Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Marxist-Leninist Party

Revisionist CPUSA holds to the mistakes of the 7th Congress of the CI

Abandoning the struggle against the trade union bureaucrats

First Published:The Workers’ Advocate Vol. 15, No. 9, September 1, 1985.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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August marked the 50th anniversary of the Seventh Congress of the Communist International, a congress which continues to have serious consequences for today’s Marxist-Leninist movement and the struggle against modern revisionism.

In the last issue of The Workers’ Advocate we began a review of the revisionist Communist Party, USA’s assessment of that congress in their article entitled, “In the Perspective of History, Seventh Congress of the Comintern” (Jim West, chairman of the Central Review Commission of the CPUSA, Political Affairs, May 1985). The CPUSA has long been corrupted by revisionism and spits on true communism and anything revolutionary. Its main occupation is to convince the workers to join in electoral campaigns for Democratic Party liberals and to fall in line behind the sellout bureaucracy of the trade unions. It is a liquidationist party, a party whose every action aims at smothering any independent motion of the working class in the warm blanket of liberal-labor politics. But the CP tries to paint up its treacherous policy in the colors of Marxism-Leninism and it turns to the Seventh Congress of the Comintern for vindication. The CP’s article by Jim West traces the “new strategic policy” of the Seventh World Congress and emphasizes that it forms the basis for the actions of the CP today.

Our review showed that, unfortunately, West’s assessment of the Seventh CI Congress was fairly accurate; that indeed it did turn away from the fighting traditions of the world communist movement and the Marxist-Leninist policy of the previous six congresses of the Comintern; that it opened the door to the revisionist corruption that led to the degeneration of the CPUSA and much of the world communist movement; and that it continues to be one of the theoretical bulwarks for the current revisionist liquidationism that plagues the revolutionary movement. Our last review especially detailed how the Leninist united front tactics were perverted into work for unity with the liberal bourgeoisie and how the independent workers’ movement in the U.S. was liquidated into a liberal-labor coalition with Roosevelt in the 1930’s, and with the concealed Reaganites of the Democratic Party today.

In this issue our review of West’s article will turn to another aspect of the Seventh Congress policy, the call for unity with the trade union bureaucracy in the name of opposing sectarianism and building a united front of the working class.

Cries Against Sectarianism to Cover Abandoning the Struggle Against the Union Bureaucracy

One of the central themes of the Seventh Congress was that so-called “sectarianism” of the communist parties had allowed the working class movement to remain split and that this split could be remedied not by waging a powerful struggle against the reformist splitters, as previous congresses had said, but by simply uniting with them.

West emphasizes this theme when he points out that the “new strategic policy” of the Seventh Congress aimed “to work out an orientation which could overcome sectarianism and splits in the working class and broad masses...” (emphasis added)

Now it is an interesting fact that West does not even mention who split the working class movement. He not only fails to point out how the social-democrats originally split the working class by capitulating to the bourgeoisie and coming out in support of their own imperialist governments during World War I, but he also forgets how the social-democrats and other reformist union hacks continued right into the 1930’s to wage an international campaign to expel communists, and for that matter any militant worker, from the trade unions, and how the social-democrats who took power in various countries presided over vicious suppression of workers’ strikes and other struggles, and how in Germany and other countries the social-democrats laid the basis for and assisted the fascists to come to power.

No, instead of denouncing the social-democrats and union bureaucrats for splitting the working class, West simply notes that the working class was split and lays the blame at the door of the supposed “sectarianism” of the communist parties.

This assessment is fully in the spirit of the Seventh Congress of the Comintern. Although Dimitrov, in his report to the Seventh Congress, mentions various crimes of the social-democrats and union bureaucrats, the direction of his remarks is to denounce the communist parties for “sectarianism.” And, in the name of fighting “sectarianism” and uniting the working class, Dimitrov calls for giving up the struggle against social-democracy and opportunism and instead sets a course of unity with the social-democratic political leaders and union hacks.

Prettifying the Union Bureaucrats as Fighters for the Workers

But what was this “sectarianism” that supposedly kept the working class split? Among other things, West explains that the Seventh World Congress, “was strongly critical of sectarian mistakes which regarded the reactionary-led trade unions as instruments of the capitalist state, an erroneous idea which resulted in poor participation of Communists in trade unions and strike struggles under reactionary or reformist leadership.” (emphasis added)

This is truly an interesting criticism, because it is not a critique of the mistakes of some of the communist parties but, in fact, a caricature and denunciation of the’ analysis of previous CI congresses. Prior to the Seventh Congress, the Comintern had analyzed that one of the reasons for the strength and resilience of reformism in the workers’ movement was the fact that it was directly backed up by the capitalists and their state through direct bribery, the appointment of union bureaucrats to government positions, the creation of joint “labor and management” committees, and other “grafting together of the State apparatus and capitalist organizations with the upper stratum of the Labor organizations, led by social-democracy.” (See the documents of the Sixth CI Congress, “Communism and the International Situation,” section IV, “Class Struggle, Social-Democracy and Fascism,” number 18.)

This did not mean that the communists should desert the reactionary and reformist unions, where they really were mass organizations, but that organizing the struggle of the workers in these unions could only be accomplished through a most tenacious struggle against the union bureaucracy. The Sixth Comintern Congress, for example, explained that, “The correct application of united front tactics and the fulfillment of the general task of winning over the masses presupposes in their turn systematic and persistent work in the trade unions and other mass proletarian organizations. It is the bounden duty of every Communist to belong to a trade union, even a most reactionary one, provided it is a mass organization. Only by constant and persistent work in the trade unions and in the factories for steadfast and energetic defense of the interests of the workers, together with ruthless struggle against the reformist bureaucracy, will it be possible to win the leadership in the workers’ struggle and to win the industrially organized workers over to the side of the Party.” (“Program of the Communist International,” section VI, “The Strategy and Tactics of the Communist International in the Struggle for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat,” #2, “The Fundamental Tasks of the Communist Strategy and Tactics,” emphasis added)

By throwing out the analysis of how the union bureaucracy was being drawn into the state, West is not defending the need for work among the masses in the reactionary unions but, instead, he is trying to deny the necessity for continuous struggle against the reformist union bureaucracy.

Indeed the Seventh Congress actually claimed that social-democratic class collaboration was all but dead and that the reformist union hacks were becoming fighters for the workers. Dimitrov argued for this view by claiming, among other things, that the entire bought-off labor aristocracy, which is based mainly on the trade union bureaucracy and a section of the privileged skilled workers, was giving up its penchant for class collaboration. He said, “In the first place, the crisis has thoroughly shaken the position of even the most secure portion of the working class, the so-called aristocracy of labor, upon which, as we know, Social-Democracy relies for support. This section, too, is beginning more and more to revise its views as to the expediency of the policy of class collaboration with the bourgeoisie.” (from, “Speech in Reply to the Discussion,” section entitled “The Role of Social-Democracy and Its Attitude Toward the United Front,” emphasis added)

Still the CPUSA goes on to deny that there is any labor aristocracy whatsoever and to claim that even to raise the issue is to split the working class. As Gus Hall, the head of the CPUSA, put it: “There is also a new, “Left” variant of this anti-working class, anti-trade union campaign [of the Reaganites]. The old ’labor aristocracy’ myth is also taking on some new life. It is like the proverbial cat with nine lives.... There are skilled workers and unskilled workers. There are organized workers and unorganized workers. There are workers who are victims of racism. There are higher- paid and lower-paid workers. But there is no significant section of our working class that fits into the traditional concept of the labor aristocracy. In fact, today it is a contradiction in terms.... Each time it reappears it is related to an overall anti-working class campaign. It is always used as a weapon to divide the working class.” (Political Affairs, July 1984, emphasis added)

And so it goes, there is no labor aristocracy, no upper strata of the workers being bought off by the capitalists, no class collaborationist union bureaucracy being drawn into government bodies, no danger of reformism. Only horrible sectarians, like the world communist movement prior to the Seventh Congress, would think so. This is how the struggle against the social-democratic and reformist union bureaucracy is put aside and the Leninist united front tactics perverted into an appeal for unity with the sellout union hacks.

A Tragedy In the 1930’s, a Farce Today

The important class battles that broke out in the mid-30’s have masked the tragedy of the backward turn in line at the Seventh Congress. Indeed, West attempts to cite the big CIO organizing drives as proof of the correctness of the “new strategic policy.” But what West covers up is that the change in line meant that the CPUSA missed the golden opportunity to build up the working class movement into an independent revolutionary force. The vanguard, the Communist Party itself, was liquidated piece by piece. The workers’ movement was handed over to the reformist union bureaucrats who merged it into a liberal-labor coalition under the domination of Roosevelt and the Democratic Party. And, as a result, the gains made through the dynamic struggles of the working masses were sold out and step by step frittered away.

The liberal-laborism of the mid-1930’s has continued to be the curse of the workers’ movement down to today. At every turn, the AFL-CIO bureaucracy blocks the workers’ struggles. They have stood in the forefront of shoving concessions to the capitalists down the workers’ throats. They have turned a deaf ear to the cries of the unemployed, refused to wage any real struggle to organize the unorganized, and attempted to tie U.S. workers to their own imperialist bosses through anti-import campaigns against the workers of other lands and racist campaigns against so-called “reverse discrimination” and the super-exploited immigrant workers. In the last few years, the AFL-CIO bureaucracy has stepped up its work for the Democrats, not only supporting Democratic Party policy and electoral candidates but also becoming a bigger part of the Democratic Party structure itself.

But despite its loyal service to the bourgeoisie, the union bureaucrats are falling on hard times, losing members left and right and facing an expanding union-busting assault by the monopolies. In February, the AFL-CIO executive board met and outlined what they claimed to be a new “innovative” course for “revitalizing” the unions. Unfortunately, the new innovations are the same old class collaborationism, including the endorsement of no-strike agreements and binding arbitration, replacing militant struggle with so-called “corporate campaigns” to convince the monopolies to be more lenient with their workers, and replacing organizing drives with forming self-help “employee associations.”

The only thing more disgusting than this craven treachery of the union bosses is the attempts of the CPUSA to prettify them. In April, right after the AFL-CIO executive board’s meeting, the CP held a “labor conference” in New York, where the chair of the CP’s National Labor Department endorsed the general thrust of the union bureaucrats’ “new” program.

“George Meyers, labor secretary of the CPUSA, told the gathering of Communist and non-Communist unionists that the recent AFL-CIO analysis of the problems facing the working class and labor movement had a correct focus. But, he added, the Communists were able to deepen the understanding of the problems facing labor because their view is expanded by the science of Marxism-Leninism.” (Daily World, May 7,1985) Now remember, to the CPUSA the “science of Marxism-Leninism” is not the revolutionary theory of the working class but a “science” of how to unite with the union bureaucrats and how to find militant phrases to prettify the hacks and justify class collaborationists Thus we find the CP’s deeper “understanding of the problems facing labor” expressed repeatedly in the following outrageous terms:

“Actions in the past year by the AFL-CIO leadership show a response to the pressures for change. The pre- Democratic Convention endorsement of Mondale was a step towards greater independence from traditional tailist electoral policies. [For the CP, building the independent movement of the working class means endorsing the Democratic Party presidential candidate earlier than in the past and becoming more deeply submerged in the machinery of the Democratic Party. Amazing!] The federation’s statements favoring cuts, albeit most modest, in the military budget was a step away from subservience on matters of foreign policy. [These “cuts” were those promoted not only by the liberal Democrats, but also many Republicans, and amounted to all-time high Pentagon spending. Remember that the AFL-CIO leaders not only promote imperialist policy among American workers but also organize pro-U.S. imperialist “labor organizations” in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and many other countries and act as an arm of the CIA against the revolutionary movements of the workers and peasants who are fighting U.S. imperialism.] The call for nationwide demonstrations and picketing at South Africa’s embassies and consulates, and the active personal participation of AFL-CIO leaders in anti-apartheid protests, is a significant advance over past inaction or mere formal gestures on such issues. [The CP fails to mention that the AFL-CIO is, among other things, trying to convert the workers’ opposition to U.S. imperialist support for apartheid into a chauvinist anti-import campaign and that it was the union bureaucrats who forced the San Francisco dockworkers to give up their militant actions boycotting the unloading of South African cargo.]” (“Reagan Confronts Labor – The Record,” Political Affairs, May 1985)

This is how the CP paints up each new act of treachery by the union bosses in “Marxist-Leninist” colors. But then, nothing else should be expected once the struggle against reformism is put aside and the search is begun for “unity” with the union bureaucracy. Unfortunately, this course was adopted at the Seventh Congress of the Comintern and it still provides the theoretical justification used by the revisionists for their liquidationist activities. The CP’s craven love affair with the sellout union bosses today shows us the importance of criticizing the harmful theories of the Seventh Congress and the necessity for bringing back to the light of day the powerful enlightening and organizing force of the revolutionary theory of Marxism-Leninism.