Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

New Right’s “mass organizing” strategy and tactics

First Published: Unity, Vol. 3, No. 23, December 5-18, 1980.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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For years, the conservative right wing in the U.S. consisted mainly of businessmen and some upper strata professionals and intellectuals. During the seventies, though, a new generation of right-wing politicians and organizers emerged with a new strategy – to organize a mass base.

The New Right’s success among the masses is far less than their claims; they were not, for example, responsible for the defeat of liberal senators in last month’s elections. But the New Right has emerged as a growing force in national politics and poses a serious threat to the working class, minority and progressive movements.

Who is the New Right?

The New Right is a loose coalition of conservative groups and political action committees which are funded chiefly by & wealthy capitalists like Joseph Coors of the beer company and Texas billionaire Bunker Hunt. The New Right has a developing faction in Congress which includes Senator Paul Laxalt (R-Nevada), Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Representative Larry McDonald (D-Georgia).

The New Right has ties to the traditional conservative establishment and upholds the same basic views on economic and foreign policy matters. But while the old right wore free enterprise and anti-communism on its chest, the New Right is distinguished by its use of the so-called “emotional” social issues like abortion and homosexuality, and highly sophisticated mass organizing tactics.

The New Right’s strategy is to build a mass movement under a “pro-family, pro-morality, pro-Christian” banner and to use this movement to back conservative politicians who would otherwise probably not get support among working people.

Paul Weyrich, a New Right strategist and a leader of the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress (CSFC), explains, “In the past, we conservatives have paraded all those Chamber of Commerce candidates with Mobil Oil billboards strapped to their backs. It doesn’t work in (working) class neighborhoods .... The New Right is looking for issues that people care about, and social issues, at least for the present, fit the bill. Yes, they’re emotional issues, but thatís better than talking about capital formation.”

The New Right’s real program is nothing “new” but the old right-wing agenda – “right to work” (union busting) laws, the “balanced budget” (slashing social welfare programs), and a “tough foreign policy” (increased military spending and foreign intervention).

The anti-abortion movement

The New Right does not openly organize among the masses. New Right groups like the Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, the Conservative Caucus and the National Conservative Political Action Committee operate mainly behind the scenes, lobbying in Washington, recruiting and grooming political candidates and training organizers. To do mass outreach, these organizers set up front groups and coalitions around “single issue” themes such as abortion, prayer in the schoolroom or pornography.

For example, the New Right created dozens of local and national “pro-life” groups to attack abortion rights, including Americans for Life, the Prolife Education Committee and the Life Amendment Political Action Committee (LAPAC). These groups hold rallies and conferences and put out reams of literature about the “baby killers” and the “destruction of the family.”

In addition to whipping up a reactionary movement against women’s rights, the New Right uses the anti-abortion movement to back conservative political candidates. Anti-abortion organizers present them as “pro-life” candidates and seldom mention that they represent the entire reactionary program of the New Right, including dismantling OSHA, increasing military spending, reinstituting the death penalty and other matters concerning the “sanctity of life.”

This year, LAPAC’s congressional “hit list” was virtually identical to the “hit list” of the American Conservative Union. Interestingly, the list included Senator Frank Church, who opposed abortions, because he is “too liberal” on other issues and omitted Representative John Tower of Texas, who supports abortion, but is a reactionary otherwise.

Right-wing religion

Over the past two years, the New Right added right-wing religion to its arsenal of mass organizing tactics. New Right leaders hooked up with a handful of powerful Christian fundamentalist leaders who shared their reactionary politics. Their aim was to use the banner of “Christian morality” to bring the country’s estimated 65 million evangelicals into the conservative fold.

The most well-known of these efforts is the Moral Majority, Inc., headed by the Reverend Jerry Falwell. Falwell is a Virginia preacher who runs a multi-million dollar ministry that includes several Bible schools, a direct mail operation with 2 million names and a weekly television show carried over 600 stations that reaches some 18 million people.

Moral Majority was actually the brainchild of Paul Weyrich of the CSFC. It was a marriage between Falwell, who was looking to expand his power politically, and Weyrich’s CSFC, which was looking for new audiences. Moral Majority was set up as a political action committee with Falwell as its titular head and Robert Billings of the CSFC as its director.

Moral Majority quickly organized in 48 states and became active in the Republican Party; it captured all 19 delegates to the Republican Convention from Alaska. It embarked on a massive voter registration campaign, promoting Reagan and other conservative candidates along the “morality” theme.

Another “Christian” creation of the New Right is the Christian Voice, a group started in 1978 by the Reverend Robert Grant, an anti-homosexual crusader from California; Robert Billings and David Troxler of the CSFC and Gary Jarmin, an American Conservative Union lobbyist.

Christian Voice preaches conservatism with fire and brimstone rhetoric. One leaflet proclaimed that America “has come under increasing attack from Satan’s forces in recent years . . . insidiously sustained by the ever more liberal ethic. These are not political issues, liberal vs. conservative, Democrat vs. Republican . . . these are moral issues – good vs. evil, Christ vs. Anti-Christ!”

Christian Voice also issued two million “morality report cards” during the 1980 elections, rating congressmen on issues like school prayer, abortion, the ERA, “security for Taiwan,” “Rhodesia sanctions” and “forced unionization of teachers.” The report cards obviously had little to do with “morality”; indeed, ABSCAM defendant Florida Representative Richard Kelly received a 100% rating, and Maryland Representative Robert Bauman, who was arrested for soliciting sex from teenage boys, also got high marks.

How much influence?

How much mass influence the New Right has is questionable. Most working people do not consider themselves “conservatives,” and contrary to Jerry Falwell’s claims, evangelicals are as a group no more conservative than the general population. One Gallup survey revealed that evangelicals were no more to the right than all voters on issues like government social welfare programs, the death penalty and abortion.

The New Right, however, appeals to common concerns about family instability and social decay, playing upon fear and insecurity as well as backward trends like racism and sexism. The danger of the New Right lies in its efforts to offer thoroughly reactionary solutions to the problems facing working people under populist and religious trappings.

For this reason the bourgeoisie objectively encourages the growth and legitimacy of the New Right. The New Right is not just on the fringe of the political system; it is the bourgeoisie’s most reactionary and chauvinist option for rule. As U.S. monopoly capitalism’s crisis worsens, the ruling class will consider this option more. The New Right’s attempts to build a mass movement are helping to lay the groundwork for this possibility.

As such, the New Right must be opposed in connection with the entire ruling class’ conservative motion and attacks on working people and in the context of building an alternative of mass struggle against the capitalist crisis.

The New Right’s manipulative tactics and its real program of reaction must be exposed. The “moral solutions” posed by the New Right will do nothing to combat the social ills of capitalism; in fact, they will only intensify social contradictions by further oppressing women and minorities. And the masses of people have no interest in big business’ conservative economic policies or war preparations as promoted by the New Right.

Progressive and revolutionary forces must combat the influence of the New Right among the masses by offering a clear alternative, both ideologically and practically. As the New Right’s reactionary “populism” plays upon real worries about the degeneration of American society, these worries must be answered with an outlook that promotes the unity and equality of all working people and the need for mass struggle.

Furthermore, working people need to strengthen their organization and take up those social issues now supposedly championed by the New Right – women in the family, the deterioration of public education, drugs among youth, cultural decay and so on – offering a concrete understanding and opposition to the capitalist system which lies at the source of these crises.