Introducing CPUSA’s Hello Comrade Program

 By: Jon Wilson

From the very beginning of the World Communist Movement organized in the early 20th Century, Communists recognized that while the class struggle took different forms in relation to each nation’s unique history and development, resistance to capitalism and the construction of a socialist future would require a network of international solidarity and friendship. Internationalism has remained an important principle within the communist movement and most parties participate in annual leadership meetings and other regional events. However, after the loss of many socialist states in the early 1990s, much of the infrastructure for member to member exchange dissolved and there is little international contact between the general memberships beyond social media. The Hello Comrade project intends to build a 21st-Century member to member communist educational and solidarity exchange for the CPUSA membership to our fraternal parties throughout the world in both socialist states and capitalist states.

After many months of preparation and planning, the collective decided that the project should begin with 3 pilot trips organized out of the Southern California District in order to gain experience and to construct an organizational platform for the future delegations. In other words, we needed a few practice runs to see what works and what doesn’t and how best to manage the itinerary and the logistics without creating any burden or costs to our fraternal parties. In fact, what is unique about this project is that it intends to function as an informal encounter with our international comrades where we interact with them in their everyday struggle and attempt to document what it’s like to be a communist within their country. Luckily, an ideal opportunity arose for us to put our proposed plan into practice. The first pilot trip would be to the world’s most well-known communist festival surrounded by 45,000 comrades each day celebrating the successes of their party in the most informal of all environments.

Pilot Trip 1

On August 30th the Hello Comrade project departed from Los Angeles on its way to the Avante Festival in Sexial Portugal for the annual festival put on by the Communist Party of Portugal (PCP) and its weekly newspaper, Avante. Our delegation included 5 comrades from the Southern California District: 2 people of color, 1 woman, 2 youth, 1 member of the National Committee, and 2 members of the International Department. Our delegation all stayed together in a rented apartment in Lisbon, which initially we set up as a cost-saving strategy, but ended up adding to the collective and shared experience of the trip. While there was a learning curve on delegating tasks efficiently, overall there was essentially no conflict among our group and everyone tended to be supportive and willing to compromise for the group and the project.

CPUSA members on the first pilot trip for the Hello Comrade project

On our first full day in Lisbon we were invited to the PCP national headquarters which is a mid-rise building decorated at the ground floor with mosaic artwork that runs the entire width of the building depicting scenes of class struggle in Portugal. We met with their International Department and went over the itinerary for our delegation for the festival and for the four days after the festival where we would document some of the work the party was involved in. At the festival we were part of the “foreign delegations” program and we would participate in activities and meetings organized for the international guests. For the post-festival agenda they scheduled visits to student groups, mass organizations, and to a meeting with the largest trade-union organization in Portugal. The PCP takes internationalism very seriously and they were extremely supportive of our project and beyond accommodating to help us while we were there. In fact they were apologetic that they couldn’t do more as they were three weeks out from their nation-wide municipal elections. The PCP is the third largest political party in Portugal and they hold governing majorities in 19 municipalities including 3 of the largest in Portugal.

At the PCP National Headquarters

The Avante festival is located across the river from Lisbon in Sexial, a working-class suburb where the PCP holds a majority in the regional government. After many years of hosting the festival on rented land, in the 1990s the PCP held a national fundraiser to buy a farm in Sexial where the festival could have a permanent home unencumbered by city officials who every year attempted to halt the festival. The massive site sits on the harbor and has a mediterranean feel with rolling hills and views of Lisbon. The party uses the site year-round for special events and the party school. On our first day at the festival we attended a welcome greeting from the General Secretary of the PCP, Jeronimo de Sousa, and met many comrades from communist parties around the world including Vietnam, Laos, Chile, Catalonia, Columbia, Brazil, Great Britain, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Venezuela, among others. We also met comrades from national liberation parties in Angola, Cape Verde, and Guinea Bissa. We explored the festival grounds which included multiple stages for music, theatre, film, an art gallery, political debate stages, a kids area, book store, and numerous food stands from each region in Portugal where they served their regional cuisine. In the international section, communist parties from many countries had booths set up where they introduced their work in the class struggle and sold food from their country and crafts or party related gear.

Evey year Communists from around the world come to Portugal to join in the historic Avante Festival

As part of the Foreign Delegations, the PCP assigned us an interpreter and guide for the festival, Miguel. Over the three days, Miguel explained the history of the Avante festival, history of the PCP, and helped us navigate our way through the many exhibits and events going on at the festival. Several times a day, Miguel guided us to different sections of the festival where the regional party districts were set up to showcase the work they have done in their districts and where they offered samples of their regional cuisine and crafts. Sitting on long communal tables with comrades from the PCP and from other international CP’s we were offered multi-course meals where there always seemed to be one more thing we had to try. We learned quickly that unlike at home, meals in Portugal are equally social events and are purposely served slowly and spread out as the food and conversation compliment each other to create a culinary event much more than just eating. Discussions ranged from politics to family and it was during these very comradely settings that the intent of the Hello Comrade came to fruition: to form an international communist movement united in struggle and solidarity among comrades.

The final day of the festival concluded with a large rally at the main stage where speakers from the Communist Youth of Portugal, members of the Central Committee, and the General Secretary all spoke about the future of the PCP. A new slogan, “The Future has a Party” was the main theme as the PCP anticipates a new younger generation of comrades will start to lead the party and the country. After the speeches, the entire crowd of 45,000 people sang along to the International and other historic songs associated with the PCP. As we filtered out of the festival at its conclusion with the hundreds of red flags flying and other historic symbols of our movement monumented throughout the grounds, it became clear that the Avante Festival is much more than music, food, art, and politics, it is a celebration of the communist movement.

The finale night of the festival

After the festival, the PCP organized for the Hello Comrade collective to visit youth organizations, several mass organizations and the executive of the largest trade union in Portugal. We were very impressed with the various inventive projects they’ve created or organized, in particular the Casa do Alentejo. The Party along with a federation of groups from the Alentejo region bought a large dilapidated building once home to a Dutches who fled after the defeat of the fascists in 1974. They made a call out to the party members in the building trades and they restored it to its former beauty.  Today it is a multi-purpose community center that includes a fine-dining restaurant that employs 47 restaurant employees who receive above industry wages along with full benefits. Management of the building and restaurant are both totally volunteer-run by party members. The profits made by the restaurant help sustain a music and theatre program along with educational opportunities for workers. In addition to the Casa do Alentejo, the party has over 30 community worker centers and in Lisbon alone, progressive schools for children, and many sports and recreation organizations scattered throughout the city.

A young communist at the Avante Festival

The kickoff pilot trip of the Hello Comrade project was largely a fact-finding mission. We understood this trip would not be perfect, and in fact, saw any complications that arose as crucial learning opportunities. Remarkably, the trip went amazingly well and all our preparation and rigorous planning really paid off. It was not perfect, we realized we needed to stay closer to public transportation, organize “free-days” (time without scheduled events) better, and propose a better organized itinerary to the host beforehand, but overall, we had an amazing time and captured enough excellent content to share with our movement the unique and arduous work the PCP is engaged in within the workers movement. The Hello Comrade collective appreciates all the help and support from the International Department and is already deep into preparing video documentation of the trip and also preparing for Pilot Trip 2!