What next for CMP?

We need to campaign for an international communist party, writes Dave Craig of the Revolutionary Democratic Group

The Campaign for a Marxist Party has hit the buffers. At least that is what we have been told. This was a surprise to some of us. We thought the train wasn’t moving because it hadn’t yet set off. The drivers had been discussing the timetable. Now we find out they couldn’t agree when to leave the station or where to go. We didn’t realise this until we looked out the carriage windows only to see them walking down the platform heading for the canteen.

On Saturday the CMP annual conference will be held in London. A resolution from the committee is proposing the campaign is closed down. Before we decide if this is sensible, we need an open or public examination of what went wrong and whether there is any other way forward. We owe it to the communist movement to make an honest assessment of the politics.

Has the campaign achieved anything at all or has it been a complete waste of time? The answer depends on how matters are resolved on Saturday and what lessons can be drawn. Was the campaign useful to the communist movement? Were the struggles in the CMP a testing ground for a new communist politics? Does it teach us anything? Does it confirm certain perspectives and methods of working and expose the failures? This is why a full and if necessary extended discussion of what has gone wrong has to be carried out.

The Weekly Worker has an important role in bringing this discussion before the wider movement. The paper prides itself in casting a searchlight on the errors of the left. Now it has to apply this dictum to the CMP. The resolution proposed by the committee is useful as a starting point. It says: “The launch of the Campaign for Marxist Party was based on the belief that its founding would act as a means by which organised and unorganised members of the left could meet together to discuss ways in which they could cooperate to establish a Marxist political party. It could not itself be a political party, but was essentially a catalyst for that purpose.”

Over a year ago I described the CMP as “a small campaign, an ideological ragbag of assorted Marxists, some of whom had over-inflated expectations about what can be achieved” (Weekly Worker November 29 2007). “Worse, the campaign degenerated into a futile struggle between the CPGB and the DSA.” At a CPGB aggregate members described the CMP as “a waste of time” and their involvement with it “a waste of effort”. The campaign “suffered from inertia and a lack of direction” (November 1 2007).

Comrade Yassamine Mather, a member of Critique, said that they were threatening to pull out unless the CMP gets its house in order by the November 2007 conference. Nick Rogers reported Hillel Ticktin saying Critique would “walk away from the CMP unless it put its house in order”. Nick explained: “I certainly share the frustration of many in the CPGB and CMP with the course of action the campaign has taken over the last year and its general lack of purpose” (November 28 2007).

Now, one year later, with comrades Mather, Ticktin, Rogers and the CPGB having taken over the committee, nothing much has changed. The committee resolution says: “In fact, differences on the road to that goal and differences in the understanding of Marxism have proved fatal to that project. A larger organisation might have taken those differences in its stride, but, in the circumstances, that has not happened. Differences have become bitter and entrenched. Since the left has been held back in part by apolitical infighting, and one of the aims of the CMP had been to overcome this problem, it is clear that the CMP has failed in its initial intentions.”

In retrospect how can we make political sense of this failure? First it is generally agreed that the CMP was set up with a certain sectarian over-optimism. It was considered all established Marxist organisations had failed, mainly because they were not democratic. These problems would soon be overcome with democracy. Many would rally to our bright new red flag. A Weekly Worker article refers to a CPGB aggregate at which comrade Rogers speaks about Hillel Ticktin’s inflated expectations. Matthew Jones had been even more optimistic (June 5 2008).

The CMP started small and has  stubbornly refused to grow. By 2007 optimism was duly punctured. The campaign had degenerated into “apolitical infighting”. In this respect the CMP was not significantly different from the old left it was claiming to break from. But this simple analysis avoids the deeper politics hiding behind the infighting. What was more significant was the emergence of three trends in the campaign. It is this that needs to be highlighted.

At the 2007 conference there were three imperfectly formed trends. The first was the Trotskyists who gathered together in the Democratic Socialist Alliance group, together with Gerry Downing and other comrades. Soon after they declared themselves the Trotskyist Tendency. The DSA lost their positions on the committee. At the opposite end of the spectrum was an alliance between myself and Moshé Machover as “revolutionary democratic communists” calling for an international party. We were a trend rather than a formal tendency.

However, a new trend appeared seeming to unite Critique supporters, including Hillel Ticktin, with CPGB. I will designate this trend as neo-Stalinist - which might seem odd, knowing the individuals concerned. Let me start by saying that in the past I considered the CPGB as post-Stalinist or ex-Stalinist. I do not used the ‘S’ word in relation to the CPGB, considering it less than useful or accurate. So let us revisit the history.

With the liquidation of the original CPGB, the Leninist faction took over its name with pride. For Trotskyists the old name was a badge of shame. The new CPGB proceeded to radically critique the former USSR. Despite the CPGB name and youthful connections to the New Communist Party, the CPGB was in essence Trotskyist in a Stalinist outer shell. It is not the outer appearance, but the inner essence that counts. We had the Stalinist party name combined with anti-Stalinist politics. However, to understand where we are today let us go back 10 years.

In 1998 the Revolutionary Democratic Group and the CPGB agreed to form the ‘Revolutionary Democratic Communist Tendency’. A first meeting was held on January 9 of that year. On January 31 a meeting in Conway Hall of the new organisation contained “members of the CPGB and the RDG, now part of the same tendency” (Weekly Worker February 12 1998).

A ‘Thesis on communist rapprochement’ was published. The first three points say:

“1. The aim of communist rapprochement is to unite the communists into a revolutionary democratic communist party, which contains within its ranks the advanced part of the working class.

2. Such a party must be organised around a revolutionary programme, on the basis of democratic centralism, including full faction rights for minority views.

3. Marx and Engels laid the ideological foundations for revolutionary working class politics, combining the ideas of revolutionary democracy with the aim of communism, and placing these ideas on a scientific basis” (Weekly Worker January 22 1998).

A four-point platform was published on the basic ideas of revolutionary democratic communism:

1. For revolutionary democracy - We hold a revolutionary democratic attitude to all questions of bourgeois democracy (eg, civil liberties, women’s rights, national question, racism, constitutional change, etc). We utilise bourgeois democracy, defend it against all anti-democratic forces, including the capitalists and the fascists. We seek to extend all democratic rights by mass struggle and revolutionary action. We consider the working class is the only genuinely democratic class under capitalism. We consider that the working class can become the leading force in society by championing the struggle for democracy.

2. For workers’ power - We support the democratic self-organisation of the working class in trade unions, workplaces and communities. We are in favour of workers’ control of all industries and services. We are in favour of replacing parliamentary democracy with a more advanced form of democracy, based on workplace councils electing delegates to a workers’ parliament. This must be defended by an armed working class organised as the state (ie, the dictatorship of the proletariat).

3. For international socialism - Socialism must be developed by the international organisation of the working class. Socialism is the transitional period between world capitalism and communism.

4. For world communism - Our aim is to abolish the world market system of capitalism and replace it by world communism. Communist society is a classless worldwide community based on global planning, cooperation and mutual solidarity between the people of the world.

This tendency did not survive. However, revolutionary democratic communism did not die. It was and remains an alternative to Stalinism and Trotskyism. It is inevitable it would revive within any CMP because over the last 20 years both Stalinism and Trotskyism have failed. It was at least on paper possible that the CPGB, RDG and Moshé Machover could have formed a trend as an alternative to Trotskyism. This would have meant a clearer and more principled ideological demarcation. The revolutionary democratic communists would have won the debate and probably a majority in the CMP. Our differences would than have focused on the question of an international party.

Instead, the dialectical interplay between Critique supporters and the CPGB produced a strange brew which I will call neo-Stalinism. Into the cauldron went the idea of a national communist party and out went Trotsky’s international party. On the other side in came economism and out went revolutionary democracy. Stir it all around and we have the national economist communist party fit for nothing more than socialism in one country.

It was as if we are having a party and instead of bringing the best wines, the guests brought the worst dregs they could find. If we drank this we’d be sick as pigs. Nobody felt like partying. In fact we now know that no neo-Stalinist tendency was formed. The brewers couldn’t agree on the recipe to be sent out to guests as a manifesto.

The fate of this manifesto is in the resolution put by the committee to Saturday’s conference. It says: “Members of the committee have not been able to produce an agreed manifesto, in large part because there is disagreement on the role of Stalinism, the attitude to Trotsky and the approach to Trotskyist groups. This disagreement will probably evaporate over a number of years, but it remains a source of division at the present time, preventing the production of a manifesto. It has become clear that a Marxist party requires more careful preparation and recruitment even before a call can be issued”.

The allegation of neo-Stalinism is thus both true and untrue. It was being tried by accident rather than design. But it failed. We should all be happy, breathing a collective sigh of relief. Unfortunately the failure seems to have produced demoralisation. But the working class is cheering about the failure of neo-Stalinism to get off the drawing board. Communists should be cheered up as well. Take heart, all is not lost.

Measured against what the CPGB and RDG achieved momentarily in 1998 the politics of the CMP is a massive retreat from revolutionary democracy. But 1998 was deficient in its conception of party. We have a legacy to overcome. Just as it might seem easier to build socialism in one country, or national socialism, than international socialism, it might seem ‘obvious’, easier and quicker to build a communist party in the UK than internationally.

A national communist party in Britain cannot work for practical as well as theoretical reasons. We need to win a significant majority of British Marxists before we would have a viable project. If not we are creating yet another Marxist ‘party’ in a marketplace jam-packed with them. We have more brands of Marxism on our shelves than soap powders in a supermarket.

In the UK the two biggest Marxist organisations by far are the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party. There is no prospect of launching a real communist party without them. Neither is there any prospect with them. There is no way either of these two organisations have any interest in launching a new party with the tiny forces we represent. They would be the overwhelming majority and we would be in another Trotskyist party. We might just as well go round their offices and ask if we can negotiate to join.

Trotsky was right in theory to try to build an international party. He was right even though he died trying and Trotskyism subsequently failed. The fundamental point is that an international party is not a collection of national parties, but a different animal. Apart from this we are living in a different world - a world of globalisation, with satellite and information technology. We have the technology that Trotsky could not have dreamed of when he struggled to build the Fourth International.

Opportunism tells us it is quicker, easier and promises more rapid results to build a national communist party first. We can speak the same language and can travel by car instead of the plane. But opportunism has imprisoned us in a two-stage model. The first stage is a national communist party before we can start on an international.

So if we are blocked in the UK the two-stage theory means we are blocked everywhere. The belief in two stages has left the CMP with no option but self-destruction. But it is not proven that we are blocked internationally.

At the start the conference should lift the suspension of John Pearson. In my view he should have been censored, not suspended. But if we are going to close he should be allowed his voice and vote.

Second, the resolutions of the revolutionary democrats should be taken, since they offer the only alternative that hasn’t been tried. If they fall there is little prospect for the CMP and the closure resolution should be taken. Only if that is defeated should we consider what to do with the alternative manifestos and the constitutional amendments. There is no point in discussing them until we know if there is a majority for closure.

Given that the CPGB took over the leadership of the CMP, closure will damage its credibility. It is in the interests of the CPGB not to throw in the towel prematurely. This means that all options should be tried and tested. The CMP should survive until the workings of its own democracy enable different options to be tried and succeed or fail.

We have tried over-optimism and anti-sectarian sectarianism. That failed. Now neo-Stalinism didn’t work and couldn’t work. Given the world crisis of capitalism, the time is ripe for international revolutionary democratic communism. If this is tried and fails, then nothing has been lost. Nobody can complain they were blocked by the special interests of the CPGB. If it succeeds, then communism is the winner and the CPGB’s much vaunted democracy has enabled it to come up smelling of roses.