Friday, April 30, 2010

Illinois communists meet, call for unity and action against economic crisis

The Communist Party of Illinois held its state convention on April 17 to assess its work and elect delegates to the CPUSA national convention May 21-23 in New York City. Below are opening remarks by state organizer John Bachtell.


In preparing these remarks, I was reflecting on the changes our country has witnessed and our accomplishments really overwhelmed me.

We’ve grown, matured and been tempered in this mighty struggle along side labor and the people's movements.

And none bigger than being participants and shapers in one of the greatest developments in our nation's history - the election of the first African American president and the defeat of the Republican majorities after 30 years of right wing domination of government.

The 2008 elections marked a turning point, the beginning of a transition period full of great potential for reform and change.

Let’s take a moment to applaud our work, and the millions who have gotten us to this point.

We meet beneath the dark storm clouds of economic crisis tearing our communities and families apart. The working class and people seethe with anger and frustration and want relief from the torrential rains.

We’re all affected by this crisis. Like our comrade from Urbana, who like so many others has been jobless for two years. He finally received his disability insurance but not before he lost his home, joining the millions who have been foreclosed on.

We have two great challenges before us.

First, to fully immerse our selves in today’s titanic battles, to build the united democratic movements against the economic crisis and inequality and defeat the apostles of hate, racism and division.

How well we build the broad democratic movement and how effectively it removes the rightwing Republican obstructionists in Congress and influences the Obama administration and Congress will determine what kind of economic and social reforms will be won.

As the great African American singer and civil rights leader Harry Belafonte said, if Obama fails, we fail.

Secondly, we’re challenged to build a modern mass 21st century CPUSA and YCL. The country needs it to help navigate this era and the path to socialism; to help assemble, bring forward and unite the class and social forces necessary to make the change.

Okay, this much is clear: the ultra right was not decisively defeated in the 2008 elections and could regain power. The reactionary sector of US monopoly capitalism that gives it sustenance is powerful and far more embedded in government than many appreciated.

Danger abounds. The Tea Party movement, aided and abetted by hate psycho radio, disrupts town hall meetings. President Obama is the target of the most viscous and vile forms of racism. Armed fascists attend presidential rallies and reactionary politicians exploit popular rage.

Some say we are putting the class struggle on hold by still targeting the ultra right as the main danger.

We ignore it at our peril. The struggle against the ultra right is also the protracted fight against the most reactionary sections of US monopoly capitalism.

We have an immediate electoral challenge in Illinois. The Republicans have declared the US Senate seat a national battleground. We must respond - defeat this threat and join the broad coalition to make sure the seat is filled by a pro-labor senator.

An election victory in 2010, including Gov. Pat Quinn, and Democratic House of Representative candidates, and where possible more pro-labor, progressive candidates, will consolidate the 2008 election victory, and open the door to the next stage of reforms.

Nationally, the elections can tear down the Republican obstructionist walls. A loss will mean higher walls and greater opposition.

This democratic movement is multi-class, ranging from an energized and progressive labor movement to sections of monopoly capital. There are many political forces and trends, including Obama. There are competing forces within the Obama administration and the Democratic Party. It’s not unified on every question and we have disagreements with the Obama administration on some issues.

But how the democratic movement handles its differences is key. There will be no reform process without the Obama administration.

The democratic movement is not the only pressure on Obama and Democrats.

After his first 100 days in office, President Obama was asked what new he had learned. He replied, “there is more than one power center in this country” and singled out Wall Street. We could add, the Pentagon and intelligence community and corporate influence in government at all levels.

Our goal is to build the mass united democratic movement, bring labor and the core forces into its leadership and put a working class stamp on the reforms. To play it role, this movement must be united. This requires waging an uncompromising struggle against racism, discrimination against women, and homophobia.

Historic health care reform victory: only the first step

To quote the always-colorful Joe Biden, the health care reform victory was a "BFD." During this fight a labor leader implored Illinois health care activists with an allegory of the Battle of Gettysburg. He recounted his visit to the battlefield where two great armies met and one left defeated. It changed the course of the war.

The battle lines were drawn. Two great armies met on the legislative battlefield and clashed for a year. One had been retreating for most of 30 years, but won a major victory in 2008 and went on the offensive. The other gave everything they had to inflict “Obama’s Waterloo.”

The democratic movement won that epic battle. It didn’t rout the enemy, but it gained new momentum and energy for the next offensive.

The result wasn’t what we wanted, and the health care corporations will benefit. But it was a big step in the right direction. After 30 years of anti-government ideology, the victory restores the role of government, enshrines the idea of universal health care and for the first time regulates health insurance corporations.

Perhaps more importantly, the victory also reenergized the movements, gave fresh optimism and momentum. Think were we would be had we lost.

The reform will have some immediate effects including in Illinois.

- Immediate access to affordable coverage for 201,233 Illinoisans currently uninsured due to pre-existing conditions

- Medicare improvements and lower-cost prescription drugs for 1.8 million Illinois seniors

- Prohibiting insurance companies from using pre-existing conditions to deny care to 3.2 million Illinois children

-570 Community Health Centers in Illinois will receive additional funding.

Terrie and I are relieved because our children will be covered under our insurance until they are 26 years old.

The Party was immersed in this struggle, although more could have been active. We had some great grassroots experiences with Organizing for America, Campaign for Better Health Care, Health Care for America Now,, in our unions, retiree associations and single payer groups.

We reported on the rallies, actions and town hall meetings in the PW.
The Campaign for Better Health Care asked if organizations that participated wanted to be listed at their celebration. We said of course. To which an organizer responded, “Absolutely - Wouldn't think of having a list without Communist Party of IL and People’s World on it! You do great work.”

Some on the left and in our Party had differences with our approach. They believed it was single payer or nothing and called for killing the bill.
But this ignored the balance of political forces and the real legislative process. Should we have aligned objectively with the fascist Tea Party and right wing? No!

Which side are we on - with the broad democratic movement in alliance and interaction with Obama, or with the mob?

Would a political defeat now make it easier to tackle immigration reform? No!

Was it the end of the fight? No!
It’s time to put those differences behind us, move on and consolidate this victory.

There are new possibilities to win single payer on the state level, further regulate insurance industry pricing, to win a public option and Medicare Buy-in. The struggle continues!

What lessons did the democratic movement learn for the next fight?
The balance of forces is still not favorable enough. Every fight going forward will be fierce.

Corporate power and the ultra right is deeply embedded in government. Undoing 30 years of right wing domination won't happen in a day.
The people's movements will need to be stronger, more united and more sustained to win greater reforms.

It’s not enough to elect. Millions must be actively engaged in the legislative process.

It’s not enough to put out advanced demands and insist everyone follow. Building winning movements requires broad unity around the demands millions are willing to fight on and advanced tactics.

A Party of action
It's no stretch to say the Party has been involved in every major class, legislative and electoral battle since our last convention.

The Party and YCL were heavily involved in the historic election campaigns in 2006 (in the 6th CD), 2007 (aldermanic elections), and 2008 where we traveled to Indiana along with half of Chicago to secure the historic win.

We were a vital part of the history making Rudy Lozano and Jesus Garcia campaigns this February that almost beat one of the most powerful Democratic Party machines in the state.

We have been part of the movements to end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, to demilitarize the economy and change US foreign policy.

We have marched on May Day and been active in the immigrant rights movement.
We have walked strike picket lines and mobilized solidarity.
Were we to hand out some recognition awards it might go like this:

Best club coalition building experience - Oak Park club for the New New Deal Coalition and South Side club with labor-religious-community health care coalition.
Best club labor-community initiated action - Logan Square/Humboldt Park club for the EFCA action at the Bank of America.

Best club electoral experience - Bridgeport and YCL clubs for tireless work in the Rudy Lozano campaign.

Best on-line grassroots organizing experience – South Side, Rogers Park and Humboldt Park- Logan Square for their Organizing for America work.

Best trade union organizing experience – Carmen in the Resurrection Hospital campaign, Ben in the warehouse workers campaign, and Lance in the charter schoolteacher campaign.

We have so much to be proud of. We have many exciting grassroots experiences, which I hope you share today. Our work has many shortcomings, but it’s a solid basis on which to build.

We do have a ways to go in deepening a culture of action and initiative at the grassroots. We envision our neighborhood clubs as initiators of bold grassroots action, which can bring together the coalitions necessary to create change on a grassroots basis.

Our MO should always be: action, action and still more action; initiative, initiative and still more initiative.

Building a mass movement for jobs
We are called to the front lines to fight against mass joblessness and the worst budget crisis in state history. This is a long-term crisis. It is having a catastrophic affect in the African American, Latino and other nationally and racially oppressed communities and among youth. The killing of 6 and wounding of another 12 in one night of violence this week is a tragic symptom of this crisis.
There will be no solution outside of government intervention, democratization of the economy and redistribution of wealth.

On a national level, labor and the major civil rights organizations launched the Jobs for America Now Coalition and its five-point program to address the crisis.

We are part of this coalition and are helping build the broadest movement possible nationally, locally and in our neighborhoods. Our panel will share some great initiatives we have been involved with.

We can help grow the multiracial diversity, and connect it with youth, religious communities, green jobs and peace movements.

Chicago Jobs with Justice has initiated a local coalition. We can initiate neighborhood coalitions with: petitions, delegations to elected officials, demonstrations at unemployment offices and against evictions or foreclosures, community violence, helping a family in need; organizing public hearings on neighborhood joblessness, and an establishing unemployed action and assistance center.

We need to be the spark that gets things moving, the unifiers that bring people together and the best builders of coalition actions.

The Illinois state budget crisis can’t be solved without a federal bailout and taxing the rich. We support all initiatives for a progressive and fair state tax system. We have some concerns with SB 174 because it still raises taxes of many working families. Nevertheless we are part of the broad movement sweeping the state to stop the budget cuts.

We are active fighting the budget cuts to education and social services. When Mayor Daley called for an end to the Afghan war and redirecting money home, he was speaking for Mayors facing catastrophic budget cuts. It signals how much broader the anti-war movement can be if its united with the economic and budget crisis.

Changing the balance of forces isn’t just an aim nationally. It’s an aim at every level. The state legislature and Chicago is still dominated by big capital and large corporations and the Democratic machine.

The 2007 municipal election victories and Chuy Garcia’s victory and Rudy Lozano’s campaign are a step toward bringing forward a labor-led people’s coalition and independent politics and changing the balance of political and class forces.

Party and YCL building 9.0
We have another great challenge: to build a modern, 21st century Communist Party, adapt our structure and methods to new conditions, develop Marxism to embrace what is new in politics, society and mass communications technology.

We are expanding our relations, gaining respect and acceptance but everyone is troubled we’re not growing faster. It’s not a new question.

A few comrades say it’s because we’ve gone off the Marxist rails and we’re tailing Democrats or the labor movement.

We may have problems, but that’s not one of them. Our politics and strategic policy is gaining us greater respect, putting us in position to grow. If fact, the Party won’t grow by separating itself from the broad democratic movement.

Supporting partial demands doesn’t prevent us from advocating our views; strategic policy and injecting advanced solutions into the mix.

I believe large growth in the Communist Party won’t take place without a shift in how millions think. The greatest growth in the Party’s history occurred at the height of the mass people's upsurge between 1935-38. People learned from struggle.

The movements are not there yet. And so our growth will largely be incremental for a time.

Political atmosphere is essential to growth. A recent Rasmussen poll showed 20% of Americans (half among youth) think socialism is better than capitalism and another 27% aren’t sure.

Thanks largely to Republicans and the ultra right, millions are discussing socialism. This is new and exciting.

Having a higher public profile is essential to growth. If people don’t know we exist, here or in the neighborhoods, they can’t find us or join.
Relationships are essential to growth. Our goal should be to develop them a thousand fold. Relationships lead to comfort, respect and interest in our ideas.

Having an organizational structure that fits today’s realities and facilitates relationship building is essential for growth. Much of our organizational structure and practice flows from another era.

Overcoming self-red baiting and feeling the Party will isolate is essential to growth. We should be like Mack! He conducts a class on Marxism every morning at the Dunkin Donuts at Pulaski and 55th St. that has resulted in a circle of contacts and two recruits to the Party.

All of political and social life is being reshaped by the mass communications revolution. We can’t ignore it, but instead should master the revolutionary new social practice.

The Internet and social networking allows us to interact with and speak to millions, and to combine it with grassroots face-to-face organizing. It’s Lenin’s idea of building the Party around the press applied to the Internet age.
We develop relationships by getting PW articles and our ideas, in the email boxes of thousands of activists.

How many of us forward PW or PA articles to family, friends, co-workers or other activists? I suspect far too few.

How many clubs have email lists of activists? I know the Logan Square – Humboldt Park club does!

We have a district PW weekly alerts list of 125, almost as many as print subs. Let’s aim to double it by end of year including with every member and former reader. Of course, we have a much wider distribution of articles through personal email, Facebook, Twitter and other on-line social media and our District Blog, The Spirit of Haymarket. But we’re barely scratching the surface.

Finally, we’ve had a wonderful experience in the pre-convention discussion with our monthly Politics and Potluck discussions. It has become an anchor for Party life and should be a model for regular Marxist education and citywide activity. Kudos to the new District education collective! It will lead to bigger and better things. Where else in Chicago can working people learn about Marxism and the ideas of socialism?

I think our wonderful achievements and experiences provide us with a great basis for discussion and lay a solid foundation for the hard and challenging work ahead.

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