Communist Labor Party of North America

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The Communist Labour Party of North America (CLP) was an anti-revisionist communist party which part of the larger New Communist movement in the United States. The party was founded in 1974 and disbanded in 1993. The League of Revolutionaries for a New America was then founded by the remaining cadre of the CLP.

History[edit]

Formation (1974)[edit]

The Communist Labor Party of the United States of North America was a political party based on Marxism-Leninism in the United States. It was founded at a Congress in Chicago, Illinois in September 1974. In the mid 1970s three Communist parties were founded claiming to continue, defend and fight for the principles of the Third International and to oppose the "modern revisionism” led by the Soviet Union. The Communist Party (ML), formerly the October League and the Revolutionary Communist Party, formerly the Revolutionary Union both had their roots in the student movement of the 1960s in general, and the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), in particular. The leaders of the CP(ML), Mike Klonsky and of the RCP, Bob Avaikian both were young white men who came out of SDS. In contrast, the leader of the Communist Labor Party (CLP), Nelson Peery was a middle aged African American bricklayer who had fought in World War II and had political roots in the Communist Party USA of the 1940s and 50s. The history of the CLP can be traced to a group that split from the CPUSA in 1958, the Provisional Organizing Committee to Reconstitute a Marxist–Leninist Party (POC). In 1968, Nelson Peery and his wife, Sue Ying Peery, led a small group out of the POC and formed the California Communist League, which expanded to become a national organization, the Communist League (CL). In California several Mexican American groupings joined the CL. A significant grouping of African American autoworkers in Michigan, from the League of Revolutionary Black Workers merged into the CL.

The CL organized forums with different left groups and individuals to discuss various questions of Marxist theory and political policy to lay the basis for developing a new communist party. Many of these forums attracted hundreds of people and were held in several cities around the country. These forums made it clear that the CL was politically quite advanced and also the most important grouping on the left. The CL had a policy of advancing into leadership women, national minorities and workers and therefore had a leadership grouping different from other groups on the left. The CL was the main grouping behind the founding of the CLP. The newspaper of the CL, the Peoples Tribune/Tribuno del Pueblo, became the newspaper of the CLP. The CL’s theoretical journal, Proletariat, was also continued by the CLP. In addition, the Western Worker, published by the CL was continued by the CLP. The two other new communist parties were organized soon after the CLP.

In the "Documents of the First (Founding) Congress of the CLP(USNA), the preamble to the Party Program stated "Basing ourselves on the ‘Communist Manifesto’ and the ‘Program of the Communist International,’ the Marxist-Leninists of the USNA set out to rally the revolutionary working class around the following program.” In the program is the germ of the future analysis of the Party: "The trend toward shifting the economic base from mechanics to electronics has not only increased the reserve army of unemployed but also created a huge qualitatively new army of permanently unemployed, especially amongst national minority proletarians.”

The CLP required that all members to study Marxist theoretical writings at weekly study sessions. Many members attended "cadre schools” which lasted for eight weeks, studying the Marxist classics full-time, six days a week. One of the fundamental positions of the new party was independence for the Negro Nation. The Negro Nation was defined as all those living in the Black Belt area of the South, including both African Americans and whites. The argument was that all those living within the boundaries of a nation were members of that nation.

The Communist League had developed close relations with the Ethiopian Student Union of North America (ESUNA). In 1974 a military-led revolution took power in Ethiopia. Senay Likke and others from ESUNA returned to Ethiopia to engage in the revolutionary process there. The CLP sent an African American member to Ethiopia. For several years the CLP member maintained relations with Ethiopian revolutionaries and wrote reports and articles on developments in Ethiopia and Africa. The Soviet Union supported the new Ethiopian government. The CLP was critical of the political policies of the Soviet Union. Given the close relationship between the Ethiopian government and the Soviet Union the CLP position in Ethiopia was quite precarious. Eventually the CLP member had to leave and return to the US. During the next several years, as the revolutionary process unfolded in Ethiopia a number of former ESUNA members including Senay Likke were executed by the government.

2nd Congress (1975)[edit]

The CLP held its 2nd Congress in November 1975. While all of the other left groups identified with various communist countries, the Soviet Union, China, Albania, Cuba, etc., the CLP insisted on being politically independent and developing their own analysis of the economic and political situation. In the Political Resolution at this Congress it stated, "The struggle within the socialist camp is increasingly taking a national form – a form that makes ever more difficult the militant expressions of solidarity of the revolutionary proletariat within the socialist sector.” And, "Our Party … does not choose national sides in this ... struggle that is taking place within the socialist camp. Our Party unconditionally supports revolution and conditionally supports states.” This Political Resolution also began an elementary analysis of globalization by identifying the consolidation of an international bourgeoisie.

3rd Congress (1980)[edit]

The third congress of the CLP was held in November 1980. The party’s writings continued its attacks against the "modern revisionists” who controlled the Soviet party and their followers in the CPUSA. The economic analysis of the CLP pointed out that the post WWII expansion had become a glut of the world market. The Political Resolution of the 3rd Congress stated that "The tremendous production which was made possible because of World War II had become a tremendous overproduction.” The Resolution also stated that "The emphasis in the international class struggle is shifting from the national colonial struggle to the open collision of classes.” This was different from the left in the US and internationally, that continued to focus on the national liberation struggles as the center of the revolutionary process. The CLP focused on the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie as opposed to the multi-class national liberation struggle.

The period leading up to the 3rd Congress and immediately after it saw the only "split” that occurred in the history of the CLP. In reality it was a minor event with less than 10 members leaving the Party. The group that left was labeled the "action faction.” They advocated greater participation in the mass struggle by the Party members and the need for party activists to encourage activity and "build the movement.” The political position of the Party was that the spontaneous movement was part of the objective aspect of the revolutionary process and therefore emerged in response to objective conditions. The role of revolutionaries was the subjective factor in the revolutionary process, to bring class consciousness to the combatants in the class struggle. Tension between these two perspectives continued throughout the life of the CLP.

1980s[edit]

In March 1981 the first issue of Rally, Comrades! was put out as the "official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Labor Party.” Its purpose was to "rally the ideological leaders of the workers in order to rally the workers for the final conflict.” Rally, Comrades! was circulated internationally. During the early 1980s the Rally, Comrades! published a series of articles analyzing and criticizing the political leaders of the Soviet Union. The Peoples Tribune and the Tribuno del Pueblo continued to be published by the CLP but spoke to a broader audience. All papers were bilingual (English and Spanish).

The ending of the post-World War II economic expansion and the recessions of the early 1980s led to increased activity by the working class and therefore also increased activity by the members of the CLP. The Party was active in the union struggles against contract concessions and also in the fights of the undocumented workers. By the mid-1980s the CLP turned decisively toward participation in the mass movement, in particular the struggle for economic survival focusing on the homeless. The CLP also participated in the mayoral campaigns of Harold Washington in Chicago and the Jesse Jackson run for the 1988 presidential election.

4th Congress (1986)[edit]

The Political Report to the Fourth Congress (Nov. 1986) stated "For the first time there is a possibility of building a truly revolutionary party on the basis of the objective communist movement. That movement is nothing less than the galvanizing struggles of 50 million dispossessed, hungry, homeless and unemployed — the most oppressed and exploited workers. This must be the firm foundation of our Party.” Here the CLP begins to clearly move away from the 3rd International conception of the industrial workers as the foundation of the communist party. With the application of electronics to the productive process, which accelerated in the 1970s and 80s, the industrial workers began to disappear from the workforce. Many left groups moved to base themselves in whatever unions remained, in spite of the fact that both public and private sector unions were radically declining in membership. The CLP began to seriously grapple with the transformation that was occurring within the working class.

In the pamphlet, "Documents of the Fourth Congress,” the article "Explanation of the Party Program” quotes an 1890 letter written by Engels: "It is far more important that the movement should spread, proceed harmoniously, take root and embrace as much as possible the whole American proletariat than that it should start and proceed, from the beginning, on theoretically perfectly correct lines. There is no better road to theoretical clearness of comprehension than to learn by one’s own mistakes. And for a whole large class, there is no other road, especially for a nation so eminently practical and so contemptuous of theory as the Americans. The great thing is to get the working class to move as a class.”

The Program of the Fourth Congress states, "We agitate to politically shake up the proletariat. The aim of our agitation is to draw the maximum number of workers into the political struggle. Communist propaganda is scientific, theoretical, political education. Our propaganda exposes capitalist production relations as the root cause of the social destruction rampant today. The class struggle is a political struggle; our propaganda convinces the workers that society cannot be organized to meet their basic demands without their seizing political power.”

The Political Report to the Fourth Congress also sharply criticized the politics of the Communist Party (USA) focusing on the CP’s advocacy of left-center unity. "For the CPUSA the most important goal is ‘unity of the working class in the battle against the corporations.’ By disregarding that imperialism objectively has split the working class — a phenomenon which Lenin identified over 75 years ago — the CPUSA proclaims the lofty goal of uniting the working class. Towards this end it sacrifices all, including the interests of the most revolutionary sections of the working class.” Here the CLP is referring to Lenin’s statement that the super-profits from the exploitation of the colonial peoples are used to bribe a sector of the working class in the imperialist country and turn this sector into an ally of the ruling class against the non-bribed sector of the working class. And further, "… the increasing economic crisis has forced the so-called "center” to the right and with it the CPUSA has moved to the right as well.”

Entering an Epoch of Social Revolution pamphlet and 5th Congress (1991)[edit]

The most important document published by the CLP was a 30 page pamphlet entitled, "Entering an Epoch of Social Revolution.” It was written by Nelson Peery. However, it went through several revisions after discussions and comments from CLP members. Many articles and documents from the CLP were produced in this way. They were originated by Peery and then discussed and modified taking into account the discussions. In this sense they were written "collectively.” The discussions around the "Epoch” pamphlet took place in the late 1980s with the first published version being produced in June 1989 as a "Draft Report from the Standing Committee of the Communist Labor Party.” The final version was published in April 1991, retaining the title, "Entering an Epoch of Social Revolution,” and issued as the "Political Report to the Fifth Congress of the Communist Labor Party.”

The pamphlet develops, as its foundation, a review of Marxist philosophy. It is not merely a review of philosophy but in many ways a "further development” of that philosophy. One example of this is where the pamphlet clarifies and deepens the understanding of the relationship between quality and quantity. It points out that quantity, in Marxist philosophy, doesn’t just refer to numerical quantity but actually refers to stages of development of a qualitative process. Here quantity changing to quality means a process goes through its quantitative stages of development leading to qualitative transformation. Thus demonstrating that revolutionaries must identify the particular stage of the revolutionary process if they are to understand the strategy and tactics for that stage. "Revolutionaries cannot struggle against the quality "capitalism.” They must deal on the quantitative level with specific stages of development. The revolutionary Left of our country fails when it simply counterposes capitalism to socialism, rather than defining the stage of development and fighting it out stage by stage.”

The pamphlet examines the 20th century from the perspective of historical materialism. It shows how the first 75 years of that century was a time of social revolution in the areas of the world still dominated by agriculture. "Industrial development could be carried out by the bourgeoisie for its benefit, or by the workers for their benefit. Which class would win depended, to a great extent, on moral and ideological factors.” Thus the Communist parties of that period reflected those tasks. "The struggle to industrialize under proletarian dictatorship attracted the most moral, socialized, self conscious elements politicized by the class struggle.” The pamphlet asserts that this period is over. "The new era is producing a new movement. For the first time, an actual, practical communist movement of the workers is emerging.” [The quotes in this paragraph are from the introduction to the 1993 edition of the pamphlet.] The CLP pointed out that "Today — because the economic revolution is throwing workers out of the productive process — this struggle tends not to be between worker and employer. It is between workers and various elements of the state: the police, welfare offices, federal agencies, school boards or public hospital bureaucracies.” (Rally, Comrades! April 1992, "The line of march of the proletarian revolution”)

In some ways these projections in the "Epoch” pamphlet laid the basis for the dissolving of the CLP, which was a form of communist party organized during the previous period of transition from agriculture to industry. The Political Resolution of the Fifth Congress of the CLP stated: "The traditional communist movement is moribund. … The Comintern parties politically and ideologically belong to the era of industrial capitalism. The transition from mechanical to electronic production also means a transition of the political expressions.” And also, "We cannot build an ideological Party. We must build a Party dispersed into and leading the actual practical movement. … The Party must be more broad than deep.” The CLP attempted to transform itself into a different form of organization needed for this new period.

The "Epoch” pamphlet also pointed out the fundamental problems in the Soviet Union. "Soviet society is in crisis. There have not been quantitative changes in the productive relations that correspond to the quantitative and qualitative changes that have objectively taken place in the development of its productive forces.” It notes that "... mechanical industry cannot be the foundation for communism. Where there is scarcity there will be privilege. A quantitative change is now taking place in the productive forces in the USSR. The problem will be solved by passing through the stage of mechanics and into the stage of the application of electronics to industry, which will eliminate shortages. The social process in the USSR is going to be very difficult and may become violent.” Although the CLP did understand the fundamental problems in the Soviet Union it did not foresee the transformation of the Soviet Union and most of the "socialist camp” to capitalism.

International Conference (1990)[edit]

"In November, 1990, representatives of the Communist Labor Party of the USNA, the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Communist Party of Turkey met in London. They agreed to publish an Information Bulletin and to actively seek out other parties to participate in this exchange of information.” (from Rally, Comrades! January 1991) The group issued a statement after the meeting which noted, "Today we are entering a qualitatively higher stage in the epoch of social revolution based on profound changes in the productive forces. The delegates discussed the main characteristics of these developments. These included the general aspects of the period of counter-revolution and reaction caused by the collapse of the world socialist system and the disintegration of the world communist movement. These are direct consequences of developments in the Soviet Union, not least its inability to cope with the continuing revolutionization of the productive forces.” One issue of an "International Information Bulletin” was published by the group before the CLP withdrew over political differences and the group disbanded. Throughout its existence the CLP had limited relations with foreign communist parties.

6th Congress – CLP disbands (1993)[edit]

On January 31, 1993, at the Sixth Congress of the CLP the following proposal was unanimously approved: "The Communist Labor Party known as the CLP, founded over Labor Day weekend in 1974, be disbanded and that we move to have the entire organization join organizing committees to create a national organization of revolutionaries.”

This proposal was thoroughly discussed leading up to the 6th Congress. While many members initially had serious questions about the move to disband, they were eventually won over. One of the main arguments was that although the CLP had become respected and admired by many leading activists in the various social movements, the Party had been unable to recruit these people and integrate their activity with an understanding of a strategy and the final goals for the movement. It had become clear that the organizational form of the CLP was not conducive to the further development of the revolutionary process. The "Call for the 6th Party Congress” (Rally, Comrades! Nov. 1992) raised the question, "What is the proper organizational form for revolutionaries in this quantitative stage of the revolution?” The Call states, "… this is not a time of preparation for the seizure of power. This is the moment to organize and politicize the social revolution. This is a time to struggle for the unity and political clarity of the millions who are in the diverse and daily struggle for jobs, health care and the other necessities of their lives. The militants and advanced fighters would join a revolutionary organization that is structured to complete this quantitative stage of development. Such an organization would allow them to maintain a proper relationship with the masses. Conversely, they cannot advance to the next stage of the revolution without such an organization.” The Call also states, "We are not calling for the abandoning of Marxism or one single aspect of its scientific foundation. … We must not lock ourselves into the concept that the proposed organization need be a Party in the traditional sense. If it were a broadly based organization with the goal of power and social reconstruction, it would be a party, if of a ‘different type.’ … Our objective is to be an organization of revolutionaries inseparably connected to the spontaneous movement.” The "Report of the 6th Party Congress” (Rally, Comrades! Jan. 1993) further points out, "We must create a new organization of revolutionaries. The only description we can give of such an organization is that it must be one that will allow us to transfer, in a mass way, the organizational, political and theoretical experience we have accumulated over the past twenty years.”

National Organizing Committee/League of Revolutionaries for a New America (1993)[edit]

In the Jan. 1993 issue of Rally, Comrades! "An Open Letter” calling for a new organization was signed by Marian Kramer, President of the National Welfare Rights Union and General Baker, a UAW member and founder of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. In the same issue of the paper a "Call to form Organizing Committees to establish an organization to educate, organize, and finally lead the masses in the inevitable transformation of our society” was published. It was signed by five activists: Abdul Alkalimat, Nacho Gonzalez, Ethel Long-Scott, John Slaughter and Leona Smith. Also in that issue was a statement by the CLP supporting the Call.

The new organization was initially called the National Organizing Committee and later became the League of Revolutionaries for a New America.

References[edit]

Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin (1998). Detroit: I Do Mind Dying. Haymarket Books, Chicago, IL ISBN 978-1-60846-221-6.

Max Elbaum (2002). Revolution in the Air. Verso, London, England ISBN 1-85984-617-3.