This article is part of the discussion leading up to the Communist Party USA’s 29th National Convention May 21-23, 2010. All contributions to the discussion should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org for selection not to the individual venues.For more information on the convention or the pre-convention discussion period, you can email email@example.com.
In my opinion the main discussion documents have strengths but also weaknesses.
- Emphasis on working with the masses. No impossible ultra-radical demands.
- Emphasis on recruitment.
- Emphasis on developing a presence on the internet.
To me the main weakness is working in a communist way. As Chairman Webb said in the teleconference kickoff: “sometimes we have a difficulty in turning our mass work into communist mass work.”
I don’t think the documents will to do anything to solve that problem. I also think their contents will be a hindrance in recruiting. Several interrelated points that I see as problematic:
a. Democratic party, bourgeois politics
The approach to Obama and the Democrats is too amicable. For example, I brought two left-Democrat guests to a Party presentation in my area a while back. One: “First time I went to a meeting of communists, and I realized I was to the left of all of them.” The other: “I figured out what the Communist Party is – a bunch of centrist Democrats.”
It can’t be a good sign that random observers get this impression of the Party.
The style and subjects of many articles in the Party press are admiring of Obama and the Democrats. Since the Democrats are a bourgeois party, class analysis has to be sacrificed in order to praise them.
What about “concrete gains, however minimal or compromised”?
Why is it that the people we’re supposed to be building unity with (Democrats) avoid us like the plague, while the right-wing (Beck et al) wants to put us into the media? A couple first page hits on Google for CPUSA are right-wing pieces hooting about the similarity between the CPUSA and Democratic programs.
Democrats want no association with us, while the right-wing wants to make that association. If you want to play the bourgeois politics game, I’d say we’re hurting more than helping: the aid of a small organization versus a right-wing propaganda coup.
Socialism by the ballot box?
But Marxists have always said that the whole structure of bourgeois democracy is set up to be anti-democratic; to let capital dominate.
Compare to the original Party program, 1919:
Part II, pt. 2: “Although the United States is called a political democracy there is no opportunity whatever for the working class through the regular political machinery to effectively oppose the will of the capitalist state.”
Part II, pt. 6: “Not one of the great teachers of scientific Socialism has ever said that it is possible to achieve the Social Revolution by the ballot.”
b. Class struggle muted
“simplistic” to divide politics up into two opposing camps, one of capitalists and one of workers
Compare to the famous lines of the Communist Manifesto:
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight.”
On workers: “Separately, neither the president nor the people’s organizations nor the working class can win.”
The working class cannot win alone?
Compare to the insights of the economic theory of Marx – the proletariat is a sleeping giant, controlling the levers of production. That control gives them the ultimate social power, which they can use if they can reach a high level of class consciousness.
Our founding Party program, Part III, pt. 4: “It is our duty as Communists, who understand the class struggle, to point out to the workers that upon the workers alone depends their own emancipation and that it is impossible to accomplish this through capitalist political machinery, but only by the exercise of their united economic power.”
Building anti-capitalist consciousness – where?
I think this should be a critical part of our work, and that it is part of our unique role. But the document says:
“I would not agree, however, that reforms are impossible, or even that the underlying dynamics and laws of motion can’t be modified.”
“Capitalism is more elastic than some believe…”
“Nor should we take the position that our emphasis has to be on the bankruptcy of capitalism…”
In this period of crisis, when the WSJ, Newsweek, etc. are in paroxysms defending capitalism, even though nobody’s really attacking it, just because it’s failing so self-evidently – and the other side of the debate isn’t joined by the CPUSA. Are the WSJs right? We’re willing to let it slide?
c. Practical action
Go out and be progressive
Here’s an example of what a progressive might think it means to be progressive (Cesca of Huffington Post): “I’ve always thought that a successful progressive movement involved three things: an ongoing marginalizing of the far-right; arguing for progressive policies; and promoting and encouraging the careers of politicians and organizations that are best equipped to help pass progressive legislation.”
What more do we have?
Getting people to join
The real imperative is getting people to join. But as now there’s not a compelling reason to join.
Identifying as communist has a cost – most people think of a totalitarian system that failed. You want to agitate for health care and they’re thinking about Stalin or Pol Pot. There is some risk of being discriminated against, and supposed-ally Democrats will want to keep you away.
To balance this burden what does one get?
The answer needs to be: an independent anti-capitalist program.
The line seems to be that you get the advantage of understanding Marxism if you join – the “strategic insights” and “understanding of Marxism” – mentioned in the document. But you don’t have to be part of the Party to read Marx or Lenin. That’s no answer.
As is, its hard to see why someone would join. I try to recruit people, but it’s a tough sell.
I agree with the YCL comrades who say that it’s important to establish what our “value-added” is. I disagree with their assessment that one source is our supposed capability to build “left-center unity.” Trying to unite with Democrats – who view us as loons and a liability – seems incorrect.
The answer to the value-added question needs to lie not in our unity with a bourgeois party that derides and attacks us, but in our practical – not impossibly radical – anti-capitalism and reputation for consistent class struggle.
To my mind, being a communist is about bringing an anti-capitalist perspective to the progressive movement. Anti-capitalist class struggle is our best ideological weapon and our best recruiting tool – it should never be sacrificed. The truth is revolutionary. We should never let any strategic policies obscure this.
The anti-ultra-right phase has passed. It’s time for anti-monopoly struggle. This is based not only on the political terrain but also the economic – which as Marxists we should give heavy weight! There is enormous sentiment against monopoly capital due to the crisis and the bailouts. Capitalism itself is debated in mainstream media outlets. We can get our message out there and we can build our Party. If the crisis deepens or drags, which is likely, anti-capitalism may be called on to test forces in a direct encounter.