Members debate left unity
The June aggregate of members of the Communist Party of Great Britain was held in central London on Sunday June 25. Three subjects were discussed: the Socialist Party, the London Socialist Alliance, and the progress of the current CPGB Summer Offensive.
The aggregate was presented with a report analysing developments inside the Socialist Party. This diminishing sect has a perspective of building a "mass workers' party", but, as we saw in its shameful failure to support the LSA, the Taaffe leadership ended up sabotaging a concrete movement that could be seen as a first step towards such a party, once it knew it could not control it. It has found itself at odds with the left and the wider working class movement, and tails the most backward elements of the class.
The nature of the membership of the SP has changed in the last five years. New members are given much less political training and very little effort is made to recruit people with links to the left and the working class movement. Members are taught to believe that they have taken over the banner of socialism discarded by the Labour Party, and there are widespread illusions in Bennism and the parliamentary road to socialism. These have been discredited by life, but Taaffe has reacted by quelling all debate. Politics is absent from the pages of The Socialist. There was no national aggregate in 1999 or 2000, and this year's 'Perspectives' document focuses only on organisational matters.
The SP has become exactly the sort of sect the forerunner of the SP, the Militant Tendency, used to criticise 20 years ago. It will probably continue a slow disintegration, but could implode at any moment in reaction to events. Life in the party consists of paper-selling, fundraising, and efforts to take over trade union branches, socialists alliances, or other initiatives members work in. Socialist Party members are isolated from the rest of the left, and taught to be hostile to it. These problems characterise not only the British section of Taaffe's organisation: they are common throughout the Committee for a Workers International.
A rival 'CWI' is being launched in the United States, led by the former US minority faction (see report, p7). In Britain a new left opposition to the Taaffe regime is beginning to crystallise, seeking to become a pole of attraction to those inside and outside the SP who seek to influence it in a healthy direction. This new group will send representatives to the conference of the new international grouping, and hopes to build fraternal links with it. However, there is a general recognition that disciplined, centralised international structures would be very premature.
This report was welcomed by the aggregate. It was felt that the emergence of a coherent left is a positive development through which the healthy elements in the SP can be rescued from its liquidation and won to play a worthwhile role in the process of building communist unity. In the debate, comrades expressed the hope that the left opposition might play an active role in developing socialist alliances, in London and elsewhere. Their key task is to theorise the decline of Militant and the Socialist Party. This question has not received sufficient attention, and the danger is that some SP dissidents may imagine the only problem in the SP was the Taaffe leadership, and try to return to a mythical golden age of Militant.
A resolution agreed by the US minority comrades, the Berlin comrades, and some former CWI comrades in London was circulated at the aggregate (see p7). In the debate, comrade Mark Fischer drew attention to two sentences in this document: "We recognise that a new international will only really be built on the basis of an upswing in the class struggle which will produce a new layer of fresh radicalised workers internationally"; and "forces for a new healthy international can also come from revolutionary left organisations with a different tradition from ourselves". Comrade Fischer said he was encouraged by the realism and openness of forces forming the new grouping, but cautioned that due to their Taaffeite roots these comrades could easily produce an organisation marked by a degree of bureaucratic centralism and economism. But it is important for us to engage with comrades attempting to critically analyse their own traditions in this way. The Party will invite them to publish in the Weekly Worker.
The second item on the agenda of the aggregate was a report on the London Socialist Alliance, given by comrade Marcus Larsen. In the June 22 parliamentary by-election Weyman Bennett received 5.4% of the vote. This success will boost the process of building an all-UK united left challenge to Labour at the general election. The relatively high vote for comrade Bennett reflects the end of the Blair honeymoon, and the strength of the campaign fought by the LSA in Tottenham. We do have some criticisms of the campaign, said comrade Larsen. It was marked by localism and reformism.
The Socialist Workers Party, when previously it was vehemently opposed to standing in elections, asserted that revolutionaries who stood in elections inevitably became reformist and localist. Now the SWP risks fulfilling its own prophecy. The CPGB is determined to fight the mistaken idea that until there is a revolutionary situation mass working class organisations must be reformist. This is our main political task at present. It would be a tragedy if the British working class had to go through the process of Labourism all over again.
Another illusion communists must expose is that socialist alliances can only be built from the bottom up and that we must wait for them to emerge locally. In reality, the experience in London has shown that when organised groups get together to create a socialist alliance and collate a database of contacts, then this can be used to put people in touch with each other in order to get local organisations off the ground. Comrade Larsen encouraged CPGB members in other parts of the country to replicate the experience of London by linking up with SWP members and other socialist groups to form regional socialist alliances. This is already happening in some areas. We intend to push for a national conference of socialist alliances and other socialist forces, and to demand that the Scottish Socialist Party be both invited in and persuaded to participate. We would hope to win the argument that the ultimate end-product arising out of the process of revolutionaries working together is a democratic centralist Communist Party, but we would be prepared to work in whatever formation emerges.
In the debate following the report by comrade Larsen, the reformist content of comrade Bennett's speech from the platform on the night of the election was noted. However, the lack of success of the AWL in a council by-election in Romford (34 votes) was presented as evidence that a reformist stance does not always guarantee success. The actions of the SWP leadership in modifying its line on immigration controls for public consumption in an effort to win votes was criticised in the debate. Some comrades suggested that the best way to push the SWP to the left is by forming a bloc in the socialist alliances with other revolutionary parties; others emphasised the importance of talking to rank and file members of the SWP.
At the end of the aggregate CPGB national organiser Mark Fischer gave a short report on the progress of the 2000 Summer Offensive, describing a few of the political initiatives comrades had taken to raise funds for the Party. As a result of the success of several of these, some comrades were able to increase their initial pledges.Mary Godwin