Convention Discussion: Grassroots clubs for the 21st Century

BY: Connecticut Communist Party USA| April 8, 2014

Submitted by the State Committee, Connecticut Communist Party USA

The biggest issue before our 30th national convention is the role and work of the Communist Party USA.  

Our experience shows that the challenges and opportunities to build our Party in the changing conditions of the new century can be met with mass-style grassroots neighborhood clubs

The essence of the Communist Party is to achieve workers’ power and a more just and equal society.  

Low wage workers, contingent workers, young workers, racially and nationally oppressed workers, unorganized and unemployed workers are a large and growing section of the working class in our country today.

As the squeeze of global capitalism intensifies, working class communities are falling into deeper and deeper poverty.  The Communist Party at the neighborhood level becomes the hope.  Our  media, our unity building and our vision offer a chance and a voice for young people and people of all generations.  

The Communist Party at the neighborhood level is able to learn from the community, and at the same time raise the level of class consciousness and fightback among the people.  

As the national union movement expands its approach to reach out beyond organized workers to the entire working class, there too is an emphasis on sinking roots into neighborhoods and communities.

The neighborhood  is where young people get a chance in life or get snuffed out.  It is where voters decide elections.  It is where families look out for each other, play together and talk about the news of the day.

The neighborhood is where democracy can exert itself if people become educated, engaged and mobilized to vote.  Those are the main tasks of the Communist Party in the second decade of the 21st Century.

In Connecticut, we have many experiences to build on.  Grassroots neighborhood clubs are our foundation. No two neighborhood clubs look alike.  Each reflects the character of their community.  There is uneven development and constant experimentation.  But some things are universal.  

One commonality is that new members who join the Communist Party as their first political experience often go on to become leaders.  In the club experience such comrades learn about unions and class struggle.  They learn the power of collective action.   Some have become stewards in their union, or leaders in their block watch or other group.  Some have brought their whole family into the Party.

It is not unusual for someone who finds a “home” in the Communist Party this way to say: “I’ve always been a communist.  I just didn’t know the name for it.  I didn’t know there were other people like me.”

In the eight clubs in the Greater Hartford area, outreach into key working class neighborhoods is centered around bringing the People’s World local print edition to the homes of members and readers on a regular basis.  Print-outs of articles and action petitions could also be used.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Hartford leads the nation in deep poverty. In the North Main club, the Broad Street club, the Clay Hill club and the Manchester club, the children of parents who began taking the paper three decades ago are now club leaders.  Their children, and  the children of their children are YCL members or club members, representing four generations.

These clubs are engaged and known around the big issues of their communities — police brutality and the civilian review board, the fight to defend public education, for jobs and for tenants rights.  

At club meetings twice a month the members gather in the living room or around the kitchen table in someone’s home.  They discuss the People’s World editorial so they can put their local concerns into a broader perspective.  They decide what actions they will take.

Another commonality is the ability of grassroots neighborhood clubs to influence elections. Discussing campaign issues with families who take the People’s World and then making sure they vote on election day has helped elect the Working Families Party on the Hartford City Council,  union members on the New Haven Board of Alders, and in participation with labor walks helped defeat tea party candidates for state legislature and congress in other cities.  

Another commonality is that the work of these grassroots neighborhood clubs enables the Communist Party to participate in city-wide and state-wide coalitions around organizing drives and broader issues such as immigrant rights, peace and the environment.  The grassroots base has inspired labor leaders and community leaders to respect, work with, and ultimately join the Communist Party.

During strikes or union organizing drives such as fast food or home care or health care campaigns, grass roots neighborhood clubs can reach out to workers in their neighborhood, building labor-community alliances, and in some cases even forming a workplace club of the Communist Party.

Workers who meet the Party and People’s World articles on the picket line can continue the relationship through a neighborhood club.

We have built grass roots neighborhood clubs in low and moderate income working class communities that are predominantly African American, Puerto Rican and Latino.  These are the communities that have the strongest tradition of progressive struggle and where we can achieve Communist density.  This has enabled us to move the Party and YCL towards the multi-racial, multi-national membership and leadership that is required.

While these examples are from the Connecticut experience, the conclusions are not about any particular club or state.  Rather, the examples suggest that in the 21st century there is a growing need and opportunity to build mass-style grassroots clubs that can work with unions and community groups on issues and to overcome the influence of the extreme right-wing.

These examples show that it is possible to build a mass base for the Communist Party, and that when such a base is built the movement for workers’ rights and basic social change is strengthened.

What are the qualities of a mass-style grass roots Communist Party today?

Grassroots mass-style Communist Party clubs provide a home for ordinary people who are fed up with capitalist greed and who want basic change.

In the face of every possible assault from the extremist right-wing, grassroots Communist Party clubs are able to relate national issues and campaigns to local struggles.  They are a valuable tool to change the political climate, and to consider running candidates.

Grassroots clubs provide the face-to-face component to compliment social media and internet outreach.   The neighborhood club concept provides a potential place for on-line readers of People’s World to get involved.  It offers new members who join on-line in scattered parts of the country ideas of how to outreach.

Grass roots neighborhood or workplace clubs are powerful because they correspond to how people live and work. They are in position to develop the strategy and tactics to respond to local emergencies in a timely way, and to build unity against corporate attempts to insert disunity into the struggle.  They have the ability to take on racism in very specific and practical ways.

Grassroots clubs are able to become part of the fabric of the community and provide a public face for the People’s World and the Communist Party.  They are the link between the struggles of the present and the socialist vision of the future.  

Clubs of this type require a lot of time and attention from the most experienced comrades, but this is a great investment.

While numbers are important, a mass-style Communist Party is not about numbers.  It is about who we organize, how we organize, how we popularize complex ideas, how we build unity among the people themselves, overcome barriers and join together across race, gender, nationality, language and generation.

A Communist Party of 10,000 members who are scattered individuals would have only modest impact in a nation of 300,000,000 people.  But the same members in 500 neighborhood or workplace clubs of 20 members each in 100 cities could help shift the political and mass movements in those cities and affect the nation.

Our ability to help shape policy and then mobilize to win it and keep it are directly related to our ability to develop mass-style neighborhood clubs.  This does not exclude recruiting leaders and activists. In fact, the neighborhood base serves as a magnet for union and community leaders who want to work in a way that builds working class leadership and the movement for socialism.

The views and opinions expressed in the Convention Discussion are those of the author alone. The Communist Party is publishing these views as a service to encourage discussion and debate. Those views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Communist Party, its leading bodies or staff members. The CPUSA Constitution, Program, and all its existing policies remain in effect during the Convention discussion period and during the Convention.

For details about the convention, visit the Convention homepage
To contribute to the discussion, visit the Convention Discussion webpage

30th National Convention, Communist Party USA
Chicago | June 13-15, 2014


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