The road ahead and the battle for democracy

BY:Joe Sims| July 11, 2023
The road ahead and the battle for democracy


Address to the CPUSA National Committee presented by co-chair Joe Sims on June 24th. It’s been edited to reflect the discussion along with original text presented to the NC.

This meeting marks the first time in many a year that the National Committee (NC) has met here in New York at Winston Unity Hall. Welcome home! We’ve missed you.

Over the years, a great and enduring legacy was forged within these walls. It was here that the collective led by Gus Hall and Henry Winston guided our party’s path for nearly two decades. Indeed, these walls were witness to many stories, and if they could talk they might tell some powerful tales. Stories about how young communists in Philly helped spark the integration of American Bandstand; stories about what Henry Winston said to Martin Luther King when they met backstage the time Martin came to New York City to honor W.E.B. Du Bois at Carnegie Hall; stories about how Communist trade unionists initiated the call for Solidarity Day after Reagan broke the PATCO strike.

We could go on with this stroll down memory lane, but today we’ve got a full agenda. At the top of it is putting the full force of our collective strength behind the ongoing campaign to inflict a strategic defeat on the MAGA right and the fascist Trump. This meeting is devoted both to that goal and building the party in the process.

The threat posed by Trump and the forces behind him isn’t over, not by a longshot. It’s in the attack on voting and abortion rights; the Florida book bans; and dangerously, the goon squad attacks on drag shows and trans events. It’s in acceptance of open racism in the U.S. Senate. Just a few weeks ago, a Republican Senator, Mr. Tuberville of Alabama, openly defended white supremacists in the military. When asked if white nationalists should be allowed to serve in the armed forces, he replied, “Well they call them that. I call them Americans.” While the Senate Majority Leader, Mr. Shumer, condemned the remarks, Republicans just shrugged. Compare this to what happened to Steven King of Iowa who, a few years ago, was stripped of committee assignments after such obscene remarks — that’s what happens when a deadly combination of right-wing nationalism and white supremacy becomes normalized.

And they have become normalized. “Great Replacement” theory has not only resulted in the majority of Republicans believing the country’s changing composition is some left-wing conspiracy, but has also contributed to the scourge of mass shootings. Is it lost on anyone that most of these killings are committed by young men? The lesson seems clear: white supremacy and male supremacy are deeply connected. Today, you can’t fight one effectively without addressing the other. Both are a basic part of the far right’s agenda.

One second, they’re going after abortion with calls for a national ban; Georgia and Florida have six-week bans and abortion is outlawed in 14 states. The next second, they’re attacking voting rights; 18 bills in 10 states have already been signed into law this year. A second later, it’s trans rights, with some 497 bills introduced in 49 states. Yes, you heard it right: 497 bills! Apparently, these forces believe now’s the time to go whole hog on the rest of their agenda.

There’s another MAGA school, however, who feel the “whole hoggers” have overstepped. They now embrace what’s called “radical incrementalism.” Radical incrementalism means focusing on one issue at a time. In Ohio, for example, to defeat a pending pro-abortion referendum scheduled for November, a special election is being called in August to require referendums secure 60 percent of the vote for passage, instead of a simple majority. The point here is that both groups, be they “whole hoggers” or one-step-at-a-timers, are getting ready for the next election. And so must we.

Mobilizing the anti-MAGA majority

Indeed, the 2024 contest is already upon us. Right now, a rematch between Biden and Trump and their respective coalitions seems all but certain. Coalescing around Trump, is a big business–led, fascist-tinged mass movement which, at least in certain quarters, appears to have lost none of its power. It’s estimated a crowd numbering in the tens of thousands greeted him at a recent rural South Carolina rally. However, Trump’s coalition is shattering at the top. Weakened by the insurrection, indictments in NY and Florida, and possible charges in Georgia and D.C., the ex-president in the eyes of some of his erstwhile supporters, is now damaged goods. Misgivings have grown particularly sharp since the Florida indictment charging gross mishandling of national security documents and obstruction of their return. Ruling class factions are now looking for more electable alternatives, many of whom, in substance, are not that different from Trump himself. To date, 12 Republicans have placed their hat in the race — there’s blood in the water and the barracudas are circling.

Buoyed by the passage of the infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, despite stiff extreme-right opposition and key Democratic defections, Biden so far has managed to fend off significant challenges, notwithstanding the campaigns of Marianne Williamson and Robert Kennedy Jr. The president’s electoral coalition has been shored up by Bernie Sanders and Brandon Johnson’s coming on board, and has been given additional heft by the AFL-CIO’s endorsement (the earliest ever by the federation) and CBTU’s support. The administration’s foreign policy on the other hand, remains a major negative and may potentially suppress sections of the youth, peace and left vote.

While important components of the coalition are coming into focus, a mass movement on the scale of what brought the Biden-Harris ticket to power in 2020 in the aftermath of the George Floyd uprising, has yet to take shape. That’s important, because it’s going to take a mass movement to defeat Trump. Whether the anti-MAGA majority will rise up and meet the demands of the political moment remains to be seen, though this year’s local contests in LA, Chicago, and Tampa are promising. At the end of the day, however, voter enthusiasm will be determined by the degree to which bread-and-butter issues are addressed. Needless to say, such a task cannot be left only to official circles: the people’s front must be fully mobilized, with labor playing a key role.

Cornel West’s decision to enter the fray adds an additional wrinkle. West’s standing as a public intellectual, along with his radical democratic platform, is sure to resonate with some on the left. His decision, however, to initially run on the People’s Party line, an outfit led by a former supporter of Bernie Sanders accused of sexual misconduct, is of serious concern. Consider the group’s judgment and associations: they co-sponsored with the Libertarian Party a February “Rage Against the Machine” rally in D.C. against the war in Ukraine, which was chock full of right-wingers, “MAGA communists” (formerly known as “patriotic” socialists), and followers of Lyndon LaRouche. It was right to demand an end to the war, but terribly wrong to join forces with a collection of right-and-left-wing populists, to say nothing of outright fascists. There’s no evidence, however, that West was present or supported the idea.

Today’s populists, like their predecessors, remain anti-corporate in form, but reactionary in content. What’s new is that some, apparently unable to distinguish left from right, are providing reaction a cover by declaring Trump a “peace” candidate. They must have forgotten about his administration’s tightening of the Cuba blockade with several dozen additional restrictions, or the tariffs imposed on China that marked the beginning of today’s Cold War 2.0. These are the signs of an advocate of peace? If so, this would be the peace of the graveyard, where Trump would not only happily bury China and Cuba, but also his “left-wing” boosters at home. Also disturbing, in fact extremely so, are the makings of the coalition itself. Is a newfound brown-red alliance in populist disguise at work here? That would constitute a veritable “united front” of infamy, the breadth of which should be measured not in the “diversity” of its ranks, but the degree to which it’s carrying water for the far right.

Apparently, Professor West has now jumped ship and is seeking the blessing of the Green Party. But how will the good professor conduct his campaign? Viable campaigns are born of grassroots responses to issues and the movements and coalitions from which they arise. This includes protest campaigns, many of which are shaped by understandable frustrations with the two-party system and a desire not to be associated with its corruption and concessions. But given the U.S.’ winner-take-all set up, a decision to run must take care not to inadvertently contribute to electing fascists and other right-wing extremists. Directing fire at the fascist danger is one thing — a plague-on-all-your-houses approach is quite another. In a close contest, even small numbers of votes can have a big impact. That said, it’s unlikely West’s first foray into presidential politics will garner significant support among African American or broader quarters — a spoiler campaign would be a disaster. The ball is now in West’s court. One should never forget what happened on January 6th and the lead up to it.

In this regard, stock must also be taken of the No Labels initiative now seeking ballot status in all 50 states. Organized by center-right figures like Democrat Joe Lieberman, Republicans Larry Hogan, Pat McCory, and the curiously chameleon-like figure of Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis, (formerly Benjamin Muhammed of the Nation of Islam), No Labels claims a pragmatic problem-solving approach to politics. A more likely possibility is that the problem they’re designed to solve is how to peel off the independent vote, providing the MAGA right a stalking horse upon which to ride to the White House. A telling reminder of the potential danger is that No Labels has studiously refused to reveal its funding.

Setting aside potential machinations, today, electoral mass movements of the center-left and far-right dominate presidential politics as the Obama, Trump, Sanders, and Warren campaigns amply testify. The collective responses within and between contending classes and the coalitions revolving around them are determining outcomes. Voting, while on one level an individual choice, in the grander scale of things, is also a collective act. Our emphasis should be on voting as a working-class collective act. Individual votes here and there may not make much of a difference (except in the case of very close contests), but their impact, when joined with tens of millions in a simultaneous, joint action, can be huge. At stake in organizing these collective acts is laying the basis for forcefully addressing the central issues of the day by building movements around them. Jobs, housing, health care, abortion rights, police killings, gun violence, student debt and the environment — the Canadian wildfires are a case in point — are the key issues that will drive election turnout. The role of the party is to help build working-class political independence within these movements, and in so doing, maximize advantage: that’s the essence of Communist mass electoral work. Appeals emphasizing the fascist danger cannot stand alone and must be combined with attention to the issues that matter most to voters.

Hence, the next election cycle is not so much about the current spate of candidates as individuals, but rather the issues and platforms their coalitions champion. For the Communist Party, the key thing is how, within the broader people’s front, can the working-class movement have the greatest leverage and exert the largest influence? In other words, how can the working class place its stamp on the battle for democracy?

A revitalized peace movement is key to victory

This is a vital question because the country is reaching a turning point where it can either go off a cliff or go forward together into the future. Party tactics will be determined by accessing which key issues lead in one direction or another.  From this platform we declare today that U.S. policy has to change: the Ukraine war must end. A cease fire must occur. China and South Africa’s peace plan point the way for Russia to remove its troops, stop NATO’s expansion and end the flow of arms including from the U.S. That’s the only way Ukraine will be independent and sovereign.

Obviously related are the issues of war, peace and the military budget and here the direction ahead is a dangerous one indeed. Notwithstanding the emergence of a multi-polar world, the U.S. ruling class continues to seek global hegemony. Framed as a policy benefiting working-class families, the Biden administration’s loosely defined fight against authoritarianism is anything but beneficial to them. Consider, for example, that at the same time the child tax credit was eliminated (under pressure from the GOP and the corporate Democrat Joe Machin) over $1 trillion was spent on defense appropriations. Think about who benefits from the saber rattling directed at China while fossil fuels are ruthlessly exploited: big oil and dynastic capitalist regimes in the Middle East, or the American people? Wouldn’t cooperation on controlling climate change make more sense? Or take regulating artificial intelligence: in the opinion of scientists, humanity is reaching a pivotal moment with AI which, if not addressed, could spell the end of human civilization. Isn’t the survival of the species in the interest of both countries to say nothing of the planet?


As currently conceived, the fight against “authoritarianism” is a dead end street. Nothing new lives there. It’s a gray, desolate place, inhabited by generations of recycled circular thinking and false comparisons. No matter what today’s Cold Warriors allege, Cuba and China are not Turkey and Hungary. A new, socialist way of being, living and decision making is being attempted in the countries exploring socialist paths and it’s way past time U.S. imperialists realize it. Not every country’s model of democracy is going to be stamped “made in the USA.”

The challenge here is not to democracy: rather it’s to the system organized for the pursuit of private profit above all else — this is what’s behind Washington’s and Wall Street’s fear, and their endless drive to exorcize the very spirit of socialism from the public imagination. What they can’t seem to fathom is that the threat to democracy comes not from outside but from within: it’s the relentless drive to maintain maximum profits that gives rise to authoritarianism, or to put it more precisely, fascism. In this regard, Lenin nailed it long ago, describing imperialism as “reaction all down the line.” However it’s packaged and marketed to gain working-class buy-in, it is late stage capitalism that’s breeding war, racism and national hatred. Make no mistake, this is what Washington is selling, but we’re not buying it.

And increasingly, neither are many others. It’s hypocritical in the extreme to demand freedom in countries you don’t like while supporting dictatorships in countries you do. It’s laughable to say you stand for independence and sovereignty in one case, while denying other countries the right to determine their own destinies in another. South Africa, for example, strongly objected to recent State Department bullying in an attempt to get the ANC government to support the U.S. position on Ukraine. It won’t surprise you that they’re hardly alone.

These issues clearly cry out for a revitalized peace movement, but what’s it going to take to breathe new life into this vital struggle? Providing an answer to this question is a real challenge. The need has never been more urgent, but calls for peace, once loud, are now subdued for reasons many-sided and complex. The Communist Party will be thinking the challenges through, and putting forward a plan of action to address them at our upcoming peace conference the weekend of November 11th to 12th in New York.

The lead up to the conference will be as important as the event itself. It’s vital that the preparatory process draws on the lessons learned by movement veterans, along with friends and allies who possess a rich reservoir of experience. Exchanges with organizations and movements beyond what’s recognized as today’s peace movement will also be vital. Indeed, this may well be the most important aspect of preparing for November’s discussion. Let’s face it: the absence of working-class forces in the peace movement presents it with a real dilemma: those who stand to gain most from reordering the nation’s peace priorities are the least involved in the movement. How to resolve this dilemma is a basic part of what the conference needs to think through. Thus, peace work needs to be reimagined in fresh ways as we seek to involve new forces, with the goal of helping build a broad, working-class-led, multi-racial, multi-gendered peace front.

Fighting for working-class leadership

And yes, the Communist Party continues to stress the necessity of fighting for working-class leadership. A basic part of its role is to promote workers’ leadership wherever it finds itself, not only in the peace movement, but in all movements, the people’s front included — maybe especially the people’s front. Why? Because liberals always move to the right under pressure: the people’s front needs working-class backbone, vision, and organization.

The good news is that these qualities increasingly are making themselves felt in the political life of the country. As quiet as it’s kept, it was a trade union–led coalition objectively building on the momentum of the Black Lives Matter uprising that won the election of 2020. In 2022, led by women outraged at the Supreme Court’s abortion ban, it was workers, suburban and urban, who headed off the much-vaunted GOP red wave during the midterms. Out west in LA, Latino, Black, white, and Asian workers were decisive in winning Karen Bass the mayor’s office. In the Midwest, does anyone doubt that Brandon Johnson’s Chicago victory emerged out of a coalition between a people’s movement to end racist policing, allied with Black and Brown labor?

Our working class and trade unions are increasingly taking the fight to the bosses. The road ahead remains long, and the climb steep, but it’s happening. Witness the 154 strikes that have taken place so far this year, keeping steady pace with what occurred the year before. In addition, a number of important organizing victories have been won over the last several months. For example, the Steelworkers won a union vote in rural Georgia at the Bluebird electric bus plant and Amazon drivers and dispatchers voted to join the Teamsters in Palmdale California. The local recently went out on strike. At Starbucks, some 300 stores have been organized. Importantly, the Amazon Labor Union is also keeping the pressure on. Another indication that workers are seizing the time is that petitions for union representation continue to rise. Last year, they were up 53 percent over the year before and the first six months of 2023 are comparable.

The next several weeks may well see major confrontations between unions and corporations that have the potential to shape bargaining patterns in other industries for some time to come. Depending on how things shake out, these pending struggles could impact the coming election. UPS will be the site of the first decisive battle. The Teamsters took a strike authorization vote at UPS that passed by a whopping 97 percent. UPS, look out! The workers are fired up and ready to go. The choice is clear: settle or face the largest strike in U.S. history. Then, in September, the United Auto Workers (UAW) is getting ready to throw down with the “Big Three.” The major issue for the autoworkers is the two-tier wage structure. If there’s no agreement at the bargaining table, the next stop is on the picket line.

The degree of community support will help determine whether upcoming strikes are won or lost. Supporting pickets by walking the lines and providing food and refreshments is an important first step, but not the only one. The party shouldn’t stop there. Equally important, if not more so, is building united fronts of support ensuring demonstrable solidarity from elected officials and mass organizations ranging from statements, resolutions and letters to editors, to strike fund support and consumer boycotts. Indeed, these will be a proving ground for measuring successful organizing efforts. The party should work with the broad working-class public to keep the pressure on. Everyone should keep in mind that the right to strike itself could be an issue. Fearful of possible federal intervention, Teamsters are already calling on supporters to demand members of Congress resist any attempt at federal interference.

In the event of a Teamster walkout, strike support at neighborhood UPS locations should be a major focus of attention. Every one of our 90-plus clubs should adopt a Teamster local. Picket practice is already taking place at locals across the country. What better place to begin making contact and building relationships?

Underlying this growing labor unrest is the fact that working-class families are still taking it on the chin. Inflation in May was 4%, down slightly, but above wage increases. Anyway you cut it, workers remain on the losing end of the bargain.

While unemployment remains relatively low, corporations have announced plans to cut over 400,000 jobs, a 300 percent increase over the same period last year. Layoffs have occurred in technology, retail, auto, health care products, finance, and the news industry. The 100,000 new hires from January to June is a drop in the bucket in comparison.

The pandemic-induced economic crisis is barely over, but it’s pretty clear yet another economic slowdown is in the works. How slow the crisis unfolds remains to be seen, with the important exception that the working poor, and those on a fixed income, already know the answer. Eviction filings in some cities are up 50 percent. On top of that, rents are skyrocketing. Among the cities hardest hit is Houston, where rents jumped by 50% in May. In Minneapolis–St. Paul, rents rose a staggering 106% in March, and they’ve been rising steadily ever since. Nashville’s rent was 35% higher in May, with Phoenix not far behind at 33%. Rhode Island’s rent leaped 32% the same month. Small wonder homelessness is increasing.

Whatever the economic forecasts, boom or bust, institutionalized racism and sexism spells financial bad weather for people of color and women. Unemployment and homelessness is always higher, most times double the rate of their white counterparts. Immigrant workers in particular are left out in the cold. Shipped all over the country by the governors of Florida and Texas, they’ve become the special victims of capitalist crisis, pawns in the MAGA right’s political games. Gamesmanship, however, can be a two-edged sword as Governor DeSantis found out recently when a new law requiring employers to report workers’ citizenship status was passed, resulting in large numbers refusing to show up for work. Nevertheless, the GOP right’s pursuit of whatever-sticks-to-the-wall politics presses on, spinning invasion scenarios and demanding militarization of the border, replete with calls to invade Mexico.

Building the democratic front

It’s important to stress here that an attack on any section of our class must be understood as an attack on the entire class. The Communist Party upholds the interest of all workers in the U.S. — citizen and non-citizen, Black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, Arab, gay or straight. We reject with contempt the blame-the-victim attacks of the extreme right, no matter what their source or who their object.

These attacks include those inflicted by the Supreme Court, which ended its term with a series of body blows to democracy, including rulings on affirmative action, union rights, LGBTQ rights, along with students’ right to live free of excessive debt. The court’s decisions on Alabama redistricting and Native American sovereignty, while important, did not fundamentally alter its far right trajectory. Demands to reform the court by increasing the number of justices are coming from many quarters and should be given every support. But why stop there? Term limits and other measures are worthy of consideration.

What impact will the Supreme Court’s rulings have on next year’s election? It’s hard to say, but if its recent past’s decisions are a prologue, the MAGA right’s prospects appear dim. Election results so far this year have been promising. The all-people’s electoral front scored a number of important victories. In Wisconsin, Janet Protasiewicz, a strong advocate of reproductive rights, handily defeated her MAGA opponent by 11 points, winning her bid for the state’s Supreme Court. Hope triumphed over fear in Chicago with Brandon Johnson’s defeat of corporate Democrat Paul Vallas’ law and order campaign. In Jacksonville, Donna Deegan defeated MAGA right-winger Daniel Davis. In Pennsylvania, Heather Boyd’s election to the state house flipped the chamber back into Democratic control. In Colorado Springs, independent moderate Yemi Mobolade blew his MAGA opponent out of the box by 15 points. And we should not fail to mention that in Philadelphia, Seth Oberman’s first time run for City Council created quite a stir and nearly defeated his big business–backed opponent. That most of these victories occurred in the Democratic Party should not dismay us. It is what it is — that’s what the current bourgeois-democratic stage in the fight against the fascist right demands. Instead, the focus should be on working in the here and now to lay the basis for independent, labor-led election initiatives in the future.

Notwithstanding this spate of victories, keep in mind next year’s election is far from decided. Things can turn on a dime and nothing can be left to chance. In these circumstances, the NC’s election policy has not changed; the CPUSA does not endorse candidates from other parties. Rather, it works with broad forces on the issues. We work in broad coalition with others to build movements on these issues, including electoral coalitions. We’re not afraid of broad coalitions. In fact, we should be afraid to not work in them, while fighting as hard as we can to defeat the fascist threat up and down the ballot. The question is not if to participate, but how. And the answer is by always building unity and pushing forward working-class interests — that’s our “plus.”

Doing so does not require surrendering independence and fierce partisanship. Quite the opposite. We lend support where we agree, and take issue when we don’t. We don’t stay quiet, but at the same time always take care to not break with the democratic front.

In practical terms, where do we place our efforts? Again, where possible, with other independent organizations and movements: trade unions in their phone banking, door knocking and GOTV drives; groups like the Poor People’s Campaign in their voter education efforts; formations like MoveOn, and others.

Communist Party candidates should be part of this mix. In Connecticut, New York, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Michigan, there’s either interest or recent experience in independent electoral work. Other clubs and districts are invited to join in. In fact, running for office would be a great way to help politically prepare for our next convention.

Collectivity is our superpower

And yes, it’s just a little over a year away from the party’s 32nd National Convention. While the dates and exact place are not quite settled yet, the plan is to have it next summer in Chicago.

This weekend’s meeting begins the process of officially preparing for the convention. To that end, the National Board is proposing to put in place a Convention Organizing Committee that will have the task of assisting the National Board and NC in laying the basis for it. The Convention Organizing Committee will be tasked with helping figure out delegate selection, including fraternal delegations, fundraising, the mechanics of pre-convention discussion, publicity, security, workshops and the various other required collectives. We’re proposing the committee be chaired by Rossana and myself.

The 32nd convention will have the task of reviewing the party’s past work, charting the path forward, and refreshing its leadership. It’s a unique moment in the party’s collective life when it comes together as a national organization to exchange experiences, deepen policy, and strengthen unity. The convention is the place where delegates elected by clubs from around the country both take stock in and ownership of this unique product of working-class experience and organization.

And the party is very much a special product of working-class organization, sharing characteristics both unique and the same with other expressions of the class. The convention’s success will in no small way be measured by how well it collectively teases out the relationship between those similarities and differences — how, as Gus used to call it, Communists are different, but the same, or, differently the same. At stake here is nothing less than, while ensuring the party’s Leninist character is preserved, taking pains to root itself in the best that the working class has to offer. The ability to do so will help determine how quickly the CPUSA becomes a mass party, not only in name, but in fact.

At its last meeting, the NC reviewed important markers of its growth: the numbers of new members, the status of new and old clubs, the process of consolidating district organization. The main report argued then that the party organization is on the ground floor of this effort. At this meeting, the NC should consider growth from another angle, that is, from the standpoint of the degree to which it’s grown as a collective. This is important because collectivity lies at the beating heart of what the party is. It is what unites and binds together the collective as an organization. In fact, it’s what enables the party’s fighting capacity. Without it, the Communist Party is just a talk shop.

At the party’s recent national school, the Education Department devoted a class to the subject. It was argued then that collectivity is the catalytic force that sparks the party’s ability to carry out its work. In a word, it’s the Communist’s superpower. And while the party may not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, when collectivity is high, and the party is working as it should, leaps in growth and influence are possible.

Obviously, the party is not yet at that level. But exactly where does it stand? One measure is the level of its internal unity. With a few exceptions, the National Board’s impression is that on most issues, unity around CPUSA’s Road to Socialism program is pretty high. The NC and National Board are united around it, as are most clubs and districts. This is borne out by weekend schools on the program in several districts, along with club and district conferences. Of course, there are concerns here and there about our electoral policy, particularly among new members, but there is not active opposition. Still, there’s convincing to do.

Another measure is participation in webinars, town halls, and other responses to membership engagement. Participation in these events over the last few years has doubled, and at times quadrupled. It was once quite hard to convince 200 people to sign up for educational webinars. Many now average 500 to 600. On occasion, some events, such as the Unemployment Townhall and last year’s International Conference have boasted 1200 to 1300 registrations.

Member surveys are also a measure of getting feedback. These normally net several hundred responses. And if the feedback is to be believed, most seem pretty satisfied with the party’s general direction. Responses to calls to action is another gauge, though one more difficult to access. Some, like the call to bring a contingent of 500 to last year’s Poor People’s March, met with a big response in the clubs and districts. On the other hand, requests to participate in the annual People’s World phonathon are weak — very weak, in fact. Only a couple of districts and clubs joined in.

District and club engagement in setting and fulfilling People’s World fund drive goals reveals another side of the issue. Since the last convention, there have been three successful drives. In each, we’ve sought to rebuild collective approaches to fundraising. The spring campaign brought in $140,000. Thank you!

A key part of establishing a collective policy on the drive was asking each district and club to propose a goal. This meant that district leaderships and club execs should bring the issue up with their respective collectives. The picture in this respect is mixed. The good news is that many clubs and districts either completed or came close to completing the drive. However, some either didn’t set goals or if they did, set them quite late in the game.

Club and district involvement in educational work is also worth examining. Do clubs and districts promote participation in the national schools and webinars? It appears from the vantage point of the national office, and this may be mistaken, that most member participation is based on spontaneous responses to email blasts and social media efforts. Or do clubs and districts push comrades to participate? And pushing means more than sending out an email.

What’s being addressed here is not only the party’s ability to make decisions, but also its ability to carry those decisions out. Taken as a whole, does the collective decision-making process include broad consultation with clubs, districts and members? Or do leading collectives just make decisions and expect the party to follow? And by leading collectives is meant not only the national leadership, but also the districts and clubs. Decision making cannot be a one-way street. There’s a difference between democratic centralism and bureaucratic centralism. On the democratic side of the former equation, there’s a dynamic back and forth; in the second equation, one side just issues directives. Indeed, the method employed in carrying out the party’s work is often as important as the work itself.

When thinking about the approach to these issues, the NC might consider, from an organizational standpoint, what kind of party is it attempting to build? It would be a mistake to forget that organizational methods and traditions, like anything else, tend to be handed down from one generation to another.

Speaking of methods, collectivity is hard work. It means going the extra mile and taking special measures to guarantee that rank-and-file workers, women, people of color, and LGBTQ comrades are aware of and are involved in the decision-making process. If comrades are elected to collective bodies and they are not present when decisions are made, they still need to be consulted. If they’re not elected but invited to sit in, but don’t show up, they need to be consulted. And consultation means not relying on email blasts to communicate. Phone calls and in-person conversations are required. Building party unity brick by brick is oftentimes painstaking work but achieving consensus and buy-in requires it.

The NC should also consider that the party’s decision making occurs within a structure that much of the party, being new, is not familiar with. In the party, democracy is exercised solely and exclusively in and through collectives and their elected leaderships. What’s the best way to convey this idea to members, many of whom are accustomed to a whole other set of practices, much of which is centered on the individual?

The pre-convention process should afford us an opportunity to bring forward the party way of collective functioning. Among them are:

  • The priority of the club as the center of decision making, requiring all members to discuss actions first before proceeding (e.g., you don’t run for office, speak to the press, discuss uniting with other groups, without first raising it in your collective);
  • Respect for the authority of districts to determine work and policies, without interference from other clubs and districts (e.g., you don’t enlist clubs from other districts on any project without talking to the leadership of that district);
  • Upholding collective decision making as occurring only through constituted party collectives. Petitions, open letters, and appeals outside of these processes are inadmissible;
  • Respecting the authority of the National Board and National Commissions to determine what transpires within their areas of responsibility (e.g., you don’t circulate reading lists without talking to the Education Department, take positions on developments in other countries without engaging with the International Department, you always apprise the Organization Department about district-to-district or club-to-club interactions).

The point here is to convey the idea that party life is conducted through collectives constituted either by district leadership or the NC and National Board. There have been a number of occasions in which actions are taken by individuals or groups outside of constitutional guidelines.

In one case, an ad hoc group set up to organize a demonstration circulated a petition calling for the removal of a member of the NC who wrote an article they didn’t agree with. That resolution was put before a party district and was nearly submitted for a member-wide referendum.

The details here are important. The ad hoc collective in question was composed of YCLers. There are two things to consider here: a) no one elected them; and b) the YCL does not exist within the structure of the Communist Party. By design, it’s a separate organization and doesn’t enjoy voting rights in the party. In other words, it’s not proper to speak on and, in particular, organize around inner-party matters. Of course, if individual members of the YCL are party members as well, they have every right to express themselves in their party club and other collectives. But as a separate organized collective of youth with which the party has fraternal ties, no such right exists.

In another case, a member of the NC’s removal was demanded by two or three clubs from other parts of the country, even before the club in question had a chance to discuss the issue of concern. In a third, an anonymous document was posted in a Twitter group composed of 50 clubs charging our leadership with corruption and stealing money from the People’s World fund drive with demands for investigation and other actions.

Our point here is that whatever the issue, collectivity demands it be addressed in and through collective bodies. You don’t go outside, you don’t around, you don’t sidestep elected collectives. Inner-party democracy, by design, is not lateral or horizontal. Social media doesn’t change that. It’s not flat, but rather flows between the clubs, districts and the NC and vice versa. Why? Because the CPUSA is a fighting organization that needs to act as one body and speak with one voice in the pursuit of its joint aims. That’s what is being built.

As the NC prepares for the 32nd convention, these issues are bound to come up. This demands that the convention preparation process be well understood, clearly defined, and patiently, but principally defended. Again, this means the NC should reject taking shortcuts. It requires that the district and national leadership be immersed in the clubs, taking pains to consult, consult, and consult some more. If this process is followed, the party is sure to have a great and powerful convention that will set the stage for its future growth and success.

Images: CPUSA at Poor People’s Campaign rally in D.C. by People’s World (CC BY-NC 2.0); May Day in NYC by People’s World (CC BY-NC 2.0); March for peace in D.C. honoring MLK by People’s World (CC BY-NC 2.0); Teamsters practice picketing actions by Teamsters (Twitter); CPUSA at Defend the Vote event in NYC by CPUSA (Facebook); CP in Albany for May Day 2021 by CPUSA (Facebook)


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