By A. Shaw
Editors’ Note: A reader called our attention to an article by William Z. Foster. Despite some old-fashioned terms here and there, sixty five years after its publication, it has a remarkable echoes in present-day politics and debates in the union movement.
By William Z. Foster
Political Affairs, January 1959
It is a peculiarity of the American labor movement that the trade unions have no mass Labor Party, or other mass party. For many years past – for well over half a century, in fact – they have concentrated their political work heavily upon voting for the policies and candidates of the two old bourgeois parties, Democratic and Republican, with the emphasis on the former.
The general result is that the workers as a whole, following variations of the Gompers “reward your friends and punish your enemies” policy, have remained deplorably weak politically. They have had very little representation in the various governmental bodies, their political policies are inadequate and sketchy, and their understanding of the class struggle is heavily tinctured with bourgeois illusions.
On the other hand, the various radical parties (and there are several of them) are frustrated in their growth and are essentially sects. This process has gone on until the present day, when the so-called two-party system is deeply entrenched in the labor movement, and the workers have built up much political machinery in all the key industrial states within the framework of the Democratic Party.
Throughout the bulk of these years, the Left parties generally followed the policy of attempting to build independent mass parties (they originally got this idea from the German Socialist Party over two decades before), instead of working with the masses. For many years, up until the latter 1930’s, this was also the definite policy of the Communist Party, which had inherited it from its forerunners.
The result was a serious split in the ranks of the working class, with almost the entire Left on the sectarian end of the split, and defending it with all sorts of so-called revolutionary arguments; while on the other hand, most of the organized workers, who were chiefly conservative, insofar as they were politically active, supported one or the other of the two old parties. This has gone on until the present day, until now the two-party system is more marked than ever.
The Communist Party, with its Marxist-Leninist spirit and policy, was the first of the several Left parties (except for the scraggly policy of the Socialist Party) to begin to make a break with this long-prevalent policy of having no truck whatever with the two-party political system, regardless of the isolationist consequences of their attitude.
In the latter 1930’s, when the CIO began to develop, the Communists, who were in working alliance with the progressive or middle group in the CIO unions, began to participate in PAC and in the manifold working-class formations inside the Democratic Party, supporting certain candidates, advancing policies, etc. This continued on a large scale in the CIO unions, with the Communists as participants in the political work, until the split of 1949 (with the partial exception of the American Labor Party period).
The weakness of the Communists in this work, however, was that they did not theorize it, and undertook it only half-heartedly. Undoubtedly, this active participation in the workers’ formations within the two-party system was one of the major factors in the building of the mass strength of the Communist Party during the 1930’s and 1940’s.
In 1948, the Communists made a partial and disastrous departure from their policy of working within the framework of the two old parties, by the establishment of the independent Progressive Party. The formation of this party was one of the most serious errors made by the Party during the entire period. This isolationist policy pulled large numbers of members out of the Democratic Party, and most of them never returned; it also broke up the Left-Center alliance in countless unions.
The weakening of the work of the Communists in this vital branch of mass political activity was hastened by a series of events of the period: by the Browder revisionism of 1943-1944; the Progressive Party split of 1948; the split of the CIO in 1949; the Party mistakes, both Left and Right, of the 1940’s and 1950’s; and the revisionist Party crisis after 1955.
The development of revisionism had definitely as one of its major results the weakening of the Party work in the old political parties – characteristically, the revisionists had their eyes focused on the Right-sectarian bastardization of the slogan of the united party of Socialism, and the prevention of the Party from getting into real mass work.
The Two-Party System
The great bulk of the workers support the two old party tickets, with two-thirds or more supporting the Democratic Party, and hardly one-third, if that, supporting the Republican Party. In the recent November election, of the approximately 45 million votes polled by the two old parties, probably in the neighborhood of 20 million or more were cast by workers, with another 10 million or more cast by farmers, Negroes, and other Labor Party elements – with the usual huge majority going to the Democrats.
On the other hand, of the five independent, Left-wing parties (Communist, Socialist, Socialist-Labor, Trotskyite, and Independent-Socialist), hardly one hundred thousand votes were cast, combined, all over the United States, which obviously is not the total Socialist strength in this country.
This shows at a glance that the enormous majority of the workers, insofar as they vote at all, are voting the two old tickets. It also indicates that the main electoral mass work of the progressives, as things now stand, lies within the scope of these two mass parties, which control the election vote of the great toiling masses. And of course, these two parties are the controlling parties of the government.
In the work of the progressives, functioning in the unions and mass organizations, within the two old parties, consideration should be given to the following:
The Left forces should propagate their progressive program and line in the old parties, with the stress upon the one which currently contains the mass of the workers, and undertake to mobilize the workers and their allies in these parties for the eventual formation of the Labor Party at an appropriate political time.
The CP works upon the theory that it is impossible for the workers to win complete control of either the Democratic Party, or the Republican party, they being too closely controlled by the monopolists, and that eventually the workers and their allies will have to form an independent Labor Party. It is possible for labor, however, to win control of many key sections of the organization, to win some significant political concessions, and to raise important class issues, as was done in the recent election within the Democratic Party on the question of anti-right-to-work laws.
Undoubtedly, strong organization can be built up in such states where the working masses are politically active, as, for instance, Massachusetts, Michigan, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia, California, Washington, and other states.
The progressives should actively combat all illusions among the workers and others in the old parties (without making them splitting issues) that the Democratic Party, or may it be the Republican Party, can be won as a bloc by the workers. We must focus the attention of the masses on the eventual perspective of the Labor Party, as their next big step to a mass and class political organization, without rushing into premature, split movements.
It is important for progressives to work definitely at building strong worker organization and program inside the Democratic (and where possible, the Republican) Party. This they should do in such a way as not to play into the hands of the reactionaries, who are quick to use the demagogy that the workers are out to “capture” the organization, and to carry through various political “plots.”
The workers in these parties should work firmly and persistently, and not rush hastily and without proper consideration, into splitting movements.
Reformists and opportunists of all shades have long since dabbled with political activity within the Democratic and Republican Parties. For the most part, however, they have immediately shed therewith their previous radical pretensions.
The Left-wing has worked with labor and others functioning politically through the Democratic Party (and also in the Republican Party) as early as 25 years ago and it has continued it ever since, especially since the workers began to be active in the building of the CIO.
The difficulty of the Left at the time was that it did not clearly theorize its course in the old parties. The general result was that its work was spasmodic and sketchy, and it made many needless and harmful opportunist and Left-sectarian mistakes. When it realizes clearly where its political action can take them, such errors and lost motion can readily be avoided.
In this general work, the Left must especially seek to cooperate with the middle or progressive group of workers and their leaders. Many conservatives are now displaying a measure of political activity, and they should be worked with; but the center forces are vastly more active and effective, both in their program and their organizational work.
The Labor-Negro-Farmer Party
The Communist Party should orient (as it has done for the past 40 years, not always too clearly) upon the proposition that the American working class will eventually free itself from the bourgeois control of the two-party system, and build a mass party of its own. This, as American labor history indicates, probably will eventually take the form of a combination of workers, Negroes, farmers and petty-bourgeois elements. These will comprise a large majority of the American people as a whole, and such a party would have the potential of securing a majority in the elections on an anti-monopoly program.
The formation of the Labor-Negro-Farmer Party (whatever its eventual popular name may be) in the United States, would mark a huge step forward for the American working class and its allies. It would enormously increase their representation in innumerable governmental institutions, as well as facilitate in general their political fight, and clarify their understanding in the class struggle.
The Labor Party in the United States will probably not have, certainly at first, a Socialist program – owing to the non-Socialist ideology of the American working class. The Communists, however, should actively propagate Socialism in all their Labor Party work. Under no circumstances should this point be neglected. But Socialism should not be presented as a splitting issue.
We should not assume, also, that the development of the Labor Party in the United States will be directly parallel with that of Great Britain. The work of the Left in the two old parties, for the Labor Party, should be characterized by firmness, persistence, and resolute advocacy of the Labor Party. It should not be made the object of thoughtless and light-minded splitting movements.
The building of the Labor Party will undoubtedly represent a serious struggle and cover various phases. Past experience shows that many working class organizations will be built up in the process within the ranks of the old parties. Examples of this are the AFL and CIO, COPE and PAC. A number of other organizations will develop.
This was the case with the old Progressive Party, the Commonwealth Federation, the EPIC movement of California, state and local Farmer-Labor Parties, etc., in the past. At the present time there are the workers’ independent organizations in Michigan, and many other forms in other states. All these should be supported, bearing in mind the need to avoid useless, harmful and premature splits.
A special form of intermediate organization developed between the building of primitive formations within the old parties, and the formation of a definite Labor Party; this was the American Labor Party in the State of New York. Such organizations, while actively striven for, should not be organized until there is the proper groundwork. The life experience of this organization, which has been but little studied by working-class leaders, should be carefully gone into.
In the Labor Party work, inside of the old parties and independently, a major effort should be concern with dovetailing the work in both spheres. This was one of the strong points of the earliest years of the New York ALP. The workers in the ALP could work in complete harmony with their brothers and sisters who had not yet taken similar steps by breaking with the old organization and setting up an independent organization.
In the Labor Party work, in all stages, it must not be forgotten that the trade-union movement is the backbone of the Labor Party. Consequently, all organizations looking to the strengthening of the movement must have a solid core of organized labor strength.
Especially is this the case when the movement reaches the point of actually forming the Labor Party. It is impossible to establish an effective Labor Party movement without a solid trade-union foundation. This the workers have experienced time and again in their several generations of effort to create the Labor Party.
When the situation is deemed ready for the formation of the Labor Party, as nearly as possible the whole labor movement must be involved. A characteristic attempt to form the Labor Party without a solid trade-union backing was the Progressive Party of 1948.
In the labor movement, it is important that the principle of independent action be established so that labor and its allies shall not be controlled by hostile class elements. There should be active campaigns begun to establish working relations between all the anti-monopoly elements, which could eventually come to make up a Labor Party.
The membership of the Labor Party should be based upon the affiliation of organizations as well as the formation of groups on the principle of individual membership. The Communist Party would seek affiliation with the Labor Party, but it would not let this become a splitting issue.
The Communist Party
The Communist Party must be actively built in every phase of the Labor Party movement – to create the organization of the workers in the major parties, to build the Labor Party, and to fulfil the thousand and one tasks that the Party confronts in the class struggle. We must remember that the independent role of the working class is the ultimate status we are driving at, and that hence the importance of the Communist Party must not be underestimated.
The Communist Party, with its Socialist objective, should operate on the principle of the Vanguard Party, and play an independent role. Its members should permeate every phase of the Labor Party work. It should strive to win all the other Left forces to its Labor Party policy. The entire Left and radical movements should have one – a substantially unified – policy.
In general, the CP should oppose the putting up at this time of general Left-wing election tickets, covering all offices. Such a tactic puts the Left forces in direct opposition with the body of the workers who are still supporting the Democratic Party. So far as possible, the various branches of the movement – old parties, Labor Parties and independent tickets – should dovetail with one another.
Independent tickets should be put up, both of a general and specific character; but so far as practical, these should be directed against reactionary elements on the old part tickets. Above all, the Labor Party movement must aim at a unified strategy throughout all its phases.
The CP should take an energetic stand against useless splitting tactics on all levels of the movement. It cooperates freely with other Left forces, but it does not support them in splitting tactics which conflict with the interests of the workers. The CP at all times should retain full freedom to propagate its Labor Party policy, as well as its general line. It combats illusions of the workers as to the permanency and other alleged benefits of the two-party system.
In keeping the Labor Party issue to the fore at all times, the CP should make no agreements with other parties soft-pedalling this issue. It shall not, however, introduce the Labor Party issue into any given situations regardless of the effects it may have upon the general movement.
The system of election primaries, as well as all other such machinery, need to be fully utilized, to see to it that workers and Negroes are nominated in greater numbers on the old party tickets.
The CP should carry on a permanent and active educational campaign for the Labor Party.
During the course of the history of the labor movement, there have been numerous issues upon which the Left-wing forces found themselves taking a very different line from that followed by the masses. Often this could be corrected, to the general profit of the labor movement and also of its most advanced sections.
It has fallen to the task of the Communist Party, to have corrected some of these sectarian errors. Now it is necessary that this whole matter of electoral policy be very deeply probed and analyzed, and clearly stated.
It is high time that this was done. The Party needs to probe the entire political situation, especially all its two-party system aspects. The Party should examine its own experience, as well as that of others, in this matter, and draw all necessary conclusions.
It is fitting that the Communist Party, as it has done on many other occasions, should take the vanguard position in bridging the gap between the electoral work of labor, functioning in the Democratic Party, and that of the independent Left.
If this is done promptly and well, it will mean the material strengthening of the Party and the general labor movement in many respects
The following is an unedited conversation which occurred within the leaders of the CPUSA. It is very instructive as to the thinking (or lack of thought) among CPUSA leaders. We must note that the newly anointed leader, John Bachtell, who is an obvious shill for Sam Webb is absent from the clown show.
The discourse starts off with a statement and document from Chairman Sam:
Attached is an unedited excerpt from a longer article that I wrote a while back. It is one of the readings that I’m suggesting for an online class that begins this week and that I’m facilitating.
Like something I sent out earlier, it’s not for everyone – an understatement. But I’m sending it anyway in the event that you have nothing better to do – coffee or good ale or wine with friends, even if they annoy you at times, leisurely reading by your lonesome, hanging out with grand kids, exercise – yes, a regular routine is good for the body and noggin, last episode of Madmen, and I mean LAST, or whatever delights your fancy – on what is here a slightly humid Sunday.
That said, hope you’re having a good day. Sam
Here is Sam Webb’s attached document:
A few thoughts on how we approach problems
A left that hopes to take care of the future in the struggles of the present should understand that categories of analysis and struggle — democracy and socialism, or democratic struggle and class struggle, or struggle against right wing extremism and struggle to curb the power of corporate capital as a whole, or race, gender, and class — are interconnected and interactive. I like to say that they interpenetrate one another at a conceptual and concrete/practical level. In other words, while each has a particular genesis, autonomy, and features, they are also historically and dialectically constituted and coevolve in complex ways in the context of a larger process of capital accumulation and social struggle. In other words, they are close cousins rather than distant relatives.
Much the same could be said about the main political components and movements of social change and socialism — the working class, people of color, women, and young people. Each has its own origins, features, and autonomy, but each also interpenetrates the other thereby creating conditions for deep unity, broad alliances, and a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
All this sounds abstract, and I guess it is. But in accenting the interpenetration or interconnectedness of these categories of analysis and struggle, and in such a way that retains their distinctiveness, we give ourselves a leg up in understanding the present moment and effecting radical social change.
We should choose, therefore, complexity over simplicity in our analysis even if it compels us to rethink our earlier assumptions and views.
Lenin, (who by the way, shouldn’t be turned into a iconic figure) argued that pure forms and categories never appear in real life; reality “is always richer in content, more varied, more multiform, more lively and ingenious than is imagined by even the best parties, the most class-conscious vanguards of the most advanced classes.” (Lenin, Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder). Only at high levels of theoretical abstraction far removed from the concrete and motley realities of day-to-day life, he wrote, do we find them. And, at that level, they represent, at best, no more than a first approximation of reality.
All of which makes me think that we have to rescue Lenin from some versions of “Marxism-Leninism.” To be more concrete, we have to reclaim the world historic personality who thought in dialectical, historical, and strategic ways, the politician who insisted on an exact estimate of the balance of forces and utmost tactical flexibility; the astute leader who was quick to modify his thinking if new realties and experience compelled it; the realist who didn’t allow subjective desires to overwhelm and crowd out objective processes; the revolutionary who took advantage of divisions in the capitalist camp and engaged in struggles for reforms in order to advance the revolutionary process; the theorist who allowed for complexity, contradiction, new experience, and contingency; the creative thinker who displayed a keen eye for new patterns of development and was suspicious of the inevitable, the uninterrupted, the irreversible, and “lawed” outcomes; the scientist who considered generalities no more than a first step in the scientific process that includes successive steps from the abstract to the concrete in order to comprehend reality; and the human being who made mistakes – sometimes big ones.
It is this Lenin that should inform our theoretical work and political practice, along with other Marxist and radical social theorists in the U.S. and elsewhere.
I have gotten into a quarrel with some over the term and substance of Marxism-Leninism. It can claim some theoretical innovations in the 20th century, but it also became a closed and completed system that is antithetical to marxism in particular and to the methods of scientific investigation in general.
Still worse, it turned into little more than a political identity for some that relieved them of ongoing theoretical inquiry, allowed them to ignore (even mock) other Marxist and radical traditions, and served to separate them — “the real revolutionaries” — from other Marxist and socialist wannabes — who didn’t have the stomach for “hard class struggle.”
It brings to mind times long past when communists gloatingly (myself included) said that the difference between what a communist and socialist is that “a communist means it.” At that time it was a tragedy; today such thinking is a farce as more and more people come to anti-capitalist thinking and as our capacity diminishes.
It bothers me that we are so anxious to accent our differences rather than our similarities with people of similar mind. If we want to distinguish ourselves, let’s demonstrate it by thinking creatively and non-dogmatically, by explaining complex ideas in understandable terms, by articulating a realistic strategy, flexible tactics, and a modern vision of socialism, by building broad and deep unity, by fighting against racism and male supremacy, and by focusing on the day-to-day struggle of working people.
Here is a response from a staunch supporter of CPUSA:
These notes from Sam demonstrate an ideological bent to a number of recent classes sponsored by our party. The National Committee has not discussed this ideological orientation in the party educational classes. This ideological bent does not serve the interests of the party. If we are to remain a democratic party, then the membership should make those types of decisions and participate in their development. Lenin is being used as a ramming rod against Lenin by cherry picking among his works. The main target is Marxism-Leninism, a body of scientific socialist thinking developed through historical ideological and working class struggles and proven in practice. The main trust of the ideological bent is against the “left”, while our own party history shows clearly that the main ideological danger to our party comes from right opportunism (see Gus Hall’s, Opportunism: The destructive Germ). If we apply science to history, we will see ample evidence of right opportunism in the history of the party: Jay Lovestone and his “American exceptionalism”, Earl Browder and his liquidation of the communist party, right sectarians split of the CPUSA in 1991. Now we have an ongoing effort by Sam and others to liquidate the CPUSA as a Marxist-Leninist party. Recently, Fidel Castro said the following:
“In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Great Patriotic War, I wish to put on record our profound admiration for the heroic Soviet people, who provided humankind an enormous service. Today we are seeing the solid alliance between the people of the Russian Federation and the State with the fastest growing economy in the world: the People’s Republic of China; both countries, with their close cooperation, modern science, and powerful armies and brave soldiers constitute a powerful shield of world peace and security, so that the life of our species may be preserved.
Physical and mental health, and the spirit of solidarity are norms which must prevail, or the future of humankind, as we know it, will be lost forever. The 27 million Soviets who died in the Great Patriotic War also did so for humanity and the right to think and be socialists, to be Marxist-Leninist, communists, and leave the dark ages behind.”
Where are our rights to be Marxist-Leninist in our party?
We should study and learn from Lenin about all the ideological struggles of his lifetime against both from left and right philosophical Idealist thinking.
We should also study Lenin’s What is to be Done where is talks about reformism:
“The essence of the “new” trend, which adopts a “critical” attitude towards “obsolete dogmatic” Marxism, has been clearly enough presented by Bernstein and demonstrated by Millerand.
Social-Democracy must change from a party of social revolution into a democratic party of social reforms. Bernstein has surrounded this political demand with a whole battery of well-attuned “new” arguments and reasoning’s. Denied was the possibility of putting socialism on a scientific basis and of demonstrating its necessity and inevitability from the point of view of the materialist conception of history. Denied was the fact of growing impoverishment, the process of proletarisation, and the intensification of capitalist contradictions; the very concept, “ultimate aim”, was declared to be unsound, and the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat was completely rejected. Denied was the antithesis in principle between liberalism and socialism. Denied was the theory of the class struggle, on the alleged grounds that it could not be applied to a strictly democratic society governed according to the will of the majority, etc.
We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbouring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation. And now some among us begin to cry out: Let us go into the marsh! And when we begin to shame them, they retort: What backward people you are! Are you not ashamed to deny us the liberty to invite you to take a better road! Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to render you every assistance to get there. Only let go of our hands, don’t clutch at us and don’t besmirch the grand word freedom, for we too are “free” to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh!”
Sam wants us to march towards the “marsh”. Before we go there, lets make sure that is where we want to go. I for one have no intention of going there.
Here is Sam Webb’s response:
A short note to apologize. Mistakenly I thought I bcc’ed everyone, but as I didn’t, you have gotten one response to my mailing, and maybe others will come. The last thing I want to do is involve everyone in a discussion of what many of you might consider of no interest or even inane. In the future I will be more careful in how I send emails, and more judicious as far as what I send. And if you prefer not to be on the list, let me know.
For the record, I do think that the culture as well as too much of the thinking and practices of the left, and I include the Communist Party, are self-marginalizing. But that isn’t anything new. I have been saying that for a while now.
Anyway, sorry for the mistake. Sam
Sam Webb clearly wants to drive for ideological purity, i.e. merger with the Democratic Party. He clearly wants to stifle anyone who would dare to disagree with his wisdom.
Here is a response from a CPUSA stalwart:
I have to agree with you completely, even though I wouldn’t have backed it up with the quotes. Sam’s effort includes the idea that any reference to scientific socialism, except for the isolated quotes he selects, is proof of sectarian dogmatism. Since immediately after the 2010 convention, Sam has been undemocratically undermining the materialist basis and revolutionary intent of CPUSA. None of these far-reaching changes has been voted on. In fact, the 2010 program is still theoretically in effect, even though it is a far cry from Webb think.
My main hope is that the good people of CPUSA will see Webb’s chronic misleading as history, the best teacher, unfolds before us. Until then, I encourage everyone to hang on, do their own thinking, and stay in the class struggle.
Party leader, John Case, chimes in with his view of Marxism-Leninism:
Parable of the ship: why so-called “Marxism-Leninism” fails.
Many “Marxists-Leninists” — not to be confused, frankly, with either Karl Marx, or Vladimir Lenin, look to classic Soviet economics for answers to life’s persistent questions, because they find their preferred positions explained with clear moral stories. But the great fault of “Marxism-Leninism’s” “scientific socialism” is that it is not scientific. Science is a better way of knowing how you know something than when it was still in the province of natural philosophy, because scientific theories have to explain close to all the scientifically collected data, and there is now, unlike in Marx’s, or even Lenin’s time, a lot of data. For all the faults of conventional economics, it is far closer to a science than much if not most of “Marxist-Leninist economics” — because it relies heavily on data. “Marxist-Leninist” methodology has acquired a disrespect of data that deepens with each passing year since the collapse of the USSR. It is now structured the same as a medieval philosophy based on authority, rather than systematic adherence to real-world data. One could write volumes documenting and detailing the “Marxist-Leninist” errors that contributed as much to the collapse of the USSR as the plots of its adversaries. But a parable may better serve. The owner of a ship noticed that his ship was filling with water. Being an educated man (if not nautically trained) he knew there were many possible causes for water in a ship: leaks in the hull, the bilge pump being broken, waves washing over, condensation, and even the crew urinating in the hold. He heard the bilge pump running, he saw water from waves pouring in the open hatches, but worst of all he smelled urine in the hold! Being sensible, he ordered the crew to shut the hatches and then gave them a lengthy, stern harangue on hygienic use of the head. While he was lecturing the crew, his ship sank due to a combination of causes: large, unobserved leaks in the hull, a bilge pump that was running but not pumping correctly, and condensation that had shorted out warning circuitry. Now, it’s easy to write a story to justify or ridicule any course of action, any philosophy. But, in the parable, the owner did not investigate condensation; he presumed the pump was working correctly without measurement; he did not attempt to measure leaks; he presumed (again without measurement) that the water sloshing in the hatches was the right amount to explain the filling; and he distracted the crew from finding the real problems with his own assumptions and moral haranguing. Since “Marxist-Leninists” are innumerate, instead they must rely on their assumptions, which needless to say tend to have a very left wing bias. Sorry. Science, since its evolution from natural philosophy, does not work that way. Nor can “Marxist-Leninists” really defend their assumptions: no assumption about the real world, indeed no abstraction, is totally true which means that there is a fallacy, and an error factor in their logic about the real world, an error whose magnitude cannot be known from within the assumptions. They make up for this in bluster and old-fashioned appeal to their own authority. When confronted with real-world problems that could have multiple causes, logical verbal models are insufficient. You MUST introduce evidence, measurement and mathematics into your models if you want to have any hope of valid answers. Logical verbal models are sufficient to specify possible chains (or networks) of causation, but telling which are significant is a quantitative problem that requires measurement. This is not a new position: it is basic to science and ought to be basic to philosophy. Marx founded his economic ideas on extensive research in the British Museum, the worlds largest repository of “data” in his time. As he said, “turning Hegel on his head!” David Hume said it very clearly 260 years ago:
Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
David Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 12, “Of the Academical or Sceptical Philosophy”
John Case Harpers Ferry, WV
Here we find another party stalwart responding to Sam Webb’s views:
Replying to John Case, who e-mailed the whole original list. 1. I disagree with the imputation that all who consider themselves “Marxist-Leninists” are ultra-leftist dogmatists. For example, the South African Communist Party, the Cuban Communist Party and others we know designate themselves as Marxist-Leninist organizations and are by no means inflexible dogmatic outfits, but very creative in their approaches. At one time, some of our US Maoists used to try to monopolise the phrase Marxist-Leninist, but they are long gone. I do not think, either, that the phrase was exclusively Stalin’s, my recollection was that people like Mikhail Bukharin and Nadezhda Krupsaya also had a hand in formulating those concepts and the vocabulary that went with them. I personally was satisfied with the compromise solution in the preamble to our new Draft Party constitution passed by our convention lst year because Lenin stayed in, but I don’t think that those who prefer the term “Marxist-Leninist” should be automatically stigmatized as dogmatists or ultras. 2. I don’t know anybody in any kind of a leading position in the CPUSA who doesn’t understand that we have to be willing to work with social democrats, liberals, minority nationalists, populists and what have you; anybody who is playing a positive role, or can be induced to. We all do work with those people and have for many years. This is different, however, from abandoning our own ideas based on careful analysis and historical experience. That goes for our working in unions, with the Democratic party and all of those things. That is the important distinction between us and the ultra-left. The rest is details, which we should not allow to divide us. Differences of opinion can be very useful — thesis, antithesis, synthesis, that sort of thing — if they are handled right. 3, Though we all work with a variety of people and forces, I think that we should not one-sidedly criticize only ultra-leftism and not guard against the danger of shifting too far in the other direction, which has destroyed a number of communist and workers’ parties, especially but not exclusively since the collapse of the USSR and Eastern European socialism. Entities like the Communist Party of the Netherlands and the old Brazilian Communist Party were destroyed not by ultra-leftism but by moving too far to the right. I could elaborate if anyone so desires, on these and other cases, but I think most know what I mean. 4. We have a huge amount of work to do so I really don’t think we should be reviving the whole fight we had about these matters in the preconvention discussion prior to our 30th Party Convention in Chicago last year. Those who were convinced one way or another by those discussions will not be swayed by an e-mail exchange. If people really want to go over these things again, we should establish a moderated discussion venue in which these discussions can go on in a non-divisivbe way. Emile S
Here is another CPUSA voice who deserves consideration:
I feel the need to chime in for some clarification–
Using a mistakenly forwarded bcc list serve for a class in methodology as a forum to broadcast unsolicited snipes against the instructor is what I’d call “undemocratic”. Sam is not the Party chair and has no more inordinate amount of power to shape party theory than many other Party educators, so these attacks are unwarranted and inappropriate, especially in this venue.
This e-heckling is pointless; the arguments are baseless. One chastised Sam for cherry-picking quotes, then concluded by …cherry picking quotes. The second one neglects to provide any (cherry or non-cherry-picked) quotes where Sam equates scientific socialism with sectarian dogmatism.
Also, I was under the impression that the Party Program of 2005 was still in effect. http://www.cpusa.org/party-program/
Bernard Sampson, from Houston, re-posts the original post from Emile:
Replying to John Case, who e-mailed the whole original list. 1. I disagree with the imputation that all who consider themselves “Marxist-Leninists” are ultra-leftist dogmatists. For example, the South African Communist Party, the Cuban Communist Party and others we know designate themselves as Marxist-Leninist organizations and are by no means inflexible dogmatic outfits, but very creative in their approaches. At one time, some of our US Maoists used to try to monopolise the phrase Marxist-Leninist, but they are long gone. I do not think, either, that the phrase was exclusively Stalin’s, my recollection was that people like Mikhail Bukharin and Nadezhda Krupsaya also had a hand in formulating those concepts and the vocabulary that went with them. I personally was satisfied with the compromise solution in the preamble to our new Draft Party constitution passed by our convention lst year because Lenin stayed in, but I don’t think that those who prefer the term “Marxist-Leninist” should be automatically stigmatized as dogmatists or ultras. 2. I don’t know anybody in any kind of a leading position in the CPUSA who doesn’t understand that we have to be willing to work with social democrats, liberals, minority nationalists, populists and what have you; anybody who is playing a positive role, or can be induced to. We all do work with those people and have for many years. This is different, however, from abandoning our own ideas based on careful analysis and historical experience. That goes for our working in unions, with the Democratic party and all of those things. That is the important distinction between us and the ultra-left. The rest is details, which we should not allow to divide us. Differences of opinion can be very useful — thesis, antithesis, synthesis, that sort of thing — if they are handled right. 3, Though we all work with a variety of people and forces, I think that we should not one-sidedly criticize only ultra-leftism and not guard against the danger of shifting too far in the other direction, which has destroyed a number of communist and workers’ parties, especially but not exclusively since the collapse of the USSR and Eastern European socialism. Entities like the Communist Party of the Netherlands and the old Brazilian Communist Party were destroyed not by ultra-leftism but by moving too far to the right. I could elaborate if anyone so desires, on these and other cases, but I think most know what I mean. 4. We have a huge amount of work to do so I really don’t think we should be reviving the whole fight we had about these matters in the preconvention discussion prior to our 30th Party Convention in Chicago last year. Those who were convinced one way or another by those discussions will not be swayed by an e-mail exchange. If people really want to go over these things again, we should establish a moderated discussion venue in which these discussions can go on in a non-divisivbe way.
It appears that Bernard agrees with Emile since he reposted his comment. However, this is not clear since Bernard does not offer us a comment to consider.
Here is another comment from a distinguished history professor which should be considered:
Thanks Emile. You said it better than I could have. We are caricatured enough by anti-Communists of all kinds so it is self-destructive to caricature ourselves. I don’t agree with Sam’s analysis but I accept his right to have that analysis and also his apology for sending the material to the whole list. I think we should leave it at that and get back to focussing on what Mao Tse-tung called the “primary contradictions,” (which doesn’t mean I am espousing Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse -tung throught) instead of focussing on the secondary condradictions among ourselves, which only benefits the enemies of the working class.
The Houston Communist Party encourages responses to the above discussion. Please send comments to:
For a long time I/we have wondered why the CPUSA has hitched its hopes to the Democratic Party. The ways of the Lord are wonderous but I am not a believer. It’s Browderism without the obituary.
Gus Hall (October 8, 1910 – October 13, 2000) was a leader and Chairman of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and its four-time U.S. presidential candidate. During the Great Repression of the 1940s and 50s, Hall was indicted under the Smith Act by the bourgeois regime in Washington D.C. and was sentenced to eight years in prison. After his release, Hall led the CPUSA for over 40 years, often taking an orthodox Marxist-Leninist stance which intensely annoyed most of his comrades.
The concept of political independence varies when applied to individuals, groups, or states. With individuals, a candidate is independent when he or she is not affiliated with any political party. Again, an independent voter is a voter who does not align him or herself with a political party. However, proletarian parties commonly called their candidates “independent” as long as their candidate isn’t affiliated with a bourgeois party or another proletarian party. In the USA, when “independent” is applied to a group, it seems to mean a group that is separate from the two old bourgeois parties [the DP and GOP], even if the group is somehow affiliated or allied with other third parties.
“In every case the Party should focus on offices it aims to win — if not [this year] then over the course of the next few elections,” Gus Hall wrote in “Unity! The Only Way.”
Hall applied this rule in 1988 to CPUSA, but it applies today to a number of political organizations.
Under the rule which he formulates, Hall must have concluded that his party should not have focused on any of his four campaigns for president of the USA.
What does “in every case” mean?
It means in no case should a left party focus on offices it doesn’t aim to win. It also means in no case should a party focus on offices it doesn’t aim to win either now or over the course of the next few elections.
“Such a proposition requires a basic change in how we conduct our campaigns,” Hall wrote.
Why is this change in the conduct of campaigns basic?
Before the aiming-to-win strategy, campaigns aimed to lose or aimed merely to run. If so, then an aiming-to-win strategy is indeed a basic change.
Does the rule about a party not focusing on campaigns where the candidate can’t win, either now or over the course of the next few elections, apply also to Communists?
Hall’s answer to the question of whether the rule applies to Communists is tough to interpret, even though the rule applies to every case and a Communist candidate is a case.
Here’s Hall’s answer:
“The fact is we have now overcome the barrier that ‘Communists cannot be elected.’ Even though our candidates’ votes and constituencies took a big leap in recent elections, most of us still do not think in terms of Communists actually getting elected. This is the necessary next stage in the development of Communist campaigns,” Hall wrote.
Hall seems to be saying that Communists have recently won a number of elections, running as candidates of the two old bourgeois parties. These wins prove that the alleged barrier “Communists cannot be elected” is false. But most Communists still don’t see these wins as Communists actually getting elected; they see these wins as candidates of bourgeois parties actually getting elected. In other words, most Communists want and expect Communists to run as Communists, not as candidates of bourgeois parties.
Under the rule, as formulated above by Hall, a Communist running openly as a Communist also has to win because winning is the key thing, not merely running or losing. Further, a winning Communist, running openly as a Communist, satisfies the rule. A winning Communist, running as a candidate of a bourgeois party, also satisfies the rule.
But a losing Communist, no matter how he/she runs, is just a loser.
Lenin dealt with phony participation in political struggle in his “Leftwing Communism” and his “What Is to Be Done.” Obviously, aiming to lose is phony participation. Lenin called it a baby disease, an infantile disorder, pseudo anarchism, quasi-anarchism, and semi-anarchism.
WHAT MOSTLY DEFEATS OPEN COMMUNIST CANDIDATES TODAY?
Hall rejects the explanation that the label of Communist is the chief cause of a loss when the candidate exposes his or her Communist affiliations.
Hall points to the political incompetence and bungling of Communists as the main cause of the losses when Communists campaign openly as Reds.
“Generally, we are good on program, but come up very short on the mass organization side of running campaigns … To reach a new, higher stage we must raise the level of professionalism in the use of media, literature, posters, and in fund raising. We must master campaign organization techniques to identify, mold and hold a Communist electoral constituency.
We must establish an apparatus to get out the vote on election day. We must focus more on door-to-door canvassing and involving non-Party volunteers,” Hall wrote, explaining why Communists who run as Communists lose.
Hall wanted Communists to master all of the specialties of the art of campaigning, even though he didn’t mention all of the specialties in the preceding paragraph.
Hall understood that amateurs are unlikely to prevail over political professionals.
Hall’s proposals were unwelcomed but quietly tolerated in 1988 when he presented them. They haven’t been acted on at all since their 1988 presentation.
Today, revolutionaries must aim to win, not the foolishness of much of the US Left of aiming to lose or aiming merely to run.
Revolutionaries can win either running as revolutionaries or running as supporters of political tendencies other than revolutionary.
The label of revolutionary pinned on a candidate is usually not the principal cause of a loss at the polls
The principal cause is that the advanced elements of the electoral base in the USA are untrained and misdirected.
Most of the US Left are incapable of doing anything.
Here is a video of Gus Hall
By James Thompson
President John F. Kennedy wrote a landmark book called Profiles in Courage. He studied the lives of a number of political leaders in the United States who stood up to negative forces and did the right thing even though it may not have been in their best political interest.
President Obama is reportedly an admirer of John F. Kennedy. President Obama is also a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
It is puzzling to many why the president has not responded to the mass movement demanding the release of the Cuban 5 (a.k.a. Miami 5). The mass movement is very large and is international in scope. Many high-ranking celebrities and political leaders both in the United States and around the world have united with a single demand “Free the 5!”
The Cuban 5 are five heroes who came to the United States to gather information on right wing terrorists located in Miami who were plotting violence against Cuba. Indeed, they carried out many attacks on this sovereign nation and killed many people and destroyed much property. The Cuban 5 were successful in gathering crucial information which they supplied to the Cuban government so that they could prevent these violent attacks. These courageous men fought international terrorists toe to toe and saved many innocent lives.
On September 12, 1998, the Cuban 5 were arrested. They received a trial which many maintain was unfair and they received astronomical sentences compared with others convicted of similar charges. One of the 5 completed his sentence in 2011 and was released and returned to Cuba. Another completed his sentence and returned to Cuba in 2014. Three remain in prison and have been there since 1998.
A US government operative, Alan Gross, was apprehended by the Cuban authorities for attempting to incite Cubans to overthrow their government. He has been languishing in prison for many years now and has been ignored by the Obama administration. The Cubans appear eager to make a swap of the three remaining Cuban 5 for Alan Gross. However, the effort of the Cubans has fallen on deaf ears.
President John F. Kennedy was faced with a similar situation when he took office. A high-ranking leader of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA), Henry Winston, had been apprehended during the McCarthy era and was imprisoned for a number of years before Kennedy took office. There was an international outcry at this injustice and there were demands to release Mr. Winston. On June 21, 1961, President Kennedy granted Winston executive clemency and he was released. This was at the height of the Cold War and there was great reactionary pressure to leave Mr. Winston in prison in spite of his serious medical problems. President Kennedy demonstrated his courage and fairness in reversing this injustice even though it was not in his best political interest.
In a few days, we will reach the 16th anniversary of the arrest of the Cuban 5. This would be an excellent time for President Obama to demonstrate to the world that he has the courage that President Kennedy had by releasing the 5 and arranging for a swap for Alan Gross. The world could then see that President Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize winner not only in name but also in action. He could follow this courageous act by working with Congress to end the blockade of Cuba and lift travel restrictions so that US citizens could travel freely to one of our country’s closest neighbors. President Obama campaigned for office on themes of “Change” and “Progress.” Mr. Obama, show us some Change and Progress!
From the Marxism-Leninism Today Editors
Friday, August 22, 2014
Western Pennsylvania has a rich history of class struggle. The region has witnessed, for example, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, the Homestead Steel Strike of 1892, the growth of the CIO in the 1930s and 1940s, and the fierce attacks on organized labor and the Left by McCarthyism in the 1950s.
Meeting in Pittsburgh on Saturday August 16, 2014, readers and supporters of the Marxism-Leninism Today (MLT) website — www.mltoday.com — many of them former Communist Party leaders and activists, met to form a new Communist organization.
Those attending came from Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Greetings were received from those in Texas and Indiana who could not attend. Ten former members of the National Committee of the CPUSA either attended the conference or helped to plan it. More than half of those attending were union activists or union officers.
The conference heard and discussed presentations by convenors from the MLT Collective who presented three resolutions which, after discussion, were amended and formally adopted unanimously.
The key conference decision was adoption of a resolution to create a pre-party formation, tentatively called the Network of Communist Clubs (NCC). It will be led by Temporary Coordinating Committee (TCC), composed of the MLT Collective and two additional members who were added at the meeting to ensure a more balanced leading committee.
TCC’s main task will be to undertake necessary actions to create conditions for the birth of a full-fledged Communist Party operating on Leninist principles. The TCC will guide and nurture a network of Communist clubs. To some extent, a network of such clubs already exists.
Two of the opening presentations focused on the ten-year period since the founding of the MLT website, what led to its founding, and how it has tried to uphold the traditions of struggle of the CPUSA. Also included was a more detailed report on the growth and development of the MLT website, which since 2004, has enjoyed a five-fold growth in readership, two-thirds of it in the US. It has a lengthening list of regular writers, and growing international contacts. Since 2010 it has made several attempts to take the next step, from a political web site to organization.
A labor historian offered the long-term view, describing the untidy process by which the first CP came into being in 1918-21. He compared the favorable and unfavorable factors influencing the birth of a new organization, then and now. He reviewed the party’s recurrent battles against opportunism, a political illness always resurgent when the fortunes of US imperialism were on the upswing. He enumerated Lenin’s key ideas on what kind of vanguard political party the working class movement needs. With all our limitations and shortcomings, he concluded, it is our responsibility to try to rebuild.
A four-member panel of the Pittsburgh Club reported how the club came together in 2010. They outlined the essence of what an ideal Communist club ought to be and gave a report on the Pittsburgh club’s attempts to turn the ideal into reality, with substantial success.
The timing of the Pittsburgh meeting was influenced by the 30th CPUSA Convention in June 2014, which formally wrote into the Party Constitution new language taking the Party even further away from Lenin’s ideas about revolutionary organization. About one year ago, MLT editors announced their aim of refounding a Communist party. In the last year they have visited activists in almost all parts of the country to test sentiment.
Speakers from the floor spoke of the worsening objective conditions in the country, against a backdrop of upheaval against racial injustice in Ferguson, Missouri and the US-led aggressions, old and new, under way in dozens of countries. Not a single people’s movement has remained unaffected by the absence of a CP in the United States. The US labor movement despite some signs of struggle, remains in decline and retreat, and mired in class collaborationism.
Participants at the meeting agreed that the stress will be on a bottom-up approach to the creation of functioning clubs involved in mass struggle. The TCC was charged in the coming period with involving people in mass work in such areas of political work as labor, peace & solidarity, equality, and independent political action. Many in attendance are already involved in such work.
The TCC will create and supervise a working committee to write an expanded statement of principles, looking toward a full Party program. It will look at ways to alter the nature of the ML Today web site to begin to serve NCC organizational needs. It will recruit volunteers and strive to put the organization on a more stable and sustainable basis. It will work toward obtaining a physical location and address as soon as possible.
The Pittsburgh meeting agreed to hold a follow-up meeting in three months at a site still to be determined.