Advancing the Struggle for Peace and Progress

 
November 27, 2002

No Landslide No Mandate.
After months of intense activity, a broad peoples movement came up just a little short at the ballot box on November 5. What would have been a breathtaking victory, especially given the unfavorable political atmosphere and circumstances, turned into a victory for the Bush administration and the Republican Party.

In the elections immediate aftermath, some called the results an across-the-board sweep. The word landslide found its way onto the evening news, while more than one political pundit described the outcome as an unambiguous mandate for the White House which all goes to prove that our nations chattering class is not a reliable source of political wisdom. If they were paid according to the acuity of their insights they would be poor wretches indeed.

The Republican Party did not win a landslide victory on November 5. Nor can they claim a clear-cut and overriding mandate for the Bush administrations agenda. A better read of the 2002 elections is that they were a setback, though not one of seismic proportions. The playing field tilted some to the advantage of the Bush administration and its counterparts in the Congress.

Consider the following:

The net gain for the Republicans in the Senate was only three seats, while in the House they added only five seats to their small majority.

The margins providing Republican victory and Democratic defeat were very narrow. Of millions of votes cast, a swing to the Democrats of only 40,000 votes would have allowed them to retain control of the Senate.

Only about 40 percent of the electorate voted.

Of the 10 most closely contested Senate seats, nine were in states that Bush carried in 2000.

The Democrats made important gains at the national, state and local level. Three new Latinos will enter the House in January, as will Mike Michaud, a union member and paper worker from Maine.

In the face of these facts, a brief supporting the position that the elections were a stunning sweep by the Republicans does violence to the truth.

Why They Won

While rejecting the Republicans self-serving claims, we do still have to ask: why did they win? The reasons are easy to catalogue, but the more difficult task is assigning to each of them their proper political weight.

First, the centrist positions of the Democratic Party leadership weakened the prospects of their candidates. But whether a better posture would have lifted them to victory is an altogether different and largely speculative question at this point.

But before taking Daschle and Gephardt to the cleaners, we should remember that the accomodationist policy of the Democratic Party goes back to the Carter presidency, continued through the Reagan years, and became more pronounced in Clintons triangulating White House. So this posture was not a change of policy but rather a continuation of policy in new conditions.

Another factor affecting the outcome was the role of money. Both parties have access to it, but the Republican Party has much deeper pockets. While money doesnt necessarily guarantee victory, it does confer an enormous advantage.

Still another factor was the role of the mass media. It showed a definite bias to the right, with some networks, like Murdoch-owned Fox, making no pretense to impartiality. The other networks are not much better. While this bias goes back a decade or two, it has become more striking since the terrorist attacks.

A fourth factor was the low voter turnout and that the turnout of the constituencies that normally vote against right-wing candidates, though higher than the 1998 midterm elections, was not enough to compensate for the Republican Partys get-out-the-vote efforts.

Yet another factor was the influence of racism, both overt and subtler forms of which found their way into the elections. In Texas, a slanderous Republican ad strongly suggested that Tony Sanchez was connected to an assassination carried out by a Mexican drug cartel.

In Tennessee, a television ad showing the faces of Charles Rangel, an African American Congressman, and Barney Frank, a Jewish and gay Congressman, asked viewers if they wanted House committees chaired by those two Democrats.

In Georgia, the Democratic Partys leaders distanced themselves from progressive African American Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, contributing to her defeat in the primary. To the credit of African American voters though, there was no payback on Election Day, and they went to the polls in the expected high numbers to vote for the Democratic candidates for governor and Senate. But it wasnt enough to compensate for the swing of white voters towards the Republicans, in part because of racist appeals.

Race was a factor in the North as well. In New York, for instance, the Democratic Party deserted H. Carl McCall, the first Black Democratic Party candidate for governor in the states history.

Other Black and Latino candidates had similar experiences elsewhere in northern states.

While I dont think racism was the decisive factor, what isnt debatable is that it played a consequential role and that the struggle against racism and for equality has to figure much more prominently on the agenda of labor and other democratic forces in the period ahead.

For the Democratic Party to distance itself from Black and Latino candidates is not only an accommodation to racist pressures, but endangers its relationship to its most consistent and politically mature voting bloc, and weakens the democratic and progressive movement as a whole.

As much as some would like to remove the subject of race from political discourse and practice and there is enormous pressure to do this it is deeply embedded in the politics, economics, and culture of our country.

Even when it isnt mentioned, racism finds its way into the national conversation anyway, hiding, sometimes not so subtly, behind code words. Attempts to give respectability to backward ideas and practices must be contested, for they mobilize white people in a right-wing direction and sustain the structures of exploitation and super-exploitation and oppression.

Without such a struggle, broad democratic and class advance is impossible. We have said that for decades and it is no less true today.

Shadow of September 11

As important as all these factors were in the elections outcome, overshadowing everything was the continuing fallout from September 11. That harrowing experience still colors the atmosphere, psychology, and politics of our country.

Although not to the same degree as a year ago, it conditions everything either directly or indirectly and it is exploited in a calculated way by the Bush administration.

The residue of the attacks allowed the Republican Party to control the election debate, thus crowding out the pressing issues of jobs, pension protection, prescription drugs and health care, to name just a few.

It gave Bush popularity and coattails, which the Republican Party effectively utilized in some key national races. It solidified and energized the right-wing base of the Republican Party.

It made a cautious Democratic Party leadership even more cautious. It turned many of the tight Senate races into referenda on homeland security and the question of war in Iraq. It made sections of voters much more susceptible to demagogic appeals.

To take a measure of the influence of September 11, consider the following question: What would the dynamics and outcome of the elections have been if it had never happened? Much different, I suspect.

Knowing this wont buy us a cup of coffee, but it should give us a more fine-grained understanding of the 2002 elections and the post-election struggles.

Movement Ready to Fight

Despite the setback on November 5, no one is throwing up his or her hands in despair. Sure, there is disappointment, and some people are a little down. But the dominant mood is to continue to fight.

The same determination to whack the ultraright that mobilized tens of thousands in the weeks leading up to the elections is evident now. Nearly every spokesperson of the main peoples organizations have said in so many words, Aint going to let no Bush turn us around.

This isnt empty boasting. It reflects the irrepressible fighting spirit of the labor-led, loosely constructed movement that has been battling the right danger and corporate restructuring for two decades and has been gaining strength in the process.

In fact, despite the election results, a case can be made that that movement, after absorbing a staggering blow on September 11, is once again on the ascendancy.

At the NAACPs national convention this summer, Julian Bond made a blistering and courageous speech against the Bush administration. NOW leaders have repeatedly taken sharp exception to Bushs policies.

Leaders of the immigrant and civil libertarian communities are increasingly critical of the Justice Departments attack on civil and democratic rights.

Some Democratic Congresspeople have begun to express exasperation with the conciliatory policy of their partys leaders. These differences crystallized in the course of the debate on the White Houses resolution authorizing a military invasion of Iraq.

The labor movement has become increasingly critical of Bushs domestic policies and has resumed, with full vigor, organizing activity around pension protection, collective bargaining, immigrant rights, and prescription drugs.

Breaking with past precedent, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney issued a statement that took issue with some aspects of Bushs war policy, and is allowing lower-level union bodies to take independent positions without fear of reprisal from the top.

Each of these streams of peoples power entered into the election arena, with the labor movements role and activity standing out. The volunteers, energy, and outreach of labor in these elections was extraordinary.

It is fair to say that the forces of political independence nearly made the difference on Election Day, despite limited financial resources, the weak message of the Democratic Party candidates, and a president banging the drums of war and national security.

Now they are looking towards the period ahead, with their fighting spirit very much in evidence, their organizational structures intact and their leaders and constituency ready to go.

Spinning the Election

The White House is saying that the election results give a green light to its political and legislative agenda. Although the evidence to prove this is threadbare, there are ample reasons to be alarmed.

With the momentum of the elections, the specter of war in Iraq and terrorism, and Republican control of all three branches of the federal government, the administration is quickly and recklessly pushing its reactionary, anti-democratic, militarist polices on our country and the world.

Not for a long time have we faced such dangers. Everything that we hold dear our rights, our livelihoods, our lives, and a peaceful future for our country and world is at stake.

In conveying the peril of the moment we have to be frank, but also careful so that we dont paralyze or demoralize people.

While acknowledging the dangers, we also have to point out that, first, Bushs political agenda serves the interests of an exceedingly narrow social base camped out in the boardrooms of the most reactionary transnational corporations; and second, that a vast popular movement is gathering that has the capacity to slow down and reverse the right-wing offensive.

At the core of such a popular movement are the same forces that have been battling the right wing for two decades the working class and its organized sector, racially and nationally oppressed people, and women. They are the main foundations of a winning struggle against the Bush administration in the period ahead, although they alone are not enough to turn the tide in a progressive direction.

Young people, seniors, environmentalists, peace activists, gays and lesbians, disabled people, farmers, rural America, small- and medium-sized business owners and every other social grouping whose interests collide with the reactionary agenda of the White House, must find a home and voice in this popular movement.

In other words, a big-tent, everybody-is-invited strategy is a requirement for victory.

Of course, it cant be done without a broadly constructed program of struggle that appeals to the interests of the broadest strata of the population, and interconnects the democratic demands of the working class with the democratic demands of other social sectors. Of decisive importance in this regard is the struggle for racial and gender equality.

In the course of these struggles the working class and labor movement will not only deepen the many-sided unity of this broad front and earn its leadership role, but it will also deepen its political consciousness.

The Bush Agenda

Right now, the political agenda will be set by the Bush administration, not by this emerging all-peoples coalition. Its immediate priorities will include war in Iraq, federal court appointments, homeland security, stripping hundreds of thousands of workers of their union rights, millionaire tax cuts, and an economic stimulus package.

In the longer term, this administration wants to impose a draconian political and economic order on our country and the world. It aims to radically redistribute wealth and power to the absolute advantage of U.S. imperialism.

The Senate will be the main institutional structure to block the Bush legislative agenda, despite the fact that the most consistent and vocal opponent of Bushs policies are in the House, and especially the Progressive, Black, Latino, women, and the emerging labor caucuses.

Given that 60 votes are needed before the wheels of the Senate begin to move, the Democrats have the ability to throw a monkey wrench into the White Houses legislative agenda for the next two years, although the lesson in the passage of the Homeland Security Bill is that the backs of Senate Democrats will have to be stiffened by the peoples movements.

Assault on Labor

Meanwhile, the Bush administration is taking steps to cripple the main class and social forces challenging its policies. While this is a wide ranging attack, I want to single out the labor movement for a moment.

The present attack on the labor movement, orchestrated by the White House, is of a different magnitude than what we have seen in recent decades. To find something comparable would take us back to the passage of Taft-Hartley and the onset of the Cold War.

The motivation is as much political as economic. It appears that the Bush administration is going to bring the full weight of the federal government down on the conditions and rights of labor.

Though the attack predates September 11, it is also true that the assault on labors rights went into higher gear after that date. Under the guise of national security interests, the Bush administration and the Justice Department have invoked anti-labor laws to the advantage of the employers and to the detriment of airline workers, immigrant workers, longshore workers, and others.

For months, the attention of our nation has been riveted on the negotiations between the longshore workers and the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA).

Because longshore workers occupy a strategic position in the commodity circuits of the global economy, as do airline and trucking workers, the Bush administration aggressively entered into the negotiations on the side of the PMA. In a closely coordinated strategy, the White House assisted the employers at every turn.

That the longshore workers are still negotiating and winning concessions from the PMA is a great tribute to the fighting spirit and solid unity of the union and its leadership. It is testimony to the fact that even under dire conditions, a combination of unity, militancy, and flexible tactics can move the class struggle forward.

Until a contract is signed, all of labor and its allies should continue to give full support to the longshore workers and their union.

Much the same could be said with respect to the struggles of 170,000 federal government workers, whose collective bargaining rights were destroyed with the passage of the Homeland Security Bill easily the biggest decertification in our nations history.

There is more to it. The Bush administration reportedly has plans to privatize 850,000 federal jobs, many of which provide employment to racially oppressed and women workers.

Clearly, the administration aims to completely privatize the costs of the social reproduction of labor power, to cripple the labor movement among a sector of workers where it has retained union density, and to give capital a new source of profit accumulation.

Meanwhile, there is active discussion in ultra-right circles about overturning labor laws governing hours, conditions, and organizing rights that date back to the New Deal.

All of this sets a dangerous precedent for the future so much so that I suggest that we hold an expanded meeting of our National Board as soon as we can to discuss this situation and how we can respond.

Popular Majorities

Saying all this doesnt mean that Bush and the right wing will have their way. Nor does it mean that the struggles ahead wont be mass or militant.

Broad popular majorities either exist or can be built in the course of struggle. Victories can be won on issues ranging from the war in Iraq to the stacking of the federal courts with right-wing, anti-labor, anti-women, racist judges, to the privatization of Social Security, to an economic stimulus package, to protecting democratic, union, civil, womens, and gay rights.

While the forms of struggle will vary, they must be of a mass character in view of the ferocious nature of the right-wing offensive. If it is Congressional lobbying, it should be mass. If it is petitioning, it should be mass. If it is a phone call or e-mail, or newspaper ad campaign, it should be mass. If it is a town hall meeting or vigil, it should be mass. If it is a march or demonstration, it should be mass.

It is likely that in the early going there will be no single center towards which all these varied forces will gravitate. Nevertheless, it is imperative to find forms that will unify the broadest possible array of class and social forces opposing the Bush administration.

For now this is probably easier to do at the city and state level. Finding forms for national coordination, however, cannot be put on the back burner. Organizational and political coherency at the national level is critical.

Role of the Democratic Party

An issue that bears on the formation of a broad popular front is the role of the Democratic Party. Millions of people are understandably angry about its lack of vision and fuzzy message. They want a party with the courage, convictions and grassroots sense of Paul Wellstone.

But it would be a mistake to say, To hell with the Democrats. Theyre no different than the Republicans. Such a reaction might bring momentary self-satisfaction, but it wont bring the peoples movements a flea hop closer to winning prescription drugs, pension protection or extended unemployment insurance legislation.

It wont aid the struggle to tax the rich and reduce the military budget. It wont add muscle to protecting womens reproductive rights and affirmative action laws. It wont do anything to prevent the further erosion of democratic and union rights. It wont assist the fight to protect our fragile environment.

The Democratic Party, or at least some sections of it and I would argue even some Republicans in Congress are a necessary part of any winning struggle to slow down and reverse the policies of the Bush administration.

We welcome the process of realignment going on in the Democratic Party and should try to influence it in a positive direction. The election of Nancy Pelosi to the position of the new House minority leader is a reaction to the Democrats defeat on November 5. But it is also a reflection of a process of differentiation taking place in the Democratic Party that extends back many years.

Will the Democrats be the main force in a broad popular movement? No. Labor, racially and nationally oppressed people, and women will be the leaders. But the all-peoples front should be expansive, inclusive and flexible enough to allow for the participation of sections of the Democratic Party leadership and its constituency that are ready, or with some prodding, will join a broader struggle to contest Bushs agenda.

Just as we dont expect the Democratic Party to play the leading role in this broad-based coalition, we also dont expect it to morph into a peoples party in the course of struggle.

By the same token, the new independent formations will not be the magnetic center either. But their role will be considerable provided that they battle against the Bush administration and the right danger. Whatever our differences with them, and we have some, sweeping negative generalizations wont help. Instead, our attitude towards these formations should be more calibrated and concrete case by case.

In general, we need to play a larger role among the forces of political independence, some of whom still utilize the Democratic Party to advance their agenda and some of whom operate outside the two-party system.

A new peoples party capable of challenging concentrated corporate power will bring into its orbit a range of forces inside and outside of the Democratic Party, including these new independent political formations that are springing up at the local and state level.

I would add that rigid separations of those who are inside from those who are outside the Democratic Party should be avoided. The interrelationships are overlapping, intricate, and dynamic and argue for a dialectical appreciation of this process. Its complexity reminds me of what Lenin wrote in Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder:

In Russia, a lengthy, painful, and sanguinary experience has taught us the truth that revolutionary tactics cannot be built on a revolutionary mood alone. Tactics must be based on a sober and strictly objective appraisal of all the class forces in a particular state as well as the experience of revolutionary movements. It is easy to show ones revolutionary temper merely by hurling abuse at parliamentary opposition, or merely by repudiating participation in parliaments; its ease, however, cannot turn this into a solution of a difficult, a very difficult, problem.

Reaching Over Election Divide

Just as Bush political strategist Karl Rove hopes to peel off sections of the traditional base of the Democratic Party, the all-peoples movement against the Bush administration should seek to do the opposite that is, to win over those who now vote Republican.

Rove correctly recognizes that we have a divided electorate. We should acknowledge that, too. Under the impact of underlying structural changes in U.S. capitalism, the contradictions of liberal Keynesianism, and the resurgence of the right-wing political forces over the past 20 years, a swing to the right of a section of voters has occurred.

To one degree or another, these voters not only embrace aspects of right-wing ideology, but they also believe that the ultraright represents their interests, as they understand them. How could this be?

On the one hand, peoples thinking is complex and contradictory. There isnt an exact correspondence between class location and political disposition.

If there were, this enterprise of politics would be very simple indeed. We would have declared victory long ago.

Intruding between class location and political disposition is the realm of experience in which economic and political forces and currents clash and shape and reshape the thinking of millions of people in unexpected ways.

On the other hand, ultra-right ideology doesnt openly proclaim its subservience to the interests of the most reactionary sections of the ruling class.

Rather, it conceals those loyalties while adapting its concepts and demagogy to the national peculiarities of our country and even to the peculiarities of different social strata.

The right wing talks about free markets and democracy, not world domination. It claims to fight for tax cuts for everyone, not just the rich.

It proclaims its support for breaking political deadlocks in Washington and getting things done and rails against partisan bickering. It espouses small government, as against a Leviathan state that squeezes the little guy.

It purports to advocate colorblind and merit-based promotion, not individual or group entitlement. It extols the sanctity of life, the nuclear family, and motherhood and laments single parent families, abortion, and same-sex marriages.

It says it represents the rights of the victims of crime, not the perpetrators of crime. It speaks as if it has cornered the market on love of country and belief in god, and so forth.

To left and progressive people, this world view is rent with demagogy, contradictions, hypocrisy, undiluted and pernicious racism, undisguised contempt for women and gay people, virulent hostility toward labor, great power chauvinism, and extreme militarism.

Nevertheless, right-wing ideology, with an assist from right-wing media and grassroots organizations (the Christian Coalition and National Rifle Association, to name two), has made some inroads into sections of the electorate, especially outside the centers of the working class and racially oppressed. We dont want to exaggerate its influence, but neither should we underestimate it.

We must not cede these voters to the far right. Indeed, we want to win them to the side of the labor-led all-peoples front and shift the electoral landscape decisively in a progressive and left direction.

Another key constituency that is not now on the political radar screen are the stay-at-home-voters. The right wing likes to suggest that these tens of millions of people are satisfied with the status quo. Let them think that; we know otherwise.

The truth is that these are potential voters for jobs, health care, peace and other elements of a progressive political program, and they must be brought into the arena of class and democratic struggle, into the struggle to defeat Bushs policies.

With hard work at the grassroots and a clear and hopeful vision of peace, economic security and equality, millions of stay-at-home voters can be brought to the polls in 2004.

Divisions Within the Ruling Class

Not to be ignored in the struggle against the backward policies of the Bush administration are divisions within the ranks of the ruling class. At this moment the differences in outlook and strategic orientation are considerable.

As you would expect, the differences dont turn on whether this or that section of the ruling class wants to maintain and extend U.S. imperialist hegemony in the world.

On that score there is unanimity. Where a parting of ways takes place is over how they understand that goal and the means to achieve it, including the degree to which they should accommodate to the pressures of opposition forces at home and abroad.

To dismiss these differences, which will become more open and contested as the Bush administrations aggressive domestic and global imperialist policies encounter obstacles, would be a major blunder, for they open up political space for the working class and peoples movement.

At this point it may make the difference between life and death for millions. Despite this, there are sections of the left who are tone deaf to these differences.

Im not sure what can be done to change this maybe nothing. At the least, we should be clear on this and express our views.

All-Peoples Front

Some of you may be wondering about the relationship between the concept of the all-peoples coalition against the Bush administration and the most reactionary groupings of transnational capital, and concepts like the leading role of the working class and labor, left-center unity and left unity, socialism, and fascism. Let me briefly respond to these concerns, beginning with the struggle for left and left-center unity.

Greater cohesion of the broad left is absolutely necessary. A more organized left will bring political clarity, militancy, a mass sense, and an appreciation of the need for unity into the broader peoples coalition.

This presumes, of course, that the left has an orientation towards the center forces and the immediate battles against the Bush administration.

Unfortunately, some on the left underestimate the right danger, are dismissive of the Democrats, and are a little jaded about the labor movement. They prefer advanced forms of struggle.

Such an approach may titillate the mind and give some people a warm feeling, but in the end is sterile. The struggle for left unity only makes sense if it is closely connected to the immediate struggles against the Bush administration and the center forces in labor and among African-American, Latino, and other racially and nationally oppressed people, women and other social groupings.

In some ways the main challenge for the left is to shed long-held sectarian concepts of struggle. If it does, it will find itself in the midst of and influencing the great struggles of our time. If it doesnt, it will continue to hang on the margins of political life.

As for left-center unity: this is a concept of unity and a concept of struggle. It is a point of departure rather than an endgame in constructing unity. In the labor movement, for example, our aim should be to unite every section of labor against the policies of the Bush administration not just the left and center forces, but the entire trade union movement.

Admittedly, divisions and conflicting interests do exist and, not surprisingly, the Bush administration is painstakingly trying to win sections of labor to its side.

Nevertheless, these divisions can be overcome. With patience, creative tactics, and pressure from below, every section of the labor movement can be moved to join the battle against the administration.

Another objection to the concept of the all-peoples front is that it dilutes the role of the working class and labor. Just the opposite is the case. Never did Marx, Engels, or Lenin envision that the working class should live a solitary political existence.

Instead, these giants of our movement saw the working class as friendly lads or lassies who, in order to secure their own class interests, had to become the most consistent fighter for the democratic rights of other sections of the people. Without such an orientation the highway to a peoples government and socialism would be forever closed.

This leads me to the question of socialism. Even though socialism is not on the peoples action agenda, it doesnt follow that mums the word. It is a question of propaganda and we should bring it into the broad peoples movement.

Given the dangers of nuclear annihilation, irreversible environmental degradation, and mounting economic and social crises in many regions of the world, our accent should be on socialisms necessity rather than its inevitability.

This is much more likely to resonate in peoples thinking. We are about to issue a discussion document on socialism, which we hope will provoke a lively discussion in the Party and beyond.

Finally, some say that the anti-fascist front better fits todays political circumstances than the all-peoples front. On the surface, it may appear that fascism, U.S.-style, is here or nearly here.

But I dont think that we are at that stage yet. While we dont want to ignore the fascist danger, neither should we announce its arrival prematurely. There are strong anti-democratic pressures and we are concerned about the direction of this process, but this doesnt mean that fascism is here or even imminent.

Fascism is the substitution of one form of capitalist rule bourgeois democracy for another terrorist dictatorship. Fascism, in other words, closes down democratic space and requires methods of struggle that are less open, less mass, and largely underground. To adopt such methods now would clearly be a mistake.

Even from the standpoint of the most reactionary sections of transnational capital, fascism would entail considerable risk insofar as it would strip away and remove an essential ideological component of capitalist class hegemony.

Despite the erosion of democratic rights since September 11, there are still channels and space for broad, mass political action, and the task of the left, progressive, and center forces is to draw millions into open struggle.

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