Contribution to the 13th International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties, Athens, Dec. 9-11, 2011.
Presented by Susan Webb Member CPUSA National Board and International Department, co-editor PeoplesWorld.org
*** Dear comrades,
I begin by offering the following salutes:
-To the Communist Party of Greece and the workers and people of Greece, for standing up, on behalf of us all, against the lords of global finance capital. We salute the KKE for its leadership in this mass struggle, in the epicenter of finance capital’s attack on workers everywhere.
-To the Palestinian people and communists for their steadfast, principled struggle, under the most difficult conditions, for a Palestinian state with economic and social justice.
-To the people of Tunisia and Egypt, and their communists, for inspiring the world with their mass struggle for democracy and economic and social justice, which is still ongoing. They gave the world, and American workers and people in particular, the inspiration and symbol of Tahrir Square and nonviolent people’s occupation of public spaces.
Just weeks after the events in Tahrir Square, in the American Midwest state of Wisconsin, working people staged a weeks-long peaceful occupation of the state Capitol to defend union and worker rights against a coordinated attack by far-right Republicans. Among the signs the workers carried were “Walk like an Egyptian,” and slogans comparing the right-wing Republican governor to Mubarak. These occupations quickly spread to other states. It led to unprecedented mass action to turn Republican lawmakers out of office, and in Ohio after Republicans pushed through a union-busting law, the voters overwhelmingly overturned the law in a referendum last month. All this happened as a result of tenacious grassroots organizing by the labor movement.
Most recently we saw the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Much like the young people protesting in North Africa and elsewhere it sprang up this fall as a spontaneous outpouring of mostly young people, many college educated, with no jobs and a sense that they have no future under this system where, as they say, 1% control the wealth and power and the 99% are left with the crumbs and no hope. More about this later.
In this short presentation I will touch very briefly on five points:
-Obama administration foreign policy -Racism in the U.S. and its relation to the fight for socialism -The power of the right in the U.S. -The U.S. economy -Status of the people’s movement in the U.S., current battles and the fight for socialism
The Obama administration was elected in no small part due to revulsion against the Bush-Cheney aggressive, unilateralist foreign policy, in particular the Iraq war. What we are seeing now within this administration, it seems, is liberal defenders of capitalism seeking how to project and protect what it calls “U.S. interests” globally in the post-Iraq era. (Note, we are well aware that the U.S. is not really “leaving” Iraq -it is leaving behind a virtual army of private contractors and covert operatives, and perhaps will wind up keeping or returning some troops there as well.)
Clearly there are those within the administration who define U.S. interests as the interests of U.S. transnational capital, and some others who may think more broadly in terms of economic or social justice as being in the U.S. interest.
At present it seems apparent that policymakers in this administration, looking at the debacle of the Iraq invasion and occupation, as well as the Afghan occupation, are opting for projecting U.S. military power, but through means that do not involve “boots on the ground” -drones, air strikes, targeted assassinations, covert action and the like. This is a dangerous trend. In addition some advocate so-called humanitarian intervention, which as we have seen in Libya, morphs into other political-military projects that are destructive of the interests of the people of the country in question, and could unleash wider disasters. To steer clear of the discredited Bush unilateralism, NATO is being used as a cover. Most recently and disturbingly, the administration has announced plans to boost its military role in Asia, a confrontational move openly directed at China.
Iran today is the closest thing to a flashpoint for war: while the Obama administration has resisted the far-right push for military attacks, it is opting for a confrontational approach, with increasingly harsh sanctions that hurt the Iranian people, and apparently also employing covert actions.
On the other hand, Obama has continued his commitment to press for global nuclear disarmament, including signing the NEW START treaty with Russia last year. This is a positive trend.
On climate change the administration has taken some inconsistent stances internationally. However Obama has also, despite bitter opposition from the energy industry and their Republican allies, improved U.S. policies and practices to address the profound crisis of global climate change and reduce American reliance on oil. This has important positive foreign policy implications. As we know, oil has been for decades a key driver of imperialist U.S. policy in the greater Middle East, of which the people of those countries have been the victims.
With the economic crisis, more and more sectors of the American public, including labor, are open to re-thinking our bloated military spending, but we have to say that the American peace movement is today not big and broad enough to compel a fundamental turn away from the dangerous policies I have described.
Palestinian statehood and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Cuba:
We have a four-year presidential election cycle. Two years after the presidential election comes a mid-term election in which much of Congress and many state offices are voted on. In a few minutes I will discuss the surge of the ultra-right in our country following the election of Barack Obama. Right now, I just want to call attention to the fact that in 2010, two years after Obama’s election, the far-right scored a key victory by retaking control of one of the two chambers of Congress, the House of Representatives. This has had serious negative consequences both for domestic and for foreign policy.
Early in his administration, Obama made some significant moves on advancing a just two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, with the achievement of Palestinian statehood. He also made some very small steps to ease relations with Cuba.
Now, after the 2010 mid-term elections, far-right Republicans control key congressional committees. For example, viciously anti-Cuban-revolution “gusana” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen now chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She and her right-wing followers aim to intimidate and block any progress in U.S.-Cuba relations.
With regard to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, the Republican right along with their far-right “Christian Zionist” supporters, has formed an unholy alliance with the Israeli right wing led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and with right-wing Jewish American leaders -all this an effort to curry votes among American Jews in 2012. It should be noted that Jewish Americans are among the most progressive voting sectors in the U.S., and only a tiny percentage put “Israel” as their number one issue. Like most other Americans they largely vote based on their concerns about economic and social issues.
But this unholy alliance, and the reactionary Cuba lobby, pressure and intimidate politicians whose re-election can depend on a small margin of votes in a single state.
In American politics, after the mid-term elections, essentially the next presidential campaign begins. Thus we can at least in part attribute the highly disappointing stance of the Obama administration at the UN on Palestinian statehood to domestic U.S. political concerns . Likewise, we can at least in part attribute the administration’s failure to do more on Cuba to these domestic political concerns.
But we also have to say that the progressive movements on these issues, including on the Cuban Five, in our country have been too small and too narrow. They tend to appeal only to left “solidarity” activists. They fail to take advantage of important opportunities to reach out to much wider circles and bring real policy change.
Our party recently held a conference of our Cuba activists in order to better coordinate our work and we hope to make a positive impact in this area.
Over the past few years a new broad approach to organizing has emerged among advocates of a just two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution. We stress the importance of involvement in such efforts so as to reach a much wider section of the public and counter the influence of the far-right unholy alliance. That is key to pushing this or any administration to take strong positive action on the issue.
In our country, built on slavery, racism has been the key tool of the ruling class to divide the working class for centuries. The election of the first African American president in 2008 was an unparalleled historic advance in the struggle for democracy and working class unity -both necessary ingredients to advance the movement for socialism in the U.S. The fact that in former slave states white as well as black workers elected a black man, Barack Obama, as president of our country was a most significant step, if we are to unite our multi-racial, multi-ethnic working class and their allies on a path toward socialism. It should also be noted that Obama is the most pro-labor president we have seen since the Roosevelt era of the 1930s and 40s.
Power of the right in the U.S.
Over the past 30 years, there has been a steady build-up of right-wing forces in our country whose strength and ferocity we ourselves underestimated. It is a vast network of front organizations, think tanks, some with respectable images, media -most prominently Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News -and fake grassroots groups, with overlapping funders and directors. They are funded and promoted by certain sections of big capital and other wealthy forces who identify with them. For example, ExxonMobil has funded some of the most extremist right groups working to block progressive action on global warming and a green economy. With an eye to retaking the White House and all of Congress next year, these forces have fueled nationwide attacks on voter rights and access to the polls.
It was this network that organized the coup in 2000 that placed George W. Bush in the White House.
Today’s Republican Party is a reflection of the strength of this far-right network. Republican politicians today as a whole are far to the right of those of earlier periods. They make George W. Bush look moderate.
Upon the election of Obama this sector went into action in a more openly fascist-like manner than we have seen previously. They too saw the significance of Obama’s election that I spoke of earlier, and they were determined to destroy it. We immediately saw the emergence of the extreme racist, anti-immigrant, anti-government so-called “tea party movement” -actually small in actual numbers but amply funded, able to dominate the media through leadership of the right-wing Murdoch Fox News empire, and thus dominate the national discourse in 2009-2010. They organized the most hate-filled racist attacks on Obama, using Nazi and gun imagery and anti-immigrant xenophobia, questioning his citizenship and the legitimacy of his election,. It was reminiscent of the atmosphere in Dallas, Texas, in November 1963 leading up to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
In Congress, they succeeded in blocking or gutting every positive legislative initiative by the new administration, including solutions on the economy that would have benefited the working class at the expense of the rich.
But the far-right has so overplayed its hand, in particular with its frontal assault on working people, that we have this year experienced our own “Arab Spring,” with the emergence of militant working class mass protests and the Occupy movement.
U.S. economy -structural crisis
The current economic crisis in the U.S. is not a transitory cyclical one. It is a structural crisis, characterized by the following:
-Deindustrialization -moving of major manufacturing and jobs out of the country, forcing U.S. workers to lower-wage jobs and/or long-term unemployment, leading to declining living standards, purchasing power and state and local tax bases, causing budget crises at every level.
-Deregulation -government policies pushed by the right for the past three decades that have allowed corporations to do whatever they want, including fraud and corruption.
-Financialization -neo-liberal policies over the past 30 years spurred the rise to dominance of parasitic finance capital, more and more concentrated through mergers and acquisitions, engaging in increasingly risky speculative practices that ended up in the tech bubble of the 1990s and now the much worse mortgage crash that began in 2007, spurring a widening 7crisis that has created an epidemic of foreclosures (people losing their homes) and increased joblessness and state and local budget crises.
There is no solution in sight unless the government invests massively in job-creating programs, including green economy investment, public transport and other services, and at the same time boosts worker income and spending power through safety net programs, improved health care, education and the like. How this crisis is resolved will be the outcome of a bitter class struggle. The national elections next year will be a key battleground in that struggle.
Status of the people’s movement and the struggle for socialism
We have seen an upsurge of mass mobilization by the labor movement and a surge in united action by labor and major organizations of the African American and Latino people and other democratic forces. Public workers today are the mostly highly unionized sector of the workforce. Thus the vicious targeting of public workers by the right-wing in their effort to outright destroy unions in the
The labor movement is today the central, militant, progressive voice of the American working class and people. It is giving unparalleled leadership on just about every social and political issue in our country. And significantly it has seen the importance of alliances with other democratic sectors of the people’s movement -whether on immigrant rights, civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, gay and lesbian rights, youth, education, health care and so on. Thus we have seen the important emergence of the We Are One movement, uniting all these forces, in particular the key forces of labor and people of color.
This fall, the Occupy Wall Street movement electrified the country, and the world. Its slogan that “We are the 99%” but the 1% has the wealth and power, has captured the feelings of a wide majority. Its dramatic occupation actions, like Tahrir Square, gained wide media attention, overcame the right-wing onslaught, and transformed the national discussion in our country in a progressive direction.
The labor movement has embraced and joined in with Occupy. Our party has done likewise. Several of our party leaders and activists have been arrested as part of the Occupy protests, including national leaders Roberta Wood and John Bachtell.
Recently there has been a coordinated move by city officials across the country to evict the Occupiers from public spaces, and the movement is at something of a transition point, with varying elements and views on how to proceed.
Important relationships are being built between Occupy activists, labor and the left including Communists, in a number of areas. But Occupy has many different trends, and it is too soon to say how it will develop.
But its 99% versus 1% theme has struck a deep chord and represents an expression of growing class awareness and anger in our country.
Now as we move into 2012, the overriding class battle for Americans is the 2012 elections.
Americans are locked into a winner-takes-all two-party system for at least the near future. We do not have a multi-party parliamentary system, and over recent years legislation around the country has made ballot access more and more restrictive. We see the formation of a mass-based people’s political party, with labor at the center, as a critical element in advancing in a progressive direction and ultimately toward socialism. This would represent a mammoth task, and a seismic shift forward in American politics. But given the vast difficulties involved in such a project, considering the vast wealth and power involved American elections today, millions of working class and progressive Americans continue to see the Democratic Party as their realistic vehicle of reform at this time.
Given the real conditions of today, the defeat of the right at the polls next year is a life-and-death necessity for America’s working class. It is not simply to the advantage of Democratic politicians; it can also change the balance of power in favor of the labor-led people's movement.
The 2012 election as we and many others see it is about our nation's future: are we going to move in a progressive-democratic direction that can lay the ground for socialism, or in a right-wing antidemocratic authoritarian, even fascist-like, direction?
The theme of this conference is the fight for socialism. We have to say, the movement in the United States is not big and broad enough to put socialism on the agenda today. At the same time, interest in and talk about socialism is growing. Over the past year our party has seen a dramatic increase in new members across the country -mostly young people, knowledgeable and searching for real answers. We have had major growth in the readership of our newspaper PeoplesWorld.org. Our relationships with key sectors and leaders of the people’s movement, including labor, have deepened. Articles from our press are now regularly reposted on labor union websites. This is dramatic for us, a party that only a few decades ago emerged from government persecution and semi-legality following a wide and deep anti-Communist campaign.
Socialism of course has deep roots in the United States, dating back over 150 years, with utopian communities, farmers’ cooperatives, publicly owned utilities in some areas, and early formations of socialist groups.
So we are optimistic about the prospects for progressive change and socialism in our country. ###