Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Jim Hamilton

A Message to the Movement


First Published: The Call, Vol. 9, No. 37, February 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Call Note: Below is the first of what we hope will be many viewpoints on the state of the CPML and the left.

As many on the left probably know by now, the CPML is engaged in a strenuous reevaluation of all its past work, policies and political lines.

This process of re-examination is not an isolated phenomenon in the worldwide revolutionary movement. Especially in the advanced capitalist countries, communist and other left parties are coming to grips with a number of major problems in their work. Chief among these problems, or questions, is why has there never been a successful socialist revolution in the advanced capitalist world? This question obviously has much relevance for our efforts to make Marxism a major force in the United States.

The CPML’s current reassessment effort, however, also stems from our own more particular experiences. In the past, The Call has printed articles exposing ultra-leftism in our practice, especially in regards to our newspaper and communist tactics in the labor movement. But the evidence suggests that our errors go much deeper than this.

Speaking only as one member of the CPML, I’d like to offer some initial thoughts on the nature and depth of our errors, and on what I think is required to correct them. I hope my article will be the first of many to discuss and debate these issues from all points of view.

I particularly want to address my remarks to the broad left movement –including those whom the CPML once called “opportunists” or “enemies” – because those outside the CPML’s ranks have much to offer in helping us sort out right from wrong.


In my opinion, the CPML’s reevaluation of its line and policies is entirely called for by our practice. Nearly ten years of difficult and dedicated mass work by our hundreds of cadres has yielded little result in terms of building a truly mass revolutionary movement. Neither our press nor our political approach has really “caught on” among any significant section of the population, and they show no signs of doing so unless fundamental changes are made in our work. Our membership has declined by several hundred over the last two years.

Though no one expected us to have millions of members or to achieve victory after any set time-period, it is perfectly reasonable to demand that our organization show vitality and upward motion.

To be sure, there has been some positive motion recently, especially in our mass work in the factories and communities and campuses. These strides forward, however, have largely come about through rejecting the CPML’s previous lines and methods of work. Still, we should recognize that we have accumulated a great deal of experience in the mass struggle, and that this is a good basis upon which to begin to develop a sound revolutionary strategy in the U.S.

Within the CPML’s ranks, there is as yet no firm agreement as to the precise nature of our errors, though the consensus clearly is that ultra-leftism has posed by far the greater danger to our work. Hopefully, there will be such agreement following the debates and summations of practice that are taking place. This process will require some time, but here are some examples of our errors as I see them now:

To its credit, the CPML always tried to integrate with the masses of workers right at the point of production. Despite this, we seriously isolated ourselves in our labor work from the main rank-and-file thrusts for reform and democracy within the unions. The CPML’s boycott of Ed Sadlowski’s reform campaign in steel was an example of this error.

Our concept of transforming the unions–currently gripped by collaborationist union officials-into organizations for class straggle was all too often confined to the realm of propaganda. When that effort did take practical shape, it often resulted in pulling militant workers out of the existing union structure and setting up isolated caucuses and networks.

I believe our past practice in the trade unions also demonstrated a view that economic struggle is inferior to political struggle, that mass organizing is inferior to revolutionary education, and that united-front tactics are inferior and antagonistic to the tactic of drawing lines of demarcation between ourselves and those who don’t share our views.

What about work among the oppressed nationalities? It can be said that in general the CPML fought to restore and uphold the right of self-determination for oppressed nationalities in the U.S. We did some fine anti-racist work in the Free Gary Tyler and other campaigns, and took up many straggles for equality. But there were underlying flaws.

In my view, for example, the Leninist concept of the national question being in essence a class question was often reduced to regarding the national question as “basically” or even solely a class question. The nationalism of minorities was too often viewed as harmful to the revolutionary process, rather than a natural and generally positive by-product of oppression in one of the most violently racist countries on earth.

Popular Chicano, Asian, Black and especially Native American struggles led by non-Marxist forces were downplayed or ignored. Furthermore, we most always insisted on multi-national forms of organization, regardless of the situation. Even within the CPML, guarantees of political power and representation were inadequate.

Much more could and should be said about our work in those two arenas. Furthermore, CPML members involved in women’s struggles, in internationalist work and support for anti-imperialist movements abroad, in electoral work, student work and united front work are all summing up their collective experiences and proposing changes for the future.


Where opinion is somewhat more divided within the CPML, though, is on the question of how deep our errors run, and on their source.

In my view, our mistakes were not the result of a bad application of an otherwise correct general line and approach. Instead, our ultra-left errors flowed from some of our most basic conceptions, conceptions that are shared by many of the parties worldwide that comprise what is called the “Maoist” or “pro-China” trend. For simplicity’s sake, I will use the abbreviation MLM – for Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought – to describe our particular political trend.

In my opinion, for example, the CPML was not sectarian because we were an accidental collection of impolite individuals. Rather, it is evident that our conception of a single, vanguard communist party playing the only leading and revolutionary role in society was more than a little to blame for our hegemony-seeking and for the poor state of our united front work. Furthermore, the notion that the CPML was that vanguard party only added to the problem.

As the CPML’s program declared: “With the exception of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist), all other political parties in the U.S. are defenders of the capitalist system.” This statement is obviously false, even if it was meant to describe only non-Marxist-Leninist forces (and it wasn’t).

This particular conception of the vanguard party was only partially based on Lenin’s teachings. The way we viewed a communist party and its role was also heavily colored by the developments of the mid-1960’s which gave birth to the entire MLM trend, especially the split with modern right revisionism and China’s Cultural Revolution. While there was a very positive aspect to all this–our rejection of the CPUSA’s pacifism and reformism, for instance- the absolutism which we absorbed from China’s Cultural Revolution was a serious mistake.

The CPML’s absolutism can also be seen in other of our conceptions. Our across-the-board sectarianism towards the reformist-led mass movements flowed largely from the belief that reform is antagonistic to and incompatible with revolution.

Our disdain for electoral work and our apocalyptic vision of the U.S. revolution also flowed from the anti-Marxist notion that armed struggle is the only strategic component of the revolutionary seizure of power. We interpreted the Chilean experience to mean that the electoral process was a fraud, rather than that any possible parliamentary transition had to be readily defended by the people’s armed power.

The most harmful contaminant of our revolutionary work, however and the problem that perhaps underlies our mistakes as a whole was our doctrinairism. Doctrinarism roughly means the substitution of abstract “principles” or doctrines for concrete revolutionary program and analysis.

From my standpoint, the CPML did practically no theoretical work of an original nature. Despite the fact the American communists have a wealth of experience and nearly limitless research tools at our disposal, we have made no analysis of classes in our society. We have no specific program for revolutionary work either in the short term or the long term, and we can offer the people no concrete vision of what a socialist U.S.A. would look like, even in a general way.

This is an extremely unhealthy situation for us to be in. This doctrinairism, this ultra-leftism, contradicts the basic Marxist approach of seeking truth from facts, of integrating and applying Marxism to American conditions, and of developing our own path to revolution.

Isn’t there something wrong when many in our movement know the names of Chinese officials but not the names of their own Congressmen?

Isn’t there something wrong when many in our movement can quote Lenin or Mao but can’t name even two of America’s best-selling books?

Isn’t there something wrong when many in our movement cannot speak with any real knowledge about the specific causes and solutions to U.S. economic woes–despite the fact that as Marxists we believe economic factors are the motive force of social revolution? In fact, the best that most of us can do when someone asks how we would specifically deal with inflation, for example, is to mutter a phrase or two about the need to “overthrow capitalism.”

Isn’t there also something wrong when we insist on describing the Soviet Union as “capitalism restored” even though no one in our movement can offer a coherent proof of that contention? Though obviously Soviet aggression flows from inherent political and economic features of Soviet society, the reality is far more complex than we have ever admitted to.

And finally, isn’t there something wrong when many in our movement turn a blind eye to all the unsolved problems of the historical experience of socialism-such as the now-admitted mass killing under Stalin’s, Pol Pot’s and Mao’s leaderships? Or the Gulags and boat people of the Soviet-bloc countries?


The masses’ fears about socialism in this regard are not “bourgeois ideas” to be overcome. They are actually pretty legitimate concerns, and they are concerns that people in China and other socialist countries are themselves trying to grapple with.

On this score, it seems unlikely to me that the American people will rally to us if–aside from even excellent mass organizing–we have nothing definite to say about our final aims. After all, the “dictatorship of the proletariat” is four vague words that have meant radically different things in every single country where it has been attempted. People will want to know what forms of revolutionary state power we advocate–do we, for instance, advocate an uncensored press, a people’s bill of rights, a formally independent judiciary or a party-controlled court system as in China, etc.?

It seems to me that much of the worldwide MLM trend has been afflicted with this same doctrinairism. This may be why – except for a few third world MLM parties – almost all groups in our trend from the advanced capitalist world are either disintegrating, barely holding their own, or openly searching for new paths to socialist revolution in their respective countries. Perhaps the reason why some third world MLM parties are showing signs of vigor may be because Mao Zedong Thought was, after all, primarily an application of Marxism to China’s third world conditions.


In the past, we have spoken of the “cardinal” or universal principles of Marxism-Leninism. I also believe that there are universal features of Marxist thinking –including the recognition of the class nature of existing society and the need for working-class political power ultimately backed by an armed people.

But beyond these generalizations, it is noteworthy that probably no two communists anywhere in the world can recite the same complete list of these “cardinal principles” of Marxism. And probably, no two communist groups who subscribe to Mao Zedong Thought anywhere in the world hold the same definition of it.

What does it all mean? Mainly, it means that Marxism is a much more inexact science than, say, physics.

In physics, an object falls at 32 feet per second per second regardless of where the object is on this planet. This fact is eminently provable and agreed on by all.

But the simple truth is that Marxists can agree on few specific conceptions even among themselves. That fact should at least tell us that the universal laws of Marxist social science mean something a little different than do the universal laws of the physical sciences. A little experimentation with such an inexact science is not out of place therefore, especially when we remember that no people have made a successful revolution without abandoning some previously-held theories and developing new applications of Marxism to suit their own circumstances. The Chinese revolution is probably the best example of this fact.

Breaking with ultra-leftism and doctrinairism is an urgent matter, not only for the CPML, but for the broader left movement as well. America is in for rough times and we have to be far better prepared to lead the struggle in the ’80’s than we were in the ’70’s.

The New Right, for instance, is a real phenomenon, reflecting not only the latest shift in ruling class policy but also the fact that racists and reactionaries have often spoken to the people’s genuine fears and frustrations better than we have.

The Ku Klux Klan is brazenly holding open house at its armed training camps. But we have not yet come up with widely successful approaches to building multi-national unity and combatting racism.

And regardless of anyone’s line on the “three worlds theory”, world war is a definite possibility in the ’80s. Still, we have yet to galvanize the mass abhorrence of war into a popular storm capable of influencing superpower policymakers.

Clearly, the situation demands that the left and progressive forces begin working together again. We must resume the dialogue between organizations and trends that was so wrongly broken in the mid-1970’s, and fight for every form of unity possible, no matter how small or practically-oriented. I hope that my organization will play a positive role in this process.