the class struggle and the actual course of events. To focus on Iran because there we have sufficient unity, but ignore Southeast Asia because there we have sharp differences, runs counter to such a method. We think exposure of the danger posed to Vietnam and who is really responsible for bringing the world to the brink of war are key questions for May Day, and we aren’t prepared to barter over this. The RWHq’s search for the lowest common denominator means that the event will not bring real political clarity to our international tasks. No united event between organizations with such divergent views at the present time could project a unified perspective on these tasks.

The RWHq seeks to justify its own pragmatism in relation to this question by arguing that the international situation is “complex” and that none of us can possess more that “a fraction of the truth” at present. This posture of humility is in stark contrast to the RWHq’s practice. Their possession of only a mere “fraction of the truth” has not prevented them from taking very definite, unambiguous stands on a whole range ot these “complex” questions.

The fact of the matter is that the main outlines of the international situation are quite clear and have been for some time. Two definite lines have emerged within our movement with far reaching and divergent implications.

Finally the RWHq questions whether we are consistent in advocating united front tactics and opposing sectarian principles like “no unity of action with revisionism.” We believe we are. We do not elevate our decision about this particular event to the level of a generalizable principle. We continue to think that unity of action in the mass movements in the struggle against capital is necessary and possible with a broad range of left forces, certainly including the RWHq. However, we reject an interpretation of unity of action that implies we must support the initiative of every Marxist-Leninist organization that is couched in terms of fusion and advancing the class struggle.

The process of fusing Marxism-Leninism with the working class movement embraces the task of building international working class solidarity, and advancing the class struggle means support for the international movements that fight our own bourgeoisie. We have argued that these tasks have a particular importance in relation to International Workers’ Day. Good intentions of the RWHq aside, we are convinced that the united May Day event which they have proposed does not best serve these aims.