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
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
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.