John Masters makes some very pertinent points about the nature of the ‘vanguard’ (Letters, September 3). He points out: “We are very much at the moment under the leadership across the sects that we might call the ‘children of 68’ - comrades whose political outlook was forged in the events of Paris, Czechoslovakia and the subsequent repercussions.”
In fact it would be more accurate to say under the ‘leadership’ of sects who represent a radically degenerated vision of the ‘New Left’. Sects which in practice have given up on the idea of socialism and the working class as an agency in achieving it - some have formed a bizarre alliance with Islamic fundamentalists, with whom they share a notion of national nihilism parading as ‘progressive’. Other grouplets are effectively nothing more than Labour Party ginger groups and there are a bunch of outfits which seem to have no rationale at all apart from keeping going as sort of social clubs and therapy groups.
The ‘third world first’ Revolutionary Communist Group were at one time arguing that the vanguard in Britain would be formed from the Irish, Turks, the unemployed and oppressed, black people et al, but now wisely seem to have at least toned this down - perhaps belatedly realising that, if it was true, then the need for resident leftie groups would be redundant.
Masters argues: “There is a younger generation out there drowning in the trap of identity politics, cancel culture, environmentalist doomsday-mongering and the failure of Corbyn”, but one can see all of these tendencies heavily represented within the vanguard as well. The overall sect ideology appears to be a mixture of PC, ‘respect’ for the religion of the oppressed, social work and local council jargon and victimhood. Anyone who is identified as ‘different’ - black, gay, trans, etc - is viewed as automatically anti-capitalist.
Even if it was possible to win this type of ‘vanguard’ over, what would one actually have in reality, except a load of dead wood living in an essentially make-believe world of individual creation? There is some hope here, as I note scathing articles regarding ‘gender fluidity’ and identity politics leading to expulsions by the Proletarian group of its professional sexual politics members. Members who were content to just be gay or trans and never did anything for the party. I guess that the political situation is so difficult and new members so sparse that the grouplets have gradually dumbed down what is acceptable as cadre members. It is heartening therefore to see a group purging itself of dead wood.
Masters’ letter made me think back to the early years in the International Marxist Group and, whilst that outfit ended in tears, at least they did attempt to analyse events via Marxism and hold regular educational meetings on the doctrine. Whilst recruiting was not a fetish, as it was in a group such as the Workers Revolutionary Party, if one does not want to recruit or does not think that the group is worth joining, then what are you in it for?!
These comments on the left are supported by empirical experiences. Some years ago there was a gaggle of Trotskyists who set themselves up as Open Polemic and attempted to encourage leftie groups to engage in dialogue which could potentially create political unity. None of them (lefties) were interested and so OP initiated a fairly ludicrous Polemic by Proxy, where they published various articles by various groups with, as far as I recall, little interest. If anyone did attend it was generally to restate their own position, denounce the opposition and never be seen again. (An exception to this was Paul Cockshott, who has written some genuinely insightful material on what modern socialism could look like.)
If Phil Sharpe or Phil Walden are out there, they can no doubt illuminate us on the Trotskyist Unity Group and their attempt to unite at least some layers of Trotskyite thinking. I recall that much of the time the TUG was dealt with by simply barring them from meetings. This is the level of confidence the comrades had!
Masters is surely correct when he mentions: “Perhaps it is time to incorporate into the ‘winning the vanguard’ formula the need to add to its numbers some members who are on our side from the start of their political life! They would thus skip the stage where they get a headful of SPEW that needs to be overcome.”
Actually, if some young blood is not recruited, then leftie politics is finished, as those influenced by the New Left are now approaching Old Age. The sects will slowly die out of their own accord. And then where would we be?
The organised ‘vanguard’ are brain-dead and almost totally integrated into capitalism. The old adage that one could not avoid being ‘from’ capitalism, but needed to fight relentlessly to not be ‘of’ it needs to be reasserted. A realistic start could be made by instituting a serious Marxist education programme - this may help combat the ID, ‘look at me’, PC politics, which, as Masters notes, are very popular. You could start with the Weekly Worker, where many of the articles on issues such as Iran, Palestine, etc are from a humanitarian, superior, moral-authority viewpoint, rather than from any Marxist perspective. It was a joy to read the letter on immigration by Oliver Healey, which was thoroughly grounded in Marxism and not moralism (September 10).
As John Masters says, this question of the ‘vanguard’ is the “elephant in the room”, so to critique it properly will require a massive reassessment of the conventional wisdom and, as history tends to show, ‘the left’ is not too good at this! Don’t hold your breath!
I was saddened to read that it will be some time before we’ll have a printed copy of the Weekly Worker in our hands. We can only blame Boris Johnson’s incompetence in his handling of Covid-19. On the other hand, given Dominic Cummings regularly quoting Lenin and Trotsky in his blog, Johnson’s incompetence might just be a secret plot to disrupt the development of the revolutionary party - including its paper, the Weekly Worker!
Sarcasm and conspiracy theories aside, the incompetence of Boris Johnson will only be tolerated by Tory MPs for so long, especially amongst those newly elected in the former ‘Red Wall’ Labour seats. The bookies’ favourite to replace Boris used to be Michael Gove, who comes across as a schoolboy chair of the Eton debating society. Gove is also a close friend of Cummings - both worked together in the department for education under David Cameron’s short premiership.
Whilst the Tory Party no longer has the aristocratic ‘men in grey suits’ to tap a prime minister on the shoulder to tell him, or her, that their sell-buy date is up, there is the trio - the chairman, secretary and treasurer of the all-powerful 1922 committee of Tory MPs. To many Tory backbenchers Michael Gove is too associated with Dominic Cummings to come to the rescue of the Conservative Party, whose poll ratings are rapidly going south. So I expect the new bookies’ favourite - chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak - to be installed as the new leader at the 2021 Tory Party conference.
Sunak, unlike Boris Johnson, has had a good pandemic (if there is ever such thing as a ‘good’ one). He is also reputably the richest MP in parliament - his wealth acquired when working for three different organisations in the City of London. Rishi is also a good public speaker and can think on his feet. As chancellor, he has also borrowed money during the pandemic on a scale John McDonnell can only dream about - and he could also give the clinical Sir Keir Starmer a run for his money at prime ministers questions.
I have recently been reading the new book by David Broder - First they took Rome: how the populist right conquered Italy. Whilst it details the decline and fall of the Italian Communist Party and Socialist Party since the high point at the end of World War II, following their members’ role in the Italian resistance movement, there are lessons for perspectives for the British Labour Party. The book also explains the rise of rightwing populists in Italy, including Matteo Salvini whom many expect to shortly become Italy’s next prime minister - as well as the rise of the Brexit Party under Nigel Farage in Britain and Donald Trump in the US (the latter being a US version of the Italian billionaire media tycoon, Silvio Berlusconi).
It will be interesting to see what happens in the 2024 general election between a Tory Party led by Rishi Sunak and a Labour Party led by Sir Keir Starmer. Whilst the UK hasn’t got the barmy proportional representation system used in parliamentary elections in Italy, the disappearance of the Italian Communist Party and Socialist Party could give a good indication of the possibility of the Pasokification of the British Labour Party, which both Jack Conrad and Mike Macnair spoke about in sessions at this year’s Communist University.
The decline and fall in the support of working class people for the Labour Party has been going on for over 40 years now. Just like in Italy, where the successor to the Italian Communist Party - the Democratic Party (PD) - is now a party of the liberal middle classes, the same goes for Labour. As in Italy, where the party of the working class is the League, and in the US, where it is Trump’s Republican Party, in Britain it is now the Tory Party. Hence the hatred of blue-collar workers towards Labour’s liberalism and their love for the party of Eton toff Boris Johnson.
The advent of Rishi Sunak as new Tory leader and prime minister can only be the last nail in the coffin for a Labour Party under the stewardship of Starmer. This is why, as in the Italy and the US, it is an urgent necessity to build a revolutionary party - a mass communist party.
As a regular and reasonably longstanding reader of the Weekly Worker, I can’t help but to have noticed an absence of what might be called gut fury - of simple rage. No incendiary contemptuousness is expressed in relation to those activities of the capitalist system only describable as beyond despicable - maybe most consequential amongst which is that twisting to its own advantage of matters to do with global warming and associated climate change.
No abject distain expressed nor cascades of revengeful intent - at any rate not that I’ve managed to detect - about the commandeering by international industrial concerns of any potential Green Revolution, in their hands to become a mere rebooting of possibilities for super-exploitation (by which I mean of lands and peoples/of air and seas); nor about capitalism’s conniving to remake the world into a place where even solidly science-based facts become deformed almost automatically into corrosive lies; moreover, a place where the accepted cultural overtone is one of omni-monetisation alongside commercial-brand-promoted self-obsession, with barely a sliver of space remaining for common good.
So what can explain that negligence? Certainly where almost nothing appears in those pages in relation to the fact that, whether communist or other progressive, all are being obliged to stand by close to helpless, whilst the incarceration and associated persecution of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange slides on pretty much unchangeable. Both Assange and that organisation are, of course, the international public-service exposers not only of war criminals, but also their various agencies, apologists and enablers - together acting as the man’s vicious jailers. Of course, there’s nothing to shock or confuse the Marxist in any of that - not even what lurks behind all such things capitalistic: namely, its threat of brutal suppression aimed at any peoples of the world who might be thinking of veering away from that designated role of theirs as economic subordinates, as hybrid slaves.
So why is it the pages of the Weekly Worker never spit out with venom at these factors or this overall scenario - never, it seems, harbouring any wish to vent hot green bile towards those elites of capitalism, as they preside over a pitch-black circus they insist upon describing as civilisation - that horror show of cynicism and collusion, their blood-drenched farce. So what’s not to despise? Why no rawness, why no vitriol from within those pages? Could it be that the operatives involved have forgotten the simple fact of how human beings live - not by rationality and intellectualism alone, but also visceral emotion, romantic aspiration, inspirational drive?
So, yes, how strange this all is: most particularly whilst in the background and over on their side of the class divide our enemies variously shuffle their wealth, slaver in luxury, and snigger up their sleeves; whilst enemies much closer to home continue selling that ‘eco-friendly’ dream, when the reality is one of composite global gangsterism. Nowadays those myths and lies are being dished out by capitalism not only via the languages of UK/USA and western Europe, but also in both oligarchical/Putinesque Russian and ‘one country, two systems’ Chinese!
No doubt thoughts such as those expressed here will evoke responses along the lines of how the Weekly Worker/CPGB is primarily engaged in retaining a core cadre, to be educated in solidly Marxist ways, whilst keeping an eye set on distinctly better times in the future. But what awful wastefulness that obscures: such self-reinforcement, not to say self-imprisonment. What a lousy cop-out that is, given how any such posture can only result in working class folk being deterred from joining the ranks of communism. As already noted, there is little or no attraction in revolutionary politics if it is presented by intellectualism alone.
Bearing that in mind, surely the Weekly Worker must come to accept how the content and general tone of their paper and other activities must feather in with a full range of what’s entailed in being human. Expressed in its most concise form: clever words on their own are nowhere close to sufficient!
In the article by Stan Keable on the Labour Representation Committee conference, it states: “There were motions from only two local LRC groups: Oxfordshire and Leeds” (‘Micro-debates, fatal decisions’ Weekly Worker September 10).
Leeds LRC did not submit a motion to the conference. We submitted a constitutional amendment, as detailed on the LRC website (labourrep.com/conference-resolutions). Could this please be corrected?
Leeds LRC chair