First Published: Guardian, October 18, 1972.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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More Americans will have the chance to “Vote Communist” this year than in any other national election year since the 1930s.
Challenging the objective legal restrictions of the McCarthy era repression, the U.S. Communist party has already placed 22 of its own candidates on the ballot in 12 states. It has also broken with its past practice of outright endorsement of Democratic party presidential hopefuls. Its national presidential and vice presidential ticket is headed respectively by Gus Hall, CP general secretary, and Jarvis Tyner, national chairman of the Young Workers Liberation League, the party’s youth organization.
Whether those who vote for the CP will actually be casting ballots for the party which will lead a socialist revolution in the U.S. is another question. Nonetheless the party has made important gains through its electoral activity, including advances in democratic rights that benefit the left, working class and democratic movements as a whole. Following is an account of several aspects of the campaign.
–The party is conducting campaign activity in 33 states and has filed for ballot status in 25. Positions have been won in 11 and more are expected by November. This is an advance over 1968, when the CP made the ballot in only two states.
–Since about half the states have laws that specifically bar the CP from elections, many court cases have developed. Some states have also used technical requirements and other maneuvers against the party.
“Most challenges come from Republican officials,” said Jose Ristorucci, CP national campaign manager. “In some states they have put us on the ballot, but without challenging the law. In other places we get hit with the loyalty oath, requiring us to swear not to advocate ’force or violence’ to overthrow the government.”
How does the party deal with this question? “We refuse to sign it,” Ristorucci said. “We say we’d be glad to sign it if it included a provision stating that when the government used force and violence against the peoples’ movements, we had the right to bear arms in self-defense.”
–The party has distributed more than 5 million pieces of campaign literature so far. “This is more than we have put out in the last five years combined,” said Ristorucci.
–Some 300,000 signatures have been obtained for ballot petitions.
–Hall and Tyner have been on two nationwide tours covering 28 states. The resulting press coverage and radio and TV appearances have presented the party’s positions before an estimated audience of 50 million.
–The party has broadened the circulation of its press and increased its membership as a result of the campaign. Although no official figures were available, Ristorucci pointed to several areas, such as Philadelphia, where party groups have doubled in size. Most gains have been made among young workers, many of them black.
–Almost all the CP candidates are or have been workers. A majority are Afro-Americans and about 25 percent are women.
–The party has addressed itself to a number of national issues and crises which have developed in the course of the campaign and the contention between the two major parties. Most widely publicized was a statement on the bombing of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, made on the return of Hall and Tyner from a visit to Hanoi.
The result of all these aspects of the campaign have clearly strengthened the party organizationally and broadened its political influence.
They show the advantages to be gained through electoral struggle, especially in a bourgeois-democratic country where revolutionaries have an obligation to contest the ruling class in elections whenever possible. What is most important, however, is the content of the political line and its strategy as it is projected to the masses. This is the area where the CP makes its main errors and where the heaviest criticism of its policies can be directed.
What is the CP’s electoral strategy? “In general,” writes Gus Hall in the March 1972 Political Affairs, the party’s theoretical journal, “our aim is to expose and defeat the reactionary candidates ,– to criticize sharply’ the liberal candidates and to give support to the progressive independent candidates. We shall expose in order to defeat, we shall criticize in order to strengthen and we shall support in order to elect.”
This is the approach to be followed in each of what the CP terms the “three prongs” of its strategy: (1) building the CP campaign, (2) building independent political action movements and (3) building “independent” movements and candidacies within the Democratic party.
The CP’s position is not simply one of “relating” to reform forces within the Democratic party. CP members actually join the Democratic party, run as reform candidates in party elections and win official positions within the Democratic structure.
This is obviously a class-collaborationist policy, keeping at least one of the CP’s “prongs” firmly stuck in the swamp of reformism and endlessly “criticizing to strengthen” most Democratic party liberals who find themselves in opposition to other Democrats or Republicans to their right. The CP, of course, doesn’t see it that way. “It is sheer nonsense,” states Hyman Lumer in the July 1972 Political Affairs, “to talk about generating a mass breakaway from these parties without conducting a ’struggle within their orbits.”
The CP sees this breakaway as taking the form of a mass people’s antimonopoly party that would unite workers, oppressed nationalities, the petty-bourgeoisie and non- monopoly capitalists around a reform program aimed at “curbing monopoly power.” The CP itself would then either join or enter into an alliance with such a party in a “people’s antimonopoly coalition.”
What would be the goal of such a coalition? “Of course,” writes William Weinstone in the July 1972 Political Affairs, “an antimonopoly movement must strive for political power. It is not possible effectively to nationalize industries, or establish full rights for oppressed nationalities, or take other radical democratic measures without having political power.”
The crucial question is what kind of political power? Conceding for the sake of argument that such a coalition could come into existence in the first place, it would amount to a reformist parliamentary majority, brought into being through a combination of electoral struggle and mass action. And whether it is called an “anti-monopoly government” or “antimonopoly state,” it would still be, a bourgeois government operating within a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
The CP argues that such a government would set the stage for the transition to socialism. According to the “New Program of the Communist Party, U.S.A.,” this would be accomplished by “renovating” and “completely overhauling” the bourgeois state apparatus.
What has happened here to the proletarian revolution? Or the Leninist theory of the state? Once the rhetoric is stripped away, both have simply evaporated.
“Only scoundrels or simpletons,” wrote Lenin, “can think that the proletariat must win the majority in elections carried out under the yoke of the bourgeoisie, under the yoke of wage-slavery, and that only after this must it win power. This is the height of folly or hypocrisy; it is substituting voting, under the old system and with the old power, for class struggle and revolution.”
What will be the next form of the state? Again Lenin’s view is quite clear: “In capitalist society, whenever there is any serious aggravation of the class struggle intrinsic, to that society, there can be no alternative but the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie or the dictatorship of the proletariat. Dreams of some third way are reactionary petty-bourgeois lamentations.”
Do communists believe the old state apparatus should be “renovated” or “overhauled?” Or do they believe that it must be smashed and entirely new forms created? Commenting on’ Marx’s view, Lenin said, “the question is treated in a concrete manner, and the conclusion is extremely precise, definite, practical and palpable: all the revolutions which have occurred up to now perfected the state machine, whereas it must be broken, smashed.” Does this mean revolutionaries should abandon the struggle for democratic reforms, separating it from the struggle for socialism? Of course not. “One should know,” Lenin said, “how to combine the struggle for democracy with the struggle for the socialist revolution, subordinating the first to the second. In this lies the whole difficulty, in this is the whole essence….”
What is at issue here is the CP’s view of the relationship between strategy and tactics. Because it projects a reformist road to socialism, the CP views all strata interested in antimonopoly reforms as strategic allies of the working class, including the “small and medium-sized” capitalists. This, in effect, subordinates the struggle for socialism to the struggle for democracy.
Who are the strategic allies, within the U.S., of the working class? A revolutionary analysis would center on those sections of the people whose struggle for democratic reforms cannot be fully completed without raising the question of which class holds state power. This view would mainly include the democratic struggles of the oppressed nationalities and women, neither of whom can win full equality and emancipation without socialism.
Who are the tactical allies of the U.S. working class? This could include any class or strata, however wavering, that finds itself in opposition to particular policies of the imperialist ruling class.
The united front against the Indochina war is a case in point. The alliance is tactical because its unity is based on achieving a particular immediate goal, not on the strategic question of sharing power in a new government. The revolutionary forces are thus not restricted in their task of raising the class-consciousness of the working class against capitalism. While fighting for the goals of the united front, there is no need to subordinate the struggle for socialism to the lowest common denominator of an “anti-monopoly coalition.”
How is this substitution of reformism for the task of developing revolutionary class consciousness reflected in the CP’s campaign literature?
On Vietnam. The party’s mass antiwar leaflet is a good expose of the Nixon administration’s actual escalation of the war in the guise of “winding it down.” But the word “imperialism” is not used in the text, let alone any discussion of the role of the working class in ending the war or the importance of proletarian internationalism and the need for solidarity with the Vietnamese people.
Labor. While the party’s campaign platform contains a good listing of the usual trade union reforms, it doesn’t mention the labor bureaucracy or the existence of a privileged labor aristocracy within the working class. In fact, William Weinstone writes in the April 1970 Political Affairs: “There have been differences in Communist ranks as to whether there is still a ’labor aristocracy’ and whether this term is applicable to the United States. That is a matter which should be carefully studied.”
Elsewhere the CP does hit Meany and his friends as “class collaborators,” but does not use the same standard for trade union officials supporting the Democratic party wing of the monopoly capitalist class. While the CP “studies” to find out if a labor aristocracy exists in the main imperialist country in the world, revolutionaries would point out that the fight against opportunism is impossible without a struggle against’ that strata’s privileges.
White supremacy. The party’s “Program Toward Black Liberation” is perhaps the best of the campaign literature it is circulating. In all the arenas of mass struggle, it projects demands aimed at attaining full equality for Afro-Americans through compensatory measures that would eliminate the relative privileges of whites.
Even here, however, the demands are presented in the context of antimonopoly unity and trade union unity in the economic struggle. What is needed is a clearer exposition of the struggle against white supremacy in developing the political class consciousness of the white section of the working class.
Women. The platform backs the main reform demands of the women’s, movement, but without mentioning the term “male supremacy” or the need to struggle against it for the class unity of the proletariat.
Finally, how does the CP view its election campaign in relation to McGovern’s. The official position is that it does “not endorse” McGovern. Yet all its literature projects as the main task of the election to “Defeat Nixon.” At the same time party cadre have urged mass organizations to endorse McGovern. One leading party member summed up the position this way:
“To vote for Nixon is to scab. To not vote is to cop out. To vote for McGovern is the least you can do and the best vote of all is for Hall- Tyner.”
This ambivalence-trying to win votes for Hall and McGovern at the same time-has obviously led the CP into a whole range of pitfalls. For instance, an article in the September 1972 Political Affairs carried a critique of an article in the previous issue on the McGovern candidacy:
“It gave undue weight to these aspects (’the positive aspects of the McGovern victory’) and did not sufficiently stress the limitations and negative features.”
Similar comments have been carried in the CP’s newspaper, the Daily World, criticizing both “Communists and progressives” for having illusions about the Democratic party being transformed into a people’s party.
What the CP fails to realize, however, is that these illusions are not simply “errors” but an inevitable result of its general line and strategy. It is that roadblock that guarantees that “the least you can do,” Such as a vote for McGovern, will remain “the most you can do” indefinitely.