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

Rectification: For What and Against What?

The comrades of the Workers Congress (Marxist-Leninist) (WC) have been engaged in an internal campaign “against idealism and spontaneism” within their organization. In the June 11, 1979 issue of their paper, the Communist, they announce that “deepening the investigation of these errors has become the highest priority of the organization.” “So far,” they say, “the investigation into our errors has impressed upon us the importance of identifying and distinguishing the right and ’left’ forms of our errors. Without identifying our errors as right or ’left’ we cannot proceed to correct them.”

The comrades say that while the focus of their campaign has been directed at incorrect tendencies in their internal organization, their errors have also been reflected in the line and practice of their political work. “In particular we have identified a sectarian character to our political work.”

The WC(M-L) calls upon the readers of its paper, those they have worked with in mass movements, other communists and communist organizations to participate in this campaign and forward their criticisms and evaluations. In light of this request, we would like to make a few comments about the national and international context of the WC(M-L)’s rectification campaign and the current situation in the US communist movement.

We will start with three questions.

One: can it be a coincidence that over the past year and a half or so, four of the nationally known organizations in the US communist movement have undergone either rectification campaigns or other types of internal struggles? A little over a year and a half ago, the Revolutionary Communist Party was embroiled in an intense two-line struggle which eventually led to a split in the organization, giving birth to the Revolutionary Workers Headquarters. A year ago, the League for Proletarian Revolution (Marxist-Leninist) began a campaign to “rectify our method of thinking and style of work.” (Resistance) The Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) has also begun an internal campaign against “three evils” in its work. And the Workers Congress (M-L) has more recently begun a rectification campaign as well.

Two: can it be a coincidence that in all four cases, the main targets of these struggles and campaigns are for the most part (though not entirely) errors historically associated mainly with an ultra-left line?

Within the RCP, the internal struggle was aimed against the idealism of the leading group, an idealism which the revolutionary Marxist-Leninists explicitly identified as “left” idealism. The Avakian group, on the other hand, branded the revolutionaries as “Mensheviks” and right opportunists.

The LPR(M-L) has focused on “our low theoretical development, our subjectivism, our sectarianism, our bowing to spontaneity, our narrow circle spirit, and our incorrect methods of leadership.” (Resistance, September 1978). The CPML has identified its “three evils” as “subjectivism, sectarianism, and bureaucracy.” (Class Struggle, #11) The WC(M-L) has opened up a campaign against “idealism and spontaneity,” and uncovered “serious errors reflecting male, national, and class chauvinism within the WCML.” “In particular, we have identified a sectarian character to our political work.”

While right sectarianism certainly exists, sectarianism has more often stemmed from ultra-left exaggerations of the revolutionary possibilities inherent in current situations; from ultra-left understandings of united front tactics and of the struggle for reforms; in party-building, from such errors as exaggerating the strength of revisionist influence within the communist movement, confusing contradictions among friends with contradictions between ourselves and the enemy, and voluntarism; as well as from a number of other ultra-left mistakes and deviations.

Just as mechanical materialism has more frequently accompanied right opportunist errors, idealism, particularly subjective idealism, has frequently accompanied ultra-left errors in the history of the international communist movement. Idealism has helped give rise to voluntarism, to adventurism, and to impatience with the objective restraints of the actual situation. It has frequently accompanied metaphysical dogmatism – treating all truth as absolute, and rejecting the category of relative truth (that which is true relative to time, place, and condition).

Subjectivism has also been frequently associated with an ultra-left line, and it often results in sectarianism (and the related error, “narrow circle spirit”). And while bowing to spontaneity and a low theoretical level have more often been associated with right errors, we believe that in our movement comrades have more often bowed to the spontaneity of the “left.” And we believe that “left” errors and “left” conceptions have done more to hold the communist forces back from raising their theoretical level and combatting their amateurishness than right errors have. Among those “left” theoretical conceptions, we could start with the widespread confusion about the nature of “left” and right opportunism, with the result that the dominant line in the communist movement has incorrectly viewed right opportunism as the main danger to the movement.

Bureaucracy and incorrect methods of leadership can accompany errors of either type. Of course, each organization will make its own estimate of the true sources of its errors. At the same time, communists outside those organizations must draw their own conclusions.

Third: can it be a coincidence that all three of the organizations conducting rectification campaigns, as well as the organization that resulted from the split in the RCP (the RWHq), support the main lines of the three worlds thesis? For example, we know of no rectification campaign going on among the nationally-known organizations who reject the three worlds thesis in favor of the “two worlds” analysis (socialist world versus capitalist world) made by the PLA and a number of other parties and groups.

We do not think these are coincidences; we believe they are related by two sets of factors: factors external to the US and factors internal to the US, and particularly to the US communist movement.

Two international developments in particular have affected the current situation in the US communist movement and favored the current rectification campaigns and the emergence of the RWHq. These developments are: the main two-line struggle going on within the international communist movement; and the CPC’s struggle against the line of Lin Biao and the “gang of four.”


Within the international communist movement, the main struggle today opposes a correct Marxist-Leninist position upholding the three worlds thesis against an ultra-left, semi-Trotskyite line represented by the Party of Labor of Albania and a number of other parties and organizations (though not very influential ones in the US).

While the importance of the three worlds thesis for the struggle against modern revisionism and Soviet social-imperialism has been widely grasped, its importance for the struggle against ultra-leftism has not – for obvious reasons related to the state of the US communist movement. The three worlds thesis strikes a sharp blow against ultra-leftism and “left” revisionism. Among Marxist-Leninist parties and organizations internationally, the main opposition to the three worlds thesis has come from the “left,” not from the right. While a full description of the “left” character of this opposition lies outside the scope of this article, we can cite a few of its main features: a metaphysically dogmatic understanding of the differentiation of political forces at the world level; a classically ultra-left understanding of the united front; a “left” economism which reduces all contradictions to that between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie; a “left” economist opposition to national democratic struggles; and a “left” subjectivist impatience with the actual state of the class struggle in the world today, resulting in a voluntaristic response to that situation. These by no means exhaust the errors of the “two worlds” position.

The US communist movement can learn many lessons from the current polemic within the international movement. Among those, the “left” subjectivist over-estimation of the actual state of the class struggle is a particularly important one. Peking Review #45 (1977) says, “generally speaking and for the time being, as a result of the Soviet ruling clique’s betrayal, the spread of revisionist ideology in the ranks of the working class, the workers’ revolutionary movement in the developed capitalist countries cannot but remain at the state of regrouping and accumulating strength.” Yet for a number of years, Marxist-Leninists in the US have painted the strength of both the young Marxist-Leninist parties and organizations in Europe and Latin America and the communist movement here (especially their own groups) out of all realistic proportion. There are important communist organizations who have attempted to deny that generally speaking, the US communist movement is relatively isolated from the workers’ and national revolutionary movements in this country. The comrades of the CPML went so far at one point as to write in their Constitution that they were the actual vanguard of the US working class, and to claim that here in the US we were no longer at the stage of “regrouping” but in fact had our “general staff organized” and had regrouped all but the communists “in some local circles and organizations under opportunist leadership.” (Political Report to the Founding Congress, p. 49) Fortunately, faced with the choice between insisting on its being the “vanguard” and “leading center” or building unity around Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, the CPML has opted for the latter. Based on a sober-minded analysis of the actual situation out there in the real world, the three worlds thesis has delivered a powerful blow against any delusions of grandeur about the world-wide strength of the Marxist-Leninist movement.


The struggle against the line of Lin Biao and the “gang of four” in China has also favored the rectification of the main errors in the US communist movement. Some comrades have not wanted to see this and have not drawn any lessons from that struggle. Although they did not criticize and often echoed the line set forward by the “gang of four” in a number of areas, comrades here did not take the opportunity of the “gang’s” purge to investigate their own line. The Revolutionary Communist League (MLM) was a notable exception. Having identified the “gang’s” errors as “left,” they called for a movement-wide rectification campaign around the “gang’s” influence. But generally, comrades have not sought to learn what similarities, if any, might account for their having been taken in by the “gang’s” explanation of some problems. Once the campaign against the “gang” unfolded, they simply supported it, but did not do enough independent thinking about these events. In particular, because some comrades here pursued a line that leaned to the “left,” they failed to understand the real character of the struggle against the “gang.”

Early in the campaign against the “gang’s” line, Peking Review published a number of articles comparing the “gang’s” line to anarchism and Trotskyism. Now Marx, Engels, and Lenin consistently held that anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism constituted the ideological sources of “left” opportunism. Further, the CPC repeatedly described the “gang of four” as denying in an idealist way the role of the struggle for production in the transition to communism. This too usually stems from the “left.” The Chinese have written many accounts of the “gang’s” elevating contradictions among the people into contradictions with the enemy (in their policies towards veteran cadres and towards intellectuals, for example). This is likewise most often associated with ultra-left lines. These are but a few examples.

All these analyses and facts should have helped the US communist movement to arrive at an independent estimate of the character of the “gang’s” line. These analyses should have helped us to examine the implications of the 11th great inner-party struggle in the CPC for our own work. Instead, some comrades either ignored the significance of this struggle while paying lip-service to it, or else they exercised no independence in evaluating it. Thus when some comrades in the CPC characterized the “gang’s” line as an “ultra-right counter revolutionary revisionist line,” these comrades followed suit. They started describing various US communist groups as “ultra-right,” even though they could not explain what “ultra-right” meant.

Then when some comrades in the CPC began calling the “gang’s” line “fake Left” or “pseudo-Left” but “genuinely Right” or “ultra-Right,” these comrades picked up the same terms, and began describing groups in the US communist movement with them. But if someone in the US movement said that the “gang’s” line was ultra-left, these comrades didn’t want to hear it. Peking Review #15 of last year said that under the “gang’s” influence, “whoever dared mention the word ’left’ was regarded by the gang as one committing a heinous crime.” In the US communist movement, whoever has viewed the main danger to the movement as coming from the “left” was regarded by our “Left-Wing” comrades as an obvious rightist, centrist or outright revisionist.

Why were these errors made in evaluating the struggle against the “gang of four”? There are two reasons. First, a number of comrades have a wrong idea of how to treat the experiences of other parties.

In order to make use of these experiences, it is not enough merely to be acquainted with them or simply to copy out the latest resolutions. What is required is the ability to treat these experiences critically and to test them independently. He who realizes how enormously the modern working class movement has grown and branched out will understand what a reserve of theoretical forces and political (as well as revolutionary) experience is required to carry out this task. (Lenin, What is to Be Done?; our emphasis.)

Some comrades do not follow Lenin’s and Mao’s advice (or better, their example) in this respect. Because they do not treat the experience of other Parties critically, because they have not “emancipated their minds” and begun to test those experiences independently, they cannot make much use of that experience. Contrary to the view of some “anti-dogmatists” and alleged “anti-flunkeyists,” however, this is not the most important reason for a phenomenon like the popularity of the “ultra-Right” characterization.

The most important reason lies in the key similarity of the dominant line in the US communist movement and the line of the “gang.” Despite their many differences, both are ultra-left lines. Both therefore react fiercely to any discussion of ultra-leftism. A recent article in Beijing Review (#5, 1979) throws light on this similarity. It says that the “revolutionariness” of the vast petit-bourgeoisie “was apt to become ultra-left, because after liberation greater attention was paid to fighting Right deviation than to ’Left’ deviation and political line. In addition, there was the trend that ’Left’ was better than Right and it was ’safer’ to be ’Left’ than to be Right.” In the US communist movement as well, the large numbers of radicalized students, ex-students and intellectuals provide a fertile social base for ultra-left ideas. And we too have concentrated our main attention on the struggle against the right, in order to establish an anti-revisionist movement. And here too, all too many comrades think it is better to be “left” than right. It is certainly safer, since very little criticism has been made of “left” opportunism. All this has helped make ultra-leftism “the danger we have ceased to fight.” (Stalin)

Today, important articles from the CPC characterize the line of the “gang of four” as ultra-left – as a “left” opportunist line. Since the judgments of the CPC justifiably carry great weight in the US movement, the current characterizations of the ”gang of four” favor the struggle against ultra-leftism in our country. As the article cited says, ”It can be said that in the 1960’s and 1970’s, ’revisionism from the left’ attained its maturity and to a certain extent had its international influence. It fought a big battle with the Chinese Communist Party.” Perhaps these references to “international influence” will encourage some comrades to face squarely the problems of our own movement.


Two striking facts about the situation of the US communist movement in this country have favored the current rectification campaigns and the emergence of the RWHq. First, the dominant line among Marxist-Leninists has not led us to accomplish our main tasks and achieve real breakthroughs in our mass influence. On the contrary, the dominant line has hindered us from doing so, and done great damage to the revolutionary cause in this country. To put matters as sharply as possible, we have lost precious years owing to the dominance of this line, years when we should have accumulated significant strength. Make no mistake about it, the dominant line has had a semi-anarchist, “left” opportunist character. Second, the urgent need for Marxist-Leninists to unite with the actual living mass movements and strive to push them in a revolutionary direction grows more pressing every day. The demands of the current situation grow louder each hour, and the possibility of drowning them out with ultra-left formulas, phrasemongering and revolutionary posturing diminishes all the time.

We cannot go into all the destructive effects of the dominant line or into our analysis of its undeniably “left” character here. We have put forward our views on this subject in some of our publications, most particularly, Two, Three, Many Parties of a New Type? Against the Ultra-Left Line (TTM– 1977). A few points are worth mentioning, however.

The dominant line has not built significant Marxist-Leninist unity to date. It has not built much unity because durable unity requires a solid ideological foundation and the rudiments of a correct line. The dominant line instead often mistakes semi-anarchism for Marxism-Leninism and Marxism-Leninism for right opportunism. Unity built on that basis cannot amount to much.

Within the general “left” opportunist framework which has held sway for so long, “left” opportunism in party-building line, or “left” sectarianism has proved particularly dangerous. In our view, the sectarianism that all three organizations have identified as a significant problem stems mainly from the “left,” not just for the communist movement as a whole, but for each group in particular.

The dominant line has not led the communist movement in fusing Marxism-Leninism with the reality of our working class movement. Instead of developing a line which applied Marxism-Leninism to our revolution, the dominant line has fenced communists off from most genuine mass organizations, most genuine mass struggles, and from the masses themselves. Ultra-leftism has severely hurt the movement’s ability to make the working class vanguard the main force in the struggle for the Party. Ultra-leftism has seriously interfered with the movement’s ability to forge unity among oppressed nationality and white workers in a political struggle against white supremacist national oppression.

Finally, the dominant line has not succeeded very well in strengthening the revolutionary unity of the Marxist-Leninist forces. The organizations most affected by this line have generally not waged timely, principled and broad-based struggles against major deviations. Ultra-leftism has proved incapable of combatting the steady growth of a true centrist line among the “anti-dogmatist” forces but has instead written those forces off as centrists. (In fairness, we haven’t been spectacularly successful ourselves.) “Left” revisionism has time and again decimated major organizations (POC, PLP, CLP, PRRWO, RWL, RCP, MLOC, to name a few) yet the ideological, social, and historical roots of its influence have not been analyzed and it continues to claim new victims.


At no moment in the now twenty year history of the anti-revisionist movement has the need to cast off the sterile ultra-left baggage and start up the machinery been so obvious. The two superpowers’ preparations for the coming world war move ahead all the time, the Soviet social-imperialist offensive has shifted into high gear, and yet the communist organizations have not thought out a plan for combatting them. Nothing resembling a mass movement against hegemonism and war has gotten started.

The economic crisis of US imperialism has taken a new turn. The erosion of the people’s living standards reaches into every working class and most petit-bourgeois households. Domestically an ever more aggressive and confident Right-wing has mounted a multi-sided assault against the people’s democratic rights. Labor is battered on contract after contract. The gains of the oppressed nationalities’ struggle over the past twenty-five years are threatened. The masses are by turns disoriented, afraid, and angry.

In this situation, where are the communists, the people who say they have leadership to provide? Let’s face facts. The Marxist-Leninists are a marginal factor in the political reality of our country. If the real situation prevailing in the industrial heartland, the Black Belt South, or the Southwest is not convincing enough, then the anti-nuclear power movement has driven the message home. Here we have a movement of a genuine mass character that has emerged in front of our eyes, yet the Marxist-Leninists have just about zero influence in it. While the communists here have failed to bring their political perspective to bear on the issues raised by this movement, Marxist-Leninists in countries like Germany and France play a major role in it.

These features of the national and international situation, coupled with those internal to the development of each organization, help explain why a number of Marxist-Leninist organizations have undertaken rectification or other internal campaigns. The national and international situation has put rectification of the dominant line in the communist movement on the agenda.

In drawing the connection between the current rectification campaigns and the split in the RCP, we do not mean to imply that the problems in any of the other organizations have the same character as those in the RCP had, or that the resolution of these campaigns should take the same form that the struggle in the RCP had to take. We sincerely hope that each organization will distinguish correctly between the contradictions among ourselves and those between us and the enemy, cure the disease to save the patient, and reinforce Marxist-Leninist unity. Communist organizations belong to the working class and oppressed nationality movements and to the Marxist-Leninist movement as a whole, not just to their own members. Those who believe splits in given organizations are unavoidable have to bear that responsibility before the people and answer for their actions.

That rectification campaigns can start up in various organizations confirms the great hope that the communist movement holds out for the future. That comrades seek truth from facts, sum them up in an honest way, and unfold honest and invigorating self-criticism shows that Marxist-Leninists can correct deviations and deserve the people’s trust. The ability to carry through in the rectification of errors proves the invincibility of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. Alone among the political trends in capitalist and social-imperialist society, we can look reality in the eye.

The destructive influence of ultra-leftism in the US communist movement can be defeated. A powerful movement against hegemonism and war can be built. We will see a revolutionary working class movement and a unified Marxist-Leninist Party. Internationally, Marxist-Leninists are waging a big battle against “left” revisionism! US communists have a contribution to make to that struggle.

Executive (Central) Committee,
Proletarian Unity League
June 19, 1979