COLUMBIA — Jarvis Tyner, executive vice chairman of the Communist Party USA, spoke at MU on Thursday and said the election of President Barack Obama opens the door for the left wing, which he feels has allowed itself to be pushed to the sidelines and overcome with progress-impeding cynicism, to mobilize.
"He's only the beginning," Tyner said. "I think he's a transitional president. I think somebody else is going to come in and take it even further."
* Founded in 1919 in Chicago
* The party's organization is based on democratic centralism, balancing participation and central leadership.
*Its basic units are called clubs,
which range from a few to several dozen members. The party's goal is to
base a club in every neighborhood, shop and industry.
* The party holds a national convention every four years to elect leadership and set basic policy. State organizations also hold their own conventions.
* 1984 was the last election in which the party ran a presidential candidate. Tyner was the party's vice presidential nominee in 1972 and 1976.
* The party views America's capitalist economic structure as the main force oppressing the working class. It pushes for peaceful revolution to replace capitalism with a socialist society.
* The party supports peace, jobs, racial and gender equality, justice, workers rights and socialism. It is against racism, militarization, oppression and exploitation.
* All communists are socialists, but not all socialists are communists. Communists view socialism, a system where major institutions are socially owned, as the stepping stone between capitalism and communism, a condition where there is no need for government because all members of society are provided for and has not yet been realized in its complete form. Some socialists view communists as too radical.
Tyner spoke to an audience of about 70 people at MU's Ellis Auditorium. He focused on the transitional phase he feels the United States is in because of Obama's election.
He said that while the Democratic Party is not without blame, the Republican leadership has been the source of the nation's problems that include an increase in poverty, a ruined economy, the continuation of global warming, impeded scientific research and the destruction of public schools by No Child Left Behind.
Tyner said he and his party are not completely satisfied with the work Obama has done since taking office, listing the need to withdraw troops more quickly from Iraq, for initiatives to end nuclear weapons and to re-establish trading relations with Cuba.
However, Tyner praised the public option in the recently passed House health care bill, saying Americans need to put massive pressure on the Senate to pass the legislation with the option intact. He also felt there should be public options for the auto and housing industries and for student loans.
He said the next step for the Communist Party USA is to move more into the mainstream.
"We're not ready to run for president, but we are ready to run for City Council, school boards. And we're going to do that more," Tyner said.
MU senior Alaina Boyett, who attended the event, said she was already
familiar with much of the material Tyner discussed because of a Marxism class she's enrolled in. She liked that
he made a point to separate the Communist Party and ideals from what
she felt they are associated with in the mass media.
"I thought he was fair in his criticism of Obama and the right-wing talking heads," Boyett said.
MU's Karl Marx Reading Group, which meets to discuss communist texts and how their arguments apply to political action today, organized the event because members were interested in hosting a speaker. Leadership in St. Louis suggested Tyner.
"I thought Jarvis
would be a good spokesman for what we're all about because he's been
fighting for social justice for so long and a party member for so
long," said Jack Buthod, the group's president.
Buthod, who joined the group as a sophomore, said it has been around for a few years but wanted to bring a guest speaker in to draw attention and generate new membership. Although he identifies himself as a Marxist, he said not everyone in the group does.
"I'd say it's definitely a mix. There's multiple communists in the group, but there's also people more interested in talking about the ideas from different perspectives," he said.
A group of seven MU students set up a mock-gulag in Speakers Circle on Thursday evening as a reaction to the Tyner event, a demonstration referencing the Soviet labor camps used to imprison political dissenters as well as criminals.Gulags were at their most prominent during Joseph Stalin's reign. One protester dressed up as a Soviet guard and held three others captive in a white metal canopy surrounded by barbed wire. Others handed out flyers and spoke to passersby.
One protester held a cardboard sign that said, "This is the Communism Jarvis Tyner is promoting."
group hoped the demonstration's proximity to Ellis Auditorium would
attract the attention of attendees of Tyner's speech and lead them to come
ask questions, although they said they were protesting
communism in general and not Tyner specifically.
MU senior Eric Hobbs, who played the role of guard dressed in a forest green button-down shirt and trousers and a Soviet-style hat with earflaps, decided to protest when he saw a flier for Tyner's speech on campus Monday.
"I thought communism's message was going to be spread, and I thought it would be good to spread the message communism isn't that good," Hobbs said, who believes the governing philosophy leads to government abuse of power and oppression.
"The main goal of the protest is to most importantly remind people of the damage of communism, what can happen when the government has too much power," Hobbs said, giving the examples of the Soviet Union and Communist China.
MU sophomore Megan Roberts organized the mock-gulag, modeling the demonstration after one at Washington University in St. Louis, which students held Monday to commemorate the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Roberts, who was out of town Thursday night, said she anticipated that Tyner would either talk about the evils of capitalism or the glories of communism and wanted the protest to remind attendees, as well as Tyner himself, of the oppression and deaths caused by the philosophy.
"Communism is a very idealistic thing, and I think people lose sight of its evils and what it's done to humanity," Roberts said.