Left crises and sober thinking

CPGB aggregate

The September 7 aggregate of CPGB members, meeting in London, discussed our response to developments in the Socialist Alliance.

With the Labour left reviving and two million mobilised against the war, there are obviously possibilities, but there has also been a massive subjective failure of the left. For all its nationalist shortcomings, the Scottish Socialist Party gives a clue as to how the crisis on the left can be resolved positively. Comrade John Bridge emphasised that our aim is to persuade people to stay in the SA. We should be arguing for the September 13 ‘Open forum’ meeting in Birmingham, called by SA executive members Steve Godward, Lesley Mahmood, Margaret Manning, Declan O’Neill and Marcus Ström, to constitute itself as an official platform in the Socialist Alliance on the basis of partyism and democracy.

In the longer term, what we do will depend on what happens in the Socialist Workers Party - whether its internal tensions, exacerbated by the ‘Peace and Justice’ fiasco, develop into a public split. In any event, it would be madness to cut ourselves off from the SWP at the moment when the crisis in its leadership means healthy elements among the membership should be most open to partyist ideas.

Comrade Mike Macnair put forward an analysis of the SWP in terms of the tensions between four different perspectives in its leadership. The tendency around Alex Callinicos, he said, seeks an orientation to the anti-globalisation movement together with a fusion with the United Secretariat of the Fourth International. The tendency epitomised by Rob Hoveman is the most pro-SA, seeking to substitute for the Labour Party as the leadership of reformism. The Chris Bambery wing strives by “pure voluntarism” to build the SWP itself. The John Rees-Lindsey German tendency wants the SWP to become the political representative of the anti-war or anti-imperialist movement, but has been rejected both by the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain and by the mosque. According to comrade Macnair, the SWP crisis derives from the inactivity of the first three tendencies and the way the fourth has put itself so far out on a limb with its non-socialist ‘Peace and Justice’ initiative.

Comrade Lee Rock said the idea that the SWP is in crisis is wishful thinking, and warned against relying on an SWP split to help create conditions for the establishment of a Communist Party. Comrade Manny Neira said the arguments about staying close to the SWP applied equally to the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.

A meeting of the May 3 committee took place on the day of the aggregate, and comrades Neira and Marcus Ström reported back from it afterwards. Comrade Ström described the way he constantly tries to highlight and clarify the important political differences between the CPGB and the AWL, while Steve Freeman of the Revolutionary Democratic Group constantly tries to blur them. Comrade Neira outlined three positions in the May 3 committee. Sections of the AWL want to leave the SA and found an ‘SA mark two’. Comrade Ström and the CPGB leadership want  an SA platform which opens a dialogue with others outside the SA. Others, including comrade Neira, want an ‘inside-outside’ campaign for a workers’ party.

Arguing against the ‘inside-outside’ option, Comrade Bridge said we should continue dialogue with people who have left the SA, but not follow them. He also warned that the new committee expected to be set up on September 13 will have a limited ability in the short term to recruit people or organise in any decisive manner. He urged realism about what could be achieved.

Comrade Anne Mc Shane disagreed with this prognosis, describing it as a recipe for “demoralisation and disaster”. It is impossible to construct something as just a holding operation: we have to give the new committee something positive to do; if it does not go forward it will go backwards. She added that as an organisation the CPGB needs to address the way some of our own members have drifted away from active involvement in the SA. Comrade Stan Keable said we should not just criticise the SWP’s leadership of the SA: we should build the alliance by encouraging people to join and to fight for the revolutionary party that is needed within it.

After lunch comrade Mark Fischer presented his draft theses on ‘Communists, the workers’ movement and democratic centralism’. These were discussed in some detail. In response to recent debates within the Party, comrade Fischer had added sections on how communists should deal with possible conflicts of discipline if they are mandated as delegates to trade union conferences, for example.

It was generally felt he had got the balance about right, although there was still a minority that insisted workers at the grass roots must always have the right to make democratic decisions binding on their delegates. Comrade Macnair reminded comrades that Marx regarded the Paris Commune as an advance on bourgeois democracy because delegates were mandated.

The question of the rights of minorities to criticise Party actions was discussed. Weekly Worker editor Peter Manson suggested that our current rule banning public criticism of an action while it is taking place in all cases might be unnecessary and even counterproductive. If it became clear during an agreed drawn-out action that the course being pursued was wrong, then public criticism might be the only way to effect a change of policy. Alternatively, if the criticism was wrong, arguments rebutting it might help clarify the necessity for the action and thus strengthen it. Comrade Manson stated that a ban on public criticism was only necessary when it was likely to impair a given action.

Some comrades felt that the section on mandating in comrade Fischer’s theses was too detailed and needed to be simplified. It was impossible to lay down guidelines for every eventuality and this should not be attempted. Several minor changes were suggested to improve clarity and make the draft theses more concise.

The aggregate voted to refer them to comrade Fischer and the Provisional Central Committee for revision in light of the discussion. They will then be open to amendment from members before being voted on in a future aggregate.