Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

D. Wane

Readers Critique Hamilton ’Message to Movement’

’What do we discard and what do we keep?’


First Published: The Call, Vol. 10, No. 2, March 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Jim Hamilton’s “Message to the Movement” (The Call, February 1981) put some significant questions in front of Leninist activists. Its publication brought the current debate within the CPML fully into the open. This is a good thing, because there are many outside as well as inside our Party who can contribute to it. Unfortunately to my mind, some of the answers Comrade Hamilton has come up with reflect the same superficial analysis and methodology which he claims to oppose.

I fully support the need for the CPML to re-evaluate the lines and policies of the Marxist-Leninist movement over the past ten years. As an activist in the trade union movement, I have personally felt the effects of our ultra-leftist approach. I’ve experienced what happens when you identify the leading reform fighters as the “main danger” and proceed to isolate yourself from many of the most active rank-and-file fighters.


In 1977 we took our Labor Campaign (“Build Class Struggle Unions–Kick Out the Bureaucrats”) into my shop, in opposition to a genuine reform movement. The results were that, while we pulled a couple of activists closer to us, we created a deep mistrust on the part of many who were working hard to re-direct our union, and got an image of “commie kooks” among the rank and file in general.

It has taken several years of hard work to begin to overcome these problems and regain people’s trust. In addition, Marxist-Leninist forces were reduced in my plant to less than one-fourth of what they had been, due to firings (adventurism), people giving up on the Party, and comrades being pulled out for “more important work” in the CPML office. I think that my desire to thoroughly overcome our “left”-ism is as great as anyone’s.

But a question in front of us is: What do we discard and what do we keep? Were our errors due to problems with the “principles of Marxism” as Comrade Hamilton seems to hold, or to our application of these principles?

Comrade Hamilton is right when he says that our errors can be traced back to the origins of our “trend.” But I disagree that the basic problem comes from the “absolutism we absorbed from China’s Cultural Revolution,” although this certainly was a factor.

It must be remembered that our “trend” did not emerge directly out of a struggle with the revisionists. Rather, there was a period of over ten years between the rightists’ gaining control of the CPUSA (their making that organization irrelevant to the developing struggles in this country) and our emergence.

Our forces came out of the people’s movements in this country–the civil rights struggles, the student, anti-war, women’s and other mass social movements which had developed in isolation from Marxist influence. It was our searching for a solution to the problems of this society that led us back to Marxism.

Our most important strength was that, from the beginning, we saw the need to develop our political views as we carried out our work among the people. This has given us the basis to correct our errors today.

However, it was at this point that we set ourselves a wrong ideological orientation. Rather than seeing our task as developing a deep understanding of the ins-and-outs of American society, applying the lessons of Marxism to this society, and learning the “rules” that would govern bringing socialism to our country, we set as our most basic principal responsibility the “restatement of the principles of Marxism-Leninism.” In response to the negation of these principles by the revisionists, we made our basic source of knowledge not the living experience of the American people, but rather books by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao.

The idealism that this led to caused us to base our policies and programs not on the real level of the real struggles of the people of this country, but on our views of where we thought they should be and where we wanted them to be. This, in my opinion, is what led to many of the problems in our mass work that Comrade Hamilton speaks to–the Labor Campaign, chauvinism towards nationalist forces in the minority movements, etc.

But Comrade Hamilton therefore seeks to discard many Marxist principles because Marxism is “an inexact science.” I hold that the problem lies with our understanding of what the science of Marxism is.

We ignored the most basic tenet, repeated over and over again by those we claimed to adhere to: “It is not just a matter of understanding the general laws derived by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin from their extensive study of real life and revolutionary experience,” as Chairman Mao once said, “but of studying their standpoint and method in examining and solving problems.”

Mao also pointed out the “two outstanding characteristics of Marxist philosophy.” These are its class nature and its dependence on practice. We upheld the former, while ignoring the latter. Should we blame Marxism-Leninism for this, or ourselves?

I’d like to go on to address a few of the specific points raised by Comrade Hamilton.

Firstly, there is his view of the “vanguard party question.” The position taken by the CPML Program was extremely arrogant and sectarian–that we are the only anti-capitalist force in the U.S., and that we and we alone would lead the American people to socialism.

Unfortunately, other than criticizing the “conception of a single vanguard communist party playing the only leading and revolutionary role in society,” Comrade Hamilton says nothing of his views on what role a communist party should play. There are those in the CPML (and I don’t know if Comrade Hamilton is among them) who hold that the whole concept of a vanguard is inapplicable to our society. What then is the task of communists?

In my view, there is a difference in seeing yourself as a “savior,” and seeing the need to unite and lead the progressive and revolutionary forces in society to a socialist revolution. Leadership and respect, of course, must be earned. But to replace past sectarianism with future tailism is no answer. While we will not be the only force fighting for socialism, I remain convinced that only with a scientific, organized, and disciplined force–a Communist Party – will the American people achieve and maintain a socialist society.

This leads into the question of methods of struggle. While I can agree that our “disdain for electoral work” has been a serious weakness, I’m not sure what Comrade Hamilton means by “our apocalyptic vision of the U.S. revolution.”

Other than putting forward the possibility of a “parliamentary transition” to socialism, Comrade Hamilton begs the question on what the nature of our electoral work should be. Do we put our efforts into a community-based, third party, work within the two-party framework, build a labor party, or what? These are important tactical questions facing our Party’s organizers.

As to the strategic goal of “parliamentary transition,” Comrade Hamilton states early in his “Message” that “chief among the problems or questions” facing us “is why has there never been a successful socialist revolution in the advanced capitalist world?” I would point out that while it is true that Marxist-Leninists have never achieved power in such a country, the history of socialist and social-democratic electoral work in these countries goes back much further than our work. And this work has never achieved socialism either.

The question of relations of different types of work is not a new one. In our country it goes back at least to the 1870s, to the struggle within the Workingmen’s Party of the United States (one of the earliest communist organizations) between the LaSalleans’ electoral strategy and the Marxists’ trade union strategy. We need to study this history as well as our current conditions before we jump at the possibility of “parliamentary transition” in a country such as ours.

As for the “apocalypse,” I suppose that Comrade Hamilton would like a nice clear road map as to what will bring socialism to this country. Such road maps exist only in the dreams of the social-democrats.

While we must make use of every possible form of struggle to organize, educate, and mobilize the American working people, the exact conditions that will lead to an inability of the capitalists to continue to govern cannot be foreseen. When they come about, whatever form they take, we should be ready for them–and we won’t be ready by putting all of our eggs in any one particular basket.

One final comment on the direction of Comrade Hamilton’s views. I was quite shocked to see him repeat without justification KGB and CIA lies. There is a difference between dealing with “the unsolved problems of the historical experience of socialism” and stating that there have been “now admitted mass killing under Stalin’s, Pol Pot’s and Mao’s leaderships.”


The experiences of the Russian, Kampuchean and Chinese revolutions have not been identical. While it’s obvious that some errors were made in the course of each, does Comrade Hamilton equate, their methods and results? We need accurate, scientific summation, not glib comments. Comrade Hamilton’s statement is nothing short of slanders, and on this matter I’m afraid that he finds himself bedded down with some strange allies indeed.

The debate taking place among Marxist-Leninists is very significant. Its outcome will determine whether we become a real force in this country or dwindle to a small sect.

I hope that our comrades don’t become overly discouraged by the errors that we’ve made. We should continue to build the people’s struggle, unite the revolutionary forces, learn from history, and deepen our understanding of what it will take to end the exploitation and suffering of our people.