Political report - March 2003 Executive Committee meeting

By Andrew Murray

There is no need to exaggerate the historic significance of the times we are living in. As we meet, a year-long struggle against an Anglo-American attack against Iraq is reaching its climax.

That struggle has already proved historic in our own country. On February 15 in London and Glasgow we saw the largest demonstrations – by a very considerable margin – that have ever taken place in Britain. We have seen the largest back-bench rebellion against a government in more than 100 years of parliamentary history. And we have seen the TUC General Council come out against the war – at long last; the first time it has done so against a conflict in which Britain is going to participate for many years.

The International Crisis

The international crisis is proving historic in other respects, too. It is provoking the collapse of not one but two world orders at the same time. Firstly, it is putting the institutions which have embodied the post-world war two world under unprecedented stain, both those, like the United Nations, in which humanity has invested considerable hopes, and those like NATO and the European Union which have expressed more specifically the interests of imperialism alone. And the crisis also marks the end of the 1991 ‘new world order’, the illusion of a peaceful and stable domination of the world by a consortium of big powers, under the benevolent hegemony of the United States.

What is happening at the UN, within the EU, today is about far more than simply whether or not to launch a war against Iraq. It is the opening shots in a new struggle for global domination, triggered by the brazen drive of the present ultra-right administration in Washington to impose US hegemony on the world. This basic thrust is spelt out in all the documents of the Bush administration, and its targets include not just the so-called ‘axis of evil’ but also long-standing allies.

I will not deal here in any detail with the underlying economic impulses at work, largely because they were clearly spelt out by John Foster in his report to the executive committee last November. But it is important to note that this conflict arises in a context of deepening economic problems for all the major capitalist powers, problems which, I would argue, are more than merely cyclical.

They represent the exhaustion of those factors which powered the prolonged boom of the 1990s – the opening up of the former socialist countries, the introduction of new technology in production and services, the removal of most barriers to the free movement of capital globally. These factors permitted a great increase in the mass of surplus value and a general rise in the average rate of profit. But these factors are now to a large extent incorporated within the world capitalist economy – that is, they no longer provide significant opportunities for achieving super-profit, over and above the average rate.

We should note here that investment in Britain has already fallen to a forty-year low, in advance of the further dislocation war will bring. This will affect manufacturing jobs in particular. The working class in Britain will pay a heavy price, we should remember, for war.

The drive to seize command of the world economy in the interests of its own monopoly groups now propels the US government to seek to seize command of every corner of the world itself. This does not need any amplification in relation to the Middle East at present. But we should also be alert to the very real dangers in the Fareast and around Peoples Korea. The clear desire of the USA to effect ‘regime change’ in its second ‘axis of evil’ target could well provoke an armed clash there, too. Our Party has already made its basic position of solidarity with Peoples Korea clear.

What is just as striking is the rift that has opened up between the USA and Britain, on the one hand, and France and Germany on the other, with Russia more aligned at present with the latter group. The level of vitriol, the diplomatic stand-off, marks the worst state of inter-imperialist relations since 1945.

These are the harbingers of still more serious conflicts than those we face today. They show that the ‘unipolar’ world which has emerged since 1991, centred on US military supremacy does not merely embody US hegemony but at the same time undermines it by calling forth an increasingly assertive challenge to Washington’s policies among other powers now convinced that the US will look after its interests alone, rather than those of imperialism as a whole.

In the current crisis, this is shown by the actions being taken by the Bush group to undermine the unity of the EU, to prevent its emergence as an alternative pole of power in the world economy, something spelt out in Bush’s security doctrine. Hence the rounding up of the east European states into a bloc against France and Germany, hence the drive to force Turkey into the EU in order to weaken the Union’s cohesion. We do not wish to see the mergence of an EU superpower, nor do we want to replace a world with one great imperialist state by a world with several. But we should not the purpose and plan behind the attitude now being taken by Washington, with Britain’s support, towards European politics.

It may be noted in passing that all the parties to this conflict are capitalist countries, more-or-less democratic. This makes a nonsense of the theory of the ‘end of history’, which posited that the universal dominance of democratic capitalism would remove systemic conflict from the conduct of human affairs.

So there are two struggles going on at present. There is the struggle between the great powers over how and by whom the peoples of the world are to be dominated in the interests of capital. And there is the struggle of the peoples of the world against US hegemony above all, expressed today in the unprecedented – there is no escaping that word – movement against Bush’s planned attack on Iraq.

That war drive is continuing unabated. The most sober assessment that can be made is that Bush will start his war, probably later on this month. He will not be deflected by the latest Blix report, which outlines improving co-operation by the Iraqi regime with the inspections process, nor by the parallel report by ElBaradei, which not only declared that there was no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons programme, but also firmly stated that evidence purporting to disclose one had been deliberately forged. In Niger, apparently.

Bush has stated he will go to war without United Nations sanction, if necessary. This makes a nonsense of the present proceedings at the Security Council. Either the USA will ignore the UN, behaving in a manner reminiscent of the attitude shown by nazi Germany towards the League of Nations, leaving the UN redundant. Or it will impose its will on the Security Council through bullying and bribery, thereby turning the international organisation more plainly than ever before into the instrument of one power’s policy.

In this situation, Blair’s talk of “unreasonable vetos” is absurd. You can see Jack Straw brandishing the UN Charter – yet nowhere in that document will you find a reference to the concept of an ‘unreasonable veto’. It doesn’t exist. It shows simply that the whole second resolution issue is about nothing except saving the neck of the British government, about helping it attempt to bridge the gap between the promises Blair has made to Bush and the clear views of the British people. It is not obvious that a second resolution extorted under such circumstances will give the Prime Minister the public opinion lift he is counting on.

The British ruling class is deeply split over Blair’s policy. This is reflected in the media, in the Tory Party and, according to report, in the military and intelligence services themselves. This fact enhances the possibilities of victory for the mass movement.

It arises because of the clear sense that this war is in the interests of the USA alone, and that the interests of the British ruling class are not so dramatically different from those of France and Germany. This shows the deep fractures in the bourgeoisie over British imperialism’s specific role in world politics, the tension between its over-arching strategic alignment with the USA, which reflects the global role of the City of London above all, and its deep engagement with the EU. The contradictions in British imperialism’s position are being accentuated by the crisis, and this may affect the way in which the single currency issue is handled in the near future.

We should note here that, from the point of view much of the rest of the world, this appears simply as a reassertion of the aggressive role of British imperialism. Certainly, we are today on the brink of a British invasion of Iraq, a former colony of the British Empire and one, moreover where chemical weapons were first used against civilian populations – by the RAF.

The Mass Movement in Britain

The world crisis has called for the a movement in Britain which has the capacity to not only stop the war drive but also to deal a broader blow to ‘new Labour’ itself.

The character of that movement is changing and developing. Prior to February 15, it was a very large anti-war movement. From February 15, I believe it has extended still further into a broad people’s movement for peace, of course, but also as an extension of that, for democracy and for popular sovereignty, against a government which is denying the people’s will on an issue of transcendent importance, and subordinating our people to the interests of the USA.

Historical analogies are necessarily imperfect, but this movement has similarities in its aim and scope with the classic ideas of the popular front. However, I would emphasise two important differences.

The most significant is that while the popular front was directed above all against fascism, and sought to bring social democracy into a broad movement against fascism, today’s people’s movement has as its target a particularly reactionary group within social democracy itself. Secondly, the present movement has developed a more explicit anti-imperialist content than any we have seen before. Both these points bear deeply on the movement’s character.

The anti-war movement has the greatest political potential of any I have encountered in my political lifetime. It combines militancy with breadth. It is rooted on the left, and in the peace movement, with CND paying a particular role. It has embraced the Muslim community in Britain in a wholly new way. It has now got a firm and extensive base in the trade unions. It reaches out into the Liberal Democrats in a serious way, and even into the ranks of conservatives.

The Stop the War Coalition has itself played a role in relation to all these forces. As February 15 showed, it reaches into the great mass of those who ordinarily consider themselves non-political. It is just about as broad as the country itself.

I would emphasise again that it is not just a movement against war, but it also feels like a movement for democracy, for popular control, a movement that believes the rights of the British people are being traduced by government.

The issue the Coalition is grappling with now is how to develop that movement. The next stage is the Peoples Assembly we are convening on March 12. Like everything else we have attempted, it is a gamble. It is conceived as a new instrument of popular expression, in the context of the war crisis. Its aim is both to serve as the real representative voice of the people, and at the same time as an amplifier of calls to action, as a legitimiser of various forms of mass struggle. Its strength will in large measure depend on the perception of its representative nature and democratic character. Its future role is obviously uncertain at present. In my view, the development of the mass struggle against the war will set the limits of its activities. It will be driven by the people in that sense.

Mass action against the war both before it breaks out in the time we have, and particularly when it breaks out, is the critical issue. Walk-outs in the workplace are absolutely critical. We understand that the trade unions cannot call for such action themselves because of the anti-union laws. But we must organise to make it happen anyway. We should follow the lead of the inspiring school students walk-out on Wednesday – can trade unionists do less? I speak as a proud parent in this respect. If war breaks out there will certainly be an explosion of anger in communities, colleges, schools and workplaces throughout the country. The Stop the War Coalition will call a further national demonstration. It will inevitably have a second slogan, as well as Stop the War. It will be Blair Must Go.

The Crisis in the Labour Movement

This is where the political situation is full of possibilities, but equally full of dangers. The biggest danger is that the wave of anger unleashed by war will wash away the political cohesion of the labour movement. It is the task of the Party to ensure that the movement that will arise breaks Blair, but not the Labour Party.

The present situation within the labour movement is febrile. Many people are not merely opposed to the government now – they have come to hate the government. At least two unions are openly talking of disaffiliation from Labour. There is speculation that many thousands of individual members may leave. Some left MPs are canvassing different projects that risk re-running the experiences of the SLP and the Socialist Alliance. The danger if of a fragmentation of left and working-class forces at a critical time.

Opinion polls still suggest that the great majority of Labour voters will, if they vote at all, continue to vote Labour. So the danger that arises from a fragmentation is not of Labour disappearing, but of the possibility of defeating new Labour within it disappearing, as the forces needed for that fight disperse among a variety of schemes to do something or nothing. If the mass peace movement gets drawn into such projects, then there is a risk of it fragmenting too, and its potential shrivelling.

In this context, we should look briefly at the May elections. We should endorse proposals for Party candidates in Scotland, Wales and some English districts. But we should also be aware of the likelihood of a number of anti-war candidates standing in some places. This is a reflection of the anger and disillusionment with Labour, but it is not particularly sensible. The Stop the War Coalition will not, I think, endorse such candidates, but it has no brief to oppose, still less prevent, them. Our own policy in the elections should be firmly focussed on our central demand for a change in the leadership of the Labour Party and labour movement.

Our Party has to walk a very fine line in the implementation of our strategy. We want to fight to reclaim Labour. We believe that fight needs to be fought now. We are opposed to breakaways and disaffiliations. But we want to ensure that the fight against new Labour does not drift off in a narrow or reformist direction. We want an emphasis on struggle around the immediate demands – peace above all – rather than on policy formulation for better days. The network of left union leaders are critical here. They could be at the centre of the struggle to change Labour. There are proposals for closer working with the Campaign Group.

This is welcome as far as it goes, but an exclusive concentration on the Campaign Group will not lead to victory. The net needs to be cast far wider, into the heart of ‘real Labour’. Glenda Jackson, Peter Kilfoyle, Chris Smith, Frank Dobson and, if they leave government, Clare Short or Robin Cook are the critical figures. The union left needs to align with them as well as the parliamentary left if Blair is to be defeated.

The prize is then defeat of the most reactionary trend British social democracy ahs yet produced, a revival of the left and of the political confidence of the working class more generally under circumstances of a mass people’s mobilisation for peace and democracy. Only a united political labour movement can realise that aim.

The Role of the Party

I do not want here to indulge in platitudes or ask the EC to repeat decisions previously taken. I would like to raise two or three specific issues relating to our work.

First, our relationship to the mass movement. There are important areas of strength, both industrially, in Scotland and Wales and in some districts and above all in the role of the Morning Star. But there are many areas of weakness. Often I hear talk in the Coalition of issues in the anti-war movement in such-and-such a place, places where I know we have branches, but I hear no reference to the role being played by our comrades. Are we there at all? There are still too many places where we are not, despite repeated calls for involvement.

More generally, there is still an attitude that we are somehow external to the mass movement, that when there are demonstrations they are an opportunity to advertise the Party’s existence, rather than something we are centrally involved in in terms of making them a political success. Party leadership must mean actually playing a leading part in the localities (where we have branches) and in the unions in terms of developing the movement. This is still not sufficiently grasped in practice. When Communists do play that role, it is the best foundation for recruitment. We need now to entrench the Party in the mass anti-war movement at every level.

Secondly, the relationship of strategy to tactics. We have a correct strategic approach, which is being reaffirmed by events. But do we always convert that into the correct tactical lead? Too often we do not follow up on our approach, or we find ourselves criticising – correctly – the bad ideas of others in the movement without advancing our own.

For example, John Haylett floated the proposal at the turn of the year in the Star of a labour movement conference to bring left forces together to build opposition to new Labour. A good idea. But it has not been followed up, no-one is talking about it, not even among our closest allies. The ‘reclaim Labour’ strategy needs to be converted into specific tactical initiatives immediately, and it needs to be followed up. It is a campaign which needs to be taken out of parliament and the union general secretaries onto the streets, in rallies in every major town over the next month or two, for example, if it is to really become part of political life and seen as an alternative to splits.

Our resources are limited, but we will not make the most of them as long as there is no proper allocation of comrades to areas of work, as long as no-one checks whether districts or branches are doing anything about Party initiatives, as long as our organisation is allowed to go its own way.

This leads me to my final point about the party. We need urgently to raise the level of our Leninist education. Everything we are taking about – imperialist crisis, inter-imperialist conflict, war, the relationship of the party to the movement, the relationship of political strategy and tactics – are Leninist issues, part of our party’s culture from its foundation. We need to do far more to study Marxism-Leninism, in an updated and relevant way, as individuals and collectives. The political education sub-committee might look at this. It has been reported that the rate of inquiries about party membership is rising rapidly, and that is welcome, but we need to ensure that they are educated as Communists and learn to work as Communists.

Over the coming weeks and months, we will be tested politically as we have not been for twenty years or more. We are facing imperialist war and a political crisis in terms of the leadership and, indeed, the integrity of the labour movement. We will play the part that circumstances demand to the extent that we work as Marxist-Leninists in keeping with the best traditions of our ideology and practice.

Communist Party
94 Camden Road

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