Party Congress is the highest point in the democratic life of the party. Here is where we can have our say our chance to challenge or affirm existing policy and the existing leadership. Here is where the views of all members meet and interact with each other.
Motions and amendments put up before Congress cover a vast range of topics most worthy of hours of discussion in themselves. There are only two days. How to vote? We offer our suggestions concentrating on key areas of debate in the party or obvious deficiencies in party policy.
Most of the constitutional amendments that propose fundamental changes to the constitution have been ruled out of order on the rather extraordinary grounds that they contradict the constitution. However, some that are left are worthy of support.
Constitutional amendments 1-5 all seek to delete the much-hated one-year residency clause, which leaves the Party wide open to accusations of discrimination against immigrants all should be supported.
Constitutional amendment 6, which establishes a control commission for the party should be supported, with the two amendments which assert the final power of Congress in disciplinary matters. Disciplinary procedures in the party were set up very late in the day, the membership has still not been properly informed of the procedures and the right of recourse to Congress is not asserted. Current measures are insufficient (as shown by the undemocratic voiding of several comrades since the party began, without any right of appeal). This constitutional amendment marks the beginning of a fair procedure, though a more detailed discussion of what is needed is clearly called for. Hence the Emergency Motion, moved by several CSLPs, which calls for a Constitution Working Party and special conference, as the only means of getting a proper discussion on the constitution.
Constitutional amendment 8 which calls for the dissolution of the Black Section should not be supported. While there are legitimate concerns that questions of racial oppression could be sidelined into being the work of only one section of the party, the section can also place a useful role of highlighting these questions and attracting more black comrades to the party. The difference lies in the implementation.
Under this heading are motions moved by the two CSLPs in Swindon which concentrate on the need for the party to campaign against cuts to the public sector, the implementation of Tory spending limits and Private Finance Initiatives in the NHS. It is tempting to ask why these needed to be moved at all this kind of campaign should be second nature to a working class party. But in view of the difficulties members have faced in setting up unified party campaigns, these motions are useful and supportable.
Motion 18, when read closely, really says very little at except that we dont like racism. It is completely inadequate as a response to the continuing rise of racism both in the UK and the rest of Europe which it describes. It is, however, saved by Amendment A, which proposes concrete action against racist and fascist attacks. Vote for the amendment and for the motion if amended. (If not amended, it is not controversial, but its very inadequacy hardly makes it worth supporting. Abstain.)
Motion 19 makes the valid point that our current position of supporting non-racist immigration laws contradicts our commitment to socialism, but it ends extremely weakly without a call to immediately change party policy. To establish a comprehensive policy on this question it is necessary for Congress to pass Amendment B, moved by supporters of the Marxist Bulletin in Dulwich & West Norwood. This calls for opposition to all capitalist immigration controls. Unlike utopian calls for open borders, this recognises that states which have overthrown capitalism will need border controls and to have the right to control the inflow and outflow of individuals and groups in the interest of defending the gains of a social revolution. But most importantly it means unequivocal opposition to all controls put in place by the British capitalist state.
Palestine & Israel
This motion makes a credible attempt at dealing with the complex political problems raised by the situation in Palestine/Israel, by pointing out the fraud involved in the Oslo peace process, and that any real solution would be dependent on the overthrow of the Zionist state. This motion should be supported, although it would be improved by the addition of the recognition that on a territory occupied by two peoples, both of whom have interests in the destruction of the Zionist state, then simplistic calls for self-determination are not sufficient.
Amendment A, however, denies that these two peoples exist and calls for a (clearly not class-based) Arab revolution as a solution. This amendment should be opposed.
Many similar issues arise with the question of Ireland, another country in which two mutually antagonistic communities share some of the same territory.
Motion 31, presented by Marxist Bulletin supporters in Islington North, supports an important plank of our position on Ireland Britain out now, militarily and politically. However, the motion argues that the present policy fails to draw a sufficient class line in looking at the situation in the North of Ireland. The interests of the working class are the key to the solution of the national conflicts in Ireland. We cannot right a wrong by simply reversing it, which is the implication of the call for a united Ireland, even under capitalism, despite the wishes of a significant minority. A capitalist united Ireland would run the grave danger of simply created a new oppressed grouping, under the thumb of green capitalism and the Catholic Church.
This is not to ignore national oppression, but to say that the most effective weapon against any oppression is through the united force of the working class. As socialists we must support all workers in their struggles against capitalism. As British socialists we have a particular duty to fight the British state in its oppression of other nations, and to establish, with our Irish comrades, a federation of workers republics in the British Isles.
There are four amendments to this motion which point to a comprehensive discussion on this vital question. However all four, to a greater or lesser degree, contradict the revolutionary class position taken in the motion, and should not be supported.
Amendments A and B both give some support to Sinn Fein as a solution to Irelands problems. This is a dangerous illusion. Sinn Fein is a capitalist nationalist party and will only tie workers in the North to the reactionary government in the South. Amendments B and C go so far as to sow dangerous illusions in the peace process initiated by John Major and John Hume. Amendment D at least has the merit of rejecting this imperialist fraud and calls for a workers republic. However, in stressing the self-determination of Ireland as a whole (a whole which, like it or not, is deeply divided) it comes dangerously close to advocating a capitalist united Ireland as a lesser evil.
Motion 32 is not supportable for completely opposite reasons. There has been some suggestion that it is essentially the same as Motion 31, but this is clearly ridiculous. This is a unionist motion, which overtly supports the repressive capitalist state of the United Kingdom. This should not be supported we should call for all British troops and politicians out of the North of Ireland immediately.
There are three motions on Europe, which take three slightly different approaches. However, the bottom line of each is opposition to the current policy which comes dangerously close to little England nationalism by agitating for withdrawal from Europe even if the alternative is an isolated capitalist Britain. Party policy on Europe did not reach the floor at the last conference because of lack of time, so this is the first chance the membership have to change this mistaken policy. All three motions should be supported and a working group should be established to develop, on the basis of these motions, a policy that moves us forward to a socialist Europe, not one that leaves us retreating in isolation.
Motion 33, moved by Dulwich & West Norwood, makes a clear distinction between the socialist Europe we are fighting for as a federation of workers states, and the current choice offered by competing groups of capitalists. To achieve the first, we should not be seduced by either side in the second.
Amendment C to Motion 34 should not be supported. It attempts to put a left face on the existing policy, but comes down to saying much the same thing.
The most significant point about motion 43 is that it wasnt ruled out of order considering that the constitution does not look favourably on publications outside the party. Perhaps those compiling the agenda have a special fondness for the Morning Star, though its hard to see why considering it has provided scant and unfriendly coverage of the life of the SLP and gave support to New Labour in the general election. Still, we are grateful for the opportunity to vote against this motion.
The most important part of Motion 44 is its first section which raises the question of censorship, a topic on which the party contains many differing views. An amendment to this section has been moved by Streatham on the initiative of a Marxist Bulletin supporter. It argues that we cannot allow exceptions in our opposition to state censorship. Any censorship in the hands of the capitalist state will ultimately be used by that state against workers and the oppressed, despite any protestations to the contrary.
Instead, the material which the original motion seeks to make an exception of, such as fascist propaganda and snuff movies, should be dealt with at the level of causes, not symptoms. Workers must deal with fascists ourselves capitalism will not do it for us. Again, it is crucial to make the distinction between a capitalist state and one run by the working class. We must always ask the question: in whose interest is censorship imposed?
Defence Of SLP Constitution And Strengthening The Party
This collection of two motions and two amendments creates a rather strange package. But things become clear when it is known that the two motions are put forward by supporters of the bizarre journal Economic & Philosophical Science Review (EPSR), and that the two amendments are moved by branches supporting the leadership current including former members of the United Secretariat such as Brian Heron.
The motions constitute an attack on campaigns for democracy in the party under cover of an attack on outside organisations. This is a little rich coming from a group whose journal advocates principles opposed to those of the party, such as extreme homophobia, and who were once involved in campaigns for democracy themselves but have now turned witch-hunters.
The amendments are an attempt at left cover for undemocratic actions by the leadership. In reply to the assertion that there is no need for perfect democracy, they effectively assert that there is perfect democracy and that is the end of the matter. In fact, neither is the case, and none of this rubbish should be supported.
Interestingly, an amendment which calls for a impartial investigation of the homophobic and other views of the EPSR which contradict the principles of the party, has been ruled out of order because it applies to party members.
This section is where the bias in the agenda is most clearly apparent. Many of the constitutional amendments originally ruled out of order were in fact aimed at strengthening the party and we are significantly weaker for losing the opportunity to discuss them.
Legalisation Of Prohibited Substance
Motion 49 should be supported. Banning drugs creates more problems than it solves, medically and socially. Addiction is a health problem and should be dealt with as such. Recreational use of illegal substances is often no more dangerous than of recreational drugs favoured by the establishment such as alcohol and tobacco. These laws give the forces of the state yet another excuse for arbitrary harassment.
Question Of Questions: The State
While many motions and amendments seem to be merely tinkering with policy, there is a thread underlying this agenda: Can we as a party address the question of state power?
Current policy is an eclectic mixture of vague statements of intent, reforms and campaigns to support right now, and electoral statements of what we would do if we gained a majority in the capitalist parliament at Westminster. Much of this takes important steps forward towards socialism (although some is mistaken), but as a package it is insufficient.
To develop as a force that can lead to power for the working class, the party needs to recognise that socialism is not the sum total of a certain number of reforms. Nor is it a dreamed of future, while we fight now to make capitalism that little bit nicer.
Rather we need to recognise that every reform we fight for ultimately raises class questions and the question of the class nature of the state obvious examples here are immigration, Europe, the national question in Palestine/Israel and Ireland, and the questions of state censorship and banning of drugs.
In calling for the destruction of capitalism and the institution of socialism, let us know what we face. We face the full resistance of the capitalist state (the police, army etc) which will not let even a majority government reform socialism into existence. We face the necessity for revolutionary resistance against this state, for taking state power into our own hands.
We must build a bridge from the bread and butter demands of today, highlighting their class content, to the need to fight as a class for a state that can truly satisfy those demands. In A Marxist Programme for the SLP we offer a framework for such class-struggle politics this is the basis on which several comrades are standing for the leadership of the party, in the belief that this is the only way forward.