Hang your head
There is something profoundly dishonest about Jack Conrad’s article in last week’s Weekly Worker (‘Aims, deals and recommendations’, March 5). The seven questions which conclude the article purport to be an attempt to identify individuals among the candidates of the Independent Socialist Network which the CPGB can support in Left Unity’s internal elections. Yet the questions are transparently aimed at justifying a blatantly sectarian refusal to engage with any kind of dialogue with the ISN.
Jack Conrad obviously finds himself in a difficult position. The ISN is standing a number of candidates in the internal elections on a principled platform: for a mass united socialist party committed to the overthrow of capitalism and based on the working class; against the anti-austerity coalition dreamed up by Left Unity’s leadership that would involve backing non-working class parties; and for a serious orientation to recruitment and campaigning.
The ISN does not think it can achieve this goal by itself, so - in the short period between the elections being announced and nominations closing - we approached a number of organisations and individuals who we felt shared our broad vision. We informed them what we were doing and suggested that we try to avoid clashes and maybe embark on a process of discussion in the coming months.
When Nick Wrack phoned the national organiser of the CPGB on February 24, far from “clos[ing] the matter”, as Jack Conrad reports, Mark Fischer welcomed the approach. A couple of days later Mark reported that at the Communist Platform’s steering committee there had been a positive reaction and “people were interested in collaboration”. It was agreed to talk again once nominations were in. However, after the Provisional Central Committee of the CPGB met on March 1, lines of communication went dead. Jack Conrad’s article is the PCC’s reply.
The article is Jack Conrad’s attempt to avoid the messy business of actually picking up the phone and speaking to people. In it he characterises the ISN as “based on the politics of fudge” and “unanchored programmatically”. If that means that the ISN is open to all independent socialists and does not demand that its members act as automatons, that is correct. It is entirely wrong to suggest that the ISN is not committed as an organisation to clear goals. In fact the ISN has adopted the statement of aims and principles of the Socialist Platform that just about every member of the CPGB signed up to in 2013.
It is true that this statement is nothing like as long or comprehensive as the CPGB’s own Draft programme. However, note the adjective ‘draft’. The CPGB programme is not supposed to be the finished product, but a contribution to a future process, whereby the left comes together to form a Marxist party (the CPGB is itself supposed to be ‘provisional’). That process will involve many traditions and strands of the left throwing a wide range of ideas into the pot. The party that emerges will continue to debate, discuss and retain the capacity to change its mind.
Too often the CPGB’s ‘draft’ programme serves as a weapon in the hands of the CPGB’s leadership to repel others on the left by insisting on prior agreement with whatever the CPGB asserts is important - priorities selected usually on a fairly random basis. That is the behaviour of a sect bent on maintaining internal cohesion above the broader interests of the working class.
As for Jack Conrad’s argument that the ISN is more committed to the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition than Left Unity, well, we do think it is important that the forces represented by Tusc (an increasing number of defectors from the Labour Party, as well as the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party) are part of the process of creating a united mass socialist party. ISN members are the principal standard-bearers within Tusc of the demand that democratic structures are set up. Over a hundred general election candidates in May should mean over a hundred branches in June.
Left Unity also potentially has an important role to play. But the last thing that we need is yet another organisation claiming to be the only true socialist party in competition with all the others. The ISN prioritises neither Tusc nor Left Unity, but overcoming the crippling division of the socialist left.
So our reply to Jack Conrad’s seven questions is this. We do not accept the CPGB’s arrogant assumption that it can conduct a one-way exchange with other organisations on an agenda it alone determines. Nor will we disavow our members on the CPGB’s say so. Laurie McCauley’s exclusion from his branch should be resolved and his right to report in the Weekly Worker preserved. That is going to require dialogue, comrades, including with Chris Strafford.
Then - pulling another rabbit from his hat - Jack Conrad raises an eight-year-old case against John Pearson. I was organiser for the Campaign for a Marxist Party at the time, so I know exactly what this is about. John Pearson should have apologised for threatening during an interval in a CMP aggregate to “lamp” another comrade (a former friend who he felt had disparaged him in a speech). However, John was hardly going to apologise at the behest of the organisation that had expelled him for the way he voted at a Socialist Alliance meeting. He was duly suspended from the CMP shortly before the CMP suspended itself.
Now, John Pearson may be stubborn, but he has not used physical violence or threatened it on any other occasion. Indeed, the CPGB has raised no objection to John’s prominent role on Left Unity’s conference arrangements committee. They have challenged John’s rulings with no apparent fear for their physical safety. Yet suddenly, when the ISN is in Jack Conrad’s sights, no statute of limitations applies on past misdemeanours.
This is a cynical and thoroughly nasty case of character assassination in the service of sectarianism, with John Pearson just so much collateral damage. Jack Conrad should hang his head in shame.
Independent Socialist Network
I find the tone of Jack Conrad’s article too antagonistic towards the ISN, and the personal remarks against some of their members quite unnecessary. This in the context of the ISN’s approach to the Communist Platform for an accord, whereby the ISN and ComPlat would support some of each other’s candidates in the forthcoming internal elections of Left Unity.
As an independent member of ComPlat’s steering committee, I hasten to add that nothing in comrade Conrad’s article explicitly contradicts resolutions adopted by our committee. So in this sense I must take partial responsibility for that article. However, in my opinion the negative remarks made by Jack are unfortunate, and I regret not trying to forestall them. I think it was an oversight not to agree beforehand on the tone and tenor of our response to the ISN.
Jack Conrad justifies his engineering my departure from the CPGB’s Communist Platform last year because of my “retrogressive” attitude to Jews. But he produces no evidence of antipathy towards Jews. Most of my political mentors are of Jewish origin. I circulated a reading list on the Jewish question shortly before Conrad’s purge, citing five authors - Marxist and non-Marxist - of material relevant to formulating a Marxist analysis of the Jewish question today.
These authors were: Karl Marx, Abram Leon, Israel Shahak, Shlomo Sand and Gilad Atzmon. All of Jewish origin. It does appear that, from his own semi-Zionist perspective, Conrad considers that all these writers are racist against their own ethno-religious group. Certainly all of them have been accused of anti-Semitism at various times, mainly by people who can easily be shown to be pathological liars. The principle of Occam’s Razor suggests, to anyone with any knowledge of Jewish history, that Jack Conrad has capitulated to the reactionary social pressure of today, where all three major political parties are dominated by ‘Friends of Israel’ factions who aim to suppress criticism of Israel’s crimes, and has joined the witch-hunters.
The analysis I developed on the Jewish question, derived from study of the sources above and others, together with independent analysis of my own, is that the ‘people-class’ that constituted the Jewish people in medieval times, analysed by Abram Leon, dissolved with the advent of capitalism. But it also left behind a survival product that has now acquired considerable social/political power: a Jewish-Zionist caste within the bourgeoisie of several advanced capitalist countries, centrally the United States, whose ruling classes therefore overlap with that of Israel. This consolidated itself in tandem with the Israeli state as an imperialist power in the Middle East, and is now a very powerful force in western politics.
Conrad implies that this materialist analysis is in some way racialised. But the idea is absurd. It does not apply to all Jews, but only to the Jewish-Zionist sections of the bourgeoisie. It does not even extend to all bourgeois who are of Jewish origin, of which there are considerable number to whom this matters little, but only to a self-selected group that are politically Zionist, and consider themselves representatives of a Jewish nation. I argue that this ‘nation’ does not objectively exist, but this consciousness is itself a material force, and gives this organised bourgeois current a coherence that I call semi-national (for want of a better term).
These kinds of propositions on the national question would be completely innocuous among Marxists were they to be applied to any other people. The fact that such is forbidden in the CPGB is not due to there being anything reactionary about this being analysed by Marxists, but because of the CPGB’s own capitulation to Jewish anti-Arab chauvinism, which is longstanding.
The ‘canary in the coal mine’ indicating this capitulation to Jewish chauvinism is the figure of George Galloway, who is unusual on the old Labour left because - unlike the previous generation, such as Benn and Heffer - he had never been pro-Zionist, but rather a forthright supporter of the Palestinians since before he was an MP. His championing of Arab causes has made him the subject of hatred from Jewish and Israeli chauvinists. This includes Jewish chauvinists on the left.
The CPGB has had a hostility to Galloway, unlike any other on the left, for a very long time. Mike Macnair himself admitted in 2004 that the Weekly Worker “came close to joining in” the witch-hunt against George Galloway over The Daily Telegraph’s ‘Saddam’s gold’ smear, which cost the Tory paper £150,000 in damages. That is, they “came close” to crossing the class line. The anti-Arab chauvinism in the organisation and demonisation of those sympathetic to Galloway’s forthright anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism led to my leaving the CPGB in this period.
History repeated itself when, after a wobble to the left in late 2013 when they dared bloc with me to concretely oppose the Zionists of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty within Left Unity, the CPGB reverted to type as AWL-lite. In the context of fear-mongering about ‘anti-Semitism’ being generated by Israel’s massacre of Gaza Palestinians in Protective Edge, they decided my militant defence of the Palestinians against Israel and its bourgeois supporters in the UK and US, and formulation of this in Marxist terms, was to be proscribed. But Conrad has never managed to explain how my analysis is in any way racialised. It is a cowardly lie, manufactured to appease ‘left’ Jewish chauvinist sentiment.
Yet again, the litmus is George Galloway. Conrad makes an issue of an alleged incident where John Pearson threatened to “lamp” someone in a political context years earlier. If he did this, and failed to repudiate it, that is stupid and discredits him. But, given that Conrad demands that candidates for the Left Unity leadership condemn such violence, why did the CPGB refuse to condemn the violent racist/politically-motivated, violent attack on George Galloway, by a Jewish-Zionist thug, on August 29, because of his views on Gaza?
I repeatedly urged the CPGB to condemn this attack at the time, when I was being witch-hunted by Conrad. It is a matter of record that they have never printed one word about it. Whatever John Pearson may have done is hardly significant compared to this attack on Galloway accompanied by ‘Arab-lover’ type insinuations, which mark this as a racist attack.
That they have never condemned this, despite being challenged to do so within their own periphery, fits well their rightwing, pro-Zionist motion at the last LU conference denouncing the demand for Palestinian liberation “from the river to the sea”. On this they are opposing the leadership of LU from the right. Thus the Communist Platform does not deserve leftwing votes.
The Workers Power branch of Leeds Left Unity has banned the sale of the Economic and Philosophic Science Review from its public meetings, stating alleged “offence” at an article written a year earlier, on March 5 2014.
Given that the article is supposed to have been so “offensive” that it justifies outright censorship, it seems bizarre that it has taken them over a year to raise any objections to the article, despite having numerous opportunities to do so at Left Unity and other public meetings where the paper has been openly on sale.
The timing only makes sense in the context of Syriza’s total capitulation to European Union imperialism and its betrayal of the Greek working class, and the exposure this gives to Workers Power’s rank opportunism in their long-term support for Syriza, and their (and much of the ‘left’s’ - including, and especially, Left Unity itself) fraudulent claims that a vote for Syriza, backed up by supposed ‘left pressure’, could somehow ‘stop austerity’.
This is the same old petty bourgeois, reformist posturing, dressed up in r-r-revolutionary phraseology and squadist youth activism, that Workers Power has always used in its attempts to drag the working class back to Labourism and parliament as the place to go to change anything. Far better would have been to use this as an opportunity to expose the reformist illusions so-called Left Unity is continuing to foster in the anti-communist Attlee government as the best that the working class can achieve, by pointing to its brutal and bloody suppression of the KKE during the Greek civil war as an example of the sorts of fascist measures the Labour Party has always been prepared to use in its service to imperialism, and as a warning to the Greek working class today.
There is no ‘stopping austerity’. Capitalism’s crisis continues to be an unravelling catastrophe, and its ultimate slide to world war is unstoppable without a revolutionary struggle to establish and defend working class rule. To reach the understanding that this is necessary, the working class needs to be drawn into the biggest mass debate possible around the all the issues that divide them, no matter how contentious, and especially over the triumphant and unsurpassed strides the Soviet Union made in human development and the mistakes it committed along the way; and the modern historical experience of Greece is a good starting point. Conclusions need to be drawn from this debate that reflect objective truth as closely as possible, so that they inform the working class in its struggle to overthrow capitalism and build socialism.
Workers Power is for the censorship of such a debate in fear that continued polemical argument in public meetings and in writing further exposes its opportunism and anti-communism. If it really wanted to advance human understanding, it would take up and challenge the arguments raised in the March 2014 issue, rather than use Left Unity’s alleged ‘safe space’ policy as a shield to hide behind and as a weapon with which to whip up a witch-hunting atmosphere designed to intimidate anyone attempting to raise arguments for a Marxist understanding of world developments.
As the EPSR’s past experience in the Socialist Labour Party demonstrates, self-righteous and baseless howls of ‘homophobia’ against its exposure of the reactionary, reformist nature of single-issue PCism are a last-gasp attempt to shut down debate and divert attention away from their squirming attempts to avoid exposure over Syriza, and a good sign that they are losing the argument.
Proscriptions against scientific inquiry into the nature of human sexuality and child development appear to have more in common with fascist book-burning than Marxism. Workers Power stand alongside Cameron and Obama in their sudden embrace of gay marriage, for electoral advantage purposes only, as a ‘positive sign’ that capitalist society is becoming more progressive - just as they stand alongside them in the ‘war on terror’ by their condemnation of the confused, contradictory and at times self-defeating third world struggles against imperialism.
The only way to develop tolerant and compassionate attitudes towards homosexuality is to openly investigate the nature of human sexuality in all its forms and the possible impact capitalism may have on sexual development. These are open questions that have yet to be answered by science and so are up for discussion. Proscriptions and bans are more likely to drive away politicised members of the working class who are looking for answers and not convinced by the arguments of the gay lobby, and into the hands of the likes of the British National Party and UK Independence Party, where backward, reactionary attitudes are fostered and actively encouraged.
Phil Sharpe in his very long letter (February 26) seems to be arguing the following propositions:
We should prefer the socialist revolution to be peaceable. We know the bourgeoisie is armed through its possession of the state apparatus and will use any and all means, including violence, to defeat the revolution. The development of working class organisation, consciousness and of armed formations is necessary in order to deter the bourgeoisie and to effect the disarmament of the bourgeoisie. The more the working class prepares and develops its organisation, consciousness and preparedness to use armed force to disarm the bourgeoisie, the more likely this process will be peaceable. Which is what we should all want. And may widen our support in the process.
He might also have said that, should the working class have false illusions in a peaceable revolution, and does not prepare for armed confrontation, the more likely in practice is it to be drowned in blood.
Well, I agree with all that. And I have said it in less than 200 words. And have not found it necessary to quote Trotsky, whoever he is or was.
This year sees the centenary of the great Glasgow rent strikes. In 1914 some 90% of housing was in the hands of private landlords. In Glasgow this meant most tenements were in a poor condition, with one toilet for each close and no inside sanitation.
By 1915, with the onset of war, thousands of workers were coming into the shipyards, engineering and munitions. Rents soared. Tenants saw it as profiteering and refused to pay the increases. When landlords responded by individual evictions, working class women set up tenants associations. The most famous, the South Govan Women’s Association, saw Helen Crawford, Mary Barbour, Agnes Dollan and Jessie Stephens very much to the fore.
The landlords were making little headway. So they tried instead to use the ‘small debt courts’, so that the rent could be taken directly from the wages of workers. Eighteen people - including the secretary of the Tenants Defence Association - were brought before the sheriffs court on November 17 1915.
This led to one of the biggest demonstrations in Glasgow’s history. And to strikes in the Fairfield (Govan) and Beardmore (Dalmuir) shipyards. The sheriff phoned Lloyd George; the cases were dropped and the Rent Restriction Act was rushed in.
It was a victory and its methods - based on grassroots organisation and working class solidarity - remain an inspiration to this day.
Scottish Republican Socialist Movement
Last November I had reason to write emails to both the SWP branch secretary in Cambridge and the circulation manager of the SWP’s International Socialism journal. I never received any replies to these emails.
Following the February congress of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, I wrote emails to both the eastern regional secretary and the Peterborough branch secretary, asking them to email me a copy of the ‘British perspectives’ 2015 document, as passed at congress. Again I never received any replies to my emails.
Recently I rejoined Left Unity and therefore wrote an email to the Cambridge branch secretary to introduce myself. Again I never received a reply.
It seems that left organisations ignoring emails is part of a wider malaise in society. Jobseekers well understand this malaise when they receive no responses from potential employers to their job applications. Whilst I can well understand bourgeois employers ignoring communications from jobseekers, to have emails from activists such as myself ignored shows the terrible state the left in Britain is in today. No wonder the left has so little support amongst the working class, given the awful way it treats its own members.
The only party
Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition launches its camapigns for the 2015 general and council elections this Saturday, March 14 - but not with traditional speeches. We are not a traditional party, and we have no intention of doing things purely in traditional political ways. This is why we are launching our camapigns with a rock music event - a benefit gig.
The event will be held at the Rugby United Railway Club, starting at 8pm. We want people to enjoy it, and we want them to enjoy the general election campaign. There will be a couple of fairly brief speeches, but the focus of the evening will be musical entertianment. I will give a brief outline of how we intend to conduct our general election campaign, and I will explain how Tusc provides a socialist alternative to the established parties. I will also outline how Tusc will be the only party to oppose all public spending cuts at every level and campaign for a society that puts people before profit.
As well as standing in the general election, Rugby Tusc will be standing in a number of borough council wards. Prospective council candidates will be present to outline their campaigns informally - again, no long speeches! Saturday will provide an ideal opportunity to mix the serious world of politics with pleasure and entertainment. We are delighted that two well-known and lively local bands have agreed to play at our election launch, and we are looking forward to an enjoyable evening.
Rugby Tusc PPC
On February 20, the Greek government of Syriza in coalition with the rightwing nationalists of Anel (Independent Greeks) was capitulating to the blackmail of the EU, ECB and IMF, and signing the agreement with the euro group. It agreed to extend for four months the so-called ‘bailout programme’ of draconian austerity, without even getting the money from the EU and the ECB tied with this programme; only after a review of the ‘reforms’ implemented by the Greek government will any money be provided, at the end of April. Meanwhile Greece has to pay in March €1.4 billion to the IMF alone.
The Greek state and banks are running out of liquidity, as they are depleted by an enormous flight of capital over the last three months, and a dramatic fall in tax revenues, while Mario Draghi, through a financial coup d’etat in early February, cut any financing of Greece by the ECB apart from Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA). Now the meeting of the ECB in Cyprus has to decide if the ELA will be discontinued or not.
The Syriza leadership’s capitulation represented a clear breaking of the popular mandate in the recent Greek elections to put an end to austerity and cancel the biggest part of Greece’s unsustainable foreign debt. It provoked confusion and disappointment among Syriza’s popular base (which was vastly expanded after the initial declarations of defiance against the EU and troika by the new government). It brought about a huge crisis within the ranks of Syriza itself. At its central committee meeting last weekend, 40% of the leadership voted against the agreement with the euro group.
The agreement is precarious, and it can be broken any time. It will be a source of further crises. The blackmail from Berlin, Brussels and Washington continues, while the Greek authorities are facing a series of non-stop payments to the international usurers this year - particularly in March, with the €1. 4 billion to the IMF, and at the end of June/early July, with another €6.7 billion to the ECB and IMF. The capitulation has not prevented the continuous torture, the turning of the screw.
Despite some emergency ‘humanitarian measures’ of social assistance, austerity continues. In the hospitals, the workers are preparing a new strike against the latest cuts. Others are demanding regular pay contracts and an end to the barbarity of ‘labour flexibility’ and ‘black labour’.
To add insult to the injury, the government, presents its capitulation as a ‘victory’, and it is launching new attacks on workers’ rights as part of the measures necessary to stabilise the economy. The most scandalous is the attempt by the government to transfer the assets of workers’ pension funds to the central bank, using the money of the workers to pay the IMF vampire later this month. But the resistance of the workers to this theft is not yet broken.
Radicalisation and politicisation among workers and the pauperised popular masses have not only not stopped: they are deepening and expanding. The Workers Revolutionary Party (EEK) issued a statement from its central committee on February 28 analysing the new situation and outlining the new tasks. Our revolutionary work has already started with a workers conference last weekend. Later this month a campaign against privatisation, unemployment and austerity and for the cancellation of the debt will begin all over the country.
Our general line is: No capitulation to the EU/ECB/IMF gangsters! Break from the imperialist Mafia! Down with class collaboration with Greek and foreign capital and their parties! For an emergency plan to meet social needs through expropriation of the banks and key sectors of the economy under workers’ control and workers’ management. For workers’ power and the socialist unification of Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok, on the ruins of the imperialist European Union!