Reflections on Revisionism in the CPUSA

(By Edward A. Drummond)

In July 2005, a discussion document, Reflections on Socialism (RoS), authored by one of the leaders of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), appeared in print and was widely distributed by mail with a cover letter inviting comment. It has now been placed on the CPUSA web site as well as — in shortened form — on the web site of the Communist Review, the theoretical journal of the Communist Party of Britain.

RoS was originally (and to my knowledge still is) presented, not as an official CPUSA document, but as a personal text put forth for public discussion, which I consider as a very positive step forward. Taking up this invitation, the following paper critically evaluates the theses presented in RoS. However, my criticism of RoS should in no way be interpreted as a criticism of ,much less an attack on the CPUSA. The CPUSA has a solid and proud history of struggle for the cause of the working class and socialism, and, in my view, neither RoS nor my criticism of that document could in any way diminish, much less deny, the heroic role the CPUSA has played, both in the USA and internationally, in defense of the international working class and its ideology and worldview, Marxism-Leninism. Nor should my criticisms of the theses advanced in RoS, despite its sharp language, be interpreted as a personal attack on the author of the document, who has a clear history of struggle in defense of the working class.

The discussion here is not about organizations and individuals, but about concepts, ideas and the science of Marxism-Leninism. We are well aware of the international ideological pressures on the Communist movement to relinquish its revolutionary worldview. Many have succumbed to these pressures and many are still trying to stay the course. We are also well aware of the weaknesses in the past of our failure to advance Marxism-Leninism as the most advanced science of our times. Any effort to advance this science is well justified, including that of the author of RoS. But, by the same token, any criticism of such an effort is also justified, for the sake of science, for the sake of the working class and socialism. It is my sincere hope that this article is seen in this light and nothing else. I take this opportunity to gratefully acknowledge friends and colleagues who offered far-reaching, helpful criticisms of earlier drafts. Any remaining errors of fact or analysis are mine alone.

—Edward Drummond, January 25, 2006

A. The Soviet Downfall and the New Revisionism

Today the Communist parties are being shaken by powerful struggles for direction, whether the Communist Refoundation in Italy, the Communist Party in Austria, the DKP in Germany, or in France, the Communist Party. Everywhere there are debates about the program content and the party line … the defeat of socialism in the Soviet Union has thrown the European Communist parties into a deep crisis. I emphasize European, however. The spirit of struggle in India, in Latin America, in the Near East and South Africa and other regions of the capitalist world is unbroken…. We have not only lost the political battle for socialism, but also the world outlook of our understanding of history…. Petty bourgeois ideology has penetrated into scientific socialism. — Hans Holz, January 2005

Hans Holz, the German Communist philosopher, called his recent article: “Directions of Struggle Must Be Worked Out: an Analysis. Two Lines in One Party? About the Programmatic Dispute in the European Communist Parties.”[1] Holz declared that the unresolved ideological issues stemming from the downfall of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European socialist states in 1989-91 are the occasion of the “powerful struggles for direction.” Holz might have added “the United States” as another land in which Communists, thrown into crisis by the lasting impact of the Soviet collapse, are shaken by “struggles for direction,”[2] Warning against “false ‘renewal’ slogans,” Holz declared the struggle for direction “must be fought out and not hidden under a seeming agreement.” On the surface, the struggles for direction may appear to involve other matters. In European Communist parties, the right current (that is, revisionist) and left current (that is, revolutionary) often seem to contend on the stance toward the European Union.[3] In America, too, revisionism, with a new lease on life since the dismantling of the USSR, clashes with Leninism, but on somewhat different battlefields.

Although he cites the Communist movement’s failure to come to terms with the downfall of socialism in Europe, Holz does not spell out concretely the theoretical tasks that a struggle against revisionism must entail. Building on his seminal insight, the following reflections try to extend it to the USA, to look at the nature of revisionism, to shine a light on the content and causes of the latest right deviation in the US Communist movement expressed in the new document Reflections on Socialism, to situate the new ideological crisis historically, and to suggest practical remedies and theoretical work necessary to ensure that the struggle for direction is settled in favor of revolutionary Marxism-Leninism.

Holz calls for waging an offensive struggle both against “petty bourgeois ideology” and the consequences of the downfall of socialism. The struggles for direction are unavoidable fights, he states, a “necessary clarification and cleansing” to give the goal of socialism a solid organizational foundation. He points out that, with neo-liberalism on the offensive for decades, and particularly since 1989-1991, the various Communist parties have assumed a defensive posture. That posture, much in favor in the US where the ultra-right/Bush threat is not imaginary, is the starting point for all political discussions on the Communist left. Holz notes the limitations of this posture.

The prerequisite for winning the uncertain masses that are searching for an orientation is complete openness and radicalism. Not by emphasizing their uncertainty but rather by a militant presentation of an alternative which proves itself on the terrain of class struggle. There can be a long period of drought for a party, but without this readiness, it will not break open the system.[4]

Holz claims the 1989-91 disasters for socialism in Europe set in motion a long-running ideological crisis in the Communist movement in imperialist countries. Naturally, in imperialist countries revisionist thinking always has deeper material roots than in nationally oppressed lands. For Western Europe and the US, the downfall in Eastern Europe was particularly traumatizing. Socialist Eastern Europe included industrially developed areas such as the GDR, Czechoslovakia, and much of the USSR, considered a template in some respects for eventual western European and US socialism. Of course, the western half of the continent was bound to suffer far fewer starting handicaps in socialist construction than the eastern half, for political and economic reasons.

The ideological crisis lingers because the dismantling of Soviet socialism, as presented by the Western media, enormously strengthened pre-existing revisionist tendencies in the Communist movement in Western Europe and the US. These currents, often latent, have to this day hardly been confronted, let alone defeated. Promoted for seven years by an adoring Western imperialist media, Gorbachev revisionism left its mark on many Communists in Europe and the US. By degrees, it transformed their politics into reformism. This was possible because Marxist-Leninists failed to respond swiftly and properly to the needs of the historical moment. Despite the great explanatory power of Marxism-Leninism, they failed to offer a timely explanation for the calamitous drama of perestroika, when opportunism in socialist construction evolved into a conscious dismantling of socialism. Revisionism filled the explanatory vacuum and, step-by-step, altered the political consciousness of many Western Communists. They accepted the revisionist analysis — against their political education and against mounting facts. They more or less consciously concluded that that Soviet society had sunk into crisis because of its “Stalinist” past, that it needed more markets and less plan, that it needed a “free” media, and that the CPSU was the problem and not the solution. To make matters worse, revisionist views were strengthened by the anti-Communist Celebration of the 1990s, which claimed the last nail had been hammered into the coffin of the “command” economy and “state” socialism. Over that dreary decade, many Western Communists drew the conclusion that the Gorbachev analysis was not wrong, only that Gorbachev had arrived too late.

Had Marxist-Leninists measured up to the moment, the impact of the Soviet collapse ,at least on the ideological level, would have been far less. In 1914, by contrast, a ready and convincing explanation was at hand when the Second International collapsed. The Bolsheviks had been writing about its opportunist trend for years. In 1991, no ready explanation was at hand, except the main bourgeois and social reformist one: that Soviet socialism’s fall was due to a lack of democracy and overcentralization. Some Communists reasoned: had socialist democracy been stronger, had Soviet society been less warped, had Soviet workers defended socialism, reform might have succeeded. Not ready to say so publicly at first, revisionist Communists concluded that the reformist “democratic” critique of the USSR was correct. Accordingly, they elevated social reformism, formerly seen as a harmful ideological competitor, to an indispensable new ally.

B. What Revisionism Is

From its birth the Communist movement has battled ideological competitors. Briefly, from 1848 to 1890s, that is, in the first four or five decades of scientific socialism, founders Marx and Engels fought the petty bourgeois socialism of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, the reformism of the trade unionist Ferdinand LaSalle, and the anarchism of Russian Michael Bakunin. In the next phase, after Engels’ death in 1895, opportunism in theory re-emerged, this time within the Marxist movement, openly by Edward Bernstein in his Evolutionary Socialism. Amidst the war crisis of August 1914, Karl Kautsky, Rudolf Hilferding, Otto Bauer, Victor Adler and the like in other belligerent capitalist countries joined Bernstein. Reformist social democracy was born. Third, in 1925-1928, after the Bolshevik Revolution in the late New Economic Policy (NEP) period, with Soviet Russia’s production restored to prewar levels by the tCPSU’s temporary policy of fostering state capitalism, Trotsky and Bukharin, represented left sectarianism and right opportunism, respectively. Each accommodated the vacillating petty bourgeoisie. Bukharin shrank from the hard task of socialist construction in the encircled USSR, for it required an immense upheaval in the countryside to make agriculture more efficient. Trotsky declared building socialism to be impossible without a West European revolution. Fourth, after 1945, with the spread of socialism to a number of Eastern European countries, new rightist tendencies emerged. The CP of Yugoslavia, having led an anti-fascist national war of the peoples of the southwest Balkans, a war that grew over into socialist transformations, began to accommodate the multi-class nature of the liberation movement and adopted petty bourgeois economic policies such as “self-management” socialism.

Classically, near the end of the 19th century, before Frederick Engels’ body had time to grow cold in its grave, the father of revisionism, Edward Bernstein, rushed into print claiming that socialism was not a socioeconomic formation that replaced capitalism, but a moral and ethical ideal. Bernstein’s revisionism attacked Marxism openly and across the board. Modern forms of revisionism, more subtle and stealthier, focus on rejecting the basic laws of the transition from capitalism to socialism and socialist construction. Modern revisionism concentrates greater attention on the questions of a socialist ideal, a model of ‘true’ socialism, which opens up the fresh prospects for a better life for mankind.

Eurocommunism, for example, more realistic than mainstream social democracy, understood how weak reformist parties are, and tried not to throw out the strong discipline of a Communist Party, at least not completely. One scholar defined Eurocommunist notions of party structure in this way:

The necessary changes can be implemented within the existing communist party model…. The new approach finds expression in three essential points. First, the idea that a communist party is by definition a vanguard — that is, that every communist party must have the vanguard role — is abandoned…. Second, it is now allowed that the communist party should share this role with certain other political forces…. Thirdly, the political implications of the role of vanguard are now interpreted in an essentially different fashion … there is now is now much more emphasis on its obligations…. The new approach has been fairly comprehensively formulated by Santiago Carrillo in his book Eurocommunism and the State.[5]

The final three decades of European socialism saw several major crises triggered by revisionist advances, and the gradual strengthening of the worst tendencies in the CPSU. In the 1956 Hungarian Counterrevolution, Imre Nagy declared that NEP was the economic “model” for Hungarian socialism.[6] In 1968 a major element of the crisis that compelled Warsaw Pact intervention was the increasing power of revisionists in the Czechoslovakian CP. In Soviet politics, the erratic Khrushchev (1953-64) eased up on the clear class approach to ideology, Party development, and socialist construction of his predecessors, and managed to set in motion a rebirth of the second (private) economy in the USSR. Both reflecting and promoting those reborn private interests, the most devastating and the fatal case of Soviet revisionism was Gorbachev in 1987-91.

In the Communist movement, revisionism is no curse word standing for political heresy, as the cruder anti-Communists contend. Revisionism distorts history, conjures up false “facts,” and misrepresents Marxist-Leninist theory to support the goal of taming it, so that, once revised, it will no longer threaten the capitalist order. Posing as “creative development of theory,” revisionism uses any number of techniques of distortion to obtain such results.

What is creative development and what is revisionism? Immediately the quarrel begins. Marxism-Leninism is a science; therefore, it needs to develop and to take into account “the new.” An ideal example of genuine creative development is the theoretical work of Lenin who sketched a profound and scientific theory of imperialism, the era of monopoly capitalism. His theory was built on the prescient insights of Marx and Engels concerning the Laws of the Concentration and Centralization of Capital. He took into account “the new,” found in the work of such bourgeois and leftwing writers as J. A. Hobson, Rudolph Hilferding, and Nikolai Bukharin.[7] Lenin integrated “the new” into revolutionary Marxism. He did not jettison its overall theoretical framework or its class partisanship. He extended the range of its explanatory power.

In precise Communist usage, revisionism is a political and ideological trend in the working class movement whose supporters, claiming to “renew,” “reconsider,” and “revise,” Marxist-Leninist theory, distort it, and objectively take away its class-struggle and revolutionary essence. It is easier to define revisionism than to uncover it, for its practitioners employ verbal sleight of hand and willful ambiguity.

When we speak of fighting opportunism, we must never forget a characteristic feature of present day opportunism in every sphere, namely, its vagueness, its amorphousness, elusiveness. An opportunist by his very nature will always evade taking clear stand. He will always seek a middle course, he will always wriggle like a snake between two mutually exclusive points of view and try to ‘agree’ with both and reduce his difference of opinion to petty amendments doubts innocent and pious suggestions, and so on and so forth. — Lenin[8]

Historically, revisionism pursues well-established paths. The most predictable, perhaps, is to gut the concept of “democracy” by depriving it of its class content.[9]Accordingly, revisionism concentrates its first fire — so to speak, its artillery barrage preceding the ground onslaught — at the notion of class struggle by substituting classless “democratic struggle” for class struggle. This arises in almost all occurrences of revisionism, and is perhaps the most important revision from which others flow. In imperialist countries, monopoly restricts democracy “all along the line,” as Lenin noted. Revisionism seeks to become acceptable to the capitalist order by looking upon the attributes of bourgeois democracy, slightly improved, as the determining features of socialism.[10] The idealization of the formal principles of bourgeois democracy enables revisionism to substantiate its renunciation of the class struggle.[11] In place of class struggle, revisionism seeks to substitute classless “democratic struggle.” This course has the added appeal that it builds on a democratic movement that already exists. In imperialist countries the working class movement is developed, has won some rights, and resists the restriction of democracy. Lenin observed:

Political freedom, democracy, and universal suffrage remove the ground for the class struggle, we were told, and render untrue the old proposition of the Communist Manifesto that the workingmen have no country. For, they said, since the will of the majority prevails in a democracy one must neither regard the state as an organ of class rule nor reject alliances with the progressive reform bourgeoisie against the reactionaries.[12]

Revisionism, opportunism expressed in changes in theory, is a justification of unnecessary retreat before the class enemy. In capitalist countries, it mainly precedes and causes reformist degeneration of once-revolutionary Communist parties. In countries building socialism, where classes and class outlooks persist for a long time (and can re-grow) opportunism usually takes the form of an accommodation (rather than struggle) with capitalism, domestic and foreign.[13] Revisionism’s traditional target is Marxism-Leninism’s partisan commitment to a working class outlook, to class analysis, to working-class victory in the class struggle. Revisionism is deception as well as error. All political leaderships err. All miscalculate. All of them must make estimates subject to incomplete information. In Communist parties, collective leadership is one guarantee against errors of underestimation and overestimation and helps ensure all-sidedness. Another safeguard is Marxist–Leninist theory, tested by history and international practice and discussion, which is supposed to enable Communist leaders to sift through a mass of ephemeral information and determine the most important facts. When the international situation or domestic situation changes rapidly, at moments of crisis, erroneous estimates can easily be made. Theory is a guide to strategy and tactics, to the identification of priority tasks.[14] There must be a constant process of self-correction to offset one-sidedness. Error can only be knownex post. Parties of a new type make a priority the development of theory as a bulwark against incorrect estimates.

To justify reformism, revisionists must transform revolutionary theory into its opposite. This is a daunting task; for Communist leaders to do it unnoticed by their own party requires a virtuoso literary performance. The desired metamorphosis is from revolution, a qualitative transformation of society requiring the displacement of the capitalist class by the working class as ruler of society — to reformism that leaves capitalist property and capitalist state power intact. From class analysis — to classless “democratic struggle;” from class struggle — to class harmony; from a disciplined vanguard party of a new type, which seeks to rebuff opportunist pressures, to a “pluralist” party of the old type, which embraces expediency; from a struggle to win state power — to a campaign for public office.[15]

Opportunism — giving in to expediency in political action — underlies revisionism — giving in to expediency in political theory. Communists define opportunism (or right opportunism)[16] in essence as an unnecessary and unprincipled retreat under the pressure of a class adversary. In day-to-day struggle retreats are sometimes necessary, so the question of necessity always hinges on the actual balance of forces and a realistic assessment of conditions, on whether a retreat lays the groundwork for a later advance or whether it is just an easy way out. Retreats are sometimes necessary in politics and in war. But opportunism and revisionism are never justifiable.

Revisionism evinces a similar pattern whenever it has appeared. Revisionism arises inside the Communist movement. Its proponents revise Communist theory to move from revolutionary to reformist positions.

Revisionism [is] an opportunist trend hostile to Marxism, but acting on its behalf in the workers revolutionary movement. It got its name from the fact that it reconsiders, revises the Marxist doctrine, its revolutionary program, strategy and tactics…. Revisionism masks the renunciation of Marxism with talk about the necessity of taking into account the latest developments in society and the class struggle. [Revisionists] in effect play the role of peddlers of bourgeois reformist ideology within the Communist movement.[17]

To identify revisionism, old and new, as a “petty bourgeois ideology” does not mean it has been authored by a peasant or a shopkeeper. Petty bourgeois ideologues “do not get beyond the limits which the latter [the petty bourgeoisie] do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions to which material interest and social position drive the latter practically.”[18] It means that certain political ideas express the outlook and interests of social groups intermediate between the capitalist class and the working class. There are large “middle strata” in the US, not to mention huge sections of the working class unorganized and politically backward. Those who join the CP are not immune to the influence of the middle strata.

It may be useful to distinguish the circumstances used to justify revisionism, (the “new” phenomenon, real or alleged, that must be “taken into account”), the motive of revisionism (the more or less conscious reasoning process of those eviscerating revolutionary theory) and the causesof revisionism (largely material: imperialism, the corruption of sections of the labor movement, recent defeats and the resulting demoralization, etc.).

C. Reflections on Reflections on Socialism (RoS)

Under a microscope, revisionism has an unmistakable DNA pattern. One can detect revisionism by comparing new political formulations to revisionism’s classic forms such as the writings of Edward Bernstein, and recent forms such asEurocommunism, and the Committees of Correspondence (CoC). Revisionism as exemplified by RoS shows a striking kinship to these because it has the same ideological, material and class roots. Since 1991, however, new feature has also been added to revisionism, namely, ill will toward socialism as it actually developed in the 20th century.

On the other hand, the shortcomings and mistakes in the political, economic, and cultural fields, not to mention the egregious and indefensible crimes against the Soviet people and Soviet socialism during the Stalin period, were so serious that in the end, the Soviet Union (and the Eastern European states) collapsed with barely a word of protest from their citizens or ruling parties. All of this — along with the conditions, challenges and sensibilities of our own time — must be soberly studied and appropriate lessons drawn in order to construct a compelling vision of socialism going forward.
[19]

RoS searches for common ground with reformism by lyrically enumerating shared ideals: “They want a little heaven on this earth…. Our skies, oceans, lakes, and rivers would be blue and pollution free .”[20] RoS’s ideas on party organization also strikingly resemble Eurocommunism,which has ravaged the Italian, French, British and other European Communist parties.

In its content, RoS mostly reflects the distinctive patterns of US revisionism. But, as Holz has suggested, the circumstances of the new revisionism come from an international shortcoming: the slowness of the Communist movement to arrive at a thorough assessment of the downfall of socialism in the USSR and Eastern Europe. In the US, revisionism’s comeback (perhaps persistence is a better word) stems from peculiarities of the CPUSA situation as well. In [the eyes of the revisionist current in the] CPUSA today, the circumstances, i.e., “the new” is said to be twofold: the downfall of socialism and the unprecedented strength of the ultra-right represented by Bush.[21]

In the US, a rough-and ready yardstick to recognize and measure revisionism is the following test: does a given political idea entail a change froma pro-struggle position to a non-struggle, or anti-struggle, or less-struggle position? Then, certain of revisionism’s typical forms in American conditions, present in the current revisionist tendency within the CPUSA, come into focus: a shift to social reformist beliefs and language (for example, “Bill of Rights Socialism”); a playing down of the centrality of the African-American equality struggle; insistence that the Democratic Party is the only realistic electoral vehicle for opposition to the ultra-right; a more relaxed attitude to Party rules regarding democratic centralism; a dwindling commitment to ideological struggle against opportunism and class collaboration; an overestimation of the odds of peaceful and intra-constitutional modes of transition to Socialism USA; an overemphasis on the nationally specific aspects of the country’s path to revolution. The introduction of concepts of “socialism” that equate the transition to socialism with the election of a left government, rotating into and out of office, while monopoly capital’s class power remains undisturbed.

As a public discussion document, RoS is fair game for public comment. It is aimed at circles in and beyond the Communist Party, especially reformist currents of public opinion. Purportedly a personal essay, it was not formally placed before the convention. Had an attempt been made, there might have been a battle. Showing the birthmarks of a speech to an academic reformist audience,[22] its thesis is that the time is right, despite the urgency of the struggle against Bush and the ultra-right, to bring discussion of socialism “into the public square.” Forestalling disagreement, it preemptively lays out revisionism-friendly rules of discussion (“Let no one set himself up as a defender of Marxism-Leninism” and “we can’t simply repeat what Marx and Engels said,” “[Let us] discourag[e] … the practice of political labelling.” It tendentiously surveys the Marxist classics, on the lookout for reasons to be “creative.” It argues that socialism is “more necessary.” It surrenders ideological territory to reformism on such issues as socialism and democracy, and on socialism and values. It forsakes the language of class analysis for fashionable neologisms: “core constituencies,” “sites of struggle,” “actors” and “ruptures.” It speculates on socialism’s reversibility, and it overstates national specifics and the chances of a peaceful transition to socialism.

In the section on the “Day After,” RoS apologizes for Communists’ purportedly mistaken “assumptions” on repression, on the planning of the economy, and on revolutionary leadership. It distances the CPUSA from 20th century socialism by derisive references.[23] It singles out for praise a new book by a veteran anti-Communist Sovietologist.[24] RoS has mainly an external audience, hence its difference from the Draft Program (DP) in tone, vocabulary, frankness, and choice of topics. RoS, un-debated and un-voted on in Chicago though distributed there as a glossy brochure, has now been forwarded to the whole world Communist movement.

The manner in which RoS emerged was extraordinary.[25]One cannot imagine a previous top CPUSA leader going before the Harrington Social Democrats[26] to preview themes to be aired later in the Communist Party. RoS has bolder formulations than the DP, the most important document to come out of the Chicago convention.[27] The DP is more important because, governing the whole party for years to come, the new program will be the baseline from which further revisionist ideas and policies emerge. Its words can be invoked to justify them. RoS, if less important, is more extreme, and in it, perhaps, one more readily glimpses the terrain of the coming fight. It signals the ideological direction in which its author[28] plans to go. RoS adopts the reformist analysis of the causes of the Soviet collapse, unlike the DP, which is agnostic.[29] RoS is more anti-Soviet — falsifying Soviet history and repentant about the Communist movement.

[30] In its vision of Socialism USA, the RoS is to the right of the DP on public ownership and planning.[31] RoS is bolder about the non-class character of the state, even implying that a revolutionary US regime would not direct the media, but instead leave that task to lower levels of government[32] The RoS repudiates the vanguard role of the Communist Party even more emphatically than the DP does.[33] RoS embraces reformist positions wholeheartedly in places, whereas the DP is silent on reformism, and the former programs of the CPUSA criticized reformism.[34] Above all, RoS is worse than the DP in conflating class struggle and democratic struggle.[35]

For example, on the racist special oppression of African-Americans — a lasting blindness of US reformism and in 1919 a key principle on which the Communist Party broke with the Socialist Party — RoS sidles up to the reformist camp with lofty phrases about racism in general, and national oppression in general but it ignores the centrality of racism against African-Americans, and it de-links that racism from corporate superprofits.[36] Revisionism, of course, would scoff at such criticism, and it would assert that its opponents are locked into old “dogmatic” formulations when “new circumstances” demand new approaches, for example, the fact that the “Latino” category in the latest decennial Census returns is now somewhat larger than the “African-American” category. Of course, Marxist-Leninist science must take into account the changing composition of the nationally oppressed peoples and nationally oppressed workers in the US, but the political conclusions to draw are not determined only by dubious quantitative considerations. Even if the Census Bureau category of “Latino” — a diverse cultural-linguistic category that is, in part, a statistical fiction, not a national group — is now somewhat larger than the category of “African-American,” racism directed specifically against the African-American people, the national community that is the most consistent foe of the ultra-right, is for a number of historical reasons qualitatively and uniquely pivotal to the forces of reaction in the US. Witness the strenuous attempts by the Republican Party to cultivate conservative Latino voters but to suppress the African-American vote. If the special oppression of African-Americans is not “central,” how does one explain the Bush Administration’s criminal neglect toward hundreds of thousands of African Americans in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina? No one believes that Latinos or Asian-Americans would have received the same treatment.

Finding irresistible such words and phrases as “counterhegemonic” and “theoretical adequacy of unipolarity,” RoS makes a pretentious show of wide reading, with abundant citations of reformist intellectual heroes.[37] RoS focuses on the “day after the revolution,” in Marxist-Leninist theory the transition period from socialism to Communism, i.e., after the winning of state power. RoS wishes to effect a conjuncture with reformism on the most favorable ground, by pointing out common ideals. Presumably its author believes the Party membership’s differences with reformism on the path to revolution are still substantial. And they are; even sleight of hand cannot hide that fact. The DP’s job is to convince the CPUSA to pursue a reformist strategy. RoS wishes to assure reformists and the public that the CPUSA is headed in their direction. Hence, the division of labor between the two. The shift to reformism in these two documents is not yet complete, but it is far advanced.

It is altogether fitting for a Communist leader to go before a reformist conference and offer a Communist analysis, and to expand on such a talk in a discussion document for a wider public. Communists are duty-bound to seek joint action with social reformists for example to restrain the arms race, to end US imperialist aggression, to oppose racism and neocolonialism. Further, Communists must seize every possibility to join with masses of working people still under the sway of reformism but ready to act alongside Communists.[38] A Communist discussion document should patiently and respectfully explain (because honest people do hold reformist views and they must be won over) the strength of and scientific character of Leninist analysis, and the weakness of reformist analysis.

RoS does no such thing. As Holz pointed out, and as RoSexemplifies, the calamitous events of 1989-91 are the stimulus for the new assertiveness of revisionism internationally. Starting with the “lack of democracy and overcentralization” theory,[39] RoS enumerates Communist false “assumptions” held before 1989-91. This is the “new experience” requiring revisions of Marxist-Leninist theory. Full of groveling apologies for the Communist movement, RoS moves away from Leninism while at every turn quoting Lenin. RoS is ashamed of 20th century socialism and the CPUSA’s sectarian errors, (not the opportunist ones). It goes further than a unilateral ideological armistice with reformism. It seeks to merge reformism and revolutionary Marxism. But RoS walks a fine line: it wants to romance social reformists, but it is trying not to upset or to enrage Communists.

The intentions of the RoS author in producing a deceptive document to fool the membership and to cloak reformism with Marxist phraseology studded with Lenin and Dimitrov citations, are of little importance.[41] But there can be no doubt that this new revisionist document is a conscious endeavor to purposefully obfuscate through carefully crafted ambiguity and sophisticated verbal trickery. To Communists, RoS wants to seem Communist, but to have its Communism plausibly deniable to the reformists. To the reformists RoS wants to seem reformist, but to have its reformism plausibly deniable to the Communists. RoS wants to create an optical illusion, a Necker Cube, an image of a cube whose corners seem to be projecting upward and outward, or else projecting downward and inward, depending on how the eye and brain choose to view it. When one stares at a Necker Cube for a while, the cube seems to flip its orientation between two possible interpretations. The conclusion is inescapable that its author thinks that, by nudging the CPUSA rightward with new programmatic formulations and new alliances,[42] over time he can recreate the party as essentially reformist.[43]

When elements of the CPUSA successor leadership quietly changed their politics, their goal became, as soon as they were free to do so, to move to reformist positions without seeming to move to reformist positions, until conditions were more favorable. Going public in 2005 may signal they believe the time is ripe. Thus, the split in the US Communist movement between the CPUSA and the CoC was only the first US manifestation of the right versus left split in the world movement. The rightwing ideas remained and were evidently privately held by some who stayed with the CPUSA. Gus Hall, with his prestige, kept the organization intact in the 1990s, but the debates were merely deferred, not concluded. Now that Hall is gone, those who came to hold reformist views are making their move, having been augmented by the returned erstwhile members of the Committees of Correspondence who have strengthened the internal rightwing tendency.

Though certainty is impossible, one can make reasonable inferences about inner thought processes and motives. Why would anyone think the way forward is to shift rightward to shake hands with the social reformists? In no particular order of importance: it seems the ideological shift conforms to their analysis of the Soviet collapse. The shift reflects a view that rightward movement will enhance party growth.[44] It reflects surrender to the pressure of surrounding bourgeois ideology and a loss of class moorings. It reflects lost confidence in the working class, a loss of belief in Marxism-Leninism as a science. It is easier to coalesce with reformism that to unite Marxist-Leninist science with the working class. It is the path of least resistance. It reflects new illusions about the system’s strength and an underestimate of revolutionary potential. It confers respectability. It reflects the socialist despair of the 1990s. The politics of despair is expressed in the Convention Keynote in such comments about US working class attitudes as: “You’d need more than that [“asking the people to blindly trust the democratic sensibilities of the governing party or parties” — author] and a nickel to get a cup of coffee and a fair hearing on socialism in most working-class neighborhoods where democratic sentiments and traditions — not to mention mistrust of government — are deeply embedded.”[44]

In each country, revisionism has objective and subjective roots. Every revisionist episode in the US Communist movement has had its own signature. After the Browder debacle, briefly resulting in Party liquidation, the fullest manifestation of revisionism in CPUSA history, William Z. Foster and other Communist leaders identified the ideas typical of revisionism within the US Communist movement.[45] Many are in full view today: rejection of Marxist theory of the class struggle; rejection of Marxist-Leninist theory of the state and idealization of bourgeois democracy; rejection of Marxist-Leninist theory of the national and colonial question, especially with respect to the Negro [sic] people; rejection of dialectical materialism and dropping the struggle against hostile ideologies. According to Foster, revisionism seeps into the Party at certain predictable moments. Foster attributed Earl Browder’s arch-revisionism to a conjuncture of US capitalist strength and socialist weakness, that, is of: A) “a period of American imperialist illusions and upswing,” especially when coupled with: B) setbacks for socialism. In 1945 Foster argued such a pattern was first seen in the Roaring ’20s, when Jay Lovestone’s theory of “American Exceptionalism” took root. Lovestone’s doctrine declared that A) booming US capitalism had become so strong and “progressive” that it was no longer subject to general Marxist laws governing capitalism, while B) rival Bolshevik leaders publicly warred over revolutionary strategy. Similarly in 1945, Browder wrongly forecast domestic class peace and Big Three (US-UK-USSR) harmony at the moment when: A) the war-enriched US ousted Britain as the main imperialist power, and: B) when the Soviet Union, almost bled white by Nazi invasion, was struggling to rebuild.

The pattern Foster discerned still seems to hold. In the Cold War years of 1956-58, while: A) the US colossus ruled the world economy and: B) amidst McCarthyite repression and Khrushchev’s denunciation of his predecessor, Gates argued for a Browder-like line in the CPUSA.[46] Again, after: A) the long boom of the 1960s, and: B) the uproar over the Warsaw Pact intervention in Czechoslovakia, revisionists Healy and Richmond eventually moved rightward and out of the Party.[47] Then came revisionism’s Perfect Storm in the three disastrous years 1989-91, when the socialist camp in Europe disappeared, and when the US became the lone superpower. It was wholly predictable that a right deviation would appear. And it did. The Committees of Correspondence (CoC), a social reformist breakaway from the CPUSA, were born.

Marx taught that social being determines consciousness.[48] So, in the US, where do revisionist ideas spring from? A short checklist of the material and ideological pressures suggests how potent rightwing forces are on Communists working in US conditions. First, of course, there are opportunist pressures inherent in all class-divided societies, for “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e., the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force.”[49] Second, some opportunist pressures are specific to capitalism’s imperialist stage: the social maneuvering made possible by the loot of empire, for example, the bribing of the upper layers of the working class movement, etc.

Some opportunist pressures are specific to the US, for example, the relatively long stability of capitalism here. American imperialism is the richest and strongest, and its great antagonist disappeared in 1991. For much of the history of US capitalism, special factors held back the development of class consciousness among workers.[50] With monopoly so one-sidedly strong in the US, with the awesome power of the corporate media, with such a weak left, the class and material foundations of right deviations have been strong. After 1991, the morale-building flow of ideas from what remained of the socialist world dwindled. Small Communist parties were thrown back on their own resources. No particular tradition of theoretical prowess exists in the US, unlike Germany. There is no popular memory of recent armed struggle and heroic anti-fascist work, such as that of the Greeks. The lack of immediate revolutionary prospects in the US creates fertile ground for reformism. Culturally, moreover, the American national character bears the marks of pragmatism and American Exceptionalism.[51] Decades of anti-Communist propaganda carry great weight. The influence of such conditions, taken together, can be subtle enough to go unrecognized for a long time. Moreover, the Bush Administration has seemed invincible to many. Since stealing the 2000 presidential election, and turning the jingoism and fear aroused by the September 11, 2001 attacks into grounds for aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for a bogus “global war on terror,” the Bush-Cheney juggernaut has swept its opponents aside and won a substantial measure of popular consent for its brutal foreign and domestic policy. At long last, in the fall of 2005, Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath helped to expose the Administration’s true anti-people nature to millions and caused its woes to mount.

There are opportunist pressures specific to the post-Soviet era, i.e., from 1989-1991 to present. As RoS bears out, the reformist, “anti-Stalinist” theory of the Soviet collapse is axiomatic for the revisionist section of the CPUSA leadership. It is the main “new experience” the RoS is taking account of. Anti-Sovietism, which they were able to withstand before 1991, now can be justified by a ” common sense” appeal to “the facts” of the collapse. Therefore, they settled on the “lack of democracy and overcentralization” explanation.

Finally, there are opportunist factors specific to the CPUSA at this moment. The composition of the CPUSA is weaker than it should be. Its members are workers mostly, but not in basic industry. Steps to correct this have been thwarted: in the 1970s and 1980s plant shutdowns ousted many then-young comrades from basic industry. Its membership is too white. It has too many students, intellectuals, white-collar workers and professionals. Black leaders are scant in top leadership. Generational unevenness arises from the passing away of battle-tested working class veterans from the 1930s and 1940s . The current leaders are people radicalized in the 1960s and 1970s, experienced in largely peaceful antiwar and equality campaigning. They never were tested in fierce industrial organizing struggles, or McCarthyite repression, or in underground work as some immigrant party members have been tested. Today, with anti-Communism replaced by anti-terrorism as the main ruling class ideology, joining the CPUSA does not require heroism. The upheaval of 1989-91 left it two other related problems: 1) loss of intellectual candlepower. More than a few intellectuals deserted to the CoC or dropped out of the radical race altogether and: 2) the fact that some unreconstructed CoCers have been unwisely allowed to return to the fold. There has been poor political training of the members especially since 1991, closed bookstores, or inadequate education of younger members by publications such as Political Affairs, formerly a Communist theoretical and discussion journal, now little more than a magazine of progressive commentary on current events and culture. Party schools for members are infrequent. Club educational work is neglected. Not for nothing did Foster identify the party’s ideological weakness as the prime precondition of the temporary success of Browderism.

Holz’s great insight is that, though the material roots of revisionism are about the same, what is new is that the unresolved theoretical struggle over the explanation of 1989-91 is feeding today’s revisionist current. Until recently, the revisionist tendency within the CPUSA was reluctant to engage in debate about 20th century socialism and the collapse. Two factors prompted delay until now. First, after 1991, most Party members and most leaders remained Marxist-Leninists. The unfavorable political balance made it inexpedient for the new revisionism to declare itself openly. But the cause of the delay goes deeper. In the US, revisionism needed the growing Bush/ultra-right threat (the “new”) as well as the events of 1989-91 (hardly “new,” but the pretense is kept) to supply an external justification to make organizational and programmatic changes at the 2005 Convention that move toward social-democratizing the Party (“We have to take a hard look at what happened in the Soviet Union , and look especially at the history of our own nation, and apply the right lessons.”)[52] In fact such changes are not at all a logical response to a growing ultra-right threat — they represent the opposite, an accommodation to the ultra-right threat.

Revisionism’s puzzling refusal to discuss 1989-1991 and the reason it avoids an explanation of the emergence of the stronger ultra-right are connected. It is no accident that RoS in its first sentence declares the main task to be the defeat of the ultra-right with no explanation of why the ultra-right threat is now growing. Having accepted the reformist analysis of the Soviet collapse, revisionism wants to distance itself from 20th century socialism. But, to state out loud the true reasons for the boldness and recklessness of Bush and the ultra-right — the absence of the Soviet-led socialist camp — would put in a favorable light the revolutionary history it is running away from. An open debate with the anti-revisionist majority wing of the Party about the causes of 1991 would be still more embarrassing, for it would entail a concrete analysis of the Soviet downfall whose chief protagonist was Gorbachev, a Communist who became a social reformist. The profound irony is that opportunist currents in the CPUSA leadership are using the growing ultra-right threat as a basis to argue for opportunist changes in the US party when it was opportunism represented by Gorbachev that caused the Soviet downfall in 1991, and the resulting new, worse world balance of forces that is the precondition of the new Bush threat. This is vicious circularity.

RoS, as its starting premise, vigorously champions an uncritical endorsement of the “lack of democracy and overcentralization” theory. This theory is the main anti-Communist explanation of the dismantling of socialism in the USSR. It is the dominant explanation promoted in imperialist countries since 1991. To accept this false interpretation as self-evident is to import into one’s political analysis assumptions that can only lead to full reformism all along the line. To start with the premise of the USSR as undemocratic and the planned economy as a failure, is to guarantee that the same ideas appear in the conclusions.

The shortcomings and mistakes in the political, economic, and cultural fields — not to mention the egregious and indefensible crimes against the Soviet people and Soviet socialism during the Stalin period — were so serious that in the end, the Soviet Union (and the Eastern European states) collapsed with barely a word of protest from their citizens or ruling parties…. The planning mechanism in these countries adjusted haltingly to changing consumer tastes, produced massive waste, encouraged hoarding of human and material resources, resisted integrating new productive techniques and more efficient production practices into the production process, produced shoddy and unsellable goods, and reduced the role of the working class to passive participants in economic life. —RoS.[53]

The impression given in the sentences above — that the defects of Soviet socialism were the main thing — is false. The theory of the Soviet collapse embedded in RoS is false because it neither corresponds to, nor explains the facts. It is a fallacious “argument from silence.” Apparently unaware of worker resistance that did occur, RoS concludes it must not have existed and therefore to explain the “silence” of the Soviet working class, socialist democracy must have failed. To be sure, socialist democracy was a work in progress (as Soviet writers themselves would be first to admit) but it was vastly superior to “democracy for the few” in capitalist countries.[54] The Soviet planned economy had manifold problems and it needed reform, but its overall record was that of spectacular success. In 1985, it was delivering to the Soviet people growth and the highest living standards ever.[55] Like all revisionism and reformism in modern capitalist society, RoS can get away with the “lack of democracy theory” as its premise because it has the wind at its back: it can take advantage of the all-pervasive anti-Communist presumptions embedded in the surrounding bourgeois political culture to make its case. One can make do with half-remembered impressions from a daily reading of the New York Times in 1985-91, a paper which would have few problems with the RoS “theory.”

The “lack of democracy” theory is the more important part of the new US revisionism, but its dim view of socialist central planning also deserves a few words. A full treatment is beyond the scope of this essay. The debate centers on contemporary People’s China. RoS sees the “socialist market economy” as a positive, necessary development, the correct socialist economic path at last discovered after a seven-decade detour. The central planning of the USSR and other socialist states was “premature” and therefore came to grief. RoS adopts the viewpoint of the US journal Nature, Society, and Thought, which has been pushing the “socialist market economy”(SME) as the universal model of future socialist economic development, rejecting much of the 20th century central planning experience.[56] In reality, the “socialist market economy” in China is the continuation of the opportunist policy China has pursued since the early 1970s. Before 1991, China pursued a political and military strategy against the USSR to win favors from US imperialism. After 1991, with the USSR in ruins, China, still subordinating itself to US capitalism, has pursued aneconomic strategy to win US favors. The other four remaining socialist states in varying degrees have re-introduced private ownership, markets, etc. in a more limited way and unenthusiastically.

In China, opportunism, not necessity, motivates the rightist economic policy. Undeniably, opportunism can reap benefits temporarily, and “temporarily” has lasted a long time in China. In China, the SME policy has led to spectacular growth in the productive forces, but at enormous social cost in worker standards, worker rights, rural misery, and environmental harm, not to mention the joblessness caused in other countries made uncompetitive by sweated Chinese labor. The Chinese SME policy is the Soviet New Economic Policy (1921-1928) writ large, and it risks capitalist restoration. The proponents of SME, many of whom hold “the lack of democracy and overcentralization” theory of the demise of the USSR, overlook the illogic of their own position. To broaden the reach of capitalist relations of production in People’s China is to spread capitalist exploitation, i.e., the private appropriation of unpaid social labor, or in the vernacular, oppression and domination. This is the opposite of socialist democracy: the empowerment of the working people. It is to be welcomed that there have been signs that the new Chinese leadership may be moving in a saner direction.[57] The big test lies ahead. It remains to be seen whether the Chinese CP will be able to tame the mighty capitalist demons it has summoned up from the nether world and to turn back to planning and public ownership.

The lack of democracy and overcentralization thesis in RoSis opportunist. It requires no defense of 20th century socialism, and no concrete study of the facts of the Gorbachev era. The RoS thesis is also hypocritical. It poses as a “left” analysis, for it appears to give the Soviet workers the last word on Soviet socialism: they supposedly didn’t rise to its defense; hence it was not worth saving . The RoS”lack of democracy” theory is idealist, not materialist. Realistic historians, bourgeois or Marxist, reject a method whereby the history of a social order is to be explained by the failure to conform to an external ideal. Moreover, there is no Marxist principle that social classes must follow their true class interests. History is full of examples of classes which under immediate economic , political, and ideological pressures have failed to perceive or have ignored their true class interests, with disaster to themselves.[58] After all, the US electorate voted for Ronald Reagan twice. He got millions of working class votes. Is US bourgeois democracy a nullity, a sham because millions of people voted for Reagan?

The collapse theory embedded in RoS promotes anti-Communism. Anti-Communism of course, is not disagreement with the ideas of Communism, it is “militant, aggressive enmity toward Communism.”[59] The thesis in RoS goes beyond pandering to anti-Communism, which would mean currying favor with a readership that holds anti-Communist prejudices. The theory promotes contempt for and estrangement from the Soviet Union and 20th century socialism, repudiating CPUSA solidarity with 20th century socialism.[60] RoS wants to find common ground with reformism by minimizing the economic and democratic accomplishments of the Soviet Union. With typical equivocation, RoS mentions those achievements, briefly.[61] But what it dwells on is anti-Communist and anti-Soviet themes, “egregious and indefensible crimes,”[62] the socialist states “collapsed with barely a word of protest from their citizens,”[63] “socialism’s less than sterling record in the defense of individual liberties.”[64] RoS, for example, engages in the ritual demonization of Stalin required for membership in the reformist fraternity. For RoS, the word “Stalin” is less the name of a real historical individual than a symbol for everything reformism finds abhorrent about Soviet socialism in its heroic phase. It is not remarkable that decades of anti-Communist, anti-Soviet and a fortiori anti-Stalin “scholarship” and propaganda have left most writers in English-speaking countries cowed and incapable of rational thought on this 20th century historical figure. The remarkable thing is that it comes from the pen of a Communist Party official.

RoS is disfigured by one-sidededness. If one speaks of “egregious” crimes, should one not speak of the Original Sin of social reformism, caving in to jingoism in August 1914, a betrayal that in four years left ten million dead? That opportunist crime — opposed by the Bolsheviks and all left-wing forces — does not come up. Moreover, it never occurs to RoS to offer evidence for the “blame Stalin” theory of the collapse historically, or theoretically, or factually, or in any way at all. That Stalin was a madman and an archfiend, is an a priori postulate and off-limits to discussion. It does not matter that post-Soviet archives have greatly reduced the estimates of the human toll of repression in the Stalin years. It does not matter that the peoples of the USSR revered him in his lifetime, in late Soviet times, and in post-Soviet times.[65] RoS’s view of the Soviet collapse reflects a national chauvinist feature of its American Exceptionalism: those Russians had a nasty, undemocratic, ” Stalinist,” cumbersome socialism, but ours will be democratic and nice.

Most Communist parties, including the CPUSA, fought out these battles in the early 1990s. Now, thanks to the boldness of a handful of revisionists in the leadership, the CPUSA finds itself thrust into the same ideological battle that consumed it in 1991. As Holz notes, this is a trend throughout the imperialist countries. The right deviation never went away because the main ideological question thrown up by 1989-91 was not resolved. True, there was a partial stabilization of CP memberships, party liquidation attempts were overcome, and as the dismal decade wore on, new tasks emerged to preoccupy activists, but the Question of Questions — the cause of the collapse of socialism in Europe — was not resolved. It was deferred. Because this ideological battle was not joined, let alone concluded, because the revisionist ideas were not defeated, the revisionist current continues to assert itself. The astonishing fact is that fifteen years on, few historical materialist studies of 1989-91 have appeared from within the Communist movement.[66]

The first pages of RoS disclose the importance of the Soviet collapse as grounds for the current flare-up of revisionism.RoS simply takes the social reformist explanation as a self-evident starting point for analysis. RoS reasons: The Soviet Union collapsed because of a lack of democracy. The social democrats were right. The role of “democracy” in the struggle for US socialism must be rethought. Communism’s differences with social democracy are not big. The Party should merge with the “broad left.” The CPUSA must be social democratized. Our best allies are the social democrats.

This, of course, implies a theory of the collapse. The present right deviation in certain CPUSA leadership circles is a delayed, second-round reaction to the Soviet collapse and subsequent reassertion of near-absolute US hegemony. The recurrence (or persistence) can be partly explained by the peculiarities of a drawn-out leadership transition. The long-time top Party leader, Gus Hall, held on through the 1990s. Hall had his faults, but putting up with opportunism was not one of them. But a section of the post-Hall leadership is adrift. Since the 1950s the international Communist movement has suffered much damage, in a process that has led to the division and weakening of the Communist parties in many countries of the world. The dismantling of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the ensuing defeat and demoralization resulted in the abandonment by many Communist activists of the revolutionary goal. Some joined social reformist parties. Some stayed in a Communist Party to fight for its transformation into a reformist party. A few in CPUSA leadership, it seems clear, have made the latter choice.

Moods shape political thinking. The CPUSA revisionist current reflects the disastrous state of the US party in the early 1990s. The US Party, long small, became smaller. The new revisionism stems from the trauma and somber mood of the 1990s, the scaling back of hopes, the fear of many activists that perhaps they had wasted their lives on illusory goals. With Marxist-Leninist theory underperforming, it should not surprise anyone that some people were not grounded or surefooted enough to withstand the mood. In defining opportunism, Lenin identified the personality type that succumbed to it:

Very often the word [opportunism] is wrongly regarded as “merely a term of abuse,” and no attempt is made to grasp its meaning…. The [opportunist’s] typical and characteristic trait is that he yields to the mood of the moment, he is unable to resist what is fashionable, and he is politically short-sighted and spineless. Opportunism means sacrificing the permanent and essential interests of the party to momentary, transient and minor interests.”[67]

D. The Main Revisions in RoS

1) Conflation of democracy and socialism; the distortion of revolutionary strategy

It is natural for a liberal to speak of democracy in general; but a Marxist will never forget to ask: for what class? —Lenin[68]

Democracy [is] the opportunity to shape one’s destiny. — RoS[69]

To conflate means to fuse together names or concepts that should be separate and distinct. RoS conflates democracy and socialism. “The struggle for democracy, understood in the broadest sense, is at the core of social progress and socialism,” states RoS, with two weasel-worded formulations. “At the core of” can mean almost anything. So can “understood in the broadest sense.” RoS also states, equivocally, “There is no such thing as a pure class struggle or pure democratic struggle, except at the level of high theory.”

Downplaying class, as RoS does, comes easier in the US than in other capitalist countries. Anti-Communist ideology in the US, taking advantage of the lack of a feudal history, has insisted on America’s classlessness in a special way. Hackneyed notions such as: “America is a middle-class society,” and “while Britain is a class society, the US is not,” still have currency. In the Cold War, overly free use of the phrase “working class” by a US academic risked dismissal. The late Communist leader Gus Hall once wrote perceptively,

Throughout the ages ruling classes have downplayed, covered up, and suppressed the notion that there is any such thing as a class struggle…. Nowhere in the world is it more important to keep this fact in mind than in our country with a ruling class unmatched by any in its efforts to deny that the class struggle exists — especially in our ‘classless’ USA.[70]

The difference between these two concepts, democracy and socialism, reflects a difference of class, class interest, and class outlook. There is the democratic class outlook of the petty bourgeoisie and the socialist class outlook of the working class. As early as 1850, Marx noted the limited class objectives of the petty bourgeoisie. “The democratic petty bourgeois, far from wanting to transform the whole society in the interests of the revolutionary proletarians, only aspire to a change in social conditions which will make the existing society as tolerable and comfortable for themselves as possible.”[71] Revisionism in recent decades made headway in blurring the two, as a Soviet writer noted in 1979, alluding to trends in European Communist Parties.

[The social reformist standpoint’s] recent penetration into political circles close to the revolutionary working class movement lends it a new significance in the world ideological struggle…The bourgeoisie, prompted by its class instinct, has given such views full-scale publicity, encouraging their proponents to subordinate the socialist ideals of the working class to socially abstract, general democratic values.[72]

The distinction matters greatly. Following Lenin’s behest to develop forms of approach to socialist revolution, since the 1930s throughout the developed capitalist world, Communist parties have adopted a two-stage strategy for revolution. The anti-monopoly strategy was suggested, in part, by the temporary success in France and other developed capitalist states in the 1930s, of the Popular Front against fascism, which united the working class and the middle sections of society.

In this strategy first comes the democratic or anti-monopoly phase. It draws multi-class support including the classic petty bourgeoisie (such as peasants, shopkeepers, artisans) and the new petty bourgeoisie, i.e., the new middle strata, (such as highly paid professionals, lower-grade managers, supervisors) and the working class, the largest and the most consistently democratic force. The first stage envisions that all the class forces exploited by state monopoly capital should unite around the working class in a struggle against monopoly.

The second, socialist stage embraces a more advanced goal, the conquest of state power by the working class and the building of socialism. RoS fudges the question of whether the middle layers, who support anti-monopoly democracy, will or will not support socialism. RoS refers to an anti-monopoly stage and a socialist stage, but its main point is the revolutionary process must be marked by steady growth in support. Its thrust is that revolutionary advance depends on support from the middle strata (the petty bourgeoisie). It omits discussion of the exact class composition of each stage and which class leads at each stage.

Anti-monopoly democratic forces are united by common interests, but scientific socialism continues to hold that the conflict between capital and labor is the main contradiction in modern society. “It is rooted in the capitalist formation itself. That between monopoly and the rest of society is in all cases of secondary importance.”[73] According to a former editor-in-chief of World Marxist Review:

It is not enough to state that this base expands in absolute and relative terms to incorporate social groups of varying but largely coincident interests. The precise degree of coincidence must be calculated…. Experience has shown that each democratic social or political victory in the battle with reaction helps revolutionaries reach a more profound, scientific understanding of the correlated democratic and class goals. Yet each achievement also contributes to the myth that capitalist democracy, limitless in its potential, is the one and only way to establish the working class state and to push through socialist economic reforms…. This is the traditional social reformist standpoint. [author’s emphasis] [74]

It is certainly the RoS standpoint. Anti-monopoly democracy cannot provide anything more than the creation of favorable conditions for a subsequent transition to socialism. It is an approach to socialist revolution, but it is not itself the revolution.[75]

For example, the following breathless passage in RoS muddles the concepts of “state” and “government,” drops dialectics for one-dimensional evolutionism, avoids the language of class, denies working class revolutionary leadership (which it affirms elsewhere), and sees the path ahead as characterized by retreats and reversibility, not as stages where revolutionary classes or class coalitions under defined leadership win partial objectives and then move to a more advanced stage.

Periods of advance yield to periods of retreat and vice versa. Shifting alliances form and reform with each side struggling to turn provisional allies into stable ones. New political understandings that accent unity, equality, empowerment, and anti-capitalism compete with and replace the ruling class notions that framed how millions interpreted their world. And electoral and legislative forms of struggle combine with other forms of mass struggle. As the contest for power approaches a decisive break, no class is hegemonic, and control of the branches of government is contested with each power bloc trying to capture the initiative. Much depends on a meltdown in the structures of coercion, and paralysis, if not divisions, within ruling circles. And at each successive stage more millions enter the arena of struggle.[76]

Lenin never elided the class struggle into the democratic struggle, claiming that democratic struggle would evolve into the struggle for socialism. On the contrary, he distinguished between the two, while maintaining their inter-relationship. For him, they were two distinct struggles with different objectives, carried out by different class coalitions under the leadership of a working class led by its revolutionary vanguard. All revisions are not equally important. The question of democratic struggle and its relation to class struggle — is the starting point for many other revisions. Lenin saw democratic struggle as a necessary step in the direction of socialism, not as “the only path” to socialism, as the RoS suggests.[77]

In RoS, the word “left” is used to refer to both to reformists and revolutionaries.[78] Its confusion about what is “center” and what is “left” has far-reaching implications. The “governing left coalition” RoS refers to is clearly a reformist government, for it is prepared to leave office. Unmistakably, therefore, the class character of the state has not changed.[79] This doctrine clashesd with earlier CPUSA programs that have understood the first, anti-monopoly stage of revolution to be one in which there is working class hegemony in the general anti-monopoly movement and that movement, whether in government or not, is struggling to break monopoly’s grip on state power. There is nothing automatic about the process. Anti-monopoly reforms, in and of themselves, cannot transform capitalism into socialism. It is not “a progressive conquest of power.” [80]

The conflation of democracy and socialism in RoS reflects its deeper confusion about the concrete alignment of class forces at each stage of the revolutionary process. In its pursuit of classlessness and its zeal to blur the line between classes, revisionism obscures the borders between revolutionary stages defined by class relations. RoS sees the revolutionary process as a straight-line process of ever-broadening support,[81] which eliminates the qualitative boundary between the anti-monopoly democratic stage and the socialist stage. RoS is correct that at the more advanced stages “more millions enter” the revolutionary movement, but surely it is likely that such masses will be mostly recruited from passive or formerly hostile sections of a gigantic US working class, not so much from the middle strata, only some of whom, through previous struggle, will have learned that their self-interest is bound up with the march toward socialism. Assailing a straw man, RoS proclaims,

Therefore, any notion of the transition to socialism as a purely working-class affair or a project of just the left should be rejected.[82]

Nobody is making either claim. The logic of RoS, again displaying its petty bourgeois nature, is that the US cannot have a socialist revolution without winning over a huge section of the petty bourgeoisie and even, perhaps, parts of monopoly. But the reality is that the working class, broadly defined, is a large majority of the US people, something like 75 percent.[83] There would be, of course, many advantages in having support for anti-monopoly measures in the petty bourgeoisie, but there would be undeniable democratic validity in anti-monopoly reforms and a socialist revolution supported “purely” by the 75 percent working class majority. To an extent not predictable now, the anti-monopoly struggle will change its class participants and the relations between them. “The transition from the democratic to the socialist stage requires not only deep going social economic and political reforms, it requires above all radical change within the coalition of democratic forces when they come to power.”[84]

To achieve this change, working class leadership of the anti-monopoly movement and the later socialist struggle and Communist leadership of the working class will be indispensable. RoS treats the matter of revolutionary leadership by a vanguard party as if it were a question of political decorum, i.e., it is immodest bragging to assert a claim to leadership and to mount a struggle for it. A Communist-led working class must lead. The middle layers are by nature incapable of independent struggle for their social liberation. They constantly waver between the working class and the capitalist class, the two most powerful classes in capitalist society. The variety of conditions, circumstances, and interests among the non-working class sections of the anti-monopoly coalition gives rise to different perceptions of the aims and objectives of the coalition. Classes have a specific relation to anti-monopoly democracy and socialism

How might one stage lead to the other? It is not spontaneous, as RoS suggests with its murky rhetoric.[85]There are class contradictions in the democratic coalition. The growth from the anti-monopoly stage to the socialist stage requires a class struggle by the working people to break monopoly’s stranglehold, and against the vacillating and timid elements in the anti-monopoly democratic coalition that wish to slow down further development of the revolution. There is a difference in principle between the democratic and socialist stages. Revisionist theories obliterate the boundary between the democratic and socialist stages of revolution, and evade the question of a Communist-led working class taking the leading role in both stages.

The exact tactics, the speed of class realignment, the length of each stage cannot be blueprinted. It cannot be known, for example, whether the anti-monopoly movement will take on a unitary organizational form, or perhaps the form of a coalition of political parties around an anti-monopoly program. Even the issue of whether an anti-monopoly alliance will achieve federal government power, or exert its influence on developments through other forms, is something for the future to determine.[86]

The Communist-led working class must struggle to change the democratic coalition, qualitatively and quantitatively, and lead it to carry the fight further. The sequencing of struggles is crucial and must be carried out with an eye to the question of state power. An anti-monopoly coalition must defend and extend traditional bourgeois democracy such as civil rights, civil liberties, and Constitutional freedoms. But it must also win new democratic demands with policies that loosen monopoly’s grip on state power.[87]

RoS gives up on a precise class analysis of the stages of a revolutionary process.[88] Many objective trends in the development of state monopoly capitalism are favorable to forging an anti-monopoly alliance. The working class, broadly defined, is growing as a percentage of society. The growing “new” middle layers are more akin to the working class than the old, “classical” middle layers. There is a trend toward the absolute and relative reduction of the numbers of petty bourgeoisie in the economically active population. There is a trend toward an increase in the semi-proletarian elements among the intermediate strata. There is a trend toward an increase in the weight of salaried persons in the general structure of the middle classes.[89] State monopoly capitalism is extending the objective preconditions for an alliance between the working class and the middle classes, but this does not mean that all the working and exploited masses are fully conscious of the vital importance of this alliance and display a firm resolution to sustain it.”[90]

It is not enough to say that the social status gap between the intermediate strata and the proletariat is, according to many parameters, narrowing, that given the democratic rein of his own free will, the petty bourgeois will certainly join with the worker on the road to socialism. For in fact their economic interests like those of the pre-revolutionary Russian peasants, are highly contradictory, a tangle of pro- and anti- socialist sentiments. Moreover, and this must not be overlooked, social forces inevitably regroup as the democratic phase of the struggle comes to a close and direct socialist transition approaches. The democratic and the socialist movements have different social bases — nothing can change this hard cold fact.[91]

2) Denial of the class nature of the capitalist and socialist state

Socialist states should resist the problematic idea that rights should be curtailed.[92] — RoS

RoS nowhere speaks plainly of state power. Yielding still more ideological territory to social reformism, it always uses some hazy euphemism open to two interpretations to duck the issue of whether it is speaking of holding government office like reformists, or winning working class state power like revolutionaries. Thus, we read “when the revolutionary forces hold powerful positions in the government apparatus,” and “on the day after the transfer of power,” and so on.[93] Such phrases in RoS underestimate the need to break up the monopoly capitalist state, a bastion of monopoly power which bourgeois democracy disguises, protects and consolidates, having had centuries to perfect its methods. When popular movements take on monopoly capital, its representatives do not sit around and play checkers in the park. They organize investment strikes. They stir up fanatical rightwing paramilitary groups. They organize assassinations and the military overthrow of governments. Chile in 1973, and Portugal in the late 1970s come to mind. With historical amnesia about the gritty realities of American history and 20th century revolutionary history, RoS declares with complete assurance: “the American people will oppose scrapping the system of checks and balances on concentrated political power, … or dismantling representative political structures,” as if monopoly can be gradually reformed away. A challenge to monopoly power entails a challenge to the continued domination of the ruling class. It sets in motion processes that inevitably move toward a decisive showdown over the nature of the system.

In fact, working class state power, or to use the proper scientific phrase, the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat, will have to restrict the power and rights of the former exploiting classes, just as it expands the power and rights of the vast majority of the people in the same measure. The dictatorship of the proletariat,[94] of course, appears nowhere in RoS even a euphemistic form, such as “working class state power.” Historically, the CPUSA, like all genuine Communist parties, has held that a socialist revolution means the curtailment of the liberties of the exploiters. To hint otherwise, as RoS does, is a flat-out repudiation of Marxist-Leninism.

At one time we believed that as we approached socialism, its support base would narrow…. Just as we insist that the ruling class bow to the wishes of the electorate, we should expect no less if a governing left coalition is defeated at the polls. In the past we didn’t accept this, or did so only grudgingly. But going forward — and not for tactical reasons — we have to say unhesitatingly that the democratic will of the people is paramount. Any resistance to this notion will have very negative repercussions on our prospects of gaining a mass constituency and evolving into a mass party.[95]

The excerpt above puts the revisionism of RoS in plain view. It foresees socialism not as revolution but as a “governing left coalition” which may leave office, i.e., which is reversible, and that its fate is a quantitative matter of votes (or opinion polls, perhaps), and not determined by a qualitative change in the class character of the state. It declares that that the people’s demand that the ruling class acquiesce in such a left coalition government must be repaid by the willingness of that left government coalition to do the same for the party or parties of the ruling class. Bereft of class morality and with a tacit nod to the fairness of formal, idealized bourgeois election processes, RoS hints at the moral equivalence of the political representatives of the exploiters and the exploited.[96] Moreover, its unrealistic premise is that the US ruling class, the most violent in the world, will play by the bourgeois electoral rules on the eve of the election victory of radical opponents. That class doesn’t play by the rules even now. RoS foresees that socialism will come about by an electoral strategy. It states that Party growth depends on playing by the bourgeois election rules.[97]

3) Throwing out the essential Lenin

Finally, as for the role of communists, our mission is not to steer the ship of state.” —RoS[98]

One of the most fundamental of Lenin’s early insights — on which he based the theory of the party of a new type — was that the working class on its own would not develop anything beyond trade union consciousness. To defend the leading role of the working class in the anti-monopoly movement, as RoS does, with the pretence it is a controversial position on the left, does not go one step beyond social reformism. Reformism is content with the leading role of the working class.[99] Leninism goes further and defends the leading role of the Party. That is explicitly repudiated by RoS: “That task [steering the ship of state —author] is the responsibility of a broader left coalition and the broadest possible section of the people.”

Among Lenin’s most important contributions to Marxism was the notion of the leading role or the vanguard role, of the revolutionary Party before, during, and after the revolution. That is devalued in RoS, in a manner that two Soviet writers critiqued:

Right-wing revisionists attack the Marxist-Leninist proposition that the Communist Party is the leading nucleus of the entire political system of socialism, that it is called upon to unite and channel the efforts of public and state organizations toward one goal, to see to it that the entire social system and all its components function normally … [revisionism seeks] the turning of the party from an organizing and guiding force into a ‘leading moral and political force’ and an ‘ideological factor’ and an ‘integral part of the self-administrative system.’ They hold that the party must limit its functions to mere supervision and study of social processes, existing problems and various interests; so that it can determine its stand on particular questions … its stand must be pursued ‘on the strength of its prestige'[100]

Revisionism ignores the fact that the Marxist-Leninist party must play the leading role, not because its leaders wish it, but because socialist revolution and socialist development demand it.[101]

4) American Exceptionalism

In considering forms of transition to socialism, we should be unabashed proponents of our own nationally specific path. RoS[102]

Leninists have always stated that each revolution will follow the general laws of revolutionary change as well as conform to the specifics of each country. Absolutizing the distinctive national characteristics in the path to socialism as against general uniformities of the revolutionary process is an often-used tactic of right deviations. It is a great irony that in shamelessly affirming American Exceptionalism, RoS confirms how predictable US right deviations are.

“Unabashedly” championing American Exceptionalism is a bigger mistake than it may appear to be at first. It is another example of distancing the CPUSA from the Soviet Union and 20th century socialism. It is even a way of distancing the CPUSA from 21st century socialism, for it isolates the US movement from the world movement. A noticeable trend is that US Party positions are moving further away from those of the world Communist movement as expressed in yearly international meetings in Athens.

American Exceptionalism fits well with other revisionist theses. If there is no General Crisis of Capitalism,[103] that is, if US capitalism is exempt from the laws of capitalism as a whole, then the outlook for its stability is bright, and the path to revolution is long. It asserts that capitalism is in crisis around the world and therefore masses elsewhere are moving left, but not in the US. Overstating national distinctiveness helps to call into question Marxism’s insistence on universal features of revolution, such as the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat. In this manner, the path is cleared for the reformist concept of gradual social evolution and “democratic socialism.” American Exceptionalism conforms well with the anti-Marxist thinking about history and revolution. It makes an absolute of the particular and the nationally specific. It fears serious generalizations. It prefers to deal with individual isolated facts.[104] Revisionists make a fetish of specific conditions in individual states. They reject the general laws of socialist revolution. American Exceptionalism lends itself to anticommunism and anti-Sovietism, for the experience of the Russian Revolution is viewed as non-universal.[105]

The CPUSA has already had two bouts of American Exceptionalism — with Lovestone in the late 1920s, who completely overestimated the strength of American capitalism, and with Browder in the mid-1940s who claimed it had a progressive character.

5) Abandonment of the ABCs of Dialectical Materialism

There was a tendency in the communist movement, however, to see values and norms instrumentally. Thus, in the name of fighting the class enemy and building socialism, they were too easily dispensable.
—RoS [106]

RoS exhibits larger ideological shortcomings typical of reformism. It replaces Marxist scientific ethics with “values-based” socialism; it calls for democracy “as an end and a means.” Lenin probably would have called this “abstract moralizing.” Marxism-Leninism teaches that Communists make ethical evaluations of a given action by examining its impact on the class struggle. For example, the notion of a “universal” standard on the death penalty, and more generally, universal moral principles outside of and above the class struggle, is bourgeois idealism. It is reminiscent of the “universal human values” slogan that heralded the ending of class and anti-imperialist partisanship in Soviet foreign policy in 1985-91. There is no inconsistency in US Communists — correctly — opposing the death penalty in the United States because it is racist and anti-working-class, while socialist Cuba acting for its very survival uses the severest penalties, if necessary, to stop the destabilization. The supreme moral duty of the Cubans is to defend their revolution.[107]

Democracy “as an end and as a means” is a repudiation of scientific ethics and serves to win for RoS a place in the establishment. RoS says:

If our values don’t animate the revolutionary process, if the means and methods of socialist construction aren’t reflective of those values, then socialism will concede its most attractive features — humanism and moral superiority — which once lost, are difficult to regain.[108]

Anti-communists have long accused Communists of saying “the end justifies the means.” According to Marxist philosopher Howard Selsam, in reality, the question “does the end justify the means” is too abstract to be intelligently discussed. It is like asking: is any thing worth its price?

The accusation that some people and movements believe ‘the end justifies the means’ is an especially potent instrument for maintaining the status quo. By its very nature it operates to defend the existing order which has a monopoly on ‘the means’ and has no end but its own perpetuation. [109]

RoS abandons dialectics, an indispensable part of Marxism.[110] A revolutionary’s work is to change the world. No revolutionary can dispense with a scientific understanding of the nature of change. Dialectics is a profound doctrine of the nature of change in the material world, society, and thought. RoS views the US path to socialism in a non-dialectical way, as if it were merely the quantitative extension of democracy and not a qualitative leap in democracy. Revisionism replaces the Marxist-Leninist dialectics of social development by primitive evolutionism. It calls for only incremental changes and partial reforms of the capitalist system, instead of a revolutionary break in class rule.

RoS idealizes bourgeois legality. For RoS socialism must be “law-based,” echoing the Gorbachev revisionists word for word. Bourgeois idealization of legality has precious little to do with past American revolutionary reality. Lincoln suspended the right of habeas corpus, and authorized General William Tecumseh Sherman to employ mass revolutionary terror in his March to the Sea through Confederate Georgia. The Jacobins did not idealize legality in 1793-94, nor did the Bolsheviks in 1919-21. To do so panders to anti-Communism which charges that socialist revolution is lawless and leads to tyranny. So does the phrase “Bill of Rights Socialism,” much admired by the present CPUSA leadership.

RoS adopts the stand of bourgeois pacifism. That a transition to socialism without civil war is desirable and possible is a long-held formulation in Communist Party programs. But RoS, with no evidence whatsoever, goes on to forecast it reassuringly (“it may take longer and require compromise, but the people of our country will feel it’s worth it.”). All Communists defend some wars as just: for example, a revolutionary war of national liberation, a civil war to achieve socialist revolution, a defensive war against imperialist attack, an anti-fascist war, and repressive measures against counterrevolution by a besieged socialist state, for example, contemporary Cuba.

Under the pretext of “creative development” RoS jettisons key concepts of scientific socialism such as historical necessity and historical inevitability. Trying to cover its tracks, RoS states “socialism is not just a good idea, but a necessary one [idea].” “Necessity” in Marxist philosophy normally is counterposed to chance. It appears in discussions about the Marxist concept of freedom (“freedom is the recognition of necessity.”) Marxism views social and historical reality, like nature, as law-governed. But “necessity” in RoS is, on inspection, not so necessary. In RoS it denotes moral urgency or stronger desirability. The “new necessity” section is really an attack on historical inevitability. As for the “new” dangers that RoS claims make socialism “more necessary,” none is actually new: the prospect of unending war and mass annihilation; the economic slowdown of the world capitalist economy; environmental degradation; racial, gender, and regional inequalities worldwide; the assault on democracy from the new aggressiveness of world imperialism and the political ascendancy of US neoconservatives. RoS’s real goal is to reject the possibility of putting socialism on a scientific basis and of demonstrating its necessity and inevitability from the point of view of the materialist conception of history, to pour scorn on historical inevitability as its concluding sentence makes clear:

While I’m not saying that we mothball the idea of socialism’s inevitability — an idea, by the way, that we have understood in a too mechanical and too superficial way — I do believe that the notion of socialism as “necessary” has great meaning and mass resonance. [111]

RoS supports pluralism, the notion that more than one political line in a Communist Party is acceptable.[112] Revisionism’s support for “pluralism” in Marxism undermines party unity and a party’s ability to lead.

6) A Longer, Evolutionary Road to Socialism

When the ultimate goal (even in relation to democracy) is pushed further and further away from our agitation, that is reformism. — Lenin[113]

But luckily there are no pressing deadlines that force us to hurry this process. We can be almost leisurely in our discussions because socialism in our country, it is safe to say, is not around the
corner. — RoS[114]

The stress in RoS is on an elongated and evolutionary nature of the path to socialism.[115] The dialectical materialist concept of the stages of struggle is revised to become merely the expansion of democracy, stretching to the horizon and beyond. Voluntarist and idealist terms, trendy in reformist and academic circles, with potential reformist interpretations buttress this notion: “Rupture” is used instead of “revolution,” “actors,” not “classes.” “Socialist project.” Socialism is not a “project.” It is a system, a socioeconomic formation.

E. Consequences and Solutions

Right deviations have harmful organizational consequences. To weaken democratic centralism and other key Leninist organizational principles enfeebles a Party. Two lines can coexist in a party, causing confusion and sapping its fighting capacity. Leaders can ignore their accountability to the Party Program, the National Convention and to the National Committee.

To assert that all forms of national oppression in the US are the same weakens anti-racist struggle. It is anti-historical to slight the immense importance of the 400-year-long African-American struggle in US history.[116]

To shift rightward to become a partner with reformism causes tendencies to party liquidation to grow stronger. For a party with a small membership, the rightward drift repels genuinely left and leftward-moving people, workers, people in struggle, people of color, women, and youth. As the British and French Communist experience shows, a vicious circle can result: rightward movement, shrinkage, and further rightward movement.

To ignore Lenin’s behest concerning the priority development of scientific and revolutionary theory, ideological standards lag. Revisionism fills the vacuum. Cadre quality and levels of membership development decline.

To jettison the vanguard party concept must eventually undermine any industrial concentration policy. With rejection of a vanguard role, whereby the Party sets a general line on the basis of its own theory and analysis, tailism — preaching to the labor movement what it is already doing — is the result. Jettisoning the vanguard concept means lip service to work for labor’s political independence. Such a party will offer no analysis of the line of march toward working class political independence. Party candidacies become rare events.

To flaunt one-sidedly a nationally specific revolutionary path risks growing isolation from the world Communist movement. The present course also estranges the CP from its own history. The legacy of giants of the Communist Party — Foster, Winston, Hall, Gurley Flynn, Perlo, to name only a few, is seldom mentioned by the revisionists.

To discard Marxism and adopt a liberal pacifist ethics, it follows one must condemn beleaguered socialist Cuba when it executes a hijacker. If solidarity is understood to mean rowing in behind a tragically revisionist Iraqi CP,[117] now ridiculously arguing for keeping US and UK troops in Iraq, antiwar work is weakened.

Revisionist outbreaks end — in recovery or ruin. To get the better of revisionism requires theoretical and political struggle by conscious anti-revisionist forces. Rank and file members must carry out this fight until non-revisionist sections of the leadership arise from slumber to do their duty. If that does not occur, an across-the-board renewal of leadership will be necessary. History is a guide. A glaring discrepancy between revisionist estimates and the real world was the beginning of the end of Lovestone and Browder. The anti-revisionist side, temporarily bested, rallied, fought back theoretically and politically, and ousted the revisionists. In US party history, Foster played this corrective role again and again. In the US, on one occasion, there was an intervention by world movement, the Duclos letter that helped to rally the healthy forces. Often, the protagonists of revisionism such as Gates and Healey grow weary of their opponents’ stubbornness and their own lack of headway and, following the logic of their political thought, quit. Often, revisionist policies produce political crisis, or at least fail to produce success. Thus, in the years after 1991, the Committees of Correspondence withered. In Europe, the parties that opted for Eurocommunism soon were in the throes of crisis. Some parties split. Some had to be re-founded. Some no longer exist. Revisionism USA will not go away on its own. It will surely go further. Its protagonists seemingly think they can win. Its ideas have an inner logic of retreat. It is a response to pressure that is not abating. There are rewards for the surrender of ideological territory. RoS is a stepping-stone to bolder forms of revisionism.

It is certain that a large majority of CPUSA members are not revisionist. Probably most of the leadership is not revisionist. Opponents of revisionism are not helpless in the struggle to rescue their party. They need not be theoreticians. The newly adopted CPUSA Party Program, though weaker than its predecessors, can be an organizational basis, to some degree, for resistance to the far worse formulations in RoS. Practical, commonsense, corrective steps are also available. Regardless of what any document says, anti-revisionists can insist on a stronger industrial concentration policy, and the stepped-up recruitment and promotion of real industrial workers to Party leadership. They can insist on the high standards of anti-racist inner Party life and mass struggle (with the African-American freedom struggle front and center) that marked the Party’s policy under previous leadership. They can implement on their own higher standards of club ideological and educational work, using real Marxist-Leninist texts. They can resist certain leaders’ promotion of RoS, which has little or no legitimate standing as a Party document. They can insist that Party rules are followed in a disciplined way, and that leading bodies are held accountable.

The struggle against revisionism must be theoretical too. The science of Marxism-Leninism must develop if there are new things to be explained and if existing theory does not explain them satisfactorily. Increasingly assertive revisionist currents have flourished in the last fifteen years of comparative silence about the causes and consequences of the 1989-91 disaster. Whenever ideological questions are ignored, wherever a genuinely creative approach to new problems is absent, favorable opportunities for revisionism arise. Particular questions cannot be settled until general questions are settled. The notion that a recovery of the international Communist movement is fully under way, that it can make strategic choices without a comprehensive analysis of the recent past and the world balance of forces, is untenable. This is a task for a concerted world movement. It makes the proposals at the yearly meetings in Athens for a higher institutionalized forms and levels of unity in the world communist movement all the more urgent.

What are the priority theoretical tasks? For example, what would a comprehensive and realistic analysis of the world balance of forces entail

First, the international Communist movement must completea historical materialist analysis of the Soviet collapse and the defeats of 1989. A beginning has been made.[118]

Second, it must substantiate the democratic character of Soviet society and the efficacy and superiority of its planned economy.

Third, the opportunist role of People’s China and its “socialist market economy” in world politics and economics must be exposed.

Fourth, the world movement must reconsider the impact of the changed world balance of forces on the war danger. “The consistent peace policy of the first socialist states, the intensification of working people’s struggle in the capitalist countries, the growing national liberation movement and actions by broad circles of world democratic opinion and by peace fighters has ruled out the fatal inevitability of another world war.” [119] That was in 1973. What about now?

Fifth, there should be an in-depth, review of fundamental revolutionary strategy. It has been too little noted that the idea of anti-monopoly democracy as a path to revolution, as well as the possibility of a transition to socialism without civil war, were based on the world balance of forces in 1945-85.

Before the formation of the world socialist system, opportunities for using the parliamentary form for working class political power were limited. They did not exceed the bounds of the struggle for democracy: participation in elections for the bourgeois parliament and activity of workers’ faction in that parliament. Only the radical change in the balance of class power in the world and within each country since the last war has opened up that possibility…. The sphere of using the parliamentary form had not only widened but it also had a qualitatively new content. It may be used at both the democratic and socialist stage of the struggle. Accordingly, a number of Communist Parties (USA, Britain, France and Italy) have produced programs for the peaceful transition to socialism in which they regard the parliamentary form of the working class gaining political power as the most probable form. The Communist Parties of these countries believe that the working class at a given stage, can and must, relying on the mass revolutionary movement and a majority in parliament, turn it from an organ of bourgeois democracy into a weapon of genuinely popular power and create conditions for the implementation of radical social change.[120]

The old balance of forces is gone. The impact of a different world balance of forces on basic strategy must be re-studied, if only to reaffirm the existing strategy with the fullest confidence.

Sixth, there must be deeper study of the national question, under socialism and under capitalism.[121] Notwithstanding the claim of the celebrants of globalization, nationalism remains a growing phenomenon in the 21st century. Ever greater departures from a Leninist approach to the national question led to the breakup of the USSR as a socialist multinational federation. New forms of the national question are arising. A key struggle is that between transnational finance capital and national self-determination. Supra-national integration in the form of the European Union, NAFTA, and other schemes has become a main aim of transnational finance capital. The national question is producing unusual alignments where divergent political forces find themselves in common battle against the TNCs, although, of course, from different class positions and with different motives. For example, not long ago in the USA, the trade unions and Texas billionaire Ross Perot were at the same time opponents of NAFTA. In Britain, Communists and many conservatives, at loggerheads on almost everything else, oppose the EU. Ethnic and national strife is rising, with Africa the special victim, often fomented by the TNCs. As the TNCs, with their free trade and globalization ideology, assault national sovereignty and independent development, the working class movement must be the best champion of the democratic right of nations to self–determination. World domination by the USA makes inroads on the national sovereignty of all other states. Multinational federal states are under stress in many parts of the world, to mention a few: India, Britain, Canada, the Russian Federation, and Spain. The colonial legacy remains. Africa and the Mideast have ridiculous borders drawn by departing colonialists and bearing little or no relation to national or economic units. Many former socialist states, independent before 1989-91, are now reeling economically. Since these had no native big capitalists of the traditional kind, restoring capitalism has meant putting them in hock to foreigners. National feeling in those countries is on the rise.

Seventh, and not least of all, there must be a deeper study of the role of opportunism, including its strength in the present period, its forms, measures to recognize it in a timely way in revolutionary parties, how to limit its damage and to overcome it. Considering that Lenin wrote about opportunism unceasingly, this central category of Marxist-Leninist thought has received scant attention from his professed followers. Old matters must be re-studied, and there are new questions.[cxxii] Opportunism is not only a political disease in parties in the capitalist world, it affect socialist construction too. The experience of building 20th century socialism shows that there are universal laws of socialist construction.[123] Opportunist deviations from these in the final 30 years of the USSR set the stage for the Gorbachev debacle. Hans Holz writes,

Communists do not have to be ashamed of this epoch [1917-1991]. Their task is to explain how the negative resulted out of the contradictions under which the positive was achieved.[124]

RoS, bewildered by and ashamed of 20th century socialism, is an opportunist dead end. RoS represents petty bourgeois ideology penetrating a section of the leadership of a revolutionary party. RoS is a parody of the genuine rethinking of Marxist-Leninist fundamentals, which is already under way and must be completed to account for the blows of 1989-91 and the new strength of the far right in the US. Shopworn reformist humbug, the ideas in RoS guarantee weakness and loss of nerve. There is no overall crisis in Marxist-Leninist theory, but revolutionary theory does indeed need to be developed. Whatever the fate of RoS as a document, one can be confident that its main thesis — that reformism enriches the understanding of democracy — is unwise counsel that most will not heed. Such confidence is rooted in the democratic, revolutionary and socialist traditions of the American working class and the American people. The CPUSA is heir to these.

Paradoxically, overcoming the mystification promoted by RoS may help to advance the day of the renewal of the US Communist movement. It has flirted with, but always in the end rejected such counsel before. Surely it can summon up the inner strength to do it again. The day must inevitably come — over however long a timescale — when the real re-thinking of the path to socialism in the 21st century is complete. Some of its elements are sketched above. On that day, strengthened by the clarification of its ideology and cleansing of its organization, the Party’s renewal and growth can begin again. A party “may have a long period of drought,” but the US class struggle that insists that the Party thrive is sharpening. On that day, the path will be reopened for the Party to lead a new and successful assault on US capitalism, a stronghold that often has seemed unassailable. Speed the day.

Notes:
[1] H. H. Holz, “Junge Welt,” Jan. 8/9 2005, #6 Reprinted from “Weissenseer Blatter,” #1, 2005 (Kapital und Arbeit), p. 10 East Berlin, Germany. Translated by Leonard Herman, Vaughn College, New York City. Holz authored “The Downfall and Future of Socialism” (Nature, Society, and Thought, 1992), a highly regarded Communist analysis of the dismantling of the Soviet Union, and among the earliest.
[2] Lenin made a distinction between a “right deviation” and a “right trend.” “A deviation is not a full blown trend; a deviation is something that can be rectified.” See Against Revisionism, in Defense of Marxism (Moscow: Progress, 1970), 146. Presumably, the CPUSA can rectify recent blunders by strengthening its newly adopted basic documents in due course, by rejecting RoS, and by a renewal of leadership, or all three. Hence, the term “deviation” seems more apt at this time.

[3] See “No to the Constitutional Treaty of the European Union.” Speech of Nikos Katsourides, Parliamentary Spokesman of AKEL [Communist Party of Cyprus] during the discussion in the Cypriot House of Representatives on the ratification of the European Constitutional Treaty. June 29, 2005. Available at the website Marxism-Leninism Today (www.mltoday.com).

[4] Holz, ibid.

[5] Richard Kindersley, ed. In Search of Eurocommunism (London: MacMillan, 1981) “Eurocommunism and the New Party” by Branko Pribicevic, Chapter 8. 167-169.

[6] S. Trapeznikov At the Turning Points of History: Some Lessons of the Struggle against Revisionism within the Marxist-Leninist Movement (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1972), 48-78.

[7] Studies helpful to Lenin were J. A. Hobson’s Imperialism; Rudolph Hilferding’s Finance Capital; Nikolai Bukharin’s Imperialism and World Economy.

[8] S. Trapeznikov, At the Turning Points of History: Some Lessons of the Struggle against Revisionism within the Marxist-Leninist Movement (Moscow: Progress, 1972), 79.

[9] The process of revising has been quietly under way for five years. The author of RoS, as early as 2000, was circulating in the Party think pieces suggesting that the CPUSA’s concept of class was “too stiff.”

[10] Right-wing Revisionism Today (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975), 279. This is a collection of essays by Soviet and Czechoslovak historians and philosophers on the general problem of revisionism and the events of 1968 in socialist Czechoslovakia.

[11] B. Topornin, E. Machulsky, Socialism and Democracy: A Reply to Opportunists (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1974), 66.

[12] Lenin, Against Revisionism, in Defense of Marxism (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1970), 39.

[13] Opportunism in socialist construction, evident in the domestic policy of the USSR beginning in the mid-1950s onward, is a yielding to objective circumstances rather than struggling to change them, a one-sidedly evolutionary approach to building socialism. It seeks a quick and easy route to socialism by the path of least resistance. This habit of thought tends to overestimate the automatic, spontaneous nature of the process of creating the new system, and to overemphasize the buildup of productive forces as key to socialism’s development while it downplays the need to perfect the relations of production, that is, the struggle to abolish classes. See Keeran and Kenny, Socialism Betrayed. (New York: International Publishers, 2004)

[14] RoS has discarded theory so much that it simply declares what “the main task” is and reasons backward. In its first line RoS proclaims, without argument or evidence: “The main political task at this moment is to assemble the necessary social forces to defeat Bush and his counterparts in Congress and elsewhere.” As it happens, that is the main task, but often the main task or the first task is not self-evident.

[15] The absolutizing of democratic struggle is typical of reformism: “The only thing uniting Social Democrats of all countries is their reference to observing the principles of democracy (by which I mean the bourgeois parliamentary system), and this is seen as the main condition for the building up of socialism….” P. N. Fedosyev, What is Democratic Socialism? (Moscow: Progress Publishers,
1980), 12.

[16] There is such a thing as “left” opportunism, but it is not our focus here.

[17] M. Rosenthal and P. Yudin, A Dictionary of Philosophy (Moscow: Progress, 1967), 388-389.

[18] “Just as little must one imagine that the democratic representatives are indeed all shopkeepers or enthusiastic champions of shopkeepers. According to their education and their individual position they may be as far apart as heaven and earth. What makes them representatives of the petty bourgeoisie is the fact that in their minds they do not get beyond the limits which the latter do not get beyond in life, that they are consequently driven, theoretically, to the same problems and solutions to which material interest and social position drive the latter practically. This is, in general, the relationship between the political andliterary representatives of a class and the class they represent.” Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, Chapter 3.

[19] RoS, 3.

[20] RoS, 2, 26.

[21] RoS 2, 25.

[22] “Socialism Revisited” was the name of the speech, in a panel called, “Imaginings of Socialism,” April 17, 2005 at the Global Left Dialogue Conference in New York.

[23] Two derisive references are: Socialism “hardly has a sterling record in the defense of civil liberties,” RoS, 20. “The planning mechanism” in the former socialist countries “reduced the role of the working class to passive participants in economic life.” RoS, 22.

[24] Moshe Lewin’s The Soviet Century (New York: Verso, 2005) is fast becoming sacred scripture on Soviet history for liberal reformists and social reformists. Lewin has anti-Communist credentials, but his analysis is different from the cruder, bourgeois anti-Communist Sovietology, which writes off the Soviet system as “totalitarian.” In a major earlier work The Making of the Soviet System: Essays in the Social History of Interwar Russia (New York Pantheon 1985), Lewin, a social reformist akin to Stephen F. Cohen, shows that social reformist anti-Communism has certain special features. For example, the demonization of Stalin is carried to absurd lengths, as well as the special fondness for the NEP period 1921-28, the “good” period of Soviet history. Called by RoS a “distinguished historian,” in his 1985 work Lewin makes the breathtaking assertion that the Soviet Union had no external and internal enemies (“but there were no enemies around, no agents of foreign intelligence agencies,” 45). His work uses all the staple anti-Communist terms of abuse for the leadership and policies of the Stalin era.

[25] Communist Parties typically allow a broader range of critical discussion in a pre-convention period of debate. After a convention, a party closes ranks to affirm the new, democratically agreed policy line. RoS appeared just as the pre-convention period was ending. This is yet another token of leadership disdain for Leninist standards of party discipline.

[26] Democratic Socialists of America (DSA, its earlier name was the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) split off from the Socialist Party in the early 1970s over SP support of the Vietnam War. Its long-time leader was author Michael Harrington. DSA and its allies organize yearly conferences of academics in New York City. The more virulently anti-Communist wing of the SP became Social Democrats USA, (SDUSA), an important influence on Meany-Kirkland AFL-CIO policies.

[27] Besides the RoS and the DP, there were the convention keynote speech, “Independence Day,” and the Main Political Report, the latter a document debated in the preconvention period and voted on at the convention, like the Draft Program. The Main Political Report is the Party’s evaluation of the short-term political outlook.

[28] The name of the CPUSA National Chair, Sam Webb, is on the document. Perhaps a few others had a major role in drafting RoS. The circle in the CPUSA leadership actively promoting revisionist ideas may be quite small.

[29] DP: “The world communist movement and Communist Party, USA are still studying and discussing the relative importance of the various causes of the demise of the socialist states to best learn for the future.” In contrast, RoS has made up its mind: “the Soviet Union (and the Eastern European states) collapsed with barely a word of protest from their citizens or ruling parties.”

[30] RoS damns valiant socialist Cuba with faint praise. “After visiting Cuba I have become convinced that an emancipatory state, an energized people and full-blooded civil society could shorten the time frame [to undo the damage of capitalism on millions —author] considerably.” RoS, 20. This is a typical RoSequivocation. Is it the real Cuba of the US blockade that is being praised, or is it a future Cuba that might be run on more agreeable (to the RoS author) reformist lines? Imperialist ideology’s influence on this pronouncement by a US Communist leader is great. It is unseemly for a Communist leader from the aggressor state to announce an epiphany and conversion to greater sympathy for Cuban socialism — of course, provided it uses social reformist shibboleths (“civil society” and the like) — having earlier withheld judgment on the quality of Cuban democracy, a victim of US imperialism. RoS seems unaware of its own arrogance in this regard.

[31] DP “A full, lasting solution to modern social problems requires socialism, starting with social ownership of the key major sectors of the economy.” RoSsets up two straw men: “Another [incorrect] assumption was that market relations would quickly give way to centralized planning.”… “Still another assumption that we embraced was that socialism is reducible to social ownership plus comprehensive planning.”

[32] With habitual ambiguity RoS flirts with the notion of no party control of the media. “We also assumed that the socialist state would acquire would acquire more functions and extend its reach into social, cultural and civic life, including state control of the media .” RoS gingerly revisits this issue a few lines down, arguing for devolution in general: “with regard to the reach of the state, the experience of 20th century socialist construction suggests that either non-governmental organization or lower levels of government should perform many of the functions that were previously done at the highest level. Undoubtedly, federal power would still have a substantial role. But such power — it must be admitted — is distant, beyond the reach of the very masses who are supposed to be authors and architects of the new society.” RoS, 19. “Small is beautiful” is a classic petty bourgeois sentiment.

[33] DP: “The Communist Party makes a unique contribution toward building broad labor and working-class leadership” and “The Communist Party, USA has had many victories and some defeats, accomplishments and mistakes, successful tactics and errors, from which we have learned, that enable[s] us to play a key role in the transition to socialism.” RoS: “Whether we become the leading party is neither lawed [sic] nor self-proclaimed; it will have to be earned.” As if this were about modesty or immodesty!

[34] The program The People vs Corporate Power, (early 1980s-2005), warned against social democracy’s role in red-baiting and supporting class collaboration and imperialism.

[35] DP: “The class struggle and the democratic struggle are closely linked. They overlap and intertwine. Every specific class struggle is also part of the democratic struggle because in those struggles, the masses of workers seek to enlarge or protect democratic possibilities. Often, class battles are played out in the political arena where the democratic action of millions of workers can powerfully affect the battle’s outcome. The democratic struggle brings together the working class and other class and social forces for common struggle against one or another sector of the capitalist class.” RoS goes further, but with an escape hatch: “There is no such thing as a pure class struggle or pure democratic struggle, except at the level of high theory.”

[36] The Marxist economist, Victor Perlo, traced US corporate superprofits, in part, back to the special oppression of African Americans. RoS clearly moves away from the materialist view that racism is fundamentally tied in to the monopoly capitalist system of exploitation. Perlo also insisted the Black struggle was key to the overall fight for equality for all oppressed peoples in the US. See Economics of Racism II: the Roots of Inequality ( 1996) 1, 5 and its predecessor, The Economics of Racism USA: the Roots of Black Inequality (1975). Ironically, in 1991, right opportunists falsely criticized the CPUSA leadership for “denial of the centrality of racism,” but then it was a cynical factional tactic to win over a membership that, obviously, would find any inner-party weaknesses on racism intolerable. The right opportunists left the Party and formed the Committees of Correspondence (CoC).

[37] Giovanni Arrighi, Rodney Hilton, Jonathan Schell, Antonio Negri, joshe Lewin, David Harvey, Robin Blackburn, Istvan Meszaros, et al. Reversing Marx, the principle of selection might be said to be: “Revolutionaries have onlychanged the world, the point is to interpret it.”

[38] Foster identified the theoretical weakness as a prime precondition of the temporary success of Browderism. “The Communists of the United States have not yet fully mastered and completely assimilated the teachings of Marxism-Leninism.” Marxism-Leninism vs. Revisionism, by William Z. Foster, Jacque Duclos, Eugene Dennis, and John Williamson. Foreword by Max Weiss (New York: New Century, February 1946), 5.

[39] The theory is invoked as a self-evident axiom within a few paragraphs of the first line. RoS, 3.

[40] “Why of course Comrade Browder does not want any such situation [giving up the people’s struggle to shape postwar US foreign policy —author], but Lenin has long since taught us that the objective results of political policies bear no necessary relation to the desires of the initiators.” Foster et al. Marxism vs. Revisionism, 39.

[41] In words, RoS declares that workers, the nationally oppressed, youth, women etc. are the “core constituencies” of radical social change, but it is actually making its case to reformism, which it sees as its primary ally. US social democrats are a sorry lot. They command weak organizations. Organized social democracy is puny in the US, though the reformist current in the trade unions, progressive organizations and progressive media, conscious or unconscious, is large. Reformists oppose the ultra-right, but struggle is not their strong point.

[42] Zbigniew Brzezinski, confident that turning Communist Parties into de factoreformist organizations was a realizable goal, once stated: “The western posture toward Communism is not one of crusading militancy… today the predominant western attitude is that Communism will gradually moderate itself, eventually approximating social democracy.” In Right-wing Revisionism Today (Moscow: Progress, 1975), 44.

[43] The growth-through-rightward-movement idea was explicit in the article, “For an Organization Based on Scientific Socialism, Not the Old Model of a Communist Party,” by Daniel Rubin, Nature, Society, and Thought, vol. 5, no. 4, 322–45. “The issue is how to associate closely with the vast majority of some 100,000 adherents of socialism in the United States, creating and developing a scientific socialist current among them that has the possibility of substantial growth….” (345)

[44] Keynote speech, “Independence Day.” July 1, 2005.

[45] Foster, op. cit., 4-5.

[46] Peggy Dennis Autobiography of an American Communist: a Personal View of a Political Life (Westport, Connecticut: Lawrence Hill & Co., 1977), 224.

[47] Ibid., 285.

[48] “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but on the contrary their social existence that determines their consciousnesses.” (A Preface to the Critique of Political Economy, 1859)

[49] Marx and Engels, The German Ideology (New York: International Publishers, 1967), 39.

[50] Historian Herbert Aptheker listed the deterrents in a noted essay, “Class Consciousness in the United States.” The corruption of a section of the working class movement by imperialism; absence of a feudal past; illusory but powerful ideas about popular sovereignty after 1776, about freedom as the absence of restraint, about America as a fresh start for mankind; governmental barriers against popular power, no capital city like London or Paris; demographic mobility; the denial of the franchise to the most exploited section of the working class, African-Americans; the South as a bulwark of reaction; the enormous resources of the US capitalist class; wars and the resulting jingoism and nationalism; capitalist prosperity; and the effects of anticommunism .

[51] American Exceptionalism is a phenomenon much broader than the ideas that from time to time appear in the CPUSA as a right deviation. One example: in US politics, it is permissible to speak of “the American Dream,” an omnipresent, all-purpose cliché. There is no Canadian Dream, Mexican Dream, Danish Dream, etc.

[52] Since the appearance of RoS, its political purpose has been frankly acknowledged in the Party press. See People’s Weekly World, November 12, 2005, “Sam Webb to Speak on Socialism,” by Dan Margolis.

[53] RoS, 22.
[54] Albert Szymanski, Human Rights in the USSR. With Comparisons to the USA ( London: Zed Books, 1984). This is an honest, searching study by a non-Communist social scientist.

[55] Keeran and Kenny, 194.

[56] Revisionists in the Japanese Communist Party also applaud China’s SME. See “Lenin and the Market Economy,” a lecture given at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing, August 27, 2002. By Fuwa Tetsuzo, Chair, CPJ Central Committee.

[57] Since 2002 the new Chinese Communist leadership of Hu Jin Tao, has taken a number of positive steps which point to a less opportunist course. It has upped aid to socialist Cuba. It appears to recognize the social damage of unfettered extension of capitalist relations of production. It has seized the diplomatic initiative in seeking a negotiated resolution to the crisis created by US military pressure on socialist North Korea. The left-right battle in the CPC continues. See “China Confronts Contradictions between Marxism and Markets” by Edward Cody. Washington Post Foreign Service. December 5, 2005.

[58] Foster, op. cit., 41.

[59] Robert Steigerwald, Anti-Communist Myths in Left Disguise (New York: International Publishers, 1977), 86.

[60] “… all this did enormous damage to its own political and moral authority and undercut any sense of ownership of the Soviet people in their economy and society.” RoS, 25.

[61] In a January 2004 Political Affairs article, the RoS author cautiously floated the views that would appear in bolder form in RoS. “We were prisoners of the experience of Russia in 1919.” Democracy in the former socialist countries “lacked the necessary vibrancy,” and had “a formal character.”

[62] RoS, 3.

[63] Ibid.

[64] RoS, 20.

[65] Richard Pipes, “Flight from Freedom: What Russians Think and Want,”Foreign Affairs, May-June 2004, Vol. 83 no. 3. More recently, a survey of Russian opinion by noted scholars heightened the US establishment’s fears about the inexplicable (to it) popularity of Stalin among post-Soviet youth. “Failing the Stalin Test,” Sarah F. Mendelson and Theodore P. Gerber. Foreign Affairs,January-February 2005, Vol. 84, no. 1.

[66] The American Communist contribution to the task of understanding 1989-91 has been substantial. International Publishers, the closest publishing ally of the CPUSA, has published three fine books on the Soviet collapse. It is striking hubris for the RoS author to praise an anti-Communist writer but to make no reference to the IP books. The three US books are: Perestroika: Its Rise and Fall by Mike Davidow, (1993); Heroic Struggle, Bitter Defeat by Bahman Azad (2000); and Socialism Betrayed by Roger Keeran and Thomas Kenny (2004).

[67] Definition of opportunism found in Lenin on Language (Moscow: Raduga Publishers, 1983) 58-59.

[68] Ibid., 202.

[69] RoS, 10.

[70] Gus Hall, Working Class USA: The Power and the Movement (New York: International Publishers, 1987), 53.

[71] Marx, “Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League,” London, March 1850. (www. MLToday.com) in the Marx and Engels Internet Archive.

[72] Konstantin Zaradov, The Political Economy of Revolution (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1981) 183.

[73] Zaradov, 182-3.

[74] Zaradov, ibid.; Betty Gannett “The Relation of the Fight for Democracy to Socialism,” Political Affairs December 1968, 11-22.

[75]

[76] RoS, 16.

[77] “In sum, there is no road to socialism that bypasses the democratic struggle. Anyone who attempts to do so will soon feel the chilling winds of political isolation.” RoS, 11.

[78] One example among many: “Finally, as for the role of communists, our mission is not to ‘steer the ship of state.’ That task is the responsibility of a broader left coalition and the broadest possible section of the people.” RoS, 24.

[79] According to Herbert Aptheker, “… all revolutions always act so as to prohibit a return to that condition against which the revolution fought — i.e., all government produced through revolution forbids counterrevolution.” Thus, when the American Revolution overthrew the British monarchy, the US Constitution guaranteed each state a republican form of government. The Civil War, which uprooted slavery, outlawed slavery by a Constitutional amendment. “Human Rights, Dissent, and Revolution.” A Daily World Reprint, n. d.

[80] Betty Gannett, “Relation of Fight for Democracy to Socialism” Political Affairs, December 1968, 21.

[81] “The overall movement must be gaining in breadth and depth.” RoS, 16.

[82] RoS, 16.

[83] In his study on racism, Victor Perlo estimated that that 72.9 percent of employed whites and 84.0 percent of employed Blacks were in the working class. The Economics of Racism II: the Roots of Inequality, USA (New York: International Publishers, 1996), 19.

[84] Right-wing Revisionism Today, 67-68.

[85] RoS, 16.

[86] Gannett, loc. cit.

[87] Anti-monopoly democratic measures chosen with an eye to the struggle for state power might include, for example, Military reform that nationalizes armaments makers and begins a conversion to civilian production, shrinks the armed forces, dismisses the top ranks of the old professional army officer corps and the clandestine “security” agencies, shortens enlistments to one year, allows for leftwing political education of the rank and file, and alters dramatically the social class composition of the officers by promotion from the rank and file. Democratically restructure state and local police and all coercive parts of the state apparatus. Media reform that ousts monopoly from television, radio, internet, and print, and massively extends public ownership and public accountability. Court reform: a complete top-to-bottom transformation of federal and state courts. Electoral reform that expands voting rights, expands the size of the active electorate among lower income groups, introduces proportional representation, and abolishes the Electoral College. Elimination of all anti-trade union laws. Economic reform:including nationalization of all oil companies, big banks, and insurance companies and imposition of exchange controls to outlaw capital flight and currency manipulation; first steps to introduce elements of national economic planning; special economic measures, such as a massive public works program, targeted to end high unemployment in nationally oppressed communities, coupled with advanced equality legislation; Fiscal reform: a steeply progressive tax system.

[88] “…but at the same time, the overall movement must be gaining in breadth and depth. It must be winning ever more millions of people to its banner, including those who were formerly politically passive and a part of the opposition bloc. Therefore, any notion of the transition to socialism as a purely working-class affair or a project of just the left should be rejected. Only a movement of the great majority and in the interests of the great majority, only a movement whose mass character deepens again and again, is capable of winning socialism in our country.”

[89] S. M. Nadel, Contemporary Capitalism and the Middle Classes (New York: International, 1982), 434.

[90] Ibid., 437.

[91] Konstantin Zaradov, The Political Economy of Revolution (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1981), 182-183.

[92] RoS, 20.

[93] More vagueness: “… political power has to migrate from the hands of one class into the hands of another,” RoS, 17; “After the revolutionary forces won political power…” RoS, 18; “The revolutionary process that draws millions into struggle and devolves political power to the grassroots.” RoS, 19: “Undoubtedly, federal power would still have a substantial role. But such power, it must be admitted, is distant, beyond the reach of the very masses of people who are supposed to be authors and architects of the new society.” RoS, 19.

[94] A number of Communist Parties still use the phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Instead of the endless search for a euphemism, might it be a better investment of time to explain the reasons why Marx, trained in the classics, borrowed this term from the language of the Roman Republic where it referred to temporary, coercive executive powers? In his day, “dictatorship” did not mean tyranny or despotism. Bourgeois writers use other words in non-Marxist sense: “commodities,” “exploitation,” “value,” etc. Must we search for euphemisms for these too?

[95] RoS, 19.

[96] “… Just as we insist that the ruling class bow to the wishes of the electorate, we should expect no less if a governing left coalition is defeated at the polls.” RoS, 19.

[97] “Any resistance to this notion will have very negative repercussions on our prospects of gaining a mass constituency and evolving into a mass party.” RoS, 19.

[98] RoS, 24.

[99] See Herb Gamberg, “On Political Economy and Political Theory.” “To assume, says Lenin, that the working class by itself will bring about socialism and that all it needs (if needed at all) are prods to its own self-discovery is the first axiom of revisionism. It is also a position taken by literally all the established socialist parties in Europe in Lenin’s time.”

[100] Socialism and Democracy: A Reply to Opportunists, 133.

[101] Ibid. 123.

[102] RoS, 19.

[103] Briefly, it is undeniable that many Soviet writers and those they influenced simplistically understood the concept of the general crisis of capitalism (GCC). Before he lurched rightward to reformism, Gorbachev was guilty of this too: “The general crisis of capitalism is deepening. The sphere of its domination is shrinking inevitably, its historical doom becoming ever more obvious.” — Mikhail Gorbachev, the Program of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union: A New Edition, 1986. The GCC was simplistically reduced to surface manifestations, such as acute political and economic turbulence, or to the outbreak of world war, or to revolution, such as occurred in 1914-1918, or to the relative growth of the socialist camp and corresponding shrinkage of the capitalist camp, as occurred after the Second World War. Capitalism was seen to be in terminal decline in an orderly, stepwise fashion. In periods of political upheaval, for example, in the Great Depression, in much Communist writing the historical inevitability of capitalism’s “collapse” was advanced as a possibility around the corner. In later decades, the socialist camp was said to have seized the historical “initiative,” irretrievably lost by capitalism, an idea that, to many, seemed confirmed by world events at least through the late 1970s. But it does not follow that the wrong interpretation means there is no general crisis of capitalism, unless one is willing to throw out an even more fundamental Marxist idea that history is law-governed process, in which a higher, more productive socioeconomic formation replaces an a lower, less productive one. It is a law of historical materialism that, sooner or later, the ever-advancing forces of production must break the fetters of the old relations of production. The general crisis of capitalism began in the late 19th century when the contradiction between the productive forces and capitalist production relations became increasingly acute as of result of the new, system-wide domination of monopoly. The emergence of monopoly domination is a profound change in nature of property ownership under capitalism Lenin used the idea of the GCC an indicator of the ripeness of society for revolution, hence he called imperialism — monopoly capitalism — “capitalism on the eve of the socialist revolution.” The timing of revolutionary advance cannot be readily deduced from this contradiction. For example, compare the general crisis of feudalism. The French bourgeoisie, though not much behind the British bourgeoisie in economic development, took 140 years longer to overthrow its own feudal monarchist state. Capitalism today is more monopolized than ever and, in that sense, the GCC not only continues, it is sharper than ever. Not all Soviet writers got this wrong; see, for example, V. Trepelnikov, General Crisis of Capitalism (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1983).

[104] See Zhukov, Evgeny, et al. Methodology of History (Moscow: USSR Academy of Sciences: 1983), 56.

[105] Right-wing Revisionism Today, 69.

[106] RoS, 10.

[107] “No revolutionary government could dispense with the death sentence; the question was against which class a particular government would use it.” Lenin, quoted in Against Revisionism, in Defense of Marxism (Moscow: Progress, 1970), 134. This starkly illustrates how far RoS departs from Leninism. Marxism-Leninism is consistent with common sense. If a firefighter batters down your front door to rush in and save your family and home from a blaze, that is a good thing. If a robber batters down your front door to rush in, kill your family, and steal your possessions, that is a bad thing. In both cases the action is the same and there is a battered-down front door. But the former is a necessary, emergency public service, and the latter is a crime. In other words, the same action can have two wholly different ethical meanings, depending on the social consequences.

[108] RoS, 10.

[109] Howard Selsam, Ethics and Progress: New Values in a Revolutionary World (New York: International Publishers, 1965), 94.

[110] However, it twice uses the word or word root “dialectic.”

[111] RoS, 9. To reassure Communist readers, RoS must disingenuously deny that it wishes to “mothball the idea of socialism’s inevitability,” but it forthwith hastens to reassure reformist readers: “an idea, by the way, that we have understood in a too mechanical and too superficial way.”

[112] The mere existence of RoS illustrates the existence of two lines. Second, stopping short of the actual use of the word “pluralism,” RoS unmistakably argues for a liberal approach: “Marxism, of course, should guide this discussion, but we should employ its principles and methods creatively. Marxism, when properly used, is an open system that absorbs new experience and adjusts earlier assessments and concepts to new realities. To have the most fruitful discussion, we should create an atjosphere that encourages comrades to explore the subject without blinders and in fresh ways, while discouraging the practice of political labelling, which becomes a substitute for thoughtfully addressing the merits of points of view different from our own.” This noteworthy passage bestows at least twelve rhetorical blessings on the pluralist principle: “guide,” “creatively,” “open,” “properly used,” “adjusts,” “new realities,” “fruitful,” “explore,” “without blinders,” “fresh,” no “labelling,” “different from our own.” A characteristic method of RoS is to suggest rhetorically what it is too timid to state openly.

[113] Lenin, Against Revisionism, in Defense of Marxism (Moscow: Progress, 1970), 76.

[114] RoS, 3.

[115] More elongations: “Thus, revolutions are not a single act, but rather a series of events and complex processes stretching over time.” RoS, 17. “The other vision of the transition is that the struggle for socialism is a lengthy process that winds its way through different phases during which the configuration of contending class and social forces and mass political consciousness changes, requiring, in turn, new strategic policies to match the new alignment of forces and new level consciousness.” RoS, 16. “Even when a political rupture occurs, it will be neither complete nor irreversible. On the day after the transfer of power, socio-economic life will probably look much like it did the day before and power will continue to be contested.” RoS, 16.

[116] How central to US history is the African-American freedom struggle? In glorious democratic prose, W. E. B. Du Bois wrote in Black Reconstruction(1935): “The most magnificent drama in the last thousand years of human history is the transportation of ten million human beings out of the dark beauty of their mother continent into the new-found El Dorado of the West. They descended into Hell, and in the third century they arose from the dead in the finest effort to achieve democracy for the working millions which the world had ever seen.” Cited in Eric Foner and Joshua Brown, Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction (New York: Knopf, 2005).

[117] “Iraqi Communist Party leader views electoral program, obstacles to elections,” BBC International Reports (Middle East), December 21, 2004, 12/21/04 (ICP general-secretary Majid Musa: “[H]ow can we [end the occupation] in view of the country’s complex situation, the current balances of power and the regional and international circumstances around us?… [T]errorist and subversive acts will only prolong the presence of foreign forces and give an excuse to others to say the country is in danger and cannot endure the bad consequences and so the help of the foreign forces is needed.”) Clearly, for the ICP, the insurgency is more of a problem than the imperialist occupation. In the ICP view, the insurgency prolongs the occupation. Instead of struggling with imperialism, the ICP wishes to see favorable conditions (the end or the defeat of the insurgency) for imperialism to withdraw as early as possible on terms acceptable to imperialism.

[118] The Greek CP, the Vietnamese CP, and the CP of the Russian Federation have set up formal study commissions, but to the author’s knowledge, none has issued a report so far.

[119] Right-wing Revisionism Today, 391

[120] Ibid., 252.

[121] This section follows Keeran and Kenny, 204.

[122] For example, in a US context, how few have examined the role of the now immense foundation sector pushing “progressive opinion” into safe channels. In 2003 foundation assets were $450 billion. For example, multibillionaire George Soros, an opponent of Bush but not an opponent of capitalism, by means of foundation money has become a major force in Democratic Party politics and progressive causes generally. Foundations fund the World Social Forum, a reformist jamboree, and its regional offshoots. See Joan Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism (Albany, NY: SUNY,
2003), 19.

[123] One Soviet definition of the universal laws of socialist construction is: “guidance of the working people by the working class and its communist vanguard during the socialist revolution and the entire socialist phase; alliance between the working class and other sections of the working people; establishment of the dictatorship of proletariat in the form of the socialist state of the working class, peasants, and other working people; the socialist states continually growing creative role; a correct Marxist-Leninist solution of the national question especially by establishing federations in multinational states, based on a voluntary consent and equal rights of nations and nationalities, on the right of nations to self-determination up to secession, and on the principles of democratic centralism and socialist federalism, proletarian internationalism and socialist democracy; the working people’s broad participation in the management of all social and state affairs; the extension of the principles of democracy from politics to economics and all other social fields.” From “The 50th Anniversary of the Formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics,” cited in Socialism and Democracy, 212-213.

[124] Holz, ibid.

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