The future works

Bob Smith - for the establishment of a permanent Party Polemic Committee

I HAVE had a glimpse of the future and it works! A wildly optimistic assessment of the annual ‘CPGB’ summer cadre school, no doubt, but there was much to recommend in this week-long event. In terms of polemic the CPGB tends to be sharper and more focused than its counterparts. Whereas the SWP-type ‘Marxism 95’ borders on a political rally, the CPGB format encourages its comrades to think critically, to argue in-dependently, and to bring out the key lines of demarcation.

While many sections of the communist movement are content to regurgitate the turgid formulas they have held onto for decades, simply chanting as religious mantras, “Stalinism good - Trotsky bad” or vice versa, the CPGB attempts to take the polemic to a higher level by deliberately inviting other trends and organisations to their school. Sometimes it succeeds; sometimes it fails: but the will is definitely there.

What we begin to see developing in the CPGB organisation is the embryo of a multanimous, historically non-specific (non-ideological) communist party. This is not yet the Communist Party - far from it, but it may yet be the nucleus of it.

Where there is a spark, communists in this country have a duty to nurture it. That is why the Editorial Board of Open Polemic has made a representational entry into the CPGB - it would have been sectarian of us to do otherwise.

Lines of demarcation

What were the lines of demarcation at the school? The Party question predominated, as if it could be otherwise at this historical juncture. What should be the criteria for membership? What is the correct relationship between programme, rules and constitution? How do we combat leader centralism - with ‘communist morality’ or a communist party constitution, or some permutation of the two? The PCC of the CPGB tends towards a reliance on ‘communist trust’. The Open Polemic representative argued for greater precision in the rules and constitution. Both sides agreed it was not an either/or scenario, but there was an unmistakable difference of emphasis.

On the question of membership criteria, the PCC argued for the centrality of a programme - for it, acceptance of the existing programme would be sufficient. Open Polemic was not convinced. It argued for the necessity of not just acceptance, but agreement with the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism - ie, the leading role of the Party, organised on the political and organisational principle of democratic centralism, prior to and during the dictatorship of the proletariat. In addition there should be acceptance that historical and dialectical materialism was the foundational outlook of the Party. None of the above could be subject to rejection at a congress - elaboration and assessment, yes; rejection, no! This had to be the bottom line for a Leninist party. Finally there should be acceptance of the existing programme with a commitment to work for its implementation.

‘Too rigid, too mechanical, too formalistic,’ were the PCC’s replies. ‘Too libertarian, too utopian, too Menshevik,’ retorted the Open Polemic representative.

Nit-picking by Open Polemic? We think not. Anyway we were assured that this all important demarcation would be fully aired in the pages of the Weekly Worker.

Leader centralism

On the equally important debate around the question of ‘leader centralism’ the Open Polemic representative again argued against factions with unlimited rights, and for forums with clearly defined constitutional rights. No movement on either side as yet on that one. As for the Open Polemic proposals to shift the centre of Party life back to its national congress and away from the back room of the central committee, the PCC had no real reply other than to say that it all rested on communist morality.

The PCC clung tenaciously to the right of the majority on the central committee to constitute itself as a faction, thereby promoting factional manoeuvring throughout the Party. Both sides in this debate uphold the central authority of the central committee and the political authority of the national congress, but the PCC will not as yet concede to the necessary rule changes. It is all a question of ‘communist trust’, they say. They would!

Factions, membership criteria, democratic centralism against leader centralism - at least we are now on the correct agenda.

The national question

One of the highlights of the school was an extensive debate on the national question, both as an abstraction and in the concrete. All sides argued from the principle of proletarian internationalism: it was a debate about strategy and tactics. The contours of the debate have been outlined in the recent editions of the Weekly Worker - we need not elaborate here. For Open Polemic the debate was conducted within the spirit of communist multanimity. This augurs well for a future party.

Some minor points - I think Open Polemic made these same points last year, but nobody was listening:

  1. All openings should be accompanied by a written paper distributed at least two weeks in advance.
  2. Openings should not resemble university lectures. Too many of the openings were simply descriptive. Too many openings finished where they might have started - at the key point of contention.
  3. For heaven’s sake, select a place and time that is more accessible. This will likely aid the process of rapprochement.

The strength and shortcomings of the school are there for all to see. Open Polemic would argue that the next school should have a focus - the Party question. The same range of issues can be covered, but all the openings and subsequent discussions should have a direction and purpose. As the critics of Open Polemic have never tired of reminding us, we communists are not a debating society - our purpose is to construct the vanguard.