R Arun Kumar
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THE 57th Congress of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) was held in Croydon, London on November 4-5, 2023. The Congress was held with the slogan ‘For a United Front against Monopoly Capitalism and War’. The CPB witnessed a significant growth in its membership with the influx of a large number of youth into its ranks. The wide ranging trade union struggles that were held in this period, where the communists played a significant role is one of the major factors that led to the growth of the CPB. The growth of the Young Communist League (YCL) associated with the CPB also contributed to the growth of the CPB. The presence of youngsters as delegates in the Congress was visible throughout, in the discussions and also in the enthusiasm.
Robert Griffiths, general secretary of the CPB presented the political-organisational resolution of the Congress that detailed the present international and national context in which the communists in Britain are working. The resolution expressed concern over the emerging ‘new Cold War’ and the increasing militarisation. Various military alliances that are formed, including the AUKUS in the Asia-Pacific region, were discussed.
The resolution criticised the UK government's stance on the war in Ukraine. The war in Ukraine is leading to severe hardships around the world and also in the UK, the resolution noted. Rising prices of food, fuel and lack of proper heating is affecting majority of the population in the UK. During the discussions, attention was drawn to distressing incidents where children were resorting to theft of food and water from stores, due to hunger. This alarming situation underscores the severity of the crisis faced by the country, the Congress noted.
A special resolution was moved condemning Israeli aggression, terming it as a genocide. Already, UK is witnessing a huge wave of protests against the role of their government. Trade unions, peace activists and youth are in the forefront rallying hundreds of thousands in protests that are being held almost every day in one or the other part of the country. The Congress decided to mobilise people once again in the massive demonstration that has been planned for November 11, in London.
The Congress witnessed a serious debate on the role played by the Labour Party and the attitude of the British communists towards it. It is to be noted that the present leader of the Labour Party, Keir Starmer has taken a right-wing, neoliberal position on various economic issues. The Labour Party under his leadership is moving towards corporates, Israel and the US. A reflection of this shift is also found in the statements issued by the Labour Party in Scotland, banning its officials from expressing any kind of solidarity with Palestine. Expressing their resentment, many officials of the Labour Party in Scotland have tendered their resignations. Starmer himself is refusing to demand an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and join the people who are daily rallying in solidarity with Palestine.
The assessment of the CPB is that the present Conservative government will lose badly in the coming elections. But the people are concerned about the Labour, as it is not representing any alternative economic policies. In this background, the CPB discussed that through its presence in the trade union movement, it would pressurise the Labour Party to change its positions. It decided to work for bringing together all the other Left and progressive forces in the country for this task. The Political Resolution of the Congress stated: “Putting mass pressure on a Labour government from the Left would be to raise the political class struggle to a higher level than fighting an extended rearguard action against a ruling-class offensive led from the right by a victorious Conservative government”.
The basic call of the CPB in the elections would be to defeat the Conservatives and vote for pro-people candidates. The CPB would also put up candidates wherever it has the strength and also in order to consolidate its growth and expansion. “Wanting a Labour victory next time would normally mean urging people to vote for its candidates wherever they have a reasonable chance of being elected (in 2019, Labour came first or second in more than 500 seats), except where there’s the opportunity to vote Communist. However, this should not mean supporting those Labour candidates who have played a prominent part in turning the party to the right, attacking and excluding Jeremy Corbyn and other Left MPs, instigating or praising the anti-Left purge and advocating neoliberal and pro-war policies”.
And further: “Whichever party or coalition forms the next British government, a stronger and more influential Communist Party will – together with a militant United Front – be essential in order to help provide strategy and direction for the working-class movement and the Left. That is why the Communists will contest as many constituencies in the forthcoming General Election as resources reasonably allow in order to raise the red flag for public ownership, public sector housing, a wealth tax, price and capital controls, an end to fossil fuel exploitation in the transition to clean and green energy, the repeal of all racist and anti-union laws, progressive federalism, nuclear disarmament and opposition to NATO”.
The Congress decided that in the next Congress there should be an intense debate on the trade union movement and the role of the Party. It was brought to the notice of the delegates that in spite of the militant strike movement witnessed in the last two years, there is a lot of scope for the growth of trade unions in the country. Still, the trade unions are strong only in the public sector and the vast majority of the workers in the private sector are outside unions. It was pointed out that trade union density in IT and hospitality sectors is only 10-11 per cent and only 3.8 per cent of those who are under 24 years are working in trade unions. The positive feature is the increasing unionisation among the teachers.
The Party decided that along with the YCL, it would take up the task to increase the active involvement of youth in trade unions and also those from the private sector. It was noted that the work of trade unions in industrial unions has improved, but still a lot needs to be done.
The condition of agricultural workers was brought to the notice of the Congress. In the 1990s, pursuing the neoliberal policies, the then government had shut the agricultural wages board and the marketing boards. As a result, the agricultural workers are not being paid proper wages and they are not having any governmental body to hear their grievances. Moreover, a large number of workers in agriculture and the fisheries sector are not well organised. The Congress passed a resolution demanding the re-establishment of an agricultural worker’s wages board and a marketing board, to make agriculture a viable profession.
It was stated that a vast amount of agricultural land is being slowly converted for real estate purposes. This has increased Britain’s dependency on food. Earlier, 90 per cent of the food necessary for the people was produced internally, now that has come down to less than 50 per cent, resulting in a serious compromise of their self-sufficiency.
The organisational report of the Congress noted that there is a 5 per cent increase in the membership of the Party from the last Congress. A point of considerable interest is the huge influx of youngsters into the Party. Most of the recruits into the Party have joined it very recently. It was informed that nearly 40 per cent of the members have joined the Party in the last three years. Many of the older members of the Party are passing away due to their age and this influx of new recruits has increased the necessity of political education within the Party.
The discussions pointed out that there is inconsistency in educating the rank and file of the Party. Though some branches are very actively involved in educating their members, many are not. So it was decided that there should be a nationwide effort to regularise Party education and also bring in a level of consistency. The Congress felt that this is an important task as the present times demanded the Party to be ideologically equipped to meet the challenges.
The Congress concluded with the call to build a “United Front to coordinate and reinforce the battles against the ruling-class attack on people’s economic, social and democratic rights and conditions”. According to the Political Resolution that was adopted: “It should be built and led in unions, workplaces and communities by militant and politically conscious workers and their organisations. New forms of organising could emerge, perhaps along the lines of ‘councils of action’ and ‘unemployed workers centres’, bringing together trade union and campaigning groups on local issues related to poverty, housing, public services, local facilities, affordable energy, the right to food, community safety, anti-racism, women’s rights and the environment. Essential elements of this new United Front at local level will be trades union councils and People’s Assemblies”.
Such a united front would be built by mobilising all the forces that were demoralised and demobilised after the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour Party. The Congress hopes that such a United Front can ‘rebuild that mass movement, but this time more closely linked to the trade unions locally and with a focus on extra-parliamentary action’.
The Party Congress had a session called the ‘Middle East (West Asia) Fringe’, where representatives of various communist parties from this region, who were forced to migrate from these countries participated. They had explained to the delegates the situation in their respective countries and the horrors of Israel’s war on Palestine.
Apart from the CPI(M), it was only the Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB) and the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI) that were invited to physically participate in the Congress.
The Congress concluded with the election of a 35-member National Executive. The youngest member of this executive is the 20-year old general secretary of the YCL, who in fact secured the highest number of votes from the delegates. The Executive would meet at a later date to elect the Political Committee and other internal bodies that guide the Party.
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