The Supreme Court has ruled against Teamsters Local 174, the union whose workers were sued by their employer, Glacier Northwest, for allegedly causing intentional damage to the company’s cement trucks during a strike. | Background photo: Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons / Collage by People’s World
WASHINGTON—By an 8-1 vote, the right-wing-dominated U.S. Supreme Court has curbed the right of the nation’s workers to strike by allowing companies to sue unions in state courts whenever they wish for alleged “damage” strikers cause, overruling the National Labor Relations Board even if it is already investigating and handling the dispute.
It is no surprise to the labor movement and its allies that a Court that, for the first time in history, took away a constitutional right by killing Roe v. Wade, would continue its right-wing crusade by beginning to chip away at the sacred right of all Americans to withhold their labor to make gains or to protect themselves on the job. The only dissenting justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, warned that the ruling moved in the direction of ushering in indentured servitude across the nation. She declared that her colleagues misread the primacy of U.S. labor law and that the ruling indeed would allow turning workers into indentured servants.
Somehow, lawmakers and judges act as if labor law is not “real” law, allowing themselves to deny, for example, that the encouragement of collective bargaining is the legal, lawful policy of the United States government under the terms of the National Labor Relations Act. Justice Jackson is apparently the only judge on the Supreme Court who recognizes that adhering to U.S. labor law is as much a requirement as adhering to any other law.
Justice Jackson made her opposition to the ruling known in blunt remarks after the Court released its decision: “The ruling places a significant burden on the employees’ exercise of their statutory right to strike, unjustifiably undermining Congress’s intent. Workers are not indentured servants, bound to continue laboring until any planned work stoppage would be as painless as possible for their master.”
The decision in Glacier Northwest v. Teamsters Local 174 outraged Teamsters President Sean O’Brien and Association of Flight Attendants-CWA President Sarah Nelson. AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler predicted that when the case will be tried over again in Washington state, the union will win.
Under current law, strikes are legal under the National Labor Relations Act unless there is deliberate property damage, violence or both. In plain English, the justices in the majority took away the word “deliberate,” letting bosses sue unions for any alleged damage strikes cause. It would open the door to company agents themselves causing damage and then blaming it on workers or their unions.
“It’s like putting a tax on the right to strike,” Harvard labor law professor Sharon Block, a former NLRB member, told CBS’s business channel.
In the six-year-old case, Glacier, a cement company, sued Local 174 for striking and letting cement in trucks dry in Glacier’s yard, costing it $100,000 in damage to the trucks, plus lost business. Local 174 denied the charges, saying the workers ensured the cement truck drums were still spinning, keeping cement wet, when they left. It called Glacier’s suit retaliatory labor law-breaking.
The NLRB General Counsel agreed and took over the case, but Glacier went to Washington State Supreme Court to argue it could sue the local for damages. That court threw that case out, saying federal law pre-empted Glacier’s damages try. The U.S. Supreme Court majority didn’t.
“By reporting for duty and pretending as if they would deliver the concrete, the drivers prompted the creation of the perishable product,” the cement, Trump-named Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote, swallowing the company’s line. “Then, they waited to walk off the job until the concrete was mixed and poured in the trucks. In so doing, they not only destroyed the concrete but also put Glacier’s trucks in harm’s way.”
Because they did so, in her lengthy retelling of the dispute, Glacier could sue the local for damages. The ruling reverses precedents and opens the floodgates to similar expensive lawsuits by firms against striking unions. AFA-CWA’s Nelson said the decision could lead to more militancy.
“If the Supreme Court interferes with the already limited right to strike, it’s going to create even more instability in the workplace,” Nelson predicted at the end of a zoom press conference on another strike issue. “They have to respect this human right or workers will take it into their own hands.
“There will simply be a breakdown in the law. We will see a lot more strikes.”
O’Brien said the ruling showed the court’s tilt towards the corporate class and the “billionaires …they socialize with at cocktail parties and who they owe their jobs to in the first place.” The justices “are not upholding the law,” he added.
“American workers must remember their right to strike has not been taken away. All workers, union and nonunion alike, will forever have the right to withhold their labor. The Teamsters will strike any employer, when necessary, no matter their size or the depth of their pockets,” he promised.
“Unions will never be broken by this court or any other. Today’s shameful ruling is simply one more reminder the people cannot rely on their government or their courts to protect them. They cannot rely on their employers. We must rely on each other.”
Shuler predicted that in a rerun of the company’s case in Washington state courts, the union would win. Her statement did not touch the wider issues Block, Nelson and Justice Jackson raised.
“The Supreme Court unnecessarily gave the employer another bite at the apple” by relying on “unfounded allegations in the employer’s complaint that the union intended to damage the cement trucks when it called the strike,”` Shuler said.
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People’s World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).
John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People’s World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and ’80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper’s predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.
The expulsion of two African American representatives from the Tennessee state legislature recently is only the latest in what seems to be a never-ending series of attacks on democracy in the United States. Add to it the endless voter suppression tactics like racist purges of voter rolls, bans on mail-in ballots, restrictive voter ID hurdles, reduced poll hours, and more.
And of course, one need look no further than to the machinations of former President Donald Trump in the wake of his defeat at the ballot box in 2020 to see these attacks underway at the highest level.
Though the United States was founded on democratic principles (“All men are created equal…”), they applied to only a small segment of the population—white men who owned property.
As a result, the last two-and-a-half centuries have been marked by a continuous struggle by the working class, African Americans and other people of color, women, Native Americans, and immigrants, among others, to make those principles a living reality for all people.
The simple fact is that those who exercise power, that is the moneyed class, don’t want to give up what they see as a good thing. Hence, the class struggle.
For over a hundred years, the United States government has set itself up as the arbiter around the world of what is to be considered “democracy.” From Woodrow Wilson’s “Make the world safe for democracy” during World War (1917-18) to Joe Biden’s two “Summits for Democracy” (2021 and 2023), there has been a consistency of message: The United States knows best.
The problem is that what the U.S. government projects as “democracy” is a version coming out of centuries of Western political thought, which it tries to apply to all peoples, in all places, at all times.
Democracy is a common aspiration of all peoples, but not all democracies are identical, even among the capitalist democracies of the West. The United States’ system (the presidential model) is markedly different in many ways from what exists in Britain (the parliamentary or Westminster model). And democracy today is vastly different from that which existed in the “Birthplace of Democracy”—Athens—in the sixth and fifth centuries, BCE.
More importantly, democracy differs markedly in other economic systems. Working class democracy, based on a socialist mode of production, draws on the basic ideas of political democracy, but expands and deepens it to the economy. For example, the idea of Bill of Rights Socialism, proposed by the Communist Party USA, applies this concept to the United States.
Unfortunately, there is little chance for Bill of Rights Socialism being adopted in the near future.
There is today, however, a working-class system of democracy in practice that is growing stronger every day—in China. Called “Whole Process People’s Democracy,” its basic ideas are virtually unknown in the United States. It is vital at this critical juncture in world history that people should learn about it because we can never live and work in peace with China if we do not know the basic facts about how that country functions.
It goes without saying that most Americans would call China an “authoritarian” government controlled and run by the Communist Party of China (CPC). While no one disputes the central role of the CPC in Chinese life, few people know that there are eight other political parties that have roles to play in the government and daily life. Under the Chinese constitution, these nine parties work within a system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation led by the Communist Party.
The core principles of Whole Process People’s Democracy were expressed in a 2021 newspaper article by Guo Wei, the Chinese ambassador to Seychelles. She explained:
“The most basic criterion for democracy is whether people have the right to participate extensively in national governance, whether people’s demands can be responded to and satisfied. In China, the people participate in the management of state affairs, social affairs, and economic and cultural affairs; they provide opinions and suggestions for the design of national development plans at the highest level and also contribute to the governance of local public affairs; they take part in democratic elections, consultations, decision-making, management, and oversight….”
China, much like the United States, is organized on a federal system. There are three basic levels of government: national, provincial (equivalent to U.S. states), and local—cities, counties, towns, and villages. Each level is governed by a congress elected directly by the people. At the national level is the National People’s Congress (NPC), which meets for two weeks every year.
But Whole Process People’s Democracy is more than that. At the local level it is called Community-Level Self-Governance. There is a network of local committees, be they urban resident committees, villager committees, or trade union committees. Today in China there are 112,000 urban committees, 503,000 villager committees, and 2,809,000 trade union committees. All committees are elected by secret ballot with open vote counting (with results announced on the spot).
The villager committees must have between three and seven members, include at least one female, and a member from an ethnic minority (if there are such in the village). The urban residents committees are similar, though they can have as many as nine members. All members serve terms of five years.
All committees are empowered to “carry out democratic consultations on local affairs in various forms, and practice democratic decision-making in handling community issues and public services through committee meetings and congresses.”
The third type of committee is the trade union committee. Found in private enterprises and public institutions, its main roles are to “advocate on behalf of employees on equal footing with employers.” The trade unions have the right to negotiate with their employers [to] seek “corrections” from the employers if they violate employee rights,” such as “deducting or delaying payment of employees’ wages, [or] failure to provide safe and healthy working conditions, extending working hours arbitrarily, infringing on the special rights and interests of female and juvenile employees, [and] other serious violations of employee labor rights and interests.”
These committees are funded through membership dues as well as via “employer contributions (employers must pay a monthly fee equal to 2% of the aggregate monthly wages of all the unionized employees.)” The whole discussion on the role of China’s trade unions, organized in the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is something for another day.
This description of aspects of China’s “Whole Process People’s Democracy” provides only the briefest and most general overview of a vast and complex subject. Yet, China’s ideas on democracy should stimulate a discussion that we in the United States need to have.
In the struggle for American democracy, the working people need a clear vision of what type of future they want, one based not on money but human needs. The People’s Republic of China provides a treasure trove of ideas to study.
David Cavendish is a retired teacher, active in the union movement, the peace movement (many years in an anti-Iraq/Afghanistan War vigil), and other progressive political activities. He is a longtime contributor to People’s World. David Cavendish es un maestro jubilado, activo en el movimiento sindical, el movimiento por la paz y otras actividades políticas progresistas. Colabora desde hace mucho tiempo en People’s World.
The multi-talented, widely admired performer Harry Belafonte died Tuesday, April 25, at age 96. He was born on March 1, 1927, in New York City as Harold George Bellanfanti, Jr. His ancestry is Jamaican and Martiniquan, and his paternal grandfather had Dutch Jewish origins.
Belafonte’s career took off with the film Carmen Jones (1954). Soon after, he had several hits, such as “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” and “Jamaica Farewell.” In addition to his acting and singing career, Belafonte worked as a champion for many social and political causes.
The oldest son of Caribbean immigrants, Harry Belafonte spent his early years in New York. His mother worked as a dressmaker and a house cleaner, and his father served as a cook in the British Royal Navy. When Belafonte was a young child, his parents divorced and he was sent to Jamaica, his mother’s native country, to live with relatives. There, he saw firsthand the oppression of Black Jamaicans by the British colonial authorities.
Belafonte returned to New York’s Harlem neighborhood in 1939 to live with his mother and was often cared for by others while his mother worked. “The most difficult time in my life was when I was a kid,” he once told People magazine. “My mother gave me affection, but because I was left on my own, also a lot of anguish.”
Dropping out of high school, Belafonte enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1944, serving in the Pacific at the end of World War II. After the war, he returned to New York, working a series of odd jobs. But after attending a performance of the American Negro Theater, he found his career inspiration.
He studied acting at the Dramatic Workshop run by famed German émigré director Erwin Piscator. His classmates included Marlon Brando, Walter Matthau, Bea Arthur, Sidney Poitier, and Rod Steiger. Belafonte appeared in numerous American Negro Theater productions but caught his first big break singing for a class project. Offered a chance to perform at a jazz club, the Royal Roost, backed by such musicians as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, Belafonte became a popular act. In 1949, he landed his first recording deal.
Soon, Belafonte switched his musical style, dropping popular music in favor of folk. He became an avid student of traditional folk songs from around the world and started appearing in such New York City folk clubs as the Village Vanguard.
Debuting on Broadway in 1953, Belafonte won a Tony Award for his performance in John Murray Anderson’s Almanac, in which he performed several of his own songs.
On film, Belafonte played a school principal opposite Dorothy Dandridge in his first movie, Bright Road (1953). They reunited the following year for Otto Preminger’s Carmen Jones, a film adaptation of Oscar Hammerstein II’s contemporary, African-American Broadway version of Bizet’s opera Carmen. Belafonte received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Joe, a soldier who falls for the title character, played by Dandridge.
The success of Carmen Jones made Belafonte a star, and soon he became a music sensation. He released Calypso (1956) on RCA Victor, an album featuring his take on traditional Caribbean folk music. “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” became a huge hit. More than just a popular tune, it also had a special meaning for Belafonte. “That song is a way of life,” Belafonte later told The New York Times. “It’s a song about my father, my mother, my uncles, the men and women who toil in the banana fields, the cane fields of Jamaica.”
Calypso introduced America to a new genre of music, selling more than a million copies. As the “King of Calypso,” Belafonte also worked with other folk artists, including Bob Dylan and Odetta.
Belafonte also broke ground as the first African-American television producer, working on numerous musical shows. In the early 1970s, he teamed up with singer Lena Horne for a one-hour special.
By the mid-1970s, Belafonte was no longer hitting the charts, but continued his film career with 1972’s Buck and the Preacher and 1974’s Uptown Saturday Night. Later films include White Man’s Burden (1995), with John Travolta, and Robert Altman’s Kansas City (1996). He also appeared in 2006’s Bobby, a film about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. On television, he appeared on The Muppet Show and with Marlo Thomas on the 1974 children’s special Free To Be. . .You and Me.
The social activist
Always outspoken, Belafonte found inspiration for his activism from such figures as singer Paul Robeson, writer and activist W.E.B. Du Bois, and civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., with whom Belafonte became close friends.
Belafonte emerged as a strong voice for the civil rights movement. He provided financial backing for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and participated in numerous rallies and protests. Belafonte was with King for the 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., and visited with him days before King was assassinated in 1968.
During the mid-1960s, as the movement against colonialism expanded around the globe, Belafonte began supporting new African artists. He first met exiled South African artist Miriam Makeba, known as “Mama Africa,” in London in 1958, and together they won a Grammy for Best Folk Recording in 1966. He helped introduce her to international and American audiences, thus calling attention to life under South African apartheid.
In the 1980s, Belafonte led an effort to help people in Africa, coming up with the idea of recording a song with other celebrities, to be sold to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia. Written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie, “We Are the World” featured vocals by such music greats as Ray Charles, Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen, and Smokey Robinson. Released in 1985, it raised millions of dollars and became an international sensation.
Belafonte was a long-time critic of U.S. foreign policy. At various times over the decades, he made statements opposing the U.S. blockade of Cuba, praising Soviet peace initiatives, attacking the U.S. invasion of Grenada, praising the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, honoring Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and praising Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro.
Belafonte’s visit to Cuba helped ensure hip-hop culture’s place in Cuban society. In 1999, he met with Cuban rappers just before a meeting with Castro. Subsequently, the Cuban government approved funds to help integrate rap music into the country’s musical culture. Rappers gained official recognition and acquired their own recording studio.
Over the years, Belafonte supported many other internationalist solidarity causes as well. In addition to his role as a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, he campaigned to end apartheid in South Africa and spoke out against U.S. military actions in Iraq. He met several times with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. He also acted as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) celebrity ambassador for juvenile justice issues.
Belafonte earned censure in some quarters for his candid opinions. In 2006, he referred to President George W. Bush as “the greatest terrorist in the world” for launching the Iraq War. He also insulted African-American members of the Bush administration Gen. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, referring to them as “house slaves.” Rejecting media pressure, he steadfastly refused to apologize for his remarks. In regards to Powell and Rice, Belafonte said, “You are serving those who continue to design our oppression.”
Reminded that he could expect criticism for his remarks on politics, Belafonte responded: “Bring it on. Dissent is central to any democracy.”
Remained a force for progress
Harry Belafonte showed down during his tenth decade. In 2016, he endorsed Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Primary, saying, “I think he represents opportunity, I think he represents a moral imperative, I think he represents a certain kind of truth that’s not often evidenced in the course of politics.”
He produced a new album promoting racial harmony in 2017, When Colors Come Together: The Legacy of Harry Belafonte. It included a new version of “Island in the Sun” with a children’s choir, which he co-wrote for the 1957 film of the same name. “The differences that exist between us should be things that attract us to one another, not alienate us from one another,” Belafonte said when the album was released.
Belafonte was an honorary chair of the Jan. 21, 2017, Women’s March in Washington.
In February of that year, he joined a number of Palestinian groups and renowned figures such as Angela Davis, Alice Walker, and Danny Glover, as well as athlete-activists John Carlos, Craig Hodges, and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, signing an open letter urging NFL players to reconsider an invitation to Israel as part of an effort to get them to “become ambassadors of goodwill for Israel.”
In the lead-up to the 2020 election, Belafonte was an outspoken opponent of Donald Trump. He authored a powerful article in the New York Times just before the 2020 vote in which he urged Black voters to pay close attention to what Trump “says when he is ‘alone in the room’ with his white supporters, promising them at his rallies that if he is re-elected, people of color will not invade their ‘beautiful suburbs’ from our ‘disgusting cities.’”
Answering Republican claims that Trump could win Black votes, Belafonte said that African Americans would “not be bought off by the empty promises of the flimflam man.”
Among his many achievements and recognitions, Belafonte won three Grammy Awards, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, an Emmy Award, and a Tony Award. In 1989 he received the Kennedy Center Honors. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1994.
“Art,” said Belafonte: “There’s nothing more powerful in the universe than it, because it is the recorder of the truth.” Speaking of himself, Belafonte said he was “an activist who became an artist: I was not an artist who became an activist.”
People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.
Marge Piercy is an award-winning author of twenty books of poetry, eighteen novels, and works of non-fiction, including memoir and autobiography. Economic democracy and social justice are central themes in her work. Race, class, and environmentalism are woven into that framework. Her literary creativity, informed by her own sustained engagement with feminism, leans intelligently into the lives of working-class women.
Born in Detroit in 1936, Piercy’s world view is shaped by her Jewish heritage, working-class context, and the impact of the Great Depression on her family and community. Her maternal grandfather, Morris, was a labor organizer. Her maternal grandmother, Hannah, an adored storyteller, was born in a small Lithuanian village.
Much of Piercy’s poetry is written in quick free verse. But it betrays the serious, life-long commitment, of a champion of the people and the planet, over profit and power.
She was the first in her family to attend college, winning a scholarship to the University of Michigan, before earning an MA from Northwestern University.
Marge Piercy lives in a house of her own design, in Wellfleet, Massachusetts with her husband, Ira Wood.
The Silly War
Government officials, police, media rant against legalizing pot. Opiates were handed out by doctors like Halloween candy. Now we live with those deaths.
Police say pot’ll cause accidents. Yet alcohol is legal most places. Hasn’t anyone noticed that making guns accessible to angry crazies selling assault rifles to teenagers
and fanatics kills folks every day— just shopping, going to the movies, concerts, church, synagogue can earn you bullets from strangers. Those same legislators love
guns of any size and shape. They’re as ignorant about pot as about critical race theory. Do they even get the difference between THC and CBD?
I wonder, do they have any idea what their children are vaping?
The corporate-backed group No Labels, of which Maine Sen. Susan Collins is an honorary chair, is attempting to enroll Mainers in its party to get on the state’s ballot in 2024.
The organization has announced plans to field a centrist presidential candidate in all 50 states on a new “unity ticket,” prompting fear that a third-party run could serve as a spoiler and help re-elect former President Donald Trump.
The Maine Secretary of State’s Office confirmed to Beacon that the group has begun soliciting Maine voters to enroll in its No Labels Party to establish a ballot line in Maine. Under state statute, they need 5,000 voters enrolled in the party by Jan. 2 to hold primary elections in 2024.
Earlier this month, the Washington Postreported that No Labels launched its $70 million campaign to establish a presidential ballot line as an “insurance policy” against both Democrats and Republicans should either nominate a candidate it deems “unacceptable.” The group has already won ballot status in Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska.
“With the extremes on both sides dominating the primaries,” a video explaining the campaign says, “the two parties are on a path to nominating candidates most eligible voters will find unacceptable.”
Former Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, a business lobbyist and co-chair of the group, suggested to the Post that the bid could also be leveraged to push the two major parties to commit to its “common-sense, moderate, independent platform.”
Like Third Way before it, No Labels bills itself as a middle-of-the-road political organization established to advance bipartisan “practical solutions” for the “exhausted majority” of voters fed up with gridlock and party labels. But numerous media reports since its founding in 2010 have illustrated that those “moderate” policy solutions have typically protected corporate interests and the status quo.
According to internal documents obtained by the Daily Beast in 2018, No Labels has been backed by billionaire investors and corporate executives, among them the late Republican mega-donor David Koch, former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg, billionaire hedge-fund manager Paul Singer, as well as top Trump supporters such as PayPal founder Peter Thiel, businessman Foster Friess and Home Depot founder Ken Langone.
The New Republic also recently obtained a document showing that Texas real estate magnate and GOP patron Harlan Crow gave $130,000 to No Labels between 2019 and 2021. The document shows that Crow — who ProPublica recently revealed has lavished conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas with gifts, including luxury vacations and a home for his mother — is considered a “whale” level donor by the organization.
No Labels’ agenda
Collins and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat who has made millions in the coal industry, were selected as honorary co-chairs of No Labels in 2017.
In February, Collins and Manchin headlined a No Labels conference in Miami where the goal was to align centrist lawmakers on the congressional session ahead and stratigize on issues such as the debt ceiling and immigration.
In 2021, in addition to opposing efforts to end or reform the anti-democratic Senate filibuster, No Labels put their support behind Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a conservative Democrat turned independent, to block President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act. The sweeping spending package contained $1.85 trillion for child care, health care, family leave, climate change mitigation, immigration reform and a host of other Democratic priorities.
In the House, the path to passing Build Back Better was slowed by the 40-some member “Problem Solvers Caucus,” which is sponsored by No Labels and led by Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick and New Jersey Democratic Rep. Josh Gottheimer. Dubbed the “Unbreakable Nine,” Maine Rep. Jared Golden joined with other members of the caucus in refusing to vote for Biden’s social spending bill.
As Beacon previously reported, political action committees associated with No Labels were among Golden’s top donors in 2021.
Influence Watch points out that most of the policies No Labels and the Problem Solvers Caucus have advocated for are procedural reforms in Congress to limit the power of the majority party — thereby diminishing the chance for bold policies that threaten business as usual.
“In November 2018, the Problem Solvers Caucus pressured then-House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) into accepting numerous rule changes which would grant more legislative influence to the minority party,” a profile composed by the watchdog group reads.
The profile also outlines some of the business-friendly policies the group has fought for: “In August 2017, the Problem Solvers Caucus released a proposal to amend the proposed American Healthcare Act which included a government stabilizing fund to compensate insurance companies for rising costs imposed by pre-existing medical conditions, and the elimination of a medical device tax. The bill ultimately was not passed.”
Dan Neumann studied journalism at Colorado State University before beginning his career as a community newspaper reporter in Denver. He reported on the Global North’s interventions in Africa, including documentaries on climate change, international asylum policy and U.S. militarization on the continent before returning to his home state of Illinois to teach community journalism on Chicago’s West Side. He now lives in Portland. Dan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That’s because we are at a critical juncture in U.S. history, one that could end up with a fascist takeover of our country.
At such a time as this, the need for truth-telling journalists who work in print, online, and on television is so apparent. The quality of work done by the “Fourth Estate,” as reporters have been called historically, has often determined whether democracy was saved or fascism was ushered in.
We would like to be able to say that the majority of the press in the U.S. was clued in when it comes to the seriousness of the choices facing our country. We’d like to hope they understand the battle that lies ahead to save democracy.
Unfortunately, looking at what the corporate media is up to these days, we can’t say this with any confidence.
They are reporting the indictment of Trump as if it were some type of contest between one presidential candidate with a salacious past and the Democrats. They talk about Republicans who oppose Trump and their chances to win the coming primary elections.
They fail to reflect the fact that Trump is the predictable result of many years of racism and anti-working-class politics on the part of the Republican Party. They fail to reflect that the entire party, both the open Trumpites and his supposed opponents, rely on the same playbook—pushing fascist attacks on working people, minorities, LGBTQ people, immigrants, and anyone else who gets in their way.
On foreign policy, the corporate media cheers for a “bi-partisan approach” that endorses unprecedented military spending. This just increases the danger of World War III and results in the continued starvation of the social programs needed to make life bearable for working people and their allies here at home in America.
The corporate press replays a narrative that anyone who opposes the pouring of billions into the war in Ukraine, for example, is an opponent of freedom and “democracy.” To most of the media, NATO, the Pentagon, and U.S. foreign policy are the guarantors of the fight against autocracy when they’ve actually been the leading supporters of autocracy around the world.
The lobbyists-turned-commentators on the TV news networks drone on about how we must support pouring weapons not only into the Ukraine war but also into Taiwan and the Asia-Pacific region because of a supposed threat from China. Never do they discuss how the Chinese have lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty and how much that accomplishment contributes to the democratization of society. Never do they mention that it is the U.S. which surrounds China with military bases, not the other way around.
These so-called journalists fail to talk about how U.S. cooperation with the alleged enemies Russia and China are critical to winning the battle against climate change and against the fossil fuel monopolies that exploit everyone on the planet, including the people of the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
They fail to point out that all of these struggles and many others are critical parts of a fight to keep the extreme right and fascists from taking over our country.
What’s going on right now is so much more than just a fight between political parties that have various approaches to how to run a government. But the press talks about how Dems investigated Trump and how Republicans investigate the investigators, for example, to score political points. What is at stake—democracy or fascism—is hardly ever mentioned.
It would be great if the majority of the major media saw the danger of impending fascism and participated in the fight to stop it, but, as of now, they’re not yet there. That puts extra responsibility on People’s World and its supporters.
This publication is one of the few showing that the political “contests” waged today are about more than typical disagreements between the two big business parties. People’s World points out, for instance, how Asa Hutchinson, who announced for the Republican presidential nomination this week, is hardly a reasonable man coming out to challenge Trump. He’s a right-winger who dedicated his political life to destroying unions and carrying out racist policies in Arkansas.
A democracy cannot survive if the Fourth Estate does not carry out these necessary tasks. It is no exaggeration then to say that at his point, the continuation of People’s World is essential to the preservation of democracy.
We can almost say for certain that democracy itself cannot survive if People’s World does not survive. We can say for certain that if People’s World does not survive, the struggle to save democracy will, at the very least, be so much more difficult.
Hopefully, more and more news outlets will eventually join in this fight to save democracy, but until they do, People’s World is one sure weapon we all have to wage this struggle.
John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People’s World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and ’80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper’s predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.
WASHINGTON—Schools are key to democracy, but are beset by staff shortages, culture wars, underfunding, and political efforts to divide parents from teachers and destroy public schools, Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten says.
In a major speech March 28 at the National Press Club, Weingarten declared “others are trying to drive a wedge in that connection” between teachers and parents and we, as a nation, “need to deepen it.
“Our public schools shouldn’t be pawns for politicians’ ambitions and divisions…Public schools are cornerstones, but some are attacking them with sledgehammers.
“It’s an extremist scheme by a very vocal minority. It’s limiting our effort to do what we need to do—educating 50 million children.”
The often-outspoken New York City civics teacher didn’t hesitate to single out the foes of public schools, and therefore of the education that prepares kids to participate fully in democracy, by name.
They included Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., Trump ideologue Steve Bannon—who said on his podcast school boards “should be the next target” –the right-wing Otis and Bradley Foundations and former Trump Education Secretary Elizabeth “Betsy” DeVos, whom AFT and other teachers unions opposed for that post in 2017.
The foundations plus DeVos, who, though Weingarten didn’t say so, is part of the Amway fortune, “have poured millions in” to their drive to wreck public schools, the union leader said.
Omitted, except by inference: The House Republican right-wingers who oppose public schools, among other institutions, and who call the tune for the new, narrow GOP majority there. Weingarten pledged AFT would keep fighting their planned budget cuts.
The right-wingers’ larger agenda, she exclaimed, is to “destroy public education as we know it” and democracy with it, by crippling teachers’ ability to teach and students’ ability to collectively learn, especially about the U.S., its greatness and its flaws, its history and its multiculturalism and how to actively participate in a pluralistic nation.
Weingarten spoke against a dismaying backdrop, as she elaborated, of 400,000 teachers—beset by such stresses, leaving the profession annually and of improvements in federal education funding—approved as anti-pandemic measures—under dual threat.
Physical, professional and emotional conditions are so bad for teachers, Weingarten said, that “parents say they love their kids’ teachers, but they don’t want their kids to grow up to be teachers.”
One threat is from the increasing numbers of states, all but a few Republican-run, who are diverting public taxpayer money, via vouchers, from public to private schools. Those 29 states and counting don’t include Florida, yet. Now they will.
There, DeSantis, who has made public schools and teachers a particular target, signed legislation the day before diverting $4 billion in state aid away from public schools to private schools via vouchers.
The other threat is the foes’ aim to destroy democracy by destroying trust in public schools, declared Weingarten. Their tactics include curriculum control, campaigning against teaching civil rights and “wokeness” and demonizing students of color and other students who are “different.”
“It’s a hostile conservative agenda” against public schools, said AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn DeJesus, who preceded Weingarten to the podium.
“Our public schools shouldn’t be pawns for politicians’ divisions and ambitions….A great nation chooses freedom, and opportunity and equality and democracy, and we are a great nation. We deserve no less,” Weingarten said.
Public school foes also include Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, though Weingarten didn’t name him. Instead, she was preceded to the stage beforehand parents and teachers from the Houston Independent School District, which Abbott just seized control of, effective July 1.
The three parents and teachers described the takeover, including a prior state seizure of one daughter’s elementary school. Student test scores declined and attention waned afterwards, the parent said.
While Weingarten spent most of her speech describing the problems and pressures schools and democracy face, she also offered solutions, and they weren’t just about money, though that helps.
They included making public schools wraparound centers where kids can not only learn but be in a safe and sheltered environment, complete with meals and social services. There’s another threat to that, too, said Weingarten: Gun violence.
At the start of her speech, Weingarten asked for a minute of silence in memory of the three students and three staffers a shooter killed in Nashville the day before. She then reiterated AFT’s demand for further gun controls, notably a complete ban on assault weapons. She’s been on an anti-gun crusade since the Florida school massacre on Valentine’s Day 2018, killing 14 kids and three teachers, AFT members.
Solutions also include innovative programs, many of them negotiated in union contracts, for things like paid parental leave community-wide—an initiative in Kansas City, Mo., that lets parents take time off to come to parent-teacher conferences. She cited other examples from districts urban and rural nationwide.
“It’s not New York, it’s not L.A.,” Weingarten noted of the Kansas City innovations.
And it also includes legal defense of students and teachers under assault from ideologues. So AFT has not only established a fund to pay for that, but it’s just established a toll-free hotline for pressured staffers, students and even parents to call: 1-888-873-7227.
“It’s a place to call if you’ve been told to remove a book, or you can’t teach honestly and appropriately” or “told to ‘out’ vulnerable kids” or are “being targeted to score political points,” she said.
Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People’s World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).
Editor’s note: The following keynote address to the CPUSA National Committee was presented by CPUSA co-chair Joe Sims on January 14th. It’s been edited to reflect discussion that took place after the report was delivered. It lays out the latest analysis by the Communist Party USA of the political situation in our country, particularly the threat to democracy and the path we need to take in order to combat and defeat the danger the nation faces.
Welcome to this January meeting of our National Committee. As we begin a New Year of struggle, let us pause for a moment to honor those who sadly are no longer with us, but without whom we would never have arrived on these winter shores. Among them are Art Perlo, a member of the National Committee, head of our Economics Commission and leader in the Connecticut district, Betty Smith, longtime head of International Publishers, Richard Castro, veteran leader of the South California District, Gary Hicks, formerly of Boston and long term member of the Northern California District, GL Morrison, Party leader in Portland, Irving Kessler, New York Party member and Cuba solidarity activist, and Esther Davis, veteran member of the Brooklyn club.
We also want to extend our revolutionary condolences to the family, comrades and friends of Charlene Mitchell. As most of us know, after the difficult days of the early 90s, Charlene left the Party, but we worked together with her in later years on the founding of the Black Radical Congress and fighting the right-wing danger, understanding we had more in common than separated us. Let’s take a moment to recall these comrades’ lifelong commitments to the struggle for equality, democracy, working-class power and socialism.
Before moving on we want to recognize another important milestone: the 80th birthday of comrade Margaret Baldridge from Baltimore. A celebration was held in Baltimore honoring Margaret a few weeks ago but unfortunately we were in Minneapolis for a district school and unable to attend. Happy Birthday Margaret! We wish you many more!
Trumpism remains a force
As we meet this Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, the fight against the fascist danger remains front and center. Make no mistake: Trump’s MAGA movement may have been set back in November, but their eyes remain set on the White House door. And they’ve got almost everything they need to unlock it: unlimited dark money; a right-wing media network working overtime; and, most dangerously, a mass movement. Let’s face it: while damaged, the ex-president remains a force.
The MAGA faction of the ruling class and a big chunk of the broader right-wing public still support him. Of course, it’s possible Trump might be replaced by a DeSantis or someone else. But know this: whoever becomes MAGA’s public face and possibly the next president, we should never underestimate the danger they represent. As our party’s program points out, what’s at play here is a grab for control by one section of the capitalist class over all other sections and over society – that’s what January 6th was all about.
Power grabbers miss something
But they’re missing one important thing in this power grab: a majority of the American people. This was proven once again by the midterm elections. Outraged by the Dobbs decision, women and men – but mainly women – along with people of color and supported by labor, limited the GOP’s gains in the House.
That’s important. But let’s be honest: that victory was a big negative. The Republicans will now act as if they have the largest mandate in history. The GOP far right, as Mr. Gaetz from Florida pointed out, now has new Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy in “a straight jacket” — they are now in control. On the other hand, the grassroots mobilization that won the Senate was a big plus. It demonstrated once again, that if called upon, our class and people will respond. Unfortunately over the last two years they were rarely called upon.
The powers-that-be seem content to keep the political struggle confined to debates between elite groups inside the Washington Beltway. There’s a fear of rocking the boat – particularly with national demonstrations – in D.C. during an election year. And what’s true of fear of demonstrations during election cycles, is doubly true with regard to strikes. That’s why the Biden administration violated the railway workers’ right to strike. They were afraid of rocking the economic boat.
Fight for democracy and class struggle
It is in these circumstances that the battle for democracy comes face to face with the class struggle. Yes, there’s a fascist danger and yes consideration must be given to the risks involved in actions taken by sections of the coalition that are fighting the fascist danger. But, it’s a big mistake to cede the people’s ability to make demands and compel concessions by tamping down on national protests or breaking strikes in order to “play it safe.”
The Democratic Party leadership, with one eye cast on the independent vote and the other on their corporate backers, are making political calculations about what they think best serves the national democratic interest. But what’s best for them isn’t necessarily best for us. Why not? What’s best for them is to act in their class interests. They identify their class interest with the interest of the entire nation.
It may be in the interests of the ruling elites to not rock the boat, to not offend bourgeois sensibilities with mass protests and strikes, but the railway workers, women, the LGBTQ community, and people of color may not see it that way. A word of caution here: none of the forces arrayed in the people’s front can afford to take the position of “it’s my way or the highway” – the fascist danger is clear and present. The point here, however, is that if you want to win this fight, you’ve got to mobilize your base. It took a mass movement to win the election, and that’s what it’s going to take going forward. Everyone needs to take this into account.
Now, it’s not that the other side sat on their hands: the January 6th hearings were extremely important. They certainly helped shape the debate and turn the tide. But “air wars” are not enough – they have to be coupled with “battles for position” on the ground. Build Back Better, the child tax credit provision, the changed composition of the National Labor Relations Board were all positives, but the lack of mass demonstrative public pressure to get them passed proved their undoing. The successful pro-union change in the Labor Board was the exception.
Some have already learned this lesson as the re-election victory of Senator Raphael Warnock in Georgia demonstrated. For over a decade, voting rights activists there have been registering voters door-to-door (over one million doors were knocked on) and organizing the turnout. They decided some time ago to break with politics as usual. Others are beginning to take notice — in Wisconsin and a few other places. Things seem to be shifting nationally as well. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have approved automatic voter registration. Other states are planning to follow suit.
Now’s the time to think through our contribution to this movement-building work, that is, on how we can strengthen the People’s Front. That includes making plans for how to get involved in voter registration, ballot initiatives and election campaigns supported by coalition partners. And yes, it also means giving consideration to fielding our own members as candidates. Here’s a radical idea: let’s stop talking about it and take some steps. The Michigan district is organizing a meeting, with comrade Tony, to discuss what it takes to run a campaign. That’s a great idea! Other districts might consider following their example.
Demand for equality is key
The road ahead, without a doubt, is going to be challenging. A recession is coming, and corporations have already started layoffs. Salesforce cut 10% of its workforce, Amazon shed 18,000 jobs, and McDonalds just announced cutbacks. It’s still winter but the class struggle has already started to heat up. In New York, 7,000 nurses hit the bricks this week and won important gains for patient safety, wages and working conditions. In March, the contract expires for 5,000 Caterpillar workers. Illinois get ready! Two hundred thousand postal workers’ contracts are up at the end of May. And get this – the contract for 340,000 workers at UPS is coming up July 31 and the Teamsters are saying to hell with concessions. They’re ready to strike. And then in September, contracts at the Big Three automakers expire for 150,000 autoworkers. Getting rid of the two-tier wage system is a big issue for the UAW.
As workers go out on strike, we should be ready to hit the picket lines with them. In this regard, the Twin Cities club in Minnesota has provided a real model for strike support. Current and upcoming strikes and organizing drives are regularly posted in the club’s Signal chat. Members are organized to join the lines with coffee, donuts and even pizzas. And they’re doing this on a regular basis.
While the class struggle burned red hot, the demand for equality was also at the center of the fire in recent months. In response to alarm at the Dobbs decision, a marriage equality bill was signed into law at the White House in December. This was an important preemptive measure against a potential right-wing attempt to rescind the right to marry. And there’s real reason to worry: the far right has also pledged to step up their attack on trans rights. That must be met head on.
Supreme Court actions are also of great concern. The Court is considering challenges to college affirmative action programs. That case will be decided in June and it’s likely that affirmative action programs in the nation’s colleges and universities will be banned. When the White House tried to get rid of Title 42 which prohibited immigrants, including asylum seekers, from entering the country the Supreme Court blocked it. Legal arguments will be heard by the Court on Title 42 in February.
The ongoing battle against racist policing must also be at the center of our attention. Police murder has set new records since the killing of George Floyd. African Americans are killed at a rate nearly three times that of whites. Despite these horrific figures, calls for police reform have fallen on deaf ears. However, important progress has been made in advancing the demand for civilian control of police departments. In Chicago, a city commission was established after an outstanding campaign led by the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. Chicago’s Empowering Communities for Public Safety Ordinance creates a three-person District Council in each of the city’s 22 police districts. The Councils will be elected in February and we encourage comrades to go Chicago and assist in the campaign’s final days.
Comrades, January 22nd marks the 50th anniversary of Roe: the Supreme Court decision establishing women’s right to abortion care. The coup caucus celebrated it this week by passing an anti-abortion rights bill. Reveling in the Dobbs decision and the GOP House victory, Republicans are now calling for a complete federal ban on abortion.
Now some 20 states are expected to implement abortion bans. However, the fight is far from over. Recently the Biden administration and the FDA approved making abortion pills more widely available – a really important development. In the coming year NARAL, Planned Parenthood and others plan ballot initiatives in 10 states, among them Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Missouri. Clearly we should get involved in these campaigns in every way possible, including signature gathering.
Combatting male supremacy a must
This should not be seen as a “women’s issue.” What fighting racism is to the battle for equality for people of color, combating male supremacy is to women’s equality. We need to convince our male comrades that it is their special responsibility to champion the fight for reproductive rights. And the reality is that many of us don’t get it. A case in point: in a few instances some comrades declined to participate in the pro-choice marches because, they said, the actions were initiated by what they called the “bourgeois” women’s movement. Can you imagine? Hundreds of thousands of women in the streets around the country, fighting for the most basic of democratic rights, and some of us refused to participate!
We’ve got to deepen our understanding of the Marxist approach to women’s equality. The oppression of all women is a product of the early rise of classes; the oppression of all women is organically linked to the rise of class oppression; the capitalist class benefits from the oppression of all women through the promotion of cultural and social inequality, domination, and control, including the active cultivation of misogyny. Capitalism also benefits from the exploitation of working-class women where extra profits are reaped through employment segregation, lower-wages, and the so-called second shift where working-class women also engage in various forms of unpaid labor. This is the basis of the sexist social division of labor. Women of color also face exploitation based on race and nationality resulting in three forms of oppression under capitalism: class, gender and race.
This requires all working-class forces to increase their capacity to demonstrate a conscious understanding of and allegiance with all women in the democratic fight for full equality. Achieving this means confronting sexual harassment. It means confronting the horror of domestic violence. It means understanding and responding to the myriad challenges working-class women face. And we don’t do it from the curb – but from the middle of the street where the masses have gathered in struggle.
Understanding need for democracy
All of this argues for updating and deepening our understanding of the battle for democracy. That understanding is vital for moving forward in the present moment. It’s imperative in the struggle for the socialist future. As our Party Program makes clear, “The struggle to defend and enlarge democracy in every realm of life is therefore the only path to socialism in our country.” But what is meant by democracy? The GOP far right, Mitch McConnell included, paints anything to the left of Ronald Reagan as a symptom of anti-democratic socialism. The Democratic Party center, not to be outdone, uses the label “authoritarian” to falsely paint left and far-right as alike.
The main threat to democracy comes from the most right-wing section of our ruling class.
Biden’s Cold War 2.0 is a case in point. But pardon me, Mr. Biden, in this multipolar world, the main threat to democracy comes from the most right-wing section of our ruling class, not somebody else’s. We know who attacked the Capitol on January 6th and who, just the other day, hijacked the U.S. House. And we know who paid for it: Lockheed, Comcast, and Walmart. And we also know that the U.S. has done more than its part to contribute to the rise in international tensions and that there’s a two-party consensus for doing so.
Take the situation with China and Russia. The two countries cooperate economically and have a defensive alliance. This is the result not of ideological alignment – nothing could be further from the case – but rather a perceived self-interest and desire to survive after being encircled, sanctioned and tariffed nearly to death. U.S. imperialism wants to impose its version of what it calls “democracy” – meaning capitalism. It plans to do so by means of economic pressure, or force, or a combination of both. But imperialism’s version of democracy is not the be-all and end-all of democratic practice. Cuba, Vietnam, and Venezuela have chosen different paths. Whether they employ single or multi-party systems, each was born out of their country’s history and the conditions under which their revolutions occurred.
It is not for us in the U.S. to decide which form of government other countries choose. Rather, we must insist on creating conditions under which all are able to make choices free of outside interference.
Challenges of the peace movement
Creating those conditions means staying the hand of imperialism by building a mass movement for peace. That’s a difficult proposition in today’s circumstances. It’s rendered even more challenging by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Responses to the Ukraine war have split the U.S. (and world) peace movement in several different directions, with some supporting U.S. policy, others defending Russia’s actions, and still others seeing the conflict as a proxy war between the U.S. and Russia. Our position has been to oppose and condemn the invasion and call for a ceasefire and negotiations. Ukraine has a right to exist as a sovereign state. Unfortunately, an October call for negotiations by progressive Democrats was quickly retracted after strong White House objection – a mass peace movement might have changed that. A meeting or conference of party peace activists this year will start an important process of thinking through specific steps we can take, understanding it’s going to be a long and difficult process.
Building the party
But if we carry out our work properly, not only will a stronger peace movement emerge, but so will a larger and stronger Communist Party. Everything is pointing in this direction. Some 6,000 people have applied to join the Party over the last two years, one-third of whom are paying dues.
2022 was a very good year. We completed the People’s World’s fund drive, brought close to 400 members to DC to participate in the Poor People’s March, were active in the fall election campaign and established a regular public presence in a number of states. We held regular educational seminars, online festival for People’s World on May Day and a well-attended International Conference. Last year we were able to build multi-club districts in seven additional states. New York, Texas, Southern California, Northern California, Eastern Pennsylvania and Connecticut already had a number of clubs in their states. In another 17 states, single clubs with members scattered around the state were either created or maintained.
A big achievement has been the growth of local Young Communist League (YCL) clubs in New York, DC, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Massachusetts, Kentucky, Eastern Pennsylvania and Connecticut. In Kentucky and DC there are a couple of clubs located on college campuses.
In DC we have to congratulate the work of the Claudia Jones School, our first public Marxist school in the recent period. It’s doing an outstanding job in bringing the science of society to the broader public involving not only our thinkers but others as well. That said, we are still very much in the rebuilding stage of growing the party. If we were to compare it to building a house, we would have to say while we have a blueprint and have laid a solid foundation, we’re still very much on the ground floor.
We are still very much in the rebuilding stage of growing the party.
For example, while we welcome the Party’s rapid growth, we also have to acknowledge that a considerable section of the new membership have yet to receive an orientation as to our basic principles and concepts. In the next several months, at the initiative of the Education Department, we’re taking steps to remedy this situation. Weekend district schools will focus on the Party’s program.
While improving, the multiracial and gender composition of the party remains weak. Cis women are joining in far fewer numbers than cis men, though the non-binary and trans membership has grown. In the recent period, the influence of male supremacy has become increasingly apparent, particularly but not only, in online spaces, where men aggressively dominate the conversation, bully and dismiss women’s opinions. We’ve got to ask ourselves why are these patterns persisting? Why are so few women joining? And after joining, how many are sticking around? What is it about our public presence, both in person and online, that the masses of women are not responding to?
Comrades Rossana, Dee, Rebecca and Lisa and others in the next weeks will take steps to convene a communist women’s collective with the aim of holding a conference out of which we hope to form a Women’s Commission. As we move forward and improve our work in this vital arena, we call on our male comrades to examine what we’ve done and haven’t done to contribute to this situation.
At the last convention we developed a sexual harassment policy and it’s stood us in good stead. As the Party continues to grow, our upholding of respectful and principled relationships, particularly with younger comrades, is a must. Party guidance and mentorship is essential, but in no case should it give license to inappropriate overtures or harassment – that’s deadly and the damage can be permanent.
Going forward, the National Committee has a three-fold task: to stay focused on fighting the fascist danger; to continue building the party; and to lay the political, ideological and organizational basis for the next convention. With regard to the fascist danger, our goal must be to expose, organize and take initiatives. People’s World and cpusa.org are doing a wonderful job in continuing to shine a spotlight on this threat. Part of our expose must be to continue to reveal the corporate ties to the coup caucus and its sedition. And speaking of sedition, shouldn’t we actively support a demand to prosecute those responsible? This is too important an issue to leave to the sole discretion of the courts and Justice Department. Are there already campaigns on the issue, petitions, memes, protests? If not, shouldn’t we help initiate them?
Fundraising also remains an essential task in the year ahead. Long View, the publisher of People’s World has set a $200,000 goal this year – a must-do amount to stay in the black. Failure to make that goal is simply not an option.
With respect to the convention, as the summer and fall approach, collectives will have to be established to find a location, propose a date, as well as make initial plans concerning resolutions, the constitution and possibly the Party program.
Next year we’re sure to have a great convention that will help consolidate our current achievements and lay the basis for what we want the Communist Party to become: a mass party, a militant party of revolutionary working-class struggle, a party of initiative that fights for the unity of our class and people. We’re building an anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-fascist party, a party of consistent working-class democracy and peace.
This is a party led by women, by African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Middle Eastern, Native American and working-class white Americans, immigrant and citizen, documented and undocumented, straight and LGBTQ. We are building an internationalist party based on the best traditions of the American people. We defend what’s best in our multi-racial, multinational country, weaving together a mosaic of song and dance, prose and poem, film and play. We understand that the social revolution, at the end of the day, is a grand festival of the people. And make no mistake: we are a Marxist-Leninist party of social revolution, fighting for an American model of Bill of Rights Socialism, made in the USA.
Joe Sims is co-chair of the Communist Party USA. He is also a senior editor of People’s World and loves biking.
A banner reads ‘2023 census now!’ at a blockade on a Santa Cruz street. | via Twitter
With the exception of a coup-government interregnum in 2019-2021, the Movement Toward Socialism political party (MAS) has headed Bolivia’s government since the beginning of Evo Morales’s presidency in 2006.
The MAS government now led by President Luis Arce and Vice President David Choquehuanca announced on July 12 that its every-ten-year Population and Housing Census would be moved from November 16, 2022, to sometime in 2024.
Spokespersons attributed the change to difficulties left over from the pandemic, a need for translations into indigenous languages, uncertain financial resources, and extra time required for “technical” changes.
Leaders of the Santa Cruz department in Bolivia’s eastern lowlands, the nation’s largest, immediately demanded a census in 2023, not in 2024. Department governor Luis Camacho and Rómulo Calvo, president of the Santa Cruz Civic Committee, warned that without a settlement on the census, they would initiate a strike aimed at undoing the department’s economy, and thereby the national economy.
In response, “over one million Bolivians mobilized” on Aug. 25 in support of the government and against a regional leadership group that is the vanguard of opposition to Bolivia’s socialist and indigenous-led government. Even so, the strike began on Oct. 22. Recent Bolivian history suggests another coup may be in the offing.
Why a seemingly routine piece of government business like staging a census might provoke momentous consequences is not obvious. A look at expectations attached to Bolivia’s census and at the nature of Santa Cruz politics may clarify.
Census results help to determine the national distribution of government-provided services and resources and are the basis for each department’s representation in the national Legislative Assembly. Opposition forces in Santa Cruz see operation of the national census, as presently constituted, as beneficial to their side, particularly for the national elections of 2025.
They see advantage in the increased numbers of indigenous peoples migrating recently from Bolivia’s poverty-stricken highlands to economically-resourced Santa Cruz. That advantage rests on indigenous peoples showing up on the census with an identity other than indigenous.
The national census in 2012 fueled controversy when it showed that many indigenous people identify themselves as mestizo and not as belonging to a particular indigenous nation. That was encouraging to the reactionary and racist Santa Cruz leaders, who have no enthusiasm for increased indigenous representation in the national legislative assembly.
The Arce government, by contrast, objects to an undercount of indigenous people and especially in the eastern lowland departments, where their numbers are increasing.
The category of mestizo did not appear in the census of 2012 and is not part of the census in dispute now. The Santa Cruz leaders are insisting that that mestizo identity be incorporated into the census. Expert advice was sought in 2012 and the Arce government is now proposing the same.
The peculiarities of Santa Cruz are central to this story. For one thing, Bolivia’s four easternmost departments, particularly Santa Cruz, produce most of Bolivia’s wealth. Santa Cruz is home to industrial-scale agricultural operations and to facilities for oil and natural gas production. This lowland region accounts for most of Bolivia’s export income.
The realities are these: Santa Cruz alone accounts for 76% of the country’s food production, for all of its sorghum and sunflower oil production, 99% of its soy products, 92% of its sugar cane, 75% of its wheat, 72% of its rice, and 66% of its corn. In 2021, farmers owned 4.6 million head of cattle, over a million pigs, and 130 million chickens.
Among departments, Santa Cruz consumes 39% of the country’s diesel fuel and contains the bulk of Bolivia’s natural gas reserves, which rate as South America’s second largest. The Financial Timeslauds the Santa Cruz economy’s explosive growth and large foreign investments. It mentions Santa Cruz city as one of the world’s fastest growing urban areas.
Also relevant to the strike story is the reactionary and racist nature of opposition leaders in Santa Cruz. They are utilizing the department’s “Civic Committee” to organize the strike and the Union of Santa Cruz Youth to carry out violent, paramilitary-style street actions. Gov. Luis Camacho formerly headed the Santa Cruz Civic Committee.
The civic committees of all departments originated decades ago in response to national-regional tensions. Members of formerly eastern European families, some of them big landowners, belong to the Santa Cruz civic committee. Many brought fascist ideology with them when they immigrated to Bolivia after World War II.
At the last of three big gatherings in Santa Cruz, Camacho on Sept. 30 announced the start on Oct. 22 of an anti-government strike of “indefinite” duration. In operation, the strike has led to barriers being placed across major highways to impede exports and in-country deliveries of commodities, mainly food. Strike leaders have forced key factories and commercial centers to shut down.
The Youth Union and other thugs have carried out anti-government demonstrations and fought in the streets against MAS party supporters and the national police. There have been injuries, human rights violations, and one death. The strike has had little impact in the other eastern departments.
With a presence at border crossings, the strikers have sharply reduced the transit of exported goods. Government authorities on Oct. 27, anticipating domestic food shortages, banned all exports from Santa Cruz of soy products, beef, sugar, and vegetable oil.
The government and MAS activists organized a rally and march by hundreds of thousands of people before the strike began, and another on the day after. In La Paz on Oct. 26, confrontation between government supporters and an opposition march left 20 persons wounded.
The government on Oct. 25 held a “Pluri-national Encuentro for a Census with Consensus.” Officials from throughout the country attended. A proposal emerged that would enable a technical commission to determine a date for the national census.
Camacho rejected it, but opposition leaders Rómulo Calvo and Vicente Cuellar accepted the proposal. In an interview, Camacho asserted that federalism remains the only solution to the “fissure” present since the “founding of the Republic.”
On Nov. 1, President Arce, referring to threats to “national integrity,” called upon military leaders “to guarantee and defend the independence, unity, and integrity of our territory.” A presidential spokesperson indicated that Arce favored new negotiations with no established date for the census and without conditions.
Events in Santa Cruz align with a grim history. President Evo Morales’s accession to power in 2006 was a culmination of old indigenous resistance against European colonialists and of recent pushback against neoliberal assaults inflicted by local enablers of U.S. and European ruling-class objectives.
Social gains achieved by the MAS-led government and its program of modest wealth distribution seemed to cement its place in history and certainly inflamed the animosities of reactionaries in Santa Cruz and nationally.
As a new constitution was being shaped—it was approved in 2009—Santa Cruz and its neighboring eastern departments staged a separatist revolt fueled by racism. A failed assassination plot against Morales in 2008 was part of it. During this period, the Morales government expelled a U.S. ambassador and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
The U.S. government and the Organization of American States, serving the United States, facilitated the coup that removed the Morales government in 2019 after his election to a fourth term. Luis Camacho of Santa Cruz led the coup and reportedly delivered the U.S. moneys used in various payoffs. Bolivia’s military participated.
The president of the coup government, Jeanine Áñez, is now in prison, in part because of human rights abuses and killings by soldiers during her tenure.
The current MAS-led government came into existence in 2020 following the first-round electoral victory of Arce and Choquehuanca. Its approval rating currently is 51%. The present strike has set back governmental efforts to restore a national economy devastated by the coup government’s neoliberal reforms and by pandemic effects.
Arce, reporting to the Legislative Assembly on Nov. 8, indicated that “We have complete certainty that our people are fully behind us and that they recognize a national patriotic government that looks out for the national welfare, which stands above sectarian and regional interests.” He observed that “in times of crisis, it’s always the poor that end up losing more, or losing everything.”
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.
Today, Brazilian voters are not just choosing between Bolsonaro and Lula — the far right and the Left — but whether their nation’s politics will be authoritarian or democratic.
Today, more than one hundred million Brazilians will vote in the second and final round of the country’s presidential election, which pits former president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva against extreme-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro. In the first round, held earlier this month, Bolsonaro finished more than five points behind Lula and seems poised to become the first Brazilian president ever to lose reelection. Nonetheless, polls have seemed to tighten in recent weeks and many observers expect a close contest today — raising the ominous prospect that Bolsonaro may refuse to concede defeat and attempt to cling to power.
What are the issues at play in Brazil’s historic election? How have the politics of COVID-19 factored in? And what does the future hold for the far-right project of Bolsonarismo, even if the man at its center loses the runoff? To explore these questions, Jacobin’s Luke Savage sat down with Vincent Bevins — who lived in Brazil from 2010 to 2016 and worked as a correspondent, wrote The Jakarta Method (which came out in 2020), and moved back to São Paulo last year to work on his second book.
To start with the basics: because neither major candidate received over 50 percent of the vote earlier this month, Brazil is going to be voting in the second round of its presidential election on October 30. Before we get to the runoff, can you walk us through what transpired in the first round a bit? The general impression seems to be that Lula somewhat underperformed what some polls suggested was possible. Can you explain the results of the first round and give us your impression of them?
After Lula got out of jail and recovered his political rights — his right to run for president, which he lost after trying unsuccessfully in 2018 to run for president against Bolsonaro the first time — many polls indicated he was going to absolutely trounce Bolsonaro, among other things because Bolsonaro had done such a poor job governing the country, especially during the pandemic. Now, only a couple of those polls suggested that Lula was going to actually clear the 50 percent hurdle necessary to wrap it up in the first round. Some people were hoping for that, though I didn’t myself think it was too likely. Now, he ultimately got 48.5 percent of the vote, which is only a little bit less than the 50 percent he would’ve needed. And if he had gotten that extra 1.5 percent, it would be a really resounding defeat for Bolsonaro. No Brazilian president has ever lost reelection ever since reelection has been allowed in Brazilian democracy.
Still, the result was a little bit less than what the more optimistic parts of the Left were hoping for.
What was more of a surprise was how Bolsonarismo as a political movement outside of Bolsonaro himself did across the country. It did quite well in Congress, especially in the Senate, snatching some key governorships and appearing to be positioned to snatch more. So the polls really underestimated Bolsonarismo’s support more than they overestimated Lula’s.
Can you put Bolsonarismo in context for us? I think there’s a similar problem or complexity at work when we talk about something like Trumpism in that you’re dealing with a political tendency that is very much based around a charismatic figure at its center, and is intimately linked in some ways to their personal affectations and style, but also has a separate life of its own.
I think that Bolsonarismo is more real than Trumpism. It’s a weird and contradictory coalition of forces in Brazilian society that came together as a result of his candidacy in 2018, and could well (though may not necessarily) continue to exist after Bolsonaro himself leaves the presidency and after his family stops being a force in Brazilian politics. What exactly is that strange and contradictory coalition of forces? Essentially, it’s an extreme right movement. Everybody that is a Bolsonarista, I would say, is opposed to democracy or is at least willing to cancel democracy for some kind of a higher purpose.
Bolsonarismo draws upon the support of the security services and people who support them. Evangelical Christians have also become a very important part of what Bolsonarismo is. At the beginning, there was a kind of a neoliberal, hardcore free-market component to Bolsonarismo as well. Paulo Guedes, who is literally a Chicago boy and used to work in Pinochet’s Chile, became finance minister. That support from the upper class, business, and national bourgeoisie is not quite as strong today as it was in 2018. But they were an important part of bringing this coalition together.
There are also the agricultural heartlands of the country, which are now seeming to be quite Bolsonarista. The fact that agriculture has done well under Bolsonaro’s government often has nothing to do with him. But the parts of the agricultural world that want to break laws and burn down even more of the Amazon rainforest than is allowed by current legislation, that want to invade indigenous territories, those people tend to be Bolsonarista just because Bolsonaro says these actions are good. So, it’s clear Bolsonarismo will be in power in some way, at least with a bloc in Congress and in control of state governments, even if Jair Bolsonaro loses and walks out of the presidential palace on January 1.
Outside observers, and by that I mainly mean those in the United States, are I think somewhat bound to see this election through a very particular set of reference points. And perhaps that makes some sense in broad strokes: Bolsonaro having some obvious similarities with Trump, among other things. But Brazil is a huge and complicated country with politics of its own — not just a Portuguese-speaking version of the United States. What would you say are the main issues at play in the election beyond those that most English-speaking media are liable to focus on?
The really simple answer to that question is that Brazil is in a much worse place than it was four years ago — and those Brazilians who can remember Lula’s government remember that things were better. Starvation and extreme poverty have jumped up under Bolsonaro, especially since the pandemic. And that is really what’s driven what I think is the major story of the campaign, which is that for the first time ever a sitting Brazilian president seems poised to lose reelection.
The comparison with the United States is an interesting one and it’s also kind of aggravating because, on the one hand, there are a lot of Trumpian things about Bolsonaro. On the other hand, Bolsonaro wants people in North America to think that. It’s an image that he (and some members of his family who are a little bit savvier when it comes to international relations and social media spin) has deliberately cultivated: that ‘I’m the Trump of the tropics and an ally of the Republican Party and Fox News in South America’; that ‘when they come after me down here, it’s the same thing as when woke professors and the Democratic Party come after you in North America.’ This has been done very explicitly, and I think there are reasons to do it. I mean, if a Republican were to reenter the White House, because of the sort of negative polarization in the most powerful country in the hemisphere, he would probably try to reach out to Bolsonarismo or perhaps take a really aggressive stance toward a possible Workers’ Party government in Brazil.
Bolsonaro’s personal history is very different from Trump’s, because Trump is a guy from television who, in my opinion, just wanted to stay on television and found in politics a way to do that. Bolsonaro, by comparison, is a creature of Brazil’s dictatorship — which of course came about as a result of the US-backed coup in 1964. He is a real believer in antidemocratic principles and a hardcore anti-communist. He’s not really a neoliberal, and he doesn’t care about economics. He’s not really religious, though he has made an alliance with Brazil’s growing evangelical Christian movement — which I suppose does resonate quite a bit with politics in the United States. But he’s somebody who, for his entire life, has believed that the Left needs to be crushed and that the democracy that has been constituted in Brazil since 1988 and the end of the dictatorship is a sham. This is a movement which has real ideological coherence in a way I don’t think Trumpism ever has. I have a hard time imagining that Trumpism could have the same longevity as Bolsonarismo.
In a televised debate earlier this month, Lula attacked Bolsonaro for his handling of COVID-19, and I’m very curious as to how much salience the pandemic has had throughout the campaign. Late last year, you wrote for New York Magazine that despite Bolsonaro’s anti-vaccine posturing, Brazil had had relatively few anti-vaxxers. Has that held during the campaign?
Yes, it has. I think that Bolsonaro (and especially his sons) instinctively try to import culture war stuff from the United States so they can see what sticks. From the very beginning, Bolsonaro really doubled down on the idea that COVID-19 wasn’t a big deal and people didn’t have to worry about it: everyone should work, the scientists saying that stay at home measures could work — that was a bunch of woke nonsense (though he wouldn’t have actually used that term). But this wasn’t effective, especially among urban elites. It did resonate within the hardcore base, though in a funny way: they would say ‘Yeah, we gotta look into those vaccines, there’s something wrong there . . .’ but then they would all get vaccinated anyway. So it didn’t really work here in the way that it did in the United States, and this was something that Bolsonaro lost important elite support over. Some of that migrated from the cities and countryside, and from the (let’s call it) respectable, civilized, pro-business right to the hyper-radicalized Bolsonarista base. And this is a strategy he has: he will often import things from the United States. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t.
Something else he’s tried to import from the United States is this idea that the voting system cannot be trusted. For almost the whole of last year, he was trying to set up a narrative that, if he were to lose, it would be fake because the voting system here can’t be trusted. Again, this makes no sense compared to the US context. In the United States, you have a diverse array of voting mechanisms in different states. In Brazil, no serious international observers think there’s anything strange about the way the votes are counted — it’s uniform across the country. The story Bolsonaro has been telling also calls into question his own victory and the victories of all his allies, so we’re now seeing — at the last minute — a pivot to a different narrative about how the election might be stolen from him, which has to do with censorship and court intervention.
So yes, he imports these things even when they don’t work and, while that may cost him domestically, I think in the long term the Bolsonaro family has the idea of creating an alliance with the Republican Party. And they maybe do need something like that in order to survive, because if Bolsonaro had been soundly defeated in the first round, the family could have all faced jail time. I mean, they’ve certainly committed enough crimes to deserve it. The question was whether or not the political system would prosecute these kinds of cases given the explosiveness of such a scenario. And, now that they have a decent base in government, it might be less likely.
Anyway, its political effectiveness aside, COVID-19 questioning has been a big part of his campaign rhetorically. And that’s the direct result of the intentional Americanization of Brazilian politics, and Americanization of Brazil.
On the French far right, and I suppose across much of the far right globally, there’s been a lot of Americanization for obvious reasons. Has the specific framework of woke versus anti-woke actually penetrated the Brazilian context? You’ll hear French politicians like Marine Le Pen, for example, talking about “le wokeism,” and in that context, it gets discussed as a kind of pernicious import from the United States that needs to be repelled. What is the equivalent to that in Brazil? Has the rather nebulous binary of woke and anti-woke made its way into the lexicon of Bolsonarismo?
Not linguistically. But, as a vibe? Absolutely. The thing about Bolsonaro is that he has quite a coherent narrative going back to the 1990s, which is that the Left has been culturally and politically hegemonic, it tells you what you’re supposed to think, and there’s been (as he would call it) communist indoctrination. So that’s been the way that he’s looked at all of these things since the 1990s. And there have been a number of powerful, far-right ideological figures in Brazil — especially Olavo de Carvalho, this strange philosopher that lived in the United States and posted on Facebook all day long — who have used this framework of cultural Marxism or communist indoctrination.
So this would all fall within that: rights for LGBTQ people, recognition of diversity, using the state in any way to try and help poorer Brazilians — that’s all just communist indoctrination. Bolsonaro brought Tucker Carlson here and they had a conversation where they tried to find common discursive commonalities between their two discourses, and it wasn’t very hard to find them. Some of it was ridiculous because PT (Lula’s Workers’ Party) is very much working class and Carlson seemed to think it was the Brazilian equivalent of Brooklyn liberals that were voting Lula into power. But, in general, they did find a lot of common ground in terms of discourse.
And that’s not a coincidence, because Brazil is deeply influenced by US culture — not only in terms of the internet but also television and political discourse. The only other politics that Brazilian media pay attention to are those of the United States. A lot of woke-era vocabulary has certainly entered Brazilian Portuguese. You can, for example, get “cancelado” (canceled), which is something that the right rails against here. But “woke” itself hasn’t quite made it, even if the discourse around it absolutely overlaps.
There are two recent incidents I want to ask you about. Several days ago, police attempted to arrest a retired politician and an ally of Bolsonaro’s (Roberto Jefferson) and he responded by firing on them and throwing grenades? Bolsonaro has also apologized after footage emerged of him telling a story about an encounter with some teenage girls. What exactly is going on here?
Both of these episodes have been bad for Bolsonaro but I think one has been worse. They’ve also become live campaign elements and have really dominated a lot of the conversations in recent weeks. One is very real, and the other is, perhaps, less so beyond the fact that Bolsonaro can’t speak about young women without sexualizing and insulting them. In that case, Bolsonaro told this story about how he was walking around the outskirts of Brasília (the capital) and (in his telling) he saw some young women who were ‘all dressed up’ and said ‘Why are you dressed up?’ The best way to translate the phrase he used next is that he said ‘there was some chemistry.’ As he told it, he then asked them if he could go back to their place and asked ‘What are you doing?.’ And then — remember, this is the version of the story that he wants the Bolsonarista listener to hear — they said ‘We’re prostitutes because we’re Venezuelan and the Left destroyed our country, and this is all that’s left for us.’
None of this makes sense in the way that he told it, because, if he were to have stumbled upon that horrible situation, he shouldn’t have gone on a podcast, he should have called in the police to stop these young women from being sex trafficked. This strange attempt to pin sex work in Brazil on the Left in Venezuela doesn’t make a lot of sense either, because he’s the president and there are, as I think I mentioned earlier, millions of young people who can’t get enough food here. So, if you want to find Brazilians that are in very difficult situations (because of him) it’s not hard to do. Anyway, journalists went back and looked into this and the Venezuelan women said ‘No, he did come here, but we’re not sex workers.’ He just made that up or thought it, and I think this incident really is just another example of him not being able to talk about women without sexualizing or insulting them — and hinting at the idea he was having sexual thoughts toward underage immigrants.
Now, the story with Roberto Jefferson — who is a longtime friend and ally of the Bolsonaro family — definitely happened because it was filmed and he wanted everyone to know about it. This guy is kind of nuts and even many on the Right will admit to that. He’s been under house arrest, apparently for being part of a digital criminal organization which is using social media to push for antidemocratic measures. Now, this part is kind of strange and I don’t exactly understand the sentence, but they basically said he couldn’t be under house arrest anymore because he’d been violating the terms of his house arrest by using social media. And they sent someone to go pick him up and, instead of cooperating, he tried to mount some kind of heroic martyr’s stand and go down in a blaze of glory because they wouldn’t let him post on the internet. He ended up coming out, shooting some federal police, and throwing a grenade at them. And this has become a huge scandal that even Bolsonaro has been forced to distance himself from. Usually, Bolsonaro will back anything happening on the Right that’s provocative. In this case, he actually went and said, ‘We’re not that close, and this is not the kind of thing I support.’
But another problem for Bolsonaro is that the incident reminded everyone that his son Eduardo, when he was eighteen, was on the books for receiving a salary for work he performed as a congressional assistant in Brasília while he was a full-time student in Rio de Janeiro — and the man who hired him for this job, which must have been fake (and if it was not fake, it would’ve been illegal to hire him for it) was Roberto Jefferson. This is the kind of low-level corruption that everyone believes the Bolsonaro family has been involved in forever. They never got involved in the high-level corruption that became the subject of the Lava Jato investigations because they weren’t important enough in Congress. So, this is not only a problem because somebody that has been photographed many times with Bolsonaro tried to kill a bunch of police — which is a big deal given the pro-security-forces orientation of Bolsonarismo — but also because it reminded people of the corruption Bolsonaro’s son was apparently involved with many years ago.
It’s bad for Bolsonaro because he was already behind in the polls, though they had been getting closer. So if this stops them from tightening further, it may be enough to lose him the election. It’s only Tuesday, and of course something even more insane could happen before Sunday, but this was too mediatized an event to stop people from talking about it and, well, everybody is talking about it.
Polling ahead of the first round of voting suggested, on average, a Lula lead of about eleven points – though he finished by only five. Ahead of the runoff at the end of this month, polls have still given Lula an edge but have also seemed to tighten further. Perhaps predictably, Bolsonaro has started attacking pollsters (Brazil’s House of Representatives is even set to pass legislation criminalizing inaccurate polls — though its future in the Senate looks more uncertain). I’d like to ask you about that, but I’m also curious how you account for the electoral resilience of Bolsonarismo? Brazil’s GDP has fallen since he was elected in 2018. There’s also been an increase in hunger, to say nothing of nearly seven hundred thousand COVID-19 deaths. All of these likely contributed to what was at one time a Lula lead of almost thirty points. Things look quite different now. How would you account for what’s become an unexpectedly close election?
It’s a good question. One part of it that’s troubling and hopefully ephemeral is that Bolsonaro found his real base after 2018. There was just a strange grouping of people that got together behind his candidacy largely out of rejection for what had come before. But, as I said, agricultural parts of the country can believe somewhat rationally that Bolsonaro is better for their interests. Evangelical Christians can probably believe, albeit with less evidence, that he’s somebody who can push for the sort of moral policies that Lula would not (and that’s an area where fake news comes into play, but you can create a stable base with that kind of representation of Lula).
The other dynamic, which I think is really important for explaining the shifts in polling that have transpired over the last few months, is the massive and shameless use of the state to pour money into every part of the country where it might influence voters. Bolsonaro entered office with a neoliberal finance minister who promised to be transparent and anti-corruption. And what’s happening now is a use of the state to flood money into the pockets of political allies, anybody that can help influence voting, and anybody that might be convinced to change their vote to an extent that’s really never been seen before.
It’s quite shocking, and I think even some of the most seasoned analysts of Latin American politics have been surprised that he’s moved forward a lot of welfare payments to the months just before the election. Lula still leads among the poorest Brazilians, but not as much as he did a few months ago. And the best explanation for this is that Bolsonaro gave them money. Everyone knows the finance minister is going to cut all of that off immediately in January, and he already has plans to do so. This is purely to get people to vote one way rather than the other, and it’s very bad for state finances.
Then there’s been this (as it’s been called) multibillion dollar secret budget which allows local lawmakers allied to Bolsonaro to basically spend money locally however they want. There’s already considerable evidence of corruption coming out of this secret budget — towns are making up the numbers, e.g. a town with eleven thousand people that performed seventeen thousand dental procedures in the last two weeks, and other stuff in this vein.
So, in addition to the sort of organic base of Bolsonarismo growing throughout four years in power, you have the shameless use of state finances to try to influence votes at the last minute.
As a final question, would it be fair to say that the proportion of economic versus cultural politics at play in Brazilian politics at the moment favors the latter? From abroad, the impression of Bolsonaro is that he’s very much a culture warrior, and that seems to be one of the ways he’s been able to mitigate the drag of the country’s poor economic performance over the past four years on his own electoral prospects. How would you characterize the final stage of the election in terms of whether economic or cultural issues are prevailing?
I would say it’s more the cultural. If it were economic, you would not see such a big discrepancy between male and female voters. White men are the only demographic category in Brazil that go for Bolsonaro over Lula (black women, by contrast, vote for Lula something like four to one). Bolsonarismo is powered by the petty bourgeois or middle class (but not that educated) white man that has weaponized his identity — which resonates with Trump’s support — that is, the kind of white man that believes he is at risk of having his privilege taken away and thinks he can attack those below him with the help of someone above him. In other words, the classic base for the extreme right: the angry, frustrated, emasculated, petty bourgeois man, in coalition with agribusiness and small scale producers. That’s more or less the organic and economic base.
But the real core of the Bolsonarismoist movement is not so strictly rational. The committed Bolsonaristas really believe in it. His spending offensive has gotten some of Lula’s base to come over to his side in the last few weeks, but Lula is still ahead amongst people who care, first and foremost, about where their food is coming from next month. But that part of the story — the classic, extreme right base, the anti-democratic man — I think that is at the core of what Bolsonarismo is.
Vincent Bevins is a journalist and the author of The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program That Shaped Our World.