So Gerry Downing is as bad as Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin (I’ll take that!), according to this liberal reactionary defence of capitalism itself from one Tony Clark of the Campaign For Democratic Socialism - the new Hugh Gaitskell and Gang of Four reincarnation (Letters, July 8). And we are all as bad as Al Capone, according to him; and explaining historical events by telling us that Kerensky and the tsar were stupid people is the same as those who say Donald Trump is stupid and Hitler was a madman. It explains nothing - why do so many people follow these mad, stupid people? That requires some theory - sadly lacking here.
Let us take the issues he raises: “First,” he says, “let’s look at the term, ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. There are different views about where the term came from, but we can be sure that Marx wasn’t its originator.”
Indeed, no. Joseph Weydemeyer, a close follower of Marx and Engels, who participated in the 1848 failed revolution with them, coined the phrase in his article, ‘The dictatorship of the proletariat’, published in New York in 1852. He concludes the article with this observation, with which all serious Marxists agree:
“If a revolution is to be victoriously carried through, it will require a concentrated power, a dictatorship at its head. Cromwell’s dictatorship was necessary in order to establish the supremacy of the English bourgeoisie; the terrorism of the Paris Commune and of the Committee of Public Safety alone succeeded in breaking the resistance of the feudal lords on French soil. Without the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is concentrated in the big cities, the bourgeois reaction will not be done away with.”
This then became the terminology used by Marx and Engels. For instance, in 1891 Engels wrote a postscript to the 1872 pamphlet, The civil war in France: “Well and good, gentlemen, do you want to know what this dictatorship looks like? Look at the Paris Commune. That was the dictatorship of the proletariat … the Commune made use of two infallible expedients. In this first place, it filled all posts - administrative, judicial and educational - by election on the basis of universal suffrage of all concerned, with the right of the same electors to recall their delegate at any time. And, in the second place, all officials, high or low, were paid only the wages received by other workers.”
This 1871 Paris Commune is the model for soviet democracy - as first appeared in 1905 and then again in a more developed form in February 1917 - enabling the socialist revolution of October to establish the first workers’ state in human history. Ah, but it was not ‘democratic’, complain our liberal reactionaries and their third-campist allies: it suppressed not only the capitalist opposition and their press, but also all other working class parties and it became a one-party state, which Stalin merely inherited from Lenin, with no need for that counterrevolution of which you Trotskyists always speak.
Joseph Stalin held absolute personal dictatorial power in his rule from 1934 to 1953. But it still remained a much distorted form of the dictatorship of the proletariat - a mirror image of the rule of Hitler, but crucially based on working class property relations and not on bourgeois property relations. This remained the case until the ‘constitutional crisis’ of September/October 1993 - the political and military stand-off between Yeltsin and the Russian parliament, which ended with the defeat of the parliament by an initially neutral Red Army in a clear dual-power situation.
There were five successive phases of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the USSR from October 1917.
(1) The rule of the soviets, October 1917 to the period just prior to the death of Lenin (January 1924), and the Fifth Congress of the Comintern (June-July 1924). A new and far more progressive form of democracy (the soviets - workers’ councils) ruled.
(2) The Interregnum (1924-28). It was still relatively democratic to begin with, but an increasingly repressive period of political struggle between Zinoviev, Stalin, Bukharin, Kamenev and Trotsky. Zinoviev was dominant initially, Bukharin in alliance with Stalin latterly, and Stalin emerged at the top in 1928.
(3) Consolidation of the rule of the bureaucracy, with Stalin as its central representative (1928-34). This marked the end of the original Bolshevik Party as a political entity.
(4) The Great Purges, etc: December 1934 (assassination of Kirov) to March 1953; the death of Stalin and execution of Beria in December 1953.
(5) Return of the rule of bureaucracy, 1953-93; the ‘Red Army’ smashes the rule of the NKVD and the secret police becomes an arm of the entire bureaucracy again, as in 1928-34.
The five successive stages of the dictatorship of the proletariat above have another thing in common, apart from the economic plan and the welfare provisions mentioned above. As a real dictatorship, the separation of powers in the three sections of the healthy workers’ state was largely abolished under Lenin and the Bolsheviks up until 1924, with the important exceptions pointed to in phase 1, the rule of the soviets. The soviets collapsed from the early to mid-1920s, due to the defeat of revolution in Germany, Italy and Hungary and lost pre-revolutionary situations elsewhere. This retreat of the working class internationally and the dimming of the prospects for world revolution demoralised the class. Stalinist bureaucratic repression was the expression of this.
Let us take the Lenin quote Tony supplies:
“The development of capitalism proceeds extremely unevenly in the various countries. It cannot be otherwise under the commodity production system. From this it follows irrefutably that socialism cannot achieve victory simultaneously in all countries. It will achieve victory first in one or several countries, while the others will remain bourgeois or pre-bourgeois for some time”.
The quote is familiar to me, because it was thrown at me back in 1977 on a building site by a Maoist. I did take the trouble to look it up and found that it was a complete distortion of what Lenin wrote, which can be found on p79, Vol 23 of his Collected works. This was used to prove that Lenin meant that building socialism in a single country was possible whereas he was actually saying that the socialist revolution was possible in a single country and those who waited for it to happen simultaneously were completely wrong. This is what he wrote after that chopped quote:
“… Only after we have overthrown, finally vanquished and expropriated the bourgeoisie of the whole world, and not merely in one country, will wars become impossible. And from a scientific point of view, it would be utterly wrong - and utterly unrevolutionary - for us to evade or gloss over the most important things: crushing the resistance of the bourgeoisie - the most difficult task, and one demanding the greatest amount of fighting, in the transition to socialism” (Lenin’s emphasis).
Lenin and Trotsky were not national socialists like Stalin, but internationalist to the core of their political beings - as is obvious from the subsequent quote which Tony’s chopping seeks to hide in defence of Stalin. Conservative bureaucrats Joe Stalin, Chairman Mao and Hugh Gaitskell join forces with Tony Clark against Bolshevism.
Stalin was right
I thought Tony Clark produced one of his best letters in the July 8 edition of the Weekly Worker. It was thought-provoking and insightful, and I agree with a fair bit of what he said.
I agree with Tony’s analysis and characterisation of some of the ridiculous positions, stances and slogans put forward by Trotsky and the ultra-left on socialism in one country, on bureaucracy and in relation to a host of mass, democratic and national liberation struggles, including Spain, Germany, China, South Africa, etc, pointing out that ultra-leftism is frequently the simple flipside of rightwing opportunism (an analysis actually made by Lenin). “How did Trotsky get away with it?” Tony asks. How did Trotsky ever manage to acquire any form of reputation or standing as a serious socialist or revolutionary, I would ask.
Tony makes a useful distinction between defensive and offensive forms of the class struggle. I agree that “stopping fascism means uniting everyone opposed to fascism in a defensive struggle” (discussing the united and popular front strategies put forward by Dimitrov in the 1930s). However, I would say there is or should be a close relationship between the defensive and offensive. A successful defensive strategy should also help lay the broad basis for a renewed offensive strategy, seeking significant and comprehensive social change.
I agree with most of Tony’s position on Spain - “The main reason for the defeat in Spain was lack of unity of the left, while the fascists were disciplined and united around Franco, who had the support of Hitler and Mussolini” - but not with his assertion that “attacks on the Catholic church” were “politically stupid” and “strengthened the counterrevolution”. No, the church was itself deeply reactionary and counterrevolutionary, and was “attacked” for its very real material as well as ideological support for the fascists.
On the central issue of the dictatorship of the proletariat, Tony focuses on one specific comment made by Lenin: that “dictatorship is rule based directly upon force and unrestricted by any laws”. This was written in Lenin’s The proletarian revolution and the renegade Kautsky - I have to say, one of his best works. But we have to remember the context. This was the wholesale collapse and betrayal by western social democracy of the international working class and its support for the World War I slaughter. The revolution had only recently taken place in deeply backward Russia, and was under existential threat from powerful reactionary forces within and without.
There is no question that, had the counterrevolution succeeded in Russia, it would have been followed, as after the Paris Commune, by a holocaust of mass murder and destruction of not only the Bolsheviks, but hundreds of thousands of their supporters - and whole sections of the population believed capable of harbouring any residual sympathy for socialism and even for mildly progressive democratic and social reform. The Bolshevik regime was fighting for its life and for socialism in Russia, so it is not surprising that Lenin expressed the fact that it would use all means necessary to defend itself and defeat reactionary and counterrevolutionary forces.
But, as a principle, ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ means the class and state power of the working class - nothing more, nothing less. In western capitalist countries the working class is clearly the majority of the population, so the dictatorship of the proletariat simply means rule by the majority in the interests of the majority. I think this is the original Greek meaning of the word ‘democracy’: the ‘rule of the people’. It replaces the state power of the bourgeoisie and the capitalist class. It has to hold down and suppress the overthrown capitalist class and their supporters and simultaneously begin the tasks of socialist construction and transformation.
The more the mass of the working class is organised and united in favour of socialism and socialist transformation, and the more strongly organised and focused its state power, the less likely it would be that actual force or violence would need to be used against the overthrown classes. Even in the most difficult circumstances, the actual use of force or violence against the overthrown classes would be pretty marginal, compared with what would happen if any counterrevolution managed to get the upper hand.
As socialism is established and develops, the overthrown classes will lose their economic, political, ideological and material power, and will become less of a threat to the new socialist order. They themselves will over time start to break down as a hostile class: some sections will remain deeply hostile and reactionary, while some may reconcile themselves to the new order. As this happens, we can expect working class state power to establish more permanent institutions, structures, laws and processes - a new socialist legality - to govern and regulate the affairs of the state and socialist society.
As we all know, in the USSR, the overthrown classes, the imperialists, the capitalists, the landlords, the military top brass, the aristocracy - all remained significant in number. It was only through the mass industrialisation and collectivisation launched in the late 1920s that a majority working class was in the process of being created. The balance of forces remained acute. Violence, disruption, sabotage, mass killings in the countryside and in the more far-reaching parts of the USSR remained endemic despite the best efforts of state agencies to defend the new socialist order and legality.
Stalin did not make “Trotsky and some of his supporters pay with their lives for having political differences”. Members of both the right and the left opposition were crushed and sometimes removed from the Communist Party, not because of political differences, but due to extreme factionalism and extremely damaging conduct and behaviour. A number of the leaders were reinstated several times after they acknowledged their offences and undertook to abide by the rules.
Tony rightly drew a straight line between ultra-leftism and rightwing opportunism. Bukharin was a classic example - once an ultra-leftist, he flipped within a very short number of years to becoming a rightwing opportunist, a capitalist roader, seeking the defeat of the Soviet regime and the restoration of capitalism. His endemic defeatism and pessimism underpinned both his ultra-leftism and right opportunism. Unfortunately Trotsky’s and Bukharin’s straight lines did not stop at simple right opportunism, but went straight on to those who they thought could help them best to regain political and personal power in the Soviet Union.
Defeated repeatedly by and in the party, marginalised politically in wider Soviet society and held in contempt - hated even - by the Soviet population for their behaviour, arrogance, destructiveness and personal ambitions, it was only when Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, etc sought the external assistance of the fascist powers to achieve violent ‘regime change’, through the assassination of party leaders, sabotage and destruction of state, public and social property and economic capacity, that the full force of Soviet law and Soviet state agencies was brought to bear on them.
This was not “above” or “outside” the law, but using the law - the law of the established and legitimate Soviet state.
“The times they are a-changing”: Tony Greenstein evokes Bob Dylan in his article calling for the formation of a new Palestine solidarity movement in Britain (‘Poverty of solidarity’, July 8).
They certainly are! Criticisms of Zionism that were considered taboo just a few short years ago are now becoming so obvious that they will soon be mainstream on the left. Tony’s sharp characterisation of Zionism as “Jewish supremacism” is to be welcomed; while this use of the J-word in conjunction with the Z-word (Zionist) was never entirely absent from his earlier writings, this stronger emphasis on it is to be welcomed. Political Zionism is indeed a Jewish supremacist movement.
The old prejudice that Zionism was simply a tool of western colonialism, and by that token not really Jewish at all, and had no independent agency of its own, is being dissipated by the radicalisation that has happened in Britain as a result of the experience of the orchestrated role of Zionism in undermining Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party - Zionist smear campaigns managed to reach where ordinary British imperialist chauvinism was unable to. This radicalisation has now been deepened, and on a worldwide level, by the victory of the Palestinian people in the Saif Al-Quds (Sword of Jerusalem) war of May 2021. For the first time for decades this united the Palestinian people ‘from the river to the sea’ in a struggle against Zionism, and forced Israel to make concessions and call a face-saving ceasefire much earlier than planned in the face of such Palestine-wide resistance, which threatened the very stability of the Jewish state.
Tony gets it almost right when he writes of the comparison between Zionism and the earlier struggle against South African apartheid:
“… the campaign against Israel is different in one crucial respect from that against apartheid in South Africa. Whereas the latter had no domestic support base, apart from the capitalists, rightwing Tories and fascists, the Israeli state has a lobby that is strong and powerful.
“True, Israel has support within the Jewish community. The last survey by Yachad of British Jews in 2015 found that 59% identify as Zionists. Meanwhile, 31% said that they were not Zionists - down 13% on a similar survey five years previously.
“Despite the attempt to label BDS as anti-Semitic, 24% of British Jews support some form of sanctions on Israel. Among secular Jews this rises to 40% and among the under-30s it is 41%. Compare this with the Board of Deputies, which purports to speak for “British Jews”, but never criticises Israel. Zionist organisations have hijacked the voice of “British Jews”. In the words of Barnaby Raine, they are the establishment’s ‘favourite pets: heroic colonists in the Middle East and successful citizens in the west’.”
So the difference between South Africa and the Zionist state is that the latter has a powerful ethnic lobby as its base of support in the west that the Boer/Anglo regime never had - separate and distinct from the run-of-the-mill bourgeois forces that over South Africa, as over Kenya, Malaya, Ireland, you name it, backed the west’s colonial allies in all its more conventional colonial-type wars.
The reference to the Zionist Jewish establishment as “successful citizens in the west” can only refer to the Jewish-Zionist bourgeois layers that use the power of their property and wealth to give rise to the “strong and powerful” Israel lobby, which is primarily an ethnocentric lobby or faction within the bourgeoisie. It is disproportionate in size simply because of the much higher proportion of Jews who have risen into the western bourgeoisies over a prolonged period - a historical legacy of the social role of the Jews as a class of commodity traders under European feudalism. The younger, more secular Jewish layers who are less enamoured with Zionism’s crimes are obviously outside this bourgeois, ruling-class layer.
But the point about the J-Z “successful citizens” as mere “pets” is a misreading: they are much more valuable to the bourgeois establishment than that; a class-conscious reserve, previously mistakenly maligned from the standpoint of the gentile bourgeoisie, now among their most celebrated class brethren.
Israel is more than a western pet in another sense, as typified by the Israeli arms company, Elbit Systems, whom Palestine Action’s activists, including Tony, are organising against with great courage, while being maligned by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Elbit is no subsidiary of the west: it epitomises the imperialist nature of Israel and its overseas lobbies as a distinct force within the pantheon of imperialist powers.
As we wrote recently on the Consistent Democrats website,
“This is not some western arms exporter supplying arms to a client, like Saudi Arabia in Yemen. This is an Israeli arms company that supplies high-tech weaponry to the west and its clients: to the British armed forces, those of the US, France, Italy, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, the Philippines; from military drones to night-vision equipment and other military surveillance equipment. Its military hardware is marketed as tested in action: ie, against the Palestinian people. Israel is a far tougher nut to crack than any mere colonial outpost: it is an imperialist enemy in its own right. Therefore, you get the contradictory phenomenon where, while Israel sometimes acts like a western client state, at other times the US and other western powers act like Israeli client states. The overlapping of the ruling classes means there is an element of truth in both.”
Several of the points that Tony makes in his article put him very close to the analysis that I formulated in 2014 of the distinct ethnocentric nature of the bourgeois Israel lobby - a caste within the imperialist bourgeoisie that regards Israel as ‘its’ unique ethnocentric state (with racist laws to match) and its role as an imperialist force in its own right. Getting this right and understanding what we are up against in fighting Zionism is crucial for the future of Palestine solidarity movements around the world, not just in Britain. Zionism, and its international dimensions/lobbies in western countries, are certainly driven by the project of maintaining Jewish supremacy in the Middle East and demolishing any political force in the west that in any way threatens to obstruct that.
We in the Consistent Democrats certainly welcome Tony’s call for a new Palestine Solidarity movement in this country - I for one was thrown out of the PSC in 2020 after being a member since 2005 for attempting, as a member of our predecessor, Socialist Fight, to address these questions, by the Labour Party’s semi-Zionist quislings and disappearing deep entryists like Socialist Action.
Long live WPB!
I must defend Tony Greenstein from the attack by Bernard Mattson (Letters, July 8). Whilst I have many disagreements with Tony, I do agree with him that the Labour Party is finished. Marxists should get back to using our most useful tool - dialectics. Just as humans are born, live and die, the same process is happening to Britain’s Labour Party.
To see the future, we just have to look at the decline and fall of the SPD in Germany, and the Socialist Party in France - the latter now regularly gets just 5% of the vote in elections. The Labour Party under Starmer, just like the SPD and the French SP, is going through a qualitative change, where it is becoming just like the US Democrats. Whilst the trade unions in the US contribute hundreds of millions of dollars each year to the Democrats, they have no influence. The same will apply once Gerard Coyne is elected as the new general secretary of Unite this September.
The Labour Party is finished. The Batley and Spen by-election result will be seen in years to come as a watershed in the decline and fall of the Labour Party. During the by-election, Labour threw the kitchen sink at winning the seat. They illegally spent over £100,000 (10 times what the Workers Party of Britain spent) on election expenses, including on union cars and putting union officials up in hotels. At the same time, Kirklees Labour council, at taxpayers’ expense, illegally took down thousands of Workers Party of Britain posters three days before polling day. The Workers Party of Britain now has over 5,500 members, supporters and affiliates, 1,500 joining in the last three weeks alone.
In the widely-expected general election that will take place on Thursday May 5 2022, Labour is likely to be reduced to having just 150 seats in parliament. MPs such as Ed Miliband, Yvette Cooper and Angela Rayner will all lose their seats. As Owen Jones pointed out in an interview with an Asian Labour Party member and solicitor in his documentary on the by-election, Labour has lost Scotland and the ‘Red Wall’, and now the support of three million Muslims. At the same time, in the cities and the shire counties, Labour is losing votes to its left, including to the Lib Dems, the Greens - and in the future the Workers Party of Britain. The Labour Party in years to come will be lucky to get 60 seats, the same as the Lib Dems at the height of their popularity in 2010. Yet Bernard Mattson puts all his eggs in the Labour Party basket.
In my neck of the woods - North-East Cambridgeshire (more commonly known as Fenland) - Labour membership has halved, going from 400 members under Corbyn to less than 200 under Starmer. In my home town of Wisbech - which, together with its surrounding villages, has a population of over 35,000 - there is no party branch. In the 2016 EU referendum, 72% of Wisbechians voted for Brexit. This provides very fruitful territory for the new Fenland and South Lincs branch of the WPB.
Labour has no seats on the 18-member Wisbech council, and it is more than 20 years since it has had any councillors for any of the nine seats Wisbech has on Fenland District Council. The potential for the WPB in the Brexit-supporting areas of Fenland and South Lincs is immense. Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens do not exist. The field is wide open for the WPB as the only alternative to the Conservative Party, which has dominated local and national politics for far too long.
Perhaps Bernard Mattson, unlike me, can cope with all the psychological stress and turmoil of keeping one’s head down in the Labour Party so as not to be suspended or expelled, but, as with the CPGB PCC, I think he is wasting his time. The Socialist Labour Party did not work because of Arthur Scargill; the Socialist Alliance did not work because it was not a party. Similarly, Respect was not a party; Left Unity was not a party, nor is the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. Through design or accident, the left has now stumbled on what I have been waiting for for the last 27 years - the Workers Party of Britain - the name says it all.
The WPB has a 10-point programme for workers - a modern-day minimum programme, similar to that put forward by Lenin’s Bolsheviks, which its members can fight and campaign for. At the same time, it is filling the vacuum in British politics, which will prevent any future rightwing force from developing. I therefore urge all readers of the Weekly Worker to join, get active in and build the Workers Party of Britain.