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Interview with Arnold Becchetti

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It seems that younger people who are attracted to Left politics today are drawn more to the politics of anarchism than to the politics of socialism. Why do you think that is?
Interview by J.C. Myers

Issue #65, January 2004


Interview with Arnold Becchetti, National Committee Member and Former Organizational Secretary for the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) on 22 November 2003, in San Francisco, CA.


BS: Where would you draw some of the dividing lines between the CPUSA and some of the other organizations on the US Left?

AB: The biggest has to do not with what we say we're aiming for, but with the attitudes toward current struggles. You can't build socialism without taking into account where workers are now. For some who are considered to be on the Left, there is in fact a contempt for workers — in the sense that they are preaching to workers and not involved in their struggles; or sneering at them, because they may not be in the lead on certain questions at a given moment.

The fact is, we have a number of our members who went through what we call the "Ultra Left" and came to our party.

BS: A number of the European Communist Parties went through a tremendous amount of change and reorganization in the 1980s and 1990s. Has the Communist Party in the US gone through similar changes or not?

AB: We did it differently, let's put it that way. Of course there were pressures for change. I happen to have been in 1975 the representative of our party to the Italian Party Congress where they made the change to Eurocommunism. But that whole concept of Eurocommunism or African communism is against the basic thrust of history. History says we're going to be united worldwide — workers of the world unite. It can't be on the basis of individual countries and that is an error in our view.

I think they made a big mistake and you can see the result is disastrous. The Italian Communist Party, for instance, was a huge party — very strong — and it has split into several parties. The French Communist Party — similar problem. The Spanish party, the British party. They gave in, in our view, to the wrong kind of pressures. Rather than confront these pressures that were facing the working class and the people, they gave in to certain ideological pressures of the imperialists and a certain degree of even excusing your own imperialism, which is totally wrong. So we have continued to fight for an internationalist approach.

The Greek party has been hosting an annual get-together of Communist Parties of the world and we participate in that so we can begin to have some exchange and see what the problems are and how we can better work together against the common class enemy.

BS: How do you view the shift that seems to have been taking place from an older model of parties or formal organizations to more loosely organized networks and independent activists without any connection to organizations or parties?

AB: It's a complicated question. Part of it lies in the fact, of course, that our party has been under almost constant attack, which escalated sharply with the Cold War. The arrest of our leadership — 125 of our leaders were arrested and jailed in the McCarthy period. Later, that law was found to be unconstitutional, but the damage was done and it gave rise to two things on the Left. Those who wanted to do something but were afraid of being labeled 'communists' tried to work outside of a relationship with the Party in any way — it even gave rise to some anti-communist Left. And those who had differences with us and tried to take advantage of the sharp attack on the Party itself — which is an unprincipled position.

And we had some problems within the Party. There are always struggles that take place within the Party over the right path for this moment and so forth. And we try to correct when we find we've gone in the wrong direction. But sometimes that has led to unnecessarily sharp polemics within the Party, rather than stepping back and saying, "Look, this is what we think, but life is going to decide who is correct."

Because of this attack we were not able to maintain as large an organization as we used to have, and therefore, we were absent from many of these struggles. When they were looking for leadership, we weren't there. Not because of what we wanted, but because of the objective situation.

We've begun to overcome that now. In the more recent period, we've developed increasingly good relations with the labor movement — not just in this area, but in New York, Cleveland, Chicago, Seattle.

BS: It seems that younger people who are attracted to Left politics today are drawn more to the politics of anarchism than to the politics of socialism. Why do you think that is?

AB: That's a very good question — and we're cognizant of it. Anarchism is an expression of militancy within the labor movement, but in the ideological framework of capitalism. It doesn't see the need for the workers to be in charge of the government and have a government. I can say that, because my parents were anarchists. My mother knew Elizabeth Gurley Flynn from the struggle around the Sacco-Vanzetti case. Sacco and Vanzetti were family friends.

For some, I think it's, again, a way of evading anti-communism. The other side of it is, though, that many of the youth today — they don't have any fear of anti-communism. And we'll be able to work with these people, because they're honest; they're seeking. And I'm sure a number of them will continue to join our party or the Young Communist League, which is growing very rapidly in its size and influence.

BS: Where does the US Left need to go next? How does it begin to recover?

AB: Well, you know, there's something somewhat similar in the twenties. It took a very strong struggle on the issues confronting the working class at that time: unemployment, the need for unemployment insurance, Social Security — which we were deeply involved with. It's that kind of a moment again, but — obviously — in a different setting. You don't have to build Social Security, you've got to defend it now. The same with Medicare.

The forms of racism are not as clear as they were at that point. Then it was blatant. We still have blatant expressions, but that isn't the main problem today — it's the more "subtle" forms.

I think it has to come from an understanding that the working class is the key force to liberate humanity from capitalism and imperialism. It is a special product of capitalism; it is born out of capitalism. Not everybody has recognized that in the past and they were able, for instance, to keep the labor movement and the environmental movement at loggerheads. Well, Seattle put an end to that and there is a growing recognition that there is more in common than in difference.

There is growing recognition by other movements of the need for the labor movement to assume its rightful place at the head of the march of the people. That's the only way that everybody will win. Labor can't do it by itself — but it has to be the central element. That means organized labor. A single worker has no strength at all — only when they unite do they have any strength.

So it's still that kind of a struggle, but increasingly it has to take into account the international globalization of capitalism that is happening and to fight for a working class and people's globalization. You can't escape globalization — that's an objective process. But who is in charge and for what end — that's the key struggle.


Related interviews by J.C. Myers in this issue:


J.C. Myers is a member of the Bad Subjects Production Team.

Copyright © 2004 by J.C. Myers. All rights reserved.