Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Workers Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist)

What is happening to the Communist Party (ML) of the USA?

First Issued: The Forge, Vol. 6, No. 22, June 5, 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Over the past few years many of our readers have followed the articles in The Forge dealing with the Communist Party (ML) of the USA and its newspaper, The Call. The fraternal links built up over six years between the CPML (and its predecessor, the October League), and the WCP (and its predecessor, the Canadian Communist League) have always been particularly close due to our geographical proximity.

But in the last year and a half, readers will have noted a drop off in articles on the CPML appearing in The Forge. Those in Canada who read The Call itself have also noticed some very disturbing changes in this newspaper and have witnessed the crucial struggle for survival that is presently going on in this party.

Under debate are key issues for the entire communist movement. The WCP thinks that under these circumstances we can no longer remain silent on these questions.

A major upheaval is now going on in the CPML. The Call, as of January 1981, has ceased publishing weekly and is now a monthly. Distribution has plummeted from 13,000 a week a few years ago to about 3,000 a month.

Michael Klonsky has resigned as chairman of the CPML’s Central Committee. The old leadership has been replaced by a provisional leadership while awaiting the next congress. Membership has fallen off drastically and many well-known cadres like Daniel Burstein have left the party.

The whole history of the CPML and the ML movement in the USA has been put into doubt in a series of Call articles.

However, one thread runs through all sides in the debates published in The Call – ultra-leftism and not right opportunism or revisionism has been identified as the main cause of all the party’s problems as well as the main cause of problems in the Marxist-Leninist movement worldwide.


It is clear that there are very serious problems in the world ML movement.

The events in the US are linked to the current world crisis of socialism and the international Marxist-Leninist movement. The degeneration of Vietnam into a sub-hegemonic expansionist state, the betrayal of Albania and its denunciation of Mao and the Chinese Communist Party, and most importantly, the serious right errors being made by the current leadership of socialist China have caused a certain loss of confidence in socialism.

These developments have been coupled with a world-wide offensive of Soviet revisionism.

Faced with this complex situation, many communist parties in the advanced countries and the vast majority of third world parties have continued to develop by sticking to the Marxist-Leninist line and applying it concretely to the situation in their own countries. This is the course the WCP has tried to follow.

Unfortunately, some parties, particularly in the advanced capitalist countries, have begun to put into question all of the principles learned from 100 years of the international communist movement. They have capitulated to the objective difficulties.

In Germany, the KPD has dissolved itself; in Spain the PTE has also disappeared.

The CPML, confronted with this international situation as well as with certain problems of growth in their own country, looked for an instant recipe for success. By identifying left opportunism as the major error and by putting into question all their former policies, the CPML thought that they could not only pass through a very difficult period but also that they could grow very quickly into a major force.

However, in the course of their development, young communist organizations must objectively pass through difficult periods where recruiting new members is less rapid. Instead of confronting the problems head on, the CPML erroneously analyzed their source.

It Is the WCP’s analysis that while left opportunism is a constant danger for the communist movement, the major danger in the international and the US communist movement is right opportunism.

Identifying left opportunism as the principal error implies that the main tendency of the US ML movement has been to be too far ahead of the mass movement.

Whereas the main danger, right opportunism, is the tendency to trail behind the mass movement and to capitulate or bow down to the spontaneity of the workers’ movement.

It is our thesis that wrongly identifying the main error has led the CPML to sink into right opportunism and to further aggravate the very problems it sought to correct.

Let’s take a look at how this analysis by the CPML, when applied to three important questions, has resulted in more serious problems for the party.


The first issue is that of the vanguard party. Instead of trying to improve and increase its agitation and propaganda on socialism and working to popularize the party even more widely than before, the CPML began putting into question the possibility of building a vanguard party of the working class in the US.

It started questioning whether its conception of the party was leftist, whether its entire political line was correct or incorrect and whether the principles on which it had until now based its work were valid and applicable in the US.

At the same time, the CPML put into question the party’s role in mass struggles. During the 1980 presidential elections they called for support for the Citizen’s Party, a rather vaguely-defined social-democratic and ecologist party.

The CPML’s revolutionary practice disintegrated and was replaced by critical support for a reformist organization.

By concluding that ultra-leftism was its main error in party building, the CPML, rather than strengthening itself, grew weaker and more isolated.

This issue has yet to be resolved, but the American comrades still seem to think that building a vanguard party is not possible at the present time:

Given the diversity and effects of ultra-leftism, the present theoretical confusion and the conditions of relative ebb in the US, a highly-centralized party type of organization is unlikely for the immediate future. (The Call, April 1981, p. 12)


The CPML also blamed the problems it was having distributing its newspaper on ultra-leftism. Steps were taken to change the frequency and content of the paper and dissociate it as much as possible from the party.

A new readership among intellectuals was sought as priority and factory gate distribution abandoned as too costly and ineffective.

“The paper should be seen not as the centre of the work, but as one important tool of doing revolutionary education, which in turn is only one aspect of the work of communists,” wrote Call Managing Editor Anita Fecht last December.

This policy implied a renunciation of Lenin’s concept of a weekly communist newspaper as the scaffolding for building the party. The Call’s circulation, rather than increasing, dropped even further. The paper no longer reached the most class-conscious workers, who must be won over in order to root the party firmly in the factories.

Here again, analyzing ultra-leftism as the source of all evil and ignoring the main danger of right opportunism only helped dig The Call into a deeper hole.

There is no doubt that the content of the communist press has to improve if we are to enlarge our readership. These improvements include a deeper level of communist propaganda, more in-depth features, lively articles that break with stereotyped style and the separation of reports on the news from the Party’s positions on issues.

But these improvements imply a strengthening, rather than abandonment, of the basic Leninist concept of the communist weekly.


In trade union work, the CPML has dismissed its earlier rectification and struggle against right opportunism to focus on left errors. The main thrust of the CPML’s work has become building up of the united front with left social-democratic leaders. Agitation and propaganda on class unions was abandoned.

It is true that young parties are not immune to left-sectarian work in the trade unions and that every party must attempt to reinforce the united front. But the most important task of party work in the unions throughout the first stage of party building must remain the winning over of the most advanced workers in the unions to communism.

Failure to understand this time-tested lesson means that a party will never become implanted in the trade unions as an independent force. At best, it can only hope to function as a lobby for critical support for left social-democracy.

In short, identifying ultra-leftism as the main danger leads to neglecting the widespread communist agitation and propaganda necessary to win over workers. In political terms, it means downplaying the battle against reformism and revisionism, so crucial for the survival of the young communist movement.

Ultra-leftism does remain a danger for the young communist movement. But in the advanced capitalist countries, the generally small communist movement is struggling for its very existence against the usually much larger and better-organized forces of social-democracy and modern revisionism. Our key weapon is a better quality and quantity of communist agitation and propaganda, not a liquidation of this education.

The key is a better ability to answer workers’ questions on the burning issues of the day. This means a better application of the principles of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought to our own situation, not the abandonment of these principles.

The CPML’s identification of ultra-leftism has left it disarmed in the face of serious problems and can only lead to a merging with reformist forces, or worse still, the complete liquidation of the CPML.

In the coming months, the CPML will be confronting these problems head on. We hope that the appropriate lessons from the history of the communist movement will be drawn by our American comrades and that the correct measures will be taken.

Problems of Communist Work in a Superpower

In addition to facing the crisis in the international communist movement, the CPML has also had to deal with the particular conditions of carrying out communist work inside a superpower.

The labour aristocracy – the small sector of the labour movement that has been bought off – has always played a particularly important role in the US. This labour aristocracy is very influential today, even with the serious economic decline of the American superpower.

Labour leader Lane Kirkland of the AFL-CIO and Fraser of the UAW openly take right-wing stands, unlike the social-democratic politics put forward by Canadian bureaucrats like Dennis McDermott.

This situation can lead to objective difficulties in breaking into the labour movement and to subjective analyses which downplay the militancy of white American workers and overestimate the role of left-wing social democrats.

Historically, there has also been a tendency la the US communist movement since the 1940s to capitulate to US imperialism in times of upheaval. This tread is called Browderism, after the former leader of the CPUSA, Earl Browder. This particular form of US revisionism considered US opposition to fascism in World War and the Roosevelt New Deal to be a fundamental change in the nature of US imperialism into a progressive force.

Browder also argued that under American bourgeois democracy, a communist party could be replaced by a loose political association that could act as the left wing of the labour and democratic movements.

In the US today, similar pressures are developing. The US superpower’s opposition to Soviet aggression has led many people to include it in the anti-hegemonic united front.

We, however, do not think these American policies have changed US imperialism’s fundamentally reactionary nature either abroad (as its El Salvador aggression shows) or at home (as shown by Reagan’s budget cuts). The US superpower remains part of the main enemy of the world’s peoples at this time.

A lack of clarity on this question can be fatal to the development of the revolutionary movement when US Imperialism is your main enemy.