Not one millimetre

The Communist Party's 19th Summer Offensive fundraising drive is launched on June 1 and runs until the end of July. The SO acts as an annual boost to the health of our organisation, writes Mark Fischer

I knew a decidedly flaky left communist/anarchist back in the 1980s who could always be relied to get things hilariously wrong about the CPGB. During our brief acquaintance, he confidently told me, amongst other mad things, that:

Now most readers have probably concluded that the man was simply a loon with some politics and it is certainly true that my friend did exhibit the disorientating effects of absorbing anarchism on an empty head. However, when it came the annual fundraising drive - the Summer Offensive - the comrade’s ravings sounded like nothing more than a slightly dafter versions of the rumours that more ‘respectable’ sections of the left circulated.

Of course, the SO really sent his star ship into hyperspace. He would breathlessly seek me out on demos and - pop-eyed - ask me to confirm that Party members were selling livers for the fund drive, that all student comrades had been instructed to give up their digs and live together in industrial squats in Brixton or that we had a T-shirt sweatshop in Turkey that supplied the cash.

But, as Jack Conrad outlined last week, while others on the left have had slightly less wacky explanations for the source of our funds, there is a commonality here. And as comrade Conrad commented: “Clearly they have no conception whatsoever of raising substantial finances and maintaining a well produced weekly paper without first selling oneself” - or even parts of oneself (‘Party notes’, May 22).

In truth, the Summer Offensive - an essential part of our annual funding - is a much less gruesome affair. Yes, it is a two-month period of special effort, during which our comrades will cut back on items of personal expenditure to hit ambitious individual targets they have set themselves. But the campaign is a political event, not simply a financial one in the narrow sense of the word. During the SO, we want our members to turn outwards. Yes, comrades will tighten belts, but the drive is one of the high points of our political calendar. Every paper, book or pamphlet comrades sell, every donation or sub they win goes towards their personal target.

Thus the SO is an annual gauge of the breadth and intensity of the Party’s work - individually and, crucially, collectively.

The Offensive acts as a purge on our organisation. In some years, this has meant nothing more than our comrades - all our comrades - pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, sloughing off some of the lazy and amateur habits of work that we had fallen into during a sluggish period. In other years, as Jack Conrad reminded us, we have lost people who had become inactive, who talked a good revolution and nothing more - “clearing out dead wood”, as the comrade put it.

The debate at the third conference of the Leninists of the CPGB in 1984 on ‘The Party crisis’ is a particular useful example of this. As a result of sharp differences on our style of work brought out by this debate, we lost two leading members of what was still a very small group. As a raw 22-year-old and relatively new recruit to the organisation, I vividly remember the drama of the event.

The suggestion that we significantly up our pace of work - concretised by launching a full Summer Offensive that year - was vigorously opposed by the two members of the leadership who subsequently parted company with us. Conference was told by one of these comrades, “We are in Britain, not Turkey”. We had to bear in mind that there “was not a revolutionary situation in Britain” and we could not win people “simply through hard work” (The Leninist July 1985).

Indeed, I remember one particularly distasteful argument from the comrade attempting to make a case for the slackening of our levels of discipline and membership requirements - what he called “ordinary workers, like the miners” would be put off joining us, he suggested.

And this in 1985! Just three months after the end of the miners’ Great Strike! A strategic battle between the working and ruling classes that had seen the majority of these heroic workers on strike for one full year, entailing enormous financial and personal sacrifice, denied benefits by Thatcher, only kept from destitution by the practical solidarity of millions of workers in this country and around the world, beaten and bloodied by the new, nationally organised paramilitary police force, with two comrades from their ranks killed on the picket lines … and then still marching back to work in disciplined columns after the defeat, defiant and proud. These were the people that our ‘sensible’ comrade felt would be put off by an organisation that asked them to make serious sacrifices for something they passionately believed in.

I remember laughing out loud at him - and the look he gave me when I did.

But one of the most effective - and profound - rejoinders to this call for concessions to lazy British ‘exceptionalism’ came not from one of the British delegates, but from a member of the Communist Party of Turkey (Iscinin Sesi) who attended our conference as part of a fraternal delegation.

He told us that the class struggle in Britain demanded that “… those who put themselves forward to meet these developments must increase their preparedness, their means and their abilities if they are to meet the tasks life is demanding … There cannot be any question of mechanical copying the work of Iscinin Sesi in Turkey. This is not required by life and no one can defend such a suggestion … [but] communists who are resolute, dedicated, stubborn and totally committed can play a great role. There can be no ground given, not even a millimetre, on the question of hard work - whatever you give, it will not be enough: life will demand more” (ibid).

Collectively, we should be very proud that we have had sufficient integrity and guts as a communist organisation to take to heart these words of a very great communist - comrade Bedir Aydemir, who in 1988 died tragically young of cancer. This approach has meant we have parted company with a few comrades - a process we always regret, but also recognise as a normal and healthy part of the life of a revolutionary organisation that is attempting to push itself forward to “meet the tasks life is demanding”.

This year’s Offensive looks set to be one of our best. Apart from the individual efforts of comrades on particular fundraising projects, the key to it will be the fight to engage our relatively big paper and cyber readership and win them to financially support the organisation that produces what they recognise as an invaluable resource for the movement.

We will carry regular reports of SO activities and the progress of the fund and many readers will be contacted with direct requests to contribute. But do not wait to be asked - send cheques, postal orders, cash (no body organs, please) to our usual address, marking the envelope ‘Summer Offensive’.

Two months to raise at least 25k, comrades!