Where now for CMP?

Peter Manson looks at the prospects for the Campaign for a Marxist Party and reports on the first in a series of CMP day schools

We have to face facts. Despite good intentions the Campaign for a Marxist Party has made next to no impact since its foundation in November 2006.

The CPGB warmly welcomed the determination of the initiators to follow a different road to that being taken by most of the ostensibly Marxist groups, setting their sights on the formation of a united Marxist party, not on some reformist or centrist halfway house: ie, on a political formation based on programmatic positions far less than their own professed politics.

For the Socialist Workers Party it was first the Socialist Alliance and now it is Respect, an unpopular popular front. In the former, the SWP strove to make it politically into a left Labour party. In the latter, the politics are trimmed and presented in such a way as to be acceptable to the mosque, to 'muslim activists' and to community leaders and small businessmen. For the Socialist Party in England and Wales it is the Campaign for a New Workers' Party. And, of course, there is the now shattered Scottish Socialist Party, with its abject capitulation to petty nationalism.

By contrast the CMP, with its demand for a workers' party unashamedly based on Marxism, laid down an exemplary marker.

Unfortunately, though, some comrades were labouring under a misapprehension. They believed that simply to make the call would be enough to bring hundreds of disillusioned leftists and ex-members of the revolutionary groups flocking back to the cause. An appeal over the heads of the existing organised left sects would pull in not only the flotsam and jetsam, but workers new to politics as well.

They were to be disappointed. The founding conference brought together a mere 40 comrades - around a quarter of whom were observers from left groupings, curious to see if the new formation would get off the ground and perhaps become another tiny rival to themselves.

Nevertheless, the conference made some valuable decisions. It passed motions reaffirming some basic Marxist principles and committing itself to campaigning for a truly democratic revolutionary party of the class. Significantly, despite the presence of only a handful of CPGB comrades, the conference accepted that the CMP's aims are shared by the CPGB and overwhelmingly agreed to enter into fusion talks.

However, the new campaign has never really got off the ground. Apart from publishing one issue of Marxist Voice, put together single-handedly by comrade Dave Spencer (who, as I write, is about to undergo major heart surgery), the CMP has hardly functioned. The committee elected in November did not meet until April. There have been low-key launch meetings in London, Glasgow, Sheffield and Birmingham. Only Glasgow and London seem to be still meeting, however. The CPGB has given over one in four of its London seminars to the CMP.

The CMP did intervene with a good leaflet at the May 12 CNWP conference. The CMP motion was excellent too, and organising a fringe meeting was a worthwhile initiative. Despite that, there is no forward momentum. If anything there is a falling away. As a result, March's national members' meeting in London was poorly attended - and, adding to a sense of directionlessness, Phil Sharpe was promoted as a keynote speaker.

He presented his case for a party organised around the 93 pages of his own private ramblings, curiosities and hobby horses. Not only are comrades Hillel Ticktin, Jack Conrad and Mike Macnair criticised in his draft programme for the CMP: so too are Fredrick Engels and Vladimir Lenin. Comrade Sharpe also appears to advocate a halfway house party. Not a Marxist party. So confusion reigns.

We publish this week an article by comrade Sharpe, in which he explains at length why he believes the foundation of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920 was a tactical mistake and once again why a (non-Marxist) "workers' party" is perhaps the best vehicle for the propagation of the revolutionary programme in current circumstances (see pp11-12).

What about fusion with the CPGB? Well, the committee has finally responded to our letter suggesting ways this might proceed - after six months! A bilateral meeting is to take place shortly. But it has to be said that a campaign which is not firmly united around its own core aims is unlikely to expand and increase its influence.

In the meantime, as a direct result of this lack of any clear sense of direction and the consequent smaller and smaller  numbers attending CMP events, it is in danger of becoming bogged down in debates with the likes of Phil Sharpe and the petty manoeuvrings of anarcho-bureaucrats.

Of course, debating with comrades who advocate a halfway house party is not only legitimate. It is an absolute necessity. After all comrades like Phil Sharpe and Dave Craig are hardly the only ones in thrall to this stupid idea. But debating the pros and cons of halfway house parties within the Campaign for a Marxist Party! Something is clearly very wrong.

Hence we need to reaffirm once more that what is needed is a Marxist party, not yet another halfway house project, and politely point out to some comrades that they could well be in the wrong organisation. More than that, if the CMP is not simply to fade away, we need to consider carefully how to move on. The only serious option before us is to focus on the CPGB-CMP merger process.

As we have pointed out, the CPGB exists already as a campaign for a Marxist party - that is precisely what its paper, the Weekly Worker, exists to propagate. The CMP, in addition to the single issue of Marxist Voice so far published, has a very basic and little noticed website. The CPGB site receives around 30,000 visits each and every week, mostly on our Weekly Worker pages.

Why duplicate our efforts? We have openly stated that not only our weekly paper and website, but our office, printshop and entire structure would be put at the disposal of the merged organisation. Clearly, a merger cannot be achieved overnight, but we can take steps to reach that agreed goal over a comparatively short timescale.

We are therefore proposing two motions to the June 23 CMP conference in London. First, we want conference to reaffirm the basis upon which the campaign was set up - an explicit rejection of the aim of a reformist, Labourite, communist-Labour or republican socialist party, etc.

The CPGB has always favoured actively engaging with any initiative that either aims for a party or whose internal logic points in that direction - whether it be a small-scale break from Labour like Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party, a coalition of left groups like the SA or the futile attempts to set up a Labour Party mark two, like the CNWP or Respect.

But what we never do is to follow bureaucratic sects like the SWP and SPEW in advocating a halfway house as an immediately practicable alternative to a Marxist party. Firstly, in present-day conditions it is not practicable - the Labour Party still exists and attempts to replicate it are surely doomed to failure. Secondly, and crucially, self-professed Marxists themselves taking the initiative to establish an explicitly reformist formation - a formation which, by implication, is acceptable to the labour and trade union bureaucracy and hence, in the last analysis, to the state - inevitably means watering down or 'forgetting' their own 'Marxism'.

Hence, instead of internationalism we have the nationalism and immigration controls of George Galloway; instead of extreme democracy and republicanism we have routine trade unionism and Tony Mulhearn's rabbit hutch council houses; instead of women's rights, we have Yvonne Ridley's moralistic condemnations of sex workers; and instead of proletarian socialism, there is Anas Altikriti's improved stage of capitalism. Of course, the trade union bureaucracy will not join a Labour Party mark two. But it inhabits all such parties, alliances and campaigns - albeit it in the ghostly form of such personalities.

In order to excuse their thorough-going opportunism, the leaders of the sects point to the present-day consciousness of the mass of the working class - backward, nationalistic and atomised. 'The mass of workers we need to attract are not ready for revolutionary politics,' say Peter Taaffe and John Rees alike. If you doubt this, just look at how the SWP and SPEW behave in their respective party/fronts. As a bloc they vote down principles and ideas they profess to passionately believe, their leaders all the while citing 'what people out their think'.

Our second motion to the conference aims to encourage CMP comrades to use the Weekly Worker. There is no need to wait for a merger before writing for, selling and promoting this paper, which already devotes considerable space to CMP comrades putting forward a variety of viewpoints (unfortunately too many of them have been arguing against a Marxist party).

For example, in the recent period the Weekly Worker has often had to rely on London-based writers to report and comment on political developments in Scotland, not least as they affect the Scottish Socialist Party and Solidarity. If CMP comrades living in Scotland - especially those who are SSP members - were to write for the paper on a regular basis, they would not only be able to comment with authority on what they themselves are often experiencing at first hand: they would also find in the Weekly Worker an effective tool when it comes to their own political work.

Although the CMP has few members and has not exactly been dynamic, it has a huge committee in relation to both the size of the campaign and the tasks that can realistically be fulfilled. For example, at present it has a trade union and international organiser, and organisers for London, Yorkshire, the Midlands and Scotland, all of whom are committee members. Moreover, they are all directly elected into these posts by the national conference.

The CMP leadership is proposing that this state of affairs be enshrined in a constitution, to be adopted on June 23. We object. A committee should be elected by conference. But the committee itself should appoint - and recall - officers as it deems fit. We are against little Napoleons. Hence the CPGB is proposing a radically simplified constitution, stripping out the rights and duties of officers and making the whole thing more democratic, more open and more controllable by the membership. Under present conditions, of course, we favour a small committee, as opposed to the lumbering beast we landed ourselves with in November.