Still making excuses

Bob Smith of Open Polemic never was one for mincing his words. So when he launched another verbal onslaught on the CPGB in last week’s Weekly Worker (June 26 1997), it would hardly have surprised our readers.

In his article, ‘Bucket loads of hypocrisy’ (reprinted from Open Polemic Update No9, May 1997), comrade Smith lists no fewer than seven examples of what he calls CPGB “hypocrisy”. The first case in point was perhaps the most telling - not in exposing the CPGB, but in revealing Open Polemic’s own dishonesty:

Hypocrisy 1. Claim you are reforging a multanimous CPGB and when you ensnare an honest (some may say gullible) participant then you hit them for six with your own faction’s rules, while claiming to be acting on behalf of the Party (sic) majority. When the honest/gullible participant complains, you then accuse them of reneging on democratic centralism.”

Who can Bob be referring to? And exactly what form did this outrageous behaviour take? Three members of Open Polemic, including of course comrade Smith himself, took up ‘representational membership’ of the CPGB in April 1995, only to slink away a year later. But it was not the imposition of some previously concealed “rules” that caused their departure.

In fact OP frequently complained that our organisation had too few clearly defined rules. They left because they could not accept that a democratic decision taken by a Party aggregate (in which they participated) should apply to them - namely, that all members should be set a minimum fundraising target for our Summer Offensive.

In other words OP could not accept the operation of democratic centralism within our organisation. Feigning innocence, the comrades would now have us believe that they had no idea that we took decisions on that basis - we “hit them for six” with democratic centralism.

But, we must ask, how is it that such self-proclaimed theorists of communist practice were so blissfully unaware of the CPGB’s organisational methods when they applied to join? After all, to quote Bob Smith’s own words from his regular weekly column in our paper, “the fact remains that the CPGB along with the Open Polemic faction represents surely the highest point of Marxist-Leninist unity in Britain today” (Weekly Worker November 30 1995).

What, Marxist-Leninist unity without democratic centralism? In the same article comrade Smith outlines the reasons for OP’s entry: “In short, our brief was to uphold and develop democratic centralism within the future Marxist-Leninist party.” It is true that neither OP nor the CPGB as a whole claimed that such a Party was already in existence, but how can you “uphold and develop” something without practising it in the present?

As Jack Conrad pointed out,

“Unless democratic centralism, no matter how rudimentary or preparatory its forms, is applied in the present, in the here and now, nothing worthwhile will result in the future. No matter how few, no matter how inexperienced, communists must organise at the highest level. That is why the principle of democratic centralism can never be premature” (Weekly Worker February 20 1997).

To cover their retreat from the practice of democratic centralism OP has attempted, in addition to hurling accusations of hypocrisy at the CPGB, to theorise it out of existence when it comes to the concrete conditions of Britain in 1997. In a statement replying to comrade Conrad’s article it claims:

“The fact is that the principles of democratic centralism, the leading role of the Party and proletarian internationalism are, firstly, dependent on communists being united within a single Communist Party. These principles are certainly not in the here and now in terms of united practice” (Open Polemic Update No8, April 1997).

The statement adds: “OP in fact considers that conditions in the communist movement today make consensus democracy justifiable although, with the existing rampant sectarianism, even that form of communist political organisation may also be premature.” The comrades cannot be accused of being over-ambitious.

Just what is it in the present concrete conditions that makes the practice of democratic centralism (and perhaps even of consensus democracy) “premature”? For comrades who claim to hold such store by the principle of historical and dialectical materialism, they are sadly lacking in its application.

All they can point to is the lack of subjective will on the part of the revolutionary left. What else is preventing the rapprochement of existing organisations? No one is doing it, so it cannot be done.

Why must effective communist organisation await the official declaration of the Communist Party’s reforging at some future congress? And how could its refoundation ever be achieved without such organisation?

But instead of fighting with us for that common goal and the attempt to make the Weekly Worker “the finest communist paper this country has ever seen” (Bob Smith Weekly Worker January 4 1996), OP preferred to beat a retreat.

It is in this light that comrade Smith’s next example of CPGB “hypocrisy” should be viewed. Far from acknowledging that retreat, he claims that the CPGB has decided to “dump communist rapprochement in favour of a quick manoeuvre for position with the [Socialist Labour Party]” (Weekly Worker June 26 1997).

Rapprochement and our orientation towards the SLP are not mutually exclusive, comrade Smith. Perhaps he has not read Eddie Ford’s report of the debate organised by the CPGB last month (Weekly Worker June 19 1997). Although Open Polemic stayed away, representatives from no fewer than seven left groups turned up to debate ‘Where now for the left?’

Comrade Ford ended his article by criticising proposals from the other groups which stopped short of what is necessary:

“Instead of proposing such halfway house solutions, revolutionaries should be devoting all their energy to seeking unity through rapprochement to build the Communist Party - the only form of organisation that can liberate our class.

“That task is for today, not some indeterminate time in the future.”

Comrade Smith’s other claims are equally mind boggling. How about this? - “Hypocrisy 3. Enter the SLP under false pretences and false identities ...” Which “false pretences” would they be, comrade? Unlike some other groups we have made no secret of our organisation’s participation. We have not tried to conceal our reasons for this orientation, nor the thinking behind our strategy.

And “false identities”? This is certainly amusing when we remember that it is a certain ‘Bob Smith’ who is criticising us for hypocrisy. He has every right to use whatever name he likes of course, but he really must try to avoid confusing the principle of political openness with the need to maintain security.

Comrade ‘Smith’ reluctantly concedes that it might be a relevant tactic for communists to “interact with left reformist organisations” - but only when we have put our own house in order. However, as even consensus democracy might be “premature” in his view, we could clearly be in for a long wait before we are able to do anything of any use in the cause of the working class. Meanwhile opportunity after opportunity goes begging.

Of course our interventions would be more effective the deeper and broader our unity, but we must make the best use of whatever resources we have. And comrade Smith’s notion that we must meekly ask Scargill’s permission to intervene in ‘his’ party is bizarre, to say the least.

We should recognise the positive step that the Open Polemic comrades took when they decided to enter the CPGB. But two years on they should stop to re-examine their project. In order to excuse their retreat - not only from any kind of intervention in the class struggle, but also from the practice of democratic centralism - they seek to blame it all on the CPGB.

When OP ran away from its obligations by deserting a living, concrete rapprochement process, the CPGB invited its representatives, if they felt no longer able to remain Party members, to take up ‘representational supporter’ status. That would involve the right of OP to a weekly column in the Weekly Worker and the right to attend Party aggregates with speaking rights. OP did not even bother to reply.

What was that about dumping communist rapprochement, Bob?

Peter Manson