After the general election
Peter Manson reports on the debates and votes at the CPGB’s annual general meeting.
Discussion at the January 25 annual general meeting of the CPGB unsurprisingly focused on the December 2019 general election, the likely consequences of a strong Conservative parliamentary majority, and not least what this means for the Labour Party. A number of comrades from Labour Party Marxists were among the invited guests.
Opening on the 22 theses proposed by the CPGB’s Provisional Central Committee, PCC chair Jack Conrad contrasted Labour’s performance last month with that of 2017. Back then the campaign against Corbyn - particularly over ‘anti-Semitism’ - had not yet developed so effectively and Brexit had not been such a key issue dividing the two main parties.
He described as “nonsense” the claim that, if only Labour had adopted a clear pro-Brexit position (or a clear ‘remain’ position, for that matter) it would have done much better. What it would have saved in the north and Midlands it would have lost in London. In reality the chances of a Labour government were always slim.
Comrade Conrad was highly critical of the organised left, both within and outside Labour. For instance, the Socialist Party in England and Wales, while it has applied for affiliation to the party for itself, ludicrously campaigns against affiliation, when it comes to various trade unions. The Socialist Workers Party also refuses to take work within the Labour Party seriously.
As for groups operating within the party, such as the Labour Representation Committee, they are characterised by extreme myopia. They saw it as their main task to give uncritical support to the Corbyn leadership and paint Labour’s manifesto in the colours of socialism. In reality the 2019 manifesto was timid and nationalistic. Crucially, it placed its faith on the existing constitutional order. Then, of course, there is Jon Lansman’s Momentum, which is pursing a strategy of appeasement with those it regards as being in the ‘centre’ of the Parliamentary Labour Party (ie, rightwingers).
However, comrade Conrad expected, irrespective of who won the leadership election, a shift to the right. Firstly, to some extent that was likely within the rank and file, but it is clear that Rebecca Long Bailey herself is already bending in that direction. So, for example, Long Bailey, like the other candidates to become ‘the leader’, has signed up to the Board of Deputies’ ‘10 pledges’ - thus agreeing to hand over Labour’s disciplinary process concerning accusations of anti-Semitism to an outside body (perhaps even the BoD itself, which notoriously conflates anti-Zionism and even criticism of Israel with ‘anti-Semitism’).
While Long Bailey can be pressured by the principled left, continued the comrade, the expectation is that, if she was elected, she would become “something like Neil Kinnock”, who was initially part of the Labour left, but moved rapidly to the right, especially once he actually became leader. Eventually the party was captured by Tony Blair, whose aim was to transform it into something like the US Democrats. He did not succeed, of course, but that is still a possibility in the medium term.
However, our aim as Marxists is not the continuation of Labourism in the shape of a bourgeois workers’ party, but its transformation in the opposite direction - into a united front of the entire working class, which encourages the affiliation of all the left groups. That is not in contradiction to the struggle for Marxism: we need a Marxist left that is united around a programme for socialism and communism - one that is able to operate as a Labour affiliate.
Turning to the left currently organising within Labour, comrade Conrad emphasised that the CPGB calls on all Labour comrades to work within the newly formed Labour Left Alliance.
First to speak from the floor was Carla Roberts, who put forward several amendments to the proposed theses. She reiterated that it was more than worthwhile for Marxists to get involved in the LLA to try and pull it to the left.
While, for her part, Anne McShane talked about the failure of the organised left - primarily to address the legacy of both Stalinism and Trotskyism. Mike Macnair stressed that the civil war in the Labour Party was in fact a “class battle”. There was also a need to oppose what was regarded as the denial by Corbynism of “allegiance to US policy”. He said that it was entirely possible to win Labour as a united front of the type outlined by comrade Conrad - but, of course, the right would split before that aim was achieved.
Comrade Macnair also spoke against the LLA having an “affiliate structure”, to which I replied that, although we should demand that its structure should be based on individual membership, that did not mean we should oppose the right of LLA branches or political affiliates to propose conference motions. But I warned of the danger of Marxists involved in the LLA leadership feeling obliged to represent the views of those to their right, who, I felt, were likely to be in the majority at present.
Comrade Conrad then stressed that the main point concerning the LLA was what politics it would have. Unlike Labour Against the Witchhunt it was not a single-issue campaign, but should be regarded as the means to fight for a body that demands Labour’s “total transformation”. He warned against the notion that broadness was a “source of strength” - in fact it was the “road to liquidation”, he said. However, while it is easy to get frustrated with the current left, it was essential to engage with it. There was always the danger of comrades being pulled to the right as a result, but that had to be consciously fought.
Stan Kelsey also warned about the “danger of consensus”: for example, the LRC strives to keep the Labour-left rank and file loyal to John McDonnell. However, James Harvey pointed out that LLA groups were very different across the country. And amongst the differences were those relating to organisation: should the LLA be based on federalism or individual membership? The current situation, he said, had provoked demoralisation, but there was also much questioning about the road ahead - an opportunity for Marxists to intervene.
The theses were then voted upon. Several amendments had been proposed, including some minor ones, and most were carried. Comrade Roberts had proposed three of them, of which two were carried - the third was the proposal to delete point 1, which was defeated by a large majority. The final version of the theses is carried opposite.
Iran and Hopi
In view of the crisis in the Middle East following the US assassination of Qassem Soleimani, a major general in Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the meeting was addressed by comrade Yassamine Mather, a leading figure in Hands Off the People of Iran.
Comrade Mather began by comparing the current situation with that of the past, when Hopi was much more active. But now it needs to be revitalised - we urgently need an organisation that opposes both imperialist attacks on Iran (especially with the unpredictability of the current US president) and Tehran’s reactionary regime.
The assassination had been a “game-changer”, she said, and we were now in a very dangerous situation. But it was important not to restrict our campaigning to anti-imperialism. We need to do all we can to support Iran’s working class in its opposition to both imperialism and the clerical regime. However, much of Iran’s exiled left focuses on the overthrow of the regime - even if that is done thanks to outside intervention led by the US. What they do not consider is, what should the current regime be replaced by, and how is that to be done?
In the following debate, comrade Kelsey spoke against the position of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, which now equates Iran with the USA by stating that both are “imperialist”. Yes, the clerical regime promotes its own interests by intervening elsewhere in the region, but that is not the same as imperialism - a point echoed by comrade Macnair. Phil Kent pointed out that various Islamist groupings had been originally promoted by allies of imperialism, and they are just as reactionary as the Tehran regime.
Comrade Conrad agreed that Soleimani’s assassination was very significant - for one thing, it had been openly declared by US authorities. He also agreed that the CPGB needed to step up its support for Hopi - we should ensure that some comrades work within Hopi as a priority, if necessary by reorganising CPGB cells. He pointed out that right now there was little chance of Hopi winning the support of major figures within the union movement. If anything, the TUC bureaucracy is more inclined to support the Committee for the Defence of the Iranian People’s Rights (Codir), sponsored as it is by ‘official communism’.
Following interventions from comrade McShane, who stressed Hopi’s previous successes, and comrade Harvey, who reiterated the centrality of an independent working class movement inside Iran, Yassamine Mather replied to the debate. She emphasised that imperialist intervention is not just military - the sanctions said to be directed against the regime had hit the working class first and foremost. She agreed that the regime’s interventions elsewhere in the region - while they were political, in the sense that they were promoting the interests of Iran’s clerics - were obviously not ‘imperialist’ in the Marxist sense of exporting capital in order to repatriate profits.
The AGM ended with elections to the Provisional Central Committee. All four members of the current PCC - Jack Conrad, Mike Macnair, Peter Manson and Farzad Kamangar - were re-elected unopposed.