By Peter Annear
SAN FRANCISCO — In the wake of their successful first national gathering last month, activists in the Committees of Correspondence are feeling their way into a discussion about where the organisation should head. This new organisation, originating in a break from the Communist Party, has scheduled its official founding conference for the end of 1993. What sort of left or socialist organisation should be formed, what will its platform be, how will it be organised, and what will it aim to achieve? These questions, and more, remain open.
"We now have to organise systematic discussions on some of the big questions, because you cannot wait for the founding conference and then decide what your politics are", says Kendra Alexander, one of five national co-chairs elected by the July gathering.
General agreement among participants from a wide range of political backgrounds on the importance of the mass social movements, women's rights, the African American struggle, and the centrality of the labour movement was fairly easily achieved. But key political questions, like the left's relationship to the Democratic Party, are yet to be tackled. The discussion will be tough, Alexander told Green Left, but it is necessary.
"Probably the most impressive thing about the July conference was the spirit of cooperation and the willingness to listen to other people, which has not been a tradition on the left here. Usually every left group has its own set of politics and anyone who does not agree with them is out to lunch."
In many ways, Kendra Alexander personifies the qualities of the new organisation. Raised and educated in Los Angeles, she went south in the mid-1960s as a concerned 19-year-old looking for ways to break down the segregation that oppressed her own African American people. She intended to teach there after college. But that year, 1965, both the Watts rebellion back home and the early escalation of the Vietnam war convinced her the problems ran deeper.
Her new-found understanding led her into the Communist Party, where she worked with Angela Davis and went on to organise the campaign to free Davis from unjustified imprisonment. By 1969 she was made California chairperson of the party and became a member of the national committee. She remained in the party for 25 years.
"Those of us who came out of the Communist Party were forced to examine our own sectarianism and the common notion that we had all the answers and that anybody who did not agree with us was wrong. You could not get to the right answer with that attitude."
Alexander said that other left forces brought to the new process strengths that had not been attached to the CPUSA, like an men's question, environmentalism and the Native American question.
There is a very serious need in the United States for an effective left voice, Alexander said. The Republican Party has moved to the ultraright, the Democratic Party has situated itself in the centre and speaks basically for the white middle class, and that leaves a huge section of the population disenfranchised from politics.
"Unless there is a left out there that can articulate the needs of and help organise working people and poor people, they have no voice at all."
The various third-party initiatives — from the National Organisation of Women, the Green Party, the Ron Daniels presidential campaign, the Labor Party Initiative — are very important, though it is a weakness that each represents only one social sector or another. In a third party, all these will have to come under one umbrella.
"My personal opinion is that at this stage we should not be about building a third party, we should be building a left, socialist organisation that sees as one of its key roles helping to develop a third political party. We should cooperate. Hopefully, many of the people involved in the third party initiatives will be socialists and will join with what we are trying to do in the Committees of Correspondence."
The likely organisational structure of the Committees of Correspondence is not a settled question, and experimentation will be necessary "to see what works and what doesn't". But the rigid structures and the divisions between different areas of work that applied in the Communist Party would not be appropriate.
"We need a democratic structure that encompasses the positives of a central, national organisation but also allows the greatest flexibility for the regions or cities in which the organisation works. We have to develop our own structures based on our own culture, traditions and history."
Will the new party be socialist? "I believe it must advocate socialism, otherwise how do you ever get people to understand what socialism is. There has to be some group that advocates changing this economic system of capitalism to a different organisation of the economy and the country. At the same time we need to define socialism for the US in a more adequate way than has been done in the past — a non-sectarian, open kind of way."
The emergence of the Committees of Correspondence happens in the context of a worldwide realignment of political forces that is also evident in Germany, Italy, South Africa and elsewhere. How the various left political forces can come together in a more effective way "is a very necessary discussion in the world communist movement, the socialist movement, the left movement. The effort to unite divergent political forces is not easy, but it is worthwhile. This is s come."