But as to leadership to apply Party Program, it is evident that, as a rule, the present leadership cannot be trusted to carry out a revolutionary line, no matter how carefully our National Convention may write one into its resolutions. From top to bottom, this corrupt and incorrigibly opportunist leadership must be swept away, and replaced by fresh and proletarian leadership from the depths of the Party. It is said, and not without some grain of truth, that even the Party ranks, especially those who came to the Party in the years of reformist domination, coming in, all too often, on the basis of an acceptance of a reformist outlook as final and sufficient to meet their approval, have had their ideological development ”frozen” at that level, and are incapable of generating a new and revolutionary leadership. –Harrison George, The Crisis in the CPUSA
I have already written about the CPUSA in two articles: a criticism of their pacifism, and a criticism of the broader trend of “left unity”. However, I myself have not been a member of a communist party—I was first a member of IWW (in addition to my workplace’s union) then quit that and was unaffiliated for a long time, during which I was still very much active. After not receiving responses from the other communist parties in my area, I applied to CPUSA, with the hope of meeting other committed Marxist Leninists and antifascists, and perhaps making ideological contribution to the party with my comradely criticisms. I linked my blog on my party application, and was accepted to the party. I sent my criticisms to the co-chair, Joe Sims, who did not read them (which he admitted himself in our private conversation) and immediately accused me of slander. I have seen him, and the party in general, try to cloak their reformism and liberalism in Marxist Leninist terminology and references, which I hope to expose here.
Part 1: Joe Sims Outlook
Joe Sims described the following quote from me as “slander”:
Why should anyone believe cpusa is even committed to overcoming capitalism? The chair, joe sims, has denounced class struggle, the dictatorship of the proletariat, democratic centralism, and even the names Marxism and Leninism as the « worst aspects of Marxism »!
(It should be noted Sims’ at first ignored me altogether, then when I told him that I was a party member, demanded my name and location, and looked me up in the party database, since he brought up the fact I was not a member for very long. Quite telling that Sims is happy to ignore principled criticism from a worker, but feels it necessary to attack it when it comes from inside the party! He told me I was “in the wrong place” in the CPUSA…)
Indeed, the above would be slander if it were incorrect. If it were correct, however, it could only be “slander” in the sense that it would tarnish his reputation—a tacit admission that holding those lines is incorrect! Sims claimed, “it’s a goddamn lie that I don’t uphold ML and don’t recognize the class struggle. A complete unadultered [sic] lie.” Unfortunately for Sims’ reputation, I was in fact merely quoting his own words. I said he denounced class struggle, the DotP, democratic centralism, and the terms Marxism and Leninism as the “worst aspects of Marxism,” beliefs he clearly outlines in his three part series “ten worst and best ideas of Marxism.” The very first one that he lists is the dictatorship of the proletariat, where he says, “even if I agreed with it conceptually (I don’t)”! Number seven is Marxism-Leninism, and in the second part, he decries the slogan “the class struggle intensifies under socialism” and in the third part he adds to this that he disagrees with the notion of “class against class […] directly battle with capital, with no allies or middle ground.” (The third part is also where he decries the notion of democratic centralism and advocates horizontalism.) In addition to these two quotes I supplied from his blog, I can provide evidence from two other pieces Sims has written, which he himself sent to me as proof he upholds Marxism Leninism! Sims stresses “The history of Communist Party shows an ongoing tension in balancing class and all-class democratic struggles.” In other words, Sims sees a contradiction between the class struggle and the “all-class democratic struggle.” Sims is, almost word for word, retreading Kautsky! As Lenin said against Kautsky, “One cannot help smiling at Kautsky’s effort to make it appear that there are people who preach ‘contempt for democracy’ and so forth. That is the sort of twaddle Kautsky uses to befog and confuse the issue, for he talks like the liberals, speaking of democracy in general, and not of bourgeois democracy.” Sims, repeating Kautsky’s error, totally fails to understand the relationship between the struggle for reforms under bourgeois democracy, and how they draw the masses towards the communist party and therefore pave the way for the overthrow of bourgeois democracy and replace it with the deeper, more comprehensive democracy of the dictatorship of the proletariat. There is no such thing as an “all-class democracy,” which is a liberal fabrication that serves to obscure the nature of the bourgeois dictatorship. (In this piece, which, I repeat, Sims sent me as proof of his Marxist Leninist ideology, Sims goes on to decry the role of the vanguard in educating the masses as “paternalistic.”) In the other article Sims sent me, Sims writes, “Already his Two-Tactics, in embryonic form, stressed what came to be known as the ‘united front’ concept, the absolute necessity of a broad front led by the working class to defeat reaction. Here Lenin resolutely challenged the ‘left’ posturing of those Marxists who feared an alliance with capitalists against a greater enemy, arguing again and again that the working class must lead the battle for democracy.” Not only is this a flagrant misreading of Lenin’s Two Tactics, which was written in the context of pre-bourgeois revolution Russia, when the overthrow of the monarchy had not yet taken place, but it is Sims’ underhanded attempt to propose an “alliance with capitalists” against fascists. In other words, class collaboration with the liberal bourgeoisie against the openly reactionary bourgeoisie, something which I have criticized before. Sims totally contradicts what Lenin actually believed in Two Tactics, which is this:
The fact is that not only is no excessive zeal displayed among us with regard to the tasks of insurrection, to the general political slogans and to the matter of leading the entire popular revolution, but, on the contrary, it is backwardness in this very respect that stands out most strikingly, constitutes our weakest spot and a real danger to the movement, which may degenerate, and in some places is degenerating, from one that is revolutionary in deeds into one that is revolutionary in words. Among the many, many hundreds of organisations, groups and circles that are conducting the work of the Party you will not find a single one which has not from its very inception conducted the kind of everyday work about which the wiseacres of the new Iskra now talk with the air of people who have discovered new truths. On the other hand, you will find only an insignificant percentage of groups and circles that have understood the tasks an armed insurrection entails, which have begun to carry them out, and have realised the necessity of leading the entire popular revolution against tsarism, the necessity of advancing for that purpose certain definite progressive slogans and no other.
In addition, on working with the liberal bourgeoisie, Lenin decried them thus:
The experience of alliances, agreements and blocs with the social-reform liberals in the West and with the liberal reformists (Cadets) in the Russian revolution, has convincingly shown that these agreements only blunt the consciousness of the masses, that they do not enhance but weaken the actual significance of their struggle, by linking fighters with elements who are least capable of fighting and most vacillating and treacherous.
Did I “slander” Joe Sims by claiming he does not uphold the dictatorship of the proletariat, class struggle, democratic centralism, and therefore Marxism Leninism? On the contrary, I believe I represented his ideology accurately. It is Joe who misrepresents his own ideology, by rewriting Marxism Leninism and adapting Leninist slogans to his own liberalism. In fact, in our conversation, he claimed about the dictatorship of the proletariat that “what I said is that the term is misunderstood. [A blatant lie, he said he does not even support it « conceptually » in his blog] I have always supported the concept of a working-class leadership of the state.” Even in his supposed claim to support the DotP, Sims exposes his own aversion to it through his dishonest mischaracterization. The dictatorship of the proletariat is not mere “working-class leadership of the state,” it is the destruction of the bourgeois state machinery and its replacement with a proletarian non-state, that is, a machinery for the majority to repress the minority, as occurred in the Soviet Union and Maoist China, among others.
Joe Sims not only slanders me by implying I am a liar and questioning my motives for joining the CPUSA (how could I be acting in bad faith when I not only refrained from copjacketing him, but cited his own work in my critique, while he did not even bother to read it?) but he slanders Lenin by doing to him what Kautsky did to Marx. In every publication from the CPUSA, we see flowery pronouncements about “democracy” and condemnations of “left” sectarianism and overly focusing on class enemies and violent insurrection. However, any worker with even a modicum of integrity can see the current danger during the current uprising in the US is not coming from the Left, but from the Right, which seeks rapprochement with the bourgeois parties, collaboration with the state, and mild incremental reforms. During times of upheaval, the main danger is from the Right, and during lulls, the main danger is from the Left. Yet, Sims and his cohorts only have words to say for the “ultra Lefts” who advocate organizing and arming the workers against the fascists and their liberal bourgeois collaborators. On the other hand, they have quite pleasant things to say about Biden and Harris, two liberals who have worked hand in glove with the most reactionary forces in the country! But we will delve into that, and CPUSA’s tireless effort to conceal their party line, in a moment.
My final thought on the co-chair of CPUSA, Joe Sims, is best elaborated by Lenin in Opportunism and the Collapse of the Second International: “Opportunism and social-chauvinism have the same political content, namely, class collaboration, repudiation of the dictatorship of the proletariat, repudiation of revolutionary action, unconditional acceptance of bourgeois legality, confidence in the bourgeoisie and lack of confidence in the proletariat.” This, in fact, describes CPUSA perfectly. They have become a party of Kautskyites and of the Second International. In fact, if we consider the conditions for acceptance into the Third International, right away we see the CPUSA violates the first two.
1. Day-by-day propaganda and agitation must be genuinely communist in character. All press organs belonging to the parties must be edited by reliable Communists who have given proof of their devotion to the cause of the proletarian revolution. The dictatorship of the proletariat should not be discussed merely as a stock phrase to be learned by rote; it should be popularised in such a way that the practical facts systematically dealt with in our press day by day will drive home to every rank-and-file working man and working woman, every soldier and peasant, that it is indispensable to them. Third International supporters should use all media to which they have access—the press, public meetings, trade unions, and co-operative societies—to expose systematically and relentlessly, not only the bourgeoisie but also its accomplices—the reformists of every shade. 2. Any organisation that wishes to join the Communist International must consistently and systematically dismiss reformists and “Centrists” from positions of any responsibility in the working-class movement (party organisations, editorial boards, trade unions, parliamentary groups, co-operative societies, municipal councils, etc.), replacing them by reliable Communists. The fact that in some cases rank-and-file workers may at first have to replace “experienced” leaders should be no deterrent. 6. It is the duty of any party wishing to belong to the Third International to expose, not only avowed social-patriotism, but also the falsehood and hypocrisy of social-pacifism. It must systematically demonstrate to the workers that, without the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, no international arbitration courts, no talk about a reduction of armaments, no “democratic” reorganisation of the League of Nations will save mankind from new imperialist wars. [my emphasis]
Now that we have established the revisionist outlook of the chair, Joe Sims, let me discuss the party in general, and its two-faced nature.
Part 2: CPUSA Obscures its Reformism, Outright Lies
CPUSA has two faces. The first is its Marxist Leninist terminology, which they tout among left wing parties. The second is their heavily revisionist and reformist practice. In the party’s article Five Myths About the CPUSA, they claim that accusations of revisionism, reformism, and endorsing Democrats are false. The last one can be proven to be a lie quite easily. The chair wrote this article where he underhandedly implies that he is voting for Biden, but even more explicitly, the party has published articles with such statements as, “So I’m voting for Biden, and I urge you to do so too,” and “Literally, take a pen in your hand and mark your ballot for Biden/Harris and the other Democrats. Mail the ballot in. The other option is to go to your polling place. Give your name and address, get your ballot, place in the voting machine, and punch in the Democratic ticket.” And, « We are not yet in such a dire situation, and we still have the opportunity to defeat fascism through peaceful means, but it requires that we join with the tens of millions disgusted with Trump, the tens of millions who see, correctly, that the only way to defeat Trump and his minions at the ballot box is by voting for Biden. » As well as this article titled, « Progressives and the Left can’t Hesitate in Advocating a Biden-Harris vote. » « All of this is to say that the only way to safeguard democracy is to turn out a massive vote for Biden, a majority so large that no one, not even Trump, can argue that he has won. Given Trump’s proclivities, the narrower a Biden victory, the more our democracy is in danger. » (In addition to running this disgusting puff piece and many others for Biden, contradicting the Comintern’s requirement that party press agitate.) CPUSA Political Action Commission has published, « It is urgent to defeat Trump by voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. » So, it is an outright lie by the party to claim they do not endorse candidates from other parties, the party line in all of its publications is explicitly in favor of voting for Biden. In fact, on September 28th, the party held a private seminar on anti fascism, where speaker Marc Brodine explicitly told members to vote for Biden to stop Trump. So to pretend that this is not the party line is asinine.
CPUSA defends this line by saying the « left » is too weak to do anything other than vote for Democrats. Whose fault is that? Apparently nobody in particular, and it is certainly not a matter that demands reconsidering the decades-long strategy of tailism.
They hide their Biden endorsement by claiming it is the logical conclusion of the anti-fascist people’s front advocated by Dmitrov, a disgusting distortion of what Dmitrov advocated and a whitewashing of the actual actions taken by the liberal bourgeoisie in their collaboration with fascism. The people’s front was, in reality, described by Dmitrov as:
the formation of a wide anti-fascist People’s Front on the basis of the proletarian united front is a particularly important task. The success of the whole struggle of the proletariat is closely bound up with the establishment of a fighting alliance between the proletariat, on the one hand, and the laboring peasantry and basic mass of the urban petty bourgeoisie who together form the majority of the population even in industrially developed countries, on the other. [my emphasis]
So we see what Dmitrov actually advocated was a cross-class alliance not between the workers and liberal bourgeoisie, but between the proletarian and non-proletarian laborers, including intellectuals, small business owners, peasants, and the like in order to defend gains that have been made. Dmitrov’s attitude towards the bourgeoisie and their lackeys is described on page 190 of The United Front:
First, what is required is that all working class organizations should recognize the need for concentrating the struggle against the main enemy, against the clenched fist of the most reactionary section of the big bourgeoisie, against fascism. What is required is that, in determining their policy, all working class organizations should make their starting point the defense of the interests of their own class, and should not act to the advantage of the interests of the bourgeoisie. By making their starting point their own class interests, the working class and its organizations thereby defend the interests of all the exploited, of the entire people. An end must be put to the policy of reconciling the interests of the exploited and the exploiters. One cannot be at one and the same time on the side of the financial magnates and on the side of the working people. One cannot, as is said, serve at one and the same time both God and Mammon. One cannot be for the rebel generals and for the Spanish people. One cannot be in favor of a victory of the Spanish people, and seek a compromise with General Franco. One cannot pledge one’s sympathies for the Spanish Republic in words, and in deeds refuse it the means of defense in order to oblige the British Conservatives. One cannot declare one’s readiness to carry on a struggle against fascism and at the same time intrigue against the Communists, the most consistent fighters against the fascist violators.
Today, in the US, the liberals join the conservatives in their brutal assault on the workers, and the communist workers in particular. In fact, they even openly aid fascists in cities that have powerful communist-led movements. So it is ridiculous to count on them in the struggle against fascism, and Dmitrov is correct in his direction against reconciliation with the financial magnates and their representatives. In the US, Biden is one of the most staunch defenders of finance capital! And that is the man the CPUSA is endorsing while abusing Dmitrov? (Zigedy actually wrote a longer piece on that here.)
So rest assured, the claim they do not endorse other parties is a lie, and they have resorted to revisionism of Marxist Leninist principles in order to justify it. Proving reformism is a tad more complicated, however.
Reformism is the idea that socialism can be achieved through legislation passed by a capitalist country. It stands in contrast to revolutionism, or insurrectionary politics, which sees the end goal as the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie. The process of building forces for this insurrection, of course, may be aided by reforms made under capitalism, but the contrast is in the break between capitalism and socialism. In the CPUSA program, it is clearly stated that,
We reject all approaches that welcome and seek violent action. We fight for and commit ourselves to building enough unity to win socialism peacefully, though we recognize that the ruling class may initiate violence against progressive and radical movements in an attempt to maintain its power. […] The Communist Party aims for a peaceful transition to socialism, based on all forms of mass democratic expression and social action, electoral and non-electoral, to win and maintain working people’s power.
Is this not flagrant reformism and sowing illusions about the imperialist USA?
Consider this statement from the Washington state chair of CPUSA Marc Brodine,
Q: Does the CPUSA advocate the violent overthrow of the American government? Don’t all Communists advocate violence? A: No, we do not. We support the fullest expression of the democratic will of the majority, advocating extending democratic control over the economic decisions which affect our lives. We believe that it is possible to create and build a fundamentally new economic system using the provisions of the existing U.S. Constitution, using peaceful means, and winning a majority. We are for peace, for peaceful solutions to both international and intra-national problems, and for a peaceful transition to socialism, wherever possible. [my emphasis]
This is a textbook example of reformism–maintenance of the bourgeois legal system, attempted to reform your way to socialism by building on existing institutions, as opposed to destroying them wholeheartedly and replacing the foundation of society altogether. In addition, the ex-chair and current president of Long View Publishing Co. which publishes the party paper People’s World, John Bachtell, had this to say:
We were one of the very first organizations to sound the alarm and call for a very broad multi-class united front against the extreme right. And I think that’s been validated. Now it’s a very broadly accepted concept. But the extreme right’s not gonna be defeated without a multi-class movement that involves those sections of Wall Street that don’t go along with the Koch brothers; that also involves the labor movement, communities of color, women’s organizations, youth and students, and all the Democratic movements, immigrant rights, gay and lesbian rights, seniors, you name it. All have to be part of this. Otherwise we won’t be able to advance to any other stages of struggle in this country. […] Although obviously we see this transition taking place through the electoral arena. We see a socialist coalition being elected, one that can institute these kinds of policies, including expanding public ownership. As I said, our aim is to curb the power of the biggest corporations in the country, and the wealthiest people. I think there will be a big role for small businesses, and farmers, and even middle-sized corporations. We’re not about advocating taking people’s personal property. That’s not anything we believe in. We call it “Bill of Rights Socialism,” by the way. It’s kind of an expansion of the Bill of Rights… making the right to a job part of the Constitution. The right to a free education, free health care, free child care, access to affordable housing and mass transit. All those things should be basic rights that are enshrined in the Constitution.[my emphasis – I strongly recommend reading the entire interview, as Bachtell describes his campaign work for Democrats and Obama]
The ex-chair of the party, and current president of the company responsible for running the paper, is flatly reformist and revisionist and class collaborationist. This is the person in charge of party publishing! Combine this with Joe Sims’ revisionist attitude towards democracy, and there is no conclusion other than the CPUSA is infected with the most severe Rightism possible at the highest echelons.
Frankly, I do not know what else there is to say on the matter. Right opportunists can invent whatever coping methods they want, but the reality is, at every level the CPUSA is filled with people who have zero knowledge of Marxism Leninism or intention of carrying out communist work. It is truly a shame to see so much potential wasted. At this point, the best action for the CPUSA would be to either drop any pretense of communism, or undertake a rectification campaign involving mass reeducation of members and new leadership. Practice is the ultimate test of theory, and CPUSA’s liberal theory has only led them to wallow in their diminishing numbers while other parties explode in size and mass movements grow. Unfortunately, so long as they maintain their current line, they are only serving to discredit communism in the eyes of the workers.
For James: How the CPUSA and People’s World Killed My Comrade and Friend (written by someone who is not a Marxist Leninist, but nonetheless interesting)
18 October Update: I have found another writing by John Bachtell here where he flatly endorses reformism:
The state it seems is not smashed but « reshaped » (in the words of Engels) in accordance with the balance of class and social forces from an instrument of class oppression and repression, into one of liberation. In the process the state is transformed, and the foundations are laid for its eventual withering away. In this view, power is attained through democratic means, through the working class electing its representatives to legislative bodies and through political action, including strikes and demonstrations. Democratic institutions are transformed in the process – existing ones become more democratic and new ones arise to extend and deepen participation. Political power is wielded to transform the state apparatus at every level, even while the economy is dominated by monopoly capital. Curbing monopoly power restricts their ability to resist, obstruct and use violence against a revolutionary working class movement.
October 24 Update: CPUSA is planning a « voting town hall » to talk about their « electoral uprising, » taking place October 25. One of the featured speakers is Sandi Luckey, executive director of the Montana Democratic Party!
27 October Update: The strategy of tailism is clearly outlined here:
We expect to have a seat at the table,” if the 2020 Democratic slate of former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., triumphs and especially if pro-worker forces take back the Senate, said Redmond. “That’s not to say we’ll agree on everything, but we’ll have a seat….Our voices will be heard. We will not be ignored. [Note that the pro-worker forces are implied to be the Democrats…]
October 30 Update: I think this quote from Lenin speaks for itself: In mockery of the teachings of Marx, those gentlemen, the opportunists, including the Kautskyites, “teach” the people that the proletariat must first win a majority by means of universal suffrage, then obtain state power, by the vote of that majority, and only after that, on the basis of “consistent” (some call it “pure”) democracy, organise socialism. But we say on the basis of the teachings of Marx and the experience of the Russian revolution: the proletariat must first overthrow the bourgeoisie and win for itself state power, and then use that state power, that is, the dictatorship of the proletariat, as an instrument of its class for the purpose of winning the sympathy of the majority of the working people.
To really understand the depths of Bachtell’s opportunism, which is no different from Sam Webb (who is thoroughly exposed as a liquidationist,) read this and this. Worth noting Bachtell still holds power in the party, and there is not a single article to be found criticizing the Webb era or the party’s decisions during that time. The refusal to admit mistakes, refusal to self-criticize or change course in the face of blatant party failures, truly makes one suspicious.
November 6 Update: Joe Sims also renounced the Leninist idea of the « party of a new type » here. This piece is worth reading in its entirety. It is meant to be a repudiation of CJ Atkins’ , the current editor of People’s World, blatant liquidationism. Why an open liquidationist is allowed to control the party press is beyond my comprehension. Sims also wrote an embarrassing fourth part to his « Best and Worst of Marxism » series. Anyway, here is the quote of Sims repudiating the « party of a new type » in Political Affairs, the party’s previous « theoretical journal »:
In the age of the Internet and social networks, the CPUSA needs to completely break with the concept of a cadre party. It wasn’t correct even before the Internet; it certainly doesn’t fly today. In embracing social networks and the multi-platform possibilities of the Internet, the CPUSA will discover a dynamic method of press and party building.
November 19 Update: The new administration merits all the confidence and help Americans can give—not ever blindly, of course, but with a “can-do” attitude and commitment. Part of that commitment is to ensure that the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff win those two respective Senate races and, if the expression can be used in a non-ironical sense, “drain the swamp.” This is the single largest political mandate of the present moment. Everyone wishing the Biden-Harris team well needs to contribute their effort and financial support to these two critical campaigns. -from here. Worth noting these are two far right Democrats. In the same article, as well as multiple others, CPUSA is already preparing its excuses for when Biden takes office and immediately reneges on his campaign promises. The main excuse is that Republicans are blocking him, particularly in the Senate. This is total nonsense–Biden could use the Defense Production Act which Trump reauthorized to control the production of PPE, vaccines, ventilators, etc, he could mobilize the Army where workers are needed to distribute tests, he could pass executive orders. The executive branch in the US has an immense amount of power, blaming Republicans for Democrat failures, especially when Biden has promoted « unity » with Republicans and will likely appoint Republicans to his cabinet, is ridiculous.
P.S. For anyone in CPUSA looking to improve the party, I recommend studying the terms of admission to the Third International, as well as the Third International’s guidelines on communist party structure and work. And perhaps Stalin’s Bolshevization as well.