Eddie Ford writes that, “unlike Fatah, Hamas refuses to recognise Israel and the entirely bogus ‘two-state solution’ (in reality a one-state solution and two ‘self-administered’ Bantustans)” (‘Thin end of the wedge’, December 2).

This is a misleading rendering of Hamas’s position on the two-state settlement - whatever you think of that solution, it has long been the international consensus for resolving the conflict. The idea that Hamas is wildly at odds with this consensus is a fiction of Israeli propaganda intended to portray recalcitrant Arabs as the primary obstacle to peace instead of Israel and the United States. Ford unwittingly reinforces this message.

Although Hamas refuses to recognise Israel, it has repeatedly expressed its willingness to accept a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders since 2006. Even after Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza during 2008-09 (codenamed Operation Cast Lead), Hamas leader Khaled Mashal said: “We along with other Palestinian factions in consensus agreed upon accepting a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines. This is the national programme. This is our programme. This is a position we stand by and respect.”

This stance was reiterated in the 2017 document of principles that Ford references in his article, which says that, although Hamas rejects Israel, it “considers the establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state - with Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of June 4 1967, with the return of the refugees and the displaced to their homes from which they were expelled - to be a formula of national consensus.” Furthermore, Hamas has repeatedly offered a long-term ceasefire with Israel on the condition that it ends its inhuman blockade of Gaza.

Every year the UN votes on a resolution entitled ‘Peaceful settlement to the question of Palestine’, which outlines the two-state settlement for resolving the conflict. In 2020, 145 states voted in favour, with nine abstentions. Just seven states voted against: Australia, Canada, Israel, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru and the United States. It is clear that Israel, enabled in its rejectionism by Washington, has been the main obstacle to peace. There is no need to accept the propaganda line that Hamas is implacably opposed to negotiations based on two states.

In any event, at this stage the ‘peace process’ is not the appropriate focus for the Palestine liberation struggle. The realisation of Palestinians’ human rights should be prioritised over the so far elusive search for a comprehensive political settlement.

Talal Hangar

Desperate stuff

I was very pleased to see Gerry Downing’s response (December 2) to my own letter (November 25). It is very desperate stuff and Gerry still hasn’t got the hang of quotation marks. He really should have used his famous quotation marks to identify the verbatim passage he quotes from Nikita Khrushchev’s “secret” speech referring to the losses suffered by delegates to the 17th Congress and the central committee elected there.

I am delighted Gerry as a noted veteran Trotskyist continues to embarrass and discredit the whole Trotskyist tradition through his claims and choice of sources. Gerry continues to stick to Boris Nicolaevsky’s ‘Letter of an old Bolshevik’. Excellent. Its original claimed basis was that the Menshevik had spoken to Nikolai Bukharin whilst he was in Paris, but it is now accepted that this never happened and that Nicolaevsky had effectively made the entire conspiracy theory up.

Does Gerry simply deny the concrete evidence from the Soviet archives that there was no factional division between a moderate, consolidationist faction and a more radical Stalin leadership core? As I have said previously, it is a nice story and if true I would probably have been with the moderates, but unfortunately it was nothing more than a speculative fantasy.

Going from fantasy to the bizarre - and actually pretty nasty and exploitative of a genuine human tragedy - Gerry claims Stalin’s first wife committed suicide as a result of the collectivisation policy. Stalin’s first wife was Ekaterine ‘Kato’ Svanidze, who died in 1907 from tuberculosis - a period before the collectivisation of the late 1920s. I think Gerry is referring to his second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, who did commit suicide in 1932. Again, being very loose with his facts. I am surprised Gerry didn’t just claim Stalin killed her himself (he probably will next week).

Alliluyeva’s suicide was a dreadful human and personal tragedy and had absolutely nothing to do with policies of high state, as Gerry surely must know, but disgracefully and disgustingly, he tries to exploit it for his sectarian political purposes.

“All the circumstantial evidence points to [Stalin ordering the murder of Kirov], as does the testimony of Alexander Orlov,” says Gerry. “Circumstantial” (!) evidence and Alexander Orlov!? Do me a favour. Studies of the Soviet archives show there can now be simply no doubt there were large numbers of complex, overlapping conspiracies and networks from the outset of the establishment of Soviet power in 1917, with a range of differing motives and objectives - some of them conflicting, but allowing for temporary alliances; some including with the Axis powers, and which reached peak intensity from the early 1930s onwards: ie, just as the Soviet Union was achieving full-scale socialist construction and consolidation. The overthrown classes and the imperialists were increasingly desperate that their chances of capitalist restoration would vanish.

A number of assassination attempts were made on Stalin and other top leaders from the early 1930s. The high-powered weaponry used, the degree of organisation and the fact they were able to escape unscathed indicated strong links with the security and military forces. Prior to Kirov’s assassination, Stalin frequently walked the streets of Moscow. After Kirov’s death, he never did again. If Stalin had ordered the murder, why change his habit?

As for Orlov, I suggest readers look him up on Wikipedia which is an absolute gem and includes: “Most of what Orlov said, even under oath, or during his debriefing by the US intelligence officials, or in private discussions with his friend, Gazur, has by now been established as outright invention to elevate his status in the eyes of his debriefing officials and the wider western public”. In other words, a complete liar and fantasist. Yes, very credible and persuasive Gerry - not!

If Gerry was being honest, he would openly admit he would have supported all those attempts to overthrow Soviet socialist state power, rather than dredging the depths to regurgitate discredited Nicolaevsky or Orlov conspiracy theories.

I have previously made clear in this paper that I completely condemn the killings of large numbers of communists in the purges, including those indicated in Gerry’s non-quote relating to the 17th Congress. However, I do not have sympathy for those who were genuinely indicated as involved in myriad conspiracies to attack, weaken and overthrow Soviet power, including through alliances with the secret services of Nazi Germany and Japan. I am not concerned if they were overthrown capitalists, displaced kulaks, Whitists, Mensheviks, monarchists, social democrats, liberals, fascists, Trotskyists, etc; or what their precise personal or factional motivations were.

I supported the Bolshevik revolution and the establishment of Soviet power in 1917. I consistently supported all defences of Soviet socialist state power from 1917 until 1991. I am proud of that record. Gerry is on the opposite side of that basic class divide. Fine. His counterfactual fantasies, claims, ‘evidence’ and ‘sources’ to ‘justify’ his anti-proletarian class positions are, however, unusually pathetic and pitiful.

Andrew Northall


Comrade Paul Flewers’ article promises that his forthcoming book should present an engaging new contribution to the debate on social formation in the former USSR (‘A Stalinist school of development?’, December 2). It isn’t perfectly clear from the comrade’s edited chapter, however, how exactly he sees that the Stalinist socio-economic foundation being by its nature a “historically temporary phenomenon” in any sense undermines or discredits the theory of state collectivism as such.

Unless I have misunderstood, the same argument could surely be levelled against any historical theory by virtue of its object of inquiry being historical - and hence temporary by its very essence. Comrade Flewers risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

For example, it’d be meaningless to discredit as a “historically temporary phenomenon” the theory of Fordism as a phase in 20th century development of the capitalist mode of production, simply because it has since been replaced (or at least supplemented) by a neoliberal phase. The end of Fordism and of Stalinism are, of course, connected, although this is not my point.

The fact that contemporary societies of the former USSR developed out of their prior Stalinist socio-economic foundation in itself gives us nothing of inherent worth to say about the theory of state collectivism. We know that modes of production are, generally speaking, dynamic objects with historically determined trajectories of development and transition. It is the ways in which they have developed and why that would prove more compelling material for study.

Alastair Thomas


Following Paul Flewers’ discerning analysis of the term “state collectivism”, as applied to the Soviet Union, I’d like to clarify a point about my recent article on China (‘Modernisation with typical characteristics’, July 22).

Contrary to the suggestion made at the time that my view must be that there was no distinction between state-assisted Meiji Japan and the People’s Republic of China, let me quote Paul Flewers on the relevant distinction: “... there is a difference between the distortion of value relations under capitalism and the suppression of them under Stalinism.” Just so: what began the distortion in the 19th century was the formation of joint stock companies and monopoly plans, encouraging competition between firms supported by nations, especially over Africa, which led to World War I. In response, backward-capitalist nations like Germany, Turkey and Japan made innovations in state assistance.

Soon even bourgeois reformers in China began to think in terms of building a strong counter-colonial, state, governed autocratically. The Chinese Communist Party, which emerged after China’s humiliation by the Versailles Treaty, saw “state-led modernisation” going much further than those who assumed a domestic capitalism under state direction. Contrary to revolutionaries like Lenin and Trotsky, whose Marxism intended Russia to become a key to international revolution, the CCP were Stalinist-before-Stalin by pursuing, in the name of popular revolution, a strong party state in charge of national development.

Given China’s weak capitalist class and domination by imperialism, this involved the suppression of value relations - a non-capitalism miscalled socialism. The CCP’s underlying aim made for a confidence and flexibility that not only instigated disasters like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, but in time introduced “market reforms”, while maintaining party dominance.

The stability of such a society though, especially among an emergent middle class, is no more guaranteed than in that other temporary answer to capitalism, the Soviet Union.

Mike Belbin

ANC capitalism

Paul Flewers, in his otherwise useful and very balanced critique, lets drop an odd notion about the deliberate, more or less Thatcherite - or, more extreme, Majorite - policies of every ANC government in South Africa. This involved the tearing up of a big raft of proposals for ‘reformist’, state-regulated (if not state-controlled) financial and industrial frameworks. That was beyond “conventional capitalist” economies (I know no more about those developments than the average Guardian reader).

Why? My suspicion is a combination of dogmatism - in great part inherited from Stalinism - and of understandable, but reactionary-utopian, distrust of the high degree of state regulation and control put in place by the Nationalist Party governments since Malan and Strijdom - with the explicit goal of opposing British imperialist finance and raising the poor (Afrikaner) whites from the lumpen misery imposed by the Brits, Smuts, et al.

Could taking a leaf out of the state-control/regulation book of apartheid/Baasskap have done more to raise the mass of poor blacks - a task desperately needed and not neglected, but opposed by the ANC governments?

Ben Cosin

John Maclean

The annual John Maclean commemoration was held on Sunday November 28 in Glasgow, where I gave the following graveside oration:

“John Maclean is talked of as Scotland’s favourite socialist saint. But why is he so important? Why - nearly 100 years on from his death - do we commemorate him? Why do we bother to remember him?

“We remember him first because he was an internationalist. A supporter of the Bolshevik revolution. An Honorary president of the All Russian Congress of Soviets. The Bolsheviks made him the first Soviet consul in Scotland. And he ran a consulate at 12 Portland Street in the Gorbals. The Post Office refused to deliver mail and the state wanted it shut. But Maclean fought on. Connolly admired him, by the way, and said: ‘The fight against Maclean is a conspiracy against the working class.’

“Secondly we remember Maclean because he was a pioneer in working class education. He himself got an MA in political economy at Glasgow University through evening study. Later he and his colleagues ran scores of classes in Marxist economics. He wrote pamphlets, set up the Scottish Labour College and the Tramp Trust Unlimited.

“We remember Maclean because he was an exponent of working class self-organisation: organising the unemployed; at the fore in the Clyde Workers’ Committee; backing striking women workers in Neilston; and the workers also at Singer, Clydebank and Weirs Engineering, Cathcart.

“We remember Maclean because he was a principled opponent of imperialist wars. He went to prison several times - and had to endure particularly harsh conditions - because of his steadfast opposition to the bloody slaughter of World War I. He organised anti-war rallies. The first was at Nelson’s Column on Glasgow Green. At first the anti-war movement was small, but it grew. He was discussed several times in Cabinet and Lloyd George dubbed him ‘the most dangerous man in Britain’.

“And finally we remember Maclean because, like James Connolly, he was someone who recognised the inextricable link between the demand for socialism and the demand for national liberation. The national question - the right to national self-determination - was and is a democratic demand that needs to be at the very heart of socialism.

“So thanks for coming here today! Thanks for your support.

“All hail the Scottish Workers’ Republic!”

Alan Stewart
Scottish Republican Socialist Movement


Tony Clark thinks that some of us don’t know the difference between dictatorship and coercion (Letters, December 5). So I looked them both up and found that coercion is “the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats”, while dictatorship is “absolute rule unrestricted by law”.

But the comrade is unconvinced that we currently live under a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. He writes: “... 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?”

However, the Marxist terms, ‘dictatorship of the bourgeoisie’ and ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, do not use that word in its usual sense of “absolute rule unrestricted by law”. They refer specifically to the ultimate control of one particular class over another.

As Marx and Engels put it in The German ideology, “The separate individuals form a class only insofar as they have to carry on a common battle against another class; otherwise they are on hostile terms with each other as competitors.” In other words, to take the present context, sections of the bourgeoisie can be at loggerheads, but, when push comes to shove, they know which side they’re on, as their blood-soaked history shows only too clearly.

Clark reckons, it seems, that Stalin’s 1936 constitution was a step forward from Lenin’s “dictatorship”. I’m not sure that the masses of Bolsheviks murdered, albeit following a ruling from a court of law, soon after that constitution came into effect would have agreed with him. But this was, apparently, “a constitution of a democratic socialist society” which we must fight for.

No, comrade, the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is not, for Marx or for Marxists, the rule of a single dictator, but of the proletariat as a whole. It refers to a conscious proletariat, with far reaching democracy within this class (and therefore the overwhelming majority of society), dictating to the old order by whatever means are necessary. And, as Marx put it, “this dictatorship, itself, constitutes no more than a transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society”.

Jim Nelson

Labour process

Lenin famously said: “An ounce of experience is worth a ton of theory.” He was also fond of the Russian proverb, “Life teaches”. Or - to put it another way - you can’t keep banging your head against a brick wall.

I refer to the two letters in the Weekly Worker (November 4) by former CPGB comrade Jim Moody and expelled Labour Party member Tony Greenstein. I will not repeat the arguments of Jim and Tony, which I agree with: suffice to say that following the defeat of Corbynism it is the height of madness for the CPGB to repeat its mantra that “the Labour Party should be turned into a united front of a special kind” and that “the Labour Party and trade unions are a field of struggle”.

Over the last 20 years the CPGB has flipped from calling for a Socialist Alliance party to its opposite, when it calls any attempt to form a Marxist Party as a Labour Party mark two. The CPGB continues with its undialectical analysis of the Labour Party, when it repeats Lenin’s description of it from 100 years ago as a bourgeois workers’ party.

Dialectics teaches us that all organisms are in a state of continual change, and that quantity changes into quality and vice versa. In my opinion, the Labour Party since Tony Blair has been in the process of a qualitative change, where it is no longer a bourgeois workers’ party, but is now akin to a bourgeois party just like the US Democrats.

The CPGB puts much weight on opinion polls. It is true that Labour is improving its poll ratings, but this is only because Boris Johnson like Tony Blair has lost his Teflon coating and is self-destructing. As soon as the ‘men in grey suits’ decide his time is up, Boris Johnson will be replaced by the much savvier Rishi Sunak.

If Rishi Sunak cannot rescue the fortunes of the Tories (he has opposed the equalisation of the rate of capital gains tax with the rate of income tax), Keir Starmer will need a rainbow coalition of Labour, Scottish National Party, Lib Dems and Greens, to form a government, such is the strength of Tory support in middle England and the south-east.

A Keir Starmer government would quickly show that Labour is in its long, drawn-out death agony (to paraphrase Trotsky). In my neck of the woods (North-East Cambridgeshire) the Labour Party is hated by working class people due to the neglect and betrayals of the New Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, which people do not forget.

A similar qualitative change has occurred in the trade unions, which are now intertwined with the state and the big corporations. The trade union bureaucracy - not just in the United States, but also in the UK - is a strike-breaking caste who are working day and night to put a break on the mushrooming number of strikes calling for improved pay.

The existence of this strike-breaking caste shows that it is correct to counterpose the establishment of rank-and-file workplace committees (as advocated by Trotsky in his 1938 transitional programme) to the call for the unionisation of Amazon warehouses and logistics by the rightwing bureaucracy which controls the GMB union.

John Smithee


The series of articles by Jack Conrad on ecological questions is hugely important and should be brought together into a pamphlet or book. They could also form the core of much needed discussions on these most pressing issues of our time, perhaps in the form of a special Communist University. To have such material to study and debate could be extremely valuable - there was so much to explore just in the last of the series (‘The past as future’, November 25).

This appeared - coincidentally, it seems - exactly at the moment when David Graeber’s and David Wengrow’s The dawn of everything - a new history of humanity is flying off the shelves and receiving plaudits across the board. There is much common ground being explored in both, but there are also huge differences in conclusions drawn. I haven’t read The dawn of everything yet, but I am more than aware of how much it has disappointed the Radical Anthropology Group (RAG) - amongst whom there are Chris Knight and Camilla Power, familiar participants in previous Communist Universities. The former is also mentioned in the footnotes of the article, recognising the importance of his seminal work, Blood relations, published 30 years ago.

There has been a Zoom discussion event featuring Chris Knight with the London Communists group, chaired by Simon Pirani, in which Chris described the Graeber-Wengrow book as more like the “teatime” than the “dawn” because of its almost complete dismissal of what’s to be learned from hunter-gatherer egalitarianism. But Chris did also say that the success of The dawn of everything is opening a door that those of us who are keen to learn from that original communist past - towards a future that saves us from the looming disaster - can walk through.

I thought it was also prescient that the report of the CPGB’s revision of the section in its Draft programme on women appears in the same issue of the Weekly Worker as the last Conrad article. This is key to all of the above, as the women question lies at the very heart of human history.

In another RAG event just past, Morna Finnegan, in her illuminating talk on ‘Love and loneliness in anthropology’ (available on the RAG Vimeo channel), poses the question relating to Graeber and Wengrow: “Where are the children, where are the babies?” - and that’s something that needs to be raised with comrade Conrad and the Draft programme too.

RAG has shown me how socialised childcare was absolutely key to the human revolution way back when, and children must be restored to their rightful place - both in terms of whatever society we are to aim for and in terms of how we get there. Don’t throw the children of the revolution out with the bathwater, I say. But I do think a communist programme is vital and that’s what RAG can learn from the CPGB.

In closing, I have to say I find the end section of comrade Conrad’s article on the human counterrevolution and ecological destruction, that he claims happened when humans moved out of Africa, very difficult to accept on face value. I see that as a much later occurrence, which happened in tandem with what Engels describes as the first-class subjugation of women. Fortunately I can ask comrades in RAG about this and hope it can spark some of the debate we so badly need.

Tam Dean Burn