Open fight for communism

The July aggregate of members of the Communist Party of Great Britain debated the nature of the Soviet Union, rapprochement and our work in the Socialist Alliances.

A controversy over the USSR arose with the publication of a front-page article in the Weekly Worker last month. A piece by comrade Jack Conrad on the Scottish Socialist Alliance (‘Appeal to members’, June 25) contained the following statement:

“Stalin’s USSR, Mao’s China, Hoxha’s Albania and Castro’s Cuba prove that a national post-capitalism is perfectly feasible. However, they also prove that the consequences in terms of humanity are disastrous. Partial negations do not create something superior, more dynamic and more sustainable than capitalism. Instead of being an ‘oasis’ attractive to others, they become giant prison camps where workers are subject to a modern state slavery.”

The publication of this single paragraph provoked the resignation of one member. Despite being offered the opportunity to explain his disagreement within the pages of our paper, the comrade refused to fight for what he believed, thus rejecting the struggle for an open, non-ideological Party.

The aggregate was unanimous in condemning this unprincipled behaviour. We do not have a ‘Party line’ on the nature of the Soviet Union. This opinion of comrade Conrad, while broadly shared by the majority, is not a condition of membership. Comrades have not only the right, but the duty to state their disagreements and fight for their views in our open press. We unite around action, not around a definition of the USSR.

It was also pointed out that the article in question was hardly the first in which comrade Conrad had expounded his views on this subject. Our paper carried three supplements in 1997 where his arguments had been developed in a comprehensive manner.

Comrade Steve Riley, while equally critical of the resignation, had similar criticisms of the article. He launched what amounted to a defence of the position carried in The Leninist, precursor of the Weekly Worker, for many years. Although the USSR was run by a bureaucracy with separate interests to those of the working class, it was nevertheless a form of socialism - bureaucratic socialism - with many positive features, which our organisation was correct to defend as an advance over capitalism.

It soon became clear that comrade Riley’s views carry the support of only a tiny minority. In fact no one else present at the aggregate supported them. Although there were differences of shade, most comrades described the USSR bureaucracy as exploitative, with interests not only separate, but antithetical to the working class. There was some debate over the continued use of the term ‘bureaucratic socialism’. One comrade argued that we should not imply that the Soviet regime was socialism of any kind, while others stated that the term could still be applied, but in a different way - similar to Marx’s use of ‘petty bourgeois socialism’ or ‘utopian socialism’.

The second discussion, on rapprochement, was introduced by comrade Dave Craig of the Revolutionary Democratic Group. RDG comrades have a standing invitation to participate in our aggregates. The comrade put forward ideas for the development of the Revolutionary Democratic Communist Tendency, established by our two organisations. In particular he called for the inclusion in our tendency of the ‘Dundee group’ - two comrades who resigned from the CPGB in March of this year.

This proposal did not meet with the support of CPGB comrades. It was pointed out that the RDCT was set up with the purpose of facilitating rapprochement between the CPGB and the RDG. Certainly we hoped that the process would attract others. But any ‘Dundee group’ membership of the tendency would be conditional on their genuine commitment to communist rapprochement.

Several comrades suggested that the best example we could give to other groups, as well as individuals such as the Dundee comrades, would be to push through the speedy merger of our two organisations. Comrade Craig himself should take the lead in this.

Comrade John Bridge opened the debate on our work in the Socialist Alliances. He described the recent general meeting of the London Socialist Alliance as a partial success from our point of view. While the CPGB motion on inclusive democracy had fallen on a tied vote, we had managed to remove the worst aspects of the opposing ‘amalgamated’ motion through amendments. Nevertheless, the fight for inclusive democracy would continue and would be carried forward into the conference of the national network on September 5.

At that conference the CPGB would be putting forward an alternative structure to that proposed by the Liaison Group. As in London (and earlier in Manchester), the structure being proposed would effectively exclude certain minorities - not least the CPGB - from representation.

The important idea to win in united front alliances such as the SAs was that there must be room for both a right and left wing. Certain rightwing elements want to purge the left, in this way hoping to make the Socialist Alliances appear more welcoming to Labour defectors and non-socialist greens. The CPGB, on the other hand, would not attempt to exclude the right, although this did not mean that we would hold back on the fight for what is necessary - a Communist Party.

Peter Manson