By the Marxism-Leninism Today Editors

March 2, 2024

 

Recently the CPUSA published a document Forward Together (now posted at cpusa.org) which was approved by the CPUSA National Committee on January 27 to frame the discussion leading up to the Party’s June 2024 convention in Chicago. The national convention of a Communist Party is important. A convention is the leading body of the Party, and its decisions govern the political direction of the Party in the four years ahead.

In recent decades the CPUSA, like many Communist parties, has passed through challenging times. It is striving to recover from the years when a right opportunist leadership wreaked havoc on the Party, threw it into crisis and weakened its influence in the people’s movements. Those movements would be stronger today if there had been a well-functioning, healthy Communist Party providing class struggle perspective and strategic direction.  While there are signs that a rectification is in progress, certain ideas from the crisis period still seem to have a stubborn hold. Hence the comments below.

There are things to applaud in Forward Together (FT) For example, it calls for the running of Communist candidates. “This engagement [with the tens of millions who don’t vote] must include fielding independent Communist candidates.”

In its first few paragraphs FT offers a compelling description of the multiple crises facing the US working class:

“The U.S. is in the midst of a deep systemic crisis, perhaps the most severe since the Civil War and the Great Depression. It is a political, economic, social, cultural and ideological crisis of the capitalist system. Confidence in government is at an all-time low, while working-class anger at mounting inequality is at an all-time high. Gaza, Ukraine, COVID, stagnant wages, high prices, student debt, climate change, racist police violence, the outlawing of abortion and affirmative action, anti-immigrant and LGBTQ hate, mass shootings — all contribute to a growing sense of fear, instability, and uncertainty.”

However, we question FT’s main argument: that the threat of fascism requires getting behind the Democrats even at the presidential level. “The struggle to defeat the MAGA right is the main issue before the country today: the GOP is arguably the most dangerous political party in history.” This last assertion is a wild exaggeration.

FT seems to revive the Lesser Evilism of the Webb period (2000-2014) when “unity against the ultra-right” – mostly George W. Bush — always required the CPUSA to support Democrats. FT states:

“Many young voters and voters of color, understandably enraged at ongoing support for Israel, have rejected supporting the Democratic presidential ticket. A significant part of the anti-fascist coalition is in danger of splintering off, precipitating a serious crisis. What is to be done?”

Why is the marked unhappiness of young voters and voters of color with Biden’s genocidal Gaza policy something to worry about, something “precipitating a serious crisis”? Unconditional support for the Democrats is made even more explicit further on:

“Thus, the working-class and people’s movements comprise the main forces in the fight against the MAGA right and fascism. Together with a renewed peace movement, they are helping shape the direction of the informal coalition of workers, sections of business, social movements, and political parties like the Democrats, the Working Families Party, and independents which we call the people’s front.”

The Communist movement has a clear, time-tested understanding of fascism. Fascism is the “open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinist, most imperialist elements of finance capital.”

Is Trump a fascist? Does his possible re-election in November 2024 portend fascism?

No. The US went through four years of Trump in the White House, 2017-2021.  It was not fascism. Trump was admittedly a thoroughgoing reactionary but there was no “open, terrorist dictatorship.”

Moreover, history shows that a capitalist ruling class invariably prefers to rule by consent.  It seeks to impose fascism only when it is panicked by the threatened loss of state power to an ascendant left, (for example, Italy in 1922; Germany in 1932-33; the Spanish Republic, in 1936-39; Greece in 1967; Chile in 1973, etc.) Today, the US ruling class does not fear state power slipping from its grasp. True, it is concerned about its relative loss of global position, hence its more aggressive foreign policy, which is largely bipartisan. But the US ruling class at this time has absolutely no need for an “open, terrorist dictatorship.”

Trump’s ideology is right-wing populism. Right-wing populism claims to speak for “the people” “the little guy” but essentially blames scapegoats for the people’s woes: undocumented immigrants, Muslims, Blacks, Jews, Mexicans, and so forth.

Left-wing populism also purports to speak for “the people” but puts blame on the real culprits, however imprecisely defined: Big Business, the monopolies, the railroads, the robber barons, Wall Street, the Eastern Establishment, the 1 percent, “the billionaire class,” the elites.

Trump’s right-wing populism included a refusal to distance himself from openly racist supporters such as the Ku Klux Klan. In 2024 he clearly intends to whip up anti-immigrant sentiment, hoping that it will gradually gain traction and tap into the economic insecurity of many.

Trumpism is not new. It represents a long US tradition of right-wing populism that mingles racism, xenophobia, nationalism, and isolationism with nostalgia for a golden past.

Right-wing populism combines attacks on socially oppressed groups with fake anti-elitism. Recent US examples of rightwing populism are George Wallace in the 1960s and 1970s, and Patrick Buchanan in the 1990s. In the 1930s, the movement led by anti-Semitic radio priest Father Coughlin was an example of right-wing populism. Trump’s election in 2016 confirmed that right-wing populism in the US is growing in strength. It is an international phenomenon. There is the National Front in France, the Alternative for Germany party in Germany, Hungary’s Fidesz Party (Viktor Orban), Poland’s Law and Justice Party, and others.

Is the likely 2024 Democratic presidential ticket in any way a Lesser Evil? It is the Biden White House that is enabling the genocide in Gaza.  It is the Biden White House that is expanding US involvement in multiple regional wars (Ukraine, Gaza, now the bombing of Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and militarizing the Taiwan Straits) How is Biden the Lesser Evil in relation to Trump?

What should be the CPUSA policy on elections?  There is another political line open to the Party besides Lesser Evilism.

It is this: when it comes to electoral matters the CPUSA should devote its main energy to leading the union movement — in fact all the people’s movements — toward building an independent political voice, divorced from both Democrats and Republicans. It should run its own candidates. It should conditionally support progressives and independents in the two major parties and elsewhere, only when it still makes sense, i.e., whenever, for example, they fight corporate power, or take a stand for peace, or combat racism.

This is the Party’s historic position. Early in the postwar era, William Z. Foster in American Trade Unionism (International Publishers, 1947, p. 368) in a concluding section on independent political action wrote:  “While seeking to build  the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party the Communists have also tirelessly …urged the masses to organize a broad party, composed of the labor movement, farmers, the Negro people, professionals, small businessmen, and other democratic elements.”

By remaining in a permanent defensive crouch against an exaggerated threat of fascism the CPUSA neglects work on its stated goal of encouraging the formation of a labor-led mass people’s party. Lenin once called the US two-party system “one of the most powerful means of preventing the rise of an independent working class, i.e., genuine socialist party.”  Breaking free of this two-party system to create a new mass party that the US working class can use to better advance its interests will require hard work over an extended period.

Communist parties can recover from bouts of right opportunist leadership. The CPUSA itself has done so in the past: Lovestone (1920s), Browder (1940s), Gates (1950s). But the CPUSA cannot be said to have recovered until it stops tailing the Democrats on unconvincing “anti-fascist” grounds.