Resurgence and growth of the CPUSA in D.C.

BY: Jamal Rich| January 5, 2022
Resurgence and growth of the CPUSA in D.C.


Washington, D.C., which sits on the settled lands of the Piscataway Nation and Nacotchtank Peoples, is the center of global U.S. empire with its reactionary institutions like the FBI, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and other intelligence agencies. It is also the most policed city on the planet, with over 34 police agencies and departments roaming its streets to criminalize the poor and working class. This policing and surveillance are intertwined with the city’s relationship with real estate development giants. This has led to one of the most massive efforts to displace Black people in the last 30–40 years, turning what was once known as “Chocolate City” into a city of despair with a housing crisis and high levels of poverty and violence in poor Black neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

D.C. has maintained a semi-colonial status since its existence. Although the city has a larger population than the states of Vermont and Wyoming, its residents are not fully represented in Congress. As a “federated district” and a capital that has its own city government, it is represented by only one elected, non-voting, at-large congressional delegate.

In recent years, with the resurgence of the popularity of socialist ideas and the “socialist moment” occurring around the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, the Black Lives Matter uprisings and movements, and the continued struggles for equality, there has been a revival of the Communist Party USA in the nation’s capital. This current revival has been led by former leaders of the CPUSA (in D.C.) in the 1980s and 1990s, who were also formerly members of the Young Workers Liberation League (YWLL) in their youth and have participated in struggles all throughout D.C., including the struggle for immigrant rights, labor rights, women’s equality, civil rights, and against police violence. Though veterans of the party now, these leaders have brought new (and old) ideas to the revived D.C. Club (which is named after Paul Robeson and the local statehood activist Josephine Butler).

One of the ideas was to build a broad, popular Marxist school named after our very own Claudia Jones. The Claudia Jones School for Political Education has been growing since early 2020 despite the COVID pandemic, and thousands have attended its educational programs so far. The goal is to put Claudia’s name and lifelong contributions at the center of all the movements in D.C. struggling for solidarity, equal rights, and more. This successful project is now expanding into cultural work and youth work (with two campus affiliates — one at Howard University, the other at American University) while continuing educational forums that bring our ideas and perspectives to the people in the Washington, D.C., area. The school also plans to host a mass political festival that reflects the annual Communist festivals in France and Portugal but relates to the material reality in the United States, in particular D.C.

With this resurgence, the local CPUSA Club has grown to 45 active members (and counting), with a small but growing Young Communist League (YCL) of about 40 members concentrated on the campuses of Howard and American Universities as well as with influence at the University of the District of Columbia, University of Maryland-College Park, Georgetown University (main and law campuses), and George Washington University. The CPUSA District in D.C. in 2022 plans to establish more clubs in neighborhoods around D.C. and use this as a basis to struggle on immediate issues that affect working-class communities and to potentially build a base to run Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners to build more energy toward running a Communist Party member for city council in the coming years (after an obvious struggle to get on the ballot).

The local CPUSA has also played a major role in reviving the local D.C. Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (DCAARPR) branch along with coalition partners, Pan-African Community Action and Anakbayan D.C. The local Alliance branch plans on mobilizing its forces and supporters in 2022 to build out a ballot-initiative campaign for community control over the police. At the same time, it will work to bring in more labor and community groups to reflect the kind of coalition in the Chicago Alliance that achieved victory on this issue in July 2021. This coalition was well-represented at the recent national conference in Chicago in December.

Our Club and YCL are very diverse, with Black, Latino, women, and queer leadership; this diversity, along with analysis rooted in Marxism-Leninism, is strengthening our unity daily. Not only have we participated in the NAARPR, but we have also been strengthening our relationships with community groups and other non-profit formations. With the YCL, we recently visited the Paul Robeson House & Museum in West Philadelphia, where we learned more about Robeson’s last years of his life in that city. We also went to New York City to celebrate Jarvis Tyner’s 80th birthday and enjoyed meeting with many generations of comrades.

We have also been fortunate to send young comrades to both Portugal and Nicaragua and are planning to send an older comrade to Nicaragua (again) in a few weeks. In Portugal, our comrade participated as an official YCL-CPUSA delegate in the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) Committee for Europe and North America (CENA) meeting, which took place in conjunction with the annual Avante! Festival. For the Nicaragua trip, our comrade participated in the Friends of the ATC (Rural Workers’ Association) delegation that coincided with the national elections, and our older member will be attending Daniel Ortega’s inauguration in early January. Our club hopes to send members to other countries in the future and host fundraising raffles to send non-Party members to socialist countries like Vietnam, Cuba, and more.

This is a very exciting time for the Party in this city, and more people should be encouraged to join in this moment. There are growing pains with this whole process, but we are becoming more organized and able to increase our influence through our involvement in the fights for D.C. statehood and expansion of voting rights for all residents, the solidarity movement, and more.

Images:  Party and community members, photo courtesy Butler-Robeson Club of D.C. 


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