Something serious needed

Most CMP members decided it was time to move on and close it down, writes Mary Godwin

The Campaign for a Marxist Party has been disbanded. This is a necessary step backwards, if we are to go forward on a serious basis in 2009.

The 2008 annual general meeting, held in London on December 6, agreed a motion proposed by the national committee to dissolve the campaign. As the motion explains, some members of the CMP intend to establish a committee in the new year with the aim of promoting the study of Marxism and the unity of Marxists as Marxists. Not the unity of Marxists in  yet another crazy halfway house project.

It should be noted that the CPGB’s Provisional Central Committee had previously decided to mobilise enough comrades to provide a large minority bloc, but no more. We urged other comrades, including Hillel Ticktin, not to bother travelling to London (in comrade Ticktin’s case all the way from Glasgow), as our agreed joint aim was the closure of the CMP. As it turned out, however, CPGB comrades constituted a clear majority. Nevertheless, we there to explain, not to force through votes without proper debate. Hence the AGM began at 11am and did not finish till around 4pm.

The first motion on the agenda was from the Democratic Socialist Alliance. It proposed to reverse the “purported” decision, taken by the national committee meeting in May, to suspend DSA leader John Pearson from CMP membership. Disgracefully he had threatened to “lamp” a comrade at the last AGM. This motion was not debated until comrade Pearson arrived. Because he was delayed, financial, membership and political reports were taken in the meantime.

Success and failure

Nick Rogers gave the membership and financial report. Since last year membership had shrunk by about 40%. The DSA’s Phil Walden asked if those who had not renewed had been contacted (two had resigned). Comrade Rogers replied that when contacted some of them claimed never to have been members. So the membership list passed on by the previous committee may have been unreliable.

Of the £907.67 total expenditure in 2008, £210 was for travel expenses of speakers at London CMP public meetings, and £235 was for room costs of these eight meetings. The DSA’s Dave Spencer challenged the appropriateness of this expenditure, arguing that the London group should fund its own meetings. Comrade Rogers replied that the London meetings were advertised in the Weekly Worker and on the CMP website, were open to everyone, and were effectively national meetings. In any case, no CMP activity took place anywhere else apart from a couple of meetings that had been held in Glasgow.

John Bridge’s political report repeated the points made in Mark Fischer’s December 4 Weekly Worker article, describing the unrealistic expectations of some of the founders of the CMP. But the main problem was the anarcho-bureaucratism of most of those who constituted the first national committee. After being decisively defeated at the last AGM, they had gone on to work as a thoroughly disloyal and undisciplined opposition.

The majority of the CMP’s first national committee - made up entirely of those who volunteered - had treated the organisation as a proto-party. More than that, they wanted to put in place all kinds of bureaucratic rules and regulations. In essence to police or prevent political debate. However, once in opposition, these comrades reverted to anarchy. Eg, publishing the CMP’s journal Marxist Voice as their own.

Some useful work has happened over the last year. The CMP was one of the sponsors of both Communist University and the fringe meetings at the Socialist Workers Party’s Marxism - both successful events. Numbers attending London CMP meetings have varied from a dozen to near a hundred. Debates have included Bill Jeffries of Permanent Revolution and Hillel Ticktin on the capitalist downturn; and Sean Matgamna of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and the CMP’s Moshé Machover on Israel and the threat to bomb Iran.

However, especially given the challenges thrown up by the current economic crisis of capitalism and the divisive atmosphere which now exists within the CMP, it is time to swiftly move on. In the considered opinion of the national committee, the CMP constitutes a barrier to the objective of building the unity of Marxists on a principled basis. An appeal/organisation will be launched in early 2009.

Inevitably, discussion of this report provided an opportunity for reiterating some threadbare complaints. Comrade Spencer, for example, claimed that he and his co-thinkers have been misrepresented in Weekly Worker articles. He said his DSA - which claims to be the continuation of the old Socialist Alliance - does not believe in halfway house parties and advocates neither running in elections nor having People before profit as a programme. He also complained that the first national committee had been portrayed as a bunch of drunkards.

Later, funnily enough, he and his other DSA comrades flatly contradicted this. The DSA is committed to a “twin-track strategy” and did propose that the old Socialist Alliance’s election manifesto be used as the basis of programmatic discussions in the CMP. Moreover, he himself had talked about standing or supporting candidates last year because a general election was thought to be imminent. As to the drunkenness charge, this, of course, exists entirely in comrade Spencer’s head. Jack Conrad simply made the point in a Weekly Worker report that alcohol impairs political judgement and that the CMP national committee should discourage drinking at its meetings. No-one was accused of being drunk - certainly not comrade Spencer.

However, the fact that these sorts of baseless complaints are made time and time again served to reinforce the case as to why the CMP is so discredited and why it is time for something altogether more serious.

Lamps out

When John Pearson finally arrived, the debate was held on the motion to revoke his suspension. Again the fact that the CMP was presented with such a motion shows why it was right to close down the organisation.

Moving the motion, Phil Walden of the DSA said the decision to suspend Pearson, taken by the three committee members present at the May 11 meeting, was unjust, bureaucratic and motivated by the political interests of the CPGB, which has allegedly verbally abused and harassed Pearson over a long period. Actually the CPGB considers John Pearson to be rather sorry character. He is certainly his own worst enemy.

Without a code of conduct which lays down what is and is not acceptable, the committee can have no power to discipline members - that was the core of comrade Walden’s ‘argument’. Trying to turn the tables, he insisted that the CPGB sanctions the kind of verbal abuse and personal insult which should have no place in a Marxist organisation. It was akin to a physical assault. Comrade Walden concluded that, although Pearson has admitted in private that his threat to “lamp” a fellow CMP member who described him as a “political idiot” was wrong, he was not willing to apologise publicly to a “kangaroo court”. But he would be willing to negotiate with a properly constituted committee with rules and accountability.

Speaking for himself, Pearson refused to retract his threat of violence or apologise for it. He said we do not accept such insults from bosses and he would not accept it from a CPGB puppet. His manner throughout was that of someone determined to paint himself a victim.

In the debate CPGB speakers argued that, as Pearson had justified and effectively repeated his threats of violence, the suspension from CMP membership could not be rescinded. Mark Fischer said the suggestion that verbal abuse leads inevitably to physical abuse is utter nonsense. There should be no place for violence or threats of violence amongst Marxists.

Peter Manson said that Pearson’s refusal to apologise for or withdraw his threat of violence and his attempt despite this to play the martyr amply demonstrated that the “political idiot” label was rather apt.

Other CPGB speakers described as disingenuous the DSA’s attempt to conflate the case of Pearson with the debate about the desirability of a code of conduct. The CPGB continues to forthrightly reject any such code, which would have the effect of censoring debate. It would be a bureaucrat’s dream. Comrade Mike Macnair rejected assertions that perceived ‘verbal abuse’ can be clearly distinguished from political argument. Calling someone a Stalinist, for example, is a vile insult to some, but objective political analysis to others. Comrade Machover said he had originally agreed with the suggestion of having a code of conduct, but now accepted that it is not a good idea.

Comrade Gerry Downing - who had just split from the CMP’s Trotskyist Tendency partly because of the DSA’s thoroughly unhealthy attitude towards the CPGB and other CMP comrades - pointed out that it was surreal to spend so much time arguing over whether someone should be readmitted to an organisation which is about to be closed down. But he completely disowned all threats of violence and accused those who complained of insulting language of hypocrisy. He had just been called a “viper”, “a traitor” and other such choice words.

Anyway, after a full debate, because of Pearson’s stubborn refusal to withdraw his threat - even after being offered a final opportunity to do so - the motion to reverse his suspension was overwhelmingly defeated, with only three voting in favour.

Marxists as Marxists

After a short break for lunch the motion to dissolve the CMP was proposed by comrade Macnair on behalf of the national committee.

He said we have to recognise that the CMP has failed. Partly because in the current objective conditions the farcical results of the attempt to act as a proto-party discredits the idea of a Marxist party; and partly because of the profound political differences between the DSA minority and the CPGB, which make it impossible for the two groups to work together in such an organisation. Hence we should abandon the CMP and reform as a discussion group with a founding membership consisting of serious Marxists.

At the start of the day Steve Freeman - another halfway house advocate - had agreed to points 4 to 6 of his proposed emergency resolution being taken as an amendment to this motion. So he spoke next. Comrade Freeman said it was clear from the events of the day that his proposal for a special meeting in January to consider the closure of the CMP would not be accepted. He said what has failed is the national committee in its attempt to develop a unified manifesto.

Phil Sharpe of the DSA agreed, arguing that any member - himself or comrade Freeman, for example - should have had the right to contribute to the process of drafting the manifesto. Yassamine Mather, who chaired the conference, firmly denied that the proposal to dissolve the CMP had anything to do with the disagreements in the manifesto drafting committee. Comrade Bridge confirmed this and argued that the current CMP is not a suitable structure in which to continue discussions about how to unite Marxists.

Comrade Downing said that, although it is true that we are generals without armies, we should still put the struggle first and ideas second. He added that he would like to hear more about the committee suggested by the CPGB and its allies. Comrade Freeman said that if anyone is to be allowed to join it, we will be having the same arguments in a year’s time. But if, as seems likely, it is to be an ‘invitation only’ organisation, then it is simply a backdoor way of “expelling” people the CPGB does not agree with, such as himself. Comrade Walden warned that an abstract discussion forum which excludes people you disagree with cannot go anywhere, and comrade Sharpe accused the CPGB of liquidating the campaign “at the very moment when the CMP could start to relate to the world”.

Replying, comrade Macnair said the conference itself had illustrated why the proposal to shut down the CMP is correct. It was supposed to be a campaign, but cannot engage in common political action because of the elementary difference between the advocates of freedom of expression and those who want a code of conduct to control and limit debate; because of the endless debate about whether to found a Marxist party - of Marxists as Marxists - or a halfway house; and because of the inability of a minority to work constructively with the CPGB. It was necessary to split. Comrade Peter Manson said closing the CMP will hopefully take the debate about Marxism into a better forum with no illusions as to the stage we are at.

Comrade Freeman’s amendment was rejected and the motion to dissolve the CMP was accepted with six against. As the conference had voted to dissolve the CMP, the remaining motions were dropped and the conference was concluded.

On part two of the motion, dealing with the reimbursement of CMP members and subscribers to Marxist Voice, comrade Rogers said once subscribers were repaid the remaining funds would come to about £2 per member. Comrade Bridge proposed donating this money to Hands Off the People of Iran. This was agreed. Comrade Rogers said any member who does not want their share to go to Hopi can contact him to claim it.