Mike Macnair made a curious (and personal) comment when he stated: “the fall of the (socialist) regimes (of the USSR and central and eastern Europe) ... should stand as a clear rebuke to ‘official’ communists like Andrew Northall ... who fail to see that ‘official’ communists ... have to take responsibility for the utter demoralisation of Soviet and eastern European workers ... and their inability to even contemplate resistance to the restoration of capitalism” (‘Irrational optimism’, July 12).

On the contrary, ‘official’ communists like myself never had the slightest difficulty in accepting our fair share of the responsibility for what happened; it is written into successive Communist Party congress resolutions and into the party’s programme.

The great majority of ‘official’ communists agree that the models of socialism which developed in the USSR and were imposed in the socialist countries of central and eastern Europe were authoritarian, top-down, ‘command and administer’ systems of government, economy and society, and badly lacked democracy in the fullest sense of genuine mass working people’s participation and control over those governments, economies and societies.

We understand and accept the reasons how and why socialism developed in the Soviet Union under conditions of extreme internal and external class struggles, triumphing and becoming dominant following mass collectivisation and rapid industrialisation in the late 1920s and early 30s.

There is some debate as to whether by the 17th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1934, socialism had become so dominant that the Soviet Union could have then entered a period of calm, consolidation and democratisation.

That was essentially the line of the young, dynamic and extremely popular Leningrad party leader, SM Kirov, and supported by other key leaders, such as Ordzhonikidze, Kuibyshev, Kossior and Kalinin. Totally supportive of the line, progress and achievements to date. Stalin, with only the real support of Kaganovich and Yezhov, backed more radical action and an “intensification of the class struggle” and more repressive measures. The first line appeared to have obtained majority support at the 17th Congress, and Stalin was subsequently demoted from general secretary to be one of four secretaries to the new central committee.

Some speculate that the assassination of Kirov at the end of 1934 and the subsequent Great Purge, which included the shocking execution of a majority of delegates to that congress, was a working out of this central division within the Communist Party.

In contrast, Slava Katamidze in his book Loyal comrades, ruthless killers (pp52-53) points to a really massive international and internal conspiracy against the Soviet regime, to which the Great Purge was a devastatingly effective response. He violently objects to describing the victims of the Great Purge as “innocent”, as that “insults their memory and their massive underground movement ... which believed that the Soviet regime could only be overthrown by violent means.” “Anti-communists over a wide spectrum, including the left and right oppositions, generals dreaming of power, technocrats, engineers and other professionals, had created shadowy and deadly effective sabotage organisations, were all starting to act in concert to overthrow the Bolshevik regime by force.”

I think there are elements of truth in the first version and also that the second was clearly the case, but would add, ‘massively supported, stimulated, directed and supplied by Nazi Germany and militarist Japan’. I am not sure the Soviet regime had any real alternative but to root out and systematically destroy this massive, coordinated subversion and conspiracy. Around one and half million were arrested and detained, up to 800,000 were shot. Note: not tens of millions.

Modern-day adherents of Trotsky really do have to reflect on his accommodation in the United States and his supporters working closely with Nazi, fascist and terrorist groupings to attack and subvert the Soviet Union, with a view to its violent overthrow, and its replacement by a pro-capitalist, pro-western ‘coalition government’.

The “results of World War II” (to use a post-war Soviet phrase) meant that the feudal, capitalist and in some cases fascist regimes in central and eastern Europe had been smashed and were under Red Army domination.

It was obvious that the USSR would use these countries as a cordon sanitaire to protect the Soviet motherland from future existential threats, as represented by Nazism, fascism and capitalism.

Stalin and the Soviets were initially extremely open as to the nature of the regimes they wished to see. The ‘people’s democracy’ concept provided a genuine opportunity for pluralistic, democratic, participatory models for progressive social and economic advance in these countries. Martin Myant has discussed this in careful and thoughtful detail in his Socialism and democracy in Czechoslovakia 1945-48 and The crisis of Polish socialism, as has also Donald Sassoon in his The strategy of the Italian Communist Party.

There was, of course, Churchill’s ‘iron curtain’ speech and the Truman administration, with its aggressive policies, was extremely keen to use its then nuclear monopoly to threaten the Soviet Union with total extermination, having tested out its new nuclear weaponry on Japan. Genuinely popular communist parties in Italy and France - which had played absolutely key roles in the resistance to Nazi and fascist occupations - were systematically blackmailed out of government.

The inevitable reaction, response and consequences in central and eastern Europe was a tightening of the communist-influenced regimes there - specifically to resist massive subversions being attempted by the US and British powers. This resulted in what became the authoritarian regimes which lasted until 1989, what I would call the national security states. The astounding recovery of the Soviet economy after the war could only have been achieved through its underlying basic socialist character and the fact the masses believed they had a real commitment and stake in it.

Monty Johnstone in his ‘Back in the USSR’ article in the March 1985 Marxism Today quoted Isaac Deutscher (Trotsky’s supportive biographer) and was so right to say:

“Stalinism had been undermined by its very success in carrying through a major industrial and cultural revolution. The needs and aspirations of a great industrial state with an expanding planned economy, an increasingly educated population and an avowed commitment to Marxism conflicted with despotism, arbitrary mass terror and the ‘primitive magic’ of Stalinist ideology.

“Deutscher’s prediction ... that this would set in motion a process of deStalinisation was amply borne out in the period from 1953, with the restoration of socialist legality, the dismantling of the apparatus of terror and the return of vast numbers of political prisoners from Stalin’s labour camps. It also involved the replacement of Stalin’s one-man rule by a collective leadership, which showed itself more responsive to the needs of the people.”

In my opinion, the policies set out by the 20th, 21st and 22nd congresses of the CPSU - and specifically in the 1961 party programme - set out the economic, social and democratic basis for moving decisively to the next stage: “creating the material and technical basis of communism”.

We all know that, unfortunately, Khrushchev was removed from office in 1964. We know the reasons for that and the fact that the new Brezhnev-Podgorny-Kosygin leadership were essentially from the Khrushchev faction or tradition (as opposed to any residual Stalinist groupings), but were specifically keen to impose greater calm, stability and consolidation in the party and in the country. Good in themselves, but ultimately at the expense of the required pace and scale of progress set out in 1961.

The objectives and targets of the 1961 programme were not systematically implemented. The Soviet Union was characterised as “fully developed socialism” - true in a basic sense - but that led to complacency and of the need to constantly revolutionise and transform the economy and society.

The achievement of strategic nuclear and military parity by the USSR with western imperialism in the mid-1970s offered perhaps a final opportunity to consolidate and structurally reform the existing models of socialism, but this was not taken up. There were interesting rumours in the western press that Brezhnev might have been replaced by Yuri Andropov at the 1976 party congress, but an unexpectedly energetic performance by Brezhnev apparently put paid to that.

Despite the “period of stagnation”, the 1977 USSR constitution did specifically recognise and support emerging forms and the gradual evolution towards new forms of communist, public self-government, which would ultimately replace the formal coercive aspects of the state apparatus.

If Andropov had been elected general secretary in 1976 rather than 1982, would that have made a major difference? I don’t agree with the central thesis of Keenan and Kenny in their Socialism betrayed that the “Andropov programme” provided a genuinely viable option for Soviet socialism. I think the Andropov reforms created something of a “dead cat’s bounce”, but not the genuinely transformative programme required.

However, I do think Andropov was genuinely interested in identifying and promoting new talent and in rejuvenating the party machine and leadership. If he had assumed the general secretaryship in 1976, one might reasonably have expected there would have been a wider, newer, younger cohort of leadership material to choose from if and when he had to stand down, as opposed to between simply Gorbachev, Grishin or Romanov in 1985.

I vividly recall how I was shocked and appalled by the rolling collapse of socialism in eastern Europe in 1989. I thought at first this may be a move from the old ‘command and administer’ model of socialism to more democratic, pluralistic, participatory ones. I thought the mass resignations of government and party leaderships was a front behind which ‘second 11’ leaders would take over. After the first number of months, I thought that it was clear I was wrong. Subsequently, and especially with the example of Romania, I wondered if I was right after all.

In conclusion, comrade Macnair, ‘official’ communists have never had any difficulty whatsoever in taking responsibility, learning hard lessons and reflecting them in our current political practice. Yes, we did (and do) regard the ruling communist parties in the USSR and in central and eastern Europe as our brothers and sisters in class struggle.

We never have any difficulty in identifying with ruling parties which presided over economies and societies with zero unemployment, universal and high levels of healthcare, education and welfare provision, and which helped create highly advanced, cultured and internationalist-minded populations.

Our position is clear, straightforward and principled. We, of course, recognised and supported the regimes of the USSR and eastern Europe as socialist. We were equally clear that our vision of socialism for Britain was always fundamentally democratic, emancipatory, participatory and pluralistic. We will almost certainly achieve socialism through different paths and those will themselves influence the content and nature of socialism in Britain.

Andrew Northall

IHRA misuse

Free speech on Palestine is under attack. The director of public affairs of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Labour Party member Philip Rosenberg is attempting to use his position of influence to ban a public meeting organised by London Revolutionary Communist Group and Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! in support of the Palestinian people. This follows the recent adoption by the Labour Party of the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.

The meeting - entitled ‘Labour, Corbyn and anti-Semitism: why is solidarity with Palestine under attack?’ - is scheduled to take place at Chadswell Healthy Living Centre, near King’s Cross. The venue is a community centre we have used many times before, run by the King’s Cross Brunswick Neighbourhood Association (KCBNA), and was booked for Friday September 21 several weeks in advance. Just three days before the meeting was due to take place, the RCG received a call from the chief executive of the KCBNA, Nasim Ali, who is also Labour councillor for Regents Park and former mayor of Camden. Mr Ali explained that Phillip Rosenberg, who is a member of Hampstead and Kilburn Labour Party and former Labour councillor, as well as a leader of the Board of Deputies, had contacted the KCBNA to claim, without any evidence, that our meeting will be anti-Semitic and must be cancelled. Rosenberg warned that he would be launching a campaign calling on all members and supporters of the Board of Deputies to call and email the KCBNA to complain about the meeting. The association is considering cancelling it.

This move, if it goes ahead, would have no basis in the KCBNA’s policy documentation, and assumes that attendees of the meeting would be guilty of being anti-Semitic without evidence. Our meeting carries an explicitly anti-racist message, with promotional materials stating clearly that Zionism is a racist ideology and that the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is a deliberate attempt to criminalise support for Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation. The purpose of the public meeting is to discuss openly how we can challenge this conflation and build a movement for Palestine.

The attempt to ban this meeting is a sign of the chilling climate that Palestine supporters now face in Britain, where the main opposition party has relented to pressure from a concerted Zionist campaign of disinformation and smears to end freedom of speech. This is a clear indication of how the IHRA definition will be used: to silence the left, close off public spaces and enforce censorship.

Revolutionary Communist Group


Recent weeks have seen an intensification of US hostility to Venezuela, with Republican senator Marco Rubio openly calling for US military intervention, the US excluding three Caribbean countries from a visa waiver scheme because of their good relations with Venezuela and it being exposed that US officials secretly met with Venezuelan military officers plotting a coup against the elected president. Meanwhile, secretary-general of the Organization of American States (and long-term supporter of Trump’s ‘regime change’ agenda) Luis Almagro has said that a “military intervention aimed at overthrowing the regime of Nicolás Maduro” should not be “excluded”.

 But the Trump administration is not getting all its own way on the international stage in terms of gaining support for its agenda, with former Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero joining the growing global chorus of voices against US sanctions, saying that “the intensification of the growth in emigration [from Venezuela] these past months has much to do with the economic sanctions imposed by the US”. He has been joined by ex-president of Uruguay José ‘Pepe’ Mujica, who said the sanctions “only achieve a worsening of conditions for the weakest in society”.

Now is the time to get active! As Evo Morales said to Marco Rubio, the US is the real global threat, not Venezuela! You can show your opposition to US sanctions and threats by:

Venezuela Solidarity Campaign