ROB GRIFFITHS argues that a strong Communist Party can help develop the policies and boost the extra-parliamentary struggle needed to strengthen the left in putting forward a powerful, coherent position in the labour movement
Three recent events have underlined the need for a stronger and more influential Communist Party in Britain today.
The first was the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader and his party’s subsequent conference in Liverpool.
From the outset, Communists and the Morning Star supported Corbyn and his left-wing programme in last summer’s election, when others on the left were dismissing the battle and still urging socialists and affiliated trade unions to abandon the Labour Party.
Contrary to numerous allegations from his Labour and media opponents, the CP has supported Corbyn in both campaigns, but from outside the Labour Party — in the labour and progressive movements, not from inside.
The CP rejects the cynical, dishonest strategy and tactics of “entryism.” All our party members were explicitly directed not to participate in the leadership ballot, even when invited to do so by Labour and trade union activists.
We understood that even a single case of such participation, if exposed, would provide ammunition to those claiming that Corbyn was being aided and manipulated by sinister and “extreme” forces.
Some leftist sects, desperate for a flicker of public recognition, rushed to the media to proclaim their own entryist tactics. This, of course, was a gift gratefully received and utilised by Corbyn’s enemies.
The real Communist Party adopted a more mature, disciplined approach.
Our contribution to Corbyn’s two victories was made on two different levels.
First, we worked hard to help build the four years of extra-parliamentary struggle which preceded last year’s Labour leadership battle. Through the People’s Charter, the People’s Assembly, the trade union movement and the Morning Star, CP members helped to organise and mobilise waves of mass activity targeting the austerity, privatisation and militarist policies of successive governments.
Together with our friends and allies, we helped draw hundreds of thousands of people into political activity, many of them for the first time. Subsequently, many activists enrolled with the Labour Party to vote for the candidate — Corbyn — who has spent his political life participating in extra-parliamentary campaigning.
Second, we have proposed perspectives, strategies, tactics and policies in the labour and progressive movements that will develop people’s political understanding. In particular, we have sought to revive and popularise the values and goal of socialism.
No other political party in Britain has carried out this work on so many fronts in such a planned, strategic and non-sectarian way.
Now that Corbyn’s leadership has been consolidated a little by his re-election and a shadow cabinet reshuffle, mass campaigning, political education and the Communist Party’s contribution are needed as much as ever.
The Labour conference signalled an intensification of the battle of ideas in that party and the wider labour movement.
Left and progressive policies were agreed in such fields as public infrastructure investment, housing, renationalisation of the railways and employment and trade union rights.
But there were gaps and weaknesses that reflect Labour’s deep divisions and deficiencies.
For example, there was no clear pledge to take water, gas and electricity back into public ownership. Indeed, shadow energy secretary Lisa Nandy told delegates: “Jeremy and I don’t want to nationalise energy. We want to do something far more radical. We want to democratise it.”
Of course, many more green and municipal energy schemes would be desirable. But they are no substitute for reclaiming control over the Big Six monopolies which dominate more than 85 per cent of the energy market, including future investment in renewables, generation, storage and transmission.
Nor was there a clear commitment to a federal Britain which, combined with much more radical plans to redistribute wealth throughout the nations and regions, is the strongest platform from which to combat the SNP.
Labour’s official policy continues to support the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system. This criminal project will waste more than £200 billion that could redeploy all munitions workers to the production of vital energy, transport and health equipment.
The claim by former shadow defence secretary Clive Lewis that Nato embodies Labour’s own values of “collectivism, internationalism and the strong defending the weak” demonstrates how deeply imperialism is ingrained in the Labour Party.
Then there was the refusal of the Labour conference to face up to the challenge of Brexit.
Corbyn has made clear his view that the EU exit vote must be implemented. He has also questioned aspects of the European Single Market.
But Labour has no clear, agreed strategy or objectives when it comes to fighting for an exit that best serves the interests of the working class — a “People’s Brexit,” as the People’s Assembly now proposes.
In fact, a significant number of fanatically pro-EU Labour MPs and lords will be doing their utmost to sabotage the democratic decision of the peoples of Britain.
On these and many other issues, it is the Communist Party which argues consistently and unapologetically for left and anti-imperialist policies — and for socialism.
The CP programme Britain’s Road to Socialism also recognises the necessity of winning the Labour Party and many more of its members, supporters and voters to similar positions. But such a transformation requires, among other things, a stronger and more influential Communist Party.
The second recent event to illustrate the role of the CP was the weekend of activities organised by the People’s Assembly around the Tory Party conference.
The big demonstration in Birmingham on October 2 highlighted the need to continue campaigning at every level to put an end to the Tory government and austerity policies.
But the preceding People’s Assembly conference also carried forward the vital work of formulating a set of altermative policies.
This combination of policy development with extra-parliamentary struggle — especially in local working-class communities — will directly assist the left in its battle of ideas in the labour movement.
Again, individually and collectively, Communists will strive to continue making a significant and strategic contribution to this work.
Third, October 9 saw the colourful march and rally to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street.
In 1936, the Communist Party played the central role — with its Jewish, Irish and left-wing allies — in mobilising a hundred thousand protesters to prevent the British Union of Fascists marching through the East End of London.
The link between the CP of today and yesterday was embodied by two of the speakers last week: current chair of the party (and secretary of the National Assembly of Women) Liz Payne and veteran of the original battle (and later one of 12 Communists on Stepney Council) Max Levitas.
Today, Communists continue to play a part in many anti-racist and anti-fascist campaigns, not least alongside our allies in the Indian Workers’ Association and the Bangladeshi Workers’ Council.
Building the Communist Party and the Young Communist League enhances all these movements, campaigns and initiatives.
It strengthens the trade union movement and the left as a whole. Indeed, those periods when the CP has been at its most influential, in the late 1930s, early 1940s and early 1970s, have also seen the left in the Labour Party make its biggest advances.
That’s another good reason for trade unionists, socialists and internationalists to join the Communist Party of Britain and through it help to strengthen the labour and progressive movements organisationally and politically.
- Rob Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain.