“So why should I join the CPUSA?” an activist asked me. Our Brooklyn, New York club was participating in a Democratic Party candidate’s electoral campaign that day.
I have given various answers over the last several years to such questions (our Party’s action orientation, our proud history in the struggle against racism, our important links to the international movement, etc)
But, if the truth be told, I have found it an unusual person who is interested in joining the CPUSA based on our electoral work involving the Democratic Party. Is it really worthwhile to carry around that communist “label” when the important thing is to defeat the Republicans, we are asked. What do we offer that is different than the left wing of the Democratic Party, anyway?
But, of course, we know that our Party is indispensable in the struggle, and has an important role to play, both today and in the future, both nationally and internationally.
It is this class tension, the tension between who we are, and the pressure of working in an alliance with the Democratic Party, that is perhaps the reason some members feel the need to revise our structure, and the historic program behind Communist Parties.
In retrospect, our identity crisis may have been accelerated by the adoption of our 2005 Party program. The program placed an emphasis on fighting the “ultraright” as the “main enemy, with an emphasis on using electoral means to achieve this goal.
The struggle against the “ultraright” was defined as a stage of struggle separate from an anti- monopoly stage. In this new stage the “widest possible unity of all class and social forces” would be crucial. In contrast to the program’s sections on the struggle against monopoly capital and the struggle for socialism, no demands were raised by the Party, other than to continue this alliance until the ultraright’s domination of political life is ended.
In the closest to a nationally coordinated campaign in years, many Party clubs participated in presidential (2012)and key legislative races (2010-2012). The only problem is, a “major, lasting rebuff” was not accomplished. We are dealing not just with an ultraright, but a big business media (not just Fox News) that enables and props up the ultraright. We are dealing with a capitalist state, and a national Democratic Party, that placates the ultraright at key points, as well.
Furthermore, the election of Obama has not led to breakthroughs that some had hoped for. Rather than the progressive agenda some envisioned, the Obama administration has been hampered by its own need for “unity” with Wall Street advisors and former cabinet members from the Bush and Clinton administrations.
In between elections our press coverage has been marked by regular defense of the Obama administration, and emphasis on some positive initiatives that the Obama administration has undertaken. But serious negative features of the Affordable Care Act, for instance, have been seldom discussed, including its reliance on Wall Street’s private insurance companies. Emile Schepers has almost singlehandedly covered the Obama administration’s escalation of the drone program, the NSA spying scandal, and the revelations about U.S. imperialism’s latest crimes thanks to whistleblowers Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.
On the subject of the ultraright, we have regularly exposed the racist thrust of the Tea Party. The Tea Party receives support from those who oppose “big government, ” and that includes many small business owners who find “big government” oppressive and a tool that upholds monopoly capital’s stranglehold. Unless we find a way to direct this sectors’ anger at the ruling class and its state, and address their legitimate needs (For Quality, Affordable Education!Against High Energy Prices, Against Student-Debt Indenture! Against Ruling Class Denial of Loans To Small Business!), the Republican Party may continue to hold sway in some “red” states, hypocritically waving the flag of a right wing populism.
At the same time, the economic crisis has deepened, and there is increased interest by working people everywhere in anti-monopoly and socialist answers. The emergence of Occupy Wall Street, the election of an openly socialist city councilperson in Seattle, and the announced candidacy of Bernie Sanders for president 2016 are all signs of this.
To its credit, the 2005 program does state its points are guidelines, not formulas to be blindly followed. But the dialectical reality is more complex.
The “conservative authoritarianism” of the Tea Party is indeed dangerous, but it is not the fascist force about which Dimitrov rallied the communist movement of his own time; the Obama administration is more sensitive to pressure than most, yet its policies cannot be characterized as consistently progressive; the Republican Party is an imperialist party dominated by a tiny ruling class, with an electoral base among smaller exploiters (supported by the military-industrial complex, oil and energy industry, pharmaceuticals and finance capital); the Democratic Party is an imperialist party dominated by a tiny ruling class with an electoral base among workers and self-employed and oppressed nationalities (also supported by the military- industrial complex, oil and energy industry, pharmaceuticals and finance capital.)
Fighting the “the main enemy” is more complex and dialectical than using our still small forces to enter a “temporary, but necessary alliance with the Democratic Party” (Sam Webb, For a Mature and Modern 21st Century Communist Party). We must fight the extreme right, and the big business forces that enable it, but also find ways to offer positive solutions today, including our own anti-monopoly perspective. This is necessary not just for recruitment to the Communist Party, but also if the movement is to go forward.
We must support AFL-CIO campaigns for jobs and justice, but we must also fight as its class struggle left wing. (in the tradition of George Meyers and Roy Rydell ) We must fight for peace and diplomatic solutions regarding U.S. foreign policy, but also build intermediate organizational forms (such as the US Peace Council, Trade Unionists For Action and Democracy, etc. ) where more advanced demands can be raised and where we bring people closer to the Party.
We can continue to work with individual Democratic Party politicians who fight the neo-liberal agenda and take key stands on important issues for the working class (as opposed to an unconditional “unity” and a national “alliance” with the Democratic Party). But we should make a renewed effort to run CPUSA candidates in local elections.
The issue is not whether to make use of advanced technology and the internet; the issue is whether or not we rely on it regarding recruitment and retention of new members. Part of having a public face means regular distributions of leaflets and print editions of the Peoples World. Although I disagree with my fellow Brooklyn Club member Danny Rubin on aspects of our program, I agree with him about the need to build the Party through its club structure, one-on-one recruitment and the need to increase Party education.
I believe our call for a Party “alliance” with the Democratic Party is wrong and not Marxist — and will in any event not lead to appreciable gains in recruitment. Rather than ” envisioning the broader movement in a tactical, but necessary alliance with the Democratic Party”, we should offer carefully chosen transitional demands linking the fight against the ultraright with the need for the fight against the monopolies, and beyond.
Given the party’s recent investment in the present strategy, a change of course requires thoroughgoing discussion. But such thoroughgoing discussions are the essence of true democratic -centralism; freedom of criticism in the preconvention discussion period; unity in action once Party decisions are made. Democratic- centralism is part of the arsenal of Marxism and Leninism and we should not shelve it .
We need to retrace our steps and rediscover our “communist plus”. There are many clues about the road forward from our own Party’s past. There are also clues from what we have previously regarded as other traditions. (Although I remain a Marxist and Leninist, I agree that “Marxism-Leninism” has often been used as a closed political-economic-philosophical system that has tended to incorrectly exclude other communist thinkers, including Gramsci, Luxemburg, and Trotsky.)
After a full discussion, let us all agree that the Party has an indispensable role to play in the upcoming struggles. After a full discussion — together — let us redouble our efforts to build it.