Communists Work on a New Improved, Pro-Obama “Occupy” Movement
From Big Government, by Trevor Loudon
While withering under the combined effects of cold weather, public disgust and the tiniest hint of a backbone by some public authorities, the Occupy Wall Street Movement will not be allowed to die.
That is, if one of the movement’s strongest pillars, the Communist Party USA, has its way:
What will change though, if the Communists succeed in dominating the movement they have so thoroughly infiltrated, will be a new, more disciplined, less anarchic – even electorally focused, “Occupy” movement.
In a report to the National Committee of the Communist Party USA, which met in New York City, Nov. 12-13, 2011, Party National chairman Sam Webb, laid out his analysis of the current political climate and the role of the “Occupy” movement and the Communist Party in moving the “progressive” movement forward.
Wrote comrade Webb:
This is a volatile period. Battle lines are being drawn. Not for a while have things been so unhinged.
A marked upswing, if not a qualitative turn in class and democratic struggles, is afoot.
Sustained mass actions, civil disobedience, new levels of solidarity and consciousness, innovative tactics and slogans, and a complex array of social forces and organizations are reshaping the political landscape in unexpected ways.
The most dramatic expression of this broadening, quickening, and to a degree spontaneous upsurge against the gaping inequality and injustice in our society is the Occupy movement.
This spirited movement – and the spirit is contagious – is capturing the imagination of tens of millions who are fed up with Wall Street’s greed and worried sick about their own diminishing economic prospects.
Its politics don’t fit neatly into any distinct political category and its methods of organization are unorthodox. No single “ism” prevails. Nevertheless, most of the participants are on the progressive and left side of the spectrum even if they don’t characterize themselves in those terms.
While the occupiers are disgusted with Wall Street and Washington’s deference to the “lords of finance,” they don’t embrace a specific set of demands. Some observers see this as a grave weakness, but we shouldn’t. They have shined a spotlight on Wall Street, changed the national conversation from anti-government to anti-Wall Street, and turned the struggle against finance capital into a mainstream, top versus bottom issue.
This movement has spread to other cities and around the world, proving that in a volatile climate, small initiatives can trigger massive social irruptions.
So far so good. This is all fine and dandy with comrade Webb. But…
If there is a divergence between the occupiers and labor’s leadership, it lies in the attitudes towards the 2012 elections. Labor sees the defeat of the Republican Party – the party of rightwing extremism – as the critical terrain on which the class struggle will be fought.
Many of the occupiers, on the other hand, are suspicious of the political process, and see no value in participating in electoral and legislative politics.
What is needed is a friendly dialogue about the place of electoral politics in the larger scheme of things.
By “labor,” Sam Webb mean’s labor’s true champion – the Communist Party. By “friendly dialog,” Sam Webb means strictly imposing the Communist Party line on the less disciplined elements of the “Occupy” movement.
Comrade Webb goes on to say how, and by who, this crucial task should be carried out – labor, “people of color” and the young:
Spokespeople for labor should make the point that the 1 percent cringes at the thought of the occupiers and the 99 percent going to the polls in next year’s elections.
For Republicans the occupations are distressing, to say the least. They have called them “un-American,” say they are “designed to incite American against American,” and are “the work of mobs.”
But these attacks increasingly fall on deaf ears, and reveal in unmistakable ways their class loyalties to finance capital.
No longer can they have it both ways: insisting on class peace while waging class war. The jig is up. The people are at the gates. What goes around comes around.
In Marxist terms, the class contradiction is sharpening.
The occupations may seem to have come out of the blue, but they didn’t. Since the spring we have witnessed an uptick in class and democratic struggles on a global scale from Cairo to Athens, Madrid and Santiago.
In our own backyard, major struggles broke out in Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and elsewhere.
Nor should we forget that millions of young and older activists who threw themselves into the campaign to elect Barack Obama are looking to leave their mark on the political process going forward.
Thus, the occupation movement continues, draws inspiration from, and is rooted in homegrown as well as international struggles. It is a current in a much larger constellation of forces in which the participation and leadership of labor and people of color are of crucial importance.
Young people, bringing their flair and freshness, are the largest constituency of the occupations. Not only do they want to curb the power of the banks, take the money out of politics, and democratize public and private institutions, they also want to transform their own lives.
Some of what they do may seem farfetched and removed from the realities of power, but maybe that speaks to our limited cultural and political imaginations.
In any case, the potential of further building a broad youth movement has never been greater. It could eclipse in size and understanding the youth rebellion of the 1960s. And that movement left a permanent mark on the politics and culture of our country.
An immediate challenge – and a special challenge for the Young Communist League – is to energize the rest of the young generation whose life prospects are grim. As long as they are not a part of the occupation movement and the struggle generally, any hope of any substantive victory now and in the future is greatly diminished. And here I include the college campuses that are not yet plunged into struggles on a broad scale.
Part of The Sam Webb/Communist Party strategy is to impose on the “Occupy” movement a set of demands (which happily seem to coincide with current Communist Party policy). Avoiding embarrassing and Youtubeable confrontations with the police will be a priority. The movement must gain an electoral focus. Even the strategic weakness of having to actually “occupy” a certain space will be up for review.
Obviously the occupation movement faces challenges. One of them is to articulate a set of demands – jobs creation, student debt relief, transaction tax, millionaires’ tax, etc. – and a pathway to win them.
Looming large as well is growing the movement in labor and communities of the racially oppressed, avoiding unnecessary confrontations with the police that draw attention away from Wall Street robbery, approaching the 2012 elections, and transitioning to a new phase of struggle in which the occupation of physical space isn’t necessarily a defining feature.
Everyone is asking: what’s next for the Occupy movement? A fair question with no easy answer, but it is no more important than some other related questions: How does labor and other social movements – how do we – adjust to this moment? What new initiatives and methods of struggle fit this upswing in class and democratic struggles? What new demands should see the light of day? Isn’t greater boldness necessary? How can the entire progressive community mobilize broad support against police actions to evict the occupiers from public space?
All of this needs to be chewed over.
Sam Webb seldom issues a statement without some thought on how to get “Party “friend’” Barack Obama re-elected to the White house in 2012.
Certainly comrade Webb is terrified of the consequences for his side, if the GOP regains power in America:
In times like these some might think the shortcomings and inconsistencies of the president and the Democrats since 2008 warrant a change in strategic policy in general and electoral policy in particular.
I can understand this sentiment, but the facts on the ground, as messy, contradictory and disappointing as they are, don’t call for jettisoning our strategic policy.
The main obstacle to social progress remains rightwing extremism and its corporate backers. They cast a reactionary shadow over the whole political process.
The election of Barack Obama was a blow to the ultra right, but subsequent events have demonstrated that it wasn’t a decisive blow.
The right still retains considerable power and initiative to frame the debate and disrupt the legislative and political agenda.
Its overarching goal next year is to regain control of all three branches of the federal government. How dangerous is that? In my view it would set the stage for a period of extreme rightwing onslaught.
In the bull’s-eye would be every democratic right, economic protection and people’s organization.
The right to organize into a union would be annulled.
The unemployed would be left out to dry.
Abortions would become a criminal offense.
Education and health care would become a privilege.
The social safety net would disappear.
Discrimination would become the law of the land.
Global warming would accelerate to the point of irreversibility.
Prison populations would expand still further.
The projection of military power would become the favored instrument of foreign policy.
In sum, gone would be the rights, protections and programs that were won in the 20th century.
If you don’t believe me take a glimpse at Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio where rightwing Republicans took control of the levers of power in 2010, and then ruthlessly rolled back rights, eliminated social programs and attacked the labor movement.
Those actions are a harbinger of what the Republican Party would do if in command of the federal government next year.
By contrast, the decisive defeat of the right would weaken Wall Street and the entire corporate class, give leverage and momentum to the people’s movement, and open up the possibility of an era that puts people and nature before profits.
Said differently and dialectically, the defeat of the right at the polls next year is not only to the advantage of the Democratic Party, but also to the advantage of the labor-led people’s movement. To affirm one doesn’t deny the validity of the other.
In fact, I would go a step further, and say that a decisive victory will be of more advantage to the working class and people’s movement than to its temporary ally, the Democratic Party.
None of this is to suggest that the Democrats aren’t now or won’t be in the future an obstacle to progressive change; in too many instances they are, but they aren’t the main obstacle for the moment.
This election, then, is not about choosing a lesser evil. Politics is not a morality play and the Obama administration and Democrats are not evil. It is about our nation’s future: Are we going to move in a progressive-democratic or rightwing anti-democratic authoritarian direction?
Thus, the labor-led people’s coalition, and Communists as a current within that coalition, must make every phase of the election process a number one priority.
The people’s coalition must be a major factor in the primaries. It must reach, register and educate new and stay-at-home voters. It must guarantee a maximum voter turnout on Election Day.
Comrade Webb then justifies his emphasis on electoral work with a quote form V.I. Lenin;
Lenin wrote in “Left Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder”,
“Parliamentarism has become ‘historically obsolete.’ That is true as regards propaganda. But everyone knows that this is still a long way from overcoming it practically. Capitalism could have been declared, and quite rightly, to be ‘historically obsolete’ many decades ago, but that does not at all remove the need for a very long and very persistent struggle on the soil of capitalism.”
And the biggest policy plank that the Communists, labor and “Occupy” must rally around - the struggle for jobs.
Of the issues that will move the American people, poll after poll tells us that it is the issue of jobs, jobs, and jobs.
This is of overriding concern and understandably so. Roughly 25 million workers are either unemployed or underemployed. This is a national disaster with an unmistakable racial, gender and youth edge. It requires emergency action.
President Obama’s jobs proposals are the ground on which millions, including the occupiers, can be drawn into the fight to create jobs and rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. The AFL-CIO is embracing and promoting them. Others will come on board too as the campaign gathers momentum.
The president’s proposals are not as far-reaching as some other jobs proposals. The plans put forward by the Congressional Black Caucus, Progressive Caucus, AFL-CIO and Representative Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., are more ambitious, and we recognize that they contain more in-depth solutions. But the hard fact is that none of them stand a chance of congressional approval given the current balance of forces in Congress, and in the House in particular.
The president’s proposals do, although the going will be tough. The Republicans, while initially making conciliatory noises, are determined not to give the president a positive record to run on. They figure a president with no accomplishments, especially in a period of crisis, will not be returned to office.
That such a position will hurt millions of people is of no concern to them. In fact, in their view, the worse economic conditions are, the better are their chances of winning back the White House and Congress in 2012. Irresponsible yes, cynical yes, even diabolical, but as a political calculus, this contains some truth.
Indeed, unless the American people are convinced otherwise, they could easily blame the president for the economic mess when they go into the voting booth next year.
The president, probably more than the rest of us, seems to be well of aware of this. Thus he appears determined to take the initiative on the main economic policy questions facing the nation. It seems evident he is no longer willing to let Republicans frame the political agenda.
Indeed, his jobs speech and subsequent travel to campaign for jobs put the GOP leaders on their heels for the first time since 2010 when they regained control of the House.
Now we won’t like everything the president proposes, especially if he supports cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, and we should mobilize to make sure such ideas are dropped. But at the same time, that shouldn’t be an obstacle to getting behind the job proposals (and I would add the millionaires’ tax) in a full-blooded way.
The left should not set the perfect against the possible. It’s counterproductive. And let’s not “damn” the president’s jobs and tax initiatives “with faint praise” – an approach that has been employed too often to no good effect.
A robust grassroots campaign for Obama’s jobs measures will put wind in the president’s sails, give people hope, and improve the prospects of a people’s victory next year. We shouldn’t concede this struggle in advance to the obstructionist efforts of the Republican Party. In fact, supporters of the jobs bill (and let’s include occupiers) should organize visits to the congressional offices of Republicans during the holiday breaks.
Every Communist Party collective should discuss how to participate in this campaign. Where possible we should join with others in the neighborhood and at the workplace to establish jobs committees. A few people working together can make a difference; mass is a relative concept. Neither we, nor the movement generally, have enough traction on this critical struggle.
No message from comrade Webb is complete without a few comments on foreign policy, “peace” and slashing US defense spending – unsurprising for a Party that has changed its primary allegiance from the militarily weakened Russia, to the increasingly militarily expansionist People’s Republic of China.
U.S. foreign policy is not solely decided in elite circles, however. The American people – not to mention people worldwide – also have a say.
More and more they are insisting with a new vigor that a new political and economic order be constructed, shorn of U.S. dominance.
For progressive and left activists this creates some new opportunities to rein in U.S. imperialism and military spending. Needless to say, we should continue to be part of the peace and anti-imperialist movement.
Comrade Webb makes no bones about his love of disruption and civil disobedience. But… it must be disciplined and purposeful disobedience. Every action should be thought out beforehand with an eye to public opinion. No radical stunts for the sake of being radical. The times require structured, planned out actions, designed to win over the public, not alienate them, as many of the “Occupy” movement’s current crazy anarchist leaders have done.
We are for militant expressions of struggle; historically speaking, civil disobedience is part of the DNA of progressive and left movements.
It was Communists who illegally occupied the GM auto plant in Flint, Michigan in the winter of 1936, leading to the organization of GM and the rest of the auto industry.
It was Communists who were among the young people who occupied lunch counters in 1960.
It was Communists who were among the people arrested in the protests over the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
And in recent weeks, Communists proudly marched off to jail with other occupiers.
And going forward we won’t be shy to put our bodies on the line when the cause is just and the message inspires others to stand up for justice.
At the same time, we are against reckless provocations, violence to persons and property, and false bravado – all of which undercut the political and moral authority of the people’s movement.
The litmus test for any action or slogan or issue is: does it win the active and/or passive support of larger and larger numbers of the American people?
If it does, full speed ahead. If it doesn’t, we should rethink our approach.
The task is not simply to propose the most radical action in every situation. The task is to choose that tactic that wins the sympathy of millions, not some small circle of committed activists.
I often say what really matters (and this is a bit of an exaggeration) is not what we think, but what millions think. The latter is the starting point of communist policy and work.
Finally, comrade Webb explains the role of the Communist Party in the coming period of struggle:
Our role is to assist labor and its allies to fight more consciously and strategically across every front of struggle.
We are not go-it-aloners, nor do we advocate narrow approaches to struggle. We’re not a big party, but we think big. Our aim isn’t to make a momentary splash or show off our radical pedigree for its own sake, but to redirect powerful currents of change in the direction of social progress and socialism.
At the core of the movement that we hope to build is the organized section of the working class. Because of its new thinking and initiatives, resources, experience – and let’s not forget its location in the system of social production – we don’t consider labor (and the working class as a whole) as just one more participant in the broader movement. Its role is strategic to the broader movement’s success.
On the other hand, we don’t believe that labor (and the working class as a whole) can go it alone. That would be a losing strategy. Its organic allies are people of color, women, immigrants, seniors and youth.
Only with such breadth and relationships is victory possible in the near term against the right and in the longer term against corporate power and its political parties.
In other words, broad unity is the path out of this crisis and the fight for such unity is a distinguishing hallmark of communists. As Marx and Engels wrote long ago, our foremost concern is the unity of the movement as a whole.
Finally, we see no contradiction between the struggle for immediate reforms and the struggle for radical reforms and socialist revolution. In fact, we can’t get to the latter without fighting for the former; that is, only in the course of fighting for democratic reforms are the conditions created for radical change.
A critical part of our work is ideological. That could be said on any occasion, but today it resonates with special force. Old notions long held by working people haven’t entirely gone by the wayside, but they have become unhinged to a greater or lesser degree. Tens of millions believe that the system is unjust, that the 1 percent lives very differently than the 99 percent...
We can bring to light the linkages between capitalism’s inner dynamics, the capitalist economic crisis and the current onslaught on people’s living standards and rights in the public and private arenas. In particular, we can remind everyone that “free enterprise” got us into this mess, but won’t get us out.
And what better time to bring into this conversation our vision of a democratic, home-grown socialism.
Sam Webb’s words should be taken seriously. Though his Party is only an few thousand strong, its influence is felt from the White House on down to thousands of precinct committees, labor halls, churches and “community groups” in nearly every major city in the USA. Further, the help given to the party in terms of guidance (and probably money) from its allies in China, Cuba, Venezuela and even Russia, should not be discounted.
“Occupy” will fade away over winter, but will not be allowed to die. It will re-emerge in the Spring, stronger, more disciplined and even more militant. It will be purged to some degree of its anarchist leadership and will become more of an appendage of the labor movement and by extension, the Communist Party, its allies in Democratic Socialists of America and the Obama Administration.