Tony Clark (Letters, November 18) is clearly unimpressed by the espousal of Marxism by myself and Tony Greenstein - and the same espousal by most of the readers of the Weekly Worker, I suspect. Tony wants a democratic socialist society - as, again, do most of those readers. It would seem that we differ on how to get there.

To get to the nub of his position, I quote from his letter:

“For Lenin, dictatorship was rule untrammelled by any law, regardless of class content. In other words, a lawless government. Dictatorships, in other words, are above the law and don’t have to obey any law. That is why they are dictatorships.”

So, for Lenin, there was no law. Which law is Tony Clark referring to? Why did Lenin preside over a dictatorship? A civil war in which the opposition was supported by numerous imperialist forces may have had something to do with it. How many votes and elections are needed in the midst of a vicious conflict?

Tony does seem to concede that dictatorship might come about as an emergency measure, as in the Paris Commune, for instance. But he thinks that it is “ultra-left” to say that we “live under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”. Well, sorry to be “ultra-left”, but I do believe that this is the case. Perhaps Tony can explain how we can get out by “democratic means”. If a mass Communist Party at the head of a mass, conscious working class in Britain - and supported by the same in a large part of, at least, Europe - were to win an election, would we then put a few demands forward for inclusion in the queen’s speech?

We might take a handful: renationalise water, electricity, gas and the NHS; abolish the monarchy and the House of Lords. Next steps: go through the readings and committee stages, put it to the Lords and the monarch. (If all this passes, then all we do is await the results of the judicial reviews). If the Lords, the monarch, the courts, etc all bow out gracefully, then we can go forward to Tony’s democratic socialist society with ease. But, as the Chartists said (much quoted in the Weekly Worker), “Peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must”. ‘Forcibly’ would, I think, require a dictatorship - over the bourgeoisie - to allow the democratic will of the working class to be carried out.

For a little detail of the ‘dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’ Tony could do a lot worse than to read Mike Macnair’s piece in the November 18 issue of the Weekly Worker, ‘In modern times’. He might also reflect a little on world history and give us an example or two of the bourgeoisie letting go peacefully, as opposed to unleashing the most vicious repression. As a matter of further interest he might note that the first of the ‘Immediate demands’ in the ‘Draft programme’ of the CPGB is headed ‘3.1. Democracy’.

But Tony’s a bit worried about ‘Marxism’ and its derivation from the ‘original sin’ of Karl Marx. To quote from ‘What we fight for’ - which appears on the penultimate page of each issue of the Weekly Worker - “Communists have no interest apart from the working class as a whole. They differ only in recognising the importance of Marxism as a guide to practice. That theory is no dogma, but must be constantly added to and enriched.”

“Recognising the importance of Marxism” is no more ‘sectarian’ than recognising the importance of Newton or Darwin in some other sciences. If there has been some great theorist who has overthrown and superseded Marx and Marxism, then perhaps Tony could enlighten us. Meanwhile Marxists - as in the CPGB, for instance - aim to learn the lessons of the past and enrich Marxist theory as a guide to practice, with the view of overthrowing the bourgeoisie for ever to enable a real democracy.

Jim Nelson


Jack Conrad’s ‘On the dark side’ is very informative on the dangers from John Zerzan and Deep Green Resistance, who “seek to dismantle industrial civilisation” (November 18). The popular frontism of seeking alliances with all would end up in bed with outright fascists, who turn the struggle against climate change into an overpopulation problem, and would forbid us fighting capitalism itself or seeking to overthrow it globally as the source of the problem. Going back to the countryside and up the mountains presupposes a mass extermination of humanity. That didn’t work for Pol Pot in Cambodia and won’t work now.

But I found problematic his reference to Martin Heidegger, the prime advocate of escaping to the countryside. In agreeing with Tom Rockmore that “Heidegger stands absolutely alone ‘amongst the major thinkers of the 20th century’ in being a ‘voluntary adherent of Nazism’”, Jack then goes on to assert that Rockmore’s insistence that “Heidegger’s philosophy and his Nazism were ‘inseparable’” was “surely an overstatement … given the intellectual inspiration he provided for decidedly anti-fascist thinkers, such as Hannah Arendt, Jean-Paul Sartre and Herbert Marcuse”.

Well, we would insist that the reverse is true: that the “decidedly anti-fascist thinkers” were deeply flawed in their own philosophical beliefs because of their continued defence of Heidegger’s philosophy. As it happens, the order of the thinkers Jack gives is from bad to better to best in that regard. Hannah Arendt’s anti-fascism was more opportunist than sincere.

There is a traceable line of the development of thought lodged in the philosophical idealist, as opposed to the dialectical materialist, view of history. The idealist tradition came from god, as the origin of all thought, then to Nietzsche, with his “god is dead” - only the Übermensch can rule and the Untermensch must serve them. And that does ultimately lead to a justification of Nazism. Elements of the idealist thought of ancient Greece - Plato, who believed that ideas were more real than things - and Rome led to the mystical Schopenhauer and thence to the elitist Nietzsche and individualist Wittgenstein and Heidegger (the uber-Nazi who never abandoned his Nazism and never apologised for his part in promoting and defending the holocaust). Of course, other philosophers from ancient Greece and Rome, plus in the 18th century Spinoza, Kant and Hegel, the dialectical idealist, also led to Feuerbach and thence to Marx and Engels - and from them to Lenin and Trotsky.

So modern philosophy must explain Heidegger and why this Nazi is regarded as the greatest philosopher of the 20th century by so many liberal intellectuals. Why were Jean-Paul Sartre and so many other so strongly influenced by this philosophy of the Übermensch? Why wasn’t Heidegger executed in Nuremburg post-war? Why did the Jewish liberal, Hannah Arendt, become his lover? Her 1971 piece, ‘Martin Heidegger at 80’, is a shocking defence of his philosophy in general. And is it possible totally to separate his politics - his Nazi genocidal supremacism - from his philosophy, which is supposedly progressive?

Can human thought be bifurcated between politics and philosophy? Of course not. The truth is that Heidegger’s philosophy was a defence of capitalism in general against the appalling vista of the socialist revolution, as it appeared in Russia in October 1917. In the 1930s Nazism was necessary to prevent socialist revolution in Germany. But post-war it served Sartre, Stalinism and the French philosophers to defend against revolution in France in 1968. So ponder the contradictions of liberals forced to rely, like Hannah Arendt, on a Nazi philosopher to defend their privileges against the dreaded socialist revolution.

Of course, Arendt was no Nazi, so why the defence of the Nazi monster’s philosophy? It is simply an attempt to find a substitute for Marxism from those who have rejected the aspiration for the working class to make revolution and so need to rationalise their own and humanity’s oppression by global finance capital. It must be galling for them to discover that their efforts are built on sand and to see that Victor Farias’s 1987 book Heidegger and Nazism demolished their efforts so comprehensively in this great scholarly work.

Heidegger’s philosophical outlook found its logical expression in the death camps. His ‘philosophy’ contributed to human understanding of its relationship to itself and to nature in general what the holocaust contributed to human progress. It poisoned European leftism with bourgeoisie individualism - the reactionary outlook of ‘existentialism’ so beloved of Jean-Paul Sartre and others ever since. We see its manifestations today in Thatcher’s ‘There is no such thing as society’, and from the anti-vax freak heads and the defenders of Kyle Rittenhouse. The former Revolutionary Communist Party group around Brendan O’Neill, who now produce the Spiked website, are a prime example.

Gerry Downing
Socialist Fight

Actual solutions

I agreed with some aspects of Jack Conrad’s article attacking greenism (not surprising, as it was that kind of piece - a veritable buffet for us to feast on), but I found the approach seriously problematic (‘On the dark side’, November 18). You could have easily flipped Conrad’s article, and instead written about the relation between futurism and the far right (which incidentally has already been done to death). For example, we could link the modernist architecture and Keynesian war industry of the Nazis. He basically set this up and then knocked it out the park; I don’t see how this approach helps.

However, my primary issue with his approach is the complete absence of trying to synthesise some of the plausible aspects of greenism, and even some of its wackier elements, within a Marxist framework. I didn’t really see any attempts to synthesise the latest climate science within a Marxist framework, which, given that Marx reworked his own theories, as new data came to light, seems like a betrayal of Marxism! This left us with a rather shallow and at times wildly distorted criticism, with no real attempt at a critical conclusion.

The lack of a conclusion brings to mind a question: what does Jack Conrad think will happen if vast swathes of the Earth become uninhabitable, forcing hundreds of millions to relocate? Does he think it will be water cannons on the Polish border? No, there will be new concentration camps on the Polish border. One way or another, a reckoning is coming: there is the planned way and the anarchical way, and Jack Conrad seems to be coming down on the anarchical side.

Conrad quotes Trotsky to define fascism as “parties or movements which recruit, or actively seek to recruit, a desperate, enraged and disorientated plebeian mass”, which seems to be the exact opposite tactic used by the “Quinola eating” green activists, to quote George Galloway.

If the far right are trying to synthesise greenism into their overall world view, then all I can say is that they show more wisdom than Marxists! The far right attempts to come up with actual solutions to real world problems, while Marxists sit in their ivory towers, lecturing about abstractions. No wonder the far right time and again gain more traction in the concrete world.

Maren Clarke

Only 700,000

I am afraid Gerry Downing is indeed just a stuck record and just regurgitates the same old nonsense, irrespective of the facts or evidence anyone puts to him (Letters, October 28). He again claims that Stalin organised the assassination of Kirov in 1934 and this became the pretext for the so-called Great Purge of 1937-38. I suspect Gerry doesn’t acknowledge the existence of the extremely well organised national security operations, which actually took place between August 1937 and November 1938, preferring to think Stalin was some sort of pathological, murderous maniac, who somehow, ridiculously, killed millions of Soviet citizens over his entire time in office.

Let us calm down and deal with facts - confirmed and verified since 1991, with the opening and extensive study of the Soviet records. Over the Great Purge, around 1.5 million were arrested and around 700,000 were executed. Not tens of millions, as the most venal anti-Sovietists, including Gerry, have long claimed. The argument at the time - and since confirmed by objective, independent study of the records – was that there was indeed a massive anti-Soviet conspiracy within and without the Soviet Union, with as a final objective the removal of the Soviet regime and its replacement by a pliant, pro-capitalist, pro-German (or at the very least ‘neutral’) coalition government. This included major acts of disruption, sabotage and terrorism to destabilise and ultimately pave the way for the overthrow of the regime. The assassination of Sergei Kirov - a senior, much respected, indeed loved, senior Soviet party leader - was a major escalation of that campaign.

Gerry claims this was all a conspiracy by Stalin, that Kirov was assassinated and then the Great Purge was launched because Kirov was head of a significant, moderate, consolidationist faction on the Communist Party of the Soviet Union central committee, trying to restrain and challenge Stalin’s leadership. This, of course, is based on the ‘Letter from an old Bolshevik’ by Boris Nicolaevsky - supposedly based on interviews with Nikolai Bukharin and published in the 1950s, under the imprimatur and approval of the CIA and US state department! Subsequent exposure and analysis of the Soviet files have demonstrated beyond any doubt this was a pure, ‘counter-factual’ theory, designed to undermine the credibility of what the Soviet authorities were genuinely reporting as what happened.

That Gerry continues to repeat this completely discredited US 1950s conspiracy theory is both risible and embarrassing.

21st century research and analysis shows clearly there was indeed a massive anti-Soviet conspiracy, based on the overthrown capitalist and landlord classes within the Soviet Union, the defeated right and left oppositions within the Soviet Communist Party and the top echelons of the military and security apparatus. It was allied with external enemies, such as Nazi Germany and militarist Japan. The notion that Kirov was leader of an internal opposition to Stalin has now been shown to be a complete fantasy. There is no evidence or even indication of any such factional division within the politburo at that time. Kirov was assassinated by Yagoda’s NKVD as part of that anti-Soviet conspiracy. Looking at the newsreels at the time, there can be no doubt as to the shock and grief suffered by Stalin and other leaders at what happened to their close comrade in arms.

I was really interested to read the numerous volumes of the period by the Trotskyist, Vadim Rogovin, who was associated with the radioactive detritus from Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party. Constantly, his exceptionally detailed narrative is interrupted by obvious examples of the anti-Soviet conspiracy and leading rightists and leftists engaging in prima facia activities which appear to evidence the anti-Soviet conspiracy in numerous aspects.

Frequently and laughably, he attempts to say ‘Yes, this looks very damning, but you need to look at the context’ or ‘They were very stressed and overwrought at the time and didn’t know what they were saying or doing’!

More seriously, his underlying analysis and explanation is that those leading oppositionists - having been removed from office, defeated, humiliated, ridiculed - were motivated by pathological hatred of Stalin and the Stalin regime and came to believe that almost any means justified the ends of achieving its overthrow and destruction. That either seeking or accepting the support of the Axis powers was justifiable in terms of the ends of overthrowing the Soviet regime - a version of ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’ (or at least a temporary ally).

I overall agree with Rogovin, although from the opposite class perspective. I agree that a complex, cross-class, internal and external anti-Soviet, anti-Stalin conspiracy did unfold in the 1930s, and that what happened was this threat was addressed head-on in the most extraordinary and ferocious response by the Stalin leadership - who not only purged the state and security apparatuses of these enemies, but then used them in an extremely focused, targeted and ruthless manner to crush and eliminate the ‘enemy within’. Rogovin, Trotsky et al (and Gerry!) were (rightly) devastated by the outcome. Socialists, communists, progressives, democrats, anti-imperialists, etc can only be thankful.

Andrew Northall