“Keynote Address, 27th CPUSA National Convention” first appeared on CPUSA.net on July 6, 2001. Read it on CPUSA.net.
On behalf of the outgoing National Committee, I want to thank the office of the Mayor of Milwaukee and the representatives of the progressive community here for your greetings to our Convention. It seems especially appropriate to hold our Convention in a city whose socialist, progressive, and working-class movements stretch back into the 19th century.
I also want to thank the University of Wisconsin for allowing us to use your beautiful facilities.
And at the outset, I want to thank everyone – and especially our Arrangements Committee of Pam, Tina, and Heather – who unstintingly gave time and energy to organizing this Convention. Your tireless efforts, I’m sure, will allow all of us to enjoy what will be a splendid Convention.
Again, our deepest thanks to all of you who labored so hard.
It is a great honor for me to extend a heartfelt welcome and a warm embrace to everyone gathered in this hall.
To the delegates to the 27th Convention of our Party, I say, “Let’s get to work and make this Convention a memorable and historic one – one that future generations of communists will refer to as a turning point in our quest to speak to, influence, and help unite tens of millions in the spirit of struggle and socialism.”
To our coalition partners and guests, I say that we are extremely happy that you are with us and look forward to your participation in every aspect of our Convention. The political insights gleaned from your experience in a range of social movements and struggles will add greatly to our deliberations and weigh on our decisions.
To the Young Communist League and their guests, I say, “Bring your militant enthusiasm and keen political thinking to our Convention, but don’t stop there. For we are expecting you to nudge a few of us onto the dance floor Saturday night when this hall rocks with salsa, hip hop, and rock and roll. Who knows, a few of us – present speaker excluded – might even surprise you with our grace and rhythm on the dance floor.”
To the generation of Communist leaders and activists whose commitment to our nation’s working class spanned nearly the full length of the 20th century, I say that your continuing commitment to the good fight is a source of immeasurable inspiration to all of us. And with profound appreciation and respect we salute you.
Notably absent from our Convention and still dearly missed is the leader of our Party for nearly the last half of the 20th century – Gus Hall. Gus’ mighty heart stopped beating less than a year ago. At the time, we said a fond farewell to Gus, but from this rostrum let me say that we still miss the razor sharp intellect and unyielding working class attitude of this “Man of Steel.” We will carry on in his spirit and the spirit of every communist leader and activist of his generation.
Finally, to the distinguished representatives of the world communist movement, I say, “Welcome, Welcome, Welcome.” Words can’t express how much we appreciate your presence here. Suffice it to say that your participation brings to the foreground our inescapable duty to combat our own imperialism, whose bellicose, anti-democratic, and exploitative policies threaten the peace and rain death and destruction on the world’s peoples. Would you please stand for a rousing welcome from all the delegates and guests?
While US communists have to settle accounts with our own capitalist class, we are also of the firm opinion that unity of class and people’s struggles on a global level is a fundamental requirement for victory at the present political juncture.
For this reason we are participating with new vigor and resolve in the growing interactions of the world communist movement. The new forms of interaction and unity are more than a good idea.
They acquire new meaning owing to the new level of capitalist globalization and aggression on the one hand and the mounting all-people’s fightback on the other hand.
These interactions don’t substitute for broader forms of labor and all people’s unity against imperialist aggression, and, by the same token, broader forms of unity do not replace the unity of communists worldwide. The two are mutually reinforcing. The forms of interaction within the communist movement will necessarily be different from the experience of the past, and, like everything else, have to be fitted to present-day conditions and political sensibilities.
At any rate, US communists will continue to make whatever modest contribution we can to the cohesion of the communist movement.
A PARTY CONVENTION
A Convention is a crowning moment in the life of a Communist Party. It is the highest deliberative and decision-making body in our Party’s structure. Unlike the conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties, our Convention doesn’t aim to showcase a few leaders, but rather to be a model of working-class democracy, of thoughtful and comradely discussion, and of democratic decision-making.
Hopefully, my keynote, which went through two discussions in the National Board, will get us off on the right, or should I say, left track.
I should warn you, however, that my keynote is not comprehensive in its scope. To my great regret, after about an hour or so, I will be unceremoniously ushered off stage even if I am still talking, thanks to a decision of my comrades on the National Board. So not wishing to suffer the humiliation of being dragged off this podium in front of all of you convinces me to stay on time.
What I don’t include in my keynote will be contained in the special reports of several national leaders of our Party. Taken together they should provide a rounded political analysis of this moment.
Over the next three days, delegates in this hall will address the main political and economic questions facing our nation and world. We will make an estimate of the scope and intensity of class and people’s struggles against the Bush administration and the ultra right. We will offer our strategic and tactical views about how to raise the struggle to a higher level. We will discuss the ways and means of enlarging the Party, particularly among the organized sector of our working class. We will elect a new National Committee.
And not least, we will both reaffirm the theoretical foundations of our Party’s outlook and issue a call to further develop revolutionary Marxism in a creative way.
The founders of scientific socialism never viewed their theoretical innovations, immense as they were, as anything but a foundation for further analysis of a wide range of problems. They appreciated the dynamic nature of world capitalism and insisted on creatively developing and adjusting their thinking in line with a changing world.
Never did they attempt to shoehorn facts to theory. In fact, they were suspicious of explanations that drained the historical process of variation and that resisted the modification of tactical, strategic and theoretical concepts under any circumstances.
Such an approach to theory takes on a special urgency in light of the new questions facing the international working-class movement.
At the same time, we should also bring our own nation’s radical tradition to bear on these new questions of theory and practice. Two days ago our nation celebrated the 225th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Our revolution was on the front end of a wave of bourgeois democratic revolutions that stretched over the full span of the next century. Lenin described our country’s war of independence as a “really revolutionary war.”
The revolution didn’t fulfill all of its promise and potential. Freedom and democratic rights were extended, but only partially and incompletely. Vast categories of people, namely Native Americans, slaves, women, and the propertyless, were excluded. And even now, more than two centuries later, the fruits of the tree of liberty are not equally shared by all Americans. Nevertheless, our nation’s revolution constitutes a historic milestone in the unending struggle for freedom. Its ideals, enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments, have inspired countless struggles for universal freedom.
In fact, the past 225 years have been filled with heroic struggles of our people trying, sometimes in the face of what seemed like insurmountable odds, to enlarge the boundaries of and give new meanings to freedom and liberty. And it wasn’t polite society, but rather what polite society called the rabble, the mob, the undeserving poor, the vulgar, the working stiffs who have been the real authors of democracy and democratic rights.
We draw inspiration and political insights form these struggles, much like revolutionary movements in other countries draw from their own revolutionary and democratic past.
Like Tom Paine, we say, “Let us begin the world anew.”
Like Frederick Douglass, we say, “Power concedes nothing without a struggle.”
Like Sojourner Truth, we say, “Ain’t I a woman?”
Like Sitting Bull, we say, “Separate we are nothing, together we are all.”
Like the indomitable John Brown, we say, “You may dispose of me very easily; I am nearly disposed of now; but this question is still to be settled – this Negro question I mean – the end of that is not yet.”
Like Susan B. Anthony, we say, “Give us suffrage and we’ll give you socialism.”
Like Gene Debs, we say, “While there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it, while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
Like our own Rebel Girl, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and the striking women workers in Lawrence in 1912, we say, “Give us bread, but give us roses too.”
Like Mother Jones, we say, “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”
Like our comrade Woody Guthrie, we say, “This land is your land, this land is my land.”
Like the volunteers of the Lincoln Brigade, we say, “They shall not pass.”
Like comrade W.E. B. Dubois, we say, “Capitalism cannot reform itself … No universal selfishness can bring social good to all.”
Like Paul Robeson, we say, “[T]o be free … to walk the good American earth, to be equal citizens, to live without fear, to enjoy the fruits of our toil, to give our children every opportunity in life – that dream which we have held so long in our hearts is today the destiny that we hold in our hands.”
Like Cesar Chavez, we say, “Viva la causa, Viva la huelga, Sí se puede.”
Like Rosa Parks, we say, “I’m not moving to the back of the bus.”
Like Henry Winston, we say, “They cannot steal our vision.”
Like Gus Hall, we say, “It takes a fight to win.”
And like the great revolutionary democrat Martin Luther King, we say, “Let freedom ring.”
This is our culture. It’s a culture that we should love and take pride in. We should not allow this rich heritage of struggle to be demagogically appropriated by the extreme right nor permit it to be sanitized and stripped of its thunder by the ruling class.
Living in the center of US imperialism, we have to be ever vigilant against expressions of great nation arrogance. And we are. On the other hand, we should not be dismissive of our country’s democratic history and culture. There is so much that is heroic and noble in our nation’s past and present that such sentiments are inappropriate and politically counterproductive.
The great revolutionary Bulgarian communist and patriot Georgi Dimitrov once said:
“We Communists are the irreconcilable opponents, in principle, of bourgeois nationalism in all of its forms. But we are not supporters of national nihilism, and should never act as such. The task of educating workers and all working people in the spirit of proletarian internationalism is one of the fundamental tasks of every Communist Party. But anyone who thinks that this permits him, or even compels him, to sneer at all national sentiments of the broad masses of working people is far from being a genuine Bolshevik, and has understood nothing of the teaching of Lenin on the national question.” (United Front Against War and Fascism)
This is good advice!
At any rate, we hope to conduct this three-day political conversation in an atmosphere that is democratic and hospitable to a full expression of the views of all delegates and guests alike.
More than an abstract concern for democratic norms and rules motivates this insistence on the democratic nature of our Convention. A democratic atmosphere is the best way to make the most rounded and accurate assessments of complicated political and economic developments.
No less important, a democratically-organized Convention allows every delegate to become a stakeholder in our policies and our great Party. It creates the best conditions for a united party of mass action. And in the end, that’s how we want to leave this Convention – raring to go, with more bounce to our step, and, above all, shoulder to shoulder. Do you agree?
THE NEW ECONOMY
Comrades, it wasn’t that long ago that the apologists of capitalism extolled, with a zeal almost worthy of an evangelical preacher, the good news of the “new economy.”
Thanks to the revolution in information, communications, and transportation, we were told, the days of rising prices, slow growth, and cyclical downturns that plagued the US economy in earlier times were a thing of the past.
Indeed, out of the ashes of the old economy, a “new economy,” it was said, had arisen. And apparently by magic, for no one was able to offer a plausible explanation for this new phenomenon.
In this “new economy,” long-term productivity slowdown and unemployment were both vanquished, inflation was tamed, and nasty cyclical ups and downs were overcome.
The soaring of stock and bond prices to unheard of levels was seen as the most obvious sign that US capitalism had entered an era of nearly limitless possibilities. Any concerns about speculative excess and bubbles on Wall Street were patronizingly dismissed as the tired views of some outworn thinker, hopelessly stuck in an earlier period.
The only flaw with all this is that eventually reality asserted itself. The economic laws of motion of capitalist society, which Marx so brilliantly uncovered long ago, rained on the parade of the “new economy” and dot-com crowd.
Boom gave way to slowdown. Investment in hi-tech and manufacturing dried up. Profit expectations dimmed. Unemployment began to creep up. And the consumer price index that measures inflation was traveling north, while the stock market was plunging southward. By the time the market reached a point of unstable equilibrium a trillion dollars of value had been lost. Don’t you feel for these Internet billionaires and multi-millionaires!?
But this precipitous fall of stock prices is more than a passive mirror of a faltering economy. It measurably aggravates the economic crisis. Just as the debt-driven financial bubble on Wall Street was a major stimulant to the longest expansion in this century, the bursting of the bubble will considerably worsen the economy’s slide on the downside of the economic cycle.
How bad will economic conditions get? We don’t know exactly. But we do know that they continue to worsen as we speak. The establishment media would like us to believe that the cyclical downturn is only a momentary blip in an otherwise healthy economy. But this is an instance of the wish getting far ahead of the reality.
A recent issue of The Economist quotes Lawrence Summers as saying that the present day economic cycle will more likely mirror the cyclical patterns of the pre- rather than the post-World War II world. In other words, the downturns may well be longer and steeper.
The present weakness in our economy, moreover, coincides with a slowdown in the world economy and an energy crisis. Both could worsen the economic situation in this country considerably, particularly if war breaks out in the Middle East. More and more, capitalism is an integrated world economic system, thereby bringing about a closer synchronization of economic crises on a global level.
The unfolding economic crisis, combined with the right wing anti-democratic offensive, will bring enormous economic hardship to tens of millions, and especially working class and minority women, racially and nationally oppressed people, and immigrant workers.
Making matters worse, many forms of relief have been eliminated during the last decade. Consequently, the grimmest features of a capitalist economic crisis – homelessness, hunger, dire poverty, family crises – will reappear on a much broader scale. Elementary survival will be a daily concern of millions of people.
What kind of White House and Congress allows tens of millions of people to go to bed hungry at night? No person, and especially no child, should be ill fed, ill housed, ill clothed, ill schooled and ill cared for. Do you agree?
Clearly, we can’t wait for the crisis to worsen before we act. We must respond now, take initiatives now, join with others now, and struggle now. But I’ll say more about that later.
THE GLOBAL ECONOMY
Notwithstanding the claims of its proponents, economic globalization is accompanied by fierce exploitation, economic instability, and crises. In its wake, problems of vast dimensions have arisen – AIDS, poverty, hunger, debt bondage, labor migration, global warming, marginalization of whole regions and continents, and the heightening of national and racial oppression.
Consider for a moment the AIDS crisis. In Africa alone, 17 million men, women, and children have died and another 25 million are infected with the HIV virus. One would think that given the deadly and devastating impact of this killer disease that the world community would respond on an emergency basis.
But that hasn’t happened. So the question is why? Suffice it to say that the AIDS crisis in Africa and elsewhere is not only a health problem, but also a problem of political economy, a problem of racist oppression, a problem of capitalist globalization, and a problem of imperialism’s utter inhumanity. This Convention should strongly condemn the Bush administration for the meager resources that it has pledged to the AIDS crisis.
The contemporary global economy is not an arena of freedom and free exchange, but rather of coercion and unequal power with a few nations and powerful transnational corporations, like General Electric, Microsoft, and Citicorp, sitting at the top, and the vast majority of nations and people struggling for survival.
Despite all the hype about the magic of the market, the structure of the global economy is not the outcome of some inevitable, seamless and pure economic process. Instead, it is fraught with contradiction: winners and losers, crises and struggles – all of which have a bearing on the overall trajectory of economic globalization.
In fact, the evolution of the global economy is as much a political process as an economic one. Capitalism follows general laws of development to be sure, but these laws operate in a particular political and economic context and are modified to one degree or another by the particular distribution of political and economic power among competing classes.
We would make a huge mistake if we neatly separated the economic substructure of the global economy from the politics of capitalist globalization. The transnational corporations, which are the main structural underpinning of the global economy, don’t walk up to a line separating economics from politics and say, “We can’t go any further; politics is for others.”
To the contrary, they control and utilize the state apparatus and supranational organizations like the International Monetary Fund – not to mention their own economic might – to structure the objective process of economic internationalization in their own selfish interests.
In fact, the pronounced tendency in the political sphere toward reaction, fiscal discipline, and violence in our own country is closely connected to the needs and pressures of a global economy dominated by huge concentrations of economic power. It’s not small town and rural America, but rather the most reactionary sections of capital that are the architect and driving force behind the lean and aggressive role of the state.
Moreover, with the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade ago, there is no counterweight to the aggressive tendencies of US imperialism. Feeling unrestrained and triumphant, US imperialism let its dogs out.
Somewhat to the surprise of the U.S. ruling class, however, a powerful protest movement has arisen in response to this new global configuration of political and economic power. This new movement has no single center. It is multi-layered and contains many political tendencies. Its demands and forms of struggle are wide-ranging and radical. And it is developing somewhat spontaneously, which has both positive and negative aspects to it.
Nearly all the currents in this movement see the transnational corporations and supranational organizations as the main cause of the crises associated with globalization. Some go further and point to the system of capitalism itself.
There is no shortage of issues around which millions can be mobilized. Blocking the Free Trade of the Americas Agreement, making child and sweatshop labor illegal, protecting the world’s rain forests and food supply, defending the land and cultural rights of indigenous peoples, abolishing the debt of the developing countries, and de-militarizing the border between Mexico and the US are a few of the issues that draw people into struggle.
We should have a very positive attitude toward this tremendous new movement and find ways to raise the level of our involvement. Our experience as well as our understanding of the nature of capitalism should allow us to make an important contribution to it.
To look for a historical parallel to present-day developments, we might go back to the turn of the last century, when our country was going though an economic transition much like it is today. At that time, the changeover was from locally- and regionally-organized markets to a nationally-integrated economy.
At the center of this process were new economic actors – powerful corporations that were able to dominate whole lines of industry and consolidate heretofore disjointed local markets. It was the age of the robber barons, of Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Morgan.
Facilitating this process were technological breakthroughs in manufacturing, communications, and transportation. Of these technologies, the most notable was the railroad, which made possible the transporting of goods from distant sites to consumer markets.
This restructuring of the economy brought in its train enormous dislocation and hardship for millions of working people, farmers, and other class strata. A way of life for tens of millions was forever destroyed. And out of this wrenching experience grew a powerful people’s movement to challenge the growing control of the economy by these new corporate trusts.
Today, we are in another transition, from a nationally-integrated economy to a globally-integrated one. Like a century ago, the new economic actors – the transnational corporations – are the main economic form organizing this transition. New technologies are facilitating the process. It is happening in an incredibly short space of time, and an old way of life is disappearing.
And again in response, a labor led coalition has emerged – this time to challenge the transnational corporations and the global institutions that they control.
In both instances, the transition was driven by the core characteristics and deep structures of capitalist exploitation. At the same time, there are differences between the earlier transition and the current one. The scale of the previous transition was national while the current one is global. The corporate form structuring the transitions is different. The contemporary working class is bigger and more diverse than its predecessor. New social movements have arisen in recent years that didn’t exist one hundred years ago. And the level of development of the productive forces and productive technique is vastly different in the present transition. Thus we find both continuity and change in this historical process.
Our emphasis in studying economic processes, however, should be on what it new and changing. We should not lose sight of the underlying processes from which the new emerges, but in striking a balance between continuity and change, our accent should be on what is changing. And the reason is simple:
Changes in the productive forces and relations alter the terrain of the class struggle.
It is sometimes said that capitalism has always been a global system, so what’s the big fuss about globalization. It’s just the “same ole, same ole.”
Yes, capitalism has always been a global system, but not in the same way, not to the same degree, and not with the same effects. It changes and moves through different phases of development. And without taking into account the specific features that distinguish one period of capitalist development from another, we will be unable to project strategic and tactical concepts of struggle.
In the early 20th century, as a reaction to the transition to a nationally-integrated economy, the populist and reform movements constructed a mechanism with rules, regulations, and institutions whose function was to restrain the power of the corporate beasts of that time. Today’s anti-globalization movement is faced with a similar challenge. But in this instance, the regulatory rules and institutions to harness transnational corporate power have to be fitted to the present-day concrete circumstances.
For example, can the global economy be brought under social control without reversing the pronounced trend toward financial deregulation and liberalization? Doesn’t finance capital have to be brought to its knees in order to mitigate, let alone eliminate, the harsh effects of globalization?
If the answer is yes, then social control over capital movements has to be one of the core elements of any alternative program to capitalist globalization. Of course, there will be other elements, including new forms of international working class unity. But without radically curbing the power of transnational corporations and banks, any new regulatory regime will lack teeth.
Comrades, the Bush administration and the extreme right are utilizing their domination of the federal structure to try to turn back the clock. And they are doing it at reckless speed.
On the world stage, their policies are militarist, unilateralist, and interventionist. There is literally no region of the world where you can’t see the particularly aggressive hand of the Bush administration. Whether it’s provoking China, the Koreas, and Vietnam, or giving a green light to the anti-Cuba lobby in the Senate or continuing Plan Colombia, or hosting murderers like Ariel Sharon in the White House, or demanding the extension of NATO to the borders of Russia, or manipulating the War Tribunals Court to illegally indict Slobodan Milosevic or resuming the bombing of Vieques, or trying to undermine the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chavez, or trashing the Kyoto global warming protocol, or twisting allies’ arms to support the US abrogation of the ABM treaty, the Bush administration is pursuing a foreign policy course that is a more dangerous expression of US imperialism than of its predecessor.
But the world will not be bullied. And among the American people there is unease with Bush’s foreign policy. However, we should quickly note that shifting sentiments alone are not enough.
During most of the Clinton years, mass actions against US interventionist policies were rare and that continues to be true today. We need to ask why this is so.
Equally important, this Convention has to insist that the entire Party give new attention to the struggle for peace and solidarity. The fight for peace has to become a concern of every member and collective. US imperialism is the lone superpower in the world. Therefore a special responsibility falls on the American people to curb the war drive of the Bush administration. Such a movement should also strive to radically redirect our nation’s economy and federal resources to peacetime production and human needs. We should be part of this movement.
In this struggle, the US peace movement must join peace forces worldwide. Even among US allies in Europe, there are points of tension that can be utilized to stay the aggressive actions of the Pentagon war machine.
In the last century, countless millions were sent to death by the war machines of the imperialist states. Many of us in this hall lost a relative or dear friend in one or another of these senseless slaughters.
Isn’t it time that we as a people say that we’re going to turn our nation’s swords into plowshares and study war no more? Isn’t it time to reject the hollow and hypocritical claims of US imperialism that its interventionist actions around the world are motivated by human rights and humanitarian concerns? Isn’t it time that our nation became a beacon of peace? Can this Convention make such a resolve?
THE DOMESTIC FRONT
On the domestic front, the Bush White House lost no time in demonstrating that it is viciously anti-working class, anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-disabled, anti-people, anti-democratic and racist.
The administration’s first legislative victories on taxes and the budget are going to be costly ones. The Bush tax cut radically redistributes wealth in favor of the rich and eats up the budget surplus, thereby crowding out spending for needed social programs for the indefinite future.
In the coming months, Bush is setting his sights on the privatization of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. We should also anticipate that he will revisit the issue of private school vouchers, a cause that is close to the heart of the extreme right and a new site of immense profiteering. And his venomous hatred of and assault on the labor movement, evident from the first day of his presidency, will continue.
One day Bush cancels regulations protecting workers’ safety, the next day he interferes in airline negotiations, and on the following day he overturns federal regulations barring labor law violators from bidding on federal contracts, and winks at the illegal frame-up of the Charleston 5, whose “crime” was to stand up to the vicious, anti-labor, racist attack against longshore workers in South Carolina. Others will speak about this struggle but I will say this: the fight of the Charleston 5 is an integral part of the new labor movement, of the fight against globalization, and of a growing coalition to turn the South from a base of reaction and racism to one of progressive politics and equality.
This unrelenting and many-sided drive against labor should convince every democratic-minded American and every progressive organization, and especially our Party, to rally around labor. For one thing is clear – a crippled labor movement would mean a crippling blow to the developing struggles against the Bush administration and the ultra right.
Until recently, the Bush crowd and its right wing corporate supporters were on a roll. And then something unforeseen happened. Senator Jeffords from the small state of Vermont switched his party affiliation from Republican to Independent.
Literally overnight the Bush-Cheney-Lott-Delay-Scalia-orchestrated blitzkrieg against the people’s living standards and democratic rights went from a gallop to a crawl.
At the same time, the prospects of winning legislative victories for the people have considerably improved. What seemed like an uphill battle a few weeks ago is a winnable battle now. Indeed, recent polls strongly suggest that the defection of Jeffords is an expression of a larger phenomenon in US politics in which a growing majority of Americans are distancing themselves from Bush and his policies. Perhaps the biggest gap is over the protection of the environment, which is an issue that has to move closer to the center of our theoretical work and practical activities.
Of course, mass pressure and broad people’s unity has to be brought to bear on Democratic politicians as well as moderate Republicans. It is the only way to rebuff Bush and to win legislative victories. It is the only way to win gains in any arena of struggle.
The labor movement and the people’s organizations would make a mistake in completely relying on the Democrats in Congress, but, by the same token, a successful legislative fight isn’t possible without the participation of the Democratic Party or at least a section of it.
As much as we might like to hang our hat on an independent, labor-led people’s party, no such party exists at this moment although we need to do more to accelerate its formation. This Convention should go into this question and generate some new thinking and initiatives.
In the meantime, however, labor and the people have no choice but to construct legislative majorities with the hand they have been dealt. Without a doubt, the 2002 elections loom large now. They could be a turning point in the struggle against the right danger, although the working class and people should not singularly focus on them to the neglect of immediate mass struggles. How to manage that dialectic is something that the progressive movement, including communists, will have to try to resolve.
To what extent mass resistance to Bush’s policies develops depends in the end on the organized initiatives of labor, the African American, Mexican American, and other oppressed peoples, women, retirees, farmers and farm workers, gays and lesbians, environmental and peace activists, the disabled, and other social movements and strata. A big tent strategy is imperative.
The good news is that mass struggles are moving in that direction.
Go it alone ideas are uncommon. Coalition building is becoming a priority. Most mass organizations, even single issue ones, approach politics in a broad way. Militancy has grown although much more is necessary. Multi-racial, multi-national unity is more palpably felt. New organizational forms are emerging in nearly every field of struggle. More advanced demands are surfacing owing to the sharpness of the struggle in some instances. There are fewer illusions about the Democratic Party. And, finally, the new labor movement is increasingly assuming a leading role in this still fluid process.
This is a moment when large people’s majorities can be assembled and win political victories while further isolating Baby Bush. This is a moment when a more coordinated national movement can come into being to battle the extreme right.
Thus, every struggle, every initiative, and every demand should be connected to the larger task of building a nationally coordinated struggle against the Bush administration. If that isn’t the outlook of labor and people’s activists then the forest is being missed for the trees.
We should join the upcoming legislative fights. We should make every effort to link local, statewide, and global struggles, including those against the economic crisis and its effects, to the struggle against the ultra right on a national level.
And, finally, we should build our Party, the Young Communist League, the People’s Weekly World, Political Affairs, and our Internet and audio-visual media work in this framework.
The unity of all democratic forces is imperative. But it doesn’t materialize spontaneously. It has to be fought for constantly. It requires a timely response to the ruling class’s strategies of division. It develops around specific issues rather than abstract and general appeals. It takes a skillful combination of the overall needs of the class and people with the specific demands of its particular sections.
I would like to mention three specific struggles that have a bearing on the unity of the democratic movement against the right danger and the transnational corporations.
The industrial, mineral extraction, and transportation industries are disproportionately feeling the pinch of the current economic slowdown – not to mention longer-term job losses extending over two decades.
The Bush administration, aware of this predicament, is cleverly and cynically dangling job opportunities in front of these sections of the labor movement as a trade off for their support for Star Wars, the administration’s energy policy, and other legislative initiatives. It is also looking ahead to the mid-term elections in 2002.
Such support causes tensions in the AFL-CIO, which so far has presented a united front against the extreme right. It also throws a wrench into the coalition of labor and its allies.
To prevent further division, a two-track policy is needed. On one track, given the recent developments in the Senate, labor along with its allies can reenter the political arena with confidence that they can win new victories on a broad range of issues.
On the other track, labor and its allies should address the issue of job creation and income protection, especially in specific sectors of the economy, like steel.
A jobs program that is environment-friendly, accents military conversion to peacetime needs, comes at the expense of corporate profits and the super wealthy, and promotes labor unity at home and worldwide would go a long way to neutralizing Bush’s politics of division.
In this regard, our Party should get fully behind the public works and infrastructure bill (HB 1364). This bill would create jobs in steel and other hard hit sectors of the economy and provide badly needed infrastructure repairs in our nation’s cities.
The bill gives the labor movement, the racially oppressed, and the unemployed a concrete way to struggle against the economic crisis. It is not the only way, however. For instance, other legislation addressing specific aspects of the economic crisis will be introduced at the state and Congressional level, including probably a jobs bill, modeled after the Martinez bill.
But for the time being, the infrastructure bill has been introduced and is worthy of our full support. So let’s get behind it.
FOR EQUALITY AND AGAINST RACISM
Another struggle that has a major bearing on the unity process is the fight for equality and against racism. Simply said, this struggle is at the core of the struggle for class and all people’s unity, democracy and social progress. This political proposition has been a cornerstone of our strategic outlook since the Party’s formation more than eight decades ago.
Over those past eight decades vast political, economic, and social transformations have altered in extraordinary ways the terrain on which the working class and its allies battle their class enemies.
Nevertheless, the overarching necessity of fighting for full equality of nationally and racially oppressed peoples and against racism has lost none of its strategic importance.
Today, the immediate obstacle to full equality is right wing political reaction, which comes as no surprise. While racist ideology is a core element of capitalist ideology, the ideological and political positions of the ultra right, sometimes dressed up in academic language of university scholars, are particularly extreme and crude.
Thus, the struggle for equality faces new challenges and dangers because of the political ascendancy of the extreme right. Further complicating the struggle for equality is the cyclical downturn and the ongoing process of global economic restructuring.
Consider for a moment the economic and social conditions in the communities of the African American, Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Asian American, Native American, and other nationally and racially oppressed peoples. In nearly every category that measures social well being, conditions are abysmal.
Roughly a third of African American, Latino, and Native American Indian people are living in poverty. Unemployment, while showing some improvements during the boom of the 1990s, is creeping up again and the real question is why were the gains of the good economic times so meager? The reduction of government spending for education, welfare, health care, housing, and the dismantling of affirmative action programs are severely affecting the nationally and racially oppressed communities. And homelessness, hunger, and child poverty permanently stalk the streets of the segregated neighborhoods of our nation.
One of the most outrageous expressions of racism is the officially sanctioned repression that terrorizes communities where people of color live. Police brutality and murder continue, with the perpetrators receiving barely a slap on the wrist even in cases where the evidence seems to prove without a doubt that the police acted like vigilantes. Racial profiling goes on unabated, despite public protest. And, finally, the criminal justice system from the point of arrest to death row is steeped in the crudest forms of discrimination and racism.
It seems like jails can’t be constructed fast enough to accommodate the swelling prison population of whom the disproportionate number are young African American men. This reality has prompted some of the more thoughtful analysts on the left to speak of a prison industrial complex.
The political objective of this many-sided assault is obvious: to shred the social fabric of the communities of the nationally and racially oppressed, and, at the same time, to divide the labor movement from its natural and strategic allies – the African American, Mexican American, and other nationally and racially oppressed people.
Thus the stakes are high and the outcome still hangs in balance. Nevertheless, there are reasons for confidence that new victories can be won. The main one is that the labor-African American alliance, the labor-Mexican American alliance, and the alliance of labor and all the nationally and racially oppressed are at a new level. Without such unity, the struggle to defeat Bush and the right wing, which at this moment is the main obstacle to equality and social progress, would be a mirage.
In this regard, nationally and racially oppressed workers and their organizations have a unique role to play. At the same time, the labor movement as a whole and white workers in their own self-interest have to elevate the struggle for full equality and against racism. In recent years we have given insufficient attention to the special role of white workers and people in this struggle. We should correct that shortcoming at this Convention.
Our slogan of Black, Brown, and white unity fits the new trends in the working class and people’s movement. It reflects a new and dynamic feature of today’s reality.
For decades we brought to every site of struggle the slogan, “Black and white, unite and fight.” The materialization of that slogan undergirded the great organizing and people’s victories of the Depression and WWII years. It was instrumental in the historic victories over Jim Crow in the South two decades later as well.
On one level, the slogan reflected our conviction that without a more vigorous struggle for Black-white working-class unity and against racism, victories against the monopoly corporations were very unlikely. On a deeper level, it identified the African American people as the main strategic partner of the working class.
The logic of this position correctly rested on the role of slavery in the historic evolution of our country, the overwhelming working-class makeup of the African American people, their location in the strategic sectors of the economy, and finally, the interrelationship of the African American freedom movement with the general class and democratic struggles in our country.
More recently, we have adjusted our slogan to Black, Brown and white unity and multi-racial, multi-national unity in order to more accurately capture the changing demographic profile of our working class and people. This adjustment was never intended to diminish the strategic importance of the struggle for African American equality and against racism, although inadvertently it may have done so.
In struggles too numerous to mention it is clear that the unity of Black, Brown and white is a new feature of today’s movement and an absolutely necessary requirement to secure victories against racism and for class and social advances. Isn’t this a conclusion that we can draw from how close Antonio Villaraigosa came to winning the Los Angeles mayoral election?
The new census corroborates this point of view. Even a quick reading of the data reveals that substantial changes have occurred in the demographic profile of our nation’s people and working class in the short space of a decade. Particularly striking is the new numerical strength of the Mexican American and other Latino peoples whose numbers have swelled with the waves of immigration from all of Latin America.
At the same time, the real political significance of the Mexican American and other Latino people pivots not simply on their swelling numbers; it also springs from the fact that they bring a contagious militancy, new forms of struggle, a coalition approach, and class consciousness to the struggle for equality and class unity. The main currents of this movement see their struggles not as separate from the general democratic and class struggles, but rather as an integral part of them. In this regard immigrant workers play a special role that we do not yet fully appreciate.
At the same time, we should contest the political pundits who would like to use the new census to foment divisions among nationally and racially oppressed peoples, weaken labor unity, and stir up anti-immigrant feeling.
We have never reduced the significance of the national question in its general or particular form to the size of one or another oppressed people. Politics, as Lenin said, is more like higher mathematics than simple arithmetic. That’s particularly true of the national question.
Underlying our concept of multi-racial, multi-national unity is the commonality of national and racial exploitation and oppression along with the recognition that broad multi-racial, multi-national unity is a strategic requirement for victories on every front of struggle and at every stage of struggle. There is nothing tactical about the fight for Black, Brown, and white unity and against racism. They are fundamental principles.
Thus, the concept of multi-racial, multi-national unity was a necessary and correct strategic adjustment on our part. But perhaps in doing so we lost sight of the specific features and role of each of the nationality questions. This was a mistake. On the ground, on the terrain of struggle especially, it is imperative that we appreciate the specific features of each nationality question and its interrelationship with other oppressed nationalities and the working class movement.
Without that we will find it difficult to deepen our role in the fight for Black-Brown unity, multi-racial, multi-national working class unity, and all-people’s unity. Without that we will find it difficult to strengthen the labor-African American alliance, the labor-Mexican American alliance, and the labor nationally oppressed people’s alliance generally- all of which constitute the foundation of all people’s unity.
One comrade in a discussion said that we don’t properly appreciate the new role of the Latino and Mexican American people in our nation’s economic and political life. Another comrade said that our role in the African American freedom movement has diminished. And still another comrade said that while we have correctly adjusted our concepts of struggle, our practical role is not commensurate with our new understanding of this question.
I would agree with each of these statements. In fact, this Convention has to accept the challenge to deepen our theoretical understanding of the national question and to qualitatively upgrade our day-to-day practice of fighting for equality and against racism.
We should also agree at this Convention to develop and circulate a freedom program, much like we are issuing now a new labor program, that expresses our views on the new conditions, requirements, and programmatic solutions to the struggle for equality and against racism.
In the meantime, we have to join with others in the immediate political and economic struggles for equality and against racism. Job creation, a higher minimum wage, extending welfare benefits, quality desegregated, bi-lingual public education, demilitarization of the border and full rights for immigrants, ending racial profiling and police brutality, and voter enfranchisement are only a few of the issues around which broad coalitions for equality and against racism will form and are already forming.
Still another struggle that has a critical bearing on the unity of the labor and people’s movement is the struggle for women’s equality. It is reshaping our country. Women are found in nearly every arena of political, economic, and social life. Women are agents of progressive change.
New issues and demands arising from the fact that women combine unpaid labor in the home with underpaid labor in the workplace are altering the legislative terrain as well as mass thinking.
Reproductive rights, equal pay for comparable work, living wages, parental leave, quality public education, health care, repetitive motion injuries, and affirmative action are a few of the issues that are traceable at least in part