Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Finally, the CC split had become open. Two of the dissenting four had seemingly recanted their support for the expulsions. For this and possibly other reasons, they were dropped from the CC slate. The other two CC dissidents said that they wouldn't want to serve on the new central committee if conference voted for the new slate. So, the faction had actually started to do its job; it had helped prise open the divisions in the CC and activate its brewing crisis.
I was supposed to give a short speech, summarising the key themes and making some broad strategic points. I had written the following notes:
1) The CC want to legitimise the expulsions by winning majority support for them at conference. I think this is a sign that they know they're exposed and many people are concerned by it. But I just want to say this - even if they win that vote at conference that is not the end of the matter for us.2) We should utterly disregard the accusations of being inward-looking. There is no firewall between internal organisation and politics beyond the organisation. Such a claim is profoundly at odds with historical materialism. Democracy in the party is a political issue. For example, one of the few gains for the party in recent years has been the recruitment of a large number of students. This is what we should expect, because students were the first to get shafted by the coalition government, and the first to fight back. It was their revolt that gave confidence to trade unionists to start fighting for a mass strike. So why should it suddenly be that these very same comrades are now all too often under attack in the party, being bullied, taunted with the stigma of 'autonomism' and 'creeping feminism'? How could this party be ready to destroy one of our few significant gains? It is because there is a fundamental problem with party democracy, a fundamental problem with party culture, and a manifest problem of party corruption. And the student members were among the first to see that, and to be ready to fight it. That's why party democracy is a political issue.But while I'm at it, let me just mention my view that the CC is in no position to lecture about broader strategies and tactics. I think they're in a state of denial. Their first IB contribution claimed the government was struggling to get austerity passed - it isn't. It's being expedited by all three parliamentary parties, and to an extent the trade union bureaucracy. They think they have a strategy for building a rank-and-file fightback, and extol UTR to the heavens for its role in this. Let us not be churlish. UTR has some accomplishments, but a well-attended meeting in central London and 160 trade union branch affiliations is not the beginning of a rank-and-file recovery. There is no rank-and-file movement. And we have to ask why 2012 was such a bad year for the working class, why our strategy yielded so little, and why in general despite over a decade of radicalisation - so says the CC - the party hasn't really grown. The CC don't have the answers to those questions. Democracy is a precondition of having a proper debate about this, and facing political reality.3) In order to concretise our position in this fight, we have to advance some positive demands beyond opposing the expulsions and rejecting the findings of the Disputes C ommittee. It will enable us to be heard more audibly, giving definition to our queries about party democracy and culture. I suggest three things: a) issues affect us all year round, they merit party discussion all year round - we need regular intra-party communications, whether in the form of IBs or something else; b) issues and perspectives are apt to suddenly cause divisions at any point and their duration isn't fixed by an annual calendar. We should get rid of the ridiculous ban on factions; c) I don't know about you, but I'm long past the point where I could say, 'at least the slate system works'. Forget if you like the destabilising splits led by prominent CC members over recent years, the fact that after prolonged and bitter faction fights on the CC that were concealed from the members, we have seen dozens of members walking out behind a defeated faction. But just in this conference alone, we have an official slate that two of its proposed members don't want to be on! If it wins, they say they'll resign. Why? Because the CC is divided. Because the idea that the slate system secures unity, cohesion and accountability is a joke. Because there isn't an argument for the damned thing that doesn't proffer a bleak satire of the state of the organisation as it now exists. It's time to try something new.4) There is inevitably a lot of rethinking prompted by moments like this. And just as inevitably, there's a backlash against this rethinking, as a departure from consecrated orthodoxy. I think it's quite natural in many ways that radicalised students would be among those doing the rethinking, while seasoned full-timers would be its bitterest opponents. But not only do we have a right to debate and discuss these issues - it is an absolute necessity to engage in the debates *as they are happening today*. Whether the issue is feminism or something else, the discussion cannot be shut down by directing people to conclusions reached in thirty year old polemics. And nor can it be managed by talking reverentially about 'our tradition' - a living tradition is open-ended, developing, susceptible to adaptation. Only dead traditions are closed to development.5) The CC's response to us, from the incredibly crude expulsions to the statement put out yesterday, and all the slightly desperate editorialising appended to our faction statements, indicates that they think they can deal with us by 'smashing' the opposition. They triumphantly circulate their list of signatories. But we shouldn't be impressed by this. They didn't expect two dissenting factions; they didn't even expect one. The dynamism has been entirely on our side thus far. The crisis is theirs. But this doesn't mean we should be bullish or over-confident. Rather, whatever happens at conference tomorrow - and we may not win the votes we're focusing on - we have to be ready to dig in for the long haul. We have to be ready to fight. Don't think if we don't win tomorrow, it's all over - it isn't. And the CC should know that about us.