No pat hands in politics

No organization or institution can long exist in a condition of stasis. Organizations in general and political parties and social movements, in particular, have to adjust to new conditions.

And the reason is simple: change is constant and organizations and institutions must, if they want to remain relevant, change in the face of changing conditions.

For more than a decade, the Communist Party USA has been reconfiguring the way we work and develop our analysis.

Not everything has turned out as we hoped. There were mistakes, false starts, results that fell short of what we expected, and many things still have to be attended to.

On the whole, however, party members and leaders challenged conventional wisdom, gained experience, and adjusted our policies and style of work to new conditions of struggle.

Had the party been imprisoned by past experience, conventional wisdom and old methods, we would have been left in history's rear view mirror. A glance at the past reveals that the political landscape is littered with political and social formations that didn't adapt to new realities.

But, to our credit, the Communist Party chose change and innovation. We eagerly searched for new angles of looking at, thinking about, and reshaping the world.

Such an approach is, not only consistent with, but an imperative of Marxism. Otherwise, this science and art of social change and revolution loses its capacity to assist people in their desire to re-imagine and remake the world - not in some sort of utopian way, but in a way that meets the expanding requirements of a good life at the beginning of the 21st century.

Marx and Engels developed an analytical structure and methodology that enabled the working class to comprehend and change the world, but they never claimed the "last word" on any subject. Theory for them was modified by experience, not something to be memorized and repeated no matter what the circumstances and conditions.

Near the end of his life, Frederick Engels, in an effort to counter a dogmatic interpretation of historical materialism that was fashionable in the socialist movement of that time, wrote: "All history has to be studied afresh."

A decade or so later, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the leader of the Russian Revolution, wrote:

"A Marxist must take cognizance of real life, of the true facts of reality, and not cling to a theory of yesterday, which, like all theories, at best only outlines the main and the general, only comes near to embracing life in all its complexity."

In other words, Marxism should have no affinity for lifeless schemes and timeless slogans that squeeze the complexity and novelty out of the process of social change. Repetition of abstract formulas, which are disconnected from the historical process and the real dynamics of struggle, is of no value.

In recent decades, the world has changed in unexpected ways. The collapse of the Soviet Union signaled a historic defeat for the socialist project. The struggle for socialism continues, but in very different conditions.

Moreover, other seismic shifts of a political, economic, cultural and technological nature have created new fault lines across the globe, culminating in a world crisis of capitalism and the decline of U.S. imperialism.

One could say the world is leaving one era of development and entering a new era.

These new realities should turn Communists' theoretical eye, as well as practical activity, toward what is new; toward breaks, as well as continuities, in development; toward fresh forces and inescapable challenges, such global warming and deep poverty.

Keeping a pat hand in poker (that is, playing the cards you are dealt) sometimes makes good sense, but it is a poor strategy for any political party, and especially a party of socialism that aspires to be a leader of a broader movement in a changing world.

Lenin wrote:

"The Bolshevik slogans and ideas on the whole have been confirmed by history; but concretely things have worked out differently; they are more original, more peculiar, more variegated than anyone could have expected.

"To ignore or overlook this fact would mean taking after those 'old Bolsheviks' who more than once already have played so regrettable role in the history of our Party by reiterating formulas senselessly learned by rote instead of studying the specific features of the new and living reality."

In view of what has occurred over the decades of the 20th century and the first decade of this century, can we do any less than bring a fresh eye and practice, informed by a critical Marxism, to the contemporary world?


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  • Sam, Do you as CPUSA Leader continue to believe the working-class are be led to a socialist revolution by a marxist party in which the workers seize power from the Bourgeoisie and create a socialist state?

    Posted by , 03/23/2010 9:59am (5 years ago)

  • Yes, things change but capitalism has certainly not changed all that much. The same forces within capitalism continue the same struggles (including fascism) and anyone reading the Communist Manifesto of 1848 would be aware of how contemporary it is in essence. We must continue to employ praxis and to invent and reinvent tactics andstrategies learning from the past while paying attention to the present. I think there is too much emphasis on "new ideas" and the assumption of "new realities" here and I get the feeling that this could be a harbinger of right opportunism's advance within our Party. This is a moment when many new people are coming to terms with the failure of capitalism and saying so aloud. Fascists are more than happy to take advantage of people's anger and political ignorance. This is no time to abandon Marx for some vague illusory "social democracy." If anything, we need to strengthen our Party's Marxist education and outreach providing class conscious leadership.

    Posted by Al M, 03/22/2010 7:03pm (5 years ago)

  • Health care insurance reform, a victory to be briefly celebrated then on to the next stage, public option as promised by Senator Harkin.

    In spite of significant differences, the progressive and left forces demonstrated a level of maturity and unity not seen for ages. Their persistent pressure for a public option and single payer made possible what we got tonight and lays the basis for the promised continuing struggles for better health care, jobs, and stimulus.

    Although far from perfect, the people prevailed.

    Posted by David Bell, 03/21/2010 11:48pm (5 years ago)

  • Dave, you make a lot of claims and assumptions that are very questionable in my opinion, but it's Sunday and march madness is in high gear (my team Mi state won at buzzer) so I will respond some other time.

    Posted by sam webb, 03/21/2010 5:52pm (5 years ago)

  • I just received this via my e-mail-

    I think we should initiate legislation forcing poor people to feed their kids or put the parents in prison... this would make about as much sense as this legislation Obama is forcing thru on healthcare.

    Maybe posting it here will give Sam Webb some new ideas.

    Posted by Dawn, 03/21/2010 5:04pm (5 years ago)

  • In my last sentence address John Case, please ignore the word "not."

    Posted by David Bell, 03/21/2010 4:14pm (5 years ago)

  • Sam, I think you were addressing D. Bester about alliances, not me.

    On the question of our role, you are correct, I don't agree and I think I have made that clear and not hidden that. Let me clarify. It's not that I limit our role to ideology, it's that we sorely are lacking in our ideological contribution, and I am not sure based on reading all the pre-convention documents and discussion pieces that we are particularly interested in ideology. Many contributions to the discussion from leading comrades assume that the working class is going to make some leap from democratic struggles to more advanced stages spontaneously. Also, if 20% have already made some positive decisions about socialism with millions of others about capitalism, then how can we not make ideology in relation to what people are doing a priority. With regard to our role in the mass arena for jobs, health care, etc. Communists must be more than participants. The communist plus (or any other acceptable term) is not reserved for ideology, but on how to move people and struggles from point A to B.

    I believe that giving leadership on the obscene military budget and on the false arguments about balancing the budget and deficits would be dynamite because it clearly talks to practical answers to the balanced budgeters and at the same time the root cause of where we are.

    One other point on the importance of ideology has to do with the 2010 elections. I believe that unlike 2008 when there was a clear enemy in Bush, for various reasons the waters may be a bit muddier this year. To get the turn out that can reverse the trend of mid-term elections, two things need to happen. One is that the movement for jobs and improving health care legislation (to name two) must show some success (to be defined); and two, convincing people that the Republicans and the right must be defeated. I believe the latter requires ideological work to create an understanding that may go beyond the obvious immediate self interest questions. It's getting a lot harder to vote against something without some grounding in understanding the system and the relationship between the immediate and the next step especially if we run into a legislative cement wall.

    I look forward to your piece and know that it will address the many comrades and districts that have varying levels of questions about our role.

    John Case, you totally missed my point about slogans. I was just stating that the Bolcheviks used slogans. So should we. I don't think I suggested that slogans were the extent of either our or the Bolcheviks involvement in the struggle. No where have I ever argued against not being in every area of mass struggle possible.

    Posted by David Bell, 03/21/2010 4:09pm (5 years ago)

  • Dave,

    Your understanding of alliances is much too formal; never been the understanding of our Party; we always allowed for informal as well as formal alliances.

    Posted by sam webb, 03/21/2010 2:39pm (5 years ago)

  • The whole notion that we have no alliances with the Democratic party under any circumstances is ridculous in the extreme and has nothing to do with marxism. That prescription would have us sitting out the 2008 elections and sitting on our hands this fall - not to mention the struggle for reforms the past year. Don't be fooled by the revolutionary phrase.

    As for dave's question about our role, I do think we have spelled it out, but the problem is that he doesn't agree. I am going to submit something soon to preconvetion discussion addressing this. Dave's problem is that he reduces our unique contribution to the ideological sphere alone, and narrowly so at that - not so my friend.

    Posted by sam webb, 03/21/2010 11:00am (5 years ago)

  • Bruce, your comments generalizing those of us who are critical as not speaking about the crisis is unfortunate and only has the effect of shutting down debate. I refuse to justify my criticisms by first giving my credentials and by having to regurgitate the obvious. I have stated in as many ways as I can create that our involvement in the mass arena as the best soldiers is axiomatic. What I have been begging for is the answer to a straight forward question, "What is the Specific role of Communists in this period when we say that the time could not be riper for building the Party? How will we recruit?" Simply saying we should be involved is not giving leadership to those of us in the trenches. Neither you, nor Sam Webb, nor John Case have been anything but general. There are many of us who understand unity, understand the relationship between the immediate and the advanced, but do not have the material and ideological tools to carry on the struggle as Communists

    Posted by David Bell, 03/21/2010 12:30am (5 years ago)

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