Ivan the terrible

Lawrence Parker discerns a threat that could further dissipate the CPB's fading influence

Ivan Beavis, a member of the Communist Party of Britain’s executive committee, spoke at the final plenary session of the Socialist Resistance event (see 'Licence to liquidate'), and also spoke on the ‘CPB approach’ to a much smaller (single figures in terms of audience) workshop.

Presumably, the CPB executive had hoped that comrade Beavis would have managed to at least give a clear picture of its current political priorities. Instead, he gave his audience just about the dullest and misleading contribution I have ever heard from a CPB speaker. This could have been an indication of the lack of seriousness with which many London CPB members have regarded this ‘Trot’ gathering and a more general antipathy to a dying Respect project (Renewal or otherwise). Only Steve Johnson, CPB London district secretary, bothered to turn up to support comrade Beavis.

The CPB’s recent congress agreed a twin-track strategy, which, as Dave Lynch put it, “has not written off ‘reclaiming’ the Labour Party to carry out its CPB-anointed role of implementing socialism through parliament … alongside a commitment to a ‘mass party of labour’ - ie, a Labour Party mark two that can guide us toward the promised land under the ‘comradely’ advice of the CPB” (Weekly Worker May 29). Comrade Lynch also noted that so far this strategy, rather than positioning the organisation to make a decisive political intervention, has maintained a fragile truce between the CPB Labourites and those, like general secretary Robert Griffiths, who see the need for a new Labourite party.

Griffiths’s inability to fight to commit his organisation to what he sees as a correct strategy threatens to dissipate the CPB’s fading influence even further, as Beavis’s speech demonstrated. I am all for people being open about their differences and weaknesses, but Beavis simply failed to tell the reasonably large audience at the plenary session what the CPB’s current policy actually is. Instead, he told us what the CPB’s policy toward the Labour Party was about10 years ago, presenting it as an up-to-date analysis - a ‘traditionalist’ account from someone who was, along with Griffiths and John Haylett, Morning Star editor, keen to ally the CPB with George Galloway not so long ago.

Beavis told his audience that Lenin had advised the CPGB to join the Labour Party in the 1920s and that it was not the role of the CPB “to supplant that of the Labour Party”. It was wrong for organisations such as the RMT to disaffiliate from Labour and it was still possible for the party to be “reclaimed” by the trade union movement. The CPB was for strengthening the Labour Representation Committee as a force for change in the Labour Party, although it also recognised that other people on the left had different opinions and it was prepared to work with them for the common good. Comrade Beavis added that the trade unions are currently undemocratic, ‘New Labour’ leaders were “vultures”, we need a referendum on the EU and we should support the public sector workers. That was about it - on being told he had another five minutes, Beavis quickly wound up.

In a brief question at the end, Beavis was challenged on his ahistorical use of Lenin, to which he cryptically replied that our analysis must change daily and even by the hour (unless you are comrade Beavis, in which case once a century is seemingly enough). No mention of comrade Griffiths’s new “mass party of labour”, no acknowledgement of the CPB’s twin-track strategy; just the good old-fashioned homely verities of the British road to socialism.

At this point I must admit to being quite amazed that Beavis had the nerve to be quite so mendacious. He was challenged on this by Socialist Resistance supporters at the poorly attended workshop session that followed the plenary - surely the CPB, not least general secretary Griffiths, had been evolving its thought on the Labour Party issue? In another painful contribution, Beavis told us that CPB members operated under democratic centralism; what this had to do with the debate I do not know. Does the CPB’s ‘democratic centralism’ stop members telling others what its policy actually is?

He added that the CPB had significant internal differences: some thought that the Labour Party could be reclaimed for the working class, while others were prepared to be more flexible towards new organisational formations. Beavis thus admitted that his one-sided plenary speech had been “cautious”. He never spoke against his “dear leader, comrade Griffiths”, which was obviously a joke, because that is exactly what Beavis had done in the plenary session.

Beavis went on to say that the CPB’s internal differences could be explained on a regional basis. In some areas - Scotland, for example - the CPB was much more heavily embedded in the traditional labour movement and so was highly reluctant to move away from a perspective of changing the Labour Party. Steve Johnson seemingly added his support to the ‘traditionalist’ line of his comrade, stating Britain’s unitary labour movement was unique and it might not be feasible to duplicate some of the alliances taking place in other European countries.

It is clear that for the coming period, different sections and individuals from the CPB are going to be putting across their own takes on the twin-track strategy agreed at this year’s congress. With both sides determined to pursue one particular track at the expense of the other, the CPB will simply be unable to have any kind of strategic impact. The group is simply not united around its current strategy, which is nothing but an uneasy truce to deter further organisational splits.

Beavis came out with a wonderful line. He urged comrades to “be patient with an organisation recovering from 25 years of trauma”. Judging by his performance in front of the ‘Trots’, there’s plenty more tears to come.