The next Party aggregate in mid-September will take two reports which represent the beginning of our discussions around Perspectives ’99, our annually produced outline of the tasks facing us over the coming year. One will examine our work in the Socialist Alliances in the aftermath of the important Network launch conference in Rugby on September 5. The second, linked to this first item, will look at the challenges facing our organisation in the key field of elections as they loom in Scotland, Wales and London.
Traditionally, the Perspectives documents do not minutely dissect the tasks and prospects set out in the previous year’s plan. This is not - as rather insidiously suggested in the past - because the authors of Perspectives have a vested interest in blocking post-mortems of Party actions. The leadership has been accused by some malcontents of wishing to avoid drawing up proper balance sheets of past activity, of consciously failing to properly weigh the positives and negatives in our work.
In fact, the critical evaluation of our ongoing work should not be stored up for an annual internal document. This should be a constant process, both via internal material and in the pages of our open press, promoted by every level of the organisation. The Perspectives document for any given year thus attempts to build on and incorporate constructive criticisms of the weaknesses identified by continual self-evaluation over the preceding 12 months.
Certainly, this column honestly attempts to air problems in our Party that the leadership, or sections of it, identify in regular reviews. But realistically, we must say that members at every level of the Party remain too passive, reflecting a lack of active engagement. This is a fault that we will pay ongoing attention to.
Numerically, our Party has suffered some setbacks over the past year or so. Most disappointing was the sub-political implosion of two leading comrades in Scotland, weakening the work of communists there during this important period. Opponents of our organisation, bruised by us in other tussles, have rubbed themselves into little paroxysms of glee as they point out “dwindling numbers, resignations, calls for liquidation and stalled unity” (Nick Long Weekly Worker August 20). In fact, I believe that the project that this organisation is in being to promote - that of a reforged Communist Party - has actually made some quite important advances over the last year.
We cannot boast of numbers, although it would be too easy to exaggerate the extent of our losses. We have made important new recruits over the recent period and have a small new layer of active supporters around our ranks that we must look to integrate quickly. However, our real strength is our strategic positioning in relation to the crisis of the rest of the left and the evolution of social democracy. This could be summarised under two headings:
- For democratic centralism! As meltdown overtakes one section of the left after another, the need for genuine democratic centralism - defended uniquely by this communist collective - becomes more glaringly apparent. Far from this being a technical question, as foolishly suggested by so many groups we polemicise with, it is in fact a key political prerequisite of the fight for a genuine communist programme. As the glass-bubble unity of sects begins to fracture under the intense atmospheric pressure surrounding them, partisans of the working class are left blinking at the truly dismal picture of the endless multiplication of smaller and smaller mono-idea grouplets (logically leading to ‘organisations’ based on one household or one individual). The revolutionary left must start to take its responsibilities to the working class more seriously. Democratic centralism - a political principle of communist organisation championed by the CPGB - is the answer.
- For independent working class politics! The struggle for proletarian independence is characteristic of Leninism. The evolution of Blair’s Labour away from links with working class politics of any kind poses a problem to much of the British left. Sections have characteristically responded by thrashing around to find something else to tail - whether it be Scottish and Welsh nationalism, or the greens. Since our origins as a faction in the Party in the early 1980s, the struggle of Leninists in the CPGB has been to re-equip the vanguard of our class with a genuine revolutionary programme. The fight to defend and advance this process has taken some important steps forward since the last Perspectives discussion, notably around the struggle for clarity, openness and democratic inclusion in the Socialist Alliances.
The leadership has not yet itself discussed Perspectives ’99 at any length, but there are a few points around which it has developed a consensus already.
First, the ongoing struggle to develop the theory of the organisation is critical. Opportunities for communist intervention in wider forums or movements are strictly limited at the moment, whatever the befuddled and tail-chasing elements of the left tell us. This allows us a certain ‘luxury’, a space in which to deepen our understanding of Marxism. Thought must be given to broadening Party education and more general theoretical work over the coming year.
As reported in last week’s column, the leadership believes that this year’s Communist University actually presented us in outline form with our “real theoretical and programmatic task” for coming years - “the struggle against economism” (Weekly Worker August 20). The emphasis on developing the theory of the Party, at least in part in struggle against this degenerate form of ‘working class politics’, is not counterposed to developing the infrastructure of our organisation in 1999 - the two should be symbiotic, after all. A relative weight on the systematic development of Party theory is key, however.
We are hardly happy about our numerical weakness and - as I always warn in this column and elsewhere - we must avoid the danger of becoming sanguine about it when we look at our other strengths. Recruits must be assiduously fought for, the structures of the organisation tenaciously built and members retained. Nevertheless, our ideas and the fight for them have ensured that we are well positioned politically and this will be the key to our longer-term success.
To focus comrades’ minds, centre will ensure that cell secretaries are supplied with written discussion materials relating to this debate. Cell secretaries must ensure that Perspectives discussions are on agendas before the September aggregate, even if not yet as a major item.