Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Marxist-Leninist Party

Gus Hall supports coup

CPUSA in crisis

First Published:The Workers’ Advocate Vol. 21, No. 10, October 1, 1991.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The August 19 coup in Moscow briefly lifted the spirits of the geriatric leadership of the CPUSA. But just as quickly as the coup collapsed, so too did the crisis of the CP burst into the open, as the party launched into public wrangling between supporters and opponents of the coup organizers.

The Communist Party of the USA – whose communism is as phony as a three-dollar bill – has been the official voice of pro-Soviet revisionism in this country. Communism should mean being the independent voice of the working class. It should mean a revolutionary stand against everything corrupt and unjust. But for the CPUSA, corruption is their middle name, and they slavishly serve two masters. They combine the politics of tailing the liberal-labor Democratic Party with slavish subservience to the bureaucrats in Moscow.

The CPUSA claims to be a workers’ party, but it spurned the task of organizing the working class as an independent political force. Instead it urged workers to support the sellout bureaucrats of the AFL-CIO and vote for the Democrats. And at the same time, the CPUSA promoted the state-capitalist system in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as “real and existing socialism” – its highest aspiration. There was no crime of the bureaucrats in Moscow that the CPUSA would not applaud, no lie that it would not echo. From the exploitation of Soviet workers by the privileged bureaucracy to bloody Soviet-backed crimes abroad. It hailed martial law in Poland and saluted the occupation of Afghanistan.

The CPUSA was very comfortable with the Brezhnev era’s self-satisfied lies and arrogance. However, the revelations of crisis in the Soviet Union during the 1980’s gave the CPUSA acute indigestion. When Gorbachev began to move away from traditional state-capitalism towards more Western-style capitalism, the CPUSA was uneasy but it backed the new policies as “socialist renewal” in the Soviet Union. That was after all what Gorbachev was saying, and weren’t the Kremlin leader’s words sacrosanct? However, behind the good face presented in public, the CPUSA began to develop a major split. One tendency, around CPUSA chairman Gus Hall, was uneasy about Gorbachev, while another eagerly embraced Gorbachev’s politics.

As Gorbachev’s regime turned away from revisionist “Marxism” towards avowedly liberal capitalism, Moscow cut off the indirect subsidies which it used to send to the CPUSA. The CPUSA used to publish a daily newspaper until last year; it was supported by selling thousands of subscriptions to the Soviet bloc. Gus Hall bitterly complained in a recent public speech, “We kept sending them the papers, but they just quit paying for them. They never even sent us a telegram.” The CPUSA-connected firm which sold books from the Soviet Union, Imported Publications, was also forced to close because Moscow told them they would no longer be sending them anything.

In this climate, it was hardly a surprise that the coup lifted Gus Hall’s spirits. He hoped that the “emergency committee” would bring back the good old days. Thus he sent out a cassette tape to CP branches opposing any condemnation of the coup. He declared, “We should not join in the bring-back Gorbachev campaign.” Meanwhile, the CPUSA’s National Board voted to “neither condemn nor condone” the coup. This stand was based on hopes for the success of the coup, but the party wanted to hedge its bets in case the coup would not succeed. After the coup collapsed, Hall told the New York Daily News that he agreed “with the intent but not the method of the coup.”

However, Gus Hall’s stand met vocal opposition. Another wing of the leadership has aligned itself with Gorbachev. A number of CP leaders have publicly criticized the actions of the Gus Hall leadership as “a shamefaced apology for a reactionary, illegal and indefensible act.” An acrimonious National Committee meeting on September 8 split in about half over a resolution criticizing the National Board’s decision to “neither condemn nor condone the coup.” The opposition in the CP likes Gorbachev because it prefers the social-democratic model of reformed capitalism to the traditional state-capitalism of the Soviet bloc. There is also a cynical element of using the division over the Soviet crisis to force a change within the CPUSA itself.

The Soviet crisis is clearly a major issue in the CP’s present crisis. But it coincides with several other questions. On none of these issues, however, do the critics represent anything with revolutionary or communist positions. There is no argument over the essentially reformist framework in which the CPUSA has long been submerged.

There are complaints about the bureaucratic regime within the CPUSA itself, but the more fundamental fault line is over what type of reformism to practice in the U.S. The Gus Hall faction would like to simply carry on with its old politics of maintaining a CP currying favor with the liberal-labor bloc of the Democrats and the AFL-CIO. The others, among whom are the main black leaders of the CPUSA, feel this is a dead-end road towards irrelevance. They would apparently like to submerge themselves more heavily into Democratic Party politics, without the CP’s traditional politics as awkward baggage. These forces see their fellow black liberals get City Council/Mayoral/Congressional seats and their mouths water. They would like to get in on that gravy train while they still have some years of active life ahead of them.

A battle royal is shaping up for the CPUSA’s convention this December.