Convention discussion: For an Organization Rooted in Our Traditional Values, Not Dogmas of the Past

March 24, 2010

This article is part of the discussion leading up to the Communist Party USA’s 29th National Convention May 21-23, 2010. takes no responsibility for the opinions expressed in this article or other articles in the pre-convention discussion. All contributions must meet the guidelines for discussion. To read other contributions to this discussion, visit the site of the Pre-Convention Discussion period.

All contributions to the discussion should be sent to for selection not to the individual venues.For more information on the convention or the pre-convention discussion period, you can email

To read a few of the pre-convention discussion articles, you would think that the CPUSA is in the midst of a crisis.

Titles such as Save the Party!, The Old Bug of Opportunism Returns, and Tailing the Democrats and Forsaking Struggle, give the impression that a true moment of reckoning is at hand. The choice that is put forward is to either continue with our current strategic policy focused on defeating the ultra-right or to turn toward some supposedly more socialist approach.

The answer for these articles is to return to “the Party’s tradition of class struggle, anti-racism, anti-monopoly, anti-imperialism, political independence, international solidarity, and indeed Marxism-Leninism” (from Save the Party!).

While I do not think the current strategic policy of the party really forsakes any of our traditional values, there are some ways in which these authors are right about the CPUSA being at a crossroads.

But it is not a new phenomenon, nor is it one that is associated with the policies of the party leadership since 2001 as is often insinuated. I think that the party has been at that crossroads for at least twenty years or so – since the collapse of the socialist countries, if not before.

The challenge since that time has been whether to continue following an ideological, political, and economic model based in Soviet experience or to set out on our own path to find a way of reaching socialism that is based on the problems and characteristics of contemporary life. The adoption of the new party program of 2005 and the consolidation of our strategic policy of defeating the ultra-right have been big steps in that direction. It is my opinion that we need to continue moving along that path.

The terms of discussion that are found in some of the articles critical of the party’s current direction demonstrate the work that is still to be done. The arguments have sometimes been more appropriate to an ultra-left sect than an organization that is a part of the broad movement for social progress.

These debates are happening on the basis of charges like reformism, revisionism, and right opportunism. For me, this is proof that not enough has been done to modernize our organization and to transform Marxism from an old catechism into a real guide to action and a way of understanding the concrete conditions of struggle in our own country and in our own time. As one of the main preconvention documents said, “We have to accept and adapt to the reality that times have changed” (from U.S. Politics at a Transition Point).

The growing influence of the Tea Party movement, the long and grueling fight that was healthcare reform, and so many other features of the current struggle should demonstrate convincingly that though the 2008 election dealt a major blow to the ultra-right, it did not knock them out completely as we had hoped.

Rather than jumping to the conclusion that we need to shift our focus to criticism of Obama, the Democratic Party, or the labor movement, we should instead be seeking to recommit ourselves to defeating the ultra-right and building the broad democratic coalition more strongly than ever. This is the orientation that the main discussion documents point us toward. We have to keep in mind who the “main social force(s) hindering progressive development” are and keep our fire aimed at them (from U.S. Politics at a Transition Point).

If the policy of defeating the ultra-right was correct in the 1980s, the 1990s, and 2008, how can it not be just as correct now that we are in a moment of transition toward a time when we can more forcefully go on the offensive? Let’s update our strategic policy to take account of post-election developments of course, but let’s not take a path that would isolate us from the rest of the coalition for change.

These disagreements over our strategic direction relate closely to the challenge of growing our organization.

The inability of the party to grow significantly during the recent period has been attributed in some of these articles to our strategic orientation, characterized as “tailism”, and to a “drift away from Marxist-Leninist principles” (from Tailing the Democrats and Forsaking Struggle).

Instead of laying the blame for the party’s slow growth at the foot of our strategic policy, perhaps we should instead question whether our failure to significantly grow could be related to the fact that the party is still seen by many in the broader left and especially among the general public as out-of-date in both its traditional terminology and yes, even its name. I think we have to pay close attention to any characteristics of our style, operation, or manner of presenting ourselves which interfere with our ability to influence struggles or gain new members and allies.

The changes we have been making over the last ten years have done a lot to help change the image of the party among our coalition allies, especially at the local level. But if the path proposed by critics of our strategic policy is followed, we would only be going in reverse.

Let’s continue developing our activities and ideology in accordance with the challenges and problems we face today. Modernizing our organization and our ideas does not mean we are abandoning the proud history and achievements of the past ninety years. Rather, it is an updating of our approach and style of work in accordance with some our best traditions. The 29th Convention will hopefully advance us further in such a direction.


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