A rough guide

The Campaign for a Marxist Party holds its reconvened conference this weekend. Jack Conrad looks at the main motions, amendments and political issues

Last time conference ended somewhat chaotically. We cannot afford to fail again. Unless the Campaign for a Marxist Party is equipped with a politically representative committee and a workable, transparent and democratic constitution/set of rules, it will have no future. Either it will join the long list the of living dead - Scottish Socialist Party, Socialist Alliance, Solidarity, Campaign for a New Workers' Party, Socialist Labour Party, etc. That, or it will simply fall apart in acrimony.

Such a scenario would be more than a pity. Other unity projects have in essence been based on ostensible Marxists, invariably the clear majority, putting aside their claimed politics in order to achieve what is fake unity. That is, unity with largely phantom left Labourites, trade union officials, greens, muslim activists and anti-war peaceniks. In the last analysis what that means in practice is subordinating the politics of the working class (Marxism) to the politics of the labour bureaucracy and thus the capitalist state.

On paper the CMP promised something different. Something much better. The unity of Marxists as Marxists in a campaign for a Marxist party and therefore the development of Marxism in aggressive opposition to the social democracy, economism, bureaucratic centralism and crass opportunism of the existing left

However, from the beginning there were problems. There are those in the CMP who are committed to various halfway house projects. The Democratic Socialist Alliance recommended the old Socialist Alliance's 2001 general election manifesto, People before profit, as the basis of programmatic discussion. The same organisation has promoted a politically undefined workers' party. Steve Freeman of the Revolutionary Democratic Group not only agrees with this goal as being historically necessary; he puts forward his own halfway house nonsense too.

Thankfully, such ideas have been soundly defeated polemically and formally condemned in crushing conference votes. Nevertheless, the CMP's committee is still dominated by members of the DSA.

Unfortunately, these comrades have not acquitted themselves well since the last conference. Instead of smoothing the way for a new, representative committee they have taken the CMP to the point of disaster.

In part this can be put down to sheer incompetence. In part it is the DSA's anti-sectarian sectarianism. And under criticism the DSA comrades have - pained, instinctively, maddened - turned to anarcho-bureaucratic measures to protect themselves: eg, a permanent chair charged with policing articles, email postings and spoken contributions in order to stamp out 'offensive' language.

In short, a deal of valuable time has been wasted getting precisely nowhere.

Anyway, on Saturday November 24 the main items are choosing a constitution/set of rules and electing a new committee. The CPGB considers that debate around the constitution should not be squeezed in the name of getting the business done as quickly as possible. Due time ought to be given for movers - and contributions from the floor. The politics need to be brought out. That educates. Constitutions, even constitutional sub-clauses, are not by definition dry as dust, boring and irrelevant. On the contrary, as Mike Macnair pointed out last week, "The procedural is political" (Weekly Worker November 18).

All of us who take the 1898-1917 Russian experience as a benchmark, as holding invaluable lessons, will know that the Iskra grouping split in 1903 into Bolsheviks (majorityists) and Mensheviks (minorityists) over what appeared, even to many insiders, to be a minor constitutional clause: paragraph one of the rules, which dealt with membership eligibility. Paradoxically, given the factional appellations, Lenin's hards narrowly lost to Martov's softs (the latter relying on the five votes of the left nationalist Bund). The split proved epochal.

There are two draft constitutions on offer to the November 24 CMP conference. The first, from the outgoing CMP committee, fully reflects the absurd pretensions and the bureaucratic and legalistic methods of the DSA. Frankly, it stands in the rotten tradition of Walter Citrine (right Labour) and Wal Hannington ('official communist'), whereby the skilled/incumbent rulebook operator can scupper, delay, block or counter any and all democratic initiatives.

The second draft constitution comes from the CPGB. Soberly, with a due sense of proportion, we recognise that the CMP is a campaign: not a party or even a pre-party formation. So, no to the clauses about monthly general membership meetings, affiliation procedures, along with regional officers who 'represent' nothing apart from themselves - all contained in constitution draft one. Our constitution is short, spare and simple, and is primarily designed to facilitate, or serve, discussion, clarification and convergence.

There are certain similarities between the two constitutions (not least because ours began life as an amendment). But, as in 1903, the devil lies in the detail. Nevertheless, the main differences can be summed under the headings, 'simplicity versus complexity', 'democracy versus legalism' and 'Bonapartist officers versus accountability'.

We are for a constitution that is quick to read, easy to understand and hard to manipulate - either by amateur or professional lawyers. When it comes to officers we stand against little dictators and hence for the indirect election of officers by a politically representative committee. Those who prove unfit for purpose or find themselves falling into demoralisation or depression can be removed without fuss or bother.

The CPGB is therefore against the tortuous descriptions of the powers and duties of the secretary, chair, treasurer, journal editor, trade union organiser, etc, etc, that are found in the lower reaches of the DSA/committee draft constitution. The CMP should not act as a job creation scheme.

Less, especially in our case, is definitely more. As already indicated, the CPGB favours replacing the overstuffed and generally useless committee we now have with a much smaller but much more effective one (a committee which then elects and recalls officers as it sees fit).

When it comes to aims the two drafts are exactly the same. The aims are described by four clauses: (a) To put forward the need for an openly Marxist party at all opportunities; (b) To promote debate and discussion of Marxism; (c) To organise members locally and nationally; (d) To open discussions with potential collaborators internationally. Ditto when it comes to membership: "The Campaign for a Marxist Party will accept in membership those who agree with the aims of the campaign."


There are a number of amendments. Some are honest but unnecessary Eg, Barry Biddulph wants acceptance of the CMP's 16 founding principles to be a requirement of membership. He sees them as a "rudimentary programme". They are not. Hence his amendment is not needed. Gerry Downing thinks that a new clause should be inserted which would provide for organised factions and tendencies (spelt out in considerable detail). All comrade Downing needs then is one co-thinker and he can get his feet under the committee table. Unwarranted and unhelpful in our view. There is no bar on comrades in the CMP organising as they will. As to automatic representation for a faction/tendency of two, this is a bit of a joke. Even for an organisation of the CMP's size.

Comrade Downing also seeks to add to our aims: "To organise the working class to lead a revolution to overthrow capitalism in Britain and internationally and build a communist society based on full social and economic equality".

Marxism is surely the established theory and practice of universal human liberation. It is therefore necessarily internationalist. Hence there is no need for comrade Downing's addition, especially as there are no self-declared national socialists in our ranks. As to "full social and economic equality", this smacks of a utopian throwback. Another reason to vote for rejection.

Human beings are brilliantly, creatively, awkwardly, consistently unequal: including in their abilities and their needs. See Marx's famous Critique of the Gotha programme (1876). Hence, communist society will necessarily have to treat people differently. Our goal is a society that helps develop/bring out everyone's attributes, innate and acquired. Equality is a bourgeois slogan. No, our slogan is the full development of each through the full development of all.

Comrades Biddulph and Downing are transparent in their intentions. Pity the same cannot be said of Steve Freeman. He says we should add: "and internationally" to the end of the clause which at present reads: "To promote debate and discussion of Marxism. To organise members locally and nationally." But, as we already have a following clause which reads, "open discussions with potential collaborators internationally", this is somewhat mystifying.

Comrade Freeman also proposes to delete the term "openly Marxist" in "To put forward the need for an openly Marxist party at all opportunities." Instead he calls for an "international revolutionary democratic communist" party.

The 'argument' fielded by comrade Freeman in support of this amendment rests on the hoary old story about Marx saying he was no Marxist: "Je ne suis pas Marxiste". Hence, either there is no such thing as Marxism according to Marx himself, or to call oneself a Marxist is to excuse, participate in or encourage some Marx personality cult. Hence comrade Freeman's proposed amendment. Or so he says.

The story about Marx saying that there is no such thing as Marxism, is, of course, the equivalent of an urban myth. The noted Marx scholar, Hal Draper (1914-1990), classifies it under the heading "How not to quote Marx" (H Draper Karl Marx's theory of revolution Vol 2, New York 1978, p5).

Most 'isms', 'ites' and 'ists' linked to a particular named individual begin with sworn enemies. They use them as a sneer, a term of contempt, a rude put-down. Eg, 'Your views come from the head of one person and you lot follow him like sheep.' But with time the personalised insult often morphs into its opposite: a party name and hence a badge of honour. Eg, Christians, Mohammedans, Proudhonists, Owenites, Hegelians. Inevitably, unavoidably, that too has been the fate of Marxists and Marxism. Marx would not have liked it, that is for sure. He called himself a scientific socialist, a communist or simply a partisan of the working class. However, almost immediately after his death the 'Marx party' adopted the name 'Marxist' for itself everywhere and called its theory the theory of Marxism. 'Marxist' and 'Marxism' being synonymous with scientific socialism, communism and working class self-liberation.

When Marx said, "I am no Marxist" back in the 1870s, it was a joke made during a family/party gathering. Marx tried to get his son-in-law, friend and French party leader, Paul Lafargue, to think again by flatly contradicting him with a humorous rejoinder.

We know about the 'famous' phrase only second or third hand "¦ and the first time it was reported is in a letter from Frederick Engels to Edward Bernstein written in 1882 (there are only three other examples from Engels). Engels uses the term 'Marxist' about Lafargue and his co-thinkers in France with deliberate inverted commas. Why? Because he is not overly impressed by them. Nor was Marx. Whatever his fondness for him as a man, Marx felt that Lafargue had failed to properly grasp his theory and overall political approach "¦ and yet he called himself a Marxist. Marx was exasperate. In general he did not rate Lafargue's theoretical abilities highly and had real worries about the political direction of the French party.

The point, therefore, of his "I am not a Marxist" quip, was not so much to pick a quarrel with Lafargue. Rather it was to pull his son-in-law up sharply: telling him to his face that he simply did not know what he was talking about. In other words: 'If that is what you are saying in the name of Marxism, then that has nothing to do with me'.

Neither Marx nor Engels would have had the faintest idea that many years later Marxologists would read a profound meaning into the Lafargue incident. Obviously that was not Marx's intention.

After Marx's death Engels was quite prepared, albeit reluctantly, to call himself a Marxist. Nowadays, we in the CPGB experience no such problem. Nor should the CMP. Definitionally, Marxism is internationalist, Marxism is democratic, Marxism is revolutionary, Marxism is communist. Marxism is partyist too.

The real views of comrade Freeman are no secret. They can be gathered from the last edition of this very paper: see the article 'Can the SA arise from the ashes?', authored by Dave Craig. Clearly, far from putting forward "the need for an openly Marxist party at all opportunities", comrade Freeman actually uses "all opportunities" to argue for what he variously calls a communist-Labour party or a republican socialist party (built organisationally along the lines of the SSP).

His - that is, comrade Freeman's - operative conclusion is to subordinate the communist programme to that of Tony Benn (or some other putative big-name splitter from the Labour Party). Formally, this makes the comrade ineligible for membership of the CMP. However, the CPGB does not think anything worthwhile will be gained by expelling him at this present moment in time (or other advocates of halfway houses). Nevertheless, it is clear that his amendment cannot be treated at face value. He poses left but meanwhile tries to do rightist mischief.

Other motions

The DSA has submitted a string of motions. None are supportable. Motion one would commit the CMP to "develop a manifesto" that would elaborate our aims in a "popular manner" and "develop an analysis of the global and national economic and political situation". What is the point of this? To stand in local and national elections? Clearly the CMP is not at such a stage of development. It is a tiny campaign with a very low level of agreement. Not a well oiled party machine that can go directly to the masses. Realism and a due sense of where we are is called for.

Motion two would rescind the resolution of the CMP's founding conference, held on November 4 2006, which instructed the leadership of the CMP to enter into fusion talks with the CPGB. Clearly those talks have proved abortive. However, that is entirely due to the outgoing, DSA-dominated committee. The CPGB will therefore vote against motion two and for a new committee.

Motion three (proposed by DSA member Dave Spencer) should be rejected too. It is his code of conduct that would have the effect of curbing expression in the CMP: "All personal abuse and attempted intimidation should be ruled out of order. There is a well established link between verbal and physical abuse." A bureaucrat's dream.

Of course, one person's fair comment is another's "personal abuse and attempted intimidation". What of the idea of there being a "well established link between personal and physical abuse"? This is perhaps a none too subtle attempt to equate the CPGB calling the SWP leadership unprincipled and popular frontist with the SWP launching physical attacks on CPGB members. The two are not the same. Robust criticism is necessary and  indeed should be normal in our movement. Kicking, shoving and punching opponents because they dare to openly challenge your actions cannot and should not be excused in any way.

We want a healthy culture in the CMP. But this cannot be imposed from above. It can only grow through practical unity in the fight for the Marxist party.

Comrade Spencer has another motion, motion four. Although seemingly worthy, it is totally pointless and badly flawed to boot. He puts the break-up of left groups - such as the SLP, SP, SSP, SWP and Workers Power - down to the attempt to "recreate a reformist milieu" which is no longer relevant to the working class. Untrue, at least in the case of Workers Power. It turned anarchist. More to the point, comrade Spencer is wrong when he writes of left groups being "unwilling to cooperate" with other left groups. The left does cooperate in a whole range of organisations, fronts, campaigns and alliances. Fact - and there is no need to pretend otherwise. The problem lies not in their failure to cooperate: rather in their failure to unite on the basis of Marxism.

Lastly, we have motion five (proposed by Matthew Jones also of the DSA). He wishes to call a "conference of the left" in the light of the break-up of the SSP, Respect, Socialist Alliance, etc. His conference would be "aimed to appeal to those who have either left existing or former groups or those who have never been members of these groups but are active on the left". Who would come? What level of unity could we achieve? What would be the aim of holding such a conference?

There is such a thing as going round in ever decreasing circles. Rather than hold another conference - which will not be attended by the vast bulk of the left - we should begin by putting the Campaign for a Marxist Party onto a proper footing.