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The CPUSA, Obama, and the American Road to Socialism

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Soviet cogitations: 831
Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 28 Jan 2008, 19:10
Ideology: Marxism-Leninism
Post 02 Jan 2010, 03:04
The CPUSA's position represents an attempt to creatively reshape Marxism-Leninism in the 21st century. Even Alan Maki the main ultraleft opponent of the CP regards Earl Browder as a great people's leader in spite of his later 1940s errors. The 1930s-1940s Popular Front of the CPUSA and New Dealers represents the most successful movement the Left has ever launched in the USA, and that included Debs SP and the 60s New Left. Browder's attempts to Americanize M-L should not be dismissed as revisionism. Instead it should be seen as a pioneering effort in the spirit of Lukacs, Gramsci, Togiallati, Mao, Deng, Castro. Stalinian Marxism-Leninism of the 1920s-1940s represented the highest level of progressive thought at its time, and we should defend its genuine achievements. At the same time we should not be held hostage to its dogmatic flaws. IF there is any lesson of 20th century Marxism, it is that each Communist Party must lead its' working class along its own national road to socialism. The current World Communist Movement takes many diverse forms. In Russia, the CPRF integrates the Russian national and populist traditions. In Eastern Europe and Mongolia, the majority of the former ruling CPs have merged into the Socialist International, while the minority faction has seen it necessary to work in a broad coalition with Social Democrats. The 1953 Socialist International has evolved in a progressive direction thanks to the influence of 3rd world socialism. Thus nearly every CP in W. and E. Europe, Latin America and AfroAsia have worked in a coalition with the parties of the SI. The ruling CPC of China, has created a special relationship with the SI.

In this spirit it is necessary to examine the unique role the Democratic Party plays in the USA. The oppressed nationalities play a major role in the USA, and their struggle is contained nearly entirely within the DP. Then there is the question of social democracy. While in Europe rightwing labor sellouts while using the banner of socialism, in the USA even the most militant left shuns the socialist banner. This backwardness should not be underestimated. Thus we are in a unique situation where the CP must play a major role in fighting for the demands of social democracy. But this presents the possibility of using that fight to advance to a more radical stage. Obama's victory has shifted the progressive left to the strategic offensive. However the tactical offensives of the ultraright have reached a dangerous intensity far exceeding the Bush years. Thus to secure offensive gains, we must first wage a vigilant tactical defense of the Obama coalition.

I think this article by CPNY leader Dan Margolis sheds light on the necessity of this strategy: ... ent-obama/

I'm not going to protest President Obama
by: Dan Margolis
October 21 2009

tags: National, Obama, Democratic Party

I'll say it out front: I'm not going to spend my time protesting the president. While there are some things he's said and done with which I disagree and would openly and plainly criticize, in many ways I don't want him moving to the left.

There. I've said it. But let me explain.

Nine months after the election of Barack Obama, there are a lot of things going on here in the United States about which to be unhappy, and of course there are the things that are being done by the U.S. that affect the rest of the world that are equally bad. None of this is, or should be, surprising. What surprises me is the number of people, even politically astute people, who actually are surprised or angry at Obama. I can understand the "surprise" from the right-wing pundits: their sham "indignation" and "outrage" and false populism are an obvious, and expected, ploy to discredit the first-ever African American president.

But many on the left have also expressed disappointment, and even open condemnation. Did anyone really expect that the election of Obama, or indeed, the election of any man or woman, was going to solve all of America's problems? This would suggest a degree of naïveté and lack of understanding of the dynamics of power, particularly as they are expressed in this country.

First things first: We have to consider the president's achievements, or at least some of them. The entire tone in this country, and emanating from this country, is different, more democratic. Our nation is seen by most of the world as less likely to provoke a war. We've been able to begin dialogue with the Russians, and with the rest of the world, on the necessity of abolishing nuclear weaponry. Cuban-Americans can now visit their families as often as they want.

The Lily Ledbetter Act. Expansion of S-CHIP (the program the Bush administration and Republican Congress discussed getting rid of) to 11 million more children; banning torture; and forward motion on ending the Iraq war also top the list. As well consider the stimulus program, which even now with only half of the money spent, has arguably saved hundreds of thousands of jobs, and the fact that Congress's main talk right now is a discussion of how to provide health care for everyone, something that has eluded this country for decades. An actual relationship between the White House and the labor movement has been developed. Perhaps this is the most striking thing: not since the days of FDR has there been such a pro-labor president, so committed to meeting routinely with labor, either by going to the AFL-CIO convention, meeting with leaders or supporting a labor agenda.

Et cetera.

But then, as people often point out, there are still problems: immigration raids, continued occupation of Afghanistan, the potential watering down of the health care bills to something less than ideal, immigration raids, not much motion forward on the LGBT rights questions, continued racism, skyrocketing unemployment, the jobless recovery, the potentiality of a "double dip" recession. Et cetera.

There are those who see the glass as half-full, giving the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt, and those who see it as half-empty, calling the administration a disappointment. Then there are those people who see the glass with the liquid in it as shattered into sharp pieces all over the table, gashing the hands of those trying to get a drink. (In other words, "Obama's the same as Bush.")

If one analyzes the situation objectively, it has to be said that Obama's been as good as the current balance of forces in the country overall, and especially in the Senate (which, by its very nature, favors more conservative elements), allows him to be. As president, he has to navigate a highly complex labyrinth of power in which, if you move too far in one direction, right or left, or too fast, you will alienate a big enough section of your supporters that you will be defeated and, if too much momentum is lost because of this, your agenda dies.

Obama has two roles: One is as the leader of the democratic, people's coalition that won the elections in 2008; the other is president of the United States of America.

The coalition that he leads, that elected him, itself contains contradictory elements. There's the labor movement, the women's movement, racially and nationally oppressed peoples, youth at its core, as well as peace activists, a majority section of the LGBT community, most of the Jewish community, and so on. But, at the same time, sections of corporate monopoly capital were part of that coalition as well. All of these sectors have different demands and points of view that are expressed as the different political tendencies, progressive, liberal, centrist and so on.

This coalition defeated the Republican coalition, that extreme section of monopoly capital, with its mass base in the evangelical churches (which themselves have been splitting politically); small towns, exurbs and rural communities (where support is also slipping); as well as the West and South (where support for the ultra-right has also slipped).

The agenda that Obama puts forward has to take all of this into account; it is necessary not to alienate a section of the people's coalition.

As president, he has to take into account that he's presiding over a country where tens of millions of people voted for John McCain. It's necessary, for further progress, to try to bring these people, mainly regular working people, into the coalition for progress (thus the need for "bipartisanship.") Will he act as a president who erodes the base of support for the extreme right, accelerates the movement of progressive evangelicals and others into the democratic fold? Or will he harden those divisions? Further, he's got to deal with the Senate, which, as mentioned earlier, by giving every state two votes, amplifies the power of some (largely more conservative sectors of the U.S.) and diminishes the power of others. Also, you can't pass anything with merely a simple majority; you need to take the problem of filibuster into account. All of this has to be considered, even if it means moving more slowly than we'd like.

An undemocratic reality to be sure, but one that must be navigated.

This is why we're not in a situation where we can win single-payer health care right now. If that were even the original proposal, the original all-people's coalition (which includes some big corporations) wouldn't have been able to coalesce around it, and-well, we can just imagine the debates in the Senate. As things stand right now, a simple public option to government health plan is hard to get passed. Right wing radio hosts have fanned hysteria that this choice is a government takeover that will kill grandma. Consequently, Obama's had to hedge a bit: Public option is not, he says, the be-all and end-all of health care reform. (He's hedging, but he's not lying; public option isn't the only way to define whether or not the eventual outcome of the health care struggle is a victory.)

It would have been suicidal to jeopardize the very possible steps forward for health care reform-steps forward that may actually produce some form of universal health care-by pushing for that which is the most "progressive." It would have set the agenda backwards; a victory will allow the fight to continue, but from a higher stage.

The same dynamics come into play when it comes to the automobile industry restructuring, the size of the stimulus package (too small, but the biggest possible), immigration reform, LGBT issues, the Employee Free Choice Act, environmental issues, the war in Afghanistan, Guantanamo detainee resettlement, etc. In all of this there is the problem of trying to figure out how fast and far to advance.

To restate what's in the title of this article: I'm not going to criticize Obama. If he moves to the left without widespread public sentiment, he'd end up breaking the whole coalition of which he's the leader, and he could ensure a return to extreme right-wing control in 2010. (The same could be said of a move too far to the right, but I don't see any real probability of that.) It would be terrible if the minority of people in this country who are on the left were somehow able to convince the president to, say, call for complete socialized medicine and to attack U.S. imperialism. That victory might taste sweet for a short while, but for the reasons I've already mentioned, it would by pyrrhic.

According to a Frederick Engels in his Peasant War in Germany, in talking about leaders whose own ideas, or parts of the movement behind them (here we might also think of Lincoln who, it can be argued, was always for the abolition of slavery), were to the left of what society as a whole can handle:

What he can do depends not upon his will but upon the sharpness of the clash of interests between the various classes, and upon the degree of development of the material means of existence, the relations of production and means of communication upon which the clash of interests of the classes is based every time. What he ought to do ... depends not upon him...

Of course, Obama's not a god. Maybe it's extreme to say I'll never criticize the president; there are here and there some criticisms to be made. Also, there's an extremely large and necessary role for left and progressive forces in both defending the Obama agenda and building forward movement, but that is the topic of a different article. The main point here is that Obama is an ally of progress, and we should be very careful about condemning him and, in so doing, weakening the movement he leads. That's up to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to try.
Kamran Heiss
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