Plans for activity
The April 14 aggregate of CPGB members discussed the threat of an imminent attack on Iran and the need to step up the profile of the Hands Off the People of Iran campaign. Mary Godwin reports
Comrade Tina Becker opened the discussion by stating that British imperialism, unlike the US, is not arguing for an attack on Iran. There had been no question of launching an assault by British forces in response to the hostage crisis, which the Iranian regime had used as a way of shoring up its domestic support. The 'power vacuum' at the top pending Blair's departure also tends to reduce the likelihood of active British agitation for action against Iran.
However, the US has no intention of reducing the pressure on the Tehran regime - which means keeping the option of a massive aerial assault on the immediate agenda. So there are undoubtedly divisions between the US and UK ruling classes, although there is no question that Britain would not fall into line once the US made a move. Nevertheless, the divisions open up a certain space for those below to make a difference. Despite the Stop the War Coalition's mishandling of the huge potential raised by the anti-Iraq war protests there is a real possibility that another mass movement of protest could arise if Iran were subjected to military attack by the US, especially an attack in which British forces were involved in whatever capacity.
On the negative side of the balance sheet it has to be said that the left remains chronically divided and weak. Campaigns led by the Socialist Workers Party refuse to criticise the Iranian regime, and consequently are not supported by most Iranian exiles. That is why HOPI - a campaign that is both anti-war and opposed to the reactionary islamist regime in Tehran - is so important. It is a campaign for the victory of the Iranian working class.
Activists are continuing to sign up to HOPI's founding statement and more regional launch meetings are planned. It is essential that CPGB members step up their work in the campaign, concluded comrade Becker.
In the debate comrade Mike Macnair said the likelihood of an imperialist attack on Iran is directly related to the underlying dynamics at work in US politics and the deteriorating situation in Iraq, not on the degree of tension that may exist between US and UK imperialism on the wisdom of military intervention.
Attacking Iran could be seen as another mad project of the neo-cons, he continued, although retreating to something like a Clintonesque policy of "co-management" with other imperialist powers is possible. But the US capitalist class has seen the neo-cons as the objective expression of their own economic/international goals. This makes a 'multilateralist' retreat from direct confrontation problematic.
A great deal hinges on the situation in Iraq. The implications of an unambiguous US defeat are very serious and wide-ranging. This would affect the status of the dollar as a reserve currency and thus pose a threat to the structural integrity of the world financial system.
It is clear that the 'surge' policy has not changed anything on the ground, as witnessed vividly by the recent bombing inside the parliament building itself at the heart of a supposedly safe Green Zone. 'Surge' has bought the Bush administration some time, but there is no doubting the fact that the military situation on the ground continues to deteriorate from the US point of view. The US command on the ground has made it clear that if there is no significant improvement by September, then the American defeat will become obvious to all.
In this light it seems clear that a short, large-scale bombing strike could form part of a 'double or quits' approach, said comrade Macnair. The Iraq war was urgently needed by US capital. The bubble needed to be refloated after the period of post-'dot-com' instability, but the markets are not now under such intense pressure as then. If necessary, however, the military preconditions for a bombing offensive are in place. There can be no other explanation for the presence of a second carrier group in the Gulf than the prospect of war.
An attack will not, however, involve a ground invasion, but a quick and massive use of overwhelming force from the air. Given the deep political crisis which currently affects Israel, it would be wrong to dismiss the possibility of its involvement in any strike against Iran. The "structural dynamics" of the situation indicate the likelihood of an attack, concluded comrade Macnair - perhaps not right now, but we are "on the edge of a cliff".
Comrade Nick Rogers said it is very difficult to answer the question 'when?' Accident or unforeseen circumstances may well play a role. He doubted whether attacking Iran as a means of creating a Keynesian stimulus in the US economy was actually at the forefront of US imperialism's strategic plan. What mattered most, from its point of view, was bringing about regime change and most of all avoiding total humiliation in Iraq. Another serious problem for the US in Iraq is that any military intervention against Iran would have the inevitable effect of destabilising the shia-based regime in Iraq, making matters even worse for the occupying forces and perhaps making the country completely ungovernable.
Other comrades focused on the future of Hands Off the People of Iran. Comrade John Bridge hoped the HOPI leadership would set a date this year for a conference to formally establish it with membership rules and rights. Comrade Stan Keable urged comrades to do as much active campaigning as possible for HOPI in their local areas, and said the Weekly Worker should provide space for HOPI material. Comrade Bob Davies reported on HOPI activity in Wales.
Local launches and other meetings are planned in various localities across the country.
In the absence of comrade Ben Lewis, who had been due to report on CPGB work in Communist Students but was unable to attend, comrade Mark Fischer updated the aggregate on CS activities, drawing on reports from student comrades. Apart from the participation in the National Union of Students annual conference (reported by comrades Lewis and Dave Isaacson in Weekly Worker April 5), the most important CS intervention so far had been in elections to the student union at Sheffield University.
Five CS candidates stood, receiving between 5% and 11% of the vote. They stood on an openly Marxist platform, refusing to conceal or compromise their principles, but still won votes of students from beyond the traditional student left. Some agreed with the CS criticism of the NUS bureaucracy, and others, particularly muslim students, agreed with the CS position on civil liberties and its defence of their right to organise on campuses.
Comrade Fischer analysed the lessons to be drawn from the Sheffield experience, which CS comrades at other universities should aim to emulate. It proves that communists can fill the vacuum left by the disintegration of the organised left. He said the apolitical mood among young people may be coming to an end. Of the 25 or so applications to join the CPGB received every month, the majority are young people who came into contact with organised Marxists through Communist Students.
Comrade Fischer briefly described the state of the organised left in student politics. Student Respect has not had the success we expected, despite selling out its principles in an attempt to unite with non-working class groups. The Alliance for Workers' Liberty suffers from the same economism in its student work as in its trade union activity. The Socialist Party has student groups at some universities and in some CS members cooperate with them.
Comrade David Isaacson added to his Weekly Worker report on the NUS annual conference, where the right-dominated Labour Students and 'Organised Independents' had vied for control. He said that CS comrades would hope to have a bigger, more organised presence at next year's conference and in campuses in general over the coming year. It was necessary to use the Weekly Worker to develop a better understanding of student issues.
There was some discussion of Communist Students' own publication. It is essential to produce a good free paper for big demonstrations, but it was felt that at other times the internet was the best way to coordinate the work of CS groups and disseminate their ideas. Some comrades criticised articles in Communist Student for being superficial and lacking in a detailed knowledge of student politics. It is essential to analyse how the passivity and retreat of the class movement in general is reflected in student politics, and how student discontent is being expressed.
The aggregate also agreed our fundraising target for the 2007 Summer Offensive. Comrades voted to accept the Provisional Central Committee recommendations that the SO should be launched on Saturday June 23 and run for eight weeks until Saturday August 18. The overall target will be £25,000, with members and candidate members pledging a personal minimum of £600 each. Launch meetings for the Summer Offensive were suggested in London, Wales and Sheffield.
Introducing the discussion, comrade Fischer pointed out that the target total has remained the same now for several years and to that extent reflects some of the difficulties of the period we are living through. Not a penny of the money is wasted; everything is spent on essential ongoing party work. Any shortfall on meeting the target will, therefore, raise problems which if necessary will have to be resolved by undesirable and frankly unacceptable means such as short-term loans.
Maximum effort must be devoted to mobilising the CPGB's growing periphery of supporters and readership of the Weekly Worker - the latter comprising literally thousands of potential donors. They want the paper. They need the paper. And they must be encouraged to demonstrate this by contributing financially to the ongoing success of this, the CPGB's major sphere of work in current conditions.
The 2006 Summer Offensive, extended by two weeks, had raised some £23,000 mostly from members and veterans, with a total of 130 individuals contributing to what was, by the current standards of the left in Britain, a considerable achievement. A good result, then, but there is no room whatever for complacency.
As always, the political aspect of fundraising for the Offensive should be at the forefront, both at the level of individuals and the organisation as a whole. Raising money through political actions of various kinds always brings other important benefits, because it draws more and more people into active association with the party and gives them the chance to put their money where their mouth is. They value and support our work? Good, here is the best possible way to prove it.
Obviously, members and others who meet their personal pledges by effectively imposing a tax on their personal expenditure for a period are doing something worthwhile. There is nothing wrong with communist self-sacrifice in a good cause. But such an approach is simply too inward-looking. It can lead to a fragmentation of what should be a collective effort, out of which comes a sense of collective achievement through political action.
Comrades remarked on the difficulty of fundraising in the current hostile environment. At Respect branch meetings it is difficult even to sell the Weekly Worker, let alone get donations for the CPGB. But it is necessary to approach comrades we meet in all areas of our work, including HOPI and CS, and invite them to contribute to the Summer Offensive.
In previous years the Summer Offensive has effectively ended on the eve of the Communist University, with a social event to mark the achievement of collective and individual goals. But Communist University always brings not only a major political boost to our work but a financial boost as well. That is why it was agreed to run the Offensive through the week of CU 2007, making our summer school an organic and vital part of the fundraising work, rather than a discrete activity, almost disconnected from the Summer Offensive
Comrade John Bridge introduced the latest draft of the timetable for Communist University. It will certainly be altered as invited speakers let us know whether and when they will be able to attend. He said his draft attempts to build on previous years, taking into account criticisms and suggestions.
One of the themes at CU 2007 will obviously be the question of the programme of a Communist Party. We are beginning the process of redrafting our own programme, and are also debating with others in the Campaign for a Marxist Party what sort of programme the left needs. In a brief debate following comrade Bridge's opening comrades agreed that it will be useful to have an opportunity to debate any emerging differences on the programme question.
Included amongst those who have already agreed to speak are Hillel Ticktin, Peter Kennedy, Chris Knight, Camilla Power as well as CPGB members.