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 Revolutionary Communist League

June 17, 1979

To the Central Committee and Party Building Commission, Revolutionary Communist League (MLM)

Dear Comrades,

We were very happy to receive your letter of February 14, 1979, in reply to our earlier letter. We greatly appreciate the time and effort you took to comment on our materials, and we share your interest in cooperation between our two organizations.

We heartily agree with your estimate that while our two organizations “have many differences... our unities are more important.” In the interests of deepening our mutual understanding of each other’s line and policy and of furthering Marxist-Leninist unity, we want to reply to the points you raise.

We each agree that “left” errors are not necessarily less serious than right errors (page 1). “We agree that “left” errors in “party-building have been more frequent than right ones in this period of struggle for the party” (ibid). You say, however, that

The main difference here [on party-building line – our note] between PUL and RCL is over the basic division in the workers’ and communist movement... In the view of RCL, the fundamental contradiction, which governs the development of the ARCM [anti-revisionist communist movement], is Marxism versus revisionism (ibid).

We, on the other hand, think that not only are “left” errors not necessarily less serious than right errors, but that historically for the Marxist-Leninist movement “left” errors have proved more serious, in party-building and in every other major area of policy and practice.

Part of our differences here may rest with different evaluations of the danger of the Communist Party USA and its friends. But we also think you misunderstand our position in places, and we want to clarify three differences in theoretical approach.

First, we think the communist and workers’ movements are at this time, in our situation, two very different movements. Within the workers’ movement, anti-revisionist Marxism-Leninism and CPUSA revisionism both exist as separate trends (along with social democracy, business unionism, and so on). Within the anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninist movement, we identify ultra-leftism as the main immediate obstacle to the advance of the Marxist-Leninist forces – to rallying Marxist-Leninists into a new Communist Party and to expanding our leadership within the workers’, national revolutionary and other popular struggles.

Especially in a situation where the communist movement largely exists on the margins of society, to assume that both the communist and workers’ movements face identical immediate obstacles, to ignore the specific contradictions internal to the communist movement (not to mention those specific to the workers’ movement), can only tie our hands in the struggle to bring Marxism-Leninism to the masses. Ultra-leftism has not been the main enemy in the workers’ movement very often in history, although that has occurred. But surely you recognize that the histories of communist parties are full of examples of situations in which some form of ultra-leftism posed the main danger within those parties.

If we confuse the struggle against our internal enemies with the struggle against external enemies (the CPUSA, the various “left” revisionist organizations), we will weaken the struggle against both internal and external opponents. As Lenin explains in the preface to the second publication of “The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats” (quoted in our book Two, Three, Many Parties of a New Type? (TTM), p. 20), in periods in which disunity prevails among Marxists, the ideological struggle to overcome that disunity generally takes precedence over the ideological struggle against anti-Marxist trends. At this time, Marxist-Leninists in this country need to concentrate their attention on overcoming their internal disunity (this can in no way proceed apart from practical work in the mass struggle, however). Once that task is accomplished, we can direct our full energies to “deeper and more widespread practical work” and the fight against anti-Marxist-Leninist trends within the mass movements. But until that task is accomplished, our efforts to combat those trends and develop our practical work will be severely hampered. If we confuse these two sets of tasks, fail to set correct priorities between them, or make the sectarian and “left” mistake of treating the struggle against revisionist influence within the Marxist-Leninist movement as synonymous with revisionism itself, we will cause real harm to our fight for a unified Communist Party and a revolutionary working class movement.

For these reasons, we think a second distinction is important: between opportunist errors and lines within the communists’ ranks and revisionist lines and trends which mainly pressure Marxism-Leninism from without.

We agree that the two-line struggle within the communist movement reflects revisionist influence of either the “left” or right type. But agreeing that revisionist influence exists within the communist movement is different than saying that revisionism and Marxism-Leninism are both part of communism or that revisionist and Marxist-Leninist organizations are both part of the communist movement. That some revisionists join or emerge within the communist movement is undeniable. But they are agents of a trend outside and hostile to the anti-revisionist movement, not a trend within it.

The contradiction with the “left” line is for the most part a contradiction within the camp of Marxism-Leninism. Our organizations agree on this point. You say, there are “comrades and organizations whose lines suffer more from ’left’ errors than right ones, but whose main characteristic is Marxism.” The contradiction with the revisionist CPUSA is a contradiction between the camp of Marxism-Leninism and a separate camp. But this does not automatically make the contradiction with modern revisionist influence the principal one among Marxist-Leninists, and we think that right now the reverse is still true: without clearing away the obstacles presented by the “left” opportunist errors and lines among the Marxist-Leninists, we will be incapable of effectively dealing with the CPUSA or anyone else.

You say that “the fundamental contradiction, which governs the development of the ARCM, is Marxism versus revisionism.” You also say that, “It has been precisely through struggle against the lies and betrayal of the revisionist CPUSA that the ARCM has developed” (page 3). You go on to define revisionism as “a dialectical category, one which reduces to neither its ’left’ nor to its right aspect.” (ibid.)

We agree with you that the communist movement emerged through a struggle against the betrayal of the CPUSA. We also agree that two-line struggle within the communist movement reflects revisionist influence. But it is also the case that the communist movement has developed in a struggle against the “left” opportunism and later “left” revisionism of the POC, the PLP, the RCP and others. Where the communist movement has one-sidedly viewed its development as dependent on struggle against the CPUSA and modern revisionism alone, and not distinguished “left” from right revisionist influences, it has fallen prey to “left” opportunism and “left” revisionist influence, and its development has been held back.

We therefore think that, thirdly, it is important to distinguish between “left” and right revisionism, both in order to understand the real development of the communist movement, and to guide the complex struggles against opportunism within our ranks. Only if we do so can we understand along what lines we have to organize in order to combat the main opportunist danger of the moment.

So, we would summarize our position to be that the main division among US Marxist-Leninists has been between a Marxist-Leninist line and a “left” opportunist line, and that – because of the strength of the ultra-left line – a real campaign against its influence must occur before we can advance very far in the mass movements. Your current position appears to hesitate between two views: on the one hand, it says “left” errors in party-building have been “more frequent than right ones,” but on the other hand it draws back from looking at the causes of this phenomenon, and instead concludes that revisionism is the main problem. We don’t think this will do as an analysis of the communist movement, and we don’t think it can give necessary leadership to Marxist-Leninists in defining and carrying out our tasks.

Revisionist influence of one type or another is always the main danger within a communist organization, Party or movement. Calling revisionism the main danger and then failing to specify whether it is revisionism of the “left” or right is like saying that opportunism is our main internal enemy. Such a position does not tell us what distinguishes our situation from any other, what special tasks we will have to take up in order to cope with our own situation, where to concentrate our main forces and direct our main fire. In this way, it deprives us of the ability to formulate a plan for forming a unified Communist Party, for developing a strategy and tactics to that end. To use your analogy about the cliff, it is a bit like telling a driver that he should watch out that he does not go over the cliff, but then fail to tell him whether the cliff is on the right or the left hand side of the road. Of course, in the Marxist-Leninist movement there are “cliffs” on both sides of the road, but we need to know which one is closer, which one presents the most immediate danger to our car.


As we said earlier, our differences probably have something to do with the framework in which we each pose the question of party-building, but we also may differ in our estimates of the CPUSA. You criticize us for letting down our guard against the CPUSA, both theoretically and on the practical question of united action.

We think we both agree that ultra-leftism does not pose anything like the same danger to the workers’ movement as a whole as it does to the Marxist-Leninists, and that modern revisionism poses a greater danger to the workers’ movement than does ultra-leftism. In carrying out the necessary struggle against “left” opportunism, we have to guard against right errors and against underestimating the influence of the revisionist CPUSA. In raising several criticisms of TTM’s analysis of the CPUSA, you appear to believe that we have committed such an error. We do not think, though, that we have made this sort of mistake.

You criticize our distinction between Krushchov’s and Gus Hall’s role, saying that ”The crucial thing about both Krushchov and Hall is that both are revisionists, i.e., both represent bourgeois ideology in the workers’ movement.” (p. 2) We stand on the distinction we made between a representative of a bourgeois class – the Soviet bourgeoisie – and an agent of bourgeois influence. To equate everyone who serves bourgeois interests within the workers’ movement seems to us an idealist error: it reduces every trend or representative of a trend to the bourgeois-inspired ideas which they hold, rather than analyzing the concrete forms which these ideas take, the social bases within the workers’ movement or within the revisionist-ruled countries which these ideas represent, the specific, concrete histories of these trends, and other factors. Krushchov was to the Soviet bourgeoisie what a political leader like Carter is to the US bourgeoisie. Gus Hall, on the other hand, is a representative of the bourgeoisie, particularly the Soviet bourgeoisie, within the US workers’ movement. To identify Gus Hall with Krushchov would mean treating the CPUSA as a special kind of bourgeois party, which it is not. A party of compromise with the bourgeoisie, yes; but a bourgeois party, no, not in any meaningful sense. It is a political party within the workers’ movement, one completely consolidated around a bourgeois line.

You also say we classify “the CPUSA as a centrist organization between Marxism-Leninism and the CPSU.” We reread the page of our book you mention (TTM, p. 95) and we don’t see how you get this impression. We brought up the German Communists’ struggle against Centrism not to say the CPUSA was comparable to German Centrism. We were only using that example to support our argument that exaggerating the strength and influence of the CPUSA in the workers’ movement will strengthen the CPUSA. Where Marxist-Leninists exaggerate the seriousness of right errors in the Marxist-Leninist movement and overstate their connections to CPUSA line and policy, or where Marxist-Leninists mistakenly call “left” errors right errors, it will sabotage efforts at Marxist-Leninist unity, weaken the communist forces, and therefore give the CPUSA greater opportunities. Also, exaggerating the role of the CPUSA will distract us from the practical and constructive work that we need to gain a real foothold in the workers’, national revolutionary, and women’s emancipation movements; positive work and the formulation of a real program for the struggle will be supplanted by sidelines criticism.

We regard the question of united action with revisionists as a tactical question, appropriate in different forms to certain conditions and not appropriate to others. We agree that Marxist-Leninists must draw the clearest and most consistent line of demarcation between themselves and revisionists. Maintaining communist ideology, political, and organizational independence and combatting revisionist influence are two matters of principle. But it does not follow that united action with revisionists contradicts these goals. Under specific conditions and provided that the Marxist-Leninists maintain their independence and initiative, united action can advance both. United front tactics toward the revisionists can help the masses to understand more clearly the difference between revisionist and Marxist-Leninist policies, between revisionist and Marxist-Leninist leadership, and between revisionist lip-service to mass action and their actual sabotage of mass struggles. Such action can strengthen the ideological, political, and organizational independence of the Marxist-Leninists and undermine revisionist leadership.

As a historical example, we can consider the united front policies decided upon by the Comintern after the Third Congress.

The young Communist Parties had only just split off from the Second International Democratic parties. Those splits were only partly consolidated: obvious social-democratic influence plagued the Communist Parties for a number of years. When the Comintern called for a united front policy, including party to party and trade union to trade union agreements, some Communists on the “Left” were confused and angry. They could not understand how the Comintern could advocate united action today with parties it analyzed as agents of the bourgeoisie within the workers movement and which the Communist Parties had broken with only one to three years earlier. In documents that retain a good deal of their relevance today – particularly for countries with mass modern revisionist parties, like the “Eurocommunist” parties – the Comintern explained that united action did not contradict its goal of building independent, revolutionary Communist Parties leading the masses in their assault on capitalism, but on the contrary provided the only road to that goal. When the Comintern turned its back on this policy in the period of 1928 to 1932, the Communist Parties failed to make the gains that should have been theirs given the mass struggles they led and the widespread mass disaffection with capitalism. The early Comintern parties argued persuasively that the clearest, most comprehensible line of demarcation between the revolutionary and reformist leaders of the masses would be revealed in the practice of the united front.


We also cannot agree with your assessment of the state of mass consciousness in the US at this time. You say,

As anyone who has ever leafleted a factory gate knows, the workers are familiar with the revisionists and they despise them with good reasons. You are known by the company you keep, and honest comrades would find themselves smeared with the filth of revisionism. If we do it deliberately we could find no more effective way to isolate ourselves from the masses. (p. 3)

Like yourselves, we have done more than leaflet at factory gates. While there are a very few workplace situations in the country where the masses “despise the revisionists with good reason” – because of their betrayal of mass struggles – in the main this is not the case. In the overwhelming majority of workplaces in the US today, the CPUSA is not known directly at all. Even where they should be known for their liquidationist policies, they are often not or still maintain considerable influence. Consider the example of UE and former UE shops. The CPUSA called for the liquidation of the UE in the early ’50s, advocating unity with the Right-wing-led “mainstream.” Many UE members, including some of its leadership, actively fought these policies and preserved the UE in the face of the reactionary attacks of independent labor. Yet today the CPUSA has real influence in various sections of UE, and some of its rank and file members have respect among the workers. That there is hostility towards the CPUSA among the working class is undeniable – but that hostility is not all anti-revisionist and revolutionary hostility. Some of it is anti-communist. We’d love to see a working class brimming over with righteous indignation towards the revisionists, but that desirable picture doesn’t match our experience.

In other mass movements, the situation is a bit different. From what we can see, the CPUSA is more discredited, on a more revolutionary basis, among sections of the Afro-American national movement, for example, and also among a section of the women’s movement, and among some revolutionary intellectuals and students. The CPUSA was discredited among much of the Puerto Rican Left but with Cuba’s evolution over the years has managed to better its image a bit. But even within the Afro-American national movement, the revisionists maintain some undeniable influence.

There are two conclusions here: the modern revisionists are not universally regarded as traitors to the people’s struggles – they are not universally regarded at all; and a willingness to undertake united action with revisionists under certain conditions will not “smear” us “with the filth of revisionism,” if we do our work well. On the contrary, unless we undertake united action in certain situations, we will smear ourselves as hopeless sectarians in the eyes of some honest people, and build the revisionists’ prestige. This has nothing to do with “getting a few more people out for forums and rallies,” (p. 4) as you suggest; it is a question of how best to undermine revisionist influence and build the people’s revolutionary struggles.

Barring united action with revisionists is not a “principle” of Marxism-Leninism; it is not a well-informed position on the level of mass consciousness; and it is not a practicable policy either. Taken at its word, it can only lead to complete isolation from the mass movements, or to practicing something different than what we preach. Any “principle” of no united action with revisionism can find no “principled” reason to stop at the CPUSA. The logic of the view that we can only draw the clearest and most consistent line of demarcation between ourselves and the revisionists by refusing to do anything that they are doing is quickly extended to quite a few other reformists or misleaders within the mass movements. Forswearing any united action with revisionists means forswearing both action at the base and action at higher levels, with revisionist-controlled mass organizations, etc. Yet the rank and file of the CPUSA are involved in many of the current people’s struggles. The CPUSA cannot be exposed from outside those struggles – it can only be exposed from inside them, and winning that inside position necessarily involves various forms of united action, whether admitted or not.

Let us consider two practical examples: anti-communist provisions in union constitutions and the Wilmington 10 case. It is ridiculous for Marxist-Leninists to refuse any kind of united action at the base with revisionists against these by-laws, and it will only anger honest progressives if we do so. Or take the Wilmington 10 case. It was and is an outstanding example of the repression unleashed against the Black movement in the late sixties and early seventies, it has wide mass appeal among Afro-Americans, yet most Marxist-Leninist organizations have given it at best token exposure and support because of revisionist involvement. Has this firm adherence to drawing strict lines of demarcation strengthened the Marxist-Leninists at the revisionists’ expense? Or has it on the contrary isolated them from the mass movement in North Carolina, from progressive Afro-Americans in the country as a whole, and given the revisionists a free hand to exploit the issue as they wanted? The answer is obvious.

Two last notes on united action. You say that our most recent publication, “On the ’Progressive Role’ of the Soviet Union and Other Dogmas” “shows a healthy trend of development.” (p. 4) We would like to draw your attention to page 90 of that pamphlet, where we again raise the question of our tactical stance towards the revisionist parties, particularly the struggle between “Eurocommunism” and the firmly pro-Moscow revisionist line. It is also to be noted that in receiving Santiago Carrillo of the revisionist Communist Party of Spain a number of years ago (not on a Party-to-Party basis, however), the Chinese offered encouragement to those “Eurocommunist” revisionist parties intent on asserting their independence from Moscow. We are not in the habit of pointing to what the Chinese have or have not done as support for what we think, but their action in this case (and Enver Hoxha’s attack on them for developing some liaison with the Eurocommunists) is worth thinking about.


You raise a major criticism of our party-building line, objecting to our distinction between questions whose thoroughgoing resolution is more and less necessary for the unification of Marxist-Leninists:

TTM says that agreement upon “... tactical line treating principally the relationship between democratic and socialist struggle in the US” is necessary to unity in the M-L party, but that “... certain characteristics of the various national questions in the US,” as well as the woman question, need not be agreed upon in order to form the party.

We cannot accept this method. Equal rights for oppressed nations and for women are the principal democratic questions affecting the working class. To divide the stand on democratic rights from its main contents would result in an abstract and useless party program, and a party based upon an unprincipled unity. The same criticism applies generally to the way that PUL divides questions among the necessary and the unnecessary.

In that section of the book, however, we put forward a different position than the one you criticize here. We do not divide questions into the necessary and the unnecessary. We refer to “less necessary” (p. 201) or “less immediate” (p. 219), but nowhere to unnecessary. We don’t think it possible for a Party to form with a full-blown strategy and tactics – that can come only after more extensive, nation-wide political practice. In the section you criticize, we are talking about issues around which the communist forces can settle for “more rudimentary positions” given the ideological foundations for unity established through the “thoroughgoing resolution” of other problems. We do not say that we need no position on these questions in order to form the Party; we simply distinguish them from the more “burning issues” of the ideological struggle.

The sentence you cite may give rise to some misunderstanding, since with hindsight we can see that it is not as clearly written as we would like:

Developed positions on other questions of the international situation, certain specific characteristics of the various national questions in the US, the woman question, the character and history of the CPUSA, the tendencies of US capital accumulation, the trade union question, and strategy for revolution in the US basically fall into the second category, questions whose resolution is necessary to revolution but not to the formation of a Party, and in any case cannot be adequately tackled in our present circumstances. (pp. 200-01)

In referring to the “second category,” the sentence is talking about the category set out on p. 200, of questions “about which it will be difficult to have more than provisional or sketchy positions in the foreseeable future,” for the genuine Marxist-Leninists as a whole. (Individual groups may certainly develop elaborate positions around some of these issues, and those positions may help the struggle and allow unification to take place around a more advanced statement of views; but it will be difficult for all the Marxist-Leninists to unite consciously around such positions, and it is not necessary that they do so in order to unify.) Therefore when the sentence says “resolution,” it means resolving these questions such that they result in “developed positions”; it doesn’t mean they don’t need to be resolved at all, even at a rudimentary level. Take the question of the character of the CPUSA, for example: nobody could deny that Marxist-Leninists must unite around a basic view of the thoroughly revisionist character of that party. But such a rudimentary position would be quite different from a developed analysis of the social, ideological and historical roots of CPUSA revisionism, the CP’s current social base, its political program, its contradictory ties to the Soviet and US bourgeoisies, and so on.

In regard to the national question, we have always been convinced that Party-formation will demand developed positions on a whole range of problems related to the struggle against white-supremacist national oppression, for self-determination for all oppressed nations and full equality for national minorities, and for national liberation. Nevertheless, we still believe that “some specific characteristics of the various national questions in the US” (TTM, p. 219) can and should await Party-formation for the thoroughgoing resolution they will require in the long run. In the case of the Black Belt, for example, these might include the exact nature of the agrarian question in the national revolutionary struggle, the political and economic significance at this time of the Black peasantry, a number of demographic questions affecting that region, and even (since very few Marxist-Leninist groups have significant roots today in the Black Belt) the specifics of a real program for the struggle in the Afro-American homeland.

You ask in your letter about our position on the Afro-American national question. This is a matter due for study and re-evaluation within our organization very shortly. Early on in our organization’s history, we did some study of the Afro-American national question and came to the belief that those attempting to prove the need to withdraw the slogan of self-determination for the Afro-American nation in the Black Belt South had failed to come to grips with key features of the position as presented by Lenin, the Comintern, Comrade Harry Haywood and others. Therefore, we decided that this slogan retained its validity. We have come to feel that the analyses of those who defend the Black Nation thesis have not adequately addressed the particular characteristics of the Black Belt today, including the radical change in the status of agriculture there (as Comrade Harry Haywood has written recently, “agrarian reform is no longer the pivotal question it once was”). Our position has not grown out of sufficient study, and we need to re-examine it today.

As part of that re-examination, we will be studying your publication, The Black Nation. If you have other suggestions for our study, please let us know. For example, is there any way we can obtain the full text of “Pre-Civil War Black Nationalism,” by Bill McAdoo? The RCL has performed a great service to the communist movement in making this paper available again, but we don’t have every issue of Unity and Struggle in which it was carried.

In regard to our most recent publication, On the “Progressive Role” of the Soviet Union and Other Dogmas, you say that for us to maintain a “consistent, Marxist-Leninist” stand, we “will find it necessary to make a thorough break with such organizations as PWOC [Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee] and the Guardian. What exactly do you mean by this? How have we incorrectly united with the PWOC and the Guardian such that we must break with them? Does breaking with them mean we should not engage in ideological struggle with their perspectives? We found your point here confusing; you may also not be that familiar with our history of struggle with these groups, so we’ll leave this matter for further clarification later.

* * *

Comrades, we hope this reply does justice to the serious reading you gave our papers. We hope it clarifies our views on the issues you raised and that our correspondence and organizational relations can go forward from here.

With communist greetings,
The Executive (Central) Committee, PUL