February 16, 2011

Decision Time for the CPUSA Written by Edward A. Drummond in M-L Today Feb 15, 2011

http://fwd4.me/vrD

 
Editors' Note: we received this article from Edward A. Drummond. His criticisms of Sam Webb’s “A Party of Socialism in the 21st Century” are severe. We invite responses from our readers in the weeks and months ahead.



I welcome the mounting calls in the CPUSA to replace Sam Webb in order to restore and revive the Communist Party.

I urge that he resign now, and spare us a messy internal fight. 

It is now necessary to remove him. Not to remove him is not an option. His job is a political post, and he doesn’t have the appropriate politics. How do we know that? He says so in his new 10,000-word think piece “A Party of Socialism in the 21st Century.” [1]

It’s not personal. He simply doesn’t do what we pay him to do. He isn’t doing his real job. Evidently, he does not intend to do it. He has made gigantic mistakes. He has presided over organizational decline. But he shuns accountability. Self-criticism is rare, whispered, and tucked away in paragraph 17. He conceals information from us. He has a pattern of dissembling.[2]  He has become an ideological émigré from the Communist movement. But he beckons us to follow him.

It's time to reassign him to other work where he can do less damage.  With this outrageous essay he has thrown down the gauntlet. If we don’t move him out as national chair, how can we say we have any self–respect?

I concede: Sam Webb has the right to change his politics and become a non-Communist. That he has exercised that right is evident  in the article under discussion. Webb, however, does not have the right to be a non-Communist and at same time be chair of our party, the CPUSA. Nobody has such a right.

I will grant, also, that Sam Webb is an accomplished speechwriter. Moving words around on a page, he can produce "truthiness," a useful term invented by comedian Stephen Colbert.  Webb can make apostasy seem like common sense.  For example, he throws out Lenin’s party of a new type -- in favor of an opportunist party of the old type -- with these sentences:

A party of socialism in the 21st century will construct its own organizational model in line with its own material conditions and needs. It shouldn't be hatched out of thin air or imported from another country.

A more accurate title for his confessional essay would have been “How I Became a Social Democrat, and Why You Should Too.” Most of its ideas he has expressed before, but here they are more boldly expressed. Various writers, including me, have critiqued them on this web site.[3] A tenth of the article is devoted to his personal political evolution away from Communism. Sadly, all Party members will not read a ten thousand-word think piece. If they do not, the damage inflicted will be all the greater.

Top Ten Reasons to Remove Him

On the basis of this document alone, Comrade Webb should be required by the NC to vacate his post. Its most egregious disclosure is this: he doesn’t   believe any longer in the goals of the CPUSA. It took him ten years to confess to this. Those paying attention had deduced it years ago. Webb declares:

1. Lenin and Leninism are Out. “As for "Marxism-Leninism," the term should be retired in favor of simply "Marxism." No wonder the CPUSA opposition to US imperialist wars -- Iraq, Afghanistan -- has been enfeebled.

Marxism? He says he is for it. However, there are few more fundamental Marxist ideas than historical inevitability, and the class character of the state. Having dumped Leninism, it turns out he’s not really in favor of Marxism either. Historical inevitability? Out. “After all, there is no direct or inevitable path to socialism.” Class character of the state? Out. “Struggle within the state is no less important than struggle against the state.”

The core principle of Party organization -- democratic centralism -- is out.  There is a remaining prohibition against factionalism that he applies to others, but not to his own faction. I will return to this.

Leadership  of mass movements, i.e. a struggle for a CPUSA vanguard role in people’s movements? Out. He says he is for it. But not when you read the fine print. [4]

The Party Program is out. His socialism is “a work in progress.” The CPUSA Program says Marxism-Leninism is the ideological guidance of the Party. He says no.

2. Fake internationalism. He says he is for internationalism, but rails against “foreign-sounding” words.[5] He is quite selective about foreign-ness. Leninism is foreign-sounding; Marxism is not foreign-sounding. This is deceitful hogwash rooted in reformism and national chauvinism.

3. Sophistry and double talk. A document so rife with bunkum surely says something about its author’s character.  His version of “dialectics” is mumbo jumbo.[6] He is clueless about real dialectics. He claims that a “party of socialism in the 21st century is  “steeped in class struggle.” Class struggle is what he is running away from. His labored, fake modesty is repellent. He declares  that  these are just a few exploratory ideas…which I humbly submit… knowing we all make mistakes ...it’s a work in progress.  In 2005, he sprang his  “Reflections on Socialism” on the Party convention on its last day. It was similarly billed as a personal viewpoint, just a few tentative ideas. It has been on the Party web site as a canonical text ever since.

If he were really modest he would acknowledge the complete failure of his analysis. Recall how wrong – and how haughty – his opinions were, when he chastised domestic and foreign skeptics as “ostriches.”

Labor and its allies now have a friend, a people's advocate in the White House. ... it is obvious that the Obama administration represents a qualitative break with rightwing extremism and free-market fundamentalism. Not to see this, not to acknowledge this, not to welcome this, no matter whether you live in or outside U.S. borders, is to act like the ostrich that sticks its head in the sand and misses what is happening on the ground. [7]

4. Misleading the members. Good leaders don’t make big mistakes, and they revise mistakes promptly. As he now admits openly, Webb’s theories and policies are not “mistakes.” The decision to hollow out the CPUSA as a genuine Communist Party, to make it merely a pressure group inside the Democratic Party came first.  Sam Webb changed his politics in the 1990s.[8]  But he also decided to keep his job (and the perks and assets that go with it), and try by stealth and by guile the to remake CPUSA as a social democratic or perhaps a liberal Democratic organization. The two, in practice, are little different.  Since coming into office in 2000, he has been tiptoeing and wordsmithing his way toward this end.  So far, he has largely succeeded.

5. Anti-Communism. A full answer to his obsession with Stalin would require a book. Suffice it to say anti-Stalinism is the antechamber to all-out anti-Communism.  For one so preoccupied with the “ultra right,”  he uses the bitterest anti-Communist rhetoric of the ultra right in his plea for more anti-Stalinism in the CPUSA. [9]

6. Harmful impact on mass movements.  With Communists playing a smaller role in it, the antiwar movement is floundering. When was the last big antiwar demonstration in Washington? The trade unions  -- without a Communist critique, Communist skill at building left-center coalitions and Communist strategic understanding -- have no idea what to do now that Obama Administration is attacking working people almost daily. Their plan was to elect Obama and pass the Employee Free Choice Act. What’s the plan now?

7. Harmful Impact on the Party. A falling, aging membership.  Dwindling CPUSA influence on the left and people’s movements. Internal Party morale at rock bottom. Clubs drifting.

8. Incompetence. His stewardship of the organization is in itself a sufficient basis to remove him. Webb’s self–described “flexible and non-dogmatic Marxism,”[10] has led to a trail of errors. In 2008-2010 we were treated to delirious rhapsodies about the President’s alleged “community organizer” background.  A chimerical "Obama Movement" was claimed to exist, thereby conflating a movement with 1) a campaign email list of small donors, or else 2) a transient moment in November 2008 when new forces entered the voting booth. A progressive “Obama Agenda,” to which we were required to rally our new Democratic Party contacts, was said to exist. When his right-wing Cabinet appointments were made, we heard, "Don't go bananas," such appointments need not imply future policy direction.

For two years -- facts be damned -- Webb and Co. continued to swoon.   Obama became the leader of the people's movements, a "friend." Early 2009 was the "springtime of possibility." He was "brilliant," a "transformational" politician. The country was coming "out of the crisis," into "an era of democratic reform." Members were advised to attend the Inaugural festivities. Some Party leaders actually predicted that Obama would shift leftward after the Inauguration.  We heard the  "Impossible has become Possible." A mountain of evidence that Obama, not McCain, was the main recipient of Wall Street donations was dismissed. [11]

9. Webb doesn’t do his job. He is mainly responsible for carrying out the line of the Party as expressed in the Party Program.[12] Openly, he is declaring that his present political convictions lead him in another direction. A self-respecting organization cannot tolerate such behavior.

10. Webb’s ideas amout to Browderism for the 21st Century. "The historic error of social democracy is trailing behind the big bourgeoisie," wrote William Z. Foster in 1946. [13]  The ghost of Browder haunts the CPUSA today. The present course of the CPUSA is precisely the Browder error: trailing an illusory liberal monopoly bourgeoisie whose political expression is said to be the Obama Administration

Browder wrongly projected that Big Three (US-UK-USSR) wartime unity would continue after the defeat of the Axis, with the consent of US monopoly capitalists, all “intelligent men.” Browder then tried to ally the CPUSA with his imaginary “liberal” big bourgeoisie. In fact, the Truman government was becoming less liberal by the day as it became the instrument of US ruling circles’ desire to launch the Cold War and McCarthyism.

Similarly, today, the leadership circle around Webb hitched its wagon to Obama in 2008, as it had earlier hitched its wagon to Congressional Democrats. Obama and the Democrats are – we are supposed to believe – the voice of the “liberal” big bourgeoisie, our rampart against the “ultra right.” Reality just won’t conform to Webb’s predictions.  The US Administration  is moving  rightward as fast as it can.

Other objectionable, dishonest features, such as the use of Straw Men, are everywhere. No Communist, ever, has said “reform is a dirty word,” as he implies.

Marxism is revolutionary in theory and practice, but it doesn't consider "gradual" and "reform" to be dirty words nor does it believe that every political moment at the level of concrete reality is actually or potentially radical and revolutionary.

Conclusion

If the Webb line is Browderism for the 21st Century,  its end, sooner or later, will be the same. The ship is already foundering on the sharp rocks of reality. But will its end be in time to save the Party?

Ousting him in an internal fight will not be easy. On his side, for example, is the abysmally low standard of Party ideological education which he has done so much to lower. This fact works in favor of his desired transformation of the Party into a gelatinous association of liberal Democrats.

I beseech Party members, still holding back,  to re-think the “factionalism” issue. That democratic centralism is already a dead letter is clear from the open advocacy by his surrogates of a Party name change, even ending the CPUSA as a party.  Webb’s Twenty-Nine Theses tell us he is no longer a Communist. He is not binding himself by democratic centralism. You should not be either, if it impedes the fight to save the Party. If and when we restore the Party, then we can restore disciplined, democratic unity, that is to say, restore democratic centralism.

If other leaders of the National Committee (NC) and National Board (NB) have neither the wit nor common sense to understand what’s at stake -- if they cannot grasp that Webb’s stated politics make him unsuitable for the post he is in -- then  we must go to the Districts and clubs.  He holds the most important post in the Party.  He sets the line. He sets the leadership agenda and priorities. He makes assignments.  He hires and fires.  He has the last word on the assets.

So far, many Party leaders have hardly covered themselves in glory. Some still stay silent. Like Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield, they hope that “something will turn up.” Some confine their opposition to sharing derisive comments about his inane ideas only among their friends, who already agree with them.  This is opportunism. The result is that nothing changes, and nothing will change. The Party is in a tailspin.  This is perhaps their last chance to redeem themselves.

If his new document stands unchallenged, Webb will have ample reason to think the way is clear to do what he pleases. He has surrounded himself, mostly, with toadies on the NB. One hopes that not all on the NB are toadies. The NC, though purged of many of its independent thinkers, still has healthy forces.

It is unacceptable for a Communist party, a revolutionary party, to be headed by a person who does not share its beliefs. Would it be acceptable for a union leader openly to take the side of the employers?

Some say, “Ignore him; we can do good work without him.” To believe that is a big mistake.  Stealthily for ten years, more or less openly for five years, he has been nudging the Party rightward. Most ignored his “class is too stiff” essay of 2000. Some ignored his speech to the Left Forum in 2004. They ignored his “Reflections on Socialism” in 2005. They ignored the dismantling process.  Physical dismantling included the bookstores, Party archives, the print PWW, and on and on.  Some, truly dead from the neck up, want to ignore even this document.

Fence-sitting is no longer possible.

Removing him from office and changing the line would start a recovery process.

When US imperialism was pushing deeper into the quagmire of the Vietnam War, Pete Seeger wrote about LBJ’s criminal folly in a famous antiwar ballad. He likened the escalation of the war to a US platoon commander who pushed his unit into the murky jungle river. The ballad’s unforgettable refrain was, “We’re waist deep in the Big Muddy, and the Big Fool says to push on.”

Today, the CPUSA is “Waist deep in the Big Muddy.” Its members must act before the waters rise over our heads. Time is short.

-End-

________________________________________________________________

Endnotes


[1] http://www.politicalaffairs.net/a-party-of-socialism-in-the-21st-century-what-it-looks-like-what-it-says-and-what-it-does/

[2] It took him  more than ten years  to own up to the fact that he changed his politics in the 1990s. He says he has re-thought  his decision in the 1991 CPUSA versus Committees of Correspondence battle, but he won’t tell us why or how.Here is his idea of self-criticism: “Unfortunately, the "movement" of these broad social forces was not sustained in the post-election period.”  It takes gall to write such words,  when one  was advocating that the movement adjust itself to the politics of the Obama Administration, not vice versa. He goes on to be agnostic about what is responsible  for this “unfortunate” development.

[3]  “Reflections on Revisionism" (2005); ”From Revisionism to Party Liquidation"( 2008); “the Crisis of the CPUSA” (2009). All available at <>

[4] “The task of a party of socialism in the 21st century is to give leadership to the movement as a whole, to be a force for broad working class and people's unity, to interconnect the particular and general demands of a multilayered social movement, to articulate a socialist vision and values – a challenge to be sure. We have no illusions that we can meet this challenge through our efforts alone.”

[5] ”A party of socialism in the 21st century is internationalist in outlook and practice. And well it should be.” 

But then he also writes: “As for "Marxism-Leninism," the term should be retired in favor of simply "Marxism." ….it has a negative connotation among ordinary Americans, even in left and progressive circles. Depending on whom you ask, it either sounds foreign or dogmatic or undemocratic or all of these together. 

”

[6] In Thesis #11 he declares:  “I would strongly argue that the relationship between the two – class and democracy – is dialectical. Each interpenetrates and influences the other. Neither one can be fully realized apart from the other. And both interact in the context of a social process of capital accumulation.
” Clear?

[7] Note that the process doesn’t work in reverse. In 2008-10 when the Democrats held, so to speak, two and one-half branches (the House, the Senate, a 5-4  balance on the US Supreme Court), there was no discussion that the political emergency was over and the ultra right was fading as the main danger. Webb has shifted the line. The mere existence of the ultra right, not its power, actual or potential, is the justification of the permanent CPUSA embrace of the Democratic Party.

[8] “If I were asked to sum up what conclusions I reached it would be this: our theoretical structure – Marxism-Leninism – was too rigid and formulaic, our analysis too loaded with questionable assumptions, our methodology too undialectical, our structure too centralized, and our politics drifting from political realities. “

[9] 
”... a party of socialism should make an unequivocal break with Stalin and his associates, not to please the enemies or critics of socialism, but to acknowledge to millions that the forced and violent collectivization of agriculture, the purges and executions of hundreds of thousands of communists and other patriots, the labor camps that incarcerated, exploited and sent untold numbers of Soviet people to early deaths, and the removal of whole peoples from their homelands can't be justified on the grounds of historical necessity or in the name of defending socialism. They were crimes against humanity. 

To describe these atrocities as a mistake is a mistake – criminal: yes, a horror: yes, a terrible stain on the values and ideals of socialism: definitely. To make matters worse, the practices of the Stalin regime set in place theoretical notions, structures and relations of governance, laws of socialist economy, justifications for concentrated power, and a great-leader syndrome that in the end weakened socialism in the USSR and other socialist countries. 

I can't speak for other parties, and have no desire to, but our party should be unequivocal in its condemnation of the Stalin regime.” 



[10]  A phrase directly borrowed from Browder, by the way.

[11]  The donations bestowed on Obama by Wall Street were public information. See <>

[12] I was tempted to write “the line of the Party Convention.” The May 2010 convention was as one comrade who attended declared, “more an exercise in crowd control than a Communist convention.“  See “Impressions of the CPUSA Convention” at www.mltoday.com.

[13] “Marxism-Leninism versus Revisionism,”  Foster,  Duclos, Dennis, Williamson, Weiss. 1946

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