I am writing to make some important corrections to the report of Peter Manson on the March 7 aggregate meeting of CPGB and Labour Party Marxists comrades (‘Put principle first’, March 12)).
Firstly, of course, Peter has his own view of the dispute - which he is entitled to - and that is evident in the report. In terms of my contribution to the debate, I did say that I had been convinced by other party members that I had been wrong to resign. But I made clear that the leadership had to take responsibility for its role both in allowing the preconditions for the crisis to arise and for worsening the dispute due to its obstinate refusal to listen to members.
Comrade X’s resignation did not happen out of the blue. The background was the fact that the leadership had given her little support and political direction for many months in her work in relation to the Labour Left Alliance. She had provided reports on discussions of the proposed constitutions for the LLA conference and had received little feedback. When the LPM’s proposed constitution was finally produced and agreed at the January meeting it was also decided that it would be put to the London LLA meeting the next day. It was voted through by the London meeting with the addition of two words. Comrade X had thought she had done what had been agreed at the AGM. And many other comrades, including others at the London LLA meeting, had thought so too.
The report is misleading when it says that comrade X resigned over challenging the omission of the unamended LPM constitution in the LLA conference agenda. The problem for her was that she believed she was being wrongly and publicly blamed for that omission. And PCC statements which were produced later gave credence to her belief. There were claims that she had deliberately attempted to keep principled politics off the conference agenda. There was a report that some PCC members believed she was guilty of sabotage.
Members argued against these claims and pleaded with the leadership to discuss matters directly with comrade X and withdraw all claims of sabotage and ill-discipline. But it took weeks for these points to be taken on board. This delay was unnecessary and in my view arrogant - another point I made at the aggregate. An important lesson is that the leadership should listen to the membership, including on questions involving internal organisational issues, rather than dismiss us as soft or motivated by friendship rather than politics. We were motivated by comradeship and by a commitment to prevent the organisation being rent apart by matters that could easily be resolved through inclusive discussion.
Another important corrective is that the aggregate agreed to begin discussion on perspectives in the coming period, on the Labour Party and other work. I made this proposal and understood it was accepted by the leadership. This was the reason that the part of our motion calling for an educational event was not carried. Jack Conrad specifically said that a discussion on perspectives would take place instead. This satisfied many comrades, as it meant that we would have a debate and learn lessons about our work in the Labour Party and political and organisational culture. That was, after all, the aim of our motion.
I came away from the aggregate thinking that we had made real progress and that the leadership had been open to the criticisms made of it and acted accordingly. I do hope that we can learn from this crisis. Involvement in social democratic organisations brings opportunities and risks. We need to make sure that comrades are supported in their efforts to argue principled politics in these challenging environments.
I was a little sceptical of the report of our aggregate last week, although it has to be said the meeting itself felt a little strange. Given the nature of the existential threat our Provisional Central Committee was warning us about in its statements prior to the meeting (the “future of the organisation is at stake”), those of us who supported our temporarily resigned comrade were expecting a showdown. In practice, of course, as readers of the paper saw in our editor’s quite slanted report last week, this all evaporated rather quickly.
Our comrade, of more than 20 years standing, was described variously as: hiding their real politics; fudging and compromising principles; a broad-frontist; acting like a secret entryist; endangering the future of the organisation; an anarchist wanting to do their own thing; and a potential saboteur to boot. As the chair of our PCC said in the meeting, you have to have a “thick skin” in politics, you have to “be able to give and take criticism”. We were warned that small errors, if defended, would lead to major cracks that would inevitably reduce us to abject opportunism.
But this all appeared very sudden to me, as I remember in our AGM only two months before the same leader complimenting our comrade, calling our comrades’ work in the Labour Left Alliance “brilliant”, and that they were in no way being “singled out” with the set of theses that were presented at that meeting. But at the same time, the PCC said in a later statement that those theses were presented so that there could be a “frank, open and honest debate”, which, they continued, “never in fact occurred”. As our comrade said afterwards, how could there be: “How was I supposed to know that the theses were all meant as a criticism of me?” Especially, you might add, when they tell you the complete opposite at the time.
So after our latest aggregate I was left scratching my head and wondering what this was really about. That is, given that the PCC ended up accepting that our comrade was not a saboteur, that we were really just dealing with “shades of opinion”, and withdrew its motion about our existential peril. I have certainly never seen such a climbdown from our leadership in a meeting in the eight years I have been in and around the organisation. I asked myself afterwards, had all this just been a ruse? Was it just an exercise to draw out political differences? I shouldn’t have been so cynical. On reflection, I think not.
I think there is something to be said for our comrade’s intervention in the aggregate - possibly only included in last week’s report as further evidence of how politically soft they were becoming - where they said we must “not just shout”, but be able to speak in “normal voices” too. Our organisation is required by its politics and programme to not compromise, to act as an extreme minority in the left, and to put Marxist principles forward in a left that is thoroughly compromised by the lowest common denominator and bureaucratic unity-mongering.
An unfortunate side-effect of this is that we ourselves can lose the ability to offer, or hear, measured criticism of anything. ‘Giving and taking criticism’ becomes an all-or-nothing business - or, worse, a form of combat, requiring complete submission and agreement in practice. But there are real, if slight, political differences represented in our group, and this is completely healthy and to be expected. The free exchange of opinions and democracy in our organisation is set up as a filter for bad ideas. It can, however, be a bruising process, in which people can feel trodden on, rubbished and sidelined. But responsibility in debate is crucial.
We must always work to present our opponents’ views fairly, so we must not distort, exaggerate for effect, tell half-truths or pick words out of rushed emails, no matter how tempting that can be. We have to make a conscious effort to understand each other. The alternative is that the whole process will break down in unproductive and damaging fights. And, unfortunately, trust between comrades takes long to build, but is ruined quickly.
Some comrades at the aggregate thought it unfair to just focus on the mistakes in this regard by our leadership, when so many damaging accusations were thrown in the other direction too. But culture in an organisation flows down from the top. A leadership acting collectively must, of necessity, be more responsible and careful in its statements, accusations and insinuations - not that this absolves any of us of responsibility.
Members should not quit over small differences or arguments either, but people that have committed most of their adult lives to this organisation can hardly be accused of not taking membership seriously. This is also a two-way street. Taking membership seriously means handling disagreements fairly and responsibly too. Comrades must actually feel valued and respected.
So friendship is not the same as “confusion”, as the PCC indicated in its first statement on this crisis. It is in fact the glue that keeps our culture and standards strong, and if maintained it makes us better. An organisation that has a strong internal culture has the right foundations in place for robust and healthy debate where individuals can be open to being convinced by each other’s arguments.
Like, I hope, many other people, I was saddened first to hear about on the grapevine and then to read the account by Peter Manson of the quarrel and split that your organisation has had (‘Put principle first’, March 12).
I will make no comment on the content of the disagreement, except to say that I think that the role you have played in maintaining a high level of discussion and an open attitude to the many people who write for you has been of the greatest value to the left in general. There are a number of your contributors who are I believe very valuable people indeed to the left in general. As I often point out to anyone that will listen, nearly everyone on the far left reads you and I believe that you are more important than your relatively weak numerical forces might imply.
However, I am puzzled by the attitudes that you express to the extremely important events now taking place in the United States, the greatest imperial power in the world. Although I am aware that different views are expressed in the Weekly Worker on many issues, I cannot see clearly what you are recommending. I can agree with everything Daniel Lazare says about the ineffable Joe Biden (‘The great Bernie bust’, March 12). Do I understand Paul Demarty wishes Sanders to stand as an independent in the forthcoming election if he fails to get the nomination, which will probably be the case (‘Lessons being learnt’, March 12)? I agree that Sanders has helped to shift the whole spectrum of US politics to the left and so I share some of Demarty’s optimism in the longer run (but I really think the world is in danger in the shorter run if the dim and deranged Trump wins another term).
Or is it that you wish Sanders and others to maintain some kind of a separate faction within, or perhaps outside, the Democrats? Is that possible? Or is there some other political arrangement of which my poor brain cannot conceive? Or even that it is too early to say, for events must play out - in particular the coronavirus which might even sweep away huge layers of elderly Trump supporters? True, if it was that deadly, I myself at 83 would be unlikely to see in the glories of the new heaven and the new earth as a result of such a demographic change.
But I would appreciate some clarity on your perspectives in the short time that may be left to me (though I hope not too short a time!).
I was saddened to read that “comrade X” has resigned from the CPGB after 20 years’ membership.
As James P Cannon, founder of the US Socialist Workers Party, often remarked, “In any dispute or resignation, there’s the reason given, and the real reason.” The CPGB PCC’s current mistaken emphasis on work within the Labour Party lies at the root of comrade X’s resignation. The Labour Left Alliance is a lost cause. Whilst Labour, on paper, has 500,000 members, most of these people are middle class liberals, not socialists. Hence the mass support for Sir Keir Starmer. The key to the Labour Party has always been the trade unions. Yet the CPGB refuses to carry out systematic work within the trade union movement.
Disputes, splits and resignations within the revolutionary movement are always caused by incorrect politics and a failure of theory. Over the last couple of years, this has been shown by the dissolution of the International Socialist Organization in the US, and the major split in the Committee for a Workers’ International. Closer to home, we have the expulsion of Ian Donovan from Socialist Fight, even though it only has five members. Now we have the resignation of comrade X from the CPGB.
In the US, the ISO and Socialist Alternative (the CWI’s former US section) have obviously been affected by the need to carry out systematic work within the Democratic Socialists of America, even though the DSA is part of the US Democrats. However, the main factions in the DSA are refusing to call on the now likely defeated presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders, to come out and call for the formation of a new mass workers’ party.
Unfortunately, Sanders continues to say he will support Joe Biden as Democratic Party presidential candidate if Joe wins the nomination, as now seems very likely. This can only end in the re-election of Trump in this November’s presidential election. As many political pundits have commentated, there are similarities between Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. The illusions in them by radicalised youth in the US and the UK respectively, can only lead to demoralisation. Hence the resignation of comrade X from the CPGB.
In my experience, the Labour Party is a lost cause. The Labour Party under the ‘remain’-supporting leadership of Sir Keir Starmer will only lead to the party following the French Socialist Party and the Greek Pasok into oblivion. The CPGB under the leadership of the PCC must make a turn towards systematic work within the trade unions. This will involve work within the newly revitalised trades council movement and in the Unite community branches.
Our main weapon in this is the Weekly Worker, the continued production of which being a weekly miracle. All readers should become sellers of the Weekly Worker, with its open debate and lively letters page. More articles about the increasing number of workplace disputes, both large and small, are vital in rebuilding the CPGB and its influence within the labour movement. The recent back-page article by Eddie Ford on the Royal Mail postal workers’ strike ballot shows the way forward.
Gareth Martin regrets that my previous letter represents “this tiresome regression into who said what and when”, which is “unseemly”, and also that the Weekly Worker for “some unfathomable reason” published my views.
But that was the attitude to political discussion and debate of the strange little clique that is forming up around Gerry Downing, now that he has broken from the Marxist views he upheld for the past five years. They have instead moved to embrace a strange mixture of Zionism and the kind of demented fascist-baiting characteristic of people from Gerry Downing’s political past, like Gerry Healy and David North.
Martin does not want to be reminded of what and when he said things. That’s a pity, because we have screenshots of him on the Socialist Fight Facebook discussion group racially abusing a comrade of ours of Middle Eastern origin. His exact words were: “Excusing anti-Semitism on the grounds of Israeli atrocities is absolutely blaming people collectively. Blame Israelis for them, blame the IDF - that in no way justifies walking into a synagogue in London or anywhere else and committing murder.”
This was a direct criticism of one of our Middle Eastern comrades. It is a sickening racist fantasy, as (a) there have been no such actions in London, and (b) our comrade lives in London, as he pointed out. So it appears that Gareth Martin, who is not a member of Socialist Fight and was never voted into even candidate membership by full members of our organisation, as is a basic democratic norm of the communist movement, took it upon himself to slyly imply that a fellow comrade, who disagrees with his views on Gilad Atzmon, is the sort of person who is likely to murder Jews in a synagogue in London. This is appalling racial abuse and should be deeply disturbing for anyone remotely familiar with the Islamophobia that targets people of Middle Eastern and Muslim background in this country.
Martin lies and simply echoes the most appalling Zionist propaganda when he says that Dave Rich’s view that Gilad Atzmon is a fascist is “widely accepted” on the left. It is not even accepted by all the members of his own clique. Ella Downing, for instance, stated early on in this discussion that she did not agree that Atzmon is a fascist - though, of course, she was critical of his supposed ‘anti-Semitism’. And, more politically significant, Tony Greenstein, who led the (wrong-headed) campaign to force the Socialist Workers Party to stop its own engagement with Atzmon, in his article on the divisions in SF also makes clear his own disagreement with the Downing clique’s echoing of Dave Rich’s characterisation of Atzmon as a fascist [see pp10-11 - ed].
Those interested in some clarity and understanding of these issues can look at our more detailed refutation on the SF (Trotskyist Faction) website of the wild smears from this camp in our statement reasserting our claim to be the political continuity of SF in its period of revolutionary anti-Zionist Marxism. We have also replied extensively to Tony Greenstein’s article on the public factional division, which will shed even more light on the political issues involved, which far transcend the garbage Martin fills his letter with.
Martin reveals his complete contempt for anyone who disagrees with him, or is even prepared to countenance a debate on this, when he says that discussions of our views “should not go on in these pages or anywhere else”. It is clear that he has a very basic problem with party democracy, working class democracy and freedom of political debate in general - an attitude parallel to Zionism. I wonder if he would like to see our comrades put into Israeli-style administrative detention?
Given his bizarre and criminally libellous allegation that Atzmon is responsible for initiating “stochastic” terrorism, which I had to look up in a dictionary (apparently it means ‘random’, ‘by chance’, ‘indiscriminate’), it looks like Martin’s tactic to deal with people with whom he has political differences is to smear them in ways that (he hopes) will persuade armed imperialist police forces to do something appalling to them. This further makes me think that Gareth Martin is a truly disturbed and frightening individual.
His clique being applauded by Andrew Northall - an ultra-Stalinist, who applauds the actions of Stalin and Vyshinsky in murdering the old Bolsheviks - seems appropriate. As well as by the ridiculous Zionist troll, Sven Golly (Svengali), who anyone with any experience of the Corbyn witch-hunt, not to mention earlier Zionist campaigns against Respect, can spot a mile off.
Martin asks why we don’t just walk away from being associated with his clique, and thus reveals his narrow chauvinism and anti-internationalism, as well as his contempt for the entire Trotskyist tradition of party democracy. We are not only rightful members of SF, unlike him, but also members of the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International, whose comrades intervened to defend our democratic rights as members, when the anti-democratic clique of which Martin is part tried illegitimately to exclude us from international forums.
We are loyal to our international Trotskyist comrades, many of whom come from oppressed, semi-colonial countries, and we consider Downing and his clique to have betrayed internationalism with their pro-Zionist, capitulatory departures from Marxism. So, no, we will not leave our comrades on the say-so of unprincipled wretches like Martin.
Trotskyist Faction, Socialist Fight
Bob Smart says I “attack” rather than criticise Labour Party Marxists for not supporting the right for Scotland, Wales (and Ireland) to self-determination: that is, to oppose the union (Letters, March 12). Ending the monarchy, House of Lords and the union is an “attack” on three reactionary pillars of the present constitution and an “attack” on those, like Bob, defending one or more of them.
Royal socialism is as stupid and ignorant as unionist socialism. They might seem different, but are branches of the same tree - the United or Unionist Kingdom. Hence the Labour Left Alliance conference can happily vote for a socialist Unionist Kingdom. In Ireland it has long been obvious that republicanism and unionism are mortal foes in the battle for democracy. Scotland and Wales are on the same road a hundred years later.
Bob has no time for the Tory monarchy, but clings to Tory unionism for dear life. He admits: “It is certainly true that this demand [for self-determination] does not figure anywhere” in the programme presented to the LLA. Last time I looked, Sheffield was in England and this was a gathering of the English Labour left, with Bob and Matthew representing Wales and Scotland. Such an event in Cardiff or Edinburgh would not have been so forgetful.
Why should a gathering of the English left have such poor memory. It was politics, not forgetfulness. Bob says John Bridge mentioned it in his speech. But then the Weekly Worker ‘forgot’ to mention it in their report on the conference, which is why I wrote my letter (March 5).
It reminded me of when German Social Democracy ‘forgot’ to include the demand for a republic in their programme. Engels and Lenin condemned this as opportunism, or lack of social democratic principle. It is the same allegation of opportunism against the English Labour left. As soon as the going gets tough, this will suddenly bite them on the bum, as it did when Corbyn was asked whether Scotland had the right to hold a referendum on self-determination.
Next Bob makes a false statement about federal republicanism. I am in favour of a federal republic of Europe - otherwise identified as a republican united states of Europe. Of course, I am in favour of the United Kingdom being dissolved into this republic. England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales would be equal nations in a European multi-nation state.
I am not in favour of a (British) federal republic inside a (European) federal republic. The very idea of a democratic Europe transcends any notion of a British state and renders the slogan of a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales historically obsolete. Bob would, however, be right to say that leaving the European Union resurrects his idea of a Great British Republic, only to see it crash on the rocks of the referendum and sink.
Marx’s approach to Ireland is instructive. At first he was in favour of England and Ireland being federated in one state. He changed his mind. He was then in favour of Ireland becoming independent. He thought that breaking the union was revolutionary - not simply for Ireland, but for England too. He did not, however, rule out an independent Irish republic becoming part of a federal republic with England.
Marx was not dogmatic. First was the federation of England and Ireland rather than independence. Then he saw independence as a possible step to a federal republic. It would be for the Irish people, as a sovereign nation, to decide whether to join a federal republic with England or not.
So, whilst leaving the EU has resurrected the idea of a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales, it has shown the only road to a republican future is through a reunification of Ireland and an independent Scotland. This should be obvious from the fact that Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain and England and Wales voted to leave.
No doubt as readers of Weekly Worker are aware, Chelsea Manning was released last week from imprisonment in the USA, which, according to her lawyers, came just one day after hospitalisation, following an attempt at suicide. A federal district court judge dismissed the grand jury that Ms Manning was refusing to testify before, after finding (as if by magic!) that its business had concluded: “The court finds that Ms Manning’s appearance before the grand jury is no longer needed, in light of which her detention no longer serves any coercive purpose,”
However, fines levied and accumulating at a daily rate during Manning’s incarceration remained fully in place, thereby extending indefinitely their despicably oppressive nature and essentially proto-fascistic purpose. Unhesitatingly, the UK household of which I’m a part thought it right to make a modest contribution to the online crowd-funding appeal launched in response to that fact. At the time of release from prison last week, those fines for her “defiance of the subpoena” totalled $256,000. The target was achieved within a little over two days, with contributions coming from many thousands of citizens around the world in small amounts.
Whilst being under no illusions whatsoever that the clearing of Chelsea Manning’s fines represents anything other than a pinprick in the arse of the US so-called justice system, our household nonetheless considers this victory for her formidably courageous efforts to defy a brutal state machine to be worth not only those few dollars parted with, but an immeasurably great deal more, if thought about in a wider context.
Such as an opportunity having been taken to raise consciousness amongst US workers by this very public display of ‘solidarity without borders’; and, in more general terms, about what can be achieved by fighting. Equally so, about ensuring Marxists play their part in incrementally exposing what the drooling imperialist beast is capable of, even within its ‘homeland’. Indeed, a chance to present lessons in what revolutionary politics looks like in its everyday mode: in matters surrounding Chelsea Manning, a chance to expose for what they are the ‘democratic’ pathways and treacherously establishment-embedded methodologies, as sold by Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, etc.
Setting everything else aside, anyone with a slightest scintilla of claim to socialist values should both hugely celebrate last week’s release of Chelsea Manning and bend their head in respectful humility. ‘Courageous’ is undoubtedly the right description for the actions of Chelsea (née Bradley) Manning. However, never has there been a more perfect example of bitter-sweet victory, given how this fortuitous ‘judicial’ order for Manning’s release most likely represents just the latest manoeuvring to nail Julian Assange; to drag him to US territory and then punish to the level of disappearance that even more significantly disobedient ‘traitor’ and/or ‘common criminal’ himself.
So where were followers and activists of movements such as #MeToo in all of this? Why are their voices - along with others dedicated to self-defence amidst accelerated levels of mutual respect and common decency - not raised to the heavens in outrage at all such Nazi-like practices of the US justice system? Going further, where are those same organisations in calling for unity with workers’ organisations, such as trade unions, in demanding together both financial compensation and social acclaim for Chelsea Manning - alongside immediate release, exoneration and guaranteed permanent liberty for Julian Assange.
After all, as anyone who flips back through the pages of history will know full well, it’s those types today to be rounded up and imprisoned or outright ‘disappeared’. But it’ll be ‘unpatriotic’ socialists and ‘insurgent terrorist’ communists tomorrow!