Convention Discussion: Toward a Modern & Mature 21st Century Communist Party

BY: Sam Webb| February 20, 2014

Submitted for discussion by the National Board of the Communist Party. This essay was originally a report to the National Board.

Given that we live in an era marked by economic stagnation, growing threats to humankind’s survival, changes in people’s sensibilities and thinking, the beginnings of a counteroffensive against corporate capital at the national and global level, and an ongoing regroupment of the communist movement on the level of theory and practices, it is no surprise that the features, nature, and role of the Communist Party, USA in the 21st century would be a subject of discussion as we head toward our 30th convention in Chicago.

Here are my thoughts:

• In the first place, ours is a party of action. An inactive communist party is a contradiction in terms. We seek to understand the world, but also to change it. Action is at the core of our identity.

We encourage every collective and member to be a part of mass struggles and movements, which drive social change. Moreover, that is where we meet new friends and allies, grow in size, and test our theory.

• Ours is a party whose actions are guided by a strategic/class policy. Such a policy – that identifies the specific stage of social development of society, as well as the main class and social forces obstructing or advancing social progress and associated political tasks – is what enables us to assist and give leadership to the broader movement in the short and longer run.

For the past 25 years, our strategic objective has been the building of a labor-led people’s coalition against Republican right-wing domination of our nation’s political structures. Its aim isn’t to bring us to a gate on which is inscribed “Doorway to Socialism.” Instead, its aim is to decisively defeat the most reactionary sections of corporate capital and its right wing political supporters, thereby creating conditions to enter a new phase of class and democratic struggle on the road to socialism. In this new phase/stage, the working class and its allies will directly confront and attempt to radically curb corporate power as a whole, and, in doing so, lay the ground for a decisive class break in politics, power, and culture.

While we understand the life is always more complicated and contradictory than the “best laid plans” of communists, socialists, and radicals, our immediate strategic policy, especially when applied flexibly and dialectically, gives coherence to our policies and practical work, positions us to be part of a broad loosely structured people’s movement, earns us the respect of its leaders and activists, attracts new readers to our online sites (especially and new members to our ranks, and, not least, provides us with a “realistic road” to the future.

But again, our current strategy – which envisions the broader movement in a tactical, but necessary alliance with the Democratic Party against right-wing extremist candidates and initiatives – is only one stage in a longer-term process whose goal is to radically reconfigure class relations as well deepen and extend democracy (broadly understood as the right to a job, living wage, health care and housing, right to organize into unions, quality integrated education, reproductive rights, comprehensive immigration reform, affirmative action and an end to all forms of discrimination, green environmental policies, etc.). It isn’t an endpoint. And as the struggle sharpens and moves into new phases, I should add that new expressions of political independence will emerge (albeit not spontaneously), including, we believe, the eventual formation of a radical minded people’s party.

• The Communist Party is a party of the working class: multinational, multiracial, male and female, young and old, gay and straight, native-born and immigrant, and disabled. It is a party of people of color, women, young people, seniors; it is a political home for social activists of all kinds.

• Our party looks at the world through a class lens, but a class lens that is wide angled and elastic; that doesn’t seal us off from other movements, struggles, and modes of analysis.

• It is a party that argues that the present economic crisis isn’t self-correcting, nor can it be resolved with traditional Keynesian stimulus measures, as were earlier downturns. Such measures, even if the political will were there (and it isn’t, due in the first place to the actions of the Republicans), would be insufficient to bring about a robust recovery given the scope, depth, and dynamics of the current crisis. While we favor a socialist solution, a far more likely political possibility in the near and medium term is a series of measures that radically roll back corporate power, privilege, and profits and overhaul the priorities of government, but still within the framework of capitalism.

• The Communist Party believes that the working class in all of its diversity and complexity has a special role in the revolutionary process. No other class, social strata, or movement has the strategic social power of the working class, and revolutions do turn on the question of class and people’s power in the last analysis.

However, the transformation of the working class into a class that is socialist minded is a long, protracted, and contradictory process. If anyone ever thought that the revolutionary capacity of the working class is in its DNA or spontaneously arises from its place in the system of social production, experience should have taught him or her otherwise by now. Indeed, it depends on many things, including the ability of communists and the left to win a majority of workers and people to the ideas and practices of substantive democracy and equality, class struggle and socialism.

The leading role of the working class won’t be won by our oratorical zeal and rhetoric, but rather by the vigor with which it fights for its interests, the interests of other subordinated groups, and the interests of society as a whole; only in such struggles does the working class gain the experience and come to understand its role as a front ranker in the struggle for socialism.

Finally, the winning of socialism can only be a “family affair.” The working class will play a leading, but not singular role. That is to say, socialism requires the formation of broad and interactive alliances, especially the strategic alliance of the organized working class with the African American, Latino, and other communities of color. The utter necessity and durability of that alliance hasn’t lost any of its importance in effecting major social transformations in our society, including in the winning and consolidation of democratic, sustainable socialism; in fact, if anything, it has gained in strategic weight.

• Ours is a party committed to sustained struggle for racial, gender and other forms of equality. The struggle for equality and against racism, male supremacy, and other forms of oppression are inseparable aspects of the class struggle and the struggle for socialism. They are at the core of the struggle for democracy and against the reactionary Republican right wing.

In recent decades, vast political, economic, social, and demographic transformations have profoundly and permanently altered the terrain on which the working class and it allies battle their class enemies. But none of these changes have diminished the importance of the fight for full equality; indeed, the opposite is the case, although like everything else, the struggle for full equality has to be adjusted to today’s conditions, challenges, and new possibilities.

The devaluation of the struggle for equality limits the sweep of any victory at a moment when new avenues of understanding, unity, and possibility are opening up. At worst, it allows the most backward sections of our ruling class and its political constituency to gain ascendancy. In fact, wasn’t the ascendancy of the extreme right achieved in large measure by racist, male supremacist, homophobic, anti-immigrant, and other backward appeals to voters?

In nearly every category that measures social well being, the conditions of racially oppressed people have worsened, including in new immigrant communities.

Jobs are scarce, wages are low, health care and public services are thin, and it seems that jails can’t be built fast enough to accommodate the swelling prison population of whom a disproportionate number are young African American and Latino men, and in recent years, women.

Women’s rights have been under siege as well. Abortion and other reproductive rights, equal pay for comparable work, living wages, parental leave, quality public education, health care, and affirmative action are being shredded by the extreme right via laws and judicial rulings. Racially oppressed women are in the eye of both storms.

The objective of this many-sided assault is not simply to wipe out gains won in earlier periods and shift wealth towards the 1%, but also to crush the fighting spirit of the African American, Mexican American, and other racially oppressed peoples and women and their developing strategic alliance with labor.

Nationally and racially oppressed people and women are not simply objects of super-exploitation and oppression however. They also are fighters, organizers, and unifiers in their workplace and community; they bring unique insights and understandings to the political mix as well as bridge the main sectors of the people’s movement.

So much so that the ruling class well understands that the convergence of labor, the nationally and racially oppressed, and women constitutes a formidable foe and presages a future without exploitation, inequality, and oppression.

As for us, the struggle for racial, gender, and other forms of equality should be given a new urgency; it must be woven into everything we do. The same should be said about the struggle for the rights and dignity of immigrants.

• The Communist Party struggles to preserve and expand democracy, broadly understood as mentioned above. Such struggles aren’t simply the means to an end, nor are they tactical devices to be employed “when it advances the class struggle.” Rather, the struggle for democracy is both a means and an end; moreover, it is dialectically connected to the class struggle at every moment of the political process.

In fact, there is no “class” road to the future that bypasses the struggle for democracy, nor is there any way to realize a society without class divisions that is worthy of humankind that doesn’t extend democracy to every sphere of life.

• Ours is a party that will vigorously combat nativism and xenophobia. Immigrants bring to our country their cultures, labor power, and their traditions of struggle.

No one who has been involved in struggles on the contemporary scene can help but note the role of immigrant workers in fighting for democracy, workers’ rights, public education, community empowerment, cultural heritage, not to mention a humane and fair immigration policy. Their spirit is militant and their cause is just. No wonder the right wing demonizes them.

• The Communist Party gives due political importance to the struggle for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered rights – something that we didn’t do in the past. 

Society — socialist as well as capitalist — should not privilege one sexual orientation over another; instead it should celebrate humanity’s diversity and facilitate diverse sexual orientations and family and marriage arrangements.

The movement for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered rights has emerged as a powerful movement that occupies an important position in the overall people’s movement. Through its efforts, victories that seemed distant not that long ago have been won and the sensibilities of tens of millions of people have changed.

Nevertheless, right-wing extremism continues to contest the gay rights movement’s legitimacy and aims. Homophobia remains a wedge issue employed to scar people’s moral sensibilities and mobilize a reactionary constituency, although with less success.

• The Communist Party understands that today’s deep-going economic and social crisis has turned the future of millions of young people into a dead end. Low wage and insecure jobs, long bouts of unemployment, a degraded environment and the threat of climate change, police harassment, violence, and senseless homicides, exorbitant education costs and accompanying debt, a public education system that is failing, despite the heroic efforts of public sector workers, and a judicial and penal system riven by racism frame the future for young people. For many young people of color the future is no less than catastrophic.

Perhaps no other sector of the population would benefit so much from a shift in the balance of forces in a consistently progressive and anti-corporate direction – not to mention a dynamic socialism. The young generation needs fundamental changes in national priorities and a restructuring of the economy that puts people and nature before profits.

Of course, none of this will happen without a broad people’s upsurge, to which young people bring their energy, spirit, fresh ideas, and determination, as they have in earlier periods.

It follows that the broader movement has to step up its effort to deepen and extend its alliance with young people. And our Party should do likewise. How we do it will vary from place to place, but the starting point has to be an appreciation of the different sensibilities, life styles and organizing forms of young people.

*Ours is a party that places a high priority on independent political action. Now I am not suggesting that we do an about-face with respect to the Democratic Party. At this stage of struggle that would be a stupid mistake — strategic and tactical. The Democratic Party is an essential player in any conceivably realistic strategy for defeating the Republican Party and right-wing extremism.

But we can’t leave matters here.

Although the Democratic Party comprises diverse people and interests, it has a class gravity and anchorage about which we shouldn’t lose sight.

The main seats at its table are occupied by political players and power brokers who by disposition, loyalty, and worldview are committed, in the end, to creating favorable conditions for the accumulation of capital (profits) and for the smooth reproduction of capitalism on a national and global level.

Neoliberalism, globalization, and financialization – all of which deepened inequality, severely aggravated economic instability and crisis, undid many of the reforms of the previous century, and disempowered people – aren’t simply creatures of the Republican right.

Now, the election of Reagan and the ascendancy of the right did play a big role in the process, and the Republican right is the leading edge of the current ruling class offensive. But the Democrats were not bystanders either. While they resisted the more extreme measures of their right-wing counterparts, they also embraced some of the main assumptions and practices of neoliberalism, financialization, and globalization.

The Carter administration was the first out of the gate, but it was the Clinton administration and the Democratic Leadership Council that really greased the skids for the rise of finance and speculation, globalization, and the reduction of government’s responsibility to the people.

And even today, the president and his advisers and leading Democrats in the Senate and House are far from free of such thinking and practices.

And as for foreign policy, the differences between the two parties are more tactical than strategic. While such differences can be of enormous consequence to the preservation of a peaceful world and thus shouldn’t be dismissed by progressive and left people and organizations, it is also a fact that both parties are committed to U.S. global dominance and the growth of the national security state.

What is the upshot of my argument?

It’s this: the top circles of the Democratic Party are anchored to the outlook, needs, and polices of major sections of the capitalist class, thereby making it an unreliable and inconsistent ally.

I say this not to please our left critics, nor to suggest changing our current strategic policy, nor to say that there are no grounds for cooperation under any circumstances between the Democratic Party and the broader movement.

Rather, my point is to underscore the importance of expanding the network of progressives and liberals at every level of government, and further building the independent currents and formations in and outside the Democratic Party – while at the same time, stressing the urgent (and hardly mundane) task of building a broad coalition against right wing extremism, in which the President and the Democrats play a necessary role.

As for the formation of an independent people’s party at the national level, we should keep it in the conversation even if it isn’t yet on the horizon.

• Ours is a party that welcomes new non-traditional social forces, organizations, and forms of struggle.

• Ours is a party that is patriotic, in a double sense: we speak for the best interests of our country, and at the same challenge the demagogic efforts of the capitalist class to twist people’s national feelings into support for its own narrow and selfish political project. To think that communists can’t speak for the country in which they live as well for the class that they represent reveals a dogmatic, un-Marxist cast of mind.

• The Communist Party is convinced that only the mobilization of the immense majority in the interests of the immense majority can effect large-scale social change. At the same time, we understand that militant minorities of progressive and left people and organizations play a crucial role in the process of social change. But they can’t (and shouldn’t) try to substitute for broader masses of people. Their cause may be righteous and their agitation compelling, but progressive and radical change happens only when militant minorities are joined by millions of engaged and clear thinking people. We don’t “bowl alone.”

• It is a party that enjoys friendly relations with, as well as champions, the building of a larger, more energetic, and united left. Our relations with the broader left are not a zero sum game (one side wins, the other side loses); we will either grow in size, influence, and capacity together or not at all.

• It is a party that accents coalition building, but with the understanding that in any coalition there is struggle as well as unity. In other words, it is a contested as well a cooperative process. Various participants, including ourselves, strive to convince others of their political approach (demands, actions, forms of organization and struggle, etc.), while never forgetting the need for unity and united struggle against common foes.

• A mature Communist Party steers clear of false oppositions between partial and more advanced demands, gradual and radical change, electoral forms of action and other forms of action, patriotism and anti-imperialism, struggle against the state and struggle within the state, and the class struggle and the struggle for democracy.

• A 21st century party welcomes intellectuals. It is hard to think of a successful party that didn’t include a group of Marxist intellectuals among its members and leaders. 

At the same time, it is well aware that an overriding task is to train and develop workers in our own ranks to think independently, analyze the world dialectically, work collectively, and speak in a language that is easily understood. Political and theoretical knowledge can’t be a franchise of just a few leaders.

• A party that possesses political maturity searches for rifts within the ruling class, and is quick to take advantage of these rifts to advance the class and democratic struggle. Life teaches that struggle against a united ruling class is tough sledding.

• It is a party that squeezes every possible concession from its opponents, but is also able to compromise when the balance of forces dictates.

• A modern and mature 21st century Communist Party practices international solidarity. At the core of internationalism lies the common interest of the working and oppressed people, regardless of national boundaries, against their common exploiters and oppressors.

While each working class has to settle accounts with its own bourgeoisie, such a settling in this era when capitalism’s threads of exploitation, oppression, and militarism stretch to every nook and cranny of the planet requires new emphasis on and forms of internationalism. This includes climate justice for the countries of the South who are already paying a heavy price for a crisis that is the creation of the advanced capitalist countries of the North.

A century ago, Lenin analyzed the main features of the system of imperialism, in which the world is hierarchically divided between core, semi-peripheral, and peripheral countries and regions, on top of which sit huge concentrations of corporate power. This system continues to operate with full force in this century, but in a decidedly different context and new ways.

Obviously the extension and deepening of international solidarity in old and new ways is the order of the day.  

• Ours is a party that is convinced that socialism in this century isn’t simply a good idea, but a necessity.  There exist now crises and threats, perhaps none greater than climate change, which if unaddressed will spell the massive disruption and destruction of the web of life on a global scale.

In one of history’s ironies, socialism, despite its tumultuous history and historic defeat in the 1990s, is attracting new interest in all quarters of the globe, while capitalism only a few short years after its “triumph” over socialism loses legitimacy as it proves unable to address the pressing issues weighing on humanity’s future.

• Our party of the 21st century understands that there is no easy path to socialism; instead the struggle for social progress will go through many stages, ending up at what we hope is a peaceful transition to socialism, in which electoral channels will play a large role. This road will be bumpy; there will be breaks and retreats. It will require the entry and sustained intervention of ordinary people – many new to politics and activism – on a scale and depth that we have never before witnessed.

The path to socialism also presupposes a combination of forms of struggle within and outside of the state, shifts in momentum and initiative, divisions and disarray in the top ruling circles, the neutralization of some instruments of repression, a skilled and broadly based left and socialist movement – able to maintain its unity, extend its popular support, prevent sabotage of the economy and counterrevolution, and implement economic and social policies that address the needs of millions.

Finally and fundamentally, it will also take, not necessarily in one fell swoop, the dislodging of the main sections of the capitalist class from its positions of power – political, economic, and cultural.

• A 21st century party does not reduce socialism’s “claim to fame” to changes in production relations, new economic structures and mechanisms, and a dash of centralized planning (as we sometimes did in the past).

Now don’t get me wrong: socialism must solve the property question, as Marx and Engels said long ago. That is an overarching imperative. And yes, it must provide economic security to all of its citizens.

But socialism must be more than a provision society in the form of material goods. To enhance its attractive power to tens of millions of working people, it must have an emancipatory vision that expands the boundaries of human freedom and equality, turns ordinary people into the authors of their own lives and creators of a new society, envisions the full, free, and many sided development of every individual, and paints in many colors new arrangements of collective living and working.

In other words, our vision of socialism should speak to the unfulfilled desires of life in capitalist society where profit making, the cash nexus, individualism, inequalities and oppressions, senseless violence, competition, and rampant consumerism take away from the joy of life, diminish any sense of self-fulfillment, and disfigure feelings of solidarity — a solidarity, by the way, that should reach beyond family, community, class, country, and even species to the multitude of life forms and ecosystems that share this fragile planet with us. 

• It is a party that believes that ethical and political values — social solidarity, equality, sustainability, non-violence, respect for difference, deep democracy, humanism, etc. — should inform socialism’s polices, culture, discourse, and decision making. Any notion that such values are easily dispensable in the name of the class struggle and building socialism isn’t a terrain the our Party should ever find itself on.

• A mature and modern party understands that there are no universal paths to, or models of, socialism. Socialism has to grow out of the soil, history, and traditions of a particular country, at a particular time, and in particular circumstances.

• A 21st century party believes that the transition from capitalism to socialism is much more protracted, contradictory, and complex than previously imagined. In recent years, for instance, radical social transformations in relatively peaceful circumstances have occurred in Latin America. There the force of an active, organized, and overwhelming majority of the working class and its allies combined with the winning of bridgeheads in state structures have isolated elites, dislodged neoliberal governments from power, and cleared the ground, so far peacefully, for social and socialist transformations.

In the socialist countries, the process of socialist construction has moved in new directions and acquired a new, albeit much debated, content. We should study these experiences.

• It is a party that builds an extensive network of local organizations while also creating space for members who are unable to participate in a club. The activity of this network is the ground floor of a growing and dynamic party; it is where we bring to life our strategic policy and a reservoir of creative thinking and action.

• It is a party that uses social media in a robust way. We’ve made headway in this area, but not enough, and I have to admit I am simply amazed that some comrades still consider the utilization of new technologies as lower-order tools for organizing and reaching people with our ideas, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

• Our party’s main organizing principle is democratic centralism. This principle, which was distorted, sometimes badly so, on many occasions in the practice of the communist movement is in its essence a political-educational-mobilization-action concept and practice, not an administrative one, not reducible to majority rule or to higher bodies exercising authority over lower ones.

The two principles — centralism and democracy — should in the best of circumstances interpenetrate each other in such a way that allows for broad discussion and decision making on the one hand and unity of action on the other. All of which should happen within the framework of broad agreement with the party’s program.

Contrary to what some might think, democratic centralism doesn’t insist on agreement on every detail of party policy, but it does attempt to arrive in the course of collective discussion at common understanding of the tasks at hand.

This takes transparency, patient and persuasive discussion, mechanisms for communication and exchange, well-functioning collectives at every level, and strong internal educational work. Of particular importance in this intricate web are growing and active clubs, where members discuss, gain understanding, apply, and evaluate policies.

We still have much to do to give substance to this method of party organization. Moreover, we would be wise to retire the term for something that better captures the politics and methods of party organization.

• A modern and mature Communist Party believes that it has a unique and necessary role at this and at subsequent stages of struggle. But it also makes no claim to be “the” vanguard, that is, it doesn’t confer on itself a status that gives it the last word on all matters.

Providing leadership to the larger movement takes more than rhetorical assertions. It will depend on sound policies, a good nose for the main issues of struggle, skill in unity and alliance building, the use of media tools to reach a much bigger audience, and a capacity to carry out decisions in a timely and sustained way. It will also hinge on our success in growing in size and training a much larger pool of leaders.

In other words, our leadership role on the larger stage of politics has to be earned; it doesn’t simply issue from our ideological disposition or self-declaration.

We would be much better served if we situate ourselves as an equal part of a larger left and progressive movement, albeit making a vital, unique, and necessary contribution to immediate and longer-range struggles.

• It is a party that utilizes slogans, symbols, and terminology that resonate with a broad audience. And it should shed those that no longer fit today’s circumstances or are freighted with negative connotations, and not only because of the mass media, but also because of the practices of the communist movement in the last century.

This wouldn’t be the first time we do this. A few decades ago we scrapped the hammer and sickle, mothballed the red flag, and dropped phrases like “dictatorship of the proletariat.” We worked hard to get rid of leftist jargon, and changed the names of our collective bodies and leaders’ titles.

In their place, the party leadership at the time introduced  “Bill of Rights” socialism to emphasize the democratic character of our vision; spoke of the peaceful path to socialism; produced images and slogans for events, demonstrations, marches, etc. that spoke to our country’s struggles, traditions and experience. We relaxed the administrative side of democratic centralism and persuasion became the main, almost the exclusive, method of party mobilization.

Much of this was at Gus Hall and Henry Winston’s initiative.

In doing so we didn’t sacrifice our revolutionary character a single bit; in fact, it allowed us to reach a bigger audience with our ideas.

What is more, this wasn’t the first time we shelved (and stopped importing) symbols, images, and language as well as ideas that didn’t resonate in the larger culture of our country. In the 1930s, we did it big time — in many ways made an about-face — and thus grew in influence, size, and capacity.  

All of which makes me shake my head when some comrades, with great vigor, proclaim that they oppose any efforts to drop the hammer and sickle, the red flag, “vanguard,” and the like. Apparently, they don’t know that they are a few decades too late.

In recent years, many Party leaders, myself included, have dropped the term “Marxism Leninism” and simply use “Marxism.” Others use the term “scientific socialism,” although I am not a fan of this because our outlook, methodology, and assessments are an art as well as a science. 

Contrary to what a few say, I have no desire to take down Lenin. I’m not that presumptuous. His contributions theoretical and practical legacy is enormous and many faceted. Best of all, much of what he wrote still provides insights into today’s world and struggles.

So my beef isn’t with Lenin. It is with the term “Marxism-Leninism.” First, because words matter a lot; some resonate with people; others turn people off. While “Marxism” is by no means a household word, it is much more digestible, and does not have the negative connotations that “Marxism Leninism” does.

Second, we shouldn’t use any terms internally that we don’t use “in public.” How many of us describe ourselves as Marxist Leninist outside of Party gatherings or when among close political friends?

Third, Marxism-Leninism turned into a closed system in the 20th century. It can claim some theoretical innovations, but it also was resistant, sometimes hostile to, other Marxist traditions and analysis. Even someone like the heroic and brilliant Italian Communist leader Antonio Gramsci was viewed with suspicion.

Finally, in our circles, “Marxism Leninism” became an ideological security blanket; if someone thinks that everything is figured out, it becomes a substitute for the hard work of theoretical exploration and updating. For too many it’s more of a political identity than a theory to be studied, absorbed, and creatively developed.

Two letters of Engels to Carl Schmidt capture what I’m trying to get at (hint: substitute Marxism Leninism for historical materialism):

“In general, the word “materialistic” serves many of the younger writers in Germany as a mere phrase with which anything and everything is labeled without further study, that is, they stick on this label and then consider the question disposed of. But our conception of history is above all a guide to study … All history must be studied afresh …”

“… too many of the younger Germans simply make use of the phrase historical materialism (and everything can be turned into a phrase) only in order to get their scant historical knowledge … constructed into a neat system as quickly as possible and deem themselves something very tremendous.”  

In another letter:

“The materialist conception of history has a lot of them nowadays, to whom it serves as an excuse for not studying history. Just as Marx used to say, commenting on the French “Marxists” of the late seventies: All I know is that I am not a Marxist.”

Well, I’m not suggesting that we cast “Marxist” aside like Marx threatened to do, but I do think we would be better served by simply describing ourselves as Marxists, which more and more of us are already doing and which, interestingly, seems to be undergoing a revival in the mainstream press.

Moreover, I doubt that Lenin would object. He was modest to begin with, but more importantly he strongly believed that Marxism was a dynamic and dialectical system of analyzing and changing the world. His emphasis was on developing it in line with changing conditions, not on institutionalizing it. Lenin wrote,

“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 other words, in employing Marxism as a tool of analysis and struggle, we should give emphasis to its innovative and critical side. After all, we live in a new era of world development. Few if any of us anticipated the profound changes that have occurred over the past few decades.

In playing poker keeping a pat hand (that is, playing the cards you are dealt) can make good sense, but as an approach to theory is it is a poor strategy for a revolutionary party.

Marxism can only claim to be a sound theory only if it takes into account new realities, if it absorbs new experience, if it is open-ended to new analytical insights by Marxists and non-Marxists alike.

If we leave our convention in June resolved to do precisely this, I will be a happy camper, and more importantly, the convention by this measure will be a major success and our future will be in good hands.

• The task of a modern and mature 21st century party is to deepen, broaden, and assist and lead alongside other left and progressive forces the working class and peoples movement at each successive stage of struggle.

Lenin once wrote:

“The task of the party is not to invent some fashionable method of helping the workers, but to join the workers movement and to assist the workers in the struggles, which they have already started themselves. “

Fair enough, but is that the extent of our role? Isn’t there more to it?

And the simple answer is yes. Our role of is many layered and many sided. It can’t be reduced to either practical action or agitation; or to only building the movement; or to only building the party; or to only one level of struggle – economic, political, or ideological. Nor can it only consist of deepening class-consciousness or popularizing advanced demands.

Our task, instead, is to creatively and systematically blend all of these elements into a coherent whole, interweaving them on the basis of a concrete analysis of the concrete situation and struggle.

The revolutionary process goes through different stages, with each characterized by a different configuration of class and social forces and a different set of class and democratic demands and tasks that have to be realized in order to move to the next stage. And at each stage our role is to facilitate that process in a many sided, dialectical, and concrete way, again not apart from the movement, but in its very midst.

In contrast to the sectarian left, communists take sober, Marxist based account of the particular stage of struggle reached and our strategic policy, tactics, political demands, message, and activity – in a word, our role – are shaped accordingly.

Of singular importance are democratic struggles, which change at each qualitative turn of the class and democratic struggle.

“He is no [communist],” Lenin wrote, “who forgets in practice his obligation to be ahead of all in raising, accentuating, and solving every general democratic question.”

In the course of these struggles, the working class, with the assistance of the Party and the left, forges closer unity in all its various forms, acquires a deeper appreciation of the role of various class and social forces, attracts to its side key allies, learns the art of combining advanced demands with partial demands, becomes the social head and the social heart of the people and nation, and amasses the political capacity and confidence to weaken and eventually defeat its class adversaries.

And to repeat as we immerse ourselves in day-to-day struggles, we grow our Party in size and capacity; that too is an objective requirement if the broader movement is to reach its full potential and move to the socialist stage of struggle – not to mention create a new society in which freedom, equality, peace, and economic security and sustainability ring from sea to shining sea.

While our convention will address a whole range of issues — some local, others global — we would do well to give our best thinking to the task of the many sided building of our Party and youth movement — not in a vacuum, but organically embedded in the everyday struggles of our nation’s working class and people.

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
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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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