Communists in convention: What our mission is and isn’t

Below is a section of the keynote to the Communist Party USA 30th National Convention, June 13-15, 2014. It was delivered on the convention’s opening day by outgoing National Chair Sam Webb. The newly elected national chair is John Bachtell, who previously served as Illinois organizer for the party. We will feature other sections of the keynote in the coming weeks. – Editors

Good afternoon everybody, and a special good afternoon to our international guests. Thank you so much for coming.

Convention mission

Every National Convention has its own particular mission. So what is the mission of this one, our 30th?

In addition to catching up with old and meeting new friends, breaking bread together, and just generally having a good time, our mission is to take a fresh and sober look at today’s realities and challenges.

This includes making adjustments of our strategic and tactical policies to new conditions. It entails taking better care of the future in the struggles of the present.

Over the next three days, we will turn our attention to those social movements that are critical to recasting our country’s politics, economics, and popular thinking.

While we will look ahead, we also keep in sight the immediate challenge of this fall’s elections.

If it isn’t obvious, the mission of the convention isn’t to mothball the struggle against right wing extremism – our current strategic task – in our zeal to address more radical and fundamental tasks. The decisive defeat of the right is not yet finished and remains the gateway through which today’s movement has to pass if it hopes to eventually reshape the political, economic, and cultural landscape in a progressive, radical, and, eventually, socialist direction.

Nor is our mission to scale down our efforts (along with others) to assemble the core social forces and movements – the working class, people of color, women, and youth and their respective organizations – into a labor/working class led people’s coalition, in favor of some narrower formation. While it is tempting to look for some other change agent that possesses a radical disposition and will get us to our socialist destination in short order, no one should doubt that only a broadly based people’s coalition anchored in and led by these very forces will usher in a progressive and socialist future.

Finally, the mission of this convention isn’t to challenge the time tested notion that the immediate issues that draw people into the vortex of practical struggle are the main point of departure of any politics that has transformational aspirations. To think otherwise is a surefire recipe for languishing on the margins of U.S. politics – a ground that the left of which we are a part has occupied for far too long.

Whatever mistakes – and mistakes are inevitable – we have made, they weren’t mistakes of a strategic nature, like some others on the left have and a few in our party have advocated.

I have said before that neither impatience with the process of change, nor revving up the revolutionary phrase, nor skipping stages, nor forswearing any connection to “bourgeois politics” will get us a flea hop closer to socialism.

It may bring us a small measure of righteous satisfaction, but the main purpose of political engagement from our perspective isn’t therapeutic; it isn’t about feeling “revolutionary” or showing off one’s “radical credentials.”

Instead, it’s about soberly analyzing the balance of forces; it’s about connectedness to the struggles that the people themselves choose; it’s about turning millions – no tens of millions – into change agents and tribunes for a radical democratic and socialist future; it’s about making a difference in people’s lives.

And, by no means least, it’s about the many sided building of a 21st century party – one that is modern and mature; one that is revolutionary, but not sectarian; one that possesses an expanding pool of leaders who think independently, soberly, and critically; one that is mindful of the complexity of the process of social change in the most entrenched and powerful capitalism in the world; and one that looks at the world through the lens of a living Marxism as well as incorporates the best of our nation’s own radical and democratic tradition.

Now I’m going to turn my attention to the main challenges that the leadership of the party would like to you to discuss, debate, and decide over the next three days. I will present them one by one for the purposes of clarity, but in real life each intermingles with the other in countless ways.

(To be continued)

Photo: Communist Party USA outgoing Chair Sam Webb delivers his keynote to the party’s national convention, June 13, 2014. Teresa Albano/PW




Sam Webb
Sam Webb

Sam Webb is a long-time writer living in New York. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine.