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Censorship, in private and public: An open letter to the CPGB/Weekly Worker.

 Andy Hannah and Ian Donovan


 

The following two letters to the Weekly Worker were refused publication by the editor, allegedly because they were written by “disenchanted” or “embittered” people, or alternatively because they refer to material which is allegedly “apolitical”. They shed further light on the recent split from the CPGB by members of the organisation’s Red Platform.

            They also paint a picture of sect-like political degeneration in the CPGB and political opportunism. They develop (and correct), the account of the split by Mike Macnair in WW (http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/542/Red%20Party.htm).

            Andy Hannah, a supporter/member of the CPGB since 1992, severed his ties with the organisation in the aftermath of its April aggregate. He objected to what he saw as the CPGB leadership’s unprincipled conciliation of Manny Neira, joint initiator of the CPGB Red Platform and leader of the splinter ‘party’ that took its name.

            Comrade Hannah considered that Neira’s breaches of Party democracy were being indulged by the CPGB’s leadership which saw in him a wonderful new acquisition. He also suspected Neira’s motivations, noting his political closeness with the Alliance for Workers Liberty.

Comrade Hannah had previously challenged comrade Neira in an internal Party forum. However, when Neira and CPGB loyal oppositionist Cameron Richards formed the Red Platform in opposition to the majority position on Respect comrade Hannah wrote to the WW detailing his suspicions.

            We cannot reproduce this letter here due to its unavailability. However, in it comrade Hannah stated his belief that Neira had been intent on creating a faction around himself from the beginning, and that his aim was to act as a catalyst for unity between the CPGB and the AWL, not only in opposition to the Respect project but also in terms of more general politics.

The letter noted comrade Neira’s close political association with comrade Gerry Byrne of the AWL, and queried who Neira was really associated with in his factional endeavour. This is a somewhat delicate matter given comrade Neira’s personal relationship with comrade Byrne. However, this can not excuse pulling political punches if such dishonest collaboration is suspected.

            Following receipt of this letter a climate of opinion was engendered in the CPGB in which comrade Hannah was treated with considerable contempt. His letter was denied publication and, such was the depth of feeling from some of the less sophisticated elements, it was even compared to correspondence from a fascist.

The only comrade who defended Andy Hannah on this was Provisional Central Committee member Ian Donovan, who had himself been engaged in political conflict with Neira over the CPGB’s attitude to Respect, George Galloway and the AWL. While initially expressing scepticism about some of comrade Hannah’s suspicions, comrade Donovan nevertheless defended his right to a proper hearing and to be treated in a comradely manner. Later comrade Donovan became convinced that comrade Hannah’s suspicions had been correct.

            The account of comrade Donovan’s exit from the CPGB given by Mike Macnair in his article on the founding of the Red Party is disingenuous. It should be obvious to any reader of the WW in the period of early May 2004 that, prior to his own departure from the CPGB, Neira’s activities in smuggling his faction’s anti-Respect line into ordinary journalistic articles was not confined to the ‘pregnant Galloway’ party piece, but a number of other articles also: undermining the decisions of two aggregates. The subsequent formation of the Red Party, an initiative of Manny Neira and Gerry Byrne, leaving Red Platform co-founder Cameron Richards in the lurch and taking with it most of the remaining membership of the Red Platform, was vindication of comrade Hannah’s prediction. Comrade Neira’s real ambition was to lead his own political current along with Gerry Byrne.

            However, the CPGB leadership do not see it that way. This obvious truth cannot be told internally in the CPGB. Indeed, when comrade Donovan forcefully made these points; on the prescience of comrade Hannah’s letter, on how members of the leadership who defended Neira against these ‘scurrilous’ attacks had ‘egg on their face’ given the subsequent course of events, they did not take kindly either. The result was an attack on freedom of expression in the CPGB.

            The CPGB does not have an internal bulletin. However, in the last few years the organisation has used an electronic discussion list which allowed the easy circulation of opinions, information, etc. This was an essentially unmoderated forum. Comrades who engaged in abusive behaviour on the list were warned about their behaviour, but otherwise people could say what they thought. This facilitated a lively culture of debate and discussion.

            Reacting in panic from the idiocy of their conciliation of Manny Neira, and the almost comical exposure of this by the Red Party split, the CPGB leadership has now abolished the old discussion list. In the process they appear to have deleted four years of archives - equivalent to pulping four years’ of internal bulletins and debate. In its place they have instituted a pre-moderated list in which all contributions must be approved by the leadership before they are circulated. This has gutted the previously lively e-caucus. Now members are beginning to complain that the new list is boring, merely a leadership bulletin board of the kind one might expect from the SWP.

            The new pre-moderated list was imposed without informing comrade Donovan, a member of the PCC. Although unable to attend PCC meetings at the time due to illness, as a PCC member his opinion should have been canvassed before such a drastic step was taken. Had he been consulted he would have objected to it in the strongest terms.

However, this failure to consult makes sense. One key purpose of the change was to stop the circulation of comrade Donovan’s criticisms of the leadership majority, in particular over their conciliation of Manny Neira and the excuses the PCC majority made for Neira’s violations of democratic centralism.

            Comrade Donovan resigned from the CPGB in protest at this anti-democratic step. Other differences, particularly over the inability of the CPGB to arrive at a consistent, comprehensible position on Respect and the war of liberation in Iraq, contributed to this decision. The imposition of censorship in internal, non-public discussions was the final straw.

            This kind of censorship of debate damages the CPGB and the political development of its members in the same way as the imposition of restrictions on factions, the circulation of information, etc, do in other organisations. We chose to publish this because the CPGB leadership has attempted to shield itself from public criticism by refusing to print letters (reproduced below) that mention this attack on party democracy. Their decision not to publish them is not only cowardly, it is also hypocritical.

            The best guarantee against the degeneration of the left is openness – all actions have to be justified before the public opinion of the left and labour movement – and the CPGB needs to be subject to that corrective as much as any other socialist grouping. Thus we challenge the CPGB to address this question openly.

 

In comradeship

 

Andy Hannah – CPGB member and supporter 1992-2004

Ian Donovan – CPGB supporter 1999-2000, CPGB member 2000-2004, CPGB Provisional Central Committee member 2003-4.

 

1. Letter from Andy Hannah to Weekly Worker (12/09/2004)

 

John Bridge’s letter (Weekly Worker 543) is a welcome, if overdue, contribution to the recent ‘furore’ of Manny Neira’s short-lived membership of the CPGB. Although his suggestion that Manny “possessed no understanding of comradeship nor commitment to the norms of democratic centralism” is surely the sort of ‘personal attack’ I was accused of when I raised concerns about the comrade’s actions and motivations.

Before severing my links with the CPGB I pointedly asked comrade Neira in a Party forum if he was “artisan or partisan”. My concerns arose from my experience of working with the comrade and the attitude he showed to collective work.

Needless to say I never received a satisfactory response.

It was striking how quickly an apparently charming, self-effacing comrade was transformed into a stroppy, self-centred teenager when he failed to get his way or was challenged politically. More striking, however, was the lengths to which the leadership were prepared to go to mollify Manny. A strategy which not only resulted in my own severing of ties but also the exit of leading comrade, Ian Donovan.

In addition, the strategy singularly failed to hold onto the object of its unrequited desire nor, save Red Platform co-founder comrade Cameron Richards and one other, most of the band of fellow-thinkers Manny managed to cobble together.

Unfortunately the damage is not limited to the loss of members and sympathisers. Existing CPGB comrades have also been given a very bad lesson in democratic centralism which promises further difficulties in the future.

At two members’ aggregates the organisation voted to support Respect. Both these votes were taken prior to the manifesto launches of the main bourgeois parties. An election does not start and stop on election day. It must, by necessity, include the campaigning period before ballot boxes are distributed. It is logical to mark the start of that campaign when the main bourgeois parties issue their manifestoes.

Once battle had been joined opposition to the majority line within the paper should have ceased. (The Weekly Worker is, after all, the Party’s main political weapon.) However, the Weekly Worker carried the Red Platform’s essentially anti-Respect column until the final week of the campaign. According to comrade Bridge, it was only terminated because the Red Platform “could no longer fill it with anything worthwhile”. It is perhaps more accurate to state that the column was terminated because the Red Platform’s initiator had abandoned ship.

Indulging mercurial and unreliable individuals at the expense of Party democracy would appear to be a mistake of sufficiently monumental proportions for any organisation. However, the CPGB now seeks to compound its error by introducing a moderated email list for its members. Presumably mother knows best when it comes to open, free and unhindered political debate amongst comrades.

Having spent 12 years in and around the Party, it has been depressing to see how it has been paralysed over this recent period by the SWP’s Respect initiative and how SWP-like appetites for growth have harmed the organisation. Perhaps comrade Bridge’s closing remark that the mess of the recent period is “in part … our fault” marks a return to a more principled attitude to Party building.

Andy Hannah
London

 

2. Letter from Ian Donovan to Weekly Worker (14/9/2004)

 

Manny Neira (9 September) justifies his leading a split away from the CPGB with the strange accusation that his political views were in some way prevented from being aired in the Weekly Worker in the period before he resigned. A cursory examination of relevant issues of WW from the European/GLA election campaign, prior to June 6th (mainly in May) reveal this to be utter nonsense. During this period in early May, comrade Neira’s Red Platform was permitted by the leadership of the CPGB not only to run a public column (which was within the bounds of the degree of public face mandated by the organisation), but also to insert various plugs and polemics aimed subtly but unmistakeably against the ‘vote Respect’ majority position in several other articles which come under the heading of ordinary reportage. The May 6th and 13th issues of the paper were particularly notable in this regard.

            Neira, as John Bridge says, has no conception of comradeship or democratic centralism, and this manifested itself by his abuse of his role in laying out the paper to subvert the presentation of the majority position in the middle of an election campaign, a party action. And comrade Neira is not satisfied with this even now. He thinks he should have been given more, have been indulged more, than in fact he was already. He also believes that people who challenge him politically have no right to do so.

            For such a great ‘democrat’, it is notable that he does not deny Mike Macnair’s recounting of his attempt to enlist the remainder of the CPGB’s leadership body (the PCC) to force me to apologise for political criticisms of his attempts to subvert the democratically decided majority line. Knowing full well that, though I was formally part of the majority in advocating support for Respect, I was nevertheless in a minority in terms of consistently advocating this position, our great ‘democrat’ attempted to enlist the vacillating PCC majority to assist his projected purge.

            For all his protestations of ‘democratic’ purity, those unfortunate to have joined his Red Party may be in for a hard time when serious political differences arise. Comrade Neira does not tolerate effective criticism. His own political agenda is clear now as it was then – unity – on the basis of ideological rapprochement – with the social-imperialist, Zionist AWL. Unfortunately, the CPGB leadership is too confusionist and has drunk too deeply from the Shachtman-Draper well to put up any real fight against this. A real tragedy.

            The whole episode of the Red Party split has had a deleterious effect on the CPGB and its once democratic ethos. Too squeamish to actually do Neira’s bidding and apply organisational sanctions against those who criticised his abuses, nevertheless a torrent of abuse was unleashed internally against those whose inconvenient criticisms allegedly ‘drove’ Neira to split away. And as the egg on the face of those who indulged our friend has become more and more conspicuous, in turn, they have attacked party democracy. To prevent internal criticism of this dismal vacillation and unprincipled conciliationism, the CPGB has now introduced prior leadership vetting of all contributions on its internal discussion e-forum. A measure rather reminiscent of the kind of bureaucratic practices the CPGB berates others on the left for. A measure that contradicts the whole basis on which I joined the CPGB. Rather than either be the victim of, or complicit in, these kinds of bureaucratic norms, I chose to resign and continue to fight for partyism outside the CPGB, seeking to maximise the evident potential Respect is now showing.

 

Ian Donovan

London

 

September 2004

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