In their recent op-ed article, “Upholding theoretical foundations,” (PWW 5/14-20), readers Walter Tillow, Greg Godwin and Thomas Kenny take Communist Party USA National Chair Sam Webb to task for “[apparently retreating] from the theoretical foundations of communist activism.”
The writers state clearly their belief that the traditions and theory of Marxism-Leninism have served the CPUSA well, and I fully agree with that statement. Where I disagree with the authors, equally strongly, is their statement that the party’s draft program and/or Webb’s commentary (“What the Communist Party’s draft program is all about,” PWW 4/16-22) reflects some dilution or retreat from these traditions. In general, I believe the authors’ conclusions on this question reflect a somewhat careless reading of Webb’s article.
One indication of this is the claim that “the idea of a vanguard party is not only slighted in Webb’s article, but replaced with some amorphous notion of an ‘assembly of forces’ loosely gathered around ‘core constituencies.’” This simply isn’t the case. Webb put forward the concept of the working class at the center of the “core constituencies” that comprise a broad, mass movement that will challenge the ruling class.
What Tillow, Godwin and Kenny miss is that Webb wasn’t just addressing the role and nature of the Communist Party; he was putting forth a strategy aimed at mobilizing broad sectors of people in the United States against the Bush administration and the most reactionary elements of capital at this specific time of struggle.
While I agree with the definition the authors have given for the nature of a vanguard party, I would also agree with those who suggest that it can lead to elitism. To be more specific, the concept of the vanguard party is theoretically sound but has created some problems in practice.
There have been times in our party’s history when the concept of vanguardism has unintentionally resulted in separating us from our workingclass base or has led us to place obstacles in the paths of good people who sincerely wanted to fight for socialism by joining the party. And certainly, the sectarian left has used the term “vanguard” ad nauseum to the point where it means nothing or looks absolutely silly.
The authors also take out of context Webb’s negation of the concept of a “Great Revolutionary Day,” as somehow representing a departure from Marxism-Leninism and socialist revolution. A more careful reading reveals that Webb hardly “mocks” these concepts. What he has written is that there is not going to be one day in which capitalism is smashed and socialism emerges the very next day — the process is somewhat more protracted. This is quite different from what Tillow, Godwin and Kenny would have us believe.
The draft program of the Communist Party is an affirmation of Marxism-Leninism in its finest traditions. It is not an example of the “American exceptionalism” which our party has rejected, and that Tillow, Godwin and Kenny fear. It is, rather, a strategic application of Marxism-Leninism to the present conditions in the United States and a guide to action in the struggle for a socialist USA.
Lawrence Albright is a reader of the People’s Weekly World. The party’s draft program is available at the preconvention discussion web site, discuss.cpusa.org.