During the CPUSA’s pre-convention period about a year ago, we had a rather lively discussion of socialism in the party and in our publications, and there was a convention panel on socialism. But the discussion never reached beyond our circles, partly because of its nature.

It largely pivoted on whether Bill of Rights socialism was an appropriate concept and term. Most of us had opinions about this, but it wasn’t a discussion that would interest wider circles of people, certainly not one that would attract them to socialism. Most would think that we were splitting hairs.

Since then we have not broached the subject in any meaningful way. Where it does appear in our discussion and literature, it is by and large an addendum, tacked on at the end in way that would not convince anybody of the wisdom of our socialist objective.

We are doing very little to make socialism compelling and intriguing to non-socialists. And we know there are plenty of people who fit into that category.

I don’t know exactly how we can change that, but this perilous moment through which our nation and world are passing has forced me to think that we should take a fresh look at this question. What has occurred in the aftermath of Sept. 11 has brought home to me that capitalism at its present stage of development is capable of doing irreversible damage to life in all of its forms and to our planet.

Nuclear annihilation is one possibility that we mistakenly thought fell off the radar screen with the end of the Cold War. An ecological crisis of planetary dimensions lurks somewhere in this century unless something changes. Hunger, unemployment and pandemic diseases are now cutting wide swaths across the globe.

A century ago, even 50 years ago, the working class and its allies faced huge challenges. Capitalism at that time was brutal, raw and violent and as a consequence it gave rise to a powerful movement against its injustices.

And yet as brutal, raw and violent as it was, it didn’t threaten the very future of humankind and the planet. Rosa Luxembourg said that the choices facing humanity at that time were either socialism or barbarism, but even the brilliant Rosa did not anticipate the new dangers that are in store for humankind as it begins the 21st century.

Some people think that capitalism’s technological wizardry and adaptability will pull us back from the brink of social calamity. The captains of industry and finance and their lieutenants in the corridors of political power will see the destructiveness of their ways and do an about-face.

Don’t count on it. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the system of capitalism is rent with more powerful destructive tendencies than we appreciate, indeed so powerful and so structured into the system that they jeopardize the reproduction of people and nature.

If this is so, we have to make the case, not so much that socialism is inevitable, but rather that it is necessary, that it is a historical imperative in light of the destructive tendencies of the present system. We have to say not only that it offers a better future for humanity, but also that it is a necessary condition for humanity and nature to have a future at all.

This isn’t the only way that we should popularize the idea of socialism. We also have to make a convincing case that socialism creates the objective and subjective conditions for an equitable, sustainable, and non-exploitative economy, full racial and gender equality, and a robust working class and people’s democracy.

Nevertheless, it is a powerful and necessary argument at this juncture of history. Every species has an instinct to survive and humankind is no exception. We should find ways, beginning with our own publications and forums, to make socialism a household word in our country and invest it with a new urgency, a new necessity.

Clearly, socialism is not on labor’s and the people’s action agenda either now or in the near term. No one should think that at their next union meeting, they should offer a resolution to establish socialism by the end of the decade in order to insure the survival of humanity and nature!

Our main emphasis now and for the foreseeable future is on the immediate struggles of the working class and people against the right danger. That was the direction that we set at our convention last summer and it is all the more imperative now.

This is an excerpt from his opening to the CPUSA National Committee meeting Feb. 9 (See story page 9). Webb can be reached at swebb@cpusa.org.