The following is excerpted from a report to the Communist Party USA National Committee Nov. 13. To read the full report, go to www.cpusa.org.
A year ago, we said that the country was entering an era of democratic reform and that the same coalition that defeated the right in the 2008 elections would drive the process going forward.
By and large, we were on the mark. But it is also the case that after a year of real events, real struggles, and real clashes of real people some changes in our thinking are necessary.
To begin, the first year of the Obama administration was a sprint. The conditions of struggle were far more favorable than in the preceding eight years, to say the least. The mood was hopeful. And the political conversation and agenda on a range of issues was reframed, thanks in no small measure to the president.
The forms of struggle were many – marches, picket lines, town hall meetings, civil disobedience, strikes, demonstrations, lobbying, phone banking, online petitions, solidarity actions, informal conversations and organizing, and so on. Some actions were local, others statewide, and still others national.
Early on the struggle over the collapsing economy was atop the agenda and that has continued. But other issues entered the public domain as well, placed there by the Obama administration and by the popular movement – health care, nuclear weapons, Iraq, financial regulation, Guantanamo detainees, and climate change, to name a few. As a result, the space to take initiative, build broad unity, and organize for progressive change was considerably enlarged.
The fight was bitter. The opposition to the administration’s policy gave no ground.
The legislative process turned into the main, but not the only, site of class and democratic struggles (notable were the plant takeover by workers at Chicago’s Republic Windows and Doors, the Ford workers’ rejection of concessionary contract, G-20 actions, the campaign to win Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination, protests at the campuses in University of California system and the Chicago anti-bank protests.)
On both sides of every legislative issue, contending political blocs flexed their muscles.
In the House, the majority of Democrats pressed for an agenda that addressed people’s needs. The caucuses – African American, Hispanic, Asian Pacific, Women’s, and Progressive – and individuals like Raul Grijalva, Barbara Lee and others – distinguished themselves. In nearly every instance they found themselves a step ahead of other Democrats and the Obama administration. The Blue Dogs, on the other hand, were busy trying to rein in reform measures.
Senate Democrats, despite holding 58 seats, plus the support of Independents Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman, were a different kettle of fish. While clashing with Senate Republicans, they were less progressive than their counterparts in the House. And when combined with the rule that requires sixty votes to send legislation to the floor for deliberation and action, the Senate has been (and probably will continue to be) a drag on progressive change.
To make matters more difficult, corporate interests and their lobbyists poisoned the Congressional well in a thousand ways. Their ability to block or contain the legislative process goes way beyond simply owning a stable of congress people. So much so that columnist Paul Krugman wondered in early September if the country was becoming ungovernable. He is both right and wrong – right about the difficulty of governing as long as corporations dominate and infest our public institutions, but wrong about the impossibility of changing this.
Outside of Washington, the loose people’s coalition that elected the president regrouped and redirected its energies to the legislative process.
At the core of this loose coalition are the main organizations of the working class, African American, Mexican American, and other racially and nationally oppressed peoples, women and youth.
In addition, seniors, immigrants, and many other social movements and organizations are in the mix.
The labor movement is a particularly active, clear and unifying voice, and continues to emerge through dint of effort, organization, and resources as a leader of this broader coalition.
To no one’s surprise, the right wing hasn’t retired from politics. To the contrary, these “un-American” extremists also regrouped and came out fighting the president’s agenda, hoping to pave the way for the Republicans’ return to power.
With an African American in the White House, a Latina on the Supreme Court, the presence and acceptance of gay and secular sensibilities in the culture, continued challenges to patriarchal gender roles, and an economy that is laying waste to the position of the male as breadwinner, right-wing extremists in Congress and elsewhere are churning out racist, misogynist, homophobic, and anti-government appeals to white working people and especially white males. Limbaugh, Hannity and other talk show hosts are howling to whoever will listen, “Take back America.”
Pat Buchanan, echoing the same theme, wrote, “America was once their [white people’s] country. They sense they are losing it. And they are right.”
This drivel is racist, anti-working class and anti-democratic. It is an insult to every fair-minded white person, a falsification of history, and an appeal to division along the color line. It carries the foul odor of fascism.
Our country was built on the backs of a multi-racial, multi-ethnic working class and a system of slave labor that remained unchallenged for nearly three centuries. What is more, economic crises have a sharper impact on minority (and immigrant) communities. They are the first to “lose” their jobs, homes, living standards, rights, voice, and dignity.
This propaganda barrage is not new. But it is getting louder and ugly, evoking irrational and dangerous reactions from too many people. And its aim, though never stated, is to conceal the commonality of interests that organically glue together the multi-racial, multi-national, male-female, young-old, skilled-unskilled, white collar-blue collar, service-industrial, and immigrant-native born working class and its strategic allies.
I’m not suggesting that fascism is around the corner or that the majority of the American people embrace these backward sentiments. Other trends and public expressions go in the opposite direction, the most obvious example being the changes in consciousness that made possible the election of our first African American president.
What I am saying is that a progressive turn in our nation’s politics requires an intensified and broader struggle against racism, male supremacy and other forms of division.
The struggles for racial and gender equality are at the core of the broader democratic struggle. A movement that is fractured along those lines will be unable to win jobs and other democratic reforms.
If unchallenged racism and male supremacy (along with other divisive ideologies and practices) will disfigure and paralyze the people’s coalition. If embraced, they will push the country in a disastrous direction.
Sam Webb, firstname.lastname@example.org, is national chairman of the Communist Party USA.