No more proscriptions, bans or secret cabals

The CPB has pulled out of Tusc, reports Peter Manson. Where does that leave the coalition?

The Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain has opted out of the leftwing alliance to contest the general election, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition.

The CPB’s support for another electoral coalition with the Socialist Party in England and Wales, following their joint support, along with the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, for ‘No to the EU, Yes to Democracy’, which contested the June 2009 European Union elections, has been in question for some time. Towards the end of last year the CPB pulled out of the monthly meetings of the ex-No2EU ‘core group’ - a decision that was reversed within a couple of weeks after general secretary Rob Griffiths led a fightback on the executive committee. But this time the withdrawal will undoubtedly be permanent.

The reason given by the CPB in a statement published on its website following the latest EC meeting last weekend is that “the RMT executive has decided not to affiliate formally to any electoral coalition for the forthcoming general election, and that no other union has taken a formal position”. So, despite its name, Tusc enjoys no official support from any national trade union - that is why it is a “trade unionist” and socialist coalition. This is hardly a satisfactory title, clearly adopted as a second-best. It seems to epitomise the sad reality that, while SPEW aspires to win a union-led political alliance and eventual party, unfortunately there are no official takers, only individual trade unionists.

Bob Crow and Alex Gordon of the RMT leadership are backers, but, just like No2EU, it seems that more or less all the other leading union members who sign up - Brian Caton of the Prison Officers Association included - will be SPEW comrades. But at least - unlike No2EU - Tusc’s name expresses a pro-working class orientation.

Although the CPB says it “has determined not to participate in a formal electoral coalition”, its statement then immediately goes on to announce: “The Communist Party, and its allies in UK-domiciled communist and workers’ parties, perhaps with other forces, will contest as many constituencies as feasible in the general election, in order to project a clear leftwing alternative.”

So the CPB appears to be saying about Tusc: not this “formal electoral coalition”, and not this “clear leftwing alternative”. Leaving aside the question of which “other forces” the CPB intends to stand alongside (I, for one, cannot imagine who else would be prepared to join with it in such a narrowly based alliance), it is clear that the RMT’s rejection of the coalition was the last straw. Not even the CPB ‘innovator’ wing headed by Griffiths and former Star editor John Haylett would have relished playing a junior role to the SPEW ‘Trots’ (not to mention thellSocialist Workers Party, which is also set to participate).

Comrades Griffiths and Haylett no longer think it possible for the Labour Party to be ‘reclaimed’ and as a consequence favoured working closely with Respect, but their position was defeated in 2004. The ‘traditionalist’ wing, headed by international secretary John Foster, stands by the scenario spelled out in the CPB programme, Britain’s road to socialism, whereby an increasingly leftwing Labour Party, backed up by CPB MPs, delivers a national socialism from on high.

There has generally been an uneasy truce between the two wings, with the question of ‘reclaiming’ Labour - as opposed to the possibility of the unions setting up an alternative “party of labour” - being left open. But this truce was severely tested by the attempt to build upon last year’s No2EU alliance for the general election. Now the RMT pull-out has clinched it for the ‘traditionalists’ (although the failure of the Morning Star so far to mention either Tusc or the CPB rejection of it might imply continuing differences).

Both wings, of course, are agreed that “a Labour victory would be preferable to a Tory victory”, in the words of the EC statement. This means “recommending a vote for Labour in the majority of constituencies, especially where the Labour candidate has a record of opposing imperialist war and privatisation, and supporting trade union and other democratic rights”. The CPB in particular urges support “for those Labour prospective parliamentary candidates who have clearly identified themselves with progressive politics.” However, the CPB welcomes “principled contests against those New Labour figures who have distinguished themselves as the worst advocates of privatisation, war and neoliberalism”.

In reality, despite the talk about contesting “as many constituencies as feasible”, it is only these so-called “worst advocates” against whom the organisation has proposed standing. Elsewhere the CPB is calling for a blanket Labour vote and in this context noises about “especially” supporting “progressive” Labour candidates are meaningless.

So where does the CPB withdrawal leave Tusc, given that another of the No2EU participating organisations, the Alliance for Green Socialism, had already pulled out? Well, we know that the SWP hopes to stand six candidates as part of the coalition, but this week’s Socialist Worker is totally silent on the whole question (January 23).

Similarly The Socialist is strangely muted. A very brief article entitled ‘Support grows for new coalition’ announces that “hundreds of declarations of support have been received” and that Tusc “is receiving enthusiastic support from fighting trade unionists” (January 19).

While the article treats readers to a list of some of the initial sponsors (mainly SPEW members who are trade union branch officers), it says nothing about the participation of other groups - as well as the SWP, the CPGB, Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and rump Socialist Alliance have all expressed an interest.

The Socialist also carries a local report from Portsmouth, headed ‘Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition gets started’, which tells us that “‘No2EU Wessex’ has been transformed into ‘Tusc Portsmouth’ and support is growing to back Mick Tosh, an RMT activist and former RMT executive committee member, as a candidate in Portsmouth North for the general election.” It seems that candidates are already being selected before the participation of other left groups has even been decided upon.

No doubt Bob Crow’s opinion on that question will carry a good deal of weight. We know, for example, that, according to a CPB internal circular about the No2EU campaign last year, “SWP, AWL, Weekly Worker and other ultra-left groups have not been considered eligible” (March 16 2009). Considered by whom?

Tusc urgently needs to drop the secrecy and open up to the rest of the left. Where did all those talks behind closed doors with the CPB, RMT and AGS lead? To their withdrawal, one after the other. Now the general election is probably just 15 weeks away - very little time for a genuine leftwing coalition to be built. There should be no more bans and proscriptions