Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers Congress (Marxist-Leninist)

Right Opportunism in Anti-Bakke Work: Response to ATM & IWK


First Published: The Communist, Vol. IV, No. 19, August 28, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In a public forum in San Francisco July 14th sponsored by the August Twenty Ninth Movement (ATM) and the I Wor Kuen (IWK) to sum up their anti-Bakke work, these two organizations lied about the character of Workers Congress (M-L) work in the Anti-Bakke Decision Coalition. They accused the Workers Congress of “ALL TALK, NO WORK”.

This scoundrel criticism, made in our absence by these two organizations who did not notify us of the forum and who have not dared to put the criticism in writing is an insult to the entire membership of the ABDC. We challenge the ATM/IWK to make the criticism in ABDC chapters where we have taken up work. Try that criticism in Chicago and Los Angeles where our comrades have worked in a determined fashion to build the ABDC in the face of the petty, gossipy sectarianism promoted by your leadership. Try it in a chapter like San Diego where you have played no role and our leadership has been influential. In that chapter the serious and principled nature in which the ABDC has been built, the non-sectarian way in which it has promoted broad democratic representation on the local steering committee and the respectful approach to uniting all who can be united have distinguished the chapter and won it good credibility in the Black and Latino communities.

Either the ATM and IWK, who together are in leadership of the ABDC, do not know what is going on in the coalition, in which case they are unfit for leadership, or they know of the WC(M-L)’s work, but have lied. It is obvious they have lied. Why? It is because we have constantly challenged the economist leadership they have provided to the ABDC. ATM and IWK simply do not want to deal with political differences. They hush them up, or take heavy handed disciplinary action which has no place in a united front coalition, or lie about work to friends who are not in possession of the facts in order to discredit differences which challenge their leadership. They confuse their own narrow organizational ambitions with their responsibilities to a broad united front organization.

For our part, we expect differences in united front work and are not offended by them.

Why do we call ATM/IWK’s leadership economist? The answer will be clear to any honest comrade. They have consistently belittled the role of theory in guiding united front work in the ABDC, have adopted a narrow sectarian approach to the political tasks of the coalition and have been amateurish in organizing its work. Let us take these points up one by one.


For honest comrades who may have been swayed by the ATM/IWK slander of the WC(M-L), we’d first like to set the record straight. In an open and above board manner we have consistently brought forward the need for political discussion within the ABDC concerning the political basis for the coalition’s work. Our reason for this is that the principles of unity on which the organization was founded as a purely regional coalition are clearly inadequate to mobilize the full scope of nationwide resistance to the widespread attack on affirmative action being felt in schools, communities and workplaces across the country. We have never made a secret of our differences on this score. At the same time we have conscientiously taken up the work of building the ABDC and have never let these differences stand in the way of carrying out ABDC activities and building for ABDC events. What is there contrary to the principles of united front work in this?

Yet our concern for the narrow principles on which the ABDC is based and which infect the whole scope of its work has been slandered as “just talk.”

Let’s consider some of this “talk”– for example, the principle “rely on the masses of oppressed people to defeat the Bakke decision.”

Imagine going to a democratically minded doctor and telling him that he must agree to this principle before he can work with the coalition. He may very likely reply, “I’m not really sure what you are talking about, and I probably disagree. But I see sick people day and night. I see babies of the poor and national minorities dying of starvation and lead poisoning. I see oppressed people whose health has been ruined by speedups and overtime, industrial pollutants. I tell them they must stay home and rest and they reply that if they do they will be fired. They need the money. The poor health of these people is connected to affirmative action on the job and in the hospitals. I think this coalition can be of some help.”

Are we going to exclude this person from the coalition? Are we going to ignore the positive contributions he can make to promoting the anti-Bakke struggle?

The principle of relying on the working and oppressed masses is an excellent principle for communists. Through our influence we should ensure that it in fact characterizes the work of a united front organization such as the ABDC. In fact, in the WC(M-L) ’s work in the ABDC we have worked hard to bring our propaganda and agitation concerning the struggle to these groups. We have worked to draw them into the ABDC coalition. However, Marxist-Leninists should not confuse a correct communist principle with a principle of unity of a mass organization.

One thing or the other – either uniting all who can be united is the basis for united front work or we unite those who will rely on the oppressed masses.

We do not believe it is “just talk” to urge the membership of a mass organization to abandon this second formulation, which is incorrect, for the first, which is correct, in order to broaden the political basis for its work.

In bringing this criticism forward, we need to be clear that we made mistakes on this score ourselves.

In our public proposal concerning the principles of unity circulated at the conference founding the national ABDC, we correctly insisted on the need for “unite all who can be united to overturn the Bakke decision” as a principle of unity. However we incorrectly added “rely on the working and oppressed masses.” Although we sought to improve the principles of unity we did not think this problem through carefully enough in terms of its practical impact, but instead bowed to the existing formulation of the statewide coalition. In the event, no principles of unity of any kind were discussed at the founding national conference of the ABDC and this remains a definite weakness in the political basis for the coalition.

Let’s look at the principle, “oppose both the US Supreme Court and the UC Regents as equal targets,” which we have also “talked” about.

Here it is, over 18 months into the anti-Bakke struggle, and 6 months since the ABDC founding national conference, and ATM/IWK are still defending this narrow principle. They bluster and strut as if they were king of the mountain on this question. But when we place the regents in the context of the entire bourgeois state, their mountain is an ant hill.

The UC Regents have been promoters and supporters of Bakke’s attack on affirmative action and they should be exposed nationwide. However, they are only part of the entire state apparatus, local and federal, carrying out the Bakke attack on affirmative action. To raise the UC regents to the level of a special target puts undue emphasis on the student and regional character of the specific Bakke lawsuit and undermines the broad national impact of the overall Bakke attack. How can we make the UC Regents an “equal target” in the Weber case which attacks affirmative action in a Louisiana Kaiser Aluminum plant. Formulated in this way the principle of unity belittles the significance of the Supreme Court as a historical tool of national oppression going back to Dred Scott and the “separate but equal doctrine,” it belittles the significance of Congressional action such as the Walker amendment that would withhold federal funds to institutions that use affirmative action in hiring, it belittles the significance of the Carter administration’s two faced role in undermining federal affirmative action programs. It also tends to belittle the role of the trade union bureaucrats as opportunist allies of the bourgeoisie in the workers movement whose privileges depend on a policy of national oppression, and even belittles the role of individual employers like US Steel or AT&T in the Bakke attack.

We ask, wouldn’t it be irresponsible not to “talk” about these weaknesses in the principles of unity of the ABDC, and irresponsible not to continue struggling against them? What is incorrect is incorrect and neither silence, nor maneuvers nor slander can change it.

Of course, as we have made clear before in the pages of THE COMMUNIST, we disagree with the position of the NCOBD that the UC Regents are a tactical ally. We pointed out that the Regents promoted the Bakke attack on affirmative action (TC, III, #7, 3/29/77) and under the guise of ’quality education’ have moved to junk special admissions programs to the university (TC, IV, #1, 10/31/77). They are an integral part of the state apparatus and there is nothing in the role they have played to justify calling them a tactical ally.

Let’s take the principle “oppose the systematic oppression of third world people”.

We pointed out in February that the use of the term ‘third world’ in this principle and in ABDC literature was incorrect. The term has been loosely used by bourgeois politicians, California law school deans and other educators to refer generally to “disadvantaged” countries and peoples anywhere. According to this logic, Chicanos are third world people, blacks are third world people, Native Americans are third world people, Asian-Americans are third world people, and so forth. However, according to Chairman Mao Tsetung’s theory of the three worlds, which is a scientific assessment of international political forces today, the third world is made up of the oppressed nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America who are together the main force in international class struggle. The people incorrectly referred to in the ABDC principles of unity as third world people are actually oppressed nationalities of the first world, who of course are joined in common struggle with the people of the third world.

It is no secret to ATM/IWK that the theory of three worlds is under attack in the international communist movement today. For communists to encourage or bow to loose bourgeois usage is inexcusable and only aids this attack.

We have also pointed out that this principle is too narrow because it omits women which are a specific target of the Bakke attack. In fact, ATM/IWK leadership in the ABDC has always belittled the impact of the Bakke case on affirmative action for women and justified their position by counterposing the oppression of women to the question of national oppression. Without evidence they assert that women are not a primary object of the Bakke attack and argue that if we expand our written and practical work around the impact of Bakke on women, we will take away from the struggle against national oppression. This is the logic of the bourgeoisie which attempts to divide the struggles of the masses. Marxist-Leninists seek to unite these two powerful democratic movements around the common source of their oppression and their canton struggle for equality.

Once again, we ask honest comrades whether “talk” about these issues is designed to promote or undermine the work of the ABDC? It is clear that our efforts to broaden the political basis of the coalition and to correct what is incorrect in its principles of unity have been designed to further our common goals and to promote and strengthen the work of the coalition.

Lenin says that economism is an opportunist trend which belittles or has a narrow conception of the role of Marxist theory. The longstanding and consistent effort of ATM/IWK to defend the present principles of unity of the ABDC and to stifle any criticism or evaluation of them is a glaring example of the economist Character of their leadership in the coalition.


Economism is also characterized by a narrow scope of political activity. As Lenin said of economists in the Russian revolutionary movement, “I would never dream of denying that you did all you possibly could. I have asserted and assert now, that the limits of what is ’possible’ for you to do are restricted by the narrowness of your outlook.”(WHAT IS TO BE DONE, Pek. ed., p. 133).

Why does this quote so aptly characterize ATM/IWK’s leadership in the ABDC?

In the first place, the emphasis of ABDC work has been limited to California. It is a sad fact that when ATM/IWK give themselves badges for mass work, they are all for campus or for California campaigns. Is there a relationship between this and the fact that as the impact of the Bakke decision has become more widespread that the influence and activity of the ABDC has fallen? Is there a relationship between this and the fact that ATM/IWK has promoted a trend in the ABDC to belittle the necessity for a nationwide campaign to defend affirmative action programs from attack in favor of activity around California’s Proposition 13? We think there is. Their leadership has been characterized by what’s possible in California, not what is necessary nationwide.

A second kind of political narrowness has been reflected in the way ATM/IWK have handled differences within the ABDC. As we said, differences in united front work are normal and must not be seen as barriers to common work toward a common goal. ATM/IWK’s operating principle, however, has been “IF YOU DON’T AGREE WITH US, WHY DON’T YOU GET OUT”. This is what they substitute for “UNITE ALL WHO CAN BE UNITED.”

For example, members of our organization working in ABDC have been told this on several different occasions – “if you don’t agree, why don’t you leave”. This is preposterous! What kind of united front principle is that?! In spite of important differences, ATM/IWK and the WC(M-L) clearly have more unity than disunity in the broad context of the struggle of the masses for equal rights and against imperialist oppression and reaction. While we will not gloss over even our minor differences, we will not let them stand in the way of common work toward a common goal. Clearly, in the anti-Bakke struggle our unity should be primary over our differences. If ATM/IWK cannot unite with us, who can they unite with? The fact is they have trouble uniting with anyone.

For example, as we understand it, in one instance an individual member of the ABDC was expelled from a local chapter over differences concerning the international situation. But the ABDC is a democratic mass organization, not a communist organization. Right or wrong, any expulsion or disciplinary action which is taken against members of the coalition should be a public matter reported on to all local chapters and openly explained and defended to the whole membership. Otherwise we make a mockery of uniting all who can be united. Disciplinary action or expulsion becomes an arbitrary substitute for political struggle in those cases where ATM/IWK have organizational hegemony.

We have also seen a sectarian attitude in some of the petty organizational maneuvering that has characterized the IWK/ATM leadership. Criticism is stifled by not informing this or that individual of meetings, or changing the time, and place of meetings without adequate, or any, notice, etc. Even where good work has been done by members of the ABDC in community or workplace outreach, the response of ATM/IWK has been to limit it if they can not be assured of hegemony over it.

The narrowness of the ATM/IWK leadership in broadening the scope of the ABDC coalition is best typified by their failure to agree with the NCOBD to joint action around the April 15 March. While they claim to support ABDC/NCOBD unity, in fact they have obstructed it. There is no question that the leadership of both coalitions has engaged in sectarian manoeuvering which has prevented common action, but our concern is with the leadership of the ABDC. They did not aggressively promote common action on April 15, but in fact adopted a passive attitude toward it which left local chapters unprepared up until the last minute and limited ABDC participation in the demonstration. For our part, we clearly identified the basis for unity of action among all anti-Bakke forces (support for equal rights of women and oppressed minorities; defense of all affirmative action programs), and we fought for the principle of common action in the ABDC. On April 15 we played an important role in mobilizing ABDC members, to participate in the Washington, D.C. demonstration.

As if to cover their sectarian maneuvering, the ATM/IWK have been blustering about “no unity with reformists and revisionists” to confuse people about the nature of the struggle with the NCOBD. While on the one hand we don’t advocate joining coalitions that are nothing more than revisionist front groups, on the other hand, we cannot refuse to work in a mass coalition because it may contain the odor of revisionism. We must go where the masses are. If they are under revisionist and reformist influence, we do not move the situation forward by ignoring this. Revisionism will not simply go away. It is a contradiction we resolve by putting forward a leading line and winning the masses to it in the process of struggle.

Again on this point also we must criticize ourselves for narrowness. We wrote in our Anti-Bakke Supplement (TC, IV, #8, 2/13/78) that “The ABDC has drawn a good line of demarcation with reformist and revisionist forces who wanted to reduce the Bakke struggle nationwide to one for petty reforms.” It is an example of political narrowness to think we can win this battle by drawing organizational lines and abandoning those under the influence of reformist and revisionist leaders to their fate. It is wishful thinking to suppose that reformist and revisionist tendencies do not exist in the ABDC. Clearly, the struggle against reformism and revisionism must go on throughout the anti-Bakke movement. If we find ourselves in a coalition that has “purged” itself of reformism, we know we have drawn our lines much too narrowly. We will have confused a party organization with a mass organization. It is communist propaganda, not organizational demarcation that will differentiate revolutionary from reformist influence in our mass organizations at this time.

There are millions of people today in the US that are affected by the Bakke decision. If we do our work well as communists, we will be a tiny minority in the anti-Bakke struggle. While it is a principle that as communists we must fight for the hegemony of our ideological, political and organizational leadership, and strive to subordinate every mass organization to communist direction, we must do this through our influence and persuasion, not by narrowing the scope of our mass work to what we can directly dominate or organizationally control. This, however, has been a fundamental characteristic of the leadership ATM/IWK have given to ABDC. Placing organizational ambition above responsibility to the movement as a whole, they have maintained hegemony in ABDC by limiting the scope and activity of the coalition’s work.


Organizational narrowness is manifested in amateurish methods of work. It is in our overall challenge to the economist leadership ATM/IWK have provided to the ABDC that the WC(M-L) attack on poor coalition democracy must be understood. From the beginning we have criticized the lack of reporting, agendas and planning that have stifled democracy in the ABDC. While we emphasized this point at the founding National Conference in February, it is still the case that there is no consistent reporting from the day to day leadership of the coalition to the local chapters and very little national coordination of work. The locals have tended to function as semi-autonomous organizations. Information is exchanged between locals on the basis of who you know. This, however, promotes narrow circle forms of organization incapable of mobilizing a broad mass movement and prevents any effective democracy in the coalition.

While the ABDC has developed a national newsletter in the recent period, it does not give national guidance, particularly since the decision has come down. It is not a forum for exchange of views and experience within the coalition.

We believe it is impossible to extend the activity and influence of the ABDC among the broad masses, to unite all who can be united, as long as democracy is restricted in the ABDC itself, particularly when it is restricted by sectarian and unprincipled infighting by ATM/IWK to keep a tight lid on the coalition. The failure of this leadership to allow for open and democratic struggle to resolve questions of differences has failed to build the credibility of the ABDC among the masses as an organization that can lead the anti-Bakke struggle and win popular victories.


We would like to emphasize that we wholly disagree with the fashionable criticism that characterizes the errors of leadership by Marxist-Leninists in the anti-Bakke movement as “left” opportunist.

There certainly have been “left” errors in the anti-Bakke work. The ABDC principle of unity, “rely on oppressed people,” as well as our own similar proposal, reflects a “left” error since it excludes progressive forces who could be won to the struggle.

But for the most part we consider the categorization of basic errors as “left” opportunist – such as the superficial criticism of ATM/IWK which appeared in the June GUARDIAN – as unproven.

In our view it is predominantly the passivity of the right opportunist, not the voluntarism of the “left” opportunist that has characterized ABDC leadership. For example, our own error on the ABDC “drawing a good line of demarcation with reformism and revisionism” looks very “left” on the surface. In fact, it is a theoretical justification for not taking up the struggle against right opportunism in the mass movement.

Comrades forget that sectarianism can be either a right or a “left” opportunist error. The narrowness of ATM/IWK does not reflect their effort to outstrip the mass struggle in order to go it alone. Instead it reflects their lagging behind the needs of the struggle – the best example of this is the consistently regional emphasis they have given to a national struggle. But there are less dramatic examples as well. For example, while people in the San Diego area, prior to the formation of the ABDC chapter, looked to the ABDC for leadership, the representative assigned came unprepared to meetings, came late, or didn’t show up at all. The help he gave to organizing a local chapter was negligible.

Instead of “outstripping”, their narrowness also reflects their passivity in the face of what is required to mobilize a powerful mass movement – the best example of this is their failure to provide a plan or leadership for workplace mobilization or even to seriously emphasize the significance of the Weber case. These are indisputably right opportunist errors.

ATM/IWK do not drive the masses out of ABDC meetings because they are always talking about communism. In fact, as communist organizations that play an important role in ABDC, they rarely explain the point of view of communists on Bakke issues or put forward independent communist policy. Instead, their failure to mobilize the broad masses of people affected by the Bakke decision is the result of the narrow and restricted scope of their activity. In other words, they don’t drive out so much as fail to mobilize in the first place. To the extent they drive people out, it is primarily due to amateurish and heavy-handed methods of work.

It would not occur to anyone engaged in the practical work of the ABDC to characterize ATM and IWK as too far in advance of the membership. In fact, they tail groups they have mobilized by obstinately defending the UC Regents as one of the two chief primary targets and by defending “third world people” as a satisfactory characterization of oppressed nationalities within the US.

“Left” opportunists have no monopoly on isolation from the broad masses of people. Right opportunists who lag behind the demands of the democratic movement will also find themselves isolated. The isolation of ATM/IWK is hardly the result of their “leaping ahead”. It is a consequence of their passivity, of their lack of perspective and plan, of their failure to grasp what is required for a Marxist-Leninist to mobilize the mass movement. It is the right opportunist error of failing to take Marxism-Leninism to the broad democratic movement of the masses that mainly characterizes their ABDC work.


The ATM/IWK “ALL TALK, NO WORK” slander of the Workers Congress (M-L) is precisely the same kind of criticism that the economists of Lenin’s time leveled against him – that he ignored the drab everyday struggle of the proletariat in favor of the exposition of brilliant ideas.

Lenin did immense practical work, but he knew enough to mistrust those who scoffed at the careful presentation of political ideas. For us it has been an important task to promote discussion and struggle in the ABDC over the political foundation for its activity.

While we have done this, we must be self-critical that we have not been more hardhitting in this respect since we have not yet succeeded in correcting errors which undermine the coalition’s work.

As for practical work, it would be wrong to overemphasize the work that we have done because we feel the work of the coalition as a whole has been narrow. Nonetheless, our comrades who have worked in ABDC have done a lot of practical work. We want to set the record straight on that score also.

Our work in the ABDC began in the original statewide coalition in August of 1977. We helped build for the October 15 demonstration in San Francisco, other local demonstrations, the national conference in February, the spring demonstrations in Washington and on the West Coast, the Week of Struggle/Semana de Lucha, and the demonstration against the decision of the Supreme Court.

All these events have been publicized in our newspaper. We have had numerous articles in the paper in the last 9 months explaining and striving to guide the struggle. We published a special 4 page Bakke supplement to THE COMMUNIST that has been distributed at the bounding national conference of the ABDC as well as programs, rallies, and demonstrations nationwide. This supplement, which promotes ABDC work, has also been translated into Spanish and widely distributed. In addition, we have aggressively taken up agitation around the Weber case in the pages of our paper.

In chapters where we have taken up ABDC work, we have certainly made mistakes, but this has not been the primary aspect of our work. For example, everywhere we have worked, our comrades have taken initiative in doing community outreach. In the Alico Pico housing project of some 2,000 units in Los Angeles our people have been leafleting and going door to door for the last four months talking with project residents about the Bakke decision. We are the only ones in Los Angeles who have done door to door work. ATM/IWK have tried to obstruct this work in order to have our comrades canvas business men for money instead.

As members of the ABDC, our comrades have also been involved in giving support to the National Blank Book Co. strike.

In San Diego our comrades have taken good initiative in taking the anti-Bakke struggle to the workplace. Last May we placed special emphasis on a critical workplace and distributed hundreds of ABDC leaflets which served to promote anti-discrimination activity among the workers. We have contacted union locals by letter an otherwise asking for support against the Bakke decision and for affirmative action.

We have also taken the lead in expanding ABDC community outreach there. Work is being done with the Chicano Federation, the Black Federation and other mass organizations.

The very fact that the WC(M-L) has played a key role in building this local ABDC chapter without guidance from the ABDC national leadership demonstrates the principled character of our work toward our common goal of building the ABDC. Unfortunately, where ATM/IWK are strong, they have tried to keep a tight lid on the work of the coalition and to restrict the initiative of its members.

In spite of this, in Chicago, right from the jump we have been instrumental in concretely moving the work of the chapter forward. We have been the ones who have gotten the regular meeting places and meeting halls to hold programs. We are the main ones who have arranged to get ABDC literature translated into Spanish. Through our initiative, ABDC has made contact with the most active group in Chicago involved in affirmative action struggles, the West Town Coalition, which is fighting for more proportionate hiring of Latinos in the Post Office. It was significant to the anti-Bakke struggle that this coalition participated in a common press conference the day of the decision.

Our comrades have also been most active in doing outreach and fundraising in Chicago. We have sold more tickets for every fundraising event than the “unity trend” of ATM/IWK and CP (ML) combined! We have taken the lead in beginning to do work in the Afro-American community and in speaking at Black churches.

We have worked in the ABDC and we have “talked” because it was necessary to talk. We would welcome a serious and principled criticism of what we have said and what we have done. But groundless criticism of the work of members of a coalition will not promote either unity or the enthusiastic participation needed from all democratic elements we need to build a powerful mass movement.


Because experience shows that ATM/IWK are easily confused on such matters, we would like to be clear: our criticism has been sharp. In no way does this mean that we intend to abandon our work in the ABDC to any degree. We shall continue as we have done in the past to build the membership and activity of the coalition in a broad and principled manner. We shall also continue to take up our differences in an open and above board way in the spirit of unity struggle unity.