Convention Discussion: What is our inspiration?

BY: Erica Smiley| February 16, 2010

This article is part of the discussion leading up to the Communist Party USA’s 29th National Convention May 21-23, 2010. takes no responsibility for the opinions expressed in this article or other articles in the pre-convention discussion. All contributions must meet the guidelines for discussion. To read other contributions to this discussion, visit the site of the Pre-Convention Discussion period.

All contributions to the discussion should be sent to for selection not to the individual venues.For more information on the convention or the pre-convention discussion period, you can email

A Response to “New Opportunities to Grow the Communist Party” and “A Reply to ‘A Time to Grow’

I think it makes a strong statement that “New Opportunities to Grow the Party” is one of the main discussion documents.  I appreciate both the concrete suggestions for how to build the Party as well as the clarity with which it defines the role of the Communist Party and the Young Communist League in the broader struggle.

“New Opportunities” was uplifting after reading “A Reply to ‘A Time to Grow'” by Dan Margolis.  Though I am enthusiastic about the discussion “A Time to Grow” sparked, I have so far found it uninspiring.

Margolis’ document minimizes the need for a targeted approach to outreach, not wanting to reach out to those on the “Left” who may already agree with us, stating

“We can’t narrow it down simply to the 20 percent of the population that chose “socialism” on a single opinion poll that has, in my opinion, received way too much attention.”

Reaching out to this population does not limit us from building the “new Left” within the rank and file of labor or even the Obama movement.  In fact the mystical socialist 20% and rank and filers are not mutually exclusive. 

This is what we attempted to convey in “A Time to Grow”, and this is why I am excited about “New Opportunities to Grow the Communist Party”.

In “New Opportunities” we are presented with a more objective assessment of our membership and what the authors call the ‘urgent necessity to grow’ stating that

“Our challenge is to convey in a popular way our vision of “Bill of Rights” socialism to the American people, and especially the 20% who think socialism is superior. Our challenge is to help foster a wider discussion of socialism for the US reality and how to get there.”

Our Party is struggling with a culture of organizational isolationism.  We have grown comfortable being small and correct.  And instead of building the Party through our mass work we often choose to disappear in it. 

“New Opportunities” challenges us on this saying

“Have we fully overcome the “mentality of marginalization”? Are we hampered by sectarianism? Do we take advantage of open doors and are we swimming with broad class and social currents?”

In order to build the labor-led people’s movement, we have to build our own ranks more deliberately.  Comrades should not be content being the smart individual in a broader organization.    We need more Party members putting out our viewpoints in more places.  And that requires us to grow.  “New Opportunities” is clear about this.

“The process of growing the movements includes simultaneously growing the CPUSA and YCL.”

This is something we should struggle with in every area of work (jobs, healthcare, etc…).  How are we quantifiably and qualitatively building the Communist Party?

We have lost the culture of growing in a methodical way.  We rarely set measurable recruitment goals.  Thus, we need to build a new culture of cross accountability between club leaders and districts, districts and the national center-where there is both support in recruitment strategies and accountability on progress. 

If we are as pragmatic with our membership goals as we are with the PW Fund Drive, we will have a much better count of where we are growing and what our growth rate is. 

In Margolis’ “Reply to ‘A Time to Grow'”, he maintains that the Party is growing.  But we have no proof of this; no membership reports to compare our numbers from year to year; no mapping of how and where that supposed growth is happening.  In fact, we have much evidence to the contrary.  Clubs are weak, and in the case of my own club in DC, shrinking.

This trend has to be reversed. 

Our entire base must engage in a far-reaching brainstorm of how to build and strengthen the Communist Party, and we need concrete, innovative ideas to do that. 

The one concrete item in Margolis’ response to “A Time to Grow” highlights the Bronx Club as a glowing example of the role the Party should play in movement work-citing its role in holding the Obama for America chapter together as well as its strategic approach to key industries in New York.  Neither I nor anyone else can contest the golden reputation of this club.

However, this club also has a large number of full-time Party staff holding it together. 

More helpful to us are ideas of how other clubs with non-functionary members can function better. For example, could a quarterly conference call or on-line seminar for club leaders be useful once per quarter to help clubs better understand where they might fit in to national growth plans and/or to assess regional trends?  Why limit this level of discussion to bi-weekly coordinating committee meetings that happen on weekday mornings when most club leaders work? 

Or perhaps the labor commission, in addition to talking to club leaders about their role in the jobs campaign could also, in the process, help outline the key industries in their area, and more important, how to identify opportunities to bring individuals from those sectors closer in the context of the work.

Refreshingly, “New Opportunities” did not use the same old examples as a crutch to indicate how well we are doing.  Instead, it got to the point in its suggestion of ‘key areas of emphasis’ where the authors discuss potential transitional forms to engage people outside the Party-including educational study groups, campaign committees, public/cultural events, and on-line collectives.  This new openness to exploring new forums of engaging people was inspiring.

This all leads to my final point. 

Building our ranks is not just something that can be drilled into our memberships’ heads. We have to be inspired to do it. We have to be motivated about building the Communist Party, and we need a clearer understanding of how participating in the Party builds the movement over all.

Unfortunately, Margolis’ Response to “A Time to Grow” chose merely to defend the status quo of our organizational culture. 

However, “New Opportunities to Grow the Party” gave us the embryo of new vision for building our organization. And most important, it gives us inspiration; the inspiration to come up with new ideas; to think outside the box; to experiment; to engage in the discussion in a “no more traditions chains shall bind us” kind of way. 

We need all Party and YCL members to draft and implement a new, creative plan for growth.  And it is our job as national leaders of the Party, not simply to encourage, but to inspire this innovation.


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