Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Delta Dawn

Southern Reader on Debate in CPML


First Published: The Call, Vol. 10, No. 3, April 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The recent analyses which have appeared in The Call concerning the ultra-leftism of the CPML and the doctrinairism of the left in general have been most interesting and long overdue.

As a non-CPML member, I would like to add to this discussion, not as a way of rubbing salt in the wounds, but to give another dimension, now that The Call and the CPML appear to be truly seeking an open forum.

In the past several years when I offered many of the criticisms that have now appeared publicly in <3m>The Call, some CPML members called me, among other things, a “demagogue,” a “degenerate,” and, on one memorable occasion, “scum.”

I wish I could take delight in saying I told you so, now that my criticisms appear to have been validated (or at least tolerated). Instead I find myself enormously distressed by the damage that has been done on the personal and political levels.

The CPML should not delude itself that the damage can or will be erased by general admissions alone. There is a lot to account for, and restitution will have to come in deed as well as in word.

The unpleasant facts need to be faced head on: for one thing, that an extreme degree of abuse and insults was heaped on friendly people who dared express their opinions and criticisms of the ultra-leftism as it happened (not, more conveniently, five years after the fact). By no means am I an isolated example of this.

What was worse, many people became mute rather than subject themselves to this barrage and watched helplessly as the organizations in which they were working become narrower and narrower. The democratic flow of opinions which could have halted this process was prevented from happening.

Furthermore, many sincere people who were willing to work with the CPML despite their disagreements became so alienated and hostile by the CPML’s arrogance and “holier than thou” attitude that I am afraid they have been lost to the movement forever.

On an organizational level, here are only two examples of serious political damage, although I am sure there are dozens more:

1. An important organization, the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF), was reduced to a pitiful shadow of its former self once it was dominated by the CPML. The entire movement and the South in general are now paying for this loss, because SCEF could have been an effective organizational framework for a much-needed counter-offensive against the New Right.

But after its united front character was destroyed, its usefulness was reduced to nil; and what is particularly maddening about this is that all appeals and warning to prevent this exact thing from happening were systematically ignored or rebuffed. I can’t overemphasize what a disaster this is.

2. The women’s movement, too, was badly crippled when the CPML either insisted that it take certain international positions which some groups within it did not want to take, or when the CPML made such a fuss about gay participation or ensuring gay civil rights that coalitions which included them fell apart. This is not to mention the CPML tactic of “no cooperation with revisionists” which isolated it from the women’s movement and in fact had the opposite effect of strengthening the right-wing elements within it.

I myself saw several emerging coalitions–which again would have been tremendously valuable now that the New Right is trying to take away the hard-won gains of the women’s movement–destroyed in their infancy by these idiotic tactics.

The underlying cause for the above is that the CPML, like many left groups, never understood how to act in a united front, and may never have grasped what a united front was–despite all the people who waved Dimitrov around.

From the outside, at least, it appeared that the CPML thought it was engaging in united front work only when it got other Organizations to unite around its own program. Democracy, one would have thought, was a totally alien idea.

Unfortunately, what makes this all the more tragic is that the CPML could have known better, even if it had only studied the fate of its immediate predecessor, the Progressive Labor Party–much less learned anything about what had happened to left organizations in this country for the past 60 years.

We have learned very little from our mistakes, and we repeat them–over and over again. Specifically, these include the following:

l. The choosing of a foreign model to demonstrate what socialism is, and then living and breathing for this model. Inevitably, the model changes to some degree or admits to having problems (which it no doubt had all along), and then disillusionment sets in–here.

The CPML is only the latest organization to suffer the effects of this syndrome. Everything, to the CPML, was always “wonderful” in China, no matter what contradictions appeared. But the time has to come for reckoning if what was wonderful yesterday changes 180 degrees and then is still wonderful today.

Imagine being shown silly movies of Mike Klonsky in a suit shaking hands with Chinese officials – as if this had anything whatever to do with the conditions in our own country, or even how most Americans view the CPML. This has been exceeded only by some of the pro-Albanian groups actually singing songs in Albanian during their (American) conventions!

2. Another constant theme has been to think that whatever happened in a country which made a successful socialist revolution could be applied and superimposed on our own situation.

3. Another is the use of two languages –one, ordinary American English, which is spoken to family and friends, the other a jargon which we ourselves oftentimes don’t quite understand any more than the people whom we are trying to teach.

The same cycle has been repeated ad nauseam: an organization starts, has some success, then declares itself a party, then the party, and then begins a slow and painful decline. (Several national organizations are in one stage or another of this process as I write this.)

I don’t mean to suggest that the CPML never accomplished anything. Quite the contrary–it did good work in breaking down the traditional resistance to go into the workplace and it did, for a time at least, give impetus to many struggles. Many good people worked themselves almost to death organizing and bringing working people into many different activities. This is why it is all the more distressing to see these efforts go down the drain.

Now, saying all this, it seems to me that if the CPML is to survive, it must make conscientious efforts to rectify its mistakes, including systematic and sincere efforts at rapprochement with all the people whom it alienated over the years. Organizationally, it has to demonstrate in deed that it has learned something from all this-mainly that it has learned how to be democratic.

As far as SCEF is concerned specifically, it is my opinion that there is no point any longer in trying to rally people to an organization that is hopelessly compromised. The best way the CPML can demonstrate its sincerity would be to disband SCEF entirely – spelling out publicly of course the reasons why–while it joins with other organizations on an equal footing to build a genuine anti-fascist broad-based coalition in the South.

Where the women’s movement still exists, the CPML should enter into coalitions with black women, feminists, gays, union women, professional women, etc., on whatever minimal basis can be agreed upon.

Only by doing this kind of thing will the CPML have any chance of restoring its crumbled credibility. (I have not addressed the questions of work in the trade unions and other vital areas. Others will do that.)

If the CPML does not survive, and many organizations going through this type of cycle do not, then I would appeal to its members to survive. Organizations come and go, but the people remain-and members should continue being active in community organizations, continue to learn, to read, to think, to question, to study, to speak to the people around them and learn from them; and in the future, once these lessons have truly been absorbed, to start again the slow process of creating an organization which this time really understands democracy as a necessity and really knows how to make socialism an understandable concept to our people so that they will join, participate and fight for it.

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Delta Dawn is a long-time woman activist in the South.