CPGB aggregate

Transforming the SA

Controversy reigned at the March aggregate of the CPGB over how best to fight within the Socialist Alliance and to transform it into a united party. Differences arose in discussion following national organiser Mark Fischer's introduction to the debate on perspectives for the period leading up to the general election and afterwards.

The Socialist Alliance will continue to be the main focus of our work. Communists aim to be the best Socialist Alliance partisans, and comrades are expected to work hard within their local SA. We are not in the alliance to further some narrow, sectarian aim, stated comrade Fischer. We are consistent champions of open, democratic and principled unity among the left. But this SA partisanship involves being critical of our allies and expressing our differences when and where appropriate.

Comrade Fischer reported back from the SA Liaison Committee meeting the previous day, where the Socialist Workers Party leadership was irritated by his own attempts to raise criticisms. The Liaison Committee heard that at least 77 Socialist Alliance candidates have now been confirmed for the general election, proving correct the optimistic and ambitious approach advocated from the beginning by the CPGB.

Comrade Fischer emphasised the need for us also to be self-critical. We should have put forward more CPGB members as prospective Socialist Alliance candidates. Our national infrastructure remains weak - in areas where we lack experienced cadre the cohesion of new members into fully functioning cells takes a lot longer. Comrade Fischer reiterated that, as the Party grows, the integration and education of new comrades will be crucial.

He then discussed our strategy regarding our candidates. Unlike the Socialist Party, we do not intend to concentrate our resources solely in the constituencies where CPGB members are standing. We aim to maximise the impact of the whole by directing comrades to work at every level, including in their home areas.

In the debate following the opening, Marcus Larsen pointed out that we have overcome the former isolation of the CPGB from the rest of the left, but must guard against the danger of localism in our own ranks.

The most heated arguments in the discussion stemmed from comrade Fischer's analysis of the prospects for the SA after the election. He proposed further cooperation between ourselves and some of the other groups within the alliance which have not come under the hegemony of the SWP. Specifically, the comrade advocated a left bloc, composed of the CPGB, the Alliance for Workers' Liberty and Workers Power, to act as a counterbalance to the rightward drift of the SWP. Passive cooperation between these groups was already evident at the March 10 Birmingham policy conference, when we frequently found ourselves on the same side of the debate. Elements within WP are starting to look at the Socialist Alliance from a partyist perspective, and the AWL has issued a call for a new party.

In the debate, several comrades described this proposed left bloc as too narrow, excluding both dissidents within the SWP and left social democrats who can be won to a partyist position. Individuals joining the SA from the Labour Party vote with the SWP at present, as it reflects their reformist politics. But more and more they will be looking to join a party, not a sect - and they can be won to a revolutionary party. The central division in the SA is not that between the revolutionary left led by the CPGB and the reformist right led by the SWP, but between those who want to build a party and those - primarily the SWP leadership - who think they are the party and that the SA should be maintained as a 'united front', acting as a transmission belt towards themselves.

This view was crystallised in the form of a motion proposed by comrade John Bridge, which further stimulated and focused debate: "The key question facing the Socialist Alliance is the challenge of becoming a fully democratic and centralised political party. The CPGB will do everything in its power to assist and promote this task along with all other pro-party comrades in the Socialist Alliance. This perspective is in opposition to forming merely ideological blocs."

This motion was carried with no votes against, but about a third of those present abstained. Many of these comrades felt the motion should have spelled out that the party we seek to build must be revolutionary. Comrades on both sides of this debate were encouraged to continue it in the Weekly Worker.

How to make the Weekly Worker a more effective champion of the Socialist Alliance and of communist ideas within it in the run-up to the election and afterwards was the theme of the second session of the aggregate. Editor Peter Manson emphasised that the paper's target audience has been and will continue to be the organised and conscious left. It is not a paper that can normally be used on the doorstep in Socialist Alliance canvassing work.

Comrade Manson referred to Mark Fischer's article in the current Weekly Worker (March 22), where the national organiser described our paper as being in its 'Iskra' stage. Publications which try to be a modern-day Pravda cannot succeed because the battle for party has yet to be won.

Some newer comrades have expressed concern at the difficulty in understanding the more complex theoretical articles, and this was reflected in interventions at the aggregate. In general though, it was felt that, while the Party should produce introductory educational material, the Weekly Worker is not the place to publish it. Most comrades were happy with the style of the paper, but there was some criticism of its amateurish appearance and lay-out. Part of the problem is the small size of the team assigned to edit and produce the paper, exacerbated at present by the fact that most of these comrades are diverting much of their time and energy into SA work.

Comrade Manson declared that the aim of the paper now is to reflect in a more dynamic way our contribution to the Socialist Alliance, and to shift to general election campaigning mode. He asked that all geographically based cells should seek to submit regular reports and seek interviews with SA candidates. Our membership and periphery need to become journalists.

The general election provides a great opportunity for us to put our politics forward - not only to the organised left, but now also to people moving towards the SA project.

Mary Godwin