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

Section II: Introduction: A Faltering Orthodoxy

The next four letters by the PUL were addressed to or bear upon organizations now merged into the League of Revolutionary Struggle (Marxist-Leninist) (LRS) and deal with its line. Of two written to the I Wor Kuen (IWK), one responded to extensive criticisms that group lodged against the perspectives of the Proletarian Unity League. The third letter excerpted here, written to a West Coast collective, commented on views of the IWK. The fourth letter replied to a lengthy criticism of PUL publications by the Revolutionary Communist League (Marxist-Leninist-Mao Zedong Thought) (RCL). The IWK merged with the August Twenty-Ninth Movement (ATM) to form the LRS in September of 1978 (the IWK addressed their criticism to the PUL on September 1, 1978); the RCL merged with the LRS in September 1979.

The letters grouped here share a number of themes, and even some phrasing, with the articles responding to the CPML and with the material in the next section dealing with the line of the Workers Congress (M-L) (WC). The letters debate the recent history of the communist Left, issues of party-building, including the PUL’s own party-building line, and whether unity of action with the old-line Communist parties is called for in a number of situations. The IWK and the LRS after it have reserved a very large place in the contemporary history of revolutionary communism for the IWK and the ATM, and that estimate is assessed here, as are more general estimates about the overall achievements and shortcomings of the communist tendency. For instance, controversy over whether positive or negative lessons predominate in the history of the Marxist-Leninists got going with PUL’s January 20, 1979 letter to the IWK, to which the LRS replied in the first issue of their journal, Forward, in the summer of 1979.

Like the CPML, the IWK and RCL (as well as the WC) took very sharp issue with the PUL’s struggle with the groups represented by the OCIC leadership. Both viewed efforts to influence the just emerging “anti-dogmatist” organizing efforts with unrelenting hostility. They saw compromises necessary to carry out a debate as so much vacillation, if not abdication, on principle, and admonished the PUL to “break with centrism” (RCL). The debate itself represented for them “trying to unite with forces... who objectively cover for Soviet social-imperialism and revisionism” and “blocking against the Marxist-Leninist forces” (IWK). With this attitude, small wonder that the WC, IWK, ATM, RCL, and later the LRS, despite other strengths, had no visible influence on the “anti-dogmatists” whatsoever. The LRS does not see it that way. Unlike the CPML (see the passing mention in Carl Davidson’s article), the LRS has, so far at least, undertaken no re-examination of its tactics towards the “anti-dogmatists.” On the contrary, as of September 1978 the LRS claimed that the “IWK also took a leading role in combatting the centrists who were attacking the Marxist-Leninist view of the international situation,” (Founding Statements of the League of Revolutionary Struggle, p. 66) presumably by labelling them “centrists.” That did not seem to slow anybody down, however. What PUL wrote in reply to the CPML in this regard applies to the LRS and others:

The “Left-Wing” Communism of some of our comrades reinforced the spurious identification between ultra-leftism and the two superpowers position for many collectives and individuals attracted to “anti-dogmatism.”

These letters also concern some issues only touched on in passing or not at all in the CPML articles. They feature heated exchanges on the degree of influence that the communist Left wields in the US or the degree to which the working class currently embraces a progressive, explicitly anti-revisionist sentiment. The PUL answers “very, very little” to both questions, but the IWK has a high opinion of its own mass influence, and the RCL sees a lot of progressive, anti-revisionist anger in many workplaces. Marxist claims of significant national political strength in the US always make people wonder just what country is being talked about. A side note in the letter to the West Coast collective puts the IWK’s appraisal in better perspective. In any case, the analysis made by the Chinese Communists that the revolutionary forces in the advanced capitalist countries remain at the stage of “regroupment and gathering strength” (see the opening essay) has quieted this particular controversy for those accustomed to following the Chinese. But while the CPML has publicly backed away from its previous boasts of broad mass support, the LRS has not.

The longest letter of this group contains an extended reply to an IWK charge that the PUL had described the line of the “gang of four” as ultra-left in order to further the PUL’s own sectarian interests in the US. The PUL reply attempts to assess briefly some of the reasons why the line of the “gang of four” as presented by Chinese Communists up to that time (January 1979) had such appeal among US communists. It also raises questions about some of the designations used in China in the earlier stages of the campaign against the “gang of four.” Among those designations was the term “ultra-Right,” a concept which to our knowledge only entered US Marxist-Leninist usage after the CPC began regularly referring to the “gang” as ultra-Right. Some US Communists’ idea of applying Marxist theory is to stick labels manufactured in the People’s Republic on US phenomena. Among others, the IWK and later the LRS gave great play to the ultra-Right concept.[1]

The IWK and the RCL also took sharp issue with the importance they believed the PUL assigned the struggle for equality and complete emancipation of the oppressed nationalities. The IWK saw the PUL as “objectively covering for” “national chauvinist and revisionist lines like the RCP.” PUL replies to both organizations’ attempt to clarify its actual position.

At its formation in September 1978, the LRS took over the perspectives set out by the IWK to the PUL on September 1, 1978. The LRS continued to characterize the “gang of four” as ultra-Right, for example, and in keeping with the practice of the IWK, affixed that same tag to groups like the Workers Viewpoint Organization (WVO, now Communist Workers Party). The LRS even went so far as to congratulate the IWK for being “the first organization to recognize the essence of WVO’s ultra-rightist line...” (Founding..., p. 59), and described WVO with the same phrases then current in Chinese discussions of the “gang of four”: “WVO’s ultra-rightism posing under a ’left’ guise” (ibid., p. 58). In a summation of the ATM’s history, the LRS made the same criticism of the ATM’s understanding of the WVO as the IWK has made of the PUL’s views on the “gang’s” line: “ATM also incorrectly assessed the line of WVO and concluded that they were ’ultra-leftists,’ when in fact they were ultra-rightists” (ibid., p. 104).

The LRS also adopted the IWK’s analysis of central events in the history of the communist Left in this country. Ever since the PUL’s first letter to the IWK of March 20, 1976, the two have disagreed over how to evaluate the Revolutionary Union (a.k.a. Revolutionary Communist Party), the most prominent of the communist groups to the Left of the CPUSA in the early 1970s. The LRS has held that “the Revolutionary Union... for a while, was a Marxist-Leninist organization, but then, consolidated an economist, national chauvinist and thoroughly right opportunist political line” (ibid., p. 6), and spoke of the RU’s “general right opportunism” (p. 65). The LRS again commended the IWK for its sharp insight, saying the IWK’s “criticisms of the RU at the time were correct and hit at the core of the RU’s rightism” (ibid., p. 56).

Despite the identity of views on these and numerous other points, the LRS has refused outright to commit to paper any reply whatsoever to either the PUL letter to the IWK or that to the RCL. The LRS has stated in writing that it “generally stands” by both letters without specifying in what this “general stand” consisted. This silence leaves the LRS in the enviable position of being able to maintain the overall correctness of their statements while, if necessary, disavowing any specific point as the work of their predecessors.

An explanation for the LRS’ reluctance is not hard to find. Despite claims that, “our views on party-building have been consistent and have not basically changed,” (Unity, January 30, 1981) the LRS has reversed its views on a number of issues under discussion, apparently has yet to formulate a position on others, and does not want to say so. That the IWK or LRS would change their characterization of the “gang of four” in step with the evolution of the CPC’s own views was entirely predictable (as the PUL letter to the West Coast collective remarks). That the LRS would not acknowledge its about-face was also, unfortunately, rather predictable. Instead of owning up to its past analysis and to its past attacks on those who described the “gang of four’s” line as ultra-left, the LRS prefers here again to compliment one of its component organizations for their grasp of this matter: “RCL recognized that the ’gang of four’ held a similar ultra-left line as the ’Wing’” (Forward #3, January 1980, p. 120; the PUL had noted the RCL’s position in its article “Rectification: For What and Against What?”).

Wherever the “ultra-rightist” description of the “gang of four” disappeared to, the “ultra-rightist nature of WVO/CWP” was not far behind, followed closely by the “general right opportunism” of the Revolutionary Union/RCP. PUL stated in its January 16, 1979 letter that, “It has been ’left’ and not right opportunism that has characterized that organization [the RU/RCP].” Further, “whereas you think the RCP is currently a rightist organization, we consider its line basically semi-Trotskyite at this point.” PUL added “we believe it impossible to explain the RCP’s flagrant and headlong rush into ’left’ revisionism on the basis of any analysis which considers them a consistent long-time exponent of rightism.” As cited, references to the “consolidated right opportunism” of the RU/RCP occur throughout the Founding Statements of the LRS.

But several months after receiving the PUL’s reply, a leading spokesperson for the LRS casually announced that, “As most people know the RCP has completely degenerated into Trotskyite revisionism” (Forward #1, July, 1979). By the third issue of Forward (January 1980), the LRS had dropped any “left” or right characterization of the RU line, simply calling it “chauvinist,” a remarkable silence considering all the trouble the LRS had gone to in pinning the “consolidated right opportunist” label on the RU. Meanwhile the “ultra-rightist nature of the WVO” had similarly vanished, which may or may not have caused another revision in the LRS’ understanding of its own history, since it had castigated the ATM for incorrectly assessing the line of WVO and missing just this vital point. By January of 1980, all the LRS would say was that the WVO “sometimes took on a rightist line and at other times promoted a ’left’ line” (ibid., p. 117), meaning that perhaps the WVO had been “left” but the LRS was still correct and “consistent” anyway. By the May 9, 1980 issue of their newspaper, the LRS had carried this self-justificatory confusion one step further, claiming that

In a basic way, the RCP’s view today is the same as it was several years ago when it was known as the Revolutionary Union (RU) and held a rightist line that denied the importance of raising the political consciousness of the masses and leading their political struggles... The RU believed that tailing after the economic struggles of the workers should be the main form of communist work. The RCP’s ultra-leftism today is simply the flipside of this old rightism.

With pseudo-philosophical talk about “flip sides,” the LRS can speak very knowingly as if the opposite of what they said for years somehow proves they were correct all along. But soon even the “old rightism” underwent a metamorphosis and emerged as “both ’left’ and right deviations”: “The Revolutionary Union and the Revolutionary Communist Party held both ’left’ and right deviations” (Unity, January 30, 1981).

The LRS has also revised downwards its assessment of communist mass influence. In its latest analysis of the communist Left, the LRS acknowledges “problems of isolation from the masses,” “the relatively small forces and lack of widescale mass political influence of communism in the United States” (Unity, January 9, 1981). But this extremely belated recognition of a fact known to everybody outside Marxist-Leninist circles has not caused the LRS to re-examine its convictions about what has accounted for the problems besetting the communist Left. Previously the LRS strenuously objected to talk about the relative isolation of communists on the US political scene, and regarded rightism or right opportunism and modern revisionism as the main threat to the growth of a communist Left apparently flushed with success. Now the LRS concedes the isolation of communists and still regards rightism and modern revisionism as the main threat to an expansion of their meager numbers. Never mind that the LRS got the symptoms wrong – it stands by the original diagnosis.


Having gone this far, the LRS has recently drawn the line and declared its unwillingness to go any farther. Re-examination is all very well, but not when it touches upon central tenets of the LRS᾵ position, not when it throws into doubt, as it inevitably must, the foundations of “left” sectarian politics. The LRS has seen where the unraveling of that particular ball of twine will lead and decided it has had about all the reassessment it can stand.

So in two successive commentaries on the history of the Marxist-Leninist movement, the LRS has weighed in favor of the old 1970s orthodoxy.

The anti-revisionist movement has to fight against both the right and the “left,” but in our view the danger from modern revisionism has been the most serious. (Unity, January 30, 1981)

Put in simpler language: yes, we should avoid making any kind of mistake, but in particular we must watch out for tendencies to “trail behind liberals and social-democrats,” failing “to build a proletarian trend in the mass movements” and concerning ourselves too much with the broader Left movement in the people’s struggles which “generally means the various left-liberals, social-democrats and anti-imperialist-minded social forces in the US,” since these have their influence “primarily among the petty bourgeoisie, but also among some sectors of the labor aristocracy” (Unity, January 9, 1981).

The time when prominent representatives of the communist Left could simply assert this position has passed. Too much has occurred, too many of the old certainties challenged, and too many of the old comrades gone. So for the first time, the LRS must attempt a defense of their analysis, a necessarily beleaguered defense since the press of events has confirmed, sometimes in a spectacular fashion, the critique of ultra-left line and orthodoxy.

The LRS begins by minimizing the extent of ultra-left policy and practice among the communist Left. Where the IWK identified ultra-leftism with “terrorism, Trotskyism, anarchism,” the LRS admits the existence of ultra-left errors within the communist Left itself, but restricts them to their most bizarre manifestations:

In the 1970s, various ultra-left slogans became catchwords among some, such as “build the Bolshevik Wing, Smash the Menshevik Wing,” “party building is the only task,” or direct communist work “only to the advanced,” and others. (Unity, January 9, 1981)

These examples are too extreme to apply to such groups as the Revolutionary Union/RCP, the October League/CPML, the Workers Congress, or even the Workers Viewpoint Organization/Communist Workers Party, yet each of those groups was destroyed or, in the CPML’s case, crippled by ultra-leftism. Nor would the slogans mentioned describe the major predecessor organizations of the LRS itself, yet each of those followed a very “left” path.

The LRS then attempts to counter the argument that ultra-left policies have led the communist Left into a deepening isolation in the country.

Some believe that isolation is only a result of ultraleftism, but rightism, too, diminished the influence of communists on the mass movement. Browderite revisionism resulted in the decline of communist influence on the masses, not the expansion of influence of the CPUSA. Browderism also resulted in the eventual numerical decline and weakening of the CPUSA. (Browder was General Secretary of the CPUSA in 1944 when he dissolved the party and formed the Communist Political Association, a loose, non-democratic centralist grouping. This was a part of his overall line which blurred the distinction between reformism and proletarian revolution and between social democracy and communism. While Browder thought this would bring closer ties to the masses, his line actually isolated them from many workers and advanced elements in the mass movements.)

So from this history, we can see how wrong it is to have ideas like “it’s better to make right errors than ’left’ errors so at least we can grow and break out of our isolation.” (Jan. 30, 1981)

So there you have it. Having finally admitted the isolation of communism, the LRS hastens to dispel the idea that ultra-left policies rather than rightist ones could account for the failures of the communist Left during the 1970s. Lest some unknown persons forget about the danger of rightism, they prove its bad influence during the 1970s by citing... its bad influence in the 1940s.

The LRS’ theoretical argument for the overriding danger of modern revisionism within the communist Left depends upon a set of three conceptual mystifications. Following the IWK, the LRS first lumps together rightist errors with a full-blown revisionism.

Our understanding of the CPML’s previous position was that it saw rightism as the main danger. But recently the CPML seems to only focus on “left” deviations and is reinterpreting its whole history in this light...

The anti-revisionist movement has to fight against both the right and the “left,” but in our view the danger from modern revisionism has been the most serious. (Unity, January 30, 1981)

When Marxists use the term “modern revisionism,” they mean a specific international ideological, political and organizational trend. For the most part, Marxist-Leninists identify the modern revisionist trend with those Communist Parties allied to the CPSU in the polemics between the CPC and the PLA on the one hand and the Soviet party on the other: in this vein, the LRS identifies modern revisionism in the US with the CPUSA. Right errors or even rightism have a much less specific connotation. Statements or actions which upon analysis can be in part attributed to the influence of reformism upon Marxist work amount to right errors. If right errors multiply, then Marxists may refer to a pattern of rightism. But the failure of, say, a Marxist collective to take the most militant program realistically possible to union members in a given election can hardly be equated with the CPUSA’s policies. In using rightism interchangeably with modern revisionism, the LRS eliminates any distinction of scale or degree: a right error is rightism is modern revisionism (for more on this point see the PUL reply to the IWK).

The reason for this first jumble becomes clearer when we examine the next two. The LRS is alert to the objection that the communist movement constitutes a separate entity from the CPUSA, and that consequently its chief internal problem could not be the CPUSA itself. They respond that

we should not separate the anti-revisionist movement from the general left and overall working class movement. We do not exist in isolation from the working class movement, but must consider ourselves an integral part of it. One should define the main danger to the working class movement in relation to the struggle against the class enemy and the task of building a revolutionary movement against the enemy. The main danger for the movement as a whole is not defined according to some abstract definitions or formulations, or according to just one group’s or certain people’s experiences, outside a concrete historical setting and an analysis of all the social and political forces. (Unity, January 30, 1981)

Though the LRS does not cite the PUL here, we assume that the references to “abstract definitions or formulations” and “one group’s or certain people’s experiences” have the PUL (among others) in mind, since the book Two, Three, Many Parties... establishes a fairly detailed conceptual framework for determining the “main danger” to the communist Left. Because the LRS takes exception to the conclusion that the main shortcomings of the communist Left’s policies during the 1970s stemmed from ultra-leftism, and because the LRS has not offered a theoretical framework to challenge that of the PUL or others who have reached similar conclusions, it (dismisses all attempts at theoretically understanding these problems as so many “abstract definitions or formulations” ignoring “all the social and political forces.” What all those social and political forces are the LRS doesn’t tell us, for having spurned theory, the LRS lacks the means to identify them. But the appeal to the anti-theoretical reflexes of US culture and the US labor movement lands the LRS in a series of blatant contradictions.

Presumably taking into account all the social and political forces, the LRS piously warns against separating the “anti-revisionist movement” from the “general left” movement and the “overall working class movement.” Although they sometimes speak of the main danger to a distinct anti-revisionist movement – “The anti-revisionist movement has to fight against both the right and the ’left,’ but in our view the danger from modern revisionism has been the most serious” – they argue that this is so because the anti-revisionist movement cannot be separated from the general left movement and from the working class movement. In those movements, the LRS says, modern revisionism poses “the main danger.” Yet earlier the LRS itself admitted the need for communists to “overcome problems of isolation from the masses,” (Unity, January 9, 1981) and criticized those who

propose building a “left movement” or “left-wing movement” as the path to making communists a major force in society. The “left wing” is vaguely defined, but generally means the various left-liberals, social-democrats and anti-imperialist-minded social forces in the US. The class basis of these forces is primarily among the petty-bourgeoisie, but also includes some sectors of the labor aristocracy. (ibid.)

Such an orientation would “negate” “the independent role of communists” or “reduce” it “to becoming a disorganized loosely knit ’wing’ or just another variant within the petty-bourgeois left-wing movements.” (ibid.) If the communists are isolated from the masses, and if they should remain independent and separate from the “left-wing movement” or the “petty-bourgeois left-wing movements,” then how could “modern revisionism” pose the same danger to the working class masses, the “petty-bourgeois left-wing movements,” and the Marxist-Leninists separate from both of these? If we accept for the moment the “petty bourgeois” social composition of the left-wing (no more petty-bourgeois in composition than the communist groups) how can we then turn around and treat the left-wing movement as inseparable from the working class movement?

Left-liberalism, social-democracy and to a more limited extent anti-imperialism have wide influence within the labor movement. Modern revisionism, however defined, does not. To describe a marginal Communist Party as the chief obstacle to “the task of building a revolutionary movement” exaggerates the CPUSA’s importance to the point of absurdity. If the LRS wants to maintain its “independent role” in regard to the broader Left and the labor movement, there is no surer way than to stick by such an outlandish judgment, because no objective observer could see it that way, and few would want to compromise the solitary independence of anyone who does. The LRS believes that examining the actual contradictions that have beset the Marxist-Leninists as a distinct tendency on the Left amounts to “isolating the anti-revisionist movement from the general left and overall working class movement.” It is okay if in fact the communists are relatively isolated from the broader Left and from the labor movement; but that we should say so and draw implications from that fact, there the LRS calls a halt. Marxists would do better to get upset over the actual separation than to take offense at theories that recognize it.

Finally, and almost as an afterthought, the LRS tries to give its dogma some empirical substance.

It should not be forgotten that larger sectors of the general left movement and even of the Marxist-Leninist movement veered off into centrism and united with revisionism around Angola and other key questions in the 1970s than were won over by the “left” opportunists. (Unity, January 9, 1981)

Ultra-leftism definitely has been the main problem for particular organizations, but if we look at all the forces that called themselves “anti-revisionist” a decade ago, we see that here, too, the CPUSA’s influence has grown, not diminished. (Unity, Jan. 30, 1981)

Notice first that the second quotation has no internal logic to it at all – that the CPUSA has gained influence over some formerly opposed to its policies says nothing one way or the other about what has proven the main shortcoming of the communist groups, ultra-leftism or rightism. And what the second lacks in logic, the first lacks in evidence. If we restrict ourselves to organizations and numbers, there is simply no comparison between those avowedly anti-revisionist groups which have gravitated over time to analyses and policies advocated by the CPUSA, the Cuban and Vietnamese parties, or Moscow itself, and those who have either turned into “left” extremist caricatures of Marxist politics or sharply deviated to the ultra-left. The Communist Labor Party, the PWOC-led Organizing Committee for an Ideological Center, El Comite, the various “rectification” study groups and collectives, and to a more limited degree the Guardian fall into this category, though in fact none of these had ever articulated a critical analysis of the Cuban or Vietnamese parties, and thus did not exactly fall prey to the Cuban, Vietnamese and Russian view of most world events. In practical terms, these groups do not have great weight. The Communist Labor Party has declined markedly since its founding in 1974. The OCIC includes some very serious activists but is hardly a unified organization, having undergone two major splits in its short history. El Comite has a record of sustained work but very local influence. So-called “rectification” journals like Line of March and Theoretical Review have respectable readerships by Left standards, as does the Guardian, but it has yet to be proved whether they could get anyone to cross the street in practice. Taken as a whole, the groups aligned internationally with the Cubans, the Vietnamese, and, despite much hand-wringing, actions like the Afghanistan invasion reflect a much broader trend within the socialist Left, but they don’t lead it.

Compare then this list with that of the organizations that have degenerated into “left-wing” fanaticism: the Revolutionary Workers League, the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization, the Workers Viewpoint Organization/Communist Workers Party, the Revolutionary Union/Revolutionary Communist Party, the Marxist-Leninist Organizing Committee/Communist Party, USA (M-L) II, February First Movement, African Liberation Support Committee, Puerto Rican Student Union, Attica Brigade/Revolutionary Student Brigade. Add to them organizations that withered under the dominance of a “left” opportunist line or fell apart altogether: October League/CPML, Black Workers Congress, Workers Congress, Congress of Afrikan Peoples/Revolutionary Communist League, Black Women’s United Front, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, August Twenty-Ninth Movement, the National Fightback Organization, the Communist Youth Organization. Add to that the often disastrous interventions of many of these groups into popularly based community groups, women’s unions, left information services, etc.


But the numbers themselves, while decisive in regard to the LRS’ claims, do not tell the whole story. A listing of organizations or an inventory of who has left what and why can only hint at a larger historical process. As discussed in the opening essay of this volume, a communist movement took shape in the late 1960s and early 1970s, superseding the small circles that composed the communist Left in the previous ten years. This movement had a dynamic that it has now lost and cannot regain in that particular form. Ultra-left politics bear the primary responsibility for destroying that dynamic, the sense of excitement and possibility that surrounded the communist Left in the early 1970s. In doing so, ultra-leftism squandered the best efforts of a large number of New Left and left-wing nationalist activists. Many of those people have left or are now leaving the ranks of the communist groups and often are soon out of politics altogether. It is a fact that in politics once Marxist organizations lose people it is extremely difficult to get them interested in another Marxist organization, no matter how convincing its critique, prescient its predictions, or different its policies. The communist Left has not dissipated its forces altogether, but it has lost too many people who knew the struggles of the mid and late ’60s first hand and cannot easily get these people back. For this, ultra-left policies, semi-anarchist ideology and sectarian leaderships bear a heavy responsibility. Those remaining communist organizations who ignore these facts do so at their own peril.

Because the LRS has taken over much of its argumentation from the RCL and particularly the IWK, the PUL letters collected here contain a good deal of relevant material to the LRS’ present positions. The exaggeration of CPUSA influence to the point of absurdity; the jumbling together of right errors, rightism and modern revisionism; the inability to make an analysis of the communist Left as a distinct tendency with particular features; the unwillingness to recognize ultra-leftism except in its most extreme manifestations, and above all, the center of the world mentality that allows the LRS to decide that the Marxist-Leninists are not in disarray because its own organization is not (Unity, January 26, 1981) – all these traits the LRS shares with the IWK and in some instances the RCL. These similarities make all the more regrettable the LRS refusal to respond to these PUL letters; they justify printing the letters now.

Sometimes organizations cannot or will not admit their mistakes or later wholesale changes in their perspectives because they find it hard to renounce the pleasures of a self-centered world view. In its letter to the PUL, liberally quoted from in the PUL reply, the IWK reserved some of its sharpest words for what it saw as an attempt to obscure the IWK’s importance. The LRS has built on that particular tradition. The LRS has identified the IWK’s strength as, “that it stood consistently on the principles of Marxism-Leninism, developed revolutionary ties among the masses and waged a continuous battle against the major opportunist lines in the movement” (Founding..., p. 60), adding that the IWK “has stood firm against the various forms of opportunism in the US”(ibid., p. 75). That the IWK and later the LRS has misunderstood for a very long time central features of the history of the communist movement; that they sometimes confused Marxist-Leninist principles with semi-anarchist ones; that they often opposed organizations dominated by opportunist lines but in the major instances did not and do not understand the nature of those lines and thus could neither “wage continuous battle” nor “stand firm against them,” instead moving with the “left”-leaning tide – these facts take nothing away from the IWK’s and the LRS’ actual achievements. But facts do deflate the claims that the LRS would like to make about itself, and disillusionment is always a painful process.

Finally, some people do not acknowledge their mistakes because they hope no one will notice. Even today, some Marxists argue that we would be better off not bringing up troublesome facts about the past, not disturbing what cannot do anyone any good. To be sure, not all that many people will notice – not that many Marxist-Leninists, because there aren’t that many; and not that many enemies of the communists, because US communists do not amount to enough yet to threaten the composure of US imperialism. But anyone who takes the time to look will notice. Professional anti-communists augmented their comfortable earnings by commenting on the many unacknowledged errors and reversals experienced by the CPUSA line. Should the time come when career-minded journalists and professors see sufficient patronage for well-researched attacks on a new generation of communists, only the truth can defend them. Better that Marxists draw Marxist lessons now.


[1] We should note that the IWK was apparently correct when it said that the PUL had called the ”gang of four” ultra-left, at least on some occasions. The letter to the West Coast collective of April 6, 1978, refers to the ”gang” as ”left,” though the PUL reply of January 16, 1979, says that “we have never called the Four themselves ultra-lefts.”