Debate poses need for communist unity

Last Sunday the Communist Party hosted a debate with the Independent Working Class Association on the need for common action among revolutionaries

WHEN COMRADES from Red Action called for the formation of the IWCA last year, the Communist Party welcomed their initiative. The CPGB stated that their identification of the need to challenge Labour, approached in a critical way, and their call for left groups to come together were positive.

Unfortunately the CPGB disagreed with many aspects of The moment of truth,the document which eventually formed the basis of the organisation’s founding statement, and was unable to put its name to this. A bitter dispute followed, but last Sunday’s debate began at last to tackle the real issues which divide us.

Opening for the CPGB, Mark Fischer stated that the IWCA project had been marked by a “hectoring impatience”, typified by its six-month deadline for organisations to get involved and the belief by some comrades that differences should be shelved and immediate action begun.

Comrade Fischer asked whether genuine communist unity could ever be achieved in this way. If, on the other hand, all that was wanted was a united front for common action on specific issues, then why exclude those who had not yet broken from social democracy? The IWCA comrades were expressing an anarchistic, sub-reformist approach to politics, based on dialogue with local movements. “Fighting for bread and butter issues does not pose the tasks of communist unity now,” he added. “Communist unity must be built top-down.”

A real forward movement of the class was represented by the SLP’s own challenge to Labour, which opened up the possibility of workers themselves fighting for a genuine working class party. That is why the CPGB had made clear from the outset that its priority would be towards the SLP.

Comrade Fischer then addressed the comrades from Open Polemic, whose organisation had affiliated to the IWCA while also taking up representational entry into the Communist Party. He pointed out that OP members who had joined the Party refer to it as the “highest point of communist organisation”, while others who have not say it is just “another site for communist rapprochement”.

Replying for thc IWCA, Steve Hedley described it both as “a broad front of organisations of the left” and a “united front”, adding that the CPGB’s attitude had been “sloppy and dishonest”.

He discounted the trade union struggle as a vehicle for change and advocated working with the unemployed in the community - an approach only adopted by the far right at present. “First you must win their trust through offering help on housing and racist attacks,” he said. “We have won £¼ million in compensation in Hackney.

“You can’t solely organise at the point of production,” he continued - that was the method of the SWP, who believed that workers would somehow become political through trade union work.

Comrade Hedley criticised the CPGB for alienating workers through staging four-hour debates on Cuba, demanding 10% of the income of all its members and proclaiming the right to send them to any part of the country.

“That is not a serious way to attract the working class.

“The soviet system must be built from the bottom up ... You are not building a party, not even a sect: you are building a cult.”

He contrasted this with Open Polemic’s attitude and appealed to CPGB members, over the heads of the Provisional Central Committee, to affiliate to the IWCA.

Another IWCA supporter defended their statement that the Labour Parry was “a middle class party for middle class people”. He claimed that there was “a massively expanded layer which was economically working class, but socially petty bourgeois”. It was with the underclass constituting up to 40% of the population - the majority of the working class - “that the future of communist organisation lies”.

He went on to say that the CPGB’s positive attitude to the SLP proved that it did not want a clean break from the official labour movement. This was backed up by an Open Polemic member, who contrasted the CPGB’s allegations of IWCA impatience to the Party’s own “indecent haste” in embracing the SLP.

But another OP member repeated his belief that the CPGB was “the highest point of communist rapprochement - the only show in town.” He added that this need not necessarily be permanent, and urged the forthcoming Party aggregate to reconsider affiliation to the IWCA. The Party could “accept” the IWCA founding statement without necessarily agreeing with it.

Various Communist Party members expressed astonishment that some IWCA supporters believe that its view of the Labour Party and the working class was a Leninist one. Lenin had insisted that the Labour Parry was a “bourgeois party of the working class” and this remained an accurate definition today.

Whereas organs of working class power like soviets had to be built through workers’ own self-organisation, the communist party itself must be built top down. It had to be characterised by the highest possible theory and internal discipline, but it must win the right to lead.

While Party members did not denigrate community work, this - like trade union work - would never in itself produce such a party.

A member of the Revolutionary Democratic Group (faction of the SWP) stated that his organisation had neither joined nor left the IWCA. He asked whether our prime task at present was to organise the class or build the party. A united front could be a valid form of struggle, but “we could sow the illusion of leading the working class when we’re not in a position to do that”.

Responding to another IWCA supporter’s plea to “make a difference, to do something”, he said:

"We must take on board the project of communist unity through programme ... Programme is what you do.”

A member of the Communist Action Group, despite his own organisation’s affiliation to the IWCA, disputed that it should be a united front. However, he agreed with the IWCA’s bottom-up approach to party building: “We have got to get our hands dirty. We should be up to our elbows in the blood and shit and smell of the class struggle.”

This brought a rebuke from OP, who accused the CAG of ditching partyism itself. While advocating affiliation to the IWCA, the comrade called for all to join the Communist Party too.

Replying to the debate, Steve Hedley said, “Who can say that a communist party will arise from the IWCA? But unless we get the working class involved, we will fail.”

Mark Fischer summed up the CPGB’s position as being the need to merge theory and programme with a real movement of the class.

Alan Fox