Campaign for a New Workers Party conference report
The CNWP conference on Sunday
19th was a good size with a healthy and friendly debate. Although
overwhelmingly Socialist Party in make up (80%?) the SP had a made a clear
effort to be inclusive and sensitive to non-SP members, and there was a
feeling of openness and common purpose which felt reasonably refreshing. I
suppose I should use that old standard 'serious' because, well, it was.
Dave Nellist, opening the conference described the day as "the beginning of a new mass campaign" for political representation for working people and, in his characteristically relaxed and thoughtful manner, laid out the aims of the campaign with simultaneous modesty and ambition.
Whilst talking about "learning the lessons of previous initiatives" he said we were way off actually launching a new party of the working class and emphasised the need for democracy and pluralism within any new initiative.
Tony Mulherne (Liverpool Militant), spoke next with an old style workman like contribution describing the campaign to develop a party as a long term objective that required a mass movement, but that the work for that movement started today although his call for "no more analysis, no more mourning" I found slightly confusing. What was I mourning for again? Are you sure there's no place for analysis from now on?
What struck me immediately at the difference between Nellist and Mulherne was the simple ability to engage with the way people think and speak. Whilst Nellist has a well practice speaking style it always feels as if you were having a cup of tea with him, and there is an absence of leftist formulae and the familiar linguistic ruts, Mulherne on the other hand is clearly a thing of the past, no matter what the content of his speech. Even his very first sentence contained the awful old style phrase "workers in uniform" and then went on to say that among "those who attended yesterday's demo against the war" you could "feel the disgust at the New Labour Government" as if anti-war demos are the place to judge the general mood of the population (although perhaps this is my hang-up about the left being unable to tell the difference between their own views and everyone else's)
Having said that he did do a good line about New Labour giving sleaze and corruption a bad name.
Mark Serwotka came up next and I'm sure those from the cold north will be pleased to hear he began with a comment about the difficulty of getting to meetings on a Sunday and the inequities of public transport. As always Mark S gave one of the most sensible speeches of the day and outlined how whilst everyone on the left now agrees that we need an alternative to the neo-liberal parties it's the question of how we get to that alternative that is the controversial question.
He talked about how, in a couple of weeks, there will be more than a million workers on strike against a government who is partially funded by the very unions who will be taking strike action and that these unions, through funding Labour were not representing their members interests.
Most of his contribution was an emphasis on the idea that there are a 'range' of initiatives which have had some modest electoral success and, without directly saying so, was insisting that respect be included in any picture of a future party. He acknowledged that this was not an easy project, but that the last thing we need is "two or three" alternatives to neo-liberalism.
There was a speaker from WASG (German left alliance that is part of the Left Party) Klaus Ludwig who spent most of speech pointing out that Lafontaine and the PDS (WASG's coalition partners) were not revolutionary socialists but were "Social Democrats" and justifying WASG's decision to stand against the left list in one city where the PDS had gone into coalition regional government with the spd. He said they were in favour of left unity "on a left program". Not sure how the content of his speech went down although everyone was pleased he was there.
Hannah Sell gave a good introduction to the discussion and motions section - and that this initiative was not trying to "stand up *for* working class people but had to be *made up* of working class people" and I think this statement does match up to the serious way the SP have been building the initiative (in my town for instance there is a commitment to visiting every major unionised workplace and talking direct to them about the public meeting coming up on the cnwp, and that is happening)
Resolutions; lots of people made the case for the nine resolutions before conference (the last one was remitted).
Res 1; SP; Roger Bannister "we need a new workers party more than any other political development in this country." Uncontroversial motion laying out the aims of the campaign. (overwhelmingly passed)
Res Two; SA3; Pete Maclaren; set up regional committees and for federalism. (overwhelmingly passed)
Res Three; WP; Jeremy Dewar; "we need a party that can seize power ruthlessly" eeek. "set out a strategy for the overthrow of capitalism" oooo. The fact that this was defeated 213 votes to 77 actually shows how seriously Workers Power has taken the conference and that a number of the independent people who were there voted for this resolution (no, I was not among them)
Res Four; CPGB; Lee Rock "we will campaign for a workers party based on the theory and practice of revolutionary Marxism" totally defeated, whew interestingly there were contributors from the floor who said they were not Marxists, one guy even did a huge diatribe against Marxism - cool. Rock also seemed to imply that Mark Serwotka did not take a workers wage, perhaps this was inadvertent, but my investigations have brought up no evidence for this what so ever.
Res Five; Reading CNWP; Terry Pearce; don't let any one group take over. I was slightly confused by what the motion actually meant and the speech didn't enlighten me) clearly passed.
Res Six; RDG; Steve Freeman; for full democracy (of the country) and internal platforms. we need a "pre-party, pro-party formation that will fight for democratic reforms" including proportional representation. For a change there was no emphasis on Republicanism (and it was not even mentioned in the motion)... he must be learning that the over use of particular words is counter productive - anyway defeated pretty heavily.
I vote against because why do you need platforms inside a federal organisation where everyone is free to organise their own groups as they please anyway - doesn't make sense - formula mongering. Oh, also Steve ticked the sp off for leaving the sa too early - woop! That was good, well done Steve.
Res seven; (are you bored yet? You didn't have to sit through the speeches - I jest) Revolution; Jo (surname?) organising young people - separate autonomous youth wing. Get all the socialist youth groups together. "This [youth] movement should be democratic, choose its own leading bodies and declare its solidarity with the struggle for a new workers party and affiliate to it when formed" despite formulations like "for a new revolutionary youth movement" in the motion I still voted for this (motion was defeated obviously, partly on the basis of some whining young socialist who didn't want to wind his group up and work with other socialists in his college)
I voted for this because Revo is probably the most successful 'youth' group on the left considering the size of its parent grouping and they have done this through a combination of genuine autonomous decision making and democracy, an open culture of debate and religious mania. Whilst I'm not in favour of the last bit I think the first two are worth learning from. If you can't be for the total overthrow of capitalism NOW when you're 18, when can you be?
Although as a quick note I wish the left wouldn't use the word 'youth' I've never met a young person (not indoctrinated by one of these groups) who'd use this word about themselves or their friends - its part of the dead lexicon of the left and needs ditching pronto... they should get with the kids man.
Res Eight; DSA John Pearson for a party "based on the fundamentals of Marxism" and for the adoption of the SA People not Profit manifesto. We should launch the party on May Day 2007. argh!!!! die die die - cough - excuse me - when it came to the vote I didn't see a single hand up for this irrelevant and stupid motion (all the others that were heavily defeated still had some support, even Steve Freeman). Good.
Res Nine; ISR; Remitted hurray!
Lunch - I had a turkey sandwich, it was quite nice
After lunch, there was a Respect speaker; Alan Thornett - it was really positive that Respect were invited and Alan gave a good ten minute explanation of the agreements and disagreements that existed genuinely attempting to engage without sycophancy or banal 'solidarity greeetings'. I think he gave a good performance (although I'm sure the fraternal discussion won't extend as far as Respect returning the invitation to the CNWP)
Alan explained that Respect had not signed the declaration because it would "not reflect the state of relations between Respect and this initiative." He talked about the left party in Germany, Portuguese Left Bloc et al all showing that the left could make electoral gains.
He talked about how there had been a number of these kinds of left unity initiatives across Europe and they had two characters / two alternatives. For a full revolutionary programme, or for broad pluralism - he was for the second one because that's the one that works. He said that Respect was a federalist coalition not a party - although it would have to become a party (Nellist came back on this later pointing out that Respect was not a federalist coalition in its structure or behaviour, god knows what Alan was thinking of when he said it, anyway)
Alan said that "none of us have the final answer" and that Respect is only a "part of this process" which is a big step onwards from where he was just six months ago with his "only game in town" talk and I think this reflects a general shift inside of the ISG towards a recognition that Respect is not quite as awe inspiring as they once claimed and that left activists who are not in respect do actually still exist in a meaningful sense. Thanks Alan.
However the one slip he made was in forgetting where he was and invited everyone to join Respect and transform it and that although Respect was part of the process, the end of that process, to his mind, was an expanded and more successful Respect - so he's not quite taken on board all the arguments of his comrades yet.
Anyway there have been proper discussions between respect and CNWP on ensuring they don't stand against each other if nothing else and hopefully that discussion will develop and broaden in time.
Okay, almost finished. Elections. To the interim committee the SP proposed to expand the officers group (creating a second vice chair) to ensure Workers Power had proper representation... this is certainly a good sign although second vice chair is not always the most central position on any committee and overall the committee was numerically dominated by sp members which is a shame but does accurately reflect the current composition of the campaign - it's still a mistake but on current form I can live with an SP that is at least trying to be reflective and open being in the majority even if its an error, its not like they suppressed anyone to get in that position.
We then broke into working groups who all elected a coordinator who would be on the committee. I went to the community and environmental campaigns. A bit directionless to be honest, not sure how the union ones went - I know that it was not only SP people were elected at these caucuses (although they were at ours) a community health campaigner, Jackie, who is going to the keep our NHS public conference to propose a national demonstration - woooo.
Anyway to sum up - the real test is what this campaign is going to *do* but this conference could have been the end of the campaign if it had been handled badly and that trap was avoided easily I think.
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