I confess I’ve never got my head around this crime of ‘third campism’ that Gerry Downing and Ian Donovan accuse the CPGB of (Letters, October 12). I guess what it means is that you support neither the imperialists nor their victims, but an imaginary third force. I am not a member of the CPGB and therefore it is difficult for me to defend it against their charges, but I would like to comment nonetheless on the letter.
There was a time, during the Vietnam war, for example, when the US imperialists faced a national liberation movement in the form of the Vietcong. It was not difficult to know who to support. There was also the time when Britain was waging a war in the north of Ireland and again it was incumbent upon socialists to support the republican movement.
However, there are genuine difficulties in supporting, critically but unconditionally, the forces of opposition to US imperialism in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, for example. One of the problems in all these countries is that there is no single, unified national liberation movement. Certainly in Iraq I supported the right of the Iraq people to wage armed resistance against the American and British occupiers, but this didn’t translate into support for one or more particular groups.
Those groups who were resisting the US by force of arms in Iraq were also waging war on other Iraqis of a different confession. Would one really have supported al Qa’eda in Iraq, which metamorphosed into Islamic State, despite their waging war on Shi’ite Iraqis, to say nothing of their imposition of feudal religious barbarities? Would one really support IS in Syria and Iraq despite their attempted genocide of the Yazidis and their enslavement and mass rape and sexual slavery of women? Or perhaps the Taliban is a model of a national liberation movement? It is a fact that for historical reasons the Arab countries have been unable to throw up resistance movements that united all of the Arab peoples regardless of creed.
Of course, I welcomed the resistance to the Americans, but this did not translate into support for a particular movement because there wasn’t one. Supporting the Iraq regime, which was a monstrous police state, was also politically impossible, given that it was also a genocidal regime which spawned, in part, IS.
The allegation that the CPGB was neutral in the Iraq war or when Abbas and Israel attempted to overthrow Hamas in Gaza does not accord with my recollection. Certainly, this could be said of that social chauvinist group, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. Indeed it would be more accurate to call the AWL a critical friend of the US occupation, since it refused to call for the withdrawal of US troops. As far as I’m aware, the CPGB is quite clear that in the event of a US or Israeli attack on Iran they would support the Iranians.
Gerry and Ian take Mike Macnair to task for characterising their position as “the United States backs the state of Israel because of the large number and influence of specifically Jewish capitalists in the US”. Well, if Mike has misunderstood you, comrades, so have I. It would appear that both Gerry and Ian are incapable of understanding the natural and ordinary meaning of that which they argue.
Referring to South Korea, Colombia, the UK and Saudi Arabia, the pair say: “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.” What Gerry and Ian are saying is that in the case of the US’s relationship with Israel the “ethnic composition of the ruling class” is the difference. There is no other possible interpretation.
And, as if to confirm my interpretation, they go on to say that “Jewish bourgeois are massively overrepresented in the US ruling class compared to the Jewish population in general, which is only 2%” What would this ‘massive overrepresentation’ matter if it didn’t have any effect on US policies?
Both Gerry and Ian recoil from the logic of their own position, because they realise that it is inherently anti-Semitic. Hence they take issue with Mike. They are right to say that the US ruling class treats Israel as if it were an adjunct of their own state. They are right to say that the relationship of Israel to the United States is different from that of the US to any other state. But it is not right to suggest that this is a product of the Jewish composition of the US ruling class. If anything, the latter is a consequence of the US’s relationship with Israel, not its cause.
In fact, it is wrong to say that Israel is merely an extension of the US ruling class. They do have separate and distinct interests and sometimes conflicts. Iran was one such. The war against IS was another. Israel was not happy with the war against IS. For it, the Shi’ite axis of evil was the main enemy. But these are tactical, not principled, differences.
Gerry and Ian are also hopelessly confused about the Jewish nature of the Israeli state. Of course, Israel appropriates the symbols and cultural artefacts of being Jewish, like for example the star of David. It also, incidentally, rejects diaspora Jewish culture. It has also transformed the Jewish religion and majority Jewish identity. But where they both go wrong again is in comparing Zionism’s relationship with Jewish nationalism and Ukip’s with British nationalism and Nazism with German nationalism.
The British people are a nation or a conglomeration of nations. The German people too are a nation, although Nazism was not so much a form of German nationalism, but, rather, a fascist movement which redefined German nationalism in ethno-racial terms. The Jews, however, are not a nation and will never be.
Zionism is in a sense a false nationalism. Zionism is not, contrary to Gilad Atzmon (whom Ian admires), a consequence of Judaism or being Jewish. On the contrary, the first Zionists, from Cromwell and Napoleon onwards, were non-Jewish European imperialists. To see Zionism as a form of Jewish nationalism is to look down the telescope from the wrong end.
The suggestion that there is an actual overlap between the US and Israeli ruling class is nonsense. To suggest that this is caused by the Israeli ‘right of return’ law, which allows the Jewish capitalists to take up citizenship in Israel, is a fiction. Pure invention. I too, despite not even being an honorary member of either ruling class, have the same right of ‘return’. This is not a materialist basis for the existence of a transnational ruling class. It is a product of the confusion inside both comrades’ heads!
The successes of the Corbyn movement are fairly obvious:
1. The revival of Labour into a party with an active mass membership - a membership which is moving left and seeking a pro-working class alternative to austerity capitalism.
2. The defeat of the attempted coup against Corbyn by the right of the Labour Party and the consequent marginalisation of the pro-capitalist Blairite right within the labour movement.
3. Moving the political debate in British society to the left and forcing pro-working class measures back onto the agenda after 20 years of absence - this was codified in the Labour manifesto for the general election in June 2017, which gained widespread support from workers and youth.
The main failures of the Corbyn movement so far are:
1. The failure to democratise the Labour Party - ie, by supporting the mandatory reselection of all Labour candidates and a failure to fight the exclusion of socialists by the old pre-Corbyn Labour Party apparatus;
2. The failure to create a democratic pro-Corbyn rank-and-file organisation, which is under the control of its members and encourages political debate on the way forward. Momentum is a travesty of a working class democracy and is obviously a show under the tight control of a section of the labour bureaucracy;
3. The failure to attempt to link up with socialist forces in the rest of Europe and pose a European-wide fightback against austerity and for socialism.
All three failures can be overcome if the socialist left organises itself to fight for democracy in the labour movement and attempts to develop a programme that will take the working class movement forward.
What can a Corbyn-led Labour government deliver? The aim should be to increase the social weight of the working class movement in British and European society and implement various pro-working class reforms that will improve the living standards of working class people and provide the basis for a leap forward in mass socialist consciousness and solidarity. What is not on the agenda in the next five years is an overthrow of capitalism in Britain, since consciousness of a need to move beyond capitalism is not yet a mass phenomenon in British society and, even if it were, it would be necessary to have a mass European-wide movement for socialism in existence before a decisive, ‘full frontal’ move was made.
The forces of democratic socialism have to realise just how weak we are at present when formulating the way forward for the working class movement in the next period. The overthrow of capitalism in Britain is not a realistic immediate goal to set for the working class movement if Corbyn comes to office. If we can use a Corbyn-led Labour government to democratise the labour movement, win significant pro-working class reforms within British society and promote the growth of a European-wide socialist movement that organises to oppose austerity, nationalism, militarism and war, we will be taking a big step forward towards the goal of a socialist society.
Having boxed itself in by expelling professor Moshé Machover - ostensibly for writing for your newspaper, although, of course, not really for that reason at all - Labour is now having to expel everyone who shares your articles on Facebook or what have you. The list of Labour Party members opposed to professor Machover’s expulsion is easily strong enough economically, socially, culturally and politically to secure the transfer of the Weekly Worker to the ownership of something on the model of the People’s Press Printing Society. That now needs to happen.
I think that I once had a telephone conversation with the ‘head of disputes’ - one Sam Matthews. It ended just as I was about to ask if his mummy or daddy was available. One of the Tory-boy interns whom the Corbyn leadership has, alas, failed to purge from the party’s staff, perhaps because there would be no one left, he has never heard of figures on the list of professor Machover’s supporters, such as Geoffrey Bindman, Avi Shlaim or Gillian Slovo, I would confidently assert. It is more than possible that Joe Slovo was dead before the boy Matthews was born.
I have previously repeated a few words from a song by Bob Dylan: “Come, gather round, people, wherever you are, for the times they are a-changing!”
Anyway, as things have turned out, it seems I was correct in that prediction. Merely glance at the wildly enthusiastic events surrounding Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders for corroboration of this claim - not to mention Podemos in Spain or the rising up of freshly liberationist activity from Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters in South Africa.
But all is not ripe fruit set amidst golden sunrises. Whilst most Marxist-Leninists/Trotskyists nowadays are both superbly informed and extremely knowledgeable, that is not matched in terms of streetwise politics. However, these failings will progressively be overcome. At some stage in the not-too-distant future the communist movement will acquire the attributes necessary to secure support from a vast number of working people - not only here in UK and other so-called advanced nations, but also in places that currently remain nothing more than quasi-colonialised assets.
There is no pathway down which humankind will achieve profound improvement to its experience of life other than to nurture the ideas, ideals and values of communism. We should be doing so not only with enthusiasm and spirit, but also at each and every opportunity that presents itself. After all, as Rosa Luxemburg advised, it’s either “socialism or barbarism”.
Always, I keep tucked away in a tiny corner of my mind: “Beauty has velocity. Death has gravity. The consolidation of truth requires both.”
I thought we were making progress. I thought we had reached some sort of conclusion. Clearly, I was mistaken. It now seems to be a case of ‘one step forward, two steps back’ for Alan Gibson (Letters, October 12).
Like the worst kind of old-new left philistine, comrade Gibson casually dismisses Bolshevik democratic centralism as belonging to a pre-1914 bygone age. He does not consider it “sensible” to apply “organisational forms” which stem from “a quite different historical situation”.
In fact, those very organisational forms - crucially freedom of criticism and unity in action - enabled the Bolsheviks to gain the strength and cohesion needed to lead the world’s first, and so far only successful, proletarian revolution in 1917.
Hence the continued “international significance” and “international validity” of the Bolshevik model. A model, which beginning in 1903, progressed because it consciously built on the “granite” foundations of prior Marxist theory and prior Marxist practice (Lenin, 1920).
Rather than the historically proven model of Bolshevik democratic centralism, comrade Gibson clings, for reasons of “tactical efficacy”, he claims, to the bog-standard bureaucratic centralism practised by the confessional sects (including, of course, his old organisation, the International ‘Bolshevik’ Tendency). Except when granted special permission, members of the sect are required to keep political differences secret and parrot the leadership line.
Obviously, comrade Gibson has thoroughly internalised bureaucratic centralism. After all, he insists that this mode of organisation suits “today’s world”. Yet looking at “today’s world” and the disastrously fragmented, ineffective and programmatically adrift left, let alone the countless freelance sects of one (including a certain Alan Gibson), it would be criminal to agree with such complacency.
In “today’s world”, the rediscovery of the abundant tactical and strategic lessons of Bolshevism is long overdue. Unless the revolutionary left breaks with bureaucratic centralism and embraces democratic centralism there can be no serious prospect of advance, no serious prospect of overthrowing capitalist rule. Indeed one irresponsible, trivial, theoretically half-baked split will continue to follow another.
It is surely impossible to unite different Marxist thinkers, different Marxist shades, different Marxist groups, different Marxist factions in what is, yes, in “today’s world”, the pivotal task of laying the foundations for a mass Communist Party, without proclaiming the right to explain oneself before the entire population: ie, open polemics.
Of course, come an agreed action, then there must be the most resolute and most determined unity. And that centralism, if embodied in a mass Communist Party, can be brilliantly effective in terms of gaining substantive reforms, and, at the end of the day, decisive in terms of achieving a revolutionary breakthrough, precisely because it involves not just tiny handfuls, but hundreds of thousands, millions of members.
Comrade Gibson remains sadly attached to what he calls the “political principle” of “never” giving “political support to any formation” he understands to be a “popular front”. Poor fellow, that is what he defines as “working class political independence”. An umbilical cord that still joins him with the entirely pointless International ‘Bolshevik’ Tendency.
But, for Marxists, working class independence does not require ‘thou shall nots’. Working class independence is nothing more and nothing less than the organisation of the working class into its own distinct political party (something which goes hand in hand with arming the working class with a Marxist programme).
Even without such a party - that is, in the struggle for such a party - it is necessary to employ the most varied tactics. Those tactics can include operating in all manner of non-working class political formations, giving support to this or that non-working class candidate, etc. As long as the communists do not silence themselves or refrain from criticism and fighting for their programme, it is perfectly principled (because, even at the lowest level, an active engagement with the “real movement” helps to gather, educate and temper cadres).
Hence, this writer approvingly cited Marx’s membership of the cross-class Cologne Democratic Society in 1848: to get the Neue Rheinische Zeitung off the ground Marx sold shares to the “democratic wing” of the bourgeoisie. Then there is the role played by Marx’s comrades in the bourgeois Republican Party in 1850s and 60s America. They energetically campaigned for Abraham Lincoln as president.
Likewise, this writer, approvingly cited Lenin’s support for the young CPGB seeking affiliation to the Labour Party and voting for what he rightly categorised as a bourgeois workers’ party, which was led by reactionaries of the “worst kind”.
Again, here, in this context, it is well worth learning from Trotsky, and the entry of his small band of followers into the ranks of the mass parties of the Second International (that despite their undoubted reformism and the lead role they played in the Spanish and French popular-front governments of the 1930s).
And, talking of Trotsky, in September 1926 we find him saying that the “participation” of the Communist Party of China in the Kuomintang “was perfectly correct in the period” when the CPC was “a propaganda society, which was only preparing itself for future independent political activity” (Leon Trotsky on China New York 1976, p114). Needless to say, the Kuomintang was a bourgeois nationalist party which gathered under its banner masses of peasants, workers, intellectuals, petty bourgeois traders, small capitalists, etc.
I suppose in the name of preserving his “political purity” comrade Gibson would brand Marx, Lenin and Trotsky “unrepentant” opportunists. Or does he dismiss what they had to say as belonging to another age?