Problems of Vanguardism

by Peter Camejo on March 28, 2013

Originally published October 1, 1984, as “Problems of Vanguardism: In Defense of Leninism,” a North Star Network discussion article — During the youth radicalization of the late 1960s an entire generation in the United States was transformed politically. Mass currents of opinion critical of imperialism, racism, sexism and other aspects of capitalism were generated, often expressed in powerful single-issue movements. Among the most committed, tens of thousands became interested in the world socialist movement.

Peter Camejo speaking at the June 1970 national anti-war conference in Cleveland which voted to establish the Peace Action Coalition. Photograph is taken from Peter’s Pathfinder pamphlet Liberalism, Ultraleftism or Mass Action, 1970.

Camejo speaking at the June 1970 national anti-war conference in Cleveland which voted to establish the Peace Action Coalition.

The youth of the 1960s and early 1970s sought models and found the Soviet Union wanting. They were far more attracted to the ultra-left rhetoric of Maoism or the “purity” of “Trotskyist” formations. This attraction was in part due to the natural ultra-left romanticism of a generational radicalization based largely on campuses. The ultra-leftism of the 1960s was not born of defeat and despair, which have characterized most ultra-left currents in the past. The energy of the 1960s and 1970s is, in fact, far from exhausted. The impact of this is reflected in every progressive mass struggle in the United States today.

But the road forward proved to be far more difficult than the simplistic imitation of other revolutionary experiences seemed to promise. The generation of the sixties failed to consolidate a new revolutionary vanguard or movement in the United States. This is the only honest conclusion that can be drawn. Maoism quickly proved to be quite different from its followers’ expectations. The Mao-Nixon accord in 1971 and China’s subsequent rightist policies broke the infatuation with Maoism. Maoist and other efforts to proselytize North American industrial workers took on an infantile ultra-leftism whose practice and rhetoric lacked connection to the America of the 1970s. These attempts led to failure in spite of some temporary and partial exceptions.

Gradually a dichotomy has developed between the sectarianism of formations claiming to be Leninist vanguards and mass struggles. The remnants of these vanguard-type formations have been caught in a methodology that guarantees their self-isolation. Others, repelled, have ended up questioning the very need for a revolutionary vanguard, Leninism, or even a socialist future for the United States.

Many chose to remain active solely in issue-oriented formations, surrounded by the pressures of living in a country with a powerful and solidly institutionalized imperialist ruling class. Many of those seeking refuge in single-issue work inevitably became subject to rightward pressures. The growth of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is one organizational expression of this shift.

The dichotomy between choosing dogmatic–sectarian formations or rightist–opportunist politics has widened. Undercutting this process has been the influence stemming from revolutionary victories in Central America and the consistent revolutionary policies and idealism of the Cubans and others like them.

A great deal of rethinking has been going on in the left in the United States in recent years. One of the most promising developments has been the growth of solidarity with Central America as well as the massive impact of Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition electoral campaign. The rejection of sectarianism by new forces is often associated with prejudices and often combined with the feeling that while revolutions are possible in the Third World, there is no hope for revolutionary changes within the advanced industrial countries, at least not in the United States. Such a view can lead activists to look away from the broad masses of working people for political solutions. Instead, a logic of despair can influence one to give up one’s own people. This invariably leads one to look for allies within the ruling class and function under the illusion that maybe some wing of the ruling class remains historically progressive.

The sectarianism and ultra-leftism of many of the formations that comprise our left only help reinforce the rightist danger. In this document we wish to argue that what is wrong with the method of the sectarians has nothing to do with Leninism. We do so with the goal of winning the newer generation to the need to build a revolutionary movement in our own country, but with methods diametrically opposite to those promoted by the sectarians. In furthering this task a better understanding of the errors of the sectarians can only help create interest in a genuine revolutionary movement.

Vanguardism

Organizations considering themselves “the vanguard” in the United States, as a whole, have an ultra-left and dogmatic interpretation of Leninism. In their view, Lenin’s concept of a proletarian vanguard party has been reduced to the idea that all that is needed is a “correct program” and a democratic-centralist organization. After all, isn’t that what Lenin did? He drafted a program and assembled a cadre around that program.

What is missing in such an over-simplified concept of Leninism, however, is the living class struggle.

Leninism

The starting point of Lenin’s conception of organization was the class struggle itself. Lenin saw that, as struggles developed, there spontaneously appeared dedicated and committed leaders among those suffering exploitation and oppression. Out of these more politically advanced elements he sought to mold a genuine vanguard that could unify and lead in action the working class, along with other social strata suffering oppression.

Lenin opposed building a party of all workers. He saw that such a formation would have a rather confused political orientation. Instead, he argued for building a party based on the more advanced leaders and activists generated by the ongoing struggles.

By 1905, Lenin characterized the class struggle in Russia as the world’s most advanced revolutionary mass movement ever. He set as his task the consolidation of a revolutionary vanguard, unified around a class-struggle orientation. Lenin functioned within the framework of the mass movement unfolding in Europe at that time, the Second International and its affiliated socialist parties.

To Lenin, both the party’s program and the organisation of the revolutionary vanguard were directly tied to involvement in the mass movement. Lenin also emphasized that both programmatic and organizational norms evolve with circumstances in the class struggle.

Those who separate Lenin’s conception of a vanguard from its roots in mass work turn Leninism into sect building based on abstract ideology. No “vanguard” in the United States is currently leading any mass movement. In most cases, our “vanguards” don’t even participate in them.

Yet they like to insist that they have “the” program and a disciplined cadre that, taken together, qualify them for recognition as “the” Leninist vanguard or, at least, the “embryo of the vanguard”.

Intellectualizing

Organizations, some having been around for 50 or 100 years, that claim to have “the” program are, by definition, wrong. For those seeking to create a vanguard formation in the United States, developing an effective program and strategy must involve, first, recognizing the existence of mass struggles and, second, directly participating in them. Those who deduce their program from intellectual study and assemble cadre in order to wait and be ready when the moment arrives make an idealist error. They reject the materialist starting point of Marxism.

Banner-raising and program-mongering are no substitute for leadership.

Banner-raising and program-mongering are no substitute for leadership.

For sectarians, the ideas (program) come first, divorced from existing struggles. Their methods lead to the emergence of dogmatic sects whose loyalty is to their own ideology. In this manner, Marxism is reduced to an intellectual exercise involving debates and polemics to prove the “correctness” of one theory over and against another, instead of being a science to promote living struggles.

The first loyalty of revolutionaries must always be tied to the living struggles. Lenin insisted that genuine discipline was impossible without directly leading mass revolutionary struggles, and he predicted that those who pretend to develop revolutionary discipline while remaining isolated would end up phrase-mongering and clowning. Anyone acquainted with the U.S. left knows that we have sufficient quantities of both.

The misconception that having the “correct program” will ultimately assure victory, regardless of one’s direct participation in struggle, has led to a series of policies and methods that condemn political formations to a sectarian existence. Let us look briefly at a few examples.

Intervention

A trademark of sectarians is their manner of “intervention”. Some members of a group will be assigned to intervene among formations attempting to reach people on one issue or another. The real goal of these interventions is the cannibalization of movements and organizations in order to gain one more adherent to the sect. If the sect suddenly decides that the issue or group is no longer conducive to sect-building, its members will disappear as suddenly as they appeared. Sects approach struggles in the real world as though they were visitors from another planet checking out an alien environment.

Polemics

Small groups of fewer than 3,000 members, often with fewer than 1,000, will write great polemics attacking each other or some minority within their own group to defend their “program”. They regard this practice as “being Leninist”. After all, didn’t Lenin fight against all forms of obfuscation and attempts to revise or water down a Marxist program?

Yes, of course, Lenin polemicized. However, he focused his efforts against currents directly leading, or rather misleading, mass movements or currents whose views were affecting the genuine vanguards of those mass struggles. Lenin didn’t waste time on polemics with groups that had no relationship to the living events of the day.

Most polemics in the U.S. left today involve either a discussion of activities being carried out by forces on some other continent or about some historical event. For instance, a battle will rage in the Middle East and, as with all mass struggles, the forces involved and the issues posed will be quite complex. What then occurs among our home-grown sectarians is an orgy of commentary. Each group comments on the events in the real world with the goal of confirming their particular views. They patiently point out the errors of those actually struggling in the Middle East and kindly offer their moral solidarity. This is usually climaxed with a headline saying something like “U.S. OUT” or some similar phrase that terminates their obligation to the real struggle.

The opening fray of comments soon leads to documents and pamphlets or even entire books. These are aimed to expose the commentary of other groups inside the United States or, at times, minorities from within their own groups. Of course, neither these critics nor the condemned are in any way involved in the struggles they are debating. Such debates are considered a Leninist involvement in politics. In actuality, they are a form of abstention from participation in real living struggles.

Differences

Another key difference between the methods of the U.S. sects and those of Lenin (or the Central American revolutionaries) centers on the question of which political points demarcate revolutionary and reformist currents.

In the United States, which is the center of world imperialism, points of demarcation between revolutionary and reformist currents will necessarily involve many factors, both of a national and an international character. The process through which a real ideological struggle unfolds, however, must be directly related to the living class struggle. Differences can only be resolved if we use a non-sectarian method of debate and discussion, one that bases points of demarcation on real struggles.

Undoubtedly, the leadership created by mass struggles will be a collective leadership, reflecting the complexities of the U.S. class struggle and the various exploited and oppressed layers. A genuine “correct program” — that is, one that is derived from reality — will develop through the conflict of ideas, permanently adjusted through experience. If an atmosphere tolerant of differences and debate does not exist among revolutionaries, they will find it difficult to respond to changing conditions or to correct errors. We must also have the patience and humility to recognize that people may change their views over time, as many of us have done.

We are talking here not about intellectual exercises called debates or faction fights but rather of the constructive clash of ideas within a revolutionary framework. Such debates are impossible under the present dogmatic–sectarian misconceptions of Leninism incorporated in such claims as: “We represent the continuity of the movement; therefore, we have the correct program.”

U.S. revolutionaries need norms that permit the kind of discussions Lenin’s party held. Those debates rarely led to splits or divisions. In fact, Lenin, the central leader of the revolutionary current, was on occasion voted down. This is something quite inconceivable for the central leadership of any of our many U.S. “vanguards”.

The class analysis of differences

The intolerance of existing U.S. “vanguards” towards differences inside their own ranks flows directly from their idealist errors regarding the relationship between program and organization on the one hand and mass struggles on the other.

The belief that one has the “correct program” leads straight to the corollary that political differences must reflect the pressures of a different class. After all, a “correct program” can only reflect the interests of the proletariat and, since there is only one proletariat and one program, different views must inevitably be rooted in some other class.

Since the claims of sectarian to the title of “the vanguard” and “the Marxist-Leninist party” are synonymous with their having the “correct program” as well as “historical continuity with Marx and Lenin”, they cannot for long tolerate other groups or currents that hold different positions on major questions, or even different interpretations of history.

When groups that have little contact with mass struggles develop differences that cannot possibly be tested in practice, the differences quickly escalate into a challenge to the whole premise of the existing “vanguard” formation. Since they mechanically see questions as interrelated, even small differences become crucial in their eyes.

What usually follows is a “class analysis” of the views of one’s “opponents”, combined with a “class analysis” of the opponent as a person of a certain social grouping. In every case, it is “discovered” that the opponent represents an “alien class pressure”, coming from the petty bourgeoisie. The opponent is thus outside the framework of the working class movement, and can be treated accordingly.

What is the result? More often than not, two “vanguards” each calling the other “petty bourgeois”, emerge. As time passes and splits grow in number, we encounter an ever-increasing number of “vanguards”, each with its own particular explanation of history and events.

One party, one class

One argument that is often heard in the polemics of sectarians is that only one party can truly represent the working class. In Russia, it was the Bolsheviks. All other Russian parties turned out to reflect alien class forces.

Thus, our U.S. “vanguards” conclude, only one organization can represent the U.S. working class.

Yet, today we see various organizations, coming from diverse backgrounds, working together in El Salvador within the FMLN — and all are genuine revolutionaries. This unity reflects the concrete process through which a vanguard developed in El Salvador. The experience in the Soviet Union is not the only form that history has provided for the development of a vanguard.

Genuine revolutionaries can have differences for the simple reason that revolutionaries can be wrong. In fact, all revolutionaries are wrong on one or another question at some time, and not merely with regard to secondary questions. Any honest historical study will show this to be the case. How could it be otherwise? We are all products of our societies, in spite of our dedication to social struggles.

Did Lenin reflect alien class pressures or stop being a proletarian because he opposed the soviets (mass united worker, peasant, and soldier councils) when they first appeared in 1905? Was Lenin no longer a revolutionary because he counterposed building a revolutionary party to building the soviets, or for later changing his mind and supporting soviets but insisting that the bourgeoisie be included in them?

Was Lenin no longer a revolutionary because he thought the revolution was in an upswing in early 1906 when it was in fact clearly declining? Or was Trotsky a hopeless petty bourgeois for disagreeing with Lenin on organizational questions for a whole period or for believing that the USSR would be crushed unless Europe went socialist? Was Che Guevara no longer a proletarian revolutionary because there were weaknesses in his attempt to project a road to victory in Latin America in his foquista orientation (emphasizing the creation of small, rural guerilla bands)?

Revolutionaries are people. Only with an anti-cult attitude can we form a genuine collective leadership and develop the modesty and humility necessary to listen, think, and act collectively. It is only when we demystify revolutionaries will it become possible to genuinely recognize their great contributions.

The our-day-will-come syndrome

Sectarian formations teach their followers that their day will come. Since their “program” will triumph when conditions ripen, their task is to accumulate cadres and wait. They prepare mainly by raising their political level (translation: convincing themselves that their program is correct and their leadership profound). They are not upset that they are not in the leadership of any struggles, since it is not yet the time for revolutionaries. The objective conditions, you see, have yet to ripen. This concept of “our day will come” or cheering other revolutions without looking at the potential of our own working class and oppressed layers has religious overtones of looking for a promised land.

Such a concept is neither Leninist nor materialist. There is today in the United States an ongoing class struggle that takes a variety of forms. A genuine vanguard would lead that struggle at whatever level possible.

No better example could be given than the need to defend the Central American revolution. This is not a task that can be postponed until conditions are ripe. We cannot wait until we have a better, more proletarian anti-intervention movement. We have to fight on every level possible, and those who lead such struggles today are the genuine beginnings of a vanguard.

Program

What really, after all, is a program? A program is not a written instruction manual on how to make a revolution in your country, nor is it the “best” historical interpretation of all past events. (One fast give-away of sectarians is their preoccupation with proving their politically correct genealogy.)

A program is, rather, the working out of the tasks before the working class and its allies to liberate themselves from the exploitation and oppression they suffer under capitalism. A program also includes a strategy to eliminate racism, sexism, poverty, unemployment and endless other human tragedies of a society that places profits above human needs.

A program is a general guide, an outline of a strategy for liberation. It is based on lessons from history, but it is not history itself. By definition, a program avoids making historical interpretations except on the broad outlines required by the living struggle. A program is the attempt to generalize the lessons from the history of the class struggle and to apply them to the present epoch. A program is both specific, by incorporating national considerations, and general, by including the international framework.

The program that is of any use evolves. It must emerge not only from generalizations from past struggles, but from the concrete manifestations of present struggles. A movement not completely immersed in mass struggles is incapable of developing an effective program.

A program for the United States

A program for the Third American Revolution clearly evolves over time. A program written in 1984, as opposed to one written in 1954, would include a different spectrum of questions, though many fundamental considerations would remain the same. Issues that have evolved — or, where our understanding has evolved — include the oppression of women, the treatment of homosexuals, problems related to pollution and the environment, the development of new sectors of the working class, and the tasks facing oppressed nationalities. To these, we can add the mass awareness of the growing threat of nuclear war and the new immigration from Latin America, Asia, and other parts of the world.

The fact that the program evolves and that there are many aspects to this process in no way means that the struggle in the United States does not remain fundamentally between those who own capital and those who work for a living. Similarly, to specify the enormous weight of the struggles of oppressed nationalities and women, or to raise issues that cut across class lines such as the struggle against the threat of nuclear destruction, is not to reject the underlying class struggle, but rather to make it more balanced and concrete.

The example of Nicaragua

In order to illustrate the difference between Lenin’s views and the views so prevalent among the US “vanguard” groups, it is useful to look at an actual revolutionary experience. Nicaragua is better known by the present generation of the U.S. left than previous revolutions (We could just as well take up other examples, including that of the Soviet Union, since the lessons to be drawn are quite similar, in spite of some important differences in form.)

In Nicaragua, the fundamental solution to all social problems was to win self-determination by driving U.S. imperialism out of the country. This took the form of a struggle against the Somoza dynasty.

The FSLN began with only a handful of individuals as the left wing of the largest, and most broad-based movement in Nicaraguan history, the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship. The FSLN founders offered a program based on proletarian methods of struggle (minus the rhetoric), that is, a definitive struggle against Somoza and Somocismo, and not one of a rearrangement of imperialist rule.

They sought to rid Nicaragua of Somoza through direct mobilization of the workers and peasants, together with whatever allies could be won among other social layers. They fought to build a broadly united mass movement based on specific demands. Through this process, they grouped the vanguard elements created by the anti-Somoza struggle.

They avoided interjecting divisive and unnecessary conditions for unity, carefully choosing the points of demarcation from other currents in the anti-Somoza stuggle. In stark contrast to the orientation of every U.S. formation calling itself a “vanguard”, the FSLN never sought complete agreement on interpretations of history, much less made such an agreement a requirement to be part of the developing vanguard in Nicaragua.

What exactly was the program of the FSLN? Their program was one of ending Somocismo and establishing a government truly representative of the working people of Nicaragua. Their strategy was the removal of Somocismo through direct action rather than Somoza’s removal through negotiations with imperialism, that policy being the strategy of the reformist wing of the anti-Somicistas. They sought to rely on the workers and the peasants, the two forces they felt would be willing to carry out a decisive and committed struggle to end Somoza’s rule, and to defend genuine self-determination.

Did the FSLN make errors? Of course. Only those who abstain from the complexity of the real living struggles make but one error — their abstention. Undoubtedly, the FSLN made many errors of both a right and left nature. Let us consider for a moment the sad consequence for Nicaragua if Carlos Fonseca and other founders of the FSLN had followed the methods of our U.S. “vanguards”.

Suppose the FSLN founders had intellectualized their “program”, requiring agreement on interpretations of every faction fight in the history of the workers’ movement? What if, instead of developing the lines of demarcation between the FSLN and other currents on Nicaraguan issues, they had proceeded to engage in endless debates over Maoism, the validity of critiques of Stalinism, etc? What if they had argued that every difference on how to participate in a struggle mirrored positions taken at this or that time by the Mensheviks, Bolsheviks or the Social Revolutionaries?

What would have happened in Nicaragua? One thing is certain: such an approach by the FSLN would have facilitated Somoza’s efforts to isolate it. The FSLN organized Nicaragua’s natural vanguard. Fortunately, the FSLN acted in a Leninist fashion, without self-righteous fanfare and pompous self-justifications.

The programmatic and ideological misconceptions of our U.S. “vanguards”, which separate them from the material reality of living struggles, regardless of verbal or written claims to the contrary, guarantee their isolation. If the FSLN had fallen into the U.S. methodology, they would never have secured the commitment and dedication of their people to a determined, exceedingly difficult struggle for liberation.

The concrete tasks of the FSLN, which developed as a process, were and obviously are, different from those facing a vanguard formation in the United States, or in South Africa, or Sweden — but the method needed is similar.

What is applicable in one situation may be somewhat different in another. Issues that are secondary today and should not be dividing lines can become decisive tomorrow. And issues that may seem and, in fact be, decisive today can become secondary tomorrow. Program and points of demarcation evolve. Those who fail to appreciate such essentials will never build revolutionary movements, only highly intellectualized sects.

While each epoch and country may have sharply different needs, the method of building a revolutionary vanguard directly out of the living struggles, and of developing a program and organization as a process, are criteria that every revolutionary victory has shown to be a necessity.

Central America: the acid test

No example could be clearer than the developing revolutionary struggles in Central America. The peoples of this region have entered into a mass anti-imperialist struggle, opening up the possibility for a resolution of many years of oppression through the triumph of armed mass insurrectionary movements. The United States is the direct imperialist power involved. The future, not only of Central America but of our own movement, will be affected as a whole spectrum of international forces comes into play.

Those of us in the United States who consider ourselves sisters and brothers of all revolutionaries fighting for social justice must not fail to recognize both the duty to defend Central America and build opposition to U.S. aggression, and the opportunity to increase political consciousness in the United States. History is written by millions, and history is being written today in Central America, a history which is our own.

Where are our “vanguards”? Who has stepped forward to defend these living social revolutions? Who has put the struggle of the Central American peoples above all factional or sectarian considerations? Who has sought to develop and build a unified movement based on living reality, taking advantage of every possibility to mobilize US forces in defense of Central America, and to neutralise or divide forces in the enemy camp?

Where are our “vanguards”? One is busy raiding a committee here and a committee there in an attempt to “get control”, maybe to recruit two new members. Another is pontificating about alleged errors of those who are actually doing something, such as setting up literature tables to inform the average person about the facts, or collecting funds for medical aid.

Another sect is selling its paper at every movement activity, all the while declaring the solidarity movement meaningless. Two sects even called ballot initiatives advocating non-intervention in Central America “obstacles” to a supposedly “truly” revolutionary approach. And to help facilitate the confusionist and obscurantist work of the bourgeois media, one of the more extreme sects will be sure to bring red flags bearing hammers and sickles to each demonstration.

One group will refuse to participate in the solidarity movement while declaring its unending support for the FMLN, while another comes to meetings to criticize the FMLN’s alleged “imminent sell-out”. The criticisms of these “vanguards”, of course, are self-described as being the most important “aid” of all.

Of course, organizations that have fallen into sectarian methodologies can, at times, in spite of errors, take a correct position on one or another question, or engage in useful propaganda work, and even occasionally make a positive contribution in the class struggle. But like a stopped watch that is right twice a day, they are useless as a guide to either our next step or our long-range perspectives, despite their undeniable good intentions. In addition, we must acknowledge that many individuals and groups may evolve in a healthy direction. The history of movements such as those in Nicaragua and El Salvador indicate that even groups that for a long time made all kinds of errors have changed, adapted, evolved.

But in this overall context, is it any surprise that, in city after city, those forces that are working on a day-to day basis to concretely defend Central America see the “vanguards” more often as obstacles than allies? What we are witnessing through the experience of Central America at this time is the bankruptcy of the U.S. sectarians.

As opposed to the sectarians, a new, younger generation has stepped forward to place as its central concern advancing the real struggle against U.S. aggression in the region. These activists have generated mutual respect and communication with the generations of Central American revolutionaries leading their people to self-determination. Without long theses and documents, a new generation of U.S. solidarity activists is doing more effective work than the self-declared “Marxist-Leninist vanguards”. These younger forces, learning from the living struggle in Central America, are creating one part of a future framework from which a genuine U.S. revolutionary vanguard can expand.


Mark-up and proofreading by Steve Painter.

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Carl Davidson March 28, 2013 at 8:00 am

[This is a brief comment i wrote five years back that seems relevant here]

On Natural Vanguards

A Comment on David Graeber’s “Twilight of Vanguardism”
January, 2007

By Carl Davidson
I think those opposed to “vanguardism,” or even those in favor of it, often have their own definitions of the term that are too narrow.
For instance, at any given time, I find it useful to try to figure out the proportions of advanced, middle and backward among the general population in regards to politics. The backward are those who like and defend the existing order of oppression, the middle don’t want to be bothered with politics all that much because it doesn’t make sense in their daily lives and they are focused on themselves and family, and the advanced are those who see the present order as unfair, unjust and/or oppressive and would like to do something to change it.

This “sectoring” is fluid; any given individual can move from one to another from time to time as conditions vary. But at any given time, the advanced are usually a minority, although they may be a relatively large minority.

Within the advanced, moreover, there are those who are presently active and those who are waiting to do something, those who are in organizations, mass or otherwise, and those who haven’t joined anything yet, and those who think just a few major reforms will do and those who think the whole system has to go.

This narrows things down a bit. If you look at the advanced who are active, in an organization and who think the whole order needs to be replaced, you have what I would call the revolutionary vanguard. Notice that I didn’t say they had to be in ONE organization, or have ONE program, or leader. At some point they might, although it’s unlikely and certainly doesn’t happen by declaration or fiat or self-assertion. In any case, this grouping is what I would call the “natural vanguard” that shrinks or swells with the ebb and flow of class struggle and social crisis.

Now there are many organizations in the “natural vanguard.” Some better, some worse. Some on an open road; some stuck in a cul-de-sac.

Does any one or any one cluster of them ever get to be “the vanguard party?”
Only if certain conditions are met, including one very practical but often ignored factor: your group gets to be a LEADER if it has FOLLOWERS.
This seems clear as day to me, but we still have dozens of groups running around claiming to be the leader, but they don’t have any followers or supporters to speak of. They have the mistaken notion that a ‘correct line’ or ‘scientific program’ is sufficient, even granting that there is such a thing. Myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that I much prefer to work in groups that deal in ‘fruitful working hypotheses’ rather than ‘correct lines.’

I would say that to be the vanguard party, or the vanguard anything, a group or alliance of groups has to earn that designation by, first, winning over the vast majority of the advanced sector to choose it as their own organization; and second, by then in turn winning over large numbers of the middle forces to respect and follow its course of action, at least a good part of the time. Becoming a vanguard in this sense is something that is done practically and over time. The best examples I can think of were Vietnam and China. It simply means that masses of people recognize your group’s leadership ability that they will want to defend and protect you against the enemy, and finally, will want to join your ranks and shape the group’s politics and future themselves.

All the other disputes about the “genuine” vanguard status being achieved by assembling varying sets of principles or ideological coda is more in tune with medieval theological or Talmudic disputation, rather than the kind of fresh thinking we need today.

Reply

Alan L. Maki March 28, 2013 at 11:23 am

There are a lot of generalities in this article.

In fact, it was the same “leaders” of the New Left who distorted and demonized the Communist Party USA which did a good job leading the mass movements from the 1920’s through the Reagan Administration beginning with the attacks on worker’s rights, advocacy of the New Deal reforms, the struggle to make the government responsible for full employment, the fight against McCarthyism, for civil rights, against the war in Vietnam.

It was because the CPUSA was so effective that the entire governmental apparatus joined the McCarthyite attacks which included so many fascist-like laws including that one law authored by Hubert H. Humphrey— the Communist Control Act— which served to prevent Communists from participating in many ways which led to the crippling of so many movements including the labor, peace and civil rights movements.

What I find so interesting is that all these New Left “leaders” who were absent from any struggles for decades, now made a comeback by supporting Barack Obama and a bunch of Wall Street Democrats who they proclaim to be “high road” capitalists when all they are is Wall Street imperialists dragging us into war after war paid for with austerity measures wrecking the social programs the Communist Party USA led the struggles for— thank a Communist for Social Security, the Minimum Wage, the right to organize.

I find it interesting there are these kinds of articles written around generalities but when it comes to specifics people would rather not engage in discussion.

Specifics like the many successes of the most successful working class based progressive people’s parties like the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party which brought together socialists, Communists and other liberals, progressives and leftists to elect two socialist governors and a Communist Congressman plus hundreds of other public officials from township boards to county commissions and school boards to a majority in the Minnesota State House and almost captured a majority in the Minnesota State Senate.

It is politically and intellectually dishonest to ignore successes simply one does not agree with someone or an organization or party.

Here is an earlier history of the CPUSA which readers of this article would do well to consider reading before jumping to conclusions:

http://williamzfoster.blogspot.com/

Unfortunately, there is also this to read, too:

http://www.solidnet.org/usa-communist-party-usa/3139-14-imcwp-contribution-of-cpusa-en

A lot of people don’t seem to want to engage in dialog when it comes to specifics. Anyone who thinks we need a revolutionary working class based Marxist-Leninist political party to guide our class and our people through these turbulent and treacherous waters will find such a party in the ideas, goals and objectives of the CPUSA prior to a self-serving opportunist leadership hijacking the national party apparatus beginning just before 2000 which continues today as is evidenced from the article above.

Also not discussed in the article under discussion is that in a country as large as the United States there is likely to be many differences of opinion simply because many people have so many different life experiences so it is logical there will be parties organized around similar life experiences by people who have narrower outlooks who don’t understand that it takes all those with different life experiences to find a way to work together if we are going to successfully challenge Wall Street for political and economic power and whether or not we can all agree to work in a revolutionary party like the CPUSA, we are all going to have to find a way to work together in some kind of progressive working class based people’s party similar to what existed with the socialist Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party or like what Canadian workers have with their socialist New Democratic Party.

I would still like to know from these “leaders” of the New Left who have turned to working for an imperialist warmonger like Obama what they found so adverse in the Communist Party USA— after all, they hoodwinked a generation into thinking the New Left was what was needed by demonizing the “Old Left” and now they have become the sell-outs and betrayers they falsely purported the Communists to be.

Perhaps Sam Webb and the present “leaders” would like to post their comments here, too, along with an explanation of how supporting an imperialist warmonger like Obama fits in with building a united working class movement for real change?

I do find it interesting that Carl Davidson who spared no effort as a “leader” of the New Left in criticizing the CPUSA, now has nothing but praise for these national CPUSA “leaders” who shed nothing but tears of joy ever Obama’s election and re-election and who have run out of tears for the victims of U.S. imperialism now finds his allies.

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Pham Binh March 28, 2013 at 2:49 pm

There are quite a few generalities in your comment.

Peter Camejo in particular played an outstanding role in the Bay Area anti-Viet Nam war movement as a member of the Socialist Workers Party. Look up the battle of Telegraph Avenue. What role did CP USA play locally in the movement at that time? And where in this text did Camejo “demonize” CP USA?

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Alan L. Maki March 28, 2013 at 4:24 pm

I never said Camejo “demonized” the CPUSA. My reference was to New Left “leaders” who did this… there are way too many to mention them all but among those who did this they include Tom Hayden, Carl Davidson… just look at the names on the “Progressives for Obama” website and you will see who many of them are.

I am not familiar with the specific battle of “Telegraph Avenue” that you mention.

I did not post here to attack anything Camejo wrote in this particular article other than it lacks specifics which makes something like this difficult to discuss.

As for “generalities” in my comment it seems to me there are many specifics.

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Pham Binh March 28, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Your comment was a blanket denunciation of “new left” leaders, of which Camejo was one. It was not unreasonable for me to assume that your comment was something of a response to what he wrote here. This piece actually does have specifics but they are dated because this was written some 30-odd years ago.

I suggest picking up a copy of Camejo’s autobiography, North Star if you are interested in the specifics of his role in the Bay Area anti-war movement. A Google search probably won’t yield anything with the kind of granular, inside detail the book provides.

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Alan L. Maki March 28, 2013 at 5:21 pm

We should learn from the past. Without specifics it is kind of difficult to learn from the past.

My point was not to take issue with anything Camejo wrote, said or did. Just to point out there are no real specifics. It would have been helpful for him to been more specific; nothing he can do about this now but we are still living and I thought you were inviting discussion around the issue not the person.

The issue you have raised is an important one. Personally, I don’t like the term “vanguard;” it seems to me the issue is more one where the left needs to be prepared for its role as initiator and catalyst in helping to guide struggles around specific problems in a way that will lead to achieving reforms while challenging Wall Street for political and economic power as a step towards socialism.

Perhaps I wasn’t clear; but my reason for commenting on this article was that I liked it’s formulations but thought if more specifics were included it would be helpful to expanding a discussion.

I was making a “blanket” attack on New Left “leaders.” Obviously I disagree that a New Left was, or is, needed because I feel the “old left” did a pretty good job. I have no idea to what extent Camejo attacked the “old left.” I really didn’t view this particular article as an attack on the “old left.” Am I mistaken?

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David Berger March 28, 2013 at 3:30 pm

ALAN MAKI: In fact, it was the same “leaders” of the New Left who distorted and demonized the Communist Party USA which did a good job leading the mass movements from the 1920′s through the Reagan Administration beginning with the attacks on worker’s rights, advocacy of the New Deal reforms, the struggle to make the government responsible for full employment, the fight against McCarthyism, for civil rights, against the war in Vietnam.

DAVID BERGER: “Welcome to Fantasy Politics.” In 1932, under the banner of the Popular Front, the CPUSA supported Franklin Roosevelt from President and, except for 1948, has more or less supported Democrats every since. It also supported the notorious “No Strike Pledge” during WWII. This is class collalboration in spades.

The CPUSA is a totally discredited group on the Left. The only reason anyone sniffs around this corpse is because they have fantasies about the Democrats. The CPUSA shed any revolutionary practice by the mid-1930s. Demonstrating the degenerate praxis of this group over the past nearly 80 years is about as difficult as shooting catfish in a barrel.

Just one point on Vietnam: the CPUSA played a very minor role in the anti-Vietnam movement because it espoused the slogan of “Negotiations Now” as opposed to calling for “Immediate, Unconditional Withdrawal From Vietnam.” Again and again, Left groups like the SWP (and others) had to fight the CP in the anti-Vietnam movement.

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Carl Davidson March 28, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Discredited to whom, comrade Berger? Get real. Fortunately or unfortunately, the CPUSA isn’t much more or less influential than the rest of us. Contrary to the point above, I’ve many disagreements with them, and find myself (and my group, CCDS) a bit to their left these days. I think they tail Obama and downplay many socialist tasks of our movement. But if you think they are isolated and discredited because of defending Obama, you need to get in touch with the masses of Black voters, and progressive-minded white workers, too, for that matter.

The CP had a right line on the antiwar movement, but it was involved in that struggle up to its ears. Save for a few Schactmanites, we all were. As for slogans, I sat in a classroom in Cuba for 10 days while a North Vietnamese general explained to me, in some detail, why they felt, very urgently, we should push the demand, ‘Set the Date’ on the White House regarding the start of the peace talks. He said it was fine to continue with ‘Out Now,’ but urged us to take the timeliness of this additional slogan very seriously. I did, and brought it back to the Guardian, and we pushed for it in all the wider coalitions. The only ones to refuse to take it up were the SWPers.

I worked with both the PCPJ and NPAC coalitions, sitting on the steering committees of both, and they both had their strengths and weaknesses. I’d say the biggest problem we had was the ultraleftism that destroyed SDS the year before 5 million students went on strike after the Kent and Jackson State killings. You characterizations here are far too simplistic and self-serving.

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Pham Binh May 8, 2013 at 2:28 pm

” As for slogans, I sat in a classroom in Cuba for 10 days while a North Vietnamese general explained to me, in some detail, why they felt, very urgently, we should push the demand, ‘Set the Date’ on the White House regarding the start of the peace talks. He said it was fine to continue with ‘Out Now,’ but urged us to take the timeliness of this additional slogan very seriously. I did, and brought it back to the Guardian, and we pushed for it in all the wider coalitions. The only ones to refuse to take it up were the SWPers.”

The Schachmanites still oppose your position:

“Harrington’s stated position on Vietnam was support for negotiations to end the war. But the antiwar movement of that era more and more came to identify this as a pro-war stance. For one thing, it accepted the legitimacy of U.S. imperialism playing a part in determining the future of Vietnam and Southeast Asia. For another, it accepted the continuation of the war effort while negotiations took place.”
http://socialistworker.org/2013/05/08/taking-sides-on-harrington

So I guess that Vietnamese general was… pro-war?

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Alan L. Maki March 28, 2013 at 4:37 pm

First of all the CPUSA ran Foster for president in 1932.

The rest of your comments are just as “accurate” as the first. Such distortions and lies certainly do nothing towards bringing the left together.

I would agree with you that the SWP has wasted a lot of peoples’ time fighting the wrong battles when it should have seen Wall Street as our common enemy.

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David Berger March 29, 2013 at 10:25 am

Sorry, I meant 1936 when the CP endorsed Roosevelt.

As William Z, Foster puts it:

The position of the Communist Party in the 1936 elections, in line with its general attitude toward the New Deal, was one of objective, but not official support for Roosevelt. At its ninth convention (in New York, June 24-28, 1936), the Party took the stand that the central issue of the campaign was “democracy versus fascism,” and it pointed out that the major forces of reaction and fascism were ganged up behind Landon. It called for “the concentration of all forces of the working class and its allies in the fight against the Republican-Liberty League-Hearst combination and for the defeat of its plans in the elections of 1936.” The Party directed its main fire against Landon. As for Roosevelt, while the Party realized that he had made certain concessions to the toilers, it correctly asserted that he had made bigger “concessions to Hearst, to Wall Street, to the reactionaries.” 7 It declared that Roosevelt’s “middle course” was “not a barrier to reaction and fascism,” 8 and that the Party could not therefore give him a full endorsement. Consequently, the Party put up its own national ticket, Earl Browder and James W. Ford. It was on the ballot in 34 states. The type of campaign which the Party carried on, however, calling for the defeat of Landon at all costs, militated against the Party polling its own full potential vote in the elections—hence its ticket received only 80,181 votes.

http://williamzfoster.blogspot.com/2013/01/chapter-twenty-three-roosevelt-and-wall.html

Anyone who wants an alliance with the CPUSA is welcome to it. They’re my neighbors in Chelsea, in NYC, but I don’t plan to visit them any time soon. Frankly, I wouldn’t piss in the same pot with their leadership.

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Alan L. Maki March 29, 2013 at 12:21 pm

At least we share the same contempt for the present “leadership” of the CPUSA which has hi-jacked the assets of the CPUSA and is supporting Obama’s and the Democrat’s Wall Street imperialist agenda. Obviously these current “leaders” are even liberals let alone Communists or Marxists of any variety or variant. I previously posted (above) their statement to the international Communist gathering held recently in Lebanon.

I also appreciate you posting the words straight from Foster instead of your previous distorted comment.

I think most people on the left agreed with the position of the CPUSA in the 1936 elections.

I would point out that much of the left, including the CPUSA took the position that Roosevelt’s reforms did not go far enough— too little, too late— and plans were being made to take the Farmer-Labor Party national with the intent to run Minnesota’s socialist governor against Roosevelt but a lot of problems prevented this including Governor Floyd Olson’s untimely death.

I would also note that Norman Thomas and his Socialist Party refused to join the efforts of the “People’s Front” and threw their lot in with the America Firsters— a mistake some of the left is making again with Ron and Rand Paul; this erroneous thinking there can be some kind of left-right alliance.

Of course, Earl Browder went on to make equally serious mistakes after WWII and now we have this weird situation with the present CPUSA leadership.

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Carl Davidson May 8, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Actually, I think the CPUSA’s tactics in 1936 were sophisticated and on target. They ran their own campaign as a revolutionary education ‘party building effort’, while simultaneously moving the pro-GOP voters in the working-class and middle classes toward FDR. and the pro-FDR voters further leftward, seeing the CPUSA as an ally. That what it meant when there was ‘no endorsement’ of FDR, but efforts that objectively aided his victory while expanding the reach of the CPUSA as well. For instance, CCDS never ‘endorsed’ Obama or his platform, even though we urged a vote for him to defeat MR and the right, in spite of his platform and record. My regret these days is that all of us taken together are not yet a large enough ‘critical mass’ to be able to deploy such tactics as those of the CP in 1936 or 1948. Hopefully, that will change, under new conditions, when we can implode and then replace the Democrats with something better.

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Brian S. March 29, 2013 at 1:07 pm

@ David berger. Spot on: in the Canadian antiwar movement I worked in a bloc with the Quakers against the CP’s attempts to limit the movement to calling for negotiations rather than withdrawal.
Alan Maki needs to study more critical history of the CPUSA: its true that their militants at the local level did some fine grassroots organising at times, and they made an important contribution to the building of the industrial unions. But at the national level (and it couldn’t help but filter down to the rank and file) they alternated between ultraleftism and class collaboration. In three periods – the “third period” 1928-c.34, the years of the Hitler-Stalin pact, 1939-41; and the war years, 1942-5 – they played a sectarian and destructive role in the labour movement (both ultraleft and class-collaborationist at different points in time). If you draw up a balance sheet of this, it would look like a pretty negative one overall to me.

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Richard Estes March 28, 2013 at 12:38 pm

good to see you here Alan

I still appreciate your efforts to dispel the absurdities of the late Southern Dragon in regard to his characterization of Marx as someone who, after 1850, abandoned revolutionary politics, limiting himself “understanding how the capitalist system works”

lacking roots in the history at issue here, I will limit my response to a brief response: first, social life in the US has been transformed to such a degree since the heydey of the CPUSA that it is implausible to imagine an organization being effective today with its practices, and, second, Camejo was trying to engage this problem as this transformation was taking place in the 1980s

I say this as someone outside of the leftists for Obama circle

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Alan L. Maki March 28, 2013 at 3:56 pm

Richard, I appreciate the intent of Camejo’s remarks but it is very difficult to have a conversation and discussion without specifics being cited; although he did get into solidarity work with some specifics and I agree with what he wrote.

I didn’t post my remarks to say, “Hey, I’m right and everyone else is wrong.” I was hoping to generate some discussion around specific issues.

What do you mean by, “…social life in the US has been transformed to such a degree since the heydey of the CPUSA that it is implausible to imagine an organization being effective today with its practices…”

Of course “social life” is much different today than in the 1930’s but, if anything, the class struggle has intensified and Wall Street has strengthened its power and grip many fold over what existed in the 1930’s.

In fact, as the CPUSA began to grow in the 1970’s and early 1980’s the FBI instigated another wave of repression as the New Left left the scene after demonizing the CPUSA.

Now thirty years later we get the New Left “leaders” coming back having created outfits like “Progressives for Obama,” “Progressive Democrats of America” and a whole slew of foundation-funded outfits serving as Democratic Party front groups— I will ask the question straight out: Does anyone think any of these outfits supporting Obama are going to be vehicles capable of winning even the most minute reforms let alone lead any kind of movements challenging Wall Street for political and economic power?

The “change” you refer to that began taking place in the 1980’s was the buy-off of the 1960’s New Left “leaders” AND many activists as corporate America began to bring them into the fold— and under their control; under the control of the “philanthropists” by hiring them to staff their foundation-funded outfits as a way to keep them in line and under their thumbs. These super militant New Left “leaders” were in effect marginalized and “neutralized;” in effect, they sold out— just what they unfairly and unjustifiably accused Communists of doing.

What are the “practices” of the Communist Party which you don’t find plausible in today’s world? It looks to me like Communists who have held strong to their revolutionary working class Marxist-Leninist thinking are doing pretty well in leading the struggles in Greece, Spain, Italy, France, Philippines, South Korea, Venezuela, South Africa, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Finland, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and a few dozen other countries.

And where Communist Party Clubs here in the United States have separated themselves from the national “leadership” which has taken up with Obama and betrayed the working class and anti-imperialist movements, we see a great deal of activity and involvement in many movements.

I would also point out that a lot of the problems which prevented maximum participation by Communists were created inside the Communist Party by FBI informants and agents whose job it was to disrupt the activities of the CPUSA. My own FBI file contains hundreds of such examples of this with the names of the informants and agents blacked out.

Certainly there has never been any organization in the United States targeted for such severe governmental repression as the CPUSA— after all, the FBI’s COINTELPRO program was created for just this purpose and then it was expanded to target numerous other liberal, progressive and left groups and entire movements.

You really need to provide some specifics to your assertion that the CPUSA engaged in practices which wouldn’t be plausible today— perhaps you are correct but without the specifics being cited we don’t know and have no way of knowing.

I would point this out while we are on this topic. A lot of leftists refer to the Communist Manifesto and encourage its study and dissemination among activists and working people. I think this is good; the more people get access to ideas coming “straight from the horse’s mouth” so to speak the better.

But, why do so many of those who promote the reading and study of the “Communist Manifesto” fail to point out that it is actually “The Manifesto of the Communist Party.”

Without a Communist Party working class movements likely will not go far nor have the persistence and stamina to see these struggles through to successful victories in the struggles for reforms, the struggle to bring down Wall Street and the struggle for socialism.

The CPUSA had a pretty good Program all through the middle to latter part of the 20th Century— most of which is still pretty much relevant today.

We need to discuss all of this as friends if we are intent on working together on solving the many problems confronting working people and it simply is not conducive to unity to toss out these kinds of things without being specific.

The CPUSA is now at its all time low in terms of organization and influence.

Now is the time for working class activists to decide:

Do we rebuild the CPUSA?

Or…

Do we build another revolutionary working class organization/party in its place?

Marxism, providing the best and most consistent critique of capitalism, after having been proclaimed irrelevant and dead so many times, continues to be seen by Wall Street as its number one enemy as Time Magazine recently ran this article which seems to have caught so many people by surprise:

http://business.time.com/2013/03/25/marxs-revenge-how-class-struggle-is-shaping-the-world/

The question remains: How do we make sure Wall Street’s very worst nightmare materializes if we don’t have a very strong revolutionary Marxist-Leninist working class organization/party?

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Richard Estes March 28, 2013 at 5:23 pm

the problem is, there is no “Marxist-Leninist working class” in the US today, at least not one that perceives itself as such

things have changed a lot since the heydey of the CPUSA, and any left formation seeking to challenge capital is going to have to take those changes into account

the left should, as a starting point, begin with what workers actually do now, and how they relate to themselves, their communities, their work and the economy as a means of developing an effective working class organization, instead of starting with the concept of a Marxist-Leninist organization and trying to fit them into it

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PatrickSMcNally March 28, 2013 at 8:22 pm

To be fair to ALM (who I generally disagree with), he did not refer to a “Marxist-Leninist working class.” He referred to a “Marxist-Leninist working class organization/party.” That means, an organization or party that is embedded in the working class and is guided theoretically by Marxism-Leninism. No one would ever argue that there ever has at any time existed such a thing as a “Marxist-Leninist working class.” If there were, then the very concept of a party would be made redundant.

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Alan L. Maki March 29, 2013 at 11:24 am

There are four or five specific points the left, no matter what orientation and perspective, organizations have that we should be able to unite a very significant majority of the American people around if we all agreed we need to work together to become a catalyst for change instead of trying to compete with one another:

1. Peace— end the wars, the occupations, close the military bases and stop this insane military spending so we reap a real “peace dividend.”

2. Full employment; we need to push for legislation that would require the president and Congress to be responsible for attaining and maintaining full employment at real living wages based on all cost of living factors.

3. A National Public Health Care System which would create twelve-million new jobs providing the American people with free health care through regional, county, city and neighborhood health care centers and hospitals— no fee/no-premium, comprehensive (pre-natal through burial), all-inclusive (including general and specialized, eyes, ears, dental, mental), universal (everyone in, nobody out), publicly financed, publicly administered and publicly delivered.

4. A National Public Child Care System which would create some three-million new jobs providing free child care to all.

5. Action on climate change.

We would have to convince people that we would take a similar progressive approach towards solving all problems and we would encourage people to keep working to bring about reforms that are solutions to their pressing problems while agreeing to come together around this very basic five point program which would improve the lives for everyone in this country and peace would not only enable us to solve our problems but create the conditions for people all over the world to improve their lives.

A more comprehensive program for change we should consider working towards would look like this:

http://peaceandsocialjustice.blogspot.com/2013/03/a-progressive-program-for-real-change.html

I really don’t know why or how anyone could disagree with any of this; I would be interested in hearing the reasons for disagreement.

Anyone can go into the homes of working people and sit around the kitchen table chatting with people to find this is what people are looking for us to come together around.

As for these phony liberals, progressives and leftists still supporting Obama; all they are doing is strengthening the hand of the very Wall Street imperialists who we will have to challenge for power to win these basic reforms required to begin moving our country in a new— progressive— direction.

Ask yourselves, ask any working person this question:

How is Barack Obama’s Wall Street war economy working for you?

Most people will tell you Obama’s war economy is not working for them.

There isn’t one single left wing organization or party capable of bringing this kind of basic progressive program to the American people for consideration and action— together we can accomplish doing both.

Why continue squabbling over generalities when people have specific real problems requiring specific solutions with peace being the center of everything.

Obama’s wars are killing our jobs just like they are killing people and the Democrats will never talk about putting people to work solving the most pressing problems of the people because Wall Street can’t profit from such universal public programs.

This is the socialist way to solve the problems of working people; the best the Keynesians can offer is using public funds putting a few people to work hoping to stimulate the capitalist consumer economy in a way where wealth is transferred to a few Wall Street parasites. I do find it interesting the New Left supporters of Obama have become infatuated with the Keynesian economics of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus— both of which sucked liberals, progressives and leftists into thinking their reactionary Keynesian programs are progressive when nothing could be further from the truth but they get away with this because the left hasn’t placed a truly progressive program before the American people so a real national discussion and debate can take place.

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Carl Davidson March 29, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Maki is disingenuous about the ‘Back to Work Budget’ of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. I suggest he and others study it in some detail. If he wants to call it reactionary, what would he then call the budgets of the Senate Democrats or Ryan’s Tea Party?

The Congressional Progressive Caucus stressed job creation and Pentagon cuts. More important, it includes the financial transaction tax, an important structural reform.

It serves well as the economic platform for a popular front vs finance capital, which is what we need at the moment.

With his ultraleft attack on the Black Caucus and others, attacking real friends to make real enemies, I don’t think Maki’s proposals will even get beyond the realm of ‘good ideas.’

If you’re looking to find a politics that combines ultraleftism with Browder, something not very common, Maki’ s ideas are your starting point.

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Alan L. Maki March 29, 2013 at 3:49 pm

As you have acknowledged on numerous occasions, Davidson, you support Keynesian economics so I’m not surprised you are supporting the “too little, too late” budgets of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus both of which focus on subsidizing small business to create the jobs. Interesting you pooh-pooh the five points I mentioned while indulging in your typical CPUSA bashing though you just love the Webb grouping.

No one believes the CPC or CBC is going to even advance their pitiful “too little, too late” agendas— it’s all show.

But, I would encourage anyone who wants to join you in wasting time advancing reactionary Keynesian proposals to go ahead and do so— unlike you, most will learn from such experiences that it is just a waste of time.

Davidson, you have traversed quite the political spectrum— from supporting a confused Mao to the butcher Pol Pot to Wall Street’s imperialist warmonger Barack Obama to pragmatism of John Dewey and now an adherent of Keynesianism— from Mao’s failed thinking to holding up the tails of Dumb Donkeys asking for permission to pick up what the sparrows leave behind as you describe your politics being “to the left of Sam Webb.” Who is going to be following you? Next thing you will be telling us your support for Obama merits approval because Obama is to the left of Bush, McCain and Romney and works for the good fellows who have followed the “lefty” Bill Gates down the benevolent capitalist “high road” path.

And what about your friends in the Blue-Green Alliance and the KXL Pipeline like Leo “as long as its American made pipe” Gerard… real good allies you choose.

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Carl Davidson March 29, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Maki, I am a Marxist, not a Keynesian. Unfortunately our Congress is not divided between Marxists and Keynesians. It would be nice if it were.

Instead, it’s divided between Austrian school Ayn Randers (Rand Paul and crew), neoliberals, neo-Keynesians. and a few straight-up Keynesians and social democrats in the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus and its budget got about 80 votes out of 435. So yes, they are not going to see it passed anytime soon. It does, however, serve as a progressive pole to expose the others. But your budget has zero votes in Congress, and not likely to get more any time soon either. So I’d be careful, if I were you, about dismissing people as not having enough clout.

When you form a poplar front, it’s a multi-class alliance, and I would expect various trends to put out their views, including Marxists (like Rick Wolff and David Harvey) and Keynesians (like Krugman and Reich, who are out in the cold too these days). If you insist that the popular front can only have a Marxist economic program, it’s not likely to be much of a common front, is it?

As for your red-baiting jibes, I’ll just let them go as amusing. People can make what they want of them–and you as well.

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Alan L. Maki March 29, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Since the five points I have proposed can’t fair any worse with the present Congress, I don’t see any advantage in promoting Keynesian budgets as advanced by the CPC or CBC.

In fact, if these politicians are going to respond at all to public pressure it is more likely greater public pressure can be generated in support of the five points.

We are talking about creating the maximum public pressure through movement building required to win needed reforms, are we not?

Last I heard only about 100,000 letters were generated by over 300 organizations in support of the CPC budget… I hardly call that a “mass movement” with any kind of clout… especially when you Progressive Democrats of America, alone, boasts of being 25,000 “strong.”

You CPC budget, Davidson, can boast of having 80 votes in Congress… the CBC budget even fewer— worse yet, from a movement building perspective, neither of these budgets have mass support simply because they rely on the private sector creating these jobs; and they rely on small business, to boot. Even more laughable, Barack Obama, who you supported, will only advance a budget requiring cuts to human needs while creating 70,000 jobs with an increase in military spending unless you think these huge military buildups in the Middle East and the Pacific Region are paid for by someone other than the U.S. tax-payers.

Just what s there with the five points I brought forward you don’t think the majority of the American people will support; isn’t this the real issue when it comes to movement building?

And let us have your thinking about your espousing the need to continue supporting Democrats.

Furthermore, I never so much as insinuated these five points were a Marxist budget or program— they are in fact, a budget liberals, progressives and leftists could mobilize the American people behind as we build mass movements in the streets with a corresponding working class based people’s progressive party which would help us free ourselves from Wall Street’s two-party trap.

I don’t think you have learned from history very well, Davidson; because if you had learned anything at all, you would know that when movement building began around the New Deal reforms not even 50 members of Congress could be found supporting any of these reforms… and, look at Affirmative Action— Lyndon Johnson couldn’t find twenty votes for it in Congress yet a massive people’s movement— including rioting in the streets— forced Johnson to issue Federal Executive Order #11246.

And how many votes were there in the United States Senate in opposition to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution? Should the fact that there was next to no opposition to the Vietnam War have stopped us from opening up a movement against this dirty war?

Who the hell should be setting the priorities for our movements… a bunch of cowardly Wall Street bribed politicians or people who are fed up and have had enough of Wall Street’s wars, corruption and austerity measures?

You seem to be under the impression that we need the support from a bunch of worthless and cowardly politicians in order to build movements capable of winning real change when nothing could be further from the truth.

Even the article in Time Magazine, “Marx’s Revenge: How Class Struggle Is Shaping the World fostered the idea that whether or not there will be change hinges on the class struggle.

You obviously assess Krugman and Reich incorrectly, too, since you believe they are “out in the cold” when the one and only purpose either of them serve is to keep people like yourself hoodwinked into believing coalition partners can be found for progressive change under the Democrat’s big tent. As you know, it is damn near impossible to convince people to remain inside this tent once they get a whiff of the Donkey dung… especially after having had their noses rubbed in it.

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Carl Davidson March 29, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Maki, even federally-funded jobs where people get out and build things or provide services are often delegated to local private contractors and small business startups. Bottom line, there is no secure way to grow jobs without growing businesses as well. Our task is to make sure funds are allocated fairly, wages are at union scale and the work is ecologically sound. If we can start worker-owned or publicly-owned firms, so much the better.

As for Krugman and Reich, no one at the top is taking their counsel these day. Krugman was on ‘Morning Joe’ a few weeks ago, and everyone practically had puppies denouncing him for the next two weeks. Thank goodness for Bill Moyers for putting on Rick Wolff.

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Carl Davidson March 29, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Maki, even federally-funded jobs where people get out and build things or provide services are often delegated to local private contractors and small business startups. Bottom line, there is no secure way to grow jobs without growing businesses as well. Our task is to make sure funds are allocated fairly, wages are at union scale and the work is ecologically sound. If we can start worker-owned or publicly-owned firms, so much the better.

As for Krugman and Reich, no one at the top is taking their counsel these days. Krugman was on ‘Morning Joe’ a few weeks ago, and everyone practically had puppies denouncing him for the next two weeks. Thank goodness for Bill Moyers for putting on Rick Wolff.

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Alan L. Maki March 29, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Well, Davidson; as one of Barack Obama’s primary “Marxist” supporters, I have yet to hear you and your Obama loving “Progressives for Obama” try to mobilize people for the enforcement of Affirmative Action (EO #11246) as something like three-trillion dollars of public funds have been spent in the name of “economic stimulation.” Here, in the President you support and the Congressional Progressive Caucus which you support and your allies in the Congressional Black Caucus which you support— not one single one of you have insisted on the enforcement of Federal Executive Order #11246. Yet, here you are hypocritically talking about, “Our task is to make sure funds are allocated fairly, wages are at union scale and the work is ecologically sound.” I would invite you to come to Minnesota to see for yourself how “fairly” these funds have been “allocated” and to see that few of those who have been employed have been employed “at union scale;” you might want to check out the peat mining in the Big Bog for how “ecologically sound” these projects have been. And what about the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant which these funds helped to shut down and subsidize the sale of a tax-payer financed hydro dam to Brookfield— a foreign multi-national who is a major contributor to Obama and the Democrats.

Davidson; you make the claim: “Bottom line, there is no secure way to grow jobs without growing businesses as well.” Plain and outright Keynesian thinking since the best way to grow jobs that offer workers job security is through developing the public sector— there is nothing the public sector can’t do better than the private sector… ever notice the letters “W.P.A.” and “C.C.C.” etched in to the bridges, sewer systems, state and federal park buildings, roads and bridges?

And Robert Reich offered up the sage advice to those considering an alternative political party: right and left come together— a sure loser.

You were the poster boy for Pol Pot; your buddy Tom Hayden was the poster boy for the Israeli killing machine for over twenty years and now both of you are pushing for a new “New Left.”

No thanks… or should we say, “no tanks!”

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Alan L. Maki March 29, 2013 at 8:58 pm

And, Davidson; you talk about “public ownership” yet you and your organizations refused to advocate for public ownership as the way to save the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant, the hydro dam part of the operation and two-thousand good-paying union jobs that took the better part of 80 years to get fully integrated to the point where there was full equality in the workplace (or as close as we can get to full equality under this rotten corrupt racist system).

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Carl Davidson March 30, 2013 at 7:14 am

You miss the point, Maki. Even in the ‘public sector,’ say a county-owned wind farm, the government contracts to private firms to build them. Same with many WPA/CCC project in the past. How do you think the Interstate Highway system was built? No private firms involved? I don’t think so. As for the Kenysians, this is our point of unity with them where we can form a common front. But they thin it can permanently solve capitalism’s inherent systemic crises, while we do not.

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Alan L. Maki March 30, 2013 at 5:55 pm

All of the WPA and CCC projects I have looked at so far there were no private contractors involved. What I have found is that many owners of failing construction firms were hired in management and supervisory capacities. I admit my research has been very limited to the Iron Range on only a few projects— three state parks, four county parks, 8 city parks, three civic centers, two federal buildings, 9 city hall buildings, 27 roads, two water tanks, four city sewer systems and seven cemeteries; since I have not been able to locate any other records with this information from other parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin or Michigan I can’t say if you are correct or not about the private involvement— just guessing, I would guess you are probably correct there was some, and possibly considerable private involvement. I do know that many of the materials were purchased from private businesses but it is difficult to tell from the records I have seen if construction equipment was either rented or purchased from private firms— a lot of the equipment apparently was military and government owned.

If you have more detailed information from other places let us know. However, I didn’t find one instance of any corruption— compare this to what goes on today where tax-payers are fleeced to no end on public road and building construction. One recent example we studied very thoroughly was the 60-million dollar publicly funded Bemidji Regional Event Center where Affirmative Action was not enforced and a friend of the Mayor’s charged $27.00 dollars a day for sledge-hammer rentals and $32.00 a day for wheel barrow rentals on this two-year project.

Where has over one-trillion dollars of tax-payer monies gone to with the projects funded through this “American Recovery and Re-investment Act”— the stimulus funding? No one has any accountability. How much of this money was siphoned off as profits? Senator Al Franken told me this wasn’t public information.

The government has been printing $40-billion to $85-billion dollars a month keeping the economy afloat— where is all this money going to? Who is getting this money? Where are the jobs?

You are missing the point, Davidson— if all this money had been pumped into creating jobs putting people to work in government programs intended to help people like a National Public Health Care System and a National Public Child Care System we would have been well on our way towards solving the unemployment problem.

And this is before we start talking about the need to end Obama’s dirty imperialist wars which would free up the funds we need for all kinds of universal government social programs.

As an Obama supporter you are very content not to raise these questions let alone become involved in building movements capable of mounting serious struggles in opposition to Obama’s Wall Street agenda.

We already have a public school system— is it really such a far out idea that we should have a National Public Child Care System and a National Public Health Care System… I don’t see the American people clamoring for privatizing the public school system, the U.S. Postal System, to turn every state and federal highway into privately owned toll-roads.

How is initiating movements for any of the five points I mentioned any different than the movements which won the New Deal reforms, the Civil Rights Act and Affirmative Action? And what about the broad popular support there was for the legislation authored by the populist liberal Congressman from Texas, Wright Patman, for making the President and United States Congress legislatively responsible for full employment through the “Full Employment Act of 1945?”

We don’t need to stoop to the level of the Keynesians to achieve unity. How many people in this country do you know who will admit to being Keynesians? A handful of highly over-paid, muddle-headed, middle class intellectuals.

I have yet to hear of any polling organization having ever asked the question: Are you an adherent of Keynesian economics?

All polls show majorities support ending these wars and using those funds for human and social needs.

By your own admission you seek unity with the Keynesians who might be thrilled to work with you “Progressives for Obama” but they have no desire to work with the majority of the American people seeking solutions to their problems with few of these people clamoring to work for miserly small business people; ask anyone if they would rather work for a local, state or federal government agency or public entity or program or be employed by Goodwill Industries and see what their answer will be.

Let’s get something straight right here and now, Davidson— most people don’t vote for candidates like Barack Obama, Keith Ellison or Ben Cardin because they support what they do (which is pretty much nothing) and their Keynesian economics— they vote for these Democratic politicians because they loathe Republicans.

You aren’t serious about supporting publicly owned manufacturing in spite of your claim of conveniency stating you are a Marxist. You and your organizations had every opportunity to become involved in a movement to save the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant and hydro-electric producing dam which could easily have been converted to producing components for green mass transit and/or wind/solar equipment saving 2,000 good-paying union jobs and creating perhaps another 6,000 more jobs. You not only chose to remain silent but you knowingly published false information about our movement even though truly liberal and progressive Minnesota politicians brought forward legislation to save the plant and dam as an “industrial manufacturing unit” until a similar or another use could be found for this manufacturing facility.

Anyone can see for themselves what was going on and you were constantly kept abreast of what was going on in a timely manner so you could have participated— yet you choose to seek “unity” with Keynesian politicians instead of workers:

http://capitalistglobalization.blogspot.com/

Here is an interesting defense of Keynesians from a self-professed Marxist supporter of Obama:

“Keynesians and others, in and out of government, have opposed the neoliberals. They’ve advocated a range of reasonable proposals for getting us out of the current crisis — ending the wars, Employee Free Choice Act, Medicare for All, the People’s Budget submitted by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. John Conyer’s HR 870 Full Employment Bill — but these proposals all keep getting declared “off the table” by the neoliberals.”

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Carl Davidson March 30, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Why not look at TVA, Maki. It was a huge federal agency, employing many workers of its own. But it also pulled many small firms under its umbrella, and the major purchases for its power turbines were from General Electric, which did well under TVA.

And my guess is that corruption will exist under either or both private and public operations. It’s been a problem even under every socialist country that I know of. Public workers protected by unions can expose it, but getting the culprits brought to trial is another matter.

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Alan L. Maki March 30, 2013 at 11:16 pm

Yes; I’m sure most of the hydro plants had considerable private and corporate involvement. Look at Manitoba Hydro— same thing. Same can be said for socialist countries… they have all had considerable corporate investments and partnerships. And I agree; it all creates jobs.

But, what I am opposed to is when we have a situation like the Ford Dam in St. Paul that was subsidized to the hilt by tax-payers then sold to a multi-national foreign conglomerate like Brookfield Management on the cheap not even considering that the dam should have been brought under public ownership.

I’m not opposed to corporate involvement though I do think when it comes to the energy producing industries it should all be nationalized and brought under public ownership.

I would also point out that corporate involvement in making most of the decisions for the Tennessee Valley Authority has pushed it in the wrong direction and often results in a publicly owned power generating industry being nothing but a cash-cow for private industry in many ways— this is not what was originally intended when the TVA was created back in the 1930’s— although I do think it is good the government owns such a huge, diversified chunk of the power generating industry including everything from coal to nuclear and solar and wind in addition to hydro which is now probably only a smaller percentage of how power is generated by the TVA.

Manitoba Hydro operates in much the same way.

We should be learning from both examples although Manitoba Hydro seems to be more centered on the public good.

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Joaquín Bustelo March 31, 2013 at 10:45 pm

Alan L. Maki wrote: “Certainly there has never been any organization in the United States targeted for such severe governmental repression as the CPUSA.”

Really? I think the repression of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Movement was qualitatively more severe by a couple of orders of magnitude. How many Fred Hamptons did the CPUSA have?

Comrade Alan reminds us that the original name of the Manifesto is “Manifesto of the Communist Party” and insists that “Without a Communist Party working class movements likely will not go far …”

Yet the very first practical thing that Marx and his friends did after the Manifesto was written was … to dissolve the only organizational expression of that party, the Communist League. The reason they did that was … that a revolution had broken out in Germany!

The other thing they did simultaneously with dissolving the League was to issue the statement, “Demands of the Communist Party in Germany” which was widely reprinted in various newspapers as well as reproduced as a leaflet.

Marx and Engels did n0t view the Communist Party as an organization but as a self-and-other identified trend in the working class movement. Hence in the Manifesto they write: “The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties.”

The sense in which they use “party” has much in it of another sense of party, a side in a discussion, argument or dispute, like saying someone is a party in a lawsuit.

Comrade Alan thinks Peter Camejo’s article is vague because he is demanding a formula for success, and if what we in the SWP (USA) of old used to call “The Leninist Strategy of Party Building” is not it, then he wants Peter to provide an alternative. But Peter’s point is precisely that there is no recipe, no magic formula, and that for a vanguard party to be organized, first a vanguard needs to emerge.

And I would add something else: for a vanguard to emerge there needs to be a movement, and the United States does not have a working class movement worthy of the name nor has it had one for many decades. Everybody has talked about gay identity politics or Black or women identity politics, but has anyone even thought to mention working class identity politics? That’s because there is no collective class identity or identification.

That has begun to change under the impact of the Bush-Obama depression. Occupy Wall Street was a seed dropped into the supersaturated solution of class resentment and anger against the exploiters and their government. That’s very clear in the 99% versus 1% meme taking off the way it did..

“We are the 99%” is a statement of class identity, albeit in a very initial, approximate and unrefined way. But it is important to understand that the most important point is not the number. It is the “we.” Saying “we” in that sort of political context may well prove to be of world historic importance as the beginning of the U.S. working class starting to cohere as a class, and therefore as a party. If that happens, it won’t be long before the pinball machine starts flashing “game over” to the capiutalists.

In the tradition I am from the lack of class consciousness in the United States is blamed on the “misleaders” and above all the union bureaucracy. But for a political phenomenon that has lasted longer than I’ve been around –and in a couple of months I’ll be eligible for social security– a purely subjective and ideological explanation is pretty lame for anyone who claims to be a Marxist, never mind for the Truly Revolutionary Party ™.

In fact a much better explanation is available by Lenin, in his October 1916 article, “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism.” That in turn is based on observations by Marx and Engels on the British working class’s quiescence in the second half of the 19th Century. This is from Lenin’s article:

* * *

In a letter to Marx, dated October 7, 1858, Engels wrote: “…The English proletariat is actually becoming more and more bourgeois, so that this most bourgeois of all nations is apparently aiming ultimately at the possession of a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat alongside the bourgeoisie. For a nation which exploits the whole world this is of course to a certain extent justifiable.” In a letter to Sorge, dated September 21, 1872, Engels informs him that Hales kicked up a big row in the Federal Council of the International and secured a vote of censure on Marx for saying that “the English labour leaders had sold themselves”. Marx wrote to Sorge on August 4, 1874: “As to the urban workers here [in England], it is a pity that the whole pack of leaders did not get into Parliament. This would be the surest way of getting rid of the whole lot.” In a letter to Marx, dated August 11, 1881, Engels speaks about “those very worst English trade unions which allow themselves to be led by men sold to, or at least paid by, the bourgeoisie.” In a letter to Kautsky, dated September 12, 1882, Engels wrote: “You ask me what the English workers think about colonial policy. Well, exactly the same as they think about politics in general. There is no workers’ party here, there are only Conservatives and Liberal-Radicals, and the workers gaily share the feast of England’s monopoly of the world market and the colonies.”

On December 7, 1889, Engels wrote to Sorge: “The most repulsive thing here [in England] is the bourgeois ‘respectability’, which has grown deep into the bones of the workers…. Even Tom Mann, whom I regard as the best of the lot, is fond of mentioning that he will be lunching with the Lord Mayor. If one compares this with the French, one realises, what a revolution is good for, after all.”[10] In a letter, dated April 19, 1890: “But under the surface the movement [of the working class in England] is going on, is embracing ever wider sections and mostly just among the hitherto stagnant lowest [Engels’s italics] strata. The day is no longer far off when this mass will suddenly find itself, when it will dawn upon it that it itself is this colossal mass in motion.” On March 4, 1891: “The failure of the collapsed Dockers’ Union; the ‘old’ conservative trade unions, rich and therefore cowardly, remain lone on the field….” September 14, 1891: at the Newcastle Trade Union Congress the old unionists, opponents of the eight-hour day, were defeated “and the bourgeois papers recognise the defeat of the bourgeois labour party”….

* * *

After refuting an argument by Kautsky that England’s monopoly had been destroyed by noting that this was true about the manufacturing monopoly but not the colonial one, Engels continues:

* * *

… [W]hy does England’s monopoly explain the (temporary) victory of opportunism in England? Because monopoly yields superprofits, i.e., a surplus of profits over and above the capitalist profits that are normal and customary all over the world. The capitalists can devote a part (and not a small one, at that!) of these superprofits to bribe their own workers, to create something like an alliance (recall the celebrated “alliances” described by the Webbs of English trade unions and employers) between the workers of the given nation and their capitalists against the other countries.

* * *

Lenin goes on to argue that what happened in England, where pretty much the proletariat as a whole was “bribed,” was now impossible:

* * *

Formerly a “bourgeois labour party”, to use Engels’s remarkably profound expression, could arise only in one country, because it alone enjoyed a monopoly, but, on the other hand, it could exist for a long time. Now a “bourgeois labour party” is inevitable and typical in all imperialist countries; but in view of the desperate struggle they are waging for the division of spoils it is improbable that such a party can prevail for long in a number of countries.

* * *

I think the history of the post-WWI period and WWII confirmed Lenin’s analysis. But WWII left most of the imperialist powers much too weak to maintain their colonial empires. Colonialism evolved into neocolonialism, with the imperialists exploiting the Third World jointly. This was made possible by the fact that the United States won World War II against its enemies AND its allies, leaving BOTH devastated, on their knees, and the United States (and to a lesser extent the Brits) had long experience with the neocolonial model in Latin America. Thus in the imperialist camp, The United States was –and remains– the one and only senior partner, and everyone else is a junior partner.

How junior? The United States has 11 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers; the rest of the world, one. That is France’s Charles DeGaulle, currently out of service for a retrofit, if I remember right, but little more than a toy compared to what military experts call “super-carriers” that the U.S. has. Bu

Did the ruling class “bribe” the big majority of working people in the imperialist countries? At least in the United States, I think the answer is unquestionably “yes.” And a very significant part of the bribe was letting all European-descended groups become “white” something previously reserved for WASPs (“White Anglo-Saxon Protestants”). Some even thought the policy should apply to “white” (European-descended) Latinos: that was the social/political subtext of “West Side Story,” and especially of the by far most popular TV show of the 1950’s, “I love Lucy,” where a white woman was married to, and even had babies with, with Ricky Ricardo, a spic. And it wasn’t just TV: Lucy and Ricky were married in real life as well, and did have a child together.

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Pham Binh April 1, 2013 at 1:46 pm

Bribery is too conspiracist for me. In the U.S. case, I think it’s more accurate to say that the bosses were willing to pay good money for class peace on the shop floor in the post-World War Two period through the late 1960s/early 1970s.

I haven’t researched what Marx and Engels said re: the 1880s union movement in England in any depth, but I suspect their views of this question may have been overly colored or skewed by their experience in the revolutionary movements of 1848-1872 (and the Chartist experience before that). When Britain’s workers and worker-leaders failed to conform to their own previous lived experience from the 1880s onward, it must have caught them off guard and they had some difficulty explaining this variance. Lenin and the Communist International struggled with the same issue once the revolutionary wave of 1919-1921 (Europe’s 1905) receded.

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Alan L. Maki March 31, 2013 at 11:06 pm

I stand by what I wrote. I never claimed the CPUSA was the sole target of repression… anyone liberal, progressive and left has been a target of corporate/governmental repression.

Nor did I ever claim a Communist Party should be in contradiction to or work against a working class based progressive people’s party. In fact, a Communist Party should help to build such a party.

Most interesting of all, there doesn’t seem to be an inclination to discuss specific solutions to the very real problems of working people and taking action, together, in a way where we become a catalyst for united action.

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The comments seem a good illustration of the article’s theme…

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