Constitution Committee Report

 
September 22, 2001

Report to the National Committee

I
thank the members of the Committee for their work over the past three
months, especially Arnold and Emil who submitted full-length drafts for
our consideration, and Elaine and Debbie, who together with Arnold, Emil
and myself, were there for nearly every conference call, and for the other
comrades who weren’t able to be there every time, but who contributed
their ideas and their support.

Over the
past several months we have racked up some significant phone bills on
conference calls, and my email archives show more than three hundred (300)
email messages, both incoming and outgoing, that passed through my computer
during the work of the committee up to this point.

Discussion
of the Party’s Constitution has already been extensive and lively throughout
the Party. In January, I retyped the existing Constitution into electronic
format and sent it the National Board, chairs of Convention committees,
the Constitution Committee, and other comrades who had contacted our Committee
with ideas. In late January, this electronic version of our Constitution
was posted on our Party’s website, which made it available for discussion
by the membership and the world. The internet pre-convention discussion
list features a large number of posted comments, suggestions, and debated
points on various aspects of the Constitution, beginning shortly therafter.
The Constitution Committee took into consideration the internet discussion,
received other input from various members, and held numerous meetings
by telephone conference. We completed our initial draft on April 30, and
sent to members of the National Committee in advance of the NC meeting.
It was the goal of our Committee to make our initial draft available to
the Party organization at least two months before voting takes place at
the National Convention. We are pleased that this goal was met.

On May 3rd,
following discussion in the National Board, a slightly revised draft was
prepared. This draft was posted on the Party’s web site and distributed
to a large number of comrades by email. Following a discussion in the
NC, in which 25 comrades spoke, some additional revisions were made by
the Committee. It is that revised draft, dated May 17, 2001, which accompanies
this introduction.

At the beginning
of our work, the Committee was not given any guidelines, or charged with
any particular mission, other than to review the Constitution and to recommend
changes, if any. We struggled with one another about emphasis, formulation,
or finding the right word, but early on we found ourselves in general
agreement as to the direction in which we wanted to go. I think this points
to the correctness of some of the changes the Party has made in the recent
period toward openness and a mass style.

This is a
genuinely collective draft. The spirit in the meetings was good, disagreements
were resolved in a comradely fashion, and it was even fun at times. While
the Committee members all feel good about this draft, and we recommend
it to the membership, we are certainly not resistant to the idea that
further discussion can improve on it.

The Committee’s
view is that our Constitution needs to do basically two things: (1) It
needs to set down the basic organizational structure and rules by which
we operate. This is the "meat" of the Constitution, set forth
in the various articles. (2) It needs to state succinctly what we are
about. This is set forth in the Preamble, which is more a work of literature.
We felt that, while the Articles should clearly define rules and structure,
they must allow for a certain amount of flexibility in how we implement
them. And while the Preamble should define our goals, it should not substitute
for a Party Program or other programmatic or theoretical literature, where
there can be a much fuller and longer discussion of our science, strategy
and tactics in the current period.

The last
time our Constitution was updated was in 1987. A lot has happened since
then. In reviewing the document, we felt that it was basically a good
document that had served us well, but that it needed updating to reflect
changes in the world, current struggles and current terminology, and to
further our efforts to build a mass party.

Article
II (Principles of Organization)
: We took a look at the style, and
have proposed some changes in language to set forth our basic organizational
principles, such as democratic centralism, in what we hope to be more
working-class, familiar language, without changing the essence of those
principles.

Article
III (Membership)
: We took in consideration the discussion over the
basic requirements of membership, and the process by which someone joins
the Party. We have attempted to have a more consistent national approach
on this question, confirming Leninist standards of what it means to be
a Communist, while at the same time removing unnecessary obstacles to
becoming one. The Draft clarifies that one need not to be a U.S. citizen
to be a member of the Party, and does not require applicants to be supported
by two members in good standing, or to be subject to a vote of the club
in the applicant’s area. There are many ways to drop someone from the
Party if they don’t work out. The real struggle is to open our ranks to
new members and then promptly to help them become fully integrated into
action, and developed in education. Our new language in Article III attempts
to set the stage for that.

We have finally
written into our basic document our commitment to full civil rights for
gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Articles
IV and V (Club, District and National Organization)
: We have proposed
some changes to conform with the needs and possibilities of today. There
are some large geographically-spread districts in which it has been difficult
to hold at least four district committee meetings per year, and frankly
some districts have not met that goal. Our draft provides that district
committees must meet at least four times per year, but that larger geographic
districts are permitted and encouraged to use telephone conferencing for
up to three of those meetings, provided that there is at least one face-to-face
meeting per year. The goal is to encourage the meetings to occur, and
thereby to strengthen the district organizations where meetings have not
taken place. Language pertaining to District Conventions is amended and
clarified, to give districts flexibility in ensuring good composition,
and participation of members who are not yet in functioning clubs due
to geography.

In line with
recommendations presented by the Party Structure Committee to streamline
the National Committee and increase its role as a policy making body,
our draft proposes at least three (3) meetings of the National Committee
per year.

The Review
Commissions on the District and National levels were effectively abolished
as standing committees at our last convention. Our draft proposes to delete
references to them from the Constitution. Comrades should understand that
the both the National and District bodies of the Party may create review
bodies and other committees as they deem advisable, from time to time,
but as standing bodies, this proposes that they are dropped. The National
Council is also deleted, per decisions from the previous Convention.

In Article
VI (Rights and Duties of Members)
we made a number of changes with
the intent of making our concepts more accessible and understood by potential
members, and to update references to our multi-racial, multi-national
working class to reflect current usage and struggles. In previous Constitutions,
members had an obligation to organize unions at their workplaces if no
unions existed. For some reason that no one could explain, that obligation
had been dropped in the 1987 edition. We have restored that. As part of
the working class, all comrades should join and be active in their unions,
and to organize new ones wherever possible. We also have modified the
language concerning criticism and self-criticism. It was felt by some
on our committee that the words "criticism" and "self-criticism"
were understood by many in the movement to be negative, and not constructive.
We propose to retain and support the concept and the practice of criticism
and self-criticism, and the right of review of the work of Party bodies
and leadership, but to modify the language to clarify that this process
is intended to improve the work of the Party, that it is not necessarily
negative, but contains both negative and positive evaluation.

Article
VII (Discipline)
: We dropped the language of "control" because
we felt it was susceptible of being misunderstood and misinterpreted by
people in the movement generally, and we use other language to describe
the giving of assistance to comrades to overcome weaknesses. We dropped
references to the Review Commissions, and added language to the due process
provisions in disciplinary hearings.

Articles
VIII, IX and X
, pertaining to dues, amendments and authority to issue
publications are retained without modification.

The work
on the Preamble took the longest time and most discussion. We wanted
to make it a brief statement that could be used independently in our literature.
We wanted it to be good literature, without being too "lofty"
or academic, or too long. We wanted to identify our roots in the historical
experience of the working class in the United States, to update references
to our people and reflect recent developments in the world history, and
to address the main struggles today. In the process, we have produced
a Preamble that is longer than the last one. None of the Committee members
claim to be a Lenin, a Paine or a Jefferson when it comes to inspirational
writing. In the event that any comrades produce something that accomplishes
the aims set for ourselves, and is more eloquent or inspirational, we
would welcome that contribution. In the meantime, let this draft of the
Preamble be a touchstone for discussion.

Comments

Related 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