Opportunities to grasp
As the CPGB begins its annual Summer Offensive, national organiser Mark Fischer examines the state of the party and the wider left
All in all, it has not been a bad start to this year’s Summer Offensive - the CPGB’s annual (our 28th, actually) fundraising drive. Given that we jump-started the campaign early this year - as Robbie Rix reported last week, the leadership of our organisation proposed bringing its launch date forward by two weeks and bumping up our minimum collective target by £5k to £30,000, to be raised by August 18 - comrades have responded well.
Our June 8 aggregate of party members ratified this leadership proposal and CPGBers (broadly defined) have been quick off the mark to pledge £13,050. In fact £824 had actually been donated by the time these lines were being written, bang up against our paper’s deadline. This year’s SO is likely to be tough, but should not be regarded as daunting. Actually, if the organisation approaches it correctly it could be quite a valuable one for us in political terms.
This is not to minimise the monetary problems. The vast majority of Communist Party members and supporters, plus our periphery, are working class - people who actually feel the impact of a global capitalist crisis in a rather raw and personal way. That is a given.
But, for the SO, the bigger problem is its political context. It is clear that mainstream society is lurching quite dramatically to the right. That affects the left, particularly given its seemingly congenital inability to articulate independent working class politics. True, we have seen a degree of fluidity over the past period - but it is really a question of the direction of the flow. There were plenty of historical ‘ice breaking up’ metaphors flying around at the time of the squalid death throes of ‘official communism’; but what has it produced that is positive? The meltdown continues, this time on the level of Socialist Workers Party-scale ice cubes, compared to the continental ice shelves of Stalinism. The dominant motif remains depressingly similar, whatever the relevant dimensions. The left in the UK and internationally continues to decay. This forms the backdrop to our work and underlines how important it is that we take ourselves seriously - theoretically and organisationally.
With this in mind, when I introduced the SO item at the aggregate I reminded comrades that this year’s £30k target was actually taking us back to the sort of totals we regularly achieved in the 1980s, the 90s and even into the very early noughties. SO veterans of those days recall with crusty nostalgia how energetic street work could account for a large chunk of your personal target; for our younger comrades, judging from their puzzled facial expressions, these anecdotes must seem akin to recounting tales of manual typewriters or the Eric and Ernie Christmas specials.
On the up side, our organisation is now receiving a steady trickle of membership applications - particularly since the revamp of our site last year. Unsurprisingly, it is hard to integrate these new comrades into the existing cultural and organisational norms of the CPGB. The SO dramatises the difficulties and suggests some solutions. What are the problems?
- First and foremost, our extremely flimsy national infrastructure and the anaemic state of the left’s presence across the country. Practically, we can arm comrades with the Weekly Worker, but where can they be sent to argue ideas, to debate and interact with other traditions and thus learn politics? The left is more petrified forest than lush political jungle.
- The new comrades’ general inexperience of the organised left. This means that they often lack the confidence to take initiatives that could gather others round them.
- The loss of historical memory that is inevitable, given the long decay of the left in the 20th century and the accelerated from it has taken from the 1980s onwards. Our SO is solidly in the traditions of the Marxist movement, a tradition that needs fought for for and reclaimed.
This last bullet point is worth emphasising as an illustration of the one of the key problems we face - the loss of historical memory. There is a long and honourable history of campaigns such as the SO. In the German revolution of 1848-49 the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, published by the Marx-Engels team, found that their middle class backers deserted them en masse from the first issue. Democratic revolution and direct confrontation with the Prussian autocracy terrified them. The “organ of European democracy” therefore had to rely on the ingenuity of party members and the hard-earned contributions that came from the paper’s small but dedicated circle of proletarian readers. Daily circulation hovered at around 7,000. Marx himself frequently had to put aside his role as editor in order to organise financial drives.
The SO is also inspired by the communist subbotniks - first organised at their own initiative by workers in revolutionary Russia. On May 7 1919 communist railway workers and their sympathisers on the Moscow-Kazan line decided to extend their day by an hour and “put in six extra hours” on Saturdays (unanimously agreed resolution, quoted in VI Lenin CW Vol 29, Moscow 1977, p412). Labour productivity soared by 270%. The revolution was in dire danger from Kolchak and the forces of internal and international reaction. Others emulated the railworkers. Lenin called the subbotniks “one of the cells of the new socialist society” and demanded that the “greatest attention be paid to them”.
Part of Lenin’s genius was his ability to formulate concrete solutions that always fitted enormously complex historical situations. So, rather more modestly, what should be our communist collective’s approach to this year’s SO? My take is that we should:
1. Take the opportunity to draw new layers of supporters and sympathisers that we have around us into financial support for the party and, in order to focus minds on why they should support (a) the paper and, crucially, (b) the website at the centre of the fundraising.
2. Try to inculcate in these comrades the importance of education, of political clarification in addition to more narrowly defined ‘activity’.
3. Convince such comrades that the main medium for this - our web presence - is not simply a free add-on. Our website is the place where most people access the Weekly Worker, the production of which is very costly. We will soon be splitting the site into two separate entities - Weekly Worker and CPGB. This ‘divorce’ is both something we need to do because of external strictures and impositions; it is also an opportunity to up the quality and range of our web presence in general.
The left is in crisis, comrades. No serious partisan of the workers’ movement wants it to be terminal. Supporting the Weekly Worker - and a financial campaign that puts its survival, its growth and its online development at the centre of a political and cultural renaissance of the left - deserves your full support.