Maintaining momentum: Next steps in building the CPUSA

BY:Rossana Cambron| April 20, 2021
Maintaining momentum: Next steps in building the CPUSA


The purpose of this National Committee meeting is to discuss next steps to build our Party.

What areas need strengthening?

What is working?

What’s not working?

This report deals with some of these questions and ask others to share their experiences in recruitment and engagement of members and what they believe is needed that we currently lack or are not doing.

The Organizational Department will frame the discussion by providing some overall experiences and some statistics related to Party growth and/or decline in particular areas.

It will look at the types of materials that have been produced or may need to be created. We will also attempt to provide some suggestions and proposals for moving forward with the effort to continue growing the Party.

The context of our recent growth

As we all know and have heard repeatedly, there is a more favorable view of socialism in the country overall compared to years past, but this is especially the case among millennials and younger people. The numbers differ depending on what poll or survey you read, but the objective reality we’ve seen on the ground proves it to be true.

We also have to take note of and celebrate the important part that the Party played in the 2020 elections that dumped Trump. The same goes for the Senate run-off races in Georgia, where the Party not only had local people in key positions to do work but also mobilized members from other areas of the country. A number of our members traveled to Georgia with their unions, and many more made phone calls, sent out text messages, and helped get out the vote from their own town or city.

The Communist Party was a part of these victories.

In the post-inauguration period, we’ve organized to win major advances like the American Recovery Act. It was not clear whether this important bill would pass, but it was won. The ARA is only a start toward what is needed, but it is already making a difference for millions of people who are struggling.

Other major pieces of legislation, like the PRO Act and the infrastructure bills, are also important targets for our members to keep mobilizing around.

Thanks to our participation in the working-class movements like Movement for Black Lives, the Party is growing.

It is important to note that ideas that we’ve been proposing for many decades—ending structural racism, taxing the rich, cutting the military budget, making health care available to all, and more—are now mainstream demands.

Our Party membership has increased rapidly in the recent period and shows no signs of slowing so far. Twice as many people joined the Communist Party in 2020 than did so in 2019. In the pre-pandemic year of 2019, some 1,033 signed up. During 2020, the number of new recruits totalled 2,152. As for this year, it looks like 2021 will be on par with 2020, judging by the numbers so far from January to April.

Consolidating the growth: Achievements and challenges

As the numbers show, the Party was already experiencing strong growth in the pre-pandemic period, which brought its own challenges for organizing new members into clubs and developing club leadership.

But the arrival of COVID-19 presented new and unexpected problems. We could not meet with new members face-to-face, but we adapted, went on Zoom, and discovered that it was still possible to connect with new recruits. In some cases, more members—especially from isolated areas—were attending meetings than had in the pre-pandemic days.

Some clubs did quite well under pandemic conditions and were able, during the stay-at-home period, to function regularly and bring in new members. A new club in Madison, Wisconsin, for example, was formed just before the pandemic hit. It has been meeting regularly and now has 14 members and two Facebook groups. Other clubs met only sporadically over the past year and are just now, since January, beginning to meet regularly again.

What did we learn?

Both in-person and virtual meetings should be employed to engage new members, and in some areas, it’s proven necessary to use both in order to connect with members.

For many club and district leaders, the pandemic also forced us to learn how to use online communication tools like Zoom and see what they had to offer for our organizing work. However, most clubs have reported challenges with attendance at Zoom meetings.

With the influx of new members, club and district leaders in many areas have stepped up and made greater attempts to reach out to and connect with new members—and their efforts are paying off. We have new clubs forming across the country.

Growing pains

The process has of course not been without some growing pains, though.

In some areas, a club is formed but then loses steam and needs greater attention to get it back up and running again. In other areas, we might have very enthusiastic new members who are eager to build a club, but the lack of mentor/support from seasoned members makes the work overwhelming. In such cases, the new members sometimes stop responding to Party communications.

We currently have approximately 75 functioning clubs—that is, those that meet regularly despite the pandemic and are active in various movements, such as in support of Amazon workers, Movement for Black Lives, mutual aid, Medicare for All, conducting online Marxist education, organizing on housing issues, Cuba solidarity, participating in study groups, organizing the unemployed, supporting the Poor People’s Campaign, or doing electoral work. A few clubs are even preparing to run candidates.

We have 8 clubs in the formation stage, mostly in areas of the South where no Communist Party organization has existed for some time. These efforts are most successful in places where we have a seasoned comrade available to participate and help those working to organize the clubs.

Membership engagement has always been one of our greatest challenges, and the pandemic made it even more difficult.

But it is not just the pandemic, there were other unexpected challenges that came with our rapid growth. For example, we did not have materials for our new recruits to reference on what the expectations are of a new member of the Communist Party. New members want to know

how to organize in the community,
what the Party’s main policy is on particular topics,
why the Party follows the electoral strategy of defeating the ultra-right.

All of these and more were things new members look for guidance on. There aren’t always materials on hand to answer all their questions, and the lack of clarity on some issues sometimes resulted in differences that in some cases were unresolvable. Some people join the Party with a preconceived notion of what it is or should be, so engaging with that is a challenge all its own.

Instances where new members had someone they could talk with about their ideas, ask questions of, and debate with (call them a mentor or support) as they got to know our Party and how it functions proved to be successful for retention and engagement of members.

Another successful engagement tactic has been to provide doable assignments such as our phone banking or tasks that bring new members into the collective. So before we take on a task, we should ask ourselves who else could help.

Integrating new members into the Party

What we know for sure is that we need more seasoned and veteran Party members who can help and be available to meet and talk with new members. This is important for integrating people into the Party, its collective bodies, and campaigns. Meeting members in the struggle is the ideal situation for recruitment, but we rarely have ideal situations.

People come to the Party under so many different circumstances. Where clubs or districts have one or more people assigned to follow up on new members, build a relationship, and engage new members in action we have seen not just growth but also retention. This has to be continued, no matter how little the new member may seem to be growing as a Communist.

As we’ve seen with many new members, particularly those who join online, their first form of activism after studying Marx, Lenin, or other writers is to sign up for membership in the Communist Party.

It’s very important to stress to these new members that on-the-ground action together with others is how they will validate what they read and gain the necessary real-life experience to help bring about socialism. Overall, it’s essential that our Party is an organization immersed in the mass work of our respective communities. All members of our Party need to be encouraged to be a part of working-class and community struggles. As Gus Hall said, “Lose the working-class perspective and you lose your way.”

The strongest relationships are developed while in struggle—that’s true in a union, and it’s true in the Communist Party as well. Organizing and participating together in an action is what integrates a new member and makes them feel like the Party is their political home.

We need to better combat bourgeois ideas that still linger among our membership, new and old. Some of those problems include:

Lack of working-class consciousness
A weak commitment to honesty and principles
A wavering sense of responsibility to the interest of the workers
Inability to work with a collective
Ignoring and evading the discipline of the collective
Self-centeredness and arrogance

We need to address and shed any and all petty bourgeois ideas manifested in the Party.

CPUSA leader Henry Winston once wrote: “Communist discipline is not imposed from above, but is voluntary and self-imposed. Real discipline is conscious discipline. A fundamental condition for Party discipline is a full understanding of Communist policies, and devotion and loyalty to the cause of the working class.” We have included this definition as part of our orientation with new members, which is held every two months or so.

The ideas of collectivity and individualism also need to be better defined. We must constantly strive to ensure democratic centralism is functioning in our bodies—which basically means that collective input is the best means of arriving at a decision and, together, all members will respect and implement it.

Even if individuals don’t yet agree fully with all the particulars of a decision, strategy, or action, they should agree to pursue it and ask themselves whether the collective is seeing something they are not. All are involved in arriving at a decision and all are involved in putting it into practice.

Lastly, there have been situations where new members have needed further guidance on the issue of factionalism.

People come into the Party with experiences in a variety of different groups and organizations—many of which do not operate like the Communist Party. Even if they may not intend to cause harm or division, some new members may effectively do so when they don’t participate in the work of collective bodies.

Unfortunately, in some cases though, there have even been situations where, as Henry Winston said, “factionalism has been the work of the enemy from within. . . a most destructive force.” To avoid such problems, Party members must always be attentive to bringing issues to collective bodies and not organizing outside of them.

The clubs are key

To continue growing the Party, our priority has to be on building and strengthening our clubs. Initiative by the clubs themselves is vital, and despite COVID-19, some clubs are managing to make breakthroughs. For example, the Long Beach Club is running a comrade for City Council. In Syracuse, a club leader helped organize a union of EMS workers, despite a fierce red-baiting campaign by the company they worked for. A member of the newly formed Long Island Club has been asked by community activists to run for school board. And there are other such examples.

Club activity

The most active and mobilized clubs are those that combine Zoom meetings with on-the-ground activity. In NYC, the Manhattan and Brooklyn Clubs have been tabling once a week and participating in demonstrations. Out of these efforts, they’ve seen steady recruitment and have brought in many new members of color. Tabling has proven an important part of establishing the Party’s public presence in communities and movements. It’s not possible everywhere, but where we are able, we should be doing it regularly.

Club meetings

One thing we should think about are the frequency of club meetings. In this new period, is once a month adequate? Does it allow us to keep with the pace of struggle and with our new members? Some districts, like Connecticut, meet twice a month and have done quite well. Should we think about making two meetings a month the new norm? Let’s discuss it!

National support for clubs

Reaching members old and new who are not organized in clubs remains a big challenge. Remember: Most of the Party membership are not in or do not participate in clubs.

Since February, the Party has been doing regular phone-banking every weekend for the fund drive. This has allowed us not only to raise money but also to connect with members whom we haven’t been in touch with lately—or ever. As those who’ve participated can tell you, it’s such a rewarding experience!

The national Party organization has also initiated the “Red Saturday” campaign where individual districts anchor the phone-banking effort each week. Already, Illinois, Ohio, and Southern California have taken a Saturday. Please consider it. You’ll be glad you did!

National Committee members should be leading this work. Imagine the impact if all of us did it, just one Saturday for one hour a month.

The Marxist Classes have proven to be an invaluable source of information, and we need to provide any needed assistance to the Education Commission. We went from setting a goal of 100 registered attendees for webinars to 200, and now 200 is the regular number achieved. We can do even more.

We have established a social media collective that is coordinating the effort to post uniform messaging on issues and avoid situations where things that conflict with or don’t fit Party positions end up appearing on our public platforms. We have developed guidelines with regard to posting from Party social media channels. You can find these guidelines and a video that Maicol produced, on our website for your reference. Even if you are not managing a Party site or platform, it is useful information.

Grow People’s World, grow the Party

People’s World continues to be an indispensable tool in establishing relationships with other organizations; it can speak to masses when the Party is not there.

In People’s World, we can tell the stories and struggles of the working class, of our communities, of our unions, and of our Party. This helps to connect us to those in struggle in a supportive role. It is also a way to reach out to people outside of our immediate circles.

The Connecticut District has used People’s World for several decades, selecting a route and committing to passing out the old newspaper version of PW and then continuing with the printed PDF. The result speaks for itself, with 18 clubs functioning and involved in the issues affecting Connecticut and the nation.

People’s World is also our biggest connection with the broad working-class public. Its circulation has tripled over the past few years, but we need to review how and if clubs, districts, and members are using PW.

Are we sharing its articles on our personal Facebook pages?
Are we emailing them to friends and people in our activist networks?
Are we texting articles by phone and by WhatsApp?

The Party still has to learn how to build itself by utilizing our online press and podcasts. In this, we still have a way to go.

A translation team has been put together to provide information of working-class struggles to our Spanish-speaking communities, an effort headed by Miguel in Chicago. We are looking for more volunteers who can donate their time to this work. We may soon have the capacity to have two articles translated per week.

We will hear more about the role and achievements of People’s World later today, but we should note that our fund drive, which raised closed to $85,000 in just two months, was a testament of the support we have—not just for People’s World but for our Party as well. We were overwhelmed with the financial commitment our members and friends made.

Proposals and next steps

1. Commit to training a new generation of cadre, creating a two-year plan and step-by-step process. Some steps have been taken in this regard with the Training Leadership Collective that meets once per month where members prepare and present on the given topic. Another step is the class being planned in the summer by youth for youth.

2. Clubs should set up a collective of at least two comrades whose main focus is reaching out to new members, building a relationship with them, and finding ways to keep them engaged.

3. Strengthen the communication to club and districts leaders:

a. Revamp the Club and District Leaders Facebook page to only include club and district leaders that agree to the guidelines set of sharing experiences—not having debates that are neither constructive nor unifying.

b. We would also keep the Google Groups as another form to keep club and district leaders informed and in the loop on national Party developments. Because we have both tech-savvy and tech-challenged comrades, we believe this is a workable structure for now.

4. Find more creative ways to bring members and friends together, such as the discussion that the African American Commission held on the movie Judas and the Black Messiah.

5. Seriously study the issue of low recruitment among women and people of color. We regularly point out this shortcoming. We know that it is not because these groups are not in mass movements; they’re usually leading them.

So what else can it be? We need to hold a brainstorming session to answer some questions such as:

What do we need to do differently?
What are we doing wrong?
Are we welcoming?
Are we too intimidating?
Do we address the real concerns of these communities?

One thing we should think about is that most of our recruitment is spontaneous and online. That does shape who joins. Much more could be done to target communities of color and women with our social media messaging. At the same time, what’s new in the recruiting is that in at least three districts, more face-to-face and organized recruiting is taking place. This is true in New York, Connecticut, and Texas. And in each of these districts more people of color and women are joining the Party.

6. Develop a pamphlet that outlines what it means to be a Communist, where we address some important ideas, such as:

What should be the culture of our Party

The ways male supremacy and white chauvinism express themselves and how they affect our work

The role that alcohol, drugs, and other mind-altering substances play in hampering our ability to build this movement

The understanding that unresolved issues, whether personal or among comrades, can affect judgment and work against our overall goals. Our policies attract membership, but what keeps them many times is our behavior toward each other. It is important for all of us to take steps to resolve strong emotional trauma that interferes with our interaction and judgment.

6. Create targeted recruiting pamphlets for youth, African Americans, Latinos, and women.

7. Commissions: At several meetings, there have been calls for commissions, but what is the need that the proposed commissions will fulfill? We now have seven active commissions. Since our last meeting, two more commissions are up and running: the African American Equality Commission and the CP/YCL collective. This is in addition to the Education, Political Action, Labor, International, Peace and Solidarity, and Religion Commissions.

Commissions, according to Henry Winston, “have the task of mastering all problems within their given fields, of becoming acquainted with those problems and being on top of them. Commissions have the task of putting on their agenda specific and organizational questions, of developing regular checkup and control on the fulfillment of decisions as they are applicable to the given field of work.”

Our greatest challenge with commissions continues to be having someone to take the lead, take on the responsibility of convening the meetings, and bringing others to participate that are in that given field and connected to those struggles.

One idea that has been proposed is to perhaps form a subcommittee that deals with a specific issue which could spur the forming of a commission. Another is to require NC members to take on the responsibility of anchoring a commission.

A concern that keeps coming up among our membership is security. Here is one answer from comrade Michele in Michigan: “When members feel threatened by the right, their best defense will be their network of contacts in the grassroots organizations they work in. When they’re known for their good work and contributions to the groups, they will have built a ‘defense’ based on the respect they’ve received. Members can call on other Party members, but also their contacts for support.”

What else can we do to address this?

It is key that in today’s discussion we stay focused on how to build our Party while staying involved in our communities. What is good about our Party structure, and what do you see that needs strengthening? What is the ideal, and what steps can we take to get us closer to it?

Comrade Henry Winston asked in his pamphlet, Build the Communist Party, “What is the link to the chain that will build our Party at this moment in time and place it among the decisive forces?” This is the question for us today.

I believe that by continuing to strive to have the mindset of putting the working class above all else, including our own personal preferences, we can collectively push the process forward in a quick and decisive manner.

Socialism in the USA — Si Se Puede!

This report was presented by Co-Chair Rossana Cambron on behalf of the Organizational Department to the meeting of the National Committee, April 18, 2021.



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