CMP steps up a gear
Peter Manson reports on the first national members' meeting of the Campaign for a Marxist Party
The Campaign for a Marxist Party national members' meeting, held in London on March 10, agreed to take forward the process of merger between the campaign and the CPGB by holding a series of day schools to debate the key issues of party programme, organisational forms and our relations with the existing left.
At the November 2006 launch conference of the CMP, supporters voted without opposition for fusion talks, and the day schools had been proposed by the CPGB in a letter sent to the CMP officers in December (a fourth day school on the nature of contemporary society was also agreed).
Hopefully the campaign will now start to progress after a sluggish start. True, there have been local meetings in London, Birmingham and Glasgow, with another fixed for the end of the month in Sheffield, but the elected committee has not met and no efficient means of communication with members has been organised. The letter from the CPGB suggesting the day schools (dated December 19 2006) went unanswered and has only just been circulated to members. This poor communication resulted in a low attendance on Saturday - the meeting had only been officially confirmed a week earlier and several comrades were already committed to other events.
However, a very basic website (www.marxistparty.org) has finally been set up and the first issue of the CMP journal, Marxist Voice, has just been published - produced virtually single-handedly by its editor, Dave Spencer.
In addition the meeting took a number of useful decisions - not least to support and sponsor the Hands Off the People of Iran campaign. The committee will also look at intervening in the forthcoming conferences organised by the RMT and the Campaign for a New Workers' Party, engaging with the Socialist Workers Party's Marxism school in July (it was suggested that part of the CPGB fringe could be given over to the CMP) and participating in or sponsoring Communist University 2007.
Cooperation with the CPGB is, however, not to the liking of a minority of the CMP membership - namely some comrades from the Democratic Socialist Alliance. Ex-CPGB member John Pearson claimed that the CPGB had a "proprietorial" attitude to the campaign, while Phil Sharpe said we were laying down "ultimatums" and Phil Walden declared we inhabited a "parallel universe".
The three alleged that the CPGB wanted to steamroller the CMP into accepting our own programme and disregarding other proposals, but their DSA comrade, Barry Biddulph, pointed out that nothing in what the CPGB had suggested could be interpreted as an attempt to impose our own agenda to the exclusion of all others - a little "good will" ought to be demonstrated, he said. In fact the CPGB has deliberately sent only a few CPGB comrades to CMP national meetings - on Saturday we had just three members present out of the 16 who attended.
Another DSA supporter who disagrees with comrades Pearson, Sharpe and Walden is Dave Spencer: "I don't think we would have got even this far without the CPGB and Weekly Worker over the years," he said. "The Weekly Worker is a model of how a communist paper should be run."
However, comrade Pearson stated that there was something missing from the CPGB proposals on fusion, as laid out in our December 19 letter. He said that at the November 2006 launch the CPGB had offered to hand over the Weekly Worker to the campaign, but this was no longer being mentioned. Comrade John Bridge refuted this, but declared that if a new, merged Marxist party were founded then the CPGB would not only place its newspaper at its disposal, but its entire assets, including its printing press.
Gerry Downing said that the CPGB would "obviously" not give away the Weekly Worker at this early stage and moved a successful motion to the effect that the future of our paper ought to be dependent on the outcome of fusion talks. This was not good enough for comrade Pearson, who voted against. This and the other issues discussed on March 10 will no doubt be revisited at the June 23 recall conference of the CMP.
The final session of the meeting featured a discussion introduced by comrade Sharpe on the nature of the Marxist programme. In contrast to what he caricatured as the CPGB's minimum-maximum "action programme", he advocates a polemical "propaganda programme". Whereas the CPGB holds that what is required is a crystallisation of our principles, linking the struggles and demands of today to the goal of communism, comrade Sharpe believes that a lengthy tome is called for, containing a comprehensive analysis of contemporary society (or at least those aspects that have caught his attention) and a full rebuttal of all the false claims about communism put out by the bourgeoisie.
In response comrade Bridge said that clearly, in order to determine the programme, a full analysis is necessary. But we "don't need a bible" for recruits to sign up to. Members of the party should be expected to accept its demands, principles and aims, concisely set out in a democratically agreed programme, not the extended ramblings of some would-be great theorist.
However, the reasoning behind comrade Sharpe's eccentric notion was revealed in his introduction. An "action programme" assumes that the working class is "ready to be mobilised", he said, whereas in fact "people accept the current order - workers no longer believe in communism". Therefore our job is not to set out our demands, principles and aims, but to "make communism attractive".
In reality comrade Sharpe is not proposing a party programme at all, since he believes there is no basis for mobilising around Marxism at present. He and comrade Walden have given virtually uncritical support to the Socialist Party's Campaign for a New Workers' Party - indeed comrade Sharpe believes that such a reformist halfway house is much more realistic than a Marxist party under current conditions. The task of communists is to be "part of the greater process of a mass workers' party", while making abstract propaganda for communism.
The discipline of a communist fighting formation is not for these comrades. No wonder they want to distance the Campaign for a Marxist Party from the CPGB.