Sir Keir heads a bourgeois workers’ party, but there is little to choose between him and the Tory PM

A stale left in a tumultuous world

There were two topics on the agenda: the Israel-Gaza war and the coming general election. Scott Evans reports on the January 21 aggregate for CPGB members and supporters

Beginning with the Provisional Central Committee’s statement on the Israel-Gaza war and reflecting the fact that all 23 of its points were largely uncontroversial within the organisation, we had only two amendments, neither of which saw anyone vote against. One proposed the inclusion of an additional sentence on boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), while another was put forward for the sake of accuracy on the legal definition of genocide.

Jack Conrad opened the discussion with the PCC’s statement. He explained its primary purpose as clarifying the position of the organisation in the wake of the events following October 7 - particularly given that we have published some material with which we have some serious disagreements. Of course, that is one of the great merits of the Weekly Worker: if all we published was strictly compatible with some largely fixed, prescribed line, it would hardly be worth reading.

The first amendment, proposed by Mike Macnair, called for the removal of the reference to “acts of omission” from the definition of genocide.1 Clause 1 had originally read: “Note, genocide is legally defined as acting with the intent to ‘destroy in whole or part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such’ - that includes acts of omission.”

Comrade Macnair was not arguing about whether Israel would fall foul of one or another definition of genocide - indeed most (or all) present at the meeting consider that what Israel is doing does indeed amount to the opening acts of genocide. The point is simply that the typical legal definition of genocide does not include acts of omission.2

The more important underlying point here is rejecting the common practice on the left where accuracy is abandoned for the sake of punchier rhetoric, backed up by moral righteousness. Regular abuse of this rhetorical trick - outside of the heat of the moment on pickets and demonstrations and other such forgivable instances - rather blunts its effectiveness over time. One can imagine examples: ‘Neoliberalism is genocide’, ‘This bill is fascism’, and so on. Crying boy, meet wolf.


Anne McShane proposed the second amendment heard by the meeting:

Point 4 add: “The boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign launched by Palestinian organisations also deserves support, because it provides a way for the wider working class to express its opposition to the Israeli regime and can lead to more militant action if given an anti-imperialist edge.”

The comrade explained that, while she had held reservations about particular aspects of BDS in the past - such as the boycotting of academics in Israel, which she was concerned might stifle opposition voices - she has since dropped all such concerns. The important thing is to build support for the Palestinians outside Israel, given the situation of the Israeli working class, and use BDS to draw attention to various aspects of the state of Israel and its connections to the imperialist world.

BDS, in some places more than others, also provides a framework through which to direct organising efforts around Israel/Palestine. We simply have to engage with it without any illusions, occasionally fostered by ahistorical comparisons with South Africa, about its possible role in solving the crisis on its own terms. The fact that the UK government is clamping down on such expressions of solidarity only increases the vigour with which we must support such efforts.

Following her introduction, owing in part to Jack Conrad’s mentioning of some comrades’ prior reticence about BDS in his introduction, Peter Manson spoke expressing his concern in the past about a particular use of BDS - specifically the proposed boycott by international telephone operators (in the days before direct dialling) of calls to apartheid South Africa. Why, the comrade asked, should ordinary people in South Africa, including anti-apartheid activists, be denied the ability to speak with their family members or comrades living abroad? Surely what we want to target is the capitalist class, not our allies on the ground in the country we are proposing to hit with worker-sanctions.

Answering the comrade, Conrad weighed in on the importance of symbolism in politics. One example given was the working class in Britain, particularly in the north of England, acting in solidarity with the Union in the American civil war in the fight to abolish slavery. He contended that any boycott of communications would not in reality completely cut off any country, and to suggest it could would be naive; the point is the symbolism of it. Comrade Conrad also countered comrade Manson’s suggestion that actions should or can avoid catching workers in the crossfire, that in fact some actions Marxist should support do materially hurt some sections of the working class, such as pushing for a boycott of arms production and shipments, which could mean that some workers lose their jobs (indeed their trade union might intervene on the side of continuing production and shipments).

Farzad Kamangar wondered whether the amendment should be changed, so that it begins: “The international boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign …” She said that we should support BDS specifically because it is an international campaign, particularly given that in many places it has very little presence, or its presence is limited to “silly things that don’t really matter” like boycotting particular fruit and vegetables.

In her response to the contributions, comrade McShane explained that what she thinks is important about a protest is the politics, not the form. Of course, with anything like BDS you are going to get a number of people engaging with it on a purely liberal level (what they will and will not buy in the supermarket, etc), but what is important is picking good symbols, drawing people in and educating our class.

The comrade also noted that she found there to be an equivocation on the question of genocide in the PCC statement, and that it is very clear that the Israeli state has an intent which one can see both in its actions and in the statement of many senior politicians, whereas the statement merely says the situation “could easily lead to death on a scale that amounts to genocide”.

Besides further discussion on the nature and purpose of BDS, there was some discussion about whether support for Hamas is higher or lower than the figure quoted in the statement, whether polls reflect support for Hamas or October 7, and so on, but the existing statement went unamended on these points and was unanimously agreed.


Opening the second discussion of the aggregate, Mike Macnair spoke on the possibilities, or lack thereof, for left intervention in the coming period. The inability of the left to unite is a permanently discrediting feature that we seek to overcome, and we look for every opportunity to do so.

The next UK general election is likely to take place sometime towards the end of this year, and this will likely mean we will see even more of the already fairly numerous attempts by the left to throw up new party-esque initiatives in opposition to Labour, ‘the status quo’, the sect landscape, and so on. The discussion was fairly short, limited in scope, and preliminary.

The comrade focused on some of the initiatives we have seen so far already, including from existing sects such as the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, and how we might orient to them. We have Transform,3 the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition with its “organising convention” for a left intervention in the election,4 the Campaign for a Mass Workers Party, and so on. Signed up to Tusc’s convention so far, noted comrade Macnair, are seven organisations, though this includes the organisation which runs Tusc, the Socialist Party in England and Wales, and Socialist Students (SPEW’s student section).


As for Labour itself, he stressed that we continue to make the point that Labour is a bourgeois workers’ party and always has been. Before 1914, Labour MPs voted with the Liberals on foreign policy and rearmament questions, while Clement Attlee’s 1945-51 government was characterised by austerity, and so on. Labour’s rightwing character is not new. But it is still a form of workers’ party because of, first of all, its name, which is not trivial, in combination with the fact that the core electoral base is in working class areas, its history in and around the working class and socialist movements, and is largely financed and supported by trade union affiliations. For this reason, we should not expect to see any left opposition to Labour to have substantial success at this particular juncture; ‘Get the Tories out’ will be the order of the day.

While our aim is not a Labour Party mark two, but a mass Communist Party, there is still the possibility of transforming Labour into a genuine united front of the working class - where communist and other left organisations are free to affiliate. Meanwhile, left electoral projects are, for us, useful exactly to the degree that they provide an opportunity to agitate and propagandise in for a Communist Party. In this sense, Respect was more useful for us than SPEW’s Campaign for a New Workers Party, being closer to a real partyist project, while the CNWP was (like Tusc today) really just a front for SPEW.

When it comes to calling for a vote for this or that party, comrade Macnair argued that we should be oriented by what is agitational, so it could be that we call for a vote for CPB candidates on the basis of the name ‘communist’ alone, or for the Workers Party of Britain because of their clear anti-imperialism (not because we approve of leader George Galloway’s politics or anything beyond this simple point), and not to call for a vote for the likes of Tusc because it does indeed just stand for a Labour Party mark two.

Adding to this introduction, Jack Conrad explained that there would be no point in us standing any election candidates of our own at the moment. Aside from the fact of our limited numbers, it would have no real impact - unlike in 1992, where there was a real possibility of making an impact, however small, in the wake of the collapse of the old ‘official’ CPGB. We stood four candidates: one in Scotland, one in Wales and two in London. Today, however, we are, like SPEW, barred by the Electoral Commission from standing under our own name. Comrade Conrad was also sceptical about the ‘vote Labour but …’ formula, given that Sir Keir’s leadership is probably the most rightwing expression of Labourism that there has been.

Carla Roberts pointed out that Left Unity seems to be putting some distance between itself and the increasingly anaemic Transform5 - which, if a continuing trend, would leave Transform with what was the Breakthrough Party and various independent socialists and ex-Labourite hangers-on. The incredibly lacklustre founding conference doubtless put off some people.6 She also wondered if the more interesting stuff might come after the election, after a ‘crisis of expectations’ - although she expressed scepticism about that too. Expectations, that is positive expectations, about a Sir Keir government are non-existent.

Vernon Price questioned what exactly we want to do concretely to intervene on the ground with these left projects, noting also the possibility of a Socialist Appeal/Revolutionary Communist Party electoral initiative … if the electoral commission gave permission (doubtful). What we have is various useless broad front projects and in the case of Socialist Appeal a sect rebrand of Fabian socialism because of the failure of Corbynism and the growing popularity of communism amongst young people.

Summing up, comrade Macnair agreed with the idea that we should be turning up to meetings, helping out with canvassing or whatever is happening on the ground, specifically with whatever seems to be the most promising left project. But the details of any such concrete intervention will be clearer much closer to the time than now.

  1. An omission, as opposed to an act, is a failure to perform an obligation.↩︎

  2. See www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2001/17/contents; but note that the bill it originates from does include omissions, which is one potential source of confusion when searching for such stuff online: publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199900/cmbills/166/00166--a.htm. See also the Rome statute and UN definitions.↩︎

  3. transformpolitics.uk.↩︎

  4. www.tusc.org.uk/19890/29-11-2023/general-election-challenge-organising-convention-details-agreed.↩︎

  5. See, for example, the framing in leftunity.org/greetings-to-the-transform-conference-this-weekend.↩︎

  6. See ‘Sixty seconds and no politics’ Weekly Worker November 30 2023: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1469/sixty-seconds-and-no-politics.↩︎