TOWARDS A MARXIST PARTY - Magic Caps and Monsters


First Published: Spark Vol. I, No. 4, July 1947
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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“Perseus wore a magic cap that the monsters he hunted down might not see him. We draw the magic cap down over eyes and ears as a make-believe that there are no monsters!” (Marx, in his 1867 Preface to “Capital,” suggesting how appalled Germany would be if she dared investigate her economic conditions as did England.)

Part I of this article is an appeal to rank-and-file Comrade Perseus of the CPUSA to discard his magic cap and face his monsters. Part II (which will appear in SPARK No. 5) is an appeal to expelled Comrade Perseus to discard a not unrelated magic cap and face his monsters.

I–COMRADE PERSEUS

Comrade Perseus was once a self-respecting credit to the Communist movement. He even made a little history, having learned from his own experience that “freedom is the recognition of necessity,” (Engels’ Anti-Duhring, Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.) Now, having “learned” opportunism, but not about opportunism, he drifts about with magic cap down not only over his eyes and ears, but–things are really bad now–also over his nose. Perseus waits for comfortable, inevitable Messiahs to ease his burden of responsibility: new conditions– such as a depression–“forcing reality” on the CP., foreign C.P.’s helping those who won’t help themselves, or a mystical transformation of the National Committee from opportunism to Marxism. So, Comrade Perseus isn’t free these days. Better to look, listen, and even smell. If Perseus will face the monsters and the facts, he will destroy the monsters and change the facts. When Perseus has really recognized and learned the facts and the solutions, learned them to the deep point where he must act, must decide to make a little history, instead of whimpering at “inevitable” forces, then Perseus has become free and bold. If he will face the mythical monster of split, disunity, factionalism, if he will excavate the true facts about Lenin–how he fought for splits, damned unprincipled unity, and organized factions for the integrity of the Party–he will cease to be what Thorez calls the “mannikin” and become a real Communist. To the day he died– literally – Lenin fought hardest against opportunism and the fake unity under cover of which it worked and destroyed the revolutionary movement. In this he followed the example of Marx and Engels. Engels wrote to Bebel in 1882 (see reprints in this issue):

“Unity is quite a good thing so long as it is possible, but there are things which stand higher than unity. And when, like Marx and myself, one has fought harder all one’s life long against the alleged socialists than against anyone else . . . one cannot greatly grieve that the inevitable struggle has broken out . . .”

If he will examine the mythical monster of differences of opinion within the CP., he will find that if Browder, Foster, and Dennis have said “no,“ Stalin has said, “On the contrary, iron discipline does not preclude but presupposes criticism and contests of opinion within the Party.” (Foundations of Leninism.) Perseus must decide to think, grant himself the right to consider those questions which hit him in the face every day. Why could Browderism have taken over so easily? Why does the present CPUSA policy obtain the approval of Browder (radio speech, Oct. 1946)–the approval of Browder and you? Why were so many Comrades expelled–the real reasons? Why is the CPUSA snubbed by the great C.P.’s of the world while its relations are not so bad with those C.P.’s which also went Browderite? (see letter in this issue from Fergus McKean). Why doesn’t the CP. publish one iota of the Marxist literature it once did? Why does the CP. avoid teaching the question of the State– dangerous ground? WHY DOESN’T THE CPUSA HOLD ITS NATIONAL CONVENTION AS SCHEDULED? To face these questions means to discontinue the haven of the magic cap, become a renegade from meaningless loyalty, and understand Foster’s “unity–or elses” as gibberish in the Foster-fatherhood of the orphaned revolutionary, trade-union, and progressive movements in the U. S.

What kind of superstition operates the minds of those comrades who say to us: you’re right about CP. opportunism, and our leaders are not good, but how can you attack the leadership of a Communist Party? What a Barnum and Bailey circus of dialectics this is–to accept the proof of incorrect policy and yet remain subservient to the Creators of wrong policy. Is it the understandable fear of pioneering, of building with small forces what does not exist in the U. S. today– a revolutionary movement? We have no magic cap for that either–only determination stemming from the “recognition of necessity.“ There is no palatable alternative. We can take solace from the fact that this is the way it always goes until a Party really becomes a Bolshevik Party. In July 1901, Lenin wrote to an ISKRA agent, Tsederbaum, “It is incredible! After a whole year of desperate efforts, we are only beginning to group a staff of leaders and organizers in Russia for an enormous and important task: (this staff is still terribly small, for apart from the three people mentioned, we have only another 2-3 men) [our italics] while for the all-Russian organ we need scores of energetic collaborators (using this word not only in a literary sense).”

Often, when Comrade Perseus decides to fight for a real CP., his advance towards practical action is cut off by an important opportunist hangover–the need for such prerequisites as momentary success, prestige, and respectability. He will condescend to begin with tons of upsurge only. If the beginnings have to be made by a few (as is usually the case) this bold comrade reconsiders, tries to convince himself that there is not enough of international importance to merit his attention, that there are not enough key people involved. In a word, he solemnly intones the word “premature“ and again retires to toast his toes at the fireplace of party loyalty. But isn’t it logical that after a chronic opportunism has destroyed all the best muscles and reflexes, that there must of necessity be mighty little left, with which to start rebuilding. Otherwise, opportunism would have been stopped somewhere short of the annihilation of a sizable Communist, incorruptible core. The secret is that out of a painstaking “quality” (in rank-and-file and expelled Perseus) at the beginning there develops inevitably a “quantity”–a quantity not representing that transient membership and fantastic alumni, which the CPUSA has produced through the years, but rather a quantity of thinking, “all-weather” Communists, in-to-stay. So if Perseus finds the facts and develops the guts to go with the facts, he decides that a little pioneering might be rugged but wholesome–and absolutely essential. When Perseus approached snake-headed Medusa, he was warned he might turn to stone. Comrade P, if you face the Medusa of the nonexistent July 4th Convention of the CPUSA to which Harry Pollitt was invited by Foster (see back cover of SPARK No. 3), will you turn to stone, and is turning to stone such a bad prospect? At a time when your leadership has turned to putty, it’s a most loyal contribution for you to turn to stone.

The recent plenum of the N. C. postponed the convention to 1948 “so that the Communist Party can make its final decisions concerning the 1948 elections at the time when other political parties will be making theirs.“ (D.W.–July 13, 1946.)

The CP. Constitution states a N. C. duty to call a Convention every two years. The N. C. has not deigned to even answer this point. It reminds one of the caustic attacks by Zhdanov on “the practice of setting official discipline up against and higher than Party discipline, thus demoralizing honest Party members.” [18th Congress CPSU (B)] There is a logic to regular conventions which makes the N.C fear that a Convention might tempt some reevaluation of deadend policy and devaluation of deadhead leadership.

Until sometime (?) in 1948 is a long time on the rushed imperialist timetable of our government. What prevented the suggestion of a date–even a tentative date? The truth is, the N.C has not quite decided to hold a convention in 1948. We think that if the work of forming , a revolutionary core in this country accelerates, there will be no convention dared because every word of such a Social-Democratic caucus would stand exposed in the spotlight of the anti-opportunist movement outside the party and of its links inside the CP. On the other hand, if our movement stagnates, weakens, or embarks on queer ideological journeys (which SPARK has tried to fight), it is certainly possible for a “safe,” “fixed” convention tp be held. What will happen at such a pre-caucused caucus will be worse than the last one at which 94 self-picked delegates elected 74 of themselves to the N.C. But a CP. convention is taboo now for other reasons. At this point in world troubles a CPUSA convention is a terrible magnet for world attention. Our comrades around the world know that the Duclos letter fell under eager rank-and-file eyes (as shown in the unsuccessful rebellion at the N. Y. State Convention) but into corrupt N.C. hands, and that the corrupt hands tore out the opening eyes of the membership. They know that, in the event of another letter, Foster, Dennis and Master Switcher Stachel would again play “kitty in the corner–all change corners.” The help of our foreign comrades will be most valuable to us when we here in the U. S. do the job. And the required beginning is a real Communist core (outside and inside), perhaps very small, but clearly Marxist. Then there will be another Duclos Day. And then there will be a C.I. because the U.S. won’t be represented by a Starobin who says he would oppose a C.I. Despite all this the N.C. feels that some “renegade” party overseas would lose control and spit at our National Convention. Oh, perhaps nothing so violent. Perhaps just a brief statement in the Party press of France or Italy or of the S.U. that “A CPUSA convention has just been held. It was distinguished from the usual type of American Legion Convention in that no pianos were thrown from the upper stones of 35 East 12th St.“

The N.C. intends to avoid such publicity. It hopes that a convention held in the midst of the clamor of major party conventions might attain a reasonable obscurity as it listened to a Max Weiss “ideological” report perhaps entitled “From the Leftist Fight for Security to the Non-Doctrinaire Fight for Obscurity.” So, the N.C. could successfully unburden itself of a convention pretty well hidden from the world, the U.S., and its own membership.

The fact that the convention must meet at the same time as the Democratic and Republican parties exposes the parliamentarian quicksands of the CP. How can it help produce a third party if it meets late enough deliberately for it to be too late to do anything but face the “sober facts“ that the CP. must again stick with the “forward elements“ within the Democratic Party. Again the CP. Convention would be the “Tale of a Tail.” The N.C hopes that if it could not eliminate all preconvention discussion it could at least restrict it to a discussion of election candidates. The party trade union leaders would * prefer not to have to expose themselves at a Party Convention. The secret of this fear that long-known Communist leaders have of exposure today is simply the frantic fear of losing lucrative jobs.

Or suppose a “renegade” comrade somehow makes the convention–and gets in his 4 and 1/2 second blast. This alone is enough to set up an N.C. commission to reevaluate Marxism away from conventions.

Max Weiss, reporting on the plenum to a recent meeting of the waterfront and student sections, said in answer to questions about “no convention” that lack of finances prevented it at this time. The facts are actually that the CPUSA is bankrupt, but only ideologically– not financially (unless the current two month paid vacations for leaders, have consumed the recent board). Have the poorest Communist parties in the worst circumstances ever made such a decision for such a reason?

Party conventions have been postponed before. For instance, in a letter to V.A. and S.N. Karpinsky in Geneva, Lenin wrote on Jan. 8, 1917 from Zurich, ”On Sunday, 7th Jan. 1917, there was a meeting in Zurich of the Partervorstand of the Swiss Socialist Party. A disgraceful resolution was adopted–to postpone for an indefinite period the Party Congress which had been fixed for the 10th Feb. 1917 in Berne, especially for a discussion on the military question. Motives: high prices must be fought; the workers are not ready; there is no unanimity in the Commission and so on. Such motives merely ridicule the Party.”

The Daily Worker plenum summary (July 13th) stated: “With a very few exceptions, this meeting was limited to members of the National Committee–making possible a more thorough discussion of issues and keeping the body down to efficient working size.” The N.C. waxes frantic and mistrusts even its own high devotees–which it has no right to do–we assure them. The necessity for safeguarding a plenum via the efficiency of excluding leading members explains how awful the prospect of a Convention must be to the N.C.

For efficiency, the N.C. called off the Convention. For efficiency, it held a restricted plenum. What efficient method does it use–unsuccessfully–to stop the flow of critical letters to the N.C, objections to and resolutions condemning N.C. policy. The method is terror, blackmail, the transformation of the CP. into a prison. What is the dissident member threatened with? If his job can be imperiled by exposure, the N.C hints it will expose him. If he is an alien, the leadership threatens to expose him to possibilities of deportation. If he dares take his opposition to the “free“ streets of America, he is beaten by a prepared assortment of Party thugs–not by the police or the Christian front this time–but by CP. gangsters. If he is a veteran of the Spanish war, a Lincoln Brigade vet, he is damned as a Fascist, expelled, called anti-Negro. In the case of a Jewish editor of SPARK, he is smeared along the grapevine as a secret organizer of the German-American Bund. And in any case he is called a Trotskyite–by a leadership which has not the guts to fight the Trotskyites they run from–the Gus Tylers and the Reuthers. The CP. leadership has lost the stomach to fight anyone but Communists–and these certainly not in the open. As for all these statements, which Comrade Perseus may find it hard to believe, he’ll bump into an example one of these days –when he tests inner-party democracy. Yes, Perseus, to face all this is enough to make one very angry –enough to turn one to stone.

Shouldn’t every self-respecting Communist take inventory of the United States at this late date. If he does, he will find a great danger brewing, and if he has a Communist sense of responsibility, he will see himself as also responsible–for all the corny words of misleadership he may have passed on to his non-party friends who respected him for the very word, Communist, he carried.

Comrade P, at a time when a bold offensive can save democracy, have you also been the carrier of the National Committee’s disease of compromise and retreat in your union, your AVC chapter, your PCA chapter? Discount a slight hypocritical lip-movement in the D.W., judge by the facts of life–how the party holds back strikes and the formation of a third party, how it double-talks away from the defense of brave men like Eisler, Barsky, Josephson, Fast?

Or again, when an AFL International beheaded your whole union leadership and you ran to the Party for help, what were you told, Perseus? One word: Unity. Sometimes you were given three words at no extra dues: Unity–or else. Have you wondered why spontaneous demonstrations of tremendous value (such as, the UMW rank-and-file political strike against the Taft-Hartley Bill) come off only in the absence of unity-or-else Communists.

Or very simply, have you visualized what would happen if you suggested an educational in your branch on “What is to Be Done?”

If you belonged to a much better party (up through the Spanish War) do you remember that when something had to be done, you were given instructions to go out and build and produce right in your organizations. And in contrast, have you received any instructions to build the third party? You haven’t. Your leadership has prohibited some of the third party leaflets you wrote, changed your May Day placards. When you have seen the Party fight, it has been only over a well-paid job held by a party bureaucrat. And what do you think when you read that Louis Weinstock, after years of leadership in the Painters Union, years in which he de-educated union members, lost–and lost to of all people, a miserable Trotskyite. Some comment on a national leader of the Party. He became as popular in his union as another Painter’s disease –lead poisoning. He did such a good job of confusion on his men that they floundered into a Trotskyite. If you’re a Vet, Perseus, think how it came to be that the progressive vets in AVC have accepted the leadership of the Bloc of Republican-Democratic - Social Democratic-Trotskyite-World Gov’t careerists, everyone of whom the Party comrades have “tried to work with.” And what do you think of the objection of Party whips in AVC to a chapter defending Eisler: “But Eisler isn’t a Vet problem.” And what do you think of the CP. suicide advice that the AVC should stick to vets’ problems in its forthcoming campaign in N.Y.C.–in the light of the Trotskyite strategy of lipserving the CP. one better on vets’ problems and all broad issues and thanking ye lord opportunism that the Reds won’t expose them where they expose easily–on the U.N., the S.U., on redbaiting, etc.

Why are the days of real Scottsboro defense of the Negro people gone? Where is a Communist carry-through on the Leftridge, and Woodard cases, on the lynchings? The lynchrope itself is built out of lipservice.

Where is the movement of national groups which could be so important today? Is it still Browderly embarrassing to the respectable, 100% American CP. leadership which prates in court about “our founding fathers“ (copyright by Eugene Dennis)? Where is the youth movement–a YCL, an American Student Union, an American Youth Congress? Why, having botched the AYD from inception, has the CP. decided to ditch the AYD on the campuses. The CP. will ditch anything but opportunism when confronted with a fight. We are not interested in nominal names of empty committees whose only activity is fund raising for salaries. We’re interested in facts and action.

Where is a once powerhouse women’s movement? Buried in un-Marxist, reactionary theories on the woman question via Landy. Why has the cultural movement in the U.S. become a dirty, commercial sellout led by big name CP. artist-careerists. Why is 35 East 12th St. culturally now one of the fancier suburbs of Hollywood?

Why is it that scientists, now more interested than ever in Socialism because of the terrific impact of atomic research on social thinking, won’t touch the CP. with a ten foot pole? Because they realize that if they got into trouble, the calmly expedient CP. wouldn’t touch them with a ten mile pole.

In a word, Perseus, what part of what movement in the U.S. hasn’t been corrupted and liquidated by the degeneration of the CP? Name it, and you can have it, and all you get is a name–a mirage. Whom can you blame but yourself. When the leaders blame your complacency, (criminals (preaching about crime prevention) they don’t deserve serious audience. But when you ask yourself who’s to blame, how do you come off? If you sigh an honest sigh, at least sigh in the direction of your Marxist library, so a little dust flutters off. Why hasn’t intercourse with your Marxist library taught you a little vigilance–or did you abstain during the Browder period? And now, do you still abstain?

Because all problems demand a non-opportunist, vanguard CP., Perseus must first tear the tail off the CPUSA and give it instead a head and a face. The adjective Communist is applicable only to the head and not to the __________!! And because there has been so much degeneration, Perseus must fight without any illusions that he can necessarily come out of this with a rebuilt CPUSA. He may more probably end with a new, truly Communist Party (whatever its name) built by the efforts of those working outside the CPUSA in coordination with those working inside. The more quickly we work, the more we can salvage.

Comrade P, pull that magic cap up from over your nose long enough to smell the CIO anti-Communist resolution written by Communists, pull it off your ears long enough to hear Churchill say the anti-Soviet war has to come quickly if it is to come at all, and lift it off your eyes long enough to study that Marxism which is now quietly taboo in the CP.–long enough to state as a funeral service for the magic cap that “. . . circumstances are changed precisely by men and that the educator must himself be educated.” (Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach). Then, discard your magic cap forever–constructively: sell it for rags and donate the proceeds to SPARK.