I would like to thank Weekly Worker for its extensive report on my summary expulsion from the Labour Party, and for publishing an interview, in which I was able to respond to some of the false allegations against me, made by some ‘allegators’ wallowing in a secret swamp (‘Expelled for saying the unsayable’, October 8).
But I wish to point out a couple of delicious ironies in this affair. One of the accusations against me was being “associated” (whatever that may mean) with Labour Party Marxists. This was quoted as one of the reasons for my expulsion. Now I see that comrade Stan Keable of LPM has likewise been expelled summarily from the party. The accusation against him? Why, it is that LPM published an article by me! As a logician, I cherish such logical circularities.
An additional irony is that another one of the reasons cited for my expulsion is “association” with the CPGB and your paper. This is alleged to be “a political organisation with incompatible aims to the Labour Party”. Now, this phrase suffers not only from atrocious syntax, but also from being simply untrue.
In this connection I have a confession to make. When I first came across the CPGB and your paper, I liked some of your political positions: for example, your internationalist position on Europe. But I disagreed or was very sceptical about some other ideas you advocated. (These disagreements never stopped you from publishing my articles without censorship, even when they disagreed with you - for which I am extremely grateful.)
Foremost among your positions of which I was very sceptical was your attitude to the Labour Party. Even in those bleak Blairite times of betrayal you insisted - against the view prevailing in much of the radical left - that one should not give up on the Labour Party; that, for better or worse, it was still the party of the British working class, and fighting for its soul was a worthwhile aim. You dismissed and disparaged initiatives to form parties that would compete with the Labour Party from a position somewhat to the left of it - a sort of “Labour Party mark two”. You, and LPM, insisted that the Labour Party itself should become the real united front of the working class, within which the various radical left groups and organisations would find their place - not as secret entryists, but as open and official affiliates.
Now I must confess: the recent surge of the left in the party seems to vindicate your long-standing view and allay my old doubts. Of course, the fight is not finished and the party bureaucrats will not easily give up. We shall see how it all ends up.
The expulsion of Dr Moshé Machover from the Labour Party is a big mistake. Accusing this distinguished Israeli-born writer and speaker of being anti-Semitic is a hysteria too far, which is probably why it won’t get much debate in the mainstream media.
In the 1990s, the alliance with globalising capital of social liberals like Blair and the Clintons, and the shock and resentment many voters had at the recent recession, brought forth the conservative backlash which gave us Trump and Brexit - the ‘elitists’ ambushed by the ‘populists’. Everywhere we see a turning to themes of nation, family values and western predominance. This trend to reaction may yet allow the limiting of women’s reproductive rights, LGBT equality and any criticism of Israeli expansionism in the settlements of the West Bank.
And capitalism was supposed to be neutral. Keep challenging it all.
The charge against Moshé Machover is ridiculous. What about all the top Labour politicians and trade union officials who have regularly written in the Morning Star and attended Communist Party of Britain/Morning Star-arranged events?
For 10 years up to 2015, Jeremy Corbyn was writing a weekly column in the Morning Star, whilst the CPB was standing candidates against the Labour Party. He has written columns since then and allowed himself to be interviewed by the paper in full-page articles. He is regularly photographed carrying a copy of the paper. Diane Abbott writes a column in the Morning Star every two weeks. The leader of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, wrote an article in the Morning Star in the week of the TUC annual conference, along with just about every individual union leader. The Morning Star has a much higher profile than Weekly Worker. The CPB have a much higher profile than Labour Party Marxists and the CPGB.
So, if Moshé Machover can be suspended for his association with LPM/CPGB, then surely the bulk of the current Labour and TUC leadership should also be suspended.
Either that or reinstate Moshé Machover as a member of the Labour Party!
Just when I thought Momentum nationally had become a mere online presence (which tells its 30,000 members and vast number of supporters how to vote at conference and at election time, and constantly asks for money), I received an email asking me if I would “like to be considered to be a candidate” for one of the new additional posts created on Labour’s national executive committee.
The email dropped in my inbox on October 2 at 2.38pm, giving a deadline of “Wednesday October 4 at 12pm”. Not that I was seriously considering throwing my hat in the ring, but less than two days was clearly not a lot of time. But how interesting that Jon Lansman, who took away all decision-making powers from Momentum members in a coup in January this year, should engage in such a quasi-democratic exercise, I thought.
It was via the Huffington Post on October 9 that Momentum members were eventually informed of its outcome: Yes, Jon Lansman had been chosen by Momentum as an NEC candidate. A day later ‘Team Momentum’ managed to inform some (but not all) of its members how this decision was - apparently - made: a total of 48 applications were received, which were examined by “a panel of [national coordinating group] officers”, who then “interviewed seven candidates”, before settling on four that are now being sent “for recommendation to the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA)”. All within four days.
The well-informed Huffington Post writes: “Momentum issued an email to members recently asking for nominations for its NEC ‘slate’ and it is understood that Lansman was the popular choice among many.” Was he now? And how exactly did that work? Popular among whom? The 48 who nominated themselves? Clearly not. There was no other way for Momentum members to make any nominations other than self-nominations or express any opinions on the matter. Maybe they mean ‘popular among the people working in Momentum’s office, being on Jon Lansman’s payroll and all that …’
Some Momentum members might have actually believed that Lansman was serious about introducing ‘one member, one vote’ digital decision-making when he abolished all democratic structures and imposed his own constitution on the organisation back in January. And maybe he does occasionally feel the pressure to make it look as if Momentum is a democratic, members-led organisation. But, in reality, all this has only served to remind many on the left what an undemocratic shell of an organisation it really is.
As if to stress the point, Team Momentum sent out another email on October 10, this time to Derbyshire Momentum: the steering committee is informed that they are no longer allowed to use the Momentum name, because they were “no longer a verified group” (though members there have emails showing how they were in fact “recognised” a few months ago).
After the January coup, Lansman loyalists in Derby - unhappy with the critical positions adopted by what was until this week ‘Momentum Derbyshire’ - set up a second group in the area. But why this move now? To understand that, you need to look at the other three Momentum names being put forward to the CLGA: they include “Cecile Wright, vice chair of Momentum, a co-founder of the Labour Black Network and a professor of Sociology at Nottingham”. And, as it happens, a member of the Momentum group in Derby.
Cecile Wright was very happy to quickly step into the post of Momentum vice-chair after Lansman demoted Jackie Walker when she was suspended from the Labour Party on false charges of anti-Semitism. Cecile (with Christine Shawcroft) also took up posts as directors of the Momentum Campaign (Services) Ltd company on the day of the coup, January 10 2017. Of course, Lansman remains firmly in control of the most precious possession of Momentum: its vast database of over 300,000 Corbyn supporters.
This will make him almost a shoo-in for the NEC post. The CLGA list has never been chosen democratically and everything has undoubtedly been fixed a very long time ago - I predict that both Lansman and Wright will be on it!
Needless to say, as a Marxist in the Labour Party, I am less than happy with this process - not to mention the selection of Lansman himself. Not only has he made his disdain for any kind of democratic decision-making absolutely clear. But, worse, in the current civil war in the Labour Party, he has chosen to side with all those who maliciously label any criticism of Israel ‘anti-Semitic’.
He has thrown Jackie Walker under the bus, has called on Ken Livingstone to resign and is one of the main people behind the party’s new poisonous ‘compromise’ formulation on anti-Semitism. Lansman might be a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn (for now). But he is a very poor choice for the NEC indeed.
The concept of continuity is dialectical and cannot be separated from its historical context: ie, it is contradictory in character, because it is part of the ongoing struggle between revolutionary Marxism and reformism. So we end up going down one road or the other.
The struggle for the continuity of the revolutionary tradition, as espoused by Marx and Engels - then by Lenin and Trotsky - became more difficult with the rise of imperialism. As Lenin says in the preface to his pamphlet on Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism (1916), Kautskyism was “the international ideological trend represented in all the countries of the world by the ‘most prominent theoreticians’ and leaders of the Second International …” It led to “disintegration and decay” in the guise of opportunism and social patriotism, culminating in the betrayal of 1914. This was a catastrophe for the international proletariat and mankind as a whole. 1905 was a dress rehearsal for the next revolution.
But after 1914 Russia had become the stimulus for the world revolution, not Germany. This required a new strategy and tactics. Enter Lenin and his April theses, which ‘rearmed the party’ intellectually, despite the opposition of Kamenev and co. The latter failed to understand that the ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ was “already accomplished in reality” in the soviets. Therefore “a new and different task now faces us: to effect a split within this dictatorship between the proletarian elements … and the small proprietor or petty-bourgeois elements” (First letter to the party: ‘Assessment of the present situation’).
The April theses are an example of the struggle for the continuity of revolutionary Marxism versus reformism at a key moment in history. This is confirmed by August Nimtz in the first of his talks at this year’s Communist University (‘Bringing Marx and Engels into the picture’ Weekly Worker September 21).
Further to my characterisation of the concept of continuity, history only repeats itself twice - ‘the first time as tragedy, the second as farce’. Today, in line with the decline of capital itself, as Nimtz points out, social democracy has failed the masses yet again, because it “has not taken on board the advice of Marx and Engels” - to say the least!
Thus on the basis of the history of the last 100 years or so, I world argue that it is not possible to transform the Labour Party into a united front of the left. This will only reinforce existing illusions in social democracy, which is already moribund. Rather we have to win the newly radicalised layers to the idea of building a new Marxist party, before it is too late.
Not as bad
Mike Macnair’s attack on comrade Ian Donovan, and by extension Socialist Fight, illustrates the elements of the CPGB’s politics that are capitulations to pro-Zionist social pressure in this society - pressure that not even Macnair can deny exists, since he spends a lot of his otherwise cogent article analysing the capitulations to it of Jeremy Corbyn and some of his close colleagues (‘Poisoned fudge’, September 28).
Now the CPGB’s supporters and political friends are being targeted by the mendacious ‘anti-Semitism’ libel, which seeks to associate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Moshé Machover’s disgraceful expulsion from Labour is a case in point. So, in this situation, they have to put up some real resistance and, insofar as they are doing so, they are doing a reasonable job.
But there is a gap and a political contradiction here: the CPGB has as a key part of its make-up the notion of the ‘third camp’ between imperialism and what it calls its ‘reactionary’ opponents, particularly in the Arab and Muslim world, where it refuses to take sides in conflicts involving bourgeois nationalist despotisms and movements - whether secular, such as that of Assad and Saddam Hussein, or Islamist, such as Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah or the Palestinian Hamas - opposing imperialism and Zionism.
The CPGB was neutral in the Iraq war. It refused to defend Hussein’s regime against imperialism, and was hostile to those who supported Iraqi resistance after the conquest. It was neutral when Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, with Israeli support, overthrew the elected government of Hamas in the occupied territories in 2007, leaving the election winners only in control of Gaza. It is neutral over imperialist attacks on Syria. It will be neutral in the event of an imperialist attack on Iran, which the US with Israel is preparing for by decertifying Obama’s nuclear deal.
Mike Macnair recites, against the lie that refusing to support Israel is anti-Semitic, the song: “Leon Trotsky, was a fascist, oh I know it for a fact …” It is deeply contradictory, and typical of the hypocrisy of centrism, for him to evoke that, given the implicit attempt of the CPGB to associate our positions on Israel and the Middle East with Nazi anti-Semitism.
The CPGB has to protect its left flank against criticism from more consistent opponents of Zionism and imperialism, and at the same time to indicate to those elements on the Labour left that capitulate to Zionism that it is not as bad as all that, so it still defends some sort of Israeli ‘self-determination’ at the expense of the Palestinians, and it too endorses a variant of the ‘two states’ position, along with the Jewish Labour Movement.
Macnair’s sophistry and denial of reality is clear when he writes: “There is, nevertheless, an anti-Semitic anti-Zionism. It is found where, instead of blaming the political Zionist movement, and the policies of the great powers, for the creation of the state of Israel and its ongoing colonial oppression and dispossession of the local inhabitants, an attempt is made to find some way of blaming these events on the Jews as such, or on ‘Jewish’ capital.”
Macnair is having a laugh at the Palestinians’ expense with this denial of reality. They will have noticed that the aircraft that drop white phosphorus on Gaza schools have Jewish symbols on them, and represent a state that calls itself ‘the Jewish state’, that extends citizenship rights to all who fit its criteria of being born Jewish anywhere in the world, even when neither they nor their ancestors have ever set foot in the Levant.
Apparently, the ‘political Zionist movement’, which created the state of Israel, had nothing specifically Jewish about it. This is self-evidently drivel. Israel took control of Palestine, a former British colonial protectorate, and transformed it by expelling two-thirds of its Arab population to create a Jewish state. But, for Mike Macnair, it is ‘anti-Semitic’ to say that that there is anything Jewish about political Zionism or the Jewish state.
By the same logic, you could argue that it is ‘anti-British’ to argue that Ukip is driven by reactionary British nationalism, or ‘anti-German’ to say that Hitler’s movement was driven by genocidal German nationalist fanaticism. The reason why Macnair does not extend this logic to these other racist movements, denying their specific national character, is that those ‘national’ trends are not the beneficiaries of the liberal guilt of soft leftists.
Macnair claims that comrade Donovan, now speaking for Socialist Fight and in 2014 a semi-ally of the CPGB, argued that “the United States backs the state of Israel because of the large number and influence of specifically Jewish capitalists in the US”. This is Macnair’s rendering, not a quote from anything written by the comrade. It is a demagogic vulgarisation of our position. The United States has many allies and client states around the world, from the UK to South Korea, to Colombia, to Saudi Arabia. In none of these cases is the ethnic composition of the ruling class relevant to the conduct of the alliance the US carries out.
But anyone can see there is a difference between the relationship of the USA with these states and with Israel. If a British prime minister had tried to march into the US senate and strong-arm the US into toeing the British line over Ireland, this would have incited a nationalist backlash against ‘Limeys coming over here to dictate our foreign policy’. But Netanyahu was able to demand three years ago that the US toe the Israeli line over Obama’s Iran deal. He was able to compel attendance of virtually all of the senate. Though Obama in his last, election-free session, defied him, Netanyahu now appears about to get his way over the Iran deal. There was no American chauvinist backlash against any of this, and no real possibility of one. Why not?
Because part of the US ruling class, a powerful part, regards Israel, in addition to the USA, as its own state. The ruling class of Israel overlaps with that of the USA precisely because of the dual citizenship rights that exist because of the Israeli law of return. Jewish bourgeois are massively overrepresented in the US ruling class compared to the Jewish population in general, which is only 2%. And political Zionism is the ideology of the bulk of this part of the bourgeoisie, though there are the odd one or two with more ambiguous views. Political Zionism is far more dominant among such Jewish bourgeois than among the Jewish population generally: a class phenomenon.
This ‘two-states’ phenomenon is a materialist explanation for the servile nature of the US-Israeli relationship. This phenomenon also exists in several European countries and by a simple, linear logic it explains what the bourgeoisie - both British and Israeli - and direct agents of the Israeli state, such as the JLM, are trying to do to the Labour Party.
It is the third-campism of the CPGB that means it flinches from addressing the most difficult questions posed by imperialism and its specific configurations, and conflicts with semi-colonial and oppressed peoples. It rejects Trotskyism and permanent revolution as a strategy, and its refusal to address the material roots of the concrete, very specific, servile relationship of the ‘older’ imperialist powers with Israel is yet another flinch.
Ultimately, it’s the expression of its adoption as its political mentors not Trotsky and the political tradition he represents, but Max Shachtman and Hal Draper. The CPGB is carrying out an anti-Trotsky campaign of denigration through its promotion of Lars Lih’s rehabilitation of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin despite their conduct in 1917, which is also an attack on permanent revolution. But these strands of anti-Trotskyism and capitulation to imperialism coalesce over the Israel question: Stalin armed the Haganah in 1947-48, while Shachtman and Draper, for all their rampant Stalinophobia, also took the Israeli side and thereby, critically in Draper’s case, supported the naqba.
Denial of reality in the service of anti-anti-imperialism is what drives the CPGB’s attack on Socialist Fight. ‘We are not as bad as those people,’ they say. That is what Macnair’s polemic really signifies.
Gerry Downing and Ian Donovan
The only thing I definitely agree with Jack Conrad about is that our exchange of letters has been frustrating. Despite his self-delusion that I have come around to his idiosyncratic view of the history of Bolshevism, the truth is somewhat different. So to the three points of his last letter (October 5).
Firstly, Conrad asks: “So where does that leave the idea that the CPGB’s democratic centralism is a ‘shibboleth’?” The answer is quite simple. The CPGB make their peculiar understanding of this organisational question one of the main, if not the central, defining characteristic of their group. It is their unique ‘truth’ and selling point.
I am not going to comment in depth on the rest of Conrad’s ahistorical justification for the CPGB’s use of “freedom of criticism and unity in action” as a guide to organisational functioning for Bolshevik-type organisations in 2017. That phrase may well have been relevant for a Bolshevik faction operating in an organisation like the RSDLP in 1906. But it is clearly not so for any Bolshevik-type organisation that has understood the political lessons of the historic betrayal of August 1914 and the consequent need for separate organisations, with different internal norms, of revolutionaries and reformists in the socialist movement.
Conrad would do better to study the organisational norms within the Bolshevik faction in the RSDLP in 1906, but even that was still prior to the lessons learnt after August 1914, so would not be a direct model. Even post-1914 is it really sensible to try to draw direct analogies about organisational forms from a quite different historical situation and through a very muddy glass of incomplete information and not always accurate translations?
I hold to my interpretation of the term ‘democratic centralism’ not as a political principle or primarily because of my understanding of the historical record, but because of its tactical efficacy for a Bolshevik-type organisation operating in today’s world.
Secondly, Conrad says: “Yes, I plead guilty to trimming Lenin’s remarks to a mere three-word phrase (I am, after all, writing a letter, not a full-length article).” Fair enough - if the extra 10 words added nothing to the meaning. But those extra words are worth repeating, because they actually change the meaning Conrad has tried to give the whole sentence - “because by agreeing with us he [Kamenev] has changed his position” (my emphasis).
Conrad used the “not very great” quote to conflate the situation before, and the time after, Lenin says Kamenev changed his position. Conrad did so in his attempts to ‘disappear’ Lenin’s description of the “clamour of protest” that had been led by Kamenev against the April theses in favour of Conrad’s alternative reality, where the disagreement was one “of shade, even temperament”. This is a cheap debating trick.
Thirdly, Conrad’s reply to the evidence I gave of the CPGB’s capitulation to the popular frontism involved in the Respect project was that there were “CPGB members operating in, reporting on, exposing and throwing conference bombs in Respect”. It appears that Conrad thinks readers of the Weekly Worker have very short-term memories. I will repeat the actual evidence I provided for my assertion (which he did not see the need to comment on - perhaps because he cannot defend it?):
“Given that Conrad used the example of the SWP and Respect, it should be noted that the CPGB gave political support to SWP members standing as Respect candidates in the general election at the time. To head off the clamour of outrage by CPGBers reading this letter, I do realise that this was critical political support. But the comrades should take the time to think about why the critical part of that support did not include a call to break with popular frontism in general or even just the bourgeois components of this particular popular front. And they might further consider whether this failure was therefore implicit political support to popular frontism.
“Perhaps they will fall back on the ‘programme is the litmus test’ argument. But even here the CPGB failed to carry out the perspective they claim motivates them. The CPGB had members and supporters inside Respect who put forward amendments to the programme at the yearly conferences. Were these amendments to implement the CPGB’s ‘full minimum programme’? No - instead they were limited to more radical versions of some reformist demands.”
Conrad claims never to have read the International Bolshevik Tendency’s pamphlet, Bolshevism vs CPGBism. I do find it interesting to note that my link to the online version of the pamphlet was the only one which was not published in my last letter. Maybe the Weekly Worker editors hope their readers are too lazy to cut and paste the pamphlet’s title into a Google search. What are they trying to hide?
Conrad chides me for supposedly replacing a willingness to engage in political struggle with an abstract “political purity”, as I, and my co-thinkers in “the league of the pure”, strive at all cost to avoid “contamination”. As a general comment about my political activity this is clearly absurd. I first met the CPGB when both they and the IBT, of whom I was a member at the time, were inside Arthur Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party. Indeed I was one of two main leaders of the most significant oppositional branch in London alongside then CPGB member Marcus Strom and I was the most prominent opposition figure at the 1997 SLP conference, when I stood for the position of vice-president. Just as my more recent participation in, for example, the United Left Alliance in Ireland has potential for “contamination”.
Conrad might try to paint me as an abstract Marxist using “political purity” to hide from participation in the class struggle, but that has as little to do with reality as any of his other spurious claims. However, that being said, I must confess that Conrad’s comment does hold a grain of truth. Unlike Conrad, I do not understand the term, ‘political principle’, to mean something akin to an abstract aspiration with no relationship whatsoever to day-to-day concrete political activity. The things I describe as being my political principles do provide constraints for my concrete political activity.
For instance, my understanding of the principle of working class political independence means I will never give political support to any formation I understand to be a popular front - unlike the CPGB. I therefore wear the badge of “political purity” with pride - when it comes from an unrepentant opportunist like Conrad.
Co Cork, Ireland
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, took a cautious line on Catalan independence. She hoped that “dialogue will replace confrontation”. She called for a way forward that “respects the rule of law” and also “respects democracy”. She refused to say if the Scottish government would recognise the result of the disputed referendum. She told Andrew Marr: “I consider myself a friend of Spain”.
Spain is nothing in this context but its ruling class exercising political power through its crowned, unionist, ‘Francoist’ state. Sturgeon is giving comfort to the enemies of the Catalan people in the hope they will be more favourable to the Scottish government’s quest for independence under the crown. The leaders of the Scottish National Party want to keep friends with the queen of England and the king of Spain.
The parallels with the 2014 Scottish referendum are significant. The national democratic movement in Catalonia has declared in favour of a republic and this was spelt out on the ballot paper. In a Spanish context, the Catalan republic is revolutionary - not least because it goes back to the 1930s, when the Spanish republic was overthrown by Franco. In 1934, the Catalan president Lluís Companys was jailed after declaring a Catalan republic. Later he was captured by the Nazis and shot by one of Franco’s firing squads in 1940.
Spain is a unionist state and constitutional monarchy like the UK. The national question is the lever for republicanism and democratic revolution. There is no right to self-determination in a unionist state like Spain. The Spanish constitution is against it. The attempt to hold a referendum was thus illegal.
Naturally, the Spanish government sent in the national police to uphold the law by closing down the polling stations and beating up those trying to vote. They could have sent in the army and tanks the stop the ballot. But they chose a more moderate option. Liberal opinion was outraged, but did nothing.
British unionism is no better. The Scottish people have no right to self-determination. They have no more legal right to referendum than the Catalan people. The British crown, acting through its prime minister, David Cameron, decided to grant a referendum because he calculated he would win it. The queen kept a low profile, whilst letting it be known what every loyal subject should do. The Spanish king was not so reticent and came openly in support of his ‘Tory’ government.
The democratic forces in Catalonia had to face the full weight of the Spanish state, the banks and major corporations, and the European Union. The threats of economic sabotage and expulsion from the EU followed the Scottish example. If Catalonia became a republic, hell, fire and damnation would rain down on them.
We must support the right of the Catalan people to hold a referendum on independence. The Catalans, like the Scots, are a politically oppressed nation because the union with Spain is not voluntary, as the violent intervention of the Spanish police showed. But supporting the right to hold a referendum does not mean supporting the republic.
The second issue is whether a Catalan republic would be a progressive, democratic step forward from the unionist monarchy. The answer is yes. A republic is a democratic and revolutionary break with the Francoist-monarchist state. This is why all the reactionary forces in Spain and the EU are opposed to it.
British unionists are worse than their Spanish imitators. They like to pretend that Scotland has a legal and constitutional right to self-determination. It has no such right. Neither the Scottish people nor a Scottish government can hold a legal referendum. If they hold an illegal one, they have to organise the forces necessary to defend the polling stations.
Left Unity and Rise
What hideous Tory vermin we saw scurrying about at their 2017 party conference! And what a shame that we have only pathetically naive policies as our alternative future. By which I mean those proffered by the so-called socialism of Corbyn and McDonnell.
If I’m correct in my assessment and Labour do end up dumping the Corbynistas, our UK working class not only would have full justification to be angry, but also a right to feel lost in terms of any historical direction, appropriate dignity or meaningful destiny.