Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Flexible and Prepared- Opening Report to YCL Spring NC Meeting April 2009

This is a wonderful report by Erica Smiley, an anti-Stalinist transvestite Trotskyist with anarchist tendencies who leads the Young Communist League. Erica Smiley has made tremendous inroads for our Party including boldly reaching out our hand in friendship to work with the John Birch Society on civil liberties issues. We felt we needed a new image for our YCL in order to break with some past thinking reflected in the writings of Jarvis Tyner back in the 1970's while our Party was held in the throes of 20th Century Socialism. We are very happy Jarvis was able to get beyond his own personal bigotries utilizing long-term therapy and counseling which helped him to free his mind of dogma.

We now have a downsized CPUSA and YCL but we have a great mixture of people and politics streamlined to get the job done for "term two" as we blaze the path where no Communist Party in the world has ever gone before. For us this is kind of like a real life "Twilight Zone" experience.

Erica Smiley is giving our Party and the YCL an entirely new image in line with what we want to project 21st Century Socialism to be.

Erica Smiley is a loyal Obama supporter.

I must say, it is nice to be working with a cute intellectual transvestite striving to protect and defend the interests of the middle class.

In so many ways Eric demonstrates great flexibility.

Eric Smiley is the Communist version of Sarah Palin.

Sam Webb
National Chair, CPUSA

Flexible and Prepared- Opening Report to YCL Spring NC Meeting April 2009

Though these opening reports tend to focus more on the current political climate, this one is going to focus much more on tactical and organizational questions regarding how we, as the YCL, should move forward.

We’ve provided copies of Sam Webb’s report to the National Committee of the Communist Party last month to give a more thorough political outlook so that we could spend more time here envisioning how we are going to concretely develop, adjust and above all build the organization in this next period. Sam is also in the room, as well as others from the Party leadership, and I assume they too will participate in our discussion.

Throughout my opening remarks, I outline specific questions I think we should consider today. There are a lot of questions but they are incredibly important, and it’d probably do us good to write them down as we go so we can cover as many as possible throughout the course of the day.

The topic I intend to cover this morning is how we, as young communists, should actually implement our political approach on the ground level. What exactly should we be doing in this political climate?

We are having this conversation in the calm preceding our next national convention. Both the YCL and the Party conventions are coming up in the next year or so, and we should begin discussing the political content of both pre-convention discussions.

This convention will look completely different than the last in both form and content. The political climate of the United States has been turned on its head (for the better), while the crisis in global capitalism continues to worsen. We will have to identify the best ways to strengthen the progressive youth movement in this new period, what type of Action Plan will be most useful in this time and how we will maximize mobilization of our membership given our limited resources.

What are we, as the YCL, pushing youth to do in this political moment? And what is our role as YCLers?

These are the questions we seek to answer throughout the course of this discussion.


We jumped off of the election victory right back into the middle of the global financial crisis. While we have a president that has openly supported workers against corporations and banks, we still have a financial system run amuck where working people foot the bill with our homes, our schools, and our jobs (or lack thereof).

Still, the parameters of what is necessary to turn the country around have been hugely expanded as so-called mainstream economists call for “at-least partial” nationalization of failing banks and companies like Ford and General Motors. Middle America grapples both publicly at town halls and privately at the dinner table about what a “just economy” would look like, all but defining a fetal path to socialism.

Legislation supporting gay rights is passing despite the defeat in California in states such as Iowa and Vermont. And I was just informed that the Presbyterian Church USA approved the ordination of gay ministers.

The air is ripe with change.

The Obama Administration’s current budget proposal includes student aid increases identified by the United States Student Association as one of the “firmest commitments” for students and working families. They point out that Obama’s proposal is better than the adjustments made in both houses of Congress in its increased funds for the Pell Grant and other programs like GEAR UP, TRIO and LEAP.

However, at the same time, the Ultra-Right has not completely bowed out of the fight—offering up simple solutions to address real woes of the working poor. Groups like the new “Tea Party” manipulate the fears of working class people to coerce us into not paying taxes (not that we need schools, roads or hospitals) or to blame immigrants for the economic downturn. The goal of this new right-wing populism is to undermine the Obama Administration so that nothing can get passed without major concessions to the Ultra-Right.

While groups like this demand these backwards policies, I believe we must loudly keep our own solutions on the table. Raising such “radical” notions as public ownership of the institutions in our communities help shift the debate back towards the Center, and give Democrats and the Obama Administration room to continue pushing for progressive policies.

After all, how can the Administration be successful in the partial nationalization of large banks and finance institutions, converting bank bailouts to equity shares, giving the government a large ownership stake in them—as the New York Times reported this past Monday , unless there is a strong, independent political movement supporting nationalization and public ownership on the ground? It is not anti-Obama to have a vision and long-term solutions. In fact separate from the immediate legislative battles, it’s probably the best support we can give.

Our labor movement is grappling with it’s own internal bickering on these issues in order to unite with the Obama Administration and the progressives in Congress to pass real immigration reform. Just recently the AFLCIO and Change to Win unions agreed on a plan that would give nearly 12 million immigrants a path to citizenship.

Outside of simply being the right thing to do for immigrants who have long been super-exploited under unfair guest-worker programs, the passage of Obama’s anticipated immigration reform could arguably strengthen the broad electoral coalition that cleaned out Congress and the White House last November.

Nevertheless, unemployment is staggering, between 14 and 16% for young people . And those who have salvaged jobs are often stuck in the low-wage or informal workforce. Young workers, entering the same jobs/careers as their parents before them, often times cannot aspire to have the same wages or benefits as the previous generation—and in many instances compete with older highly skilled, highly educated workers for the same low wage jobs.

This has made the battle for the Employee Free Choice Act, the federal legislation that would put the desire and process of forming a union in the hands of the workers and increase worker protection against employer intervention, all the more important. But as momentous as the presidential elections were, this fight is an uphill climb as the Obama Administration struggles with fickle senators.

But in battles like this, we have 3 options. We can hold our heads down in despair. We can join the cynics in prematurely pointing fingers and spouting “I told you so” propaganda. Or we can take it as a challenge to fight harder!

We should be reminded that the Employee Free Choice Act has been introduced nearly every year for the past decade, and will be re-introduced over and over again until we win!

Some say, justly so, that the first step in passing this monument of a bill is to work to pass the Obama Administration’s budget with the least amount of concessions—thus pushing waffling senators over the fence for working people and building momentum for the Employee Free Choice Act. Just as a defeat of the budget would strengthen the hand of the anti-worker and right wing forces, passing it would demoralize them and embolden Democrats yet indecisive to take the right stance on other issues such as labor law.

I was on Capital Hill this past week lobbying for the Employee Free Choice Act, and in one of the office while I waited, the poor receptionists kept getting call after call after call from people identifying themselves as being with this Tea Party. This experience alone made it clear that we need more of our own folks calling in to pass the budget and to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

A victory in this initial budget fight could indeed lay the groundwork for passing the Employee Free Choice Act among other bills—let alone what we hope will be a new push to put federal dollars into the creation of quality jobs, expanding transit infrastructure and operating costs and entering into a new era of green manufacturing. And the Employee Free Choice Act is really just one step in many we have to take to improve the protections workers have on the job.

With US manufacturing crumbling like quicksand, global solidarity and, even more, international coordination has never been more necessary. Just as labor in the white skin is not free while labor in the black/brown skin is oppressed, workers in the United States will not thrive while workers in India and Colombia are oppressed. As members of unions and worker organizations, we should be working with Party comrades to build international committees in addition to young worker caucuses in our union locals.

The YCL knows about international solidarity.

We are also mobilizing ourselves to the Venceremos Brigade to Cuba again this year, of which I’m sure we’ll hear about in the course of this meeting. Now that the Obama Administration has loosened restrictions on travel and financial transactions to the island, we are ever closer to not only lifting the travel ban in the short term but defeating the US embargo not long after. Obama’s recent move was an economic action, inserting US dollars into Cuba’s economy. Combine this with the Congressional Black Caucus’ visit to the island earlier this month and we can see why there is hope for a new US policy towards Cuba’s role in the global economy. I don’t think it is na├»ve to say that it is at least a beginning.

While we are on the topic of international solidarity, we can also mobilize ourselves to the next World Festival of youth and students to build solidarity on key campaigns on trade and/or gain insight into how youth are struggling for peace, jobs and education around the world. Adam will be able to report-back with updates from his trip to the General Council meeting next month.

All this said, here are some questions we must ask ourselves:

1. While the ultra-right is grappling what it means to be a voice of opposition—offering up simple solutions for complex problems to the working class, we must grapple with what it means to be on offense. How should we be pro-active, and in particular, how can we promote broad, unifying demands that will continue to strengthen the center-left coalition that came together pre-election as well as the good proposals of the new Obama Administration?

2. As youth and students in particular, how can we broaden the fight on campus in a way that both supports and mobilizes students to immediate fights, such as passing the federal budget with the highest increases for student financial aid and grants or fighting for the economic recovery of our schools, while also opening up the battleground on tuition roll-backs, student loan forgiveness, and affirmative action?

3. When participating in the remaining mobilized forces, be they “Change for America” groups, housing coalitions, healthcare organizations etc.., what is our value added? What are we as YCLers bringing to the table?

4. How can we mobilize young workers to the immediate struggle of the Employee Free Choice Act while continuing to raise the need for even more protections on the job…paid sick days, paid medical leave, paid vacation?

5. What are we doing to attract those who may already agree with us? Sam has made a couple of references to a survey that claims 20% of those polled prefer some form of socialism to capitalism. We could argue that if we looked only at the youth in that poll, the percentage could be even higher. But it is not enough to revel in the poll results. We need to discuss today, what are we doing to reach out to that 20 plus percent? How are we making ourselves visible, available and accessible to that new and growing socialist minority? What are our clubs doing to attract them? …to let them know that there is an organization where they can learn more, discuss more and be a part of a collective vision for a socialist USA?

6. And most importantly, what is our vision for the YCL? What is our vision for the Communist Party, and how do we fit in to it? How do we really expect to grow in this new era?


We have to build our organization.

This is worth repeating.

We have to build our organization!

We need more members.

We need more clubs.

We need more schools.

We need more visibility.

We need a stronger Young Communist League! And in order to have that we need a stronger Communist Party.

The Communist Party is our Party just as much if not more than the older generation, and we cannot allow it to be a side issue—especially when the discussions and re-configurations of the Party so directly impact our own.

As leaders of the youth league, we should not limit ourselves to a discussion of our role as youth. Rather we should openly discuss our own vision for the Party and how we fit in it;

our own vision for collective action;

our own vision of Party club activities.

Those of us that belong to the Party do not go to club meetings simply to represent the youth. If you find club meetings boring, define what it is that needs to change and fight for the change!

If we want to see more Party members running openly for public office, like our comrade here in Chicago, we should fight for that.

We don’t have to wait for someone else’s vision and theories of re-organization to be passed down to us. Let’s define it ourselves. Everyone in this room should play an active role in the Party’s pre-convention discussion.

It’s our Party; our YCL; our future.

A stronger YCL and a stronger Party translates into a stronger movement for youth and working people. Period.

In the context of this movement, there is a need for us to be flexible. And I want to take a moment to talk about this flexibility.

The political climate is incredibly fluid right now. In a period where we rarely know what to expect on a day-to-day space, there is a need for us to be flexible. That is true.

However, flexibility should not consistently translate into being ill prepared for these daily fluctuations.

Flexibility does not encourage us to read about and marvel at each and every spontaneous action of the masses.

Flexibility does not incite us to “wait” for the next positive or negative policy to react to.

We are not reactionaries!

What flexibility does require is for us to be engaged in every level of activity, local and nationally.

Flexibility requires our clubs to be a hub for discussion about the strategy and direction of local movements; support for YCL activists; and the on-going study of Marxism.

Flexibility means being active in existing youth-labor solidarity groups, but never waiting on anyone but ourselves to provide support to striking workers in our neighborhoods.

Flexibility requires us to be ready; ready to mobilize for the next pinnacle struggle and ready on a structural level to be a bigger and more active YCL and Communist Party. This is what I mean when I speak of flexibility.

And how should we be prepared, you might ask me. I’ll give my opinion.

While it is attractive to reminisce about a new New Deal, we should be clear that we are fighting for a New Deal …and then some. We don’t simply intend to save capitalism, but rather begin the long and curvy transition to something better.

How should we be prepared?

We should continue participating in struggles that make the contradictions of capitalism, global monopoly capitalism in particular, most apparent. For example, struggling in our states and locally in city councils to ensure that federal recovery money is distributed to our schools, our neighborhoods and for job creation—while continuing to point the finger at the banks and corporations receiving billions in bail out money and spending it on executive bonuses highlights the contradictions.

Right here in Chicago, the victory of the workers at Republic Windows and Doors (now Serious Materials Company) proves another good example of a concrete, local fight that hit so hard at the root of the contradictions in global capitalism that less than 300 workers in solidarity with people around the country brought Bank of America to its knees this past December.

Calling attention to these contradictions does not set us up against the Obama Administration. If we as socialists cannot call out the contradictions of global capitalism in a way that relates to real struggles happening in our daily lives, who will?

YCLers must seek out these kinds of struggles, and mobilize more and more young people to the front lines to witness the potential power of unions and organizations for themselves. How else do we expect youth to struggle for union jobs?

As YCLers, we understand the need for youth-labor solidarity. We need real relationships with workers in our communities in order to garner solidarity in winning summer jobs programs, fighting against two-tier contracts, and winning basic rights for working people on our campuses—just to name a few. Why not take the lead of our Michigan State club which is initiating discussions with area unions to push for union-only labor on campus? Just imagine how such a campaign could not only strengthen and provide jobs for area union workers, but it could be the leverage to help campus workers struggling for a union contract finally win it.

How should we be prepared?

Our clubs should be a place where these struggles are discussed; where challenges are made to various tactics; where unity is strengthened; where talking points are crafted; where the line connecting this seemingly isolated struggle to the global economic crisis and the crisis in capitalism is clearly drawn.

Clubs should be a place where we flush out how to localize national demands. Our Milwaukee club provides a good example of doing this around the DREAM Act—a bill that would make college more accessible to immigrant students. Clubs should flush out partial demands that could build momentum for the eventual passage of this act. Why not get resolutions passed supporting it in student government, or even commitments from campus administrations to change the policy locally? These are struggles that YCL activists can lead on and build coalitions around.

Does this mean clubs do not study? Of course not! But the main focal point must be the action above all else. After all, the YCL is a place for youth to learn about Marxism and socialism through study and struggle.

Regardless of what some say, outside of those playing leading roles, the movement that rose up to elect Obama is in a bit of a lull. This may be controversial to some folks here. But I believe it’s true, and I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. We are in a massive transition period, an electoral hangover if you will.

The peace movement, peace having been one of our major 3 areas of struggle coming out of the last convention, is in a state of re-organization. With a timeline from the Obama Administration to withdrawal troops from Iraq and a new commitment to diplomacy in the middle east, the peace movement is struggling to identify its role—how it can continue to wage peace in Afghanistan, Palestine and elsewhere, while supporting the positive moves of the new president.

While we in the YCL and in the Party are going through our own internal shifts and transitions, we have the burden of helping to sustain and even build on the momentum of the 2008 elections, continuing to build the broad labor-led movement that awed the country last year.

But to build the movement, we must focus more of our attention on building our organization. This is how we prepare!

And if we’ve only learned one thing in the past 3 years since our last convention, we know that people join when they see us in action, not when they hear us talk about it! …and certainly not when they read our long-winded reports on line.

They join when they meet us in the midst of study and struggle.

And we know this for a fact.

They joined at our schools.

They joined at the Youth Voter Collective camp in St Louis.

They joined when they met us in Cuba.

They joined while we were doing voter registration.

No matter what anyone says, no matter how anyone tries to discredit our work, we know this to be true!

A body in motion stays in motion, and the YCL moves!

We of all people know that the post-election period is not a time to rest. We have to figure out ways to maintain the momentum via concrete, focused fights that can be waged locally—be that at local, state, national or even global targets.

With a smaller national staff, the necessity for our club leaders to play more of a role in this is more apparent. Most of you know we are positioning Ursula to become the next national coordinator of the YCL. But she will not be able to build the YCL alone.

Schools and actions organized by clubs are needed now more than ever. Our clubs cannot wait on the national office to call for action. Clubs need to be taking on more of this responsibility.

How many of you were at the Midwest School in Chicago last month? {show of hands}

This, and the school being organized in St Louis later this summer are prime examples of how successful and imperative club organized action is.

We should continue to use this time to reflect, to be self-critical of everything we’ve done up until now, and identify with a fresh outlook what it will take to build the Young Communist League and the Communist Party in this new period. We have grown exponentially, but we are still tiny.

It is not enough for us to have the correct political outlook. It means absolutely nothing if we do not have the bodies on the ground to back our words and theories up with action.

Further, we cannot isolate ourselves.

It is through relationships that we move people to action. Any good organizer will tell you this. We don’t build relationships by isolating ourselves.

These discussions, discussions about our vision for a better world and for socialism, are happening both within our organization and all around it. That 20% socialist minority isn’t necessarily a silent one.

How are we shoring up our base?

We cannot brush off every group that has a varying viewpoint as ultra-leftist. We have to be a part of these conversations—such as at the Left Forum or the various “Summer School” conferences that are organized. And I hope our new, incoming leadership will play visible roles in such events. If young people at these events are looking for an organization where they can develop their socialist perspective, why should we hide? And even more important, why should we not engage in the ideological battle in this way? Just like we should not isolate ourselves from the broader labor-led movements, we should be a part of the broad discussions shaping the vision for a Socialist USA.

Now there are at least a couple of you that disagree with me on this last point, arguing that we shouldn’t waste our time with the “Left”, but rather focus all our energy on the “broader” movements and organizations. And they aren’t completely wrong, as getting caught up in left politics will only marginalize us to irrelevance.

But this should not be an excuse not to reach out to those who may already agree with us. It is okay, and by all means desirable, to have our eyes focused in front of us in building unity with the forces of the Center. But we should allow those same eyes to see out their peripheral vision—to build and maintain relationships with those closest to us.

I also agree with those on the National Council who argue that the old formulations of what is “Left” and what is “Center” make be inaccurate and not useful. After all, what is Left today may well be Center tomorrow. We should focus more on the specific work youth are doing and identify who to build with on that basis. These often “unaffiliated” youth are left out of our abstract discussions, and yet are a part of the progressive youth movement we need to be mobilizing.

In a nutshell, these two approaches are not contradictory.

We have to be a part of shaping the new vision and strategy of the movement, both in the trenches and in the conference halls.

Again, a strong movement requires a strong, visible and active Communist Party, and an independent Young Communist League.

So to re-visit the questions above:

1. What are the most unifying battles happening in our communities? What struggles are currently mobilizing the most youth? What existing organizations should we relate to? …and where there are none, what types of organizations should we be helping to build?

2. How can we be a voice of reason to the right-wing populism happening today? How can we ensure that working class people are not tricked to act against our own interests by the simple solutions of groups like the Tea Party?

3. What is the “Communist-Plus” given the current progressive movement(s)? What is our value-added as YCLers? Why should we exist right now, …or if you don’t think we should, why shouldn’t we? Let’s be honest and put it all out on the table.

4. And finally, what is the role of the club in this? What should a YCL or even Party club meeting look like in this period? And how do we make clubs more accessible to this budding socialist minority?

I submit these questions to you for discussion.

And welcome, everyone, to our spring meeting of the National Council.

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