The following was written some 16 months ago, in November 2008, by an interested observer of developments within the CPUSA. We have respected the author’s request for anonymity.
There is growing discomfort and, at times, open disagreement Â both internally and internationally Â with certain policy positions which have been adopted by the leadership of the CPUSA in recent years. These concerns and disagreements revolve around a number of issues, including (but not restricted to) the assessment of the war in Iraq, the Palestinian issue, labor issues such as "concession bargaining" and the development of international "super-unions," etc.
Differences over emphasis or even substance within the ranks of the Communists are unavoidable and even healthy for our movement, so long assuch debates our based on our common theoretical worldview, and conducted in a mutually respectful manner.
When however, such policy disputes reveal more fundamental differences over, or departures from, our basic theoretical and ideological framework of Marxism, it is incumbent that we sit up and pay serious attention.
Without going into much detail, it should be recalled that certain ideological disputes arose in the run-up to the CPUSA’s 2005 Convention, especially with regard to the discussion document "Reflections on Socialism" written by CPUSA Chair Sam Webb. At the time, certain comrades alleged that the leadership of the CPUSA was moving away from Marxist-Leninist positions and principles.
In recent months, that smoldering debate has sharpened rapidly, induced by the circulation of various ‘comment pieces’ by some members of that leadership. This began with the posting of an article by Joe Sims, publisher of the CPUSA’s theoretical journal "Political Affairs," entitled "Ten Worst and Best Ideas of Marxism" on the PA editor’s blog (http://paeditorsblog.blogspot.com/) His article sparked an intense "exchange of views" on the site. Sims later added two more lists of the "Ten Worst and Best Ideas of Marxism."
While there is much in these articles with which we can readily agree, there are also some comments, which are cause for serious concern, some of which are noted below.
"’Dictatorship of the proletariat.’ Probably the worst phrase uttered by a political theorist ever. Who wants to live in a dictatorship? Even if I agreed with it conceptually, (which I don’t), the Machiavellian in me has enough sense not to repeat it. Indefensible. And by the way, working-class "hegemony" (whatever the hell that means, sorry Gramscians), ain’t much better." [#1 "worst" from first article]
What is particularly significant here is the parenthetical phrase "Even if I agreed with it conceptually, (which I don’t),Â which indicates very clearly a theoretical break with one of the most fundamental precepts of Marxism-Leninism.
"Listing defense of Soviet Union under the 21 points for joining the Comintern." The idea of "Defending Socialism" by detachments outside of those countries attempting to build it led to some of the biggest quagmires and mistakes of the 20th century." [#5 "worst" from first article]
This appears to directly challenge the concept of working class internationalism. The issue is not whether communists should ‘defend socialism’ in other countries Â on the contrary, it is imperative for Communists to solidarize with all revolutionary struggles and with all subsequent efforts to forge a socialist society. The real question is one of how best to defend socialism, particularly when there is verifiable evidence of serious mistakes and/or departures from socialist principles and practices.
"Marxism, Marxism-Leninism." Very bad idea to name a scientific world-view after individuals. Way too subjective and besides too many bad stories and nightmares associated with it. And, not very working-class sounding: too many syllables and hyphens. Replace it with "scientific socialism" or the "socialist and communist idea." [#7 "worst" from first article]
This remark can easily be taken as mere fluff Â the type of question that can be debated for hours over lattes. However, when a member of the leadership openly challenges a formulation that is repeated numerous times in the current Program of the CPUSA, it must be taken seriously. As with past debates over the name of the "Communist Party,Â the issue is often not simply a difference over terminology and its current ‘popular use’ value, but also often constitutes an attack on our adherence to the theoretical framework of Marxism itself.
"Democratic Centralism. Isn’t it interesting that those who advocate democratic centralism most, practice it least? (which is not to say it’s practiced much or at all, anywhere, by anyone in the US.) How about substituting, all for one, one for all! That’s the spirit!" [#1 "worst" from third article]
Here again, Sims is not restricting his criticism to departures or outright negations of the principle of democratic centralism which have unfortunately sullied the history of our movement in many countries, but rather seems to take aim that the concept itself Â ostensibly because it has never been practiced in reality at least in the USA.
That Sims is once again challenging a standing formulation in the CPUSA Program is not the primary issue here; that he refused to include any mention of the fact that most of the CPs which dispensed with "democratic centralism" — and there were several in the early 1990s — had subsequently abandoned other basic tenets of Marxism-Leninism and ended up in the swamp of reformism, is telling.
"Marxist theory is brought into the working-class movement from outside. Lenin’s dictum, while perhaps historically true has been made obsolete by public education and emergence of Communist parties and working class intellectuals. However, the middle-class intelligentsia remains too dominant a force in many Communist and working-class parties." [#9 "worst" from third article]
This is also troubling. What Lenin meant by this formulation was simply that revolutionary consciousness does not arise spontaneously from the economic struggles of the working class, and therefore that Marxism must be ‘fused’ with the working class movement as a whole by the most advanced from within their ranks. To twist this in such a manner as to suggest some sort of ‘intellectual elitism’ on the part of Marx and Lenin is without foundation, and perhaps even intellectually dishonest.
I would like to turn briefly to a few other comments from some members of the CPUSA leadership. In another post on the same PA Editor’s blog, Joel Wendland, the managing editor of Political Affairs, writes the following in an article "Confessions of a post-Cold War communist." While some of the remarks relate to Sims’ previous articles, Wendland at times goes even further in his critique of Marxist-Leninist theory and practice. He writes:
"… concepts like ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ ‘socialism in one country,’ ‘art as a weapon,’ single-party states, vanguard party, and the naming of ideas and political movements after men have all seemed outrageous and more or less irrelevant to me Â indeed a little anti-communist. For crying out loud, who would spread this silly nonsense as serious communist ideas unless they wanted the rest of the world to view us as out of date, ridiculous, and obsessed with ideas only about 12 people are trying to prove as correct based on their religious reading of something Karl Marx or V.I. Lenin once said."
Wendland launches a dismissive broadside on many terms and concepts, including ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, the character of the Communist party as a ‘vanguard party’, ‘socialism in one country’, etc. Â ideas which seem "outrageous,Â "irrelevant,Â "ridiculous,Â and "a little anti-communist" to him. Rather than engaging in a serious historical analysis of these concepts, how they arose, were implemented in life, or were at times misused or distorted, he makes sweeping and completely unsubstantiated negations. We would be justified in dismissing Wendland’s ravings, except for the fact that they emanate from the managing editor of that party’s theoretical journal.
"I have to profess that I am happy that I am a post-Cold War communist. I missed the little Lenin readers, the ABC’s of whatever, inculcations in the mistaken and irresponsible claims about vanguardism, religious references to famous Marxists as evidence of righteousness and correctness, and indoctrinations in Stalinism (one-model socialism, single-partyism, ends justifies means, USSR above all, kill anyone who is wrong), frankly."
As with his previous remarks, the above betrays a complete rejection of earlier efforts to build socialism. Wendland does not even bother to include a caveat alluding to the positive achievements of past socialisms. We are all-too-familiar with frighteningly similar ‘negations of the past’ uttered by the reformists and party liquidators in the early 1990s, who subsequently wrought great damage on Communist parties in many countries.
"I am also glad I missed the conspiratorial style of political action based in ill-advised and silly ideas about a revolutionary core of really radical revolutionaries who hold secret meetings and who really know what’s going on, etc….really."
It is abundantly clear that Wendland ‘missed out’ on a awful lot of revolutionary working class experience, including the protracted and profound impact of cold-war anti-communism on the work of Communists during that sorry period of history. Otherwise, he would not make such silly, destructive remarks.
Equally ‘illuminating’ are the remarks of John Case, a member of the Economic Commission of the CPUSA, in an article dealing with the deepening economic crisis, entitled "A Dose of Socialism vs. Financial Disaster. " In this article, Case congratulates Bernanke and Paulson for ‘getting it right’ with their $700 billion bail-out of U.S. banks and financial institutions:
"Against hysterical and ignorant criticism from the free-marketers in their own party, Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson appear to have drawn the correct conclusions, albeit at least 8 years after they were due Â that a measure of socialism is the only, repeat only, course that can avert global catastrophe…. The only question is: will it be enough socialism to stay the dragon of worldwide depression and the fires of war that would surely follow in its wake."
For Case, or any Marxist for that matter, to refer to this bailout as a "measure of socialism" is staggering, to say the least. To qualify such remarks by saying that they are ‘too little, too late’ is to miss the point entirely. The measures adopted by the U.S. and other capitalist states Â even the quasi-‘nationalizations’ of some banks and financial houses Â were undertaken precisely to preserve and defend the capitalist system, and particularly the interests of its ruling class, and have nothing in common for socialist measures or transformations.
"Seeing the big picture requires careful attention to economic history, which gives abundant evidence that raw capitalism is NOT a stable system."
While I might be accused of splitting hairs on this remark, I find it disturbing that a Marxist economist would author such a formulation. It is not just "raw capitalism" (i.e., neo-liberal capitalism) which is inherently unstable, but capitalism as a system, as a whole. This can be easily read as advocacy for a return to Keynesian prescriptions.
"Previous major historical shifts in the wealth of nations have always been associated with war."
This is another rather disturbing departure from Marxist theory, one which completely confuses cause and effect. The "historical shifts in the wealth of nations" result from the laws governing the dynamic development of capitalism (especially in its imperialist stage) Â namely the law of uneven development as various centers of imperialism intensify their respective drives for domination of markets and resources. To imply that ‘historical shifts in wealth between nations’ are the underlying cause of war and aggression, rather than the nature of the system itself, is mistaken to say the least. Indeed, it could even lead to the conclusion that the continuing ‘stable’ hegemony of most powerful of the imperialist centers Â namely, U.S. imperialism Â would somehow serve the cause of regional and world peace!
Lastly, I want to draw attention to certain comments by Norman Markowitz in a posting of October 14, 2008, entitled "The Economic Crisis Continues and the Lunatics Continue to Control the Asylum Called Economics." Markowitz has emerged as one of the ideological leaders of the CPUSA in recent years. In this post, Markowitz refers glowingly to the "social contract":
"Robert Bruner of the University of Virginia summed it up nicely when he said ‘In Europe the concept of a social contract is much more social Â that is socialist than we have been comfortable with in America.’ … The social contract in the U.S. as everywhere else is about social protections for the people."
This statement illustrates further political confusion. Markowitz quotes Bruner about the ‘social contract’ in Europe without any qualifying comment. However, this never was , nor is it today, the view of European Communists.
In 1974, when the British Labor government moved to impose a "social contract" on labor, the British Communists wrote: "The class objectives of Labor’s right-wing leadership were the same as those of Heath and the Tories. The difference was that where Heath had failed to achieve these objectives through open confrontation with the labor movement, the Wilson and Callaghan Labor governments succeeded by enlisting the collaboration of most trade union leaders…. In September 1974, the TUC endorsed the Social Contract, which supposedly offered the unions a partnership with government in formulating economic and social policy. But its real purpose was to get the TUC itself to police a policy of wage restraint. The results of the Social Contract were catastrophic for the working class."
Much later, the KKE (Greek Communist Party) stated in 2005 the following with respect to the proposed ‘social contract’ in the European Union: "The ‘new social contract’ and a ‘new social policy’, have only one programmatic, strategic denominator: to hide the imperialistic character of the EU as an inter-state political mechanism of big capital, to impose ‘class cooperation’ and subjugation to capital’s interests."
Canadian workers also had an ugly brush with the "social contract" in the 1990s during the term of the social-democratic NDP government led by Bob Rae in Ontario. Rae’s government imposed a "social contract" on all provincial workers, unilaterally ripping up their collective agreements, and sending all workers home for one week without wages to balance the province’s books. The so-called "Rae Days" led to mass labor protests and ultimately to the defeat of the NDP at the following election. The program of the Communist Party of Canada addresses the inherently collaborationist nature of the ‘social contract’:
"The capitalist class and the right-wing in the labor movement used this extended [post WWII] period of relatively buoyant capitalist development to cultivate the false idea that capitalism has a capacity for continuous social advance, meeting the ever-expanding requirements of the entire people… However, the economic base for reformism and class collaboration is steadily eroding…. As a consequence, the possibilities of achieving any overall accommodation Â or ‘social contract’ Â between labor and capital become ever more difficult."
To call for a return to the "social contract,Â justified on the basis of the false claim that it is all about "about social protections for the people,Â seems more like the feeble plea of a despairing petty bourgeois or reformist, rather than a clarion call from a Marxist revolutionary.