It is remarkable that the 10-page pre-convention discussion document  “New Opportunities to Grow the Party” does not mention that CPUSA membership declined 60 percent since the last convention, falling from  2500 to 1000 members.

These estimates are authoritative. The former is from Comrade Danny Rubin’s “Are We Overlooking Anything in the Fight to Build the Party?” (April 4, 2005) in which he cites a June 2004 report by Comrade Sam Webb. The latter number was used by Comrade Bobbie Wood. 

Even unbelievers know there are nuggets of wisdom in the Bible. One of my favorites is:

“…Every good tree bears good fruit, and a bad tree bears rotten fruit… By their fruits you shall know them.” Matthew 7, 16-20.

Let’s look at the past decade of change in the CPUSA, and its “fruits.”

The Tree: CPUSA Changes since 2000

Ideological Mutation: movement away from class struggle and Leninist norms of party organization accelerates.  This is always denied, camouflaged, or called “reconfiguration.” The Party takes its political lead from the Democrats generally and now from the Obama Administration. The struggle for working class political independence is cast aside. Anti-racist struggle is subtly weakened, despite economic indicators proving worsened conditions for nationally oppressed. Anti-monopoly principles of health care reform developed collectively over decades by Party specialists are scuttled in one PW article.

Trailing behind the Democrats is rationalized by a disingenuous Theory of Stages, which subtly moves the goal posts. Pre-2006, unity against the ultra right aimed to maximize the forces against ultra right dominance of all three branches of government. Now, the mere existence of the ultra right is used to justify tailing the Democrats.

Tailism waters down anti-imperialism. The Pre-convention Discussion Document on international affairs soft-pedals criticisms of the present Administration whose foreign policy is little different from Bush’s, and in some respects, is worse. Freeing the Cuban Five remains a low priority. On Palestine, there is antipathy toward the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement embraced by much of the world Communist movement.  The national chair announces that “our” view of socialism is “a work in progress.”

Transformation of Political Strategy

Ideological change begets political change. Believing anti-monopoly strategy to be too advanced for this ”stage” of struggle, the main focus is instead on rebuffing the ultraright, invariably equated with the GOP. Accordingly,  the CP refrains from criticizing its monopoly capitalist “allies,” unless they are Republican. It exaggerates the differences within the ruling class. It plays down basic Marxist concepts like the class character of the capitalist state.

Organizational Changes

Key Leninist ideas such as the struggle for the leading role of the Party  are in practice abandoned. “As for us, we can provide leadership only to the degree that we are in the trenches of building this people’s upsurge” in all directions in the wider labor-led people’s movement. This formulation implies we can lead only to the extent that we follow.

Clubs are revamped into  Democratic Party support organizations. Labor work is downgraded. Industrial concentration is a memory. Whatever the AFL-CIO wants is okay with the CPUSA. Antiwar work has lower priority.  United for Peace and Justice is weakened in no small measure due to CP abandonment of it. Democratic centralism has weakened. The Organization Department was abolished. Clubs drift. Individual members get no assignments, only self-assignment. The IT panacea and “internet recruiting” have produced a situation where nobody can verify the actual membership.

The “Fruits” of the Change

1) Dwindling and aging membership. The 60 percent decline means  chronic Party financial crisis, always addressed through cutbacks and shrinkage. Party’s physical assets are sold off, or worse, even given away while reliance on rental income grows.

2) Breathtaking mistakes in political estimates of the present US Administration. Yet, the national chair boasts  “our” assessments have been largely “on the mark.” 

3) Party invisibility. Dissolved in the Democratic Party ocean, there is little public Party presence.

4) Dismantling.  Rebranded as “reconfiguring,” it is hailed as building for the future. “For more than a decade, the Communist Party USA has been reconfiguring the way we work and develop our analysis.”   Reconfiguring  shuts down one Party function after another: print PWW, independent electoral work, left forms, mass meetings, industrial concentration, bookstores,  press routes. Coming out of a meeting of the teachers union, I saw newspapers being handed out by every Trotskyist sect, but no PW.

The 2005 Party convention gave no mandate to “reconfigure” anything. The NB’s and NC’s responsibility is to carry out the convention’s adopted policies, not invent their own.  Our vision of socialism is not “a work in progress.” Our vision of Socialism USA is democratically agreed at convention and spelled out in our Party Program, not re-imagined at every convention.

5) The withering of Party grassroots. All regions of the country report dispirited clubs, declining activism and lackluster attendance. Like the air slowly leaking out of a toy balloon, club life is running down.

6) Marxist-Leninist Party education is vanishing.  PA a self-described “Journal of Marxist Thought” is unusable for club education. Avoiding the word “Leninism” PA allows the word “Stalinism,” a tell tale sign of incipient anti-Communism.

7) Labor work? Declare the AFL-CIO to be “left” and row in behind it. Objectively, industrial workers have been downgraded. If your ideology retreats from a class outlook, why care about the core of the class?

Failure — without Accountability for Failure

There is no excuse for Party membership decline. Interest in socialism and Marxism is up since the September 2008 world financial crash. The US class struggle is sharpening. The condition of US the working class, the unemployed, communities of color, women, youth, and the poor is worsening rapidly. There is no severe anti-Communist repression, as in the 1950s.  

Conditions are superb for Party growth.  The decline continues because the incorrect general line continues, a political line which removes any reason for joining the Party.

Instead, blame for decline is adroitly shifted to the members: “But we’re still hampered by ideas and ways of working ill fitted for the new times, which prevent us from being more effective, moving forward and growing faster.” (“New Opportunities to Grow the Party”)

Lack of accountability takes other forms. The Party Program adopted by the 2005 convention — the highest authority in the Party  — is in great measure ignored.

It reads “the leading role of the Communist party is expressed by its advanced Marxist-Leninist ideology.” The struggle for leading role of party, though not formally abandoned in 2005, has been abandoned in  practice. The telltale sign:  the omnipresence of phrases that define the Party as merely a servicing organization. It never leads. It “is a participant in” coalitions, is “in support of” them, “lends a hand to” them, etc. The word “Leninism” characterized as “foreign-sounding” is seen less and less in CPUSA statements.

A 60 percent decline is the bitter “fruit” of changes since 2000.  This convention must reject attempts to shift the blame to members. We must hold leaders accountable for the line that produced this disaster.

We must change the line.

April 14, 2010