Convention Discussion: The Party Can & Must Be Built, Starting From Its Base

BY: Danny Rubin| February 13, 2014
Submitted by Danny Rubin, member of the CPUSA National Board, Brooklyn, NY

Rebuilding the base of the Party, I believe, is the number one task at this stage of the Party’s development. It is key to being able to steadily expand our contribution to the democratic and class struggles against the ultra right section of monopoly capital and their followers. It is key to being able continuously to expand the membership, especially among working people, trade unionists and nationally oppressed, particularly women and youth in these categories.

Rebuilding the base means building especially in the working class Midwest – Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, etc. ; in the biggest centers in Northern and Southern California on the West Coast; and in NY on the East Coast. After years of losing members, including from this base, membership is stabilizing and beginning to grow. But we start from few such members, in few such functioning clubs in these areas. A larger base of personally stable, politically committed, active people who are willing to undertake the needs of the Party at the given moment, is the chief condition to stabilize and fully realize the growing possibilities on a broader level such as among internet members. Otherwise, the new that is achieved is not on solid ground of assured stability.

For such members to be consolidated and become the solid base that enables stable growth, they need education in Marxism and with regard to the Party’s nature, role and necessity. Above all club activity and leadership experience is necessary for such commitment and development. It leads to undertaking responsibilities of the Party at all levels.

These are the people who will learn how to lead a club and then undertake district responsibilities for events of various kinds, for raising money. They will become the ones who will make it possible on a consistent basis to help build in outlying areas of the state and in neighboring states and to sustain Party activity in new fields of work and with full utilization of new technology and methods.

How do we rebuild among such people? We begin by singling out from among our neighbors, friends, relatives, co-workers, co-mass movement activists, the one, two or three people we consider the most advanced and most likely in the short term or a little longer, to be willing to join the Party. We need an individual approach, who will take responsibility alone or with another to develop the personal relationship and the political relationship to figure out how to move a given person closer – what political issues hold them back, wht reading material, discussion group sessions, activities will be most successful in movng that person closer? How can a club collective help the person who has the primary responsibility? What club and district activities can help? We need more people actively involved in mass struggles, but we must understand their job there is not only to help develop greater unity and advance of the mass struggles but also to be a recruiter of such people into the Party, as suggested. A serious, sustained effort will require recruiting on every agenda of every club meeting and of all other Party bodies.

There will be no serious results even in such a limited effort, unless the national and district leadership goes beyond agitation and wishful thinking to the level of sustained concrete leadership to all in their area of responsibility. At the national level, someone must have a long term responsibility to have recruiting as the only or one of their key responsibilities – to live with the effort, to keep pushing all districts, commissions, clubs and other bodies to continually take it up, and work with it, and keep trying different things when some do not work.

The reasons for the Party declining continually from about 100,000 in 1946-48 to its present size include, McCarthyism and the direct Smith and McCarran Act attacks on the Party, red-baiting, anti-Sovietism, the Cold War; the Khruschev revelations about Stalin and disillusionment on the part of many, reinforced in 1968 and in the late 80s and 90s as socialist countries disappeared; the relative prosperity and “doing well” of capitalism for a long period of time.

But in addition to these “objective” factors, there were important errors by the leadership of our Party. As one of those leaders, including 1964-74 when I headed the Organization Department directly responsible for Party growth, I have major responsibility for those political mistakes. We agitated in reports and speeches for Party growth, but did not in a sustained way keep on top of concretely and assist a sustained effort. But we had several experiences in the years from 1948-2010 which demonstrate Party growth at least offsetting some of the losses and showing the speeding up reaching an overall turning point was possible. In 1972 a recruiting drive was initiated and led by Sid Taylor, the National Treasurer. It was for 300 new members in that year. Sid lived with it, continually pushing all the national leadership, the districts and the clubs, traveling and offering concrete assistance. We recruited the 300 and nearly all of them became solid members. In 1960 we doubled the membership of the Party among youth and built youth clubs in most of the main centers. In 1953-60, in Eastern Pa. we built a youth club starting with three people and it grew to over40 members, while the rest of the district, like most of the Party, was losing a substantial number of members.

There are additional examples in the US and there are the examples of parties that lived under extreme repression, even fascism, which grew, that prove ways can be found everywhere to recruit despite bad objective conditions. Now there are growing favorable objective conditions alongside continuation of some of the unfavorable ones. So what are the subjective weaknesses of leadership that prevented us from finding ways to build at least at a slow steady pace, despite the objective difficulties? First, you have to believe it is possible and not just give this lip-service, which many leading people did. Also, if you consider every issue and struggle that comes along to be crucial and we should put all else aside and come back to reciting later on and continually work in this way, and also not connect recruiting to such mass issues and campaigns, and even put off a sustained, organized, led effort for other aspects of Party work efforts, disconnecting them from sustained recruiting efforts, then you have an unbalanced policy in which the Party comes last regularly.

Lastly, we also had three periods of sharp inner Party differences and struggle – factionalism – 1943-6; 1956-57, and 1991-2 which lost us a lot of members and morale. So we never launched a sustained Party membership effort that we held to year-in year-out along the lines that Sid Taylor successfully led. That is what we need to do today and that we can do, that in rebuilding our base will create the conditions for sustained much wider efforts. At the present level of our situation this is the most important task. No excuses nor postponements. It can be done. It has to be done. Let’s go do it!

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.

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To contribute to the discussion, visit the Convention Discussion webpage

30th National Convention, Communist Party USA
Chicago | June 13-15, 2014


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