Don’t scab for the bosses,

Don’t listen to their lies.

Us poor folks haven’t got a chance,

Unless we organize.

Which side are you on, boys?

Which side are you on?

— Florence Patton Reece (United Mineworkers of America and socialist) – Which Side Are You On?

I welcomed comrade Sam Webb’s article entitled "A Party of Socialism in the 21st Century: What It Looks Like, What It Says, and What It Does", though I found it very difficult and painful to read.

The thrust of comrade Sam’s comments, in my view, takes our eye off the prize of winning working class power. By muddling the definition of the "left" with that of our Party, it puts the question to us: Who are we as a Party? What is our Party’s relationship to the necessary tasks facing our class today? What do we want to do? Comrade Sam presents twenty-nine theses. 

As I want to limit this note to two pages, I am not going to review them all. There are some issues that were very important to me which I want to raise.

In response to the reversion of some socialist states to capitalism in the period at the end of the last millennium, comrade Sam joins with others in questioning what happened. However, he does not contribute to a scientific Marxist analysis. Instead of investigating the material conditions and the dynamics of the class struggle as it unfolded in the reality of that time, he focuses on the question of democracy. This reproduces the same theoretical framework that justified the "reform" movements that undermined socialism in those once-socialist nations. Capitalism was reinstalled at great expense and misery for the mass of people.

The special role of the working class and our Party is blurred when Comrade Sam writes "What will it take for the Communist Party and the left in general to become more effective fighters for social justice and socialism?" and "A party of socialism in the 21st century fights for the interests of the entire nation." This moves us from being a party rooted in the working class to a national party lacking in class definition. The reason our Party was rooted in the working class was because our class has no material interests that do not, when resolved, address needs common to everyone in our nation and in our class globally. That said, the Communist Party is not identical to the left. The left is not necessarily fighting for socialism or for the working class.

The left might be defined as those of us working in a humanist democratic tradition in the U.S. today. This is inadequate to define a communist party. Our Party has the task of organizing the working class to impose working class power, priorities, and agenda on the society as a whole, replacing capitalist ascendancy. A communist party does not fight for the interests of the entire nation when that nation includes those who thrive on exploitation for private profit. The orchestrated national attack by capitalists on the ability of labor to organize shows that class warfare continues to be the economic, structural, law of the land. Our Party represents not the nation as a whole. We are rooted in the working class first, and all oppressed and exploited peoples.

To be Marxist-Leninist is to utilize the scientific method both in our partisan analysis and organizational work. Comrade Sam replaces the scientific foundation and partisan nature of Marxist-Leninist analysis with an analysis which "takes as its point of departure the issues that masses (relative term) are ready to fight for." While tactical considerations are important they do not define our understanding of world. We are not (with some luminary exceptions) pursuing an independent and scientific analysis.

Comrade Sam specifically admonishes against our Party playing an active role in developing and sharing an advanced scientific analysis. He characterizes this as setting our "demands against the demands of the broader movement." Movements and coalitions include many different voices that coalesce around a shared demand. However, the constituent components all have their own identities and don’t generally let the movement as a whole define their positions. There is no contradiction between our Party having our own scientific analysis and advanced demands and our Party working in larger movements and coalitions.

"A party of socialism," comrade Sam writes, "attaches overriding importance to democratic (reform) struggles." The struggle for working class power and structural transformation is replaced with the struggle for reforms. Other than being profoundly saddening, comrade Sam has taken his eye off the prize of winning working class power. Capitalism, in its structure, imposes a logic of brutal exploitation on our society nationally and globally. In this context reforms can be little more than temporary fixes at best. Our class needs to build class consciousness, class unity, and to seize power.

Despite defining our Party in internationalist terms, comrade Sam’s analysis is fundamentally nationalist and reformist. He calls for a popular movement to "compel U.S. Imperialism to make a strategic retreat". What is needed is the defeat of the social class whose interests U.S. imperialism serves.

The vision that comrade Sam presents is of a caring world, a "new humanist ethos and value system as we overcome divisions of class, gender and race. A community of caring, kindness, equality, and solidarity". This is a beautiful vision for the future. However, the present is a savage class war that requires partisan struggle based on the scientific foundations that Marx and Lenin forged out of experience. Marxism-Leninism remains an evolving and relevant science. In another time comrade Sam’s Utopian vision would be comforting.

Today our class is fighting for our very lives to meet our fundamental needs, including the need to protect our environment so that life can continue on this planet. Structural change, replacing capitalism with socialism, is required for social life on this planet to continue. The development of new technologies such as computerization and robotics increase productivity immensely. Capitalism’s inability to harness these productive capacities for the good of all the people in our society is another reason that structural change is required. Capitalism turns increasing productivity into unemployment and misery, cities into wastelands, and causes increasing difficulty for the great mass of people to meet our material needs or build healthy lives.

Let us decisively reject comrade Sam’s vision and embrace one characterized by commitment to winning working class power and developing internationalist solidarity. Workers of the world, unite – for working class power and for socialism! For bread and for roses!

This article first appeared in Political Affairs <<www.political>>\

February 21, 2011