Funding a left revival
Mark Fischer sets the scene for the CPGB's Summer Offensive 2006
On one level, the leadership of the Communist Party has been quite conservative in the targets it has set for this year's Summer Offensive, our annual two-month fundraising drive. At its meeting on May 21, the Provisional Central Committee agreed (subject to ratification by our members' aggregate on May 28) to set this year's collective target at £30,000 - the same as 2005 - and also to leave the minimum individual targets for members and candidate members unchanged (other comrades are free to contribute at whatever level they feel they can).
This is despite the fact that some of the 'technical' problems that caused us headaches during the 2005 Offensive have been resolved or eased. The bulk of the students and school students who make up a far bigger percentage of our membership and candidate membership than in previous years now at least have the experience of one SO, which this year begins on June 1, under their belts. We have a properly functioning national office after the disruption of our move and, as a result, we have opportunities to make money from print work once again.
However, comrades will recall that last year's SO was a particularly hard one for our organisation. It had to be extended by two weeks into August and, when every last penny had finally been clawed in, the closing total was £26,228. A decent enough achievement, but the £30k target is actually a calculation of the extra annual funds our group genuinely needs - over and above subs to our paper, literature sales and other forms of fundraising - in order to keep us on an even financial keel. A shortfall of nearly £4,000 was thus no small matter for us.
Therefore, as we head into this year's campaign, the PCC emphasises that comrades need to be aware that this is a minimum target; that, although our organisation and the political context in which it fights have not dramatically changed since last year, we should be confident that we are more than capable of hitting this total and going beyond it. A failure to actually top the £30k mark - as with last year - would entail the accumulation of financial problems for the rest of the year.
We have noted in the past that each Summer Offensive casts a light on both the state of our organisation and the broader political movement it operates in. Last year I commented that perhaps this had become something of a cliché for us - we need to think in more rigorous ways about the lessons revealed. The broad themes I identified then still shape the political context we work in today:
l The political decay of the existing left and the extreme weakness of the new. Whether it is the loss of momentum around the European Social Forum and the setback to the project of continent-wide revolutionary unity that represents, or the popular-frontist Respect debacle of the Socialist Workers Party, left politics are defined by the lingering death of the old.
l The absence of the working class as an independent political actor in any meaningful sense. Perhaps the continued domination of the Labour Party by Blairism or variations on its theme is the best illustration of this fact. Historically, Labour has been a - frequently uneasy - symbiotic alliance between left and right. The eclipse of the left today - the wing of the party that reflected most directly the pressure of the class itself - underlines the politically passive nature of the proletariat at the moment.
l Given this - admittedly undesirable - situation, Marxists are afforded an opportunity. Whatever the overblown hyperbole of the sects, the truth is that we are not engaged in a competition with other political trends to lead the class, or to "test our programme" against social democrats and other misleaders of the masses, as a young Workers Power member naively told our comrades in Sheffield recently. Frankly, given the state of the political ideas of most of the left, we should be thankful for this fact. In Britain, the press of the revolutionary left is overwhelmingly bought and read (when it is read at all) by the revolutionary left itself. The fact that the bulk of the pseudo-popular publications of the Marxists serve up such an unrelieved diet of economistic, tedious bilge tells us what a state our movement is in.
This political poverty, combined with a culture of high-tempo, but mundane activism for the rank and file, ensures that many members simply have no time or space whatsoever in their organisations to think.
Thus, the question of the subjective - what is between the ears of people who currently dub themselves Marxists - assumes a central importance in today's political practice. We do not belittle or mock the campaigning of any group. It is more a question of what Marxists should prioritise under today's conditions. The notion that is often implicit in the approach of these groups to such work - that somehow, in the aftermath of the terrible defeats of the last 100 years or so, the major task of Marxists now is to just 'get out there', get stuck in with the leafleting, the petitioning, the knocking on doors - deserves derision. We did, after all, do rather a lot of that in the last century, comrades "¦
In this fundamental task of self-education and education of the wider movement, the role of the Weekly Worker is absolutely central.
Younger comrades in and around the CPGB sometimes express a frustration that the process of 'induction' into the organisation is not a smoother, more structured one. True, our formal education practices are often too sloppy and amateur. Indeed, some of the left sects we encounter are able to tool up their recruits with a ready-made, 'complete' world view more quickly than our organisation. Certainly, we need a more rigorously structured and - to a certain extent - more 'pedantic' approach to the education of our comrades. In my opinion, there is certainly a far greater potential role for our website here - the weakness of our national infrastructure and cadre base can be at least partially offset by web-based training and instruction. However, the key must be the paper, the online version of which is the most popular feature of the site anyway.
At the centre of the education of our comrades must be the research, writing and collective discussion of articles in the Weekly Worker. Above all else, this has to be prioritised. It is the means by which comrades not only teach themselves Marxist politics, but also - painfully slowly, it has to be said - our group can engage in a process of re-education of the entire revolutionary left and the broader workers' movement itself.
So, comrades. We have £30,000-plus to raise together over the coming two months. Of course, our members, candidate members and closer supporters will be the backbone of this campaign, but we call on readers of the Weekly Worker to play their part also. The impressive number of readers we get online every week underlines the fact that the paper remains far more 'popular' than the party - indeed, that the layers it is engaging with have substantially grown. That said, it seems that many of these readers are still not actually clear why they repeatedly return to the site. According to a March 23 posting on the pro-war blog, Harry's Place, our "Trot gossip magazine" is "strangely addictive" (http://hurry-upharry.bloghouse.net).
Given that I was recently informed that our reporting of the SWP sectarian provocation on the European Social Forum march in Athens was "gossip" - primarily because we had photos of the incident and of leading SWPers involved - I am rather more sanguine about these sorts of philistine comments than I used to be. It is clear by implication that large parts of the left actually believe that genuine political reportage consists of blandly upbeat advertising puff about various protests and strikes, which mention nothing of the problems, conflicts or areas of contention within them. Compare our coverage of the dramatic stand-off on the Greek ESF march, for instance, with the deathly dull - and grossly misleading - report in Socialist Worker that simply told its readers "over 150,000 people joined a vibrant demonstration through the centre of Athens at the end of the forum" (May 13).
Well, true as far as it goes, comrades - but kind of incomplete, wouldn't you say "¦?
If you want the full picture, the Weekly Worker is clearly the place to find it. And our annual SO fundraising drive is an absolutely essential part of securing this paper's annual finances. So if you respond to only one appeal to donate to the Weekly Worker, you should, first, be thoroughly ashamed of yourself and, second, make it the Summer Offensive 2006!