Reflections on some political and ideological questions today

The president doesn't simply register and reflect the balance of power; he influences it as well; no other person has as much power as the president. To identify him as a centrist Democrat akin to Clinton or Carter or Kennedy conceals more than it reveals; it's too neat. It doesn't help us understand him as a political actor and his place in the broader struggle for progressive change. And it can quickly lead to narrow tactics and a wrong-headed strategic policy.

Some say, for example, that the strategic role of the left is to criticize the president, to push him from left. But is that a good point of departure strategically? Doesn't it elevate a tactical question to a strategic one?

Criticizing the president (especially in the internet age) takes little imagination or effort, far less than activating the various forces that elected him last year. To do the latter takes a strategic sense, flexible tactics, creative thinking, and hard work. The president's report card, it could easily be argued, is better than the coalition that elected him. He doesn't get an A, but neither do we.

There are no prohibitions against criticism of the president, but it should be done in a unifying and constructive way. The success or failure of the Obama presidency will resonate for years. A deep imprint on class and racial relations will be part of his legacy. It is hard to imagine how a successful struggle for reforms can happen without the president or how anyone other than the extreme right and sections of the ruling class would benefit if his presidency fails.

Attitude towards reform

A very different political and ideological issue that has a bearing on practical politics is the assertion that capitalism has no solutions to the present crisis and can't be reformed.

If this means that the endemic crises of capitalism (for example, cyclical and structural unemployment, regular crises, overproduction, over accumulation, etc.) will persist as long as the profit motive is the singular determinant of economic activity, we would agree.

But if this means that anything short of a system wide change is of little importance, or that the underlying dynamics and laws of motion can't be modified, we would disagree.

We should avoid counterposing the bankruptcy of capitalism against the struggle for reforms under capitalism. Such juxtaposition is unnecessary and counterproductive. If we don't struggle for the latter (reforms), what we say about the former (systemic nature of problems) will carry little weight nor will we get to where we want to go - socialism.

Capitalism is more elastic than some believe. It changes on its own (its internal laws motion - what Marx studied in "Capital") and is modified by the class struggle. Look at its historical development if you don't believe so.

Role of the working class

Still another ideological question is the role of the working class in general and the labor movement in particular. The right wing and mass media (not just Fox) either heap abuse on the labor movement or make it invisible. They are well aware of the new developments in organized labor, and recoil at the prospect of a revitalizing labor movement. None of this is a surprise.

What is surprising is that many progressive and left people either have a blind spot when it comes to the labor movement, or see it as just another participant, or refuse to see - even dismiss out of hand - the new developments within it.

Leading up to the AFL-CIO convention, we heard more than once that labor should be "a social movement," that it should "take on capital," etc. But, unless you are the hostage of "pure" forms of the class struggle, isn't that what labor is doing - in the elections last year and on issues like health care, war, racism, immigration, climate change, international solidarity, and so forth?

Granted it's not across the board, there are still backwaters, the old style of leadership hasn't completely disappeared, and rank-and-file participation is not where it should be.

But isn't that an old movie? Is going over in righteous indignation the litany of sins of the labor movement the most productive thing that we can do? Doesn't it make far more sense to note the new development and directions, the new thinking, and the new composition of labor's leadership? Do we think that the transition from the legacy of the Cold War and the so-called Golden Age of capitalism can happen in a day, in a month, in a decade? Change is hard, but when sprouts of change come to the light of day we should nurture them.

Our understanding of Marxism reveals that in the process of exploitation, not only surplus value, but also oppositional tendencies arise - albeit uneven and full of contradictions and inconsistencies - but arise nonetheless to challenge corporate prerogatives and class rule.

An under appreciation of the new developments in labor can only weaken the broader movement for change.


Finally, Marxism is an open-ended, integrated, and comprehensive set of ideas to conceptualize and change the world - a world outlook. It brings to the light the existing and developing regularities and laws of social development of societies, and especially capitalist society.

Thus, continually deepening our understanding of Marxism's basic theoretical constructions is of crucial importance to us - not to mention the movement as a whole.

At the same time, Marxism is not simply a science (understood in a general sense) and worldview, but it is also a methodology.

Marxist methodology absorbs and metabolizes new experience; it gives special weight to new phenomena.

It isn't about timeless abstractions, pure forms, ideal types, categorical imperatives unsullied by inconvenient facts, unexpected turns and anomalies; it doesn't turn partial demands, reformist forces, inconsistent democrats, liberals, social democratic labor leaders, even blue dog democrats, into a contagious flu to be avoided at all costs.

Marxist methodology insists on a concrete presentation of a question and an exact estimate of the balance of forces at any given moment.

As a method of analysis, Marxism emphasizes fluidity, reexamining old and new questions, process, dialectics, and movement; it's about allowing space for individuals and organizations to change.

We should deepen our understanding of Marxism as a science and methodology. And we should not give too much attention to those who take issue with us from the left. When we do, it cuts down on our ability to think creatively and respond practically to new opportunities and developments.

In the era of the Internet, everyone's voice is amplified. If some try to turn Marxism into a sacred canon much like the strict constitutional jurists and biblical literalists do with the Constitution and Bible, so be it; if they want to spend all their time looking for examples of right deviations, to the point where they themselves are simply self-satisfied observers of struggle and too busy to build the people's movement or, in the case of those who are in our party, build our organization and press, so be it.

We will go our own way, focusing our energy and talents on building the working-class movement and our party and press, and be much the wiser for it.


Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.


  • I am tired of people trying to tell me that I need to accept "small victories" instead of aiming for the larger movements that are needed for real change. I don't believe Marx or anyone who calls themselves a Marxist for that matter would accept a government that bails out large corporations at the expense of workers. Is this what is meant by allowing "space"? I cannot put into words how far from the truth that is. Holding onto ideals is a necessity of any movement. We cannot wait for the mega-rich to realize that they are oppressing us. I paid for bailouts that only saved the jobs of CEO's. Ask the auto-workers if we have gained anything from the "space" that we are giving the Democrats and the Republicans. This is not me trying to pass Marxism off as some kind of anti-government doctrine, it is simply me realizing the injustice of my current condition. Class conciousness can only be raised through action and criticism of the current system, not by allowing the powers that be to figure it out. It is an ideology of the masses of the proletariat. It is not meant to be handed down from a government, it is given to the government by the workers. It is not a slow-moving change, but rather, it is something revolutionary, started by the people for the people and not by the government through slow progressive changes.

    The bottom line is when the American public get tired of progressive change, they will simply revert back to the ways of the right-wing. Look at what just happened with the Health Care bill. Yes a bill was passed and more people will get health care and have some more rights protected, but what has changed? Big insurance still dominates the market and now has a wider base from which they can make their profits. There is no public option. This is not progress, it is a government telling you there was change and trying to convince the voters that they can "get things done". Barack Obama made a mockery of the movement for peace when he stood before the Nobel Committee and gave a speech justifying war as a necessity. This was eerily similar to Bush's depiction of "America as good fighting evil". I do not accept this and as long as this sort of mentality is dominating our government, then I will make sure they know that the change we need has not occurred. Marxism as a movement, is a movement for change, and not simply accepting "progress". I will not accept "good enough".

    Posted by Vinnie Amoriello, 12/22/2009 3:45pm (6 years ago)

  • For the past 10 years the CPUSA's accent has been on engaging in the "real contest" to use Jesse's term. Threading the needle between reform and deepgoing social transformation isn't easy (and we don't claim we have done it well in every instance; we're a work in progress), but in my mind it is the only game in town.

    We are breaking from much of the radicalism of the 1960s and a Howard Zinn view of history - a history that is terribly simplified and suffering from a dialectical deficit.

    As for internal democracy in the CPUSA, we have avenues and collective bodies where policies are debated, including the coming convention and preconvention period. Our party is very united, but the biggest critics of our policies and democratic life, who are a tiny handful of our members, never mention this. Rather they claim that the party is filled with internal dissension, a claim that they can only make by ignoring facts.

    Where differences arise, say over the role of the Obama administration, they are discussed in a constructive way. We try to avoid (even though it is tempting) making sweeping and undialectical broadsides that show no appreciation for the concrete class and political realities, for the balance of power at any given moment. It is here, Lenin said, where tactics begin and whoever doesn't understand that doesn't understand a particle of Marxism.

    As a now deceased party leader told me once, "If it only took the left to bring about socialism, we would have done it long ago."

    Posted by sam webb, 12/22/2009 6:17am (6 years ago)

  • Changing"the movement as a whole"is the point.
    One hesitates to "render Marx more profound",in this.
    Working-class partisans like Marx,Lenin and Du Bois have helped us by way of example,in leaps and bounds, in how we do this changing.
    This is not really about President Obama, or President Chavez,(but their people coalitions)important as both are.It is more about people,the working people,in billions,who the presidents,male and female, in some way embody,securing,by change, their peace.
    The efforts of all toward securing peace,this season and all,by"drum majors" as MLK might tag us,will revolve around W.E.B. Du Bois's first point:
    "1.Public ownership of natural resources and of all capital."

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 12/22/2009 3:40am (6 years ago)

  • Red one, not only do I think you're incorrect, but I think your view summarizes a pretty silly notion that has found an audience with many. This is the notion that the best strategy is to simply take a position that is further to the left than anyone else.

    I suppose the idea is that, by doing this, we are going to pull the framework of debate leftward. Unfortunately, you often end up trying to trump the "lovable losers" who would rather shoot for the moon and fail again and again than go through the painstaking process of winning incremental gains. That's a child's game that's played on the sidelines of the real contest.

    Posted by Jesse Jack, 12/22/2009 3:26am (6 years ago)

  • It would appear that "The Nation"Magazine, "Huffington Post" The DFA, the PDA, MSNBC, The Congressional Hispanics, The Congressional Black Caucus and every other mainstream progressive/liberal group is taking a much stronger stance in support of real change challenging Obama more than the CPUSA is. Rather silly and Ironic when you actually think about it.

    Posted by red one, 12/21/2009 10:49pm (6 years ago)

  • Once more Sam analyzes the present political situation in a manner that , those who read his material and try to grasp it, become much stronger for it. His arguments are very strong from the standpoint of the class struggle.

    I believe his basic points are : study Marxism more and try to build a movement that will improve the present poitical situation, rather than spend your time criticising what is going on . His observations about the left and the labor movement are right on the money.

    Good job Sam ! For you and Elena have a good holiday !

    Posted by Emil Shaw, 12/21/2009 5:51pm (6 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments