Decisive victory needed
Peter Manson reports on the annual general meeting of CPGB members
Theresa May: stealing Ukip’s policies
The annual general meeting of CPGB members took place in London on March 19. While financial reports were heard and members of the Provisional Central Committee were up for re-election, most of the day was taken up discussing global and national perspectives for our movement and the role communists need to play.
The first session featured a discussion on the political and economic state of play internationally, which was introduced by PCC member Mike Macnair. Beginning with the economy, his conclusion was that what we are seeing is a “limited recovery”, where efforts have been expended on averting the negative effects of the downturn rather than creating stimulus - he contended that we have recently witnessed a departure from the ‘natural’ pattern of the capitalist boom and bust cycle. However, an upturn is now on the cards - in the US at least - which could have a global knock-on effect. Partly this would result from the “military Keynesian stimulus” expected under Trump.
In a sense, then, we could see something of a typical Republican administration, which combines military stimulus and tax cuts. However, under Trump there could also be “tariff protectionism”, which would lead “in the opposite direction”. And if such a policy were actually implemented it would surely be replicated elsewhere.
As for a possible reorientation in US geopolitics, comrade Macnair now thought that this would probably not be the case. Previously he had argued that such a reorientation might even be in US interests,1 but now he believed that Trump was pulling back on much of what he had proposed during the presidential election campaign. There was likely to be a continuation of the close alliance with Israel and Saudi Arabia, not to mention the war of words with North Korea. Nor did it seem that Trump would be substantially rewriting the US relationship with Russia, for example.
While the US remains the global hegemon, it remains in decline, especially when in comes to productive industry. So, although the “objective dynamic” was pointing towards a new great power war, neither Russia nor China can hope to become a real rival. But we are already seeing war in the periphery and can expect more ‘failed states’.
Turning to Brexit, comrade Macnair thought we were at the “phoney war stage” - and we are still completely in the dark as to its economic consequences. We could even see the end of the European Union (which could turn out to be the policy of the new US administration, by the way - the one area of international politics where Trump does not appear to have retreated).
What about the prospects for the working class movement? Unfortunately the left is still dominated by the “old popular front policy”. Yes, we need to challenge Trumpism, etc - but in ways that do not amount to defence of the status quo. In that sense it was significant that the Hands Off the People of Iran campaign is to be revived - with the backing of the CPGB. Hopi stands against both an imperialist attack on Iran and the reactionary Islamist regime in Tehran; it constitutes a “small contribution” to the revival of the working class movement.
In the following debate, various questions were raised. Phil Kent wondered whether we were at last seeing the “unwinding of the post-war settlement under US hegemony”, while Paul Demarty thought that, while, as comrade Macnair pointed out, US productive industry is in decline, it is still very much in the lead when it comes to “abstract” commodities like software.
Moshé Machover, a non-CPGB friend of the Weekly Worker, pointed out that the US pro-Israel policy had acted as “a hidden subsidy to the US arms industry”, while another supporter, Kevin Bean, commented on the global shift to nationalism, which he thought has “almost a pre-1914 feel”.
Simon Wells asked whether increased military spending would push up inflation and perhaps hold back a rise in shares, while, for her part, Tina Becker asked, in view of comrade Macnair’s comments, whether it was still possible that the ruling class would attempt to get rid of Trump. Was impeachment still on the agenda or has Trump shifted enough to no longer be seen as a threat by US capital?
Answering this, Farzad Kamangar noted that impeachment would require the Republicans to “rebel in large numbers”, but in fact they can “live with” most of Trump’s policy statements - on women, abortion, etc. Comrade Kamangar went on to point out that it is not true that the most reactionary governments, like that of Trump, provide the best conditions for working class organisation. What tends to happen is that elements of the left look to make alliances with liberals instead of prioritising our own organisation.
In reply to Paul Demarty, the comrade pointed out that US superiority when it comes to software should not be underestimated: it gives the US a distinct advantage in relation to the speed of any military response. In this sense in particular, the likes of China cannot compete.
In his response, comrade Macnair dealt with the question of hi tech: it is true that it enables speedy action - to launch an invasion, for instance. But that does not produce results on the ground. As for impeachment, he thought that some of the motivation for it may have gone, now that Trump has changed tack on Russia and may be retreating over protectionism. But he does not seem to be retreating on ‘anti-Europeanism’.
The difference between Obama and Trump, he concluded, was that we now have “an overtly racist and sexist administration”. He reiterated the need to develop our own independent working class politics. In that sense he agreed with comrade Kamangar, who said that the conditions for developing Hopi - one of our contributions to strengthening such politics - were now a lot more difficult.
In the afternoon session Jack Conrad introduced the discussion on perspectives in Britain. He had previously thought that Brexit just would not happen: not only is it not in the interests of British capital, but from the point of view of the US the UK had played a more than useful role within the EU. He had imagined “president Hillary Clinton” summoning the new prime minister to tell her, “Stop this nonsense”, but with Trump things are rather different. However, they are still not cut and dry: sooner or later the ruling class will get its act together and he expected Brexit to remain “the dominant issue” for years.
He made “another prediction”: Theresa May’s slim majority will eventually lead her to go for an early general election. But in the meantime, there are the problems of Scotland and Northern Ireland provoked by the unexpected Brexit vote. On the one hand, Nicola Sturgeon is going for a second referendum on independence; on the other, a withdrawal from the EU would reopen the question of the border in Ireland.
Turning to Labour, comrade Conrad did not buy into the idea that the UK Independence Party was set to replace Labour as the main opposition party - May had “stolen Ukip’s clothes”, after all. But he accepted that Labour was in a parlous state, mainly thanks to the right continuing to sabotage the new leadership.
In this sense, he thought that Jeremy Corbyn’s “clever manoeuvring” was totally the wrong approach: while one side in the civil war was using lethal weapons, the other preferred “doves”. Instead the leadership ought to be aiming to deselect the right, so that the Parliamentary Labour Party came into line with both the new leadership and the mass of members. However, he thought there would be no challenge to Corbyn while an early general election is still a possibility - the rightwing careerists want to keep their seats, not continue to expose the party as being totally divided. Not that this would prevent a Tory victory of 1931 proportions, he added.
Looking back to Corbyn’s first victory in 2015, comrade Conrad stated that most of the left had been caught out by it. Those like the Socialist Party in England and Wales had declared that Labour was now irrevocably a bourgeois party and the job of the left was therefore to create a Labour Party mark two - the thinking behind SPEW’s Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. Now - without admitting it had been wrong in its previous assessment - SPEW has tried to back-track and ‘suspend’ Tusc’s election contests, but unfortunately the RMT union had vetoed the attempt! So much for the ‘vanguard party’!
Corbyn’s conciliationism towards the right explains the behaviour of the Jon Lansman leadership of Momentum, continued comrade Conrad. But the problem is that using Momentum not to defeat the right, but merely as a means of mobilising for the party, would “kill it off”.
As for Grassroots Momentum, it is united by its opposition to the Lansman leadership, but on just about nothing else. Mostly the comrades believe that the priority must be a Labour government. After all, “Any Labour government is better than the best Tory government”, they believe. While comrade Conrad thought that the chances of a Labour victory under Corbyn were right now “around one percent”, he added that if, by a miracle, Labour was elected without the decisive victory of Marxist forces, then that would still only lead back to another Tory government.
He reminded comrades of our perspective: to transform Labour into a united front of the whole working class. At this stage our task was “fundamentally propagandist” - we are not at the stage of “mass agitation”.
In the debate Steve Carter reminded comrades that the new method of electing the Labour leader brought in by Ed Miliband was intended as a means of strengthening the right - it backfired badly. In relation to an early election he thought that Theresa May would attempt to use it to see off Ukip once and for all, after which she would have a “free hand” - including a possible retreat over Brexit.
Comrade Macnair also thought such an early general election “might happen”, despite May’s denials. But in regard to Brexit she is “in it so deep”, she will find it very difficult to back off. On Labour he identified one of the main problems for the Labour left as the “lack of a Communist Party”.
Comrade Becker commented that the problem for both the official Momentum and its Grassroots counterpart was not just the absence of coherent politics, but the denial of a “proper democratic process”. However, Momentum does give those like Labour Party Marxists some space to put forward what is necessary.
For his part, comrade Bean thought that, while May could use a general election to get a mandate on Brexit, there was “no urgency” from her point of view - Labour will “still lose” in 2020. Comrade Demarty added that the window for an early general election was “still open”, but “for how long”, he wondered. And what if there were an economic downturn between now and 2020?
William Sarsfield commented on comrade Conrad’s statement about the need for propaganda: it was extremely difficult to talk to people in Momentum about socialism, he said - which emphasised how necessary such propaganda was. In this he thought that Hopi was exemplary - “the type of politics we need”. For him the “central question” was the reforging of the Communist Party.
Vernon Price commented that the Labour right has “101 tricks” up its sleeve to suppress democracy and do down the left. Nevertheless it was the right thing for groups like LPM to stay in Momentum in order to fight for the Labour Party we need.
In response to the debate comrade Conrad said that, “however unreceptive” some comrades in Momentum were, we can engage with them. And, of course, by carrying reports by LPM comrades in the Weekly Worker, we were performing a service by enabling others to learn lessons.
Unlike comrade Macnair, he thought May could still change tack on Brexit. Yes, she is “making noises” about a hard Brexit, but they are in conflict with the noises coming from important sections of capital. He stressed again that an early general election was by no means ruled out - the Tories would dearly love to take advantage of the state of the Labour Party and substantially increase their majority. After all, “events happen”.
As it is, if Corbyn loses heavily, it will be regarded as a disaster by many Momentum stalwarts. They have no idea of the need to rebuild and transform Labour - just a terror of a Tory victory. He added that the centenary of the Russian Revolution gives us the opportunity to re-examine the truth on such questions.
After this session the AGM heard reports on the CPGB’s finances before ending with the election of the Provisional Central Committee. The current five PCC members were unopposed, and their individual re-election was endorsed unanimously by those present.
1. See ‘The new president and the new global order’ Weekly Worker January 26.