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LeftRoots’ Framework for Cadre Development

Notes on the Road
to 21st Century Socialism

Issue 2, March 2020

LeftRoots’ Framework for Cadre Development

A working document for assessment, planning and evaluation

Editor’s note: In each edition of Out to Win! we share a LeftRoots organizational document that we hope will be useful to our readers. The document below is an articulation of the skills LeftRoots thinks skilled left organizers – or cadres – need to have. We use this framework internally to assess our skills and our training programs.

Introduction

This framework is a working document that LeftRoots uses in assessing, prioritizing and evaluating our work to develop the capacities of our members – which we refer to internally as cadrefication. This framework gives us shared language, definitions, and benchmarks for naming the individual and collective capacities we think LeftRoots cadres need to develop. We use it as a shared basis for individual cadres, groups, and the organization as a whole to assess, prioritize, plan and evaluate our cadre development practices.

Our hypothesis is: If a majority of LeftRoots cadres develop general expertise across all of the capacities in this framework, we will make a significant advance in the ability of the US social movement left to effectively carry out strategy that meets the challenges of our times and takes advantage of political opportunities on the road to 21st century socialism.

Being a cadre requires capacities, and it also requires commitments, like a commitment to learning and being transformed in the service of the work, and a commitment to doing what’s necessary to win 21st century socialism. LeftRoot’s cadrefication framework focuses on capacities because we can intentionally assess and develop our own and other’s capacities.

What we mean by cadrefication

In LeftRoots, we are working to become skilled cadres – people who are able to use our capacities to take advantage of political opportunities, overcome challenges and solve problems along the revolutionary road, even in unfamiliar terrain.

We understand cadre development, or what we call “cadrefication”, to be an ongoing process, not something that anyone’s ever “done” with. We develop our capacities through practice, and we also keep them through practice. As organizers, leftists, and human beings, our cadre capacities (and our growth areas) are the product of our current conditions, our individual accumulated experiences, the commitments we have made, and the practices we engage in.

Cadrefication happens in the interplay between theory, practice, and reflection. As developing cadres, we’re developing our ability to create and use theory to guide our work – engaging in political struggle based on a hypothesis about why we are doing what we’re doing. We also need to consistently develop our own and others’ capacities in order to be able to effectively test our hypotheses about the revolutionary road ahead – so that, as much as possible, the limiting factor is not the skill level of the people leading the work. We seek to draw lessons from the political struggles we engage in, and to use those lessons to update our hypotheses and our approach, as well as to assess needs for continuing to develop our own and others’ capacities.

There are several ways cadres develop their capacities, including learning through practice and struggle, study and training, mentorship, and reflection and evaluation of experiences. LeftRoots’ cadrefication work includes individual commitments, small collectives, organization-wide programs, and partnerships with politically aligned training institutions.

Cadres make individual commitments and everyone has an individual journey of development. But no one can be a cadre alone. LeftRoots’ organizational definition of what it means to be a cadre requires an organization, a strategy, and shared political work.

LeftRoots’ definition of cadre

Cadres are individuals who act consciously based on a commitment to building 21st century socialism as their life’s work. To be a cadre, an individual must be engaged with other cadres in political work guided by revolutionary vision, strategy and program. Cadres continually build their own and other’s ideological, political, organizational, and social/emotional capacities so they are prepared to carry out whatever work is necessary to advance the struggle.

LeftRoots calls its members ‘cadres’ as an aspirational practice. We are working together to become cadres.

The capacities of cadres

LeftRoot’s framework for the capacities of cadres is divided into four quadrants – ideological capacities, political capacities, organizational capacities, and social/emotional capacities. The first three (I,P,O) draw from the units of analysis that revolutionary left movements before us have used, and will likely be familiar to people who have had training as left organizers. The fourth social/emotional quadrant is one that we’ve developed based on our study and experience of what’s necessary for effective left leadership. The capacities in this framework draw from lessons in many fields and practices related to psychology and human development, and we’re working to integrate those lessons into the development of socialist cadres.

Although all of the capacities listed below are distinct from each other, they are also interrelated. A cadre’s ability to be effective in one capacity area often rests on their mastery of other capacities. For example, if an individual cadre is an expert at organizing groups and campaigning, but has a lack of understanding of political economy, she might lead well-organized campaigns, but miss key openings for disrupting links in the capitalist process of accumulating surplus value. Or, if someone is well-versed in ideology, and skilled at applying a dialectical materialist analysis of conditions, but lacking in key organizational and social/emotional skills, she will squander opportunities to lead others in putting an accurate analysis into practice. The capacities cadres need to exercise at any given time will also change as conditions change. But the capacities we develop and exercise in our current conditions can lay the foundation for what we’ll be capable of doing tomorrow. For example, the organizational skills someone develops through running a neighborhood organization will make her more able to run a department of local government. The political skills someone develops in a struggle against a local landlord will make him more able to struggle against a multinational corporation. With rigor, dedication, and love we seek to become people who are capable of making the impossible possible.

Ideological Capacities

  • Revolutionary theories + 21st century socialism
  • Political economy
  • The state, hegemony + political power
  • Structural analysis of race, class + gender

Political Capacities

  • Dialectical materialist method
  • Campaigning
  • Ideological leadership
  • Movement building

Organizational Capacities

  • Organizational ecosystem
  • Recruitment + leadership development
  • Organizing groups
  • Institution building

Social/Emotional Capacities

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Social connection
  • Facing adversity and building/cultivating resilience
  • Accountability
  • Principled communication

Benchmarks in the capacities of cadres

In order to create plans for the development of cadre’s capacities, specific benchmarks, or levels, are necessary. In each cadre capacity, we specifying three levels to use in assessment. Here’s what the three levels mean:

Militant level – A militant is someone who has demonstrated their commitment to revolutionary politics and practice. A militant’s capacities are shaped by the political and organizational context they come out of. Militants have not engaged in a rigorous process of cadre training, but they may be highly skilled in certain areas as a result of their prior experience.

  • Militant level capacities are roughly the equivalent to the baseline of what is expected when individuals join LeftRoots.

Cadre level – A cadre is someone who has demonstrated their commitment to revolutionary politics and practice, and who has engaged in a rigorous process of cadre training to develop skills they are lacking in. A cadre’s capacities allow them to play a role as a leader, coordinator, and problem solver in a variety of situations, and make decisions about how to carry out their work in a way that advances a larger strategy for liberation.

  • Leftroot’s goal for cadrefication is for its members to reach the cadre level in all skill areas.

Specialist level – A specialist has full mastery of every aspect of a capacity, and can train and support others in the development of their practice. A specialist makes innovations in revolutionary practice that advance movement-wide collective capacities.

  • No one will be a “specialist” in every capacity, and trying to do that should not be a priority. However, all cadres should be specialists in at least a few capacity areas.

Ideological capacities: the capacity to understand problems and articulate solutions

Cadres act from a consistent set of ideas and points of analysis connecting day to day work to the project of building 21st century socialism. Cadres stay clear on which side they are on, even in shifting terrain.Cadresdevelop the ideological and political clarity of the people they organize, and create new ideas that advance the struggles they engage in. Cadres learn from the experiences of revolutionaries past and present, analyze the structures of power in society, and act from a vision for liberation.

  • Revolutionary theories + 21st century socialism
  • Political economy
  • The state, hegemony + political power
  • Structural analysis of race, class, + gender

Capacity: Revolutionary theories and 21st century socialism

Militant: You are pro-socialist and understand that human development, liberation, and ecological stability cannot be achieved in the current system. You have engaged in study to learn about revolutionary theory and history.

Cadre: You can adapt lessons from other revolutionary movements to your conditions, and you can orient your own and other’s political work in relationship to the ideological and theoretical traditions they build on.  You can articulate a compelling socialist vision without relying on jargon and explain how 21st century socialism both builds on and differs from 20th century socialism.

Specialist: You have studied the major revolutionary traditions and experiences, their concrete contexts, and their application. You help create new revolutionary theory responding to current conditions. You can offer and defend a vision for a socialist political economy in the US that promotes solidarity and human development and grows out of an analysis of current conditions.

Capacity: Political economy

Militant: You understand and can explain how capitalism is inherently at odds with the needs of people and the planet. You can explain in simple terms how specific issues (like homelessness or mass incarceration) are manifestations of a larger system that reproduces exploitation and oppression.

Cadre: You understand the material conditions, political forces, and opposing interests at play in your geographic area and/or issue area of focus. You can use your assessment of current political economy to guide your action, and to develop the clarity of others.

Specialist: You can assess current developments and make grounded predictions about possible scenarios in the near future development of capitalism. You understand and have a position on major debates in the analysis of political economy, and you can help your comrades update their assessment of the current political economy, and how that assessment could shape their actions.

Capacity: The state, hegemony and political power

Militant: You are clear that under capitalism the state is an instrument of class rule. You can explain several examples of how the ruling class maintains power through both force and coercion, as well as through consent and compensation. You can build other’s understanding of how organization and coordinated action builds power.

Cadre: You can articulate a grounded theory of revolutionary change including a theory of the social bloc we should be building (or why another theory of change is more effective), and your orientation toward the role of the state, civil society, and democracy in a revolutionary process. You can help others understand how power operates in our society.

Specialist: You understand and can teach others about the historical development of the state, competing political orientations toward the state, and current developments in, and debates about, how the capitalist class exerts power. You help movement forces innovate theories of power based on current conditions.

Capacity: Structural analysis of race, class and gender

Militant: You can articulate how white supremacy, capitalism and heteropatriarchy are deeply intertwined and how neither can be overcome without struggling against all three. You’re familiar with major anti-racist, feminist, queer and working class movements in the US.

Cadre: You can articulate and apply a political orientation towards how a revolutionary struggle in current conditions should confront white supremacy, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy. You integrate struggle against all three elements of the system in your political work.

Specialist: You can teach others the material and historical basis for the development of white supremacy, capitalism, and heteropatriarchy, including competing theories. You integrate materialist and intersectional analysis in theory and practice.  You make decisions about carrying out struggle against one element of the system (racism, sexism, poverty, etc) based on a hypothesis about that struggle’s role in transforming the whole system.

Political capacities: the capacity to turn theory into action

Cadres wage struggles that advance the struggle for 21st century socialism, and make it possible for us to do tomorrow what we cannot do today. Cadres know how to use all of their capacities to shift conditions towards a more favorable terrain of struggle. Cadres can make tactical decisions about how to wage a struggle based on an accurate assessment of the correlation of forces. Cadres know how to move individuals and groups into waging the best fight possible in the current conditions.

  • Dialectical materialist method
  • Campaigning
  • Ideological leadership
  • Movement building

Capacity: Dialectical materialist method

Militant: You make decisions about how to carry out political work that are based on an assessment of current conditions. You evaluate your own practice, and identify courses of action that can create more favorable conditions of struggle in the future.

Cadre: You regularly update your assessments of the system and the conjuncture, and act from an accurate understanding of the correlation of forces and the potential for development of events in the near future. You conduct your political work based on a collectively held hypothesis, and make regular assessments and evaluations to update your hypothesis and your practice.

Specialist: Your practice convinces others to apply the dialectical materialist method, and you can teach and support others to do so. You help movement forces to understand the possibilities and dangers of the current moment, and to update their hypotheses.

Capacity: Campaigning

Militant: You can carry out a campaign effectively with a clear understanding of the forces at play and the campaign’s process and outcome goals. You can draw from a diverse set of tools and tactics.

Cadre: You can carry out campaigns to shift condition that also consciously test hypotheses, and intentionally build new capacities for our forces. You can identify and act on tactical opportunities, as well as plan for and respond to setbacks.

Specialist: You have extensive experience leading several different types of campaigns. You turn your political experiences into lessons for your comrades, and train and mentor others to be skilled campaigners. You design and lead campaigns to intentionally test hypotheses and build capacities while also shifting material conditions. You can sequence and coordinate campaigns as part of a larger strategy.

Capacity: Ideological leadership

Militant: You can communicate left ideas effectively to people you organize, and help people you organize to understand who shares their interests and who doesn’t.

Cadre: You build people’s analysis of the system and clarity on a theory of change. You can identify what interventions will shift the ideology of individuals, groups, or popular opinion, and use your skills to make those interventions. You can create new ideas or stories to shift popular understanding of an issue.

Specialist: You can maintain the ideological clarity of large-scale movements, and you build organizations that move others up the levels of ideological capacities. You lead political work that makes socialist interventions in mass culture and politics.

Capacity: Movement building

Militant: You can situate your own political work inside a larger movement and can identify and organize potential allies. You engage in acts of solidarity with other communities or struggles from an understanding of your shared common interests.

Cadre: You can broaden and popularize a struggle by bringing together both likely and unlikely allies. You build your political work to intentionally create ways for more people than your organization can directly interact with to help move a cause forward.

Specialist: You have the skills necessary to build relationships and coordinate your work across many different types of organizations, populations, regions, sectors, or ideologies. You can bring together different constituencies and social forces into shared struggle and build their collective clarity on their common interests.

Organizational capacities: the capacity to develop collective struggles

Cadres build strong organizations – ones that develop new leaders from working class and oppressed communities, that play a positive role in advancing the struggle for 21st century socialism, and that can thrive on their own. Cadres work inside an organization from an understanding of its role within a larger ecosystem of other organizations that play different and complementary roles. Cadres have the skills needed to facilitate groups of people to engage in collective struggle in a variety of contexts.

  • Organizational ecosystem
  • Recruitment + leadership development
  • Personal organization
  • Organizing groups
  • Institution building

Capacity: Organizational ecosystem

Militant: You have a basic understanding of different organizational forms and experience in a coordination or leadership role in more than one form of movement organization

Cadre: You have experience with many different forms of organization, and expertise in a few including revolutionary mass organizations, cadre organizations, alternative institutions, and political parties. You can allocate organizational capacity based on an assessment of organizational roles in a larger ecosystem.

Specialist: You have an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the US and international left and progressive organizational ecosystem and you can coordinate organizations to play conscious and complementary roles alongside each other. You build organization with a materialist analysis of how individuals, families, and communities are organized formally and informally within US civil society.

Capacity: Recruitment and leadership development

Militant: You can recruit members of the base to an organization or campaign. You can lead popular education and coordinate people to work together. You build political relationships based on trust, shared political goals, and clear expectations

Cadre: You can develop the leadership of others at many levels of engagement and responsibility. You have done intentional work to interrogate your own leadership practice and correct weak spots. You can support other organizers to develop the leadership of others and recruit new people.

Specialist: You have developed and mentored people who have taken on significant movement leadership roles themselves. You have developed organizations that institutionalize practices of regular recruitment and development of new leaders and that have a thriving mass base. You have done recruitment and leadership development work with a variety of communities and populations

Capacity: Personal organization

Militant: You follow through on commitments. You can meet the requirements of membership in LeftRoots and balance mass work, cadre commitments, and personal commitments.

Cadre: You have systems to track and organize your own responsibilities. You can manage a heavy workload without neglecting personal health, family or community obligations. You can prioritize how to spend time and stick to those priorities, and you can accurately assess your own capacity.

Specialist: You support others to develop personal organization skills. You make intentional choices about when to make personal sacrifices to meet an objective such as winning a campaign, and when to prioritize health, family, or community obligations, and you stick to those choices.

Capacity: Organizing groups

Militant: You can facilitate meetings, coordinate other people to carry out tasks, and participate effectively as a member of a group.

Cadre: You can build an effective team in a variety of organizational contexts. You support groups to develop collective clarity on goals and roles, to set commitments and to follow through on them, and to establish a positive internal culture.

Specialist: You can coordinate collective work intentionally to both meet short-term objectives and to develop new cadres through collective practice.

Capacity: Institution-building

Militant: You know how to systematize and document your own practices to allow others to step into coordination roles. You can create and carry out a long-term plan (1 year or more), and you have basic experience with grassroots fundraising.

Cadre: You build and develop organizations that institutionalize revolutionary politics in their day to day practices and operations. You are skilled at managing staff, budgeting, grassroots fundraising, and long-term planning.

Specialist: You have played a key role in building and leading multiple institutions with revolutionary politics. You have led organizations that have gone on to thrive after your departure from a leadership or coordination role. You can navigate the contradictions of an institution’s legal/financial status and revolutionary politics.

Social/Emotional capacities: the capacity to become who we need to be

  • Emotional intelligence
  • Social connection
  • Facing adversity and building/cultivating resilience
  • Accountability
  • Principled communication

Capacity: Emotional Intelligence*

Cadres act based on grounded assessments of the complex constellation of our thoughts, emotions, sensations and experiences, for the sake of our collective work for liberation. (Cadres acknowledge and examine emotional conditions with other important information.) Cadres see ourselves as protagonists of our own story/as makers of history, and have agency for our own social-emotional development, within the limits of what is materially possible under current conditions. Cadres recognize that racial capitalism and heteropatriarchy systematically limit the development of emotional intelligence, and that winning socialism is required for our full human development.

Militant: Can honestly name one’s own emotions in the moment and emotional patterns over time, and has at least one practice that helps navigate/manage emotions in ways that support collective work. (Ex: Take a Deep Breath; Centering/Grounding)

Cadre: Demonstrates a dialectical, materialist approach to making grounded assessments of self, organization, and society that integrate social-emotional internal and external conditions, and more often than not are able to take action based on these assessments instead of based on emotional reactions/habits/old patterns that do not serve our collective work and political vision.

Specialist: Has a consistent practice that allows for action based on grounded assessments and political commitments, most of the time. And can support other cadres to make plans for social-emotional development, that make use of internal and external resources, for the sake of strengthening the struggle for socialism. External resources include trained health and healing practitioners, and leadership development programs like BOLD or GS) – that are outside of, but complementary to our work, and that cadres take responsibility for participating in, for the sake of showing up with more emotional intelligence in life and struggle.

Note on the words ‘emotional intelligence’: we are not fully aligned around this phrase but decided to use it because it has become part of our political vocabulary and we focused on trying to find a working definition for our context.

The core idea of a “grounded” assessment of a person or social context is that it’s based on observable behavior and experience. 

Capacity: Social Connection

Cadre work to transform social relations and combat capitalist alienation in all its forms for our collective liberation, building connections that the system has worked to cut us off from: to ourselves and our labor, to each other, to our lineage/heritage, to humanity, and nature, etc. Cadre work to deepen trust and relationships amongst cadres, build camaraderie with all those committed to liberation, and build relationships of solidarity with people from every part of the globe. 

Militant: Demonstrates an ability to build connection with people across difference (political/geography/racial/gender/etc.), and takes their own social location/power/privilege into account in doing so.

Cadre: Connects with cadres beyond personal circle, demonstrates ongoing progress in overcoming barriers to deepening connection & trust with other cadres and movement comrades, and consistently contributes to the organizational work of building camaraderie & connection. This work is not siloed in ‘cadre care’.

Specialist: Can create, hold and facilitate groups and spaces that build social connection in ways that strengthen our collective capacity in this area, to advance our collective work.

Capacity: Facing Adversity and Building/Cultivating Resilience

Cadre take on the hardships and challenges on the road to full human development and socialist liberation; we cultivate personal and collective resources to shift emotional states, mobilize our strengths, renew ourselves, and keep growing. Collective struggle and cultural work create the collective resilience we need to stay in the work for the long haul and to win. 

Militant: Has the experience of courageously taking risks that support collective struggle or own development, and has some resilience practice (ex: group singing/cultural work; prayer/meditation/mindfulness; time in nature)

Cadre: Is able to move through crises, conflict, trauma or hardship with resilience, able to maintain one’s commitment to the struggle, and is able to cultivate collective resilience in LR in some way. (For ex: seeks support to problem-solve challenges, rather than getting stuck with feeling overwhelmed.) 

Specialist: Models vulnerability & courage in facing adversity, and leads/organizes work that cultivates collective resilience and militancy against the opposition. 

Capacity: Accountability

Cadre rigorously uphold personal and collective accountability to the organizational points of unity, policies, plans, and purpose as well as make concrete and compassionate materialist assessments of individual and collective barriers that may need to be considered. Cadres can give and receive sharp, grounded, and direct assessments as opportunities for growth and development while accounting for power and privilege dynamics.

Militant: Can identify examples of personal accountability to organizational work, even when under difficult/stressful conditions. 

Cadre: Understands what is expected of cadres participation and development, communicates assessments about their challenges in meeting expectations and commitments in an honest and timely manner, is willing to rigorously problem solve those challenges with other comrades, based on emotionally intelligent, materialist assessments (not just general feelings of stretched capacity). [Problem-solving may require negotiating commitments in LR or elsewhere, making requests of support, “passing the ball instead of dropping the ball”, requesting leave, or long-term shift to Compa program.] 

Specialist: Trains cadres on emotionally intelligent practices of accountability, including methods of giving and receiving feedback and assessments (like criticism/self-criticism), and upholds the organizational need for accountable behavior despite personal feelings and relationships. A Grand Poo Bah of combatting liberalism. 

Capacity: Principled Communication

Cadre use active listening, have alignment between what we say with what we feel and believe, engage in principled debate across contradictions and differences, and address challenging dynamics and conflict for the sake of getting to greater understanding/truth and to building greater political unity. 

Militant: Is able to have a conversation in which 80% is listening, working to understand another’s’ experience, perspective, and interests. 

Cadre: More often than not, is able to directly communicate emotions and ideas with clarity and emotional intelligence, and can engage in debates, difficult dynamics, and struggle in ways that advance the collective work. (In so doing practices principled struggle). Ex: Takes emotional state of people into account when communicating with them; raises concerns about comrades/leadership/etc. by bringing it directly to those people; remains emotionally and intellectually open and curious before making judgments, interrupts gossiping or other forms of liberal, unprincipled communication. Willing to take part in mediation, conflict resolution processes using principled communication. 

Specialist: Consistently models communication that is clear and emotionally intelligent, including during moments of stress and pressure, addresses conflict and concerns directly to advance towards resolution, and holds space and provides support to others to be in this practice as well. Able to lead mediation, accountability processes that require advanced skills in this area.

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