Unwilling to engage
Jointly sponsored by the CMP and CPGB, the Marxism fringe saw three meetings this year. Phil Kent reports
The Marxism fringe, jointly sponsored by the CPGB and the Campaign for a Marxist Party, put on three meetings this year. The 20-30 comrades who attended each of the meetings included a sprinkling of individuals beyond the ranks of our two organisations.
But only the meeting titled ‘Iran - how to fight the war drive’ drew anyone from the SWP - but not, of course, Alex Callinicos, who was invited to debate with Hands off the People of Iran, but did not respond. As for the bulk of the SWP rank and file, they are still unwilling to engage in anything not under the organisational control of their own leadership.
The CMP is soon to produce a draft manifesto and at the first fringe meeting Hillel Ticktin and Mike Macnair introduced the themes that the publication will address, including their own contributions.
Comrade Ticktin argued that with the collapse of the Soviet Union conditions now exist for the building of a mass Marxist Party. The party should be built around the central principles of Marxist theory, not least working class internationalism. Stalinists would not be welcome because the ‘socialism in one country’ that they adhere to is not Marxist. However, comrade Ticktin did not specify that those Trotskyists who also promote forms of national socialism should also be excluded.
Comrade Macnair also sees green shoots of growth for a Marxist party, but his approach is not one which starts out by excluding those with wrong ideas. Rather the party becomes the instrument for clarifying and spreading Marxism. Party discipline cannot be about policing ideas. Instead it must ensure unity in action, while protecting freedom of expression and the right of minorities to organise.
The positions of comrade Ticktin and the CPGB are different, but both approaches aim to arm the working class with Marxist theory so it can act independently and in its own name. Also, despite some minor linguistic divisions both comrades are actually coming from the same theoretical direction as far as the party is concerned.
The best attended fringe was the meeting on Iran addressed by Yassamine Mather of Hopi. She examined the growing economic crisis in Iran and its political effect on the working class, which is increasingly coming into conflict with the state. The disaster in Iraq has convinced almost everyone in Iran that US military intervention in their country would be the worst possible outcome, but the state has been using the threat to screw the workers. The regime is not a reliable ally against imperialism and it is certainly not a friend of the working class. In the debate from the floor comments were almost universally supportive of Hopi. The SWPers present did not speak.
The final meeting, addressed by CPGB national organiser Mark Fischer, was titled ‘Unity projects RIP?’ Oliur Rahman originally agreed to speak before his defection to Labour, but later found he was unable to attend. The example of comrade Rahman and the other ex-Respect councillors demonstrates that popular fronts cannot take our class forward.
But, as Steve Freeman of the Revolutionary Democratic Group pointed out, the working class needs unity, so new unity projects are bound to spring up. Unfortunately he thinks they should take the form of a non-Marxist halfway house. Comrade Fischer had explained that it was necessary for Marxists to come together as Marxists, but this will require patience and the development of a new culture of openness.
Comrades from the International Bolshevik Tendency argued that by joining the Respect popular front the CPGB had sacrificed its principles and aided the confusion of the working class by calling for the maximum vote for Respect candidates in the first election Respect contested. John Bridge pointed out that joining a popular front and offering critical support are possible tactics, not principles, and hence a matter of judgement. Comrade Fischer emphasised that the best way of defeating the opportunism of the likes of the SWP is up close - unlike the IBT, which seems to fear that some of the filth of opportunism will infect it.
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