by Jay Rothermel
It is not my purpose today to try the reader's patience with a recapitulation of the CPUSA's history 1919-2011. Other communists have done a better job than I ever could of taking the pulse and charting the tendency and direction of that benighted murder of crows. Instead, my job today is simply to report the first signs of quadrennial bubos threatening the US working class: the CPUSA's "vote for the Democrats" pestilence. Call it Revisionism 19.0, or Reformism 18.0.
The working class in imperialist centers still inhabits a period best summed up as neoliberal, the era of austerity and retreat. Communists in the neo-colonial world never had the material basis for erosions in militancy and stultification of class consciousness as workers in the oppressor countries. [For instance, workers and farmers in Cuba and Vietnam and Southwest Africa never had a baby boom in their aristocracy of labor on the shattering scale that North America saw after World War II. Hence, they had to choice but to lead the fight for power.] That leap in class consciousness is still ahead for US workers.
Vanguard militants do develop within the US working class today, drawing sustenance from our class's historic militancy and longtime support of struggles against gender and national oppression. But every four years, these militants confront the wilful obscurantism and pragmatic rationalization always ranged against class Independence: the tremendous reformist lesser-evil weight of the capitalist Democratic Party. On the left and within the radical trade union milieu, one of the main transmission belts for worship and acquiescence before the Democrats is the CPUSA.
After a summer in which a Democratic president offered a "grand bargain" to his electoral opponents to eliminate Social Security and Medicare, and oversaw Washington's brutal intervention in the Libyan civil war, defending the Democratic Party and its president on behalf of the middle class radical left looks to be a hard sell. [Of course communists always think this as every electoral season kicks-off: They won't be able to pull the wool over our eyes this time. Alas.]
In a recent article, CPUSA national leader Sam Webb details all the reasons the US working class is too weak to form its own independent socialist movement. We must compromise again, bowing down before the accomplished electoral fact. The CPUSA has pursued this same line in 18 of the last 19 national elections. [In 1948 they supported New Dealer Henry Wallace's Progressive Party bid].
....we have to factor in the impact of three decades of right-wing ideological onslaught.We have to consider the structural changes in the U.S. economy that have economically devastated, socially atomized and politically weakened traditional centers of working class and people's power.We have to take into account the unprecedented attack against African Americans and other communities of color, dating back to the election of Reagan.
Webb glides over the fact that the three-decade assault [actually four decades now, if we leave in the Clinton and Obama years, as Webb seems loathe to do] was met with surrender if not outright capitulation by working class and oppressed people's institutions in this country.
During all those decades, organizations and leaders within the labor, womens', and Black liberation mass movement presented themselves as in a partnership with the US ruling class, and were committed to class peace, to demonstrating how responsible they were by delivering their followers and partisans into the merciless context of the "Washington consensus" - austerity, union busting, and war against our social wage.
A rightward shift in bourgeois politics into this consensus was not the brain child of Ronald Reagen or the Heritage Foundation or Newt Gingrich, any more than today's impending attack on Social Security was dreamed up by Freedomworks, the Koch brothers, and the Tea Party Express. After the 1974-75 world recession, the US capitalist ruling class realized the post-World War Two period of reform and maneuver had to end if their profit rates were to survive. [Fellow workers and farmers throughout Europe have been waging increasingly militant struggles in defense of their social wage and against ruling class austerity for just as long, and much more effectively].
"Tradition centers of working class and people's power" were transformed into centers of betrayal, where tops in the ALF-CIO officialdom at every turn deepened an already dog-like tailing of their own members' exploiters, in periods of both Republican and Democratic rule. In fact, it could be argued that after 1975, periods of Democratic Party control in Washington DC saw the greatest set-backs to our class at home and abroad. Certainly the Republicans and Democrats had no primary [and no secondary or tertiary] differences on austerity and war.
We have to acknowledge the reality of a smaller labor movement, in large measure the result of economic downsizing, production relocation and a fierce right- wing anti-labor offensive.
This statement is a truly priceless example of reformist double-dealing. There can be no mass independent working class political movement in the US because the labor movement has grown so small and feeble. What is left unstated is the fact that at every turning point in Washington and Wall Street's anti-labor offensive, workers and their oppressed allies were told an independent movement was a utopian dead end. Better to marshall our power and vote for candidates today who could rescue our fortunes. That was being realistic. This has been the pereniall CPUSA line justifying and rationalizing unprincipled class collaboration to defeat capitalist [Republican] austerity and downsizing.
Austerity and downsizing came nevertheless. They came from both right wing parties of the ruling class electoral machine, and it has not stopped yet. Why should it, if organizations like the CPUSA, which promote themselves as tribunes of the people, keep promoting and rationalizing a vote for our enemies?
We have to factor in the impact of the ideological intensification of racism, male supremacy, immigrant-bashing and homophobia in recent years on popular consciousness.
All of which intensified as the Obama administration, leading Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, increased the round-up and deportation of immigrant workers sans papiers.
We have to weigh in the force of habit and inertia.
The greatest force for habituation to our own class exploitation and surrender before the austerity drives of Robin-Hoods-in-reverse is the illusion of lesser evil politics promoted around the election of the least lesser-evil characters: Clinton, Gore, Kerry, and Obama. Do we really fulfill as communists our internationalist responsibilities when all reality cries out against these Wall Street lictors?
We have to appreciate that the president operates in a complex of competing class and social forces, some of which (namely the extreme right) are determined to sabotage his presidency.
At the risk of over-simplifying what Webb tells us is a complicated and multi-faceted process, it does not matter to workers what environments of completing forces our particular bosses function in, or the national executive committee of the bosses in Washington, DC. To indeed state things in an over-simplified and thus thoroughly Marxist fashion: just because our bosses and their retinues enjoy a good dog fight, we are not obliged to back one of their dogs. Accepting that we live within the context of the 40 year Washington consensus of austerity, union-busting, poverty, and low wages is the most useful judgment we can make in determining a working class response to the crisis today.
Webb ends his article by throwing out this bone to the die-hard doubters of his course:
Indeed, I would argue that today's movement has the potential to eclipse the popular movements of 1930s and 1960s in size, social composition, political consciousness and social power.
This kind of cynical pandering only greases the skids for the next working class defeat. The recent debacle for labor in Wisconsin, where a growing militant mass movement was shunted into the dead-end of Democratic Party electoral politics, then disguised unconscionably by MSNBC-type liberal pundits as a victory, has completely disarmed workers in the US today about the extent and severity of the challenges ahead. Webb boils down all the half-truths and moral squalor to that old tune, "Prosperity is just around the corner."
Jarvis Tyner, senior in age to Webb and holdover eminence grise from the Gus Hall years, is far more forthright than Webb in explaining things to party foot soldiers with the tree bark off. The title of his article says it all: "The Republicans must be defeated."
Tyner lays out the class reality in deft strokes, explaining how
This motley crew of right-wing fanatics are not in favor of giving any concessions to the working class, the poor or the victims of systemic racism.
They have no regard for historic levels of poverty, unemployment, home foreclosures, hunger and homelessness that people of color suffer.
They don't care about the youth and children who attend run-down, understaffed and underfunded public schools every day.
The fact that tens of million of youth who should be going to college or starting their first real job but instead face the prospect of years, decades, perhaps even a lifetime of joblessness, underemployment and incarceration is a non-issue to them.
They didn't get the memo on global warming and the health care crisis.
Here Tyner is not describing the current Democratic Party president and his Wise Men and Women, all of whom could be prosecuted under this bill of particulars with ease. He reports he came to the conclusions above
After watching the recent Republican presidential debate in Iowa.... I am sure millions have been convinced more than ever that the Republicans must be defeated in 2012.... With the addition of Rick Perry, the political debate among the Republican contenders has moved even further to the right. The process of picking the next Republican "fuehrer" shows a party whose time has long past.
One of the most self-inflicted brutalizations of this kind of warmed-over Popular Frontism is that eventually the man or woman peddling lesser evilism cannot tell good from evil at all, much less up or down, or left and right. When Tyner tells us:
The GOP candidates oppose the concept of people before profits. As Mitt Romney put it last week, "corporations are people." Their uncompromising priority is protecting the wealth and privileges of the super rich, which means they are uncompromisingly against the general welfare of the people, particularly multiracial working majority.
By negative example he is also saying that the Obama regime does believe in the concept of people over profits; does believe in protecting low wage workers and workers facing national and gender oppression; does believe in promoting the general welfare of the majority. This brand of thinking has infected the CPUSA's outright abandonment of Marxism-Leninism over decades, and its increasingly brave and forthright defense of the sanctity of Wall Street's election shell games.
The CPUSA abandoned any Marxist content for their political role as a middle class formation in the labor movement decades ago. The husk of Marxist rhetoric was abandoned over a longer period. By the year 2001 Webb could proclaim the end of any bowing and scraping before Lenin's What is to be done? By the beginning of the Obama administration, they could condemn the DPRK for continuing its nuclear program as a sensible deterrent to humanitarian imperialism.
Some of the less appealing personal habits of an older CPUSA persist, and are on display in Tyner's article. The CPUSA's long and storied tradition of race baiting the working class takes pride of place:
It is no accident that the tea party's largest base is among southern whites, who according to a recent Notre Dame study, continue to be highly influenced by the ideology of racism. [For a more accurate view of the study itself and its findings, go here, or here. JR]
They considered black people inferior before Obama, and they continue to be motivated to defeat Obama because he is African American.
....Having just watched the movie The Help, and as the son of a mother and father who grew up in the Jim Crow South this writer is reminded of what is at stake. If the Republican-Libertarian-tea party Axis thinks we are going back to the days of Jim Crow, they are mistaken. [For the truth about the movie The Help, which is also not quite what Tyner presents it as being, this review is useful. JR]
Promotion of the worst forms of national chauvinism are also on display in the moral junk shop of Tyner's party:
.... it is true that Obama didn't fight hard enough and succumbed to the enormous pressure from the right on too many occasions. However, the democratic forces have to take our country back from the fanatic right-wing minority.....the main danger comes from the right.
If the GOP regains all three branches of the government, the crisis of human suffering can and will become far more severe.
The majority of the American people understand that the reelection of Obama is not an option. It is part of what is necessary to win this epic battle.
Sam Webb says we need a "wide-angle lens" approach to the 2012 election. By this he means acknowledging that imperialism is here to stay. "There is no alternative." Scraping out a foxhole of self-delusion, the CPUSA tries to maintain it will serve militants better than accumulating a nucleus of class conscious fighters committed to independent labor political action and the re-inauguration of a struggle for world socialism.
In doing so, the CPUSA presents its "hard-headed" and "realistic" approach: hiding the class reality of the Obama administration behind an "anti-monopoly coalition" Potemkin village. Such actions used to go by their proper scientific definitions: social imperialism was probably the kindest.
Anyone viewing the CPUSA's role today as a transmission belt for bourgeois politics in the middle class radical milieu and certain activist echelons of the labor and peace bureaucracies has to wonder why the organization itself has not closed its doors. There are plenty of examples of revisionist, formerly Moscow-oriented Communist Parties in imperialist countries that have voted themselves out of existence and allowed leaders and members to spread their political poison further afield. Certainly the CPUSA was never a mass party in the European sense after its irrevocable capitulation to FDR's Jim Crow Democratic Party in 1936-38.
The answer to the mystery of the CPUSA's longevity is exceedingly materialist. It boils down to location, location, location. The National Board of the party, beyond the dreams of any constitutional recall or oversight, administers a vast real estate empire accumulated over decades as party members and supporters have gifted cash and property to their organization. Full time staffers spend much of their week discussing final arrangements with an aging party demographic.
When Webb and Tyner speak about backing a progressive element within the US bourgeoisie, their mirrors are not far away. Like the labor aristocrats of old, they are loathe to upset the apple cart. Writing articles and making speeches that rationalize the class brutality and arrogance of Democratic party imperialism has many rewards: it assuages any remnants of conscience, and polices the bottom line.
Still, one imagines the portraits in their attics tell quite a different story.