The 1980s represented a period of far-reaching political reaction on the world scene where the great victories won against fascism and colonialism during and after WW II, which saw the Chinese revolution and the expansion of varieties of socialist and anti-imperialist oriented states and movements throughout the world, especially in among the non-aligned nations of former colonial regions now called the "third world," were severely undermined.
The former Hollywood B movie actor and television personality RonaldReagan was, as president of the U.S, the "star" of this real lifeversion of "the empire strikes back", but his supporting cast among theleading capitalist states included Thatcher in the UK, Kohl in theFederal Republic of Germany, Craxi in Italy, and Nakasone in Japan.
In the capitalist world reactionary ideology served as the armor of reactionary policy, each defining the other as "new" and"revolutionary." The IMF-World Bank-WT0 led advance of "free market"ideologies and the substitution of monetary policies associated with economist Milton Friedman (managing capitalist crisis by regulating the flow of capital through manipulation of interest rates) for the fiscal policies associated with economist John Maynard Keynes (the use
government spending and taxation to sustain employment and mass purchasing power) affected rich countries and poor countries a negatively, except for small elite groups in the poor countries and at most the upper fifth of income earners in rich ones.
In India for example, the largest poor country on earth, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi moved sharply away from the socialist oriented policies of his mother, Indira Gandhi, and his grandfather, Nehru, leaders of postwar non-aligned and socialist oriented India in advancing
privatization and market development.
In China, Deng Shao-p'ing's "modernization" policies rejected the admittedly failed policies of the Great Leap Forward and the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution" for a mixed economy approach which opened China to foreign capitalists and encouraged the creation of domestic ones. While this policy over the last three decades has seen unprecedented industrial economic group, leading many to see China at the dawn of the 21st century the way the U.S. was seen at the dawn of the 20th, it made China in the 1980s into a de facto strategy ally of the U.S. and the Reagan leadership. It should also be remembered that China's previous advances in education and agricultural reform prepared it to make the positive achievements of this genuine "great leap forward," and that the Chinese course of development was routed in mixed economy and planning, not on any level "free market" ideology and policies.
The CPUSA fought through this period to build the party under what were strange new conditions. There was much less formal repression than there had been in the period 1947-1960 against Communists and the broad left, but much more direct attacks on working class living standards and institutions, particularly the trade unions, was objectively far greater, since the Reagan administration actively supported employers in a way not seen since the 1920s.
My last PA piece ended with 1984, as the Reagan reelection campaign gave new meaning to the term Orwellian.
Whatever long-term damage Reagan did to the U.S. economy and U.S. society, we must realize that his administration won major victories for the capitalist class against the working class and all progressive forces as it exploited long-term weaknesses of the cold war era and the "new left" of the 1960s, the deep weakness of the Meany-Kirkland conservative AFL-CIO leadership, the interest group "let's make a deal" policies of the Democrats, and the lack of coordination and unity of the mass organizations building coalitions to fight defensive battles.
It was the absence of a strong and influential Communist party of the size and strength that existed in the 1930s not any fantasies about Stalinism or Soviet influence, which enabled Reagan to mop up remnants of New Left radical groups centered in community organizations and push
back civil rights and women's rights groups tied to a retreating Democratic party establishment.
Reagan's second term resulted in major domestic defeats, but events in the Soviet Union assured that this did progressive forces in the U.S. or globally little good. In 1985, the capitalist world achieved a victory worth hundreds of billions of dollars in military spending, all the CIA
plots to oust leaders of governments in the election of Mikhail Gorbachev as General Secretary of the CPSU.
The CPUSA initially supported Gorbachev and praised his policies, particularly his attempts to end the cold war, as did Communist, left, and progressive organizations through the world. But, as Margaret Thatcher said to Reagan in 1985, "we can deal with this man," meaning that what George Kennan had put forward as one of the twin goals of containment, (something that had never happened under Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, or Brezhnev and his immediate successors), namely a Soviet leadership that would negotiate with the imperialist countries on their
terms, in was about to come into existence.
The Gorbachev policies in the USSR divided Communist parties in power in Socialist countries, Communist parties both large and small in capitalist countries and non Communist left forces throughout the world I do not wish to open up old wounds in the CPUSA or anywhere else, or
make invidious comments about what people in this period did. I will try to understand and forgive honest frustrations and errors, but I will not forget.
The Gorbachev policies in what had been from its birth the most influential socialist state on earth, developing in the context of the far-reaching Reagan reaction (which followed the whole cold war history which had subjected the CPUSA to repression and in the high cold war
period, outright persecution) touched off a conflict within the CPUSA's leadership cadre. By leadership cadre I mean its group of functionaries or "full-timers" who had worked in close proximity with and to each other in the CPUSA headquarters building on 23rd street in NYC, traveling through the country and the world as representatives of the party.
As someone who was never in leadership but visited 23rd street often, my own judgment now is that long suppressed personality conflicts, frustrations on a wide variety of issues, led some in leadership to use what Gorbachev was doing to launch an attack on Gus Hall personally and those who supported the leadership and policies associated with him. For them, Gus Hall, who had been General Secretary for three decades, became the symbol and the scapegoat for all of the CPUSA's unfulfilled hopes. As the Soviet leadership imbibed anti-Communist and ultimately anti-Soviet ideology to advance Gorbachev's goals, so these leadership cadre ironically turned to the Gorbachev Soviet leadership to advance similar ideologies and policies.
Although I had seen Gus Hall say both very smart (the great majority of times) and some pretty dumb things since the late 1970s, I never saw him and those who support him in those terms. I also found the attempt to portray Gus as a surrogate Stalin, the center of a "great personality cult." to be frankly absurd. Gus's corny jokes and friendly open manner in his relationship to comrades was not what personality cults are made of. The fact also that this leadership fight was finding its way into the capitalist media on the side of the opposition, as had been true in the 1956 struggle (which Cointelpro documents later showed the FBI regarded as a major opportunity to go beyond simple repression to create division and defections in the CPUSA) also disturbed me as an historian.
Although, today I believe that anyone in political leadership of and party or movement over a long period of time will build up resentments and hostility, which may suggest a broadening of leadership and perhaps even term limits of some kind (these are merely suggestions).
I rejected totally on ideological grounds the opposition that some leaders mobilized, although I knew and respected them as comrades. At a time when the main task was "recovery" from the ravages of Reaganism, I saw this internal conflict as both unnecessary and tragic.
Sadly, the conflict engulfed the CPUSA as the Bush I administration, with Gorbachev's tacit support, launched the first Gulf War in 1991. By the time the 25th National Convention of the CPUSA took place in Cleveland at the end of 1991, both the Warsaw Treaty states and the Soviet Union itself had been destroyed, the CPSU "outlawed" by the signed decree of its last leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. The group which supported the Gorbachev policies had also been decisively defeated nationally in the selection of delegates to the convention and was crying fraud and foul in its defeat.
The atmosphere at the convention was tense and the majority (of which I was a member) went to great lengths not to provoke the minority verbally or respond to their repeated provocations in order to prevent a split. Some, myself included were both angry and bitter then at the ugly
anti-Communist statements which emerged from the minority—crude name-calling, comparisons of the CPUSA leadership with Stalin, even Pol Pot, the dusting off of traditional anti-Marxist, anti-Communist shibboleths to denounce the party leadership and convention majority.
There were even statements from the minority that the destruction of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Treaty allies was the result of their own "anti-democratic policies," not the trillions in cold war military spending against them and the history of capitalist encirclement that began with the Russian Revolution and never in reality ended, even through the weapons systems and specific tactics changed over the generations.
But we kept our cool. The minority didn't though, engaging in childish tantrums on the convention floor (I am sorry if that offends former members of the minority but I don't know what else they can be called) and walking out not found a new party or even something like Browder's 1944 Communist Political Association, but a group they called the Committees of Correspondence.
The original Committees of Correspondence were formed in the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party and British colonial repression. They were an important transition group leading toward the Continental Congress and the revolution. The Committees of Correspondence, while they received positive commentary in various liberal media, because they were anti-Communist party, have been a transition to nothing except themselves. While a number have returned to the CPUSA, they over the last 16 years have merged into various liberal and left-liberal organizations of the post New Left era, with no real connection to Marxism, much less Marxism-Leninism, or any definition as I see it of socialism.
The CPUSA moved on as parties did throughout the world, seeking to understand what had happened in the world and how it affected the conflict here.
Joe Sims was now the new editor of PA. Phil Bonosky, Judith LeBlanc, Norman Goldberg, Tony Monteiro, Victor Perlo, and Roy Rydell were members of the editorial board.
The August, 1992 issue, showed the effects both positively and negatively of the Gorbachev deluge.
The lead article was an interview with Gus Hall, conducted by Bahman Azad, an American of Iranian background, who later wrote an outstanding book on the defeat of the Soviet Union. Azad started the interview by asking Hall directly to weigh the factors that led to the Soviet downfall, external, internal, the specific role of Gorbachev.
Hall responded that the internal factor "opportunism," played the decisive role. Hall made trenchant and I believe accurate criticisms of Gorbachev's failed policies, but he contended that the defeats were do entirely to the abandonment of Marxist-Leninist principles, which could in effect be revived as theory as if nothing had happened. Although Hall did see the separation of the party from the working class as a significant factor, he didn't try to deal with the specific internal events which produced Gorbachev nor, in my opinion, the external imperialist forces.
Hall did stress through the necessity of studying and learning from the abuses and failures of Communist states and movements, specifically including the those of Joseph Stalin, while stressing that what the capitalist world calls "Stalinism," was and is an attack on Lenin and Leninism, no the defining characteristic of Marxist-Leninist parties and governments but a particular series of events characterizing the history of the Soviet Union.
Other interviews and statement from Communist parties in Greece, Canada, Pakistan, and the embattled Yugoslav League of Communists asimilar in analysis to Hall's, were in the issue. Given the conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the Chechen war, and the recent Russian-Georgian conflict, the statement of League of Yugoslav Communist Chair Dragan Antanasovski "Yugoslavia is only the training ground for what is planned for the former USSR. Everything that proves useful for smashing Yugoslavia will later be employed for smashing the USSR" was most prophetic.
Although the USSR had already been dissolved when the statement was made, the NAT0 intervention was to be central in the destruction of Yugoslavia and NAT0 today has absorbed former Warsaw Treaty states, threatens to absorb former Soviet Republics, and is making open threats to the Russian leadership.
The most interesting article concerning U.S. events in the issue as I see it was Mark Almberg's "The CoC Conference" on the Committees of Correspondence. Mark's article jogged my memory and I have already mentioned some of his points in my dealing with the Convention. Analyzing the CoC Conference held in UC-Berkeley in July, 1992, Mark contended that it followed the model of various radical scholars' conferences, that is presentations and workshops, a sort of supermarket of politics (having attended such conferences both before and after, I could only agree).
High sounding phrases like "we are Marxist and Pluralist" Mark contended, betray the absence of any real policy or sense of urgency about fighting capitalist exploitation. Almberg also compares the CoC with various rightwing revisionist groupings in socialist history, groupings that have ultimately dissolved and suggests that the CoC will end the same way.
There is also a forceful left article of post WWII culture, its corporate, escapist reactionary nature, in everything pretty much, by my artist friend and comrade, the late Norman Goldberg. Although Norman in this article has a tendency to throw out the baby with the bathwater
(there are many progressive exceptions that can be cited) he nevertheless captured what the culture of capitalism is about, commercial, dehumanizing, formalistic and escapist.
We jump ahead two years, Bill Clinton is president and the political "recovery" from the Reagan-Gorbachev debacles is very limited. The stock market is booming as Clinton's promises to establish national health care crash and burn and his administration takes a center-right stance
between rightwing Republicans and progressive Democrats. Like Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, who found himself dividing and fighting against Communists, Clinton finds himself dividing and fighting against liberal-labor Democrats in the New Deal-Great Society tradition. Clinton also strongly supported "new Russian" strongman. Boris Yeltsin in the suppression of the elected state Duma, an action which took many more lives than the pseudo coup of 1991 that served as the pretext for the dismemberment of the Soviet Union and the outlawing of the CPSU
PA remains very much in engaged in the struggles raging in the country. Its March, 1994 issue has a Norman Goldberg cover drawing of Black and White, male and female demonstrators pointing fingers and waving signs that read, "Universal Free Health Care," "No to NAFTA: Save Our Jobs," and "Vote Union" The issue, a series of reports from reports from the National Committee, reflects both continued effects of the internal conflict and the immediate struggles. There are sub reports by Judith Leblanc on the Jobs and Equality campaign. Tony Monteiro on
African-American Equality, Lorenzo Torrez on Mexican-American Equality, and present PA board member Elena Mora on Puerto Rican Equality.
Gus Hall's opening remarks were a clear and steady critique verging on a denunciation of Clinton. Hall reminds readers that Clinton talked of "progressive change" in during the 1992 campaign and is talking that way again before the 1994 elections. But his administration has not only produced nothing that is positive but in its support for NAFTA, its demagogic attacks on welfare, its support for crime bills that expand the death sentence and the trial of juveniles as adults are all evidence that Clinton's contentions that he represents in the U.S. a "third way" between left and right (meaning right Republicans and traditional liberal Democrats) is as empty as his smiling glad handing personality. "The reality," as Gus Hall noted prophetically, "is that everyone knows Clinton is taking giant steps to the right and that there is no such animal as a 'third way.'" The rest of Hall remarks are taken up with an analysis of the domestic and international scene, the internal work of the CPUSA, and angry attacks on the Committees of Correspondence for its failure to do anything except attack the CPUSA and attempt to gain some
of its assets, joining in reality other anti-Communists.
Sam Webb's report, "Labor After NAFTA," had a different tone but strongly supplemented Hall's analysis. It dealt with NAFTA's passage, seeing the huge organized labor movement which developed against it as a victory for labor. Webb was unrelenting in his criticism of both Clinton
and the AFL-CIO leadership without being overly polemical. Most of all, Webb cites examples of how "the anger towards the Clinton administration runs quite deep, even among sections of the top leadership of the trade union movement." Looking at the cyclical upturn in the economy, Webb mentions that "if we were bourgeois economists we would hail the cyclical upturn too" but the reality is that the structural crisis continues the privatization continues, the "dismantling of the public sector continues, and Clinton's response is essentially to do nothing but continue the Reagan Bush policies.
Answering the left opponents of the CPUSA's traditional contention that the party spread illusions about the Democrats, Webb contended that there were no illusions about "Slick Willie" and that the party had fought for a national labor March on Washington to pressure the administration in its first months—something that the top leadership of the trade union movement killed for fear that it would "embarrass" the new president.
Webb looked positively at the growing militancy in the labor movement, particularly among those looking toward a Labor Party. But his accurate analysis was to have a different political outcome.
Even with the cyclical upturn, the Republican Party won its greatest
congressional victory in the 1994 elections since 1946, gained control
of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1952, and
embarked upon an ultra-right policy, led particularly by House Speaker
Newt Gingrich. Clinton remained his old self, engaging in political
grandstanding while he appeased and on eliminating aid to Families with
Dependant Children, joined the Republican Right. Clinton was able to get
himself re-elected in 1996, but unlike Truman, whose Fair Deal campaign
in 1948 helped the Democrats regain Congress, the Republicans retained
their control over Congress, which they would hold until 2006 (the
longest period of Republican congressional control since the period,
The highlight of Clinton's second term was his impeachment, a bizarre
and sinister set of events which at best were examples of what New York
Congressman Nadler called "sexual McCarthyism" at worst a quasi coup by
the far right.
The defeat of the impeachment campaign and modest gains by the Democrats
in the 1998 elections encouraged the view that the ultra-right had in
effect shot itself in the foot and was now in decline. The January, 2000
issue of PA had articles by Gerald Horne on the growing
inter-imperialist rivalries in the World Trade Organization, Scott
Marshall on the global movement against "globalization," and a fine
short article' 'Springtime for Hitler' Revisited," by Don Sloan of
Patrick Buchanan's book portraying WWII the way Chamberlain and the
Vichy collaborators would, that is, one could and should do Business
with Hitler (Buchanan has very recently put forward a recycled version of
In the February issue, Juan Lopez continued the analysis of the
anti-Globalization movement, Gerald Horne in "Africa Must Unite" dealt
with the institutionalized racism of the World Trade Organization, the
need for African Unity and labor and anti-globalization solidarity with
the people of Africa.
Maxine Klein had a fine article "Speaking for the Environment," raising
questions that PA had not really raised before, but which would be a
model for the "new" and more diverse PA that would we would soon see in
the 21st century, both in print and online. Klein looked at the negative
effects of agribusiness genetic engineering of crops, the destruction of
both millions of family farms along with an enormous increase in soil
erosion and rainfall loss the increased danger from pesticides thirty
eight years after the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring,
Klein also focused rightly on the profoundly negative effects of the
U.S. heavy meat centered diet on the amount of land and water used for
livestock crops, the imperialist effects of such policies in destroying
rainforests in countries like Costa Rica in order to provide "cheap"
beef for the U.S. fast food industry. Finally, Klein looked at the
dangers of global warming and treated these questions as dialectically
inter-related, part of a sweeping ecological crisis that had to be
Ironically, Al Gore, who would have the 2000 presidential election
stolen from him, would later win a Nobel Prize articulating some of
these points. In our next and last installment, we will deal with PA in
the 21st Century. But, let me end with a few lines from Amina Baraka's
poem "To the Communist Party USA," in the March, 1999 issue as a
farewell to the 20th century before we go on to the 21st and fight
Bush's attempt to bring us back to the 19th:
"Oh How I Love
The Old Comrades
They Neither Die
Nor Fade Away
They Keep Coming