Amid the confusion
Peter Manson reports on a special meeting of CPGB and LPM comrades.
September 8 saw an online meeting of members of the CPGB and Labour Party Marxists to discuss the ongoing ruling-class crisis over Brexit and the proroguing of parliament. From the chair, Mike Macnair reported that, when the Provisional Central Committee had called the meeting seven days earlier, it had believed “the situation would be clearer” after another week, but that was clearly not the case. Nevertheless, the aggregate proved to be useful in facilitating discussion about the likely outcome and the possibilities for the working class.
Opening the debate, Jack Conrad from the PCC reiterated how the whole thing had begun - when David Cameron decided to call a referendum over Britain’s membership of the European Union. This, of course, had nothing to do with ‘giving the people a choice’ - his concern was to outflank the UK Independence Party and give the Labour Party a “bashing”. In the view of the CPGB, referenda are almost always used as a “trick” in that way, which is why we oppose them in principle.
The Brexit crisis has taken place in the context of a global shift to the right, continued comrade Conrad, and that was certainly being reflected in what is now taking place within the Conservative Party. Boris Johnson’s “purge” of his cabinet, the expulsions or resignations from the party - these would result in the Tories in parliament being brought into line with the rightwing rank and file.
As for the proroguing of parliament, while it was certainly an anti-democratic manoeuvre, it should not be regarded as a coup, as it is by many, including on the left. There was, however, a possibility of a constitutional crisis and an alliance against a no-deal leading to electoral pacts, even a government of national unity of some kind.
Meanwhile, Johnson is still insisting he wants to strike a deal with Brussels, but his chances of doing so are very slim. However, while he is under duress, things are not exactly disastrous for him - the Tories are well ahead in most opinion polls. Things could, of course, turn out rather differently in an actual election - especially if we see a repeat of 2017, when, thanks to Jeremy Corbyn’s performance, Labour ran the Tories a close second. However, he emphasised that this time things could be more difficult for Corbyn - Brexit will be the dominant issue and many traditional Labour areas are also anti-EU. Nonetheless, the idea of a Tory breakthrough in the north is pretty unlikely.
In current circumstances the demand for a “general election now” by sections of the left - Labour Briefing, Socialist Party in England and Wales, Socialist Appeal, Socialist Workers Party - is clearly wrong: it plays straight into Johnson’s hands. Clearly the left is very confused. The SWP, for instance, states that demonstrators outside parliament must not confuse opposition to Johnson with opposition to Brexit, but the two are inevitably intertwined.
Comrade Conrad emphasised once again that we are against a government of ‘national unity’ of any kind, just as we are opposed to any electoral bloc with the likes of the Liberal Democrats. We are for working class independence and, in that regard, our priority remains the fight to transform Labour. The campaign for trigger ballots must be stepped up in order to deselect the pro-capitalist, rightwing MPs.
He ended by stating that the ruling class was now suffering from a lack of control and had been infected by a “national malaise”. But he reminded comrades that our programme was not for British capitalism, but for a workers’ Europe.
First to speak from the floor was James Harvey, who emphasised that the current crisis had a wider basis than just Brexit. However, he disagreed with comrade Conrad over its total domination of an electoral campaign: he believed that, while the pro-Brexit vote would mainly go to the Tories, we would also see a return to “class-based, anti-Tory voting” in Labour seats.
In her contribution, Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists said that the opinion polls are “elevating the importance of Brexit”, stressing that the election would be about “the people versus parliament”. But there are other issues. William Sarsfield said that the left remained dominated by economism, whereas we needed to focus on a “revolutionary approach to democracy”. But instead the left was tailing different sections of the bourgeoisie.
For her part, Farzad Kamangar reminded comrades that the opinion polls were projecting different results in the event of a delayed general election - and there was also the possibility of a “Scottish UDI”. But for her the central question was that of a “different Europe”, and the role of the working class in winning it. In my contribution, I agreed with comrade Conrad about the dismal position of wide sections of the left in both opposing Johnson and at the same time echoing his positions on Brexit and a general election.
Coming back in again, comrade Harvey pointed to the “bigger issue” of the role of parliament and the monarchy. He agreed that the main issue is democracy, but the left insists in taking one side or the other in the row amongst the ruling class over Brexit. On the Labour Party, then, our revolutionary alternative consisted in demanding not just trigger ballots, but a principled position on the constitution.
On the Labour conference, Vernon Price noted that the only significant rule-change to be debated this year is the re-adoption of the original clause four. He observed that trigger ballots are facing an uphill struggle, given that the party is in ‘all hands to the pump’ pre-election mode.
Replying to the debate, comrade Conrad said, yes, for the leadership it was a case of “Don’t rock the boat”. Corbyn was sure to plead ‘unity’ at the conference - as well as pledging to resist “crashing out” of the European Union. As for the coming general election, though, he emphasised that Johnson will treat it as a second referendum over Brexit. In these circumstances the Tories could be expected to mop up most of the Brexit Party vote, while Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Scottish and Welsh nationalists would be fighting between themselves to win over remain voters. He agreed it was disastrous for the left to be tailing one side or the other over the EU. Our position is clear: no to a national government and no to calls for an immediate general election. Above all we stand for working class independence.