“Mass Movement Building in the Obama Era” first appeared on PoliticalAffairs.net on June 10, 2010. Read it on PoliticalAffairs.net.
Editor’s note: The following is excerpted from the main political report delivered to the Communist Party USA’s 29th national convention, held in New York city on May 22. Sam Webb chairs the CPUSA. The full report, titled “A way out of the deepening crisis,” can be found at CPUSA.org
What a difference between now and five years ago when we convened in Chicago!
At that time, a Puerto Rican woman raised in the South Bronx didn’t sit on the Supreme Court.
Then the president didn’t call for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Millions had no health care and no promise of it in the near future.
The White House didn’t issue a proclamation on Workers’ Memorial Day.
The labor movement wasn’t a welcome guest at the White House.
A Mexican American woman – daughter of poor immigrants – wasn’t secretary of the Labor Department.
At that time, the war in Iraq wasn’t winding down.
Nothing was said about reining in Wall Street.
Global warming wasn’t on the White House agenda.
There were no presidential appeals to end racial profiling, homophobia, or restrictions on access to abortions.
At that time, Lilly Ledbetter couldn’t receive compensation for gender discrimination.
Torture wasn’t prohibited.
We weren’t in a position to fight for a progressive agenda, but on the defensive.
The pendulum of power didn’t yet tilt in favor of working people, people of color, women and their allies.
And, an African American wasn’t president.
Now an African American is president, and much else has changed as we convene our 29th convention.
On one side, the long night of rule by the most reactionary groups on the political spectrum has ended. The working class and labor movement are stepping up to the plate. A broad and loose coalition is rolling into action again after a short lull. Multi-racial unity is on a new level.
Anger is turning into protest actions. Protest actions are becoming more frequent and militant. And a new era of people friendly change is within our reach.
On the other hand, the nation is beset by a seemingly intractable and deep economic slump. U.S. soldiers are still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Oil is spilling into the Gulf waters, the government seems dysfunctional at times, and the Middle East remains a tinderbox. Corporate negligence is killing miners and oil workers, a racist and anti-immigrant offensive is thick in the air, the planet’s temperature is rising, debt is piling up, and the right wing and finance capital – the two main architects of the economic meltdown and bulging federal deficit – are regrouping and trying their damnedest to reconstitute their power.
Sounds daunting! Could be paralyzing! And yet, without underestimating the challenges, we are brimming with confidence that the economic ship can be righted, restructured, and democratized, that swords can be turned into plowshares, and that “justice can roll down like a mighty river.”
Our Party fills a critical space on the spectrum of working-class and people’s politics. On a practical level and in the realm of ideas, our contribution is something we can take pride in.
Broadly speaking, our view of the general conditions of struggle and the strategic path forward is on the money.
We make mistakes and acknowledge them. But we didn’t make the big mistake – underestimating the danger of right-wing extremism in government and elsewhere.
To the extent that we applied our strategy, we extended and deepened our mass connections, we contributed to the historic victory in 2008, we enhanced our presence and visibility, and we increased our membership.
We didn’t grow as much as we would have liked, but we have a firm foundation on which to increase our size, visibility and readership of our publications in the period ahead.
Provided, of course, that we further build and unite the working class based coalition that came together to elect President Obama.
If when we leave on Sunday, the only thing we take back with us is a renewed determination to grow this coalition in the course of today’s struggles – especially for jobs and in the 2010 elections – this convention will be a success.
Why? Because only this coalition – only this many-layered, multi-class and multiracial people’s coalition in which the multi-racial working class and labor movement play a growing role, has the political strength to complete and consolidate the victory against right-wing extremism and, in doing so, weaken the capitalist class as a whole.
If another path exists to anti-monopoly and socialist governments and future, I don’t see it.
Only majority movements can skin the right-wing cat, the neoliberal dog, and the globalizing rat. Only majority movements can resolve the elementary contradiction between enrichment of the few and the insecurity, joblessness, and exploitation of the many. Only majority movements can remove the two swords of Damocles hanging over humankind’s future – nuclear weapons and a warming planet.
If the left could do it alone, as the late comrade George Meyers used to say, it would have done so a long time ago.
Frederick Engels insightfully wrote in the 1880s,
The time of surprise attacks, of revolutions carried through by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses, is past. Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organization, the masses themselves must also be in it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are going in for [with body and soul]. The history of the last fifty years has taught us that. But in order that the masses may understand what is to be done, long, persistent work is required.
In our case this “long, persistent work” must be coupled with renewed efforts to increase our membership and multiply manifold the online readers of the People’s World and Political Affairs.
Given the diminished confidence in the corporate driven economy, our growing connections, and the social networking capacity that we literally have at our fingertips, it is altogether realistic to double our growth and exponentially enlarge our online audience by May Day next year.
Of course, this will take planning, a more robust organizing and social networking culture, and individual initiative.
The building of the Party and our readership rests on the notion that a stronger communist, socialist and left current (a current that currently is largely unaffiliated to left organizational forms) in the working class and elsewhere is indispensable to the success of the broader people’s coalition at every stage of struggle – provided, of course, that it embraces breadth in its politics, good sense in its strategic orientation, flexibility in its tactics, and freshness and imagination in its analysis.