Convention Discussion: Imagining Socialism

BY: Len Yannielli| June 2, 2014

Submitted by Len Yannielli, CT

Imagine Living In A Socialist USA is a book representing the thinking of an amalgam of left activists and writers. A discussion of it recently occurred on Google Plus.  It can be revisited there and on U-TUBE. Represented in the writing are people who have earned respect for their long-term commitment in various struggles and for their ideas.

Information and the ideas of Angela Davis and Mumia Abu-Jamal on prison-industrial complex and the outsourcing of these to the private sector are important. Privatization of the prison system and institutional racism conspire to place 2.3 million people, 60% people of color, at the mercy of the prison industrial complex. Their idea of abolition democracy deserves wide discussion. It builds on the deep radical abolitionist history of our country.

Leslie Cagan and Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz imagine LGBTQ life in a socialist USA. Joel Kovel puts forth the central role of the environment and the importance of the environmental movement in an emerging socialism in our country. The environmental working group of the CPUSA, while not part of these readings, is putting forth the central importance of the environment, particularly climate change, in all on-going struggles ( Kovel’s poem on the occupy movement, You Are the Light of the World, is particularly moving and can also be found at…

At the same time, I felt a certain unease as I read this compendium of leftist ideas. It’s when taken as a whole that the problems emerge. It reminded me of what Yankee catcher Yogi Berra famously once said, “It was like déjà vu all over again.” It was like a trip back to the 1960s and the downside of the New Left.

There is a glorifying of spontaneity. We all, I hope, tip our collective hats to the Occupy movement for changing the conversation in the country in 2011. Shop take-overs also hold a special place in our hearts. However, one gets the feeling with the readings that these were/are some kind of strategy. They are no such thing.  

Because of this, Imagine Living in a Socialist USA leaves the impression of a leap to socialism. This has some very dangerous implications. The ultra-right, with its Tea Party electoral expression, is very much alive and working to thwart progressive legislation in Washington D.C. and in some state legislatures. The Republican Party is six seats away from a majority in the U.S. Senate. This element is not grappled with adequately here and leaves the impression that we have some kind of clear path, willy-nilly, to socialism.

There is the other side in the class struggle. We got a glimpse of it recently with the racist diatribe and slumlord practices of billionaire LA Clipper’s owner Donald Sterling. While an anti-racist majority sentiment came to the fore immediately, we should have no illusions that this majority is organized. Defeating the ultra-right, especially electorally and ALEC’S shoot first, ask questions later laws, are a sin qua non of advancing class and peoples’ struggles here. The 2014 mid-term elections loom large. But this struggle is almost absent in Imagine Living In A Socialist USA.

Ironically, negative thinking is on display here along side of some creative expressions. Usually when present or past socialist countries are first mentioned, it is in a negative context.  The Davis / Mumia piece does this. Even on an individual level, negativity is there. One writer opens his writing by saying it will be “a cold day in hell when a person with my politics is appointed to be attorney general of the United States.” Why? Historically, radicals have been both elected and appointed to important local, state and national positions in the USA. A former mayor of my town was a socialist.

It appears that the yearning for that larger democratic mass movement has overwhelmed some thinkers of the left. More than hinting at this is the word usage (in italics here). One writer sees a majority movement crystalizing. Another writer says that workers hold beliefs that are intrinsically socialist, almost as if these ideas are genetic.

Even as poles show more people in our country willing to consider socialism, especially young people at 49%, there is much hard work to be done. Sorry. Yearning is not enough. Socialism’s history, past struggles here led by radicals, and developing Marxist theories, must be introduced. Time to do some door knocking and meet those young people.

I raced to get to the third section of Imagine that is titled Getting There: How to Make a Socialist America. Unfortunately it is dominated with more of “what we want” than the “how to”. Sam Webb’s recent piece on Chris Hedges is instructive here. Imagine Living in a Socialist USA emphasizes political catastrophism and spontaneous uprisings a la Hedges.

A look at U.S. and world history shows there will be a coming together of different elements to bring about the big changes including socialism. Scrutinizing that same history, we can see a Marxist guided party will have a very important role to play. I searched in vain in Imagine for such a party. I see the most effective way, but not the only way, to bring about the changes we collectively seek is through the CPUSA.

Lastly, it is hard to imagine moving through the strategic steps to socialism without a strong debunking of anti-communism. It is part of the ideological fog, along with racism, that is used by ruling circles, to derail peoples and revolutionary movements. Whether a whisper campaign or shouted from the rooftops by ultra-rightists, anti-communism has to be combated and defeated. With various poles showing open-mindedness to socialism, this is an opportune time to tell the true, important role of U.S. Communists in the battle for black/white unity, social security, civil rights and opposition to U.S. imperialism.

A broad democratic movement is required to defeat the extreme right and move forward. Areas of agreement can be reached around imperialism, the environment, racism, a living wage, elections, and other topics mentioned above. At the same time, we should not mistake that larger formation as a substitute for the crucial work of the CPUSA, especially its strategy, approach, communist plus, and discipline. As the Vietnamese communists taught us, struggle and patience are the order of the day.

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



    Len Yannielli is professor emeritus, Naugatuck Valley Community College, Waterbury, Conn. He was the 2009 National Association Of Biology Teachers Evolution Educator of the Year.

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