Our country is in the midst of an unprecedented uprising. Initiated by the African American people and joined by our Asian, Latino, Native American, and white sisters and brothers, millions are saying, “hell no” to institutionalized racism. And this is happening not only in America but also all over the world. Humanity is standing up, demonstrating their solidarity, declaring that George Floyd, and before him Breonna Taylor, and before her, Ahmaud Arbery did not die in vain.
We are at a turning point. Some five days ago, Trump walked in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church in DC and held a Bible upside down. It was an attempt to turn democracy and the uprising upside down—but instead, it turned into its opposite and helped turn the struggle right side up.
The images of federal cops beating and maiming a peaceful, lawful assembly in Lafayette Square to make way for Trump’s Bible-thumping moment won’t go away. Like the scenes of brother Floyd gasping for breath while calling for his mother, and brother Arbery being shot-gunned to death, and like the story of sister Taylor being gunned down by no-knock police, these will be among the defining moments and images of our times.
This is a moment of great promise but also one of grave danger. The mass democratic uprising for justice is calling into question this country’s very foundations. People are asking, why is this happening over and over? New majorities are realizing the answer. The nation is waking up to the fact that it’s not a few bad apples but the whole barrel that’s rotten. And it’s not just the police: it’s the courts, the laws, the people who wrote them, and the system that underlies it all.
It’s the same thing with the COVID-19 crisis. Native Americans, Latinos, and African Americans are dying at three times the rate of everyone else. Some are calling it genocidal, echoing Paul Robeson and William Patterson. And they are right. The system is rotten to the core, and it’s got to be changed.
But standing in the way of such change is the extreme right’s grip on the presidency, the Senate, and the courts. And standing behind them are the bankers, the Chamber of Commerce, and the police. Together they’ve been ripping the whole country off.
Truth is, the country has been in a crisis since the Great Recession. Remember, it was the banks that targeted blacks, Latinos, and seniors. And we never recovered: black, brown, white, Asian. Wages stayed flat, debt, particularly student debt, sky-rocketed. Folks had to work two to three jobs just to survive.
It was these circumstances that gave rise first to the Obama movement, then to Occupy, and later to the Sanders campaign. The broad democratic movement against the extreme right didn’t spring out of nowhere, and neither did what we’ve come to call the socialist moment. Both grew out the real conditions on the ground; in other words, they emerged from the class and democratic struggle.
Today, these two struggles, the class struggle and the battle for democracy, are interacting in powerful and explosive ways. It was the women’s movement against sexism that greeted the Trump inauguration with literally millions of protesters across the country. And it was the immigrant rights protests at airports in opposition to the Muslim ban that dealt the first legal and political blow to Trump in his administration’s first 100 days. And then it was the workers’ strike wave, beginning with the teachers, up through the auto workers, that helped set the stage first for the midterms and later labor’s ongoing fightback.
And now the fight against racism has given rise to an all-people’s uprising that is shaking the foundations of the republic. Fighting anti-black racism, indeed, racism against all people of color, and the unique role of the African American people in the struggle to advance democracy, is once again making itself powerfully felt.
Policing and everything surrounding it have become central issues in the election campaign. It’s literally Trump’s law-and-order versus our right to breathe—battle lines that have the potential to reshape not only policing and the criminal justice system but also the country’s approach to addressing racial justice in general.
The people’s demands will not go away. Measures like maintaining a national database on police killings seem modest. More importantly, community control along with defunding police departments have come front and center. In addition, the time is way past due to get rid of racial profiling, three-strikes-you’re-out, and trying teenagers as adults. And let’s not forget sentencing disparities for drug use.
The whole system of institutionalized racism has been put on the table.
The time has come to consider a radical reform of the prison system. Abolition of the police along with prisons is a growing demand. More short-term, COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire in the penitentiaries, making early release and alternatives to incarceration imperative. If they can let Trump’s cronies like Manafort and Cohen go home during this crisis, they can let my people go as well.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg: the whole system of institutionalized racism has been put on the table. From voter suppression, to unequal COVID deaths, and education, health care, housing, and wage differentials, racist practices in their entirety must be dismantled.
What will it take to accomplish this with unemployment at 25 percent generally and double that in black and brown communities? What will it take to accomplish this when people can’t pay their mortgages and rent? What will it take to address it now that employer health care is gone and folks can’t afford to go to a doctor?
What are people supposed to do?
This is an emergency, and it requires emergency measures. Capitalism can’t solve this crisis: it couldn’t solve it before COVID and damn sure can’t solve it now.
This is where the struggle for democracy meets the socialist moment; it’s a place where national democratic tasks (the struggle for equality) and working-class interests intersect. Why? Because the only possible means for addressing the crisis is with massive government intervention—starting with the extension of unemployment compensation after July 31. The public sector has to get involved. But that’s just a beginning. In light of what’s been happening on the streets, the Kamala Harris/Bernie Sanders $2,000 a month proposal is looking better and better. A measure like this would not only be in the interests of black and brown people but all workers—for this reason, it’s likely to receive wide support.
But for that to happen, it’s got to be organized and connected to the election campaign. Trump and the GOP have to be defeated in November because McConnell’s Senate is now blocking everything.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of this: the fascist danger has grown even more severe in recent days. If anyone had any doubts—and there are some who still do—Trump’s actions this week should make them take another look. It wasn’t just the use of force or ordering low-flying military helicopters over demonstrators. There were also threats to deploy the military into our nation’s streets. There was also the language of “dominating the battlespace” and the threats of jail time to protestors. And add to that the threat to designate Antifa as terrorists and blaming the “extreme left” for violence. Here we must not equivocate: we reject this designation unreservedly, knowing full well that if they come for them in the morning, they’ll come for us at noon.
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden’s characterization of Trump’s speech was spot on. He said, “The fascist speech Donald Trump just delivered verged on a declaration of war against American citizens.”
And let’s not forget: these events, bad as they were, were preceded by Trump’s encouragement of armed militias to “liberate” states with shelter-in-place regulations. The state legislature in Michigan had to cancel a session because they were being threatened by armed goons. Can you imagine? And we have to say, the silence in response to these events in most quarters, at least until a couple of days ago, was deafening.
But after the “battle of Lafayette Square,” that’s changed: there’s been a revolt among generals, some retired, others on active duty. Now even they’re saying that Trump is a “threat to constitutional order.” And behind that, you best believe, are important forces in the ruling class.
It’s pretty clear now that the momentum in the country is moving against Trump. It’s been building in reaction to the gross mishandling of the coronavirus, the threat to put people back to work by Easter, and now the shoot-the-looters invocation of Southern racist demagogy.
But the battle is far from over: in fact, Trump in the coming days and weeks will likely grow even more dangerous, believing his back is against a wall.
Our aim is to help shift the balance of forces in a direction more favorable to our working class and people.
Our Party has said from the beginning that Trump represents a fascist danger. And we will work without apology to defeat him and everything he represents. Our focus in this fight is unity on the issues. Our aim is to help shift the balance of forces in a direction more favorable to our working class and people. This will not be an endorsement of either candidates or parties, and it will not be an expression of lesser-evil politics. It is an endorsement of doing the nuts-and-bolts organizing on the ground, it is an endorsement of struggle. And that’s what has to happen both before and after the election.
Speaking of struggle: I want to say a few words about the Party. It’s a challenging period for us, as we know, but I’m happy to say so far we are meeting the challenge. Since the last NC, growth is up, PW circulation is up considerably, and, most importantly, we’ve taken a few initiatives, first with the Taking Care of Ourselves Town Hall, then with the May Day events, and now with our explorations on how to move forward on the unemployment issue.
Most encouraging is that the Party’s united. We saw that at the last NC, and that’s a source of tremendous strength. It’s a strength born out of our ideas, growth, and experience. But it’s also a strength that reflects the objective situation and its influence on us. Marxism, the communist outlook, is a living doctrine. And the world around us has an impact on how this outlook expresses itself. We observed earlier that the movements are having a huge and explosive impact on the class and democratic struggle. Because of this, our understanding of racism and its impact changed for the better. While not second nature, anti-racism is a recognized part of our tool kit. We talk about it: we challenge it and do so perhaps not with ease but not with discomfort either.
The fight against sexism and for women’s equality is beginning to have that impact as well. I say beginning. New ways of thinking and acting are occurring, but we’re not there yet. Our culture is changing, but it hasn’t changed. And for it to change, the bearers of male supremacy, men, have to make that happen. Nobody else can do it. And that means a reexamination of ourselves, and developing a greater capacity for self-criticism. It means listening; and it means respecting women’s space and bodies. That includes not only physical space but also emotional, intellectual, and verbal space. It means accepting their leadership.
The shift in mass thought patterns we see today on racism show that it’s possible. In a certain sense we are in the midst of two uprisings, one on gender, the other on race, and if we build on the unity on both, then the working-class uprising that is coming, that is just on the horizon, will be unstoppable.
Joe Sims, Co-Chair of the CPUSA, presented this keynote at the National Committee meeting on June 6, 2020.