Radical Ideas, Real Politics: Some Thoughts on the Coming Period


Due to the economic crisis, rapid technological developments, globalization, and the new political terrain that has emerged as a result of the election of Barack Obama, the present moment is quite unlike any other. Because it is so different, we require a new understanding of the moment, as well as a theoretical agenda that matches this new reality.

This brief essay does not pretend to be a comprehensive discussion of the changed political and economic terrain or a detailed policy road map. Rather, it is intended to launch a discussion in the web pages of Political Affairs of why Marxism remains an essential, objective, and working-class-based theoretical process for meeting the challenges that lie ahead.

Our aim is to develop a focus on the key questions related to social progress and working-class empowerment, a focus centered on building and strengthening a broad people's coalition, like the movement that brought Barack Obama into office, and a sober assessment of reality in its present form, and the potential for creating a new world: an economy, society and system of values that reflect the basic interests of the American people and its working families.

To do so, the theoretical basis of our work, the presentation of our view of the world and society, must accurately reflect the new objective reality, the economic and political crisis faced by working men and women, and the hundreds of millions of marginalized human beings who currently are excluded from the Wall-Street-ravaged global economy.

No one can deny the intensity of the economic oppression that the working class today confronts. We offer a theory of society and a political method that provides the working class, broadly conceived, with essential tools for understanding, joining together with its allies, and confronting the forces that now control most of the wealth and power, America's plutocracy. Our task is to develop the critical weaponry they need to resist and open a pathway to a new kind of society focused on meeting the needs of the people: good paying jobs, affordable housing and health care, universal access to education, racial, ethnic, gender and LGBT equality, and the establishment of a truly democratic political system.

We begin with thoughts on some central features of the present moment and the struggles arising from them.

The Economy

With more than 15 million people out of work, and millions more underemployed, creating good-paying jobs should be the top priority of America's political leaders. It is time to put the needs of working families on Main Street ahead of the profits of Wall Street. Today too much is at stake for too many to continue to wander blindly down the path of endless bank bailouts devoid of any oversight and a government by and for the wealthiest, the richest 2-3 percent of Americans.

Battered by the economic crisis, working families are joining everyday with the activist organizations and coalitions spearheaded by a revitalized labor movement to demand good-paying jobs and an economic recovery that won't settle for permanently high unemployment rates as the new reality.

Under Bush and the Republicans, Wall Street got the keys to the store (not to mention the bank) and created the economic disaster we're living with today. Because of their reckless and criminal behavior, they have proven themselves incapable of knowing what is best "for the rest of us." It is obvious, from their huge bailout bonuses and continued record profits, that the rich and powerful care only about what is best for themselves.

Given this reality, we urge democratization of the financial sector of the economy, the banks, the insurance companies, and the brokerage firms. The creators of the economic crisis did their utmost to maximize their profits by concocting criminal schemes that exploited the desire of "ordinary Americans" for a home of their own. The banks and brokerage houses bundled up sub-prime loans in a labyrinthine web, and when the housing bubble popped it resulted in a tidal wave of economic ruin on a scale unprecedented since the Great Depression. To avoid repeating the same mistakes, fundamental changes and genuine regulation of the financial industry are absolutely necessary. Alternative models for democratization of the financial services sectors already; see for example North Dakota's public banking option.

The deregulation of the financial services sector and the Bush administration's laissez-faire anti-regulation policies sparked the financial meltdown which caused the Great Recession of 2007, and we are by no means out of the woods yet. Without financial regulation and democratic oversight of the banks and Wall Street, the horizon that marks the end of the Great Recession will continue to recede.

Signs of Recovery?

Although we have started to see the first fruits of Obama's Recovery Act, with over 500,000 jobs created in the past three months, the economy must do much more to meet the needs of all working families. While few working families are out of the woods, unemployment remains disproportionately high for African American and Latino workers, who face home foreclosures, school closings, and declining public services. Congress needs to pass a comprehensive jobs bill in proportion to the size of the unemployment crisis, such as the Local Jobs for America Act authored by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. The push to create jobs should contain four essential features:

1) affirmative action principles are needed to ensure new federal investments flow to the communities hardest hit by the economic crisis;

2) special funds must be set aside to protect the jobs of teachers (and other school staff) threatened by state-level budget cuts that promise nothing but further economic harm in the near future and long-term difficulties for the country's youth;

3) conversion to a green economy that produces alternative energy and builds a public infrastructure using renewable and recyclable materials will create about 5 million new jobs with a sustainable future;

4) and, meaningful investments in our country's vital social infrastructure - schools, hospitals, libraries, universities, and public transportation – would create 20 million jobs, starting immediately.

People are justifiably worried about the rising federal deficit, but we can pay for a proportionate jobs bill, our schools, health reform, and environmental improvements by bringing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to a quick end and shifting federal budget priorities from militarism to people's needs. Further tax code fixes should require the rich to pay their fair share, end revenue-draining loopholes that allow corporations to avoid paying taxes by moving offshore, and force Wall Street pay for its corrupt practices and failures by taxing, for example, the billions made each day by means of lightning-fast electronic transactions.

The Cost of War

A recent study by the National Priorities Project shows that the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds $1 trillion, and some 58 percent of the federal budget annually is consumed by the Pentagon. An economic recovery for Main Street is directly linked to reducing military spending. Opponents of spending cuts for the military often insist military contracts create jobs. But the evidence of the past nine years of war shows the bloated military budget has proven inadequate to stave off massive unemployment. War has made working families poorer.

Today, the US is number one in military spending, accounting for 45 percent of the entire world's military spending. Reducing militarism means putting an end to foreign interventionism and bringing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to an end.

In addition to the cost of war, a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute reveals that the richest Americans have greatly benefited from the carefully-targeted Bush tax cuts, which resulted in the 400 richest families averaging $345 million in annual income seeing their effective rate fall from 26 percent in 1992 to 16 percent in 2007. At the same time, working families saw their tax rate virtually unchanged. Robbed of tax revenue from the wealthiest Americans and drained by payments for Bush's war of choice in Iraq, the federal deficit skyrocketed.

There will be a true economic recovery only when working families have good-paying jobs, comprehensive benefits, and the guaranteed right to join a union. President Obama's staunch defense of workers' rights deserves wide support and applause, but the labor movement has vowed to intensify its fight to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. EFCA would make it far easier for workers to form unions and win the right to collectively bargain for a decent standard of living and safe working conditions. As an example of the safer conditions provided by union representation, the non-union miners who perished at Massey Coal would not have been bullied and intimidated into working in an unsafe mine for fear of losing their jobs if they had had a union. UMW safety teams would have quickly reported the methane danger, and workers would have had the union-guaranteed right of refusing to work in the hazardous conditions that took their lives.

The Tea Party

The Tea Party is a well-financed, corporate-backed movement that exploits the real anxieties and fears of working Americans about the economic crisis in order to promote a right-wing agenda that has nothing to do with meeting the needs of working families. The Tea Party uses inflammatory racist and anti-immigrant rhetoric to exploit anxieties and promote divisions.

In fact, the new darling of the Tea Party, Kentucky Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul, stated recently that he opposes the key provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and clarified his statement by insisting that businesses should have been allowed to continue to discriminate against African Americans. Right-wing media personalities at Fox News and other outlets fuel an atmosphere of hate, violence, and even sedition. For example, Fox News commentator Jon Stossel defended Paul, telling his viewers that white people should be allowed to be racist, and we shouldn't think badly of them for it.

Rand Paul also called the Americans with Disabilities Act an infringement on the basic freedoms of Americans, and rails at the Obama administration for stomping on the neck of oil-giant BP with "its jack boots," observing that "accidents will happen." However, it is interesting to note that in his practice as an ophthalmologist Rand derives 50 percent of his income from Medicare reimbursements. Perhaps he would consider replacing that cash with bartered chickens, as the wacky Tea Party Senate Republican candidate in Nevada has suggested as a way for hard-up patients to pay for their doctor visits.

In sharp contrast to the Tea Party, the labor and people's movements (including civil rights, women's, environmental, and gay rights organizations) represent the real interests of working families. Together with coalitions like the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which includes a broad array of civil rights and democratic organizations, labor has in recent years played a central role at the forefront of the people's movement in the fight for jobs and economic recovery, as well as for civil rights and equality. For example, at the eloquent urging of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, the labor movement took the lead in fighting racist influences in the working class that the Republicans were actively fomenting during the 2008 election campaign. The struggle against racism and its divisive influence remains a top priority of the labor movement. Racism has long been a key weapon in the arsenal of capitalism to divide working people, thereby allowing the ruling class, the arch-enemies of real democracy, to conquer.

In addition, the labor movement, along with civil right organizations such as the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, is leading the legal challenges in the courts against the new Tea Party-backed, anti-immigrant laws in Arizona. Increasingly people in Arizona and around the country are realizing that the right-wing's racist anti-immigrant onslaught offers no solution to the economic crisis. According to the Immigration Policy Center, unauthorized immigrants add some $25 billion a year to Arizona's economy. The right-wing drive to force immigrants out will not only destroy immigrant families, many of whom have lived, worked and paid taxes in this country for decades, it will hurt all working families.

Every person and family – regardless of political leanings – who have been hurt by the economic crisis, those who want real solutions, and reject divisive and racist anti-immigrant campaigns like those of the Tea Party and the Arizona Republicans, have a home in the labor movement. They are the natural allies of the groups and organizations that promote equality, fairness, unity, and workers' rights. United action, democracy, and common solutions to social problems, like health reform, are the best ways to overcome the problems at the root of today's crisis.

The organizations that make up the People's Movement offer real solutions for working families, not just corporate-sponsored soundbites that appeal to people's basest instincts by promoting racism and reaction. Unlike the Tea Party, America's broad coalition of progressive forces has the potential of returning American democracy to its revolutionary roots. The recent union-led rallies that confronted the big banks and Wall Street, along with the massive rallies against racist anti-immigrant legislation around the country on May 1, equaled the passion of the Tea Party, exceeded them in numbers, and far surpassed the enemies of progress in the soundness and rationality of their political message.

Health care reform

Providing affordable access to universal healthcare is one area to which our country's resources should be shifted to improve the lives of working families. The passage of meaningful health reform in March was a major victory for America's working families, and all the cynical and anti-family efforts by the Republicans to block and weaken reform are contemptible, since they serve only the interests of the health insurance monopolies. Labor and democratic-minded organizations that support health reform are now working to educate the public about their new rights and benefits under the Affordable Care Act, as well as those areas that need further improvement. Here are some of its benefits:

1) Starting immediately, insurance companies will be required to stop the profit-motivated practices of denying coverage based on gender, preexisting conditions, or the high cost of chronic diseases.

2) America's lowest income families will soon receive subsidies to cover all or part of the cost of insurance.

3) Small business owners are already seeing a new tax credit to help them provide insurance for their employees and themselves.

4) Seniors have begun to see the prescription drug "donut hole" that required them to pay high out-of-pocket expenses, immediately begin to shrink significantly, and soon it will be completely eliminated.

5) There are also huge benefits for young people under the new health law:

According to the New York Times, "Almost one-third of the 46 million uninsured in the United States are 18-29 - the age group that is most likely to be without coverage, since so many work in part-time or entry level jobs." The Times cites a new report by the Commonwealth Fund that finds that "most of the 13.7 million young adults who are uninsured could gain coverage when the act goes into full force in 2014, either through public programs like Medicaid or by buying private policies on competitive insurance exchanges established by the law." And beginning in late September the law mandates that the 1.2 million young people who were dropped from their parents' policies when they graduated from high school or college, will now remain covered by family plans through age 25. In many ways, says the Commonwealth Fund, "the affordable health care act is a graduation gift to young adults," a gift which is especially appropriate because of the enthusiastic support shown by young people for Obama's politics of change during the election campaign.

According to a number of public opinion polls conducted before final passage of health reform, more than six in 10 Americans wanted a public insurance option to provide more competition, control the costs of care, and improve quality of healthcare. Ongoing efforts to create a public option should be vigorously supported, because everyone in this country has a human right to affordable, comprehensive health care. It is also clear that the best and most efficient way to reform the health care system and provide comprehensive care for everyone would be the creation of a Medicare-for-all program.

The struggle for health care reform has shown progressive forces what they could accomplish when they helped to build a broad, multi-class coalition that challenged the power of the health insurance industry, the greedy giant that has for far too long dominated and reaped enormous profits from our broken health care system. The struggle for health care reform can also serve as a valuable model for the future struggles that must be waged to achieve other vital democratic and structural reforms, such as civil rights protections, climate change legislation, ending the wars, passage of stronger labor union protections, and even socialism itself.

The Environment

Without quick and comprehensive controls on global warming-causing pollution, there will be no democracy, socialism, freedom, capitalism, or even cockroaches on a dead planet. All humans beings share a common stake, regardless of class or geography, in a healthy environment. Unfortunately, we do not all share a common vision of how to attain that goal. Some do not even agree about how serious the problems are. The different ways we assess the environmental threat do not result from differences of social class or geography alone, whether we are rich or poor, residents of the developed North or the underdeveloped South.

For example, some capitalists, such as venture capitalists trying to launch the alternative energy industry, have a special, profit-driven interest in solving the planet's climate crisis, while some working-class people, especially those in countries where the demand for development and daily survival often seems to contradict global concerns about the climate. Other capitalists are hell-bent on exploitation of the environment for profit regardless of the dangers and disasters they create. And still yet others workers, scientists, and environmentalists are urgently calling for a swift transition to a green economy where renewable resources are produced, used and distributed – a new energy model that will provide millions of green jobs and a healthier, wealthier, more sustainable future.

Bringing these competing and contradictory interests into constructive alignment is no easy task, but it is a basic prerequisite for human survival and social progress.


Socialism is a scary word for some people; for others it offers a glimmer of hope. But one thing everyone now understands and can agree upon is that the collapse of the global financial system in 2007 resulted from greed, corruption, and the capitalist imperative to maximize profits. The collapse proved that capitalism can never be self-regulating and that in times of crisis massive government intervention is required just to keep the system afloat. Unfortunately (although perhaps not unexpectedly) the victims of the crisis, which includes everyone but the wealthiest Americans, are now confronted with corporate efforts (backed by the politicians they control) to make working families pay the cost of the government intervention precipitated by the financial sector's own criminal misdeeds.

Increasing numbers of people now recognize that there are fundamental flaws inherent in the capitalist system. As recent polls demonstrate, more and more Americans do not believe that capitalism offers the best answers to society's problems. A significant percentage of people in the United States view socialism favorably or see it as a better alternative to the present system, and the percentage is even higher among younger Americans. (Rasmussen, 2009; Gallup, Feb. 2010; Pew Research Center, May 2010) Indeed, younger adults increasingly tend to view socialism positively.

At Political Affairs, we totally agree with this part of the population, and we encourage them to help us develop an idea of socialism rooted in the American experience, its culture and traditions. There are no past experiences in other societies which can serve as models for today's complexities, contradictions, and possibilities. Although we seek alliances with working people all over the world to develop joint solutions to the plethora of common problems we face, no other country or historical model can provide us with a road map to a fully democratic, socialist United States. We ourselves can best discern the problems we face, why they exist, and how we can solve them.

Theory going forward

Given this fact, our basic theoretical task is to carefully articulate the special conditions we face in the United States. In order to accomplish this, we need to develop a careful understanding of how we can best build local and global coalitions, alliances, movements, and forms of political activism that take full advantage of 21st century technologies. We also need to develop ways of communicating our message that are familiar and comprehensible to the audience we are trying to reach – America's working people. This is our constituency, and to get the American people to listen to our views, we need to express them in a way that helps to create a new coalition, a commonality of shared interests and goals. To succeed in this effort we need to jettison outmoded ways of expression that emphasize sectarian differences. To reach the people we need to reach, we must articulate an agenda for change that matches the complex reality of the present.

This means we must be actively engaged with all possible allies in the center and on the left, helping to build and develop the range and depth of the emerging coalition of working-class people and organizations, along with the wide range of groups, representing every segment of US society, that has emerged in recent decades, organizing around issues such as the environment, peace, civil rights, health care, and gender equality. We should have no qualms about engaging with the political center as if social progress depended on it (because it does). We need to engage with the political center in order to revive, improve upon, and modernize the democratic traditions envisaged by our country's founders, traditions which have been built on and expanded by working-class and democratic-minded Americans for the past 200 years.

On a final note, socialism cannot be won because the Communist Party decides it should. It will be won when tens of millions of Americans join together and choose to democratize the economy, when we develop the institutions that will give us a greater measure of control in the workplace, a direct influence on decisions made in corporate boardrooms, and far greater control of our government.

This goal can only be achieved by winning democratically-based political power at all levels of government – local, state and federal. We can already see the broad outlines of a new, more democratic form of government and a different economic system – by and for the people – slowly but steadily taking shape. We see it in the fightback for jobs and racial and gender equality, in the campaign for a cleaner environment, in the struggle for human rights for all who live and work in this country. We can see it in the mobilizations for peace and in the calls for a re-focused foreign policy that emphasizes multilateralism, non-intervention, diplomacy, fair trade practices, and economic development. We will begin to see it even more fully materialize when we we attain the strength necessary to take back our government at every level and make it our natural ally in improving the lives of working people on the job and in the community.

The power to do so lies in the hundreds of millions of working people, the "ordinary" Americans who constitute the vast majority in this country. A key to making this dream a reality is the creation of a new green economy that no longer depends on foreign oil or the catastrophic results of "drill, baby, drill" off our coasts. By striving to implement a 21st century green vision of democracy we can build a new America based on a different vision of society, and an economic structure that is capable of providing a safe and nurturing environment where everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender, age, religion, or national origin can fully achieve their human potential. The vision will become a reality when we, as a united people, share the belief that individual liberty and personal happiness are directly linked to the general welfare, development, and social progress of the communities in which we live.

In order to successfully achieve this goal, we – as a 21st century Communist Party – must carefully refine and polish the ideological tools that are necessary to win people over to an American vision of socialism, a vision that is both deeply rooted in the revolutionary traditions of American democracy and finely attuned to the challenges the American people face in the complexity of the present. We must rise to this challenge, because the future is at stake.

Photo: Erica Joy, Flickr, cc by 2.0

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