LPM is wrong
I’ve always enjoy reading Paul Demarty’s thought-provoking pieces - until last week’s ‘Deserting the fight’ (November 25). In his plea for the defeat of the proposal for Labour Against the Witchhunt to merge with the Labour in Exile Network, Paul does not take into account the bigger picture.
LAW began five years ago. I don’t know who the founding members were and whether they are still in it, but - and we need to speak plainly about this - now, it is a front organisation run by Labour Party Marxists and the CPGB-PCC. Paul’s first reason for retaining it is that “LAW is already committed to fighting to transform the Labour Party into a united front of a special kind - of all trade unions, working class partisans, socialist groups and parties” - a familiar formulation for readers of this paper. There’s nothing wrong with trying to get people involved in a single-issue campaign in the hope that, in the course of that struggle, they will be won over to one’s political ideas - and maybe join one’s party. But, let’s not kid ourselves that there is anything more principled in the opposition to the merger than a simple fear of losing control.
Despite Paul’s piece, and the majority on LAW’s steering committee advising against it, the membership voted for the merger to go ahead. Sadly, the LPM members on LAW’s steering committee then wrote to all members to explain why they had no choice but to resign and would play no role in establishing the new organisation. I don’t know what a “united front of a special kind” means, but it can’t mean a united front where everyone thinks like us.
LPM are very clear that Labour is not a working class party - it does not challenge, or offer an alternative to, the capitalist system. The main argument of the comrades who resigned was that, while LIEN seemed to think that Labour was dead, “many working class people still see it as ‘their’ party - and therefore we need a strategy to continue the fight in Labour”. If you’re in an organisation called Labour Party Marxists then it’s very hard to give up on the idea that the Labour Party has to be a ‘site for struggle’. However, the ‘bigger picture’ is that the Labour Party’s hold over the working class is weakening.
Surely, communists would welcome the Pasokification of the Labour Party. And would want to help expose it as the sham working class party it is. To achieve that, I would suggest a united front of trade unionists, working class partisans, socialist groups and parties might be the way to go. However, that does mean being willing to work with people.
Things to learn
This is not a letter opposing Jack Conrad’s picture of early-human society (aka ‘primitive communism’), but a supplement to it, with a term that he may agree Greens often leave out: ‘mode of production’ (‘The past as future’, November 25).
Jack begins with a sketch of original communism, where women were in control - either through struggle or concealment of menstruation or a reinforcing religion. Things are more or less egalitarian, either inside roving bands or semi-settled base camps, until people left Africa for Asia and Australia to deplete the world’s resources under patriarchy.
Yet the egalitarian division of labour between the women’s network and the male hunters may have developed out of material evolution, when hominids stood upright, with the consequent disappearance of obvious sexual signals in females during estrus, so providing humans with an interest in cooperation between equally weak (or strong) sexes.
No economy is without its contradictions and early human communism was no exception. With cooked food and equal ease (and maybe monogamy after a free-for-all), human production for sustenance developed better tools and practical knowledge. This, however, led to what Lionel Sims has called the “Mesolithic crisis”, where improved hunting and fishing led, some time between 10,000 and 5,000 years BCE, to depletion of big game. The resulting scarcity may have seen an increase in competition between groups and a more settled reliance on agriculture and pasture animals. Some groups were dominated by those families in control of pasture, while others needed protection from roving bands.
Military characteristics - like autocratic command, strength in combat and aggression - could therefore have risen in the estimation of communities and especially with regard to those hunters who had developed a hormone prosperity for these: ie, men. Social struggle selects the approaches required. Conquest of competitors created empires and states with ruling families (like Cleopatra’s) set over the slavery mode of production.
Since then the productive forces, including human ingenuity, have developed through further crises to a point where the drive for profit threatens human sustainability itself. The road has not been smooth: there have been stumbles and waste. Eliminating capitalism in one country led not to socialism, but to a terrible improvisation of bureaucratic rule.
There are things to learn from the past and the main one is what not to repeat.
I see Jack Conrad uses his series on Cop26 to once again peddle his laughable and dangerous narrative in relation to the community of women. He paints a picture of a pre-modern society, but with a twist: a pre-modern society with bourgeois morality thrown in! Conrad imagines a society where a community of women oversee all relationships.
He conjures up the image of a nervous young man knocking on the community door, to be greeted by the female elders, who evaluate if the young chap is suitable to wine and dine his love, and live happily ever after! It is a very monogamous affair! Back in the real world, the community of women refers to women ‘servicing’ many men: this was required to create harmony within the social structure. A pre-modern society simply couldn’t be held together if only some men reproduced the next generation.
This was the basis for the bourgeois attacks on the communistic community of women. Marx and Engels defended this community of women by pointing out that the bourgeois turn proletarian women into prostitutes and that bourgeois marriage is a form of prostitution. In other words, the defence by Marx and Engels was along the lines of ‘Those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones’.
Conrad projects this bourgeois criticism onto the community of women itself. This is not dialectics, but dangerous bourgeois feminist nonsense. He is trying to reconcile extreme neoliberal individualism and radical bourgeois feminism with a communistic social solidarity, but in order to do this he will need a body of armed men to enforce it.
This is the ultimate irony of all such woke narratives.
Lost and fretting
In her letter, of November 25, Maren Clarke praises the “veritable buffet” available from Jack Conrad’s item of the previous week (‘On the dark side’, November 18). Indeed the very next edition offered a veritable cornucopia by way of both letters and articles that were hugely thought-provoking in their stances, even if also conflicting.
How those substantial disagreements were given space demonstrates perfectly that the Weekly Worker is putting principle into practice, in relation to its objectives for openness when it comes to debate/serious questioning etc; and ultimately for a party born from and then rooted in “democratic centralism”. On a downside of things, given the complete disarray of revolutionary leftism and the almost complete absence of ‘real world’ connection criticised so succinctly by comrade Clarke, it’s hard not to become dispirited. It occurs to me that prospects for Marxist parties are not looking good.
I can only hope I’m wrong. But in any event, going by their latest letters, I do find myself closest to Maren Clarke and Gerry Downing rather than Andrew Northall. The latter, surely, is nothing much more than a sales and marketing manager for the funeral service industry that continues around Stalinism; someone whose emotionless siding with the killing of 700,000 citizens in the USSR exhibits stupidity that crashes off the scale!
One final observation: comrade James Linney’s superbly comprehensive analysis and overview was slap-bang on target (‘Onslaught continues’, November 25). Given that I have three close family members working in frontline healthcare, I know full well about the extensive and multiple problems within the NHS. As the comrade makes plain, they include deliberate or at least tolerated chaos - ultimately disastrous - to which only a socialist framework can bring genuine resolution via future funding rooted in common good: ie, rather than (as surely it must be described) ‘primitivist profiteering’ by nefarious privateers.
Jim Nelson’s reply to me confirms my argument that Marxists copy Marx’s mistake by confusing dictatorship with coercion (Letters, November 25). This mistake was copied by communist leaders like Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and Mao. Stalin had it corrected later or approved its correction.
The first two Soviet constitutions of 1918 and 1924 referred to the state as a dictatorship of workers and peasants, thus repeating Marx’s mistake. But in the 1936 ‘Stalin’ constitution, working class rule was not described as a dictatorship: rather article 1 of the new constitution referred to the Soviet Union as “a state of workers and peasants”. This was, in fact, a constitution of a democratic socialist society. It is wrong, and a perversion of socialism, to refer to working class rule as a ‘dictatorship’ when the latter term means rule untrammelled by law, like Al Capone or the Krays.
The comrade also mistakenly gives the impression that, according to me, Lenin didn’t believe in any law. But the question is not that: it is about his correct position that dictatorship is rule untrammelled by law. If a dictatorship has to obey any law, it would by definition not be a dictatorship.
Comrade Nelson refers to Lenin presiding over a dictatorship during the civil war. The civil war, like the Paris Commune of 1870, was obviously an emergency situation, so turning to dictatorship under these conditions was justifiable, although it should be noted that the soviet regime was more relaxed in the civil war period than after, which saw the ban on factions and the vicious crushing of Kronstadt.
Unfortunately, the comrade continues to defend the Weydemeyer-Marx misrepresentation of the term ‘dictatorship’ to argue that we presently live under a dictatorship - the same mistake made by the German communists - which helped clear the road to Hitler. But if we live under a dictatorship at present, why does the prime minister have to answer to parliament or, in the case of the United States, why is it possible for Congress to impeach the president?
The comrade refers to the Chartists, whose position on changing society was ‘Peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must’, and suggests that force here implies dictatorship, but the use of force doesn’t always require dictatorship, and there is no reason to assume that this was what the Chartists were suggesting. The comrade simply assumes this, because Marxism confuses dictatorship with coercion. Some leftists may not want to accept that Marx was wrong to teach that the road to communism is through dictatorship, but when it ends in totalitarianism and bureaucratic usurpation they shouldn’t complain.
The comrade says that I am a bit worried about Marxism, which he seems to think I view as original sin, but what I am worried about are those who absolutise Marxism and are thus unable to see that the doctrine has a negative as well as a positive side, or contains contradictions, which is how reality expresses itself.
We can’t assume that the bourgeoisie will always put up resistance to socialism. For instance, if capitalism collapses as a result of the decline in oil production, then, rather than starting campaigns against nationalisation, as they did during the 1945 Labour government, industry will more likely seek to be taken over by the state. In this scenario it is not so much a question of opposing socialism, but distorting it in their own interest. This is one reason why Trotsky’s struggle against totalitarianism in favour of democratic socialism is so important.
Andrew Northall’s letter in defence of Stalin and the “extremely well organised national security operations”, which he euphemistically substitutes for the more condemnatory Great Purges between August 1937 and November 1938, is one sick joke (November 25). Why does he repeat his stuck record now?
The answer surely lies in the crisis that has developed between the Young Communist League and the Communist Party of Britain/Morning Star about how to relate to the legacy of Joe Stalin. The youth are disgusted at the continued fawning of the adult section to “peace and socialism”, to parliamentary roads and the status quo. So they imagine Stalin was far better than Khrushchev in this regard, not taking into account his authorship of the ultra-reformist British road to socialism, which castigates the Tories and Labour for lack of ‘patriotism’: ie, failure to defend capitalist property relations, as he advised all communist parties internationally to do.
Did Stalin order the assassination of Kirov? All the circumstantial evidence points to that, as does the testimony of Alexander Orlov. All the heads of the NKVD, who organised the mass executions, show trials and extrajudicial murders, themselves faced firing squads: Genrikh Yagoda in January 1937, Nikolai Yezhov in February 1940 and Lavrentiy Beria in December 1953.
We do know from Boris Nicolaevsky’s ‘The letter of an old Bolshevik’ (1936), that Stalin wanted to have the rightist, anti-Trotskyist Martemyan Ryutin executed for opposing him over the terrible consequences of the forced collectivisation of 1929, which caused the seven million deaths in the famine in Ukraine from 1932-33 and Stalin’s first wife to commit suicide, but Kirov and his supporters baulked him.
The 17th party congress of January-February 1934 was the last with any measure of democracy remaining, and it sealed Kirov’s fate. He got a bigger and more obviously enthusiastic standing ovation than Stalin. Some wanted him to replace Stalin, but there is no evidence that he accepted this offer; in fact he made the obligatory grovelling praise. But ominously he got only three negative votes from the 1,966 delegates, whereas Stalin got 166. Stalin had the records altered to say he too had got only three negatives, but later records revealed the truth. Stalin did not forgive or forget. Before 1938, out of the 139 members and candidates of the central committee who were elected at the 17th Congress, 98 were arrested and shot. In addition, out of those 1,966 delegates with either voting or advisory rights, 1,108 were arrested, shot or sent to the Gulag.
In 1921 Lenin warned Zinoviev and Bukharin by letter: “If you demand nothing but approbation in the [Communist International] you will surround yourselves exclusively with ‘docile imbeciles’”. This came to pass with Harry Pollitt and Rajani Palme Dutt in the UK, Earl Browder in the US and Ernst Thälmann in Germany, to mention just a few. Andrew Northall now signals his membership of that club.
Waste of time
Doubts crept in when I read Gerry Downing placing Spinoza, Kant and Hegel in the 18th century (Letters, November 25). No: Spinoza was the 17th century; Kant the 18th and Hegel, though born in 1770, published all his major works in the 19th.
So I was not surprised to read the mish-mash of claims about Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre’s sole major text on existentialism, Being and nothingness, was published in 1943. There is nothing in its 800 pages about the ‘Ubermensch’, contra to Gerry’s assertion that this concept, which he attributes to Heidegger, influenced Sartre’s philosophy.
By the mid-50s, Sartre had moved away from existentialism and he became the leading French anti-colonial writer and agitator. In his 1946 editorial in Les Temps Modernes, Sartre denounced the war in Indochina and demanded the withdrawal of French troops. The editorial justified revolutionary violence and compared the French presence in Indochina to the German occupation of France. Outrage followed.
His fiery introduction to Franz Fanon’s The wretched of the Earth; his wholehearted espousal of the Algerian war of liberation, which earned Sartre two fire-bombings at his Parisian apartment and demonstrators shouting “Sartre to the firing squad”; his trips to Cuba to defend the revolution; his hosting of Bertrand Russell’s’ International War Crimes Tribunal on Vietnam - these are all signs of a fully engaged, radical, public intellectual.
As for Gerry’s absurd claim that “it served Sartre… to defend France against revolution in 1968”, the precise opposite is the case. Sartre was one of the very first to proclaim the legitimacy of the student uprising, appearing tirelessly at gatherings to exhort and encourage them. After the May 68 defeat, when countless leftwing academic and public intellectuals retreated or, worse, went apostate, Sartre doubled down. He appeared at rallies and supported continuing factory strikes. The Gaullist government forbade the publication and sale of a Maoist newspaper, La Cause du Peuple, and so Sartre took on the role of editor and, along with Simone de Beauvoir, sold the daily on the streets of Paris until arrested.
Gerry Downing ends his diatribe by suggesting that existentialism continues its grip (“so beloved by Sartre and others ever since”). I’ve attended quite a few annual conferences of the UK or North American Sartre Societies and the number of visitors would barely fill a small lecture hall. Demonising Sartre for his imagined misdeeds is a waste of time.
In my Cop26 report from Glasgow I mentioned the police kettling of the Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism contingent on the Saturday march (‘Sit down and plan it’, November 11). I’ve since discovered that it was in fact the Young Communist League contingent and I thought Weekly Worker readers would find this of interest.
I apologised to the YCL comrades on the Scottish TUC anti-racism march on Saturday November 27. (This, by the way, was woefully attended. despite being part of a national mobilisation “proudly organised by the STUC” and in the immediate wake of the horror stories from the English Channel and Patel’s pathetic and appalling responses.)
The YCL comrades said that everyone seemed to have a different explanation for the kettling of their 50-60-strong contingent on the Cop march. But they certainly have a militancy not usually seen in their ‘parent’ party, the Communist Party of Britain. This was also reflected in their main chant on Saturday: “Lenin’s party: YCL!”
Interesting times indeed ...
Tam Dean Burn