So many Kuomintangs

Dave Craig of the Revolutionary Democratic Group continues to push for a halfway house party in opposition to the CPGB's 'ultra-leftism'

Mike Macnair is a clever man. But when he does sectarianism it is almost too clever by half. My arguments against the sectarian nonsense about "freaks and halfway houses" and "standard far-left groupuscules" in "fake reformist, halfway-house fronts" are, according to Mike, "dishonest" and a "waste of space" ('End bureaucratic centralism', June 7).

Despite this, he spends three quarters of his article attacking my reply. The Weekly Worker even included a picture of a fish tank - I can't tell if it was designed by the CPGB for the Campaign for a Marxist Party. Either way, there are hardly any fish in it. No matter. Sometimes small is beautiful. Mike is "pretty confident" that I am "deliberately lying" about the CPGB line. That is just for openers.

Workers' party

Mike says my arguments are a "pigmy version of Rees" (Socialist Workers Party). If we are going to use 'sizism' I would prefer to think of the SWP in terms of David versus Goliath. No matter. We agree it is the position taken up by the majority of Marxists in Britain. This majority believes we need a new party. It should be a party of the left including all socialists, and trade union militants, regardless of whether they are Marxists or not. It is an argument for workers' unity, which includes crucially the Labour left.

This left is currently organised in Respect, the Campaign for a New Workers' Party and the Labour Representation Committee. The call for a workers' party relates to the unification of these forces, including similar trends in Scotland and Wales (and Northern Ireland), into a single working class party. It is an argument for working class unity which transcends the national question.

My disagreement with the majority of Marxists is their assumption that Labourism provides the ideology and programme for such unity. The slogan of a republican socialist party is a pony from the same stable. It rejects Labourism and looks back to a militant, democratic, working class tradition associated with Chartism. This makes more sense if we take account of the national question and include Northern Ireland.

Republican socialism may be an alien concept in English circles. But the further you get away from London, the more sense it makes. The case for a republican socialist party is the best version of this position. It is easy to knock political holes in Respect or the CNWP. It is easy to show that Labourism is inadequate for this task. But the CPGB has to take on the best version of the workers' party, which means taking up cudgels against a working class republicanism.

Communist Party

The central question for communists is the fight for a Communist Party. The essence of our dispute is whether a broader workers' party is or can be a transitional step towards a Communist Party. The Revolutionary Democratic Group and Phil Sharpe says yes. The CPGB says no.

Of course the future is not predetermined. It depends on the class struggle. A workers' party can - and I stress 'can', not 'will' - lead to a Communist Party. It is not automatic. It depends at least in part on the role of communists within the broader workers' party. Phil gives us chapter and verse on the German Social Democratic Party and the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. We can add, for example, the Italian Socialist Party (PSI).

If a mass workers' party existed in Britain today we could simply join it and organise a communist wing. But it does not. It is not matter of letting the right wing form the party so we can join later and form a left. This would make communists the rearguard of the workers' party. First we oppose it and then we join it on terms already decided. It would be like the SWP opposing the Scottish Socialist Party and having to join later on unfavourable terms.

There is only one place for communists - in the vanguard of the fight for a workers' party. The RDG, Phil Sharpe and most Marxists see the fight against the Labour government, the fight for left unity, and the fight for a Communist Party as one and the same struggle. In this sense communists are not separate from that movement.

My difference with Phil is that he does not take account of the national question in Britain. If he recognised the significance of James Connolly and John Maclean, which he claims to do, then he would raise the workers' party slogan to a higher level. The progressive component of their politics was republicanism, socialism and internationalism, not nationalism.


My criticism of the CPGB is not that they want to fight for a Communist Party, but that they are adopting the wrong tactics. They are adopting tactics that are counterproductive. They are undermining the very thing they claim to be fighting for. Mike says if I was honest I would call the CPGB centrist and be done with it. This is part of his case that I am being dishonest.

I do not consider the CPGB to be programmatically centrist. I am dealing with tactical questions. I am claiming that the CPGB 'left' line will turn out in practice to stand to the right. This is why I used the term 'left-rightism'.

The paradox is that ultra-leftism facilitates a rightist trend in practice. It poses as hard-line. No compromises. No freaks and halfway houses. But this line is disconnected with the real world. Hence left sectarianism either isolates itself or flops over to abject rightism. Talking left becomes acting right.

The acid test is where these slogans ('workers' party' and 'Marxist party') stand in relation to the class struggle against the Blair-Brown capitalist Labour government. Let us now revisit Mike's arguments.

Labour Party

We could stand the argument upside down and say it is really about the Labour Party. This is a major, indeed central, disagreement. I reject the idea that the Labour Party is a workers' party. The workers' party slogan calls on the Labour left to break with Labourism and to join with the rest of the left in one party. Mike believes such a call is sectarian. Now he is calling us ultra-left.

He says: "We do not think that the rightwing character of the Blair administration means that the Labour Party has ceased to be the Labour Party." There is no need for a new workers' party because the Labour Party is it. Hence he says: "In this respect we have some common ground with both the Morning Star's CPB and with the far left within the Labour Party." We have here the society for the preservation of ancient monuments. The statue was erected in the 1920s with words by Lenin carved on it. The society's members are the CPB (Morning Star), the CPGB, Labour Briefing and the perhaps the Alliance for Workers' Liberty, etc.

The slogan of the Marxist party does not interfere with the unity of the Labour Party. This is the right side of ultra-leftism. At first it appears as a hard left position. But when we dig around a bit it transpires it is really about maintaining the unity of Blair's Labour Party. Far from rallying workers against the Labour Party and for their own independent political party, the Marxist party slogan is to protect Labour from those who want to unite all socialists against it.


I argued that one (and only one) outcome of a leftist line against the workers' party (halfway house) is that the lefts do not join such formations and tend to isolate themselves. But this is not the only possibility. An ultra-left line can also manifest itself in opportunism. The test is not therefore participation. But on what basis?

The CPGB has participated in a whole range of halfway house projects. I have never denied this. But participation in Respect and the CNWP does not disprove an ultra-left line. Mike seems to think it does. He explains that the CPGB "are not and never have been opposed to participation in any project which in the slightest way points towards effective unity of the left".

He then says: "We are entitled to regard as prima facie dishonest allegations that the CPGB's line stands for isolating the Marxists from the broader movement." No you are not. Opposition to a workers' party, or opposition to anything other than a Marxist party, could lead the CPGB to isolation. It is dishonest not to say this. Look at Workers Power or the International Bolshevik Tendency.

What has to be explained is why despite this line the CPGB participates in Respect. But why cut off your nose to spite your face? Why wouldn't you go to Respect meetings, sell papers, score a few points and find some new contacts? According to left rhetoric, the CPGB-in-Respect should be condemned as a "standard far-left groupuscule" in a "fake reformist, halfway house front".

But it is just as logical for the CPGB to participate in Respect or the CNWP in order to oppose these projects. Entry as opposition is different to entry as critical support.

But opposition is not the reason put forward by Mike. He says the CPGB "are not and never have been opposed to participation in any project which in the slightest way points towards effective unity of the left". Galloway is not a Marxist and Respect is not a Marxist Party. But the CPGB participates because it supports the effective unity of the left?

If the CPGB is in favour of left unity and not just Marxist unity, then good enough. I am not complaining. Mike quotes Ricky Tomlinson approvingly - "comrade Tomlinson made a fundamental point: that the left needs to unite". Exactly! He gives his support to left unity, and to a campaign for a workers' party. There is nothing sectarian about this.


One of the arguments for the workers' party is that the working class in Britain is facing 'winter' conditions. Trotsky's point about wearing furs in summer and going naked in winter is about the mismatch between objective conditions and tactical line. In winter, wearing furs means gathering all the weakened and fragmented working class and socialist forces into one. Unity is strength. Ricky Tomlinson may or may not be a Marxist, but his class instinct recognises the need for working class unity.

The analogy about wearing furs is simply that the tactical line must relate to objective conditions. My point is a simple one about matching conditions to tactics. The fact that Trotsky used the analogy in China is irrelevant. Lenin used it as well. Unfortunately Mike decides to go off on one and comes up with a point more clever than is needed.

He says that Trotsky used this analogy in his polemic against the Chinese Communist Party's participation in the nationalist Kuomintang. My reference to winter furs "is most strikingly inapposite". It might also have offended the animal liberation front. But, since Mike wants to bring in China in the 1920s, let's go with it.

The Russian Revolution happened. A Communist International was formed and the Chinese CP was one of its sections. There was a revolutionary crisis in China - a democratic revolution was in process. It was blazing hot summer. In these conditions Trotsky rightly believed that the Chinese CP should stand on its own two feet. It should go naked and not hide in the winter overcoat of the Kuomintang. Why would we need a halfway house when a viable international Communist Party already existed, the product of a victorious working class revolution?

In Britain today there is no communist international and no revolutionary crisis. The movement is in retreat. Mike still wants to run with his Kuomintang. He says that "Comrade Craig's argument, like the SWP's with Respect and SPEW's with the CNWP, is that the task of the Marxists is to create an English equivalent to the Kuomintang - a left-nationalist party, in comrade Craig's case one 'like the Scottish Socialist Party' - in order to enter it".

If conditions in Britain today are anything like those in China in the 1920s and Respect, the CNWP and SSP are the modern-day equivalent of the Kuomintang, then the CPGB have entered more Kuomintangs than I have had hot dinners.


Leaving the Kuomintang red herring behind, Mike gets back to the real purpose of the analogy. He says: "It is not news to CPGB comrades that the political situation is adverse to the left" (ie, winter). "CPGB comrades have argued from the 1990s that we are in a period of reaction of a special type. The question is how to respond to this situation."

Exactly. Now we are talking seriously. He says: "The large majority of the left takes the view that the way to proceed is to 'put on furs' - ie, move our own politics to the right - and/or 'huddle together'." Not exactly. We maintain our politics, but make a compromise with those to our right. That is a difficult manoeuvre which no ultra-left would entertain. The united front is to put up a more effective working class opposition to the ruling class.

But Mike makes his own leap into rightism. He says we can only "unite the left on the basis that its most rightist element has a veto on what can be said and done". Not at all. In the Socialist Alliance the SWP had a veto over what could be done. But there was no veto over what the Weekly Worker could say. Neither does a programme which unites the left have to be any worse than People before profit, which the CPGB critically supported.

Swimming pools

Finally I used the analogy of swimming pools (CNWP) and fish tanks (CMP). If we are going to breed bigger fish, there is a role for both. Mike runs with this. He brings in the sea. To some extent we are tiny tiddlers swimming in a vast ocean. There are some nasty predators around. Mike says: "Projects like Respect and the CNWP are in reality attempts by single groups to fence off a little bit of the sea - they are fish farms." I can't disagree with that. Don't forget the CPGB has its own farm.

Mike says the CPGB wants to see "a bigger fish which can swim more effectively in the real sea of the broad workers' movement". Yes and fish tanks and fish farms have a role in breeding bigger fish. But breeding bigger fish is not an end in itself. It is merely a transitional stage before they go back into the sea - now larger and better able to survive.

My point is still valid. We must play a role in designing these tanks. We need one tank not many and if we get this there will have to be some compromise. The Socialist Alliance showed it is possible. We have to fight for it in Respect, the CNWP and the Labour Representation Committee.

In conclusion I have not been able to answer all Mike's points or comment on some useful arguments from Phil Sharpe. But the issues are becoming clearer - ultra-leftism, the transitional method, tactics for the period, and significantly the Labour Party.