Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

John Martin, Member of the CPML Interim Political Committee

The Crisis in Marxism and M-L Unity

First Published: The Call, Vol. 10, No. 3 April 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Any reader of the last few issues of The Call can plainly see the CPML is in the midst of a serious ideological, political, and organizational crisis. The basic reason for this crisis is the ultra-left orientation, line and method that held back the CPML’s development from a small sect into a political force in the United States. Our second Congress, scheduled in the near future, will begin an all-sided summing up of our party’s history, an initial sorting out of right from wrong, and take more definite steps toward rectification.

At the same time, the CPML has been actively pursuing plans to unite with other Marxist-Leninists into a new communist organization. How is this struggle against ultra-leftism and M-L unity related?

What is important to understand is that the struggle against ultra-leftism is both a specific response to our own practice and part of an international trend. The entire international movement that rose in struggle against Soviet revisionism is undergoing a profound reassessment of many deeply held beliefs, strategy and tactics, and even underlying principles.

The struggle in the Communist Party of China against the ultra-left havoc caused by the Gang of Four plunged many communists around the world into renewed debate around questions such as the nature of socialism, the nature of the communist party, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the national question, and other “big questions.”

We must call it “renewed debate” because these basic questions have confronted the communist movement periodically throughout our history. The last time this happened in a big way was in the mid-’50s, coinciding with the changed world situation after World War II, the summing up of the Stalin period, and the changed course of the USSR under Khrushchev.

The current Chinese reassessment is quite thoroughgoing. Many of the distinguishing characteristics of Mao Zedong Thought promoted in the Cultural Revolution have been castigated today as ultra-left. Particularly criticized has been the tendency to magnify the extent of right revisionism in the Party and the over-emphasis on two-line struggle. The slogan “practice is the sole criterion of truth” is a straightforward way to say that many of the economic and political policies of the ’60s and ’70s did not work.

The Chinese have also reversed some of their verdicts on foreign parties. The CPC now enjoys fraternal relations with the Yugoslav party as well as the Italian and Spanish parties, until recently branded “Eurorevisionist.”

Many of the newer M-L parties have apparently been unable to come to grips with this reassessment. The KPD in Germany officially liquidated in March 1980, and other European parties have experienced severe problems. It appears that some M-L parties based their line more on the “Chinese brand of Marxism” than conditions in their own countries.

Related to the Chinese reassessment is the change of tactics of the USSR internationally and the consequences theoretically and politically for M-Ls. Our movement arose in opposition to the abandonment of principle of the Soviet revisionists and their blatant distortion of Marxism to fit the needs of Soviet imperialist world strategy. The right opportunism of the Russian revisionists on all fundamental questions in the ’50s – from peaceful transition to peaceful coexistence to Khrushchev’s “single spark could start a world conflagration” – reflected the USSR’s basically defensive position vis-a-vis the USA.

But today the Soviets enjoy military superiority over the West and are globally on the offensive. Correspondingly, “armed struggle” is replacing “peaceful transition” in the Soviet lexicon, and the USSR has become the new advocate of “Leninism” and “revolution” in the third world-with, of course, a good dose of Russian arms to pave the way to “socialism.”

While in the ’60s, to support or oppose “armed struggle” and “national liberation” may have been a dividing line between Marxism and revisionism, the adopting of these slogans by the Soviet social-imperialists today demands that M-Ls more sharply define these theoretical precepts. For example, Soviet troops in Afghanistan need to be exposed as the Soviet conception of “national liberation.”

This new left posture of the Soviet social-imperialists, along with the Chinese experience of the Gang of Four and their international influence, show that revisionism today comes from the left as well as the right.

Several other international factors have pointed to the need to deepen our grasp of ultra-leftism: the emergence of Eurocommunism as a stable force; the Albanian left deviation, the divergent road of Yugoslav socialism; the numerous unanswered questions about the social and economic systems in Eastern Europe and the USSR itself; and the brief Kampuchean experience in socialism.

Marxist-Leninists around the world are seriously studying these experiences. The essence of the “crisis in Marxism” today, in my opinion, is the struggle of Marxist-Leninists to move from merely restating the “principles” of Marxism to applying a correct methodology and developing a realistic strategy and tactics for the revolutionary movement.

Our M-L trend has responded to this crisis in two distinct ways. For some individuals and organizations, the crisis has prompted only a slight readjustment in line; their orientation and approach have not basically changed.

Others have been engaged in a serious struggle against ultra-leftism. This struggle has not been neat nor disciplined and has left several organizations in “disarray,” including the CPML. The last year of internal struggle in the CPML has shown that ultra-leftism is deep-seated, and all areas of our work have been affected.

While the majority of criticisms have been on the mark and aided in the CPML’s rectification, some openly rightist and liquidationist views have emerged and even appeared in the pages of The Call. But the existence of rightist views does not change the fact that it is the ultra-left orientation, line and method that is mainly responsible for our problems today. To blame rightism as the principle reason for our deterioration is to confuse cause and effect.

Today the main efforts of the CPML are aimed at rectification and uniting with those organizations, collectives and individuals who see ultra-leftism as the principal danger and have adopted a “to the masses” orientation. At the same time, we refuse to build a Berlin Wall between ourselves and those M-Ls who approach the problems of the U.S. revolution in another manner.

While we desire a constructive exchange of views, we do not wish to return to the polemics of the 70s, with the label “opportunist” hurled carelessly about, forcing differences to harden. Our main fire is reserved for the imperialists.


In the course of our rectification process and in trying to unite with other M-Ls, several important points are being summed up that have spurred on efforts toward merger.

*The CPML’s self-conception of being the vanguard party undoubtedly caused difficulties in uniting with other organizations. This ultra-left notion of “we are, the vanguard party” gave to others the impression we were trying to merge them into the CPML, instead of proceeding toward unity on the basis of equality.

Further, the organization that will be formed through any merger will approximate a pre-party organization and not the party itself. The task of building a vanguard party is protracted and will involve many other organizations, collectives, and individuals from the entire M-L movement.

*There have been many criticisms of the formulation “party building is our central task.” We certainly need to continue to lay the ideological, political and organizational foundation of a communist party. However, in the past, the slogan “party building is the central task” has led to a certain one-sidedness, of over-emphasizing the tasks of socialist propaganda and “winning the advanced to communism” in isolation from the need to fuse the M-L cadre into the workers’ and nationalities’ movements.

For example, the CPML overestimated our own strength and took an incorrect stance toward reformist forces in the trade unions and nationalities movements. Instead of seeing these forces as allies to be won over, we aimed our “main blow” at them. We saw the masses as more advanced than they are and underestimated the strength of anti-communism. Rather than making a sober analysis of the consequences for M-Ls of the resilience of imperialism at home, we saw U.S. imperialism as tottering on the abyss of disaster.

This is classic ultra-leftism. It led us to exaggerate the openness of advanced workers and other activists to the red flag of communism.

We forgot that it was only the rich experience of the mass movements of the ’60s, the momentum of the split in the international communist movement, along with the high tide of national liberation wars in Indochina and elsewhere that propelled the vast majority of our cadre toward Marxism-Leninism. That kind of experience does not exist today in the U.S.

Conditions at this time point to the necessity of accomplishing several major tasks simultaneously. Uniting all M-Ls and winning the advanced to communism remain imperative for all communists. Given our history, relatively small numbers and limited experience, becoming “internal” or “fusing” with the nationalities and workers’ movements, helping to build those movements, is also critical. Finally, we need to sum up our experience in a more’ systematic way as well as studying international experience so we can make theoretical contributions to the problems of the U.S. revolution.

It is only by combining these three interrelated tasks over a long period of time that we can develop a correct line and program for a new communist party. It is incorrect to pit any of these major tasks against the others, either in theory or in practice.

*We should reject the view that dotting every ideological “i” or crossing every theoretical “t” is necessary before organizational unity. We should also oppose the view that all differences can simply be “worked out” after merger. The CPML’s position on this problem has leaned toward both these errors in the past period.

*There are two basic conditions for achieving organizational unity in our trend. On the one hand is ideological compatibility or a general agreement of views on the stand, method, and viewpoint of Marxism and on certain fundamental questions, particularly: the working class and national movements as the core of the united front against U.S. imperialism; the three worlds theory as our international guide; self-determination as our revolutionary policy toward the Afro-American nation and the revolutionary thrust of the Chicano, Puerto Rican and other national movements in the U.S. today; socialism as our strategic objective and reliance on the armed might of the people to obtain or guarantee victory; the need to build a democratic-centralist, multinational communist party; and the strategic nature of the woman question in our revolution.

The other condition for merger is the demonstrated fact of unity in practice, in plans of work, joint organizational forms, strategy in various industries and other areas of work, and the working out of differences in the course of practice.

Today these two conditions are being reached by a number of organizations who see leftism as the principal danger. While there still are many differences and unsettled questions, the combination of practical unity and ideological compatibility is propelling merger forward.

One further point about the kind of organization we are building: Given the diversity and effects of ultra-leftism, the present theoretical confusion and the conditions of relative ebb in the U.S., a highly centralized party type of organization is unlikely for the immediate future. The relative lack of experience and therefore undeveloped line on all important questions of the U.S. revolution indicate a period of experimentation and a step-by-step learning process.

Of course, U.S. or world events could necessitate a change in this scenario, but to expect today a high degree of ideological unity as a precondition to organizational unity only holds M-Ls back from having maximum effect on the class and national struggles. Differences, major or minor, should not be covered over, but it should not be forgotten that a high degree of unity already exists.

Without a plan to unite with minority Marxist-Leninists, no lasting merger is possible. A revolutionary orientation to the national question remains the first commandment of M-L unity.

One of the most serious left errors of the ’70s was the tendency to liquidate the national question, viewing it merely as a workers’ question. The concept of self-determination was often left as a general principle which was not applied to the need for political power by nationally oppressed people in the U.S. National forms of organization were discouraged, and the revolutionary aspect of nationalism was downplayed.

Minority communists are concentrated in several M-L organizations, and there are hundreds of minority ex-cadre and independents. The ultra-leftism of the ’70s, coupled with white chauvinism, has had a particularly devastating effect on these cadre. Special attention must be paid to both political line and the handling of the national question organizationally.


The world today is increasingly dangerous and complicated. The Reagan administration is reviving the Monroe Doctrine and is stepping up contention with the USSR. The Soviets have maintained their offensive posture, and the possibility of world war or several more outbreaks of regional confrontations is ever present.

Many difficult questions are confronting us, but we do not have the luxury of solving them at our leisure. The ebb of the ’70s is being gradually replaced by spurts of struggle that give us new opportunities to organize the masses and expand our influence. The problems plaguing us can neither be postponed nor solved overnight.

A shift “to the masses” by sections of the M-L movement has been underway for some time. For those organizations and individuals in the U.S. who have adopted this orientation and see ultra-leftism as the principal barrier to overcome, unity is an urgent task. Only by combining our strengths can we best overcome our weaknesses.


“For every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction” is both a law of physics and a good rule of thumb for inner-party struggle. The inevitable reaction to ultra-leftism in the CPML has been severe. Some of the rightist views expressed in our press and by many of our former leaders are threatening our rectification movement and unity efforts, and have caused great concern among our friends both at home and abroad.

While ultra-leftism remains our principal focus, we must stay vigilant and fight on two fronts. With revelations of COINTELPRO government spying and a Reagan Administration stepping up repression of the left, abandoning all secrecy or a democratic centralist structure would leave us naked before the enemy.

Other calls to dismantle communist organization and replace it with a “mass party of labor and progressives” would actually leave us unable to build such a party or give it a multinational or revolutionary character. Without a communist party, the revolutionary orientation of any united front could not be guaranteed.

Finally, some comrades have been flirting with the revisionist line that the nature of the bourgeois state has changed, and call for a “strategy of peaceful transformation.” In the face of Klan violence, regular police murders and a multi-billion-dollar U.S. military budget, it’s hard to see the logic of this position.

We cannot fight ultra-leftism with right opportunism or abandon Marxism-Leninism for social democracy. We cannot scare off the demon of ultra-leftism with the ghost of Earl Browder.

The current “to the masses” orientation in the international communist movement could set the conditions, in my opinion, for the building of communist parties that can be transformed into significant political forces in their respective countries. Unlike a number of the former top leaders of the CPML, including former Call editor Dan Burstein and former Call writer Jim Hamilton, who have left the party rather than continue to struggle for their views, the vast majority of CPML cadre are determined to rebuild and rectify the organization and unite with other M-Ls who share a common revolutionary vision.

The revolutionary tradition of the international communist movement must remain our own. If we combine this tradition with the rich practical experience of our dedicated cadre and continue tire hard work of uniting with the U.S. people, we can propel Marxism-Leninism into the ’80s as a significant political tendency.