Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Bay Area Socialist Organizing Committee

Confronting Reality/Learning from the History of Our Movement


Marxist-Leninists develop their strategy and tactics based on a materialist analysis of objective reality, and not from a projection of their own preferences onto reality. This basic principle should hardly need restating–yet over the past twenty years the U.S. communist movement has consistently failed to make such an analysis. The New Communist Movement, for example, replaced Marxism-Leninism with the simple and comforting belief that, somehow, the U.S. social structure was just so much dry tinder, waiting only for a “single spark.” Since objective conditions were permanently revolutionary, the communists had only to apply their revolutionary will organizationally to change the political consciousness and combativity of the working class. In other cases, what passed for Marxist analysis depended heavily on the American populist tradition of economic determinism and muckraking, rather than on historical materialism. Our party-building movement must break with both these tendencies if it is to succeed in developing a general line and an effective political practice that confronts the real world in all its complexity.

In this section, we present our perspective on the nature of the present historical period and the prospects for its development. What we sketch here is, of course, a very general outline that provides a context for our views on the tasks of the party-building movement; it is intended as a starting place for further work rather than as a substitute for a more detailed analysis.

Imperialism Today: The End of the American Century

The United States emerged from World War II as the dominant world power. During the war, U.S. industry had been vastly expanded and modernized, while rival economies were shattered or weakened. Internally, an enormous pent-up demand for consumer goods and housing fueled a new boom. By the end of the war, the United States had the largest armed forces in the world and a monopoly of atomic weapons; Hiroshima and Nagasaki showed that this force would be used if necessary. This economic and military hegemony provided a continuing basis for the U.S. bourgeoisie to successfully reassert stronger political and ideological control. To guarantee what Henry Luce of Time magazine called the “American Century,” it moved both at home and abroad to create a new order for what it was pleased to call “the free world.”

Internationally, the domination of U.S. capital was secured through the Bretton Woods monetary agreements, which established the U.S. dollar as the key world trade currency; the Marshall Plan, which facilitated U.S. penetration of revived European economies; the creation of the International Monetary Fund; and other organizations. Militarily, NATO and other alliances consolidated the capitalist camp under U.S. leadership against the USSR, the workers’ movements in other advanced capitalist countries, and movements for national liberation.

Domestic economic expansion made possible a modest reform program to consolidate the New Deal and rising real wages for many sectors of the working class. Cold-war liberalism and business unionism were thus used during the McCarthy era to purge the Left and integrate the working class and its organizations into the bipartisan anti-communist consensus. As one economist put it, “continuing rapid GNP growth would annihilate the whole case for socialism.” Other bourgeois ideologues favored the pie analogy: If the national income “pie” grows rapidly enough, everyone gets a larger slice without any unseemly (class-based) arguments over how the pie is divided.

During the 1960s, the postwar system entered an era of crises, an era in which the structures of bourgeois rule–economic, political, and ideological–have become weaker and less stable. The first phase of this era was marked by open challenges to the U.S. bourgeoisie both at home–the black liberation movement, the anti-war movement, and the student movement; and abroad–the Vietnam War and other liberation movements. Domestically, the upsurge of the popular movements weakened the bourgeoisie in important ways and forced it to grant some significant reforms, but this phase of the struggle was largely resolved in its favor. The mass movements, and the renewed Marxist-Leninist movement that largely grew out of them, were unable to consolidate themselves either organizationally or ideologically to maintain a long-term challenge to the system. The bourgeoisie reasserted its control through repression, by exploiting the movements’ internal divisions and weaknesses, and by playing off the movements against one another.

Other challenges to the system continue, however, and have indeed intensified. The Vietnamese showed that the U.S. military machine could be stopped. Partly because many of its resources were drained by the Vietnam War, the U.S. bourgeoisie finds itself pressed hard by inter-imperialist rivals in Western Europe and Japan, and by the OPEC cartel, as well as by the USSR. National liberation struggles such as those in Southern Africa and Central America continue to weaken its grip in many areas of the world. Its strategy of using “sub-imperialist” regional powers as enforcers for imperialism has been called into question by the Islamic revolution in Iran.

In the current period, a new set of problems has been added to those that marked the 1960s. The maturing of the postwar economic boom led to a period of economic stagnation that began in 1973/74, characterized by low growth, high unemployment, high inflation, and thus increased economic insecurity and lower real incomes for workers. The strategies used to deal with the economic problems of the 1930s have been ineffective in dealing with stagflation and the energy problems of this new era. The unstable economic situation has increased competition among rival capitals, and stimulated a corporate offensive against the postwar gains of the working class, minorities, and women: to maintain itself, the bourgeoisie must make the masses bear the burden of the crisis. This strategy is signaled by calls from bourgeois politicians like California Governor Jerry Brown for “lowered expectations.”

Politically, the bankruptcy of cold war liberalism has become increasingly clear, and the New Deal electoral coalition has been less and less able to win elections, or to accomplish anything that might win back the masses’ allegiance to it while in office. A reinvigorated right has capitalized on the weaknesses of the liberals and of the reform movements. Since the liberal coalition was largely held together by the economic cement of the postwar boom, its future is now in doubt. Low voter turnouts and the high number of independent registrations suggest that the political alignments established in the 1930s continue only in the absence of credible alternatives rather than because of their inherent strength.

This period is also characterized by continued social disintegration. Cities and neighborhoods decay while housing is both scarce and expensive. Social and economic crisis leads to millions of personal crises, and to increased crime, alcoholism, drug addiction, and violence. Having replaced the family as a unit of production long ago, the bourgeoisie promotes it as a “haven” from society and as a passive unit of consumption.

Ideologically, the bourgeoisie has renewed its promotion of racist, sexist, and elitist social theories, for example, sociobiology. It has at the same time attacked programs to alleviate the effects of oppression–programs that are themselves inadequate–as “reverse discrimination.” To its victims, the bourgeoisie offers self-help cults, ideologies that blame the oppressed themselves for their own plight, and the philosophical observation that, as Jimmy Carter put it, “After all, life is unfair.”

Prospects for Mass Struggles

Times are hard, and are bound to get harder. With Reagan as president and the conservatives riding high, the bourgeois offensive will accelerate. Can a revival of the mass movements be far behind? After all, “where there is repression, there is resistance.”

Nevertheless, we think that our movement would be wrong to expect an automatic rise in progressive mass struggles. A united, class-conscious working class may respond to bourgeois attacks with an offensive of its own. But the situation in the United States today is different. The ruling class offensive finds the working class badly divided and lacking the self-conscious purpose and political and ideological leadership necessary to mount an effective resistance, much less a counter-offensive. Social crisis throws different sectors of the working class and oppressed nationalities into sharper competition with each other. Unable to spontaneously transcend this effect of capitalist social relations, the masses often struggle against each other as much as against the bourgeoisie. The people’s movements thus develop unevenly, spasmodically, and in isolation from one another.

Of course, the corporate offensive has been resisted, at times with success, by the different popular movements. Rank-and-file union caucuses have fought militantly for greater union democracy and against corporate “give-back” strategies. The black liberation movement, though viciously repressed by the government, has continued to resist attempts to take back the concessions won during the struggles of the 1960s. The widespread influence of the women’s movement and feminist ideology have been important barriers to the right’s campaign to build a movement based on “tradition, family, and property.”

Although a special target of the right, the gay movement has made important gains in its struggle against oppression. The anti-nuclear movement has made progress in its struggle against the energy companies, and against the technocratic elitism promoted by capital to legitimate its power. U.S. intervention in anti-imperialist struggles such as those in Iran, Angola, and Nicaragua has been made more difficult by the anti-war and anti-imperialist public sentiment continuing from the Vietnam War era.

However, despite the efforts of these movements, the fact remains that many people have only variants of bourgeois ideology with which to express their anger against the system. The support for California’s Proposition 13, for example, was based on a conservative populism that appealed to racism, attacked government inefficiency and corruption, maintained a certain distance from big business and glorified traditional concepts of the family and private property.

In sum, the movements suffer through lack of a coherent and credible communist leadership, a leadership that can connect these struggles through a long-term perspective for the self-emancipation of the masses from the oppressions of capitalist society. Developing such a leading organization and program is a necessary condition for an effective opposition to the bourgeoisie today, and to the creation of conditions for socialist transformation in the future.


The present period provides favorable conditions for effective communist work, work that can contribute to an eventual resolution of capitalist crisis through a revolutionary transformation of society. Such an outcome will not be easily achieved, nor is it guaranteed; we must reject the view that capitalist crises automatically bring on proletarian revolution. Whether the crisis will become acute, and whether it will grow into a revolutionary situation cannot now be forseen. Given the lack of an independent working class movement in the United States, and the political isolation of the communist movement from the working class, our work towards that goal will not be easy. As we will argue later, the development of a general line that unites the communist movement and guides its work is our main task today. Even after our movement unites around a general line, we expect that progress will be slow. We therefore begin instead with an understanding of the necessity of our struggle, with confidence that it will be successful, and with a sober appraisal of our weaknesses and strengths.

(July 1979)