Midlands Discussion Forum: Minutes of Birmingham meeting, 25 April, 2009

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May 27 2009 19:55
Midlands Discussion Forum: Minutes of Birmingham meeting, 25 April, 2009

Attending: AS (Minutes), Berrot, Cleishbotham, D (Commune), JF, J, SP, I G, MC, PBD, Rowntree, Sander, Spikeymike, M, DemoGorgon (Exeter Discussion Group), JB, Alf, Morven, D, A, ND, PB, Beltov, Slothjabber (Chair), NT, Shug.

The Commune (D)
Began Sept 2008. Ethos: communist/internationalist/emancipation of class is task of class itself/rank & file methods v bureaucratic methods. Opposed to bureaucratic centralisation of left groups. Supports local meetings eg council / community etc.. Pose question of where is Marxist opposition to labour at the next election. Broad left has had at least 15 years to prepare for the next election. Outlined current economic crisis – G20 had no new ideas. Decline of left wing political groups (eg SLP, Socialist Alliance…) Lack of democratic selection of candidates for European elections. Decline of industrial base in W Midlands. Commune aims to build from below: rank & file movements in unions, residentially.

Ex-CBG (Shug)
(Presentation is posted on Libcom: http://libcom.org/forums/theory/contribution-former-communist-bulletin-group-comrades-midlands-discussion-forums-a)
Question (Spikeymike)
Is there emphasis on programme rather than method ?
Answer (Shug)
Debate has to take place but at the moment there is a need to cement joint work and fraternal feelings in present crisis.
Questions PBD
Useful for fragmented resources of communist left to be consolidated but on its own that will not advance revolutionary milieu. Should the issue be how we respond to the WC and become part of the class struggle rather than the formal / semi-formal regrouping of left organisations. How has this been considered?
Question (IG)
Libertarians might see the discussion as: “How do you include anarchists? Is there a danger that organisational rules may produce barriers with members not expected to think for themselves?

CWO (Cleish)
(Presentation is posted on Libcom: http://libcom.org/forums/theory/contribution-communist-workers-organisation-comrades-midlands-discussion-forums-ap
Question (Shug)
What would be the required size of party?
Not mass but revolutionary: small & rooted in class.
Question (Spikeymike)
Does the idea of working towards one party get in the way of working with real people?
The party would comprise people in the WC and based on people’s real experiences.

ICC (Alf)
Acknowledged the significance of the moment. Historic crisis in the mode of production, not just part of boom/bust cycle or due to bankers/sub-prime mortgages etc. Tendency to move towards barbarism as there is no capitalist solution. Difficulties of WC movement since 1968 due to smallness of rev groups, campaigns against communism, period of retreat since downfall of Soviet Union. Signs of revival eg French CPE revolt, mass strikes in Bangladesh & Egypt, struggles in Greece, BA handlers’ strike, Visteon – may provide seeds for future. New generation emerging looking for political clarity. One party is more effective with centralised organisation as a long-term perspective. ICC is always in favour of joint work & debate – eg as in Brazil, but must be on a principled basis. Past traumas cannot be overcome simply by moving on but need to be faced and clarified for political health. A dynamic is building up within the class, with positive prospects for the rev minority.
Question Berrot (MDF)
What do you hope and expect to achieve from this meeting?
No fantasies about coming together immediately. Relationships between groups could be formalised; real differences from the past need to be addressed. More discussion circles such as MDF.

Internationalist Perspective (Sander)
(Presentation is posted on Libcom: http://libcom.org/forums/theory/contribution-internationalist-perspective-midland-discussion-forums-april-meeting-
Question Berrot (same as above)
Common recognition that sectarianism in pro-rev milieu has been real & negative. Commitment by groups to focus on essentials & to open out to others. Commitment to stop seeing each other as competition but to debate in a fraternal way eg using a common internet discussion forum. Agreement to adopt common positions, but regroupment would only result from common practice & debate, not as a starting point. (Shug of ex-CBG interjected to clarify he had not called for regroupment in his presentation).

After a break, the meeting then moved on to discussion.

Sander: Question for ICC. Pleasantly surprised by openness of presentation & rejection of sectarianism. How does ICC reconcile these with contempt/hostility shown in the past, and with calling other groups “parasites/gangsters of the Swamp”?
Alf: Need to have political discussion about these. Gangster behaviour such as theft has to be addressed. Not characterising individuals but characteristics. People & groups can change. ICC has been accused of being a crazy cult. Political issues need to be discussed in a political manner.
Shug: A forum for discussion if some are seen as anti-proletarian? A wide-ranging & better debate is how an organisation takes up its positions. There has to be a change in attitude on all sides.
Spikeymike: Most groups seek to organise themselves as a microcosm of how they see themselves to be in the future. Trying to create international form of the future with often damaged individuals. Fixation on the ideal gets in the way of how we get on with things now.
Sander: Apparent contradiction of ICC’s stated willingness to discuss & fact they come to an IP meeting stating purpose was to denounce us not to debate.
Morven: Letter written to IP: go to each other’s meetings & discuss. Issue now is that each meeting should be open to each group. A starting point, then we might discuss differences. Idea of having a party in future is the problem of today – not trying to create something perfect but real, though we do need a prefiguration based on principles of organisation. Would there therefore be lots of little groups with no common organisation. Party will be perfect when it disappears & WC organises itself.
Cleish: Question of emphasis in building rev party. CWO is not a prefiguration of future party: it is a bureau for the party but not the party itself. The Bolshevik Party was made by the proletariat, not by Lenin.
NT: Discussion of crisis has been good but pro milieu discussion got bogged down. Liked 1st discussion best as it spoke about WC consciousness. Not sure about rank & file & TU bureaucrats. Balance between need for self-organisation of WC and need for party. Trotskyists deliberately sabotaged groups to get mobilised through anti-war movement etc. Prol milieu – hope it will not be a problem. Potential is there to build rev movement outside existing organisations. Important to engage in discussion provided people are prepared to listen and change ideas if need be.
A: How to react to crisis – interested in sectarianism. Groups witht the same vision but differing ways to achieve this. Important to get one common idea – eg a common platform (agree on common principles such as freedom/ equality). Find a way to agree rather than discuss disagreements.
ND: Seems to be a denial of need for party. Change from one state of society could take place without actors being fully conscious of what is going on – in past. Social change today is larger & more difficult as WC has no property. Obstacles capitalism is putting in the way forces WC to struggle & make a leap in the dark unless there is a period in which WC can gain consciousness (during possible long period of struggle). Change needs a programme – illustrating how change takes place – international party is needed for this. If no party, capitalism will break down & will not progress to a higher order of society.
Berrot: Two parables. 1. Bernie Madoff set up Ponzi scheme but has had capitalist retribution for breaking the law, when the whole economy had developed into a gigantic Ponzi scheme. Will similar retribution befall capitalism? 2. Feared that IBRP thread on Libcom was becoming a possible parable for the age as historic animosities broke out. Was it going to signal the outbreak of historic animosities within the WC, preventing the development we wish to achieve? The meeting today maybe holds out hope.
Could the remaining speakers answer earlier question about what they hope to achieve today?
D (Commune): Wanted to see discussion & networking open up more. Question validity of viewpoint that groups cannot work in fraternal way.
Shug: Wish for a real debate on what happened 30 years ago – bile on both sides. Time to move on and debates need to be at a fraternal level. Asked if ICC would send leaflets for him to distribute as the CWO already do. Idea of an internet discussion forum worth pursuing.
Cleish: Not opposed to idea of internet discussion forum. Suggested a joint calendar showing activities would ensure no clashes of groups’ activities. “Truth & reconciliation” meeting might be helpful.
Beltov: Reported on recent visit to New York for a number of meetings to discuss issues around the crisis. Growing link between generations seeking alternative solution to capitalism’s problems. Need for WC to take control of struggle out of unions’ hands. ICC is in favour of common work but approach has to be cautious & confidence & trust built up. They would always defend their basic principles but this did not preclude involvement in any moves to regroupment in the future.
Morven: Stressed that revolutionaries must continue the work of 1930’s and show the younger generation and the WC that revolutionaries can behave in a responsible way.
P: Expressed disappointment that the meeting was only the start of the process. Recent crisis mean that the events of 20 years ago are not so relevant. He questioned how the IP, ICC and CWO viewed their interventions in the struggle and asked if they felt there was any common ground.
Slothjabber opened up the question to all groups.
D(Commune) With the deepening economic crisis he felt that there was not enough time to develop co-operative approaches cautiously He questioned how to proceed – another meeting / distributing each other’s leaflets etc Urgency of action required.
Shug could not respond as the group is no longer in existence.
J: The reason for the meeting is not a prelude to regroupment but the crisis. Political response on the part of the WC is required. No automatic reason for communism to emerge from the crisis. There needs to be a common message and practical means to show workers how to rise out of the current situation in ways alternative to those of capitalism. The WC will be faced less by problems of theory than about how to survive.
Morven: Stated that “Tea break” on Libcom provided a bulletin of interventions.
Sander: Interventions of other groups here present produce leaflets that make good points, but often the leaflets appear formulaic and similar to what they were 10/20 years ago. This reflects their underestimation of the task of theoretical development, because clarity is all political organisations have to offer to the class. Tendency to think future will be a repeat of the past and thinking is not always critical of the past. Not enough attention is paid to new developments, which did not exist before in the class struggle. In response to Cleish -: the defence of the importance of revolutionary political organisation does not imply that there should only be one, centralised party. Danger of equating party with class consciousness.
Spikeymike: Defended the libcom site – political discussion around different leaflets produced by different groups – chance to draft or improve leaflets. Others should be encouraged to do this in a spirit of cooperation. Problems can arise as interventions may be from “outside” so can lack sound understanding of what is actually going on. Dialogue with people in dispute is what is required.
IG: What did MDF want from today’s meeting?
Berrot: More than offered so far. Having listened, realises that hopes of steering committees and websites being set up were unrealistic, but necessary if the milieu was to become more than a minority. Disappointed there was only one response to Sander’s suggestion of an internet forum for Left Communist discussions.
DemoGorgon: Pointed out that internet forums already exist on Revleft.
Cleish: Sander sounds like an encapsulation of 1973. We don’t want to repeat history; cannot deny history.
A: Revolution means a change in institutions and how we express ourselves. Doesn’t believe in the idea of a party.
Cleish: What do you mean by a party?
Slothjabber: I suggest this is resolved after the meeting.
Sander: We need to clarify whether a single party is necessary, or a range of organisations may fulfil the role. What do people wish to achieve with internet forums?

The debate closed at this point.

1. ICC public meeting in Birmingham, 9 May (details on ICC website).
2. Speakers can send a copy of their presentation to the MDF for posting on to Libcom, should they so wish.

The presentations by the Commune and ICC have been posted on Libcom since the minutes were prepared.