Weekly Worker; love it or hate it?
You have to admire the brass-neck of the
CPGB. Not only did they pinch the party name of the old official
(Morning Star) communists when the previous proprietors briefly went out
of business, but they also publish Britain's most outrageous,
unsettling, and probably best read (but not bought!) socialist
Weekly Worker has become a publishing
sensation, (although few of its readers may ever see it in printed
form). As a previously long term member of the SWP, I always felt
deliciously guilty about checking the Weekly Worker web page - as I
regarded it as the fruit of the forbidden tree. When I first started
reading the paper on-line I used to feel physically uncomfortable,
because as Jim Higgins, a former National Secretary of the International
Socialists (precursor of the SWP) has written: "Long ago the SWP
established a policy of minimum debate that is now so firmly embedded as
to be part of the tradition." (http://www.marxists.org/archive/higgins/1997/locust/chap14.htm
There is undoubtedly extreme hostility to
the paper amongst many on the left. It is therefore helpful that the
CPGB has printed a defence of its own unique "kiss and tell" style of
In short: "It is an unfortunate fact of
our movement that the predominant culture on the left could be summed up
by the old saying, 'Never wash your dirty linen in public'. However,
such a sentiment is deeply antithetical to the values of Marxism and
authentic communism. Though it might comes as a shock to some comrades,
the journalistic style of the Weekly Worker is not the result of an
obsessive desire by its writers to embarrass or humiliate our comrades
on the left, least of all by a prurient urge to expose their private
lives to the full gaze of public scrutiny. Rather it springs from our
understanding that a real communist newspaper is one that unflinchingly
fights for extreme democracy - which in practice means the open
circulation and clash of different and contending views."
As always on the left, the author doesn't
allow his argument to stand on its own merits, he feels the need to
plump it up a bit with some quotations from Marx, but we can indulge him
this as he is pushing uphill against the weight of received wisdom.
Although the CPGB are probably unaware of it, support for their position
also comes from a seemingly unlikely source.
In 1960 former SWP leader Tony Cliff
wrote: "The managers of factories can discuss their business in secret
and then put before the workers a fait accompli. The revolutionary party
that seeks to overthrow capitalism cannot accept the notion of a
discussion on policies inside the party without the participation of the
mass of the workers - policies which are then brought "unanimously"
ready-made to the class. Since the revolutionary party cannot have
interests apart from the class, all the party's issues of policy are
those of the class, and they should therefore be thrashed out in the
open, in its presence. The freedom of discussion which exists in the
factory meeting, which aims at unity of action after decisions are
taken, should apply to the revolutionary party. This means that all
discussions on basic issues of policy should be discussed in the light
of day: in the open press. Let the mass of the workers take part in the
discussion, put pressure on the party, its apparatus and leadership" (http://www.marxists.org/archive/cliff/works/1960/xx/trotsub.htm
"Trotsky on Substitutionism" is indeed
one of Cliff's best articles, and the SWP saw fit to republish it in a
collection of essays in 1982. As well as advocating that the Party press
should, as a question of principle, cover the internal debates in the
party; it also provides a robust defence of organised factions in
socialist parties and demolishes the myth that the Russian Bolsheviks
didn't disagree with each other in public (the issue over which I
recently parted company with John Rees).
Now personally I think we need to move on
from organisational schemas dreamt up to suit Russian conditions a
hundred years ago, so I don't really care anymore what Trotsky or Lenin
did or said on how to build a party. I recognise that the October
revolution was a tremendous achievement, but we don't expect Sven Goran
Erikson to studiously follow the thoughts and tactics of Sir Alf Ramsey.
Not only are the balls lighter nowadays but the players are fitter and
back-passes to the goalie are no longer allowed. I quote Cliff on the
issue merely in the hope that his modern day followers will be
stimulated by it to involve themselves in the debate.
So is Weekly Worker a 100% good thing?
Unfortunately there are a few things seriously wrong with it.
Firstly, it has almost nothing to say to
trade union militants or Labour left-wingers who are not interested in
the internecine disagreements of the left groups. This weakness becomes
truly acute when faced with industrial struggle, as Weekly Worker looked
at the Fire-fighters dispute through the looking glass of the left
groups instead of addressing itself to what militant Fire-fighters
should be doing to win. This is a reflection of the consitently
ultra-left politics of the CPGB. Now I know that "ultra-left" is a term
freely tossed around as an insult on the left to mean anything you
happen to disagree with - especially if you have already decided to call
the other side of the argument "opportunist", but I do mean something
quite specific. A good example is the CPGB's advocation of abstention in
any referndum on the Euro. They take a formally correct position - that
the European bosses are no better than the British gang - and conclude
from it that socialists shouldn't take sides. Thus ignoring the
political context within the British working class movement as a whole.
The "purity" of their position means they would not effectively engage
in the debate with the mass of workers, and instead they seek to
influence only the existing far-left.
Secondly, it reports these internal
discussions on the left, but it doesn't really engage adequately with
the conflicting theories informing the debate. For example, Socialist
Outlook (Winter 2003) published a very useful contribution on how we
build a broad mass party by Alan Thornett ("Broad Parties, Revolutionary
Parties and the United Front").
Frontline is also consistently
thought provoking. I simply cannot imagine theoretical articles that
actually move the movement forard being published in Weekly Worker.
Thirdly, it is sometimes indiscriminate
in publishing stuff that is simply divisive or abusive. For example a
while ago a letter was published advocating violence against supporters
of the British SWP in Hong Kong. There can be no justification for this.
Fourthly, it applies double standards,
depending upon whether someone is seen as an ally or not. We can all
think of examples.
and finally, publishing spoken
contributions at meetings may inhibit evolution of thought because it
can make people reluctant to put forward an idea they are not yet 100%
sure of, in fear that it may end up in print.
Hopefully these weaknesses can be
explained by the current immaturity of the CPGB, and time and experience
will correct them. However, for that to happen the CPGB comrades need to
look beyond the goldfish bowl of the left to the wider world outside.
Until then of course you can continue to follow (and participate in) the
debates in the movement through our web page, which has all the virtues
of the Weekly Worker and none of its vices!! (Well, that is the