Convention Discussion: Why communists shouldn’t be anti-American

BY: Fabian S| May 4, 2014

Submitted by Fabian Sneevliet, Houstin, TX

Communists today often take a misguided approach to being American. Because of the massive atrocities of US imperialists, Communists often conclude that everything having to do with America is bad. Because the US imperialists have waged vicious wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Central America, many Communists are weary of calling themselves American. Certainly, we should condemn the brutal violence of US imperialism against other countries and never tone down our critique. We should expose the crimes of the United States in Guantanamo Bay and show how American Capital has created a prison system to protect its class interests. Not for one moment should we cease critiquing the American capitalist class in its violation of privacy during the recent NSA revelations and in its policing of many progressive activists. On the basis of this critique, we should critique the American capitalist class and its allies, but we should not thereby become anti-American as such. We can be fully opposed to the wars committed by the US, the vicious crimes committed by the American government in Guantanamo, and the harassment of immigrant workers in the United States. We should thus be anti-American capitalism, not anti-American.

Many American workers identify with the word ‘American’, are proud of American culture and some of the revolutionary traditions of the United States. Most American workers would look up to Martin Luther King and celebrate the victories of the American trade union movement. When they carry the American flag, it is not to celebrate American jingoism or the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo, but to celebrate the great revolutionary history of the American working class. It is to honor the victories won by African-Americans in the struggle against slavery during the civil war, the collective struggle of the working class for a higher wage, for more democratic rights, and for more public services. For the average worker, the American flag is as symbol expressing the victories of the American working class and its struggles for peace and democracy. When a Communist, socialist, or progressive burns an American flag or refuses to call himself an American, he thereby isolates himself from most workers. He confuses the crimes of US imperialism with the victories won by American workers, and thereby makes a fool out of himself the moment he speaks. He might say to a union leader carrying a small American flag, “that is the flag of war! Carrying that flag aligns you with imperialism!” and thereby instantly makes himself disliked by the very people he is trying to work with. The Communist who is less vocal about his anti-Americanism, but refuses to base his politics of the struggles on the American working class is no less infantile in his politics. He may put forth abstract slogans and talk about the history of the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and about workers struggles in Europe, but refuse to talk about the heroic struggles of American working people. In doing this, he makes a crucial mistake, for the American worker is more interested in how the victories won by the American working class can teach him how to win similar victories and have a better life. Therefore, the Communist organizer who speaks only about European socialism and nothing about the American working class is isolating himself from the American worker and is thus incapable of reaching him or her.  A Communist should certainly be an internationalist and celebrate the victories of workers across the world. In his discussions with others, he should always throw in a remark about the achievements of the Soviet Union, such as workers democracy, a mighty red army that defeated fascism, and good public services. However, this should always be done in order to demonstrate that socialism can be won in the United States, and that the path to socialism in the US will take its own specific form. We should always emphasize that we want ‘Socialism with American Characteristics’, and that socialism in the US will take a particularly American form. In this way, we can still respect the heroes of socialism, from Marx to Lenin, while remaining focused on the conditions of American workers.

Today, the ultra-Right, from the Tea Party to the Koch Brothers, have claimed the word ‘American’ to support their reactionary politics. For them, ‘American’ means individualism, free enterprise, competition, private ownership of resources, anti-communism, pro-capitalism, and jingoism. Whenever they say ‘Im proud to be an American’, it is to support the US military’s intervention in another country or to celebrate the opening of a new corporation. When they wave the flag, it is to celebrate the ruling class and the capitalist corporate elite. For them, the American flag means aggressive militarism and the exclusion of any collective political action. The ultra-Right uses the word ‘American’ to advocate selfishness and greed, and to denounce collectivism, co-operation, and sharing as ‘un-American’. It is no surprise that many communists are anti-American, for they have fully bought into the propaganda of the ultra-Right. Instead of viewing this as another post-cold war attempt of the ultra-Right to attack socialism and brainwash the multitude into accepting capitalist ideology, many Communists view the word ‘American’ as unchangeably tied to US imperialism. This naïve infantile attitude should be abandoned and replaced with a strategy of ideological struggle. Communists should combat the ultra-Right by reclaiming the word ‘American’ for progressive working class politics. Instead of buying into the Right’s propaganda, Communists should expose their crimes as profoundly opposed to the interests of all Americans. They should demonstrate that there is absolutely nothing ‘American’ about waging aggressive military campaigns against Iraq, nor is there anything ‘American’ about the Tea Party’s corporate worship. The brutal jingoism of the American ruling class rather makes them the true traitors, for the US military’s crimes against the Iraqi and Afghanistan people entirely contradicts the American working class’s thirst for peace and democracy. Furthermore, the neoliberal backlash of the ultra-Right and its attacks on trade unions is fully at odds with the struggle of the American working class’s trade union history. Thus, union busting and budget cuts are truly un-American, whereas collective struggle through workers self-organization and State sponsored services are an American value.

One difficulty immediately arises: when we base ourselves on the American working class, it would appear that we exclude immigrant workers and people who do not consider themselves American. Is the word ‘American’ not too exclusive, in that it excludes many other identities? The aggressive border wars of the Department of Homeland Security against Mexican and Central American immigrants is profoundly opposed to the revolutionary history of the American working class. Communists should show the masses that anyone who is in the United States, whether they were born in Mexico or anywhere else, deserves to call themselves an American. The best way that Communists can do this is by fighting for the complete elimination of all borders and legalization of all immigrant workers. Also, communists should denounce all xenophobia by the capitalist media and learn the history and traditions of the immigrant population. By doing this, ‘American’ begins to be more inclusive and universal, not pointing only to white European settlers or people born in the United States. Rather, ‘American’ begins to take on a truly universal meaning, designating anyone living and working in the United States, regardless of color or nationality. It begins to designate anyone who stands with the American working class in its struggles for peace, democracy, and progressive change in the United States. Hence, the word ‘American’ is no longer exclusive, but reaches out to all working people in the United States, regardless of whether they were born here or elsewhere.

The job of Communists is thus not to adopt a naïve, infantile anti-Americanism, but rather to make the values of socialism an American value. It should exclude all pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist things from the definition of ‘being an American’, and show the masses that ‘American’ has a profoundly socialist meaning. Reclaiming the word ‘American’ for socialist goals, Communists can build unity amongst workers and wage a struggle against the ultra-Right. The American flag will no longer signify individualism, imperialism, and war, but the socialist values of collectivism, democracy, peace, and international solidarity. In this way, communists can begin to unite the American working class and fight to build socialism with American characteristics.  

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.

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


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