Thursday, December 4, 2008

Know Your Third Parties: Part 5 - Communists (and other Marxists)

Although few have achieved any prominent status - such as an FEC-recognized national committee - there are several political parties in the United States that support communism or some other form of Marxism.

Many claim to be socialist - although these tend to be more extreme than the admittedly Communist party.

They include

Because there are so many (and all so…interesting) we will not be able to go into too much depth with each. Here are some summaries.

Communist Party USA

The fact that Communist Party USA has survived for nearly 90 years is truly remarkable given the turmoil they suffered during the Palmer raids, two Red Scares, McCarthyism, the duration of the Cold War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The party was founded in 1919 when leaders of the Socialist Party refused to join Comintern at Vladimir Lenin's suggestion. After Stalin exiled Trotsky, about 18,000 CPUSA members (or 3/4 of the party) left to join the Communist League of America (the Socialist Workers Party today) as part of the Fourth International.

CPUSA continued its relationship with the Soviets during the Cold War - with some members engaging in espionage against the United States. As a result, the party was outlawed in 1954. The Supreme Court would later overturn the ban.

Since 1984 CPUSA has restrained from running any candidates. At the time this was largely due to the popularity of President Reagan's anti-communist rhetoric. Since then CPUSA has worked first and foremost to keep Republicans from power.

Although CPUSA is officially supportive of a communist revolution, they stress the importance for peaceful transition to what they see as a Marxist utopia. The current party chairman, Sam Webb, claims there to be over 15,000 registered members.

The Party for Socialism and Liberation

The PSL was founded in 2004 after splitting from the ranks of the Workers World Party over inter-party squabbles. Soon after, PSL published a 64-page pamphlet entitled "Who We Are, What We Stand For" - a manifesto for revolutionary socialism in the 21st Century.

The PSL has grown quickly over the past four years. They ran their first national ticket - Gloria La Riva / Eugene Puryear - for the 2008 elections. The La Riva campaign achieved ballot status in twelve states and earned 7,311 votes, finishing ahead of Socialist Party USA candidate Brian Moore. Another ten candidates ran under the PSL ticket across the country, including Michael Prysner (an Iraq War veteran) in Florida's 22nd Congressional District.

Not only does the PSL tote the traditional Marxist-Leninist line, they are strongly "anti-imperialist" and link capitalism directly with war. The PSL is on the Steering Committee for ANSWER and strongly supports Cuba, Palestine, and Venezuela.

The Socialist Workers Party

The Socialist Workers Party was formed as the party of Trotskyites in the United States. A significant number of CPUSA members left to join the Communist League of America (due to CPUSA's support of Stalin) in 1928. Six years later they merged with the American Workers Party to form the U.S. Workers Party - which lasted all of two years.

But as the U.S. Workers Party dwindled away, many of these Trotskyites went to join the Socialist Party of America - and the SPA quickly expelled them. The expelled members then founded the Socialist Workers Party and entered it into the Fourth International.

While the SWP has had some electoral success (as far as third parties go) in the past, it is far less significant today. The 1960s and 70s were really the party's Golden Age - peaking in 1976 with SWP Presidential candidate Peter Camejo receiving over 90,000 votes.

In 2008, the SWP Presidential nominee, RĂ³ger Calero received only 7,182 votes with ballot access in five states. That was, in part, due the fact that Calero is not an American citizen (he is a Nicaraguan national) and his running mate is only 29 years old. For the states that do not allow such nonsense, the SWP ran its 2000 ticket, which appeared on five other state ballots. Between the two tickets, the SWP received 9,668 votes.

Their views have distanced from Trotskyism in the past few decades. In 1990, they officially broke off from the Fourth International. Since then they have maintained a more socialist stance towards dissolving the class system - although the title of their newsweekly remains "the Militant".

The Workers World Party

The Workers World Party was formed out of a schism with the SWP over several issues. The leader of the split was Sam Marcy, who differed with SWP leadership on the question of class in the Soviet state, and the SWP's opposition to Mao Zedong's revolution in China.

The SWP held to their Trotskyite origins, affirming that the USSR was still a nation of the workers despite the influence of Stalin, and supported Khrushchev (who had recently de-Stalinized the USSR) in splitting with Mao. Marcy argued that a Soviet elite had been created in Moscow and that communist states should stick together.

The WWP has always had difficulty bringing Marxists into their party - mostly because they send a lot of mixed signals, arguing for solidarity between communist nations (they supported the Russian invasion of Afghanistan) while also criticizing communist nations for not being true worker states (such as the current regimes in Cuba and China).

They have achieved some electoral success in the past - the most notable case was the 1992 U.S. Senate race in Ohio, where they garnered 6.7% of the vote. They have had difficulty running candidates recently, following the West-coast split in which several branches left to form the PSL. In 2008 they endorsed the Green Party's national ticket.

The Progressive Labor Party

In 1961, several CPUSA members left their party to form the Progressive Labor Party, citing their feelings that the Soviet Union had betrayed the true spirit of Communism as laid out by Karl Marx. They also felt that CPUSA had become too democratically-oriented and hid desires for revolution behind reformism.

The PLP built their base with anti-war students during the Vietnam Era. At the 1969 convention for Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) the PLP won a majority of the convention's support. They had intense rivalries within SDS, however, occasionally getting into fist fights with the Weathermen and Young Lords.

Since the 1980s, the PLP has moved away from the nationalist/fascist-hating New Left to develop unique views on Marxism. The most unprecedented view was that socialism was unnecessary in the process of feudalism to democratic capitalism to communism. They argued that socialism was a lesser of evils and declared "workers must never again share power with class enemies."

The PLP rarely runs candidates for office - as they believe in Dictatorship of the Proletariat - and spends most of their time doing marches and getting into confrontations with neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

The Workers Party

The Workers Party is a political organization that spends less time trying to work its way in to the political system and more time publishing their newspaper, The Worker. They are convinced that capitalism is in its last throes and a revolution is soon to spring from the ground-up.

The majority of their work is educating the people about the evils of capitalism and the coming salvation that communism will bring through revolution. They appeal for working people to organize for when capitalism falls.

World Socialist Party of the United States

The World Socialist Movement is an international organization that supports communism as Karl Marx described it. The World Socialist Party of the United States is the American affiliate. It was formed in Detroit in 1916.

The WSPUS has perhaps the most interesting platform for communism - they have long argued that the Soviet Union, China, and other communist states have not lived up to the true principle of socialism, but have rather instituted a form of state-based-capitalism. They argue instead for an almost anarchist version of socialism.

"For socialism to exist, or even a move towards socialism, it's not enough for expropriation to take place: what's essential is that the means of production cease to exist as capital. In other words, the capitalist principle of production has to be overturned. The capitalist principle of accumulated labour commanding living labour with a view to producing surplus value must be replaced by the principle of living labour commanding accumulated labour with a view to producing consumer goods to satisfy the needs of society's members."

They do not run candidates for office because they believe partisan politics "are but the expression of class interests."

Final Thoughts

The Communist and other Marxist parties that we have examined today are extremely insignificant (for the most part) to the political system in the United States.

But they do, in fact, do more than create schisms amongst themselves, write for bad publications, create bad websites, and march in protests. They provide us with unmatched amusement. We hope you've enjoyed it too, comrades.

Coming Monday - the Prohibition Party.

1 comment:

haas414 said...

As a historian of the old communists of the world, and Milwaukee's once-shining Socialist mayors, it's a treat to see this piece about the contemporary crews here in the states. I bet they're still on State Street in Madison, hawking the World Weekly Worker's News, or whatever that is. :-D