Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Big upheavals in U.S. communist movement

First Published: In Struggle! [Canada] No. 255, June 16, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The Communist Party (M-L)

The group which has been most strongly affected by the ideological and political questioning is the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) of the U.S.A., which has always been very close to the Canadian Workers Communist Party. The CP(M-L) was founded in 1975 by the October League and other groupings which supported the Chinese line through its most reactionary twists and turns. The CP(M-L) thus became an increasingly staunch supporter of the three worlds theory. They in practice targeted the Soviet Union as not only the main enemy of the peoples of the world but the main enemy in the United States too. This stand led them to oppose the mass movement against the reintroduction of the draft. At one time, their newspaper, The Call, came out weekly and had a run of 13,000. They had developed a number of mass organizations.

More recently, the paper has become a monthly and only 3,000 are printed. All the mass organizations have been dissolved. Former CP(M-L) chairman Mike Klonsky is not even a member of the leadership committee which has taken the place of the dissolved central committee. According to the New York paper The Guardian, more than one-third of the membership has quit the CP(M-L) in the last while.

Done in by Chinese policy

The series of abrupt turns in Chinese policy, particularly the condemnation of the Cultural Revolution as ultra-leftist and the criticisms of Mao, forced CP(M-L) leaders to make some quick changes to bring their party into line.

In the summer of 1980, they undertook a struggle against ultra-leftism, identified as the most basic error of the party. The rectification programme did not lead to the desired effects. Serious differences surfaced. In February of this year one of the newspaper editors, Jim Hamilton, wrote an article in The Call second-guessing virtually the whole practice of CP(M-L). The March issue indicated that the party had disintegrated into several trends.

One grouping, which includes party vice-chairman and newspaper editor Dan Burstein, publicly doubts whether it is possible to apply Leninism to the United States. They question whether a revolution can be made and whether a vanguard party based on democratic centralism can or should be built.

A second grouping stands by Leninism but criticizes the mechanical and stereotyped way in which the CP(M-l) applied it to the U.S. Former Central Committee member (and previously columnist for the Guardian and SDS activist) Carl Davidson said that part of the problem “was (that) a lot of us became revolutionaries in the 1960’s, in a period of upsurge and upheaval. It gave a certain onesidedness to our experience.... (Many CP(M-L) members) cut their teeth on the Cultural Revolution and that was their introduction to Marxism. When the Cultural Revolution got criticized, they had all their basic ideas pulled out from under them and went astray.” (The Guardian; May 27)

The new leadership committee has not published its official views as of yet. However, one member of that committee, John Martin, put forward his viewpoint in the April issue of The Call. He called for a continuation of the campaign against ultra-leftism. The CP(M-L) should continue to defend the three worlds theory. Martin criticized the party for having a sectarian attitude towards reformists in the past. But even more basically, he questioned the very fact that the CP(M-L) had proclaimed itself as the party and the process of so doing. He proposed starting again to try to unite American Marxist-Leninists, this time into a pre-party organization which’ would be more closely linked to mass struggles. “The current ’to the masses’ orientation in the international communist movement,” states Martin, “could set the conditions, in my opinion, for the building of communist parties that can be transformed into significant political forces in their respective countries.”

CWP adopts a pro-Soviet line

Workers Viewpoint is the newspaper of the Communist Workers Party, five of whose members were murdered last year by the Ku Klux Klan in Greensboro. North Carolina. This group has just done a thorough overhaul of its position on the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Soviet Union.

In the May 25 issue of its paper. CWP publishes excerpts from a book by its general secretary, Jerry Tung, called The Socialist Road. The excerpts criticize, in somewhat the same way Carl Davidson did, the idealism of the Cultural Revolution and called for a more materialist approach in the struggle for socialism. “Only with an historical perspective can we understand socialism as a science and base our fight against the criminal role of the U.S. bourgeoisie on the last words of science.”

The CWP considers that this materialist approach leads to recognizing that the U.S.S.R. and China are still socialist countries. “Basically we have had an idealist view of socialism. We conceived of socialism as a paradise where all problems are solved.” The CWP thinks that the economic base in China and the U.S.S.R. has remained socialist even though the policies of these countries’ leadership are basically reactionary. The CWP explains this contradiction in terms of the “relative independence of ideology” vis-a-vis the economy.

CWP winds up adopting a thesis very similar to what has long been defended by the Trotskyist movement. It denies that, the U.S.S.R. is an imperialist country by putting it in the same category as a third world country: “The Soviet Union and China, like third world countries, do not have a capital surplus; rather they have a shortage of capital. So their incorrect foreign policies cannot be explained in terms of capital exports, just as we can’t explain the Tanzanian invasion of Uganda and Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea in those terms.”

According to CWP, this line change is required to carry out the mission the party has set itself for the 1980s: to lead the American people to revolution.

Other collectives defend these positions

There are other collectives in the United States that also consider the U.S.S.R. as a fundamentally socialist country. Line of March, a group led by Irwin Silber (former editor of the weekly newspaper The Guardian), went so far as to support the U.S.S.R.’s invasion of Afghanistan. He has already declared that a Russian intervention in Poland would be a positive development.

The Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC) also thinks that the U.S.S.R. is a socialist country and defended the Russian invasion of Afghanistan.

The Theoretical Review, a journal published by the Tucson Collective, argues that the U.S.S.R. has reached a mode of production somewhere between capitalism and socialism. This position echoes the thesis already put forward by Monthly Review.

The era of ready-made formulas now being challenged

The criticism of idealism and a one-sided and dogmatic application of Marxism, along with the call to study the lessons of the past and the determination to ground points of view in reality, are certainly positive aspects of the rethinking now going on among American Marxist-Leninists. It is a clear illustration that the old approach of relying on one or another ready-made formulas to explain everything is coming under fire.

There is one exception worth noting: the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. The RCP has made the defence of Mao the main focal point of its political line for the past two years and is becoming increasingly isolated. They contend that revolution is near in the U.S. and that it is urgent that the forces needed to carry out the required revolutionary actions be brought together. The RCP has been subject to heavier and heavier repression. Party chairman Bob Avakian is seeking political exile status in France because he fears assassination if he remains in the States. In the wake of a series of “revolutionary” acts of bravado, the RCP has suffered over a 1000 arrests just in the past 12 months.

There is something rather disturbing about how the groups which are going through the most serious questioning of their previous positions are arriving at new positions. All of them are doing so with great haste. The most striking example is the Communist Workers Party, which now contends that the Soviet Union is socialist. It made that about-face without even organizing a public debate on the issue beforehand.

Many Marxist-Leninists would readily agree that the present analysis made by communists of Soviet society has many shortcomings. For example, there is little clear understanding of the specific characteristics of a country which has already been a socialist country. However, how can you seriously call a country socialist when it exports capital to Eastern Europe and Asia, sells machinery to other countries in order to keep them in a state of dependence, pillages raw materials abroad and severely exploits workers, who are deprived of their most basic democratic rights, at home? That stand is completely unacceptable.

The criticism of many of Mao’s ideas by the current Chinese leadership and the rise of a virulently anti-Soviet new American Right has forced a whole series of groups to alter their course. But if the criticism of past tailism of China simply leads to another form of tailism, this time with regard to the Soviet Union, the danger is very great that American revolutionaries will find themselves co-opted and used by Soviet imperialism.

The communist movement is in the midst of a major political crisis especially in the U.S. and many imperialist countries, as the last IS! Central Committee meeting affirmed. Fundamental issues are being debated, such as the nature of socialism and the question of a vanguard party. There is a very great temptation in such a context to go for quick answers, as the CP(M-L) and CWP are trying to do, and to come up with seemingly new ideas right away. But those ideas have in fact proven to be nothing more than age-old reformist and revisionist ideas which boost the Soviet Union or deny the necessity of a vanguard organization. Real answers will not be got at without a scientific study of the past and present revolutionary experiences.