Editor’s Note: The interview below of CPUSA chairman John Bachtell was conducted by Peoples Dispatch from India.
Can you make a brief and general assessment of the US shutdown’s impact on the US working class?
A: The economic impact of the 35-day government shut down, the longest ever, was felt deeply by the 800,000 federal government workers, contractors, and millions who depend on the vital services that the government provides. Many workers went without two consecutive paychecks and were forced to borrow money, go to food banks and miss days of work because they just couldn’t afford to pay for transportation. Many subcontractors, including many low paid workers, will not be paid at all for time lost. And small businesses, restaurants and services that rely on federal workers as customers were severely hurt along with their workers.
The shutdown was instigated by Trump’s effort to force Congress to fund his wall at the border with Mexico, a proposal a majority of the American people never embraced and the Democratic Party elected officials remained united against. The federal workers, especially air traffic controllers, transportation safety agents, internal revenue agents, etc. played a crucial role in ending the shutdown when a growing number quit reporting for work, an uprecedented collective action.
Millions of people may be permanently affected by the temporary loss of federal housing subsidies during the shutdown because many landlords are now threatening to pull out of the program. Many farmers were hurt who rely on government loans to buy the necessary seeds and equipment for spring planting.
Overall, the U.S. economy lost $11 billion. Another impact will be on business and consumer confidence since Trump is threatening again to shut down the government. This will ripple throughout the economy.
The ending of the shutdown was a massive defeat for Trump and the Republican Party who gained no concessions from Democrats. Trump’s popularity has hit a new low and is experiencing an erosion of support among parts of his base. It was a big blow to white supremacy and anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant hysteria and everything “the wall” represents. It was also a huge victory for democracy, which was threatened by the idea that the President could just shut down government on any issue to get his way. The victory was a defense of the role of government, the workers and their unions, and a united Democratic Party.
The teachers union in various states are in strike asking to resolve their much needed grievances as we saw in Los Angeles, Denver etc. What’s your take on this? What are the major interventions of the party in this front? Any proposals from the party regarding policy making in public education in the country?
A: The strike wave among teachers and educators is unprecedented. It has been building for many years and reflects the consequences of a two-pronged attack and the growing militancy of educators:
First, austerity policies, the attack on government and steady defunding of public education especially in states that are dominated by the Republican Party. A vital element of this attack has been the demonization of teachers and their unions, which are a powerful force among public workers and the backbone of the Democratic Party and an obstacle to right-wing Republican policies. These attacks have led to decertification of public sector unions and the right-wing Republican domination in many states.
The second factor is the effort to privatize public education which has been pushed by hedge funds on Wall Street and is supported by the Republican Party and significant sections of the Democratic Party.
But the wave of teacher strikes, which actually began in Chicago in 2012, and are broadly supported by parents and the public, has completely changed the situation. It is no longer possible for politicians to demonize teachers. Teachers and educators are among the thousands of grassroots activists who are now running for public office and transforming legislative bodies. Funding for education and slowing down or stopping the privatization process is becoming the main narrative.
Q: What are your observations regarding the radical mobilizations taking place in the country which reactivates the political cleavages in the society?
A: The historic upsurge in activism, which has been dubbed “The Resistance” reflects an overall shift to the left in public opinion in the U.S. This development comes in response to a number of factors including the crisis of wealth extremes, the increase in social inequality, growing household and student debt crisis, the climate crisis, the deterioration of the infrastructure, and the related 40 year growth of the extreme right wing and the implementation of many of its policies.
Most of these movements were already present before the 2016 election and grew out of the political space opened up by the Obama administration and growth of the left in response to the 2007 financial and economic crisis and the long term fight against the extreme right. By 2010, 55 percent of Democrats had already had a more positive attitude toward socialism and a growing negative attitude toward capitalism.
But the election of Trump changed everything. What emerged was a massive resistance movement led by women, and especially women of color, and allied with the Democratic Party, that was alarmed by Trump’s open embrace of white supremacists and fascists. This movement was an uprising to defend democracy, constitutional and voting rights, and block the Trump agenda, especially the misogyny, racism and anti-immigrant hate. This movement was victorious in the 2018 mid-term elections with a resounding victory that restored a Democratic majority to the House of Representatives and many state legislatures and governorships.
The victory showed that Trump and the Republicans are losing support among some voters who had supported them in 2016, many who had fallen prey to appeals to racism, misogyny, xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-science attitudes, and efforts to blame people of color and immigrants for the growing crises. This was primarily the case among voters in suburban areas, including white working-class and women voters who are increasingly rejecting the Trump and Republican extremism and in some mid-western states which had gone with Trump in 2016.
The victories open the possibility for a much broader multi-racial movement that rejects the Trump agenda that can oust Trump from the presidency and the Republican Party Senate majority in the 2020 presidential elections.
These days, POTUS Donald Trump himself appears to be a major polarizing figure in the US society. Do you sense an opportunity here to form a real opposition in the country by combing the working class and other sectors in the society; rupturing the Democrat/Republican binary?
A: In response to Trump’s efforts to divide the people along class, racial and national lines, the broad anti-extreme right political alliance has grown to a new level of unity, power and influence. This movement is multi-racial, and multi-class, including a section of big capital, and embraces the organized labor movement, large parts of our multi-racial working class, communities of color, women and many mass democratic organizations and movements including for racial and gender equity, immigrant rights, environmental justice, etc. There is also a significant and growing left and in general growth of anti-corporate sentiments.
Once the extreme right domination of the political life of the country and government is broken, and left-center governments elected on a federal, state and local level, then a new political terrain will come into being. At this point the country will enter a new phase of struggle and the door will be open for mass movements to advance a more radical agenda. This will include building political independence from both Democratic and Republican party corporate domination, and the creation of an independent working-class led people’s political party which challenges the prerogatives of capital. But the extreme right, with its ability to influence millions of voters, will be part of our political scene for years to come, and unity will be needed to prevent their return to power.
What are the CPUSA’s concern regarding Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from treaties especially the Paris Accords?
A: We consider the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords to be a severe mistake especially at a moment when humanity is experiencing a planetary emergency, and the window for avoiding a climate catastrophe is closing. Greater action and global cooperation are urgently demanded, not inaction and isolation. As the world’s largest polluter per person, the USA has a vital role to play in the transition to a green economy on a global scale and must do it with urgency. The majority of Americans understand increasingly through their own experiences from extreme weather events what is at stake and oppose the Trump policies of promoting the coal and oil industries.
On the U.S. political scene, the idea of a Green New Deal has gained popularity. The Green New Deal is a call for a massive program to covert the U.S. to a green economy by 2030 in line with the IPCC projections, completely changing the energy production, transit, conservation, and other policies. With climate change upon us, society will have to adapt to its effects including sea level rise, drought, extreme weather events, the crisis of the oceans, mass extinction, mass migration, etc. Humanity will be forced to deal with these issues for decades to come regardless of how quickly we adopt a sustainable path of development.
Adoption of a Green New Deal would nevertheless be revolutionary and in my opinion force the U.S. to choose an alternative path of economic and social development, including vast wealth redistribution, changing the nature of the production process and its democratic management, and changing federal budget priorities away from military spending and changing foreign policy to one of cooperation and mutual respect. It has the potential to place the USA on a green, democratic, demilitarized socialist orientation.
Is there a serious conflict of interests exist between the whimsical Donald Trump and the media-military industrial complex which forms the deep state in USA, especially in the case of war in Syria and Afghanistan?
A: That is hard to say. Trump and his advisors speak out of both sides of their mouths. We don’t subscribe to the idea of a “deep state” which is a conspiratorial idea spread by the so-called “alt-right” or rebranded fascists. There are however centers of power and influence in the U.S. government including the military and intelligence agencies who are at odds with Trump on one issue or another and have actively opposed him including on the Russian and foreign interference in the U.S. elections and inflitration of his administration.
Out of one side of his mouth, Trump pushes economic protectionism and demagogic attacks on the “elites” mainly to appeal to his base of supporters and keep them mobilized. Part of this is an attack on trade pacts and global institutions including military alliances and political institutions like the U.N. That his call to withdraw from NATO, or withdraw troops from Syria aligns with the CPUSA positions is happenstance. Most Americans are for an end to the involvement in Afghanistan.
Out of the other side of his mouth Trump supports the entire Cold War edifice directed by the foreign policy and military establishment and drive for U.S. unipolar global domination. The current coup attempt taking place in Venezuela, the support for reactionary regimes in the Middle East including Saudi Arabia and its criminal conduct in Yemen, threats to carry out regime change in Iran supported by neo-conservatives, and the $2 trillion nuclear modernization program and so-called Space Force will open the door to a new global nuclear arms race, all move in this direction.
In 2017, the Trump administration adopted a new strategic policy targeting China and Russia as chief strategic rivals. The trade war with China is all geared toward undercutting China’s economic and political rise and preserving U.S. global economic and political domination. This policy is bound to fail in a world where globalization is a fact and irreversible, but in the meantime, it poses enormous dangers to peace and economic security.
Earlier, when US was busy in West Asia, a general trend of left leaning pink tide had swept Latin American countries especially in countries like Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia etc. But these days, we are witnessing a prolific reversal in the political trends in Latin America including the rise of Jair Bolsonaro, the defection of Lenin Moreno, the ongoing coup attempts in Venezuela. What’s your take on that? Precisely, how instrumental US has been in those affairs?
A: The U.S. foreign policy and national security apparatus and especially the Trump administration are heavily involved in all the developments in Central and South America and reversal of the left trend of the last 20 years. The election of left of center governments was seen as a direct challenge to U.S. hegemony in the hemisphere which dates to the Monroe Doctrine in the 1800s, the development of alternative and independent centers of power and the opening for trade and political relations with rival powers, China and Russia especially.
The efforts to reverse the gains toward national sovereignty, independence and alternative paths of developments have brought rightwing and even fascist governments to power in many countries. This will only sharpen the instability, class and political and anti-imperialist struggles in these countries. The migration crisis is in part due to the imposition of corporate trade pacts and the right-wing governments and destruction of civil society in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. There is a danger of a civil war and a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela if the coup is successful and new efforts to foment a counter revolution in Cuba.
But America and the Caribbean is not the same continent of the 1800 or 1900s. The days of gunboat diplomacy and client states are over even though U.S. ruling circles don’t admit it. The imposition of U.S. economic domination and right-wing governments, the exploitation and theft of natural resources will not be tolerated by the people’s of South and Central America and the Caribbean. The fight has only begun.