Are We Overlooking Anything in the Fight to Build the Party?

BY: Danny Rubin| April 5, 2005
Are We Overlooking Anything in the Fight to Build the Party?

Can our Party be built faster than its present very slow pace? How? Growth of the Party is a problem we have been grappling with ever since our height in 1946-48 of 80-100,000 members. If there were simple answers, easy to fix, we would have done so long ago.

I start from the proposition that capitalism needs to be replaced by socialism and for that to happen a mass Communist Party is necessary that fights for the immediate interests of the exploited and oppressed and points the way to socialism. In explaining why such slow growth, undoubtedly there are both objective and subjective causes in our history and present circumstances. There is no single cause or solution. But what are the most decisive causes and what are the ways to considerably speed up growth?

Objective Difficulties In 1948, the arrest of the 12 members of the National Board of the Party in the context of McCarthyism, the Cold War and extreme propaganda about the Soviet Union threatening the USA and the Communist Party allegedly being a tool of the USSR, engaging in espionage and sabotage on their orders (the McCarran Act provisions), led to severe losses of members to protect their jobs and families, and difficulties in enrolling new members.

Today, after the Party fought this whole attack and helped build a mass resistance to it and defeated many of its laws and specific features, there is no longer such a concerted attack and atmosphere. But there are remnants, fed by current propaganda about the failure of communism. And there are new ultra right efforts to curtail civil liberties, including spying on peace and other social action and left organizations mainly under cover of fighting ‘terrorism.’

Among the objective factors to be considered is the present status of the Party itself. There are a whole number of important positive sides that will be discussed. But even these are at a certain quantitative level that they become part of objective limits on how far forward it is possible to move at this point. For example, our small growth means we have reached, according to Comrade Webb’s excellent June 2004 NB report about 2500 members. Under present external and internal conditions it would be unrealistic to speak of recruiting 2500 more within a year. Are there 2500 people in the U.S. who could be recruited in that year? Yes, and considerably more. With maximum effort we might succeed in recruiting and holding onto 300-500 new members. We will examine why it is we can recruit and keep the smaller number but not the larger.

Our Strengths First, what are some of the strengths of the Party that we need take account of and build on? The great bulk of our members are devoted to the Party, to Marxism and to the cause of the working class, the racially and nationally oppressed, women and youth and all working people, the cause of the fight for progress and socialism. The Party’s strategic policy for this period of building an all people’s front to defeat the ultra-right is sound as is its strategic view from here to socialism. There is a higher level of tactical maturity in the Party. There is a high level of unity in the Party leadership and membership. There is an experienced cadre at national and district levels. It is not large in absolute numbers, though in percentages of the membership it is significant.

There are growing mass connections where the Party exists with important organizations, movements and leading democratic figures, especially in the labor and peace movements. These are relations of mutual respect and appreciation. The Party has high quality publications – PWW & PA, with PA showing steady growth, while the PWW shows some signs of breaking out of stagnant circulation. The Party has a pretty stable financial base though at a relatively low level compared to need. It has important physical centers in NY, Chicago and Los Angeles and other facilities and institutions associated with it such as International Publishers. The YCL is making a solid contribution and shows signs of growing and flourishing. Its publication Dynamic is improving in content, form and some in circulation.

Considering the positive changes in the objective situation for the Party and the continuing limitations both external and internal, why do we not grow faster? There are several general answers of importance that affect the whole Party. But also every situation of our districts and clubs has both particular variations of general causes and its own unique ones.

On General Causes Before the internal crisis of the late 80s and early 90s, we and much of the world movement tended to operate on the basis that the world was heading ever more rapidly toward socialism and that everything we did was crucial. The pace and pressure internally on the Party membership and organization to do everything ‘needed’ and never to make a mistake or exhibit a weakness was very severe. Following the crisis here and the defeat of socialism in the USSR and elsewhere, a whole section of the membership and of the cadre (leading people at all Party levels and in mass movements), while maintaining their basic loyalty, made adjustments in tempo.

Some were necessary and some made it hard for the Party to grow. A correction of tempo was necessary because we had too optimistic an assessment of how close world socialism was. We needed more of a tempo for the longer haul. But some slowed down to the point where they came to club meetings irregularly and strongly resisted any mass or inner assignments that put pressure on their personal lives. They had lost some of their confidence in the necessity and role of the Party, in Marxism-Leninism and socialism.

Many newcomers to the Party in recent years joined on pragmatic grounds only. They saw the Party doing good work on issues and they were attracted by the Party members they saw doing it. They came in but had no opportunity to learn the Leninist theory of the Party – the necessity for it, its role, its necessary characteristics, including the reason for its structure and style of functioning and the reason for building clubs at the grassroots level.

As a result of these two segments of our membership and leadership, the level of understanding of the Party is inadequate to give a high percentage of our members a strong desire to build it and a willingness to put in the effort and work in such a way that they would build it.

In overcoming a certain sectarianism and unCommunist arrogance of an anointed vanguard that has all the answers that no one else has, we often swung to the other extreme, that we have nothing special to contribute except hard working, relatively committed people as additional hands in mass struggles. This became for many a pragmatic approach to the Party. The Party was a useful tool to help get things done.

There is such a thing as Communist modesty. The spontaneous class struggle and mass democratic movement can and do develop whether we are present or not. They can accomplish things without us. Mass leaders develop who are well-intentioned, know a great deal, are skilled in leading mass movements and are quite savvy politically. They may even develop advanced, left views. We must work in such a way as to respect them and learn from them and work cooperatively with them if we are to make special contributions. What are those special contributions?

Necessity for, Role, Qualities of the Party Lenin defined the universal role of the Party at all times and places as guiding the class struggle of the working class, the ultimate objective of which is working class power and the construction of socialism. In each country in each stage of social development and each qualitative stage of the struggle for progress, that universal principle of Communist role, has a particular meaning at the level of the country as a whole. For us, in this period, that means doing all we can to help develop an all people’s front with labor in the lead in close alliance with the African American people, Mexican Americans and the other racially and nationally oppressed, women and youth, and all other class and social forces, social movements and political tendencies who can be won to the fight to render a major rebuff to the ultra-right. The ultra-right is dominated by the most reactionary sector of the transnationals.

That role has to be applied more concretely in every district and club and in the work of every individual Communist to their own situation. Lenin also made clear the Party had to work to build itself in all respects, including membership to increasingly play that role. At first the Party’s contributions are useful and helpful and sometimes necessary and even decisive. They flow from the application of its working class orientation and its ties with workers, Marxist methodology, proletarian internationalism that includes Black-Brown-white unity in the U.S., democratic centralist organizational principles that allow it to achieve a high level of membership organization and activity.

Those contributions also flow from its socialist perspective which enables the Communists, as the ‘Manifesto’ says, to take care of the future of the struggle in the course of the present struggles. These are the necessary qualities of a Communist Party so it is able to carry out its role. It can only do so if it is modest and can learn from others in the democratic movements.

But as the struggle develops to more advanced tasks such as the building of a coalition to radically curb the power of all the monopolies and a political party and possible government of such a character, we should expect the Party’s size and role to grow, and the necessity for a mass Party to grow. And when the task becomes that of the millions taking working people’s power led by the working class and setting out to construct U.S. socialism, the necessity for the Party’s special contributions will be even greater.

Theoretically, it is hard to see how this level can be reached without a party of the Leninist type having achieved the leadership position among the working class and people or be in close association with other organizations that jointly perform this role and set the basis for a united, single organization early in the building of socialism. The reason is that millions will have to have come to full class consciousness, to socialist consciousness, to the strong influence of Marxism-Leninism to want to and be able to win such power and construct socialism. Such consciousness, as Lenin argued in ‘What Is To Be Done?’ can not arise from the experience of the spontaneous class struggle alone. That struggle produces trade union consciousness. It needs to be combined with what the Communist Party is the primary source of – socialist consciousness and Marxism-Leninism.

Can we imagine defeating as determined, unscrupulous, able an opponent, with the resources of the U.S. based transnationals and their political henchmen without Marxism as a tool of struggle embraced not only by a handful of leaders but by the masses? We will need Marxism to understand deeply the main features of U.S. and world capitalism at the time, to understand the world balance of forces , to be able to work out a fully sound strategy based on a proper estimate of all the class and social forces at play, the movements and political tendencies in our country.

We, and the people’s movement for working people’s power and constructing socialism, will need Marxism to work out successful tactics at a complex and difficult moment and organize for their fullest implementation. A mass Communist Party capable of influencing the basic forces – the working class, the nationally oppressed, women and youth and the entire relationship of forces will be indispensable.

In world practice so far, this theory has been confirmed. No country has won working class power and begun socialist construction without the leadership of a Communist Party. Perhaps the closest to an exception was Cuba. There Marxism was an important current within the July 26th movement and leading members of the first Cuban Communist Party were in the Sierra Maestros with Fidel. There was cooperation between the two organizations in the cities where the first Communist Party had strength among the working class. Soon after the victory, the two organizations began a process of formal merger that led to the present (second) Communist Party of Cuba. So the exception really confirms the theory.

Therefore, we are justified in predicting that the building of a mass Communist Party is a necessary condition for such advanced stages of social tasks in the U.S. and we will remain under the horrors of capitalism until it is built. For the Party to grow faster, the above needs to be understood by its leadership and much of its membership. It is the starting point of wanting to build the Party and being willing to do what it takes to do so.

Every Member A Recruiter We should have an atmosphere in the Party where there is the expectation that every member can recruit at least one new member in a year’s time. If we do not fulfill that expectation we should ask ourselves are we working properly in mass struggle? Are we doing Communist work among masses (as Lenin called for)? Are we living the way we would want other Party members to live?

At present, most of our members say they believe recruiting is possible today but they are not in a position to recruit anyone within the next year. Among the reasons given are: 1) They are not involved in mass movements or organizations and for personal reasons are not in a position to become so involved. 2) They are so involved in doing important mass work that they do not have time to recruit or need to be careful to continue or build their mass role. Others not so involved should do the recruiting. 3) Personal problems prevent them from putting in the time and effort and developing the personal relations to be able to recruit. 4) They do not know anyone who is Party material, who would do us any good by joining (too old, too sick), or who they could convince to join. 5) The other comrades are in a better position to recruit. 6) What am I going to recruit them into? My club meets irregularly or is a poor club and will push any new recruit away.

Reasons for not Recruiting While all of these are serious questions that have to be seriously addressed, we need to develop the understanding that none of them can be accepted as sound and objective, if we are to make a breakthrough in membership growth. Every member can and should work and live in such a way as to recruit at least one person a year under present objective conditions. Only those seriously ill are an exception. If we understand the role, nature and necessity for the Party, we will want to try. Then the task is to exchange ideas and experiences on what we need to do differently both personally and collectively to do so.

Those who are active in mass movements and organizations have to conclude their mass work as good and important as it may be, is incomplete if it does not regularly result in new members. It is one-sided. The task in mass work is both to make special contributions to those struggles based on collective Party guidance and to build the Party there so that the mass work expands and does not disappear if for some reason that comrade is no longer there. That requires singling out 1 or 2 people and developing both political and personal relations with those people and continually figuring what to try next to move them closer to popping the question at the right time to get a ‘yes.’Collective help on all of this can prove very useful. Keeping at it is just as important as the mass work itself, as it assures the mass work will continue and even expand.

For others not so involved who say they know no one, we need to explore with them co-workers, neighbors, friends, family members. Often they overlook people because of too high standards. While there is a premium on recruiting activists, workers, nationally oppressed, and people not much older than YCL age (in addition to youth into the YCL), we should not have a static picture of people. Often people not in the concentration categories join and are bridges to others. In many clubs, the crucial thing is some new blood.

Once one or two people are singled out by each Party member as their most likely potential recruit the process anywhere is basically similar. It includes getting them the PWW by sub or delivery, PA, what other literature that fits best, developing political and social relations, who can you introduce them to in the Party who can help, what to bring them to – district events, club forum, club discussion group, to club meetings or social- cultural events. Is there a club mailing list to put the person on that would help? Collective discussion in the club meeting or exec of progress in moving the list of near term and longer term potential recruits forward should take place. What holds back the particular person, how can that be overcome? A second Party member might be assigned to the same potential recruit, giving a little practical collectivity to the effort.

Consolidation Consolidation of recruits is just as important as recruitment and it is evident we have considerable difficulty in doing that. In periods when the Party was much bigger, it was easier. Most new members cane in as a result of experiencing the Party having a substantial everyday impact on the struggle for working people’s needs. In many places that is not yet the situation. And the political ideology and culture of the Party is not all around the new member. As a result, there is a gap for most new members.

To be consolidated they need to understand the Party’s current strategic policy – what we are trying to achieve and why and how we work to do that and what is the connection to socialism. They need to know the basics of the Party – why it is needed, what role it plays, what are its necessary qualities to fulfill that role, how it is organized and functions to fulfill that role, what it does on a day to day basis, and how the new member might fit in. Fitting in means how the new member might contribute, what is and is not expected of them and how Party membership might impact their life. They have to know, like and respect at least one member of the club, preferably most of the members of their club.

The new member needs to become a member of a club. We need to think through how this process takes place in relation to each new member or there is a good chance the new member will drop away. When we recruit people and fail to consolidate them that becomes a significant obstacle to further recruiting. We lose confidence in the potential recruits of today and in ourselves and further recruiting becomes more difficult.

The consolidation process can be done in many ways. The person doing the recruiting should develop a close personal relationship so they can discuss some of the things beforehand and will have a feel when doubts crop up. Every new member should attend group discussions that cover such questions indicated above. That may be a new members class using the National Education Commission’s outline on the subject. This may be before or immediately after joining. The same subjects might be covered at club meetings in educationals or special agenda points. This may be preferable for practical reasons if there are a handful of new members. A club discussion group or district classes may cover some of these subjects. Often assigning a new member to a club buddy to whom they can express concerns is useful.

In addition to these ‘new member’ subjects, every new member should be provided with an opportunity to learn the fundamentals of Marxism within six months of joining to help consolidate them. Knowledge of the fundamentals deepens confidence in the Party and individual commitment to it. A club or district discussion group or classes on this subject are the best way. If necessary, key subjects can be covered in a series of club educationals. It can also be done by encouraging the new member to read introductory Marxist works and meeting according to a schedule with a club member to discuss what they had trouble understanding in the reading or perhaps felt they disagreed with.

The Club All of this assumes there is a club to bring the new member into that makes sense and will give the new member a reasonably good experience. Building the Party means building the clubs in the first place. A Communist Party requires a system of clubs based on place of living or place of work to give it grass roots ties with the working class the nationally oppressed and other working people. This is the starting place of developing sound Party policies and of giving life to our policies, testing them in struggle and further perfecting them.

Lenin in 1904 fought the Mensheviks over two principles necessary for a Communist Party, a real Marxist party. Every member must be a member of a Party organization (the club) so there is collective Party guidance of their work. The second point was that agreement on unity of action (a united front concept) was not enough for the Party. There needed to be unity of will – agreement on where we were trying to go – of basic direction which required ‘acceptance’ (not mastery), of the basic Party program – socialism and related broad concepts.

Most of our clubs today face two basic problems. First do they have adequate leadership – a person willing and able to function as club chair – a political leader of the club not just club administrator who proposes agendas, notifies members of meetings and perhaps chairs them? The second is how to function in a situation where most of our clubs are multi-shop or multi-industry and multi-union and multi-neighborhood, some even a single club for a whole city or half a city and begin to move toward reestablishing single neighborhood and single shop clubs. It will not be possible to deal with the second question here as it is a major discussion. Answers will require not only collective effort and trial and error at the level of existing clubs but maximum assistance from district and national leadership, including working with particular clubs and multi-club workshops on how to make progress.

Club Leadership What makes good comrades resist undertaking club leadership? How can we collectively help develop club leadership so that people feel competent to undertake the job? In the present situation of most of our clubs, the job is necessarily difficult. However, we at the district and national level operate in such a way that makes it even more difficult without realizing it. As a result the job is objectively one of the toughest in the Party. Sometimes it is easier to get two people to lead a club – dividing the functions. And in any case, there is need when one person undertakes to be club chair, to quickly find a second person so the chair does not have to shoulder the burden alone.

One of the difficulties a club chair faces is they see all the things the club needs to do, has openings to do, wants to do, growing out of their own local circumstances. On top of that, the district leadership calls on the clubs to be active on mass issues of importance to the particular district and national issues urged on them by the national leadership, plus tasks of the functioning and building of the Party from both the district and national level. These include Party fund drive, PWW fund drive, dues and sustainer to the district, press circulation goals, attendance at district-wide events, etc.

On top of this, most club chairs receive e-mails from a range of mass organizations, some with whom they have direct contact, all trying to mobilize the club chair to do good things. Club chairs may get some e-mails from the district, the national to the district with requests for activities. Occasionally the National Office sends communications and materials asking clubs to undertake mass or inner tasks.

The club chair who is conscientious at first tries to do something about every positive proposal they receive from anywhere until they conclude that is a way to burn out quick and puts too much pressure on the club. Such pressure makes it possible for only the most ardent bolshevik to become a club member or a fully functioning member.

Then the danger is the chair will ignore everything coming from other Party bodies, the district, national, commissions, etc. and can not distinguish the necessary from the non-essential and pick what appeals to them personally, not what the Party thinks is decisive. The club chair goes his or her own way with local developments plus the occasional thing from the district and national that appeals to the chair. This means abandoning in practice our democratic centralist system of organization which makes us a respected organized force.

Work of District & National In Relation to Clubs Our national and district organizations have only partially adapted themselves to the present situation of the clubs and unintentionally do things that make it harder to get and keep club leadership and to build the clubs from where we are. Everything the district and national leadership do they must ask themselves, what will this mean for the clubs, how will it impact them?

That can best be done when you are an active participant in your own club, present at virtually all meetings and, therefore, you can ask yourself what this will mean for my club? Are we asking for too much too fast? Are we giving clubs enough lead time? Is it realistic as proposed? How well does it fit with everything else we are asking of districts and clubs? How can district and national leadership help the club apply the request to the club situation?

If we do, I am sure we will pass fewer things on to the clubs to do. We will indicate priorities of what we ask the clubs and what we really want every club to try to do something about, ones that will be possible for some but not all clubs, etc. Time schedules will be more realistic. National leadership when they travel to districts and district leaderships will spend more time going to club meetings, sitting down with club leaders and asking them how things are going, what can we do to be more helpful? We will spend more time at district and national meetings regularly asking clubs how they are doing, what problems they have, what problems they will have in trying to implement national and district mass policy decisions and Party building decisions?

Cadre Policy We will also have to examine our cadre policy. If we have 300 cadre nationally, how are they deployed? What percentage are assigned primarily to the work of the national Party, publications, institutions? What percentage to district assignments? What percentage are playing leading roles in mass organizations at the national or district level? What percentage are assigned to playing a leading role in clubs or in local mass work? We have said for a while the picture is too top heavy, still reflecting a prior period in the Party’s life. The largest percentage even now should be assigned to club leadership and work and as we grow the percentage should become even greater though the absolute number at district and national levels will also grow.

How can we make shifts when we are so pressed for leadership posts at higher levels? We live in the foremost imperialist power, a huge, complicated country and we are very small. That means the shortage of cadre to fill posts at club, district and national levels is and will be intense until there is sufficient membership growth to ease the situation and give us a bigger pool out of which to develop more cadre for all levels. If we have the long view, after guaranteeing a certain minimum so that the national Party can lead, we should stress club leadership, if we are to get out of a vicious circle. This will also mean comrades with district and national assignments doubling as club chairs where necessary.

Party growth and the fight for Party clubs go hand in hand and are decisive now. Party growth and expansion of broad mass work, coalition building must go hand in hand at this stage.

Two other aspects of Party growth I can only mention here. Special approaches and applications are needed to speed up recruitment of shop workers and the racially and nationally oppressed to help us overcome our weaknesses in composition. Secondly. activity by the national and district leaderships in organizing public speaking tours on campuses and elsewhere and in seeking public exposure, are important to speeding up Party growth.

Organizational Work The fight for the Party, for Party guided work among the decisive sectors of the people, requires higher emphasis on Lenin’s idea of a political concept of Party organizational work rather than a narrow administrative one. Raising the level of political organizational work is key to the fight for the Party and building it. The absence of Party organizational secretaries along the lines that Lenin recommended of a National Organizational Secretary, of a system of organizational work through organization secretaries in the larger districts and beginning to restore them as the second person in club leadership is a key to the fight for the Party, its clubs and growth. This is because they have a special role in leading the fight on a daily basis.

Singling Out & Proportions The Party has a great many needs and they can not all be solved at once. At each stage of our development certain aspects have to be singled out to go forward qualitatively. Each advance in given aspects of our work after a while will run into new aspects that begin to hold back further advance. It is not possible to advance only on one or two aspects without limit, without having to single out anew the aspects that have to be given special attention. That is because the Party is an integral system that requires certain proportional balances that need to exist for the entirety to advance. We must single out what is key to advance at a given moment but realize that will produce some new disproportions that will have to be solved later to continue the overall advance. At present, Party growth and club work, connected to the fight for the leadership of Party organizational work, connected with related educational work to make that possible and consolidate it is key to put us in a position to tackle other lagging aspects. We can and will do it!

Educational Papers Series A Communist Party Education Commission project for the pre-convention discussion period leading to the CPUSA 28th National Convention July 13, 2005, Chicago Illinois



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