Democracy on the ballot

September 20, 2022
Democracy on the ballot


The following is adapted from a report presented by CPUSA Co-Chair Joe Sims at the CPUSA National Committee meeting, Sept. 18, 2022.  Watch a video of his remarks here.

In just a few weeks, voters will decide who controls Congress. Will it be those who outlawed abortion, blocked voting rights, and now want to repeal gay marriage, or will the forces of democracy win a working majority?

This election will decide whether the child tax credit is restored and if the country will begin to seriously address climate change.  And most importantly, what happens on November 8th will determine if the PRO-ACT (Protecting the Right to Organize Act) is passed and with it,  labor’s ability to win union elections.

Simply put, that’s what’s at stake on November 8th.  To be sure, capitalism will still exist on November 9th.  The class struggle will continue, as will the battle for democracy. However, the ground on which both are fought on will definitely shift, along with the hopes and dreams of millions.

This election season is taking place within the context of an uptick in class struggle.  Just a few days ago, 15,000 nurses in Minneapolis and Duluth took to the picket lines in the largest private hospital strike in U.S. history. And while they’re back to work, the struggle isn’t over.  And in the last weeks, 115,000 railway workers threatened to shut down shipping across the country.  In addition to wage increases, workers demanded a day off for medical appointments. Can you imagine: in 2022 rail workers are penalized for being sick. And this in an industry — and I’m not making this up — where one CEO had a 920 percent pay increase!  And they have the nerve to complain that the workers demanded 25 percent?  Keep on with that kind of gross thievery, train industry — that’s the kind of  thing that revolutions are made of.

The very threat of that strike scared the hell out of the ruling class. That’s why the administration worked so hard to settle it. We’ll see whether or not the workers will accept its terms.

The longshore industry is another arena of possible job actions.  Longshore workers in the Bay Area have been without a contract since June. Automation is a big issue out there, along with attempts to replace 70,000 truckers with gig workers.

In July there were 56 strikes across the country, with some 8,000 workers on the picket lines. Thirty-nine of those strikes started in the same month. Work stoppages at Starbucks accounted for the largest number.  The Starbucks and Amazon organizing efforts have energized the labor movement and beyond in new ways and deserve hearty congratulations, including to our comrades who have joined the effort. You’re making us proud.

The recent AFL-CIO convention and its new leadership team had the challenge of addressing this growing organizing and unrest: we wish them every success, for their success is the success of us all. The size and energy displayed at the summer Labor Notes conference also reflected this growth and the challenges of addressing the country’s broad new working-class left.

In fact all of us have this challenge. And in this respect I’m happy to tell you that there’s something new taking place in our party: in many places it is being built in and through these organizing efforts. And that’s very different, for example, from when I came of age in the party and more like I imagine what happened during the organization of the CIO. To  begin to address it, we had a salting class at the Little Red School, and we plan to take it on the road. It’s going to be organized around the theme “From the People Who Brought you the CIO.”

The only thing for certain under capitalism is death, taxes, and the drive for maximum corporate profits.

And it’s really important to respond to this political moment, comrades. We’ve got to strike the iron while it’s hot because the crisis of everyday living continues to deepen. Inflation remains out of control despite some relief at the gas pump.  As we said at the last National Committee meeting, this election may well  turn on the price of gas.  Who knows what that price will be come November, for the only thing for certain under capitalism is death, taxes, and the drive for maximum corporate profits.

And that drive is inflation’s main source. Attempts to control it reveal capitalism’s built-in contradictions: do nothing and prices continue to spiral; do something like raise interest rates, and you risk driving the economy into a recession. And don’t even think about freezing prices or rolling them back.

This instability is one of the chief factors driving the country’s growing political crisis — that and raw racism. Threats of political violence and civil war are increasing, egged on by the former president.  A slow-moving coup continues to travel across the country whose main goal is to suppress the vote if they can, change it if they’re able, and disregard it if the first two options are not available.  The majority in the Republican Party has decided that they cannot lose an election. Any election they lose is said to have been stolen by black and brown people, and anything goes to prevent it, including taking up arms. That’s the logic of fascism’s Big Lie, and they’re telling it from the mountaintop down into the valleys and from sea to shining sea.

Trump employs a blitzkrieg strategy straight out of a Nazi playbook and honed for the 21st century: constantly attack, never relent, never apologize. His approach: all that is forbidden is allowed if you’re President Trump or  just plain-old Trump, and if you get caught, delay, delay, and delay some more. But whatever you do, push ahead, full throttle.  If the White House documents scandal reveals anything, it’s this. The Justice Department’s apparent decision to move forward with laying the basis for charges must be seen within this context — not to do so would be an invitation to catastrophe.  That dude has to be stopped dead in his tracks before it’s too late.

But, as the January 6th hearings revealed, the problem is a whole lot bigger than one person: it’s the MAGA movement as a whole, a movement Mr. Biden recently characterized as “semi-fascist.”  And Biden was right: they’re fascists; in fact,  ain’t no “semi” about it. It’s about damn time that somebody called it like it is. Now maybe others will feel they have permission to say it — including at the congressional hearings.

Democracy itself is on the ballot.

And that’s important, because these hearings have had a big impact on the lead-up to the elections.  In fact, they’ve helped shift public opinion. But they’re not the only thing that’s had an impact: Enter the Supreme Court and the Dobbs decision. And talk about shifting the public debate: In state after state, women and men, but mostly women in huge numbers, started registering to vote.  Then came the election in Kansas, and all hell broke loose when a referendum on a constitutional amendment that would have allowed lawmakers to ban abortion failed by a whopping 18 points. Several primary and special elections since then have tended to confirm these trends: people are starting to wake up to the fact that democracy itself is on the ballot.

This struggle for democracy is so important!

Our party has had the view for some time that the path to social progress is paved by the struggle for democracy. This was Lenin’s position and it remains ours, though we’ve not always grasped its profoundness. Consider for a moment what’s happened over the last period. It was the reaction to Trump’s brazen sexism that mobilized the millions-strong demonstrations that rocked the country the day after his inauguration. And this was quickly followed by the mass occupations of airports after Trump’s Muslim ban. And then came Breonna Taylor’s and George Floyd’s murders and the Black Lives Matter uprisings, which really helped lay the basis for Trump’s defeat as folks marched from the streets to the ballot box. What do all of these things have in common? They’re all democratic issues: the right to live free of sexism, the right to practice your religion,  the right to live free of racist police murder.

The radical demands made in the streets helped shape the party platforms agreed to in the suites of campaign committees including at the Democratic national convention, even if in watered-down form. Issues like increasing the size of the Supreme Court and getting rid of the Electoral College, abolishing student debt,  and radical reforms of policing became topics of serious consideration. That’s what we mean when we speak of the struggle for democracy. Some of these things were unimaginable 20 years ago, but all  were products of  mass social movements.

And that’s what went missing after the 2020 election — mass social movements. The result was a crisis of inaction and gridlock in Congress, leading to hesitations, reversals, compromises, and giving up on key issues that are vital to our very survival.

So when folks are critical of the administration, as well they should be, for not forcefully addressing or for taking half measures on  voting rights, the housing crisis, or student debt, or for calling for hiring thousands of more police (which will only make matters worse),  we should understand why.

And we don’t have to make excuses for it. These issues must be solved one way or another: either by being suppressed by a Trumpian dictatorship or by being acted upon by a government of the people’s front and brought to life by a reenergized mass social movement.

It’s vital to address these questions in a balanced and partisan way as we engage members, co-workers, and friends to vote against fascism and focus on the issues in November.

You can’t fight imperialism absent building a movement for peace. 

This is a particularly sharp question with respect to U.S. foreign policy. With the important exception of climate change, the Biden administration, in the name of countering authoritarianism, is planting its feet foursquare on a Cold War 2.0 platform.  Here, building a viable peace movement, notwithstanding the divisions created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, remains the main challenge.  As we said at the recently concluded conference hosted by the International Department, you can’t fight imperialism absent building a movement for peace. Such a movement must be broadly conceived, creatively organized, and doggedly pursued.

For example, notwithstanding splits around Russia, do we know where the environmental movement stands now with respect to China and their initial challenge of the administration’s approach? Or take the issue of the military budget. Are we aware of the stances of elected officials regarding next year’s Defense Department appropriation? Remember that half the Democratic Caucus in the House voted against the GOP/Blue Dog effort to increase it.

In terms of building constituencies for peace, have we given thought to exchanges with trade unions,  community groups, educators and initiatives like sister cities? There are many ways of approaching the complicated situation the peace movement currently finds itself in.  A national party conference on peace work that’s now under consideration by the Peace and Solidarity Commission would be a good forum for brainstorming about these and other ideas.

The party has a role to play: to find a way, when there’s no way, to find an opening when all the windows and doors seem closed, keeping in mind Nelson Mandela’s adage, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Speaking of the impossible, some thought it was impossible to build this party.  Well, I’ve got news: In the last year 5,000 people joined the party. And that’s on top of the 3,000 who joined the year before. This means we’ve more than doubled our size since the last election.

This growth is online and offline and in big cities and small towns. Party clubs are being reestablished in the Deep South in places like New Orleans and Atlanta, in the East in Providence, and in the Midwest in Peoria and Pittsburgh. And especially encouraging are the springing up of YCL clubs in NY, DC, Philadelphia, Chicago, Columbus, Detroit, and Boston.  Welcome one and all!

And our clubs are active: in housing struggles in Brooklyn; in Amazon organizing on Staten Island; in Starbucks organizing in Columbus, Peoria, and Phoenix; in tenant battles in Detroit; in the fight for voting rights for immigrants in DC; and on the picket lines of Minneapolis. And of course we’re participating in electoral activity by supporting progressive candidates in Houston and joining labor walks in Chicago. In NY the party is setting up picket lines at the offices of corporations that funded members of Congress who supported the coup attempt. And because many of these corporations have offices in cities across the country, this is something the Party as a whole can participate in.

We want to encourage everyone to join in the effort to defeat the MAGA right in November. We know there are hesitations. You don’t like the Democratic National Committee, and we’re not crazy about them either. However, that’s not the point: we’re fighting fascism.

However, there are many ways to participate and build relations independent of the official campaigns. You can join the phone banks and GOTV efforts of your local Central Labor Councils, hook up with movements like Indivisible, or join the Poor People’s Campaign’s October voter mobilizations. Another option if you’re young or young at heart is to participate in NextGen youth and student voter turn-out efforts.  This is what we mean when we talk about working with the forces of political independence.

If we don’t defeat the coup now in its morning, they’re going to come for us by noon.

Yes, it’s bourgeois politics. Yes, it means working on issues with forces with whom we don’t always agree. Yes, it means getting your hands dirty and a bad taste in your mouth.  But as we said last week at the international conference, those who fear the bad taste of things are likely to fail. Let’s remember January the 6th. If we don’t defeat the coup now in its morning, they’re going to come for us by noon.

You want to be a vanguard party? I do! If so, the Communist Party’s got to play a leading role in this fight — not to support the Democratic Party but to build a movement and build relationships to win the battle for democracy fighting on the issues. If we do that, then when we run our own candidates — and I keep saying it, we must — we’ll already have in hand the contacts, the networks, and the coalitions needed to win.

And yes, we’ve got to do more than vote: we’ve got to rally, and strike, and sit-in, and boycott – in other words, use all the tools in the toolbox. That includes the People’s World and  And it must include building the party in a mass way.

Allow me to end by sharing a little story.  I came across the other night a Facebook post by a young woman in Kansas who had just joined the party.  She was so proud that she posted a screenshot of her application, so that all of her friends and family could see it. And there was quite a discussion about it on her page.  While somewhat mixed,  it was mainly positive and very refreshing. This is an example of the kind of people who are joining and the kind of party we’re building.

We’ve got to build a mass, public party, as legal as we can be: open, out there, on the streets, on the campuses, in the workplaces, in the news, on radio, on cable, on social media. Right now, there’s nothing stopping our progress but us. It’s time to break out and break free. Thank you for listening.

Images:  Anti-Trump protest, Shepard Fairey, Rawpixel (public domain); Minnesota nurses strike, Minnesota Nurses Association (Facebook); Inflation affects a pizza slice, Jim.henderson, Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0); Protest of Trump’s Muslim travel ban, 2017, kyle tsui, Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0); Disarmament rally, Peace Action (Facebook); CPUSA/YCL at Poor People’s March on Washington, June 18, 2022, CPUSA.


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