A party of advanced American democracy

JobsRallyOct12 2011 006


"We've never solved one single problem in this country with less democracy. We've never moved forward with less participation." Bill Clinton

"What is the character of a party of 21st century socialism?" Answering this question presents a special challenge, even before engaging its substance, to navigate the special vocabulary of 20th century socialist and communist dialog. It is a vocabulary substantially imported from political upheavals across the world that bear an uneven and often contradictory relation to the US, especially in the post World War II era.

The thesis of this submission is: The working people of the United States have no task in this era that is not embraced by advancing democracy. I am not talking absolutes, but tendencies. Clinton's thesis has not been true of some countries where feudal chains on democratic development were much stronger and revolutionary dictatorships were required to dispose of them. It's not even entirely true of the US, as the revolutionary and civil wars prove, but it is a profound current in our history.


There have been two approaches to seeking truth in the working class movement. One is to engage in a "theoretical" discussion of what is the authoritative Marxist-Leninist teaching. Who is the true Marxist? Once we know that, problem solved. The impact of contributions that follow this very eclectic and to all effect futile dialog has been somewhere between irrelevant and reactionary.


The other approach is to shun "authority" and rely on evidence-based approaches. In real life, of course, we all indulge in a mix of "theory" and evidence-based practices. We all have questions that our experience, we think, tells us we do not have to revisit. But, to quote Clinton again, "the weakness of ideology is the belief you have the answers before the evidence is in."


Lets list the existing countries claiming (in their constitutions) to be socialist: China, Cuba, Vietnam, and Laos --- their constitutions not only include "socialism", but also a path to a communist society as part of their mission. Countries calling themselves just "socialist" include Bangladesh, Guyana, India, North Korea, Portugal, Sri Lanka, and Tanzania. China and Vietnam, the two most powerful openly socialist nations are decidedly mixed economies whose "plans" heavily rely upon exports and capitalism in many sectors through the entire era of industrialization.


No country now endorses the Soviet model. Yet, the Soviet model was in large measure accepted as valid, identified as genuine socialism, and supported by most of the world communist movements, and the left wing of many national liberation movements, for decades, up to and even beyond the Soviet collapse. Nonetheless it showed itself incapable ofsustaining a standard of living or growth rates competitive with advanced capitalist -- or mixed -- systems. Some movements are still Soviet-style advocates. But this is a dying trend, if evidence counts for anything.


It is important to consider why the Soviet model was a failure. It did NOT fail because it took a revolutionary turn, followed by a command or planned approach to saving the Russian nation in the wake of World War I and the collapse of the putrid Tsarist regime. Our own land is no stranger to the occasional necessity to assert a forceful industrial policy when preparations for war or disaster come into conflict with outdated institutions and class relations. The economic mobilizations in the Civil War and the World Wars are plain examples.


But it's one thing to exert state force to make a sharp structural turn in response to a shift in relations of production; and quite another to consider replacing commodity production altogether when the true objective conditions for doing so are remote -- all the way through the era of industrialization, in fact. Lenin saw this, indeed, and made the uphill arguments for the a New Economic Program before his untimely death -- arguments the communist movement later mostly ignored, or rejected, and that only Deng Chou Peng took up decades later after the failure of another "command" system led by Mao Tse Tung that had overstayed its time. Command economy efforts to banish markets before their time nearly always lead to black markets, patronage systems (Iraq, e.g.) and difficult-to-control corruption pressures. They are more vulnerable to anti-democratic tendencies the longer they persist.


China and Vietnam are both exciting and interesting nations -- showing growth rates that are the envy of the world, and almost single-handedly reducing the world's poverty rates at the same time. But are they a model for the US? China is clearly showing the advantages of a conscious industrial policy--something the US needs badly. But in most respects, China is not a model. Our overarching economic challenge is increasingly post-industrial; China's and Vietnam's are still overwhelmingly agricultural and industrial.

The truth is, for the US, there are no models of socialism in the existing world. While socialist and communist parties in the developing world have leveraged command policies to accelerate their industrialization, that model is in ruins as a sustainable path for advanced industrialized countries to follow. The reputation of "socialism" has declined throughout the world, with more countries that have dropped "socialism" from their constitution or founding documents than not. And there are no new ones..


Perhaps if we use another measure of "socialist" besides names, a different list might be composed. For example, lets use the degree of "welfare" vs market wealth in a country. If the replacement of private by public property, commodities by public goods and services, and the advance of equality among citizens, are socialist standards, then by this measure the following nations are the most socialistic: Denmark, China, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, Ireland, New Zealand, Belgium. Now here, we DO see models that are more relevant to US working class interests. Aggressive industrial policy, a wide range of health, welfare, education, unemployment and retirement benefits and services, progressive taxes on wealth, equality as an important social and moral value, the world's best education systems, pregnancy leave with pay, stronger union rights --- all combine to make these nations rank very high on the UN Human Development Index rankings.


Democracy does not kill capitalism! But it weakens the monopoly and multinational sector, and necessarily introduces more socialism, more science and more public goods, and less "interest", by increments -- although the "increments" may take a revolution! Butwhile these "social-democratic" models of socialism are clearly more viable for the US -- we must say thatthey too have been retreating in most countries.

The reason for the all-around retreat is globalization. Globalization is a combination of objective and subjective forces. On the objective side, there are:

  • a)economies and technologies of scale;
  • b) financialization infrastructure -- the ability to finance and manage the vast flows of transactions, duties, fees, licensing, trade certification, etc transparently;
  • c) instantaneous global information;
  • d) global supply chains;
  • e) global energy and food infrastructures;
  • f) global labor migration, immigration and emigration.


On the subjective side there are the direct manipulations of nations and governments by giant corporations to suppress all national laws, rights and interests that interfere withtheir commerce. These objective processes cannot be stopped, or even much slowed down, except by catastrophe. Given that,assumption -- that globalization is objectively unstoppable -- the emergence of global governance, global democracy, global guarantees of rights is the only path toward light. Social Democracy's historical weakness has been nationalism. In the 21st century, the whole world will be globalized, and re-globalized. The national narrowness must be discarded.

The primary task of the working class is to fulfill the democratic revolution, promised at the founding of our country, and obtain a due measure of wealth and culture for all who labor. Advancing workers' democracy means internationalizing it, as Marx envisioned. It trains those who do the work of the world, to lead the world.


Some conclusions follow: Both "communism", and indeed "socialism" CAN safely be dropped from the name and constitution of a genuine working class party in the US without the slightest compromise of ANY principled question in the class struggle for this era. Democracy plus internationalism is entirely sufficient to guide us through this era. Alternatively, keeping the terms,in my view, requires rewriting and redefining BOTH.

The decision is a no brainer to me. A revolutionary party of advanced democracy is just what is needed.

Photo: union members and community supporters demonstrate in Philadelphia October 2011     Ben Sears/PA/PW


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  • Once you remove the name Communist from the party label, you open a slippery slope to eschewing the ultimate communist vision and Marxist theoretical underpinning. Moreover, people are not stupid. They look to the history of a party, not just its latest reformed name. Very quickly, the public will see that the Party of Advanced Democracy is just a renamed Communist Party USA. You can be sure that Fox news and allies will make the clarification. Better then to be upfront with our Marxism and with our commitment to a democratic socialist and then Communist society. It is a glorious vision and encompasses all the democratic elements to which you refer. But we need to publicly own it, rather than retreat from it. If we are embarrassed to openly declare it, how can we expect anyone else to take us seriously. ---party member, james hull

    Posted by james hull, 05/31/2014 12:43pm (10 years ago)

  • Marx and Engels wrote the Manifesto in 1848, when the democratic struggles in Europe were crushed largely because the capitalist class turned on the working class in France and other countries, preferring the old regimes to the sort of "advanced democracy" that Louis Blanc represented in France in the "national workshops" or government funded collectives for the unemployed, a precursor in some ways to the WPA.
    Rightwing socialists saw "advanced democracy" as social democracy, reforms that would strengthen unions, other working class organizations, with the hope that eventually capitalist society would fall into the lap of the unions and the parties connected to them. For that reason, they avoided dealing seriously with imperialism and they supported their capitalist governments in the great imperialist war, WWI. Of course, Lenin had other ideas about imperialism, the state, and the role of a revolutionary party and that is where the Communist movement comes in to history.
    We are a party of socialism and democracy and socialism and democracy are dialectically inter-related and inseparable. "Globalization" is imperialism with computers, cell phones, and the use NAT0 bloc invading countries through the world and syndicates in a world of a few rich little switzerlands, many poor guatemalas, and some destitution poverty rwandas, many more than the rich little Switzerlands, a world where "globalization" means more militarization, more interventionism, and of course much bigger syndicates of capital exporting itself to poor countries to produce goods for markets in rich countries, undermining jobs in the rich countries and dislocating hundreds of millions in the poor countries. We have suffered the effects of rightwing revisionism in the Soviet Union and other countries which produced political disaster in the communist movement, rightwing revisionism in various social democratic and labor parties in Europe which undermined gains made by the working class, and even rightwing revisionism of the Carter Clinton "new Democrats" kind in the U.S. The last thing that we need is rightwing revisionism pushing itself forward in the CPUSA with calls to change the name of the party, use traditional anti-Communist concepts to beat the former Soviet Union, in the myth that this will somehow make us stronger and more relevant
    Norman Markowitz

    Posted by norman markowitz, 05/05/2014 7:26pm (10 years ago)

  • Darn you anyway, John Case!

    Once again the name-change idea elbows its way to the fore and sends my thoughts hither and yon, which of itself is not necessarily a bad thing as it shakes the dust loose, but...

    The passing years have seen similar discussions about changing the name of The Daily Worker (et al its iterations), the CP, YWLL, etc. Even on down to names of Clubs.

    What is curious about the discussions is that though they rarely lead to any name change, especially to any national entity, an important and meaningful discussion takes place that reflects changes in objective and subjective conditions in society; a result, I suppose, of the dialectic of thoughts going off hither and yon.

    As for myself, I have always asked how do we explain to others who ask "why did you change your name?" It seems it would not be an easy question to answer or one without serious pitfalls. One that might only be met with a blank stare.

    So while I am not convinced name change/alteration need happen I believe you have raised important questions and described conditions that deserve further discussion. Such as can be seen already in the following Comments.

    Let me finish with your comments about the Soviet Union.

    I disagree the SU was "in large measure" taken as a model for all that you say it was. Perhaps that was true for some, or many, to some degree, at one time or another. But mostly I remember the SU seen here and other places as workers' big brother who had our backs as we struggled to form our future out of our history.

    Finally, you fold into the discussion this: It is important to consider why the Soviet model was a failure.

    Aside from my failure to see the SU as a model in the way you posed it, I try to remember to see the collapse of the SU in a context not usually considered.

    It came shortly after the end when, after listening for some time to our angst driven wailing about the collapse, former Party member, friend and mentor James Bourne suggested to my brother and I that as we run through the could've, should've and would've, we must also be considering the positive questions of why the Soviet Union survived as long as it did.

    Best Regards

    Posted by Bill Appelhans, 04/03/2014 6:19pm (10 years ago)

  • Globalization and Revolution:
    The idea of a workers led advanced democracy seems premature in the face of a globalization that is wreaking the environment , weakening working class power, and replacing the ‘commons’ with privatization and the commodification. The distinction between industrial and post-industrial society makes sense. Post industrial means we can produce more than enough to meet everyone’s basic needs, no more poverty or unemployment. The problem then becomes one of redistribution not production. But there is nothing in the ideology of globalization that is redistributive. The goal is to concentrate as much wealth, capital, and productive property in fewer and fewer hands. The goal is to destroy the welfare state and rely solely on ‘markets’ to solve issues of economic insecurity. It is pure unfettered unregulated capitalism that supports globalization. At this point in globalization, working class power is at its weakest and not able to confront the capitalists and their ability to suppress and manipulate the laws and policies protecting workers, consumers, and the environment. To assume a ‘mixed economy’ that will be a workers led advanced democracy seems pie in the sky. The way to reform corporate power so it is ‘socially responsible’ is to destroy the ‘mixed economy’ on which it is grounded and which gives it so much power to buy elections and candidates that are anti-labor. Then there is the role of the Party. What are the characteristics of a party of 21st century socialism? Will it be called communist or socialist? Will it abolish markets, capitalism, or expropriate the expropriators? Will it have a road map showing the way from socialism to full communism? This article seems to advocate a social democratic as opposed to a revolutionary party model for 21st century socialism. But as the author himself admits, the weakness of a social democratic model is its nationalism. Under capitalism, more democracy at home does not necessarily mean less imperialism abroad. In fact, just the opposite is true. During the Irish Famine, where was the English labor movement when the Irish peasants were squeezed out of their grains, beef, and anything of value to keep the English working classes happy, pacified, and well fed? The challenges of globalization demand a revolutionary internationalist Party. NT

    Posted by Nat Turner, 03/31/2014 9:42am (10 years ago)

  • I agree with the observation by John Case that Democracy does not kill capitalism (introducing) less "interest", by increments. Yet, after reading that "a revolutionary party of advanced democracy is just what is needed" in the USA, I am left with the question, "must democracy kill individualism first" before socialism can advance in people's consciousness so that a revolutionary party can lead us to the promised land?

    Posted by Richard Grassl, 03/29/2014 1:52pm (10 years ago)

  • Working class struggles, both in the U. S. and abroad, prove that the thesis of the revolutionary proletariat, the dictatorship of the same, is valid and defendable.
    John Case wants to separate the struggles for and of democracy from hot revolutionary, militant, even military activity. This is a false and wrong separation. It may be a true and defendable position today that military revolutions are events of the past (Fidel Castro Ruz holds this belief, and many agree, along with the present writer), however, it is clear that this has not been the case in the past. This does not say, however, that militant and military actions of the working class in the U. S. or any other country have been devoid of democracy.
    John Case seems to think that "advanced democracy" has meant and will mean that there is and was no force of arms, no compelling social and military might to enforce social or political advance in virtually all working class struggles.
    The opposite, however, is true.
    Historically, in the mines and the mills, in the fields and factories, workers have had to defend their ground literally, by social, political AND military force either directly or THROUGH the political prism of the U.S government.
    This democracy reigned, for instance, during W. E. B. Du Bois's Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880,in Joe Hill's battles for the working class in the West and Southwest, in Art Sheild's struggles by workers in York, and later in Seattle, and again during James E. Jackson's U. S. Negroes in battle: from Little Rock to Watts: a diary of events, 1957-1965, although in a sense too limited for those who fought for whatever actions would promote universal voting and universal education for all African Americans, Mexican Americans, women, Latinos and whites, as workers, through both periods.
    If a peaceful, non-military, even non-militant path(the non-militant path seems truly impossible in any event), is possible in securing the right to a job, the right to equality, the right to health, the right to education, and even the right to life, as workers, the enslaved and semi-enslaved wage-workers, piece workers, and salary workers of the U. S. would be the first to mount it. The workers and the oppressed of the U. S. have consistently peacefully struck, boycotted, picketed, rallied and marched to secure democracy-often in the face of a murderous, butcherous, violent military class adversary intent on terrorizing workers, all workers, into submission.
    As far as "advanced democracy" precluding socialism and communism; socialist democracy and communist democracy are the essence and scientific expression of what true advanced democracy is-for they express workers democracy.
    That history of advanced democracy is demonstrable in the history of the Communist Party United States of America-check the Tamiment Archives.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 03/28/2014 2:47pm (10 years ago)

  • If the US really is "post-industrial," then it has everything to do with imperialism, not just globalization. True internationalism in the US demands dismantling US imperialism. I believe this will require a great deal of communism. I'm afraid I can't see how a cry for advanced democracy for a post-industrial society can be distinguished from support for imperialism.

    Posted by steven johnson, 03/28/2014 10:32am (10 years ago)

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