NEW YORK - The First Annual Communist Party USA National Conference, held April 16-17, reflected a potential new turning point for the CPUSA and the allied Young Communist League (YCL), its relationship to the working class and key social forces and movements and its growth in size and influence.
CPUSA National Chair Sam Webb noted in his opening remarks the new level of receptivity and respect the party has gained in the labor and other mass movements, the growth in readership of its websites and the growing numbers joining, especially online.
Webb also argued that for the labor and democratic movements to continue to develop to effectively challenge corporate power a much larger left and Communist Party are essential.
Can this turning point be realized? That is the big challenge.
The party and YCL growth is bound with the current labor and people's upsurge, in what Rev. Jesse Jackson has described a "Martin Luther King or Gandhi moment."
A number of shifts have been taking place in public opinion, creating a favorable climate for growth of left and progressive movements including the CPUSA and YCL.
There is mounting anger over the brutal economic crisis, the ultra right's assault on democracy and with the contrast of obscene wealth on Wall Street amid great suffering on Main Street.
Support among Americans for the free market system (aka capitalism) has plummeted in the last year according to a GlobeScan survey.
Meanwhile class and socialist consciousness are growing, evident to anyone involved in the mass upsurge against the right wing. Pew polls show greater receptivity to socialism, especially among the youth (45 percent think socialism is a better system than capitalism) and communism (11 percent of the public thinks it's a superior moral system to capitalism)
Party activists are grappling with how to effectively respond to this new situation, the new doors opening daily and especially to those joining online.
The party doesn't yet have the organizational infrastructure to effectively absorb all the new members, especially in areas where no local organization exists. But new forms and methods are emerging, including use of web based tools for mobilization, organization, education and communication directly with the new members and many more who are interested in what the Party says and does.
In short, the challenge remains to build a modern 21st century party of socialism in the United States in this new situation, one fully rooted in the American tradition of democratic struggle and history, capable of applying and elaborating Marxism to the current challenges, able to develop strategic approaches rooted in reality, uniting key class and social forces and millions at the grassroots in sharpening class battle, and elaborating a path to win a democratic and ecologically sustainable U.S. socialism.
And all the while utilizing the most modern means of communication and organization, tools that enhance old fashion shoe leather and grassroots door-to-door work.
The initiative with the most far-reaching impact was launching new websites over the past year and a half. Over 1 million people have visited these websites over the past year, approximately 130,000 each month.
Also, nearly 100,000 readers now visit the allied People's World website monthly, or 25,000 weekly, many times more than read the final issues of the print edition.
PW editors had set a goal for achieving a base of 5,000 Facebook fans by the end of 2011. Over 8,000 have already signed up. PW articles are regularly posted on numerous labor and progressive websites, and read widely by leaders and activists in many struggles.
In addition to launching the new websites, a Southern Tour was organized, resulting in new party organizations in Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina, joining recent organizations in Georgia and North Carolina. The South is a place the party had not seen growth in years.
Two weekend schools held for young people, including new members of the CPUSA and YCL, were held in Los Angeles and New Haven, Conn., where almost 60 youth attended. Other weekend schools are coming up in Chicago, Florida and Texas (where more young have joined the YCL than any other state).
A national call to 1,500 new members on March 19 was an exciting experience. Of those reached, 85 percent wished to renew their membership, including some who had joined two years ago and hadn't spoken to anyone. Many paid their dues online and registered for sustainers. Regular national calls are being planned.
Typical of many joining the party is a new member from Wisconsin, who wrote, "Being public-sector working family, my sympathies have always been to stand with that portion of society. What really motivated me to sign up are the recent events in my home state. Once my state government began demonstrating the warning signs of fascism, I wanted to get involved. The party represents what I have always personally believed in, and so I would consider it an honor to become a member."
It appears a new CPUSA is emerging within the old. But to "keep the momentum" going to ensure an actual turn is made in size and mass influence, means a lot of hard work and bold initiative.
Photo: John Bachtell gives concluding remarks at the CPUSA first annual conference, April 17. (Colin Douglas Gray /PW)