Not one millimetre

This year's fundraising drive takes places against a backdrop of the political decay of the revolutionary left, writes Ian Mahoney

In the Summer Offensive fact file that complements this article, we remind comrades not only of the basic facts of this annual CPGB campaign, but also of some of the more perverse rumours the left have cooked up about it. On one level, why some feel the need for these zany scenarios is puzzling. It really ain't that hard a thing to get your head round ... The Summer Offensive - an essential part of our annual fundraising - is a much less gruesome affair than some comrades on the left paint it. Yes, it is a two-month period of intense effort (covering this year June and July), during which our comrades will cut back on items of personal expenditure to hit ambitious individual targets they set themselves - collectively, we are aiming to raise £30,000 again. But the campaign is a political event, not a financial one in the narrow sense of the word. Thus it takes place in relation to the politics that surround us: reality dictates the tempo and intensity of the campaign. So, when Clive Power, a critically-minded reader of ours, teased us a few years ago about the SO, his criticisms did not really hit home: "Is it reformist weakness that means the CPGB has not yet started it own campaign of 'exes' (Bolshevik-style armed robberies) to raise funds?" he asked us. "And what sort of amateurs don't publish their paper abroad and then smuggle it in so as to practise for (their longed-for) working underground?" Despite his sarky tone, the core point the comrade was making was uncontroversial. Communist organisations are composed of real human beings, not 'droids: "God forbid that people should do things other than full-time politics, like work long hours or have kids, relationships, etc, or spend money on petty bourgeois pursuits like foreign holidays. But then if you want to trundle along "¦ burning out comrades through periods of manic activity, this is the tried and tested way to go" (Letters Weekly Worker June 5 2003). All true, but frankly, irrelevant to the realities of our Summer Offensive. Swotting The idea that our SO and the general levels of discipline we aspire to are insanely frenetic is nonsense. "Manic" forms of activity are a product of "manic" political perspectives. In contrast, our take on the nature of the current political period, its potential for political engagement and therefore what life demands of us as an organisation is actually sober, patient and calm. If you're looking for archetypal "manic", look at the genuinely loopy Workers Revolutionary Party. From the mid-1970s onwards, this sect decided that there was a revolutionary situation in Britain. Its members - poor, pulverised dolts - were kept at fever pitch with gibber of imminent military coups, the dark machinations of MI5 in their ranks and a campaign for the TUC to call the general strike - a full-blown assault on state power. WRPers slept with their boots on - when they managed to grab any sleep at all. A necessary complement of these sorts of perspective - which clash so dramatically with reality - is an internal party regime which grinds up cadre, reducing them to foam-flecked believers in whatever piece of nonsense the leadership decides is 'true' this week. A member of ours even recalls once seeing the leader of the WRP - that nauseating tyrannical runt, Gerry Healy - publicly kicking some underling who had displeased him. So, yes, we do ask for a level of commitment from comrades that compares well with other sections of the left. But that intensity, the particular form communist discipline takes, must be linked to social realities, not to the sect fantasies of madmen. And ultimately the wellspring of that discipline must be the internal resources of our comrades as individual communists: it cannot be imposed from outside either by daydreams of a military clampdown or a kick in the shins. So there are two aspects of our communist discipline we must address during the SO 2005. First, we need to fight, once again, to instil a culture of turning our members outwards. A perennial problem is our tendency towards insularity. Our correct orientation of engaging with and attempting to positively resolve the programmatic crisis of the revolutionary left can produce a certain lack of perspective in our comrades, to put it charitably. We have joked in the past that newer comrades who gravitate towards the CPGB are far more likely to learn the name of the leading members of what remains of the Socialist Party than the head of the TGWU (not totally true, but true enough to raise a laugh). This results in two interrelated errors - a tendency amongst some comrades to unity-monger for the sake of it; to become myopically concerned with the politics of micro-groups at the expense of developments in the wider movement and - indeed - society itself. In its turn, this can produce a lack of 'party patriotism', expressed in a casually amateur approach to building this organisation in the here and now. In fact, our purpose is to orientate all revolutionaries to an engagement with the real world based on principled communist politics - the type of politics that, uniquely on the left at the moment, we defend and develop. Turning our comrades outwards during this campaign should therefore be thought of as the fight to build the CPGB as the active agent in the process of positively resolving this crisis of the left. So, yes, comrades will tighten belts a notch or two, but the SO drive must be thought of as one of the high points of our political struggle. Every paper, book or pamphlet comrades sell, every donation or sub they win goes towards their personal target and, crucially, will hopefully be an indication of a deepening political dialogue with comrades in our broad periphery, people who are reading our press and thinking seriously about our ideas. We need to encourage more of these comrades to go from passive sympathy to active support - even if initially this is just taking out a regular standing order to support our work from a distance. Second, we use the SO as an annual purge of our organisation, a chance to politically de-tox. The historical parallel we have referenced several times here has been the 'communist Saturdays', the subbotniks from the early Soviet Union. These were initiated in Moscow on May 10 1919 by communist railworkers - in essence, they were donations of unpaid voluntary labour by workers dedicated to protecting and building the newly won workers' state. Lenin attached great significance to these spontaneously selfless initiatives from ordinary proletarians, seeing in them the "green shoots of communism", a "victory over our own conservatism, indiscipline, petty bourgeois egoism" (VI Lenin CW Vol 29, Moscow 1977, p432). The CPGB is not facing the challenge of providing leadership to a mass movement - given our stage of organisational development and the general level of the class struggle, opportunities for serious engagement are extremely limited. So how do we enhance our communist discipline in today's Britain? We are surrounded by an ostensibly revolutionary left in political and organisational decay, characterised by total programmatic befuddlement. In this dire situation, we have emphasised the need to "expend considerable effort "¦ in the fight for theoretical clarity in the Marxist movement and to seek cooperation and organisational merger with other Marxists engaged in this project" (Weekly Worker February 3). In contrast to what some may believe, our emphasis on the need to study, to re-educate ourselves in the ideas of Marxism, implies no retreat from the standards of communist discipline we set ourselves historically. After the defeat of the 1848 revolutions, Engels spoke of his and Marx's priority to "resume our swotting", but this hardly meant the duo slumped into the indolent routine of a Bohemian intellectual. Wilhelm Liebknecht was one of the newer recruits to the Marx party in the early 1850s and he recalled many years later: "Marx went [to the British Museum] daily and urged us to go too. Study! Study! That was the categoric injunction that we often heard from him and that he gave us by his example and the continual work of his mighty brain. "While the other emigrants were daily planning a world revolution and day after day, night after night, intoxicating themselves with the opium-like motto: 'Tomorrow it will begin!', we the 'brimstone band', the 'bandits', the 'dregs of mankind' [some of the labels attached to the Marx party by opponents], spent our time in the British Museum and tried to educate ourselves and prepare arms and ammunition for the future fight "¦ "Marx was a stern teacher - he not only urged us to study: he made sure we did so"(cited in A Nimtz Marx and Engels: their contribution to the democratic breakthrough p153). The SO 2005 should be used to re-invigorate our organisation and generate new energy for this urgent task of "swotting". In this way, we hope to establish a 'virtuous circle'. As I emphasise above, genuine communist discipline springs from an individual's understanding of Marxism and their consequent recognition of what life itself is demanding of them. It is not a product of the shrill hectoring of some jumped-up full timer with a copy of the latest 'Party notes' in their pocket and profoundly misplaced delusions of competence. Defining moment During a controversy over our very first full Summer Offensive at the third conference of the Leninists of the CPGB in 1985, we were urged by an excellent communist from Turkey that "there can be no ground given, not even a millimetre, to the doubters and backsliders on the question of hard work - whatever you give, it will not be enough: life will demand more" (The Leninist July 1985). In hindsight, it is clear that this debate in 1985 was a defining moment politically for our organisation, not simply a narrow technical argument about "hard work". Our resolve not to give "even a millimetre" on the SO expressed a parallel determination to be equally intransigent about the revolutionary content of Marxism itself. At that time, we were surrounded by 'official' and Eurocommunist factions in the CPGB that were deeply compromised - politically, organisationally and financially. Young though the organisation was, it was determined that its political independence from the Soviet, trade union and Labour bureaucracy would not be crippled by financial dependence on anyone but ourselves and the comrades we could influence and inspire. We would say what we knew needed to be said, when it was required and without fear of excommunication or financial sanction. Those in our ranks who wavered on the SO in 1985 were actually expressing a political problem with this uncompromising attitude. We lost two leading members at the time who decamped accusing us of trying to mechanically replicate the experience of others: "We are in Britain, not Turkey," one of these sages wisely informed us. Moreover there "was not a revolutionary situation in Britain" to justify the level of discipline we were demanding. The debate over the SO and the limp arguments marshalled against it by these two communists were politically indicative of their overall trajectory. They subsequently gave rather more than a millimetre on politics - both slumped back into the orbit of the 'official communists' and subsequently out of revolutionary politics altogether. The apparent unity of the Leninists of the CPGB was shattered at this conference as the 'hards' and the 'softs' cleaved, ostensibly over an 'organisational' matter. In truth, the debate actually revealed irreconcilable programmatic appetites between the two trends that soon took on overtly political forms. Sound familiar to anyone? The intransigent political method exemplified in our 1985 debate over the SO remains our practice today. This is what accounts for our often tense relationship with other sections of the left, not the supposed 'gossipy' nature of the Weekly Worker. We have rigorously exposed the discrepancy between the formal Marxism of many of these groups and their practice. For instance, we have pointed out a common characteristic of all the unity projects the ostensibly revolutionary left has engaged in since its dislocation with Labour from the early 1990s onwards. All, without exception, have been to the right of the supposed real politics of the Marxist organisations involved - even when there has been no-one but people who dub themselves revolutionary Marxists in them. This methodology was articulated by the Socialist Workers Party's John Rees when he proudly reminded the assembled revolutionary socialists at Respect's founding convention that they had voted "against the things we believed in, because, while the people here are important, they are not as important as the millions out there "¦ We voted for what they want." A day's work to be proud of for a communist, we are meant to assume. And remember the psychologically instructive language used at the fraught October 18 2003 Socialist Alliance executive meeting. There, comrades such as Alan Thornett of the visibly flagging International Socialist Group, defending the need for a "broader formation" than the SA, told us that we needed a "credible alternative" that could "make a real connection with people". This dog whistle phrase of 'credibility' was also repeatedly stressed by leading SWP comrades present. As if revolutionary socialism is not credible (Weekly Worker October 23 2003). The CPGB will not give a millimetre. We believe that revolutionary communism - not a historically redundant Labourism or left populism - is the "credible" politics of the 21st century. This year's Summer Offensive will help provide the sinews of war to help us raise the battle for those ideas to a higher level. We will regularly feature the campaign in these pages over the coming months, but don't wait to be nagged into submission; let's see pledges and donations rolling in from this issue onwards! Summer Offensive fact file * The first full SO was in 1985 (we had organised a mini-Offensive the year before). This year's campaign is therefore our 21st campaign. * We adapted the idea from campaigns run by Marx's Neue Rheinische Zeitung, the Iscinin Sesi trend of the Communist Party of Turkey and the Bolsheviks' Subbotniks (all had a refreshingly robust approach to fundraising - our comrades from Turkey dubbed their equivalent campaign an 'attack' rather than an 'appeal', for instance). * Our organisation sets itself a collective target to raise in two months - this year £30,000 - and individual members set personal minimums. * Non-members participate at whatever level they feel they can - all donations to the campaign are gratefully received. * The SO ends with a celebration, where we announce the final amount raised and present awards for comrades' individual achievements (for many years this was dubbed "the Offensive meal", until someone pointed out this may be a little off-putting "¦). This year's celebration takes place on the evening of August 13, the first day of our Communist University. * At the time of our 1988 SO, our faction in the 'official' CPGB (as it then was) raised £10, 473 (and nine pence, we felt compelled to tell readers - see The Leninist September 3 1988). * This SO dramatically revealed the huge political gulf between our Leninist trend in the party and the degenerate contemporary 'official communist' groups we were locked in battle with. They were utterly compromised, politically and organisationally. Thus, we noted that donations at our 1988 SO launch meeting had raised more than seven whole districts of the 'official communist'-dominated party had managed to cobble together in the course of its two-month appeal (remember, we were a very small faction at that time, consisting mostly of younger comrades). * We were also pleased to announce to our party opponents that every participating sympathiser of our faction (let alone its members) had raised more than three whole districts of the opportunist-dominated party. * Opponents have scrabbled around for explanations for our success - all of which told us far more about them than it did about us. Thus, we have in the past been reliably informed that party members were selling livers for the fund drive; that all student comrades had been instructed to give up their digs and live together in industrial squats in Brixton; that we had a T-shirt sweatshop in Turkey that supplied the cash; that Jack Conrad was a descendant of the novelist Joseph Conrad and we financed our political activities from his literary estate; that lucky blighter Conrad was also the heir to a nationwide chain of dry cleaners and, of course, that we were financed by MI5, the Communist Party of Turkey, the German Democratic Republic, the Revolutionary Communist Group or some exotic combination of the above. The simple explanation - that genuine communist politics inspire revolutionaries to high levels of self-sacrifice and inventiveness - does not seem to occur to them. Summer Offensive regional launch meetings * London & South East Saturday June 4, 5pm, Diorama Arts Centre. Phone 07950 416 922 for details. * Sheffield Thursday June 9, 7.30pm, Halifax Hall, Endcliffe Vale Road, Sheffield S10. Phone Ben on 07862 253 331 for more details * Wales Thursday June 19, 7.30pm, Cardiff. Phone Bob on 07816 480 679 for more details.