Republican Communist Network
Instrument for unity
The all-Britain conference of the Republican Communist Network, meeting in London on March 24, was marked by an increased polarisation between the two main tendencies.
The majority, on the one side, believes that workers' unity to smash the UK state is paramount, and that this can best be facilitated through the demand for a federal republic of Scotland, England and Wales.
The minority, on the other side, seeks only to weaken that state through the separatist call for a Scottish workers' republic, which sits comfortably alongside the rampant left nationalism of the Scottish Socialist Party.
While this division was openly expressed throughout the conference, it was also reflected more subtly in various organisational proposals relating to the RCN constitution. The minority insisted that the RCN ought not to take up positions on what Phil Walden called "ideological questions" - such as our attitude to workers' unity and the UK state. These comrades sought to limit majority voting to the election of officers and procedural and constitutional motions.
Allan Armstrong, the main spokesperson for the minority, stated that when he helped set up the RCN his aim had been the creation of a "communist pole of attraction". He did not want to see it transformed into a "united front for a federal republic". But if the majority adopted the federal republic position, then he would have to consider whether or not to abandon the RCN.
This statement exposed his vision of what a "communist pole of attraction" should look like. Comrade Armstrong is the leader of the four-strong 'The Communist Tendency' (note the capitalised definite article), whose members consider themselves to be the only genuine communists in Britain - the rest of us are mere "'revolutionary' social democrats".
Clearly then, the CT must always be at the very centre of any communist pole - or at the very least its left communist, left nationalist belief in a workers' state that would introduce instant communism in Scotland alone must enjoy privileged protection within it.
However, it is now essential that the organisational unity of workers throughout Britain be moved centre-stage. As John Bridge of the CPGB pointed out, our participation in the RCN is based on the necessity of taking the development of left unity to a qualitatively higher level - the coming together and eventual merger of the SSP and Socialist Alliance movement in England and Wales in a single, all-Britain, democratic centralist party. The RCN could be a vital weapon for furthering that process by virtue of its position as the left opposition in the SSP. But that could only occur if the RCN itself came out unequivocally against separatism.
That is where the demand for a federal republic comes in. It expresses not only the permanent right of Scotland and Wales to self-determination, but also the aspiration for unity and the determination of workers in Britain to fight together against their common enemy - the UK constitutional monarchy state.
The motion that the RCN minority insisted should not be voted on was proposed by Steve Freeman of the Revolutionary Democratic Group. It read: "This meeting recognises that a majority of the RCN are in favour of a federal republic of England, Scotland, Wales and a united Ireland. This meeting agrees that this can be recognised in the leaflets and speeches of RCN members, whilst also recognising the existence of minority position(s)."
Unfortunately, there was no time for this motion to be debated, and it will now be deferred for a second time until the next RCN conference in the autumn (it had already been held over since the October annual general meeting).
Nevertheless, it is clear from the wording that the majority has no intention of gagging the minority. They would have every right to publicly state their opposition and to fight to win others over to their views. But so lacking in confidence is the minority that it cannot contemplate being able to succeed in this. Instead they resort to bureaucratic attempts to prevent majority positions being agreed.
The minority's proposals for a constitution, which were so concerned with protecting its own privileges that they effectively sought to paralyse the majority, were rejected in favour of accepting comrade Freeman's simpler, less restrictive draft, which will be the subject of amendment and ratification next October.
The meeting also voted to recall comrade Walden from the editorial board of the RCN's quarterly magazine, Republican Communist. Comrade Walden, it will be recalled, had stated at a meeting of the RCN (England) that he did not agree with two of the network's basic slogans: namely 'republicanism' and 'revolutionary democracy and culture'. Despite this he had been elected to the editorial board at the end of the October 2000 AGM, when in the rush to complete the business there had been no time to examine his suitability.
Since then comrade Walden had demanded, at a subsequent meeting of the RCN (England), that the chair of the England branch, Terry Liddle, should be required to step down on the basis of mischievous, not to say ludicrous, allegations that comrade Liddle was somehow a "fascist collaborator" or even a "state agent". Comrade Walden was not prepared to hear the chair's side of the story until some unspecified "labour movement enquiry" had investigated this nonsense.
Despite comrade Walden's undemocratic behaviour and, to say the least, ambivalence regarding the RCN's key principles of republicanism and revolutionary democracy (he claimed he had been 'intimidated' into stating his disagreement with the two slogans), he had been backed to the hilt by comrade Armstrong and the CT, who regarded him as a valuable ally on the side of the Scottish workers' republic.
Comrade Armstrong, whose support for what he understands to be the principles of republicanism and revolutionary democracy is not in question, was re-elected unanimously to the editorial board, as a representative of the minority. Also re-elected were Nick Clarke, an RDG supporter, and comrade Bridge. The board was strengthened with the election of comrade Freeman (RDG) and Sarah McDonald of the CPGB.
Hopefully these changes will help complete the evolution of Republican Communist from being comrade Armstrong's factional journal, Red Republican, under another name (up to now it has carried the platform of the defunct grouping, Red Republicans, in every issue) into a publication which clearly represents the RCN as it is today - and that of course includes all minority views.
The conference marked another stage in the development of the RCN as an instrument for workers' unity on an all-Britain level. But there is now an urgent need for this process to be further consolidated through the adoption of the fighting, anti-nationalist call for a federal republic.