For the Party

A CPGB meeting to celebrate the Great October Revolution debated among different organisations and trends the tasks of the day and, centrally, the necessity to forge working class organisation as its weapon for liberation. Lee-Anne Bates reports

IN CELEBRATING the October Revolution we celebrate “the highest example of the working class’s attempt to liberate itself from the shackles of capitalism”. That is how comrade John Bridge of the Communist Party of Great Britain opened last week’s special meeting. Around 40 attended, including comrades from the Organisation of Revolutionary Workers of Iran, Kurdish comrades, comrades from Turkey, Iraq and Sri Lanka, as well as the Revolutionary Democratic Group (faction of the SWP), the International Bolshevik Tendency, the Trotskyist Unity Group and Open Polemic.

The important thing today, John Bridge continued, is to learn both the positive and negative lessons of that achievement. As the savage anarchy of capitalism increases, the most important lesson is the real ability and necessity of the working class to take hold of production and bring it back under the control of society for the benefit of society.

1917 began a process of communist rapprochement in Britain and around the world. This was not a scramble for diplomatic unity, but unity at the highest possible level. It was the Bolshevik struggle and the Bolshevik victory which united comrades who formed the CPGB in 1920.

Today we do not look back romantically, but forward to the struggle to reforge the combat organisation which is capable of carrying out revolution, as the Bolsheviks were able in 1917.

And today we are faced with not only the collapse of ‘official communism’, but the crisis of social democracy that went hand in hand with it. Our organisations may not have been smashed, but the working class is faced with a collapse of programme, without even a vision of reforming the capitalist system, let alone overthrowing it.

That vision can only be ignited through the organisation of revolutionary forces able to forge workers into an international working class capable of making revolution on a world scale. The Bolsheviks were able to act as a fist because of the open political struggle for correct ideas. This has to be the basis on which we are able to reforge such a combat Party.

A comrade from the Organisation of Revolutionary Workers of Iran added that it was necessary to get rid of the ‘ideological’ party in order that the working class through democracy can liberate and take control of society, rather than allowing an ‘ideological’ state to rule over it. Liberation can only be based on the programme for liberation, not on whether we agree with Marx, Mao, Trotsky or whoever.

The question of programme became central in the meeting. A comrade from the International Bolshevik Tendency agreed that programme is key and welcomed the publication of a draft programme in the Weekly Worker and discussion around this towards reforging a Communist Party: “What we need to do now is forge a programme and build a party around the programme that can actually achieve that revolution again.”

But she continued that the programme must be based on Trotskyism, because Trotsky represented a programmatic break with the betrayals of Stalin and Stalinism. Trotsky fought for the continuation of a revolutionary programme and the ideas of Trotskyism provide the greatest guide for what we do today. The exact nature of the Soviet Union, the war in Bosnia, popular frontism and our attitude to the Labour Party are programmatic questions.

The RDG welcomed other organisations from the Trotskyist tradition at the meeting.

“They need now to join the process of debate, whether or not they join the Party immediately. Trotskyism has a contribution to make to the reforging of the Communist Party and the only way to do that is to come here where comrades are trying to do that. That is why the RDG has come here and been fully involved in debate in meetings and in the paper.”

A  CPGB comrade, himself from the Trotskyist tradition, challenged the claim that Trotskyism is a superior trend, given its cynical use by the SWP and Militant Labour; not to mention the Workers Revolutionary Party under Gerry Healey, which had an internal organisation even more Stalinist than the Stalinists’.

The Trotskyist Unity Group was also not so sure about the legacy of Trotskyism, which for it despite its struggle against Stalinism has left us with a whole set of unresolved questions. The key for the TUG seemed to be less programmatic than philosophical. The problem with the revolutionary movement is that none of the organisations have the culture to understand the depth of contradictions in philosophical questions: “I don’t know if we ever will have a party until we are able to do that,” he said.

We must grasp the debates of modern philosophers, especially since the world is so much more complex now than in the time of the Bolsheviks. For the TUG the trouble began because Marx and Engels claimed to have transcended philosophy.

The comrade from Orwi, while recognising the need for theoretical debate, said: “We cannot wait for the philosophers to develop a structure of philosophy for the Party. Truths are relative. We start from what we know and try to develop it as we proceed to where we want to go - and that is to revolution.” Our task is not just to develop historians, but revolutionaries.

An Open Polemic supporter agreed saying to the TUG:

“I cannot allow you to move away from the Party. I welcome the attempt to demystify philosophy, but philosophy has a partisan element to it. The Party needs philosophers and historians and it needs to turn all members into philosophers and historians.

“Therefore the TUG has a responsibility to be part of the Party project. The CPGB is one of the highest points of communist activity so we all have a duty to be here. Or if we do not believe it is the highest point, to win us to the alternative. It is no good going back to a philosophical circle.”

“I am for a party,” replied the comrade from the TUG, but indicated that the greatest unity we could aspire to today was in united fronts.

This point was taken up by the IBT:

“We can come together for action where we agree, but there are too many differences to say we must come together in a Party that pretends to be united around a programme. I couldn’t sell the Weekly Worker because I don’t agree with it.”

“Then publish your views in the paper,” retaliated comrades from the CPGB, “and encourage others to debate in the paper.” Comrades in the CPGB now do not agree with 100% or even 50% of the paper. The point is for the struggle of ideas to take place in public where the working class can be part of it so that the correct ideas can be won through and tested in practice.

We have to come to grips with the need for a Party otherwise we will just perpetuate the disunity that we have now. We should not be in different organisations because of history if we can agree a programme based on the needs of the working class today that can actually liberate the working class. Neither should we be afraid of being in a minority; we should fight to convince, not just other organisations, but the class as a whole of our views - that is our communist duty.

The working class must struggle and try to liberate ourselves. It is only when theory is fused with a real movement of the working class that it becomes Marxist, revolutionary, and not just academic. Revolutionaries need to fight for the class which demands the battle of ideas tested out in practice and developed in united, strong and disciplined organisation - not just unity on this or that question, but organisation for revolution.