It was a pleasure to read Paul Demarty’s article on the England football team (‘What did England expect?’, July 15). Indeed, it was nice to read something on the subject in a leftwing paper by someone who likes football and obviously supports England. It made a nice change.
I’ve never thought twice about supporting England’s football and cricket teams, because I like both sports and I come from England. I don’t generally support the England rugby team because (a) I fucking hate rugby and (b) I’m not that keen on Cotton Traders trousers or on wearing jeans with brogue shoes.
The broader patriotism issue is a non-debate for most working class football fans. People’s reasons for supporting sports teams are often utterly banal: I support the cricket and football teams that I do because my dad supports them.
Like Demarty, I don’t see the political defeat of nationalism entailing the mere obliteration of national signifiers and sporting competition, given that it’s simply impossible to conceive of internationalism without some notion of the particular, of difference. I once asked a posh, middle class leftie what his future ideal vision of sport was. It was something like a set of supra-national teams doing non-competitive gyrations such as synchronised swimming and gymnastics. I couldn’t imagine anything more alienated and stupid.
I do have a slight difference with Demarty on the racism of football supporters, however. He argues that such racism is now diminished because of policing strategies. That’s partially true, but there’s a bigger factor at work. I’ve watched an awful lot of football in the past 40 years; I can’t actually remember the last time I heard anything approximating real racism (I think that would have been in the late 1980s and it was then fading fast). I’ve heard English chauvinism, sexism and homophobia in that time, but not racism.
There’s a reason for this. In the highly partisan world of football, supporters want their team to win and to be better than the other set of wankers down the road. As black players became more prevalent in teams, they became heroes, because they had the ability to deliver for us: to battle for us and help us win.
Someone hung up on any serious level about race wouldn’t be able to support their team in any real sense; that matters because football demands a total commitment from those fans who consider themselves to be true supporters. And I would suggest that the number of supporters expecting an all-white British football team are very thin on the ground.
The problem with the National Front-inspired football fans of the 1980s (whose role has been mythologised and massively over-hyped by liberal leftists), who started suggesting that supporters couldn’t cheer or ‘count’ goals by black players, was that it was effectively a moronic injunction to stop supporting this or that team. It is that existential step that most partisan football supporters cannot conceive taking in any sense.
I’m talking about people who actually love, watch and care about the game; not about those who Tweet about things and alternately wank into pizza boxes with the curtains drawn.
Right to decide
Tony Greenstein clearly knows far more about the internal politics of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign executive committee than I ever will or care about (‘Poverty of solidarity’, July 8). But there is a major inconsistency in one of his central arguments.
“In practice, the PSC has always supported a two-state solution”, but later he states: “The PSC says that it does not support any single solution - two states or one. Its excuse is that it is up to Palestinians to decide what they want.” Both positions cannot be true at the same time.
At this year’s online AGM, the PSC executive moved an amendment to a main motion put forward by the Communist Party of Britain, in its own name, deleting the reference to “two states”, which the CPB had included. The argument of the PSC executive was precisely that it did not support any single solution; it was not the role of a solidarity movement to take any such position. The amendment was passed overwhelmingly, as was then the subsequent amended motion.
Tony’s view is that the PSC should take a specific view on the proposed solution - as long as it is his preferred one of a single, democratic, secular Palestinian state, covering the whole of mandate Palestine. He even goes on to say: “... even if Palestinians still supported a two-state solution, a solidarity movement should reject it.”
This is a breathtakingly arrogant and fundamentally wrong position. The role of a solidarity movement - especially in the oldest imperialist country in the world, and one with a very specific history and current role in the Middle East - is absolutely not to tell any people oppressed by imperialism, including British imperialism, what they should think and advocate.
The programmatic aims and objectives of the Palestinian people are a matter for the Palestinian people themselves and no-one else. The actual outcome will be determined through the course of mass democratic struggle and revolutionary change in Israel/Palestine and the wider region.
Tony goes on to say that not having a specific position “is a problem, because when people ask what we want to see in Palestine the PSC has nothing to say. It has no vision to offer, whereas the Anti-Apartheid Movement had no hesitation in declaring that it wanted a unitary South Africa.”
Surely it is not beyond wit or reason of pro-Palestinian activists faced with such a question ‘on the streets’ to say precisely that it is not our business to specify this or that ‘solution’, but to provide comprehensive and effective solidarity to an oppressed people fighting for national liberation and freedom. To say ‘we’ in the UK should have a view on the nature and composition of nations and states can lead to a very slippery logical slope, including the ‘liberal interventionism’ of the war on Iraq or threatened war on Iran. We always say it is for the peoples of those countries to determine the nature of their states, their governments and societies and no-one else.
The point about the Anti-Apartheid Movement is fundamentally misleading. The AAM declared in favour of a “united, democratic, non-racial South Africa” precisely because that was the declared position of the national liberation movement itself, led by the African National Congress.
Personally, I agree with Tony and Moshé Machover (eg, in ‘181 pages oozing hate’ Weekly Worker February 23 2020) on “two states” and its true role and purpose. It never meant, and could never mean, two genuinely equal, sovereign states coexisting within the area of historic Palestine. It was always about creating a Palestinian ‘entity’ for ‘managing’ and containing the Palestinian people - but under the firm military and nuclear auspices of a greater Israel.
It is funny how advocates of ‘two states’ very quickly fall into a defence of the right of Israel to exist, when put under any pressure or scrutiny. To raise the ‘right’ for the state of Israel to exist during what are meant to be solidarity actions in support of the Palestinian people, while they are being literally gunned down, gassed and bulldozed by the Israeli state, is frankly bizarre, to put it very diplomatically.
As the Morning Star editorial for May 22 correctly noted, “the resistance now encompasses the whole of the Palestinian people” But not many of the organisations, structures, formations and people making up that resistance are calling for borders ‘as they stood on June 4 1967’ or for borders ‘pre-1967’.
It seems very clear that we are witnessing the emergence of a whole new Palestinian narrative of an alternative path to national liberation and freedom. How or if that may be expressed programmatically and whether it will be adopted by the whole of the Palestinian resistance is not clear right now. It does seem clear, however, that ‘two states’ is well on the way out and into the dustbin of history.
But the role of solidarity movements in the UK and elsewhere is absolutely not to make support conditional on this or that slogan or programmatic aim, but to maximise material, political, cultural, social, etc support for the Palestinian people in their struggle and resistance; and equally to maximise all forms of pressure on the Israeli state, to strengthen the former and weaken the latter as much as possible.
I suspect that if and when the state of Israel perceives that the full range of internal and external forces have become strong enough to represent a threat to its very existence, then all sorts of new options, opportunities and possibilities will open up - as happened in South Africa in the late 80s and early 90s.
Andrew Northall comes out as a full-blown Stalinist in his July 15 letter. His first point is that Trotsky was an ultra-left masquerading as a revolutionary, because he was not for alliances with the liberal bourgeoisie, Dimitrov’s popular fronts in imperialist countries or two-stage capitulation to the national bourgeoisie in the colonies and semi-colonies.
How very ultra-left were Lenin, Trotsky, and the Bolsheviks to succeed in overthrowing the capitalist state in Russia in October 1917! ‘That kind of stuff must never happen again’ is his thesis. So Spain in its revolution of 1936-39 was right not to go down that road and unity with the anti-fascist capitalists - a class that had mostly fled the revolution and had to be re-invented - was absolutely necessary. But the workers had seized the factories and the peasants the land, and these revolutionary actions - together with the embryonic soviets that defended them - had to be put down.
Those who sought socialist revolution - Trotskyists, supporters of the Workers Party of Marxist Unification (POUMists) and anarchists - were assassinated by the Stalinist murder squads, politically directed by the counterrevolutionary Italian communist leader, Palmiro Togliatti. He did the same to the Italian revolution at the end of World War II. The ‘disunity’ that destroyed the revolution with this attack on all those subjective revolutionaries - of whom there were far more in Spain then than in Russia in 1917 - was employed to defend the popular front with the ‘democratic capitalists’ mainly in France and Britain. Next came the popular front with the actual fascist bourgeoisie, Hitler’s Nazis, signed in Moscow on August 23 1939 by the German and Soviet foreign ministers.
Tony Clark is right about the excesses of anarchists against the lower orders of the Catholic church - especially the nuns who were hospital nurses, but were slaughtered, resulting in terrible shortages - although no tears for the bishops and cardinals, who were Franco supporters.
Of course, Andrew Northall is also right about The proletarian revolution and the renegade Kautsky, against all current attempts to reinstate the renegade as a political strategist for the Russian Revolution. He was a great theorist of revolution; he just totally opposed the actual one that took place. But it is Andrew’s attempts to justify Stalin’s personal dictatorship and the Great Purges that makes him such a ridiculous hack. “This was not ‘above’ or ‘outside’ the law, but using the law - the law of the established and legitimate Soviet state,” he writes. But what law was that? It was article 58 of the Russian SFSR penal code (February 1927) that allowed the state to arrest those suspected of counterrevolutionary activities. This was updated by many sub-articles that were enacted in June 1934 and so ‘counterrevolutionary activities’ were now whatever Stalin said they were under his personal dictatorship.
Spartacus Educational tells us that in the summer of 1932 Martemyan Ryutin wrote a 200-page analysis of Stalin’s policies and dictatorial tactics, Stalin and the crisis of the proletarian dictatorship. Ryutin argues: “The party and the dictatorship of the proletariat have been led into an unknown blind alley by Stalin and his retinue, and are now living through a mortally dangerous crisis. With the help of deception and slander, with the help of unbelievable pressures and terror, Stalin in the last five years has sifted out and removed from the leadership all the best, genuinely Bolshevik party cadres, has established in the VKP(b) [All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks] and in the whole country his personal dictatorship, has broken with Leninism, has embarked on a path of the most ungovernable adventurism and wild personal arbitrariness.” Ryutin was eventually executed in January 1937.
Stalin had demanded his execution in 1932, but had lost the vote on the central committee because Sergei Kirov defended him. But Stalin controlled the secret police and Kirov had signed his own death warrant. Alexander Orlov recounts in lurid detail how Stalin consolidated his personal dictatorship. Hundreds were summarily executed, including political prisoners who had been locked up for years and could have had no connection with later alleged “counterrevolutionary activities”.
He promised Zinoviev and Kamenev he would not execute them and that their children would be safe if they confessed. But both were summarily executed after their trial and Kamenev’s two sons were murdered too. Part of article 58 actually allowed for the execution of all relatives and associates of those accused of “counterrevolutionary activities”: ie, for not grassing on your parents. Onlookers at “counterrevolutionary events” could be imprisoned or executed for not reporting them.
‘Law’, ‘due process’, comrade Northall? You must be joking.
Casting dialectics aside, Gerry Downing accuses me of a “liberal reactionary defence of capitalism” (Letters, July 15). The reason for this is because I point out that dictatorship, which Lenin defined as rule untrammelled by any law, bears some similarities to Al Capone.
The first point to make is that Downing denies the role of personality in history. The political stupidity of the tsar and Kerensky are not seen as factors in their defeat. Marxism, however, recognises the importance of personality in history. For instance, without Lenin the Bolsheviks would not have seized power.
Now, regarding my alleged “liberal reactionary defence” of capitalism, the fetishisation of Marx by many on the radical left has meant that the most fundamental law of dialectical logic is forgotten, when it comes to Marxism, which is viewed as a doctrine containing no contradictions. But Marxism, like everything, does contain contradictions - a positive side and negative side. At the political level, the positive side of Marxism serves the interest of the working class, while the negative side can serve the interest of bureaucracy.
This fetishisation means that most leftists focus on the positive, while being unaware of the negative side - which finds expression in the elevation of the dictatorship of the proletariat into a principle, rather than a tactic, and the abolition of the separation of powers, which Engels called for, which opens the door to political tyranny.
The point is that socialism, like the trade unions, is part of the working class movement and both can lead to the domination of a bureaucracy to one degree or another. Without democracy, the socialist revolution inevitably leads to the rule of the bureaucracy, just like in the trade unions. In fact, socialism can be described as a general trade union, which has come to power. So why wouldn’t a bureaucracy take control, as they do in the actual trade unions? The main contradiction on the left is between bureaucratic and democratic socialism. Bureaucracy is not the result of backwardness, as the Trotskyist narrative would have us believe.
Downing’s reference to Cromwell in England and the Committee of Public Safety in the French revolution is a red herring, because I am not opposed to dictatorship. I am simply pointing out that it should not be turned into principle. The contradiction between bureaucratic and democratic socialism ensures the defeat of the latter, when dictatorship is made a principle. Lenin’s fetishisation of Marx meant he was unable to see where turning dictatorship into a principle would lead to, underpinned by the abolition of the separation of powers. Like most of the left, Lenin saw only the positive side of Marxism, while being unaware of the negative side. Marx must have known that he would become a fetish and once said, “All I know is that I am no Marxist.”
On the question of socialism in one country Downing says, “Joe Stalin, Chairman Mao and Hugh Gaitskell join forces with Tony Clark against Bolshevism”. If they join forces with me it’s not against Bolshevism: it’s against Trotskyism and ultra-leftism, and who can blame them? (although I am not keen on being paired with Gaitskell - Aneurin Bevan would be better!) As for Stalin, regardless of his flaws, progressive humanity will forever owe him an eternal debt of gratitude for stopping the Nazi fascist hordes. As for Mao, Downing’s dismissing him as a conservative bureaucrat is ridiculous. Don’t forget, it was Mao who mobilised the youth against the capitalist roaders. Some conservative.
The truth is that Trotsky joined the Bolshevik Party at the last moment, as the only means of gaining power. When Lenin went off to Summerland in 1924, Trotsky began his struggle to replace Leninism with Trotskyism and was caught out. Only after his political defeat did Trotsky give any support to democratic socialism. Before this he represented the bureaucratic tendency within socialism, and his later anti-bureaucratic posture took an ultra-left form. Trotsky may have been unaware of Lenin’s writings on the possibility of socialism in one country. We are asked to believe that Lenin, a theoretician of Marxism, really meant revolution was possible in one country, not socialism.
If Trotsky was aware of Lenin’s writings on socialism in one country, he would not have challenged Stalin on this basis in a party which began to deify their former leader. This may come as a surprise to Downing and other Trotskyists, but not only did Lenin believe that socialism was possible in a single country: he also entertained the idea that communism was possible in one country as well. In fact, the Bolsheviks wanted to bring about communism in one country immediately, but when the attempt failed, they dubbed this attempt ‘war communism’ - a label which was applied retrospectively.
Lenin later said in the debate on the ‘tax in kind’, which ushered in the New Economic Policy: “Direct transition to communism would have been possible if ours was a country with a predominantly - or, say, highly developed - large-scale industry, and a high level of large-scale production in agriculture. Otherwise the transition to communism is economically impossible” (CW Vol 32, p233).
Another axiom by Lenin was: “Communism is Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country.” And Lenin called for a plan “designed to bring about the victory of communism” (CW Vol 31, pp513-18). It’s a Trotskyist myth that Lenin saw socialism as absolutely dependent on international revolution. What concerned him most was the military threat posed by the advanced capitalist states.
The question here is not whether Lenin was right or wrong. The question is whether Trotskyism misrepresented Lenin’s views. I think the textual evidence speaks for itself.
Trotsky failed to think dialectically on socialism in one country, leading him to the mistaken view that world revolution was an immediate absolute necessity for the victory of socialism in individual countries. Casting aside dialectics, like Downing, he demanded the communist movement choose between socialism in one country and world revolution, but it wasn’t an either-or issue.
The communist movement put on its thinking cap and refused to buy this sour plum.
Campaign For a Democratic Socialist Society