Airing differences

ACPGB day school for members and supporters in the North East was held in Middlesbrough on Saturday December 7. Because we felt we had not fully debated the idea of peaceful revolution, the day was structured around a presentation by Jack Conrad on this issue. The comrade was concerned to emphasise that what he had been saying in the series of articles in the Weekly Worker and the recent London school was not that controversial - clearly we would all prefer a peaceful revolution to a bloody one. Misunderstandings on this question were linked to a misinterpretation of the term 'dictatorship of the proletariat', which had led to a whole range of ill-thought out formulations and terrible practices on the left. Clearly we have to be critical of those Bolsheviks who made a virtue out of necessity during the period of the civil war, but we must remember that October 1917 in Petrograd was in essence a peaceful revolution. Fundamentally the violence of the civil war was the violence of the counterrevolution rather than the revolution itself and we should not use the template of 'bloody revolution' as our guide to practice for future Octobers. Lawrie Coombs pointed out that the organised left with its outdated methods of thinking about these questions was not the vanguard of the class, but its rearguard. The left displays an inability to get to grips with the nature of the Soviet experience because it is working things through with tired old formulations which accept every dot and comma of the Leninist corpus. Richard Bayley, a supporter of the AWL, argued, along with Jack Conrad, that, the longer capitalism continues, the easier it will be for the working class to emancipate itself peacefully. John Pearson believed that this vision of peaceful revolution was clearly flawed. Rather than new class recompositions and globalisation signalling the communist future invading the present, comrade Pearson could only see the signals of distress of a class on its way to shipwreck. The power of the working class was not increasing objectively, but degenerating. The old industrial working class had immense power - a power that has largely disappeared. The more capitalism sustains itself, the more difficult our task will be, because capitalism is decadent and is sliding towards barbarism. The second session of the day was concerned with party organisation. Martyn Hudson led off a discussion on our tasks in the region. There are very real political differences amongst the branches up here and between those branches and the centre in London. There is often a lack of trust between the centre and the periphery of the party - largely because the kinds of politics fought for and won amongst the London comrades have not been won up here. Some of the north-east comrades have specific problems with the history of the organisation and its relationship to the SA and other groups. Others, particularly John Pearson in Manchester, are disturbed about the question of democratic centralism within the party and what is perceived as the social democratic route of the 'peaceful revolution' debate. Newer supporters of the party feel that our consistent rejection of economism leads to an deflection away from industrial work. A vigorous debate ensued and the 'Leeds incident' was talked about in some depth, as well as problems relating to the Socialist Alliances in Tyneside and Teesside, where, for very different reasons, it is difficult for the CPGB to intervene efficiently. For those of us in the North East, the day was an important one in the development of our politics. Whatever specific criticisms we might have of this and that part of the programme or the way we structure debates and so on, the school reaffirmed to us all the importance of frank and open debate in a unified organisation. Martyn Hudson