Giving a Mass Basis to our Peace and Solidarity Work

BY:Emile Schepers| April 9, 2019
Giving a Mass Basis to our Peace and Solidarity Work


The Communist Manifesto ends with this ring call to arms:  “Workers of all Nations, Unite!”

How did we get to a state of affairs in which the clear need for large scale, working class led intervention in the country’s imperialistic foreign policy is so poorly met?

During the 1920s and 1930s great strides were made in advancing international working class solidarity. Our party played an important role in this.  Those sections of organized labor in which we had a strong presence were integral to the solidarity of that period.  A number of U.S. unions, for example, belonged to the World Federation of Trade Unions.

However, the anti-communist hysteria and the McCarthyite persecutions of the Cold War set U.S., and world, labor solidarity far back.  As a result of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 and the hysterical red-baiting of that time, it became dangerous for U.S. labor unions and leaders to be seen as associated with communists at home or abroad.  Communists and people with similar views were driven from leadership positions in most unions.  This led to vacuums in leadership which were filled, in many cases, by figures who rejected the concept of international working class solidarity.   The Central Intelligence Agency developed close ties with some elements of U.S. labor, with the result that, rather than showing solidarity to authentic working class movements in other countries, many labor leaders actively sided with the enemies of those movements.  U.S. unions pulled out of the World Federation of Trade Unions in 1949, and set up other rival structures linked to U.S. government foreign policy objectives.  Funded by U.S. government agencies, bodies like the American Institute for Free Labor Development worked actively to undermine progressive and anti-imperialist unions in numerous other countries around the world.

Just as bad was the tendency of some labor leaders to portray workers in other countries, not as proletarian sisters and brothers engaged in a common struggle against exploiters and oppressors, but as rivals in “competition” for economic development and jobs.  Workers in poor countries were portrayed as a threat because they were “cheap labor” undermining the position of U.S. workers.  Given the pervasive influences of racism and national chauvinism in U.S. society, this had an impact.

The result was to sharply reduce the “mass” nature of international working class solidarity in the United States.  Though there were upticks during the Vietnam War and the campaign against apartheid in South Africa, recent solidarity campaigns have not been of a scale such as to frighten our own ruling class and government away from imperialist interventions in other countries, and the support for repressive and corrupt right wing foreign governments.

Take the current situation with Venezuela.  Imperialism has decided to push for “regime change”, which entails removing, via economic sanctions and sabotage, the progressive government and replacing it with a right wing government on the lines of the regimes of Brazil, Colombia, etc.  Though the initiative is currently coming from the Republican Trump administration and politicians like Florida Senator Marco Rubio, most of the Democratic Party leadership has jumped on board, and the voices of dissent  are muted and weak.  The “liberal” press and mass media are cheerfully peddling highly inaccurate and incendiary reports on what is going on in Venezuela.

Protests against this “regime change” juggernaut have been passionate and sincere, but the numbers have not been such as to exert effective pressure on the power centers.

Legislators are not hearing from millions of angry constituents whose displeasure might lead to electoral defeat.  This is because the movement has not been able to turn the demand of “hands off Venezuela” into a real, grassroots mass phenomenon.

So what should be the strategy of peace and solidarity activists?  The first step has to be to turn every peace and solidarity campaign into a mass campaign, aiming at mobilizing not a couple of hundred or several thousand people to a demonstration, but at getting millions of people not only to hit the streets, but to bombard members of Congress and other politicians with messages opposing policies like the current Venezuela one, on an ongoing and expanding basis, and more actions of that type.

This would involve finding ways to bring our message to all mass sectors, including but not only the unions, and countering the right wing propaganda in the media.

The opportunities for doing so are expanding.  Our own Steelworkers’ Union has been doing good work in solidarity with independent Mexican unions, and there was labor support for the freeing of the Cuban Five.  Today’s U.S. labor movement is not the movement of the George Meany days, but there is a lot of work yet to do to overcome the legacy of the Cold War.

A peace and solidarity movement confined in its scope to mobilizing the conscious left cannot do these things.  The CPUSA should contribute to correcting this and to building a mass approach to international peace and solidarity by implementing the following.

*Re-establish the CPUSA Peace and Solidarity Commission.  The Party’s International Department and other collectives have too much else on their plates to effectively coordinate this work.

*Strengthen our work within the peace and solidarity movement, with the goal of helping to link it to labor and the largest mass forces possible.

*Develop new international relationships, and renew and strengthen old ones, that are important for international working class solidarity and cross-border organizing work.

*Pay more attention to the World Federation of Trade Unions and its member unions.  It is not likely that U.S. labor will want to re-affiliate with the WFTU in the near future, but we can work to improve contacts and cooperation.

*Put out more information in print and on our websites and Facebook pages about the solidarity efforts and campaigns going on in the United States, especially when they have a strong mass, working-class dimension.


Image: Creative Commons 3.0



    Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.


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