Socialist ideas in the US now mainstream, say leaders as Communist Party of US celebrates its centenary

The Communist Party of the United States, though established in 1919, has been able to function more freely only during the last one decade or so, after the financial meltdown of 2008

Communist Party USA, John Bachtell (Social Media)
Communist Party USA, John Bachtell (Social Media)

Mark Gruenberg/IPA

The Communist Party USA elected two new leaders with deep connections to the labor and democratic movements as co-chairs at its 31st National Convention here on June 23. Rossana Cambron, a Mexican-American woman from Los Angeles, and Joe Sims, an African-American man from New York, were picked to lead the 100-year old party into its second century.

John Bachtell, who has headed the party since its 2014 convention, concluded his five-year term as chair at the gathering, which was attended by over 300 delegates and guests, including representatives from communist and workers’ parties around the world.

Communist Party members must use this “pivotal moment” in history to help bring about a “democratic and transformative upsurge” to radically shift politics and mass thinking in the United States, party chair John Bachtell told delegates gathered in Chicago for the organization’s 31st National Convention, coinciding with the centenary celebrations.

With a series of interconnecting crises facing the world—including the escalating war danger in the Middle East, the climate crisis, and rampant militarization—many see the current moment as one of “despair, fear, and division,” but Bachtell says it is also a “turning point moment” and one of “growing unity.”

Bachtell, who has headed the century-old party for five years, told convention delegates on June 22 they must act in the face of massive resistance by corporate interests and the radical right, symbolized and led by President Donald Trump.

But the right’s anti-worker, anti-woman, anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim moves have energised thousands of people to turn to socialism and to question the entire capitalist system, Bachtell declared in his keynote address. And the CP must take advantage of that.

The U.S. party, was established on Sept. 1, 1919.

“The path to socialism we seek is non-violent, hopefully, one shaped by the battle at the ballot box. The working class, particularly people of colour, women, youth, and LGBTQ people are the core of the movement. It is a collaborative project shaped by the fight for the fullest democracy” possible and “the fullest flowering” of peoples, Bachtell said.

Bachtell’s address, his last as party leader, laid out the capitalist threat to the globe, including militarism, xenophobia, racism, and denial of climate change. He also noted the fightback began literally the moment Trump was inaugurated, with the massive and historic women’s march—which included CP members—in 2017.

And he warned the battle will take more than just mobilising for the 2020 elections. “Throughout our history, every time the working-class wins, there’s been a reaction,” just as there is now. “Powerful capitalist and reactionary forces fear one thing above all else: The growing power of organised labour, people of colour, women, and the LGBTQ movement.”

The fight against the capitalist class must be both on the streets, through organizing, and also in the arena of ideas, Bachtell added.

The second part is especially important since, as he pointed out, the working class and its allies are not yet settled as to who is the best person to beat Trump next year. Some 24 people seek the Democratic Party’s nomination, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, and former Vice President Joe Biden, among others.

A counter-narrative is also needed, Bachtell noted, as Trump and the extreme right are attempting to sabotage the growing unity of progressives and the left “by spreading lies and disinformation in an attempt to hold power.”

“Economic nationalism is aimed at exploiting” workers’ and peoples’ “fears and insecurities. Class supremacy, white supremacy, and male supremacy have been fused, and corruption and union-busting have been used” in a divide-and-conquer strategy, he explained.

The Communist Party’s organizing for 2020 will center around the major issues that are moving people into action and a positive vision of ideas, Bachtell explained. Those ideas range from strong labor law reform to combating global warming to legalizing all immigrants, to opposing the Trump/GOP policies and attitudes that foster racism, xenophobia, white supremacy, male supremacy, and more.

“And if Trump thinks he’s going to deport one million undocumented immigrants, he can go to hell!” Bachtell declared, to cheers.

One-third of the 202 delegates were aged 44 or under. Some 10.3% were African-American, another 10.3% were Latinx, while 5% were Afro-Caribbean, and 9.2% were Jewish. But only 30% were women—an imbalance the party pledged to work toward improving.

Party membership has surged since Trump entered the Oval Office, and more of its local groups are joining with like-minded social movements to achieve their goals. There is a beacon of hope, Bachtell predicted, in that “many of the forces operating within the Democratic Party today”—along with CP members themselves—“will form the working-class party of tomorrow.”

“Our ideas are now mainstream,” he added.

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