Beyond disunity

In seeking to prop up their crisis-ridden system, the capitalist class is united around cuts, cuts and more cuts. If we are to fight back and win, our class must also unite, argues Ben Lewis

Many people attending the March 26 demonstration against the savage attacks of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government will encounter the world of the revolutionary left for the first time. They will come across hard-working, selfless activists armed with newspapers, petitions and leaflets. Many of these activists will have been organising against this rotten system long before Nick Clegg was (briefly) popular and even before David Cameron was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Etonian.

Demonstrators with the most energy (and the biggest coat pockets to hold it all) will hopefully collect and read much of the literature on offer from the far left and immerse themselves in its competing ideas, trends and strategies. Yet the existence of this swathe of rival groups underlines a major problem for the anti-cuts movement. Whereas the ruling class and its hangers-on in the Tory Party, the Lib Dems and the leadership of the Labour Party are all agreed on the need for cuts and closures, the forces seeking an alternative which upholds the interests of the working class, women, students, the elderly and so on suffer from debilitating divisions. Our dedication and commitment is beyond question, but we are still a long way from becoming a force that could politically challenge today’s capitalist cuts consensus.

Indeed, on the front line of the struggle against cuts this division is painfully obvious. There are four anti-cuts campaigns: Right to Work (set up and run by the Socialist Workers Party), the Coalition of Resistance (Counterfire), People’s Charter (Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain) and the National Shop Stewards Network Anti-Cuts Campaign (Socialist Party in England and Wales).

Rebuild the movement

It goes without saying that these different formations should unite as a matter of urgency. Their politics and perspectives are virtually identical, and it is a criminal waste of time and resources for them to continue duplicating each other. They replicate the same work, split up our forces and keep activists apart from one another.

The far left is unfortunately unable to see beyond the interests and influence of its little groups. Many present themselves as the embryonic mass working class party of the future that simply needs recruits to fulfil its destiny - even if this means putting forward inadequate, reformist demands in the here and now.

Yet defeating the cuts offensive will not simply require more demonstrations and mobilisations. It will actually mean reviving and rebuilding the workers’ movement as an independent force: strengthening trade unions at the base, getting working class MPs elected, establishing cooperatives, setting up workers’ education societies, welfare associations, workers’ pubs, sporting associations and so on. In short, the workers’ movement must begin to articulate another vision: not just against the cuts, but for an alternative society. Most of all, our class urgently needs a party.

We in the CPGB do not pretend to be that party. We have a project that is much more realistic - and ambitious. Whilst we have the name ‘Communist Party’ we are clear that such a party - uniting all the revolutionaries, all the anti-capitalists, all the militants, and sinking deep roots in the working class - does not exist. The name reflects our aspiration to fight for that party, uniting the different strands and factions of the left and based on the politics of Marxism - the theory which alone can explain not only why our rulers are launching such a forceful attack on the gains of our class, but how we can win a world in which there is no basis for either cuts or rulers - communism.

Indeed, whereas the anti-cuts campaigns, despite their far-left leadership, restrict themselves to demands such as taxing the rich and closing tax loopholes, we communists have a vision beyond capitalism - to a society where profit, accumulation for accumulation’s sake, ecological destruction and war are consigned to the dustbin of history. Instead of sowing illusions in warmed-over Keynesianism, the left can and must stand openly for these perspectives. Indeed, if we fail to do so then the danger is that the only ‘alternative’ people can turn to is Ed Miliband and ‘nice cuts’ - ie, no alternative at all.

Parties and sects

A Communist Party is the voluntary organisation of the politically advanced part of the working class. This advanced part is certain to contain a wide range of views about theory and tactics, and in any sort of healthy party these will be openly debated and tested in practice. If the working class is to liberate itself and the whole of humanity from the fetters of capitalism, then this party must rally millions to its banner and programme - the working class majority, conscious of its goals and aims.

Whilst there are many so-called ‘parties’ touting their different wares on demonstrations and marches, what we unfortunately see around us today are in reality different competing sects with varying degrees of influence and following, sects organised around rigid belief systems. Deviation from these systems of thought may lead to disciplinary action or even expulsion.

For us, however, unity must be achieved on the basis of acceptance of a political programme, not ideological or philosophical shibboleths. We locate three core principles of Marxism, around which this unity can be achieved: democracy (in relation to both our own organisations and the state); working class independence (no strategic alliances with bourgeois parties); and proletarian internationalism (in opposition to all sectional and national deviations). Questions of philosophy, history and theory are extremely interesting; studying them is absolutely essential if the working class is to develop a rounded, sophisticated world outlook. But it is madness to suggest that unity today presupposes the ‘correct’ understanding of the Soviet Union or Hegelian dialectics.

But many on the far left opt for such an approach of narrow ideological agreement, as opposed to programmatic unity - many do not even have a programme! What they seek to do is preserve their demarcation from other competing groups and then - or so the plan goes - eventually the masses will have it so bad that they will desperately throw in their lot with one of them: a thoroughly utopian, not to say sectarian and elitist, perspective.

This partly explains why many groups are disdainful of, and even completely hostile to, democracy and the public airing of differing views. The preservation of their separate existence must take priority over clarity of ideas or serious rapprochement with other forces. Disagreements within your group - where they are permitted, that is - must be kept private and are not for the eyes of the working class. Often this means that even group members do not really know what is happening within their own organisation.

Yet the manner in which we organise now is inseparable from the sort of society we aim to achieve. If we wish to see democracy and human freedom flourish and the chaos of the market replaced by the law of conscious, controlled planning from below, then a democratic internal culture is required now so that the working class can grow, develop its consciousness, win the battle of democracy and make itself fit to rule society.

Genuine communists are the most consistent champions of democracy - something which must also hold true in our own ranks. But the extremely undemocratic nature of the far left can only increase and perpetuate disunity and fragmentation: if a comrade or group of comrades have grievances with the party leadership and no avenues through which to express them, then they appear to have no choice but to split away.

In placing such emphasis on democracy, we base ourselves squarely on the best traditions of the most formidable Marxist parties. There were often fierce and public factional exchanges in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party - between the Mensheviks such as Julius Martov, Georgi Plekhanov and Pavel Axelrod and Lenin’s Bolsheviks; and among the Bolsheviks themselves. But the open airing of differences within a single organisation helped build and rebuild revolutionary unity.

Overcoming sect amateurism today requires a big political struggle, a patient fight through the existing left. Whilst some of our more bone-headed opponents on the left dismiss our partyist approach as “sectarianism”, it is imperative if we are to become a united force to win the hearts and minds of the majority of the population. We need a revolutionary party in which different trends can organise and thrash out a common perspective.

We on the Marxist left must cease regarding Marxism as some sort of secret credo, to be debated at our own schools or in theoretical journals. We must cease organising around politics we know to be insufficient in the forlorn hope of using them as some sort of ‘sign post’ towards Marxism. These are not ‘sign posts’, but manifestations of the politics of other classes - ie, Labourism and reformism. That is why we argue for, stand on and agitate around the politics of Marxism as the only way to unite our movement and form the working class into a political class.

This is the theoretical struggle to which the Weekly Worker is dedicated.