Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

PUL Unity Work Team

The Proletarian Unity League: Where We Came From, What We Look Like, What We Do


First Published: Forward Motion, January 1982.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

One of the biggest problems for Marxist-Leninists in the ’70s was “tunnel vision,” causing people to see only what was right in front of them. Sometimes this was encouraged, and other times it was just allowed to go uncriticized. The result was that for years, there were a few thousand comrades going out into the class struggle every day, fighting whatever battle they were in, and all the time thinking that they and their own group were the only ones out there, the only show in town. But it wasn’t true–it never was true, and it’s not true today. For some people, tunnel vision has led to demoralization: once they got sick of what they’d been doing, they dropped out, because they never realized that there could be any alternative. For the rest of us though, the time has come to unite with someone who has been through exactly what you went through, and thinks and acts just like you do. It’s much harder to unite with someone who’s been through some different struggles and has taken another road to reach the same destination. The time has come to put all those experiences together and move on from there, to turn the revolutionary variety of the ’70s into revolutionary unity for the ’80s.

Many comrades in the CPML, and probably some in the RWH as well, don’t know that much about us. This is especially true for areas of the country where we don’t work and have not visited very often. If the unity process is going to work, this has to change. The best ways to get to know us are to meet with us, to read our literature, and to work with us where possible. We can say right now that we will try to travel anywhere we have an invitation, and we will supply anyone with our pamphlets. In the meantime, all three organizations agree that it would be helpful for us to write a short paper explaining who we are and what we do, as well as a guide to our publications. This paper cannot go into great detail, but we would be happy to discuss any points with you in person, or to respond in writing to any comments or questions.

Where We Came From

Unlike the I Wor Kuen, the Black Workers Congress, the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization, the August Twenty-Ninth Movement and others, and like the early October League, the Georgia Communist League, the John Brown Revolutionary League, the Bay Area Revolutionary Union, the Sojourner Truth Organization and some others, the PUL arose ideologically out of SDS and the later Revolutionary Youth Movement II experience. In the early ’70s, a number of local collectives emerged in different U.S. cities out of one section of the white student movement: the RYM II grouping within Students for a Democratic Society. These collectives shared two things in common. First, in an uneven way, they carried forward the struggle within SDS against the Progressive Labor Party line, particularly its social chauvinist attacks on socialist countries and national liberation struggles abroad and on the struggles of the oppressed nationalities at home. Second, these collectives expressed a practical commitment to working class organizing: they recognized the revolutionary mission of the working class and sought to bring communism to its struggles. At the same time, struggle continued within this section of the movement between those who saw the central importance of constructing a new Marxist-Leninist vanguard party and more anarcho-syndicalist perspectives.

We began to build a small group about six years ago. When it formed, the PUL was relatively inexperienced, organizationally weak, and all white. Its members were mainly from petit-bourgeois ex-student backgrounds, with experience in the anti-war, student, women’s and (to a lesser extent) trade union movements. The group grew and consolidated itself over the next few years through a process of merger of several small collectives.

PUL did not start out with anything approaching a complete statement of unity. When it first formed, the group had not settled all the major questions, or even all the most important ones. The comrades involved had a certain degree of ideological unity around Marxism-Leninism; wanted to carry out disciplined communist work and study; and, over time, applied Marxist study and summed up enough direct and indirect experience to reach a few basic conclusions about the current state of the U.S. revolution. Our early members did a fair amount of investigation of other organizations existing at that time, and because those which they knew anything about did not share the same conclusions, they decided to form a group, elect leadership, and develop work among the masses, while still investigating and trying to unify with other Marxist-Leninist organizations.

Three early conclusions stand out. First, that the central strategic task of U.S. revolutionaries was to build a new communist party. We don’t think PUL had then, or has had since, a narrow interpretation of the work involved in that task. Second, that the approaches to building a new party adopted by the largest and best organized Marxist-Leninist groups at that time had serious flaws. PUL members thought those flaws were in some way tied to those groups’ willingness to make declarations about their vanguard status without measuring their work against any objective criteria, and without setting out any coherent strategy and tactics for those problems facing the working class and national movements which preceding Marxist movements had failed to resolve. Third, the early PUL held that the struggle against white-supremacist national oppression was central to uniting the working class, merging the struggles of the workers and national revolutionary movements, and, mobilizing all popular forces to fight the ruling class in this country. This white-supremacist national oppression has as its reverse side a system of preferences for whites, which extends into every feature of U.S. economic, political and cultural life.

The combination of these three points separated PUL to some degree from other Marxist-Leninist organizations, and made the prospects for unity with them less immediate. Among the organizations which held that party-building was the central task, some had declared or were on the verge of declaring themselves the new Party (the CLP, the RU), while others acted like they had resolved all the important questions and opposed PUL’s very tentative perspectives around national oppression.

Although PUL got started with very limited ties to the working-class and oppressed nationality masses, its early members all recognized the necessity for communists to sink firm roots in the struggles of the U.S. people. This meant investigating and beginning to take up the actual problems of the trade union, Black liberation and other national movements, and the women’s emancipation and other mass movements. Organizationally, this meant implanting comrades where they would be able to help organize those struggles. At this time, least 70% of PUL’s members worked in unionized factories.

As part of our commitment to Marxist-Leninist unity, we set about analyzing the situation in the communist movement as a whole. The premature declaration of Parties in that period had a lot to do with the importance we attached to this project, and we were quickly led to look at Marxists’ confrontations with ultra-left deviations throughout the history of the international workers movement. In addition, as soon as our mass work began to take shape, we found ourselves wrestling with the characteristic weaknesses and errors that afflicted communist work throughout the ’70s. The first period of the organization was characterized by two-line struggle around ultra-leftism as the main danger to our work and to that of the communist movement as a whole. Since we did not originally form around a hard and fast ideological unity, as our work developed different orientations emerged: in particular, a more ultra-left perspective on our tasks, and another perspective which more correctly characterized the main problems in the communist movement and in our own group as stemming from an ultra-left deviation. This perspective (referred to in our first publication, on busing, in September 1975) developed into the analysis found in our book, Two, Three Many Parties of a New Type?. From late 1975 and throughout 1976, the PUL consolidated ideologically and organizationally around our line on the main danger, our party-building perspective, and the implications of the struggle against ultra-leftism for our work in the mass movements. This included our effort to put our analysis of ultra-leftism before the rest of the communist movement. As part of this effort, for a group our size we had from the start a policy of very extensive liaison with other communist organizations.

What We Look Like and What We Do

Since our origin, we have established ourselves in a number of areas of work, grown slowly but steadily, expanded geographically, developed our line in new areas, achieved a greater presence, and built a relatively stable organization. We are still growing, though-as before-not by leaps and bounds. We have improved our national and class composition and our political ties to the Black liberation movement; nevertheless, we still cannot consider ourselves by any means a thoroughly multinational or working class organization in composition. Our sexual composition is and has always been roughly half and half. Our work in the mass movements has expanded quite a bit.

The PUL has gone through a number of internal struggles since its early days, including some around many forms of ultra-leftism, around white chauvinism and features of the national question, around democratic centralism (particularly ultra-democracy and liquidationism), around party-building, etc. At the same time, it has never been necessary to reverse the overall direction the group was heading in, and we have never had a split. We had to deal of course with a certain amount of demoralization at times and with disaffected individuals, but our major line struggles have led to greater unity.

For one thing, we’ve always taken the revolutionary unity of our organization (and of the movement as a whole) very seriously; we’ve built it up very slowly and with great care. We likewise train ourselves to take splits equally seriously, and to recognize the heavy responsibility borne–even when a split is absolutely necessary–by those who take that path in a communist organization. We have generally emphasized in our recruitment policy and throughout our group as a whole that organizational unity can only be maintained around a unified line based in Marxist-Leninist principle, that we can achieve this unity only through a collective process of unity/struggle/unity, through practice of the mass line internally and externally, and through systematic criticism and self-criticism.

The unity of our group has depended among other things on the ability of the majority not to be vindictive towards those in the minority (where there have been majority and minority positions), to respect the views of the minority, and to open up the dominant line periodically to discussion. At the same time, the line cannot be open to discussion and review continuously if the group is to function. So the unity of our group has depended also on the willingness of the minority to implement conscientiously a line with which it does not agree.

At a time when the class struggle has not been surging ahead, at a time when there have been lots and lots of little groups and the unity of one particular group doesn’t seem that important, quite a few revolutionary-minded people ask themselves, “What’s the sense of not implementing my ideas just for the sake of this little group?” We’ve seen throughout the communist movement a great unwillingness to do this–to subordinate individual ideas to the majority–and it has contributed to many of the splits which have occurred.

Our group has paid a lot of attention to training its members. Sometimes this has meant slower growth than we would have liked, but we believe it’s been worth it. Our recruitment policy, while grounding new members in the group’s line and developing their practical grasp of it, also places a big emphasis on training people for the long haul, on preparing them for difficult situations, and on building up their enthusiasm for making a life of this type of work. A key feature of this training has been to cultivate a willingness to work together, to reject the attitude that “as soon as things don’t go my way, I’ll take my bat and ball and go home.” We’ve tried to instill that Party spirit, to stress how important revolutionary organization is to getting anything done in the class struggle.

Another feature of our cadre policy is that we want people to be able to have families and be communists, too. This stems in the first place from our commitment to women’s emancipation, and in particular from the recognition that the struggle for equality in the family–especially some sort of division of labor with respect to childcare–is central to equality in the organization. So the group as a whole has viewed as a major organizational responsibility the development of a workable childcare policy. Such a policy can be fully worked out only in a larger organization, and this is something we look forward to.

“Equality for women in party activity” has been a slogan in our group from early on, and it has been carried out with some success (not complete success, by any means). Women participate fully in all areas of the group’s work and at every level of organization, and the sexual composition of leading bodies, centralized committees, elective conferences, etc.–while fluctuating over time–is usually 50% or more women and rarely less than 1/3 women.

Our overall experience at building communist organization has been pretty different from that of both the CPML and the RWH. For one thing, we’ve been dealing with a smaller group of people on more of a local basis. For another, there has been a fairly high level of awareness in our group about the dangers of ultra-leftism, going back to our beginnings. So the practical and ideological obstacles we’ve faced in constructing democratic centralist organization have no doubt been different from many of those faced in your own groups. For example, over the past few years the main errors in organizational policy in our group have come from the right and not the ultra-left (this does not mean that there haven’t been some “left” tendencies as well). This variety of experience should help the unity process, since questions of organization will be some of the most important topics for discussion among the memberships of the groups.

While trade union work has been and continues to be the backbone of the organization’s political practice, that practice has expanded slowly but steadily over the past 4 or so years. Today we work, in the Black liberation movement, the women’s movement, community organizing and citywide politics (including some electoral efforts and anti-repression struggles), anti-imperialist work, and the gay rights movement. We have fairly regular centralized agitation in the form of leaflets and we have propaganda circles and study groups of various types going on. Finally, we have always devoted a portion of our meager resources to work with other communists–to correspondence, liaison, travel, and so on.

In keeping with communists’ long-term objectives, our trade union work has focused on larger, organized factories, but we have not made this an absolute. We have balanced it off against the need to work in situations reflective of the multinational reality of the U.S. working class, and in situations more favorable to political struggle for consistent democracy for oppressed nationalities and women. For this reason in particular, we have worked in other kinds of workplaces and joined in some union organizing drives. We have done rank and file organizing in electrical equipment, auto, hospitals, light electrical, and work in public sector organizing (including citywide battles over layoffs, access to and level of services, etc.). In these workplaces, we have participated in union committees (including organizing committees), rank and file caucuses and other forms of rank and file organization. We have been involved in union elections at the local and national levels, as well as in strikes and a wildcat. Our members have held various levels of union office. In our trade union work we have struggled against adventurist tendencies and learned some lessons in practicing united front tactics to build class struggle unions. We have also, learned the strengths of Left initiative, rank and file mobilization and organization. In addition, we have struggled against tendencies toward simple trade unionism in communist work, tendencies which in particular downplay the working class struggle against white-supremacist national oppression.

Though we have only made modest advances from our all-white beginnings, we see the question of multinational communist unity as a political question, and recognize our need to struggle hard to take up our responsibilities to the national movements. So far we have done work in the left wing of the Black movement nationally and local mass organizing in the Black community.

In our work among the masses, we have spent a lot of-time trying to put before the politically active workers and other people the communist world view, to engage them in the use of Marxism in daily struggles, and to interest them in communist organization. At the same time, we know from our own experience that you cannot separate talking about Marxism from the immediate economic and political problems which the working class and the masses as a whole face day-to-day. Our success in this type of propaganda work has been uneven; in some places, quite successful; in others, not at all.

We hope this rundown gives you a somewhat better picture of our group. We would be happy to respond to any questions or comments, or to elaborate further on anything mentioned in this article.