Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Summing Up CPUSA/ML Work in the Anti-fascist Movement

First Published: Unite!, Vol. 6, No. 18, October 1, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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For the past year, the CPUSA/ML has played a leading role in the building and development of the Charles Briscoe Committee for Justice (CBCJ) in Oakland, California. The September 15, 1980 issue of UNITE! contained a summation of the work of the Committee. This article offers an assessment of the efforts of the Party in this important antifascist work.

The Founding Congress of the CPUSA/ML issued a call to organize and mobilize the working and oppressed people of the U.S. under the banner of its tactical slogans. Among the slogans adopted at the Congress were: Fight for Full Democratic Rights! Fight Fascism, National Chauvinism and White Supremacy! Death to the Klan! End Police Terror!

This set of slogans sums up the struggle waged by oppressed people, and particularly national minorities, in many parts of the country, both urban and rural. Thus, in September 1979, when Charles Briscoe was murdered by the Oakland police, the Party moved to organize and mobilize progressive forces to bring his murderers to justice. Together, militant workers and community residents formed the Charles Briscoe Committee for Justice (CBCJ). Over the last year, the CBCJ has conducted demonstrations, pickets, dances, press conferences and other activities. It has broadened its work to build a larger, popular coalition against police terror, involving other antifascist forces in the Bay Area.

In this manner, the struggle for justice for Charles Briscoe has emerged as a stable, mass movement, involving working class people of many nationalities. In the face of the rise of police terror in many cities, many struggles against police terror have peaked rapidly and ebbed early, unable to develop stable working class organization; because it has not followed this pattern, the success of the CBCJ has national significance.

In the struggle to build the CBCJ, the local District of the Party has played a leading role. In the course of this struggle, the Party has learned and continues to learn, many important lessons on how its tactical slogans and demands can successfully mobilize the masses of working people. The call to End Police Terror! has become a popular demand in cities all across the country – but the creation of a stable, mass organization to wage this struggle is an important advance in the anti-fascist struggle.

In the U.S. today, the groups and organizations fighting for the defense of our democratic rights are divided, locally and nationally. In the main, this movement is dominated by a pack of reformists. Regardless of nationality, they seek to mislead the anti-police terror struggles down the road of simple legality, or reactionary nationalism, as if a national minority policeman is the solution to the problem!

Some Lessons Learned

In the course of this struggle, the work of the Party has become increasingly more conscious and more popular. The Party work in the CBCJ has offered many lessons on both the “left” sectarian tendencies in the work of the Party, and the Rightist dangers which lead the Party to tail behind the mass movement. The lessons learned in this struggle verify the necessity for the Party to wage the struggle against deviations from Marxism-Leninism on the two fronts simultaneously.

First, at the beginning of the struggle, the need to unite the CBCJ with other forces, through forging some form of coalition or popular front was not well grasped. While the Party correctly stressed the importance of building the Committee, it should have, at the same time, argued for the importance of united action with other forces. More active efforts, such as joint picket lines or leaflets should have been sought at an earlier point.

While this lesson has emerged over the last year and steps have been taken to broaden the work, valuable time was lost that could have been utilized to achieve even greater success. Here the Party District did not grasp firmly the principles of the popular front and the necessity to recognize joint action as the cornerstone of this tactic. The decision of the 5th Plenum of the Central Committee to move toward consciously building the popular front against war and fascism was not firmly grasped.

Both the forms of organization and forms of struggle advanced by the Party to move the work forward were narrowly conceived, and tended therefore to limit the mass appeal of the movement. The historical experience of building popular fronts against fascism demonstrates the necessity to approach different organizations in different ways.

While the Party worked to build the CBCJ through its active work in the trade unions and other workers’ organizations, too little attention was paid to insuring that the active organization and mobilization of the working class around this struggle became the basis of a popular front.

A second, important shortcoming in the work of the Party was its errors in belittling the importance of achieving its independent role in the struggle for justice for Charles Briscoe. This is not a matter of distance from the Committee, which the Party supports. But both the ideological and organizational independence of the Party is required. In addition to its bold support for the work of the Committee, the Party also must conduct agitation and propaganda for the socialist revolution – which is the only genuine solution to the exploitation and oppression of the people.

While the Party issued a few leaflets, its independent voice was not adequately heard. For instance, the Party should have conducted public meetings, spoken at City Council meetings, and more strongly pointed out the necessity to connect the daily struggle for reforms to the struggle for socialist revolution.

Instead, Party members mistakenly thought that they could fulfill their role as communists only by becoming active members of the CBCJ. Consequently, confusion emerged in the Committee about the role of the Party and the responsibility of particular individuals.

These are common mistakes of Party members engaged in mass work. The result is often that the mass struggle will advance, but the tasks of building up the strength and reserves of the Party are belittled. Here a careful balance must be struck to avoid either the Rightist dangers of belittling the role of the Party or the “leftist” danger of the Party usurping the role of the mass organizations.

A third important lesson learned by the Party in this struggle was the necessity to correctly explain the relationship between the class basis of police terror and the special national oppression of national minorities. Often, in our agitation or propaganda, Party members would tend towards a one-sided view of the struggle, raising either the national oppression or the class exploitation, unable to adequately explain the reality of national oppression in the context of class exploitation. Neither the national oppression nor the class exploitation can be belittled. The Party’s task is to properly place the question of national oppression as a component part of class exploitation, as a consequence of private ownership of the means of production. That is why there can be no real solution to the oppression of nations or national minorities without socialist revolution. Both the shortcomings of the Party in this struggle and historical experience indicate that correct handling of this issue is a decisive factor in the advance of the revolution, and one which requires constant attention and improvement.

Take Up the Anti-Fascist Struggle

Considering the efforts over the last year, it has become obvious to larger and larger numbers of people that the CPUSA/ML has played an important role in the initiation and development of the anti-police terror, anti-fascist struggle in the Oakland area. From the beginning of its work the Party has consistently struggled for the need for an on-going organization to combat police brutality; the necessity not to rely on the state for police “review” but upon the masses, for as the Party has pointed out, the state, operating through the police, is designed to maintain the exploitation and oppression of one class over another. Further, the Party has struggled to lead the masses in recognizing that the heart of the struggle against police terror cannot be reduced to a simple “race” question, but must be seen as a question of class exploitation and oppression.

Recently, the Party has actively promoted the necessity for the CBCJ, and for the Party, to broaden their work and contacts, and to take up more joint actions in the struggle against police terror. These efforts by the CPUSA/ML have made an important contribution to both the consciousness and organization of the revolutionary movement in that area.

The future of this struggle will depend upon both the militant action of the broad masses of people, and correct revolutionary leadership. It is becoming increasingly clear to larger numbers of people that the single-issue committees, even those that are relatively stable such as the Briscoe Committee, must move toward organizing and mobilizing all of the anti-police, anti-Klan forces under a single anti-fascist banner. For the defense of the democratic rights of working people to advance, this movement must assume a clear, anti-fascist focus. Fascism, today, is the mounting danger to the political, economic and ideological well-being of the people.

The work of the CPUSA/ML in the Charles Briscoe Committee for Justice, and in the newly-formed Coalition Against Police Brutality is an important example of the militant, revolutionary propaganda and action of the Party. It is a reflection of the growing experience of the Party in an important front of the class struggle.