Lenin's relevance for the LSA
The Alliance for Workers' Liberty hosted a debate in Lewisham, south London on March 1 entitled 'Left unity before and after the London assembly elections'.
Anne Murphy of the CPGB began the discussion by stating that there is no objective barrier to left unity today. And left unity should be aimed at the creation of a revolutionary party in the here and now, not some party of recomposition or Labour Party mark II.
Comrade Murphy distinguished the CPGB's understanding of party from the majority of the rest of the left - ie, not a sect based, as a condition of continued membership, around, say, the theory of state capitalism or some other single idea, but inclusive of the many different ideas and trends which exist, and with the guaranteed right of open factions, open ideological struggle and, crucially, an open press.
She criticised the Socialist Workers Party for its lack of internal democracy and the absence of real debate in the pages of Socialist Worker. Instead she argued for the tradition of the Bolsheviks, exemplified by Lenin's approach towards the newly formed CPGB in the debate on affiliation to the Labour Party. Rather than use his majority in Comintern to bureaucratically insist that the CPGB affiliate to Labour, he produced a pamphlet - Leftwing communism: an infantile disorder - to win his views through persuasion, democratically and openly.
The SWP should not be afraid of the London Socialist Alliance being depicted as a collection of left groups. In fact we should argue that this is a sign of our strength - that the left recognises the objective necessity of unity and is willing to create anew culture of debate and openness in the workers' movement.
Guy Taylor of the SWP, the second speaker, argued that we should take heed of the fact that Mark Seddon of Tribune has been deriding the LSA for its internal divisions. He argued that the LSA is not a broad church like the Labour Party and we do not, for example, accept racists or anti-abortionists. These views are incompatible with membership and individuals who hold them are therefore not welcome. On the question of the Bolshevik tradition he made the point that in fact differences split the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks and that where there are differences you do see splits. His was a one-sided Lenin - a man who led his party "quite ferociously", who was not afraid to do deals, manoeuvre and get what he wanted. Obviously a depiction of Lenin that suits the SWP's project.
Comrade Taylor also argued that rather than concentrate on our differences we should unite around the majority of issues on which we agree. He pointed to Trotsky's writings on the united front tactic as an example of what we are doing and cited the Anti-Nazi League as a good example of the success of that tactic. He did, however, agree that we have to discuss our differences and fight for our contending ideas. It would be wrong to close down our separate papers in the quest for unity. However, he felt that the most important people in the LSA are those who are not members of any leftwing organisation.
Jill Mountford spoke on behalf of the AWL and began with the question of working class political representation. She argued that it is lower now than it has been for 100 years - pointing to the anniversary of the formation of the Labour Representation Committee. She went on to stress the importance of unity - in contrast to the previous tribalism of the left - and argued you should only be loyal to your organisation because you agreed with its politics. The unity of the LSA should go far beyond an "election stunt" and far beyond May 4. What is needed is independent working class politics, not a popular front which, she argued, was essentially the reality of the ANL.
She too wanted a revolutionary party, but believed that we are not at that stage yet. The lack of confidence of our class shows that we need to unite on a broader basis to begin with. She pointed to the experience of the Bolsheviks as indicating the importance of ideas, especially in ensuring that the experience of the Soviet Union does not repeat itself.
Interventions from the floor began with a contribution from a member of the SWP, who was angry with comrade Murphy for commenting on the lack of democracy in his organisation. That was "one hell of a condemnation to make of a party", he argued, and, what is more, "we should not be slagging each other off". He supported the 'no platform for fascists' line of the Greenwich and Lewisham SA and argued that racists should not be allowed in. As if the CPGB was trying to build an alliance with bigots, not socialists. He later went on to say that he himself had come from a racist background - his father had been a supporter of the National Front - but did not respond to the arguments from others in the meeting that this demonstrated the importance of openly challenging such ideas, not banning them. However, even for him the 'Haider is Hitler' campaign was way over the top.
Tina Becker of the CPGB came back on the 'no platform' issue with the argument that many working class people have prejudiced ideas. These are produced spontaneously in society and need to be consciously fought, not banned. The fact that Haider was elected democratically shows that these ideas have a base in Austrian society - a base that cannot be challenged by refusing to engage with it - including in debate. Debate does not mean a neutral approach - quite the opposite. For us it means exposing wrong ideas.
Comrade Jim Smith of the Movement for Socialism said that the Weekly Worker was right to disassociate itself from the hypocrisy of the leadership of the EU in the Haider affair. He argued that a big problem with the rise of fascism in Germany was the flip of the 'official' world communist movementunder Stalin from a third period line in 1929 to popular frontism in 1935.
The discussion went on to encompass the question of whether we are ready for a mass revolutionary party and, if so, how we should fight for it. It ended with both Jill Mountford and Anne Murphy making a plea for open unity that goes beyond the election. It was a fruitful and positive meeting, despite the conspicuous absence of the Socialist Party in this, their Lewisham 'stronghold'. Hopefully it will the first of many such exchanges in the coming few months.
We need to use the LSA as far more than a campaign - fundamentally it needs to become also a forum for militant workers to develop their ideas.Janet Lorrimor