Time for a new catch-phrase

BY:Deb Wilmer| May 27, 2024
Time for a new catch-phrase


This piece is a contribution to the Pre-Convention Discussion for our 32nd National Convention. During Pre-Convention Discussion, all aspects of the party’s program, strategy, and tactics are up for consideration and debate. The ideas presented here are those of the author or authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Communist Party USA, its membership, or their elected leadership bodies. — Editors

The term “Bill of Rights Socialism,” from what I understand, has been with the CPUSA for approximately three decades now. I argue that it is time to strike “Bill of Rights” from the phrase.

In the popular imagination, when U.S. residents hear the term “Bill of Rights,” they think first (and perhaps only) of the Bill of Rights that is the first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Much like the U.S. Constitution itself, the Bill of Rights is romanticized, and held in the highest regard without critical thought. Further, most Americans think only of the First Amendment when they think of the Bill of Rights:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Occasionally, they also think of the Second Amendment:

A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

But there are eight other amendments in the Bill of Rights, and I dare say you would be hard-pressed to find any person in the U.S. who can name them all. I certainly can’t.

I imagine that “Bill of Rights” was appealing when adopted by the CPUSA because it is quintessentially American, and the Party, of course, has been vilified as being as anti-American as you can get. Perhaps comrades felt that tagging it to “Socialism” quelled fears stoked by the right-wing of socialism and communism being the end of your much vaunted “freedoms” as an American. If this was a reason for adopting the phrase, then I can certainly understand it. But I believe it to be in error, just the same.

For the average American, “Bill of Rights Socialism” will immediately call to mind the first one or two amendments of the U.S. Constitution. But further down the scroll, you will find the most glaring inconsistency between the U.S. Bill of Rights and socialism in the final phrase of the Fifth Amendment, “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” This phrase enshrines private property rights and is wholly incompatible with the economic system of socialism, predicated on the seizure of the means of production.

The Fifth Amendment also creates the Grand Jury system. While originally meant to be a progressive institution, it is routinely criticized by advocates of criminal defendants as lacking due process rights and controlled largely by the prosecution.

Even in the much praised First Amendment, don’t forget that freedom of speech, press and assembly has long been extended to hate groups, Nazis, fascists, white supremacists and the like. Do we really want to continue that under socialism? And the Second Amendment has caused nothing but trouble, as we all know.

If our answer is that we will get rid of the parts of the current Bill of Rights that are incompatible with socialism once socialism arrives, then there are problematic portions of the Party Program that belie this:

Full restoration and expansion of the Bill of Rights… (page 43)

A socialist USA, resting on the foundation of the Bill of Rights(last sentence of the first paragraph on page 53)

Once the power of the corporations is broken, the vast majority of the country can use the Constitution, the Bill of Rights(last sentence of the sixth paragraph on page 54)

(My emphasis.) There’s no indication there that we will be selective in our adoption of the current Bill of Rights from the U.S. Constitution.

Additionally, our Party Program states that the Bill of Rights is a unique feature of the U.S. political culture. This is untrue. The U.S. Bill of Rights was based on the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, and the Bill of Rights of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and was followed by similar documents in countries all over the world.

It’s time to change our catch-phrase and update the Party Program accordingly. Let’s also remember how much has changed in the last thirty years. Socialism and even communism are no longer the 4-letter words they once were considered to be. The American public is ready to hear about “Socialism” now, qualifiers not needed.



    Deb Wilmer is an activist with the Eastern Massachusetts Club CPUSA

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