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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  • They sound like they are running scared from a debate. Neither one dares to come out from hiding behind their inuendos on the pages of this website they control as they play poker with a stacked deck.

    Webb talks about "reconfiguring" our work when what he means he has been responsible for chasing most everyone out of the Party to the point membership consists of little more than the paid staff that sits in glass offices fearing to put their ideas to the test in the class struggle.

    As for Jim Lane, what is "another milestone the civil rights movement has passed?" Historically high unemployment rates for people of color where affirmative action has not ben implented?

    The internet has not gobbled up the world but U.S. imperialism sure is having a feast.

    Webb has managed a feat that has never been accomplished before; he wraps his revisionism in Leninist phraeseology in order to justify his betrayal of the working class now fearful of defending Obama knowing he led everyone into playing with Wall Street's marked deck.

    Webb might enjoy playing rigged games of poker but when he sucks the working class into playing a game that he knows is a game that is rigged to favor the house, this is another matter; because real lives of living, breathing people are the stake and no one has authorized Webb or Jim Lane to play out their hand.

    Chairman Webb is working with the cheating dealer employed by the house.

    Posted by Scott Kurti, 03/19/2010 11:04pm (5 years ago)

  • The changes embraced by the current CPUSA leadership have resulted in a drop in membership that is astounding.

    I am hopeful that the leadership is ready to consider new alternatives and meet the current conditions rather than continue to tail the Democrats who are in deep political trouble with working people.

    Sadly, the CPUSA political line is not even on a par with trade unionists in voicing support of working people.

    We can do better.

    Posted by Pat, 03/19/2010 11:01pm (5 years ago)

  • Chairman Webb is a thousand times right on when he talks about the need to develop with the times. Marxism isn't quasi-religious dogma, it's a scientific approach to social progress.

    But there's danger that, in updating and reworking, the underlying spirit is lost. If Marxism is reevaluated to be not revolutionary but reformist, not for workers power, etc. then it should no longer be called Marxism because the definitive essence is gone.

    What we need to do is configure the underlying essence to different conditions as best we can, based on all the available new information, not sacrifice the essence and call it a historical update.

    We have to be on guard against ideas such as "socialism by the ballot box", that the revolution can be made by broad masses without political leadership, and so on.

    Also, the vague statements about "some on the left" or "new configurations" etc. should be scrapped. Give the concrete new configurations - name them, describe the ideas. Give the names - so we know who's being referred to. Lenin was never afraid to do this, and the kind of Aesopian and oracular vagueness was anathema to him. For good reason! How can we evaluate without knowing what is being talked about.

    Posted by D. Bester, 03/19/2010 9:33pm (5 years ago)

  • But, at least, the Bolsheviks did have slogans.

    Here's a few: Out now, nationalize the banks, people before profits, cut the military budget in half now, no nukes, outlaw racism, socialize health care, 11th amendment for full employment.

    It's not a question of staying pat, but what is the next bet. Do you see or copy the previous bet, or raise. I say raise the ante. Over 20% who see socialism as a viable consideration want to raise.

    Posted by David Bell, 03/19/2010 4:08pm (5 years ago)

  • This is an excellent article. Marx, Engels and especially Lenin have been demonized in history, a process consciously undertaken by their enemies, and accidentally assisted by some "friends." For example, most people I've come across who refer to themselves emphatically as "Marxist-Leninists" have an almost religious conception of history: "anti-imperialism" means siding with anyone who's anti-American (or, most importantly, who says they're anti-American); taking the side of the working class means never, ever working alongside "bourgeois" parties/people; it's wrong to support the President of an imperialist country; a Communist Party absolutely has to have a news source that is printed on wood fibers; and so on.

    All of these things seemed to be something that Lenin would support without doubt, if you read only his most popular writings (State and Revolution, What is to be Done?, etc.) Reading more of Lenin is as interesting as it is educating. For me, one of the most admirable things about Lenin (aside from the fact that he generally did seem to really care about bettering the world) was his open-mindedness and flexibility. He was willing to quickly discard an idea for which he vitriolically argued when the idea became outdated or turned out to be just plain wrong.

    Of course, the same could be said for Marx and Engels, but it's not so necessary to make that case, as it is Lenin who is referred to so dogmatically so often.

    I've noticed that those who work in that spirit, of constantly looking at history and the current world, the spirit of Marx, Engels and Lenin (not to mention all great scientists and thinkers, from Jefferson to great scientists like Richard Dawkins and so on), are also the people so often criticized by the "Marxist-Leninists" for being "revisionists" (a term that sounds ridiculously religious).

    Posted by Dan M., 03/19/2010 3:07pm (5 years ago)

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