Party notes: Summer offensive

Over the two months of June and July the Communist Party of Great Britain stages a Summer Offensive, writes Jack Conrad

Every year since the early 1980s we have collectively calculated a financial goal and then strained every nerve and sinew to achieve it. That militant determination to arrive at success explains why we employ the military-style term, ‘offensive’, rather that settle for the prosaic ‘financial appeal’, used by most of the left. Achieving our target involves not plaintive calls and conscience-salving cheques, but imagination, self-sacrifice and a single-minded drive.

The last aggregate of CPGB members agreed a target of £25,000. Individual comrades make their own pledges, starting at a fixed minimum. Cells and geographical branches are expected to organise joint fund-raising efforts. Furthermore, we shall once again seek to actively involve readers of the Weekly Worker - both print and electronic. Over the years they have accounted for a greater and greater percentage of our income. By progressively broadening the Summer Offensive in this way, there exists every possibility that our 2003 target will not only be fulfilled, but surpassed.

Participating in the Summer Offensive is an example of communist labour. A tiny, but highly significant anticipation of the future. Comrades work according to their different abilities, not for themselves as self-interested individuals. Rather they work, without the slightest coercion, solely for the common good with no expectation of any immediate personal reward.

There is a long and honourable history of such campaigns. In the German revolution of 1848-49 the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, published by the Marx-Engels partnership, found that their middle class backers deserted en masse with the first issue. The red revolution and direct confrontation with the Prussian autocracy terrified them and sent them scurrying off. The “organ of European democracy” therefore had to rely on the ingenuity of party members and the hard earned contributions that came from the paper’s small, but motivated circle of proletarian readers. Daily circulation hovered at around 7,000. Marx himself frequently had to put aside his role as editor in order to organise financial drives.

We also draw inspiration from the communist subbotniks - first organised at their own initiative by workers in revolutionary Russia. On May 7 1919 communist railway workers and their sympathisers on the Moscow-Kazan line decided to extend their day by “an hour” and “put in six extra hours” on Saturdays (unanimously agreed resolution, quoted in VI Lenin CW Vol 29, Moscow 1977, p412). Labour productivity soared by 270%. The revolution was in mortal danger from Kolchak and the forces of internal and international reaction. Here, in extreme adversity, the communists workers found their motivation and spirit of discipline and innovation.

Others followed the splendid example. Lenin, however, called the subbotniks “one of the cells of the new socialist society” and demanded that the “greatest attention be paid to them”. Adversity had spontaneously given a glimpse of at the communist mode of production.

In the same period these communist Saturdays were used to cleanse the Communist Party of “self-seekers” and the accumulated layer of time-servers. Lenin was never infatuated with the size of the party membership: rather his stress was typically on “improving” its “quality”. Voluntary labour provided an excellent opportunity to differentiate those who merely talked about communism and those who were prepared to act upon their convictions.

The CPGB maintains a similar attitude. The left is plagued with those who fondly imagine themselves Marxists simply because of an ability to academically quote various half-digested catchpennies from Marx or Lenin, yet who are politically inert. In our lexicon there is no such thing as a non-active communist, a communist who shuns organised involvement and the fight to actually change the world.

Within our own ranks too the Summer Offensive separates people out. There is no need to expel demoralised and burnt out elements. Faced with two months of voluntary communist labour, they tend to fall away - usually well beforehand. Excellent. The CPGB is not interested in numbers for their own sake. That can be left to a bloated and brittle Socialist Workers Party. Our concern is quality.

Of course, the CPGB’s annual Summer Offensive is not primarily directed at clearing out dead wood. That is merely a welcome by-product. The £25,000 target set by our membership aggregate is essential to ongoing work. Keeping a national office and printshop smoothly running, purchasing vital new computer equipment, maintaining our high financial contribution to the Socialist Alliance, constantly improving the CPGB’s website and publishing the Weekly Worker - to do all of this and more requires the top-up provided by the Summer Offensive.

There is another related feature. Financial independence allows the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB to be politically independent. That does not mean that we are always correct. We are not. But what we say is what we mean. On that basis mistakes can be honestly rectified; trust can be established and constantly built upon.

Unlike the typically anodyne and dishonest publications of the old sectarian left, the Weekly Worker speaks fearlessly. Our tried and tested method is open polemic. As a result our paper is hated with a passion in many quarters. However, it is also widely read and just as widely believed.

There are far too many examples of political prostitution in the workers’ movement. During the cold war rightwing social democrats willingly sold themselves to the United States. Shamefully Max Shachtman followed suit and in the 1950s became a CIA socialist. ‘Official communists’ and their left reformist allies were often totally and fawningly dependent on the Soviet Union or one or another of its rivals: eg, China or Albania. Before the 1989-91 collapse half the daily sale of the Morning Star was accounted for by Moscow and its eastern European bloc. Its editor memorably hailed the pathetic Mikhail Gorbachev as the “Lenin of our day”. Nor was Trotskyism immune. Gerry Healy got his colour daily, News Line, thanks to generous subsidies from Arab states, including Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

With financial dependence comes political dependence and a lazy and seductive culture that pollutes, disorientates and eventually wrecks any higher intentions that might have once existed.

Not surprisingly, given the pervasive climate of prostitution, all manner of tales have been concocted about the source of our finances. Bizarrely, when we launched our first journal, The Leninist, in 1981 certain influential ‘official communists’ claimed we were bankrolled by the German Democratic Republic. Later Arthur Scargill alleged that we were in the pay of the Communist Party of Turkey - untrue, but at least not characteristically irrational. In more recent times we have been confidently informed by allies in the Socialist Alliance that our weekly paper relies on a mysterious millionaire backer.

Such stories - and stories they are - say everything about the mindset of those who invent or circulate them. Clearly they have no conception whatsoever of raising substantial finances and maintaining a well produced weekly paper without first selling oneself.

There is in fact no secret to our finances. We get nothing from the CIA, nor Arab reactionaries, nor bureaucratic elites. We rely entirely on partisans of the working class - CPGB members and supporters; Weekly Worker print and e-readers.