Framework for Discussion: 21st Century Socialism & the Communist Party

BY: Convention Organizing Committee| February 5, 2014

Many of the questions we will ask and answer in the course of the convention discussion about the status of, and prospects for, our party are not new – but we should approach them with new energy and expectations for deepening our understanding of where we are and where we need to go.

In that effort – looking at where we are and what should be changed, improved, discarded, the phrase, “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater” sums up what we are trying to do, namely, identify what’s essential about our organization, and drop what isn’t helpful or positive.

What is the most important thing that our party – that Communists – contribute to the struggle for peace, justice and equality? What is unique about the organization; what are its selling points?

The world and the United States have changed dramatically since the founding of the party in 1919. In its heyday, the party had a broad membership with even wider influence on the political and social life of our country. It would be hard to argue that any other force on the Left had a greater impact than the Communist Party.

Fast forward many decades to the present moment. Our party is very small in size and thin in terms of layers leadership, especially younger leaders. The question of how to grow is a standing item on our agenda – and when it hasn’t been high enough on that agenda, we have struggled to lift it.

However, the question of how to grow is neither general nor timeless. Rather, it is rooted in very concrete realities: our organizational capacity and resources; our mass work and relationships; where people are at politically; the level, features, intensity, demands of the class struggle today.

Although the party’s role remains building and uniting the broad people’s movement, helping it to make gains as well as move to new stages of struggle – how we build an organization big enough and strong enough to play that role is determined by circumstances that are changing.

In our favor are changing opinions about “the system.” Some recent opinion polls have shown that a significant number of people have a favorable view of socialism as compared with capitalism. What do respondents have in mind when they think of socialism and communism? Beyond the polls, clearly there is growing disenchantment with, and even rejection of, basic economic features of the capitalist status quo. An example is the widespread focus on inequality and the growing wealth gap.

How well do we understand these trends? Have we seen/experienced this, in our daily interactions with friends, family, neighbors, co-workers? How do we make a case for socialism?

These notions may not be precisely in line with our positions and views, but we need to connect the two – so, how do we do that?  How can we renew our understanding of the socialism we advocate and how we see getting from here to there?

Why aren’t these positive attitudinal changes reflected in the size and strength of our party and of the Left generally? Some point to the fact that many organizations have difficulty growing. What do we have in common with other people’s organizations, and what is unique to us, good and bad?

What features of our organization should we change to reflect/embrace the changes taking place in the world? What does this mean for how we work to grow our organization? What has been your experience with building the party, with recruiting new members, with extending our coalition relationships and public presence?

We should talk not only about what works or doesn’t work, but more importantly, about why it worked, or why it didn’t. Why was one event successful, and another not? Why/who/where have we recruited, or not?

What aspects of party’s work, structure, activities, public presence and images need to be updated and adjusted? What aspects remain sound and should be retained?

What about symbols, like the hammer and sickle, or terminology, like “Marxism-Leninism” and “unity of will”? What about our name?

What does party membership mean in the digital age? Should there a change in membership criteria, benefits, rights and responsibilities? What is the experience of districts and clubs with members recruited through online networks?

How do new members come to feel that the party is “their” organization?

How can we deepen and improve our membership development and retention (including but not limited to Marxist education, party schools, club and district educationals, leadership development, practical training, etc.)?

Is how we teach Marxism relevant and useful enough? How do people become “Marxists;” learn to think on their feet and to want to learn more?

Are we doing enough to develop new leaders at the local and national level? What about emphasis on developing leaders who are women, youth, people of color, workers, etc.? And what can be done to improve our work in all these areas?

Is the party recruiting from key sectors of the working class and other main social forces of change (i.e. people of color, women, youth)? What is the experience with different approaches to building a diverse and representative communist party at the grassroots? Who do we see as our audience? How – if at all — do we look at the young generation, and how can we attract much larger numbers of young people to our organization?

Is our dues structure sound? What about our other fundraising efforts? How can we raise more resources from non-traditional sources, and through online giving? How can we increase the fundraising we do among people who are not in the party?

How has anti-communism changed and evolved? Are conditions more or less favorable to the growth of the Party in size and influence? Are members held back by their concerns about anti-communism? If so, how? If not, why not, and how does that translate into progress for the organization (growth, influence, members, etc)?

How does the experience of building socialism around the world inform our understanding of what we want for our own country? What is “21st century socialism?” and why even use the term – what’s different from 20th century socialism?

What can be learned, good and bad, from the countries that since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European socialist countries continue to define themselves as socialist or socialist-oriented? What if anything can be learned from the experience of left unity governments under capitalism in Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, India, South Africa, and elsewhere?

To what extent do traditional Marxist terms and concepts remain useful and accurate today? Be specific. Are our core concepts still valid, or not? Examples? Is our terminology in need of an overhaul, or not? Examples?

What do we mean when we talk about the Left? Is our concept/knowledge of Left organizations, forces, trends, up to date? What influence does the Left have, on and within mass movements, particularly the labor movement? Where does the party fit into this; how does it relate to other left groups and people? How do we see building left unity – purpose and prospects? What is the relationship of the Left to the center and to progressive sectors within the Democratic Party? How does the left relate to electoral politics today; how does our strategic policy play with others on the left, and what is our experience winning others to it?

This document was developed to help provide a framework for the discussion of the 30th Convention of the Communist Party USA. These framing documents are not intended to limit the discussion in any way, but are meant as ways to generate ideas and questions to be addressed. 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.



    The collective appointed by the National Committee of the Communist Party to organize and plan the 30th National Convention of the Communist Party USA, Chaired by John Bachtell. 

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