On the road again: Challenges and opportunities in the 2008 elections

Not every struggle carries the same political significance. Some leave little trace on the political landscape; others rearrange it extensively.

The decisive defeat of the Republican Party next year falls into the latter category. Much like the elections of 1936 and 1964 where Democrats won in a landslide, a similar Democratic victory next year will alter the political landscape in a positive direction and give new energy, confidence, and hope to the labor-led people’s movement, thereby setting the stage for progressive and radical reforms.

What is more, the defeat of the right will weaken not only the most reactionary section of the capitalist class — it will weaken the capitalist class as a whole.

So these elections cannot and should not be reduced to simply a contest between Republicans and Democrats, or between the two wings of the ruling class, one reactionary, the other more moderate and realistic.

Such an analysis misses what is essential: The 2008 elections are the main arena of the class struggle in the near term and depending on their outcome could greatly reshape the terrain of struggle for years to come in favor of the working class and its allies.

While Communists fully support militant and broad expressions of solidarity in other arenas of struggle, such expressions will be successful only to the degree that they are tightly tethered to the struggle to decisively defeat the right in next year’s election.



2008 elections: eye of the needle

Will a Democratic Party sweep solve every social problem? By no means. Why would anyone think so? But it will allow the labor-led people’s movement to fight on far more favorable ground going forward.

Just as there is no road to socialism that bypasses the anti-corporate stage, there is no path to a direct confrontation with the giant corporations and their political sponsors that bypasses the 2008 elections. They are the eye of the needle through which the people’s movement has to pass in order to reach and then march down the road of broad political, economic and social advance.

Perhaps this is too stiff a political construction for some, but I believe that if we have learned anything from the 20th century it is that the class struggle goes through different phases and stages, and that the movement ignores this at its own peril.



Diverse coalition of forces

We should not recoil at the thought that the coalition to defeat the right will include heterogeneous forces. There are no pure forms of struggle at any stage of the political process. The sooner the left and progressive movement learns that, the better.

Any mass movement contains varied tendencies and trends. A common political platform doesn’t mean a singularity of political outlook. Indeed, in a broad, multi-class political coalition, relations will be contested as well as cooperative. Each component will promote its views and attempt to leave its imprint on the overall struggle, while not rupturing the unity of the larger coalition. And this is more so as the movement gains in scope and influence. Haven’t we seen this in the peace movement?



Struggle for unity, an art and science

Thus, the struggle for unity in its multiple forms is as much an art as it is a science, or maybe, more an art than a science. Whatever the case, it is something that all of us in the movement have to master. And the coming elections will provide a practical laboratory to perfect this, for a diverse mixture of political forces is gathering to defeat the right and each of them bring their own distinct views and resources.

From the standpoint of the progressive and left movement, the most vexing element in this mixture is the Democratic Party, which, as we know, is a class-based party. It is incapable of being consistently democratic; it discourages the independent initiative of the people; it resists efforts to heavily trample on capital’s profit imperatives; and while it makes concessions to the people, it tries to limit them.

In next year’s elections, the Democratic Party will attempt to frame the scope and substance of the political discourse and agenda, not to mention define the role and influence of grassroots and people’s organizations on the election process. At the same time, it is the only election instrument that is capable of defeating the extreme right at this moment in the electoral arena.

While we wish there existed an independent and powerful political party with leadership and support from the working class and its organized sector, the racially oppressed, women, youth, and other social movements (all of which comprise the labor-led people’s movement), there is not, and we have no choice but to live with this reality for now.

So what should be our concrete attitude to the Democratic Party in the upcoming election?

On the one hand, we should not fall into the trap of hurling equal doses of abuse on both parties, or of damning the Democratic candidates with the faintest of praise, or of acting as if it doesn’t matter who wins.

On the other hand, we should not hesitate to criticize the Democratic Party and its candidates. But it should be done within the framework of our strategic task of defeating the right. And it should be done in such a way that it gives those candidates space to move in a progressive direction.

Frankly speaking, I never subscribed to the notion, embraced by too many on the left, that people have illusions in the Democratic Party, and that a new party would emerge if only we were able to dissipate these illusions. Such thinking oversimplifies a very complicated problem.



Who will leave an imprint?

Vladimir Lenin once argued against the idea that a “bourgeois revolution is a revolution which is only of interest to the bourgeoisie.” By the same token, we can argue that the defeat of the right at the polls next year is not only to the advantage of the Democratic Party and to the section of the capitalist class it represents, but also to the advantage of the labor-led people’s movement. To acknowledge one doesn’t deny the validity of the other.

In fact, I would go a step further, and say that a decisive (as compared to a more limited) victory will be of more advantage to the working class and people’s movement than to the sections of the capitalist class that support the Democratic Party.

Which begs the question: what constitutes a decisive victory? A decisive victory would mean a shift in the balance of forces in Congress and the country is such a way that the labor-led people’s movement is positioned to go on the offensive in 2009 and beyond.

For that to happen, three conditions have to be met.

First, there will have to be a Democratic Party landslide at the Presidential and Congressional levels. Second, it will be particularly important to increase the number of progressive members of Congress.

Lastly and most importantly, the labor led people’s movement — not the Democratic Party, not Wall Street — must leave, or, more accurately, impose its imprint on the election process. Admittedly, because the working class and its allies don’t have their own political party, this won’t be easy. But it would be wrong to infer from this that the labor-led people’s movement has virtually no political space and leverage to leave their clear and unmistakable imprint on the election, its outcome, and its aftermath.

We should not forget that the boundaries of politics and democracy in a capitalist social formation, and even in one in which the working class doesn’t have its own political party, are malleable, elastic, and can be stretched to include radical reforms and new configurations of political power. What those boundaries are, however, can’t be answered abstractly, but depend on the balance of forces, on which forces leave their mark on the political process, and on unforeseen events and contingencies of all kinds.



Vigorous participation is necessary

Thus, the labor-led people’s coalition —and Communists as a current within that coalition — must energetically participate in every phase of the election process. It must give substance to the national dialogue. It must be a major factor in the primaries, with an eye to electing the most progressive candidates. It must shape the political platform of the Democratic Party and its candidates. It must reach, register and educate new and stay-at-home voters. It must unrelentingly expose the reactionary positions of the Republican candidates. It must guarantee a maximum voter turnout. And it must define the political mandate and agenda in the election’s aftermath.

In doing this, the movement will position itself to qualitatively reshape the political terrain to its advantage and to take another critical step on the transition to a new stage of struggle. At this moment, this is the essence of political independence. A sweeping defeat of the right will give labor and its allies far more political leverage and independence than they have had for a long, long time.



Sam Webb is the national chair of the Communist Party USA. This article is an edited excerpt from “On the Road Again,” a report to a recent meeting of the CPUSA’s National Committee. The full text is available at .