Communist Party USA
East Coast Regional Party & Press Building Conference
New York City • October 13, 2007
“We Can Build a Bigger, Stronger Party”
By Libero Della Piana, New York State Chairperson
We have come together to help answer the question of how to building a bigger, stronger Communist Party. Today in Chicago and next week in Oakland, California, other Party members from the Midwest and West will be gathering with the same purpose. Meeting this challenge has become the mission of the entire Party.
The Party-Building Discussion
For the Past year we have been grappling with this challenge. First we had a series of discussion in the National Board and National Committee of the Party, followed by a Party-wide discussion of the role, nature and work of the Communist Party USA. In March, the national Committee adopted a 2007 Party-Building Plan of Work with a series of initiatives, objectives and proposals to recruit members, develop leaders, spread our influence, increase the readership of the People’s Weekly World newspaper and Political Affairs magazine, help build the Young Communist League and strengthen our organization in every way.
These activities in the past year were not only aimed at recruiting members, raising money and spreading the paper, but also at changing the culture of the Party itself, of making party-building a key activity and concern in everything we do. Our goal has been to put Party building back on the agenda.
And it is definitely on our agenda today. Our goal here today in this meeting is to 1) further win the grassroots membership of the Party to the task of building the Party; 2) to gather and share the experiences of Party Building by members, Clubs and Districts around the region; and 3) to help develop solutions to concrete barriers to building the Party at all levels.
We will have discussion following my presentation, other presentations by leaders of the Party and the YCL, and we will have plenty of exchange in small groups, where everyone here will have time and space to share your experiences and ideas. And of course, this meeting is not the end of our work. No, this is just the beginning. Each of us has to leave this meeting committed to doing our individual part in building the Party, press and the YCL. We also have to spread the word. To help convince everyone else in the Party that we can build a stronger, bigger Communist Party, in fact that we must.
The Political Context
Building the party never happens in a vacuum. We have always said that the Party must be built in the broader political and social context in which we live. The level and tempo of the class struggle and class conscious of the masses of people lays the basis for the growth of the Party. The Party can certainly recruit and build its presence in almost any political context. But how we build the Party, how we circulate and expand the Part press is defined by the political moment.
For the last 25-plus years, the far-right section of the U.S. ruling class has dominated political life from the Washington to the State House to Main Street. The rightwing has had the initiative and the momentum. For the most part the working class and the broad democratic forces have been waging defensive struggles—fending off the attacks from the right, cuts in government funding and the shifting of the political debate to the right. Since that time, our Party’s strategic objective has been to build unity to defeat the right in order to build the strength of the working class and its allies and to open the way for higher stages of struggle: the anti-monopoly struggle and eventually socialism.
That strategic outlook is developed and explained in our Party Program, titled “The Road to Socialism USA: Unity for Peace, Democracy, Jobs & Socialism.” It states that,
“the only strategy capable of defeating the ultra-right is the widest possible unity of all the class and social forces whose interests run counter to those of the most reactionary section of the transnationals. Such an all-inclusive coalition would need to be led by labor and the working class in close alliance with the nationally and racially oppressed, women, and youth.”All aspects of political and mass struggle as well as the building of the Party must be guided by the framework of building the all-people’s coalition to defeat the right. (By the way in preparing these remarks, I reread large parts of our Party’s Program. I encourage everyone to do so. It represents a huge amount of collective work and I think is very helpful for thinking through current developments. If your clubs haven’t yet read and discussed it, it would be a good project.)
For the next year or so the 2008 Presidential elections is the main battleground that defines the class and democratic struggles in this country. All the key people’s organizations, mass movements and social forces will be engaged in he fight to drive the rightwing from the White House and to solidify the gains of the 2006 elections in Congress and at the State level.
Our Party-building efforts in the next year must be rooted in our deep engagement in the election struggles. This is not only because the election is so important and will effect all other terrains of struggle, but also because there is no other way for the Party to grow in the next period. If we are not connected to the millions of working people who will be caught up in the election year campaigns and projects, how can we grow? People and masses in motion at the grassroots level are most likely to develop higher levels of political consciousness and analysis. They are our most likely potential recruits.
The ongoing war and occupation in Iraq will be with us for the foreseeable future, and the struggle against the war will continue to motivate a massive movement for peace that is organized at the grassroots, and increasingly involving the labor movement, religious organizations and the anti-war majority in the country. The party has become more engaged in the peace work at all levels. Many clubs are fully mobilizing for the October 27 Peace demonstrations called by United for Peace & Justice, just two weeks away. Our participation and leadership has been totally welcome. Still, our involvement is still uneven. Not only is the presence of communists in the peace movement and the broader movement for peace important to their tactical and political direction, but the peace struggle is an important field for building the Party in every way.
Of course we are not engaging in the elections or the peace struggle or any of the other struggle in which we are active just to build the party. On the contrary, we are engaging in the class and democratic struggles because that is where large sections of the working class, the labor movement, and other mass people’s organizations are focused. It is because that is where the class struggle leads us. We are getting involved in the 2008 election to help build and develop the various mass movements. The party’s growth and development is dialectically linked to the growth and development of the movements and struggles. It is not a direct equation where a bigger movement equals a bigger Party, but the development of the Party helps strengthen the movements and the stronger for advanced movements cannot do anything else but lay the basis for building the Party. It is now up to us to meet the opportunity.
Of course another context for the Party’s efforts to grow is the economic and social crisis. Perhaps the best recruiter we have is capitalism itself, which continually pushes working people into poverty, despair and fear. It is capitalism that inherently creates the class struggle, where workers clash with the capitalists every day. As Marx and Engels wrote 150 years ago, that capitalism creates its own “grave-diggers” that is the working class itself. But workers cannot get rid of capitalism on their own. A working-class Party is needed to organize the struggle for socialism.
The Role and Tasks of the Communist Party
That’s where we come in: the Communist Party USA. But, what is the Communist Party? What is our role? What is our objective? What makes us different from other political groups? Why do we say we are a necessary force for real change in this country? National Chairman Sam Webb opened up the discussion on the theory of the Party in his booklet “the Role, Nature and Work of the Communist Party.”
According to our Party Program, “To fulfill this role, the Communist Party needs the following characteristics, first in outlook, leading to actual leadership status among the working class and all working people. The Communist Party must be:
- a party of the working class…,
- a party of socialism,
- based on Marxism-Leninism,
- engaged in proletarian internationalism, and
- organized on the principle of democratic centralism."
The Party is not just a special organization, a group with a rich history and wonderful members such as everyone here in the room. No, the Communist party is also a necessary organization, without which the working class would be weaker. Without which the successful struggle for socialism would be impossible. Lenin showed that the working class cannot If there was no Communist Party, one would have to develop a Communist Party.
Sam Webb also reminded us that, “it is also the role of the communists to build the Party and its Press.” In other words, the Communist Party has to be a lot bigger if we are going to play our special role, to lead the working class to fulfill its role as a revolutionary class doing away with capitalism and together with a broad section of other social forces building socialism, a democratic system where the needs of the people come first. We are not really a communist Party unless we grow and build and develop the size and capacity to really lead, to be a Party of the whole working class. We have to grow the Party everywhere where working people live and struggle. We need to have Party Clubs in large cities and small, in urban and rural communities, in every state, in every community.
The Clubs, Building Blocks of the Party
The Clubs are the building blocks of the Party. They are the grassroots organization of the party where members come together to engage in discussion and action. In one sense, the party is nothing more than the sum of all its members organized in Clubs. The District Leaderships, National leaderships and all the hardworking staff we have cannot replace the Party’s members and their local activity.
Yet, our Party Clubs are very uneven in their condition, functioning and organizational health. We have many clubs that meet regularly, but others that do not. We have Clubs that are involved in local struggles and mass issues, others are isolated and focused on internal issues. We have Clubs that have regular educational activities, study of Marxist basics and current issues, others rarely or never
Clubs that are dysfunctional need immediate attention. We need to consider moving members to different clubs, merging or shifting clubs, bringing in new leadership. Problems need to discussed and addressed directly. Many districts have one or more “problem clubs’ that do not grow, do not distribute the paper effectively, raise money or engage in mass struggles. We have to overcome these problems, reorganizing club were necessary. Sometimes a shift in a club’s composition can have a positive impact on everyone’s functioning.
We need to make every club of the party a welcoming environment for new members, a place where members have a rich political experience, and feel the club adds to their work. We have to change club meeting from being a chore or a distraction from mass work to being a dynamic part of member’s political activity. If we don’t make the club meetings interesting, exciting, relevant and useful then members will stop coming and Party will become just another commitment in a list of responsibilities for busy activists.
Our concept of Party organization is dependent on clubs being the main structures of the party. But Clubs are not just “chapters” of the party. A Party Club has to be linked to its local area, to it working class, its key organizations and issues. Each club therefore, while working within the national framework of party policy, campaigns and initiatives, is involved in local work based on the discussion and decisions of the club’s members.
Clubs that are dynamically engaged in these local struggles can bring in the national collective experience and analysis of the whole, bring in our Marxist analysis and our strategy, bring in what we used to call the “communist plus.”
But in order to really do this in a sustainable and achievable way, we have to have club concentration. Club concentration is a focus on a particular geographic area or workplace. When club’s concentration area is too large it’s work is less effective and less relevant to its members. In many places in the Party, clubs have abandoned or drifted away from the practice of club concentration with negative results. We need to struggle for every club to develop a concentration area in which to focus its paper distribution, mass work and Party presence. This is not to the exclusion of other work, but to focus and maximize the work of clubs with limited resources, human and financial.
Larger more established clubs should seek in consultation with the District leadership. Of course we never want to rush to set up a new club or to divide members in a successful club, but a large citywide club too often becomes a small citywide club. The tendency is then to expand the scope of the club eve further to bring in members from farther afield making it less sustainable. We have clubs in many areas where members have to travel long distances to attend meetings and club’s work is irrelevant to their work and lives. We should see these situations as
The same is true of “trade unionist” clubs. These clubs cannot adequately address the various issues in all the industries represented by its membership. And their existence perpetuates the notion that the club is a single-issue group only focusing on trade union issues or that other clubs do not deal with trade union issues nor have trade union members. Trade unionist clubs should in most cases be seen as transitional on the road to industry clubs and eventually, when we are a lot bigger, to shop and workplace clubs, where the communists in a single workplace can gather and address the extremely local developments where the work. The same is true of citywide clubs. We should have an outlook towards making these into neighborhood or in the distant future, into block clubs of the organization.
Club concentration is a principle and should be mechanically applied, but we need to better study concentration policy and makes plans for implementing it in our work. I believe it is an essential part of Party-building.
The biggest factor in the success of Party Clubs is club leadership. We need more dedicated club chairs, club treasurers and other club leaders. Clubs cannot function properly without leaders to ensure regular and business-like meetings, to give political guidance and maintain contact with members between meetings.
Being a club chair is difficult work and a big commitment. And we need many more of them. Many clubs have temporary or reluctant chairs who are unable or unwilling to really lead the club. We also need club chairs to think about how they can improve their work, to think about how to help the club grow.
Districts must develop trainings, discussion and other mechanisms to support and nurture club chairs and other club leaders. For example, in New York, we are developing a training session for club treasurers and several districts are preparing for club leadership trainings in the New Year that will include political discussion as hands-on training in the skills and responsibilities of club work.
Increasing the number of our members is the first thing many of us think of when it comes to building the party. That’s understandable. Numerically increasing the Party is the key to all other aspects of Party Building. Without more members and leaders, we cannot expand our influence, significantly increase the circulation of our paper or increase our public presence. How many times have you wished in your club that there was another member or two to help with all the important work to be done?
But new members don’t just make the Party bigger. New members force the Party to change in important ways. A new member or two in a Club can change the dynamics of a conversation and open up new opportunities. Of course, new members alone won’t change a club, but a club that is open to growth and consciously protective of a new member’s development will change in response to new blood, doing what is necessary to retain the members and encourage others to join.
Building the Party Among the Core Forces
The Party program identifies the social groups that are the most decisive in making broad social change in the U.S. These groups—the working class, women, the racially and nationally oppressed and youth—are together called the core forces. The core forces overlap and intersect, but together make up the most important sectors of society, leading other social groups and playing a progressive role in general. Because of their experience of exploitation and oppression, the core forces engage in class and democratic struggles every day under capitalism. They are compelled to fight for change.
The unity of these social groups and the unity between them is a key ingredient in making any significant social change in this country. We cannot defeat the ultra-right or move onto higher stages of struggle including winning socialism without these groups. It follows that the Communist Party must seek to build its organization among the multiracial multinational multilingual working class. But we must also recruit among women of all classes, races and backgrounds. And we must recruit African Americans, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans and other Latinos, Asian Americans, Arab American, immigrants and all racially oppressed people.
And doesn’t it make sense that they would be drawn to the Party? Aren’t they the people who are searching for change? Searching for a better life and a solution to the problems they face day in and day out? It is up to us to help provide the answers and the organization that can fulfill their desire for a better world.
Industrial concentration is a key part of the effort to build the party in the working class. From its earliest days, our Party has focused its work on the working class in particular its organized sector: the labor movement. But we have also had a particular focus on workers in heavy industries that have a decisive impact on the economy and the working-class as a whole. Recently we reaffirmed our industrial concentration policy, making the Steel, Automotive, and Transportation industries key to our national work. Many Districts also have their own industrial concentrations based on the local conditions in their State. Here in New York for instance we have a concentration on the Public Transportation sector of the broader Transport Industry. I think everyone knows the leading role played by New York City transit workers who went on strike a few years back.
We have to find ways to further build the Party among workers and all working people. Many clubs have neighborhood distribution routes of the People’s Weekly World; some have regular distributions at Central Labor Councils and key union delegate meetings.
Many plant gate distribution of the paper have fallen away because of plant closures and the lack of capacity in the clubs. We need to find new ways to reach the working class, particular those in key industries according to our industrial concentration policy.
This summer, the Party held a conference eon African American Equality in St. Louis where we discussed the particular importance of the African American community. African Americans have always played a revolutionary role in this country from the struggle for the country’s independence, the Civil War, the Black Freedom Struggle of the Civil Rights era, and up to the present day. We also discussed the extreme crisis in the Black community due to racism, super exploitation and the genocidal policies of the ultra-right. We agreed at that conference for every District and Club to discuss African American equality, and make concrete plans for reaching out to the Black community and having an approach toward recruiting African Americans.
Building the Party among the core forces should be a key theme in today’s discussions and the ongoing discussion in the clubs and districts going forward.
Recruiting new members is just the beginning. It is not enough to attract new recruits, but to keep them, develop them and win them over fully to the party and its program. People will join the Party for many different reasons: as a form of protest to the system, because of a relationship with a Party member, because of our Party’s unique history, because of a nostalgic vie of the Soviet Union, etc. And many new recruits will have preconceptions about the party and its politics.
Whatever the reason they joined, most people stay in the Party because they become convinced of is role and necessity. We need to develop communists, committed Marxists who are convinced not only of the necessity of socialist revolution, but also of our strategic policy and mass approach.
Club meetings are the main point of entry for new recruits. District staff (where it exists) cannot substitute for the work of the clubs or their relationship and nurturing off new members. Clubs must be efficiently run, friendly environments that new members will be excited about attending. Involving new members in the work of the club, the distribution of the paper, mass work, etc. is important as well, but we should take care not to pour too much responsibility on them or load them up with drudgery. Sometimes there is an attitude of relief that there is a new member to take all the work off the hands of the veteran members. We should avoid this practice, as it is a recipe for someone dropping away.
Regular personal contact between club leaders and new members between club meetings is extremely important. Developing personal relationships and rapport is also important to building trust and an environment conducive to retaining members. Social events, food, good and welfare and other things that put a human face on the party are important as well.
Marxist education is another key to retaining new members and developing Party leaders. Many people are drawn to the Party because of our vision and analysis. They are frustrated by the day-in-day-out struggle without hope for real victories, without answers to their tough questions. Therefore we absolutely must prepare new members with Marxist education and study of current events.
New members classes at the District and even club level are important, as well as regular club educational and where appropriate reading groups, film series, etc. Every club should have ample Party literature as well as books and pamphlets of the Marxist Classics for collective study and to provide to new members.
Marxist education is also a recruitment tool. Many rank-and-file workers, activists, students and more have come into the Party through our schools and trainings. Workers Schools, public forums, and reading groups are all ways to bring activists closer and possibly recruit them.
Education is often the first thing to fall off a club’s agenda. We have to turn that around if we want to effectively recruit, retain and develop new members.
Barriers to Growth
There are many barriers and challenges to the growth of the party. Identifying them is essential to dismantling or overcoming them. This is not an exhaustive list and every club and district will have its own particular strengths, weaknesses and challenges. But the following barriers to growth seem common enough throughout the party and should be examined.
Fear. There are many fears (both real and imagined) that become barriers to recruitment public presence, and fundraising. There is fear of change, fear of the challenge, fear of failure, and I also think fear of success. The others may be self-explanatory, so let me say that I think some of us are afraid of succeeding, afraid of what a bigger, stronger more public Communist Party will demand of them. We have to find out ways to dispel and address these fears.
Other priorities. For too many members, the Party and its work comes far down the list. When we ask for volunteers to take up the organizational work of the Party—recruitment, fundraising, and building the paper—too often people have “more important” things to do. Clubs need to discuss how to get every member to put the Party higher on the list.
Overloaded plates. Comrades have too many things on their plates. So do the Clubs. Some members are involved with numerous organizations, movements and events and don’t focus their activities to benefit the movements or the Party. Clubs also tend to run from one issue event to the next, putting out fires. Every club should discuss how to focus their work and cut things from their agenda. They should help members do the same.
Being stuck in a rut. Some of our clubs run on automatic. Or don’t run at all. Some members are quite comfortable with small clubs composed of people they have known for years. The functioning of clubs can become too familiar and unfavorable to bringing in and retaining new members. We should all think about how to get such clubs out of the rut, to stir things up and bring some fresh ideas, initiatives and members into the clubs.
Disconnected. This is not so much a problem anymore. Most of our clubs are connected and deeply involved with the mass labor and people’s struggles in their area. But there are still a few clubs and more than a few members that are turned inward. Are not involved with mass movements, don’t get involved in the fightback struggles all around them. This is a deadly problem that will significantly limit the ability of the Party to grow.
Party-building not a priority. The last barrier to growth is perhaps the biggest barrier. We don’t grow, because we don’t think about and make plans to grow. In other words, Party-building itself is not a priority in many clubs and among many members. This is our biggest challenge, to get every club and more and more members to consciously think about the challenges and tasks of Party-building, to make concrete plans and then to carry them out.
Of course, there are no easy solutions to these issues. Many of these challenges will be with us for a long time. Today’s discussion is the beginning of addressing them. The discussion that follows in the Districts and Clubs is the key to working through specific barriers to growth.
Fundraising is an Essential Aspect of Party-Building
In the past two years we have begun to put our Party’s finances on better footing. We have had a thorough look at our spending and fundraising and tried to make the financial health of the Party part of the discussion throughout the Party.
We have also begun to identify raising funds for the Party as an essential Party-building activity. It makes sense. Many of the indispensable things we do—produce materials and publications, publish a weekly newspaper, maintain staff people to organize the work of the Party, travel the country for important meetings like this one—all of it costs money. There is no way to build a stronger, bigger Party without raising more money.
Recognizing this fact, we developed a new system to make it easier for members and supporters to give money to the Party and its projects. We also overhauled the dues policy to make dues a more significant contribution.
The new sustainer program allows contributors to give a regular amount every month to fulfill their commitment to the National Party, the Party Press and the District Organizations. The potential is huge and we have to encourage every member to participate at whatever level they can.
All of this was done with a recognition that the ongoing economic crisis in this country I having a huge and negative impact on working people and their livelihoods. We always have to ensure that our essential fundraising does not keep recruits, contacts and friends away from us. In fact, spreading he financial responsibility for the party should bring those contacts closer to us.
Members should give what they can. Having said that, many of us can contribute more to the party and the press, and we believe that members and supporters will give more in relation to their belief that the party is a necessary part of the political upsurge and for the struggle to change this system altogether.
Like Party-building generally, raising funds for the Party is every member’s responsibility. We have to ask ourselves, “Have we contributed significantly to the Party?”, “Have we asked others to make contributions, large or small?”, “What can we do to help ensure the financial health of the party for today and the future?”
The Party Press
The People’s Weekly World and Political Affairs are two key parts of the party’s press. The PWW is a weekly newspaper, which brings the views and politics of the Communist party to thousands of people and continually exposes the crimes of the system and the struggles of the people. PA, the bimonthly magazine engages in questions of theory, ideology, politics and culture.
The PWW in particular is a key tool in our tool belts. It is the weekly, regular voice of the party. In fact, it is the paper of the whole movement, reflecting the various struggles and also influencing them. Building the paper’s readership, circulation, subscription base, etc. is a central aspect of Party building. Increasing the use of small paper bundles by Clubs and members is a great way to make sure the paper gets into someone’s hand. Of course, the paper is only a tool; it is up to use to do the work. The paper is a way to open a discussion. To make a new contact, to
As less recognized aspect of our press are the various webpages and electronic media we have developed in recent years. These new information technologies are reaching millions of people and have the potential to bring the reach of the Party’s influence far wider than print can. Here in New York District, we have developed a weekly electronic bulletin to maintain contact with our members and friends and a webpage “blog” where we comment on, report on, and analyze political developments here in New York State. These and other initiatives in electronic media are essential in the 21st Century if we are going to truly be the “Party of the future,” as Engels put it.
To respond to this emerging area of our work, the National board has established a committee to develop proposals for evolving our publications in order to 1) expand and develop our internet and new media work; 2) expand the readership of the Party press and its influence; 3) and bring our spending on publications in line with our financial abilities. I want to reassure people that we are not doing away with the printed PWW. But we are looking at ways to affect mandatory savings while maintaining our excellent publications.
The committee will be bringing proposals to the National Board in the next week and to the National Committee in November.
The Young Communist League—the Future of the Party
When we discuss an plan the building of the Communist party, we cannot forget the Young Communist League. The YCL and the Party share a special relationship, each supporting and building the other and the Party nurturing and guiding the development of the League and its young members. The YCL looks to the Party for political direction and the party looks to the YCL for its future members and leaders.
So it is obvious that building the YCL is another essential task of the Party if it is to ensure its future.
The Young Communist League is organizationally independent form the Party. It has its own structures, leaders and decision-making. In that sense the Party cannot directly build the League. But the Party must wherever possible, in small ways and large, help the YCL grow organizationally, politically, etc. When there is a Party club and no local YCL, the Party should help recruit and attract YCL members and in coordination with the National YCL help build YCL clubs. Where the YCL and Party coexist, there should be close relations, communication and coordination between the Party and the League, to ensure the potential for growth.
Party Clubs and District should have ample YCL materials and stay attuned to YCL campaigns and activities. While the YCL is an organization of youth, we should never forget that in the words of Engels, we are the Party of the youth.” The Party has to relate to youth issues and young people themselves of course in close cooperation with the Young Communist League. The 2008 elections is a great opportunity for YCL and Party to work together locally and plans are in motion nationally.
Many YCL leaders are also members of the Party. As such, their Party work should be to build the YCL and to develop new leaders to eventually take their place. Recruitment of YCL members into the Party and the passage of YCLers out of YCL work into the Party should be done very carefully and with full coordination and agreement of the YCL.
We will be hearing more later about the building of the Young Communist League from Adam Tenney, the National Education Coordinator of the YCL.
Today is just the beginning. Let’s have rich and fruitful discussion in the workshops and panels. Let’s tackle some of the challenges we face in our clubs and Districts. And then let’s carry the message forward, bring our enthusiasm and commitment back to our Party clubs where we put these lessons and ideas into action.
Remember, the Party has to be built in the context of the struggle. We can only build the party and increase the reach of our press while engaged in the mass struggle of the all-people’s coalition striving to defeat the ultra-right.
Remember that building the party requires a knowledge of the Marxist theory of the Party which males it clear that the communist party is not just important, but necessary for major social changes and to lead the working class in its historic mission to replace capitalism with socialism.
And remember that no one else will build the Party but you—and me. We can’t expect someone else to do it. So let’s take concrete steps to build a stronger, bigger communist party today.
A printable PDF version of this speech can be downloaded here.