Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

A Defense of Leninism

Issued: 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Author’s Note (June 20, 2004): The following polemic was written in 1981 in response to two articles written by Barry Litt published in The Call, the journal of the Communist Party Marxist-Leninist (CPM-L). The CPM-L was one of the handful of Marxist-Leninist formations that emerged out of the student movement and new left in the 1960s. It, like several other organizations, believed that the Communist Party USA was ineffective and no longer revolutionary and that a new revolutionary communist party needed to be created to build the revolutionary movement in the US. In the late 1970s, the CPM-L like several other similar organizations, went into decline and later fell apart due to weak leadership, a weak political foundation, and influence by the state. In the period of decline, there were a number of leaders, like Litt, who deeply questioned the main elements of Marxist Leninist influence on the American left. There was a similar debate taking place in most of the revolutionary organizations that had emerged out of the new left. This discussion was unsuccessful in reversing the decline and collapse of most of the organizations. A few organizations survived and remained small, marginal, and sectarian and not a helpful framework for Marxists who were deeply integrated in the mass movement, particularly the labor movement. Many, like the author of this paper, remained active and committed but without organization.

Author’s Note (1981): The following article is a polemic criticizing Barry Litt’s paper, “What Road for the CPM-L?”. It was written by a labor activist/leader on the East coast in the consumer goods industry.

* * *

Unfortunately, I am an independent Marxist-Leninist (M-L) who is active in the trade union movement. I am proud to be a M-L, committed and glad to be active in the trade union movement, but an independent not by choice. My independence is a product of the growing fragmentation and splintering of the revolutionary movement.

For the last year or two I have read The Call as well as other papers and been in contact with activists from the CPML and Revolutionary Workers Headquarters (RWH), pursuing discussions and common work with the objective or raising our level of unity. Like other independents, I looked with hope to the unity trend and to organizations like the CPML assuming that their larger size, depth of contact nationally and internationally and their history would allow them to maintain some stability during the course of rectification and enable them to provide an organizational framework for effective work by M-Ls in various spheres of activity.

In the last 6 months, my interest in the debates and contending views reflected in The Call and among cadre has turned to alarm. In the context of the struggle against various forms of left opportunism and a genuine effort to expose and root out the glaring weaknesses of our trend, a new trend has emerged. This trend, unless defeated, threatens not only the potential for broader unity which has been created by the rectification process, but puts all M-Ls and revolutionaries on shaky ground in a very dangerous period. This emerging line is best represented by the paper, “What Road for the CPML” by B.L. but has been reflected in other articles and views in the CALL and elsewhere. This line, in explicitly challenging the legitimacy of Leninism as Marxism in the era of imperialism, offers the hope of effective revolutionary work in a gentle, patient, easy going atmosphere of comradely discussion. It tries to give definition and focus to the frustration and demoralization we all have felt at some point in the last few years. It offers a “way out” to the demands of the struggle as we have seen it.

Does the approach of BL really solve our problems and lay the basis for unity?

From my experience in the practical and organizational struggle in the Civil Rights movement, student, anti-war, and labor movement over the last 17 years, this line, if victorious, would set us back for years and it won’t work! It won’t solve our problems in our mass work, it will not create militant disciplined unity in our movement. It will further lower our prestige in the eyes of the people to even greater depths verifying that we have the best of intentions but only puny abilities to overcome the layers of oppression, exploitation, and misery that cover us all. It represents the honest and logical extension of a strata who would prefer a debating circle of academics and professional intellectuals as opposed to the harsh complicated struggle between classes in diametric opposition to each other. It takes the revolutionary content out of M-L allowing comfort for those who can choose comfort because of their interests, background, and training; leaving those who don’t have those options up the creek without the paddle.

In the recent period, polemics have become unpopular with some of our comrades who would prefer not to read, much less write. One of the important products of the rectification period has been the broad recognition that the period of party declaration which spawned the CPML, Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), and others was incorrect and premature. Our job then and our job now is to be thorough and painstaking in preparing the conditions for the formation of a genuine party. Criticizing our line is not enough. There must be a change in our understanding our tasks and responsibilities. Ideological struggle and the clash of ideas is a necessary pre-condition for real unity. Guarding against sectarianism and dogmatism are critical but cannot become an obstacle to the contention of views. Currently the views that are emerging reflect antagonistic views that require the defeat of one by the other. Spontaneously, the incomplete struggle around ultra-leftism and the growing emergence of a right opportunist line has fueled the growing tendency to fragmentation resulting in cadres leaving organizations, leaving mass work, losing confidence in revolutionary Marxism-Leninism, and so forth. It is essential to sharpen the ideological struggle to allow firm resolution of these contradictions and to reduce the casualties in the current struggle. Recognizing that the M-L movement is broader than one party or a couple of organizations, it is important that the struggle is in written form allowing more to participate.

In facing this period, we all have the responsibility to participate and contribute our two bits to the building of an organizational foundation that will permit us to operate effectively and professionally as M-Is. We don’t have the luxury of unlimited time. Our opponents are feeling their strength, planning their battles against us, and starting the skirmishes. Ready or not here they come. In this spirit, I submit my “two bits”.


My anger to his approach comes not from the M-L polemics I have read or from my grasp of how his vies stand in opposition to the science of M-L. My anger comes first from my own experience with all its costly mistakes and fragile advances in the trade union movement over the last 11 or 12 years. Ideas contained in his polemic reflect the section of our movement which has stood outside or only superficially touched work in the industrial working class or oppressed masses where our party of the future must be able to claim its greatest strength and influence and whose orientation must guide us in all spheres of work. When many in our movement left the campuses in the 1960s and entered the working class, a common position defined our task as creating an “anti-imperialist” workers movement which would rise from the various kinds of support committees and anti-imperialist caucuses we tried unsuccessfully to build. This left idealist approach encouraged some activists and organizations to look with disdain on the daily skirmishes with capital around the terms of the sale of labor power or with the complicated struggles within the unions in favor or purer political positions and big issues required by a “correct anti-imperialist stand”. The result was isolation and the regular demonstrations of our weaknesses. One of the best models of this approach was the Revolutionary Union – later the RCP – with its mechanical application of “Five Spearheads of Struggle” and its “spark theory” which built dreams in cadre’s heads that if they persisted in the right kind of action it would soon spread like a “prairie fire”.

Our job then as is now was to correctly identify and link with the existing spontaneous movement on all its different levels and give it a planned conscious character – leading it to victory in achieving its short range objectives and struggling on a variety of levels to link it to the broader struggle against capital. This approach would lead us into a broad range of struggles from trying to organize a union of unskilled and un-politicized workers in a small electronics plant to working with the relatively advanced political caucuses in basic auto and steel; to engaging in the various campaigns for office in the international unions like the Mineworker’s Union, the Steelworkers, the Autoworkers, and others.

Having recognized the importance of taking up and leading the day to day struggles as part of our communist responsibilities, I as did many others, learned some harsh lessons in the late sixties and early 70s about what was required to achieve success in just basic trade union battles. These are lessons that have real importance for us today. Prior to this it was easy being a communist – you opposed everything reactionary, made some efforts to rap to people; your politics were worn like a badge; and you felt comfortable as part of a tiny isolated opposition group because you knew you were right. Unfortunately there are still many of us who tolerate these attitudes today. This was also a safe position to be in as companies and the state and trade union bureaucrats didn’t view us as a threat as our infantilism always provided many opportunities to isolate and get rid of us, or to discredit the positive aspects of our ideas.

Once I began to take up the day-to-day struggle in a serious manner, this began to change and my lessons were learned by costly defeats. In one plant, I helped form a caucus that took on the union bureaucrats and their sweetheart deals with the company. As a caucus with influence particularly among the younger and Black workers, we grew large quickly and took on a campaign to replace the union with another union we knew would provide better representation. In the course of this struggle our opposition – the company, the International union, and the state – consolidated their forces and did a job on us. The union we opposed, when faced with the possible loss of its income from the dues money, resorted to tactics common in their world and startling to us. Guns were pulled on occasion, people were threatened, and full-time professional organizers were bought in against us.

The government through its extensive infiltration and surveillance on the movement at that time, made easy through our inexperience and amateurishness, kept its eyes on us. I have read the documents released under the Freedom Of Information Act that reflected regular discussion and joint analysis by the FBI and the company on all aspects of our work and contacts. This and other information indicated an agent in the collective I was part of as well as extensive surveillance by the company and police. As we started to gain strength, these experienced intelligence organizations went to work. An older Black worker who had some rapport with a number of our caucus members was recruited by the company and union and infiltrated our caucus. Relying on our looseness and “lack of experience, he soon became the chairman. At the critical height of our campaign, he openly broke with us, passed out leaflets supporting the other side, and red-baited the leftists. He lost friends but he still neutralized and confused many who were politically and emotionally unprepared to deal with that level of struggle. We lost the campaign, our caucus lost its active mass following, and a few months later, myself and another leader were fired.

What was the impact? Two or three years of work were expended resulting in defeat. Disillusionment and cynicism among the workers was increased. The integrity of Marxism and Marxists was further tarnished. Today the conditions at the plant are worse than they were then, and adding insult to injury, the old union still colludes with the company and enjoys no organized opposition.

What were the general lessons I learned? First was my superficial grasp of M-L in relation to the trade union struggles. This was reflected in the left errors which led to trying to oust the “impure” union rather than taking up the protracted struggle to take it over and launching our “offensive” without adequate objective and subjective conditions. Second, was our weaknesses in developing a secure nuclear style of work with thorough attention paid to developing the advanced which would of allowed us to develop a trained core of leaders better capable of sustaining the attacks by the union and company and which would have permitted sustaining the struggle over a long period despite losses and ebbs in the struggle. A third factor was an underestimation of the role of the state, an underestimation of the collusion between the union and company and their mutual determination to break our influence, and an underestimation of the lengths they would go to in order to do this.

Within a few years I had the opportunity to apply the lessons I learned from my mistakes with good results. Over a period of time, I was able to build a core of relatively advanced workers and independent Marxists, which was able to launch and lead a successful struggle to unionize the plant. (This was another plant) The core itself was selected very carefully, was completely secret, and united on the study of M-L as well as giving conscious direction to the day-to-day struggle. Over a relatively long period of time, the core initiated a broader caucus and organizing committee and was critical to sustaining a correct orientation of the broader forms. Unlike my earlier experience, when it came time for an offensive, the conditions were well prepared and the outcome was successful. This victory laid the basis for gaining formal leadership within the local, which in turn provided the basis for playing an active role in the reform struggle within the union as a whole. At some point, the state, the company, and the union have become aware of the role of the conscious element but the accumulated victories and organized strength have made me far less vulnerable and capable of withstanding attack at least for the time being.

In this general description of my work over the last 10 years, I have summarized some of the positive and negative lessons learned in the course of achieving some limited success in TU work. Its significance to this polemic is that the need for protracted conscious, conspiratorial, disciplined activity and a Leninist approach was required just to achieve a small advance in the trade union struggle. BL, when talking about national formations designed to lead and win and sustain a revolution, talks about liquidating the essential time-tested weapons of Leninism in favor of a broad, open movement unfettered by ideological principles and comfortable for himself to participate in. What ivory tower does he live in?

Our movement includes activists who have seen at close hand several different phases of class struggle in this country. This includes veterans of the mass movements in the 1930s and 1940s, the red scares of the 1950s, the mass movements and rebellions in the 1960s and 1970s, and the ebbs in between. Has BL forgot in his study the red purges in the 1940s and the role of the FBI and police agents during the McCarthy period. Has he forgotten COINTELPRO? Does he think it ended in 1972? Does he view capital’s lieutenants in the trade unions and minorities movements as naive babes when it comes to counter-insurgency? Reading the article in the Oct. 6 issue (1981) of the WALL STREET JOURNAL on the proposed presidential order to eliminate restrictions on the CIA and other police groups from infiltrating domestic organizations and to “try influencing the activities of domestic groups” should serve as a good reminder to BL and all of us.

Leninism emerged and grew out of necessity in the struggles with modern imperialism. Certainly there have been errors and difficulties, but the basic elements remain valid and an essential requirement for victory. Not because of our desires or wishes but because of the level of struggle imposed on us by our enemies. At the center of our opposition today lies a ruling class which is scientific, organized, and hard working; a class which has accumulated more than a half a century of experience and personnel committed to defeating and crushing, if need be, left wing insurgency; and a ruling class which is now destined to become more rabid and desperate as it faces its irreversible decline. We live within a population that is deeply influenced by capitalist propaganda and agitation, barraged by the media and nurtured and guided by the comprehensive institutions of an advanced capitalist state.

As a movement, we are inheritors of the only science that can effectively lead the battles for change. The current bourgeois political and social leaders cannot and will not be able to solve the problems with their self-serving and narrow ideology. The vaccum of leadership for the people’s interests is increasing. We are obligated to create an organization and finally a party that can deliver the goods whether in the struggle for reforms or in the struggle for the state. With this in mind we must move with thoroughness to root out the weaknesses exposed by the current rectification struggle to enable us to set about our work among the masses with renewed understanding, commitment, and discipline. Essential to this is the exposure and defeat of the views like those of BL who lull us with pipe dreams and lead us back to being satisfied in the role of ineffective left wing opposition. Some sectors of our movement can live with that state of affairs--the oppressed masses and their organizations can’t.

The defense of Leninism and maintaining this as a line of demarcation in relation to left and right opportunist lines is a responsibility of revolutionaries and a productive framework to re-build organizational unity.


The most important theme of BL’s paper and the one that challenges everyone to read it is the question of building unity in the revolutionary movement. Everyone is eager to overcome our fragmentation. Any party building effort that can’t effectively build unity in this period is an exercise in self-indulgence. Yet in his approach to this question, BL resorts to the same superficial and subjective method that has often characterized our movement rather than departing from it. BL, convinced as he is, that M-L is an “inexact” science attacks the use of “universal principles” and “lines of demarcation” in a superficial and one-sided manner. In doing so he not only joins the legitimate struggle against dogmatism but goes farther and throws out time-tested methods of achieving unity as well.

In natural science, the shape of the earth was a controversial issue for some time. Once enough evidence was gathered, some scientists concluded that it was round and applied this theory in practice for sometime with good results. At some point, this theory became one of many lines of demarcation between what was accepted as correct and incorrect by scientists. M-L principles have developed in the same general way beginning with a theory concluded from study and investigation and verified in practice. These principles have then become points of focus to determine correct and incorrect approaches to revolution. In revolutionary movements these lines aren’t safely determined in a laboratory but fought out in the storm of organizational struggle that concentrates the sentiments and motion of the masses.

In our recent history (last 15 years) we have had positive and negative experience in coming to understand the lines that demarcate M-L from opportunism. Generally our lessons have been to learn the validity of the general principles of M-L rather than to create new ones. One bitter but important and positive battle which split the Revolutionary Union (later the RCP) and reflected tendencies within the whole movement of the late 1960s was the question of whether or not to start a People’s War in the US or to uphold the role of the working class in revolution in a long protracted struggle for state power. This was a battle fought with polemics and inner organizational struggle which resulted in splits, and which helped to significantly raise the consciousness of our movement. Today the “left” terrorist tendency is not a serious current in the revolutionary left. Another positive struggle was over the National Question (the struggle for self-determination by African Americans, Native Americans, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, etc.) which again became focused in the RU but which reflected tendencies throughout the broader movement. Through extensive polemics and internal struggle, the younger section of our movement was introduced to the split that has existed for decades between the chauvinist position that has denied the revolutionary character of the national movement in the US and those who uphold the right of self-determination and are thoroughgoing in the struggle for real equality of nations and peoples.

Both of these positions were fought for bitterly over “lines of demarcation” and helped to bring the ”new left” into the mainstream of the M-L movement. Now all of us with confidence can stand firm on the questions of the role of the working class and the question of self-determination as we stand with confidence on the shape of the earth. Our struggles over these “lines of demarcations” were in the main positive and constructive, although certainly having serious weaknesses. In the mid 1970s we have many negative examples of using “lines of demarcation” when our movement took up the task of building a party. At this critical stage, the failure to study and use M-L as a science had severe consequences which have led us to the fragile state we are now in. Leadership of the major organizations, including the CPML, set about the task of party-declaring rather than party building. Each separate organization pulled together all its possible resources to give the image that it alone was the vanguard.

The patient and protracted efforts to prepare the conditions for building a party that could truly unite all the M-Ls in the various organizations, collectives, or as individuals in revolutionary work was ignored and replaced with the big “hype” to declare the job done. Party programs were written on a primitive grasp of M-L and with only the most superficial study of the concrete conditions in the country. Just like with Reagan – when ideas didn’t correspond to reality, leaders and their organizations resorted to coercion, to commandism, bureaucratic centralism, dogmatism and sectarianism, to shore up their shaky foundation. Today the fragmentation and demoralization of our ranks is the reward. In this period, our use of “lines of demarcation” reflected our weaknesses rather than strengths – our use of them was principally negative rather than positive.

BL’s approach is to throw up his hands and to discredit any effort to utilize the principles of Leninism as a cutting edge in fighting for organizational unity. Leninist principles around the national question, organizational questions, the state, etc. like any other aspect of Marxism must be used as a springboard for activity, not as a leaning post. A study of Lenin’s writings, particularly during the stages of building the Bolshevik party really can give us helpful orientation in approaching our tasks. In the first place, principles must become the basis for study particularly in their application to the current situation and of the conditions and factors that gave rise to them. Hence, in the period of building a party, propaganda work and all that it entails becomes extremely important. Those who are going to make up a party must be profoundly conscious of what they are doing. On that basis – in striving to know these principles fully and how they apply to concrete conditions – debate over those principles including how they are applied in practice becomes a constructive unifying force within our movement. Not that the process is always friendly and always with good vibes – such hope is idealist in class society. Out of necessity, the struggle must at times become quite sharp. But greater truth is arrived at and then this line put into practice by a disciplined organization will lead to success and good results and provide the basis for broader unity.

In this context, debate over fine points or shades of differences become necessary and constructive because truth and reality is complex. Then the responsibility becomes one of recognizing what one particular shade represents. Lenin said in ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK (Chapt. 1) “But every little difference may become a big one if it is insisted on, if it is put into the foreground, if people set about searching for all the roots and branches of the difference. Every little difference may assume tremendous importance if it serves as the starting point for a swing towards definite mistaken views, and if these mistaken views are combined, by virtue of new and additional divergences, with anarchistic actions which bring the Party to the point of a split.”

The problem with our movement has not been with seeking to unite on universal principles of Leninism or with drawing lines of demarcation but how we have gone about it during the particular stages of our movement. Sometimes we did fine, other times we did terribly. Rather than broad generalities about what worked or failed, our theoreticians need to show us the depth of their study of M-L, and our movement and their capacity to use a scalpel in carefully isolating and exposing the good and bad aspects of our development, allowing us to utilize the positive and rid ourselves of the negative. This is a scientific approach that is complex but demands respect. BL’s approach and method is the extension (perhaps in a different form) of the method that got us into the shape we are in and has lowered the prestige of Marxism in the eyes of the activists in the national, women’s, trade union, and general reform movements.


Another aspect of BL’s approach to the science of M-L that places him in the prestigious company of the constantly re-appearing breed of armchair intellectuals whose concern in the views of “workers” displays the paternalism and chauvinism so common in the radical intelligentsia. He says on p. 2, “We need...an organization that workers can recruit their fellows into, and that becomes the worker’s organization, and not ours.” He says on p. 8, “The masses do not want a secret, conspiratorial organization; it is not how things work here, at least in the present and forseeable situation. Workers will not join or make the organization their own.” On page 8 again, he says, “We did not start from American reality, the consciousness or experiences of American workers, and the deep-seated and complex wellspring of anti-communism among the masses.”

Implicit in these comments are two concepts: First that the “workers” don’t relate to theory and ideological struggle and abstract ideas which are reserved for organizations of intellectuals; second maintaining a mechanical separation between workers and our movement, between revolutionary intellectuals and revolutionary workers.

Again if we turned to the appropriate writings of Lenin during the period of party building in Russia we can see in the debates between the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks, the same issues arising. Rather than see a metaphysical relationship between revolutionary intellectuals and the working class, we must insist on grasping the dialectical relationship. Revolutionary ideas are. Frequently seized on first by members of the bourgeois or petty bourgeois intelligentsia who in turn locate and win over advanced workers as well as the advanced from the democratic movements to those ideas. That unity holds the potential to become a revolutionary material force in society., and was succinctly and frequently summed up by Marx and Lenin.

In the first place, particularly at this stage of building a party, we must give emphasis to finding the advanced, to uniting them around our program, and bringing them forward in every aspect of our work. These advanced elements are the only way we will be able to win over and mobilize the masses of people and lead them in a conscious direction. This question of the advanced was another one generally butchered during the beginning efforts of party building. Errors to the left and right were consistently made by the major organizations reflecting the infantilism of our movement during that period. Uniting with the advanced frequently came to mean handing out your basic “communist leaflet” – a legal sized single spaced presentation of some issue linked to the dictatorship of the. proletariat. With the left deviation, dogmatic application of paragraphs from Lenin’s writings such as “Retrograde trend...” substituted for gaining a comprehensive view of this concept from study and practice. Our relative inexperience in leading work stood out like a sore thumb. To the right, the concept of the advanced was basically eliminated and usually all our work was geared to the lowest common denominator – to the “masses”.

The critical role of the very small core of the advanced that is key to our work was belittled on all levels. It was reflected in our literature or absence of it, our training and collective guidance – many of us are unable to effectively identify advanced elements and to train them, it was reflected in our liberalism and tolerance of our primitive organizations, etc. To not identify the different strata among the masses and identify the difference in approach of M-Ls to each strata is a frequent method of demagogues and a style which BL continues.

Because of the dominance of erroneous views on this question, generally workers that were bought forward within our activities and organizations came in the front door and quickly began looking for the back door. Rather than confront the real weaknesses in our own work, traditionally sentiments like those of BL emerge to essentially liquidate the concept of the advanced. Their line becomes “the workers won’t relate to this” and we carry on writing materials or speaking in ways that are superficial and unscientific satisfying neither the advanced or the masses, effective neither as agitation or propaganda. A consistent struggle of Marx and Lenin reflected in their writings is the insistence that intellectuals challenge the workers and oppressed to learn and grasp even the most complex questions and to provide effective materials and ways of doing that –again being careful to target different strata with appropriate propaganda and agitational materials. Only in this way will our organizations become truly democratic, will we be able to expect full initiative from workers in our ranks and can we in fact persist in accomplishing our lofty objectives. Operating in an advanced country like the US further underscores the importance of this activity as the enemies we confront on all levels are themselves relatively sophisticated and trained and have access to an enormous pool of resources. To dilute our theoretical and ideological work and struggle within our organizations or among the masses guarantees the demoralization and defeat of our activists.

Because of the historical confusion on this topic, let me state my basic perspective on the advanced. “Advanced” workers, or people in the rural movement, military, women’s movement, oppressed national movements, etc., has an absolute and relative meaning. There are those in all sectors of our society who have had previous revolutionary experience, are familiar with basic concepts of Marxism and who generally view themselves as committed revolutionaries. They would fulfill Lenin’s definition of advanced in the article, “A Retrograde Trend in Russian Social-Democracy” (Vol. 4, LCW) and they are a small but precious sector that we must bring closely to us. In most situations there are also those who are relatively advanced – advanced in relation to their peers; who hold open the potential of being won to our movement; who have the interest and capacity to be trained as leaders; and who have the capacity to bring forward particularly the community of people from where they come. If there is any question that these people exist, look at the numbers of people in the shops or community who take up religion as their principle commitment. Whether they are Baptist, Jehovah’s Witness, Muslims, etc., they are relatively small in number but they are out there. They actively study books with fine small print and are capable of quoting sections of text. They are aggressive in trying to win others to their ideas. They transform their personal life often leading disciplined active lives and defending the highest of moral standards. They regularly give significant amounts of money to their cause. Some of these people are not only examples of discipline. They too are honestly looking for a real solution to the problems they have seen in society, yet only the religious movement has reached out to them and offered them a comprehensive view and solution to problems and given them training and a serious context in which to operate. There are certainly many differences between the views and role of activists from the political and religious movement but there are some common lessons to be drawn. As competitors with us, we must recognize also that they are out-pacing us.

Our work with the advanced is always connected with work in the everyday struggle. We must give special attention to their training and education but this cannot be done in exclusion of work on all levels among the masses. This applies to every stage of our work. The earlier stands of ultra-leftism making party building the only task or putting advanced contacts into the closet to study apart from the masses and their struggle proved in practice to lead no where except to tinier and tinier circles of people who finally completely dispersed.

Our work with the advanced maybe consume the shortest amount of time compared with our activity in mass campaigns, day to day agitation, etc., but our capacity to lead the movement in a conscious direction depends on it. Just like propaganda maybe very small in terms of numbers of pages compared to our agitational leaflets, newsletters, etc, but without emphasis on it and its quality our agitation will be like peeing in the ocean to raise its level rather than building up a powerful wave of discontent. Solid efforts in doing propaganda is our best guarantee that our agitation will be consistent in principle and lead the many small skirmishes in the right direction.

Contrary to BL’s position, we must persist in maintaining and raising the level of the sharp scientific character to our work. And we must insist on revolutionary intellectuals doing much more to raise the level of the working class movement. They must do more in bringing the broad scientific views they have to our class and share the responsibility for all aspects of struggle rather than making the phony paternalistic dicotomy between organizations of the “workers” and our current movement. A strong Leninist organization can create the discipline and division of labor which can focus the productive abilities and skills of intellectuals to efficiently meet our movement’s needs.

BL and many of us would do better if we returned to some of the classic writings of Lenin such as WHAT IS TO BE DONE that deals with these kinds of questions and contrast it to our own practice rather than trying to demarcate ourselves from Leninism.


M-L is a science. It is rooted in a thorough evaluation of history and in a profound critique of capitalism and its internal contradictions. It is a summation of the lessons learned in the conscious class struggle that has been waged by its followers over the last 130 or so years, including the efforts to lead mass movements, the struggles to build revolutionary parties, the seizure of power, and the efforts to maintain and develop socialism. It provides a philosophical foundation for us as well as a stand, method, and view point for those who are committed to revolutionary change.

It is a new science and therefore very demanding on us. As a science it must be studied and used like a science, giving activists a guard against the subjectivism and opportunism that inevitably breeds in a movement to change and transform society. BL uses M-L as something besides a science, using it selectively, superficially, and out of context to give legitimacy to his subjective and distorted view of our movement and our tasks. This approach, that has been too common in the infancy of our movement in the US, has been a frequent obstacle to the building of a militant, revolutionary party. The CPML (certainly not the only organization) has been plagued with this problem from the very beginning and through all its “left” and “right” phases. Its initial critique of left opportunism and then later, right opportunism, was superficial and subjective and disarmed cadre. All of this was done in a framework of attacking “dogmatism” which often came to mean any serious emphasis on theory. Instead of consolidating cadre on a conscious level, the “hype” of party declaring was substituted along with the “hope” that it would work. BL follows and perpetuates the same traditions established by some of the ex-leaders of the CPML, and would lead us to even greater set-backs. Marx confronted this tendency and described it in his battles with the petty bourgeois intellectuals who recognized class struggle “on paper” but “diluted” it in practice. He says of these intellectuals, who instead of advancing the movement, “...in order to be of use to the proletarian movement these people must bring real educative elements into it. But with the great majority of the German bourgeois converts that is not the case. Neither the Zukunft nor the Neue Gesellschaft have contributed anything that could advance the movement one step further. Here there is an absolute lack of real educational material, whether factual or theoretical. In its place there are attempts to bring superficially mastered socialist ideas into harmony with the exceedingly varied theoretical standpoints which these gentlemen have brought with them from the university or elsewhere and of which, owing to the process of decomposition which the remnants of German philosophy are at present undergoing, one is more confused than the other. Instead of thoroughly studying the new science themselves to begin with, each of them preferred to trim it to fit the point of view he already had brought along, made himself forthwith a private science of his own and at once came forward with the pretension of wanting to teach it. Hence, there are about as many points of view among these gentry as there are heads; instead of producing clarity in a single case they have only produced desperate confusion...” (Marx and Engels to A. Bebel, W. Liebknecht, W. Bracke and others, “Circular Letter”, Marx and Engels Selected Works, Vol. 3, p. 93)

In BL’s first paragraph he gives us warning about his dream world when he characterizes our approach to rectification as “rare in the history of communism”. Come on! Yes, we have been dragged into dealing with the reality of our weaknesses and a few articles have been written but certainly the confusion, lack of clarity, and steady fragmentation of our ranks is not the kind of model many should look to in using examples from 130 years of class struggle.

Utilizing another common practice of our past, BL develops his own position and then searches the classics for quotes out of context to give credibility to his point of view. On page 10 he pulls out Lenin’s statement on the character of inner party struggle in the RSDLP when he called for organizational unity among those with sharp differences in summing up the unity conference of 1906. The context for this statement was following the 1905 revolution when the RSDLP had over 30,000 members and had essentially two centers each with their separate organization apparatus – the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. Certainly a situation quite different than what we face. He goes on to find defense for an organization composed of different organized blocks of thought in quoting Lenin during the Russian Civil War, speaking of the contradictions within a party of millions which held state-power. What’s wrong with examining the writings from the period of party formation in the Soviet Union such as ONE STEP FORWARD TWO STEPS BACK or WHAT IS TO BE DONE? or bringing out the wealth of experience we have had in our own history in much more detail than has been done to this point. Then our use of historical materialism has some meaning. Otherwise Marxists begin to sound like one of the brands of religious zealots able to find justification for virtually anything if they search the Bible long enough. Marxist quotes are used while the Marxist approach is left by the wayside.

Another example of BL’s departure from Marxism is his effort to separate Leninism from Marxism. He certainly doesn’t disguise his effort but his subjectivism is again reflected in his departure from a scientific Marxist method to find justification. When Stalin and later Mao and the CCP stated that Leninism is the Marxism in the era of imperialism, it didn’t mean during a particular period or phase of struggle in the era of imperialism. In the era of imperialism there are periods of intense struggle, war, or relative calm. The basic features of a Marxist party remain basically the same as the era itself is unstable and contradictions can quickly transform due to the intensifying conflict between imperialist groupings and the contradictions between the imperialists and those they oppress and exploit. Look at how unstable our world is today with the situation in Iran, the Middle East, the far East, El Salvador, South Africa, etc. Very quickly events can lead to great crisis such as a Great Depression, a world war, or mass risings, or repression. A disciplined Leninist party – a party of a new type is required in this era – in this “new period” because our enemy is highly conscious, disciplined, and determined; because our forms of struggle can be required to change almost overnight; because of the complexity of our situation requires the utmost discipline at all periods whether in the flow or ebb of struggle in order to correctly understand and transform the political situation.

BL again searches the classics for props for his subjective evaluation that diminishes the dangers and potential of the period we are in. He finds new meaning in Stalin narrowing Stalin’s description of imperialism as a “new period” (p. 11) to when a particular revolution was imminent rather than the era of the highest and final stage of capitalism. He finds security in the forms of revolutionary organization that emerged at the birth of our movement during the period of rising industrial capitalism in 1875. (p. 11) Then he turns to the tasks of existing parties in the period of the struggle against fascism pulling out a quote from Dimitrov. And then he cites three national liberation struggles (Cuba, Nicaragua, and Zimbabawe) that succeeded in part as evidence that the basic features of Leninism don’t apply in today’s struggles. Certainly the experience from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Zimbabawe hold positive and negative lessons and a good evaluation would enrich all of us. But to throw out those examples to defeat Leninism as the Marxism in the era of imperialism would pain comrades within those struggles who have witnessed the casualties that have had to be borne because of the absence of a unified scientific vanguard party.


BL’s views on organization are the logical extension of his departure from Marxism and most vividly represent the line of the bourgeois intellegentsia. With absolute candor, he proposes steps which would set our movement back – even farther than it already is – for years. He poses the question, “Is Lenin’s party of a new type a principle of Marxism?” and then answers, “No.”, having stated earlier that, “...what we need is not a Bolshevik type party, but a much broader one and “...it should not be a secret, conspiratorial organization...” among other things. Again we are forced to confront the question, “Is Leninism the Marxism in the era of imperialism? Any serious reflection on this particularly concerning questions of organization shows BL’s departure from Leninism and Marxism. Leninism, including the questions of organization, emerged from the study of and the struggle against imperialism. The basic features have been verified not only in Russia but in the successful and unsuccessful revolutions since that time. BL, with his practice in the CPML and whatever else has now summed up that the “tradition of the Third International and the CPUSA” regarding party building is no longer valid. The verification of Leninist organization has been written by the deaths, tortures, and misery of millions of martyrs in the last 60 years who have faced the terror launched by the modern scientific imperialist state. What was done by the imperialists in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Dominican Republic, Africa, Chile, to stop revolutionary change? What tactics by the state have we faced even in our own short experience as revolutionaries? Surely BL remembers the assassination of revolutionary Black leaders, the infiltration of organizations, the full range of counterinsurgency techniques used by the state with COINTELPRO. Surely BL is not blind to the developments taking place today to re-invigorate the police apparatus and intelligence agencies, the emergence of personalities like Liddy and Hugel, etc. Those kinds of developments have set the standards for what a revolutionary party must defend itself against. The current objective reality sharply exposes BL’s idealism.

BL’s view of conspiratorial organization is based on the assumption that they are only needed when revolution is imminent and that might be “possibly decades”. None of us have a crystal ball but your investigation doesn’t have to go far to see how unstable and stormy the era of imperialism is. First the objective situation can change dramatically in a very short period of time such as the beginning of war, economic and political crisis, etc., which will dramatically alter the tasks and responsibilities of communists. Only a disciplined, conspiratorial organization can respond adequately to periods of crisis and maintain political continuity and survive repression so as to fulfill its obligation to the people. Second, the complexity of our tasks and the nature of our science require full disciplined collective effort in times of the ebb of the mass movement, in periods of retreat, and periods of calm. Collective discipline around a line, despite individual opinion, is the only way it can be verified in practice and proven correct or incorrect. Third, and most important is the fact that we are witnessing the dramatic decline of US Imperialism and quite possibly will be honored and fortunate to witness its complete collapse. We certainly can’t predict the time, but with the sharpening of the external and internal contradictions, it is the height of idealism to deny that it is quite possible within our life time.

It belittles the historical process that we are part of and reflects the self-indulgence of the petty bourgeoisie to not utilize our time to prepare daily an organization capable of leading the final assaults as well as to rebuild a new society. At this time of tremendous weakness in our movement, such considerations might sound completely off the wall, yet our commitment to the science of M-L requires that we accept the burden and responsibility of possible success!

BL then tells us what our choices are organizationally. We must either go the route he charts of a broad mass, non-conspiratorial “democratic” organization or “create a basic replica of what the CPML was, except now shed of ultra-left excesses”. (p. 8) In this approach, he again exposes his basic unity with those like the earlier leaders of the CPML and other organizations who approached the science of Marxism superficially and unscientifically. Not only did they (and BL) not understand what was required to build a party, but in the period of rectification they and BL are satisfied with a superficial and subjective glance at our history rather than going back to it in a thorough and in-depth way.

The fact is that in building a Leninist party, we must make a sharp break with most aspects of the CPML and not see the current rectification of our movement as narrowed to correcting some “ultra-left excesses” and left errors. This is certainly the perspective of a few to the left like some of the old leaders and a few to the right like BL both who basically belittle the criticism of cadre and ignore the objective reality of our past. This approach has played a major role as an external factor in many cadre throwing up their hands, losing their will to struggle, and dropping out. Initially and on the surface, the demoralization often is a reaction to the failure of the ultra-left hype and promises of success. In other words, we simply did not grow in size and capacity and we are disillusioned. But at the heart of the demoralization is an idealist and metaphysical evaluation of ourselves and our tasks. We must combat this superficial evaluation if we are to succeed.

The idealism and metaphysics was first apparent in the “hype”. “We are the Vanguard”, “fight revisionism and repudiate self” and all the little slogans that reflected the dream world that the CPML and others were in. A materialist response to the hype and the demoralization is to painstakingly determine truth from the investigation of facts. Yes, our errors over the last 10-15 years have been great. Despite our intentions, our work has been overall, primarily weak or in error rather than strong and correct. This was true in all aspects of work not just a few “ultra-left excesses”. Our errors were in our conception of right errors and their impact on our work as well as left. It was in our conception of the party – what conditions were required for its existence, how to form it, how were we to have real democracy and real centralism, what were correct forms of security, of discipline, etc., etc.

This fact that our work has been characterized by its weaknesses can’t be accepted by many of the veteran leaders who have been criticized and who persist in maintaining that “Yes, we made errors, but in the main we did OK”. BL joins them in saying, “Yes, we made errors, but in the main we did OK...” and then he adds, “...for a Leninist party and now that we know what Leninism is based on that experience, we should reject it.”


BL challenges the basic notion of a conspiratorial organization getting his credibility from “the masses (who) do not want a secret conspiratorial organization; it is not how things work here, at least in the present and forseeable situation. Workers will not join or make the organization their own.” (p. 8)

In the first place, the masses in this country know and understand repression and how it is used against those who really challenge or even speak out against the powerful. The worker knows those who speak their mind about plant conditions get fired. Popular history is filled with well known examples of minority leaders repressed for standing up and speaking out whether it meant losing a job or losing a life. People knowing what to say and when to say it is a common part of organizational training of many different levels of organization. Those who have organized for many reasons rely on secrecy whether they formed the Muslims, or the Masons, or a Trade union organizing committee, or a caucus in a plant. Veterans of the military know what security means. People know for sure that if you call yourself or are called a communist, you are in for trouble. The problems most people have seen with communists is that they are not effective in conspiratorial methods. They become known before they are capable of defending themselves and they get confronted with a superior force. Our problems with conspiracy and security have been like the other aspects of our work – the idea is right but the practice is uneven and generally weak. As communists, our networks and skills have been tested by the most highly trained and technologically prepared police apparatus in history beginning in the late ’60s and continuing through today. If we are to have a future as a viable movement we must preserve our commitment to a conspiratorial form of organization, learning from our weaknesses and overcoming them. Rather than dropping our efforts, we must become better. Why?

Enough has been said concerning the reality of repression and the role of the state in disrupting and diverting our activities. Preserving conspiratorial forms and practices such as a nuclear style of work, open and closed membership, vigilance against infiltration, the “need to know” principle, secrecy, etc. and training our cadre in their use is a practical form of training for work in various aspects of the mass movement where the level of struggle even at early stages requires a clear understanding of security and conspiracy. This is true in the minority movements that have continuously earned special attention from the state and has been the arena for extensive penetration by agents and use of counter-insurgency technique. This form of training is essential in the trade unions where companies and trade union bureaucrats historically are very conscious of the danger of effective communists, who have access to state records, and who will use force when required to bust up a union or a caucus. With the US resuming an offensive military posture, the M-L left must again take up work in the anti-draft movement and within the military. Particularly in the latter, training in secrecy and security is a pre-condition for any type of effective effort.

Secrecy and conspiratorial forms becomes important the minute activists step out of the university, professional circles, or out of inactivity to engage in effective struggle. The question of security and defense of conspiratorial forms also clearly demarcates different class backgrounds and status. A lawyer or a professional can say whatever they want or make any number of mistakes and still make a living and support their family or life style. A worker will lose their job and capacity to support themselves unless they win or are protected by an effective approach to security and conspiratorial methods. This is one reason while many of the advanced unite with our objectives and views but avoid us like the plague when we have exposed our amateurishness on these questions.

One important and positive thing in our movement that has changed in the last 5-10 years is that we now have some people who have survived the twists and turns, remained integrated among the masses and have gained positions of responsibility and authority within the unions, in the community, etc. We have some people who have or who could run for public office or gain a prominent position. I, for example, am an elected union officer in a union that has anti-communist clauses in its constitution that could be the basis for filing charges against me. Without the development of a party that is sophisticated in terms of security and conspiratorial methods, our movement will lose the ability to include those who have made important advances in their work. We need their full input into developing our tactics and strategy and they need us as collective supervision. BL’s approach essentially liquidates this capacity when we need it more than ever.

Conspiratorial forms and tight security allows us to have a red and grey (not pink) aspect to our work. Red – open communist work, open communist propaganda and agitation, open communist leadership in certain struggles. Grey – effective leading work without an overt connection to the ML movement. Both red and grey are two aspects to work guided by the same organization, under the same leadership, having the same basic internal organizational life but functioning in different ways among the masses. Some cadre in sensitive areas will always preserve a grey character to their work externally like staff or top officers of a union, military personnel, some elected officials, and somewhere down the line – those in police work and other very sensitive areas. This kind of approach allows the greatest flexibility in working with people on all levels. Tight discipline and clear distinction of various roles and levels internally permits the greatest participation in mass movements and mass organizations. A Leninist party can be the most effective in giving rise to broader mass parties and mass movements. What BL’s proposal must lead to is a kind of pink organization. It will have the goals of being open and democratic which in practice will mean loose and undefined which will ultimately lead it to being ineffective and undemocratic and dominated by the radical petty bourgeois intellegentsia.

Another essential reason Leninist organization is that the problems we will confront or dramatic change for developing a highly disciplined it provides essential training for in periods of revolutionary upheaval. Our success in developing Leninist organization does not end with the defeat of BL’s views on conspiratorial forms. In the past we mechanically and dogmatically applied some lessons and ignored others. Many of us got serious about the formation of a ML party in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the ebb of the mass movements were beginning and when the offensive of the police began to decline and we entered a different period. Our inexperience showed us we tried to apply the lessons learned from the periods of intense struggle to a period of relative calm which provided many examples of dogmatism that we use in our current efforts to rectify. Like other aspects of our work, we must take up our errors and advances critically laying the basis for effective Leninist forms in the future.

Finally in his attack on Leninist organization, BL gives us a glimpse on his views on democracy and centralism challenging the subordination of the individual to the organization, defending the right of factionalizing, calling for broad democracy, etc. The study of democracy and centralism in Leninism deserves a great deal of attention but space doesn’t allow it in this paper. BL’s essential approach is consistent with his other positions – that is to preserve his personal freedom and flexibility within a movement that must achieve the highest degree of unity and iron discipline in practice in order to achieve its objectives. The right to publicly disagree (p. 2), a hinting at the permissibility of factions (p. 10), the emphasis on decentralized authority (p. 15) all come from the same class mold that have historically been fought in Leninist parties. Why? The essence is summed up effectively by Kautsky as quoted by Lenin in ONE STEP FORWARD TWO STEPS BACK “As an isolated individual, the proletarian is nothing. His whole strength, his whole progress, all his hopes and expectations are derived from organization, from systematic action in conjunction with his fellows. He feels big and strong when he forms part of a big and strong organism. This organism is the main thing for him; the individual in comparison means very little. The proletarian fights with the utmost devotion as part of anonymous mass, without prospect of personal advantage or personal glory, doing his duty in any post he is assigned to with a voluntary discipline that pervades all his feelings and thoughts. “Quite different is the case of the intellectual. He does not fight by means of power, but by argument. His weapons are his personal knowledge, his personal ability, his personal convictions. He can attain to any position at all only through his personal qualities. Hence the freest play for his individuality seems to him the prime condition for successful activity. It is only with difficulty that he submits to being a part subordinate to a whole, and then only from necessity, not from inclination. He recognizes the need of discipline only for the mass, not for the elect minds. And of course he counts himself among the latter...” (ONE STEP FORWARD TWO STEPS BACK, SECTION M)

We must rid ourselves of all dogmatism and mechanistic approaches in strengthening democracy in this period. But democracy is strengthened to lay the basis for greater discipline and stronger centralism. Without iron collective discipline we can not adequately develop and test our theories. Without iron discipline and freedom from factions these ideas can’t achieve good results.


BL’s paper was written as part of the struggle against left opportunism in our movement. As such a document it also exposes some of the weaknesses of the rectification campaign in general and of the struggle against ultra-leftism in particular. The struggle against ultra-leftism has had an important, positive impact and has helped isolate and expose the individualism, narrowness, and infantilism so rampant in our movement. Many of the barriers to our cadres playing full roles in the various levels of the mass movement have been removed. Many of the justifications for self-righteousness, narrowness, superficiality, and passivity that we clothed in dogmatism and sectarianism have been revealed.

But the struggle against leftism has also had its negative side, in covering, obscuring, and basically ignoring the right opportunist tendencies that have co-existed and interchanged with left opportunism in our young movement.

In the early 1970s, there was no consistent struggle against leftism outside the struggle against the terrorist element or periodic superficial fights against dogmatism. Every problem was labeled and understood as an example of right opportunism. We were certainly given encouragement by the role of the CCP in this error. Today some comrades are making the same error regarding leftism – being unable to see in fact any deviation except the left and seeing every struggle that goes after leftism as virtuous and correct irregardless of its content. This approach and method is repeating our past in a new form rather than rectifying our past errors.

Concerning our approach to opportunism, two problems have consistently emerged. First our grasp of both left and right opportunism has been primitive and superficial which should not be surprising considering the depth of our experience. Second, our grasp of left and fight opportunism has been un-dialectical seeing only the features of left and right but not seeing the relationship and the unity between the two forms and how one can transform into the other. An incorrect or opportunist line is not based on a correct appraisal of objective and subjective conditions. This incorrect view then takes a particular form – left or right. It becomes reflected in strategy and tactics that leads to the application of the line in practice. Inevitably it doesn’t work and is exposed as incorrect. Inevitably those who aren’t rooted in M-L theory and method grasp at some other approach again on a subjective basis. Frequently there will be enough shifts on a subjective basis that the form will change. Right opportunism will transform into left opportunism or visa versa. A well-known historical example was the shift of the Narodniks from terrorism to reformism. The RCP in this country shifted from a rightist approach to party building to an ultra-left position. The same is true with the CPML. This type of development can be seen in individuals who can’t break with a subjective approach to their work. They in one situation will be the best example of left opportunism. Then they will flip-flop and go way to the right being often the strongest denouncer of the left. In a young movement which isn’t yet solidly rooted among the masses and without a long history of internal struggle, vacillation between the various forms of opportunism is common.

Because many of these errors are products of the early stage of our development we need to be very careful to distinguish the difference between opportunist lines on one hand and the errors and vacillations we all make as part of our development on the other. But it is important to recognize that opportunism and opportunists do exist and must be rooted out if we are to succeed. We are in a relatively long period of purging opportunism from our ranks and striving to achieve a decisive victory over it in all its forms. In the recent period in face of differing views some comrades have found security in the view that despite our differences, “We will all be in the same party somewhere down the line”. As nice as it sounds, it is an idealist prayer in a revolutionary struggle as complex as ours.

While preserving what we have learned in the struggle against leftism, we must clearly define and defeat the growing right tendency and in doing so grasp the relationship between both tendencies. Both tendencies are capable of destroying or preventing revolutionary organization. More than lip service must be given to the struggle against the right if we are to preserve the advances against the left. Now the right forms have taken an open stand against Leninism. The conflict is open and sharp and on relatively familiar territory. A split is coming or perhaps has already happened. Our job now is to minimize the losses that can only be done by a defense of Leninism enriched by the summing up and criticism of our own errors, and thereby laying the basis for ending the fragmentation of our movement. A good place to begin is with the exposure of the kind of views reflected in BL’s paper. The second best step would be full self-criticism by BL himself.