The following document differs somewhat from the Convention Discussion guidelines. This submission owes itself to many contributors who are young members of the Communist Party and/or the Young Communist League and came out of a number of conversations betwen YCL and Party leaders last year, though it is not submitted by any constituted collective. As such, the contribution was written before the guidelines and main discussion documents were developed and is longer than we have asked contributions to be.
WHAT IS THIS?
We have the opportunity to build something big; a large, influential and effective Communist Party USA. After the incredible movement to elect Barack Obama, more far-reaching solutions and socialism in particular are back at the dinner table for discussion. Though socialism is not the current unifying demand of the day, opportunities for increasing our base quantitatively and qualitatively have increased ten-fold. If we work collectively, with flexibility and establish a strategic plan for growth, we can strengthen the membership base of our organization and build power to win concrete change in the lives of the working class.
As a part of the often missing generation of the Party, our inspiration for drafting this discussion document was born both out of inspiration and frustration. On the one hand, in our Party we gain clear analyses of the problems that face working people, and thus short and long term solutions to those problems. These topics are accessible via our publications and web sites to a huge on-line readership around the country.
However, we also find our programs and campaigns inconsistent, our membership tiny and shrinking-despite objective conditions that should be sparking growth, and no real grasp of the scope and influence of our Party outside of its publication. We find club meetings unfulfilling and unsatisfying, not because our club leaders are incompetent, but due to a lack of over all political guidance and direction on the concrete role of the Communist Party in everyday struggles and how to best build and sustain the membership of the Communist Party.
Although we have general agreement with our over all strategic policy, we feel that we have gotten organizationally comfortable-even lazy-in its correctness. As Sam Webb recently inferred, it is not enough for us to have the right political outlook. It means absolutely nothing if we do not have the bodies on the ground to back up our words and theories with action.
The question is how can we translate the influence we have in the realm of ideas and politics into more people in action in their communities? Finding a solution to this is the basis by which we believe we can increase the participation of our generation, and others, in the Communist Party.
Though it is easy to complain, we challenged ourselves to at least start the conversation on how we can improve our organization over all-identifying our own initial vision for growth and retention. We are entering a period where the idea of socialism is not taboo, and in some instances it is even desirable. But at the same time, we cannot sit back and just assume we will grow. Upon that realization, we understood that this is our Party just as much as anyone else’s and we must take responsibility for its continued success. This document is our initial step in that effort.
The purpose of this document is to spark discussion about the political necessity of building our membership, particularly among our generation, and potential paths to reach that goal. It calls for us to discuss ways in which to be more concrete about how we build our organization. It is an initial discussion of a basic plan for growth. All victories, political and organizational, start with a plan-and that’s what we seek to catalyze.
This document is separated into 2 sections:
- The Communist Plus: Defining Our Value Added
- Does the Communist Party Still Exist? Access to the Communist Party None of the suggestions or conclusions noted under each section are definitive. That is because our purpose is to spark discussion, and to challenge all of us to really define what we are, and what we want to be.
The two actual proposals we do suggest are:
- to create an addendum to our strategic policy outlining some very broad, general strategies for membership growth; what industries should we target, what regions, etc…to be presented to the National Convention
- to see a report of our Party’s membership at each National Committee meeting- including how many members we have, where they are, who pays dues, how many clubs do we have, etc…
Again, we have an opportunity to build the Party exponentially. The survival of our Party depends on active engagement from all generations, and our generation is in need of a strong Communist Party.
The ideas in this document, though coming from a group of comrades in our 20s and 30s, are not just to spark participation from our age group. In fact, we think they could add to the overall health and vibrancy of the Party.
We seek input and feedback from the broadest collective possible in order to cast a wide net for growth and retention.
The long-standing formulations of what is “Left” and what is “Center” may be inaccurate and not useful when it comes to our work. After all, what is “Left” today may be “Center” tomorrow. One who has a “Center” position on economic recovery has a “Left” position on healthcare. Most would agree that the Communist Party should focus on the specific work people are doing and identify who to build with on that basis. These often “unaffiliated” people are left out of our abstract discussions, and yet are a part of the mass movement we need to be mobilizing and building with.
Part 1: THE COMMUNIST PLUS
Defining Our Value Added
As members of the Communist Party fighting the good fight on a daily basis, we have to ask ourselves, what is our value added? What am I contributing to the movement as a Communist that I would not be able to contribute if I were not a member? How is our contribution to the movement magnified by being members of the Communist Party?
If we cannot consistently define our value-added in any given struggle, we will not be able to provide a good reason for someone to join and/or to be active in the Communist Party.
OUR VALUE ADDED: Center-Left Unity
That said, it is at the root of our strategic policy to build unity between the “Center” and the “Left” against the Ultra-right and, as we progress, monopoly capital as a whole. In order to successfully build and strengthen Center-Left unity, we must have strong relationships with the “Center” and the “Left” in any given campaign or issue. It is our belief that the Communist Party USA is best positioned to do this, given our historic relationships within both Left and Center forces.
After the presidential elections, Sam Webb alerted us to a survey that claims over 20% of those polled prefer some form of socialism to capitalism, and a similar percentage were not sure. If we did a sub-experiment we would probably note that as the age of those polled decreased the percentage of those preferring socialism to capitalism would be even higher.
But it is not enough to revel in the poll results. We need to discuss what we are doing to reach out to that 20 plus percent, so many of whom are from our generation and younger. How are we making ourselves visible, available and accessible to that new and growing socialist minority? What are our clubs doing to attract them? …to let them know that there is an organization where they can learn more, discuss more and be a part of a collective vision for a socialist USA? Undoubtedly, few of those polled identify as particularly “Left”. But they are a part of the progressive movement we are trying to unite in order to defeat the last clinging remnants of the Ultra-Right, and we must be accessible to them.
We have implemented our strategic policy in a way that has not allowed our clubs to pay much attention or find points of collaboration with the broader “Left”. This is not to say that we should not struggle to build unity at the Center. But there are tons of people who are actively looking to be a part of an anti-capitalist, and in the best cases a socialist, movement.
The question before us is where/how are we plugging them in? How are we turning their interest in our online publications into active participation in person? How are we reaching out to younger or simply newly radicalized individuals who attend their first rally for healthcare or jobs creation? When these people do not find a way to become active in or with the Communist Party, they look to other forums that may not have the most unifying outlooks. Likewise, we cannot brush off every group that has a varying viewpoint as Ultraleftist.
We have to make more of an effort to be in conversation with these groups in productive spaces-such as at the Left Forum or the other various conferences that are organized by different groups on the “Left”. We have isolated ourselves, often unconsciously, from many on the “Left” and we cannot afford to do this anymore. If for no other reason we are simply too small.
We applaud the recent attempts by Party leaders to reach out to various Left allies such as the Committees of Correspondence and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. We also support ideas to host a seminar with Parties of the western hemisphere or joint conferences with some of our friends on the Left. These are excellent developments that can compliment our work with the Center and build our own ranks at the same time.
A bigger Party requires more openness to different tendencies and ideas…so long as unity in the final decision is held above all else. In our current culture, there is not a lot of room for that. Disagreeing on anything from small organizational matters to large political questions gets a person easily marginalized.
One of the most unattractive elements of our Party to the younger generations is the lingering paranoia many carry post the 1991, and earlier, splits. While a certain level of precaution is always justified, it cannot limit us from growing and moving forward. As we build the Party, we must shift our culture to embrace a higher level of discussion and viewpoints.
OUR VALUE ADDED: Strengthening the Power of Workers
Looking even further outward, what are we doing to motivate workers to fight back in this period of extreme repression and fear at the workplace-especially among a generation with the lowest union density? How are we really engaging existing and new members of the rank and file?
In the last 4 years, we have revisited our industrial concentration policy in a way that ties it more directly to the expanding global economy. We were called on to build international committees in our trade unions in “Labor in an Era of Capitalist Globalization”, a great idea that could strengthen solidarity between unions in the United States and elsewhere fighting against the same multi-national companies. Similar ideas came out of the manufacturing think-tank that occurred in 2007. But it may be worth revisiting again, to get a deeper understanding of how we can really engage workers at the epicenters of our changing global economy, and further act in a way that empowers workers to get more active.
At the center of our industrial concentration policy is an assessment of the commanding heights at any given time. Once upon a time if you strengthened the wages for US autoworkers you could create a precedent or wage floor for all industrial workers. Or if the transport workers go on strike, an entire city’s economy can be greatly impacted.
However, if we revisit the current commanding heights given the collapse of US auto companies, we notice some changes. Consider the case of Wal-Mart. Wal- Mart is now the largest employer in the United States; a part of a service sector that is now the only growing industry in the country. And it is really growing. We all agree that Wal-Mart jobs stink-low wages, long hours, lack of job security, and inconsistent benefits as our criteria.
But what if a Wal-Mart job was a good, green job; a union job? If we were able to organize all Wal-Mart workers, it would set a new floor wage for retail and service workers. Even more, what if Wal-Mart workers were organized not simply as retail workers, but in coordination with the industrial supply chain that stocks the shelves? Imagine union autoworkers staffing Wal-Mart auto parts and gas stations, union textile workers staffing clothing and department stores, union food and commercial workers staffing the grocery stores in Super Wal-Marts, or more Teamsters driving the delivery trucks.
Now there is no doubt that this is a “pie in the sky” idea. But why give up on it? Why not struggle within our unions to push more coordination in this sector? Why not focus an industrial concentration on retail and service workers with a nuanced approach that connects them to the global industries that they are a part of? There is a reason that the commanding heights of the service industry, supposedly progressive companies like Whole Foods and Starbucks, are fighting so aggressively against the Employee Free Choice Act. They understand the significant shift in power in favor of the working class that would be created nationally if their employees were organized into unions, and they will do everything to prevent it.
To clarify, this is not to argue against the creation of new manufacturing jobs, particularly green manufacturing jobs and building new infrastructure…like public transit for example. And it certainly isn’t to shift focus from the handful of manufacturing industries that are still in the United States. But we should open up the battlefield on another front-the service sector front-to reach more lowwage and younger workers in need of unions and in need of the Communist Party.
We must also be able to define our value-added in broader labor-led struggles that happen outside of the workplace. For example, participating in the current battle for a public healthcare option is something that most of us would do whether we were members of the Party or not. But how could we help push the fight forward in a way that only we can? Maybe we could release a brochure outlining the differences between a public option, single-payer, and how we-the real socialists-define socialized medicine to shift the right-wing red-baiting away from the Obama Administration and back to the “reds”.
OUR VALUE-ADDED: Building Electoral Power
Last, consider our approach to elections in general. Currently, the conditions rarely if ever allow us to run open Communists for office. When members do run for office, it is within the auspices of the Democratic Party. Otherwise, we find ourselves supporting progressive (and in some instances not-so-progressive) Democratic candidates. Despite how much many of us would love to run comrades for office as Communists, we all agree that this is how we currently have to function in this political climate.
However, there is one thing missing. How do we get from here to running as open progressives or as a coalition labor party or even as explicitly Left in an election? And how do we get from there to running as Communists? What changes need to be made to the electoral system to get us closer to holding real power? What is our long-term plan?
If we do not have a basic vision and a plan for strengthening independent, left political organization around our electoral approach, then we are not only failing ourselves, but the working class in general.
So how do we do this? Consider 2 examples.
A former YCLer, ran and won elected office in California. The campaign organization that helped her win has little to no relationship to the Communist Party (or YCL), and as an elected she rarely communicates back to the California District and/or the YCL. Through her election, those in the Santa Barbara suburb gained a progressive ally in their city council, and what the Party gained remains unclear.
Thousands of miles away in Chicago, another younger comrade is running for a similar position. The organization pushing his election, the IPO (Independent Political Organization) shares many of our values and has many of our members (and ex-members) among its ranks. It is a leadership development body for future candidates like our comrade, whose affiliations with the Communist Party are well-known throughout the city even though he is running as a Democrat.
We could argue that his election would be a huge value-added for the visibility and viability of the Communist Party in Chicago and the Midwest. Further, having more comrades in decision-making roles under the Democratic Party opens the door to increasing our effectiveness and influences within that party. Is this not what the radical and religious right-wing did within the umbrella of the Republican Party?
Some will argue our electoral system is not set up this way. How will we ever win? But instead of being defeatist about it, why not ask what changes need to be made to the electoral culture and system in the United States to get us closer to holding real power? Should comrades begin fighting for the fusion voting models that made the Working Families Party successful in New York, a model that got Ben Davies elected? Should we struggle for some form of proportional representation? Recognizing that electoral reform is obviously not the only struggle we should engage in, what parts of it can we prioritize to strengthen our participation in this arena of struggle right now?
We have a handful of younger and older comrades wanting to run for office. Why not give them a way to do so that simultaneously helps to build the Communist Party, regardless of if they run as open Communists or not. If we are going to build a real movement for socialism we have to have concrete plans for these transitions. We have to struggle more with how we apply our strategic policy to the current electoral possibilities while anticipating next steps. And we have to have a vision for how our current approach sets us up for engaging in a period of increased opportunities. The upcoming mid-term and on-going municipal elections give us plenty of room to practice.
Part 2: DOES THE COMMUNIST PARTY STILL EXIST?
Access to the Communist Party USA
In the past year, the Party has taken huge strides in making our publications more accessible to a wider audience by improving our web presence. News and opinion are circulated more on-line via email, virtual networks, and other forums than any other way. Strengthening our internet presence allows us to draft more articles, exposing more injustices at work and in our communities, and providing a real vision of a better world. More articles on line allow us to print the best of the best for distribution on our picket lines, in our classrooms and at demonstrations. This difficult transition has already improved the visibility of the Communist Party and Young Communist League in this period. Our generation in particular has benefited greatly from this shift.
Now it is time to take that drive for changing and adjusting to the new circumstances in other parts of our organization.
BUILDING THE COMMUNIST PARTY USA
Outside of our publications, what are the forums through which people can join? And what does joining mean?
As of now, individuals can join on-line and/or with another member asking them to join…particularly in the context of an active club or district. Most of our success has come in the form of in person recruitment, as the follow up is more concrete and relational. But we do not have to limit ourselves to chance encounters.
For starters, clubs need more support in developing recruitment lists, and implementing recruitment strategies. Strong clubs know how to work a good list, and have varying points of engagement opportunities that allow people with different levels of investment to participate. There are many ways to build a good list for recruitment: national subscription lists, targeting petitioning on local issues, voter registration, etc… Although not all of these individuals will join the Communist Party as full members, many will sign on to participate in the various actions and events we organize.
There are other ways we can increase our visibility to spark interest in joining. Consider caucuses of Communist Party members within our unions and mass organizations. We’ve certainly done it before. Our positions and approaches build unity, and people benefit from our input. Why not acknowledge publicly what those ideas are rooted in? Having separate meetings of independent Party members in a mass organization or of comrades doing similar mass work could strengthen our work and contribution to any given area of struggle. These club and district level ideas can be helpful, but ultimately we need a nationally coordinated recruitment plan. We have never been a Party of “let every flower bloom”. We need our national center to help us learn where we need to grow most based on patterns in union density, electoral tendencies and/or bases for key industries. We cannot depend solely on isolated individuals to build clubs in regions where we are weak. We need a nationally coordinated strategy that emphasizes growth in regions and/or industries where we can be most effective.
Such a plan could be kicked off with an organizational “census”, or a real assessment of where our members are, their participation rates, their financial contributions, etc… Though we wish we could claim this, it is not a new idea at all. Our Party, and others, used to do this consistently to get a sober look at where we are and where we need to be in order to be effective.
Just like we recognize the need for a strategic path to socialism, so too must we develop a strategic plan for growth.
The National Committee approved a proposal to kick off a college speaking tour of Party leaders to increase visibility and get our ideas out to a wider audience. This is an incredible development! But it is not a new one. To make this successful, those organizing speaking tours or other public actions will have to identify what schools to target and prioritize as well as a plan for follow up based on where we can get the most out of doing so-be it through increased membership or other needed resources.
For example, if Wisconsin is often a swing state in national elections and it has medium to high union density compared to elsewhere in the country, why not prioritize speaking at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee? And once confirmed, how do we automatically build in a smaller orientation or club meeting for those in the audience who are interested in joining and building the Communist Party?
These are just a couple of new (and old) ideas that should encourage us to think more outside the box when determining how to recruit members into the Communist Party. It is true that every member should recruit for the Party. But everyone could use a foot in the door. Even more, the Party over all could benefit from growing in some places where we currently have no one. Party growth must be a national priority, led by the national center.
TAKING OURSELVES SERIOUSLY
Once a member, what people receive when they join is inconsistent. If they are lucky, maybe they will get a copy of our strategic policy-the Road to Socialism. They might get a copy of the latest brochure from the national center or flyer from the district. But nothing is handed out on what it means to be a member of the Communist Party. Such an orientation, written or verbal, would be extremely helpful for those of us who were not around in previous periods where our organization had a stronger culture of participation. Waiting until a new recruit is invested enough to attend a national school is simply too late.
Our organizing department should standardize the process of membership intake-not simply make materials, but to standardize dues, new member education/orientation, and what is expected of us as members of the Communist Party. Further, such an orientation should take popular form (read: popular education) as to fully engage and excite people about their decision to join. Bring back the labor choruses, the 1 act plays, the political cartoons in a more intentional way for new members to grasp various ideas. New members should not have to learn our history and theories through a series of books-many not even written by us.
When cadre are identified as potential club leaders, they should get some level of training and orientation on what the role and responsibility of a club and a club leader is. Although such a curriculum should come out of the organizing department, the regular (possibly quarterly) implementation of such a training could come from seasoned District leadership.
Further, the health of Party finances must be directly linked to the over all strength of the Party membership-and thus made into a political priority each year. Would it be so terrible if the current optional sustainer program (suggested one week’s pay) was actually a mandatory dues requirement? Imagine if union dues were optional. Actually, we do not have to imagine. They are optional in Right-to-Work-for-Less states. Is that what our program should be modeled after?
If we do not take ourselves more seriously, no one will. We are a legitimate organization, and a viable political party with a lot of potential. It is not only within reason, but imperative that we increase our base, and thus our finances in that process. If new members join understanding this responsibility, we would not have to waste the limited time of national functionaries rounding up volunteer sustainers.
WHAT WE GET OUT OF IT
Having a clear understanding of what younger working people get out of the Communist Party is important in identifying what makes them join and what makes them stay around. Based on our own initial assessments, we determined that we get a sense of the longview-a better understanding of when to advance and when to retreat and rebuild in order to eventually win socialism. We are able to participate in a collective and be a part of discussions that shape our political approach.
We do not always get to put our ideas into action, practicing and adjusting our theoretical approach. We get dozens of long meetings where nothing is accomplished, where decisions get put off to the next meeting and then the next meeting etc… We get asked to contribute to the fund drives of the Party more out of guilt than being asked to make a real investment that we can see the results of. We read long political reports on line only to be asked to participate in the same action we had already signed up for via other mass organizations. The contribution of our clubs and leaders are often unclear, making members feel like we are wasting our time.
So how do we address this?
Over all this and the constantly fluctuating political climate indicates a need to be more flexible in how we organize our members and in how we engage the broader movement. President Obama himself outlined the need for an independent political movement to essentially counter right-wing forces and help him push a unified agenda-the most advanced demands of the Center.
If and when the next round of bail-outs passes through Congress and the Republicans try to rile up populist conservatism to trash Obama, someone has to be fighting on the ground to keep the heat on the private sector, to expose the racism behind their attacks, and to represent a genuine socialist perspective-in part to give the Administration room to move policy that cannot be misconstrued as socialist programming.
We need our clubs to be a hub for doing just this. Clubs should be a space for discussion about the strategy and direction of local movements; support for Party and YCL activists in their mass work; and the on-going study of Marxism through action and popular political education. Clubs should have a focus, either at a workplace or in a neighborhood, and be engaged in mass work affecting that focus.
Our clubs should be a place where strategies are tested; where challenges are made to various tactics; where unity is strengthened; where talking points are crafted; where the line connecting a seemingly isolated struggle to the global economic crisis and the crisis in capitalism is clearly drawn. Clubs should be a place where we flush out how to localize national demands. The key function of a club in this period should be to consistently and constantly adjust and adapt our strategy to every local and workplace struggle.
Although we are active in existing organizations, we should never wait on anyone but ourselves to provide support to striking workers in our communities. We should always be ready to mobilize for the next pinnacle struggle and ready on a structural level to be a bigger and more active Communist Party.
But these suggestions are broad, and some might argue they are already doing them-and at least a small handful of clubs actually are. But these are not the majority. We must continue our efforts to root out any aspects of our structure, locally and nationally, that limit us from growing.
SOME SPECIFIC IDEAS FOR DISCUSSION
Consider instituting different levels of membership. Why do we just have 1 way for members to participate-ie pay dues and attend club meetings? Why not have constituent membership, where an individual simply signs up to receive online action alerts and gets to participate and/or get a limited vote in district meetings? Constituent membership can be free, requiring individuals to sign up on line and/or via a voter registration form. Why should it be so easy to sign up as a Democrat, and so difficult to join the Communists?
How can we implement a ladder of development that builds leadership from first time joiners to “constituents” to club members to club leaders to district, regional and national cadre?
Just as we are too rigid in our current definitions of membership, we often burden new and enthusiastic members with too much leadership responsibility too fast. We should consider small projects and assignments that new members can take on and build on their experience in the Party such as leading on local petition drives, planning club forums and events, or serving as a liaison to a local coalition. Without being rigid, we could outline a path of leadership development from first joining to Party cadre.
What if clubs met in bigger more public meetings to talk about the mass work people are engaged in (their union, their school, their neighborhood association…), what they’re doing, and what role Party members should play in those struggles…not just mobilizing for them but how we can move the work forward. Imagine these meetings lasting no longer than 2 hours, and always including some cultural component, food, an a public space.
Suppose we had district meetings each quarter of all the individual members in a given community, club or no club? These larger discussions could even get into deeper strategy points for a given community, identifying priorities on a local level based on their experience and the latest analysis from the national center. Here is an old idea! Imagine if the motivation for paying dues/sustainer was to have a district organizer-a staff person funded by the district and responsible in large part to the district leadership in addition to the national center.
If the New York District wants a district organizer, they have to raise the resources for it and take responsibility for it happening. Would the investment levels of individual members not skyrocket if they felt they had made this kind of tangible investment? Would there not be more accountability of staff by members?
With the national burden of fundraising to pay for district staff relieved, might not the doors be open to make larger structural changes on the national staff? As of drafting this, there are 17 nationally paid functionaries, or on average 1 paid staff person per 60 or so members. Only a handful of these individuals have direct contact with the grassroots membership base on a daily or even weekly basis.
This ratio is above the capacity of even the strongest union locals with exponentially larger memberships. So why is it not over-capacity for us? All of this comes down to a question of what are our core functions? …a question we have been asked frequently in the process of stabilizing our finances. But finances cannot be the only motivation for asking this. In identifying our core functions, and which functions in particular should be staffed, we must ask ourselves where we need the most accountability-or the most responsibility for assigned work and being able to answer to or report-back on what was accomplished.
Members should have a good sense of how their dues/sustainers are being spent and what work is being accomplished with it.. Thus, accountability additionally requires debriefing tasks and evaluating projects. Any and every healthy organization engages in this consistently.
A paid staff person has more direct accountability to members than a volunteer. Let’s assume that Districts were moving in a direction of covering their own staff wages and expenses. Some national Party functions can survive on volunteer level accountability-where if it does not happen in a timely manner, the Party will survive. However, there are other national functions that require more accountability such as financial planning and fundraising, coordinating and mapping membership and membership growth, youth work, facilitating our engagement in the ideological battle and standardizing political education, and external communications/publications.
This does not require that we have 1 paid staff person per assignment. But it is to say that these functions require a higher level of staff to member accountability to be successful. These things have to happen for the survival and well-being of the Party.
Last, we should stop excluding ourselves from the basic professional practice of drafting job descriptions for each assignment and hosting regular evaluations to assess the progress of the work. Getting back into the habit of having clear assignments that can be evaluated and adjusted is a must. This should not be seen as being overly critical of individual comrades. Rather it has to be done in the best interest and survival of the Communist Party.
TWEENERS: A Specific Approach to Our Generation
The Communist Party and Young Communist League have done a decent job of maintaining a small base of members under 30 and above 50. But what of those members in between?
These are our assumptions.
Many of these individuals are in the early stages of starting a family, and may have younger children. They are often holding one or more full time jobs or looking for full time employment. In some instances they are in graduate school or attempting to further their education and/or job training. They rarely have time for long meetings, particularly on weeknights and weekdays. In many instances, they have a stronger identity with their YCL membership than they do with the Party.
Regardless of the different reasons we might believe this generation is barely present in our organization (the 1991 split, logistical difficulty, low union density among young workers, other “objective” conditions), we must ask how do we make the Communist Party more accessible for these in be-tweeners?
This population is very important to our Party. Our survival as an organization depends on it. More youth would transition from the YCL into the Party if they saw more members from this generation present-if the transition wasn’t seen as going from a very young organization to a very old one.
Outside of some of the logistical shifts we have noted above, we would like to suggest a one-time special approach to this population given their near absence. Consider having a national functionary in the organization department (paid or unpaid), who’s main assignment is mobilizing this generation of the Party- organizing special caucuses and conference calls for them to mold and shape their participation and contribution to the Party based on their unique needs and experiences. The possibilities are wide open for us to strengthen our relationship with this generation. We have the space to be flexible and to take risks. And at this point, doing something is simply better than doing nothing.
THE ROLE OF THE YOUNG COMMUNIST LEAGUE USA
We do not need to quote Lenin to know that if we win over the youth, we have the future. All the proof you need to fully grasp the necessity of the Young Communist League is to ask Party members, young and old, of some of their fondest memories, their early radicalization, and in many cases their gateway to the Communist Party.
As a Party, we should struggle to clarify our over all youth policy. If we as a Party do not know where we are going and how we are growing, how do we expect the YCL to have a clear sense? It will become clear how the YCL fits into the over all vision of Party building, when the Party is clear on our own vision of Party building. When there is not unity around how to build the Party, the guidance on how best to build the YCL will continue to be confusing. In which case, we cannot be critical when the youth try to figure it out on their own. All of this is evident in our discussions around the publications (does the YCL have a separate one or not), the internet (is there a YCL page), the YCL Action Plan (should their be a separate one or not) and schools (Party leaders should teach, and yet YCLers struggle to get Party leaders to teach).
Guidance from the Party is critical to the YCL. But it is an art, not a science. Guidance involves persuasion through on-going support of emerging leaders, mentorship, and political education. It does not involve bullying young comrades into to decisions and opinions in a way that does not allow them to come to a particular understanding of something on their own. The former is not only detrimental to the YCL’s program, but also hinders that Party’s ability to further retain these young comrades as members.
Likewise, the YCL and its leadership must remain the strongest champions of the Party to the youth generation-representing the Party’s views in YCL spaces. Lots of repair is needed in this nuanced relationship.
Consider the assignment of a Party/youth liaison, an older comrade with the task of working more directly with the youth. Such a commission, when used to enhance the work of the YCL, could be a positive strategy to transition more YCLers into the Communist Party.
Imagine leading cadre of the Party being assigned to leading cadre of the YCL to mentor and groom them in our methodology. If we expect YCL leaders to play the double role of both being elected by and representing the YCL membership and representing the Party within the YCL, more direct one-on-one support is a must.
Maintaining YCL “independence” is important to us. It is true that few would argue that the YCL should be politically or ideologically independent from the Communist Party. Further, the organizational independence of the YCL has its own large limitations. The key factor has always been that the YCL have the room to come to political understandings and general decisions in its own way based on the culture and practices of the youth generation.
Thus, the YCL has always had, though in different forms at different times, its own decision-making bodies-the highest of which generally being its national convention. These bodies should continue to have the power to make their own statements, resolutions, action plans, and general mass work in close guidance with the Communist Party. We should work extra hard to maintain the integrity of this subtle division of responsibility and work between the YCL and Party leadership bodies.
All of these are potential ways we could strengthen the relationship between the YCL and the Party while at the same time strengthening the infrastructure to ultimately transition more YCLers into the Party.
GOING FORWARD FROM HERE
In closing, the purpose of this document is to spark discussion within the clubs and districts of the Communist Party USA and of the Young Communist League USA. We hope club and district leaders will go out of their way to include less active members, particularly the tweeners that have moved away from us, to come back and participate in this discussion.
Ultimately, we all want to grow into a larger more active Communist Party, with a leadership that transcends all age groups. These are tough issues that our generation will have to grapple with sooner or later. We hope this document sparks some ideas that can later be used to make progress towards this goal.
Again, we propose that the National Committee and any sub-committee of the convention responsible for updating the strategic policy add a section explicitly focused on how we should approach building the Communist Party in this period to be considered at the National Convention. In the context of this addendum, we would hope that some initial mechanisms for accountability are also included…such as a national functionary position that can bottom-line the process. It is our hope that even if such a section does not incorporate all of the ideas suggested in this document, it will include ideas that were catalyzed as a part of the discussion surrounding it.
We also propose that the national center regularly present the National Committee with a report of the Party’s national membership-a state of the Communist Party in which our leaders can gain a sober and accurate assessment of the quantity and quality of our base.