It is fine being the critical organisation of the left, but when, oh, when will the CPGB open itself to criticism and analysis?

From Wikipedia we learn that the CPGB is possibly 50-strong and falling. If this is wrong, let the CPGB become transparent and publish membership figures, recruitment figures and paper sales.

The CPGB involvement in Left Unity becomes increasingly small-circle, as LU becomes less engaged. So why does the CPGB think LU is the way forward over the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition?

The CPGB made much of its boycott of the Scottish independence referendum. How many did you win to your position?

The CPGB has adopted an ambiguous position in regard to the UK Independence Party. Do you think some Ukip policies are progressive?

You have a “Provisional Central Committee”. Who elects this CC? How open is the election (no mention in the Weekly Worker)?

Is the CPGB like the Masons? That is, how do people join?

All is seemingly open via the Weekly Worker, but you do not publish ‘Party notes’ like the SWP. Why not? Could it be that the CPGB is the most secret organisation on the left in Britain?

In search of answers.

Rupert Mallin


Perhaps some very gullible readers of the Weekly Worker may be taken in by Ian Donovan’s crude nonsense: “… the likes of … Moshé Machover promote, along with a sometimes very left-sounding anti-Zionism, their own alternative ‘left’ [Jewish] identity politics and communalism” (Letters, October 9).

So, to make my real position clear, let me quote from my article, ‘Hebrew versus Jewish identity’ (Weekly Worker May 16 2013):

“In some progressive circles in the Jewish diaspora there are attempts to promote an alternative Jewish identity - secular and non-Zionist, in some cases pointedly anti-Zionist. I assume that this is motivated partly by nostalgia for the murderously extinguished progressive and proletarian tradition of east European Jewry, and partly by outrage at Israel’s pretension to speak and act for all Jews and thus implicate them in its misdeeds.

“It is not my business to tell those who pursue such an alternative identity how to define themselves. It is entirely up to them. Even nostalgia is a legitimate sentiment (although, alas, it is no longer what it used to be …). And a progressive Jewish identity deployed against Zionist propaganda certainly plays a positive role.

“But I believe that diasporic Jewish secular identity does not have a long-term future, because it lacks an objective basis.”

Moshé Machover


In response to Andrew Northall, I would contend that the Weekly Worker of course wishes to promote and popularise “the names, ideas, words and arguments of those socialists 100 years ago who actively opposed World War I” (Letters, October 9). We do not want to silence such voices and such ideas, but to deepen our understanding of them. The motivation behind our series on social-imperialism, as explained in the overviews of the translated material and in my article introducing the series (‘The SPD left’s dirty secret’, July 26), is threefold.

First, to actually try and provide more of a rounded historical context to the debates and controversies which raged within the workers’ movement over the nature of World War I and the tasks of socialists. By understanding how those like Paul Lensch, Konrad Haenisch, Heinrich Cunow and Alexander Parvus - all of whom were significant figures in social democracy - framed their arguments on imperialism, capitalist development, the nation-state, democracy and so on, we gain a much greater sense of the ideas of their erstwhile comrades, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, as well as others from different trends in the movement. This context has unfortunately been lost, because the ideas of the heroic anti-imperialist fighters we correctly look to and draw on are often dealt with in isolation, which has led to some strange assertions (ie, Karl Kautsky was pro-war in 1914!) To better understand somebody’s ideas it is also useful to look at those of their opponents.

Second, if like comrade Northall we see the Russian Revolution as the greatest anti-imperialist act of World War I, then it is important to try and get to grips with the phenomenon of Bolshevism, away from cold war caricature and recycled opinions. As Lars T Lih in particular has stressed, the dominant cold war narrative - that Lenin went away and radically revised his pre-1914 outlook at the outbreak of the war and completely broke with the so-called ‘Marxist centre’ - is misleading. The social-imperialist material obviously sheds light on this relationship too.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, some of the theoretical dead ends pursued by the German left social-imperialists are errors that have been a constant thorn in the side of left thought. The Lensch-Haenisch-Cunow group’s conflation of nationalisation and wartime rationing/state planning with ‘socialisation’; its downplaying of the necessity of democracy in socialism; and its absolute insistence that the left must, in order to ‘do something’, attempt to choose ‘the lesser evil’ in imperialist conflicts - all blight the left today (one need only think of the situation in Ukraine and the left’s response to it).

Moreover, it is a little bit odd for comrade Northall to have found my translation work slightly pointless and then for him to proceed to write a letter setting out some of his thoughts on and reactions to the material. Maybe it was not so pointless, after all.

Ben Lewis

Red-brown Trots

My July article on Polish nationalism has elicited a most bizarre, but insightful, response (‘Christ of nations in London’ Weekly Worker July 3). In a Usenet discussion group, I am dubbed a “loquacious Polak immigrant spokesman”, who is attempting to “outflank the ‘red’ cultural Marxists of the SWP front outfit, UAF”. Apparently, my crime was to suggest that “these New World Order invaders” - ie, Polish migrant workers - “have many reasons for being what they are, and that this is reinforced by any actions against ‘immigrants’, from Ukip to UAF”. Finally, it is suggested that “all of the Polish garbage ought to be made to return to their miserable homeland and make something of their heritage”.

Because of the language - and because some contributors deemed Ukip to be insufficiently anti-immigrant - I initially believed I was reading a conversation between BNP members. Much to my surprise, it turned out that the forum is inhabited by a rare red-brown species of Trotskyist. Among them, a specimen named VN Gelis, who has authored books such as How the IMF broke Greece: role of the fake left. The latter was reviewed by David Douglass for the Weekly Worker, and indeed, comrade Douglas noted Gelis’s highlighting of “mass illegal immigration” with some unease (‘Defence of the nation-state’, December 8 2011).

A cursory Google search reveals that the industrious Gelis has also written articles for No2EU - most recently for its Exit Europe pamphlet published before the 2014 European elections. Furthermore, he edits the Kindle journal, Greek Patriotic Left, and has protested against “Jewish mythology about the holocaust”, while posting material from the French holocaust denier, Robert Faurisson, in various newsgroups.

Why do the views of a handful of ‘Trotskyist’ conspiracy cranks matter? Because they illustrate how bigotry and chauvinism are often the result of mistaken conclusions and bad politics rather than of a racist psychological disposition. Gelis runs a blog entirely dedicated to proving that the classical Marxists were opposed to immigration and the free movement of labour. All that he succeeds in demonstrating is that Marx and Engels were aware of the squalor and degradation that characterised the Irish diaspora in 19th-century Britain, and that their presence was exploited by capitalists to drive British wages down.

The conclusion drawn by Gelis and his brethren is that migration must be stopped in order to protect the ‘indigenous working class’: a short-termist outlook - also implicit in the No2EU platform - which hopes to improve the conditions of a tiny section of a global slave class. These sectional politics do not point beyond their desired immediate outcome. They are, in essence, no different to the politics of the German Workers Party - a proto-Nazi organisation in Austria-Hungary that organised ethnic German labourers and trade unionists against their Slavic competitors. Objectively, they express the interests of the labour bureaucracy.

These interests stand in contrast to the interests of communists, which are synonymous with those of the working class as a whole. We argue not for migrants to leave, but for across-the-board pay increases and the levelling up of wages across Europe. More critically, we advocate the international political organisation of the working class: firstly, to extort concessions from the ruling class that we have currently no hope in hell of achieving. Secondly, with a view to the working class becoming the global ruling class of the future. Thirdly and ultimately, towards its self-abolition as a class. No doubt, a ‘globalist’ agenda in the eyes of VN Gelis, but then we proudly stand on the politics of authentic Marxism - a ‘globalist’ outlook if there ever was one.

Yet there is hope even for creatures such as Gelis. His most recent blog entry, dating back to April, reproduces comrade Ben Lewis’s translation of the resolution adopted by the 1907 Stuttgart Congress of the Second International, which contains consistently Marxist demands vis-à-vis the migrant worker question (‘Reactionary by nature’, April 4). These policies are progressive because, by recognising that the working class is international, they point to a future beyond the prison complex that is the system of nation-states.

I am in no position to say whether this serves as a fig leaf for the otherwise reactionary direction of Gelis′s ‘research’. The fact that it stands as the last entry in his blog - the final word on Marxism and migration, so to speak - is encouraging.

Maciej Zurowski

Sales room

At the recent Hackney Left Unity AGM broadness was emphasised to the exclusion of what the majority in the room actually thought.

Again and again, motions from the Communist Platform were argued against because they were not ‘saleable’ to those outside of the room. References to capitalism and the working class put the fear of god into what I would call left atheists - those who disavow what the LU leadership call ‘dead Russians’. A perfectly reasonable motion to get rid of MI5 was voted down. A motion on the environment was rejected because it had the word ‘capitalism’ in the preamble. One comrade said that this is a broad party and we don’t want any of this Leninist party nonsense. This displays a total disregard of history, and a lack of understanding of how we can learn from the past.

Currently, as I understand it, the membership of Left Unity stands at around 2,000 members. It has remained stagnant for about the past six months, and it is not even certain if the majority of members actually care about what happens to the party. You might expect the members to be mobilised for demonstrations, but this was not the case at the Stop the War demonstration two weeks ago, where Andrew Burgin was alone in handing out leaflets to promote Left Unity. Where were the others?

Hackney has about 30-40 paying members, but the numbers at the AGM were about the same as had been attending for the past year, even though they were supplemented by members from Tower Hamlets. The future of LU appears uncertain, and like left unity projects of the past, it may have a limited shelf life. However, there are earnest comrades who are trying to make it work, and they should be supported.

The general election should give us an idea about the popularity of this latest left project, and whether it has a future.

Simon Wells

Minimum wage

It’s October, so it must be that time of year when I do my annual analysis of the adult workers index - the total number of female escorts advertising on Adult Work, the UK’s premier website for putting escorts in touch with potential clients. Surprisingly, the number of women with profiles on Adult Work has decreased by 14% from just over 23,000 a year ago to around 19,500 today.

There are four things to note. First, there are fewer adverts from women who are working as escorts full-time, but more adverts from women working as escorts part-time. This probably reflects the fall in male disposable income since 2007 and the increase in the number of women trying to supplement their income through the tax-free income available through escorting.

Second, the number of adverts from single women aged 18-30 is around 12,500. The number aged 31 to 50 is around 6,300. The number aged 51-plus is around 700. In all age groups, these women are probably unable to get a full-time job or are unwilling to work in minimum-wage, zero-hours contract jobs.

Third, the average hourly rate charged by escorts outside Greater London has remained steady, in the range of £80 to £100. This compares favourably with the hourly rates being charged by female solicitors outside Greater London. There also continues to be an increase in escorts offering discounts and ‘special offers’.

Fourth, the increase in women working as escorts part-time reflects the general increase in insecure part-time jobs in the economy, including self-employment.

John Smithee


I wanted to say thank you for such a fantastic review of Pride (‘Moving and inspiring’, September 25).

Mark Ashton and I went to catering college together, and escaped Northern Ireland to a better life in London (I was also a stalwart of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners). I’m so proud that his legacy is now finally being recognised and I can hear him squealing with delight at all the attention.

Monty Montgomery
Perth, Australia