For James: How the CPUSA and People’s World Killed My Comrade and Friend

I met James Raines in 2011 when we both participated in a writing workshop held by the People’s World (online) newspaper. The People’s World, the too often banal and arid grandchild of the Daily Worker, is the official newspaper of the Communist Party, USA. As active members, James and I had come to Chicago to learn how to write effective news stories that would give voice to the voiceless and help spur the cause of revolutionary change. James was unique among the few dozen gathered there. His spark lit a fire in me, his passion was undeniable, and his way with words was electrifying. He was the archetype revolutionary writer and activist.

Today that spark no longer sets fires. On January 5, 2015 James Raines committed suicide after being summarily dismissed from his position at the People’s World. Though unbelievable to those who knew him well, those of us who know the interworking of the Communist Party, USA and the People’s World editing staff, can understand what drove him to his terrible fate. But first, let me tell you about James.

James Raines talked the revolution talk, but walked it too. He was a long time union worker, a union organizer with the Communications Workers of America and a proud member of CWA’s Media Guild. He was also a scholar and sought to educate himself, not to make a buck at another’s expense, but to stop the vicious exploitation of a system he knew all too well. Rather than stay safe in academia, for which he would have no doubt excelled, James committed himself to the cause emancipating the working class through the overthrow of capitalism. He was also quick with a joke and able to quickly raise the spirits of an entire group. He was just what the proletariat needs.

In November of 2014 James was hired with the People’s World to be a labor beat reporter. Besides perhaps his family, getting that gig was one of his proudest accomplishments. He had strived to be an important part of the struggle with the party he believed was best poised to rally the working class to revolution. He was finally able to put his skills with language into form and assist in further organizing and raising the consciousness of his fellow workers. It was truly a dream come true. He was doing just what he wanted to do with the organization he believed in with every bone in his body.

James wrote on a myriad of topics for PW. From his first article about Occupy Saint Louis to Black Friday protests at Wal-Mart stores he showed his skill with every article. Eventually he was center stage for one of, if not the most, important news story of the decade – the protests in Ferguson over the shooting of Michael Brown and the non-prosecution of Officer Darren Wilson. James was in the thick of the protests in the minutes, hours and days after the Grand Jury decision was announced and provided what was, in my estimation, the single best article on Ferguson yet.

Though one must be careful to speak ill of the dead, James’ mistake was his misplaced belief in the CPUSA and the People’s World. Where once the CPUSA was the vanguard party of proletarian revolution – organizing black workers in the 1930’s, pressuring the Roosevelt administration to enact the New Deal during the depression by staging mass strikes and walk outs, and instrumental in the success of the Civil Rights movement (a credit that it is seldom given) – after the fall of the Soviet Union (for which the party received financial support), the infiltration by the FBI’s COINTEL program, and under the leadership of the Stalinist, Khmer Rouge supporting, partyphile Gus Hall, the CPUSA fell into decline. No longer could it claim to be the true representation of the working class.

This position was not assisted in the least by the next generation of party leaders after Hall. Led by Sam Webb, this group – which includes Terry Albano, Joe Sims, John Bachtell and others – has been the most ineffectual in the party’s history, even when it was constantly under attack from corporate media and the FBI. The leadership of the CPUSA in the labor and revolutionary movement is nearly completely lost. Seeing this – though not admitting it and unable to tap into the new revolutionary spirit of the next generation – the party faltered and has gone nowhere.

The only wind in the sails of the CPUSA was a new generation of revolutionary activists, whose experience was not framed by the Cold War, or influenced by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (recall the CPUSA was the basically the mouthpiece for the CPSU in America) but informed by their own experience in post-Cold War, neoliberal, globalized capitalism. For the most part this group had come to the struggle by their own accord, informed by the predation of 21st century capitalism, the seemingly endless spiral of debt from college education (for which they were told was necessary for “good jobs” – i.e. managerial positions), the lack of high paying jobs, and the calamity of the Great Recession. They were invigorated and energized, young and full of potential. But they were not allowed to lead.

The CPUSA, following the outdated structure of a mass party in Russia, split the party based on age – older members as full CPUSA members and younger comrades thrust into the Young Communist League or YCL. This separation was a slap in the face to the younger generation, who though appreciating what they could in the “revolutionary activity” of the leadership, were still constantly thwarted by the leaderships desire to maintain control over the party and its activities. James did his best to straddle this line, sometimes apologizing for the leadership while feeling great solidarity with its more youthful cadre. But nowhere was this stranglehold on power more apparent than at the editorial board of the People’s World.

After our training in 2011 where I first met James, we all went back home to reinvigorate the People’s World (which had recently been forced to go online-only due to its dwindling readership – mostly likely due to its lackluster content) and make it the voice of a new generation of revolutionary criticism. Sadly it was not to be. The editors, Susan Webb, Terry Albano and Joe Sims namely, continued their iron grip on the paper, forcing the experimental next generation into the small pinhole of liberal media, attempting to fashion the PW into something like the New York Times. Like the party platform itself, the People’s World was little more than a liberal sounding box, no real revolutionary zeal to find, but for the musings of one writer. That writer was James Raines.

When he was hired for the People’s World Albano and Sims told him that it was a permanent position. During the interview James told them he already had a ticket for his daughter to come for a once-a-year visit before Christmas. They took no issue with his request noting that family was important. While preparing his fantastic piece for PW James was on the front line in Ferguson, not simply as a journalist, which he surly was, but as the revolutionary activist he had always been.

As his wife Wendy stated to me, “He worked his ass off for them including getting tear gassed [in Ferguson].”

This was not enough for Albano or Sims.

Albano sent James’ Ferguson story back five times stating that it didn’t simply restate what was already being reported in the main stream press, which was apparently what she wanted. James was not one to merely regurgitate news that could be consumed anywhere, instead he wanted to explain what PW is supposed to present to its audience, a unique revolutionary perspective. Hypocritically, Albano, whose articles cover the revolutionary zeal of the likes of Robin Williams and Danny Glover, as well as the ever waste of bandwidth “Today in Labor History” articles, kept sending the article back saying it was just too different than what one could find on television and livestreams each night.

James’ Ferguson article, still retaining that revolutionary perspective, was finally published on December 16, 2014 but would sadly be his last. On Friday January 2nd, James, Ablano, and Sims held a video conference to set up a training event in Chicago like the one he and I had attended those years ago. Instead of constructively working together Albano and Sims took the opportunity to criticize James and his recent work. In the course of the discussion they told him, contrary to when he was hired in November, that his position had been “provisional” and was not going to continue. The pair refused to acknowledge their former recognition of important familial obligations stating that he had never told them about the unpaid vacation ahead of time. They further claimed, like a capitalist boss, that his previously approved vacation was simply “too long.” It is worth noting that from December 22nd, 2014 until January 2nd the PW staff, including Albano and Sims, were out of the office and unable to receive stories that James had been working on. Finally they fed him, again like any capitalist would, an excuse: he hadn’t turned in enough new stories. In reality he had published six stories since his hiring in mid-November, about one each week.

Up against the Communist Party fence, James pleaded with his aggressors. He told them he was willing to involve himself in any kind of training to be better and would do anything to remain in his dream job. Albano and Sims, with no remorse, rudely dismissed him saying simply, “no.” The tragic irony of this moment cannot be overstated: the editorial staff of the People’s World, the newspaper of the Communist Party of the United States treated James like every capitalist he had ever been forced to work for in the past. Instead of the revolutionary solidarity James expected, he was faced with a harsh reality: the Communist Party, USA is a best a fringe, liberal, ineffectual, power monopoly led by old, former-“revolutionaries” with little better to do than run their tiny online newspaper, write their books, and get their checks.

James’ job was never provisional, and there were no legitimate grounds for dismissing him in the manner, speed and heartlessness with which he was forced to endure, if any genuine reason whatsoever. Adding insult to injury, James had taken a pay cut to work for PW because he believed in the cause more than the money. He was a true revolutionary and the CPUSA – within a matter of minutes – destroyed him, dissolved any solidarity with his humanity, and quite simply broke his heart and shattered his will.

On January 5th, 2015, the tragedy that had befallen James and a fundamental component of his being was just too much for him to overcome. He simply could not bear the burden of that most unpleasant fact: the party had failed him, as it had me, and countless other revolutionaries. But instead of placing blame where it lies, with Terri Albano and Joe Sims, James blamed himself. He thought he had failed the party and could not live with the consequences.

But James was wrong; he had not failed the party. No, he had given it years of concerted time and effort, much of it without pay. Instead it was the CPUSA, the YCL, and PW that failed him, their members, writers, readers, activists and all those that may have become involved in the struggle. The CPUSA in its disgraceful actions including what they did to James, shows that it has also failed itself and the proletarian class it claims to serve. They have shot themselves in the foot, in the leg, in the stomach and now their heart, but while the CPUSA limps along, James is dead. The Communist Party of the United States (and its leadership, specifically Terry Albano and Joe Sims) are responsible for his death.

And not a word on People’s World.

Therefore, I encourage the members of the YCL, CPUSA and PW to expel and strip Albano and Sims of their editorial positions (something I doubt they will do), and turn in their own membership cards. If you believe in the struggle, in the cause for which James committed his life, now is the time to act. The leadership of People’s World, and therefore the CPUSA has James’ blood on their hands and it is up to you to stop them. You have nothing to lose but your chains!

In Solidarity with James Raines and the cause for which he gave the full measure of his life,

Kevin Gustafson

Proud former-member of the YCL

1 Comment

  1. For those who wish to criticize the late Gus Hall, there is certainly plenty of fertile ground to till. He was not ,however, a supporter of the Khmer Rouge. My understanding is that the CPUSA ,following the lead of the USSR, was very critical of both the Khmer Rouge and cultural revolution Maoism.


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