The April 29 London meeting of the Campaign for a Marxist Party discussed at length the need for the CMP to stand firm on its founding principle - that communists need to campaign for a Marxist party in the here and now, not at some time in the indefinite future. Mary Godwin reports
Comrade Peter Manson began the meeting with a report-back from the CMP national committee in Birmingham on April 7, which he attended as substitute for London organiser Nick Rogers. The committee agreed that the CMP would affiliate to the Socialist Party's Campaign for a New Workers' Party and would attend the May 12 CNWP conference with the aim of counterposing our specifically Marxist approach to that of the organisers.
The CMP will participate in the CNWP in the full knowledge that it is a yet another attempt to create a reformist halfway house rather than the type of party that the working class needs and that the CMP was established to fight for. The CMP and CPGB have agreed to coordinate their intervention at the May 12 event, by putting two motions before the conference: first, a motion calling on the CNWP to recognise the necessity of building a specifically Marxist party; secondly, a call for the CNWP to join the recently founded Hands Off the People of Iran initiative.
The CMP committee also agreed that its own conference will be held in London on June 23. Two hours will be allocated for business matters - a constitution, motions and the election of officers. The remainder will be devoted to a day school discussing the question, what is a Marxist programme?
This will in fact be the second of four day schools. The first, in Manchester on May 26, will deal with the question of the internal regime necessary for a Marxist party. The third and fourth schools, to be held in Glasgow in September and London in November, will deal respectively with the nature of contemporary society and the CMP's engagement with the organised left. Taken as a whole, these schools will facilitate a serious debate on the main questions affecting the CMP and its future.
Comrade Manson reminded comrades that the November 2006 conference of the CMP had agreed to explore the possibility of a merger with the CPGB, which had proposed three of the day schools in order to debate out our differences and hopefully facilitate the merger process. The CMP committee has also agreed to bilateral talks with the CPGB.
Additionally the CMP will affiliate to the Hands Off the People of Iran campaign; will take up the CPGB's offer of one of its three fringe meetings at the SWP's Marxism 2007 event, to be used to promote the CMP; and will be actively involved in the CPGB's Communist University 2007. Finally, the CMP magazine edited by Dave Spencer, Marxist Voice, should be published every two months. A representative from London was requested to liaise with comrade Spencer.
Following his report-back, comrade Manson went on to outline a discussion on the CPGB's Provisional Central Committee about the CMP and where it is going. The PCC is concerned that despite an explicit understanding that the CMP was not founded to promulgate another halfway house approach, such a trend clearly exists within the CMP at present and is most clearly represented by comrade Phil Sharpe, who positively favours campaigning for a 'mass workers' party' within which to promulgate Marxist ideas.
Comrade Manson said that this is the same soggy approach as that of the SP with its CNWP campaign, or the Socialist Workers Party, which claims it is the already existing Marxist party operating in Respect. We must fight within these halfway house campaigns, but we reject the notion of turning the CMP into another one.
The ensuing debate was opened by comrade John Bridge of the CPGB PCC, who expressed serious reservations about the way in which the CMP had evolved thus far. Despite its having been founded on the clear understanding that it would campaign for the creation of an unambiguously Marxist political party, it was comrade Sharpe who was commissioned to introduce a discussion on programme at the last members' aggregate.
Comrade Bridge went on to criticise comrade Sharpe's draft 'programme', promoted as a discussion document by the Democratic Socialist Alliance. Comrade Sharpe seriously expects CMP members to unite around a 'programme' in which the ideas of some of them are specifically criticised. It is perfectly normal for members of the same organisation to hold differing views, but there are plenty of means of exploring and debating them without some of them being condemned in a document that is supposed to express the views of the organisation as a whole. Were the CMP to adopt such a polemical 'programme', it would be an act of madness and would frankly be a splitting issue - not least because comrade Sharpe's draft unmistakeably argues for a 'workers' party', and not a specifically Marxist party.
The CPGB has been arguing for years in the pages of the Weekly Worker for a Marxist party. The creation of such a party is its very raison d'être and it was on this basis that the CPGB formally wrote last December to the CMP suggesting how the fusion discussions between the two bodies might proceed. Amazingly, a reply has still not been received.
Given that there are serious concerns about the entire direction in which the CMP is heading, it is vital that these concerns should be openly aired and debated without delay. The CPGB will therefore submit a sharp and unambiguous resolution to the June conference which will establish clear lines of demarcation - either the CMP is to be a serious endeavour towards a genuine Marxist party or a halfway house, opportunistic talking shop. It cannot be both.
There would be no point in the CPGB remaining a minority in such a venture as the latter, which is already being foisted on the class by organisations with bigger forces, principally the SWP and its Respect front. The question of whether we need a Marxist party is not a matter for negotiation. The answer is made explicit by the CMP's foundation and in its very name. The question is what kind of Marxist party. Hence the CMP's primary task is to facilitate discussion of specific issues relating to that question.
Comrade Rogers said problems nationally with the CMP are caused by the small forces involved, and the political position of comrades in coordinating roles. The CMP is composed of the CPGB centred in London, Critique centred in Glasgow, New Interventions and the Democratic Socialist Alliance. Most of the committee and national officers are DSA members, which skews the perspectives and impetus for action. Comrade Rogers proposed the setting up of a political committee, composed of representatives of the leaderships of the main organisations involved.
Comrade Chris Grey of New Interventions agreed that the CMP needs a political centre. If we believe that Marxism is relevant to the working class, he said, then it is our duty to say so. Comrade Grey volunteered to be the London representative to liaise with the Marxist Voice journal, which was accepted by the meeting.
Comrade Nelio took the floor to express his dissatisfaction with the left's poor participation in real struggles, its poor organisation and poor communications. He saw no evidence of any real mobilisation of the working class - only the same people at the same meetings talking about the same old questions. We need to be thinking about new things, not endlessly arguing about such things as Russia. Perhaps then attendance at our meetings would improve?
Comrade Steve Freeman said that he is for a Marxist party, so he is a member of the CMP, but he is also for a halfway house party, hence his membership of the Socialist Alliance. He is not trying to turn the CMP into a halfway house campaign, and did not think Phil Sharpe should try to do so. He suggested that Phil Sharpe should promote his ideas within the SA rather than the CMP. But most Marxists are already involved in halfway houses of one kind or another, he said - the issue is the relationship between the two types of organisation. His differences with the CPGB are around how to get to a Marxist Party, in Britain and internationally, in the current exceptionally difficult conditions. The question is, how to work within halfway house-type parties without appearing sectarian.
In reply comrade Mark Fischer reiterated the CPGB PCC's call for clarity and for an honest restatement of the CMP's founding aims. Of course, nobody is against discussion and debate. The Weekly Worker, often alone, had been the vehicle for serious and open debate of this kind for years. But the CMP is not a discussion circle, but a campaign with a clear message - sharp, aggressive, confident and truthful - in calling for a Marxist party as the only viable means of bringing about the emancipation of the working class. How can people calling themselves Marxists specifically reject the need to campaign for a Marxist party rather than some lesser formation? The SP is consciously not telling the truth to the class and we shall take a leaflet to the CNWP conference making this clear to all. Establishing lines of demarcation is not about being narrow or sectarian, but about getting at the truth.
Among the majority who expressed agreement with the PCC's position, comrade Jim Moody made the point that all halfway houses are essentially social democratic projects which dupe the working class. In so far as Phil Sharpe's document runs against the grain of the CMP's founding aim, it is clearly subversive of what the CMP is or should be all about. We need to undertake a serious debate with him. Comrade Phil Kent agreed that we should debate with Phil Sharpe, but not have him writing the programme.
Comrade Bridge insisted that the leaflet for the May 12 CNWP conference should denounce the SWP and the Socialist Party as confessional sects: they are not Marxist parties. Comrade Freeman will have to decide whether he is able to distribute such a leaflet, he added. He also informed the meeting that the CPGB PCC has decided to propose at the next CPGB aggregate that the party should mobilise sufficient forces to the June 23 conference to ensure the success of our resolution that the CMP must be united for a genuine Marxist party, not another halfway house formation.
In his reply to the debate comrade Manson added that if the June 23 meeting votes to turn the CMP into something which is not a campaign for a Marxist party, we would have no reason to remain part of it. But there is little danger of this, he said. The DSA is a small group and in all likelihood most of its members disagree with comrade Sharpe's view on the type of party we ought to campaign for.
Comrades agreed that the June meeting of the CMP should feature a debate between a CPGB comrade and Phil Sharpe. Comrade Rogers informed the meeting that comrade Sharpe has said he is willing to debate with anyone about programme, and is keen to take part in the four day schools and Communist University.