Building the party at the grassroots and winning elections

BY:Joelle Fishman| February 1, 2018
Building the party at the grassroots and winning elections


Opening presentation to elections panel at the CPUSA party building conference, December 2-3, 2017.

Let’s start with congratulations to our comrades in Virginia and in New Jersey and to the working class in many parts of our country for rising up against the hate, fear and war mongering of the extremists.  Voters there said no to the racist attack on Charlottesville and no Trumpism by electing many young, women, African American, Latino, trans, and socialist oriented candidates who defeated some of the most entrenched anti-immigrant and bigoted incumbents.

This panel will take a look at some concrete examples of building our clubs in the context of our election work. We will discuss how we can best apply our united front strategy of building the broadest possible unity and solidarity of unions, community groups, all kinds of organizations and grass roots people who are getting hurt into a powerful movement with the capacity to reject white supremacy and change the political course in our country and communities. We will examine how this work can raise class consciousness and strengthen the Communist Party and the movement for “socialism USA.”

The framework we’re using is the high stakes of the 2018 elections: how to change the balance of power in Congress and many state houses by building a movement that can defeat extremist corporate right-wing incumbents, candidates and policies.

There are already many new candidates who would never have imagined themselves stepping forward, propelled by the resistance organizations that blocked the repeal of the ACA, and are fighting for a clean Dream Act and much more. There is plenty of space for Communists in that blossoming movement.

Beyond and within that, we need to grapple with how to strengthen the Communist Party and build unity and class solidarity to go on to the offensive and win a strong peoples’ agenda.

People learn in the course of struggle. Concrete struggles are the heart of raising class consciousness, winning victories, electing left and progressive candidates, and building the grassroots movement that can determine the agenda.

The challenges before us are so massive and pervasive in every part of our lives. But at the heart of it all is building a movement from the grassroots up, community by community, for working-class power.

Just going around at election time to solicit votes for this or that candidate won’t do it. It takes year round door knocking and talking with people, building a base that can choose its issues and win.

This panel will hear about the work of the Communist Party in four cities.  Each presentation will discuss how the Communist Party grew and became stronger in the course of contributing to this grassroots approach to the elections in their community.

This panel will make the case that the broad alliance and our country needs a larger and stronger Communist Party and we will open the discussion on how to get there.

We will hear from  a member of New Haven Connecticut’s Board of Alders, who just decisively defeated her Republican opponent, about how a grass oots movement including the Communist Party can elect union members to public office and change the priorities of a city.

We will hear from Cleveland, Ohio about a big victory electing the first Latina to city council and how the West Side Club has been at the center of that campaign and successfully took on red baiting in that key election.

We will hear from Brooklyn, New York about the long-term and recent work of the club that has inspired new club members to become active leaders, through unifying movements like the fight for 15 with getting out the vote, and taking on the right wing in Staten Island.

We will hear about young candidates in Houston, Texas choosing to join the Houston Club and learn about the initiatives of the Party which have resulted in a number of independent political formations and a rapidly growing Communist Party organization.

It must be said that our future as a people and the direction of our country and the planet is on the line.  A lot of us are getting hurt by the increasing economic and social inequality and expanding imperial policies. The corporate right-wing interests used their money and media and every trick in the playbook to capture control by suppressing the vote and confusing, and dividing using white supremacy, misogyny and bigotry against immigrants.  Their goal is to dismantle all the gains won over decades for labor rights, civil rights, voting rights, environmental and social justice rights, health care, housing and child protections.

But as Tuesday’s elections underscored, that extremist agenda is in the opposite direction of what the majority in our country wants. As more and more people are becoming “woke” and searching for how to turn things around, interest in socialism is growing.

Many of the newly elected candidates made history, from Jackson, Mississippi to Charlottesville, Va; from St. Paul, Minnesota to Cleveland, Ohio, and in Maine where voters overrode their Governor to expand Medicaid.  These candidates emerged from new political formations like Our Revolution, Working Families Party, Indivisible, and from the outreach by unions and many others that are shining a light through the deadly smog to change the political landscape.

The lesson is to bring working-class, grassroots organizing and consciousness into the elections at every level. That’s where we come in as a revolutionary, working-class party.

And that’s why it is so important that this conference is being held today. So we can move onto the offensive in 2018.  “And still we rise.”

Following the panel presentations, the following discussion questions will be discussed at each venue:

  1.  Based on the panel presentations, are there ideas for how your club can move forward and grow during the 2018 elections?  What obstacles will have to be overcome?
  2.  What kind of assistance from the national Communist Party organization or from your state Party organization would be useful to your club in developing and implementing an organizing strategy around the 2018 elections?  What ideas for the kind of coverage and use of People’s World that will be most helpful?

Image: Joelle Fishman


    Joelle Fishman chairs the Connecticut Communist Party USA. She is a Commissioner on the City of New Haven Peace Commission, serves on the executive board of the Alliance of Retired Americans in Connecticut and is an active member of many economic rights and social justice organizations. She was a candidate for Congress from 1973 to 1982, maintaining minor-party ballot status for the Communist Party in Connecticut's Third Congressional District. As chair of the CPUSA Political Action Commission, she has played an active role in the broad labor and people's alliance that defeated the ultra-right in the 2008 elections and continues to mobilize for health care, worker rights and peace.



Comments (7)

BH | March 04, 2018 at 4:16 AM

The Communists did a lot of the recruiting into the unions and were responsible for helping getting Democrats elected all through the 1930’s and 1940’s. Then when they did not need the Communists anymore they threw them under the bus in all the anti-Soviet hysteria that went on in the 1950’s. Never trust the Democrats even if today we still have to work on their behalf if not outright with them from time to time.

BH | March 04, 2018 at 4:13 AM

You know at one time being a member of the Communist Party was a death penalty offense in Texas?

Eric Sommer | February 09, 2018 at 2:28 AM

Support for the democratic party, a party now reviled by workers for its anti-worker policies and imperialist wars, is *the* greatest obstacle between this party and the American working class. The democratic party is *not* an obstacle to the ultra-right; it is now *the* ultra-right party.

Under its previous front-man Obama, this is the party which moved Nato forces to threaten Russia at its border; it massivly moved U.S. military forces into Asia to threaten China; deported more immigrants – 3 million – than all other previous administrations combined; transfered a trillion dollars *every year* from the government – i.e., from workers – to the banks and finance companies; and oversaw and expanded NSA mass collection of online data from the American people and the world. Support for the democratic party will doom this party to irrelevance in the coming period of mass struggle by American workers. It’s not too late to change course; please consider.

Btw, I live in China. We are not fans of the democratic party here!

    Scott Hiley | February 12, 2018 at 1:57 PM

    Your assessment of the public perception of the Democratic Party is seriously flawed. Perhaps your vantage point in China gives you a different view of “the workers” in the United States, but from what I can see here, many workers come to politics through the Democratic Party. Some my “revile” it, most of them aren’t militant, class-conscious anti-imperialists. At least, that’s not the story told by the Confederate flags and Trump bumper stickers and Fox News playing in every diner.

    And the Democratic Party is not a party of the ultra-right. It’s a party composed of working-class and capitalist-class forces, with progressive Social-Democratic trends and imperialist, anti-worker ones. The Republican Party, on the other hand, is the Confederacy reborn. It is the most significant obstacle to progress for the working class. Not only do they advance their own reactionary agenda; they give cover to the Democrats to keep moving rightward. Republicans are the most powerful and consistent voice of the war lobby, the fossil fuel industry, and Israeli apartheid. A defeat for them (provided it is achieved through mass resistance) is also a defeat for the imperialist forces in the Democratic Party. In any case, there’s no path forward that leaves the Republican Party in place.

    Carl Page | February 19, 2018 at 2:28 PM

    I agree Eric. I joined CPUSA so I wouldn’t have to vote for another Wall St. lackey. Woe was my surprise to find CPUSA support of HRC. To me it was a sellout !! Had it not been for multiple one on one interventions by other Party members , I would ‘ve denounced CPUSA and joined DSA. There will be much to discuss @ 2019 National Convention

Dion E Gullion | February 05, 2018 at 3:00 AM

I’ll be at the Texas District Conference later this month in Houston.

Claire Connelly | February 05, 2018 at 2:31 AM

Excellent analysis.

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