A ragged process

Slightly over a year ago, the American people elected a young African American to the presidency and increased the Democratic majorities in the Congress. President Obama's victory represented a repudiation of the right-wing ideology, politics and economics. It constituted a serious setback for neoliberalism in both its conservative and liberal skin.

The defeat of right-wing extremism was a long time in coming, but when it finally happened it did so not only because of the brilliance of the candidate, now president, but also due to the broad wings of a people's coalition. Not in our lifetime have we participated in such a movement.

This swing in the political pendulum in the direction of economic justice, equality and peace ushered in the possibility of a new era. After 30 years of right-wing dominance, the balance of class and social forces is tilting once again in a progressive direction, but not to the degree that a people's agenda is simply rolled out and easily enacted.

That would be wishful thinking and we shouldn't engage in such thinking, as tempting as it is. The struggle ahead, much like the struggle over the past three decades, will be fierce. There will be no easy victories. But political advantage has shifted to our side and that's no small accomplishment.

To turn this advantage into a new New Deal will take many things, but two I consider fundamental: a proper strategy and a sense of process.

Some may wonder why I don't mention tactics. They are important to be sure, but they are shaped by strategy and process, not the other way around. Tactics are a dependent variable in this equation.

A proper strategy envisions the main class and social groupings and personalities that have to be assembled and united to transform the possibility of this moment into a concrete, lived reality for millions of people.

The strategic thrust of last year - to defeat the ultra right, especially as expressed by the Republican Party, at the polls - doesn't quite fill the bill any longer. Right wing extremism is still a factor, as demonstrated by the health care battle, but as a result of the election's outcome, it is on the defensive, no longer able to set the agenda and frame the debate to its desire.

At the same time a pure anti-corporate strategy doesn't quite fit either, given the configuration of forces coming out of the elections and the political agenda going forward.

The coalition to deepen and consolidate the promise of our time, in my view, stretches (for now) from President Obama to the core forces of the people's movement: labor, African American, Latino, and other the racially oppressed people, women, and youth. It also includes those who sat out last year's election, small and medium sized businesses, dissatisfied grassroots supporters of the right wing, sections of the Democratic Party and even corporate capital - depending on the issue at hand.

So the task - and it won't be easy - is to activate and maximize the unity of this very diverse, multi-class, and fluid coalition in the course of concrete struggles.

There will be competing views. Not everyone will be on board on every issue; the lineup and mix will change as the agenda and struggle changes. Some participants will be dependable and clear headed - the core forces - while others will be unreliable and temporary.

The notion of the capitalist class on the one side and the working class on the other may sound "radical," but it is neither Marxist, nor found in life and politics. Pure forms exist in high theory, but nowhere else. It would be a profound mistake to distance the core forces of this coalition from others who are temporary and unreliable at this and subsequent stages of struggle.

As for process, it is imperative to have a sense of the ebbs and flows of mass struggle - the contradictions and the dialectics - plus the near constant reconfiguration of this broad, multi-class coalition. Progress (and process) is never a straight line forward nor neatly packaged. It is usually ragged.

The main elements of the New Deal, for instance, were won not in 1933, which was Roosevelt's first year in office, but in 1935-1937. These elements were the fruit of a many-layered, multi-faceted struggle of a motley group of social actors.

I suspect the future will be much the same.

 

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  • [reply to laura helder in brackets -----------gh]

    Gary hicks said, "i suspect that we all need to get back to what we were doing before our attention was drawn to sam's article" [that's not all i said]

    I have been reading these comments for days without making any comment.

    Didn't sam webb write this article intending for people's attention to be drawn to it with their comments made?

    [ i'm sure he did. the commentary devices on this website have been set up for precisely this purpose. but don't you find it strange that this discussion has been dominated by a few people, yours truly included? and the testosterone in some of these comments can be cut through with a straight-razor!]

    Why should anyone write anything if its not going to be talked about?
    [see above]

    I work with communists in the peace movement but i'm not a member of the communist party. Where does putting this type of discussion off for preconvention discussion and club meetings leave all the people like me.
    [i suspect that lots of the preconvention discussion will take place on this website. in my nearly four decades with the cpusa, i've not seen anyone outside of the party-- including members of other political parties and organizations who love to give us a run for our ideological money--deprived of being privy to things. after all, this is not czarist russia, or jim crow segregated south, or pinkerton spy-dominated northern industry of the 30s and 40s. at least not at this moment.]

    If this article by sam webb was not intended for public discussion why was it placed here and not in some kind of internal organ but then why would there be anything the communist party doesn't want everyone to read and talk about?
    [ again see above. btw you asked this question 3 times thus far]

    I can understand from reading 'a ragged process' where some people might be uncomfortable with the main leader of the communist party holding these kinds of opinions running contrary to what people working for peace and social justice might expect from him.

    [so can i. i've knitted my brows over things coming from sam's pen in past years. and i've communicated these things to him. but i also take sharp note that "ragged process" has come to mean something else these past few days of discussion. and trust me, it's not healthy either for the party or for the antiwar and other movements by which we push forth our agenda for peace, justice, equality, and socialism. and i think we can speak to each other and not at each other.]

    Most people I know in the peace movement think obama is tied in some way to the military\industrial complex.

    [ yup. he's the commander in chief of the armed forces. it comes with the job according to the constitution, the last time i checked. he's also the ceo of what marx called "the executive committee of the bourgeoisie,i.e. his cabinet --- and therefore the federal government. we all knew this when we voted for him. no? so why are we feigning shock and anger now? it is because we are part of a left that has yet to learn how to engage with numbers far beyond our collective ranks e.g. just those who voted for obama alone, let alone those who sat out the election ---- and even those to whom we'd loke to say: if you're a conservative, let's talk about what you want to conserve. we might even halfway agree.]

    sam webb is insinuating that people like me don't understand the importance of supporting obama. lots of us don't understand how he can support obama.

    [ it's not insinuation. and it's not about understanding about how sam or any of us can support obama. it's more about how we can support ourselves and build our forces. even barack obama has made this clear. he has told us several times that he can only get past the boys and girls on k street, wall street, and the pentagon to the extent that we grow as a force to be reckoned with.]


    My understanding is rightwing ideology is prowar ideology. obama has not repudiated war he makes wars.

    [yup. stuck between the rock and the hard place:

    when the leaders speak of peace, the common folk
    know that war is coming
    and when the leaders curse war, the mobilization order
    has already been written
    ---bertolt brecht

    it's on us to make it otherwise. are we up to the task? the stakes are high now.]

    Posted by gary hicks, 11/03/2009 5:23pm (5 years ago)

  • Gary hicks said, "i suspect that we all need to get back to what we were doing before our attention was drawn to sam's article"

    I have been reading these comments for days without making any comment.

    Didn't sam webb write this article intending for people's attention to be drawn to it with their comments made?

    Why should anyone write anything if its not going to be talked about?

    I work with communists in the peace movement but i'm not a member of the communist party. Where does putting this type of discussion off for preconvention discussion and club meetings leave all the people like me.

    If this article by sam webb was not intended for public discussion why was it placed here and not in some kind of internal organ but then why would there be anything the communist party doesn't want everyone to read and talk about?

    I can understand from reading 'a ragged process' where some people might be uncomfortable with the main leader of the communist party holding these kinds of opinions running contrary to what people working for peace and social justice might expect from him.

    Most people I know in the peace movement think obama is tied in some way to the military\industrial complex. sam webb is insinuating that people like me don't understand the importance of supporting obama. lots of us don't understand how he can support obama.

    My understanding is rightwing ideology is prowar ideology. obama has not repudiated war he makes wars.

    Laura Helder Superior WI

    Posted by Laura, 11/03/2009 10:27am (5 years ago)

  • I wish to correct my earlier statement on the Party's Economics Commission. Everyone involved with that body is a Party member; I can only plead earlier ignorance of this fact. However, certain tendencies within the EC have taken a "hard-line" against Marxism-Leninism in favor of CoC-style social democracy.

    Posted by Nicholas Hewko, 11/03/2009 1:48am (5 years ago)

  • I stumbled on this website by accident. I can't believe what I am reading. This is a marvelous and wonderful discussion. I am telling my friends to check it out. I am just looking into socialism.

    Regina Lewis
    Memphis TN

    Posted by Regina Lewis, 11/02/2009 10:27pm (5 years ago)

  • "The writer of the above excerpt has written as if the cpusa has actually'abandoned leninism ' to win a bigger coalition. But in my discussions with a couple leading people in the American party no one has stated they are in favor of abandoning leninism. In fact, when pressed, I have been told by two prominent members who are on board with Sam Webb's perspective that they believe that cpusa is following a leninist line."

    No one said that all those in the CPUSA leadership would not claim to be following Leninism.

    I have no doubt that some of these folks 'Think' they are following the Leninist line. Nor do I have any doubt that the teabaggers 'Think' that less government will make people more prosperous.

    My criticism has nothing to do with what they think, it has to do with what they have actually done. Which is abandoned Leninism.

    Why? I don't know.. perhaps they just don't know what Leninism is, or perhaps they just don't fully understand how materialism works. The effect is all the same.

    Furthermore, how one 'interprets' Leninism is not really a question we need to adress. You see Lenin, and Marx are quite clear... they are not cryptic, there is no hidden code or message. The claim that there is many different ways of 'interpreting' Marxism is just a means of departing from it. It's just one more way in which people revise the concepts presented by Marx and Lenin, without actually rejecting Leninism altogether.

    Posted by , 11/02/2009 7:20pm (5 years ago)

  • I don't doubt that Party leaders believe that they are upholding a Leninist line. At the core of this disagreement are, as I see it, two fundamental concerns:
    First, that the Party leadership has not provided any specific plan of action for supporting reform struggles such as health care, struggles which they continually insist should be our top priority. Judging by the actions of the leadership, they seem to believe that "support the President" is the only way carry out reform struggles, despite evidence to the contrary; there is no discussion of building an independent movement to fight for specific reforms. Historically, independent movements have been the most effective democratic forces for progressive reform.
    Second, any comrade who holds views to the left of the leadership is ignored, dismissed and/or attacked with "some on the left" straw man arguments in the press. Public Party discussions are censored to exclude left criticism of the leadership, with the justification being "we shouldn't discuss this in public". Internal Party discussions are dominated by the leadership's view, with critics regularly attacked or marginalized. The most vital concern seems to be agreement with the leadership; our Economics Committee is run by a Party member in name, but a CoC member in fact.

    Posted by Nicholas Hewko, 11/02/2009 1:45pm (5 years ago)

  • A clarification is necessary, RE: "Communists need to be among the masses fighting the fight aye.. the communist fight. While it may appear to make more sense to sacrifice ideology to attract a bigger following.. to abandon leninism for a peoples coalitions."

    If this lively interesting discussion thread an Sam Webb's article is to get the movement for a popular front and socialism any further ahead we need to re-focus just what we are discussing. The writer of the above excerpt has written as if the cpusa has actually'abandoned leninism ' to win a bigger coalition. But in my discussions with a couple leading people in the American party no one has stated they are in favor of abandoning leninism. In fact, when pressed, I have been told by two prominent members who are on board with Sam Webb's perspective that they believe that cpusa is following a leninist line.

    So perhaps we need to sharpen the focus of this thread?
    Isn't the disagreement about which interpretation of a marxist-leninist perspective on the present struggles is principled and appropriate? I think this re-focusing of the question is necessary as long as both sides claim to share the same basic starting point.

    If I am mistaken about the position the cpusa leadership claims to be taking I would also request a clarification on that question.
    AT

    Posted by Andrew Taylor, 11/02/2009 11:04am (5 years ago)

  • The fact is, none of the needed work on reform struggles is happening under Webb's leadership. We had and likely still have a majority of US workers saying they support single-payer health care reform. The Party should have at least tried to tap into the potential energy there; that seems like a no-brainer to me. Instead, we got fed some goofy line about how we need to "support both single-payer and the public option" to avoid "splitting the health reform movement" (and in reality ended up supporting the public option only). Furthermore, when it came to the public option, we got exactly zero critical analysis of the reform proposals working their way through Congress from the Party press, despite the fact that some of these bills contained and continue to contain reactionary provisions like "partial coverage" and mandated purchasing of insurance, provisions that would harm working people.
    The fact is, the Webb approach isn't an approach. What is the Party line on peace and health care? What's the plan for working with/within the Democratic Party? How is the Party connecting with the "people's coalition"? Who are our partners in this coalition and how are we working with them? How do our clubs plug into all this? These questions have yet to be answered; what we get from the leadership is vague talk about "ebbs and flows of mass struggle" and hyperbolic straw man attacks on "some on the left".
    This isn't about some rarefied theoretical discussion or proper Marxist-Leninist phraseology; it's about actually doing the work of a Communist Party. In any case, there is a place both for reform and compromise AND correct theory and ideology in a healthy Communist Party. Both are (or should be) equally important to Communists.

    Posted by Nicholas Hewko, 11/02/2009 3:28am (5 years ago)

  • Unfortunately I'm quite long winded, and am double posting (again), to respond in brief to this:

    "I see the world as a burning house and here we are arguing about how to place the furniture. Let's kill the fire first and then my hyper ideological friends can have the floor while I go grab me a beer for a job well done."

    I point out this analogy is flawed. You see, we are not arguing over how to place the furniture.. ok well.. we are, but that is not the issue at hand here.

    This debate is in fact about how to put out the fire. You see on one hand you have Mr. Webb who having noted the fire, looks into the distance and points to a well.. not too far out, and says; 'There! That is how we will put out the fire!'

    Us Marxists-Leninists on the other hand have been to that well, and we know it to be dry. Beyond the well however there is a stream, a water supply we know will never run out. The night is blinding, but we know it is there... we've seen the maps, you see?

    The argument therefore is not over furniture, but who will come with us, into the night, to increase the amount of water with which we will return, and hence decrease the time required to put out the blaze. And who will go with webb, to the dry well.. and be left to sit on their asses till we return with the first haul, or to just sit on their asses the whole time in hopes the whole thing is goes up so they can collect the insurance payment.

    Posted by Robert Gillis, 11/02/2009 3:27am (5 years ago)

  • Mikhail:

    "ALSO let's presume he might be all wrong, what are we gonna do send him to a gulag or re-education camp? "

    If his revisionism turned into a desperate and violent act of counter revolution, then yes, we would probably send him to a gulag. There will be resistance to socialism, and there will be a dictatorship of the proletariat engineered to crush said resistance. sorry sam.

    Mind you I agree entirely, only time will tell who is right and who is wrong, and we need to be among the masses. That does not mean however that we are left with a choice of revisionism among the masses or Leninism on the interwebz.

    You see each of us are supposed to be what you would call a 'cadre'. We are to be simultaneously in the book AND amongst the masses. Even if that means we aren't as popular at first. That's why they call it party BUILDING as opposed to party POLISHING or some such nonsense.

    Like you I also see a great rift in the communist movement, but in these particular conditions, I do not feel such a rift is necessarily harmful. Lenin too found himself on 1 side of such a rift, when his Bolsheviks broke away from the Social Democrats.

    In 'What is to be Done?' Lenin pointed out that he always welcomes an alliance with the other left wing forces, when it comes to a goal they both share.. such as in your case, eliminating the fascist Pinochet. But his party did not always feel that the policy of the opportunists was appropriate, and so in most cases would rather go his own way.

    As we all know Lenin's break from the 'people's coalition' of his day, was far from being a tragedy for the working people of Russia.

    This does not mean I am entirely on board with the so called 'ideological puritans' however. As Lenin chose to cut off his ties with his coalition, and spoke out against either party clinging at the other when clearly the circumstances demand that they both just go their own way. I do get the feel that some folks are still under the impression that they can somehow convince Webb, and the CPUSA leadership to reverse course. Or that some Browder style coup is possible against a far stronger revisionist foe and with a far weaker leadership and no Stalin to rush to their defense. Perhaps I'm just not as optimistic as I should be, but it feels some really, for lack of a better word, useful, Marxist-Leninists within the party are wasting their breath on this issue.

    Posted by Robert Gillis, 11/02/2009 3:10am (5 years ago)

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