Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Bay Area Socialist Organizing Committee

Confronting Reality/Learning from the History of Our Movement

Party Building

Party Building Is Our Central Task

Socialist revolution does not happen spontaneously–nor does the capitalist order collapse on its own. Upsurges of class struggle and periods of social crisis may lead to improved conditions for working people and their allies. But these gains are not automatic or permanent, and do not necessarily bring socialist revolution closer. The mass struggles of the 1960s in the United States, France, and Italy are recent examples of popular movements that failed to realize their potential.

Revolution must be made by working and oppressed people, but their numbers and enthusiasm are not enough. Organization and leadership are needed–the organization and leadership of a Marxist-Leninist party. There have been many unsuccessful attempts to build and sustain revolutionary parties in advanced capitalist countries. However, there has been no indication that it is possible to make a revolution without such a party.

A victorious revolution can only take place under certain conditions, objective and subjective. Objectively, the ruling class must no longer be able to govern and the working class no longer willing to accept its government. To take advantage of this situation there must be a determined, conscious leadership, the scientific communist party, the “subjective factor.” However, a party capable of leading the revolution does not suddenly appear at the moment when conditions have “ripened.” Such a party grows in experience, membership, influence and analysis throughout the pre-revolutionary period. In fact, the party is an important force directing the development of the objective factors, eroding the hold of the ruling class and strengthening the rebellion of the working class and its allies. The party provides the analysis and strategy for struggles that are spontaneous to begin with, raising broader political issues and welding disparate issues into the revolutionary movement.

A Marxist-Leninist leadership must be developed that can make a rigorous analysis of social contradictions and a flexible translation of this understanding into a political program. The party must have the keenest sense of mass consciousness–of what will move people to take up revolutionary struggle. Current objective conditions in the United States suggest that it will be particularly difficult to mobilize people in support of a revolutionary program. This is all the more reason to begin now to build a disciplined party with a consistently revolutionary outlook.

Some independent Marxist-Leninists who otherwise share much of our perspective maintain that party building is premature under present conditions. They argue that Marxist-Leninists have repeatedly failed to reestablish a viable party, and that further attempts are pointless when the level of popular struggle remains so low. Instead, they contend, communists should concentrate on strengthening the mass movements, creating the objective basis for party building at a later date.

We believe that the low level of popular movements is a compelling reason for taking up party building now. The vision and leadership of a communist party is needed to merge particular struggles into a single movement, and different issues into a common revolutionary outlook. As we indicate in our paper on the relationship between reform and revolution, it is important to undertake mass work seriously and not to the exclusion of particularly communist tasks. This paper will include further discussion of the relationship between work in the mass movements and party building.

The Current Scene

In the United States today there is no party that can lead the working class and its allies to revolution. There are only the revisionist CPUSA and a number of ultra-left formations on the national level. However, in the past few years, Marxist-Leninists who reject both of these deviations have begun to form a new trend with the purpose of building a new party.

This “trend” has made some positive steps. It has recognized the necessity of breaking decisively with both ultra-leftism and revisionism. It has made some initial demarcations with these bankrupt lines and has begun to explore the roots of these deviations. This work has proceeded in the context of a commitment to serious long term struggle in the mass movements, and alongside the beginnings of local and national organizations.

However, within the trend “one” has already “divided into two” and there are sharp differences over strategy for party building and other questions. These difference: have theoretical and political significance and will require struggle to resolve; debate among them should be con ducted in a spirit of unity-struggle-unity rather than by polarizing every disagreement in an unprincipled manner.

This latter practice reflects the damage of ultra-leftism in the communist movement and underscores the need to combat sectarianism within the trend. The struggle to develop a viable communist movement in the present period is essentially a struggle to correct this pervasive ultra-left tendency and, in so doing, to develop a correct approach to giving non-sectarian revolutionary leadership to the struggles and movements that can be developed against the capitalist state.

In other aspects besides its tendency to sectarian squabbling the new anti-revisionist, anti-ultra-left trend is at a primitive stage. The communist movement is isolated from the movements of the working class and oppressed national/racial minority peoples. Popular organizations lack class-conscious leadership. There is widespread ignorance of and prejudice against communism among the working class and its allies–including some of the most militant activists.

The majority of communists in our movement got their political education in the 1960s and 1970s in the civil rights, anti-war, and women’s movements. Because of the destruction of the CPUSA, there is little continuity with the previous generation of communists. Many Marxist-Leninists have non-working class backgrounds and little experience of working class struggle. Many are not in communist organizations at all, or are in small collectives and study groups with limited resources and contacts.

As a result, the work of the trend is still immature. Of those cadre who are involved in working class struggles, many are at the earliest stages of involving themselves in the work, struggle, and lives of the class, and changing themselves in the process. More advanced cadre are providing leadership in shop floor, union, and community struggles and are discussing issues from a socialist perspective with progressive people in those struggles. In a few cases, organizations of communists are helping to coordinate such work and beginning to develop political lines and national contacts.

Some Working Definitions

This section develops some concepts and terminology for our discussion of the work that must be done to transform the primitive situation of the communist movement.

Party building is a process that continues beyond the establishment of a vanguard party and throughout the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is always the responsibility of the communist movement to build its party. Until a vanguard is developed, however, this work is particularly central and urgent.

A vanguard party is a national democratic centralist organization that unites the Marxist-Leninists and leads the struggles of the people in all spheres. Its program and practice apply the science of Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions of the national and international struggles.

Developing these characteristics is a process. We do not believe that a vanguard party appears overnight. Several steps can be identified as leaps in this development. (This paper focuses on the political nature of the different stages; our paper on democratic centralism suggests a parallel development of organization and leadership.)

One important leap is the creation of national organizations, overcoming the limitations of local groups by pooling more experience and experience in a wider variety of areas. National journals, national study groups, and national fractions for workers in a particular industry– these are some of the forms now proposed and attempted by the trend. Such forms may be able to advance particular aspects of communist work in the period before an all-round communist party can be formed.

A second important leap is the creation of a single national organization that fulfills the functions of earlier partial formations, moving beyond their more specific and limited roles to an all-sided guidance of communist political work. Such an organization must have a beginning approach to all the major questions facing the communist movement. It must convince a significant number of communists that it is indeed on the right track, and it must have the capacity to continue attracting Marxist-Leninists and winning over the leaders of the class struggle who are not already communists. This national organization will be created by a conscious act of communists based on their assessment of the state of the communist and workers’ movements.

Once created, this organization has the task of becoming the leadership of the revolution, the vanguard. Specifically, this requires fusion, the merging of the workers’ and allied movements with the communist movement so that Marxism-Leninism becomes the leading ideology in the class struggle and so that the communist forces are thoroughly dedicated to the class. Fusion is a particular aspect of the more general task of strengthening the ties between communists and the masses, which is, like party building, a general task of communists at all times, with particular significance at particular times. We do not see fusion as the central task in the absence of a national organization, nor do we see it as a task to postpone until after the formation of a party.

The national organization that is first formed will not immediately have a vanguard character, but it should show reasonable promise of achieving vanguard stature; this paper will discuss what that “promise” entails. Some would not consider such an organization to be a party yet. Having seen an embarrassing proliferation of groups, each claiming to be the “real thing” and each scorning all others, certain forces in the anti-revisionist New Communist Movement reacted to this situation and developed the concept of a pre-party, a national democratic centralist communist organization that does not yet claim to be the vanguard. This conception equates “party” and “vanguard”: until it becomes a vanguard, there is no party, only a pre-party.

However, the international history of communism suggests that most successful revolutionary vanguards began as small organizations that considered themselves communist parties before they were the vanguards of the struggle. The Chinese Communist Party, for example, in 1921 consisted of 57 people; within six years it had 57 thousand members and an important role in significant mass uprisings. Virtually every other vanguard party has developed in a similar fashion. We prefer to follow this tradition and to talk in terms of founding a party, recognizing that it will not be the vanguard at the time of formation–not yet the actual leadership of the people’s movements. The important thing is not to pre-empt the title “vanguard” prematurely or automatically. This attribute must be earned through actual achievement in class struggle.

Nevertheless, “premature” party formation would not be a disaster if the new group recognized its weaknesses and struggled to overcome them, rather than assuming that calling itself a party thereby eliminated its problems. On the other hand, waiting too long to form a national party would be an inexcusable abdication of communist responsibility. Communists must push for party formation as soon as it is feasible.

Political Line

What will indicate whether this new formation has the potential to develop into a vanguard? While there are no advance guarantees, an important factor will be the general line of the organization. A general line is an approach to all the major questions–theoretical, political, ideological, organizational–that confront communists. Without such a line, there cannot be an all-sided organization.

Whenever people do political work, they are guided by some kind of line, more or less conscious and more or less correct. A conscious line applies Marxist-Leninist theory to the concrete conditions of a particular time and place. It is a summation of experience in the light of present conditions–to formulate an approach to action.

Line is not the same thing as theory. Line applies theory to develop a program; it indicates what to do with theory, how to use theory to advance. For example, during the 1960s, anti-war activists had different theoretical concepts of their struggle, including pacifism, nationalism, and anti-imperialism. These gave rise to the diverse lines underlying such varied slogans as “Peace Now,” “Bring the Boys Home,” and “Victory to the NLF.” (A slogan is a concise formulation of part of a political line.) Each of these lines suggested different courses of action. A line is not an abstraction; it points the way forward in concrete work.

Line is a dynamic, not static, thing. As cadre learn more about a situation, through their attempts to implement a particular line, that line can be improved. As conditions change–perhaps because of the implementation of a successful line–the approach that guides work must be modified accordingly. Developing line is an ongoing process because both reality and our understanding of reality constantly change.

When a line does sum up what is known and does point the way forward, it can be considered an advanced line. “Advanced” does not refer to the particular stage of the struggle–its closeness to revolutionary outbreak. The term “advanced” indicates that the line embodies a thorough understanding of the political requirements and possibilities of whatever stage the movement has reached.

An advanced line has the capacity to become a material force in society. This is because it accurately recognizes the problems and capabilities of the advanced fighters and the people as a whole; an advanced line is based on a solid understanding of the conditions of their struggles. Such a line can be the basis for a mass line that is actually taken up by the fighters in the class struggle. But an advanced line does not automatically lead to a correct mass line.

A mass line is derived from the ideas and experiences of activists in the working class and among the national/ racial minorities. This means communist cadre must have close links with the people and must be able to learn from them. The communist movement must be able to centralize and synthesize the jumble of ideas it takes from the masses and to present a concentrated and scientific formulation that the masses can accept. Communist cadre must be able to explain and implement the line themselves if others in the movement are to take it up and guide their work. A line does not become a material force through telepathic communication, but through close ties with the people who will use the line in struggle.

An advanced line accurately accounts for what is known at the time. The line “equal pay for equal work” has been the guiding ideology of some forces in the women’s movement. But it is clearly inadequate as a full summation of the problems and demands of the movement. What about the role of women in the family, the inaccessibility of “equal work” for many, or the class and racial contradictions among women? An advanced line must not be superficial, but must explain conditions thoroughly. On the other hand, it should not be overly speculative, seeking to explain more than is actually known.

The Principal Task

A communist party has many important features: a general line that sets out its tasks and world view; a program to develop cadre in their theoretical, practical and ideological work; cadre who are activists in class struggle; the capacity for self-evaluation and a regular practice of self-criticism; successful experience in guiding mass movements, pushing forward in theory and resolving problems of all kinds.

These characteristics are interdependent and all are important. However, in order to develop an all-sided communist organization it is necessary to identify the principal task whose development decisively influences all the other work of the movement.

We believe the principal contradiction in the party-building movement at this time is the contradiction between the need for a general political line and the communist movement’s lack of unity on such a general line. In fact, at this time the trend lacks unity on the many particular lines (for example, on the woman question) that should be part of a comprehensive general line, and doesn’t even agree on what particular questions should be included in a general line. We believe that principled struggle over political line questions is the process that is needed to unite Marxist-Leninists. In the course of that struggle, the movement will develop some of the other characteristics of a party. This paper will indicate how the struggle to develop a general line can push forward mass work, theoretical work, and communist styles of struggle; we also indicate what we consider the critical issues to incorporate into an initial general line.

Theory and Practice in the Development of Line

The development of political line is a process that integrates theory and practice. It is a theoretical task because it involves developing general principles from accumulated specific experiences, historical and contemporary. Marxist method is essential to this summation process, as it is to the complementary task of applying general principles to specific situations.

Political development is also closely tied to practical work. A line is, of course, derived from experience and revised based on practical attempts to implement it. Above all, a line is developed in order to guide practice. However, it is useful to look even more closely at the relationship between theory and practice in line development.

The context for developing line is an understanding of the concrete conditions of society at the present time. Academic study is not sufficient for this. To make a class analysis or an economic model of the United States today –for example–involves both research and participation in society. “Whoever wants to know a thing has no way of knowing it except by coming in contact with it, that is, by living (practicing) in its environment.... If you want knowledge, you must take part in the practice of changing reality.” (Mao Zedong, On Practice)

An understanding of contemporary conditions is essential for evaluating and applying “indirect experience”–the history of the communist and peoples’ movements. The rich experiences of working class movements and the struggles of the oppressed in many countries over the past 120 years provide important lessons for today’s movement in the United States. For this tradition to serve the needs of the party building movement, the mistakes and the successes of the past must be identified and understood in their specific historical and cultural contexts; from them must be extracted the principles that are relevant to this country today.

The universal truths of science do not appear in the abstract, but in all the rich complexity of actual experiences. Summations of these experiences have been made before, but this theoretical legacy cannot be accepted uncritically. Communists, even great communists, make errors in their thinking and actions. The party-building movement must review the theoretical work of the past with the critical perspective that is integral to Marxism-Leninism. Communists need to overcome the habit of relying on isolated quotations from authorities. It is essential to ask if the authority was in fact correct, and if the situation faced at that time is analogous to conditions today. Sorting out basic principles from specific struggles, determining the relevance of the experience of the communist movement to contemporary problems, and correctly summing up the past are all part of the theoretical work of line development.

However, this theoretical summation of indirect experience must be grounded in direct experience. For example, how do we view the struggles within the Bolshevik or Chinese communist parties? The actual attempt to build a communist organization in this country provides a necessary perspective for evaluating methods of organization and struggle used by other communists.

From an analysis of the past, our party-building movement can derive basic approaches, fundamental strategies for increasing communist influence among the people. For example, the left-center alliance or the approach to reform and revolution outlined by Lenin may remain valid frameworks for communist practice. However, Marxism-Leninism is not fully contained in the literature and history of past movements; it is a living, growing science. In part an analysis of the historical experiences of the people, Marxism-Leninism is developed through the living struggles of working and oppressed peoples, struggles that add to our store of experience every day– and sometimes in the most unexpected ways. Think, for example, of the lessons Marx drew from the Paris Commune of 1871 about the necessity for the working class to smash the bourgeois state–or the rich analysis Lenin was able to make of the 1905 revolution in Russia in which the working class created the soviet form to carry out its struggle against Tsarism. The communist movement in the United States must develop a similar methodology and approach to learning from the history that is being made every day. This is necessary both to clothe in concrete detail the general principles inherited from the past and to develop new principles.

At the present time, direct experience may not be as dramatic as the revolutions of 1871 and 1905. The militance of the working class, the ability of communists to provide leadership, and the ties between the class and the communists are all at a low level. Today’s movement, then, does not have many opportunities to apply and analyze an advanced line. But this does not excuse the party-building movement from studying direct experience. There is much to be learned from the struggles of the working class even when those struggles are not dramatic, nor led by communists. And the scarcity of examples of communist leadership means that we have all the more reason to learn as much as possible from every situation in which communists do play a role.

In order to develop a general line, the party-building movement must address some questions that cannot be even generally resolved on the basis of historical experience. The United States is an advanced industrial society, and there has never been a successful socialist revolution in an advanced industrial society. U.S. communists face unique questions–for example, developing an understanding of black liberation and its relationship to a socialist revolution. And there are questions that the international movement has never taken up scientifically-such as the oppression of gay people–that the U.S. movement has to understand. In these cases, it is inconceivable that a political approach can be developed very far without a summing up of current practice and implementing tentative lines in practice.

These are some of the ways in which a grounding in practice is crucial for developing political line–for evaluating the past and adapting it to the present. On the other hand, it would be simplistic to assume that direct practice plays a role in the development of every line, at least when a movement is as immature as the present U.S. communist movement. There are questions–such as international line and the nature of socialism–that must be addressed entirely on the basis of indirect experience. This limitation can change in time, with the growth of a party that plays a role in international events and contends for state power. But an initial orientation to these questions is necessary long before to unite communists organizationally and politically.

In short, the movement’s political line will in the long run depend largely on its ability to enrich theory through involvement in social practice. Essential to political line development is the summation of the experiences of the cadre, the struggle to analyze those experiences by applying theory to them. We feel strongly that these theoretical and practical tasks of line development must be undertaken by all the cadre of the movement. Cadre who are doing practical mass work must be able to evaluate the conditions they face and to sum up the results of their work. Doing so requires a mastery of dialectical and historical materialism. They must also be able to evaluate theory about areas outside their primary work; Marxism-Leninism is, after all, a comprehensive world view, not simply a how-to manual for individual areas of activity. However, if movement debates seem irrelevant to Marxist-Leninist activists, the subject and style of those polemics should be scrutinized carefully: are these the burning questions or not?

The importance of all-round cadre development does not preclude a division of labor. Some cadre will focus on theoretical work, although where possible they should have a firm grounding in direct experience of practical work and they must be in open communication with cadre who are primarily activists.

“Testing in Practice”

Although it is ultimately true that practice will tell whether a line is correct, the level of communist practice possible without a national party cannot provide a conclusive test. Lines that seem to be working out may not be correct in general or in the long run. On the other hand, a line that may seem to be leading nowhere may be too hastily rejected on the basis of poor implementation. Work in the mass movements, then, must be evaluated cautiously over the long run and with an eye to differences between localities. Still, this work is the essential raw material for line development.

The Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee has emphasized the role of advanced workers as “the prime verifiers of theory” and implicitly of line. We certainly think that the response of advanced workers will be a significant indication of the correctness of the line. If the most militant activists think that a strategy and approach makes sense, that will at least indicate that communists are in touch with the reality of the struggle and have a good chance of pushing the struggle forward together with its spontaneous leadership. However, advanced workers are not infallible. Both adventurist and conciliatory lines have attracted working class militants under different circumstances. It is important not to place too much authority in the response of advanced workers alone. In particular, their reaction should be evaluated along with the concrete results of implementing the line.

The validity of a line will also be indicated by the response of middle forces. Are people who vacillate in their involvement drawn into a struggle because the communists are putting forward a plan that they think makes sense? Even the attitude of backward forces will be an indication of the appropriateness of the line. What about the cadre implementing the line? Do they find it helps them to make decisions and exert leadership? In short, all the forces in a struggle will be affected by a line and the responses of everyone must be analyzed.

The forces in the rectification movement correctly point to the limitations of the process at this time. On the other hand, they have recently criticized their previous discounting of the role of practice in testing line at all. We welcome this development in their thinking. We question, however, their concept of an initial theoretical “verification” of lines that cannot yet be empirically verified. “Verification” is too strong a word for this process, especially when the communist movement is as primitive as it is. The ability of Marxist-Leninists to develop and to unite upon a line is a great step, but it should not be confused with “verifying the line.”

It is, however, correct and important to acknowledge the stage in line development when communists agree that a general line matches their understanding of reality and they are willing to unite with the line. So important is this stage that we think party formation is called for when such unity exists–even though the movement may still be far from leading the class struggle.

In the long run, of course, what will be important is the judgment not only of communists but of the working class, whose activists will join the party and whose masses will follow it, if it becomes the vanguard. The PWOC has contended that this process must begin–at least “in embryo”–for party formation to be appropriate. They base this assessment on a historical analogy.

Lenin, in A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy, took the position that in order to lay the groundwork for a party, the more advanced workers should be won over to that party. Like the early Russian Social Democrats, today’s communists are predominantly a movement of intellectuals in political and social isolation from the working class. If it was necessary for Lenin’s party-building movement to learn from the workers, surely it is even more important for the U.S. movement today.

However, there are some significant differences. In Lenin’s day the advanced workers were already committed socialists; it only remained to convince them of the need for organization, for joining with the Social Democrats. In fact even the middle forces were socialists–very different from the ideology of the U.S. working class today. Lenin envisioned a short period in which many workers could be won over to the communist perspective and take up, along with the Marxist intellectuals, the formation of a party and the organization of communist work on a national scale.

Today’s communists face a much more difficult process–to overcome the anti-communism of the working class, to convince people that socialism is an alternative (despite the problems of the socialist countries and of the international communist movement), and then to recruit the advanced to an organization. Lenin’s contemporaries faced a task with the advanced workers that is more analogous to our movement’s relationship with independent activists who accept Marxism generally but are skeptical |of the possibility of forming a party in the near future.

For advanced workers to be won to communist ideology and organization will require a more protracted process, in fact, years of patient involvement in and correct leadership of the practical mass struggles of the working class. It is essential to begin this work now. The attempt to recruit advanced workers challenges the communist movement in many ways–including its class biases and its need to develop answers to questions like “what is socialism?” Still, a large influx of workers is unlikely in the near future; if party formation is put off until this can occur, the communist movement will be denying itself its most valuable tool for its work–perhaps making that work impossible.

The Scope of the General Line

Although the process of line development will itself contribute to overcoming the weaknesses of the communist movement, we expect that the general line at the time of party formation will reflect these weaknesses and will be in many respects sketchy and uneven.

The rectification forces have suggested that at the time of party formation the general line will provide a revolutionary strategy for seizing state power. We do not expect this. Ultimately the party must develop–and implement –such a line. But to expect this disorganized movement to come up with a line of such scope and complexity is unrealistic. It would amount to projecting far more than the movement is in any position to know or say. Two facts confront us:

1. There has never been a successful revolution in an advanced capitalist country (our indirect experience is limited).

2. The communist forces in this country are a long way from being able to lead such a revolution (nor is the working class ready for class war). Taken together, this means the revolutionaries don’t know enough yet to develop a program for revolution. Beyond some generalities–the need to be prepared for armed struggle, for instance–such a line would be speculation. But a general line is not a daydream. It is a summation of synthesized experience and tested principles that point the way forward, that pose the next steps to take and to learn from, toward a goal that is identified but not) necessarily within reach.

In short, a line must be based on work that has been! done and must correspond to the movement’s level of development. We expect that at the time of party formation certain questions will be addressed much more thoroughly than others. It is fine to include initial and preliminary positions, along with the recognition of their tentativeness. Communists should not be afraid to say they don’t have all the answers; Marxism-Leninism is the tool for finding them.

During the period of line development, there should be a conscious effort to identify and address questions about which the movement is less experienced and knowledgeable. But it would be wrong to postpone party formation until every issue is addressed equally well.

The decisive factor will be the ability of the line (and the movement) to unite many communists, to convince them that it points the way forward. To do so, a general line must above all embody a sensible approach to mass work that is beginning to prove itself in practice. This will indicate that communists can, indeed, sum up and change reality. It is this that will attract independents, unite comrades who have differences, and appeal to some of the more advanced workers.

At the same time the line must include a general framework for mass practice (including a viewpoint on the world situation) and a perspective on the final goal (the nature of socialism and communism). We think that a general line at the time of party formation should include an initial analysis and approach to each of the following areas:
The political situation in the United States and its likely development
The relationship between reform work and communist tasks
The nature of ultra-left and rightist errors in this period
Party-building strategy
An appropriate form of democratic centralism
The special oppression of the national and racial minorities and the role of democratic rights and liberation movements
The special oppression of women and the role of the women’s movement
The special oppression of gays and the role of the gay movement
The different forces within the working class and how to unite them to support the demands of the class as a whole and of its most oppressed sectors
Other class forces, potential alliances with the working class
Developing the independent political power of the working class
Developing struggles within unions, unorganized industries and communities
The history of the international communist movement, its strengths and weaknesses
The international situation including the present and probable future development of imperialism, revisionism, movements for national liberation, and the major communist parties
The process of the transition to socialism and the development of the socialist countries.

These are not isolated issues, but interrelated aspects of a coherent revolutionary strategy for the communist movement. A general political line will express an orientation to the world and develop it for particular outstanding questions. Unless these questions are adequately addressed, political line cannot guide the movement forward; conversely, if it attempts solutions of questions prematurely, without theory and experience, the stage is set for mistakes. But a line is more than a collection of perspectives on different topics; it is a unifying general outlook as well.

Obstacles within the Movement

The present party-building movement is not ready to articulate such a general line. We have indicated some of the movement’s weaknesses in relation to class struggle; in addition, there are internal shortcomings to resolve.

The current party-building movement is disproportionately composed of members of the radicalized intelligentsia and is disproportionately white. Its composition thus handicaps the movement in its attempt to respond to the problems faced by the working class and by minority peoples. It also gives particular urgency to the self-criticism and transformation of cadre into better communists.

Idealism, individualism, competitiveness and so forth are components of bourgeois ideology that have affected everyone in the United States; however, these characteristics are particularly common among the petty bourgeoisie. An internal “rectification campaign” against these traits must be accompanied by cadre’s rooting themselves in working class situations. The decisive question is not class origin, but class stand and class position, and the movement will be transformed partially through changes in the class stand and position of its members, as well as the recruitment of new members.

Similarly, the racial composition of the movement will change as the result of a combination of factors: the development of a correct political line on the struggle against racism, the joint involvement of white and minority comrades in the struggles of racial and national minorities, and protracted struggle against the racism of individual cadre and of the movement as a whole. These changes will take some time. It is important for the party-building movement to confront these problems if it hopes to someday represent the actual leaders of class struggle.

Marxism-Leninism is not a set of ideas already written down that can be learned by reading books alone. It is also a point of view–the point of view of the working class in its life-and-death struggle with capitalism. The cadre must change themselves: feelings, friendships, how they talk and interact with others. It is one thing to recognize an abuse in society; it is another to have the courage and conviction and connection to other people to stand up and speak your ideas from your heart and win other people to join you in fighting an abuse. This is an essential part of being a communist. Even though your line may be correct, who will listen if you are passive and ineffectual, or self-important and elitist in the class struggle? Communists can learn from the working class militants in this struggle to improve the class stand of the cadre in the movement.

Another indication of the incorrect class stand of the communist movement as a whole is the pervasive left sectarianism we analyse in another paper. This deviation must be overcome in order to unite communists around a general line. The process of developing line is not just a matter of coming up with positions, but also of convincing others that these positions are worth their respect and allegiance. Years of left arrogance and squabbling have left many independents cynical of all party-building lines and initiatives. They will need to be convinced by a different style of work among communists and a different method of participating in the popular movements.

Partisans in the line struggles need to learn the importance of deferring differences and uniting despite disagreement. Sectarianism will not be overcome simply through pleas for unity–or, as the OCIC experience indicates–through the creation of a new organizational form. There must be a thorough understanding of the incorrect ideas behind the propensity to split and castigate rather than unite and cooperate. This is essentially an incorrect class stand that elevates the perceptions and desires of the communists above the needs of the class.

We expect that sectarianism will be difficult to combat and will prolong the struggle for a correct general line, but that it can be rectified in the course of that line struggle. For one thing, the communist movement’s ability to work together will become an arena of struggle itself (in a sense, this is an aspect of organizational line). Marxist-Leninists have to learn to cooperate and to adopt methods that will help them both develop lines together and implement them in common practice–despite differences and precisely in order to resolve differences. Furthermore, the central theme of a general line is the program to guide mass work in a nonsectarian way. Line development will include the struggle to change the relationship between the communist forces and the people’s movements, to overcome their separation by working together in every area of struggle faced by the working class and oppressed peoples.

In addition to the high level of sectarianism of the movement, there is a low level of cadre development on the whole–nor are the two phenomena unrelated. Both in terms of theoretical grasp and practical experience, most cadre are relatively new to Marxism-Leninism. Certainly there are advanced–and very valuable–comrades with a breadth of experience and understanding. However, we do not envision or approve of a process in which charismatic leaders simply convince others that their particular ideas make sense. We believe the “rank and file” of the communist movement must develop their own abilities to independently evaluate practice and theory. In the long run, this is indispensable for a healthy party.

The Positions of Other Forces

We expect that our approach to party building will be compared to the “rectification” and “fusion” positions that have contested within the anti-revisionist, anti-ultra-left movement. Like adherents of rectification, we place central importance upon struggling for communist unity on line questions in order to build a party. Yet our perspective focuses on developing political positions that can guide work in the mass movements; we are convinced that the “proof of the pudding” will be our relationship to the class struggle. While both fusion and rectification have contributed useful insights, neither one is fully adequate to the needs of our movement. (Nor, incidentally, do we consider the position in this paper to be the “last word” on the subject; we expect that experience and political struggle will change and improve our understanding of party building.)

It is particularly unfortunate that the struggle between adherents of fusion and rectification has not produced a synthesis, but rather became a polarized and confusing argument, portrayed as a two-line struggle between a correct and an opportunist point of view. Proponents of each position have distorted the politics of the other. This debate focused on an approach to theory and practice, until it seemed the movement was being asked to choose one or the other. The answer to Which is primary, theory or practice? is like the answer to Which is primary, day or night? It depends upon the particular tasks of the moment.

In evaluating the contributions of the rectification and fusion positions, we feel it is important to look at both the theoretical formulations and concrete work of the PWOC and OCIC and of Line of March and its adherents.

The fusion position initially represented a very positive step for the fledgling party-building movement. A concrete break with ultra-left party-building lines, the fusion position reminded the movement that it is the job of the party to attract the activists of the working class and oppressed peoples and to direct their struggles toward revolution. This represented a new humility in a movement that tended to act as if it could change the world on its own, and a new practicality for a movement that seemed to value polemical exchanges more than concrete results. The Marxist-Leninists who were involved in mass work particularly welcomed this perspective. Some of them were actually won to the importance of party building by the fusion position, which connected party-building tasks to their daily work and to class struggle.

However, as the anti-revisionist, anti-ultra-left party-building movement grew, the forces that presented and took up the fusion perspective failed to develop it further, and its inadequacies became apparent. While fusion might be considered the “essence” of party building in the long term (because a vanguard party can only develop as the party bases itself in the class), this is not a strategy for party formation. In the absence of a party, party-building line must direct the movement to achieve unity among Marxist-Leninists so that a party can be formed. The “fusion” perspective did not explain how to develop political line or prepare the communist movement for unification in a party.

These weaknesses became apparent in the concrete efforts of the fusion advocates to build the Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center. When the OCIC did not become the “single center” as its creators had hoped, they proved unable to relate in a nonsectarian way to organizations outside their structure. A style of polemical distortion and ridicule began to characterize their struggles, for example with the rectification forces. As differences emerged within the OCIC, the internal opposition was treated to similar attacks, branded “federationist,” “localist,” and “racist.” Sadly, the sectarian practice of the New Communist Movement was replayed once again.

Underlying this sectarianism is a persistent tendency to substitute organizational consolidation for political struggle. This became apparent, for example, at the OCIC-initiated fraction conferences. Rather than using these conferences to begin exchanging experience and discussing politics among comrades within key industries, the OCIC asked fraction participants to submit to a “limited democratic centralism” without even beginning to discuss the politics that could guide that discipline.

Similarly, the OCIC developed elaborate plans for local and regional OCIC centers while the actual theoretical work for which the OCIC was formed remained on the back burner. The focus on organizational consolidation rather than political struggle meant that political differences were bound to break out in a disorderly fashion.

The emphasis of the fusion perspective was to build ties with advanced people in the mass movements. It is ironic that the dominant practice of the fusion forces has become not only activities internal to the communist movement but squabbles that do not in any way strengthen cadre’s mass work. Theoretical advancement, discussion of practice, cadre development, and struggle for political line are relatively low on the OCIC’s agenda.

The rectification forces have put forth a positive formulation in their emphasis on political line uniting Marxist-Leninists. For the most part they have taken a comradely and principled approach to struggle on the questions facing the trend and have organized many forms for this struggle, including forums, study groups, and the journal Line of March. At the same time, they have taken the initiative for practical work in many key areas, particularly anti-racist work.

We feel, however, that there is a certain tendency to idealism in the rectification perspective. This was conspicuous in an early formulation that rejected any role for practice in the testing of political lines in this period. We are glad to see this initial conception has been modified recently and some self-criticism has been made. In general, adherents of the rectification position continue to underestimate the danger that ultra-leftism poses to the anti-revisionist, anti-ultra-left movement.

The rectification forces have isolated international line as the key position defining an ultra-left line, ignoring such questions as the relationship of reform to revolution, the relationship of the party to the masses, and the relationship of democracy and centralism in communist organization. Not surprisingly then, they tend to make ultra-left errors in these areas. In the anti-Weber and anti-Bakke coalitions, for example, these forces tended to centralize decision-making in a coordinating committee they dominated rather than building a broader democratic coalition. We believe such practices reflect a distrust of the masses’ abilities to evaluate political line and of the communists’ abilities to argue their position; the result is a sectarian style of work.

The theoretical focus of the rectification forces is upon the most sweeping issues that face the communist movement today–which means they are developing lines which the party building movement is in no position to evaluate, let alone implement. By contrast, they criticize a focus on relating to the mass movements for being “economist” and “reformist.” While the rectification forces understand that political line can become a material force, we do not think they understand how this transformation will occur. In fact, people are attracted to a line not because it is abstractly “correct” but because it works: the priority of the movement must be to develop workable lines to guide mass struggles.

These tendencies of the rectification forces mean that they could consolidate around idealist, sectarian, and ultra-left politics. Despite their errors in that direction, however, we hope adherents of the rectification line will recognize this danger and correct their mistakes; we consider it important to struggle with them on these questions.

We recognize that besides the organized forces in our trend there are many independent communists who can be won to party-building work in the near future. We also hope to be working someday with many of the cadre now in ultra-left but anti-revisionist organizations. The party-building movement must ultimately be able to unite most of these people organizationally and politically.


We believe the communist movement at this time should consciously work toward the formation of a national party. We recognize that in the beginning such a party will be primitive, with much work to do before it can carry out the fusion of communism with the working class movement and become a revolutionary vanguard. The focus in this period should be on principled struggle for unity on a general line that sums up the movement’s experience at this time and provides an approach to its most basic tasks. While this line will include an initial orientation toward all the major questions communists face, it will not be thoroughly worked out in every area. What is central–the thread running through all the most important questions–is an approach to work in the mass movements that enables communists to learn from and ultimately to lead those movements. This goal requires a break with the ultra-leftism that has characterized the communist movement’s approach to mass work.

To develop its general line, the party-building movement must take class struggle seriously and must contribute in every possible way to building the mass movements. At the same time, the communist movement must learn to struggle over political line differences in a principled way–breaking with its internal sectarianism. The party-building forces have to be able to work in a non-sectarian way with one another as well as with the people. This is the only way to make progress on the more long-term tasks: the elaboration of a strategy for revolution in the United States; the establishment of communism as the leading ideology of the working class and its allies; the fusion of the party with the people’s movements.

We must learn to lead platoons and companies before we can learn to lead armies. Today’s work must prepare for tomorrow, until the party is formed, until fusion is achieved, until state power is won–and beyond–until communism is established.

(September 1980)