Clear in our aims
Peter Manson reports on the weekend gathering of CPGB and LPM comrades
June 12 saw a joint aggregate meeting in London of comrades from the CPGB and Labour Party Marxists. It focused once again on the political situation in Britain in the context of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party - and what it means both for our class and the bourgeoisie.
Opening the debate Jack Conrad from the CPGB’s Provisional Central Committee talked about the role of both necessity and accident for Marxists. Of course, we believe that the necessity is for the working class to organise for power and become the ruling class, but we are fully aware that various accidental developments can strongly influence the course of events.
We have spoken before of two such ‘accidents’, continued comrade Conrad. The first is the fact that Corbyn was nominated for the leadership in 2015 by a number of Parliamentary Labour Party rightwing “morons”, in the belief that he had no chance whatsoever of winning. The second was David Cameron’s decision to call for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union the following year, in the expectation that ‘remain’ would win the day - a result which Cameron believed would see off the threats he faced from the right both within and outside the Conservative Party.
In this context comrade Conrad reminded the aggregate that the bourgeoisie seems to be experiencing a real loss of control over their own system. It is clear that as far as most sections of big capital are concerned Brexit is a disaster waiting to happen. So why is Theresa May pressing ahead with her soft version of a hard Brexit? Once the Tories were heavily dependent on business donations. There was a to and fro between business and the government in terms of personnel. And while the former got on with the all-consuming business of making profit, the Tories, as the main governing party, provided the necessary stability, legal framework, international agreements, infrastructure and sufficiently trained workforce.
However, since 2000 the Tory party can no longer rely on business donations. Instead it gets its money from superrich donors looking for honours, favours and influence. In part this is due to changes in legislation. But it is also the case that much of big capital in Britain is no longer British. If the environment here is no longer business friendly, big capital has no compunction about upping sticks and relocating. So there is a dislocation between the Tory party’s need to win petty bourgeois and middle class votes and the objective needs of big capital. Clearly there are divisions in the bourgeoisie, there are those that yearn for a transatlantic future. But it is certainly worth noting the changing nature of the Tory party.
Leave aside Trump and Brexit, according to many leading figures in the establishment, including the editors of the Financial Times, serving members of the army top brass, top secret service spooks and the representatives of big business, the prospect of a Corbyn government is far more worrying than even Brexit. Of course, a Labour government is far from certain. In fact the Tories are still ahead in the opinion polls, despite the chaos within their own ranks, caused primarily by the prospect of Brexit. But the Labour Party is riven by a civil war that is far more profound, far more bitter, far harder fought than anything going on in the Tory Party. And it is a civil war that not only pits the Labour left against the Labour right. It is a civil war which sees on the one side the left, including the bulk of Labour’s 560,000 individual members, and on the other side the Labour right and the state machine ... but also Tory MPs, the mainstream press, the BBC, ITV, Sky, the Zionists, the Israeli embassy and doubtless the US state department too.
Given their reformism the Corbyn-McDonnell leadership has ‘fought back’ by avoiding a direct confrontation on hard political issues on the one hand, and on the other offering the electorate the prospect of an ‘end to austerity’ and a return to Keynesianism. This has proved successful enough to appear convincing. After all Corbyn sort of won the last general election. Against all the odds he - and it was Corbyn - robbed May of her majority and expected triumph. However, this is a totally flawed perspective. Not only will Keynesianism in one country inevitably fail. The Corbyn-McDonnell leadership suffers from “constitutional illusions”, stated the comrade.
If only it can bring the Labour right on board, they believe, they could win the next election and then Corbyn would have free rein to implement his ‘Not the few, but the many’ programme. But this overlooks the little fact that, while it is customary for the monarch to call on the leader of the largest party in parliament to form a government, there is no constitutional obligation for that to happen. Just as the Italian president recently vetoed a proposed government because the nominated finance minister was regarded as unacceptable to Italian capital, so it is with the UK monarch. Having consulted her advisors, she could well decide that a Corbyn administration would be just too unreliable and would, anyway, not be able to command a majority in parliament - why not call on someone from Labour’s ‘sensible’ centre, and maybe, given Brexit, form a cross-party coalition to save the country?
These concerns of the bourgeoisie also explain why the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt is not about to end any time soon. It goes without saying that its target is not Ken Livingstone or whoever: it is Corbyn himself. He will not only be accused of guilt by association. He will be branded an anti-Semite because of his countless past statements in solidarity with the Palestinians. How can the monarch call upon such a man to form a government and become prime minister? In the name of anti-racism he will be hauled up before a star chamber and then shunned.
It is highly unlikely that we will see a rightwing split from Labour, contended comrade Conrad. ‘First past the post’ means that there is no real space for a centre party, so the right will almost certainly prefer to remain in Labour and fight it out to the end.
Turning next to the non-Labour left, he strongly criticised the Socialist Party in England and Wales and the Socialist Workers Party. Both of them say they support Corbyn, but neither is prepared to work where it really matters to help defeat the Labour right. SPEW still insists that for unions like the RMT and PCS to affiliate to the party would be a waste of money, as the right remain in control of the machine. This overlooks the fact that affiliation comes with the right to send delegates to Labour bodies and would materially affect the outcome of internal battles.
As for the SWP, it says very little or nothing about union affiliation; on the contrary it insists that the most important site of struggle is in the workplace and on the streets - ie, more strikes (currently at an all-time low since the 1890s) and more demonstrations. Engaging in Labour Party disputes is therefore just too time-consuming! By contrast, we say that this political battle is key: the prize is not a Syriza-type Labour government (we predicted where that would end). It is a “united front of a special kind”. A ‘party’ that unites the mass of the working class and all its organisations around a Marxist programme (a rewritten clause four). Necessarily this means automatic reselection and driving out the pro-capitalist right; an end to the bans and proscriptions and the affiliation of all genuine working class bodies.
To this end we call on all unions to affiliate/reaffiliate and for all union members to pay the political levy.
The main difference that surfaced during the debate did not concern the strategy outlined by comrade Conrad towards the Labour Party, but the view of the bourgeoisie towards the EU. Another member of the PCC, Mike Macnair, contended that the remainers do not represent the view of the capitalist class as a whole.
For comrade Macnair the underlying dynamic within the global bourgeoisie is “nationalist populism” - as represented by the election and policies of Trump. This right populism has been building up for more than a decade, he stated, and as a result today the ruling class in Britain is split between those who want to “cling on” to the EU and those who are willing to go with Brexit. There is no longer any coherent ruling class policy.
However, for James Harvey the ruling class was “pretty clearly opposed to Brexit”. There is a complex relationship between the ruling class, its political party and the electorate, he said, and it is important to look at the differences between the bourgeoisie itself and the Conservative Party, where the rank and file has a “disproportionate influence”.
In response, comrade Conrad stated that it was important not to overstate the power of rightwing populism - there was also a left variety, he noted, citing Bernie Sanders, Podemos, Syriza and Corbyn himself. As for the British ruling class, he believed that a large majority wanted a ‘remain’ of some type, such as in the form of a customs union. In that sense, the Tories were out of step with big business.
On other questions, Phil Kent agreed that the long-term aim of transforming Labour was what mattered. Corbyn would not even be able to implement an anti-austerity programme. Vernon Price agreed, stating that there were severe limitations on what was possible given the realities of the world economy.
In summing up, comrade Conrad reminded us of the reason we need to stress the possibility of the monarch declining to nominate Corbyn as prime minister: ie, the question of the UK constitution and the need to fight for a democratic republic - a point directed against the economistic left. He also emphasised the need to sharpen our criticism of Corbyn and the reformist left, who believe that, come what may, any Labour government will always be better than a Tory one. What we are looking for is not another Labour government that wants to save capitalism. No, we want a transformed Labour Party that can oppose capitalism, make advances for the working class, and help prepare the global conditions needed for the working class to come to power.
The meeting also saw the launch of the CPGB’s annual fundraising drive, the Summer Offensive, which this year has a target of £25,000.
Unlike some others on the left, we do not believe that the revolution is imminent - we are in for the long haul. As well as seeking the transformation of the Labour Party, we recognise the necessity of a united Marxist party, capable of leading a working class revolution. And our vision is an international one - united action across Europe would be a big step forward.
Right from the days of The Leninist - the forerunner of the Weekly Worker - others on the left believed that such a paper had to result from the sponsorship of some foreign power, be it East Germany, Cuba or wherever. In stating this, he was not just pointing to the absurdity of such claims, but to the pitiful lack of self-belief amongst the revolutionary left: for many it seemed impossible for a small group of comrades to run a weekly paper - there had to be some greater force behind it, dictating its line. The existence and quality of the Weekly Worker proves them 100% wrong.
As if to emphasise the point, the comrades in the room alone pledged to raise a total of £13,750 - more than half of the Summer Offensive target. We have over two months to fulfil those pledges and to raise that entire target - the SO will end on August 25, the last day of the CPGB’s summer school, Communist University.