Richard Newton of Bexley and Greenwich Socialist Party is to be congratulated on a pugnacious defence of his organisation and willingness to see a more informed, open debate on the key political issues raised by its crisis (see Letters). His open defence the executive committee of the SP in England and Wales helps us understand a little more of the questions involved and usefully provides yet another insight into the bureaucratic mindset of the SPEW leadership.
Comrade Newton’s attitude certainly contrasts favourably with the besieged SPEW apparatus in Hepscott Road. On the occasions that I have rung this HQ looking for corroboration of various questions - even as mundane as whether they had published a report of recent developments in Scotland or not - my messages have either been unanswered or I have had the phone slammed down on me. Thus, there is a very simple answer to the comrade’s challenge as to why we did not publish the SPEW EC statement alongside that of the dissident Merseysiders in last week’s paper. Richard, your leadership would not give it to us.
The comrades in Hepscott Road were faxed prior to the appearance of last week’s paper, informing them that we would be carrying the statement of the Merseyside dissidents and offering them the opportunity to put their case. Characteristically, they maintained their hurt silence and hoped we would go away. However, now that we finally have their document, we are more than pleased to publish it (see p6).
I will save more detailed comment on what the SPEW EC statement reveals, but comrade Newton’s welcome intervention raises once again a key principle that the CPGB has fought for and has made synonymous with its name on the left in Britain. That is, revolutionary openness.
His comments about “incorrect points” and “lies” reflect the same problem in reverse, in that sense. Certainly, this organisation has no interest in exacerbating the SPEW turmoil as it currently manifests itself in the vain hope that some dispirited elements eventually flop into our ranks - anyone who has followed our coverage in detail would find it hard to make such a claim. We have consistently agitated for the SPEW crisis to be resolved positively, through addressing its root cause - that of the failure of programme. In the absence of this, we have warned of the profoundly “negative” feature of such crises, that they push “potentially good cadre” to “drop out of working class politics altogether, or start to peddle rightist answers” (Weekly Worker November 12).
The first place for SPEW comrades to fight is in the ranks of their own organisation. We are not interested in petty membership raids on SPEW or anyone else. We believe that the political impasse facing our class is a rather more serious affair than that. This is why we have sought to open up the concealed struggle.
The real tragedy is that we have had to uncover this political struggle in SPEW and the vital programmatic issues it throws up for our entire class in the manner of investigative journalists digging out ‘scandals’ that people are ashamed of. Indeed, you will still - incredibly - meet comrades in SPEW who talk of our paper as a “scandal sheet”. As if the question of the nationalist split in Scotland, the liquidationist breakaway in Merseyside or the challenge of broader left unity were the equivalents of the type of salacious trivia published by the News of the World!
Thus, inaccuracies can no doubt creep into our reporting, given that we are trying to uncover something that is being treated as a conspiracy - that is, politics. This says nothing about us, comrade Newton. It says everything about the nature of the leadership of your organisation and - more importantly - about the type of ‘socialism’ it envisages bringing to the benighted workers.
Lenin replied defiantly to those who gloated over the splits that tore apart his Party in 1903 that “… there can be no mass party, no party of a class, without full clarity of essential shadings, without an open struggle between various tendencies, without informing the masses as to which leaders and which organisations of the Party are pursuing this or that line” (VI Lenin CW Vol 13, p159). Such a struggle is “both necessary and useful”, he said at a later date, not in order to turn the Party press into a ‘scandal sheet’, but because “it trains in the masses independence and ability to carry out their epoch-making revolutionary mission” (VI Lenin CW Vol 23, p160).
Thus, the attitude of Richard and his comrades to the “mission” of the working class is - like others on the left - organically linked to their vision of ‘socialism’. Will working class liberation be delivered to our class from above, or will socialism actually be the self-liberating act of a politically sophisticated class with answers to the crisis affecting the whole of humanity? Will socialism be the moment of the elevation of this class (not the Party, still less a parliamentary majority) to the leadership of the whole of contemporary society, or will it be delivered to it via a vote in parliament? Will the working class be the ruler or the ruled under socialism, in other words?
The open discussion of politics for SPEW and its co-thinkers only “confuses the workers”, as one leading participant in the organisation’s recent Socialism ’98 school opined. Because of this, apparently, he suggested no one wants to read the Weekly Worker (although comparative circulation figures for our paper and The Socialist wouldtend to belie this, comrade). Projecting this attitude forward a little to what we will face under socialism itself, it is not too hard to hear in your mind’s ear such comrades telling us that the open discussion of questions of war or peace, the economy and planning, or the complex social problems that will no doubt face us would also “confuse” the masses.
In other words, these comrades do not believe in socialism as the self-liberation of the working class at all.
It is only now, after the persistent intervention of the Weekly Worker, that other socialists and advanced workers are even beginning to learn of the “essential shadings” of SPEW’s “various tendencies” and “which leaders and which organisations of the Party are pursuing this or that line” (Lenin). It is only now, after the journalistic efforts of the writers on this paper, that “the masses” are being at long last ‘informed’ what important Merseyside leaders like Dave Cotterill, Lesley Mahmood, Cathy Wilson or Roger Bannister actually think. If they had to rely on the pap served up to them by The Socialist, what would they know? That life is hard and Blair is not the workers’ friend?
Forgive us, but we believe that the working class is aware of that much already. Our job is to raise it to the level of a political class, the ruling class. Different visions of ‘socialism’ lead to treating the ‘proles’ in different ways, of course. Either as adults, or as multi-millioned dolts who should not be confused by us political ‘grown-ups’.
Which approach do you advocate, comrade Newton? And what do you think of the vision of ‘socialism’ implicitly held by your own leadership, judging from its view of the struggle around such important political principles as an intrigue behind the backs of our class?