Convention Discussion: Reaffirming the Principles of Marxism-Leninism

BY: David S. Bell| February 13, 2014
Submitted for discussion by by David S. Bell, Philadelphia, PA

As important as the “framework Topics” are for Pre-Convention Discussion, they should be in the context of what is the Communist Party USA. Who are we, what principles guide us, and how do we both plant our feet in the present and at the same time project the future, including necessary steps to socialism? How do we view the shift to the left among masses who, by all major polls, either see problems with capitalism and/or believe that socialism may be the answer?

I believe that the CPUSA has lost its way and with current policies is on the way to liquidation. Already it is difficult to distinguish us from other left forces. Many of our allies and many in the Party go as far as to suggest that we are simply the left arm of the Democratic Party.


Before the 2008 elections, the Eastern Pennsylvania District had a weekend retreat lead by two members of the national leadership, including Comrade Webb. After our District chair gave a report of recent initiatives taken, Webb said this was not the time for initiatives because they would take away efforts to elect Senator Obama. This seemed contrary to what we all learned about the Party putting forward its program and its relationship to building a democratic movement that also included electoral activity. Several months later the then organizational secretary visited our district to discuss party building. When our chair put forth the idea that the Party needed a focus and review of its policies, the response was that program had nothing to do with our lack of growth. The simple answer put forward was that is was just “hard to recruit.” It must be said that the same person has been one of the most persistent in calling for a name change of the Party and rejection of some of our terminology. I will have more to say on that later.

Now we get to the publication of “A party of Socialism in the 21st Century: What It Looks Like, What It says, and What It Does. This was written by Sam Webb dated February 3, 2011 and appears in Political Affairs. Although Webb said this was not an official piece, but only some thoughts not necessarily for wide discussion, one must ask how the world can view this as unofficial when written by the Chair of the Party. After reading this piece it made sense to me where Webb was coming from at our retreat. Also, if one reviews recent reports to the National Committee, articles by Webb in the People’s World and decisions made outside of the governing bodies of the Party, one may see that elements of the unofficial document have become policy in some cases in violation of the 2001 Party Constitution.

For example, the concept of democratic centralism is seen as obsolete. Given that one important element of that is unity of struggle, it is curious that when the strongest unity is needed to defeat a well united, well financed ultra-right, unity of our membership is down played.

The document is unclear at best that we still need the science of Marxism to guide us or that a communist party is necessary to build working class consciousness that can withstand the test of time and various steps forward and backward. The document goes as far as to suggest that economics or political economy is no longer at the root of class struggle and that a transition to socialism will be based on broader issues such as the environment. What a classless approach.

Webb suggests in the document as well as at the National Board meeting held October 5-6, 2013 that we need to let some terms go including Democratic Centralism, Marxism-Leninism, Dictatorship of the Proletariat, and Vanguard Party. He makes no substitute suggestion. I therefore conclude, based on conversations and reading his remarks in PA, People’s World and reports that he and others are not talking about terminology but abandoning principles necessary for the functioning of a communist party consistent with the “Communist Manifesto.”

I have already dealt with democratic centralism.

Although Webb often quotes Lenin with regard to sectarianism, he clearly does not cite his significant contribution to how a party must be organized to challenge the ruling class. Where is the organizational bureau of the Party? It was dissolved several years ago with our chair taking on some of its responsibilities. Where are the commissions? Where is the Educational Department? The list goes on. Exactly what is our structure and definition of membership?

Although I agree that the term “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” needs to be modernized, unlike Webb we need to see its validity if we are to see a transformation to socialism given the power and determination of US capital.

What can be said about “Vanguard Party?” Again the debate should not be the terminology, but the principle. There are those in the Party who suggest the principle is outdated and arrogant. Those who believe the vanguard concept (or leadership concept) is irrelevant are those who also believe that the level of class-consciousness for revolutionary change will come about spontaneously. This is in direct conflict with Marx and Engels and has never happened.

With regard to being a “Vanguard Party” or assuming leadership is not subjective. If a communist party follows the science of Marxism and the principles of the “manifesto,” it is not a matter of what we think. It is a matter of how the mass movements respond to our program without necessarily giving recognition. The Party was the first to put forward “people before profits.” Now it is a popular phrase among the masses. We did not stand up and declare in an arrogant way that it should be so. Over its history, the democratic movements have picked up Party slogans, ideas for organization, and actions without subjectively recognizing the Party. That is what being in the vanguard and giving leadership is all about. It will lead to Party growth by the actions it engenders, not by declarations.

Those who believe that changing our name will make it easier to build need to learn from our mass activity that that will have little affect on recruiting. Rather what it does is further justify the path proposed in Webb’s 21st century piece.

Next a few words about the Party’s constitution that I believe has been violated by actions of the National Committee and Webb leadership.

In the preamble: “Our Party is organized on the principle of democratic centralism combining maximum democratic discussion and decision-making with maximum unity of will and action, ensuring our ability to play a strong organizing role in the class struggle.” Further it says, “With Marxism-Leninism guiding our actions, the Communist Party strives to build the broadest unity against global capitalist imperialism now headed by U.S. imperialism, for immediate gains and reforms that benefit working people, and for a progressive democratization of the government, the economy, and society of our country on the road to and after winning socialism.”

Article II, Section 1: The system of organization of the Communist Party is based upon the principle of democratic centralism, which means that decisions and policies are made through democratic procedures, and that once a final decision is made, all members are obligated to carry it out.” Further it says, “Unity is the strongest weapon working people have in the struggle to advance their interests. By making a commitment to unite around a program of action, members strengthen the Party and help unify the working class and peoples’ movements.”

Comrades, we must push back these liquidationist policies and support our Party constitution if we are to give meaning to the struggles put forth in the “Framework Topics.”

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


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