Convention Discussion: CPUSA Scores Low on Internationalism

BY: Tom Whitney| March 18, 2014

Submitted by Tom Whitney, Maine.

It used to be that the CPUSA was able to project its own campaigns onto an international stage.  Campaigns to free Angela Davis and save the Scottsboro Boys from execution come to mind.  The party now shrinks from joining in with the struggles of comrades overseas. Its internationalism quotient is way down.

Fuzzy ideas as to what internationalism actually looks like and a shortage of objective indicators as to the party’s disproportionate emphasis on domestic issues don’t help in advancing this argument.  But there remain problems to be dealt with, among them relatively few statements of international worker solidarity, very few educational sessions on international issues, a paucity of members’ own international stories in the People’s World, and the party almost never joining with outside coalitions in planning and carrying out international solidarity actions.  Party leaders generally don’t take on leadership roles in promoting solidarity projects.

Their priority seemingly is to advance a domestic agenda directed at implementing the party’s united-front program of voting-time linkages with a capitalist party. One suspects that within that context there is concern that new friends and allies might turn away if they see the party taking strong stands against U.S. foreign policy objectives.

These subjective impressions count for very little, however.  The job description of a Marxist party ought to provide a firmer basis for critiquing the party’s international outlook. According to Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto, “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.”

The party is prone to making uncomfortable alliances in order to turn the tide against capitalists on their own turf. That approach may have passing plausibility. But when capitalists move their operations abroad, as Marx and Engels said they would do, U.S. communists can’t follow them. It’s within the “belly of the beast” itself that they must make good on aspirations to stop capitalist wars and exploitation abroad.

To express class solidarity with victims a long way off is challenging. The stakes are high and nuance, as is the party’s habit, does not travel well. The suggestion here is that efforts on behalf of international worker solidarity must be unambiguous and dramatic enough both to penetrate the centers of capitalist power and to bolster the spirits of comrades the world over.

Now is a good moment for engaging. As of this writing, on March 5, 2014, turmoil in Venezuela and Ukraine threatens to shred the governing fabric in both places. Puppet masters loom in the background, the U.S. government at their head.  It may be useful here, by way of suggesting new ways for the party to understand events, collectively, and to more into action, to highlight an overall pattern to these developments.

As is well known, the U.S. government put aside old tools for gaining free rein in targeted countries like military invasion, or propping up grateful dictators, or depending mainly on clandestine agents to serve U.S. ends. These modalities were costly, embarrassing, and often not very effective in the long run. Now there seems to be a new approach.  Wars are encouraged or fought, and/or economic sanctions are imposed. Chaos results and U.S. manipulators step aide, a little.   Peoples divided by religion, class, ethnic identification, or geography are soon at each other’s throats. Now, instead of independent, functioning states, there are small states, tiny jurisdictions, and military grouplets. Precarious and dependent governmental bodies shy away from fussing over dictates emerging from transnational corporations and distant governments now effectively in charge.

Take-downs of Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya followed such a pattern. Perhaps Syria, Ukraine, even Venezuela are next in line. These scenarios speak to the CPUSA, serving as examples of the need for collective, multifaceted analyses that are preliminary to any anti-imperialist party actions. Presently the CPUSA is inadequate to the task of  pursing this process  

Why might that be so? Speculation as to assumptions, orientation, and reasoning of party leaders probably won’t yield useful answers. What’s at fault, it seems, are party structures, party life itself.

Many comrades in leadership ranks have tracked themselves into areas of specialty interest, most having to do with domestic politics. That’s acceptable, except that the party’s membership is small and focus is constricted. In parts of the country without clubs, or even where clubs do flourish, younger members may lack modeling or stimulation that, in theory, could inspire them to take on an internationalist outlook.

The party’s International Department tries to contribute. But its efforts rest almost entirely on the shoulders of its chairperson. He is highly knowledgeable, dogged, and well organized. Yet what a communist party requires in order to implement international working class solidarity, and do so comprehensively, is a vigorously collective approach. One person doesn’t suffice. And the party has yet to resolve the dilemma as to whether that department merely attends to relations with international counterparts or, alternatively, deals with international solidarity in general.

The party’s apparent lack of effective administrative capabilities likewise impedes actual performance of tasks relating to international work. Further, hope that new leadership might foster innovative thinking on international matters now proves to have been unrealistic. A recent memo from the party chairperson indicates that a small group has already determined the future make-up of the National Board. There is nothing to suggest that consideration was given to more democratic methodology for choosing leaders to set the party’s future course. Apparently rank and file leadership preferences do not pertain. That’s a pity, especially in regard to building a party fully capable of carrying out international working class solidarity.

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

Comments (4)

HenryCT | June 07, 2014 at 6:27 AM

Excellent analysis. The Party should not shy away from calling imperialism imperialism. Nor from working to educate our allies on the economic driving force behind imperialism. Just as young people expressed the existence of class struggle with the slogan, “we are the 99%,” many peace activists are beginning to understand the connections between finance capital, the increasing impoverishment of our own working class and international aggression that further subjugates the international working class.

E.E.W. Clay | May 01, 2014 at 11:57 AM

Internationalism in Marxist/Leninist theory, action, and international issues are indeed, far apart.
It is one thing to discuss issues and quite another to change, or transform issues.
How do the Communists connect with, for instance the United Nations, and what does that have to do with our everyday work?
In Scottsboro, Angelo Herndon and Angela Davis, with all the errors made, there were clear, correct, national and international connections made to both weaken and expose capitalism’s imperialism that have endured even until today-and will continue to do so.
This is how historically significant and powerful international activism is.
What hurts our Party over and over, is what Tom Whitney correctly refers to when he writes,” ..that a small group has already determined the future make-up of the National Board.”
This “small group” clique personality perpetuating practice has hurt democracy in general in the Party, and assured a certain staleness and inflexibility, which led to the 1991 crisis, and even the current crisis, which manifests as poor internationalist collectivity.
It reflects a very ugly, debilitating sexism, racism, national chauvinism, and anti-communism (yes, the current Communist/Leninist “name “controversy”, has roots in a weak, yet determined anti-communism within our ranks) encouraging and condoning the disunity of the working class along the lines of intellectual and manual work-reflecting the destructive, self-destructive, preposterousness of force of capitalism and imperialism.
The internet could be a source of solidarity and communication among the internationalist communist and worker movement-but it does not have to be.
Its won’t be, unless we deliberately, consciously speak for ourselves hereon, write, organize and speak for our civil and international right to speak for all workers, all oppressed-who for the very reason of a colossal oppression and exploitation of the “weak”(workers) by the “strong”(capitalists and imperialists) who, cannot at this moment speak for themselves-but they shall be able to-history dictates it.
We must assure that our active, conscious internationalism and our demand for protection of all international human and civil rights being accorded to all immigrants and non-immigrants within the confines of the United States of America, in line with the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
Above all, we must have the best democracy within the Communist Party-no Gus Hall like, decades long rulers and “straw men builders”- no wedges between intellectual and manual workers, no paternalistic racism, no false separation between workers, in their “Worlds of Color”-W. E. B. Du Bois and communists.
“No lies, no claims to easy victories”-Cabral.

gary hicks | April 20, 2014 at 6:00 AM

It is difficult to do the things which Tom and Richard advocate, without addressing the central issue of our party’s place and role in the international communist movement.

This is a movement that is polycentric. That is, the international communist movement has several sources of authoritative views of a political, theoretical, ideological and organizational nature. These views and lack of centrality, as some of us knew it in the past [prior to 1989-1991] have placed on all of us the onus to become clear on what our approach, our views to share, our share in deeds… in the struggle against capitalist imperialism.

We live in the headquarters of international imperialism, and as our South African comrades once advised us, we need to be about cutting off the head of the beast, the better to make it easier for our international comrades to cut off the beast’s tail. This means that we need to take much more seriously the maintenance and active presence of a party international commission. Our comrades at all levels need to be kept constantly up-to-date on all different aspects of the world situation, including creative linkage to the struggles which we wage here in our country.

Comrades in our party need to get into the habit of browsing for news on the major and smaller parties not in power but possessing different levels of influence. The Cuban, Chinese, Vietnamese ,Laotian , and [yes!] Korean parties need to be monitored for their views.

We also need to better develop our skills in agreeing to disagree with our comrades with whom we have differences.

Richard Grassl | April 14, 2014 at 1:07 PM

International issues and internationalism are not the same thing. As Tom points out, turmoil in Venezuela and Ukraine makes this a good time to “highlight an overall pattern” to regime change(s) effected in the name of US national security to shake-down nations with natural resources in high demand by Big Business and finance capital bankers.
With global capitalism in economic turmoil, a Marxist approach to internationalism would bear out the common interests omnipresent in the world. The right to independent and harmonious trade relations in a peaceful world requires respect for sovereignty of countries. It excludes “big power” chauvinism and flaunting military weaponry. Getting back to basics is one way to raise the score on Party internationalism.

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