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What Can We Learn From the Movement for Health Care Reform?
(Where the CPUSA Went Wrong)
Although qualifiers should not be necessary, I feel compelled to give one so as not to detract from the main message. There is no question in my mind that the support for Obama's election was, without question, the correct decision for all the reasons given before and during the campaign. Of particular note was that his victory would change the playing field, enable us to take the offensive, and raise issues that have been missing from the agenda for decades. However, with Obama's victory, paradoxically, the CPUSA continued its defensive posture of the past several years, and in some ways retreated even further. At a time when we all agreed that the moment was ripe for building the Party in numbers and influence, rather than see Obama as an ally, we treated him as the leader of "his coalition." We seemed to be reluctant to take positions that would strengthen him for fear that it would be interpreted as opposition siding with the right. Why was it necessary in a fine article opposing the escalation in Afghanistan to spend half of it defending Obama's victory and saying that it is not the same as a McCain victory? At every step, must we assure people and a small left of the obvious and dilute the real message.
Our position on the health care debate is an example of how we took a leadership position as early as 2004 during the Bush years when we published "Medicare for All!" and then began to retreat and tail during the 2008 election campaign and continue until now. Specifically:
Until mid 2008, when Health Care for America Now (HCAN) was founded, single payer was supported by close to 60% of the population and almost 50% by physicians. Single payer gained momentum from H. R. 676 and had many organizations fighting for single payer at the state level. Hardly, as claimed, HCAN was and is not a grassroots organization. To this day it is very top heavy and often secretive about its next moves. I belong to an organization in Philadelphia that is a member of HCAN that has never been included in its decision making process. SEIU and advisors to Clinton on health care pushed HCAN even before the Democratic Convention. It is suspected by some that Obama advisors who did not support single payer were also behind HCAN.
The immediate effect was to confuse and divide those fighting for meaningful reform. It disunited the movement. The HCAN approach was to argue against single payer because it took a pragmatic approach that single payer did not have a chance and that sections of HCAN did not support single payer as policy. Please note, this pragmatic view was put forward before the 2008 elections thus making it difficult to push those running for election in a unified direction. Giving up its leadership position, the CPUSA contributed to this division and confusion by the masses and in its own ranks. Its knee jerk reaction was to support the HCAN approach (public option, which they gave up on pretty easily when the Senate debate began) because it was pragmatic and was supported by several trade unions. Did we forget the fact that many of the same unions, hundreds of locals, and the rank and file supported single payer? We also turned away from our allies in Congress, the Progressive Caucus, and John Conyers. We did not insist that single payer supporters, including Conyers, be included in the White House summit on health care reform.
To make things worse, articles in the then PWW labeled elements of single payer as sectarian giving the impression of a significant trend. The articles then began to mention single payer in passing as simply an ideal. This is not leadership.
Leadership would have been to expose the divisive nature of HCAN and to see the relationship between the continuing struggle for single payer and whatever compromise would inevitably be passed. It is unheard of for a union to go into negotiations with a compromised position before negotiations began. Why did the Party support a compromise so prematurely? I am not suggesting that at some point, the Party would need to endorse what we face now, but we discouraged our ranks from continuing the single payer struggle at a time when it could have affected the eventual outcome.
We should understand the relationship between the immediate and the next step. Unfortunately, we have given up what we used to call the "Communist Plus." We have exhibited this lack of initiative and tailing with many issues. Of course we need to join coalitions, but what is our role, to just add numbers or to also advance ideas and relationships between important issues. Can we enter a jobs campaign without educating on the military budget or misinformation on "balancing the budget?"
Our friends, allies and sections of the working class are looking for our unique contributions, our Communist Plus. To suggest our slow or non-growth has no relationship to strategy, tactics, and policy is to relegate the discussion to name changes, not enough effort, modernizing terminology, or its just hard, is to deny what we in the trenches are hearing. We are seen as hard workers, but not offering uniqueness in ideology or action.
- Come out strongly for and campaign for single payer. Take up Obama's challenge made in the State of the Union to give him better ideas for health care reform.
- Reinstitute the use of Communist Plus and refer comrades to Comrade Gus Hall's words on this.
- Reestablish an active commission for Party education with emphasis on ideology.