Euros and reformulations

An aggregate of CPGB members was held in London on June 23. Mary Godwin reports on the debates

The main business of the aggregate consisted of two debates: on Europe and the revised 'What we fight for' column in the Weekly Worker. Comrade Tina Becker introduced the discussion on Europe, highlighting two questions which demand responses from the CPGB. First, the emergence of the European Social Forum and the prospect for widespread cooperation of left groups within it, including a united challenge in the European elections in 2004 and the formulation of a common programme. Comrade Becker described the ESF as a very welcome and positive development. Second, the referendum in Britain on adopting the euro, which might take place as soon as May 2003. Most governments that adopted the euro did so without a referendum, but Labour attempted to outflank the Tories and is now saddled with one. Whenever Blair feels confident enough that a 'yes' vote will win, he will launch a referendum. The CPGB must be ready to take advantage of the opportunities that will provide. A pamphlet on Europe is in preparation, and at the Socialist Alliance conference on Europe in October we will argue for an active boycott of Blair's referendum. Comrade Becker briefly outlined the arguments for the active boycott position, referring to a debate on the question at the Scottish Socialist Party conference in Glasgow the previous day, which comrades attended. Two main motions on the euro were put to the conference. One composite from Aberdeen South, Borders, Cathcart, Clydebank Dumfries, Edinburgh North and Leith, Govan Maghill, Motherwell and Pollokshaw's Road branches proposed to campaign in "conjunction" with other "socialist and labour movement organisations in the UK and Europe generally" (SSP All-members bulletin May-June 2002) for a 'no' vote. The other, from Cathcart (minority), Dundee West (minority), Dundee East (minority), Edinburgh South (minority) and the Republican Communist Network, called for "workers to boycott the euro referendum". There was also an amendment to the 'no' composite from Dumfries branch. These comrades took a distinctly apolitical line: "We do not believe the euro issue a major concern for most the British electorate". Therefore the comrades proposed not to engage in a "long drawn out campaign". Glasgow Kelvin (minority) rejected both the 'no' campaign and the "big business agenda" of the 'yes' campaign. However, beyond that it made no tactical suggestions. The SSP conference voted for the main 'no' motion, and a similar outcome of the October SA conference is no doubt intended by the SWP leadership (and its International Socialist Group allies). Comrade Becker posed the question for debate: how should the CPGB react if that happens? We are the best partisans fighting for the SA project, and will not obstruct its actions and decisions. Indeed we will campaign alongside the majority, while explaining that a 'no' campaign is not only constantly in danger of blurring into chauvinism and little British nationalism through links with left reformist trade union bureaucrats and national socialists such as the Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain, but also runs counter to all the claims made for coordinating work by socialists across the whole European Union. Following on from comrade Becker's introduction, Sarah McDonald reported on the SSP conference, in particular the debate on the euro. There was a fair degree of apathy amongst the International Socialist Movement-Socialist Worker platform-Committee for a Workers' International majority till Alan McCombes intervened to spell out the EC line. The 'no' motion eventually received 80% of the vote. The pro-boycott case was argued well, but suffered from a degree of disunity - there were two motions for a start. In contrast the arguments on the 'no' side were appalling, concerned with fear-mongering rather than political vision, and failing to recognise that the 'no' campaign in the referendum will inevitably be dominated by the Tories and the hard right. However, communists in the SSP should both work alongside the SSP line during the referendum campaign and criticise it, argued comrade McDonald. Comrade Ronnie Mejka agreed with both these points, saying the supporters of the boycott position won the argument but lost the vote, with Alan McCombes being employed to pull waverers into line. Comrade Marcus Ström referred to the final paragraph of the pro-boycott motion supported by the CPGB, Alliance for Workers' Liberty and Workers Power in the SA. He pointed out that our motive in calling for an active boycott is not in order to avoid having the same policy as Tories and fascists. We might one day advocate a position that episodically coincides with that of the right. A much stronger argument for the boycott position is the one put forward by comrade Becker: that is, a boycott campaign provides the best opportunity to advance the self-activity of the working class. Comrade Lawrie Coombs pointed out that during the campaign, progressive youth might well be attracted to the 'yes' option, and we need to relate to them, as well as the left wing of the 'no' campaign. Cameron Richards criticised the joint boycott motion to be submitted to the SA's October conference as weak, and obviously written by Workers Power. It does not argue for an active boycott, but for Workers Power's traditional tactic of spoiling ballot papers. Comrade Peter Manson disagreed. He said the real weakness of the motion is that it fails to provide a link between the correct call for an active boycott and the abstract demand for a united socialist Europe. If the October SA conference votes to support the 'no' campaign, we have to steer a subtle tactical course that neither isolates us nor violates our principles, argued comrade Richards. If the SA subsumes its efforts into the campaign of the Morning Star, Arthur Scargill, and other advocates of a trade area with Cuba and North Korea, then we should balance towards outright opposition. After all, if the SWP can ignore the democratically agreed campaign for republicanism during the golden jubilee, why can't we be similarly selective? Comrade Mike Metelits disagreed, arguing that our position as strong advocates of the SA will be undermined if we swap breaches of the spirit of democracy with the SWP. John Bridge said exactly what we do during the referendum campaign will depend on tactical fine tuning. Combine unity in action with forthright criticism. The afternoon session of the aggregate continued the debate on the 'What we fight for' column begun at the May 11 aggregate. Two drafts were submitted to the meeting: from the PCC (for voting upon) and from the Manchester branch (for discussion). At the end of the meeting an amended version of the PCC draft was endorsed by a big majority vote, and is therefore published in this paper (see page 11). Comrade Bridge introduced the new PCC draft, and repeated the point he made in May that the old version, published every week in the Weekly Worker for many years, is badly out of date. He also gave the PCC's opinion that with a month of debate since the previous aggregate, a new version should now be agreed. He emphasised that the new version should be kept under review and changed as necessary - for example, if a protracted war breaks out between two major world powers, obviously the WWFF column will have to be quickly revised. Many comrades had submitted comments and suggestions, which the PCC had incorporated into the revised draft. For example, comrades had expressed unhappiness at the May aggregate about 'democracy' and 'centralism' being separated. In the new draft they have been combined (point 3). Comrade Bridge replied to critics of point 2, who said it is nonsense to describe people as members of a party that you then state does not exist. Such criticism has been made before, including when the Euros liquidated the CPGB. They dissolved the structures, but could not take away the rights and duties of communists. Comrade Bridge said he was surprised to read that some comrades regard the CPGB as merely a faction of the SA. We use the word 'faction' not as an insult, but scientifically. The CPGB does not organise as a faction: comrades who disagree with the majority are not expelled. Our principles are partyist. The PCC draft aims to incorporate the key decisions and theoretical advances made over recent years. Comrade Bridge criticised the Manchester draft for failing to do so - it has nothing on Europe, and on Ireland refers only to reunification. The PCC version refers to a federal Ireland, the majority position, which the 'What we fight for' column should reflect. Comrade Bridge described the Manchester area as a backward section of the organisation, and said we should fight to win this minority to the more advanced views of the majority. In conclusion, comrade Bridge said the PCC welcomes amendments, but asked comrades to remember the need to keep the column as short and concise as possible. Comrade John Pearson - a member of the Manchester area - wanted the debate to continue and the old column to remain in the meantime. The Manchester draft was a work in progress: "When we have a finalised draft, it will be our aim to write a piece for the Weekly Worker explaining it." He regretted that the PCC wanted to close the debate at the aggregate. What is the hurry? There has only been one previous debate on the question, and only the first PCC draft had been published in the paper (Weekly Worker May 2). The new PCC draft contained some welcome changes compared to that first draft, but, as the Manchester branch had not been given enough opportunity to discuss the new version, he put forward a procedural motion that debate on the 'What we fight for' column be not concluded at this aggregate. Responding from the chair, comrade Mark Fisher said such a procedural motion is unnecessary. The culture of the CPGB allows any comrades to continue to make criticisms and suggestions after any decision. He encouraged the Manchester branch to submit their finalised draft to a future aggregate. Several minor amendments to the PCC draft were proposed at the aggregate, and after extensive discussion votes were taken to finalise the version published in this week's issue, although, as comrade Fisher re-emphasised, proposals to update and improve the column are welcome. During the debate sympathy was expressed with comrade Pearson's request to defer changing the column for a while longer. Comrade Phil Kent said there is no need to rush into print while amendments are still coming forward. Comrade Manson disagreed, saying it would be worth delaying if there were still deep divisions, but reading the two drafts it was obvious the two positions are moving closer together. Comrade Coombs said he had been against coming to a final decision at this aggregate, but had changed his mind during the discussion: the old WWFF column is out of date. Comrade Andy Hannah suggested deleting the reference to building the SA and SSP. We have seen over the years how left unity projects come and go, he said. But he withdrew this amendment after being reassured by comrade Ström and others that should the SA project collapse the WWFF column could be easily amended. He also withdrew after the debate an amendment to eliminate all reference to peaceful revolution. When the vote was taken a big majority of comrades accepted the PCC argument that permanent discussion should not mean permanent failure ever to reach a decision, and the procedural motion proposed by John Pearson to defer agreeing a new version was defeated. The amended PCC draft was overwhelmingly agreed.