Interesting times

The Summer Offensive 2005 - our annual fundraising drive - has been an interesting one for our organisation and its lessons need to be thought through. Mark Fischer gives his opinion

There will be plenty of people with a morbidly hostile attitude to our organisation who will take a perverse and petty delight in the fact that this year's Summer Offensive has been a difficult one for members of the Communist Party. But screw them, frankly. Our group, its supporting periphery, more distant sympathisers and interested readers of our press need to think rather more seriously about its lessons. Comrades will be pleased to read that our total has jumped by nearly £5,000 this week, taking us to £18,507.75p. This is a very healthy tempo of donation, but one we should really have been clocking up some weeks back if we were going to hit our £30,000 target. Special thanks to comrade SK for his magnificent £2,000; to comrade MN for his £350; JB for £118; RG for a £40 donation to go with his sub and comrade FK for £30, accompanied by a modest note telling us "I only wish it could be more". Well, we only wish there were more supporters like you out there, comrade FK. Given the weakness of our national infrastructure, translating sympathy into active support is extremely difficult for us. The vast majority of people who read our paper simply do not meet CPGBers, do not have the opportunity to put a face to the names they see in the paper. Thus it is too easy for these comrades - whatever their level of sympathy - to have a passive relationship with us. The paper appears every week online; they read it and enjoy it (14,966 of them last week, for example); they identify to greater or lesser degrees with the ideas it champions in the workers' movement and may even deploy some of them in their own political work. But for the vast majority of them, the idea that they might take the next step and actually begin to actively support the paper and the organisation that sustains it, to perhaps even provide some of the cash to ensure that it is able to appear every seven days, really doesn't click. But, as I wrote in a recent circular agitating for donations from readers and supporters, "it's 'click' time, comrades". We need to get as close as we possible can to our £30,000 and to do that we need the thousands of comrades who read our paper with some sympathy out there every week to make the link and follow the sterling example of comrade FK and others. Every Summer Offensive reveals something both about the state of our organisation and the wider political context it operates in. This notion has become something of a cliché for us and - like clichés tend to - it has sometimes excused us from thinking in a little more depth about the lessons we could draw from these annual campaigns. The fact that most SOs have been successful in monetary terms may also have been a disincentive to asking some rather more searching questions about our work and its relation to the left in general. We hit the targets, we gave ourselves a pat on the back, made some correct, but generally superficial points about the organisational strengths and weaknesses it revealed, then moved on. 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' was our guiding ethos - and it's generally not a bad one. This year has been a little different. As readers will know, the leadership of our organisation decided to extend this year's campaign by two weeks to get us closer to our £30,000 target. Even with more donations flooding in over this extra fortnight, however, it seems we will be hard pressed to fully achieve our financial goal. We have provisionally scheduled a Party aggregate for early October where this will obviously be discussed in much greater detail, but as we enter the last week or so of the extended SO it is worthwhile making some general points about this year's campaign. First, we should balance criticisms of our failure to hit £30k this year with some positive observations. A number of our newer comrades have exhibited a good, innovative attitude and approached the SO with some enthusiasm. Comrades who are veterans of the campaign have perhaps been a little less imaginative, but have generally set about the task in a characteristically workmanlike and serious manner. All in all, members and candidate members have performed pretty well again this year. So what has been the hitch in 2005? Essentially, some latent problems that have been bubbling under for a time broke the surface this year. Frankly, we have been quite lucky as an organisation with the timing of our SOs over the past five years or so - or, rather, we are a political group with enough gumption to have made our own 'luck'. Campaigning opportunities presented themselves and our organisation has had the nous to complement our political initiatives with the drive to raise the money to fund them. For instance, in 2001 we moved the SO to April-May in order to dovetail with our work in the Socialist Alliance's general election campaign. Not without an argument, however: "A minority of comrades disagreed with this proposal, arguing that, as many comrades traditionally raise money by overtime and extra jobs, this would clash with the need to do political work during the next two months. But the majority agreed that the coming period provides an excellent opportunity to fuse political and fundraising activity so as to raise both to a higher level. Raising cash for the SA election effort - obviously the most pressing financial need this year - is a job that cannot wait until after May 3" (Weekly Worker February 22 2001). The past five years or so have seen the rise (and demise) of the Socialist Alliance and the mass anti-war demos. Both offered windows of opportunity for this organisation to make mass propaganda and at the same time to get the wherewithal to fund our work. We were not able to marry the 2005 campaign with similar political openings, our work around the Make Poverty History/G8 protests being only a partial exception. Essentially, our comrades were thrown back almost entirely onto their own resources. And contrary to some of the genuinely malignant gossip you hear from some sources in the workers' movement, these are neither inexhaustible nor generously supplemented by the state. There are a number of other secondary questions that have caused problems with this year's campaign. The make-up of our organisation has changed. Students and school students make up a far bigger percentage of our membership and candidate membership and we have lost a number of older, relatively wealthier, comrades. Our national office has been disrupted by a temporary move, making it far harder to delegate work and maintain campaigning momentum. Our printshop now produces only our own material and is not in a position to take on commercial work. These and similar 'technical' questions have caused us headaches during the 2005 Offensive. However, we must bear in mind that the prime cause of our difficulties this year is political. This year's SO takes place against an extremely confused backdrop. On the one hand, a movement - or perhaps just a mood - of engagement and political protest in some form is certainly re-emerging, although its dominant ideas are extremely muddled and backward. On the other, the organisational/programmatic decline of the left continues unabated and it has proved itself incapable of engaging as Marxists in mass politics. The glaring example is the Socialist Workers Party, which instead of introducing clarity (that is, Marxism) into the movement, has constituted itself as an important conduit to contaminate it with petty bourgeois ideas. This political period is thus a profoundly dangerous one, despite its greater fluidity. Not because the majority of us are in jeopardy from some alienated loser with a combustible backpack, but because of the assault on civil liberties that constitutes the government's response to the terror attacks. We never tire of repeating that democracy under capitalism is not something that is given from above: it is something that is won from below by the popular classes, primarily the proletariat. Thus, the scope of our liberties at the moment "is determined by the balance of forces between the ruling and working class", as our draft programme puts it. That "balance of forces" must also be measured in terms of theory and programme, not simply the dull weight of numbers still organised in the heavily bureaucratised trade unions, for instance. Viewed in this - scientifically correct - way, we have to say that our side is actually extremely ill-prepared to defend the democratic gains it has achieved historically. Thus, there are a dozen lessons I could list straight off the top of my head that can be gleaned from this year's SO. The need to inculcate a far more structured culture of day-to-day fundraising rather than simply rely on the 'heroic push' once a year, an idea floated by comrade Cameron Richards in an aggregate just before the launch of the SO. We need better delegation, a properly functioning national office, better preparation and - as comrade Jack Conrad never tires of pointing out - there is no substitute for an SO launch meeting for imparting some early momentum (and applying a little peer group psychological pressure in terms of people's starting targets, as he also points out). All true. But the key lesson we should draw from this year's SO is the need for this organisation to re-emphasise the question of education. Take the rest of the left's response to the terror attacks on London that occurred during the course of this SO. As Eddie Ford pointed out last week, most put forward the banal, trite idea that the cause of these atrocities is British and US foreign policy (Weekly Worker July 28). That groups of British youth are currently strapping bombs to their backs and consigning themselves and others to oblivion because of the occupation of Iraq, or the oppression of the Palestinians. Genuine Marxism has more profound answers. It recognises that in their own, desperately perverted, anti-human way, these young men were acting in pursuit of a cause they saw as truly human, the fight for the umma as a universal community of believers reflecting one universal god. In despair at the vacuity and meaninglessness of the conditions of spiritual life under capitalism, they laid hold of something that is fantastic. It is the job of Marxists to seek to understand something about these people - about the deep alienation they share with millions of others - in the nature of that fantastic belief. In contrast, our self-proclaimed 'Marxists' have simply utilised the bombings to make points against 'Bliar'. Paradoxically, the bombers acted out of a distorted form of humanitarianism. In their own minds they were sacrificing themselves for humanity as they understand it, to achieve a world in harmony with god. The real logical content of such a project - despite its grotesque manifestation - is world of associated, unalienated humanity. Understood in this way, it is clear that the terror attacks are both the products of capitalism in its decline and the failure of the left to present a viable alternative universal project, particularly in the 20th century. For these poor, deluded bombers - as for tens of millions of others around the globe - the fantastic appears more realistic than the project of socialism. At the beginning of this year's Summer Offensive, I wrote that the SO "should be used to re-invigorate our organisation and generate new energy for this urgent task of 'swotting'" - that is, to study Marxism (Weekly Worker May 28). I think, while we can claim some moderate success for this from the campaign in 2005, it is also clear that we are scarcely at the beginning.