Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Marxist-Leninist Party

A split among reformists

CPUSA breaks apart

First Published:The Workers’ Advocate Vol. 22, No. 2, February 1, 1992.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The long-simmering crisis in the Communist Party of the USA has finally been resolved – by the shattering of that party. At its 25th National Convention held in Cleveland last December, the old-line revisionists around Gus Hall pulled off a coup against their opposition. The dissidents, who included most of the party’s black leaders and represented a third of the CP’s membership, have formed a loose grouping called the “Committees of Correspondence.”

The CPUSA has been communist only in name. For a long time now, its brand of “communism” has been a travesty of the working class struggle for political independence and a society without exploitation. Instead of organizing the working class as an independent class force, the CPUSA has Chased after the capitalist Democratic Party. And instead of upholding socialism as a worker-ruled society, the CPUSA championed the state-capitalist bureaucracy that was in power in Moscow until last year.

The coup

Gus Hall’s maneuver at the convention was in the style of bureaucratic hacks long used to distorting the socialist organizational concept of democratic centralism into an excuse for tyranny and suppression.

Last fall the opposition had launched a petition called the “Initiative to Unite and Renew the Party,” which had made a series of criticisms of the Gus Hall leadership. It had gained 800 signatures, including 40% of the CP’s National Committee. It clearly reflected a deep rift in the CP. But Gus Hall was not about to tolerate the opposition any longer. His faction, through their control over the national apparatus, apparently rigged the convention’s delegate-selection process. At the convention itself, they made life unpleasant for opposition delegates. They removed from the leadership all those who had signed the “Initiative” petition.

Gus Hall also organized a coup at People’s Weekly World, the CP’s newspaper. The staff of the paper was barred from their offices just before the convention. When they returned after Cleveland, they found that the locks on the building had been changed, and that they had been fired.

Shut out at the convention, the “Initiative” grouping held a mini-convention of their own nearby. There they voted to set up the Committees of Correspondence.

A split within reformism

So what’s this split all about? Does either side represent a potentially healthy force for the workers’ struggle for class independence or socialism? Unfortunately no. This was a split within reformism. Both camps are hopelessly mired in the tired, old politics of trailing behind the Democratic Party. And while Gus Hall continues to stick to the revisionist, state-capitalism of the erstwhile Soviet Union, the dissidents’ vision of the future is the reformed capitalism of the social-democratic welfare state.

A glance at history

The CPUSA was born in 1919 as a revolutionary party of the working class. It played a pivotal role in the militant workers’ movement into the 1930’s. During that time it had had various weaknesses, but also had shown promise in overcoming many of them. Unfortunately, in the mid-30’s it radically changed its course, abandoning a revolutionary orientation in favor of tailing behind liberal-labor politics of the Rooseveltian Democratic Party and the trade union bureaucracy. It took this road under the pressure of both Rooseveltian liberalism and the right turn in the Communist International at that time.

Since then, the CP’s militant character eroded away and the party became a mere tail of the Democratic donkey. All the while, the CP remained distinguished from other varieties of American reformism, though, by one other feature: a thorough slavishness to the state-capitalist bureaucracy in Moscow. There was no crime of the revisionist traitors in Moscow that the CPUSA did not support: from Stalin down to Gorbachev.

In recent years, the crisis of the Soviet Union put tremendous pressure on the CPUSA. While it supported Gorbachev (out of its inertia of slavishness), its leaders became more and more uncomfortable with him as he criticized the Brezhnev era (particularly loved by Gus Hall) and moved away from traditional state-capitalism to a more Western-style capitalism. Two tendencies emerged: the Gus Hall leadership looked forward to a return to the Brezhnevite past, while the dissidents embraced Gorbachev. The coup in Moscow last August forced the issue.

As Gus Hall sympathized with the coup, the dispute in the CP came out into the open. Meanwhile, other differences had grown sharper. There were grievances over Hall’s undemocratic leadership, but the more serious issue underlying the split was that the dissidents were becoming more and more uncomfortable in keeping their reformism within the CP framework. While they claimed to want to “renew” the party, this was mainly to be able to get control of its assets; their real model was a more openly social-democratic style of organization. The CP’s bag and baggage had become liabilities to the dissidents who wanted to climb up the ladder of influence within the left wing of the Democratic Party, especially Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition.

The future?

Their Committees of Correspondence are a loose network, and not much has been heard of them since their founding. This reflects the fact that there is little cohesion among them. Some look forward to joining the “democratic socialists” of DSA, others are eager to just melt away in the Democratic Party, while still others will bow out of political activity altogether.

The fact that there is no depth in their difference with Gus Hall’s CPUSA will be shown this year during the elections. Both sides will undoubtedly campaign for the Democrats – there has been no dispute over this key question. This will show that the difference among the two factions is one of detail, not fundamentals. Both sides are caught up in the reformist framework which sees the capitalist Democratic Party as the only arena for politics and thus avoids the work needed to win the workers and minorities away from the establishment towards an independent political movement.

Meanwhile, Gus Hall’s CP will hang on – at least for a while – falsely claiming to be communist. It will continue to do the disservice of passing off bureaucratic state-capitalism as socialism. Today the CPUSA ardently champions the feudal-style state-capitalism of North Korea, whose “great leader” Kim II Sung is passing his reign to his son in the first dynasty to be seen among the contemporary state-capitalist societies. The CPUSA also shouts about democratic centralism, but as the recent convention demonstrates again, this is distorted into organizational tyranny. And the CP’s claim to be Marxist-Leninist is likewise a fraud; it will falsely pass off the militant heritage of Marx and Lenin as empty of revolutionary spirit. But the CP’s politics won’t wash. The collapse of the Soviet revisionist bloc has in fact hit them with a terminal blow. It has shattered their arrogance, not to speak of doing away with much financial support they used to receive.

The real opposition to these sordid politics comes not from the CP’s dissidents, but from those who have been organized to rescue communism from the revisionist distortions. The predecessor organizations of the Marxist-Leninist Party were born in the late 60’s because they wanted to be revolutionary communists and could see the forgery that the CPUSA had become. We will continue our long fight to build a workers’ movement along truly communist lines and to reconstruct a vision of the future worker-ruled society rescued from the cruel distortions of what has been passed off as communism in recent years – the state-capitalist tyrannies of Moscow, Beijing, etc.