Defeat for the Right, Victory for the People & Democracy

BY:Sam Webb| November 21, 2012
Defeat for the Right, Victory for the People & Democracy

Main report to the Communist Party USA National Committee, November 17, 2012National Committee report

We meet on the heels of an enormous people’s victory. It was a long and bitterly contested battle in which the forces of inclusive democracy came out on top. The better angels of the American people spread their wings.

An African American president was reelected to the Presidency, the Democrats unexpectedly strengthened their hand in the Senate and House, new progressive voices, like Elizabeth Warren, are coming to Washington, and victories, including for marriage equality, occurred at the state level.

On the other end of the political divide, Romney lost decisively and right wing extremism, while not a completely spent force (and it probably never will be) was greatly weakened. Its candidates and, even more, its ideas were repudiated by tens of millions.

Moreover, the balance of power, that is, the ground on which people will fight shifted in a progressive direction, thanks in large measure to what might be the most notable development in this election – the further emergence (compared to 2008) of a multi-racial, male-female, working class-based electorate – an electorate that has the potential to renew and realign politics for decades to come.

Finally, millions come out of this election with a far deeper political understanding – and on a range of issues: corporate plunder and profiteering, racial and gender inequality, sexual orientation and gay marriage, immigrant, reproductive, and labor rights, the corrupting role of money in politics, global warming, and militarism and military adventures.

All this bodes well for the future.

Main front of the class struggle

The Communist Party said a year ago that the 2012 elections would be the main front of the class and democratic struggle and subsequent events have confirmed that fact.

Indeed, we argued (and not everyone on the left agreed and probably still don’t) that defeating right-wing extremism was the key to moving the whole chain of democratic struggle forward.

Conversely, we said that if right-wing extremists came out victors in the elections, they would accelerate to warp speed a capitalist class counterrevolution against people’s living standards, rights, and organizational capacities the likes that we haven’t ever seen.

But that won’t happen due to the fact that the voters – a rainbow coalition of largely working people – in their majority reelected the President.

Notable features

While many things went into Obama’s victory, what was notable was the ability of the democratic movement to turn back Republican efforts to suppress the vote; what was of great import was the determination of the people’s movement (with labor in the lead) to reach, educate, and turn out tens of millions of American voters on Election Day; what not surprising was the continuing, strategic, and sometimes underappreciated role of the African American people (93 per cent voted for the president) in the front ranks (at the head in many instances) of the struggle for progress and democracy.

What stands out was the resolve of women and especially single young women to defend their rights and democracy generally; what was heartening was the readiness of millions of white workers and trade unionists to stand with the President even in a weak economy and in the face of unrelenting and crude racist appeals.

Of fundamental importance was the dramatic show of strength of the Latino people on the national political stage; what was extraordinary was the turnout of the Asian and Pacific Islander people; what is easily lost sight of is the critical role of the Native American Indian people in Montana and North Dakota; what was encouraging was the continuing support of young and Jewish voters for the President.

What was extraordinary was skill and reach of Organizing for America; what was uplifting was the capacity of the American people to sift through the myriad of lies and deceptions that came from the Republican side; and, above all, what was of enormous significance was, as I mentioned above, the crystallization of a multi-racial, male-female, working class based electorate on a new level.

Mandate for progressive change

The Republicans were quick to say that no sweeping mandate emerges out of this election — people voted for the status quo. Look at the results in the House, they say.

But apart from the House, where Republicans retained their majority (in part because of gerrymandering), there is no evidence to support their claim.

And if we look underneath the surface metrics of the elections, we find even less evidence. If anything the vote, and here I include more than a sliver of Romney supporters, is an insistent call for action on the most pressing problems facing the working class and people. That is the election’s mandate.

This was not a vote in favor of destroying social programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid; or rolling back domestic spending; or resolving the budget crisis on the people’s backs.

It was instead a vote for jobs, housing relief, health care, withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan, an end to U.S.-led wars in the Middle East, preservation of the social safety net, health care access, reproductive rights, and equal pay for women, infrastructure renewal (an issue that took on greater importance after megastorm Sandy), marriage equality, a larger commitment to public education, a tax system in which the wealthiest families and corporations pay a much larger share, reform of our punitive and anti-democratic immigration laws, a reduction in unconscionable inequality, a legislative and electoral system that isn’t awash with corporate money.

It was a vote for an America that stands for tolerance, inclusiveness, and fairness.

Immediate struggles

As I said, the Republicans are not on board with this assessment.

But the bigger problem at this moment is that politicians, including too many Democrats, major opinion makers, the corporate elite, and financial markets are saying that a “Grand Bargain,” is called for, beginning with spending cuts and a weakening of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Otherwise the country, the grand bargainers claim, will fall off a “fiscal cliff,” threatening the economic recovery, global markets, and the long-term viability of existing social programs.

But is this the case? Progressive and left economists say “No.” They argue that the immediate crisis is not a fiscal one, but a jobs and growth crisis. Once people get back to work and once economic activity picks up the nation can turn its attention to the deficit.

In fact, any attempt to resolve the nation’s fiscal problems too quickly via deep budget cuts, they warn, could very easily plunge the economy into a nosedive and worsen government finances – much like what is happening in many European countries.

The American people should not be stampeded into a “Grand Bargain” that punishes working and poor people.

Congress should feel compelled to do only three things in the lame duck session.

First, to renew lower taxes for the middle class, while allowing the Bush tax cut for the rich to expire.

Second, to launch a green designed program to rebuild coastal areas destroyed by the hurricane. Hundreds of thousands of unemployed people, skilled and unskilled, could be put to work.

Third, to extend unemployment benefits.

In January when the newly elected Congress convenes, it can give its full attention to the state of the economy. And again, jobs and a robust economic recovery should be at the top of its “to-do list.”
In due time the nation’s budgetary problems can and should be resolved, and resolved easily, if we go where the money is – the incomes of the wealthy, corporate profits, and the military budget.

Up and running

Without stopping to catch its breath after the long election grind, the AFL-CIO and its allies are organizing for a working-class and people’s solution along these lines. But organized labor can’t do it alone.

The coalition that mined the country for votes over the past several months and the rainbow electorate that elected the President must spring back into action.

A broad appeal to many who cast their ballots for Romney is in order too. The division in the country that obtained on November 6 should not be seen as some sort of hardened divide.

Moreover, the popular movement must bring its political and numerical weight to bear on Congress – Democrats and Republicans alike.

Not least, President Obama needs to hear from the tens of millions who reelected him. The President is the most popular politician in the country. Nobody has the political and moral authority that he has. He isn’t a radical, but by the same token to classify him as a run-of-the-mill capitalist politician doesn’t fit either. Of the Democratic Party presidents of the 20th century, none had the deep democratic sensibilities that he possesses. It is crucial that he lead this struggle.

But he can’t and won’t do it alone. He needs a mass movement that will nudge him forward as well as have his back as he goes up against recalcitrant Republicans, big sections of monopoly capital, and wavering centrist Democrats in Congress in this and in subsequent battles.

Which is where communists, socialists, and left and progressive people come into the picture. Our main task is to build broad people’s unity, guarantee the participation of the key social and class forces, counter the right-wing narrative with a working-class and people’s narrative, and bring forward an alternative program.

When we differ with the President, we should express our differences in a constructive way, that is, they shouldn’t be so sweeping, unbalanced, unforgiving, and de-contextualized that they serve no purpose other than to demobilize people and take right wing extremists out of view.

In other words, political judgments of the president shouldn’t be arrived at in a vacuum.

While the immediate struggle over the “Grand Bargain” is largely defensive, we should not lose sight of the fact that the election results create space to move to a more offensive posture in the coming year. Legislative initiatives to address unemployment, infrastructural renewal, immigration, public education, climate change, military conversion, and so forth can be real ground for struggle for millions of Americans.

We may not get everything we fight for; compromises may be necessary, but we make those judgments based on concrete circumstances. The main thing now is to reactivate the millions who went to the polls on Election Day.

Labor on a roll

In the post-election commentary, the most underreported factor is the role of the labor movement. And yet labor’s role was critical.

For some time now our Party has recognized powerful progressive trends in the labor movement. In this election, the actions of labor brought these trends to a new level.

Labor had more “boots on the ground” than ever before – in its phone banks, in-plant and workplace organizing, and coalition efforts. Across the country, union members walked picket lines in the morning and joined ‘labor walks’ for the President in the afternoon. And labor spent (as it has been doing for some time now) most of its money on building its own infrastructures and campaign organizations.

New and improved were labor’s efforts to brings its own ongoing struggles into the election campaign. So, for example, teachers striking in Chicago injected questions of public education into the national election debate. Or to take another example, the national campaign to expose Bain Capital’s role in closing a plant in Illinois, where labor helped make clear the choice between vulture capitalism and sound public investment in infrastructure and alternative energy for jobs.

Or to take still another example, unions across the country brought the urgency of jobs and economic recovery to the attention of the electorate as well as the candidates.

Labor’s Super PAC “Workers Voice” also deepened its influence in the broader coalition that defeated the far right, allowing it to speak to many working people who are not union members.

No less important is that labor forged broad new ties with most of the constituent groups active in this election. It was not unusual at all to have local unions working shoulder to shoulder with OFA, Moveon, Planned Parenthood, the NAACP and many others in all phases of electoral work.

Finally, labor’s election activity revealed its ongoing evolution into a social movement whose mission is to fight for the interests of the entire working class and people. Accordingly, labor’s message combined the fight for jobs, the preservation of Social Security and Medicare, taxing the rich and corporations, investment in infrastructure, etc. with issues like racial equality and the fight against racism, women’s rights, peace, student debt and education, marriage equality, and economic and social justice.

With the dust barely settled from the elections, virtually every union has hit the ground running. Unlike the 2008 election, labor is determined to continue the momentum of the 2012 election victories into the struggles of 2013, 2014 and beyond.

Dialectics of unity and diversity

What stood out in the election was the power of unity and diversity. That may seem contradictory, but it was the interaction of the two that turned what could have been a defeat into a people’s victory.

Had Latinos not voted in such significant numbers in Nevada, Colorado and Florida, it is hard to see the President’s path to victory. Had African Americans not turned out in record numbers it is tough to see how the President could have won in most of the battleground states. Had labor not mobilized its membership to vote in Ohio and other Rust Belt states, it’s a stretch to see the President emerging triumphant on election night. Likewise, had single young women not cast their ballots in large numbers, it is difficult to visualize his victory.

I could go on, but by now I hope that I have made my point: each of the core forces – the working class, people of color, women and youth – played a decisive role in this election.

At the same time, it should also be said that as powerful as each of these forces undeniably and strategically is, it was the unity of this diverse coalition, stitched together in no small measure by the glue of class, equality, and democracy that, in the final analysis, powered the victory.

As exciting as this is, much still needs to be done to further empower, transform, and unify this diverse movement that moves largely on parallel lines into a mighty political and organizational force for economic justice and advanced democracy. For now anyway, it has nothing close to the messaging power or dense organizational network that the right wing and corporate America have. Herein lies the challenge for left and progressive forces in the labor and broader movement going forward.

GOP: it’s more than demographics

While millions are celebrating, the right wing is going ballistic; they saw this election in existential terms.

Given the demographic and political changes taking place countrywide, the election for them was do or die; for many the defeat means that the world as they know it is coming to an end.

Now that may be a little too apocalyptic, but clearly right-wing extremism took a big hit. Some commentators have suggested that its best days are in the rear view mirror, and that it will give way to a more moderate version of the Republican Party.

Such a prognostication is premature, but it is almost inevitable that there will be tensions within the Republican Party and a contest over policy, image, and tone going forward. To simply take the position of unyielding opposition to President Obama will be difficult in current circumstances.

Furthermore, if demographic and political trends continue, old right-wing fortresses like Texas and Arizona will become swing states and Florida, Nevada, and Colorado will become comfortably blue.

Senator Lindsey Graham, no stranger to right-wing politics, put it this way: “The demographics race we’re losing badly. We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”

Steve Schmidt, campaign manager for John McCain in 2008 and MSNBC analyst, put it a little differently: “We have been horrific” towards Latinos, adding that the party needed to start speaking to that rising population with “respect.”

What Schmidt and Graham conveniently forgot is that the GOP has been “horrific” and disrespectful toward people of color generally, beginning with African Americans, for a long time.

Its inclination to tone down anti-immigrant rhetoric and soften its position on immigration is to be welcomed, but more than a change in tone and position is necessary to improve the standing of the GOP in the Latino community.

It wasn’t simply the harsh anti-immigration rhetoric and positions of Romney and other Republican candidates that turned off millions of Latino voters. It was also their positions on a broad range of issues.

Republican Party strategists forgot that Latinos are overwhelmingly a part of the U.S. multi-racial, multi national working class, albeit one that encounters not only class but racial and national oppression in their daily lives.

Moreover, Latinos in their majority are multi-generational Americans. The ancestral roots of some pre-date the nation’s founding.

Thus, any idea that Latinos will bid farewell to their natural allies -African Americans, other people of color, and the labor movement – and make common cause with the GOP based on a few cosmetic changes grossly underestimates Latinos. It is nothing but fantasy, and racist and arrogant fantasy at that.

In fact, the Republicans’ new interest in Latinos is nothing more than an updated version of their long-standing racist “divide and rule” strategy.

The Republican dilemma as to how to remain a relevant party in the 21st century will not be easily solved.


White workers and the vote

It is easy to dismiss white people, including white workers, as not only racist, but also backward on a range of issues, such as peace, gun control, reproductive rights, gay marriage, and so forth.

Looking at the white vote in this election provides ample evidence for this claim. The white vote for Romney reached historical highs (nearly 60 per cent), compared to earlier Democratic Party presidential candidates.

Worse still, close to 65 per cent of white men cast their vote for Romney. What motivated them can’t be reduced to race alone. A substantial number of white people, I’m sure, bought the idea that in an underperforming economy Romney would be a better steward than the President. And there were other issues that motivated them to vote for Romney as well.

But, at the same time, for many of them, racism must have either taken up the biggest space in or is closely entwined with the bundle of resentments and wrong understandings that accounts for their voting behavior.

That a section of the American people and working class hold such views isn’t a reason to feel superior or dismissive. Rather, for Communists and for everyone who hopes for a better future it is cause for profound concern.

After all, at the core of progress, in our view, is the unity of the multi-racial, multi-nation for Communists and for everyone who hopes for a better future al working class. A divided working class is not a serious threat to monopoly capital. It is certainly not the train to bring the country into the socialist station.

But lucky for us, this captures only one side of reality. For while racist ideas, old as well as updated, influenced the white voting patterns far more than we would like, anti-racist ideas among white people were evident too.

And they expressed themselves in the face of a full-throttle racist ideological offensive over the past four years to de-legitimize President Obama.

In Ohio, one of the states that helped to deliver the second term — and not coincidentally a ground zero of this racist offensive — the President won roughly 45 per cent of the white vote, and tied Romney among white men with incomes of $75,000 or less.

Racial appeals in other battleground states like Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan didn’t resonate to the degree that the Romney campaign had hoped either. And in each state, white workers were a key demographic in Obama’s victory.

Then there were other non-battleground states where the majority of white voters cast their vote for Obama.

Among trade unionists, 70 per cent voted for the president. While the union vote isn’t broken down along racial lines, it is probably safe to say that white trade unionists voted roughly the same as they did four years ago.

A few weeks before the election, I attended a rally in Cleveland organized by the Teamsters, where many labor leaders and members of Congress spoke of the urgency of supporting President Obama.

One shouldn’t generalize from one rally, but I have to say that the support for the President at this gathering of rank and file Teamsters and other trade unionists – the majority of whom where white – was nothing short of enthusiastic. They were ready to go. And I was inspired.

Why? Because these workers had no problem whatsoever in supporting and voting again for an African American to the highest office in the land. From what I could see, they were more than eager to do so. I suspect that many other white trade unionists felt the same way.

All of which underscores the importance of expanding the ranks of the organized working class and ratcheting up the fight against racism. Both are strategic tasks that the entire movement for progressive change should embrace.

The economy

Framing everything in the post-election period is the economy. While some pickup in economic activity has occurred, overall employment and economic growth have been fitful and anemic.

It’s hard to see where the dynamism is going to come from without the entry of the federal government on a scale that only a few in Washington are ready to embrace.

The old dynamic of debt and bubble-driven growth, which drove the last economic expansion here and worldwide (1992 -2007), is not an option.

Nor should any help be expected from our global partners. Europe is reeling. And China is not positioned to carry the rest of the world on its shoulders. Its growth too has slowed and it’s feeling the contradictions that come from its deep integration into the capitalist global economy.

Crises are supposed to be capitalism’s mechanisms to clear away the debris that inhibits a revival of production, profits, employment and growth on a wider scale, but that scenario doesn’t appear to be in capitalism’s future.

Instead, stagnant growth and high unemployment seem like the “new normal.” And, always lurking in the background is the danger of deeper crises.

All of which begs the question: are we entering a new era of capitalist development, characterized by overproduction, hyper-intense monopolistic rivalry, and stagnant growth on a world scale?

My initial read (which requires more in-depth study) is that we are, which would explain why big capital is in such a frenzy to impose a new model of political and economic governance on the working class and people – one that is stripped of social obligations to its citizens, free of unions and a dense network of civic organizations, deficient in full-blooded democratic institutions, and shorn of any barriers to its global accumulation strategy.

The dream of the one per cent is to return to the gilded age when neither the people nor nature had any rights that capitalism had to respect.

The outcome of this election has made the realization of that dream more difficult — but don’t expect capital to throw in the towel.

While it supported Romney, its claws are in the sides of both parties and in every branch of government, as they have been in the past. The state remains a capitalist state.

Faced with this reality, the option for the working class and people in the near and medium term isn’t to retreat from electoral and political struggle. But rather to further expand its independent presence in the crucial arena of struggle.

In the longer term, the option is socialism – a society in which Marx’s “associated producers” and their allies govern and rule in the interest of the immense majority.

Foreign policy

The present direction of our foreign policy has the country cascading from one crisis to another. And in every instance, it isn’t the interests of the American people that are being advanced, but rather the interests of the global corporations and the foreign policy establishment.

There is some reappraisal of the conduct of our foreign policy going on in the Obama administration and the national security state. In all likelihood some changes will occur, not necessarily unimportant ones, but at the same time don’t expect
the Obama administration or U.S. ruling circles to give up their global ambitions.

We are still employing harsh sanctions against Iran and the danger of war grows; we are still imposing a half-century-long blockade on Cuba; we are still doing little to support the Palestinian people’s desire for national statehood; we are still sitting on our hands as far as finding road to a cease fire and a negotiated settlement between the warring parties in Syria; we are still modernizing our weaponry, while insisting that other countries forgo their pursuit of nuclear armaments; we are still determined to isolate North Korea; we are still at loggerheads with the countries of Latin America who are pursuing their own independent path of development; we are still using drones to prosecute the “war on terror'” even though their use puts us at loggerheads with people in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa; we are still negotiating NAFTA-like trade agreements; and we still cherry picking who we will ally ourselves to in the Arab Spring, that leaves us supporting some of the most backward regimes in the world.

The Obama administration and the foreign policy establishment need to pivot not to the Pacific region, but away from these policies of global domination. Of prime importance is that we walk back our rhetoric and sanctions against Iran. Negotiations not confrontation are needed. A war with Iran would have horrific consequences across the world and negative impacts on the class and democratic struggles at home. There is no desire among the American people for such a confrontation.

No less importantly, the Obama administration has to become a force for a peaceful and negotiated resolution of the crisis in Syria and a more forceful interlocutor of a two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians. Netanyahu’s intransigence has to be walked back in the interests of both peoples.

But none of this will happen without a “peace surge” across the length and breadth of our country. The economic crisis has turned the attention of the American people inward, but only up to a point. More and more are realizing that a people centered domestic policy is bound up with a foreign policy of peace, cooperation, and disarmament and economic conversion.

Build the Communist Party


We can be proud of our role in the election. Our contribution was both ideological and practical. Nearly every member and leader was involved. Our work gives us much to build on as we throw ourselves into the post-election battles.

In every state and city our political relationships are broader and deeper; our presence and prestige are on a new level.

We come out of this election poised to play a larger role in the unfolding struggles, beginning with the struggle over the “fiscal cliff.”

If there is anything that the election revealed about us it is that we are too small in size. Thus we have to grow at a faster pace. Our main audience is not among those who sat out the election struggle, but among those who were in its front ranks.

We should organize meetings with these activists in December and January where they can have the opportunity to get better acquainted with us as people and political activists.

The distance between our positions and the positions of many who worked tirelessly in the campaign is less than we probably think. No longer does the “s” word send shivers down people’s spines – in fact, many of today’s activists embrace it, according to public opinion polls.

Another requirement to building the Party is that we do more to strengthen it in our traditional centers.

I’m not suggesting that we do any less to bring in new internet recruits, as we are currently doing. But this has to be combined with breathing new energy and life into our Party in the centers where we have had a long-term presence. Every district and club should organize a discussion along these lines.

Still another growth requirement is that we utilize the social media better. This is not to take away from what we have already done. We have websites, online publications, a growing group of writers, and a presence on facebook and twitter. Still the whole Party and YCL are not yet engaged.

In the same vein, we also must make a bigger effort to break into the mainstream media. This is an untapped source that would allow us to get our message out to a much bigger audience. There are still too many misunderstanding and stereotypes, which are big impediments to our growth.

Finally, we can’t build the Party and YCL without confidence, spirit, and boldness.

PHOTO: CC BY-NC-SA Some rights reserved by wisaflcio



    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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