Socialist Alliance, RCN and the fight for a workers' party

The alliance between the CPGB and Revolutionary Democratic Group is nothing new. It goes back to the days of the rapprochement initiative in the early 1990s. Allan Armstrong of the Communist Tendency refers to this alliance in relation to the struggle inside the Republican Communist Network (Weekly Worker November 16). His comments might lead comrades to think of the CPGB-RDG as some kind of monolithic bloc. We are united by a federal republic. But there are also a number of points of disagreement over the Socialist Alliance, the RCN and the Socialist Workers Party. It is time that we shed some light on these.

At present the Socialist Alliance is a kind of united electoral front involving a range of left Labourites, centrists, communists, ultra-lefts and anarchists. Both the CPGB and the RDG would like to see this become a new workers' party as soon after the general election as possible, taking into account the time needed to make the necessary political preparations. But this is where agreement ends.

The RDG believes that this should be formed as a communist-Labour party. By this we mean a party of mixed political composition. Whilst there are no exact parallels, we could consider the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (1900-1912) and the German Social Democratic Party of the 1880s. The former contained centrists and communists. The latter was a mass party of the German working class which included a political spread from Bernstein to Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg.

A communist-Labour party would be a party of the left rather than a revolutionary democratic Communist Party. It would be a party of reunification and recomposition. To build such a party we would need to make a conscious effort to win the Labour left from inside and outside the Labour Party. It is not a question of having the odd ex-Labourite, which the SWP is searching for and promoting. It is a question of winning the whole Labour left as an historic trend within the British working class, as represented by the likes of Benn, Scargill and Livingstone. At present the Socialist Alliance does not have the politics or programme for this task.

Attempts to form such a party are not a new phenomenon. We have been through the failure of Scargill's Socialist Labour Party and the success of the Scottish Socialist Party. Both of these can be seen as communist-Labour formations. The SSP is therefore an example of the approach we should take in the rest of the UK. But do not forget the danger of Scottish nationalism. This has already divided the socialist movement and the fight against Blair, and will surely soon begin to split the trade union movement along nationalist lines. It is the Trojan horse by which the Scottish Nationalist Party will invade the working class movement.

The communist-Labour perspective imposes on us another equally vital task. We have to build a republican (or revolutionary democratic) communist wing of such parties and formations. In the SSP, the RCN is the beginning of such a left wing. From this perspective the SSP-RCN, if not yet fully or perfectly formed, indicates the direction in which we should march. These two tactics go together like a horse and carriage. In this, our aim is to create the best circumstances for the growth of revolutionary democratic communist ideas within the working class.

The position taken by the CPGB is in favour of the formation of a revolutionary democratic Communist Party (i.e. a Bolshevik party). Such a party does not exist in the UK. Getting all the economists, centrists, ultra-lefts and anarchists together will not make such a party. It would simply be a fraud, which would surely be prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act. The fact that the CPGB wants to be the midwife of such a fraud has its origins in the CPGB's insufficient attention to programme.

The basis of a party is a revolutionary democratic programme. In past days there were programmes which commanded wide understanding amongst the advanced sections of the class such as the British road to socialism. Of course the BRS was controversial. It commanded much hostility as well as support. This centrist programme was fatally flawed. It can now only be found in the dustbin of history. If we ignore its fatal flaws for the sake of this argument, we can say that such a programme could serve to politically unify the advanced section of the working class. Today there is no programme that is widely understood or could play such a role.

What we have is a programmatic vacuum. It is a black hole. The only alternative to the British road was Militant's 'Labour to power on a socialist programme'. But this has also bit the dust, as Militant was kicked out of the Labour Party. At the centre of this black hole is the SWP. Most SWP members do not even know what a programme is. The SWP leadership may admit that they are ignoramuses about programme, but it is something they are proud of They have a long tradition of it!

The main organisation claiming the mantle of Bolshevism is the SWP. To form a Bolshevik party after the next general election means two things. First we have to persuade the SWP to admit it is not already a Bolshevik party. Since the SWP does not have two programmatic ideas to rub together, we would end up with a so-called Communist Party organised around an opportunistic dog's dinner. There is no programme which can command understanding and support from the advanced section of the class.

Of course tiny little groups like the CPGB, RDG and Workers Power have draft programmes which more or less nobody has heard of. Only if we were ridiculously arrogant and pompous could we think our drafts could fill this massive gap. There is no Communist Party and no early prospect of forming one. I wish this was not the case.

The CPGB's position is ultra-left. This means that its line is incorrect in relation to the Labour lefts and incorrect in relation to other republican communists. The fact that the Labour lefts are a minority in the SAs is a testament to a failure that has to be overcome. But for the CPGB this would be a good thing. If Labour lefts were a majority, with the Benns and Scargills, etc, this would be a barrier for converting the SAs into a Communist Party.

It would be like a spider's web. Innocent Labour lefts would join the Socialist Alliance. Suddenly the trap closes and the Labourite finds herself or himself in a Communist Party. Either accept the communist programme, remain an endangered species, or clear off. The Socialist Alliance would have a Dr Who method of recruiting Labour lefts. It looks like a police box on the outside, but when you go in it is completely different.

There are other logical results. Nobody, but nobody, thinks the SSP is about to become a Communist Party after the next general election. Consequently the SSP needs a republican communist wing. Yet in England we are supposed to think that the formation of a Communist Party is on the cards after the next election. This means that the working class movement in England is an advance of the working class in Scotland.

If the objective circumstances for a Communist Party exist, then when an advanced organisation (e.g. CPGB) explains this, the advanced workers will soon see this for themselves. This is not because they are believers in the 'word', but because the political line merges with objective reality and experience on the ground. When Lenin returned to Russia and said, 'Down with the provisional government', nobody believed him. But he soon won this argument because it reflected reality experienced by the advanced workers. If the time is not ripe, then no amount of words will convince the sceptics. The words will be no more than propagandism or left posturing.

A similar argument applies to the RCN. The fact that there is a communist-Labour party in Scotland with an RCN faction is a step forward for communism. The fact that the SA is not yet a communist-Labour party and that the RCN has not intervened represents backwardness. But the logic of the CPGB line is to stand this on its head. When the CPGB points to the distinction between the RCN in England and Scotland, it is Scotland that they see as backward and England as more advanced.

According to CPGB logic the RCN Scotland's intervention in the SSP is not something the RCN should try to emulate in England. If there is no point in the RCN in England, then it is a waste of time in Scotland as well. It is just a matter of the Scottish comrades catching up with our more advanced position down here! Reality points the opposite way. The RCN comrades in Scotland are up for a fight in the SSP. Good. We would do better to generalise those lessons to England. The only problem is that the current neutral position on the national question prevents a real fight.

The future of the RCN in England is in the Socialist Alliance. If the RCN does not get involved then it has no future. In Weekly Worker (October 19) I argued that the RCN had reached an impasse. The RCN conference on October 28 resolved none of the key problems. Consequently the tension and pressure within the RCN is liable to build up. The problem in Scotland is the fact that the RCN is divided on the national question between those calling for a federal republic and those seeking the break-up of Britain into separate states.

The growing and enthusiastic embrace of nationalism by the SSP makes the RCN's inability to decide which way it is going ever more dangerous. If the RCN goes for the break-up of Britain then the RCN lines itself up as a more extreme version of the SSP policies. If it backs the federal republic, then the RCN confronts the SSP as internationalists opposed to both Scottish and British nationalism. Any tentative moves for an 'anti-nationalist' platform in the SSP on the basis of a united front with British unionism (i.e. British nationalism) would be a mistake.

My main point, however, is about the paralysis of the RCN in England. I pointed out in my October 19 article that at the recent Coventry meeting of the Socialist Alliance the RCN was absent. Not that RCN members were not there. All the officers and virtually all the leading members were present and actively engaged in the proceedings. But the RCN had no apparent role and no agreed policies.

Take the question of the federal republic. This is absolutely central to the development of the Socialist Alliance. Yet the RCN England has no agreed or even majority policy. How can we call on the RCN Scotland to fight for a federal republic if RCN (England) is incapable of such a fight? Are we saying to Scotland, 'Do as we say, not as we do'?

The RCN England is paralysed, because it is divided. Since the two largest blocs of members are CPGB and RDG then the paralysis reflects a political split between us. Peter Manson summed up the political situation very well in the opening lines of his article in the Weekly Worker (November 23). It is worth quoting this in full before criticising it. He says: "The CPGB has never made a secret of our attitude towards the Republican Communist Network. Although the majority of RCN members are now based in England, there is no doubt that for us its prime role is in relation to Scotland. Whereas south of the border the main vehicle for left unity, for revolutionary rapprochement, is clearly the Socialist Alliance, in Scotland the most important site for such work is the Scottish Socialist Party. The RCN, while operating as a left opposition faction within the SSP, has no comparable function in England."

It is true we have heard this before. But let us criticise the politics. The aim of the RCN is to bring together republican communists from different organisations along with unaffiliated individuals in order to promote republican communist ideas. Yet according to Peter republican communist ideas are only relevant in Scotland. They are not relevant in England. But why not?

I cannot think of an answer to this, except that we do not need an RCN in England because we have the CPGB, which is largely absent in Scotland. Perhaps there is another explanation. But this one is only an echo of the kind of sectarian politics of the SWP. For years they have said we do not need a Socialist Alliance, because we have the SWP. Why does the SWP need to mess about with piddling little groups like the RDG? The answer is that the SWP has to win hegemony by political means, not by organisational ones.

Certainly the CPGB has superior organisation to the RCN. But has it got superior politics? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. If the CPGB can lead the RCN in England and Scotland politically rather than bureaucratically, then it's game, set and match to them. We will all have to join the CPGB. But at the moment Peter's statement, which sums up the current line of the CPGB, is not leading the RCN (England) anywhere but into a cul-de-sac.

Is the CPGB fighting to lead the RCN forward and demonstrate to the non-CPGB members the superiority of its leadership? Imagine if the leaders of your trade union branch said, 'What is the point of being here?' Peter says that the CPGB have never made any secret of the fact that it is the rearguard of the RCN in England. It is not trying to build anything. It is only here on sufferance.

As readers of the Weekly Worker know, there is a pretty heavy fight going on in the RCN between nationalism and internationalism at the moment. So those who cannot stand the heat will probably leave the kitchen.

Dave Craig (RDG)