Unity of Marxists around Marxism is urgently required

Mark Fischer calls for the left to learn the lessons of failure in order to meet the challenges that await the working class movement whichever party is elected

The coming general election is important because it happens in the midst of the deepest capitalist economic crisis the world has seen since the 1930s. Huge challenges are coming our way. Whichever party wins, there are ominous signs that the conditions and democratic rights of our class will be under threat. The examples of Ireland and Greece show that the class struggle can suddenly hot up, people are not likely to take these attacks lying down. They will resist.

But Ireland and Greece also show that more than a protest/trade unionist response is needed, however militantly its manifests itself, however many take to the streets.

Crucially, we need to rally our political resources. That section of the workers’ movement that has a vision of an alternative society, not simply an alternative government to administer capitalism, has to start to measure up to the scale of the tasks.

That is why the CPGB – despite our disagreements with important elements of the platforms left comrades are standing on in the coming election – is calling for a critical vote for Tusc, Respect, Scottish Socialist Party, Unity for Peace and Socialism candidates, and, centrally, Labour Party candidates who commit themselves to oppose all cuts in social spending and call for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan.

We make no secret of our criticisms of the left. But a good vote would be a positive boost for our class, as it readies itself for the inevitable attacks.

We take the left as it is today seriously because we take the question of socialist unity seriously. We believe that the crippling division into warring bureaucratic sects blunts the impact we make on the working class and wider contemporary society. This is why in all the unity initiatives over the last 15 years the CPGB has consistently called for more democracy to facilitate the overcoming of divisions; for an ever closer coordination of work to end the amateurish duplication of effort the left imposes on itself in the trade unions, the student movement, the anti-war movement, etc. And centrally we pose the need for a party to overcome sect divisions.

We are proud of our record of struggle in organisations such as Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party, the Socialist Alliance and Respect. For the time being, however, sectarianism has won out. It has been a bleak story of 15 years of opportunities squandered. The SLP, SA and Respect all concretely posed in their different ways the key task – left unity. All had an electoral window of opportunity to establish a beachhead for genuine working class politics, with a rightward-moving Labour Party government confronting a Tory Party that was unelectable.

All were poisoned by petty sectarianism, control-freakery and an opportunist appetite for short cuts to the ‘big time’. All left a legacy of bitterness, demoralisation and impotence.

It was in this context that we welcomed the Tusc initiative, despite the fact that from the very start it was marred by the sadly familiar errors that doomed those other projects (and despite the fact that it barred the CPGB from standing under its ‘broad umbrella’). At least it brings comrades from different political trends together again around a common platform – a platform that is a clear improvement on the left chauvinism of the No2EU platform that contested last year’s European elections. In a dire period of an ever more fractured left, it is once again a recognition (albeit in a distorted form) of the pressing need for left unity – even if leading members of Socialist Party in England and Wales at the heart of the coalition are at pains to deny or belittle this.

The key to unity is programme. Without a healthy ‘base’ no lasting or serious ‘superstructure’ can be built.

Marxists of one stripe or another have been the main initiators of these unity projects. That or they have been in an overwhelming numerical majority. And in all of them the Marxists have insisted on foisting on these organisations left social democratic/populist politics.

So why won’t the Marxists stand on Marxism?

The elitist conception of almost all the revolutionary left is that the working class can be nudged towards revolution unconsciously. This view holds that, via a series of ever more radical demands, starting from the most mundane and ‘realistic’, it can be tricked into taking power (or rather into acting as the raw, combustible material that will propel the sect into power).

Instead of measuring up to the tasks of an extended period of patiently building support for the ideas, morality and culture of Marxism in society, the left in Britain have a series of pet projects for the creation of a Labour Party mark two – this despite the rather crushing fact that a mass Labour Party still exists, with trade union links strained but intact, and that space is already filled. (If we were in the USA then such politics would still be thoroughly opportunist, but at least would make some sense.) From these dishonest politics, a correspondingly dishonest structural and organisational ethos flows.

It is high time we measured up. Whatever the electoral results for the left – and we fear they will be mostly dire – we have to put the question of principled unity back on the agenda. This must entail an open, democratic debate across the entire workers’ movement – without bans and proscriptions to silence views that some may find objectionable or extreme and without vetoes exercised by this or that trade union or trade union functionary. We must address some very basic questions.

What sort of party do we need? How should it be organised to maximise its effect? What about transparency, openness and honesty in its dealings with our class? What about the rights of members to take independent political initiatives, to openly criticise leaders and to organise trends/factions alongside those with whom they share political agreement? What sort of programme do we need?

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