CPGB aggregate: Stay in, fight on

CPGB members met at the weekend to discuss the Socialist Alliance

An aggregate of CPGB members held on July 12 discussed the way forward for the Socialist Alliance in the context of the Socialist Workers Party’s opportunist abandoning of socialist principles.

Comrade Marcus Ström opened the debate, outlining how the present crisis in the Socialist Alliance is linked to developments in the SWP. When the SWP joined the Socialist Alliance in 2000, it hoped to attract a layer of left reformists disillusioned with New Labour. Dissatisfaction with the obvious failure of this strategy was exacerbated when the SWP leadership saw the millions on the anti-war demonstrations melt away. In a desperate effort to recreate in electoral form the Stop the War Coalition, it is willing to drop “shibboleths” such as women’s equality, gay rights and secularism to secure an alliance with the undifferentiated ‘muslim community’.

As comrade Ström pointed out, this as a problematic formulation, involving no class delineation. Our job is to win over working class muslims to a socialist programme. Not pretend that the anti-war sentiment amongst muslims can be the basis for a common electoral platform drawn up with radicalised petty bourgeois elements in the mosque. While communists and revolutionary socialists ought to be firm on principle but flexible on tactics, the SWP turns this on its head.

Some independents have left the Socialist Alliance in disgust at the behaviour of the SWP - we believe this is a mistake. There are many principled socialists in the SWP who must be encouraged to openly express their disagreement with the latest opportunist turn of their leadership. They can be won to accept the need for a single democratic and centralised working class party. The period we are in calls for patience: we must continue to strive for ideological clarity. There is no short cut to building a mass party.

All speakers agreed that it would be a mistake for us to walk out of the Socialist Alliance and that we should criticise groups who seem on the verge of doing so - namely the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and Workers Power. Comrade Tina Becker said part of our job is to make it as difficult as possible for these groups to return to their old sectarian ways. Weekly Worker editor Peter Manson made the point that to walk out of the SA at the very moment when the SWP leadership’s opportunism is exposed for all to see would be to abandon the healthy forces inside the organisation.

Many SWP members read the Weekly Worker, and comrades who attended Marxism 2003 reported having more productive conversations with SWPers than at any previous such events. The thuggish behaviour of the SWP cadre, who attempted to prevent their members reading CPGB leaflets, proves there must be internal dissent. Comrade Lee Rock, however, warned against overestimating the likelihood of a split in the SWP. Opportunism has long been its method.

Comrade Anne Mc Shane called for the CPGB to organise a challenge to the SWP for the leadership of the Socialist Alliance. It is not theirs to bargain away, she said. We must stay in and fight for it. Others pointed out that we do not have the numerical strength to win the leadership of the alliance, but, as comrade Cameron Richards put it, if we do not strive to become the main opposition, who else will? Comrade John Bridge argued that we must develop and offer an alternative programme. Our leadership at this stage is ideological. Our project remains the transformation of the Socialist Alliance into a revolutionary Communist Party.

There was some difference of opinion on what our attitude should be to the May 3 Committee (made up of comrades from the CPGB, AWL, Revolutionary Democratic Group and others, who came together to draw up a composite motion in favour of an SA party prior to the annual conference). Comrade Manny Neira described it as the best chance for an alternative leadership of the Socialist Alliance, bringing together people who share our criticisms of the SWP. Comrade Rock said it could become a revolutionary pole of attraction within the alliance. These comrades and others proposed working actively within it and even helping to produce some paper or bulletin in its name.

Others were more sceptical. Comrade Manson said we should work with the committee, but not make it the centre of our intervention in the SA. Comrade Bridge described it as diffuse. Who knows what could emerge after the July 19 national council meeting? Comrade Ian Donovan urged caution because of the undemocratic set-up of the May 3 Committee: the pro-party wing of the Socialist Alliance cannot allow its actions to be subject to the veto of elements such as the AWL, which participates while having set up its own alternative ‘network’, he argued. Comrades Mike Macnair and Steve Cooke put forward a motion on the May 3 Committee which called for complete openness in its operations. This was defeated by a margin of around two to one - the majority did not wish to turn the technical proceedings of a barely functioning committee into a point of principle.

National organiser Mark Fischer concluded the aggregate with a short report on the Summer Offensive, which as always highlights both the strengths and weaknesses of our organisation. However, he was optimistic that we would raise the full £25,000 - a total that would enable us to continue playing our full part in the fight for a working class party.