Stan Keable affects a slightly but unconvincingly anguished and self-righteous tone in his letter (October 5), in which he advises that he has been - and presumably soon other identified members of Labour Party Marxists will be - expelled from the Labour Party.
Stan confirms that the reasons for the expulsions are that the aims and principles of LPM are incompatible with Labour Party membership and that it is a front organisation for the ‘Communist Party of Great Britain’ - a rival and (and using Labour’s own terminology) hostile political party.
But these grounds are surely entirely correct and sound. The Weekly Worker group (WWG) - aka the ‘CPGB’ - is without question a tightly organised political party with its own aims and objectives, which are in straight contradiction to those of Labour and the members of which owe their primary loyalty to the WWG and not the Labour Party.
The WWG has in relatively recent decades ‘entered’, created disruption, antagonism and hostility, then left, successively, the Socialist Labour Party, Socialist Alliance, Respect and Left Unity. Despite calling itself ‘communist’, it has continuously used the classic Trotskyist modus operandi of chronic enteritis, targeting and entering various larger political formations, ostensibly with the aim of winning the larger group to its political positions, but in reality to create a platform for itself, make a noise and impact somewhat greater than its numbers, and to leave with one or two members more than what it started with.
I personally find the history of Trotskyism, its factionalism and splitting, its enteritis, bile and antagonisms, its opportunism, wild changes in line and tactics, absurd, deeply flawed and unpleasant leading ‘personalities’, to be sickening and off-putting. The great majority of Labour members and trade unionists may well feel similarly. Faced with the WWG, with its new LPM cover and sheen, now trying to ‘enter’ it, it is hardly surprising the Labour Party has decided to act against both.
I agree that the Labour Party should admit to individual and affiliated membership those whose politics are Marxist, of various hues and descriptions, that such comrades should be allowed to organise openly within the Labour Party, to develop their views and policies, and to democratically seek to win wider support within the Labour Party and beyond. I further agree that we should aim to persuade the Labour Party to allow a wide range of political, socialist and communist organisations to affiliate to it, and for these and their members to openly and democratically try and win support for their views.
But the key points are to do so openly and democratically, and not as some secret conspiracy to subvert its constitution and democratic basis.
The Labour Party is entitled to ask individual members, affiliated supporters and affiliated organisations to endorse and support its overarching aims, objectives and programme. If they can’t do so, they should not seek to join and shouldn’t be upset if they join under patently false pretences, get found out and are then removed.
If we regard Labour as the mass electoral party of the organised working class, it is even more important that socialist and communist partisans of the working class show appropriate and genuine respect for the constitution and programme of the Labour Party. They/we should seek to open up and change these bases of the Labour Party through open and frank political debate and argument, to persuade the various types of membership to carry out such changes through conviction and understanding, so that these will help promote the immediate and longer-term interests of the labour movement and the working class.
I am a communist because I believe fundamentally in the need to replace capitalism by communism, starting with socialism. That this replacement has to be effected through revolutionary means, the overthrow of the capitalist state and its replacement by a transitional state of the working class. And that, in order to progress these aims, one needs a political party committed in theory and practice to carry them out.
So, as an individual I can’t and shouldn’t try and join the Labour Party. If the Labour Party at some point in the future decides to allow the affiliation of communist and socialist organisations and parties, that would be a great step forward, but the Labour Party itself has to come to those conclusions.
I don’t know if it will be possible to transform Labour into a genuine party of the whole working class or, as the Weekly Worker terms it, a permanent united front of the working class. If this is a Trotsky phrase, he got one thing right, and one less than the proverbial stopped clock. I certainly would not want as an individual or member of a communist party to ‘bet the farm’ by joining Labour on the off-chance.
The WWG would in my view far better serve its own aims and objectives by operating openly as a group/party, using the Weekly Worker to express its views and analyses, and working openly alongside the Labour Party and others to try and achieve political, practical and organisational unity. Chronic enteritis is actually far more damaging and debilitating to those who live by it than those who periodically have to suffer it.
So transforming Labour into a socialist party is incompatible with continued membership, is it?
What does this mean? I can think of two reasons. Firstly, Labour is already a socialist party. Its further transformation is therefore unnecessary. Secondly, Labour has never been a socialist party. The attempt to transform it into something different is therefore unnatural. Put differently, Labour is a pro-capitalist party of modest reform, which aims to manage the national economy more efficiently and fairly.
These apparently opposing positions interpenetrate through a bourgeois understanding of ‘socialism’. If ‘socialism’ means the more efficient form of management of a national economy (through, say, public ownership and a welfare state), then Labour has always been both ‘socialist’ and pro-capitalist.
In which case, it is the Marxist understanding of socialism that is incompatible with continued membership. ‘Socialism’ for Marxists means a classless, moneyless, stateless society on a global scale. If Labour were to adopt this understanding, it would contradict its aim to revive growth within a declining and stagnant capitalism and improve the conditions of workers on a national scale. The latter goal is a step on the road to socialism only for committed Stalinists. Otherwise, Labour leaders will characterise the Marxist goal as fanciful, unrealisable and potentially dangerous.
Does this explain why being associated with the Morning Star and the Communist Party of Britain is compatible with membership, but any association with Weekly Worker and the CPGB is incompatible? If so, then leaders are enforcing discrimination in favour of Stalinism and renewing Labour’s historical antipathy to Marxism.
Paul B Smith
This will be my last letter in my exchange with Jack Conrad. There seems little point in discussing any longer, as Conrad refuses to engage with the substantive points that I make. Instead he questions both my mental health and my credentials as a political activist. Alongside this goes a style of ‘debate’ based on blatant distortion of what I say and bald assertions supported, at best, by out-of-context quote-mongering.
I apologise to readers of the Weekly Worker for my intemperate tone, but it is impossible to stay civil with this political charlatan, who masquerades as some kind of Marxist theoretician for his followers in the CPGB.
It is simply absurd to say that I “casually dismiss Bolshevik democratic centralism”. Conrad and I have a disagreement over what constitutes the appropriate organisational principles for political groups claiming to apply ‘democratic centralism’. For my viewpoint, it is Conrad who dismisses the reality of Bolshevik democratic centralism, but where would simply asserting that get me, other than a personal feeling of smug self-satisfaction and superiority (those who know Conrad in real life will know what I am referring to)?
Conrad referred to Lenin’s 1906 pithy phrase, “freedom of criticism and unity in action”, as summarising what Conrad believes should be the organisational basis for Bolshevik organisation across the ages. In fact, Lenin was referring to a specific organisation - the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. This was a party which united socialists from across the reformist to revolutionary spectrum. Lenin’s advice for the organisational norms of such a party tells us absolutely nothing about the internal norms appropriate for a group of Bolsheviks - not then in 1906 as a faction within the RSDLP; certainly not as a separate party that had integrated the historic betrayal of August 1914 and was to lead the revolution in 1917; and absolutely not for a propaganda grouplet in 2017.
And then back to more unsubstantiated slander, as Conrad describes the organisational framework I think is tactically sensible at this time as “bureaucratic centralism”. Let us peel a few layers of that little onion.
The CPGB are only too happy to proudly proclaim their discipline as an organisation, when it comes to political activity they describe as ‘actions’ such as voting. To slightly change Conrad’s lovely turn of phrase back against him, the CPGB has an approach of “Except when granted special permission, members of the sect are required to act like robots and blindly carry out the leadership line.”
“Bureaucratic centralism” - if the term is to have any useful meaning rather than just being one of Conrad’s throw-away put-downs - refers to an organisation which comes to the decisions about how it decides to act in the world as a group through some kind of undemocratic means. Whatever political faults anyone may think I have, encouraging or facilitating undemocratic decision-making processes in workers’ organisations is not one of them. I would challenge Conrad to provide evidence to the contrary, but I hardly expect him to start bothering with providing proof for his accusations at this late stage in our exchange.
The difference between our understandings of the term ‘democratic centralism’ has nothing to do with bureaucratic versus democratic decision-making. It is whether the content of political arguments we make to try to convince others in the workers’ movement to take particular actions should be subject to democratic decision-making process, as it does to political activity like voting.
The reality is that, like other propaganda grouplets, the main political activity carried out by CPGB members is making political arguments. Bizarrely, they see it as a virtue that their main political activity is not bound by collective democratic decision-making processes. Conrad can rightly harangue me for my ineffectiveness in building a mass revolutionary workers’ party - but he should be careful inside his glass house.
I can agree with Conrad that the dominance on the left of bureaucratic centralism, in the true sense of the term, is indeed a hindrance to the development of a revolutionary Marxist party. But I think it is facile to propose a particular set of organisational norms as a secret bullet that can solve that conundrum - be that Conrad’s understanding of ‘democratic centralism’ or my own. I would argue that of far greater importance is the issue of the core political principles of Marxism - what they are and whether they are consistently applied in the day-to-day political programme and actions of individual Marxists and their organisations.
In those terms, the CPGB actually suffer from the same malaise as most of the left - although, uniquely, they have chosen to wear their disjuncture between stated principles and concrete programme and actions as a badge of honour rather than trying to hide it like most other opportunists.
I am not going to waste time rehashing old arguments about the context of Marx and his supporters sometimes seeing a role for what they understood to be progressive sections of the bourgeoisie in particular situations in the 1800s, other than to ask, is Conrad really arguing that doing so is still relevant in advanced capitalist countries in the 21st century?
But I have to take exception to Conrad’s conflation of these examples from the mid-1800s with Lenin’s and Trotsky’s tactics towards bourgeois workers’ parties in the post-1917 world. I suppose on one level it is instructive to note that in doing this Conrad makes it clear that he sees no difference between outright bourgeois parties and bourgeois workers’ parties.
As regards the Trotsky quote, it is hard to get a complete context for it, as Trotsky wrote very little on China before he started actively opposing participation of the Chinese Communist Party in the Kuomintang after 1925. But Conrad is probably right that my position means I think Trotsky was wrong to say this.
Interestingly, I have allies for this in the form of the leadership of the CCP at the time, including those who would go on to become Trotskyists. See for instance the following from ‘How Stalin-Bukharin destroyed the Chinese revolution’ by Tchen Du Hsiu:
“At that time, all the five members of the central committee of the Chinese CP - Lee-Shu Chang, Chang Teh Li, Tsai Ho Sung, Kan Chiun Yu and I - unanimously opposed the proposal [to join the Kuomintang in 1922]. The chief reason was: To join the Kuo Min Tang was to confuse the class organisations and curb our independent policy.”
However, to answer Conrad’s direct question, my apparent difference with Trotsky over what the CCP should have done in 1922 is obviously not enough for me to brand Trotsky as an “unrepentant opportunist”, as I do with Conrad.
Trotsky’s record of concretely fighting for working class political independence against what we now describe as popular fronts shows a clear balance sheet in one direction - as does that of Lenin and Marx, as I understand it.
On the other hand, as I pointed out in my previous letters, Conrad and his CPGB acolytes have made giving political support to popular frontist blocs a consistent policy, which they wear as a badge of honour. I therefore think that ‘unrepentant opportunists’ is a completely accurate description.
Tony Greenstein cannot get his head around our critique of ‘third campism’ (Letters, October 19). To assist him, we would point to Marx’s and Engels’ support of the Irish against the UK and the Poles against Russia, although these struggles were mainly led by Catholic reactionaries.
Subsequently, Lenin supported the Riffian leader Abd el-Krim in Morocco against Spain and France in the 1920s. On September 30 1924, the Action Committee of the Youth of France and Spain appealed to French soldiers: “Comrade soldiers, the cause the Moroccans defend is also your cause. You are the enemies of French and Spanish capitalism, just as Abd el-Krim and his followers are. The defeat of Primo de Rivera is welcomed as much by the mutinous soldiers of Malaga and the striking workers of Barcelona as by the victorious Moroccans.”
The parties of French imperialism and social democracy flew the French tricolour against Morocco and even within the Parti Communiste Français there were those who branded el-Krim a reactionary who should not be supported by the ‘revolutionary party’. Nevertheless, Lenin’s stance persuaded Maurice Thorez to send el-Krim a telegram of support and set up an Action Committee against the War in 1925.
The same stance of Trotsky in 1937 is well known: “It is the duty of all the workers’ organisations of China to participate actively and in the front lines of the present war against Japan, without abandoning, for a single moment, their own programme and independent activity.” And this despite that fact that “Chiang Kai-shek is the executioner of the Chinese workers and peasants”. However, “today he is forced, despite himself, to struggle against Japan for the remainder of the independence of China. Tomorrow he may again betray. It is possible. It is probable. It is even inevitable. But today he is struggling. Only cowards, scoundrels or complete imbeciles can refuse to participate in that struggle.”
Jim Grant displayed the same confusion last year: “Gerry’s anti-imperialism is, needless to say, confused in the extreme. The confusion stems from exactly where Gerry says it does: Leon Trotsky’s policy of critical support to anti-imperialist nationalist forces - most notably Haile Selassie in Ethiopia during the Italian invasion - and his argument that, instead of joining the Chinese nationalist Kuomintang in the 1920s, the communists ought to have fought separately but alongside them against the Japanese. This policy ultimately stems from the anti-imperialist united front advocated by the early Comintern” (‘Thin end of the wedge’, March 17 2016).
This was totally incorrect because “Selassie was a British client; Trotsky’s support effectively meant supporting British imperialism against Italian imperialism … As for China, it is difficult to see how the communists could have suffered less except by fighting the KMT and the Japanese, as they ended up doing anyway.” But, crucially, not at the same time. Every bourgeois nationalist regime is a client of some imperialist power before war begins, so Jim has given us a formula for refusing all support to semi-colonial countries attacked, either directly or by proxy, by imperialism. Britain was nowhere on the ground in Ethiopia in 1935. We are grateful to him for his honesty in repudiation of the early Comintern, and implicit rejection of the difference between oppressed and oppressor nations - a key tenet of third-campism.
We also take the opportunity to support Jack Conrad’s version of democratic centralism against the International Bolshevik Tendency version of Alan Gibson. Despite our close agreement with Alan on the 1917 revolution, and defence of the crucial role played by Lenin’s April theses in rearming the party to defeat the ‘old Bolshevism’ of Kamenev, Zinoviev and Stalin, the thrust of Conrad’s argument is correct. We came to that conclusion years ago and it was reinforced by the fact that Gerry Downing’s full appeal against expulsion from the Labour Party was reprinted in the Weekly Worker in the interests of discussion (‘Due process and justice’, March 17 2016). No other group anywhere offered us this facility. We also take this opportunity to oppose the expulsions of Moshé Machover and Stan Keable, “whilst continuing to fight to expose their political errors”, as Jim Grant put it last year in opposing Gerry Downing’s expulsion.
As for Tony’s anti-imperialism, it is risible. He supported the “right of the Iraq people to wage armed resistance against the American and British occupiers”, but not any actual group fighting. No “support for one or more particular groups”.
They’re reactionaries who do terrible things like “genocide of the Yazidis and their enslavement and mass rape and sexual slavery of women”. So imperialism’s wars on the semi-colonial world can be opposed in theory, but never in practice, because it is unlikely that they will come up to Tony’s standards. This amounts to shamefaced support for the civilising mission of imperialism against the ‘mad mullahs’, the ‘savage races’ of Africa, not to speak of the ‘stupid and drunken Irish’, etc, nearer home.
In his letter of March 31 2016, Tony set out his views clearly: “I have no doubt that neither Downing nor Donovan are anti-Semitic in a personal sense and that is why I would not support their expulsion. But at a time when the anti-Zionist left is under attack in the Labour Party and I am under threat of expulsion personally, I would want to have nothing to do with any campaign Gerry might mount against his expulsion. His behaviour and his politics are insupportable and have weakened the position of anti-Zionists in the party, myself included.” So, we were partially responsible for Tony’s suspension from Labour - ‘they came for the Trotskyists, but I was not a Trotskyist’.
On April 7 2016, Tony referred to a Zionist bigot respectfully in Weekly Worker: “Jonathan Freedland, a senior Guardian journalist, set the tone with an article which used the idiocy of one Labour Party member, Vicky Kirby, and the stupidity of Gerry Downing to tar the left in the party as anti-Semitic.” But by then he had materially contributed to his own suspension and to the expulsion of Gerry Downing from the Labour Representation Committee for anti-Semitism, subsequently rescinded. He went to Stalinism’s Morning Star on April 14 to denounce the “idiot Trotskyist”, Gerry Downing, by distorting our position: “Yet what is the evidence (of anti-Semitism)? A two-year-old tweet about Jews having large noses and an idiot Trotskyist, Gerry Downing, who believes that there is a cabal of Zionist capitalists who run the foreign policy of Britain and the US.”
Norman Finkelstein, the famous Jewish anti-Zionist, debunked the main thrust of this nonsense at Communist University that year and answered some of the distortions against us, as we observed in this paper that year: “Of course, the activities of the Zionist lobby, of Jewish bourgeois, like for instance Sheldon Adelson, were examples of ethnic influence in US bourgeois politics. Of course, ‘Jewish lobbies’ (the term he [Finkelstein] used) had influence in US politics, and, on matters not fundamental to US imperialist interests, could force adoption of policies that are irrational from the point of view of the interests of US imperialism. Of course, there was no US interest in associating themselves with the most egregious atrocities of the Israeli right, but they frequently do” (Letters, August 25 2016).
Labour Party Marxists took a principled stance in Gerry Downing’s defence when the witch-hunt had claimed some big scalps: “Calls for the immediate lifting of all of the suspensions and expulsions from Labour Party membership in any way connected to the ‘anti-Semitism’ smear campaign and witch-hunt. That includes Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone, Tony Greenstein, Gerry Downing and numerous other supporters of the Palestinian cause” (‘Banned motion’, November 17 2016).
Tony says: “They [Socialist Fight] are right to say that the US ruling class treats Israel as if it were an adjunct of their own state. They are right to say that the relationship of Israel to the United States is different from that of the US to any other state. But it is not right to suggest that this is a product of the Jewish composition of the US ruling class. If anything, the latter is a consequence of the US’s relationship with Israel, not its cause.”
This seems to mean that the Jewish component of the US ruling class is a product of the founding of Israel. Was this how Jews became up to 48% of the US billionaires, or 51 of the most powerful people in the world, according to the Jerusalem Post in 2010, quoting Vanity Fair? The Rothschilds are estimated to be the richest family in the world and they arose in Germany in the late 1700s. Is that another anti-Semitic fact? Best call it a trope - the word Zionists use to dismiss factual evidence of their power or excuse slaughter of Palestinians. We recommend again Abram Leon’s On the Jewish question for a materialist explanation of how this happened.
Gerry Downing and Ian Donovan
Trotsky famously wrote that the massed ranks of the fascists are made up of impoverished small businessmen, the peasantry and the long-term unemployed. In Britain today, small businessmen are yet to go bust on a mass scale, the peasantry doesn’t exist and unemployment is a revolving door, with people going in and out of work.
I have a relative who works as a maintenance fitter in a food processing factory. He reads the Daily Mail and admires Jacob Rees-Mogg and Donald Trump. He also admires Tommy Robinson, former leader of the English Defence League. My relative is pro-Brexit and anti-European Union; he hates Muslims and says that the left is anti-Semitic and anti-democratic.
My relative is obviously being brainwashed by the Daily Mail. However, the idea that the left are the anti-Semites and anti-democrats is also used by the far right. For example, earlier this month the Football Lads Alliance had a demonstration of 15,000 in London, where the march was organised on the slogan, ‘Against extremism’.
Did Hitler use the lie that it is the fascists who are the democrats and the left the anti-democrats, as part of the rise to power of the Nazi Party in the early 1930s?
Learn from 1917
‘Revolution then and revolution now’ was the title of the October 21 one-day conference in Liverpool on the significance of the Russian Revolution, organised by supporters of the socialist journal Critique and members of the Socialist Study Group on Merseyside. Thirty people took part in discussions throughout the day on topics such as the historical context of 1917, the impact of the revolution on Britain and Ireland in the years 1917-24, and the broader lessons of the revolutionary period for working class militants in the contemporary world.
Whilst all the sessions and opening contributions were designed to deal with different aspects of the revolution, of necessity during the discussions certain common themes emerged. David Lowes opened the day with an introductory session on ‘The revolution in historical context’, which looked at the nature of Russian society in 1917 and the impact of World War I on the politics and consciousness of the masses. Drawing on a number of contemporary accounts by British and American observers, such as Arthur Ransome, Louise Bryant, Ernest Poole and Bessie Beatty, Dave gave us a real feel for the drama and scale of the revolution in the years that followed. Both in his talk and the subsequent discussion, the role of the workers and peasants in building a new form of society and the development of revolutionary consciousness were key strands.
Kevin Bean’s session on the political effects of the revolution on Britain continued in the same vein. Whilst Kevin outlined what would have been familiar ground for many comrades in his description of British capitalism’s hostility to the Bolsheviks and active intervention against the new Soviet state, his contribution stressed how both the British bourgeoisie and the labour movement had to come to terms with a radically new political situation that had been created internationally by 1917.
Focussing on the different contemporary interpretations of the nature of the soviet as both a means of revolutionary struggle and an organ of state power, the discussion went on to look at how events in Russia in the 1920s forced Marxists in Britain to define what they meant by ‘revolution’ and how they understood the importance of the self-organisation of the working class in transforming society.
The main sessions of the day, however, were introduced by Hillel Ticktin and Raquel Varela. Although speaking on the same topic - ‘The significance of the revolution today’ - they looked at different aspects of the issue. Hillel considered the impact of the revolution and its legacy for politics internationally in an era of capitalist decline and transition. In a wide-ranging survey of the development of capitalism in the hundred years since 1917, he discussed the contradictory role of war as both an instrument of capitalist policy and an accelerator of revolution. Hillel went on to suggest that the Russian Revolution had lasting consequences for the nature of capitalism itself, given that the bourgeoisie had been forced to make concessions to the working class, such as extending the franchise in Britain in 1918, along with all the other social and economic reforms that followed throughout the 20th century.
Other lasting consequences that emerged in the discussion were the impact of Bolshevik support for national self-determination on the break-up of the European empires and the political trajectory of social democracy as a partner in stabilising capitalist rule. Raquel Varela’s contribution took up some of these themes in a comparison between 1917 and the Portuguese revolution (1974-75). Although forms of dual power and soviets emerged in Portugal in this period, she stressed that the key difference between the two events was the lack of a Bolshevik leadership. Not only was there no revolutionary group able to develop further the political consciousness that a failing colonial war and the patterns of economic change had created, but the dominant parties of the working class - the socialists and ‘official communists’ - acted to contain and neuter the emerging revolutionary forces in Portugal.
In the discussion that followed, comrades debated the nature of revolutionary consciousness, the factors that bring it into being and the revolutionary strategy we should employ in contemporary Britain. This was a truly wide-ranging end to the day and contributions and questions touched on everything from the poisonous legacy of Stalinism through to the significance of Corbynism!
Labour Party Marxists