Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Workers’ Headquarters

Red Papers 8: China Advances on the Socialist Road: The Gang of Four, Revolution in the US, and the Split in the Revolutionary Communist Party

Campaign To Build A National United Workers Organization

The campaign to build the National United Workers Organization was the major campaign of the RCP in 1977. The campaign ended in a founding convention which brought together 1500 active working class fighters.

The NUWO represented an attempt on a national scale to form an intermediate workers organization: an organization based in the shops to fight the bosses day-to-day; to turn our unions into weapons in the hands of the rank and file; and to concentrate the strength of the working class against the main attacks of the ruling class.

The campaign represented both the desire of the working class to get organized and the inability of the RCP to develop the line, policies, and plans to make the NUWO a weapon in the hands of the workers.

Much more work has to be done in the future to deepen this beginning analysis–particularly on the questions of how actually to fight all oppression and the relationship between building shop, industry, area-wide, and national workers organizations.

The other major campaign of the working class the RCP took up in its first two years was the campaign to found the NUWO, a campaign which involved to one degree or another all cadre in working class work for nearly a year. An analysis of the leading line and method in the RCP during this campaign can only lead to one conclusion: that this line and method marked a major quantitative step in the development of left idealist line in a section of the leadership, a retreat from the political task of merging socialism with the workers’ movement and a total breakdown of the chain of knowledge/chain of command which is a reflection of the Marxist theory knowledge.

Due to the desire of the working class to fight being crushed, to take up political questions and lead the fight for freedom–and the hard work of many, many RCP members, some real advances were made in the campaign–but because of the leading left idealist line what was built was not an organization but a big meeting. Whether compared to the J-4 campaign or not, one can say the RCP’s overall line was not deepened, and the cadre learned little, and ended the campaign as confused about what was going on as when the order came down to take it up., The fight against right idealism in our work, identified as a major problem in the second CC report, was not carried out–in fact right idealism was fed by the left idealist leading line.

We think because of the left idealist line the campaign should be re-named “The Campaign of the Four No’s.” That is:
1) No line on why to form the organization at this time.
2) No line developed to build it.
3) No line and leadership at the convention.
4) No reason why the cadre should be criticized for the way the convention came out.

And in doing this we especially want to aim the arrow at the appropriate target, Avakian, who led the national work team formed to head the campaign and who was responsible for the floor leadership and political content of the convention. We say “especially” because Avakian and his close followers swear that his leadership in the campaign was a “model of communist leadership.” This opinion, for good reason, is not held generally by those who attended the convention or helped to build the campaign.

No Line On Why to Form the Organization At This Time

When this campaign was put forward at the 2nd Plenary CC meeting, certain political questions and tasks were laid out that were essential to the building of the NUWO. In the Discussion/Decisions section of the CC Report the fact that 3 area-wide “Intermediate Workers Organizations” exist (in New York/New Jersey, Milwaukee and the Bay Area in California) is laid out and questions of orientation are developed out of the experience of these and other IWOs: Why does the Programme of the RCP say what it does about the overall role of IWOs and the slogan that sums it up–“Workers Unite to Lead the Fight Against All Oppression”? Understanding the overall role and slogan is crucial to both winning workers to understand concretely the powerful role these organizations can play, and to avoiding both left and right errors in our work. On top of all this is a call to sum up the July Fourth campaign and the work in building the IWOs so far (including the tendency to put their formation far into the future) as key tasks to get the ball rolling. But at the same time, we find in the formulation in the CC report on building the NUWO the potential idealist trip that Avakian was about to send the Party on:

The key to it we feel is a political question, not the question of do we have the ties and contacts, but the political question of can we bring home to workers who would be the base of this organization the question of what it means for the working class to take up and lead the fight against all oppression, to infuse its strength, discipline and outlook into every battle and to develop key struggles into campaigns of the class? Because if we can politically solve that question we can develop such an organization.

Is the question laid out above a political question? It certainly is. But in building organization such as the National United Workers Organization we must go beyond our deepened general understanding of ”bringing home the question” and root this in conditions, time and place of the class struggle. The question of the objective situation of the working class 1976-77, must be taken up in developing a call for building such an organization in 1977. It is here that the question of developments in society, different industries, and the response of different sections of our class (miners, steel, etc.) must be summed up. And it is on this stage of objective conditions that we must sum up the political developments and strength of the subjective forces, what role they can play on this stage–both to sum up the potential base of the NUWO and how we could build the NUWO based in the actual struggles of our class. Attempts to take up these questions at the CC meeting were written off as pragmatic. Attempts by cadre to take up this question–in one way or another–were also written off as pragmatic in many parts of the RCP This was in spite of the opening section of the CC report that stressed the necessity of grasping the relationship of objective and subjective conditions.

This is not to say it was wrong to go ahead and build the NUWO. A powerful campaign could have led to decent advances for our class and the RCP. But already one could see the beginning separation from the real world–basing the NUWO solely on the idea in an idealist and metaphysical way–apart from conditions, time and place.

The Chickens Come Home to Roost

This “good idea” had some real difficulties taking hold. In Bulletin Vol. 2 #3, which came out in early summer 1977, almost a year after the original call was put out in the CC report, it says: “Not surprisingly, some of the difficulty comrades are having in grasping the role of this organization is similar to that of many workers outside the Party, it is seen as a ’good idea’ but just that–an idea, remote from the actual struggles and problems people face.” And then, just in case you forgot, the Bulletin lays out the objective reasons for the formation this year of the NUWO. This was the first time such an analysis was to appear in a Bulletin on the NUWO. The single paragraph is an empty defense, saying the NUWO call was based on an analysis of such and such factors–an analysis of conditions, time and place which had actually never been made, or if it had it was kept secret from all the cadre, including those on leading bodies of the RCP.

It certainly was “not surprising” that many RCP members and advanced workers saw the NUWO as just a good idea because that is exactly how it was developed under Avakian’s “model leadership,” never leaping beyond the’ level of general rational abstraction to revolutionary practice. And it is also not surprising that cadre and non-cadre shared the confusion, because both were operating under the same conditions in that neither were getting any leadership that was based on the real contradictions facing the working class. The way this Bulletin reads one would assume there had been a deep analysis made which went into the present economic crisis, the RCP’s ability to develop program and stand for the organization and how to conduct the struggle against right idealism, especially in work at the center of gravity. And off of this assumption one would think that those who saw the NUWO as only a “good idea” had somehow missed the boat and needed even more summation to be able to continue with the majority on the march forward to build the NUWO.

But the real situation was the exact opposite of the above. The great majority of comrades and advanced saw the NUWO as a “good idea” that never moved beyond the level of general abstraction–because the line never was deepened in the course of rooting it in the particular conditions and contradictions in the working class. This was certainly the experience of the first national meeting of organizers for this campaign, held in Cleveland in February 1977 where the cadre and the advanced left correctly feeling that all discussion was “up in the air,” and not much sense of what we were building other than an organization with an idea.

While the center had initially posed some of the questions, called for summation and said they intended to keep on top of the campaign, none of this got much farther than putting the words down on paper. There was no organized discussion like that called for in the CC report, no organized summation of the July 4th campaign, no organized discussion on “overall role” or “based in the shops,” not even any on the tendency to postpone the building of the local IWOs. The chain of knowledge/ chain of command did not function so that political line could be developed based on “concrete analysis of concrete conditions,” then deepened as it was tested in practice in the struggle to implement that line. The Marxist theory of knowledge (perceptual to conceptual, and then a leap from rational knowledge to revolutionary practice) was not grasped and applied in the RCP.

Was this because Avakian was lazy, or a liar, maybe? It was because he had a wrong line, a line that says ideas themselves are a material force. Actually, it’s the Gang of Four line that if you grasp revolution, production will automatically follow. All you have to do is put out the idea of summation and things will be summed up.

Ideas are not a material force, they become a material force when they are grasped by the masses and put into practice in the struggle to change the world. Mao spoke to this point in “Concerning Methods of Leadership”:

In all the practical work of our Party, all correct leadership is necessarily ’from the masses, to the masses.’ This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated, systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas in such action. Then once again concentrate ideas from the masses and once again go to the masses so that the ideas are persevered in and carried through. And so on, over and over again in an endless spiral, with the ideas becoming more correct, more vital and richer each time. Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge.[1]

From the very beginning, the idealist notion that ideas themselves are a material force took a left form in the leading line in the campaign. The campaign became in fact an ideological struggle to win the minds of the workers away from trade unionism and the minds of the cadre away from economism in favor of “fighting all oppression”–apart from the actual class struggle. Supposedly if this was done then the organization would be formed on a correct basis.

The Two “Breakthrough Tools”

Suddenly, however, in National Bulletin Vol. 2 #3, we got a main switch in gears in the campaign as we were given the formulation of two “very dialectically” related tasks. That is–build the NUWO “through the course of struggle,” and “in its own right.” These “breakthrough tools” were to help us resolve that old problem–the Continuing failure of RCP members to continue to “understand the role of the NUWO.” It was summed up in NB Vol. 2 #3, that the

basis for this (problem) is that the role of the national workers organization is still not firmly grasped in many cases, and there is still considerable confusion around this question of how to build it– especially around the relationship between building it ’in its own right,’ and building it in relation to struggle, and generally the relationship between building struggle and building the NUWO.” On page 2, the Bulletin goes deeper into the problems in grasping this relationship, where it makes the summation: “So far there has been a significant weakness in this regard, a tendency to wall off struggle from the task of building the NUWO, instead of finding the ways to link the task of building with ongoing struggle.

Then the Bulletin lays out the solution to this problem:

In order to overcome this weakness, comrades working in the plants in general must pay attention to the question of bringing out the NUWO–and the fact that they along with others workers, are active in building it–when they are involved in building struggle. This not only means basic things like wearing the T-shirt and button regularly, and especially when involved in struggle, but also finding other ways to bring up the NUWO in the course of struggles as well as consistently bringing it out in the work, the publications, etc. of existing organizations in plants, industries, unions, areas. If done correctly, workers who see the role comrades and other workers involved in building the NUWO are playing in building struggle will want to know more about the N-IWO, because they will begin to see some connection between it and the struggles they are involved in.

What happened to the big idea about the struggle against all oppression and how politically we were going to bring home this question to the working class? It has disappeared without ever being summed up. Now all of a sudden here’s Avakian–who’s failed to lead the Party in developing any political line to actively build the NUWO in accordance with resolving the actual contradictions in the working class–falling into tactics as process. Now the new heart of our line is “in its own right,” and “in the course of struggle.” Even two “very dialectical” tactics still cannot be substituted for political line. Now, the simple battle was on to bring the most workers possible to the convention–through these tactics–all political line was thrown out the window and confusion reigned.

Chain of Knowledge Broken

The chain of knowledge/chain of command in the RCP broke down throughout this campaign. There was no up and down summation and development of line–basically comrades were told all along that the only problem was that they weren’t grasping the line of winning the workers to the understanding of “fight all oppression.” In fact, since there was no overall political line ever developed on how to do this (make the leap back to revolutionary practice) and no summation or deepening of line in the course of the campaign, branches were inevitably left with only their own immediate experience and so there was a tendency toward “tactics as process,” gimmicks–encouraged by the gimmick line from the Center: “wear an NUWO T-shirt when you’re fighting at the center of gravity, that’ll get ’em.”

This breach of the mass line and the Marxist theory of knowledge, based on Avakian’s “left” idealist line, inevitably bred problems in the RCP. For the leadership it deepened and further developed their separation from the masses and increased the basis for idealism–whether in “left” or right form. For those local cadre, branches and comrades who are actively seeking to apply political line to concrete conditions to change the world, it could only breed tendencies toward empiricism and “tactics as process”–as they could only base their political line on their own experience as a branch, city body, etc. The leading center of the RCP was not leaping beyond the task of raising knowledge to the rational level in order to return it to revolutionary practice, and did not deepen the overall line off summation of the knowledge gained in the process of the class and communists actively changing the world. This was why both our overall general line on leading the working class movement in this country and line on various political questions concerning the NUWO, center of gravity, etc. never deepened or developed.

Other Important Points

At this time a couple of basic points need to be made. Number 1–In the campaign for the NUWO the struggle at the center of gravity is always spoken to in relationship to other broader struggles, like a stepping stone to the “real battles” or as a given–“build the struggle, build more struggle,” etc. Concentrate in the struggles of the workers at the center of gravity has come more and more to mean only a physical concentration, “get jobs in the big plants,” rather than a political line and ideological question. Rather than a battle we took up shoulder-to-shoulder with our fellow workers with all our hearts and minds, it was mentioned only as a grudging concession to the backwardness of the workers, and largely ignored altogether in Bulletins and sum-ups.

Number 2–This lack of attention to the economic work was a key factor in the difficulties we were having in building struggle in the period. For Avakian, general line, divorced from a political analysis of the situation, provides the key break-through tool. When this general line doesn’t break through, then Avakian targets the “pragmatism” and “economism” of the cadre as the factors causing the setback, and then uses this to justify a further retreat from the struggle of the masses.

Now, of course, the cadre can’t retreat as far as he can, they are trying to uphold the Party’s line on the center of gravity for our work, so for the cadre the retreat was a “political and ideological one–the separation between the day to day struggle and building a class conscious workers movement got more and more pronounced, as did the head dancing by leadership for “right-ism.” All this causes is demoralization, the feeling that not much can be done and continued disorientation from the task of uniting with and leading the actual struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie on all fronts.

Learn By Changing The World

Comrades should ask themselves, in a one-year campaign to build a workers organization what did they learn about applying Marxism to the day-to-day struggles of the working class What did we learn about developing the struggle of the working class, the sense of organization and the training and recruitment of communist revolutionaries?

Or what was deepened about the mood of the masses, the nature and main forms of the class struggle at this time, how to fight in a revolutionary way in the unions, how to unite Black and white and other nationalities in and out of the shops?

Or, in fact, what was developed off of the general stand of the organization, what does it stand for in relationship to the big questions like the imports, the illegals, the right to strike, the question of jobs or income and the Carter offensive? What advances were made on how the NUWO can be a weapon in the class war? How much of an organization was actually developed?

On all these questions we failed to move beyond the general knowledge and line of the RCP–because we never deepened it– in the course of applying it to concrete conditions and changing the world. None of the original political questions spoken to at the CC meeting–around building of the NUWO, were deepened at all. Avakian couldn’t lead the RCP to deepen and develop its line because his line no longer leaps beyond rational knowledge back into revolutionary practice of changing the world. We raise this because his line must lead to retreat from the struggle in the face of difficulties, a retreat to idealism.

The Real Promoter of Rightism

But we can hear the response now–How can you talk about these struggles when a right-wing pragmatic line holds sway in the work? Nothing can really be done until “you pragmatists” get off your line or get the hell out of the RCP and then we will be able to really fight all oppression and not be rightists.

Well, we ask whose line leads fundamentally to rightism in practice. Despite various forces wearing the mantle of “fighters of empiricism and pragmatism,” their line inevitably leads those who are dealing with the actual contradictions in the working class to fall into pragmatism and empiricism.

Is the way to break through the separation of the day-to-day struggle from the task of building a class conscious workers movement to fight hard and wear a button or a T-shirt? Will the determination of the two tasks of “in the course of struggle” and “in its own right,” which is nothing but raising a tactic to a “political line” with absolutely no political content, will this put politics in command to either lead the struggle or to overcome the problems of right idealism in the Party? The answer is clear. Avakian does not look at these questions as political questions–they are drab mundane work of the cadre and they will automatically be taken up if they grasp his general line. This leads the comrades alone to develop political line to move forward the actual contradictions–inevitably breeding politics based on narrow and immediate experience. Or else, if they take up Avakian’s line–they are only tactical questions and not really political.

With this outlook you not only do not develop line, you don’t deepen the line that has been developed. Because the spiral of knowledge is broken the same problems keep rolling right back in with no motion forward, while comrades get more confused over what is right and wrong.

In the NUWO campaign where very little line was developed, you also had very little deepening of line. This was made more than clear by the founding convention in September.

No Leadership At The Convention

The convention was a true reflection of the strengths and weaknesses of the entire campaign. The desire of the working class to get organized and fight to build a new world and the hard work of the cadre brought out over 1500 workers. But despite the high turnout, most people left the convention with a lot of questions about what exactly had been accomplished.

The organization had been formed and that was a big step, but the political questions: Who came? How much were people united? and how much could be consolidated back in the local areas were big in people’s minds. The plenary meetings were inspiring and some of the struggle was good but the question of how this organization could be a powerful weapon larger than its numbers, what its program would be both in an overall sense and in the industrial sections, was still very unclear. In fact, for a workers organization based in the shops and industries, the industrial workshops in the great majority of cases were disorganized and at a low level, a combination of denunciations of the bosses and discussion of shop experience which would have been okay if it had been unfolded around some political line to build the struggle in the industries. And that demanded political leadership.

But as has been pointed out before, the leader of the work thought that the cadre had been well armed to lead with line at the convention. In fact, in the Bulletin sent out right before the convention, Avakian laid out that the problem will not be too little line but too much. On page 2 he said,

Comrades will obviously exert significant influence on the discussion at the convention and they should actively take part. But we do not want this to be on the basis that the Party has a comprehensive position, worked out in every detail on every question that will come up at the convention, and every comrade memorizes those positions and rigidly adheres to them throughout. The Party does have basic policies on the questions that will be focused on at the convention and all comrades should study Party documents and publications relating to the main questions to be discussed at the convention, especially in the social question workshops, and should strive to put the content of the Party’s policies forward in a living way and struggle concretely from that standpoint.

We think from our view of the convention that Avakian’s wish not to have a detailed line on every question was certainly granted. The difference between what he thought was the problem and what in fact happened is so stark that it is amazing. No political goals were set on what exactly we expected to be able to accomplish at the convention. In auto some of the leaders met for the first time when they walked into the workshop. In electrical some of the major line questions came as a surprise to most cadre. We had a workshop and even launched a campaign around fascist groups although the RCP had hardly held a discussion of fascism. We even held a demonstration that had something to do with busing which to this day hardly anybody understands. Many key questions on the agenda were never discussed at all. No leading fraction ever met throughout the convention. Compare the line developed for this convention–the general call to “study Party documents and publications relating to the main questions to be discussed at the convention”–with the preparation for the Detroit UWOC (Unemployed Workers Organizing Committee) national meeting. A general political goal for the meeting was set, line was developed and short papers written by chapters on different questions facing the organization, these were circulated before the meeting to rely on and involve the advanced in the political struggles, a leadership core was set up which met throughout the two days of the meeting to guide the work of cadre during the meeting. And UWOC was actually more consolidated, politically stronger, when we came out of it.

The entire pre-convention Bulletin which is supposed to form the basic guidelines and objectives is filled with generally what should happen and what the cadre must do. But nowhere is there any breakdown on how all this is going to be accomplished. Again, for an idealist the “should do’s” and the “must watch out for’s” is concrete leadership, but for changing the world and dealing with the actual contradiction all these wishes fall far short. This much reality has forced us to accept. The only question left is who is to be blamed for it.

No Reason Why the Comrades Should Be Blamed For The Weakness Of Avakian’s Line

Finally we get this big sum-up on the campaign. But no, since the effort was one to build a meeting and not an organization, there was not much to sum-up except the convention. So we get a convention sum-up. We don’t know exactly what Avakian is going to do about summing up the campaign for the whole Party. He, of course, has a summation– he did a model job and all the weaknesses belong to the revisionist headquarters and the cadre’s rightism.

The summation of the convention can be described in one word–disgusting. It is a clumsy job of changing wrong into right and turning the world upside down. The comrades who made something out of a poor situation and almost no leadership get criticized for the tendency to “replace substance with enthusiasm.” What a crock of shit, the cadre made no such decision because there was very little substance to start with to replace with anything. The point is that the lack of substance was certainly nothing to be enthusiastic about, but the size of the crowd and the fact that we were founding the organization was something to be enthusiastic about.

Avakian, who is primarily responsible for the lack of substance and the role of the Party at the convention (unless this too was a task of the NUWO leadership) comes out smelling like a rose. The whole Bulletin is nothing but an attack on those who tried to deal with the contradiction involved in Avakian’s line while his previous Bulletin is “proven” (once again) to be correct on every point (in fact its main weakness was that it didn’t make the points strong enough.)

Avakian, we are sure, will deny the charge that he is an idealist and will claim that his grasp of what went on at the convention, as reflected in his Bulletin, is correct. Was the problem at the convention the substitution of enthusiasm for substance? No, it wasn’t. But even if it was, where’s the substance of the criticism, where’s the line errors, where is the attempt of the center to educate the cadre, based on Marxism, about why mistakes were made? There is no attempt to do this, instead what the cadre get is a dressing down for their lack of substance. Maybe we read the wrong documents and publications in our preparation for this convention.

And anyway where is the materialism that led him to pick upon this one point in a campaign marked by unclarity and confusion and its separation of the day-to-day struggles and the task of building the NUWO from the very beginning. Avakian had an idealist line in initiating the campaign, in leading the campaign, and in summing it up. What consistency! Maybe this is what is meant by a model of communist leadership. Again we ask our comrades, what was learned with this sum-up? After reading it do we have a better grasp of how to unite with the struggles of the workers, to bend every effort to fulfill the three goals of the struggle? Have we learned anything about leading the struggle on the job and off from Avakian’s thought? Anything about building the NUWO as a weapon in the class struggle?


[1] Mao Tsetung, “Concerning Methods of Leadership,” Selected Works, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, vol.3, p.236