Communist Students convened in Manchester for its annual conference on April 2. Greg Compton reports
Communist Students was formed on the initiative of student members and supporters of the Communist Party of Great Britain, nearly five years ago. We were, then as now, concerned that the far left was offering very slim pickings to radicals on campus - in fact, the same reheated left-Labourite politics it serves up to those in ‘adult’ society.
Alas, rejecting the political and intellectual timidity of the student left is one thing - putting something better in its place quite another. The recent period has seen a whole series of student protests, with an attendant pace of radicalisation that outstripped both the decrepit official structures of the National Union of Students and, to an extent, the efforts of the far left to harness that energy. This year’s Communist Students conference had perhaps the most urgent tasks to discuss in our brief existence.
After report-backs from branches, then, discussion focused on perspectives for the coming year. Ben Lewis moved a motion from the outgoing executive, which emphasised both the chaos ushered in by the capitalist crisis and the opportunities this raised for communists on campus. It would be necessary for us to up our game in new conditions - Ben presented various proposals, including regular national meetings, more frequent publication of Communist Student and a more systematic approach to education.
Sebastian Osthoff also presented proposals to the conference. He suggested that focusing our work on producing regular bulletins for students and workers would enable us to ‘bridge the gap’ between activist work and political discussion, which were at present disconnected. The ins and outs of producing a bulletin occupied a great deal of discussion, with separate motions from Chris Strafford and Liam Conway, and Ustun Yazar.
The Manchester CS branch has already produced two such bulletins (The Educator), but numerous reservations were raised; Manchester comrades were concerned that The Educator had been the work more of a handful of individual comrades than the branch as a whole. Others, including comrade Lewis and myself, considered the focus on high politics, which has been Communist Students’ main priority, to have been submerged under elementary campus issues.
Comrade Osthoff’s suggestion that future bulletins be modelled on the factory bulletins put out by the idiosyncratic French Trotskyist group, Lutte Ouvrière, also caused some concern - many were keen to point out that we were a student group, and our proper communist orientation towards working class revolution did not entail adopting workerism. Nonetheless, the idea of distributing bulletins was adopted by the conference.
There was further discussion on the need for more systematic education in the group. Conference approved comrade Osthoff’s motion on the subject, which emphasised that collective education was an integral part of CS membership, and suggested ‘classic’ and introductory texts as the basis for reading.
We also debated the role of the CS executive, which had become a point of contention when it decided to affiliate CS to the Labour Representation Committee earlier this year, against the wishes of many comrades. The issue was revisited in the final session, which was given over to the tactics and strategy we should employ in relation to the Labour Party. I argued in favour of the CPGB’s theses on the subject (see Weekly Worker October 21 2010): Labour is, and always has been, a party of the labour bureaucracy, and thus in the last analysis has served as a tool of the bourgeoisie.
However, it presents a serious material obstacle to all who would organise the working class in Britain - both anti-Labourite attempts to organise in complete disregard for its existence, and ‘entrist’ projects which ignore independent organisation are doomed to fail. The Labour Party could, however, be transformed into a united front of all working class organisations - almost uniquely among parties of social democracy - roughly equivalent to the soviets of 1917. Needless to say, this would mean a radical break with all of its history, not to say the pro-capitalist right which has always dominated it.
Comrade Chris Strafford, also a CPGB member but opposed to the theses, argued instead that, while some kind of intervention in the Labour Party was necessary before we could make revolution, it was not practical to expect our slender forces to achieve it at the present time. He suggested that we would find better opportunities working in the burgeoning anti-cuts movement.
Furthermore, we could forget about transforming Labour into a united front, said comrade Strafford - the point of the united front tactic was rather to break substantial sections of the class from social democracy. He saw the CPGB’s policy as basically similar to the project of Labour Briefing, which, he said, relied on the Perry Anderson-Tom Nairn thesis regarding the peculiarity of the British working class movement, with its view of the old Communist Party as an alien imposition lacking any real roots.
Debate broadly polarised around our two positions, with additional discussion on the merits of LRC affiliation. The discussion, however, was pinched due to time constraints - and looks very likely to continue. We resolved to revisit it at our next members’ aggregate in the autumn term