Every day, somebody new is raising hell

Below is a section of the keynote to the Communist Party USA 30th National Convention, June 13-15, 2014. It was 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. We will feature other sections in the coming weeks. (See first section here.) – Editors

I’m going to turn my attention to the main challenges that the leadership of the party would like to you to discuss, debate, and decide over the next three days. I will present them one by one for the purposes of clarity, but in real life each intermingles with the other in countless ways.

Challenge 1: People’s surge

It seems like every day somebody new is raising hell, rattling the cages of the powers that be.

One day it’s the Dreamers, the next day it’s Walmart moms and fast food workers, and then the Moral Monday movement the day after that.

Then there are seemingly endless actions to increase the minimum wage.

There are also initiatives to stop deportations and the militarization of the border.

To this list, we have to add mobilizations against voter suppression along with ongoing campaigns to register new voters.

Nor can we forget the struggles to stop mass incarceration and overhaul a judicial system that is punitive and riven with racial and class bias.

Of great significance are the efforts to protect women’s health and abortion clinics, which are under ferocious attack.

Then there are the inspiring student campaigns against global energy corporations, student debt and the Keystone pipeline.

And we should include in this surge the flood of phone calls that nearly overwhelmed the congressional switchboards to protest what looked like imminent U.S. military action in Syria.

Also of great significance was the transformative AFL-CIO convention in Los Angeles last fall.

Still another impressive example of this surge was the landslide win of Bill de Blasio for mayor of New York City, who is a self-described progressive. The New York Times, no less, called it “a sharp leftward turn.”

Then a few weeks ago, across the mighty Hudson River, Ras Baraka in another impressive victory was elected Newark’s mayor.

Finally, an aspect of this surge that is so inspiring it brings tears to my eyes has been the passage of marriage equality legislation in state after state. These victories have become so common that it is easy to lose sight of the enormous change this represents and thanks goes to the courage and tenacity of the LGBT rights movement.

From this podium, let me in everyone’s name tip our banner to the late Harry Hay, as well as to the pioneering Stonewall Generation that includes our own Gary Dotterman and Eric Gordon. The Stonewall generation came out when it was very difficult to do so; they battled and lost loved ones to the AIDS epidemic, and they never gave an inch to ignorance and hate.

If I could sum this surge up in a few words, I might say that things are breaking good, not “breaking bad.”

Now I will be the first to say that this surge of struggle doesn’t have the capacity to resolve the crisis of capitalism in a consistently democratic and working class manner.

But does it have transformative potential? Yes – it contains the seeds that could, if properly cared for, sprout and bring a “new burst of freedom,” economic security, and peace.

Of course, a devil’s advocate would quickly remind me of the barriers that make any kind of progress, let alone social transformation, unlikely.

And you know what? The obstacles are formidable; the task is daunting.  

But we shouldn’t lower our sights or lose those precious gifts called hope and desire or give up on the American people.

The present surge is real. And it can evolve into “a movement of the immense majority in the interests of the immense majority,” as a young Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto.

Which means that it reaches into small towns and suburbs as well as cities, into Lubbock as well as San Francisco, into the South as well as the North, into the heartland as well as the coasts, and into red states as well as blue states.  

Or to put it differently, only a movement, as one progressive analyst wrote, that includes the desperately poor and the insecure middle class has any chance of success. This is not exactly a Marxist formulation, but framing it like that encourages big universe thinking and expansive tactics, both of which are sometimes lacking on the left and in the party.

(To be continued)

Photo: PW


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.