Halfway debate

Mary Godwin reports on the June 23 debate 'What kind of programme?', organised by the Campaign for a Marxist Party

The June 23 conference of the Campaign for a Marxist Party was followed by a short debate on the type of programme that is needed. Originally envisaged as a day school, this part of the meeting was squeezed into only about 90 minutes.

Comrade Hillel Ticktin (Critique) opened the discussion, saying that the idea of a programme of 100 pages is just absurd. Moreover, the kind of theoretical questions (nature not being dialectical and so forth) which Phil Sharpe discusses in his so-called draft programme (just short of 100 pages) do not belong in any programme. At this early stage, when we have so few members, it is too early to think of any detailed programme at all, said comrade Ticktin. Our aim is to be as inclusive as possible.

We start from the concept of socialism - working class power - and a class which, having taken power, eventually abolishes itself and all other classes. It is central to see the workers as a class, a collectivity, as Marx did, not as a mere aggregation of individual workers. Hence, we are not 'workerist'. It does not matter whether 'workers' in the abstract agree with what we are saying or not - we must still put forward what we believe to be correct.

In a truly socialist society, continued the comrade, we do not talk about democracy. Why? because in such a society the state has been abolished. A formal constitution and formal democracy mean nothing. Stalin had both. In terms of formal democracy, Khrushchev, Putin and Blair can all be called democrats. Genuine control from below can only come from the abolition of the market and the division of labour.

Obviously the market cannot be abolished overnight, but the fundamental antagonism between the law of value on the one hand and planning on the other - with the associated producers, controlling, regulating and planning the economy - is vital. The two are diametrically opposed - always.

Understanding this epoch means understanding Stalinism, yet Phil Sharpe makes no mention of it, said comrade Ticktin. Stalinism has tarnished the concept of socialism. Stalinism must be condemned from beginning to end. Here there is no room to give a single inch.

Comrade Phil Sharpe (Democratic Socialist Alliance), the second speaker, claimed that his document had been objected to on the grounds of length. A short programme is an action programme, according to comrade Sharpe, with demands for taking power. Yet we are not yet at that stage. Marxist forces have been fragmented and are marginal. So we need a long 'propaganda programme' dealing with the question: how do we understand capitalism today?

It is fashionable to say that the working class has disappeared, so we are faced with a massive ideological struggle to show that the forces are still there to change society. Such a task needs a detailed analysis, with arguments to persuade people that communism is necessary.

The idea of workers' control links the present to the communist future, comrade Sharpe announced. The CPGB, he claimed, is still at the level of Marx's democracy. We need to argue beyond Marx.

Comrade John Bridge (CPGB) said that he is in favour of workers' control under capitalism - but our idea of what constitutes the working class cannot be limited to the workplace. The working class includes students, pensioners, househusbands and those on sickness and invalidity benefit.

A programme is the basis around which the party is built. It should be as short, concise and as accessible as possible. The programme is not just about immediate actions. It is about long term aims and therefore the grand strategy of how we get to working class state power and socialism - that is certainly not dictated by the momentary ups or downs of strikes, union membership or class-consciousness. A useless and thoroughly wrong method.

As regards democracy, everyone accepts the idea now. However, in the 18th and 19th centuries it was an upper class swearword. To the extent that we have democracy today it is because of Marxism and the working class. The bourgeoisie constantly tries to hollow out and turn democracy into its opposite. We, on the contrary, must fight to extend democracy further and further, to the point where it finally breaks through the limits of capitalism. Socialism is the victory of democracy. Not its negation.

Hence when we talk about ending democracy we are referring to the withering away of the state. Not about abolishing debate, open argument and popular control. Democracy is our main weapon in the fight for human liberation.

In the debate which followed comrade Moshé Machover said that he understood what comrade Ticktin had said. But we need to emphasise that socialism means the widest possible extension of democracy in every sphere of social life, including the economic sphere.

Democracy too was also the theme of comrade Mike Macnair's comments. He said how important it is to grasp that the political programme of the bourgeoisie was rooted not in democracy, but in the rule of law, which is counterposed to democracy. Did they promote democracy in the English revolution? No. That was the work of the Diggers and the Levellers. And in the French revolution, as soon as the ancien régime was overthrown, the bourgeoisie ruled through the Directory and then through Bonapartism. Anyone who says that they are for the rule of law is therefore saying that they are for the politics of the bourgeoisie. Democracy is the inheritance of the proletariat, opposed to private property and the rule of law.

The only comrade to speak in favour of Phil Sharpe was Phil Walden. His remarks included a daft peon of praise to the market. Perhaps John Pearson and Dave Spencer would have defended comrade Sharpe too. If the clock had not stopped them.

But all in all it is clear that comrade Sharpe's views on the need for the market and a halfway house workers' party have been comprehensively defeated in the CMP. This should mean that he is no longer proposed as any kind of official or unofficial CMP spokesperson.