By Susan Webb
Contribution from the Communist Party USA to the International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties, Nov. 8-10, 2013, Lisbon, Portugal
The Communist Party USA expresses its appreciation to the Communist Party of Portugal for hosting this important international gathering, and we also express our solidarity with the communist and workers’ parties of the world.
1. I would like to open by raising the pressing issue of the climate/ecological crisis as an overriding challenge for the world communist and working class movements.
This crisis is intensifying immensely and adding new complications to the class and democratic struggles at the national and international level, and will continue to do so. It is no exaggeration to say it will determine humankind’s fate.
The impact of the climate/ecological crisis is and will continue to be uneven, falling heavily on the working class, the racially and ethnically oppressed and impoverished people and especially on countries and people of the global South. The crisis is intertwined with capitalism in its global stage in many ways. Its effects, such as drought, desertification and loss of cropland, are already playing a role in some of today’s political crises. Yet the attention that it receives from the left and broader democratic movement does not rise to the level of importance that it demands of us. Latin American leaders, beginning with Comrade Fidel Castro, have expressed the urgency and necessity of addressing this issue. This is a challenge for our party and for the world communist movement.
Two years ago at our meeting in Athens, our South African comrades proposed an international meeting on climate change and the environmental crisis. I believe the meeting endorsed this proposal. Our party would like to lend its support to the convening of such a conference at the earliest possible date.
2. Comrades, the recent rapid reversals, twists and turns, in U.S. policy regarding Syria and Iran suggest the complex status of the U.S. today, both in the world and domestically.
– Neoliberal policies have had profound consequences: deindustrialization, export of jobs, export of industry and technology/know-how, globalized U.S. corporations draw larger percent of profits from outside U.S., less dependent on U.S. workforce and infrastructure; lopsided balance of trade = increased foreign debt; regressive tax structure favoring the wealthy deprives government of revenue; emphasis on private sector/privatization as profit source and destruction of public sector jobs and services, lowering of standard of living of U.S. working/middle class, rising insecurity, decreased domestic consumption ability.
– Financialization has had deep effects: distortion of the economy to useless financial activity, destruction of useful production (coupled with neoliberal/globalization), drive for acquisition of the public sector for private profit-making, leading to crises in state and municipal government services, schools, etc.; rising consumer insecurity; financial sector plays an increasing role in government.
– Continuing dependence on fossil fuels to run the economy empowers far-right sections of U.S. capital in both domestic and foreign policy.
A fresh look is needed, in our country and internationally, at the dynamics and contradictions of the domestic and global capitalist economy:
– We have to make an estimate of the trajectory of the recovery and the medium-term prospects of the U.S. economy.
– We need to note and think more about the fact that the old grouping of U.S., Britain, Germany and Japan no longer drives global economic development. Instead, the new dialectically connected poles are the United States and China and the East and Southeast Asian states. This region has been the most dynamic center for accumulation over the past decade or so. Other rising powers include Brazil and South Africa.
– We need to explore the new production platforms that are regional or global in scope and dominated by transnational corporations that are in many cases involved not in actual production but only in the design and marketing stages; and yet they sit atop the entire production process.
– And we need to look again at the role of finance and financialization and what has changed in the recent period.
– The American public is war-weary. Some people high in foreign policy and military circles are looking back over our Iraq and Afghanistan ventures, and even aspects of the so-called war on terrorism, and saying it was not worth it.
– On the one hand, these people are taking a sober look at U.S. foreign policy and making some adjustments in light of experience. Some adjustments create some new constructive openings, for example on Iran, and this is a good thing. Others are negative: expanded use of drone warfare; greater reliance on allied countries and NATO for military ventures as in Libya and Syria; operating via some of the Gulf states; use of so-called special forces; a new level of spying/privacy violations, both foreign and domestic; and the quiet expansion of military installations and bases – in Africa in particular, as well as in Asia, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
These people could be characterized as foreign policy “moderates” and “centrists” in today’s political context even though some have in the past been some of the worst warhawks. An example is Zbigniew Brzezinski, an architect of the U.S. anti-Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in the 1970s and 1980s, for which we are all still paying the price today.
– On the other hand, U.S. leaders have not given up on the notion of U.S. primacy and dominance in the world, the U.S. as the indispensable nation, even while making some adjustments in how they go about seeking to maintain it. Their chief concern remains to create a friendly environment for the global process of capital accumulation, especially for America’s own transnational corporations. The war on terrorism proclaimed by U.S. leaders is intertwined with these efforts.
The so-called pivot to East Asia includes not only new bases, but also negotiation of a free trade pact for the Pacific Rim countries which have been the most dynamic centers of capital accumulation for the past 20 years and remain so today, notwithstanding a slowing down of growth in recent years.
With regard to Latin America, the “Bolivarian” dynamic in South and Central America has produced great concern in U.S. ruling circles. Efforts are being made to continue to push neoliberal trade policies to maintain U.S. economic dominance, bringing the U.S. into conflict with Venezuela, Bolivia and others. The U.S.-created “Pacific Alliance” is the pivot for U.S. policy in the area; this alliance consists of Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Chile. U.S. interference in elections in the region is also part of the effort to maintain an environment friendly to U.S. transnational capital.
– U.S. political leaders and groups who are sober-minded on foreign policy and moderate or even progressive on domestic issues grapple with:
a) how to reconcile survival and growth of the present U.S. capitalist system with contradictions of the economy and rise of the far-right, all of this also conflicting with their general orientation to promote various democratic reforms domestically, as well as with awareness of real threats to the system from climate change, and
b) how to reconcile problems of the U.S. economy, dependence on oil, continuance or spurring of U.S. corporate growth, with changes in the world scene: specifically democratic movements that advance their own country’s national development and may put in place regimes not cooperative with those U.S. interests – the Middle East being a particular flashpoint.
In this category are many leading Democrats including the Clintons, Obama and others. Their specific inclinations vary but in general their policies reflect efforts to reconcile these contradictions, veering more in one direction or another depending on the strength of domestic public pressure.
– Profound progressive social changes (for example, on issues of racial equality, ethnic diversity and multiculturalism, women’s rights, gay and lesbian equality, immigrants’ rights), coupled with and profound economic transformations as described above, have spurred the rise of fear-driven far-right populist movements fomented/funded/utilized by right-wing sections of U.S. capital.
The emergence of an extreme far-right accelerated sharply in reaction to the overturning of the eight-year rule of the right wing with the 2008 election of Barack Obama, an African American and a liberal with a grassroots base and generally progressive agenda.
At that time a new, well-financed racist, fascist-like “populist” movement known as the “tea party” (a reference to an action during the American Revolution where rebelling colonists rebelling against the British monarchy dumped tea into the harbor in Boston, Massachusetts) emerged on the scene. They have gotten enormous media attention for extremist, inflammatory rallies, protests and slogans attacking the government and Obama personally, including use of swastikas, Hitler references and threats of violence. In the last round of congressional elections, in 2010, this very well-funded movement within the Republican Party succeeded in electing some 90 members of the 535-member Congress .
– As you know, for a number of historical and legal reasons, the U.S. currently has a two-party, winner-take-all, electoral system at the national level. Both Democratic and Republican parties are ruling class parties in the sense that both are funded and backed by corporate and financial ruling circles. Both had a hand in imposition of neoliberalism starting several decades ago. But these two parties are not identical by any means. For the broader movement and ourselves not to see and utilize these differences and their meaning for the struggle for democracy, progress and socialism would be not only sectarian but also irresponsible and harmful to the struggle.
– It is important to note that strong domestic opposition to a U.S. attack on Syria came not only from the broad public and progressive forces, but also from sections of the far-right, so-called libertarians, who saw it as an opportunity to attack the president in hopes of advancing their right-wing agenda.
– Regarding relations with Cuba, while there have been numerous indications that high-level U.S. figures think U.S. policy toward Cuba has been a dead end, moves on opening new relations with Cuba have so far been minuscule, at least in public. In part this is undoubtedly due to continuing fear of the symbolic and practical role that Cuba plays as a leader of anti-imperialism in the region. However it is also and perhaps primarily due to the extremely negative role of reactionary Cuban exiles in the U.S., which has been given renewed power with the Republican control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
– The recent shutdown of the U.S. government illustrates aggressive efforts of the far-right to nullify elections and democratic rule, to turn back social reforms, to beat back any moves to curb excesses of U.S. capitalism in its present phase. These efforts involve fundamental challenges to legality, to constitutional authority, to democratic governance in the U.S., and are being widely perceived as such.
– In key organizations of the people – labor, civil rights and equality, women’s groups, and others – there has been a growth in level of political understanding and seeking of connections, coalitions and direct working relationships with others. There has been a growth in non-labor groups’ appreciation of the importance of the labor movement in bringing about social change.
– Nevertheless, general democratic public sentiments and dissatisfaction with the growing economic inequality and insecurity in our country have not as yet developed into a mass social/political movement with sufficient size, breadth and depth to be able to transform the political scene and tilt the balance of forces in a more progressive/leftward direction.
– Within the overall democratic and progressive movement, the left is too small and divided to be able to advance the building of such a mass transformative movement.
– Within that left, the Communist Party is still too small to play its vital role in this process, adding the necessary understanding of the strategy and tactics needed to conduct winning short- and long-term struggles, of the critical significance of racism and the fight against it, of the dynamics of capitalism in its present stage, of the nature, new features, and significance of the working class, and of the vision and possibility of American socialism.
– Recognizing the need to create such a movement, major people’s organizations, first and foremost the labor movement, have undertaken comprehensive and probing self-examinations, and are profoundly restructuring and reshaping themselves to meet this challenge. The Communist Party USA, heading into its 95th anniversary year in 2014, is undertaking a similar process, aiming to build a transformative 21st century party and movement.