The Communist Party USA’s party-wide preconvention discussion shows the overwhelming majority supports the strategic direction of its new draft program and main resolution and also includes many good suggestions to strengthen them. A scattering of members say we should instead retain the 1983 program as the starting point, updating certain points. Most of them characterize the new draft program as going in a “social democratic,” “right opportunist” direction.

It is possible here to discuss only a few central differences. At, I discuss them more fully, including the many misstatements of fact about the draft’s content.

The most important difference is revealed in the proposal to return to the previous program. That was adopted before developments necessitated the party’s strategic goal of seeking to defeat the ultra-right section of transnationals and the Bush administration, by building the broadest possible all-people’s coalition led by labor closely allied with African American, Mexican American and all racially and nationally oppressed peoples, women and youth, and many others such as seniors, gays and lesbians, family farmers, and the peace and environmental movements. Tactically, we recognized that this can only be done through a Democratic Party candidate because the core social forces are still in that party’s orbit.

While saying they are for defeating the ultra-right, the critics reject this strategy on the grounds that inter-monopoly differences are “only” over how best to exploit, and that the role of the party is to project more advanced alternatives and not to stress coalition-building and be a “cheerleader” for the labor movement. This reveals a lack of understanding of the party’s leading role and how that is expressed and acquired, and of the relationship between propaganda for socialism, agitation for an anti-monopoly coalition and party, and mass action.

Lenin time and again stressed the primary role of involving millions on the level of struggle they are currently ready for, alongside propaganda and agitation, if the Communist Party was to guide the class struggle toward its ultimate aim, socialism, and play its leading role at each stage of the struggle. Our highly appreciated participation in the great mass struggle to defeat Bush with Kerry involved hard work and leadership by example, and tackling political and ideological problems from right and leftist directions that interfered with the necessary unity. It was not “tailist.” Lecturing the masses from the sideline on what they should think and whom they should support would have been abandoning a leading role.

The draft points out that a leading role is not a result of proclaiming our advanced ideas or seeking leadership at all costs but of earning it in the course of struggle and re-earning it daily. We have at times made mistakes on this and ended up relatively isolated.

Contrary to those who charge the draft has a classless approach to democracy that undermines the class struggle, and projects a path to socialism based solely on elections, the draft program does the opposite. Really, their argument is with Lenin, who from 1897 until the February 1917 revolution stressed the democratic struggle as the main path through which the class struggle would advance.

Saying that emphasis on the democratic struggle weakens the class struggle fails to understand both and their close interdependence. It also sees the democratic struggle narrowly as limited to civil liberties, rather than embracing all struggles that aim to improve the lives of working people at the expense of the ruling class or a part of it, but do not yet seek the end of capitalism. It also confuses democratic struggle with particular forms of its conduct — electoral rather than mass demonstrations, etc. The draft sees many mass forms as necessary.

Apparently the critics severely doubt the possibility of a “peaceful transition.” The draft recognizes big capital will use any method it can to prevent a change in power, but our job is to block its ability to use armed force by assembling an overwhelming majority and creating divisions in its ranks. If Lenin thought, as late as Sept. 29, 1917, that it was still possible and necessary to seek a peaceful transition, it is even more so for us in the period ahead.

On our attitude toward the Bill of Rights, all nine party program editions since World War II have called it a popular achievement to build on under socialism, as distinguished from anti-democratic aspects of our history. To dismiss it as part of a “bourgeois constitution” is to reject the concept put forward by Marx, Engels and Lenin that socialism can use achievements of previous societies, infusing them with new class content.

This concept is found in the third law of dialectics, the “negation of the negation,” showing that development is not circular but progressive. Marxists are not national nihilists.

Critics object to the statement that if we held power and made big mistakes and lost mass confidence, we could be voted out. We assume a level playing field with big money excluded. Perhaps we would be replaced by another socialist government, with different personalities, but it might also be one that moves toward capitalism. To attempt to hold power against the wishes of the majority would further weaken our mass influence and if ousted impede re-establishment of working people’s power led by the working class. There is no principle by which we can fight now for expanding democratic elections and our role and yet insist on the right to deny a democratic election outcome if it were to turn us out.

These critics misstate facts in some cases and do not conform with Marxist-Leninist theory and methodology and Communist strategy and tactics. Rather than sweeping characterizations of others, the critics ought to use a more comradely tone.

Danny Rubin is a member of the Communist Party USA’s Program Committee. He served on four previous program committees.