Report from the Red Party Convention

A weekend of discussion, debate and advancing the fight for a communist party

Decisions, decisions

The Red Party held its first all-party convention via teleconference on June 17th through 19th. Though aggregates have been held in the past, notably in 2014 when the RP made changes to our Draft Program, this was a more general purpose gathering to not only improve our foundational documents but also elect leading bodies and hash out, through discussion and debate, our overall policy and how it relates to the central task of reorganizing the radical left into a party on a Marxist program.

Proceedings began with an opening address delivered by Gabriel Pierre in capacity as incumbent First Secretary, and a discussion putting our work into context. The Red Party is a small organization, one component of a movement that is itself divided into small, mutually competing sects. We have no illusion that we are the revolutionary party or party-in-embryo, rising to a mass base through slow linear growth… nor do we subscribe to the mistaken belief that a Marxist party can be improvised overnight, coalescing around a sect nucleus (perhaps a tendency in a “broad left” party) during the revolutionary crisis. No, history shows that if the working class is to become the ruling class, the Communist Party must be a substantial minority force before the revolutionary crisis arises. While the Red Party works to build up its own forces, we do so with a bigger goal in mind than simply becoming a relatively bigger sect a la Socialist Alternative or the International Socialist Organization. We aim for nothing less than a “revolution on the revolutionary left” – in other words, principled unity in a Marxist party.

Another discussion was held around reports on our general organizational status, our financial situation and reports and feedback from local work. It was noted that our membership, while numerically small compared to many other groups on the far left, is on a steady increase and has a healthy balance in age distribution and sexual orientation / gender identity. Less so in other areas: only 17% of members are trade union members (reflecting our class at large in union density,) or example. Only 17% of our members are people of color and fewer are women. Strengthening our work in the labor movement and recruiting a greater share of people from oppressed groups is something that should be “consciously pursued.” In a discussion around local work, comrades shared notes on both the broad similarities and particular challenges of organizing in New Jersey, Iowa and North Carolina. Most of our membership is found in medium-sized cities geographically distant from the major metropolitan areas where the lion’s share of the organized left operates. The question arose of how we conduct ourselves in situations like this, where there may be little on-the-ground basis to campaign in the left for our politics of principled unity. Overall, comrades agreed that we should continue seeking a balance between practical intervention among the left – such as through our paper, regional / national left-wing gatherings, and working to establish the RP in the major cities – and building “on the ground” where we are present currently among the class at large.

Motions

After the organizational and financial reports, discussion on the draft submissions for the RP’s foundational documents began in earnest. Because the new constitution was essentially a tweak of the old one, the main changes being details (like synchronizing recall thresholds to 25% across all party bodies and using different names for committee officers), it passed with little fanfare – save for an amendment successfully moved by Josh Hollandsworth to maintain the position of “Second Secretary” as an officer of the Central Committee.

In contrast to the constitution, multiple sessions were devoted to discussing the new party program. In moving his proposal, Gabriel Pierre described it as a significant improvement over the old one. The new program would unfold on broadly similar lines as before, and would of course have the same political orientation, but rewritten so as to clarify and strengthen the analysis of capitalism, the objective basis for socialist revolution and communism, and the basis on which the Communist Party of the future will be built.

Section I, “Our Era”, describes the current world social order, stressing the role played by the main classes in society, the nature of the capitalist state and imperialism, and the necessity of international socialism. Section II, “For a Communist Party”, corrects a weakness of the previous program by elaborating further on the ‘party question’, including formally establishing “working class political independence, internationalism and extreme democracy” as our three guiding principles for left unity. This formulation, borrowed from the Communist Party of Great Britain, was already widely used in RP materials but had not been programmatically established before. In addition, the minimum program (immediate demands) in Section III was tweaked and its presence explained politically.

Delegates would return to the program at a later session, first going through various motions that had been submitted throughout the pre-convention period. Miah Simone’s and Gabriel Pierre’s motion to adjust the RP’s motto – from “freedom, solidarity and real democracy” to “…revolutionary democracy” – was uncontroversial and passed without much comment.

Peter Moody moved his proposal to change the party logo, introducing a concept art inspired by the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista in Italy. The convention approved and instructed the next Central Committee to commission its production. Incumbent Treasurer Mari P-A moved a motion committing the Red Party to improving its infrastructure: our current website needs an enhancement, being the main way readers access our material, and our organizing efforts would be strengthened if we had pamphlets comrades could distribute on the ground. This motion also passed unanimously, with Gabriel Pierre intervening to emphasize the benefits of a quality mobile interface and Donald Parkinson, an observer from the Communist League of Tampa, holding up Jacobin as the visual standard to which the Red Party should compare itself.

Two motions (“Self Determination for All Oppressed Peoples,” proposed by Josh Hollandsworth, and “Tribal Societies and Dependent Nations,” proposed by David Smithers) were tabled for the Sunday session with the authors’ consent, as they were really about modifying the RP program. But there were two other motions on Saturday that generated significant discussion and debate. The first was Gabriel Pierre’s “Against Reflexive ‘No Platform’,” which he wrote in response to a statement released by the Red Party North Carolina earlier in the year. The motion had generated debate in the pre-convention period, with Josh Hollandsworth claiming that it should not be taken up because it was unnecessary to legislate tactical considerations at this level. He also objected to the idea that the statement from North Carolina, which he authored, implied that the state should step in to ban ‘extremist speech’ from the right.

In his introduction, Gabriel stressed the importance of getting tactics right: a number of tactics may be called for in the battle against the far right, depending on the balance of forces and the concrete situation. He raised the British Socialist Workers Party as an example, an organization that stupidly insists on no-platforming the UK far right even when doing so is a detriment to the anti-fascist cause. However, he also clarified that he did not intend to imply that comrade Hollandsworth was in favor of state intervention on the right of free speech.

In his contribution, comrade Hollandsworth agreed that ‘no platforming’ was not applicable to all situations in which the left and the workers’ movement confronts the far right – and further, that the above-mentioned misunderstandings on both sides had generated a sense of disagreement where there was in reality less than first appeared. Both comrades agreed to a change of wording in the resolution that recognized the higher relevance of the ‘no platform’ tactic in the present period, and the motion passed with all in favor.

The last non-program motion, “For Joint Publication with the Communist League(s),” was moved by Peter Moody on behalf of Liam Fletcher. Donald Parkinson from the CL intervened to note that various Communist League members have had an interest in this for some time, as the politics of our two organizations are more similar than what is typically the case for the far left. Red Party members agreed about the potentials of a joint publication and that talks should be opened by the next CC to move us in this direction. Comrades Moody and Parkinson offered initial thoughts on what basis these talks could start on – what kind of publication would it be? What are its editorial principles? Is the editorial board composed of both RP and CL members? After clarifying that what’s being sought is a new joint publication and not a merger of the Red Vine – at least not at this stage – the motion carried unopposed.

The final session for Saturday was dedicated to workshops. Gabriel Pierre hosted a presentation and discussion on writing for a communist publication, focusing on issues of composition. Josh Hollandsworth gave an informative presentation on the political economy of North Carolina and how its history has shaped the present situation there for the working class and oppressed peoples.

Finalizing Program

On Sunday, comrades got down to brass tacks on the new RP program before electing new leading bodies. The course of pre-convention discussion put delegates in a position where all were in favor of the program’s general course; consequently debate centered on refining the minimum program. Mari P-A moved an amendment to strengthen the message we send to LGBTQ people: while we naturally stand for “a right to quality housing” for all people, it’s worthwhile to address the specific problem of homelessness disproportionately affecting the LGBTQ community. A motion appending “provide housing and quality social services for LGBTQ and other displaced youth” to an existing plank was adopted unanimously.

Next came the composited motion from comrades Hollandsworth and Smithers on self-determination. The minimum program plank under consideration for revision, as drafted by Pierre, read as follows:

The right of self-determination, up to and including independence, for all American Indian nations, native Hawaiians, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Voluntary union as the basis of the democratic republic. Reparations to American Indian nations.”

The Hollandsworth-Smithers amendment proposed to name more colonial or semi-colonial holdings (namely the Northern Marianas, U.S. Virgin Islands and the former U.S. Pacific Trust Territory.) It also added text favoring self-determination for “all ethnic or national minorities by democratic vote on a community-by-community basis.” Comrade Hollandsworth argued that this was a principled means to address the question of Black self-determination, where the oppressed Black population is not a clear majority in any particular region but more distributed throughout the country with local majorities in certain areas.

Gabriel Pierre raised concerns, noting that the main thrust of Black liberation throughout U.S. history has been one of integration and equality, not separation. He argued that while we do need to address Black self-determination in some form, it was not a classical national question pure and simple (as Lenin pointed out in advice to the early American Communist Party.) His intervention sought to balance the need for self-determination with a recognition that there is no widespread sentiment for separation in Black America, and that in any case communists do not favor breakup into ever-smaller polities. If we are not careful, we end up calling for an independent people’s republic of Englewood, Chicago.

Peter Moody spoke on the issue as well, raising a danger of going too far down the proverbial ‘rabbit hole’ and into a situation where the Red Party supports Balkanization of the United States. He further drew a distinction between cultural self-determination and community control on the one hand and political/economic self-determination on the other, which is where the danger of succumbing to nationalist politics and Balkanization lies. A discussion was generated by picking apart “self-determination,” with comrade Hollandsworth noting that the amended text is presented with the spirit of community control in mind – this passage allows us to connect with Black and Latino communities in a particular way, pointing toward an alternative society of increased democratic control at the ground level. In the end, the motion carried – with an abstention by comrade Moody, and with comrade Pierre voting in favor but going on record to express misgivings that the plank is blurry and open to varying interpretations.

After that, the new program as a whole was voted on and carried in its whole without opposition. Comrades then voted for the incoming Central Committee, whose size was enlarged to five members to ensure representation for members in various regions. Selection of officers from within the incoming CC was postponed to its first meeting.

 

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