Blocked by George
Given the recent extensive coverage in your paper of George Galloway and the Workers Party of Britain in relation to the Batley and Spen by-election and beyond, I thought your readers might be interested in my experience of the WPB, its leader, and his activist supporters in the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist).
In the autumn of 2019, I had been a member of the Communist Party of Britain for two years, was the branch secretary for the Merseyside branch and a member of the CPB’s Popular Sovereignty Commission (PopSovCom). In this latter capacity, I was involved with the, rather belated attempt to establish a new left Brexit grouping, to be called ‘Leave, Fight, Transform’. I was tasked with the leading role in setting up a public launch meeting in Liverpool.
I already had speakers in place for a meeting to take place at a well known local venue for socialist meetings. A representative from Counterfire would speak, a sympathetic leading figure in Young Labour, plus perhaps myself, and with one of our leading local trade union comrades to chair. This was all well and good, but I decided to be a little more bold and imaginative, and took it upon myself to contact George Galloway online, figuring that his presence would likely double, at least, the possible attendance. To my surprise and delight, in a late night messaging exchange, George agreed to appear.
The next day, also to my surprise, but much less to my delight, leading comrades on the CPB PopSovCom rejected Galloway as a speaker, on the grounds that his presence would upset many of our ‘left allies’. I relayed this news to George the next day, and he expressed disappointment. Looking back, perhaps he saw such a meeting as a route back into the left mainstream? Anyway, during our latest messaging exchange I remarked, “We need a new party, George.” To which he replied simply, “Yep.”
At this stage, before the 2019 election had been announced, I had no idea that such a party was on George’s radar, if indeed it was. I should also make it clear that I had long shared many of Galloway’s socially conservative views, and long believed that a mass alternative to Labour could only be established by a party that met the British working class where it is ideologically: that is, economically leftist, generally pro-Brexit and patriotic, supportive of the family, law and order - and uneasy, to say the least, about the increasing extremity and domination of the left by the proponents of identity politics.
I was well aware of the CPGB(M-L), and had met their forerunners back in my Socialist Labour Party days in the 1990s. I well remember a day school at Bolton Socialist Club, where certainly Ella Rule, and possibly Joti Brar and others, were present. It was after this meeting that most of those attending from Manchester decided that if the SLP was to be taken in the direction that the likes of Harpal Brar and Royston Bull wished to take it, it was time to exit. Those of us who soon resigned from the SLP included a member who would reappear in my life as a member of the executive committee of the CPB 20 years later.
By the time of my contact with George over the proposed Liverpool meeting, I was also one of a sizable number of CPB members who believed that a ‘Vote Labour everywhere’ line was indefensible, now that Labour had adopted a ‘second referendum’ policy on Brexit. Most of this oppositional group chose to bide their time and stay within the CPB, but I was already looking for alternatives. This included attending a few of the CPGB(M-L)’s ‘study sessions’ in Liverpool - an area where they had no real presence. I found these sessions to be dull in the extreme. I was not inspired to join them, though I remained on good terms, it seemed, with the members I met, including Joti.
When the general election was called and Galloway announced that he would stand in West Bromwich, initially against Tom Watson, with open CPGB(M-L) support, I was excited, and did the honourable thing in resigning from the CPB in order to campaign for Galloway.
All told, I made the relatively lengthy trip by train from Liverpool to West Brom to campaign with George and co on four occasions. It was an enjoyable experience, and the derisory vote that Galloway ultimately received came as a huge disappointment to me.
However, I was surprised to find that on the Saturday of my last visit, just after I had caught my train back to Liverpool, the Workers Party of Britain had been formally founded at a meeting to which neither I, an active campaigner for George on the ground, nor another Liverpool supporter, a woman who had taken on the responsibility for setting up the stall every single day, had been invited. This particular dedicated female comrade left in disgust immediately, before the general election result had even been announced.
As more news of this semi-secret meeting was leaked, I became increasingly dismayed. It seems that this meeting was to be regarded as a full congress, with no new one under the newly established party rules until December 2023. This ‘congress’ also ‘elected’ a leader (George, naturally and rightly), a deputy leader (Joti) and a 40-strong members’ council. Even worse was the fact that this council, which couldn’t be changed by the membership for another four years, reserved the right to coopt new members or to dismiss old members on whatever grounds it chose. It also got to decide which of the party rank and file would be classed as ‘active’ members and thus eligible for full voting rights. Unsurprisingly, this nascent party machine was, apart from Galloway, entirely dominated by members of the CPGB(M-L).
Despite my strong misgivings about the way the WPB had been established and the lack of a real democratic structure, I still believed it was a project worth pursuing. I thus joined on day one. I spoke from the floor at the inaugural national rally in Birmingham in January 2020 and again at the Liverpool rally in March.
I actually quit in disgust a month or so later when it seemed that I was the only member during a Zoom meeting who was not called upon to speak/ask a question (which would have been on whether or not our proposed Independent Britain should retain an independent nuclear deterrent). However, I quickly decided that my decision to leave had been rather hasty. I had already formed the opinion that ultimately Galloway and his CPGB(M-L) backers would split, and still hoped to be inside the WPB when that split happened. With this in mind, I quickly attempted to re-establish my monthly direct debit with the party.
I found that my membership was blocked. The main reason given in an email was the informal criticisms over the lack of democratic structures and transparency that I had raised during my brief period of membership.
Then, in the run up to the Batley and Spen by-election, I made generally favourable pro-WPB statements online, established friendly relations with some of their new recruits, and re-established contact with some members who, like me, had been involved from the beginning. I then tried again to reinstate my direct debit and was again blocked, without explanation. Two party members volunteered to speak at the members council on my behalf, but, as I heard nothing, I decided just before the election to take a chance and contact George directly online, reminding him of my early involvement, and expressing regret that I was not able to be a part of his current election campaign. His reaction was to block me.
Essentially, that was my involvement with the WPB over. I have never had much respect for the CPGB(M-L), but I did greatly respect George Galloway. No longer. His refusal to give full backing for the victimised Batley grammar school teacher tells us all we need to know about his principles. He was clearly quite happy to sacrifice the supposedly pro-free speech, pro-worker, anti-woke credentials of his party when he thought it might cost him Muslim votes.
How will it all end? Eventually, George and the CPGB(M-L) will fall out, as recent contributors to your paper have pointed out. There is no doubt that the WPB is building as a party, but growth within a larger organisation always poses problems for a sect like the CPGB(M-L). Put simply, they will win some raw recruits for their particular brand of simplified Stalinism, probably enough to call the whole venture a success once it is over, but it will not be enough to maintain control of the WPB, should it really begin to take off as a viable party. Those who come into the WPB from the Labour Party, the trade union movement or even the CPB will not for long stand for less democratic rights than they once held within other organisations. Appeals will be made to Galloway from those who are being denied full voting rights, and he will be forced at times to choose between decent working class activists and those who efficiently serve him, in a bureaucratic sense, by running his party whilst he is busy with his various media activities.
The catalyst for implosion may simply be over election tactics, should another by-election be called soon. Will Galloway insist on being the candidate, at least if the seat looks remotely winnable? The danger here is that the WPB starts to look like nothing more than George’s latest vanity vehicle (he already seems to have airbrushed from history the recent All4Unity Scottish debacle). In Batley and Spen, George mentioned his party so infrequently that he may as well have been running as an independent. Plus, if your aim is to replace Labour as the mass party of the British working class, then what possible purpose is served by making the focus of your campaign changing the leadership of the Labour Party?
And suppose that for once George isn’t the candidate. Ranjeet Brar would on the surface be an exceptional choice: young(ish), attractive, charismatic, a good orator and a heart surgeon - a real-life NHS hero. To quote George himself, what could possibly go wrong? Well, the problem is that it would not take the mass media long to dig beneath the surface gloss, down to the Stalin Society, to an affection for the North Korean dynasty that is perhaps the model for their own family cult, to strong support for the IRA, to the heralding of the 9/11 attacks as a “blow against imperialism” (the final straw for Scargill in the SLP). The only reason that the media campaign of political assassination has not already begun is partly because the press did not take the WPB campaign in Batley and Spen seriously until it was over, and partly because George himself didn’t much treat it as a party campaign.
How will George react when and if his most trusted political lieutenants are exposed as ultra-Stalinists who believe that every accused old Bolshevik in the Moscow trials of the 1930s was guilty as charged?
Despite his oft-quoted remark that “If you don’t run, they can’t chase you”, I believe that he will begin to run, faster and faster, to put as much distance between himself and his current leading comrades as possible.
I think Gerry Downing needs to take a lot more water with whatever he has been drinking during the current hot spell. I simply did not say any of the things he claims I did in the first three paragraphs of his rather bizarre rant (Letters, July 22). Nor do I believe any of those things.
The feebleness of Gerry’s whole approach lies in the fact that he appears to attach himself to one particular interpretation by one particular author on a particular issue and takes this to be gospel truth. Does he not realise there is a considerable debate and controversy about many of these historical issues; that there are many perspectives, views and interpretations as to what happened and why? Truth and facts are surely multifaceted and multidimensional. But not in Gerry’s universe. Surely if we are serious Marxists and revolutionaries in the 21st century - serious about socialist revolution and achieving a socialist and communist world - we need to weigh up all the contradictory, confusing evidence, try as far as possible to establish facts and from there to develop analysis and lessons for the present.
It is telling that Gerry does not even attempt any defence of the rightists and leftists convicted in the Moscow trials, for which there are published volumes of detailed documentary evidence of their guilt. It is funny, but I have never heard any so-called debunker of the Moscow trials able to disprove even one scintilla of the evidence provided.
In the present day, of course, we have the (Trotskyite) Socialist Workers Party siding with the counterrevolutionaries and western imperialism in Cuba against the socialist government there. Gerry will probably say they are not his kind of Trotskyist (and they would probably say the same about him). But these are the same poisonous berries from the same poisonous roots.
Yassamine Mather has described the penetration of Israeli intelligence into the highest levels of the Iranian state and government (‘Mossad’s people’, July 8) - something you might ordinarily think to be impossible, given they are allegedly so ideologically and religiously opposed to each other. So it’s not so strange that Trotsky, Bukharin et al conspired with enemies of the Soviet state on the crude, calculating basis of ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’.
Regarding the Ryutin platform and Kirov theory, this dates right back to Boris Nicolaevsky’s ‘Letter of an old Bolshevik’, published in 1937. It was republished in 1965 as ‘Power and the Soviet elite’, with an introduction by George Keenan - a US diplomat and cold-war warrior advocating ‘containment’ and the nuclear ‘roll back’ of Soviet communism. Nicolaevsky was an old exiled Menshevik and it is widely thought that his ‘Letter of an old Bolshevik’ was written by one Nikolai Bukharin. Are we seeing any patterns and consistencies here?
It is a very attractive, neat theory that Kirov was a rival to Stalin and led the ‘moderate’, consolidationist wing of the Soviet Communist Party against the more ‘radical’, led by Stalin, and hence was assassinated by Stalin, who then used the death as a pretext for the 1937-38 purge to clear out his opponents. There may be some truth to some of these political issues - evidence actually of real debates and differences within the Soviet Communist Party, under supposed ‘Stalinism’. If there was a Kirov-led, more moderate, consolidationist, democratic wing of the party, I would probably have supported it.
Oleg Khlevniuk is a trenchant anti-Soviet, anti-communist and anti-Stalin academic, historian and writer, but at least he is a researcher and seeker of truth and facts, irrespective of whether they are uncomfortable or support unfashionable assumptions or theories. His book Master of the house: Stalin and his inner circle, is based on extensive research of the Soviet files and other documentary evidence, and he concludes there is no evidence to support any of the key theses on which the whole Nicolaevsky/Bukharin story is supposed to be based.
Kirov was apparently horrified when he heard some delegates at the 1934 congress had put his name forward as general secretary - so horrified he went straight to Stalin to tell him! Hardly a deadly rival or an advocate of ‘Stalinism without Stalin’. Whilst the motives for the death of Kirov are still unclear despite books and volumes of research (nonetheless, Gerry ‘knows’ what happened!), Khlevniuk suggests a simple, credible reason may have been the fact that Kirov had been carrying on with Nikolaev’s wife and was caught in the act in the party headquarters by Nikolaev, Kirov’s assassin. Whilst this too is unproven and probably unprovable, it is much more credible than the more grandiose conspiracy theories fantasised by Trotskyists, Mensheviks and their financiers and backers in the US secret state apparatus, which have long since fallen away in the face of the facts and evidence.
Occam’s razor suggests the simplest and most straightforward explanations are usually the best ones and, as Khlevniuk makes clear, there was no factional division between moderates and radicals in the politburo in the early 1930s. There was no anti-Stalin faction in the leadership after 1929. There was no loss of central control. The ‘Great Terror’ was not conducted by regional party leaders against Stalin’s will (another pro-Stalin revisionist theory, although actually pretty insulting to the real Stalin). It was not some form of psychotic nightmare which engulfed the whole of Soviet society.
The centralised, planned operations which took place over 1937-38 had a clear beginning and end. They were targeted and focused primarily on “anti-Soviet elements”, “people of the past”, “counterrevolutionary national contingents” and very much driven by the rapidly deteriorating international situation, with impending war with the Nazi and fascist states.
Yes, of course, the events and numbers were brutal, shocking, dramatic and traumatic. Far more people were executed in 1937-38 than previously or subsequently in the Soviet state, but in the hundreds and thousands - not tens of millions, as people like Gerry claim or used to claim before the facts and evidence emerged after 1991. And the fact remains that by the outbreak of war in 1941 there were no longer any Nazi fifth columns within the USSR or in the state or party apparatus.
Yes, innocent people were caught up in them. Yes, some people used them to settle old scores and personal rivalries, to obtain personal advantage and promotion, and sometimes to deflect blame from themselves. Do I defend or excuse the negative or excessive aspects of the so-called Great Purge? No. Were there more humane and democratic alternatives available? Possibly.
I do recognise, however, that the Soviet government and the Soviet Communist Party were fighting to defend the essence of the very real gains of the Bolshevik revolution and Soviet socialism - of Leninism itself - against the counterrevolutionary right and the ‘left’: a very real existential threat. And they conducted this through a particularly sharp and intense expression of the class struggle. It was necessary to destroy the enemy within in order to destroy the enemy without - the latter, of course, intimately connected with the former.
John Smithee has a go at me on the grounds that, despite the apparent collapse of the Labour Party, “Bernard Mattson puts all his eggs in the Labour Party basket” (Letters, July 15). Smithee gives a detailed picture - nationally and, for him, locally - of just how far down the pan Labour has gone, which means “the Labour Party is finished”.
Given that his attack on me opens with a defence of Tony Greenstein’s letter (July 1), which in turn was an attack on Eddie Ford and the CPGB in general, I assume that he agrees with Tony, who says: “Eddie Ford describes the Labour Party as a united front of a special kind. My own view is that such a formulation is just a rhetorical device to say that you support a reformist Labour Party, come hell or high water.”
I will take both positions as being a general attack on the position of the CPGB on the Labour Party at this time. That is, putting all of our “eggs in the Labour Party basket” and supporting it “come hell or high water”. I must admit that, looking at Weekly Worker articles over the last few years and attending Communist Forums and Communist University events, I find it difficult to see where evidence of such fantasies can lie.
There are, I believe, people who say - or maybe only used to say - that they had Labour running through them like Blackpool in a stick of rock. Others, born into a Labour household and having been members for many decades, have a similar feeling for the party. They may even go so far as to put all their eggs in the Labour basket, come hell or high water! But I haven’t seen such folk in the CPGB.
Instead, we have repeated week after week, in article after article, in multiple spoken contributions, the need for a strong Communist Party, which we don’t have at the moment. The Labour Party is something else, as often pointed out using Lenin’s formulation: it is a bourgeois workers’ party. The bourgeoisie have controlled Labour’s leadership from its formation. The earliest leaders were staunch supporters of the British empire and remained so until their modern transformation into staunch supporters of US imperialism - where they are now.
At the same time, we have the millions of voters, the hundreds of thousands of members (albeit falling at the moment) and the connections to the major trades unions. Tony and John say that it’s time to ditch all that, because the “Labour Party is finished”. One can wonder at why they came to this realisation so late. Wasn’t it finished when Ramsay MacDonald cut the dole? Wasn’t it finished when Tony Blair took us to Iraq? How long would it take just to list the betrayals and crimes of the Labour leadership?
We need a strong Communist Party. We need it to lead the struggle to transform the Labour Party. We need it to lead the struggle to transform the unions. Is this a pipe dream in the present circumstances? I don’t think so myself: it’s certainly an uphill battle, with who knows what twists and turns to come. Success will depend on a transformation in the British or even the world working class. Would Starmer, the Labour right, the union right be able to stop it? I don’t think so.
Meanwhile, starting from scratch - or rather starting with George Galloway - Tony and John want to build a new party, and perhaps new unions. They would look to succeed in some new objective conditions that would be the same objective conditions that the CPGB would need (see above) for transformation. But, rather than transformation, they want to start from a new birth - as if that hadn’t been tried so many times already.
Is the Labour Party finished? Who knows? Not yet, I believe. But better to seek to transform an ailing giant than to build another little sect. There are more than enough of them already.
Thank you, Weekly Worker, for publishing Marxist economics the way that you do.
I enjoyed reading Arthur Bough’s linear depiction of Capital (Letters, July 8), and the other writers on this contentious issue. But I don’t agree with his analysis that capitalism isn’t on the decline, I much prefer Hillel Ticktin’s Leninist/Marxist approach. When you are unemployed or are in a job and on the receiving end of time and motion, it certainly doesn't feel like capitalism is booming!
Another point I would like to make is on the CPGB's approach to ‘high politics’. If Trotskyism is top-down politics, but the working class are to be the next world leaders, the down-up approach is better - but without the eclectic, annotational speak like in Socialist Worker. This maybe a tactic to gain rapport with the working class, but it doesn’t encourage them to read Marx. You can read the left’s publishings for years and agree or not agree with their line, but being in the organisation as a member is another thing entirely.
Some may say that this is contradictory, because reading Marx is a top-down activity - these books are not simplistic, escapist novels. After reading Marx’s major economic works and getting familiar with his concepts, I have a feeling this is a myth peddled by anti-communists. The central line in those works is the working class being the wealth creators and how they are exploited.
Probably the major hurdle in reading Marx is the stark reality, which may lead some workers after a hard day’s work to pursue anything but reading how their surplus value is extracted! That is why I hold the Weekly Worker in high esteem with its high debates and polemics presented in an accessible way.
Is there not a blind spot of our Marxism when it comes to gay rights and acceptability in the 21st century? We need to adhere to the logic of science and rational debate.
As a young, gay man growing up in the 1980s, I was deeply disappointed to find some fringe left revolutionary groups telling me that homosexuality is a symptom of capitalism! Such a philosophy precludes any rational debate and discourages a correct view on what it is to be gay. It’s an easy way out of a refusal to accept what is necessary.
Life in, for example, ancient Greece long before capitalism existed wasn’t seen in a negative, unnatural light and had little influence on Greeks’ views of gays in everyday life. This is only one example of whitewashing over history and how gays have been made an excuse for weaknesses in the individual. Little is mentioned on the left recently about discrimination in Russia, Poland, Romania and other European countries, let alone African and South American.
We should remember that our first principle is that everyone should be treated as a human being. Our core belief is to defend those who are vulnerable. However, in recent years this counterproductive excuse on the left has faded - let’s hope for good.