Republican democracy, voting tactics, and communist strategy
Jack Conrad explains the approach of the CPGB's PCC
Not surprisingly the position adopted by the CPGB’s Provisional Central Committee for the June 4 European elections has proved highly controversial. Inevitably there has been pained outrage coming from sections of the soft left, especially, of course, the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, Socialist Party in England and Wales and their No2EU allies, camp followers and apologists.
More surprising perhaps has been the voices of dissent raised within the ranks of CPGB members. This has taken place on our internal e-caucus discussion forum. There have been dozens of to-and-fro exchanges. Comrades have not openly expressed themselves in the letters pages of the Weekly Worker, however. A pity. Maybe this reflects a wider cultural eclipse of the print media and considered thought by instant electronic communication. I hope not.
Either way, albeit in crude terms, we seem to have a large CPGB ultra-left, a large CPGB centre and a much smaller CPGB right wing. Of course, lines are blurred at the moment. Real discussion will begin after the June 4 poll.
Naturally the CPGB ultra-left is convinced of its revolutionary credentials, but is transparently eclectic and moralistic. More a mood than a viable political position. The centre is politically harder - though it too has its looser elements - and has the advantage of being organised. It exists around the PCC and argues from the accumulated writings of its members. As with the ultra-left, our right is eclectic. However, its main point of reference is the common sense of the mainstream, economistic left. Therefore it is far more important than its size would suggest.
What is our agreed position? The PCC is urging a conditional vote for the No2EU bloc if our conditions are substantially met - crucially by the candidate occupying the top place on the No2EU list, the only one with even a remote chance of being elected - failing which a critical Labour vote.
What conditions are we putting forward to the No2EU list? As its publicity material makes great play of resisting the “deeply racist Fortress Europe”, we say, apply that same principle to ‘Fortress Britain’ (no2eu.com/workersrights.html). Opposition to ‘Fortress Britain’ definitely symbolises internationalism and therefore serves to challenge the nationalist divisions that weaken, disarm and blind the working class.
No2EU candidates must unambiguously oppose immigration controls, the right of capital to control the flow of labour in the interests of Britain PLC. Without taking such an elementary stand the No2EU bloc reveals itself as being ideologically in thrall to little-Britain left nationalism. Ditto, the splendid slogan: ‘Yes to international solidarity of working people’, listed amongst No2EU’s articles of faith, is shown to be a hollow pretence.
Genuine communists, genuine revolutionary socialists, understand that our class is global and that the conditions required for its liberation are necessarily global. Axiomatic for Marxists. Logically it follows that we do not put national interests, not even the national interests of the working class, at the heart of our programme. The interests of the global working class must come first and foremost. As a basic principle that means supporting the right of people - all people, the black as well as the white, the poor as well as the rich - to work and live in the country of their choosing.
Not that communists welcome, celebrate or seek to encourage the painful uprooting forced upon millions and millions of people in the so-called third world by poverty, war and chronic lack of opportunity. That would be narrow-minded, not to say inhuman. Family ties, friends, and familiar surroundings matter. But people have the right to escape poverty, war, and chronic lack of opportunity by migrating; and the resulting intermixing of nationalities, the assimilation of political ideas and traditions, music, food, cultures, and personal experiences undoubtedly has a progressive side. Britain is certainly a far richer place to live in because of the post-World War II influx of migrants - including those coming from eastern Europe over the last few years.
The hoary old trick of parading one’s undying opposition to ‘racist’ immigration controls will not wash. The CPB, let us note, is programmatically committed to abolish “Immigration, asylum and nationality laws which institutionalise racism” and replacing them “by legislation that outlaws all forms of discrimination and guarantees equal opportunities to black people and other ethnic minorities”.1 Such advocates of ‘non racist’ immigration controls simultaneously claim to be committed internationalists and patriotic defenders of Britain from the threat of “unlimited” EU migration. Of course, nationalist internationalism, just like national socialism, is an oxymoron.
‘Non racist’ immigrations controls are in fact politically correct camouflage. The well placed ‘non racist’ fig leaf hides, disguises, tries to make palatable, what is in actual fact a narrow left-nationalist approach. If they were honest - a rarity - those who call for ‘non-racist’ immigration controls ought to take full political responsibility for the grim detention centres like Campsfield, the fences, razor wire and CCTVs, the early morning raids by police and immigration officials, the forcible removals and illegal, worst-paid labour that go hand in hand with immigration controls.
‘Non racist’ immigration controls would make not a jot of difference. Campsfield, police raids, deportations and illegal workers - all those abominations would continue, because ‘non-racist’ immigration controls are still immigration controls.
No2EU has a fuller title. Its registered name is ‘No2EU - Yes to democracy’. However, the No2EU website is exceedingly thin on concrete democratic demands. Apart from directing a few easy shots at Brussels and the Lisbon treaty there is an eerie silence when it comes to Westminster.
As No2EU’s central plank is withdrawal from the EU, its ‘Yes to democracy’ can only be seen as wanting a return to the constitutional situation prior to January 1 1973 and British accession. This is confirmed when No2EU says: “Defend democracy across Europe” and “Repatriate democratic powers to EU member-states”. What Hannah Sell, SPEW’s deputy general secretary, calls “this huge step forward” is in actual fact a harking back to 1972 and a “sovereign” monarchy, House of Commons, House of Lords, etc.
Comrade Sell actually half-admits this. Presumably with an eye on the CPB she writes: “There is … a danger that, while correctly attacking the lack of democracy in the EU, some supporters of the campaign can fall into giving the impression that the UK parliament is the alternative.” Attempting to establish the democratic credentials of SPEW, she warns that “A constitutional monarchy with an unelected second chamber, Britain is no model of democracy. Neither the House of Lords nor the monarchy is just a harmless tradition.”2
Why then is No2EU barely distinguishable from the United Kingdom Independence Party, the British National Party, etc when it comes to democracy? If “Britain is no model of democracy”, as comrade Sell correctly observes, SPEW ought to have demanded changes in No2EU’s platform. Failing that, a frank and authoritative article could easily have been published in The Socialist outlining criticisms. Or maybe SPEW simply failed to notice the “very limited” democratic demands in No2EU’s ‘Yes to democracy’ - that is, till Weekly Worker writers obligingly brought it to their attention. After all, the SPEW leadership has a long record of viewing democracy as unimportant, irrelevant or even a needless diversion from the so-called ‘real struggle’. SPEW is mired in economism and has, since abandoning its auto-Labourism, managed to turn itself into a useful vehicle for left trade union officialdom.
So in order to make things crystal clear, so as to leave not a shadow of doubt and to enable electors to see who exactly stands for what, the CPGB has done No2EU a favour and drawn up a short list of ‘Yes to democracy’ demands.
No2EU must forthrightly stand for republican democracy. Specifically, yes to the abolition of the monarchy and the second chamber; yes to annual parliaments with recallable MPs on a worker’s wage; yes to an end to the secret state; yes to a popular militia and the constitutional right to bear arms. Fulfil those conditions or the CPGB can offer no support.
Arms and the CPGB
Looking at No2EU’s Europhobia, little Britain nationalism, hypocrisy over immigration controls, fondness for the post-World War II social democratic settlement and harking back to the British constitution date-stamped 1972, some CPGB comrades - a mere handful admittedly - recoil in disgust.
They say, no support for the No2EU bloc whatsoever. The CPGB should accordingly urge voters to spoil their ballot papers or simply abstain. The revulsion is perfectly understandable. Indeed emotionally, as a gut instinct, I share it. But, as I shall explain below, the approach is tactically misconceived and politically brittle.
Most CPGB comrades have no problem with our conditional demands, though. There are minor quibbles, suggestions about adding this or that extra condition - for example, a European republic. But none provide a significantly sharper cutting edge. And, given that we are in the midst of an action (the EU elections are on June 4), there seems no compelling reason to alter our agreed conditions mid-course.
However, the most important objection to our list of conditions come from what I shall call the CPGB’s right wing. That is, those comrades who baulk at “for a popular militia and the constitutional right to bear arms”. It needs to be underlined that none of them object to the demand in and of itself. Of course not. It is, after all, included in the CPGB’s Draft programme, which all members are obliged to accept as the basis of agreed common actions.
No, what the comrades say is that putting forward the constitutional right to bear arms at this exact moment in time, under these precise conditions, to this particular constellation of political forces, is inept.
We are told that the CPGB is in danger of making itself appear foolish, making itself a laughing stock and - believe it or not - even adopting a sectarian approach worthy of ‘third period’ Stalinism (over the years 1929-35 ‘official communism’ refused to distinguish between social democrats and fascists). Indeed, the PCC stands accused of being collectively insane or something near as damn it.
Ordinary trade unionists will supposedly not understand our call for a popular militia. Leaders of SPEW, the Morning Star’s CPB and No2EU candidates will effortlessly dismiss us with the bog-standard argument that ‘people on the doorstep’ are not clamouring for AK47s (which, of course, is certainly true).
Leave aside the ‘effortlessly’, the comrades are quite right about SPEW and CPB leaders. They do, and will continue to, cite ‘people on the doorstep’ as justification for their opportunism and left reformism.
But actually our comrades, the CPGB’s right wing, themselves share the exact same political method and are in danger of following its associated logic. If pursued to its conclusion, this logic leads further and further to the right. That is, till the tipping point is finally reached where once former good leftwingers morph into respectable defenders of the established system, the monarchy, the British constitution and the sacred interests of capital. The House of Lords is stuffed full with these spiritual corpses.
In common parlance it is called the art of the possible. How does the argument typically go? Faced with leftwing demands - say for the immediate repeal of the Tory’s anti-trade unions laws - Labour prime ministers, rightwing Labour MPs and responsible trade union general secretaries alike appeal to ‘those out there’. That is, what the mass of the population think. A commitment to repeal the anti-trade union laws would not be popular, they say. And specially commissioned opinion polls and focus groups tell the same story. Come an election and voters would desert en masse and that would make Labour unelectable for a generation. A not unfounded warning.
In so-called ‘normal’ times - certainly in the absence of a mass Communist Party and a deeply embedded Marxist culture or, for that matter a sudden mass upsurge of militant action - public opinion is constantly managed, manipulated, directed, shaped and to a degree is actually decided by the education system, establishment religion, the well financed machines of the mainstream political parties and crucially the mass media, not least the Murdoch empire.
When John Rees was leading the Socialist Workers Party he used essentially the same argument and followed essentially the same logic in Respect. Thus he urged his SWP comrades to vote down a workers’ MP on a skilled worker’s wage, free movement and open borders, republican democracy, gay and lesbian rights, a women’s right to choose whether or not have an abortion, proletarian socialism (as defined in Socialist Worker’s very own ‘What we fight for’ column), etc.
And his comrades loyally did as they were told. There was not a murmur, not a squeak of public protest. Not from Chris Harman. Not from John Molyneux. Not from Neil Davidson. In the name of appearing sensible, keeping George Galloway and Yvonne Ridley on board and gaining the support of those ‘out there’ the SWP voted to abandon, or put aside, these and other such “shibboleths”. One after the other, they fell to the art of the possible. In the last analysis comrade Rees was echoing The Sun.
The communist method is entirely different. We do not begin by asking what ‘those out there’, the ‘people on the doorstep’, ‘ordinary trade unionists’, ‘the majority’, etc are supposed to think and then bring out our principles from the closet as mass support is gained in one election after another.
As I have shown, in practice no such thing happens. Instead of rolling out our pristine principles alongside mounting electoral success, the means employed result in bartering, whittling away and abandonment. In the end nothing remains of principles except an empty husk. That has been the history, the record, the fate of the Labour Party and opportunism everywhere. Moral-force Chartism, Alexander Millerand, Eduard Bernstein, Ramsay MacDonald, Rifondazione Comunista, Die Linke, Marxism Today, etc prove it.
No, the communist method begins with firm principles and then goes to the masses. “In our intransigent attitude lies our whole strength. It is this attitude that earns us the fear and respect of the enemy and the trust and support of the people” - so runs Rosa Luxemburg’s famous argument against the revisionists in the Social Democratic Party of Germany.3 Our aim is to win the majority to the principles of communism through an unremitting political struggle in the teeth of bourgeois hatred, slander and detestation. Necessarily, that must include taking on and overpowering the forces of opportunism within our ranks. Put another way, the ideological influence of the bourgeoisie, as filtered through the prism of the labour and trade bureaucracy, has to be defeated.
In general the left is extremely reluctant to discuss, let alone prioritise, democracy. Hence in the old Socialist Alliance the CPGB was alone in arguing for a stress to be squarely laid on democratic demands in our joint 2001 general election manifesto People before profit. The other five ‘main supporting organisations’ - SWP, SPEW, International Socialist Group, Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and Workers Power - insisted on economic questions. Routine trade union-type politics, in other words.
The prejudice is that the bourgeoisie long ago fulfilled its historic mission to introduce democracy. Raising democratic demands is thought of as being unnecessary and to all intents and purposes diversionary.
Utter nonsense, of course. The bourgeoisie is not a democratic class. And to the extent that democracy and democratic rights have been gained in countries like Britain it is entirely due to mass actions, demands and pressures, crucially by the organised working class.
Democracy is the “rule of the people, by the people, for the people” (Abraham Lincoln was right). Therefore in Britain, US, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, etc, democracy is limited, flawed and incomplete and can only be completed, made real when classes and private property are finally abolished.
Hence our insistence that socialism and democracy are not opposed. Far from it. Socialism represents victory in the battle for democracy. That is why Marxists proudly call themselves extreme democrats.
So-called bourgeois democracy embodies real gains made by the working class. However, as ideologically colonised by the bourgeoisie, democracy is also a means of fooling and lulling the masses, reconciling them to the rule of capital and instilling loyalty to the nation-state.
They are told, and often believe, that they are the sovereign power in the land. Yet the coexistence of billionaires and wage-slavery makes a complete mockery of the idea that everyone is equal. More than that, there are all manner of checks and balances against democracy: the monarchy, House of Lords, the presidential prime minister and patronage, the courts and judicial review, the secret state, the police and the armed forces.
No2EU is no different from the mainstream, economistic left. But it ought to be, not least because it is politically underpinned and intellectually directed by the ideas of ‘official communism’. Its programme, The British road to socialism, has a long pedigree dating back to the mid-1930s. In point of fact, it is a British version of Joseph Stalin’s socialism in one country. Strange though it may seem to those new to politics, the BRS - rechristianed Britain’s road to socialism by the CPB - bases itself on the reformist notion that existing democratic forms - crucially parliament - can and should be improved, moved forward, built into a socialist powerhouse through securing an ever more leftwing majority in parliament (the Labour Party was once considered crucial). In the process undemocratic excrescences and encumbrances are to be discarded. Driven by a suitably transformed state machine, nationalisation will be remorselessly extended till capitalism is finally banished and the Socialist Republic of Great Britain is established through a historically momentous vote in the House of Commons.
Peter Taaffe, SPEW’s general secretary, shares similar illusions. Once he envisaged a Labour government enacting an “enabling act” which would at a stroke nationalise the “top 200 monopolies, banks and insurance companies”.4 Meanwhile - and this is the main point - the courts, armed forces and the police are presumed to be either loyal to parliament or powerless to act contrary to its wishes because of mass support for the socialist government. “The capitalists would not be able to put up a serious resistance,” he assures readers.5 Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, etc branded such politics “parliamentary cretinism”.
Nevertheless, it is clear that Robert Griffiths, CPB general secretary, should experience no problem whatsoever in calling for the abolition of the monarchy and House of Lords. Indeed he should be an enthusiast. Ditto Peter Taaffe. What of Bob Crow? He is not only RMT general secretary, a former executive committee member of Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party and No2EU’s dictator. Before that he was prominent in the CPB and today the CPB leadership once again has his ear.
Hence No2EU’s ‘Yes to democracy’ is famished due to oversight and an abiding CPB obsession with British sovereignty and withdrawal from the EU. At least that is my suspicion. Whatever the case, though, the ‘Yes to democracy’ subtitle provides an excellent opportunity for the CPGB to promote our programme of republican democracy. It allows us to show that democracy is no diversion from the struggle for socialism. Rather it is the means to achieve socialism - though in our case we begin not with leaving Europe, and possible economic meltdown: rather winning Europe.
What about the constitutional right to bear arms and the formation of a popular militia? Here is a real stumbling block for SPEW, CPB and Bob Crow. Why? Because they are all committed not to republican, but reformist democracy.
Reformist democracy would rid Britain of the monarch, House of Lords and the Church of England as the established church. That is true. At least that is the promise. However, it would leave in place the British armed forces. Frankly, an open invitation for a British version of Augusto Pinochet to launch a bloody counterrevolution. In Chile thousands of leftwingers were slaughtered after the 1973 army coup which overthrew the Socialist Party-Communist Party Popular Unity reformist government under president Salvador Allende.
So is raising the question of arms today crazy, insane or tactically inept? No, hardly. CPGB election candidates have always sought to popularise the demand for a militia. See my little book In the enemy camp (1993). Our ‘Communist manifesto’ for the 1992 general election is quite explicit: “For the right of the population to arm itself!”6 We have also sought to persuade allies to do the same. Eg, in the old Socialist Alliance. The SWP wheeled out Chris Harman to oppose us.
Let those who say we have lost our collective marbles ponder this. It is a well known fact that the US constitution embodies this right. We defend and readily concur with the second amendment, which was ratified to popular acclaim in 1791: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”7
Those who made the American revolution - crucially the urban and rural masses - saw a standing army as a threat to democracy. At great sacrifice they had overthrown the tyranny of George III and were determined to do the same again if an unacceptable government arose in the United States. Without “a well regulated militia” that would be impossible.
And note, in purely legal terms, the ideologues of the American revolution - Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay et al - based their defence of the right to bear arms on English law, not least article 61 of the 1215 version of the Magna Carta. So there is nothing alien, nothing foreign, nothing crazy about the right to bear arms.
What is actually crazy is surely leaving the British army to stand guard over our ‘Yes to democracy’ (unless it amounts to nothing more than a pathetic harking back to 1972). Why trust the thoroughly undemocratic British army? An armed body which relies on inculcating unthinking military discipline in the ranks. An institution run by an upper middle class and aristocratic officer caste which is trained, from public school to Sandhurst, to loyally serve the crown. The monarch and the monarchy being a potent symbol, an ever-present excuse for a legal coup.
Why trust the British army, which has fought countless imperial wars, up to and including the latest adventure in Afghanistan? A British army that has been used when necessary to intimidate, threaten and crush the working class. Remember 1819 and Peterloo, the 1926 General Strike and the 2002-03 firefighters’ strike.
Labour mark two
Despite Tony Blair, New Labour and the marginalisation of the left, the Labour Party is still a bourgeois workers’ party. That is the agreed assessment of the CPGB and its Draft programme. Most of the big trade unions are affiliated and most workers with some level of class-consciousness continue to give their vote to Labour candidates.
For communists the Labour Party remains a key site of intervention and struggle. It is one of the battlegrounds where we must learn how to fight. Not, it should be emphasised, in order to persuade Labour machine politicians to lead the socialist transformation in Britain, but, on the contrary, in order to win the working class base away from the trade union and labour bureaucracy.
SPEW refuses any longer to accept the scientific designation of the Labour Party that seeks to capture its contradictions as a political formation: ie, a bourgeois workers’ party (a term that originates with Engels). Indeed Peter Taaffe’s organisation has gone from deep entry and auto-Labourism when it was Militant to auto-anti-Labourism now that it is SPEW. Nowadays SPEW lumps the Labour Party together with the Liberal Democrats and the Tories. They are all bourgeois parties. In response SPEW sponsored the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party (though it proved stillborn).
The CPB is divided down the middle on this strategic question. The Griffiths wing vaguely talks of a “new party of labour”, as does comrade Crow (the RMT was disaffiliated from the Labour Party in 2004). Meanwhile, the slightly larger traditionalist wing of the CPB, grouped around international secretary John Foster and Anita Halpin, the millionaire backer of the Morning Star, remain doggedly loyal to the old BRS perspective of gaining sway over the Labour Party through bringing to bear the full weight of the trade unions.
Quite clearly No2EU is a testing ground for a “new party of labour”. And, typical of such projects, it is envisaged to be a Labour Party mark two. Organisationally it will resemble old Labour and politically it will resemble old Labour too. Towards that end both the CPB and SPEW shift the face they present to the public further and further to the right.
True, this still puts No2EU far to the left of Gordon Brown and the Labour government. However, the underlying rightist dynamic of No2EU is unmistakable. SPEW is a right-centrist formation but is moving further and further to the right, given No2EU. Comrade Taaffe’s SPEW is far more effective than the sleepy CPB. However, ideological hegemony is being exercised by the CPB. There is nothing socialist about No2EU. Yes, it is pro-worker. But pro-worker only in terms of bettering the position of wage-slaves.
Hence, in the midst of the biggest economic crisis capitalism has experienced since the 1930s, the CPB, SPEW and their No2EU allies are not using the June 4 election to make propaganda even for their own bureaucratic and national versions of socialism. The EU is presented as the main enemy and capitalism goes more or less unmentioned.
Those who think a No2EU party is a “huge step forward” (Hannah Sell) are kidding themselves. Boasts about the RMT’s backing are also misplaced. The Labour Party has the backing of the TUC and the affiliation of any number of trade unions (including those under the leadership of left reformists who are politically in essence no different from brother Crow).
Creating a tiny Labour Party is a complete diversion. And the chances are that a No2EU party would actually have less democratic space available within it for communists than the real thing. Bob Crow has already issued his bans and proscriptions - he named the SWP, AWL and CPGB. Neither the CPB nor SPEW objected. The wishes of the RMT “must be respected”. So No2EU is run bureaucratically. Not to say dictatorially. And, of course, things develop according to their own logic.
Our offer of conditional support is real. We want to shift No2EU, or at least elements within it, to the left. Acceptance by the No2EUo’s leading candidates of our package of conditions - on immigration controls and democracy - would be good, a ‘small step forward’ if you like.
The conditions I have outlined above are also intended, however, to facilitate communist intervention. They are designed to act like arrows, aimed at No2EU’s weak points and fault lines. Our intention is to highlight and bring out into the open the big differences that exist within No2EU and bring about engagement with our full programme in the rank and file of the CPB and SPEW. Some of them sincerely think of themselves as revolutionary Marxists standing in the tradition of Bolshevism. An obvious focus for fruitful and constructive discussion is our perspective for winning working class rule over a democratic Europe. Our book Remaking Europe (2004) could certainly be useful in this respect.
But the main question for us is the crying need for a mass Marxist party, a Communist Party. Capitalism’s economic crisis, along with the mounting political crisis gripping the House of Commons, points not to a tiny Labour Party, but a party that can really lead the working class to the conquest of state power and the supersession of the market and whole system of capital and wage labour.
Indeed that goal had determined the many and various tactics we have employed throughout our history as an organisation. Of course, our tactics constantly vary. Communists understand that tactics are subordinate to our principles and overall strategy for bringing about socialism and human liberation.
Circumstances constantly change. Hence those comrade on the left who complain that we said one thing tactically in June 1983, another in June 1987, another in April 1992, another in May 1997, another in June 2001 and yet another in May 2005 have failed to grasp the ABC of communist politics. Firmness in principles, flexibility in tactics. That is our motto.
Labour mark one
To underline the futility of forming a diminutive Labour Party mark two and the necessity of communist work in the real Labour Party mark one, the PCC is calling for a Labour vote on June 4 if No2EU lead candidates refuse to agree to our conditions. We view this as a class vote and a means of furthering our political programme.
Of course, we are more than aware that in the Euro election the list of Labour candidates will almost certainly be chemically pure Blairite and Bownite clones from top to bottom. Nevertheless, we say give them critical support. That must include exposing how corruption, cronyism and pro-capitalism dates back to the earliest days of the Labour Party, so that those electors we influence will not only have no illusion in Brown’s group of toadies in the European parliament, but no illusions in the Labour Party as a vehicle for socialism either.
This tactic has been the main source of complaints coming from the CPGB’s ultra-left. Some comrades argue as if a Labour vote would sully us. This is worrying because it shows a fear not only of the ‘unpleasant’ little tactical manoeuvres that are always necessary in political activity, but an inability to contemplate the huge about-turns that will undoubtedly be forced upon us by life itself in the future. Lenin called such leftism “childish”, though in fact leftism is a chronic, not a passing problem, in the communist movement.
We are, for example, innocently told that we cannot vote Labour because it is an imperialist party (it surely has been since 1914). The Iraq invasion is cited, along with the ongoing adventure in Afghanistan. Two world wars and countless colonial wars fought under Labour governments could just as easily be cited.
Why, we are asked, along the same lines, did we search out anti-war Labour candidates in May 2005 but not today? The threat to invade Iraq triggered a massive, surely unprecedented, anti-war movement, which also saw the ruling class deeply divided. True, the upsurge had somewhat subsided by the time of the 2005 general election. But it still existed and exerted a powerful political influence. As it turned out, we could only find four Labour candidates who would take a principled ‘troops out now’ stand. That included John McDonnell. Four was much less than we expected and testimony to the ‘return to normalcy’.
Should we employ the same tactics in June 2009? True, British troops are still fighting, but the mass movement has to all intents and purposes evaporated. The Afghan war is not the same as the threat to invade Iraq over Saddam Hussein’s so-called weapons of mass destruction. A million demonstrated against the Iraq war. By contrast Stop the War Coalition can only mobilise a few thousand nowadays over Afghanistan. The British role in the Iraq occupation has officially ended and the war in Afghanistan has a degree of popular support. Al Qa’eda and September 11 2001 ensured that. Afghanistan has the character of the countless little wars fought by the British army since 1945 - Kenya, Aden, Malaysia, Cyprus, etc.
In the absence of a mass anti-war movement there is no chance of splitting Labour’s June 4 Euro candidates over the issue. That much must surely be obvious.
The arguments of our ultra-left strikes me as nearer moralism than the communist politics which as a matter of principle never automatically rules anything out or automatically rules anything in when it comes to tactics. It is quite possible, for example, to imagine weird circumstances where communists urge the electorate to cast their votes for out-and-out petty bourgeois or bourgeois candidates. The Bolsheviks did. In the tsarist electoral system their comrades did deals with the Socialist Revolutionary Party, the Cadets, etc. But today, while we say vote for a bourgeois workers’ party (if No2EU sticks to its horrid rightism), there is no need, no advantage in opting for the Greens, Plaid Cymru or the Scottish National Party.
We are perfectly aware that the Labour Party has a consistent pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist record. Nothing new. But that hardly makes Labour untouchable. Lenin, after all, urged the newly formed CPGB not only to vote Labour, but seek affiliation to it. His aim, like ours, is to support Labour “like the rope supports the hanging man” (see Lenin ’s ‘Leftwing’ communism an infantile disorder). That despite the Labour Party having just participated in the war cabinet of David Lloyd George.
Through internal and public debate, through patient education, through joint practical work I am sure the CPGB will overcome both the rightism and ultra-leftism that have recently manifested themselves. The global financial and economic crisis, the relentless decay of the opportunist left, the threat of runaway global climate change, ever growing ‘third world’ poverty, the political crisis over corruption in Britain give us every reason to believe that the forces of communism can rapidly go from strength to strength.
2. Socialism Today May 2009.
4. T Grant, P Taaffe and L Walsh The state London 1983, p32.
5. Ibid p33.
6. J Conrad In the enemy camp London 1993, p113.