Marxism 2003 - the fringe

This year saw the second Marxism fringe event with discussion on the Socialist Alliance and islam. Alan Fox reports

The Communist Party of Great Britain once again took the lead organising Marxism - the fringe. We hope to greatly expand and develop the event as a space where the contentious ideas, latent divisions and theoretical problems of the left can be honestly explored and debated. The culture of the Socialist Workers Party does not allow for that.

One young SWPer commented after the first meeting that he had learned more in that single gathering than months of SWP education had taught him. Pleasing in its way, but also worrying from the point of view of the cultural level of our movement.

Just under 40 comrades attended the meeting on ‘The failure of the Socialist Alliance and the need for a workers’ party’. On the platform were Steve Godward, until recently chair of Birmingham Socialist Alliance, Marcus Ström of the CPGB and SA executive, and Steve Freeman of the Revolutionary Democratic Group. The topic - the grave crisis facing the unity project after the SWP’s purge of the SA leadership in Birmingham and its clear orientation towards an unstable ‘peace and justice’ popular front.

Discussion from the floor centred on how the task of building a genuine workers’ party could be concretised and whether the Socialist Alliance ever had the capacity to be the basis of such a project. Comrade Stuart King of Workers Power suggested that organising amongst youth, the trade unions and agitating amongst the class was the task in the coming period. Mark Fischer of the CPGB bluntly pointed out that this is not a plan for a workers’ party, but a rather dull description of the life activity of almost every sect existing on the left today - it is “not a perspective for the advanced part of the class, but rather a perspective for Workers Power as an individual grouplet”, as he put it.

“Then join us!”, heckled comrade King (not seriously, of course - it is unlikely that an application from the CPGB’s national organiser would cause paroxysms of joy in the meagre ranks of this sect). This, comrade Fischer commented, was precisely the problem. Without a serious partyist project - encompassing the principled unity of today’s small groups - we are doomed to restage the petty, sectarian trench warfare that has characterised the left for generations.

Comrades from the Socialist Party contributed constructively to the debate, although they were naturally defensive about their own role in the alliance and their manner of departure. However, comments that they looked forward to cooperation - in the electoral field and elsewhere - with forces in the SA were welcome.

The second meeting, on ‘Communists and islam’, was less well attended, but, like the first, had an SWP presence. A young SWP cadre intervened several times in the debate to defend - as best as he could - his organisation’s opportunist turn. It is inevitable that the latest twist will cause thinking members to question the leadership and, hopefully, start to engage constructively with other left forces.