Question everything?

Last weekend the Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain held its short, two-day version of the Communist University at the University of London Union. Stan Keable was there

In spite of the bold slogan - “Question everything” - the old national socialist and Labourite orthodoxies were turgidly repeated by chosen platform speakers. Vital questions such as the failure of the Soviet Union remain largely unanswered and ignored. In short the CPB confirmed itself as a living fossil. A curiosity which forgets nothing and learns nothing.

Where were the open debates with representatives of other left tendencies, so the CPB leaders could show their mettle, and the rank and file could learn how to win arguments? For instance, why did the Soviet Union collapse, and what was its nature? General secretary Rob Griffiths did let slip that Soviet democracy “distorted into bureaucratic dictatorship during the Stalin period”, but this was said in a plenary session where there was 25 minutes available for questions and discussion … but none were allowed. He also told us, on the positive side, that the Soviet Union saved the world from fascism, but that “ruling parties” in the socialist bloc had “made mistakes, excluding the masses from decision-making and treating Marxism-Leninism as a frozen dogma”. Still, at least it was socialism.

Does Korea’s communist dynasty show the future to Britain and the world? Is China’s headlong rush to capitalism in reality a cunning road to socialism? Is the South African Communist Party’s alliance with a neoliberal ANC government the way forward for the working class - after all, capitalism prepares the way for socialism, doesn’t it? None of these, nor Vietnam nor Cuba, were programmed for discussion. There were, of course, Cuban and South African speakers at the Saturday night rally, but only to receive applause, not to exchange views.

You might wonder why the CPB leadership thought it necessary to disturb their generally dormant rank and file with this event, if they have nothing new to say. But perhaps it was the belated realisation that, though two million anti-war demonstrators had passed the door, next to none had signed up to their party. As chairperson Anita Halpin confessed, the CPB had “failed to grasp the opportunity offered by the anti-war movement”.

There was a certain hopeless desperation in the message that imperialist globalisation must be fought by defending national sovereignty. Red professor John Foster gave a tedious lecture (once again there was no time for discussion) on globalisation. He stoutly defended the continuing importance of the nation-state, although the thesis that “no individual country now has the power to control or plan its economy independently and survive” was “not necessarily wrong”. Under imperialist globalisation, “nation-states are being strengthened against internal democratic institutions”, so anti-globalisation must be focused on defence of national sovereignty and national democratic institutions.

The struggle to democratise the European Union did not get a mention in comrade Foster’s analysis. The EU itself was seen as simply one more way in which national finance capital and the state executive (in our case, the New Labour clique, which must be dislodged) is “politically safeguarded and insulated from democratic pressure”. For a (British) national socialist such as comrade Foster, democracy is evidently only thinkable within the sacred nation.

It is the CPB’s British road to socialism programme which gives it its nationalist blinkers, as well as its umbilical tie to Labourism. Industrial organiser Kevin Halpin displayed this disease in the Sunday afternoon plenary session. He proclaimed that the CPB was “the only party with a road map to socialism”, misquoting Lenin to the effect that “the Labour Party is the party of the working class”. Pathetically, he reassured us that he will be voting for Oonagh King MP, who voted for the war on Iraq, “in order to support the strategy of reclaiming the Labour Party”.

When I reminded comrade Halpin of Lenin’s view that Labour was a “bourgeois workers’ party” and that it should be supported “like a rope supports a hanged man”, he replied that you would need an awful lot of rope to hang the Labour Party. For this self-styled optimist (we can win back Labour), defeating Labourism in the working class, just like revolution itself, is unrealistic.

It is a tragedy that the CPB adopted the same programme for national socialism in Britain - to be won through parliament, through a Labour Party government - which was the cause of the ‘official’ CPGB’s long post-war decline and its eventual self-liquidation in 1991. However, the small opening for discussion offered by the CPB’s Communist University - promised as an annual event - should be welcomed as providing an opportunity for any in the organisation who are really willing to “question everything”.