Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line


Once as Tragedy: A Critical History of the October League (Marxist-Leninist)

Written: 2018.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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I am the “Former Seattle Comrade” whose comments were published in the Post-Mortems in The Call under the heading “Once More on Hamilton.” [1] This essay is a continuation of that one. This paper could not have been written until the Encyclopedia of Revisionism On-Line gathered all the relevant materials into one place.

I joined OL shortly after the Third Congress and was a member almost until the collapse.

My opinion is that the OL/CPML was destroyed by right opportunism.

This rightist tendency was imported directly from the Central Committee of the CPUSA to the Central Committee of the October League (M-L). Susan Klonsky admitted as much when she eulogized Dorothy Healy of the CPUSA on September 22, 2006 Susan Klonsky said:

Dorothy...taught us to stand firm on matters of principle, while being good at uniting with those in the movement with whom we disagreed. We probably didn’t learn that last one well enough. [2]

The self-criticism – ’We probably didn’t learn that last one well enough’ – is inappropriate because the OL/CPML faithfully carried out Ms. Healy’s advice in this regard. The appeal for broad popular unity, like the defense of freedom of criticism, is deceptive. Carried too far it liquidates the struggle against opportunism, especially right opportunism.

Healy’s policy was carried too far specifically in a campaign that was aimed at opening our press to “those with whom we disagreed.” Class Struggle magazine published an article by Barry Litt which called for debasing the Party by recruiting unqualified “advanced workers.” [3] A few years later he proposed to replace the CPML with a new party of the exact sort which Ms. Dorothy herself had attempted to build.

It is not the duty of Marxist-Leninists to “unite the movement.” Our duty is to build an organization of professional revolutionaries that can lead the working class in its struggle for state power. For such an organization formal democratic procedure is less important than “mutual comradely confidence.”[4] The Leninist party is not a mass party.

The policy advocated by Healy and Litt and endorsed in passing by Susan Klonsky is right opportunist.

In this country right opportunism is usually known as Browderism in honor of its most famous practictioner. Earl Browder was chairman of the CPUSA from 1932 to 1945. Browderism dominates the US communist movement to this day.

Browderism is right opportunism. Browderism opposes armed struggle, party leadership, the dictatorship of the proletariat and self-determination for the Afro-American Nation. Browderites do not study Marxism-Leninism. Browderism prefers intrigue and conspiracy to democratic centralism. It adores the mass movement and prefers economism and petty reforms to revolutionary agitation.

The efforts to build a new party in the Nineteen Seventies were complicated by the ultra-lefts, primarily the Weather Fools. The actions of Weatherman fully justified, both politically and legally, FBI infiltration of the young communist movement.

There were other left-off wreckers as well, like PL, the Progressive Labor or Police Labor Party, a descendant of the Provisional Organizing Committee which itself had a dubious background. Kicked out of SDS, they were re-branded as WVO, re-branded as CWP, and re-cycled by another right wing organization in Greensboro, North Carolina on November 3, 1978.

Not to mention the super-Stalinists. These little groups popped up like mushrooms on a cow patty. When people asked why there were so many Marxist-Leninist groups we should have told them: Because that’s how J. Edgar likes it; that’s how Gus likes it too.

These creatures were secondary. The real problem was rightism. The split between CPML and CPUSA was superficial. This is the root of the problem. The CPML amounted to little more than the re-incarnation of the CPUSA. The CPML was a case of “wearing the Chinese jacket while walking the Russian road.”

Guardian Forum

A series of discussions was organized by the Guardian newspaper. They concerned (1) party building (2) the trade unions (3) the woman question and (4) the national question.

These discussions were held in New York City in November, 1973.

Silber spoke first. He lamented “...an elitist stance toward the working class by many of the most prominent leaders of the anti-war movement.” [5]

Actually the petty bourgeois radicals played a good role in the anti-war movement. Without them there would have been no anti-war movement.

The problem in the anti-war movement was not the petty-bourgeois leadership but the lack of communist leadership. The CPUSA was nowhere to be found.

We thought the CP were still hiding from HUAC but my suspicion now is that they did not participate because they opposed the anti-war movement. They were glad to see the war drag on. So long as the war continued it weakened the US imperialists and strengthened the soviet social-imperialists who were the sponsors of the CPUSA. It was not only the US imperialists who could see the wisdom of “fighting until the last Vietnamese.”

The CPUSA boycotted the anti-war movement. It was not the petty bourgeois activists but the CPUSA whom Silber should have criticized.

Chairman Klonsky spoke next.[6] Like the CPUSA and Silber, he identified ultra-leftism as the main problem in the Marxist-Leninist movement: He said:

We in the October League feel that while revisionism is the main ideological enemy we face, within our own ranks–the ranks of the young communist movement–it is ultra-leftism. That’s the main danger here. That’s what we’ve got to guard against...
Our forces are very young. They haven’t got the experience. They haven’t got the stabilizing effects of mass struggle among the workers. They haven’t got deep enough ties to the workers yet. And so they are very susceptible to these kinds of vacillations, in reaction to the CPUSA, towards ultra-leftism.

This was a view that Irwin Silber shared with Chairman Klonsky. Silber said on December 10, 1975 that, “ ...the inability of several Marxist-Leninist forces to overcome their largely petty-bourgeois student and intellectual origins” was a “major obstacle to party building.”[7]

Chairman Klonsky continued:

Probably a more important way to understand ultra-leftism is on the basis of a class analysis. Comrade Stalin ... made a class analysis of the various forms of opportunism....
He said, ’One stratum is the main mass of the proletariat, its core, its permanent part, the mass of ’pure-blooded’ proletarians, who have long broken off connection with the capitalist class. This stratum of the proletariat is the most reliable bulwark of Marxism.
The second stratum consists of newcomers from non-proletarian masses–from the peasantry, the petty bourgeoisie or the intelligentsia.... This stratum constitutes the most favorable soil for all sorts of anarchist, semi-anarchist and ’ultra-left’ groups.
The third stratum is the labor aristocracy, which I have already mentioned as the class base for right opportunism or revisionism.

At this point the quotation breaks off. We are not told how Joseph Stalin proposed to deal with this conundrum which characterized himself and Vladimir Lenin, not to mention Marx and Engels, as the fertile soil for all sorts of ultra-left and anarchist ideas.

Stalin answered this question later in the article when he said: “Can these contradictions and disagreements be avoided? No, they cannot. To think that these contradictions can be avoided is self-deception. ...All I want to say is that only by fighting for the Marxist line based on principle can a proletarian party be protected from the pressure and influence of the bourgeoisie. All I want to say is that only by overcoming inner-Party contradictions can we succeed in making the Party sound and strong.”[8] “Once More on the Social-Democratic Deviation in Our Party,” Dec. 7, 1926.)

That was Comrade Stalin’s conclusion. Klonsky offered his own solution. He said: “So the question for us is, how can we fight against this ultra-leftism, which has a fertile soil to grow in among these newcomers to the working class who have come largely from the intellectuals? Well, the main thing at this time is not to abandon the mass struggle to build the anti-imperialist united front and to develop those close ties with the masses, to integrate ourselves in mass struggle.”[9]

Chairman Klonsky and Joseph Stalin offered different solutions to the same problem. While Stalin advocated “fighting for the Marxist line based on principle,” ’Chairman Klonsky came down on the side of “building those close ties with the masses in the course of mass struggle.”

The Chairman concluded:

We’ve got to unite the communist forces and we’ve got to combat everything that stands in the way of unity... We’ve got to build unity and we’ve got to fight for unity.

This was opposite the advice given by Engels in 1882, quoted by Stalin in 1926 and ignored by Chairman Klonsky at the Guardian Forum. Engels said:

It seems that every workers’ party in a big country can develop only by inner struggle, in full conformity with the laws of dialectical development in general... To preach unity under such circumstances would be sheer folly. Moral preaching is of no avail against infantile diseases...

Don Wright of the RU echoed Klonsky’s views, saying: “...we know that a party must be built from the mass struggle and not in the abstract, that revolutionary forces must lead mass struggle and in the process become one with the masses.” Mr. Wright has since been exposed as an FBI agent.[10]

On another occasion Dorothy Healy said: “Offhand I would guess that the great majority of communists, maybe 60-70% of the Party, never got around to reading much of Marx or Lenin. The Trotskyites were so good at theoretical debates (sic) because they had more time to read; they weren’t doing the level of activity that we were.”[11]

The extreme right-winger Gates tried to avoid or extinguish the ideological struggle with the slogan: “Get to work.”[11]

These cheerleaders for the mass movement were wrong. Mass struggle and ideological struggle are two sides of the same coin. They are complementary. Neglecting the study of Marxism disarms the party members and makes it impossible for them to defeat Browderism.

The Fight Back Movement

The first problem with the idea of building the party in the course of mass struggle should have been obvious, namely that there was no mass struggle. The mass struggle was in decline.

Our Marxist-Leninist Don Quixotes proposed to remedy this deficiency by building a mass movement against the economic crisis. For this glorious task no advice could have been more appropriate than that offered by the Report of the 13th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party USA in October 1931: “Unemployment, already greater than at any time during the present economic crisis, continues to grow as a consequence of the still growing depth of the crisis and increasing rationalization, making work among the unemployed more than ever a central and urgent task.” And what’s more:

Both our own experience and the directives of the Communist International show that the correct organizational forms for such work among the unemployed are... the setting up of committees from among the unemployed... in the neighborhoods.[13]

This is exactly what the RU and the OL did. Exactly. We carried out the directives of the Communist International forty years after they were issued!

This document was the basis of the Fightback strategy. It had to be. That’s how RU and OL came up with committees that had the same names and the same demands as those raised by the CPUSA and the CI four decades earlier.

While the fightback strategy worked well in the thirties, it was inappropriate to the seventies because (1) the crisis was less severe and (2) there was no spontaneous response in the seventies partially because (3) the demands of the thirties, mainly the demand for unemployment insurance had already been met.

The Fight Back was a flop. All those stories in The Call about mass meetings, demonstrations, committees here and there were part fabrication part wishful thinking. There was no fighting response, spontaneous or organized, to the economic crisis during the seventies.

Worse than a flop. The Fight Back was counter-productive. False expectations foster demoralization. The burn-out that spread through CPML after the Founding Congress started with the Fight Back.

The Trade Union Question

The differences between the CPUSA and the RU and OL in the trade unions were exaggerated.

The RU wanted to “Jam the Unions” by which was implied intransigent opposition to the union leadership. In their usual charming way they denounced reformists as “Triple O’s”, i.e., opportunists out of office. In practice they often supported reformists including Ed Sadlowski of the United Steel Workers Association, whom the CPUSA also supported.

The OL initially took the same stand as the CPUSA, namely, the left-center coalition, which implied that communists should unite with various reformists. This meant that the reformists used the communists to do all the dirty work.

When we switched over to the class struggle unions line it became clear that the bureaucrats who had been unwilling to work with communists when the communists acted like reformists were equally unwilling to work with communists who advocated revolutionary class struggle.

Our isolation in the unions, as elsewhere, was also a function of the merger between liberalism and anti-communism with the widespread, almost universal fear and loathing of the Union of Soviet Social-Imperialists. This trap had been prepared by the CPUSA, first by their capitulation to HUAC, then by capitulation to Khrushchev and Brezhnev.

The Soviet Union was on the move. The CPUSA was correctly seen as an agent of the Soviets. In politics, to be branded as the agent of a foreign power is the kiss of death. The claim that the U.S. communists are agents of Moscow goes all the way back to the Thirties and there is a lot of truth to it. This was the price of affiliation to the Communist International.

These were not fascist unions. Most union officials were liberal Democrats. Not quite fascists, they were merely “the hand-maidens of fascism.”

The stranglehold of anti-communism over the U.S. working class in general and over the unions in particular in the 1970’s was unbreakable. The only tactic available to us was to play the role of a party of the extreme opposition, stand on the sidelines and heap abuse on all who played games with the Triple-O’s. This tactic was not acceptable to those who wanted to “be good at uniting with those who differ from us.” We were consigned, as the RU would say, to “kissing ass that should be kicked.”

The Woman Question

Another forum concerned the woman question and the Equal Rights Amendment. Everyone except RU supported the ERA. Speaking for the RU, Mary Lou Greenberg said: “The ERA is a direct blow at the working class by stripping away protective labor laws for women... hours limitations, weight lifting restrictions.... and free “late-night taxi rides for women who worked nights....” at the Bank of America.[14]

Speaking for the CPUSA in 1976 Carmen Ristorucci stated:“...the (ERA) would wipe out all special protective legislation for women on the basis of their being ’restrictive labor laws’, and simultaneously threaten to prohibit any future legislation setting specific conditions to guarantee equality for women.”[15]

Free late-night taxi rides for women were more important to the RU and the CPUSA than a constitutional amendment that guaranteed equal pay for equal work. Unlike RU, CPUSA dropped opposition to the ERA in 1978.

The National Question

Three positions, some would say two and a half, were advanced on the Afro-American National Question.

1) Alone or almost alone in the young communist movement, the October League (M-L) demanded Self-Determination for the Afro-American Nation.

Popular or not, self-determination for the Afro-American Nation is a mortal threat to the capitalist class. Only the concept of self-determination or revolutionary Black political power can unite the multi-national working class, unite the working class and the revolutionary segments of the Afro-American people and marginalize the sold-out elements among Black capitalists who are more interested in their own bank accounts than in Black liberation. The self-determination slogan has a special power at inflaming anti-communist instincts among the liberals. Self-determination for the Afro-American Nation is the key to socialist revolution in the U.S.A.

2) The main representative of the main danger asserted that Black Americans are “a nation of a new type,” a nation without a homeland or a nation for whom the matter of a homeland is not important. (Red Papers 5)[16]

There is no such thing as a nation without a homeland. There is no such thing as a nation without the right of self-determination. To speak about a “historically constituted stable body of people” without a homeland makes no sense. This slogan hides the fact that the view of the RU was that of the CPUSA.

The Nation of a New Type was Nonsense of a New Type.

3) Irwin Silber took the same stand as the CPUSA. He opposed self-determination.

Silber began by calling for more freedom of speech and for criticizing dogmatism. He said “...dogmatism undermines revolutionary theory every bit as much as pragmatism does. By making Marxism-Leninism into a dead ritual rather than a living science, they (dogmatists) discredit revolutionary theory... and provide ammunition for demagogues and bureaucrats alike.”[17]

In 1956 Eugene Dennis, standing in for Earl Browder, said: “One of the biggest lessons we American Marxists need to learn if we are to move ahead boldly, rapidly, and successfully... is the need to put an end to dogmatism.”[18]

Silber declared himself an anti-dogmatist. He should have declared himself an anti-Leninist since Lenin argued explicitly against Silber’s position in “Dogmatism and ’Freedom of Criticism, ’ which is the first chapter of What Is To Be Done?.

Lenin said: “What this ’new’ trend, which adopts a ’critical’ attitude towards ’obsolete dogmatic’ Marxism, represents has with sufficient precision been stated by Bernstein, and demonstrated by Millerand.

Lenin said that according to the anti-dogmatists: “Social-Democracy must change from a party of the social revolution into a party of social reforms....”[19]

Dennis, standing in for Browder, proved that Lenin was right by saying: “In this connection (the anti-dogmatic position–ed.) it is incumbent on us to re-appraise our whole position on self-determination in the Black Belt.” Dennis “re-appraised our position” by exchanging the revolutionary demand of self-determination under the dictatorship of the working class for the reformist dream of equal rights for all under the dictatorship of the capitalist class.[20]

Silber also re-appraised our whole position on self-determination. His trick was to narrow the definition of “nation” in such a way that Black America would never qualify. Unlike Josef Stalin, Silber requires that every nation not only have a common territory but that it comprise a majority in its homeland, not only a common language but one that is distinct from its neighbors, not only a common economic life but one which is distinct from the others as well.

Silber’s definition requires that every nation comprise a majority in its historical homeland. This new definition eliminates the rights of smaller, less populous, minority nations since they do not comprise a majority in their homeland. According to this definition the Native American people, who once comprised an absolute majority from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego are no longer a nation or nations because they are no longer a majority in their homeland.

Silber opposes the Comintern Resolution on grounds that Afro-Americans are less extensive and a smaller part of the population in the Deep South than they were in 1930. This fact only proves that the Black Nation is geographically smaller than before. It does not prove that the Afro-American Nation, sometimes known as the Republic of New Africa, does not exist. A glance at any map of Black population in the US will show that the Black Nation is intact in the Black Belt South.

The Black Belt exists. Any map which shows poverty rates by county, Food Stamp participation rates, obesity rates, rates of incarceration or educational achievement will verify this claim. About forty percent of the beneficiaries of this fine system are not Black and almost one hundred percent are paid less than their class brothers and sisters in the rest of the country. This is the stench of the plantation.

Silber said that Blacks cannot be regarded as a nation because they speak the same language as white people. Stalin said otherwise:

A common language for every nation, but not necessarily different languages for different nations![21]

Silber’s got this language matter completely upside down. What’s important is not that Black Americans speak the same language as white Americans. What’s important is that Black Americans speak English while Africans do not. By acquiring English as a common language in contrast to the African languages that they spoke when captured the slaves became a new nation distinct from their ancestors. This is a key feature in the emergence of the Afro-American people as a nation in the Black Belt South.

Silber declined to mention the fifth characteristic of nationality, “a common psychological outlook manifested in a common culture.” This “common psychological outlook” brought forth the Back to Africa Movement in the ’Twenties and in the ’Sixties it gave rise to the Black Panther Party for Self-Defence and the All-African Peoples’ Revolutionary Party and it united a number of Black American Communists into the young communist movement. This common psychological outlook is a definitive characteristic of the Afro-American Nation and its expression was “Black Power!”

Like the CPUSA, Silber opposed the Black Power movement. He said: “Clearly a response to a white supremacist society whose hypocritical pretensions to “enlightenment” were confounded by the daily reality of racist oppression, Black nationalism continues to be a significant and possibly a still dominant trend among the Black masses.”[22]

Historical experience contradicts Silber’s position. The CPUSA outflanked and outwitted the narrow nationalists of the NAACP in Scottsboro under the formula of self-determination. Self-determination enabled the CP to build the Sharecropper’s Union, which united white and Black in one organization in Alabama. This was revolutionary. Northern industry was not unionized until the CP raised the slogan of self-determination for the Afro-American Nation mainly in the South and also organized both white and Black into the same unions in the north.

Unionization and integration occurred simultaneously. This speaks highly of the class consciousness of both white and Black workers and it shows the weakness of racial prejudice in America when the national question is raised in a revolutionary manner, as a matter of life and death for the working class.

Silber’s worries about the negative effects of nationalism also ignores the history of the Vietnam War. In Vietnam the Black Power slogan was absolutely decisive in uniting an overwhelming majority of Black troops and a substantial number of whites and Latinos against the war and against the pig power structure. Black Power is a nationalist slogan. Moaning and groaning about narrow nationalism like Silber does ignores the proven incendiary potential of Black revolutionary dynamite.

Silber continued: “This, of course, underscores the task of the communists, who, while seeing the progressive aspect of Black nationalism and uniting with it, cannot simply merge Marxism-Leninism with nationalism. The job of a revolutionary movement in the U.S. is to so conduct the struggle for democratic rights and against national oppression–particularly in winning the white workers to this struggle–as to help lay the basis for working class unity in the struggle against capital.”

Silber has got it all backwards. He says that communists “cannot simply merge Marxism-Leninism with nationalism.” The two are inter-twined and they cannot be separated. Frederick Engels said as much in his letter to Karl Kautsky on February 7, 1882: “I therefore hold the view that two nations in Europe have not only the right but even duty to be nationalistic before they become internationalistic: the Irish and the Poles. They are most internationalistic when they are genuinely nationalistic. The Poles understood this during all crises and have proved it on all the battlefields of the revolution. Deprive them of the prospect of restoring Poland or convince them that the new Poland will soon drop into their lap by herself, and it is all over with their interest in the European revolution.”[23]

Almost a century after Engels wrote to Kautsky, Jim Hamilton opened the present discussion by saying: “Especially in the advanced capitalist countries, communist and other left parties are coming to grips with a number of major problems in their work. Chief among these problems, or questions, is why has there never been a successful socialist revolution in the advanced capitalist world?”[24]

Aside from the role of people like Herr Hitler, Nikita S. Khrushchev and Earl Browder the credit for this stalemate on the western front lies in the settlement after World War II. By dismembering Germany and compromising Poland the imperialists cast the USSR in the role of aggressor and de-railed the class struggle in Europe. As long as Germany was divided and Poland was occupied, and the Soviets were blamed for it, the communists in Europe and the US did not stand a chance.[25]

The answer to Hamilton is that history has not ended and Marxism has not been disproven. The lesson for Silber is that nationalism is part of the class struggle. Sometimes nationalism is primary and the class struggle is secondary.

It is impossible to separate Marxism-Leninism from revolutionary nationalism. Communists unite with revolutionary nationalism even if that implies concessions to the nationalists because this is the key to uniting the nation and the class.

The national question is a particular form of the class question and the national liberation movement is one aspect of the struggle against imperialism. The distinctive political contribution of Mao Ze Dong was the theory of New Democracy. New Democracy teaches us that the struggle for national independence is part of the struggle against imperialism. By opposing dogmatism Silber came out against Lenin; by opposing nationalism he came out against both Engels and Mao Ze Dong.

A few years later the CPUSA amplified Silber’s position, saying: “Nationalism is always the playground of the bourgeoisie and nationalism is the polar opposite of internationalism....Marxism-Leninism reminds us that the main function of nationalism, whatever its form, is to split, divide and fragment the international working class....”[26]

The history of the US communist movement shows that the communist position has been popular only when the communists upheld the right of self-determination for the Afro-American nation. When the CPUSA dropped the slogan of self-determination, the workers, both Black and white, dropped the CPUSA. This fact is decisive.

Stripped of its rhetoric, Silber’s advice might be seen as a plan of action for us white male college graduates. Following his advice, we would have gone to the factories and told our Caucasian brothers and sisters that they be ignorant, under-educated and prejudiced and do not know their true interests, that they are, in the words of Hillary Clinton, deplorable. Then we should have gone to the ’hood and told people like Stokely Carmichael, Fred Hampton and Harry Haywood, that they be too uppity.

That’s what the CPUSA did and this goes far toward explaining the popularity of the CPUSA among workers of all nationalities. It also helps explain the strength of anti-communism, reformism and white supremacy.

Irwin Silber skillfully defended the line of the CPUSA for a long time. He caused a lot of problems for the October League.

Harry Haywood

Haywood’s biography shows what can happen when an advanced worker encounters both the mass movement and “the correct ideas characteristic of the advanced class.” Only a radical, defiant, revolutionary position appeals to people like Haywood. Haywood’s rise to leadership was a function of his education at KUVTA. One of the main keys to building a party is to systematically educate advanced workers in the art and science of revolution. This takes time and it cannot be done by running them around day and night as errand boys for the Central Committee.

Lovestone and the Trotskyists opposed Haywood’s position on self-determination before it had even been tested in practice. They were only the first of many, including Browder, who opposed Haywood’s position long after practice had proven it to be instrumental both in uniting the U.S. working class and in advancing the cause of Black Americans.

Black Bolshevik is more than autobiography; it is the starting point for all further analysis of the U.S. communist movement.

Marijuana Hell

OL members were not supposed to smoke weed. We did not want to get busted for a non-political crime. So we adopted as policy – an oxymoron. Non-political crime, like nation without a homeland, is self-contradictory. This policy did more to isolate CPML than did, for instance, our disagreements with the union leaders who often conspired with the companies to get us fired for smoking pot. By failing to oppose the War on Drugs the CPML turned its back on the most advanced workers in the factories at that time. CPML inherited the policy of opposition to marijuana and the hippies directly from Brezhnev and the CPUSA.

The Expulsion of Martin Nicolaus

This disgraceful affair was carried out behind closed doors, mainly in Chicago. We in the provinces were not presented with the facts; we were presented with a fait accompli. Nicolaus’ side of the story only came out years later when EROL published his article, “Marxism or Klonskyism.”[27]

The dispute began over the article “On Building the Party Among the Masses” by Barry Litt.

Nicolaus reports that he opposed publication of the article without some sort of disclaimer because it put forward a rightist view on the definition of advanced worker. He said that Litt’s view was similar to that of Chairman Avakian.

Avakian had defined as “advanced” the workers “...who provide leadership in the struggle...even if the individual professes some anti-communism.”[28]

Litt proposed instead to recruit the workers who “...respond most rapidly and easily to the ideas of socialism...and...are most active and dedicated to the cause of the proletariat.” Even though this worker “...has not considered himself a socialist, .... has had relatively little intellectual training, ...has not recognized that…capitalism is the source of his oppression; (but) is a strong class fighter and reflects a high level of consciousness in practice.”[29]

The difference between these two is that Litt wants to recruit a worker who knows little or nothing about socialism so long as he is sufficiently active while Avakian would recruit even an anti-communist on the same condition.

Lenin’s idea, which Litt himself quoted, identified the advanced as those workers “who devote themselves entirely to the education and organization of the proletariat, who accept socialism consciously, and who even elaborate independent socialist theories.”

That’s not enough for Mr. Litt. He says that prospective leaders of working class must be “the most active and dedicated class fighters”... who can be... “found in the thick of the class struggle.” Fighting discrimination of women and minorities, etc., etc... In other words, loud mouths; add money and they turn into shop stewards.

Litt’s double-talk only proves one thing, as he said himself: “The test (of an advanced worker and potential party member) is not Lenin’s.” No, it is not Lenin’s. It is Gates’. It embodies Gates’ view that theory and principle is unimportant. This is exactly the theory and practice of the CPUSA. It is the practice of Browder and it caused massive turnover in the CPUSA as Litt pointed out later in the same article and as Litt should have known from his own experience in Los Angeles.

Those who might have expected Chairman Klonsky to clarify the difference between advanced workers and anti-communists were disappointed. His response was to denounce as a right opportunist the comrade who had identified the right opportunist in the first place. And that was Martin Nicolaus. Nicolaus was charged with five transgressions:

1) Said Chairman Klonsky, “Nicolaus claimed that hardly any advanced workers exist and that party building must go through a stage of agitation before the Party can be built.”

Actually it was Litt who said that advanced workers “represent a very small strata in our movement,” etc It was not Nicolaus but Litt who said “The newspaper must combine propaganda and agitation. Primarily it should be agitational.”[30]

Litt’s was correct that there were few advanced workers in “our movement,” or in the whole USA, but this view was not advanced by Nicolaus. And Nicolaus said nothing about a stage of agitation before the party could be built. He correctly advised against hastening to declare the party prematurely.

2) Chairman Klonsky also pointed out “Rather than relying on the working class, Nicolaus argued that we should rely on the liberal bourgeoisie because the workers and minorities were not ready to play their role in the revolution at this time.”[31]

What Nicolaus said was about uniting with liberals was:

Provided the proper conditions exist, such alliances are entirely permissible, consistent with Marxist-Leninist principles, and even obligatory. Those who take an absolutist stance against alliances with bourgeois leaders of the working class, as does the Klonsky circle, are depriving the Party of the proletariat of one of the indispensable weapons in its arsenal for exposing the liberals and building the leadership of Marxist-Leninists. To reject tactical alliances with bourgeois leaders “on principle,” to howl and shout that such alliances amount to “alliance with the liberal wing of the U.S. imperialists,” to forget altogether about the difference between tactics and strategy – all these stratagems of the Klonsky circle are nothing more than another form of abandoning the battlefield, of capitulation to bourgeois leadership.”[32] (Marxism or Klonskyism, EROL)

3) Nicolaus was accused of promoting an unholy “future alliance with the US against the USSR.”[33]

Nicolaus’ notes do not indicate that he was so far-sighted. What he said was perfectly in keeping with the line of the Central Committee: “In the face of the threatened war between the two superpowers, certain people show a complete lack of faith in the forces of revolution. Anti-imperialist unity is impossible! Marxism-Leninism is impossible! So they reason, and conclude: we must enlist with the one superpower or the other.”[34]

There is no proof that Nicolaus advocated “a future alliance with the US against the USSR.”

There is proof that the Communist Party of China advocated such an alliance. There is proof that the CPUSA advocated an alliance with the US bourgeoisie against the Nazi-fascist beast. And there is proof that those who opposed that alliance were righteously denounced by Earl Browder and others as Trotskyites. Of this fact Chairman Klonsky could hardly been unaware.

4) The CPUSA has a tradition of denouncing political opponents as racist or national chauvinist. In this respect Chairman Klonsky followed in the footsteps of his forbears, saying that Nicolaus’ “chauvinist stand on the Afro-American national question and other national minority questions ran throughout all his work.”[35]

As a matter of fact Nicolaus’ paper explicitly endorsed our stand for self-determination. “In one or a few areas of its work, a sufficient level exists for doing effective propaganda, in the precise sense. This is the case chiefly on the Afro-American national question; one can almost say it is on the Afro-American question exclusively. Even here, unsettled theoretical problems remain, notably the relation between the struggle for the right of self-determination and the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat.”[36]

5) Nicolaus was also accused of being a Browderite and opposing the dictatorship of the proletariat. What Nicolaus said was “... that the Party’s chief task from its inception as a Party is to prepare the ground of public opinion in favor of the future revolutionary storm that will establish the dictatorship of the proletariat, and to refute all notions that there is no possibility of doing so, that the masses are too backward to hear such ideas, that there is no fertile soil for such seeds to take root, etc. etc.”[37]

Nicolaus’ position did not amount to Browderism. But lying, cheating, stealing and stabbing in the back certainly does.

So Nicolaus was expelled. Klehr, Burstein and Davidson soon wrote articles against him much as Foster and Thompson and others wrote articles against Browder in 1945 when the Duclos letter was published. This unity collapsed at the Second Congress when the individual whose article started the controversy in the first place criticized the CPML for ultra-leftism and proposed to replace our program in its entirety.

The OL traded a first-rate intellectual for a second-rate lawyer. Chairman Klonsky enthusiastically supported the expulsion of Nicolaus. You might even say that he orchestrated it. He had nursed a viper to his breast.

Founding Congress

The Founding Congress of the CPML was a farce. The level of discussion was abysmal; it was dismal. There was no debate over any issue; all disagreement had been sanitized in advance. Unanimity prevailed. At one point the Chairman himself mocked the proceedings from the podium.

The Chairman’s palaver was long and pedantic. He discussed everything from Marx’s dispute with Kriege to the dangers of Titoite revisionism. Obfuscation through erudition.

Several errors should be identified:

1) “... the Party must base itself primarily on secret forms of organization.” With this announcement the Chairman completed the task that was begun by the Weather Fools, i.e., that of inviting the FBI to spy on the CPML. In a bourgeois democracy the trick is for communists to take advantage of legality while preparing for a change in conditions. In the CPML as in the CPUSA, secret forms of organization mainly functioned to limit debate and to attract police agents.
2) “The massive struggles now being waged against the decaying capitalist system must be given consciousness and communist leadership so that every illusion about a capitalist solution is driven into dust beneath the feet of marching workers.” There was no massive struggle, nor feet nor marching workers.
3) Then the Chairman went in for a little alarmism, asserting that World War III was on the horizon. “A concrete study of concrete conditions shows that a new world war is inevitable...The rate of war preparations is so rapid now that there is no possibility of civil war and the victory of socialism heading off the war. Therefore, our task becomes one of transforming the inevitable superpower war into a revolutionary war.”
4) Then the Chairman smuggled in, without attribution, Martin Nicolaus’ critique of Barry Litt’s new and revised definition of advanced worker. “Recruitment must be carried out with great care....New members must be recruited on a sound Marxist-Leninist basis, etc., etc.”[38]

The Rout

The CPML had been cobbled together through a series of compromises. It was soon in full retreat, soliciting the support of preachers and rabbis as could be seen in “A Party for Revolution – A Party for Religious Freedom.”[39] (The Call, Vol.8, No. 8, Oct, 1979)

Unsigned, it was punctuated by the bad grammar characteristic of the Chairman whose horizons now encompassed not only Marx’s dispute with Kriege but the works of Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch and Polybius as well. The religious leaders with whom the Chairman proposed to unite were the so-called liberation theologists or Christian Marxists and their headquarters was in not in Jerusalem; it was in Moscow.

Just as there are misleaders and reactionaries from among the clergy, there are also the freedom fighters.
We encourage all religious individuals to take part with us in the common struggle for freedom, and we never make it a prerequisite that they give up or change their religious convictions ...The CPML condemns the sectarianism and “leftism” of groups like the so-called Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) who fail to subordinate the struggle between Marxism and religion to the struggle of the working class against oppression as a whole.”[40]

This was a far cry from “Pity poor Johnson, he needed a Thompson,” a poem from The Call which immortalized a worker who shot his boss.

A little folksy grammar, a little bait-and-switch. There is a big difference between the struggle of Marxists against religion on the one hand and the struggle between “the working class and oppression as a whole” on the other. Should the working class party fail to outwit the clergy it will never overcome “oppression as a whole.”

Eh, professor? And since when is it the historical task of the proletariat to “overcome oppression as a whole.” I thought we wanted to smash the bourgeoisie and oppress them until they cease to exist.

By June of 1980 the rout was on. Led by Silber, rightists and centrists outside the Party stepped up their attack. An open right wing emerged inside the CPML. All agreed that ultra-leftism was the root cause of our difficulties.

In an article that might have been written by Irwin Silber the Chairman cuddled up to the right wingers, saying : “The main criticism and self-criticism that is being voiced is against ultra-leftism and doctrinaire thinking....” And “It is clear that the Party’s trade union work ... was established on too narrow a basis, with sectarian policies towards the unions and their leadership...”[41]

Refusal to unite with the AFL-CIA was ultra-leftism. Implementing a CI directive from forty years ago was running ahead of the masses. And the leadership which “takes self-criticism seriously” never made any self-criticism.

The Chairman reserved a special contempt for his own gullible membership. Repeating his speech at the Guardian Forum in 1973 we were advised: “The youthfulness of the contemporary Marxist-Leninist movement, along with the large influx of students and revolutionary intellectuals, has laid a basis for ultra-left radicalism as well.” Ultra-left radicalism, not revisionism, eh, Professor?

This is outrageous. It blames the rank-and-file for the mistakes of the Central Committee.

The OL was built by revolutionary intellectuals. Some came from the petty bourgeoisie, some from the big bourgeoisie. That’s a good thing. It shows that some of the bourgeoisie are capable of thinking and have a sense of justice. That’s more than you can say for some leaders of the CPML.

Davidson suggests that the Chairman’s contempt for the membership was paid back in kind. He reports that some comrades “...tended to be... sympathetic to Burstein (of the extreme right wing anti-Party faction – ed.) simply because he was opposed to the incumbents.”[42] It was exactly this sentiment which motivated the initial response of the “comrade from Seattle.”

Most of our comrades were hard-working and well-disciplined. They gave generously of their time and money. For them to be insulted in this manner is boorish.

And ludicrous. Just as the Chairman was chastising revolutionary intellectuals for ultra-leftism Irwin Silber was organizing revolutionary intellectuals against ultra-leftism, against the CPML, against Marxism-Leninism and against the Chairman himself, all under the slogan of anti-dogmatism. Twice ludicrous, because a certain Russian intellectual had written a whole book in favor of dogmatism.

The failure of the young communist movement was not caused by too many intellectuals. It was caused by too few. The intellectual level of the discussion was abysmal; it was dismal. Pseudo-intellectuals and ersatz revolutionaries make both right and left errors.

The overt right wingers were not placated. While the Chair tried to limit the struggle to a small circle of friends the rightists demanded a Second Congress to repudiate everything that had been unanimously approved at the Founding Congress.

The Second or Kangaroo Congress

The Second and final Congress of the CPML was little more than an ideological necktie party. The left-wingers were apparently afforded as much a chance to defend their position as Martin Nicolaus had been given to defend his. Even Haywood was censored.

If the Chairman himself was not capable of defending the Party program, there were other comrades who could ordinarily have done the job. But years of issuing directives, collecting dues and expelling renegades had taken their toll. Challenged by a tenacious and wily group of right-wingers, the leftists were out-maneuvered. So they capitulated. First Burstein, then Klehr, then Klonsky.

It was at this point that Barry Litt showed himself to be a liar.[43] He had previously, according to Davidson, claimed to support the Party Program. Now, with the crisis at a head, he stepped forward as a spokesman for the anti-Party faction. By his own admission, this group was confused, poorly trained, inarticulate and discouraged. With a few cops mixed in for good measure.

Nothing unprincipled about that, eh, counsellor?

That’s why we said that when Klonsky expelled Nicolaus to recruit Litt he nursed a viper to his breast. Klonsky got exactly what he deserved.

Shortly after the Kangaroo Congress Mr. Barry Litt issued a paper called “What the Right is Demanding.” He called for “...a broad, democratic American socialist organization...” which “... must not proclaim its ’universal principles’” ... but instead should advance “a concrete, popular and relevant program of struggle.”[44]

This position makes no distinction between communists and non-communists or even between communists and anti-communists. It goes beyond tailing the mass movement to dissolving the communists into the mass movement. In fact it is a fascist position because it advocates the destruction of the communist party.

Litt’s position had already been advanced in 1944 by none other than Earl Browder himself when he said: “American Communists ae relinquishing for an extended period the struggle for partisan advancement for themselves as a separate group which is the main characteristic of a political party. The Communists foresee that the practical political aims they hold will for a long time be in agreement on all essential points with the aims of a much larger body of non-Communists, and that therefore our political actions will be merged in such larger movements. The existence of a separate political party of Communists, therefore, no longer serves a practical purpose but can be, on the contrary, an obstacle to the larger unity.”[45]

There you have it – straight from the horse’s mouth!

At the beginning of this paper we characterized Browderism as opposed to Marxism-Leninism, the vanguard party, armed struggle, the dictatorship of the proletariat, self-determination for the Afro-American nation and democratic centralism. We argued that Browderism over-emphasizes reformism and economism.

Litt’s paper tacitly or openly embraced six of those seven points.

Six out of seven ain’t bad for a lawyer. Litt only forgot to repudiate the need for armed struggle. But that would have been going too far, eh Danny?

This is the same Barry Litt whose article about destroying the Party among the masses criticized the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party for failing to endorse the dictatorship of the proletariat in 1898!

Among the post-mortems it has been argued that the CPML failed because of democratic centralism. This is wrong. There was nothing democratic about the CPML. Like the CPUSA under Browder, the CPML operated on the basis of dictatorial centralism.

The Second Congress of the CPML was like a re-run of the Sixteenth (?) Congress of the CPUSA. Browder’s line prevailed in both cases and in both cases the results were the same. Both parties were destroyed.

This paper has shown that the CPML was destroyed by Browderism and right opportunism, not by ultra-leftism. Failure to understand this will make it impossible to build a new party.

By quoting the words of Chairman Klonsky, Barry Litt and Irwin Silber we have shown that the line of “uniting with those who differ from you” leads right back to where it started from, which is the Central Committee of the CPUSA.

Just goes to show how fast things can go downhill when you start building the party in the heat of class struggle without studying Marxism or engaging in principled ideological struggle. Kind of like building a house without reading the blueprints.

Same game, another name.

Once as tragedy. Twice as farce.


[1] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-7/hamilton-article.htm and https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-7/hamilton-again.htm.

[2] https://keywiki.org/Susan_Klonsky

[3] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-3/lmlu.htm

[4] Lenin, What Is To Be Done?

[5] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-2/g-1-silber.htm

[6] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-2/g-1-ol.htm

[7] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-4/fan-flames.htm

[8] https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1926/11/22.htm

[9] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-2/g-1-ol.htm

[10] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-2/g-1-ru.htm and www.jacobinmag.com/2018/08/FBI-infiltration-new-left-aoki-SDS...

[11] Healy, Dorothy and Isserman, Maurice, Dorothy Healy Remembers: A Life in the American Communist Party, 1990.

[12] Haywood, Black Bolshevik, pg. 617-619

[13] The Communist, Vol. X, No.9, October 1931

[14] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-2/g-3-greenberg.htm

[15] Political Affairs, March 1976

[16] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-8/red-papers-5/new-type.htm

[17] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-8/silber-nat-question.htm

[18] Political Affairs, Vol. XXXV, No. 6, June,1956.

[19] Lenin, What Is To Be Done?

[20] Political Affairs, Vol. XXXV, No. 6, June,1956.

[21] https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1913/03a.

[22] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-8/silber-nat-question.htm

[23] https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1882/letters/82_02_07.htm

[24] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-7/hamilton-article.htm

[25] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalin Note; D.S. Clemens, Yalta Oxford University Press, 1970; and, C. Eisenberg, Drawing the Line: The American Decision to Divide Germany, 1945-49, Cambridge University Press, 1997.

[26] James Jackson, Political Affairs, September 1977

[27] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-3/nicolaus/index.htm

[28] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/periodicals/class-struggle-us/lmlu.htm

[29] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/periodicals/class-struggle-us/lmlu.htm

[30] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-3/ol-press.htm

[31] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-3/nicolaus/index.htm

[32] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-3/nicolaus/index.htm

[33] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-3/ol-nicolaus.htm

[34] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/periodicals/class-struggle-us/ol-havana.htm

[35] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-3/ol-press.htm

[36] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-3/nicolaus/index.htm

[37] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-3/nicolaus/index.htm

[38] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-3/CP-founding/political.htm

[39] The Call, Vol. 8 No.8, Oct 1979

[40] Ibid.

[41] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-5/klonsky-3-years.htm

[42] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-5/davidson-CP.htm

[43] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-7/davidson-CP.htm

[44] https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-7/litt-CPML.htm

[45] Browder, Earl S., Teheran: Our Path in War and Peace, 1944.