First and foremost, I would like to congratulate you for having arguably the best weekly leftwing newspaper in the UK by miles.
I came across the Weekly Worker during online research following the Scottish referendum and the need to find out more about socialist and leftwing ideas in the UK. I voted ‘yes’ and my first question to the Weekly Worker editing team would be: where, in the event of standing for a ‘no’ vote, is the Marxist-Leninist right to self-determination? Credit to Scots, regardless of the vote, for rediscovering citizen involvement in the cosy world of British politics.
Sadly, I must say, on the Scottish left the whole ‘post-referendum’ trauma is comical, with the attempt by every organisation to herd all pro-‘yes’ socialist campaigners on their own terms. Which means there will be no united Scottish ‘left’.
As for the few mentions of my home country (Poland) in your paper, the main topics I’ve fished out already are ‘Polish invasion of Soviet Russia’ (please explain when such an event took place - as far as I am concerned, in 1920 Poland desperately tried to survive the expansion of the Soviet revolution, which, by the way, was already starting to eat its own children. After 128 years of Russian occupation, one has to understand that there was simply no difference for most of my compatriots between the tsarist regime and the revolution), and the name of turncoat socialist, Józef Piłsudski. To compare Piłsudski with a familiar name on these shores, in his prime time as socialist guerrilla master he was the Polish equivalent of Michael Collins, so credit where it is due, I am afraid (and I am far from being a fan of JP).
Could you, on the eve of their 100th anniversary, raise the less known subject of the short-lived worker/peasant republics created in what was the Polish part of imperial Russia during the revolution of 1905? Surely, the fact that at least three of them existed shows very well that not all was reactionary and backward amongst the Polish working class.
I would also like to read far more about the historical hotspot of the revolution in Ukraine/Russia and the current conflict over the economically vital areas in the east of the country. The fact that black/red fascist standards are raised once again by the grandchildren of Ukrainian insurgent army murderers is not being highlighted enough.
I wish you all the best in creating your valuable source of very well pointed information and useful conclusions about domestic/international politics, as well as historical events connected with the working class struggle.
I should like to answer, so far as I am able, the questions about the CPGB posed by Rupert Mallin (Letters, October 10), in the hope that answers from a non-member might carry some weight. I have immersed myself in the ‘external’ culture and political ideas of the organisation for the last year or so: reading the newspaper every week; now having read nearly all of their books; reading/watching a lot of the material on their website; attending some London Communist Forums; attending some of Communist University this year; having extensive email and Skype contact with a leading member to query aspects of the Draft programme. I have found all of this an invigorating educational experience, and feel highly motivated to defend the organisation.
To Rupert’s specific questions:
- On membership figures, it is my understanding from conversations that the membership is less than 50. As to publishing paper sales, I imagine that the view may be taken that hits on the Weekly Worker website are more important: these are often given in Robbie Rix’s ‘Fighting fund’ column.
- As to the nature of elections to the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB and other internal procedures, I admit that I do not know anything about them, and that I would quite like to, but I think that Rupert might find Jack Conrad’s Problems of communist organisation (London 1993) instructive. The burden of this, I think, is that small organisations can be hampered by very rigid formal procedures only really appropriate to much bigger ones. Much of the CPGB’s critique of Left Unity has been along these lines. Rupert may be, in effect, demanding that a small propaganda group behave as though it were already a mass Communist Party of tens of thousands. As the CPGB says in the second paragraph of its political platform, ‘What we fight for’, published every week in the Weekly Worker, “The Provisional Central Committee organises members of the Communist Party, but there exists no real Communist Party today.” In any case, it is not as though there are no public accounts of party internal affairs: there are regular reports in the paper of members’ aggregates.
- On joining, go here: www.cpgb.org.uk/home/about-the-cpgb/join-the-communist-party.
- On the CPGB’s lack of anything comparable to the SWP’s Party Notes, this may simply be a matter of person-power. They are small, and prioritise getting the Weekly Worker out every week, as far as I can see. But one can subscribe to an email bulletin as a non-member, though it has gone quiet recently - according to Peter Manson, the WW editor, it is due back soon: comrades temporarily assigned to other duties apparently. There are also the podcasts on the current political situation on the website.
I hope this letter goes some way to answering Rupert’s questions, and that more is forthcoming from a CPGB member, correcting any of my misapprehensions if necessary.
Moshé Machover’s letter is disingenuous (October 16). Despite the abstract Marxist verbiage about the problematic nature of Jewish identities based on past oppression, I recall during the recent Israeli ‘Protective Edge’ Gaza massacre receiving several emails forwarded by him, promoting ‘Jews for boycotting Israeli goods’, etc. Actions speak louder than words.
His operative point is that “a progressive Jewish identity deployed against Zionist propaganda certainly plays a positive role”. This is not ‘identity’ in general, but directly political - ie, identity politics. So he corroborates my critique, not refutes it.
Moreover, it is profoundly wrong. The main ideological weapon of Zionist racism is not formal racial segregation, but the notion of ‘chosen-ness’ and Jewish moral superiority based on past suffering. These Jewish-only groupings, in their most leftwing manifestation, no doubt consider they are being clever in trying to use the notion of Jewish moral superiority against the Zionists. But in doing so, they strengthen that very notion - the key ideological weapon of those they claim to be against.
The notion of an alternative ‘progressive’ national or communal identity opposed to a dominant oppressive one is just as suspect when applied to Jews as any other people. The view that Jewish (or any other) identity has something politically progressive in it, outside the context of that people’s struggle against oppression, can only pave the way for chauvinism.
Unfortunately, in the imperialist ‘war on terror’, directed mainly against Muslim peoples, Jewish chauvinism among Jews with authority on the left has become a serious problem. This is a knock-on from Israeli anti-Arab/Muslim bigotry and racism, and its hegemony among Jews in general, which exerts social pressure even upon very leftwing Jews.
It is particularly pernicious, since the earlier history of oppression and genocide against Jews in the first half of the 20th century gives rise to a guilty blindness on the left about this, which would not be the case with, say, British or American chauvinism, or white racism, etc.
A recent capitulation to this was the CPGB’s conspicuous failure to condemn the violent assault by a fascistic Jewish extremist against George Galloway, despite repeated urging by myself within the Communist Platform. This was a bigoted assault, directed not at Galloway for his (Scottish) origin, but for his views and social base among Muslims.
Machover then derided Galloway as similar to Enoch Powell, particularly over his outspoken remarks about making Bradford an “Israel-free zone”. This implies some sort of equivalence between Galloway’s oppressed social base and Powell’s among white racists, and is thus a chauvinist position.
It is not difficult to discover that these are also widespread views among those promoting the ‘progressive’ Jewish identity that Machover defends. Which raises the question of how ‘progressive’ this alternative communal politics really is.
As most Weekly Worker readers will be aware, Unison called off at very short notice the local government strike action that it had planned for October 14. I have not had time to digest this yet politically, but something rather disturbing has emerged at work since.
Rumours are circulating that some colleagues who had planned to be on strike that day failed to come into work, even though the strike had been called off, and that this was because they had, for example, booked some sort of leisure event for that day and did not want to waste their ticket, and were thus regarding the day as unpaid leave, as it were.
While on an individual basis, this can be seen as putting two fingers up to management in a quasi-anarchist manner, it is behaviour that suggests that these comrades had never intended to take the strike action seriously from the outset. If I am on strike, I am on the picket line and attend any march/rally/demo held in conjunction with the strike. Doing anything else undermines the trade union movement and, by implication, the serious left more broadly, both in the eyes of the class enemy and in the eyes of those possibly winnable to the left, by implying that we are not serious. It is tantamount to scabbing.
It also has the potential to alienate colleagues whose work is more onerous on a cancelled strike day than it would have been on a normal day, to no useful collective political end; this to be clearly distinguished from life being more difficult for scabs on a strike day.
In writing this letter on Chris Cutrone’s critique of Mike Macnair’s book Revolutionary strategy (‘Democratic revolution and the contradiction of capital’, October 16), I am fully aware that: (a) Mike is probably considering a reply himself; (b) comparing a full-length book with a two-page article is potentially inherently unfair to the latter; and (c) that I am perhaps not the best qualified person to enter the debate, having only recently come to a serious engagement with issues of Marxist political strategy. Nevertheless, I thought it might be worth sharing how a comparison of the two has impressionistically struck a ‘general reader’.
Macnair’s approach has the following virtues that appear lacking in Cutrone’s account: (a) it is relatively comprehensible; (b) it appears rooted in a close reading of concrete historical events (aka ‘the materialist conception of history’), whereas Cutrone appears to wander off-piste into free-floating philosophising, bordering on the worst of post-modernism; (c) Macnair offers concrete proposals as to what the Marxist left should be doing in the here and now, whereas Cutrone appears to be promoting a deeply depressing view of the proletariat as still primarily the passive victim of history.
In the open
A few comments if I may regarding last week’s letters page.
First, I would like to thank Ben Lewis for his careful and considered points back to me. I accept and agree with them all. Yes, publishing the ‘other side’ can provoke useful and constructive thought and discussion and help develop the progressive alternative.
My mentor in the old CPGB, Max Adereth, used to tell us to read publications like The Sunday Times and The Economist, as these were spaces where members of the ruling class could speak openly to each other and work up an agreed strategic view.
I haven’t really followed Max’s advice in that regard, although the occasional dipping into such journals is a useful antidote to some of the wackier conspiracy theories and notions held on the so-called left. We do need to understand what members of the ruling class are really thinking and saying in order to be able to connect with the majority swathes of middle class and working class people, who frankly think we on the left are odd.
Second, John Smithee’s annual review of the female sex worker market. I guess it is a tough job, but clearly Smithee feels he is the man to do it. But what is the point of this annual exercise? Smithee doesn’t come out and advocate legalisation and protection of sex work; he just surveys the market and generates some meaningless and impressionistic statistics.
However, Smithee surely must know that female sex workers who charge (say) £100 an hour will only get to keep a small fraction of that money. Most goes to the semi-legitimate companies and ‘firms’ who organise sex work, provide transport and a certain degree of protection for the workers. I suspect this is the case for the vast majority of sex workers.
At the ‘top’ end, you will have a small minority of females servicing members of the ruling class who will earn and keep sums massively higher than Smithee’s £100 benchmark. At the other, you will have another small minority who are so desperate and unprotected, they will ‘pick up’ customers at random and charge relatively small sums for some instant gratification services, but get to keep the money, before then quite often spending it to support alcohol and drug addiction.
I personally don’t have an issue with paid sex work in a modern and civilised society. I think we should ensure women have maximum opportunities and options to earn livings in whatever ways they choose. The full force of the law and the state should be used to provide protection against exploitation and abuse.
And society should provide accessible and effective treatment and other mental-health support for people who are addicted to substances and/or have suffered abuse and exploitation in their lives and are struggling to cope.
As a commercial and interpersonal transaction, sex work should in principle be legalised. Far better to have it out in the open, and able to be regulated and all parties protected.
Ben Lewis makes useful points against Die Linke (‘Models and humanitarian myths’, October 16). At one point he reminds us that the Weekly Worker has long argued that Die Linke “has always been a car crash waiting to happen”. He should really explain why CPGB calls on workers to vote for such a party.
He refers to Die Linke’s ‘Save Kobanê’ statement, quoting it from an article on the World Socialist Web Site, which has extensively covered the developments in Die Linke and set them against the background of increasing militarism in Germany. While acknowledging the useful information from WSWS, he takes the opportunity to have a gratuitous swipe at what he calls ‘Northites’ - the equivalent of calling CPGBers ‘Macnairites’ or ‘Conradistas’ in their current manifestation. I believe that both the CPGB and the International Committee of the Fourth International have democratically elected leaderships, so perhaps we could dispense with such jibes.
He accuses the ICFI/WSWS of having a critique of left parties that is “rather schematically imposed on events”. Anyone who has followed the daily publications of the WSWS will know that the analysis is based on a whole period the evolution of a range of left forces (Die Linke, International Socialist Organisation and the patchwork quilt that is the misnamed United Secretariat of the Fourth International).
These organisations are left only in the sense of posturing or in the subjective imagination of some of their members. Their social composition and basic political formation tells a different tale. Analysing their development helps us to see the role they will play. Ben would have us wait to the very end before noticing the “car crash”. By characterising Die Linke as a ‘broad’ party, he entertains the illusion that it can be won back to the side of the workers. The fact is that Die Linke and others do not start from an international working class perspective and are more or less doomed to adapt to various national characteristics.
These issues deserve a more orderly debate than one conducted via footnotes and ill-informed sniping.
By chance I have just come across confirmation of the report about John Maclean and his opposition to World War I to which I referred in my review of Douglas Newton’s book The darkest days (‘How did it all happen?’, October 9).
Harry McShane states: “When the First World War broke out, John was on holiday at Tarbert. Following Sir Edward Grey’s speech in the House of Commons, he chalked the streets of Tarbert with the words, “Sir Edward Grey is a liar”. On his return to Glasgow he spoke at Nelson’s monument, Glasgow Green, and declared his opposition to the war. The British Socialist Party, the Independent Labour Party and even the Socialist Labour Party were all split at this stage, but John did not waiver” (http://marxists.org/archive/mcshane/1958/10/maclean.html).