Most readers of the Weekly Worker agree that capitalism must be overthrown, that this should happen as a result of the actions of the working class majority taking power, and that all Marxists should unite in one party with a programme along the lines suggested by the CPGB.
However, the CPGB stubbornly persists in urging all Marxists/socialists to join the Labour Party and fight within it to win members to Marxism. It frowns upon the setting up of any other party of the working class, which it always derides as being a “Labour Party mark two” and therefore doomed to fail.
The alternative workers’ parties to Labour fail because the various left sects squabble over the direction to be taken (‘sod workers’ democracy’), over control and over attempts to recruit members to their sects and then abandon the project. They put the interests of their own sect above the interests of the class they claim to represent.
It would not be a “Labour Party mark two” if a new workers’ party stood parliamentary candidates committed to an average worker’s wage and subject to instant recall if they failed to vote as constituents wanted. That would stop the careerists who flock into Labour after that £85,000 a year. It would stop the corrupting party leader’s patronage.
I participated in the CPGB’s Winter Communist University session, ‘The bankruptcy of left Labourism’, led by Jack Conrad on January 9, and a stand-out point for me was one contributor’s question, asking how the CPGB explains the fact that, with 350,000 extra members joining the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, less than 100 have joined revolutionary groups, such as Labour Party Marxists.
Contributors differed on the key question of working inside or outside Labour - after all, the most successful Trotskyist organisation in Britain, the Militant Tendency, split over this question in 1991-92. The Peter Taaffe grouping formed the Socialist Party, while the expelled Ted Grant faction created Socialist Appeal and stayed in the Labour Party.
I am reminded of the classic scene in Fiddler on the roof, where the village rabbi listens to an assertion from one citizen and exclaims he is right, then says the same in response to another citizen’s assertion. When an exasperated third citizen points out that the rabbi has claimed that two mutually contradictory positions are both correct, he is also told, “You’re right!”
Those like the CPGB who say all attempts to set up an alternative party of the working class to Labour have failed and will always fail appear, to date, to have been proved correct. However, all those arguing that the left will never gain real control of the Labour Party, that socialists working inside it to pull it left have failed for 120 years now and that such activity is an utter diversion from the real class struggle have also been proved right! The Corbyn followers did not ever think that anyone - let alone Sir Keir Starmer, of all people - would so easily oust their leader, continue the witch-hunt and jettison Labour’s 2019 election manifesto pledges so soon after committing himself to ‘unity’.
After all the euphoric triumphalism when Corbyn became leader, we come back to how the CPGB explains the fact that less than 100 of those 350,000 extra members have joined revolutionary groups such as LPM? This was not answered at Winter CU, but it needs an answer from the CPGB and all other revolutionary organisations. I remember the July 2015 edition of the Socialist Workers Party’s International Socialism that had Corbyn on the cover with the headline to an Alex Callinicos article: ‘Britain moves left - how Corbyn defeated the right’. Wrong on both assertions!
A book from 1987 I have been reading basically argues that Marxists have not adequately explained why the western working class has still not carried out the historic task (the overthrow of capitalism by revolution) assigned to them by Karl Marx. It argues that workers in the west have seen the Russian Revolution of 1917, Stalinism, China and Maoism and the other socialist/communist revolutions, all of which, if they were delivered by any workers’ democracy beforehand (er …?), certainly established totalitarian dictatorships thereafter. The book argues (and this was before the fall of the Berlin Wall) that workers in the west are not that happy under capitalism, but they would rather keep what little they have, together with limited democracy, than what workers faced under communist regimes (ie, a police state, purges, mass murder, imprisonment without trial and total denial of democracy and freedom to criticise the regime).
Workers today, seeing the failure to establish world socialism and the price paid in fighting to overthrow capitalism, are no longer inspired to die for an ill-defined socialism. We have billionaires in China now. I have also never seen socialism defined - the usual excuse being that the working class will decide what a socialist society will be like when it wins power!
Today, the working class has never been larger, whilst alarmingly the revolutionary left has never been weaker. Millions of workers in the west despise and distrust most politicians. The largest trade unions have also resisted united strike action against austerity measures, against public-sector pay freezes, against Covid redundancies or workers being forced to work during increased death rates. Unions here simply say, ‘Wait for Labour’, in the US ‘Vote for the Democrats’, etc. Ted Grant (Militant) said workers in crisis will always turn to the Labour Party and their trade unions first. No wonder our class is angry and in despair then! No wonder, despite a record number of workers across the world, union membership is in serious decline. Unions, in the main (the BFAWU excepted) have also failed to organise precarious workers, yet rush to embrace ‘diversity and equality’ over actually forcing capital to improve the lives of their members.
We constantly hear that Labour is the party of the organised working class and that, as long as it remains so, socialists should support it. It is really the party of the trade union general secretaries, who vote on Labour policies often with little recourse to their national executives (much less their members) or in defiance of them.
They expect a knighthood or lordship in due course for their eye-watering donations and Labour is a conveyor belt for unelected full-time officials to become MPs - once they get bored selling their members short. But Labour itself is corrupt and is certainly not the party of ‘the organised working class’.
The Marxist revolutionary overthrow of capitalism being the act of the working class acting of and for itself raises questions I have never seen covered in the Weekly Worker. How does the working class choose and replace their revolutionary leaders - as opposed to Communist Party members setting up committees, which their leaders and party functionaries utterly dominate? Does every worker have to join a Communist Party before they can have a say, a vote? Given the disagreements over Marxism, as well as strategy and tactics, why is there only one party in a country that has had a revolution? Does not a single communist party inevitably produce a privileged bureaucracy inclined to dictatorship? How many workers voted for any of the socialist/communist revolutions or the policies they enacted (and changes later made)? How contested in reality were any elections for the leadership, to the central committees/regional bodies? After each revolution, when was there any further voting by workers? The ordinary workers in the so-called communist states did not vote for the expulsions, the show trials, the purges and mass murders carried out. They were also lied to by their party press.
All this is widely known and is why workers today are not rushing to join communist parties - despite the readily apparent failings of capitalism. They are not now flocking to join Starmer’s Labour Party either!
It looks like the best we can expect in the foreseeable future is more street protests - criticised by the CPGB - but the people on them are more visible than the Marxist left inside Labour, more visible than today’s trade unions, which usually are also shamefully absent from climate-change and anti-racism protests.
As I have warned before, the left needs to listen to and galvanise the working class instead of ignoring its concerns - before some far-right populist attracts them into a rapidly growing party on the other side of the political spectrum.
As James Harvey reported in his review of the Winter Communist University, “Peter Nolan’s talk on the relationship between China and the west also aroused much debate” (‘Open and honest debate’, January 14). It certainly did: one comrade challenged the Marxist basis of both Chinese society and the talk. Later there were many challenges to the speaker, including some squawks of moral outrage over the nature of the Chinese state and of its crimes.
That there are crimes cannot be doubted, though the speaker only referred to them in passing. The crime making current headlines is the treatment of the Uighurs. There was a moving account in the ‘Long read’ of The Guardian of January 12 by a woman who went back to China after many years’ absence. She thought this was to sort out some paperwork, only to find herself arrested and treated abominably, complete with brain-washing, for two years - along with many other Uighurs.
I see no reason to doubt her story: it chimes in with many more over the last few years. As the woman (Gulbahar Haitiwaji) points out of her native land, “Xinjiang is a strategic corridor and far too valuable for China’s ruling Communist Party to risk losing control of it. The party has invested too much in the ‘new silk road’ - the infrastructure project designed to link China to Europe via central Asia, of which our region is an important axis.”
Important as it may be, this doesn’t excuse the criminal treatment of the native population. At the same time, however, we had Mike Pompeo ordering a review to determine whether China’s repression of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang amounts to genocide. We also had Ephraim Mirvis, saying: “As chief rabbi, I can no longer remain silent about the plight of the Uighurs”, especially since, “reflecting upon the deep pain of Jewish persecution throughout the ages, I feel compelled to speak out”.
Not to be outdone, Mathilde Frot - another regular scourge of Labour’s ‘anti-Semitism’ - has a piece in the Jewish Chronicle of January 15 entitled ‘What is happening in China has a parallel in the holocaust, says Board president’. The Board of Deputies “urged MPs to back a Lords amendment, expected to be brought to the House of Commons next week, that would empower the high court to revoke trade deals with countries found to have committed genocide”. There is no need here to belittle Chinese criminality, but there’s an awful lot of hypocrisy shot at it. And what’s happened to that other cause célèbre, Tibet? It used to be the main China story.
Further crimes: the plight of workers, who allegedly have unions, falling asleep at their production lines, as they struggle to deliver for western companies. The unpaid school children who are drafted in to help fulfil urgent orders. The workers in cities who cannot legally live there, as they are supposed to be in a village somewhere. One might almost think that China is a normal capitalist country.
How did it come to this? The Communist Party took power in 1949, as readers well know. This was just after the end of World War II, when many countries were also aiming to, at last, get rid of their imperialist occupiers. The sweep of nationalism at this time, unlike much of that of the 19th century, came with at least a hint of socialism too. Inspired in large part by the Russian Revolution and in part by their own World War II experiences, masses of people around the world wanted not just freedom of their country from ‘the foreigner’, but from local class tyranny too.
This was the last thing that the new global hegemon, the USA, wanted. The US government still wanted ‘freedom and democracy’, in which the freedom of private property was in the front rank: preferably the property of US corporations, but local companies dependent on said corporations would do.
Some people suffered greatly, as we know: Korea - bombed back to the Stone Age; Indonesia - with the help of the CIA between a half and one million people were slaughtered by the military, the police and by ‘anti-communist’ vigilantes. Vietnam suffered 30 years of slaughter, damage and ecological destruction before they could expel their ‘freedom and democracy’. These were just a few of the victims: we also had Ghana drawn into unending debt and poverty by the US, the murder of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo ... and how many coups?
China escaped at least most of this. There was the sheer size of the country and of its population. There was some, potentially at least, protection from the USSR; China carried on in its own way. Peter Nolan skipped this period, which was perhaps one in which attempts to supersede the historical continuity to which he was drawing attention were not entirely successful.
In the years between 1958 and 1962 there was the ‘great leap forward’, as China strove to create the communes that would propel agriculture into the 20th century, produce surpluses of food and bring industry to the countryside. It was a failure reminiscent of Stalinist failures a few decades earlier - including attempts to claim success and hide failure. The result? According to Wikipedia, between 15 and 55 million dead in the resulting famines.
Next, the Cultural Revolution, in which the country was to be purged of “the last remnants of capitalist and traditional elements from Chinese society, and to re-impose Mao Zedong thought” (Wikipedia). There was “an estimated death toll ranging from hundreds of thousands to 20 million”. I’m sure I’m not alone here in having a copy of the ‘Little Red Book’, nor in never having read more than a few words of it.
And then, from 1978 until 1989, we had Deng Xiaoping and “socialism with Chinese characteristics” - a development of the ‘common property party’, according to Peter Nolan. This led to the breakneck development of industry, wealth and capitalism in China with which we are familiar today. Who knows? If Stalin had allowed the continuation of the New Economic Policy, maybe this is where the Soviet Union would have ended up?
As James Harvey reported, “Peter responded [to those charges] by arguing that the CCP had a depth of popular support amongst the masses based on its ability to deliver measurable improvements in living standards and ensure the stability of the state and society.” Even bourgeois politicians, journalists and economists seem to agree that hundreds of millions of Chinese people have been lifted out of abject poverty over the last few decades.
After this session of CU I was pondering, ‘What would you do?’ and, further ‘What would I do?’ Apart from anything else, if I wasn’t an atheist, I might be thinking, ‘Thank the lord that I don’t have to do anything’. The Chinese Communist Party came to power in a society where the working class was overwhelmingly outnumbered by the peasantry - so what to do?
In an earlier session of the CU - Hillel Ticktin’s ‘Systems and hegemons: can relative decline be reversed?’ - it was said during the discussion that socialism in a small country is impossible and socialism in a backward country is impossible. The necessity is for the working class to take power in either the USA or Europe or both. This could provide the conditions for the working class to take power all over the world - including, I would suggest, China.
Meanwhile, in China, we have a sort of pragmatism instead of principle. How do you navigate as president or prime minister, even at the head of a Communist Party, in a small or, in this case, a backward country? China now has many billionaires. It also has thousands of popular protests every year. Students who take their compulsory courses in Marxism too seriously end up in jail. It faces a new US administration determined to bring it to heel, whoever the president happens to be.
As James further said, “There were many such important topics raised in the discussion, which will no doubt receive further consideration at future Communist Universities.” This, and in fact every, session made me think. Whether my thoughts were productive or not is for others to decide, I guess - but I look forward to the next CU.
There was a time when I would have identified myself as an environmental campaigner - a vegetarian since I was six, an anti-nuclear campaigner for 58 years, a vegan for 33 years and an anarchist communist with strong spirituality.
I have also been proud to be a member of the National Union of Mineworkers since 1964, and an eighth generation of my family in the coal mines. I have taken part in every major struggle of the NUM at the forefront of the class war, from the unofficial strike movement of 1969 to the last national strikes against closures in 1992-93. The coal communities are the most deprived communities in Britain - they remain bombed-out ruins of once prosperous, hard-working people and had been the strongholds of ongoing class resistance to capitalism for the last two centuries. The war of Margaret Thatcher and John Major against the NUM led them to ramp up the whole panic over carbon dioxide and go into overdrive for nuclear power to replace coal power and remove the NUM’s hands from the levers of power supply.
This was part of the Ridley Plan of 1979 - how to engage the NUM and defeat us, with the long-term plan being to close coal power and switch to nuclear. This is not a conspiracy theory: this is fact - it’s been down there in black and white since 1979 and they have worked to the plan ever since.
Nuclear was 120 times more expensive than coal power at the time of the strike. Arthur Scargill made the point that if coal had had the same subsidy as nuclear, we could have given it away free - or give everybody who took it £10 a tonne to do that - and still make a cracking profit every year, so the fight around energy wasn’t about profit and loss, Nuclear had no public support: people did not want nuclear power. Indeed, the NUM, alongside Greenpeace and the Green Party, formed a coalition called Energy 2000 to campaign against nuclear and for clean coal power generation, which was striding ahead with futuristic schemes to reduce and eliminate emissions from the process of industry, power supply and communities.
In order to swing the population against coal, and therefore the miners and behind nuclear power, Thatcher seized on the emerging panic on CO2, which was then in its infancy. She hosted world conferences, helped feed research papers, lit up the panic - and the rest is history. In the process our erstwhile comrades of the green movement turned away from opposition to nuclear power - indeed many suddenly embraced it and still do as a ‘green’ source of power. We became public enemy number one. Suddenly climate camps were purely about opposition to the miners and the coal mines.
The more I have had to confront them and argue against them, the more I see what utterly unprincipled con artists and liars they are. They will tell any tale, spread any unproven story, argue black is white over some theory without any scientific fact, and just spread lies and panic.
The recent decisions over our one and only gain - a possible new Woodhouse Colliery at Whitehaven - have demonstrated this beyond doubt. After three years of argument, tens of thousands of pages of evidence, dozens upon dozens of witnesses and oral evidence, Cumberland County Council three times now have agreed overwhelmingly to let the mine proceed, albeit with 99 environmental restrictions. Do the greens accept that verdict? No, they then go to the high court on the ridiculous grounds that the council didn’t consider its ‘climate obligations’ in line with the government pledges on CO2 emissions. The previous three years of enquiry and libraries full of written and spoken evidence and deep considerations were stopped at the start post.
Then they attempted a judicial enquiry, which is a deeply undemocratic American feature, which I think we have to thank Tony Blair for. Basically, it is a process to overturn local democratic decisions, and even elected government decisions, and allow a judge to decide what the law should be. That failed too - although don’t be too surprised if they don’t bring that one back.
Their final answer was to badger Boris Johnson and the relevant minister, Robert Jenrick, for the government to intervene and overturn the council decision, because it was inconsistent with declared government policy. It is not, of course. We are not here creating ‘new’ or ‘extra’ CO2. If they got their way and the mine didn’t open, not a wisp of emissions or a drop of CO2 less would occur. It would simply be created as it is now - in equal measure using imported coal.
As it turned out, the government decided not to further punish the coal communities and allow the mine to proceed. So since then the professional army of objectors has gone into full swing - and it is a paid, professional army with an HQ in London and full-time staff and press agents; people whose job it is to get their message onto the TV screens and into the national and local press. That is why we now have the reporting nationwide of non-news: ie, things which haven’t happened, the failure of the government to do their bidding. Suddenly we get headlines about “outrage”, a “jaw-dropping decision” and “mounting opposition” - none of which is true. The only outraged people are them, while the rest of us are over the moon.
Then we get the fielding of a whole range of lies put forward as ‘argument’, plus images of smokestacks at power stations. This, of course, is coal for steel, and there are no smokestacks. This is not an ‘increase’ in CO2 or methane, or any other emissions. As a matter of fact, producing the coal here reduces the amount of CO2 produced to meet the manufacture of coking coal. If their tantrum succeeds with the help of the press and TV, and we don’t get 2,500 jobs in a work-starved area of high social deprivation, the emissions will not only increase: the coal which is imported will come from the worse mining operations - the non-unionised, least environmentally controlled mines in the world.
Have we seen in The Independent or The Guardian any attempt at balance - any invitation to write the truth in this arena? We need to inundate TV comment lines and newspaper letters pages, and insist that the truth is allowed alongside the lies and distortion they insist on putting out.
Congratulations to West Cumbria Mining, the Cumberland County Council and the Whitehaven coal communities for your bravery and determination. I’m now looking forward to the new generation of coal miners, a new NUM branch and regional revival.
David John Douglass
Thanks for publishing my first ever letter to the Weekly Worker (January 7). It was made all the more exhilarating to be accused right away of dogmatism by comrade Tam Dean Burn in his January 14 reply.
Having never been a member of CPGB or any ‘confessional sect’, I’d be keen to learn who originally authored my thoughts on the constitutional crisis in Scotland. Presumably someone who has said elsewhere that they oppose self-determination - I didn’t and I don’t.
In actual fact, I think Tam and I share more in common than his allegation suggests. To risk over-simplifying the matter or misinterpreting the comrade’s views, I’d say we both feel a need to overcome left nationalism rather than to simply dismiss it. This means working with the real, given situation, as opposed to taking a merely theoretical standpoint against such and such a political form (referenda, etc).
I think we agree that this is necessary in order to reunite the (rump of the) working class movement in every part of (the island of) Britain, although how we achieve this is something else. I also haven’t said we should abstain from any particular political process, but all the same we should point beyond it: these are not mutually exclusive views!
Where we differ, however, is presumably a reading of the situation at hand. In my view, the constitutional crisis has very many miles left to run. I wouldn’t even bet against the Scottish National Party imploding before its coming term in Holyrood is up. Likewise, I don’t consider that indyref2 is politically likely or frankly possible as things stand and I don’t foresee the SNP turning readily away from their longstanding legalism.
I also don’t compute the value Tam sees in arguing for an intermediate step like breaking apart before ‘coming back together’. Can he see why I worry that this would appear a wee disingenuous, or at least convoluted, at the next fork in the road?
I’d like to echo Tam's questions regarding the various CPGB positions. Even more than that, I’d be interested to explore the political situation further, especially with comrades this side of the ‘border’.
“It would be excessively dogmatic to deny Ireland some kind of revolution in this period,” says the good Dr Marc Mulholland, but he has a go at it anyway - and then goes on to give us his ultra-conservative view of world history and the very damaging effect revolutions have had on it (not least in Ireland, where nothing of that kind really happened at all). He is as fine a ‘Castle Catholic’ as you could hope to meet, on a par with Eoghan Harris and Ruth Dudley Edwards. He has spent some 10,000 words explaining it all to us (‘Socialism, nationalism and Ireland’, January 7; and ‘A conservative revolution’, January 14):
“It is not a matter that revolutions must be glorious. In fact they are often messy, traumatic affairs. But they are profoundly transformative in their impact - not always reconfiguring the mode of production perhaps, but always transforming public opinion.” Ah yes, “public opinion”, as dictated to us by Rupert Murdoch and Marc himself: “The American Revolution made Englishmen and women in the North American colonies into Americans.”
Scarcely worth the effort, given the antics of Trump and the bloodstained record of US imperialism. Never mind Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. Or the fact that the ‘Founding Fathers’ were all slaveholders, while ‘All men are born equal’ referred only to white supremacist men. Or that the great revolutionary, Abraham Lincoln, was a self-declared white supremacist, who only freed the black slaves to get the manpower and spread enough illusions to win the Civil War. The horrors of the share croppers and the end of Reconstruction showed what way the new US was going to treat its black citizens.
And this: “The English Civil War and Glorious Revolution instantiated a market-based parliamentary constitution and established the venerable model for capitalist modernity.” No need to mention the Diggers and Levellers, the Putney Debates, ‘honest’ John Lilburne in the first major bourgeois revolution and the final defeat of the absolutist, semi-feudal monarchy in that Glorious Revolution, which compromised with the Whig landlord nobility to consolidate the Restoration counterrevolution of 1660.
And the next one: “The French Revolution kicked off an international process of democratisation that has unspooled ever since.” The storming of the Bastille and the reign of terror which wiped out feudal France is not worth mentioning - nor Napoleon’s counterrevolution, built on the guillotine of the great lion of that revolution, Maximilien Robespierre.
And now for the most cynical insult of all: “The Russian Revolution statified (and ultimately stultified) a mode of Marxist socialism.” The single greatest event in human history is reduced to nationalisations and Stalin’s Great Purges, lest some might be inspired by the great vision of Bolshevism - universal human liberation from want and hunger, exploitation and alienation from the wealth produced for ‘society’ (in reality for the capitalist mode of production). A vision for a proletarian mode of production, where all wealth is produced for human need in a planned socialist economy on a global scale. And that desire to achieve the human essence - the social and economic equality of every human on the planet - was understood and fought for by the left in all the revolutions examined, but they were all suppressed by counterrevolutions, as I have outlined.
Finally, “The Chinese Revolution shattered the carapace of a centuries-old civilisational form.” In fact the 1911 bourgeois revolution did that. The Xinhai Revolution overthrew the Qing dynasty and established the Republic of China. Mao never aspired to the heights of Lenin and Trotsky in October 1917. He never sought world revolution - only a better compromise with US and world imperialism. But he surely achieved a bit more than breaking the back of the Qing dynasty, although Xi’s 787 billionaires who have prospered mightily in the last year during the pandemic indicate that a Bolshevik-style revolution is still needed.
Eliminating poverty by raising the poor above 95 cents a day is a miserable achievement, despite all that boasting by John Ross and Denis Ethler - not to mention professor Peter Nolan at the Winter Communist University.
Gerry Downing’s outrageous ultra-left attack on Georgi Dimitrov in his reply to Lars Lih shows the extent to which many on the left are still marred with the ultra-left version of communism (Letters, January 14). So I would like to take this opportunity to praise Dimitrov and remind readers that it was ultra-left communism which contributed most to the victory of fascism in Germany.
Downing’s opposition to cross-class alliances shows the extent of his ultra-leftism, which is repeated by many on the radical left. Lenin certainly wasn’t opposed to cross-class alliances, hence his ‘dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry’. Mao was also not opposed to them, hence his policy of New Democracy - a bloc of four classes in post-revolutionary China. Downing’s claim that Dimitrov was doing Stalin’s dirty work in abandoning the class independence of the working class raises the ‘independence’ - or rather isolation - of the working class into a fetish. It is classic ultra-left rhetoric, made by individuals who are devoid of dialectics and concrete thinking.
The dialectical reality is that the revolutionary struggle of the working class goes through both offensive and defensive periods. When fascism is on the rise it is imperative that the revolutionary movement and the working class form a defensive alliance with all those opposed to fascism, which includes sections of the bourgeoisie. When the worker is threatened by fascism, should the worker turn away a bourgeois person who is also opposed to it and wants to fight it? The answer is obvious. This is Dimitrov’s popular front - a defensive alliance with all those who oppose fascism. The ultra-left communists, including Trotsky, view this as giving up working class independence. Was Stalin giving up working class independence when he formed an alliance with the western powers to defeat Hitler, after the previous disastrous policy of the Comintern helped Hitler into power? The main condition for the victory of fascism is the existence of an ultra-left revolutionary movement. We must avoid this at all costs, especially today.
In the Communist manifesto Marx argues that in every profound revolutionary situation a small section of the ruling class turns left and goes over to the side of the revolutionary class. Marx argued this point even though he was unaware that the bourgeoisie would one day face a global energy crisis, which would floor capitalism and force the ruling class to begin the process of gradually abandoning the system. However, today it is no longer a small section of the ruling class: rather most of them will be forced to abandon capitalism as a result of that coming crisis. This will pose a completely new situation, which the left has never been in before.
It is precisely for this reason that Dimitrov becomes relevant again, even more so than in the past.
Campaign for Democratic Socialism
Gerry Downing’s January 7 letter, ‘Third campists’, is completely desperate. In the first place, the issues in this debate have nothing to do with Soviet-defencism versus third-campism - and in any case I was, until the collapse of the bureaucratic regimes, a Soviet-defencist and consider even now that between 1929 (to take a late date) and 1991 maintaining a strong form of Soviet-defencism was essential to projecting a revolutionary perspective. But defencism does not imply an uncritical attitude towards the political choices of the Russian leadership - even those made before Lenin’s death.
Secondly, if it was really the case that the need for proletarian revolution to be a conscious act means that the capitalist state could defeat it by assassinating individual leaders, no such revolution would be possible at all. Trotsky’s observations about the necessity of Lenin, the individual, are part of the cult of the personality of Lenin, which grew up after his death and involve Trotsky attempting to turn this cult - developed as a political weapon against himself - into a weapon against the Kamenev-Zinoviev-Stalin troika.
The present arguments have been about the organisational forms of the party. Comrade Gerry should come clean on this: does he defend the principle of one-man management and the top-down appointment of party secretaries and other officials? Does he defend the ‘military’ subordination of localities and sectors to the centre, and the abolition of their rights to publish, established by the Eighth party Congress? Does he defend the ban on factions (and its unavoidable corollary, the banning of ‘horizontal communication’ between party members in different units as ‘factionalism)?
It is good that comrade Gerry now concedes that “perhaps October 1923 was not a full revolutionary situation”. But in doing so he has for all practical purposes abandoned the case he was making in his earlier argument - at that time following Trotsky’s Lessons of October on the ‘lost opportunity’, but not following Trotsky’s critique of Soviet fetishism in that book.
Finally, as comrade Downing says, Levi Rafael can speak for himself. But his last point, that I imply that “we can ask the capitalists to cut their own feet off without sowing illusions in capitalism”, is quite hopeless. My debate with comrade Rafael is about whether a workers’ state needs an exclusively workplace franchise (as opposed to having both workplace and geographical forms of organisation) in order to hold the capitalists in subordination. My proposals for anti-corruption measures in my December 17 article, ‘Principle, not dogma’, are addressed to this issue.
For the same reason, they are also to be placed in the context of a minimum programme, which includes the expropriation of the banks and financial institutions, and so on. But, as to raising demands which are addressed to the form of workers’ power under capitalism leading to illusions in capitalism - if Gerry thinks this is the case, he should join the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
Maren Clarke’s tirade of anti-white racism reads like a recruiting memo for the Nation of Islam and is just as illogical (Letters, January 7). Clarke’s main style of argument is to set up a straw man that she can then demolish. She tells us that the area around where she lives has been subject to ugly development and this is due to awful “white folk” and not capitalist development.
Peruse this load of racist nonsense: “Kindness and empathy incidentally are hard-wired into the Islamic way of life. Contrast this with the primary religion of white folk. Their main concern is consuming without any care of the consequences. Their primary state of mind is sociopathic, lacking any kind of empathy and only caring about one thing: their own self-gratification.”
This is a fascist ‘understanding’ of social division. It lumps the homeless person with the bourgeois at the top echelons, who may very well display the traits which Clarke accuses all “white folk” of. By the way, any music of black origin I listen to is heavily orientated towards money and hate - which US black-power psychology book has Clarke got this load of nonsense out of? As per usual, we are not told. If supporting paedophilia, suppression of women and gays, terror bombings and lying are the ‘new Marxism’, I will stick with the boring old class-based version.
To make her ‘theory’ work Clarke has to keep repeating the big lie that Islam is a race rather than a religion.
In Islamic ‘theory’ the notion of empathy is nonsense. The mathematician, Bill Warren, estimates that 83% of the Koran is concerned with condemning unbelievers in the most vitriolic terms and figuring out the most vile punishments for them. Historically the idea of empathy is nonsense, As soon as Muhammad moved to Medina from Mecca and managed to establish a military power, the original call for ‘tolerance’ was dropped and the massacres and forced conversions began. And so it continues to this day, as Islamic State killers use Yezedi woman for sex slaves (Robert Spencer’s The history of jihad: from Muhammad to ISIS details this vile history well). The entire history of Islam is characterised by mass killing, and it goes on to the present day.
Here in Britain we noticed the “compassion” inherent in the London bombings and at the Manchester Arena. (The Manchester Arena bombing must have had the Islamic terrorists and their supporters masturbating: mainly young girls many on their first trip to a concert, all those short skirts and make up - the dirty slags.) We failed to notice that the Muslim rape gangs are outbursts of compassion. Is Clarke just stupid or evil, or both? Perhaps she supports terrorist bombings because mainly white people are killed - although, of course, with some inevitable Muslim casualties. Another example of compassion: as I read this - January 12 - the judge has just awarded an (extremely rare) whole life sentence to one Khairi Saadallah - a Libyan who knifed three gay guys to death in a Reading park as a “religious obligation”. Note that the knife was a standard kitchen knife from Morrisons and not Bernard Mattison’s fantasy machine gun.
Clarke concludes her missive by asserting: “Islamic fundamentalism or western values? On balance I will take Islamic fundamentalism!” As I write this, there are ongoing mass attacks on Christian women in Pakistan and, obviously to make the point that anyone but Muslims are rubbish, they are being thrown into sewers. Bourgeois democracy may be sadly lacking, consider the ongoing Covid-19 shambles, but give me that to Islamic fascism any time.
Is Maren Clarke completely off her trolley? The fight for women’s rights in Britain (and elsewhere) has been a long and difficult one, and still has some way to go. There has been progress, however arduous. However, self-hating women like Maren Clarke want to throw all this away by promoting Islam.
There is a difference between being discriminated against in the workforce and being stoned to death for being raped (adultery) and it is perverse not to acknowledge this.
For people like Clarke there is an easy solution: go live in Saudi Arabia. As a nurse I worked there for a number of years and, outside of the western compound, women are seen as trash. Islam already has too much influence in Britain, with Sharia courts, etc. There is a lot wrong with Britain, but insufficient Islamisation is not one of them!
In his letter last week, Richard Farnos suggests that Paul Demarty “can walk through a herd of elephants without mentioning any of them” (Letters, January 14), as he was attempting to move Marxists away from identity politics (‘Getting out of the culture wars’, December 10). I will let comrade Demarty speak for himself, but I want to address the general problems with the comrade’s suggestion as to what the left should be doing.
But first I feel it important to address an inaccurate claim made by Farnos: “Worryingly, in both Paul’s and Ollie’s contributions, the trans experience is still seen as problematic - respectively a ‘misery’ or a ‘mental’ illness.” This is not the claim that was being made. I do not know whether this is a simple misunderstanding or something more devious, but, either way, the argument is clear - we are not dealing with a mental illness here but a social illness. To quote what I said directly, “Much like depression and eating disorders, gender dysphoria is the mental manifestation of a wider social crisis” (Letters, December 17). Comrade Farnos’s use of the term “‘mental’ illness” - used in neither my letter nor Demarty’s original article - does a great job of lumping our arguments in the same pile as those of the reactionary anti-trans crowd. Surely the comrade is either disingenuous or - as with the comrade’s comment about elephants - is unable to see the wood for the trees.
When we come to look at the general argument of comrade Farnos, we are met with a deafening ‘whoosh’ - the sound of arguments flying right over one’s head. To the observation that the current frame of analysis is unproductive and ultimately destructive, and to the call for an historical (Marxist) understanding, where none presently exists, we get this reply: this is merely a distraction, what about the “day-to-day issues trans people face, like: Have they the right to choose where they toilet? Who are they allowed to play sport with? Which ward would they use in a hospital?” Apparently comprehending (or god forbid, theoretically analysing) a maximum aim (abolition of gender) is an evocation of a ‘get-out’ from the real issues.
The argument in abstract will be familiar - if I had a penny for every time I had heard this formulation I could probably afford the Marx-Engels Collected works - to every comrade: how does a revolutionary approach a worthy struggle (for example, a strike) that is limited to the confines of capital? Interaction with such an action is bound to raise questions of strikism, economism, reformism, trade unionism, etc. How do Marxists engage with this then? It is clear that we join them in struggle, whilst doing our job - which is to make the case for a Marxist analysis of their situation and a revolutionary solution to their struggles.
Is this not the same scenario we face with the gender question? Do we confine ourselves to the everyday struggles of trans people within the frame of current reactionary analysis and nothing more? It seems quite clear to me that, while communists must act as ‘tribunes of the oppressed’, and seek to root out injustice wherever they find it, they must also provide a Marxist - historical and dialectical - understanding of said struggles.
This Marxist understanding of gender is something that is missing on the left, which seems to jump head-first into either camp of reaction and as a result reap the ‘rewards’: communists splitting and feuding along non-class lines. Dare I use the Brexit analogy here?
Instead of the burning need for a Marxist analysis, comrade Farnos sees only the (I stress still important) immediate issues facing trans people and sees a revolutionary understanding as a distraction. Sadly - despite no doubt very good intentions - this leaves comrade Farnos (as well as ‘IDpol-ers’ and LGBTQ+ ideologues) playing a game of oppression whack-a-mole. Social antagonisms and inequalities are not some abstract evil: they are products constantly generated by society in a process of history - without a revolutionary understanding, new antagonisms will be created just as quickly as we resolve them.
I will reserve my comments about Amanda MacLean’s latest article ‘A world without gender’ (January 14) - in brief, unhelpful and problematic - for another letter. We’ve had nothing on gender for a year or so, and then two contributions in the same issue!
How nice to hear that Lawrence Parker has got both the time and inclination to convey his ideas purely to “please himself” (Letters, January 14). Actually not nice whatsoever, given how the merest glance towards events and developments in the ‘world at large’ reveals a variously brutal, sordid, corroded, as well as evermore anarchic, place - conditions from capitalism and its colonialistic imperatives that rob the vast majority of humankind of basic requirements, such as dignity in life. But, hey, despite all that, let’s indulge ourselves, whilst simultaneously squandering the opportunity provided by our few stranded media outlets.
Mere ‘holier than thou’-flavoured arrogance, mere virtue-signalling on my part? I think not - quite the contrary: this is a simple but sincere observation - where surely 21st-century Marxists must concentrate our energy, focus our intellect and tightly target our resources to best achievable effect, most particularly in relation to any potential new following.
Just in case it has slipped the mind of the particular comrade concerned, we’re engaged not in a parlour game, but in class warfare, where our enemy is both vicious and ruthless - indeed, an enemy of global elites, blood-drenched from head to toe by their longstanding socio-economic methodologies and activities. May I suggest any comrade who feels able to make light of this raw truth hugely demeans themselves, whilst simultaneously insulting the rest of us (in this particular instance, that insult landing upon all other readers of the Weekly Worker)? Of course, given the almost complete politico-cultural isolation we share, (with its associated threat of losing sight of basics), really who amongst us is immune to falling into this horrible little trap?
Finally, on matters to do with sexuality/gender and associated minefields of identity politics - all as covered so beautifully well by Amanda MacLean’s pieces of work both last week (‘A world without gender’) and back in 2019 (‘Decoupled from reality’, April 18). But surely the almost lunatic convolutions of queer theory could be challenged in a more straightforward manner?