Celebrating 100: The Communist Party USA and the new era of socialism
Young members of the Communist Party in Connecticut. | CPUSA

This is the final part of the full main report, “Unity to save people and planet; For full equality, democracy, peace, and green socialism,” to the 31st National Convention of the Communist Party USA held in Chicago, Illinois, June 21-23, 2019. Other installments available here. The abbreviated oral presentation is available here

John Bachtell served as CPUSA national chair from 2014 to 2019. Rossana Cambron and Joe Sims were elected as the new CPUSA co-chairs.

The 2007 global financial crisis and the Great Recession decimated families and communities, exposing the greed, ugliness, and brutality of the capitalist system. In the economic earthquake and political aftershocks that followed, some responded with cynicism and despair, and many turned to the extreme right.

But millions of others concluded capitalism would never work. They joined the Occupy movement and a search for radical alternatives, including socialism. Millions more have since become convinced capitalism is destroying the planet and that human society must radically reorganize itself to survive. We live in a moment in which millions are open to the ideas of socialism.

Already by 2010, the majority of Democrats and Millennials had a positive attitude toward socialism. Bernie Sanders’s campaign gave voice to this sentiment and started a national discussion about socialism. Saying anything positive about socialism had been utterly forbidden since the dawn of the Cold War 70 years ago.

Sanders won 13 million votes in the 2016 Democratic primary. Many of the issues Sanders championed are now mainstream in the 2020 campaign. Today, 43% of Americans believe “some form of socialism” would be a “good thing” for “the country as a whole.” And 47% say they would vote for a socialist for president.

Discussions about socialism are occurring in the mainstream media, workplaces, communities, and on campuses. The Democratic Socialists of America has exploded in growth, and DSA candidates, other socialists, and communists have been elected to office.

Ideas the Communist Party USA helped pioneer are now mainstream: Social Security, industrial unionism, equal rights, black-brown-white unite and fight, universal childcare, community control of the police, and the slogan “People Before Profits.”

At one time, we were one of only a few organizations promoting Marxism. Now Marxism is available to anyone with an internet connection and is discussed, debated, and taught on most college campuses.

Anti-communism has also declined, especially among the generations born after the Cold War. But it’s also deeply embedded in the political DNA of the country and still a powerful weapon of division by the ruling class. The perception that communism equates to totalitarianism is still prevalent and is a pressure pushing the Party to the margins.

We are still perceived by many as either long dead, illegal, or tied to the Soviet Union and past models of socialism. Many of our members don’t feel comfortable being public. Some labor and community leaders and elected officials still fear publicly associating with us.

We should expect these ideological attacks to grow with the heightened use of anti-communism, and efforts to start a new Cold War with China by Trump, Bannon, and the extreme right.

And still, the times, people, and political atmosphere have dramatically changed. This is a new day. Since 2016, the Party has grown substantially, and People’s World circulation has doubled. Many clubs hold public events with broad participation and are appreciated by our allies for their contributions.

The possibilities for growth are enormous. Building the Party and its presence in this democratic upsurge and moment when millions are opening to socialist ideas must be a top priority.

Our multi-racial working-class and people, the mass democratic and social movements need a much larger Communist Party USA to help grow, unite, and expand their reach.

A much larger Communist Party USA is needed to help give clarity and guidance in the face of the massive challenges of the climate crisis, the nuclear war danger, and economic disruptions bearing down. The CPUSA is needed to help convey the strategy and tactics necessary and the broad democratic path to socialism.

Growing the Party can’t be left up to chance, though. That is why we are projecting steps to strengthen the organization and finances, improve our Marxist education and theoretical development, and grow among youth, while also involving young members in all aspects of the leadership.

It means growing our ability to communicate with millions through People’s World and the CPUSA.org website, and mastering all forms of digital and social media in the battle of ideas.

It means developing our vision of modern Bill of Rights democratic, green socialism—a socialism that fits our country in our time—and sharing it widely with the American people, particularly the rising young generations.

It means honestly assessing the achievements of past socialist projects, but also acknowledging and drawing the lessons from the mistakes, errors, and shortcomings that contributed to their demise.

It means fighting for the truth and creating an atmosphere for serious self-reflection, critical and independent thought, flexibility in tactics, and reality-based approaches, with no tolerance for dogma.

This convention has laid the basis for the Party to retool and radically elevate our participation in working-class and social movements, the public discussion of socialism, and our public presence in the movements, streets, and media.

The unique role of Communist Party USA

The Communist Party USA is unlike any other organization. We play an indispensable and unique role, which is why we are celebrating our 100th birthday.

We are a working-class party guided by Marxism, or if you prefer Marxism-Leninism, or scientific socialism, or the ideas of Marx and Engels, developed by Lenin—and Georgi Dimitrov, Antonio Gramsci, Rosa Luxemburg, Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh; and Harry Hay, Anna Rochester, Claudia Jones, Gus Hall, Henry Winston, Eugene Dennis, Lorenzo Torres, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, James Jackson, William Z. Foster, W.E.B. Du Bois, George Meyers, Angela Davis, and others.

We also embrace the entire experience of the communist and workers’ movements globally, including developments in Central and South America, and South Africa; we draw lessons from past experiences in socialist construction and from today’s socialist-oriented states, including China, Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela, Laos, and Nepal.

Marxist methodology allows us to understand and gain insights into developments. We seek to creatively and collectively develop Marxism by embracing what is new in the class, social, and democratic struggle and our experience—never fearing to objectively examine any question, in all its sides, contradictions, and complexities.

We learn from the rich experiences of our working class, social, and mass democratic movements, including from other non-Party Marxists and left democratic revolutionaries.

The point is not to just interpret the world but change it. Therefore, we are a party of mass action, immersed in the day-to-day struggles of the working class and people.

We are a party that energetically works to build a movement of the vast majority for transformational change, to grow existing working-class, social, and democratic movements, but also takes initiatives when necessary to advance those struggles.

We are a party of unity builders, of our multi-racial and diverse working class and people; uncompromising foes of racism, sexism, homophobia, and all forms of bigotry. We seek intersections between issues and class, race, and gender, and all who face oppression.

Our purpose is to bring people together, one-to-one and community-to-community, finding common ground at the intersection of concerns, issues, and movements.

We are a party of socialism, of full economic, social, and political equality and democracy; a champion of the working-class committed to assisting it in emerging as the leader of the entire movement up to achieving power and through building socialism.

We are a party with a developed Marxist strategy and tactics, including a strategic policy that appreciates and analyzes: the stages of struggle, critical democratic tasks, the balance of forces, and need for alliances that allow the working class and people to get from here to socialism.

We are a party engaged in the battle of ideas in the age of mass disinformation, at a time when a vast and powerful right-wing media ecosystem attempts to control the outlook of tens of millions. Our role is to combat ruling class ideas and educate people in the spirit of socialism and Marxism, to assist the working class in developing class consciousness and a scientific world outlook.

We are a party of internationalism, for international working-class solidarity, global peace, and sustainability. Our responsibility first and foremost is to oppose U.S. imperialism and end its domination over other nations and peoples.

We are a party of revolutionary working-class morality, humanism, equality, unity, cooperation, solidarity, compassion, and concern for the well-being of all and for the rights of nature.

Adapt and change in the new era of socialism

All organizations and movements have to change if they want to endure, if they aspire to be a growing factor in today’s struggles. They must adapt to rapidly evolving political terrain, new moods and sensibilities, and modern popular culture, and to embrace new phenomena.

In fact, organizations like the AFL-CIO, NAACP, and others are struggling to reinvent themselves in this era.

If we want to be here in another 100 years, we have to evolve too. Gus Hall said it best. The party has to “change so we can grow.”

Changing doesn’t mean eliminating what makes us unique. On the contrary, it means strengthening those unique characteristics by adapting them to today’s changing world. It means developing their content based on new experience, so they resonate with millions.

We are proud of our history and accomplishments. We honor those who preserved and built the Party and then passed it to us to safeguard. We stand on their shoulders—hundreds of thousands of ordinary working people.

But we won’t rest on our laurels and be wed to the past. We treasure what they gave us. But we have to win our leadership in this reality, in the struggles of today, each and every day.

The democratic and peaceful path to green socialism

Our organization is deeply rooted in the revolutionary-democratic traditions of this nation. We are the product of our multi-racial working-class and people in the fight for a better life.

We embody every struggle for social progress, every hard-fought democratic gain, everything that affirms and deepens our humanity.

Our vision of socialism has evolved in light of new experience. It is rooted in the revolutionary struggles, traditions, values, culture, and dreams of our working class and people—full equality, democracy, and freedom. It is the fulfillment of the most advanced thinkers and doers of the revolution of 1776, the second revolution that ended slavery, the Suffragette Movement, the 1930s radical upsurge and anti-fascist movement, the Civil Rights revolution, and today’s democratic upsurge and more.

It envisions every means for the vast majority of people to gain agency, to participate in creating and governing the new society and giving democratic institutions working-class leadership and content.

The U.S. path to socialism is one that embraces militant peaceful non-violence as a means, a creed, and an end.

John Bachtell, national chair of the Communist Party from 2014-2019, addresses the party’s 31st National Convention in Chicago, July 2019. | Al Neal / PW

The U.S. path to socialism is a collaborative project of every force committed to full economic and political democracy, a project shaped in the here and now—the battle to defend and expand democracy and defeat the extreme-right, at the ballot box, in the streets, and in the battle of ideas.

The core of today’s anti-extreme right alliance—our multi-racial working class, communities of color, women, and youth—is also the core of the broad majority coalition for socialism that is in gestation.

The rising era of modern socialism is shaped by humanity’s response, including that of the American people, to the crisis of wealth extremes, to save our planet, for a sustainable and demilitarized economy and society.

It is being shaped by the fight for full economic and political democracy. To make the working class both the creators of wealth, and masters of its distribution; for full social, racial, and gender equality; for a more secure, humane and joyful life and creative work ensuring the most comprehensive development of each and all; a sustainable and demilitarized economy and society.

Where prisons are abolished, walls become bridges, weapons turn to plowshares, smokestacks become wind turbines, where capitalists go the way of kings and dinosaurs, and where the rights of nature take their place alongside those of humankind—this is the future if we grasp it.

The Communist Party USA will rise to the challenge!


John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.