Framing our electoral tactics

The March 15 CPGB members’ aggregate debated the forthcoming general election and Left Unity’s internal elections. Daniel Harvey reports

There were two items on the agenda for the CPGB aggregate last weekend. The first was the Provisional Central Committee’s proposed motion on what vote we should recommend in the general election, and the second was whom we should support in the Left Unity internal elections.

Jack Conrad began the first item by saying that there was no hard and fast principle determining which forces could be voted for and which could not. This question is about tactics, and deciding what the political needs of the present situation require. At this stage, he said, it was still impossible to judge what the outcome of the election would be, and he pointed to the fact that there are as many as 12 possible scenarios which are being prepared for by the civil service at present. The emergence of pseudo-radical alternatives to the mainstream parties, in the form of nationalists, Greens and the UK Independence Party, has helped make the outcome so unpredictable.

He reiterated that no revolutionary party should ever take power unless there was a serious possibility of it carrying out its minimum programme for working class rule. As evidently there is no prospect of the left gaining serious support in these elections, we should make our choices based on our priorities at the moment. This meant emphasising our position that Labour remains a bourgeois workers’ party, albeit in a highly attenuated sense, and that therefore attempts to establish a Labour Party mark II in the form of projects like the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition are illusory and doomed to fail. As a result, the motion said, we should prioritise offering critical support to candidates who are willing to sign up to Michael Meacher’s left alternative platform, which calls for an end to austerity and renationalisation of the railways. Currently there are 15 Labour MPs who have supported this. This is intended to create political lines of demarcation within Labour.

But this first choice leaves the vast majority of seats where there is no supportable Labour candidate. So the motion calls for support, in order of priority, for Left Unity candidates, then for Tusc candidates, and finally for others on the left, such as the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain. Even though we have our criticisms of Tusc, particularly on its ambiguous position on the European Union, and on its call to abolish only “racist” immigration controls, comrade Conrad said that substantial votes for the socialist left would be something to celebrate. In practice though this is very unlikely.

He continued that there are still about 500 seats that will not be covered by any of these options, so we have to consider what our position is in relation to the other larger, supposedly anti-austerity parties running in the elections. Comrade Conrad said it was essential that we draw a sharp line on class, given the illusions on the left in the likes of the nationalists and the Greens. Once again, there was no hard principle stopping us from supporting Green candidates, for instance, in particular circumstances, but this would have to be justified in relation to our programme. At this point, it would be antithetical to the positions we have been presenting in relation to working class independence and the struggle to build an alternative to Labourism.

In the debate that followed there were various proposals discussed. The first was Bob Morgans suggestion that the motion should also refer to Plaid Cymru, on the basis that some on the Welsh left were adopting a position analogous to that in Scotland, where separatism is regarded as somehow progressive. Comrades Mike Macnair and Sarah McDonald supported this, and it was decided to amend the sentence that referred only to nationalism in Scotland to: “No support for nationalists in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.”

In fact, comrade Macnair said there was a serious debate to be had over whether there should be blanket support for Labour in Scotland, because of both the likelihood of a virtual wipe-out north of the border, with the Scottish National Party predicted to pick up 56 out of 59 seats, and the capitulation of most of the Scottish left to nationalism. Sarah McDonald said ultimately she would not support doing this, and that it would be better to spoil your ballot paper in this election if no left Labour candidate, or working class alternative, could be found.

Another position that was briefly discussed was whether to demonstrate our opposition to Tusc’s positions by supporting Labour candidates instead. This position was tentatively discussed at the AGM of the CPGB two months ago. It was felt, as comrade Peter Manson said, that Tusc’s positions on Europe and immigration did not justify this. While the now defunct No2EU had prioritised the call for withdrawal from the European Union, Tusc has no stated position on the EU, despite the fact that its two major components, the Socialist Party in England and Wales and the Socialist Workers Party, call for the UK to withdraw from this “bosses’ club”. Comrade Macnair warned that this could become a major issue if there is a referendum on the EU after the election, but agreed that it was not at the moment and so critical support for Tusc was sensible at this stage.

Left Unity

The next discussion was introduced in two parts. In the first, Yassamine Mather, a member of the LU national council, gave a report on the effectiveness of the Communist Platform. She noted that the LU officers had largely surrendered without a fight on their call for an anti-austerity alliance with the Greens, which had been criticised by many branches in the last couple of months. The officers failed to defend it at the last NC meeting and it was allowed to fall off the agenda. It was very unlikely that it would have been agreed by the NC if it had been put to a vote, she said.

However, the CP was not seen as the main opponent by the leadership despite a number of successes in the form of conference motions and interventions in branches. She said the CP was clearly at its best when it produced serious articles on issues of strategy and debates like those around intersectionality and ‘safe spaces’, and felt that some members of the CP were spending too much time intervening on social media, where they engaged in debates that were sometimes ridiculously repetitive.

Finally comrade Mather said that relations with the ISN were probably at “an all-time low”. From her experience, she said, the ISN members of the NC now act largely as representatives of Tusc, with some comrades not taking part in discussion around other LU matters. Most ISN comrades fail to understand why any joint platform with the social-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty is undesirable, despite their own opposition to imperialist intervention.

Mark Fischer then continued on this theme by discussing the approach from the ISN to the CP for collaboration over LU’s internal elections that are currently taking place. He said that the CP steering committee took a positive attitude to the proposal from Nick Wrack for a joint list, despite the very late hour that it came. However, it soon became clear that many candidates on the ISN list were unsupportable. Indeed we drew up a list of questions in order to expose the ISN’s rotten political method. Revealingly most ISN comrades were unwilling to engage with our questions, seeing them, in the words of Nick Rogers, as a “sectarian” blocking move. Comrades concluded that it was a mistake to see the ISN as our natural allies in LU because of the large variety of positions within it, including the prioritisation of Tusc.

In the debate, comrade Moshé Machover - a member of the Communist Platform steering committee who is not in the CPGB - was concerned by the tone of Jack Conrad’s article on voting recommendations (‘Aims, deals and recommendations’ Weekly Worker March 5). While he felt that posing questions to candidates was perfectly legitimate, the article was too negative, he thought, and should not have named specific comrades in the way it had.

Comrade Conrad said that the article was written as part of an attempt to determine which ISNers were supportable and was intended to be aggressive in that sense. But the ISN basically “pleaded the fifth”, when it came to answering the questions we put to them. This showed contempt to the membership of Left Unity.

Despite his initial enthusiasm for the ISN approach, comrade Macnair felt this was, in fact, another attempt to “bounce” the CP into giving it support - not only was the ISN approach very late, but also contained no concrete proposals. He said that it was likely any response other than rolling over completely would have been seen as “sectarian”. Despite this we had included supportable ISN candidates on our list, as comrade Conrad pointed out.

When it came to the officer and principal speaker positions, the aggregate agreed that the CPGB would indicate its lack of confidence in all the candidates by entering ‘Reopen nominations’.


Agreed resolution

In the forthcoming general election we urge critical support for candidates according to the following priority order:

1. Labour candidates who support the statement coordinated by Michael Meacher and signed by 15 Labour MPs in January 2015. Namely Diane Abbott, Dave Anderson, Katy Clark, Jeremy Corbyn, Fabian Hamilton, Kelvin Hopkins, Ian Lavery, John McDonnell, Michael Meacher, Ian Mearns, Grahame Morris, Linda Riordan, Steve Rotherham, Jim Sheridan and Chris Williamson.They oppose Labour’s current deficit reduction plans, call for the renationalisation of the railways and a return to collective bargaining and employment rights in the workplace. We want to emphasise that the Labour Party remains a bourgeois workers’ party and therefore a strategic site of struggle.

2. Left Unity candidates. There are many weaknesses in LU’s manifesto, but despite that there is much that is positive. Eg, it stands against demands for British withdrawal from the EU; it supports open borders. We also note that, though LU has no agreed position on the Labour Party, it has declined to stand candidates against Labour lefts.

3. Candidates standing under the banner of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. Those behind Tusc aim to establish a Labour Party mark II. As such this is a hopeless and utterly illusory project. It also bases itself on lowest-common-denominator unity. Nevertheless a half-decent showing by Tusc candidates, including those in Scotland, would undoubtedly be positive, given the suffocating austerity consensus reigning amongst mainstream parties.

4. Other leftwing candidates: eg, the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, Socialist Party of Great Britain, etc.

Given the widespread leftwing infatuation with green and nationalist politics, we seek to draw a clear red line.

1. No support for Green Party candidates. At this juncture the principle of class politics must be highlighted. The Green Party is a petty bourgeois political formation and does not even pay lip service to working class and socialist politics.

2. No support for nationalists in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Nowadays the Scottish Socialist Party and Solidarity are merely external factions of the Scottish National Party. No matter how weakened, the unity of the working class in Britain must be defended. We support the demand for a federal republic and oppose all manifestations of separatism, especially when it poses in the guise of socialism.

Where there is no supportable candidate, the CPGB urges voters to spoil their ballot papers with some suitable message: eg, ‘For socialism’.