Ending violence must be our passion

Below is a section of the keynote to the Communist Party USA 30th National Convention, June 13-15, 2014, delivered on the convention’s opening day by outgoing National Chair Sam Webb. The newly elected national chair is John Bachtell, who previously served as Illinois organizer for the party.

This article discusses one of several challenges for the party and progressive movement. (See previous articles here, here, here and here.) We will feature other sections in the coming weeks.

Challenge 7: End violence and win a world of peace

We can barely turn in any direction without encountering violence of one kind or another. Violence is a pervasive presence in our lives and the lives of people worldwide. It kills innocent people, tears up the social fabric of our communities and societies. It can even numb our sense of outrage to the point where we become accepting of its presence.

But violence isn’t natural and eternal. Hate isn’t in humankind’s DNA; war is a social and political construct; there are alternatives.

Martin Luther King was right when he appealed for a transvaluation of values. His message to humankind was nonviolence and love. But for him neither were passive appeals to people’s good will, but categories of struggle.

They rested on the struggle against the structures of exploitation and oppression that are the material ground for violence. He appealed to anyone who would listen that the elimination of what he called the “triplets” – poverty, racism and militarism – was the gateway to a beloved and nonviolent community.

” … we are called to play the Good Samaritan,” he said, “on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice, which produces beggars, needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.”

If King were alive today I can’t help but think that he would despair at the violence that is so pervasive here and elsewhere, but only for a moment.

And then my guess is he would tell us that our mission can be nothing less than to join with millions of others here and across our planet to insist on peace and an end violence, to study war no more.

More concretely:

1. We should insist that our government make a U-turn in its foreign policy – from one that rests on militarism, power projection, and unrivaled dominance, to one of cooperation, peaceful resolution of conflicts, and equality and mutual respect among nations.

2. We should insist on a nuclear-free world and our government should lead the way.  

3. We should insist on the dismantling of alliances and multinational institutions that are nothing but staging grounds to project violence – beginning with NATO.

4. We should insist on a “pivot,” not to Asia and the Pacific, but towards a common effort to solve the pressing issues of nuclear proliferation, poverty, and climate change.

5. We should insist on a just settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that that includes at its core an independent, viable and robust Palestinian state existing in peace and equality with Israel.

6. We should insist on hands off Venezuela, no war with Iraq, and a normalization of relations with Cuba and freedom for the Cuban Five.

7. We should insist on an end to the “war on terror” and the “surveillance state.” Terrorist actions against innocent people cannot be justified and should be stopped, but the “war on terror” isn’t the way to do it. It easily becomes that rationale for wars of aggression abroad and cutting down on democratic rights and neglect of human needs at home. The scourge of terrorist actions can only be counted by the collective effort of the world community.

8. We should insist that big powers – existing and rising – respect the rights of small states.

9. We should insist on a peace budget not a war budget, and a peace economy not a militarized one.

10. We should insist that the judicial system be overhauled, the system of mass incarceration be abolished, and justice be not punitive and retributive, but redemptive and restorative.

11. We should insist on an end to capital punishment and on strict gun laws that prohibit the proliferation of violence in our neighborhoods and schools, and civilian police review boards in every city.

12. We should insist on expansion of health care clinics and school staff to provide humane and nurturing treatment to people – young and old – who have mental health problems – no shame there, right?

13. We should insist on a massive and fully funded plan to restore and sustain hard hit communities, including reservations where Native peoples live in abject conditions.

14. We should insist on a just and humane immigration system.

If we want to fight a war, we should once again declare a war on poverty, joblessness, decaying and underfunded schools and inadequate housing, malnutrition, and all the social ills that make life difficult for millions

We should declare “no tolerance” for racism, male supremacy, xenophobia, and homophobia – all of which can easily turn into acts of violence.

Lenin once wrote, “An end to wars, peace among the nations, the cessation of pillaging and violence – such is our ideal.” I would modify that in this way: the cessation of violence must become our passion as well as our ideal. It should be encoded into our emotional and political DNA.

In the big universe in which we live and do our politics, our brand should have inscribed on it: “An end to violence, peace, and a peaceful path to socialism.” In other words, the image, style, look, slogan, banner, and signature of our party should give pride of place to our unyielding commitment to a nonviolent and peaceful world.

If we want to be rebels, let’s rebel against the violence and hate, let’s rebel against war and the loss of too many young lives in Chicago, Oakland, and Sandy Hook. Let’s become drum majors for peace and against racism, poverty, and militarism. Let’s take inspiration from the lives of Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and Dorothy Day.

Photo: “Non-Violence” (a.k.a. “The Knotted Gun”), a sculpture by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd, Malmö, Sweden. Wikimedia


Sam Webb
Sam Webb

Sam Webb is a long-time writer living in New York. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine.