?Official? complacency comes under fire

The People?s Press Printing Society, the cooperative which owns the Morning Star, held its 56th annual general meeting in four venues - Glasgow, Manchester, Cardiff and London - over June 8-11. Stan Keable attended the London session on June 11

The ?highest ever vote for socialists outside the Labour Party? in the 2001 general election was grudgingly acknowledged by the People?s Press Printing Society management committee, which, ?despite reservations?, gave critical backing to motion 5 on the PPPS AGM agenda paper, which was overwhelmingly carried (the same motion was discussed in our interview with Ivan Beavis last week as motion 3).

The six candidates fielded by the Morning Star?s party, the ?official? Communist Party of Britain, proved to be virtually irrelevant to this modest achievement by the left, polling a combined total of only 1,003 votes. Having refused to join forces with the Socialist Alliance, the CPB was punished badly for its sectarianism. Two of its candidates clashed directly with Socialist Alliance and Scottish Socialist Party candidates, and were duly trounced. Their highest vote was in Hackney South and Shoreditch, where Ivan Beavis polled 259 compared to 1,401 for the SA?s Cecilia Prosper. In Glasgow Govan, the CPB?s only candidate in Scotland, John Foster, gained 174 against the SSP?s 1,531 for Willie McGartland.

Comrade Mike Siefert found it ?impossible to believe? that the Communist Party of Great Britain?s 1945 election challenge had been bettered in 2001. Two communist candidates, Willie Gallacher and Phil Piratin, had won seats in parliament, while Harry Pollitt came within 50 votes of success in the Rhondda - and that was only three of the candidates, he said. But veteran communist election campaigner Monty Goldman was able to confirm the truth of the ?highest ever vote? formulation in motion 5. In 1945, he said, the CPGB had fielded only 21 candidates and gained 100,000 votes - just over half of the total achieved by the SA, SSP, Socialist Labour Party, etc on June 7.

The successful motion called for ?continuing and extending? the Star?s coverage of ?the plurality and diversity of the left?. Despite ?reservations about some of the formulations? in the motion, comrade Richard Maybin said the management committee thought it important to accept the ?essence? of the motion: the commitment to ?seek to report and engage in debate with the growing number of trade union activists, environmentalists and socialists seeking to develop a political space and organisations to the left of the ever increasing rightwing Labour Party?. Comrade Maybin argued that to reject the motion ?would give out the wrong message?. The Star is ?the inclusive paper of the whole left?, he said.

Supporting the motion, comrade Stan Keable of the CPGB drew attention to the ?unfortunate clashes? between left candidates in Govan and Hackney South, which must be ?avoided in future?. The Tommy Sheridan column was, he said, ?recognition of the success of the SSP?. A similar platform should be offered to key figures in the SA, such as Paul Foot of the Socialist Workers Party and Dave Nellist of the Socialist Party, the SA?s national chair. The alliance will continue to develop, and will be debating whether it can take steps towards becoming a party. The Morning Star should be open to that debate, he argued.

Star editor John Haylett?s contribution to this debate, however, displayed an unfortunate complacency. The CPB?s British road to socialism programme would continue to govern the editorial line, he declared authoritatively - as if the option of ditching this pro-Labour anachronism were not within the democratic rights of the assembled shareholders, who are by no means all CPB loyalists. He found no problem with the Star being open to those to the left of Labour for the simple reason that this was already so, he claimed.

Emphasising that the Star does not and will not support the SA, comrade Haylett argued it was an unprincipled, opportunist and fake unity, because its various elements had important disagreements. He was against unity in elections, but favoured ?the broadest possible unity in action? of the left (so an election campaign is not an action?).

What does this mean? ?If, for example, a dozen left groups, despite their different views, support a pensioners campaign, or back the demands of railworkers, that is unity in action.? So the left unity acknowledged by comrade Haylett must be tailist. Instead of uniting to lead, revolutionaries must only unite to follow, and back whatever it is that workers are already doing. Hardly a vanguard role.

The Star?s editorial commitment to the BRS came under direct fire when comrade Ivor Kenna moved his amendment to motion 6, reducing it to a single controversial sentence: ?This 56th PPPS AGM requests that the committee of management reconsiders the policy of the Morning Star to critically support the Labour Party and government.? As expected, the amendment unfortunately gained negligible support (only four votes in London).

The BRS, explained comrade Kenna perceptively, made the Star ?soft on Labour, but hard on comrades not much different to ourselves?. This gave comrade Keable the opportunity for a rounded attack on the ?peaceful parliamentary road to national socialism? based on the myth, long since disproved, of a ?world balance of forces tilted against imperialism by the three combined progressive streams of socialist states, national liberation movements and the working class movement in the imperialist countries?.

This pro-Labour programme, he said, ?which cost our Party everything?, should have been junked by those who purportedly regarded it as a strategy for socialism when the Soviet Union fell in 1991 - giving the final lie to the myth.

For our part we believe that the CPB and the Star should throw in its lot with the rest of the left in the SA and join the discussion about what kind of programme can unite the advanced part of our class into the mass, pluralist, revolutionary party needed to replace Labour.

This proposal produced a pained response from a young CPBer from Northampton. Kristian Carter gave two purported personal experiences as ?evidence? of the impossibility of working with the SA.

Sporting his Communist Party of the Soviet Union badge on the recent Vauxhall (Luton) demonstration in support of Vauxhall carworkers, SA supporters supposedly confronted him with a hostile ?What are you doing here, then?? On another occasion, being a supporter of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, he was supposedly pigeon-holed by two Workers Power sellers in Cambridge as a ?Stalinist? and, according to comrade Carter, he was ?assaulted? by them. ?Was that pluralist?? he demanded. ?How can we unite with such sectarians?? Of course, if there is any substance to these charges of violence they ought to be investigated by a socialist enquiry. Either that or they should be withdrawn forthwith.

Comrade Haylett attempted to defend the BRS, but without daring to touch the key ?balance of forces? myth on which it was originally premised. ?It was never a ?peaceful parliamentary road?. It was always a programme of struggle,? he claimed. The SA could not be supported because it consisted of a ?multiplicity of groups with no common line?. Some were hostile to Cuba, some not. Some backed the bombing of Yugoslavia, he claimed, while some opposed it.

Turning to the annual report of the management committee, business manager Richard Maybin declared a ?real breakthrough? in circulation, with daily sales rising for the first time since the mid-1980s - although sales were ?not quite enough? to cover regular outgoings, and the paper still had to draw on the ?15,000 monthly fighting fund just to stand still. In June 2000, daily sales stood at 4,291, and a target was adopted of an extra 1,500. By May 2001 sales had reached 5,391, an increase of 1,100 (25%), and the 1,500 extra will be achieved by the end of the year, he said.

Strangely, this circulation growth does not reflect any revitalisation of the Star?s ?core supporters? in the CPB, who continue, despite a few young recruits, to grow older and fewer. Praise was heaped on the hard work of circulation manager comrade Ivan Beavis. The key slogan for building sales, said comrade Maybin, is ?Where the paper is seen, it will sell?. But this is entirely non-political, an approach which will not reproduce the kind of commitment essential to sustain a real ?daily paper of the whole left?. ?Instead of supporters?, boasted comrade Maybin naively, ?wholesalers are doing the job?. Through a concerted intervention by a wholesaler, 500 shops in a targeted area take three papers each, sale or return, and sales grow.

This ?clever?, non-political approach to the commercial survival of the Star spells curtains for any hope of it becoming the real voice of the left. Something unknowingly echoed in comrade Anita Halpin?s joy at the 35% increase in advertising revenue: ?That?s where we start to play with the big boys,? she chortled, referring to a full page advertisement implicitly backing a vote for Labour, paid for by the GMB trade union. No, comrade. The ?big boys? start to play with you. After all, those who pay the piper call the tune.

?To succeed, we must first be a newspaper,? she implored. In other words, political debate is a problem. And crassly: ?Remember the regular financial support that is needed.? All of which adds up to a recipe for political prostitution to the trade union bureaucracy, which cannot but betray the massive self-sacrifice of comrades, past and present, on whose commitment the ?daily paper of the left? was built.

Nevertheless, let us take them at their word, and test the new openness of the Morning Star to the full.