Updating what we fight for

Redrafting the Weekly Worker's 'What we fight for' column is long overdue, argues Jack Conrad. As the reader can see, at last it has been done

In certain respects the old column came to resemble a fossil. Some of its key formulations and priorities reflected our situation in the 1980s. Back in those days the Weekly Worker's precursor, The Leninist, served as our open factional mouthpiece, as we fought it out in the 'official' Communist Party of Great Britain. That is where the original 'What we fight for' arose. Since then, however, not only have Leninists successfully won the name of our party, but we operate in markedly altered objective and subjective conditions. The Soviet Union and bureaucratic socialism in eastern Europe collapsed over the years 1989-91. The euro now serves as the single currency for most countries in the European Union. Eight more, mainly in central and eastern Europe, await membership in 2004. Today there is only one superpower - the United States. This military hyperpower rules over the 'new world order'. Nevertheless there are latent tensions brewing between the US and the emerging federal EU. Everywhere reaction is on the march: Le Pen and the anti-migrant right, hindu and christian fundamentalism, political islam and the Zionist final solution. Bourgeois politics are changing. So too are working class politics. The old left is dead or dying, but a new left is slowly being made. Auto-Labourism has been rejected to one degree or another by the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party in England and Wales, Alliance for Workers' Liberty, Workers Power and other such groups. Trade unions, like the RMT, are also questioning their historic relationship with the Labour Party. The Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party have made real headway, etc. Changes introduced in the 'What we fight for' column are designed to reflect new circumstances and opportunities. The changes proved uncontroversial amongst our membership in the main. After all, they mark an updating, not a sudden political turn. Nevertheless it is important to get things as exact and balanced as possible. A whole raft of different suggestions came forth from CPGB members and supporters. Comrades usually added fresh formulations and wanted to include brand new passages to the initial redraft produced by the CPGB's Provisional Central Committee. Limitations there are in terms of space, of course. Every effort has been made, though, to incorporate as much as possible. Inevitably there were distinct minority viewpoints. However, as stressed in our discussions, the intention is to avoid letting 'What we fight for' atrophy from neglect again. Debate had not been subject to closure. The column should be under proactive review and when necessary, or opportune, updated. Though it may dumbfound some - not least Martin Thomas of the AWL's political wing - never was there, even for one moment, any hesitation about not keeping our "central aim", which is "the organisation of all communists, revolutionary socialists and politically advanced workers into a Communist Party". Nor did anyone demur from the bold statement that, "Without such a party the working class is nothing; with it everything." Yes, our immediate overriding aim as CPGB members is to reforge the CPGB. Why? Because the working class in Britain, and elsewhere, requires the highest form of organisation if it is to fight the system of capital and win. A Communist Party that has a revolutionary programme and is based on the principles and practice of democratic centralism is a precondition for a victorious socialist revolution. No one is wedded to the title as a matter of unbending principle. 'Socialist Alliance Party'- SAP - is a pig of a name, but would do. Nevertheless, as we have shown many times before, for Marx and Engels, and after them Lenin, 'Communist Party' is correct scientifically. That is the scientific name of our party. Not that necromancy holds any attraction. The CPGB of 1920, 1926, 1935 or 1977 can safely rest in its grave. The poetry we write is of the future, not the past. What of the contention that without a Communist Party the working class is "nothing", but with it "everything"? This exercised our friend Martin Thomas no end (see Weekly Worker March 14). For him "nothing" simply means 'nullity'. How can a nullity, the comrade asked, become anything, a something, let alone everything? Of course, as he knows full well, this formulation of ours is directly adapted from Lenin. He spoke of the "working class mass" being "nothing" without organisation. With organisation "it is everything" (quoted in C Silahtar Party discipline London 1979, p24). Far from using "nothing" in comrade Thomas's prosaic, everyday sense, Lenin, and ourselves, philosophically recognise that every "nothing" must by definition be a something and as such is in the process of becoming. The beginning of any process therefore contains both being and nothing: the unity of being and nothing, or being which is at the same time non-being (see GWF Hegel Science of logic New York 1999, pp82-108). The same can be said specifically of the working class. Without a Communist Party the working class is a slave class. As a class in itself it is nothing. But with a Communist Party the working class can become a class for itself: ie, a class that knows itself and its historic task of fighting for universal freedom. Between nothing and everything there is a process of becoming. We do not start with a finished Communist Party as something outside the working class. The Communist Party is the leading, vanguard, part of the working class and comes into being through the class and the class struggle - not, as comrade Thomas suggested in his criticism of us, from the outside. A working class that has formed itself into a Communist Party is everything, but again in the process of ceasing to be and becoming something else. As the working class liberates humanity and in the process itself, workers cease to be workers and simply become associated producers and, more to the point, rounded and thus for the first time fully human beings. So the fight for the Communist Party and the correct revolutionary programme is not "fetishistic". No, on the contrary, the party question is in current circumstances for revolutionaries the main task, the link, from which everything else follows. Unless we succeed here and make a serious step towards overcoming the sects then we will be doomed to a never ending cycle of amateur attempts at revolutionary trade union work, fragmented interventions amongst students, etc. Within our ranks there was, surprisingly, some confusion expressed concerning the CPGB, what it is and what it is not, and our relationship to the Socialist Alliance and Scottish Socialist Party. At the most extreme came the argument that our formulation that the Provisional Central Committee "organises members of the Communists Party, but there exists no real Communist Party today" is a paradox and ipso facto self-contradictory. An old chestnut. Besides occurring in the sphere of abstract logic, paradoxes can also exist in material form. Life itself produces them. For example, the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party might have been founded by the Minsk congress in March 1898. However, while there were a few party members operating in circles inside and outside Russia, it was only in 1905 that it can be said that anything resembling a party came into being. Revolution made the party. By the same measure the RSDLP that grew hand over fist during the period 1905 to 1908 found itself reduced to a shell of its former self by the Stolypin reaction. Intellectuals deserted. Revisionism attacked Marxism from within. Districts, branches and cells fell like dominoes. Demoralisation spread like a cancer. Under these circumstances Lenin argued that while the party may have been liquidated there remained party members. They had party rights, duties and responsibilities. The Bolsheviks took their party membership seriously. Not the Menshevik and other liquidators. They mocked Lenin's stance and dismissed it as nonsense. How could there be party members without the party? They were determined that everyone - not just themselves - should surrender. Needless to say, Lenin poured scorn on them and their arguments. The same applies to those organised by the Provisional Central Committee after the Marxism Today faction formally liquidated the 'official' CPGB in 1991. They could do what they liked. However, these parasitic vermin could not liquidate our membership rights, nor our membership duties and responsibilities. Indeed the liquidation of the 'official' CPGB by the Marxism Today faction greatly increased our duty and responsibility to reforge the CPGB. Another claim was that the CPGB should drop all grandiose pretensions and recognise that it operates today as little more than a faction of the Socialist Alliance. There can be no doubt that the CPGB is a faction of the SA (along with the Welsh Socialist Alliance and Scottish Socialist Party). We are one of the five 'principal' supporting groups. However, there is still a huge gap between what the Socialist Alliance movement is today and our overriding aim of organising "all communists, revolutionary socialists and advanced workers into a Communist Party". The SA in England has no revolutionary programme, nor is it organised according to the principles of democratic centralism. As to the SSP, it is a left nationalist organisation, with all the programmatic and organisational limitations that implies. We are totally committed to the project of transforming the Socialist Alliance movement into a revolutionary party. However, there remains a long way to go - by anyone's reckoning. Moreover, the CPGB is neither politically nor organisationally a mere faction. What is a faction (a term which, it has to be said, carries an enormous amount of negative baggage)? We shall turn to Lenin for an answer: "A faction," he says, "is an organisation within a party, united, not by its place of work, language or other objective conditions, but by a particular platform of views on party questions" (VI Lenin CW Vol 17, Moscow 1977, p265). Hence what distinguishes the CPGB from a faction is quite obvious. We operate according to party principles, not least democratic centralism. Through the "fullest, most open debate" we seek to achieve "unity in action" and a "common world outlook". At the same time we certainly have many different viewpoints, not least on the nature of the Soviet Union, Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine, etc. In the future there is no reason why our organisation should not contain even greater internal contradictions. That is why our 6th Conference, meeting on September 4 1993, agreed that, as long as they support democratically agreed actions, members have the right to "form temporary or permanent factions" (J Conrad Problems of communist organisation London 1993, p44). That line is reproduced in our redrafted 'What we fight for' column. History teaches us that sometimes through rewarding joint work and common goals factions can seamlessly merge into the general party and its overarching culture. That was the case with the factions that formed the CPGB over the years 1920 to 1921. Temporarily, before they totally disappear, they might hang on as ghosts, reflecting nothing more than shade or inclination. Those who came from the Communist Unity Group were, for example, more wary of the Labour Party affiliation tactic than those comrades originating in the British Socialist Party. Yet, as the party grows in experience and mutual trust, fights and studies together, recruits and digs roots, these old groupings merge into something higher and fade away. On the other hand, history provides examples of factions that have gone on, in effect, to constitute the party. The Bolsheviks began as a party faction in 1903. From 1912, however, they formally constituted themselves a completely separate organisation, with a central committee that from now on acted as the official leadership of the party. The class struggle was on the rise. Workers were looking for answers. Liquidationists were expelled en masse by resolution of the Prague conference organised in January 1912 (outside the big cities Menshevik and Bolshevik comrades actually maintained united committees well into 1917). The position of the Bolsheviks as the party was not crowned by reality till the latter months of 1917. By then the Bolshevik Party had within its ranks virtually the whole of the organised working class. They were the party of the urban working class. The idea that the CPGB is a "sect" was rejected even more forcibly. Sects put their own narrow interests above the class. They are organised not on the basis of unity in action; on the contrary sects put ideas - usually invented or discovered by this or that all-knowing founding guru - to the fore. Bureaucratic centralism rules, not democratic centralism. The sect serves the idea, not the working class. Meanwhile those members who inevitably come to disagree with certain aspects of the sect's doctrine - especially as it is adapted to keep it in step with unpredicted changes in the uncaring world - are expected to gag themselves in public. That, or face expulsion. This is the case in the SWP, SPEW, Workers Power and other such groups. But not the CPGB. They can call themselves 'parties'; in reality they are "confessional sects". We, in contrast, posses a partyist culture. Arguments have been put forward in our ranks to the effect that we ought to operate a discipline analogous to the loose, transitionary, arrangement which one finds in the Socialist Alliance: ie, members are obliged not to disrupt agreed common actions. This was rightly described as a back door attempt to abolish democratic centralism in practice, while all the time paying lip service to it. Freedom of criticism is a right for all CPGB members. However, rights coincide with responsibilities. Within the CPGB lower bodies subordinate themselves to the authority of the higher ones; both majorities and minorities act together as one in agreed practical actions. Therefore our CPGB forms a single system. The CPGB is not merely the sum of its organisations. It is a fist which strikes in the right direction. That centralism is, yes, ensured through constant debate, education, open criticism and voting. Such far-ranging democracy is no indulgent luxury though. It provides the best conditions through which the CPGB is self-united around Marxism: ie, the most advanced guide for the working class in its practical mission of changing the world. Hence for communists the party, even at the proto-party stage, embodies the most disciplined unity and at the same time the merger of the workers' movement with scientific theory. The party we want is, in other words, the highest form of working class organisation - for which there is no substitute and there should be no delay in starting. To wait - as some backward elements in the Socialist Alliance suggest we should - for the benign conditions provided by a pre-revolutionary or revolutionary situation is to guarantee miscarriage and blood-drenched defeat. A vanguard party does not spring forth ready-made. No class spontaneously produces the party that corresponds to its interests. Social life is complex and full of contradictions. Individuals, for example, can belong to one class and yet take a political stand that means they belong body and soul to another. Only through the tangled skein of extended economic and political struggle - embracing the most diverse periods - do classes form a collective consciousness of themselves. As they do, the groupings, factions and trends of those classes shift, manoeuvre and crystallise around definite ideas and programmes. Then, as during 1917 in Russia, when millions are drawn from inertia and passivity into activity and enlightenment, "basic questions powerfully emerge and divisions are finally created which really correspond to a given class" (G Zinoviev History of the Bolshevik Party London 1973, p8). What we have said thus far goes some way to answer the question of what relationship exists between party and class. That is why our reforged CPGB should, as stated in 'What we fight for', have "no interest apart from the working class as a whole". Communists differ only in "recognising the importance of Marxism as a guide to practice. That theory is no dogma, but must be constantly added to and enriched." The Communist Party should not therefore set up sectarian principles of its own to judge and dictate to the workers' movement. On the contrary, Marx and Engels explained, our aim is to seek out and always to bring to the fore common interests, the "interests of the movement as a whole" (K Marx, F Engels Manifesto of the Communist Party Moscow 1973, p61). Common interests - that is what should inform our programme. What the Soviet Union was or was not can be left for historians and theoreticians to argue over. Agreement with a doctrine of the Soviet Union as state capitalism or a degenerate workers' state as a condition for continued membership is certainly utterly alien to our understanding of what constitutes a party. Nevertheless, given the awful history of the 20th century, we felt that it was vital to put on record that the CPGB stands in implacable opposition to the regime imposed upon the workers and peasants by Stalin and his faction. That explains in part why throughout the 'What we fight for' column there is not only a stress on internal democracy - in the party, the trade unions, etc - but under socialism. Hence the statement: "Socialism is either democratic or, as with Stalin's Soviet Union, it turns into its opposite." The CPGB is deeply committed to democracy. The working class can only be made into the ruling class through "victory in the battle for democracy". That means taking the lead on all political questions - women's rights, homosexual equality, the fight against racism and chauvinism, opposition to imperialist war, etc. Where many comrades in the Socialist Alliance - SWP, AWL, WP, et al - habitually put economic or trade union issues to the fore, we communists constantly seek to highlight "political demands" (see J Conrad Towards a Socialist Alliance party London 2001, pp44-48). That does not mean ignoring "trade union rights and demands for high-quality housing and education", but bringing all sectional, or partial, struggles together into a general class movement politically directed against the existing state. That is why we commit ourselves to "use the most militant methods objective circumstances allow" to achieve a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales, a federal Ireland and a United States of Europe. Such transitional political demands, in the context of our programme, point to socialism. The time span between achieving them under capitalism and arriving at socialism can, of course, be reduced by the class struggle itself to an exact zero. Hence the minimum programme feeds into and can overlap with the maximum programme. Our aim is not to reform capitalism in some piecemeal fashion, so that, step by careful step, we inch towards socialism. On the contrary, communists fight for "extreme democracy in all spheres of society" and seek to give democracy "social content." In short communists struggle for the unrestricted rule of the working class. Communists stand by the principle of organisational unity against the existing state. We oppose every manifestation of sectionalism. Concretely today that principle finds expression in our earnest desire to see the merger of the Socialist Alliance in England and Wales and the SSP into a single revolutionary party. Hence the slogan, 'One state, one party'. This, it must be stressed, does not reflect a programme for a one-party state or anything like that. Communists are for democracy under capitalism and under socialism. We expect to see a multiplicity of parties into the distant future. Certainly the idea of banning parties is not on our agenda. The 'One state, one party' slogan is the principled way of overcoming divisions between revolutionary socialists and communists and for organising the concentration of our forces against the concentrated might of the United Kingdom capitalist state. That is not just a nice idea but a duty. Disunity along nationalistic lines fundamentally undermines our hard work and courts defeat at the hands of the class enemy. Fighting together first on the terrain of the existing state flows directly from communist internationalism. That, as we state, applies to the European Union as much as it does to the United Kingdom. To the extent that the EU becomes a state, EU-wide trade unions, a Socialist Alliance of the EU and a Communist Party of the EU are necessitated. Reforging the CPGB and a CP of the EU must be understood as an integral part of the struggle to organise the working class globally. Our most powerful weapon in the class war against capital is a global Communist Party, a Communist International. Without the international party of internationalist parties the struggle against capital is "weakened and lacks coordination". Communists are convinced that socialism can never come through parliament. The capitalist class will never "willingly allow" their wealth and power to be taken away through a parliamentary vote. They will resist using "every means" at their disposal. Nevertheless the working class in Britain has secured universal suffrage. The House of Commons is not the same as the tsar's duma, with its estates and systemic underrepresentation of the popular classes. Communists favour using parliament - and not only for the purposes of agitation and making propaganda. There is every reason to expect that in the relatively near future the working class - organised as a revolutionary party - will win substantial parliamentary representation up to and including a majority. However, the task of communist MPs is not to make coalition and other such rotten deals. Our task is to ready the working class to make revolution - as we say "peacefully if we can, forcibly if we must." We have no blood lust. Nor did the Bolsheviks or any genuine communist revolutionary. Remember, the October revolution was to all intents and purposes a peaceful revolution. The Bolsheviks had enough organised force at their disposal - army detachments, units of the navy, red guards - to ensure that hardly anyone was killed as they almost effortlessly toppled the thoroughly discredited and undemocratic provisional government of Alexander Kerensky. Seven died in Petrograd. It was counterrevolution that inflicted upon Russia the horrors of civil war and famine. Millions perished because of the Kolchak-Denikin-Wrangel counterrevolution and the British, French, US, Japanese, Polish, etc armies of intervention. To avoid that tragic fate communists must strive to ensure that revolution in Britain takes place as simultaneously as possible across the whole of the EU and that revolution in Europe quickly triggers revolutions on other continents. There can in our view be no socialism in one country. Socialism by definition is international because its is the first stage of the worldwide transition from capitalism to communism. And it is communism - a system which knows neither exploitation of person by person nor wars, classes, countries or nations - that all our labours are ultimately directed. Communism is no utopia, but the only feasible and sustainable alternative to capitalism. In its ceaseless search for profit capitalism puts the future of humanity at risk - war, crisis, pollution, etc. But as a corollary capitalism makes communism materially possible by creating the world economy and abundant material production. As a global system capital can only be superseded globally. All forms of nationalist socialism are bound to fail, whatever fine intentions there might have been at the start. Communism is "general freedom" and the "real beginning of human history". It is to achieve that noble and eminently realisable aim that we communists voluntarily organise ourselves together into a disciplined whole. Anyone who accepts our programme, summed up in the 'What we fight for' column, as the basis for joint action, should seriously think about joining our ranks.