Right Opportunism in the CPUSA

The following is a discussion article for the upcoming Communist Party USA national convention. I am reposting it here from ML Today as an exploration of the development of Right Opportunism in the CPUSA. As Comrade Stalin has said, “Under capitalist conditions the Right deviation in communism signifies a tendency … of a section of the Communists to depart from the revolutionary line of Marxism in the direction of Social-Democracy.” For an important analysis of the historical roots of Right Opportunism in the CPUSA, see Harry Haywood‘s article, “The Degeneration of the CPUSA in the 1950s.” See also the section on antirevisionism of the Marxist-Leninist Study Guide:

The Old Bug of Right Opportunism Returns
by Mark Anderson

Although Marxist-Leninist terminology has fallen out of vogue with the top leadership of our Party, there’s no avoiding the use of precise, scientific language if one is to analyze contemporary phenomena from a Communist point of view. To do so would be like trying to have a discussion of Newtonian physics without using words like force or matter.

For several years our Party has been suffering from the corrosive effects of what Marx, Lenin and other Marxists called opportunism, specifically right opportunism. This was not name-calling on their part, but was instead an attempt to define a historically determined phenomenon that persists to this day.

Former CPUSA chairman Gus Hall, in a 1979 article titled “Opportunism: the Destructive Germ,” defined right opportunism as “an unnecessary and unprincipled accommodation and, in the end, a capitulation to the enemy. It is a sacrificing of the longer-term and more basic interests of the working class and the people behind the guise of getting concessions on some immediate questions.”

He called opportunism a recurrent “virus,” an “old bug,” that the Party, surrounded as it is by bourgeois pressures, had to constantly be on guard against.

Generally speaking, right opportunism means sacrificing principle for short-term gains. It means an excessive readiness to make compromises with the capitalist class at the expense of the working class, to “get along” with capitalist order, to “go with the flow” and work for small changes around the edges rather than for fundamental change. It’s closely related to the concept of reformism.

The “left” variant of opportunism is characterized by sectarian phrase-mongering detached from the real world, whose objective effect is to perpetuate the established order much like its right variant does.

Historically, right opportunism has been the primary danger within the CPUSA. In its most extreme form, it led to the dissolution of the Party under the leadership of Earl Browder in the 1940s. It also badly split the Party in 1991 when a right-opportunist faction tried to capture the leadership of the Party and transform it into a reformist, social-democratic association.

The right-opportunist affliction in our Party today is manifested in several ways, most notably in a de-emphasizing of the class struggle.

For example, instead of helping the working class understand that its interests are irreconcilably opposed to the monopoly capitalist class, and organizing to wage struggle on that basis, the right-opportunist trend advocates all-class unity against political conservatives in a classless “battle for democracy.”

It places strategic emphasis on supporting more liberal or “enlightened” elements of the ruling, capitalist class as the lesser of two evils, particularly in the electoral arena, until such time as the conservatives or the “ultra-right” are decisively defeated. What would constitute such a decisive defeat is never spelled out, however. Even now, with a Democratic president and strong Democratic majority in Congress, advocates of this approach insist it must be retained.

To justify its position, this trend invokes Georgi Dimitrov’s theory of the popular front against fascism in the 1930s, and a variant of that position developed by CPUSA leaders in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan came to power. Yet this trend is quick to point out that we do not have fascism today, nor does it appear to be imminent.

In practice, this all-class strategy means that the Party refrains from criticizing its would-be capitalist-class allies, mutes its criticism of the big monopolies (e.g. refrains from calling for their nationalization), exaggerates the significance of differences within the ruling class, and plays down basic Marxist concepts like the class character of the capitalist state.

One result of this approach is a blunting of working-class consciousness and socialist consciousness, and a weakening of the Party’s fighting spirit.

Among other right-opportunist ideas afflicting our Party are these:

The capitalist system is not moribund, as Lenin said, but is relatively strong. It is not in general crisis. Therefore, the U.S. party’s strategy should be solely to win attainable reforms within the system rather than advocate capitalism’s revolutionary replacement with socialism.

Anti-monopoly strategy, let alone anti-capitalist propaganda, is too advanced for this stage of struggle, and the main focus should instead be on rebuffing the most extreme right and the Republican Party.

Historically, socialism has shown itself to be unable to solve economic and social problems. Central planning is a failure; a market-oriented economy is the way to go. It’s not even clear anymore what socialism is.
The class struggle has ceased to be the central pivot around which all questions revolve.

Racism and national oppression are gradually receding. It is no longer necessary to aggressively push for affirmative action.

Issues of discrimination, anti-Semitism, and the struggle for the full equality of African Americans, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Native Americans, Asian-Pacific and Arab Americans, LGBT, women, and youth no longer requires special attention. Party Commissions and special demands on these questions are unnecessary.

The term “U.S. imperialism” is too simplistic. The U.S. government, especially under President Obama, can play a positive and humanitarian role in world politics. For this reason it is permissible for the U.S. military and NATO forces to occupy other nations like Iraq and Afghanistan, impose “democratic” reforms, and secure neoliberal economic advantages. Peace and solidarity work is therefore not as important as it once was.

Electoral politics should be limited to work within the Democratic Party. Any attempt to go outside the two-party system is sectarian and futile. Running candidates on the Communist Party ticket is especially narrow and self-defeating.

The CPUSA is bogged down by dogmatism, sectarianism and rigidity. Many of the stock slanders of the Party are indeed justified. It may not survive unless it abandons its outdated dogmas, including the dogma that it should play a leading, vanguard role.

The Party should emulate social democracy and seek to merge with the broad left. The “Communist plus” should be given a quiet burial, and Marxist-Leninist education and literature (including a printed news paper) are relatively unimportant. Strong party organization is no longer necessary.

The basis for the growth and development of this negative, right-opportunist trend in our Party consists of several elements, including: (1) the relatively long period of the capitalist system’s expansion, at least until the most recent crisis, and the resulting ideological pressures of ruling-class ideology; (2) the continuing ideological fallout from the demise of the USSR and the Eastern European socialist countries, (3) the weak class composition of our own Party — the insufficient number of workers in the leadership and membership (a number being further reduced by the passing away of many working-class Party veterans); (4) the inadequate theoretical training of the party membership in the basics of Marxism-Leninism, a problem compounded by the traditional U.S. baggage of “pragmatism” and “American exceptionalism”; (5) the broader influence of reformism and opportunism in the working-class movement; and (6) the corrosive influence of the Party’s extensive private property holdings, particularly in real estate, which now account for the vast majority of its operating revenue.

Defeating this retrograde trend within our Party is an absolutely essential task. Without its defeat, there can be no successful struggle for socialism.

February 19, 2010

6 responses to “Right Opportunism in the CPUSA

  1. The CPUSA is certainly a hot mess. But seriously, as an organization, who cares about the CP?

    Sometimes I feel like we only care because they carry our name. A Party of communists the CP is not. The Left, especially the revolutionary left, ditched the CP a very long time (longer than you or I have been alive, in fact..)

    I don’t see the merit in arguing with hardened revisionists in the CPUSA, when that time could be spent building (and recruiting for) actual M-L organizations.

    The CP’s website, interestingly enough, says they oppose violence on “principle

  2. Yes, but it is still very important to make these revisionist, or actually reformist, principles known to the public.

    These principles are bizarre, especially when Iraq and Afghanistan, and South Asia, are fighting with all their might to fight US imperialism, for independence, and in the case of Nepal and India, for socialism. Same goes for the Philippines and Colombia.

    It is a group of armchair “humanist Marxists,” hopeless ex-revolutionaries abandoning the one fundamental truth to Marxism — class struggle.

    Indeed, I agree we need to focus on building a new Party, but we must look to the revisionist errors that still plague much of the US and international Left.

    • I think this article’s mere existence, written from within the CPUSA, makes it clear that while the leadership may be, as you say, “hopeless ex-revolutionaries”, and I would say this trend has held more or less since the late 1950s, still among the rank-and-file there is some diversity of thought, and apparently some genuine Marxist-Leninists who should not be dismissed so casually.

  3. This is a splendid article. Marxist-Leninists in Pakistan are familiar with this trend through actual experience. The positions taken by the right opportunists here are according to the conditions and situation specific to our country, ofcourse, but they are not much different in character from the example of right opportunism given in this article.

  4. Mark Anderson’s criticisms of right opportunism are correct, I think, but don’t go far enough. The problem with the CP’s line is not merely right opportunism, but Khrushchev revisionism.

    Opportunism can be serious without amounting to revisionism. The difference is that revisionism cuts the heart out of Marxism with its reformist, “peaceful transition to socialism line” that denies the need for the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeois state.

    Anderson’s action program likewise falls short. He calls for nationalization of monopolies, for instance. A step like that is part of the minimum program that organizes the workers and raises their consciousness, but does not in and of itself constitute the maximum program, the overthrow of capitalism.

    So, okey, Anderson is going in the right direction but he needs to go a whole lot farther.

  5. Thanks for this post. I was nearly tempted to have hints of right opportunism in my thoughts shouting words like ‘viva la reformacion’ when it should be ‘viva la revolucion’. There are many revolutionaries here in the Philippines who have conceded to be content with what the right has offered them and just live on the existing rules instead of overthrowing them. They have lost idealism and vision and have become frustrated.

    The influence of right opportunism is what we need to overcome. Avoid concessions to the bourgeoise order and begin thinking about the long-term future needs and not sacrificing them for immediate needs.

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