Remarks to the CPUSA National Committee
By John Bachtell, National Chair
February 18, 2015
(Updated to reflect some new developments)
As we meet, 5,000 oil workers, members of the United Steelworkers (USW), are walking the strike lines at refineries across the country. They are confronting some of the most powerful corporations in the world who also form the support base of the extreme right. These workers, who are mainly striking over health and safety issues, are also defending the existence of their union.
They reflect the courage and fighting spirit of a growing section of today’s labor and people’s movement who are undaunted by the 2014 defeats. Party clubs and members everywhere should join in solidarity with the strikers.
Reaffirming our anti-ultra right strategic policy
Since 1980 and the Reagan Revolution our work has been guided by a strategic policy of defeating the greatest danger to democracy and biggest obstacle to social progress – the forces of the extreme right and their corporate backers. We reaffirm that policy in light of the 2014 election defeats that resulted in a deeper entrenchment of the extreme right backed by the Koch brothers and their billionaire cohorts in government at every level.
The political and judicial power of the extreme right, its system of reactionary ideas, the section of the ruling class and social forces backing it must be decisively defeated to clear the way to more advanced stages of struggle, take on the entire monopoly capitalist class and win more advanced democratic reforms and socialism.
Our goal remains the same – help build the broadest alliance possible of every force opposed to the ultra right, powerful enough to break its grip on government at every level; help build the institutional infrastructure of this movement at the national, state, local and neighborhood level that can educate, involve and mobilize voters around a working families agenda for each election cycle and legislative battle.
The goal must be to break the GOP congressional majority in 2016, block the takeover of the presidency and rollback GOP gains on the state level. The battle is taking place in the halls of Congress, the state legislatures, court system and the court of public opinion, at workplaces, strike lines, campuses and the municipal electoral arena.
Danger to democracy grows
Right-wing extremism, its efforts to obstruct and rollback Obama administration policy achievements, eliminate the social safety net, destroy the labor movement, to stoke racism and hate and erode voting rights, eliminate any measures to ameliorate the climate crisis, poses the most urgent danger to democracy and ultimately the future of humanity.
In fact, the danger to democracy, for peace and reversing the climate crisis has increased as a result of the 2014 election outcome. Republicans took over the U.S, Senate, expanded their hold on the House, control the Supreme Court and expanded their hold of statehouses and governorships.
The erosion of democratic rights is especially pronounced in the states dominated by ultra right forces and includes the roll back of worker and union rights, voter suppression laws that have disenfranchised an estimated 3 to 5 million people, rollback of reproductive rights, massive privatization and mass incarceration, etc.
The Citizen’s United decision and the flood of corporate money in the electoral arena has further eroded democracy.
The institutions of democracy are weakened by the disengagement of tens of millions from the political process who are being turned off and alienated.
The reactionary ultra right system of ideas have sunk deep roots among a section of the population, including a section of the working class who vote against their own class and social interests.
The balance of class and social forces has shifted further to the right in Congress and statehouses. The GOP with their influential tea party wing wasted no time in launching a radical agenda in states, including union busting right-to-work (for less) laws, cuts to education and social programs, new voter suppression laws, new attacks on reproductive rights, new efforts to undermine environmental protections, etc.
As it often does, the GOP may have overreached. In Wisconsin a new battle has exploded over Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to radically reform the state university system, impose massive cuts and tuition increases and pass a union busting right-to-work law.
And in Illinois the new billionaire Republican governor Bruce Rauner has declared war on the labor movement, public education and the university system, childcare, healthcare and other vital services.
Contrary to their post-election pronouncement of a new spirit of cooperation, the objective of the GOP right wing and tea party remains unchanged: to obstruct the Obama administration policies and undo what’s been achieved over the past 6 years and then some.
GOP obstruction is imbued with the worst, most vile, racist vilification of President Obama. It is part of a counter offensive to sow confusion, fear and division and impose its reactionary domestic and foreign policies.
Brakes on extremism
However, despite the unfavorable balance of forces, there are important brakes on the extreme right’s ability to impose its agenda. These brakes simultaneously create possibilities to defend gains and even to turn the 2014 defeat into a new offensive by the labor-led people’s coalition.
First, President Obama is directly challenging the ultra right agenda with broad progressive policies on a number of fronts. Obama is eschewing Clinton style triangulation, and “Grand Bargains”. This includes the executive action on immigration, steps to normalize relations with Cuba, the new US-China agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, setting aside wilderness preserves, issuing guidelines on net neutrality, etc.
In addition, the SOTU address and the federal budget proposal and its advocacy of “middle class economics” are generally a call for a broad progressive role for government. It continues the thrust begun in last year’s SOTU address.
Obama’s middle class economics calls for jobs creation through an infrastructure jobs bill, would impose higher capital gains, financial crisis, and an earned income taxes, make more workers eligible for time-and-a-half overtime, and ensure equal pay for wome.
It would also make low-income tax credits permanent, lower mortgage premiums, expand homeownership, allow for free community college education. The plan advocates for union protection and collective bargaining.
The new $4 trillion budget raises domestic spending while also raising military spending including to fund modernization of the nuclear arsenal, which we strongly oppose.
“I want to work with Congress to replace mindless austerity with smart investments that strengthen America,” said Obama. “I’m not going to accept a budget that locks in sequestration going forward.”
For the moment Pres. Obama’s actions have knocked the GOP off balance, put them on the defensive and even created fissures in their ranks on some issues. The GOP still hasn’t assembled a comprehensive program.
The president is not plucking these proposals out of thin air. Public opinion has shifted, shaped by the growing outrage over the wealth gap and the impact of mass movements to increase the minimum wage, for racial justice and climate justice.
Secondly, the GOP lacks the votes to overcome a presidential veto in the Senate. They failed the first test to override Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Nor at this moment do they have the 60 votes needed to advance legislation on their own. That could change if Senate rules are altered.
Thirdly, the GOP wants to show it is ready to govern responsibly. But because of their hubris and anti-Obama fanaticism, they are prone to tactical blunders. The GOP was divided over whether to shut down the Department of Homeland Security unless President Obama withdrew his executive order on immigration (which is suspended pending a judicial decision). In so doing they avoided making a huge tactical blunder.
The threat of a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security, with the backdrop of ISIL and terror attacks in Europe, would have been seen as irresponsible. Besides many Republicans are aware they took the blame during the last government shutdown.
The assault on Obama’s immigration executive order being pursued by Republicans through the courts will severely damage Republican efforts to court Latino voters, a constituency they must make inroads in if they are to win in 2016.
The invitation to Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu to speak before Congress was a provocation and another blunder. The invitation was aimed to undermine President Obama and scuttle the negotiations with Iran to restrict its ability to build nuclear weapons. At the same time it boosted the neo-con drive toward war with Iran and Netanyahu’s reelection. The speech was widely condemned and backfired both here and in Israel. It has undermined Boehner’s credibility and created the biggest chasm in relations between the U.. and Israel in years.
Fourthly, divisions have reemerged in the ranks of Republicans between the conservative and rabid Tea Party wings, which is for total obstruction. The divisions are most apparent between the Senate and the far more conservative House caucus. It’s mostly a matter of tactics to achieve the same or similar ends. However, some Republicans may be peeled away on some issues especially those facing difficult fights in 2016.
And lastly, labor and its allies are mobilizing on all fronts. President Obama can set the agenda, but the movements will also influence the agenda. And none of Obama’s policies can be defended without mass mobilizations. Struggles around these issues will lay the basis for the broadest anti-ultra right alliance for the 2016 elections.
First battles: immigration and health care reform
Battles are being waged on many fronts. The most immediate danger to the Obama agenda could be Supreme Court rulings on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and immigration.
The GOP shopped around for a right-wing judge who would deliver just the ruling they wanted opposing Obama’s immigration executive action. For the moment, the executive action has been suspended and the case may end up in the Supreme Court.
We should initiate and join the movements to demand the DACA and DAPA executive actions go forward and join in efforts to organize non-compliance movement with ICE arrests and detentions in states and localities.
The ultra right is also exploiting a poorly worded sentence in the ACA to launch a legal assault on the law. While the Supreme Court can undo key provisions of the ACA, many Republicans have big qualms. They fear they will be blamed for the resulting mess and loss of healthcare to millions because they don’t have anything to replace it with.
Even Republican operatives dressed up as Supreme Court justices are likely aware of the political risks in creating havoc by undoing Obamacare. One observer called the attack on the ACA “an unexploded ordnance lying in the middle of the 2016 presidential campaign field.”
State battlegrounds against the ultra right
As seen by the actions in Wisconsin, Illinois, California, New York, North Carolina and elsewhere, the states are huge battlegrounds against right-wing policies. States (and cities) are the front lines of the new assault led by ALEC, the Koch brothers and their ilk.
Broad labor-community coalitions are emerging to counter this assault. Every CPUSA member and grassroots organization should be connected to these developments, helping to build and broaden them especially at the grassroots.
The Moral Forward Movement protests in North Carolina, including the large demonstration on February 14 in Raleigh, are turning public opinion against the GOP governor and GOP dominated state legislature. The movement has forced the governor to discuss expanding Medicaid and restore cuts to education and other social programs.
As Rev Barber, president of the NC NAACP and leader of Moral Movement Forward, said, “What we have seen is a state movement actually have national implications. And we believe that is the key for movements today-deeply based, state-based, state government movements, that are deeply moral, deeply constitutional, anti-poverty, anti-racist, pro-justice, transformative, fusion movements that build from the bottom up, like Selma was from the bottom up, Birmingham was from the bottom up. This movement is from the bottom up, and it’s having impact not only here in North Carolina, but around the country.”
Pres. Obama, Elizabeth Warren and other progressive elected officials have launched a new effort called the State Innovation Exchange (SiX) aimed at rolling back GOP gains at the state level. The new initiative will organize around a working families agenda.
“From the progressive caucus standpoint, we kind of feel like SiX is what the doctor ordered,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN). “We know that a progressive group of state legislators can probably make more progress than us in Congress on these issues in this political climate, being so deeply divided.”
Shaping the debate for 2016 – Two contrasting visions
President Obama’s agenda sets up a sharp contrast with Republican policies on a wide range of issues. His actions are framing the debate for today and the 2016 elections.
The right-wing gains in November run counter to shifts in public opinion on key issues. New majorities have emerged on ameliorating climate change, immigration reform, hiking the minimum wage, taxing the rich, marriage equality, etc. On these and other issues the GOP are increasingly out of step with the American people. As Obama has challenged right-wing policies, his favorability ratings have increased.
The electoral battleground will be more favorable for Democrats in 2016. Republicans running for reelection in Democratic and swing states will be especially vulnerable if they oppose the Obama agenda. Nevertheless, because of the current balance of forces, Obama may be forced into some difficult compromises.
Republican agenda – nothing new
While the economy continues recovering from the Great Recession, millions are still jobless, in debt, facing declining living standards and greater hardships. 80% of the new wealth is accruing to the top 1% and the lion’s share of that to the top 1%. Jobs creation is not keeping pace with population growth so actual workforce participation remains unchanged. Income inequality is soaring and wage stagnation persists. The seeds of a new economic crisis area being sown.
To be viable, candidates for office at every level must address these issues. Republicans only offer supply side, “trickle down” economics, blocking redistributive policies while demanding austerity and cuts to social benefit programs. The GOP counters Obama’s budget proposal by calling for a balanced budget in 10 years without any new taxes. They are demanding deep new tax cuts for the wealthy and social safety net programs. If modeled on Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget blueprint, 70% of the cuts will come from programs for low or moderate-income families.
The “success” of such callous policies can be seen in Kansas, which is experiencing a $344 million budget deficit after the GOP governor and legislature slashed taxes on the wealthy and cut aid to education and state pensions contributions, raided the state highway fund, and other programs to the bone.
Apparently the GOP learned nothing from their political blunder in 2005 when they pushed privatization of Social Security, an initiative that began the downfall of the Bush administration. Now GOP dunces are preparing a new assault on Social Security by splitting retirees from disability recipients to ram through the cuts.
They coldheartedly propose to make Medicaid a block grant program, and cut it by hundreds of millions.
They project massive increases in military spending, to fulfill their vision of the U.S. as the world’s single superpower and a foreign policy based on military might.
All will be paid for through explosive deficit spending reminiscent of the Reagan and Bush years at a time when the Obama administration is reducing the nation’s deficit.
But it is hard for the GOP to trumpet austerity policies when the economy is growing. They are in a box.
Events unfolding in Greece and across Europe offer important lessons. Where austerity is being challenged, the democratic forces are making advances. The fight waged by the Greek and Spanish peoples against austerity has ignited a broader fight across Europe against immensely powerful economic forces. Where voices against austerity are not present, the right wing has made gains. Where it is being challenged successfully, it is through broad based movements.
Republican presidential politics
At this moment, Jeb Bush appears the strongest, best funded and perhaps most electable Republican candidate. He moved aggressively to force Mitt Romney out of the race and is outflanking Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida.
His campaign hopes to overwhelm the field with money by wrapping up support from mega donors and avoid making a Faustian bargain with the tea party during the primaries. So far he is running on a platform more geared to the general election and not the primaries where the more right-wing voters participate. Fissures in the Republican Party will play out during the primaries and the Tea Party and other extremist forces will rally around candidates.
While Bush says he will frame his campaign around inequality, his proposals offer nothing new. They do not stray from conservative supply side economics and other right-wing policies. Nor do the rest of the candidates.
Democratic presidential politics
The 2008 Democratic primaries proved anything is possible, so one should refrain from judgments. Presently Hillary Clinton is clearing the field for the Democratic nomination. Unless things change she won’t face a serious challenge since Democrats want to avoid a sharp internal struggle.
But things can change. New problems including the controversy around her private emails while she was Secretary of State could emerge and undo her campaign. We should be part of movements encouraging both Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to run in the primaries to at the very least help raise the issues and frame the debate.
The broad anti-ultra alliance will have to build a powerful grassroots electoral mobilization around whoever emerges from the Democratic primary, warts and all.
Foreign policy contradictions
Another area of sharp contrasts is foreign policy. While we oppose the Obama administration’s interventionist policies, including in Venezuela, the use of drones and what resembles the Bush/Cheney “unending war on terror” (although he doesn’t call it that) President Obama has shown more realism and restraint in the use of force and repeatedly elevated diplomacy.
This restraint is especially apparent in Syria, Iran, and the Ukraine. In the Ukraine cold war policies are destabilizing the situation in the first place. Defusing the crisis will take U.S. NATO and Russia reversing their policies.
There are great pressures on Obama to unleash military might coming from the Republican right and neo-cons but also from hawks within the Democratic Party, parts of the foreign policy and national security apparatus and military.
However, the Obama administration continues pursuing a foreign policy of intervention and overthrowing governments, if not openly then through surreptitious means.
The Obama administration is engaged in a counter offensive to block economic integration in Central and South America that would be resist U.S. imperialist domination. This is behind efforts to destabilize governments in Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina and the overthrow of the Honduran government.
One has to question whether the drop in global oil prices was aimed at destabilizing countries that rely on oil revenues like Venezuela, Iran and Russia.
We stand with the right of countries to choose their own path of development and oppose any intrusion on their sovereignty.
While the Obama proposals would appear to limit the ability of the president to authorize war, we oppose the current Authorization for the Use of Military Force resolution in Congress with respect to ISIL (aka ISIS). U.S. and NATO military operations against ISIL and other terrorist groups have only inflamed the situation and spread the conflict.
No amount of military hardware will defeat the extremist reactionary ideas of ISIL being spread under the guise of religion. We support the peace bill offered by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) that calls for timelines, projected costs and metrics for success – for diplomatic, political and economic ways of countering ISIL.
Normalization of relations with Cuba – only the beginning
The history making announcement by President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro to reestablish relations between the U.S. and Cuba and begin the process of normalization of relations and to release the remaining Cuban 5 created excitement across the Americas and world.
These developments would not have been possible without the heroic resistance of the Cuban people for 56 years, international solidarity and the courageous action of President Obama. They were supported by a broad shift in US public opinion in favor of normalization of relations and the acknowledgment by ruling circles the current policy was an obstacle to their plans for reasserting economic domination over South and Central America.
While the reestablishment of relations was a start, the normalization process will be longer and more complex and fraught with possibilities for stalemate and setback. At each stage of the process, taking Cuba off the state sponsored terror list, establishment of embassies, closing the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, etc. will take a fight. The ultra right will attempt to block every step forward.
While President Obama has broad authority through executive action to hollow out much of the blockade, full normalization of relations requires the legislative repeal of the Helms-Burton Law and Torricelli Act along with the Cuban Adjustment Act governing immigration. Such repeal requires a majority in Congress and underscores the importance of the 2016 elections. A Republican victory in the presidency and Congress will either make the process harder or derail it all together.
However, there are also now possibilities to build a broader movement far exceeding the current solidarity movement to end the blockade including most of the Democratic Party, a section of Republicans, a significant section of the ruling class including those who seek trade, and ordinary Americans, including sections of the labor movement, farmers, the religious community, and others who want peace and good neighborly relations, etc., who want to travel, vacation, study and do business in Cuba.
We need to be a part of every key fight, help bring new forces into the movement and help further shift public opinion by informing the American people of the damaging and undemocratic effects of the blockade, realities of Cuban socialism and encouraging people to people exchanges and cooperation of the broadest nature.
Struggle against racism and hate
Racism and white supremacist ideas are at the core of right-wing ideology. They shape the pattern of institutionalized racism of police departments, public policy and institutions. It is a powerful ruling class weapon aimed principally at white workers and used to sow confusion and division, and turn white workers against their own class interests.
Without stepping up the fight against racism, and taking this fight to every white community, every workplace and campus, into the cultural and academic spheres, the necessary unity needed to win the fight against the ultra right, raise wages or any democratic advance will not be possible.
The AFL-CIO and especially its leadership are reflecting a historic new understanding of the role of racism and the need to fight it. The AFL-CIO has spoken out against racist police brutality, mass incarceration and established a Commission on Racism and Social Justice to guide its work.
“Racism and dog whistle politics are being used to keep us all divided, and that division holds back our ability to win wage increases and improve our standard of living,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.
Police killing of unarmed African Americans and others continue to spark protests led by #blacklivesmatter and other groups. Movements are continuing on the fight against police brutality and for civilian police accountability councils, against institutionalized racism, mass incarceration, and the demilitarization of the police. We need to deepen our involvement, especially at the local level around specific police crimes and issues and oppose attempts to criminalize movements.
In Chicago legislation is being advanced to establish civilian police accountability council in response to a history of police murders of mainly African American and Latino young men, a history of torture and the existence of a secret “black site” for interrogation. These independent boards would have the authority over the police departments to hire the police superintendent, set police policy, investigate and indict officers for misconduct or crimes and be ultimately responsible for any discipline.
We have to think of ways to help build greater multi-racial unity around the police crimes issue. For example, the majority of victims of police killings are white and the community with the highest percentage of victims per population is Native Americans. This kind of information can help broaden understanding and expand the movement.
Role of the movements
While many were disappointed and discouraged by the 2014 election results, the tide of grassroots struggle has not diminished nor have movements and struggles crawled under a rock.
On the contrary, people are fighting reflected in strike of 5,000 oil workers, the West Coast port workers strike, the protests by janitors, day care workers, teachers, the continuing organization of fast food workers and thousands who marched in Charlotte North Carolina led by the Moral Forward Movement.
Grassroots, labor-community movements and coalitions are helping shape and change public opinion. Just like the fight for the minimum wage campaign, struggles and movements against the ultra right agenda will help determine 2016 field of battle, organize people into motion, educate on the issues and create the possibilities for splits in right-wing ranks.
The Obama state of the union and budget was widely praised by the labor and other movements, although most organizations oppose specific policies or don’t think they go far enough. The Obama policy initiatives offer handles for building coalitions and movements.
Our role, and that of the broad left and progressive forces, is to help build up these movements, bring labor to the fore, expand their reach and depth, including in the legislative arena on a national and state level, help frame the debate at the grassroots and expose ultra right policies.
In January the AFL-CIO held the Raising Wages Summit bringing together a broad coalition of labor, community and progressives forces. The plan is to hold similar summits in early primary states this year beginning in Iowa.
The AFL-CIO is making immigration reform a central part of these actions. There can be no increase in wages without immigration reform.
On April 15 a nationwide strike is planned around the fight for 15. In general our clubs need to become more deeply involved in this movement.
Meanwhile labor will go all out to kill unfair trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). These agreements, largely being written by corporate lobbyists, would bind all signatory nations to draconian rules that would hinder free speech, privacy, and access to knowledge. They would allow corporations to sue federal, state and local governments to undo regulations protecting worker, health and safety, privacy and environmental rights.
Under fast track, or Trade Promotion Authority, lawmakers would have almost no say over binding trade provisions and give an up-or-down vote on ratification of the agreement without any ability to amend it before they bind the United States to its terms.
Republicans are increasingly out of step on climate change. They placed passage of Keystone XL at top of their agenda as a jobs creator. We should be part of any fight to uphold a presidential veto.
There will be demonstrations throughout the year leading up to the UN Climate Summit in Paris 2015 in December. It will set the stage more immediately for 2016 elections. This is an area where Obama taking the initiatives to push further, in what he says and EPA emission regulations.
Other major battles will include blocking GOP efforts to defund the EPA and defend new emission standards for coal burning power plants and autos and fighting on the local level for city and state climate action plans.
United States Students Association and other youth and student organizations will be launching a fight around the free community college proposals. Youth and students in the Party and YCL members should be geared up too.
The fight to defend and expand Social Security and increase benefits is growing. The White House is holdings hearings nationwide. Party members are deeply involved and we have a new Retirees Committee guiding our work.
Peace and justice activists are gearing up for the Non-Proliferation Treaty conference in April and to oppose the military budget increase including the modernization of the nuclear arsenal while calling for economic transition.
Role of the Party
The role of the Party unfolds within the context of helping build movements, deepening unity and expanding their reach and breadth and connections especially at the grassroots, deepening political consciousness and offering advanced ideas and programmatic demands.
In this regard, the use of our mass communication tools, particularly projecting our analysis and ideas through PeoplesWorld.org is key to our work. If we do not share our analysis of events, strategy and tactics for advancing while participating in these struggles, then we are in the wrong business.
PeopleWorld.org is the voice of the broad movements, the voice of the Party and part of the independent media alliance, which is an essential structural component of the broad anti-ultra right movement. Centering our work on the PeoplesWorld.org is the most effective way to build political relationships and the organizational infrastructure and membership of the CPUSA. Every member should make it their responsibility to add content and distribute it far and wide, through the social media and the weekly downloadable reprints.
We have a load of work to do. Let’s get crackin’!
Photo: Creative Commons 3.0