How to fight for party
Around 20 comrades came together for the first London meeting of the Campaign for a Marxist Party on January 21. This took the form of a debate and discussion on the immediate tasks of the CMP, initiated by Mike Macnair of the CPGB and Chris Grey of New Interventions. Peter Manson reports
Comrade Mike Macnair began the discussion by outlining the proposals made by the CPGB to the CMP committee elected in November. In our view there ought to be, firstly, a discussion on the type of programme a new Marxist party should adopt - should it, for example, be minimum-maximum or 'transitional'? Secondly, what sort of Marxist party are we talking about? The CPGB believes it must be based on genuine democratic centralism, where minorities have the right to speak out and publish opposing views. Thirdly, and "slightly less of a priority", said comrade Macnair, what should be the relations of a new party with the current organised left? Should we attempt to win over the best by working in their various 'united fronts', as the CPGB does, or is it correct to steer clear of them and appeal directly to unorganised individuals?
Comrade Macnair devoted most of his speech to the question of programme. Explaining the CPGB's minimum-maximum approach, he said that the minimum programme represented what a workers' government would attempt to implement after the seizure of power. Inevitably there would be a period of transition featuring a mixed economy and antagonistic contradictions between the private and dominant state sector. This had nothing to do with stages, 'completing the bourgeois democratic revolution' or any other such nonsense, but was based on the fact that it would be undesirable and impossible to immediately expropriate all private property, particularly that of the petty bourgeoisie. We are not for 'war communism' or a Cambodian 'Year Zero'.
The programme we should adopt will not, of course, be one for a backward country overwhelmingly dominated by the peasantry - he pointed out that the advice of Marx and Engels had been not to attempt to take power in such a country. Our programme should be for a continent, Europe, where the proletariat was the preponderant class.
Comrade Macnair stated that Trotsky was right when he wrote in Results and prospects that a workers' revolution in Russia could only hold power for months - there could be no question of a strategic alliance with the peasantry, and 1917 was "objectively a gamble on the German revolution".
However, concluded comrade Macnair, the fact of 1917, which saw the first workers' state in backward Russia, together with the failure of the European revolution, ended up bequeathing the workers' movement a programme that was to be an obstacle to the working class taking power - the first four congresses of the Communist International could not be considered a useful guide to action today.
Chris Grey said he "very strongly" agreed that there would have to be a transitional period after a workers' revolution. We would need to realise democracy in its full sense - holding power not only at the level of the state, but also at the level of the enterprise. That is why our programme for the extension of democracy must include both the overthrow of the monarchy and measures to implement democratic control over, for example, the NHS.
Our starting point, said comrade Grey, must be the current state of the world economy - he also agreed with comrade Macnair about the need for a European dimension. As well as the centrality of democracy and internationalism, he also stressed "sustainability" as the third main point in his speech. Strangely, the document comrade Grey chose to distribute at the meeting was George Monbiot's list of proposals to combat global warming.
Speakers from the floor took issue with the stress on Europe. Mike Belbin of New Interventions said that we should not replace 'socialism in one country' with 'socialism in one continent', while Gerry Downing said that we needed a world programme, not a European programme. Replying to this, Weekly Worker editor Peter Manson said Europe would be the strategic linchpin of the world revolution - only a workers' Europe would be able to mount a real challenge to a capitalist USA and provide a launch pad for the spread of the revolution across the globe.
Stan Keable stated that, while we aim for a world revolution, it is the duty of communists to organise against the state under which they live. To the extent the EU adopts state forms, the working class needs to come together in order to overthrow it. Comrade Macnair pointed out that Europe today was now a reflection of the world economically, containing both advanced and less developed countries.
Another area of dispute was the minimum-maximum programme - Mike Pearn said that workers' control did not fit into it. Phil Kent, by contrast, said that the minimum programme was about fighting for a healthy, full life for workers in the here and now, and Alan Spence (New Interventions) stressed the need to prepare a programme to fight for workers' control from within capitalism.
Comrade Downing disagreed strongly with Mike Macnair's description of the "mixed economy" after a working class revolution - we need "economic as well as political control", he said, otherwise we would "end up like Allende".
Comrade Macnair responded that this was to misunderstand what he had said - the mixed economy was about the need to take into account the existence of a large petty bourgeoisie, not about leaving the capitalists in control of large sections of the economy. Comrade Manson added that the timing of the expropriation of the capitalists was a tactical question, affected by uneven development both in the revolutionary consciousness of workers in countries where state power had been seized (workers' control could not be imposed from on high) and in the international revolution itself (hiving off a small national component of an integrated transnational operation might turn out to be counterproductive).
Gerry Downing also questioned the relationship between the development of a CMP programme and the redrafting of the CPGB's Draft programme. For his part what was needed was Trotsky's Transitional programme, combined with the resolutions and statements of the first four congresses of the Third International (although he did indicate that he expected to be in a minority and would be prepared to accept the majority view). He complained that you "can't sell the Weekly Worker outside my bus garage", as, unlike Iskra, it did not intervene in workplace struggles. The Weekly Worker should have a "regular column" on trade union work, he said.
CMP London organiser Nick Rogers also commented on the "potential clash" between the CPGB and CMP on the drafting of a programme - Stan Keable pointed out that the CPGB was not going to wait for the CMP on this question: "We need to redraft anyway." Comrade Rogers noted that the CMP on a national level appears to be very slow-moving - the committee has not yet met and to date there have been no aggregates or workshops organised, as agreed at the November conference. There was a danger that the various components of the CMP would "talk past each other" - the CPGB was in the majority in London, while Critique had a similar position in Glasgow, for example.
Comrade Keable explained the CPGB's understanding of party democracy. We would be unlikely to achieve a situation where "everyone agrees", he asserted. Nevertheless we must focus on our differences in order to try and reach agreement rather than simply glossing over them and pretending we have unanimity - the practice of the bureaucratic centralist sects. This false unity leads only to splits.
Steve Freeman of the Revolutionary Democratic Group informed the meeting that there was "no possibility" of a new Marxist party at this time - we should campaign for a "broader party" and work as a communist faction within it. He made his usual attempt at disguising this rightism by repeating his left-sounding criticism that what was being proposed was a national Communist Party, whereas we ought instead to be cooperating on an international basis to arrive at a common international programme.
Replying to the debate, comrade Macnair stated that it was important to differentiate between a campaign for a party and the party itself. The CMP should not, for instance attempt to set up another NHS or pro-migrant campaign, although he agreed with speakers from the floor that work in both those areas was vital. A party would seek to intervene in every struggle, but with such small numbers it was essential for us to identify priorities. That can only mean propagandising - spreading our ideas.
That, in fact, is what the Weekly Worker does - it is aimed at the left, not the working class masses. But the paper is not only important in campaigning for the type of party that will enable our class to act more effectively in every campaign - its articles could form the basis of interventions and leaflets written by its readers. The nature of the paper helps explain why the CPGB has proposed merger talks with the CMP - in reality the CPGB already is a campaign for a Marxist party.
Comrade Macnair suggested that a future meeting should discuss how the CMP should intervene in, for example, current NHS campaigns.
The meeting agreed the provisional date of February 18 for the next meeting of the London CMP. It would feature a full debate between Gerry Downing and a CPGB comrade on 'What sort of programme - min-max or transitional?'