Why do Social Democrats do what they do?

October 03, 2009

The Crisis of the CPUSA Part 2 , Part 2: What Kind of Organization Do the Present Leaders Want?, Written by Edward A. Drummond, in: M-L Today,

The Crisis of the CPUSA Part 2
Written by Edward A. Drummond

Part 2: What Kind of Organization Do the Present Leaders Want?

Revelations and decisions at the June NC meeting make it now possible to discern the organizational model that the Party's leading group has in mind. They want a re-named, non-profit, progressive entity ("People Before Profits," the C word will be first downgraded not jettisoned, yet) that needs only passive members, and certainly no pesky "clubs." The growing reliance on investment income means the Party can, over time, dispense with a dues-paying membership base. Reportedly, about eighty percent of the Party's income is from investments. It will have a core staff, reasonably well paid. It will have a web presence. It will be a multi-issue group.

Class orientation will be watered down. For example, there will be no industrial concentration policy to seek to influence the trade unions. Objectively, this will throw away the Party's future influence. Present influence is already suffering from "adaptation." Even now, there are few or no differences with trade union officialdom whose positions are declared to be "left."[1]

Hard copy? With no bookstore distribution network, printed political pamphlets on key ideological questions are seldom seen. There are fewer neighborhood forums and paper distributions. Marxist-Leninist education, already abysmal, will vanish. Already Party schools are said to feature mainly the works of Webb.

People Before Profits, if that proves to be the quite awkward new name, will run no candidates. It will lead no struggles. Fact is, the CPUSA leads few struggles now, [2] waiting for whatever the imaginary "Labor-Led People's Movement" [3] or the Democrats decide to do.

Another NC member ruefully remarked: "Haven't people noticed that, nowadays, after an NC Main Report, there is never anything to do? No mobilization. No tasks. It is just a shallow current-events survey, full of expressions of joy at the arrival of the Age of Obama." An example: while 30 million unemployed people languish the Party leadership has not taken a single step toward responding to the crisis in its own name. Contrast that with the 1930s.

All in all, one senses an evolution into a second Committees of Correspondence (CoC), though one with more real estate assets. The present CPUSA top leadership has sought to maintain close relations with the CoC, suggesting an eventual merger, wholly logical given the similar ideologies.

If it isn't stopped, the liquidation endgame can be a morally squalid affair. In the US there are disturbing parallels to what happened in the UK in the early 1990s. The Eurocommunist clique which folded up the Communist Party of Great Britain changed its name to "Democratic Left." Soon they realized Democratic Left had no reason for being. So the scoundrels in London sold off all the physical assets, gave themselves generous pensions, and went off to build careers, for example, in bourgeois journalism.[4]
A New Landscape?

Because of the new political landscape, the Left has an opportunity to step from the edges into the mainstream of U.S. politics. Sam Webb

This is not the place for a full analysis of the politics of the Obama Administration. Rather, these notes are concerned with the CPUSA analysis of Obama, and why it assumes the disingenuous form it does. One can hear supporters of the line say, "he [Obama] never promised us he would be an anti-imperialist." The last point is true enough, but what is shocking is not Obama's limitations,[5] but the CPUSA apologetics about those limitations. The defense of imperialism in the working class movement is the historical role of Right Social Democracy.

Is the CPUSA cheerleading for Obama, dissolving the Party in broader coalitions, opportunism? Of course. The former left wing positions of the CPUSA required struggle, strategy, leadership, intellectual honesty, realism, self-sacrifice, risk-taking, contact with masses, and political toil. Now, the center positions require little more than going with the flow of spontaneous mass movements. Whenever it is needed, to justify this retreat from struggle, the inane phrase "Labor-led People's Movement," is invoked. Politically, the phrase is worse than worthless, it is destructive. It justifies yielding political leadership to center forces.[6]

One Big Straw Man

Supposedly, the trial lawyers have a saying:

If you have the facts on your side, but not the law, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, but not the facts, pound the law. If you have neither the law nor the facts on your side, pound the table!

Webb is notorious for depending on the Straw Man tactic. If you can't win an argument on the merits, then attribute to your opponents a weak argument (a Straw Man) that superficially resembles the one which they actually hold. Then refute the weak argument and claim victory.

His words below add up to one big Straw Man. Their abstractness ("amorphousness, elusiveness," Lenin might say) is also noteworthy. No one is accused by name. Clearly going after his critics in the Party and nobody else, Webb pounds the table about the mentality of marginalization:

How does this mentality express itself? In a number of ways....
1. In spending too much time agitating the choir;
2. In dismissing new political openings;
3. In thinking that partial reforms are at loggerheads with radical reforms; in seeing the glass as always half empty;
4. In thinking that our outlook is identical with the outlook of millions;
5. In turning the danger of co-optation into a rationale to keep a distance from reform struggles;
6. In enclosing ourselves in narrow Left forms; and
7. In damning victories with faint praise.

and he says that the mentally marginalized think that:

• Politics has few complexities.
• Change is driven only from the ground up.
• Winning broad majorities is not essential.
• There are no stages of struggle.
• No social forces possess strategic social power.
• No divisions [in the ruling class are] worth noting.
• Distinctions between the Democratic and Republican parties are either of little consequence or disdainfully dismissed.

No one in the CPUSA holds such preposterous views. Many in the ultraleft do hold them. Webb is attributing to critics in his own party views they in no way hold. Webb warns his own party's members and "the left" that unless they change, success will continue to be elusive: Unless the Left - and I include Communists - sheds this mentality, it will miss a golden opportunity at this moment to engage and influence a far bigger audience than it has in the past six decades This reasoning is absurd. How exactly does a political party seeking to overturn a social order increase its influence by adopting the views of its class opponents who rule the selfsame social order? It doesn't. Maybe it obtains "access"? No, the CPUSA, for all its tailist pains, has not won even that trivial crumb. Only in its imagination does this confused Party leadership join the winners circle, and get to be a "player." The truth, as Communists have always known, is the exact opposite. One wins political power for one's class by struggle, not the cessation of struggle.

Organizational Difficulties: Caused by the Line

The present leaders go to great lengths to deny the obvious causal link between Party organizational crisis and the political line of the Party. The present general line -- unjustified, obsequious support for Obama, and its organizational corollary narrowing differences between the Administration's positions and CPUSA positions, leads straight to organizational crisis. There is no Party growth because primarily because there is no incentive to join the Party.

One can draw comfort from the fact that at the deepest level the line is not only wrong. It is probably futile. The CPUSA is seeking to tail the Democrats and somehow make its own members rest content with the present US Administration. Sam Webb's dilemma: how does one sell class collaboration when the class struggle is sharpening? Look around the world: depression and mass unemployment in the US; the leftward trend in Latin America; strikes of unprecedented militancy in other major capitalist countries; spreading wars of US aggression, and so forth.

He tries to escape the dilemma by means of oratorical sleight of hand. Hence, the sophistry that characterizes Webb's writing.[7] He relies on ever-bigger buckets of bilgewater about the joy of the political moment. There is shabby maneuvering too. He conjures up fake budgetary emergencies, so liquidationist steps can be pushed through. He relies on staff loyalists to deliver a majority at an under-attended NC meeting. He ignores failure. He celebrates non-existent success. This can only be done by being fact-free and abstract, as for example, OPRRW is, page after apologetic page. He appears to deny causation. The putative party budget crisis is an orphan, with no father and no mother. No one's to blame. He insists: press ahead with the same policies. Presumably, the past is no guide to the future.

No one denies that the Party's difficulties are real: No growth. A tiny membership of perhaps a thousand in a country of over 300 million souls. Budget crisis, contrived or uncontrived. But above all, above all, the greatest problem is the demoralization and political disorientation. In most regions of the country, club life has declined. People are voting with their feet and becoming inactive, or joining organizations that do struggle.

The latest changes adopted in June are being billed as "efforts to make the Party grow." But a party cannot grow if the reasons for working people to join it have been -- and continue to be -- removed.

In other words, tailism has consequences. No wonder few want to join a party which conceives its chief mission to be electing Democrats.[8] No wonder members are drifting away. Owing to the world capitalist economic crisis, the class struggle is sharpening at home and abroad. The warlike tendencies of monopoly capitalism are coming to the fore. Working people and oppressed people want to fight back. Honest Communists want to lead the fight. Under attack, working class people want far-reaching change -- real change, not campaign-slogan "change."

But, by abandoning struggle, the CPUSA is missing opportunities for recruitment among masses of people moving into struggle.

Worldwide Stakes

US working people are not the only ones with a stake in this inner-party ideological struggle. The world Communist movement understands full well that there is a need for a revolutionary organization in the heartland of imperialism, one that can lead mass struggles. The CPUSA suffers from growing international isolation. Two ideologically steeled mass Communist parties that, since 1991, have unselfishly rallied the Communist movement, the Greek and the Portuguese, are continually badmouthed in private conversation by CPUSA leaders. It is known that foreign Communist leaders are watching the drama in the CPUSA with growing concern, dismay, and alarm.[9]

How to Recover

A growing number of Party members at all levels believe the present course must be changed. Privately, though they do not relish an internal fight, they will admit that if the present leaders will not or cannot change course, then the leadership must be changed. What might a recovery plan carried out by a new leadership look like? A few suggestions, in no particular order:

• Replace the struggle against the ultra-right by the perspective of struggle against monopoly, especially in light of the world economic crisis.[10] To achieve whatever reform potential [11] exists under the present Administration, it needs pressure from the Left. It's getting plenty of pressure from the Right.

• Re-study the CPUSA 's role in the Great Depression. The Party is today doing the opposite of what it did then. Then, it supported FDR's good initiatives, opposed his bad ones, but mainly it led and organized from below among masses in struggle. Carry out a sober analysis of the class forces represented by the Obama Administration. Fashion a CPUSA anti-crisis program for this moment.

• Stop tailing the Democrats. Resume the struggle to build political independence in all its forms, including, where possible and appropriate, Communist candidacies. Project the Party's own advanced demands for anti-monopoly democracy and for socialism. Fight for leadership of people's movements, including trade unions. Never leave out that any reforms under capitalism, even if won, are never secure. Only socialism can bring real change.

• Revitalize the industrial concentration policy. The cream of the YCL and other younger members should be encouraged to go into key industries to win positions of union leadership and influence for the future.[12]

• Revamp the labor policy. There is a complete muddle about what is "left" and "center." The center forces will settle for whatever is on offer from the Democrats. Without the voice of a conscious Marxist current, center forces vacillate, the endless retreat of UAW top leaders being only the latest egregious example. The Party's labor staff in Chicago has better things to do than recycle AFL-CIO press releases. The most militant tactics (plant occupations, e.g.) are rarely publicly advised by CPUSA leaders though once under way, such tactics are supported by all, and intensely admired by rank and file CPUSA members.

• Restore Marxist-Leninist education at all levels. The rightists in the leadership have gotten this far because of the woeful theoretical development of US Party members.

• Restore the PWW and PA as the voice of Communist militancy, with new chief editors who have Communist politics. Smart use of the Internet is important, but it cannot substitute for direct mass contact with workers through print publications. Imagine telling workers at a plant gate or on a picket line, or unemployment line that they can read it all at www.pww.org

• Renew and reinvigorate proven left forms and create new ones with more advanced positions than the mass movements, especially in matters of the highest priority such as: equality for African-Americans and other nationally oppressed groups; anti-imperialist solidarity, Free the Cuban Five and end the blockade; health-care reform worthy of the name; disarmament; an immediate end to the various US aggressions in the Mideast; rank-and-file union action and democracy; women's equality; democratic rights and civil liberties, and so forth. Left-center unity, key to social change, is not built by a self-renouncing Left. Left forms are also one of the keys to Party growth.

Conclusion

An article as forthrightly opportunist as "The Mentality of Marginalization" reflects the Party's ideological decline.

The CPUSA is in a deep crisis. In a crisis, a contradiction sharpens to the point that it soon must be resolved. The contradictions here are two interrelated ones. One is the contradiction, on the one hand, between the leadership circle that, with sheer chicanery, is speeding up its drive to remake the CPUSA into something other than a Communist Party and, on the other hand, the honest members who think they are in the same Communist Party they joined. In June 2009 the leadership miscalculated by attacking the print edition of the Party newspaper. Many more members now see the truth, or at least are open to hearing it. That represents progress.

The other contradiction -- helping to open up Party members' eyes -- is the gap between reality and the Party's rose-colored political line. The line is not only unrealistic. It thwarts Party growth. These two contradictions will sharpen. They will be resolved, one way or another. The present situation cannot last.

The present CPUSA leadership is calling for more of the same policies. Moreover, to their shame, they are blocking the channels of inner-party democracy. With the May 2010 national convention not far off, in a frenzy to pre-ordain the outcome, under pressure from national Party officials, reportedly one large district is abolishing industrial clubs, creating unwieldy "community clubs" under the control of loyalists who will vote for the more of the same at the convention. It is likely that such clubs will be directed to carry out electoral work for Democrats, and do little else. Thus, for two reasons, tactically, to weaken critics and potential convention opponents, and longer-term, to turn the Party more fully into an electoral helpmate for the Democrats, the hard-won industrial roots of the Party are being ripped up.

This article will not presume to tell CPUSA members what to do. They can figure that out. Only Party members will decide the fate of the CPUSA. But, first, they must recognize the calamitous path that the current leadership has mapped out.

In the view of more than a few Party members, the incumbent leadership needs to be held accountable for nearly ten years in office. Their record is: a nonsensical political line, no growth, dwindling influence on the left and in mass movements, political disorientation and declining morale, recurrent budget crises, fraying international ties, and a headstrong determination to steer the Party straight into the iceberg. Surely, it is possible to find a few fresh leaders who are accountable and politically sound.

Every time a function of the Party is shut down, it makes it harder for healthy forces to recover lost ground. If the changes voted for in June 2009 are any indication of things to come, goodness knows what they have planned for May 2010. As one observer noted, a plane can be dismantled one piece at a time. A four-engine jet can fly with one engine malfunctioning, or perhaps with a damaged tailfin. But at some point, the absence of key parts causes the plane to fall to earth. The Party is reaching that point.

If anyone is tempted to walk away in disgust, resist the temptation. Real revolutionaries don't quit. Walking away only makes the victory of the Party-wreckers easier. There is not an infinite amount of time to right this starboard-listing ship. Every comrade is needed is in this struggle. Let the motto of this struggle be what a CWA worker shouted not long ago at a strike rally: "We will fight until hell freezes over...and then we will fight on the ice!"

Words to live by.

--------

Endnotes

[1] OPRRW: "We took a fresh look at the labor movement, noting the new positive developments, even asking ourselves whether quantitative changes were reaching a qualitative turning point in terms of labor's outlook and practical activity."

[2] Individual Communist activists soldier on in antiwar work, health care reform work, labor work, solidarity work, often with little direction from the national center. Out of self-discipline and commitment these loyal individuals keep engaged in struggle. It one of the reasons not all of them see the metamorphosis at the national center.

[3] This notion is at best ten percent true. Labor unions, being the biggest, most stable, best-funded, and often best-organized people's organizations, often bulk large in larger coalitions. But in so many arenas of non-economic struggle, (anti-war, anti-imperialism, anti-racism, etc.) unions do not lead at all, although they could do so, with Left leadership. The Left must win leadership in all arenas of struggle.

[4] Line of March: a Historical and Critical Analysis of British Communism and its Revolutionary Strategy by Max Adereth (London: Praxis Press, 1994). Passim. Another lesson of the British tragedy was that a generation of radical youth can be lost to ultra-leftism. If US liquidationism wins, the effects will be felt for decades. It can happen here.

[5] The apologetics extend to domestic policy. Obama is for "charter schools," i.e., privately-managed public schools, a panacea promoted by the Right to weaken teacher unions. So, siding with Obama, the Party goes silent on the charter school issue. For decades, teacher unions have done their best to fend off charter schools and defend the public school system, with mixed results. The urban public school system, underfunded though it is, remains a major achievement of US democracy.

[6] The foreign policy landscape is hardly new. True, the domestic policy landscape can boast some welcome changes, but it is not entirely new either. The CPUSA inner circle simply declares that a glorious morning of new politics has dawned. This explains its refusal to concretely analyze the class nature of the Obama Administration, i.e., the monopoly capitalist interests he represents. It would hinder the idolization of the fictitious Obama they have created. In the 2008 campaign when some CPUSA members quite naturally referred to him as "a bourgeois politician," the label was hotly rejected by Webb and his associates. Instead they heap outlandish praise on Obama and the Democrats. The titles of speeches are silly: "The Impossible Becomes Possible," "Change is Here; Change is on the Way!" The country just went through "The Springtime of Possibility." Obama's "a friend," a "people's advocate." During the campaign his speech on racism was "a speech for the ages." Such mad hyperbole expresses contempt for the intelligence of party members. It is supposed to convince them to ignore the facts under their noses.

What are those facts? In foreign policy, little is new. One can point to a changed atmosphere. There is welcome shift to diplomacy, and less of the reckless, brutal shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later of the Bush years. In domestic policy, many Obama policies can be praised. The picture is mixed. Unemployment rates have soared above 20 percent in many US cities. Thanks to both Obama and Bush, the biggest bank monopolies are brazenly gorging themselves on profits and bonuses derived from taxpayer bailouts. Tens of thousands of autoworkers, many of whom surely worked hard to get him elected, have been tossed to the wolves. Obama's election, breaking the racist color bar on the White House, admittedly was a democratic achievement. But, for the overwhelming majority of Americans of color, the burden of special oppression and class oppression remain a material reality, as the Black unemployment rates double the white unemployment rate (true for decades now) illustrate.

The two big domestic reforms that working people and progressives care most about -- health care reform and the restoration of union organizing rights through the Employee Free Choice Act -- are both in trouble. Their best features have already been compromised away by the Administration under corporate pressure. Covering up, denying, minimizing, and distorting these realities is a big part of the present CPUSA line.

[7] Opportunism is not only a political phenomenon. It has a psychology. Lenin wrote: When we speak of fighting opportunism, we must never forget a characteristic feature of present day opportunism in every sphere, namely, its vagueness, its amorphousness, elusiveness. An opportunist by his very nature will always evade taking clear stand. He will always seek a middle course, he will always wriggle like a snake between two mutually exclusive points of view and try to 'agree' with both and reduce his difference of opinion to petty amendments doubts innocent and pious suggestions, and so on and so forth.

[8] The likeness between the Obama Administration's positions and CPUSA positions is the source of endless glee and fascination on the web sites of the ultra right anti-Communist lunatics stuck in a Cold War time warp. They claim it proves Obama is a Communist. Not at all. It suggests certain Communist leaders have reinvented themselves as Democrats.

[9] It has not escaped notice in the world movement that the CPUSA, often citing the positions of an Iraq Communist Party leadership that is part of the puppet government, is willing to sign fewer and few international statements on Iraq, on Gaza, on anything.

[10] The CPUSA Progam, 1984, more radical than the one adopted in 2005, contained the following 11-point anti-monopoly program:
A program of radical reforms would include, but not necessarily be limited to, the following:
1. Negotiate comprehensive arms limitations and reductions. Drastically slash the bloated military budget and apply the savings to constructive public use, such as providing employment and training; guaranteeing affirmative action with firm quotas and timetables so as to overcome past discrimination and rapidly achieve full equality; building low-rent, quality housing; vast improvements in mass public transportation and public services.

2. Close all tax loopholes for the rich and end public subsidies to the monopolies; tax

corporate profits heavily; end all giveaways of natural resources to the monopolies and reclaim past grants wherever possible.

3. Strengthen labor's right to organize, to enforce contracts and to strike. Curb "management prerogatives" on such questions as plant closings, automation, job safety, environmental protection, product quality and similar questions which vitally affect the lives of workers and the whole people.

4. Nationalize the energy monopolies so as to provide adequate energy supplies at the lowest possible cost. Build modern power plants providing conditions of maximum safety.

5. Public ownership of the hospitals, drug and medical companies. Provide free, quality, comprehensive health care for all.

6. Abolish the CIA and the FBI; enact measures to prohibit racist or political repression of the people's movements.

7. Enact and enforce measures to protect the exercise of full economic, political and social equality for all races and nationalities and for women.

8. Extend aid to family-type farms through grants, long-term government loans and

guarantees of parity prices for products. Make similar credits and loans available to other small producers and service enterprises.

9. Rescue our cities from the grasp of the banks and wealthy bondholders and provide funds to improve the quality of urban and rural life.

10. Remove unequal barriers to foreign trade and promote interchange with other nations on terms of mutual benefit.

11. Enact a National Youth Act guaranteeing- the right of youth to earn, learn and live a full life.

[11] The current no-struggle-be-happy-with the-Democrats policy is arguably unfair to Obama. He has a reasonably progressive background. If the US Left including the CPUSA, instead of writing love letters, were mounting pressure on him, they would help him and he might welcome it. To paraphrase what FDR famously told A. Philip Randolph. "Mr. Randolph, the reform you propose would a good idea. Now make me do it."

[12] Webb's OPRRW makes a fleeting reference to "labor concentration." This could leave the misleading impression that there is still a CPUSA policy of industrial concentration. There isn't one. Ask the YCL. Ask the industrial districts. It's gone.

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