Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

What Went Wrong?

Articles and letters on the U.S. communist Left in the 1970’s

Edited and introduced by Charles Sarkis

Carl Davidson

Fight on Two Fronts

The Proletarian Unity League’s commentary on my article on the debate in the OCIC asks me “to comment on the direction from which the main danger to the communist movement has come – right or ’left.’”

PUL’s viewpoint in the current controversy over this issue is that “left” opportunism poses the greatest danger to our movement, and this has been the case at least since the 1960s. In addition, PUL makes this assessment form the starting point of its party-building strategy. It has sought to form a loose alliance or bloc of all those who see “leftism” as the main problem. This bloc would aim its main fire against anyone guilty of “leftism,” including the Marxist-Leninists. At the same time, PUL would independently struggle within the bloc on other matters of political line and principle.

I don’t think this is a correct approach to uniting the US Marxist-Leninists into a single party. Also, in my opinion, PUL’s own experience in trying to carry out this approach tends to bear out this conclusion.

A Marxist-Leninist party must be forged in the fight on two fronts, against revisionism and opportunism of both right and “left” varieties. In this sense, I think PUL’s formulation about an “anti-’left’, Marxist-Leninist direction” for our movement is one-sided and wrong. Marxist-Leninists are not simply “anti-’left,’” as this terminology implies. In practice, moreover, this view tends toward seeing “leftism” as the only danger.

Instead of forming blocs with opposition to either right or “left” deviations as their starting point, I think the correct approach to Marxist-Leninist unity is to proceed on the basis of establishing unity on basic principles of ideological and political line, to fight for organizational unity from this basis, and to struggle against both right and “left” deviations in the process, in accordance with the conditions at hand.

PUL’s experience with the Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center (OCIC) shows the problems of the opposite approach. In this case, PUL took part in a bloc containing both Marxist-Leninists and pro-Soviet, revisionist groups, such as the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee (PWOC). The bloc targetted the CPML, the League of Revolutionary Struggle (LRS) and other Marxist-Leninists as the chief enemy within the revolutionary movements and PUL, to a certain extent, went along with these attacks.

As PWOC moved to consolidate its bloc around its more and more blatant pro-Soviet, anti-Marxist line, PUL and others took a stand in defense of basic Marxist viewpoints, especially the theory of the three worlds. The result? Several Marxist-Leninist groups were compelled to leave the OCIC, and PUL was kept out of formal membership altogether.

In its letter, PUL says, “We can’t say that we have been fantastically successful in winning honest Marxist-Leninists away from the centrist international line.” While this is true, it is not the main point. I agree with PUL that work should be done to win genuine revolutionaries away from centrism, and even that the CPML has been sectarian to the extent that it has downplayed the importance of this in the past.

What is at issue here, however, is how best to unite Marxist-Leninists into a single party. Does it move things forward to bloc with pro-Soviet revisionists against other Marxist-Leninists? Or is it better to make Marxist-Leninist unity the main point and win over the honest forces from among the “anti-’lefts’” while at the same time criticizing errors within the Marxist-Leninist trend internally?

I think bloc-building has a clear and dismal record in the past decade of our movement. RU’s National Liaison Committee, CL’s Continuations Committee, the “left” anti-party bloc of the Revolutionary Wing and now the right anti-party bloc of PWOC’s OCIC – all these formations had shared an opposition to establishing unity from the starting point of agreement on basic points of ideological and political line.

As to the question of the “direction” of the main danger, is it from the “left” or right? In the historical, overall and strategic sense, I think it comes from right opportunism. There are powerful, objective reasons for this, including the fact that the US is an imperialist superpower that has fostered an influential labor aristocracy. Furthermore, the Soviet revisionists and the CPUSA also have played a major role in spreading rightism in the revolutionary movement.

But I think even PUL would agree with this. The bottom line in their eyes is, what about the last ten years or so within the communist movement? What about the present and the immediate future?

In my opinion, there is no single and simple answer. Both right and “left” deviations have appeared as grave and serious dangers at various times, periods and spheres of activity. In the early 1970s, I believe “leftism” was the main problem, but that this shifted in the mid-1970s with the emergence of a strong centrist trend which pushed a line of capitulation to Soviet revisionism. At present, I think both right and “left” deviations pose serious problems. This right opportunist bloc of the centrists still persists, as does the virulent “left” opportunism of the RCP and the remnants of the “Wing.”

There are some obvious differences between the CPML and PUL on the question of “left” and right. But I think we can still advance our level of unity. There is agreement between the CPML and PUL on the theory of the three worlds and many points of the American revolution as well. But we must use the method of proceeding from our actual unity, seeking common ground, stressing the main questions and reserving secondary questions, and utilize points of unity to overcome points of difference step by step.

There is another point I would like to stress. We must make a distinction between “left” opportunism, on one hand, and the “left” errors of the Marxists, or even a “left” current within Marxism, on the other hand. The same goes for right opportunism and right errors.

It does no good, for instance, to lump together the CPML and the RCP, because the first has made “left” errors and the second is “left” opportunist.’ With a basically correct line, a Marxist-Leninist organization can correct its deviations and errors. But, as the case of the RCP shows, a line that is basically opportunist will lead an organization to oblivion.

Conversely, there is all the difference in the world between the Marxist-Leninist opposition to “leftism” and the “anti-leftism” of groups like PWOC. Some of the words and phrases may be the same, but there is basic opposition on all the essential elements of line, program, organization and practice.

Can PWOC’s pro-Soviet view really be used to fight a “left” doctrinaire approach to fighting revisionism? I don’t think so. A group like PWOC can draw all the “lines of demarcation” with “leftism” that it wants, but it will never be able to defeat the actual “left” opportunists, for it has abandoned the weapon of Marxism needed to do so.

PUL’s letter raises a few additional points that I will touch on briefly. First, it points out certain formulations in CPML documents, such as describing the RCP as right opportunist rather than “left” opportunist. This criticism is correct. I think the error stemmed from an ideological weakness on our part as well as an incorrect assessment of the relative strength of “left,” right and Marxist-Leninist currents within the RCP at the time. A similar error was made in characterizing the Revolutionary Wing.

PUL also raises the matter of “whether the CPML already constitutes the vanguard of the working class, as your Constitution says.” I think this has to be viewed in two ways. First, as a point of principle, a Marxist-Leninist party or organization must play a vanguard role in the sense that it is based on Marxism-Leninism and is different from the other basic organizations of the working class. By doing so, it declares that it is not set up as an amorphous debating club, but as an organization united around the most advanced theory and practice, Marxism-Leninism. Moreover, such a statement declares the aim of the party, declares what it is striving to become.

Of course, there is another sense of the term “vanguard of the working class,” meaning that a party has actually won the vast majority of the advanced workers to its ranks and is looked to for leadership by the workers in general. Obviously, the CPML is not yet a vanguard in that sense, for that is not something declared, but is bestowed upon a party by the workers themselves.

But is PUL suggesting that Marxist-Leninists wait until the workers term them the vanguard before they declare the principle of the vanguard party in their party documents? I can’t think of a single real vanguard party anywhere in the world that has ever done such a thing. In fact, it would be wrong not to state this principle from the time of a party’s founding.

Finally, I would like to thank the comrades from PUL for their support for some of my arguments with PWOC in my article, and for their additional information exposing some of the opportunist methods used within the OCIC, and also for their criticisms. I hope that this and future exchanges will in some small way help to promote the cause of communist unity.

The Call, October 15, 1979.