Ending of CPB truce

Dave Lynch expects full ‘vote Labour’ mode

September 27 cannot have been the best day for Robert Griffiths, general secretary of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain.

Speaking on Saturday September 26 at the latest Convention of the Left talking shop in Brighton, the comrade assured his audience that the CPB would be involved in ‘son of No2EU’ (ie, whatever general election bloc emerged from the formation that contested June’s European elections). This the CPB would do while fighting for the return of a Labour government and supporting its own candidates, alongside those of ‘domiciled’ communists in the UK. Clearly, Griffiths expected such a strategy to be ratified by the CPB’s executive committee the next day.

On Sunday, Griffiths lost the vote at the EC meeting when it was decided that the CPB would take no further part in negotiations with the RMT union, the Socialist Party in England and Wales and others, thus signifying the end of the nationalist No2EU’s programmatic ‘inspiration’. This reversal also signifies the unravelling of the truce constructed at the CPB’s 2008 congress. On the one side was the (slim) majority committed to the CPB’s traditional perspective of achieving a national socialism through a series of left-Labour government (which, in practical terms, leads to a sectarian brand of auto-Labourism). On the other those, such as Griffiths and John Haylett, EC member and political editor of the Morning Star, who basically think the Labour Party is finished as any kind of vehicle for socialism, and that a ‘new’ “party of labour” needs to be built from the trade union movement. The untenable ‘twin-track’ truce was built around committing the CPB to a new workers’ party - the involvement in No2EU was seen by Griffiths and co as a move in that direction - while leaving open the question of the Labour Party being reclaimed for the left.

The decision to withdraw from negotiations with Bob Crow et al marks a factional defeat for Griffiths and company, and a victory for the Labourite faction around Anita Halpin, Kevin Halpin and John Foster. Griffiths remains general secretary and is likely, although not absolutely certain, to stay there for the foreseeable future. After all, he suffered a similar reversal at the hands of the Labourite faction in 2004 over his wish that the CPB should join the ranks of Respect (although he did offer to resign). There is also the little problem of finding a suitable replacement. Rivals for the general secretary post are not exactly jumping into the ring. The CPB, it should be noted, is a terminally lethargic organisation.

Even though we have our differences with Griffiths, one could never accuse the comrade of being a nonentity and, compared to his predecessor, the largely forgotten Mike Hicks, one would have to say that he has been a relatively dynamic general secretary (which is not saying very much in CPB terms, of course). But comrade Griffiths now faces a future of once more being politically hemmed in by the Labourite faction: a situation which, in his eyes, could lead to the eventual ruination of the CPB as an independent organisation functioning on the British left.

A very alert individual would have seen the writing on the wall immediately following the European elections in June. At an otherwise soporific London AGM of the People’s Press Printing Society (the body that nominally controls the Morning Star), the No2EU question was not addressed by any of the CPB members speaking. However, Kevin Halpin was keen to remind his audience of the type of leftwing shift that Labour would need to defeat the Conservatives at the general election. Anita Halpin was somewhat more cryptic. She stated that the leaders of Britain’s major trade unions did not realise the power they still had in the Labour Party. It was thus not hard to foresee that the pro-Labour faction would make a move to shift the CPB’s electoral policy back to the more traditional perspective. And so it was.

The EC vote against Griffiths reflects broader factors both within British political life and the CPB itself.

We should now expect the CPB to go into full ‘vote Labour’ mode as the general election approaches. No doubt the likes of comrades Halpin and Foster will be banking on a revival of the Labour left following the expected Conservative victory, and, with it, a reassertion of the traditional approach of the CPB’s programme, Britain’s road to socialism.