Convention Discussion: A Party of Advanced American Democracy

BY: John Case| March 18, 2014

Submitted by John Case, W. Virginia.

“We’ve never solved one single problem in this country with less democracy. We’ve never moved forward with less participation.” Bill Clinton

“What is the character of a party of 21st century socialism?” Answering this question presents a special challenge, even before engaging its substance, to navigate the special vocabulary of 20th century socialist and communist dialog. It is a vocabulary substantially imported from political upheavals across the world that bear an uneven and often contradictory relation to the US, especially in the post World War 2 era.

The thesis of this submission is: The working people of the United States have no task in this era that is not embraced by advancing democracy.

I am not talking absolutes, but tendencies. Clinton’s thesis has not been true of some countries where feudal chains on democratic development were much stronger and revolutionary dictatorships were required to dispose of them. Its not even entirely true of the US, as the revolutionary and civil wars prove, but it is a profound current in our history.

There have been two approaches to seeking truth in the working class movement. One is to engage in a “theoretical” discussion of what is the authoritative Marxist-Leninist teaching. Who is the true Marxist? Once we know that, problem solved. The impact of contributions that follow this very eclectic and to all effect futile dialog has been somewhere between irrelevant and reactionary.

The other approach is to shun “authority” and rely on evidence-based approaches. In real life, of course, we all indulge in a mix of “theory” and evidence-based practices. We all have questions that our experience, we think, tells us we do not have to revisit. But, to quote Clinton again, “the weakness of ideology is the belief you have the answers before the evidence is in.”

Lets list the existing countries claiming (in their constitutions) to be socialist: China, Cuba, Vietnam, and Laos — their constitutions not only include “socialism”, but also a path to a communist society as part of their mission. Countries calling themselves just “socialist” include Bangladesh, Guyana, India, North Korea, Portugal, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania. China and Vietnam, the two most powerful openly socialist nations are decidedly mixed economies whose “plans” heavily rely upon exports and capitalism in many sectors through the entire era of industrialization.

No country now endorses the Soviet model. Yet, the Soviet model was in large measure accepted as valid, identified as genuine socialism, and supported by most of the world communist movements, and the left wing of many national liberation movements, for decades, up to and even beyond the Soviet collapse. Nonetheless it showed itself incapable of sustaining a standard of living or growth rates competitive with advanced capitalist — or mixed — systems. Some movements are still Soviet-style advocates. But this is a dying trend, if evidence counts for anything.

It is important to consider why the Soviet model was a failure. It did NOT fail because it took a revolutionary, followed by a command or planned approach to saving the Russian nation in the wake of World War I and the collapse of the putrid Tsarist regime. Our own land is no stranger to the occasional necessity to assert a forceful industrial policy when preparations for war or disaster come into conflict with outdated institutions and class relations. The economic mobilizations in the Civil War and the World Wars are plain examples.

But its one thing to exert state force to make a sharp structural turn in response to a shift in relations of production; and quite another to consider replacing commodity production altogether when the true objective conditions for doing so are remote — all the way through the era of industrialization, in fact.

Lenin saw this, indeed, and made the uphill arguments for the a New Economic Program before his untimely death — arguments the communist movement later mostly ignored, or rejected, and that only Deng Chou Peng took up decades later after the failure of another “command” system led by Mao Tse Tung that had overstayed its time. Command economy efforts to banish markets before their time nearly always lead to black markets, patronage systems (Iraq, e.g.) and difficult-to-control corruption pressures. They are more vulnerable to anti-democratic tendencies the longer they persist.

China and Vietnam are both exciting and interesting nations — showing growth rates that are the envy of the world, and almost single-handedly reducing the world’s poverty rates at the same time. But are they a model for the US? China is clearly showing the advantages of a conscious industrial policy — something the US needs badly. But in most respects, China is not a model. Our overarching economic challenge is increasingly post-industrial; China’s and Vietnam’s are still overwhelmingly agricultural and industrial.

The truth is, for the US, there are no models of socialism in the existing world. While socialist and communist parties in the developing world have leveraged command policies to accelerate their industrialization, that model is in ruins as a sustainable path for advanced industrialized countries to follow. The reputation of “socialism” has declined throughout the world, with more countries that have dropped “socialism” from their constitution or founding documents than not. And there are no new ones..

Perhaps if we use another measure of “socialist” besides names, a different list might be composed. For example, lets use the degree of “welfare” vs market wealth in a country. If the replacement of private by public property, commodities by public goods and services, and the advance of equality among citizens, are socialist standards, then by this measure the following nations are the most socialistic: Denmark, China, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, Ireland, New Zealand, Belgium.

Now here, we DO see models that are more relevant to US working class interests. Aggressive industrial policy, a wide range of health, welfare, education, unemployment and retirement benefits and services, progressive taxes on wealth, equality as an important social and moral value, the world’s best education systems, pregnancy leave with pay, stronger union rights — all combine to make these nations rank very high on the UN Human Development Index rankings.

Democracy does not kill capitalism! But it weakens the monopoly and multinational sector, and necessarily introduces more socialism, more science and more public goods, and less “interest”, by increments — although the “increments” may take a revolution! But, while these “social-democratic” models of socialism are clearly more viable for the US — we must say that they too have been retreating in most countries.

The reason for the all-around retreat is globalization. Globalization is a combination of objective and subjective forces. On the objective side, there are:

  • a)economies and technologies of scale;

  • b) financialization infrastructure — the ability to finance and manage the vast flows of transactions, duties, fees, licensing, trade certification, etc transparently;

  • c) instantaneous global information;

  • d) global supply chains;

  • e) global energy and food infrastructures;

  • f) global labor migration, immigration and emigration.

On the subjective side there are the direct manipulations of nations and governments by giant corporations to suppress all national laws, rights and interests that interfere with their commerce. These objective processes cannot be stopped, or even much slowed down, except by catastrophe. Given that,assumption — that globalization is objectively unstoppable — the emergence of global governance, global democracy, global guarantees of rights is the only path toward light. Social Democracy’s historical weakness has been nationalism. In the 21st century, the whole world will be globalized, and re-globalized. The national narrowness must be discarded.

The primary task of the working class is to fulfill the democratic revolution, promised at the founding of our country, and obtain a due measure of wealth and culture for all who labor. Advancing workers’ democracy means internationalizing it, as Marx envisioned. It trains those who do the work of the world, to lead the world.

Some conclusions follow: Both “communism”, and indeed “socialism” CAN safely be dropped from the name and constitution of a genuine working class party in the US without the slightest compromise of ANY principled question in the class struggle for this era. Democracy plus internationalism is entirely sufficient to guide us through this era. Alternatively, keeping the terms, in my view, requires rewriting and redefining BOTH.

The decision is a no brainer to me. A revolutionary party of advanced democracy is just what is needed.

The views and opinions expressed in the Convention Discussion are those of the author alone. The Communist Party is publishing these views as a service to encourage discussion and debate. Those views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Communist Party, its leading bodies or staff members. The CPUSA Constitution, Program, and all its existing policies remain in effect during the Convention discussion period and during the Convention.

For details about the convention, visit the Convention homepage
To contribute to the discussion, visit the Convention Discussion webpage

30th National Convention, Communist Party USA
Chicago | June 13-15, 2014



    John Case is a former electronics worker and union organizer with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), also formerly a software developer, now host of the WSHC "Winners and Losers" radio program in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

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