Class and democratic struggles in a volatile time

BY:Sam Webb| November 21, 2011
Class and democratic struggles in a volatile time

The following is a report to the National Committee of the Communist Party USA, which met in New York City, Nov. 12-13, 2011.

This is a volatile period. Battle lines are being drawn. Not for a while have things been so unhinged.

A marked upswing, if not a qualitative turn in class and democratic struggles, is afoot.

Sustained mass actions, civil disobedience, new levels of solidarity and consciousness, innovative tactics and slogans, and a complex array of social forces and organizations are reshaping the political landscape in unexpected ways.

The most dramatic expression of this broadening, quickening, and to a degree spontaneous upsurge against the gaping inequality and injustice in our society is the Occupy movement.

This spirited movement – and the spirit is contagious – is capturing the imagination of tens of millions who are fed up with Wall Street’s greed and worried sick about their own diminishing economic prospects.

Its politics don’t fit neatly into any distinct political category and its methods of organization are unorthodox. No single “ism” prevails. Nevertheless, most of the participants are on the progressive and left side of the spectrum even if they don’t characterize themselves in those terms.

While the occupiers are disgusted with Wall Street and Washington’s deference to the “lords of finance,” they don’t embrace a specific set of demands. Some observers see this as a grave weakness, but we shouldn’t. They have shined a spotlight on Wall Street, changed the national conversation from anti-government to anti-Wall Street, and turned the struggle against finance capital into a mainstream, top versus bottom issue.

This movement has spread to other cities and around the world, proving that in a volatile climate, small initiatives can trigger massive social irruptions.

Each occupation has its own distinct character shaped by local conditions and struggles. Grinding poverty, not Wall Street opulence, surrounds Occupy Detroit, for instance.

The occupations are winning the enthusiastic support and solidarity of labor all across the country. In Oakland, the longshore workers shut the port down.

If there is a divergence between the occupiers and labor’s leadership, it lies in the attitudes towards the 2012 elections. Labor sees the defeat of the Republican Party – the party of rightwing extremism – as the critical terrain on which the class struggle will be fought.

Many of the occupiers, on the other hand, are suspicious of the political process, and see no value in participating in electoral and legislative politics.

What is needed is a friendly dialogue about the place of electoral politics in the larger scheme of things.

Spokespeople for labor should make the point that the 1 percent cringes at the thought of the occupiers and the 99 percent going to the polls in next year’s elections.

Class warfare

For Republicans the occupations are distressing, to say the least. They have called them “un-American,” say they are “designed to incite American against American,” and are “the work of mobs.”

But these attacks increasingly fall on deaf ears, and reveal in unmistakable ways their class loyalties to finance capital.

No longer can they have it both ways: insisting on class peace while waging class war. The jig is up. The people are at the gates. What goes around comes around.

In Marxist terms, the class contradiction is sharpening.

The occupations may seem to have come out of the blue, but they didn’t. Since the spring we have witnessed an uptick in class and democratic struggles on a global scale from Cairo to Athens, Madrid and Santiago.

In our own backyard, major struggles broke out in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and elsewhere.

Nor should we forget that millions of young and older activists who threw themselves into the campaign to elect Barack Obama are looking to leave their mark on the political process going forward.

Thus, the occupation movement continues, draws inspiration from, and is rooted in homegrown as well as international struggles. It is a current in a much larger constellation of forces in which the participation and leadership of labor and people of color are of crucial importance.

Young people

Young people, bringing their flair and freshness, are the largest constituency of the occupations. Not only do they want to curb the power of the banks, take the money out of politics, and democratize public and private institutions, they also want to transform their own lives.

Some of what they do may seem farfetched and removed from the realities of power, but maybe that speaks to our limited cultural and political imaginations.

In any case, the potential of further building a broad youth movement has never been greater. It could eclipse in size and understanding the youth rebellion of the 1960s. And that movement left a permanent mark on the politics and culture of our country.

An immediate challenge – and a special challenge for the Young Communist League – is to energize the rest of the young generation whose life prospects are grim. As long as they are not a part of the occupation movement and the struggle generally, any hope of any substantive victory now and in the future is greatly diminished. And here I include the college campuses that are not yet plunged into struggles on a broad scale.

One would think that the economic conditions that measure the well being of young people – unemployment, student debt, etc. – should dispose them in the direction of struggle. And it does, but it doesn’t happen automatically; the same conditions can also result in a narrow focus on individual advancement.

What young people do hinges on many factors, including if the broader movement gives them both support and, at the same time, space to articulate their specific concerns, express their generational styles, and construct their own independent forms of organization.


Obviously the occupation movement faces challenges. One of them is to articulate a set of demands – jobs creation, student debt relief, transaction tax, millionaires’ tax, etc. – and a pathway to win them.

Looming large as well is growing the movement in labor and communities of the racially oppressed, avoiding unnecessary confrontations with the police that draw attention away from Wall Street robbery, approaching the 2012 elections, and transitioning to a new phase of struggle in which the occupation of physical space isn’t necessarily a defining feature.

Everyone is asking: what’s next for the Occupy movement? A fair question with no easy answer, but it is no more important than some other related questions: How does labor and other social movements – how do we – adjust to this moment? What new initiatives and methods of struggle fit this upswing in class and democratic struggles? What new demands should see the light of day? Isn’t greater boldness necessary? How can the entire progressive community mobilize broad support against police actions to evict the occupiers from public space?

All of this needs to be chewed over.

Strategic policy

In times like these some might think the shortcomings and inconsistencies of the president and the Democrats since 2008 warrant a change in strategic policy in general and electoral policy in particular.

I can understand this sentiment, but the facts on the ground, as messy, contradictory and disappointing as they are, don’t call for jettisoning our strategic policy.

The main obstacle to social progress remains rightwing extremism and its corporate backers. They cast a reactionary shadow over the whole political process.

The election of Barack Obama was a blow to the ultra right, but subsequent events have demonstrated that it wasn’t a decisive blow.

The right still retains considerable power and initiative to frame the debate and disrupt the legislative and political agenda.

Its overarching goal next year is to regain control of all three branches of the federal government. How dangerous is that? In my view it would set the stage for a period of extreme rightwing onslaught.

In the bull’s-eye would be every democratic right, economic protection and people’s organization.

The right to organize into a union would be annulled.

The unemployed would be left out to dry.

Abortions would become a criminal offense.

Education and health care would become a privilege.

The social safety net would disappear.

Discrimination would become the law of the land.

Global warming would accelerate to the point of irreversibility.

Prison populations would expand still further.

The projection of military power would become the favored instrument of foreign policy.

In sum, gone would be the rights, protections and programs that were won in the 20th century.

If you don’t believe me take a glimpse at Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio where rightwing Republicans took control of the levers of power in 2010, and then ruthlessly rolled back rights, eliminated social programs and attacked the labor movement.

Those actions are a harbinger of what the Republican Party would do if in command of the federal government next year.

By contrast, the decisive defeat of the right would weaken Wall Street and the entire corporate class, give leverage and momentum to the people’s movement, and open up the possibility of an era that puts people and nature before profits.

Said differently and dialectically, the defeat of the right at the polls next year is not only to the advantage of the Democratic Party, but also to the advantage of the labor-led people’s movement. To affirm one doesn’t deny the validity of the other.

In fact, I would go a step further, and say that a decisive victory will be of more advantage to the working class and people’s movement than to its temporary ally, the Democratic Party.

None of this is to suggest that the Democrats aren’t now or won’t be in the future an obstacle to progressive change; in too many instances they are, but they aren’t the main obstacle for the moment.

This election, then, is not about choosing a lesser evil. Politics is not a morality play and the Obama administration and Democrats are not evil. It is about our nation’s future: Are we going to move in a progressive-democratic or rightwing anti-democratic authoritarian direction?

Thus, the labor-led people’s coalition, and Communists as a current within that coalition, must make every phase of the election process a number one priority.

The people’s coalition must be a major factor in the primaries. It must reach, register and educate new and stay-at-home voters. It must guarantee a maximum voter turnout on Election Day.

No less important, it must unrelentingly expose the reactionary positions of the Republican candidates and their racist and anti-democratic systematic campaign to disenfranchise tens of millions of voters.

Not everyone shares this view. Some think the Democrats are as bad as the Republicans.

Others go further and say that the Democrats are worse because they create popular illusions that change is possible within the two-party system.

Still others say the electoral process is so compromised by corporate money that participating in it is a fool’s errand.

And finally there are advocates of running a third-party presidential candidate in this election.

I can understand these sentiments, but only up to a point. In the end, conditions don’t warrant non-participation in the elections or a third-party candidacy.

Like it or not, millions go to the polls in spite of their misgivings. They are invested in the electoral process. And the Democratic Party remains the vehicle of reform for tens of millions, the majority of whom are working and oppressed people.

What is more, labor will throw itself into the campaign to elect Democrats, moderate as well as progressive, albeit from its own organizational base.

Much the same can be said about the racially oppressed. Ditto for the women’s and seniors’ movements. The majority of youth will also take part in the elections, and like four years ago on the side of President Obama and the Democrats.

A third party presidential candidate would only help the extreme right.

The two parties of the capitalist class have similarities. That is undeniable. But differences also exist at the level of policies, which can be widened under the impact of a powerful people’s movement, as they were in earlier historical periods.

The past three years have been frustrating to be sure; much the same could be said about the past three decades. But frustration and impatience are a poor excuse for a strategic and tactical policy in relation to the coming elections and politics generally.

Only a very sober and objective analysis should guide our thinking and actions. It is easy to imagine any number of electoral strategies, but the question is: which one is rooted in objective realities and advances class and democratic struggles?

I wish the movement were not only ready to form an independent labor-based people’s party, but also to help elect a consistently anti-corporate government, which under certain conditions could open up a path to socialist transformation.

But I don’t believe that we are at that stage of struggle yet. And wish as we might, we won’t be until our movement is broader, deeper and more consciousness of its tasks and objectives.

There is no direct path to socialism. The class struggle goes through various stages and at each stage new tasks arise. To skip over them in the name of militant radicalism may feel revolutionary, but in the end it is self-defeating and strategically misguided.

Lenin wrote in “Left Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder”,

“Parliamentarism has become ‘historically obsolete.’ That is true as regards propaganda. But everyone knows that this is still a long way from overcoming it practically. Capitalism could have been declared, and quite rightly, to be ‘historically obsolete’ many decades ago, but that does not at all remove the need for a very long and very persistent struggle on the soil of capitalism.”

Struggle for jobs

Of the issues that will move the American people, poll after poll tells us that it is the issue of jobs, jobs, and jobs.

This is of overriding concern and understandably so. Roughly 25 million workers are either unemployed or underemployed. This is a national disaster with an unmistakable racial, gender and youth edge. It requires emergency action.

President Obama’s jobs proposals are the ground on which millions, including the occupiers, can be drawn into the fight to create jobs and rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. The AFL-CIO is embracing and promoting them. Others will come on board too as the campaign gathers momentum.

The president’s proposals are not as far-reaching as some other jobs proposals. The plans put forward by the Congressional Black Caucus, Progressive Caucus, AFL-CIO and Representative Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., are more ambitious, and we recognize that they contain more in-depth solutions. But the hard fact is that none of them stand a chance of congressional approval given the current balance of forces in Congress, and in the House in particular.

The president’s proposals do, although the going will be tough. The Republicans, while initially making conciliatory noises, are determined not to give the president a positive record to run on. They figure a president with no accomplishments, especially in a period of crisis, will not be returned to office.

That such a position will hurt millions of people is of no concern to them. In fact, in their view, the worse economic conditions are, the better are their chances of winning back the White House and Congress in 2012. Irresponsible yes, cynical yes, even diabolical, but as a political calculus, this contains some truth.

Indeed, unless the American people are convinced otherwise, they could easily blame the president for the economic mess when they go into the voting booth next year.

The president, probably more than the rest of us, seems to be well of aware of this. Thus he appears determined to take the initiative on the main economic policy questions facing the nation. It seems evident he is no longer willing to let Republicans frame the political agenda.

Indeed, his jobs speech and subsequent travel to campaign for jobs put the GOP leaders on their heels for the first time since 2010 when they regained control of the House.

Now we won’t like everything the president proposes, especially if he supports cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, and we should mobilize to make sure such ideas are dropped. But at the same time, that shouldn’t be an obstacle to getting behind the job proposals (and I would add the millionaires’ tax) in a full-blooded way.

The left should not set the perfect against the possible. It’s counterproductive. And let’s not “damn” the president’s jobs and tax initiatives “with faint praise” – an approach that has been employed too often to no good effect.

A robust grassroots campaign for Obama’s jobs measures will put wind in the president’s sails, give people hope, and improve the prospects of a people’s victory next year. We shouldn’t concede this struggle in advance to the obstructionist efforts of the Republican Party. In fact, supporters of the jobs bill (and let’s include occupiers) should organize visits to the congressional offices of Republicans during the holiday breaks.

Every Communist Party collective should discuss how to participate in this campaign. Where possible we should join with others in the neighborhood and at the workplace to establish jobs committees. A few people working together can make a difference; mass is a relative concept. Neither we, nor the movement generally, have enough traction on this critical struggle.

Struggle for unity and fight against racism

To win victories requires unity. We understand that well, but so do our adversaries. Thus they work overtime to divide the people’s movement.

The employed against the unemployed, men against women, straight against gay, believers against nonbelievers, workers against welfare recipients, native born against immigrants, old people against young people, labor against environmentalists, occupiers against election activists, and white people against people of color.

Each of these deserves some elaboration, but space doesn’t allow for that. So what I would like to do is focus on the fight against racism.

Racism is the most persistent and pernicious form of division in our country. It creates a fault line in our movement that if not overcome, irredeemably weakens the people’s struggles.

Racism appears in structural and ideological forms. It is more than prejudice or attitude. It rests on the systematic elaboration of the notion of white superiority. And this notion has its origins in and is sustained by racist practices and structures that confine people of color to a subordinate status relative to white people in nearly every area of life.

Much has been said in recent years that the country is in a post-racial era. The only problem with this claim is that there is little evidence of it.

By every social measure people of color find themselves in inferior conditions. A quick glance at unemployment rates or life expectancy rates or wealth accumulation rates or incarceration rates or poverty rates offers ample proof of this fact.

Nor has racism in its ideological form abated. Perhaps its contemporary expression is different than it was a half century ago, but its essence hasn’t changed.

In a column a few weeks ago, Pat Buchanan wrote:

“Can Western civilization survive the passing of the European peoples whose ancestors created it and their replacement by Third World immigrants? Probably not, for the new arrivals seem uninterested in preserving the old culture they have found.”

He doesn’t say segregation now and segregation forever, but it is a hardly concealed appeal to the worst instincts of white people.

Buchanan is not a lone voice in the wilderness. Since his election President Obama has been the object of open and unrelenting racist vilification.

“He’s not a citizen,” “he’s in over his head,” “he’s Hitler in a blackface,” “he’s a tribesman,” “he’s a dick,” “he’s your boy,” and on and on.

All of these vile expressions of racism pollute our political culture, rationalize the harsh conditions in which people of color live, fatten the corporate bottom line and sustain the rule of the most reactionary sectors of our society.

Racism is also the ticket of the party of white supremacy – the Republican Party – to return to the White House next year.

This racist ideological offensive attempts to convince white working people that they share common cause with the reactionary right.

But there is no evidence for this claim. While the program of the extreme right – cuts in people’s programs, denial of voting rights, obstructing jobs legislation, etc. – falls especially hard on people of color, it also negatively impacts white working people as a whole.

This is the common thread that binds the multi-racial working class together. And this is especially so if the democratic demands of people of color and other oppressed people combine with the overall demands of the working class and people as a whole.

Thus what is urgently needed is a broadly-based, sustained struggle for economic justice and full equality.

Such a struggle not only brings relief to the victims of racism, other forms of oppression, and class exploitation, it also constitutes the strategic cornerstone of a winning struggle against the Republican right in the elections next year.

I emphasize this question because there is a tendency to lose sight of the special oppression that sections of the working class experience and the democratic demands associated with that oppression. This is a mistake at any time, but particularly now when such grave dangers are facing our country and the world.

Economy and its current status

The Great Recession of 2008 is looking more like the Great Depression of the 1930s. The economic crisis of U.S. (and world) capitalism is entering its fourth year.

And according to no less than Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, “the recovery is close to faltering.” To think otherwise is wishful thinking.

In fact, a downward turn, aka “double dip,” is more likely than a surge upward – not to mention a resumption of sustained and robust economic growth.

The International Monetary Fund in a recent report underscored the shaky prospects for the economy.

“The global economy is in a dangerous new phase. Global activity has weakened and become more uneven, confidence has fallen sharply recently, and downside risks are growing.”

One of those risks is the potential default and implosion of the countries on Europe’s southern tier – Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain. Each is caught in a dense web of mounting sovereign – government – debt that makes it susceptible to defaulting on its obligations to various financial institutions.

This would send financial and economic shockwaves across Europe and then to the United States and the rest of the world.

Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist and economist, says the impact will be “catastrophic.”

The rational policy response to this threatening danger on both sides of the Atlantic should be a combination of fiscal expansion, monetary easing, and debt restructuring/forgiveness.

In other words, governments should inject money into the veins of the economy, monetary authorities – read central banks and banks – should reduce interest rates and make credit easily available, and officials in the imperial centers should write down/postpone/cancel the debt of financially strapped governments such as Greece.

But that is not what they are doing. Austerity is the watchword. And, as you would guess, the brunt of it, despite massive resistance, is falling first of all on the working classes.

Hopefully European and American leaders will come to their senses, stimulate their economies and restructure the debt of indebted governments.

But we shouldn’t hold our breadth. In short order, the super committee of Democrats and Republicans will bring forward its budgetary recommendations to the Congress. In all likelihood it will propose cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other programs, along with some modest tax increases on upper income people and corporations. Such proposals will hurt not only working people but the economy as well – a double whammy.

Only mass pressure will force the committee members to reconsider this course of action. We should be an integral part of these mobilizations.

Structural crisis

It would be wrong to characterize this global economic crisis as only cyclical in nature. In a typical cyclical crisis, workers are idled, wages are lowered, excess capacity is destroyed, inefficient competitors are eliminated, inventories are reduced, and debt is drawn down. And in so doing the conditions are created for a vigorous recovery – that is, a fresh round of accumulation of capital (investment and growth) on a broader scale.

In the post-World War II period this is precisely what happened in the core capitalist countries. Full recovery followed retrenchment.

But so far, this crisis is different. True, it follows old patterns, but only up to a point. No revival and recovery has followed.

Growth rates are no longer negative, but they are not robust either. And there is little reason to think it will be much different going forward.

All of which suggests that this crisis is structural and systemic as well as cyclical.

Over the course of the last century, the country has experienced four structural crises.

The first was in the 1890s and out of it came the rise of finance and finance capital (the first financial hegemony), which lasted to the Great Depression.

The second was the Great Depression 1929-1940 and out of it came the Keynesian (class) compromise and an era of vigorous growth.

The third began in the 1970s and lasted for nearly a decade, and out of it came neo-liberalism (or the second financial hegemony).

And the final and most recent dates to 2007-2008 and its outcome is still to be decided.

None of these crises were self-correcting. They were longer lasting and deeper in character. And their resolution was bound up with the outcome of a bitter class struggle in which the victor – the working class and its allies or the capitalist class and its allies – was able to restructure the economy, politics, and conventional wisdom in its interests.

Crisis of neo-liberalism

Neo-liberalism, as mentioned, emerged in the wake of the structural crisis of capitalism in the 1970s. It was the result of the economic contradictions of capitalism and the class struggle at that time.

It rested on flexible production networks on a global scale, union busting, deregulation, low-wage labor, inflation suppression, the hollowing-out of the welfare state, tax redistribution, and above all, the rise of finance.

The state didn’t withdraw from the economy as much as it restructured its role and functions to suit the objectives of the top fractions of the capitalist class and particularly finance capital – that is, the restoration of class power, income and privilege.

Giving a necessary and heavy assist to this process was the Reagan administration. Much like Thatcher in the United Kingdom, Reagan employed state power to crush the opposition to neoliberal policies, reframe popular thinking, and grease the skids and shape the contours of neoliberal financialization and globalization. In doing so he set into motion three decades of neo-liberalism in a rightwing skin.

In other words, the morphing of capitalism into its neoliberal form was a contested process in which the working class and its allies found themselves on the defensive, fending off blows, and unable to mount a sustained and sufficiently strong counteroffensive.

What is more, the neoliberal expansion beginning in the early 1990s resting on debt-driven bubble economics, temporally hid the conflicting interests and contradictions of this structure of capital accumulation.

But all this changed in the fall of 2008 when the collapse of the housing market triggered a near-meltdown of financial markets and a long-term crisis of overproduction and stagnation in the economy as a whole.

Looking ahead, the exact contours and content of the recovery will depend on which class and its allies are able to leave their imprint on the political and economic process.

This is not a struggle between capitalism and socialism in the near and medium term, but over whether the working class and its allies are able to set into motion a process of reforms and radical reforms within the framework of capitalism.

So far financial capital and rightwing extremism have the initiative. But the battle and final outcome is far from settled.

What is encouraging is that millions, thanks in part to the occupy movement, are coming to the conclusion that there is a divergence between neo-liberalism and the needs of the working class and society.

If neo-liberalism is being challenged at the national level, it is under siege at the global level. In nearly every region of the world neo-liberalism finds itself discredited.

It was undone by its own contradictions. It promised growth and rising incomes, but brought hardship.

In some regions of the world, namely Latin America and Asia, the rebellion against neoliberal globalization and financialization has progressed from protest to the development of alternative growth models.

International developments

Following the demise of the Soviet Union twenty years ago, ideologues of U.S. imperialism spoke of the possibility of a unipolar century. How wrong they were!

Today the world is multi-polar, interdependent, unstable, and resistant to U.S. military power. It is defined by the rise of new powerful states – China in the first place. And it is filled with new overarching challenges – climate change, resource shortages and depletion, pandemic diseases, terrorism, and more.

Thus it is fair to ask if elite circles in the U.S. will take a fresh look at the U.S. role in world affairs and adjust it to new realities.

The answer to that question is yes and no.

On a tactical level the answer is yes. Some rethinking is going on regarding the methods employed to maintain U.S. dominance.

There is, for example, serious discussion about cutting the military budget in favor of domestic spending on education, research and infrastructure.

Or, to take another example, the war against the Gaddafi forces in Libya gives us a glimpse of what a different and less costly approach to the projection of military power might look like, that is, NATO-led interventions, the use of air power and drones, selective assassinations, sabotage and cyber warfare.

But on a strategic level the answer is no. No one in elite circles is suggesting that the U.S. should relinquish its dominant role in the world. And given the fierce rivalry over oil and other natural resources now and in the future, it is fair to say that this won’t change in coming decades.

Illustrative of this is the administration’s response to the Arab Spring. The White House welcomed democratic change as long as it was in a certain direction and didn’t jeopardize the strategic interests of U.S. imperialism in that region of the world.

As a consequence, it cautiously supported democratic aspirations in Tunisia and Egypt, aided the rebels in Libya, struck a posture of silence or near-silence in the face of government repression of prodemocracy forces in other countries, including the murder of dissidents, and ginned up threats against Iran.

Moreover, U.S. support for the Israeli government continued, albeit with tensions between the administration and the Netanyahu government, while at the same time, the U.S. opposed the PLO’s bid in the United Nation for Palestinian statehood.

Which goes to demonstrate that no matter who is in the White House the opposition to any strategic change in foreign policy is enormously powerful and includes core sections of transnational corporate capital, the military-industrial and energy complexes, the Pentagon, right-wing extremists, the foreign policy lobbies and other institutions of the national security state.

U.S. foreign policy is not solely decided in elite circles, however. The American people – not to mention people worldwide – also have a say.

More and more they are insisting with a new vigor that a new political and economic order be constructed, shorn of U.S. dominance.

For progressive and left activists this creates some new opportunities to rein in U.S. imperialism and military spending. Needless to say, we should continue to be part of the peace and anti-imperialist movement.

Militancy and civil disobedience

We are for militant expressions of struggle; historically speaking, civil disobedience is part of the DNA of progressive and left movements.

It was Communists who illegally occupied the GM auto plant in Flint, Michigan in the winter of 1936, leading to the organization of GM and the rest of the auto industry.

It was Communists who were among the young people who occupied lunch counters in 1960.

It was Communists who were among the people arrested in the protests over the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

And in recent weeks, Communists proudly marched off to jail with other occupiers.

And going forward we won’t be shy to put our bodies on the line when the cause is just and the message inspires others to stand up for justice.

At the same time, we are against reckless provocations, violence to persons and property, and false bravado – all of which undercut the political and moral authority of the people’s movement.

The litmus test for any action or slogan or issue is: does it win the active and/or passive support of larger and larger numbers of the American people?

If it does, full speed ahead. If it doesn’t, we should rethink our approach.

The task is not simply to propose the most radical action in every situation. The task is to choose that tactic that wins the sympathy of millions, not some small circle of committed activists.

I often say what really matters (and this is a bit of an exaggeration) is not what we think, but what millions think. The latter is the starting point of communist policy and work.

Role of the Communist Party

0ur role is to assist labor and its allies to fight more consciously and strategically across every front of struggle.

We are not go-it-aloners, nor do we advocate narrow approaches to struggle. We’re not a big party, but we think big. Our aim isn’t to make a momentary splash or show off our radical pedigree for its own sake, but to redirect powerful currents of change in the direction of social progress and socialism.

At the core of the movement that we hope to build is the organized section of the working class. Because of its new thinking and initiatives, resources, experience – and let’s not forget its location in the system of social production – we don’t consider labor (and the working class as a whole) as just one more participant in the broader movement. Its role is strategic to the broader movement’s success.

On the other hand, we don’t believe that labor (and the working class as a whole) can go it alone. That would be a losing strategy. Its organic allies are people of color, women, immigrants, seniors and youth.

Only with such breadth and relationships is victory possible in the near term against the right and in the longer term against corporate power and its political parties.

In other words, broad unity is the path out of this crisis and the fight for such unity is a distinguishing hallmark of communists. As Marx and Engels wrote long ago, our foremost concern is the unity of the movement as a whole.

Finally, we see no contradiction between the struggle for immediate reforms and the struggle for radical reforms and socialist revolution. In fact, we can’t get to the latter without fighting for the former; that is, only in the course of fighting for democratic reforms are the conditions created for radical change.

Ideological work

A critical part of our work is ideological. That could be said on any occasion, but today it resonates with special force. Old notions long held by working people haven’t entirely gone by the wayside, but they have become unhinged to a greater or lesser degree. Tens of millions believe that the system is unjust, that the 1 percent lives very differently than the 99 percent.

The fact is that it takes some doing to defend – let alone extol – capitalism, when its flaws and injustices are experienced by so many.

We can bring to light the linkages between capitalism’s inner dynamics, the capitalist economic crisis and the current onslaught on people’s living standards and rights in the public and private arenas. In particular, we can remind everyone that “free enterprise” got us into this mess, but won’t get us out.

And what better time to bring into this conversation our vision of a democratic, home-grown socialism.

Party growth

We are experiencing party growth not seen in many years – perhaps since the late 1960s and early 1970s. This is related to the ongoing economic and political crisis, a growing tide of struggle, and openness to the ideas of socialism.

Most of the new members are joining online. Each month approximately 70 new CPUSA members are joining and another 30 are joining the YCL. Some are joining both. Many more are joining through the existing local clubs.

Meanwhile, readership of PW has grown, its Facebook “likes” have topped 15,000 9,000 for the CPUSA and 1,700 for the YCL.

This is presenting the party and YCL with two challenges:

1. Reaching the millions who are thinking anew about socialism and the CPUSA.

2. Reaching out and engaging the new members, who come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences in struggle.

A qualitative leap in our public presence is of critical importance if we are to reach far beyond a small circle of people. Among other things, we should agree on a new ad campaign on Facebook.

In this campaign we should present the party in a fresh and contemporary way – a party of the 21st century in its thinking, organization, songs, symbols and image. We don’t honor our history and past with a retro look; we should be more creative, more in the moment, more in tune with the feeling and perceptions of ordinary people.

As to the second question, the party and YCL have taken a number of steps to shorten the time of contacting new members and to expand the avenues of involvement and communication including: new member outreach projects in New York and Virginia, regional schools for YCL and young party members in Los Angeles, Orlando, Dallas, Chicago and New Haven; two national phone banks; establishment of a new roots meeting; visits to unorganized states; weekend schools in several districts; and regular political action messages to the membership.

We have also discussed how to improve the racial, national and gender composition of those joining. A whole series of steps are being planned including educational campaigns on the struggle for equality, targeted advertizing, meetings of our equality commissions and districts, etc.

A new Communist Party is being born. It is forcing us to work in a different kind of way, including entrusting responsibility for various areas of work to new members, tapping the talents and ideas of the new members, etc.

But more comrades and clubs need to be involved in the outreach and engagement if we are to take advantage of this extraordinary moment and make a turn.

Hands-on leadership

To play our part in this volatile period requires that we give practical as well as ideological leadership to the clubs and membership.

We should plan on meeting with every club to discuss its activity in the coming year. This discussion should be practical as well as ideological. And out of these discussions should come a simple but bold plan of work for the coming year that organically combines mass work with party and press building.

These are exciting times. The future is still to be decided. Let’s do our part to make that future one that is worthy of humankind.

Photo: Communist Party contingent lines up to march at Occupy Chicago. (




    Sam Webb is a member of the National Committee of the Communist Paryt USA. He served as the party's national chairperson from 2000 to 2014. Previously he was the state organizer of the Communist Party in Michigan. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine.

    He is a public spokesperson for the CPUSA, and travels extensively in the U.S. and abroad, including trips to South Africa, China, Vietnam, and Cuba where he met with leaders of those countries.

    Webb currently resides in New York City, graduated from St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia and received his MA in economics from the University of Connecticut.


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