Party aggregate

Party notes

An important item on the agenda of our forthcoming aggregate will be discussion around the draft theses submitted by comrade Jack Conrad (see Weekly Worker August 26). A vote on the theses will not automatically be taken at the meeting - there remain very important differences of approach that it will hard to fully explore, let alone resolve at the aggregate. Rather, the debate around the Conrad document will be part of an ongoing process of clarification.

This is not to say that we should not be in favour of arriving at a ‘settled’ majority viewpoint, codified in a resolution or theses adopted by a vote. To argue anything different is to introduce anarchism into our debates. The question is how this should be achieved.

The controversy around the position of comrade Conrad and others on the British-Irish sparked sharp exchanges at our recent Communist University ’99 (see Weekly Worker August 19). I have previously written of how recurring themes tend to emerge during the course of this intensive week of debate and contention. In 1998 for example - whatever the particular subject under discussion and through various circuitous routes - we continually returned to the question of the USSR. In 1999, the method and meaning of revolutionary democracy was the moot point.

In my view, this is the essence of the disagreements that surfaced during the school and have subsequently continued in the pages of this paper (eg, Steve Riley’s article, September 2). These differences concretely revolve around three key political questions - Ireland, the allegedly racist nature of the bourgeois state (in reality, this debate reflects the struggle to understand changes in the hegemonic ideology of the establishment) and the Soviet Union.

As an organisation, we have no problems about debating these and other important questions openly, in our press, as well as in public forums. Indeed, we would welcome contributions from comrades from other political traditions in this vigorous search for clarity.

Sharp differences are to be expected in any organisation that is thinking, particularly in such a fluid political period as this one. We are attempting to grapple with the changing reality of bourgeois rule. As a revolutionary collective, we are attempting to develop a communist critique of the contemporary forms of capitalist hegemony in order to find ways for our class to go from defensive to offensive mode. This search will not be a uniform process in our ranks - there will be differences, arguments and sharp exchanges. This is inevitable: indeed it is healthy.

The bulk of the old left appears brain-dead. It is totally defensive, both in relation to its own - now atrophied - orthodoxies and in terms of the agenda it advances for working class struggle. Its descent into programmatic incoherence - dementia almost - will prove to be the prelude to organisational death.

Our differences are not something we wish to hide from the scrutiny of the political public. Quite the opposite, in fact. We believe that one of the preconditions for the positive resolution of our controversies is open political and theoretical struggle. After all, we do want a monolithic party, an organisation that is voluntarily bound together not simply by discipline or Party patriotism, but by a common point of view on the important issues facing our class and humanity. It may seem a paradox to some, but that is precisely what we are fighting for by encouraging the flourishing of debate, the fullest possibilities for comrades to freely express their different opinions and seek out others who think likewise.

This not in order to facilitate jolly interesting debates, still less to be ‘nice’ to people. We advocate openness as the best possible precondition for scientifically correct, true ideas to emerge and win an overwhelming Party majority. Science in the field of politics consists of the practice of moving beyond the observation of relatively simple causal-consequential relations and surface connections to the discovery of ever more profound and fundamental laws of social being and consciousness. It was in this context that Marx commented that “all science would be superfluous if the form of things directly coincided with their essence”.

Precisely because of this, ideas that accord with deeper reality - as opposed to ‘common sense’, or established dogma - tend to come into the world everywhere as the viewpoints of individuals or extreme minorities and have to struggle to win. Thus, as an individual Party member, I agree wholeheartedly with the Conrad theses on the British-Irish; I believe that to describe the ruling ideology of the contemporary British state as “institutionally racist” is nonsensical and that the Soviet Union ceased to be a workers’ state in any form from the late 1920s. Yet I am also aware that every single one of these developments of our ideas started as the viewpoint of an individual or small minority in our organisation (at least one of them remains so). Open struggle has enabled these insights to be acquired by others, gaining new adherents through the course of the polemic and in some cases now becoming the viewpoint of the Party majority.

Finally, the process I have described above is obviously an ongoing one. Even a Party majority - ‘settled’ by a vote - on any political question cannot end criticial development, argument and controversy as we attempt to refine and further communist politics. Naturally the truths we arrive at will be partial and one-sided - reality constantly changes and mutates. As Lenin writes,

“We cannot imagine, express, measure, depict movement, without interrupting continuity, without simplifying, coarsening, dismembering, strangling that which is living” (VI Lenin Collected Works Vol 38, pp259-60).

Comrades should express themselves frankly and, where necessary, sharply in the debates bubbling up in our ranks. This is the best way to advance genuine communist politics.

Mark Fischer
national organiser