Draft theses on May 4 and after

  • Tentative discussion has already begun about the future of the London Socialist Alliance. To some degree the outcome will depend on what new forces we mobilise between now and polling day. Our electoral performance will also be a factor. However, the main thing is gaining a strategic national overview of the ongoing transformation of the UK constitution and politics. That enables us to know our enemy and map out the next stage of our plan for a reforged Communist Party.
  • Tony Blair's government has carried out a far-reaching programme of reforming the United Kingdom constitution from above. The London mayor and Greater London Authority, originally announced in the House of Commons by John Prescott on March 25 1998, is an integral component part of that programme.
  • There is a complex and dynamic interrelationship between reform from above and discontent below. Undoubtedly though, the crucial factor behind Blair's programme has been the fact that popular identification with the UK state has been gradually slipping away since at least the late 1960s. During the Thatcher years slippage became a slide. The Iron Lady defeated the 'enemy within', curbed union power, abolished the GLC, and launched a neo-liberal offensive against the post-World War II social settlement. There was a high price to pay.
  • Millions - in particular militant trade unionists and non-conformist youth, migrants and homosexuals, the unemployed and semi-employed, Scots and poll tax refuseniks - were thoroughly alienated. And not merely with the Tory government, but to a considerable extent from the UK state itself. The situation which has existed in the Six Counties since its foundation with the minority catholic-Irish population was thereby reproduced to a degree in parts of Britain.
  • That explains why Blair does not simply aim to change the way we are ruled. He is determined to win popular identification with a renewed version of Britishness. The UK is therefore 'rebranded' and the constitution 'democratised' along the most undemocratic lines. In step, New Labour bases its electoral appeal increasingly on nation, not class. The defeats of the working class in the 1980s are crucial here.
  • Even before the Labour Party was elected to office state socialism was expunged from its constitution. The annual conference and the national executive were neutered - the power to embarrass was removed and the block vote pared down. Labour remains a bourgeois workers' party, but the bourgeois pole of that contradictory reality has become dominant to an unprecedented degree. As a government the Labour Party is as ideologically committed to so-called 'free market' capitalism as were the Thatcher-Major Tories. Proof of that can be seen in the Rover crisis.
  • Initially the Blairites knew only success. The September 11 1997 referendum gave the government an overwhelming majority in Scotland and a week later a wafer-thin one in Wales. Scotland thus got its sop parliament and Wales its assembly. The government went on to score big majorities in the London referendum on May 4 1998 and the Good Friday peace deal referendum of May 22 1998 (which was conducted on an all-Ireland basis). The dictatorial London mayor is supposed to be the model for other cities. The revolutionary crisis in Northern Ireland was resolved negatively. Other key planks of the Blairite programme have included reform of the House of Lords, the introduction of proportional representation for European and other non-Westminster elections, and the granting of autonomy to the Bank of England.
  • Undoubtedly the Blairites have gone on to experience considerable difficulties. The administration in Scotland is a coalition and in Wales New Labour is a minority. The rise of petty nationalism has not been stemmed. The SNP is the second party in Scotland. In Wales Plaid Cymru made sweeping advances in Labour's heartlands. The national question has not been exorcised. The House of Lords reform involved a compromise with the Tories which left 90 hereditary peers in place. The Northern Ireland assembly proved unworkable and the peace process staggers on as a 'neither war nor peace' situation. London will in all probability see a victory for Ken Livingstone. A huge blow to the prestige of the Blair government.
  • Under these circumstances the left has proved itself hopelessly inadequate. It is organised as a series of sects: there is no understanding of Partyism. Furthermore the left is traditionally auto-Labour and thoroughly economistic. The May 1 1997 general election saw most put their efforts, hopes and resources behind New Labour. This auto-Labourism was excused by predicting a 'crisis of expectations' which would unleash a huge wave of strikes and trade union discontent. As to Blair's constitutional revolution from above, there has been in general a completely economistic response. Blair's reforms received support from the left - albeit often lukewarm. On the defeatist basis that something must be better than nothing, such an approach takes its advocates directly into the New Labour camp (virtually the entire spectrum of the left - SWP, SLP, CWI-Scotland, Socialist Party in England and Wales, AWL, CPB - backed Blair in Scotland and Wales and urged a 'yes' in his rigged referendums).
  • The situation cries out for a comprehensive alternative to Blair. A programme of far-reaching democratic change from below. We in the CPGB are for the most 'generous' democracy possible under capitalism - concretely in Britain that means a federal republic, Irish unity, abolition of the second chamber, annual parliaments, recallable MPs, free movement of labour, free speech, etc. To fight for such a programme one must fight to reorganise the left and reorganise the whole working class movement. The London Socialist Alliance is therefore of the greatest significance, bringing together as it does the SWP, CPGB, AWL, Workers Power, the rump ILN, sections of SPEW and a range of prominent leftwing individuals. Of course, the LSA is not a reforged Communist Party; it does though provide the space to argue for, and the political impulse towards, such an outcome.
  • Our overriding perspective, to which we subordinate everything, is reforging the CPGB as a working class weapon that can plan, make and defend the socialist revolution - which must have an international, simultaneous scope if it is not to fail. Without a Communist Party the working class cannot fully constitute itself a class. Without a Communist Party the workers are incapable of decisive offensive action against capital and its state. Without a Communist Party the working class cannot hold state power.
  • The Communist Party is the highest, most conscious form of working class organisation. It combines the fullest democracy - enshrined in the right of minorities to form factions and openly debate in the Party press - with the most resolute unity in action. Factions not only have the right to their own autonomous publications, but should be proportionately represented on leading committees. There is no exclusion of those who take part in agreed actions and who pay their membership dues. Nor should there be a requirement to toe the line of, or parrot, a particular theoretician or theory. The Party cannot be reforged by turning away those who disagree with Leon Trotsky's theory of "proletarian property forms" or Tony Cliff's theory of "bureaucratic state capitalism". To do so is merely to perpetuate a narrow ideological sect. Unity in the Communist Party stems from the minimal requirement of accepting the revolutionary programme as the basis of joint activity - no more and no less.
  • Reforging the CPGB is not the sole prerogative of any one group. All talents are needed. Every Marxist, every Leninist, every communist, every revolutionary socialist worth the name can and must be won to take up their responsibilities so they can play their full part in organising the advanced part of the working class into a mass revolutionary party. Such a Communist Party cannot come as a result of the fusion of the existing groups. Nevertheless it is a task that can be greatly accelerated and qualitatively taken forward through the unity of existing groups (here we would include SWP, Alliance for Workers' Liberty, SPEW, etc).
  • At present the LSA is an election bloc dominated on the ground by the SWP because of its greater number of activists. However, it should be stressed that at the top there is a democratic atmosphere by which each faction has a formally equal vote. This is very healthy and ought to be maintained, as should the practice of electing instantly recallable officers. For example, initially Nick Long of the Socialist Democracy Group served as chair. He soon fell foul of the majority and rightly stepped down.
  • Whatever the election result on May 4, the CPGB is in favour of a serious conference - ie, not a rally - and the continuation of the LSA at an all-London level. Every affiliated organisation should have the right to send one instantly recallable delegate to LSA - that would include borough alliances, political organisations, trade unions and progressive campaigns (by that we do not mean every SWP, CPGB, AWL or SPEW branch, but their central or London committee). This arrangement has the great virtue of recognising that at present we are an alliance or a federation and not a centralised party. Such a plan also allows for the speedy and full reflection above of growth, new priorities and changed political complexion below. As such it facilitates trust and unity. Organisations, not 'star' individuals, ought to be central to the LSA. Representation should not be in the pocket of a majority bloc. It should come with affiliation. Hence a new affiliate would walk straight in as an equal partner and not have to wait cap in hand at the door (cooption is not something we favour, but should be avoided at all cost, because as a system for the LSA it is prone to terrible abuse by a determined clique - a majority of one can be built into something totally unassailable using such a device).
  • We are conscious that a general election is fast approaching. It is vital that the left presents a serious alternative to New Labour. The LSA and its inclusive democracy must therefore be generalised on an all-Britain basis. Well before the next general election the LSA should initiate a Socialist Alliance which would include the widest range of socialists who are prepared to fight the Labour Party in the ballot box. Naturally that would include the network headed by Dave Nellist and Dave Church, the Scottish Socialist Party and the Socialist Alliance in Wales. Contacts must be strengthened with comrades in the Six Counties. We are for the practical unity of revolutionaries and left reformists in an all-UK Socialist Alliance. Under present circumstances that must take the form of practically opposing Blair and his whole economic, social and constitutional programme.
  • Such unity can help to challenge and break Blairism and thus open up a new era of working class politics.
  • Jack Conrad