Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Line of March Editorial Board

Letter on the CWP’s Change of Line

Issued: July 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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July 9, 1981

Dear Comrades:

The recent alteration in line by the Communist Workers Party, (CWP) is a development with a particular importance for the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend. The CWP is the first U.S. Maoist formation to explicitly surrender the capitalist restoration thesis. It has simultaneously declared that the Soviet Union is a socialist country.

On the strength of this line change, a representative of the CWP, attending the recent trend-wide conference on Racism and National Oppression in the Bay Area, publicly declared that “The CWP is now squarely in the center of the anti-revisionist, anti-’left’ opportunist trend.”

The situation created by this development poses some important questions to our trend as a whole. This is the first time that a major “left” opportunist formation has broken with the main aspect of the political line dominating its trend and set out on the path or realignment. How we handle this development will be important both in an immediate sense and as an advanced experience for a process of realignment which we fully expect to unfold time and again over the next several years.

For these reasons, the relationship of the CWP to the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend is a trend-wide question. We believe that the leading forces in our trend should attempt to develop a common approach to this matter. Not only is such a common approach needed in order to handle this particular realignment process properly, the very working out of a common approach could be useful in deepening the unity of our trend. Accordingly, we are sending this letter to all trend forces who take some measure of responsibility for the overall life of this trend.

The editorial board of Line of March has some initial views on this matter which we want to share with the rest of you. We offer them as a basis for discussion in our trend that could, hopefully, lead both to a common summation and a common plan of action.

We believe that the central dynamic underlying the line alteration of the CWP is the accelerating disarray of the Maoist trend internationally and in the U.S. Every Maoist formation in the world, including the Communist Party of China (CPC), has gone through an unprecedented series of splits in the past five years. The Albanian Party of Labor has split with the CPC; the Maoist parties of Europe have virtually disappeared; in the U.S. both the RCP and the CP(ML) have had major splits directly tied to the political and ideological framework of Maoism; now we have this major line alteration by the CWP.

Clearly a central event in this process was the arrest and trial of the Gang of Four in China and the near-total renunciation of the Cultural Revolution. Whatever one may think of these developments, there is little question that they are telling signs of Maoism’s demise as a significant historical force.

Meanwhile our own trend has become more clearly defined. In the early stages of our trend’s history, we were self-consciously defined as an anti-revisionist, anti-dogmatist trend. The “anti-dogmatist” formulation made an ideological difference in the realm of methodology principal. While dogmatism was clearly a significant ideological shortcoming of the New Communist Movement, this formulation did not – and could not – capture the essence of our break. In general, ideological differences are not clearly understood or grasped until they manifest themselves in politics. It was for this reason that Line of March advanced the “anti-’left’ opportunist” formulation which we believed more accurately captured the nature of our break. Other forces in the trend, for a variety of reasons, also advanced the anti-“left” opportunist formulation, and it became the popular designation for the trend. At the same time, we were likewise aware of the limitations on this formulation, since it was clear that our break with the international trend headed by the CPC would have to become all-sided – ideological and organizational as well as political.

The deviation from Marxism-Leninism centered in the CPC is itself all-sided, and it clearly has a name. That name is “Maoism.” Indeed, the Maoist trend itself acknowledges such to be the case with its formulation of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought as its underlying ideological framework.

In our view, our own trend has objectively become an anti-revisionist, anti-Maoist trend. We recognize that all trend forces would probably not yet agree with this formulation. Nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly untenable to hold on to the Maoist framework and hold to a consistent set of revolutionary politics.

The line alteration by the CWP highlights the dilemma of those who make only a partial break with Maoism. The CWP’s surrender of the capitalist restoration thesis and its renunciation of the Three Worlds Theory represents an attempt to rid itself of the most embarrassing and least defensible features of the Maoist framework. Unfortunately, this break has been extremely shallow. An examination of the CWP’s own writings on the question – particularly the draft manuscript by Jerry Tung on “The Socialist Road,” reveals that the CWP has retained the basic theoretical construct of Maoism while changing certain formulations and labels.

In effect, the CWP continues to uphold the line of “united front against the two superpowers,” as evidenced in their line that it is correct for third world countries (and for China) to exploit the contradictions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Indeed, the CWP even attempts to justify the class-collaborationist line of the CPC by arguing that the error of the CPC is not in its own anti-Soviet line but trying to universalize its own situation by making anti-Sovietism the international line of the communist movement.

This is not a break with opportunism. It is opportunism of a more subtle kind. For the very assumption that it is appropriate for one section of the proletariat to exploit the contradictions between imperialism and another section of the proletariat ot its own advantage is nothing but opportunism.

Having surrendered the capitalist restoration thesis, the CWP no longer characterizes the Soviet Union as “social imperialist.” But aside for recognizing that the term “social imperialism” is untenable scientifically, the CWP has not changed the political lines that were based on that characterization. Where once Soviet social imperialism was condemned for its role in Angola and Afghanistan, it is now Soviet hegemonism which is condemned.

Clearly this is a shallow break indeed!

Ironically, but no less significantly, CWP has completely revised and distorted the critique of modern revisionism. Ours has been and continues to be an anti-revisionist trend precisely because of its understanding that the revisionist line of the CPSU made a whole series of negative theoretical and political concessions to imperialism in relation to such critical questions as the transition from capitalism to socialism, armed struggle, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and proletarian internationalism. But now the CWP argues that the essence of modern revisionism is to be found in the theory of “exporting revolution.”

This is a clear-cut example of how the CWP retains the essential nationalist deviation of Maoism while changing some of the labels in traditional Maoist theory.

If the CWP’s break with Maoism’s international line is, at best, superficial, it is likewise clear that its summation of its ultra-left line and practice concerning other aspects of the class struggle in the U.S. is far from satisfactory. The CWP had won a well-merited reputation for being one of the most dogmatic, sectarian and “super”-revolutionary formations in the New Communist Movement. There are signs that it has made some kind of critical assessment of its history, but so far this process appears to have been an extremely shallow one. Certainly the communist movement has the right to expect – and demand – of the CWP a process of summation and self-criticism which would demonstrate that a thorough effort to rectify its ideological orientation has been launched.

Finally we should note that the very process of the CWP’s line alteration is highly dubious. The absence of any visable line struggle within the CWP and the fact that it has apparently emerged from this transformation virtually intact organizationally is a troubling sign strongly suggestive of a pragmatic and opportunist adjustment of line rather than a thorough-going self-criticism and rectification. Surely this process does not indicate that the CWP has come to grips with its own notorious dogmatist legacy. Ironically, the relative ease with which the CWP seems to have changed its line stands in sharp contrast to the way in which Maoism’s crisis has impacted the CP(ML) and the RCP – both of which went through major splits when confronted with the very same phenomena. In this connection, the CWP does not seen at all to have addressed the cult-of-personality which it has developed around Jerry Tung. In fact, the material issued by the CWP since its line alteration continues to read like an awesome tribute to the great Jerry Tung who seems to have rescued the CWP from its theoretical morass single-handedly. That none of this is accompanied by any self-criticism personally on the part of Tung who surely was a Maoist/dogmatist die-hard of the first order for many years is itself enough to make this sudden conversion somewhat questionable.

For all these reasons, we do not think that the CWP’s self-proclamation that it is now “squarely in the middle” of our trend is accurate.

At the same time, we welcome the CWP’s initial break with its opportunist history as a positive development for our movement. At the least, it places the CWP in a qualitatively new relationship to our trend and opens up new opportunities for struggle with these comrades. Still, members of the CWP have some distance to travel before they are fully part of our trend.

We believe that the process of bringing the CWP into the active life of this trend will be complex, and should be undertaken jointly by the leading forces of our trend. Naturally, the conditions for such a joint process is that we arrive at a common summation of this development. Therefore, we propose an exchange of views among leading trend forces. We have offered our own views as an initial line which will enable other comrades to make clear what their views are. If those who receive this letter will respond with their assessments, we will undertake to circulate all responses to the major trend forces.

Depending on the level of unity we can reach among ourselves, the struggle between our trend and the comrades from the CWP can be centralized and systematized so that it can proceed at the highest level and in accordance with this trend’s general orientation. In our view, the principal terrain for the struggle with the CWP comrades must concern its views of the international communist movement, its summation of modern revisionism and Maoism, its general analysis of the international class struggle, its stand toward the socialist countries, and its conception of the future of our trend in the communist movement. It would be especially important for the CWP to make clear when it considers that the break with Maoism had become a pressing question before the communist movement. Such a focus would accomplish two things. First, it would situate the struggle firmly around the lines of demarcation which have defined this trend throughout its history. And second, it would challenge the CWP to deepen their self-criticism and analysis precisely in the area which gave them their own principal identification in the first place.

Within this perspective it would also be essential to ascertain the CWP’s present views on party-building. Their very existence as a “party” has the implication that, so far as they are concerned, the party-building question has been resolved, although they might concede that for quite some time there would be a number of genuine Marxist-Leninists who remained outside the CWP. One matter to be determined in the course of the next year’s ideological struggle will be the extent to which present CWP cadre will participate in the struggle as individuals, taking personal responsibility for their views, rather than as the representatives of a party functioning on the basis of all-sided democratic centralism.

Of course, there will be other political and ideological questions we will want to take up with the CWP, such as their views on the united front, fascism, and the race/national question in the U.S. But we believe the starting point must be on these questions most directly related to the CWP’s still partial break with Maoism. Naturally, a centralized and coordinated debate does not preclude the liklihood that various trend forces will advance their own views of the CWP in their publications and through other forms. There would also undoubtedly be liaison meetings between the CWP and various trend forces. However, we would expect that the different centers and individuals in our trend would be prepared to collectivize all such discussions with the trend as a whole so as to eliminate all possibilities for intrigue on the part of the CWP.

Clearly time is an important consideration. The line alteration of the CWP is now a dynamic in the communist movement which will generate actions and reactions from a variety of forces whether we coordinate our response or not. We hope therefore that comrades receiving this letter will respond in a timely fashion, even if at first it is no more than to express agreement or disagreement with this proposal.

Editorial Board
Line of March

cc: party-building movement