Convention Discussion: Organizational Methods for the 21st Century

BY: John Bachtell| March 18, 2014

Submitted by John Bachtell, Chair of the Illinois District, CPUSA.

A proposal has been made in the convention discussion to reestablish the Organization Department and hire an organizational secretary to direct the work.

It goes without saying our small full-time staff is often asked to take on multiple responsibilities. A substantial part of the staff is engaged in responding to the needs of a growing membership through outreach, engagement and development and work with new district and club collectives.

It would certainly be welcome to hire more field organizers to more effectively move the party into action, work with the membership and to staff commissions, expand work of People’s World, Political Affairs, International Publishers, YCL, etc.

Reestablishment of an organization department is certainly one approach to consider, although no doubt a version based on the most modern organizing methods, techniques and tools.

We certainly don’t want to impose outdated organizational methods upon the party. Our experience has resulted in new ways of doing things including the use of the new tools created by the digital revolution for outreach, organizing and education. Every organizer must be versed in these new methods and tools.

At the same time we would also do well to examine the relevant experience of other organizations grappling with similar challenges.

However, I’d like to comradely take issue with what I regard as some misconceptions surrounding our organization work.

I think it is important not to give the false impression that without an organization department we are not paying sufficient attention to carrying out decisions and finding ways to grow the party, involve the membership, etc.

Nor should we hearken back to the days of old, without ignoring some real problems that existed. Too often organization departments became “dumping grounds” for decisions.

This resulted in a tendency to separate political and organization work.

Under the current set-up political work and organizational work in many respects are merged. In place of the organization department are a number of interconnected collectives responsible for specific areas of work.

These collectives are vested with the authority to carry out the work, and are accountable to the National Board:

1.) The Coordinating Committee meets weekly and follows-up on decisions arrived at by the National Board or takes action on urgent issues arising between NB meetings.

The CC discusses ways to move the party into action, sets individual and collective tasks including communications to the membership and public, coordinating Party statements and teleconferences with the People’s World, responding to districts issues, reviewing travel, finances, education, personnel matters, international communication, etc.

The decisions of the coordinating committee are shared with NC members and attest to the kinds of things taken up.

Most Coordinating Committee members also have weighty assignments that require following up decisions, work with the Party organization and membership, etc.

2) The Communication Department not only deals with sending out timely and informative communications to the National Board, National Committee, district and club leaders and membership, but keeping our communications apparatus modern, up to date and in working order and training our staff to master new developments in technology and social media.

3) The Membership Committee deals with outreach to new members and new district and club building. Members of the committee divide up the days of the week and call members who join on those days immediately.

The new members are welcomed, encouraged to get active locally, told the district organizer will be contacting them, encouraged to join the People’s World Labor Share Campaign, informed about ways to make dues payments and join the sustainer program, and their interests and talents are explored, etc.

The Membership Committee, a collective established after the last convention, has worked on a number of new member outreach projects including in New York, Texas, Oregon, Florida, Tennessee, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Iowa, Utah and New Mexico.

A member of the committee conducts regular webinars for new members.

4) The New Roots Council is also a project associated with the Membership Committee. The Council meets monthly and helps new members who are interested in beginning new clubs in unorganized areas, providing experiences, information and guidance.

5) The People’s World also intersects with party organization because district organizers write about local developments and circulate content among allies, building relationships and influence.

The PW is promoting a campaign to get members and supporters to distribute content on the social media. This campaign is known as the “PW labor share campaign.” Over 725 comrades are sharing content just like distributors of our working class “press” did in olden days. In this way, we are still building the organization and its influence and its relationships around the “press” only this time via the digital media.

6) In addition the Party has functioning commissions that carry on work in education, labor, political action, economics, international affairs, religion and working groups around the environment, the YCL, and others.

These interconnected collectives have resulted in a decentralization work and allowed for greater collective accountability.

It’s important to consider the organization structure and staffing that best matches the Party given our size and resources.  While we can always make improvements, I believe the current organizational set-up is streamlined and best adapted to suit our needs given the resources at hand.

Our approach is tailored to our priorities: becoming better connected and more deeply involved politically, becoming more outwardly directed, expanding our modern communications apparatus primarily the People’s World to reach a larger audience, investing in District Organizers, and staffing Finances, Education, etc.

We should acknowledge the growing number of volunteers, including retirees who help out in a variety of ways: field organizing, leading commissions, writing, mailing, fund raising to name a few on a national, district and club level.

Unfortunately, limited resources do not allow us to significantly expand our staff. There is nothing in our balance sheet that would indicate any other approach for the immediate.

If the Party grows its financial base substantially, then we would make it a priority to expand our staff. The financial base will primarily grow by growing the membership, in my opinion.

I’m sure we all agree Party organization needs to be strengthened at every level, infused with up-to-date organizing methods befitting a modern party of 21st century socialism. But I think this picture provides the starting point for any discussion and proposals going forward.

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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