Bad Party practice!

Bob Smith - For a Permanent Party Polemic Committee

IT WAS a funny old day at the CPGB monthly aggregate at the weekend. Lots of procedural wrangling, a few lost tempers and a good deal of political work postponed until next month. What was at the root of it? Well, to take a rather charitable view, the Provisional Central Committee had been rather tardy in getting out the key documentation and in some cases had prepared no documentation. This got right up the nose of the Open Polemic representative members. But from OP’s point of view ‘tardiness’ is not a sufficient explanation. For us the conduct of the party aggregate was a clear manifestation of what we describe as leader centralism. This is not to suggest that there was a conscious attempt to circumvent democracy. Leader centralism is not a conspiracy. What it boils down to is bad political practice within a revolutionary party.

OP argues that if the membership is to make informed decisions on matters facing the party it must have all the relevant information, and in sufficient time, for it to be discussed in its cells and branches and, if need be, in other party forums. ‘Let there be light - let the party members know everything,’ to paraphrase VI Lenin. Instead we were presented with documentation at the last minute and, worse still, a major item presented orally with no documentation at all. “Chasing shadows,” as one comrade put it. The end result: serious politics becomes the preserve of the central committee and the party aggregate becomes a glorified rubber stamp. Consequently party cadre are not developed to their full and the division of consciousness in the party expands rather than diminishes. Enough said.

Then there was question of names. The OP faction specifically calls itself the ‘Provisional Polemic Committee’ in order to reinforce its argument that democratic centralism in a revolutionary party would be enhanced by partially separating the democratic and centralist functions in the party. The details of that argument have been outlined elsewhere. What is interesting here is that one member of the PCC objected to our factional name, arguing that we are not an elected committee of the organisation. Precisely. That is why we chose that particular title - in order to counterpose what is with what we believe should be. So for the benefit of all Weekly Worker readers - the Provisional Polemic Committee is the factional name of the OP group in the CPGB. We are not elected by anyone and we have no official status. At the appropriate time we will put a resolution to a refounding Congress of the CPGB calling for a permanent polemic committee. Until that time we are a faction under the banner of the CPGB organisation - and nothing more. And to avoid any possible confusion in the interim we will henceforth sign all our documents ‘For a Permanent Party Polemic Committee’. Where there’s a will there’s a way!

And if we are going to be pedantic on questions of names, ‘Provisional CPGB’ would be a good deal more honest than prematurely calling ourselves the CPGB.

Finally, there was a confrontation over the rules. What a mess! The only existing rules pertain to the Fourth Congress of the CPGB in 1989 which in our opinion belongs to an earlier development. They are the centralist rules of the ‘Leninist’ faction of the old CPGB. Quite clearly they cannot be applied to the present situation of communist rapprochement under the banner of the PCC of the CPGB. This is recognised by Jack Conrad (PCC) who has advanced a draft set of rules as part of his draft programme. But what happens in the interim, what happens today and tomorrow? Conrad himself notes, “In the meantime we ourselves need a firm set of rules.” But the simple fact is we don’t have them.

What is clearly needed is an interim set of rules applicable for this embryonic period of communist rapprochement. A set of rules that sets out the rights of factions under the CPGB rapprochement initiative, the standing orders for party aggregates, and the rights and responsibilities for individual members. This is a matter of some urgency. The alternative is putting it all down to ‘trust in leaders’, which hardly inspires confidence, given the history of leader centralism in the communist movement this century.

Well, by way of concluding on a positive note, if the aggregate was somewhat fraught, the CPGB public meeting to celebrate the Great October Socialist Revolution was a fine affair - two good opening speeches on the Party question and plenty of sharp, but comradely open polemic from visiting delegates. This is the stuff of communist rapprochement.