Setting the record straight

It is said by some on the left that the Communist Party USA has no differences with President Obama. Just to set the record straight: we do and we express them. For example, we opposed the nearly unconditional Wall Street bailouts and deployment of more troops to Afghanistan. We argued for a bigger stimulus package. And we said the president should push the envelope more; otherwise he runs the danger of the extreme right turning the popular discontent over the economic crisis against him, the Democratic Party, and the people's movement that supports his agenda. Isn't this what we saw in Tuesday's election in Massachusetts, where a right-winger was elected to the Senate?

 But in expressing our differences with the president, communists go to great lengths to state them in a constructive and unifying way. We don't do it to score points or demonstrate our "militancy." We don't lose sight of the class nature of this struggle.

The main organizations of the working class and people are not always in sync with the president on every issue either. But they don't turn their differences into an unbridgeable divide between them and him. In fact, they consider him a friend and are mindful of the unrelenting attack, steeped in racism and other forms of division, coming from right-wing extremists, against our nation's first African American president - something that was so evident in the Senate election in Massachusetts.

The left has something to learn from the approach of these people's organizations. We are too comfortable in our role as an exceedingly small, but "principled and militant" grouping in U.S. politics. Such a posture, which could easily gain greater currency in the aftermath of Tuesday's election, may feel satisfying, but it won't help us evolve into a political player that exercises a major influence on U.S. politics nor get us a flea hop closer to socialism.

In my view, the president has made mistakes, particularly his handling of the financial, jobs and health care crises, but he isn't the main obstacle to social change; he is not the "enemy," or even an "enemy." President Obama is a reformer, not a socialist reformer, not a radical reformer, and not even a consistent anti-corporate reformer, but a reformer nonetheless whose agenda creates space for the broader people's movement to deepen and extend the reform process in a non-revolutionary period.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson were Democratic Party regulars, but, with the help of a popular and sustained insurgency, both of them stepped outside of their comfort zone and morphed into change-makers, thus opening up space for substantive reform - Roosevelt with the New Deal and Johnson with civil and voting rights, Medicare, federal aid for education and the "War on Poverty." Unfortunately, Johnson's mistaken decision to escalate the war in Vietnam stained, perhaps irreparably, his presidency and historical legacy.

Barack Obama in my opinion has the same potential to "grow on the job" and enact reforms that measurably improve the lives of the American people and reframe our nation's place in the world. Right-wing extremists and powerful sections of capital feel much the same. Hence, the formidable opposition striving to sabotage, block or contain even the tiniest reforms by any means necessary. To make matters much more difficult, the broad coalition supporting reform is not yet of sufficient size, strength and understanding to consistently elect people's candidates as well as guarantee passage of the president's reform agenda - let alone radical reforms such as sustainable and just economic development, a national "profit-free" health service, a massive full employment program with affirmative action and living wage guarantees, fully funded, integrated, quality public education from child care to college, and a new foreign policy that accents peace, cooperation, equitable relations and a commitment to end global poverty.

Until that movement is at such a level, it is premature to say what the political limits of this president are, or, to put it differently, smugly dismiss him as simply another Clintonian Democrat. When our movement reaches the level of the popular upsurges of the 1930s and '60s, we will be in a better position to say where he fits on the political spectrum and whether his views are elastic enough to accommodate more deep-going changes.

Don't think we will succeed if the Obama presidency fails. If it fails, we will once again be fighting an uphill, defensive struggle as we were in the Bush and Reagan years, or worse. Witness the election of Republican Scott Brown to the Senate.

There will inevitably be differences and tensions with this White House as we go forward. In most instances, the differences will pivot around the pace and depth of reform; in some instances, such as the decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan, the differences are more fundamental.

The role of the left is to help navigate these differences, while at the same time infusing energy and clarity and sustaining the strategic unity of the people's movement against the main enemy - right-wing extremism and powerful sections of big capital. This admittedly is a difficult needle to thread, but, as we know from the experience of the 1930s and '60s, it was done then. And there is no reason to think that it can't be done now. In doing so, the left of our time will move into the center of U.S politics.




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  • Right on the money, Comrade Sam Webb! I'm finally hear the crack of the bat on a home run. This is exactly what needs to be said and what progressives of all stripes need to be hearing. As an unemployed worker I don't have time for comfortable intellectuals who want to endlessly debate small points insulated from the pain; I say LET'S GET BUSY!!!

    Posted by Mark D, 04/10/2010 2:30pm (6 years ago)

  • Comrades,

    As a friend of the CPUSA, I've been following these debates with keen interest and, to be frank, grave concern.

    I wish I could say that I participate as a full-fledged Party comrade, but I can't - a point I'll amplify below.

    First, I'd like to say a few words about Alan Maki. It was my great good fortune to meet Comrade Maki in an on-line discussion forum, where I shared my thoughts and issues concerning some mass work I'm involved with in my area.

    Comrade Maki has been incredibly generous in sharing his time, advice, wisdom, and experience with me. The knowledge he has gained, forged over decades in the crucible of the class struggle (And yes, I'm using that scientific term here; this is supposed to be the discussion board of a Marxist-Leninist party), has been invaluable in my organizing efforts. I can truthfully say that were it not for the comradely efforts of Alan Maki, my various projects would be nowhere close to fruition.

    It was Alan Maki, in fact, who put me in touch with the other Party comrades in my area - not HQ. Why?

    Why did Alan have do step in and do for me this absolutely basic organizational task, one that should be a matter of course for any party that is seriously trying to build cadre?

    Why have I been waiting since last June to learn whether or not my application for membership in the CPUSA has been approved?

    Why have I been told, by reliable and serious comrades, that my situation is not at all unusual - that applications for Party membership are routinely "lost", "forgotten", "misplaced", "dropped", or otherwise ignored?

    After many months of reading, listening, and sharing with the many fine men and women I've met, I have some theories. They relate directly to deeper concerns about the direction of the CPUSA, concerns that can be accurately and, yes, scientifically described by terms such as opportunism and right deviationism.

    Many of you are no doubt familiar with the International Communist Seminar, the stated goal of which is to bring together the fraternal parties around the world in an internationalist effort against the revisionist and liquidationist tendencies in our movement. The ICS is pledged to defend the achievements and the historical legacy of 20th century socialism, and to use the lessons drawn as the basis for the struggles of the present century.

    The CPUSA does not participate in this valuable, necessary work. Why not?

    Some of you are probably aware that a new Marxist-Leninist theoretical journal, the International Communist Review, was launched several months ago. In its first edition, the editors state: "We think it is necessary to follow the path of the revolutionary traditions of the Paris Commune, of the October socialist revolution, of the Communist International and the socialist experience of the USSR and of the other socialist countries."

    The CPUSA has not associated itself in solidarity with this effort. Why not? Does the CPUSA disagree with the statement cited above?

    And if so, what path are we to follow?

    Of all the theoretical questions I could pose here - and they are many - this is the one that bears most directly on the conflict that faces us here.

    This is a conflict that has taken many forms over the years. It is the conflict between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks; between the 2nd and 3rd Internationals; between Lenin and Kautsky; between opportunism and social democracy, and revolutionary Communism.

    The current debate over the exact nature of the Obama presidency can profitably be seen through this prism.

    Through the worldview of social democracy, Obama is a "reformer", leader of a "broad people's movement", opening "passages for progressive change". Tailism is the logical conclusion of this reasoning.

    But the tools of Marxism reveal to us that Obama is simply another bourgeois politician, the agent of a specific formation within the monopoly capitalist class, whose agenda is anti-people and anti-working class in its very essence. Only through political independence, based on an honest and principled analysis of the political moment, can genuine progress be achieved.

    In these competing alternatives we find the conflict between scientific socialism and bourgeois idealism.

    Many years ago, Comrade Lenin wrote: "And so in capitalist society we have a democracy that is curtailed, wretched, false, a democracy only for the rich, for the minority. The dictatorship of the proletariat, the period of transition to communism, will for the first time create democracy for the people, for the majority, along with the necessary suppression of the exploiters, of the minority."

    We arrive here at the crux of the matter. A Communist Party is a mechanism designed to lead the masses in revolution, establish the dictatorship of the proletariat, and set society on the path of socialist construction.

    This flows directly from the materialist premises of Marxism-Leninism, which hold that class struggle is the driving force of history, and that every state, with no exceptions whatsoever, is an instrument of the dominant class in that struggle.

    To abandon these premises, in my view, is to abandon science, and cease to be a Communist Party.

    And so, with all this in mind, I ask this question: Exactly what, in either the theoretical framework of Marxism-Leninism, or the actual experiences of the world socialist revolution in the 20th century, would lead us to believe that there is some path to socialism other than what Comrade Lenin described?

    The identity of the CPUSA hinges on the answers to questions such as these. I think a full, frank, and comradely discussion of fundamentals is in order here.

    John Carter

    Posted by John Carter, 01/23/2010 9:42pm (6 years ago)

  • hewko you use your example ml today

    you expect webb to respond to people who won't even use their names

    i listend to webb talk yesterday

    the man is very intellegint

    besides someone might sue him if he named people

    Posted by Kamran Heiss, Junior, 01/22/2010 9:22am (6 years ago)

  • If you read Mr Webbs past articles they are pretty clear. He very rarely has any criticism for the Democrats or Obama. This article is too little too late.

    Posted by redone, 01/22/2010 1:26am (6 years ago)

  • Dear Sam
    Right on to your correct and timely analysis. I am sick and tired of those folks who stand on the sidelines always criticizing Obama, but not doing the day to day hard work on trying to build grass roots movements, which ultimately can change the lay of the political land. People all over this land need to feel that WE have the Power to truly create the changes needed. In my opinion, WE need to get everybody and their momas and poppas to March on Washington for Health care. The American people need to see in a Mass way, Millions of folks marching for Health Care for All. It's time for some street heat!
    Thanks for your vision! Much Love and Respect always Mama Cassie

    Posted by mama cassie, 01/21/2010 6:22pm (6 years ago)

  • Kudos to Sam Webb for initiating a humor column in the CP newspaper.

    Posted by Louis Proyect, 01/21/2010 3:23pm (6 years ago)

  • BTW -- It seems to me, it's not just some left critics who say the CPUSA has no differences with the president. There are right-wingers who say the same thing. An example of far-left meeting far-right...

    Posted by Terrie, 01/21/2010 2:43pm (6 years ago)

  • Setting the Record Straight,we,as a political Party(CPUSA) will chart a way like this: "It will provide the United States with a real Third Party and thus restore democracy to this land." In completing this,we will enjoy no shortcuts,no sloganeering,no scapegoating,no lies,no "easy victories".
    Many of us,identifying with brother Sam Webb's theory-for we know what he is talking about,and we know where his thinking comes from-us.
    The former quote comes from us also,it is from maybe the greatest internationalist,anti-racist,working-class partisan,peace activist,reformer,human and civil rights activist,socialist democrat,Constitutional Law activist,scholar,pan-Africanist and communist ever-W.E.B. Du Bois.
    Brother Webb is in tune with this prophetic vision of brother Du Bois' quote in his remarks.
    Michael Eric Dyson,a President Obama supporter,as we are,recently stated that supporters as we are,we do not support Obama as a visionary,but as a politician.
    As a politician,we have both much to learn from the President,(his supporters,which include much of the left,right and center,and us)and much to teach the President.
    We come from a strong tradition of activists and community organizers-strong because we come from working-class community organizers whose democracy is that of a new sort,the kind that can win a fight.
    This is a fight that encompasses U.S. humanity which was and is in large part,with our help,mobilized in the Presidents constituency and our historic,prophetic,visionary democracy that necessitates Bill of Rights economic human rights,and an U.S. of America styled "Communist Manifesto" from which we shall not retreat.
    The fairness,intelligence,justice and mercy,spirit and resiliency of the U. S. of America's working peoples shall be our most valued critics and advocates,in the first place,fighting for free universal health care as a right,free universal education as a right,abolition of poverty and training for jobs and jobs for all as a right,and freedom under law for these,with no dogmatic religion interfering with these,in the national nor international sphere.(See the Logic of Noble Lives-Highlights of a Fighting History,60,IP)

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 01/21/2010 4:29am (6 years ago)

  • I have to apologize for Mr. Alan L. Maki. He didn't take his meds yesterday and today and tends to lash out. To all he offended, especially Mr. Bruce Bostick, please forgive him. God bless.

    Posted by E. Collins, 01/21/2010 12:25am (6 years ago)

  • I agree with the basic premise of Sam's article and how it clarifies the issue of where we stand with respect to the Obama administration, the left and the mass organizations that are fighting for progressive reforms. It also helps to put things in historical perspective and let people know that the emerging peoples coalition to defeat the ultra-right is a work in progress which does not yet have the troops and the political understanding to conduct a consistent fight for reform.
    So given this reality there is obviously the question of how do we consciously intervene and help this spontaneous movement of the masses to harness its energy through organization and understanding.
    Right now following through on the Health Care reform bill and building a massive movement for jobs is pivotal.
    If we loose the fight for health care reform today it will be that much more difficult to fight for any progressive reform tomorrow.
    The pundits and the Republicans are saying that because Brown won the Senate seat the only way health care reform can happen is by legislative fiat. In other words the House would have to send the bill as it is to the President. If this is the only to go then why not?
    There is a difference between tactical disagreements with your allies and attacking their political limits. If we are united with the President and the peoples coalition to defeat the ultra right and stop their strangulation of democracy then what we are interested in is united action not ideological agreement. This has been the abiding principle of united front work since World War II. The ideological divide between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin did not stop them from uniting in action to defeat the fascists.
    We will never be able to return to this moment of history (the first African American President) and in this moment we have an opportunity to not only learn from mass organization but also to earn our way as a party that consistently fights for the interest of the working class and the broad democratic masses.

    Posted by Frank Chapman, 01/20/2010 8:28pm (6 years ago)

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