Convention Discussion: Consolidating new members and developing new activists and cadres

BY:Emile Schepers| March 29, 2019


Recently the CPUSA has been blessed by a large number of new membership applications, many of them sent to us online.  But this positive development has reminded us of some old experiences in our party: That becoming not just a nominal party member, but also an effective party member is a process that goes far beyond merely signing on and staying in communication with the party.

We need to revive the concept of consolidation of new party members, as an urgent priority.  Such consolidation is the only way we can, on a continuous basis, replenish our supply of cadres and committed activists.

By cadres I mean party members who do full time, or nearly full time party work, whether they are paid to do so or not.  This is the key leadership element of our party that keeps our different collective structures functioning from day to day and from year to year.  It would be lovely if every single member of our party could function as a cadre, or at least as a committed and active member–Lovely, but not realistic.  Cadres are made not born.  And given the age profile of the current group we have, we should realize that we have a big job to do to consolidate and develop enough members to fill the gaps that inevitably will arise in our cadre and leadership structure.

I recommend the following steps:

*Determine who are most effective activists our and make sure they are deployed in such a way as to best be able to transmit their experiences, skills and commitment to new levels of leadership for the future.  They should not be doing ancillary or administrative tasks, they should be mentoring potential new leaders.   Put other party members on the other tasks.

*Consciously work to strengthen districts and clubs, because the consolidation of new members and the development of new cadres and activists requires intensive local work in class struggle contexts – it can’t be done in the abstract or at long distance.   Right now the clubs and districts we have are not strong in many cases, and in some cases are nonexistent.  This is an extreme limitation on our ability to train the next generation of leadership, as the skills needed cannot come exclusively out of reading Marxist literature, but must come also out of experience in the struggle.  Most people also need to have face to face relationships with people involved in this kind of work, especially if they are new to the party and perhaps do not have enough self-confidence yet to function otherwise.  Collectivity has this personal, subjective dimension too.

*Among other things needed to strengthen the districts and clubs is the restoration of their control over recruitment and consolidation work.  Formerly, clubs used to have the right to accept or reject potential members.  Maybe in some cases they carried out this responsibility in a sectarian spirit (keeping out people with good potential for the future), but going to the opposite extreme and writing them out of the process entirely is a mistake too.  We spend inordinate amounts of time following up applicants for membership who have really no serious interest in participating in the party’s work, or who may even be potentially disruptive to that work.  The focus should be on bringing in quality and not just quantity.

*Among new members, try to determine the level of ability and commitment of each of them, and consciously work to educate, mentor and support them as potential future activists, leaders and cadres.  Do not waste too much time on people who, after a certain amount of time as members, do not show such potential.

*Make maximum use of one of our strongest points, which is the webinar educational series developed by the Party’s Educational Department.  ALL the webinars should be easily available online at all times, e.g. via a portal on our website which lists them, with a brief description of their topical focus, in some sort of a logical order.  That way clubs and districts can use them most effectively to develop educational work in their areas of responsibility.  For example, at club meetings they can have face to face discussions on specific webinars, supplemented by readings, that everybody has been asked to view.   This will strengthen local collectivity and greatly increase the long-term impact of the webinar series.

*Restore the functions of the organizational secretary (the functions, the title doesn’t matter) so as to more effectively have a system of pro-active checkup on clubs and districts in their outreach, recruitment and consolidation work, and other things.  Avoid a situation in which the national party only finds out about some problem post facto and then we go into “fire brigade mode”; district leaders should be asked to give monthly reports on the work in their districts.

*Develop a coherent national plan to improve our youth and student work.  This needs special, focused attention, because of the obvious importance of youth activism for developing future leadership, and because younger people have their own specific needs and interests. This was the original purpose of the YCL.  Some sort of party collective to coordinate and improve youth work needs to be developed, and fast!  Our younger members are obviously the best people to carry out this task.  We have national party collectives for every other group that needs special focused attention, and we need this for youth also, and for the same reason.






    Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.


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