In his letter (March 17), replying to mine (March 3), Paul Demarty provides three historical precedents to justify the CPGB’s position of political support to capitalist politician Bernie Sanders.
Demarty chides me for not giving “any consideration to the surely not irrelevant fact that there is no independent party of the working class in the United States, which means that we have to fight for one”. He links this to an argument that “Marx aggressively supported Abraham Lincoln in two American elections - why? Because Lincoln was the man most likely to destroy slavery - a necessary (though, as it turns out, hardly sufficient) condition for working class politics in the States.”
It is true that Marx wrote a few letters and articles supportive of Lincoln and his efforts to end slavery, most notably the 1865 ‘Address of the International Working Men’s Association to Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America’.
However, the US civil war was in essence the completion of the bourgeois democratic revolution, and Marx’s support was wholly correct in the era before the advent of imperialism. Are the CPGB asserting, as the logic of Demarty’s argument implies, that Bernie Sanders’ election campaign is in some sense revolutionary, and that the outcome of his proclaimed ‘political revolution’ will lay the basis for an independent party of the working class? This is pure fantasy.
Demarty then refers to the Bolsheviks’ electoral arrangements with the bourgeois-constitutionalist Cadets in a few Duma elections in the early 1900s. The different understanding of the CPGB and the International Bolshevik Tendency on what this represented is an existing dispute which was definitively dealt with in the letters pages of Weekly Worker less than 10 years ago - see ‘Bolsheviks, ballots and the class line’(www.bolshevik.org/1917/no32/ibt_1917_32_10_CPGB_Cadets.html).
As we explained in that exchange, the Bolsheviks were quite clear that these electoral arrangements with the Cadets did not involve any political support and, to quote a 1907 Russian Social Democratic Labour Party conference motion, “the only agreements permitted are those of a purely technical nature”. This reality is something that to my knowledge the CPGB have never subsequently contested - I presume because the facts presented by the IBT are simply incontrovertible.
The third supposed precedent is Lenin’s support for the 1916 Easter Rising, an analogy which borders on the obscene. On the one hand, we have Lenin’s support for a military uprising against British imperialism in the midst of World War I. And, on the other hand, we have the CPGB’s political support to a politician with a long political history of backing US imperialism (see for instance http://screechingkettle.blogspot.de/2015/07/if-bernie-sanders-was-against-invasion.html).
I can’t help but notice that Demarty, presumably unintentionally, gives away what is probably the real reason for the CPGB’s position - ie, his reference to the “external ridicule” that the IBT’s consistent defence of the principle of working class independence elicits. I for one have indeed suffered ridicule from many on the reformist left in Ireland for applying this principle in the context of the recent Irish elections by telling the truth about Sinn Féin’s pro-capitalist political nature and that there should be no political support to them. Being a Marxist is not about popularity for popularity’s sake - sometimes we are unpopular and suffer ridicule, and worse, for telling the truth.
It seems that, like many other fake Marxists, the CPGB are more interested in avoiding ridicule and courting immediate political popularity than they are about applying the principles of Marxism in any consistent way in their concrete political activity.
I see from the letters page of the Weekly Worker that various American Trotskyists are insistent on missing the opportunity for building a mass socialist movement that the Bernie Sanders campaign represents.
I really shouldn’t care so much. But I do wish these comrades would do their homework and realise that it’s been a very long time since the Democratic Party was the pure-and-simple bourgeois party that they believe it to be. (Hint: Sanders himself has admitted that the reason he ran as a Democrat was to get media exposure, not because he thinks the Democratic Party is innately wonderful - and, boy, did establishment Democrats go apoplectic upon hearing that!)
I humbly submit a link to my piece in New Politics that makes the case for supporting Sanders as a means towards independent political action: http://newpol.org/content/bernie-sanders-and-dilemma-%E2%80%A8-democratic-%E2%80%9Cparty%E2%80%9D.
Who knows? One might actually learn something from reading it.
Socialist Fight is grateful to the Weekly Worker for its solidarity against the witch-hunt against me and for publishing my full appeal against expulsion (‘Due process and justice’, March 17). And to Paul Bloom for correctly rallying against the witch-hunt, whose target is the leftist surge that saw Jeremy Corbyn elected as leader (Letters, March 17). And to Jim Grant, who rallies against the expulsion in a principled way, but is opposed to “Gerry’s anti-imperialism”, which is, he thinks, “needless to say, confused in the extreme” (‘Thin end of the wedge’, March 17).
Jim sets out his own views of anti-imperialism, which are, like Tony Greenstein’s, not anti-imperialist at all, but based on various moral and political judgements which totally ignore the anti-imperialism of the masses, as if no serious Marxist should address themself to that.
No human being in the planet needs to die from starvation, dirty water, lack of healthcare or proper education to develop their potential to the full. All the technology and all the means to deliver it to everybody on the planet exist right now. But it cannot happen because global imperialism, centrally located in Wall Street and its European and Japanese allies, must have its profits and so this cannot be organised and planned. That’s why it’s not the third world ‘terrorist’ that causes the central problem for humanity, but US world imperialism. So I will not lie and make the small terrorist the central enemy, when it is the great USA terrorist and its global allies who are that problem.
It is futile to give us long lists of how reactionary those that imperialism now wants to bomb and defeat are. History is full of these ‘Frankenstein monsters’ that imperialism sponsored at one point, only later to turn against - Selassie, Hussein, Gaddafi and Assad, to mention just a few. We did know all about the CIA and the Saudis sponsoring al Qa’eda, Islamic State, etc. All bourgeois nationalists and all past and present Stalinists are reactionary forces, who only fight imperialism when they absolutely have to in order to stay in power or alive. The goal of their struggle is to forge a better deal with imperialism. Putin is doing that right now over Syria and he would sell out the Donbass in the morning if he could get a deal that secured his borders. Such forces have no principled opposition to imperialism, so spare us the details of how bad IS, etc are, Jim and Tony - we know.
But those who are fighting imperialism right now are by definition anti-imperialist and their struggle gains some legitimacy in the eyes of the masses they control, because they see that struggle as genuine to some extent at least. Supporting your own imperialist power against any other force is pro-imperialist, Jim and Tony. No exceptions for the truly nasty IS, Serbs, Hutus, etc. When wars that some leftists supported on a ‘humanitarian’ basis are over, the USA is always the clear winner and the third world country the clear loser.
And it is to the anti-imperialism of the masses we must orientate: to them the tactic of the anti-imperialist united front is pitched from above and below. Neither Jim nor Tony make a single mention of the masses: they do not assess the difference between the anti-imperialism of a bourgeois-nationalist ruling class or caste and the anti-imperialism of the masses - or ever consider how to drive a wedge into that relationship to forge a new revolutionary leadership.
On our statement that the 9/11 hijackers “must never be condemned”, the argument was that the cause of 9/11 was violence by the US in the Middle East and justified anger against it. I wrote: “Only it is the justified outrage of the oppressed, as opposed to the outrage of the oppressor: one violence is that of the slave and the other is that of the slave-owner. One is progressive, no matter how distorted its actions are, and must never be ‘condemned’. Imperialism is the violence that holds the whole planet, or almost the whole planet, in thrall, and that violence can never be supported by serious Marxists in any circumstances.”
I never condoned the killing of innocent civilians and never would. It is the causes to which I referred. I would not expect a ruling class ideologue to concur with that sentiment, but it does deserve to get a proper hearing.
The assertion that Jewish millionaires and billionaires have extraordinary influence in the ruling classes of the US and Europe in general is obviously true. Possible explanations we have advanced refer to divided loyalties as a result of dual citizenship of their own land of birth and Israel. Marxists hold that such national questions will be resolved when the exploitation of one class of human beings over another is ended. It is not anti-Semitic to believe this, but it is definitively anti-Zionist.
Greenstein’s article is far worse than Grant’s on the question of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, making the direct equation between Nazism and Socialist Fight in his use of the phrase “the socialism of idiots”. I am not an anti-Semite and neither is Ian Donovan. I have never said an anti-Semitic thing since I became politically active and conscious in my mid-20s some 40 years ago. The understanding of the Jewish question in the Marxist tradition is a long one since 1843 and I defend it and affirm I stand in that tradition. Most of the stuff about us is rightwing Labour, Tory and Zionist distortions. Socialist Fight has black and Jewish supporters who will attest to my personal stances on this.
Despite the fact that last week’s Weekly Worker was overladen with accusations of anti-Semitism, ‘foolish’ or malignant, I would assert that for historical significance the article entitled ‘By your advisors shall you be known’ is far more important, although it is false to put an apartheid wall between the two subjects: a Zionist-orchestrated campaign against Corbyn and McDonnell based on falsehoods and half-truths sees both a capitulation and my expulsion.
John McDonnell adopts his ‘sensible’ economic orientation - a defence of capitalism, and in its neoliberal form to boot (the only way to defend it, as Yassamine Mather correctly asserts in her article), as Ian Duncan Smith resigns and the Tory Party descends into further chaos over that and the EU. Suddenly, as Labour rallies at the polls, a victory in 2020 is not only possible, but likely. And an early election is not ruled out if the expletives issued by Cameron against Duncan Smith and the vehemence of the other Tory attacks on him are anything to go by. Major’s bastards are back stronger than ever.
But the second line of defence of British capitalism is now consolidating itself. The criticism of the Scottish National Party that they, meekly or enthusiastically, carry out Tory cuts always looked weak when Labour councils did the same - with the support, intended or otherwise, campaigned against or not, of the McDonnell ‘legal budgets’ advice.
The mass movement that elected Corbyn must be mobilised against this McDonnell ‘balance the books’ agenda and capitalism itself.
Gerry Downing’s argument on anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism reduces to this: ‘Some misuse the charge of anti-Semitism. By this I mean that actually every charge of anti-Semitism is a misuse. Only some criticism of Zionism is anti-Jewish. By this I mean that actually none of it is.’
I am happy to see that Downing’s position is obviously finding so little in the way of fertile ground outside the now-discredited Socialist Fight. Nevertheless, I still wait for Jeremy Corbyn to indicate that he truly gets it in his kishkes: that the Jewish left is ringing an alarm bell with all their might; to understand they do so from a place of genuine and grave dismay; and to acknowledge that he hears it in all its urgent severity, as I do not believe he currently does.
There are times when pragmatism curdles into outright lack of principle. The process is illustrated with terrifying vividness in Jim Grant’s morally depraved article on the expulsion of Gerry Downing from the Labour Party.
Having acknowledged that Downing and his low-life comrades in Socialist Fight are peddling anti-Semitic tripe, Grant goes on to argue that Downing’s expulsion sets a dangerous precedent and needs to be reversed. He even goes so far as to refer to Downing as “comrade Gerry”. It seems that even the most odious Jew-haters can be regarded as bosom pals if they serve as human shields for other members of the Labour left.
No political party can function effectively if it admits people whose beliefs depart too drastically from its core principles. The Labour Party is an anti-racist party. Gerry Downing, Ian Donovan and their ilk are entitled to express their anti-Semitic prejudices if they so wish; but their right to free speech does not an entail a right to belong to an organisation whose principles are the polar opposite of their own.
One would not expect to find an exponent of multiculturalism in the British National Party or an ardent anti-socialist in the CPGB. By the same token, there can be no room for anti-Semites in the Labour Party. If people like Downing are allowed to join, the party leadership will give the impression that it regards anti-Semitism as a matter of purely secondary importance. At a time when too many people on the Corbynist left are already deranged by their hatred of Israel, this would merely fan the flames of the hard left’s incipient hostility to Jews.
Jim Grant’s article could only have been written by someone who doesn’t think that anti-Semitism is a big deal. Many words could be used to describe his shameless defence of Gerry Downing. ‘Socialist’ isn’t one of them.
Anti-Zionism is no more anti-Semitic than an opposition to the Chinese politburo necessarily conceals a wish to destroy Chinese people.
The Chinese too have a painful history. Like the Jews, they look back on a past of oppression by many nations, including massacre by a fascist power - Japan in China’s case, estimated at 20 million civilians from 1937 to 1945 - as well as discrimination in Europe and the suspicion that they are a secret threat: the ‘yellow peril’ or the ‘world Jewish conspiracy’ respectively. But this doesn’t mean that the People’s Republic is the only hope for the Chinese.
For over 100 years Marxism has misled the revolutionary left into believing that capitalism arose from the circulation of money rather than the energy revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries - a view which comes directly from classical political economy. Regardless of this and other fundamental mistakes contained within Marxism, I agree with Paul Bloom that we must oppose the witch-hunt against Marxists in the Labour Party (Letters, March 17).
Regardless of the mistakes of the Marxists, Labour members should form a united front with them and strengthen the struggle for a democratic socialist society. If there is to be any witch-hunt, let it be against the enemies of socialism.
I am the author of Social democracy and anarchism in the International Workers’ Association 1864-1877, about which you published two reviews, for which I would like to thank you.
You certainly will not be surprised if I do not object to Dave Douglass’s review (‘When Marx was a reformist’, December 10 2015). However, concerning Mike Macnair’s (‘Bakuninist hatchet job’, February 18), I wrote down some reflections which I do not particularly consider as an ‘answer’, for eventually my text ended up disproportionately longer than Mike’s.
I simply intend to inform you that my text can be found on the following: ‘About Mike Macnair, social democracy and anarchism and hatchets’ at http://monde-nouveau.net/ecrire/?exec=article&id_article=607 (monde-nouveau.net is one of the websites of the French Anarchist Federation).
I am an associate of the Communist League of Tampa. I am working on a text of ours with reference to political demands in the minimum programme for the CLT and its sister local groups.
I have a few questions. We are aiming to defuse the ‘council fetish’ and also to ‘indigenise’ the programme: just as the CPGB harkens back to the Levellers and the Chartists, we in the US seek to emphasise the heritage of the most radical of the early US state constitutions (especially the Pennsylvanian constitution of 1776).
Firstly and most pertinently, I was wondering if you could clarify your commentary in ‘What is workers’ power?’ (Weekly Worker August 8 2007).
Mike Macnair writes:
“But in a hierarchy of councils, now we have arrived at the workers electing the factory committee, which elects delegates to the local council, which elects delegates to the regional council, which elects delegates to the national council ... Nick Rogers has argued forcibly in these pages that preserving accountability for national-level decisions will require some form of direct election of a national council (or parliament ...).
“I am not myself convinced by this; it seems to me that collective accountability, and recallability, are critical issues, and that direct election of individuals to a national council/parliament militates against this and in favour of cults of the personality. As to bureaucratisation, Nick himself refers to the militia question, and I have previously referred to freedom of information and communication, and freedom to organise parties and factions, as partial measures against bureaucratisation. I would add, as I have also argued elsewhere, rotation of officials, or term limits: ie, the abolition of the individual political career by requiring the individual delegate/representative to return after their term of office to a ‘grunt-level’ job …
“The point, however, is that on either Nick’s analysis or mine, or almost any other, the mere fact of the form of the soviet/workers’ council as a delegate committee, and the fact that such bodies grow out of the class struggle, does not solve the problems of accountability and democratic decision-making on more than a local scale.
“To address these problems we have to go behind the form of the delegate committee to the underlying principles. But, once we go to the underlying principles, it is clear that how the new form of authority is originally created is quite immaterial. It may be in origin a coalition of strike committees or trades council, as the 1905 Petrograd soviet was; or a British Labour Party general management committee (some GMCs became quasi-soviets during the 1926 general strike); or an organ of local government of the existing state, as the Paris Commune was; or it may be set up by a national party - as, in fact, happened in much of Russia in 1917 and, as Trotsky argues in Lessons of October, may turn out that way again. To repeat, then, what we have to fight for is the political principles - election and recallability, abolition of judicial review, accountability, freedom of information, and so on - not the merely organisational form of the workers’ council.”
My comrades and I are a bit perplexed by this discussion. I mean, do you imagine collective responsibility in terms of indirect elections? If so, does this take the form of party-list elections? Or perhaps a very large and unwieldy chamber that elects from among itself a working minority (analogous to the Congress of People’s Deputies and the Supreme Soviet after 1989)? Or do you maintain the delegate-pyramid is workable, that local soviets should be electors for the regional or national delegates? Institutionally how do you think cults of the personality or their embryos can be smothered before the flow of authority is reversed between the rank and file and officialdom?
Communist League of Tampa
I submitted an article to the Weekly Worker making the case that the Scottish working class should vote to remain in the European Union, whilst the English working class should abstain. This is the only position in the referendum that secures the interests of the European working class. Readers should ask themselves what would be the outcome of the referendum if the working class carried this line in practice.
So it is unfortunate that the editor decided not to publish it. It might look as if the CPGB did not want readers to hear the full case. It might look as if the CPGB was worried that it did not have an answer to a compelling revolutionary case. I hope it is nothing to do with keeping the Weekly Worker as a ‘safe space’. I hope these are not the reasons, because all communists would be disappointed. I look forward for the editor being open about his rationale.
Comrade Sandy McBurney has been a consistent ‘remainer’. He urged Scotland to remain in the UK and remain in the EU. The CPGB has been a consistent abstainer/boycotter. The Weekly Worker wanted the Scottish working class not to vote in the Scottish and EU referendums.
Now I am proposing a synthesis of the two positions. Sandy is right to urge Scottish workers to remain and the CPGB’s Jack Conrad is right to urge workers in England to abstain or not vote. This will surely become famous in dialectical circles throughout the world as the ‘McBurney-Conrad synthesis’.
However the opposite synthesis is that Sandy wants England to remain and Jack wants Scotland to abstain/boycott. That, I am afraid, is completely off the wall because it would not serve the interests of the working class. If the working class acted in that way the big winner would be Cameron and the Tories, and the big loser would be Farage.
As far as I can see, the CPGB is mainly in England and Wales. Are you going to going to fight for the abstain/boycott line in England? Or are you going to abstain from any abstain campaign? We need a united front of all those prepared to fight. All the serious class forces in this referendum are in ‘remain’ or ‘leave’ united front campaigns. The CPGB should be calling a meeting of all those who want to fight for the interests of the working class to meet in London and plan a campaign.
Scotland remains, England abstains.
Left Unity and Rise
Among the many EU foes that Oliver Healey claims are causing Britain’s ‘financial stagnation’, one in particular stands out: “plutocratic moneymen” (Letters, March 17). They are not speculators, spivs and bankers, since Healey singles these out for separate mention. They are European though. The (non- European?) City of London appears to be in thrall to them.
Who are these people? I think we should be told.