Planning our interventions

The CPGB had its first AGM, Daniel Harvey reports

In December 2014 the CPGB agreed that it would from now on hold an annual general meeting. Although all membership aggregates are fully empowered to determine CPGB positions and hold the leadership to account, it was felt that it would be useful to collectively reflect on our progress and discuss perspectives for the coming year, as well as holding formal elections to our Provisional Central Committee. Saturday January 24 saw the first such meeting. It was well attended and featured a wide-ranging review of our work.

Comrade Yassamine Mather began proceedings by giving an overview of the international situation, which she admitted painted a “bleak picture”. Starting by looking at the economic indicators, she said that it was very likely that global growth would remain very sluggish despite a general uptick expected in 2015. There has been a huge reduction in oil prices, which has been driven by the general slowdown, as well as massive extra pumping by Saudi Arabia.

The continued poor economic situation has had political effects in the form of what she dubbed “Pikettymania” (referring to Thomas Piketty, whose book, Capital in the 21st century, is widely acclaimed) and warnings in the mainstream media of the danger of an increasing divide between the wealthy and everyone else. Comrade Mather noted the study by Oxfam indicating that the richest percentile of the world population now had more net wealth than all the rest combined. This has led to a minor revival of a soft Keynesianism, centred on calls for introducing a living wage and higher taxes on the rich.

At the same time, the US global hegemon appears to be losing control - its policies, particularly in the Middle East, are widely regarded as highly contradictory. On the one hand, she said, there was the support heaped on the recently deceased king Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Members of the house of Saud also happened to be major funders of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis). On the other hand, in Syria itself, the US has been supplying arms to the opposition against president Bashar al-Assad, many of which are almost certainly finding their way into the hands of the Islamic State. There has been no attempt by the US even to shut down the bank accounts run by IS. Afghanistan is also another source of major instability - the US-backed regime of Hamid Karzai had now collapsed following endemic corruption.

Following comrade Mather’s review, Mike Macnair talked about the situation in the UK. He emphasised the unpredictable outcome of the general election in May. The political lines separating the major parties were becoming clear, he said. The Conservatives will focus on the economy as well as its proposals for “radical surgery” to the state, which will mean tax cuts on inheritance and capital gains, whose main beneficiaries will be the wealthy. On the other side, Labour will focus on the cost of living and the threat posed to the NHS if there are another five years of Tory government.

Other issues will be more problematic, he said. There is the issue of immigration and the withdrawal from the European Union, which would clearly be against the interests of big business. Both major parties will tread a very difficult line on this. The transparent attempts of the Conservatives to stoke English nationalism have partially succeeded, he said, and this might contribute to a near wipe-out of Labour in Scotland. A possibly Tory-dominated coalition government and a Scottish National Party-dominated Scotland would pose the question of independence again in starker form.

As for the left, its condition is clearly dire. Despite Ed Miliband’s very subtle shift from Blairism, Labour remains dominated by the right. Comrade Macnair thought it was fair to say that the Labour left is disintegrating, as can be seen by looking at the condition of the Labour Representation Committee. Blairite attacks on Ed Miliband, combined with his vacillating stance - a freeze on energy prices, on the one hand, and harsh, ‘responsible’ positions on continued cuts, on the other - have reinforced the notion that he does not really know what he is doing.

Comrade Macnair noted that the majority of the organised far left, in the form of the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party in England and Wales, will be operating under their electoral front, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. He thought that Tusc could be described as a leftwing UK Independence Party because of its ambiguous positions on immigration controls and withdrawal from the European Union. He suggested that apart from Left Unity we should recommend a vote for Labour rather than the project for a Labour Party mark II.

The overall picture was that we were returning to a “pre-1914” economic situation, he said, with the continual rise of landlordism and insecure work for the majority. The unions were unable to cope with the situation - they are still stuck in the “shop-stewardism” of the 1960s and 70s without the shop stewards. He concluded that consciousness necessarily lags behind reality, but it could only be hoped it would catch up.

There was wide agreement with comrade Mather’s opening remarks, but some comrades elaborated on her themes in different ways. Moshé Machover, a non-CPGB visitor, emphasised his belief that there was a very great chance of a conflagration in the Middle East, and that the main responsibility for that lay with Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and with the volatile composition of the new Israeli Knesset. So far Iran has ignored provocations from Israel, but, if the situation changed, then things could very rapidly deteriorate.

A disagreement arose around comrade Macnair’s proposal to determine our stance on a possible vote for Labour on the basis of Tusc’s weak positions. Jack Conrad thought that, while we should most certainly not support Tusc if we regarded it as a leftwing Ukip, it did not follow that we should therefore call for a blanket Labour vote. Paul Demarty thought that, while that would represent a “good middle finger to the left”, he was nevertheless against it. Sarah McDonald echoed this position in her contribution, but emphasised the paucity of choice in this election - in Scotland the far left was now almost entirely nationalist and you could be excused for thinking there was almost no other choice than to support Labour there.

In his summing up, comrade Macnair apologised for the lack of clarity in the way he had posed the question, but he pointed out that, for example, in 2009, the CPGB had called for a blanket Labour vote in the European elections rather than vote for the now defunct No2EU. He thought there was a clear case for a similar position this year, but admitted he is a minority in the leadership on that.

Another area of disagreement came over the tone of the Weekly Worker’s coverage of Greece and the prospect of a Syriza government. Comrade Machover initiated this by saying that, whilst he had no disagreement with the line taken by the CPGB about the dangers posed, he thought the coverage was insufficiently sympathetic to the people in Greece - they were putting their faith in Syriza to oppose the inhumane levels of austerity there. He emphasised how important it was to support Syriza if it stands up to the troika, but the prospects ultimately were of either a “bad defeat” or a “terrible defeat”. Paul Demarty responded to comrade Machover’s concerns by saying that he thought it important to note that the target audience of the Weekly Worker was the global left, who “have been around the block enough times” and “should know better”. It is important to challenge them in a forthright way.

In the second session Jack Conrad mapped out a plan for the CPGB’s work in Left Unity in the coming year. LU was the most important site for the intervention of our comrades, and we would be focusing on building support for a radical revision of its constitution, which LU national spokespeson Peter Green has described as “not fit for purpose”. Comrade Conrad emphasised how successful we had been in defeating the ‘safer spaces’ proposal. Nevertheless, it makes up an integral part of the constitution.

Despite largely focusing on what we consider to be common-sense proposals, he continued, we have not won many allies so far. He mentioned the fact that one prominent comrade in Scotland had rejected our approach to join the Communist Platform, because he disagreed with our line on Syriza. This demonstrated a lack of seriousness - the comrade knew he would be given the space to debate the issue (and would not be bound by a majority line), but was obviously not willing to do so. In general, said comrade Conrad, the weakness of the Marxist left has resulted in a large increase in both anarchistic sentiments and also sectionalism in its many varieties. That makes for a very difficult environment for the CPGB to work in.

There was a good possibility, he said, that LU could see a surge of support in light of a Syriza government in Greece - LU has promoted itself as Syriza’s sister party in Britain. Doubtless there will be some kind of LU-promoted Syriza speaking tour, which could well pull in very large audiences. In spite of the fragility of LU it is well placed to benefit from a surge of support. That would be excellent: after all, not least due to the Communist Platform, LU has some very sound positions on Europe and immigration.

The discussion which followed was fairly brief. Comrade Macnair questioned whether Socialist Resistance would continue its involvement in LU. Comrade Mather thought LU had managed to avoid a collapse by recognising the need for functioning branches. She also thought it may be possible for there to be a big influx on the back of Syriza’s victory.

After this the AGM discussed a report on the finances of the CPGB. National organiser Mark Fischer emphasised that these were generally healthy despite a shortfall, which was typical of this time of year. The meeting then moved on to elections for the PCC - comrades Jack Conrad, Mike Macnair, Peter Manson, Farzad Kamangar, Mark Fischer and Paul Demarty being re-elected unanimously. No-one outside the existing PCC was nominated.