U.S. Communists: Threat to democracy requires a united fightback
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Editor’s note: The following keynote address to the CPUSA National Committee was presented by CPUSA co-chair Joe Sims on January 14th. It’s been edited to reflect discussion that took place after the report was delivered. It lays out the latest analysis by the Communist Party USA of the political situation in our country, particularly the threat to democracy and the path we need to take in order to combat and defeat the danger the nation faces.

Welcome to this January meeting of our National Committee.  As we begin a New Year of struggle, let us pause for a moment to honor those who sadly are no longer with us, but without whom we would never have arrived on these winter shores.  Among them are Art Perlo, a member of the National Committee, head of our Economics Commission and leader in the Connecticut district,  Betty Smith, longtime head of International Publishers, Richard Castro, veteran leader of the South California District, Gary Hicks, formerly of Boston and long term member of the Northern California District, GL Morrison, Party leader in Portland, Irving Kessler, New York Party member and Cuba solidarity activist, and Esther Davis, veteran member of the Brooklyn club.

We also want to extend our revolutionary condolences to the family, comrades and friends of Charlene Mitchell. As most of us know, after the difficult days of the early 90s, Charlene left the Party, but we worked together with her in later years on the founding of the Black Radical Congress and fighting the right-wing danger, understanding we had more in common than separated us. Let’s take a moment to recall these comrades’ lifelong commitments to the struggle for equality, democracy, working-class power and socialism.

Before moving on we want to recognize another important milestone: the 80th birthday of comrade Margaret Baldridge from Baltimore.  A celebration was held in Baltimore honoring Margaret a few weeks ago but unfortunately we were in Minneapolis for a district school and unable to attend.  Happy Birthday Margaret! We wish you many more!

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Trumpism remains a force

As we meet this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, the fight against the fascist danger remains front and center. Make no mistake: Trump’s MAGA movement may have been set back in November, but their eyes remain set on the White House door. And they’ve got almost everything they need to unlock it: unlimited dark money; a right-wing media network working overtime; and, most dangerously, a mass movement. Let’s face it: while damaged, the ex-president remains a force.

The MAGA faction of the ruling class and a big chunk of the broader right-wing public still support him. Of course, it’s possible Trump might be replaced by a DeSantis or someone else. But know this: whoever becomes MAGA’s public face and possibly the next president, we should never underestimate the danger they represent. As our party’s program points out, what’s at play here is a grab for control by one section of the capitalist class over all other sections and over society – that’s what January 6th was all about.

Power grabbers miss something

But they’re missing one important thing in this power grab: a majority of the American people. This was proven once again by the midterm elections. Outraged by the Dobbs decision, women and men – but mainly women – along with people of color and supported by labor,  limited the GOP’s gains in the House.

That’s important. But let’s be honest: that victory was a big negative. The Republicans will now act as if they have the largest mandate in history.  The GOP far right, as Mr. Gaetz from Florida pointed out, now has new Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy in “a straight jacket” — they are now in control. On the other hand, the grassroots mobilization that won the Senate was a big plus. It demonstrated once again, that if called upon, our class and people will respond. Unfortunately over the last two years they were rarely called upon.

The powers-that-be seem content to keep the political struggle confined to debates between elite groups inside the Washington Beltway. There’s a fear of rocking the boat – particularly with national demonstrations – in D.C. during an election year.  And what’s true of fear of demonstrations during election cycles, is doubly true with regard to strikes. That’s why the Biden administration violated the railway workers’ right to strike. They were afraid of rocking the economic boat.

Fight for democracy and class struggle

It is in these circumstances that the battle for democracy comes face to face with the class struggle. Yes, there’s a fascist danger and yes consideration must be given to the risks involved in actions taken by sections of the coalition that are fighting the fascist danger. But, it’s a big mistake to cede the people’s ability to make demands and compel concessions by tamping down on national protests or breaking strikes in order to “play it safe.”

The Democratic Party leadership, with one eye cast on the independent vote and the other on their corporate backers,  are making political calculations about what they think best serves the national democratic interest. But what’s best for them isn’t necessarily best for us. Why not? What’s best for them is to act in their class interests. They identify their class interest with the interest of the entire nation.

Mobilizing the base a must

But what they fail to comprehend is that there’s more than one approach to defining national interest – the working class also has the right to express and fight for its vision of what’s in the nation’s interest. Our role is to push that vision forward – that’s our plus.

It may be in the interests of the ruling elites to not rock the boat, to not offend bourgeois sensibilities with mass protests and strikes, but the railway workers, women, the LGBTQ community, and people of color may not see it that way. A word of caution here: none of the forces arrayed in the people’s front can afford to take the position of “it’s my way or the highway” – the fascist danger is clear and present. The point here, however, is that if you want to win this fight, you’ve got to mobilize your base. It took a mass movement to win the election, and that’s what it’s going to take going forward.  Everyone needs to take this into account.

Now, it’s not that the other side sat on their hands: the January 6th hearings were extremely important. They certainly helped shape the debate and turn the tide. But “air wars” are not enough – they have to be coupled with “battles for position” on the ground.  Build Back Better,  the child tax credit provision, the changed composition of the National Labor Relations Board were all positives, but the lack of mass demonstrative public pressure to get them passed proved their undoing. The successful pro-union change in the Labor Board was the exception.

Some have already learned this lesson as the re-election victory of Senator Raphael Warnock in Georgia demonstrated. For over a decade, voting rights activists there have been registering voters door-to-door (over one million doors were knocked on) and organizing the turnout. They decided some time ago to break with politics as usual. Others are beginning to take notice — in Wisconsin and a few other places. Things seem to be shifting nationally as well. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have approved automatic voter registration.  Other states are planning to follow suit.

Now’s the time to think through our contribution to this movement-building work, that is, on how we can strengthen the People’s Front. That includes making plans for how to get involved in voter registration, ballot initiatives and election campaigns supported by coalition partners. And yes, it also means giving consideration to fielding our own members as candidates. Here’s a radical idea: let’s stop talking about it and take some steps. The Michigan district is organizing a meeting, with comrade Tony, to discuss what it takes to run a campaign. That’s a great idea! Other districts might consider following their example.

Demand for equality is key

The road ahead, without a doubt, is going to be challenging.  A recession is coming, and  corporations have already started layoffs. Salesforce cut 10% of its workforce, Amazon shed 18,000 jobs, and McDonalds just announced cutbacks. It’s still winter but the class struggle has already started to heat up. In New York, 7,000 nurses hit the bricks this week and won important gains for patient safety, wages and working conditions. In March, the contract expires for 5,000 Caterpillar workers. Illinois get ready!  Two hundred thousand postal workers’ contracts are up at the end of May. And get this – the contract for 340,000 workers at UPS is coming up July 31 and the Teamsters are saying to hell with concessions. They’re ready to strike. And then in September, contracts at the Big Three automakers expire for 150,000 autoworkers. Getting rid of the two-tier wage system is a big issue for the UAW.

As workers go out on strike, we should be ready to hit the picket lines with them. In this regard, the Twin Cities club in Minnesota has provided a real model for strike support. Current and upcoming strikes and organizing drives are regularly posted in the club’s Signal chat. Members are organized to join the lines with coffee, donuts and even pizzas. And they’re doing this on a regular basis.

Speaking of strike support, the railway workers’ demand for greater control over their schedules and sick days has not gone away. In fact, the right to sick days is an issue for the working class as a whole. One in five workers don’t have it.  We should continue to look for ways to support their efforts.

While the class struggle burned red hot, the demand for equality was also at the center of the fire in recent months. In response to alarm at the Dobbs decision, a marriage equality bill was signed into law at the White House in December.  This was an important preemptive measure against a potential right-wing attempt to rescind the right to marry. And there’s real reason to worry: the far right has also pledged to step up their attack on trans rights. That must be met head on.

Supreme Court actions are also of great concern. The Court is considering challenges to college affirmative action programs. That case will be decided in June and it’s likely that affirmative action programs in the nation’s colleges and universities will be banned. When the White House tried to get rid of Title 42 which prohibited immigrants, including asylum seekers, from entering the country the Supreme Court blocked it. Legal arguments will be heard by the Court on Title 42 in February.

The ongoing battle against racist policing must also be at the center of our attention. Police murder has set new records since the killing of George Floyd.  African Americans are killed at a rate nearly three times that of whites. Despite these horrific figures, calls for police reform have fallen on deaf ears.  However, important progress has been made in advancing the demand for civilian control of police departments. In Chicago, a city commission was established after an outstanding campaign led by the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. Chicago’s Empowering Communities for Public Safety Ordinance creates a three-person District Council in each of the city’s 22 police districts. The Councils will be elected in February and we encourage comrades to go Chicago and assist in the campaign’s final days.

Comrades, January 22nd marks the 50th anniversary of Roe: the Supreme Court decision establishing women’s right to abortion care. The coup caucus  celebrated it this week by passing  an anti-abortion rights bill. Reveling in the Dobbs decision and the GOP House victory,  Republicans are now calling for a complete federal ban on abortion.

Now some 20 states are expected to implement abortion bans. However, the fight is far from over.  Recently the Biden administration and the FDA approved making abortion pills more widely available – a really important development. In the coming  year NARAL, Planned Parenthood and others plan ballot initiatives in 10 states, among them Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Missouri.  Clearly we should get involved in these campaigns in every way possible, including signature gathering.

Combatting male supremacy a must

This should not be seen as a “women’s issue.” What fighting racism is to the battle for equality for people of color, combating male supremacy is to women’s equality. We need to convince our male comrades that it is their special responsibility to champion the fight for reproductive rights. And the reality is that many of us don’t get it. A case in point: in a few instances some comrades declined to participate in the pro-choice marches because, they said, the actions were initiated by what they called the “bourgeois” women’s movement. Can you imagine? Hundreds of thousands of women in the streets around the country, fighting for the most basic of democratic rights, and some of us refused to participate!

We’ve got to deepen our understanding of the Marxist approach to women’s equality. The oppression of all women is a product of the early rise of classes; the oppression of all women is organically linked to the rise of class oppression; the capitalist class benefits from the oppression of all women through the promotion of cultural and social inequality, domination, and control, including the active cultivation of misogyny. Capitalism also benefits from the exploitation of working-class women where extra profits are reaped through employment segregation, lower-wages, and the so-called second shift where working-class women also engage in various forms of unpaid labor. This is the basis of the sexist social division of labor. Women of color also face exploitation based on race and nationality resulting in three forms of oppression under capitalism: class, gender and race.

This requires all working-class forces to increase their capacity to demonstrate a conscious understanding of and allegiance with all women in the democratic fight for full equality. Achieving this means confronting sexual harassment. It means confronting the horror of domestic violence. It means understanding and responding to the myriad challenges working-class women face. And we don’t do it from the curb – but from the middle of the street where the masses have gathered in struggle.

Understanding need for democracy

All of this argues for updating and deepening our understanding of the battle for democracy. That understanding is vital for moving forward in the present moment. It’s imperative in the struggle for the socialist future. As our Party Program makes clear, “The struggle to defend and enlarge democracy in every realm of life is therefore the only path to socialism in our country.” But what is meant by democracy? The GOP far right, Mitch McConnell included, paints anything to the left of Ronald Reagan as a symptom of anti-democratic socialism. The Democratic Party center, not to be outdone, uses the label “authoritarian” to falsely paint left and far-right as alike.

The main threat to democracy comes from the most right-wing section of our ruling class.

Biden’s Cold War 2.0 is a case in point. But pardon me, Mr. Biden, in this multipolar world, the main threat to democracy comes from the most right-wing section of our ruling class, not somebody else’s. We know who attacked the Capitol on January 6th and who, just the other day, hijacked the U.S. House. And we know who paid for it:  Lockheed, Comcast, and Walmart.  And we also know that the U.S. has done more than its part to contribute to the rise  in international tensions and that there’s a two-party consensus for doing so.

Take the situation with China and Russia. The two countries cooperate economically and have a defensive alliance. This is the result not of ideological alignment – nothing could be further from the case – but rather a perceived self-interest and desire to survive after being encircled, sanctioned and tariffed nearly to death. U.S. imperialism wants to impose its version of what it calls “democracy” – meaning capitalism. It plans to do so by means of economic pressure, or force, or a combination of both. But imperialism’s version of democracy is not the be-all and end-all of democratic practice. Cuba, Vietnam, and Venezuela have chosen different paths. Whether they employ single or multi-party systems, each was born out of their country’s history and the conditions under which their revolutions occurred.

It is not for us in the U.S. to decide which form of government other countries choose. Rather, we must insist on creating conditions under which all are able to make choices free of outside interference.

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Challenges of the peace movement

Creating those conditions means staying the hand of imperialism by building a mass movement for peace. That’s a difficult proposition in today’s circumstances. It’s rendered even more challenging by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Responses to the Ukraine war have split the U.S. (and world) peace movement in several different directions, with some supporting U.S. policy, others defending Russia’s actions, and still others seeing the conflict as a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia. Our position has been to oppose and condemn the invasion and call for a ceasefire and negotiations. Ukraine has a right to exist as a sovereign state.  Unfortunately, an October call for negotiations by progressive Democrats was quickly retracted after strong White House objection – a mass peace movement might have changed that. A meeting or conference of party peace activists this year will start an important process of thinking through specific steps we can take, understanding it’s going to be a long and difficult process.

Building the party

But if we carry out our work properly, not only will a stronger peace movement emerge, but so will a larger and stronger Communist Party. Everything is pointing in this direction. Some 6,000 people have applied to join the Party over the last two years, one-third of whom are paying dues.

2022 was a very good year. We completed the People’s World’s fund drive, brought close to 400 members to DC to participate in the Poor People’s March, were active in the fall election campaign and established a regular public presence in a number of states. We held regular educational seminars,  online festival for People’s World on May Day and a well-attended International Conference. Last year we were able to build multi-club districts in seven additional states. New York, Texas, Southern California, Northern California, Eastern Pennsylvania and Connecticut already had a number of clubs in their states. In another 17 states, single clubs with members scattered around the state were either created or maintained.

A big achievement has been the growth of local Young Communist League (YCL) clubs in New York, DC, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Eastern Pennsylvania and Connecticut. In Kentucky and DC there are a couple of clubs located on college campuses.

In DC we have to congratulate the work of the Claudia Jones School, our first public Marxist school in the recent period. It’s doing an outstanding job in bringing the science of society to the broader public involving not only our thinkers but others as well. That said, we are still very much in the rebuilding stage of growing the party. If we were to compare it to building a house, we would have to say while we have a blueprint and have laid a solid foundation, we’re still very much on the ground floor.

We are still very much in the rebuilding stage of growing the party.

For example, while we welcome the Party’s rapid growth, we also have to acknowledge that a considerable section of the new membership have yet to receive an orientation as to our basic principles and concepts. In the next several months, at the initiative of the Education Department, we’re taking steps to remedy this situation. Weekend district schools will focus on the Party’s program.

While improving, the multiracial and gender composition of the party remains weak. Cis women are joining in far fewer numbers than cis men, though the non-binary and trans membership has grown. In the recent period, the influence of male supremacy has become increasingly apparent, particularly but not only, in online spaces, where men aggressively dominate the conversation, bully and dismiss women’s opinions. We’ve got to ask ourselves why are these patterns persisting? Why are so few women joining? And after joining, how many are sticking around? What is it about our public presence, both in person and online, that the masses of women are not responding to?

Comrades Rossana, Dee, Rebecca and Lisa  and others in the next weeks will take steps to convene a communist women’s collective with the aim of holding a conference out of which we hope to form a Women’s Commission. As we move forward and improve our work in this vital arena, we call on our male comrades to examine what we’ve done and haven’t done to contribute to this situation.

At the last convention we developed a sexual harassment policy and it’s stood us in good stead. As the Party continues to grow, our upholding of respectful and principled relationships, particularly with younger comrades, is a must. Party guidance and mentorship is essential, but in no case should it give license to inappropriate overtures or harassment – that’s deadly and the damage can be permanent.

CPUSA 2023

Going forward, the National Committee has a three-fold task: to stay focused on fighting the fascist danger; to continue building the party; and to lay the political, ideological and organizational basis for the next convention. With regard to the fascist danger, our goal must be to expose, organize and take initiatives. People’s World and cpusa.org are doing a wonderful job in continuing to shine a spotlight on this threat. Part of our expose must be to continue to reveal the corporate ties to the coup caucus and its sedition. And speaking of sedition, shouldn’t we actively support a demand to prosecute those responsible? This is too important an issue to leave to the sole discretion of the courts and Justice Department. Are there already campaigns on the issue, petitions, memes, protests? If not, shouldn’t we help initiate them?

Fundraising also remains an essential task in the year ahead. Long View, the publisher of People’s World has set a $200,000 goal this year – a must-do amount to stay in the black. Failure to make that goal is simply not an option.

With respect to the convention, as the summer and fall approach, collectives will have to be established to find a location, propose a date, as well as make initial plans concerning resolutions, the constitution and possibly the Party program.

Next year we’re sure to have a great convention that will help consolidate our current achievements and lay the basis for what we want the Communist Party to become: a mass party, a militant party of revolutionary working-class struggle, a party of initiative that fights for the unity of our class and people. We’re building an anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-fascist party, a party of consistent working-class democracy and peace.

This is a party led by women, by African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Middle Eastern, Native American and working-class white Americans, immigrant and citizen, documented and undocumented, straight and LGBTQ. We are building an internationalist party based on the best traditions of the American people. We defend what’s best in our multi-racial, multinational country, weaving together a mosaic of song and dance, prose and poem, film and play. We understand that the social revolution, at the end of the day, is a grand festival of the people. And make no mistake: we are a Marxist-Leninist party of social revolution, fighting for an American model of Bill of Rights Socialism, made in the USA.


Joe Sims
Joe Sims

Joe Sims is co-chair of the Communist Party USA. He is also a senior editor of People's World and loves biking.