What we need
I found Paul B Smith’s letter (March 23) and thinking on the Labour Party to be interesting, although towards the end he managed to shoot himself in the foot again with his daft and unfocused comments about “Stalinism”. It unfortunately seems the case that a significant proportion of the socialistic left in the United Kingdom has been and continues to be contaminated, distorted and diverted by Trotskyism.
Lenin argued that, as the oldest capitalist and imperialist country in the world and with an original labour movement largely formed before the development of the ideas of revolutionary Marxism, there existed the strong material basis for not only buying off relatively privileged sections of the labour movement, but instilling the whole of the movement with the politics and ideology of class-collaborationist social democracy.
The flipside of this rightwing reformism and accommodation and acceptance of capitalism in the ‘advanced’ imperialist nations is ultra-leftism, which has the appearance of radicalism, action and rage against all things, but itself lacks the basic capacity to be of and from the working class, to connect with the class where it is at, and through the basic ideas and concepts of organisation, discipline, collective action, advancing the whole of the class, not sections at the expense of others.
The fragmentation, internalisation and destructiveness of ultra-leftism, by discrediting genuinely class-based politics and organisation, ultimately serves the same purpose as rightwing reformism: to accommodate the working class to capitalism.
When Paul refers to “Stalinism” - as he does at each and every opportunity - I think what he really means is Marxism and communism. Paul has a wonderful intellectual grasp of Marxism, it is true, but it always seems a little detached from the real world, and that is not so surprising.
The problem of the Labour Party is rather more simple and straightforward than Paul’s convoluted analysing. It is politics. As he rightly says, the Corbyn leadership hardly ever mentions the word ‘socialism’, let alone show any understanding of it as a future system of society and economy which will replace the current capitalism. It therefore barely meets the old definition of left social democracy, which did see socialism as a progressive replacement of capitalism, but thought this could be achieved through steady reforms and through parliament.
Efraim Nashe was absolutely spot on to point out that Lenin’s famous call for the Communist Party of Great Britain to attempt to affiliate to the Labour Party had as its aim “to win workers en masse away from Labour in order to build an independent working class party” (‘Labour and the left’, March 16). To think that Lenin was ever arguing for the revolutionary Marxist organisations to become a part of and subordinate to what was essentially a bourgeois political formation is fantastical.
The Labour Party was created in order to provide an independent working class voice within parliament - no more, no less. For the voice of organised labour to be heard and to ameliorate the worst impacts of capitalism on working people’s lives. What has this got to do with the aims and objectives of revolutionary communism?
Rather than pontificating about “what is to be done” about the Labour Party, surely we should be focusing on what we actually do need - ie, a mass communist party, uniting within it the great majority of Marxists, socialists, communists, revolutionary democrats, radicals, greens and anarchists, projecting and being united on the basis of socialism being an urgent necessity to replace and supersede capitalism, and that this requires revolutionary, mass, democratic action to bring it about.
Yes, of course, this will and should include large sections of the membership of the current Labour Party, as Efraim indicates in his quote and understanding of Lenin, but by breaking them away from current Labour and to become part of a new mass communist party.
The Weekly Worker is to be highly commended for projecting the basic case for such a mass communist party, but I really struggle to see how this is to be progressed through liquidation of Marxist organisations and assimilation into the Labour Party. I find that completely unprincipled and dishonest. It is completely typical Trotskyism, counterproductive and doomed to failure.
Equally, the current Labour Party is most unlikely to want to accept the affiliation of revolutionary socialist parties. At most, this would bring about an additional few thousand members, in a party with a mass membership of circa half a million, and they would get slaughtered by the mass media - something Corbyn and McDonnell are incapable of standing up to.
Let the Labour Party look after itself. It may or may not win future elections. It may or may not bring about useful reforms and palliatives. We might in elections advocate voting for Labour candidates. Or not.
If we did really start to succeed in creating and growing a mass communist party - mass in terms of members, votes in elections, influence within the structures, institutions and organisations of the working class, influence and authority in wider civil society - then I am sure we would see large sections of the Labour Party either coming over to the communist party and/or the Labour Party becoming exceptionally keen to encourage the Communist Party to affiliate to it, but more on the terms of the latter than the former.
On the ball
I write this at a time when we have the most rightwing, reactionary government in history. I also write after having watched on France 24 TV a Communist Party rally held in Paris, at which a crowd of at least 30,000 were in attendance. But from the CPGB? Not a peep. Why is this so?
I have just read your so-called ‘manifesto’. It was just the usual litany of measures that could have been written - and probably was - 50 years ago. I found nothing of relevance to people today. I could, off the top of my head, offer you subjects which have real meaning and relevance to the nation now - not the pointless platitudes that you lamely call your ‘manifesto’.
Did you note the Bank of England chief’s forecast that, due to the continual improvements in robotics, by 2025 Britain will have 15 million unemployed? What plans have the CPGB got to (a) warn the people and (b) have a programme that will protect the workers from this onrushing calamity? Left as it is, British manufacturers will turn out their robot-made goods for next to nothing and make millions exporting them, whilst in Britain millions of workers will have nothing.
So, where is your young, energetic leader to bring your case to the people? Where is this brilliant orator who will capture the public’s attention?
Get on the ball, for heaven’s sakes. Corbyn’s half-assed, boring policies are a waste of time. The stage is clear for a re-energised, modern, relevant CPGB.
Below is my response to some questions from a left Scottish nationalist.
The British working class movement exists and has been created in over 200 years of joint struggle against British capital. The highest form of workers’ unity is in a socialist party struggling for socialism. The nationalist left reject the idea of building a common socialist party with our comrades south of the border. The socialist movement in Britain traditionally fought to unite all workers in Britain to fight for pro-working class reforms and a workers’ government in Britain.
The Scottish nationalist left reject that political struggle in favour of uniting with a section of the Scottish establishment to fight for a Scottish capitalist state and to put ‘Scotland first’. Such a nationalist perspective is obviously opposed to working class unity and is subservient to the forces of capital.
We can expect the Scottish nationalist perspective to provoke a ‘stronger for England’ narrative down south - indeed this is already happening. Nationalism begets nationalism.
In a period of heightening international tension, we can expect any Scottish divorce proceedings to become quite nasty. Chauvinists on both sides of the border will be arguing over the division of assets and liabilities. Workers will be dragooned into supporting their own bosses against the other - Scotland first, England first, etc. National traitors will be denounced.
The divorce proceedings will tend to split the working class into nationalist fragments, each supporting their own bosses.
I support the right of national self-determination for Scotland and Catalonia, etc, but that does not mean that I support the call for independence for the reason stated above. Often nationalists seem blind to the fact that the support for the right of national self-determination does not necessarily mean support for independence. As Lenin says, socialists support the right to divorce, but do not advocate that everyone who is married should separate.
Of course, the Scottish parliament should have the power to call an independence referendum when it so desires and socialists throughout Britain should support that right.
Wakefield Socialist History Group are holding an event, ‘British socialism and World War I’, on Saturday April 1 at 1pm in the Red Shed, Vicarage Street, Wakefield WF1 1QX. The speakers are Dr Martin Crick and Paul Bennett. Admission is free and there will be a free light buffet, plus a bar with excellent real ale. All are welcome.
Here are my thoughts about one aspect we’ll be discussing: the campaign against conscription - in this case in Huddersfield.
On February 3 1917, The Worker reported that Philip Snowden - later a Labour chancellor - had spoken at a packed anti-war meeting in Victoria Hall, Huddersfield. Snowden, a member of the Independent Labour Party, was under special branch surveillance and an attempt was made by 20 men in army uniform to break up proceedings. The attack was quickly repelled and this proved to be the only serious attempt to disrupt any gatherings in the town.
Pearce (2001) reflects that this revealed a great deal. Big anti-war rallies - in St George’s Square and Market Square, for instance - were generally tolerated. What’s more, in Huddersfield patriotic displays were muted. There were no anti-German riots. And recruitment soon tailed off by 1915.
Granted, many had queued at first to volunteer. A new battalion of the West Riding Regiment was founded at the town hall as early as August 1914. But Pearce says this was due to many factors other than patriotism.
Firstly, unemployment was bad. When war came, sections of the local textile trade were already in difficulty. John Crowthers, the Milnsbridge wool textile firm, had already laid off workers and the uncertainty caused by the looming conflict further hit orders.
Secondly, there were inducements to sign up - ie, “supplements to pay, jobs held open, free rent”.
And, finally, there were social and workplace pressures. Recruiting teams went to “factory gates, into canteens and all sorts of public places”. Yet, despite this, opposition to the war remained resolute. It came not just from the local labour and socialist movements, but also from the town’s “dominant non-conformist liberal elite”.
Little surprise then that, in 1915, Will Thorne, the Labour MP, trade unionist and pro-war recruiting campaigner, disdainfully described Huddersfield as a “hotbed of pacifism”.
Wakefield Socialist History Group