Getting our priorities right – a statement on the LRC affiliation debate
Below is a statement in response to the article by James Turley ‘Against the politics of purity‘ and the statement by Manchester comrades ‘No support for Labour – No support for the LRC‘. This is part of the debate in the lead up to our conference in March that will decide our perspectives for the year ahead.
It is important to place the current debate in Communist Students in its proper context, politically and organisationally. The decision to affiliate to the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) is a small tactical issue which comrades on both sides would do well to remember not to elevate into a principle. The change is being made in order to move CS in line with the political shifts of the CPGB majority. We need to be careful to ensure that CS is not simply an appendage of the CPGB, as implied by the way the affiliation was rushed through. It is also important to remember that members of the CPGB within CS are not united on this issue. Currently CS has no policy on Labour work and has sporadically worked with Labourites since our formation in 2006. What is being proposed is completely new: an orientation to Labour as something that can be won for Marxism. Some comrades want us to fight for Labour to become a “permanent united front” with Labour general committees playing a role akin to Soviets. This is the argument of Jack Conrad and his supporters within the CPGB. For CS this must be an issue to be decided on by the autonomous conference of CS and not just an automatic re-orientation in line with the CPGB.
In their quest to legitimise this turn some comrades have resorted to denying this re-orientation.‘The party line has changed, comrades; this has always been the party line.’ It is not true that LRC affiliation and subsequent work is nothing new. The recent adoption of new theses on the Labour Party by the CPGB represents a political and organisational re-orientation on the part of that group. The theses are deeply flawed and inaccurate, and yet out of this vague text our organisation is stepping up Labour work in a direction never undertaken by either the CPGB or CS.
Just as in the CPGB, the comrades for a reorientation to Labour work seek to place themselves in the tradition of the early Communist Party but then only tell half of the story. It is common on the left to have learned about Lenin’s advice to Marxists in Britain and the decisions by the Second Congress of the Communist International (Comintern): to try to affiliate to the Labour Party, expose its leaders, and win workers in Britain to a socialist programme. A united front was proposed to defend the interests of the working class. The preconditions of such an approach were spelled out by Lenin, Trotsky and the Comintern: there must be complete liberty of agitation and organisation within Labour and a unified communist organisation of serious number to carry out the work. Democracy is a distant memory in the Labour Party and CS is a small organisation with few resources which must choose its priorities wisely. It is a mistake to listen to only half of the lessons and advice from our history. Just as a serious, active intervention within the ranks of the Labour Party is not possible for today’s CPGB, it is even less likely to be so for CS.
No section of this debate is seeking to isolate CS and to not have comrades engage with Labourites and the left generally. The same comrades who produced the opposition statement opposing affiliation to the LRC have also worked with Labour Students in anti-cuts committees and are part of a branch that backed Labour Students members who were against cuts in Students’ Union elections. The pro-affiliation comrades are conflating engaging Labour members and organisations, and working within Labour. Understanding the Labour Party as a site of struggle does not automatically lead to work inside Labour. We must consider the preconditions stated above, the balance forces, what can be gained and, most pertinently for our organisation, where best to expend our energy and devote our time. The opposition statement mistakenly confuses joining the LRC with accepting and fighting for Labourism. Under some circumstances it is permissible, even advisable, to work within Labour. There is nothing necessarily unprincipled about doing so.
“The LRC is an anti-cuts group” we are told by our pro-Labour comrades. But it seems to have escaped them that the LRC is not just another anti-cuts group. These comrades note that the LRC is holding its conference under the slogan “Resist the Cuts, Rebuild the Party” and yet neglect to comment on the second half of the formulation. The LRC is a campaign to defend and strengthen working class political representation through the Labour Party. It is a group which, according to its constitution, is “committed to the election of a Labour government” – i.e. another government of cuts. This does raise political questions for CS to decide upon. Are we for a Labour government, or do we contest this aim of the LRC? What forces are there within the Labour left that will be open to our ideas? Can comrades both work within Labour and promote communist organisation? Do we think the Labour Party can be won for Marxism?
The comrades who are for a reorientation to Labour also claim that it is simply a matter of CS doing more than one thing. A simple division of labour. Yet they have stated that they hope this will be part of a long term engagement without providing any plan beyond affiliation to the LRC and an intervention at its upcoming conference. We must not fall into the same trap as many left groups: trying to do many things whilst failing to do any of them well. It makes sense that our organisation puts most of its forces where we can gain the widest audience and suffer the least censorship. We have been part of many successful interventions and actions over the past year and our organisation has produced twice as much material as previous years (including a campus-based bulletin for workers and students called Educator, which was snapped up by hundreds in Manchester). Our orientation should be, as agreed at our last conference, primarily towards the burgeoning anti-cuts movement. Within this movement we need to be unambiguous in our promotion of communist ideas and organisation.
Cat Rylance (CPGB and CS Executive)
Chris Strafford (CPGB and Manchester CS)
Dave Isaacson (CPGB and Milton Keynes CS)
Liam Conway (CPGB and Manchester CS)
Alex Allan (Manchester CS)
James O’Leary (Manchester CS)
Sinead Rylance (London CS)