Pre-Convention Discussion: Let’s Give ‘Em Something to Talk About!

 
September 21, 2001

Report given to the National Committee

To
prepare for the convention, we set the goal of a discussion in the Party
and of the Party with the left and our coalition partners.

We projected
an approach that would utilize the Party’s experiences in coalition building
and communist and mass media. Our goal is to organize a broad discussion
of ideas that will shape how the Party goes and grows.

Two months
remain before the convention. This meeting is not the end of pre-convention
discussion. There is still a heck of a lot to talk about!!! So let’s take
a look at the high points of experience at the local level as well as
the national initiatives so far.

The Pre-convention
Discussion Committee includes representatives from the communist media,
labor commission, Internet department, Mexican American, African-American
Equality Commissions and state/district activists. We’ve been working
like a well-oiled machine until the last three weeks when health, travel,
schedules and stepped up district/state work have tripped us up. So committee
members, beware; we have to get back on track for the last phase of the
discussion!!

Did we bite
off too much to chew or do? Yes, but we also have made real headway in
pointing up the direction to upgrade the ideological life of the Party
and to stir up new thinking in the coalition organizing that is underway
by the labor and people’s movements.

Our general
approach to pre-convention discussion fits with the needs of the Party
and the movements: 1) the need for galvanizing the left, and left center
unity, 2) the goal of deepening political ties with others, and 3) the
need to emphasize the dialectical relationship between ideological struggle
and organizing both the Party and the movements.

Also the
approach is geared to a convention of transition. Transition in the sense
of placing our growth, our relationships and ourselves with others on
a new footing in the fight vs. the right in the boardrooms and in political
power.

The pre-convention
discussion in a modest way is taking the CP from where it has been to
an awareness of where we need to go. The process is uneven, but it is
a way to get a fix on the ideological work needed in the Party, on the
left and in the movements.

We haven’t
given organized attention to ideological education work for quite a long
time. The need for that organized collective attention really stood out
in both positive and negative ways in the last few months. To start with
the negative: There have been very few collectively-prepared written contributions
from clubs and not enough planning on the district/state level. And from
the positive angle there has been a tremendous response to the initiatives
taken to spur on discussion.

Right now
our Party is an activist Party, a talkative Party but not a writing Party.
We need to change that! Less than thirty written responses have trickled
in. One four- page pre-convention bulletin has been published and now
a second eight-page edition is about to hit the presses.

So let’s
take a look at the high points so far. We have two months and still quite
a lot to discuss before we go to Milwaukee!

The six areas
that have been pre-convention discussion high points are:

1) Draft
Labor Program
You heard Scotty’s report on the experiences with the draft labor program.
The commission’s process for drafting it, the exchanges with coalition
partners and the impetus it has given us to reexamine the left in labor
and our connection to the growth of the left is the prototype for post
convention initiatives. We should take the same approach to the discussion
of the new draft Party program after the convention.

2) The Women’s
Equality Conference was an attempt to reestablish our political connections
to this movement through examining the political and ideological questions
confronting the movement in the fight against the right agenda and inviting
others to participate in the discussion. Elena spoke of the impact of
the conference in her opening and the clubs received the keynote by Denise
Myles. Organizing this type of meeting will be needed in the post convention
follow-up to reestablish commissions and strengthen coalition ties.

Chicago was
the right place to have this conference. Denise Myles and the Illinois
district did a great job. They had gotten the ball rolling on pre-convention
discussions with a forum on the left and the 2000 elections involving
the Greens, DSA, Socialist Action and labor activists. Bruce Bostick’s
speech to that roundtable is the lead article in the second pre-convention
bulletin.

3) The organizing
of public forums in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois and
New York have helped to highlight the coalition ties and the necessity
for the Party to exchange ideas and estimates even if we do not totally
agree with others but share a commitment to movement building. To carry
on the ship analogy from Sam’s report, in a sense it is an example of
Communists in the stream with a paddle, but not necessarily owning the
title to the boat.

These forums,
as well as private meetings with leaders, have been valuable in gauging
where the movements and the Party must go to meet the political moment.
Forums and roundtables with other leaders should be standard operating
practice for our Party.

4) The National
Board has been conducting pre-convention discussions to help stimulate
discussions in the districts/states and clubs and to elaborate on specific
areas the convention should focus on. The openings thus far have been
on strategy and tactics, the energy crisis, the economic crisis, African
American equality, globalization, the youth movement and the Party. More
are scheduled.

Sam’s opening
on strategy and tactics sparked quite a bit of discussion. Sam participated
in organized discussions in the Midwest states and New York, which brought
out issues that in some ways will be the determining factors in mobilizing
the broad united anti-right movement. The estimate of the right danger
and the 2000 elections and the tactics of independent political action
were debated. The sessions provided a lot of food for assessment of our
work.

Not only
did Sam’s opening spark discussion in the real world but also in cyberspace
in the Yahoo! discussion group on the Internet. Why? Because the strategy
and tactics of electoral struggle are basic for a revolutionary, working-class
party. More on that later!!

The preparation
of the openings and the rapid circulation in the Party and posting on
the Party’s web page are key elements to a 21st century CP leadership!

5) We have
begun to organize working groups in areas in which there are no commissions
now. They have just begun to percolate. Peace and solidarity, culture,
academics and the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, trans-sexual groups are getting
together via E-mail and phone conferences. The religious community and
Asian Pacific Islanders working groups have conveners and will be getting
off the ground soon. We still need to reorganize the women’s equality
working group and find conveners for the seniors/retirees and Jewish working
groups. There’s great interest and response by the activists in these
movements to help prepare for the convention.

The goal
of these groups is to prepare discussion articles and help plan the workshops
and panels for the convention. The working groups will help organize the
invitations to coalition partners to be on panels and be with us in Milwaukee.

6) Now I’d
like to spend some time on the most innovative element of the pre-convention
discussion: the Internet. Of course, we have beefed up the staff by creating
an Internet Department with Noel and Heather at the helm and the addition
of Pete. Our web pages are liable to have something new every day now.
There are long-term plans to make them even more exciting. The web pages
are the portal to our revolutionary ideas.

This is also
the collective that is hoping to help every level of the Party to get
connected to the Internet. The Internet gives clubs the opportunity to
give input and find out about new CP developments: a CP of action connected
to the grassroots.

For the first
time, National Board, National Committee and commission reports are available
so that all Party members and others interested in our discussions can
read them from the Internet.

Through the
efforts of Henry in Connecticut and the Internet Department, the pre-convention
discussion bulletins are also available both in text and on a PDF file
from our web page.

The second
element to the Internet pre-convention discussion is the Communist Party
discussion group on Yahoo! initiated by the pre-convention discussion
committee in mid-February. Prasad from Michigan heads the collective that
is guiding this exciting new development. It is a collectively-moderated
discussion for contributions to the thinking that will shape the decisions
of the convention. You may have read some posts in the PWW.

The Yahoo!
discussion group is a taste of the impact of ideological struggle on a
mass scale. The response to this initiative on the web flows directly
from the analysis of the new growth of a broad left in the labor and people’s
movements, which Joey discussed in his remarks. Many out there on the
net are searching for left alternatives.

There has
been a debate among us about the Internet recruiting, who’s on the Internet
and the relative importance it has in the class struggle. Labor and all
the people’s movements are utilizing it to break out from the corporate
media control of the flow of information. And so should we!

So let us
consider the Yahoo! discussion group from this angle: if the PWW and PA
had gotten 600 letters to the editor since February, we’d be in an uproar.
We’ve had over 600 written contributions to the discussion group. The
discussion group has over 400 members and we estimate that about 1/3 are
Party members. Every day it grows. Among left-wing, political, moderated
discussion groups we are the gorilla on the block!! Why? Name recognition
and our longevity as a political party. If you want to discuss class struggle,
Marxist ideas, where else do you go?

The pre-convention
discussion committee established the Yahoo! Communist Party discussion
based on the idea of soliciting input into the program – strategy and
tactics for the national convention. A moderated group that would give
not only input but also examine, in light of new developments, philosophy
and practice.

Wel, mates,
to keep the ship analogy going, we’ve thrown the net way out into the
ideological water; we’re paddling; we own the title to this boat and we’re
on one hell of a tidal wave.

It’s impossible
to have a total estimate of the class, race, and gender of the discussion
group members, but we do get a picture from the posts: professors, workers,
labor activists, union organizers, students, cultural workers, musicians,
one elected official, the religious, atheists, young and older, communists,
big C and little c, socialists, marxists, leftists and Democratic and
Green Party activists.

Many E-mails
have slogans as their signatures, like revolutionary quotations from the
bible, or "Man is by nature a political animal" – Aristotle.

In the exchanges,
there’s a strong effort to understand practical political struggles and
reconcile their outcomes within a marxist framework. We’ve gotten some
posts asking to be convinced to join the Party or just posing general
questions about the Party’s thinking on issues such as socialism and the
role played by a revolutionary party. Communists, big c and little c,
responded. In some ways those have been some of the most interesting exchanges.

The debates
reflect questions on the minds of Party members as well as the broader
left. The debates are part of the process of dialogue and ideological
struggle with others that needs to go on all levels of the Party: from
cyberspace to neighborhood and workplace.

Let’s get
a picture of the discussion. It opened on women’s quality, based on a
post by Denise Myles on the Women’s Equality Conference and a debate on
the definition of a revolutionary party in the class struggle today.

We went into
a multi-layered debate on the Democrats, Greens and third party developments,
and the strategy and tactics of the CP, which floundered about like an
injured sea lion. There wasn’t enough participation of CP activists and
only a few that discussed the broad, flexible approach needed to defeat
the right danger.

Another area
of strategy and tactics was a debate on the character and necessity of
labor-community coalitions and the role of the left. Differences centered
on the estimates of labor as a leading force for social change from some
with a leftist critique, which unfolded into a struggle to define the
working class in this stage of capitalism.

By far the
most heated debate was over the 2000 elections from the point of view
of 20-20 hindsight of what the CP should have done and the correct role
of a revolutionary CP in coalition and its impact on left efforts at political
independence. At the center of the debate were differences on the estimate
of the right danger in the elections.

Internet
discussion groups, much like soap operas, turn to other subjects in just
a twist of a phrase. We then went into comparisons between the US scene
and the international experiences on defining the left and issues of left
unity.

There have
been very interesting responses by CP members and others describing experiences
that point to the breadth of the left in the movements and its significance
for winning struggles today, and socialism tomorrow. This spun off into
discussion on armed struggle, which later reappeared as a debate on gun
ownership.

We did go
through a rather lengthy discussion on the legacies of Stalin and Trotsky
and their impact on revolutionary theory and strategy and tactics.

Needless
to say the collective moderators of the group drew that to a close to
refocus on the issues of immediate concern for the Party convention and
the movements to defeat the right.

We got into
a discussion on Party membership, the constitution and two working groups,
culture and GLBT, put out appeals for input, which received a vigorous
response.

Last week
a fascinating discussion began on the Christian-Marxist dialogue, historically
and currently, the relationship between a materialist framework and a
religious outlook and whether membership in the CP is feasible.

Why are there
over 400 members in the discussion group? The broader left is attracted
to the name recognition and our history! They are curious about what the
Party is today. They have complex questions. They have developed their
analysis outside of collectives and have tuned in to the CP’s cyber-club.
But we do not have enough CP participation. Only a few from the NC and
district/state organizers are members. Those who do participate present
opportunities for the over 400 members to get pithy, practical, popular
answers to a diverse array of questions.

Some in our
leadership have admitted they are addicted to it, a daily dose of the
ideology generated by the class struggle, the reactions to the rightwing,
the struggle to find a path to defend democracy and the prospects for
socialism here and abroad. It’s not an opiate but it sure gives television
a run for its money!!

Hopefully
the addicts will turn their habit into producing pithy, popular pamphlets
and op-ed articles for the PWW!!

It’s relatively
unusual for a political party to solicit input for convention preparations
on the Internet, but this is the 21st century CP and it’s quite a victory
for us and for the movements defending democracy. Talk about demystifying
and breaking out of stereotyping! It’s an opportunity for the Party to
interact, and hopefully influence, new levels of activism

Some who
have been following the discussion have suggested that the Party should
do a daily news analysis digest. The plans to have a daily PWW online
is just in time to get into the mainstream ideological struggle.

In the next
two months we still have a lot to talk about:

1) Working
groups will begin to plan workshops/panels for the convention and prepare
discussion articles for PWW and the pre-convention discussion bulletin.

2) And, of
course, there is much to discuss on the proposed changes in structure
and organization and the Constitution.

3) The second
pre-convention bulletin is available on the Party’s web page now and will
be mailed to the clubs in the next week. We are planning two more issues
of the pre-convention discussion bulletin: one with a focus on the women’s
equality conference and the second on discussion about the draft labor
program.

4) We also
should invite participation of others on the left and from coalition work
in district/state conventions.

Another key
feature to the national convention preparation is inviting leaders of
labor and community movements as guests and for participation in the panels
and workshops in Milwaukee.

5) On the
Yahoo! discussion group, we urge you all to join. You can do so by going
to the Party’s web page. We are hoping to have live chats with Party leaders.
Watch for the announcements in the PWW.

Working group
and commission leaders should post to Yahoo! to solicit input into your
work.

So in the
next two months we have much to do!!! Our modest experiences thus far
show that the left and our coalition partners can help us make this convention
deeply connected to the thinking and mood of the working people. We are
well on our way to a great convention!

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