Convention Discussion: The People Must Intervene

BY: Bruce Bostick| March 18, 2014

Submitted by Bruce Bostick, Columbus, Ohio.

This upcoming CPUSA Convention comes at a time of grave crisis in the world working class movement.  The collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist nations of Europe strengthened and inspired the forces of world-wide imperialism in a way not seen in recent memory, resulting in massive attacks on working people’s gains in every nation.  

No place has this been more obvious than in our own nation.  Busting unions, stealing worker’s pensions, have become highly funded industries.  The percentage of American workers in unions has now dropped from 20.1% in 1983, to 11.3% today.  The entire structure of retirement security, built thru years of tough struggles, has been wiped out.  Pro-corporate trade pacts provided incentives to close plants.  Gains by African Americans, women, are under attack as state after state vies with each other to pass the most regressive legislation.  We now have the widest income gap, between the top 1% of wealthiest Americans and the rest of us, since these statistics began to be kept.

This has had profound effect on our party and the entire worker’s movement, leading to developing new tactical approaches.  This has included a needed push to move comrades “into the mix,” and unity with other people’s movements.  This has been long overdue, needed to overcome some problems of self-isolation.  

However, alongside these positive steps, has been an accompanying discouragement of any type of independent political initiatives, even labeling  initiatives independent of the Democratic Party as “sectarian!”  

Political action must be based on the balance of class forces at any particular time, as well as the attitude, mood, of the mass of regular working people.  These are, however, constantly shifting and what was possibly sectarian at one point may be correct politically at another.

Our assessment of balance of forces, needs of the moment, must be regularly updated to meet the needs of the day.  As that balance shifts, moods change and crisis’ emerge.  At issue is not that of “independence,” but of whether we are part of the overall movement and whether the people and their organizations are ready to take that particular step, “independent” or not.

In assessing the class forces today, we need to question whether complete reliance on the Democratic Party/electoral politics is a strategy that will be able to defeat the ultra-right & lead to gains by working folks.  It is certainly true that only this ruling class party has the national strength to defeat the GOP/ultra-right at the polls at this time.  There is an existing, growing, reform sector of that party that is finally beginning to put forward real solutions for our people.  Working folk, minorities, women, gays and progressives of many stripes tend to vote Democratic and the policies of that party are more liberal, making it an ally, part of the overall alliance against the extreme right.  However, its corporate foundation/control/ ideology make it a very unreliable ally!    

For some, relying on emotion or some short-hand notion of Marxism, this is the end of that discussion and the answer is to end that relationship now and head for far left-field to found our own party of less than 1%!  

I’d submit that the two above approaches are two sides of the corporate trap the ruling class has built so well for us.  Neither one correctly takes into consideration the actual balance of class forces, mobilizes our people & meets the needs of our class and people.

We do have real examples of working class based political independence that was not sectarian & didn’t break with an allied ruling Democratic Party.  In the ’30’s-’40’s our party was at the center, helping build the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) & Labor’s Non-Partisan League, as well as working with the American Labor Party, National Negro Congress, Anti-Fascist League and other independent, left/center forms that fought for working people and pushed, while also supporting, the Roosevelt administration.  The result was passage of a series of extremely important, pro-worker/people acts, including the massive jobs programs, WPA & CCC, Social Security and Wagner Act, which helped workers organize the basic industries of our nation.

This is just a mere thumbnail look at the New Deal.  What we seem to have lost sight of is that none of this would’ve been possible without the party’s work & the heroic life’s work of Comrade Wm. Z. Foster.  Foster was probably the most important figure fighting that period’s most prominent forms of ultra-leftist sectarianism;  dual unionism and boycotting of elections (Syndicalism).  For most of Foster’s working life, he fought against the idea of separate, perfect left unions, fighting instead for the building of wide, inclusive organizations of all workers, regardless of their political views.  He was also in the forefront of the fight against racism, sexism, and for all workers, including African American and women workers, in all campaigns.  He (& the party) did not, however, abandon the concept of independent working class/people’s movements.  Within the wide all-inclusive unions, Foster encouraged the building of what he called organizations of the “Militant Minority,” who would help push the leadership while working for unity of all workers.  These concepts, fighting for unity of workers, while also building organization of the most advanced & also fighting for “Left/Center Unity” became the driving ideology behind creation of the CIO, the New Deal coalition, as well as the basis for the Rank & File movement that changed labor positively in the past half century.

It must be pointed out that this time of great mobilization, when our suffering people clearly saw our party & organized labor fighting for them, was the time of the greatest growth, membership, for the CPUSA.

This does not make Foster a left “god,” whose ever word is gospel, like Mao’s little book, but it does show that many of the problems we face today have guideposts toward solutions that do not include throwing out our history when we correct past errors.  

Everyone has heard the story of FDR telling the union leader that he had a great program, but now he had to “make him do it!”  Our approach today would exclude that as “sectarian!”

What makes any form sectarian or not is not merely its “independence” of the Democratic Party or not, it was, & is, whether or not a particular form can play a unifying role, mobilize our people around an acceptable program & fight for goals the people can identify with.  As well, they cannot be something we build alone!  Those independent labor-led forms during the New Deal were built on the basis of Left/Center Unity, not only by the party.  They mobilized thousands/millions & raises advanced issues that pushed FDR, as well as creating a base to fight for & win them.  Their independence helped, not hurt, the wider multi-class alliance by putting forward working class positions that could unity masses of people.  

Today’s approach of looking on independent forms as divisive, harmful to a wider alliance, do no favor to Obama or Democrats, either.  By keeping all forms under that uncritical corporate umbrella, the people are unable to put forward real solutions that can actually meet their needs and push for them, “making them do it!”  We’re left with only the “solutions” coming from the ruling class in one or another form.  This has led to a deep crisis of anger, frustration and cynicism and actually plays into the rotten hands of the GOP/ultra-right, who attack the very concept of democracy by blocking any positive government actions.

Finally, there has emerged a wide consensus on the wider left, among progressives, that independent forms are needed in order to push toward a real program of reforms that can meet the needs of our embattled people today.  That will require a push from below to encourage the labor movement to help build/lead a movement for worker’s right to organize, a real federal jobs program based on Green energy, reestablishing retiree security, re-winning voting rights for all.  All of our issues/fights are ultimately labor issues and only organized labor has the history, fighting experience, power and infrastructure needed to bring all forces together in a winning alliance.  We can’t & won’t do it alone!  United we can & will fight our way out of this crisis of corporate capitalism!

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



    Bruce Bostick is a retired steelworker and labor activist in Ohio.

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