NEW YORK - The Communist Party USA has opened a national conference here this weekend. The logical assumption is that the 140 delegates present today from all over the country will focus on what they can do to defeat the right wing in this year's elections. And while this is, in fact, very true, the delegates note that they intend to go much, much further.
"This conference will not ignore the elections, to be sure," Sam Webb, the party's chair, declared in his opening remarks. "But it has, at the same time, a grander design. It will connect the dots between our immediate and longer-range political tasks.
"Or to put it differently, we hope to connect the struggle at the ballot box today with the struggle for socialism tomorrow."
There were many new faces present at the conference, as Webb noted: "Many of the new delegates are young people, who are as committed now to a socialist future as were the older generations of Communists in the past."
One of the things driving their commitment is concern about the growing threat to humanity's future coming from environmental degradation. "Almost daily," he said, "we hear of species extinction, global warming, deforestation, resource depletion, and on and on to the point where we are nearly accustomed to the gathering catastrophe.
"Our planet cannot indefinitely absorb the impact of profit-driven, growth-without-limits capitalism; the earth is sending distress signals to its inhabitants. And they will become louder, still, as long as the reproduction of capital dominates the reproduction of nature."
The Communists gathered here today say that capitalism - which once generated jobs and rising income - has devolved into a generator of unemployment, inequality, and insecurity. And with that understanding, they don't believe that the future offers a restoration of growth and rising income - that can only come, they feel, with a turn in the balance of class and social forces.
Socialism - more than a good idea, is "imperative," as Webb put it, "to preserve peace and our planet, expand democracy, eliminate gross racial, gender, and other forms of inequality, and to provide a secure life for the billions living on this earth."
Given their commitment to this goal, the delegates are preparing to discuss the various stages through which they see the struggle for socialism progressing.
Defeating right-wing extremism is seen as simply the first stage of the fight. Webb warned of that stage's critical nature. "If you don't believe me," he added, "take a look at Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio, where Republicans took control of the levers of power in 2010 and then ruthlessly rolled back rights, eliminated social programs, and attacked the labor movement.
Assuming an eventual victory over the right wing, the Communists see workers and allies then being able to enter an "anti-corporate" stage of the struggle, where they expect the fight for a peoples' agenda will bring the labor movement at odds with corporate/economic political power.
"This stage of struggle doesn't supplant capitalism," Webb remarked. Instead, it "brings the socialist stage closer as tens of millions become convinced in the course of the struggle that capitalism doesn't work for them."
In the next stage (the socialist stage), Communists see a substantial shift to the left among the "core forces" of social change, a deepening of anti-racist consciousness and practice, the consolidation of the anti-corporate alliance, and the growth of the Communist Party and other left organizations.
"This stage will culminate in the election of a peoples' government," Webb stated.
Important parts of this stage, he noted, are "steps to control the movement of capital, to institute a tax policy that weighs heavily on the wealthy, and to place under democratic control sectors of the economy, such as finance, that are a threat to the peoples' government and a socialist revolution."
Some of this is still a way off, and so another focus on the part of the Communists is turning their party into a far bigger one than it currently is.
"We are still too small," Webb acknowledged, "but the good news is that we're growing. A good measure of this is the thousands of people who 'like' us on Facebook. As of last week, 20,000 people liked us on the People's World and 18,000 liked us on the Communist Party page. And in both instances, the number grows week by week."
Photo: Sam Webb speaking at the CPUSA's 2010 National Convention. PW Photo.