In defence of backwardness

I am sure that most readers of the Weekly Worker will be puzzled by John Pearson's polemic in last week's paper ('For genuine democratic centralism', July 11). 'What's all the fuss about?' they might well ask. There were two lines of attack in comrade Pearson's piece. Firstly, he claims that the method of arriving at our new 'What we fight for' column was "a mistake" - indeed it was an abrogation of "the methodology of genuine democratic centralism". Secondly, he alleges that the new column itself represents a "move to the right". Let us deal with both accusations. The departure from democratic centralism allegedly arises because, he says, insufficient time was allowed for a full debate on the proposed changes, and, on the other, it had not been "fought out in front of the working class, prior to determination of the conflict". Comrade Pearson gives an accurate synopsis of the time scale involved in the process. The first draft proposals from the Provisional Central Committee were published on May 2 in this paper and, along with two alternative drafts, they were debated at the membership aggregate of May 11. The June 23 aggregate voted overwhelmingly (there were just two abstentions and no votes against) to adopt the second PCC draft, which had been substantially rewritten in the light of both the alternative drafts and suggestions made on May 11 - comrade Martyn Hudson is mistaken when he writes that "the column is the product of one person, with minor revisions of emphasis and grammar" (Letters, July 4). There was extensive discussion at both meetings, fully reported in these pages (Weekly Worker May 16 and June 27). But, comrade Pearson objected, the Manchester branch was still working on its own alternative - "What's the hurry?" Well, at the June 23 aggregate I argued that if there really had been deep differences dividing us it would have been correct to defer a decision - after all, the old 'What we fight for' had been badly in need of updating for years, so what are an extra couple of weeks between comrades? However, in actual fact, no such deep differences had emerged. Readers will no doubt have carefully studied and compared the new agreed column and the Manchester version, which were published side by side last week. For myself, subject to some small changes, I could vote for the Manchester draft - just as I backed what we have now adopted. Both versions are, by and large, excellent summations of our politics. There are differences in emphasis, ordering and nuance - at least if appearances are anything to go by. In fact I suggested on June 23 that, since we were clearly so close, a more productive way to proceed would have been for comrade Pearson (the only Manchester comrade present) to accept the one draft on the table as the substantive motion and propose amendments to that, as he saw fit (I will return later to the alleged major differences). What of the implication in comrade Pearson's polemic that the debate was not held in the open, that there was a desire perhaps to suppress contrary opinions? Comrade, every single comment or suggestion submitted to the Weekly Worker has been published in full. It is true that we did not carry the alternative drafts, but democratic centralism does not oblige us to publish every last detail. Neither version was an oppositional document - both were attempts at greater clarity, fully in line politically with the PCC's original draft. The important thing is that political differences are brought out into the open. But unfortunately comrade Pearson does not actually highlight real disagreements in his article. What he puts forward as fundamental divisions are nothing of the sort - and the leadership's "move to the right" is entirely in his own imagination. First of all, he makes a big hue and cry about the absence from our agreed statement of any overt reference to the "reforging of the CPGB. The unbroken thread with October 1917 and July-August 1920 is something to be proud of." Agreed, comrade, but instead we call for "the organisation of all communists, revolutionary socialists and politically advanced workers into a Communist Party". Such a formation would, of necessity, stand in the tradition of 1917 and 1920 and all that is best in the history of the CPGB. However, here is an example of updating - changing our terminology in order to appeal to a different audience. Our call to "reforge the CPGB" had its origins in the struggle of The Leninist, the forerunner of the Weekly Worker, to defeat the opportunists who had taken over the Party. 'Reforge' implies the need to do violence to what exists in order to create anew what should be. It hardly needs saying that the terrain on which the fight to establish a genuine Communist Party is conducted is no longer the 'official communist' movement. The 'official' CPGB was liquidated more than a decade ago. But comrade Pearson insists on seeing betrayal in every change of emphasis. Thus on a previous occasion he accused us of 'dropping' the 'Our history' feature from the Weekly Worker - apparently we had suddenly become ashamed of the early CPGB. The reality was we had simply reached the end of the series. Not only is our leadership accused of wanting to junk the CPGB tradition; it is also said to have embarked on a process leading to the ditching of the very concept of revolution. It is worth reproducing the paragraph which comrade Pearson claims provides the "strongest indication of the rightward moves": "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. Communists favour using parliament and winning the biggest possible working class representation. But workers must be readied to make revolution - peacefully if we can, forcibly if we must." In my view you could not wish for a clearer, more principled, revolutionary statement. Yet comrade Pearson issues dire warnings about the Paris Commune and Chile - because we dare to use the phrase "peacefully if we can". It seems to have escaped his attention that the October revolution was almost entirely peaceful, with hardly any loss of life. It was of course the counterrevolution that was so savagely violent. And in the future, the more advanced the world revolution, the stronger the forces of the working class, the more likely will it be that such bloody resistance can be prevented. Nevertheless, our statement that workers must be "readied to make revolution" shows we are not complacent. Surely all this is obvious? In fact the Manchester warning that "participation in bourgeois parliaments and elections can only be for the purpose of making propaganda for revolution" is just plain wrong. What about agitation for immediate demands - support the Unison strike, close Harmondsworth, don't pay for the golden jubilee? And would not communist MPs fight tooth and nail against each and every legislative attack on the working class, using whatever parliamentary device they could? Would not even a small fraction of communists, in favourable circumstances, be able successfully to demand new laws in workers' interests? "Making propaganda for revolution" would be just a part of their work. Next, comrade Pearson complains about the absence of the 'dictatorship of the proletariat' from the new statement. Unfortunately for him it is also missing from Manchester's draft. Revisionism! Manchester refers to the "dictatorship of the working class" and the "rule of the working class" - also employed in the agreed column. The three phrases are to all intents and purposes interchangeable. Finally, comrade Pearson bemoans the absence from the new column of the requirements of a Party supporter. He interprets this, without any attempt at justification, as a "move towards an SWP-style 'take all-comers'", even though the criteria for supporters and members have not changed. Here though I find myself in agreement with comrade Pearson: it would be useful to spell these out either in the column or on the cut-out application form. I mentioned earlier that I would want to amend the Manchester draft - if, of course, we did not already have a perfectly satisfactory revised statement. Apart from the incorrect position regarding parliament, there is another wrong formulation. The Scottish Socialist Party is described as a 'step forward' in the context of working class unity against the UK state. Clearly the SSP is a barrier to that unity. Comrade Pearson has admitted that the question of Europe was overlooked by the Manchester comrades, who have also somehow managed to 'forget' the question of the British-Irish (expressed in our call for a federal Ireland). And then there is no mention of the Soviet Union or Stalin's system. Why not? All in all, I prefer the column we have voted to accept. However, why does comrade Pearson pretend the two are qualitatively different? Yes, he is in a minority on a number of questions, but none of these, apart from Ireland, manifest themselves in 'What we fight for'. The other questions where he is known to have disagreements with the majority are Palestine-Israel and perhaps - who knows? - the nature of the Soviet Union. John Bridge is correct to point out that we have substantially developed our politics for the better in those areas over recent years and that comrade Pearson is among the "backward section" who has failed to keep up. He is fighting to defend what he perceives as the old orthodoxy against the rightward-moving majority and ends up exaggerating, or fabricating, differences in areas where we are in fact largely in agreement. By the way, Martyn Hudson's accusations that the leadership is using claims of Manchester comrades "engaging in factional activity" as a "bureaucratic tool" to isolate them is totally without foundation (Letters, July 4). First of all, no accusations of "factionalism" have been made - the right to form factions is in any case specifically allowed for in WWFF. And what is "bureaucratic" about criticising comrades with whom you disagree? Comrade Hudson also reads far too much into our statement, "Socialism is either democratic or, as with Stalin's Soviet Union, it turns into its opposite." This does not mean that the USSR was "socialism without the democratic content", but rather that, under Stalin, it was not socialism at all. This short sentence does not point to any "particular analysis", but, on the contrary, could be accepted by adherents of the theories of state capitalism, the degenerate workers' state, bureaucratic collectivism or bureaucratic socialism. It is important to state the socialism we fight for involves the self-liberation of the working class - the "opposite" of the bureaucratic nightmare that was "Stalin's USSR". However, even those who uphold it as some kind of paradise on earth are not disbarred from our ranks. We only demand that members accept our draft programme and "support democratically agreed actions". Peter Manson