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 Stars 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 Junes 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 CPBs 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 No2EUs programmatic inspiration. This reversal also signifies the unravelling of the truce constructed at the CPBs 2008 congress. On the one side was the (slim) majority committed to the CPBs 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 Peoples 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 Britains 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 CPBs 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.
- The prospect of a Conservative victory at the next general election has clearly helped shift the CPB back toward a more specific pro-Labour stance and away from electoral adventures that could be accused of splitting the Labour vote in political post-mortems. The derisory votes that the CPB gets in parliamentary electoral contests in traditional Labour seats are deemed to be safer territory.
For the European elections in June, even hardened CPB Labourites such as John Foster were heading the Scottish No2EU list. However, in the context of a dreadful campaign and vote, Foster and others were said to be uncomfortable at being involved in what turned out to be an electoral mauling of Labour that may have weakened its chance of winning the general election.
- The recent TUC resolution in favour of the CPB-inspired Peoples Charter for Change has convinced many CPB supporters that it is worthwhile slogging away in the more traditional constituencies of the labour movement and serving it with the dull platitudes of the Morning Star. So stop frittering away energies on dead-end ventures brokered by the rogue RMT and the likes of the Socialist Party in England and Wales. It is probable that this is the course that has been urged on the CPB by its allies (or, more likely, allies of the Star) in various trade union leaderships.
- In certain areas of the country, CPB members were not exactly gushing in their praise of SPEW during the No2EU campaign. There were moans that SPEW members were effectively running the show in too many constituencies; this only highlighting to CPB cadre how difficult it is to mobilise its often dozy and apathetic membership.
One contributor to the A Very Public Sociologist blog, YCLer (the Young Communist League is the CPBs youth organisation), said: My experience of the SP during the No2EU campaign was not at all good. I cannot speak for other regions, but in mine the SP was very uncomfortable about engaging in any political activity where there were not a majority of SP members, a situation I only encountered in the final rally - where SP members (very, very loudly) identified themselves as SP members every time they spoke (October 4).
This speaks of two factors. First, that SPEW was uncomfortable about the nationalist politics of the CPB and tried to assert itself numerically and vocally and, second, that this provoked, in turn, a reaction from CPB members, who knew full well that they could not match SPEW organisationally. Most of the tortured mythologies that sustain the CPB are easy meat for other groups with any sort of political nous and the CPBs leadership is painfully aware that getting up close and personal with other leftists could lead to fragmentation.
- The need to engage with the likes of SPEW and others from Trotskyist, or lapsed Trotskyist, backgrounds means that leadership figures from Stalinite backgrounds such as Griffiths and Haylett come across as increasingly agnostic toward divisive issues in the history of international communism.
While this might go down well with Trotskyists silly enough to take it all at face value, it is problematic for a number of reasons. First, as Griffiths is honest enough to admit, the whole national-socialist trajectory of the CPB is fundamentally bound up with Stalin and Stalinism. Second, the relative agnosticism shown to Trotskyists by Griffiths and company is extremely unpopular among older members of the CPB. They are imbued with a thoroughly Stalinist world view, even though it might be expressed in less hysterical terminology than that of 1930s high Stalinism.
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 CPBs programme, Britains road to socialism.