Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers Congress (Marxist-Leninist)

An Opportunist Policy: CPUSA’s “Left-Center” Coalition

First Published: The Communist, Vol. IV, No. 3, December 5, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Recently the revisionist Communist Party USA (CPUSA) unfolded its master tactic for developing work in the spontaneous movement–the “left-center coalition”. It is through rebuilding this coalition, which has its roots in the ’30’s and ’40’s, that the revisionists plan to divert the deepening resistance of the masses to the crisis of US imperialism into channels of bourgeois reformism. On the shop floor, in the trade unions, in the mass movements and in the communist movement, the struggle against opportunism demands that we expose the slick treachery of this revisionist policy.

According to Henry Winston, National Secretary of the CPUSA,

’Left-Center unity’ is a form of the united front... which unites Communists, socialists, independent minded workers and progressives in solidarity .. .based on a program of defending the fundamental rights of the working class at the point of production...

He writes in an article for the August 1977. issue of POLITICAL AFFAIRS, the “theoretical” journal of the revisionist party:

’Left-Center unity’ is first of all a working class concept, which, more often than not, comes into conflict with the policies and practice of the Meanys, Abels, Shankers, etc. It is the link in the chain capable of defeating the alliance of the corporations with the conservative trade unionism of the labor bureaucracy.

The left-center coalition, he argues, will prove in practice,

that it is possible to win and that unity will guarantee victory and new strengths which can make each factory a base for democracy and peace.

In sum, for the CPUSA,

...the central task of helping to build Left-Center unity becomes a pre-condition for extending all other forms of struggle.

Who makes up the “left” and who makes up the “center”? According to the revisionist party, all those who want to bring about basic reform make up the “left”. These are the socialists and “communists” like the CPUSA. The “Center” is made up of “independent minded workers and progressives” who constitute an opposition, but who still work within the framework of capitalism and do yet see the need for socialism. In an article in the October issue of POLITICAL AFFAIRS, George Meyers described the new emerging center as those in the top level of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy who are developing “effective opposition to the Meany leadership’s reactionary policies...” It includes those who “have spoken out in favor of detente and trade with the Soviet Union”, and is all encompassing enough to include the UE, Winpisinger of the IAM, the leadership of the Meat Packers and Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers unions, Balanoff and Sadlowski in steel, etc. The Center, we are told, “rejects the close ties with the anti-labor military industrial complex and the CIA. It sees the need for alliances with other sections of the population... movements for Black liberation, women’s equality, protection of ecology, a greater degree of political independence, and so forth.”

In other words, the real purpose and content of the left-Center coalition is to subordinate the working class to a reformist trend in the trade union movement. This is what the real task of the revisionist party amounts to.


The historical roots of the left-center coalition can be found in the period of the worldwide struggle against fascism. During this period, marked by Dimitrov’s report to the VII Congress of the Comintern and the anti-fascist Second World War, the united front against fascism gave correct orientation to revolutionaries the world over. Communists struggled for unity with segments of the working class, including the various social democratic parties who had been bitterly and correctly opposed in an earlier period. In his report to the VII Congress, Dimitrov said:

The Communist International attaches no conditions to unity of action except one, and that an elementary condition acceptable for all workers, vis that the unity of action be directed against fascism, against the offensive of capital, against the threat of war, against the class enemy.

Thus the struggle for left-center unity under the direction of the CI during the anti-fascist struggle was a basic element of revolutionary strategy.

On the other hand, with the defeat of the fascist powers in the Second World War, a new period with new tasks confronted communist parties around the world, including the CPUSA. Alliances correct for the anti-fascist struggle could not be dogmatically applied in new conditions. A revolutionary strategy following the war required preparation for the overthrow of US imperialism.

The focus of the US party’s main blow in this period, therefore, had to be directed against the parties of compromise and conciliation with imperialism. Left-Center unity could no longer provide basic orientation to a revolutionary party. In a new situation it meant instead liquidation of the party’s vanguard role.

But in summing up this period, revisionists do not understand that the collapse of the unity of the left and the center was an inevitable product of a decisive historic turn.

...Left Center unity was one of the first victims of the Cold War... Widespread circulation was given to the false charge that the ’Communists control the unions’... Trade union leaders from the local union level to the very top were forced to demean themselves by signing affidavits denying Communist Party membership or adherence, under threat of five year prison sentences. At first the Left and Center remained firm in the face of this vicious anti-labor onslaught. Then the Center began wavering. It finally collapsed with CIO President Phillip Murray leading an ignominious retreat. With the left temporarily prostrate, the Center turned to right-wing elements in the trade union movement. Instead of an ally of the Left, the Center became a captive of the Right.

The isolation of the party during the post war and McCarthy period was not an inevitable result however. Instead it was, among other things, a necessary product of the party’s pathetic effort to perpetuate a policy of unity with the center which now meant reliance on a policy of compromise with imperialism.

The same is true today. Reviving the left-center coalition shows the full consolidation of the CPUSA on the basis of revisionism and exposes its role as one of the main social props of imperialism. The left-center coalition is a means to strengthen the influence of monopoly capitalism on the workers movement and to liquidate the leading role of a vanguard party. The degree to which this formulation still influences our movement shows our failure to achieve a complete ideological victory over opportunism.


It is important to speak specifically to the open attack on Marxist-Leninist trade union work reflected in the policies of the CPUSA’s left-center coalition.

First of all, the left-center coalition is a policy of reformism rather than a revolutionary policy to guide the proletariat in the seizure of state power. It attempts to confine our struggle to one for trade union demands, such as greater union democracy, and pretends that the battle for such demands will lead automatically to higher stages of struggle. As Winston puts it:

The fact is that the wider democratic struggle will correspondingly increase mass anti-monopoly consciousness to the point of realizing the necessity for socialism in our country.

There couldn’t be a better example of the rotten theory of stages criticized by Lenin in WHAT IS TO BE DONE: political tasks are restricted to what is immediately palatable to the broad masses involved in struggle with the expectation that this will spontaneously raise their level of class consciousness.

The most blatant example of the reformist character of the left-center coalition is its open renunciation of the dictatorship of the proletariat, Winston describes this in a pitiful manner.

If you refer to our 21st Convention documents you will note that we do not use the words ’dictatorship of the prbletariat’. The truth is that some 59 Communist Parties in the world do not use the language, but they maintain the concept of working class leadership of the anti-monopoly movement and also in the fight for socialism.

What is “working class leadership” or “the fight for socialism” without the dictatorship of the proletariat?! Contrary to revisionism, orthodox Marxism-Leninism knows there is no such thing.

Overall the policies of the left-center coalition are an effort to reduce our tasks to fighting for shallow reforms and detente.

Second, the left-center coalition seeks to strengthen the leadership of the reformists and revisionists over the unions. Marxism-Leninism considers the trade union bureaucracy agents of the capitalist class in the workers movement and seeks to drive them from the unions. The left-center coalition, on the other hand, does not expose, but strengthens the role of the reformist trade union leaders and petty bourgeois liberals who, according to the CPUSA, make up the Center. The left-center coalition ties the future of the working class to corrupt leaders who use rank and file rebellion and discontent in their own self serving struggles for power. Miller’s Miners for Democracy and the Sadlowski campaign in steel, for example, are successes for the left-center coalition according to the revisionists.

Third, the left-center coalition attacks the vanguard role of a communist party. The role of a political party propagated by the revisionists is that of an organization bargaining for influence rather than fighting for leadership of all aspects of trade union and popular struggles. This tailist conception of the relationship of party to trade union leadership is reflected in how the CPUSA sums up the ’30’s. In the article mentioned above, Meyers comments:

When the history of the 1930s is properly written, it will show that the anti-fascist movements of the working class, under the leadership of the CIO, and under the influence of the CPUSA brought our country into World War II on the side of anti-fascism. (emphasis ours)

Marxist-Leninists want to lead the trade unions, not just influence them, and the same applies to all mass organizations of the people. Instead of the bankrupt “move the trade unions to the left” through our “influence”, we insist on fighting to subordinate the trade unions to party control!

There is the same attack on leadership in the revisionist view of organizational tasks in the class. The left-center coalition wants to narrow the scope of this work and, in particular, to ignore its illegal aspect. Instead of Bolshevik organization, there is capitulation to petty bourgeois democracy.

For example, Winston discusses the importance of building “shop clubs”. The word “club” is a carryover from the days in the middle forties when the party was liquidated into a political association. At that time factory nuclei were liquidated as the basic units of party organization and the style of work based on the factory cell, including preparation for both legal and illegal struggle, was abandoned. In explaining the left-center coalition work today, Winston attacks those who would try to “quarterback” the work of club members within “mass organizations in general, and trade unions in particular.”

Probably Winston means the CPUSA’s “fight for socialism” is easier than a football game and there is no need for a proletarian party to lead. But every class conscious worker will recognize in this attack on “quarterbacking” a revisionist attack on the forms of proletarian organization and leadership on the shop floor which panders to every kind of petty bourgeois prejudice about participatory democracy.

Fourth, the left-center coalition belittles the tremendous reserve of advanced workers in this country and justifies the revisionist refusal to take up the task of winning them to the path of revolution. Instead of winning the vanguard to communism and relying on the class conscious vanguard to win over the masses, the CPUSA unites with the trade union secretary and relies on these forces to mobilize the class for mediocre reforms and mild bourgeois schemes. Some of these “advanced elements”, Winston brags will “fight for the nationalization of industries, with boards composed of labor and other social strata. And, there are some who even go beyond this.” Imagine! Even beyond this!! How bold and daring!! These workers, he assures us, will make the factories a base for “democracy and peace”. How petty and puny!! The Leninist party we need to lead the US proletariat will make factories our fortresses for working class dictatorship and class war!!!

The fact is that anyone who has worked in a factory for a month knows that there are numerous kinds of “socialists, independent minded workers and progressives” with all kinds of theories who misrepresent the objectives of class struggle and whose opportunism is an important influence keeping advanced workers from Marxism-Leninism. These are the “advanced elements” the CPUSA wants to win to its coalition. Unfortunately, our own movement has too frequently tailed or linked up with these same elements and become sidetracked from the task of winning genuine vanguard elements who can be won to taking full responsibility for the program of orthodox Marxism-Leninism.

Finally, the propagation of the left-center coalition by the CPUSA represents an effort by the revisionist party to lay a foundation in the trade unions for the formation of a reformist labor party. Another article from the October issue of POLITICAL AFFAIRS quotes Gus Hall, Chairman of the CPUSA:

The idea of a new, mass people’s party received a positive response whenever it was discussed....The time has come to stop just talking about it, and to begin to bring together those forces which are ready to take some initiative in this direction.

The effort to form such a party at this time will be an effort to imbue the working class with the reformism of electoral politics in a period of revolutionary upsurge and preparation for inter-imperialist war.

In preparing the conditions for the revolutionary overthrow of our bourgeoisie, a vanguard US Marxist-Leninist party must focus its main blow at the parties of compromise and conciliation with imperialism. Winning an ideological victory over opportunism means unmasking worthless distortions of orthodox Marxism-Leninism, like the CPUSA’s left-center coalition.