Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

I Wor Kuen

Critique of the RU Line on the Workers’ Movement

First Published: The I.W.K. Journal, No. 2, May 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

The experience of the Jung Sai strike [a San Francisco Chinatown strike in which IWK was involved – EROL] has helped us gain a better understanding of the importance of firmly grasping the ideological and political line, and how the line determines everything. This of course applies to ourselves and our own work. It also applies to the theory and practice of the Revolutionary Union. This article will concentrate on analyzing the RU line on the workers’ movement. In particular it will cover the question of the relationship between spontaneity and consciousness; the development of communist consciousness in the working class; the RU’s revolutionary workers’ movement; their “single spark theory”; and their worker’s anti-imperialist organizations. This article will not concentrate on the national question within the trade unions and workers’ movement, a question we believe to be of utmost importance to a full understanding even of the points we present in the following pages as they relate to our line and tasks in the United States. This question requires more study and concrete attention in order to develop a comprehensive understanding of the tasks of communists within the workers’ movement.

We have learned much through the Jung Sai struggle, and we believe that the lessons about the RU are significant ones. It was not easy at first to understand what the RU was doing in the struggle. We were sometimes misled and focused on the RU’s methods of work or attitudes. We did not at first grasp the basic features of their erroneous line on the workers’ movement. We knew they were wrong, but it took us some time to analyze the ideological source of the RU’s errors in this strike. It was through the struggle to distinguish phenomenon from essence, methods of work from political line, that we understood in a much deeper way the essence of their line. We now believe we have a firm grasp of the RU line in the workers’ and trade union movement.

It helped us to understand the RU line by carefully reading their written public material on the workers’ movement. It was necessary, to a certain extent, to put aside our perceptions of them on the picket line and focus primarily on what they actually advocate in their literature and in practice. (Later on we will also point out how their methods of work do directly flow from their wrong line.) And when we mean focus on what they actually advocate for practical work and in real life, we mean studying the material as if one wanted to actually put into practice what they say. We examined also in practice the concrete results of what they advocated. In this way, we were able to wade through much of the deliberate distortion, nice sounding phrases, and rationalizations of the RU and get to the meat of the RU line. In this way we were able to get a much clearer and more objective picture of exactly what is the RU line.

After much study and struggle we came to unity on the following general description of the line and strategy of the RU with regards to the workers’ movement: The core and leading force of the proletarian revolution in the U.S. is the revolutionary workers’ movement. This movement is to he built around the minimum program of ’anti-imperialism’, that is, a movement which is against the imperialist system but may not necessarily call for socialism. This revolutionary workers’ movement develops out of the day-to-day struggles of the people in which communists participate. At this time this movement is pushed ahead by the ’single spark theory’ and the ’linking up of struggles.’ As stated by the RU and as evidenced from their work, the development of this revolutionary workers’ movement is the main activity of the RU at this time.

We will examine their theory more in depth below but before we do so, we would like to generally state our criticisms of the RU line. We believe the RU, consistent with their right opportunism on the national question and on party building, is also right opportunist in the labor movement. They are economist, for they fundamentally mistake the spontaneous militant consciousness that develops out of the day-to-day experience of the working class as real class consciousness, as consciousness that can lead the proletarian revolution. And because of this they actually “bow in worship of spontaneity”; they actually tail behind the workers’ movement and they liquidate the independent role of communists and communist ideology. There are three basic features of economism, and we believe the RU’s line fits each of them perfectly. These features are:

a) the economists bow in worship of spontaneity (the ideological root of all opportunism);
b) they degrade communist politics to the level of trade union politics; and
c) they make the economic struggle the exclusive or main basis for the development of political consciousness of the working class.

The RU’s “revolutionary workers’ movement” is not a class conscious revolutionary movement but in fact one that comes spontaneously from the objective process of capitalism. Thus the RU holds up in theory that the movement should be built on the basis of spontaneity and downplays the role of Marxist-Leninist theory, the science of revolution, in giving direction or leadership to the mass movement.

Let’s examine these above three points more closely. First, we will focus on the error of bowing in worship of spontaneity and how the RU commits this error.


The RU has been proliferate in publishing written materials, and so the problem was not where to look for the line but how to discover their line in the midst of all their written verbiage. It was necessary to try to focus on what were the essentials of the RU line, the basic features of their line. As we examined their literature we concentrated on what seems to be the main thrust of the RU, which is their revolutionary workers’ movement and the “method” (to use their words) to build such a movement, i.e., building anti-imperialist workers’ organizations.

The RU first put forward its idea of building anti-imperialist workers’ organizations in Red Papers #2 in 1970. In RP #2 they say:

These anti-imperialist organizations of the working class, leading the fight of working people around day to day issues on the job and in the community, and linking these up with other struggles against the imperialist bosses, are the key to building both the united front and the communist party as the leading force.” (RP #2, page 18, emphasis added)

It is clear that the RU places much importance to the building of such organizations.[1] Those familiar with the RU practice during the past four years certainly know that the overwhelming focus of the RU work has been on building such organizations, primarily their “workers’ newspapers” (now over a dozen such papers around the country), coalitions and ad hoc committees based on similar principles. Furthermore, in RP #6 entitled “Build the Leadership of the Proletariat and Its Party” they state that “the central task of the Party, after it has been formed, is to build the revolutionary workers’ movement and the leadership of the proletariat in the anti-imperialist united front”. (RP #6, page 9) All the articles in RP #6 are summarizations of their practice in building such anti-imperialist organizations and the “revolutionary workers’ movement”.

Since RP #6 they have written a number of other articles in Revolution and their other papers about the development of this “revolutionary workers’ movement”. One of their most recent articles has been on the “May 1st Workers’ Movement” which has been formed in the Bay Area and apparently is a prime model of what this “revolutionary workers’ movement” is and how it is to be built.

Let us examine this “May 1st Workers’ Movement” as a key representative of this movement. They say: “The May 1st Workers Movement (M1WM) is a newly formed political workers organization in the San Francisco Bay Area that seeks to unite all sections of the working class in struggle against the capitalists and their system.” (page 2 in Revolution) And later in the article: “The M1stWM helps to turn many ’fighters for one’ into ’fighters for all’, as increasingly workers learn through their own experience the necessity of building a revolutionary workers’ movement that can unite the working class and all oppressed people into one mighty fist. ’ The RU obviously has given the M1stWM and the revolutionary workers movement a tremendous task: A task which is in fact nothing less than proletarian revolution!

In contrast to the RU, we believe the proletarian revolution can only be led by a communist workers movement, a movement that consciously fights for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and for the dictatorship of the proletariat, for a society free of exploitation and oppression. Such a movement does not develop in and of itself out of the spontaneous mass movement, out of the movement of primitive resistance to exploitation; but rather this movement must be created by a communist party that brings the scientific ideology of Marxism-Leninism to the working class and oppressed peoples so that they can understand the totality of their historic tasks.

Capitalism creates all the material premises and the social force capable of carrying out the proletarian revolution, but without the role of the conscious factor there can be no radical transformation. ’Capitalism itself,’ Lenin pointed out, ’creates the elements of a new system, yet at the same time, without a ’leap’ these individual elements change nothing in the general state of affairs and do not affect the rule of capital. (Foto Cami, Objective and Subjective Factor, page 20)

In “What Is To Be Done?” Lenin forcefully condemns the theory that Marxist-Leninist revolutionary consciousness can develop on its own from the objective process.

The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc. (Lenin. What Is To Be Done?, p.37)

The working class on its own develops a certain low level of political understanding: that they stand against a class of exploiters, that the police and the courts side with the exploiting class, that the government favors their enemy, etc. As Lenin pointed out:

For all over the world, including Russia, the police themselves often make the start in lending the economic struggle a political character and the workers themselves learn to understand whom the government supports.

For the trade union secretary of any, say British trade union, always helps the workers to conduct the economic struggle, helps to expose factory abuses, explains the injustice of the laws and of measures which hamper the freedom to strike and the freedom to picket (i.e., to warn all and sundry that a strike is proceeding at a certain factory), explains the partiality of arbitration court judges who belong to the bourgeoisie classes, etc., etc. In a work, every trade union secretary conducts and helps to conduct ”the economic struggle against the employers and the government. (What Is To Be Done?, p. 90)

It is precisely this low level of political consciousness which develops out of the economic struggle that the RU worships and tries to actually characterize as revolutionary, class consciousness. For let us quote at length from REVOLUTION where they state what kind of consciousness they are developing:

From its Beginning the May 1st Workers Movement has been involved in a number of important struggles, including the militant organizing strike at Rucker Electronics. There are about 100,000 unorganized electronics workers in the Bay Area, and the strike at Rucker has sent shock waves through the whole industry. The M1WM has developed close ties with a number of leading strikers and has attempted to build active support, for the strike among workers all over the Bay Area.

This has included several mass mobilizations, one at the plant and another at the court house where a leading striker and an auto worker were going on trial after being arrested on the picket line. It has also included gate collections and food drives at a number of plants. But mainly it has meant taking the key political lessons of the strike to other workers and trying to build support through increasing their understanding of the grinding oppression faced by all workers, but especially by women and minority workers, in the electronics industry. (Revolution, November 1974, page 2)

Fine. Let us see what are the political lessons they draw from this experience. They immediately go on to say:

At Rucker there has been a sharp two-line struggle about the direction the strike should take, and the M1WM has played an active role in this struggle. From the beginning the company has used court injunctions and the police to run scabs through the picket lines and keep production going. The strikers, most of them women, have put up a heroic fight against the scabs and cops. As other electronics workers and staff members of the Bay Area Worker (an anti-imperialist workers’ paper) joined them on the picket lines, the strikers showed a growing enthusiasm about getting help from other workers to build a mass fight against the scabs, cops and injunctions.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers reluctantly went along with this for a while, but soon the leading bureaucrat began a counter-offensive. His main argument was that the strikers should cool it, cut out the mass picketing, let the scabs go in, and rely on the NLRB to resolve everything (The workers had voted in the IBEW through the NLRB election more than a year ago.) When this didn’t get over, he tried red-baiting and straight-out defeatism, proposing that the strikers go back in without a contract!

At this point members of the RU and the M1WM set up a meeting with some of the most active strikers. These workers were completely opposed to the union’s sell-out scheme, but they -were reluctant to openly oppose their own leadership. After a long and lively political discussion which included the drawing of many important lessons from other strike struggles, the active elements decided to rely on the masses of strikers to defeat the sell-out and build the strike.

The first part of the plan – rely on the masses to defeat the sell-out – was carried out so successfully that the leadership was forced to withdraw its back to work scheme. But then the union officials put forward a new trick, telling the strikers to do as the leadership said or the IBEW would simply ’pull out’. The word came down that there were to be no more mass mobilizations. After another meeting with the M1WM, the most active strikers forced the leadership to go along with one more mass picket line, where hundreds of workers and other supporters joined the strikers on ’Rank and File Day’.

But since then the union leadership’s threats and bluster have taken their toll even among a few of the most active strikers, where the attitude has developed that ’you can’t fight city hall’. The M1WM has continued to put forward the significance of the strike and its lessons to other workers, but as an external force it has not been in a position to play a decisive role in determining the strike’s course. For the moment, at least, the bureaucrats have gained the upper hand and they’re doing their best to strangle the life out of the strike, (p.2)

We deliberately quoted this long passage, which composes the main body of the article to show how much the RU has degraded communist politics. It is interesting to note that the RU never questions its own role in so many failures. The “political lessons” of the RU are the political lessons of a militant trade unionist; they are not the political lessons which a communist would draw to help educate the working class of its revolutionary responsibilities. Keep in mind that the article concerns the development of a “revolutionary workers’ movement” that will lead the “fight against all oppression”; but as we see above, the main way workers are supposed to develop such consciousness is through the militant trade union work of the RU.

What we protest here is not that they engage in the practical economic struggles, for communists must be in such struggles and must be the most ardent fighters for the immediate reforms. In fact, at the present time, there is actually a tendency to deny the importance of such work. This tendency is fundamentally wrong, for just as the RU refuses to bring Marxist-Leninist understanding to the class, so does this other tendency by limiting communist ideas to small circles of individuals. The working class must be exposed and educated in communist ideology and they will come to grasp this ideology as their own through the course of struggle with the guidance of communist elements. But what we are pointing out is that the RU portrays their work, which is essentially militant trade unionist work, as the way that will of itself develop the “revolutionary workers’ movement.” As they say,

By joining with and linking up these various struggles (such as the Rucker’s struggle) the M1WM helps to turn many ’fighters for one’ into ’fighters for all’, as increasingly workers learn through their own experience the necessity of building a revolutionary workers’ movement– that can unite the working class and all oppressed people into one mighty fist.

In other words, the so-called “revolutionary workers’ movement”, the core and leading force of the RU united front against imperialism is actually nothing more than the simple economic struggle against capitalist exploitation.

In the following passage from Lenin, if we replace “lending the economic struggle itself a political character” with the RU’s “revolutionary workers’ movement” we get a very precise understanding of how thoroughly opportunist the RU line really is:

Thus, the pompous phrase about ’lending the economic struggle itself a political character,’ which sounds so ’terrifically’ profound and revolutionary, serves as a screen to conceal what is in fact the traditional striving to degrade Social-Democratic politics to the level of trade union politics! On the pretext of rectifying the one-sidedness of the Iskra, which, it is alleged, places the ’revolutionizing of dogma higher than the revolutionizing of life,’ we are presented with the struggle for economic reform as if it were something entirely new. As a matter of fact, the phrase ’lending the economic struggle itself a political character’ means nothing more than the struggle for economic reforms. (What Is To Be Done?, p. 76)

Thus the fundamental error the RU commits is its basic mis-estimation of the consciousness which develops out of the spontaneous movement. And because they mis-assess this consciousness they actually worship it and descend to that level, and as we have seen they try to even characterize it as “revolutionary consciousness” as consciousness that can lead the proletarian revolution. It is this theoretical error that explains the RU’s frantic running around to one picket line after another around the country, and filling leaflet after leaflet, newspaper after newspaper with the most ordinary information about various economic issues. It is this error that leads them to state that “class conscious workers” can emerge out of the spontaneous struggle itself.

We present here just one example of this: the RU says in their May First Workers Movement article, “there is still much to learn, but the development of the May First Workers Movement is a sure sign that, as the crisis of the imperialist system deepens, more and more class conscious workers are coming forward to unite with communists to build a revolutionary workers’ movement.” We contrast this view of class conscious workers with Lenin’s description of what is real class consciousness:

Working class consciousness cannot be genuinely political consciousness unless the workers are trained to respond to all cases, without exception, of tyranny, oppression, violence and abuse, no matter what class is affected. Moreover, to respond from a Social-Democratic, and not from any other point of view. The consciousness of the masses of the workers cannot be genuine class consciousness unless the workers learn to observe from concrete, and above all from topical (current), political facts and events, every other social class and all the manifestations of the intellectual, ethical and political life of these classes; unless they learn to apply in practice the materialist analysis and the materialist estimate of all aspects of the life and activity of all classes, strata and groups of the population. (What Is To Be Done?, p. 86)

Such consciousness cannot develop out of the working class movement on its own. It is impossible. Such ideology must be deliberately propagated in a living and vital way to the working class.

The RU sees the strike movement as how political consciousness will be developed and this is why they “worship” strikes and strike support activity. The RU’s worship of spontaneity led them to actually distort the significance of the Jung Sai strike; on the one hand, they liquidated the most important political aspect of the strike: that it was an extremely important struggle of Chinese workers against the system of national oppression and exploitation, a very important national struggle. On the other hand, they laud to the sky the basic economic aspects of the strike: (another Chinatown workers’ issue)

In the struggles at Lee Mah and Jung Sai the workers have been confronted with two choices; build the struggle in a revolutionary way by taking the question of the oppression of immigrant workers to the class, broadening the struggle as much as possible by making the links with other anti-imperialist struggles, or confine it along the lines of narrow trade unionism, keeping the fight within one industry, and building on the most backward ideas of the workers, as IWK and the union have attempted to do.

Both struggles are helping to lay the basis for a movement, a revolutionary movement, inside Chinatown as well as in the Bay Area generally that will have the potential to take on all attacks by the capitalists.. . (Revolution, November, 1974, p. 8)

The characterization of our position is certainly incorrect. But what we want to point out here is that the RU’s two choices are false choices: their choices are really militant trade unionism vs. narrow trade unionism. Now militant trade unionism is certainly better than narrow trade unionism and we can unite with it at certain time, but communists must strictly avoid engaging in militant trade union activity as their prime activity; and further, they must not characterize their militant trade union work as being revolutionary work, as the RU does. The militant trade unionism which the RU tries to make sound so revolutionary and new by calling it the work needed to build a “revolutionary workers movement” is actually a movement which deals with “bread and butter” issues and can emerge spontaneously out of the strike labor movement itself.

The characterization of the RU work as being “ultra-left” is wrong because they are not raising a dual unionist position but in fact see “jamming the union” essentially from a militant trade unionist stand. This much of their sectarian attitude towards trade unions comes more from their lowering themselves to competing with a trade unionist position and not from “ultra-left” politics.

If by the phrase, these economic struggles are “helping to lay the basis for a revolutionary movement”, you mean that these struggles along with any and all other spontaneous strikes are important for communists to unite with and through the course of struggle develop a class conscious workers movement, we would agree; but if you mean that a revolutionary movement will be created primarily through the linking up of various spontaneous issues we would strongly disagree. Your overestimation of the consciousness which develops out of the day to day struggle is a great underestimation of the strength of bourgeois ideology, and a tremendous belittling of the importance to bring communist consciousness to the working class.


The RU does present politics, but it is not the politics of Marxism-Leninism but bourgeois politics. One of the ways they try to justify their work is by distorting a well known article by Mao, “A Single Spark Can Start A Prairie Fire.” A careful reading of Mao’s article reveals that there is actually very little in common between the RU’s “single spark method” and what Mao had to say in 1930; in fact, a reading of the original will show just how low the RU has had to stoop to try to make their work sound revolutionary. Let us contrast Mao’s “A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire”, and the RU’s “Farah Strike: A Single Spark Fanned Into a Prairie Fire” in Red Papers #6.

Mao begins his famous essay with a very careful analysis of the actual conditions which existed for the Chinese Communist Party in early 1930. He analyzed the situation with the party itself, the army, the base areas, the recent experiences in warfare, the peasant, workers and student movements, the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy, the contradictions among the enemy, the connections between the imperialists and the warlords, etc. In other words, he presents a scientific analysis of China’s revolutionary movement, and it is this scientific analysis that is used to combat the pessimistic attitudes and lines in the CCP.

He then goes on to counter the erroneous proposals that came from having a pessimistic evaluation of the situation. Mao showed that it was absolutely incorrect to engage in just “roving guerrilla actions”, but rather the CCP should be engaged in “accelerating the nation-wide revolutionary high tide through the consolidation and expansion of Red political power. (emphasis added, Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung, Vol. 1, p. 111). In order to take advantage of the impeding high tide of revolution, Mao recommended that the party be prepared by establishing strong communist branches in the factories in the cities and consolidating and expanding the communist base areas in the countryside. Only in this way could the party really be able to lead the “prairie fire” that was developing, the “prairie fire” being the spontaneous eruption of the mass movement.

In contrast, the RU’s article contains practically no analysis of the present situation, except that the revolutionary forces are weak but that the ruling class has also been weakened and that capitalism is in crisis. In trying to make this strained analogy with 1930 China, however, the RU conveniently omits important considerations in its analysis. Mao wrote his essay nine years after the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. During this time, the party had gone through incredible struggle and sacrifice, accumulating a wealth of experience. The party just before the great counter-revolution of 1927 had grown to over 50,000 members throughout the entire country. A People’s army had been established; red base areas had been established; etc.

Mao’s article is a direct rebuttal against those who would belittle the role of the party and descent to a “roving rebel band”, similar to the hundreds of other previous peasant organizations in the past. The RU’s “single spark method” however, is in essence more similar to the tendency that Mao was actually trying to combat. This is because the RU’s strategy lays primary emphasis on linking up spontaneous struggles, which means objectively tailing after the spontaneous movement.

A more correct analogy with Mao’s article would be that today we would lay our primary concern on how to build up the cores of communist forces throughout the country that will help build the party and be able to take advantage of the “prairie fire” which will inevitably come. Communist cores will be built up through the course of the struggle in the day to day movement over every issue of capitalist oppression, but the method which the RU takes is bound to ensure that communists will not be able to really seize upon the future spares of revolution because they will be tailing after the movement.

How does the RU tail? Let us see: they say:

But these sparks cannot be built into a flame, and this flame cannot be built into a mighty fire of revolution that will consume the enemy without the conscious and dedicated work of communists. One of the key tasks of communists is to fan the flames of these struggles that are breaking out everywhere in our country. It is our job to broaden and deepen these struggles as much as possible, by involving the largest numbers of workers, making the widest links with all other struggles, of workers and others, and helping the workers to draw political lessons from these struggles. (Red Papers #6, p. 116)

The RU here presents clearly that they see their job as being primarily militant trade unionists, and not as communists who will see first and foremost how a communist workers movement will be created. The “political lessons” which they say they will help the workers draw are nothing more than the usual lessons good trade unionists would draw: the police and courts stand against the working class; that the workers are opposed not by individual capitalists but by a class of exploiters; that the government stands in favor of the workers’ enemy (see Lenin, “On Strikes”). The political lessons one can draw from individual strikes are extremely limited, limited by the experience of individual and direct confrontations between the workers on the one hand the government and bosses on the other. When we speak of drawing political lessons, we speak of presenting the total picture of the immense political, economic, social, cultural, etc. tasks required in the overthrow of one entire class by another class to issue in a whole new historical era. The RU reduces the “leading role” of communists to one of drawing lessons that would emerge from the strike movement itself.

Therefore, because the RU worships this low level of consciousness, they bow down to the spontaneous process which creates this consciousness and this is the ideological root of their opportunism. As the spontaneous process goes, so goes the RU. The RU degrades communist science to a trade union level, thus only strengthening bourgeois ideology in the working class.


The third feature of economism consists in making the economic struggle the exclusive or main basis for the development of political consciousness of the working class. The economic struggle is ”the collective struggle of the workers against their employers for better terms in the sale of their labour power, for the better conditions of life and labour.” (What Is To Be Done?, p. 75). The economic struggle can certainly be one starting point for the work of communists, for the economic struggle does generate a certain low level of consciousness, but it is impossible for the working class to comprehend the tasks of the proletarian revolution if communists restrict their activity and educational work to the economic struggle; or if they narrowly use the economic struggle as the main base for their political education. Communist must base themselves and focus their attention to the education of the working class, but this means we do propaganda and agitation and organizing on a wide variety of questions. As Lenin pointed out,

Those who concentrate the attention, observation and consciousness of the working class exclusively, or even mainly, upon itself alone are not Social Democrats; for its self-realization is indissolubly bound up not only with a fully clear theoretical – it would be even more true to say not so much with a theoretical, as with a practical understanding, of the relationships between all the various classes of modern society, acquired through experience of political life. That is why the idea preached by our Economists, that the economic struggle is the most widely applicable means of drawing the masses into the political movement, is so extremely harmful and extremely reactionary in its practical significance. (What Is To Be Done?, p. 86)

Communists must bring comprehensive political exposures and education of the entirety of capitalist society, of imperialism. For example, communists must bring about the understanding in the working class of the system of national oppression and super-exploitation in the U.S.; the blood-thirsty oppression of the military overseas; the role of the national liberation struggles; the special oppression of women; the inhumane treatment of prisoners; the decay of the educational system; etc. And communists must do so not on the basis of bringing tangible benefits to the working class (“palpable results”), but because these abuses are further examples of the barbarism of the ruling class; that through grasping these events the working class can develop a comprehensive understanding of the ways by which the ruling class oppresses to remain in power, etc. It is for these reasons Lenin stated:

’Everyone agrees’ that it is necessary to develop the political consciousness of the working class. The question is, how is that to be done, what is required to do it? The economic struggle merely ’brings home’ to the workers questions concerning the attitude of the government towards the working class. Consequently, however much we may try to ’lend the economic struggle itself a political character’ we shall never be able to develop the political consciousness of the workers (to the level of Social-Democratic political consciousness) by keeping within the framework of the economic struggle, for that framework is too narrow. The Martynov formula has some value for us, and not because it illustrates Martynov’ ability to confuse things, but because it strikingly expresses the fundamental error that all the Economists commit, namely, their conviction that it is possible to develop the class political consciousness of the workers from within, so to speak, their economic struggle, i.e., making this struggle the exclusive (or, at least, the main) starting point, making it the exclusive, or, at least the main basis. Such a view is fundamentally wrong. (What Is To Be Done?, p. 97)

An examination of the RU work reveals that the overwhelming majority of their “political work” makes the economic struggle the exclusive or the main starting point. In spite of all their words about an “independent role of communists”, discussing international issues, the national question, raising wider questions, etc., the RU limits the workers’ movement to one of primarily focusing upon itself and its relationship to the bosses and government. Their so-called revolutionary workers movement develops within the’ confines of the economic struggle alone, and the RU’s “independent” role is one of actually s spreading the illusion that they are revolutionary leaders. All the RU pronouncements about the independent role of communists really amounts to is the independent role of economists who preach that a revolutionary workers movement can develop out of the economic struggle itself.

The actual proof of the thoroughly backward and economist nature of the RU’s so-called revolutionary workers’ movement can be seen by examining their “workers’ newspaper” which they are so fond of promoting. These papers, which the RU sees as a primary way to develop the consciousness of their so-called workers’ movement, begin almost all their articles and educational work on an exclusively economic basis: strikes, worsening working conditions, higher prices, etc. They are an insult to the working class, for they talk to workers as if the working class is only interested in their own narrow immediate interests. The working class has much wider interests, must develop a much wider vision than what the RU believes is good for the working class.

We selected the following article as a prime example of the economist nature of the RU. It is a front page article from the Bay Area Worker (It should be noted that economism in the U.S. is intimately connected with national chauvinism, for economism means the liquidation of the national question and, in fact, the reduction of all oppression down to a question of “dollars and cents”. Check out how they discuss the Vietnam War in the following article).

O.K. The House Judiciary has acted. They have finally given in to the insistent demands of the people and have recommended that Nixon get the boot! After two years of hearings, millions of words, tons of legal briefs they could no longer ignore the insistent demands and came to the conclusion that any worker could have told them a year ago...that Nixon is a thief, a perjurer and a 1 fixer’.

What does it mean? One thing is for sure Nixon has fixed up his million dollar estates, siphoned off hundreds of thousands from Hughes Aircraft Corporation, he evaded income taxes and accepted bribes from ITT to get favorable action on a merger and from the milk trust for raising prices.

And that only scratches the surface. His whole administration is in muck up to its ears...All of this is nothing, new. Politicians have always been bought and sold. Large corporations have always used their dough to get what they wanted. Hard-headed corporations have passed out millions – that they squeezed out of the working class – and they are famous for getting ’value received’. This is business as usual, they buy senators and judges, place their men in the War Department and the Department of Commerce. The cop on the corner does their bidding and enforces their laws. Is there nothing new about this scandal? Is it the same as it has always been? Not quite. There have always been Bobby Bakers and Teapot Dome scandals but what really makes the difference today is the economic situation. Our capitalist system is in real trouble.

And you don’t need a T.V. show to tell a worker that. We feel the trouble of the capitalist system every time we shop at Lucky’s. Every time they raise the rent or the phone bill we know there is plenty of trouble. Workers can no longer buy a home and many are losing theirs because with growing unemployment we can’t meet the payments.

Vietnam did not make Watergate, but it showed that the system of capitalists is in trouble. When a little country of 6 million takes all the bombs and jellied gasoline that the B 52’s can drop and then come back and force the U.S. out. You KNOW this system is in trouble. When the men in the army refuse to fight and millions evade the draft. You just know this is something new.

Watergate comes at a time when inflation is world wide. When all the old and established rules are going down the drain. When the ’backward’ countries which have supplied so much in raw materials like copper, and tin and coffee and bananas are saying ’That’s enough... We will no longer be backward.’

The Third World countries are moving together and that makes it awfully tough for those who have made billions while the people can’t even get enough to eat. Watergate stands out like a sore thumb. They are trying to tell Black and Chicano people, ’everything will be o.k.’ But you know you don’t even have a job. When you know that your kids can’t even get a 5 and 10 cents education. All you hear is sweet talk. But you know that Watergate is real and the economic crisis is real too.

Watergate the economic crisis have the capitalists worried. It is not like any other depression. No, they are getting afraid when they hear the words of the communists. They see their own workers getting it together like never before. They are afraid when they red-bait and workers laugh in their face. They are afraid because Black, White, Asian and Chicano people are putting aside differences and uniting against police repression. They freak out because women are moving and organizing and joining with men. They get the chills because workers are seeing right through the labor fakers.

So congress moves toward impeachment. They would like nothing better than to put the whole blame on their boy Nixon. They are reluctantly going thru the motions but they are afraid to rock the boat of capitalism by actually throwing the Bum out. It is going to take wide organizing by the working class to put him on the skids once and for all. To hell with Nixon. We’ve got to organize to get him out, but that is only the beginning; its the whole capitalist system that is rotten; and the time is coming when the working class is going to move them over, roll them out and blow them away, and end once and for all their dog eat dog, chase the buck, screw your buddy system and if Watergate has helped the workers to see that more clearly, if Nixon’s actions have made workers realize only a little more where we go from here, then Watergate and Nixon have served a purpose after all. (Bay Area Worker, August 1974, page l)

We apologize for quoting such a long passage, but there is so much wrong with the whole outlook presented in the article that it is an excellent example of what results from the opportunist line of the RU. The entire struggle of the working class is reduced to one that is focused exclusively upon itself. What follows is an avalanche of tailism and chauvinism. Nothing new is presented. According to the RU, the workers don’t need a T.V. show to know something is wrong. We add neither does the working class need the RU to tell them what they already “know” and “feel”. The oppression of Black and Chicano people is reduced to one of not having a job. The oppressed nationalities and women are indirectly implied to be the ones who have been responsible for class disunity in the past. Overall, the U.S. capitalist system is bad because it is weak – it can’t even defeat a “small country” and “backward countries”, etc. What we need is national socialism: this is the conclusion one can draw from the RU. We need a “new” system that can provide jobs and make a strong presence in the world, this is the conclusion of the RU article.

Of course this is just one article, but an examination of the vast majority of the RU’s workers’ newspapers shows that they approach the political education of the working class in the very same way. The RU makes this error because they have not grasped what Lenin presents as the correct way of how the political education of the working class must proceed:

The question arises: what should political education consist of? Can it be confined to the propaganda of working class hostility to the autocracy? Of course not. It is not enough to explain to the workers that they are political oppressed (no more than it was to explain to them that their interests were antagonistic to the interests of the employers). Agitation must be conducted over every concrete example of this oppression (in the same way that we have begun to conduct agitation around concrete examples of economic oppression). And inasmuch as this oppression affects the most diverse classes of society, inasmuch as it manifests itself in the most varied spheres of life and activity, industrial, civic, personal, family, religious, scientific, etc., etc., is it not evident that we shall not be fulfilling our task of developing the political consciousness of the workers if we do not undertake the organization of the political exposure of the autocracy in all its aspects? (Lenin, WITBD?, pages 70-71)

The RU commits these errors because they have based themselves on the discredited “stages theory”, which was dispelled by Lenin long ago:

The ’stages theory’, or the theory of ’timid zigzags’ in the political struggle, is expressed, for example, in this article, in the following way: ’Political demands, which in their character are common to the whole of Russian, should, however, at first... correspond to the experience gained by the given stratum’ (sic!) of workers in the economic struggle. Only (!) on the basis of this experience can and should political agitation be taken up, etc. On page 4, the author, protesting against what he regards as the absolutely unfounded charge of Economist heresy, pathetically exclaims: ’What Social-Democrat does not know that according to the theories of Marx and Engels the economic interests of various classes play a decisive role in history, and, consequently, that particularly the proletariat’s struggle for the defense of its economic interests must be of first-rate importance in its class development and struggle for emancipation?’ The word ’consequently’ is absolutely out of place. The fact that economic interests play a decisive role does not in the least imply that the economic (i.e. trade union) struggle is of prime importance, for the most essential, the ’decisive’ interests of classes can be satisfied only by radical political changes in general. In particular the fundamental economic interests of the proletariat can be satisfied only by a political revolution that will replace the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie by the dictatorship of the proletariat... Woltmann (an Economist) tried to prove that the workers must first of all acquire ’economic power’ before they can think about political education. (Lenin, WITBD?, pages 56-57)

The RU puts forward the idea that the working class must first go through a struggle primarily in the economic sphere (their revolutionary workers movement) and then in some future time, or certain select individuals can be exposed to communist ideas.

The RU in bowing in worship of spontaneity becomes infatuated with the spontaneous militancy and consciousness of the working class. It is for this reason that their workers’ newspapers and Revolution are so inaccurate, and glorify to the sky each and every labor issue they are involved in. They glorify these issues to such an extent that one would believe that the working class has already developed on its own communist class consciousness. They raise to a principle that a workers’ movement can become revolutionary without arming itself with Marxism-Leninism. A real revolutionary workers’ movement must be a communist workers’ movement. There is no third choice: a communist workers’ movement or a trade unionist movement. Unfortunately, the RU chooses to build the latter and ends up promoting bourgeois ideology.


The influence of bourgeois ideology in the form of opportunism in the communist and workers movements should never be underestimated. With the RU today we see the consolidation of their organization around economism and chauvinism as a tremendous danger. Objectively standing for the interests of the bourgeoisie within the developing communist movement, their line and influence must be completely exposed and defeated.

We have summarized the struggle of our organization to understand the opportunism of the RU’s line in the workers movement. This has been an important lesson for us on the essential features of economism, both in its theoretical and practical aspects. We hope that these theoretical lessons will be of value. In addition we hope that the Marxist-Leninist forces struggling against the opportunism of the RU and similar opportunist forces can learn from our struggle to utilize a scientific method in unmasking their true colors, linking theory with practice and going beyond the superficial phenomena of the RU’s activities to grasp the essence of their ideological and political standpoint. The struggle against opportunism is long and protracted. By further developing a correct theoretical line and opposing opportunist lines, and at the same time sharpening our methods of struggle, we are bound to achieve greater advances towards isolating and defeating the RU line.


[1] We won’t discuss here at length the RU’s conception of party building except to note that they put forward here a party building strategy of a ”new type” when they say that the party is mainly dependent upon the development of the anti-imperialist movement. The anti-imperialist organizations are supposed to be ”intermediate between trade unions and communist collectives” and are based around the ”five spearheads”: l) the national liberation of oppressed peoples in the U.S.; 2) against imperialist aggression, support for colonial liberation; 3) against fascism; 4) against oppression and exploitation of women; 5) resist the attack on living standards by the monopoly capitalists. (RP #2 pages 8-18)