I have been reading through the CPGB’s Draft programme and discussing it with some comrades, and I have some questions and comments on the section on Women (3.13).
The beginning paragraphs stake out the background and philosophy involved - “Women are oppressed because of the system of exploitation and the division of labour” - which is followed later by: “The struggle for socialism and the emancipation of women cannot be separated.”
The third paragraph enumerates the burdens that (mostly) women carry both inside and outside the home, which, as the programme points out, often stops or lessens their personal development. So far, so good - although the statements are very broad and there is no intention stated to fight for improvements under capitalism.
Paragraph six states that the material prerequisites of equality between men and woman have been created by advanced capitalism, but that women cannot be fully emancipated without going beyond “bourgeois right”. That’s fine as far as it goes, but there is no suggestion that this struggle must go on even under capitalism. It seems to me that the struggle for emancipation of all groups has to continue under capitalism - it cannot be left to spring fully formed from the ashes of capitalism. Statements of intent are all very useful, but what is being done about the struggle in the meantime?
I have heard comrades (male) say that women have made so many strides in the past years that this needs to be changed, that women have many fewer burdens than before. Any man who feels this way should follow a woman around for a day. Although some men do some work in the house, for the most part the responsibilities for the household fall on the shoulders of the women in the home. And many men will tell you (if asked) that they “help” around the house, not that they take responsibility for such work. And every article about women which has done any research shows that many women work 18-hour days, since now the upkeep of a household needs two salaries, but the woman comes back from a full working day and is still responsible for the cooking, housework, etc. Where’s the loss of burden for women?
The section goes on to talk about women’s specific demands and problems, and to state that these do not conflict with the demands of the working class: rather they reinforce them. The bullet points that come after, speak about what “communists say”. A few comments:
- “Turn formal equality into genuine equality ... There must be substantial equality.” What is “substantial” and how do we go about defining it?
- “Establish laundry and house cleaning services undertaken by local authorities and the state.” And who will do this work? Right now, it’s women. Will it be mainly women later, under “substantial equality?”
- “Fully paid maternity leave of 12 months (for the mother) ... three months (for the partner)”, which is followed by: “Maximum six-hour working day for all nursing mothers.” Why six hours? Why not three or four? And what happens when the baby gets bigger? Nothing about men needing to participate fully in the care and upbringing of children. And again why is it not necessary to fight for these things under capitalism?
There is one other item I think is important.
Under the separate section on ‘Sexual freedom’ (3.16), the last bullet point discusses prostitution. While I do not necessarily disagree with many of the points put forward, (1) I believe that this bullet point should be under the section on women and (2) it makes assumptions I do not agree with.
Putting prostitution under ‘Sexual freedom’ makes the assumption that sex for money is a lifestyle choice. Yet, apart from films which glorify prostitution (Pretty woman), where is the evidence that women go into prostitution as a choice? According to that font of information, Dr Google, as of 2015 in England 88% of prostitutes were women, 8% men and the rest transgender. In London 80% of prostitutes were foreign. The numbers themselves say something about the economic relationships between women and men.
Why do women become “sex workers”? From books and articles I have read, it is because of lack of economic opportunities, the need to support children, etc. I have never heard someone who works as a prostitute saying she did it because she liked sex. Under a post-capitalist society, both women and men would have economic freedom, so that no-one would have to give their bodies to strangers for pay.
It might be useful to have a separate section in the programme about men, dealing with male problems - among them male prostitution, refuges for men being battered, their responsibilities in the home, etc. In our present era, even though the number of men being sex workers or being battered are small, they need to be addressed, and the relevant importance to women kept in the section for women.
Truth to power
Paul Demarty’s article on “freedom of speech and related liberties” ended with communist demands, including: “An end to the corruption of advertising-funded media” (‘Light and air’ Weekly Worker January 28). It happened that I had just read ‘A bad news day’ in the Financial Times weekend supplement of January 23-24. This looked at the collapse of local newspapers in the US (not exactly ‘news’, I know), with particular focus on the Hartford Courant - “the oldest continuously published newspaper in America” apparently.
Local papers have been scooped up, staff cut to the bone, buildings sold off and presses closed - just like home really. I remember around 50 years ago, when I worked in the building industry in London, we used to call the Evening News the “jackers’ journal”. This was because it carried every evening - but especially on Fridays - column after broadsheet column of building jobs. They were grouped by trade - brickies, electricians, plumbers, etc - and in those halcyon days it was still possible to leave a job on Friday and start a new one on the Monday.
That was just one area of readers’ interest: local newspapers made a mint on classified adverts. They also used to employ journalists. Even now we get occasional stories from old, retiring journalists - or from their obituaries - of how they started their career in the magistrate’s courts following the tedious register of petty crime in their locality. I note in my local paper that this is reduced to a list: name, street, crime, fine … presumably provided by the court. I do sometimes wonder how someone of ‘no fixed abode’ manages to pay the fine, victim surcharge and court costs.
Around 30 years ago I worked, as a printer, on a group of ‘local’ papers. One thing they shared was a thick wodge of property pages. So until fairly recently local newspapers made money. Now the classifieds and the property ads have gone online and local papers are scratching for a living. Trouble is, if you don’t employ reporters, then there’s not much to read.
The Courant suffered a fate now normal in the industry: “... the newsroom’s phones and television were disconnected. Then its printing plant was shuttered, eliminating 151 jobs.” And so on, and so on. However, all is not lost! The man in charge “believes he is saving publications”. He is quoted as saying: “We’ve pretty much bought all of our newspapers out of bankruptcy or near that fate.”
At the other end of the trade, “The New York Times’s head-count is at an all-time high. Its stock valuation has quadrupled since 2016 …” That last date might be significant: is it all going to keep on the up and up with Biden replacing ‘click-bait’ Trump?
I also read a timely article in Jacobin: ‘For the corporate press it’s all the spin that’s fit to print’ (January 25). The authors quote The Times’s “absurd headline”, ‘Big business breaks with Republicans’, about some “courageous corporate executives” who were making a temporary break in their political donations to some Republicans. And further in Jacobin’s report, “The Times omitted the fact that no major company has agreed to halt the far bigger donations made by executives to the super PACs that actually bankroll those lawmakers. The paper also conveniently didn’t bother to ask companies whether they or their executives plan to halt donations to the dark-money groups that increasingly dominate American politics. Instead, history was abjectly revised …”
So we have local papers going to the wall and national titles cuddling up to the bourgeoisie. As Paul put it, we need to see “An end to the corruption of advertising-funded media”. Among other means of communication the working class needs local newspapers, to tell ourselves and everyone else what is going on locally and as a weapon of organisation. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are all very well for short-term organising in ongoing actions, but are no good for theoretical and strategic development.
Not just local, of course - we need national and international journalism to tell the truth to the working class. Noam Chomsky famously said that there is no point to telling the truth to power - they already know it. A working class organising itself to take power can and will pay for papers and subscriptions if they are buying something honest and useful.
I was very surprised to read, in the article on the Socialist Workers Party (‘Meaningful debate absent’ Weekly Worker January 7), criticism of one hapless SWPer who suggested that, after the socialist revolution and the initial establishment of socialism, political parties opposed to socialism, and/or which advocated discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity, religion or disability, would not be allowed to organise.
What about those “who have not yet been persuaded of the need for common ownership ...?” the author plaintively asks. “Presumably they will be allowed to speak out, but not form a political party.” This is extraordinary and seems to evidence the major rightwards shift of the Weekly Worker Group over recent years.
I was always highly dubious of the sustained efforts by the WWG to rehabilitate Kautsky “when he was a Marxist”, but advocating a multi-party system under socialism (ie, after the socialist revolution has overthrown the rule of the capitalist class and the capitalist state) and including the right of political parties representing the overthrown classes and hostile to socialism to organise is completely ludicrous. It is Kautskyite liberalism in the extreme.
Lenin in State and revolution was explicit that only those who extend the class struggle to the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat can be regarded as Marxists, as socialist revolutionaries. A dictatorship of the proletariat which guarantees the right of the overthrown classes and those hostile to socialism to continue to organise politically is frankly no dictatorship at all.
The role of the socialist state (established after the socialist revolution) is precisely to contain, suppress, deter and in the final analysis act with force against the overthrown classes and those hostile to socialism who threaten to undermine the new socialist order in any way whatsoever.
I accept, of course, that there may well be a wide range in forms of transition from capitalism to socialism and there may well be a wide range of choices and options open to new socialist states as to how best they safeguard the progress which has been achieved to date.
If, hopefully, the socialist revolution is backed by the great majority of the population, one might expect the social weight of this majority, backed up by the power and leadership of the new socialist state, would be sufficient to deter the overthrown classes and those hostile to socialism from engaging in actions to undermine the socialist order or even just to protect their own individual interests.
It may be perfectly permissible for such people to openly argue and express their views against the new socialist order, the socialist state and the new socialist administration. I would, however, suggest there should be limits to how far this could extend to slander, fake facts, misleading claims, lies and distortions about reality. I can see the WWG in recent weeks is now applying “extreme democracy” to free speech, but surely there must be limits established by society as a whole, where such free speech threatens the safety and wellbeing of others in that society? “Extreme democracy” seems like an extremely dodgy concept. Sounds like extreme liberalism or even anarchism to me.
But allowing the overthrown classes and those hostile to socialism to form political parties whose explicit aim will be to win sufficient support in the population to reverse the socialist revolution and socialism itself, to regress back to capitalism - and thence most likely a carnival of reaction, as leading supporters and activists of socialism are then subject to wholesale repression and perhaps destruction - is just not credible or serious revolutionary or class politics. Those who are serious communists and revolutionaries would not countenance the socialist revolution and socialism being undermined, overthrown or destroyed, even less provide legal opportunities to do so.
I for one am very much looking forward to the day when the Conservative and other capitalist parties are explicitly banned as criminal organisations and their leading members prosecuted for current and historic crimes against the international working class and working people more generally, which, let us not forget, includes mass suffering and deaths of millions of people - often deliberately; otherwise through callous neglect and disregard.
Dave Vincent wants a new workers’ party which doesn’t attract careerists - one which rejects perks and limits the pay of its MPs, who would be recallable at any time (Letters, February 4). This, more pure, workers’ party will somehow solve the problem of leadership - or at least place the working class in a better position to challenge capitalism.
There is only one working class, while there are multiple groups aspiring to its leadership. Part of the reason for this is the disease of sectarianism and those who say we need a new workers’ party are simply impatient. They want to skip the process of winning the working class over to the idea of a democratic socialist society.
Dave Vincent recognises the importance of democracy for socialism and is basically saying communists don’t do democracy well. Yet he himself wants us to ignore the democratic fact that the working class in Britain has chosen to be represented by a reformist leadership rather than a revolutionary leadership at this time. He wants the CPGB’s Provisional Central Committee to ignore the democratic decision of the masses and turn its back on the reformist workers.
As a supporter of the present strategy of the PCC, I hope the comrades don’t make this mistake. Rather, we must remain in a united front with the reformist workers. We must acknowledge the democratic choice of the working class - which supports reformist leaders at this time rather than a revolutionary leadership.
We need to take into account the social and economic - not to mention the ideological - reasons which lead the mass of workers to back reformism rather than revolution at this time. The left wing of the working class cannot impose its leadership on the class. At present the revolutionary workers are in a minority, while the reformist workers form the majority. Not recognising this simple fact is the main reason behind previous failed attempts to start a new workers’ party in Britain.
Basing himself on the correct position of the PCC that socialism represents the victory in the battle for democracy and that it is the rule of the working class, Vincent wants to know if there was any real democracy pre- and post-1917. The simple answer to this question is: of course there was! As the Bolsheviks were operating under a tsarist police state, democratic procedure faced obstacles and was inevitably restricted. After the 1917 revolution the Bolsheviks were later able to democratically win the majority in the soviets. It was the Mensheviks who first undermined soviet democracy by walking out after they lost their majority.
No-one can deny that the development of democratic socialism in the Russian Revolution faced real obstacles of both an objective and subjective nature at the time of Lenin and later Stalin. One of these obstacles was bureaucracy. In his ultra-left campaign against Soviet bureaucracy Trotsky was unaware that bureaucracy is an international trend in society, the trade unions and socialism. At the time he associated bureaucracy with backwardness, Stalinism and socialism in one country.
It is easy to recognise the objective factors that served to undermine the development of democratic socialism in the past, but what the left has failed to do is to examine the subjective, doctrinal side of the question. The problem here is that some leftists view comrades Marx and Lenin as infallible, rather than as important contributors to the revolutionary cause. This means that Dave Vincent can express his fears about communists using the working class to get power and establishing a dictatorship which undermines democratic socialism, without questioning Marx’s own dictatorship principle - which was followed by Lenin, and to my knowledge, never questioned by Trotsky.
The mistake of Marx was not that he recognised dictatorship, but that he proceeded to raise it into a political principle in the struggle for socialism. This led Marxists into confusing dictatorship with state coercion. Marx’s dictatorship principle facilitates the already existing tendency in society and socialism towards bureaucratic rule. Thus there is a division on the left between those who represent democratic socialism and those who represent bureaucratic socialism, because of the close link between dictatorship and bureaucracy.
When Gerry Downing calls me a “common liberal” and says that Mike Macnair is no better, he is in fact not speaking as an individual, but rather expressing the views of those who unconsciously represent the bureaucratic tendencies within society and socialism (Letters, February 4). On the left, these are the people who uphold dictatorship as a principle in the struggle for socialism.
Campaign for Democratic Socialism
The Weekly Worker was kind enough to print my letter pointing out that Islam, to put it mildly, is very bad news for women (January 21). One would have thought that this observation would be so banal as to have gone without opposition. However, the following edition (January 28) carried two hysterical ‘replies’ - one from a vile racist, Maren Clarke, and one from Bernard Mattson, whose relationship to Islam is one of complete capitulation. Both do not have much to say and indulge in a lot of irrelevant argument and personal abuse more appropriate to social media.
Clarke asks why I worked as a nurse in Saudi and not Africa. I worked in Saudi for the one reason that any sane person would work there. To make a lot of money in a short time. It is the remains of this money which allows me to work in the national health service with its punitively low wages and also look after my mum, who is seriously ill.
I think I speak for a lot of NHS staff when I say that we do not want you to clap for us - a virtue-signalling display, which is designed to make the clappers feel better about themselves. Rather do something concrete to support at least a 15% pay rise for low-paid NHS staff. Of course, there must be a cut-off point for any pay increase, because admin staff on six-figure salaries, whose contribution to the NHS is negligible or negative, simply use the organisation as a personal bank to milk as much out of it as possible. The NHS has an overload of people, such as ‘equality and diversity’ officers - a post suitable for people who cannot do anything else. I know of a ‘resource manager’ on a six-figure salary, whose ‘job’ is to find ways to cut monies to the NHS. Without this person another £100,000 would be immediately available!
By the way, just what is Clarke doing ‘for Africa’? One of my friends with engineering qualifications is currently in Niger, helping the authorities develop water management. No doubt Clarke and Mattson would consider this person as a ‘white saviour’, but in the real world people deserve clean water. In practice both charities, such as Comic Relief, and individual volunteering are no answer to the very real structural problems which underdeveloped countries have and there is a debate to be had as to what extent third-world countries can develop due to their colonial past, and how much the problem is totally corrupt indigenous leaderships - but not with ‘social justice warriors’ like Clarke or Mattson, who are interested only in self-promotion.
Regarding Niger, I don’t think that the government is bothered that my friend is white: more that she can actually do the job. Actually there are many volunteer positions, depending on age, available in Africa for people with relevant skills and drive. The entitled millennials, who want to doss around pretending to be victims, are of no use to them.
Different diseases hit different ethnic groups with different degrees of malignancy. Clarke’s implication that there is some sinister racist plot behind the susceptibility to and consequences of Covid-19 for Bame groups should be treated with the contempt it deserves.
I am so disappointed that the Woodhouse mine, which had passed every test and been approved by Cumberland County Council, has been suddenly pulled to a halt. This Labour council had considered the question three times over three years, with a bevy of expert witnesses and public intervention and open debates, and approved it three times by substantial majorities. Every aspect of the application had been examined in forensic detail and no fault could be found in it.
Climate extremists had kept up a non-stop campaign to stop the mine. Despite a mass public consultation, which overwhelmingly backed the mine, the ‘greens’ would not accept any democratic decision of the council or the locals. First, they sought a judicial review, and this was withdrawn by the courts as having no grounds. Then it went to the high court on the absurd claim that the council hadn’t considered their arguments, and the court struck this down. Then they kicked and screamed and set up a national petition to get people - mainly from the middle class and from the south of England, who had never seen a mine or even knew where Whitehaven was - to demand a stop to the jobs.
They expected Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, being a Tory with no love of coal miners or coal mines, to block it. They lobbied the prime minister to override the council. They failed, after every obstacle had been overcome and all that was needed now was for the council to engage in the formality of approving the application (again). But now council leaders have come to the shocking decision that the judgement will be referred back to them “after advice from climate advisors” - obviously with a view to reconsidering the previous overwhelming approvals of the full council.
So what happened? There has been a three-year campaign of bullying and lobbying against all of the councillors. Extinction Rebellion and Greenpeace moved their agents into the area and full-time press officers have ensured that their friends on the TV and radio and in the national press have kept up a non-stop and one-sided barrage against the mine and against the councillors - door-stepping them, ambushing them on the street, filming outside their houses and through windows during council meetings.
But there is not the slightest doubt in my mind where this rapid application of brakes comes from: the Parliamentary Labour Party and the shadow cabinet.
Firstly, we had Catherine West, the shadow foreign minister. Brought onto the TV news channels to discuss the election of Joe Biden and British-American relations, she instead launched into an attack on the new mine! Nothing to do with her brief, nothing to do with the programme, but Keir Starmer had obviously given the steer to oppose the mine and win votes from the nice liberal greens in the London elections.
David Lammy was next in line to carry the torch on Any questions. Admitting he knew nothing about the mine and nothing about steel-making, he argued that it should be cancelled, because “we don’t need coal in this day and age” - thus demonstrating that indeed he didn’t know anything about steel-making or the need for this mine.
But the prime directive undoubtedly came from Ed Miliband, the shadow energy minister, on the Andrew Marr show. Once again, this topic had not been on the agenda or in Marr’s script, but Miliband was determined to tell the country in general and Cumberland council in particular that Labour wants ‘dole, not coal’. Obviously, some senior Labour council leaders have been got at and instructed to pull their previous approval.
It is literally sickening. We have yet to discover the date of the committee meeting and whether it will be public, or if we will get to find out who the mysterious “climate advisors” are (and what they have said that hadn’t already been said in the last three years).
The committee isn’t bound to withdraw consent, and the full council isn’t bound to agree with them if they do, but it all adds an impossible mental and political strain on decent councillors - men and women who had been trying to the best for their community. I will be writing to the council, urging them to hold their nerve, stand their ground and approve the mine. I hope others will join me in that.
Next time we think back in anger when they try to unveil a statue of Thatcher and we turn up to protest at the slaughter of our mines, which robbed the miners and their families of a secure future, we should also remember that Starmer and Labour have just banged a stake through our hearts to ensure we don’t come back to haunt them. With a PLP like this, who needs the bloody Tories?
David John Douglass
In the ongoing debate on whether or not the island of Ireland should end partition and reunify, the pro-British minority constantly refer to a lowering of living standards for the residents of the north and an end to free medical care, should Ireland become a nation once again.
The debate is not if there will be a united Ireland, but when. The discourse is now, how to make Ireland an island of equals and a home for all. Here is my manifesto.
- Free medical and dental care for all at the point of delivery.
- Raising the minimum wage to £15/ €18 per hour.
- No individual to earn more than six times the minimum wage.
- Rents to be capped.
- House prices to be capped.
- A full programme of social housing initiated.
- Nationalise all banks and utilities. Return all government outsourced jobs and services to the public sector.
- Heavily subsidised or free travel.
- Free education, at all ages and in all sectors, from nursery to university.
- All-natural resources to become the property of the Irish people, in the custody of the Irish government.
- All politicians to be rotated. No-one can serve a term in office of more than five years.
- All elected representatives to be chosen by ballot or elected as representatives of local committees, elected by local residents.
- Government bottom-up, not top-down.
- No parties to be elected to office - only individuals.
- Government to be overseen by an elected group, which can only use power within the confines of a written constitution, agreed by the people, in the interests of the people.
- Capped rents allow those on minimum wages to plan their expenditure with greater confidence.
- House prices capped. Everyone should be able to buy their own home if they so desire.
- Educational freedom will allow individuals to pursue their dreams and find a job that suits their personality and talents. People must have the choices and the opportunity to live their lives to the full.
- The increase in the minimum wage will afford individuals and families the opportunity to have their own car, plan holidays and have the freedoms to enjoy life outside of the working environment. They would not have to struggle simply to exist every day in a hand-to-mouth subsistence society, relying on the generosity of strangers precariously via food banks, clothes banks and soup kitchens.
- Heavily subsidised or free transport will allow children and adults to access schools and jobs. It will empower the disabled, the elderly and many more to travel for leisure. To visit friends, to view their towns and cities and feel free to exercise their bodies, minds and spirits, in a society where people feel they are truly cherished.
These challenges may appear aspirational to many, but I assure you they are very much achievable. A national written constitution encompassing all of the above and much more will set the pace and direction of all future elected representative governments. A guarantee that these promises, to the people, through a written contract/constitution will form the basis of a new, more equal society.
Corruption, malfeasance and graft will not be tolerated. Those found guilty will be jailed automatically. The term served to be commensurate with the crime.
The increased expenditure required from the new programme of the government will not be found through borrowing but through taxation. All loopholes in legislation that allow tax avoidance or tax evasion will be closed. No individual, company or corporation will be allowed to have offshore accounts. All taxes will be gathered.
Any individual company or corporation who earns above an agreed level of profit will automatically have that money forwarded to the state, to be redistributed to the benefit of the people in housing projects, subsidised travel, capped rents, capped houses, prices, education, health and welfare.
These goals are easily accessible, once the political will has been endorsed by the people. End homelessness, poverty and all the ills which befall society, through the redistribution of wealth for the many, not just a few.
If you spend enough time on the left, you will almost certainly go through some strange episodes - often because apparently we fail to learn the lessons of history.
For example, when the Corbyn era came to an end, the question for many - especially young Labour Party members, who wanted to remain active - was ‘Where do I go now?’. Some decided to join what they saw as a more radical version of Labour - the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain. What a great opportunity for the CPB to recruit new activists!
The CPB has chugged along in recent years - a bit like a sedate Victorian lady. Pamphlets have been republished, with one being issued for each new political conundrum. The position on Brexit has remained the same since Brentry. The British road to socialism has been rewritten as Britain’s road to socialism, with very little change. (Remember the postcard of thousands of workers walking down a paved road, asking one another, ‘Has anybody seen the parliamentary road to socialism?’). Under pandemic conditions, branch, district and national meetings have moved to Zoom - after a disastrous attempt at another platform. Despite the new recruits, the number of members has continued to fall and the average age has continued to increase. Out of 900-odd (some very odd!) members, only about 125 are women.
As an outsider this strikes me as begging the question: when a party becomes this inward-looking, has it given up on the idea of being a force for change or has it just become a self-indulgent salon for superannuated revolutionaries to revisit past glories?
Throw into this mix new groupings in the CPB: among them feminists and lesbian-feminists. Some of them consider themselves Marxists, but one wonders sometimes what their understanding of Marxism is. Not that these groupings are new in our society - only that I have not heard of the difficulties I am about to describe before now in the CPB.
How one becomes a CPB member is supposedly rigorous, but actually it differs from branch to branch. In theory, the branch committee (chair, secretary, treasurer, membership secretary) interviews a proposed candidate with a set of questions, ranging from the trivial (age, education), through what groups they have belonged to in the past, to whether they understand the role and purpose of the Communist Party (meaning the existing CPB, of course).
This sounds reasonable, although I think an emphasis on active recruitment rather than gate-keeping would be better, but in any case what happens in individual branches depends on the local leaders. For example, I have heard from comrades that in one branch the candidates are interviewed by any one member of the committee and then the rest simply agree without even meeting the candidate; in another branch I am told the entire committee is involved in the interview; and in a third the secretary does all of the work, because the branch is too small to have a committee. So it is often difficult to know the ideological sophistication of new members. This is something that should be discussed in the branch, but whether it is or not depends on the effectiveness of the local organisation.
There is also the problem that there is no induction for new members. Candidates may - and many do - come into the CPB with very little knowledge of the history of the Communist Party, how it is supposed to operate and clearly with no understanding of ‘democratic centralism’.
I have heard from comrades who happen to be members of the ‘official communist’ party in another country that when they were in that organisation’s Young Communist League, there were mandatory classes; mentorship by older comrades; role plays and reading and discussion on the history of working class struggles; the roles (including chair, secretary, treasurer, etc); how to give speeches; how the party works, etc. As far as I know, none of this is available (or even offered) in Britain’s YCL or CPB. Where young people who have no background in struggle are supposed to learn such things I have no idea. Osmosis? Most will not have much experience of trade union organisation either, which provides a training in one form of class struggle.
I hear that in Britain it is often the case that young people are members both of the YCL and the party at the same time. Since the two are separate organisations, what happens if one does not necessarily bleed into the other? It is obvious that for any principled working class party proper induction is vital and in my view should be a mixture of learning by doing, reading and mentorship.
These failings seem to me to be part of the reason for the problems the CPB is encountering at the moment - that and the fact that the party seems to be becoming more centralised and less democratic.
The main characters in the current comedy of errors that I hear have been affecting the CPB are the London Women’s Advisory Committee and the Young Communist League - the latter is supposed to be for young people who consider themselves or want to be Marxists, of course.
A group of young women joined the CPB in London last year and one most definitely had a very chequered history within the left, I am told. Others had been in the Labour Party or various other organisations. Some were feminists and some lesbian-feminists. They formed an important section in the LWAC, because they were young, and eager to be active. At the beginning, many of the older women who had been in the party for many years, embraced them wholeheartedly, because it looked like the CPB was getting a new lease of life.
But these women did not receive proper training and induction, and were basically left to their own devices. As a result, they floundered in a range of ways. As far as I have been able to discover, no-one did them the service of explaining exactly what sort of organisation they were joining.
A problem surfaced almost immediately. In one LWAC meeting the boyfriend of one of the members came into the room where she was (this was an online meeting, of course) and made a comment about something being discussed. The young woman with the chequered past threw down her pencil and said, “If men are going to speak in this meeting, I’m leaving now!” And then, a few days later, she confronted and upbraided the man personally. The girlfriend of the man in question was not happy, and this led to various social media exchanges.
Fast-forward a few months. A weekend of seminars on women was proposed by the London group and one of the young women involved was asked to design a leaflet for it. To cut a long story short, the planning group in London (including some of the young women described previously), believing they had total control over the event, did not like her design and then asked the man (note the irony) who is paid by the CPB to do such things, to design another one. This became a major argument between the national executive committee and London. The EC finally took the view that, since it was paying for the whole thing and since the seminars were to go out under the name of the party and not just London, it should have the final say. The EC members liked the original design and brought it back.
From the correspondence I have seen, no communication from either side was exactly what you would call polite. And, in any case, in a ‘democratic centralist’ organisation, does s/he who pays the piper always call the tune? What about reasoned discussion? Furious emails went back and forth between the éminence grise of the London committee and the EC. There were more social media exchanges and finally the entire weekend was “postponed” by the EC.
To me this smacks a little of ‘overpaternalism’, of ‘taking their ball back’. Oh, the irony for a women’s event ... The London group is still smouldering, it seems, and one of its members is reported to have compared the executive’s decision to an act of the pre-revolutionary Russian royal family.
Apparently, some of the women who felt a personal stake in this matter were a little too free on social media, which led to them being investigated by a trio of experienced comrades on allegations (more or less) of bringing the party into disrepute. The entire EC then voted that the two women in question should be suspended for three months, while a more formal investigation takes place.
Now, I am of a generation that grew up before computers and I admit to not paying much attention to social media, except as a means of instant and important communication. I do not understand the younger generation’s mania for parading their opinions and lives in front of a fickle public. But these women apparently felt it was perfectly acceptable to take out their rage against one of the members of the original investigating trio (a woman) by claiming that she was not neutral because she was in love with another member of the trio (a man) and probably having an affair with him. I was told that the woman concerned was incandescent.
Like it or not, social media is here to stay and any political organisation is going to need to find some way of dealing with it. It all comes back to a lack of political education in how comrades conduct themselves when they are supposed to be the public face of ‘the party’, wherever they are - in person or in writing. Frankly, I would ask young people to consider whether what they are going to say is the sort of thing they would screech in a crowded pub and, if the answer is no, my advice would be to step away from the keyboard!
This seems to me to be a failure on the part of the young people involved to understand the discipline involved in being a member of an organisation calling itself a communist party. And, if this is the case, what else don’t they understand?
Then there was another controversy. Some of these same young women in the YCL went to a social party and a YCL member (a male) put his hand on the rear of a young woman (a non-YCL member). When told to remove his hand, he did so. The young woman did not want to complain, but one or two of the YCL females decided to report him themselves. The executive decided (as I understand it) not to take any action, but that it should be left to the YCL.
One of the young female YCL members was heard to complain that he should have been expelled immediately, since this was akin to sexual battery: men like him do not learn, she claimed, and in any case the YCL was not a rehabilitation centre. If that is the case, it certainly does not seem either to be a place for members to learn appropriate and communist behaviour - and I do not mean only in relation to sexual behaviour. As a result of all this, eight women have resigned from the YCL - although I am informed that at least two of them are (for the moment) sticking with the CPB!
It goes without saying that even the most unreconstructed man who is not Donald Trump will know that uninvited ‘arse patting’ is not OK. It also seems to me that because of a lack of a reasonable process - a process which everyone has confidence in - resignations are almost inevitable. Once again a failure of education and leadership.
What the eventual outcome of these incidents will be is anyone’s guess. The CPB executive, it seems to me, does not want to confront the behaviour of their members or, more importantly, the philosophy or beliefs that lie behind them. They are satisfied with coping with these problems bureaucratically, and not dealing head on with the members concerned.
With my communist crystal ball I see two possible futures. Without rigorous criteria for membership, including induction, and more vigorous discussion on issues as they arise, ‘the mill’ may very well have a great deal more ‘trouble’ of the same kind in the future.
The other possibility is that the CPB will have less and less of this sort of trouble, because it will become a superannuated irrelevance. Few will seek to join it, because it has nothing to offer them by way of organisational discipline and theoretical clarity. Any Marxist party worth its name needs young people’s idealism and enthusiasm, but it must offer them a proper Marxist framework in return.