Confident of our ideas

The CPGB held a successful day school in Middlesbrough on May 25. Thirty comrades from across the north gathered together for a full day of debate and argument, and those present raised about £150 for our Summer Offensive fundraising drive. Originally conceived as a study day on working class history for party members and supporters, the school - 'Rebuilding working class politics' - also attracted comrades from the Alliance for Workers' Liberty and the International Socialist Group. The event provided a forum for open discussion among these groups - something that for various reasons has not been possible in the Socialist Alliance in Tyne and Wear and Teesside. Not only have we strengthened links and begun to clarify our differences with the other groups: we have also started to engage with a number of local working class activists who were present. There were some difficulties, however. Teesside SA is very vibrant and recently stood a candidate in the Middlesbrough mayoral elections. The CPGB is the largest component - the Socialist Party withdrew last year and there is only one Socialist Workers Party comrade. Problematically (and surprisingly), only two independent SA comrades turned up to the school. The SWP comrade was working, but wanted us to note that he would not have come anyway - he cited significant political differences, together with the fact that we had invited a comrade who had been involved in Anti-Fascist Action, whose politics he found objectionable. Members of the SP and the Socialist Labour Party were also invited, but did not attend. This was disappointing, because we could have resolved some areas of disagreement and debated differences of analysis and political principle. Judging from some of our pre-day school discussions with a number of individuals from the different groups, it seemed that many of them were rather daunted by the idea of a debate with the CPGB. One comrade thought that national organiser Mark Fischer was rather aggressive in his manner and hoped CPGBers would try to pacify him beforehand! The first session of the day was an excellent discussion from Steve Cooke (CPGB) on the nature of the 'open source' movement in IT development. He examined how these new technologies could be important in liberation movements in the 'third world' and the anti-capitalist milieu more generally. A genuinely informative discussion by the comrade led to a debate on the nature of technology and cooperation. Richard Bailey, a supporter of the AWL, focused on the Plebs League and the cooperative movement. Discussion also centred on the use of the internet for recruitment and education and the philistine attitude of some of the groups in the SA towards the development of new technologies. The second session looked at the nature of capitalism and the problems it posed for working class liberation. Martyn Hudson (CPGB) examined the relationship between the proletariat and the social forces which brought it into being. He stressed the importance of seeing the working class as both a formation and a self-formation and argued that the huge defeats inflicted in the 20th century by capital and bureaucratic socialism did not mean that our faith in a socialist humanity should be abandoned in any way. Nick Brierton of the AWL spoke on the nature of the working class in Britain over the last couple of decades and noted the crisis of leadership in the workers' movement. This led to one of the best discussions of the day. Mark Fischer (CPGB) argued that any idea of saying farewell to the working class was just facile and criticised the pathetic attempts of some on the left to render the class politically invisible. Ed Whitby (AWL) made a contribution on the SA, which was developed by Ray Gaston and Richard Bailey. There was a serious discussion on the Independent Working Class Association, community work and the experience of defeat. Most comrades seemed to agree that we fight not for what is possible at a given point, but for what is necessary. The next session was begun by Mark Metcalf of Sunderland Fans Against Racism, who is also a campaigner for the Building Worker Group in particular and rank and filism more generally. He noted some of the ongoing struggles of recent years in the north east and elsewhere and deplored the defeatism of those abandoning workers engaged in pickets and industrial action. In passionately denouncing the union bureaucracies, Mark pointed to the necessity for properly stewarded workers' pickets and demonstrations and asked how we could get the working class to fight for an independent party. Alan Stevens (CPGB) spoke of the necessity of industrial struggle. His long experience as a union militant had taught him the central role that strategic thinking must play in any serious dispute. He argued that many on the left did not understand the role of the shop steward and the necessity for sustained, democratic workplace organisation. As a left oppositionist within the former party of 'official communism', he stressed the role that the old CPGB membership was able to play in the industrial struggles of the 1970s. Comrades from the AWL were interested in the very idea of revolutionaries working within reformist organisations. Ed Whitby (AWL) and John Pearson (CPGB) both spoke on the nature of working class resistance and there was a good intervention from a Teesside SA comrade on class struggle politics. Mark Fischer (CPGB) and Pete Burnett (ISG) then talked about the construction of a workers' party. There were significant differences here. Comrade Burnett outlined his understanding of democratic centralism and working class politics - particularly as it related to his own experience of 'Healyism', which he called a barbaric form of dictatorship. We should learn from the tradition of Trotsky's Fourth International, he said. Comrade Fischer in reply outlined the CPGB's understanding of genuine democratic centralism - unity in action alongside open debate in front of the class. Permitting full factional rights and encouraging the open expression of differences was not a sign of weakness, but of strength and confidence in our political ideas. Drawing an analogy between democratic centralism and the idea of open source, elaborated in the first session, he noted the role that events such as the day school could play in bringing revolutionaries together to openly debate our principles and traditions. Martyn Hudson