Monday, August 23, 2010

A little late in sharing this beautiful summation of our National Convention

This summation of our National Convention is my own written by one of the outstanding movement organizers theoreticians of our time, the brilliant John Case:

Reflections on the 29th Convention of the CPUSA

By John Case

[Submitted to Portside by author]


The US Communist Party held its 29th Convention this
past weekend in New York city on the 90th anniversary
of its founding. I last attended a CP convention in
1991, a time of great turmoil throughout all parties
and movements that identified with socialist or
communist ideals. The collapse of the USSR and the fall
of quite a few socialist led governments had persuaded
many that the entire socialist experiment had failed,
that Marxism was false.

For those who had came to view the vision and theories
of Karl Marx, and Vladimir Lenin, more as religion than
contributions to economic and political science; for
those who followed dogma over facts; for those who
believed political regimes by will alone were capable
of leaping over the real laws of economic and social
development -- a reckoning was certainly due.

Return of the Specter

But time has not been kind to those forces who believed
Bush the First when he proclaimed the dawn of a new
world order in love with the vicissitudes of
capitalism, and lawless globalization. Despite vigorous
attempts to bury the socialist and communist movements
-- and social democratic regimes too -- and poison the
atmosphere against their ideologies, both organization
and ideas on the Left appear to be returning in new,
more robust and energetic forms, judging by the new
wave of activists and rebels attending the 29th CP

Of course the CP has been around for a long time. But
it gives every evidence of shedding old skin and
reinvigorating itself. It takes multitudes of working
people, of many races and nationalities, men and women,
gay and straight, youth and seniors -- together --- to
move the mountains of inequity and injustice arising
from the past 35 years of financialization of the US
economy, and the greatest economic crisis since the
1930's. And the end of this crisis is not yet in sight,
which in itself gives rise to new thinking about the
nature of capitalism, and its ability to reproduce
itself. This convention marked a sharp break with any
remaining legacy within the party for narrow or
defensive conceptions of party organization. It
rejected notions of the path to US socialism other than
through the struggles to defeat the ultra right, and
raise the wealth and democratic rights of working
people, at the expense of monopoly corporate power.

Both old and new defenses from the ideologists of
capitalism are being broadly challenged. Robert Rubin's
well-managed society whose economy rests in the hands
of liberal investment banks has crashed. David Brooks
can't decide what to think. The right wing crazies are
probably too agitated and medicated to even be allowed
to drive a car. In this atmosphere of permanent hot
media and ceaseless information streams, no wonder
Obama's coolness stood out as a virtue voters thought
we might need! Thus, no surprise that Karl Marx, and
revised, more democratized conceptions of socialism,
are gaining renewed interest as the economic crisis
once again confronts society with the grave
difficulties of reining in capitalism's terrible
instability. Under the right constraints, capitalism
has been shown to generate great innovative successes.
Yet as each technological revolution overthrows and
succeeds a previous order, the conflicts between
private anarchy and public stability appear to have
grown sharper, to become destabilizing on an ever
greater scale. Globalization, left to the management,
or non-management might be a better term, of a few
large powers and central banks greatly aggravates this
conflict on a worldwide scale. Vladimir Lenin,
liberated in recent years from the grim Stalin legacy
that followed him in Russia, also seems to be making a
comeback via diverse and mixed socialist parties and
governments from China and Vietnam, to the popular
social-democracies in South and Central America.

Emulating the Working Class, Diversity and Equality

The beautiful and diverse composition of the delegates
to the CP convention was its most striking feature.
Always striving to reflect the character of the US
working class in its own composition, the Communist
Party has been one of the most integrated political
organizations in the United States -- going all the way
back to its founding. Of all left organizations in the
US, a CP meeting is the most like a union meeting --
there is a century long and deep commitment to
strengthening the organized section of the working
class. The party focuses much of its work on, and draws
much of its strength from, the US labor movement.
Working people need strong unity to exercise power, and
organizing multi-national, multi-racial cooperation and
solidarity are values that the CP in particular has
long placed front and center in every political fight.
No change there. Except the breadth and depth of the
Obama coalition, building on the always deepening
diversity of the US population, makes the CP not so
unique in this respect. Perhaps it even makes this part
of its task easier. Inequality and inequities abound.
Yet young people are raised in a much less segregated,
and much more diverse, culture than the generations

Delegates to the convention appeared steeped in trade
union and working class movements. The African
American, Latino, Asia and Pacific island, LGBT, Native
American, gender, youth and senior, immigrant and
naturalized composition genuinely reflected the real
colors and shades, cultures, traditions, lifestyles,
dialects and languages of this land. Watching them
struggle and reach for agreement on an advanced but
realizable progressive platform gives one hope about
our country, despite the many storms and furies that
seek to divide us.

Sam Webb's Report

The convention opening report of Chairman Sam Webb
focused on the compelling need to accelerate the
democratic upsurge of working people and all
progressive forces combating persistent joblessness,
which stands near 20% of the workforce when all are
counted, and to defeat a resurgent ultra right-wing,
racist offensive designed to derail and destroy the
entire Obama progressive reform agenda, and Obama's
historic presidency as well. Webb targets the 2010 mid-
term elections were as the focus of political activity
for the next 6 months. Both the ultra-right challenge,
and the prospects for deepening reform and kicking up
the strength of the coalition that elected Obama, will
meet their next big test on November 2, 2010. That's
just 160 days from now.

Chairman Webb made strong appeals not to underestimate
the important and positive changes in the political
environment since the campaign and election of Barack
Obama. The broad coalition that gave birth to the Obama
phenomenon went to sleep for a while after the
election. But if the recent primary elections are any
sign, it is waking up again! And none too soon! This
movement is taking us all to school in the art of
grassroots majority politics.

The Ultra-right, racist danger

The dangers posed by unambiguously racist propaganda
emanating from not just the fringes but the leadership
of the Republican Party -- were specifically addressed
by Executive Vice Chairman Jarvis Tyner. He argued that
the so called "tea party" forces' unchecked resorts to
vicious slurs, threats of violence, and provocations
are well organized and are picking up steam in some
areas of the country. The goal being to distract and
divide folks who are in near panic over the prolonged
economic crisis. Rand Paul, an open opponent of the old
Republican establishment, wins the Kentucky Senate
primary. Like his father, so-called Libertarian Ron
Paul, this "Tea Party" candidate is a front and cover
for outright white supremacist organizations, as was
revealed in press conferences following the election
where Paul criticized the foundations of de-segregation
laws. Fox news pundits and the Limbaugh-talk radio,
drug-crazed crowd running the new Republican Party are
also riding these racist diversions to challenge
longstanding civil rights legislation on affirmative
action and bars against public segregation, as well as
celebrations of the Confederacy.

Tyner, and many speakers, noted the intense anti-
immigrant fever that has broken out like an infected
sore in Arizona. The state legislature and Governor
enacted a draconian law directing state law enforcement
to arrest and demand "papers" of anyone they "suspect"
is "illegal". A large, multi-racial and multi national
movement to "legalize Arizona" has emerged in
response, gaining a hat tip from President Obama, and
direct pledge of support from the President of Mexico
and other international forces. Yet, as convention
participants noted, polls currently show two to one
support for the law, both in Arizona and across the US,
reflecting again both a profound level of panic over
jobs, and frustration with failure to pass
comprehensive immigration reform.


Despite warnings about the danger from the ultra right,
the mood was upbeat at the convention. Convention
reports noted the results of the recent primary
elections that, in the main, repudiated Republican and
ultra right campaigns, and asserted that the majority
of voters, while divided on some questions, are in
support of the Obama reform agenda and in many cases
moving toward even more progressive proposals.

Expressions of greeting and solidarity were received
from many communist, socialist and workers' parties,
including remarks from an official rep of the Communist
Party of Vietnam.

Highlights also included reports of many rich
experiences of delegates in electoral, grassroots,
trade union, health care, May Day, financial reform,
and varied community struggles and campaigns.
Communists are winning or in serious contention in
several races across the country. They are running
primarily in the Democratic party. There were strong
messages of solidarity from UE Republic Windows,
victorious sit-down strikers in Chicago, and from
organizers and leaders in the immigrants rights
movement, and from the many moving and emotional song,
letter and speech tributes, from many nations, at the
Saturday evening international solidarity and 90th
anniversary celebration.

Reports on the struggle for peace focused on
accelerating and advancing the withdrawal from Iraq,
returning to regional diplomacy over war in
Afghanistan, and addressing the urgent needs to
implement the two state solution in Israel-Palestine.
The world wide improvement in unity in preventing the
proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass
destruction needs to be buttressed with legislation.

Much attention was paid to building and expanding
online media initiatives and responding to increased
demands for flexibility in tactics.


Sometimes in reports on political conventions,
especially those on the Left, there is a tendency to
overstate, or perhaps mis-characterize the overall
impression of unity. Of course all political parties
can only move decisively forward on those matters where
there is the broadest agreement. There is indeed broad
CP unity on strengthening the democratic upsurge behind
a reform agenda that is friendly to that of the
president. But the convention was not a boring
recitation of people rising to associate themselves
with the remarks of the chairman. There are very
diverse, and quite different, conceptions of how
socialism, or mixed market - socialism, or the
transition to socialism, is developing in the United
States, and around the world.

Sam Webb, Jarvis Tyner and Roberta Wood were re-elected
as officers, Chair, Exec Vice-Chair and Secretary-
Treasury, respectively.

The meeting opened singing "This land is your land",
and closed on the "International".

How come not bigger?

It's an odd and somewhat uneasy juxtaposition of
thoughts and feelings that witnesses the truly
beautiful composition and spirit of the delegates to
this CP convention alongside the small size of the
Communist Party --- which has not enjoyed a strong base
of strength since the beginning of the McCarthy
repression in the late 1940's and the 1950's.

I keep asking -- how come? How come such a lively
outfit as this crowd does not have 20,000, or 100,000
members? The same question could be asked about the
organized Left in general. But I think when its
answered for the CP, it will be similar to the answer
for the Left too. The most important part of the answer
is rejecting all political doubts about the importance
of the democratic struggle for workers, and not
picturing the path to socialism as in any way separate
from the tasks of this struggle. The CP focus on labor
and its explicit class orientation has always been the
essence of its survival strategy even in the darkest
times. And now --now that the time for an offensive is
at hand --- the class base and focus is helping it make
the necessary adjustments in political program,
strategy and tactics. This convention got that done!
Which should alone enable it to grow its membership if
folks do as they have pledged!

The name "Communist"

Beyond that, while it did not come up on the agenda, or
in speeches, one of the elephants in the room --not far
from my own mind, at least -- is the linkage between
the name "Communist" and the failed USSR, so identified
with it. To ask American workers to find their way
through all of cold war history in order to help work
with and lead the class and democratic fight that the
delegates to the CP convention committed themselves to
-- is asking too much, in this writer's opinion.
However, even if that association were to fade with
time and be overtaken by the record of sound, sober,
serious and solid leadership in this struggle before
us, its hard to picture a large workers party in the US
calling itself "Communist". Why? Because such a party
is tasked in this era chiefly with fully exhausting the
democratic struggle to raise workers incomes and rights
under capitalism. Further, even strategically such a
party must be willing and able to participate in and
help lead coalitions capable of running a sustained
mixed -- part capitalist, part socialist --- economy
for a likely lengthy transition period. Naming this
party "Communist" before such time as the tasks of
constructing a society reflecting the communist ideal
are fully prepared, is premature in a mass context, at
least in the US. However, since all political
obstacles to full participation in this great
democratic upheaval of our time have been set aside, I
am sure this one too will in due course be set aside if
it remains a block to the growth that the CP's program
and broad approach most definitely deserves. I
recommend its serious consideration by all.

Single slate elections

The other elephant in the room, from this writers point
of view, is the single slate method of electing
leadership. To most Americans familiar with trade
unions or other political parties, it would seem
strange. Most of the latter have a more "federal" style
of electing leadership. That is, geographical and other
established party or union organizational components
are each given some proportion of seats on the leading
committees. Delegates to conventions of more federal
organizations do not vote on leading committees as a
whole, but by district, state or other type of sector.
Officers are typically elected at large, and with a
broader mandate than members of leading committees. The
CP in the US does it differently, due to three factors.
First, preserving a balanced class, racial, national,
gender, youth and cultural composition in leadership
has always been a high priority -- a priority that can
sometimes be sacrificed to regional or other sectarian
tendencies. Second, the repressions against the CP for
years made it very difficult to operate as other
organizations. And a fully open or transparent process
still poses some risks -- although these are declining
in the current period --- of retaliation from members'
employers or other forces meaning harm. Third, the
slate method arguably constructs a more harmonious
leading collective able to perform multiple tasks, both
regional and national, with better coordination. In the
single slate election a presiding committee, elected by
the delegates, prepares a proposal for the entire
incoming national leadership, subject to amendment by
the convention.

So, there is cause to proceed carefully and in a manner
that does not provoke unnecessary division. But it is
hard to see the single slate method adaptable to a
larger party without risking bureaucratic distortions.
Yes --- becoming more "federal" might weaken
collectivity and give more ground to factions. But
dealing with factions, and building unity, is a never-
ending task in all mass organizations. Further, single
slate methods can weaken individual leadership
accountability to members. Lastly, I don't see the
single slate method adapting easily to a party much
more focused on elections and electability, as a mass
party must be.

Si Se Puede!!

I will no doubt be accused of quibbling about less
important matters by some, or exposing liberal
ideological tendencies by others. But I remain
convinced these are important quibbles, weighty
elephants indeed!

Nonetheless, it is clear from this convention that
these challenges will be addressed in order, and
constructively. These delegates are serious, and
practical. They elected officers completely committed
to the democratic tasks before working people. They are
bowing to no authority but reason and necessity. The
enthusiasm, the si se puede!! spirit, the stubborn
determination and grit of the delegates and leaders
gathered in New York for the 29th Convention of the
CPUSA do not look like folks who will be stopped, or
driven in any cultish or sectarian direction. They have
the main tasks down! And they seem ready to lay it all
on the line to move the working class and popular
democratic movement forward, for peace, and a higher
standard of living. From this convention, I predict
they will not be blocked by any trees fallen across the
road that stand in the way!

As Robert Frost wrote:

"...And yet [Nature] knows obstruction is in vain: We
will not be put off the final goal We have it hidden in
us to attain, Not though we have to seize earth by the
pole And, tired of aimless circling in one place, Steer
straight off after something into space."

...and across the Universe

yes we can! si se puede!

With deep appreciation to my most loyal follower and my most trusted adviser John Case,

Sam Webb
National Chair, CPUSA

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