This title originates with Paul Robeson (1898-1976), and is a question he asked whilst facing hostile (and racist) interrogation at the hands of the House of UnAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC) on June 12th, 1956. As audio recordings of this encounter is available within the public domain, anyone with a computer can witness this event. Of course, US citizens were being illegally oppressed for holding private and personal political views. This was a particularly fascistic time within the US, which saw the prejudice and bigotry normally reserved for non-Whites, being extended into the White community. With the US military being defeated in Korea by North Korean and Communist Chinese forces in 1953, and the execution of the Jewish-American Rosenberg’s (also in 1953), Americans of any ethnicity had reason to be genuinely fearful. Losing one’s life, liberty and freedom was the norm for US citizens from 1938 until 1956 – when the activities of the HUAC was itself declared illegal. Paul Robeson was an African-American – a Black man – the son of a former slave who had been well-educated and (according to his autobiography) had become radicalised into the world of leftwing politics whilst living in the UK during the 1930’s. This was the time when the Communist Party and the Labour Party were considered synonymous, or at least people viewed Labour as the electoral arm of the Communist Party (despite Labour never officially recognising the Communist Party or associating with it in any observable manner). This leads us back to the question of ‘What is the Communist Party?’ This is not an easy question to answer, and I think even the most committed of Marxist-Leninists would find it difficult to answer!
In the case of Paul Robeson – a qualified lawyer – the question resonates with a hidden, far-reaching and penetrating meaning (rather like a Ch’an gongan found within Chinese Buddhism). He is suspected by HUAC of using an assumed name, through which he is registered as a Member of the Communist Party (of the US). Paul Robeson ignores the direct question, and instead exposes the ignorance through which the individual members of HUAC are operating. In so doing, Paul Robeson provides a ‘glowing’ account of the Communist Party, and of individual Communists – they are the first – he says – to die in the war against fascism (he knows this, because he has been to their graves). In this surreal atmosphere it is clear that Paul Robeson is the ‘Communist’ who is nobly confronting the ‘fascism’ of HUAC, and I think by the end of this encounter, the members of HUAC know this as well! Something very interesting is happening in this relatively short dialogue. Paul Robeson asks ‘what is the Communist Party?’, and proceeds to answer his own enquiry through a practical demonstration that conveys his point, but avoids the damning linguistic cues through which HUAC is seeking to condemn and imprison him. Paul Robeson answers the question in every way accept in the manner that would see him thrown into prison for his political beliefs. In so doing, he even manages to expose a wealthy union leader on the side of HUAC, as an out and out racist. Inshort, Paul Robeson demonstrates the evolutionary and dialectical superiority of the ‘Communist’ as he-she confronts the ignorance and regression of the best that the capitalism system had to offer.
What is not openly conveyed, is the literal explanation of the Communist Party (there is only one in the world, regardless of the many factions that purport to speak for the working class), namely that of a vanguard party comprised of all the workers, which is led by the most progressive and evolved amongst the toilers, who are assisted by the petty bourgeois and the bourgeoisie. The Communist Party is the product of evolved consciousness within the bodies of the workers, who are ensnared within the capitalist system and oppressed by it on all sides. This environmental pressure, although full of suffering, disaster and despair, nevertheless provides the psychological and physical discipline that transforms the peasantry into the proletariat. Workers are ‘workers’ because their habits begin to reflect the monotonous functionality of the machines they operate over long hours, on a daily basis (in the factories). These conditions lead to a certain regimentation of the peasantry so that it loses its casual and ‘natural’ attitude to life, and becomes something akin to a soldier whose every aspect of life is controlled and subordinated to the whims of the predatory capitalist system. The problem for the capitalists is that the nightmarish situation they have established to squeeze-out the maximum profit from the labour of the workers, are the very same conditions that possess the potential to cause these very same workers to become ‘self-aware’ and whist abandoning the inverted thinking of feudal religion, throughing-off the strictures of ‘false consciousness’, and actively seeking the evolution of society into a state of Socialism (and eventually Communism where the State has withered away). Paul Robeson says all this through his careful responses, but he says it in essence and in demonstration, and not in a literal fashion that would have spelt his doom. This is yet again a measure of this man’s true genius.
The Communist Party is not a bourgeois political party that panders to short-lived and egotistical whims, fads and prejudices within capitalist society, but is rather an evolutionary consequence of the historical, material and dialectical forces across the planet. People may think that they ‘choose’ to be Communists, but in reality, a Communist is an evolved human-being who has psychologically and physically entered a more advanced stage of human evolutionary development. The oppressive nature of capitalism, or the pressure of feudal or primitive society leads directly to this shift into a Socialist being actively seeking the upgrading of humanity into a Communist expression. The Communist Party is the active depository of the sum of all the progressive evolutionary forces that comprise the inner and outer life of humanity. It is not a bourgeois contrivance, matter of opinion, or one entity amongst many, it is a fact of life like gravity or light, etc. One may be ready to understand this, or indeed not yet ready to understand this, but the direction of travel is always toward Communism (and the Communist Party), and not away from it. Ahistorical movements such as fascism are regressive, destructive and attempt to prevent evolutionary history from unfolding. The idea of Communism is fought within such societies by killing the physical body of those who understand and accept this reality. This is an error of huge proportions that tries to stop collective evolution by killing individuals. The killing of individuals (even in huge numbers) cannot and does not ultimately prevent the direction of socio-economic evolution, although it can delay or alter the cause of immediate manifestations. Capitalism can always muster the destructive forces of reaction to pull-down those movements which are attempting to evolve out of the pit of oppression, and as Marx observes, there will be advances and retreats, but in the end the forces of reaction will eventually lose their motivating power and historical relevance. The Communist Party can be defined as a distinct political party (within bourgeois society), but in reality, it represents the massive forces of proletarian evolutionary development that permeate everywhere and which cannot be stopped even by the strongest fascistic armies! Ironically, as the members HUAC were attempting to expose and punish Paul Robeson for being a Communist, the progressive forces of humanity’s evolution were already permeating their minds and bodies!