Dogmatic delusions

In the March 4 Morning Star, Kenny Coyle wrote off the Socialist Labour Party as a dead-end diversion. Ian Farrell replies

The Morning Star’s so-called Communist Party of Britain is running scared of the Socialist Labour Party. Even before its official launch, the SLP threatens to cream off the few activists the CPB has. The fresh breeze of a real leftward-moving working class movement breaking away from the Labour Party is blowing over the dusty dogmas of the reformist remnants of ‘official communism’.

SLP policies are yet to be decided, but already its rank and file policy working groups have produced positions - for example on international questions (for a United States of Socialist Europe) and Ireland (recognising the right of the Irish to struggle for self-determination by any means they choose) - well to the left of the CPB. The arguments used to condemn the SLP for challenging Labour in the ballot box logically lead towards cancelling any CPB contests. Worst of all, in the only field where the CPB appears to have any organisation - namely, industrial advisory committees which co-ordinate the efforts of trade union militants and lower level officials - the SLP looks set to offer better connections and better opportunities.

Having foolishly adopted the failed parliamentary programme which was the cause of the decline and liquidation of the Communist Party, the CPB reformist rump is programmatically tied to supporting the Labour Party, no matter how rightwing it gets. But who needs a communist party, if Labour is the vehicle for winning socialism? The delusion of a ‘peaceful parliamentary revolution’ projected in the British Road to Socialism was originally justified (in 1950) by an overestimation of the strength of the Soviet Union and ‘socialist bloc’ tipping the world balance of class forces against imperialism. Logically, the counterrevolutions of 1989 to 1991 should have caused the British Roaders to retract their revisionism. All they did, however, was to delete the justification and leave the content of their programme intact.

In the current worldwide period of reaction and imperialist triumphalism, the Labour Party’s rightward movement reached a point, with the ditching of the pretence of socialism in clause four of its constitution, which was the last straw for Arthur Scargill and a layer of leftwing bureaucrats and activists, and made the Labour-loyal CPB’s claim to be communist, revolutionary or Marxist even more untenable. The impossible task of squaring this particular circle in the Morning Star of March 4 forced CPB hack Kenny Coyle into some fascinating reformulations and innovations.

His attempt to legitimise the Labour Party necessitates a search for a suitably humble subordinate role for his rump ‘communist party’. For communists, the working class can only fulfil its historical role of liberating humanity from class society by smashing capitalism and leading humankind through the transitional society of socialism to classless, stateless communism by its advanced section organising itself into a Communist Party - the revolutionary party of the working class. It goes without saying that a Communist Party must fight to win the leadership of the whole class; this means building a mass party, and winning the class for revolution, not reformism. Of course a revolutionary Communist Party seeks to replace the reformist Labour Party as the mass party of the working class. But not Kenny Coyle’s CPB.

These ‘revolutionary’ reformists imagine a sort of symbiosis, a mutual dependence of complementary roles for interdependent revolutionary and reformist parties. We have the theory; they deliver the goods. We supply the Marxist analysis; they supply the masses. We advise the Labour left; they do it.

So comrade Coyle has to fudge the definitions of both Labour and Communist Parties.  In place of Lenin’s definition of Labour as a “bourgeois workers’ party” we have Kenny Coyle’s “federal party of the working class”. Communist parties are, of course, democratic centralist, not federal, so naturally the CPB does not seek to “replace the Labour Party as the federal party of the working class” - concealing the fact that Labour is the mass federal party of reformism! The Communist Party, instead of seeking to lead all forms of struggle of the working class, instead of striving to become the mass revolutionary Party of the working class, is defined by Coyle as “the political party of the working class” which “applies Marxism to British conditions”.

This theory of symbiosis is a form of sucking up to the Labour Party bureaucracy, a plea for recognition and acceptance into the reformist bureaucratic caste: ‘We both have our complementary roles; you need us as much as we need you!’

So all the available space reserved for leftwing parties is already taken up by this cosy division of labour.

The SLP is written off as a “dead-end” diversion on two counts. Firstly, its ideas are “too vague” for it to “play the role of a political party of the working class, developing a Marxist analysis of class struggle in Britain.” Secondly, and showing incredible lack of imagination, the SLP “will not be a mass federal party of the working class, because it lacks the necessary support from the broad labour movement.” So the question of “mass” and “federal” are mixed up again. Scargill’s draft SLP constitution does not propose a federal, but a centralised structure; but the real stupidity is the idea that a small beginning cannot become a “mass” party. This is rich indeed from a party “basing itself on the ideas of Marxism”, the first tenet of which is that everything is transitory, everything changes.

Comrade Coyle and the CPB are steeped in the complacency of metaphysical fixed categories of things that always were and always will be - a far cry from Marxist dialectics, the theory of change and development. Was the Labour Party a mass party when it was launched? In truth the CPB is not preparing for revolution, not seeking to use every opportunity of real life to forge the mass revolutionary party our class needs. If it were, it would be able to recognise the emergence of the SLP as an historic opportunity providing a fresh supply of human material from which a genuine Communist Party might be shaped. Far from serving the interests of the class, it is seeking to preserve itself, to protect its own narrow group interests. This is what defines it as a sect, and makes it anti-Party.

The SLP is still a movement, not yet a party; its character is not yet determined. It evidently contains both reformists and revolutionaries, so we can call it centrist. The rank and file appears to be to the left of Arthur Scargill and the other members of the founding committee, but the policies, programme and rules are still up for grabs.

The CPB, on the other hand, is merely left reformist, seeking not revolution but a safe place for itself within the existing society. “The Communist Party believes,” says Kenny Coyle, “ ...  no matter how unfavourable the current balance of forces,” what is required is “a patient and determined battle for a left alternative strategy inside the labour movement, as it actually exists ...” [my emphasis - IF].

If communism is for the CPB a less and less likely dream in a more and more remote future, and if revolution is both unimaginable and undesirable, their real hankering is for the lost certainties of a past when the Soviet Union and the ‘socialist world’ were growing stronger, living standards were rising, one could believe in a left Labour government legislating socialism and the Communist Party enjoyed legitimacy as adviser to the Labour left. Now this past world has gone, such reformist delusions can only be sustained by a tenacious conservative dogmatism which makes the CPB useless for our class.

The urgent task of genuine communists is to forge a mass revolutionary working class party. At the present moment the SLP provides much of the raw material which could be used in the building of such a party. The job of all genuine communists today is to fight for this in the ranks of Socialist Labour.