Why do Social Democrats do what they do?

September 24, 2009

History, American Exceptionalism, and the new US Communist nomenclature, (amended) first posted Sat., May 2, 2009, by Andrew Taylor




I find it quintessentially American that many US theorists from different disciplines and political points on the compass continually try to re-invent America de novo and 'out of nothing'.

Since Cotton Mather, America's theorists seem busy re-packaging and re-stating their 'beacon set upon a hill' - a place utterly unlike (tainted) old Europe and its sinister history. American Protestant Restorationism was one of the powerful theories that posited a focal role in the scheme of world-redemption for the USA, a new work to be performed in an America where the unsullied, primitive church of Christ was to'appear again.'('With signs and wonders following'...)

And many political theorists from the USA have propounded an "American Exceptionalism" in variant forms and from a number of points on the political spectrum, - that is,-(in embryo)the idea that the United States and its people differ from other nations and peoples in its unique type of democracy and political culture, in its destiny to fulfill "a more perfect union". I think of that liberal Democrat stateswoman Madeleine Albright of the Clinton State Department who when referring to the US attacking Iraq, said in a peroration expressive of this political trend: “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.”

Sam Webb leader of the CPUSA certainly is no Madeleine Albright or war-monger in his politics:on the contrary, he is a veteran Communist leader with a forty year honourable record in the US party.. But is there some sort of thematic continuity in his preoccupations with Mrs. Albright's preconceptions, namely the US tendency to separate and re-birth itself from les autres. Sam Webb recently wrote that the newer democratic socialism he is ptoposing is "not tied to a universal “model” imported from the 20th century..."(1) What does Sam Webb's new American socialism consist of, and what implications does it have for the future of the Communist Party, USA?

Are we to gather from his changes that every thing in the past century of Communist revolutionary history is taboo/tainted and so irredeemable ? Is the leadership of the oldest communist party in the USA now averse to the global movement's history and the currents and trends of the communist revolutionary processes in the USSR, China, Vietnam, Cuba?... It does strike me as bizarre that just 9 years out of the 20th century the leadership of the cpusa is already speaking as though incalculable light years of history separated America from that dark benighted world of Asian and Latin American 20th century revolutions!

It may be that for the current cpusa leadership the maintenance of any historic connection with the historic struggles for socialism in the 20th century is equated with a total capitulation to the most mordant expressions of the Marxist-Leninist movement's errors. Frequent mention of the Leninist tradition of socialism seems to be a thing avoided in the American party leadership's official statements. Therefore international Communists have wondered if Marxism-Leninism is now viewed as an unenlightened or malign bind tying a modern new-style US leadership a hostage to a 20th cen. imported “model”.

But surely only the heirs of a historical movement who have maintained a critical link of solidarity to their past have the right and ability to offer a critique of their for-bearers errors and insights? Severance from one's movement's history is not a creative critique or contribution. But just what is it? What is going on?

Is it an opportunist panic reaction, albeit a panicked red-scare of American domestic production? If so, does it represent a retreat from the whole tradition and corpus of Marxism-Leninism in favour of what Mr Webb terms the socialism "not tied to a universal “model” imported from the 20th century
"?

To be fair, it is also possible Sam Webb is rightly and properly contextualizing Marxism-Leninism to US traditions, social relations, and conditions, a task of contextualization incumbent on every Marxist party leadership. His words and terms may connote something similar to what the Bolivarian revolution(s) mean by "the second wave of socialism — the socialism of the 21st Century."

But adopting a nebulous,new-style socialist horizon equally might might free an uncertain party leadership from responsibility for and to an uneven, controversial political past. Talk of a new socialism in the communist movement has certainly been open to abuse in certain quarters(2). Opportunism is a worry.

In any case, the principle of a radical discontinuity with one's history raises its head once again in US political culture - a breathtaking and worrying feat always fascinating to non-Americans, always astonishing to historians of political cultures!

We shall have to let a future history judge the whole trajectory of the new path taken by the American party. For the present we respectfully ask clarification even while we wish the efforts of the cpusa be crowned with every success in the struggle for the deepening of American democracy, and the future victory of socialism in the USA.


1. "Obama, reform and the role of the left" by Sam Webb, People's Weekly World Newspaper, 05/01/09
Webb writes:
"The left's political analysis, solutions to today's pressing crisis and a vision of socialism, rooted in a democratic ethos and practices, and not tied to a universal “model” imported from the 20th century, will receive a fair and favorable hearing from millions of Americans to the degree that left activists are active participants in the main labor and people’s organizations struggling for vital reforms today..."
Sam Webb is national chair of the Communist Party USA

2."On the topic Scientific Socialism: experiences and contributions for its construction" By Miguel Figueroa, in Political Affairs(online),10-26-2006
Figueroa writes:
"Without doubt, the "second wave" of socialism — the socialism of the 21st Century — will distinguish itself from the "first wave" of socialist construction during the last century insofar as the revolutionary forces today have the benefit of analysing and learning from those previous experiences — both their achievements and their failures and distortions — and in this sense we can confidently predict that the "new socialism" will be better, stronger, and more enduring than the previous wave of socialist construction.

But we also know that in some quarters, the expression "new socialism" is advanced to differentiate it in an opportunist way from the "old socialism", to negate not just the errors and failings, but indeed to negate all that was attempted and achieved in the past, and to present in its place a denuded, vulgarised and impoverished conception of socialism, stripped of much of its essential content. We must categorically reject such an approach.

Like many other communist parties, our party went through a protracted period of reflection following the catastrophic overturning of socialism in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, culminating in the adoption of our new party program in 2001. On the basis of that analysis and discussion, we placed special emphasis on our evolving conception of socialism, particularly with respect to the democratic content of socialist construction and development. But we also reaffirmed what we believe to be the essential aspects or features of the socialist alternative, namely: (1) that although socialism can and must involve all social forces that can be united in its construction, the process must be led by the working class and its political representatives; (2) that the socialist alternative must be deeply imbued with the principles of equality, social justice and internationalism; (3) that the working class and its allies have the democratic right and also the responsibility to defend socialism in the face of resistance from its class enemies — domestic and external; and (4) that the economic foundation of socialism must be based on the systematic transformation by degrees of ownership relations from private to social
."
Miguel Figueroa has been the leader of the Communist Party of Canada since 1992

3.Miguel Figueroa ibid.,
Figueroa writes:
"Without doubt, the "second wave" of socialism — the socialism of the 21st Century — will distinguish itself from the "first wave" of socialist construction during the last century insofar as the revolutionary forces today have the benefit of analysing and learning from those previous experiences — both their achievements and their failures and distortions..."


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