Less than convincing
Gareth Phillips reports from No2EU's Swansea meeting
Communist Party of Britain general secretary Rob Griffiths and Socialist Party executive member and victimised shop steward Rob Williams spoke to a gathering of around 25 people at the Swansea leg of the No2EU tour of Wales on May 28. It proved to be an interesting event.
The opening remarks from both speakers were somewhat predictable. Rob Griffiths spoke of the need to counter the lack of democracy in the EU by building an organisation to the left of New Labour. Comrade Williams, who has recently been sacked by Linamar in Swansea, where he was Unite convenor, and is currently involved in a big campaign for his reinstatement, also spoke of workers’ unity generally and why it was important to support No2EU as a way of achieving that unity. Although mentioning its “limitations”, he added that it was essential to build this campaign in order to construct a “proper party” subsequent to the European elections.
In their interventions from the floor, CPGB comrades spoke of the importance of political clarity for any organisation claiming to advance workers’ rights. Although No2EU’s platform pays lip service to internationalism, it is entirely centred on the demand for a return to the ‘sovereignty’ of European Union member-states in opposition to the EU, argued Bob Davies. In other words, pure nationalism. If No2EU candidates were to be supported, it was essential they committed themselves to a concrete manifestation of the internationalism they claimed to adhere to - by clearly stating their opposition not just to Fortress Europe, but also to Fortress Britain - ie, for open borders.
Comrade Davies went on to ask the speakers what they meant by ‘Yes to democracy’. Would they support the principles of republican democracy - specifically the abolition of the monarchy and the House of Lords, an end to state secrecy, recallable MPs on a worker’s wage elected to annual parliaments, and the right to bear arms?
None of these points were dismissed out of hand by comrades from the floor, but none were dealt with specifically either. The question of arms in particular was either ignored or simply lost in debate. Although the SP comrades generally echoed comrade Williams’ vague line on No2EU’s “limitations”, they did so in a manner that suggested it was a starting point for something bigger and better. They understood the CPGB’s concerns over the platform, but these could be corrected after the election.
CPB members made less significant interventions, although one comrade spoke of the need to adopt ”intermediate demands” to strengthen British capitalism and to make it more competitive for the British working class before overthrowing it! But this in no way conflicted with internationalism, the comrade insisted.
The replies from the top table were revealing. Comrade Williams was keen to outline his socialist credentials. While quick to dismiss the CPB comment about British competitiveness, and “broadly” agreeing the points raised by the CPGB, he did not specifically deal with any of them, apart from saying:. ”We are for workers’ democracy and a workers’ Europe. That includes the right for workers to choose where they wish to be.” When asked from the floor what he understood by a workers’ Europe, he replied we need to overthrow capitalism to establish workers’ rights.
The response from comrade Griffiths was a little different. He stated it was important to bring politics back into the arena of bourgeois democracy. The nation-state was better than the thoroughly non-democratic EU, he said. The debate about economic and political power needs to be brought back to parliament where it belonged.
In reply to the questions raised by comrade Davies, his response was more vitriolic: “What are the CPGB up to?” he asked. The right to bear arms had “nothing to do with real struggle” This was a CPGB “provocation that presented a gift to the British state”, Griffiths continued. “If we advocate arming the class MI5 will be around straight away.”
Concerning republican democracy, the general secretary of the CPB was equally scathing: “The CPGB knows the position of the CPB on democracy,” he said. “We are against immigration controls - take the time to read it!” The CPGB also knows the CPB’s position on the monarchy and the House of Lords - something else we should “take the time to read” about. As for a worker’s wage for elected representatives, he had “already said” he was for “an average wage for working class politicians”.
Comrade Griffiths seems to believe that a combination of aggressive sarcasm and deliberately non-specific assertion is sufficient to win over all and sundry. It is not. The majority of those present must surely have been less than convinced by his performance.