“The Right’s Last Dance: 2008 Elections” first appeared on PoliticalAffairs.net on July 25, 2009. Read it on PoliticalAffairs.net.
Report to the CPUSA National Committee, July 7, 2007
To begin, I want to acknowledge that more than my fingerprints are on this report. Many comrades in discussions and by email gave me ideas and suggestions that I believe give the report more depth and range. I want to thank the comrades who took time out to convey their thinking.
The report focuses on some aspects of the current situation. It doesn’t try to span the entire country or the globe. Its aim is less ambitious. I will make an assessment of the Bush administration and the people’s struggle against its policies. Then the report will look at the 2008 elections and some of the main questions that will frame them. Finally, some aspects of our party’s work will be considered.
Bush administration and the struggle against its policies
Since our last National Committee meeting a few months ago, the status of the Bush administration hasn’t changed in any substantive way. The administration’s field of action is still narrowly circumscribed. Much to its regret, it is unable set the agenda, drive the legislative process, or frame the national conversation.
Moreover, it hard to imagine any scenario that will allow the administration to reclaim political initiative and ideological hegemony.
At the same time, given the power of the presidency and the narrow Democratic majority in Congress, Bush is still able to frustrate the legislative and oversight plans of both Congressional Democrats and the American people who expect the new Congress to address in a timely way issues such as the Iraq war, healthcare, immigration, union rights, the tattered social safety net, democratic rights, constitutional violations, etc.
Indeed, since Congress convened in January, the administration with its congressional allies has blocked legislation and resisted (in the name of constitutionally sanctioned presidential powers) inquires into the administration’s highly secret and anti-democratic governing practices. Where necessary, Bush has used his veto power, as he recently did with stem cell legislation.
And he continues to stand firm against any withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, despite the wishes of the Congress and country.
Meanwhile, the cost of this war and occupation surges toward one trillion dollars, causalities on all sides mount, and the surge fails to live up to its promises. The latter comes as no surprise to anyone who understands that the occupation itself fuels violence, while impeding the possibility of a positive change in the internal political dynamics of Iraq and discouraging the participation of the U.N. and international community.
Thus, despite its weakened position, the Bush administration with the assist of the Republicans in Congress continues to be the main obstacle to social progress and to a speedy exit from Iraq. In a parliamentary system, Bush would have had to voluntarily resign or be forced to resign.
But our misfortune is that we don’t have any similar mechanism, besides impeachment, which though clearly deserved is not yet an issue of broad mass struggle. Even if that changes (and it seems to be), we have to live for now with a “lame duck” administration, and given its recklessness, militarist disposition, and contemptuous attitude toward democratic rights and structures, it can cause a lot of trouble.
There is speculation, for example, that a contentious struggle is going on in top White House circles over whether to strike Iraq militarily. Rice, it is reported, opposes military action, while Cheney supports it. And so far, Rice is winning. But obviously we can’t rely on her. The American people and Congress have to express vigorous opposition to the military option.
While Bush will soon be history, we will have to live with U.S. Supreme Court for much longer – a court that Bush has tilted to the extreme right with the additions of Alito and Roberts last year.
Both of them are of a cast of mind that is similar to Scalia and Thomas – conservative and authoritarian. Democratic structures, right, and procedures are easily expendable where they interfere with the exercise of ruling class power in their legal worldview. They believe in unmediated class rule at the state and corporate level, and thus see no place for the cumbersome rights of citizens, immigrants, people of color, women, consumers, the disabled, gays and lesbians, and workers.
The mission of this foursome, as they see it, is to dismantle or smash (pick your poison) our constitutional system of structures, rights, and liberties in favor of the most powerful and reactionary sections of the ruling class. If anyone thinks that they will respect precedent and decisions that have become deeply embedded in our jurisprudence and way of life, they had better think again.
To make matters worse, Justice Kennedy, who was considered a “swing” vote, is now voting with them on most issues that the court hears. Over the past two weeks we have seen a torrent of reactionary rulings that should cause deep concern for anybody who cherishes democracy. The future of Roe v. Wade now looks much more problematic.
Much was made about Scalia’s criticism of Roberts, but whatever the differences (and they are tactical in nature), Roberts clearly redeemed himself in Scalia’s eyes with his ruling against the school boards of Louisville and Seattle. In that ruling, Roberts, who wrote the majority opinion, held unequivocally that race-conscious considerations in school placement are unconstitutional and the integration of the public school system – a system that is becoming hyper-segregated – is no longer to be championed by the courts. And he did it in the name of the equal protection clause, anti-racism, and colorblindness. It was demagogy run amok, dangerous, and profoundly racist.
In its sweep and implications, Robert’s majority opinion brings to mind other racist, anti-working class, and reactionary rulings such as Plessey v. Ferguson – a ruling in 1896 that legally codified the system of desegregation in every area of life (“Jim Crow”).
How to counter this new cesspool of extreme (should we say fascist-like?) reaction is an elementary issue that the working class and its allies will have to address. The challenge will be to negate judicial power with mass action and people’s legislative power.
Up until recently, Congressional Republicans have stood with the administration through thick and thin. They have supported the prosecution of a very unpopular war, have upheld Bush’s vetoes, and have blocked progressive legislative measures – the latest being the Employee Free Choice Act. There has been some grumbling, but for the most part it has been muted and when push has come to shove they have fallen into line.
But now we are beginning to see some unraveling of the Republican united front. It comes as no surprise. Rats, it is said, don’t stay forever on a sinking ship.
A recent example that must have infuriated the White House was the refusal by a group of Republicans (for the wrong reasons I would add) to support the Bush endorsed immigration bill. Another was the public defection only a week or so ago of Richard Lugar, ranking Republican member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Lugar’s announcement that he couldn’t support Bush’s Iraq policy was a surprise for Bush and his aides. They had expected at least a solid bloc of Republican support for the surge until the fall anyway. But Lugar, in deciding not to “give the surge a chance,” not only broke with the Bush administration sooner than anticipated, but also left Bush wondering if Lugar – who is anything but a loose canon – is an ominous sign of growing disaffection among congressional Republicans for the administration and its policies.
Republican memory isn’t so short that they have forgotten their debacle in the 2006 elections. Anybody with any horse sense knows that the Republican Party can’t go into next year’s elections as the “war party” and expect to maintain its present status, not to mention have any hope of winning back a majority in the Congress and retaining the White House.
At the same time, Democrats can’t gloat too much over the Republican Party’s predicament. For they also know that they can’t go to voters with an empty cup as far as the war and other pressing issues are concerned in the fall of 2008 if they expect to increase their majorities and win back the Presidency.
This political dynamic gives the broader movement leverage to bring the curtain down the occupation of Iraq as well as to win other legislative victories, but only if the movement utilizes this dynamic skillfully. Now is not the time to give in to frustration or pursue approaches that speak only to the “choir.” Instead it calls for mass initiatives and broad tactics that take advantage of the growing isolation of Bush and shifting sands in Congress.
For instance, when we combine the public perception that the surge is a “bust,” with the resolve of substantial sections of Congressional Democrats – leadership and membership alike – to “deliver” on the war, and the probability of growing Republican defections, we could easily be approaching a turning point in the struggle to end the war this summer and fall.
But again, it depends in no small measure on the ability of the broader movements to appreciate the fluidity of situation and employ appropriate tactics. Such tactics should be shaped by the reality that Democrats can’t by themselves end the war. There are too few of them. The numbers don’t add up.
Therefore, enlisting Democrats to support antiwar legislation has to go hand-in-hand with a sustained effort to peel away significant numbers of congressional Republicans from Bush’s war policy.
Labor-led people’s coalition
As the political fortunes of the Bush administration ebb, the labor-led people’s coalition gains ground. At our last NC meeting we said that this diverse coalition feels a new sense of confidence. Its energy level and hopes are high. And its political agenda is no longer a wish list, but rather a series of legislative battles that are winnable for the first time in a long time. This remains the case today.
Neither its leaders nor its foot soldiers anticipate that the struggle going forward will be easy, but nearly everyone is convinced that a corner has been turned and that only complacency, disunity and narrow tactics will block the coalition’s forward motion.
Moreover, the main sections of the movement are convinced that a decisive defeat of the right in November 2008 would set the stage for undoing the damage of a quarter century of right-wing extremist rule, securing new advances, and realigning politics in a distinctly progressive direction, but more about this later on.
This broad-based movement that is today challenging the Bush administration dates back to the Reagan years. Its forward motion was interrupted by 9/11. But after some understandable disorientation, it regained its footing and moved forward with new allies and on a higher ground politically and ideologically.
Loosely constructed, it operates not so much on a single track, but rather on parallel tracks that periodically cross. It doesn’t yet have a politically coherent, spelled-out political program, although most everybody is in the same ballpark politically.
Nor does everyone appreciate as much as he or she should the strategic role of the fight for equality and against racism. The fight against racism isn’t seen as central to unity and democratic advance on every front. Nor are African American, Latino, and other oppressed peoples seen as strategic and absolutely necessary partners at this stage and subsequent stages of struggle.
As in the 1930s, the organized labor movement is a big part of this broader progressive movement. Moreover, it is likely that labor will, in fact, it must, over time assume a larger and larger role in this broadly arrayed movement and the struggles that it is organizing.
Indeed, for this movement to grow in depth and breadth, to amass the necessary power to realign political relations on a national level, and to become the spokesperson for the people and nation as a whole, the involvement of the trade unions in alliance with the racially and nationally oppressed, women and youth is indispensable.
Admittedly, it is a work in progress, but at the same time it is the only work in progress that has the potential power to defeat the right and then move on to challenge corporate power as a whole. Under certain circumstances and with certain kinds of leadership, it could eclipse the size and strength of the movements of the 1930s and 1960s.
Our understanding of “the movement” is not identical with how some others understand the term. In our view, the movement is comprised of the core forces mentioned above along with other social forces, networks, and movements. In contrast, “the movement” in some progressive and left circles is understood in a narrower way. It is largely confined to left, progressive, and social movement activists and has a limited constituency. It is less a broad-based social force of varied political views and understandings and more a grouping that is active and shares a similar political culture and outlook.
While it welcomes labor, it doesn’t see the working class and its organized sector as a leading and indispensable force.
This is not intended to take down these activists and movements a peg. They play a vital and necessary role. They bring new issues, demands, and forms of struggle to a substantial constituency. Their organizing role against the war has been critical. And we are a part of them.
But at the same time, neither they nor their constituency can substitute for the power base that the core forces and their organizational forms bring to class and democratic struggles, not to mention do without the analytical insights, decades of experience, mass organizations and resources, appreciation of the importance of unity, and tactical know-how of these forces.
In the months ahead, this broad based movement has to avoid three dangers that I alluded to earlier. One is strategic fuzziness and tactical narrowness that takes the form of skipping stages, counter posing advanced against partial demands, and turning Congressional Democrats into the main enemy.
A second danger is complacency and passivity that takes the form of simply relying on the Democratic Party to express the anger of millions and to enact legislation. Unless tens of millions of people see and feel the organizational and political weight of an organized movement that is championing their interests in day-to-day struggles, the mobilization in the 2008 elections will not reach its full potential.
And the final danger is disunity that comes in many forms. One that I don’t think we anticipated is the fissures and even ruptures within the people’s movement that have cropped up in the course of legislative struggles. The legislative battles over peace and immigration come to mind. How to maintain unity when differences on legislation or any other matter arise – and they inevitably will – is a critical question.
Since the new Congress convened, the legislative arena has turned into a battleground. Not for a long time has Congress felt so close up the righteous anger of the American people on a range of issues under consideration. The progressive movement has weighed in on nearly every legislative fight, not always with a single voice and not always with a uniform message, but weighed in nonetheless.
At the same time, the grassroots constituency of the right has been nowhere near the factor that it was in previous years. Some demoralization, dispiritedness, and fracturing of its ranks are taking place.
At any rate, the struggles in the legislative arena will continue and the task of the labor-led movement will be to widen and deepen these struggles, to draw in more and more people at the grassroots. And we have to continue to be a part of this process. Mass actions are the ground floor of communist politics.
I would like to turn to the main issues of struggle as we see them, beginning with the struggle for peace.
Peace is possible
While many hoped that the Iraq occupation would be over, the struggle to end the occupation continues, although we have to constantly remind ourselves that it continues in far more favorable conditions. A year ago, the antiwar struggle was a faint echo in the Congress.
House Majority leader Nancy Pelosi said at the Take Back America conference that “the ‘biggest ethical challenge is the war in Iraq … (and) the new direction cannot be complete until we bring the troops home.”
I have no reason to doubt her sincerity; nor do I doubt that the majority of Democrats are of a similar mind, that they want to end the war. Most of them don’t yet embrace immediate withdrawal or cuts in funding, but they see Iraq as a disaster and support a time certain for withdrawal. Their opposition to the war is not simply a reaction to constituent pressure, but also a reflection of the broad opposition of diverse class and social forces, albeit for varied reasons, to the Iraq quagmire.
They are, of course, well aware that their constituencies back home are roiled about the seemingly unending nature of this war and want something done to bring it to a close – a fact that Republicans understand as well.
This summer and fall Democrats will bring a variety of bills and resolutions to the Senate and House. Votes can be expected on war spending, timetables for disengagement, de-authorization of the war, closing Guantanamo, a ban on permanent bases, troop readiness standards, and so forth.
This offers the peace movement and peace-minded people another opportunity to register their opposition to the war, not to mention allow the Democratic Party leadership to renew its efforts to wind down the war.
From all accounts the antiwar movement is busily preparing for the next round of legislative struggles, scheduled for this summer and fall. It will bring its experience, skills, and lessons learned from previous battles to the legislative arena. Its aim is to move every potential opponent of the war in the Congress, while beginning to look ahead to the 2008 elections.
Not everybody in the peace movement, however, is on the same page it appears. Some forget, or dismiss out of hand, that Democrats overwhelmingly and a few Republicans passed a supplemental spending bill this spring that included a timetable for withdrawal or that the surge is solely the handiwork of Bush or that the views of the majority of people correspond with the outlook of the majority of Congressional Democrats.
Instead, we are told that the only thing that stands in the way of a quick exit from Iraq is the Democratic Party and the treacherous role of its leadership. All Pelosi and Reid have to do is wave a magic wand and in a flash the necessary votes in the Senate and House will appear to end the war.
Since the Democratic leadership won’t, the peace movement, so the argument goes, has no option, but to divide the Democrats – progressives against centrists. But before anyone does this, the following questions should be asked: who will benefit from this suggested division of the Democrats in the House and Senate? Who will gain advantage from shifting responsibility for war from Bush to Pelosi? Which party’s electoral prospects will be improved going into 2008 if the peace movement works to split the Democratic Party?
A feeling of impatience is understandable. This occupation is, after all, brutal and drawn-out and anybody with any sense at all feels some frustration and anger that the war didn’t end long ago. At the same time, impatience can easily turn into a poor strategic and tactical guide.
In response to a group of communists whose manifesto militantly proclaimed that they wanted to attain their goal without stopping at intermediate stages and without any compromises, Frederick Engels wrote, “What childish innocence it is to present impatience as a theoretically convincing argument.”
In a similar vein, William Z. Foster (so I was told, and knowing the personalities it is very believable) once said to Herbert Aptheker, the outstanding Marxist scholar and historian after Herbert had finished a very rousing speech to the National Committee, “Herb, revolutionaries need two things. One is passion which you have and the other is patience which you could use a little more of.”
Both Engels and Foster were right. Those of us on the left have to combine patience with passion, outrage with steadiness, realism with radicalism.
Thus, the fact that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reed are ready to exit Iraq, that Bush is becoming isolated in his own Party, and that Republicans are beginning to breakaway from Bush’s war strategy should be welcomed.
Doesn’t this turn of events create new opportunities? Doesn’t it argue for new and broad initiatives by traditional and nontraditional peace organizations to end the occupation, bring home the troops, and close all bases? And doesn’t it argue for allowing our good sense rather than our ideological disposition to determine our tactical policy?
I would add one further thing: it was reported in the Wall Street Journal this week that Defense Secretary Robert Gates and some allies in the administration are seeking to build bipartisan support for a long-term presence in Iraq by moving toward a significant withdrawal of troops from Iraq by the end of the President’s term. This is not surprising. If there is going to be a retreat, they want to determine the nature of the retreat. I’m sure that Gates and others are thinking that a Democratic Party sweep in next year’s elections would make it much more difficult to win support for a permanent political and military presence in Iraq.
As for us, let’s join the antiwar actions this summer and fall. Let’s help in getting many more unions and central labor councils to go on record against the war. Let’s do the same with churches, city councils, and state legislatures. Let’s join with others in lobbying our congressional representatives on the war during the summer recess. Let’s take part in the regional actions on October 27 called by United for Peace & Justice – which by the way had a very successful national assembly in which our comrades played a constructive role.
And, finally, let’s make every member of our party and every club a peace organizer. There is much more that we could do in this regard.
The turn of recent events in the Palestinian territories is a very negative development. The struggle for national rights and statehood of the Palestinian people has been set back. It is hard to see anything positive in this development if you believe in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in which both states would be secure and the Palestinian state would be viable and contiguous. Not for a long time has the prospect of national statehood for the Palestinian people seemed so distant.
While it is easy to narrow our vision to the divisions and hostility between Fatah and Hamas, we have to keep our focus on the Bush administration and the Israeli government and their respective roles in bringing about this crisis for the Palestinian movement.
For 30 years the Palestinian people have fought under the most adverse conditions for their inalienable right to national statehood. We unequivocally support their just struggle against a colonial occupier. We unequivocally oppose Israeli expansion and occupation of lands that belong rightfully to the Palestinian people.
In our view, the occupation has to end and serious negotiations should begin with an eye to establishing two states that allows both peoples to live securely inside their own borders and peacefully with each other. There is no other way to end this unending conflict.
I’m afraid though that this isn’t the mindset of Bush and Olmert. Instead it is, “Got them where we want them. Let’s make this division permanent.” The “Road Map,” while good-sounding, has turned into what many feared at the time of its announcement: smoke and mirrors concealing Bush’s opposition not only to Hamas, but, more to the point, to a robust Palestinian state.
This turn of events is not only a tragedy to the Palestinians, but it flies in the face in the interests of people and states in the region and worldwide. In no way does in serve the interests of the Israeli and American people. As long as Palestinian people are denied their national rights, as long as the occupation continues, and as long as the Palestinian people are daily humiliated by an occupying power that receives a wink from our own government, there will be no peace for the Israeli people, the Middle East will continue to be a powder keg ready to explode, the likelihood of terrorist acts in our country and elsewhere will grow, and anti-American feeling will surge worldwide.
No one action will bring peace and justice to the Middle East, but a just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, along with troop withdrawals from Iraq and the closing of all U.S. military bases in the region, would go a long way in setting the region on a different trajectory.
For the peace and solidarity movement the main task is to pressure Congress and the Bush administration to lean on the Olmert government to take tangible and immediate steps to lift the state of siege, dismantle the settlements, and engage in substantive negotiations with the representatives of the Palestinian people, while supporting a ceasefire on both sides.
Another crucial issue is immigration. The defeat of the recent bill in the Senate probably means that comprehensive reform will be postponed for a long while.
But I think we agree with those who say that the bill was not an answer to the serious immigration challenges our country faces. On the one hand, it did not adequately provide a prompt and unfettered path to citizenship for the undocumented, protect their civil liberties and democratic rights, allow their families to remain together, or treat them with proper dignity.
And on the other hand, it constructed onerous requirements for citizenship, contained harsh punitive measures, broke up families, and included a guest worker program.
With the bill’s defeat, don’t expect the issue of immigration to go into a long hibernation. Undocumented workers and their families will continue to struggle for legal measures that provide them with rights and dignity, while their opponents will press government at all levels to pursue the undocumented with a vengeance and with vigilantes if need be.
An immediate challenge for the labor and democratic movements will be to fight against the criminalization of immigrants and raids on immigrant communities. In all likelihood they will increase in the months ahead. Therefore the immigrant rights movement in all of its diversity and every democratic minded person should strongly insist that a moratorium on raids be declared.
Raids are no way to address a complex problem. They are undemocratic and inhumane. They are a form of terror. While the two centers in the labor movement (AFL-CIO and Change to Win) did not see eye-to-eye on a legislative approach, both can find common ground on the issue of raids and some other partial demands that would bring relief to undocumented workers and their families.
Moreover, nonviolent civil disobedience to protest the raids shouldn’t be ruled out.
While the anti-immigrant movement has been able to gain an audience, their message hasn’t resonated to the extent that its spokespeople had hoped. Many people are of two minds on immigration as they are on many issues. And the task of the immigrant rights and its allies is to speak to the decency, democratic sensibilities, and self-interests of the American people.
One of the weaknesses of the Take Back America Conference was that it skirted this issue. While we don’t exactly know the reason, it would probably be fair to guess that it was considered too controversial, that it might cause too many waves. If that is so, it is an incorrect reading of where the American people are on this issue.
Sometime there is merit in tabling something where there is no chance of a good outcome, but our delegation to the conference was of the opinion it was a mistake in this case to bury it, not to discuss it openly with an eye to reaching a common approach and agreement on joint action.
As for us, we should give special attention to bringing the full weight of labor and the African American movement into these struggles and to combating the racist anti-immigrant bashing. We should also popularize the progressive immigration positions of labor in workplaces and working-class communities. We should also consider how the immigrant rights movement could duplicate what was done in New Haven, CT, where the city issued an identification card to all of its residents, regardless of status. And, finally, we along with others have to combat the Republican efforts to turn this into their “wedge issue” in next year’s election.
The struggle against the many-sided healthcare crisis is probably the most deeply felt concern of the American people. Both the insured and the uninsured are worried. The reach of this crisis is nearly universal.
So it is no wonder that the struggle for healthcare has catapulted its way into the center of our nation’s political life. People on every point of the political spectrum have something to say or some plan to offer that addresses this crisis. Some are good, while others are grossly lacking and even retrogressive. Among the Democratic Presidential candidates plans abound.
At the federal and state level, legislators are offering healthcare legislation. Wisconsin a week ago passed a statewide bill that provides healthcare for its citizens; other states have done the same.
In the Congress bills exist that address particular aspects of the healthcare crisis, as well as more comprehensive measures, such as the HR 676 introduced by Congressman John Conyers. At a recent meeting of the National Board we issued a statement on our approach to the healthcare legislation. It reads:
“The crisis in healthcare has become a perfect storm with rising costs, growing millions with poor or no coverage at all, and deterioration of the quality of available care. The racially and nationally oppressed, women, children, and low-wage working poor people are particularly hard hit. Government and the corporations are increasingly abandoning any responsibility for solving this crisis. The Bush administration continues to chip away at funding and support for Medicare and Medicaid and veterans’ medical care. The Medicare prescription drug plan has been an expensive disaster for seniors. It is a cash give-away for the pharmaceutical giants and only strengthened the private insurance industries’ wasteful and parasitic role. And the corporations continue an unrelenting assault on healthcare benefits for their workers.
Labor and the people are fighting back. According to recent AFL-CIO and other polls, a solution to the healthcare crisis is at or near the top issue of concern for working people. Labor and the people’s movements are in motion on the issue. The AFL-CIO issued a comprehensive statement on healthcare that outlines important criteria for reform solutions and legislation including universal and comprehensive coverage, affordability, portability, and effective cost control. It argues for a central and critical role of government in “regulating, financing, and providing healthcare.
Concurrently a strong, labor-led, movement for single payer healthcare reform has emerged around Congressman John Conyers’ bill, “Expanded and Improved Medicare for All” (HR 676). The bill has broad labor support including in central labor councils, local and international unions and is beginning to garner support in local and state governments. The Communist Party has no agenda separate and apart from the overall goal of solving the healthcare crisis for everyone living in our country. We are in the day-to-day fight against all the failures of the healthcare system, and for any reforms that actually expand access, quality and affordability of healthcare for working people. We are for building the strongest, broadest, most united, labor-led coalition in this fight. HR 676 is a key component and a centerpiece of our work for comprehensive healthcare reform. We seek to broaden and expand support for the bill in the context of the overall fight for heath care. At the same time we recognize the need to be fully immersed in all struggles aimed at solving the healthcare crisis at the local and national levels.
We must avoid narrow approaches to HR 676 that hold that only total support for HR 676 and/or only efforts to build support for HR 676 are acceptable. In fact work on HR 676 must be tied, everywhere, to all ongoing struggles for healthcare reform that move in the direction of actually improving healthcare for working people.
Equally we must resist approaches that relegate HR 676 to the status of “unrealistic” and “narrow,” or hold that efforts to build support for HR 676 will tend to isolate us in the broader healthcare struggles. In fact the growing support for HR 676 strengthens all movements and struggles for healthcare. Comrades involved and immersed in these movements need be among those who show that support for HR 676 can move our struggles further along and help provide next steps for reforms that fall short of a single payer solution.
We Communists do not view HR 676 as the final word in healthcare, as a radical demand akin to calling for socialism. We see it as a very good reform that helps build and unite the broader healthcare movement and the broader working class movements and coalitions in struggle.”
I see no reason why this statement should not continue to guide our work. It asks us to do what communists should do, that is to engage in immediate struggles, such as the struggle for Senate Bill 3 that allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry, while struggling for more comprehensive measures and especially HR 676.
Of course, it goes without saying that mass actions of various kinds and on various venues are what are needed to deepen and broaden the movement as well as influence the legislative process. Moreover, we don’t have to invent them. They are happening in state after state and city after city, ranging from mass demonstrations to the occupation of offices.
The enactment of the Employee Free Choice Act would represent the most far-reaching overhaul of collective bargaining relations since the Wagner Act. It implications for labor and the entire democratic movement are so far-reaching. This is a struggle that the entire movement has a stake in.
The balance of forces in Congress makes it nearly impossible for the act to pass now. The AFL-CIO understood before the bill went to the Senate recently that it had no chance of passing, but insisted to the Democratic leadership their desire to bring it to the floor anyway. In doing so the AFL-CIO’s leadership was keeping faith with its members by not allowing this bill to fall off the radar screen even though it is felt that it doesn’t realistically stand a chance of passing until a new Congress with a large Democratic majority and a Democratic President are elected next year.
Between now and then, labor has to win allies to join this struggle. This is a good issue for a sustained campaign in our clubs and in our publications.
While we have legislative and political priorities, we can’t be deaf to grassroots and collective bargaining struggles. Such deafness cuts us off from grassroots activists in the workplace and community. In many cases, it is these issues that turn them into activists in the first place.
As Scott indicated, the negotiations of the autoworkers loom large and have enormous implications for the working class as a whole and the economic well being of the country. We haven’t seen anything remotely like it for a long time. We have to join this struggle. We can’t be observers.
Fight against racism
The struggle against racism and for equality has to acquire a new sense of political and moral urgency. The combined impact of a new stage of capitalist globalization and extreme right wing rule for nearly a quarter century has spread crisis conditions across nearly the full length of the nationally and racially oppressed peoples and their communities.
In Detroit, Harlem, East Los Angeles and Gary, poverty is everywhere and deep, but these cities and neighborhoods are not exceptions, but rather occupy only the extreme end points on a spectrum of poverty that includes every big and small community of racially oppressed people in our country.
While it is true that the conditions of life and work of the working class as a whole have deteriorated, the impact, depth, and reach of the decline has struck the racially oppressed with a force that has a simple explanation: racism pure and simple. Moreover it is hard to visualize from where, besides a progressive realignment of power nationally, will come the impetus and sustained commitment to economically and politically empower these communities.
Employment losses in the manufacturing sector – and especially auto and steel – and the privatization and shrinkage of the public sector have done enormous damage to peoples of color. To this we have to add draconian budget cuts, rising housing costs and gentrification, punitive federal regulatory agencies, a judicial and prison system that is riven with racism, a dysfunctional and segregated educational system, rapidly disappearing medical access and services, the systematic denial of voting rights, and so on.
At the same time, the chiseling away of the legal scaffolding and structure of equality and a relentless ideological attack continue at a feverish pace.
Thus, racism is more than a prejudice. Rather it is a political, economic, ideological, cultural, and legal construct. It is an integral and indispensable part of U.S. capitalism’s development at every stage – including its current stage. It is the main solvent of democracy. It is essential to the reproduction of classes and class society. And it continues to be the main instrument of division of the people’s movement.
It follows then that the recentering of the struggle for equality and against racism is a necessary task for the working class and people’s movement as a whole. It must combine the struggle against racist institutional structures as well as racist ideology – that is a system of connected ideas that provides a rationale for racial subordination, exploitation, and oppression. While the struggle against racism has is own distinctive demands, features, and organizational forms, it should be integrated into every class and democratic struggle.
I have argued that our sense of moral outrage can’t determine our tactics; it is also true that without a sense of moral outrage, we will take little initiative to fight racism and other injustices of capitalism. Dr. King always soberly developed tactical guidelines in conditions of formidable danger to life and limb, but he also forcefully and passionately expressed both his moral outrage and articulated a moral vision of a “beloved community” in which Black and white – all peoples no matter what their differences as far as skin color, religion, nationality, language, and walk of life – could live together harmoniously.
King’s example is one that we should attempt to emulate. And attempt it in the context of a labor movement and people movement that speaks the language of diversity and understands in a deeper way the need for unity against common oppressors gathered in the White House and corporate suites.
Of course, it will be a struggle. For a quarter century we have been told that we live in the post-civil-rights era, that the playing field has been leveled, that our country is now color blind, and that racial inequalities that still exist are not social and institutional, but are the result of the shortcomings and pathologies of oppressed people themselves.
And thus no longer needed, so goes the argument, are political, economic, legal, and cultural measures to “deracialize” every aspect of our nation’s life. Not surprisingly, this has had an impact on popular consciousness.
The struggle against racism and for equality is not the property of any one grouping of people. The racially oppressed naturally will lead the struggle for equality and against racism, but other peoples and organizations should be in the forefront as well. Left and progressive white people have a special role to win other white people and white workers on the basis of moral outrage, human solidarity, and self-interest. Tommy Dennis, an African American leader of our Party, used to say that there is nothing that Black people want that white people don’t need. Tommy said that in the 1970s and if it was so then, it is even more so today in this era that combines into a single process an offensive that is at once racist and anti-working class.
At our Party conference, which Jarvis Tyner is going to report on, everyone attending left with a new sense of energy and clarity on the need to join the struggle for African American equality and to rebuild the Party in the African American community. We also agreed that we have to take more initiative to win white workers and people to anti-racist positions and action.
Therefore, we should explore, among other things, the following questions in the Party and in the broader movements.
Do we think that white people and white workers are too ideologically poisoned by racist ideology? Do we think that they will react only negatively to anti-racist initiatives?
Is the strategic role of the African American, Latino, and other nationally and racially oppressed in terms of the overall struggle for working class and democratic advance fully appreciated in the labor movement? Is the many-sided role of racism in our nation’s development – past and present – fully appreciated? Is it seen as the main instrument of division in the labor movement?
Is the fight against racism and for equality considered an obstacle to achieving broader unity on “class” and other issues?
Even if we don’t have full answers to these questions, we should begin to discuss them, as we take practical initiatives against racism.
More and more the elections are taking up most of the oxygen in the room. By early next year they will become the center of political gravity and nearly everything else will revolve around them.
Why do I say this? Because the elections are the main arena where a fundamental and necessary realignment in the balance of forces can be effected. Other struggles can weaken the Bush administration and the extreme right, but none of them, even taken together, have the same potential to inflict a deadly body blow to the far-right and shift the balance of power in a qualitative way in a progressive direction.
The aim of the labor-led movement is to elect a Democratic President and larger Democratic majorities in the Congress. Not since the landslide victory in the 1964 election has the broader movement had the opportunity to make such sweeping changes in the political landscape. Unfortunately, the full promise of that election never materialized, dying a premature death in Vietnam and along the new fault lines of racism that fractured the coalition that elected President Johnson.
I have heard some people say that the main task in 2008 is to elect a majority of progressive Democrats to Congress. At first glance, it sounds good, but I think that we have to question this a bit more before we uncritically embrace it.
First of all, I am for electing as many progressives as is possible. The expansion of the Progressive Caucus in 2008 would make a major difference in the legislative battles in 2009. But realistically speaking, a larger Democratic majority in Congress will inevitably include Democrats of varied political stripes. There will be progressives to be sure, and hopefully many more of them, but it will also include centrists and moderates, in fact they will likely be the majority. Thus the tactical approach of the broader movement has go beyond simply electing progressives to include the election of other Congressional Democratic candidates as well.
Moreover, the struggle to increase the number of progressives in Congress will take place in the primaries as much as in the general elections. The primaries will decide which candidates the Democratic Party fields in the general elections. Too often in the past, the labor-led people’s movement wasn’t integrally enough involved in this important phase of the election process. The selection of candidates was the property of the Democratic Party’s leadership, but this is changing.
But once the primaries are done, the movement, while continuing to press Democratic candidates on the issues, will fight to elect a larger Democratic majority to Congress. That may entail working for progressive candidates, but it may also entail assisting centrist Democrats in a traditionally Republican districts.
The other reason why I question making the election of a majority of progressive Democrats the singular task is that it doesn’t attach proper weight to the strategic importance of a Democrat winning the White House. That’s a big mistake. After all, winning the Presidency is crucial to shifting the political balance of power and terrain of struggle. No significant turnaround of the political direction of the country is conceivable without capturing the Presidency.
Or to say it differently, a landslide Democratic victory – taking the Presidency and the Congress by substantial margins – will create the best conditions for progressive change. It will reframe every question. It will strengthen the hands of progressive Congress people, while nudging the slow moving and cautious to take better positions. And it will constitute a political turnaround after almost three decades of right-wing Republican rule.
As for the presidential candidates, we aren’t going to endorse one either now or later; although we should note that unlike in previous campaigns extending back nearly 30 years, the front-runners are cleaving in a progressive direction, including Clinton.
Of the front-runners, Edwards offers the most programmatically, but at the same time, neither is he light years ahead of Obama or Clinton.
We have to acknowledge the historic nature of Obama, Clinton and Richardson’s campaigns. A victory by any one of them – and I believe every one of them could win – would be historic. Furthermore, I believe that the country is ready to elect an African American or a woman or Mexican American to the Presidency.
I don’t accept (and I don’t think that we should accept) the conventional wisdom or grapevine talk that a Black American is unelectable, that the American people are not ready for it. What is the basis for such a claim? We do know that Massachusetts elected an African American governor in 2006, that Illinois a U.S. Senator in 2004, and Tennessee nearly an African American Senator in 2006.
Finally, we should have a positive attitude toward the candidacy of Congressman Dennis Kucinich. Despite the efforts of the media to sideline him, Kucinich is emerging as a leading voice of the broad people’s coalition. He brings consistent anti-right, anti-corporate, pro-peace positions to the presidential primaries and debates. None of the other candidates can make the same claim. The more he speaks to audiences of the core forces, the better positioned the movement will be to win in 2008 and to fight the good fight in 2009.
As for the Republicans, aren’t they a sorry reactionary bunch? Their battle is uphill, especially given the fact that Bush isn’t bouncing back in the public opinion polls. Like it or not, they are tethered to a very unpopular presidency. Moreover, none of them has a program that matches the shifts in mass thinking that have been taking place.
In a sense they espouse the politics of yesterday. They fail to realize that a paradigm shift in the structure of thinking and feeling across the country has occurred in recent years. The exact nature of it and its sweep still needs to be analyzed, but I do feel that sentiments, moods, feelings, and understandings of millions have changed to the disadvantage of the Republican candidates.
Hanging your candidacy on “the War on Terror” or “small government and tax cuts” or “cultural issues” like the Republicans have been doing for years is no longer a winning proposition. It will resonate among some sections of the voters to be sure, but so much has happened in a short space of time that these issues don’t have the same bite or mobilizing power that they once did.
As for independent candidacies, New York’s mayor Bloomberg appears to be putting up trial balloons. He claims that both parties retreat from addressing big problems and are too eager to engage in partisan bickering. Bloomberg likes to give the impression that he is a no-nonsense guy who gets things done. Don’t be fooled! He is a billionaire and did he ever show his class loyalties during the transit strike. He had nothing but venom to offer the transit workers and called them – this largely African American, Afro Caribbean and Latino union – “thugs.”
As we edge closer to 2008, our role is to be a part of and help to unite a movement that has its sights set on the 2008 elections. Our role is to bring the most burning issues facing our nation into the 2008 elections. Our role is to expose the Republican Party’s candidates, while pressuring, cajoling, nudging, and, if need be, taking strong issue with the candidates of the Democratic Party.
Our role is also to continue to participate in the struggles in the legislative and collective bargaining arenas, in struggles around jobs, wages, housing, healthcare, affirmative action, reproductive rights, and ending the war.
Our strategic goal hasn’t changed yet. And it won’t until a major victory is won in November 2008. If that happens, then we will take a fresh look at our strategic and tactical policies. But for now the defeat of the right will take the broad unity of an array of forces, some reliable and permanent, others inconsistent and temporary. Into the latter category I would include many Democrats and even a few Republicans.
Even when we reach a point in the struggle that calls for a strategic shift, we will have to do it carefully. A Democratic victory, for example, doesn’t mean from either a strategic or tactical point of view that we will then relentlessly attack the Democrats with “all guns a-blazing.”
It is almost a mantra on the left to say that breakthroughs in economic, civil, and social rights registered in 1936-1938 and in 1964-1966 were the singular product of a mass upsurge of the labor movement in the former case and of the civil rights movement and its allies in the latter case.
While it is true that these movements were decisive, other factors figured into the outcome as well. Of special significance was the landslide election victory of the Democratic Party and the popular progressive mandate associated with that victory in both periods. Thus, the contemporary labor-led people’s movement if history is any guide has to combine mass struggles with the struggle to decisively defeat the right and win an indisputable mandate for progressive change at the ballot box next year.
There is no doubt that labor, the racially oppressed, women, youth, and other social groupings will make these adjustments, including the redeployment of many of their mass forces directly to the electoral arena as we move deeper into 2008.
There are inevitable tensions within politics (and Marxism too). The trick is not to make the tension go away (it won’t), but to negotiate the tension in a way that moves the entire chain of struggle forward on every front. So far the broader movement seems to be negotiating this tension between current struggles and next year’s election well.
What are the issues that will frame these elections and the post-election period? To begin with, the Iraq war and in larger sense the role of the U.S. in the international arena will figure prominently in these elections. Framing this issue is the fact that the plans of the Bush administration to exercise unrivalled dominance over global politics with its military might have crashed on the shoals of stubborn domestic and global realities. If any realignment is in the works, it is realignment not to the right, but in a progressive direction.
How do explain this precipitous drop in the political fortunes of the Bush administration? While the reasons are many, I will make two general observations. On the one hand, this administration overreached; it operated with inflated, but in the end, unrealistic political ambitions; it thought it could ignore objective political and economic realities, and even went so far as to claim so.
On the other hand, it grossly underestimated the resistance to their political project, both domestically and internationally. The true believers in the White House, who were convinced that their control of the structures of government and the military in particular gave them the wherewithal to remake the world in whatever image they so desired, lacked any historical sense. If they had some, they would have appreciated that there is no smooth ride to establishing an unrivaled world empire. In any age it is a dubious proposition, but particularly in the 21st Century, empire is a problematic project, full of contradictions, resistance, blowback, steep costs, and counterbalancing by other powers.
The world is a different kettle of fish than it was in earlier centuries when one or another power arose to a position of uncontested dominance. The 21st Century will not be a unipolar century, despite the wishes of the authors of the Project for a New American Century.
In fact, the Bush doctrine as a unified grand foreign policy strategy is dead.
Pre-emptive strikes, preventive war, unilaterialism, regional transformations, and so forth don’t have the same currency these days as they did only a few years ago. They won’t be trumpeted as the singular instruments to defend U.S. interests in the world theater, and they won’t be considered policy options of first choice.
No Democrats are going to embrace the Bush doctrine, and most Republicans will put some distance between themselves and the doctrine considered as a coherent grand strategy.
Combating terrorism will be part of the national conversation, but the accent will be on going after Al Qaeda, police actions, intelligence sharing, international cooperation, and so forth. Large-scale interventions and occupations will not be the flavor of the month among any of the candidates.
We will hear greater talk about the importance of diplomacy, restoring America’s image worldwide, multilateralism, “soft power,” the judicious projection of power, talking with our enemies, walking with lighter feet in the world, and greater caution before committing U.S. troops. The candidates will have to address the role of the U.S. in the post-Cold War, post-Iraq world in the aftermath of the Iraq disaster and debacle.
None of them, with the exception of Kucinich, are going to yield ground on the primacy of U.S. in world affairs. Each will insist on its necessity. They will make the case for the dominant role of the U.S. in world affairs, but not unilaterally imposed, but with allied cooperation. They will say the U.S. – and this notion stretches back into our past – is the indispensable nation, the best hope of humankind, the shining city on the hill. Without the U.S. dominance, the lights will dim on democratic governance, enlightenment, order, and peace worldwide. The world without the steadying hand and power of U.S. imperialism will cleave toward anarchy and disorder.
Across a broad spectrum of the foreign policy establishment, a consensus exists that the world is changing, that new configurations of power are emerging between states and regions, that China may evolve into the leading world power in this century, that East and South Asia may become the main centers of economic dynamism, that new regional blocs are emerging, and that new national security challenges are confronting humankind, ranging from pandemic diseases to global warning to resource shortages to nuclear proliferation.
Zbigniew Brzezinski says that the most salient feature of the 21st century is the great political awakening occurring across the globe. He further says that U.S. and other core capitalist countries have to listen more and show less big power arrogance.
In short, the world is in an unstable period of transition from Cold War certainties in which the power relationships were more defined and predictable to a new world order that is still coming into being and far less predictable.
Each of the candidates will speak to one degree or another to these new realities. But I don’t think we will be completely satisfied by their answers. The Democrats will be better than the Republican candidates, and those differences can count for a lot.
But, aside from Kucinich, the Democratic candidates will argue for U.S. imperialism’s pre-eminent position in the world. Such striving for hegemony in a changing world will inevitably land us – not to mention others – in trouble.
Our county needs to fashion a different vision and place for itself in the world community. It should give prominence to cooperation, respect for the rule of law and international treaties, support for the UN and other peacekeeping institutions, the use of our wealth to solve global problems, restructuring our relations with the countries of the Global South, the closing of military bases and the rolling back of military spending, and a new commitment to dismantle nuclear weapons.
Recently, the Institute of Policy Studies issued a document titled, “Just Security: An Alternative Foreign Policy Framework.” It goes in the right direction and is worth reading. Hopefully it will stimulate a wider ranging dialogue on U.S. foreign policy.
Another issue that will frame the elections is economic wellbeing. Not for a long time have the conditions of economic wellbeing been so bad. And they could easily get worse, given both short and longer-term political and economic trends.
The new explosive factor in the mix is the collapsing housing market. Its collapse is being felt across the economy. We should remember that the collapse of the housing sector in Japan triggered an economic crisis and strong deflationary pressures that, despite the government’s use of aggressive counter-cyclical measures, left that economy mired in a seemingly intractable state of stagnation for roughly a decade.
To make matters worse, the world economy continues to be awash in excess commodities and under utilized production capacity, and the transnational corporations are driving down living standards and shedding workers as quick, as they can.
And, to make matters still worse, the rightwing, neoliberal offensive has aggravated economic hardships all down the line and to the extreme. The impact of all this on working people has been massive: joblessness and inferior paying jobs, collapsing pensions, federal, state, and city budget cuts, rising fees and local taxes, growing poverty, a healthcare crisis, skyrocketing college tuition costs, deteriorating services, bankruptcies, and so forth.
Not for a long time has the working class felt such insecurity. More and more workers don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
Every candidate will have to address these issues. No one is going to get elected who tries to skirt them. Nor can they be resolved by tinkering with the economy as might have been done in earlier periods.
These are some of the dilemmas and contradictions that the candidates will have to address.
A third issue that will frame the election is global warming. It is an issue of enormous importance. There is a growing consensus that it is one of the main challenges facing humankind in the 21st century. It is no longer going to happen; it is happening now; nearly everyone in the scientific community agrees that the evidence is indisputable.
Even the Bush administration has to acknowledge that the earth’s temperature is rising because of the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal). And the clock is ticking. Most climatologists say that we have to take action now. We can’t wait another five years.
James Hansen, a highly respected climate scientist, argues that the tipping point is going to arrive much sooner than most predict if we don’t take immediate action.
“If human beings,” says Hansen, “follow a business as usual course, continuing to exploit fossil fuels resources without reducing carbon emissions … the eventual effects on climate and life may be comparable to those at the time of mass extinctions. Life will survive, but it will do so on a transformed planet.”
Thus there is no time to delay.
Moreover, not only will we face the prospect of the extinction of many species, but global warming will aggravate many other environmental, social, and geoeconomic and geopolitical problems to the point of crisis. Famine, droughts, hunger wars, resource wars, urban catastrophes, pandemic diseases, and habitat destructions to name a few.
Many political scientists say that global warming is the most confounding national security issue in the 21st century, bar none.