Ireland debate continues

Mary Godwin reports from the May 28 CPGB members' aggregate

A call for the immediate release from jail of Scottish Socialist Party press and policy coordinator Alan McCombes was unanimously adopted by an aggregate meeting of CPGB members in London on May 28 (see below). However, the main discussion came in the CPGB's continuing debate on Ireland, which occupied the morning session.

Two sets of theses, from comrades Jack Conrad and Mike Macnair, remain under discussion, although it is hoped that a single document will eventually be produced. These theses, first published in Weekly Worker September 29 2005, have generated a lively discussion among members and others. A number of comrades wanted to vote on the theses, but it was agreed not to do so at this aggregate. Comrade Macnair stated that, having thought further about the question since the previous aggregate, he now wished to put part of his theses to the vote, in order to establish a clear minority position rather than fudge the question. However, the two comrades agreed to discuss further a common text as far as possible.

Comrade Conrad said in opening the debate that a major point of disagreement among comrades had been over his thesis 19, and particularly the first sentence: "We stand for a united Ireland within which a one-county, four half-county British-Irish province exercises self-determination." Comrade Anne Mc Shane's proposed amendment would replace this with "We stand for a united Ireland, within which the British-Irish can exercise self-determination in a separate area where they form a clear majority." Comrade Conrad developed the argument he put forward in his February 16 Weekly Worker article: that the reason for specifying the territory of the suggested British-Irish province is that the thesis is not actually formulated to advise a possible future Irish constitutional assembly; it is meant to be an intervention in Irish politics as it is now - an attempt to undermine orangeism and loyalism, not a sop to it.

Comrade Macnair emphasised the point made in his thesis 1.5 that the British state retains a strategic interest in the military domination of at least part of Ireland because of Britain's role as a 'Trojan horse' for the United States in the European Union. This meant that the British state continues to promote loyalism, creating a tension in the position we should hold. He said that to call for "repartition" of Ireland for the sake of self-determination for the British-Irish is in conflict with our responsibility to take a revolutionary defeatist stance towards our own state in its role as the main subsidiary of the US.

The strongest critic of Jack Conrad's thesis 19 was comrade Lee Rock, who also stated that thesis 19 would effectively mean repartition of Ireland. This would not overcome the problem of reversing the poles of oppression because, however any geographical region is divided, there will always be minority populations. Our role as communists is to fight for a united Ireland within which the democratic rights of all minorities would be protected, he said.

Other comrades argued that we were attempting to provide a solution to the national question in order to clear the way for the unity of the working class. The idea was to reassure the British-Irish, not pander to loyalism - thesis 19 clearly called, not for "repartition", but for a "united Ireland". Weekly Worker editor Peter Manson argued that the commitment that a British-Irish province would have the right to secede was intended as a guarantee that unity would be voluntary - just as the right to divorce ultimately ensures that a marriage remains voluntary, and is actually based on firmer foundations in this way.

After lunch, comrade Steve Freeman of the Revolutionary Democratic Group, who was a guest at the aggregate, spoke about the struggle within the new Socialist Alliance over the meaning of the phrase 'republican socialist party'. CPGB members say this should be a Communist Party, while others interpret it as a referring to a type of reformist socialism that wants to get rid of the monarchy. This division has paralysed the work of the SA, preventing it from agreeing the text of a leaflet at the February conference of the Campaign for a New Workers' Party, for example.

Comrade Macnair, who is a regular contributor to the SA e-list debates on the question, accused comrade Freeman of fuzzing over disagreements, and said paralysis cannot be overcome by unprincipled blocs, where comrades agree diplomatic formulations to hide their differences. The first problem is not to cobble together a motion that can be agreed to by social democrats, but to overcome the sectarianism and economism of the left through the organisational unity of Marxists. Comrade Lee Rock stated that if the Campaign for a New Workers' Party ever resulted in an end product, most SA comrades would end up on the other side of the argument from the CPGB when it came to what type of party we wanted. So too would the RDG.

Later in the aggregate, comrade Conrad gave a brief account of plans for Communist University 2006. One proposed session is a debate between the four main participants in the argument on the Socialist Alliance e-list, including comrades Freeman and Macnair. Other sessions include talks by Boris Kagarlitsky, Peter Tatchell, Hillel Ticktin and Derek Wall. Comrade Conrad reminded the aggregate that Marxist education is both a right and a duty for all CPGB members. We hold weekly educational seminars in London, and less frequently in Wales and Sheffield. However, the experience of a full week of Marxist study and discussion is an invaluable extra dimension to the educational process.

June marks the start of the CPGB's annual Summer Offensive fundraising drive, and the other item on the aggregate agenda was initial pledges from comrades of how much they would raise, following a financial report and opening on the Summer Offensive by comrade Mark Fischer. He reported that the financial situation of the organisation is slowly improving: the new, more centrally located office and printshop means there are more opportunities for commercial printing, and CPGB branches, especially in Sheffield and Manchester, are starting to raise more money through paper sales. The campaign to increase standing order donations to both the CPGB and the Weekly Worker had resulted in extra regular income of more than £400 a month, although this was well short of the "overambitious" target of an extra £1,000 in two months, which we had set ourselves at the end of 2005, said comrade Fischer.

However, as always, it is the SO that enables the party to keep its head above water and continue its essential political campaigning, with the Weekly Worker at the centre of our work. Summer Offensive pledges made during the aggregate totalled £19,500 - an excellent start on the road to our minimum £30,000 target.

Resolution on SSP adopted unanimously at CPGB aggregate

This aggregate demands the immediate release of Scottish Socialist Party press and policy coordinator Alan McCombes following his jailing for contempt by an unelected bourgeois judge.

While working class leaders must be accountable to those who elect them and to the class as a whole, the state has no right to demand details of the discussions of working class organisations.