Party youth and our political moment

BY:Carol Widom| August 11, 2022
Party youth and our political moment

Good morning comrades!

I am really excited and honored to be able to welcome you this morning to the opening of the 2022 national Communist Party youth school! I also want to extend these welcoming remarks on behalf of our NY State District and our National Board and National leadership, our co-chairs Joe and Rosanna.

Welcome also to this building, our revolutionary space, that houses the national headquarters of the Communist Party and that for the next week will be your space where you are encouraged to discuss, plan, debate, learn, form new and deeper friendships and feel it is your safe space to think and talk about building the future.

I want to congratulate you on acceptance to the youth school. It is a testament to your commitment to participate in the movement, to your leadership and your sincere, undoubting working-class outlook: a better world is possible.

Let me just tell you a little about my background to begin. I was an early childhood teacher for about 25 years in the NYC public school system. I was active in my union, the UFT, as a member of the rank and file. In this most recent period, the rank and file, due in part to the work of our Communist Party Educators’ Club, has been organizing, fighting, and winning against the UFT’s attempts to privatize our healthcare, as well as that of 250,000 NYC retirees. A coalition of rank-and-file caucuses ran the United For Change slate against the class collaborationist UFT head, and, as a result, one of our comrades won a seat on the executive board, where he’ll be pushing progressive demands for changes in the school system.

I worked several years at People’s World when it was a print edition as editor of the Spanish language pages, Nuestro Mundo, and throughout my life had various other jobs. In the early ’80s, I joined the Communist Party in Brooklyn. I can tell you that it was the best decision of my life in that through Party work I was able to turn my socialistic leanings into relevant, purposeful, meaningful action. And I’ve never stopped learning and trying to deepen my understanding of Marxism or had any reason to look back. So that’s a little about me.

The task of the youth in general, and of the Young Communist Leagues … might be summed up in a single word: learn.

I wanted to highlight a quote from Lenin on the occasion of the beginning of the 2022 Little Red Schoolhouse that particularly struck me:

“I must say that the task of the youth in general, and of the Young Communist Leagues and all other organizations in particular, might be summed up in a single word: learn.”

For the wisdom of these words to be fully realized, the thinking and experiences of everyone must be shared. This means making room in the conversation for all to express their ideas in camaraderie, thoughtfulness, and consideration of the value that everyone’s ideas and questions bring to the table. We should be vigilant against any instances where some comrades might tend to dominate the conversation, keeping in mind other comrades who might be quieter or more shy. We have to provide a space where everyone has a chance to feel comfortable. We must be mindful of the diversity of the collective and ensure that all are heard, in order for the conversations to be fair, substantial, and consequential.

Communist youth in action

When I think about our Communist youth and the things they are doing throughout the country, as we used to say back in the day, it “blows my mind.”

Our youth are engaged in bold actions that respond to the needs of our working class. They work in and build coalitions, always playing a unifying role, organizing around common struggles and leading in many. They play leadership roles with veteran comrades in Party Clubs and committees, write powerful pieces in the People’s World, and meet regularly and collectively with the Party membership to exchange ideas that advance the democratic struggles for equality, social and economic justice, and peace, and against white supremacy and the current fascist danger.

Early on, here in New York City, the YCL Organizing Collective formed a book club to delve into the classics, historical and movement literature. When the pandemic hit, Communist youth formed mutual aid groups in various cities; they organized tenant rights groups, anti-war and anti-imperialist collectives; they led a rally to protest the embargo against Cuba. They were at the front lines in union organizing at Amazon and Starbucks, and joined solidarity picket lines against Black Stone. They mobilized for criminal justice and prison abolition with banners and posters, the Party flag waving high in marches for Black Lives, for reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and at the Pride March. They organized on college campuses, set up tables to register voters and distribute PW articles and literature on voting rights, immigrant rights, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ rights, Rural Workers, Bill of Rights Socialism. And the list goes on and on.

Communist youth are organizing in cities and districts throughout the country. There are YCL collectives in Boston, Chicago, Colorado, Columbus, D.C., Indiana, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia; they are firmly integrated into Party clubs and often take the lead in carrying out work and actions. I know in our club and district we would not be able to carry out the work of the Party anywhere near as successfully without the YCL. Youth leaders participate in district and club meetings, taking the kinds of initiatives that speak to their energy, enthusiasm, and solid political roots in the Party and Marxist thought. They elevate the socialist agenda in the mass movements.

The youth movement throughout the U.S. has led in the struggles against police murders, climate destruction, union-busting, for fair wages and union organizing, with a majority expressing favorable opinions of socialism over capitalism. This is part of the background of what Joe has termed our socialist moment. In 2020, the youth vote increased by 11% from 2016, from 39% to 50%. Young people are committed to political engagement and action.

We can just look at the 400-strong Communist contingent at the Poor People’s Campaign rally in DC. The red T-shirts, flags, and banners that stood out so strikingly—it could not have been accomplished without the tremendous organizing work of the YCL in the Party districts, in particular in doing footwork in DC and NY. It was a terrific example of applying our Communist plus to our mass work, and the Poor People’s Campaign expressed their appreciation for our organizing work and participation.

In today’s political moment, the path to socialism is paved by the battle for democracy.

Our full participation in mass struggle builds the revolutionary movement. The fight to defend and expand democracy and democratic rights is the correct course on the path to socialism. In today’s political moment, the path to socialism is paved by the battle for democracy.

We also need to analyze, to assess and hone our tactics, to update our work and approaches based on our science, adjust what needs to be adjusted, considering the advances in technology, social media, and other factors that are part of the culture and the times.

We also face challenges that arise from the rapid growth of the YCL and of the Party.  We must find ways to best organize and consolidate a growing membership.

The tremendous surge in union organizing, in trade union and working-class consciousness among the youth and among workers in general presents challenges. How can we best mobilize emerging new forces, and grow class consciousness, unions and union solidarity? How can we galvanize the outrage that people feel at the assaults on the working class—physical assaults, economic, ideological assaults? How do we cast the widest net possible to unify for working-class and democratic victories against these assaults and fascist threats?

Our political moment

American families are overwhelmed by inflation, and lines are growing at food banks all over the country, with the rapid rise of rents and an end to COVID-19 relief. Price gouging by oil and food corporations forces people to turn to food lines to feed their families.

Republicans and wrecking-ball Manchin, loyal to oil and other corporate interests, have derailed the Build Back Better agenda that would begin to address climate change as well. All this as the world literally melts around us, with temperatures reaching well over 100 degrees, fires raging in the West Coast and globally, people dying from the effects of extreme heat. Yet, Republican deniers reiterate comments like, “It’s summer, and it’s normal to have hot days.” There is nothing normal about what’s happening to our environment.

In front of the Supreme Court, dozens of activists, joined last week by legislators—among them AOC, Ilhan Omar, Barbara Lee, Carolyn Maloney, and Cori Booker—were arrested, protesting and sitting down in the middle of the street chanting, “We Won’t Go Back!” This was days before the House passed two bills aimed at protecting women’s autonomy and the right to an abortion. One would codify Roe into law, and the other would protect the right to interstate travel to seek an abortion.

Despite the legislative roadblocks, people keep struggling to find ways to protect all the fundamental rights that are under threat, putting Republicans on record opposing them.

Masses of people are engaging in “good trouble, necessary trouble.”

In a sign of growing public pressure, earlier this week the Respect for Marriage Act to codify same-sex marriage seemed more likely to get the votes needed to break a filibuster. Forty-seven Republicans voted in the House to pass the bill that would enshrine protections for same-sex marriage into federal law.

A club in Arizona has engaged in weekly rallies to demand an end to the filibuster. Let’s remember that the tremendous movement around the Poor People’s Campaign grew out of Rev. William Barber’s initiative in bringing people together in North Carolina at the church steps, speaking to the issues during Moral Mondays.

Communist youth are organizing collectives to help women travel across states to obtain an abortion.

Abortion rights organizations collected hundreds of thousands of signatures for the Reproductive Freedom for All campaign in Michigan. The overturning of Roe v. Wade by the far-right Republican-dominated Court is not only widely unpopular, it’s galvanizing women and reproductive rights allies across the country. Millions refuse to accept the decision and are fighting on multiple fronts, including the ballot box.

Outraged voters could make the difference in defeating Republican candidates in state and congressional elections.

The Supreme Court ruling criminalizing abortion means that, for the time being, the battlefront to defend abortion and reproductive freedom centers on states and the 2022 elections. The outcome could depend on whether voters amend state constitutions to protect these rights and whether pro-choice Democratic legislative majorities and governors can be elected, including in red states, to preserve and expand reproductive freedom.

The ruling is also an assault on the right to privacy, the foundation of a broad range of other democratic rights, including private sexual conduct and interracial marriage.

Demands grow that Biden expand the court. We know that, except for a relatively short time in history, during the civil rights movement, the Supreme Court was not a political apparatus for progressive change. Now the extreme right majority poses an existential threat to democracy.

The attack on reproductive freedom and voting rights, along with Supreme Court rulings undermining the ability of the EPA to regulate pollution and broadly expanding gun rights, and the Congressional hearings on the Jan. 6 insurrection, are all creating a new political framework for the 2022 election.

Like we say at rallies, when the people’s rights are under attack what do we do?  “Stand Up! Fight Back!”

For the first time in almost 20 years, when the federal assault weapons ban expired back in 2004, the House Judiciary committee is marking up a bill that would ban assault weapons. It can go to the House floor.

It’s not just a question of what the Democrats can do with the limited power they have to get things passed. The power of the people is not limited to the Democrats’ agenda, but it’s important to move on these key issues and democratic demands. Some say that because of today’s legislature composition, legislative actions are symbolic. But people’s power mobilized, organized, and massive is not symbolic—it’s very real and powerful.

We set the agenda, and the standard is not what the political pundits say will pass. The standard for our demands is what the people and families need to live and to thrive.

November and the fight against the right

Contrary to the assumption that 2022 will be a “done deal” election for the GOP, the latest polls show Democratic and anti-MAGA voter sentiment intensifying, and all the critical battleground races are now competitive. Some are now predicting that a big voter turnout in defense of constitutional democracy could result in a larger Democratic Senate caucus, including a pro-abortion, anti-filibuster majority.

This is the new framework we live in, and it shows where we can win.

The explosive testimonies in the Jan. 6th hearings, watched by tens of millions, has shifted public opinion. The compelling testimony by Trump’s own Republican allies, staffers, aides—and even his own family—has delivered a powerful blow to the Trump gang’s schemes, exposing their lies and criminality.

In public opinion polls, 60% now say that Trump is responsible for the insurrection and 65% believe that his election lies were, in fact, lies.

The fake electors are now facing criminal prosecution and the pressure is on the Department of Justice to indict Trump, who thinks that declaring his intention to run in 2024 can shield him from prosecution. Just last week, Trump asked the Wisconsin Assembly speaker to overturn the 2020 election results! So, he’s still at it—the only thing that will stop him is to throw him in jail!

Yet, the machinations to install Trump Republicans as heads of election committees, the nefarious attempt to strip state legislatures of oversight—actions like these show why we need to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act.

The extreme right is desperate because the outcome of the midterms is not preordained. The times we are in are extraordinary, continually punctuated with mass protests, civil disobedience, and marches. If taken to the ballot box, people’s movements can win in the midterms and deal heavy blows against the extreme right, fascist movement.

The plot for a fascist coup hatched by Trump and his gang—e.g., the hair-dye-dripping Giuliani, Eastman, Sydney Powell, and various corporate backers—is now clear to millions of voters. The attempt to have the military seize voting machines—in effect a declaration of martial law — the attempt to pressure state election officials to declare election fraud by “finding” votes; the attempt to install fake electors; to have the Justice Department “just say” there was some fraud suspected so he and his minions would “take care of the rest”; to keep Pence from certifying the electoral count, even if by literally lynching him; the physical and racist threats to legislators and election workers that refused to go along with Trump’s big lie that the election was stolen; and the last-ditch move to have the insurrectionist mob overthrow the government in a fascist coup have all been placed before the public, moving us closer to Trump’s criminal indictment. Yet, his core cult-like base is still under the hypnotic spell of his manipulative personality. The number 11,780 should be emblazoned on his prison clothes—the votes he said “I just want to ‘find’” to overturn the election.

This is a moment for bold action—to rally together coalition partners, to make clear the connection between voting and fighting the fascist movement. In response to a report from Joe Sims to our Party’s National Committee, Comrade Chris and others in the New York district  are exploring initiatives to expose the corporate connections and supporters of the fascist coup. There are 147 GOP members of Congress who voted, in league with the coup plotters, to overturn the 2020 election. What you don’t hear in the big business press is that the members of this so-called Sedition Caucus have received corporate funding, now surpassing $21.5 million. In coalition with our partners in the people’s movements, along with the progressive press and media, our YCL and Party clubs can help organize actions to expose the financial feeders of the fascist coup caucus, while building the movement and the Party.

We know that under capitalism, we go from one crisis to another crisis. It’s in the nature of a system that is based on exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class. Capital is never satiated. Legislatures pass bills to give away billions in corporate welfare— the chip industry is the latest one—but capital will never solve the problems that besiege and oppress the working class. Capital will eat up the wealth labor creates and be back soon like pigs at the trough asking for more.

In the endless quest for increased profits, capitalism is a system that gives legal cover to the ruling class to commit murder.

Inhumane conditions in prisons, where people are incarcerated for years waiting to have cases heard, many without even being charged; the prison labor system; racist police killings; gun violence and horrific massacres with assault weapons, now the number one cause of death of children—all are the result of a racist, capitalist system, where corporate profits in the gun and other industries are valued above human life.

In the Uvalde investigation report, it was concluded that numerous measures could have been taken to prevent the massacre of 19 children and 2 teachers.  However, an important contributing factor was that there was “no legal impediment to the gunman buying [the assault weapons].”

Under tremendous public pressure, the House has just advanced a bill to ban assault weapons for the first time in almost 20 years. In California, a new state law makes it possible to sue and hold gun manufacturers and dealers responsible when they don’t follow the strict gun laws and their products cause harm.

Young people across the U.S. are leading in the struggle against gun violence, and Communist youth are taking action in YCL collectives to end police murder, advance criminal justice reform, and fight against endless wars and the bloated military budget.

Marxism applied

We know that the understanding and implementation of the science of Marxism has liberated the working class of socialist societies, and has revealed how beautiful life can be.

During this week you will collectively assess the conditions and needs of the people, the balance of forces, and the steps needed to build a massive people’s movement
on the path to socialism. We can deepen the discussion around the struggles for preservation and expansion of democratic rights, of victories for the movements against racism, chauvinism, never-ending wars, voter suppression, for healthcare, housing and education, women’s rights and broader civil rights, and the very preservation of the planet.

We know you are on the right side of history! You can use our science not only as a source of deeper study and knowledge, but also as a source of inspiration for what is possible in the future. A future that belongs to you.

Solidarity and on to a better world, a beautiful life and Socialism!

This article was adapted from a speech presented at the opening of the 2022 Little Red School House, in New York City.

Images: Young CPUSA / YCL members at the June 18 Poor People’s Campaign rally in the nation’s capital, DC Communist Party (Twitter); NYC Queer Liberation march (CPUSA); Little Red Schoolhouse participants in Washington Square Park (CPUSA); Anti-displacement demonstration at City Hall (CPUSA).


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