Convention Discussion: Why we need a Communist Party in San Jose (and everywhere)

BY: Henry Millstein| May 13, 2014

Submitted by Henry Millstein of California

I take my start from some remarks by Sam Webb in his excellent convention discussion piece: ‘Labor’s allies and the left should wholeheartedly  support labor’s new rhythm and beat. Indeed, anyone who has any strategic sense, anyone who has any appreciation of what the requirements for a qualitative rupture from the nightmare of right wing extremism, neoliberalism, and capitalist globalization will get into the thick of this process.” Without a revitalized and strengthened labor movement, there’s no possibility of real deep-going change in a people’s direction in our country. And there’s no possibility of the labor movement revitalizing and strengthening itself all by itself: other forces in the community have to join in this effort.

And the same goes for those other forces: they have no real chance of moving toward real deep-going change unless there is mutual support and action, unless they can “connect the dots” in a common struggle for change at an ever more radical level.

Can we really say that the labor and other progressive movements in our country are connected and united as they need to be? Do they even have the vision that they need to be connected? Above all, do the various movements understand that supporting and strengthening one another-and above all, joining in the struggle to grow and revitalize the labor movement-is crucial to any lasting progressive success?

I would say that, in broad strokes, the answer has to be no. And this even in an area, such as San Jose and environs-the so-called “Silicon Valley”-where that sort of unity, with the labor movement at the core, has brought some notable success, above all in winning an initiative campaign to raise the minimum wage in 2012.

Could other organizations or coalitions take on this task? Well, maybe, but the fact is that the Communist Party has the clearest vision of the unity that’s needed and the experience and, yes, the connections to the labor movement (and other movements) that will make it possible to help build this network of unity and mutual support.

I’m not saying that the Party should try to function as some sort of coordinating committee overseeing the building of progressive unity from on high. What I’m thinking rather stems from Margaret Mead’s statement that a small group of dedicated citizens is all you need to make a difference. By bringing activists in different movements together into an organization with a clear vision of the unity that’s needed, a Party club can leverage a unity far greater than its small size might suggest.

That means that a Party club must take on as one of its primary tasks turning a group of disparate activists (which is what the Party clubs I’ve been part of for my almost 40 years in the Party have mostly been) into a group with a thought-out strategy for bringing movements together, and especially for building unity with the labor movement.

I’ve been talking here from our situation here in San Jose, where the current and immediately potential Party members are already activists holding to some definite left political ideology. In my experience, that’s mostly where we’ve recruited. But if we look into our Party’s history, and to its present reality in areas like Connecticut, the strength of the Party was (and is) that we didn’t recruit just from the ranks of experienced activists and convinced leftists but also-and primarily-from people just entering the struggle, who joined because they saw us struggling around the issues that directly concerned them. While we certainly should not give up recruiting convinced activists and leftists into the Party, we should, and we must, aim at building the Party from the grassroots who have neither organizing experience nor a formed ideology but who know in the guts that’s something wrong with our society.

This sort of grassroots recruiting is not in contradiction to drawing together activists to build progressive unity. On the contrary, it’s precisely a lively, united progressive movement that will have the visibility and strength and potential for success that will draw the grassroots.

Finally, a word about the Party and socialism: I would guess that most people who identify as “progressives” are in favor of replacing capitalism with some form of socialism-understanding socialism as a thoroughly democratic system that preserves and expands the civil liberties and rights we (supposedly) have already under the Constitution. But how many of us progressives talk about it? Polls show pluralities favoring socialism over capitalism, especially among young people. Why isn’t socialism being injected into the struggles of today-not in a divisive way, but as showng a way forward to a future where real lasting solutions to the problems we face under capitalism will at least have a social framework where they can be solved.

And who better to do this than our Party. The Communist Party has long held up the concept of “Bill of Rights” socialism; socialism is our raison d’etre; while we’re not the only organization that can (or should) inject the discussion of socialism into present movements, we certainly have good credentials for doing so. We’ve had to deal with the failures as well as the successes of attempting to build socialism around the world. That makes us more, and not less credible on this question.

I’ll go further: while I don’t want to trumpet our Party as the one “true” socialist organization (we have enough of those already), I do believe that our Party is the only organization, or at least one of the only organizations, that talks about socialism without rampant sectarianism. That’s why we, despite our difficulties, have a potential to grow that most other left organizations, and certainly most other explicitly socialist organizations, do not.

And that’s another reason why San Jose-and every place in the US-needs an active and visible Communist Party. San Jose needs a place where people can talk about socialism while pursuing current struggles in a united, non-sectarian way-where people can begin to chart a course from struggles for immediate demands through more advanced demands to the ultimate goal of throwing off capitalist power altogether and building socialism. Progressives and progressive movements are hamstrung and vulnerable without that vision of a longer-range goal and a thought-out strategy to get there.

So, to sum up, San Jose (and every place) needs a Communist Party to 1) form a nucleus of activists to draw various progressive movements together, above all with the labor movement; 2) building on that unity, develop a progressive movement that can draw grassroots people without prior organizing experience into the struggle; and 3) provide a place to project longer-range solutions to people’s problems, including socialism, and map out a practical strategy to reach them.

If we go home from our convention convinced that we need to build the Party to meet these necessities (not to mention others I haven’t thought of), we’ll have had a smashingly successful convention.

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



    Hank Millstein is a long-time peace and labor activist. He's a fiction writer and journalist and a member of the National Writers Union. A practicing Roman Catholic and activist in several faith-based social justice organizations, he serves on the National Committee and the Religion Commission of the Communist Party USA.

Related Party Voices Articles

For democracy. For equality. For socialism. For a sustainable future and a world that puts people before profits. Join the Communist Party USA today.

Join Now

We are a political party of the working class, for the working class, with no corporate sponsors or billionaire backers. Join the generations of workers whose generosity and solidarity sustains the fight for justice.

Donate Now

CPUSA Mailbag

If you have any questions related to CPUSA, you can ask our experts
  • QHow does the CPUSA feel about the current American foreign...
  • AThanks for a great question, Conlan.  CPUSA stands for peace and international solidarity, and has a long history of involvement...
Read More
Ask a question
See all Answer