Debating perspectives

Building the party the working class needs remains the key immediate aim of the CPGB. And it was clear from the February 23 aggregate of members that a clear majority believe the Socialist Alliance can and must be transformed into such a party. Since December 1, we have campaigned for an unofficial Socialist Alliance paper to organise and cohere a healthy pro-party bloc, and to recruit people to the SA on healthy, pro-party politics. However, the fight for such a paper has been set back, but not defeated, by the retreat of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty. At the beginning of the aggregate, CPGB national organiser Mark Fischer read out a letter just received from the AWL's Martin Thomas, which declared: "At present there is no sufficient body of unaffiliated SA members actively committed to this project to create a broadly based, unofficial SA paper" (see P4). This letter clearly impacted on the two main debates of the aggregate - perspectives for CPGB work and the prospects for a Socialist Alliance paper. Comrade Fischer spoke on his draft perspectives document. He began by analysing the context of our work - the world situation and politics in Britain. We are still in a period of reaction, but the organisations of the workers' movement remain intact. The key weakness of the proletariat is political, which is why the Socialist Alliance is potentially so important. Comrade Fischer spoke of the impact of September 11 which speeded up already latent political and economic developments, and of the wide layer of anti-capitalist sentiment in society. Comrade Fischer said we are not excited by the prospect of a deep slump. Unlike many other groups, we do not subscribe to economic catastrophism. There is no automatic correlation between the depth of a recession and the ability of the working class to fight and win. Economic crisis in no way gurantees a shift to the left. Similarly, comrade Fischer criticised those who believe that high rates of abstention in elections indicate discontent with the government and a widespread desire for a left alternative. Cynicism is not a positive societal trend he warned. After briefly talking about Europe, Scotland and Wales, Ireland, and the trade union movement, Comrade Fischer turned to the state of the left, and the position of the CPGB within the Socialist Alliance. Comrade Fischer's draft was discussed by the meeting and suggestions were made for improvement and clarification. Marcus Larsen noted that there are no major differences over perspectives in the organisation. He said this unity of view is a strength in one sense, but can also be a weakness, since it can mean that positions may not be developed to the full in the absence of sharp debate. Phil Kent observed that our perspectives develop slowly, remaining similar from year to year. He wanted a more worked out position on imperialism. Lawrie Coombs agreed, advocating more discussion of what forces can oppose the rampage of US imperialism across the world. He criticised the section on Europe for being too narrow, and said it should include discussion of the impact the slow eradication of national borders in Europe will have here and elsewhere. John Pearson said there are lively arguments between comrades via email on the CPGB's internal discussion list, and these should be extended to the pages of the Weekly Worker. He also complained that some writers change their positions from one article to another on certain questions - he cited the question of Palestine and the two-state solution as an example - without explaining their thinking. Cameron Richards backed him on this issue, saying the line taken in the Weekly Worker should not be altered without debate within the organisation. John Bridge disagreed. All articles are signed, he pointed out, and, as we are not a sect, authors can change their position if they so wish. However, commissioned reports and commentaries usually reflect out collective positions which have been arrived at after debate. Anne Mc Shane argued for more discussion of the electoral tactic. When Socialist Workers Party candidates stand for the Socialist Alliance in elections, their goal can sometimes appear little more than for our people to be better councillors than Labour's. We should argue for revolutionary politics when we stand in elections, she said. The SWP has recently accepted that the SA should contest widely in this year's council elections, a positive development. Tina Becker urged a more complete analysis of the anti-globalisation movement. Comrade Larsen agreed, describing the anti-globalisation movement as a gleam of light in an otherwise gloomy period, and predicting that a spontaneously reaction to capitalist triumphalism will inevitably resurface, and we should be ready to fully engage with it. Future prospects for the development of the alliance were discussed in more detail in the afternoon session. Comrade Larsen introduced the debate with an opening on the campaign for a Socialist Alliance paper. He described how the SA had developed, the contradictory role of the SWP within it, and commented on the recent 'red scare' in the bourgeois press about the activities of Socialist Alliance members in the unions. Although the SA is unfortunately not as strong or influential as the bourgeois press would have it, there are positive developments. Previously bitterly opposed fiefdoms have started to come together, and People before profits, for all its faults, came out of a real debate and is supportable as a programme for the elections. Comrade Larsen reiterated the CPGB policyof seeking to compete for the leadership of the project, both hegemonically and in terms of the numbers we hope to recruit to it through a pro-party unofficial SA paper. This was the proposal we put to the AWL, and from which the comrades have now stepped back. The AWL has a distorted idea of partyism, he said. While it paid lip service to the idea of a single, united, revolutionary party, it does not see how the SA could play a central role in bringing that about. In practice it is prepared to campaign only for a reformist party: the idea of a new Labour Representation Committee, for example. There was no dissent from the basic idea that, in the words of John Bridge, to fight the bourgeois state the working class needs a single, united party. But some comrades doubted whether the Socialist Alliance could be made into this party, and others questioned whether a new paper was needed. Comrade Becker reiterated the crucial point that the role of the prospective paper will be to organise the Socialist Alliance and take it forward. Speakers in the debate responded to the contents of the dissapointing letter from Martin Thomas. Comrade Pearson said he had not been happy with the extent of the "concessions" the CPGB had been willing to make to the AWL in agreeing the proposed publication. He urged reviewing our contact with the AWL. A few comrades questioned the basis participation in the SA project itself, either because they regarded it as no longer viable, or because they believed it caused a rightward shift in CPGB politics. Derek Goodliffe claimed the SA is collapsing, while Cameron Richards said that the CPGB's determination to be part of the SA means it no longer argues for a revolutionary party, but for a Socialist Alliance party, he alleged, and wants to publish a Socialist Alliance paper rather than a revolutionary paper. He added that the PCC seems not to have grasped the extent to which the SA has declined since the general election. Alan Stevens said that, for all our criticisms of the alliance, he said, it is all there is to base a party project on. The SA allows us to engage with comrades we would not otherwise have had the chance to talk to. He said we must continue to debate with people in the SA, but also concentrate on improving the Weekly Worker . Others, including comrade Phil Kent, argued that the Weekly Worker is not in a position to perform the role of a Socialist Alliance paper. Tina Becker agreed we must continue to campaign for a Socialist Alliance paper, but she was not in favour of the CPGB launching it now, single-handedly. AWL. Mary Godwin