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New Ground 36

September - October, 2000

Selected articles


Committees of Correspondence Meet in Chicago

By Jim Williams

Over 500 delegates and observers (including 140 from Chicago) attended the founding convention of the Committees of Correspondence (CoC) held here in Chicago in July. The CoC was sparked at a conference in Berkeley in 1992, in large part by former members of the Communist Party, USA. However, from its outset, the CoC has included persons who were not formerly Communists in its ranks and in its leadership.

The Convention adopted a constitutional structure, expanded its statement of goals, which is based on democratic socialism, and elected a new leadership. The five co-chairs are: Manning Marable, Charlene Mitchell, Rafael Pizarro, Leslie Cagan and Sushawn Robb. Only Mitchell and Pizarro were former Communists. Marable and Mitchell are African-Americans, Pizarro is Puerto Rican. Cagan is a well-known peace activist. Robb and Cagan are outspoken feminists and lesbians.

In addition, 13 members of the incoming National Committee were elected at the Convention. Others will be elected in their local areas. Four from Chicago were elected to the National Committee. These were Carl Davidson, Sondra Patrinos, Mildred Williamson and Malvene Collins, youth representative. A slate of youth representatives was elected at the Convention after a "rank and file" caucus of youth organized to guarantee youth representation on the body.

An open rally, "The Road to Freedom", attracted an estimated 1,000 people, making it the largest left-wing event in Chicago in some time. Speakers at the rally included Charles Nqukula, General Secretary of the South African Communist Party; Dulce Maria Pereira, a senatorial candidate of the Workers Party of Brazil; Angela Davis of CoC; and Andre Brie of the Party of Democratic Socialism of Germany. The rally was carried by C-Span over Labor Day weekend.

Nqukula spoke of the difficult struggles ahead in South Africa as the new ANC-led government seeks to reconstruct the nation along democratic lines. He pointed to the ANC's Reconstruction and Development Program as a model for development. Pereira told of the growing support for the Workers Party in Brazil, and the likelihood that "Lula", its auto-worker presidential candidate, could win in the fall. Brie told of the current difficulties, primarily unemployment and high prices, confronting people in the former East Germany. Of all the speakers at the Convention, Brie was the most critical of communism and the practices of the Communist movement, arguing only that genuine democracy could bring genuine socialism. Davis assailed a new tide of racism that was gripping the country but also spent time calling for new measures to combat domestic violence.

Other guests during the Convention included Cook County Commissioner Danny Davis, Alderman Helen Schiller and Rick Munoz, a representative of the Green Left Weekly of Australia, and a representative of the Cuban Interest Section.

Many at the Convention felt that the former Communists had made a good effort to break with undemocratic practices and ideologies. Isaac Deutscher once remarked that the "Army of Ex-Communists" wore tattered uniforms, which frequently included scraps of the old. Certainly, the decision to invite the South African Communist Party and the Party of Democratic Socialism reflects the ties that some still feel to their CP heritage. However, it can be argued that the SACP certainly has meritorious standing for its anti-Apartheid efforts. The speech made by Nqukula could have been made before the Chicago City Council. The eastern German based Party of Democratic Socialism, surprisingly to some, has rebounded in popularity in Germany, and many feel that it has become a transformed, democratic party.

What was missing from the CoC Convention was a sense that CoC had found "the answer" to rebuilding the Left in the U.S. Correspondingly, their approach remains modest and tentative. What they do bring is a sense of journey and discovery, accompanied by a strong sense of inclusiveness. Perhaps that will be enough.

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