End of Gulf War II and our tasks

An aggregate of CPGB members on Sunday April 13 discussed the way forward in the changed political environment. Many comrades, including new members attending for the first time, contributed useful ideas and constructive criticisms of the Party and its work. This aggregate provided the opportunity to reflect on the recent period of intense political activity and lessons for the next wave of anti-war protests. It is certain that the war with Iraq was only the beginning, as explained in the article by Jack Conrad American power and the Bush project for the 21st century (Weekly Worker April 10). US imperialism is open about its plans and intention to use the "war on terrorism" to neutralise any potential threats to its dominance. There is mass opposition across the world to this threat. We have moved out of the period of reaction of a special type, and into a new phase of anti-imperialist struggle. The shadow cast over the whole socialist project by the fall of the Soviet Union has been left behind. Comrade John Bridge gave an analysis of the current situation. Given that the fighting in Iraq has died down sooner than many predicted, it was impressive that so many attended the April 12 anti-war demonstration. Over two million people came out onto the streets on February 15. Yet so far the left has failed in its task of organising this politicised mass. The Socialist Alliance had the potential to channel the anti-war movement into a party. Contrary to what some opponents mischievously claim, we have not given up on the Socialist Alliance and at the May 10 annual general meeting will continue to argue for what is necessary - a paper and a single party. Had there been a Socialist Alliance party, people would have gravitated towards it, comrade Anne Murphy agreed. She said the CPGB has been criticised for appearing to have the same attitude to the Socialist Alliance as the rest of the left. That it is something to be dropped when there are other things going on. Comrade Mike Macnair said a partyist project should involve organising people around local issues where they live and work, as well as on high politics. He also suggested that perhaps the CPGB should have supported the organisational structure proposed by the Socialist Party in 2001. This idea was firmly rejected by other comrades, including Marcus Ström. Comrade Ström added, however, that if a new alliance of left forces emerged to replace the Socialist Alliance, we would work within it even if it had such a federal structure. A range of views were expressed regarding the Stop the War Coalition. Some comrades had condemned it as a popular front that can never politically lead progressive forces. They criticised us for accommodating to it. Others criticised the CPGB's leadership for being too slow to become involved. Comrade Ström said he hoped to see a reorganisation of anti-war forces on a global scale under the umbrella of the Social Forums. Most debate focused on recent Weekly Worker articles stating that we would have preferred military victory for Saddam Hussein's regime to that of the US imperialist forces. Comrade Cameron Richards called it an error, an adaption to the politics of lesser evilism, which overestimated the strength of Iraqi nationalism. Comrade Murphy agreed that there was a danger in appearing to call on the Iraqi masses to side with their oppressor against our oppressor, but said we would welcome the defeat of imperialism whatever its source. Comrade Ström argued that it is possible to prefer one thing to another without calling for it, but comrade Stan Kelsey called this a very subtle distinction. Comrades Lee Rock and Sarah McDonald said some readers perceived it to be pro-Saddam. But other comrades defended the slogan as a hard rejection of the patriotism which the ruling class successfully used to undermine support for the anti-war movement. Comrade Richards put forward the following motion: "This aggregate rejects the notion that calling for the defeat of one's own ruling class in war automatically implies the victory of the opposing side." He said revolutionary defeatism should mean calling for defeat of both sides. We need to take a distinct position, and avoid slipping into the sort of Trotskyist idiocy that calls for a military bloc between their own non-existent forces and the world's least democratic regimes. Opposition to imperialism should not involve support for reactionary anti-imperialism. Comrade Bridge proposed the alternative motion: "This aggregate agrees that calling for the defeat of the US-UK forces in the Iraq war was a clear expression of militant opposition against UK chauvinism. It in no way implies military or political support for Saddam Hussein and the Ba'ath dictatorship." Some comrades argued that the two motions were not incompatible and supported both. Others said that although they did not disagree with the text of Richards' motion, they could not accept the motivation behind it. Comrade Richards conceded that he wanted to express his concern about what he thought was a changing line. After some discussion he agreed his motion did not express exactly what he meant, and withdrew it. Comrade Bridge's motion was accepted overwhelmingly with one abstention. After lunch comrade Mark Fischer spoke on the current state of the CPGB. Recently a few members have resigned. Some have interpreted this as a crisis. Comrade Fischer reminded comrades that at the January aggregate he warned that as we move into a more challenging period we might lose members who were not capable of the necessary increase in commitment, and this is what had happened. Those who have gone had been either not contributing financially or not taking part in actions. Our main problem remains the weakness of our national structure, which makes it difficult to integrate new contacts and members. We have attempted to address this problem by changing the Weekly Worker to make it more useful to people new to political activity. Comrade Fischer claimed that the leadership should be criticised for moving too slowly in making necessary changes. In fact some members have criticised it for acting too quickly. Comrade John Pearson had even claimed that democratic centralism had collapsed, but nevertheless he has now said he accepts the decisions of the authoritative bodies such as the Provisional Central Committee and aggregate votes. Comrade Macnair appealed for patience with comrades who accuse the leadership of bureaucratic practices. Such practices have destroyed 90% of revolutionary organisations. But he said the accusation that democratic centralism had collapsed was being used as a substitute for political content. Comrade Steve Cooke called for the decisions of the leadership to be more widely circulated to the members, to make us aware of changes in the paper and better prepared to defend them to readers. Member and supporter should be clearly delineated categories, argued comrade Murphy. She criticised the delay in dealing with inactive people who were counted as members. Comrade Bridge argued against setting up barriers to membership. People who seriously wanted to join should be allowed to. If they prove unable to fulfil the duties and obligations of a communist then they should be dropped, hopefully with an amicable relationship remaining on both sides. The Weekly Worker remains our most valuable asset. It has improved in the recent period, and become better integrated with the rest of CPGB work. As ever, we need more writers and there was discussion on the best way to train comrades to become journalists. Calls for the leadership to spend less time on the paper were flatly rejected. Our total readership remains comparatively high, just under 10,000 per week. Internet readership has remained more or less static during Gulf Wat II. The print version has increased due to the numerous anti-war protests and demonstrations. This may be because most of our main audience, people on the revolutionary left, already read it. Several comrades suggested including more material for less experienced comrades, although it was emphasised that this did not mean neglecting the requirements of existing readers. Mary Godwin