Submitted by Les Bayless, Baltimore, MD
While Comrade Sam Webb has been criticized, and rightfully so, in the convention discussion, it important to put our party’s ideological and organization problems in context.
Let’s go back a least a couple of decades to the 1990’s, after the collapse of socialism in Europe.
This created a crisis for Communist parties on an international scale, one not seen in our lifetime, worse than the Khrushchev revelations of the 1950’s.
We had our own internal crisis too, with about 1/3 of the Party leaving in a split, some gravitating to a social democratic organization called the Committees of Correspondence.
We were obviously in a weakened state, but the view was that we had maintained the organization as a Communist, Marxist Leninist party, under the leadership of Comrade Gus Hall and other veteran leaders, including Jarvis Tyner and Baltimore’s own George Meyers.
But instead of “maintaining our course,” Gus developed a new approach to Party organizing and recruitment, which the whole Party, myself included, adopted.
We were entering a new period, Gus declared, where the Party would be talking to millions. Not only were there new openings for the Party, but the Party could begin mass recruitment on a scale not seen since the 1930’s.
Party organizers and cadre, including myself, were urged to stand on corners, at rallies and public events, signing up new members right off the street. I think we called it tabling.
In Baltimore, we went door-to-door in a local housing project, organizing a new club in a couple of weeks.
Lost in our enthusiasm was the ideological underpinnings of this new strategy.
There were always certain standards for Party membership. For example, a new member needed two existing members to vouch for him or her. Often times there were new member classes, where basic Marxist education was taught along with more topical themes. Members were expected to contribute financially to the Party as its only funding source. Many new members came out of Party affinity groups like the National Alliance or the labor group TUAD, which was my first introduction to the Party. These kind of groups, which the Party had organized and sponsored since its inception in the 1920’s, provided an ideological and organization training ground for Party cadre.
Throughout its history Party membership was a destination, something to strive towards, not the beginning of a political education.
If we lowered or essentially abolished membership standards, as the new strategy required, certain things would inevitably change.
The organizational character of the Party would have to change. We build the Party on the idea that the state was an instrument of repression and therefore we would need to balance openness and outreach with ideological unity and internal security. A period of relative political freedom could be followed at any time by a new “Red Scare.”
In other words, our analysis of capitalism dictated our organizational standards.
(Have we, in fact, changed our basis view of capitalism and the state?)
The nature of our clubs and club work would have to change, as we no longer focused on shop or neighborhood clubs. This was particularly true after Sam replaced Gus Hall.
Dues would have to be lowered, and they were.
Members wouldn’t necessarily have assignments to recruit or distribute the paper if, cynically put, they thought they were joining a social club.
In my opinion, we began to lose focus as a national organization.
Absent any left-Party formations or national campaigns, more and more comrades began to focus on individual activities. We began to drift closer to the Democratic Party and the established trade union leadership.
If you examine Sam’s ideas in “21st Century Socialism” and other writings you will find the ideological expression of the changes that happened on the ground: we were drifting towards a loose confederation, a social democratic type of organization.
Want to see the logical extension of Sam’s thinking? Read John Case’s remarks about “Advanced American Democracy.” John is not some outlier. He’s a Party leader and a close confidant of Sam Webb.
By the way, what was the end result of our new recruitment strategies? Very few street recruits stuck around and neither have the thousands of internet “members” who have contacted us over the last few years. If you’ve been to any national rally in the last years, you’ll know that we’re virtually invisible: no newspaper, few if any banners or cadre working the crowd. We fooled ourselves into thinking that gimmicks could cover up our organizational weaknesses and our diminishing influence on the left.
Some Modest Proposals
Those that disagree with the present leadership spend a lot of time arguing Marxist theory.
I want to make a couple of organizational proposals instead. I made these at our recent Maryland Party convention.
We need to develop a national campaign or campaigns that have specific objectives, timelines and goals. Let’s consider issues like the defense budget or economic inequality and decide upon an organizational effort (s) that will unite the entire Party. Could we use the Scottsboro defense, William Patterson’s “We Cry Genocide “petition or the campaign for Angela Davis as organizational inspirations for a new campaign?
We need to consider running a campaign for President in 2016. Just the effort to get out and talk about the Party should be invigorating. Where it’s possible we should seek ballot statue. If not, we should conduct vigorous write-in campaigns.
We need to re-establish the organization department and demand accountability from Party leaders. We need to become more results oriented.
We need to look at club structure and how to refocus on industrial concentration.
We need an active press department or press secretary that gets out the Party’s view on issues to both domestic and international media outlets. .
We need to re-examine the idea of affiliate or sponsored organizations that can serve as left centers within, not outside, the mass movements.
We need to determine what reasonable membership standards are.
In summary, we need to louder, more militant, more disciplined and more visible on the street.
I hope our convention delegates will consider a new course for the party.