I would like to thank the French Communist Party for its gracious invitation to this amazing, possibly historic, peace conference. I am especially indebted to Lydia Samarbakhsh, international affairs coordinator for the PCF.
I will focus my remarks on two interconnected and emerging trends – trends that were also evident one hundred years ago, trends that quite possibly facilitated in creating the conditions that ultimately eventuated in the ‘Tragedy of Verdun,’ a tragedy that resulted in the death of 300,000 and the wounding of 800,000 French and German civilians and soldiers.
Undoubtedly, I’m sure we all hope these trends will have a different result today!
The first trend is the danger of resurgent right-wing extremism. In the US context this extremism is spear-headed by the egotistical, right-wing demagogic billionaire Donald Trump. The starting point in my analysis is our up-coming presidential elections, a contest that could have dramatic and grave consequences domestically and internationally, a contest which could result in a set-back for all progressive forces, expanded militarism and the potential for war.
The second trend is the struggle against this sharpening social and economic crisis, the courageous fight-back led by ordinary workers. Domestically, this fight-back is led by Black Lives Matter activists, fast food and other low-wage workers, immigrants, labor unions and their allies, as well as, by the spontaneous upsurge, excitement and energy surrounding the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, a self-described ‘democratic socialist,’ for president of the United States – something we haven’t seen since the heyday of Eugene V. Debs, an outstanding socialist and labor leader who ran for president in the early 20th century.
Without question, the main focus of all healthy, mature, democratic, mass forces in the United States right now is the up-coming 2016 presidential elections. This is the primary arena of struggle in our country today. This is the struggle with the potential to draw-in, mobilize and politicize millions of people. All other struggles hinge on the outcome of this election. Arguably, it sets the stage and defines the parameters of struggle for us as we move forward.
This isn’t just hyperbole or empty rhetoric. Millions of lives hinge on the outcome of this election. Hungry children in over-crowded class rooms taught by over-worked and underpaid teachers; African American and Latino youth robbed of their families, freedom, livelihood and lives due to police violence, institutional racism and reactionary immigration policies; single parents facing the daunting prospect of having to choose between medicine or rent, utilities or food; trade unionists forced into concessionary contracts and two-tier wage structures, struggling to hold-out one day longer; gay, lesbian, bi and trans rights; women’s rights to reproductive choice, access to birth control and sex education; and environmental justice and sustainability, the prospects for a green, clean economic transition – all of these things, and more, hang in the balance.
Undoubtedly, many of these attacks are designed to strangle the trade unions, a bulwark of working class resistance, and deal a body blow to grassroots democracy – attacks very similar in character to the despotic decree 49.3 imposed by the Manuel Valls administration here in France. Your struggle, the courageous resistance against the so-called ‘labor law reform,’ is an example to the entire working class. Know that our comrades are watching and stand in solidarity!
The international repercussions of our presidential elections will undoubtedly be many and multifaceted, too.
The material consequences of the policies supported by the campaign front-runners – Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders – can and will define the terrain of struggle domestically and internationally for years to come, including the outcome of negotiations around the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which would weaken workers’ rights and collective bargaining agreements throughout Europe. Additionally, the positive steps initiated here last fall at the historic UN Climate Summit – an initiative that requires global unity if climate catastrophe is to be avoided – could be undermined. And NATO could be expanded, among other examples too numerous to mention.
The republican candidacy of Donald Trump is arguably the logical outcome of a far right-wing strategy that has been taking shape for at least thirty or forty years now, starting with the Reagan Administration and continuing through the George Bush years. While the election of President Barak Obama signaled a positive shift in the executive branch domestically, right-wing obstructionism in Congress and in State Houses across the country reached a new more aggressive character since 2008. Additionally, Obama’s foreign policy has been a mixed-bag, with support for normalization of relations with Cuba and his recent trips to Vietnam and Hiroshima on the one hand, coupled with the continuation of long-standing failed policies in the Middle East and the just announced $1 trillion dollar so-called ‘modernization’ of nuclear weapons systems on the other hand – a dangerous escalation possibly exacerbating tensions with China and Russia, and requiring the attention and mobilization of a global peace movement.
Make no mistake about it, Donald Trump, while not quite a fascist, is more dangerous than a demagogue. He is a loose cannon whose ego and bombastic, insulting rhetoric is only matched by his obscene wealth, and his sexist and racist remarks directed towards women, Muslims and Latino immigrants – similar to the National Front’s attacks on Syrian and Iraqi refugees here, and the scapegoating of the Roma people. Trump has stoked the fires of prejudice and fear and encouraged violence against his detractors. He is dangerous. Our democracy and the rest of the world is imperiled by his candidacy. A Trump presidency could result in a greatly expanded chauvinist and militarist stance, aggravating tensions throughout Europe and the world. Simply put, a Trump presidency would be a world-wide disaster for the cause of peace.
Defeating Donald Trump and the right-wing of the Republican Party is the main task of the labor-led people’s movement, African Americans, immigrants, women and youth in the United States today.
The CPUSA, its members and allies are deeply engaged in this fight-back – primarily at the grassroots, among low-wage workers, in the trade unions, and in many local areas the Sanders’ Movement.
We were a part of and helped to lead the struggles in Ferguson, Missouri. Our members took to the streets shortly after the murder of Michael Brown. Additionally, we helped to shape and define the outcome of the Ferguson Commission and its recommendations for police-community relations moving forward. And we helped bring a discussion of Black Lives Matter into the labor movement, primarily through the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and International Labor Communications Association. The program director for the AFL-CIO’s Civil, Women and Human Rights Commission recently keynoted one of our People’s World events, highlighting the centrality of Civil Rights to Workers’ Rights. African American working class leadership is integral to building progressive victories in our country and stopping the mad drive towards a Trump presidency, and the prospects of war.
Our members have helped to shape the McDonald’s and other fast food and low-wage workers’ campaigns for ‘$15 and a Union,’ participating in strike organizing, community coalition building, delivering strike notices and participating in community-based ‘walk-back’ activities designed to demonstrate solidarity with fast food workers. We have been leaders in the efforts to organize low-wage, part-time college professors who are winning union recognition campaigns in universities across the country – including in my home-town St. Louis, Missouri.
Additionally, I should mention the recent victory of nearly 40,000 Verizon telecommunications employees, members of the Communications Workers’ Union of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Their victory will undoubtedly inspire other workers across our nation to stand-up, fight-back and if necessary, walk-out!
These are just a few examples exemplifying this trend poised to challenge the sharpening economic and social crisis confronting our nation, just a few examples with the collective potential to mitigate the worst aspects of a right-wing assault.
Further, our members have been in the forefront of many local Bernie Sanders organizing committees, articulating our vision of socialism, bringing working class, trade union elements into the movement and contributing to a growing understanding of the centrality of African American and Latino participation in any movement with the potential to challenge the corporate one percent.
However, while we see the emergence of support for Bernie Sanders and the larger debates surrounding the meaning of socialism today as a healthy dynamic within the people’s movement, we also urge all healthy, mature, democratic, mass forces to contribute to a decisive defeat of the ultra-right, embodied by the candidacy of Donald Trump – which means supporting whoever the eventual Democratic party nominee is. This position is born out of a mature, collective assessment of the material forces and balance of political power in our country today.
For us, a broad-based movement bringing together a coalition of forces capable of defeating right-wing extremism, chauvinism and militarism, with the potential to transition from a defensive posture to an offensive posture, is only possible with the defeat of Donald Trump. Black Lives Matter, fast food and other low-wage workers, the Sanders’ Movement, the recent CWA / IBEW victory, as well as numerous other examples, are all part of a larger fight-back, an emerging trend capable of challenging US capitalist hegemony and curtailing the most damning aspects of a system that thrives off of war.
One hundred years ago in Verdun, France the ‘long slog of trench warfare’ resulted in 300,000 dead and another 800,000 wounded. With today’s technology, the prospect for cataclysmic war-time death is unimaginable. Arguably, many of the same conditions and trends that existed in 1916 are evident today. The rise of right-wing extremism, chauvinism and militarism – spear-headed by Donald Trump at home and by the National Front here in France – coupled with the simultaneous, courageous fight-back – lead by ordinary workers, trade unionists and communists – has the potential to put capitalism’s contradictions on full-display!
The Communist Party, USA not only believes ‘Another World is Possible.’ We believe ‘Another World is Necessary,’ if we as a people and as a planet are going to survive. People and Nature Before Profits! It isn’t just a slogan. It is a call to action, an attempt to articulate the contradictions within capitalism, to provide substance and form for the inevitable fight-back, for a peaceful, just, equitable, society – for socialism!
National board member, Communist Party, USA
le 16 June 2016