N. Calif. CPUSA convention debates environment, racism, 2014 elections

OAKLAND, Calif. –  Climate change, labor struggles, immigration, racism, and socialism in the 21st century were some of the topics debated at the Northern California Communist Party district convention. Communist Party Chairperson Sam Webb joined the conversation at the Saturday, Apr. 26, all-day event.

Members of the East Bay grassroots community participated in the discussion along with party members, crafting conceptual and concrete ideas for improving work in social movements and methods for bringing forward advanced demands.

Webb opened up with highlights from his discussion article,Taking care of the future in the movement of the present,” ranging on topics from the need to fight racism to the importance of defeating the ultra-right ruling class in the upcoming elections.

Webb also touched on the importance of encouraging participation in the emerging trends in organized labor –  both in the struggle to develop political independence and in the reawakening need to fight for all working people, not just their own union members.

Climate change and involvement in tackling the rapidly developing damage to the environment was emphasized as well.

Responses in the discussion that followed showed a robust interest in meeting these challenges. Some speakers raised the notion that the present crisis of climate change could only be permanently turned back by a revolution in production, because of the damage that corporations have wreaked on a global scale in the pursuit of profit.

Meanwhile, the urgency of the problem is such that responsibility also lies in joining with grassroots reform efforts to turn back projects, such as Keystone, that are a present threat and pose immediate further harm to the environment.

It was observed that if damage is allowed to occur at the pace it is presently happening, the concept of a working-class waging struggle in the traditional sense might cease to exist in the face of environmental and social degradation.

Speakers on the subject of racism, meanwhile, observed that the problem has many facets which are not currently being addressed by the party. In the face of the immediate crisis that people of color face, of a nearly genocidal level of violence, there was a call for a concrete program to meet racism head on as well as to listen to those most affected by it –  people of color themselves. The need for a deepening of the conversation on the question of “What is racism?” was stressed; and the need to also include other, less widely acknowledged forms of bigotry, such as heterosexism and ablism, in the discussion was also highlighted.

Marxist education, both the role of the Party in promoting it and how it ties in with the question of socialism for the new century, was another recurring issue among speakers. There was a proposal to set up weekend schools at the Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library made in response to the concerns raised by several speakers that new members are too often left on their own to learn the basic concepts that are the building blocks for working as a Party member, both in the struggle for immediate aims and for promoting advanced demands in the mass arena.

The promotion of People’s World in its role as a voice for the Party’s critiques of what’s concretely happening in the present, was also suggested as a means of education –  with suggestions such as emailing links to  stories as well as joining the internet-based PW sharing collective made in answer to questions raised about how one promotes a daily which is entirely online.

Northern California’s district organizer Juan Lopez wrapped up the event with some closing remarks on  the focus for work in the upcoming year ahead. “Joining with labor and its allies, we must throw ourselves wholehearted into the November elections. They could well determine the nation’s political climate in its aftermath, either opening up more favorable space for the people’s movements or further closing up that space on every question – climate change, racism, poverty, wages and more.

“We must walk the walk with the people and their movements in the struggles for economic and democratic reforms. Every victory – whether big or small – does make a difference in people’s lives. And it is here that our ideas about more fundamental reforms and a new democratic socialist society can germinate and eventually grow into a powerful labor-led people’s movement.”

In addition to extensive examination of the weighty questions of the day, the event was marked by delicious food, poetry and song. “You Ain’t Done Nothin’ if You Ain’t Been Called a Red” was performed by the song’s author, Eliot Kenin, with audience participation. 

Photo: PW


Michelle Kern
Michelle Kern

Michelle Kern has worked as part-time faculty in the Bay Area as a ceramics teacher for seven years. She has lived and worked primarily in the East Bay in the arts, including work at the Richmond Art Center and helping to found the independent art gallery Cricket Engine in Oakland. She relocated back to her native Peninsula four years ago to be closer to work, and now is beginning art, activism and union activity here in Silicon Valley.