Many reasons to celebrate
We invited a range of comrades to send a millennial message
Will Marxism ever recover from the near-annihilating defeats of recent decades, and again become the basis of a politics that allows workers and the oppressed to speak and fight in their own name? Will it regain its prestige for intellectuals attempting to make sense of social and political life? Or will it, tragically, fade from history with the passing of those who embraced it during an earlier era of struggle not remembered by most people now alive? Will the epic battles fought in its name, and its theoretical power, be of future interest only to historians and other academic specialists? These are the unsettling questions that those of us who have not abandoned Marxism must confront in the early decades of the century.
I don’t claim to know the answers, but there are a couple things of which I am certain. First, that nothing can replace Marxism’s legacy as a method of interpreting the world and a fund of knowledge and experience for those who want to change it. The class struggle is an objective reality that will not disappear, no matter the ideas with which it is conducted. But those on our side who would wage it without the bequest of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and many others, will do so at great, perhaps fatal, disadvantage.
Second, our conceptual weapons will never again be battle-ready if we proceed along the paths of so many self-proclaimed Marxist groups. We will not reassemble our forces by attempting to suppress all internal controversy for fear that it may disrupt the fragile ‘unity’ of some minimalist - usually electoralist - broad front that trails behind every trend or personality deemed vaguely ‘progressive’. Nor will we advance by proclaiming our ‘unique correctness’ on the basis old doctrines unexamined in the light of contemporary reality.
During the 21 years of its existence, the Weekly Worker has largely avoided these pitfalls. It has opened a space in which revolutionary Marxists in Britain and throughout the English-speaking world can express themselves freely and debate one another without being curtailed by argument-averse unity-mongers or brain-dead doctrinaires. The Weekly Worker has displayed the ability to convey a definite point of view without closing its pages to Marxists who may disagree. Its letters column provides a unique forum. Its concern with immediate political issues does not preclude articles on broad historical and theoretical subjects. Its detailed treatment of British far-left politics is combined with regular reports on and from a number of other countries.
That a paper of this quality appears every Thursday without fail speaks highly of the dedication of the small and unpaid collective that produces it. I hope my own occasional dispatches from the heart of the empire (as well as articles on other things) will make a modest contribution to a periodical whose next thousand issues have the potential to play an even more important part in the urgently needed revival of Marxism than the first thousand already have.
An old friend, long-time member of a well known leftwing organisation, recently asked me, somewhat reproachingly, why I keep publishing articles in the Weekly Worker. I told him there were two reasons: first, I want my articles to be widely read on the left; second, the paper prints them promptly and without attempting to interfere with their content.
I could have added a third reason: I like writing for a journal I enjoy reading. After sending an article or letter to a journal, I naturally check to see what it looks like in print; so finding high-quality material in the same issue (apart from my own contribution, of course ...) is an extra bonus.
I suppose these three reasons are interconnected. The Weekly Worker is widely read on the left - not only in this country, but elsewhere - because it contains a high proportion of good, thought-provoking stuff; and also because it does not insist on adherence to a narrow ‘party line’. In fact, it manages to combine two roles: it is the organ of a political group - the oddly and misleadingly named CPGB - and at the same time an asset of the entire radical left, a forum of Marxist discussion and polemics, reflecting a variety of views beyond that group.
That a small organisation manages to publish regularly a weekly paper of such quality, both online and in an attractive print version, is an extraordinary achievement of talent and dedication. That the Weekly Worker has now reached its one-thousandth issue is a triumph of perseverance. Long may it continue!
At a time when the global economic crisis continues unabated and the effects are being felt in a number of regions with a slide toward forms of barbarism, it is vital that ideological clarity be sought; that a global working class, battered by pressures of an ongoing race to the bottom, be rearmed with revolutionary theory rescued from the distortions of what once posed as socialism. It is here that the Weekly Worker plays an important role in underscoring that the essence of socialism is democracy. It is not, as one leader of the South African Communist Party once implied, an optional ingredient.
Your publication has also helped to underline the fact that autocratic and bureaucratic behaviour on the left should not be simplistically equated with Stalinism; that it is also a feature of groups proclaiming themselves to be Trotskyist, Sankarist or whatever. We in South Africa are now, after 20 years of political dominance by a steadily rightward-drifting tripartite alliance of the African National Congress, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the SACP, finally seeing the splits emerge under pressure from below. And these have been well covered in the pages of your publication.
But there is still no clear way forward, with various elements professing left credentials trying to step into what is fast becoming a political vacuum. It is here that the Weekly Worker plays a very small, but important role in raising the arguments that help to increase the consciousness and clarity necessary if we, everywhere, are to have real hope of achieving the better world we know is possible.
South African journalist
Holding the fort
The unenviable task of keeping the spirit of revolutionary Marxism in Britain alive from the 80s onward was a burden carried on the shoulders of a few comrades. They were forced to swim against the current. A few young comrades came to the conclusion that it was their task to uphold revolutionary Marxism as a beacon of hope. And they have been fulfilling that task through dogged struggle against all the odds thanks to amazing personal sacrifices.
I was privileged to witness the work of those comrades from the beginning and I would like to focus on three qualities that I noted back in the 80s.
First of all, they have adhered to the theory of Marxism. Some on the left may say that they have failed to grasp the intricacies of Marxist theory on particular questions, but nobody could say they have not tried. They have always given priority to the development of theory in the fight for working class organisation.
Secondly, internationalism. From the very first days they were aware that they had to champion working class and freedom movements of the underdeveloped parts of the world.
Thirdly, they have maintained a disciplined and devoted core intact through all the ups and downs. The organisation has expanded and contracted at times, but the core has always acted as a single unit, as a clenched fist. And that fact alone says a lot about the calibre of these comrades. The abrasive effects of organisational life with limited resources, with so much to be done, puts enormous strains on organisational and personal relationships, but they have managed to overcome them.
However, 1000 issues are not enough: there are thousands more to be produced. The problems endangering the very existence of humanity have to be resolved through the politics of the working class. Every year millions of people are joining the ranks of that class in far-flung corners of the world. That means millions of illusions to be dismissed, millions of superstitions to be torn away in order to reveal a basic truth to the world’s working class: emancipation from wage-slavery is possible!
The remarkable example of the Weekly Worker must be repeated across the globe.
Above its weight
I have been a reader of and contributor to the Weekly Worker for over a decade. I don’t agree with much of their politics, but one thing stands out - their willingness to write a paper that isn’t afraid of political debate and which is open. It is an achievement, given that most papers on the left are (poor) party-building exercises and an insult to one’s intelligence.
It is one reason why the group that produces the Weekly Worker punches above its weight. They played an important role in informing people that Britain’s largest far-left group, the Socialist Workers Party, was imploding because of the determination of its central committee to avoid democracy at all costs.
Campaigner for Palestine
I have read the Weekly Worker virtually every week since the Conway Hall founding meeting of the London Socialist Alliance in 1998. Prior to that I had once been sold a copy at a rally in a Yorkshire pit village in 1992 and was left puzzled by what struck me at the time as an odd variant of ‘ left Stalinism’, which in retrospect may or may not be a fair characterisation of the CPGB, as it emerged from its Leninist chrysalis.
Having been denounced in the paper at considerable length in July 1998, I never imagined I would end up writing for it - not just occasionally, but quite regularly. I think it does enable people to follow a great deal of what goes on the British left, which, given the bureaucratic regime of most far-left groups, they would not otherwise hear about and, although not all its numerous accounts of meetings, splits and (occasionally) fusions are 100% accurate - occasionally a reporter’s account of a meeting I have been to bears virtually no resemblance to my own memory - it is this which accounts for its wide readership (even amongst those who do not admit to reading it).
I think that Yassamine Mather provides an invaluable service in informing us about Iran and Peter Manson does a similar job for South Africa. Whilst I may sometimes differ from Moshé Machover, I think he provides us with a refreshing perspective on Israel/Palestine, often serving as an indispensable corrective to the more dogmatic pronouncements of Tony Greenstein in the same pages. The Weekly Worker has made me aware of Lars T Lih’s important historical work on Lenin, which is not generally promoted by most self-styled Leninist organisations. The letters page provides an interesting diversity of opinion, including direct criticisms of the CPGB itself - a degree of openness which you would not generally find in any other left weekly. However, I personally would not have published a few of the letters that have over the years defended or appeared to defend fascism, anti-Semitism or paedophilia.
That brings me to a more general criticism - on occasions a certain libertarianism/contrarianism creeps into the paper that reminds me more of the Revolutionary Communist Party (the Furedi version, not the 1940s one) than of a weekly aimed at the wider labour movement (or even aimed at forging a Communist Party) - a few front pages extolling the virtues of guns or drugs have been an embarrassment to read on the tube or in other public places.
Having said that, I hope I live to see issue 2,000.
Writer on Italy
The Weekly Worker is always a good read. I’ve heard it criticised for being mostly gossip, but the left does need a notice board where you can find out what’s going on - I enjoy the paper mostly for that gossip.
The letters page tends to be clogged up with maddeningly verbose, sectarian and irrelevant rants, but I suppose you have to publish everything? Why not impose a strict word limit? Most valuable are the regular contributions by people who know what they are talking about, such as Yassamine Mather, whose insights are invariably brilliant.
My main criticism is that the Weekly Worker’s politics, while abstractly principled and communist, are so painfully divorced from any kind of practice. The philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.
Radical Anthropology Group
The paper still remains lively and informative and an interesting read every week. The best part is undoubtedly the letters page, which carries material which is sometimes highly instructive and sometimes appalling (occasionally in the same letter!). But the weightier theoretical articles are often outstanding too.
Currently, given the various different platforms within Left Unity, there exists a real opportunity to generate a proper debate between the respective tendencies. The Weekly Worker would do well to open its columns to both the Left Unity Platform and the Socialist Platform, so that the issues can be well and truly evaluated.
Revolutionary History editorial board
I want to congratulate the Weekly Worker on its 1000th edition - I have watched it from birth to adolescence to adulthood - from its Leninist cradle to its current development.
From its inception it has had a quality probably unrivalled anywhere on the left. Since the 90s it has had no consistent rival I can call to mind - the theoretical articles, the willingness to open up a platform to areas of debate and opinion other publications would run a mile from. It is the only place where I have seen serious discussions on paedophilia, immigration or the national question, on the assessment of our history and questions of organisation.
Although bloody infuriating at times, it is the only piece of reading material among mountains of the stuff I seem to accumulate each week which I sit down and read, line by line, page by page, as soon as it arrives.
Former NUM activist
The Weekly Worker has done something few other left newspapers have been able to do, in that it has taken a non-sectarian line in presenting the news both of the left and on the left - not that it leaves out news of importance to the left. Too often left newspapers have plumbed ever new depths of boring polemic. The Weekly Worker is not boring, and its columns are consequently read the world over.
The left needs information and analysis of the events which have occurred in the world. Ideally, it ought to be seen from different angles and even different Marxist viewpoints. A full newspaper of this kind would need a large, paid staff, but the very small team at the Weekly Worker have done the next best thing. Inevitably, it expresses the viewpoint of their grouping, the CPGB, but this has not stopped them including Marxist intellectuals and workers who are critical of the CPGB.
It will soon be a century since the October revolution. All left groups have to be judged by their attitude to that period, when the proletariat first took power and the Stalinist counterrevolution threw the world into a barbarism which no-one could have anticipated. The Weekly Worker has evolved over time in the right direction and I expect it will evolve further.