Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Some Erroneous Lines on Party Building

On the question of party building the revolutionary movement in the U.S. is presently characterized by a sharpening line struggle between Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought and opportunism. Our greatest danger lies still with right opportunism such as seen in the new communist movement in the form of the line of the Revolutionary Union (now the Revolutionary Communist Party).


Even though the RU does not formally exist anymore, now that it has declared itself the RCP, the ideas of the RU influenced many in our movement for a number of years and these ideas continue to appear in various forms. Furthermore, the RCP is based on the outlook of the old RU, of which a fundamental part was their view on party building. Thus, while the RU may think it has “risen” to a new stage, the Marxist-Leninist movement cannot simply forget about the RU/RCP, but rather we must deepen our understanding of their right opportunism on the party building question to sharpen the lines of demarcation.

The RU/RCP right line on party building is one aspect of their consolidated right opportunism which is manifested on practically every question. We have dealt with the RU’s rightism on the national question and workers’ movement in our last issue of the Journal.

In our view, the RU fundamentally negated the ideological struggle and bowed to worship of the spontaneous movement. They raised to the level of principle the avoidance of striving for a Marxist-Leninist line and unity of Marxist-Leninist forces through principled struggle and substituted bourgeois politicking as their method to build a so-called communist party.[1]

All these views and more are present in their Red Papers #6 (RP #6), which summarized their line on party building and the role of communists in general.

One of the main reasons they avoided the ideological struggle was their line that party building should tail the mass movement, denying that the mam question of party building is the ideological clarification of the revolutionary forces. Rather, they stated that revolutionaries should look to the general level of thinking and activity of the masses to gather when it is correct to engage in party building. They say in Red Papers #6 that the conditions only now have become such that party building can become a conscious task. This is because the mass movement has come “to an end of a period:”

Among the masses, experience has been accumulated through struggle pointing to the fact that only so much can be gained through spontaneous struggle, isolated from other struggles, and without a unified center to lead, unite and advance them . . .

But objectively the mass movement has come up against the lack of a genuine communist vanguard to lead the struggle and build a united front under proletarian leadership to overthrow the enemy. The ruling class tries to give the masses a defeatist summation of this objective fact, tries to convince the masses that struggle is pointless, and that the masses should make peace with the system.

While this ruling class propaganda does hold back the struggle somewhat, the mass struggle continues to grow because where there is oppression, there is resistance. And consciousness of the need to unite, along with a growing awareness that something is rotten with the whole system, is developing among all sections of the working class and masses. What is still missing, what the masses are in fact demanding, is for someone to show them how to build unity, how to identify the enemy and how to fight him.

That is why it is essential to establish the vanguard Party as soon as possible, and to do it on the basis of formulating a concrete programme for the struggle of the class and the masses. (RP #6, p. 4, emphasis added)

The RU did not recognize that objectively the mass movement has needed a communist party ever since the CPUSA deserted M-L, and what has prevented the formation of a new vanguard party has not been the backwardness of the masses as the RU put forward (the masses, according to the RU, had to go through more struggle, more stages of development, more “awareness,” etc.), but rather the backwardness of revolutionaries. This backwardness can only be overcome by placing the ideological struggle foremost. However, the RU put forward “building the mass movement,” “diving into the fray,” etc. (RP #5, #6) as the approach to developing the necessary conditions to form a Marxist-Leninist party. This approach to party building is precisely the error Lenin described in What Is To Be Done? when he criticized the opportunists for always trying to rationalize their own shortcomings by pointing to the working class and saying how “backward” the masses were. In opposition to this view, Lenin puts forward that the intensifying mass movement demands greater ideological and political clarity on the part of communists which could be achieved through raising their theoretical work. The backwardness did not belong to the masses but to the communists who could not comprehend the conditions and the tasks demanded of conscious revolutionaries.

In the following passage the RU openly rationalized its own and the communist movement’s general low ideological and political level by pointing once again to the masses:

We stress the point of building the Party on the advances and what has been learned from the mass struggle because there has been a wrong line in this country for several years that building the Party can and should be done in isolation fro, mass struggle, in fact mass struggle is useless and “economist”–no advances can be made until the Party is created. And we know these “left” dogmatists–who are isolated from the masses and the mass movement to this day, and who still think that a Party can be formed in a study–will probably smirk and say that the RU has finally seen the error of its ways, etc., etc.

But this only reminds us of Trotsky in the 20’s, insisting that agriculture in the Soviet Union be collectivized before the necessary conditions for this had been created. Stalin led the Soviet people in preparing the conditions for collectivization and then in collectivizing agriculture in the late 20’s, not in the early 20’s as Trotsky insisted.

Then, when collectivization was carried out, Trotsky proclaimed that he had been right all along, and that the only mistake was not to collectivize when he insisted. But the fact is that if Trotsky’s line had been followed and his method adopted of forcing collectivization on the peasants before the conditions had been prepared for it, this would have led to a disaster. The basis of Trotsky’s error–rooted in thorough going opportunism–was failure to rely on the masses . . . (RP #6, p. 5, emphasis in original)

The dogmatist line of trying to build the party separated from integrating and learning from the masses is wrong, for this line, “as with the rightist line such as the RU’s, leaves communists without a concrete grasp of concrete conditions and therefore disarmed ideologically and politically. But in opposition to the dogmatist line, the RU substituted an entirely tailist and confused conception of party building. The question of agricultural collectivization was a mass question in Russia, one that had to be solved by the party’s evaluation of the actual conditions of the masses. It was a question of the relationship of the party and masses. Furthermore, Trotsky’s error was more than his premature desire to begin collectivization in Russia, for his views on collectivization were directly linked to his theoretical understanding of the nature of the peasant class. The questions such as collectivization, the peasantry, tasks of the party under the dictatorship of the proletariat, etc., were all theoretical questions which were taken up by the Russian communists long before the actual collectivization movement in the late 1920’s. For the RU to use this example exposes their own erroneous ideas of the importance and nature of the theoretical struggle and the relationship of communists to the mass movement.

For the RU to raise the question of party building as mainly one of developing the consciousness of the broad masses is to guarantee that their party will tail the mass movement. To use the RU’s example of collectivization, an analogy is that the party cannot begin to organize itself, do secret work, struggle over other theoretical questions such as the nature of armed struggle, the dictatorship of the proletariat, etc., until the masses call for it. Thus, the RU does not even reduce itself to the level of the mass movement, but rather their line would mean that the communists should tail behind the masses.[2]

The RU’s erroneous view of the relationship of the theoretical tasks with party building was intimately linked to their narrow and empiricist conception of practice. For all their talk about building the party on the “lessons” and “advances” of the mass movement, the importance of “practical experience in mass struggles,” etc., in fact their so-called experience is self-admittedly unscientific–the entire time before the RU declared they would place party building as the central task, they viewed their “practice” as not guided by Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought. They state:

Several years ago, and right up to this historical point, building the new Party was not the main task because the young communist movement in this country had not accumulated enough practical experience in mass struggle, and also didn’t have enough experience in applying Marxist-Leninist theory to summing up this experience in order to advance the mass movement. Now there is enough experience. Now we can apply Marxism-Leninism systematically to that experience in order to sum it up, draw the correct lessons from it through principled ideological struggle, and in that way unite around the correct line for making revolution in the U.S. and create a concrete programme that can serve as the basis of the Party’s work. (RP #6, p. 6, emphasis added.)

The RU’s error is that of separating theory from practice by not seeing that the so-called practice of the RU should have included the attempt to integrate Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought at every step of the way. Because they failed to do so, they wound up, on the one hand, engaging in spontaneous “practice,” or practice not guided by principle (this being one of the ideological roots of their unprincipledness); and, on the other hand, because of their failure to integrate theory with practice, neglecting the promotion and development of real revolutionary theory for our struggle. Thus, for the RU, “theory” always was something abstracted from practice, and “practice” was something one engaged in to help build the RU, i.e., the basis for their bourgeois politicking and bowing to whatever was expedient.

And finally, the RU’s rightism on party building and the role of communists comes out clearly in what they believe to be the “crucial role of the new communist party.” They state:

It will enable us to systematize our plans, have a clearer overview of how the class struggle in its many facets and complexities is unfolding, help us to determine where to concentrate our forces to make important breakthroughs in the mass work, where to attack and where to retreat, what tactics must be used in one particular situation and what tactics in another, etc. It will enable us to coordinate our work and overcome the primitiveness that still exists in our movement and which hinders us from taking full advantage of the growing weakness of the enemy. (RP #6, p. 8.)

The RU evidently saw the party as primarily engaged in organizational concerns and liquidated the tremendous ideological tasks of the party. It makes no mention at all of the ideas the party must bring to the masses. The recent Avakian speech confirms this point to the hilt. For all practical purposes the role of the RU’s party is no different than an organization of militant trade unionists. It must be the party that, of course, leads the masses in the practical tasks of making revolution, but it can do so only if it can ideologically lead the masses by making them conscious of their society, tasks and historic role. And the party can do this only if it itself constantly raises its own levels of thinking by making Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought its guide for everything it does. It is the masses who make revolution and it is the party that makes them conscious.

Thus, we see that the RU upheld an extreme rightist line on party building, for they elevated tailing behind mass consciousness to a level of principle, liquidating the central role of the ideological struggle in party building. This belittling of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought is the ideological root of their distortion of theory and practice and, in the practical movement, the cause of their economism and general unprincipledness.

The RCP has not changed any of these views but rather is the concretization of them. Thus, they are a thoroughly corrupt and bankrupt force which has placed itself over the line into the camp of the bourgeoisie.


[1] The thoroughly right opportunist nature of the RU/RCP is displayed with remarkable candor in their recent announcement of the formation of their so-called communist party. See Revolution, October, 1975. Included in this issue is a speech by “chairman” Bob Avakian in which the RU/RCP expresses in most succinct form its economism. This view is nothing new, but only the naked expression of their economism. The RCP’s central task is to subordinate everything to the winning of trade union reforms. The national question is not even mentioned in the Avakian speech.

[2] The formation of the RCP itself does not in any way change this criticism, but rather only validates the subjective nature of the RU’s line. The formation of the RCP simply signifies the consolidation of the right opportunism of the RU and their final exit from the ranks of the Marxist-Leninist movement.