Convention Discussion: We cannot resolve political differences through the backdoor

BY: Michael Bayer| May 14, 2014

Submitted by Micahel Bayer of Indiana

I want to commend the committee for the tone and readability of the draft. They obviously worked very hard, and to good effect. I think the Comrades were right when they agreed not to draw “lines in the sand”, and compromised when it was necessary to reach agreement. That is a good way for Communists to work. However, in the effort to make the Constitution more accessible I believe some mistakes were made in not distinguishing between “popularization” and substantive changes. We all know that there are disagreements in the Party on some questions. In several instances I am afraid they did not take that reality into consideration when they agreed on compromises. Some of these “compromises” seem to anticipate how those differences will be resolved by the Convention.

The Committee Chair stated that compromises were reached on the use of the phrases “democratic-centralism” and “Marxism-Leninism.”  However, there are some changes in the draft relating to these, and other questions, that go further than just terminology.

Consider the first sentence:  “The future of humanity and our planet depend on the collective action of the people of the world.” Sounds good, certainly popular language, but, which “… people of the world?” Do we really expect the oil barons, the corporate masters, and the reactionaries of the world to join the “climate change” collective? This sentence is the kind of classless statement that results when we see Marxist terminology as “inside jargon.”  If the sentence were changed to, “The future of humanity and our planet depend on the collective action of the working and progressive people of the world,” it would be a Communist assertion.

The attempt to “popularize” can also lead to misstatements of fact. It was not “workers in Europe (who) fought for peace, land and bread.” It was workers and peasants in Russia under the leadership of the Bolshevik (Communist) Party who used that slogan. There were other attempts at revolution in Europe following WWI, but they did not use a broad slogan.

It is important to show that the US working class has been a major contributor to the international movement, but International Women’s Day was not inspired by garment workers (presumably the reference is to the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, March 25, 1911):

IWD was first celebrated in Chicago (1908) and New York (1909 and 1910). Internationally it was proposed by a group of women meeting in conjunction with the Second International in August 1910. The next year over a million people in Europe marked IWD, but the main demands were around voting rights, and employment sex discrimination.

I only point these problems out because making a “fetish” of modernizing and Americanizing can miss the point.

Another problem is the occasional misuse of the word “democracy.” While Communists have long distinguished between democratic struggles which may be part of, but are different than revolutionary struggles we historically put that work in the context of the relationship of class forces.  Suddenly we say “democracy (is) the opportunity to shape one’s own destiny…” Democracy (which is essentially a means of organizing government), without addressing the class context in which it operates, becomes an all purpose word that side steps the class structure of society and the need for the revolutionary transformation of society.  Democratic struggles, (which by definition do not directly challenge that class structure) are indeed “… a necessity of life for working people, inextricably linked even to the struggle for food and shelter,” as the draft says.

While we can all agree that the “…ultra right is overwhelmingly the biggest threat to “democracy” the draft ignores the other side of the coin: that raising the level of consciousness of the working class and its allies is a necessity it they are to push back this threat. Perhaps this language exists because we don’t want to seem critical of the working class and the popular movements, but it is un-dialectical at best, and begs the question as to how this is to be achieved.

In the preamble two concepts are linked: 1″…we have embraced new understandings of the complexities of the path to socialism…”; and 2. the substitution of  Marxism for Marxism-Leninism.  One can easily draw the conclusion that these “new understandings” reject Leninism. In the context of the debate within the Party this is not just “popularizing” language.

We will debate this question at the Convention: some have already said that they think we should reject Leninism (not the word, the concepts). They do not think that there is anything qualitatively new about Lenin’s writings on imperialism, the state, the nature of a Communist party, state monopoly capitalism, socialist democracy, others of course, think it is just a matter of accessible language.

Of course many of these ideas are rooted in Marx, e.g.

“Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.”  (KM, Critique of the Gotha Programme (sic), italics in the original).

But these ideas could only be fully developed in the era of imperialism by a revolutionary thinker who understood the nature of the new reality of capitalism.

Another place where “popularization” seems to have gotten in the way of clarity is Article III, section 4. The draft removes the phrase “Members shall continuously strive to improve political knowledge and their understanding of Marxism-Leninism…” and replaces it with “to improve their political knowledge.” Does this mean how to run an election campaign, what the political parties are doing, how the Electoral College works, etc? Even if the draft assumes people would know better, how would someone new to the Party know that Communists are required to develop their theoretical understanding of Marxism/ Marxism-Leninism in order to better analyze reality and craft appropriate strategy and tactics. One could conclude that this change rejects Marxism-Leninism as the theoretical framework within which our party operates.

Another aspect of the disagreements over the very nature of the Party is the section on the duties of a member.  In all of Article III, section 5 Communists are required to “struggle against”, “to fight”,  “to promote” but nowhere is the concept of providing leadership mentioned. There are some Comrades who reject the idea that the Party has a responsibility to lead, both as the Party and as individual Communists within the trade unions and mass movements, that the very idea is arrogant. That we are part of the mass and not, because of our theoretical analysis, responsible to help lead these mass forms in the struggle against the evils of capitalism, let alone the ultra-right. If only by omission, the draft may be interpreted to reflect this idea.

I am not suggesting that the drafters subscribe to this idea; in fact I think very few Comrades seem to subscribe to this subordination of the Party to a “supportive” role. But, I think the committee should bear this in mind and re-write this section in order to give permission to those who might be confused to help lead the all people’s front against the ultra right.

One change I wish the draft had made is to reflect the long held policy that white Comrades have a special responsibility to lead in the struggle against racism?

Finally, I am concerned about the proposal to take the dues setting power away from the Convention and give it to the National Committee. I think we do need a major discussion about the role of dues. There is not a working class organization in this country that does not require and collect dues.  We have become very sloppy about this and many Comrades see it as an annoyance to be disposed of as expeditiously as possible. This is not because Comrades do not want to pay dues, or cannot afford to pay dues, but because dues payment is seen by many as an administrative task, not a political measure of the health of the Party. Therefore I am opposed to taking the setting of dues away from the Party as a whole at the Convention for convenience’ sake.

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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