Convention Discussion: Why should I join the Communist Party?

BY: Chris Butters| April 8, 2014

Submitted by Chris Butters, Brooklyn, NY Club

“So why should I join the CPUSA?” an activist asked me.  Our Brooklyn,  New York club was participating in a Democratic Party candidate’s electoral campaign that day.     

I have given various answers over the last several years to such questions (our Party’s action orientation, our proud history in the struggle against racism, our important links to the international movement, etc)  

But, if  the truth be told, I have found it an unusual person who is interested in joining  the CPUSA  based on our electoral work involving the Democratic Party. Is it really worthwhile  to carry around that communist “label” when the important thing is to defeat the Republicans, we are asked.  What do we offer that is different than the left wing of the Democratic Party, anyway?

But, of course, we know that our Party is indispensable in the struggle, and has an important role  to play, both today and in the future, both nationally and internationally.

It is this class tension, the tension between who we are, and the pressure of working  in an alliance with the Democratic Party, that  is perhaps the reason some members feel the need to revise our  structure,  and the historic program behind Communist Parties.

In retrospect, our identity crisis may have been accelerated by the adoption of our 2005 Party program. The program placed an emphasis on fighting the “ultraright” as the “main enemy, with an emphasis on using electoral means to achieve this goal.   

The struggle against the “ultraright” was defined as  a stage of struggle separate from an anti- monopoly stage. In this new stage  the “widest possible unity of all class and social forces”  would be crucial. In contrast to the program’s sections on the struggle against monopoly capital and the struggle for socialism, no demands were raised by the Party, other than to continue this alliance until the ultraright’s domination of political life is ended.   

In the closest to a nationally coordinated campaign in years, many Party clubs participated in presidential (2012)and key legislative races (2010-2012). The only problem is,  a “major, lasting rebuff” was not accomplished. We are dealing not just with an ultraright, but a big business media (not just Fox News) that enables and props up the ultraright. We are dealing with a capitalist state, and a national Democratic Party, that placates the ultraright at key points, as well.  

Furthermore, the election of Obama has not led to breakthroughs that some had hoped for. Rather than the progressive agenda some envisioned, the Obama administration has been hampered by its own need for “unity” with Wall Street advisors and former cabinet members from the Bush and Clinton administrations.   

In between elections our press coverage has been marked by regular  defense of the Obama administration, and emphasis on some positive initiatives  that the Obama administration has undertaken. But serious negative features of the Affordable Care Act, for instance,  have been seldom discussed, including its reliance on Wall Street’s private insurance companies. Emile Schepers has almost singlehandedly covered the Obama administration’s escalation of the drone program, the NSA spying scandal, and  the revelations about U.S. imperialism’s latest crimes thanks to whistleblowers Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.  

On the subject of the ultraright, we have regularly exposed the racist thrust of the Tea Party. The  Tea Party receives support from those who oppose “big government, ” and that includes many small business owners who find “big government” oppressive and a tool that  upholds monopoly capital’s stranglehold. Unless we find a way to direct this sectors’ anger  at the ruling class and its state, and address their legitimate needs (For Quality, Affordable Education!Against High Energy Prices, Against Student-Debt Indenture! Against Ruling Class Denial of Loans To Small Business!),  the Republican Party may continue to hold sway in  some “red” states, hypocritically waving the flag of a right wing populism.

At the same time, the economic crisis has deepened, and there is increased interest by working people everywhere in anti-monopoly and socialist answers.   The emergence of  Occupy Wall Street, the election of an openly socialist city councilperson  in Seattle, and the announced candidacy of Bernie Sanders for president 2016 are all signs of this.  

To its credit, the 2005 program does state its points are guidelines, not formulas to be blindly followed. But the dialectical reality is more complex.

The “conservative authoritarianism” of the Tea Party is indeed dangerous, but it is not the fascist force about which Dimitrov rallied the communist movement of his own time; the Obama administration is more sensitive to pressure than most, yet its policies  cannot be characterized as  consistently progressive; the Republican Party is an imperialist party dominated by a tiny ruling class, with an electoral base among smaller exploiters (supported by the military-industrial complex, oil and energy industry, pharmaceuticals and finance capital); the Democratic Party is an imperialist party dominated by a tiny ruling class with an electoral base among workers and self-employed and oppressed nationalities (also supported by the military- industrial complex, oil and energy industry, pharmaceuticals and finance capital.)  

Fighting the “the main enemy” is more complex and dialectical than using our still small forces to enter a “temporary, but necessary alliance with the Democratic Party” (Sam Webb, For a Mature and Modern 21st Century Communist Party). We must fight the extreme right, and the big business forces that enable it, but also find ways to offer positive solutions today, including our own anti-monopoly perspective. This is necessary not just for recruitment to the Communist Party, but also if the movement is to go forward.   

We must support AFL-CIO campaigns for jobs and justice, but we must also fight as its class struggle left wing. (in the tradition of George Meyers and Roy Rydell )   We must fight for peace and diplomatic solutions regarding U.S. foreign policy, but also build intermediate organizational forms (such as the US Peace Council, Trade Unionists For Action and Democracy, etc. ) where more advanced demands can be raised and where we bring people closer to the Party.

We can continue to work with individual Democratic Party politicians who fight the neo-liberal agenda and take key stands on important issues for the working class (as opposed to an unconditional “unity” and a national “alliance” with the Democratic Party). But we should make a renewed effort to run CPUSA  candidates in local elections.  

The issue is not whether to make use of advanced technology and the internet; the issue is whether or not we rely on it regarding recruitment and retention of new members. Part of having a public face means regular distributions of leaflets and  print editions of the Peoples World. Although I disagree with my fellow Brooklyn Club member Danny Rubin on aspects of our program, I  agree with him about the need to build the Party through its club structure, one-on-one recruitment and the need to increase Party education.   

I believe our call for a  Party “alliance” with the Democratic Party is wrong and not Marxist   — and will in any event not lead to appreciable gains in recruitment. Rather than ” envisioning the broader movement in a tactical, but necessary alliance with the Democratic Party”,  we should offer carefully chosen  transitional demands linking the fight against the ultraright with the need for the fight against the monopolies, and beyond.  

Given the party’s recent investment in the present strategy,  a change of course  requires thoroughgoing discussion. But such thoroughgoing discussions are the essence of true democratic -centralism; freedom of criticism in the preconvention discussion period; unity in action once Party decisions are made. Democratic- centralism is part of the arsenal of Marxism and Leninism and we should not shelve it .

We need to retrace our steps and rediscover our “communist plus”. There are many clues about the road forward from our own Party’s past. There are also clues from what we have previously regarded as other traditions. (Although I remain a Marxist and Leninist, I agree that “Marxism-Leninism” has often been used as a  closed political-economic-philosophical system that has tended to incorrectly exclude other communist thinkers, including Gramsci,  Luxemburg, and Trotsky.)  

After a full discussion, let us all agree  that the Party has an indispensable role to play in the upcoming struggles. After a full discussion — together — let us redouble our efforts to build it.

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 (8)

singhloin2011 | February 09, 2015 at 11:57 AM

Without the “party” there is no fun!

singhloin2011 | February 09, 2015 at 11:53 AM

Great stuff comrade.

Gabe Falsetta | May 20, 2014 at 4:08 PM

Good thinking and analysis Chris.

I agree, we need much more, much more discussion.

Al | April 13, 2014 at 12:20 PM

Great article! I would agree that dogmatism is as destructive as opportunism. Marxism Leninism is a guiding science and we live in a changing world — the monster of capitalism has grown, imperialism is post-national, the environment is in crisis and the present system cannot meet the needs of our class even at its best. In our country, both parties are run by a multi-national corporate oligarchy and by the CIA/NSA.

I agree with Comrade Butters that we must break from our association with the Democrats. It is fine to give critical support to Democratic candidates where appropriate but the emphasis should be on critical. We must not write off and condemn progressive alternatives!

Our class desperately needs for us to reclaim our Communist plus and to really address the pressing issues of our time from the environment to building a People’s economy with public and cooperative work as well as support for Labor from a critical principled communist perspective. People are hungry for truth and most are past the old anti-communism. If not now, when?

Richard Grassl | April 11, 2014 at 8:12 PM

This article clarified for me the controversy about the classification, Marxist-Leninist, being an obstacle to understanding the role of other important thinkers on the Left. The CPUSA should be a beacon for people without a compass. Internationalism means being where workers are; the poor, disenfranchised, disillusioned masses. Otherwise, one’s degree of radicalism could be interpreted as isolation from the truly revolutionary class. Why join the Communist Party? It is a terrific way to maintain one’s sanity!

Anthony | April 11, 2014 at 11:01 AM

I agree with this but I am a Marxist-Leninist but what terms me off and what makes me reluctant about joining this party is simply because CPUSA is not revolutionary like they once were and I feel that CPUSA is supporting Capitalism indirectly by encouraging democrats, and Barack Obama because these people are capitalists. I feel that the CPUSA is a Social Democrat reformed political party.

Why is CPUSA voting for democrats or advocate the people to vote for democrats? The democrats may be on the same spectrum like we Marxist-Leninist are, but they are still capitalist. . . When will the Communist Party of the United States Of America return their true revolutionary ways? When will CPUSA drop the socialist revolution bull and start sounding more and doing more Marxist-Leninist agenda?

Truly, I really wanted to join you and this political party has a great history but the modern day Communist Party of the United States Of America is a big let down and I feel that they are failing Marxism-Leninism.

“The goal of socialism is communism.”
– Vladimir Lenin

“Fascism is capitalism in decay.”
– Vladimir Lenin

“A revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation; furthermore, not every revolutionary situation leads to revolution.”
– Vladimir Lenin


“Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.”
– Vladimir Lenin

Please, comrades, be great as you once were and be revolutionary. Do not support Democrats because they support Capitalism and Capitalism is our enemy; therefor, democrats are our enemy. Do not be a traitor to the socialist revolution.

Workers around the world, unite!

ismael | April 11, 2014 at 8:06 AM

Many good points,,

David | April 10, 2014 at 4:15 PM

I agree that the party is needed. I believe we need to broaden the base of the party and welcome all self described socialists and communists. Let the party be a big tent of discussion that represents all the competing factions of the left, and then allows for tactical unity.

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