A prize that can be won
Peter Manson reports on the CPGB’s 2019 AGM
The annual general meeting of CPGB members saw a wide-ranging debate featuring a variety of views. However, comrades were unanimous in supporting the 2019-20 perspectives document presented by the Provisional Central Committee.
PCC chair Jack Conrad introduced the perspectives. He began by emphasising how global politics has continued to move to the right. In the 1950s and 60s, said comrade Conrad, some on the left thought that things could only get better, and the tragedy is that many today have still not gone in for a radical rethink - what seemed defensible then is now absurd, he added. What went wrong with their expectations? As a result, while capitalism is not exactly all-powerful, the left is hardly in a position to take advantage. Back in the 50s and 60s the USA was concerned that, for example, the Communist Party of Italy might be elected, such was the strength of working class organisation. But that period of advance is long gone.
Comrade Conrad reminded the meeting of our view of the various ‘parties of recomposition’. Because they are not committed to breaking with capitalism, because of their nationalism, they are bound to end in disappointment. This is amply illustrated by Syriza in Greece and the Workers Party in Brazil. The same can be said of Podemos in Spain and Die Linke in Germany. On a lower level, in Britain, there have been several organisations which aimed to replace Labour: eg, the Socialist Labour Party, Socialist Alliance, Scottish Socialist Party, Left Unity. All ended in failure.
However, things are not all doom and gloom. In the US many people are looking to Bernie Sanders. While we have no illusions in his ‘socialism’, the movement around him provides a site for struggle - allowing comrades to explain what real socialism is. And in Britain too things are moving, following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. Of course, it is unlikely there will be a Labour government - if there was, we would see a run on the pound, US-led subversion and quite possibly a ‘very British coup’. It is still possible that Blair’s aim of transforming Labour into a party like the US Democrats could be achieved, especially given the dismal state of the left.
While our forces are incredibly weak, continued comrade Conrad, it has been encouraging to see Labour Party Marxists making a real impact over the last couple of years. At the 2017 Labour conference in Brighton Labour Party Marxists and LPM’s daily bulletin Red Pages were warmly received. The same happened at Liverpool in 2018.
However, the Labour civil war is far from over - it will be fought out until the end. The left has a real chance of transforming Labour into a united front of a special type by driving out the paid agents of the capitalist class and allowing all working class organisations to affiliate. That is the prize we should have our eye on.
The right aims to drive out the left, so that Labour is either killed off or transformed into a UK version of the Democratic Party. But unfortunately Corbyn is not fighting back and, in forgiving his enemies, he is not standing up for his friends. Why is that? Because Corbyn’s overriding aim is a Labour government (like many on the reformist left, he believes that any Labour government is always better than a Tory one) and if he fought back Labour would not be able to win a general election because the right would split away.
What about the so-called ‘anti-Semitism’ scandal? It is true that in the late 19th century and early 20th century some sections of the left were stained by anti-Semitism (in particular the anarchists, Fabians and trade union officialdom). But not now. As for those who want to show anti-Semitism ‘zero tolerance’, why don’t they have a look at the Christian religion? Yes, there are some sad people on social media, but there is no genuine problem among activists.
Comrade Conrad ended by saying that, although we have seen a “huge witch-hunt”, “we ain’t seen nothing yet” - not if the right gets its way. This, combined with the huge uncertainty over Brexit, means that things are moving with remarkable rapidity.
First to speak in the debate that followed was Stan Kelsey, who stressed that, while, of course, we in the CPGB were fully behind the fight to transform the Labour Party into a united front for all working class formations, our central aim remained that of creating a single Marxist party. He also mentioned the significance of the attempts to create a new organisation for the left within Labour.
In that regard Vernon Price said he was very disappointed at the lack of any new initiative being taken by LPM. He thought that its publication, Labour Party Marxists, was now appearing with reduced frequency. The Marxist left within Labour needed a set of alternative candidates rather than voting for the centre-left slates supported by Momentum.
In relation to the CPGB’s own paper, the Weekly Worker, comrade Price said that we needed to take a more “professional approach” - although other comrades pointed out that the main problem (as with Labour Party Marxists no doubt) was the size of the organisation that produces it: the CPGB is far from a mass organisation and, as I stated later, we should be extremely proud of our weekly newspaper despite all its shortcomings.
Comrade Mike Macnair focused on the failings of the Marxist left as a whole. It continued to prioritise demonstrations and similar events, which put forward “moderate demands” in order to attract large numbers, rather than “fighting around substantive issues”. As for Labour, there was a sharp contradiction between its form - a party with specifically working class affiliates - and its devoted loyalty to the British state. He warned that in these unstable conditions any “full-scale purge” within Labour could well be backed by a section of the unions, and might end with the break-up of the party.
He agreed that many on the Labour left believed that “you can’t do anything unless you’re in government” and “you can’t be in government unless you keep the right on board”. But in reality, we can make gains through political (including parliamentary) organisation acting as a principled opposition force.
For her part, Farzad Kamangar concentrated more on the global situation and the “crisis of neoliberalism”. In this context the rise in support for ‘socialism’ in the USA had inherent dangers: groups like the Democratic Socialists of America were demanding reforms within capitalism. We were now entering a “new era” of international politics - Trump was acting like a “wounded tiger” and he was a very dangerous man.
As for Britain, continued comrade Kamangar, the problem for the bourgeoisie was not Jeremy Corbyn himself, but the fact that he might unleash a spontaneous working class movement of revolt. And she thought that the formation of the Independent Group marked the “beginning of the end” for Corbyn - the whole establishment campaign was aimed at anyone who opposed a “pro-war government”: it had the goal of creating a “pro-war Labour Party”.
She said that the Labour leadership’s admission that there was an “anti-Semitism problem” and its refusal to fight back only served to aid the right. While no-one expected Corbyn to behave like a “radical Marxist”, he ought to “state what he knows is true”.
Phil Kent said that the world was becoming more nationalistic - and it is a nationalism that can be of either the left or the right. He wondered what sort of Labour government there could be in this environment. Like others he stressed the need to continue arguing for a workers’ Europe to provide the essential internationalist response.
Next up was James Harvey, who noted the “duplicity” between the public and private statements made by both Corbyn and John McDonnell, when it came to victims of the witch-hunt. Meanwhile, amongst the rank and file, there was the sentiment, “If only Jeremy knew what was going on …” He really hoped that a powerful, widely supported, left-Labour campaign would develop and that people like Chris Williamson would “stand up” and fight.
He agreed with others on the global strengthening of the right and believed we would see increased polarisation, including in Britain, between left and right. That is why he thought the breakaway Independent Group would quickly “shrink to irrelevance”.
William Sarsfield noted that many on the Labour left were now saying, “Let’s move on from this anti-Semitism business - we’ve lost this one”. In other words, stop defending those falsely accused. He noted that the likes of the Socialist Workers Party were hoping to win recruits from “disillusioned Corbynites”. After all, we were now seeing the strange phenomenon of rightwing councillors actually joining Momentum, so pathetic had the latter organisation become.
Last up was Sarah Stewart, who noted how difficult it was to “have a proper discussion” on the Labour Party - so many had retreated and were accepting the false allegations. In addition there were accusations of ‘abuse’, where people were “quick to be offended”. Those making legitimate criticism were accused of “bullying” and threatened with disciplinary action.
Replying to the debate, comrade Conrad said that it was vital to emphasise that the key question was the need for a genuine Communist Party. Our position is to work towards the “merger on a principled basis” of all Marxists who are currently members of the various “confessional sects”. Even if the Tory right does a deal on Brexit and we end up outside the EU under a Boris Johnson government, the priority would remain a Communist Party of the European Union.
Today everything we do revolves around the Weekly Worker, he concluded. The paper was something that must be maintained and prioritised at all costs.
Despite the various shades of opinion expressed at the meeting, there was no opposition to the perspectives document, which had been circulated to the membership and amended by the PCC beforehand. The document was agreed unanimously.
The AGM also heard brief reports on the relatively healthy finances of both the CPGB and Weekly Worker, which were accepted by the comrades present. Finally the outgoing members of the PCC - Jack Conrad, Mike Macnair, Peter Manson and Farzad Kamangar - were all unopposed and returned for another year.