presentation of the commune to the midlands discussion forum, 25 april

The Midlands Discussion Forum was held on April 25th in Birmingham, bringing together delegates from a number of ‘left communist’ groupings, as well the commune and a number of unaffilated individuals.  (See here for an interview, which provides an accessible introduction to the ideas of the left communists.)  Comrades have been asked to circulate notes from their various presentations, which were to focus on the theme of How can the working class respond to the economic crisis? Presentations are also available from the Communist Workers Organisation, former Communist Bulletin Group and International Communist Current.  Notes used for the presentation by the delegate from the commune follow.

Meeting of the Midlands Discussion Forum April 25th 2009

Presentation on behalf of The Commune by Dave Spencer from Coventry

Note: My presentation was written in note form and I did not adhere strictly to the notes.  Also I made the false assumption that the other groups speaking would be Trotskyist groups like the SP, SWP, ISG etc.  – which is the background from which I have come. Therefore my talk would have been different if I had known that the meeting was composed of left communists.

Introduce The Commune because it is a new group formed in September 2008 and in the process of the primitive accumulation of members

  • We are communists and internationalists and emphasise that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself.
  • We support workers’ self management and rank and file organisation and building communism from below,
  • We oppose the bureaucracy of the Trade Unions and their cosy relationships with management and with New Labour.
  • We oppose the bureaucratic centralism and sectarianism of the Left groups which stem from an elitist and vanguardist approach to party building and state interventionist answers to political problems.

It is impossible to go to a community, Trade Union or political meeting today without some discussion of the economic crisis.  I’ve been to two recently, the lessons of which I would like to share.

A    Coventry Council House — discussion of the Council budget with local community groups and NGOs.

In a small group I happened to say that in my view most people had not yet realised how serious the crisis is.  A posh elderly lady buttonholed me and said she agreed with me.  She had attended a national planning meeting for the annual Conference of the British Chambers of Commerce and the consensus there was that it would take at least 10 years for the UK to recover.

The effect on local government finances and hence on community groups and NGOs is going to be disastrous she thought – not the business as usual approach of the Council’s Chair of Finance and the director of Finance who we’d been listening to.

However the BCC thought a major problem was that talking about the reality might create panic and make matters worse.

As communists we obviously have to understand the crisis which is international and tell the truth.

We also have to develop a strategy for dealing with the crisis.  And there is an urgency to this.

B  Coventry Radical Network meeting.

We had a professor of Economics from Warwick University explaining the causes of the crisis.

In the discussion he was asked what the answer to the crisis was. He said he didn’t know and got exasperated when comrades said “Well you’re a professor of Economics; if you don’t know who does?”

“Do you think Gordon Brown or David Cameron know?  I’m damned sure they don’t” was his reply.

He then explained briefly. In 1944 at Bretton Woods the dominant set of ideas was Keynesianism.

State intervention to try and prevent another depression on the scale of the 1930s.

This lasted until the mid 70s with the oil crisis and the end of the post-war boom.

The result was the neo-liberalism of Regan and Thatcher and the Washington Consensus underpinning the IMF

  • Fiscal austerity – cut government expenditure and cut taxes
  • Privatisation of government enterprises and properties
  • Remove any laws and regulations which impede market forces.

These iron rules were imposed on any country that wanted a loan from the IMF.

The result has been globalisation and the reduction in the power of all nation states.

Now we have the economic crisis as a result of neo-liberalism.

The key question is: What is the new ideology after Keynesianism and neo-liberalism?

There was talk of the G20 being a new Bretton Woods.  But what was the new set of ideas?  They gave the IMF three times the money it already has! But without changing the rules.

The recent budget

Comments from the press “a horror story!”; “a wing and a prayer”; “a mixture of populism and procrastination”; “a penchant for denial”; “leaving Cameron a poisoned chalice”; “the worst statistics since WW2”; “mass unemployment amongst the hoodie-wearing ranks.”

Clearly they have no idea of what to do.

So what is the response of the Left?

I read on one Left website:  “Economic crisis – great opportunity for the Left! Marxism is the answer.”

Well there is a General Election next year. Where is the mass Marxist Party to oppose New Labour?

New Labour has been in power since 1997. We’d known before 1997 that New Labour would carry forward the neo-liberalism of Thatcher.  We’ve had at least 15 years to prepare.

Various attempts have been made

In 1996 Scargill and the SLP: Tommy Sheridan’s SSP: The SP and Socialist Alliance:

Later the SWP and the Socialist Alliance and Respect.

In 2001 the Socialist Alliance stood 98 candidates in the General Election and the SSP stood 72. They got 2% of the vote – not a bad start.

In 2003 2 million people demonstrated in London against the War in Iraq.

What happened?

Every single attempt at a united front was sabotaged.

By bureaucratic sectarian organisations.

No openness, no democracy, no accountability, no strategy, no rank and file control.

My conclusion having been involved in all the attempts at unity is that these Left Groups are not fit for purpose.  They are useless and unreformable.

The latest Left stunt – for the European elections, is the RMT initiative “No2EU yes to democracy” — supported by the CPB, SP, ISG and may be others.  In an economic crisis this is at best a diversion at worst nationalistic and reactionary.

And democratic this organisation certainly is not!

What to do?

The building of an open democratic organisation where comrades work in a fraternal and creative manner where no group or individual possesses the Holy Grail.

A recognition that new theoretical efforts are required to understand the present situation of the working class in a period of globalisation, and that to use the texts of the past as biblical tracts is not appropriate.

To build from below, in solidarity with the campaigns and struggles of the working class internationally, learning from our life experience.

Above all to tell the truth as we see it in a democratic, open and dynamic organisation.