Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Ex-PWOC members

PWOC’s Ultra-Leftism

First Published: The Organizer, Vol. 7, No. 10, December 1981-January 1982.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Editor’s Note: The following was written by about a dozen former members of the PWOC. We will be responding in the next issue of the Organizer.

* * *

Over the past 18 months, the PWOC has practically destroyed itself.

By now, more than 80% of the members have left, while almost no one has been recruited. The organization is now a shell of its former self. Not content with wrecking the PWOC, the leadership has carried its politics successfully into the Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center (OCIC, a national party-building network), with the same results. The OCIC has been destroyed.

Due to the lack of internal democracy in the PWOC, and due to the frenzied atmosphere of fear and guilt which too often predominated (where it became almost a crime to talk to other cadre known to have doubts about what was going on in the PWOC), we have left the organization one by one rather than forming a coherent opposition. Indeed, at the time of leaving most of us were unable to clearly formulate our differences with the leadership, except that all objected to the “methods of struggle” used in the campaigns against white chauvinism and anti-working class bias which were being carried out in the PWOC.

All of us recognized that the campaign had brought to light correct criticisms of many cadre, ourselves included. In many cases we left feeling guilty that we were unable to “keep up” with the struggle. Only after being out for some time, and talking to others who had left, did we begin to recognize more clearly the overall ultra-“left” and idealist character of the PWOC.

While it is clear that it was correct to take up internal campaigns against racism and anti-working class bias, it is also clear that the way they have been conducted has undercut then-positive aspects. The mechanical nature and moralism of the campaigns has meant that overall they have set back the struggle against racism and class bias in the PWOC and the movement. The campaigns have been characterized by unprincipled methods of struggle, bureaucratic disciplinary solutions, and a withdrawal from mass work. All cadre – Black, white, those from petty-bourgeois and working-class backgrounds – have been abused in the process.


We still believe that the fusion perspective, building a party while at the same time carrying out disciplined work in the mass movement, testing a political line in practice and recruiting from the workplace, is correct. Unfortunately, the leadership of the PWOC abandoned this perspective in favor of idealism.

The PWOC built its reputation and original base in opposition to the ultra-“left” and sectarian errors of past party-building groups, which failed to build a new party due to their ultra-“leftism.” It is ironic that the PWOC has now gone down the same path.

The current ultra-“leftism” of the PWOC is a product of its idealism. The PWOC has sought to “purify” its cadre, to free them from racism, accommodation to racism, and anti-working class bias by endless sessions of “ideological struggle.” A correct line, that one of the principal reasons for the predominantly white petty-bourgeois composition of the PWOC (and the trend as a whole) was due to racism and anti-working class bias, has been mechanically applied. Dialectics and common sense have been thrown out the window.

The-descent into idealism and isolation came at a time of right-wing offensive and followed several years of a lull in working-class militancy. In the face of these difficulties, the PWOC chose to advance by internal consolidation and voluntarism, focusing on its own composition instead of mass work. Despite its formal adherence to the “fusion” line, the PWOC now mirrors the idealist approach to party-building adopted by the “rectification” forces.

The PWOC has always correctly identified racism as the central division in the U.S. working class. In the recent campaign, racism in the communist movement was also correctly identified as one of the problems helping to maintain a mostly white membership. Then, without previous discussion on how to carry it out, the leadership launched the campaign. Antiracist work in the mass movement and a theoretical treatment of racism in the U.S. were left by the wayside in favor of “ideological struggle” against white chauvinism in the ranks.

The style of the campaign has been seen before in the communist movement, especially during the late 1940’s in the Communist Party (CP). W.Z. Foster, then a leader of the CP, described that campaign in words which fit the PWOC as well:

The left sectarian tendency isolates the Party from the masses, makes a caricature of the fight against white chauvinism, considers white chauvinism as virtually ineradicable, and proposes impossible disciplinary measures to combat it....And the sectarian trend cultivates the error by divorcing itself from the masses and making an unbalanced concentration on the Party itself. Some of these comrades would seem to imply that the Party is the main source of white chauvinism in the working class...The sectarian tendency also sharply condemns as conciliators of white chauvinism, if not as outright chauvinists, all those others who see any difference in the degree of contamination with white chauvinism. This sectarian definition of chauvinism practically eliminates education as a corrective measure, and puts the whole stress upon organizational measures. Consequently, not only have comrades been unjustly disciplined, and even expelled, but the whole fight against white chauvinism has been confused and weakened.


The campaign in the PWOC reduced everything to a question of white chauvinism or petty-bourgeois ideas. The centrality of racism came to mean that racist ideology is always the central aspect of every action in relations between white and Black people. Criticisms became automatic formulas, mechanically applied. For example, “Because racism exists in interracial relationships, then racism must be considered the essence of SUCH relationships, and they should be discouraged.” As a result, all the interracial couples in the PWOC split up.

But reducing all aspects of relationships to racism (or class bias) is contrary to Marxism-Leninism. Lenin summed it up this way: “Exaggerating any aspect of knowledge, depriving it of bonds with other aspects and with matter, and absolutizing it, inevitably leads to idealism.” The PWOC’s line on racism is ultimately a position of “left segregationism,” and is another example of the view that whites are hopelessly compromised by their “white skin privilege” – a view adopted in the past by organizations like Sojourner Truth Organization and Prairie Fire.

The PWOC adopted the same mechanical approach to “accommodation-ism.” All weaknesses or supposed* weaknesses of national minority comrades were attributed to their accommodation to white chauvinism. Actually, to allow national minority comrades to raise criticisms of the campaign might have toppled the house of cards built up by the leadership. As a result national minority comrades left the organization at about the same rate as whites.

Common practice was to accept immediately whatever criticism was being leveled, and to call oneself and others racist (or anti-working class) in the most degrading way possible (e.g. so-and-so is “just like the KICK”). Criticisms were seen as certainties, and questioning criticism became an error in and of itself, a further proof of racist and class-bias blindspots. Meanwhile, a handful of people in leadership ran the show, while remaining relatively exempt from criticism. Leadership did seek out dissent in the PWOC, but not to learn from it, only to crush it. Undemocratic methods and manipulation were successful, and in the end the life of the PWOC was characterized by unanimous votes and suspension or expulsion of members. Questions and disagreements on anything were labelled “anti-leadership.”

Usually, leadership decided the “correct” position on something, and then cell chairs were directed to “consolidate” the membership around that position. This led to little internal debate. For example, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a legitimate point for debate everywhere throughout the movement except the PWOC. Those who expressed any doubt about the PWOC’s pro-Soviet position were immediately labelled “anti-Soviet”, and “anti-leadership.” Another example was the PWOC’s support of Gus Hall and Angela Davis in the presidential elections. Many cadre first heard about the position when they read about it in the PWOC’s paper, the Organizer.


Not only did leadership distrust rank-and-file membership, but they failed to adopt any program of cadre development. By the end, there was no internal education in the PWOC, except sessions of “ideological struggle.” Indeed there was little time for education, given the over-extension of cadre. Most members attended three or four meetings a week, in addition to 5- to 6-hour cell meetings on weekends. This was on top of union meetings, mass meetings, leafletting, phone calls, raffle ticket sales, Organizer distributions, demonstrations, producing the newspaper, doing child-care, etc....

Many members became demoralized at such a pace. In fact, the PWOC was acting like the revolution was next week. Not only did over-extension burn out members, but few could be recruited to an organization which was so all-consuming. And yet anyone who complained of overwork was harshly criticized and accused of lack of commitment, racism, etc.

Focusing on internal life, the PWOC gradually withdrew from mass work. On those occasions when the PWOC did work with other forces, those efforts were characterized by sectarianism and an insistence on bringing the campaign into the mass work. Two examples will help clarify.

One was work in the women’s movement. Although the PWOC has said that the women’s movement is part of the revolutionary movement in the sectarian attitude toward the women’s movement for a number of years. This has been especially apparent in the PWOC’s recent criticism of the women’s movement for feminism. Feminism, strictly defined, narrowly targets men as the enemy and all too often overlooks class and racial oppression. We agree with the PWOC that feminism defined in this strict sense (as opposed to the looser sense of anti-sexism) should be criticized. However, the PWOC has criticized from the outside the women’s movement, refusing to participate, claiming that work in the women’s movement is not a priority.


In this stand-off position, the PWOC merely repeated the errors of other “left” groups which were all criticism and no unity; such a position only fosters anticommunism in the women’s movement and makes constructive criticism of narrow feminism more difficult for activists in the women’s movement. This trend, which began with the PWOC’s half-hearted participation in and strident criticism of the 1979 Take Back the Night march, culminated when the PWOC walked out of the International Women’s Day Philadelphia-Coalition (IWD) in 1981. Not only did the PWOC walk out when it did not get its way, it then leafletted the event to put forth its criticism, and even actively encouraged scheduled speakers not to participate.

Another example of the failure of the PWOC to carry out united front work took place in the 1980 Coalition Against Racist Violence in Philadelphia. The PWOC played a leading role in this coalition, which got off to a good start. Many community groups participated, and the city government was put on the spot to do something about racist attacks. However, in the end, the PWOC was long on “ideological struggle” and short on developing a viable program for citywide antiracist work. Granted this was a difficult task, but the PWOC’s focus on struggling against white chauvinism separate from developing a program made it more so.

After one successful citywide meeting, the Coalition Against Racist Violence fell apart. Its disappearance was little discussed in the organization, which was consumed with criticism and self-criticism. After all, self-criticisms had to be written up until they were satisfactory to the leadership. The paperwork alone was enormous.

One final note on the PWOC’s recent sectarianism involves its attitude toward ex-members. After cadre started resigning, the leadership maintained they were simply fleeing due to their own weaknesses and would soon drift into anticommunism and drop out of politics. In other words, there is no life after the PWOC. In some cases, the PWOC even saw fit to try to write ex-members out of the movement, by sending letters to others around the country denouncing such-and-such a comrade. In Philadelphia, members were told not to continue personal relationships with ex-cadre who resigned. Members who quit were isolated from friends, lovers and roommates who remained in.


To conclude, the PWOC got mired in idealism because its internal campaigns were not rooted in the struggle against capitalism but in the struggle against people’s ideas. One of the premises of the campaigns was that the lack of multi-nationality in the PWOC was mainly due to white chauvinism in the organization. But this was only partly true.

While white chauvinism was a problem, there were other factors. The onesided analysis of the leadership ignored the initial obstacle to unity, the historical general distrust (due to racism) of national minorities toward mostly white organizations. It also ignored the ability of national minority comrades to reason politically and make decisions based on political line and practice of any organization.

Political line and especially practice are key in attracting national minority members of a communist organization. Once initial distrust is broken down, and this is done mainly through the kind of work being done in the working class, there are still many obstacles to the integration of national minority members. It is here that chauvinism as well as the petty-bourgeois atmosphere of mostly white communist organizations has become the main obstacle.

It is here that the character of cadre becomes key. White cadre will of course have racist weaknesses. What is important is their commitment to struggling against such weaknesses. Criticism must be followed by practice – it is in mass work where cadres’ willingness to change will be tested. Unending internal criticism leads nowhere. To lump all cadres together and force the same confessions out of everyone does not get to the problem but only aggravates it (e.g., confessions to thinking all Blacks are inferior, lazy, violent, etc. in the case of white cadre). This simplistic approach refuses to recognize people’s different backgrounds and concrete experiences.

What was needed was an approach never before attempted in the PWOC. While a serious problem had been identified, a serious approach was not adopted in taking up the campaign. Such an approach would have required: (1) defining what racism is; (2) describing how racism is expressed both outside and inside the organization; (3) involving everyone in the organization in a discussion about how to take up the struggle against racism both inside and outside the organization; (4) collectively guiding members’ practice to overcome racist errors.

This kind of approach, involving previous discussion among cadre before the campaign, rather than the imposition of a “line” followed by whipping the cadre into shape, might have produced a viable campaign. By not consulting cadre and by not using democratic methods, the leadership relied on themselves alone to set the course of the campaign. Once the problems of their approach became obvious, leadership persisted and refused to reevaluate their “line,” even though it wrecked the PWOC and the OCIC. The leadership must be held accountable for setting back both the struggle against racism and the party-building movement!