Party pushes for unity
On Sunday December 17 CPGB members met in London for the last aggregate of 2000.
The meeting began with a short report by comrade Marcus Larsen on the European left conference in Paris, expanding on his article in the Weekly Worker (December 14). Comrade Larsen highlighted several unavoidable but important weaknesses of the conference. The press statement was a vague economistic shopping list, which supporters of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International depicted as the 'transitional method'. Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire comrades, French section of Usec, which sponsored the conference sponsors, were non-committal about electoral cooperation in future EU elections, and seemed to make the needs of their parliamentary faction a priority, when it came to proposing formulations.
Usec, supported by the Socialist Workers Party, exhibited a policy of tailing the national consciousness of each country, so there was no consistent proletarian perspective for Europe as a whole. For example, in France the general pro-EU sentiment is reflected in the positions adopted by many on the left, while in countries such as Norway and Denmark the left is prone to fall in line with the general Euroscepticism of the population. Usec and the SWP saw nothing wrong in socialists from the various countries adopting different, opposite, positions in relation to the EU as an institution.
The discussion following comrade Larsen's report focused on the question of how communists should balance the principle of the right of nations to self-determination with the call for workers to champion the democratic integration of Europe. Some comrades felt that the proposed inclusion of this principle in our list of demands for the democratisation of the EU might risk appearing to share the isolationist position of reactionaries such as the UK Independence Party. After all, countries like Britain, France and Germany, do not have any problem in exercising self-determination, in or out of the EU. Other comrades, however, stated that it was useful to include 'self-determination' in relation to the EU as a general principle.
The longest and most complete debate of the aggregate was on the Socialist Alliance. The previous day the executive committee of the SA Liaison Committee had met, and had discussed how to react to the Socialist Party in England and Wales unilaterally announcing general election candidates in a string of constituencies without reference to any SA selection procedure and in defiance of the Coventry protocol. Several comrades argued that, as the SP has deliberately ignored binding democratic decisions made at the Coventry conference, it should be vigorously urged to fall into line.
But others advanced arguments in favour of caution and against giving the SP any excuse to claim that it was being forced out. Comrade Anne Murphy stressed the importance of taking care to call on the SP to discuss their differences with the rest of the Socialist Alliance in a spirit of toleration, supposedly, rather than simply telling them to go. The comrade put forward two reasons: the damage it would do to the alliance if there were again rival left candidates in elections, and the importance of being seen not to go along with the SWP's tendency to bypass discussion in favour of bureaucratic methods. Comrade Peter Manson had some sympathy with this position, reminding comrades that when the SP is involved in local Socialist Alliances there is often real political debate, giving us the opportunity to put forward our own politics. Where the SWP is completely dominant, that did not occur ... at present.
Other comrades countered that it would be more damaging in the long term for the Socialist Alliance, and especially to our overriding goal of uniting the left into a single democratic centralist party, if concessions of principle were made to the SP, thus allowing it to get away with ignoring democracy and riding roughshod over our elected committees. Comrade John Bridge insisted that splits, if they result from defence of principle, strengthen a movement, while rotten compromises weaken it. Comrades Murphy, Phil Kent and others responded by pointing out that SWP members, especially at the rank and file level, also demonstrate their contempt for democracy - if by that one also means tolerating opposition - at meetings and that the SWP would have as little idea of how to act as the majority in a democratic centralist organisation as the SP has about how to behave as a minority. The departure of the SP would not solve the problem.
Comrade Tina Becker reminded the meeting that one of our goals regarding the SP is to keep as many good comrades in the Socialist Alliance project when the inevitable SP split occurs, and suggested an open letter to comrade Dave Nellist, asking him to clarify his position on putting into practice democratically agreed decisions. Comrade Mark Fischer agreed that the crisis in the SP is interesting, and described the agonised contortions of the SP leadership as like those produced by "salt on a slug". He suggested that delaying any withdrawal of the SP from the Socialist Alliance would increase the opportunity for SP members to understand the rottenness of their misleaders, and so maximise the size of a healthy split. Comrade Bridge disagreed with this analysis, claiming that the key was not delaying things, but how firm and skilful we are in upholding the principles of democracy.
The aggregate concluded with a discussion on the Party's perspectives for 2001, with a brief introduction by comrade Fischer, the national organiser. For a whole period, comrade Fischer said, there have been few opportunities for the Party to practically realise its political programme, and the priority has been one of 'care and maintenance' of the cadre responsible for our ongoing propaganda for communism. The need for continuity remains, but thankfully we are now also faced with the challenge of significant growth. The emergence of the Socialist Alliance and the forthcoming general election has given the Party massively expanded opportunities to grow and to spread the influence of our politics. The struggle for communist rapprochement has moved forward. We are now engaged with the other five "principal socialist organisations" as allies. The Socialist Alliance is crucial to our perspectives. The advance of this pre-party formation, and our position in it, is a real cause for optimism.
Comrade Fischer listed our main strengths and weaknesses. Our main strength is reflected in the widely recognised position we have won in the Socialist Alliance through the growing readership of the Weekly Worker. Our approach on programme offers the way forward for the Socialist Alliance as a whole, and a way out of the quagmire for our five main allies, all of whom are to one degree or another trapped in the so-called 'transitional' method: in reality crass economism and reformism. Our understanding of Party and the need to consistently champion democracy is the key to our dynamism. However, there is no room for boastfulness - we remain, like others on the left, pitifully weak. Size is obviously our main organisational weakness, along with the corresponding inadequacy of our national structures and the relatively narrow range of work our comrades have been involved in. We are faced with the challenges of improving the efficiency of our organisation, and turning the new comrades coming into the Party into effective working class politicians.
As always, one of our key aims is to further increase the circulation of the Weekly Worker, despite the steady rise over the last year. Many more people need to read it than currently get the chance. Comrade Fischer also announced the intention of publishing in the near future a pamphlet popularising the Socialist Alliance and explaining how it needs to develop. In the current situation, in which we have the chance to rapidly grow in influence, we need to improve our methods of work with contacts, not least by substantially developing the Party website.
In the discussion, comrade Murphy advocated pressing for a post-election Socialist Alliance conference to focus on how to give the SA more of a permanence, and to set up a body to which candidates will be accountable after the election. We also need to take the lead in broadening Socialist Alliance work into, for example, the trade unions, she said. In his contribution, comrade Bridge agreed that one of our common areas of work should be pushing for united Socialist Alliance factions in trade unions. Currently different left groups vie with each other in the same union under the banner of all manner of disunited 'united' fronts.
Summing up, comrade Fischer stated that the fight for a single revolutionary Communist Party in Britain remains our prime reason for existence, and the Socialist Alliance is the body where we can make that a reality for the working class.