CHICAGO — America’s Communist Party concluded its national convention seemingly united on two themes: that they are a significant ally of the increasingly powerful left wing of the Democratic Party and that a viable future remains for the Communist Party USA.
As to the question of whether the CPUSA emerges in control or is absorbed into the broader socialism movement peppering the platforms of Democrats running for president in 2020, officials expressed confidence that the red star of their party will continue blazing.
In the meantime, all goals should be subsumed by one: defeating President Trump, CPUSA Chairman John Bachtell said in his keynote address.
“The aim is to oust Trump and the Republican Senate majority, defend the Democratic House majority, and break the GOP domination of governorships and state legislatures, which includes supporting candidates from their ranks, including communists,” Mr. Bachtell said.
Since the days of Vladimir Lenin, still revered as the father of Bolshevism, Communists have reveled in the vitriol they hurl at political opponents — and Mr. Bachtell did not disappoint.
“He has no morality, no heart and no soul,” he told the roughly 300 delegates who gathered for the party’s national convention. “Trump is a gangster masquerading as president.”
In a wide-ranging interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Bachtell reiterated that the modern Communist Party is not seeking a violent revolution.
“I feel very strongly it has to be peaceful, it has to be accomplished politically,” he said.
Such views appear to clash with “The Communist Manifesto,” the 1848 political pamphlet by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels that explicitly calls for the “violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie.”
With a rueful smile, Mr. Bachtell acknowledged that there are hard-liners in the party who would relish some broken glass and bloodshed. These devout Communists think the current line is squeamish, but they stand well apart from the majority, who instead see a unique opportunity, he said.
“We’re growing — not like the Democratic Socialists of America by any means — but our rate of growth has doubled since Trump got elected,” Mr. Bachtell said without revealing specific figures for membership and funding.
“The party needs to fit in to the more developed political scene, and we have some unique things we bring to the table,” he told The Times. “The working class can’t do it alone. It needs allies, and we bring a direction, a unity, tools for the movement.”
Just how much the movement seeks those tools is unclear. Despite the enormous gains of the notion of “socialism” among the national electorate, particularly among the younger set, the idea of “communism” carries an aura of violence, totalitarianism and history.
Mr. Bachtell acknowledged that image, which he and scores of convention delegates were at pains to dispel this weekend.
To be sure, the delegates could not offer a current or historical example of communism that had not degenerated into a human rights and economic disaster, but scores of them, along with Mr. Bachtell, said they do not see themselves as any continuation of Soviet Russia’s Josef Stalin, Cambodia’s Pol Pot or Peru’s Shining Path.
“The perception that communism equates totalitarianism is still prevalent and a pressure pushing the party to the margins,” Mr. Bachtell said. “We are still perceived by many as illegal or tied to the Soviet Union and past models of socialism. Many of our members don’t feel comfortable being public. Some labor and community leaders and elected officials fear publicly associating with us.”
Mr. Bachtell is not seeking another term as chairman, and party leaders elected at the convention will choose the next one. He was far from the only delegate emphasizing a disavowal of violence and of lust for totalitarian power.
“I do not see it that way, no,” said Earchiel Johnson, 32, the shop steward and an information technology chief at The People’s World, the website that has replaced the party’s longtime newspaper, The Daily Worker.
Mr. Johnson said he believes any sort of shining future with communism in the U.S. would be new. He sees it as an evolution as much as a revolution.
As the convention unfolded, many older delegates rose and spoke to the room and younger delegates in what they clearly hoped were evocative messages of the party’s strength, hitting on the Communist Party USA’s centennial this year.
“We have fought for 100 years now against the most powerful ruling class in history which tried to destroy us,” said Jarvis Tyner, a New York Communist who twice ran for vice president on the party ticket in the 1970s and chaired its centennial committee. “That is a remarkable thing.”
Despite the party’s longevity, uncertainty cloaked the members at the convention. While the delegates were cognizant that socialism’s surging popularity has not spilled over into outright communism, most of them seemed certain that the final victory over the hated “capitalist exploiters” would come only with the party having a seat at the table.
Mr. Bachtell, for instance, made it clear he was operating on the capitalist principle that past performance is no guarantee of future results.
“We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for,” he said in his keynote speech. “And we’re the ones who will lead the fight to expand democratic rights and save the planet. And we’re the ones who will bring into being a radically new kind of society free of exploitation, hate and inequality.”
• James Varney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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