Exploring agreements and disagreements

At a recent meeting in London of the Campaign for a Marxist Party, its manifesto's authors spoke. Mary Godwin reports

November’s meeting of the London Campaign for a Marxist Party discussed the contribution towards a proposed CMP manifesto, which are published in the latest edition of Marxist Voice. The three authors spoke about their articles, and then CMP members and supporters contributed criticisms and suggestions.

Jack Conrad began by reminding comrades that in January 2008 the newly elected CMP committee chose three comrades to draft sections for the manifesto. It had been hoped that a single manifesto could be produced, but disagreements between the three authors made this impossible. Therefore the draft was published in the form of five signed articles. Clearly we are still at the stage of exploring areas of agreement and disagreement and discussions will continue up to and after the annual CMP conference in December (albeit perhaps through a different organisation form).

Comrade Conrad’s ‘What sort of party do we need?’ outlined the key features of the organisation we are working to create. It must be the voluntary union of the most determined, most dedicated and most conscious part of the working class, guided by Marxist theory and based on a Marxist programme. As a party, rather than a sect, it will combine unity in action with openness and democracy.

Comrade Hillel Ticktin contributed two articles, ‘Capitalist crisis and the task of Marxists’ and ‘What is Marxism?’ In his address to the London meeting he said the current capitalist crisis, which has intensified since he wrote, makes the need for a Marxist party even more pressing. In comrade Ticktin’s opinion capitalism is in decline because the law of value is in decline - prices are determined by monopolies or regulators rather than by the market. He said his article makes no specific reference to capitalist decline, because he is aware that not everyone in the CMP agrees with this. But he offered to put it in the draft if comrades wanted it.

Comrade Ticktin said he had expected his article on economics to be controversial, but was surprised to find that it was ‘What is Marxism?’ which in fact provoked controversy, specifically his description of Trotsky as the standard-bearer of “pristine Marxism”.

Comrade Mike Macnair described his article, ‘The failing left’, as an account of the current state of our movement. To those who say the left should rebuild social democracy, comrade Macnair replied that any attempt to create a halfway house party will end in failure, it will produce another Labour Party or another Scottish Socialist Party. The second proposed alternative to Marxism addressed in his article is the absurd attempt to “try Stalinism again”. The imperialist mechanism of offloading the effect of economic downturn onto the third world has sparked a revival of Stalinism. He said he and comrade Ticktin disagree about the influence of Stalinism.

Another disagreement is on the nature of Trotskyism, and comrade Macnair addressed this question in a second article, ‘A note on Trotsky and Trotskyism’. People who attempt to build an organisation on the basis of adhering to their understanding of ‘the Trotskyist line’ will inevitably produce sects which are part of the problem, although they attract militants who can be part of the solution.

In the discussion following the brief openings by the three authors a number of themes were raised. The one which provoked most discussion was comrade Ticktin’s use of the term ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. Comrade Machover was against any use of the phrase, except in direct quotes from Marx, indicated by quotation marks and followed by an explanation. Comrade Mark Fischer was among those advocating retaining the term, “otherwise we’ll be picked up on it”. He also made the point that we should fight to retain words which can be appropriated and misused by our enemies. Comrade Conrad said he does use the term, but always explains what Marx meant by it, while comrade Macnair said he usually prefers the phrase ‘rule by the working class’, which means the same thing.

The other important theme in the discussion was democracy - in the party and in both capitalist and socialist society. Comrade Ticktin believes the CPGB places too much emphasis on the question. He said in communist society there will be no state, no democracy and no political parties. He also said it is utopian to imagine the working class can take power via democracy and asked, “Can we say we should give up power when the majority no longer want us?” Comrade Macnair agreed this is an important and legitimate question. He pointed out that it is possible to act democratically without formal democracy. Comrade Stan Keable said democratic decision-making processes are needed in other situations than a state.

Comrade Steve Freeman asked, how should Marxists deal with and relate to the existing reformist left? In answer to comrade Macnair’s article about the failure of the left, he said everything has failed, not just reformism, so it is not enough just to say reformism does not work. Comrade Conrad replied that the sort of halfway house proposed by comrade Freeman must always fail - we should intervene in such formations, but not advocate repeating the failure.

On the other hand, the Marxist project will fail repeatedly, but will eventually succeed on a global level. It is a project worth living and fighting for.

Future course to be voted on

Jack Conrad gives the reasons for the CMP committee's motion to pack up the organisation

The setting up of the Campaign for a Marxist Party some two years ago was a welcome initiative. Instead of yet another halfway house project the stated aim was crystal clear. Marxists should be united on the basis of Marxism.

Unfortunately, the CMP did not attract sufficient forces to begin with in order to launch it as a viable project. Indeed the fact that the first conference agreed to build the CMP as a proto-party with individual membership, regional organisers, branches, a journal and ambitions to contest elections and do trade union support work was a big mistake. Posturing which discredited the CMP.

As it turned out, the first national committee of the CMP - made up of volunteers - was dominated by a small, unrepresentative group. Its main concern was to pursue a peculiar, ‘anti-sectarian sectarian’ agenda. That included promoting the Socialist Alliance’s People before profit programme and the idea of a halfway house party - ie, not a Marxist party.

At the last annual general meeting that line was decisively defeated. A much more representative committee was elected.

Since then some good work has been done and some useful meetings held. The CMP sponsored the fringe at Marxism 2008 and the Communist University. But apart from in London there is no regular activity.

Moreover, there was a failure to produce a common manifesto. That had been agreed at the new committee’s first meeting. We had to settle for individual contributions towards a manifesto in Marxist Voice (from myself, Hillel Ticktin and Mike Macnair). Political differences, in part stemming from background, style and temperament, mean that discussions must continue. In and of itself that is no problem and entirely healthy.

Regrettably, however, the minority around the old committee refuses to reconcile itself to being a minority. This is a problem and entirely unhealthy. The minority has poisoned the atmosphere in the organisation. There have even been threats of violence; threats which the minority justifies or excuses. Furthermore, the so-called Trotskyist Tendency of the CMP decided to produce its own version of our journal, Marxist Voice. A unilateral, underhand, unnecessary and thoroughly undemocratic move.

Minorities in the CMP have the right to publish their views. But minorities also have responsibilities. Marxist Voice is not the property of a minority faction. Nor is it the property of its former editor. Marxist Voice is the collective property of the CMP and between AGMs that means its elected national committee.

At its last meeting the national committee of the CMP reviewed our record, future course and structure. It was agreed that fashioning, organising and viewing the CMP as a proto-party formation was wrong to begin with and has failed in practice.

Given the huge challenges the ongoing crisis of capitalism presents for Marxists, it is quite clear that our present structure and soured internal relations constitute a barrier to reaching out to, and engaging with, new, healthy and serious forces.

Therefore the national committee unanimously agreed to put a motion to the December 6 AGM to close down the organisation. After expenses have been deducted, membership fees and subscriptions to Marxist Voice will be refunded.

Following that, the intention of comrades is to establish a committee in 2009 with the aim of promoting the study of Marxism and the unity of Marxists as Marxists.