Their crisis and our response
Mohsen Sabbagh reports on the recent CPGB members' aggregate meeting
April 19 CPGB members’ aggregate saw comrades come together to debate the current recession, the way forward for Hands Off the People of Iran and the CPGB fund drive. Mike Macnair began proceedings with a discussion on the current economic crisis and the left’s response.
Comrade Macnair began by pointing out that in recent weeks it has been suggested that we are starting to see ‘green shoots’: markets appear to be stabilising, credit is easing and there has been a very slight bounce in house prises. All in all, this has led to the opinion on the part of some commentators that the current crisis has bottomed out and we are gradually starting to come out of it. Comrade Macnair argued that this is by no means certain. His opinion was that the current crisis cannot be judged on a national basis, but instead calls for a dynamic, global analysis. The methodology employed has to take into account the relationships between imperialist and colonial - or ‘core’ and ‘peripheral’ - countries, as there is a vast flow of capital from the ‘periphery’ to the ‘core’, and vast flows of investment in the opposite direction.
The severity of this global crisis will continue to differ in its effects, depending on a number of factors, including a country’s place in the international pecking order. The UK and US will be left relatively better off than continental Europe and far better off than the eastern European bloc - the losses of the “financial core will be externalised to periphery countries”, as he put it. This will, of course, create huge instability in these countries and make external intervention (in several possible forms) more likely.
Comrade Macnair then went on to argue that for the working class the current crisis is not going to produce a “world-reversing event”. Neither are we going to see a bourgeois response that aims to raise the living standards of workers through Keynesian measures. The only way the living standards of the working class will increase is as a result of pressure from below. He was not referring to the threat of “bankers being hung from lampposts” at events like the G20 protests, but rather to the our class’s organisational capacity and the fear this produces in the bourgeoisie of the emergence of a mass movement. As the working class has been in retreat for so long and is still in retreat today, this threat is currently not very real. This makes moves towards the construction of a party capable of transforming the situation all the more urgent.
Comrade Nick Rogers led off the discussion and agreed with the sentiment that ‘peripheral’ states will suffer more than those at the ‘core’, but he said this will have a mitigating effect on how the crisis unfolds in the ‘core’ countries. This idea was also supported by comrade Phil Kent. However, due to the fact that this is a global recession and that all countries are in decline, and due to the fact the ‘core’ will attempt to pass off its losses, he thought the ‘periphery’ countries are going to see a faster decline than the ‘core’ and as such the USA could actually become relatively stronger rather than opening the way for China to start to replace it as the global hegemon, as has been suggested. Comrade Yassamine Mather agreed - bourgeois economics have been pointing to China as the saviour of capitalism and this is something the left needs to challenge.
Taking up the point that the task of communists must be to build a mass organisation from the base, comrade Rogers argued that the working class was far too weak to be able to effectively organise - Thatcherism and neoliberalism had seen to that. Comrade Rogers went on to argue that it is crude to believe that the recession will automatically help the workers’ movement to revive. There is no substitute for organisation - without which the recession is just as likely to produce a rightwing response. But comrade Simon Wells said that we had just witnessed a wave of direct action in response to both the economic crisis and the threat of catastrophic climate change.
Comrade Peter Manson said that the failing markets, the collapse of the banks, etc has destroyed the idea of capitalism progressing “onwards and upwards”. People are now questioning the system and objectively there is space for a Marxist alternative. However, the subjective failure of the left is there for all to see and our task remains that of fighting for a single working class party. Comrade Ben Lewis agreed with this and argued that the struggle itself will decide what emerges.
Comrade Mark Fischer agreed that practical politics will decide, but he pointed out that the very idea of a party has been discredited because of the sectarian and undemocratic practice of the left. The crisis could well further entrench sectarian attitudes, with the left continuing to see the current situation as an opportunity to recruit new members to their own ‘party’.
Comrade Mather introduced the session on Hands Off the People of Iran by arguing that in the short term very little has changed for the people of Iran. She said that that the theocratic regime is continuing to use imperialist threats to its own advantage - Israel, for example, is continuing to make bellicose noises. The main worry for Israel, though, is that a ‘reformist’ will be elected in the upcoming Iranian elections and that the new US administration will start to normalise its relations with Tehran, which Israel fears will undermine its own pivotal influence in the Middle East. Comrade Mather said that Hopi must demonstrate the validity of its politics for the entire region - something that had been emphasised by Israel’s actions in Gaza.
Many comrades said it was important to continue to oppose the exclusion of Hopi from the Stop the War Coalition, and the CPGB will move a motion to that effect at the April 25 STWC annual conference.
The aggregate heard a motion from comrade Rogers that the category of candidate member of the Provisional Central Committee be abolished. Although the current PCC has no candidate members, the CPGB membership has elected them in the past - they have speaking, but not voting, rights at PCC meetings. Comrade Rogers raised two objections: firstly that the existence of candidate members had made no practical difference, as PCC decisions are normally reached through consensus; and secondly the accountability of candidate members might be problematic. He went on to say that he was not pushing the issue to a vote and perhaps the question should be revisited next time there was an election to the PCC.
Comrade Fischer argued that the matter has been approached from the wrong angle - whilst the existence of two PCC membership categories could lead to abuse, he argued that just about every other democratic process could too. What really matters is our democratic culture. The concern raised by the motion was real, but abolishing candidate membership merely serves to remove an option from the CPGB membership.
Fund and website
The aggregate heard a brief report from comrade Fischer on the progress of the fund drive and plans to relaunch the website. Both had suffered further delays because of our recent office move, but he was confident that he would have real progress to report on both questions by the time of the next aggregate in June.