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New Members Study Some Basic Concepts

On October 4 National CPUSA leader Scott Marshall led a "New Members" class for the Communist Party in Dallas. He pointed out that Americans were doing some deep thinking while the worldwide economic crisis revealed itself. He said, "Momentum is more in our direction than ever."

Although Marshall had made preparations, he asked first of all if the 12 participants had topics they especially wanted to cover. People asked questions about the relationships between CPUSA and churches, about the reason there is so much confusion in America, and why the richest country in the world seemed unable to help its own people. Marshall pointed out that evangelical Christians today get a bad rap because of their support for reactionary politicians. Historically, they made a fine contribution to this nation, he said. Evangelical Christians made up the bulk of the Abolitionists before the Civil War. Toward the end of the 19th century, Evangelical Christians often held camp meetings in cooperation with the socialist movement. Communists have no quarrel with God, he said, but with capitalism!

In general, Americans aren't given much of a chance to understand the things that affect their lives, because the capitalists, who control nearly all the information sources, simply don't want us to understand the system. Marshall told the gathering, "We need to realize that it's a system of exploitation of one class by another. In this society the ruling class is really the ruling class. Their ideology is the main ideology and it affects every one of us. 'Dog eat dog! Racism! Never give a sucker an even break!' All those things are built into the system. Our struggle is not just organizational and economic, it's also an ideological struggle."

A student said, "Greed is shoved down our throats every day. We need to get that mentality out of our culture, out of the media, so we're not choked to death by greed!"

What followed was a short digression about who is responsible for the financial crisis. Was it the bankers who made the bad loans or the home buyers who should have known better? After quite a bit of back and forth, one student said, "We are all victims of this system." Examples were given from the pharmaceutical, tobacco, and asbestos industries as why people aren't given the truth. Are mortgage companies and high financiers really any more honest, or are companies generally out for profit no matter who gets hurt?

The planned questions are below. Try answering them for yourself, then read how the discussion went by clicking on the question:

On the subject of class:

What is a social class?

Is income the basis of determining social class?

What are the history and origin of social classes and of class-divided society?

How do individual workers fit into the Marxist idea of class?

What is the impact of capitalist globalization on the working class and the class struggle today in the U.S.?

On the subject of Communist Strategies and Tactics

What is the goal of the communist Party and how is it different than other organizations?

How does the Communist Party empower the working class?

What is the anti-monopoly coalition? What are coalition partners?

Where do progressive mass organizations such as unions, faith-based groups, youth groups, environmental, anti-globalization, and the Democratic Party fit into the anti-monopoly coalition and building the party?

How do we build the party while working on current struggles? What role do Party members take in mass organization?

Q: What is a social class?

One of our participants wondered if it is really possible to make any meaningful distinctions among groups of people. All individuals seem to be different, and prediction seems impossible, so why bother trying to understand social class and its effect on behavior? Scott Marshall forcefully asserted that our ideas about social class have to be understood in a very general way. It may be useless to try to understand or predict individual behavior, but in general, people tend to act in their own material interests. Employees, for example, nearly always favor good wages; while employers are nearly always against them. Most rich people are dead set against luxury taxes, and most poor people generally aren't. The material interest of a group of people strongly affects their point of view.

The Marxist view of social class is made very clear in The Communist Manifesto. (click on it for a longer treatment)

Marx made it clear that class depends on the relationship to the means of production. Those who own the factories are capitalists; those who only work in those factories are working class. In more general terms, those who make their main living through labor are working class; those whose incomes and wealth come primarily from owning productive facilities are capitalists. Marshall emphasized the generality of the concept. Most Americans are workers. Very few are capitalists. A middle class exists, but it has little independent role in political developments. Marx showed that the capitalists constantly pauperize the middle class and drive them into the working class. Thus, as Scott Marshall pointed out, many professionals such as lawyers and doctors are now working for major capitalist enterprises. Many of them are joining labor unions today!

Members of our discussion thought of different people they know and different categories of economic activity. Is a small shop owner a worker, a capitalist, or middle class? What about the owner of a small repair shop with 2 or 3 employees? What about farmers who own large holdings? What about farmers with tiny gardens? Again, Marshall cautioned the group against trying to "split hairs" as they consider aspects of social class.

Marshall went on to say that the concept of the "ruling class" is not identical to the capitalist class. The ruling class includes the entire apparatus used to keep the working class down. It includes, for example, police and the military, although individual policemen are certainly not capitalists.

Click To Go Back to the Discussion Questions

A student commented, "I always thought social class was determined by how much money someone has?"

Marshall replied, "No, it's not the amount of money, but how the income is generated." The overwhelming majority of the population, including even highly-paid workers as those on strike now at Boeing, are members of the working class. They may make good salaries, but they are workers.

A student asked, "Why are Boeing workers on strike then?"

Marshall said that they are striking over health care and other aspects of their benefits. It shows that class is not determined by income. A highly paid aircraft worker is in the same boat as a low-paid janitor. Both are on strike against Boeing. Corporations are targeting both of them.

Click To Go Back to the Discussion Questions

Q: What is the history and origin of social classes and of class-divided society?

A basic concept of class is that one class exploits another. Just as slave owners exploited their slaves, there are irreconcilable differences between the working class and the owning class. Marx did not invent social classes. They developed through human history. In prehistoric days, there were no classes. Everybody depended on everybody else for their moment-to-moment survival. Slavery followed this "primitive socialism" as class society became the most common form of production. As class society developed, the classes changed, but always one class benefited by exploiting another. A good source for understanding the development of social classes is the book, "Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State," by Karl Marx's collaborator, Frederick Engels.

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"How do individual workers fit into the Marxist idea of class?

Marshall cautioned, "Capitalism will always try to convince us that we should oppose other workers, especially those with higher salaries or better benefits."

A student pointed out that capitalists try to split us by levels of income, by skill level, and by whether one wears a blue collar or a white.

Marshall said that they use other divisions such as race, gender, religion or sexual orientation to divide the working class. How can the auto workers here win without uniting with auto workers from around the world? The unions need to be just as global as some of these companies are doing.

He noted with satisfaction that a lot of unions are working on international ties.

Historically in America, craft workers really had the leverage. As things became more mechanized, as processes became more automated, industrial unionism (organizing everybody in a plant regardless of their skill) became more and more the best way to organize. He concluded, "And now we're beginning to understand that, if we are ever going to get anywhere, we need to organize all the workers in the whole world. Steelworkers are now talking about organizing Goodyear employees in sub-Saharan African!
Bringing everybody up, that's class consciousness!"

A student talked about the concept of insurance as taking care of one another, but pointed out that the capitalists play us off against one another instead of implementing the idea of broad universal coverage. Several then commented on the sorry state of American health care today and how the capitalist insurance companies resist any meaningful reform. The U.S. spends more on health care overhead than any industrialized country. Texas has the most uninsured people.

A student said, "What brought us to communism is the health care issue."

Another recalled hearing that people are either for the working class or the employing class. Those in between are confused and don't make a lot of difference. (laughter).

Another pointed out that there are now more and more professionals such as lawyers, engineers, and doctors in the working class. Additionally, they are organizing against their oppressors. People gave examples of why certain occupation categories might or might not be working class, but Marshall emphasized that it is important for us to look at class in the broadest way possible. He said, "The best way we are going to get to unity and solidarity is through a broad understanding of class exploitation, not by talking about individual problems."

A student asked, "Capitalism is run off greed, isn't it?" Everyone agreed. Marshall added, "Of course greed is morally a bad thing, but the system is driven by it. It's not just that evil people operate the system. They have no choice. The system doesn't work unless you're cutting throats, and they are driven by that!"

Click To Go Back to the Discussion Questions

Q: what is the impact of capitalist globalization on the working class an the class struggle today in the U.S.?

A student said we must find ways to get everybody vocalized and working together. She noted that over 150,000 jobs were lost last month, and over 700,000 so far for the year.

A student pointed out that capitalists make money from the war in Iraq.

A student said that the right-wing controls all 3 branches of the U.S. government, and allows privatizing of everything. Even water is privatized in some 3rd world countries!

Marshall affirmed that American workers have to learn worldwide cooperation today, or we will continue losing.

A student asked if the Communist International might be reconstituted. The "Third International" brought worldwide communist leaders together during the period between the two World Wars.

Marshall said no. The Third International may have fit the period in which it existed, but it was too inflexible, especially for today. Each country's situation has to be considered flexibly today. "But in the sense of cooperating, the communists are reaching toward more and more global cooperating. Unions are also reaching across national barriers. For example, the Steelworkers here have recently formed a mighty industrial international union with Britain.

Marshall made sure that everybody understood this basic point: "We are talking about a socialism of abundance, not a socialism of scarcity." He said, "However we move to socialism, there will still be representative democracy. Clearly, we need a higher minimum wage, and we would get it if we controlled the legislatures. We would still use those mechanisms. Free emedical care, free education, those are the beginnings of socialism. The state doesn't have to decide personal decisions for us. Marx called it "barracks socialism" if everybody gets the same thing. But that isn't what we mean at all."

The group took a short break, then returned for the second set of questions.

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What is the goal of the Communist Party and how is it different than other organizations?

The discussion leader said that Party members consider these questions over and over as conditions change. During 2009, a general pre-convention discussion is expected. It will involve the best thinking of all members, then it will come together at the convention and become the Party Program. A round-robin of general questions came next.

A student asked if nationalization is not a good thing.

Another asked asked if we oppose globalization or are we for it?

Another asked how non-party progressive organizations would fit into the overall questions of strategy and tactics?

What emerged from the general discussion is that the Communist Party seeks to empower the working class. Other organizations, unions for example, may also work in that same direction, but their goals are more short term, changeable, and inconsistent. Further, very few organizations work to further democracy all the way as to include economic decisions. Marx and Engels made it very clear that true communists have no interests outside those of the working class. Some of the "ABC left" immature organizations actually think that they can successfully overthrow capitalism by themselves.

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The Communist Party carries out educational activities, but its main work in this period has been to support elements of the working class in their ongoing struggles. People learn by doing.

The discussion leader said, "A mass organization might accomplish its goal then fade away. But the long-term goal is to get what workers need. We may not have a blueprint for how that will happen, but we know what our goal is and we stay with it. We struggle on immediate issues like ending the war, getting health care, but even if we get those things, we're going to go on to other struggles. The party is the long term, the ultimate change, even when we are working on an everyday demand."

The CPUSA was founded in 1919 and we're still here. Still fighting for the same rights. Our strategy and tactics may change, they may change within a month, but our overall goal hasn't.

Click To Go Back to the Discussion Questions

Whether or not people and organizations decide consciously to struggle against monopoly control, that's what they are doing when they strike for better wages, when they demand civil rights, or when they carry out other progressive struggles. Communists understand our role as helping with these struggles, while keeping our "eye on the prize" of overcoming the monopolies.

When progressive struggles take place, no ally is excluded. Whether or not they are technically working class does not enter into consideration. A good example is the economic crisis taking place. Those who stand for a progressive solution include a lot of small business owners and even some major capitalists. All of them may be considered as part of an anti-monopoly coalition. Only a fool would exclude those who could help win the battle!

Click To Go Back to the Discussion Questions

A student asked why churches seem "obtuse about social questions." Another said that churches are part of the capitalist system. Another said that they play a negative role in elections.

Then someone said that churches often played a good role in the civil rights movement. Scott Marshall said, "Google 'left wing evangelical' and you'll get a lot of web sites!" He continued, "There is a backlash in churches against this ultra-right domination of the churches. In Chicago Catholic churches, there is a reaction to the reactionaries."

One student made the point that church members should demand that their pastors get involved in workers' issues, as most members are workers. "We have a huge potential there in the religious communities, but people are not aware of it yet."

He summarized, "We have a lack of democracy when it comes to economics, but we also have a lack of democracy when it comes to religion!"

Marshall said that evangelicals played a fine progressive role in American history. "They were the abolitionists. The civil rights movement, the church played a big role in the organization of the CIO."

A student talked about Christian/socialist joint camp meetings at the turn of the 20th century. It wasn't just a few crazy individuals, but there were leaders with big followings doing progressive things from their pulpits.

The discussion leader said that coalitions against imperialism, usually called "anti-globalization" groups, includeds unions, the anti-sweatshop students, and environmentalists.

Click To Go Back to the Discussion Questions

How do we build the party and still work on everyday struggles? What role do party members take in mass organizations? How open should comrades be?

Students added such good suggestions as: "Making people aware that things could be better." "Joining coalitions."

A discussion about whether or not individual Communists should make an issue of their party affiliation. Marshall said, "We have to struggle with the question of openness, but we also have to be effective. People who rush in and say 'communist communist communist socialist… people don't listen to them.' So it has to do with how we can be effective. And that takes more commitment and more thought than these, what I call ultra-left, people do. They don't have to think about their effectiveness, but we do because we care how things turn out for the working class."

In general, Marshall said, American Communists are more open now than they have been able to be since the late 1940s. He said, "Momentum is more in our direction than ever. I didn't necessarily think that a month ago (before the economic crisis and during the election campaign), but now I do."

Marshall emphasized that Communists go into mass organizations to build them, not to take them over. In the labor movement, communists are the most partisan volunteers that they can find. They aren't there to take over, but to build the organization. We aren't using this organization to grow our own, but to help. Even when we run for leadership, we always have to be mindful that our role is to help build that organization as well as to do everything else we're trying to do. That is also true, incidentally, true of our role in church organizations."

"A lot of people have our ideas. We have the opportunity to grow like we've never grown before."

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