Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Ex-PWOC Members

The PWOC: Degeneration into Ultra-Leftism

Written: Fall 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

EROL Note: This document was prepared by a dozen ex-PWOC members and endorsed by over 20 former PWOC members.

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I. Introduction

In the past year the PWOC has practically destroyed itself. At one time or another almost everyone in the organization, except for a select few in leadership has been suspended or put under some kind of disciplinary measures. By now 80% of the membership has left, while few if any members have been recruited. The exodus has been across the board – white cadre from petit bourgeois backgrounds, in the majority in the organization, make up a majority of those who left – but national minority members and white cadre from working class backgrounds have left as well. The PWOC is now a shadow of its former self, a small local group with an ever decreasing ability to intervene effectively in mass struggles in Philadelphia.

Not content with wrecking the PWOC, the leadership has carried its politics successfully into the OCIC, with the same results. The majority of OCIC members have also left in the past year.

This document has been written by a number of the PWOC members who left during the last year. Due to the lack of internal democracy in the PWOC, and due to the frenzied atmosphere of fear and guilt which too often predominated (where it became almost a crime to talk to other cadre known to have doubts about what was going on in the PWOC) we have left the organization one by one rather than forming a coherent opposition. Indeed, at the time of leaving most of us were unable to formulate clearly cur differences with the leadership, except that all objected to the “methods of struggle” used in the campaign against white chauvinism and anti-working class bias which was and is being carried out in the PWOC.

All of us recognized that the campaign had brought to light correct criticisms of many cadre, ourselves included. In many cases we left feeling guilty that we were unable to “keep up” with the struggle. Only after being out for some time, and talking to others who had left, have we begun to recognize more clearly the overall ultra-left and idealist character of the PWOC. While it is clear that it was correct to take up internal campaigns against racism and anti-working class bias, it is also clear that the way they have been taken up has undermined their positive aspects. Indeed the mechanical sectarianism and moralism of the campaigns has meant that they have set back the struggle against racism and class bias in the PWOC and in the movement as a whole.

We are writing this paper in order to begin to describe this process so that others in the movement can hopefully learn from it and add to it. We have read other critiques from around the country and many of them express the same criticisms that we are expressing here.

The PWOC was from the beginning at the center of the OCIC and those who are left in the PWOC continue to play a “leading role.” It was from the PWOC that the campaign against white chauvinism and anti-working class bias originated. As ex-members of the PWOC we believe that we have a special responsibility to find the causes for the disintegration of a once vibrant and growing movement.

We believe that the campaign has developed a consolidated ultra-left sectarian line based on an idealist flight from reality. The campaign is characterized by unprincipled methods of struggle, bureaucratic disciplinary solutions, and a withdrawal from mass struggle. All cadre, black, white, those from petty bourgeois or working class backgrounds – all have been abused by the process.

It is particularly interesting that Philadelphia has been one of the weakest areas in the country in developing any coherent opposition to the campaigns. We are now beginning to see how this is rooted in a historical bureaucratic centralism in the PWOC, a stifling of dissent and distrust of the rank-and-file.

We still believe that the fusion perspective, building a party while at the same time carrying out disciplined work in the mass movement, testing a political line in practice and recruiting from the workplace – we still believe that this perspective is the correct one.

II. General Considerations

The PWOC built its reputation and original base in opposition to the ultra-left and sectarian errors of past party-building groups. All of these groups, from the Provisional Organizing Committee (POC) of the late fifties through the PLP, the RU, OL, CPML, RCP, etc., have failed to build a new communist party due to their ultra-leftism. It is ironic that the PWOC has now gone down the same path.

The ultra-leftism of the PWOC is a product of its idealism. The PWOC is currently seeking to “purify” its cadre, to free them from racism, accommodation to racism, and anti-working class bias by endless sessions of “ideological struggle.” A correct line, that one of the principal reasons for the predominantly white petty bourgeois composition of the PWOC (and the trend as a whole) is the racism and anti-working class bias, has been mechanically applied. Dialectics and indeed common sense have been thrown out the window. Mass work has all too frequently been abandoned, as the PWOC has consumed itself in internal struggle about ideas, attitudes, and metaphysics.

Traditionally the PWOC has always been very active in the mass movements, as is consistent with its “fusion” line on party-building. Indeed, in the past the PWOC may have been primarily guilty of “right” errors, of advancing too few broad political demands while submerging itself in the economic demands of the working class, of failing to openly advocate socialism in the shops. The current descent into ultra-leftism and isolation comes at a time of a right-wing offensive and follows several years of a lull in working class militancy. In the face of these difficulties the PWOC has chosen to advance by internal consolidation and voluntarism in an attempt to overcome its primarily white and petty bourgeois composition. The product of its efforts has been increased isolation from the mass movement. Despite its formal adherence to the “fusion” line of merging communism with the working class and national minority movements, the PWOC now mirrors the idealist approach to party-building adopted by the “rectification” forces.

Accompanying the ultra-left idealism has been sectarianism. The PWOC has lost the ability to carry out united front work. Rather than carry out struggle as working members of the mass movements and testing ideas through practice and debate, the PWOC now prefers to draw “lines of demarcation” and expects their Line to attract followers based in its purity and abstract beauty. Rather than concentrate on actually building the mass movements the PWOC acts as a self-proclaimed vanguard – as if a small local group had accumulated the necessary experience to formulate a “correct” line on every issue.

Perhaps most prominent has been the PWOC’s campaign against racism. The PWOC has always correctly identified racism as the central division in the US working class. In the current campaign they further identified (again correctly in our view) white chauvinism (and anti-working class bias) as one of the central problems within the communist movement which objectively helped to maintain a mostly white petty bourgeois composition. The PWOC, without any previous discussion in the organization about how to carry it out, then proceeded to launch its current campaign. Although many correct criticisms were raised, the campaign has been characterized by mechanical criticisms for racism and manipulation of the struggle by leadership – which has only served to distort the struggle and thereby set it back, and has led to the resignation of most of the organization. Anti-racist work in the mass movement and a theoretical treatment of racism in US society at large were left by the wayside in favor of “ideological struggle” against white chauvinism in the ranks – struggle characterized by personal confessions and abstract moralism. The style and implementation of the campaign have been seen before in the communist movement, especially during the late forties in the Communist Party. Here are a few quotes from W.Z. Foster, then a leader of the CP, which describe that campaign and which apply as well to the current on.

The left sectarian tendency isolates the Party from the masses, makes a caricature of the fight against white chauvinism, considers white chauvinism as virtually ineradicable and proposes impossible disciplinary measures to combat it... And the sectarian trend cultivates the error by divorcing itself from the masses and making an unbalanced concentration upon the Party itself. Some of these comrades would seem to imply that the Party is the main source of white chauvinism in the working class.... The sectarian tendency also sharply condemns as conciliators of white chauvinism, if not as outright chauvinists, all those others who see any difference in the degree of contamination with white chauvinism. This sectarian definition of chauvinism practically eliminates education as a corrective measure, and puts the whole stress upon organizational measure Consequently, not only have comrades been unjustly disciplined, and even expelled, but the whole fight against white chauvinism has been confused and weakened.[1]

III. Inside the PWOC

The campaign was to mark a definitive break with the liberalism that had historical weakened criticisms of racism and anti-working class bias in the past. This commitment to break with liberalism, and pursue the struggles against racism and class bias were absolutely correct and critical. But, predominantly, while the criticisms may have been “sharp” as to the style with which they were delivered, they lacked sharpness as far as content, clarity and overall perspective – as well as far as their relationship to the class struggle. Questions such as: “Why is the correct position correct, i.e., how does it help the class struggle, how does a different position hurt the class struggle how should this change my practice concretely?” were not well addressed. It is the basic idealist and ultra-left character of the campaign that caused and progressively widened the gap between the criticisms and the day-to-day class struggle. The primary focus of the campaign became centered in the realm of ideas. A leading ideologue of the campaign repeatedly stressed that “bad actions come from bad ideas.” This position liquidates the scientific and dialectical materialist view which emphasizes the material bases of inequality, the roots of bourgeois ideology, and the interest (and therefore, the motivation) that the majority of people have in struggling for equality. By posing criticisms of racism and class bias separate from the cadres’ practice, these concepts became abstract and unreal. They assumed a metaphysical character, and it became easy to arbitrarily add and subtract examples of a cadre’s racism.

The campaign adopted a methodology which reduced everything to a question of white chauvinist or petty bourgeois ideas. For example, the centrality of the struggle against racism came to mean that racist ideology is always the central aspect of every action in relations between white and Black people. Criticisms became automatic formulas, mechanically applied. For example: “because racism exists in inter-racial relationships, then racism must be considered the essence of all inter-racial relationship, and inter-racial relationships must be discouraged.” (in fact, to remain in the PWOC it became necessary for such couples to break-up. Apparently this policy is now upheld throughout the OCIC, and in general the whole area of interpersonal relationships has become one of the prime areas of “ideological struggle.”)

Reducing all aspects of relationships to racism (or class bias) is contrary to Marxism-Leninism. Lenin summed it up this way: “Exaggerating any aspect of knowledge, depriving it of bonds with other aspects and with matter, and absolutizing it, inevitably leads to idealism.” If the PWOC continues to mechanically apply its line – and some mechanical applications of the line have already occurred around the question of where cadre live and where they send their children to school as well as the question of inter-racial relationships – ultimately it will end up with a position of “left segregationism.” The PWOC line is actually another example of the “white skin privilege” line what we have seen other groups take up in the past.[2]

Members and their errors have not only been characterized out of all perspective, but in the most exaggerated and obscene ways possible, such as claiming that so-and-so was “just like the KKK.” Members were said to have purposely and consciously committed errors for ulterior motives such as careerism and personal complaints against leadership.

Just as the line on white and petty bourgeois chauvinism was idealistic and mechanical, so was the line on accommodation to white and petty bourgeois chauvinism. Essentially all weaknesses or supposed weaknesses of national minority comrades were attributed to their accommodation to chauvinism. Any opposition to the campaign on the part of national minority comrades was attacked as “accommodationist.” To allow national minority comrades to raise criticisms of the campaign or the methods of struggle, would have caused a breach and toppled the house of cards built up by leadership. As a result national minority comrades(and white working class)comrades were driven out of the PWOC in about the same percentage as white comrades with petty bourgeois backgrounds.

Intertwined with the idealist approach was moralism. Because the campaign rested on the premise of cadres’ bad ideas and motives, it became steeped in moralism. In a follow-up discussion to a cell meeting one cadre made the uncontested statement: “We just have to admit that we are essentially bad people.” Members were expected to evaluate weaknesses and errors made throughout their lives and then to develop all-inclusive self-criticisms (typed out in triplicate) in much the same manner as one collects their sins and purges themselves for the confessional, and then becomes cleansed in one fell swoop. The struggle against bourgeois ideology should be an ongoing, scientifically ordered process, i.e., it should be tied to concrete problems as they arise and impede our political work. It should take place in an environment of education and democracy, not fear, and be directed towards the development of self-respect and respect for others which has been robbed from us by the capitalist system. People’s growth and change should be based on their revolutionary strivings, not motivated by guilt and debasement – which cause no real change.

What became the acceptable and sharpest way to struggle against racism and class bias was to immediately accept whatever criticism that was being levelled, and to call oneself and others racist and petty-bourgeois in the most degrading way possible. Criticisms were seen as definite certainties, not possibilities needing further investigation and intensive reflection. Finally, to question the criticisms became an error in and of itself, because not understanding the criticism was seen as further proof of racist and class-bias blindspots. To ask for further clarification (not to mention debate) was viewed as a tactic, a way to deflect or deny the criticism. This led to many members offering self-criticism they neither understood or fully agreed with. In some of these cases members did so dishonestly; but more typically, members concurred out of disorientation, blanket faith in leadership, or fear.

While it was often conceded that all white members had racist weaknesses, petty bourgeois members had class biases, and minority and working class members had weaknesses around “accomodationism” – nevertheless clear lines were drawn by leadership. There were basically good people, people on the fence, and people who were miserably and hopelessly bourgeois. In fact, a sort of “hit list” was created. Phrases such as, “We’re going to get so and so; so and so’s days are numbered,” became commonplace. This practice has its roots in the way differences have been handled historically in the PWOC. Consistently, those holding minority viewpoints have been discouraged through being labelled as people with basically faulty characters. This practice became more routine in the last year. In one struggle which took place recently (around the organization’s position on the Take Back the Night March) the opposition was dismissed because in the past one person had wanted to be a nun, another had been a Trotskyist, etc. Generally, struggle in the PWOC has always been conducted in an atmosphere of negativism, moralism, and personal attack.

Basically, a handful of people in leadership “run” the campaign, while they themselves are relatively exempt from criticism. Leadership sought out dissent in the PWOC not to learn from it but in order to crush it. Undemocratic and manipulative methods were successful, and eventually the internal life of the PWOC became characterized by unanimous votes, illegal suspension of the rules in order to discipline cadre, etc.

The PWOC never understood, or at least never put into practice, the correct relationship between centralism and democracy. Documents put out by leadership just before the campaign began stated that “centralism leads democracy” whereas a more correct formulation would be “centralism must be based on democracy.” Centralism is in fact the centralization of communist activities and the formation of leadership based on the centralization of theory and practice. Such centralization provides the ability to develop a political line and to provide leadership in guiding the work of the organization. Consistent stifling of debate and democracy internally can lead to bureaucratic centralism, a low level of theoretical development of cadre, and ultimately a divorce from the masses.

More and more, questions and disagreements on a whole range of issues in the PWOC have been seen as “anti-leadership.” While strains of this tendency may have been evident on occasion, the widespread and automatic use of this label was incorrect and was used by leadership to squash dissent.

An example of the above was the PWOC’s position on Afghanistan. While the Soviet intervention there posed considerable question and debate among progressive and left forces in the US, in the developed socialist countries, and in the Third World, those cadre who disagreed with the PWOC’s position were called “racist,” “anti-Soviet,” and “anti-leadership” and were harshly criticized throughout the organization. Whether the PWOC’s position is correct or not is not the question – the problem was that Afghanistan posed a legitimate debatable point everywhere but within the PWOC. Another example was the PWOC’s support of Gus Hall and Angela Davis for the presidential election. The position was announced and people were expected to agree with it – there was little debate. In fact, many cadre first heard about the position when they read about it in the PWOC’s newspaper, the Organizer.

The above examples point to two serious problems within the organization: 1) the heavy emphasis on consolidating cadre around a line, and 2) a basic distrust of the rank and file cadre by the leadership. Generally, the line is decided by top leadership, and in cell meetings cell chairs are expected to “consolidate” cadre around a line. Unfortunately this leads to little debate, a low level of understanding among rank and file, and has a negative impact on mass work. Cadre can’t be trusted to raise questions or disagreements within the PWOC- only leadership can be trusted to raise questions. Cadre have ulterior motives – but they don’t have the good of the organization the communist movement, or the working class at heart.

In response to the “heavy-handedness” used to consolidate cadre, some have raised problems with the methods of struggle used in the PWOC. Again, this was not seen as a legitimate point for discussion. Within the OCIC this same policy has been adopted by leadership. Questions about the methods of waging this campaign were not seen as legitimate. Those who disagree with the methods are automatically labelled racist.

Within the past year, when PWOC cadre – both those in leadership and the rank and file – have not fallen into line quickly enough there were “solutions” – suspensions, demotions, etc. In the past such suspensions and demotions were few indeed. But in the last year, they became routine – cadre were placed on “lists” depending on which punishment was their’s, and people were shifted from one list to another depending on how well they behaved. At meetings of the entire organization all the votes were “unanimous” – but this was a unity based on fear of suspension and ridicule. We think that such “unity” was an indication of a high level of political confusion, intimidation, and anxiety.

After cadre started resigning, the PWOC saw fit to write us out of the communist movement and the left. In some cases letters were sent out to other activists around the country, denouncing such-and-such a “comrade.” Clay Newlin, in an Organizer article, stated that those who left the OCIC had abandoned Marxism-Leninism. Wrong again, Clay! Although a few people have undoubtably been so badly burnt by the process that they have dropped out of left politics altogether, most people who have left the PWOC and the OCIC have continued to work in the mass movements and still consider themselves Marxists-Leninists. The PWOC took a limited, narrow view of ex-members, and jumped to erroneous conclusions. Many of us took a few months to sort out our political views, our personal lives, and to decide how best to contribute to the movement. This is a responsible approach. Meanwhile, the PWOC irresponsibly attacked ex-members. Despite the fact that in one case the PWOC was forced to make a halfhearted self-criticism about its extreme sectarianism and dishonesty towards one ex-cadre, this self-criticism failed to come to grips with the problem.

Another symptom of this sectarianism is the line put forward to anyone who considers leaving the organization – “you are thinking of leaving and burying yourself in mass work, but you won’t be able to, you will be discredited in the eyes of the masses for having left the PWOC; the same weaknesses which are causing you to leave will come to haunt you in the mass movement and inevitably you will end up dropping out of politics!” In other words, there is no life after the PWOC. We disagree. Equating leaving the PWOC with abandoning Marxism-Leninism is arrogant posturing.

The unprincipled and strident sectarianism toward ex-members took an even more insidious turn. Members of the PWOC were instructed not to speak to former members. People were told they were not allowed to continue personal relationships with cadre who resigned. Members who quite were isolated from friends, lovers, and roommates. Charges of anti-communism were raised against those who quit. Although this may have been true in one or two cases, overall it was completely false. And while the PWOC is not responsible for every individual’s weaknesses, it must assume some responsibility for fostering anti-communism both among a few ex-members and in the broader movement. The heavy-handed methods of dealing with both members and ex—members has served to fuel anti-communism.

IV. Cadre Development and Workload

Two longstanding problems in the PWOC have been cadre development and cadre assignments. They are directly affected by each other. Mistakes in these areas also stem from ultra-left idealism and voluntarism.

Upon entering the PWOC a year-long candidate’s training program was required. While this program may have had some problems, overall, it was a necessary and positive step for new cadre. However, once the candidate’s program was completed there was no further formal education for members, except for an occasional all-group meeting. At the 1976 PWOC convention, the general membership – the highest body of the organization – mandated that a membership training program and a leadership training program be started. At the time there was a clear recognition of the need for the rank and file, especially women and national minority comrades to develop theoretically, as well as practically. Both of these programs were instituted for a while, but were cancelled by members of the executive committee soon after they began. Many criticisms of this action were raised, but the response was that the training programs were “petit-bourgeois,” and that the correct way to educate cadre was through “sharp ideological struggle.” Ideological struggle is indeed an integral part of education, but it must go hand-in-hand with some more formal organized approach to theoretical development.

Problems emerged from this situation. A fairly large theoretical gap existed between the rank and file and middle level leadership, on the one hand, and the top level leadership on the other. Many of the “more advanced” members of the PWOC might have been able to quote Lenin or carry on “sharp” polemics better than the rank and file. On the other hand, often enough the “less developed” rank and file far surpassed the leadership in organizing skills.

This gap between leadership and the base may be true in most organizations, but a Marxist-Leninist organization should strive to decrease the gap – not accept the status quo. The status-quo meant that leadership discussed theory and the internal politics of the PWOC, while the rank and file carried out mass work, and simply accepted “the line.” This led to members often mechanically defending a line, instead of fully understanding it, and had a particularly devastating effect on many members of middle-level leadership – composed mostly of women. Several members of middle-level leadership were removed from their positions because they were not “ideologically developed enough,” although they had been seen as developed enough when first appointed by the executive committee. With no real mechanism for cadre development, and with virtually all of a cadre’s time taken up with meetings and other internal work, it is no wonder that individuals never had the time to develop either ideologically or theoretically. Although this was the general situation for middle-level leadership women and national minorities were handled differently.

The PWOC had a policy of aggressively promoting women and national minorities to leadership positions. On the face of things this was a good policy. But the reality was that time and again people were “promoted” and then left to fend for themselves. This had a particularly racist and sexist impact on those women and national minorities who were placed in positions of leadership. It was even more serious for national minority women who were either promoted and ignored or just plain ignored.

One black male member (who has since resigned) was “co-opted” (appointed – rank and file did not vote on such things) into leadership soon after becoming a PWOC member without going through, candidate membership training. He was then overloaded with work – 13 different assignments at one time. Nothing was set up to teach him things he might need to know to better carry out his assignments. Also, no attempt was made to try to really listen and learn from his doubts, questions, and criticisms. This cadre made numerous attempts to set up meetings to discuss this, but they were always cancelled by other leadership members. Yet he was always under criticism for not performing his assignments up to par.

These criticisms were later stated by the comrade in his letter of resignation. It is interesting that the PWOC has never distributed his resignation letter to the membership even though this was the standard practice up to this point. The only thing the leadership ever criticized themselves for in relation to this comrade was their “liberalism.”

The question of cadre development is tied to more than just education and ideological struggle. It is directly tied to the typed and amount of assignments cadre receive. Most cadre attended 3 or 4 meetings during the week, in addition to 5-6 hour cell meetings on the weekends. This was on top of union meetings, mass meetings, leafletting, phone calls, distributing the Organizer, selling raffle tickets, attending mobilizations and demonstrations, writing articles, doing childcare, etc, etc. All of this was done after working a 40 hour work week. In addition, cadre had family, household responsibilities, etc. There was very little time for socializing with co-workers, neighbors, friends – or even getting to know other PWOC members. Of course there was little time left for individual reading or study. In addition, cadre were sometimes told to change their jobs at the drop of a hat – without serious discussion about the political importance and effects of changing a job. This pace became the cause of many cadre feeling frazzled, tired, and isolated from friends and family who were not in the PWOC. Demoralization, especially when the work was not advancing, set in time and again for many members.

Underneath all the frantic schedules was a real failure on leadership’s part to choose political priorities, and a low level of understanding on how to develop cadre. In the long run the PWOC was acting like the revolution was next week. Such an attitude not only burns out members, but has a definite effect on recruitment; especially among workers who too often saw us as “professional meeting-goers.” While sympathetic to the work of the PWOC and willing to do some work themselves, people shy away from such an all-consuming group. Within the PWOC, at first, it was admitted that “we are acting like we are a party, and trying to do all the work of a party, when we are only a small local organization.” However, in the last year it was decided that there was no problem with over-extension, the problem was only a lack of “ideological consolidation,” a lack of commitment on the part of some members. Eventually, at an all-PWOC meeting it was decided unanimously that overextension was not a problem – although everyone remained over-extended. As with many other issues in the recent period, legitimate questions and criticisms were voluntaristically declared not to be legitimate – unanimously. We were told “No one should dare ask for a leave, or assignment change, and no one is going to be allowed to quit the PWOC anymore!

Fortunately, 2/3 of us came to our senses and quit despite being told we would not be allowed to quit.

In the long run, the low level of understanding by leadership of the problem of cadre development really could not be corrected by band-aid measures, or even by denial of the problem. The irony is that the top level leadership also suffered from this problem. The executive committee itself was outrageously over-extended, and lacked time for their own theoretical development. It was a vicious cycle that was not completely understood.

Mechanical over-reaction to problems and criticisms has been the hallmark of the PWOC lately. The serious problems of racism and class bias were not dealt with in a dialectical materialist way that looked at the problem in an all-sided manner and proposed concrete solutions for advancing and strengthening cadre. Instead a moralistic, mechanical approach, which automatically categorized and labelled cadre, was used – and often led to punishing cadre by suspending, humiliating, or demoting them.

A critical component of the executive committee’s failure to grasp the problem of cadre development was their failure to understand the responsibility of all-around leadership. While members of the top leadership were good at writing theory, proposing policy, and travelling around the country making speeches, they failed in their responsibility to encourage honest criticism. They used double standards in applying internal policies and rules, and they failed to take responsibility for errors that were their own rather than placing responsibility on to the middle level leadership and the rank and file. The top leadership never understood that real leadership has an obligation not just to meet the minimum standards of communist principles but must become an outstanding example from which the membership can learn.

V. Outside the PWOC

On of the more dramatic examples recently of the PWOC’s inability to unite with other progressive forces was their behavior at the last International Women’s Day in Philadelphia. Although the PWOC has said that the women’s movement is a part of the revolutionary movement in the US, the PWOC has adopted a sectarian attitude towards the women’s movement locally for a number of years. This has been especially evident recently when the PWOC has sharply criticized the women’s movement for feminism. Feminism, strictly defined, narrowly targets men as the enemy and all too often overlooks class and racial oppression. We agree with the PWOC that feminism, defined in this sense (as opposed to the looser sense of anti-sexism) should be criticized. However , the PWOC has refused to participate in the women’s movement, claiming that work there is not a priority. In this stand-off position, the PWOC is merely repeating the errors of other “left” groups who were all criticism and no unity vis-a-vis the women’s movement. Such a position only serves to foster anti-communism in the women’s movement and makes criticism of narrow feminism more difficult for activists in the women’s movement. The culmination of this trend, which began with the half-hearted participation in and strident criticism of the Take Back the Night March in the fall of 1979, came when the PWOC walked out of the International Women’s Day Coalition (IWD) in March 1981.

After initially participation in planning the IWD event, the PWOC withdrew in a struggle about whether to include one explicitly feminist (here in the narrow sense) speaker – to them this proved the hegemony of narrowly defined feminism in the women’s movement. The PWOC saw fit to leaflet the event explaining why they withdrew, as well as urge speakers on the IWD program not to speak because of the racism of the IWD coalition. Yet wrecking the event would have only set back the struggle against racism in the women’s movement. Although the anti-racist content of the program could have been stronger, it did include important statements from various speakers focusing on the lack of participation by minority women, and addressing the problems of racism in the women’s movement. Other speakers targeted imperialism and called for international solidarity. Over 700 people attended.

The same lack of ability to carry out united front work was evident in the PWOC’s role in building the Coalition for a People’s Alternative, which sponsored a large rally in New York City last summer to protest the Democratic convention. The PWOC was the Main force in building the local Philadelphia chapter of the Coalition for a Peoples Alternative. The methods of struggle used by the PWOC in pushing its line hindered the work of the coalition. Half the time was spent with the PWOC trying to “consolidate” others around their line on the primacy of racism, even though most other local activists involved in the work by and large agreed with this line. Personal testimonials about their own racism by PWOC cadre, and continued efforts to conduct a mechanical and distorted “ideological” struggle with everyone else, only served to drive people away from the local work.

Similar problems have cropped up in the trade union caucuses where PWOC members work. To carry out the line means to carry out “ideological struggle” with other caucus members, isolated from and to the neglect of practical activity. If the PWOC in the past made “right errors” in its trade union work by not bringing up political questions and by not being open as communists, today the. line has swung the other way and the PWOC’s line has swung far left. Nowadays cadre are supposed to be taking up primarily advanced tasks, although in practice few tasks of any type are being taken up. In those caucuses where the PWOC does continue to carry out practical work, such as the work in the teacher’s union, it does so only because the PWOC cadre pragmatically ignore the more extreme commands of their superiors to “struggle, struggle, struggle.”

In the Coalition Against Racist Violence set up last summer in Philly, the PWOC played the leading role. Again, a good idea got off the ground but then was scuttled. Here the PWOC was actually involved in mass work against racism and important steps forward were made in bringing together community organizations and putting city government on the spot. However, in the end the PWOC was long on “ideological struggle” and short on developing a program for on-going anti-racist work on a city-wide basis. Granted this was a difficult task, but the decision by the PWOC to focus on struggling against white chauvinism separate from developing program made it more so. After one successful city-wide meeting the Coalition Against Racist Violence fell apart. Its demise was little discussed in the organization, where the cadre were too busy with criticism and self-criticism. After all, self-criticism had to be written up until they were satisfactory to leadership. The paperwork was enormous.

Lately the PWOC has been much involved in (belatedly) building the local center of the OCIC. Originally conceived as a forum for theoretical debate across the tendency, the OCIC has degenerated nationally into a forum to consolidate all-those-who-can-be-consolidated around the line of the OCIC steering committee – which generally has meant the line of the PWOC. By now 2/3 or more of the OCIC members have left, a fact that the PWOC in the Organizer has portrayed as necessary to cleanse the OCIC. Those who left are dismissed as not having been sufficiently committed anyway.

The PWOC has had no better luck in building the local center here in Philadelphia. After 5-6 meetings, few if any people are participating besides PWOC members. Indeed, it cannot be expected that potential working class and minority recruits, sought by the PWOC, will willingly be subjected to the endless ideological struggle that is designed to bring them in. To people not already attuned to the PWOC’s brand of struggle, the PWOC may appear more like a cult than a political organization. As for other leftists in the city, a few have attended but most have not. The PWOC did invite some ex-members to participate. This hypocritical show of “non-sectarianism” contrasted with previous denunciations of those who left, and was the result of a feeble attempt by the PWOC to cover themselves.

We can imagine the PWOC once again dismissing those who don’t participate in their local center. They will say that those who don’t come are merely afraid to face up to their own white chauvinism, or in the case of national minority comrades to their own accommodation to white chauvinism. Indeed, when the PWOC and the local center are reduced to only a handful of people (which almost is the case now) Newlin and company will still be seeing it all as a confirmation of their “correct” line.

Finally, a word on the development of the national trade union fractions. Locally these fractions have attracted no members outside of those in the PWOC. This is no surprise. Consider the health fraction here in Philly. One non-PWOC person was induced to go to the initial meeting and was denounced for the entire meeting for her racism. Not surprisingly, she did not return.

VI. Conclusion

As already stated, we feel that the campaign against white chauvinism (and class bias) was necessary and in fact targeted a real weakness within our movement. Unfortunately the leaders of the current campaign have conducted it in such a way as to undercut the struggle against racism and to fuel anti-communism. Although a serious problem was identified, the campaign was flawed from its conception.

The present campaign got mired in idealism because it was not rooted in the struggle against capitalism but rather in the struggle against people’s ideas. One of the premises on which this thrust was based was that the lack of multi-nationality of the PWOC and the OCIC was mainly due to white chauvinism in the organization. This premise was only partly true.

While the white chauvinism of cadre was part of the barrier to multi-nationality (just as petty bourgeois chauvinism was a barrier to increased working class composition), there were other factors. The one-sided analysis of the leadership of the campaign ignored the initial obstacle to unity, the historic general distrust (due to racism) of national minorities towards mostly white organizations. It also ignored the ability of national minority comrades to reason politically and make decisions based on the political line and practice of any organization.

Political line and especially practice are key in attracting national minority members to a communist organization. Once initial distrust is broken down, and this is done mainly through the kind of work being done in the working class, there are still obstacles to the integration of national minority cadre. It is here that the chauvinism as well as the petty bourgeois atmosphere of mostly white communist organizations becomes the main obstacle.

It is here that the character of cadre become key. White cadre will of course have racist weaknesses. What is important is their commitment to struggling against such weaknesses. Criticism must be followed by practice – it is in mass work where cadres’ willingness and ability to change will be tested. Unending internal criticism leads nowhere.

To lump all cadre together and force the same confessions out of everyone (e.g., confessions to thinking all Blacks are inferior, lazy, violent, rapists, etc) does not get to the problem but instead aggravates it. This simplistic approach refuses to recognize peoples’ different backgrounds and concrete experiences. It was not based on the real world, but came from a method of struggle against racism with which a few people in leadership were infatuated (see Hosea Hudson’s account of a criticism/self-criticism session in the CPUSA, described in his autobiography, for the jumping-off point of this current campaign).

What was needed was an approach never before attempted in the PWOC, While a serious problem was identified, there was not a serious approach to taking up the campaign. Such an approach would have required l) defining what racism is 2) describing how racism is seen outside and inside the organization 3) involving everyone in the organization in a discussion about how to take up the struggle against racism in the organization and in mass work 4) collectively guiding member’s practice to overcome racist errors.

This kind of approach, involving previous discussion among cadre about how to take up the campaign, rather than the imposition of a “line” followed by whipping the cadre into shape – might have produced a viable campaign. By not’ consulting cadre and by not allowing democracy to dominate, the leadership relied on themselves alone to set the course of the campaign. Once the problems with their approach became obvious, leadership persisted and refused to re-evaluate their “line” even though it wrecked the PWOC and the OCIC. The leadership must be held accountable for setting back both the struggle against racism and the party-building movement.


[1] “Left Sectarianism in the Fight for Negro Rights and Against White Chauvinism,” by William Z. Foster, Political Affairs, June 1954.

[2] For example, Sojourner Truth and Prairie Fire Organization.