Much of what I write is exploratory. It is a work in progress; an ongoing conversation with myself as well as readers of this blog.
And there’s an explanation for this: I came to radicalism and the Communist Party in the early 1970s, but I grew up politically in the last two decades of the 20th century and the first decade of this one. During that relatively short stretch of “historical” time, two signal events took place that disrupted my safe political space. One was the rise of right wing extremism, neoliberalism, and capitalist globalization at the beginning of the 1980s; the other was the implosion of Soviet socialism a decade later.
The resulting sea change in the direction of world politics and the accompanying severe contraction of class and democratic possibilities caught me – and many others – by surprise. After all, I was radicalized at at time when the world seemed nearly infinitely malleable and relentlessly marching to a better future. “Socialism in our time” didn’t seem like wishful thinking. So when the forward march of history was abruptly halted and Soviet socialism went belly up with barely a whimper, I felt compelled to reexamine many of the assumptions and core ideas that had framed my thinking and activity.
It was too much of a stretch to think that my old understandings of marxism, marxist methodology, and the historical process could explain this unexpected and sudden recasting of political possibility and the world.
Or to put it differently, in the face of a profound and historic defeat, I concluded that the losing side – of which I was a small part – would make a big mistake if it attributed that solely to the strength of its opposition or to “class traitors” from within its ranks.
Instead it seemed obvious to me that it was imperative to interrogate the assumptions, understandings, and practices that guided me as well as the larger movements of which I was a part. To do otherwise seemed profoundly unrealistic, undialectical, and non-marxist. And that continues to be my strongly held opinion.
I learned from playing basketball that if your opponent beats the hell out of you (and that happened to me more than once – the only championship team I ever played on was in 8th grade), then you better make some big adjustments before your next game. To do nothing is to invite another rout.
So I read or re-read Marx and others writing in the Marxist tradition. But I also read the work of many others – Martin Luther King, for example – who come from other traditions and experiences.
In the course of this rethink (and especially over the 14 years that I was the National Chair of the CPUSA before stepping down in 2014), I like to believe that I gained new insights on matters of theory, politics, history, culture, and marxism as well as jettisoned old notions that had left me so flatfooted in a changing world.
On this blog I will continue, albeit with my obvious limitations, that endeavor. And in doing so I hope it assists in some small way the further growth and maturation of today’s movements and of a new, vibrant, non-sectarian 21st century left. Both are necessary if we are to save our fragile planet and make life livable, free, and joyous for all.
– Sam Webb