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Scattergun defence

Ian Donovan

Andy Newman's comments regarding the CPGB in his article 'In Defence of the SWP' seem to be spot on regarding the CPGB's ropey and ill-informed polemics against the SWP and Respect. These in fact contrast quite unfavourably with the well-informed material they produced in the past regarding the SLP and the Socialist Alliance, where they were able to present a positive vision that pointed the way for these projects to succeed. Lately, because of their own latent political flaws, they have been reduced to crass sectarianism regarding the Respect project.

However, some of Andy's characterisations of the CPGB suffer from the same kind of problems - and appear equally ill-informed and scattergun. As the CPGB's one-time leading exponent of a proper, constructive engagement with the Respect project, I have to say that some of the alleged flaws he cites from people who have left them on both sides of this argument are incompatible with each other.

For instance, he criticises the CPGB for expelling John Pearson after he
deliberately voted against their public position at a meeting of the SADP,
claiming to be subject to a binding mandate by his local SA. In fact, he and a
co-thinker/non-member were the authors of this 'binding mandate' - this was a
transparent excuse for simply refusing to accept the position the organisation's
elected bodies had put forward. He had the right to challenge these positions
internally in the CPGB, but instead he chose to publicly vote against them in a
meeting when the CPGB's organisational weight was in the scales vis--vis other currents.

I cannot believe that the SWP would allow a prominent member of their
organisation to behave in this manner with impunity - indeed in the past whole
groupings have been expelled simply for expressing dissident views *internally* - the RDG and earlier Workers Power spring to mind - let alone voting against the SWP leadership position in a national united front-type meeting. Maybe if some junior figure did that they might get away with it, but a prominent representative who did that would be out on their ear. And rightly so!

Likewise, comrade Newman criticises the CPGB for ceasing to publish the Red Platform's anti-Respect column in the Weekly Worker. My criticism would tend in the opposite direction: in my view the CPGB leadership bent over backwards to accommodate this rightist faction, to the extent that, as well as their column, this grouping was allowed to publish material in the guise of ordinary reportage that aimed to undermine the CPGB majority position during the Respect election campaign. Ultimately, it was because of criticism of their opportunism and complicity with these breaches of democratic centralism that the CPGB leadership moved against the previously extensive party democracy that had existed prior to these events.

In my view, the CPGB's breaches of democratic centralism, in indulging the Red Platform/Party grouping, were what led them to attack party democracy. But acts of blatant indiscipline and contempt for the majority viewpoint as expressed by the likes of John Pearson and Manny Neira do not constitute any kind of defence of party democracy. On the contrary, they were attacks on that democracy.

If you sign up for a democratic centralist organisation, then you sign up for
restrictions on the right to publicly criticise the party majority. The SWP have
a rather different version of democratic centralism than the CPGB - I cannot
believe that a minority faction hostile to Respect (had one existed), for
instance, would be able to run a column attacking Respect in Socialist Worker
during the Respect election campaign (or any other time, come to think of it).

In fact, one could argue that according to the norms I signed up to, the Red
Platform should have been barred from running such a column *during* the
election campaign, but be allowed to resume it afterwards (as the 'action' was
by then over). But irrespective of these subtleties, I have never seen anything
remotely like this come from the SWP. But one thing I certainly did *not* sign
up for was restrictions on the right to criticise *in private*, which is what is
involved in the introduction of pre-moderation on the CPGB's internal discussion list. This was another breach of democratic centralism, and led directly to my resignation over a point of principle.

The point being, that if you join a democratic centralist organisation, you
should take these norms seriously. The relationship between majority and
minority currents that is mandated under democratic centralism may be right or wrong.

But if it is considered wrong, it would be better to argue explicitly *against*
democratic centralism in principle, not pay lip service to it while at the same
time working to undermine it. The latter is the misdeed that comrade Pearson,
comrade Neira and his followers, and indeed ultimately the CPGB leadership
itself, were guilty of. Comrade Newman's criticisms of the CPGB over these
events are in this sense too indiscriminate, and come over as badly as the
CPGB's recent somewhat flaky attacks on the SWP.


December 2004

Read Andy Newman's article
In defence of the SWP here

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