The following two letters to
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Andy Hannah – CPGB member
and supporter 1992-2004
Ian Donovan – CPGB supporter
1999-2000, CPGB member 2000-2004, CPGB Provisional Central Committee
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
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.
2. Letter from Ian Donovan
to Weekly Worker (14/9/2004)
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
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
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