Our problem

I would like to add a small correction to comrade Paul Demarty’s article last week, ‘The afterlife of Bobby Sands’ (March 11), when he writes: “… however much they may have missed Sands and the 10 others who died in the strike …” It should be nine others, not 10! This small slip of the keyboard aside, the comrade makes many useful observations - to which I would like to add some thoughts, while I have readers’ attention.

I too found myself drawn to The Leninist archive, and I don’t think I need to illustrate the importance of the war of national liberation in Ireland to the Leninist project in the ‘official’ CPGB - the front covers of that publication are more than adequate. Even the founding statement in issue No1 pointed to the importance of the struggle (and crucially its mass support amongst the people of the Six Counties).

How could any Marxist worth their salt not champion such a cause? The answer: they can’t! And yet sadly, opportunists of all persuasions took the wrong side. They not only took the bait of the British state, but then reproduced its reactionary propaganda - that it was a purely nationalist endeavour; that it was merely a religious feud; that Ireland was not our problem, etc. Such half-truths (and outright lies) were twisted in such a way as to either justify the British colonial occupation or to excuse not getting involved.

In reality, whatever the particularities on the ground, the liberation of all of Ireland from British colonial rule was not only a question for the Irish working class, but - most crucially - for British workers as well.

Barbarism begins at home. This is certainly the case for Britain - after all, Ireland was England’s first colonial victim, and continues to remain partitioned by a 100-year-old artificial statelet designed to provide a crucible of reaction and maintain loyalist domination in the Six Counties of Ulster. How can the British proletariat liberate itself while still holding on to its colonial outpost in the north of Ireland? As long as Ireland remains divided, it will be a question that British workers must answer.

This was the position of Karl Marx and it should be the position of anyone who calls themself a Marxist. Sadly though, by the time of the emergence of the civil rights movement and the outbreak of the war of national liberation, opportunism was already entrenched in the Communist Party. Comrade Demarty rightly points to the 1975 pamphlet, which was discussed in part one of the ‘Ireland’ supplement in The Leninist No13 (see archive.cpgb.org.uk/pages/leninist).

What a contrast between the shell of a revolutionary party that wrote the 1975 pamphlet and the young CPGB of the 1920s. I point comrades to William Sarsfield’s series on the founding of the CPGB in the Weekly Worker last year, particularly to the republication of a 1920 article by the Executive Committee of the CPGB on the question of Ireland and British workers (‘Reasons to be bitter’, August 13). It is amazing - actually really depressing - what a few decades of Stalin’s popular frontism and ‘official communism’ can do to a party.

For communists in Britain, the armed struggle in Ulster was impossible to ignore. This was not a question of echoes of gun battles in faraway lands - this was a civil war on Britain’s doorstep, its own colonial backyard. We can’t solely blame the failure of the armed struggle on the tactics, acts of cowardice or treachery of the republican political leadership in the 32 Counties. No, part of the blame must fall on communists in Britain, who shirked their responsibility and duty of solidarity with the Irish cause. Their criminal opportunism amounted to siding with British imperialism against the interests of both Irish and British workers.

Marx and Engels rightly recognised the importance of championing such struggles, when they posed the key question of foreign oppression and international revolutionary solidarity. Such questions cannot be brushed away as nationalist and inherently reactionary. In some cases - such as Ireland - they actually pose the question of revolutionary proletarian internationalism.

Comrade Demarty is correct to point to the strange position that the British state finds itself in today. While the armed struggle is over for now, the question of the United Kingdom rears its ugly head more and more frequently in the form of Scottish nationalism, Brexit and, most recently, the monarchy.

The left needs to take the question of the constitution and the state seriously, rather than coming up with hollow slogans that slip out every once in a while (or not at all, in the case of Corbyn) - or indeed the crass economism, movementism and popular-front fetishism that plagues many groups.

Whilst nations are ever changing (and by no means fixed), communists in Britain must continue to unconditionally support, as an immediate demand, the right of the people of Ireland to reunite.

Ollie Douglas

Need for debate

Once again I’d like to echo comrade Tam Burn’s pleas for a full debate about the CPGB’s position on the national question in Scotland (Letters, March 11). As astute as comrade Paul Demarty’s recent analyses of Scottish National Party factionalism have been in the February 11 and March 4 issues of the Weekly Worker, they have frankly only shone a light on high-level nationalist intrigue. I’m left only a little wiser about the theoretical basis for ‘federalism’ in the Draft programme, and none the wiser on what is to be done (to borrow a phrase). In the February 11 article, Demarty remarked that it’s “urgently necessary [to recover] the democratic, republican critique of bourgeois constitutionalism” and it’s hard to disagree - I just wish someone would explain what exactly that is.

Comrade Burn claims that “the working class in Scotland have for decades now shown that they want independence” (Letters, February 4). Contrary to him, I don’t believe there’s a firm and unmoving majority either for or against Scottish independence, among Scottish voters generally or in the working class. Leaving aside the well-known 2014 referendum result, electoral analysis doesn’t seem to bear Tam out either. Although the SNP has won the commanding position in all Holyrood and Westminster ballots over the last decade, it was in fact only in the 2015 UK general election that independence-supporting parties won a popular majority in Scotland (with a decent turnout of 75%) - tallying at pretty much exactly 50% of votes cast.

Yet despite dominating Holyrood elections in terms of the total seats returned, pro-independence parties (SNP, Greens, Scottish Socialist Party, etc) have never to my knowledge recorded more than 50% of the total votes cast between them in any Scottish parliamentary election. There’s obviously no definitive correlation between bourgeois elections and working class politics, but even as a litmus test the results don’t readily lend themselves to Tam’s view. I suspect he is right that the section of our class that fervently supports independence is, more likely than not, more numerous than the die-hard unionists; but I’m not persuaded this represents an overall majority. Perhaps independence supporters represent the most politically advanced section of the class in Tam’s view, in which case: why?

It’s noteworthy as well that the underwhelming 1999 turnout (for the first election to the devolved Scottish parliament) of about 58% is still the historic ‘high’ for Holyrood, with the 2016 election (for the current term) a close second at around 55%-56%. I’ll leave it to the political ‘scientists’ to speculate on the exact reasons for these relatively low numbers. But I generally consider the vast majority of eligible voters in Scotland, as an industrially advanced (perhaps post-industrial?) country, to be workers; so, even if we accepted that an overall majority of the working class has shown it wanted independence, it still doesn’t appear to be a clear and emphatic ‘yes’.

A small number of opinion polls published over the last two-three weeks have led most of the press to speculate that the unfolding Netflix-esque drama featuring Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond has dented both SNP prospects in May and support for independence, were a second referendum held. Leaving aside the facts that the data is based on a relatively small sample size and that the professional ventriloquists are normally wrong about basically everything, I think it’s fair to say that the question of self-determination is still wide open for a significant number of us in Scotland. At a pure guess, a good proportion of SNP voters historically considered themselves to be anti-establishment rather than nationalist as such. The SNP having since lodged themselves as heir apparent, that surely leaves a reasonable number of them open to genuinely socialist politics.

Most members of our class frankly don’t subscribe to any kind of political programme or theory, aren’t heavily invested in democracy as an end in itself, and probably don’t (and can’t) participate in any type of strategic or democratic decision-making other than the very occasional ballot. As far as I see it, most political convictions are relatively weak and can be easily expressed in 280 characters. Politics are generally something that people may ‘have’ rather than ‘do’.

Republican federalism (or federal republicanism?) may very well be a useful tool in the context of politically fertile ground like this, but what this tool actually does remains to be seen. I criticised Tam, fairly or not, for arguing that Scotland needs an “intermediate step” to break apart before coming back together with the rest of Britain in a new political formation. But at least Tam doesn’t side-step the question of ‘extreme democracy’ in self-determination, as it seems to me that the persistent sloganeering about federalism does.

Comrades here in Scotland are at a crossroads. The bleak reality is that, all things being equal, we won’t bear even the slightest influence whatsoever on the path taken. Given the virtual absence of fully-fledged critical debate (broadly, not only within these pages), it’s probably just as well, but there can also be no wonder! What are the strategic goals of communists at this juncture? Do we want to be on the right side of history, or do we want to win new members of the class over to our ‘movement’? Schadenfreude will recruit nobody. So how can we use the constitutional crisis to build any amount of momentum, while achieving political clarity on our own terms?

Democratic ends are obviously best served by democratic means. Hence it’s critical that we continue to scrutinise all positions in the debate, including those of the Draft programme, comrade Burn’s and, of course, my own. Communists should adopt positions not on the strength of ethical preference, but as effective weapons with which to arm the working class. We can’t settle for having principles, no matter how clever, without carefully assessing how they play out in practice. Marx showed us that scientific socialism is a method, not a world view.

Al Thomas

Silence them

Most of Jim Nelson’s reply to my letter of February 25 accuses me of positions I had specifically repudiated. He writes: “If we campaign against repressive forces, but want to keep - or rather add - a single check, who is to enforce this check? I suppose that if we can achieve the freedoms then we can enforce a new limitation ourselves, but to what end?” (Letters, March 4).

As I had elaborated, the organised working class is the only force that all serious revolutionaries must address in the struggle to defeat fascism and make revolution; they are the sole enforcers we must ultimately rely on because they are the repository of the future workers’ state and communist society.

One passage leaped out at me:

“There was a Guardian piece many years ago about a young member of the National Front, who was befriended, despite his attempts to hold on to his racism, by a black co-worker - the lad ended up working undercover for Searchlight. Louis Theroux, some years ago, had a TV piece on the Ku Klux Klan and followed a sad little cell for a while. He discussed a middle-aged woman who professed that when she was in the KKK it was the first time in her life that she had been treated as an equal and given respect. Should they all be silenced?”

When in the Ku Klux Klan she was treated as an equal for the first time in her life and given respect? Did she not get that feeling of equality and respect from the shared KKK culture of treating blacks and all those other, lesser KKK enemies as unequal and inferior? Perhaps she was lucky enough to be present at the last KKK lynching of a black man - that of 19-year-old Michael Donald, in Mobile, Alabama on March 20 1981. Did she assist, if she was there, or just simply stand by and cheer it on? Henry Hays was executed for the crime in 1997, but others only got prison sentences. We should all oppose joint enterprise legislation, but surely there should be an exception for lynch mobs? Nonetheless the great side effect of all this was that the ‘personal development’, ego and self-esteem of Louis Theroux’s KKK interviewee was greatly enhanced. Should we silence her by any means necessary? Definitively yes!

Similarly, with Hildegard Lächert, the former nurse who rose in the ranks of the Nazis for services rendered. No doubt this also greatly boosted her ‘personal development’, ego and self-esteem. A former prisoner, Henryka Ostrowska, testified: “We always said blutige about the fact that she struck until blood showed”, giving her the nickname ‘Bloody Brigitte’ (Krwawa Brygida in Polish). She selected victims for the gas chamber, set her vicious dogs onto the prisoners, but only got 12 years for that. She died a free woman in 1995 in Berlin, aged 75. Of course, we are aware that the Allies recruited heavily from the ranks of the Nazis at the end of the war for use against revolution and the USSR. As did the Stasi in East Germany for use against revolution and the west. We do not know if Lächert rendered any services to merit her leniency, but revolutionaries at the time were definitively for permanently silencing her.

But we do know of some who had repudiated their previous fascistic sympathies, like the spy for Searchlight Jim mentions. And we all remember that Ricky Tomlinson was a supporter of the National Front before he became one of the last century’s great class warriors in the Shrewsbury pickets in the building workers’ strike of 1972. We await the verdict of the appeal court on their case.

And, contrary to Jim, the taunt is not ‘liberal’, but ‘libertarian’; “relating to or denoting a political philosophy that advocates only minimal state intervention in the free market and the private lives of citizens”. Of course, you can have anarchist or far-right libertarianism. But there is definitively no revolutionary socialist version; we do not fight for the political souls of individual fascists, but, having assessed the movement as a whole as fascist, set out to smash it. The stronger the opposition we mount, the greater the chances are that soft supporters will be won away from the fascists. Ricky Tomlinson was won partly by that great building workers’ strike.

We are not for the free market in economics - or in fascist ideas and programmes.

Gerry Downing
Socialist Fight

State violence

The Minneapolis city council is to pay George Floyd’s family almost £20 million in a settlement out of court. Isn’t this taxpayer money thrown not just at a family, but at a whole world movement, to silence them?

Days after George’s murder by four police officers in broad daylight in 2020, his four killers remained free. They were only suspended from their jobs when the film of their crime became public and hundreds of thousands had started demonstrating in the US, the UK and the world.

Now we hear mostly only of the killer, Derek Chauvin, but the other three policemen kept the killing going. When thousands of workers of all skin tones eventually turned up at the intersection where Floyd had been killed, police unloaded round after round of tear gas and non-lethal bullets.

The £20 million sum contradicts the lesser charges of third-degree and then second-degree murder against Chauvin. It implies - but also keeps hidden - that the protests in George’s defence deserved better than teargas. It is shocking to hear the family’s lawyer say that this settlement shows that the mayor and the city council care about George Floyd.

The wesite KilledByPolice.net says that in the USA there had already been 400 police killings in the first five months of 2020 - the average yearly figure for such killings being 1,000 in that country. And it is not just black people and Hispanics who are killed in this way, but whites and native Americans too. They all have in common the fact that they belong to vulnerable sections of the population with no access to justice or redress.

This is of great concern to us in the UK. In June 2020, the charity, Inquest, reported that there had been 1,741 deaths in police custody (or following contact with police) since 1990 in the UK, and that no police officer had ever been convicted. Among those who die in police custody in the UK eight percent are black people, who account for only three percent of the population.

Everywhere, the arbitrariness and violence of the capitalist state increases with the rising power of finance capital. The £20 million thrown at this problem in the US is another act of violence - to silence a family, a neighbourhood, a world movement. But this proves also that people are finding ways to bring Mayors and States to account. This sort of thing is not happening just in the US, but in the UK too, where tens of thousands cared about George Floyd and denounced state violence in the UK.

Marie Lynam
Hampstead and Kilburn CLP

Rock and boogie

How hugely encouraging it is that the Weekly Worker/CPGB’s own positions and perspectives are both reflected within and built upon by the Marxism Unity Slate in the USA. Maybe the aspect most welcome of all is its determined call for modernism: a sweeping away of stale or anyway patently unproductive attitudes - in effect that call becoming one for rejuvenation; in yet another sense for communism’s rebirth.

Equally significant, I believe, is how this new American climate will encourage those organisations currently pursuing separatism of various kinds (for instance, ‘colour-of-skin-coded’ politics, such as Pan-Africanism) to now abandon those not only inevitably isolating, but also inherently regressive, ideas as part of the consolidation of the left wing. Black Agenda Report is one such organisation, but maybe even more poignantly there is Black Lives Matter. Above all else, the latter urgently needs to swim free from those deadly deep-blue seas of both the Democrats and big corporation sponsorship. In any event, with such opportunities being proposed, surely ‘hope’ of a genuine variety can return to its equally authentic home of revolutionary politics?

A final thought: one of the finest forms of courageousness is the ability to embrace change, especially when it involves abandonment of all but blood-bonded beliefs. Dignity at its very finest: precisely the same.

In the words regularly deployed by a leading contributing comrade at Black Agenda Report, “Power to the people!” In my preferred style: ‘It’s time to goddamn rock and boogie!’

Bruno Kretzschmar

One Palestine

The book Decolonizing Israel, liberating Palestine: Zionism, settler colonialism and the case for one democratic state by Jeff Halper was reviewed very favourably by Sue Turner in the Morning Star on February 22. There has been as yet no published response to this.

I have heard Halper speak and he can be persuasive. But I think the basic problem is that, as an American Jew who emigrated to Israel in 1973, while he describes himself as a “comrade of the Palestinians” and “a colonist who refuses”, he has failed to make the essential mental leap required and is still ultimately speaking from Israel’s perspective.

The mutual recognition of Israel and Palestine was central to the Madrid/Oslo peace accords. Israel’s subsequent absolute refusal to recognise a genuine Palestinian state in words, let alone any deeds, means we are no longer required to recognise its right to exist as a state. The Palestine Liberation Organisation has rightly since withdrawn such recognition. This, surprisingly, wasn’t mentioned in Turner’s review.

The advance towards a ‘Greater Israel’, as the state of Israel formally or in practice annexes the whole of historic Palestine and continues to exclude Palestinians from any meaningful say or economic role within Israel, seems inexorable. The possibility of any Israeli government winding back the clock to allow a genuine Palestinian state to exist alongside it seems vanishingly small.

I have never seen how a genuine ‘two-state solution’ could ever have been possible. It always seemed a complete fantasy. How could two fully constituted states, each with their own equivalent armed forces, have carved up the relatively small amount of space and access to natural resources between them and proceeded to coexist peacefully? What would have been the impact of huge population transfers between the two states?

Some genuinely advocating two states suggest that both would be fully democratic, with both Israelis and Palestinians having full and equal rights in both states; population transfers would not therefore be required, there would be no active borders and free movement would operate between the two states; and in practice the populations, economies and societies would freely intermingle and become one over time. This sounds like a de facto ‘one-state solution’ to me!

However, the majority of advocates of ‘two states’ in practice see existing Israel as essentially undisturbed as a fully armed nuclear state, maybe giving up pieces of land here and there, but that any Palestinian ‘state’ would be essentially unarmed, completely subordinated to its powerful and aggressive neighbour and at best would have autonomy to manage its ‘internal affairs’. This frankly is not too far distant from prime minister Netanyahu’s ‘vision’ of a fragmented Palestinian ‘homeland’, or pieces of ‘homeland’, but essentially under Israel’s domination.

Surely, the historically progressive alternative and ultimate solution is to counterpose to a Greater Israel a single, united Palestinian state, covering the whole of historic Palestine - ideally one which is democratic and secular, in which all peoples and ethnic groups have full and equal rights. Existing Israel would be replaced and absorbed within a larger Palestinian state, which would have sufficient critical mass of land and natural resources to enable the two principal communities to coexist peacefully, alongside each other - intermingling if they wish and inevitably will, and able to ensure equitable access to all the essential resources in a new Palestine.

This is far more likely to be achieved within the common and unifying framework provided by a single democratic state than two hostile, armed states competing aggressively with each other for scarce resources.

Clearly, the existing Israeli settled population should have full rights within such a state, as should all Palestinians, including the Palestinian ‘diaspora’ - those and descendants of those displaced in particular by 1948 and 1967. There is no question of ‘driving the Jews into the sea’ or turfing individual Israeli families out of homes once occupied decades ago by Palestinians. But equally there will need to be a major redistribution, fair allocation and equitable access to resources within a new Palestine.

Yes, the existing settled Israeli population will have to make significant compromises with the Palestinians in terms of immediate access to resources, but this will be in the certainty of much greater collective gains and benefits within a larger, peaceful, democratic and more prosperous state.

Halper’s democratised Israeli state may have the appearance of delivering the same thing as a single Palestinian state, but fundamentally this is the difference between reform and revolution. Halper seeks to reform the current Israeli state into the complete opposite of what it is now. How likely is that? What if the ‘democratisation’ stops partially or halfway? Would there be any guarantees of a ‘full democratisation’ of Israel and over what time frames?

The largest representative Marxist-Leninist Palestinian liberation organisations seek the revolutionary overthrow of the existing apartheid-occupation Israeli state and its replacement with a single, united, inclusive, democratic Palestinian state. This seems eminently supportable as the most credible and historically progressive way forward.

It is entirely conceivable that, faced with its armed overthrow and destruction, the existing Israeli state and/or its constituent peoples may decide that a ‘full democratisation’ of the Israeli state and its effective transformation into a democratic one-state solution might provide a sustainable way forward for it and them. But, short of that possibility, I can’t see it ever happening.

Michael Howlett
Milton Keynes

Vote communist

The Communist Party of Britain has decided, after a few years’ hiatus, to throw their collective hat into the ring for the Greater London Assembly elections on May 6, putting up a list of 11 members.

In an effort to appear multicultural (although the party itself is overwhelmingly male and white), four women, two members from European countries, and one mixed race person are being put forward on the list. A few of those standing are under 30.

A Manifesto, at present being amended, begins “Communists have bold, popular and progressive policies…”, some of which are:

The party argues that the “essential needs of humanity and ending all forms of exploitation and oppression cannot be achieved under a system which values profits above people”.

There are two contrasting columns: “This is socialism” and “This is capitalism”. Some of the contrasts are economic planning vs crisis and austerity; full employment vs unemployment; redistribution of wealth vs poverty; an end to racism vs racism; peace vs militarism and war, etc, etc.

There seems to be some muddled thinking here - the CPB wants an election to change all of these? And within the current election system for the GLA? Nothing about a change in the system overall, certainly nothing about the need for organisation of the working class, or what might happen if they actually were elected and tried to implement any of their high-sounding demands.

This is not a communist manifesto - it sounds more like left Labour. Fine as a platform for education of what might be in a different world, maybe, but that’s all. Nothing really to point to how this different world might come about.

The chances of their list being elected are slim to nil, of course, and a betting person would probably say that Slim just left the country. But, even so, what do they think they would in reality be able to achieve, without connecting to the working class, without a manifesto based on proletarian politics, by organisation not based on changing the capitalist order?

The entire manifesto will be published and publicised later this month or early April. Public reaction will be interesting to watch.

I’d like to ask Slim his opinion, but he’s gone …

Gaby Rubin

Just one mine

It seems utterly ridiculous that the plan to open one very small coal mine in Whitehaven - which will provide essential coal for the steel industry, and supply the work-starved area with a total of 2,500 jobs - should have become such a global battleground. Given the ongoing destruction of rain forests and jungles, plus the never-ending consumption of trees, one would have thought the ecological warriors would have had other things to focus on.

Yet here we have the Labour Party as a national institution ensuring that their shadow spokespeople on all subjects took every opportunity to use TV platforms, where they had been called to discuss China, the far east, the NHS or whatever, to dive straight in and stamp and scream about this coal mine. Labour has made stopping it the front and centre of its politics - which tells you that its former alleged commitment to the miners and our communities was skin-deep at best and sheer hypocrisy in all probability.

Now John Kerry - the architect of the global green capitalist revolution and special US envoy for the environment and global warming - has an urgent meeting with the prime minister and what is top of his agenda? US coal mining, strip mining, the world drought, starvation, the destruction of forests and natural environments? No, our wee coal mine. Remember that at present the coal for British steel is shipped from the USA, so is he telling us this will now stop? Will US coal be prevented from coming here or being shipped to China or anywhere? No, it’s our mine he wants to stop, not theirs. Is American steel now going to stop production, and stop using steel coal? No, of course not.

So now Boris tells Jenrick to overturn his previous decision to leave the question to the Cumbria County Council, who have approved it four times. The government will now set up “an enquiry” - of course, Jenrick has already studied in detail the massive reams of evidence considered at council public enquiries, which had dozens of expert witnesses. He already de facto agreed the case for the mine by not pulling the plug before. So it’s hard to know just what ‘new evidence’ Kerry and the Green hysterics, or Labour, the Lib Dems and the climate committee (all talking out of their backsides), can look at.

If he is genuinely looking at this, I hope I get the chance to speak. Meantime, the 2,500 people of Whitehaven who have seen the chance for a new tomorrow, and desperately need jobs and new lives, will have their lives left dangling over the crevasse of enduring social deprivation and poverty in one of the most socially neglected areas of Britain, while the well-heeled, middle class, green liberals are doubtless dancing a jig.

If the mine is stopped, will steel imports and production be stopped? Will all steel manufacture be stopped? No, it will not, so will any ‘emissions’ from coke and steel manufacture be saved? Not at all - not one ounce of CO2 or methane will be ‘saved’: in fact it will increase, because of the extra emissions caused by shipping the steel or coal across the Atlantic or from the Baltic or Australia.

This is an exercise in self-serving, virtue-signalling hypocrisy, with more than a touch of class hatred. It may turn out to be the last great fight of the British miners - and we ought never to forget whose side our self-declared friends fought on.

David John Douglass
Former NUM branch secretary