CPB: Worst of both worlds

Dave Lynch exposes a reactionary sub-plot and reports complaints of sectarianism

The Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, together with domiciled members of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of Bangladesh and the Greek Communist Party, is standing 13 candidates in the May 1 elections for the London assembly under the title, ‘Unity for Peace and Socialism’.

The response of CPB members to the forthcoming contest has so far been decidedly muted, not least since campaign materials and a website (www.ufps.org.uk) only made their appearance in the last week. The group’s London activists have mostly been frantically concerned with the politics of lesser-evilism in trying to ensure the victory of Ken Livingstone over Boris Johnson in the mayoral contest (anyone wishing to point out flaws in the substance of Livingstone’s politics has been given short shrift).

Although UPS candidates did relatively well in a couple of Leicester council wards last year (scoring around 7% of the vote), signs of a London-wide breakthrough are not auspicious, particularly as the ‘official communists’ are up against two clone rivals for the ‘progressive’ vote - the Socialist Workers Party’s Left List and George Galloway’s Respect Renewal.

All three lists have constructed their manifestos around the dismal politics of left reformism. The UPS manifesto (www.ufps.org.uk/images/pdf/ufps_gla_manifesto_2008.pdf) is thus an unexceptional example of the type of electoral manifesto/wish-list we have come to expect from ‘Marxists’ over the past decade or so: fairer taxes; housing for all; transport for people, not profit; jobs for all; an end to bigotry and so on.

But, as is the case with all these manifestos, when we move on to the more substantive issue of ‘Who rules London?’ there is a reactionary sub-plot. Thus, on crime and policing, we read: “The police must treat cases of rape and domestic violence seriously, rather than dismissing allegations or victimising the victim. There must be an end to Search Under Suspicion, the retention of fingerprint and DNA data of children and all innocent individuals and other aggressive, collective punishment and privacy-invading forms of policing. There must be a turn to policing of communities by consent by officers from London’s communities. More officers on the beat, with less reliance on CCTV, daredevil driving, guns, CS gas and side-handled batons. We do not want US-style policing. The current over-use of control orders - which are really house arrest - should be opposed and the underlying problems which lead to anti-social behaviour tackled.”

In other words, the police force (an institution of the rule of capital, for those who have forgotten) is basically sound - it is just the methods of policing that need to change. If we could just get back to the good old British bobby (as opposed to those nasty “US-style” cops) then things would be hunky-dory in our fair city.

An alliance with George Galloway’s Respect Renewal was, of course, rejected by CPB tops. Galloway was seen as a liability and the collapse of the Respect project tainted both sides of the split. However, there has been some criticism of the CPB’s electoral stance from London comrades such as Mike Squires and Nick Wright (both internally and publicly in the pages of the Morning Star).

The basic case that these comrades have made is that the CPB should have tried to unite with broader forces on the left than just the domiciled members of three ‘official’ communist parties. The implication, then, is that the CPB has been sectarian in its electoral policy, which, when you compare the various similar-sounding ‘left’ manifestos for the London assembly elections, has more than a ring of truth to it. But then this throws up a set of further thorny questions: namely, who exactly does the CPB see as the movers and shakers of its current political trajectory?

It has been clear for a while that CPB general secretary Robert Griffiths is keen to purge his organisation of lump-headed auto-Labourism and move towards some kind of ‘new mass workers’ party’ project, although this has often been expressed in a rather coy fashion (see Weekly Worker June 4 2007). His letter in the Morning Star on March 26 was a reply to a seemingly routine comment from Kevin Halpin (the CPB’s industrial organiser, who could be described as the classic specimen of a lump-headed auto-Labourite) that resigning from Labour solves nothing.

While agreeing, Griffiths added: “Every socialist has to consider where they can make the most effective contribution ... Those who choose to leave the Labour Party and join the Communist Party, for example, help strengthen the fight for peace, progress and socialism ... Labour Party members who wish to contribute effectively ... by joining the Communist Party will continue to be welcome in our ranks, having made the right decision to strengthen the Marxist party of the labour movement.”

The executive committee’s domestic resolution to the CPB’s congress in May talks of “open and comradely discussion across the labour movement and the non-sectarian left about how the labour movement can ensure that it has a mass party, including the future option of re-establishing one. Non-affiliated unions and socialists outside the Labour Party have an equal responsibility to develop and put forward their views on this vital strategic question. In order to be successful, reclaiming the Labour Party or re-establishing a mass party of labour would need to emerge from - and be sustained by - the trade union movement. Both in terms of continuing the struggle to reclaim the Labour Party and stimulating discussion on how to ensure that we have a mass party of labour in Britain, the Labour Representation Committee can play a pivotal role laying the basis for a resolution of this political crisis.”

This would certainly be surprising to anyone with any prior knowledge of the Labour Representation Committee. Whatever the merits of individuals working in it, the LRC simply does not look to have the makings of a body that is going to be vital to the strategic re-orientation of the British workers’ movement, and the CPB leaders must know this. In fact, you could weave an alternative argument to say that its directionless nature is precisely why the CPB (still somewhat split between an old guard, content with the traditionalist pro-Labour verities of the British road to socialism, and the ‘innovators’ around Griffiths) feels comfortable with it.

So the CPB has actually got a problem of what to adopt as the vehicle for its politics in the absence of the Labour Party. The reality is that no current force on the left, inside or outside the Labour Party, looks remotely capable of being the carrier for even the modest, reformist politics of the CPB. The idea that a Marxist communist party, worthy of the name, might, just might, be itself the animator of class struggle is completely beyond the pale for the CPB.

The result of this is that the CPB has ended up with the worst of both worlds. On one level, the UPS list is seen both inside (among a group of dissidents at least) and outside the CPB as sectarian posturing that may be punished by suitably derisory votes. On another, the CPB does not even have the advantage of being able to lay out a distinctive marker for itself as an organisation, cloaked as it is in the UPS brand and lumbered with a set of left-reformist manifesto ‘pledges’ that could sit quite happily next to those of the SWP’s Left List and Respect Renewal.

The very best of British to you, comrades.