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

Proletarian Unity League

A Letter to the I Wor Kuen

March 20, 1976

Dear comrades of I Wor Kuen,

On the basis, principally, of reading your journal, we believe that the potential for a great deal of unity and certainly for very fruitful exchange exists between our two organizations. We therefore propose that we enter into a regular exchange of publications, and hopefully, of correspondence. Further, we are interested in talking with a representative of your organization.... To this end we have sent you copies of our first two pamphlets: “It’s Not the Bus”: Busing and the Democratic Struggle in Boston, and On the October League’s Call for a New Communist Party. We of course welcome your comments and criticisms on these publications.

We hold that the main, immediate danger threatening the Marxist-Leninist movement is “left” sectarianism. We realize that you regard revisionism as the main danger. However, based on your principled willingness to sum up experience theoretically, and the generally non-sectarian tone of all three of your journals, we believe a productive struggle could take place between the two of us on this question. Indeed, we see certain contradictions in your position, from our point of view. We can unite with a number of your perspectives on individual groups while not agreeing with your overall characterization of them.

This is clearest in the case of the RU/RCP. You say that the OL’s description of the Revolutionary Union as “ultra-left” (we would say, specifically, that the RU is dominated by “left” anarcho-syndicalist conceptions) “fails to see the essence of the RU’s right opportunism, of their descendence to the role of militant trade unionists, of their belittling the role of communists among the masses, of their failure to bring communist ideas to the masses, and of their refusal to struggle in a principled way for a correct line to unite Marxist-Leninists.” (IWK Journal #3, p. 36) Yet your description of the RU’s work, particularly in the Jung Sai strike, does not support the view that the RU is right opportunist, or that it behaves as militant trade unionists. Quite the opposite: the RU’s stance towards the union in that case, as you make very clear, was fundamentally dual-unionist; similarly, their adventurist tactics, their insistence on never making a tactical retreat, their inability to unite with anyone, their substitution of their own “subjective activity” for that of the masses, and their haste to “skip stages” (specifically, the consolidation of the politically advanced workers around Marxism-Leninism) all point to “leftism,” both in matters of political line and tactics, and in party-building, rather than rightism. The RU does not submerge its particular brand of politics in the reform struggle, becoming indistinguishable from the reformist trade union leaders, modern revisionists, etc. On the contrary, it opposes the reform struggle in the name of those politics, and sabotages the workers’ struggle for reforms under the banner of super-revolutionary rhetoric, “no deals,” etc. This same lesson comes from the ATM sum-up of the Dasco strike, in our opinion.

Your insistence upon the centrality of white supremacy and national oppression in accounting for the weakness of the US labor movement is an especially strong point for us. Here again we find your sum-ups of struggles and your theoretical remarks illuminating and generally in advance of most discussions of these questions in the movement today. But in uniting with these discussions, we again find a basis for disagreeing with your description of right opportunism as the main danger. For example, we agree that “While Progressive Labor has generally been discredited through their self-exposure in calling for the overthrow of the proletarian dictatorship in China, their ideas on national oppression persist today.” (IWK Journal #2, p. 20). We further agree that the RU line on national oppression echoes many of these same views today (ibid.). But since it is clear that the PLP liquidated the national question from the “left” – from an anarcho-Trotskyist ultra-left position – how can we call the RU’s view “right opportunist”?

In this regard, we wonder whether certain formulations in Journal #3 represent a change in your thinking in regard to the national question and white supremacy. #1 says,

the statement asserts that disunity among the class is caused by “lies handed down by capitalists to confuse and divide the American people.” We feel that it is much more than lies or trickery that has divided the class for all these years. There is a definite material basis for the divisions in the class – i.e., the systematic buying off of a section of white workers.

#2 says

WMS here uses the term “benefits” in an economic sense and so do we, but we also point out the “ideological” and political “benefits” and “privileges” sectors of the working class receive since these in some ways are more serious and more difficult to combat, (p. 17)

#2 also says,

They both consistently make every attempt to raise the old simplistic concept of racism as a tool of the ruling class to divide the working class, a concept which fundamentally negates the actual material division of the class along national lines, a concept which helps perpetuate the division because it is a distorted view of reality.

Having correctly criticized these deviations, which we regard as “left” (though, coming from a different direction, some reformists say the same thing), #3 says,

the material presence of a bribed labor aristocracy in the working class and the continuing presence of the CPUSA are active forces promoting rightist thinking in the working class. Furthermore, the strength of bourgeois society continually fosters illusions of bourgeois democracy and reliance on the bourgeois state. US capitalist society is also deeply infected with such thinking as racism and national chauvinism, both powerful currents forming a basis for revisionism. (p. 19)

This last quote seems different in its perspective than the others. Is this the case?

We are also surprised that your group in particular does not give more attention to “left” opportunism. We say this because we’ve witnessed the shameful attacks on the IWK by some members of a so-called “revolutionary wing,” particularly the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization and the Workers Viewpoint Organization. PRRWO has even gone so far as to call on “honest members” of IWK to break organizationally with IWK and, presumably, kneel down before the theoreticians of PRRWO. We oppose the subjectivist definitions of the movement which see a consolidated “revolutionary wing” or “revolutionary trend” or “Leninist trend” and denounce the rest of the organizations and individuals as “opportunists.” The present situation in the communist movement is not characterized by the clarification of two lines, but rather by unprincipled polarization, a drop in the common ideological struggle, and the temporary hegemony of “left” sectarianism. In this connection, we found your long article on WVO of tremendous interest and, for us, the most developed theoretical analysis yet in your journals. We wondered, though, why, having developed an analysis of WVO’s “subjective idealism,” you did not point out the link between subjective idealism and “leftism.” Your drawing on Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-criticism would only serve to strengthen such a characterization.

We are preparing for publication a long pamphlet detailing our views on the current situation in the party-building movement, which we will send to you upon publication.[1] We look forward to learning from your experiences and your perspectives, and hope that we will be able to discuss these questions and deepen our unity through struggle.

With communist greetings,
The Proletarian Unity League


[1] The long pamphlet referred to is Two, Three, Many Parties of a New Type?