October League (Marxist-Leninist) Introduction:
At what point did the building of a new anti-revisionist communist party become the principal task of Marxist-Leninists? What were the main features of the ideological, political, and organizational degeneration of the Communist Party, USA in the 1950s that made it necessary to do so? These are some of the questions discussed in this article by Harry Haywood, a veteran Black communist who has led and been active in the movement for more than 50 years. The article is a slightly condensed version of a chapter [Chapter 22: "Revisionism Takes Command" in the final published version] from the unpublished manuscript of his autobiography, “Black Bolshevik.”
The Degeneration of the CPUSA in the 1950s
The April 1956 National Committee meeting saw the Communist Party in its most serious crisis since 1944. The meeting itself was historic in that it was the first time the top party leadership had met together since 1951. With the exception of Gil Green, Bob Thompson, Gus Hall and Henry Winston who were still in jail, the National Committee was up from underground and out of prison.
Right opportunism, which had been thriving and undergoing continuous growth in the ’50s, erupted here into a full-fledged liquidationist line whose only logical conclusion would be the complete destruction of the Party as a revolutionary force.
Eugene Dennis, himself fresh out of the Atlanta Pen, gave the main political report at this meeting. This one-sided, thoroughly negative report placed all the blame for the Party’s mistakes and isolation on dogmatism and left sectarianism. He called for a “new look” at our past errors and the development of a mass party of socialism.
The effect of this report was to open the floodgates to an open liquidationist faction led by John Gates, editor of the Daily Worker, the party’s newspaper. Gates and his cronies on the Daily Worker and in the New York State Committee attacked the CP from all sides with the expressed purpose of dissolving the CP as a Marxist-Leninist vanguard party. Gates pushed for the abandonment of the Party’s leading role and the development of pressure-group politics whose organizational form would be a political action association – very much like Earl Browder’s Communist Political Association (CPA) of 1944.
Gates called for a “critical reevaluation” of Marxism-Leninism: “…if anyone asks me whether I base myself on the principles of Marx and Lenin, I want to be able to answer which of the principles I believe in and which I do not…” (Political Affairs (PA), Nov. ‘56 – Time for Change) [Political Affairs is the CP's theoretical journal - ed.]
This open liquidationist faction made skillful use of the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the famous 1956 Khruschov revelations. The secret [anti-Stalin - ed.] revelations stunned the American Party, and in effect deprived the anti-revisionist forces of an ally we had relied on in the past. The international communist movement had historically lent the wight of its influence and prestige to the left in the American Party in its struggle against revisionism.
RIGHTISTS CONCLUDE LENINISM NOT APPLICABLE TO U.S.
Rather than finding a source of support in the Soviet Union, we on the left were thrown completely off balance by the two “revelations.” At first we couldn’t believe Khruschov made such a speech, thinking it must be some imperialist propaganda stunt. When this initial reaction passed we tended to give the new Soviet leadership the benefit of the doubt and failed to grasp the full implications of this attack on Stalin. the liquidationist right quickly took up the anti-Stalin banner and proclaimed the time for sweeping reevaluations of our line was at hand. They bitterly denounced our past history as one of slavish clinging to imported doctrines, the bankruptcy of which were now being proven. Under the guise of fighting dogmatism inherited from the era of “the cult of personality,” the Gates crowd concluded that Leninism was nothing more than Marxism applied to the peculiar, backward conditions of Russia – a purely “Russian social phenomenon” – and therefore not applicable in the U.S. They found Lenin’s theories of the bourgeois state as an instrument of class rule particularly outmoded and cringed at the thought of fighting for the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The right moved so rapidly to embrace the new found freedom to criticize that they soon were attacking Khruschov and Soviet policy in general. This was clearly expressed when the entire National Committee (with the exception of William Z. Foster and Ed Strong) voted to condemn the use of Soviet troops against reactionary counter-revolution in Hungary in October 1956.
THEORETICAL BASIS FOR MODERN REVISIONISM
For this reason we on the left found ourselves defending Soviet policy in the face of the right’s bitter recriminations and in effect defending Khruschov’s leadership. It was not until some time later – in 1963 when the Albanian and Chinese Parties exposed Khruschov’s revisionism and the role of the anti-Stalin crusade in restoring capitalism in the Soviet Union – that we were able to see how Khruschov’s three peacefuls – peaceful coexistence, peaceful transition, and peaceful competition – dovetailed with and in fact proved the theoretical rationale for the revisionists in our Party – and for modern revisionism as a whole.
Personally, I was most interested in the role that Ben Davis [a Black communist - ed.] played at the April meeting. I had met with him earlier in the year, not long after he got out of jail and we had several friendly discussions. He said he wanted to get my ideas on the developments on the Negro question in order to help him prepare for the report he was going to make at the meeting. Despite sharp disagreements we had had in the past, I felt then that we were largely in agreement. I thought that perhaps his years in jail had changed him, given him cause to re-evaluate our past differences. We concluded this series of meetings on a friendly basis.
In May, however, I learned that I had grossly overestimated the amount of unity we had on the question. In his report, Davis strongly attacked our revolutionary position, dropping completely the right of self-determination. “It seems that the slogan of self-determination should be abandoned,” he later wrote in “Negro People on the March,” “and our position otherwise modified and brought up to date.” This sharp attack took me by surprise because he had given no indication whatsoever in our earlier discussions of any major differences.
At this meeting plans for a 16th Party Convention the following February were being made, a draft resolution was to be prepared as soon as possible and pre-convention discussion and debate begun. But the draft resolution was not published until September 1956, providing little time for adequate discussion and rebuttal from the opposing points of view.
Dennis, who had come under attack from the Gates faction for not being far enough to the right, had made some amendments to his April report. But the draft resolution was still more or less a restatement of that position, characterizing left sectarianism as the main danger in the Party. This draft carried the hallmark of much of what we know today as the liberal and reformist program of the CPUSA. Central to a peaceful, parliamentary, constitutional transition to socialism would be the development of an anti-monopoly coalition which would be developed by “labor and popular” forces gaining ”decisive influence in key Democratic Party State organizations, and even liberal Republican movements.” Thus would develop the “American Road to Socialism.” The Communist Party’s role would be to “support and endorse” such progressive campaigns (Draft Resolution, p. 32). On the Negro question, the right of self-determination was completely omitted and the Party urged wholehearted acceptance of the NAACP slogan of “Free by ‘63″ (p. 23) through winning the right to vote and increased Negro representation. Proletarian revolution and leadership of the Black working class in the Black liberation struggle were entirely excluded from this document. The National Board voted in favor of the Resolution, with Foster and Davis voting a qualified “yes.”
In October 1956, Foster, who had been vacillating all along, changed his mind and voted against the Resolution. In an article entitled “On the Party Situation” (PA, October, 1956), he outlines the reasons for this change. Citing the development of a “new Browderism” and a re-emergence of American exceptionalism in the Party, he attacked the open attempts to liquidate the Party, to drop Marxism-Leninism from the preamble to the Constitution and the failure to see rightism as a danger to the Party. Foster also attacked Dennis’ support for a “mass party of socialism.”
FIGHT AGAINST REVISIONISM STIFLED
The article for the first time indicated to the rank and file the nature of the factional split then going on in the leadership. It was significant in that it stimulated much debate over the genuine criticism of rightism that it raised. In the final analysis, however, the article failed to proved a firm basis for a consistent fight against the right because of Foster’s basic unity with the other faction on the question of the main danger. To Foster ultra-leftism was unquestionably the main danger, and as an example he cited the hesitancy with which the Party took up the theory of peaceful transition! He failed to totally understand how this very estimate of the main danger had through the years fostered and nurtured the cancer-like growth of right opportunism and stifled the fight of revisionism in the Party.
Pre-convention discussion around the draft was hot and heavy. The right contended that we “seriously” and “creatively” scrutinize our past history and re-evaluate our goals. They passed off any criticism of their positions as “old” and “dogmatic,” a refusal to consider fresh approaches or make a new start. Anyone who attacked them was immediately labeled “left sectarian.”
I attended several meetings of the National Negro Commission as part of the pre-convention discussions that fall. The leadership inundated these meetings with articles concerning “new data” on the Black Belt, a re-evaluation of the Black Belt theory in light of massive outmigrations from the deep South. I argued against these positions, that the development and existence of a Black nation in the South was not merely a question of nose-counting. As I later wrote in “For a Revolutionary Position on the Negro Question” (1957) [available from Liberator Press - ed.] this approach “…blurs over the main essence of the question. Even with the outmigrations of the war and postwar period, the old majority of Black Belt area contains the greatest concentration of Negro people in the U.S. Approximately 5 million Negroes, nearly a third of the entire Negro population in the country (17 million) and nearly one half of the Negroes in the South are still concentrated in the old Black Belt majority area. The fact is that the Negro population in the Black Belt is larger than the population of 34 countries who are members of the UN!“
I was heartened to see that I was not alone. A number of Black comrades were opposed to this so-called reevaluation by the right and the dropping of our revolutionary position.
GENUINE MARXIST-LENINISTS CONSOLIDATE
These discussions and the pre-convention meetings in the districts served as a beginning of consolidation of a genuine Marxist-Leninist left. For a short time, the left forces were able to build a tentative tactical unity with the Foster-Davis faction which made some show of wanting to fight the openly liquidationist Gates faction. This unity, however, was quickly shattered with the Foster-Gates unity deal at a New York State pre-convention meeting. In danger of not being elected as a delegate to the convention, Foster made the infamous deal on “name and form” of the Party in exchange for the votes of the Gates faction. While explicitly rejecting the dissolution of the Party, a resolution was passed with Gates’ support which held that “…any and all proposals to change the name, form or policies of the Party can and should be examined and discussed on their merits,” (Proceedings of the 16th National Convention, p. 47) – thus leaving the door wide open to future liquidationist proposals from the Gates forces.
Widely separated and lacking central leadership, the left nonetheless continued to grow. This section of the Party began to gain ideological clarity thought criticizing the opportunism of the Party line. The pre-convention meetings were the first organized means on a national level of examining the Party’s line since the 15th Party Convention in 1950. Since that time, those who opposed the growing revisionism in the Party had remained dispersed and confused, with no regular access to any of the Party machinery through which to air their views. The leadership deliberately kept Marxist-Leninist education to a minimum as part of their attempt to maintain the status-quo.
They had systematically suppressed dissent and all forms of inner-Party democracy. Many of the comrades who came together in the left caucus at the 16th Party Convention had locally and individually raised struggles against revisionism in their districts, but were pretty much unaware of how widespread dissent was in the Party as a whole. We were pleasantly surprised to see just how many cadre there were who still had agreement on the basic principles of Marxism-Leninism: the dictatorship of the proletariat, for the right to self-determination in the Black Belt, in support of proletarian internationalism, and against the theory of peaceful transition to socialism – although there was some confusion on this point as a result of the Khruschov revelations.
THE 16TH PARTY CONVENTION
At the time of the Convention, February 9-12, 1957, three distinct factions had emerged on the right. Gates led a blatant and vulgar far right group which was openly anti-Soviet and supported both the ideological and physical liquidation of the Party. It included men like Blake-Charney, the organizational secretary of New York; Joseph Clark, a Daily Worker reporter; and Steve Nelson, the District Organizer of Wester Pennsylvania. The centrist faction was led by Eugene Dennis and included James Jackson and Jack Stachel. A more covert and insidious right danger, this faction called for ideological liquidation of the Party’s vanguard role, but favored the maintenance of some sort of social-democratic structure from which to wield power. They also openly supported the Soviet Union. The left of center faction was represented by Foster and his allies, Ben Davis, Will Weinstone and Bob Thompson who was at that time still in jail. This group perceived the right danger in the Party – the other two factions – but still conceded that leftism was the main danger. This grouping had more reservations about openly doing away with the vanguard party.
All three factions had unity on the basic political question – support for the theory of peaceful, parliamentary and constitutional transition to socialism; a bourgeois assimilationist position on the Negro question; a view of left sectarianism as historically the main danger in the Party; and a wavering stand at best, and total abandonment at worst, on the question of proletarian internationalism. This was particularly blatant in the Convention’s refusal to change its position on Hungary, or to acknowledge the various criticisms of the Party’s revisionism as put forward by Jacques Duclos and various Latin American Parties. For example, the Party failed to take a stand against U.S. intervention in Latin America.
The 16th Party Convention was a fateful turning point in our Party’s history – the point from which the Party turned inevitably and unalterably down the road of revisionism, the point from which the task of building a new anti-revisionist communist party became our primary task. In discussing this historic event, I must say something of the despicable role played by James Jackson. Earlier he had been sent South by Eugene Dennis and at the time was Secretary of the Southern region of the Party. It became obvious at the Convention that Dennis had sent him South for the purpose of presiding over the liquidation of the Party. Jackson never did see the need for the Party in the South and openly stated in the pre-convention discussions that the then existing reformist-led movement organizes “…the maximum political, economic and moral strength of the Negro masses and their white allies to bear upon the monopoly ruling circles…” (Discussion Bulletin Number 2).
Jackson brought a few Southern delegates with him to the Convention, but in the main, the South was represented by proxies – many of whom had never been farther south than Brooklyn. It was his claim that it was too dangerous to bring Southern delegates to the Convention. It thought this was rather interesting since we had manged to bring such delegates – including Black sharecroppers – in the midst of the worst lynch terror of the 1930s.
DISCUSSION OF THE RIGHT OF SELF-DETERMINATION DENIED
Jackson actually used these “Southern” proxies to build a cheering section of his supporters on the floor. The main thrust of the line he pushed was to drop the right of self-determination which – given the strength of the left at the convention – meant entirely avoiding a discussion of it! Jackson contended that we could develop a program of practical action and deal with the political line at some other time. Together with Carl Winters and Doxey Wilkerson (a member of the Gates faction and soon to quit the Party), he wrote the main resolution on the Negro question – a thoroughly reformist document that avoided entirely any fundamental discussion of line or of the right of self-determination.
Jackson’s efforts to forestall discussion were given material support by an arrangement between our caucus and Foster. It was obvious that Gates was then out liquidate the Party right there on the spot. Foster approached us seeking to bloc against the Gates faction and asked that we support a move to take the question off the Convention agenda, to postpone discussion and settlement of the matter to a special national conference on Negro work to be held within 60 days of the Convention. The main thing before the Convention was to “save the Party” from the open liquidation of Gates. A full discussion of the Negro question, he argued, would split the Convention wide open and play directly into the hands of the Gates faction. At the time, we thought it was the right thing to do and went along with Foster’s deal. But, as we shall see, the promised conference on Negro work was never held. There was a very widespread rumor about Ben Davis at the Convention and I have no doubt that it’s true. The story goes that someone in the Dennis faction asked Davis why he and Foster were going around making deals with the “ultra-left.” Davis replied, “We’ve got to deal with Gates. When we deal with him, then we can handle the left sectarians.”
The convention proceedings were characterized by extreme bureaucratic suppression and parliamentary maneuvering directed against the rank and file. Even so, I thought we did pretty well on the floor. Al Lannon, a leader of the left, was the fastest on his feet and got the microphone more than the rest of us. The revisionists have chosen to print precious few of these speeches in the official transcript of the Convention Proceedings, but there were still a few important remarks included. For instance: “… On the question of social democracy, I think the effort here is to slur over and obscure the differences that exist between ourselves and social democracy. We are discussing here what are the possibilities for a united front – that’s one thing, but no united front is possible without a clear understanding of what our differences are. United fronts come about not by slurring over differences and hiding them … I’m for a united front with social democracy, but always making clear that we are not social democrats. We have a different program, and united front is based on certain common needs which both agree to while we disagree…” and “…on the question of a mass party of socialism, I think that’s just pie in the sky and will divert, because I think the pre-condition to that is a centering of all our work on the rebuilding and reconstituting of a Marxist-Leninist Communist Party…” (Proceedings, p. 121)
REVOLUTIONARY VIEWS DROWNED IN REVISIONISM
I was able to speak only once and used the little time I had to attack the Party’s line on the Negro question. In response to the revisionist “solution” to the question by pointing out the increasing proletarianization of the Black masses, I argued that “…the Negro national question involves the entire Deep South. The tremendous proletarianization of Negroes in the Deep South has only sharpened the fundamental contradictions involved in the Negro question. These changes only emphasize the special national character of the Negro question.” (Ibid., p. 107.) As to the developing civil rights movements, “Wilkerson and the right do not see the inevitable next step in the face of shattered illusions concerning the role of the 1954 Supreme Court decision and the federal government. That is, the perspective of a developing national revolutionary Negro movement in the Deep South, the eventual aim of which will be some form or degree of autonomy – or sufficient political power in the hands of the suppressed to guarantee their rights. This in no way is in contradiction to the slogan of democratic integration. Thus the Negro people’s movement becomes an especially significant part of the international anti-colonial upsurge – a national revolutionary movement in the heartland of U.S. imperialism, the bulwark of world reaction.” (Ibid., pp. 107-108) Calling on the Party to take a more aggressive stand than merely tailing the bourgeoisie, I stated “It is not enough to greet these new, heroic struggles in the South. The embattled Negro people want our help. They cannot win alone. They need our Party and the international working-class movement to support their struggle.” (Ibid., p. 108)
To be sure, such views were drowned in a swamp of revisionism. When all the hoopla was done, the September Draft Resolution was passed pretty much intact with all three of the right-wing factions declaring a great victory, a new Party “unity of all trends,” and a “defeat against revisionism.” Dennis – the arch conciliationist - came out in the strongest position, indicating throughout the Convention the future course he would take in fully conceding to the far right. Dennis spoke strongly in defense of the rights of minorities, arguing in the typical Dennis double-talk that “…there is also a realization that the more truly democratic we become, the more we need to a cohesive and united organization which guarantees the minority’s right to dissent at ALL times…” Indicating the extent of his own unity with the line of the Gates faction, he went on to say: “Further, I believe that there is much sober thought being given to what we mean by a new sounder relationship with other Marxist parties, including those in the socialist countries…” (Ibid., p. 50)
DEMOCRACY FOR OPPORTUNISTS ONLY
It was clear from the start that all the talk of expanded democracy and minority rights would not be extended to the Marxist-Leninist left which posed the main threat to the other three factions.
Gates was unsuccessful in his bid to dissolve the Party into a political-action association, but nevertheless came out of the Convention fairly strong, with a number of his supporters on the National Committee and in key positions in state organizations. Foster, who had initially expressed the strongest opposition to the line of the Resolution, stated, “I want to support this recommendation, I think it is the best we can do under the circumstances…” (Ibid., p. 236) He then informed the delegates that he had voted for every document in the Resolution.
This was the last Party Convention that Foster, then 77 years old, was able to attend. His influence dwindled in the following years until his death in the Soviet Union in September 1961.
Perhaps the most controversial of the things he wrote in this last period was a letter to Mao Tsetung - praising the progress China had made in the struggle to build socialism and discussing the situation in the U.S. and the world. He received a warm response from Chairman Mao who thanked Foster for his letter and said “Allow me on behalf of the Communist Party of China and the Chinese people, to extend hearty greetings to you, glorious fighter and leader of the American working class, and wish you an early recovery.” (PA March 1959, p. 31) The letter had been sent in December 1958 without the approval of the Party’s secretariat. They would have liked to have overlooked the matter entirely, but were unable to do so when Foster’s letter and Mao’s response were published in the New York Times. The Party was finally forced to publish the exchange in the March 1959 issue of Political Affairs.
THREE FACTIONS UNITE TO ABANDON REVOLUTION
The so-called “unity of all trends” reached at the 16th Party Convention represented a compromise on fundamental questions, arriving at a formula which legalized the open liquidationist Gates faction within the Party and stifled the necessary ideological struggle against revisionism. Thus, although the Party avoided an open split, it was saddled with a conciliationist line in a period when ideological confusion was rampant in the ranks. The 16th Party Convention was characterized by the total abandonment of revolutionary line and principle on all questions in favor of a sham unity with the right wing, with each of the three right factions scrambling for position.
A gallop to the right under the guise of “unity” followed the Convention, with Dennis putting into practice the thoroughly revisionist program adopted there. The liquidation of the Party as a Marxist-Leninist vanguard was further intensified as Dennis made repeated concessions to the open liquidators. In an effort to keep peace with the Gates faction, “democracy” and public criticism of the Party was greatly expanded. Freedom of criticism in this case, meaning the freedom to further hasten the conversion of a communist party into a social-democratic party of reforms, the freedom to counterpose bourgeois theories to communist theories. (Lenin effectively deals with the “criticizers” of his day – assorted Bernsteinists and reformists – in Chapter 1 of “What Is To Be Done?”.)
While the leadership cried “unity of all trends,” they actually meant the unprincipled unity of the three right factions in opposition to the left. We in the left attacked this phony unity at the reconvened district convention and played a major role in upsetting the “unity slates” at the New York State, Brooklyn and Manhattan County Conventions. However, we were unable to prevent the Davis-Charney unity deal at the New York State Convention and Ben Davis became State Chairman, while Charney, a Gates man, became Executive Secretary.
The tactics of the open liquidators, the center and the “left” conciliators were very similar. They kept trying to forestall any kind of meaningful discussion. Given Foster’s original scheme at the 16th Party Convention, the revisionists continued their effort to separate a program for mass work from any basic, fundamental discussion of line. Ben Davis and others ushered in the slogan of “let’s get to work.” “The rank and file,” Davis said in the Party Voice, “are sick and tired of internal strife, of arguing over meaningless abstractions.” I made a speech at the reconvened convention in Harlem, fighting for restoration of our revolutionary position on the Negro question and an end to tailing after the leadership of the NAACP. Davis immediately attacked me – “Left to Harry here, he and me would be left along to fighting it down to the ropes. We can’t afford that, we gotta get to work!” Following the state conventions, the Lannon forces were strong enough to be elected to a number of posts on the New York State Committee and were well represented on the Manhattan County Committee. My wife Gwen was a section leader in Brooklyn, and we had actual leadership in two vital concentrations – the Waterfront and Harlem and lower Harlem. Our strength was considerable when one takes into account the fact that the New York district comprised over one half the membership of the Party at that time.
CAMPAIGN TO DRIVE OUT BLACK AND MILITANT CADRE
The promised national conference on the Negro question was stalled, postponed and inevitably never held. Many of our Black cadre became demoralized, frustrated and dropped out. There was a mass exodus of membership as many honest cadre began to see the futility of fighting the bureaucracy. Dues payment dropped, club attendance too, a complete disintegration of many Party organizations ensued. The Party continued to dwindle in size, down to a mere skeleton of what it had once been. Gates estimated that by 1958, there were only 5,000 member in the Party. Daily Worker circulation was down to 5,000 daily and 10,000 on Sunday.
It was becoming more and more evident that the leadership actually had a plan to drive the left out of the Party, through bureaucratic suppression and harassment. James Jackson personally supervised a conspiracy to get rid of militant Blacks. It was clear to us that the leadership would never hold a national conference on Negro work while there were still cadre left to fight for the revolutionary line.
In late 1957, I completed work on “For a Revolutionary Position on the Negro Question.” It was a summation of a number of unpublished articles I had written against reformism in the 1950s, the struggles at the 16th Party Convention and afterward. It was intended to give ideological clarity to the emerging left in the Party and was later taken up as un-official document of the Provisional Organizing Committee (POC). The paper attacked the party’s right wing and reformist line, Jackson’s view that it would be a “presumptuous judgement” and an “unwarranted interference” for the Party to continue its support of the right of self-determination, undermining the fundamentally correct leadership of the bourgeois assimilationists. My paper attacks the revisionists’ failure to understand the basic orientation on the question, that “…without the perspective of POLITICAL POWER, the Negro peoples’ movement is reduced to an impotent appeal to the conscience or humanitarian instincts of the country and the world.”
It was essential in this paper to answer James Allen’s latest theories. Abandoning his former support for the right of self-determination, Allen had become the main theoretical gun of the revisionists. His basically economically determinist approach was to describe an inevitable disintegration of the Black Belt nation now already in process as a result of the “…forces of capitalist development of great expansive power, which has fared well into the era of monopoly capitalism.” (Discussion Bulletin Number 2) According to Allen, this disintegration was heralded by the failure of the elements of nationhood not only to exist in the Black Belt, but to be in a full state of maturation. He failed to understand that “…imperialist oppression, in stifling the development of nations, creates the conditions for the rise of national revolutionary movements which, in this epoch, are a special phase of the struggle for socialism. This creates the basis for the revolutionary alliance of the oppressed peoples with the international working class in the struggle against the common enemy, imperialism.” (For a Revolutionary Position on the Negro Question)
On November 16, 1957 a declaration was signed in Moscow which had a major effect on the CPUSA. This was the “Declaration of the Communist and Workers Parties of the Socialist Countries.” Signed by Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, North Vietnam, East Germany, China, North Korea, Mongolia, Poland, Rumania, USSR and Czechoslovakia, the declaration held that proletarian internationalism as could be understood through the lessons of history “…requires support of the Soviet Union and all the socialist countries who, pursuing a policy of preserving peace throughout the world, are the mainstays of peace and social progress.”
GATES’ RESIGNATION ENDS “UNITY” OF OPPORTUNISTS
The Gates forces were adamantly opposed to our officially adopting the statement and resented the arguments of the more pro-Soviet elements in the leadership. The debates surrounding our adoption of the Declaration and the threatened liquidation of the Daily Worker – which by this time consistently carried anti-Party, anti-Soviet and anti-communist propaganda – brought the resignation of John Gates in January 1958 (The Declaration was adopted at the next National Committee meeting in February, 1958.) A stream of his supporters resigned following this. The whole incident brought a factional realignment in the leadership at the February 1958 National Committee meeting, with the Dennis center and the Thompson-Davis left center sharing leadership, although Dennis was definitely the top man.
Gates’ departure signaled the end of the “all trends unity,” the end of the era of “freedom of criticism” and new cry in the leadership for centralism. Factionalism was outlawed and Thompson issued an ultimatum to the left at the June 1958 National Committee meeting. “Our Party … has the capacity to declare war on factionalism … whether from the direction of revisionism of the direction of dogmatism,” said Thompson. (See the September, 1958 Vanguard, organ of the POC.) With the leadership slapping themselves on the back for their so-called “victory over revisionism” (ie., the resignation of Gates and friends), it was obvious that the immediate task was to get rid of the “ultra-lefts.”
Our strength and influence were growing with Gates’ resignation, conditions were favorable for advancing the struggle against revisionism and conciliationism and for strengthening the leadership and prestige of the consistent Marxist forces. In spite of this situation, however, our left forces under the leadership of Armando Roman fell into a series of ultra-left errors which in the long run led to the dissipation of our prestige and influence and eventually to our isolation from a large number of honest forces who were in agreement with us.
MARXIST-LENINISTS ISOLATED BY MISTAKES
We gradually became more and more oriented towards the narrow, inflexible tactic of attack and exposure. The fundamental political questions upon which the caucus was founded became relegated to secondary importance as we largely confined ourselves to attacking the Party’s position. Our purely oppositionist tactics, combined with a refusal to participate in mass work, enabled to Party leadership to portray us as anti-Party and disruptive elements. Some of the most blatant ultra-left errors of this period included a refusal to accept posts on the Manhattan County Staff (particularly Armando’s refusal to accept the key post of education director of the county; the boycott of the Daily Worker, even after the resignation of Gates; and the failure to fight publication of articles stating our political position through official channels of the Party).
I must admit self-critically that I tended to overlook these errors, thinking they were just individual mistakes of a tactical nature – not the reflection of an entire ultra-left line. I dare say that after years of fighting such right-wingers, many other comrades in the caucus mad the same mistakes. With Thompson’s ultimatum to the left, many of us began to think that we would soon be expelled from the Party and agreed with Armando’s view that we should openly split with the Party – a decision the timing of which I now think was incorrect and played directly into the hands of the revisionists who were able to isolate us even further from the rank and file. This decision resulted in the formation of the Provisional Organizing Committee for a Communist Party (POC) founded in August 1958. About 83 delegates, mostly Black and Puerto Rican working class cadre, attended the founding conference in New York. There was much enthusiasm, even euphoria at the conference – we thought we were really on the way to building a new Party.
For all our fond hopes, the POC continued under Armando’s leadership in an isolationist line and soon deteriorated into an ultra-left sect. There was an absolute refusal to apply to theory to practice and become involved in the day-to-day work among the masses; a rejection “on principle” of any compromise under any circumstances over any questions – even over purely practical matters. Those who opposed such dogmatism were promptly labeled “conciliationists.” The POC was rife with inner caucus witchhunts, personal slander and character assassination. Armando set himself up as an infallible demigod who instinctively could sniff out not only the “conciliators” in our ranks, but the “conciliators of the conciliators.” There was, to many of us, the distinct smell of police agentry about all this.
In October 1958, Armando called together a rump conference to have Gwen, myself and a number of other comrades expelled from the POC. This followed a number of splits with leading comrades – all of which had been initiated by Armando. I had unwittingly allowed myself to be a part of some of this. I began to smell a little fishy to me though, and I demanded an investigation and the opening of all files. The result was a slander campaign against me – questioning my motives and charging me with abandoning principle – and finally my expulsion.
OPPORTUNISTS FULLY EXPOSED AS AGENTS OF BOURGEOISIE
Our hopes for a new Party went pretty much down the drain with this and I was at loose ends. I wondered what to do next. I hadn’t yet been expelled from the CPUSA, though everyone else around me had been. I figured that they wanted to isolate me completely before they expelled me.
Only in 1959, with most of the left out of the Party, did the leadership fully expose their political positions in the draft resolutions for the 17th Party Conventions. The Resolution represented the nearly complete victory of the right and an indication to me of just how insidious and dangerous an enemy revisionism is – having point by point, step by step, stripped away all our revolutionary principles in the name of fighting for them. The right wing of the Party were not just less militant fighters, but actually the agents of the bourgeoisie who had succeeded in gaining control of the Party.
After seeing Jackson’s crude and blatantly reformist program on the Negro question, I decided to write an article for PA as part of the pre-convention discussion. By this time, Jackson had developed the Party’s reformist line to its logical conclusion – a full blown melting pot theory – and I lambasted him accordingly. The article was never printed, but Briggs rewrote it and purportedly it was distributed at the 17th Party Convention by the California delegation. Though the paper caused quite a stir, the revisionist line on the Negro question was officially adopted at the Convention – the right of self-determination formally dropped.
I think that Briggs’ paper was just what Dennis and Jackson needed to get rid of me. Following the Convention, Jackson took a trip across country. On his way to Los Angeles, he stopped in Mexico City and met with a number of friends there. My good friend Elizabeth Cattlett de Mora was among them and asked Jackson about me. “Oh, he’s been expelled,” he said. “He’s a good guy, but we just had some differences.” And that’s how I found out after 36 years that I had been expelled from the Communist Party USA.
PARTY DESTROYED AS VANGUARD
And so the right was ultimately victorious in the Party’s third major crisis - the struggle against Lovestone and Browder being the first two. Under the guise of attacking an often elusive and ephemeral “left sectarianism” and “dogmatism,” they destroyed the Party as a vanguard force, irrevocably shoving it down the road to revisionism and counter revolution. It’s true that there were from time to time ultra-left currents in the Party. Particularly in the Browder and post Browder period, these currents developed in response to the overwhelming rightism of the Party leadership, as a result of the failure to involve cadre in political education and the failure to play a leading role in the mass movements. But at no time could these leftist deviations have been considered the main danger to the Party. Further, most of what had been labeled by the leadership as “left sectarian” were actually honest attempts to oppose the rightist line and bureaucracy, not the “purism” and “isolationism,” the running ahead of the masses which characterizes ultra-leftism.
In basing themselves on the thesis that left sectarianism constituted the main danger and was primarily responsible for the isolation of the Party, the right obscured the whole history of class struggle in this country. It was right opportunism which destroyed the once-powerful Socialist Party. It was as we have seen, right opportunism, expressed in Lovestone’s theory of continued prosperity and American exemption from economic crisis which provoked the first Party crisis in 1927.
It was the crass opportunism and bourgeois reformism of Browder’s theories of “progressive capitalism” and extended period of “harmony of interests between capital and labor” which threw the Party into its second major crisis.
And once, again, it was right opportunism, this time expressed largely in the slogan of “peaceful, parliamentary and constitutional transition to socialism” which plunged the Party into its third and fatal crisis. In this crisis, the right successfully threw the Party into a fervor over left sectarianism, exaggerating this error in order to obscure the history of the struggle against the right danger, and prevent the Party from carefully and thoroughly tracing right opportunism to its systematic maturation during the past war years.
The proposition that left sectarianism constituted the main historical danger in the CPUSA ignored the constant pressures exerted on the Party by the forces of bourgeois ideology and capitalist development. Many of the particular conditions which American capitalism developed under – a frontier, vast resources and natural wealth, bourgeois democracy, an ability to temporarily mediate economic slump and recession, relative periods of prosperity – all this had tended to act as a force which retards the class consciousness of broad sections of the labor movement, fostering illusions that basic change can take place within the capitalist system and inequities solved through reform.
CONDITIONS FOR DEVELOPMENT OF RIGHT OPPORTUNISM
The development of capitalism into monopoly capitalism, imperialism, its roots in slavery and later the corresponding plunder and exploitation of the Caribbean nations, the Philippines, and Asia brought super profits into the coffers of the ruling class, enabling them to cultivate and encourage - through money, prestige and influence – a labor aristocracy which serves as “lieutenants” of capital within the labor movement. This small elite section of American labor – based among the upper strata of skilled and higher paid workers – has through its leadership in the trade unions, inundated the working class with bourgeois ideology, promoting reformism, narrow self-interest and rampant jingoistic chauvinism. This “labor bureaucracy” is particularly susceptible to the imperialist propaganda of white chauvinism and has served to intensify the antagonisms between white and Black workers, dividing and splitting the working class into hostile groups, retarding the development of revolutionary class consciousness. These objective conditions combined together to provide fertile soil for the maturing of right opportunist class collaborationism and chauvinist ideas, outlook and policies, which undoubtedly all heavily affected our Party.
It is out of these concrete conditions that right opportunism develops as the main danger in the working class movement. My experience in the Party confirmed what the history of the working-class struggle has shown, that in order to develop as a revolutionary vanguard, any CP must constantly struggle against the powerful pressures of bourgeois ideology within its own ranks. The Party is not separated by a Chinese wall from the corruptive influences of the bourgeois world. In the post-war period, bourgeois influences within the Party combined in effect, with the pressures of imperialist repression against the Party. As a source of revisionism, illusions about the vitality of American imperialism were reinforced now by the imprisonment and terror employed by the government against the Party. Under these circumstances, the shallowness of the “correction” of the 1945 errors became apparent. Illusions about the possibility of continued alliance with the liberal bourgeoise continued to be the center of the political orientation of the Party leadership. Simultaneously, under the pressure of the Smith Act prosecutions, the Party leadership developed the dogma of peaceful transition to socialism.
Without a thorough purge of Browderism, the Party preserved and built up a bureaucracy effectively insulated against the operation of the Marxist-Leninist practice of criticism and self-criticism. In this way, not only was the ideological level of our Party forced to remain at a low level, but at the same time, unification, purification and corrective replacements of leadership were made almost impossible.