Partyist project continues

Mary Godwin reports from the CPGB aggregate following the Socialist Alliance conference

How can the left in Britain be united in order to give impetus to the fight for a mass revolutionary workers' party? CPGB members met at an aggregate the day after the Socialist Alliance conference to analyse what they had witnessed and discuss the way forward.

Comrades agreed that we needed to think carefully about our future relationship with the SA. The conference demonstrated that the alliance - which we had seen as having the potential to transform itself into the core of the party we need, uniting the most advanced workers - has more clearly than ever been reduced to the Socialist Workers Party's electoral front. Many comrades went so far as to say that it was no longer the focus for the struggle for a workers' party. Thanks to the absolute majority enjoyed by the SWP, even the aim of a workers' party was voted down and the modest proposal for a regular SA paper was once again rejected.

Several comrades asked where this left the CPGB. Until now our perspective was to fight to win the alliance for partyism. If this is no longer tenable, it leaves a gap in our work. As a group we need a focus around which our members and supporters could cohere. Comrade Manny Neira said it would be tempting, but wrong, to adopt a 'wait and see' approach. We must offer political leadership, not just commentary.

Comrade Lee Rock and others advocated reducing the amount of money the Party gives to the Socialist Alliance. Last year we donated £1,590. Excluding the SWP - whose contributions came in the form of writing off £1,920 owed to its printshop, East End Offset - this is more than twice as much as the next largest donor, Workers Power, and almost exactly 10 times more than the International Socialist Group - the SWP's close ally, now rewarded with two seats on the executive. The idea of withholding contributions was rejected, but our representative will raise the whole question of finance on the SA executive committee.

It was generally agreed that we should remain involved in the Socialist Alliance - not in a cynical way, using it simply as a vehicle for attacking the SWP but as a site where we will continue to struggle for a democratic and centralised party, even if that struggle has been set back. We can also continue to inform the broader movement about discussions and decisions within the SA. Comrade Marcus Strom commented that the fringe meeting for those who backed the pro-party motion was even less inspiring than the conference itself. These forces are a lot weaker than they were two years ago, and it is unrealistic to think they can form the basis of a forceful campaign.

Our first task is to analyse what went wrong with the Socialist Alliance, why it has collapsed as a partyist project and what we can learn from it. Comrade Strom said that he agreed with Dave Osler, who said at the fringe meeting that the conference should have been about learning from the experience of the Scottish Socialist Party, whose transformation from an alliance had changed it into a force to be reckoned with. Comrade John Bridge said we should ask even more basic questions, about the nature of the crisis of capitalism and how this is reflected in the crisis of Labourism, and about what form the new workers' party should take. The SWP believes the Socialist Alliance should be the basis for a "new" united front with Marxists in the minority. The Revolutionary Democratic Group's call for a communist-Labour party amounts to the same thing. The Alliance for Workers' Liberty leadership wants to rerun the 20th century by recreating another Labour Party. All these recipes are wrong. Marxism is the natural ideology of the organised working class and we should aspire to a genuinely revolutionary party. Comrade Ian Donovan said that in the current politicised situation we should be able to continue winning recruits to the CPGB by campaigning under our own name.

Although we successfully argued for a representative from the AWL to be kept on the Socialist Alliance EC, the behaviour of the AWL at the conference, and their recent obsession with George Galloway, make it clear that they have no commitment to the partyist project. They appear to be cohering their members against the rest of the left prior to a major policy shift - perhaps back towards Labour Party entryism. Comrade Strom described the independents as flotsam - crusty old lefties who, having been damaged by their experience in sects, now hate the idea of disciplined organisation.

Other speakers pointed out that, although this is true, these independents are people we must strive to organise and arm with a perspective. Comrade Mike Macnair said that those 'indies' who involve themselves in the Socialist Alliance are the most advanced section of a whole layer of dedicated activists working in trades councils, strike support committees and other working class bodies.

Some comrades argued that in the forthcoming period we should put more emphasis on the Labour left and the unions, where discontent with Blair and New Labour offered the possibility of a left split. As the Labour Party becomes more and more overtly anti-working class, we should be arguing more forcefully for the democratisation of trade union funds. We should not of course advocate breaking the trade union link with Labour now, especially since there is no viable alternative for the unions to affiliate to.

We are in a period where patience is necessary. We cannot act as substitutes for non-existent Socialist Alliance branches. Neither should we throw ourselves into mini-versions of SWP campaigns to keep comrades busy. We should use our press to cohere healthy pro-party forces, and constructively criticise the actions of the SWP and other groups. Comrades agreed that the Weekly Worker should continue to encourage our readers to join the Socialist Alliance, and to take part in its actions and meetings where they take place. Our primary objective remains: the forging of a mass, revolutionary Communist Party in Great Britain.