Reactionary realignments and a left in crisis

Ben Lewis reports on the latest CPGB aggregate, where discussion of the looming general election dominated the agenda

Comrade Mark Fischer opened up  proceedings at the March 6 meeting of CPGB members, pointing to a “certain sense of frustration” amongst comrades both with the refusal of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition to accept CPGB candidates and the state of the left more generally. Not only did the whole left lack “social weight”: it also lacked perspective and vision for the coming period.

The capitalist class is planning an offensive against the working class and this will inevitably lead to spontaneous resistance and struggles - Ireland and Greece are examples of things to come. But a hung parliament could lead to a move to the right in the shape of calls for a government of ‘national unity’, which would have a certain appeal to many people who view party politics as typified by yah-boo parliamentary exchanges. But a government of ‘all the talents’ would be a deeply reactionary phenomenon that would strengthen the ruling class and give legitimacy to its onslaught.

Comrade Fischer also took to task those like the Socialist Party in England and Wales who have written off the Labour Party as a site for struggle, either now or in the future. He cited the money put into the Labour Party by the larger unions. Unlike in the European elections, when the RMT gave its official backing to ‘No to the European Union, Yes to Democracy’, the general election was about who runs the country. The union bureaucracy would prefer Labour over the Tories every time.

In response to the suggestion from some members that the CPGB, having been rejected by Tusc, should stand an “exemplary” candidate in the general election, comrade Fischer argued that this would be “a very silly thing to do”. It would result in a very low vote - we could not even stand under our own name, since the electoral commission has ruled that only the Morning Star’s CPB is allowed to use the description ‘Communist Party’ on the ballot paper - and it would not impact on the left either. It would divert us from our main task - ie, responding to the left’s crisis by engaging with it and arguing for principled Marxist unity.

Comrade Fischer pointed out that the Labour left is in a dire state, but we should do what we can to ensure that John McDonnell in particular is re-elected - as with Tusc, we should help with leafleting and canvassing, and use the Weekly Worker to speak to the militants involved in the campaign. He also proposed a vote for those Labour candidates who agreed to oppose all public service cuts and call for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

He then went on to deal with the far left, with Tusc in particular. For the last decade or so, all of the unity projects have been marred by bureaucracy, halfway-housism and opportunist ploys to break into the big time, as opposed to the “patient, more organic” work the left needs to do if it is to have any sort of “social weight”. All such projects have failed and a big opportunity has been squandered.

Although SPEW is at pains to downplay left unity in favour of coaxing sections of the trade union bureaucracy into breaking with Labour and setting up a new party, this was really badly timed, as arguments about ‘not letting the Tories in’ have resurfaced with a vengeance. Comrade Fischer emphasised that, although left unity is not SPEW’s top priority, we have to fight to ensure that this changes - hence we will produce critical but supportive material on Tusc and report our interventions in the Weekly Worker. He predicted that the vote for Tusc would be “absolutely terrible”, given the nature of this election, with many leftists simply holding their noses and voting Labour.

This was a point developed by John Bridge - with Labour later potentially in opposition, all those who up until now had been declaring the party’s death could once more flood its ranks and view it as the very same ‘halfway house’ they had been previously trying to create in opposition to it! The thing about opportunism is that it often flips into its opposite without learning anything at all, he added.

The arguments put forward by SPEW’s Clive Heemskerk for excluding the CPGB from Tusc were blatantly specious, said comrade Bridge. Comrade Heemskerk’s letter tells us that the Tusc steering committee has met and nothing else. Whilst verbally we have been told we are not in and have heard some desperate “Toy Town Bolshevik” arguments from comrade Heemskerk, it is interesting that none of this has been put down on paper: ie, there is a certain reticence to get into a political argument with us, a recognition of profound weakness. We should seek to expose these contradictions and take up the arguments with the SPEW cadre.


In a talk based on a draft discussion paper she had prepared for CPGB members, Yassamine Mather argued that she could not see any real sign of left unity around Tusc. She put the current limited, federal agreement reached with the Socialist Workers Party down to its crisis and resultant inability to take a lead - it was not in a position to do anything else but accept SPEW’s proposals.

Comrade Mather was astonished by Tusc’s statement, which talks of “an independent foreign policy based on international solidarity” and demands, “No more US poodle”. This assumes that Britain was pulled into US military adventures because suddenly there was that nasty Mr Bush in the White House, who decided that there should be a war. It assumes that there could be a world capitalist order in which a British prime minister - Labour or Tory - would stand up to the US hegemon and go around creating international solidarity. For this and others reasons, she found it “hard to join Tusc”.

Comrade Mather argued that the majority of the working class will not participate in the election and we need to explain why people will not vote. We also need to explain how the election fits into the general democratic process. The Tories and Labour are both competing for the rightwing agenda that capitalism’s crisis has produced.

Mike Macnair, however, argued that in contrast to some conservative parties on the continent such as the German Christian Democrats, the Tories were a party much more to the right: it was still a different beast from Labour. But he did echo some of comrade Mather’s sentiments about the need for propaganda and theoretical articles on the nature of democracy. Our very ability to intervene in the elections is limited by a ‘democracy’ dictated by corporate and media interests. Tina Becker proposed that we organise a Communist Forum on the elections and democracy, and that we produce some material based on the points that Yassamine and Mike had raised.

Returning to the possibility of a hung parliament, Nick Rogers agreed that a government of, say, Nick Clegg, Peter Mandelson and David Cameron would be disastrous, but said that if the most openly pro-business wing of the Labour Party split away, this could be a good thing for the workers’ movement.


A minority of comrades, including Jim Moody and Yassamine Mather, felt that electoral support for George Galloway was ruled out, given his vociferous opposition to the democracy movement in Iran and his status as a paid employee of the Iranian state broadcaster, Press TV. Dave Isaacson argued that Galloway can no longer be seen as a working class politician, with comrade Moody adding that he was a reactionary “of the first order” - he may have been part of the workers’ movement before and a member of the Labour Party, but so was Oswald Moseley!

John Bridge argued that this last statement was simply not true - Galloway was booted out of Labour for opposing the Iraq war and, given a new turn of events, could easily end up back in the Labour Party. James Turley and Nick Rogers both asserted that Galloway is actually a very normal left politician amongst a left mired by popular frontism, dodgy dealings and opportunism.

Comrade Bridge made the further point that communist tactics are never set in stone - what mattered was what advanced the cause of the working class movement. Whilst comrade Mather said that many Hands Off the People of Iran supporters, both in Britain and elsewhere, would have problems with a vote for Galloway, Phil Kent pointed out that, although some Iranian exiles hated Galloway, it had to be recognised that his election would mean votes against, and indeed speeches and organisation against, sanctions and war on Iran. Fighting on two fronts means having this argument.

I added that it was the CPGB, not Hopi, calling for a vote, and that we would have to have an argument with these people. Calling for a vote for Galloway did not mean shutting up about his abysmal record - not just in acting as an apologist for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but on questions like abortion. Similarly, we should call for a vote for Tusc, whilst simultaneously hammering home the need for principled left unity and exposing the futility of halfway houses; and for the Scottish Socialist Party, whilst slamming its left nationalism.

Communist University

The discussion on the general elections dominated proceedings, but afterwards John Bridge gave a quick report on how things stand with Communist University 2010.

He reported that it would once again cover a wide range of topics from the human revolution to the capitalist crisis, while our redrafted Draft programme would feature very prominently. Comrade Bridge said that, although the timetable was far from finalised, some of our regular speakers had already confirmed, such as Hillel Ticktin, Chris Knight and Lars T Lih.

Comrade Turley warned about repetition, saying that we should not rely on the same speakers year in, year out. Nick Rogers disagreed with this, but did add that we should maybe look to get more of our own comrades to give presentations themselves in order to get the most out of the school. The good thing about having regular experts on different subjects was that it allowed for insight into a wide variety of topics and was the main strength of Communist University, which consciously cut against the left’s economism.