As Labour Party members face the prospect of life under Keir Starmer’s promised vamping up of the witch-hunt against socialists, I recall Bertolt Brecht’s good advice to the working class in one of his wonderful songs: “Forward, and remember, what our strength always was and shall be: in famine, or in plenty - it’s solidarity.” Individually, we can be beaten. Organised (around the Marxist programme to supersede capitalism), our class is “unvanquishable” (Shelley).
Brecht reminded us, in the same Solidarity song, that the class struggle is not merely national, but worldwide. Our collective strength is needed not only for defence when under attack, nor merely for partial, short-term gains, but for a permanent global solution to all our troubles, from coronavirus to climate catastrophe.
It was in this spirit that Labour Against the Witchhunt (LAW) - with my support as a steering committee member and LAW secretary - launched its online petition (“Solidarity with Diane Abbott and Bell Ribeiro-Addy - and all those unjustly expelled!”) in defence of the two Corbynite MPs, who had come under attack from the Zionist right for associating, in a Don’t Leave, Organise online meeting, with expelled Labour members Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein (neither of whom were expelled for anti-Semitism, as was yet again falsely asserted by the media). However, the two ‘left’ MPs have not reciprocated our solidarity. ‘An injury to one is an injury to all’ is not for them. After being dutifully “reprimanded” by Keir Starmer for “sharing a platform” with the expelled - literally guilt by association, as instructed by the Tory-led, Zionist-led Board of Deputies - they have ignominiously promised not to do it again, thereby, in effect, playing their part in the witch-hunt.
If we follow their lead, we must all now exercise self-censorship. Those expelled or even merely suspended from the party should now self-isolate, not just to avoid coronavirus, but to avoid embarrassing ‘comrades’ who are supposedly biting their tongue, keeping their ‘solidarity’ powder dry, in the interests of ‘party unity’. Those not yet falsely accused should zealously collaborate, should carefully check the attendance lists of Zoom meetings, meticulously exclude not only the expelled and suspended, but anyone even suspected of associating with them - the contaminated. Such is the logic of a witch-hunt.
With hindsight, and having been rebuked by my Labour Party Marxists comrades, I realise that offering solidarity to the two capitulators was wrong - and I apologise to our supporters for misleading them. Solidarity to the victims of the witch-hunt, to “all those unjustly expelled” - yes - and especially to those who stand up to the witch-hunt, who refuse to be silenced. But it was a mistake to extend solidarity to the two Corbynite MPs after they had capitulated, had instantly climbed down in the face of threats and pressure and, however reluctantly, joined the other side of the struggle. Their behaviour should be no surprise to us, as they have long since been party to Corbyn’s disastrous losing strategy of appeasement of the right, of letting falsely accused socialists go undefended all the way to expulsion.
We should have known better. Last month’s leaked report on anti-Semitism in the party not only reveals the dishonesty of Labour’s rightwing leaders and bureaucrats in pursuing false charges against leftwingers with the aim of ousting Corbyn: it also shows the guilt of Corbyn and Jennie Formby’s team of ‘left’ officials. With ‘friends’ like these …
At a LAW steering committee meeting on May 13, I moved a motion to correct LAW’s position, but it was defeated by a majority of two to three. I intend to put the matter before LAW’s forthcoming conference, which the SC has decided to convene online in early July (details to be announced). The rejected motion, entitled ‘Limits of solidarity”, reads as follows:
“Labour Against the Witchhunt reaffirms its commitment to defend those comrades who have been unjustly expelled from the Labour Party, such as Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein. We will continue to oppose any renewed witch-hunt that will be carried out by the new party leadership.
“In this light we condemn the recent statement of Diane Abbott and Bell Ribeiro-Addy, in which they pledge not to share a platform with anyone expelled or suspended from the party. By giving this assurance of ‘good behaviour’ in the future, these MPs have joined not only in the attack on the left, but also in preparing the way for further assaults on party democracy and freedom of expression within our party. There can be no solidarity with people who have in effect crossed the line into the camp of the witch-hunt.”
Both Starmer and deputy leader Angela Rayner have signed up to the BoD’s ‘10 commandments’, and Starmer has promised a ruthless purge. We should expect many more innocent ‘witches’ to be rooted out. If LAW is to campaign effectively against the witch-hunt, it must make a clear line of demarcation against those who join the witch-hunt, even under duress. We do not choose to be witch-hunted. When your turn comes, you face threats, pressure and a choice. Stand firm!
Labour Party Marxists
Gil Schaeffer sees “major flaws” in Lars T Lih’s assertion that Lenin built upon the ‘Erfurtian’ foundations of revolutionary social democracy and upheld this basic outlook in the face of the Second International’s betrayal in 1914 (Letters, May 14). What is more, comrade Schaeffer furnishes his account with the authority of none other than Engels himself.
For Schaeffer, Engels’ criticism of the political section of the Erfurt programme is that it did not call for the “overthrow of the Prusso-German military state and the establishment of a democratic republic”. The programme can therefore not be viewed as representing “the voice of Marxist orthodoxy” that Engels and Lenin supposedly did. Schaeffer thus finds it impermissible for Lih to “equate orthodox Marxism with the Erfurt programme”, implying that Engels acted as a kind of revolutionary Cassandra who foresaw the political collapse of German social democracy almost 25 years later due to the particular wording of its programme.
Schaeffer’s reasoning is typical of the commonplace ‘original sin’-type argumentation, when it comes to the history of Second International. It is misleading for three main reasons. First, I would urge comrades to go and read Engels’ short critique, which is available online. A cursory reading of the text makes it obvious that Engels is most pleased with the new programme as representing the victory of the central tenets of Marxist strategy. As he puts it, “The present draft differs very favourably from the former programme” - namely the party’s Gotha programme of 1875, which he and Marx felt had made far too many unprincipled concessions to the supporters of Ferdinand Lassalle. Engels, of course, had good reason to be happy now. For, while the Erfurt programme did not explicitly call for a “democratic republic” (more on this below), it nonetheless committed the party not only to abolishing capitalism in Germany, but to fighting for an end to class society altogether: “the emancipation not only of the proletariat, but of the entire human race, which is suffering from current conditions” (you do wonder what the kaiser thought of that one).
Second, it is obvious that Engels is not, as Schaeffer implies, aiming his fire at the political demands of the Erfurt programme for keeping schtum on whether the German empire should be overthrown or not. Rather, Engels is bemoaning the fact that it does not unashamedly proclaim that the realisation of these demands (universal suffrage, the armed people, self-government in the localities, the separation of church and state, abolition of laws that disadvantage women and so forth) would amount to the “democratic republic”. To quote the man himself: “The political demands of the draft have one great fault. It lacks precisely what should have been said. If all the 10 demands were granted we should indeed have more diverse means of achieving our main political aim, but the aim itself would in no wise have been achieved.”
It needs to be stressed that Engels does not view this as an unacceptable concession to Lassallean ideas of a ‘free people’s state’ or to the so-called ‘state socialists’ that should render the new programme void altogether. He recognises that openly republican agitation could potentially lead to the recently legalised Social Democratic Party (SPD) being driven underground again. As a way around this, he suggests the formulation, “concentration of all political power in the hands of the people’s representatives”, instead of “democratic republic”. He - along with anybody who read the Erfurt programme - was fully aware that it aimed precisely at the “overthrow of the Prusso-German military state”. Indeed, I do not recall that state faring too well when the German sailors and soldiers started issuing arms among the people in 1918.
Third, as recently highlighted by Noa Rodman, it is worth highlighting that Engels’ critique was not addressed to Kautsky’s draft of the programme - the so-called Neue Zeit editorial board draft that eventually formed the basis of the final document. In fact, Engels sent his critique to Wilhelm Liebknecht, the main author of an earlier draft by the party executive. Kautsky only became aware of Engels’ letter 10 years after the fact, when Liebknecht died. Instead of burying this letter away to cover up his shame at being exposed as a fraud to Marxism, Kautsky immediately published it with an explanation of the circumstances behind it.
Kautsky later explains: “Without knowing this critique, I felt myself also not yet satisfied with the draft [by Liebknecht]. I worked out a counter-draft and sent it to Engels. He wrote to me on September 28 1891: ‘Your draft programme is far better [Engels’ emphasis] than the official one and I note with pleasure that Bebel will propose it be accepted.’ The Erfurt Congress then did not adopt the draft of the party executive criticised by Engels, but accepted my draft which had been approved by him.”
As I show in my recent book, Karl Kautsky on republicanism and democracy, which also contains a translation of all the various drafts of the programme, Kautsky was most aware of the centrality of the democratic republic in the minds of his mentors, Marx and Engels, for whom this state was “the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labour”. After all, with the exception of representatives and officials taking a worker’s wage (a significant omission that Engels too overlooked), the central political features of what the Marx-Engels team identified as “the dictatorship of the proletariat” formed the very foundations of the Erfurt programme.
I believe I am the first to show, using primary-source material, exactly how Kautsky later reneged on the perspectives of this programme during the German Revolution of 1918-19: gutting its revolutionary content and implying that the fledgling Weimar Republic amounted to the democratic republic. This was a pitiful collapse, but it should not blind us to the true revolutionary content and Marxist theoretical basis of the Erfurt programme, as well as the programmes of other social democratic parties that copied it. (Schaeffer believes that the programme of the RSDLP is radically different from the Erfurt programme, but I would urge comrades to read them side by side: their common structure and terminology is striking).
The Erfurt programme - warts and all - was a revolutionary programme that outlined the basis on which the SPD would come to power and dissolve the reactionary authoritarian Kaiserreich: a fact that was as obvious to the revolutionaries in Russia as it was the reactionaries in Germany. It is increasingly baffling that much of today’s left - often recycling accounts from bourgeois academics and cold war historiography - cannot grasp this basic fact.
Polemical exchanges soon become wearisome (to writers as well as readers). But I should like to respond to Mike Macnair’s letter (May 14), which was in reply to mine (May 7).
Attributing to one’s opponent a position that they have not put, and then carefully demolishing it - that is a style of argument that belongs in the House of Commons, not in Marxist debate. Macnair accuses me of arguing that “minorities ought to defer to majorities”. Nowhere did I say any such thing. Having spent over 50 years of my life arguing for a position - revolutionary socialism - which is very much that of a minority, I would hardly be likely to. Of course, debate should flourish. And it is true minorities are sometimes right (though for every Galileo there are five thousand Piers Corbyns and David Ickes). What I object to is the style of debate all too often practised by the Weekly Worker - and by many other currents on the left - based on the assumption that one organisation has a monopoly of truth.
Thus in his first article on programmes Jack Conrad dismisses other organisations on the (pitifully small) British far left as “confessional sects” (‘The importance of being programmed’, May 7). Now I’m not sure exactly what this means, but it pretty clearly implies that nothing of any value can be expected of them. (I don’t follow the inner life of the CPGB, so I’m not sure if Conrad and Macnair are pseudonyms of the same person, but we can assume they are in fairly close agreement.)
So, when Macnair writes his dismissive review of the various far-left contributions on Lenin (‘Lenin avatars’, April 30), I am left with a question. Maybe it’s true that all the articles under consideration were mediocre and inadequate. But suppose - just suppose - someone from a “confessional sect” wrote a really good article. Perhaps Macnair believes this is logically inconceivable. But, faced with the fact, would he (a) praise it, (b) ignore it or (c) grub around to discover something he could find fault with?
And a negative attitude to one’s political opponents can lead to some dubious practice. In the first part of ‘The importance of being programmed’ Jack Conrad tells us: “it is rumoured that in the early 1970s Cliff’s loyal lieutenant, Chris Harman, penned a draft programme. Needless to say, it never saw the light of day.” This is a “rumour” I for one had never heard of.
In part two (May 14) Conrad abandons his fantasy rumour - without any apology or retraction - in favour of a fairly accurate account of the programme debate in the International Socialists. This is taken from what he describes as an “article” by myself. In fact this was a private letter written for circulation among a group of comrades. The Weekly Worker (May 21 2013) reproduced it without authorisation and without asking my permission. Now I stand by the account and have since put it on my website (grimanddim.org). But at the time of publication I was embroiled in a bitter faction fight, and being seen as the author of a piece in the Weekly Worker could have been used against me. I suspect the editor was well aware of this when he decided to publish. Is such conduct conducive to healthy political debate?
Of course, the Weekly Worker is not always guilty. Bridget Fowler’s warm and generous tribute to Neil Davidson will be welcomed by all who knew him (‘Transcending convention’, May 7). But it’s a pity someone has to die before we can have such a fraternal appreciation of a political opponent.
And it isn’t only the Weekly Worker which believes it has a monopoly of truth. The Socialist Workers Party is (with some justice) proud of its role in building the Anti-Nazi League in the 1970s, and believes that experience has lessons for the fight against racism today. One might imagine that David Renton’s excellent history of the ANL (Never again, 2018) would be constantly quoted and commended to comrades. In fact it is unmentioned (and unmentionable?) in the SWP press. Renton is an ex-member and therefore an ‘unperson’.
Maybe we should start with a recognition that none of us have made the revolution. The Bolsheviks made one, but all attempts to emulate them - from Zinoviev’s Comintern to the fragments of the Fourth International - have been unsuccessful. Surely it is time to recognise that our revolution - if there is to be one - will take a very different form. The choice of socialism or barbarism confronts humanity more starkly than ever. To achieve socialism will need the active involvement of millions upon millions of the exploited and oppressed. They will certainly require organisation - but in what form none of us knows. Nobody has a ‘road map’.
Of course, we can learn from history and Lenin certainly repays study. Lars T Lih stresses Lenin’s consistency (‘The centrality of hegemony’, May 7). Now consistency has its value. But Alfred Rosmer, who knew Lenin well and worked closely with him, recalled in Lenin’s Moscow that “just because he knew a lot he was able to fill out his knowledge when the opportunity arose, and also - an unusual thing in a ‘leader’ - to recognise that he had quite simply been wrong.” It is perhaps a more useful image of a leader.
Clear class line
Sorry to burden readers with yet more back-and-forth on Joe Biden, but Walter Daum and Matthew Roberts confuse the issue even more (Letters, May 7). Workers should vote for Biden, they write, because, if they don’t, then “nothing will bind the masses more tightly to the Democratic Party than Trump and the Republicans establishing authoritarian rule and denying working class and oppressed people their right to vote and to organise struggle”.
But if reinvigorated authoritarianism drives them into the arms of the Democrats, how will urging them to vote Democratic work against this? “Socialists,” they say, “should encourage the working class to take advantage of the opportunity to choose its opponent for the next four years, and to use their surviving democratic rights to organise and challenge the capitalist class and all its political representatives.” But how can they challenge all bourgeois political representatives, while siding with one against the other? Doesn’t drawing a clear class line require equal hostility to both?
I agree that a Trump victory in November will bode ill for basic democratic rights. If he wins, he’ll be the first president re-elected after being impeached, which means that congressional efforts to counter a runaway executive will have suffered a deathblow. As a result, he’ll have free rein to take vengeance on a long list of enemies from Democrats to the press, and there will be little opponents will be able to do to stop him.
But voting for Biden means tying workers to Democrats and all their despicable, reactionary tricks. Traditionally, even the most hardened Trotskyists have regarded Democrats as the slightly less insane half of the ruling class. But Daum and Roberts don’t seem to grasp how much ‘Trump derangement syndrome’ has caused this to change. Of all the nonsense Trump spewed on the campaign trail in 2015-16, just about the only thing that made even a modicum of sense was his call for a reduction in tensions with Russia and an end to efforts to overthrow Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, while Islamic State and al Qa’eda were still a major threat. With unerring instinct, Democrats responded by attacking him on both.
This is why Obama intervened in the primaries against Sanders and in support of Biden - because the Democratic establishment is leery of anything resembling a leftwing critique and is much more comfortable attacking Trump from the right. Daum and Roberts insist that “it’s important to reject nonsense ideas of a duopoly that ignore the fundamental difference that has opened between the two major ruling class parties”. But it’s precisely this illusion of a fundamental difference that allows the duopoly to play ‘good cop, bad cop’ so effectively. If Democrats occasionally throw a few crumbs to labour and racial minorities, it’s only so they can return to what they do best - which is competing with the GOP to see who can be the more ferocious imperialist.
Daum and Roberts are correct that Trump lied about his opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and that “he supported the US invasion and hailed its military success at the time”. But what they don’t mention is that he changed his tune within months, once he realised the invasion was going badly, whereas Biden continued to defend the war, and his own crucial role in winning approval for it, for years after.
When Trump attacks Biden for drumming up Senate support and Biden stammers something asinine about being misled by George Bush and Dick Cheney, do Daum and Roberts really want to be in a position of apologising for one, while attacking the other for telling the truth? Is this how they encourage workers to challenge both wings of the capitalist class?
Daum and Roberts also accuse me of engaging in “slavish apologetics” on Russia’s behalf. Before this nonsense goes any farther, let me be clear: Putin is an authoritarian leader of a ramshackle post-Soviet state, in which the church plays an increasingly prominent role. If he’s beaten back the oligarchs, he’s still left them free to carry on with their corrupt activities. But, for historical reasons, he finds himself in the crosshairs of US imperialism, whose goal since the 1990s has been to encircle Russia and even dismember it (Zbigniew Brzezinski called for breaking it up into three parts in his 1997 bestseller, The grand chessboard).
Daum and Roberts suggest that Russia invaded and seized Luhansk and Donetsk and criticise me for “refer[ring] casually to ‘the neo-Nazi-spearheaded coup in the Ukraine’, overlooking that the Maidan movement in 2014 rested on a mass, anti-oligarchical mobilisation despite the influential rightwing elements in it ...” Russia is bad, evidently, while the US-backed revolt in Kiev was semi-OK. But the Kiev coup and the separatist uprising in the east were almost perfectly symmetrical. Both were popular uprisings urged on by outside powers, and both featured ultra-rightists in important roles. The only difference is that neo-fascists were much more prominent in Kiev, where they hung giant banners of Stepan Bandera from the town hall and hoisted Confederate flags and other such ultra-right regalia. Pro-Russian separatists didn’t massacre their enemies in the east. But anti-Yanukovych forces did in the west, burning to death 46 anti-Maidan activists in Odessa on May 2 2014.
Anand Pillay also takes the Democratic line (Letters, May 15). The letter is all over the map, but his chief complaint, as far as I can tell, is that I’m less than outraged over Russian interference in the 2016 election and that I “echo, whether by accident or design, the rhetoric coming from Putin: that the political system and values of the USA (and Europe) are bankrupt, these countries are on the decline and others, such as Russia, are there to fill the gap”.
He’s not completely incorrect. I’m less than outraged about Kremlin interference, because a careful reading of the evidence shows that it was somewhere between insignificant and non-existent. I agree that US values are bankrupt, although I doubt Russia will be in any position to fill the gap caused by its decline. No country will be able to do so, given the international turbulence that the capitalist crisis is unleashing.
My little Tony
The point of my recent letter (May 7) was to question why Rex Dunn’s contributions are accepted as fully-fledged articles in the Weekly Worker. It wasn’t really about Dunn’s particular view of Trotsky’s transitional programme. Indeed, the article was so poor, I couldn’t work out what that was anyway.
Dunn raises up that I’m a sectarian. Let me be crystal-clear on this: I am hugely interested in debates/articles on Trotsky’s transitional programme and on anything else to do with Trotsky. I don’t class myself as a Trotskyist any more, but if a Stalinist accused of me being a Trotskyist then I would accept the label as a badge of honour. An intelligent and learned Trotskyist defence of transitional demands would be interesting to me.
What I’m not interested in is articles that say little more than ‘I like Trotsky; the transitional programme is great’ and pay no heed to the debate and discussion that has gone on around the subject in this paper for the last 20-30 years. This is very arrogant and sectarian, as well as being tedious.
One could say much the same thing about Ian Birchall’s lifelong bromance with Tony Cliff, which I see is busily bursting into passion again in the letters pages. Really, all Birchall has to say can be boiled down, in essence, to: ‘I love Tony; he was the greatest person I ever met; what do you mean - you don’t like Tony?’
Mind you, I do understand Ian on one level, given that I too loved Tony for a long time. Unfortunately in my case the Tony in question was Radio One DJ Tony Blackburn and I went off him when I saw him looking miserable in a motorway service station years ago. Still, I do console myself with the thought that Tony B hasn’t, as far as I know, attempted a three-volume biography of Lenin.
I was excited to read The universal kinship, a 1906 book by John Howard Moore, which argues that the ethical implications of Darwinism is some form of animal liberation. Unfortunately, the text is marred by the pseudo-scientific racism that seems to have been popular at the time.
My interest primarily stemmed from Eugene V Debs’s praise for the book. “It is impossible for me to express my appreciation of your masterly work,” the labour leader was quoted as saying in advertisements for the text. “It is simply great, and every socialist and student of sociology should read it. I have carried it in my grip over the past few thousand miles and its essence is in my heart.”
Way back when, I edited a blog called Species and Class, which sought to make connections between the animals’ and workers’ movements. I’d never come across anything to suggest Debs had progressive views about non-humans. Sure, he recognised his connectedness with all living beings in a famous statement to the court after his conviction for violating the Sedition Act. But I assumed that was a meaningless platitude.
I’m still not sure about Debs’s species politics. However, I can say The universal kinship is an animal-liberationist book. At times, Moore seems oddly positive about the transformations wrought by domestication. He rhapsodises about the temperamental superiority of dogs over wolves, as an example. But the overall thrust of the text is clear.
For instance, Moore writes: “The creophagist and the hunter exemplify the same somnambulism, are the authors of the same kind of conduct, and belong literally in the same category of offenders, as the cannibal and the slave-driver. To take the life of an ox for his muscles, or to kill a sheep for his skin, is murder, and those who do these things or cause them to be done are murderers.”
Moore argues that humanity should treat animals according to the Golden Rule. He encourages readers to imagine how their perspective would change if there were a more dominant species on the planet than homo sapiens. Moore clearly sees animal rights as a worthy complement to abolitionism, women’s suffrage and socialism.
“All beings are ends; no creatures are means,” he says. “The Life Process is the End - not man, nor any other animal temporarily privileged to weave a world’s philosophy. Non-human beings were not made for human beings any more than human beings were made for non-human beings.”
Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, there’s a passage filled with racist social Darwinism to match every progressive sentiment. Moore refers to Aryans as incomparable. He gives serious consideration to a biologist who believes that if black and white people were snails, they’d be classified as different species.
Moore frequently suggests Africans are evolutionarily closer to other primates than Europeans are. “The anthropoid races, in the shape of their heads and faces and in the general form and structure of their bodies, and even in their habits of life, resemble in a remarkable manner the lowest races of human beings,” he writes. “This resemblance is recognised by the negro races, who call the gorilla and chimpanzee ‘hairy men’ and believe them to be descendants of outcast members of their own species.”
One must assume this pseudo-scientific racism was common at the time. After all, the text was endorsed by a number of notable progressives besides Debs.
In the same advertisements, authors Mark Twain and Jack London gave positive testimony about the book. Animal rights pioneer Henry Salt hailed it as best anti-speciesist text he’d ever read.
Engage with Icke
Maren Clark says I come down on the side of David Icke’s view that there is no pandemic. In my letter of May 7 I actually wrote: “I am also far from convinced that the present crisis is only about the pandemic.”
(Maren Clarke also described Icke as a “crackpot”. In other words, her view of David Icke is no different from the journalists of the mainstream media, which serves the interest of the elite, or the ruling class, which Maren is opposed to.)
What I briefly referred to in my previous letter was the contradiction within the Icke narrative, in which he opposes the elite and its control of society, on the one hand, and, on the other, demonises communism, which research leads me to argue is humanity’s natural state, rather than a result of social development, as Marxists believe. Of course, I am willing to listen to any argument which says that communism is not our natural state if it is presented in a serious way.
Unlike Maren Clarke I am not a dogmatist. Rather than ignorantly dismissing Icke as a crackpot, why not engage with what he is saying?