Digging In, Reaching Out…
Student and teachers from the Convention ‘School for Young People’
CCDS 7th Convention Debates Growth
of the Left and the Progressive Majority
in Combating Austerity, War and the Right
[This report was assembled by Carl Davidson, with considerable and valuable help from Cheryl Richards and Ellen Schwartz, our recorders. Others who added a lot were Janet Tucker, Harry Targ, Ted Reich, Pat Fry, Will Emmons, Randy Shannon, Anne Mitchell and Duncan McFarland. Photos by Ted Reich]
Nearly 100 delegates, observers and friends gathered in Pittsburgh, PA for the 7th Convention of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism over the July 18-21, 2013 weekend. The goals of the gathering were to take stock of the political battles since their last convention in 2009, to assess the organization’s strengths, weaknesses and ongoing challenges, and to chart a path of unity and struggle for the upcoming period.
The participants came from all sections of the country: from California to Florida, from Texas to Boston, and many points in between. Almost all were deeply embedded in mass struggles—trade unions and community organizations, women’s groups, civil rights organizations and peace and justice coalitions. Many had also taken part in a variety of independent electoral battles against the GOP and the right, and everyone had been in the streets during the battles against the wars, the Occupy upsurge and for justice in the Trayvon Martin case.
Kicking off the meeting was a “School for Young People.” That innovation started a day before the main sessions of the convention. The presence of 20 young activists—men and women, of several nationalities, fresh from many battles, especially in the South—added a dynamic quality to all the discussions for the entire weekend.
“We appreciated the steps CCDS has made to accept the need for youth leadership in the socialist left and progressive movements,” said Will Emmons of Kentucky. The students saw the school as a “good first start,” and looked forward to more and better efforts in overcoming the intergenerational divide in much of the socialist movement.
The convention itself was organized into five plenary sessions and 16 workshops, with a cultural event and dinner on Saturday evening. It opened for the youth school and other early arrivers Thursday evening with the showing of the new film, “Anne Braden: Southern Patriot,” an inspiring story of the battles of Anne Braden and her husband, Carl Braden of Kentucky, in decades of battles against white supremacy and other fronts in the class struggle across the South. Filmmaker Anne Lewis from Texas was on hand to lead a discussion that followed.
All the convention’s deliberations were organized around a “main resolution,” with the various plenaries and workshops dealing with its different sections. The five plenary topics were 1) assessing the concrete conditions, 2) the terrains of struggle against austerity, 3) the climate change crisis, 4) strategic formations and the progressive majority, and 5) the quest for left unity.
Time of Day: The Opening Plenary on Concrete Conditions
“What time is it?” asked Mildred Williamson, a CCDS national committee member from Chicago, in her remarks opening the first plenary session, which was chaired by Randy Shannon of Western PA. “It's a time of economic, social, environmental, and racial injustice on steroids.” she continued, “a time of no respect for humanity.” She proceeded to spotlight the full range of current conditions with the lens showing the inter-connection of class, race and gender. “What time is it?” she repeated, “As long as Black and brown lives are thought of and treated as disposable, in a 21st century-three-fifths-of-a-person fashion, it will be impossible to achieve working class power in this country. Economic and social policies are literally destroying Black and brown lives, and simultaneously further weakening working class power…. we must fight with humility and purpose to strengthen and promote radicalized thought and action in the quest for social justice, human rights and working class power. This requires a fresh look at what it means to be ‘Left’ in this phase of capitalism.”
Williamson concluded by posing the most poignant questions to the delegates:
“What is the winning strategy to reduce the number of white working class people from voting against their own class interests, especially since fewer are unionized and fewer live in integrated communities? What will be the winning strategy to achieve left unity – and just what does that mean today? How can we build respect for youth in leadership of social justice movements while still showing simultaneous respect for elders? How do we fully move our thought and action from the multiracial unity ‘slogan’ to normalized, genuine demonstrations of respect for multiple cultures, gender expressions and sexual orientations? These questions–and more tough ones–need answers in order to chart the path forward in the quest for working class power. Let's work on them at this convention and thereafter.”
Militarism and Climate Disasters on the Rise
Other topics for this session were militarism and war, along with the climate change crisis. Harry Targ of Indiana addressed the former, stressing the new forms of war and new developments in the “national security state,” while David Schwartzman, from Washington, DC, summarized the science around the climate and the need for a “Green New Deal” to challenge “the military-industrial-carbon-burning complex.”
Discussion from the floor was mainly focused on a substitute motion submitted by Duncan McFarland, and the CCDS Peace and Solidarity Committee. He argued that the brief reference to war and militarism in the main resolution was woefully inadequate. After some debate, the committee’s resolution was adopted as an addition to the main text.
Photo: Carl Redwood from Pittsburgh
The convention was structured so that four breakout workshops followed each plenary, with one of these workshops designated for continuing discussion of the main plenary topic. In this case, the ‘Concrete Conditions’ workshop, also chaired by Randy Shannon, featured Carl Redwood, a Pittsburgh community organizer from the Hill District, the city’s main African American neighborhood, and Guillermo Perez, an organizer with the United Steel Workers working on immigration issues.
“These two guys were great,” said one workshop participant. “Redwood gave us a great picture of the impact of race and class oppression in the neighborhoods, while Perez had a very clear view of the intricacies of the immigration fight. I learned something new from both of them.”
Breathing In, Breathing Out: Radical Education and Organizing
CCDS’s Socialist Education Project did a concurrent workshop highlighting the role of socialist education in organization building, especially discussion circles and study groups for workers and youth. It started with a slide show on radical politics and pedagogy put together by Carl Davidson. The presentation combined the ideas of Antonio Gramsci, Father Jose Maria Arizmendi of the Mondragon Coops in Spain, and Ella Baker, the famed educator of the SNCC generation of young civil rights fighters. Tina Shannon supplemented this with a discussion of Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” and Harry Targ discussed current battles in the “contested terrain” of the universities.
Carl Davidson speaking at Socialist Education Project workshop
There were two other workshops in this slot. One continued the discussion from the School for Young People from the previous day. The other continued the discussion on how to use the Anne Braden film for radical education in organizing efforts. Presentations were made by Jim Branson, Janet Tucker, Frank Chapman, Ted Pearson, and the maker of the film, Anne Lewis.
The topic of the second plenary was the terrains of struggle against austerity, and was chaired by CCDS national co-chair, Pat Fry. It also had a “left unity” dimension, in that the main presenters were Carl Bloice from CCDS, Judith LeBlanc from the CPUSA, Paul Garver from the Democratic Socialists of America, and Paul LeBlanc from the International Socialist Organization. Bloice was unable to attend personally for health reasons, but his presentation was read by Pat Fry.
Austerity: Neoliberalism’s Class Warfare
“Call it ‘austerity,’ or its larger more systemic designation ‘neoliberalism,’” Bloice began, “this class warfare is a major element in the massive upsurges today in countries and regions across the globe. Everywhere people on the left are aware that the root of this campaign is traceable to the effort to salvage capitalism in the midst of crisis and that the world needs more socialism.
“I would argue.” he continued, “that the path ahead must lead in that direction and that the key to the growth and increased influence and relevance of the socialist left lies in unity in action in defense of democracy and the well-being of working people everywhere. This must involve the day to day and militant defense of social programs such as Social Security, Medicare, food and housing assistance, aid to needy children, Head Start and environmental protection.
“Moreover, a program of a united left must offer an alternative view of politics and economics; one that encompasses greater economic democracy, advancement of the true interests of the 99 percent and an equitable sharing of the wealth of nations. It would require a lot of hard work, and debate and exploration that cannot be accomplished in one day but we can do it, together.”
Judith LeBlanc opened by describing the fightback as it was emerging in various parts of the country, especially the “Moral Monday” events in North Carolina and union drives throughout the South. But a special emphasis of her talk was on the problem of economic conversion from a polluting war economy to a sustainable “clean and green” economy of peacetime production.
“Local resolutions on conversion are appearing in city councils,” she explained. “and although the right continues to thwart these efforts, we need to fight for transition now, being mindful that cuts in the military budget might adversely affect communities, therefore we must advocate options like green jobs. In Connecticut, for example, a machinist union hired a retiree to help draft a call for an economic conversion commission, and the Communist Party is helping to get it passed She concluded by stressing that the left had to work on popular education programs that help people understand all that needs to be done.
Pat Fry chairing plenary on austerity, with Paul Garver of Democratic Socialist of America on the left.
DSA’s Paul Garver started by calling austerity ”the death by a thousand cuts,” and noted that “the practice of leftists fighting for turf had begun to recede, and instead, in a number of cases, we have begun to coalesce.” He gave the “budget for all” campaign in Massachusetts, as well as the election of two progressive politicians, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, as examples. More left cooperation was needed, however, to build organizations like Progressive Democrats of America in order to defend democracy.
ISO’s Paul LeBlanc opened by recounting his impressions of Obama’s campaign speeches in Pittsburgh. “They were quite good, and most interesting to me was that the crowds cheered the loudest when the most pro-working class and progressive points were made. Of course, once you’re captured by the Democratic Party, you’re in no position to implement hardly any of this.” LeBlanc went on to explain that this story showed a new openness to socialist ideas and mass organization and mass insurgency at the base, which he saw as an area for cooperation on the left. He gave the examples of the large mobilization in Pittsburgh around global capital’s G20 gathering, as well as smaller mass campaigns, like Pittsburgh’s worker-and-community based campaign to defend mass transit.
The plenary discussion quickly turned to the designated section of the main resolution, particularly those referring to a variety of arenas of struggle. Zach Robinson, of North Carolina, speaking from the floor, presented the thinking of the Program Committee that drafted the document.
“One of the most political words in our vocabulary is ‘vote,’” he asserted. “But the Occupy movement added a new word to our vocabulary.” He cited the spirit of Gramsci and asked, “What do we mean by politics? In what arenas are politics conducted? The electoral arena is often most important but Gramsci also pointed to civil society including the cultural struggle. Occupy showed the powerful impact that a movement can make on the whole country.”
Robinson added that politics is also in the arena of the Internet as part of the struggle for "the commons." The “Moral Mondays” in North Carolina, he added, had also emerged as an important arena using civil disobedience.
Janet Tucker of Kentucky, moved an addition to the resolution opposing the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act and the ensuing mass disenfranchisement of voters in state laws and the voting rights of felons. Robinson added a friendly amendment on "corporate personhood," and the measure passed unanimously.
Four breakout workshops also followed this plenary— one continuing the convention school for youth, one continuing the discussion of austerity and political terrain, Of the remaining two, one focused on focused on trade unions and the other on foreign policy and the U.S. ‘pivot to Asia.’
The workshop continuing the previous discussion on austerity had 15 participants engaged in three areas. First, the crisis in health care and the consequences of states deciding to reject participation in the Affordable Care Act was examined. It was pointed out that the lack of access to health care for large percentages of poor working people, particularly in the Midwest red states, constituted a threat to human survival. Second, some workshop participants argued that as we organize we give greater consideration to religious allies and matters of spirituality. Those who raised the issue argued that many people are motivated by a kind of spirituality that is not necessarily tied to religiosity but more a sense of the connectedness between people and people and nature. Third, the workshop addressed the need for highlighting the environmental crisis and developing a rigorous conception of “eco-socialism.” While the workshop drifted from some of the ideas presented in the plenary session, informal setting allowed for rich discussion and extensive group participation.
Labor Workshop: Feedback to the AFL-CIO
Photo: Paul Krehbiel from Los Angeles at labor workshop
Next was a workshop on “The Future of Labor” was chaired by Paul Krehbiel of Los Angeles, retired from SEIU, and a former auto parts worker. It drew over 20 participants, nearly all of whom were trade unionists. The session was also seen as a response to a recent call by the AFL-CIO for “listening sessions” for gathering new ideas on how to expand the power and reach of labor.
Sandy Eaton, of National Nurses United in Boston, started off talking about the role of the left in labor, and especially in issue-oriented multi-union formations, such as Labor Campaign for Single-Payer (health care), US Labor Against the War, Black Workers for Justice, and others.
Robin Alexander, International Affairs Director of United Electrical workers (UE), from Pittsburgh, talked about the international corporate assault on workers globally, and how unions had to build international labor solidarity. She talked specifically about a long-term relationship that UE has with the FAT (Frente Auténtico del Trabajo) workers federation in Mexico and how they helped each other make gains in each country.
“We’ve been taking on the Penguins,” said Carl Redwood, a community organizer in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, long victimized by sports arenas and “urban removal.” He talked about their campaign for jobs, neighborhood revitalization, and housing–and for equality across the board. They hoped to gain some community funding via a surcharge on parking at Penguins hockey games, situated on land formerly in the heart of their community. He explained how building coalitions with unions have strengthened both labor and the community. He talked about the importance of identifying where union members lived and community activists lived so they could “map out” concentrations and unite forces in local coalitions.
Krehbiel talked about the massive independent labor-led mobilization of 400,000 union members and union households to defeat the right (Romney) in the last presidential election, and to re-elect President Obama. He said a similar mass mobilization must take place now to strengthen workers on the job and in their unions through building Stewards Councils to increase worker’s strength on the job and in the community.
In the discussion, participants offered a number of good suggestions, including work for international labor solidarity in the Clean Clothing Campaign, Students Against Sweatshops and others. Others talked about the development of Next Up, a Labor Bill of Rights, workers centers, organizing in the South. The workshop will send a report to the AFL-CIO as part of its "listening sessions" project.
U.S. Hegemonism in Asia
The “Pivot to Asia” workshop was organized by the CCDS Peace and Solidarity Committee. “The Obama administration’s current strategy,” said Duncan McFarland of Boston, chair of the session, “is to rebalance global strategic priorities to the Asia/Pacific region, while maintaining a strong presence in the Persian Gulf.” This long term shift in US policy is based on the rapid economic development of Asia and the decision of US imperialism to be a dominant player in the region. Air and naval forces are being moved into location, especially to bases surrounding the South China Sea. “Tensions are increasing as a result,” McFarland noted, “while the interests of the people are to work for friendship and cooperation.”
Randy Shannon described the Trans Pacific Partnership, a proposed NAFTA-like trade deal that would include the US, Japan and many of the other countries on the Pacific rim, but probably not include China. “The TPP is being negotiated in secret by representatives of major multinational corporations and government trade officials,” Shannon explained. “US labor has different perspectives on TPP but there is more and more skepticism about the deal. A principle demand now is for transparency, that the negotiating process be opened up and made public.”
Minetaka Shimada and Randy Shannon speaking on trade in the Pacific
A correspondent from the Japanese newspaper Akahata of the Japanese Communist Party, Minetaka Shimada, also spoke. He talked of Japanese subordination to US imperialism because of the US-Japan mutual defense Treaty. “The pivot to Asia/Pacific and the TPP will deepen Japan's dependency,” he said, “and thus are opposed by the Japanese people.” Shimada also spoke of the importance of defending Article 9 of the Japanese constitution which prohibits Japanese troops from fighting in wars overseas. Prime Minister Abe and rightist forces, encouraged by the US pivot, want to change parts of the constitution to allow for more Japanese military activity. The workshop also wrote a resolution on its work, to be presented at the next day's plenary.
Climate Disasters: A Clear and Present Danger
The third and last plenary session on Friday was on climate change. Chaired by Marian Gordon of Los Angeles, the presenters were Zach Robinson of North Carolina, and Ash-Lee Henderson of Tennessee.
Robinson began by talking about aspects of the matter that were not widely known, such as US military planning to handle millions of displaced persons in the event of extreme climate change and the rise of sea levels wiping out entire coastal cities in some countries. He spoke of climate as always a dynamic system, mentioning fossils showing that there were plants and animals where glaciers now exist, and that change is not always gradual:
“We also need some new metaphors. Take the Lion’s Mane jellyfish. Taken alone, it’s quite deadly, ensnaring and gobbling up nearly everything in its reach, even more so when it works in clusters. Then take the lowly sea anemone. When it gathers in collective formations, firmly anchored, and the giant jellyfish run into them, it’s no contest. The jellyfish is devoured.
“The lesson for us? Coalitions work, and they definitely work better than working alone. Organization in tune with nature is essential.”
Ash-Lee Henderson took a different approach, speaking concretely about the impact of pollution and toxic waste in Tennessee. “Heavy metals from mining and mountain top removal,” she explained, “are having a profound effect on jobs and health.” The environmental inequities are creating movements advocating justice. There are concrete ways to force change – marching, demonstrating, lobbying the EPA. “The left needs to figure out how to impact regulation of the climate industry now,” she urged, certainly if there are only five or so years left. “Coalitions are being built; alliances can be made.”
There was extensive discussion on two motions: a substitute motion submitted by Ted Pearson and a resolution submitted by the CCDS Climate Change Committee. David Schwartzman also moved to amend the main resolution to include the point: "The priority for an effective prevention program to avoid catastrophic climate change is a rapid phase out of fossil fuels with the highest carbon footprint, namely coal and unconventional petroleum, tar sands, and fracked shale gas, with conventional petroleum being used to facilitate a full global transition to wind and solar.” His amendment was adopted by a large majority.
The two competing substitute motions, however, were a cause of some debate and confusion. Randy Shannon opposed the notion of substituting the term ‘eco-socialism’ for socialism. John Case of West Virginia argued that a lack of carefully spelled out “conversion alternatives” would cause a negative reaction among unions and workers in energy industries. A number of people speaking from the floor expressed both agreement and disagreement with both alternatives, and suggested they be sent back to the committees for more work, and final resolution by the new NCC after the convention. This was agreed to by a solid majority.
Energized by the lively and democratic debate, the delegates took off for informal discussions in the evening. A good number, about 40, partook of an excellent Indian restaurant a few miles down the road; others enjoyed Pittsburgh’s array of clubs and night life.
Saturday morning opened with a Credentials Committee report and instructions for elections of the NCC and Co-Chairs. Under its rules, CCDS elects three to five co-chairs at its convention, along with 15 of 30 national coordinating committee members. Any member can run, with a nominating petition signed by five members. Voting is done via a form of preferential balloting, where a delegate can rank their choices, including giving more than one candidate the same rank. The remaining 15 NCC members are elected two months after the convention by mail ballot of the entire membership, with those failing the first round automatically re-nominated, and further nominations allowed. The idea behind the two stages is to allow the organization greater flexibility in insuring diversity and geographic spread in the leadership’s composition. So far, it has worked quite well.
Sharp Debate: The Progressive Majority and Strategy
The fourth plenary session, on the question of strategic formations—the progressive majority, rainbow coalitions in elections, poplar fronts and so on—began promptly after the credentials report. It was chaired by Meta Van Sickle of South Carolina, and featured Zach Robinson, Pat Fry and Jay Jurie of Florida, as presenters. Besides the general topic, at issue was a passage in the main resolution that sought to re-examine and update the CCDS strategic concept of the “progressive majority” in a deeper and bolder way. An alternate substitute resolution, signed by Pat Fry and Janet Tucker, had been placed on the floor.
Zach Robinson started by referring to the socialist and communist movement’s worldwide experiences in the history of resistance to fascism. He explained that the popular front, as a multi-class alliance, was a large group, and the united front, mainly of workers’ organizations, was smaller, and the organized left, smaller still. He said that strategy was usually described in military terms—main forces, allies, terrain and so on–but that he wanted to use a metaphor Carl Davidson borrowed from Buckminster Fuller. Fuller used the metaphor of the rudder of a ship and the ship as society, and especially noted the smallest piece of a rudder, the trim tab, the little “rudder within a rudder.” Fuller argued that using the full rudder to turn the ship was often too difficult to do directly, hence the ‘trim tab,’ the small rudder that moved the larger one with more precision and speed. Zach concluded that the organized left served as 'trim tab', with a broad united and popular front, to move society in the direction of workers’ power.
Pat Fry began her remarks by asserting that the main resolution was an attempt to replace the progressive majority strategy with a new and narrower strategy of the workers ‘united front,’ and she disagreed with it. She went on to describe the strategy of the progressive majority adopted at the last convention in 2009 after four earlier years of discussion in CCDS and in the larger progressive movement. She said it should be reaffirmed by this convention. She continued that the section of the main resolution on "New Alignments and New Strategies” moved away from the core strategy of the progressive majority, which has proved to be correct, evidenced by the sharpening of the class battles being fought throughout the US and in state capitals in response to the politics of austerity and the far right wing agenda.
Fry also argued that the pertinent section of the main resolution downplayed the intersection of race, class and gender, and took a negative view of trade unions.
“The interconnectedness of class, race and gender is key to the strategy of the progressive majority.” Asserting that a workers’ united front was too narrow, she explained that “African Americans, Latinos, and all oppressed by racism, and women oppressed by sexism are objectively the sectors most invested and have the most to gain in the struggle for democracy. Oppressed nationalities and women are all-class sectors of the progressive majority. They comprise non-working class sectors. The struggle for equality is inseparable from the struggle against capital because inequality is key to its sustenance.”
On the matter of unions, she added “…in my view it is particularly disturbing to see the negative characterizations of trade unions in the main convention resolution. They are described as ‘fee for service’ organizations dominated by business-unionism suffering from Cold War anti-communism. While there are certainly valid critiques of labor unions to be made, the main convention resolution emphasizes the weaknesses without recognizing the new and extremely important developments within organized labor.”
Fry also made reference to the progressive majority and electoral work: "The progressive majority strategy cannot be construed to mean that President Barack Obama is part of the progressive majority. The Obama administration is not a social force. It is the executive branch of government, one that certainly has an uneven record at best on domestic and foreign policies. Sectors of the progressive majority overlapped with the electoral coalition to elect and re-elect Obama but the progressive majority survives that electoral coalition and potentially stands as a permanent and growing force for progressive change.”
In his opening remarks Jay Jurie said that he lived in Florida near Congressman Alan Grayson, whom he called “exemplary” as a progressive lawmaker. He went on to talk of the social face of the progressive majority: “We need to include the unorganized, the unemployed, students, certain professions.” He said organizers can't impose their views by fiat. “People must be asked what they think, what they are about. We need to do surveys and research, to develop, obtain, and maintain sophisticated polling for social change.” The role of revolution, he added, is to spark mass upheaval, as seen globally in the Arab Spring, and also what happened in Ohio and Wisconsin. “We need to sustain and defend gains made like abortion and voting rights. We need to be mindful of the 24 'one-party' states, mostly Republican, and target resources for local initiatives that look at who can benefit from local projects, and support common popular agendas.”
The discussion that followed saw a number of sharp exchanges.
David Schwartzman offered an early amendment from the floor: "Implementing a Green New Deal is imperative to confront the convergence of the economic, social and climate crisis. In the U.S. the synergy of an inside and outside political strategy has the potential to make the Green New Deal a reality. Inside refers to influencing the Democratic Party and the outside refers to strengthening the Green Party and other political formations. We should work to make organized labor a leading force in these efforts recognizing the role of the Blue-Green alliance and other initiatives for conversion of the economy from war to a peace economy." This was passed with a large majority.
“We need an approach that includes moving the center to the left,” commented Mildred Williamson. “Gerrymandering has resulted in Republican super majorities, and the GOP in power led to the mass protests in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states. But many people who protested had earlier voted for Republicans. It has to be acknowledged that regarding this issue of moving people from the center to the left, it is very important to get them to understand their real class interests in voting. This has to be the strategy for 2014 and 2016 elections.”
The Obama Coalition and the Progressive Majority
Mark Solomon of Boston said the main resolution set up schisms and conflicts within the progressive majority that do not exist. It confuses it with the Obama coalition, which is dominated in large measure by the so-called liberal wing of finance capital. "There may be allies in the capitalist class, but they are not part of the progressive majority,” he said.
Carl Davidson spoke next from the floor, taking a different approach. He said he was prepared to support both the original main resolution and the substitute resolution from Fry and Tucker. But he meant to disagree strongly with Fry’s arguments in defense of the alternative.
“None of us are rejecting the progressive majority strategy; we are trying to update and improve upon it. A number of new things have taken place in the last four years—the 2010 and 2012 elections, the Occupy movement, the blockade of Congress by the Tea Party. We need to consider these. The Marxists of the 1930s have no monopoly on defining ‘united front’ and ‘popular front.’ All of us grasp the importance of the intersection of race, class and gender, and understand the alliance between the working class and all of the oppressed, people of color and women, as the core of that alliance, even as it includes other sectors. All of us know that the unions have a left, center and a right, and we have to talk about all of them to make a good analysis. All of us here favor a broad, multi-class alliance, and I would call the ‘progressive majority’ an expression of a popular front against finance capital, war and the right. Clearly the discussion suggests there are some differences here, but I’m not yet sure exactly what they are.”
Several comments followed. Sandy Eaton said our role is to help the labor movement and its allies in communities to reach its full potential. In the unions, we have to promote democracy and a sense of struggle. Without this, corruption develops. We have class struggle and class collaboration trade unionism. Ted Pearson said both statements under-estimate the fact that democracy is under attack. There is a coming together of a number of things – surveillance and the national security state, racism which is at the center of the attack on democracy as well as anti-immigrant racism. Tina Shannon said she didn’t see opposition between the progressive majority and the united front. “I work with people who are the progressive majority and we have had success in this direction but we need to take another step and discuss socialism. People also want to know what socialism is. That is why I support the Draft Convention Resolution.”
Podium Poster summing up tasks
‘Interpenetration of Contending Forces for Leadership’
Randy Shannon said he did not support either proposal. “The progressive majority is a theory of the social formations that develop and it is a great advancement in our thinking. But there are two weaknesses: there is not an overlap, as Pat put it, but an inter-penetration between the forces of capital, which are hegemonic, and the progressive majority, as it becomes more of a social force. A strategy has to look at how to deal with this interpenetration, and that is one of the issues that agitates the left around the Obama campaign.”
“The other part missing in our Goals & Principles document,” Shannon added, “is that there is not much of a discussion of what forms need to be developed in building the left. CCDS has not grown in the last four years. We haven't really developed a good theory of the formations that Zach characterized as the united front, and that may not be the best way to put that, and it was not really developed appropriately in the main resolution. I think both should be defeated and improved.”
Harry Targ had the last word in this round. “It’s terribly important that Pat raised the history of CCDS and how the discussion on the progressive majority developed. In terms of the popular front and united front, I believe that the document condenses too much history and there are a lot of complications that need to be addressed.”
As time had run out, a procedural motion to adjourn, move on to the workshops and continue the discussion on Sunday passed.
The final two rounds of four workshops were held back-to-back. The first topics covered Strategic Formations, Progressive Platforms, Climate Change, and Civil Rights Trade Unionism and the South. The second covered the Democracy Charter, the War on Women, Politics and Culture, and the Middle East.
Civil Rights Trade Unionism
One of the best-attended and dynamic workshops of the convention focused of civil rights unionism and the South. Anne Mitchell of New York chaired and talked about the key role of labor in the 1963 March on Washington and the crisis situation of the labor movement 50 years later. "Now is the time to talk about the role of the civil rights movement, the labor movement and the strategic importance of the South," said Mitchell.
Scott Marshall and Judith LeBlanc, from CPUSA, in labor workshop
Scott Marshall, chair of the Labor Commission of the Communist Party USA and leader of his United Steelworkers of America retiree chapter in Chicago, IL talked about the new developments in organized labor and a growing class consciousness. He pointed to the national discussion on the future of labor organized in preparation for the AFL-CIO convention in September and urged the left to play its crucial role in advancing the discussion. Pointing to the UAW Nissan campaign in Mississippi involving the community and civil rights as well as the United Steelworkers global organizing, Marshall said "unions are beginning to speak for the whole working class – not just about workers in the plant, it is speaking for the whole community."
Tina Shannon, a CCDS leader and chair of the Progressive Democrats of America in the Pittsburgh area, spoke of the importance of the left showing progressives in peace and environmental movements how to work with the labor movement. Through efforts that began in working together with the Obama campaign in 2008, the labor movement and the PDA chapter attend each other's events – a film series and social evening hosted regularly by PDA and an annual Human Rights banquet of the Labor Council that connects issues of labor, democracy and equality.
Kathy Sykes, Lead Field Organizer for the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA) and board member of the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan (MAFN), spoke about her work as a community activist and CWA member in Mississippi in support of the eight-year-long UAW organizing campaign in Canton, MS.
Several issues face the mostly African American workforce in Canton–wages are $2 less an hour than the mostly white Nissan workforce in Tennessee and there are unsafe working conditions at the plant. The UAW is determined to win with an alliance based on fairness, equality and the right to organize a union as a human right guaranteed by the International Declaration of Human Rights.
Sykes talked about the international solidarity of Nissan workers from Japan, South Africa, Brazil, Australia and Russia. "We hope you will join us in our struggle – we need as many organizations as possible around the country to show solidarity," said Sykes.
Ash-Lee Henderson, a union and environmental activist in Chattanooga, TN, opened with "greetings from the Volunteer State where we are encouraged to volunteer our labor for miniscule wages." Henderson told the story of her arrest along with six other members of the Chattanooga Organized for Action, CWA campus workers who disrupted a state senate hearing on four anti-worker bills.
Her story conveyed the importance of organizing in the South. "It is not a political ideology – it is a question of survival," said Henderson. Through a mass campaign in their defense, they connected the attack on workers and unions, the environment, immigrants, women and LGBT people in class terms – a coordinated drive by the rich to consolidate their wealth and power. The message, said Henderson, “spread like wildfire. Organizations who had nothing to do with the protest were talking about it. The next thing we know, AFSCME is raising funds for our defense, throwing parties. The former Speaker of the State House gets up and says, those kids are patriots. The left pole was created and the Democrats had to move."
Jim Grant, a member of Black Workers for Justice and CCDS in North Carolina, talked about the "Moral Monday" mass protests at the North Carolina state capitol since April in response to "regressive and idiotic" bills "trying to take this thing back to the 1890s." They have actually upset large portions of the people in the state who I didn't think would ever consider getting arrested, nearly 1,000 people since April. Six months ago, you would never have thought this possible," said Grant. "We will continue to push the envelope as far as we can push it," he said.
There was a common thread expressed: the necessity of winning the whole country to the strategic importance of winning the South. "This is a serious battle," said Sykes, "We have got to win in the South.” Marshall highlighted the stake for the trade union movement in organizing in the South in conveying what UAW President Bob King told delegates to his union's convention: "if we don't organize the South and put the necessary resources into it, we won't have a union."
The workshop of climate change continued the discussion from the previous day’s plenary. It was chaired by Steve Willet who, along with Carl Davidson, was also a presenter. One of the debates here was on the question of growth. Willet made the case that continuing growth in the current fashion of capitalism had to be curbed, especially in wasteful, carbon-burning production. Davidson made a different point. “One sector of the economy, the “knowledge and high design sector,” needs to grow without limit, since it’s through high design that we can improve the quality of life for all with a lighter and more sustainable footprint in all the other sectors.”
The ‘War on Women’ workshop, chaired by Janet Tucker, focused on the broad and varied attacks on women and the fightback. Mildred Williamson spoke to the economic hardships on women and particularly women of color. Health disparities continue and deepen. The increased incarceration rate and the war on drugs has broken up families and increased poverty. Short films showed how deportation and detention rate has affected families. With many families being broken up and many children sent into foster care. Meta Van Sickle spoke of the effects of the war on women in education. April Browning of Kentucky addressed the economic effects of the present crisis on women and the work of Kentuckians Against the War on Women. Jim Branson from Texas spoke of the recent fightback in that state against the reactionary legislation against reproductive rights.
Culture and Politics
The workshop on Culture and Politics was chaired by Harry Targ, and featured film maker Anne Lewis, and blues and labor singers Ben Shannon and Anne Feeney as presenters. It addressed several issues. First, it was argued that culture, broadly defined, has been and should continue to be a tool in the struggle against ideological hegemony. Two of three speakers, Shannon and Feeney, used music as an example of a tool that has played a significant role in building mass movements. The third, Anne Lewis, showed video clips to illustrate how film could help inform progressives.
One video clip, combining music and action, documented militant protest in the Texas statehouse against the newly passed draconian anti-abortion law. In addition, panelists discussed the necessity of activists understanding that cultural performers are in fact workers and should be recognized as such. In terms of public policy, it was suggested that progressives should demand state support for the arts, much as had been done in the 1930s. Discussion was rich and some attendees felt that it would be useful for CCDS to develop a Culture and Politics task force or committee to continue the dialogue.
Building Left Unity
The fifth plenary of the convention had “left unity” as the topic. Chaired by Carl Davidson, it took a different form, with Davidson first posing questions to presenters, and asking for short answers, then opening the discussion to the floor. The “interviewees” were Mark Solomon of CCDS, Judith LeBlanc of the CPUSA, and Larry Moskowitz of the Left Labor Project in New York City.
“Left Unity is a concept going back to the beginning of CCDS,” said Davidson in his opening remarks. Our aim has always been to replace ourselves with something far larger and more effective.” He spoke about a new upsurge in class struggle, and the response of the left in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and North Carolina, and in movements like Occupy. He said that out of more than 300 million Americans, only about 20,000 at most belonged to groups that had communist, Marxist, or socialist in their names. “Many folks are interested in socialism, a very large number even call themselves socialists, but not very many are organized, certainly less than one in a 100. Our task is to find ways to encourage them to join our organizations, and we need to develop the infrastructure that helps them to do so.”
His first question was to Judith LeBlanc: “What do you say when people say they can't join because they’re too busy with mass work, and don’t have time for one more meeting in their life? Her answer used the metaphor of soft boiled eggs. “You can’t separate the two. The white hard part is the democratic process and the yellow yolk keeps us going; it is gooey, not tidy, but we must think long term.”
Davidson then noted the success of the Left Labor Project in New York as an excellent example of left unity work, and asked Larry Moskowitz, “Why can’t we replicate its work in a dozen or so other cities? What’s holding us back?”
Moskowitz responded that the LLP is just four years old and it has forerunners in other progressive labor organizations peculiar to New York. He said the LLP is explicitly socialist, that women and people of color are in the forefront, that it doesn't interfere in the internal affairs of participating organizations, and the meetings always end by 8PM. There are several thousand on the email list, and he is proud of LLP's openness. “It hopefully will be possible to develop groups like it in other cities, but frankly, it won’t be easy,” he concluded.
Davidson then made reference to a number of “ideological struggles” in the left’s past, which were receding into history, and asked Mark Solomon if people on the left had to have theoretical unity before they could unite politically and organizationally.
“No, is the short and best answer," Solomon replied. “Young people today don't care that much about ideology. Alliances should be inclusive, not exclusive, and left unity needs to be seen as concentric circles, permitting alliances to join campaigns as needed. There is no single perfect road to socialism; there are always going to be arguments.” LeBlanc agreed, and added: “All our organizations are too small, and must grow. And the smaller the USSR appears in the rearview mirror, the more agreement we can often find. We need to share our experiences, seeing that the whole is greater than the sum if its parts.”
When the discussion was opened to the floor, many convention participants joined, sharing their experiences and opinions. Some spoke to the importance of building multinational unity from the ‘get go.’ Others noted that the anarchist trend among many young people wasn’t that much of an obstacle, expressing more of a stance of rebellion than hardened theory.
Davidson asked for closing remarks. LeBlanc offered that “leadership of left organizations can't get ahead of its membership” and that it is important to note that Charlene Mitchell is an important and great leader of the Left, the Communist Party, and CCDS.” Solomon offered “it is a question of urgency. Alliances must begin now. The questions of today — voting rights, working people’s oppression—all need a concrete response, and we need a school developed to build an intergenerational dialog.” Moskowitz concluded: “Organizing any sector is not mystical. We need to build relationships and organize for joint projects.”
Two substitute motions on left unity were on the floor. After friendly and minor amendments, both were adopted. It was left to the incoming NCC to see that they were harmonized in a final statement.
By Saturday evening, all the participants were ready for a change of pace and spirit. It was announced that Carl Bloice, Carl Davidson and Pat Fry had been re-elected by acclamation as national co-chairs, but that other election results would be announced Sunday morning.
An Evening of Solidarity
Getting ready for dinner
Saturday evening’s dinner gathering had a number of features, including excellent food. A music video of Bay Area cultural worker Jon Fromer’s “Gonna Take Us All” was both inspiring and sobering, since he had recently passed on from cancer. A slide show memorial to other deceased comrades since our last convention was projected—Manning Marable, Eric Quesada, Brandon Wallace, Fred Hicks, and Toshi Seeger.
Pat Fry shifted the mood by reading a number of greetings and solidarity messages. These included statements the South African Communist Party, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (associated with the The Left Party of Germany, Die Linke), the Vietnam Women's Union, and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Fry also mentioned that she would soon be meeting the President of Vietnam, and would see that he received copies of the new CCDS book summing up our visits with the Vietnam Women’s Union, “Vietnam: From National Liberation to 21st Century Socialism.”
Photo: Ann Feeney, ‘Hell Raiser’
The best was saved for last, a spirited and fiery performance by Anne Feeney, a native Pittsburgher and famed self-described “union maid, hell raiser and labor singer.”
“I've been 'comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable' since I graduated from high school in 1968. The Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement shaped my conscience and consciousness. It has been my privilege to spend most of my waking hours with people who are trying to make a difference in this world.”
Feeney treated the convention to a variety of songs, old and new, stressing labor battles and women’s rights. As a close she had everyone on their feet for a rousing rendition of the Internationale.
Organization Building: A Central Task
Sunday morning began with an informal breakfast meeting, organized by Harry Targ, on how to involve members in isolated areas without chapters, or with small chapters meeting irregularly. A background document for the discussion, an ‘Organizational Report,’ reviewing all of CCDS’s national committees, projects and chapters had been prepared by Carl Davidson.
“We’ve had good success in the Midwest,” explained Harry Targ, when we would hold regional meetings two or three times a year, drawing together a few small chapters and outlying members. It helped us share ideas and experiences, and kept the organization going.” Janet Tucker mentioned that the array of CCDS standing committees—labor, peace and solidarity, socialist education and so on—met online via WebEx, a video conferencing service, that allowed people to see each other remotely as they talked. Members and friends from anywhere were welcome to take part in these. It was also possible to set up virtual meetings for people in a designated area as a means for trying to pull together a face-to-face meeting.
Davidson added another point. “The bottom line from our organizational report is that where we meet and study politics together, we grow. When we don’t do these two things, we stagnate and shrink.” He went on to explain how CCDS had developed a number of resources, such as the Online University of the Left and a number of films and slide shows, to help in these efforts.
Photo: Steve Willet announcing election results
The final plenary session Sunday morning was all about the business of dealing with resolutions. But first, the 15 people elected to the new NCC were announced: Ann Beighley of Western PA, Anne Mitchell of New York, Harry Targ of Indiana, Janet Tucker of Kentucky, Jay Jurie of Florida, Karl Kramer of San Francisco, Marian Gordon of Los Angeles, Meta Van Sickle of South Carolina, Mildred Williamson of Chicago, Paul Krehbiel of Los Angeles, Randy Shannon, of Western PA, Steve Willett of the Bay Area, Ted Reich of New York, Tina Shannon of Western PA and Will Emmons of Kentucky. Within two months, 15 more will be elected, with four people – Ellen Schwartz of Sacramento, Ira Grupper of Kentucky, Sharon Pittman of Los Angeles, and Ted Pearson of Chicago—already in nomination.
The Home Stretch: Passing Resolutions, Resolving Differences
Carl Davidson and Randy Shannon worked together chairing this session to most efficiently get through as many resolutions as possible, without over-burdening the work of the new incoming NCC down the road.
A resolution defending Cuba and the Cuban Five passed without opposition, as did a resolution from the Asia-Pacific workshop on the dangers of militarism in that region. A resolution on Trayvon Martin, defense of voting rights and for changes in “stand your ground” laws also carried overwhelmingly.
There was some debate on a resolution from the ‘progressive platform’ workshop over whether to include mention of the Green Party as well as Progressive Democrats. The amendment was deemed “unfriendly,’ but carried in the floor vote anyway. The amended resolution passed. A resolution from the Middle East workshop put CCDS on record as supporting the ‘Boycott, Divest, Sanctions’ campaign to end Israel’s occupation of Palestine. With a friendly amendment, it passed.
One resolution was an amendment to the CCDS by-laws, which had the aim of solving a problem with vacancies among the co-chairs. With a friendly amendment, it allowed for the NCC to fill any vacancies between conventions. It passed.
One resolution presented, on labor organizing in the South, was simply the text of a resolution of the Savannah Central Regional Labor Council prepared for the upcoming AFL-CIO convention. After some debate, it was agreed that it was not appropriate for CCDS to simply adopt this as its own. Instead, a number of people were assigned the task of re-writing the resolution as our own, but keeping the substance of the message. This was accepted
The two outstanding resolutions were on Climate Change and Strategic Formations. The Climate change issue was dealt with rather easily, with the Climate committee, together with the NCC, instructed to find a way to merge them. This carried.
Finally there was more debate and amendments of two statements concerning strategy and the progressive majority. A number of people spoke, again finding strengths and weaknesses in both documents. Pat Fry again argued that Obama was not part of the progressive majority, and the “united front” meant a “united front of workers only.” Carl Davidson said we could drop the term “united front,” if we liked, since we all were really talking about a popular front. As for Obama, while he was not directly part of the progressive majority, he certainly was indirectly as an object of our strategy and tactics in the elections. This meant inter-penetration and contention for leadership in all the forces of the progressive majority, and why we needed a stronger left. Zach Robinson noted that the leadership of the “Moral Monday” campaigns in North Carolina called their efforts a “united front” regardless of what old definitions might say.
There was a clear desire on the part of the body for the NCC to find a way to reconcile these views as best as they could. That was agreed to, and the convention then came to a close.
Singing the Internationale
In the end, the CCDS convention organizers considered the gathering successful. It met its goals in terms of planned turnout of delegates. It initiated a new process, the convention school, to involve a younger generation. It carried out radical education in the sixteen workshops, all on timely and important subjects. It initiated new committees on culture and resurrected old one on health care. Most important, it debated important differences openly and democratically, and achieved a wider degree of unity for the battles going forward. But we clearly have our work cut out for us, and some uphill battles. Everyone will have to lend a hand.