Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Movement for a Revolutionary Left

A Critique of Ultra-Leftism, Dogmatism and Sectarianism

The Three Banes of the Revolutionary Left


It seems that right up to the present quite a few have regarded Marxism-Leninism as a ready made panacea: Once you have it, you can cure all your ills with little effort. This is a type of childish blindness and we must start a movement to enlighten these people. Those who regard Marxism-Leninism as religious dogma show this type of blind ignorance. We must tell then openly, “Your dogma is of no use,” or to use an impolite formulation, “Your dogma is less useful than shit.” We see that dog shit can fertilize the fields and man’s can feed the dog. And dogmas? They can’t fertilize the fields, nor can they feed a dog. Of what use are they? (Mao Tse-tung, Feb. 1, 1942 in Stuart Schram, The Political Thought of Mao Tse-tung).

Dogmatism is an error in the theory of knowledge. It is the advocacy of an analysis or strategy on the basis of faith, either in a source of authority (e. g., Peking Review, Trotsky’s writings, Stalin, etc.) or simply in a decision or assertion made without empirical justification, and the consequent impermeability to change through the empirical disconfirmation of practice. Dogmatism’s opposite is the scientific method of theory and practice, where positions are arrived at on the basis of summing up practice and consequently constantly grow as practice develops. Dogmatism is equally associated with leftist or rightist political errors. The Second International’s politics were based on a whole set of unquestioned dogmas which became its operating assumptions, e.g., don’t seize power until the working class is a majority, socialism is possible only in the most advanced countries, the economic crisis will produce the revolutionary crisis, etc. The Bolsheviks were excellent in criticizing the dogmatic (i.e., unscientific) nature, of these assumptions (see Stalin, Foundations of Leninism, part II). Dogmatism can equally well be found on the left e.g., the idea that anything the Soviet Union (or China) supports must be right (or wrong), the idea that Blacks are a nation because they are oppressed, the idea that the fight for reforms undermines revolution, etc. The essence of dogmatism then is the holding to political positions even in the face of contrary evidence based on the unsubstantiated claims of authority or sometimes simple assertion. Dogmatists tend to stubbornness in their unreasonable reluctance to change as a result of overwhelming empirical evidence which counters their positions. They do not understand the scientific method on which Marxism-Leninism is based.

The dialectical materialist theory of knowledge has been verified over and over again in the successful revolutionary struggles of the Russians, Cubans, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc. Only the close back and forth movement between theory/strategy and practice, with practice playing the leading role, can result in a correct strategy/ analysis and in successful struggle. Yet in spite of the clarity of such brilliant works as Mao Tse-tung’s On Practice and his Where Do Correct Ideas Come From many of the admirers of the Chinese Revolution in the U.S.A. fall into exactly the error that Mao wrote his above cited essays against – dogmatism. Dogmatists in practice reject the dialectical materialist theory of knowledge in favor of idealism, rationalism, and scholasticism. The history of the Chinese Communist party is a history in good part of Mao’s struggle against various forms of dogmatism. We can learn much from these struggles. Dogmatists have a propensity to decide questions on the basis of citations from the classics rather than from a careful study of contemporary conditions, to mechanically apply the experience of other countries at other times rather than to scientific ally sum up their own experience on the basis of a prolonged give and take between theory and practice today, and to advocate that theory should be primary over practice since we must have theoretical clarity before we can enter into successful practice.

In its extreme form in the U.S. it has been exemplified in the Communist Labor Party and in the groups in and around the “Revolutionary Wing” (PRRWO, WVO, RWL), groups whose slogan is “Build the Party on the Ideological Plain,” dogmatism often takes the form of prolonged and methodical study of the works of Lenin (especially the first 6 volumes of his selected works which deal with the party forming period) and Stalin in the absence of any significant political practice. The explicit theory of knowledge of these ”closet Marxist-Leninists” is that we must know precisely what we must do and what the effect of our actions will be before we enter into practice. If we don’t have theoretical clarity and unity before political practice then we might well make mistakes that could do more harm than good. Since we can achieve both unity and a scientific analysis and strategy through study and discussion in the absence of practice this should be our primary task in the present period, hence their slogan “build the party on an ideological plain.” Political practice is thus put off until after unity is achieved and theoretical clarity attained through study and discussion (the highest form of struggle in the present period). The CLP and the groups around the RW sharply attacked the RCP and the OL for “economism” and advocating “spontaneity.” The attack on the RCP was directed against its involvement in working class struggles and especially against the content of the various “Workers” who it was argued were bowing to the “spontaneous” struggles of the U.S. working class rather than stressing the development of unity and theoretical clarity. It was said that the RCP’s involvement in the working class was mistaken and that it could do more harm than good because it was undertaken on the basis of inadequate analysis and clarity, analysis and clarity that could come only from study of other revolutionary movements at other times.

The RCP responded to this criticism in very sharp terms in the July 1974 issue of Revolution and in a summary paragraph of its party program:

The dogmatists act as though revolution is conducted in a closet. They think the squabble for some mystical “communist clarity” (struggle between closets) is the “highest form of class struggle.” They, worship books and try to intimidate people with endless quotations. They treat Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought not as a science but rather as a system of lifeless, abstract formulas which neither grow out of concrete mass struggle nor are ever applied to it. (RCP Party Program)

Although the RCP itself has serious problems with the dogmatist error, their analyses of the CLP/RW dogmatist theory of knowledge is quite correct. Correct theory is, of course, a necessary condition for correct practice, but where do correct ideas come from? Practice (both correct and incorrect) is the necessary condition for correct theory. The taste of the pear can only be known through biting into it. Failure is the mother of success. Correct theory can not be known in advance. It can only emerge in the process of a continuing and never ending going back and forth between theory and practice. All attempts to establish theoretical clarity before engaging in practice are necessarily doomed to failure and sectarianism since it is impossible to know what to do before interacting with the world. To quote Mao: “The standpoint of practice is the primary and basic standpoint in the dialectical-materialist theory of knowledge.

... the reason Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin could work out their theories was mainly that they personally took part in the practice of the class struggle and the scientific experimentation of their time. ...

If you want to know a certain thing or a certain class of things directly, you must personally participate in the practical struggle to change reality, to change, that thing or class of things, for only thus can you come into contact with them as phenomena; only through personal participation in the practical struggle to change reality can you uncover the essence of that thing or class of things and comprehend them. ... If you want knowledge, you must take part in the practice of changing reality. If you want to know the structure and properties of the atom, you must make physical and chemical experiments to change the state of the atom. If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution.. . All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience.

Discover the truth through practice, and again through practice verify and develop the truth. Start from perceptual knowledge and actively develop it – into rational knowledge; then start from rational knowledge and actively guide revolutionary practice to change both the subjective and the objective world. Practice, knowledge, again practice, and again knowledge. This repeats itself in endless cycles, and with each cycle the content of practice and knowledge rises to a higher level. Such is the whole of the dialectical-materialist theory of knowledge, and such is the dialectical-materialist theory of the unity of knowing and doing. (Mao Tse-tung, On Practice)

The struggle against dogmatism within our movement has recently been taken up by a number of M-L groups in the U.S.: namely the Guardian, the Bay Area Communist Union (see their excellent booklet, Beginning Analysis) and the Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee (see their call for a national center in the January issue of The Organizer and their exemplary study Black Liberation Today). These groups understand that it is not only the CLP/RW but also the RCP and OL that are making the dogmatic error of putting theory above practice and relying on authority rather than science to decide questions. The PWOC’s categorization of the CLP/RW is brilliant; “Rejecting dogmatism in favor of ultra dogmatism, they advocate sounding a retreat from the working class movement, a retreat from the stormy seas of class struggle to the cushioned rooms of intellectualist study and debate.” (The Organizer, Jan. 1976).

The PWOC feels so strongly about the dangers of dogmatism that it is making unity against the dogmatic trends within both the RCP/OL and CLP/RW one of the two conditions for participation in the national center it is trying to create.

The BACU, a group of people in San Francisco Area comparable in size, but somewhat more experienced in the M-L, movement than the PWOC, also makes anti-dogmatism its principle point of unity:

Dogmatists are lazybones. . . . Such a tendency always underestimates the importance of participation in mass struggle for the development of correct political line. They may understand, in a one sided way, that “political line determines everything“ but they do not understand “where correct ideas come from.” Many of the smaller and newer organizations, as well as many individuals, are predominantly making this same mistake. Partly this is based on the newness of many of these forces to Marxism, to the need for theory and the need for a Party. Partly it reflects a reaction to the mistakes of RU and OL and a desire to study hard so as to avoid these mistakes, partly it is a reflection of the base of the current movement among intellectuals, at least its leadership, and our lack of roots among the people. Dogmatism provides a perfect forum for opportunist maneuverers, splitters, agents and professional talkers. Dogmatism and sectarianism, as well as revisionism, take the heart out of Marxism-Leninism. Dogmatism and sectarianism both make use of the “subjective factor” (i.e., the intention or conscious will of communists) to downplay the need for a concrete analysis. They both fail to base their politics on developing a program that can lead the broad masses to revolution, but instead talk only to those who would listen to them on their terms. (BACU, Beginning Analysis)

The development of detailed strategic plans in a vacuum is worse than useless. First, there is absolutely no basis to believe that one person or group’s detailed strategic plan is any better than anyone elses, there are now about two dozen M-L groups in the U.S. today each with a strategic plan which each is sure is correct, the only problem is that each plan, although based on a “careful study and investigation,’ is different from all the others. The only basis for a detailed strategy and for achieving unity around that strategy is practice. The ultra sectarianism of the contemporary U.S. left is a product of its dogmatism and lack of integration in working class struggles, and hence the lack of a basis to validate strategy and unity. Second, the lack of respect for practice, which the dogmatic method encourages through its idealist and rationalist theory of knowledge leads us to waste valuable time and energy in pursuing mistaken strategies worked out in advance of practice. Failures are regarded as temporary, and in general, dogmatists tend to ignore the lessons of failure in favor of dogmatic assertions about the potentialities of things and confident promise that eventually the line will prove to be right. Such dogmatically arrived at strategies are thus worse than useless. They positively get in the way of work. Third, the dogmatic theory of knowledge, promotes demoralizing internal struggles and vicious sectarianism which saps our energy. Ideas contend against ideas, individuals are trashed, people who have to work 8 hours a day get worn down, and the best talkers and quoters triumph, while most participants simply tire out or split to form their equally irrelevant revolutionary grouplets. The resolution of differences through practice, on the other hand, provides both a real basis for deciding who is right, is far less likely to demoralize and generate sectarianism, and provides for the organic development of a unity that is more than arbitrary.

All this is not of course to argue that we should act without thinking or that we should not have strategies. Clearly we must develop strategies and think about what we do. The point is only that we can not develop unity or strategies in a closet or through debates among closets. The point is to engage in practice so as to develop our unity and strategy, so that they can be improved, again tested out, again modified and once again tried out. Real unity can only emerge when it has a real basis in common practice. Unity achieved via the CLP/RW method of ideological struggle is irrelevant, since it is not based on the Validation of practice. Workable strategies can only emerge through the process of give and take with practice which validates them.


Sectarian tendencies in internal relations lead to exclusiveness towards comrades inside the Party and hinder inner Party unity and solidarity, while sectarian tendencies in external relations lead to exclusiveness towards people outside the Party and hinder the Party in its task of uniting the whole people.

Many of our comrades tend to be overbearing in their relations with nonparty people, look down upon them, despise or refuse to respect them or appreciate their strong points. This is indeed a sectarian tendency. After reading a few Marxist books such comrades become more arrogant instead of more modest, and invariably dismiss others as no good without realizing that in fact their knowledge is only half-baked. (Mao Tse-tung, Rectify the Party’s Style of Work)

Sectarianism is both an error in style of work or relations with people that disagree with one’s analysis, and an error in revolutionary strategy (in construction of alliances against the main enemy). As an error in style of work sectarianism manifests itself in an arrogant attitude in personal relations which puts blocks in the way of patiently winning people over to revolutionary politics and prevents one from learning from others. Sectarianism in style of work has serious negative consequences in hindering recruitment, in promoting inflexibility and in discouraging lack of learning from the masses. Sectarianism as a strategic error manifests itself in failing to unite all that can be united in a struggle against whatever is the main enemy at a given time. Thus the opposite of sectarianism (whether of the social democratic anti-communist variety or the ultra-leftist variety) lies in refusing to form united fronts of all socialist and worker’s organisations, popular fronts of all progressive organizations, and honestly working toward organizational unity among all Marxist-Leninists. Sectarianism thus divides revolutionary and progressive forces, doing the work of provocateurs and police agents, holding back the revolutionary movement.

Sectarianism’s corollary is dogmatism. Such has historically been the case in religion as in politics. The dogmatist way of coming to knowledge, reasoning on the basis of taken-for-granted assumptions such as the resolutions of the Comintern in 1928, the latest issue of Peking Review, the head of one or another organizations reading of Stalin, etc,, necessarily produces a wide diversity of dogma most of it in mutual contradiction with the rest. This is an inevitable result of different people seeing different things in Lenin, Stalin, Mao, the Comintern resolutions, or Peking Review, or reasoning in different ways from these authoritative sources or from different people taking different sources as their primary authority. The dogmatist theory of knowledge thus generates a plethora of tiny sects each holding on to their sacred dogma defending it against all comers, in the process launching a holy war against all other sects. Each sect insists that it has the correct interpretation of the sacred authority, and that if only the working class could see it, then it would become the leader of the revolution. Each sect tends in good part to blame the others for getting in the way of the working class seeing the truth of its line, and thus for being “road blocks to revolution.” This absurdity reached its extreme in the ultra-Trotskyite N.C.L.C. which took this doctrine to its logical conclusion in concentrating its primary struggle against leftist groups which it hoped to physically destroy so that it would gain hegemony on the left, and thus to be in a position to provide leadership to the working class. The fratricidal struggle among groups is a substitute for the leadership of working class struggles and tends to occur historically in those periods in which the left is isolated and ineffective in mass struggles.

Sectarianism means to treat friends like enemies and thus is the opposite of opportunism which results in treating enemies like friends. It is based in the subjectivism of petty bourgeois intellectuals used to dealing in abstract ideas competing with one another on the highest level of abstraction.

Sectarianism is the opposite of united front and unity politics. It is based on the premise that other allegedly revolutionary and socialist groups, by clothing their fundamentally mistaken analyses and lines in revolutionary language, are in balance hurting rather than helping the development of the revolution. It is based on the premise that theoretical battle between tendencies, waged in hostile non comradely and unconstructive ways can demolish bad lines and result in the hegemony of the correct line independent of validation or development of that line through practice. It at essence opposes the Marxist-Leninist theory of knowledge which maintains that correct lines can only emerge through struggles of the oppressed which produce both correctness and unity around that correctness, since the working class, unlike the petty bourgeoisie, needs unity rather than theoretical virtuosity.

The premise of sectarianism is mistaken. Its notion that people will be won to correct positions by hostile polemics against opposing tendencies on the left more than through united front and unity tactics is just wrong. Sectarians greatly overestimate the danger of workers being mislead into taking “revisionist paths.” It simply isn’t the case that exposure to pacifist, feminist; nationalist, reformist, etc., ideas are in balance negative forces acting on the oppressed. Whether or not this is the case is a product of whether or not the major alternative is acceptance of status quo ideology and non-struggle attitudes or revolutionary politics. In the U.S. feminism, nationalism, reformism, etc., are mostly progressive since the revolutionary alternative is so underdeveloped. Any struggle against capitalism, even when waged by pacifists, feminists, nationalists, reformists, etc., is a good thing. It puts the masses in motion, teaches them lessons, and sensitizes people to revolutionary issues. Likewise, the influence of pseudo-revolutionary tendencies such as that, of most of the trotskyist groups, which, while they are hostile to the mainstream socialist movements, nevertheless fundamentally challenge capitalism and from time to time even participate in a struggle. If the only alternative is acceptance of capitalist politics it is better that these groups reach working people for it at least softens them up to a revolutionary analysis. Many are the people who have passed through the non-violence of SNCC, SCLC or CORE, radical feminism, black nationalism, liberal Democratic politics, mid-1960’s SDS, YSA, NUC and NAM, who today are revolutionaries. It would be strange indeed for us to argue that this road is now closed and that the effect of such politics today is only to deflect people from revolutionary analyses. Such is emphatically not the case, nationalism, feminism, reformism, pacifism, etc., still serve as bridges, way stations and transmission belts from mainstream to revolutionary politics because the gap is too wide to bridge without this intermediary step. The real alternative today remains between mainstream politics and any progressive challenge. For the present period feminism, nationalism, pacifism and reformism remain a far greater threat to the bourgeoisie than to the revolutionary left. The most effective way of keeping the transmission belt open and avoiding isolation is to maintain popular front type relations with pacifist, feminist and nationalists groups, treat them in a comradely, principled fashion, and win the respect of their members by our hard work, dedication and the evenhanded treatment we give them, while always being upfront about our politics (with out being heavy handed or overbearing in presenting them).

Those that argue that sharp polemics against other tendencies produce more recruits and greater respect in the working class than unity, united front and popular front strategies, must prove their contention with hard evidence. The experiences of the differences between the politics of the Third Period 1928-1934, compared to the Popular Front period 1934-1939/1941-1947 seem to be overwhelming evidence against their position. The international communist movement grew far more during the Popular Front period than during the Third Period. The Third Period politics characteristic of much of the Maoist left in the U.S. proved its bankruptcy in the 1930’s. It is an historical tragedy that the old “social fascists”; the epithet directed against the social democrats in the early 1930’s (reformists were considered to be the worst enemies of revolution), are reborn as the “cockroaches” of the R.C.P. (which sees other leftists as holding back the worker’s struggle). The program of the Revolutionary Communist Party describes all other leftist and Marxist-Leninist groups as follows:

And the proletariat takes a ruthless stand against those petty bourgeois hustlers who refuse to take up the stand of the working class, but recognizing its revolutionary role, proclaim themselves the leaders of the proletariat and try to ride the worker’s backs to power. These forces pose as “communists” or ”socialists” and in this way are able at times to attract some sincere revolutionaries, even a few from the working class. But the leaders of these groups are deadly enemies of the working class, acting as agents of the bourgeoisie in attempting to confuse and demoralize the proletariat, split its ranks and derail its revolutionary struggle. When the workers refuse to follow them into the swamp or into an ambush, they viciously attack the proletariat and its Party.

These various agents of imperialism, in and of themselves, amount to nothing more than cockroaches which the working class could squash under its feet. But these types do pose a greater potential – they can act as the “shock troops” for the development of a phony “socialist” or “progressive” movement that would aim at diverting the working class from the revolutionary path and setting it up to be smashed by the bourgeoisie. (R.C.P. Program)

Marx suggested that “all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice . . . the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.” Marx’s categorization aptly describes the contemporary rebirth of Third Period politics.

Sectarianism produces an arrogant self-confidence which manifests itself in souring relationships with people outside of one’s group. Exclusiveness and arrogant sectarian attitudes obstruct the development of respect necessary for assuming leadership of the oppressed and recruiting non-party people into one’s organization. Thus in addition to being not based on science, sectarianism, even if it by chance happens to be founded on a correct analysis, is nevertheless immensely harmful in revolutionary work. Sectarianism as a style of work turns people off rather than persuades. Sectarianism is based on the idealist and pedagogically silly assumption that correct knowledge, when recited, will necessarily convince, and that therefore it is only sufficient to know the truth to win leadership. The sectarian attitude thus ignores the key importance of style of work in winning leadership. It is not true that line decides everything, the slogan of the 1930’s and 1940’s that “cadre decide everything” is just as valid. Correct analysis and strategy is no more important than the quality of cadre and the mode of presentation they employ.

Even if sectarians happen to be correct, sectarianism is still a major barrier to winning leadership. But most of the time sectarians are wrong and consequently their arrogant presentation of themselves not only blocks their achieving a leadership role and winning recruits (which in this case might be a good thing) but also blocks their learning from the masses, other groups, and their experience in general. Involved principally in justifying their own line in a defensive fashion from other*s attacks and in trying to destroy others positions, line develops as much in a defensive manner to cover oneself from accusations of “revisionism,” “opportunism,” “centrism,” “Trotskyism,” “spontaneity,” “anti-theoreticalness,” etc., as it does in response to practice. In good part the response of the various other Maoist groups to the attacks of the RCP in the period 1973-1975 was to armour themselves with defensive positions against the RCP broadsides, and then counter-attack. Thus the Maoist left in good part fights positional warfare against itself, in which each group tries to show (1) its loyalty to China and (2) its hatred of the Soviet Union, so as to prove it is not “revisionist” in the eyes of the others. This game of positional warfare parallels the battles among Trotskyists about who is the real representative of the 4th International, and provokes little more than amusement in non-Maoist circles. Of course, such a means of coming to correct positions has nothing in common with the Marxist-Leninist theory of knowledge which argues that correct positions can come only from practice. We must stop being concerned about whether others call us revisionists, opportunists, centrists, trotskyites, adventurists, etc., and simply be concerned about developing ourselves as part of the revolutionary leadership of the working class.

Sectarianism must not be confused with principled disagreements and comradely polemics among Marxist-Leninists and between Marxist-Leninists and other socialists, nor should it be confused with strong attacks on self-proclaimed leftists who sabotage revolutionary projects in a conscious and consolidated manner. The health of our movement, especially in its pre-party stage where no one can be sure if their analysis is correct, depends on a living, free exchange of the full range of positions. Such dialogue should be encouraged rather than suppressed. At this stage of our growth, it is legitimate to debate just about anything, bringing in our fragmented and limited practice which can most legitimately be interpreted in a wide variety of ways. Even when a large mass based cadre party is built, its vitality and leadership role will depend on a lively internal discussion within the party around the issues that are currently facing it – although of course with democratic centralism to resolve issues after a period of debate – and between the party and other progressives. Sectarianism does not mean discussion which is the life blood of a movement, it means rather the arrogant attitude that one group or tendency knows everything, the other nothing, and the consequent treatment of friendly forces as enemies.

There is of course a role for unfriendly polemics directed against the consolidated enemies of working class struggle. Such hostile polemics against real enemies should also not be confused with sectarianism. At any given point in the development of the revolutionary process there is a primary contradiction with the various social forces lining up on one side or the other. When allegedly left forces line up with the capitalists or imperialists against a popular or revolutionary struggle there is no longer any role for friendly criticism. In such times the most acid attacks are necessary in order to expose the objectively reactionary role of such groups, e.g., the Mensheviks in the October revolution, but not in the February revolution; Social Democrats in Germany in the period 1919-1923; the Trotskyists in the anti-imperialist struggle; the Anarchists and Social Revolutionaries in the Soviet Union beginning in 1919. Groups and tendencies which might play a progressive role up until the time for an armed uprising could balk at such a measure, and thus the policy of relating to them might have to switch overnight from one of united front and friendly polemics to sharp attacks as such reformist forces defect to the side of the bourgeoisie. In such times there is a real danger of the defection of social democratic leadership confusing many workers neutralizing large segments of the potentially revolutionary population. Consequently nothing but the sharpest polemics may be in order. The effectiveness of such polemics in splitting the social democratic traitors to a revolutionary struggle from their rank and file followers is a function of how principled Communists were in the preceding period in treating social democrats (both leaders and rank and file) with respect. The sharp turn from friendly to hostile criticism thus will have a considerably greater effect than could possibly have been the case if there had previously been nothing but hostile criticism (like in the fable about the boy who cried: wolf). Great care must be exercised in avoiding the mistake of hostility attacking Reformist forces before the actual revolutionary period is at hand.

There is also a role for hostile criticism in attacking consolidated ultra-left sects with little or no practice or role in working class struggles who concentrate their fire against revolutionary struggles and organizations rooted among the masses. Such ultra-left sects can confuse honest intellectuals and even parts of the masses during times of crisis, with their claim of being the only true revolutionaries and opportunistically attacking the inevitable mistakes, necessary compromises or flexible revolutionary strategy of the Communist Parties. Most of the tiny trotskyist groupings in the U.S. and around the world fall into this category. United fronts with such groupings are futile since their only purpose is to undermine working class revolutionaries and build support for their own tiny tendency. Occasionally it might be necessary to participate in a coalition with such ultra-sects because other honest forces have not yet seen their destructiveness, but in such situations no trust should be put in them and no energy wasted in winning over their members, rather the focus should be on exposing them in a manner not disruptive of the overall purposes of the coalition. Great care should be exercised to avoid confusing consolidated and irrelevant sects with honest forces who are currently following mistaken ultra-left lines. Unity among revolutionary forces within the working class, and among the people, is a necessary condition of victory over the bourgeoisie. Sectarianism as the destroyer of such unity is the enemy of revolution. Both in the struggle against racism, sexism, war, unemployment, etc., waged before the revolutionary, period and in the revolutionary struggle itself; solidarity is key. Solidarity can only be based on mutual respect among groups and tendencies with different policies. Placing secondary differences in the forefront fragments the left and allows the bourgeoisie to win by taking advantage of our unity. Working class people, whose daily life experiences on the job teach the importance of solidarity, sense; this, and are not receptive to those that preach ideological purity at the expense of working class solidarity. The working class must learn on the basis of its own experience that a revolutionary analysis is correct. We cannot stand outside of massive struggles criticizing the leading currents in the working class movement. To do so isolates us even if our line is correct. If we are serious about winning reforms, as we must be if we are serious about the working class struggle, we must promote unity among all forces on the side of reforms. If we are divisive and destroy the unity necessary to win a reform (e.g., against sexist or racist practices) we will isolate ourselves from the masses (e.g., women or blacks). Likewise, if we are serious about winning a revolution we must have the patience to build a solid mass basis for such an action and not launch uncomradely attacks against centrist leadership, until it is clear that they have pretty much already been exposed in the eyes of their followers as class traitors and thus that such an attack would cement working class unity for an immanent revolutionary struggle rather, than fragment our forces.


Dogmatism as an error in the theory of knowledge is found equally among ultra-leftists and social democrats. Sectarianism as an error in style of work and strategy while it is found on the left and right is somewhat more characteristic of ultra-leftists than those that make the right error. Self-righteous arrogant, thrashing of friends and potential friends is a basic characteristic of ultra-leftist dogmatism. However, not all sectarians, are ultra-leftists. Many social democrats are also sectarian especially in their relations with Communists. However, since the right opportunist error consists of treating enemies like friends and compromising principles for the sake of maintaining good relations, sectarianism is more likely to occur, among ultra-eftists.

Adventurism is one manifestation of ultra-leftism, namely the launching of militant actions, strikes, insurrections, guerrilla warfare, assassinations, etc., before the masses can be brought into motion and the time ripe for such actions. Adventurism destroys cadres, isolates revolutionaries from mass struggles, brings down need less and premature repression and sets back the revolutionary struggle.

Ultra-leftism need not include adventurism, but by definition ultra-leftism is sectarian and dogmatic. Ultra-leftists always see revolutionary conditions as more advanced than they are. They see the masses more ready than they really are for revolutionary actions and propaganda. Because of their mistaken ultra-left analysis they treat groups and individuals who are not yet convinced of the need for a revolutionary analysis as hopelessly consolidated reformists, and enemies of the revolution. In sum, ultra-leftists, whether they adopt adventurist strategies and tactics or not, always adopt strategies appropriate for more advanced situations than the present reality.

The opposite of ultra-leftism and adventurism is right opportunism, i.e., the betrayal of revolutionary goals and strategy for the sake of short term and relatively minor gains. For example, if an allegedly revolutionary party promises not to nationalize anything if it is elected to power but rather to make the workers tighten their belts so as to improve the foreign exchange position of the country, in order to get a majority of the votes, it is being right opportunist.

Ultra-leftism can be a form of opportunism, i.e. left-opportunism. It can be opportunistic because it exploits the difficulties of the mass revolutionary worker’s movement, the necessities for compromises, and the patient zig-zag course required in any successful revolution, in yelling “sell out” from the side lines. Quoting Trotsky, Stalin or Mao, a handful of ex-students can sound very revolutionary in criticizing a truly revolutionary movement. Cloaking themselves in the mantle of revolutionary orthodoxy they may opportunistically win short term gains and recruits among those that do not understand the need for compromise and patience.

The ultra-left today, as always, fails to really comprehend the necessary conditions for a successful revolution and as a result makes the same errors that ultra-leftists always make of isolating themselves from the struggles of the working class. Lenin, summed up the two essential objective conditions for successful revolution in his Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, a work which is as appropriate today as it was in 1920 (it should be very carefully studied by us all):

The fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions, and particularly by all three Russian revolutions in the twentieth century, is as follows. It is not enough for revolution that the exploited and oppressed masses should understand the impossibility of living in the old way. Only when the “lower classes” do want the old way, and when the “upper classes” cannot carry on in the old way – only then can revolution triumph. This truth may be expressed in other words: revolution is impossible without a nation-wide crisis (affecting both the exploited and the exploiters). It follows that for revolution it is essential, first that a majority of the workers (or at least a majority of the class-conscious, thinking, politically active workers) should fully understand that revolution is necessary and be ready to sacrifice their lives for it; secondly, that the ruling classes should be passing through a governmental crisis, which draws even the most backward masses into politics (a symptom of every real revolution is a rapid, tenfold and even hundredfold increase in the number of members of the working and oppressed masses – hitherto apathetic – who are capable of waging the political struggle), weakens the government and makes it possible for the revolutionaries to overthrow it rapidly.

The universal characteristic of ultra-leftism, or left-wing communism, is that it either does not appreciate the role that crisis plays or sees crisis as the permanent state of capitalism which amounts to the same things justification for adventurism and reliance on their own organizations rather than on the masses. Ultra-leftists overemphasize the power of the party and downplay the role of the masses. With Trotskyists they tend to blame bad leadership or sell outs of the “revisionists” for the failure to wage a revolutionary; struggle, rather than the lack of a crisis, and the unreadiness of the masses to take militant revolutionary action as a result of it. They suggest that a true “Communist Party” would lead a revolution if only they could convince the masses that they were being sold out. The whole exercise is most idealistic and for the most part without foundation in reality. Revisionist leadership is a product of social conditions, specifically the pressure from the masses to press for reforms in a non-crisis period. The pressure from the masses for a revolutionary seizure of power occurs only in times of social crisis. To act to seize power in a non-crisis period when the issues have not yet become clear to the majority of workers and the most backward have yet to be drawn into politics and the government is still able to rule is to doom the movement to defeat and greatly set back the struggle. Revisionism must be combated by revolutionaries in non-crisis situations, if it is not, revisionist leadership will not take revolutionary action in a crisis situation. But the fight against revisionism can not occur on the traditional grounds of the left-wing communists (non-support of reforms, non-participation in elections and trade unions, treating the largely Marxist oriented working class parties and organizations like the enemy, calls for armed struggle, etc.). The struggle must occur within the large working class parties to the extent that it is possible, and in Marxist-Leninist groupings and parties to the left of the revisionist/reformist Marxist oriented parties, which attempt to build united fronts with such parties. Since the mass of workers do not yet see the real (as opposed to the theoretical) necessity of an armed seizure of power (this last in part because such a seizure is not yet viable) these workers and the organizations which they authentically support must be dealt with in a comradely way. Anti-revisionist/reformist critiques must go on, but in ways as non-antagonist to the working class members of the reformist organization as possible – so as to keep friendly and open relations with them.