Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The Movement for a Revolutionary Left, Eugene, Oregon

The New Communist Movement: An Obituary


Published: March 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The New Communist Movement is dead. Growing out of the remnants of the New Left at the beginning of the 1970s the New Communist Movement rediscovered Leninism, sharply differentiating itself from the largely anarchistic/anti-authoritarian New Left tradition (whose principle representative through most of the 1970s was the New American Movement) and the Communist Party U.S.A., which was seen as essentially reformist.

The premises of the New Communist Movement were: (1) Rejection of New Left traditions in favor of classical Leninism. (2) Identification with revolutionary Marxism as exemplified in the Chinese Revolution. (3) The rejection of the Soviet Union as a socialist society and the claim that Soviet foreign policy was generally no more progressive that of the U.S. (4) The dismissal of the CP.U.S.A. as revisionist and corrupt. And further, incapable of being transformed from within. Consequently the commitment to building a “new” Communist Party on the basic principles of Leninism.

By 1980 all remnants of the New Communist Movement had come to reject at least some of these basic premises. Some segments had adopted essentially classical Trotskyist positions on international questions, claiming that capitalism had been restored in all formally socialist countries, e.g., the R.C.P. Some had rejected the new communist premises about the U.S.S.R. not being socialist and have come to see Soviet foreign policy as essentially anti-imperialist (Line of March, the C.L.P. and the O.C.I.C., to a somewhat lesser extent). Some now consider that the question of whether or not to merge with the CP., or create a separate structure is purely a tactical question (The Line of March), while others have endorsed voting for CP. candidates (some O.C.I.C. groups). Some have reverted back to the anti-intellectualism, race baiting, workerism and attacks on leaders characteristic of the late S.D.S. (the O.C.I.C) Some have come to support U.S. imperialism as well as attack the major revolutionary fighters in the world, such as the Cubans and Vietnamese.

The first major crisis in the New Communist Movement occurred in the mid-1970s and was precipitated by China’s increasingly reactionary foreign policies. China’s opposition to Cuban and Soviet support for the Angolan revolution in 1975 forced much of the movement to break with Chinese foreign policy, while much of the rest (e.g., the R.C.P. and the C.P.M.L.) consolidated with the Chinese positions (as it turned out behind different segments of the Chinese leadership). The prematureness of the early attempts to build a reconstructed Communist Party (namely the Communist Labor Party, which also broke with Chinese foreign policy; the Revolutionary Communist Party and the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) also differentiated the new communist movement.

As a result of these two sets of experiences a second trend was born, “the anti-revisionist-anti-dogmatist trend.” On the one hand, it came to define itself: (1) against the dogmatism of those groups which supported the various “Maoist” factions (the Gang of Four, Deng Tsio-Ping, Albania) which came to attack such world revolutions as that led by the MPLA, the Cubans and the Vietnamese; and (2) premature Party building which was manifested in the creation of various highly sectarian, dogmatic and usually ultra left sects isolated from working class struggles. This “trend” distinguished itself at first as: (1) non-sectarian or open to a range of opinions within the broad unity of anti-revisionism and not considering the U.S.S.R. the primary danger; (2) opennesses to developing and learning through practice and study rather than establishing positions through assertion and quotation (dogmatism); and (3) forms of mass work that working class people could relate to rather than ultra-leftist posturing.

Many movement veterans who had kept their bearings through both the breakup of S.D.S. and the struggles among the various Maoist sects which formed in the first half of the 1970s found themselves working in local groups in the mid-1970s. These groups began to discover each other after 1975, and slowly between 1976 and 1978, largely under the leadership of the Philadelphia Worker’s Organizing Committee (perhaps the most developed of the small local groups), pulled itself together into a loose organization, labeled the Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center. This association’s explicit goal came to be the establishment of the means by which national ideological debate could occur which would facilitate the slow process of building a national organization. However, in the 1979-80 period the once promising “trend” fractured into two major and one minor tendency; “fusion” as represented by the Steering Committee of the O.C.I.C; “rectification” as represented by the editorial board of Line of March; and “primacy of theory” as represented by the Tucson Marxist-Leninist Collective. The O.C.I.C, until the summer of 1980, as the leading body within “the trend,” called for all those that shared unity with its 18 points (more or less the basic principles of Leninism plus agreement that the Soviet Union was not the main danger to the people of the world), regardless of their position of party building, to participate in the process of constructing a center in which national ideological debate would occur and the ground work carefully laid for a more disciplined national organization.

However, in the course of 1979 and 1980, the S.C. of the O.C.I.C launched a series of three precipitous campaigns (“anti-federationism,” “anti-white chauvinism” and “anti-petty bourgeois intellectuals”) designed to rapidly consolidate their leadership, create a disciplined top down national organization and drive out all opponents to their politic As a result, over the course of 1980 one-third or more of the O.CI.C membership was expelled or driven to resign and a highly disciplined sect of about 200-250 members created. This occurred almost overnight, with little or no prior ideological struggle or validation through practice. This tiny O.C.I.C. sect quickly became as irrelevant to mass struggles and as isolated from the rest of the left as all the previous sects created over the course of the 1970s. It was primarily distinguished from the rest by: (1) its general support of much of Soviet foreign policy; (2) its emphasis on fighting white chauvinism within the left and (3) its celebration of a low level of theoretical development (manifested in its campaign against petty bourgeois intellectuals).

By the end of 1980 both of the two major tendencies within the Anti-Revisionist/ Anti-Dogmatist Trend had created top down, disciplined organizations that engaged in a range of mass work and thus came to be differentiated from all the previous tiny groups created in the 1970s by: (1) not yet calling themselves “the party,” and (2) having little or no pretense of having democratic structures. One organization is lead by people in and around the Line of March editorial board and coordinates the political and theoretical work of perhaps 75-125 people (heavily concentrated in the Bay Area). While emphasis is given to rectifying Marxist Leninist theory, i.e., correcting the distortions in theory which have occurred since the mid-1950s, as well as the theoretical training of cadre. Considerable effort is also being put into intervening in various mass struggles. The other organization, led by the steering committee of the O.C.I.C. claims to merely be laying the conditions for a national ideological debate as part of the process of eventually building a party. But in fact it has achieved a high level of unity around accepting the leadership of its steering committee and its various “sharp struggle” campaigns even while there is only a rudimentary shared theoretical analysis in the organization. While the rectification group around the Line of March has consistently been doing very good theoretical work correcting many of the mistaken notions inherited from the New Left and from the Chinese Party, and while many O.C.I.C. groups, at least until 1980, have done some good practical work (especially in work places), both tendencies appear to be going the way of all previous sects that have prematurely formed “The Party.”

All three or four factions of the “Maoist” movement are theoretically totally bankrupt. All are extremely isolated from the working class or any relevant theoretical or practical work. Our “trend” has not done better. The premature democratic centralism and sectarian demarcations of the 1970s promoted the abandoning of reality for self-serving fantasies and fratricidal competition and mutual arrogance. The once promising New Communist Movement is dead.

The Leninist Party Re-examined

In Leninist theory, “The Party,” is defined as the vanguard organization of the working class and other oppressed peoples, i.e., as the real leadership of the working class. Leadership implies actually leading, and being accepted as leading, the struggles of the working class. Of course, being a distinctively Leninist party also implies democratic centralism including a high level of coordination of the political work of most revolutionaries, and a structural accountability of the leadership to the membership. The concept of “a party” differs from the Leninist concept of “the party” in merely being a disciplined organization of some revolutionaries which may or may not be playing a leading role in some working class struggles. While there can be many “A Parties” there can generally only be one “The Party” (although under some conditions there might in fact be two or even more cooperating disciplined organizations which are together leading the working class and most of its struggles.

The Leninist definition of The Party is materialist, not idealist or voluntarist. A group’s self-definition as being The Party is totally irrelevant as to whether or not it is actually playing the role of The Party rather than merely being A Party. The criteria of whether or not a group is really only A Party rather than The Party are objective. According to the Leninist tradition these criteria are: (1) Whether most advanced workers in practice take leadership from it. Is it in fact the real vanguard of the working class which actually leads most working class struggles? (2) Whether or not most revolutionaries are a part of it. Unless both of these things are true, than a party is not The Party. The criteria of whether or not a group is in fact The Party does not by definition include having the correct line or a valid theory. In fact it is possible that a group can have a correct line, but the working class doesn’t accept it, and consequently that it does not function as the worker’s vanguard, and hence is not The Party. Likewise, it is possible that the organization that the working class follows, while it is Leninist in form, may have an incorrect line or analysis on a given topic, but nevertheless still meets the two classical Leninist criteria of The Party. So although it has incorrect theory it is nevertheless still The Party.

It should be added that even if a group has the correct line, until it is actually , taken up by the working class to guide their struggles, there is no basis for knowing that it is in fact the correct line (at least in its specifics and on strategic and tactical questions).

There are two major errors on the question of the role of The Party in a revolution: (Down-playing the role of the party in guiding the day-to-day struggles and guiding the details of the revolutionary process. This is the error typified by the tradition of Rosa Luxemburg (2) Over-emphasizing the role of The Party, being obsessed with party building, substituting The Party for the mass struggle. This tended to be the principle error of the New Communist Movement of the 1970s. This error tended to be manifested in the tendency to down-play common mass work until The Party is built, or to subordinate mass work to building The Party. It must be emphasized that it is the masses, not The Party that makes the revolution. The Party is merely one instrument of the masses in the revolutionary process.

Much was made of the Bolshevik model of party building by the New Communist Movement. It is instructive to look at the actual process of building the Russian Bolshevik Party. Until 1902 (well along in the history of revolutionary process) there were many separate revolutionary organizations in existence. In the 1902-1912 period the unified Social Democratic Party was in fact a loose coalition of factions, the two most important of which were the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. The considerable differences with the Mensheviks did not prevent the Bolshevik faction from staying in the same loose organization with them until five years before the final seizure of power. In the 1912-1920 period, the Bolshevik Party itself allowed organized factions to exist. It was notorious for breakdowns in discipline which included members of the central committee leaking the date of the October Revolution to the bourgeois press as a means of stopping it (they remained leaders). Lenin himself on a number of occasions bucked the majority. The modern Leninist form of democratic centralism which forbids organized factions within the Party was not implemented until three years after the revolution, i.e., the Bolsheviks were able in fact to lead the revolution without a classical Leninist Party. In the course of 1917 various individuals and small grouping were admitted into the Bolshevik Party including the grouping around Trotsky (who for 15 years had been an active opponent of Lenin and the Bolsheviks). Trotsky himself was immediately put on the central committee. Imagine a merger in the 1970s between a classical Leninist and Trotskyist group. But such was part of the process of winning the October revolution. These lessons have been totally lost on all factions of the New Communist Movement. Contrary to a prior assumption of all party building efforts of the 1970s, the Bolsheviks did not start with a disciplined party, then build the revolutionary movement. Quite the opposite. The disciplined party gradually evolved during the revolutionary process and its formation was not in fact complete until after the revolution.

The interrelationship between the growth of the Party and the revolutionary movement which occurred in Russia was not unique to that country. Other major twentieth century revolutions have been made without the leading role of a single classical Leninist Party. The Cuban Revolution is a major case in point. An essentially military organization (the 26th of July Movement) played the leading role in the seizure of power and (together with the Communist Party into which it merged) in the socialist transition. In El Salvador the revolutionary process in 1980-1981 was guided by a coalition of revolutionary groups all working together. Although the Communist Party played the primary role, the revolutionary transformations of most of Eastern Europe in the post-World War II period in fact occurred under the joint guidance of Communist and left socialist parties working in close coalition. Parties which as a rule merged after the seizure of power. It is thus a viable scenario that 2, 3 or 4 parties could grow up together each with a viable mass base (as in El Salvador) which merge (as in much of Eastern Europe) mostly after the seizure of power. It is also quite possible that revolutions in the West could be led by parties like Lenin’s, i.e., one with organized factions that doesn’t tighten up its democratic centralism until after the Revolution. Given both the failure of Lenin’s Party’s to lead a successful revolution in any advanced capitalist country other than Czechoslovakia, and the abysmal failure of the New Communist Movement, these possibilities must be seriously considered by honest revolutionaries.

It is quite possible that social revolutions can occur without the leadership of a party or a coalition of such parties. The 1905 revolution in Russia and the 1978 revolution in Iran are clear examples of such cases. A party is not so much a necessary condition of making a revolution as of guiding it to a successful conclusion (especially in institutionalizing socialism). Again, it might well be the case that revolutions in the advanced capitalist countries could be spontaneous or initiated by non-Marxists, but that in the course of such a revolution a party emerges to give guidance to the completion of the process. We must not fetishize the notion of a disciplined party as the prerequisite of the revolutionary process as a whole. There are many possible scenarios.

Whether or not a given group has correct theory, there are serious dangers intendant on establishing a high level of discipline and the claim to hegemony among Marxists that the claim of being “The Party” entails. A group that doesn’t meet the two classical Leninist criteria necessarily generates obstacles to the growth of the revolutionary movement by generating sectarian attitudes that put barriers in the way of revolutionaries in different organizations cooperating and exchanging experiences. This prevents the full utilization of the skills and resources available, and makes collective practice more difficult. Because most honest revolutionaries are not cooperating in their efforts. The sectarianism necessarily generated by any small disciplined group claiming to be, or pushing to build, The Party necessarily promotes in-fighting, trashing, bad feelings and wasted energy (including burning people out, and turning others off) that could be far better used fighting capitalism.

The process of premature sect building that characterized the New Communist Movement of the 1970s actually sabotaged the real process of party building that each group declared itself to be engaging in. Premature organizational crystallization and organizational demarcations facilitated the disintegration of the left, the demoralization of cadre and the impotence of all the tiny organizations created. The harder the various groups tried to create The Party through an act of will, the more the real party building process was systematically undermined. The correct party building task in the 1970s and 1980s has not been to form a disciplined national organization, but rather to lay the basis for doing so in the rather distant future through ongoing practical and theoretical work as well as constructing loose local and national organizations and networks.

Lenin was of two minds on the relationship between the party bringing analysis to the working class, and the working class learning from its experience. He emphasized one or the other depending on what the main error in the socialist movement was at the time. In 1902 he wrote What is to Be Done against those in the left movement who were advocating terrorism or economism. Both of these tendencies rejected the role of theory and the role of the party in guiding the revolutionary process. In the 1970s this work of Lenin’s was most popular in the New Communist Movement throughout the West because the New Left of the 1960s, out of which our movement grew, made the same types of errors that Lenin was criticizing in 1902. Once again it was necessary to emphasize the importance of theory and of a disciplined party playing a leading role in the revolutionary process over the anarchist/terrorist ideas of Weatherman and the economist ideas of those that advocated community work or simply working with unions or minority groups and taking the lead from the people. What is to Be Done was often quoted:

Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without. That is, only from outside the economic struggle, from outside the sphere of relations between workers and employers.

At other points in the Russian revolutionary process very different errors tended to be made and at these times Lenin offered rather different critiques. In the 1905 revolution, for example, Lenin was most impressed by the role of “spontaneity” –of the workers ability to learn from their own experiences without a guiding party. In his Lecture on the 1905 Revolution (given in 1906) Lenin argues:

The economic struggle, the struggle for immediate and direct improvement of conditions, is alone capable of rousing the most backward strata of the exploited masses, gives them a real education and transforms them during a revolutionary epoch–into an army of political fighters within the space of a few months.

In 1920, to combat the ultra-left sectarians, largely in Western Europe, who drew incorrect voluntarist and idealist conclusions from the Bolshevik experience, and who thus substituted “party building” for revolutionary struggle, Lenin (in Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder) argued:

[summing up the experience of 1905-07] All classes come out into the open. All programmatical and tactical views are tested by the action of the masses. The strike struggle has no parallel anywhere in the world in extent and acuteness. The economic strike grows into the political strike, and the later into insurrection. The relations between the proletariat, as the leaders, and the vacillating, unstable peasantry, as the led, are tested in practice. The Soviet form of organization is born in spontaneous development of the struggle.

The point is not to argue that a disciplined party is not a necessary part of the revolutionary process, but only that the priority of party building, especially in the present period, has been greatly overemphasized to the detriment of the revolutionary processes. A lot can be done without a party (including perhaps, as in Cuba and Iran, even the revolution itself) and further, a party can’t do it all. Far too much has been attributed to the power of democratic centralism in the New Communist Movement in comparison to objective conditions and the logic of mass struggles.

The Party is by definition the vanguard or leader of struggles. It can only grow into such a role. It can never be created out of whole cloth at a founding convention. A group can become The Party only through the process of winning real leadership. Unfortunately the process of party building prevalent in the New Communist Movement in the 1970s was based on idealistic premises (issuing a Program, instituting democratic centralism and claiming a vanguard role) rather than materialism.

Having the name “Party” in the title makes absolutely no difference to the working class. It does not advance winning leadership one iota. In fact, because calling yourself “The Party” is correlated with increasing sectarianism and arrogance it actually makes it more difficult to win leadership and unite with other honest revolutionaries. In fact it can be argued that in the course of the 1970s the point at which a group changed its name to “The Party” marks a decline in the effectiveness of its work. The Revolutionary Union had something to offer before it changed its name to the (Revolutionary) Communist Party, as did the October League. Likewise, the O.C.I.C. had a lot of promise before it caught the party building virus and created a small top down sect in the course of 1980.

The New Communist Movement developed a magic like faith in a phrase “The Party” which was purely voluntaristic. This is highly reminiscent of Christianity and other moralist doctrines that believe having The Truth is primary, and once Truth is possessed all else follows. Salvation (or revolution) will happen once truth is known. In the New Communist Movement “winning leadership” came to be redefined as “having the correct line” as in the expression “line decides everything” that was once so popular. The faith in a word and in organizational struggles and proclamations at the cost of actually winning leadership ignored the fact that before a party can become The Party, it must be accepted by workers as their party.

The tasks before us dictate that we must simultaneously unite revolutionaries and win over advanced workers (thereby gaining leadership of mass struggles). We must advance our theory and involve ourselves in struggles, gradually attempting to win leadership. These two processes, far from being antagonistic or even separate, advance each other. They have “positive feedbacks.” In the real world, you can’t have one without the other. The historical lesson of the twentieth century revolutionary processes is in fact that theory and leadership of struggles evolve together. One does not historically precede the other. The theory of the Russian Revolution didn’t emerge full blown out of the heads of either Marx or Lenin. It evolved as part of the process of Marxists winning leadership of the revolutionary process. Likewise with the Chinese revolution and in general the development of revolutionary theory for the less developed countries which occurred in the Communist International in the 1920s. Why should not this process of developing revolutionary theory and winning leadership not be repeated in the U.S.A. or the other advanced capitalist countries?

The possibilities of both a socialist revolution and the formation of the party are a function of both: (1) objective conditions (which are beyond the control of revolutionaries); and (2) correct policies of revolutionaries. (In the case of party building, was everything done to actually integrate advanced workers, to unite all honest revolutionaries, etc.?) Left errors entail blaming incorrect strategies and cadre for failure, when in fact objective conditions do not allow success. Right errors entail blaming objective conditions (“nothing can be done”) when in fact better organization, theory, style of work, strategy, tactics, could produce success. Sometimes little or nothing could be done to accelerate the revolutionary process (e.g., the 1950s in the U.S.). At other times a hell of a lot could be done, but opportunities are foregone (perhaps 1919 in Germany) for lack of organization and correct strategy.

The process of creating unity of most honest revolutionaries will occur only through political practice. It is an illusion to think that unity among a majority of revolutionaries (groups or intellectuals) could ever be created out of “ideological struggle.” The history of “ideological struggle” between such people and groups is littered with organizational debris and demoralization. The normal course of “ideological struggle” is escalating polemics and splits. Unity can not develop in the abstract. Unity can really only develop when different lines are tested in practice and thus honest people become convinced on the bases of their collective experience. Real unity develops under conditions where serious revolutionary struggles require unity to win (e.g., El Salvador). Under such conditions, the importance of unity impresses itself on all. The sectarian tendency to squabble, that we inherit from our past as middle class intellectuals, is overcome by the requirements of the oppressed, who in a critical situation insist on our solidarity, so that they might win. Unity grows when there is the material basis for it in a revolutionary crisis as well as in successful practice.

The classical Leninist condition of party building–uniting all that can be united – in the 1970s was interpreted extremely narrowly and mechanically. It essentially came to mean all those who accepted a pre-formulated party program. In real party building processes its meaning has been qualitatively broader. For example, the Bolsheviks themselves stayed in the same organization with the Mensheviks and others until 1912. They united with the Trotskyists in July 1917, four months before the October Revolution. They themselves were composed of a number of organized factions until three years after the October Revolution. The Russian Social Democrats didn’t wait until they had a highly disciplined party with all honest revolutionaries agreeing with an advanced program. In fact they didn’t even have such a party after the Revolution.

The appropriate form of “party building” in any given period corresponds to the objective possibilities. In a period such as the 1970s/1980s in the U.S. (a clearer pre-party period has perhaps never existed) it is very difficult to win the leadership of mass struggles with a revolutionary analysis no matter how correct. There are thus tremendous parameters on what can be done. Today’s task can only be to lay the groundwork for a later period’s process of creating national disciplined organization. This means emphasis on both theoretical and practical work, as well as on building loose networks and non-D.C. forms of national organization to coordinate our efforts and advance our knowledge and experience.

The Relationship Between Knowing and Doing

There are three types of theoretical work that can be done by revolutionaries. Some theoretical questions can be resolved through abstract scientific and historical study totally independent of any further practice. Other issues can not be resolved through anything other than trying out analyses through practice. There are other issues on which some progress can be made through careful study, but full knowledge, or a high level of certainty, not obtained, without practical application.

The basic A.B.C.’s of revolution can be known without further practice. In fact it is normally better for serious revolutionaries to understand the basics of the science of revolution/society before engaging in practice (but it is not a necessary condition, since such knowledge can be gained along the way as it was for so many who were involved in S.D.S.). For example, the Marxist theory of the state, basic political economy, materialist philosophy, etc. While such questions can be resolved correctly through the scientific method totally independently of practice, this does not mean either: (1) that only groups with such a correct understanding can do good work (S.D.S. made considerable progress without knowledge of the A.B.C.s), or (2) that simply having a scientific understanding will mean that advanced workers accept it when offered to them (truth has never been automatically accepted, just because it is true. People have to feel the validity of ideas for their felt needs.).

On the opposite extreme from the A.B.C.’s of Marxism, there are most questions of concrete analysis, detailed strategy and tactics, which can not be resolved without the test of practice. Because of this maximum tolerance of divergent viewpoints (at least until ample successful practice has occurred to resolve outstanding differences) is dictated. Such questions as the role of students, the role of the petty bourgeoisie, the importance of environmental issues, the importance of sexual politics, the emphasis given to issues raised by Feminism, the exact role of ethnic minorities, whether separate Black organizations are appropriate, the importance of money demands, of quality of life demands, the role for an anti-monopoly alliance, etc., are all perhaps questions on this level.

There are also intermediate level problems, on which considerable good work can be done independent of further practice, e.g., the nature of the oppression of women, of Blacks, etc. However, there can be a considerable degree of unity on a wide range of issues without unity on such questions, e.g., as long as the U.S.S.R. is not considered to be a co-equal or primary danger, we can unite around work against U.S. imperialism. Our analyses on such questions, done independently of political practice, might even prove to be wrong (as good as our contemporary evidence may seem) without seriously disturbing the revolutionary process. Workers might or might not accept or need to accept our analyses of such questions, and still we might assume leadership. For example, the old CP. theory that there was a suppressed Black Nation in the South played relatively little role in the actual success of the CP. in organizing Blacks.

Many questions, especially questions of concrete analysis, strategy and tactics, must of necessity stay open until well along in the revolutionary process. It is thus fully appropriate for different sets of honest revolutionaries to hold differing views (or even to suspend judgment) on such questions. On these questions our ideas today are merely hunches, which may or may not prove to be right, but certainly will be developed, changed and specified in the process of party formation and in the process of making a revolution. The integration of workers into a party will transform groups’ policies and programs from abstracts and hunches into effective instruments of concrete class struggle. Only within such a process and dynamic can lines and programs take on flesh and blood and be corrected by concrete class struggle. Only with the reality of integration of advanced workers will substantial positions on many questions be resolved. One thing that should be saved from the “Maoist” tradition is its characterization of the mass line. The Party in fact merely takes the half formed ideas, experiences and interests of workers and peasants and presents them back to the workers for validation in a coherent form, i.e., integration with the masses is an essential condition for correct revolutionary theory.

Having an all around correct theory is not a necessary condition for winning leadership. In fact to integrate with advanced workers in a non-revolutionary period it is essential to demonstrate the ability to win struggles to improve worker’s conditions, i.e., win reforms, e.g., win strikes, increases in social welfare, elimination of discriminatory barriers, etc.). In a non-revolutionary period, you don’t win leadership with revolutionary slogans (even if based on scientifically correct theory). Leadership won, and confidence gained through such methods means: (1) the masses can be taught the A.B.C.s of revolution, and (2) the organization can develop correct analyses of concrete and strategic questions.

The principle error of the party building processes of the 1970s could be categorized as epistomological–an error in the theory of knowledge, of the relationship between thinking and doing, between theory and practice. In the 1960s the New Left made the error of all practice. “Do it” was a slogan. “The Action Faction” was an early name for those around what was to become Weatherman. And of course Weatherman took its name from a line of a Bob Dylan song (which was originally part of the title of its anti-theoretical founding document) “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” In the process of correcting the anti-theoretical, anti-organizational errors of the New Left, however, the New Communist Movement of the 1970s made the opposite error of too much theorizing, too much organization building and too little practice.

The principle error of the 1970s could be categorized in classical Leninist terms as one of dogmatism–the development of analyses, theory and line without either careful scientific analysis or political practice behind them. Dogmatism either resorts to quotations (usually appropriately selected and interpreted according to the preconceptions of the group that uses them) from the masters (Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and for most of the 1970s Mao Tse-tung or for some Enver Hoxha) or to simple assertion backed by a reasonably sounding argument “rationalism” or an appeal to prejudice or guilt (e.g., we must make a commitment, we must “bring the mother down,” we are all racists, etc.). The dogmatic method was used as a substitute for both science, which could have been used to resolve many basic issues such as the nature of the Soviet Union (which were instead resolved on the basis of quotes from the Chinese or appeals to anti-Soviet prejudice that those in the New Left grew up with). It was also used as a substitute for the political practice which was impossible in the 1970s, but without which there really was no way of coming to a scientific position on many, if not most practical questions of strategy and line, such as the salience of particular women’s or minority issues. Fantasy and subjectivism were substituted for scientific practice and the mutual tolerance, that in the absence of sufficient practice, is necessary in questions which no one is in a position to resolve.

Those in the “rectification” movement (those around the journal Line of March) are on much more solid ground than those grouped around the “primacy of theory” approach of those around the Theoretical Review. Although both make a serious dogmatic error (of different types) that of Line of March is much less serious. Those around “primacy of theory” make the greater dogmatic error because the old analyses and lines that the “rectification forces” want to restore (the pre-1956 line of the world Communist Movement) were based on two generations of successful practice). The “primacy of theory” tendency generally eschews proving points by quotations or references to a great master. It accepts few past practices as sacred and beyond critical evaluation (e.g., it is highly critical of Stalin and most post-1928 practices of the movement). It attempts to integrate much of the New Left tradition into its analysis (e.g. revolutionary youth culture, anti-authoritarian aspects of “Maoism” etc.). It explicitly celebrates the works of the French Structuralist Marxists, Louis Althusser and Nicos Poulantzas, especially their epistomological notion of “theoretical practice” which claims that theorists can know the world independently of experiment or political practice (in the manner of Einstein knowing the properties of light independently of the research of applied physicists). “Primacy of theory” is thus explicitly rationalist and not only proceeds without significant political practice, but actually justifies its lack of integration with an on going working class movement as unnecessary (if not diverting from the prior theoretical struggle). Some of the concrete creative ideas of the tendency might well be valuable (after all the pre-1956 analyses and lines were unsuccessful in making revolutions in the advanced capitalist countries and in any event the world of the 1980s is not the world of the 1940s). But their disregard and disrespect for political practice, both contemporary and that of the pre-1956 world movement, leads them into theoretical fantasies with little or no scientific or objective basis. A truly dogmatic error of the rationalist type. Their positions on Afghanistan and Poland, for example, are consistent enough, and follow from their premises. But their premises reflect the old New Left prejudices about both the nature of the Soviet foreign policy and the revolutionary process, rather than hard nosed historical and scientific analyses about what actually motivates the Soviet Union, the real nature of the revolutionary process in Poland or Afghanistan and the real historical possibilities in either country.

Those in the “rectification” tradition make a dogmatic error of another type. By consciously attempting to restore the pre-1956 analyses and lines they give too much credence to the authority of the world movement of that period (they do generally, however, much to their credit, tend to avoid the all too common practice of proving a point by merely citing the appropriate quotations). In practice the work of rectification, especially that of the Soviet Union Study Project, which has produced very important work, is in large part firmly empirically grounded with careful historical and political economic evidence. However, this tendency nevertheless demonstrates an unwarranted resistance to reinterpreting classical concepts (e.g., such as the use of the term imperialism), or to introducing new scientific concepts (e.g., state capitalism) as well as to accepting new theories or seeing the positive in new phenomena (e.g., revolutionary youth culture). The weight of the past weighs a bit too heavily on the theoretical work of this tradition in its tendency to cut short scientific creativity through using authority–a classical dogmatic error.

Of the two types of dogmatic errors, the error of rectification is the lesser. Although it is a dogmatic (and unscientific error) of the rationalist type to argue that theory must be developed prior to successful political practice, at least they want to go back to the old lines, programs and practices that grew out of the successful practice of the past. Lines, programs and practices which were in good part verified by the experience of the Chinese, Vietnamese, Czech, Yugoslav, etc., revolutions of the post-World War II period. This is indeed a very good place to start, if we must rely on reason, rather than on the interaction of reason and political practice. A far better place than the tendency of “primacy of theory” to throw the baby out with the bathwater (i.e., the carefully accumulated revolutionary lessons of two generations) substituting its own somewhat historically naive reason.

Creative speculation is useful, but any attempt to develop a new program and strategy through pure thought is fantasy and is doomed to be useless or worse. No matter how brilliant (or correct) there is no basis to know which theory is: (a) in fact correct (there are 100’s of brilliant and consistent theories); and (b) able to lead struggles in practice (even if it is correct). Scientific analyses and political practice are absolutely necessary.

It is too flattering to intellectuals (or ex-intellectuals now in the leadership of left organizations and journals) to believe that they can follow in the footsteps of Lenin (or perhaps Mao Tse-tung), and starting with just a handful of people, first develop “the correct line” and then with it as a weapon, electrify the masses with “theory becoming a material force.” Pre-formulated revolutionary lines have rarely electrified the masses (the anarchist ideas of Bakunin in certain areas of Italy and Spain in the later third of the nineteenth century are an exception). Revolutionary analyses have historically grown out of struggle and are transformed in political struggles. This is the experience of the international Communist movement since the beginning of the twentieth century. Radical changes were made in analysis and line in the pre-1917 period by the Bolsheviks. Again such changes were made in the 1920s in the analysis of the revolutionary process in the less developed countries (largely codified at the 6th Congress of the Comintern in 1928) and in 1935 about anti-monopoly alliances, Popular Fronts and the revolutionary process in both the advanced and less advanced countries (codified at the 7th Congress in 1935).

Only back and forth movement between the formulation of specific analyses, lines and strategies and their testing in practice can produce either a scientifically correct line and strategy and a politically successful practice. Only back and forth movement between worker’s struggles (often spontaneous insurrections like Russia 1905 or February 1917, or Iran 1978) and analyses of them can result in either: (a) the growth of a scientific political line, or (b) the growth of The Party (i.e., leadership of working class struggles, integration with advanced workers and the unity of most revolutionaries).

Each of the myriad of tiny “The Partys” of the 1970s have claimed it has done a careful scientific study, that it has correctly summed up extensive experience, that it has carefully studied the experiences and writings of the Communist Movement, that it has done everything possible “to unite all that can be united,” that it has accumulated sufficient experience in the mass movement (it has been hard to claim integration with advanced workers, so this has had to go by the board), etc. But each sect has come to different (and mostly mutually contradictory) conclusions. Dogmatism just doesn’t work. There are too many combinations and permutations of ideas, too many diverse lessons of the past, too many logically correct systems. The lesson is that until we have accumulated sufficient practice, we must be more tolerant, less arrogant and let our theory grow on the basis of diverse practice, as well as comradely theoretical debates and coalition work with both other revolutionary and non-revolutionary organizations.

The Last Best Hope

In 1976-1978 a counter to the dogmatism characteristic of almost all of the New Communist Movement grew up to form the Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center. The O.C.I.C. correctly summed up the mistakes of New Communist Movement as dogmatism, sectarianism, lack of integration with the working class and pre-mature organization building. The mainstream of this new anti-revisionist/anti-dogmatist “trend” under the leadership of the Philadelphia Worker’s Organizing Committee tended to reject, at first, all forms of dogmatism (both recourse to authority and quotation and theorizing in the abstract), developing the notion of “fusion,” i.e., a party can not be formed until after the majority of revolutionaries are integrated with the advanced workers. The corollaries of the strategy of “fusion” were that theory would develop in the process of party building (i.e., that prior correct theory was not a prerequisite for political practice), and that party building was a gradual process (and not a prerequisite for integration with advanced workers). Implicit in these notions was a high degree of tolerance for diverse theoretical positions and respect for different organizational forms and varieties of political practice. The early focus of the O.C.I.C was on setting up an apparatus which would facilitate ideological debate (an ideological center) among diverse perspectives (without requiring organization unity) – ideological debates that would reflect the diverse and ongoing political practice of those that participated.

However, the promise of this trend was not to be realized. In the 1979-1980 period the O.C.I.C was aborted after its leaders caught the virus of Party Building. The experience of all that went before failed to immunize. The national leadership in 1979 dedicated itself to constructing a top-down disciplined organization as quickly as possible without bothering with either a prolonged period of “ideological struggle” among different perspectives or sufficient fusion with advanced workers. The correct notion of fusion as a precondition of party building was thus grossly violated in a manner far more crude than had occurred in any of the previous party building efforts of the dogmatists. The Communist Labor Party, Revolutionary Union and Communist League at least all went through the formal motions of ideological struggle, and uniting all that could be united. The O.C.I.C leadership chose instead an internal coup d’etat to dispose of all potential opponents and consolidate its top down leadership, without even bothering to go through a formal process of “summing up experience” or reaching out to “all honest revolutionaries.” This total reversal of policy reflects the grossest opportunism (if not police agent intervention) as well as the failure of O.C.I.C leadership (and majority of the membership) to internalize the history, theory and accumulated experience of the world revolutionary movement.

The neglect of theory and the lack of attention to democratic structures, which became in practice the corollaries of the O.C.I.C version of fusion, proved to be its undoing. The relative theoretical ignorance of most of its members (and apparently most of its leaders), as well as lack of knowledge of how democratic centralist organizations work, or how parties grow, of the laws of the revolutionary process and of the basic principles of dialectical and historical materialism allowed this promising tendency to be taken over and destroyed within a very short period of time. This occurred through a series of three “campaigns” initiated by a handful of “leaders” which utilized the same vicious tactics that had been used many times before (often by police agents, especially in the F.B.I.’s Cointelpro program) to disrupt and destroy New Left organizations.

The failure of the O.C.I.C. was not a failure of its fusionist perspective. It was rather a result of the gross violation of fusionist principles, of its failure to even attempt to carry through with the fusionist scenario of party building. While the O.C.I.C. spent three years debating how to proceed with constructing an Ideological Center, the process of organizational consolidation and exclusion of dissidents was completed.

The first of the campaigns launched by the leadership of the O.C.I.C. in 1979 was the campaign against “federationism.” “Federationism,” which meant that the national structure should consist of a federation of separate local organizations, was denounced for everything from obstructing ideological debate to being inherently racist. But in fact it was necessary for the national leadership, centered in the Philadelphia Worker’s Organizing Committee, to destroy any independent centers in “the trend” that could challenge its leadership, and to create the conditions for the subordination of all members directly to the steering committee. All constituent local organizations were directed to give priority to establishing “local centers” (for ideological struggle) which were to be the primary units for relating to the national organization. Non-complying organizations (such as S.O.C. in Southern California) were expelled for resisting. Anyone that doubted what was really going on merely had to look at Philadelphia. The leading body of the O.C.I.C neither set up a local center in this city nor significantly loosened its internal discipline as it was requiring all other organizations to do. This “anti-federationism” campaign greatly weakened the ability of those in the organization to deal with what was to come next. It allowed a few individuals to establish a strong leadership position which they came to use to drive out any potential opponents and to consolidate a top down organization.

In the spring and summer of 1980 the notorious “anti-white chauvinism” campaign was launched. The justification for this campaign was according to The Organizer (July 1980), the fact that the primary obstacle to fusing with the advanced workers (who in the U.S. today are mostly Black and Hispanics) is the racism of the O.C.I.C.’s white members. The most unprincipled personalized attacks on unsuspecting cadre were carried out in P.W.O.C. itself at its annual spring convention, at the late spring Mid-West O.C.I.C. regional meeting and at the July West Coast regional meeting as well as in constituent organizations, centers and other regional meetings. All indications are that this campaign was opportunistically designed to drive out forces such as the Tucson Marxist-Leninist Collective, those open to the “Rectification Line” and any others who might resist the O.C.I.C leadership, as well as mobilize the rest into a top down disciplined organization. Between January and December 1980 at least one-third of O.CI.C. members were expelled or otherwise driven out by a fanatical campaign highly reminiscent of the days long Weatherman criticism/self-criticism sessions designed to “purge our racism” in the 1969-1970 period. (For a full critique of this campaign see “Racism, White Chauvinism and the FBI: A Critique of Petty Bourgeois Moralism” by the Movement for a Revolutionary Left, 1981).

In the fall of 1980 the third of the O.C.I.C.’s Steering Committees’ consolidation campaigns was launched–the struggle against petty bourgeois intellectuals (white and Black). The first campaign had loosened up local structures and allowed the national leadership to entrench itself, and the second drove out all opposing centers such as those around The Theoretical Review, mobilizing the white membership through guilt and intimidation behind the leadership (all those that did not follow were branded “racists” and suffered considerable personal pain as a result). The third campaign was designed to: (1) justify the low level of theoretical development of the organization; (2) defend the O.C.I.C. from its major challenge, the rectification tendency around the journal Line of March); and (3) force national minority comrades to submit to the central leadership through mechanisms paralleling the previous submission of whites. Those around Line of March as well as Theoretical Review and any other potential centers within “the trend” including leading figures in local organizations as well as virtually all Black members of the O.C.I.C were singled out for attack for being “petty bourgeois intellectuals” and thus obstacles to the emergence of working class leadership and the recruitment of advanced workers.

Competing centers were discredited in the most sectarian and uncomradely terms for wanting to preserve their “petty bourgeois privileges” and having contempt for the working class. Given the generally low theoretical level of the O.C.I.C leadership and hence its inability to carry on a successful ideological struggle, such ad hominum attacks have carried considerable clout in consolidating its few hundred members against the assault of all other centers of “the trend” (The Guardian, Line of March and Theoretical Review, as well as dissident fusionists who were, as were almost everyone else in “the trend” inside and outside of the O.CI.C. of course, petty bourgeois in origin). This campaign also offered the hope of recruiting non-intellectuals (i.e., advanced workers, who the O.C.I.C. apparently [mistakenly] thinks are anti-petty bourgeois).

Illustrative of the attack on “petty bourgeois intellectuals” is the analysis presented in the December 1980 Organizer by Clay Newlin, the chief “theoretician” of the O.C.I.C:

Marxism has always held that the petty-bourgeoisie is at best an unstable ally of the working class. The oppression of this stratum at the hands of monopoly capital does impel it toward an alliance with the working class. This is, of course, fundamental.

But at the same time the petty bourgeoisie fears the proletariat. It is afraid that the working class will deprive it of the petty privileges it has derived from its social status intermediate between the workers and the bourgeoisie. It thus tends to waver in its allegiance to the proletarian cause.

Though consciously breaking with the bourgeoisie, we have only begun to break with the petty bourgeois mentality of our class, nor would we have been likely to do so earlier. Unfortunately, those who do not have the petty privileges associated with the rest of our former class are the exception and not the rule.

Little in our history as communists has fundamentally challenged the commonly held view that our class privileges are principally a function of our greater intelligence and humanity and not of the greater exploitation of the working class.

Up until recently our petty bourgeoisie conceit has not fundamentally been challenged. So while giving lip service to the view that the working class is the vanguard of revolution in US society, we continue to maintain in practice that it is we, the petty bourgeoisie intellectuals, that were the true and rightful leaders of the revolution.

Just as was the analysis of racism on which the previous “anti-white chauvinism campaign” was based, the analysis of the role of the petty bourgeoisie in general and of intellectuals in the revolutionary process in particular reflects an ignorance of materialist analysis and Leninist practice. Both reflect the same moralism, subjectivism and idealism. Both seem primarily designed to appeal to guilt and emotion, rather than to reason, in a manner identical to the parallel campaigns carried out by those around Weatherman in 1969 and 1970. Both campaigns focus on bludgeoning opponents rather than laying the basis for a higher level of unity through comradely struggle and debate and constructing alliances that can advance the revolutionary process.

The traditional Marxist-Leninist position on the petty bourgeoisie in general and petty bourgeois intellectuals in particular is that these groups are part of “the people” and as such play a vital role in the revolutionary process. The theory of the revolutionary potential of these groups was developed in good part in response to fascism in the 1930s and presented in the documents of the 7th Congress of the Communist International in 1935.

The success of a class alliance between the petty bourgeoisie (peasants, students, artisans, small shopkeepers, etc.) with the working class was manifested in the victory of the Chinese, Vietnamese and Cuban Revolutions and is firmly ensconced in the classical tenets of the revolutionary process adopted by the Comintern in the 1920s and 1930s–the ideas of a four class alliance and the two stages of the revolution/anti-monopoly coalition. Leninism has always demarked itself from the kind of workerism/economism contained in Newlin’s analysis of the role of intellectuals. Lenin’s classical argument in part What is to Be Done (a polemic in part against people with Newlin’s analysis) is a defense of the vital role of petty bourgeois intellectuals (such as Marx and Lenin) in developing revolutionary theory and bringing it to the mass of workers (who because of their oppressive conditions are unable to develop it spontaneously).

Economist/workerist arguments, like those of the O.C.I.C, are in fundamental opposition to the Leninist notion that within The Party, it is not class background, but rather, class viewpoint, that matters, and that whoever has the best analysis must be listened to regardless of class origins. The moralistic call for intellectuals to give up their petty privileges and accept the leadership of concrete workers (rather than adopt a working class stand) has nothing in common with the Leninist tradition. A tradition that has proven itself again and again in its ability to mobilize the petty bourgeoisie in a revolutionary alliance with the working class (without calling for renunciation of petty bourgeois privileges) and utilize the considerable and vital resources of petty bourgeois intellectuals in the service of working class revolution. The vast majority of the leaders of all twentieth century revolutions were from petty bourgeois backgrounds, including virtually all of the 1917 Bolshevik leadership. (For a detailed analysis of the revolutionary potentials of the petty bourgeoisie see A Critique of Dogmatism, Sectarianism and Ultra-Leftism by the Movement for a Revolutionary Left, 1977.)

That a primary function of the “anti-petty-bourgeois intellectual” campaign was to crush opposition to the national leadership from minority O.C.I.C. members and mobilize through guilt, in a manner similar to that done with white members in the previous campaign, is clear from Newlin’s argument in the Organizer December 1980.

While less obvious, the effects of class composition are even more profound. Though predominantly white, our tendency is almost exclusively petty bourgeois. This means that the base for petty-bourgeois chauvinism is both extremely broad and cuts across racial lines. National minority comrades in the tendency are thus no more immune to class prejudice that the bulk of white cadre.

The class prejudices of national minority comrades inevitably tend to dovetail with and reinforce the white chauvinism of white comrades. As a result it is not uncommon for a white comrade and national minority cadre to share essentially the same view of, say, a Black worker. White comrades think that a Black worker is incapable of becoming a leader of the communist movement because of his race. National minority comrades view the same worker as being incapable because of his class. Thus, though coming from different forms of chauvinism, both the white and the national minority comrade share agreement on the essential point-that is, the Black worker is qualitatively inferior to those presently predominant in the movement.

Newlin and the leadership of the O.C.I.C. have carried “guilt tripping” and “baiting” to their extreme. First using accusations of “racism” to beat back a Feminist criticism of the predominantly male leadership of P.W.O.C., then to drive out all white opponents from the O.C.I.C. and consolidate control of white comrades, they are now using workerist accusations of “petty bourgeoisie privilege” to beat down national minority comrades and consolidate total control. With women (white and Black) afraid of being accused of being “Feminists” (and hence racists) if they asset themselves; whites (men and women) afraid of being accused of being “racist” if they disagree with the leadership, and now Blacks (men and women) afraid of being accused of “class privilege” if they disagree, the Steering Committee would appear to have constructed a pretty tight ship without ever having bothered to have a theoretical debate, a serious sum up of collective experience, and certainly without having to fuse with the advanced workers. But intimidation and guilt are a fragile basis on which to construct an effective political organization (never mind a Leninist Party). The best the leadership can hope for is to consolidate a religious-like cult, with even less capacity to recruit advanced workers than any of its predecessor Maoist parties. At worse, the whole house of cards could come tumbling down around Newlin’s ears, in an explosion of fury, once people realize how they have been manipulated (and by a white petty bourgeois intellectual at that)!

The lesson of the O.C.I.C. fiasco is that the best party building line, the most experienced people, the best theory, still produce “the same old shit” once the decision is made to “give priority to party building.” The voluntarism and subjectivism implicit in attempting to create a party in the present period necessarily produces sects and all the corollaries of sectarianism (including the trashing of comrades and the destruction of promising movements) no matter how good the intentions or correct the theory.

Criticisms of the O.C.I.C. failure as a natural result of the fusion line, which wouldn’t have happened had correct theory and better cadre training occurred in advance of the attempt to fuse, couldn’t be more wrong. While it is true that the lack of theoretical development of both the leadership and the rank and file of the O.C.I.C. facilitated the debacle of the organization (by giving credibility to the increasingly unscientific moral crusades of the Steering Committee), the real failure of the O.C.I.C. was in not carrying through with its fusion line. The frustration of not being able to fuse with advanced workers (because of the unfavorable objective conditions of the 1970s) led to such desperation that voluntarist organizational measures were substituted for the test of integration with advanced workers as the criterion for creating a (heavily bureaucratic and unresponsive) discipline national organization. Bureaucracy and intimidation became substitutes for both the political and ideological struggle that had long been held out as a promise, and the political experience of leading working class struggles. The O.C.I.C. degenerated into the worse dogmatism, voluntarism, moralism and sectarianism, surrendering Marxist analyses for the sake of organizational consolidation. The O.C.I.C. experience, far from being a refutation of the fusion line, in fact is one more confirmation of it.

The left has come full circle back to the same type of anti-theoretical race baiting of the late 1960s. There are two differences however: (1) while in the late 1960s the error we made tended to be very similar to that of the “terrorists” criticized by Lenin in his What is to Be Done, the O.C.I.C. error is very close to that of the “economists” also criticized in this work, and (2) the impact of the anti-theoretical faction of the New Left was much greater in the late 1960s than that of the almost unnoticed O.C.I.C. The first time as tragedy and second time as farce.

Conclusion: Thinking the Unthinkable

All the various Maoist groups have revealed their total bankruptcy and isolation whether they support the gang of 4, Deng-Tsiao Ping or Enver Hoyha. Support of China (past or present) is no longer a source of recruits or credibility. In fact China’s foreign and domestic policies have made such identification a detriment. A number of groups, not only those in the anti-revisionist/anti-dogmatic trend, have radically transformed their international analysis in the process rejecting “Maoism.” First the Communist Labor Party (the first of the new communist parties) rejected Maoism and reevaluated its analysis of the Soviet Union concluding that the U.S.S.R. was really socialist after all, and that its foreign policy was, in general, quite progressive. The bulk of “the trend” followed suit. Important to this transformation was the work of the Soviet Union Study Project which was participated in jointly by members of the “rectification” tendency and leaders of the O.C.I.C. The principle product of this project, the book by Mel Rothenberg and Michael Goldstein, The Myth of Capitalism Restored, was influential in persuading the bulk of “the trend” that the Soviet Union was not capitalist. Analyses in both The Organizer and especially The Line of March in 1980 pretty much endorsed most of Soviet foreign policy as progressive (The Organizer having some qualifications about Cambodia, Afghanistan, Poland and Eritrea). At the same time both of the principle tendencies within “the trend” have moved closer to the C.P.U.S.A. which at one point was shunned like poison. The P.W.O.C. endorsed Gus Hall and Angela Davis in the 1980 elections and offered to do election work for the C.P.’s campaign, while those around The Line of March in late 1980 began to actively seek a comradely dialogue with the CP. The differences with the CP. came increasingly to be defined in terms of the “operational theory of the state” and lack of the C.P.’s cadre development rather than fundamental theory and daily practice. “Revisionism” came to mean the lack of preparation of CP. members for the necessarily armed struggle that was eventually to come, and no longer theoretical adherence to the idea of an “anti-monopoly coalition” or other general strategic notions. In terms of trade union work, low profile building of a center-left coalition with attempts to recruit advanced workers became the general strategy of both major segments of “the trend” as well as of the CP.M.L. and the pro-Chinese split from the R.C.P. (the Revolutionary Worker’s Headquarters). This strategy differed from that of the CP. mostly in the relative attention given to rank and file agitation vs winning office in unions.

The end of the 1970s witnessed part of the once “Maoist” New Communist Movement renouncing Mao Tse-tung (identifying with Albania) as never having been a Marxist; part renouncing the Cultural Revolution led by Mao while at the same time endorsing a more militant U.S. foreign policy (in alliance with China); part, while still celebrating Mao, denouncing China as having restored capitalism and resorting to extreme ultra-leftist tactics out of desperate isolation; and what had once been so promising, “the trend” splitting into segments, the two major parts of which no longer have tremendous differences in either strategy or theory with the left wing of the international pro-Soviet Communist Movement. Maoism and with it all the various segments of the New Communist Movement are dead.

The Byzantine history of organizational splits in the 1970s has produced such a high level of isolation among the various leftist factions that most of us have neglected to notice some common political evolutions out of rather different traditions. The tendency has been for us to focus our sectarian guns largely on the groups from which we most recently split (e.g., the R.C.P./C.P.M.L. antagonism; the Line of March/O.C.I.C. polemics). In fact a number of different groups have evolved to very similar analyses of the international situation. These include, in addition to the major forces within the anti-revisionist/anti-dogmatist trend, the (technically and historically Trotskyist) Worker’s World Party; the Communist Labor Party and the African People’s Socialist Party and the Puerto Rician Socialist Party (as well as other nationality based M-L groupings). At the same time a number of different groups in addition to the main tendencies within “the trend” have evolved to very similar strategies in trade union and anti-racist work, e.g., the C.P.M.L., the Revolutionary Worker’s Headquarters, the left wing of N.A.M.– Solidarity, and perhaps the C.L.P. On both scores the differences with the CP. (and especially its left wing) are not great. The possibilities for organizational cohesion, first loose alliances, coalitions and organized dialogue and perhaps slow organizational merger, thus present themselves as very real possibilities.

The total bankruptcy and isolation of the still highly disciplined Maoist groups would seem to at this point to be an obstacle to the dialogue, and cooperation necessary for a slow organizational merger of different converging tendencies. It would be best that such groups as the C.P.M.L., R.W.Hg., C.L.P., etc. (and certainly all the other tiny Maoist sects) either dissolve themselves as has recently happened to some European Maoist groups or transformed themselves into much looser organizations appropriate for our pre-Party period. Looser forms which would facilitate the ideological struggle, theoretical development, diversity of practice, comradely coalition building and joint work necessary.

The critique of the Communist Party most prevalent in the remnants of “the trend” in good measure comes down to the lack of real revolutionary education given its members and the corresponding lack of preparation of Party members for leading a revolution. The question of whether or not to join the Party, rather than to build a new one from scratch, thus comes down to a question of tactics. If the party is revisionist principally because of its lack of internal education and preparation, rather than because of its explicit theories or ties, then it might well be possible to work within it in order to transform its “operational theory,” tighten its discipline and revitalize its internal revolutionary education. The advantages of such a course include the Party’s formal ties with the Cuban, Vietnamese and Soviet Parties, all of which are playing an important revolutionary role in the world, as well as the party’s domestic resources, connections and tradition. The disadvantages include the dead weight of many inactive and often in good part non-revolutionary members, the stigma (right, center and left) that would be attached to people who joined, because of both the ruling class and left slanders against the Party, and the possibility that party discipline, as loose as it is, would constrain the process of rectification and re-energization necessary to rebuild the Party into a fighting revolutionary force. But the Party is no longer beyond the pale, it has become legitimate to “think the unthinkable.” The question as to whether there could be a merger of groups with the CP. (or its left-wing), an organizational absorption of some organized left groups on terms that would give us sufficient freedom of action, or even large scale individual joining, which would bring us into alliance with younger more militant Party members would seem to be as viable as trying to slowly recreate a national organizational structure (especially in light of the long series of organizational disasters of the 1970s). If the discipline of the Party is loose enough to allow the theoretical struggle and diversity of practical work necessary in this period the fact that the CP. is not a “real” Leninist Party far from being a detriment is, in fact, appropriate (in a pre-party period like this one).

It was sometimes argued in the New Communist Movement (as a justification for the necessity of forming a new organization rather than working within the old Party) that once a party has become “revisionist” it is impossible to reverse course. Such an argument is purely idealist. Both revisionism and revolutionary line have a material basis in objective conditions including the sentiments of the mass of advanced workers with which a party is integrated. Any party with real ties to advanced workers will in good part reflect their sentiments. Contrary to common ill informed assertions there have been many examples of reformist/revisionist parties reversing course and reassuming a revolution position. This in fact is a common occurrence in revolutionary situations such as the immediate post-World War I period, the mid-1930s and the immediate post-World War II period. The Norwegian Social Democratic Party affiliated with the Third International, the Austrian and Spanish Social Democratic parties led working class insurrections against their governments in the mid-1930s; most of the Socialist Parties of Southern and Eastern Europe (including the Polish, Czechoslovak and Italian) actively supported the revolutionary process (in alliance with the Communist Parties) in these countries. A reoccurrence of such processes remains an historical possibility in the West. In any event the possibility of joining/merging with the CP. must be considered to be a reasonable one for the survivors of the New Communist Movement.

Whatever its specific form what is needed in the present period is a loose national organization that can facilitate theoretical development, ideological struggle, the exchange of practical experience and coordinate some national programs, while allowing a considerable range of programs, politics, factions, strategies and levels of commitment to exist–a party something like the Russian Social Democratic Party of the pre-1912 period, or perhaps even the pre-Leninist Marxist parties. Given the fact that factions were not banned in the Soviet Party until 1920 there would appear to be no good reason why, in a period with so little experience on which to scientifically base lines such as ours, that we should ban factions. Factions, as long as they cooperate and behave towards each other in a comradely and principled fashion, should be encouraged within the type of national organization we need. Discipline should be minimal, perhaps agreement with nothing more than basic Leninist theory and agreement that U.S. imperialism is the major danger in the world (something like the O.C.I.C.’s 18 points) plus some commitment to common national campaigns or projects (far short of what would be expected from Leninist cadre in a revolutionary crisis).

In a pre-party period such as ours such a loose national structure based on fairly loose local groups and national factions and fractions would facilitate the growth of revolutionary forces because most honest revolutionaries would be working together rather than be split into mutually hostile sects. This would have the advantage of facilitating theoretical growth as well as the viability of programs (especially point of production work). The lowering of the level of discipline and the encouragement of factions within a single loose national organization brings with it the diminishing of the problems of sectarianism, dogmatism and isolation. A loose national organization that would in good part be a federation of local groups, political factions and trade union fractions has the advantage of absorbing the experience of many different people attempting to operational ize many different lines, and thus facilitating the accumulation of experience necessary to eventually establish which lines are correct. This comradely competition of lines (as in “Let a 100 flowers bloom, let a 100 schools of thought contend”) which would occur in an atmosphere of mutual support, rather than one of mutual undermining, would clearly advance the revolutionary process, as well as the far off eventual construction of a truly Leninist Party. Once the bulk of members and supporters of such a loose national organization agree that sufficient experience has been accumulated to establish a scientific line and once the organization has already assumed the leadership of working class struggles (as manifested in fusion with most advanced workers) such a loose organization would transform itself into a truly democratic centralist organization. No time table measurable in years can be given for such a development. It might take ten years, it might take a 100 years. Party time can only be measured by the degree to which revolutionaries are united, advanced workers integrated and leadership of struggles assumed. Given the disasters of the abortive Party building efforts of the 1970s extreme caution must be used in carefully and conservatively applying these criteria. Perhaps all members of such a loose organizational structure would be required to go through a careful program of study of the errors of sectarianism, dogmatism and premature party building in order to inoculate them against the Party building virus that wrought such devastation in the 1970s.

It might well be the case that a number of different centers of the revolutionary process merge and thrive (as has happened in El Salvador) and that such different centers, all of which manage a considerable degree of fusion with advanced workers, come to lead many mass struggles–with none of them establishing hegemony in the revolutionary left. We must be prepared for such a contingency with an openness for coalition and comradely dialogues with people from rather different traditions. The possibility of a revolution succeeding will depend on our ability to work together rather than be split apart (encouraged by police agents). In such a scenario it might well be the case that some of the emerging centers will have a higher level of discipline than others. A coalition or Front of such groups would operate something like a very loose national organization.

The principle organizational error of the 1960s New Left was anti-authoritarianism and anarchist disrespect for leadership and discipline. The principle organizational error of the 1970s New Communist Movement was the opposite: obsession with discipline, leadership and organizational solutions. We need a middle ground. Too tight a national discipline in a pre-party period suffocates revolutionary energy and practice and puts a shackle on the diversity and dialogue that is needed in a non-revolutionary situation.

For the foreseeable future, we need more local “collectives,” more organized national political factions, more nationally organized trade union fractions, more theoretical study projects (such as the Soviet Union Study Project), more Marxist journals such as Theoretical Review and Line of March, more national and regional conferences where experience can be exchanged and contacts initiated and kept up, more local and more nationally coordinated practical work (especially at the point of production), and more all around coordination of our highly diverse political efforts. It has been a mistake to think that such things need await either the formation of a Party or are merely the steps in the more or less immediate creation of such a Party. They are all necessary and achievable now, if only enough honest revolutionaries were to realize the bankruptcy in which the inheritors of the New Left have become cemented. The death of the New Communist Movement by no means implies the failure and demise of Leninism in America. Together with the experience of the New Left of the 1960s its ashes will serve to fertilize the birth of a wiser and more effective revolutionary movement in the last decades of the twentieth century.