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Workers Socialist Review

Magazine of the Workers Socialist League
Affiliated to the Trotskyist International Liaison Committee

Written: 1983.
First Published: May 1983.
Source: Published by the Workers Socialist League.
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Workers Socialist Review
No. 3, April / May 1983

Communists go for ‘bishops and brickies’

Chris Reynolds looks at the Communist Party’s conflicts and crises.

The Communist Party’s daily, the Morning Star, has struck a militant tone in its comments on the proposed National Economic Assessment. In an editorial on March 21, it called for “class struggle, not class collaboration”, and argued that: “Class collaboration cannot solve the crisis in the interests of the working people. It always works in the interests of big business”.

Returning to the theme on Thursday 24th, it declared that “the way forward requires an intensification of class struggle, not another dose of the old discredited remedy – class collaboration”. “It is almost unbelievable that those on the left in the TUC general council could have allowed themselves to be bamboozled into voting for this document on the basis of assurances that it did not mean wage restraint”.

But the unanimous General Council vote to approve this re-run social contract included the Communist Party’s most prominent trade unionists, Ken Gill and George Guy. And by the next day, Friday 25th, the class-struggle message had faded away. A feature article by Peter Carter. recently chosen to be the CP’s hew industrial organiser, was headlined: “Jobs march can unite bishops and brickies”. The People’s March for Jobs, Carter argued, provides the opportunity for the construction of the broadest possible alliance of all who agree with the central demand (to make the ending of unemployment the number one priority), which of course ranges from bishops to bricklayers, from non-Thatcherite Tories to revolutionary Socialists”.

So much for the idea that “class collaboration cannot solve the crisis”. What Carter proposes is not a class-struggle alliance round a single, or a few, precise demands, but the silencing of any mention of class struggle for jobs for the sake of securing class collaboration around empty phrases.

The position of Gill and Guy, and the CP line on the Jobs March, epitomise the political crisis that lies behind the continued decline of the CP. Its membership is now down to 15,000.

Tied by a strategy which essentially focuses on winning positions, friends, and influence in the trade union bureaucracy, the CP has become an external ‘fifth wheel’ for the ‘centre left’ in the Labour Party. Its identification with the USSR has become a hindrance and, to many CP members, an embarrassment. Its strong network in certain industries, which made it attractive to some trade union militants, is gradually decaying and not being rebuilt. There is now a sizeable and vocal current in the Labour Party consistently to the left of the CP: as against that left current, the CP is identified more with people like the Labour Party’s new general secretary, Jim Mortimer, with his Stalinist ideological formation and his background as a full-time official in TASS.

There is less and less reason why anyone should join the CP rather than the Labour Party. And that fact is the background to the internal conflict now racking the CP.

It blew up last year over an article in the CP magazine Marxism Today. The author – Tony Lane (a non-CPer) – concluded by arguing that minor perks and privileges were corrupting a section of shop stewards. This was close to the bone for many CP senior stewards and convenors who had been heavily involved in ‘participation’ – and even more so for CP full-time trade union officials. The Fleet Street press picked up on it, which increased the indignation.

CP industrial organiser Mick Costello issued a statement condemning the article, and a fierce debate followed in the Morning Star letters column. Eventually the CP executive committee declared in favour of Marxism Today editor Martin Jacques, and soon afterwards Costello resigned as industrial organiser. The resignation was for ‘domestic reasons’, Costello said, but those ‘domestic reasons’ proved no obstacle to him taking on the job of Morning Star industrial correspondent from March 7.

As industrial correspondent he will work under the Morning Star’s editor, Tony Chater, who inclines to Costello’s side in the internal conflict – not under the more ‘Eurocommunist’ executive. New industrial organiser Peter Carter is more identified with the executive’s line.

In this conflict the basic politics of the CP are not in question. The CP is moving along a road from Stalinism to social democracy, a road which at no point leads to real class-struggle politics. The issue is between those who think it is moving too fast, and those who think it is not moving fast enough.

The latter current has one success to its credit: since Martin Jacques, a determined ‘moderniser’, took over as editor of Marxism Today, its circulation has risen rapidly, and is now 11,500 as against 5,000 in 1979.

But the more conservative wing in the CP could well point out that to develop a circulation for a theoretical magazine on the basis of refining reformism and having CP academics float ideas in favour of incomes policy or a Labour-Alliance coalition, is one thing: to stem the decline of the CP’s industrial strength on that basis is impossible.

The problem is that neither the modernisers nor the conservatives are what they claim to be. The supposed fresh new thinking of the modernisers differs from what Bernstein and Kautsky wrote 80 years ago mostly by being more pompous and less serious; their anti-Stalinism stops well short of any programme of working class action against the bureaucracy. The conservatives are not defending proletarian politics, but a political tradition imbued with class collaboration since the mid ’30s and with stultifying bureaucratism for longer.

The CP – both wings – is a force for class collaboration, not class struggle.

Workers Socialist Review Index (1981-84)

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