Communists need a name change. We do. That name has been so maligned, so distorted that it's impossible to do anything about. I mean the negatives were so great, that despite the positives, and there were many, we are just beat over the head with it and it doesn't matter. There's such a knee jerk reaction. It's never going to work.
So ranted one of the international delegates at the SACP Congress over coffee the other day. It was a little surprising considering he came from one of the more "staunch" European parties.
But he has point. While "COMMUNIST" is a universally recognized brand name, it's negative connotations are also universal.
Or are they?
Events at the South African Communist Party Congress began Wednesday with a panel on socialist developments in Latin America. Representatives from Cuba, Venezuela and Brazil presented views on the sharp left turn taken by Latin American countries. There the Communist movements a experiencing an upsurge in growth with the Communists of Brazil participating in a 11-party coalition government led by the Lula's Workers party. In Venezuela the CP has also more than doubled its size in the last years. Venezuela is also in the process of creating a new socialist party under Chavez's initiative. And of course Cuba enjoys near mythic status on the left, because of the enormous personality and contribution of the aging Fidel Castro. But that's not all, or perhaps even most of it. Cuba has marshaled victory after victory on social issues, with great strides being made in medicine, education and the environment.
By the way, South Africa's Communist Party according to convention documents has also experienced a spurt in growth with over 55,000 members filling its ranks. The number of women delegates was really striking at this Congress in stark contrast to previous meets.
So obviously in some place "brand name" is not such a big problem.
I suggested as much to the troubled speaker, pointing not to Latin America or South Africa, but to the good old USA, where trade union anti-Communist clauses have been gotten rid of now almost a decade ago and where Communists gain growing recognition and respect in peace, labor and civil rights struggles. Which is not to suggest everything is honky dory, but rather that a change has been made in the public's attitude.
I asked my new friend whether it might not be more a generational issue: with the Cold War born baby boomers being most problematic but with younger people more open. At least that has been my experience.
The assembled comrades, all of who were English speaking, paused to think about it. I wonder what blog readers think?
Upcoming international panels will be on the experiences of parties in government; building left networks in Africa and the role of progressive forces in dealing with the Middle East crisis.
One very positive European experience is in Cyprus, where the Communist of the EDON party are the biggest party in the country. They recently won the mayor's office in Nicosia, the country's capital. The experience of EDON suggests, that the name question isn't really a principled issue as the Cypriot Communists have a long proud and principled ideological history.
To me, I think a bigger problem than the name problem is narrow, sectarian and dogmatic practices masquerading as "science" under the banner of Marxism-Leninism. Knee jerk reactions to name will lessen as communists gain confidence, come out of the closet and participate in membership and circulation drives. From this point of view, those who are the most "left" are precisely those who are least willing to be known in public for what they are. And they are all baby boomers and older. But again, I wonder what folks think.