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: