James McBarron’s letter (February 20) correctly points out that Anne McShane, in her article on the Irish election, had mistakenly reported that the Greens had benefited most from Sinn Féin transfers (‘Sinn Féin’s success, left’s collapse’, February 13). In fact it was the reformist-socialist electoral bloc of Solidarity-People Before Profit who benefited much more from Sinn Féin transfers, where they were competing with the Greens.
However, James goes on to describe this as “a class-conscious vote” - which is a very peculiar way to assess this voting pattern. Given that the first preference of these votes was not for a working class party, it is hard to see how it could be called a “class-conscious” vote by working people. Sinn Féin are an openly pro-capitalist party, who are committed to retaining the sweetheart tax deals for the multinationals that dominate the Irish economy (p19 of their election manifesto).
In response to the large vote for Sinn Féin and the potential for them to be part of a government coalition, Irish business leaders were quick to point out they had nothing to fear from Sinn Féin in power. Those who seek to portray them as part of the ‘left’ might also do well to remember that in September 2008 they voted in favour of the bank guarantee. This bailout of the banking sector resulted in the massive debt which the Irish state is still saddled with. This was a significant contributor to the years of austerity, which have followed for working people and it was justified by Sinn Féin at the time as being “in the national interest” - which any anti-capitalist worth their salt knows is just a code for ‘in the interests of maintenance of profits and general stability of the capitalist system’.
What this vote for Sinn Féin really represented was a desire for change away from the two big capitalist parties that have traditionally dominated the electoral landscape in Ireland. This was captured in the calls for a “left government” - in the bourgeois parliamentary sense of the term “left” rather than anything to do with class-based political analysis. Voters sensibly judged that voting first preference for what would be the biggest party in the potential “left government” rather than for the smaller advocates of this bourgeois parliamentary ‘leftism’, who would have to hope for the transfer votes from Sinn Féin, would make up for the decrease in first-preference votes. The reformist socialists, unlike the Greens, were very vocal advocates of this “left government” approach and so benefited more from the transfers of Sinn Féin voters.
However, this came at a cost, as the Solidarity-People Before Profit bloc suffered in terms of their own first-preference votes - dropping at a national level from 3.9% in 2016 to 2.6% in 2020. This translated to significant drops in specific constituencies – as in the case of Mick Barry in Cork, whose first-preference vote dropped from 15.7% to 7.2%. In Barry’s case this did not affect his re-election, as the Sinn Féin transfers made up enough of the difference. However, this was not the case for Ruth Coppinger in Dublin - the one Solidarity-People Before Profit TD not re-elected - where the Sinn Féin transfers were not sufficient to make up the discrepancy in her own first-preference votes, and transfers from the knocked-out Labour Party candidate gave the 4th constituency seat to the Green Party candidate (see the article, ‘Revolutionary Marxism and Ireland’s 2020 election’, on the Bolshevik Tendency website (bolsheviktendency.org) for a pre-election critique of this non-class-based approach to a “left government”).
It is both surprising and disappointing to see a long-time Platformist anarchist like James buying into this decidedly non-class-conscious bourgeois parliamentarianism.
Gerry Downing’s pathetic letter claiming that the ‘Trotskyist Faction’ including myself were ‘expelled’ from Socialist Fight is pure fraud (February 27). He does not have a majority of full members of SF willing to vote for such a measure. No meeting of members has or will be called to do so. Nor has he been able to exclude our supporters from the international forums of the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International. When he tried to do so, in defiance of the most basic tenets of workers’ and party democracy, his actions were repudiated by other comrades internationally and our supporters were reinstated. This ‘expulsion’ is dead in the water.
It is just about Gerry Downing farting out his denunciations on a stolen website, using a stolen banner. The joke is that a “unanimous vote” in his fantasy version of ‘Socialist Fight’ is when Gerry Downing, Ella Downing and his race-baiting, Islamophobic, white South African crony, Gareth Martin, each put up both of their hands. Their six hands outvoted all the members of Socialist Fight who failed to vote for Gerry’s pro-Zionist statement the last time Socialist Fight had a genuine national vote, in January. And he calls that “unanimous”! That’s where Gerry’s ‘majority’ comes from.
His fascist-baiting, mendacious half-quotes are designed to ‘prove’ that those in Socialist Fight who failed to salute his fascist-baiting attack on Gilad Atzmon are worshippers of the Ku Klux Klan. But I was also accused, somewhat at odds with this, by Downing of being a pro-Muslim communalist for my support of George Galloway’s Respect project in the 2000s. So I’m supposed to be a Muslim supremacist and a white supremacist? How are these allegations even compatible with each other? Even slanders should make some sense!
His material on Atzmon being a ‘fascist’ is ripped off from Dave Rich of the Community Security Thugs (sorry - Trust), who devote their lives to smearing anti-Zionists - particularly Jewish ones - in order to incite violence against them. With his training in mendacity and the deliberate mangling of quotations within Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party, it is not difficult to imagine Gerry standing up a meeting, Vyshinsky style, and screaming, ‘I demand that the dogs gone mad should be shot - every last one of them’, as in one of the most notorious incidents of the Moscow trials. Those CPGB comrades and others who were in the pub the other week after a CPGB meeting, who heard Gerry Downing shouting at our comrades, all of whom are all members of SF, while they were trying to have a quiet and fraternal drink with others, will recognise the syndrome.
I have to say that I want nothing to do with Gareth Martin either, since he racially abused one of our non-white comrades of Turkish-Muslim origin, who lives in London, by accusing him, quite bizarrely, of “justifying someone walking into a synagogue in London or anywhere else and committing murder”. There have been no such events in London, and it is a psychotic Islamophobic smear to imply that a Turkish communist would even consider justifying or doing such a thing. He also stated to him that “weaponisation of the holocaust” is an “anti-Semitic trope”. This is itself an anti-Arab, anti-Muslim trope, since a supposed threat of another ‘Hitler’ and another ‘holocaust’ has been the rallying cry of Israeli wars against the Arab and other Muslim states surrounding it since the Suez attack on Egypt in 1956, if not earlier. He is a pro-Zionist, Islamophobic bigot, who I hold in contempt, and his behaviour amply justifies the things that have been said about him.
In both his case and that of Downing, this is all to do with their Zionist fantasies about the ‘evil’ of people from the Middle East (or indeed elsewhere) who have some sensitivity to those outraged by the three quarters of a century of genocidal oppression committed by Zionist Jews, allied with ‘democratic’ US and British imperialism, who evidence some softness on the Allies’ defeated imperialist rivals. This has been the case since Gamal Abdul Nasser spoke to attack “the lie of the six million” in 1964. Other Arab and Muslim leaders, such as Abbas, the Assads and Ahmadinejad have publicly doubted or denied the holocaust, or published material that does that, or, as in the case of Hamas, endorsed the Protocols of Zion in their founding charter. If you equate such sentiments - which Atzmon as a Jewish defector to the Palestinian cause reflects in a very diluted manner - with ‘fascism’, you are in effect saying that the hatred of the victims of Zionism, and their supporters, for their oppressors is racist. This is a racist, Zionist position.
It is this that gives a political opening for elements of the old, non-neocon, western far right to get a hearing among the victims of Zionism and their supporters. Along with the softness and interpenetration of Zionist racism with the western labour movement through ‘friends of Israel’ and the like, and even the pro-Zionist left, who as often as not reject, or refuse to fight for, the Palestinian right to return. Why should supporters of Israel be allowed to be members of the Labour Party? If they can support Israel, why could Labour Party members not support apartheid South Africa? Or Nazi Germany? There is no difference in principle, as all these have formalised, legally sanctioned racist discrimination and criminality built into the very foundations of the state.
Gerry’s slanderous allegation that we demand that “all Jews who support the state of Israel be expelled from the Labour Party” in a way exposes his racism. No, we demand that all individuals who support the state of Israel, whether they are Jewish or non-Jewish, be declared ineligible. He ascribes his racism to us, but we do not discriminate. His special pleading on behalf of his friend of 30 years who supports the state of Israel because of she lost some of her family in the holocaust and needs a ‘refuge’ is a blatantly racist argument. For that ‘refuge’ to exist, the majority of the Arab population had to be expelled.
It means very little to say that you are ‘strongly opposed’ to what happens to the Palestinians if you support the state that is doing it to them, which took their land by force. If the Labour Party had rules that made support for racist states like Israel incompatible with membership, such people would have to choose between their support, however qualified, for a racist state and their loyalty to the anti-racist ethos of the workers’ movement. And, furthermore, those victims of Zionism who see the workers’ movement in the west as hostile to them would begin to see our movement as the tribune of the oppressed that it should be, and be drawn towards it, making it far more difficult for rightwingers to get a hearing among them.
Gerry reveals what his fascist-baiting rantings were really about when he finally repudiates my 2014 Draft theses on the Jews and modern imperialism, the basic ideas of which he was won to in 2015, and which he defended in front of Andrew Neil and the Jewish Labour Movement’s Phil Collins on the Daily politics show in March 2016. He is trying to live that down with the ferocity of his denunciation, and to imply that I somehow fooled him or twisted his arm into defending these ideas for close on five years. Not so. He embraced those ideas when he moved leftward under the influence of the general move to the left in the British labour movement that accompanied the rise of Corbyn. Now that Corbynism has been defeated by the ruling class, and politics has moved to the right, Gerry is moving to the right also and making his peace with the Zionist witch-hunters who wrecked the Corbyn project.
Well, we in the Trotskyist Faction don’t accept that move to the right and will fight it to the bitter end. Gerry may have stolen our website, which our subs paid for over the past several years just as much as his did. But we don’t accept his common theft - of our website, our publication or our name. The Trotskyist Faction has its own website up and running, on www.socialistfight.org, or alternatively trotskyistfaction.org, and in due course we will have our own publication to replace that which has been stolen. We will continue the politics of the old Socialist Fight. Renegades and capitulators to Zionism will not be allowed to steal our banner.
Trotskyist Faction, Socialist Fight
As reported by Stan Keable in ‘A vision of royal socialism’ (February 27), the Labour Left Alliance conference was a significant event in the evolution of the Labour left, which was revitalised by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015. Stan reports that 130 delegates at the conference represented about 36 local and national Labour Left groups.
The Labour left in England has long been ‘social-monarchist’ - or ‘old Labour’, as it was known under the reign of Tony Blair. Social monarchism is the programme based on the 1945 Labour government, which established a version of state capitalism with a ‘welfare state’ under the governance of the constitution of the crown-in-parliament, which Stan calls the “constitutional monarchist system”.
Corbyn’s social-monarchist programme was seen as a move towards ‘socialism’ by restoring some public ownership, the national health service, the welfare state, council housing and progressive taxation, etc. Social monarchism is the trade unionist politics of the British working class. Its aim is to bargain with the ruling class and the employers for better terms and conditions for the working class. Labour and the trade unions are thus two sides - political and economic - of a better social contract agreed within the framework of the constitution of the UK ruling class.
Momentum was launched as the support group for Corbyn’s social-monarchist programme, with Jon Lansman becoming its unelected monarch after his January 10 2017 ‘bureaucratic coup’. Left social monarchists became increasingly disillusioned with him. This discontent was crystalised after he called for the expulsion of Chris Williamson MP. Over two years later the LLA is a potential alternative Momentum. Around 130 delegates arrived in Sheffield to launch the new organisation.
Left social monarchism has no republican democratic programme. It conceals its ‘democratic deficit’ by concentrating on or prioritising economic and social reforms. It is ‘republican’ only in a token way - as a long-term goal, when socialism is won. In the meantime workers should bargain for social improvements and not seek political change.
A classic example of left social monarchism was in the motion from Cheltenham Labour Left, which called for a “socialist UK”. This was passed by 63 to 53 votes. It is not just that a socialist kingdom is a contradiction in terms. It shows the blind spot or lack of self-awareness of the English Labour left. There is a complete absence or ignorance of the militant democratic republican politics of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Connolly, MacLean, etc.
Cheltenham Labour Left seems to consider the United Kingdom only as a geographical territory, which can be filled with capitalist or socialist policy content. The UK is a state and law through which the ruling class exercises its control over a given territory. In law it is an undemocratic union state, comprised of different nations. This is not the means through which the working class can socialise the economy.
A combined and uneven, democratic transformation - or democratic revolution - will not leave the current union undisturbed. The 2016 referendum on the European Union has already shown that Ireland and Scotland are on a different trajectory. English left social monarchists haven’t noticed this - much less drawn any political conclusions.
It is significant that of the 10 bullet points with which Stan sums up the political achievements of the Sheffield conference, nine were organisational and only one set a strategic political goal. This stated that the LLA stands for the “free movement of people”.
It seems that Labour Party Marxists played an important role in supporting the organisation of left social monarchists. Their aim was to win the Labour Party to communism, with the LLA as a vehicle for a united front of communists and left social monarchists. With this in mind the London LLA, under the influence of the Labour Party Marxists, proposed that communism should be the aim.
This is in the resolution from London LLA on aims and principles. This called for “opposition to capitalism, imperialism, racism and militarism and the ecological degradation of the planet ... a commitment to socialism as the rule of the working class”. This would move towards full communism as “a stateless, classless, moneyless society”, carrying out the communist principle of “From each according to their abilities ... etc”.
The communist programme from London LLA was voted down by about two-thirds to one-third of delegates. The influence of social monarchism runs deep in the Labour left. Stan fails to mention that hidden within the London LLA aims was a democratic republican programme.
This calls for “achieving a democratic republic. The standing army, the monarchy, the House of Lords and the state sponsorship of the Church of England must go. We support a single-chamber parliament, proportional representation and annual elections”. Whilst this is supportable, it falls down badly in its implicit acceptance of English nationalism (ie, Anglo-British nationalism).
England is by far the dominant nation in the British union. No revolutionary working class republican would ignore the right of Ireland, Scotland and Wales to self-determination. Neither would militant republicans give any support whatsoever to the anti-democratic Acts of Union. Supporting British unionism is the litmus test of English social chauvinism.
The conclusion from Sheffield must be that the Labour left is disorientated by Corbyn’s defeat, but is still following the political programme of social monarchism. Counterposing the communist maximum programme to this simply lets Labour left reformism off the hook. The immediate task is not about communism, but taking the only road towards it through consistent working class democracy - which means winning the working class to the minimum republican programme.
Sense of humour
I welcome the recent influx of new correspondents to the Weekly Worker letters page. As Lenin famously wrote in his pamphlet, ‘Where to begin’, the revolutionary paper is like the scaffolding around a building under construction. The Weekly Worker is more like the scaffolding around the planet, with its recent correspondents located in faraway places such as India and the USA, as well as closer to home in Hull and Durham.
I remember reading the biography of John Peck: Persistence: the story of a British communist. In the 1950s John was a CPGB area organiser in Yorkshire. The former CPGB MP, Phil Piratin, advised him to write to his local newspaper as often as he could - it didn’t matter what the subject was. Whilst John Peck eventually became a CPGB councillor for Bulwell in Nottingham in the 1980s and subsequently joined the Green Party, there is much communists can learn from the advice given by Phil Piratin for communists to write to their local newspapers as often as they can.
I recently read an article in The Guardian about 68-year-old Bernie Correll, who has been writing a letter six days a week to the Liverpool Echo for the last 40 years. Personally I’ve been writing letters to my weekly Fenland Citizen, giving a socialist point of view every fortnight or so for the last 25 years. Bernie is now my hero and role model.
Whilst I have serious misgivings about the CPGB’s current emphasis on work within the Labour Party, I do agree with its Marxist unity project, aiming to build a mass communist party in Britain and across Europe. As seems very likely, Sir Keir Starmer is a shoo-in, when it comes to being elected new Labour leader. Whilst the Labour Party on paper has more than 500,000 members, most of these people are middle class liberals, not socialists - hence the mass support within Labour for Starmer.
I agree with Elijah Traven and Ian Birchall that a sense of humour is essential for all serious revolutionaries. My experience of the far left has taught me to be wary of so-called revolutionaries who seem to think that only by looking as though one has just drunk a pint of vinegar is it possible to be a hardened comrade. As someone who has Asperger’s syndrome, I’m sadly lacking a sense of humour, but, when I was a member of the Militant Tendency, its guru, Ted Grant, was very fond of telling younger comrades that a revolutionary needed two things: a sense of humour and a sense of proportion - a sense of humour being the most important.