Stalin nostalgia

Lawrence Parker on his Writings on the history of the CPGB and other far-left organisations website (October 16, 18 and 20) and Paul Demarty (‘Failing the Lenin test’ Weekly Worker October 21) have a job on their hands: how to prevent a new generation of militants in the Young Communist League from becoming Trotskyists.

Comrade Parker is clearly nostalgic for Uncle Joe, as the title in his piece of October 16 - ‘The Communist Party of Britain disappears comrade Stalin’ - shows. In challenging the view of former CPB member Andrew Murray that “violations of socialist democracy during the Stalin period”, which were “a shameful blot on the proud history of the communist movement”, he points out that this “existed alongside a contradiction: the Soviet Union, despite these abuses of democracy, was still adjudged to be a socialist society and one where the “positive features of the socialist experience would far outweigh the negative ones”.

So Stalin committed criminal acts, but he also did good things - the ‘30% bad, 70% good’ stuff. But, whatever we do, we must not “dogmatically reproduce” Trotsky’s formulas of the 1930s about the Soviet Union being a “degenerated workers’ state”. Comrade Parker does not give us an alternative - what about ‘really existing socialism’ or Herbert Morrison’s ‘socialism is whatever the Labour Party does’?

How about doing it undogmatically? What about saying that the Stalinist bureaucracy was similar to a trade union bureaucracy which had taken state power? Except the USSR was initially a healthy workers’ state - hence degenerated - until the Stalinist bureaucracy usurped the last vestiges of inner-party democracy in 1928 and Stalin established his personal dictatorship in 1934 after he organised the assassination of Kirov and then blamed it on his political opponents. The other workers’ states - China, Vietnam, eastern Europe, Cuba, etc - were formed on the model of Stalin’s USSR, with no workers’ soviets or inner-party democracy. Hence they were deformed workers’ states from birth.

We might liken the efforts of both comrades Parker and Demarty to Trotsky’s “devil knows what it is!” argument: “When an emotional mechanic considers an automobile, in which, let us say, gangsters have escaped from police pursuit over a bad road, and finds the frame bent, the wheels out of line, and the motor partially damaged, he might quite justifiably say: ‘It is not an automobile - devil knows what it is!’”

However, “He will determine which parts are still good and which are beyond repair in order to decide how to begin work. The class-conscious worker will have a similar attitude toward the USSR. He has full right to say that the gangsters of the bureaucracy have transformed the workers’ state into ‘devil knows what it is’. But when he passes from this explosive reaction to the solution of the political problem, he is forced to recognise that it is a damaged workers’ state before him, in which the motor of economy is damaged, but which still continues to run, and which can be completely reconditioned with the replacement of some parts.”

Of course, we are pleased that comrade Parker castigates “the oafish ex-Straight Leftist, Nick Wright,” for celebrating the assassination of Trotsky. Perhaps we might be better going with the CPB’s “research and debate continues on the reality of major events in the Soviet Union during the 1920s and 1930s” and see what political current waged an internationalist political war on this degeneration. Who betrayed the revolution of 1917 and who fought for its programme?

Now to comrade Demarty. He would like to return to the politics of Lenin, because the YCL are “failing the Lenin test”. But between the death of Lenin in January 1924 and the assassination of Trotsky in August 1940 severe political conflicts occurred, which the CPB are prepared to discuss, they say - but not some comrades in the Weekly Worker in any detail. So “comrade Parker’s young correspondent” notes: “I’ve heard the same joke dozens of times about the older generation of the CPB being ‘Trots without Trotsky’: buy the books, sell the paper, attend branch meetings, repeat.” But “Young CPBers are right to reject such routinism and timidity, even if the politics they offer as an alternative are hopeless.”

But what is wrong with party-building activity, whilst also questioning received wisdom from the top? The truth is the CPB/Morning Star is the mouthpiece for the British trade union bureaucracy and sees socialism as this bureaucracy taking state power - like the Red Army did after World War II and peasant ‘red armies’ did in China, Yugoslavia, Cuba, etc (the latter in a more complicated way). The Leninist had to examine the alternative of Trotskyism in the Eurocommunist crisis in the 1970s, and rejected it. At least come as far as comrade Parker’s Stalinist hack, Betty Reid, and openly acknowledge that “Stalin’s theory that with the advance of the Soviet Union to socialism the class struggle would sharpen, and the multiplicity of its enemies would increase” was profoundly at odds with Marxism.

I was pleased to see that Nathan Czapnik was elected to the YCL central committee. Perhaps he has had some more time to examine Stalin’s relationship with the Polish communists and the slaughter of their leaders under the direction of Palmiro Togliatti during the Great Purges.

Similarly, I was pleased to read David Broder’s excellent article on the Italian Communist Party (‘A long-established disorder’ Weekly Worker October 21) and trust his forthcoming book will make some references to Trotsky’s engagements with Amadeo Bordiga, whom he had no hesitation in supporting against Togliatti and Antonio Gramsci.

Gerry Downing
Socialist Fight

Right-moving CPB

Paul Demarty’s article on stresses and strains within the CPB was interesting.

I find it deeply ironic that the CPB - which was meant to have been founded in 1988 in opposition to the alleged opportunism, reformism and revisionism of the Communist Party of Great Britain - has subsequently moved so far to the right, adopting wholesale precisely all that opportunism, revisionism and reformism. The ‘negation of the negation’, anyone?

Anyone who supported ‘Eurocommunism’ in the 1980s will find nothing to disagree with in the current CPB. On all issues - including historical debates over Thatcherism, the challenges facing the left and trade unions, democracy in the socialist countries, the role of the Morning Star, attitudes to the Labour Party and the left, the party programme, approach to socialist revolution, etc - the current CPB is either where the Euros were or in many cases to the reformist right.

The public disavowal in the Social Media Protocol of “armed struggle” taking place by oppressed peoples around the world, fighting for national liberation and freedom, is absolutely disgraceful and completely contemptible by a self-proclaimed revolutionary party. Pathetic petty bourgeois liberalism and respectability. Presumably, the Palestinians and the Kurds and before them the Cubans, Nicaraguans, Chinese, South Africans, Russians, etc should all have adopted Britain’s road to socialism and its respectable and responsible parliamentary path to socialism.

The old reformist ‘broad democratic alliance’ is back in vogue in today’s CPB, although with the ‘anti-monopoly’ tag added on. Some critics have pointed to another ‘economistic’ deviation, with some trade union types starting to refer to an “anti-monopolies” alliance - although, of course, “popular and democratic”.

Despite the apparent growth in party membership, nominations for the new executive committee appear at an all-time low and in total provide a dismal, non-inspirational pool of candidates to choose from. Some are retreads, who previously resigned from the EC for various ‘personal’ reasons or ‘other’ commitments. Some communist commitment and credibility. Not.

White-collar trade union types are literally selected for ECs because they have high office within certain trade unions, as opposed to any communist credentials or qualities - the complete reverse of the criteria which should be applied.

The current general secretary, Robert Griffiths, has been in post since 1998 for goodness sake. Is the CPB really trying to say comrade Robert was by far the best leader available for 23-plus years, that there were no other credible candidates? What about communist rotation of posts and development of broad skills? Where has been the succession planning, cultivation and development of new leadership cadre? Even the Chinese Communist Party changes its leadership every 10 years, but not the CPB or comrade Bob!

I don’t know how many members the “fast growing Communist Party” is now claiming, but there are very few published contributions to the ‘pre-congress discussion’ and most are very low-level. Genuine internal party life and inner party democracy appears soporific at best. No criticism of the CPB’s disastrous tailing of the useless Corbyn and the Labour Party.

CPB congresses are characterised by the utmost control-freakery. Delegates vote not on the individual motions or amendment, but on the congress arrangements committee recommendations for each one. So, if you want to vote for a particular motion, but the CAC has recommended voting against, you have to publicly vote against! Any public vote against is automatically against the ‘official’ recommendation and therefore frowned upon.

The outgoing political committee and EC will recommend a list of who should be on the new EC. This goes to the election preparations committee, who invariably accept the recommendation, and this recommended list goes to delegates to vote on. To elect anyone not on the recommended list would require coordination among delegates to decide who to drop and who to vote for, which is automatically ruled out as ‘factionalism’. Hence the large number of ‘duds’ on the recommended list who get nodded through.

It seems to me that the CPB split in 1988 simply reproduced much of the opportunism, reformism and revisionism of the old party (CPGB) into the new one (CPB). There could have been an opportunity for more genuinely communist revolutionary elements to argue their politics in a slightly more congenial setting and organisation, but either this did not happen or it was smothered and lost. As with all reformism and revisionism, left untreated, it multiplies and evolves into ever more rightward variations, as with today’s pale-left Morning Star and pale-red CPB.

On the ‘new recruits’, the Mosleyite YCL nowadays seems to dress its members in political uniforms, marching up and down, raising clench-fist salutes, waving red flags, letting off flares and chanting ever so r-r-revolutionary slogans. Older recruits appear to be pro-Corbyn, ex-Labour types, with all the weaknesses, fluffiness and faddiness associated with JC himself. Difficult to see much genuine revolutionary communist material in any of them, but one presumes the latter group is more amenable to the current CPB leadership than the former.

Michael Howlett
Milton Keynes

Fairyland again

Like Andrew Kirkland I was at the joint meeting that he describes (Letters, October 21). The image that stays with me was of Tony Greenstein and Roger Silverman grinning and shaking their heads, while Stan Keable was pointing out the necessity of a mass Marxist party in the working class - not an easy task in the three minutes he had available. I assume that they disagreed with him.

No, they had an amendment each: Tony wants the Labour Party exiles to “have a place to go”, while Roger wants to mobilise for the “practical demands” in the 2017 and 2019 Labour manifestos that “won millions”. I’m assuming that both comrades want to boost the numbers of fighters - nothing wrong with that. But Stan wasn’t just talking about fighting: he was talking about winning!

Corbyn’s manifesto demands were all very well, if rather modest - but what does the working class need? We face climate-change catastrophe, the continuing defunding of the NHS along with the rest of the welfare state, the threat of war - against China, Russia, Iran or wherever the incumbent president of the United States directs the British government to go. The working class needs to take power and end capitalism. So just wanting the working class to “have a place to go” is not really adequate for the tasks ahead. As comrade Kirkland put it, “the best that can be achieved is a Labour Party mark two”.

Who would join? Maybe a big union - how about Unite? If we have a party with Unite plus the dispossessed Labour members, who would be the organ grinder and who the monkey? Who would be the leadership? How would it be selected? What would be the structure, the programme? Or is it to just be a social club for socialists?

Tony and a large part of the crowd at the meeting were clearly focusing on the 150,000 who have been expelled from or left Labour. One might wonder how solid they were with the party. Some obviously were, but 150,000? Tony scoffed at the membership numbers of the CPGB; yes, we are aware of our small numbers. But we’re looking at what the working class needs and what it must achieve, not just at what we have now.

Look at ‘What we fight for’ - it’s there every week in the Weekly Worker. Point one: “Without organisation the working class is nothing; with the highest form of organisation it is everything.” And point two: “There exists no real Communist Party today. There are many so-called ‘parties’ on the left. In reality they are confessional sects. Members who disagree with the prescribed ‘line’ are expected to gag themselves in public. Either that or face expulsion.” Yes, it is not what we’ve got, it’s “What we fight for”.

In my own contribution (again, not easy in two minutes), I pointed out that the Labour Party exists and the point is how do we deal with it. It has never been a vehicle for the working class to take power; rather it has aimed to gain a few concessions maybe. Meanwhile, every squadron of Labour MPs has made up either ‘her majesty’s government’ or ‘her majesty’s loyal opposition’. Some comrades seem to think that we have been betrayed by Starmer and his folk and we need therefore to rebuild the Labour Party as it should be. And as it once was? When was that? At the start maybe? When all working class organisations could join - that didn’t last long.

Tony and Roger, along with many others, are clearly thoughtful and determined socialists, but what do they want? A home? For the 2019 manifesto? I’m afraid we need a lot more than that and the Marxist tradition is the only one that points to it.

Jim Nelson


Andrew Kirkland points out that the first clause in the principles of Labour Party Marxists is to transform the Labour Party into an instrument for working class advance and international socialism.

This is a worthy aim based on an incorrect foundation, because the first aim of LPM is inevitably to win the British Labour Party over to Marxism - a flawed doctrine, which at the political level upholds the dictatorship principle in opposition to democratic socialism. The idea that a proletarian dictatorship is necessary during the transition to communism was first adapted from Joseph Weydemeyer - although it is not entirely clear whether he regarded this as a temporary measure or a principle of socialist rule in the transitional period that it became in Marxism.

For Lenin, dictatorship was at the very heart of Marxism, and he acknowledged a person as a Marxist only if they extended the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Dictatorship is an emergency measure, which Marx turned into a principle of working class rule, which is a perversion of socialism. In Marxist usage it is also a misnomer for working class rule, which is substituted for state coercion. Marx changed the true meaning of the term ‘dictatorship’ based on the experience of the Paris Commune, which was clearly an emergency situation. Marx confused dictatorship with state coercion. But the whole period of the transition from capitalism to communism is not an emergency situation.

The problem with dictatorship is that it has a tendency towards totalitarianism. Trotsky’s critique of Stalinism was essentially a critique of totalitarianism. In his biography of Stalin (The Alan Woods version, 2016), he uses the term ‘totalitarian’ at least 12 times. Unfortunately, in his struggle against totalitarianism, which contained quite a few errors, Trotsky saw no relationship (or pretended there was none) between Marx’s dictatorship theory, Leninism and the totalitarian features of Soviet society, which many leftists, not least Maxim Gorky, criticised. Dictatorship may or may not be necessary at certain periods in the transition to communism, but it is certainly not a principle of socialist rule, as it is presented in Marxist doctrine.

By contrast the Labour Party was founded on the basis of democratic socialism. We have already seen where the dictatorship principle can lead to, as displayed by the negative side of the Soviet experience, which then collapsed in 1991. Marx’s dictatorship theory is not only a threat to liberal democracy: more importantly, it is a threat to democratic socialism as well. The Provisional Central Committee would be better off rejecting Marx’s dictatorship theory and focus on winning the Labour Party back to its democratic socialist foundations.

Regardless of Trotsky’s mistakes, was his struggle against the totalitarian tendency in socialism all in vain?

Tony Clark