30th National Convention: groundbreaking and forward looking

BY:John Bachtell| September 11, 2014
30th National Convention: groundbreaking and forward looking

Remarks to the CPUSA National Committee, July 9, 2014

The 30th Communist Party USA National Convention was a big success, full of vibrancy, great spirit and enthusiasm, broad participation, incisive politics, music and song and the collective sharing of experience in struggle.

In many ways this was a groundbreaking convention, and included some innovations that reflect the kind of Communist Party and movement we are trying to build.

I was surprised how smoothly things went, which is a credit to all the preparatory work done and skillful organizing done by so many comrades including national committee members, district and club leaders.

We continue to get positive feedback from delegates, guests and allies. Several delegates called it “the event of a lifetime,” another said the convention was “a life altering experience.”

One ally who participates in many progressive and left gatherings called it “best organized left convention I’ve been to.” Several allies who participated in panels and workshops joined the Party.

The convention drew 375 delegates and guests, was broadly multi-racial, men and women, gay and straight, youth in their teens to veterans in their 90s. However, we must continue to improve the gender, and racial and national composition of the Party and Young Communist League.

The convention was overwhelmingly working class in its composition with a substantial number of trade unionists, grassroots leaders and some elected officials.

The convention demonstrated the Party is deeply connected to labor and other key movements, with members who are actively building and leading struggles. Our deliberations were framed by Sam Webb’s outstanding keynote, which not only set the tone but a deeply creative application of Marxism to today’s realities. It laid out a broad flexible vision for our work ahead, the strategic tasks of building the anti-ultra right coalition and especially a mass labor movement, directing our work in the electoral arena, addressed the critical issues facing our class and people especially the climate crisis, the fight for racial unity, ending war and violence and building the a modern 21st century CPUSA.

This is a document that will serve us well for a long time to come and must be shared with our allies and find its way into district and club discussions, our educational work.

Achievements and innovations
We had several significant achievements during the convention and pre-convention process, including some notable innovations, which continue the process of updating and modernizing the Party:

1. Delegates were largely united around the strategic outlook of the party – building the labor led people’s coalition to defeat the ultra right and especially mobilization in the 2014 elections – and the main themes projected: rooting ourselves in the historic campaign to organize low wage workers and stemming the climate crisis, the fight for racial equity and building and modernizing the Party.

A plenary session and workshops devoted to the independent media and People’s World were held, making its growth a key organizational and political task.

However there was a significant politically sectarian trend reflected in the convention, which I’ll discuss later.

2. We achieved a smooth and orderly leadership transition, a transparent process which began six months ago and one unprecedented for our party.

3. The convention and pre-convention process was also transparent, our politics were outwardly directed, we engaged our allies and attempted to utilize the mass media to speak to the American people.

We employed social media and mass communications on a new level including the live streaming of the opening session and 5 other plenary panels. In the past only the opening keynote has been broadcast.

Sam Webb’s opening keynote has been viewed over 900 times on the CPUSA Youtube channel.

CSPAN sent two camera crews and broadcast the opening session and low wage worker organizing plenary panel. Likewise we received positive coverage from the Chicago Tribune. Unfortunately, this was the only national media of note to cover the convention, which was not from a lack of trying. However, the media coverage we got led to new members joining.

There’s more coverage in the pipeline, including a piece by a documentary crew on third parties and a photography blogger.

During the pre-convention discussion we utilized Google Hangout, now a regular feature of our work and teleconferences including several hosted by commissions.

4. The pre-convention discussion was marked by a lively and democratic discussion on a range of issues on the CPUSA website, Facebook, and in the districts and clubs. There were many submissions in response to the framing documents and draft constitution.

We need to continue to expand opportunities for more participation in the convention discussion. Those who write are mainly those who disagree with our overall policy and those who generally agree including leading comrades usually don’t. This skews the discussion.

Some allies noted the openness and liveliness of the discussion, including around the draft constitution and how unique the entire process is to the left.

5. The convention was marked by the participation of many new members – approximately 40% of delegates were attending their first convention. This also demonstrates the need to provide space for exchanges and discussions, to step up political and ideological education and deepen understanding of our policy among the membership.

There were also a number of delegates and guests from the South and Mountain states, and other areas where new organization is being established.

6. There was a greater participation of allies than in previous conventions – Pat Fry of Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of the Jacobin Magazine, Howard Kling, editor of Workday Minnesota, numerous local labor, community and media activists, leaders of the low wage worker and student movement who participated in plenary and workshop sessions, and the remarks by Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public Theater during the tribute to his mother Doris Marquit.

7. Many members were involved in the convention planning and organization, beginning with the convention organizing committee and subcommittees, People’s World, Political Affairs, districts and clubs.

Over 60 convention workshops were suggested in response to an appeal. Some came from non-Party members and many of the suggestions were incorporated.

8. Not all the figures are in, but it looks like the convention was largely self financed.

Delegate observations
I’d like to share a few observations from the many interesting evaluations we received from delegates and guests:

1. Among the Convention highlights noted: Sam Webb’s keynote – delegates felt it gave a broad flexible approach and laid out a far reaching vision for the party.
2. Another highlight was meeting other members, seeing the full scope and diversity of the party along with the opportunity to network and share experiences. This was especially the case for members attending their first convention.
3. Another highlight was the presence of International guests – 7 delegations (despite the visa denials for 4 other delegations, including the Communist Party of Cuba).
4. Delegates appreciated the plenary panels – particularly organizing low wage workers and stemming the climate crisis panels.
5. Delegates liked the wide variety of workshops, especially the skills building and trainings and many felt not enough time was allotted for them.
6. Delegates felt the quality of the workshops varied. Highly praised ones included: capitalism and mental health, women’s equality, online organizing and use of the social media, international guests, cultural work and building progressive faith based movements.
7. Participants liked the lively debate, especially on the panels, around the draft constitution and resolutions.
8. Participants felt more youth and new members should have spoken in the plenary sessions.
9. Some complained about the long sessions and that there was not enough time for informal interactions. At times the convention had the feel of a forced march. In hindsight, perhaps we should have extended the convention by starting earlier on Friday, and adding more down time for socializing, breaks and space for workshops.
10. Participants liked the visual displays and charts, life stories and running slide show.

The convention was an overall great achievement, and presented us with a number of challenges, beginning with mobilizing the entire party around the 2014 elections, organizing low wage workers and stemming the climate crisis including involvement in the Sept. 21 People’s Climate March in New York City and local actions.

Among the issues that need to be addressed more fully are women’s equality and LGBTQ rights. While workshops were devoted to these issues, we didn’t give them enough attention in light of new developments, combatting influences of male supremacy and in building unity of the core forces in the anti-ultra right coalition.

While there were many outstanding younger members participating, there is an imbalance with those in their 30-40s. We need to take steps to outreach to this generation, including those who have drifted from the Party and to find out why and what kind of organization fits their lives.

Political and ideological challenges
There were also a number of political and ideological challenges to basic Party policy we will have to address going forward.

The convention revealed a sectarian trend and dogmatic understanding of Marxism among some challenging the strategic line of the Party and our broad flexible tactics of uniting all the key class and social forces, particularly our approach to the anti-ultra right stage of struggle and its interconnection with the anti-monopoly stage.

Some have a narrow vision of what a Communist Party is all about – and have joined on that basis without fully understanding the broad strategic policy collectively developed and which we are continuing to develop. They may think they can change the party’s policy away from this.

Among its reflections, some called for essentially skipping over stages of struggle directly to socialism in the name of “urgency”.

Secondly, this trend sharply revealed itself around the debate and vote on using the term Marxism-Leninism – to which the convention arrived at a workable compromise. There were some who were not aware of this compromise in wording. Others ignored the argument that dropping the term was not dropping Lenin’s ideas, the collective process that produced the compromise and the conscious efforts to find unity, Instead they insisted on their position regardless of the consequences.

Thirdly, on the Palestinian – Israeli resolution addressing the current crisis. An amendment was adopted which struck support for the two state solution from the resolution. This of course flies in the face of our historic approach, of the international community, that of the UN and NGOs, the world communist movement, including our fraternal parties in Israel and Palestine, and mainstream Jewish and Palestinian organizations in the US.

As late as December, a majority of Israelis and Palestinians supported this solution.

It’s hard to conceive that given the current realities, the Israeli and Palestinian people would agree to a single state. The idea rises more from deep frustration and disillusion stemming from the immense difficulties of the peace process and a misjudgement of the current balance of forces, internally, regionally and globally.

The resolution establishes somewhat of an inconsistency in our policy, since the Party Program advocates a two state solution and it was not amended.

There was a lot of confusion during the debate and many delegates were not clear what they were voting for. It would have been far better, on such an important issue, had we followed the collective process we had agreed upon to post resolutions for discussion prior to the convention so everyone had time to consider them. Changes to our support for the two state solution never arose.

It shows the need for much deeper understanding, for more political and ideological discussions.

Fourthly, sectarianism was also reflected on the resolution on the Ukraine, where an amendment calling for the right to self determination of the Russian people living in the Ukraine.

That amendment, which failed, directly contradicted the position of the Communist Party of the Ukraine, which calls for a federated state. Such a position opens the door to redrawing established internationally recognized national boundaries, leading to endless interventions, conflict and war.

There are other issues that arose during the convention process that also require further attention.

In another example, an atmosphere of distrust and intrigue was engendered by the circulation to targeted groups before and during the convention of a document focused on the concept of “white privilege.” The committee which organized the pre-convention discussion had determined the document submitted violated the convention discussion guidelines which prohibited personal attacks. The committee offered to publish the piece if references to party members accused of racism were omitted. The submitter refused and instead chose to publish it on his own, creating a disunifying air of suspicion.

This document became a rallying point for some when the author claimed he was being censored. The article has since been republished by websites hostile to the Party.

It should be noted not one person, including the author, raised the white privilege argument in the racial equality plenary or any collective for discussion and debate but operated more in the shadows.

In some respects it’s a cover for broader disagreements on Party policy. For example, the author on other occasions has expressed enamoration with armed struggle and violence. He and others don’t see the potential for a peaceful path to socialism, particularly via the electoral arena.

This issue was addressed extensively in Sam Webb’s opening. An organization with such a policy and image will go nowhere.

Another area that needs further discussion in the Party is the collective nature of the process to elect leadership and why it is the most democratic way. Some of the voting patterns indicated lack of an appreciation of the collective nature of leadership.

Finally, not everything can be solved at a convention. There were a number of issues which came up during the convention discussion especially dealing with the modernization process, and the kind of organization we need for the 21st century, its symbols, terminology, name, etc. We’ll have to leave room to continue to explore and discuss these and other concerns that have been raised by members.

We’ll also be taking a fresh look at our structure and functioning, the staffing of commissions, collectives and working groups.

That’s it for now. Such a great success leaves us with lots of challenges. Certainly the 30th Convention will guide and inspire our work and leave us plenty of lessons to draw on as we go forward.



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