Contribution of the Communist Party USA
14th International Meeting of CWP
Presented by Erwin Marquit,
Organizational Secretary Minnesota/Dakotas District, CPUSA; member of International Department CPUSA.
We express our gratitude to the Lebanese Communist Party for hosting this important meeting under the present difficult conditions.
The Communist Party USA not only welcomes the reelection of President Barack Obama, but actively engaged in the electoral campaign for his reelection and for the election of many Democratic Party congressional candidates. We regarded the 2012 election as the most important in the United States since 1932, an election held in the midst of the Great Depression.
The election of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1932 led to the legalization of the right of workers to organize labor unions and to bargain collectively with employers. It led to the establishment of a compulsory employer-worker funded pension system for retired workers. It also introduced measures that enabled unemployed families to survive the Great Depression, among which were employment in the public sector for the unemployed, work camps for youth, and food provisions for the poverty stricken. Except for the youth camps, which ended with the onset of World War II, all of these are measures that the 2012 Republican Party agenda would have eliminated or greatly weakened. We believed that if the Republican candidate for President were elected and if both houses of the Congress fell under the control of the far right, racist sector (calling itself the “Tea Party”) that now dominates the Republican Party, the nation’s return to pre-1932 conditions would be a real danger.
Because of this danger, we viewed our participation in mainstream electoral activity as obligatory, even though both major parties in the United States are dominated by capital, with no effective competition from a mass-scale social-democratic party, We are aware that some on the Left in the United States thought that the correct approach to the elections was either to boycott them, or as a protest, to run or support small-scale left-wing candidacies with no possible chance of winning. We Communists rejected this strategy because too much was at stake.
Why did the Communist Party not run a candidate in the 2012 presidential elections?
In the 1930s, the CPUSA played an outstanding role in the establishment of industrial unionism and the winning of sweeping social welfare measures. In the course of those struggles the Communist Party grew rapidly, achieving a membership of close to 100,000. At that time, we always pointed out clearly that the lasting solution to the crises produced by the capitalist system was the replacement of the capitalist system itself. In our election pamphlets for the 2012 elections, we continued to emphasize the long-term goal of a socialist transformation of the economy.
With the beginning of the Cold War in 1946, the U.S. government introduced a wide range of repressive measures against the Communist Party, which included the imprisonment of its leaders and those that replaced them, and the blacklisting of its members to deny them employment. Eight camps for internment of Communists in case of a national emergency were constructed; Communist-led labor unions were denied collective-bargaining rights; eleven unions that refused to purge Communists from their leadership ranks were expelled from the CIO labor federation, and all but two of these were subsequently destroyed. Under these oppressive measures, the size of the Party was vastly reduced. The internal crises within the socialist countries and the subsequent collapse of socialist systems in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe took a further toll. Anti-Communist sentiment among sectors of the U.S. population was stimulated by the demonizing of Communist-led countries for half a century. The U.S. government and media continually portrayed the socialist countries of Europe and Asia as the gravest enemy of the United States with nuclear missiles pointed toward the United States
As a result, in 1984, Gus Hall, the Communist candidate for president in 1984—the last Communist candidate in a presidential election—received only 0.03% of the vote. In small measure, this was partly due to the fact that the United States had, and still has, the most undemocratic electoral system among all bourgeois democracies, with no proportional representation except in a handful of local city elections. In our electoral system, when there are more than two candidates, the candidate with largest number of votes wins without the possibility, in most cases, of a supplementary vote for the two leading candidates. Most voters regard a vote for a minority party as a wasted vote, since it cannot elect any candidates except under unusual local conditions.
In the past four years, the Republican Party has succeeded in many states in amending state constitutions to reduce the potential vote for the Democratic Party by placing obstacles in the path of low-income people and the elderly to vote by requiring documentation they often do not possess. Such restrictions are aimed particularly at reducing votes of African Americans and Latinos and poverty-stricken segments of the population. The Republican Party is notorious for its use of illegal means to restrict selectively votes in areas likely to support its candidates. In such areas in Florida, for example, voters had to wait five hours to cast their ballots because the Republicans in office deliberately underfunded voting facilities.
The events since the last decades of the twentieth century made clear the urgency of a different electoral strategy. The decrease in industrial employment in the basic industries and the loss of jobs in other industries as a result of computerization produced a precipitous decline in mass-employment industrial enterprises, and led to a decline in labor-union membership, abetted by an increasing assault by big capital on the right of workers to seek union recognition for collective bargaining. The possible attractiveness of a socialist alternative provided by the full employment, universal health care, free higher education, and other social welfare measures in the socialist countries had previously restrained the capitalists from an all-out assault on labor unions. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the European socialist countries removed that restraint.
As a result, labor-union membership in the private sector in the United States, which had already begun to decline from its peak of 39% in 1958, declined precipitously to under 7% today. Until last year, the federal, state, and local governments did not show the same aggressiveness against labor unions, so public sector labor-union membership has held steady at about 36% since the 1980s. Two years ago, the far-right elements that now dominate the Republican Party began a campaign to deprive public-sector workers of the right to collective bargaining. The virtual destruction of the labor movement in the US, which the Republicans clearly intend, would be a terrible defeat for the Left and the entire working class.
This assault on trade unions is happening just as the major unions in the United States have been breaking with their anti-Communist past and have been moving into positions of authentic solidarity with workers’ struggles in other countries. An example is the support U.S. unions are giving workers in Colombia and Mexico.
A key strategy for reversing the decline in labor-union membership is the enactment of a federal law proposed by the labor unions that Obama and the Democrats in Congress were unable to enact over the opposition of the Republicans. This law would require employers to recognize and bargain collectively with a labor union when a majority of their employees have signed statements requesting such recognition, repairing the defect in the present Fair Employment Practices Act that allows employers to delay and block recognition by a combination of legal and illegal maneuvers for which there is no effective redress.
The far rightward shift in the Republican Party was narrowing the breathing space for resistance to corporate power by the working class and allied elements of other classes. An important consideration in the 2012 elections was that a Republican victory in the presidential and congressional elections could lead an absolute majority of far-right justices in the current ideologically divided Supreme Court by presidential lifetime appointment of far-right justices to fill an anticipated two or more vacancies due to retirement or death. This raised the threat that the Supreme Court would produce rulings that further restrict the rights of labor unions to organize and bargain collectively; reverse the gains in women’s rights by ruling against legislation that granted women the right to equal pay for equal work, contraception, and abortion; rule against laws outlawing racial segregation, discrimination against women, and laws that protect African Americans and Latinos from discrimination in employment and housing, and that give gays and lesbians equal rights in employment and marriage. A Supreme Court dominated by right-wing justices could even abolish the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The far-right Republican Party agenda includes all these issues. Even with the present Supreme Court, we have been witnessing the erosion of democratic rights. Apart from the drive by the far-right to restrict voting rights, the Supreme Court has upheld the right of corporations to devote unlimited funds to elect candidates that will serve their interests, declaring that corporations are “persons” under law and therefore have the right of freedom of speech!
The most import success of the Obama Administration since its election in 2008 was the introduction of a major expansion of the people’s access to financing of their health care. As a result of this legislation, 25 million people now have access to health care who previously did not have it. The repeal of this health care law was one of the main points in the programs of the Republican Party presidential and Congressional candidates in the 2012 election. Even without a repeal, there is still the danger that it will be ruled unconstitutional by the present Supreme Court even though the lower courts have upheld it. Whatever the present Supreme Court might not rule, a Supreme Court loaded with right-wing justices appointed by a Republican president would still be able to do so.
Obama has opposed Republican attempts to introduce austerity programs similar to those in the European Union. The Republicans have opposed his efforts to use government funds as economic stimuli to reduce unemployment, as well as his attempts to remove the special provisions of the income tax code that have allowed the rich to be taxed at a lower percentage of income than the average working person, and to eliminate of tax benefits that the corporations get when exporting of jobs abroad. The Occupy movement, with its slogan, “We are the 99 %,” that swept through the country in 2011, sharply drew attention to the power of the top 1%” of the population and stimulated support for Obama’s efforts to require higher taxes for the wealthy. The Republicans have blocked all proposals to reduce global warming, environment destruction, industrial pollution, and other actions arising from corporate greed that that threaten to destroy the biophysical basis of human existence. Republicans even want to privatize the FEMA, the federal agency for disaster mitigation.
Another important issue is that of justice for immigrant workers and their families. There are between 10 and 11 million irregular immigrants in the United States, mostly from Mexico and other Latin American countries. Our Party supports the regularization of their status, with full rights in the workplace and in the community, and access to U.S. citizenship. The Obama administration has moved too slowly on this issue (and the CPUSA has been sharply critical of this), but it is now taking some modest but real steps. The Republicans, on the other hand, have whipped up a racist frenzy against immigrants that has led to vigilante action and in some cases the murder of immigrant workers. Romney had promised to make life so hard for undocumented immigrants that they would all “self” deport.
Faced with a choice between the victory of either the Democratic Party or Republican Party, the Communist Party viewed a victory of the far-right Republican Party as an extreme disaster. In this situation, we saw the necessity of a policy of center-left alliances in order not to separate ourselves from the people’s struggles for dealing with the far right onslaught, The basis of such an alliance now includes the labor movement, organizations of African Americans and Latinos, the women’s movement, gay and lesbian civil rights groups, and organizations of the elderly and retirees. On some issues, these groups are joined by a few far-sighted elements of capital.
What do we mean by “far-sighted” elements of capital? As in all capitalist countries, big capital is not a monolith of common interest. Not only are elements of capital in competition with one another, but differences in their investment policies give rise to conflicting political interests. Corporations with investments in the oil, coal, and natural gas industries tend to have the most right-wing orientations. Corporations with heavy investments in China are somewhat wary of China bashing by the Republicans and even by Obama. Some corporations derive their superprofits by operations that do severe environmental damage and contribute heavily to global warming, while others depend on a relatively healthy environment for their maximum profits. That is why some elements of big capital support the Republican Party, while others support the Democratic Party because they can see a limited common interest some issues with the working-class base of support for the Democratic Party. Our present strategy is build alliances both inside and outside the Democratic Party to curtail the dominance of big capital over the lives of our people.
We are well aware that mass political activity on issues of social justice domestically and anti-imperialist solidarity internationally will not spring from within the Democratic Party. The Communist Party must continue to work with other components of this alliance to generate mass activity independently of the two parties to pressure the president and the Congress to act on its demands.
In our electoral policy, we seek to cooperate and strengthen our relationship with the more progressive elements in Democratic Party, such as the Progressive Caucus in the U.S. Congress, a group of seventy-six members of the Congress co-chaired by Raúl Grijalva, a Latino from Arizona, and Keith Ellison, an African American Muslim from Minnesota. We also will strengthen our relationship to the Congressional Black Caucus (formed by African Americans in the Congress), which has been the point of origin of innovative policies including an end to the U.S. economic blockade of Cuba, and with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. In its domestic policy, for example, the Progressive Caucus has put forth a program for using the public sector to deal with unemployment. It has opposed the use of the so called “war on terror” to incarcerate U.S. citizens indefinitely without criminal charges. In its foreign policy, the Progressive Caucus and the Black Caucus are outspoken in their opposition to U.S. imperialist policies abroad. The Progressive Caucus, now that Obama has been reelected, will be playing an important role in contributing to the mobilization of mass activity on critical issues to bring pressure on the Congress and administration to act on them.
In this year’s elections, the labor unions made vigorous efforts to involve their members and their retirees in phoning and door-to-door visits to campaign for Obama and the Democratic Party candidates for the Congress and state legislatures. In my state, our Party members preferentially participated in the election campaign through these labor-union channels.
In my state, Minnesota, and the states of Maine, Maryland, and Washington, voters were asked to approve or accept ballot initiatives (that is, plebiscites or referenda) to permit or ban same-sex marriage. Because the Republican Party relies not only on financial support from major sections of big capital, but needs the votes of its right-wing Christian evangelical mass base, it has made its support of the ban on same sex marriage a major campaign issue. Our Party, as does the labor movement, and also Obama and the Democratic Party, considers the right of same-sex couples to marry as a civil-rights issue. By campaigning to bring out people to vote against such a ban, they were also bringing out people who would most likely vote for against the bigoted far-right candidates of the Republic Party. In three states, the voters approved the right to same-sex marriage. In the fourth state, Minnesota, the attempt to insert a ban of such marriage in the state constitution was rejected. In selectively cooperating with the progressive elements of the Democratic Party, we generally openly maintain our identity as Communists and seek to build our party through its visible activities.
In our foreign policy, U.S. Communists consistently oppose all U.S. imperialist activities abroad. We participate in the Cuban solidarity movement and demand the end of the U.S. economic blockade against Cuba and the freeing of the Cuban Five. We opposed the NATO intervention in Libya and oppose U.S. intervention in Syria. We support immediate withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan and oppose the use of drones for assassination and bombing. We call for the end of sanctions against Iran. We oppose the intrusion of the United States militarily and politically in the affairs of Southeast Asia. We oppose the China-bashing policies of the U.S. government. We welcome the election of several progressive, anti-imperialist governments in Latin America and oppose U.S. attempts to undermine them. This leftward shift in Latin American, opening a path to possible socialist development, is of tremendous importance in the worldwide anti-imperialist struggle.
We call for the replacement of U.S. support of the apartheid regime in Israel by support for a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with the right of return of Palestinians to their native cities and villages. The day before the elections, the New York Times, in discussing the prospects of a Palestinian/Israel agreement, wrote: “Whatever chance exists of a new American peace initiative after the election is likely to vanish if Mitt Romney wins; at private fund-raising event, he said that the Arab-Israeli conflict was ‘going to remain an unsolved problem’ and seemed unconcerned about it.”
With the elections now over, there is a prospect that growing support in the United States for a just Middle East solution can induce President Obama once again to put pressure on the Israeli government to end the settlement expansion and resume negotiations leading to such a solution. An indication of such growing support is the letter on 19 October 2012 signed by fifteen leaders of the principal U.S. Christian churches calling upon the Congress to reconsider giving aid to Israel because of human rights violations. Reverend Gradye Parsons, the top official of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) said, “We asked Congress to treat Israel like it would any other country, to make sure our military aid is going to a country espousing the values we would as Americans—that it is not being used to continually violate the human rights of other people.” The letter said that Israel had continued expanding settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem despite American calls to stop claiming territory that under international law and United States policy should belong to a future Palestinian state. This is a sharp contrast to the evangelical Christian churches, which have been part of the core of the far right support of the Republican candidates for president and the Congress. A Jewish-American organization called “J Street,” first organized six years ago as a “pro-Israel pro-peace” organization, has been gaining growing support among Jewish Americans for its advocacy of an end to the settlement expansion and a two- state solution based on the 1967 borders. In the 2012 elections, it contributed 1.8 million dollars to support the election of 72 candidates for the U.S. Congress, of which 71 were elected,
The Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, had direct links to some of the most reactionary elements in U.S. politics and with right wing extremist groups in other countries who brought us not only the Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, but also the contra wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. He sought support from the extreme right wing Cuban exile mafia in South Florida. The election of Romney would have greatly increased the probability of direct U.S. military intervention in Latin America in the coming period. The Republicans in the Congress prevented Obama from shutting down the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the U.S. naval base in Cuban territory that has been occupied illegally since 1903.
A key element of the Communist Party’s strategy of alliances is to imbue the struggles of these alliances with enhancement of the democratic rights, and to promote the increasing use of the public sector to extend the acceptance of a socialist consciousness. Obviously the Communist Party needs far more growth than it has been able to achieve. We are, however, effectively using our participation in people’s struggles and the Internet to recruit new members. We have an online daily news publication, People’s World, www.peoplesworld.org, a monthly online theoretical journal Political Affairs, www.politicalaffairs.net, as well as national and district Websites. As a result of our online activities, we have been forming Party clubs in states in which we previously had very few or even no members. This influx of new members led us to have a national Party school earlier this year to acquaint new members with the Marxist-Leninist orientation of the Party.
The reelection of Obama places before us the high-priority task of reversing the decline in labor-union membership by securing the enactment of the law requiring the recognition of labor unions when supported by the majority of workers of an enterprise and securing passage of other legislation that benefits the working people. The fact that the composition of the new Congress did not change ideologically enough to facilitate passage of this law still presents us with a difficult struggle. The fact that Republican Party still controls the lower house of the Congress and has enough votes in the upper house to block legislative changes of a highly progressive nature presents an obstacle that we will have to combat until it can be changed in the 2014 elections. We still have the task of strengthening the center-left alliance and enriching its anti-imperialist character.
While the victory of Obama is a welcome aid for us in our domestic struggles, we still face the challenge of mobilizing mass pressure on his administration to reverse the imperialist character of U.S. foreign policy. The CPUSA will pursue this formidable task vigorously in alliance with domestic progressive forces and with our comrades in the Communist and Workers’ Parties and their allies throughout the world.