Convention Discussion: Good Drama, but wrongheaded

BY: Sam Webb| June 2, 2014

Submitted by Sam Webb, National Chair, CPUSA

Since the name of the Party seems to be commanding so much discussion here, a little heads up for everyone: there is no proposal to change the party’s name at the convention. Our attention (and my keynote which I’m working on at this very moment) will focus on the main political tasks, the current and subsequent stages of struggle, and the role and building of a mature, modern, and militant party in a many sided way.

We hope to shine the spotlight on the struggles of low wage workers and climate change. The latter is an existential crisis and we can be, as Martin Luther King said in another context, “too late” if we (and the American people and people worldwide) don’t become fully engaged in this struggle now.

In addition, the convention will give special attention to the battle for equality, democracy, and peace as well as the elections this fall. Not least, we will talk about how to popularize our vision of socialism.

I read a submission on the convention website comparing this convention with the convention in 1991. That makes for good drama, I guess, but it is incredibly wrongheaded and irresponsible in so many ways. I am tempted to reply to it and some others like it, but not sure if I have the time. Suffice to say that the attempt to frame the convention as “The Final Conflict” between a social democratic current on the one hand and a Leninist current on the other is an invention and fool’s errand, reflecting a shallow cast of mind.

Such a claim can’t simply rest either on my suggestion that we retire the term Marxism Leninism (not Lenin and his rich and irreplaceable theoretical and practical legacy) in favor of simply Marxism, or another suggestion that we discuss a name change. Neither suggestion in my view is a matter of principle, or, ipso facto, a repudiation of the Party’s history and legacy. Nor would either, if adopted, set into motion an inexorable process leading to the defanging of the revolutionary character of the Party.

To pin the social democratic, opportunist, Browderist (Browder was a Party leader who took the position that the struggle between contending classes was becoming a secondary factor in politics giving way to a new era of class harmony), etc. tag on me (or anyone else who advocates such changes) would take more than evidence than has been offered so far. A stream of pejoratives isn’t enough.

To begin, the “guardians of the faith” would have to show that those advocating these changes are ready to abandon a consistent class approach to politics, economics, and ideology and scuttle our current strategic policy.

They would also have to show that we advocate the assignment of the working class to a minor role in the struggle for social reforms and socialism and the downplaying of the strategic alliance of the working class with people of color, women, and youth.

It would be imperative too for these critics to make a case that we are prepared to give ground on the fight against racism, male supremacy, and other backward ideologies and practices as well as sideline the further building of broad democratic unity against right wing extremism.

Another piece of their bill of particulars would have to include some evidence that we are committed to relegating socialism to a failed idea and practice of the 20th century and trashing Marxism as an advanced theory of working class and human emancipation.

Finally, these “guardians of the faith” would have to demonstrate that those of us who are in the bullseye of their criticism have no desire to build our Party in a many sided and mass way.

None of this they can do; and the reason is simple: there is no evidence; no one is suggesting fundamental changes in our core theory, policies, and practice. Faced with this reality, they pursue their only other option: they make sweeping and irresponsible claims even though there is no evidentiary basis. Now you would think that fact would give them reason to pause, but it doesn’t since their aim in the end isn’t to bring clarity, but to confuse and scare. In doing so, they reveal their attachment to a fundamentalist, undialectical, and dogmatic Marxism and an “invented” past in which communists were “calling the shots,” politics were uncomplicated, and socialism was “around the corner.”

That said, for a long time I (and many others as well) have firmly believed that we have to change in line with new realities if we hope to grow and command a far larger footprint and leading role in the political process. A communist party can’t stand still at either the level of theory, practice, organization, culture, or popular symbols and brands in a constantly changing world.

And we have done that over the past decade or more. And while we haven’t done everything right, I would strongly argue that the changes that we have made have enhanced our revolutionary essence and character.

To elaborate: we have taken a wide angled approach to the class struggle and insisted on a strictly sober and objective estimate of the balance of class and social forces, which has served us well.

We have given flesh to our current strategic policy, although there is pressure to scuttle it from some of the same critics mentioned above, who claim that our strategy is non-class and opportunist in nature; that pressure, by the way, we must resist. After all, right wing extremists still play an outsized role in the country’s politics; they remain the main obstacle obstructing social progress.

We have also argued that the quantitative and qualitative growth of the working class requires adjustments in our policy of working class concentration.

We have also said on more than one occasion that the struggle for political independence has to be encouraged, but not disconnected from our overall strategic policy.

Another argument I and others have made is that the terrain on which the struggle for racial and gender equality plays out has changed in qualitative ways, thus presenting new obstacles and challenges to the democratic movement.

Furthermore, we have been insistent in saying that our vision of and path to socialism should be deeply rooted in our nation’s traditions, customs, and history as well as shaped by contemporary sensibilities, conditions of struggle and challenges in the 21st century.

Finally, we have embraced the notion that our leadership role in the broader movement rests – not on some rhetorical “vanguardist” assertions – but rather on the strength of our strategic creativity and tactical flexibility, appreciation of the links between class and democratic struggles, nose for the main issues of struggles, skill in building broad and deep unity, readiness to fight against racism, male supremacy and other ideologies and practices of inequality and disunity, day to day commitment to fighting for our class and people, the building of the Party in size and capacity, and not least, a Marxism that takes seriously Lenin’s observation,

“We do not regard Marx’s theory as something completed and inviolable; on the contrary, we are convinced that it has only laid the foundation stone of the science which socialists must develop in all directions if they wish to keep pace with life.”

In short, our leadership role doesn’t issue from our self-declarations or what we did yesterday. Rather it pivots in the final analysis on how well we distinguish ourselves at the level of ideas and practice in today and tomorrow’s struggles.

We will be much better served if we situate ourselves as an equal and dynamic part of a larger left and progressive movement, and on that ground make (in fact, we are already making) a vital, unique, and necessary political and practical contribution to immediate and longer-range struggles.

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



    Sam Webb is a member of the National Committee of the Communist Paryt USA. He served as the party's national chairperson from 2000 to 2014. Previously he was the state organizer of the Communist Party in Michigan. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine.

    He is a public spokesperson for the CPUSA, and travels extensively in the U.S. and abroad, including trips to South Africa, China, Vietnam, and Cuba where he met with leaders of those countries.

    Webb currently resides in New York City, graduated from St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia and received his MA in economics from the University of Connecticut.


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