Preparing for new challenges

Laurie Smith reports on the recent CPGB aggregate

The May 15 aggregate of CPGB members discussed the situation following the general election. Comrades agreed that the period ahead was likely to be one where government attacks would be met by fierce resistance and that tactical flexibility would be more necessary than ever.

Mike Macnair introduced the debate, starting with his assessment of the world economy. Governments across Europe are determined to impose austerity on the working class through cuts and labour market ‘reforms’. States are trying to convince capital that they are trustworthy debtors, and that the crisis would be paid for by the working class. There is a crisis in the euro zone, and Britain had been forced to participate in the Greek bail-out deal to the tune of £9.6 billion. But, with president Sarkozy having threatened to pull France out of the euro unless Germany led the way over Greece, it is clear that the EU faces huge difficulties.

As far as the money markets are concerned, the British government needs to make even deeper cuts than announced so far, but that did not actually appear to be the intention of the Con-Lib Dem coalition at the moment - it is hoping instead for a recovery in the US. There is confidence that the euro zone crisis can be contained, and that an independent pound would enable UK plc to ride the storm, by hanging on to the coat-tails of the US (at the expense of everyone else). But in fact the underlying situation is extremely unstable.

Turning to the election, comrade Macnair said the bourgeoisie’s desire for a smooth Blair-to-Cameron transfer, with Brown as no-hoper caretaker, had not been quite fulfilled. The timing of the crisis had enabled Brown to gain kudos for his management of the economy, while Cameron’s neoliberal orthodoxy had fallen flat on its face. The crisis had “rubbed the gloss” off Cameron’s project, which helped the Liberal Democrats, but they did not see their high levels of support before the election translate into actual votes. Why? The media’s obsession with the Lib Dems, combined with the fact that it eventually became clear that Clegg would join forces with Cameron, meant traditional Labour voters were dissuaded from switching and indeed, many more than expected turned out for Labour.

We now have a coalition government committed to cuts, and also certain political reforms. However, the alternative vote system is no more democratic than first-past-the-post. The Tories would be free to campaign for a ‘no’ vote in the referendum, and comrade Macnair thought Labour would most likely do the same, to try and hasten the break-up of the coalition. A potentially more important change could be voted through parliament before any such referendum; reducing the number of MPs and equalising constituencies. Under the present FPTP system, this would leave Labour needing a massive swing to dislodge the Tories. The coalition would probably last long enough to get most of the immediate cuts through, but the situation was complicated by the 55% issue, needing more than a simple majority in parliament to trigger a general election.

On the Labour Party leadership election, the comrade said that most class-conscious workers still see Labour as their party, and the bourgeoisie still do not fully trust it as a party of government. John McDonnell would not make the ballot, because many Labour lefts, with the backing of Socialist Action and the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, wanted a ‘realistic’ left candidate. The winner would definitely not be of the Labour left, but would probably be someone who had maintained a certain distance from the ruling clique during the Blair years. Ed Miliband, or whoever, could employ more left-sounding rhetoric, but it would be hard to escape Labour’s attachment to the British constitution and the erosion of its base. The party will not be having an open debate about its future, because Labour MPs and the trade unions think it more important to put on a united face in order to be ready for another election.

Much of the left - excepting, perhaps, the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party in England and Wales - would be likely to switch its focus to Labour. While the SWP can be expected to continue its fetishism with ‘bash the fash’ and the encouragement to ‘do a Greece’, SPEW will not engage with internal Labour battles for another reason: it has staked too much on Labour being dead, and is more likely to retreat into isolationism and building its own organisation. However, groups like the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and International Socialist Group could easily rejoin Labour, comrade Macnair believed.

Crucially, left unity is in danger of being further depoliticised. The question posed instead would be that of ‘uniting the resistance’ (Labour Representation Committee) or ‘uniting the movements’ (SWP). Unity in action, but not in politics. Faced with this situation, the CPGB must continue its fight for a united Communist Party based on Marxist politics, with a democratic alternative to the bourgeois regime at its core. We have to up our engagement with the Labour left, and do so by posing the need for a break from Labourism and bureaucratic party organisation.

In the discussion, Peter Manson noted that sections of the left (eg, John Rees on Counterfire) had thought a hung parliament and coalition government would automatically leave the bourgeoisie weak and be an advantage to the left. While the bourgeoisie is split into different parties, those parties barely differ on policy. Lee Rock questioned whether Labour would campaign against AV, given that, if the reduction of parliamentary seats was carried out, he thought Labour would need AV to have any hope of returning to power. Comrade Rock agreed we needed to up our intervention in the party, but pointed out that only one comrade had been assigned to the LRC conference that same day.

Yassamine Mather questioned comrade Macnair’s assertion that the bourgeoisie still did not trust Labour, which had done well for the capitalists over the last 13 years. She wondered if Labour, in response to its defeat, might not shift to the right rather than the left - the recruitment of disaffected Lib Dems would indicate this was a possibility. John Bridge disagreed, saying that Labour would almost certainly move left; already leading figures like David Blunkett were talking about ‘fighting outside elections’. We have to be tactically astute in building alliances, while maintaining our programmatic critique of our allies. Other comrades again raised the possibility of standing CPGB candidates if there was another election soon.

Replying, Macnair reminded comrades that we are not allowed to use ‘CPGB’ in elections, thanks to the electoral commission’s undemocratic ruling. The idea that having CPGB and CPB candidates would confuse voters is simply not credible. Indeed the ruling is illegal in all likelihood. More importantly though, there had to be a clear aim in our standing for it to be worth comrades’ time, money and effort. Turning to Labour, comrades had to judge conditions on the ground in order to decide the nature of their engagement - some constituencies would be a complete waste of time. But we have to be ready to make sharp tactical turns.

Reporting on this year’s Summer Offensive fundraising drive, comrade Bridge said that the Provisional Central Committee was recommending a target of £25,000 in total. There is every reason for confidence. The Weekly Worker remains required reading on the left, but the difference now is that a greater proportion of our readers actively support its politics and are more willing to donate than ever.

Comrade Bridge also reported on preparations for Communist University, the CPGB’s annual summer school. He listed probable speakers, including some old favourites as well as new faces. A range of suggestions for additional debates were proposed by comrades, not least on our new Draft programme, which is due to be finalised by the end of the year. ‘Communists and elections’ was also proposed. This is a live question, with the utter flop of left slates and the trend towards anarchism and movementism.