Communist Party USA

  Editor’s note: This article was originally published in December 2020. Fighting for reforms is an essential feature of the battle against capitalism. However, without the conscious, purposeful activity of a revolutionary working-class party, this essential work is likely to remain in the arena of reforms, that is, it will not touch the power of capital. I was reminded of this recently when speaking with a comrade about activists who were once engaged in the communist movement.  “She or he is doing great work,” I’m often told.  And knowing the individuals concerned, I’m sure that’s true. “But that great work,” I thought, reflecting on the conversation, “will not by itself result in fundamental change.” It will not touch the power of capital. This is one of the main and, perhaps, most controversial points Lenin makes in What Is to Be Done.  Trade union activity, he argues, left to itself, will lead only to trade union consciousness, a narrow focus on wages, and benefits  absent broader political struggles. This is one form of what’s called “economism.” And what’s true for union struggles is also potentially true for other issues, be they housing, police murder, health care, the environment. Each, engaged only in its individual sphere of  activity, vital as they are, will  be unable to see beyond their singular orbit, that is, to anti-racist, anti-sexist, or even anti-corporate consciousness. Here however, important qualifications must be made; first that anti-racist and anti-sexist struggles, all independent and valid in their own right, are oftentimes significant points of entry to the revolutionary movements for those affected.  Second, due to the existence of a racial- and gender-based social division of labor, both objectively have enormous revolutionary potential. The communist worldview is a living body of  knowledge and practice. Still the point remains, and it was for this reason that Lenin argued that socialist consciousness must be introduced from “outside” the working-class movement.  By “outside” Lenin was referencing the fact that the communist worldview originated as a science and art, a living body of  knowledge and practice, produced initially by intellectuals organized in political parties  and movements that came to the aid of the workers’ movement. I struggled with this “theory must be brought from the outside” concept for many years. Why in this late day and age should workers need the intervention of a science initially produced by middle-class intellectuals, I reasoned?  Won’t that lead to middle-class domination of the workers’ movement?  Indeed, can’t we produce such theory ourselves? And, moreover, isn’t that one of the goals of the communist movement, to produce working-class intellectuals? I imagined that this was at least in part a problem of history and thought that, particularly with the introduction of the public school (a product of Radical Reconstruction, by the way),  education, once the sole province of upper and middle classes, is today working-class property as well. Now we can produce our own theory, I concluded.  And I still think so. Problem solved? Not necessarily. Lenin was making another more profound point, as suggested above, a point about the very reason for being a communist party — socialism does not arise spontaneously. It requires the conscious intervention of conscious forces. The working-class intellectuals leading the Communist Party (principally Gus Hall and Henry Winston) in the 1980s understood this, and popularized Lenin’s idea. They called it the “communist plus,” that is, the unique thing that Marxists add to all struggles.  It’s the very thing, the very quality that, without its use, social revolution will not occur. That  term “communist plus” is now coming back into use after years of being…

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Why we’re bringing back “the plus”