Not everybody is on same page

Let me begin with the obvious: the left (organized and unorganized) has seldom been of one mind. Differences over aims, strategy, tactics, programmatic demands, forms of struggle, etc. have been commonplace.

This moment is no different. In fact, I would argue that two distinct and competing trends have taken shape in the course of the first year of the Obama presidency.

One trend stakes out a left position on every issue, resists compromise, believes that the Democratic Party has no democratic/reform potential, pays little attention to right-wing extremism in its strategic and tactical thinking, and reduces President Obama to nothing but a puppet of Wall Street.

This trend turns criticism of the Obama administration into a measure of one's militancy. The sharper the tone the more legitimate one's left credentials. The main, if not the only, thing holding up far-reaching political and economic reforms, in the eyes of this trend, is the president. Somehow, in this rendition of the political moment, the interaction and struggle between (and within) competing political coalitions/blocs composed of various class and social groupings has no or minimal bearing on the process of change since the 2008 elections. In short, the class struggle in all its complexity is both simplified and invisible.

This same trend "damns with faint praise" the new currents, thinking and initiatives in labor and people's organizations, while it narrowly defines political independence as only electoral formations outside the two-party system. It acts as if militant minorities and moral outrage can reshape the political landscape alone, forgetting that popular majorities in the end make history.

Finally, this trend places an outsize accent on left initiative and unity, but detached from broader forms of unity and struggle.

The other trend on the left argues that the 2008 elections reset the political terrain to the advantage of working people and their allies.

While the Obama administration is not above criticism, this trend believes that criticism should be constructive and unifying, not a test of one's radicalism.

The main role of the left, according to this trend, isn't simply agitational - talking points, sound bites and militant slogans. Political agitation has an important place in class and democratic struggles, but only to the degree that the left is involved in day-to-day struggles in a sustained, practical and non-sectarian way.

In 2008, a broad people's movement was instrumental in electing Obama and a Democratic majority in Congress. Since then, however, it hasn't reached the same level and scale of activity. Without reassembling this coalition, progress will be largely unrealized.

This trend embraces left demands, but it embraces broader demands as well that masses of people are ready to fight for. It doesn't counterpose one against the other. Instead, it sees broader mass demands as a highway that has to be traveled to win more progressive and radical changes.

In a similar vein, compromise isn't a dirty word in this view. Instead, whether and when one makes compromises depends on a very sober estimate of the balance of class and social forces.

This trend understands as well that its task is not only to unite a broad multi-class coalition in the current phase of struggle, but also to assist the working class and its core allies to impress their unmistakable stamp on the struggle for reforms.

Unlike the other trend that shoehorns Obama into a tightly sealed political shell with little or no political potential, this trend believes he has a role, a potentially major one, to play at this juncture of the class struggle.

By the same token, it strongly rejects the notion that the task of the left is to reconfigure the struggle into a contest of the people's movement against President Obama.

This trend supports left unity, but insists that practical involvement with broader movements and coalitions and some rough agreement on strategic orientation among left groups are a necessary condition for such unity.

Finally, an independent, labor-based people's party is a strategic necessity in the view of this trend, but it doesn't see such a formation on the short horizon. In the meantime, it supports struggles for political independence (which take many forms) both within and outside of the Democratic Party.

No individual, organization or social movement on the left fits neatly into one or the other trend outlined above. Life is always more complicated than broad generalizations. Nevertheless, these two trends are taking more definitive form and the future of the left and its place in U.S. politics, in my opinion, hinges on which trend becomes dominant. I think it is obvious where I stand.


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  • Bruce,

    Again, I have no differences with the need to throw our forces into the jobs campaign at every level possible. I am doing that. However, your thoughtful remarks, some addressed to me, do not get to the basic question I continue to raise, what is the Communist Plus? We need to remember that our role in the 30s was not limited to work in coalitions, mass movements etc., but included an independent Party presence that raised advanced positions very much related to our mass work. There was a Party presence that was identified with our mass role and leadership. One problem our comrades face is recognition for the great work they do, but not being able to point to how the Party strategy differs from what is already on the agenda. Would we not make a qualitative difference if we raised the military budget as an obstacle to even modest reforms? Would this be divisive? I think not. It would begin to expose imperialism and draw people to our Party while fighting alongside them in day-to-day struggles. Would it be divisive to initiate intermediary forms that clearly move people into the Party? I think not, although initiative of this type has been discouraged. Where are the forms that people can move into as they develop ideologically?

    You state, "Our allies will be developed in the actual struggle, (although org'd labor and the 70-80 mass organizations that are part of the Jobs For America Now coalition are certainly already allies, based on this struggle and not on their subjective present attitudes toward socialism/capitalism). As well, however, it is here that people, in the midst of struggles, really develop real understanding of the system and how to fight it, as well as ultimate solutions." The last sentence is precisely my point, it depends too much on spontaneity with no mention of our role. This cannot be done without a communist party routed in Marxism-Leninism. Understanding the system cannot be relegated to spontaneity. Are we ideologically and organizationally prepared to move people from point A to B ideologically and politically. I say "no" and that is the rub.

    Posted by David Bell, 02/21/2010 6:31pm (6 years ago)

  • I have absolutely no difference with putting our main efforts into the jobs campaign. I am doing so in my community and in the independent political form in Philadelphia of which I am a member of the steering committee. My question remains, what is the Communist Plus or as some have said the added value of our commitment? What are we offering that will move the movement to a higher level or are we just bodies? What are we doing to build the Party? I would suggest that raising the military budget and the balance the budget hoax would make a qualitative difference in building a lasting movement. What is the relationship of a $700 billion defense budget to our economic stagnation?

    I have raised the question of our specific role many times on this site and no one has given an answer other than to assume that I only complain. What is our plan of work or are we to go it alone and then be criticized for not following line? I complain precisely because I am active in my community, my city, and my Party and am challenged to explain what is unique about the Party when we are competing with thousands of organizations for the minds of the people. I simply am asking for a reasonable discussion to answer why we are not growing in this period. Should not our policies (line) be viewed as a legitimate area of discussion? I have heard every imaginable reason, including "it's just hard" but no suggestion that our policies need a major overhaul.

    Posted by David Bell, 02/20/2010 11:11pm (6 years ago)

  • D. Bester you can say write my full name. I am not an anonymous communist. The leadership I accept is the leadership of the Communist Party. That is my right. No where in my remarks is Obama mentioned. To disagree with people is not to slander them.
    All I am saying is that those of us who are in the Party and who accept the current leadership of the Party have an obligation to become actively engaged in mass struggles in order to enhance our influence in those movements. Obviously this doesn't apply to you because you don't accept the leadership of the Party. It's OK. You can go your way and we can go ours. Goodbye.

    Posted by Frank Chapman, 02/20/2010 7:53pm (6 years ago)

  • Frank C., when you talk about those who express substantive criticism of Obama as "people who want to determine the line of march from the sidelines" / "who want to keep bogged down in theoretical fine-tuning have no intention of doing anything" you lie and slander.

    You're just parroting Webb's straw man attack. But where's the evidence that it is true?

    I'm someone who doesn't think too much of Obama or the "transformative power" of Democrats, and I'm as active as my schedule (I work full time) allows.

    Why do you come out with this self-righteous attack? Is slandering other people on the left your idea of "building left unity"?

    Posted by D. Bester, 02/20/2010 7:12pm (6 years ago)

  • Leadership means absolutely nothing if you don't accept it. The Campaign for Jobs and Relief to address the mass impoverishment of workers due to long term umemployment is what we need to be about right now. We don't need to put all our eggs in one basket but on this issue and every other issue we need to become totally engaged in the existing mass struggles. Its not like we have to go out and organize the entire peoples movement. We just need to participate as communists in order to get our political insights appreciated.
    Here in St. Louis we are calling for and putting together a roundtable discussion of union leaders and leaders of community based working class organizations to began the work of organizing and mobilizing mass protest and emergency relief operations for the unemployed.
    We can never do all that we talk about doing but we can start talking about all that we are doing. This is the only way we can distinguish between those who talk about it and those who be about it. As Engles once said in the beginning was the deed.
    Those who want to keep bogged down in theoretical fine-tuning have no intention of doing anything but that as many of the posts demonstrate.
    Those who are carrying out the mass approach line of the party should become more vocal and not let the discussion be lead by people who want to determine the line of march from the sidelines.

    Posted by Frank Chapman, 02/20/2010 5:51pm (6 years ago)

  • I agree with Michael Scheinberg. He raises the real issue as to whether or not the Communist Party is ideologically and organizationally equipped to seriously impact the direction of the left and the broader peoples' movements.

    Although I generally agree with Sam Webb's analysis of the two main left trends, I am not understanding why we spend so much of our ideological time on the left attitudes towards Obama and so little on program based on our conclusions. Who are we talking to? It was not the left that spoke in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Virginia. I dare suggest that the differences in the left had little to do with the low voter turnout or the shift of many workers to the Republicans. It was the grass roots making decisions based on health care, jobs, and endless wars

    I agree with those calling for unity in the Party, but unity around what? What is our strategy? What is our leadership role? Who, but the Party, can lead on the question of an obscene defense budget? Who but the Party can lead on the question of balancing the budget and explaining the real effect of the deficit? Who but the Party can explain the deteriorating conditions among African-Americans? We have allowed the right to capture the debate on war, taxes, spending, and big government.

    Ideologically, we have become opportunistic, pragmatic. Witness our position on the relationship between single payer and the public option. Witness our hesitancy to constructively pressure the administration even after acknowledging differences. Witness our silence on the appointments of Gates, Clinton, Geitner because it was so early in Obama's presidency. Witness the difficulty our friends and allies have distinguishing us from social democrats. Without the Communist Plus (a term not even used) we will continue to grow at a snails pace in this period of radicalization.

    Posted by David Bell, 02/20/2010 4:49pm (6 years ago)

  • Yeah, well, apparently an important ally is a Democrat who thinks socialism is for lunatics, but not someone on the anti-capitalist left --- even someone in the Party --- who thinks that Obama acts in the interests of the capitalist system and US imperialism.

    The CP isn't going to get anywhere other than to lower membership levels with this attitude.

    Posted by D. Bester, 02/20/2010 4:37pm (6 years ago)

  • i agree with bruce. bashing sam webb back and forth is counter productive and not serious constructive criticism. next week about 1 million of our fellow citizens r going to lose their unemployment ins. and cobra. let's act now to stop this and keep building for a jobs bill. we need to put folks back to work (this is especially true among black american and latino american young people) we need to build that unity of all the democratic and progressive forces in a mass way that will carry our country into the next stage of progress. if we keep nit picking we will keep being disunited and the radical right ( financed by some sections of big capital) will get back in power in 2010 making it much more difficult to get any progress. further we need to find ways to link all this to ending the wars (listen to the very profound statement on this by of all people mayor daley) we may see more mayors and governors and others change their views because of the dialectics of history that r forcing a new look at every thing let's keep the door open for new allies even the most unstable in solidarity jim

    Posted by jim, 02/20/2010 3:55pm (6 years ago)

  • I'm puzzled by this contribution from top leadership of our party.

    Although he doesn't straightforwardly make the assertion, as G.W. Bush did, “You are either with me or against me!”, this document seems to be a prelude to further polarization of the left.

    We are the party of left unity, and, as such, should be able to pitch a big enough tent to include differing progressive views. We should not trash each other and regress into name calling and blatant splitting.

    We need organization and unity and this article is antithetical to those goals.

    Although progressives recognize the great achievement in electing President Obama, the first African-American President in this country, we also recognize that being elected in this country means that the person is indebted to big money people.

    President Obama has done several progressive things and should be supported for those achievements.

    However, President Obama has done several things which are solely in the interest of the wealthy class. If the working class does not match the wealthy class in terms of pressure, then Obama has little choice but to continue to go right. This will make him appear to be a wolf in sheep's clothing which will be recognized by all working people. The likely result will be a one term President unless he starts to speak for the working people and strives to defend their interests.

    This is where the CPUSA could play a major role. We can be instrumental in organizing the critical, but constructive response to Obama's errors in policy. We can help lead the left in confronting the regressive components of Obama's policies.

    I am also puzzled by party leadership's position that the election of Obama has resulted in a better political playing field. So far, in one year of office, President Obama has succeeded in demoralizing and splitting the left while galvanizing the most extreme elements of the right wing. He has slightly less than three years to overcome these errors in order to be re-elected. My hope is that he can become a spokesperson for the majority of the population, the working people, and have some possibility of being re-elected. The alternative is truly frightening.

    Posted by Pat, 02/19/2010 11:27pm (6 years ago)

  • This straw man argument is a continuation of recent efforts to tap down any internal left opposition before the convention. Why aren’t these issues posed as questions for discussion instead of ideological gantlets, written as official positions of the General Secretary of the Communist Party? This only serves to set-up a situation that constrains honest and open discussion on the critical issues confronting the CPUSA. A leading comrade offering honest and sincere input that differs than that of Sam Webb, will now be seen as challenging the stated positions of the General Secretary. This is its intended to silence the left majority in the party. That is why with all the opportunities for organizing and growing the party right now and with the right-wing re-emerging and realigning, the CPUSA, through its General Secretary is attacking the left.

    Let’s hope, like it has before, that the CPUSA will self-correct. Unless action is taken at this convention to make the necessary strategic and organizational (read: leadership) changes, the party will continue its slow decline into irrelevancy. Without bottom-up intervention and correction at this convention, the great CPUSA may self-liquidate and become a communist party in name only and continue its slow descent into the centrist political abyss of the all-people’s front, never to lead the left again.

    Posted by Rick , 02/19/2010 7:25pm (6 years ago)

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