Nothing positive to be gained
On the need for a new mass socialist/communist party: a reply to the CPGB-PCC from Talking About Socialism…from a Marxist point of view
In recent weeks there have been not a few references in the pages of the Weekly Worker to Talking About Socialism…from a Marxist point of view1 (henceforth referred to as TAS, but we stress that ‘from a Marxist point of view’ is an essential part of its name and defines its politics). TAS has been the subject of several letters and articles. We’ve even featured as an item for discussion at a CPGB members’ Aggregate (Weekly Worker, issue 14642).
What’s the background to this? In an article on the TAS website on 16 April 2023, ‘No short cuts’3, Nick Wrack argued,
We need a new mass socialist party. This cannot be conjured out of thin air. It has to be built patiently, but urgently. It will be started by those who are convinced of this strategy, and this will inevitably involve small numbers at first…
The article concluded,
There are several Marxist groups in the UK at present. But they all work separately from one another. There are in addition many thousands, I would estimate, of Marxists who are not in any organisation at this time. We need to find a way to draw those ‘independent’ Marxists together to discuss the possibility of working in a more coherent and organised way. We need to raise the possibility of all Marxists, including the groups, of coming together to create a single, unified socialist/communist party, akin to the formation of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920.
That would be a huge step forward. If you want to get involved, please contact us.
Nick Wrack followed this up in a further article dealing with the launching of the new Transform4 party, ‘What sort of new party of the left?’5, published on the TAS website on 29 July 2023. It concluded:
“We do need a new party. We need a mass socialist party. We cannot suck it out of our thumbs. Those who agree with the idea of building such a party should join with us, and with others, to build such a party. We would like to discuss our ideas with those involved in Transform and all others on the left. Socialists-communists (I use the words as meaning the same) need to work together to build the beginnings of a new mass socialist party. There are thousands of socialists-communists in Britain who are not in any existing organisation. We call on you to join our discussions. There are thousands of socialists in parties like the Socialist Workers Party, the Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal. These parties should be seeking to form a united new Socialist-Communist Party. Together we could build a serious, significant socialist-communist party which could dramatically transform the political landscape in the trade unions, and on the left in general.”
On TAS 25 August 2023, TAS published a Statement,6 in which we introduced ourselves as:
a group of Marxists who believe that we urgently need a serious, democratic organisation for Marxist ideas and activity, with the aim of building support for socialist/communist ideas and for the construction of a mass socialist/communist party.
The Statement goes on to set out basic Marxist principles which we present as providing a good starting point for building socialist/communist unity towards the party objective.
It ended with,
18. Through discussion and activity we aim to promote the ideas of socialism/communism, to make them popular within the working class and to build a group that campaigns to bring into existence the embryo of the new mass socialist/communist party that we need.
19. To this end, we invite all who share our aims or who are interested in finding out more to join our discussions.
One might have expected a positive, maybe even mildly comradely, response from the CPGB leadership to our public advocacy for socialists/communists to work together to create the basis for a new, clearly defined socialist/communist party.
Instead, the response has been hostile, ranging from the aggrieved, peeved, indignant and disingenuous [Mike McNair] to the vitriolic and personally abusive [Jack Conrad]. Both Mike McNair and Jack Conrad are members of the hubristically named ‘Communist Party of Great Britain - Provisional Central Committee’ (CPGB-PCC). Far from welcoming it, they are both outraged at our audacity in calling for a new socialist/communist party.
This is a great pity. We in TAS believe that we have a lot of political ideas in common with the CPGB, as presented in Weekly Worker, even if we might have differences over how to engage with other socialists/communists, how to attract new adherents to socialism/communism, and how to conduct ourselves. The CPGB’s present approach is clearly not attracting new members.
We have had a far more positive response from readers of the Weekly Worker.
The first mention of TAS in the Weekly Worker came in an article by Mike McNair on 28 September 2023, It’s good to talk7. After making some remarks about the Socialist Party Students’ challenge to Socialist Appeal students to debate, with which we generally agree, Mike then turns, rather abruptly, to reflections on Prometheus8 (some of whose initiators are collaborating in TAS) and TAS itself.
Here we get the disingenuity. He writes,
And it appears from comrade Wrack’s July 29 article discussing the ‘Transform’ initiative, that he at least shares with us rejection of the project of building a new Labour Party.
Mike suggests that all might not be as it seems. Yet it is clearly set out in black and white. We are in favour of building an openly socialist/communist party, not a left-of-Labour Labour Party. And this approach goes back a long way, as Mike knows.
Mike quotes a large part of the extract from the TAS article that we quote above. He then purports to give a history of the two of us and attributes to us
[A] long history in the various broad-front projects.
It is a history much of which we share with the CPGB. We have sat in meetings of many of these projects with members of the CPGB. We have always tried to argue for socialist politics within them. We have also argued for a ‘partyist’ approach.
More to the point, Mike states:
It is great news if comrades Wrack and McMahon have drawn the lesson from experience to break with their long-standing commitment to broad-frontism to take an initiative to unify ‘socialists-communists’ as ‘socialists-communists’, rather than making broader unity round ‘something less’ a precondition for unity.
“If”? Mike knows from the articles referenced and others on the TAS website and from the Zoom debates that are recorded and public for all to see on YouTube that there is no if, which is used deliberately to suggest an element of doubt, uncertainty, or ambiguity: you can’t really expect us to take these people seriously!
We do not have a “long-standing commitment to broad-frontism”, but have participated in broad fronts to argue for socialist ideas. Nor have we ever made “broader unity round ‘something less’ a precondition for unity”. In fact, we have argued the opposite9. We have been communists since the late 1970s. Since our induction into the revolutionary Marxist movement, we have each shared a belief in the necessity of a specifically socialist/communist party, with a programme for the fundamental transformation of society, carried out by the working class.
More than this, though. Even if Mike disagrees with the full extent of our own self-assessment, he is well aware that we have been publicly and actively arguing the same position since our drafting, with others, of the Socialist Platform10 in Left Unity, which we initiated with others in 2013. It was so ‘broad frontist’ that Mike and Jack, and all members of the CPGB signed it. In addition to the Socialist Platform itself, there are other articles from that period, including in the pages of the Weekly Worker, arguing for a clearly defined socialist party, meaning a party committed to the abolition of capitalism and its replacement by a society based on common ownership and democratic planning.11
In Mike’s own recent article, “Unity based on solid principles”12 he refers to a previous article of his in 201313, in which he wrote, “Should LU describe itself as ‘socialist’? Nick Wrack has argued that it should”, and refers to Nick’s article of 21 May 2013 on the Left Unity website, “Socialism or something less?” 14 He can’t pretend he doesn’t know.
Then comes the real issue for Mike and Jack: our failure to specifically reference the CPGB. What a slight! We did not explain “why a new initiative is necessary.” Well, we weren’t aware that one already existed. Moreover, exclaims Mike, we did not explain “why it is inappropriate to unify efforts in this direction with the CPGB, which has been arguing for 30 years for a regroupment of communists as communists…”.
Nowhere do we suggest that it would be inappropriate to discuss with the CPGB how to jointly advance such a project. Far from it. It was implicit in our open appeals to the whole world that we wanted anyone with whom the call resonated to respond - but we expected a more positive response from those who claim to share the same objective. Contrary to Mike’s assertion, we do not believe that discussing socialist differences is a waste of time. We think it is very important - essential, even.
Mike ends with a rather silly response, like a child stomping his foot in the playground. He won’t engage with our call for discussion. He issues his own call. “I was here first.”
In our short article in response to Mike, carried in Weekly Worker (issue 1462, 12 Oct 2023), under the Editor’s title, ‘Get in touch with us’15, we decided to ignore the silliness. We set out our aims and objectives in a little detail, which we don’t repeat here. For a small group like ours, we are pleased with the ripples of interest that our Statement and articles have generated, and we hope to be able to engage more with comments and criticisms than we have so far been able to do. We appeal to all those who agree with our Statement - or who at least accept it as a basis for collaboration - to get in touch16.
Following our reply, Jack Conrad took up the cudgels. In ‘Getting in Touch’ (Weekly Worker, Issue 1463, 19 October17) he, like Mike, complains about our call for communist unity. How dare we not mention the CPGB! Sin of sins! We do not genuflect to the CPGB’s “four decades of open, tireless and undeviating struggle for a mass Communist Party”. The CPGB, we are told, “towers above” TAS. “Towers”, I tell you! Unfortunately, there appears to be no-one in the CPGB able to restrain Jack and tell him gently that his words might be a tad over the top.
Apparently, only the CPGB has the right to call for a united communist party. When TAS does it, or argues against ‘broad left’ party projects, we are “plagiarists”.
“[N]owhere is the CPGB mentioned,” Jack exclaims, “and, therefore, nowhere do they set out their points of agreement and points of disagreement with the CPGB, which would, of course, be the only serious - the only honest - thing to do, especially when writing in the Weekly Worker. Despite that, the two of them have the nerve to lambast the confessional sects for ignoring “each other, pretending that they are the only band in town, insulating or inoculating their members against the ideas of other Marxists””.
Apparently, we must apologise for not having written the article that the CPGB-PCC demanded of us. Our article was an explanation of who we are, setting out briefly our priorities. It was not an engagement directly with the politics of the CPGB. One might have thought that sending our article to the Weekly Worker was a clear indication that we thought the CPGB might be interested in what we had to say.
“Their current failure to engage with - even to mention - the CPGB testifies to opportunism in matters of organisation.”
Does it? Really?
And so ensued a heap of ordure poured over us personally and others associated with our project. Politically, we are dismissed as ‘born-again communists’. You see, the only real Marxists are to be found in the CPGB-PCC. Everyone else is a ‘poseur’. Like the leaders of all sects, they assert that you can’t be a true believer if you’re not in their particular one.
To make the point that the CPGB are the real deal, while we are counterfeit, the article is illustrated by an image of two lions, side by side. One is a big, fully maned, adult, male lion. Next to him is a cuddly toy lion, forlornly diminished in the great cat’s presence. You have to smile.
Jack implies that the Socialist Platform in Left Unity came after the Communist Platform of the CPGB. This is wrong. It was initiated by several of us who were active in the Independent Socialist Network. We took the step of approaching the CPGB to see if it would support it. It did. Its members signed it.
The Communist Platform was launched later, after a meeting of some, but not all, Socialist Platform signatories voted not to accept amendments to the document from the CPGB but to take only indicative votes on them. This outraged the CPGB-PCC and led to them launching their own Communist Platform and attributing false motives and bad procedure to those of us who initiated the Socialist Platform.
Our argument for not taking the amendments was simple. A huge amount of work had gone into drafting it and then getting people to sign it. We had originally thought that it would be possible to amend it. However, we became concerned that were the document, which by then a large number of people had signed, to be changed without consulting them and involving them in the decision to make changes, we couldn’t be sure that they would still support it.
Putting it bluntly, we could not properly get people’s signatures to one document and then present a different one to which they had not agreed. There was no desire to placate or protect the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty or to hide our politics. Rightly or wrongly, the reason was that simple. The CPGB argued that those present at the meeting should have the right to decide. That is, indeed, what happened. To the CPGB’s annoyance, those present at the meeting decided to take only an indicative vote on the amendments.
In our view, the CPGB-PCC realised too late that our initiative to launch the Socialist Platform was something that it should have done. They realised that our initiative exposed their own lack of initiative on the very issue they claim to have the monopoly - socialist/communist unity. They used the disagreement as justification for belatedly launching its own Communist Platform, which thus weakened the united force of socialists/communists going to the Left Unity conference. Subsequently, we voted for both platforms at the conference and encouraged other Socialist Platform signatories to do the same.
Nick Wrack is described as having a ‘visceral hostility’ towards organised communists, yet the CPGB, it is claimed, wanted him on its PCC18.
Jack continues in his condescending, patronising, disparaging and insulting manner. Read it again if you doubt us. This is his ‘harsh polemic’. We have been around a long time; we have thick skins, so the lashing is laughable. We don’t believe these methods are persuasive, edifying, or inclusive. They are, in fact, designed to repel, rather than to attract.
Appeal to all socialists/communists
Jack disparages those socialists who are not at this time in any existing Marxist group and who might be attracted to TAS discussions and activity.
“The appeal of TAS is to the disappointed, the demoralised, the hurt, even the downright cynical. More of a trauma recovery group than a serious organisation of communists then.”
No. The appeal of TAS is to every worker, young person, and anyone else who wants to see an end to the nightmare of life under capitalism. If some have been disappointed, demoralised, hurt, or even become cynical, yet want to be reinvigorated and motivated to get involved, then we are more than happy to provide a home.
The CPGB-PCC may want to go through the existing left but its manner of engagement is counter-productive and it has little, if anything, to show for its efforts. We have many disagreements with the existing organised Marxist left but in hard times anyone who has stayed committed to Marxist ideas has to be commended. We hope one day to be in a mass socialist/communist party with them, and with the CPGB.
There are many serious comrades who are not in any of the organised Marxist groups, who are still there, plugging away in their unions, workplaces, community groups and solidarity networks, who we hope to reach. We believe that many can once more be galvanised in the face of continued attacks on our class into an organised force for socialist/communist change. We don’t write anyone off. And, yes, we do also want to attract new layers. Most of them won’t turn to the CPGB because its invective is repulsive. However much the CPGB-PCC thinks it a strength, it isn’t. It puts up an unnecessary barrier to anyone who might want to learn more or get involved.
The reality is that the CPGB- PCC has made little headway in its four decade campaign for communist unity and has not done so for a very long time. The frustration and disappointment at the lack of progress peeks out occasionally - much more so, recently - in the letters’ pages of Weekly Worker, and in the reports of its Aggregates.
In the week following Jack’s article, on 26 October 2023, the Weekly Worker carried a report of a CPGB members’ Aggregate, by one James Harvey19. Does James Harvey exist? The use of multiple names for the same author is a dishonest way to present to the world the impression that there are more comrades involved in the production of the Weekly Worker than there actually are. The Weekly Worker has carried articles in the past criticising other socialist organisations for inflating membership figures. The Weekly Worker should practise what it preaches.
The report reveals the enraged animus of the CPGB- PCC to TAS.
We have little time for recent ‘do your own thing’ initiatives such as Nick Wrack’s and Will McMahon’s Talking About Socialism project, the broad parties/fronts past, present and future, the freelance gadflies and the little army of the lost and lonely.
One gets the impression that the last thing the CPGB-PCC wants is new members. Jack Conrad argues for the need to “actively maintain barriers stopping people from entering the CPGB.” It’s hard to reconcile this with a ‘communist unity’ project. They don’t want new members but criticise anyone who hasn’t applied to join or made an approach to work with them.
The Weekly Worker’s attempt to inoculate readers from our appeal for unity in a common project towards the creation of a new socialist/communist party will not work. In fact, it has already backfired, in that it has sent readers to us. We may be very small. But we’re not going away.
Following the articles cited above, the CPGB-PCC sent TAS an invitation to debate our differences and points of agreement. However, the hostility demonstrated in those articles shows that the invitation is disingenuous; it cannot be taken seriously.
We are small, new, and our priority at this stage is to develop our network, publications and Zoom discussions. In the New Year we hope to organise face-to-face meetings in selected towns and cities. At this stage we see nothing positive to be gained by discussing with the CPGB-PCC, which already has a pre-determined and hostile assessment of who we are and our value to the cause of socialism/communism. We therefore decline the invitation.
We do hope that relations will improve and that at some stage in the not-too-distant future we may both find it possible to discuss on a more rational and comradely basis.
We look forward to a time when all - TAS, CPGB, and all other Marxist organisations and individuals who share the goal of international socialism/communism - are in the same party. A mass socialist party is sorely needed.
On behalf of TAS
7 December 2023
Editors' note: The authors insisted that this article must be published without changes to “style, tone, grammar and punctuation”, which they say are “personal matters”. We are therefore not responsible for the spelling and other errors
‘Opportunism in matters of organisation’ Weekly Worker October 26 2023: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1464/opportunism-in-matters-of-organisation.↩︎
‘It’s good to talk’ Weekly Worker September 28 2023: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1460/its-good-to-talk.↩︎
‘Socialism - or something less’, May 21 2013: leftunity.org/socialism-or-something-less.↩︎
‘For a mass socialist party, democracy is essential’, February 7 2013: leftunity.org/for-a-mass-socialist-party-democracy-is-essentia; ‘Is a new left party possible and what should it be like?’, February 28 2013: leftunity.org/left-unity-meeting-three; ‘Tusc: let’s get this party started - the current Tusc model has failed, March 7 2013: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/952/tusc-lets-get-this-party-started; ‘What sort of mass party do we need?’ A talk to the April 27 2013 CPGB London Communist Forum. It was published under the heading, ‘How can we supersede the sects?’ (Weekly Worker May 2 2013: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/960/nick-wrack-how-can-we-supersede-the-sects). It was also published on the Left Unity website under the title, ‘Socialism and Unity’ (leftunity.org/unityandsocialism); ‘Socialism - or something less’, May 21 2013: leftunity.org/socialism-or-something-less.↩︎
Weekly Worker November 2 2023 : weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1465/unity-based-on-solid-principles. Mike references Nick Wrack’s article.↩︎
‘Broad parties: theories of deception’ Weekly Worker June 20 2013: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/967/broad-parties-theories-of-deception.↩︎
‘Get in touch with us’ Weekly Worker October 12 2023: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1462/get-in-touch-with-us.↩︎
‘Getting in touch’ Weekly Worker October 19 2023: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1463/getting-in-touch.↩︎
This was never canvassed with Nick.↩︎
‘Opportunism in matters of organisation’ Weekly Worker October 26 2023: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1464/opportunism-in-matters-of-organisation.↩︎