This September as part of the Communist renewal programme a meeting was held at Marx Memorial Library for Party secretaries and cadres. Three Party members from our district were able to attend this event. The first session involved discussion on the following subjects; branch life, what do we want/expect of members, public campaigning and Morning Star, trade unions and other organisations. A valuable part of this was to exchange experiences and advice about how branches function and what we can do for existing and potential members.
For this meeting Ken Keable wrote a detailed report on the South West and Cornwall District and how he perceives and conducts his role as District Secretary. Below is an extract from this report which contains excellent advice on how we can present our case for Communism and by doing so strengthen our ability to retain and recruit members. In addition to the above mentioned report are some discussion points taken from a paper written by John Taylor ( Yorkshire Branch ) on the subject of recruitment, again’ these points can help us to strengthen our methods of communication and our position as a Party.
“When addressing members, especially when visiting a weak branch, I try to do two things. The first is to make the case for the Party (even when everyone present is a member). I emphasise that Britain needs socialism and the world needs a socialist Britain and that the advance to socialism is impossible without a strong Communist Party equipped with the most advanced revolutionary theory. I point out that everything we do has worldwide significance because of Britain’s unique role in world affairs. I emphasise the unique role that the Party and the Morning Star (which would not exist without the Party) are making, and have made, to bringing about the current much improved situation in the labour movement. All this flows from my belief that retention of members is as important as gaining new members, and presents a challenge because of the long-haul nature of our struggle and the unrelenting, all-pervading war of ideas. We need every member to get some kind of emotional benefit from being a member. Comradeship, in its many forms, plays an important role in this. The branch secretary has a certain ‘pastoral’ role, taking an interest in each member and ensuring that Party activities are enjoyable as well as satisfying politically.
Secondly, when addressing a meeting, I try to identify the person present who knows the least about communism and address my remarks to that person. This is on the basis that, if I can get that person to understand what I am trying to say, then it is probable that everyone else present will understand too. This is a very important principle of public speaking that has been much neglected in our Party. Many times I have seen very experienced comrades address a meeting and say things that are incomprehensible to the most recent recruits or any non-members who are present. We must avoid using political short-hand, avoid using inner-party jargon and avoid referring to people, organisations and historic events that might not be familiar to the audience member who knows the least about communism.
If we were guerrilla fighters, we would need to study war and weapons. Our weapons are theory, organisation and communication, including language, so these are what we must study and constantly review.
I have an arrangement with my local Co-op, where I get my Morning Star, whereby I can always pick up an extra copy. When attending a branch meeting, or even a DC meeting, I show my spare copy and offer it to anyone present who has not seen that day’s edition. If I meet a young person at a Party event, I assume they are broke and give them the paper free of charge. I also give free Party pamphlets to any young people I meet at such events. I am lucky – I can afford it. I think it is a very productive thing to do. I am aware that not all comrades can afford to do this, but I think there should be a place in our budgets to enable this to happen. We need to face the fact that quite a lot of Party members do not buy the Morning Star every day, nor read it online.”
” The very notion of attracting new members to Communism and the CPB begs the question what are we offering that attracts, and more subtly, or bluntly, who are we particularly after? Do we know how to articulate this ‘offer’ and ‘call’. Can we get our messages around our existing membership, as well as out there those we are targeting?
What questions do we need to answer just to get us to ‘base camp’ on this signalling? Here’s one on the ‘offer’ that may be more challenging than it seems:
What defines and distinguishes the CPB in contrast to/and or comparison with other left and ‘progressive’ Parties?
This can and should be asked in regards to things like policy positions and principles; Party structure, organisation, culture and discipline, comradeship ethos, activism style, theoretical work, internationalism, who do we and do we not work with and when and why?…”
To quote Harry Pollitt from 1935 in the Daily Worker; ( The Communist Party is )”…a small party of the elect…not a party of passive members, but activists. Rather than aiming for a mass party, we want people we can rely on in a crisis.”