Why was the CPUSA leadership estimate of the Obama Administration so wrong?

The November 2008 presidential election was a democratic milestone in US politics. The joy and pride of people of color and tens of millions of others in the election victory of a Black person in a country disfigured by centuries of racism has been altogether legitimate.

However, such sentiments are not a Marxist-Leninist, all-sided, scientific analysis of the class substance of the new Obama Administration. Obama’s pro-corporate and pro-imperialist policies have disappointed and angered working people, particularly working people of color.

Tailism means to accept the political and ideological leadership of the class enemy, monopoly capital. Marxism-Leninism allows for multi-class alliances. But, the "unity against the ultra right" formulation, correct in, say, a fight against fascism, is being wrongly applied by the CPUSA. The line incorrectly and mechanically equates the "ultra right" with the Republican Party. This is a "party label" analysis, not a class analysis.

Monopoly capital owns both the Republican and the Democratic parties. This is not to deny that there are differences (often important ones) in the two parties’ social base, leading to differences in party policy (especially domestic) which progressive forces are obliged to take advantage of.

Misrepresenting the views of Communist leaders from George Dimitrov to George Meyers, tailism argues that, if Republicans are the main enemy, the CPUSA must adopt the same political positions as its “allies” — Obama and the Democrats. This has rationalized CPUSA rightward shifts, most notably on health care reform, but many other issues too.

At root, the “Tail Obama and the Democrats” policy is opportunism. It forsakes struggle. It exempts the CPUSA from the struggle for political independence, deferring it endlessly until "the next stage." The next deferral being planned will be accomplished by “The Party Program in Transition,” which contends that we are between two stages; hence we have to keep open the option of tailing Obama and the Democrats.

Tailism is a hardy and adaptable germ. This convention’s spotlight on the modest AFL-CIO Jobs Program is a retreat. Arguably, tailism’s supporters reckon that, for now, tailing the AFL-CIO is more palatable than tailing Obama, now barely defensible.

The tailist policy supposedly has a "non-sectarian" or "broad" nature. It is the opposite — extremely sectarian. It isolates us from our natural and best allies among the Left, and nowadays even in the Center.

CPUSA tailism originated before the Obama campaign. In 2004 and 2006, the Party called for support of the Democrats as a way of ending the Iraq war. In 2004 and 2006 the Democrats boosted their numbers in Congress. In 2008 they captured control of Congress and the White House. But the Iraq War rages on.

Luckily for tailism, in 2008, at the moment that Congressional Democrats proved useless in ending the war, along came Obama who became the next justification for CPUSA tailism. But this shift required portraying Obama as something far more wonderful than what he really is: a corporate Democrat.

The hyperbole began. A chimerical “Obama Movement" was claimed to exist. When his right-wing Cabinet appointments were made, we heard, "Don’t go bananas,” such appointments need not imply future policy direction. He became the leader of the people’s movements, a "friend." Early 2009 was the “springtime of possibility." He was "brilliant," a “transformational” politician. We were coming "out of the crisis," into “an era of democratic reform.” We were advised to attend the Inaugural festivities. Some Party leaders actually predicted that Obama would shift left after the Inauguration. In Illinois, comrades were rebuked for referring to Obama as "a bourgeois politician.” A mountain of evidence that Obama, not McCain, was the main recipient of Wall Street donations was dismissed.

Counterevidence was scoffed at: the re-authorization of the blockade of Cuba; the slowdown of withdrawal from Iraq; multiplication of savage drone attacks on villagers in Pakistan and Afghanistan; betrayal of the Palestinians; backsliding on pledges to close Guantanamo; complicity in the Honduras coup; the Afghan escalation; bailouts for bankers but not Black homeowners facing foreclosure and eviction; little stomach for reining in Wall Street; the record-breaking war budget; the travesty in Copenhagen on climate change; and the sellout of health care reform to private insurers.

Eventually, facts overwhelmed the line. A climb down began, including "Ragged Process," and “Observations One Year In.” Though conceding analytical errors, the climb down showed no understanding of why the error came about. Worse, supporters of tailism refused to draw the inescapable conclusion: that the basic estimate was wrong and the tailist policy must be scrapped.

It is time for self-criticism by tailism’s champions. To answer the question posed above: the main reason the Party leadership’s estimate of this Administration was so wrong was that it was not a Marxist-Leninist, class analysis, which would have correctly anticipated what has actually happened.

Communist parties carrying out a class analysis got it right. Our line on Obama is rejected by almost the whole world Communist movement. Read the speeches at the New Delhi meeting in November 2009 (www.solidnet.org). ;

The remedy? This convention must acknowledge the Party’s error and repudiate the tailist policy. We must revert to the Marxist-Leninist view, that the Democratic Party, like the Republican, is a monopoly-ruled party. We should support Obama and the Congressional Democrats only when they fight corporate and military interests. We should pressure them to do so. We must oppose them when they join the Republicans and support such interests.

Evident since 2000, the CPUSA drift away from Marxist-Leninist principles set the stage for this blunder. At the 2005 CPUSA convention, an ideological retreat that readied the ground for the Tail Obama policy was the de facto dropping of Lenin’s principle of the vanguard party’s struggle for leadership of the mass movements. The incoming NB and NC should convene a Special Ideological Conference on Building Political Independence in all its forms, taking into account our party’s rich history of struggle toward this end.

There are no shortcuts to the political independence of the US working class, trapped in the two-party system of US monopoly capital. Accordingly, we must build long-term alliances in the first place with the Left, with independents, with all progressive, anti-monopoly movements, parties, organizations, and candidates, especially those with a base in the trade unions and among the nationally oppressed. We should also mount, where it makes sense, Communist candidacies to project the most advanced solutions.

“Tail Obama and the Democrats” is the most obvious expression of the opportunism of the present CPUSA line. Its premise is false. Finance capital is backing Obama on most key issues: Afghanistan, Israel, Iran, Pakistan, Honduras, Colombia, health care, taxation, torture, environment, TARP, and the stimulus. Obama is largely backing the agenda of finance capital, not our agenda.

Tailism harms the mass movements, depriving them of leadership. It harms us: why join the CPUSA to support corporate Democrats? Tailism is a prime cause of organizational problems — dwindling membership (reportedly down from 2500 at the last convention to about 1000 now) and resulting chronic financial crisis.

Either we end the tailism and correct the analysis that gave rise to it, or we decline further.  

March 9, 2010