Below is the text of a report delivered by John Bachtell, national chair of the Communist Party USA, to a meeting of its National Committee on November 19, 2016 in Chicago.
The road to human freedom and preserving life on Earth is a long one, full of twists and unexpected turns. And reverses.
There’s no sugar coating it. The election of Donald Trump as president and a Republican Senate and House was a bitter and sweeping defeat with far-reaching consequences that will ripple for years and even decades to come. It has put our nation and Earth, already in a precarious state, in a far more dangerous place.
Everything has changed as of Nov. 8. With the takeover of the Republican Party by white supremacists, a new kind of right-wing and authoritarian danger has emerged, one that if unchecked threatens basic democracy.
Our multi-racial working class and people and all democratic movements are immediately on the defensive and our nation and Earth, already in a precarious state, will be in a far more dangerous place. Tens of thousands will die as a direct result of the cruel and ruthless Trump and GOP Congressional policies.
The broad democratic movements cannot allow this defeat or the fear of authoritarian rule to lead to paralysis. It is not the end of the road. As the Rev. William Barber III said, “We must remember how our ancestors responded to disappointment without allowing it to deter them on the march toward justice.”
After all, political fortunes can reverse quickly. Upon winning a narrow re-election in 2004, Pres. George W. Bush, in his hubris, launched a campaign to privatize of Social Security. A huge mass movement rose to block it, and the unraveling of his administration, already in retreat, began.
Remembering this now is especially important because Trump’s victory did not represent a mandate for his policies. By voting for Hillary Clinton, the majority rejected hate and attacks on democratic rights. Even though the U.S. is deeply polarized politically, majorities of people support taxing the rich, taking money out of politics, expanding Social Security and Medicare, labor unions, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, abortion and reproductive rights, criminal justice reform, LGBTQ rights, and urgently addressing the climate crisis. These issues and their moral implications form the basis for broad unity against the Trump policies.
After past election defeats, people were demoralized for a time. Already thousands are taking to the streets, campuses, and online to show their opposition. People are overcoming shock, demoralization, and fear through community, mutual support, and solidarity. It’s an important first step in regaining voice, hope, and determination to forge ahead.
“We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back,” said Dr. King.
Many protests have been self-organized on social media, initiated by youth declaring, “We reject Trumpland and the dystopian future it has in store for us.” Tens of thousands are wearing safety pins to declare their opposition to the Trump policies.
Defiance is taking place on a much larger scale, too. States, counties, and cities are assuring fearful residents, “We will oppose Trump. We stand for tolerance. We are a safe place for immigrants, Muslims, people of color, women and the LGBT community.”
Several protests are being organized to coincide with the inauguration, including the Women’s March on Washington on January 21. This protest grew out of Pantsuit Nation, a Facebook group that has grown to 3.7 million members.
No one will walk alone. And it will take tens of millions, the majority of Americans, to block the Trump agenda. As Lenin said, “Politics begin where the masses are, not where there are thousands, but where there are millions, that is where serious politics begin.”
Broad all-people’s unity: resistance, solidarity, and tolerance
This is a fight to defend democracy and humanity. Trump and everything he stands for must not be allowed to be seen in any way as normal or “just another GOP administration.” This is a fight for the moral heart of the nation. Everything Trump and the GOP stand for is immoral and repugnant.
What is absolutely necessary now is building a united multi-class, multi-racial, multi-gender identity, multi-generational, interfaith movement of every organization, network, institution, and political persuasion in opposition to the Trump agenda, without condition.
Such a movement already starts with a mass base. Trump assumes office as the most reviled and deeply unpopular president in history. Over half the electorate voted against him.
Unity must be built with every conceivable ally – starting with the people’s coalition led by labor, communities of color, the Civil Right Movement including #blacklivesmatter, climate justice, the immigrant rights movement, including the Dreamers, LGBTQ community, Muslims and Jewish Americans, women’s equality organizations, and youth and students.
All these organizations, networks, and movements will have to work in alliance with the Democratic Party, including its corporate wing and all parts of what was the Hillary Clinton electoral coalition, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and those inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign, particularly the millions of youth.
It will include those who sat on the sidelines during the elections or who voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.
At times and depending on the issue, it might include moderate Republicans and sections of the GOP establishment, former government officials, and independents. Because the GOP majority in the Senate has shrunk, some GOP senators may join with Democrats to oppose particular Trump policies.
It will embrace the interfaith religious community, including some currently influenced by right-wing fundamentalism. Catholic Bishops have already expressed their opposition to Trump’s immigration policies.
It includes public schools, universities, and media – particularly independent media – who will be under attack. It is too early to tell if major corporate media will buckle under the Trump threats or the fear of losing access to the president and favorable regulatory decisions.
It includes artists, cultural performers, celebrities, and athletes. The weekend after the election, David Chappelle, a Tribe Called Quest and cast turned Saturday Night Live into a protest. And Jalen Rose said NBA players would likely boycott the White House as long as Trump is president, and many NBA teams have announced boycotts of Trump hotels.
It will have to include millions who voted for Trump but who oppose Republican attacks on specific programs like Obamacare, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, reproductive rights, public school funding, and their unions and other mass organizations.
It already includes governing entities and democratic institutions, entire states, counties, and municipalities.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared, “Whether you are gay or straight, Muslim or Christian, rich or poor, black or white or brown, we respect all people in the state of New York. It’s the very core of what we believe and who we are… We don’t allow a federal government that attacks immigrants to do so in our state.”
New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco have reaffirmed their commitment as Sanctuary Cities and vowed not to cooperate with ICE, despite threats by Trump to cut funding. They can become places of solidarity, tolerance, and resistance in defense of Muslims, immigrants, women, and unions while defending democracy and the path of sustainable development to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
No one should be left standing on the sidelines. And assembling this powerful opposition will be the first step toward regrouping for the 2018 elections.
Role of the CPUSA, the left, and progressives
The CPUSA, the non-sectarian left, and progressive activists can play a vital role in building this broad multi-racial, multi-class united people’s movement to block Trump. Every organization and individual can play a vital role in building the movement to block Trump. Sectarian pressures to narrow the scope and scale of the movement must be resisted.
First, movements are arising spontaneously in response to Trump. Everyone can initiate or help build these grassroots responses on a neighborhood, city, and state level.
Secondly, help to build the labor-led people’s coalition component of this alliance. The multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-generational working class in alliance with communities of color, women, and youth should put their stamp on the broader united people’s movement to defend democracy by pushing forward the issues and helping build its breadth and depth. We should assist in defending and building the labor movement, and all the democratic movements intersecting with it.
Thirdly, at the core of this is the fight for multi-racial, multi-gender unity, so deeply under assault by the white supremacists. Efforts should be redoubled to combat the racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, and Islamophobia that are aimed at splintering the working class and people.
Fourthly, the people’s coalition led by labor should continue to advance a program of economic, democratic, and sustainable restructuring combined with addressing structural racial and gender inequity. We will not be deterred from the march toward a sustainable, multi-racial, multi-cultural, inclusive society of economic, racial, and gender equity.
Fight and resist now!
Trump must be fought at every turn and in every arena: in the streets, the legislative, political, and electoral arenas and in the battle of ideas.
Without a broad and vigorous resistance from every conceivable sector on every conceivable front, descent further into authoritarianism or worse is possible. Without a fight, those who voted for Trump based on an appeal to white supremacy can be drawn into an organized and full blown white supremacist and fascist movement.
“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross,” goes a saying that is widely attributed to the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Sinclair Lewis. And we could add, its bearer will be a reality TV star.
When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.
We are guided by the words of the great Bulgarian Communist Georgi Dimitrov in his famous speech to the 7th World Congress of the Communist International in 1935:
“[B]efore the establishment of a fascist dictatorship, (capitalist) governments usually pass through a number of preliminary stages and adopt a number of reactionary measures which directly facilitate the accession to power of fascism. Whoever does not fight the reactionary measures of the (capitalists) and the growth of fascism at these preparatory stages is not in a position to prevent the victory of fascism, but, on the contrary, facilitates that victory.”
Or as Dumbledore, the wise elderly headmaster of Hogwarts, warned, “It was important to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then could evil be kept at bay, though never quite eradicated.”
Solidarity with targets and the most vulnerable
The Trump victory has emboldened the forces of bigotry and unleashed a wave of hate, harassment, and violence. There have already been over 900 reported incidents. This moment calls for an immediate and unambiguous response: not here, not now, not ever.
The scapegoating, discrimination, and violence against Muslims, immigrants, people of color, the LGBTQ community, women, unions, and other democratic organizations will only increase as the new administration seeks ways to divide the working class and people and ram through its reactionary policies.
It begins with extending solidarity to the immediate targets – beginning with Muslims and undocumented immigrants. A registry for Muslims is being floated which is aimed at picking off the most vulnerable target first and dividing the people. This must be fought at every step. Attacks on Muslims and undocumented immigrants will result in racial profiling, the targeting of entire communities, and the undermining democratic rights for all.
An attack on one is an attack on all.
We are reminded of the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller,
First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
Muslims, immigrants, women, and the LGBTQ community are not the only ones at the point of attack. Mass organizations that form the bulwark against attacks on democratic rights – the entire organized labor movement and organizations like Planned Parenthood – are in the crosshairs.
Historic democratic gains including public education, the entire legislative and legal edifice of the New Deal, Great Society, Voting Rights, Civil Rights, Disability Rights, reproductive rights, and environmental rights are under assault. Basic constitutional rights are under assault along with violations of international law reauthorizing waterboarding and other forms of torture.
The ACLU stated of Trump’s plans, “These proposals are not simply un-American and wrongheaded, they are unlawful and unconstitutional. They violate the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments.”
Depending on how he separates himself from his business empire, Trump will enter office already violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution by accepting favors for his foreign investments and with foreign dignitaries staying at the opulent new Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Defense of labor
The multi-racial, multi-gender identity, multi-generational, labor movement played a leading role in the electoral coalition backing Clinton. There is no doubt were it bigger she might have won. The labor movement was also the most effective organizer in the communities of white workers, dispelling lies and challenging the Trump demagogy.
But the labor movement has been crippled and in some cases decimated through plant closings, layoffs, and anti-labor legislation in key Midwest battleground states won by Trump, especially Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
A central and strategic aim of this administration will be the destruction of the labor movement. They will draw on Republican success at the state level to pass a national right-to-work law and attempt to destroy public sector unions.
The timely death of Justice Antonin Scalia was the only thing that prevented the Supreme Court from deciding against unions in Friedrichs v California Teachers Association.
Trump’s proposed $1 trillion infrastructure bill may be used to split the labor movement and consolidate his support, while rewarding investors through privatization of projects. We join with labor to insist workers be paid prevailing wages, the work be done by union members, and affirmative action guidelines implemented. There should be no privatization of finished projects.
Engaging with Trump voters; exposing the GOP
Trump won among white voters across the board and these voters must be engaged in cities, suburbs, small cities, rural areas, “red states,” and “red districts”.
There is no avoiding engaging and winning these voters if Trump and the right wing are to be defeated and social progress achieved. They too will feel the lash.
During the election, Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO held effective “porch conversations” in largely white communities. They were counteracting right-wing influence among white workers who were being misled to abandon multi-racial working class unity.
The Moral Movement in North Carolina led by the Rev. William J. Barber III has assembled a labor-civil rights-immigrant rights-religious coalition that is reaching deeply into the small towns and rural areas of the state. It is modeled on the idea that a united multi-racial working class and people are necessary for all social advances.
This requires building movements and coalitions, including the electoral coalition that works in and with the Democratic Party, on the ground in such places to oppose the assault on Social Security, Medicare, healthcare, etc. – winning people on the basis of self-interest, common destiny, and morality.
It means ramping up engagement in the “battle of ideas” through expanding the reach of the People’s World and independent progressive mass media to millions now getting their news and information from right-wing media sources.
Wolf at the door
Tens of millions awoke Nov. 9 terrified by the realization the wolf is not only at the White House door, but has entered the Oval Office. Trump has brought the most extreme political forces from the political fringes into the mainstream and into the White House. GOP elected officials are normalizing the existence of these forces at the center of government as they stumble in line behind Trump. They are getting an assist from sections of the corporate mass media that are treating this like a normal conservative GOP administration.
Contrary to his claims though, Trump is no anti-establishment outsider. Right-wing billionaires, the Heritage Foundation, and corporate lobbyists back him. They will stock his cabinet and are providing policy blueprints and lists of names to stack departments and the judiciary at all levels.
These forces, along with ALEC and the Koch Brothers, now control 33 governorships and two-thirds of state legislative chambers. They have been ruthlessly unfolding their wrecking agenda in these states. Reactionary policy will now unfold in foreign affairs as well, including withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran Nuclear Agreement and reversing normalization of relations with Cuba.
Authoritarianism and corruption
The authoritarianism and corruption of this new regime will deepen the inherent crises and contradictions of capitalism, between society and nature, and the existential crisis the planet faces due to climate change. The new balance of power will usher in instability and unpredictability, greatly aggravating class, racial, and social tensions, as well as economic and social inequality.
Trump arose amidst the divisions within the GOP. As Dimitrov noted, “In reality, fascism usually comes to power in the course of a mutual, and at times severe, struggle against the old bourgeois parties, or a definite section of these parties.”
Authoritarian regimes are historically unstable and characterized by infighting, jockeying for the leader’s ear, corruption, enemy lists, and ruthless retribution. We are seeing that all play out in the Trump transition.
This administration will have features of both a kleptocracy (rule by thieves) and a kakistocracy (a form of government in which the worst and least qualified persons are in power). These forces now have full access to the state security apparatus, which they also utilized during the campaign by colluding with right-wing rogue elements in the FBI.
This administration will have features of both a kleptocracy (rule by thieves) and a kakistocracy (a form of government in which the worst and least qualified persons are in power).
They will govern the way they campaigned – through division, fear, and intimidation. This is the meaning of the appointment of the white supremacist, anti-Semite, and former CEO of Breitbart News, Steve Bannon as White House chief strategist.
Breitbart News, the mouthpiece of the so-called alt-right, a white supremacist movement, will be a de facto state mass communication arm of the Trump presidency – its ministry of information, marshaling supporters and attacking opponents.
During the administration of Pres. George W. Bush, the neo-cons arrogantly declared, “We create our own reality.” They were in for a rude awakening.
Trump will also confront new global and climate realities, economic integration, regional trade pacts, treaties, and alliances. In today’s world, the U.S. is a descending power and China and other countries are ascending powers. In addition to the domestic resistance movement, these will all act as countervailing forces to his unfolding policies.
The American people face difficult and ugly days ahead. The ferocity of the attack and suffering will be enormous, but the fight against it will stir hearts too. With unity, solidarity, and steadfastness, the Trump menace can and will be defeated.
Causes of defeat – Not just economic populism
However bitter this year’s election defeat, the broad electoral coalition that backed Hillary Clinton should not despair. Despite the unprecedented forces arrayed against her, she received the majority of votes. Trump did win 61.4 million votes though – a sobering indication of the extent of the mass right-wing Republican base.
Trump won 1.5 million more votes than Mitt Romney, indicating the right wing base has grown, but not substantially. However, the most extreme part of it has grown stronger, allowing white supremacists to take over the Republican Party apparatus.
Clinton received almost 65 million votes, nearly as many as President Obama in 2012. However, that’s still 4.5 million votes less than in 2008. And while Clinton assembled much the same coalition that twice carried Obama to victory, those voters turned out in lower percentages across the board.
And after voting for President Obama in 2008 and 2012, a section of white voters in Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania shifted their support to Trump. How was it that Trump, a corrupt, selfish billionaire, who flies around in a private gold-plated jet, was able to portray himself as an anti-establishment outsider?
For sure, the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party establishment bears their own measure of responsibility for this defeat, which I will discuss below. But I don’t think the argument Clinton was a “weak” candidate is convincing, considering her tenacity and all she overcame. There is more than an element of sexism in that statement.
Defeat cannot simply be laid at the doorstep of the Clinton campaign. It takes an electoral coalition to win an election in our two-party system, and the winning coalition is different in each election, even if just by degrees. How those coalitions are built depends on specific circumstances.
Take the 2008 election for example. The U.S. was in the midst of the biggest economic freefall since the Great Depression. Pres. George W. Bush was universally despised and blamed for the mess. Millions wanted change. They chose Obama, a once-in-a-lifetime candidate, over John McCain. Because many whites voted for Obama in 2008, some observers argue that it therefore can’t be true that these same voters were influenced by racism in 2016 when they changed course and voted for Trump.
But the situation in 2016 is different. Millions are fed up with politics as usual. They are angry at Wall Street, political institutions, and candidates associated with economic elites. Many saw Clinton as a representative of that world, but they gave the billionaire Trump a pass.
They are frustrated and cynical about gridlock, corruption, and corporate domination of government. Much of this so-called anti-establishment vote was influenced by the steady drumbeat of anti-government rhetoric and developed against the backdrop of the eight-year sabotage of the Obama administration by the extreme right in Congress.
Nevertheless, I don’t think this was primarily an economic populist revolt or a protest against political elites. If that were the case why did African Americans, the most sophisticated portion of the electorate, and Latino and Asian Americans overwhelmingly vote for Clinton? After all, communities of color are also experiencing great economic distress, compounded by racism.
This was not primarily an economic populist revolt or a protest against political elites.
Voters in these communities feel the same alienation to political elites, but they still voted for a Democratic Party establishment candidate connected to Wall Street to block a billionaire tycoon. Millions of working families – black, brown, and white – are all experiencing economic pain, declining living standards, debt, joblessness, poverty, discrimination, and bigotry. They are fearful and desperately want change.
While millions of whites stood with their black and brown sisters and brothers, some 58 percent voted for Trump. They voted against their own economic interests. Trump won a majority of every category of white voters.
The question is, why? We have to dig deeper into the larger economic, social, and political context.
Rooted in the brutal enslavement of millions of Africans and genocide against Indigenous peoples, racism has been a central thread throughout our nation’s history. It was instrumental in maintaining the slavocracy and after that, capitalist class power more generally. It has been used to extract super profits and to justify economic, social, and institutional inequality. It has been a central part of the story of growing right wing power over the past 60 years.
The “Southern Strategy” employed by Richard Nixon and later by Ronald Reagan succeeded as part of the backlash by reactionary forces to the vast social changes of the 1960s. The election of the nation’s first African American president was met by unprecedented obstruction by the GOP and reactionary sections of capital based on racism challenging his legitimacy as president. To this day, a large section of this right-wing base is so influenced by the racism of the “birther” movement led by Trump that they still believe Obama is not a U.S. citizen.
The demographic character of the U.S. is rapidly changing, with cultural and social mores shifting along with it. A new role for women and the LGBTQ community is emerging. All are shaping a new multi-racial, multi-national, multi-gender identity, multi-cultural, multi-lingual people and nation.
And these changes are taking place over the span of just a few decades. Since 1965, the immigrant population has grown from 9.6 million to 45 million, accounting for 55 percent of U.S. population growth. Between 1980 and 2008, the foreign-born Latino population grew four-fold from 4.2 million to 17.8 million.
These economic, demographic, cultural, and social changes (and the pace at which they are occurring) are unsettling to many whites. The backlash represented by a significant portion of the Trump vote is a reaction against the new multi-racial, multi-cultural society embodied in Obama and the Obama coalition.
In that sense, there are parallels with the Brexit vote. The tremendous social and economic stresses brought on by massive and rapid immigration on top of economic austerity and crisis were unsettling to millions.
The election has to be understood within the wider context of neoliberal capitalist globalization, which has brought massive social change and dislocation. Since the 1970s, unfair trade pacts, outsourcing, and automation have produced deindustrialization and left communities devastated. Death rates, suicides, and use of opiates are up. Economic stagnation, declining real wages, and a soaring wealth gap have left millions feeling left out, angry, and hopeless.
The same process of hollowing out industrial centers, creating highly segregated deep pockets of poverty in African American communities, is also causing deep poverty in rural areas and small industrial cities of segregated white communities. Many whites, particularly men, are among the victims of plant closings, wage cuts, home foreclosures, and economic dislocation – particularly in the Upper Midwest states.
Mass layoffs and plant and mine closings have heightened competition for jobs in the working class, sharpening racial anxieties and tensions, sexism, and xenophobia. Many whites feel their dignity and self-worth disappear as their economic status declines and the world and their place in it rapidly changes. They and their communities are up against powerful global economic forces they cannot fathom and feel helpless to fight.
The rapidly changing multi-racial character of the working class, growing multiculturalism, the changing role of women and growth of religious diversity – all of these challenge the world of white domination, patriarchy, and dominant Christianity, leaving many unsettled. They are used to the relative advantages stemming from race, gender, and citizenship.
Growing multiculturalism, the changing role of women and growth of religious diversity – all of these challenge the world of white domination.
When they are united with their class brothers and sisters in struggle, these workers experience the power of multi-racial, male-female class unity. They understand their advance is tied to expanding democracy for all. However, with deindustrialization also comes the destruction of the one organization that has united them with other communities – their union. They can become ideologically disarmed and have no way to understand these changes from a working class perspective. Instead of multi-racial class unity, the void is filled with something else – racial identity politics.
They wanted change, but in this case, it was regressive change.
“When workers were in unions alongside others who had different color skin, holding together a viable multiracial working class coalition was possible,” says a study by the New School for Social Research. “But unions have been destroyed [in the rust belt states]…and stunning economic decline has made it easy for narratives of zero-sum competition between different social groups to take hold. This is why so many are vulnerable to a demagogic appeal to ‘take back our country.’”
“With his tirades against nonwhites and foreign others, (Trump) reopened the argument,” wrote Jamelle Bouie in Slate. “In effect, he gave white voters a choice: They could continue down the path of multiracial democracy – which coincided with the end of an order in which white workers were the first priority of national leaders – or they could reject it in favor of someone who offered that presumptive treatment. Who promised to ‘make America great again,’ to make it look like the America of Trump’s youth and their youths, where whites – and white men in particular – were the uncontested masters of the country.”
For many whites, Trump taps into resentment against “distant elites” and speaks to their fear of a rapidly changing multi-cultural world along with new social mores and non-sectarianism.
“But it’s not an accident that Trump and the European far right surged at roughly the same time. Both of them, in different fashions, figured out a core fact of the world: There are a lot of white people in the West who blame distant elites for allowing – or accelerating – their loss of economic and political power. [Populists’] greatest support is concentrated among the older generation, men, the religious, majority populations, and the less educated – sectors generally left behind by progressive tides of cultural value change,” wrote Zack Beauchamp in Vox.
Through such appeals, a campaign based on white supremacy was able to win a majority of white voters. This helps explain also how, over the past few decades, as the white vote as a percentage of the electorate has decreased, white support for GOP candidates has increased. There has occurred a qualitative shift; the time was ripe for a white supremacist takeover of the GOP.
The time was ripe for a white supremacist takeover of the GOP.
People are constantly being influenced by opposing ideas. They are often of multiple minds. Whites can simultaneously be influenced by both racist and anti-racist ideas. They respond to events depending on experience and their depth of consciousness. With higher levels of class, anti-racist, and anti-sexist consciousness, they can resist the poison of racism.
The same dynamic contributed to the lower level of resistance to voter suppression laws – which were especially aimed at disenfranchising African Americans, low-income workers, and youth. The result this year was an estimated 3 to 5 million disenfranchised voters.
These factors all show that it was not just class issues and economic populism that were at play in this election, but also broad democratic questions around gender, nationality and race. And incidentally, one can’t ignore how those issues played out in the Democratic Party primary either.
Bernie Sanders conducted a historic and unprecedented campaign, energized young and first time voters, and brought advanced ideas and socialism into the discussion. Certainly Sanders had a central role in shaping the Democratic Party platform.
But so did the Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter, the Dreamers, the climate justice movement, the LGBTQ community, and others who have helped shift mass public opinion over the past few years. And the deep support for
Clinton also shaped the platform including by advancing equal pay for equal work, criminal justice reform, etc. Her deep support among women, African Americans, and Latinos cannot be ignored. After all, she got 3 million more votes than Sanders.
What was needed coming out of the primaries was the broadest possible unity on the issues, keeping forces backing both candidates as united as possible for the general election battle.
The right-wing mass media, often uncontested, influences wide swaths of the country. Millions, including working people, get their news and opinion, much of it based on lies and conspiracy theories, from Fox News, hate talk radio, and white supremacist and hate groups. Those living in racially segregated communities, suburbs, small cities, and rural areas are especially vulnerable.
Breitbart “News,” the platform of the so-called alt-right, reaches millions. Such outlets acted as a free mass communications arm of the Trump campaign. There was also the deluge of false news and conspiracies spread by the right wing on social media. And of course the major cable TV networks cannot be forgotten; it is estimated Trump received over $2 billion in free coverage from them.
The Republican Party apparatus in the various states, the National Rifle Association, and the right-wing Christian fundamentalist churches all got out the vote for Trump. Right-wing religious institutions and networks, especially conservative evangelicals, have been a key part of the modern extreme right movement. Twenty-six percent of the electorate were Christian evangelical voters; 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump, the highest vote for a Republican since 2004.
While Clinton’s unfavorable rating was 55 percent among voters overall, it was 80 percent among evangelicals. The key issue for evangelicals appears to have been abortion. For 21 percent of voters, abortion was a bottom line issue, up from 13 percent in 2008.
“The American Renewal Project representing right wing Christian Evangelical churches spent over $10 million and organized an extensive get-out-the-vote operation among Evangelicals in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, and Iowa. Trump won five of the six,” bragged right-wing blogger David Brody.
The payoff to these forces will be the appointment of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice who will vote to repeal Roe v. Wade, outlaw abortion, and perhaps undermine same-sex marriage by ensuring legal protections for religious conservatives to discriminate.
Hillary Clinton conducted a historic campaign. The election of the first woman president was a material force, a motivating and inspiring cause for millions. Had she won, it would have been an advance for democracy, as was the election of Barack Obama. As a public figure shaped by the turbulent 1960s, Clinton has been a leader of the movement to advance women’s rights. She embodies the rapidly changing status of women in society and, consequently, has been the object of every form of misogyny and hate.
Millions were inspired by her history-making campaign. Not surprisingly, she won by the highest gender margin ever, with women of color leading the way. Sexism and misogyny in their most blatant forms, however, were at the center of the election. They prevented millions from voting for the first woman president. Instead they voted against their class interests and advancing gender equity – a basic democratic issue.
Influences of sexism on the left, and even in the Party, were also all too prevalent during the election and the primaries. There is no other plausible explanation for the deep hatred and venom directed at Clinton including by many on the left. There is no other explanation for the characterizations that she “can’t be trusted,” is a “serial liar,” “coldly ambitious,” and was a “weak” candidate.
Influences of sexism on the left, and even in the Party, were also all too prevalent.
Aside from the women’s equality movement, gender issues were too often downplayed or pitted against other concerns by the left. The movements and society overall pay for these “sins of omission.”
Nevertheless, Clinton’s candidacy was historic and, despite her defeat, many women, including women of color, were elected to Congress. This year’s campaign provoked the most wide-ranging public discussion about misogyny and the pervasiveness of sexual assault that I can recall. Perhaps the thing I am most self-critical about is not fighting even harder and speaking out more forcefully against the misogyny and sexism that pervaded this campaign.
If we are to advance, the interconnections between class, race, and gender need to be deepened. It would do us all well, especially men, to reflect more deeply on this.
It’s really up to white people and especially white men – and furthermore, communists, socialists and those with broad awareness – to take the lead in reaching those who were misdirected and are under the sway of reactionary ideology.
Reviled by the right
During Bill Clinton’s administration, Hillary Clinton forged her own role, stood up to right-wing efforts to destroy her husband’s presidency, and became a political force in her own right. The extreme right never forgave her for it and she has been vilified ever since.
Republicans transformed her use of a private email server and unproven allegations of corruption in the Clinton Foundation into criminal acts in the public mind. Chants of “Lock her up!” dogged Clinton at every step. Days before the election, FBI director James Comey, at the behest of a right-wing gang within the Bureau, revived suspicions of criminality when he reopened the email investigation. The damage was done. Many voters, including suburban white women on the fence, decided to vote for Trump.
In addition to the FBI interference, the Clinton candidacy was also up against Julian Assange, working in unison with the Russian oligarchy and probably the Putin government. Wikileaks’ constant email dumps created chaos on the eve of the Democratic Party convention, kept Clinton on the defensive throughout the campaign, and cast a shadow implying that she was hiding something.
This kind of interference, especially by a foreign government, is unprecedented. The criminalization of Clinton overshadowed her program and allowed some voters to give in to false equivalencies. To them, she was no better than Trump. Many of these voters either sat out the election or voted third party.
Mistakes of the campaign
The Clinton campaign certainly made mistakes and had some built-in flaws. Clinton was the face of the Democratic Party corporate establishment, part of the political and economic power structure at a time of growing anti-corporate outrage.
She opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but because of Pres. Obama’s support for it, her previous backing of the pact, and the free trade agreements negotiated by the Bill Clinton administration, she could not escape association with the TPP. Her paid speeches at Goldman Sachs gave further credence to the image of her being Wall Street’s candidate.
Clinton ran, however, on the most progressive platform of any major party in history. She addressed class, race, and gender issues, yet her economic message still didn’t resonate strongly with enough voters. The campaign too often chose to focus on the unfitness of Trump as commander-in-chief rather than on day-to-day economic concerns.
It did not effectively build on Bernie Sanders’ call to change the “rigged economic system.” His candidacy tapped into mass thinking, energized millions of voters, especially young people, and was instrumental in shaping the Democratic platform.
The Democratic Party and the campaign failed to reach out to large swaths of small towns, cities and rural areas that were largely populated by whites. It relied too much on demographic changes alone to win a progressive governing majority. The temptation to write off white communities and the fifty-state strategy was a fatal flaw.
The 2016 elections were a huge setback for social progress and pose an enormous danger to democracy and life on Earth. However, the defeat is rich in lessons upon which greater unity can be forged. Without that, we will be powerless to block the coming assault on truth, social programs, basic democratic rights, peace, and the environment.
Growing the CPUSA and PeoplesWorld.org while building unity
The CPUSA can be proud of its involvement in the 2016 elections. We were deeply immersed throughout and unfolded our work within the strategic framework of defeating the extreme right. We understood the stakes, the authoritarian and fascist danger, and the need to build the broadest possible unity to defend democracy and the environment.
We saw the need to help build a multi-class alliance – with the people’s coalition led by labor, our multi-racial, multi-gender identity, multi-generational working class at the center – that united broad left and center political currents. We saw the interrelationship between economic and class issues and other democratic questions, including racial and gender equity.
We had and have no illusions about the class character of the Democratic Party, but we also understood the composition of its social base and the nature of the electoral coalition working in and with it – a coalition which is radically different from the Republican Party.
We had and have no illusions about the class character of the Democratic Party.
We understood the dynamics of the class and democratic struggle being waged within the developing all-people’s coalition amassed within the Democratic Party. We saw the need to build structures of political independence, beginning with the labor movement.
During the primaries, our approach allowed for being critical of the Clinton and Sanders campaigns when required. Both responded to the impact of events and rising movements.
While we saw the historic importance of the Sanders campaign, and most of our members were active in it, our approach allowed for much more flexibility. Like the AFL-CIO, our approach gave space for those supporting Clinton.
It also recognized the historic importance of the Clinton campaign and saw electing the first woman president as an advance for democracy. It recognized substantial parts of labor, the African American and Latino communities, and women were backing her.
The CP saw the historic importance of the Clinton campaign and saw electing the first woman president as an advance for democracy.
It recognized Clinton was the target of 25 years of right-wing venom, misogyny, and sexism. Defending her was also defending democracy.
The Sanders’ candidacy provided the basis for a mass public discussion of socialism, made many advanced programmatic contributions, and mobilized and energized millions of voters particularly youth. While Sanders moved Clinton to adopt more advanced positions, he was also giving voice to movements that were already in motion shaping issues and public opinion.
Meanwhile, Clinton was also responding with advanced overtures of her own, such as equal pay for equal work, criminal justice reform, and campaigning with Mothers of the Movement. All of these helped shape the Democratic platform and came in response to rising movements.
Some say the CPUSA’s strategy has been an ineffective one and point to Trump’s victory is proof. Some say history proves multi-class alliances opposing the most reactionary sections of capital actually heighten attacks on democracy (an anarchist assertion).
I disagree. We were one of the few organizations that recognized the early right-wing danger and called for all-people’s unity to defeat it. This concept is widely accepted today.
It is the only strategy capable of mobilizing millions. It is premised on ascertaining the current stage of the democratic struggle and identifying and amassing all the key class and social forces for that stage which will result in victory.
The Party’s work, of course, was not without shortcomings. We had differences in emphasis – sharp ones at times. There were pressures to narrowly focus on the role of the left, rather than building broad, flexible left-center unity. There were pressures to abandon the idea of multi-class alliances in favor of class versus class. There were pressures to aim fire at Clinton rather than the extreme right danger. That would have resulted in distancing us from the broad electoral coalition backing Clinton.
Some of our members were influenced by these ideas and were never convinced of the anti-extreme right strategy. They saw no significant difference between Clinton and Trump, insisting both were creatures of Wall Street, and leaving it at that. Some were influenced by misogyny. Some saw no reason to engage in the electoral arena of struggle. Most of these members sat out the elections.
We could have done better explaining and popularizing our strategic policy and helping people understand how this stage of struggle is related to advancing to more radical economic, political, and social reforms.
Embracing what is new
The anti-extreme right strategy is not a static concept. It should be seen in light of new developments, especially changes in the balance of class and political forces.
Much has changed since 1981 when the Party first introduced this concept, rooted in the Popular Front and United Front strategies from the fight against fascism in the 1930s and 1940s, as well as in Lenin’s concept of the democratic struggle.
The political balance has to be constantly assessed and new factors taken into account. They include the growing wealth gap, the re-emergence of an oligarchy and its increasingly reactionary character, long-term wage stagnation, job loss, and deepening social inequality.
It has to take into account the advance of capitalist globalization and neoliberalism, the falling barriers to the movement of capital and labor, and massive demographic shifts. Reactionary trends in response to the deepening crisis of U.S. imperialism and its declining global status also have to figure in our calculations.
The climate crisis has grown to become an existential threat, and there is a clear connection between rising greenhouse gas emissions and the fossil fuel industry – one of the key support bases for the extreme right.
The climate crisis has grown to become an existential threat.
The emergence of the new labor movement which we can now observe followed the election of a left-center leadership in 1995. It facilitated the emergence of the multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-generational labor movement as a leader of social movements overall through its alliances with other core forces.
Labor has also suffered tremendous losses in membership and reach, however, due to anti-labor attacks, outsourcing, automation, and plant closings.
The people’s coalition led by labor has greatly matured politically and ideologically through many battles. Many new social movements have arisen – including the LGBTQ movement, Black Lives Matters, Dreamers, Fight for $15, climate justice, and more.
Public opinion has shifted in a progressive direction on some key issues. What is new is the growth of broad left thinking, including a growing number who embrace radical economic and social restructuring and ideas of socialism.
Simultaneously, the right has grown, including its base and its grip on government at all levels. What is new is the mainstreaming of white supremacy and takeover of the Republican Party by these forces. The danger of a full-fledged fascist movement is emerging.
The U.S. electorate is deeply polarized and right wing obstruction has led to increasing political gridlock. The stage of defeating the extreme right and building a broad united multi-class, multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-generational coalition, with the people’s coalition led by labor at its core is needed now more than ever. There will be no social progress, no saving planet Earth, without breaking right-wing domination of government and politics.
Given the victory of Trump and GOP control over all branches of government, the need for unity is greater than ever. The need for our strategic and tactical concepts, analysis and vision, also indicates the need for a bigger more influential CPUSA.
The need for party unity is greater than ever too if we are to be a factor in building this united multi-class alliance and movement, especially within the people’s coalition led by labor. This is a responsibility of every leader and member.
Disunity in the face of defeat can have catastrophic consequences. The setbacks around 1991 are a reminder. The collapse of socialism in the USSR and Eastern Europe represented a global defeat for socialism and the working class. It created demoralization and confusion.
Its ramifications spilled over into U.S. politics and impacted the party, contributing to deep divisions, an organizational crisis, and a split that both sides paid a heavy and lasting price for.
At such times, confusion can ensue and passions can be inflamed. Danger arises when sharp differences are allowed to become cleavages and evolve into something far worse.
Space for disagreement
How we handle differences has huge consequences. We need greater patience, flexibility, communication, and trust to freshly and soberly assess our experience. We need to avoid drawing lines in the sand.
We need to be flexible and leave plenty of space for disagreements and have what could be called a “big tent” approach. In other words, sometimes we have to live with differences while we continue to discuss and re-examine questions based on fresh experience. We also have to leave space for people to change.
We should also be conscious how non-party allies, including those interested in joining, view this process. Many are asking, “How will I be viewed if I don’t agree with this position or that? How much space is there for differences?”
We can only resolve differences constructively by respecting the integrity of collective channels, bodies, and democratic processes. No one should have to hear things via the grapevine. Healthy collectives make it possible for anyone to raise concerns, questions, issues, complaints, or criticisms and create the atmosphere for a comradely exchange of views and experiences.
We can only resolve differences constructively by respecting the integrity of collective channels.
There is far more that unites the party, including: our understanding of the revolutionary role of our working class; our strategy and tactics in the 2016 elections; the fight for racial and gender equality; the urgency of addressing the existential threat of climate change; our socialist vision rooted in economic and political democracy; and our understanding of the essence of a revolutionary party rooted in the ideas of Marx, Lenin and our own American revolutionary democratic tradition.
A few weeks ago, we phone banked over 1,000 new members and had many wonderful conversations. This was their first direct contact for most, and they were excited to receive the call. They love the Party and are eager to be more involved. These new members are precious, a part of the future that unites us. They are counting on us.
Over the last few years, we have experienced some sharp differences on: the role and nature of the party; the approach to youth; the centering of resources around People’s World and mass communications; organizing our theoretical work; and most recently, election tactics and the resignation of Sam Webb, the former national chair of the CPUSA.
(The work of PeoplesWorld.org, cpusa.org, our approach to youth, and membership engagement and outreach were addressed in remarks by others to the meeting.)
I want to address some rumors and outright falsehoods that have created confusion, distractions, and suspicion. There is a lot of misinformation that has contributed to unnecessarily sharpening differences. Because these rumors and “fake news” have circulated outside collectives and on social media, it is very difficult to address them forthrightly.
First, there is no proposal to dissolve state organizations or clubs. A few members raised this idea during the 2014 pre-convention discussion period and even in the post-convention period.
For many years we have advocated building a network of vibrant grassroots action-oriented clubs. This is why we created a new assignment, which Rossana Cambron agreed to undertake, called Membership Engagement Coordinator. Her job is to assist building clubs and state organizations and encourage ways to involve members in activity. This is also why we hold National Schools for club and district activists and provide forums for exchanging experience.
However, this comes with a caveat: we should not be limited by past conceptions of how clubs are organized. We should be flexible and open to different forms of organization, i.e. neighborhood, citywide, workplace, campus, via teleconference or Skype, or based on interest. We should experiment with anything that brings people together in common collective action.
Secondly, it is not the case that we are only for building the Party online or “in the cloud.” On the contrary, online and in-person organizing are interconnected. One cannot be a viable organization today without mastering modern mass digital communications, social media, and social networking. Each complements the other.
Thirdly, we are not dropping Leninism or the ideas of Lenin. This includes Lenin’s concept of the revolutionary party rooted in the working class with the aim of socialism – a party devoted to developing strategy and tactics, studying stages of struggle, following the democratic path, and centered around the press (in the current day, this means the digital media, i.e. PeoplesWorld.org).
However, this also comes with a caveat. Life and the class struggle didn’t end with Lenin. To be relevant and viable we have to embrace developments and the wealth of experience since then, including what is new in the class and democratic struggles, politics and culture, and strategy and tactics – especially in the U.S. revolutionary democratic tradition. The Party has to constantly, creatively, and non-dogmatically elaborate Marxism and adapt itself to new realities.
Fourth, there is no proposal to sell the New York building. That idea was raised in the National Committee last year and effectively addressed at that time. We are doing everything we can to safeguard assets and resources for both present and future generations.
However, we must do more to maximize use of our assets, reduce deficits, and expand fundraising to reduce reliance on them.
Fifth, there is no proposal to change the name of the party. I don’t think name is a principled question, but given current differences, discussing such a proposal would be polarizing and harden divisions.
However, it’s unfortunate an atmosphere doesn’t prevail where we can discuss such questions from all sides. We have to concretely assess anti-communism, whether its impact on people and our work is changing and the degree to which it is a marginalizing pressure. The image of communism from a previous era often becomes a caricature, attracting some new members for the wrong reasons. They have misconceptions of our program and how we see the revolutionary process unfolding.
Sixth, there is no proposal to change the essence of the Party program. Although I’m sure given all the developments since our 2014 National Convention, we could find a lot that needs updating.
Finally, Sam Webb’s resignation caused some confusion, concerns, and brought some differences to the surface. We’ve discussed them in the National Board, National Committee, and also held face-to-face discussions with leadership collectives in New York and Ohio. We are happy to have them anywhere else.
Given the gravity of the new political situation, in my opinion, it is far better to focus our efforts on developing our strategy and tactics and moving the entire party into action, rather than attempt to arrive at a consensus over why Sam Webb resigned or his legacy.
He should be counted amongst our socialist and democratic allies and our attitude, as with any ally, should be to work together where we can for the betterment of the movement overall.
Sam may have left, but we remain to continue the collective project of building the party, elaborating our Marxist analysis, broadly applying our strategy and tactics, engaging with a larger audience through People’s World and cpusa.org, and immersing ourselves in building the people’s coalition led by labor and the broadly based all-people’s alliance to defend democracy and contest Trump and the GOP at every turn.
What kind of party are we building?
I’d like to end by reaffirming our vision of the party. I hope we can be collectively self-critical, and adopt changes that will enhance and expand our role and influence – especially in the context of the titanic battle before us to defeat the Trump agenda.
We should reaffirm:
We are building a modern, vibrant, mass party of 21st century socialism rooted in our multi-racial, multi-gender identity, multi-generation working class and communities of color, women, youth, and democratic movements.
A party that continues to deepen its understanding of oppression based on class, gender, sexual orientation, and other forms. A party that fosters the interlocking connections between these, their manifestation in the realm of ideas and practice, and thereby bolsters our ability to fight for a united working class and people.
A party that continues updating its politics, applies Marxism to changing realities, and addresses urgent new questions as they arise.
A party that adjusts and updates its strategy and tactics to assist building the broadest possible unity against Trump and the extreme right and to defend democracy and reverse the climate crisis.
A party that continues to assess the class and political balance of forces, elaborates its approach to stages of struggle and their interconnection, and gains a deeper understanding of the democratic path toward a socialist-oriented society.
A party that continues refining and elaborating its vision of a modern, vibrant, green, peaceful, democratic socialism for the U.S. – one imbued by the deepest sense of humanism and the highest moral values.
A party that contributes to building a larger, more broadly appealing, and united left.
A party that deepens and elaborates its collective Marxist analysis, provides education opportunities, and widely popularizes the ideas of Marxism; that convinces through persuasion rather than administrative measures.
A party that expands its capacity to engage in the battle of ideas by centering work around People’s World and mastering the power of modern mass communications; always adapting to the new ways people consume their information.
A party that adapts organizationally to the impact of mass communications including social media and social networking.
A party that continues to root its assessments, decisions, and work in concrete reality and promotes accountability for its decisions.
This is the kind of party we are creatively building, modernizing, and adapting. This is the type of organization growing numbers are looking to join and be associated with. If we continue to do this, we will become a bigger, stronger, and more influential force in the difficult and challenging days to come.
Image: Creative Commons 3.0