Lessons Learned from the Revisionism in the CPUSA

Source: Ideological Fightback, volume 2, issue 2. Summer/fall 2015

By: Joseph Hancock, National Chair, PCUSA

[Important Note: The author was a member of the CPUSA for 30+ years.]

To understand where modern day revisionism comes from in the CPUSA it is necessary to go back to the party’s beginning in 1919. The CPUSA was formed out of the split with the Socialist Party and the Second International. But because comrades could not agree on a unified program, two separate parties were formed. It was only through decisions made by the Comintern that the Americans were forced to unite into one Communist Party of the United States of America.

Right opportunism always existed in the party. In the 20s there was the opportunism of Jay Lovestone. He was expelled when it was discovered that he was double dealing. In the 30’s there was the split with the Trotskyites, who left the CPUSA to form the socialist Workers Party. J.D. Cannon, who led this split was one of Trotsky’s main confidants. Then there was Earl Browder. In the beginning, he wrote many good party pamphlets and was ideologically very sound. He was a staunch supporter of the Soviet Union, but toward the end WWII, he adopted the theory of what came to be known as ‘American exceptionalism.” This concept separated American workers from workers in other countries and eventually led to the liquidation of the CPUSA. The party was formally dissolved in 1944 and turned into the Communist Political Association. Truly, Browder believed, as did leaders of the CPUSA that came along later like Sam Webb, that capitalism and socialism could ‘peacefully co-exist’ in a competitive world.

We Need A Comintern

For lack of a Communist International (Comintern) Communist Parties are free to develop dangerous ideological trends like Euro-communism and peaceful co-existence that limit the role of CP’s worldwide. In the case of the CPUSA, this is exactly what has happened. Let’s take a look at the present situation. The CPUSA properties are the party’s main source of income. But instead of using the income for organizing purposes, the funds are used to maintain a small staff of technocrats that perform various non-political functions. As of this writing, it is possible to join the CPUSA online for only $12! No ideological or political training are needed. A plastic membership card is mailed out with a few party documents and the person that sent in the $12 becomes a member. It doesn’t matter if the person is an agent of the government or another “left” group or not. Now think about for a moment what is necessary to join any other credible Communist Party around the world. The comrades would never allow this!

From a Cadre Party to a Mass Party without the Masses

The CPUSA has changed from a cadre organization to a mass organization without any masses. They have abandoned the vanguard party concept, have removed discussion of Lenin’s works from discussion beyond saying that he was one of the great communist minds. They envision building a bourgeois left electoral front to compete in elections that will include all of the other small parties like theirs. Finally, they never discuss socialism as a possibility for the United States.

This year, for all these reasons, some of us who were dropped from membership in the CPUSA formed a new party, the Party of Communists, USA. We are a cadre party that is built around 8 points of Marxist-Leninist unity. We immediately began to try to build ties with CP’s associated with the KKE of Greece. We published their articles on our website, ideological-fightback.com and we sent a representative to the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) festival in Ecuador in 2012. We also attempted to work with the International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties (IMCWP) without success. We did all this because the CPUSA was not representing the communist ideological view in the United States.

The Origins of Modern Opportunism

We see the origins of modern opportunism and class collaboration in the CPUSA as it developed during the Gus Hall years, even in colloquial terms. The position of General Secretary of the party was changed to National Chair. The Central Committee was changed to the National Committee. Around the world communist meetings are called congresses. In the U.S. they are called “conventions.” Anything to be exceptional; to be different from other workers! Although it cannot be known with absolute certainty, we believe that in Gus Hall’s later years, the ideas that were published as being his were actually penned by someone else. These ideas, including many of Sam Webb’s ideas and many that think the way he does, were substituted for Gus Hall’s true thoughts. Personal contact with him, including phone calls were cut off.

Here is an example. Gus formulated the concept of the “Communist Plus.” What he used to say about our comrades involved in trade union work was that they were excellent trade unionists, but very poor comrades. They never brought up the Subject of communism or the party with their co-Workers. Later, a concept came out that comrade Gus called “Bill of Rights” socialism. How could a leading communist take a bourgeois document, the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and compare it to our vision of socialism? On the one hand, he criticized our trade union comrades for not bringing up communism on the job, while on the other, he suggests that American socialism will be based on the bourgeois Bill of Rights! How can communists implement the communist plus when it is based on the party’s allegory to a bourgeois document? This was largely right opportunism, and many comrades were confused and many worked inside the Democratic Party instead of building the CPUSA.

All Centralism, No Democracy

In the 1940’s the Social-Democratic unions in the United States used to have a saying: “clear it with Sidney,” referring to Sidney Hillman, the leader of the needle trades unions. He called the shots. And so it is in the CPUSA. There are no clubs/cells to speak of. Only individual members sending in dues. District meetings are few and far between. So decisions are made in a vacuum. The decisions of the CPUSA are made in New York and Chicago by a National Committee that no one knows. In other words, all of the capitalist stereotypes about communists and their organizations apply to the CPUSA. They lack humanity or Concern for their comrades. They are manipulative, cunning, deceptive, and dishonest. Why would any Worker want to join such an organization? The truth is that most do not. The problem is that the CPUSA gives the rest of us honest communists that speak from the heart a bad name. Since 2010, four clubs have been told by the CPUSA leadership that “the Party is going is a different direction”. First it was the Arts and Media club in New York, using the excuse that the club had too many close connections to the Canadian Organization North Star Compass. Then it was the Houston Communist club because they refused to remove their internet website. Then it was the Los Angeles (California) Metro club because the club distributed information from the KKE (Communist Party of Greece) at a district meeting, and placed a banner with the likeness of Joseph Stalin and other Communist heroes in front of the Los Angeles Workers’ Center” Finally, it was the Austen Hogen (New York) transportation club because they were supporting the website mltoday.com. The decision to stop printing the party newspaper altogether was made by the CPUSA National Committee over strong protest from the comrades around the country that depended on the paper to engage workers in their communities. “All of these decisions were made for the self interest of bureaucrats protecting their jobs and had nothing to do with real communist politics. All of the Party clubs were doing good communist work, utilizing the Party press, just as comrade Gus Hall said: “the Communist Plus”.

Before Gus Hall

Before Gus Hall took over leadership of the CPUSA in 1963, there was flawed leadership after Earl Browder was expelled from the party. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were executed on June19, 1953. John Gates was a party leader in the 1950’s and caused a lot of damage because of his opposition to the defense of socialist Hungary by the USSR in 1956. This was followed by the Khrushchev reveiations. which turned out to be completely false. But the damage was done. There were also many political repressions in the 1950’s that vanquished important party leadership. Gus Hall himself spent 8 years in federal prison on a charge of “conspiracy to teach” communism. The party did not fully recover from these political repressions. Henry Winston, for example, became blind because he was in prison and had a brain tumor. Prison officials refused to give him medical care. He never regained his sight. His saying was: “I lost my sight but not my vision.” The great singer, actor, performer, lawyer, athlete Paul Robeson had his passport revoked and was not able to travel. All of these events had a huge impact of the functioning and effectiveness of the party. Then came the 60’s and Dorothy Healy’s defection from the party over Czechoslovakia in 1968. Then came Al Richmond’s anti-communist book, Long View From The Left. All these events taken separately don’t mean much, but taken together, a pattern can be established that shows the ideological weakness of the party, and a rejection of Democratic Centralism. Gus Hall was a product of the Khrushchev era. As such, he was anti-Stalin and accepted the anti-Stalin paradigm which influenced the CPUSA. During the Brezhnev period, the anti-Stalin slanders were never corrected. Later, Gorbachev continued with more vigor, the slanders of comrade Stalin that were started by Khrushchev.

Principles Before Personalities

In our movement, there have always been strong personalities. We have to guard against the tendency of working as individuals. Our collectivity is the strength of our Bolshevik outlook. Bad ideas and decisions come from us not working collectively. As I mentioned previously, Gus Hall was surrounded by comrades that did not permit him to interact with the broader party. This kept him insulated. This must never happen. When it does, disaster strikes. I was very impressed by the stark contrast of the CPUSA conventions and the fifth congress of the PCM. In Mexico there were no issues of transparency, no issues of democratic centralism. The comrades functioned from beginning to end as true communists. They are a shining example of how a Communist Party should be organized, whereas, the CPUSA was not. Microphones were turned off, resolutions that were passed on the floor were overturned by the comrades on the dais. Parliamentary manoeuvres were made to limit debate. The pre-convention period was shortened to one month and so on. All of this was done by non-communists to honest hard working party members. Why? Because in the CPUSA we were taught to listen to our leaders and read their publications. Unfortunately, our leaders were wrong and were not challenged until it was too late. What has happened to the CPUSA is a tragedy and a great setback for the world communist movement. We have not only the right but also the duty to speak up and to challenge our leaders when we feel they are making mistakes in judgment. This was not done for many reasons. As it turns out, those who did were dropped from membership in violation of the CPUSA constitution. The leaders of the CPUSA are people without communist principles.

Work Among the Youth

One of the cardinal sins of the CPUSA was to allow their Young Communist League to fall apart. It has no political direction, no youth magazine or newspaper to distribute and no active communication. This must never happen in a communist organization. Our new party, the PCUSA has a youth organization called the League of Young Communists (LYC) with a newspaper titled Our Time Is Now, a web-page, a Tumbler page and has reached out to youth across the United States. We now have active LYC cells in Los Angeles, Texas, Indiana, Michigan, and Florida. We are growing all the time because we have a program and a respect of the important role the youth play in our society. We consider this to be the most important aspect of good communist work. We are also participating in the People’s School for Marxist-Leninist Studies. We believe that educating the youth of today to take our place in the revolutionary struggle is the most important.

Communist Parties Must Retain Their Structure

During its formative years, the CPUSA had two different types of clubs or cells. There were shop clubs and community clubs. When a comrade was on the job, he/she was building the party there. There were shop papers distributed by members of the local community club. For many years, I distributed, along with many other comrades, the party paper at the plant gate at the local GM auto assembly plant. This was a kind of inside/outside strategy. Little by little, the party atrophied until almost no one was left. Many industrial plants were shut down in the 1980’s. As this happened, the effective strategy disappeared along with it. Study groups disappeared. Bookstores disappeared. Soon the CPUSA was a shell of its former self. Those of us that demanded that we continue this club building strategy were called “has beens.” That is to say that we lived in the past. instead of a militant, fighting organization, the party became an appendage of the Democratic Party. Trade Union sections disappeared along with the shop clubs. The Neighborhood clubs that still existed did precinct work for the local Democratic candidates. Some CPUSA party leaders actually ran for office as Democrats. This must never be allowed to happen in a Communist organization. Comrade Lorenzo Torrez, the CPUSA District Organizer in the state of Arizona always ran for public office as a communist. He never expected to win. The point of his candidacy was to publicize the CPUSA platform and to recruit. He was a great example of Gus Hall’s Communist Plus idea.

Conclusions

In summing up the ideological problems laid at Sam Webb’s doorstep beginning with his Reflections On Socialism and subsequent writings, the ideological problems existed in the party long before his watch. Under Webb’s mis-leadership, they became glaringly apparent, but existed for many years. The ideological weakness in the CPUSA can be traced to the absence of a Comintern. The first step in making the Communist movement strong ideologically, is to build a new Communist International that is based on the direction from the KKE, the PCM, the PCPE, the Communist Party of Portugal, the Communist Party of Ireland, the Workers Party of Ireland, the Communist Party of Palestine, the Turkish Communist Party, the CP of El Salvador, the CP of Brazil, the CP of Sudan, the Workers Party of Hungary, the CP of Germany, and the Russian Communist Workers Party (RCWP), the Communist Party of Columbia and the FARC, the Communist Party of Bolivia, the PCUSA and other parties and formations that agree with the line of the Communist International. This would have to take place outside of the International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties (Solidnet). First and foremost, we must launch a polemic against Trotskyism, Maoism, Anarchism, and Social-Democracy as anti-communist ideologies. We must reject schemes that promote “market Socialism” which requires the roles of exploiter and exploited to continue to exist. The role of the state needs to be clarified so that comrades understand, as in Mexico, that nationalization of industries like petrochemical does not change the relationship of the bourgeoisie to the state. The industry is “nationalized” but the bourgeoisie still controls it and reaps the profits from it and still exploits the proletariat. This is not socialism. For a long time we communists in the United States believed that nationalization of major industries like banking and telecommunications would be better than direct private ownership. But now, as Lenin correctly teaches us, with the collusions between the state and the bourgeoisie, this is no longer true. Nationalization would just further the interests of the bourgeoisie and would give them even greater control that they have now with much more force. With an international communist policy, individual CP’s would not be free to develop theories on their own. Had this been the case, after WW II, the situation in the CPUSA would have been very different. As it was, all we saw was a letter from Jacques Duclos of the French Communist Party admonishing Browder and American exceptionalism. While this was very helpful, it turned out not to be enough to stop the CPUSA’s ideological slide. The ideological strength has to come from the Comintern as it does through the KKE’s publication, World Communist Review. It should be pointed out now here that the CPUSA now accepts Trotskyites and social-democrats into leading positions in the organization. Their purpose is to pry the party away from the working class and deliver it to the petty-bourgeoisie. So far, they have been successful. For this reason, we are starting over as a completely new organization with a new set of principles based on Marxism-Leninism and alliance with like-minded CP’s.