This document starts our process of recording and reflecting on our founding members’ previous experience as members of the Party of Communists USA (PCUSA), prior to the formation of the Communist Workers’ Platform USA (CWPUSA). We aim to take one aspect of that experience, the structure of the party, and analyze it from the standpoint of the organizational aspect of Marxism-Leninism: democratic centralism. In this way, we hope that others can learn from our experience and analysis to improve their understanding of democratic centralism. We also hope this helps other communists recognize the ways in which opportunism manifests organizationally through revisions to democratic centralism.
It’s important to briefly mention that this is not a unique phenomenon. In the book One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, wherein Lenin describes the struggle over organizational principles at the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (RSDLP), Lenin makes this observation about organizational opportunism:
It is highly interesting to note that these fundamental characteristics of opportunism in matters of organization (autonomism, aristocratic or intellectualist anarchism, tailism, and Girondism) are, mutatis mutandis (with appropriate modifications), to be observed in all the Social-Democratic parties in the world, wherever there is a division into a revolutionary and an opportunist wing (and where is there not?).V.I. Lenin, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
This observation still rings true today as the parties in the international communist movement, and even individual communist parties, divide into more clearly defined revolutionary and opportunist wings. This general phenomenon was merely reflected within the PCUSA in the particular conflict that arose in the lead-up and aftermath of the Second Congress of the PCUSA. By detailing our experience in that struggle, we strive to make a contribution to the clarification of the Marxist-Leninist position on matters of organization so that we may, as Lenin put it, begin drawing lines of demarcation so that we can create, first, ideological unity and, then, organizational unity between revolutionary-minded communists in the United States. This unity would culminate in the formation of a class-conscious, Marxist-Leninist vanguard party of revolutionaries organized on the basis of the principle of democratic centralism, in other words, a genuine communist party.
By first providing a summary of the concept of democratic centralism, the PCUSA’s opportunist and revisionist approach to democratic centralism will become clear. We will also detail the context around the Second Congress of the PCUSA in which the breaches of democratic centralism were most flagrantly on display. We will also explore some of the historical roots of the particular organizational opportunism within the PCUSA. Finally, we will draw conclusions that will be of use for every revolutionary, whether they are in the United States or abroad.
Democratic centralism represents the dialectical unity of proletarian democracy and the centralization of communist activity. According to this principle, all actions and policies taken up by the Communist Party must be determined according to the will of the majority and, once determined, enacted unanimously by all members. Within the realm of party structure, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) summarizes the main elements of democratic centralism in their statutes:
The structure and operation of the KKE is based on the principle of democratic centralism, which is an irreplaceable component of its revolutionary character. Democratic centralism means inner-Party democracy, centralized leadership, and unified action in the implementation of decisions with conscious discipline. Based on democratic centralism, the creation and activity of organized groups within the Party is not permitted. This would undermine its ideological-political-organizational unity, its democratic operation, and its effective action.
The main elements of democratic centralism are:
- Bringing the operation and activity of all Party organizations under one single leading center, the Central Committee, which is the highest leading organ during the period between congresses.
- That decisions made by higher leading organs must be implemented by lower organs, Party organizations, and Party members.
- Conscious Party discipline where the minority submits to the majority. In the event of disagreement, those who disagree are obliged to unconditionally implement the decision made by the majority.
- The election and right to recall regarding leading organs or members of these organs. Regular and extraordinary accountability to the organizations and the bodies that elected them. Systematic provision of information to the Party organizations about their decisions.
- Collectivity as the highest principle of the Party’s leadership, an essential condition for the unity, the unified and effective activity of the Party and all its organizations, the correct education, the development of the activity and initiative of the Party members. Decisions taken by only one individual substituting the collective decisions of the organs cannot exist in the Party. In the framework of collectivity, the personality and contribution of every Party member develops.
- Equality of all Party members with respect to their rights and obligations.
- The monitoring, the criticism and self-criticism as necessary elements for the implementation of decisions and the development of activity, the generalization of experience, dealing with weaknesses and the correction of mistakes, the education and strengthening of conscious Party discipline. Criticism and self-criticism is only exercised through the responsible organs and [Party Base Organizations].
Applied to the internal life of the Party, democratic centralism ensures free and frank discussion on all questions affecting policy and work. It is indispensable to the political organization of scientific socialists. We must remember the lessons taught by comrades Ilhan Akalın, Candan Baysan, and Metin Çulhaoğlu in their expulsion from the Turkish Workers’ Party in 1978. Their observations on the trends of bureaucratism and careerism are of particular importance when analyzing the revisionism of the PCUSA.
Democratic centralism is the most advanced form of working-class organization. Originating under Tsardom in Russia, this method of organizing developed in response to the need for a durable, yet flexible, method of organizing revolutionaries, one capable of withstanding the terror of the gendarmes while fostering the militancy and continuity necessary to topple the forces of reaction, first of the Tsar, then of the bourgeois Kerensky government. In the years since the October Revolution, democratic centralism has proven to be applicable not only to the Russian Bolsheviks, but to revolutionaries from all corners of the world. This general applicability stems from the fact that it was an adaptation not merely to the conditions of Russia in the early twentieth century, but to the overall strength of the bourgeoisie under the imperialist stage of capitalism, where the monopolies have built up their military and police forces to an unprecedented level for the purpose of terrorizing workers and redividing the spoils of empire. These monopolies have also developed powerful methods of ideological repression by funding research in communication technology, primarily for economic purposes, but that also ensures the near constant dissemination of bourgeois propaganda. Both then and today, this is the situation the workers of the world must contend with. To overcome the bourgeoisie, the communists in every country require the most advanced method of organizing, and that method is democratic centralism.
Judging by their official documents, one could be forgiven for believing that our former comrades in the PCUSA share this understanding of democratic centralism. Here, for example, is how they themselves describe the principle in their Eight Points of Party Unity:
The governing principle of the PCUSA is known as democratic centralism, which is what distinguishes us from the bourgeois parties. Decisions made at the level of the PCUSA Central Committee are based on discussions that have taken place within the basic units and districts of the party. Our clubs, also referred to as cells or fractions, are the basic unit of the party upon which democratic centralism is anchored. The fundamental principle for building and organizing the work of the party, democratic centralism combines the full initiative, right, and duty of party organizations to decide on questions within their scope of responsibility, with their accountability and regular reporting of activities to higher party bodies, and the subordination of the minority to the majority and strict discipline once a decision has been made. Underestimation or rejection of democratic centralism is typical of revisionists, testifying to their non-scientific approach and the influence of bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideology.
In practice, however, democratic centralism has been all but eradicated from the PCUSA, with the power of the majority being transferred into the hands of a clique within the Politburo which we’ll call the Angelo-Bovet clique. This group revolved around General Secretary Angelo D’Angelo and National Chair Chris Bovet, who used their standing in the Party to replace the collective leadership of the Party with the figure of its General Secretary and his nostalgia rooted in a pernicious distortion of the history of the communist movement. This shall be demonstrated in an analysis of their Second Congress: the suppression of preliminary discussion, the persecution of dissent afterwards, and the overall mockery that was the actual Congress.
The Second Congress of the PCUSA
It is important to determine how this happened in the PCUSA so that all class conscious practical workers and revolutionaries can learn from this experience to prevent it from happening in the future. From what we know about the PCUSA, this is a development that has been a long time coming. The PCUSA always had a right-wing and a more militant and revolutionary-minded left-wing. Those left-wingers did not consider the deviation of the right-wing sufficiently important to struggle or split over, and this was their great mistake. The right-wing, led by figures like Angelo and Bovet, were able to outmaneuver the left-wing and take control of the leading bodies of the Party. The militant members were dealt with by various means, whether by being sidelined, expelled, or encouraged to leave. By the time most of our members joined the Party, this process was already well on its way to being completed, and it was not at all uncommon to see militant working class members join the Party, quickly see it for what it is, and leave suddenly. This had the effect of ensuring that the social composition of the Party was decidedly petty-bourgeois and ripe grounds for the Angelo-Bovet clique to continue their campaign of consolidating power.
This was the situation within the PCUSA when its leaders called for the Second Congress to meet. The young members of the party awaited the Second Congress with anticipation, hoping that it would strengthen the party and prepare it to lead the struggles that arose, and are still arising, from the acceleration of the capitalist crisis brought on by the pandemic. Such a unified fighting organization can only be secured by the most advanced and disciplined servants of the working class, educated and trained in the practice of Marxist-Leninist theory and organized in a communist party. The PCUSA presents itself as such a Party.
In a country where idealism and opportunism run rampant amongst the so-called “left”, it is tempting to take them at their word, to grasp at any organization claiming to actually uphold the principles established by Marxism-Leninism. Reality, however, shows no mercy to such wishful thinking, for the events surrounding their Second Congress have revealed that the PCUSA stands for nothing more than the interests of yet another opportunistic gang of careerists, who would rather debase their own constitution than accept any form of meaningful criticism.
Let’s examine the actions and statements of the PCUSA’s leadership leading up to the Second Congress where the implementation of democratic centralism was a central point of struggle within the Party. The first salvo from the Angelo-Bovet clique to suppress any calls for the democratization of the Party during pre-Congress discussion was an ideological attack against the very concept of democratic centralism. They proceeded to completely misconstrue and revise the concept of democratic centralism to meet their immediate aim to maintain their position within the Party. Here we have an example of this revision in the form of a recording taken from a club meeting in which the General Secretary claimed that the club does not have the right to elect its own leadership because “That’s anarchism.” This same idea was promoted by the clique throughout various club meetings and even in private conversations. In one such conversation, Angelo went so far as to claim that “electing their own people” was a “no-no in our and any Bolshevik party”. Of course, we recognize that under certain conditions, specifically tsarist autocracy, the Bolsheviks could not organize by the principle of elections from below, but Lenin considered this to be a temporary feature that would pass with the overthrow of the tsar. This hardly applies to the PCUSA since the political situation in the US, as bad as it can be, is not comparable to Tsarist autocracy where communist organizations were outright illegal, strikes were outlawed, and even reading revolutionary Marxist literature was prohibited. Knowing that he could not argue for stymying internal Party democracy from this angle without looking ridiculous, he instead argued that the Party was “too young” and its members “too inexperienced” for democratic centralism to be implemented! The General Secretary seemingly made the logical leap that if internal Party democracy can be curtailed during the period of Tsarist autocracy, then any issue within the Party, no matter how trivial, is a valid reason for forgoing a democratic centralist structure. This view, like many of the General Secretary’s views, was never articulated in writing where it would have served as a testament to the General Secretary’s poor ideological training and inability to think critically.
Misconstruing the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s structure during the period of Tsarist repression was not the only half-baked argument in the General Secretary’s repertoire. He would also constantly invoke the authority of the so-called “national office” to justify his violations of the Party constitution when he would make decisions unilaterally without the approval of the Central Committee or the Politburo. While communist parties in the US and abroad have historically had “national offices” or headquarters, the way the General Secretary used it was entirely different. In a communist party, the national office is simply the physical administrative office of the national party. It is the physical location which facilitates administrative tasks like collecting dues and processing membership requests. It is not an actual organ of the Party. It does not hold any special authority over party bodies, especially the Central Committee and the Politburo, and yet this is exactly how the Angelo-Bovet clique used the term. Used in this way, the term has no analogous counterpart in any communist party, international or domestic, historical or contemporary. In the PCUSA, the physical national office just so happens to be the personal residence of the General Secretary, wherein Angelo performs all the duties of an administration office himself. It isn’t surprising that the term was constantly invoked by Angelo as both a leading party body and as something above the Party itself. The fact of the matter is that it was simply shorthand for the Angelo-Bovet clique itself.
The General Secretary and the National Chair of the PCUSA would also frequently make the claim that the National Office reserves the right to appoint district and club leadership, and that these bodies do not elect their own leadership. Such a claim indicates a profound ignorance of the basic principles of communist organization, of the history of the international communist movement, and of the very content of their own constitution. These basic principles reflect the collective ideology of the Bolsheviks and are necessary in order to bring about the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Moreover, the hysterical pitch of the General Secretary, and his obliviousness to the absurdity of his conduct, is reflected in his propensity for slander. Like a demagogue, he invokes the name of Lenin and Stalin to his benefit when confronted with political struggle. Yet, rather than following the example laid forth by comrade Lenin and addressing those who criticize him, he instead lashes out at and labels all who would dare question such egregious violations of the Party constitution and vulgarizations of democratic centralism as “anti-Party”, “anti-leadership”, “spies”, or “agents”.
The General Secretary would do well to review his own constitution, which was adopted by the First Congress of the PCUSA. The rules and procedures contained within are binding on each and every member, and, as outlined in Article X Section 1 of the constitution, disregard of the constitution constitutes grounds for discipline.
Take the General Secretary at his word:
It is important that we are talking about democratic centralism. I can’t express how important that is. I would say about ninety percent of the people on this phone call say they support democratic centralism. But when push comes to shove, all of a sudden, you’re going to see something different, comrades. You’re going to see people putting their own ethical, moral, religious views above the collective. So, it’s easy to talk about democratic centralism. It’s another thing to follow it. One of the things we need to follow is discipline…How many of us have discipline to ourselves let alone a collective Party? And that seems to be the problem. When we joined this Party, we knew what we were joining, supposedly. And that was a disciplined, democratic centralized formation that had a constitution that was elected and written by the membership. How many of the people in this phone call know the constitution of our Party? I wonder about that.Angelo D’Angelo, General Secretary of the PCUSA
Yet when push comes to shove—when charges begin to pile against him, when criticism is distorted in order to erode democratic centralism, when he is found guilty of squabbling, scandals, ideological confusion, rumor-mongering and political errors—it becomes clear that he is the chief offender within that “ninety percent”. His own ideological blinders keep him from recognizing that even the General Secretary is strictly bound by the constitution and has exactly the same rights and duties of all other members.
How do these events relate to the Second Congress? After a series of motions were put forth during the pre-Congress discussion period by the PCUSA Texas Club to improve the organizational structure of the Party—including a reassessment of the Popular Front, of the mass organizations and their staffing with only Party members, and the establishment of both a control commission to handle disciplinary procedures and a financial department with an auditing commission—a political witch hunt was carried out. The General Secretary sent out a mass email, containing the motions in question, with the goal of justifying their removal from pre-congress discussion.
The body of this email is reproduced here, as originally written:
Just seen the almost 15 motions to the 2nd Congress by just one club, in fact, interestingly, introduced by just one comrade!
Please, note, taking the direction away from long time seasoned Marxist-Leninists and placing direction of the Party to newer members (most who are completely new to our ideology and strategy). Is this the right time (at the very beginning of this Party?)
Please read thru them slowly – the last one would dangerously turn our Party toward another ultra left direction and eliminates dialectics, our tight rope strategy of following a non-ultra strategy – into just another radical formation with no connection to our Stalin/Dimitrov history of anti-fascism.
Note the question: “Is this the right time, at the very beginning of this Party?” As we have mentioned previously, this argument was used constantly to disrupt internal party democracy. Here we see how it was also frequently invoked against any comrade who brought up any inadequacy on ideological-organizational grounds. The common go-to of the General Secretary towards any criticism from new members were the recycled responses that the Party was too new, too small, or that members needed a certain amount of time in the Party before raising criticisms. The amount of time in the Party a member supposedly needed to raise criticisms would change to suit the political needs of the Angelo-Bovet clique. Too often, these excuses would deflect the member’s criticism by raising doubts about the member on the basis that they were simply too youthful or inexperienced. If the member insisted on having their criticism taken seriously and openly discussed among the membership, then they ran the risk of being labeled a factionalist, wrecker, or even an agent provocateur.
These fabricated “internal enemies” would then be subjected to a shameless campaign of reactionary, conspiratorial, and chauvinistic persecution by the General Secretary and the National Chair. This is what happened prior to the Second Congress in order to prevent any platform that could potentially lead to new leadership at the Congress.
Chris Helali, the International Secretary, took advantage of the discontent of the comrades who put forward criticisms during the pre-Congress discussions in order to gain support for his bid for General Secretary. Helali weaponized the revolutionary program of the KKE, and other leading parties of the ICM, by claiming he was aligned with the positions of the Marxist-Leninist pole to secure support from the principled comrades in the Party. Despite these claims, Helali continued to write articles that ran contrary to the positions of the Marxist-Leninist pole, specifically in regards to China. Once this support was secured, he made sure that these members were added to a slate of recommended Central Committee members. Nevermind that the practice of running “slates” of members for the leading bodies of the Party runs completely contrary to democratic centralism. In the Soviet pamphlet “The Structure of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks),” under the section “Inner Party Democracy,” the authors say:
In order that the will of the members of the Party may find most precise expression, the Rules of the C.P.S.U.(B.) prohibit the voting for candidates for office by lists. Every candidate for office must be voted for separately. Moreover, every Party member has the right to object to a candidature and to criticize candidates. The voting for candidates takes place by secret ballot.The Structure of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks)
When members of the revolutionary wing made their criticisms known, and the Angelo-Bovet clique made moves to strike them from the slate, Helali convinced the committee to “stay the course” by arguing that “the Soviets sometimes said it’s good to have a bit of diversity on the committee”. Of course, Helali was not the only one attempting to use his position on the Congress Planning Committee to influence the slate to his benefit. The Angelo-Bovet clique were themselves making moves to consolidate their power by stacking the slate with members loyal to them. Throughout the selection process for the slate, the main concern for the clique was not “Has this comrade proven themselves to be a responsible and principled cadre of the party?” but instead, “is this person loyal to the ‘Party’?” During a meeting of the Congress Planning Committee, Angelo and Bovet tried to emphasize the idea that “loyalty to the party” was the only criteria that mattered when creating the slate. In fact, when another member raised a legitimate concern about adding to the slate a member who had left the party over a year ago this concern was dismissed on the grounds that “he is very loyal”. At the same time, members such as Kayla were not added to the slate because Chris “question[ed] her loyalty”. This discussion about “loyalty to the Party” only makes sense if we understand that by “loyalty to the Party,” they really meant “loyalty to the Angelo-Bovet clique.”
This was not the only tactic employed by the clique to ensure the further centralization of their power at the Congress. They even manipulated the process of electing delegates for the Congress. Angelo made it a habit to attend every meeting of every club (cell) to the point that all monthly club meetings were scheduled so as to not coincide with other meetings that he had to attend. In fact, every meeting of clubs, and even mass organizations of the PCUSA, were scheduled around his availability to ensure his attendance. Through this tactic, the clique was able to exert its control over every organ of the Party, even the clubs during the delegate selection process. In some club meetings, Angelo acted as a full member with the right to vote for delegates to the congress, which he exercised to the fullest. In others, where he knew he could not get away with such blatantly corrupt behavior, he spoke on behalf of the “national office” during debate of motions and delegate elections. In the clubs where Angelo did act as a full member, the Party members in the club were often not very ideologically developed and thus did not see anything wrong with this, or were simply too afraid of retaliation by the General Secretary to speak out against him in meetings. When the General Secretary is able to personally intervene in the selection of, and in some cases even effectively decide, the delegates to a congress, can this be said to be a legitimate congress? Would this violation of democratic centralism be tolerated by principled communist parties abroad? The answer to both is a loud and resounding no! From this we can see how opportunists are willing to do anything, up to and including breaking fundamental communist principles in order to secure their victory over any revolutionary opposition within a party. It was not enough to stack the slate; they also had to stack the delegates with those loyal, or at the very least indifferent, to the clique.
The actual meeting of the Second Congress was held over two days on Zoom with only two hours allotted per day. When objections to the short length and inappropriate forum were raised, the Angelo-Bovet clique was quick to go on the offensive and shut down the possibility of an extended Congress. On top of the totally inadequate length, the Second Congress was plagued by problems stemming from the revisionist tendencies most prominent in the Party. Chief among these were the deficiencies in the Congress procedures. For instance, the slate of nominees for the Central Committee slate was one of the only three motions considered by the delegates of the Congress itself. Immediately after the Central Committee slate was approved (as the delegates were told that if they did not approve it, then the current Central Committee would remain until the Third Congress), the Central Committee members went into a Zoom breakout room and began electing the members of the Politburo, totally isolated from the delegates and in direct violation of the PCUSA constitution that required that the members of the Politburo be elected by the Congress itself. This is a complete break from democratic centralism as it breached the Party constitution which gave delegates the right to decide on the composition of the Central Committee, the Politburo, the Secretariat, and all other matters concerning the Party. After all, the party congress is the supreme organ in any communist party.
Many members of the PCUSA, due to their inexperience and underdevelopment, could not see these as violations of democratic centralism. They had no reference for what a true Congress should look like. They simply took the clique at their word when they said “this is how every communist party does it”. The clique had spent the lead up to the congress priming the membership to accept its actions as legitimate. The People’s School for Marxist-Leninist Studies (PSMLS) was an invaluable tool for the clique to circumvent Party democracy and pass off their personal opinions as ideological Party lines, using the excuse that the People’s School is a mass organization and not part of the Party. As we will see, mass organizations are considered separate from the Party one day and then Party organizations the next based on what most suits the clique. The School was used in order to ideologically mold and unify the consenting elements to the decisions and directives of the Angelo-Bovet group without any discussion. At PSMLS classes and even club meetings, the clique pointed to the “over 40 greetings” as proof that the party, under their leadership, was a true communist party. Nevermind that, besides a presence on a few online forums and scarce attempts to distribute literature, the party had no connections to the working class and popular strata. Nevermind that during the 2020 uprising the Party did nothing to involve itself in, let alone lead, these struggles. This ideological campaign was very successful, with many members believing that the Party must be doing something right if it is receiving so much international recognition. Even several months after the Congress, a member, upon receiving a booklet of the greetings published by the Party’s publishing house, tweeted the following:
Just got this in the mail!
@communists_US PCUSA’s international greetings from our 2nd Congress. Holding this is like holding crystaline praxis. Greetings from ~45 parties such as @gt_kke, our first Congress on got 4 greetings. amazing growth in our international recognition.
This is how the clique used the Party’s international contacts from other communist and workers’ parties as both a legitimizing force and a way to stifle criticisms.
Why the Angelo-Bovet clique, who were decidedly in charge of organizing the Second Congress, would conduct it in such a corrupt and rotten way, despite regarding themselves as ideologically steeled Marxist-Leninists, should be clear. This type of political jockeying is typical of opportunists, who think only of climbing the organizational ladder and, once at the top, maintaining their status. With an idealist flair, they tie their leading position in the Party with the importance of their thoughts, that is to say, the more prestigious their position the more correct are their views on policy, organization, and, perhaps most perversely, the entire science of Marxism-Leninism.
By the conclusion of the Second Congress, Helali was unable to muster the support he needed to oust Angelo as General Secretary and, after the fashion of a vacillating careerist, fell back in-line with the leading clique. However, the Angelo-Bovet clique were also unable to completely shore up their position, and more dissenters were elected to the CC than was acceptable. The end of the Second Congress marked the beginning of a concerted campaign against the revolutionary-minded members of the Party, which ultimately led to the expulsion of dissenting elements wholesale.
It is here where we acknowledge our ideological-political mistakes. We should have known that the International Secretary’s support for the Marxist-Leninist parties and their positions was disingenuous and that supporting his bid for General Secretary at the Congress would have merely replaced one form of opportunism with another had he been successful. Another mistake on our part was not leading the internal struggle within the PCUSA as energetically as we could have. While we did struggle against the opportunists in the Party, at times we were too willing to make peace in order to “play nice.” We were too afraid of losing our moral high-ground by struggling in the “wrong way,” worried what others would think if we were caught planning an all-out struggle against the clique. This was a direct result of our theoretical underdevelopment in this type of struggle. Had we had the level of understanding that we do now, we would have used every opportunity to create a more effective and resolute struggle for a clean break with opportunism. We would have followed the example of the Bolsheviks and used the publications that we had influence over, including a club newsletter, as the organizing center against the opportunist faction. We would have made bolder attempts to expose the rotten underbelly of the Party to the rest of the membership for the purpose of calling an extraordinary congress to expel the clique and their sycophants from the Party. It’s difficult to say whether this improved strategy would have been enough to triumph over the clique at an extraordinary congress, but we attribute the relatively small number of PCUSA members that left with those expelled in the aftermath of the Second Congress as a direct consequence of our mistakes.
Analysis of the Second Congress
A full analysis of the Second Congress requires that we understand the purpose of a congress in the life of the Party. What then is the role of the congress in a communist party according to leading parties in the ICM? Let us look at a couple of examples.
In the Communist Party of Greece, the party congress is described as follows:
- The Congress discusses and judges the report of the Central Committee and the Central Audit committee. It determines the duties of the Party until the next Congress.
- They vote on or amends the Party’s Programme and Statutes.
- They elect the Central Committee and the Central Audit Committee.
Similarly, the Communist Party of Mexico describe their congresses in this way:
- The Congress approves the Regulations for its operation, elects its Presidium, approves the agenda, etc.
- They discuss and, where appropriate, approve the Political Report of the Central Committee, the other activity reports, and the resolution projects.
- They consider and, where appropriate, approve modifications to the Program, the Theses and the Statutes.
- They establish the Party’s political line, strategy and tactics of the communists in their struggle for the Socialist Revolution.
- They elect the Central Committee, based on the proposal of the Nominations Committee who proposes the Full Members and Alternate Members, as well as the number which should be integrated into it.
- They ratify the First Secretary and the Second Secretary of the Central Committee.
When Abdel, a member of the Party, brought up concerns about the format that the Second Congress would take, the clique quickly jumped into action. Abdel argued, correctly, that the Congress should take place in person and, at the very least, it should span several hours over 3-4 days. Karen, who was part of the clique, claimed that this change in format was out of line because “the First Congress is in effect until these elections” and “the First Congress has decided on a Zoom meeting. Period. End of discussion.”
It is unclear what Karen meant by this. Yes, the decisions of the First Congress are in effect until the Second Congress, but it does not seem at all likely that the First Congress would, in 2016 when it was held, have discussed and voted that the format of the Second Congress must be over a Zoom teleconference held in two sessions, two hours each, with the first session being nothing but speeches. What Karen, and the clique, believe was made clear when Abdel attempted to explain that a party congress, which cannot, in its session, review the work of the previous congress or even decide how it will operate itself defeats the purpose of even having a congress. Karen responded by erroneously claiming that “Their duties, their responsibilities do not start until the First Congress is disbanded” and that the Second Congress cannot “go back, review everything the first congress said and decide how we want to change it. That defeats the purpose of a governing body that is elected.”
Here the ideological and organizational confusion of the Angelo-Bovet clique is laid bare. First of all, there is the idea that the decisions of the First Congress are somehow immutable and not subject to analysis, critique, and modifications by the next Congress. The members of the clique do not seriously believe this, since they regularly trample on the decisions of the First Congress, especially its adoption of the Party Constitution and Program. However, it is illuminating to see their ideological bankruptness made so clear by their propensity to make inconsistent and hypocritical arguments merely to silence principled criticism.
When it comes to the claim that the duties of the Second Congress do not begin until the First Congress disbands, it’s important to note that every Marxist-Leninist with a basic understanding of how a communist party operates understands that a party congress disbands in its last session and leaves the task of running the Party to the Central Committee, who can then decide on all Party matters so long as they do not contradict the decisions of the Congress. However, here the clique shows that they believe that the First Congress is still in session. In this case, PCUSA may be the first party to have a 5-year-long congress followed immediately by one that lasted only two days.
However, the clique understands that the delegates of the First Congress are not actually meeting regularly to set Party policy (after all, many have left and a few have been expelled by the clique itself). The only way to make sense of this is to attribute to the clique the belief that since the First Congress elected them (or at least a few of them, after all, the Angelo-Bovet clique practiced co-optation to the Politburo and Central Committee with astounding frequency) to the leading bodies, then they are able to make decisions with the authority of the First Congress itself. This strange attribution of the authority of a Congress to lower bodies of the Party can also be seen in the aftermath of the Second Congress with the debacle over the “continuations committee,” but we will have to leave that topic for another time.
This is how the Second Congress became a total perversion of the principles of democratic centralism. It would not be a stretch to say that a proper Second Congress never occurred, since the delegates had no say over questions of procedure, let alone political, ideological, or strategic questions. Reports on the activities of the Party were not read, successes and failures were not summed up, and no attempt was made to correct the failures and shortcomings of previous work from the First Congress. This reflected the attempt to build a party of “consensus”, monolithic in words as it is eclectic in deeds, built around the media communication of the single figure of the General Secretary and his clique.
The congress is a great event in the life of the Party. It cannot be reduced to a weekend Zoom conference, held mostly in break-out rooms, isolated from elected delegates. The pre-Congress period cannot take place in a single club meeting of just an hour and a half where members are forced to limit all discussion.
Organizational Deviations and Their Causes
To analyze and understand the underlying causes of this ideological and organizational degeneration within the PCUSA, we need to analyze the origins of opportunism within the communist movement in general and how it affected the organizational structure of other parties. We trace the origin of this particular form of opportunism to the period of 1934–1945 in the Communist Party of the USA. During this period, the Party was under the leadership of Earl Browder, a leading proponent of the ideological-political deviation known as the Popular Front, a policy devised mainly by Dimitrov that laid the seeds for a right-opportunist turn adopted by the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in 1935. The qualitative development of these conclusions into Browderism, particularly in its approach to the united front and alliances, led to the liquidation of the CPUSA. Browderism was facilitated by the fact that there were no organizational obstacles to the development of right-wing opportunism. The ideological struggle was considered a threat to “unity”, leading to the abolishment of criticism and self-criticism on the basis of Marxism-Leninism.
The lack of principled Bolshevik methods organization within the CPUSA is a consequence of the party failing to properly Bolshevize itself and instead continuing its old social-democratic methods of organization, specifically having the base organization of the party, the club, be based on the territorial region of US states. This kind of organizational deviation is a remnant of the social-democratic organizational traditions which have plagued communist parties, especially the US party, since they first split from their social-democratic predecessors. Osip Piatnitsky documents this fact in his work “The Bolshevization of the Communist Parties of the Capitalist Countries by Eradicating Social-Democratic Traditions” wherein he shows how this level of organization promotes electoralism, ensures that party directives are not followed, and discourages initiative within party cells. He lays out how in Tsarist Russia, with all the socialist parties being illegal until 1905, the Bolsheviks were prompted, by the illegal conditions, “to establish Party groups in the factories, where it was easier and more convenient to work.” Meanwhile abroad, the story was very different since social-democratic parties were not illegal. The Social-Democrats organized, not primarily in the factories, but on the basis of election districts, and sought victory through the ballot box. When they split, the communists in these countries “built their organizations exactly after the model of the Social-Democrats and this, despite the fact that the communist parties, from the very moment of their inception aimed at an entirely different objective to that of the Social-Democratic Parties.”
The PCUSA is built on this exact organizational deviation with clubs (cells) being organized on the state or even multi-state level. In many ways, this particular form of Social-Democratic organization is even more pernicious and ineffectual because, in the PCUSA, unlike the CPUSA in the 1930’s, there are no meaningful connections to workplaces or unions. This left the Party with few people to staff its cells, which is why they were organized on the basis of entire states, encompassing territories larger than most countries. For instance, the club in the state of Texas covered an area of about 270K square miles, or about 700K square kilometers, which is an area larger than every European country with the exception of Russia. This meant that most members rarely met in person, if ever, and work was confined to mostly online activities.
To make matters worse, most of this ineffective online “work” was not even done within clubs but within the countless Party commissions and mass organizations (though, considering their membership was overwhelmingly party members, it would be more accurate to call them fronts) of the party. Of course, the Angelo-Bovet clique was present in all of these commissions and mass organizations and made sure that none strayed too far from the vision of the “national office.” The commissions that attempted to collectively decide on Party positions and policy, or mass organizations that tried to operate independently, outside of the influence of the clique, were simply disbanded and reorganized on the whim of the General Secretary. This was the case for the Progressive Center for a Pan-American Project and Labor United for Class Struggle, both of which had the editorial boards of their publications disbanded and reconstituted when the members in the organization became critical of the clique.
In this way, the clique cultivated a culture of passivity and obedience. Most clubs showed almost no initiative, no sense of duty to act unless directed by the clique. This is yet another deviation which Piatnitsky highlights which he calls “Supercentralism”. Piatnitsky writes “The C. C. must supply leaflets to the local organizations, the C. C. must first state its opinion on the events in order that the locals should wake up. The responsibility does not exist which the party organization must have to act at any moment regardless of whether directives exist or not, on the basis of the decisions of the party and Comintern.” Once again, the reality of the PCUSA is even worse than this since, unlike how Piatnitsky assumes, there were no substantive Party decisions for members to base their action on. They did not debate or decide methods for organizing workplaces or the best course of action during important developments in the class struggle. Such questions were considered divisive and threatened the precious “unity” that the clique prized above all. So while in the Bolshevik Party “[t]he initiative of the local Party organizations, of the cells, was encouraged,” in the PCUSA the opposite was true.
Now we will give some general recommendations based on the information we have presented. For the members of the CWPUSA, we would like to highlight that general ignorance about democratic centralism was a key factor that allowed the clique in the PCUSA to undermine democratic centralism ideologically and abolish it in practice. It is important that every member study the principle Marxist-Leninist works on organization and democratic centralism:
- What is to Be Done? by V.I. Lenin
- What Next? by V.I. Lenin
- One Step Forward, Two Steps Back by V.I. Lenin
- Letter to a Comrade on Our Organizational Tasks by V.I. Lenin
- Concerning Questions of Leninism by J.V. Stalin
- The Communist Party Manual on Organization by J. Peters
- Guidelines on the Organizational Structure of Communist Parties, on the Methods and Content of their Work by the Third Congress of the Communist International
- The Structure of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) by Pravda Publishing House
- The Bolshevization of the Communist Parties of the Capitalist Countries by Eradicating Social-Democratic Traditions by O. Piatnitsky
The study of democratic centralism cannot be put off by the members of the CWPUSA or any other communist party. It must be prioritized given the amount of organizational development that needs to be done. Members need to understand the basic Marxist-Leninist principles of organization to learn how to construct new party structures, especially locally, and create a culture of internal democracy and discipline.
To the militant and revolutionary-minded members of the PCUSA, we would like to recommend that you reflect on what we have written in this article as well as your experience in the PCUSA. The leadership has waged an internal campaign to discredit us as factionalists, “ultra-left”, academic Marxists, Hoxhaists, etc. However, the works we have listed are either Marxist classics or put out by the publishing house of a Marxist-Leninist party. We think these works speak for themselves, so we ask you to study the works listed above and critically consider for yourself whether the PCUSA follows the method outlined in these texts. When the leadership tries to explain why democratic centralism isn’t followed, consider the validity of these claims. Where in the experience of the international communist movement has a Party considered organizational newness a valid reason for stifling Party democracy? Also, consider whether you think this is a problem that can be corrected through the “proper channels” within the Party, through an intense internal struggle, or by leaving the Party and waging an ideological offensive against the opportunist and social-chauvinist positions of the PCUSA with the help of the Marxist-Leninists in the CWPUSA.
To the principled communists in the US, both those who have recently decided to start working to strengthen the communist movement, as well as those who already have the experience of being mislead, manipulated, exploited, and even abused by any of the various opportunist mis-leaders of the working class, we invite you to join the CWPUSA. We strive to form a principled Marxist-Leninist party, one that seeks to take part in the development of a new Marxist-Leninist international, for the ultimate victory of the working class and the construction of socialism-communism.
We also invite communists who do not have the time or inclination to apply for membership to become supporters of the CWPUSA so that you can participate in political education and help us develop the New Worker through distribution and contributions. However, we encourage both members and supporters to follow New Worker, which has recently launched as an online publication. It will serve as a means of educating and communicating with advanced workers and communists, both those in the US and internationally. And to those communists who are still enmeshed in one of the opportunist organizations, who have come to realize that their organization is incapable of realizing the goal of socialism-communism, we encourage you to take into consideration our experience within the PCUSA and study the recommended works on democratic centralism so that you may decide for yourself if it is best to struggle for the Bolshevization of your organization, or to sever ties with it, and join the ranks of the CWPUSA.
To the members of the organizations of the international communist movement, we would like to show that the organizational issues within PCUSA have caused it to devolve into a social-chauvinist formation that takes up the position of supporting “anti-imperialist” countries which are merely capitalist countries with an intermediate or lower position in the imperialist system. It has joined the ranks of the parties that support the popular front and that subscribe to theories of multi-polarity. It has not clarified important positions on its stance towards bourgeois governments and often frames everything within the realm of the “threat of fascism,” leading it to court vile social democratic policies. The PCUSA has demonstrated time after time that it is incapable of coming to a correct understanding of Lenin’s theories of imperialism. The erosion of democratic centralism has only further clarified that support of this organization is a hindrance to the communist movement in the US.
We strongly urge our comrades of the ICM to consider the damage that supporting formations such as the PCUSA brings to the revolutionary minded communists in the US who are striving to build the communist party. The PCUSA must be exposed for its inhibition of the working class to lead the socialist revolution, of its inability to adjust its strategy to the era of imperialism, of its rejection to re-analyze old and outdated positions proven by historical experience itself, of its incorrect understanding of the history of the ICM and the causes of the overthrow of socialism in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. The PCUSA is incapable of drawing conclusions about the corrosive effect opportunism has on the communist movement, and as a result of this ideological bankruptcy, the Party has become part and parcel with modern opportunism. Its isolation from the working class and neglect to utilize its potential of being a vanguard party for the workers of this country has cemented its path in history alongside the parties of the Second International.
A neutral stance towards this party fosters the growth of opportunism. The task of the communists regarding the struggle against opportunism expresses itself here in revealing the nature of the PCUSA, especially its leading clique. Opportunism expresses the influence of bourgeois ideology and policies on the labor movement and today its presence and manifestations are increasing. Its action undermines the class struggle, which is the driving force of social development, and leads to the disarmament of the working class and its co-optation in the capitalist system. It is the duty, in the spirit of internationalism, to stand resolutely against the enemies of the working class, to escalate the ideological-political struggle for the regrouping of the communist movement towards the counterattack. The front against opportunism is an element of the confrontation with capitalism, with imperialism and any tolerance or retreat from it has a debilitating effect on the communist movement.
It should be clear now that the PCUSA suffers from all the characteristic symptoms of a terminal case of organizational opportunism. The Second Congress was seemingly a great success for the Angelo-Bovet clique, who were able to pack the leading organs of the Party with their sycophants and expel those who dissented. he complete absence of democratic centralism is what allowed a clique of narrow-minded careerists to steer the Party, not in the direction of socialism-communism, but wherever their whims took them. This has led the Party down the road of social-chauvinism and towards the modern revisionist trends that have begun to lay bare the amalgamation of an opportunist platform that is equally as dangerous as “Eurocommunism”, “market socialism”, and “socialism of the 21st century”. Had there been democratic centralism in the Party, these erroneous views would have been brought before the whole Party at the Second Congress and exposed conciliation towards one bourgeois camp over another. Clearly, the destruction of internal party democracy is of great interest to all opportunists to impose their poisonous views over the Party and prevent the kind of frank discussion that allows the Party members to learn from current and historical mistakes. Without democratic centralism, the Party is left rudderless in the class struggle and doomed to repeat so many of the same political and ideological mistakes that came to dominate the international communist movement in the 20th century. All communists must fight for the enthusiastic and vigorous application of democratic centralism within the Party and vigilantly defend it against all opportunist attacks against it, both ideologically and organizationally.
Key periods for further study include:
- How the factional struggles in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the Comintern reflected in the policies of the CPUSA.
- The two periods (1929–1934 and 1945–1957) of the CPUSA led by William Z Foster.
- The periods of the CPUSA led by Eugene Dennis (1945–1959) and Gus Hall (1959–2000) and the relation of the policies of the CPSU and the parties of the ICM to those adopted by the CPUSA during these periods.
- The degree of interconnection of these criteria and their prevalence in reformist and revisionist currents. Do they contain the seeds of the modern forms of attacks on democratic centralism? Are they responsible for organizational liberalism and the denial of the collective nature of the Party? What is the struggle that must be waged by communists in the US against these modern forms?