New Times, New Opportunities

April 12, 2008
New Times, New Opportunities

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It is hard to believe that we met only four months ago. So much has
happened since then, so much has changed. All of us thought this year
would be exciting, and possibly a transitional moment to a new stage of

But did anyone anticipate such a dramatic turn of events? Did anyone
foresee the sudden burst of political activism? Did anyone expect that
the normal and tedious routines of political life would give way to a
peoples surge across the length and breadth of the country? Did anyone
anticipate such a titanic struggle for the Democratic Party
presidential nomination?  

I didnt, but I suspect that I have plenty of company.  

In taking matters into their own hands the American people have
confounded political pundits of all persuasions, reconfigured the
political terrain and atmosphere, and set in motion a process that
could well prefigure a triumphant victory at the polls in November.
Such a victory against right-wing extremism would realign the political
balance of forces and set the stage to move in a new direction.  

In this new stage, transnational corporate power as a whole could
quickly emerge in bolder relief as the main obstacle to social
progress. And the new task of the peoples movement would be to
radically curb the power of the biggest corporations and deepen
democracy further still all of which would open new possibilities for
a socialist future.  

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Political Upsurge

The political upsurge ricocheting across the country has no counterpart
in recent decades. Its breadth and depth are remarkable. Its politics
are progressive. It is framing the nations political conversation. It
rejects the old racist and sexist stereotypes. It is a mass rebellion
against the policies of the Bush administration. It is seeking a
political leader one who gives priority to lunch pail issues,
appeals to our better angels and visualizes a country that is decent,
just, united and at peace with the rest of the world. And its the
necessary groundswell and kinetic energy for a smashing victory in

The setting of this upheaval is the Democratic presidential primaries.
So far, the turnout has been far beyond anybodys expectations. Records
are being broken in nearly every state primary. Every sector of the
people is marching to the polls. Young voters are grabbing the
electoral bull by the horns. Twice as many Democrats have voted as
Republicans, an ominous sign for the GOP this fall.  

The high octane of this upsurge is simply breathtaking. In every place
where people gather, the candidates, the primaries and the issues are
the subject of animated conversations.

If anyone thinks that issues are getting short shrift or that it is all
about personalities, I can only guess that they are just watching, but
not feeling and listening to the whirlwind that is blowing across the

Arent the most pressing concerns of the American people structuring
the give and take of candidates as well as voters? This is anything
but an issueless campaign. It contrasts sharply with the last
presidential elections when the War on Terror took up nearly all the
oxygen in the room.

Thanks to this surge, a woman or an African American is on track to
become the presidential nominee. This reflects the growing political
maturity of the American people. It should be celebrated as a great
democratic achievement. Anything that is done to diminish this fact
should be vigorously challenged.

In short, tens of millions of voters have turned the Democratic
primaries and the November general elections, into the main, if not the
singular, terrain on which millions hope to draw down the final curtain
on the whole right-wing project and set the country on a new course. No
matter whether voters support Obama or Clinton in the Democratic
primaries, the political intent of their votes is clear: people want
change and not any kind of change, but change that puts peoples needs
before war-making, division, sleaze and corporate profits.  

Struggles in other arenas will continue to be sure, but all of them
should find their part in the great drama that that is now unfolding on
the stage of electoral politics. While an ending to this drama is still
to be written, it is fair to say that a decisive peoples victory will
reconfigure every arena of struggle to the advantage of the peoples

Any mass organizations or movements that dont insert themselves in a
full-blooded and practical way into this very dynamic process will be
left behind by their own constituencies and by events. They will miss
an opportunity that comes along rarely in political life.  

Thus, every communist should become an active participant in this
electoral upsurge, if he or she hasnt already done so. The avenues are
many and the possibilities are nearly limitless.

Lets seize the moment.

Spontaneous factor

While the working class and every other section of the peoples
movement are engaged in this upheaval, it reaches well beyond their
organized structures and constituencies. That it is more spontaneous
than organized should startle no one. Any upheaval of this magnitude is
a work in progress and has a large element of spontaneity.  

The entry of people in their millions, and especially many who have
been passive and disillusioned with politics up to now, cannot be
explained solely or even mainly by the actions of the existing network
of peoples organizations. Any mass upsurge has its own independent

Triggering this one are a slow buildup of combustible feelings of
injustice and insecurity and a deeply felt perception by millions that
the 2008 elections could change their life prospects in deep-going

Like everything else in nature and society, a mass upsurge should be
viewed dynamically, that is, in its contradictory motion. Life, to
paraphrase Lenin, is always much more complicated and multifaceted than
we can ever imagine. Theory, as necessary as it is, is only a guide to

Unfortunately, this lesson has yet to be fully learned by some on the
left. Seeing little, if any, progressive potential in electoral
politics or the Democratic Party, they have a difficult time taking
proper measure of and responding to unfamiliar political patterns, such
as the current upsurge in the Democratic Party primaries. It doesnt
fit, nor can it be easily shoehorned to fit, their political model of
social change.  

Needless to say, we dont share such views. In fact, this upsurge in
the electoral arena is the main political vector of struggle for the
year ahead.  

To our credit, we said two years ago that the midterm elections and
their results were a dress rehearsal for the 2008 elections. And at our
National Committee meeting last fall we went further, saying that this
years elections could set in motion a process leading to a new era of
class and democratic struggle on much higher ground.

At the same time, we have to admit that we underestimated the fury and
the scope of this surge. Nor did we anticipate the Obama phenomenon.

Young people and independents enter

One of the most hopeful aspects of this peoples surge is the entry of
young people who either were not of voting age in the last election or
were old enough to vote but chose not to do so. In injecting themselves
en masse into the Democratic primary process, todays   
younger generation is becoming an agent of change. Not since the
sixties have we seen young people bring their energy and idealism to
the political process on such a scale.

The beginnings of this change were evident in recent years. More young
people participated in the 2004 elections and the majority of youth
voted for Kerry. Furthermore, young people were a sizeable part of the
anti-war movement as well as participants in other social movements.
But what we are seeing today is on an entirely different scale and
level of intensity.  

The reasons for this qualitative change seem clear enough. Young people
are saddled with enormous debt, horrified by the Iraq war and the
pervasiveness of violence, alienated from the policies of division and
intolerance of the Bush administration, and turned off by a political
culture that is opaque, money driven and seemingly empty of higher
ideals and aims. Sensing something different in Obamas candidacy, they
are flocking into the Democratic Party primaries in record numbers as
organizers and voters.

Unlike some older people, the pressures and grind of everyday life
havent yet worn them down. Keep on keeping on is not a slogan they
embrace. Yes we can better captures their mood. They eagerly desire
and embrace change. They not only imagine the possibility of another
world; they imagine its realization in their lifetime.  

Befitting their youth, they take inspiration from yesterdays struggles
but they are not prisoners to them. The Sixties, even the Reagan years,
are history, not lived or vivid experiences for them.  

Finally, the young are less inclined to be cynical. This election might
not begin the world anew, but for millions of young people it is a
first step.

Independents are entering this upheaval, too. For many of them the
Democratic presidential primaries are where the action and fresh ideas
are. The politics of yesteryear no longer resonate for them; they are
looking for answers to stubborn problems such as the impossible costs
of health care that weigh heavily on the quality of their lives.  

Not least, the working class, the nationally and racially oppressed and
women are leaping into this upsurge in a way not seen for many years.
Each of these constituencies went to the polls in record numbers.

Voting patterns

What do voting patterns reveal?  

First, working people divided their vote largely between Obama,
Clinton, Edwards, Kucinich and Richardson. To say that Clinton has
garnered nearly all of the working class vote is simply wrong. For one
thing, Black people are overwhelmingly working class and cast their
vote for Obama. For another thing, Obama received the lions share of
the working class vote, understanding working class broadly, in many
primaries and    overall. At the same time, it appears
that Clinton polled well among trade unionists, women workers and
Latino workers.

Second, the African American people gave their overwhelming support to
Obama. In nearly every primary, roughly nine of 10 African American
voters cast their ballot for him. This is explained not only because of
understandable pride in the possibility of electing an African American
to the Presidency for the first time, but also because Obama would
represent their interests, unite our country and usher in a new era of
fairness, justice and peace for all.  

Third, most women voters supported Clinton, although younger women and
African American women of all ages tended to vote for Obama. But what
is really notable is the massive turnout of women of all nationalities,
races and social circumstances. If one obvious reason was their deeply
felt opposition to the Bush administration, the other was their
excitement over the possibility of electing a woman president. No doubt
both desires energized women to go to the polls and assure that women
as organizers and voters will be a powerful force against the right in
the fall.  

Fourth, many white people, male and female, cast their votes for an
African American. This might be the most notable feature of the vote so
far, as quiet as it is kept by the mass media. In fact, from media
reports it seems as if Obama has become the front-runner on the basis
of the Black vote alone. But anyone who thinks about it for a moment
knows this is ludicrous. Obama carried several states with small
African American populations, and did well in the southern states and
especially Virginia, where a majority of white voters supported him.

Furthermore, the millions of white people, the majority of whom were
workers, who voted for Obama did so because they liked him his
manner, his style, his opposition to the war, his concern about lunch
pail issues, his ability to unify our country along racial and other
lines, his fresh appeal, his youthfulness and so forth.  

Were some white men (not to mention other men) motivated to vote for
Obama because they would never vote for a woman? Of course, but I
suspect when voting patterns are studied more closely, greater
explanatory weight will be given to the first set of reasons ― that is,
they cast their vote for Obama because they liked him.

Fifth, the Latino vote in its majority went to Clinton. But what is
most striking is the increase of the Latino vote in the 2008 Democratic
primaries. So far the Latino percentage of the overall primary vote is
over 10 per cent, whereas in the 2004 general election the percentage
was 6.7 per cent. In California, the Latino percentage of the
Democratic Party 2008 primary vote was 30 per cent compared to 16 per
cent in 2004; in Texas, 32 per cent this year compared to 24 per cent
in 2004. Similar changes have occurred in other southwest states.

Equally striking is that in the primaries Latinos have voted Democratic
over Republican 78 per cent to 22 per cent, while in the 2004 general
election, the spread was much less,    roughly 63 to 37
per cent. With nearly five million Latinos voting in the primaries, it
is becoming more likely that the Latino vote in November could reach 10
million or more and thus provide a cushion of four to five million
votes for the Democrats over Republicans compared to less than two
million in 2004.  

The implications are obvious: the Latino vote is an essential and
growing part of a larger effort to win a landslide victory over the
right wing in the presidential and congressional races in November. One
would never get this impression, however, from the mass medias
reportage of the primaries so far. Instead, the media spin is that
Latinos flinched at the option of voting for Obama, because of
anti-Black feeling. I cant go into this in great detail, other than to
say that we should take issue with this interpretation. The vast
majority of Latinos voted for Clinton to be sure, but it doesnt follow
that they are anti- Obama, anti-Black. Most did because they liked her
concern about economic issues, her experience, her familiarity and her
connections with the Mexican American community and its leadership.
Many have positive feelings toward Bill Clintons administration.

To bring more evidence to bear on this point, in recent decades Mexican
Americans and Latinos have given support to African American big city
mayors by clear and in some cases overwhelming majorities. Look at the
facts: Harold Washington won 80 per cent of the Latino vote in Chicago
in his successful mayoral run in 1983; David Dinkins 73 per cent in New
York in 1989; Wellington Webb more than 70 per cent in Denver in 1991;
Ron Kirk big majorities in Dallas in 1995, 1997 and 1999. In Los
Angeles, Tom Bradley got a good share in his first run in 1973 and
clear majorities the next four times he ran.  

In addition, African American members of Congress in heavily Latino
districts in Los Angeles and elsewhere get significant Latino support.
And in Illinois, where Obama is a known entity, he has received strong
support from Latino voters.

Thus this divisive media spin should be vigorously contested.

Sixth, the youth and senior votes swung in different directions, with
young people enthusiastically supporting Obama and senior citizens,
except for Black seniors, casting their vote for Clinton. This is not
too hard to explain. Older voters prefer a candidate who is a known
quantity, which Clinton is. Obama, by contrast, is new on the scene. He
doesnt have the long-standing ties to the Democratic Party. His
promise of change is appealing for many to be sure, and especially the
young. But for others living on the edge, change can be unnerving. In
hard times, we sometimes assume that working people are eager to roll
the dice and say, Come what may.

As appealing and as seductive as that idea is to left-minded people, I
am not sure the factual evidence for it exists. There are moments when
ruptures occur and people embrace a radical path of action, but it is
also true that in response to deteriorating conditions of life, some
sections of working people have sought incremental, protective and less
ambitious courses of action, some of which have taken a negative form.
Instead of manning the barricades, they built fortresses to protect
themselves in stormy times. This dynamic is something to
consider.  7

My breakdown of the vote makes no claim to be comprehensive or in
depth. Many categories of voters, for example, were left out who will
surely have an impact on the elections outcome other nationally and
racially oppressed people, Jews, and peace and environmental activists
to name a few. Nor did I make a precise estimate of the degree to which
or how sexist and racist attitudes influenced voting patterns. That
still is to be done.

Nevertheless, voting patterns bode well for the general election. The
turnout was far more than anyone predicted and never before on a
national level have so many crossed racial and gender boundaries to
cast their vote, boundaries that a few years ago seemed impenetrable.
Moreover, where voters didnt do so say, white workers voting for
Clinton, men voting for Obama, women voting for Clinton or Black people
voting for Obama their motivations can be explained more easily in a
positive than a negative way.  

The Obama phenomenon

The clearest expression of this developing movement pivots around the
candidacy of Barack Obama, whose inspirational message and politics
have captured the imagination of millions. So much so that many
commentators and politicians use the words transformational or
transforming to describe his candidacy that is, a candidacy capable
of assembling a broad peoples majority to reconfigure the terms and
terrain of politics in this country in a fundamental way.

The Obama campaign has not only brought new forces into the political
process, it has also catalyzed new organizational forms.

The surge around Obamas candidacy, much like the larger surge in the
Democratic presidential primary, has a large spontaneous quality. But
what makes it different is that it has the feel of a movement. Its
supporters see in Obama someone who is without the baggage of an older
generation of politicians, and who speaks to their desires.

I have heard political commentators say that Obama mania has no
spelled-out political program, lacks organizational coherence and
offers no guarantees it will continue after Election Day. Hearing such
observations, I ask myself why on earth anyone would think this
developing movement whose life span can be measured in months would be
a well- oiled machine?

Anybody with any historical sense knows that movements in their early,
and sometimes later, stages arent neat and tidy. Ideal types never
find concrete representation in real life.

While this movement has its own dynamic, it is inseparable from the
personality and politics of Barak Obama. While he is not a candidate of
the left or someone we would endorse since we dont endorse
candidates of either party he is, nonetheless, a fresh  8 voice
on the political scene. His strategic and tactical concepts are broad
in their sweep and his politics are forward looking. His appeal for
change resonates with millions who are fed up with things as they are.
And his desire to overcome divisions between Black and white, Black and
brown, white and non-white, red state and blue state, immigrant and
native born, Christian and Muslim, Muslim and Jew, blue collar and
white collar, male and female, gay and straight, urban and rural
strikes a deep responsive chord among Americans. After three decades of
acrimonious rancor and division, people yearn for a kinder, gentler and
more just country.

While much has been said about his own personal journey and its
formative impact on his values and outlook, what has been greatly
understated is that the struggles of the African American people and
the larger movement against the right also have left their mark on his
sensibilities and politics.  

Not since Bobby Kennedy has a leader stepped on the stage with as much
promise to reconfigure politics and the underlying assumptions that
inform debate and policy choices. His ability to articulate a vision,
give voice to peoples hopes, and use the platform of politics to
educate millions is extraordinary.

On paper, its true that some of Clintons positions, not to mention
those of Edwards and Kucinich, are better than Obamas. But in many
ways policy statements and party platforms are not the main things that
should shape judgments about a presidential candidates potential or
the prospects for change. This is looking at politics too narrowly.

It doesnt take into account who can inspire and unite this massive
upsurge, or who can articulate a moral and political vision to tens of
millions, or who has the capacity to assemble political majorities in
the post-election period, or who has the ability to win a landslide
victory against McCain and the Republicans in November.

On these counts, advantage goes to Obama in the eyes of many voters.
That isnt to say that Clinton wouldnt be a worthy adversary to
McCain. She would. Nor is it to suggest that she couldnt win in a
landslide. She can. But it would be much more difficult.  

I also suspect that she would govern to the left of Bill Clintons
administration, in large measure because the conditions and
expectations are so different now.

But I have heard it asked, isnt Obama a bourgeois politician? Hasnt
he raised a lot of money from Wall St.? And isnt he is a centrist and
a creature of the Democratic Party? All of these assertions are worth
discussing, but none of them can be easily answered with a yes or no
reply. And even if they could, these questions by themselves wouldnt
necessarily tell us who Obama is, what his presidency would look like
and how he would interact with the broader labor led peoples movement.

Class categories dynamic and open

We dont want to dispense with the categories of class and class
struggle for sure, but we dont want to turn them into frozen, lifeless
categories either. Class and class struggle should be understood as
dynamic processes and open-ended categories and not simply as a fixed
relation to the means of production that inexorably gives rise to class
struggle and consciousness.

Employed properly, class categories give us clues to attitudes,
tendencies, predispositions and behaviors of political actors, whether
one individual or a social group. But they dont inscribe on these same
actors a mental mindset and an irrevocable course of action. To claim
they do leaves out the larger political, economic and cultural
processes in which class formation takes place and turns Marxism into a

To illuminate this point further, let me mention three examples. If
Frederick Douglass, the great African American abolitionist leader,
posed more or less the same set of questions to Lincoln in the late
1850s and early 1860s and ignored the wider political environment and
the interaction between that environment and Lincolns shifting views,
he might well have remained with the wing of the Abolitionist movement
that refrained from electoral politics, was deeply suspicious of the
Republican Party, and attached little significance to Lincolns victory
in 1860.  

Or if William Z. Foster posed more or less the same questions to the
Blue Blood aristocrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt just prior to the
1936 elections and disregarded the new dynamics of struggle taking
shape at the time, including Roosevelts understanding of these
dynamics from his own class viewpoint, he might have argued against our
participation in the massive coalition to reelect Roosevelt and New
Deal Congressional candidates.  

Or if Martin Luther King posed more or less the same questions to
Lyndon Johnson and overlooked the convulsions going on in the country
and Johnsons capacity to change, he might not have supported his
election bid in 1964 a landslide victory that undeniably and
significantly contributed to the passage of the Voting Rights Act,
Medicare, immigration reform and the War on Poverty.

In asking only narrowly constructed questions and in not considering
the fluidity of the political terrain, the overall logic of struggle
and the facility of the individual to change in each of these periods,
the peoples movement would have cut itself off from openings and
opportunities to secure historic victories in each instance. To employ
a similar methodology today with regard to Obama runs the same danger.

Struggle for unity

For some time supporters of both Clinton and Obama have said
unambiguously that they would rally around the eventual nominee.
Assuming for the moment that this happens, it is easy to imagine the
formation of an electoral movement that in its scope and depth has no
equal in the 20th century.

 10 Moreover, such a broad-based political formation has the
potential to inflict an overwhelming defeat on McCain and the
Republican Party at the polls and to journey down a new highway.

Whether or not that happens, however, isnt a foregone conclusion.
Setting aside for now the divisive role of the right, tensions have
cropped up in the Democratic primary contest making it far less certain
that supporters of each candidate will seamlessly migrate to the
others opponent in the event their candidate isnt the standard

To a large extent, the tensions did not arise spontaneously nor are
they the inevitable product of the rough and tumble of the primary

How then do we explain them? Earlier I said it is a great tribute to
the democratic spirit and sense of decency of the often-maligned
American people that a woman and an African American man are contesting
for the Democratic Partys presidential nomination.

At the same time, racial and gender prejudice have not been absent from
the presidential primaries. This should be acknowledged and vigorously
opposed as having no place at this uplifting moment in our nations
political life.  

All democratic minded people should have no truck with debasing images,
double standards, demeaning words, small slights and false opposition
of one form of oppression to another or, worse still, the privileging
of one over the other.

All of them impede the struggle for equality and unity and weaken the
struggle against the right by the whole people.  

We should never forget that the struggle for equality and against
racism and male supremacy in its ideological and material forms is as
much in the interests of white and male workers as it is in the
interests of nationally and racially oppressed and women workers. As
Marx wrote, Labor in the white skin can never be free, as long as
labor in the Black skin is branded. Much the same could be said about
the struggle against gender oppression.  

It is precisely this that the ruling class goes to great lengths to
obscure. Working class advance is always portrayed as a zero sum game,
meaning the advancement of nationally and racially oppressed workers
comes at the expense of white workers or the advancement of women
workers comes at the cost of male workers or the securing of rights of
immigrant workers comes at the expense of native born workers, and so

That your political adversaries on the right would exacerbate racial
and gender tensions is to be expected. It has been, after all, the main
way along with narrow nationalism that the extreme right has exploited
white peoples feelings and resentments in order to mobilize them
around their ruling class goals.

But what is unexpected is when someone you thought was on your side
employs similar if not identical tactics, which is what the Clinton
campaign is doing in the primaries. So that there is no
misunderstanding, Im not talking about her wider ring of labor, women,
Latino and other supporters, nearly all of whom, Im sure, object to
such tactics as harmful.

The racialization of the campaign began with former President Bill
Clinton in New Hampshire and South Carolina. In both primaries his
assignment was to be the bad cop, no small part of which was to
introduce a racial subtext in the charged atmosphere of the primaries.

After that episode it seemed to subside momentarily, in part because of
the negative reaction to it. But the pause was only temporary. Going
into Super Tuesday and since then, Clinton and her campaign have acted
as if nothing matters except her nomination in August. Concerns about
unity seem to have been cast aside.

There is a racial subtext to remarks such as only Clinton and McCain
have the experience to be commander-in-chief, or as far as she knows
Obama isnt a Muslim, or when she offered Obama the vice presidency on
her ticket, or when her TV ads show a blond young girl next to the
phone ringing at 3 a.m., or when her campaign circulated tapes of the
Rev. Jeremiah Wright to the media, or when Bill Clinton said how good
it would be if two candidates running for the presidency were both
patriotic and loved their country all of this panders to the American
peoples worst fears and stirs the embers of racial feelings at a
moment when tens of millions of white people are showing their
willingness to transcend them.

The Clinton campaign doesnt seem to realize what the stakes are in
this election. They are playing a dangerous game. Supporters of both
candidates should strongly insist that it cease its increasingly
transparent attempt to polarize the electorate along racial lines.
Unless resisted, this could turn a moment of opportunity and victory
into a bitter defeat with all the demoralization, division, and name
calling that would inevitably follow such an outcome.

Thus, we cannot be silent. Accommodation to racial and gender disunity
in the name of unity is not a communist approach. Our strategic policy
is to defeat the right decisively in this election. Only a united
movement can do that.  

The role of the media

The mass media is also amplifying these fissures in the Democratic
Party primaries many times over. Early on it seemed there was a
relentless media gang-up, dressed in blatant and subtle forms of
sexism, to diminish Hillary Clinton and her candidacy. Hillary bashing
was a national pastime, and not only by its practitioners on the right.

In recent months, as the Obama campaign has unexpectedly surged into
the lead and as a movement has sprung up in the context of his
candidacy, the new charge of the media   and especially the
right-wing media is to diminish his stature and his candidacy. Over the
past two weeks, the repeated playing of the tape where Reverend Wright
says God damn America is not only incendiary, but is also a very
conscious effort to cut Obama down to size, to deflate his supporters
balloon, and to make him appear unpatriotic and a close cousin to the
Muslim enemy.

Of course, Obama addressed this head on with a speech that was both
courageous and brilliant. Never before have we heard such a speech from
a political figure who is so close to becoming the next resident of the
White House.  

He could easily have lain low and hoped the furor would blow over, but
he chose instead to speak out about the role of race and racism in our
nations life. Only time will tell, but his speech could well become a
defining moment in this election and in our countrys history.  

What are we to make of the effort to diminish Obamas stature? It seems
to me that sections of the ruling class and right-wing Democrats are
anxious to diminish his stature for fear his candidacy and message will
not only take him into the White House, but will also set in motion a
process going far beyond anything with which they are comfortable.

Some sections of the ruling class prefer McCain, others Clinton and
still others Obama, but one thing they all dread is a landslide
victory. In their minds, Obama is much more likely than Clinton to win
by a large margin and with significant coattails.

The ruling class could live with a narrow victory in the presidential
race and a redistribution of a few seats in the Senate and House. But a
landslide by either Clinton or Obama and a 60-40 Democratic advantage
in the Senate are not at all to their taste. Such an outcome would make
it very difficult to contain the pressures for change in a democratic
pro-people, anti-corporate direction.  

Given the deepening economic crisis and the growing demand for federal
action, these miscreants of money and power worry about the public
cries for a new New Deal. They lose sleep over popular demands to
re-regulate the economy and democratize the state. They are troubled by
mass expectations for deep-going political and economic reforms.

The war and the economy

If there is such a thing as a perfect economic storm, I would say we
are close to it. The housing crisis is deepening and spreading; credit
and money markets are freezing up; the stock market is gyrating
downward; unemployment is leaping upward (sharply so in the communities
of the nationally and racially oppressed); poverty is up and wages are
down; oil, food and other prices are climbing; the value of the dollar
is falling sharply compared to other currencies; the level of
indebtedness is astronomical; and on and on.

To make matters worse, so far the actions of the Federal Reserve Bank
and the Bush administration have bailed out the moneygrubbers on Wall
Street, but have done little to    ease the turbulent
economic conditions experienced by tens of millions of working people
and homeowners.  

While I will go into the dynamics of this crisis at some later date,
suffice it to say that the crisis is serious both in its potential
depth and duration. Even without a financial meltdown in international
financial markets, which cant be ruled out entirely, this downturn
could easily eclipse the downturn in the early 1980s when unemployment
soared to double-digit levels and wages took a big nosedive.

Furthermore, the present turbulence is traceable to longer-term as well
as near-term trends in the U.S. and global economy. While the crisis
was triggered by overproduction, speculation and indebtedness in the
housing market, it is also interwoven with and aggravated by longer
economic processes of U.S. capitalism, one of which is

Financialization is a process in which financial motives, financial
markets, financial actors, and financial institutions come to play an
increasing role (my italics) in the operation of domestic and
international economies (Gerald A. Epstein, Introduction:
Financialization and the World Economy). Or, alternatively, it is a
process of accumulation in which profit-making occurs increasingly
through financial channels (my italics) rather than through trade and
commodity production (Greta R. Krippner, The Financialization of the
American Economy). Take your pick.  

In this sense, financialization began in the late 1970s when Paul
Volcker, then chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, drove up interest
rates (the Volcker shock). Not surprisingly, soaring interest rates
combined with the Reagan administrations sweeping dismantlement of
regulations on financial institutions triggered rampant speculation,
the multiplication of financial players, the proliferation of a mind
boggling array of new and complex financial instruments, and the
migration of money capital from the manufacturing sector where profit
rates were low into the financial sector where profit yields were
significantly higher.

Rising interest rates also slowed down the economy, suppressed
inflation, eased the dollar crisis on international money markets
(investors are adverse to holding dollars when inflationary pressures
are eroding their value), generated an unprecedented shift of income in
favor of the very wealthiest families and corporations and attracted
mobile capital worldwide to U.S. financial and real estate markets that
promised a very healthy return.  

As the power and profits of finance capital swelled, union jobs were
permanently lost, wages stagnated, the social safety net was hollowed
out, entire communities went into shock, sizable chunks of
manufacturing were destroyed and the working class and labor movement
were thrown on the defensive. Not since the Great Depression has so
much productive capital been destroyed so fast.  

On a global level, financialization had particularly negative impacts
too, especially on the newly industrializing countries and the global

To be fully understood, financialization must be seen as a leading edge
of a broader counteroffensive by the U.S. ruling class to restore U.S.
capitalisms dominant position in domestic and world affairs. This
counteroffensive began in earnest with the 1980 election of Ronald
Reagan, who turned the state into an undisguised mechanism to prosecute
this counteroffensive.

It was triggered not by one event or trend of development, but by a
confluence of several events and trends occurring in the 1970s,
including the economic catch-up of key competitors in Europe and East
Asia, declining profit rates over major sectors of the U.S. economy,
the loss of the Vietnam war, the growing power of the socialist
countries and the non-aligned movement, instability in the Middle East,
flagging confidence in the dollar as an international reserve and means
of payment and domestic political challenges.

After some indisputable successes to reinflate U.S. imperialisms
power, prestige, reach and profitability (all of which were made easier
with the meltdown of the Soviet Union), it now appears that this
counteroffensive is stumbling mightily, if not reaching a point of
exhaustion. The limits to militarism are evident. Economic crises and
contractions are intensifying. New configurations of economic power are
gaining in strength. And new opposition movements are cropping up in
many regions of the world as well as in imperialisms heartland.

The one arena of struggle  

No one has to be convinced in this meeting that the spreading economic
crisis is roiling vast swathes of working people and drawing them into
the electoral arena. In the view of millions of working people, it is
the main arena of struggle offering them the opportunity to defeat the
right decisively and to shift the balance of power in labors favor
across the board a prerequisite if solutions are to be found to the
new stage of capitalisms economic crisis.  

In the course of making the case during the election debate for jobs or
income for the unemployed, a housing foreclosure moratorium, a massive
infrastructure program, an industrial and urban policy, environmental
cleanup, alternative energy production and the regulation of financial
institutions and capital flows, we should also join movements and
struggles fighting for immediate relief.

Much the same could be said with regard to the peace movement, which
continues to press for a quick exit from Iraq. The war, now entering
its sixth year, has aggravated every economic imbalance of U.S.
capitalism while draining the country of resources that could have gone
for jobs and domestic reconstruction. Guns and butter have never
coexisted very well, and in the current situation they are at

    Moreover, this reality is not lost on tens of
millions of Americans who even if they see something positive in the
U.S. military surge are still anxious that we leave Iraq as soon as
possible. They say too much blood and treasure has been lost and its
time to bring the troops home and end the occupation.  

The recent outbreak of violence in Iraq only makes Bush and McCains
sell of an interminable occupation so much tougher. The window to end
the war is wide open today, but it will require that all peace-minded
people and the peace movement join hands and defeat McCain decisively
in November.  

What it will take to win

The winning of the presidency and Congress by a landslide is doable.
Admittedly, it wont be easy. With a big assist from the media, McCain
and the Republican right will employ lies, swift boating, sleaze,
racism, anti-immigrant hysteria, terror-mongering, super-patriotism and
any number of things to win the presidency and pick up a few seats in
the Congress.  

They will claim the Democrats are soft on terrorists and even want to
appease them. We can expect to hear their refrain about tax-and-spend
liberals. They will warn the American people of the specter of
socialized health care. They will claim that only McCain has the
credentials to be commander-in-chief, while claiming that neither a
woman nor an African American can be trusted to lead the country in
such perilous times. And they will make the case that the Democrats
want to open our borders to undocumented immigrants and oppose
(rightfully so) anti-immigrant legislation in the current Congress,
including HR 4088.

In short, we can expect probably the dirtiest campaign in memory.  

And yet it will be a tough sell. Bushs standing is in the low 30 per
cent range, the economy on the Republicans watch is going south at a
frightening speed, the war on terror doesnt resonate with voters in
the same way and the majority of Americans want the troops to come
home. To make matters worse, the Republican Party leadership and its
grassroots base are not excited by the choice of McCain, and a record
number of Republican House and Senate members are retiring.  

Meanwhile, the wind is at the back of the peoples movement and the
Democratic Party. Public attitudes are changing in a progressive and
democratic direction. The energy and enthusiasm at the grassroots is
palpable. Voter registration and turnout on the Democratic side far
surpasses that of the Republicans. Anti-corporate feeling is high.
Absent a debacle between now and the convention, the Democrats and the
broad peoples movement are ready to unify around the nominee in the

So victory by a landslide in November is within reach. Whether it
happens depends not only on the candidate, but also on the initiative
and energy of the main forces of the peoples movements.

These forces powered the primaries. To the same degree and then some,
they will power the fight to defeat McCain and the Republicans in
November. It is among these forces and in their main organizational
forms that the broad left and progressive movement should find itself.
After all, they reach, influence and activate tens of millions.

At the same time new organizational forms will continue to emerge,
especially if Obama is the nominee.  

As in recent elections, the working class and labor movement are
digging in for the election fight. Record amounts of money are
committed. Record numbers of union members will be mobilized. And
record numbers of union halls will be sites for mobilization and much
more. And while labors aim is to elect Democratic Party candidates,
labor continues to build its own independent forms and methods of
political action in new ways. The AFL-CIOs Army of Shop Stewards is
coming to life in workplaces, neighborhoods and the streets.

Another independent action initiative of the AFL-CIO is the McCain
Revealed campaign. Not only is this campaign producing great material
that can be used to expose the real anti-labor McCain, but also the
campaign is mobilizing truth squad type demonstrations of union
members at all McCain events. They dog him everywhere he goes, pointing
out his real stance on issues important to labor.

Still another initiative is to gather a million signatures in support
of the Employee Free Choice Act. Finally, a massive effort with labors
allies is kicking off to register new voters. Organization of these
campaigns is very sophisticated and coordinated with central labor
bodies, district labor bodies and local unions.

With some small individual exceptions, the level of unity in labor is
high, resting on a fierce determination to defeat McCain in November,
to enlarge the Democratic majorities in Congress, and to support
whoever gets the nomination. Beginning with the AFL-CIO and the Change
to Win federations, unity is at its highest point since the split.

Tactical policy for new conditions  

The purpose of tactics is to give effect to our strategic policy. At
this moment, our strategic task is to contribute to the popular upsurge
whose mission is to win a landslide victory against McCain and the
Republicans in November.  

Which begs the question, why do I attach so much importance to
defeating the Republicans by an overwhelming margin?  

It is the outcome that gives the broader movement, not to mention the
new president and progressive Democrats, political leverage in the
post-election period. Historical experience in 1936 and 1964 offers
evidence of this fact.  

It is the outcome that shifts the balance of class and social forces in
this country decisively in favor of the peoples movement and leaves
the right wing reeling and in disarray.  

It is the outcome that sends a message to the new president and
Congress that quick and decisive action is expected on the outstanding
issues roiling the American people.  

It is the outcome that nudges the next administration to move away from
preemption and unilateralism and toward diplomacy, neighborliness and
peaceful resolutions of outstanding hot spots like the Iraq war and the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  

It is the outcome that compels our government to aggressively address
the mounting worldwide problems of global warming, nuclear
proliferation, poverty and endemic diseases.

It is the outcome that elbows the White House and Congress to place our
relations with China on a mutually beneficial path.  

It is the outcome that prods policy makers to construct an altogether
new peaceful relationship with Cuba accenting trade, investment and
cultural exchange.

In short, a landslide victory is the outcome that lays the ground for
the labor-led peoples movement to transition to a new stage of
struggle in which the transnational corporations are recognized as the
main roadblock to peace, equality, economic security and democracy.

By contrast, a narrow Democratic Party victory will make it difficult
to move forward on any of these issues. A narrow win closes off
openings and opportunities to reshape the playing field of politics and
the class struggle.  

Thus the main task of left and progressive-minded people is to
mobilize, register, educate and get people to the polls on Election
Day. This can be only done if we are in the trenches of the wider
labor-led peoples movement and building this peoples upsurge in all
directions. Only if the left and progressive movements are making
practical, on-the- ground contributions to it can we help give
organizational, political and ideological coherence to this broad

Nothing irritates me more than people on the left who say they cant
support Obama or Clinton because neither one consistently embraces left
positions. But why would they? They arent candidates of the left and
therefore they are not going to consistently embrace left positions.
Both hope to be the candidate of a broad, diverse, loose and surging
electoral coalition this fall. If we were in their shoes, I am not sure
that even we would articulate a strictly left program either. In fact,
I think sensible left and progressive people will give them a little
wiggle room.

The objective of this election is not to elect a candidate of the left
or a Congress that is left in outlook. It isnt doable at this moment.
We wish it were, but in the spirit of Marxism, objectives should be
grounded in concrete reality, not in wishes, not in flights of fancy
that may momentarily soothe but come back to bite you in the end.  

The reality of this moment is the following: the right wing has
dominated political life for three decades and the task of the peoples
movement is to dislodge them from power and create a more favorable
political terrain on which tens of millions can fight and win going
forward. In present circumstances the only way to do that is for this
surging coalition to elect a Democratic Party president and increase
the Democratic Party majorities in the Congress.

If that happens, it would not only constitute a tremendous victory for
the Democratic Party, but also for tens of millions of people in this
country and worldwide. It would bring closer that day when the movement
fights for a more advanced political and economic program. There is no
other way to get there from here.

And yet, not everyone sees matters this way. Some say the task is to
break from the Democratic Party. The only problem with this tactic is
that tens of millions, including all the core forces of the peoples
movement, have shown no interest in such a course of action.

Others argue that the Democrats are unreliable and thus have no
confidence that they will enact progressive polices if they win. But
wont a landslide victory against the right (which wasnt the case in
2006) carry with it a progressive political mandate and create a more
favorable political dynamic in the post-election period on which
millions can fight? Doesnt it reflect an underestimation of the
breadth, depth and power of the labor-led peoples movement and the
overall mass upsurge in the electoral arena? And doesnt it fail to
account for the competing trends in the Democratic Party,
notwithstanding the dominant role of the corporate class?

Still others in left and progressive ranks appear to be so concerned
about the particulars and nuances of the inside-outside strategy of the
progressive and left movements the day after the election that they
lose sight of the practical tasks of winning the election. As
interesting as this speculation is, it should be said that the day
after wont matter if we dont win on the day of the election.

Finally, some say the role of the left and progressive movement is to
drive the debate and up the ante. In their view the main focus should
be on pressuring Obama or Clinton to the left on one issue or another
on Iraq, on Palestine and Israel, on health care, on impeachment, and
so forth.  

I would like to say that I agree with this tactic up to a point, but
frankly I dont. For one thing, left and progressive forces are too
small to drive the debate. The candidates, the media and the American
people are driving the debate and conversation. Left and progressive
forces people should join that debate and bring their programmatic
positions    to it. To the extent that left and
progressive people are registering voters, doing door-to- door
canvassing, participating in weekend mobilizations, staffing phone
banks, organizing coffee klatches in neighborhoods and workplaces,
distributing literature at shopping centers, delivering lawn signs to
supporters, hosting meetings organized on the Internet to that extent
people will take our views seriously.

For another thing, the overriding aim of this election is to defeat the
right by a landslide. There is no way to do that in present
circumstances other than to keep the fire on McCain and to contrast his
views with those of the Democratic Party nominee on the war, health
care, Supreme Court vacancies, abortion, affirmative action, home
foreclosures, public works and green jobs, to name a few. While the
media suggests that McCain is a maverick and an independent, his record
shows he is a water boy for the military industrial complex and other
big corporate interests. He is their echo chamber in Washington, clever
and demagogic but also reactionary to the core.  

Similar tactics should be employed at the congressional level.  

Yes, we should bring issues and more advanced positions into the
election process that go beyond the Democratic Party platform. But we
should do this within the framework of the main task of defeating the
right not so much to influence the positions of the candidates, but
to mobilize the people to participate in the elections, to pull the
vote out on Election Day and to begin the process of shaping the
post-election political agenda.

Ideological questions

Before finishing, I want to raise three ideological questions for our
deliberations as we go forward this year and next.  

The first is the term labor-led peoples coalition. We use that term to
reflect the growing role of labor in the broader peoples movement and
our hope that labor will assume a leading role on the full range of
issues confronting that movement. But in employing this term, we have
to be careful not to inadvertently diminish the role of the other core
forces of this coalition.  

The participation of each of them is a strategic requirement at every
stage of struggle, including the socialist stage. Remove any one of
them from the mix and the prospects for winning are not just dimmed but
doomed. Who leads at any given moment will vary depending on the
specific issues and struggles. It is important to remember that each of
these social forces is not only allied with, but is also overwhelmingly
of the working class.  

I raise this in a cautionary way so that as we go forward we avoid a
narrowly constructed understanding of this concept that unintentionally
reduces the working class as a whole and other core forces to
appendages and afterthoughts. Perhaps that is an exaggeration, but the
sense of what I saying is worth pondering. We should be expansive and
dialectical  20 in our strategic thinking. Such thinking, I am
certain, will be appreciated by the labor and other movements who
themselves are accenting broad unity.

A second ideological question that warrants a look is the concept of
class. That may comes as a surprise. What prompts me to raise it is
that the reporting of primary voting patterns by talking heads and
ordinary observers alike reveals a misunderstanding of the working
class from a Marxist point of view. Moreover, sometimes we
inadvertently express such views.

Early on in the primaries and subsequently, it has been reported that
the working class vote was for Clinton, whereas Obama received the
support of other sections of the population. This is wrong on two
counts. First, the African American people, as I mentioned earlier, are
overwhelmingly working people. Second, many sections of the working
class, who cast their ballot for Obama, are wrongly identified as part
of the middle class.

This is not simply a game of splitting hairs, but rather a necessary
correction of a wrong concept that narrows the working class and thus
weakens its power and struggle. On many occasions, we have noted the
relentless process of proletarianization, if not homogenization, of the
U.S. people and of people around the world.  

Our concepts of class must take this objective fact into account. The
working class is not reducible to workers in the material production
sector, or to trade unionists. If we are going to criticize others,
including the AFL-CIO, who employ the term middle class as a
substitute for working class, then we shouldnt turn around the next
moment and do the same thing. Our view of the working class should be
wide-angled. In taking such a view, the notion that there are strategic
sectors at the national and local level loses none of its relevance. In
fact, it enhances their role, assuming that we understand that the aim
of these sectors of the working class is to unite the whole class at
each stage of struggle.

A final ideological issue is the relationship between unity and
struggle. Our policy of broad alliances has a unity element, which is
what we accent. But it also has the element of struggle, that is, we
attempt to deepen these alliances politically and organizationally,
strive for unity on higher levels, and adjust our tactics in a timely
way as new phenomena come into play. In these primary struggles, we
have done this, probably better than most on the left.

Our role

Our role in this election is simple: to be a part of and give
leadership to the gathering storm whose waves will crest in November.
Our biggest danger is that we might underestimate what is possible on
both levels.  

I dont want to say the opportunities to build the movement and to
build the Party are limitless, but they have grown immensely. The
conditions are far more favorable than they have been in a long time.
Lets face it, the movement is surging and our ideas are not so radical
anymore, they are migrating into the mainstream. We have to do

Furthermore, I would argue that the building of the movement and of our
party, the YCL, and our press should occur at the same time, in the
same space and among the same people. In the excitement of this
upsurge, lets not forget that enlarging the communist current in every
sector of the peoples movement is of critical importance in the near
and longer term. Without this, the practical and ideological growth of
the present upsurge in my opinion will not be fully realized. The
development of class-consciousness, unity and organization doesnt
emerge spontaneously in the course of struggle. If it did, we could sit
back and relax.  

The main questions we have to discuss now are: how does every club move
out faster and farther? How do we connect with young people who are
massing in the election arena? How do we deepen our connections to
labor, the racially and nationally oppressed people, women, seniors,
the peace, environmental, and student movements? How do we reach a new
and bigger audience with our message? How do we increase our
visibility, how do we build the party and press? It is these questions
that should preoccupy every district, every club and every member in
the period ahead.

It is of critical importance that the national and district leadership
sit down with every club and its leadership to discuss the clubs
election work. It cant be done from a distance or by flooding clubs
with e-mails in which each of us gives them something else to do. Such
communications satisfy the sender but can easily confuse, disorganize
and demoralize the districts and clubs.  

To mobilize the party we have to be hands on, by which I mean
interacting face-to-face and close up. I mean listening as well as
giving advice.  

It is imperative to increase the circulation base of the Peoples
Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo. Our recent experience shows this is
possible. The PWW/Nuestro Mundo is a product of our party, but it is
not just for us. It doesnt speak just for us. Indeed, it is the voice
of the labor-led peoples movement. No other paper reflects the
struggles of this movement as well, nor does any other paper shed light
on what is required for this movement to move to a new stage of
struggle. To put it in a different and perhaps more jarring vein, the
PWW/Nuestro Mundo is more the property of this mushrooming movement and
not so much the official organ of the Communist Party to be read only
by Communists and our closest supporters.  

Much the same could be said about Political Affairs. It is not an
in-house organ, but a journal that should be read by participants in
the upsurge.

We also need to improve our Internet messaging and expand our
electronic audience. Our recent forays into pod-casting, blogging and
the like are to be welcomed. As we gain experience, the quality will
get better and better.

Clubs should consider organizing forums on topical issues, Marxist
classes and open club meetings where we can bring our friends. Frank
Lumpkin says, Always bring a crowd, which is good advice, but even a
few will do.

We should explore the possibilities of campus tours in cooperation with
the YCL. From my own experience, I can say the reception will be very
positive. We should experiment with ads in campus newspapers. The
comrades in Oregon have done this.

No less importantly, we have to draw people into the party and YCL. So
far we have met many people, young and old, since the beginning of the
year. There is no reason to think that will change as we go forward.
They have shared their views with us and we have shared ours with them.
Nearly all have expressed interest in the party. Some have become
subscribers, others have come to one of our events, and still others
have joined. In nearly every case they like our approach to the
elections and our ability to combine realism with radicalism.

However, to turn this slow stream of people into a bigger and faster
current requires a more organized approach, involving every member. I
wish it would happen spontaneously, but it wont. Discussions, both
one-on-one and collective, are necessary. Lists have to be drawn up.
Plans have to be put down on paper and carried out. Checkup has to be
part of the mix.  

If we do all this, the party, YCL, and our press will grow faster than
is the case now.  

But again I want to caution that our efforts to build the party, YCL
and press have to be coupled with similar efforts to build the movement
to defeat McCain and congressional Republicans. Our unique role is to
organically combine practical and ideological work within the framework
of our strategic policy and goals. Neither one nor the other by itself
constitutes a communist style of work, although I would add this
caveat: our involvement in the struggles and issues that are roiling
masses of people is the ground floor of communist politics.  


The next nine months are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We have to
act on that basis and convey that same message to everyone we meet.
When the New Year rolls around, it is easy to visualize that the monkey
of right-wing extremism will be off the backs of the American people
and people around the world, that a movement of enormous proportions
will have taken shape, and that the balance of power in our nations
capital has shifted qualitatively. If this is the case and I think it
will be besides ringing the year in with a glass of champagne or a
stein of ale or a shot of whiskey, we can turn our attention to
translating an historic landslide victory into a peoples legislative


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