Last week Jack Conrad made a case against a ‘people’s vote’ on the Tory-unionist deal to exit the European Union (‘Oppose siren calls’, July 5). He argued that all referenda should be opposed in principle. If any take place, they should automatically be boycotted. Behind the present call for a referendum stood the liberals and behind them various capitalists who wanted to halt Brexit.

In a short letter there is no time to deal with complex issues about whether it is right for communists to call for a ‘people’s vote’ in the present conditions of the class struggle in July 2018. If we are opposed in principle, then there are no circumstances to agitate for one. If we are opposed in principle, then we do not need to waste time discussing which way to vote.

This is the CPGB case. Jack makes valid criticisms of referenda. But he crosses the road into ultra-leftism when he tries to make a general principle out of his criticism. He says: “… our objection to a second EU referendum is exactly the same as our objection to the first. And it has nothing to do with opinion polls. Referendums are by their very nature undemocratic.”

Jack’s arguments seem to rest on Kautsky’s views. Kautsky makes strong criticism, but does not rule out referenda. Jacks notes that “Kautsky claims that referenda might be useful in the weaker, less autocratic states”, adding: “Maybe in the US, England and the English colonies, even under circumstances in France.” So, whilst Jack implies principled opposition, this is not the case.

The big gap in his argument concerns the question of self-determination. The Bolsheviks demanded the national question be settled by peaceful rather than violent means. The peaceful separation of the Czech and Slovaks was much better than the violence inflicted on the Iraqi working class by the ruling class trying to impose the Iraqi union on Kurds, Shia and Sunni.

The RSDLP’s 1913 ‘Thesis on the national question’ says Social Democrats should “(b) demand the settlement of the question of such secession only on the basis of a universal, direct and equal vote of the population of a the given territory by secret ballot”. A referendum provides for a peaceful resolution of the national question. Let’s hope nobody forgets that in these troubled times.

Working class democrats are consistent champions of every kind of democratic demand. This does not mean being uncritical. There has to be critical appraisal of all forms of democracy under the rule of capital, such as elections, republics, universal suffrage, referenda and parliaments. This is not an argument to oppose them.

Working class democrats are critical of referenda. Jack gave us historical examples. It is the same approach that Lenin took to the republic. When Engels supported republican slogans, he did so by reminding everybody of the limitations of a democratic republic. He had no illusions in universal suffrage or indeed any democratic demands in capitalist society. Criticism of the dangers and limitations of referenda is not, however, the same as opposing all and every one in principle.

Referenda are, like elections and other examples of universal suffrage, an opportunity for millions to engage in political struggle. They are an opportunity for parties to engage, as the CPGB has done, in class struggle. They are, of course, political weapons, like elections, which are used by the capitalist class against the working class. Working class parties have to learn the threats, dangers and opportunities.

Universal suffrage has been used in referenda and elections to bring dictators to power. Jack reminds us of the anti-democratic coup by Louis Bonaparte “endorsed by a rapidly called referendum, followed by a second in 1852, which made him emperor”. Hitler came to power in January 1933 after an election made the Nazis the largest party in the Reichstag. We cannot stop fascism by abolishing universal suffrage.

When 100,000 people march through London demanding the right to vote on the Tory deal, we are dealing with a mass democratic demand. Why should 46 million voters not have this right? I would expect communists, as the most militant democrats, to be in the vanguard in fighting for the right to vote by demanding working class demonstrations and more decisively political strikes.

Liberals have always been elitists who naturally prefer decisions to be taken by clever and educated people. They feel it is dangerous to allow the ignorant masses to have a say. If they had to choose between 635 MPs and over 800 Lords to decide on the EU or 46 million voters, the liberal elites prefer the former. When liberal Cameron posed as a ‘democrat’ by offering a referendum on the EU it was intended to be ‘advisory’ to parliament.

The ruling class are not going to concede another referendum if they can avoid it. This is clear from the Tory and Labour leaders. It is too risky. At present the CPGB is supporting Tory-Labour leaders’ position that ratification of the Tory deal must be carried out by the crown-in-parliament alone and that working class people should not be allowed to vote. Their opposition is based on naked class interests and risk assessments. The CPGB has based their position on a non-principle, which negates the right of nations to self determination referenda.

We might assume that the CPGB aggregate will discuss their view on the Tory deal and quite possibly vote against it or take no view. Without any sense of irony, the same communists will vote to oppose the right of working class people to have a vote. Voting is just for cabinet meetings, the Commons and Lords, or CPGB aggregates. But this is a class question and we must demand the right of the working class to interfere with the prerogatives of the crown and parliament.

Steve Freeman

An education

The Weekly Worker is superb. The letters pages and the fairness is incredible - even when you are being slagged off (you can defend yourself, of course). Even the Donovan/Northall, etc stuff is published, despite some moans from a few intolerant readers.

Seeing arguments presented - even those that look dangerous and some worry may have undue influence - then ably refuted is an education in analytical thought in itself. There is too much of the left seeking to clamp down on dissenting views rather than refute them. I am gobsmacked and amazed at how you continue to publish strongly dissenting and attacking views, whilst having the confidence of your position. You even wait a week before publishing replies. You model what real communism should be - debate, debate, debate until the matter is settled.

Of course, being incredibly fair about allowing opponents a full reply does not mean you are obligated to publish everything. It is all about what is a legitimate point of view that can marshal facts in its support, even if others bitterly disagree, then encouraging coherent refutations. I’ve never seen any other paper on the left that doesn’t just push one interpretation or tendency. And the Weekly Worker is a real education with a startlingly different way of looking at things, while spotting the angles so many others miss.

Mike Macnair’s stuff on intersectionality and the history behind what seem like recent new arguments is essential reading. How does he read all the stuff to note references? He sums a book up in a few sentences. How much reading does he do, so he can write four instalments?

You have such a talented team of writers - I look forward to every issue. I flick through The Socialist and Socialist Worker, disappointed at how brief and predictable their coverage is and at their total failure to allow dissenting views to be covered. They are both boring.

Take their coverage of the recent PCS conference, which was a travesty of a lack of debate. It decided to ballot on PCS action alone, without winning the agreement of other unions. If PCS loses the ballot or strike action fails to win a pay rise, I will have been proved right (PCS cannot win by itself) and 800 delegates, all the NEC and Mark Serwotka proved wrong. That would be extremely worrying, when so many activists cannot think for themselves and weigh up the situation correctly. Of course, I hope I’m wrong, but if not ...

However, the other left papers proclaimed they love the emperor’s new clothes - only the Weekly Worker gives space for those laughing at the naked king. If only PCS delegates regularly read it, we’d make different decisions and not have ever fewer members voting in our NEC elections.

You deserve a wider readership, but it is serious stuff requiring real concentration. You are doing a great job and have educated me so much (except for some areas, I’m sure you will feel - like immigration! But in this area you just assert your stance and fail to justify it convincingly).

Anyway, I’m pleased to donate £50 towards the CPGB’s Summer Offensive.

Dave Vincent

Red herring

Although I agree with the conclusions of Mike Macnair’s article, ‘Getting beyond capitalism’ (July 5) and his critique of intersectionality and identity politics, I disagree with some of the arguments he presented.

1. In the United Kingdom it was not the Maoists (who were numerically insignificant) who pursued gender/black, etc equality at the expense of working class struggles. Often it was the Trotskyist groups, including the International Marxist Group and Socialist Workers Party, as well as Eurocommunists, who took such a line. So blaming Maoists is not valid as far as the UK is concerned.

2. The predominance of intersectionality and identity politics in society did not occur just because the left made mistakes. Capitalism saw how it could benefit from the issue of the double exploitation of women, while turning it into an easy win, and ultimately that was what made the difference. I argued this point in an article in 2013 (‘Out of the mainstream, into the revolution’, April 18 2013).

3. At the end of the day arguments about the labour aristocracy in advanced capitalist countries were a red herring, as globalised capital was changing the nature of work worldwide. However, when the US Maoists and Marxists in the third world raised the issue, it was an accurate assessment of the conditions of the international working class. It is easy to laugh at it now, when the working class in the third world and the advanced capitalist countries share similar experiences, but that wasn’t the case in the early 1970s.

Yassamine Mather


At the Socialist Workers Party’s ‘Marxism’ session on ‘South Africa after Zuma’ on July 6, Ronnie Kasrils, organiser of the heroic London Recruits from the 1960s and then government minister for 14 years from 1994 to 2008, described the “looming economic meltdown” facing the people today. With unemployment at 25% (60% among young people) and growth “just above zero”, 15 million of the poorest people are now dependent on government grants - the “beginnings of a welfare state” - which the state will soon be unable to pay.

The “optimistic new light on the horizon” coming from a rebellion within the South African Communist Party and the trade unions - particularly the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), the largest union - is the birth of the South African Federation of Trade Unions to rival the SACP-led Congress of South African Trade Unions; and a new party, the Socialist Workers Revolutionary Party, due to be launched in October. Unfortunately, this most important issue was not explained further. Will it provoke a split in the SACP? Ronnie did not say and, in the discussion period, none of the SWPers showed any interest in the question.

The promise of the “fantastic new beginning” after Nelson Mandela left prison in 1990, when “people began to think that a revolution could take place”, has not been fulfilled, and “hopes have been dashed”. The people are highly critical of the African National Congress, he said, and everyone, especially young people, now think that “Mandela was a sellout”. The ANC government, Ronnie said, “failed to carry through an education programme” about the years of struggle before the end of apartheid. “Class politics are out the window, and, like everywhere else, have been replaced by identity politics.” There is “populism, demagogy, and everything is viewed through the prism of racism”.

What went wrong? In 1992 Mandela toured the world and brought back the same advice from the leaders of China, Cuba and big business: “Don’t nationalise, or you will get no investment.” So we put the economic programme of the Freedom Charter on the back burner. Joe Slovo told Ronnie: “If we fall out with Mandela, we’ll be isolated.” In other words, the SACP, instead of playing an independent, leading role, followed Mandela.

We thought that with universal suffrage, after gaining political power, economic power would follow, he explained. But putting economics on the back burner was “a Faustian pact”. Vigilance was slackened, trade unions grew weaker, comrades were “seduced” by capitalist posts, and a gulf opened up with the masses. “A major betrayal took place. Errors of political judgement abounded. We gave far too much to business. We agreed the International Monetary Fund diktat to reduce corporation tax from 48% to 28%, and lifted currency exchange, allowing them to “suck their money out”.

The SACP and Cosatu “became very angry” with Mandela and the corruption under president Thabo Mbeki from 1999, and eventually, in 2008, the ANC replaced Mbeki with Jacob Zuma, in what Ronnie called the “Zuma putsch against Mbeki”, at which point Ronnie resigned from the government.

Three-minute questions and contributions to discussion followed Ronnie’s opening, including SWP national secretary Charlie Kimber, who explained that, while the defeat of apartheid was “a massive victory”, the question of “cooperation with capital” or “confrontation with capital” is “the key dividing line between reform and revolution”. One comrade asked: “What can we do here to help the struggle there?” When I was lucky enough to get my pennyworth, I showed the comrades a copy of Labour Party Marxists, and answered that our best act of solidarity would not only be to transform Labour into a united front of the entire working class, but bring our divided left in Britain together into a genuine communist party, acting within that united front, in order to make revolution here. I said that the fight for a communist party is the fight for a Marxist programme; that both the South African Freedom Charter and the Communist Party of Britain’s programme are national roads; and that the SWP, far from being “the revolutionary party”, doesn’t even have a programme.

Stan Keable


As someone who believes that most Marxists are unaware of the forces manipulating human society, I was pleasantly surprised when I recently discovered that research into unidentified flying objects in China is either under the leadership of the Communist Party of China or at least communists are involved in this research. The UFO organisation is a member of China’s Association for Science and Technology. According to Timothy Woods, “Most of China’s UFO researchers are scientists and engineers, and many UFO groups require college degrees and published research for membership.”

Woods says that “The Beijing UFO Research Society includes Communist Party cadres or managers, and air force officials regularly attend important meetings.” According to Sun Shili, a retired foreign ministry official who heads China’s UFO research, “if the conditions for membership weren’t so strict we’d have millions of members by now”.

Wood concludes that, “Ironically, a country renowned for its repression of liberalism now leads the world in liberal academic discussion relating to this controversial and multi-faceted subject.” This is a far cry from the American authorities, whose present policy is one of disinformation and keeping people in a state of ignorance relating to this issue. Fear of losing ideological control of the masses is what dictates official western position. China needs to be congratulated for its open-minded attitude, which is he only scientific stance.

Tony Clark

Legalise drugs

The illegal drugs market is a gigantic pyramid-selling operation, where users often become petty dealers to help fund their drug taking.

Legalisation of all drugs would bring an end to this pyramid-selling operation and put the online suppliers, the drug networks, the petty drugs dealers, and the drug cartels of Latin America and Afghanistan out of business. Legalisation would not mean that drugs would be available on supermarket shelves, nor would it mean that it would be legal to take drugs in public places.

Cannabis would be made available through independent shops, as happens in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, California and now Canada; and in member-only cannabis clubs, as happens in Spain. Cocaine would be available from specially licensed pharmacies. Heroin would be made available to registered heroin addicts at GP-run clinics, as happens in Switzerland.

Legalisation of all drugs would bring with it quality control, labelling and a public health campaign detailing the dangers of drugs specifically targeted at teenagers. It is time to legalise all drugs.

John Smithee


Due to a technical error, footnote numbers were inadvertently omitted from all articles in last week’s Weekly Worker. We apologise and are trying to ensure that this error is not repeated.

Peter Manson