Down the plughole
Jack Conrad and Yassamine Mather of the CPGB and Left Unity’s Communist Platform proposed a motion at the Left Unity national council calling for “an emergency national conference ... as a matter of extreme urgency. The emergency national conference must happen within one month”.
At the last LU national conference in 2015 I moved a resolution that made the same call for an early 2016 conference. The 2015 conference decided that LU should continue, but caused confusion by deciding not to stand candidates. Serious problems about programme, strategy and orientation remained unresolved. So I support the CPGB call for an early conference.
The first time that I and the rest of the rank and file LU members heard of this resolution was when it was reported it had been voted down and the CPGB had left! This shows one or both of the following. The CPGB are contemptuous of the rank and file and could not be bothered to seek our support, or it was simply a ‘provocation’ as a smokescreen for exit. Either way it does not show the CPGB in a good light.
Unlike many in LU, I am disappointed in the CPGB decision to leave. The Communist Platform showed that communists should be supporting the building of an independent socialist party, in which democratic socialists and communists could work together to further the political struggle of the working class. The Communist Platform turned the ‘halfway house party’ from a theory into a fact. LU adopted a kind of inner party democracy that made this possible.
The CPGB and the Communist Platform say “that the idea dominant in Left Unity that there was a large political space to the left of Labour for a ‘broad party’ on a broadly left-Labourite platform and organisational principles was illusory”. Republican socialists have argued this since the founding conference, but identified the fatal flaw in LU’s “broadly left-Labourite platform”.
I agree that “Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership election blew up this illusion” and that “since Corbyn’s victory a part of Left Unity’s members, including leading comrades, have ‘voted with their feet to leave LU and join Labour”. The CPGB says: “Those who remain have been unwilling to address seriously the complete falsification of their perspective by the events in the Labour Party”. This is true of Labourite socialists, but not republican socialists.
Left Unity’s Labourites screwed up on the Scottish referendum, continued the ‘economist’ policy of avoiding the democratic revolution and the fight for democracy and are now backing the Cameron-Corbyn popular front on the European referendum. LU’s attitude to the Acts of Union shows that they learnt nothing from the Scottish referendum. But now the acid test is the European referendum.
The CPGB demanded an emergency conference on (a) how to change the Labour Party, (b) adopting democratic centralism and (c) adopting a min-max communist programme for world revolution. Republican socialists have a very different perspective and agenda. We should be addressing (a) the European referendum, (b) standing candidates in elections, (c) the (minimum) social and democratic programme for UK and (d) building an alliance with the Scottish left gathered round Rise.
The CPGB conclude that rejection of their motion by the NC and the absence of any alternative proposal for serious rethinking shows that Left Unity is unable or unwilling to adopt a different strategy and programme. Left Unity is locked into a failed strategy and will continue to decline.
In summary the CPGB went wrong because, although they embraced the so-called ‘halfway house’ party in practice, they did not accept it in theory. Instead of fighting for a militant minimum programme of republican democracy, a social republic and self-determination, they turned the weapon of the minimum programme into a programme about weapons. It is sad to see their shift from maximalism to Labourism - the magnet of Corbyn has now finally sucked them down the plughole of the Labour Party.
Left Unity and Rise
In ‘The real Iowa coup’ (February 4), Tom Munday argued for critical support to capitalist politician Bernie Sanders: “It was and remains correct to give critical support to Jeremy Corbyn, knowing full well that he is a left reformist, for we appreciate that he creates a space for our arguments to be heard. This is likewise true of Sanders”.
The critical support tactic can sometimes be used to expose reformists within the workers’ movement, but extending it a Democrat - one of the twin parties of the American imperialist bourgeoisie - stands in stark contradiction to the basic Marxist principle of working class political independence.
The CPGB claims to uphold “the principle of working class political independence from the parties of the bourgeoisie” (‘Theses on the Labour Party’). Evidently we understand the word ‘principle’ differently. Your political support for Sanders is only the latest in a long line of abandonments of the Marxist principle of working class political independence (see, for instance, the relevant section of the IBT’s ‘Bolshevism vs CPGB-ism’).
Supporters of the CPGB should ask themselves why it is that the principle of working class political independence means so little in practice, while the organisational principle that the CPGB invokes to distinguish itself from other groups - ie, its peculiar definition of democratic centralism - is non-negotiable.
In an earlier letter (February 4), I referred to the dustbowl westward migration. But there was also another migration of six million African-Americans out of the rural southern states between 1910 and 1970. In sheer numbers it outranks the migration of Italians, Irish, Jews or Poles to the United States.
The pull of jobs in the north was strengthened by the efforts of labour agents sent to recruit southern workers by northern businessmen. Because so many people migrated in a short period of time, the African-American migrants were often resented by the European-American working class (more often than not immigrants themselves) who felt threatened by the influx of new labour competition. White workers couldn’t hope to win unless they united with African-American workers and that wouldn’t happen unless they organised on the basis of equality.
But African-American workers seeking union membership were blocked by exclusionary policies. Instead of integrating them into the union with other white workers, the unions established separate, auxiliary locals specifically for African-Americans. These were controlled by their parent locals and exercised no power. They had no vote or representation at national conventions. They were intended to maintain the status quo and were in a subservient position compared to the white union. White union members applauded union officials for implementing discriminatory policies against African-Americans. Racism came not just from the top, but from the bottom, creating a system of divide and rule policed by white workers themselves.
In 1924, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People issued an open letter to the AFL, which read: “The negro movement as a whole is outside the ranks of the organised labour movement ... If we come to allow the formation in America of a powerful bloc of non-unionised black workers - workers who would be entitled to hate the trade union idea - all workers, black and white, will suffer the consequences.”
In 1929, the NAACP again appealed to the American Federation of Labor to fight racial discrimination. In both instances, the AFL did not even bother to respond. It was not until the Congress of Industrial Organizations came into being that the position began to shift: “Negro workers, join the CIO union in your industry ... The CIO unites you with fellow workers of all races and all creeds in a common struggle for freedom, for democracy, for a better life.”
Class oppression is inevitably racialised and ethnicised. If ethnic ties prove more powerful than class solidarity, employers will use ethnicity to pit one faction against another and there are those who will be gullible enough to fall for it.
We urge all socialists and trade union militants to support Keith Henderson in his case at the Trade Union Certification Office on Tuesday March 1 at 9am in front of Acas, Euston Tower, 286 Euston Road, London NW1. Following the picket, those who are free may attend the hearing at 10am.
In December 2012, Keith was dismissed from his employment with the GMB union, following his actions in carrying out the wishes of members. Keith had organised a picket of parliament on the day of action in the public-sector pensions’ dispute on November 30 2011, which followed a democratic decision of GMB members employed in the House of Commons, who had voted to take strike action and to organise picket lines on the day of the strike.
In the election for general secretary, the GMB issued 610,023 ballot papers, out of which only 26,658 members returned their ballot paper, meaning that the turnout of 4.4% set possibly an all-time low for engagement in a union election. Tim Roache, the winning candidate, got 15,034 votes, meaning he obtained a mighty endorsement of 2.46% of the membership. Some mandate! The bureaucratic centralism of the GMB leaders, and particularly under the most recent leadership of Sir Paul Kenny, has led to mass alienation.
The GMB operates its general secretary election far removed from democratic considerations. The byelaws are laid out so as not to allow any chance of a lay member getting on the ballot paper. Keith was dismissed as a union officer, but he put himself forward for nomination for general secretary as early as February 2015, standing on an agreed and thorough democratic socialist manifesto.
Keith received only one nomination - that of his own branch - as a result of which the branch president and secretary, Steve Forrest and Maris Begona, were removed from office and banned for three years. This was overturned on appeal on February 2. Their crime? Non-compliance with an instruction by the regional secretary to withdraw a newsletter notifying their branch of the date of the relevant meeting and that he had declared he was seeking nomination. This victory against the worst bureaucrats enormously strengthens Keith’s case to the TUCO.
Keith was forced to go to the Certification Officer because all his avenues of appeal were exhausted within the GMB. Keith’s barrister is of the opinion that they are practically certain to win the case and the GMB will have to re-run the election.
But the picket is vital. We need to know that it will be supported and that the entire left is absolutely opposed to these filthy, bureaucratic manoeuvrings to prevent a lay activist from standing on a socialist rank-and-file platform for the general secretary election in the GMB.
Please contact Keith on 07450 056548 or email Keith.Henderson19@hotmail.com to promise your support.
Secretary, Grass Roots Left
On February 4, the BBC ran a Newsnight special on Trident. In it, diplomatic and defence editor Mark Urban stated that the sole military purpose of Trident was to penetrate and overwhelm the anti-missile defence system around Moscow.
Paul Ingram of the British American Security Information Council said Trident “is about politics and it is about being able to strike at the heart of the Russian system”. This is the so-called ‘Moscow criterion’ and it remains absolutely central to British nuclear and security policy. So, when MPs vote to renew Trident later in this parliament, they should ignore all the guff about Trident being necessary ‘to keep Britain safe’, to guard against unknown and unforeseeable ‘threats’ decades into the future or even to fend off an alien invasion, as Ronald Reagan once claimed for his Strategic Defence Initiative. The ‘sole purpose’ of Trident is to provide the capability to devastate Moscow and incinerate its 14 million inhabitants.
It is hardly surprising that the Russian state and indeed the Russian people can feel threatened by the capitalist powers of the west. Following Newsnight was Inside the war room, where former British military and diplomatic leaders war-gamed a hypothetical ‘hot war’ in eastern Europe, arising from alleged Russian provocations in the three Baltic states, now members of Nato, and related to the fact there are significant ethnic Russian populations in these states.
What I found particularly shocking was the blind aggression and even basic stupidity of many of the participants, which systematically ratcheted up the tension and levels of intervention and retaliation, culminating in a tactical nuclear exchange in which the United States exploded a bomb over Russian territory.
The conclusion of the programme was interesting, surprising and revealing. The chair of the war room, former diplomat Sir Anthony Meyer, presumably acting as the prime minister/commander-in-chief, gave the news that following the US tactical nuclear strike over Russian territory, Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles appeared to be preparing for launch. Given there would only be a matter of minutes between their launch and their arrival, Sir Anthony wanted the war room to decide now what they should do if they became subject to a massive nuclear strike by Russia.
Amazingly, the majority of the war room voted not to authorise a retaliatory mass strike on Russia using Trident, on the grounds that nothing they did would be able to save the lives of millions of Brits who would be about to die; and what would be the point of then murdering tens of millions of innocent Russian civilians? That would truly be one of the most pointless and dreadful acts in history. We never found out if the Russian ICBMs were in fact launched.
It was a shame there was no discussion or reflection by the participants after the programme. They might have considered how they as ‘leaders’ had blindly and stupidly managed to get into such an atrocious situation where millions would be about to die in a massive nuclear exchange. They might also have considered why in the war game the Russians had not been deterred from preparing a mass nuclear strike following the nuclear attack on their own people.
Sad and old
If memory serves me well, during the course of the past 12 months or so that I’ve been a regular reader of Weekly Worker, you’ve published letters from a variety of correspondents expressing heartfelt opinions and fervent evaluations which could be summarised as follows.
That people on the Marxist-Leninist/Trotskyist wing of politics, most pertinently members of CPGB, spend their time impotently expounding hard-leftist principles without any chance whatsoever of attaining power, thus occupying the role of sad old revolutionaries dreaming in never-never land. And that all such activity constitutes nothing more than an ocean of sectarian posturing from a drowning bunch of losers.
But objective and demonstrable truth is the only truth worth investing in. Precisely by that same token, Marx, Lenin and Trotsky did nothing more than expose fundamental and indeed immutable socio-economic and political truths (albeit in their own particular personal contexts and historical setting). Would those various and indeed variously misguided correspondents of yours look Albert Einstein in the eye, so to speak, and tell him that he was entirely wrong?
I’d ask your correspondents whether they wish to be associated with the establishment, where precisely such a ruling force of thinking led Galileo to be designated as a vicious and disgraceful heretic (when all he did was describe the functioning of our solar system after fact-based observation resulting in an incontrovertible understanding).
Maybe more simply, more straightforwardly, I’d ask those irate and disgusted correspondents of yours to look around at the world and then justify their ‘gradualist’ beliefs to those refugees and migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Explain their position to those butchered, bombed, impoverished and made destitute by the intrinsic and inborn imperialist urges of our capitalist nations. Console those disabled and working class UK benefits claimants now being chucked out of their accommodation, essentially in order to pay for ‘austerity’ and the bail-out of bankers and other elite.
Indeed, I’d ask those various correspondents of yours to go and try to sell their soft-peddling gradualist/gently-gently reformist viewpoint to Vietnamese mothers - innocents who, still to this very day, are giving birth to babies grotesquely deformed courtesy of Agent Orange, Dow Chemical, B52s, Henry Kissinger and other such glorious elements of those arch-capitalist/high-tech proto-fascist and terrorists par excellence: the USA (of course, with our own nation-state tucked up cosily in bed, right there beside them).