Response to C.J. Atkins “Living in an Era of Change”

This response is to C.J. Atkins' article and also by articles by John Case and commentaries related to these articles.

Although I take issue with some of the formulations, I am glad that this is being brought into the open for discussion. Some might say we should not be doing this, because no proposal to change the Party's name was brought to our May convention as a resolution, let alone passed, so we should wait to raise the issue for pre convention discussion before our next convention, three and a half years from now.

However, I think this policy should be changed. The world changes too fast for us to freeze all our Party-wide discussion for four years, defrost it for 6 months before our convention, and then freeze it again. So I would be very much in favor of having an ongoing discussion in our media and collectives on these questions of ideology, strategy and tactics. Only everybody should be invited to participate on an equal basis.

To the matter at hand:

Although I agree that, as Shakespeare said “a rose by another name would smell as sweet”, I do not think the logic of changing the “Communist” and “Party” names is well thought out in these contributions.  

We have to understand that while some may react negatively to the name, others react positively. This is the case with the hundreds of people who have been applying for party membership over the internet recently. These are mostly people who specifically went looking for the phrase “Communist Party” on the internet, found our websites, liked what they read and sent in an e-mailed application. We have received such a number of such applications that we have to work overtime to catch up with them all.  If we cut ourselves off from our fighting history by inventing some sort of bland new name for ourselves, such people would never even know where to look for us. Among more non-party people than you would imagine, our Party has a deep reservoir of prestige. I have even found this with some people in the Democratic Party. People who have any political education at all understand who we are on the basis of our history. For people who do not have a political education on that subject, it is our responsibility to provide it, which we will not achieve by hiding our light under a bushel.

And I think that people who are not bothered by the “communist” and “party” labels are better recruits for us qualitatively, than people who are – that is, unless we think it is a good plan to recruit anti-communists into the Communist Party (but they wouldn't join anyway).

I also have a fundamental problem with lowering our flag or donning some sort of camouflage as a response to the poison of anti-communism, instead of fighting it. Though the methods of people like Stalin and Mao were deplorable, and huge mistakes were made in other socialist countries also, to simply denounce the entire communist experience in the USSR and beyond to me is repugnant. What about Fidel, Che, Ho Chi Minh, Gramsci, Lenin and Mariátegui? Are we going to repudiate such figures too, because they are foreign, old, or (horrors) dead?

I think that our duty is to educate the US people about the real history of the communist movement worldwide and in our country. We should not cover up the crimes of Stalin or any of the other mistakes that were made, but neither should we make ideological concessions to our enemies. (Atkins mentions Ceausescu of Rumania as a bad figure from the communist past; do we not remember that Ceausescu was a pampered U.S. ally within the Eastern European bloc?)

I am sure the comrades who are writing in this vein do not intend to inject “red white and blue” USA nationalism into our Party, by implying that we have nothing to learn from “old” or “foreign” figures in the communist movement. But it is wrong anyway, and foments a nationalistic attitude. The United States has specific historically determined characteristics, around which we have to build our strategy and tactics (e.g., vis a vis the Democrats), but we are not better than other peoples and other communist parties, or different to the point that we have nothing to learn from them.  Study of the works of Gramsci, Che Guevara and Mariátegui would be very salutary for our members and friends – not to mention Marx and Engels themselves, who both were foreigners who became old and are now dead.

Thank goodness nobody takes the attitude that we can't learn from those two old, dead Europeans!

Yes, it's true that from time to time communist parties in other countries have used names other than “communist”. Sometimes that has worked out well for them, as for the AKEL of Cyprus. On other occasions, the results have not been as good, probably not because of the name change per se but because of other tendencies linked to the name change. 

During the 1940s, this was the trend in some places. In the United States, we had the episode when Earl Browder was our General Secretary. The change of the name to “Communist Political Association” (note that “Communist” stayed in there, but “Party” was jettisoned) was associated with rightward, liquidationist trends than nearly put an end to us.  Riding herd on the Latin American parties, which had been put under our Party's tutelage by the COMINTERN, in some cases involved Browder and his colleagues pressuring for name changes, in other for dissolution of the existing communist parties. In the case of Cuba the name was changed to People's Socialist Party; in that of Mexico there was an effort to dissolve the Communist Party, which was resisted. This was all based on the idea that the Democratic Party would move the United States, and thus the world, in the direction of socialism. But the both major US political parties moved sharply to the right after World War II, and the Latin American parties who had followed our lead, or at any rate the COMINTERN's, in these things had to reorganize themselves completely to deal with new imperialist assaults in the region. The upshot for us was the ouster of Browder, the reconstruction of the Communist Party USA, and then repression during the McCarthy period.

And if anyone imagines that McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities would not have had success in going after us if we had been working under another name, they are quite wrong. Disguising our identity would not have worked, and would only have reinforced the idea that we were trying to hide behind false fronts. In fact, it probably would have been better if we had been working more openly under our own name; the failure to do that played into the anti-communists efforts to portray us as a secret conspiracy. Nor would changing our name have stopped the losses that we incurred after the Khrushchev revelations about Stalin, or the John Gates episode. 

Again after the fall of the USSR and the Eastern European socialist bloc, some communist parties underwent a similar process which eventually destroyed them. And I have not seen the country in which the presence of a communist party would be bad, or which would be better off without one. 

Based on 23 years of Party experience, I have a different idea as to why we do not grow quickly enough to make up for losses caused by the decease of our old, cherished comrades who established such a glorious record in past decades. 

In the clubs I have been in, at one point as a club chair, I have never seen a systematic approach to strategizing which mass movements and organizations we should link up to. It has very often been left up to individual comrades, with some choosing not to get involved in mass struggles at all. There has been a willingness to do electoral work for the Democrats at election time, but that is only every couple of years. Things are said about this at the national and district level, but I fear it is not taken up by some clubs in any kind of organized way.

Worse, I have seen a lack of a systematic approach to recruitment. There is a struggle to get comrades to write down and turn in names and contact information on prospects, and in assigning people to go and talk to such people, inviting them to open club meetings. People who want to join the Party are supposed to find us somehow, while we try to disguise ourselves to make it harder! Speaking of sectarianism, this is a good example of how it harms us.

And I am not sure everybody is sold on the merits of using the Internet. I am on many list serves (Cuba solidarity, international affairs, civil liberties, immigrants' rights and peace) in which very important discussions take place, potentially giving a forum for our Party to put forth its views and announce its activities, not to mention urging people to read our online press. But very few of our comrades take advantage of this forum, as far as I can see. This is in spite of all the urging by our national leadership to get with the new developments in electronic communications. There is no reason why every single article in our press can't be posted on one mass movement list serve or other. 

If we want the party to grow and increase its influence, we should do more check up on these things, and not cut ourselves off from our historic legacy and the reservoir of respect and prestige it has given us.  

The potential for growth is huge.

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  • 1. we live in the united states, where any direction you turn there are cultural projects aimed at scaring the living be-jeezuz out of people, the better to keepthem anxious, their minds deflected, etc. this happens not only with movies and television. long before those technologies came the fear of certain words, like...

    atheists...originally those who refused to worship the roman state gods. case in point......

    christians...who supposedly sacrificed maidens and children at easter centuries before.....

    communists stood accused of eating babies, and then...

    communist became a term to describe those with one whom was having an argument, and................

    communists bastards.....as above, but one to whom the argument was being lost.

    we are afraid of words: communists, muslims, gays, feminists........... terrorists all, of course. perhaps one of the most important ideological tasks of communists is to get people to stop being afraid of words. beginning with that word that describes us.

    Posted by gary hicks, 11/16/2010 4:11pm (7 years ago)

  • Excellent work!
    --jim lane

    Posted by Jim Lane, 11/15/2010 8:24am (7 years ago)

  • Response to John Pietaro:

    At the risk of sounding as if I am arguing both sides of these issues, I have to say that while preserving the name of our Party and our links to its history, we should still be practical about matters like electoral work and work in mass organizations. I have worn many a campaign button and worked for many a Democratic Party candidate in my life (Harold Washington for mayor of Chicago in 1983 and 1987 and many others before or since); this is a strategic and tactical necessity. I was not arguing against that; we should do more of it, not less, as a sober assessment of objective and subjective conditions dictate. It was certainly correct to support Obama-Biden in 2008 as the only real alternative was McCain-Palin, and I wish we had done more than we did in the elections just finished.
    What I was arguing against was the idea that we would somehow solve the difficulties of doing political work in this country by changing our name, declaring ourselves not to be a party, and cutting ourselves off from our history. The people who take this position don't realize that for all the problems that would ostensibly solve, it would create an equal number or more new ones. That's all.
    On Stalin, this merits more discussion. To me, he was a psychopathic character who did much harm to the communist movement, as well as being instrumental in causing vast suffering to his own people and others. I strongly suspect his practices contributed to the undermining and eventually collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union and his allies, though his successors had a hand in that also. I have not written on this subject because I don't read Russian and don't have access even to an academic library, let alone old Soviet Archives and so forth (Erwin Marquit and David Laibman have done some interesting critiques, different in approch from each other). I am not quite sure why some now don't see this, or consider it unimportant.

    Posted by Emile Schepers, 11/09/2010 9:05pm (7 years ago)

  • Like most readers of PA I have been reading the series of articles and responses on this subject very closely and with great concern. It is of no real surprise that some forces in the Party have been pushing for a complete change of name as we have been moving, it seems, further and further away from our original revolutionary roots for some time. Frankly, this does not feel anything like a political party as there has been no desire to run candidates; increasingly we feel like an extension on NY's Working Families Party---an entity literally designed not as a political party per se but one only meant to push the Democrats a little further left. While there is a strong place for this, it should not be seen within the same plane as a communist party of any kind.

    I have engaged in some open sparring with our leadership over the past months as I have seen shifts further and further away from what many of us feel a revolutionary party should be all about. But at the same time I have made it very, very clear to the Stalinists among us that I cannot stand in that camp either. I joined the CP based on its amazing history of social justice campaigns and--on a more personal level--its rich, vibrant history of radical cultural workers. I have never subscribed to the Stalin-apologist theory and recognize that it was damned wrong for any Marxist party to collectively close its eyes to very real atrocities. I feel that it is imperative that the PARTY begin acting as such and that we should never hide from our actual mission statement. Taking "Communist" out of our name, especially in light of our pull further and further toward the Dems in recent years, would place us firmly into the territory of many other social-democrat or progressive organizations. So then, what are we? If we are communists then why consider hiding this? But, more to the point, if we are Communists then why don't we begin by acting like this?

    I do not advocate a far-Left approach but---and let's be real comrades---activists on the Left have long felt that the CP has been a sell-out to the Dems. Seeing members of leadership in NY wearing Obama buttons and tee-shirts during our city's first May Day parade in generations did little to fight that assertion. We live in the belly of the capitalist beast and we sometimes must work within the system to fight off the arch-right, but when every battle is about this and we always do so through the Democratic Party we cease to function as a communist party of any kind. When the Socialist Party, whom we once accused of being "social-fascists", presents as being much more radical, it is no shock that some of our members see dropping both "communist" and "party" from our name as plausible. And this is the whole problem.

    Posted by John Pietaro, 11/08/2010 7:52pm (7 years ago)

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