Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Workers Headquarters

Realignment, Reagan and Our Tasks


First Published: November 1981.
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.

Editor’s Note: This paper is the contribution to the first topic in a round of debates initiated by the CP. (M-L), the L.R.S. (M-L), and the R.W.H. These debates can play a positive role in exchanging and clarifying positions within the Marxist-Leninist movement. We would encourage other organizations and individuals to participate and comment on these positions.

We hope that this exchange also promotes more cooperation in the work we all do as degrees of difference and unity get spelled out. Application and testing of these positions in practice will be the heart of any unity that can be built.


We are living in a period of massive historical transformation. The 1980’s will see changes in the economic, political and social fabric of the United States even greater than those of the 60s. Underlying problems in the economic base are worsening. The burden will be placed on the majority of the American people, whose living standards are under attack by both employers and the government.

New conditions have also capsized the old ruling coalition and its policies. Attempts at political realignment are the order of the day. At present there exists no set of policies which can unite enough segments of the capitalist class to forge a stable new ruling consensus. It is imperative for different sections of the people to organize themselves, defend their interests, create united fronts, and shape the realignment of forces in society to their own advantage and to the detriment and ultimate destruction of the capitalists. In addition, the danger of war, on a regional or world scale, is chillingly real.

The present situation, because the opportunities are great and the stakes high, makes big demands on Marxist-Leninists. Unfortunately, our tendency has been gravely weakened in the past several years. Its very survival as a force for changing the world, as anything more than a demoralized collection of sects and individuals, is at stake. If we cannot rise to the challenge of the present period, we will have betrayed the people of this country and the world, whose interests we say we represent. If we do not rise to this challenge, we deserve to fold, and fold we will.

As Marxist-Leninists, we have to situate ourselves in and build the actual struggles of different sections of the people around their urgent and felt needs. In this context our most pressing task is to develop an immediate strategy based on hammering out and mastering an analysis of the ongoing changes in the U.S. economy and politics. In particular, this means an overall approach to working within the broad range of forces resistng the policies of the Reagan administration. Although it contributes to both, this crucial task should be seen as distinct from the tasks of building the day to day struggle and of resolving long term strategic questions about seizing power in the United States.

Also, the Marxist-Leninist trend must be unified and strengthened in a down to earth mariner. We have to build an organization capable of making substantial contributions to various popular struggles, of giving political guidance to its members doing different kinds of work, of training advanced fighters and recruiting some, of propagating revolution and socialism. Such organization would be a long step closer to a Party from our present-day mess.


To deal with the dramatic changes brewing in American society, it is necessary to understand the changes in the economy which have produced them. From the beginning of the new Marxist-Leninist movement, the Vietnam war was summed up as a turning point in the U.S. economy.

In deepening this analysis, we came to see the impact of the rise of the Third World, increased competition from European and Japanese capital and the development of the USSR into a rival superpower. At the same time, these were factors conditioning the rate and manner of development of internal contradictions in the economy. The most important of these was the classic tendency, identified by Marx, of the rate of profit to fall. As this was felt most sharply in a large part of the country’s industrial base, much investment shifted to foreign countries, to the service sector and to totally non-productive areas such as finance, insurance, real estate, and speculation. Combined with large increases in government spending, this development produced an increasingly parasitic economy resting on a relatively shrinking productive base.

Economic growth, already slowing in the 60s, hit even lower levels in the 70s. Efforts were made to revive the economy by Keynesian stimulation of demand through government spending and monetary policy. Such methods had been relatively effective since World War II, in an expanding economy. Now they were unable either to restore conditions of profitability to the huge bulk of capital investment which had become insufficiently profitable or to destroy unprofitable capital. Instead, they helped fuel inflation, without ending stagnation. Capitalism had given rise to a new evil, stagflation.

The struggles of the 1960s had resulted in increased social spending to meet popular demands and buy off or cool out social turmoil. During the 70s, stagnation, with its attendant rise in the underlying unemployment rate, and inflation hit government spending with a double wham my. The New Deal policies of large scale social spending could no longer be afforded if the state was to help the capitalist class meet the problems pressing in on it.

The direct effects of these chaotic economic developments on the American people are harsh. Whole industries and regions have been devastated by the effects of the big mess the economy has become. Trying to survive and prosper, corporations have attempted to increase labor intensity and worker output, cut back the workforce and lower real wages. In the last few years, they have sought with significant success to break the unions, evade them by running away or undercut them through quality of worklife and other “new industrial relations” programs. Government, for its part, has provided a diet of increasing taxes and dwindling services.


With the failure of the old economic policies of the ruling coalition first formed in the New Deal, new solutions have been put forward, especially neo-conservative ones. Monetarism attributes near-mystical powers to carefully controlled growth in the money supply. Its success at producing stability and growth may be judged by its implementation under the British regime of Margaret Thatcher. Supply side theorists call for restoring profitability to capital by dismantling government regulation, cutting corporate taxes, and redividing the national income in favor of those likely to invest it in new production – the rich. There is also a new “liberal” approach which advocates stronger government intervention in the economy to create a directed “industrialization.”

The failure of the old dominant Keynesian policies has also crippled the old capitalist ruling alliance. During the 70s elements of a new rival grouping began to coalesce within the bourgeoisie. It included independent oil companies, major military contractors, sun belt real estate and investment interests, defectors from the old ruling coalition and other forces. This grouping aligned itself around neo-conservative economics and jingoist foreign policy approach. Although it is still in the formative stages, draws more from the margins than the center of the ruling class and has a fairly crude program, this group’s influence has grown in the vacuum produced by the present economic and political disarray. It has helped shift the main political currents in the bourgeoisie to the right.

The breakdown of old political alignments has already had important effects on the American people. The alliance of capital which dominated the U.S. government since the Roosevelt era included as junior partners in the ruling consensus other social forces. One of the most important organized groups among these was the leadership of the AFL-CIO. In exchange for certain social reform legislation and improvement in their members’ living standards, they worked to tie the working class to the capitalist system economically, politically and ideologically. For their services as brokers, they got power, wealth and privilege. During the late 1970s, however, the union leaders began to be forced toward the outside of the ruling consensus. Their treachery had gravely weakened the trade union movement. The capitalists for their part were less able to make concessions to the rank and file and more inclined to attack.

Crumbs had even been thrown to some from the ranks of the oppressed nationalities, especially after the 60s. For example, while the situation of the majority of Afro-Americans actually worsened in important respects, a whole Black petit bourgeois stratum was created, closely tied to government and government programs. Some emerged as important leaders and fighters to increase Black political power. Now such programs are under attack and Reagan has made it clear that Blacks have no place in the new alignment he wants to create.

The decay of the old political order combined with the economic mess has the masses of people hurting. The oppressed nationalities, the poor, marginal workers and those whose jobs have vanished forever have suffered severe declines in their standard of living. As real spendable income for the average worker fell 9.6% from 1967 to 1979, others adapted by increasing consumer debt, and especially by women entering the workforce to keep up family income. Nonetheless, living standards are eroding and some polls report, for the first time ever, that a majority of people think things will be worse in a decade than they are now. At present popular dissatisfaction tends to target “liberal” policies, which are seen as having produced the current situation, and “big government.” Both perceptions have a lot of truth, but also provide openings for reactionary political currents.


The 1980 election reflected this dissatisfaction. Voter participation was the lowest in a third of a century, the third lowest since 1824. Those who did vote elected Ronald Reagan and an unexpectedly large number of other conservative Republican candidates. This result gave him a certain mandate, although it reflected a desire for change more than any other single factor. The conservative content to this sentiment took an extreme form in the Moral Majority/New Right forces. These people are mainly devout Christians with little previous political experience. They were mobilized into a vocal and reactionary force by leaders playing on their distress at social decay and social change, which they see as one and the same.

The Reagan campaign also saw an uneasy alliance between his original backers from the new rival group within the bourgeoisie and more powerful old ruling consensus forces. Reagan’s acceptance speech at the Republican Convention displayed a sharp awareness of the political situation in the U.S. He compared himself with F.D.R., proclaiming that he intends to preside over a new realignment of American political life.

In its first nine months, the Reagan Administration avoided the breakdown of this uneasy alliance long enough to push through major parts of a new economic package. It has two major goals. One is to redistribute the national income in the favor of the wealthy by broad tax cuts and reducing transfer payments to the poor, the elderly and the jobless. The other is to slice away the role of the federal government in the economy and society as a whole. In keeping with Reagan’s firm inaugural declaration that the government has no business promoting social progress, this process has targeted 50 years of hard won gains. The administration has undercut anti-trust, environmental, consumer protection and other legislation, dismantled such programs as CETA and crippled such bodies as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Most capitalists still support these economic policies insofar as they themselves or their corporations will benefit. At the same time, the suspicion is growing that Reaganomics is going to be a real flop in terms of producing a revival or reorganization of the American economy. At first, the main manifestations were not political; rather, they took the form of high interest rates, and the decline of the stock market. Now debate in the business press and infighting within the administration itself highlight the fact that Reagan’s shakey coalition is a long way from a basic realignment of ruling class and other forces around a common general program.

The administration itself has begun to backpeddle on the miracles advertised in its salad days this spring - a balanced budget, inflation and unemployment reduced to pre-70s levels, a massive revival of the whole economy.

The fact is, according to Marxist economists, that only the destruction of unprofitable and marginally profitable capital on a mammoth scale could set the conditions for restored profitability and a high economic growth rate. History teaches such destruction will not happen without a depression or a war.

This section cannot be closed without some mention of the international situation. The U.S. role in the world has continued to be inextricably linked with domestic economic and political developments.

The 1970s were overall a decade of retreat and of defeat for U.S. imperialism on a world scale. The problems the government has met have themselves contributed to sharp fissures in the ruling class over how to proceed. Their debates focus on four major problems: the Third World, where, despite current problems of disunity and economic weakness, U.S. efforts at continued domination face severe challenges; the advanced industrial powers of Western Europe and Japan whose capitalist rulers are pressing basic economic conflicts of interest with their American rivals; the Soviet Union, which despite setbacks in Afghanistan, Poland and Kampuchea is still bent on expanding its hegemony into turf staked out by the U.S.; and military policy to deal with the third world and the USSR.

There is considerable alarm in bourgeois circles over Reagan’s foreign policy approach, which has been everything the Soviet Union could ask for. His administration has heaped verbal abuse on the Soviet Union, while doing virtually nothing in practice to block expansion of Soviet influence. Instead, the U.S. government has adopted an antagonistic stance toward the Third World, cutting non-military aid, demanding free play for American investment, threatening military intervention and openly courting reactionary regimes like South Africa.

Finally Reagan’s military program includes vastly escalated spending, broadening the scope for use of nuclear weapons in combat and blustery threats of retaliating in Cuba or Africa for Soviet war moves elsewhere. This stance increases the danger of war significantly. One result has been a massive anti-nuclear, anti-war movement in Europe and open uneasiness about U.S. policy from governments there. The danger of war is also felt strongly among large sections of the American people, who reacted quickly and strongly to Reagan’s “post-Iran” bid in El Salvador to put the U.S. back into the direct foreign intervention business.


The Marxist-Leninist movement (meaning that new communist trend which has aligned itself with the views of the Chinese Communist Party) grew out of the mass upsurge of struggle in the 1960s. During the 70s, Marxist-Leninist organizations made big contributions to the struggles of the American people. In the course of doing this, communists learned a great deal, lessons which will be invaluable during the years to come. All these gains were won through our own painful efforts. Organization was built from the ground up. There was no real linear continuity with the old Communist Party.

Now the Marxist-Leninist movement is in severe difficulty. It is still disunited, it is far smaller than it was at its highpoint in the mid-70s, and much of it is in organizational and ideological disarray. It is entirely possible that it will not survive the next year as anything more than an ambulatory corpse.

How did the powerful and promising new communist movement fall on such times? A variety of factors played their roles. The very inexperience and political ignorance of the young, mainly petty bourgeois, men and women who were its core inevitably led to impetuousity, to dogmatism and to subjectivism.

These tendencies were made worse by the difficulties caused by a very broad change in period. The upsurge of radical and revolutionary activity which grew year by year in the late 60s receded rapidly. Vietnamization and the Peace Treaty took the wind out of the anti-war movement. The bourgeoisie’s kill off/buy off tactics toward leaders from the oppressed nationalities played a big role in sending those movements into an ebb.

The deepening of the country’s economic problems was ironically accompanied by greater temporary social stability. Although cynicism about the system remained high, particularly after Watergate, people took a cautious and self-preserving approach to the accumulating changes for the worse in the country. Denying or downplaying these shifts, Marxist-Leninists tended to seize one-sidedly on the system’s problems and those outbursts of struggle which did occur to justify a view that imperialism was on its deathbed and the conditions for revolutionary struggle were favorable.

These problems of inexperience and failure to understand the period were reflected in a series of political errors, mainly left in character. Sectarianism toward other Marxist-Leninists, toward non-ML progressives and even toward the masses, culminated in several groups declaring themselves to be the exclusive vanguard of the American working class. Such declarations were usually accompanied by the publication of programs or strategies for revolution which advertised amazing ignorance about American conditions. Many groups substituted uncritical perusal of Peking Review (or What Is To Be Done?) for developing their own theoretical perspectives. In the name of proletarian leadership or of multinational unity, the national character of the Black struggle was partially or entirely negated with disastrous effects on the strength and unity of the Marxist-Leninist movement. “Main blow” perspectives and a line of building dual “revolutionary” organizations broke the united front, isolated Marxist-Leninists in many important movements and struggles. Mindless electoral abstentionism was the order of the day. The list goes on and on.

Recognition of these left errors and the effort to break with them has been both productive and painful. On the one hand, Marxist-Leninists have become more integrated with the struggles and lives of the American people. Many have become exceptional organizers and recognized leaders. On the other hand, hundreds of fine communists were lost to demoralization. Some felt that they had wasted their time trying to make revolution. Others couldn’t go on because they saw no clear road ahead.

Even among those who remain, rectification and reevaluation have, perhaps inevitably, given rise to reformist and liquidationist currents. Doubts exist about armed struggle, proletarian dictatorship, democratic centralism and other principles which were once accepted without question. For others, these questions are largely irrelevant and the only thing worthy of effort is building the various immediate struggles of the people.

These currents certainly point out the need for building up the theoretical and ideological level of our movement. At the same time, our experience shows they cannot simply be answered by exhortations to remain true to the principles of Marxism-Leninism.


A big part of the recent difficulties in the U.S. Marxist-Leninist movement lies in the international crisis of Marxism. The late 70s saw the Vietnamese revolution, which had influenced so many young radicals toward communism, betrayed almost as soon as it was won. Cuba, another early inspiration, acted as propaganda and military advance man for the rulers of the USSR.

As the list of Soviet crimes around the world grew, the Kremlin maintained its socialist cover largely intact. Revolutionaries in many countries acknowledged it as a valuable ally. At the same time, China’s implementation of the Three Worlds Theory and the united front against hegemonism alienated many anti-imperialist fighters who saw China as having become an ally of their immediate enemies, local tyrants and U.S. domination.

A bigger shock, however, was the summation by the Chinese Party and people of the Cultural Revolution as a disaster which had almost destroyed the country. The lines which guided the Cultural Revolution had greatly influenced our political understanding of revolution. The Marxist-Leninist movement has been left with two important questions for which it does not have satisfactory answers: What is socialism? What is revisionism? It is better to acknowledge ignorance than to persist in basing political activity on an incorrect line, but it has taken its toll.

The way out for the Marxist-Leninist movement is to scientifically develop an American Marxism which takes full account of actual conditions and national particularities in the fight to destroy the scum who lord it over the people and wealth of this country. Let’s be clear this is a long term task. Nothing will be gained by ignoring the limits imposed by the small numbers, weak organization, limited ties among the masses and theoretical shortcomings which characterize the movement at present.

The Marxist-Leninist trend does have two great resources. The first is its members, a cadre of veterans of struggles in various people’s movements who are capable of analyzing, organizing, and leading and who want to make revolution. The second is its collective experience (which includes the historic and international experience of the Marxist movement), a hard won resource. In class struggle to come, it can do a great deal to move things in a revolutionary direction and at the same time prevent the repetition of expensive errors of the past.

These resources must be applied to the demands presented by the current situation in the country. They must also be strengthened by meeting the needs of the Marxist-Leninist movement: unity, rebuilding of organization, getting a grip on the period, defining tasks, training and recruitment, redefining the movement itself in terms of the American Revolution.


Daily life in this country increasingly stands as testimony that the capitalist system is no damn good. Even America’s rulers are dissatisfied and bewildered at the current state of their system. The Reagan program promises misery for the people and no satisfactory answers for the problems of the high and mighty.

In the absence of a set of policies capable of winning very broad support, different capitalist groupings will tend to push for ones they think will serve their narrow immediate interests. Reagan’s attempt to guide a critical realignment in U.S. political life has put few pieces firmly in place. The paper-thin alliance he forged to back his economic program is now ripping drastically. He may be the bourgeoisie’s chief executive officer, but he has nowhere near the power or hegemony needed to bring a stable realignment into being.

So far the liberal bourgeoisie and their political spokesmen have not mounted a serious challenge to the administration, preferring to snipe and hope it self destructs. The dangers of aping Reagan are clear and, even in a somewhat Reaganized version, the old New Deal program and coalition offers no answers for the problems which ate away at the old order in the first place. Thus, it can never regain its former dominance among the bourgeoisie or support among the people.

A logical direction for the Democrats to go in is the variation on bite-the-bullet proposed by theoreticians like Felix Rohatyn and Lester Thurow. They advocate “industrialization” through economic intervention and central planning by a strengthened bourgeois state. With both capitalists and large sections of the people extremely wary of “big government,” few public figures are willing to be too closely identified with such a rap’. Some union officials, like Victor Gotbaum of AFSCME District Council 37, are now pushing a social democratic variant of this position. As dissatisfaction with Reagan’s program grows, the various liberal tendencies will adopt a more populist cover and bid to make themselves the standard bearers of opposition.

The economic mess, Reagan’s attacks and the erosion of “American dream”-type expectations can in no way be relied on to shift public opinion leftward, let alone automatically radicalize the American people and throw them into decisive action. Bourgeois ideas and outlook remain very deeply rooted in this country even though their material base is washing away. There is no source of alternate views, consistently radical let alone anti-capitalist or revolutionary, which has access to large sections of the people and has earned credibility.

An important example of development in an extremely negative direction is the increasing tendency toward racial polarization. The objective basis exists in the “shrinking pie” of jobs, income, social services, etc. which economic stagnation and government policy are creating. The ideological basis for such polarization has been laid over the last decade with the thorough promotion of racist myths like “reverse discrimination” and the good life welfare recipients enjoy courtesy of workers’ tax dollars. Reagan’s approach is to throw fuel on the fire.


Undeniably, there will be plenty of political motion and social change in American society in the next few years. The lack of a stable ruling consensus doesn’t just affect the capitalists. The breakdown of the old ruling coalition and efforts to create a basic realignment are the overall context in which struggle and resistance will be taking place.

Marxist-Leninists have the crucial task of strengthening the role of the people and conscious progressive forces in the political shifts ahead. This is a tall order which calls for a broad scope of vision combined with a very realistic evaluation of what is possible given the limitations on the forces in the trend.

In the next few years, to the extent that there is a general banner under which most struggle and resistance takes place, it will be an anti-Reagan administration one. An objective common front or loose alliance or informal coalition, call it what you will, aimed at the Reagan administration is already taking shape. This will be the most important development affecting the position of the people in the changing political life of the country.

Obviously, this front is not revolutionary. It will include plenty of elements - even sections of the bourgeoisie and many Democratic party politicos - whose fundamental interests lie in finding other ways to lay the economic mess and its byproducts on the backs of the people.

Nevertheless, Marxist-Leninists have to be inside this coalescence of forces, and not outside attempting to establish a left alternative as we would have in the past. We can already sketch some broad goals for our participation. First, of course, is to build up the front itself. This has two aspects: learning how to work with a broad range of forces at the top and building up particular component battles (more on this below). We want to try and steer this front. This includes clearly targeting the Reagan administration and its policies and promoting action and mass mobilizations. It will also mean combatting efforts to make it sectarian or put it at the service of opposition politicians. Steering will require constant sum-up and analysis to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the situation.

We want to bring into the coalition content which educates and arouses the people. This includes promoting the analysis of the breakdown of old political alignments, and doing exposures and critiques of particular outrages and policies. Over time, it will require the development of an actual popular program which identifies the main issues and lays out alternative solutions which serve some immediate needs of the people. To do this we will need to develop both positions on difficult questions like nationalization, taxation, crime, foreign policy and a deep overall understanding of the role of reform demands in a revolutionary strategy. Finally, we want to develop strong cores of left and progressive forces as a militant pole within it. Such cores will be crucial to our ability to make gains around the other goals.


To repeat, this is the context in which the class struggle in the U.S. will for the most part be developing in the next few years. However, the individual battles that make up that struggle, the battles in which most Marxist-Leninists organizing will be done, will not change in character quickly from those of recent years. In other words, they will mainly be localized and sporadic, around specific immediate demands and particular targets. Few will have explicit anti-Reagan administration politics as their central thrust. Especially, they will be defensive battles, bitter efforts to hold on to all or part of what’s been won in the past in the face of sweeping attacks.

Resistance is bound to develop unevenly. The defeat of militant opposition leaders in the Steelworkers Union elections this fall and widespread local votes in many industries to accept pay cuts and other takeaways show that attacks don’t automatically produce a fightback. Nor is it easy to predict in advance where resistance will break out, what form it will take or what forces will come forward to initiate it. The guiding principal for Marxist-Leninists in making local struggles happen or uniting with them is to proceed from the urgent and felt needs of the masses. This is no magic formula – sometimes, for instance, a group of workers may be facing a devastating attack, yet not perceive it. Still, there is no better way to build the resistance than to persist in identifying those needs and help develop forms of struggle that will see that they are met.

At the same time, the coalescence of broad forces organizing and taking action against the Reagan administration is the main opportunity that different sections of the people will have to take a more offensive stance in the coming period. It is also the arena in which the widest understanding of and opposition to the capitalist system as a whole can be developed. This has already been born out by widespread reports of the good effect Solidarity Day had in building spirit that was taken back into the shop floor.

Organizers must, of course, be wary of forcing every strike or demonstration into some rigid anti-Reagan mold, but this overall approach has a great deal to offer in the day to day work. With a view of where their struggle fits in the larger picture, different groups can fight better and the formation of alliances between different forces can be maximized. In fact, it is not just possible and desireable, but necessary. Take the case of social service budget cutbacks. Hard experience in cities like Philadelphia shows that, in isolation, the defensive struggles of unionized government workers to preserve jobs, pay and working conditions can easily be pitted against the demands of minority communities to preserve services.


Although the common front against the Reagan regime is still in its formative stages, it is useful to make some brief generalizations about different component parts. In every area of work, organizers have the task of figuring out both the opportunities and the contradictions facing them in this arena.

The most interesting development so far has been the stand taken by the top leaders of the AFL-CIO and the labor bureaucracy as a whole. The September 19 Solidarity Day demonstration was far and away the most powerful single action taken against the new administration so far, and the largest and most oppositional mobilization undertaken by the union big shots in decades. An active effort was made to involve other anti-Reagan forces, particularly the oppressed nationality communities, women, and the elderly. For a variety of reasons, including both organized labor’s record of neglect for the struggles of other sections of the people and weakness in the other movements, these other forces were relatively insignificant in the march.

It is critical to understand that Kirkland and company called Solidarity Day because of their own interests and not in response to some spontaneous demand from the rank and file for an anti-Reagan demonstration. They resent being forced to the outside of the ruling consensus and realize that only by strengthening the labor movement, which has been gutted by years of their treachery, will they be able to play a large role in political realignment. There are divisions within the ranks of the top bureaucrats and many are uncomfortable with the role of leading political opposition. Certainly, none have presented any real alternative vision to offer the American people of how things should go in the 80s, and most just want to focus on beefing up their role in the Democratic Party machinery.

In the face of spreading economic attacks on union members, the leadership tends to vacillate between compromise and capitulation. The strike level in August of this year was lower than it had been since 1943! In fact, the biggest trend in contracts now is wage cuts and other takeaways, as the business press has noted with delight. One function of the hierarchy’s newfound political activism is to get them off the hook for their continuing betrayal of the rank and file’s basic and immediate interests. This poses some contradictions for communist organizers in the shops. Ways must be found to continue organizing the rank and file against sellouts and for militant and democratic unionism, while taking advantage of anti-Reagan administration initiatives or positions at the top to educate and mobilize the rank and file.

Black people have been the hardest hit by the economic and social policies the Reagan administration has pushed through so far, and there is plenty more to come. They are also, as a group, the most conscious that their interests and those of the administration have nothing whatsoever in common. The Martin Luther King Day demonstration in Washington a week before the inauguration was in fact the first blow aimed at the Reagan administration. Black elected officials have been the most outspoken in denouncing Reagan’s attacks.

At the same time, the Afro-American struggle has the potential to play a practical and political leading role in this front, which has not yet been fully developed. So there is not a clear program out there on how to go forward. Unity with other forces is greatly desired, but the Black community cannot afford unity in which its needs are subordinated or compromised. One of the biggest problems is the current vacuum of militant, respected leadership. This is bringing forward a new generation of leaders – in local politics and Black United Front-type organizations especially – which is seriously concerning itself with these questions.

Other oppressed nationalities, including recent immigrant groups, are already feeling the brunt of Reagan’s national chauvinism and let-them-eat-cake policies toward the poor. Again, it’s still unclear how various national groups will respond and how large a part they will play in anti-Reagan administration motion.

Although the struggles of oppressed nationalities more often than not take the form of community struggles, the two are not identical. There is plenty of motion in the cities, predominantly around cutback and housing related issues. Community struggles naturally tend to target local government, real estate interests, banks, etc. and the move to block grants may to some extent reinforce this. On the other hand, community activists and paid neighborhood organizers are very clear on the disastrous effects of national policy. This is an important and progressive section for Marxist-Leninists to work with.

On an ideological level, the gains made by women in the last decade and a half are the number one target of the Reagan administration. Although major anti-woman policy decisions have not yet been taken, the pieces are being put in place through steps like Congressional hearings and the appointment of Right To Life reactionaries to important government positions.

The organized women’s movement senses the desperate need to build organized resistance and a greater openness to united action on the part of different forces in the movement has resulted. The main target at present is not the administration itself but the New Right/Moral Majority which is the driving force of the anti-woman campaign. On the other hand, the ties are close enough to make an anti-Reagan thrust a natural component of the women’s movement and a basis for broader alliances.

The importance of women in an anti-Reagan front is not restricted to reproductive rights, equal rights and other women’s issues. In the 1980 election women were 8% less likely to vote for Reagan than men, largely, it appears, in rejection of his sabre-rattling approach to foreign policy and defense spending.

Foreign policy and defense are overall a major source of opposition. The first surge of struggle against the new regime came with increased U.S. intervention in El Salvador. The White House was deluged with letters running 10-1 against the step up. The Catholic Church took a stand against the administration’s approach. Campuses and the left were galvanized into action. Reagan and his sidekicks wound up backpeddling and sidestepping on the move that was supposed to prove the lessons of Vietnam had been erased from the national psyche.

Significant sections of the ruling class regard Reagan’s policies with attitudes ranging from suspicion to outright panic. These elements tend to favor the softer approach of Andrew Young or Carter and see only disaster in moves like cozying up openly to South Africa. They will actively fight and try to weaken the Reagan administration on international affairs, as with the Lefever nomination fight.

Reagan also has a two-fold problem on the military budget front. First, his program consists mainly of pouring money into the military without a scientific evaluation of what’s needed or even what the final bill will be. Even many politicians and experts dedicated to building up U.S. military might are concerned that Reagan’s proposals won’t do the job. Secondly, the effect of runaway military spending on efforts to restore the economy to health will be nothing short of disaster. Politically, even Congressional Republicans can’t see going on record as signing a blank check for the Pentagon, while acceding to the Presidents demand for cuts, cuts and more cuts in social welfare programs.

One important arena where Marxist-Leninists have a lot more to learn is electoral politics. “Reaganism” is going to be a big issue in the off-year elections of ’82 and in many local contests. There should be no illusion that the ground now is fertile for some kind of national third party capable of being more than a vehicle to spread progressive analysis and program. Rather, attention should be focused primarily on waging independent local campaigns. Our movement needs more study, more practice and more struggle to work out questions like supporting candidates from the left of ’ the Democratic mainstream or, to split hairs, working hard to defeat particularly reactionary candidates.

On the left, there is a lot of general sentiment for focusing political efforts against the Reagan regime, but there is not a very deep understanding of why or how.

The left has a great deal to offer in organizational skills, knowledge and dedication, if some problems can be overcome. Among these are two erroneous trends which have developed within the generally correct anti-Reagan thrust. One is overwhelmed by the defensive character of individual struggles in the period and says the left should restrict itself to trying to preserve a progressive trend in American politics and forget promoting revolutionary or socialist ideas.

The other reflects the kind of dogmatist outlook that plagued the Marxist-Leninist movement in the ’70s, calling for a “united front against war and racism” or a “united front against fascism.” Based on preconceptions rather than analysis, such proposals in fact ignore the actual existence, functioning unity and potential scope of the anti-Reagan front. Serious attempts to impose them could do harm to the real alliance of forces which can be united to target the administration.


The overall prospects are that the Reagan administration will be progressively hemmed in politically over the remainder of the term. Its inability to come up with a program that won’t sooner or later turn important sections of capital against it, its pursuit of policies that are flat out stupid, the growth of popular opposition – all this will limit Reagan’s freedom to push through sweeping policies as he did in his first year.

On the other hand, it is unlikely that the current administration will sink into the same kind of impotence and vacillation as the Carter and Ford administrations. A more likely model is Reagan’s rightwing ideological soul-sister Margaret Thatcher, whose practice is to push on into the teeth of disaster.

And there are dangerous options open to Reagan which must not be ignored. As popular opposition grows, there are strong indications it will be met by severe repression – in the name of fighting terrorism or perhaps preserving social order – and that the left will be a particular target. Reagan also could easily get the U.S. involved in a war in some area of the Third World in pursuit of policy goals, to bolster his political standing or through simple miscalculation and stupidity.

The conclusion from all this is that, short of a sudden violent shift in period, like war or depression, the contradiction between the Reagan administration and a coalesence of anti-Reagan forces will be the dominant factor on the political scene until at least 1984, and possibly 1988.

That makes this contradiction the key one in this period of economic and political disintegration and attempts at restructuring and realignment. Marxist-Leninists must learn to work around this well, while remaining based in the actual struggles of the people around their urgent and felt needs. If we do, we can make some important contributions to the shape political realignment will eventually take.

We can learn a great deal – how politics and bourgeois rule actually function in America, how to develop immediate program, how to handle contradictions in broad fronts, how to relate economic and political work. If we do all this well and consciously we can build up our own forces, ability and influence in the process. In short, we will be better positioned to deal with the next new set of contradictions and opportunities thrown up by this decaying system.


The task of Marxist-Leninists is to organize the people to make revolution and build socialism and communism. All other tasks flow from this central imperative. They are determined at any time by the objective situation and the strength and position of Marxist-Leninists. All of them should be considered a part of the process of party building, which will be addressed at the end of this section. At present our tasks fall into several categories.

A characteristic of the Marxist-Leninist trend has been its emphasis on communists concentrating their work on building the actual day-to-day struggles and organizations of the people. No change in this emphasis is called for.

Despite ten years of valuable and arduous work, the Marxist-Leninist trend (or, for the matter, the whole “socialist” left) and the working class movement are still very separate and distinct entities. Things are better with regard to the Black Liberation movement, but not qualitatively. The work of Marxist-Leninists must center around gradually transforming this situation and creating a legitimate socialist current internal to the labor movement, the national movements and other movements.

The lack of fusion between the socialist movement and the main progressive movements of the American people calls for carrying out work in a particular way. Communists have to train cores of the advanced in a class struggle outlook and the use of scientific methodology. Marxist-Leninist organization has to identify key areas and struggles and devote as much attention as possible to developing them. Making breakthroughs at specific points generally has to take priority over marginal gains across a broad front.

Marxist-Leninist organization has to develop specific political lines which can guide the particular area of work its members are in, whether trade union, the national movements, student, women, work around the international situation or whatever. This is a task of summation of practical experience combined with analysis and study. Emphasis has to be placed on practice and the central role of comrades in the work in determining the line for that work.


From its inception, the trend has been defined, and self-defined, as the Maoists or the pro-Chinese communists. This is not a definition which is meaningful to the overwhelming majority of the American people or conducive to expanding political influence within the left. The point is not to renounce either China, which will continue to be an inspiration and a teacher as it grapples with the difficult questions of building socialist society, or Mao Zedong, upon whose enormous contributions to the cause of the international working class American revolutionaries will continue to draw.

Our trend, however, has to redefine itself in terms of the theory and practice of the American revolution, the application of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought to conditions in the United States. Marxist-Leninists will be defined by what they identify as the principal questions in building the struggle of the American revolution and the stand they take on those questions. Some important steps have been made in the last decade, like identifying the alliance between the multinational working class and the movements of the oppressed nationalities as the key to making revolution in the U.S.

As mentioned in section C, it is in this process that the Marxist-Leninist movement will be best able to deal with the Big Questions which have arisen over the past few years. In general, our approach should be to take these up one at a time when necessary or possible. In the absence of an alternative or at least a persuasive and clearly formulated critique, principles which have been established during over a century of theorizing and practice by Marxists worldwide should not be discarded, even if conditions demand adjustments in their application.

Like all of the tasks facing this trend, theoretical tasks are set or affected by the period. Marxism-Leninism enables its advocates to identify contradictions in the world and figure out how to respond to them. It provides a method which permits both the anticipation of developments and the ongoing adjustment or correction of inadequate or wrong lines.

For now, the main advances in developing an American Marxism and a strategic perspective and in the theoretical sphere as a whole will come as communists try to get a better handle on how to function in the context of an anti-Reagan administration focus and how to affect realignment. Some have been touched on or implied earlier. Others can be predicted, although largely unexpected ones will also surely arise.

A few for instances:

What is the character of the present period and what are the divisions within the bourgeoisie? Is a stable realignment possible short of depression or war? What are the particular characteristics of bourgeois rule and the state in the U.S.? What part do electoral politics and the effort to build a labor and/or nationality based third party play in a revolutionary strategy?

What should the character and the function of a minimum program for the present period be? To what extent should alliances be made with forces like the trade union bureaucracy which have basic interests antagonistic to those of the working class and masses of people? What can be done to lessen the divisions between whites and the oppressed nationalities, within the working class and in society as a whole? How much slack is there in the U.S. economy? What does a Neanderthal foreign policy like Reagan’s do to the world situation and the war danger? What can be expected from the rulers of the USSR?

It is in this arena that the Marxist-Leninists trend will be differentiated from other major tendencies on the left. It is a fine thing, for instance, that our trend believes in armed struggle and most social democrats don’t. However, unless someone wants to argue that this is an insurrectionary period, such a distinction is not spectacularly useful in determining when and how to unite with social democratic forces. It is not even the main point in convincing the advanced to make the greater commitment of joining Marxist-Leninist organization. The thing is to flesh out the obvious differences that do exist: the social democrats’ theoretical negation and practical negation of the national question, their worship of electoral politics and work in the “left” of the Democratic party, their non-reliance on the masses of people and so on.


In addition to the tasks of Marxist-Leninists already identified – building the struggles and movements of the people, fusing the socialist movement with the working class and national movements, beginning to develop an American Marxism, forging a strategic approach to the period – there are a number of important tasks which are more explicitly communist.

One of those is producing literature. While most of the literature Marxist-Leninists work on-will be leaflets or organs of unions, caucuses, other mass organizations and coalitions, there is a definite need for open communist literature. Such literature, agitational and especially propaganda, serves a variety of purposes. First and foremost it popularizes a communist analysis of major questions and popularizes a communist outlook, both augmenting and reaching out more broadly than individual raps by communist organizers.

It serves as basic material for training cores of the advanced and arming members and supporters of groups with line and analysis. And it puts a face forward for Marxist-Leninist organization among the people and particularly on the left. It is necessary to sum up conditions and the considerable experience of the trend to determine what forms of literature the limited resources available should be used to develop.

Another such task is recruitment. This is necessary just to maintain, let alone expand the Marxist-Leninist forces. It is also necessary to change the composition of the trend, which still reflects in both age and class background its origins in the upsurge of the late 60s and early 70s. Furthermore, some organizations, such as the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters, do not at all reflect the national composition of the working class and the population as a whole. Without changing these conditions, the present Marxist-Leninist trend will continue to have great difficulty in accomplishing its other tasks.

Closely related is the question of tightening ties with revolutionary forces which do not spring from our trend. Disarray and unclarity is by no means restricted to Marxist-Leninists. Revolutionary social democrats, folks from the “anti-revisionist, anti-left” trend and others can be regrouped even in Marxist-Leninist organization based on common work and political discussion and debate.

The strengthening of Marxist-Leninist organization is an immediate and critical task. This cannot be done by restoring the rigid, schematic “democratic centralism” (anarcho-fascism is more like it) which greatly contributed to the RCP’s plunge into Trotskyism and the rapid decline of the CP(ML). Organization must be built up taking into account the needs the members perceive as a result of their experience and work.

Marxist-Leninists want an overall line for carrying on work in the period and to contribute to formulating it. They want advice and assistance to the areas of work they are involved in, but not the imposition of line from above by those with little or no first-hand knowledge of the contradictions they are facing. They want help in figuring out how to function as communists in a situation where they will not and should not be open public red organizers.

This calls for the strengthening of the basic structure of Marxist-Leninist organization: work-based units – districts – national leading bodies. It also calls for new forms to make that structure work and fulfill the needs of the cadre and the class struggle. These include commissions to develop line for and lead various areas of work, forums for extensive democratic internal debate and mechanisms to strengthen and link together the localities where only a few Marxist-Leninists are working.

Hand in hand with the question of building up organization is the question of Marxist-Leninist unity. This trend consists of a few national or semi-national organizations, a number of local collectives and groupings and a great many individuals. The desireability of uniting all or nearly all of these forces in a single organization is so obvious as to require no further comment. Fortunately, the battering the trend has taken in recent years and the lessons it is summing up have helped create strong sentiment for unity.

Unity must be pursued patiently, on the basis of principle and in the spirit of equality. Tendencies toward organizational chauvinism and hegemonism must be guarded against and curbed.

One of the most powerful methods for achieving unity at this time is the participation, in an organized fashion, of cadre from different organizations in common practice and common summation. In this way basic differences in line can be identified, evaluated and possibly even resolved. As important, it means an enhancement of the resources which can be brought to bear on solving problems and making actual gains in the struggle. There are still real barriers to be overcome, but they must not be permitted to stall or end movement toward a single organization.

This section cannot be closed without addressing the question of party building. Various mid-70s declarations to the contrary, things are a long way from the actual formation of a genuine vanguard party which can in any real way take the responsibility of trying to lead the major movements and struggles of the American people and direct them toward revolution.

Unfortunately the setbacks and uncertainty that have affected the Marxist-Leninist trend and the non-revolutionary and defensive character of the period have both contributed to a tendency to downplay or ignore this question. This is true not only of many who no longer consider themselves Marxist-Leninists but remain dedicated fighters, but also of many in the Marxist-Leninist ranks.

The conclusion that a party is not necessary or that the task of building it should be put off to a later period is dead wrong. The goal of a party, even though it is not around the corner, must always be kept in mind. The best way to build towards it now and the best way to combat liquidationist views is to carry out the kind of tasks discussed in this paper. At every stage Marxist-Leninists will have to evaluate their position and adjust their plans around party building to keeping moving forward.

The class struggle itself will show the necessity for a party. Only success in grappling with the current period and the tasks that it presents will show that it is possible to build one.