Two schools

Party notes

Over the weekend of November 7-8, Communist Party comrades and others will come together for an important school to commemorate the 81st anniversary of the October Revolution. The thematic title of this school is ‘Against economism’, a theoretical and programmatic struggle that presents our organisation with important tasks over the coming years.

Essentially, we believe that the dominant opportunist method of much of the British left consists of this fatal distortion of Marxism. In effect, economism - as espoused by groups such as the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party - represents the codification of ‘working class politics’ as the politics of a slave class under capitalism, not the universal class representing the hegemon of the struggle for democracy in the contemporary world.

We believe that this Bolshevik understanding of the tasks of communists is almost entirely absent from the rest of the left. Yet - as the experience of Russia showed - it is an essential prerequisite of any successful revolutionary challenge for power.

This is an important school, therefore. Comrades should have put some effort into preparation and go into it with the understanding that it takes place at the beginning of our critical study of this question, not the end.

Readers will know that our organisation takes the collective education of our comrades seriously. We are critical of our efforts, but believe that they contrast favourably with the philistine approach of others. Instructive in this context is the comparison between our school and the Socialist Party’s event the following weekend - Socialism ’98.

The dominant ethos in all schools organised by the Communist Party is the struggle to take the debate to the highest level we can, not to limit the tempo and style of exchanges to accommodate the rawest comrade in the room. In order to facilitate this, we invite organisations defending opposing schools of thought to our educational events and facilitate their speaking at and even leading sessions. This allows our comrades to listen, engage with and learn from coherent and (relatively) theoretically sophisticated critiques of the main ideas of our own organisation.

What a contrast to the dull schools in orthodoxy run by the Socialist Party and the majority of the left.

At these, the ‘line’ on issues as diverse as ‘capitalism crisis’ and the evolutionary leap between ape and human is given by an authoritative speaker in some blandly digestible form. A few corroborating interventions are taken from the floor, a couple of questions, then it is time for a summing up. Controversy, argument and sharp divisions are actively discouraged - even bureaucratically excluded.

Thus, the advertising blurb for the SP’s Socialism ’98 consciously dampens expectations that its debate will attempt to stretch people, to get them thinking about new, uncomfortable and challenging ideas. “It is not,” we are assured,

“aimed at the ‘experts’ or professional academics. It is an opportunity for anyone who is angry at the poverty and inequality in society, for anyone who is fighting for better pay or free education, to come together to debate socialist ideas” (The Socialist October 30).

On one level, how can we disagree? - we certainly do not organise our schools for professional academics to pick fleas out of each other’s intellectual egos, with the rest as passive spectators. Yet in fact what is being outlined is an approach to education which tends to hold up a mirror to the existing consciousness of militants, misnaming this ‘socialist politics’ or even ‘Marxism’. A good example, in other words, of an economistic approach.

On another level, of course, this is all just wishful thinking anyway. In The rise of Militant, the old warhorse Peter Taaffe wistfully writes of his approach to cadre development - “It is not possible to take a horse, particularly a young one, out over the Grand National course first time out” (p446).

The idea that during this period the majority of participants in SP schools will be bouncy young foals is simply nonsense. This is a profoundly patronising approach both to any new comrades that do attend and - more importantly - to the majority of the long-time membership of the organisation who have sustained it through thick and thin and who deserve to be treated rather more seriously as political cadre.

We welcome comrades looking to be treated as political adults to our ‘Against economism’ school and to all other educational events of the Communist Party.

Mark Fischer
national organiser