Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Party Building and the Left Today

An Interview with William Gallegos of the U.S. League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L)


First Published: Forward, No. 4, January 1985.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Editor’s Note: The League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L) recently concluded its second national congress and held forums throughout the country to present its views. In the course of these programs a number of interesting questions were posed about important issues facing Marxism-Leninism and the left in the United States. In the following interview, William Gallegos, writing for the League, discusses some of these.

The League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L) recently concluded its second national congress and held forums throughout the country to present its views. In the course of these programs a number of interesting questions were posed about important issues facing Marxism-Leninism and the left in the United States. In the following interview, William Gallegos, writing for the League, discusses some of these.

Gallegos responds to questions specifically asked of the League as well as to questions facing the general left in the U.S. His remarks about the need for unity on the left, approaches toward building this unity, and the international communist movement today are especially noteworthy.

This interview represents the views of the Central Committee of the U.S. League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L).

* * *

Why did the League decide not to declare itself a vanguard communist party at its recent congress?

The congress did not consider declaring the League a vanguard party because it was clear that several important conditions did not exist which would have allowed for such an important step.

From its founding in 1978, the League has held that building a new vanguard communist party is the central task of the organization. We believe it is imperative to forge a genuine party of the working class in this country if we are ever to end the rule of monopoly capital. The degeneration of the Communist Party USA into revisionism in the 1950s left the struggle without a party that could provide revolutionary leadership. We believe that communists at this stage in the struggle must set as their main objective and task the formation of a genuine Marxist-Leninist vanguard communist party.

But forging such a party is not simple. It is not just making a declaration.

The League believes that three broad tasks must be completed to create the conditions for forming this party. The first of these tasks is the development of a revolutionary line for the struggle for socialism in the U.S. through the creative application of Marxism-Leninism to the concrete conditions of the U.S. The second is the integration of communists with vital sectors of the working class and people’s movements. Lastly, a necessary task is the uniting of Marxist-Leninists into a single organization. Today, we believe particular aspects of these tasks should be emphasized in order to achieve our objective.

With regard to the development of line, we believe it is especially important now to improve our theoretical work. Revolutionary Marxism-Leninism in the U.S. must distinguish itself from revisionism by presenting a clearly differentiated line on fundamental issues facing the struggle for socialism. Along with other Marxist-Leninists over the years we have tackled this through our newspaper, other publications and most recently our political program in which we present an overview of the socialist revolution in this country and the main demands we raise at this time to advance the struggle.

But we realize that we must deepen the development of line and have set out to answer more comprehensively vital questions such as: what will socialism look like in the U.S.? what is the relationship of the struggle for national liberation, especially Black and Chicano liberation, to the struggle for socialism? what happened to socialism in the Soviet Union? what is the situation in the Eastern European countries? and what is our view of the development of socialism in China? We have preliminary views on all these issues, but we must develop our analysis and show that Marxism-Leninism can comprehensively answer these questions and point out the way forward.

Secondly, we have set out to try vigorously to expand Marxism-Leninism in the working class, especially the lower stratum of the working class, those who are most oppressed and exploited. We believe this sector is most receptive to revolutionary ideas and is the key to the development of a socialist trend throughout the entire working class. Any future vanguard party must have extensive ties with the working class and cannot be like so many other left groups that are mainly middle class or student in composition and in base.

Lastly, we hope to continue to try to unite with Marxist-Leninists, but we have to go about this differently than in the past. The disintegration of the Communist Party Marxist-Leninist (CPML) and the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters (RWH), among other groups, were major setbacks to the communist movement in the U.S. At one time, we had high hopes to unite with these forces, but that was not to be.

Today the League wishes to unite Marxist-Leninists by improving our ties with the remnants of the organizations that have disintegrated and the individual communists who remain scattered throughout the country. All Marxist-Leninists should find practical ways to improve their working relations and resolve their differences. We hope all Marxist-Leninists can unite to strengthen our ties, place small differences in the perspective of the immense tasks before us, constructively struggle out problems, and keep in mind the urgent responsibility we have to forge a genuinely revolutionary trend in the U.S.

If the League and other Marxist-Leninists work diligently to accomplish the above ends, the formation of a new communist party will be much closer. We in the League realize that we are now the only intact, functioning anti-revisionist communist organization in the U.S. today, and this places great responsibilities upon us. All revolutionaries, however, must seriously ponder the consequences if we are unable to combine our efforts against the growing danger of war and the rightward move of the bourgeoisie.

What is your view of developments in the international communist movement?

Hu Yao-bang, chairman of the Communist Party of China, made an observation which we think addresses this question. He said last year:

“For more than three decades since World War II, the world communist movement has followed a tortuous course of development. It has scored magnificent successes and victories, but has also experienced severe setbacks and failures, undergoing a bewildering process of turbulence and division. This complex historical phenomenon has given rise to a wide variety of reactions throughout the world. Some people have gloated over the setbacks, whereas others have lost their confidence, describing Marxism as being in a state of “crisis.” However, amidst such shouts of “crisis,” the Marxist parties and organizations of many countries, braving all kinds of attacks, have heroically and calmly carried on the fight. In the tortuous course of development all true Marxists and farsighted people are discerning a most essential positive factor, i.e. politically and ideologically more and more Marxist parties and organizations have dared to break with blind faith, to emancipate their minds and to think for themselves, thus becoming able independently to integrate the universal truth of Marxism with the concrete practice of the revolution and their own countries.” (Speech commemorating the centennial of the death of Karl Marx, March 13, 1983)

Our own experience in the United States over the past six years confirms what Comrade Hu said about the twists and turns of the revolution. Since the founding of the League in 1978 there have been complex developments in the world Marxist-Leninist movement. In the late 1970s the situation in China was still unsettled after the defeat of the Gang of Four, and this caused some confusion. The betrayal of the revolution in Viet Nam, with its expulsion of the “boat people” and its hegemonist actions against Laos and Kampuchea, and the costly errors of the communists in Kampuchea (the forced evacuation of cities, abolition of money and the killing of many who disagreed with the path of the revolution) tarnished the prestige of world socialism.

The Soviet Union also increased its imperialist activity in the late 1970s. It invaded Afghanistan, backed the aggression in Indochina, and helped suppress the workers’ movement in Poland. These developments seriously affected the international communist movement, caused turbulence and division, and sharpened some of the theoretical and practical questions of socialist construction, socialist democracy, the role of the party, and the right of self-determination. Influenced by these developments, as well as other external factors such as the economic crisis, political conservatism, and the lull in the mass movement in the capitalist world, a number of Marxist-Leninist parties and organizations in North America and Western Europe experienced great difficulties in the late 1970s, with some of them dissolving or collapsing. These included the Communist Party Marxist-Leninist and the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters in the U.S., the Workers Communist Party in Canada, and the Communist Party of Germany. These were great setbacks for the revolution in those countries and the international communist movement.

While external factors adversely affected these parties, internal contradictions were the cause of their failures. Each of these parties and organizations had their own particularities, but there were certain common characteristics. They were young organizations that were relatively inexperienced and immature in their grasp of Marxism. Their leadership primarily consisted of intellectuals from the petty bourgeoisie, possessing an ideological weakness of not grasping well the importance of applying Marxism to the concrete conditions. Many of these leaders also had tendencies of self-glorification, arrogance and sectarianism. They were not able to keep their bearings, correct their errors and adjust their tactics according to changes in the objective conditions. They were also not able to counteract within their organizations the influences of the growing rightist and conservative atmosphere in capitalist society. The collapse of these parties and organizations is not, as some believe, proof of the “failure” of Marxism. Rather, this phenomenon was due to the succumbing of a sector of the anti-revisionist communist movement to petty bourgeois ideological weaknesses and an inability to deepen the application of Marxism.

We agree with Comrade Hu that a most positive factor has emerged from the turbulence of the recent period: more Marxists are seeing the importance of thinking for themselves and making an independent application of Marxism to the concrete conditions of the revolution in their own countries. There is evidence for confidence and optimism, not demoralization or pessimism.

In other countries around the world, Marxist-Leninist parties and organizations have deepened the understanding of their own countries, showing the correctness of the principle that each Marxist party and organization must be responsible for solving the problems of their own revolution. Marxist-Leninist parties and organizations are continuing to struggle and work in many countries such as Peru, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Trinidad/Tobago, the Philippines, Turkey, Japan, New Zealand, Sweden, Haiti, Argentina, Greece, Holland, Australia, Belgium, Britain, Norway, Canada, as well as in the U.S.

We believe the path forward remains tortuous and we will see advances as well as defeats, but many of those groups that weathered the storm these past couple of years and the new groups, which are emerging from the struggle, seem to have a more down-to-earth attitude. We hope that the international Marxist-Leninist movement is now on the verge of making important headway once again.

What is your view of the situation of the general left in this country today?

The left in the U.S. is still quite weak and has been adversely affected these past several years by the activities of the two superpowers, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. The move to the right by the U.S. ruling class has both demoralized sectors of the left as well as inspired the hatred of imperialism by many others. Paradoxically, we have seen a weakening of the left and a strengthening of the potential for the left.

By weakening of the left I am referring to the disintegration of the CPML and other Marxist-Leninist organizations that trace their roots to the 1960s. Of course other organizations, in addition to Marxist-Leninist ones, disintegrated in the past period, but we believe that the setbacks suffered by the Marxist-Leninists in the U.S. led to a situation where, relatively speaking, revisionism has had a minor resurgence. Today, unfortunately, we have to say that within the revolutionary left, revisionism and centrism are relatively stronger than Marxism-Leninism. This is not coincidental with the relative weakness of the left in the U.S. Whatever the weaknesses of the Marxist-Leninist organizations – and there were many – the period when Marxism-Leninism was relatively stronger in the left was when the left had the most impact on U.S. politics.

There is no way that the revolutionary left will gain any credibility in the U.S. when revolutionary politics are linked to the defense of Soviet aggression. Fortunately, as the mass movement steps up and more forces become open to and join the left, revisionist and centrist views face more challenges.

During the past two years or so we have seen new forces becoming involved. The mass sentiment against the arms race, U.S. intervention in Central America, nuclear power, environmental pollution, and racism and repression has broadly expanded. Unprecedentedly large demonstrations have been conducted to protest these evils of monopoly capitalism. We are witnessing an emergence of many new activists out of these movements. The Jackson candidacy, especially, brought together many of these elements and attracted over 20% of the popular vote in the Democratic primary. The Jackson candidacy has been one of the most exciting political developments in years and is of profound significance for the left. The potential for the expansion of the left is growing.

So we see that while the situation in the left today is complex, there is the beginning of a resurgence.

What is the League’s view of the future of the left in this country and its tasks?

As I have said above, there are great potentials as well as dangers ahead. In order for the left to grow as a force and realize its potential, we think an important objective must be a clearer understanding of its goals in the minds of the U.S. masses. In addition the breaking down of sectarianism and narrow-mindedness is imperative. The entire left must seek ways to work together to advance the mass movement.

There are a variety of different forces in the U.S., including Marxist-Leninist, revisionist, social democratic, anarchist and pacifist. All of these forces on the left have their differences with one another, and the ideological distinctions are quite basic. Yet all the left forces also share the common feature of being active in the people’s movements and say they are committed to the interests of the people against monopoly capitalism.

Ways must be found to strengthen the ability of left forces to work in common in concrete struggles for the benefit of the people. Not to do so only helps the reactionary ruling class.

Too often, left forces spend an inordinate amount of time trying to exclude, block or expel other left forces from coalitions or struggles. This is wrong, because the left should devote its primary attention to advancing the interests of whatever struggle they are involved in. The League’s attitude is that the left must avoid sectarianism and find ways to work constructively in the immediate struggle.

Red baiting, physical intimidation and rumor mongering against other left groups should not take place.

Differences over ideological and political matters will continue to exist, and the appropriate ways to handle these are through the press, forums, and debates in journals and pamphlets. The resolution of these differences will take some time, if ever, to resolve, but these methods must be used in the interests of the people’s movements.

Here is another example. In some work opposing U.S. intervention in Central America, some have raised that everyone involved in the work must support Cuba. If one does not support Cuba one cannot work in that movement. This principle was raised to try to obstruct people who were critical of Cuban policy.

This approach is wrong and sectarian. It actively excludes many from being involved because of issues peripheral to the support of the people of Central America. It transforms the movement from an inclusionary one, one that tries to build as much opposition as possible to U.S. intervention in Central America, into an exclusionary one where issues other than Central America are used to define who can and who cannot be involved.

In contrast, we believe there are some important lessons to be learned from the efforts of Marxist-Leninists and other left forces in other countries who are seeking ways to join together in practical struggle, despite their considerable ideological differences. In Peru this past year a united left coalition formed to conduct electoral work. This coalition worked out a common program and included the revisionist party of Peru, two Marxist-Leninist organizations, the social democrats and some mass organizations. This coalition succeeded in forging a strong left presence in the elections, far greater than any of the individual organizations could ever muster. In the mayoral races this united left coalition swept seven races including Lima, the capital of the country. This was a significant and noteworthy victory.

A similar approach was adopted by the left forces in the Dominican Republic. They played a major role in the upheaval around the increase in food prices in that country.

The League proposes that the left in the U.S. adopt a similar attitude here. United action will not be easily achieved because of the outstanding conflicts and historical differences, but common ground can be found. The people’s movements demand nothing less.

The League has a policy to work cooperatively with all other left groups, including the Communist Party USA and the Democratic Socialists of America. It is especially important at this time to have more unity on the left to strengthen the struggle against the policies of the Reagan administration and the necessity to oppose further U.S. intervention in Central America.

What is the League’s view of China and what is your relationship to China?

We support the efforts of the Chinese people and the Communist Party of China to construct socialism. We believe China’s foreign policy is a policy which promotes peace and supports the struggles of the oppressed for liberation. China’s foreign policy is an independent policy that opposes both superpowers.

We also maintain that the construction of socialism in China is the responsibility of the Chinese, just as the revolution in any country is the responsibility of the people of that country. Individuals and groups in other countries should refrain from making pronouncements on the efforts of Marxist-Leninists of other countries. We believe this is an important matter that must be recognized if the revolution in any country is to succeed and internationalism truly respected.

We do not endorse everything that China says or does – we do not believe revolutionaries in this country should even approach the question of China in this way, feeling compelled to judge policies and the twists and turns of the struggle. We do not know the concrete conditions in China. Furthermore, the construction of socialism is a long historical process, filled inevitably with many ups and downs. The Chinese revolution is evidence of this. By the admission of the Chinese comrades, grievous errors have been made at times since 1949, but the march toward communism continues. Marxist-Leninists must take the long view in assessing this new historical stage we call socialism.

We have opinions about different policies and decisions the Chinese have made. For example, we did not think that removing the right to strike from the constitution was justified according to the reasons the Chinese gave. Nevertheless, we continue to respect the Chinese comrades’ efforts to construct socialism according to Chinese conditions and do not make our opinions about China major issues.

In a like way we believe the Chinese respect the efforts of the communists of each country to carry out their revolutions according to their own experiences and conditions. The Chinese do not interfere in the internal affairs of other parties and the revolutions in other countries. This attitude sharply contrasts with that of the Soviet party, which maintains it is the “father” party in the international communist movement with the right to make pronouncements and even military interventions in the affairs of others.

The League disagrees with the CPUSA on many points of line on the U.S. revolution. However, we also maintain that when possible we will work with the CPUSA on concrete struggles. These stands we take are independent of our view of the Soviet Union, and we would hope that one day the CPUSA might adopt a similar stand.

The League is an independent communist organization that places as its fundamental goal and reason for existence the winning of socialism in the U.S. We are not subsidized by any foreign group or power – we do not take a single penny from China, the Communist Party of China, or any other foreign force. We make our decisions based upon our own views and analyses.

Is the League “Maoist”?

We are not Maoists and we have never called ourselves Maoists.

Mao Zedong was an outstanding Marxist-Leninist, and his example and writings inspired many in the U.S., including many in the League today. His writings form a treasure house of theoretical lessons for communists everywhere and we continue to encourage study of Comrade Mao’s writings.

But respect for Mao is different from calling ourselves Maoists. For one, we are not sure what this term means since it was the bourgeoisie that first coined this term during the Cultural Revolution during the 1960s, and today it is still mainly the bourgeoisie and the Soviet Union that use this term to refer to what they believe are ultra-leftists.

In the U.S. there is the Revolutionary Communist Party that calls itself Maoist, as does a terrorist group down in Peru called “Shining Path.” While these groups may call themselves “Maoists,” they really have nothing in common with the outlook promoted by Mao and are distorting Mao’s legacy.

What is the League’s view of the Soviet Union?

We consider it an imperialist superpower vying with the U.S. for world domination. On its domestic policy, we disagree with its lack of democracy, its discrimination against the minority nationalities and its repression of progressive dissidents.

In its foreign policy, most people recognize that the Soviet arms buildup is no different than that of the U.S. Both superpowers threaten to destroy the entire world with their mad arms race. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. hold some 94% of all the nuclear weapons in the world.

The League supports negotiations between the two superpowers to lessen world tensions. We believe the two superpowers must take the lead in the destruction and elimination of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, there seems to be little chance of any progress being made in this area in the foreseeable future. In fact, the new cold war between the two superpowers has brought their relations to their lowest point in years. Ronald Reagan’s flippant remark about “outlawing the Soviet Union” and starting bombing in “five minutes” indicates how easily the U.S. bourgeoisie considers launching World War III. Likewise, the Soviet downing of a civilian airliner killing all aboard shows how little the Soviets regard world opinion and morality.

Lastly, the League believes the history of the Soviet Union presents a complicated theoretical challenge to Marxism-Leninism. The question of what happened to socialism in the world’s first socialist state is still inadequately answered. We must try to analyze what has happened in order to comprehend the recent history of the international communist movement, to help determine what the features of socialism will look like in the U.S., and to answer the many legitimate questions people have about communism when faced with the example of the Soviet Union.

What is the League’s view of the Eastern European countries? of Cuba and Viet Nam?

The situation with these countries is complicated and we believe distinctions must be made among them. Yugoslavia and Romania are quite different than the rest of the so-called Eastern bloc countries. Both Yugoslavia and Romania maintain their national independence and conduct independent foreign policies. Neither of them is occupied by Soviet forces, and both have vigorously upheld the importance of respecting national sovereignty and non-alignment in foreign affairs.

The other countries in Eastern Europe, such as Poland and Hungary, have little or no autonomy. Tens of thousands of Soviet troops occupy or are stationed on the borders of these nations. In Poland, a legitimate mass workers’ movement has been suppressed by the Polish army under the encouragement of the Soviets. In our view, these countries suffer from the imperialist rule of the Soviet Union.

Cuba and Viet Nam are in yet another category. Both countries went through many years of revolutionary struggle, and their revolutions were made by the people of these countries. Both the Cuban and Vietnamese revolutions inspired millions in the U.S. and around the world, and continue to stand as symbols of successful struggle against U.S. imperialism. But the stories of Cuba and Viet Nam since their revolutions have not been so positive.

Both countries today are deeply in debt to the Soviets, owing billions of dollars to the Kremlin. Viet Nam has its own hegemonic nationalist designs to absorb Kampuchea and Laos to form a greater Indochina federation against the will of its smaller neighbors. Cuba is being used by the Soviets to intervene in the world where Soviet troops dare not go. For example, Cuba is today fighting in Ethiopia, supporting the Ethiopian government in its war against Eritrea.

However, especially in the case of Cuba, we must be clear that Cuba was forced toward Soviet domination because of hostile U.S. policies. That is why we demand, as a part of our minimum, immediate program passed at our congress, that the U.S. normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and Viet Nam and end its economic embargo against them.

Much study remains to be done about the situation in the Eastern European countries, Viet Nam and Cuba. While it may take some time to fully interpret developments, our stand must be to continue to assess these countries by their objective roles in the world and whether or not they help advance the interests of the working class and people of their nations and uphold peace, independence and progress in world affairs. Simple answers, set formulas or self-declarations cannot be substituted for hard analyses.