Business as usual

Mark Fischer argues against a vote for the six canddiates of the Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain

The Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain is the deeply split rump of the once substantial opposition within the 'official' CPGB of the 1970s-80s. Throughout its history, the CPB has been characterised by explosive faction fights and armed truces. Various strands of the pro-Soviet opposition - under a now completely forgotten Photis Lysandrou - decided in the mid-1980s to throw in their lot with a dissident section of the 'official' CPGB apparatus. Led by Tony Chater, Mary Rosser and Mike Hicks, it was based on the Morning Star and the London district committee and had been driven into rebellion by the overtly liquidationist perspectives of the Eurocommunists, organised around their Marxism Today flagship. In 1988 the followers of Lysandrou and Chater united to form the Communist Campaign Group. Unity came with a price tag. Everyone had to accept the transparently antiquated British road to socialism - a programme many had defined themselves against. For instance, today's CPB general secretary, Rob Griffiths, once wrote extensive critiques of the BRS (see Weekly Worker March 19 1998). After the formal liquidation of the 'official' CPGB by the Marxism Today clique the CCG changed its name to the CPB. Later they were joined by a split from the ultra-Stalinite Straight Left faction which operated under the name, Communist Liaison - amongst its leading lights were Nick Wright, Susan Michie and Andrew Murray, who is, of course, today the chair of the Stop the War Coalition. Unsurprisingly, this strange political amalgam has produced a series of factional wars - Rosser and Hicks sacked John Haylett as Morning Star editor; this triggered a prolonged strike by its staff and journalists; Rosser, Hicks and their allies were defeated and then purged; Griffiths, Haylett, Murray and Wright lead a pro-Respect 'innovator' minority. All that prevents a shattering split between the innovators and the traditionalists - around Scottish secretary John Foster - and a final parting of the ways is lethargy. True, the CPB is standing six candidates on May 5. Yet on one level, this represents business as usual; the central opportunist nostrum of the BRS is that the Labour Party is the vehicle for achieving socialism, but needs to be nudged and prodded forward by a group of communist MPs. Thus, it habitually runs a few tired election contests as an exemplar of this hopeless perspective. This year, however, the organisation's campaign takes place against the backdrop of New Labour and the US-UK occupation of Iraq. Launching the CPB manifesto, comrade Griffiths optimistically promised a "genuine leftwing alternative" that would "strengthen the fight of the labour movement so secure a 'real Labour' government with real Labour policies". Comrades Griffiths believes that the CPB "call for working people to fight for manufacturing jobs, for a wealth tax and for the enforcement of equal pay for women will ring a chime of hope in forthcoming election campaign" (Morning Star April 15). He did not elaborate quite why a narrow platform of historically redundant left Labourism would send out a "chime of hope" in 2005 when it has provoked such waves of indifference in the electorate for decades now. Although the launch also featured the call for "a strong vote against new Labour 'warmongers'", such as Blair and Hoon, there was no clear indication of the line on the Iraq occupation. Obviously this is a key question, not least given profound divisions in the CPB over the quisling role of the leadership of the Iraqi Communist Party and the attitude to be taken to the SWP-Respect initiative (which does have a principled line on the occupation, of course). But it has proved hard to get clarification from a dozy CPB: * The CPB website was down for days and has only just come back online as I finish these lines. * The website of the Welsh district leads with an ad for its version of Communist University "¦ from November of last year. Its 'Latest events' button takes you to a page advertising Christmas 2004 socials. There is no material promoting the two CPB candidates standing in Wales. Calls to the Cardiff office cum bookshop (staffed one weekend a month) reveal a telephone out of order. * The website of the CPB Scottish district is down and messages left at its Glasgow bookshop prompt no response. The organisation now has one full-timer - general secretary Rob Griffiths - after its national organiser was shuffled out of the way after for some unexplained misdemeanour a few months ago. Despite the national organiser job being advertised internally since then, no one has come forward to dedicate their lives to the 'party' - a ludicrous situation which reveals the depth of the demoralisation and lack of self-belief in the ranks. Thus, we have a collapsed infrastructure to complement collapsed politics. In these circumstances, we have to assume that all CPB candidates will have the same stance as comrade Martin Levy (see interview below) - a soft, implicitly pro-imperialist 'troops out as soon as reasonably possible' fudge. No CPB candidate is therefore worthy of the vote of working class partisans. However, it is worthwhile comrades pressing for answers on the Iraq occupation where they can. After all, general secretary Griffiths (candidate in Pontypridd) is a well-known party innovator and thus in favour of a positive approach to the Socialist Workers Party-Respect and loosening the historical ties that bind the CPB to Labour. While this faction was defeated at the January 2004 special congress to decide its electoral orientation, the question still haunts this sect. For the innovators, the temptation is clearly present to pursue unity in some form with the SWP-Respect party. The rationale behind this 'historical compromise' is simple - the allure of power, even if today it is only the miniscule power of the SWP, rather than the Soviet Union superpower. We have previously pointed to the rather odd spectacle of Nick Wright - a man with a long and dishonourable record of proclaiming the murderous regime of Stalin as the pinnacle of socialist achievement and now a leading innovator - authoring an article in 2003 in the CPB's Communist Review (the very occasional CPB journal) that told us that it was time to move on from the Trotsky-Stalin division that has characterised the left for generations. Since the collapse of bureaucratic socialism in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, this divide is obsolete. How could the 'Trots' be "counterrevolutionary", the comrade wondered, when there was nowhere to ferment counterrevolution against any more? And, given the positive role played by the SWP in the STWC (an assessment that should make any self-respecting SWPer cringe, given its source), it was time to put old divisions behind us, he generously suggested (Weekly Worker February 24). In a similar vein, a recent book on the history of the STWC sees joint authors Andrew Murray (CPB innovator) and Lindsey German (SWP) argue in a significant passage that: "If any question could be said to have replaced the Soviet one as the touchstone of international politics, dividing sheep from goats, it is opposition to the new imperialism" (Stop the war: the story of Britain's biggest ever mass movement - see our review in Weekly Worker April 21). Morning Star editor Haylett (another enthusiast for CPB-SWP/Respect rapprochement) sings from the same hymn sheet in an interview with the Financial Times weekend edition: "The concept of the left has broadened in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union ... There has been a greater willingness among leftwing groups to listen and work with each other - the Stop the War Coalition has been an example of that. I think it has changed its approach, redefining itself as broad and inclusive" (April 23-24). And in a passage that will give the traditionalist majority of the CPB apoplexy, he adds (in case anyone has not got the message): "But, of course, my views have developed. There are things I would have defended in the past that I would never defend any more "¦ I would never accept someone not being allowed to publish a book in Britain, so why should I defend it happening in the Soviet Union? I would have supported that in the past" (ibid). Meanwhile, in the May issue of the SWP's Socialist Review, John Rees attempts to set the election intervention of Respect against what he sees as a more fundamental realignment of politics. Interestingly, the article appears to emphasise - in a similar way to the recently launched Respect manifesto - the question of class. The word 'muslims' does not appear once in the article. Instead, we are told that: "It is impossible to believe that in such a country we will arrive at the total transformation of the country without all sorts of partial, but in themselves quite radical, breaks from the establishment. Anyone who believes that this will happen by cumulative single defections from their camp to that of the far left simply has no understanding about how working class consciousness develops as a process and over time "¦ "In a period like ours an effective far-left organisation can only exist in cooperation, in organised forms, with other people in the working class movement. This is not an aberration: it is the desirable norm within the working class movement for a revolutionary organisation. It is only the peculiar and aberrant circumstances of a downturn which throw a revolutionary party back into isolation in order to defend a particular current of ideas. The situation now, the era of the united front work of the Stop the War Coalition and Respect, is 'situation normal'. "Many people on the left, because of the long downturn, found it very hard to understand that you can both maintain your principles and analysis of the way capitalist society works and what is necessary to transform it and at the same time cooperate with people who may not share all those ideas but [advance politics which enhance] the capacity of working class people to fight collectively. That's exactly what we're involved in with Respect" (www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.p-hp?articlenumber=9380). Rees's analysis smacks of an approach that tells us that his section of the SWP leadership at least is in Respect for the long haul. He informs us that, "Whatever the outcome of this election", deep-seated "structural pressures will not cease to operate on the body politic". Respect is part of a "historical process" that includes the likes of the Left Bloc in Portugal, Rifondazione in Italy, the Wahl Alternative in Germany and the Scottish Socialist Party. Only "conservatively minded people on the left" judge these formations programmatically, he asserts. The more successful the SWP-Respect project, the more those "structural pressures" will "operate on the body politic" of the contradiction-wracked CPB. Its votes will compare badly against SWP-Respect and those elements of its cadre with any gumption will be further tempted by this popular frontist formation - in many ways a natural home for them. Unprincipled fudge Martin Levy is the CPB candidate in Newcastle-upon-Tyne East and Wallsend. The comrade stood in this constituency in the general elections in 1997, when he won 163 votes (0.4%) and was pushed into last place by the Socialist Labour Party's Blanch Carpenter, who picked up 642 votes (1.5%). In 2001 he stood again and received 126 votes (0.4%). Once more he was pipped by the SLP for last place, comrade Carpenter this time scoring 420 votes (1.3%). In 2005, comrade Levy is facing a challenge from the Socialist Party's Bill Hopwood (standing as Socialist Alternative, of course). When I telephoned comrade Levy, he did not seem that pleased to hear from us "¦ Martin, I'm phoning you on behalf of the Weekly Worker newspaper "¦ Are you indeed? I am indeed. Obviously it concerns the coming general election. We have been approaching candidates on the left to clarify their attitude on the Iraq war and occupation "¦ You are associated with which organisation? I'm phoning on behalf of the Weekly Worker, paper of the CPGB. I don't think I have anything to say to you "¦ You are refusing to speak to us? I don't have any dealings with the CPGB "¦ You will be reported as saying that, of course. I am quite happy for you to report whatever you want. My position on the Iraq war is well known. I'm a local activist in the Stop the War Coalition. I will be at a hustings meeting organised on Friday by the STWC, I give them full support. Beyond that, I'm not going to say anything to you. Well, we are looking for clarification on an important point. You can clarify that from the party's website "¦ Your organisation's website is down, Martin. I have been speaking to your national office and they tell me that it might be up tomorrow. I have a deadline to meet and am keen to get the facts right. What do you want to know then? Are you for troops out of Iraq now - immediately and unconditionally - or for troops out at some later date? Our position is for troops to be withdrawn unconditionally at the earliest possible date. "At the earliest possible date "¦"? Well, you know, there are logistical practicalities. But it should not depend on a political settlement. But if is not conditional on a political settlement of any kind, then isn't that a 'troops out now' stance? Our position is the same as the Stop the War Coalition's. The STWC's stated position is of course, for "the speediest possible ending of the illegal occupation" of Iraq (www.stop-war.org.uk) - an unprincipled fudge, in other words. In this constituency, therefore, the Socialist Party's Bill Hopwood should be supported rather than the CPB's Martin Levy.