Which way forward for the Left? a mass Communist Party or a broad left socialist movement?

 Is it possible to salvage anything from the Corbyn Project or is the socialist left destined to talk to itself?

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Tonight we had the launch meeting of the new Socialist Labour Network (LAW/LIEN) and 150 people attended. Ian Hodson, President of the Bakers Union was the guest speaker.

The process of forming a new organisation began at the end of November when All Members Meetings of Labour-in-Exile-Network and Labour Against the Witchhunt voted to merge into a single organisation. Both LAW and LIEN had been proscribed by Labour’s National Executive Committee last July 20th.

Orgreave when the Police were used as Thatcher’s cavalry to destroy the strike

The decision of the 2 organisations to merge was taken in the teeth of opposition from Labour Party Marxism which is the Communist Party of Great Britain in the Labour Party. 5 of the 6 members of LAW’s Steering Committee were also opposed to the merger and 4 of them explained their reasons in a statement Why we resigned.

This was accompanied by an article both in Weekly Worker and on the LPM website Something serious is needed: confronting Tony Greenstein and Merging into a cul-de-sac. I replied with Not a liquidation? and Self-declared heretic replies.

The fact that the CPGB and its leading theoretician Jack Conrad felt the need to personalise a political disagreement suggests that the CPGB is finding it difficult to mount a sustainable argument.

LPM insisted, contrary to all the evidence, that what was being proposed was not a merger but a liquidation and notwithstanding the evidence they have continued to insist that this is the case.

My article, for which I had provided a heading ‘Why the merger of LAW and LIEN is not a liquidation’ was retitled Not a liquidation? It was also accompanied by a subheadline ‘Abandoning any pretence of class politics, Tony Greenstein defends what he calls the ‘merger’ of LAW and LIEN and advocates yet another ‘transitional’ halfway-house broad front

Despite Conrad admitting that ‘LAW has done very little, has been paralysed even’ my argument that LAW had not been liquidated was described as ‘clearly a pedantic attempt to pull wool over eyes.’ Conrad continues to argue that

‘while the words ‘liquidation’ and ‘closing down’ did not appear in motion 1, only someone who wants to cover up, to obfuscate, to hoodwink, would object to such an assessment.’

Such an unnecessary expenditure of verbs! To allege that your political opponents are, effectively, lying is not the way to conduct a comradely debate. And the evidence for such an assertion?  Zilch.

Black Lives Matter demonstration in Brighton

As far as the CPGB and other far-left groups are concerned the key task is to form a revolutionary socialist or communist party with which capitalism can be brought to an end. And suffice to say they have the key to the holy grail.

Many of us saw the Corbyn movement as a quite momentous political event. Hundreds of thousands of people joined the Labour Party. It made a profound effect politically and at the 2017 General Election, millions of people voted for a radical, not revolutionary, manifesto.  But for the sabotage of Labour’s right-wing, Corbyn could have won. As it is he obtained the largest swing since 1945 for Labour. One thing is for certain.  It put the frighteners on the British establishment. It also showed the potential for radicalism in Britain.

Elbit’s factory in Oldham – they’ve had enough and are closing

But to the CPGB what happened under Corbyn Project was merely a diversion. An inevitable failure. Jack lays out his stall thus:

‘What needs to be understood is that socialist – ie, Marxist – parties, are built top-down, not bottom-up. What is primary is the programme: ie, theory. It is from there to the masses and in the process, of course, theory is enriched, concretised, taken to new heights. It should also be understood that Marxist parties do not require revolutionary conditions in order to grow. They can grow in peaceful, seemingly almost uneventful, conditions.’

The idea of even thinking about building a socialist movement outside the Labour Party is given short shrift. It is what they call a half way house, a Labour Party Mark II. What is needed in their eyes is to jump from a small revolutionary group to a mass revolutionary Communist  Party without even pausing for breath.

Labour needs be refounded as a united front of a special kind and politically armed with a Marxist programme and put under a tried and tested Marxist leadership.

BLM demo in Chichester, a town 30 miles from Brighton

What then of the Corbyn movement itself?  Jack doesn’t pull his punches.

what was notable about them – especially, sad to say, the younger generation – is that they were not politically determined, not politically educated and therefore did not fully engage. They voted Jeremy Corbyn against Owen Smith, but had not much of a clue when it came to national executive elections.

My own view is that we are not in revolutionary conditions or a pre-revolutionary period. On the contrary we are in a period of deep reaction, symbolised by Brexit, which was a project of the Right and far-Right.

Black Lives Matter demonstration in Brighton

We need to look to our strengths and weaknesses. Trade union strike action has been at an all time low. Unions today are half the size they were under Thatcher.  Yet at the same time we have seen the rise of social movements like Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion and direct action groups like Palestine Action. The question for socialists is how we can relate to and generalise from the specific. We need to be able to make the connection between climate change and environmental destruction and the nature of capitalism and how it operates. In other words socialism needs to be made relevant.

Only this week we learnt that Palestine Action had chalked up its first victory, the closure of Elbit’s factory in Oldham. I have a personal investment in this campaign as I’m presently out on bail for taking part in an action. It demonstrates that direct action can work. It is no accident that Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which is controlled by the former Trotskyist Socialist Action denounced Palestine Action in the strongest terms.

Black Lives Matter demonstration in Brighton

Other issues include a theoretical assessment of the period we are in, the decline of trade union power, the conservatism of a working class that is supposed to be the agent of revolutionary change and asking questions such as whether revolution is even possible in the heart of the imperialist beast.

Come to the debate and take part!

Tony Greenstein