Factional property

Issue number three of Marxist Voice, the journal of the Campaign for a Marxist Party, is a great disappointment, says Phil Kent

There are numerous typos, missing words, paragraphs cut and misplaced, and even a headline that appears on a different page to the article it refers to. All very amateurish. The editor, Dave Spencer, should not have been too proud to ask for assistance.

But the technical cock-ups are the least of the problems. Comrade Spencer appears to have asked random friends and associates to write about something he or they happen find interesting and as a result the publication has no discernable theme or sense of direction.

In fact by the end it collapses editorially altogether, since comrade Spencer has stuffed most of the last few pages with an odd assortment of press releases. All printed without comment or any explanation as to what their relevance might be to a campaign for a Marxist party.

The first and longest of these - from the All-India Citizens' Convention preparation committee, entitled 'Against atrocities on the people of Nandigram and against special economic zones' - notes that the AICC has passed the following resolution: "The All India Citizens Convention, attended by eminent jurists, lawyers, educationalists, teachers, poets, litterateurs, scientists, social activists, doctors and people from all walks of life ..., notes with grave concern ... a scheme establishing special economic zones (SEZs) "¦"

I am sure we are all against SEZs as well as atrocities, but the politics behind this campaign reeks of 'official communism' to my mind. In addition to the great and the good listed above, the convention boasted the support of the "former attorney general of the US", but no working class organisation is mentioned.

Then there is the appeal from the Communities and Movements Network Against Violence calling on the Brazilian government to 'Stop the massacres'. At least 20 innocent people have been killed in remote areas by government forces engaged in fighting drug traffickers. The network, however, is very reasonable in its appeal to the state: "We understand that the Pan-American Games are approaching and that the occasion requires security planning. That, however, does not justify a series of actions that seems to be nothing but organised massacres."

If this kind of stuff is meant to demonstrate our internationalism, then quite frankly it is embarrassing.

The final page is given over to 'The Burston school strike: the longest strike in history (25 years)'. The anniversary was over a month ago, which does not help. The piece - an address given by the secretary of the Coventry and Warwickshire British Pensioners Trade Union Action Committee - ends: "People say today's struggles are too hard and no-one is interested. Burston shows nothing is impossible if we agitate and organise. Do we not owe it to people like [the strike organisers] to keep up the struggle for a better world?" Actually we owe it to ourselves and the future, which is why we need to theorise as well.

Comrade Spencer's own theory essentially consists of British trade union consciousness alongside an abiding aversion to the existing left, with a pinch of sentimental christian morality added for purposes of instruction and inspiration. His own highly favourable review of Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the oppressed amply demonstrates this. Written in 1968, Freire's book articulates the left catholic programme of so-called 'liberation theology' with all its contradictions.

Comrade Spencer sees Freire's work as "a handbook of how to build a revolutionary party from below". Of course, revolutionary parties - real revolutionary parties, that is - are built on the basis of the most advanced theory. That is why Marx wrote Capital. Therefore revolutionary parties are necessarily built from the top downwards. Obviously comrade Spencer disagrees. He certainly has more in common with christian socialism than Marxism. In other words, comrade Spencer is for localism and following 'ordinary people', as against theory and centralisation.

Freire, who states that "God led me to the people and the people led me to Karl Marx", is commended for linking in with "the liberation theology movement, whose key success was the establishment of local community groups". The fact that his liberation theology miserably failed in practice, served to disarm 'ordinary people', collapsed pathetically before the authority of John Paul II and was incapable of challenging the magisterium of the catholic bureaucratic apparatus (because it was part of that apparatus) goes completely unnoticed.

He ends the review (somewhat incongruously) with: "We want self-sufficient and creative Bolsheviks, not fellow sheep and echoes of the party line." The comrade appears to believe that "the party line" can only be the sole prerogative of a dictator. Under no circumstances can it reflect rationality, be arrived at through an open-ended debate and decided democratically.

In fact the CPGB - presumably the butt of comrade Spencer's conclusion - does not have a party line in the Trotskyist sense, where everybody agrees on everything in public and political disputes are kept behind closed doors. We only have unity in action when and where it is necessary and without which no political organisation can be effective.

All in all, it seems to me that Dave simply does not understand that the CMP project can only survive if we have the agreement of its main constituent parts and can thereby learn to live with one another. The situation is not helped by the fact that comrade Spencer himself responds to criticism like a man with a porcupine in his pants.

This is sadly demonstrated by a paranoid rant of his which goes under the title, 'The CMP and the CPGB'. His article is presented as a companion piece, a reply, if you want, to the article by Mike Macnair that precedes it. However, surely this cannot be considered as a legitimate or sensible way for the editor of Marxist Voice to behave. Commissioning an article from a factional rival and then immediately running your own (albeit misdirected) counterpunch is both unfair and extraordinarily provocative. But there you have it. Marxist Voice is clearly being used for narrow, factional purposes by its editor. Marxist Voice is effectively Spencer's Voice.

Even then comrade Spencer proceeds incompetently. He had ample time to study and think about Mike's article before completing his own piece. But if he did that, though, you would not know it, because he appears not to have taken the slightest note of anything it contains. Perhaps the reason for this is explained by comrade Spencer when he says: "Once you have established that a left group like the CPGB is playing games and not being genuine, you have to guess what their motives are." It is obviously a waste of time reading what they actually write.

All he wants to do is pursue his factional vendetta. Hence the CPGB is denounced as Machiavellian liars. The CPGB is accused of causing damage and attempting to destroy the CMP. The CPGB is also charged with treating its members as unthinking voting fodder. All this, remember, from the editor of a journal which CPGB comrades are expected to sell and help finance.

For example, the fact that the June 23 conference ended in turmoil is, he says, the fault of the CPGB and our opposition to halfway houses. Nothing at all to do with his bungling and absurdly antagonistic chairing. Nothing to do with the fact that he, along with his Democratic Socialist Alliance comrade, John Pearson, threatened to boycott any new committee elected by the conference that had the same number of CPGB and DSA comrades, as opposed to the current DSA-dominated committee. So it was not the CPGB, but comrade Spencer and co, who were prepared to "damage or destroy the CMP". And why? Simply because they would lose factional control.

Mike explains in his article why we wished to change the committee. But comrade Spencer makes no attempt to answer the criticism other than blagging the CPGB off as being a power-obsessed group under the thumb of Jack Conrad.

Comrade Spencer claims that Phil Sharpe does not advocate a halfway house. Yet I have listened to him speak three times on the subject of programme and I think he does. As Mike Macnair says in his piece, he has done so, consistently, for years.

Again as comrade Macnair points out, he proposes theoretical agreement on philosophical and other questions as the basis for unity between Marxists - a traditional Trotskyist stance that leads inevitably to splits and more splits. We have opposed Phil Sharpe not as "an enemy of the people", but because we do not agree with his politics. We have done this openly and publicly, not through innuendo or misrepresentation.

It goes without saying that we are not in principle against publishing comrade Sharpe's nonsense (the Weekly Worker has carried more than one article by him over the years). But we are against promoting his eclectic and often eccentric meanderings as some kind of CMP 'theory', as the DSA comrades seem intent on doing. To do so would be to make the campaign a laughing stock.

This issue of Marxist Voice carries Phil's review of John Rees's Imperialism and resistance, in which he demonstrates that he has changed his mind on the question of the 'bourgeois democratic revolution'. It seems he now thinks it is just the ticket for backward countries. Effectively a stageist version of history.

Unlike comrade Spencer, the CPGB is certainly prepared to listen to the arguments and react in a flexible way. At the June 23 conference we proposed that the new committee should have an equal number of CPGB and DSA comrades, even though this would have given the DSA far greater representation than its proportion of the CMP membership.

Comrades Spencer and Pearson rejected it out of hand on the grounds, as Dave later explained, that he does not "do deals". Not even reasonable ones. Not even those that could win support across the entire spectrum of the CMP membership.

However, Dave Spencer is right on one thing. The Campaign for a Marxist Party requires "open minds, not entrenched factions". The problem is, Dave Spencer does not have an open mind. And he is a member of an entrenched faction with immovable prejudices.