Responding to uncertain times
Peter Manson reports on the joint meeting of CPGB and Labour Party Marxists comrades
On June 15, a CPGB-LPM aggregate was held in London, which discussed three topics. The first item was introduced by Jack Conrad of the Provisional Central Committee, who spoke about the current situation of flux within British politics.
Comrade Conrad said it seems an “absolute certainty” that Boris Johnson would be elected leader of the Conservative Party and so we would have a premier committed to Brexit by October 31. Whereas he had previously been convinced that somehow the ruling class would find a way of avoiding withdrawal from the European Union, that was no longer the case. Now Brexit is more than a possibility.
Of course, there were still problems. There is still no parliamentary majority for a no-deal Brexit and proroguing parliament against its wishes would be a high-risk strategy, as it is considered unconstitutional. But Johnson could call a general election, where he would surely be expected to see off the Brexit Party.
But what about Labour? If, Jennie Formby gave the go-ahead for the reformed trigger ballots and there was time to deselect a large number of rightwing MPs, it is possible a leftwing Labour government could be elected. In those circumstances, Mike Pompeo told us what we already knew - the US, backed by international capital, would “push back” against it in order to bring it down. If necessary they would be prepared to support an army coup, just as they did in Chile in 1973. Yet, when we demand the abolition of the standing army, comrade Conrad pointed out, we are ridiculed by most of the left (even though the Green Party stood on just that demand in the 2016 general election).
If, however, there were no reformed trigger ballots and Corbyn won with the same overwhelming rightwing majority in the Parliamentary Labour Party, it is more than possible that the monarch would select someone other than him to be the prime minister. A Tom Watson perhaps, who, unlike Corbyn, might be able to command a parliamentary majority.
True, in such a situation there would be protests, but hardly a revolution. Who would win over sections of the armed forces in order to split them? That points to another key question. Yes, Labour is winnable in the long term - it is not a question of everything relying on Corbyn. But for that we need a revolutionary party. Yet the left has never been so weak and incompetent. It does not treat democracy seriously, believing that trade unionism is the “highest form of class struggle”. The left needs a radical renewal.
First to speak from the floor was a non-CPGB/LPM guest, Marilyn Sterne, who said that, while she agreed with the politics of the CPGB, she thought that the Weekly Worker (supported perhaps by a monthly theoretical journal) should be broader in its appeal in these times. It was not a question of dumbing down our politics, she thought, but of writing in language understood by workers.
Bob Williams gave the example of Chuka Ummuna to indicate the nature of the Labour right. Only three years ago he was intending to stand as Labour leader, but now he has joined the Liberal Democrats. He said that the Brexit Party result in EU elections has shaped the current situation as far as the Tories were concerned. But there were big problems for Labour too because many of its voters have been tricked into putting ‘remain’ or ‘leave’ above loyalty to class and party.
Carla Roberts of LPM said that the monarch could well appoint Corbyn as premier because he had become so “lame” that nothing needed to be done. On trigger ballots, she pointed out that their reform was not the original plan - it had been put before the 2018 Labour conference at the last minute in order to defeat mandatory reselection. And now it was only the likes of Labour Against the Witchhunt that were campaigning for the reformed trigger ballot to be introduced. On the Weekly Worker, she thought that there was a space on the left for a newspaper that is “a bit challenging” and she knew from experience that leftwing, principled politics went down well with many delegates at Labour conference.
In my intervention I also responded to comrade Sterne by stressing that the Weekly Worker was aimed at the left, not the mass of workers, for a reason: we need to win a large section of the revolutionary left over to the idea of a single Marxist Party based on genuine democratic centralism. I also pointed out, in reply to comrade Roberts, that, no matter how much Corbyn compromised with the right, he would never be considered trustworthy by the bourgeoisie because of his past anti-imperialism and pro-worker positions. Even today, for example, he is condemned for refusing to take allegations against Iran at face value.
On this point comrade Conrad agreed - a ‘responsible’ Labour leader is one who must be on board for any US-led military intervention in the Middle East. But it was not just Corbyn’s politics, past or present. There was a real fear that a Corbyn government might provoke a “crisis of expectations”. That is why both the City and MI5 could be expected to move against a Corbyn-led government.
He agreed with comrade Roberts, however, who had said that the Corbyn movement had not resulted in recruitment by the revolutionary left. Therefore it would be a big mistake to abandon our strategy of exposing the left’s mistakes and weaknesses, which was what comrade Sterne was effectively proposing. Of course, if the working class started to move into political action in huge numbers, then we would need to radically change the nature of the Weekly Worker. But that is not the situation at present: that is why advanced workers, including new recruits to Labour, need to be educated on, say, the failings of Trotsky’s transitional programme.
For her part, Sarah Stewart agreed on the possibility of a crisis of expectations if a Corbyn administration was formed. For instance, if he moved so far in the direction of the Labour right that he began to implement cuts, there could be a mass revolt. That is why the left must stop acting as cheerleaders and treating Corbyn as the “saviour”. Instead it must hold him to account. However, Phil Kent disagreed: he said that Corbyn had compromised so much, it might be considered better to let him take office - the right would in reality be in control.
James Harvey, for his part, broadened the discussion by discussing the “international political crisis” - the old accepted ways are dying and instead we have the growth of rightwing populism. As for holding Corbyn to account, at the same time as acting against the Labour right, he reported how those wanting to move a vote of confidence against their local MP had been urged by John McDonnell not to do so, because “the time isn’t right”. However, large sections of the party’s rank and file still “have faith in Jeremy”. For much of the Labour left “self-limitation comes naturally” and there is widespread conciliationism.
William Sarsfield was next to speak and he pointed out, in response to the debate on the nature of the Weekly Worker, that during the miners’ Great Strike of 1984-85 the forerunner of our paper, The Leninist, was indeed aimed at militant workers. At that time the miners had organised “hit squads”, which ironically some on the ‘revolutionary’ left denounced. In other words, there is a need for flexibility, he said.
Stan Keable of LPM agreed it was important to “deal with the existing revolutionary left”, because Corbynites usually cannot tell the difference between the various groups. While the Corbynite surge within Labour was gradually having an effect, the practical impact - replacing rightwing representatives with those of the left - was very slow. And the question arose: would those replacements be up to the job? That is why journals like Labour Party Marxists and the Weekly Worker were so essential.
In response to the debate, comrade Conrad agreed with James Harvey on the crisis affecting the way the bourgeoisie is able to rule. In relation to Brexit, for instance, the election of Boris Johnson would solve nothing in Britain, where the crisis had taken the form of a nationalist upsurge against the EU. After Johnson was elected leader, there would either be a general election (with what result?) or a move into “unconstitutional territory”. But the biggest fear amongst the bourgeoisie is not related to Brexit directly - it is a fear of a Corbyn government. In these circumstances, a transformation of the Labour Party into a united front of a special kind, though important, is not in itself the answer. Not only must the form change. So too must the content. We need to replace rightwing Labour MPs with communist MPs, not left-reformist MPs.
The afternoon session began with a discussion led by comrade Yassamine Mather on the latest crisis in the Middle East, which had been provoked by allegations that Iran had been responsible for the attack on tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week.
Since we are publishing in this issue an article by comrade Mather based on her talk, I will not go into great detail about what she said. She pointed out that, while “no-one in Iran in their right mind wants a war”, the Tehran regime “needs a crisis” in order to strengthen its position internally. Similarly, for the likes of the US, a military conflict, as with Donald Trump’s trade war, might divert attention from his economic problems.
But the view of several comrades was that Iran was very unlikely to be responsible for the Gulf of Oman attacks. Bob Williams reiterated that Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was in Iran at the very time a Japanese tanker was targeted, so why would Tehran act in that way? Comrade Kent stated that Iran actually “needs a deal” with the US and I also thought that, while Tehran might benefit from a crisis, it also needs to strike a balance: it does not actually want to be on the receiving end of a US military attack.
Comrade Harvey said that, while war could sometimes provide a solution for internal problems, it often arises “by accident”. Jack Conrad agreed that Iran could be responsible for the attacks - as could a whole number of other state actors, as comrade Mather had pointed out. He added that, as in Britain, what was missing in Iran was a powerful left.
In reply to the debate, comrade Mather agreed that the Iranian left - unlike in 1979, when it organised huge demonstrations - was virtually absent. She said that, in a way, the regime was already in crisis mainly because of sanctions. Many were going hungry and people were seriously suffering. In such circumstances the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, might be aiming for a military government in order to rid himself of the regime’s tiresome ‘reformist’ faction. That is why Iranian responsibility for the attack on the tankers was “not beyond the realm of possibility”.
Either way, we need to take the threat of war seriously. After all, the US long-term aim seems to be to divide Iran in order to rid itself of this ‘rogue state’ in the Middle East.
After this debate, the last item on the agenda was the launch of the CPGB’s Summer Offensive - our annual fundraising drive. This was introduced by Farzad Kamangar from the Provisional Central Committee, who explained that the CPGB has set an SO target of £30,000, to be reached by the end of our summer school, Communist University, in August.
She pointed out, however, that it is not just about money. We need to mobilise our periphery and draw more people into the fight for a single Marxist party. The influence of the Weekly Worker needs to be expanded and we need a better presence on the internet and on social media. These were among the many reasons why we need to take the Summer Offensive seriously.
Each CPGB member has a minimum individual target of £650, and comrades were asked to state what figure they would attempt to raise. LPM comrades also pledged individual targets and agreed to mobilise LPM supporters and sympathisers to contribute. Incredibly, despite the absence of several comrades, a total of £21,000 was pledged by those present and those who contacted the PCC despite their absence.
From next week, this paper will be carrying a weekly update on the progress of the SO campaign.