Framework for Discussion: Democracy for all & the fight for equality

BY: Convention Organizing Committee| February 5, 2014

The promise of equality for all is deeply embedded in American culture and traditions. Yet, the United States’ founding promise excluded large sections of its population. Excluded by slavery were the enslaved people as well as freed Blacks. Women, Native Americans, immigrants and non-propertied men were also excluded at the founding. Many of these exclusions continue today in different forms, and new exclusions have come to the fore, but each carry cultural, ideological, economic, political and social justifications in order to keep the ruling elites and system of labor exploitation intact. For example, the movements for LGBT rights and marriage equality have become a central feature in democratic struggles. People resist, rebel, strive and struggle to overcome oppression, and through that process progress can be and has been made. The election and reelection of the nation’s first Black president has become a living symbol of that progress. But on the flip side, there is still much to overcome.

At this time in U.S. capitalism’s history, the ultra right is the main obstacle to equality and freedom. With their think tanks, lawyers, mass media, bought-and-paid-for politicians at every level of government and billions of dollars, this right-wing cabal relentlessly undermines hard-won gains over the past three decades.

Class oppression exists as well, and intersects with race, gender, etc., and working-class people as a whole advance when victories for equal rights are won. But issues of equality cannot be reduced to class only –in Marxist terminology, this is often referred to as taking a “special” approach.

This framework attempts to place before the Communist Party key questions for an informed, insightful and action-oriented discussion on the struggles for equality and freedom under class-divided capitalism and their relationship to the making of socialism. Contributions, whether in written or video format, should make an effort to reflect current information and experiences; new, developing and contradictory trends; a broad working-class perspective; experimentation and explanations. There are many Marxist and non-Marxist resources and movements from which to draw data, examples, ideas and inspiration.

In that spirit, a list of issues and questions are provided to help focus the discussion, and at the same time to develop a big picture understanding of the many different equality struggles. As a matter of organization, it is broken into separate areas, but as in life, these are not mutually exclusive of each other. There are commonalities as well as particulars for each. All are areas to explore. The list is not meant to be comprehensive; additional relevant topics are welcomed.

Women, gender and male supremacy

Women’s equality and rights, like racial equality, have been a major current in the struggle for democracy. Women are a multi-class, multi-racial and multi-generational group. All women face gender oppression, and for millions of women, that intersects with class and racial oppression along with discrimination based on age and sexual orientation. Gender oppression and discrimination exist in all spheres of life, including economic, political, legislative, social, religious, cultural, legal, reproductive and personal/familial.

The far right has conducted an anti-abortion campaign relentlessly since the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision. This has been the battering ram for an overall attack, popularly dubbed the “war on women.” At the same time, women of all races, nationalities, ages are organizing in many new and creative ways for democratic rights.

How does the inequality of women affect the entire working class? Does your club/district have experience in the fight for women’s equality? What do you consider “women’s issues?”  What is understood by “male supremacy”, and how is it related to the structural barriers that women face? What is the status and relationship of women and women’s equality issues to the movements for raising the minimum wage, union organizing, voting rights, saving Social Security and other social programs, education, marriage equality, immigrant rights, etc.?

People with disabilities

People with disabilities have been discriminated against in employment, housing, education and other areas, and have also fought and won many rights in recent years. The Americans with Disabilities Act added to the strength of commitment by our society to treat all equally, as did the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in guaranteeing equal access to public education for all children. These landmark laws are considered the largest gains in civil rights, i.e. affecting the largest number of people in the United States. In various ways, the disability rights movement has been part of the broader movement to expand benefits, open doors, and make ours a more humane society. Disability struggles  also have important links with veterans’ rights movements. What is your sense of how this issue affects people’s thinking generally about rights and privileges? Does it have an impact/play a role in how people see the right wing’s anti-government campaign? the attacks on public education?

Immigrants, immigration and nativism

It has been seven years since the modern-day immigrant rights movement burst in a big way onto the scene, changing the political landscape and redefining what it means to be an American. The fight for immigrant rights and immigration reform has profound implications for democracy.

Immigrants are a multi-class, multi-racial, national and ethnic group. Immigrants are undocumented, citizens and legal residents. The attacks on immigrants have a particular racist and anti-working class edge. Latinos, particularly Mexicans, are targeted with anti-immigrant laws such as the ones passed in Arizona and Alabama, and right-wing anti-immigrant propaganda. Other immigrant communities are also targets of propaganda and discrimination.

The issue of immigration reform has resonated in many communities, particularly Asian American and Latino communities, as expressed in recent electoral trends rejecting extreme right GOP candidates. The struggle for the rights of immigrants is a global one as well, tied to the upheavals caused by capital in countries around the world.

Where is the struggle for unity on immigrant rights? How do U.S.-born people see immigrant rights? What are the blocks to understanding and unity? How has the Party related to this struggle? Young undocumented immigrants — the “Dreamers” — who have demanded ways to become citizens and to keep their families together, have galvanized this movement; how does this development help to redefine what it means to be American? How do immigrant rights and workers rights intersect; are there experiences (backdrop, AFL-CIO immigrant rights resolution) with unions taking working for immigrant rights? Many traditional civil rights organizations have embraced immigrant rights as part of the overall civil rights struggle; has that development expressed itself in your area?

Religious minorities and non-believers

In establishing the U.S., the founders tried to learn from the religious-fueled wars plaguing Europe by establishing the separation of church and state. Our diversity includes diversity of religious views – and non believers – despite efforts by the extreme right to paint the country as “Christian.” Clearly there are very specific issues for Muslims, and the fight against discrimination, racial profiling and surveillance has great importance today. Sikhs and Muslims have been targets of hatred and violence. Anti-Semitism continues to be a factor in our society, in small and big ways. Within the Jewish community there are a range of opinions, and a long tradition of progressive and secular views and practices compete with fundamentalist and reactionary ones. The Communist Party’s religious commission is relatively new but has been a positive force for uniting believers of different faiths and nonbelievers in the fight for democratic rights for all.

How do you assess attitudes about Muslims among non-Muslims? What organizations are there, what work are they doing, what coalitions are they a part of? Likewise any experience with work among Jewish people is important to discuss — where is the young generation, politically? What about attitudes towards Israel? Are there other communities of “minority” religions, where there are problems with discrimination and/or efforts to build unity? Do Communists have a bad image when it comes to religious freedom? How can faith, secularism and atheism be balanced within the party?

Sexual orientation and gender identity

The fight for equality for lesbians, gays, transgender and bisexual people has been a key component in the struggle for democracy and against the ultra right. Anti-gay campaigns, like the one led by religious conservative Anita Bryant in the late 1970s, helped facilitate the rise of the Christian right and election of Ronald Reagan, a setback for all working people.

Discrimination based on who one loves or what gender one identifies with is an affront to democratic and working class values. The movement for LGBT rights has created a more caring, open-minded and democratic atmosphere in the country. With each successive generation, young people embrace the rights of LGBT people and reject prejudices and practices that demean and degrade. Despite this progress, however, LGBT people still face a myriad of threats and inequalities at the workplace and in the community.

How have you seen changes in attitudes and practices expressed in your area? Do any local unions have PRIDE @Work chapters? In addition to marriage equality, are there other specific issues or campaigns in the gay community, or that the gay community is working with others on? What has happened to lessen this as a wedge issue?

Race, ethnicity and the ideology of white supremacy

The U.S. working class is a multi-racial mix of ethnicities, nationalities and national origins. The U.S. population as a whole, which is multi-class, is also racially and ethnically diverse. Racism and the ideology of white supremacy have historically been and continue to be major weapons to divide, exploit and demobilize the working class and its allies, and deeply damage democracy. While people of color are the main targets, whites are also negatively affected by the system of racism. The phrase people of color, for our discussion purposes, refers to Black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islanders and Native American peoples. Each of these categories can be further broken down, i.e. Latino: of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Cuban, Colombian, etc. origin. Each of these are also multi-class.

How is racism – as a system of policies, practices and ideas – expressed where you live, work, go to school? How does the national scene have an impact? Do your friends, family and colleagues talk about race and racism? If so, how – as individual prejudices or more than that? Are there generational differences around these issues; if so, how is that expressed? Why is it important to take a special approach – tied to class but at the same time separate from class – to racial equality issues?

What are the racial justice organizations and movements in your area? What are the issues being addressed? Are you and/or your party collective active with any of them? How do local organizations on other issues address racial justice issues? What is the influence of “post-racialism” and/or “color blindness” (rationalizing why race does not need to be addressed)?

At its recent convention, the AFL-CIO passed a landmark resolution condemning the “for-profit prison companies” that promote a correctional system “for the sake of profit without regard to justice,” and the “school-to-prison pipeline.” How can we work to more fully bring together labor and racial justice activists on equality/rights issues?

In your area, are communities crossing racial, ethnic and language barriers around struggles for education, jobs and wages, health care, foreclosures and housing? If so, how? How do you or your collective relate to these coalitions? How is diversity expressed in your area in arts, music, entertainment and culture, sports and recreation, etc?  How can we engage with people, especially white people, on the subject of racism?

Younger generation

Although being young is a temporary status, unlike the other “special questions,” there are many problems, obstacles, concerns and ideas specific to the experience of the young generation. Although some of these are longstanding (education, jobs, job training, sexuality, mass culture), addressing the specific character of what it means to be young today is essential. This includes the specific issues the younger generation faces like a collective $1 trillion owed for student loans.

What are those very specific issues and realities? Are there positives as well as negatives? What do you think are big trends in terms of attitudes among the younger generation? Is your collective in tune with the political outlook of young people? How can this work concretely be improved?

Retirees and seniors

Likewise senior citizen is a category that crosses class, race, gender and other lines, in terms of specific needs and concerns. Obvious issues are economic security, which includes the all-important questions of Social Security and health care. Seniors are affected by safety net cuts, and conversely benefit greatly from public programs including meal delivery, health care services and community centers. Seniors are also the most likely section of the population to vote, and in some if not many situations, are a key voting block.

Again, we want to hear about specific experiences on these issues. Are members active in senior or retiree organizations? What about the efforts of the right to pit young against old when it comes to Social Security, pension and union contract issues?

This document was developed to help provide a framework for the discussion of the 30th Convention of the Communist Party USA. These framing documents are not intended to limit the discussion in any way, but are meant as ways to generate ideas and questions to be addressed. The views and opinions expressed in the Convention Discussion are those of the author alone. The Communist Party is publishing these views as a service to encourage discussion and debate. Those views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Communist Party, its leading bodies or staff members. The CPUSA Constitution, Program, and all its existing policies remain in effect during the Convention discussion period and during the Convention.



    The collective appointed by the National Committee of the Communist Party to organize and plan the 30th National Convention of the Communist Party USA, Chaired by John Bachtell. 

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