WeeklyWorker

13.01.2022
Fernand Léger ‘Construction workers’ (1950)

Still no hint of seriousness

The working class, humanity, cannot afford to wait till the next century before dealing with capitalist slumps, war threats and the actuality of ecological breakdown. Jack Conrad replies to Tony Greenstein

Let me begin by stating that I have always held Tony Greenstein in some considerable regard. He is a brave, pugnacious and tireless fighter. If he was on side in the fight for a mass Communist Party he would, doubtless, be an asset.

However, on this occasion, replying to the comrade is, sad to say, once again, a real chore. Yes, on the subject of the fight for a mass Communist Party - ie, what is objectively necessary if we, that is humanity, are going to supersede capitalism, end national, racial and sexual oppression, end the threat of nuclear war, meet the challenge of climate change, achieve universal freedom, etc - he is, judging by his last two articles, either unwilling or simply incapable of serious engagement.1 After all, as will be seen, we have to counter utterly baseless claims, loud complaints and a whole lorry load of nonsense: unkind though it is, “a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”2 Trying, exasperating, a real challenge to rise above what is mostly mind-bogglingly trivial. More than a pity.

Hence the reader’s patience will be tried and tested. I apologise even at this stage. If you are going to seriously read this article, I would suggest that you not only follow the text below, but also keep comrade Greenstein’s two articles, and my first article, at hand (either hard copy or online). Check and recheck. It will be a long, hard slog, but I don’t want anyone to rely on my word alone.

Heretics

In his most recent, ie, second article, comrade Greenstein begins by casting himself in the illustrious role of the great renaissance mathematician and astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus: “I feel as if I am being accused of denying that the Sun revolves around the Earth.” Jack Conrad is, presumably, cast in the role of Clement VII. “My crime”, says a defiant comrade Greenstein, is being found guilty of abandoning “working class politics”. “In other words”, he says, “I am a heretic. I am fortunate not to be burnt at the stake.”

Well, true, comrade Greenstein has abandoned class politics (more on that below). But that does not mean we should not seek to rescue him though. In the process, so goes our calculation, there are many others to be won. Not through threats, certainly not through threats of immolation, but through reasoned, verifiable, theoretically consistent arguments … of the type, yes, advanced by Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Marx.

An aside. This paper, this organisation, is not interested in silencing anyone. Unlike comrade Greenstein, we - taking our cue from classical Marxism - champion unrestricted freedom of speech. We certainly encourage debate at our schools, forums and universities. Naturally there are quality, space and time considerations. What takes forward our project always constitutes the bottom line. Hence the contested decision to feature comrade Greenstein’s last two articles. On the Provisional Central Committee - which acts as the de facto editorial board - there were various opinions. After some debate we came out for printing his contributions in full. Not because of their quality. Not because of some liberal commitment to the right to reply at equal length (a plea made by comrade Greenstein himself).

No, the reality is that - when it comes to the contemporary left, leave aside bourgeois society at large - we, that is the CPGB, are very much the minority voice. The broad left formation, the dismissal of the revolutionary potential of the working class in Europe and North America, the rainbow coalition politics advocated by comrade Greenstein, constitute, sad to say, a widely held common sense. A common sense that we want to challenge and overthrow … even if that means wading through all manner of very silly arguments.

As noted in my first reply to comrade Greenstein, he seems to work according to the motto, ‘Attack is the best form of defence’.3 Therefore his intemperate response to the resignations of Tina Werkmann, Jackie Walker, Kevin Bean and Stan Keable from the steering committee of Labour Against the Witchunt. Not content with denouncing them for resorting to the “big lie” tactic of Joseph Goebbels, he accuses them of liquidating LAW and doing “very little” against Keir Starmer’s witch-hunt. Feeble stuff.

Maybe the same diversionary tactic explains this childish statement: “If anyone is guilty of this charge [abandoning class politics], it is Jack himself, who stubbornly refuses to use any form of Marxist or class analysis in relation to the current political and economic crisis in Britain and Europe. Indeed there is no analysis.”

We shall deal with class politics and analysis below. Meanwhile the trivia comes thick and fast. Comrade Greenstein complains that my article is “littered with snide innuendo and personal attacks.” Well, when making political criticisms, as is often the case in my polemical articles, it is done in a direct, frank and, where appropriate, comradely manner. As for “personal attacks”, what “personal attacks”? Reader, look over my first article. Not that we are against “personal attacks” in principle, eg, the SWP’s comrade Delta. But, though the personal is political and the political is personal, we are first and foremost interested in the politics.

With that in mind, let us look at the sole example he cites of the “snide innuendo and personal attacks” that supposedly litter my first article. Comrade Greenstein kicks up a great fuss over this little sentence of mine: “Well, I know the comrade is a regular reader of the Weekly Worker, even an occasional contributor, but obviously not an attentive one.”

The comrade was so hurt, so offended, that he went “through the list of articles” he has written for the Weekly Worker over the years. Even he was surprised, he says - “150!” “One article a week for 3 years is hardly ‘occasional’. Why the need for this sneering condescension?” You might have expected him to get upset about the charge that he is not an attentive reader, which is clearly true. But, no, what gets his rag is the word “occasional”. A dictionary definition: “occurring or appearing at irregular or infrequent intervals; occurring now and then.” Comrade Greenstein does not write every week, despite his claim to the contrary. No, he writes occasionally. A search of our website produces a list of exactly 152 articles … since 2006! Excellent, but, that said, he surely needs to grow a thicker skin.

General laws

Comrade Greenstein paints the CPGB, and myself, as trapped in the past, hankering after being some sort of a historical re-enactment society. He writes:

Jack regurgitates what the German working class did in 1875, Russia in 1917 and the formation of the Labour Party over a century ago, without even a hint as to why there has not been a successful working class revolution since 1917. It hardly needs to be said that the conditions arising out of the formation of the German working class - Bismarck’s attempts to outlaw the Social Democratic Party and his Kulturkampf - the repression of the tsarist autocracy and the conditions surrounding the founding of the Labour Party bear no resemblance to today.

What was the context of my writing about the founding of the Social Democratic Party in Germany in 1875 and in Russia in 1903? I was answering comrade Greenstein’s contention that there could be no leap into a mass Communist Party: “You cannot from existing levels of consciousness and organisation leap to a revolutionary consciousness.” That there has to be a “transitional” broad left movement for anything to happen. I was showing him, trying to show him, through these two famous examples, and more besides, eg, Communist Party of China and its 50 founding members, that his statement was factually incorrect. In other words, I disproved his contention, showed that it was false, needed to be corrected. There could be a leap, there was a leap, there can be a leap.

But, sadly, comrade Greenstein cannot admit that he is wrong. That is why he erects a Chinese wall in his mind between the history of the working class movement in the 19th and 20th centuries and today. However, what we are talking about owes nothing to this or that particular feature of this or that particular country, such as Otto von Bismarck, the Kulturkampf or the tsarist autocracy. No, we are talking about the general laws of history, society and politics. So we are not looking for an exact repetition of anywhere. That is impossible. But it surely has to be admitted that certain features of the revolutionary movement of the 19th and 20th centuries do possess universal significance … and, of course, those who cannot learn from the past are doomed to repeat past mistakes.

There were certainly those in the 1880s, 1890s and early 1900s who dismissed the idea of copying Germany’s Social Democratic Party and adapting it to Russian conditions. Eg, the Narodniks, the Economists and the anarchists.

Don’t you know that backward Russia bears no resemblance to advanced Germany; don’t you know that Russia has a tiny, ignorant, proletariat and a vast peasantry; don’t you know that before the working class can be organised into a party it must first engage in routine trade unionism, support worthy liberal causes; don’t you know … etc, etc. But Georgy Plekhanov, Vera Zasulich, Pavel Axelrod, Vasily Ignatove and Leo Deutsch were right. These exiled intellectuals formed the Liberation of Labour group in 1883 in Switzerland. Russia’s first explicitly Marxist organisation. The main polemical target of Liberation of Labour were the Narodniks and their morbid fear of capitalist development and failure to recognise the revolutionary potential of the working class. Plekhanov also drew up two draft programmes for what would become the RSDLP, based on the model of the German Erfurt programme. Between 1900 and 1903 it was, of course, the celebrated paper Iskra which truly laid the organisational foundations for a mass party (editors Georgy Plekhanov, Vera Zasulich, Pavel Axelrod, Julius Martov and, crucially, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin).

Opening the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP in 1903, Plekhanov, looking back 20 years, freely admitted that to begin with they were “nothing” … but we have “grown into a strong social force” and the future promised ever greater strength.4 Backward Russia could emulate, copy, advanced Germany. And there were just two years that separated the 2nd Congress and the two big factions of the RSDLP, the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks, each becoming mass organisations in their own right. There was a “leap”.

What about me not even providing a hint as to why “there has not been a successful working class revolution since 1917”? Well, of course, that is a key question. It is also hugely complex. That is why, in my first article, I simply said that we have striven, along with countless other Marxist thinkers, to provide explanations … and answers. In other words: look at what we have written.

Anyway, comrade Greenstein will have none of it. He is not satisfied. So, for his benefit, if for no one else’s, a few words. Firstly, his question, “why has there been no successful working class revolution since 1917”, needs qualifying. After all, since 1917 various working class parties, ie, ‘official communist’ parties, have come to power - with the backing of the Soviet army, or leading peasant-based armies - resulting, it has to be said, in yet more strange non-capitalist, non-socialist social formations and dead-ends.

However, the failure of the working class to carry out a revolution that transforms it into a ruling class, a revolution that has the potential to universalise itself, certainly, that has nothing to do with the absence of mass strikes in the docks, the mines and on the railways in Britain. Parochial in the extreme. Nor should it be explained because of information technology, etc. So, why the post-1917 litany of failure? The most obvious explanation lies in the ability of the ruling class to divert, distract, befuddle and beguile, through the massively subsidised mass media (not least through advertising), and, when that fails, savage oppression and slaughter on an industrial scale (Finland, Hungary, Italy, Germany and Spain, to name but the most horrendous examples). Of course, there must be more to it than that - eg, the hidden nature of capitalist exploitation and the role of the education system, religion and public intellectuals.

But there are two sides to the story. There is not only them. There is us. With this in mind, at the risk of gross oversimplification, let me provide nine further explanations.

  1. The incorporation of the European trade union and labour bureaucracy into the state apparatus of the ruling class, most decisively with 1914. Thereafter, what is now called social democracy - or, in Britain, Labourism - looked to improve the condition of the working class through the existing state, not against the existing state. A phenomenon, and it needs emphasising, not confined to the so-called first world. The theory of a corrupted labour aristocracy living off the crumbs of imperialism has proven to lack explanatory power. Note, for example, the reformism of the mainstream left in Latin America, South Africa, the Middle East and India.
  2. The shrivelling of democracy in the soviets and the militarisation of the Russian Communist Party (in order to win the civil war), and then the ban on factions in the face of the necessity of internal retreat and the conditions of NEP.
  3. The modelling of the newly founded communist parties - yes, in the expectation of imminent world revolution - not on the Bolsheviks, but on the post-1921 RCP.
  4. The 1928 counterrevolution within the revolution in the Soviet Union, and the mass purges.
  5. The moulding of ‘official communist’ parties into pliant diplomatic tools of the Soviet elite using bureaucratic centralism, and then the programmes of national roads, class collaborationism and popular frontism.
  6. The normalisation of the post-1928 Soviet Union as a model of ‘socialism’ by ‘official communist’ parties, national liberation movements and even left social democracy (but, for the latter, the Soviet model minus absolutism) ... which comes crashing down in 1989-91, but not necessarily in the mind.
  7. The inability of left oppositions internationally to break from the post-1921 model of organisation.
  8. Because of bureaucratic centralism, the inevitable split-after-split sects.
  9. The philistinism, the tailism, the collapse to the right, the coalitionism, of the ‘transitional’ advocates of broad left half-way house formations.

A vicious circle of material circumstances and subjective failure. Frankly, the list, and the permutations, could be extended on and on, to a hundred, to a thousand. But, the idea that Jack Conrad, or anyone else on the thinking left, who, confronted as we are by the unexpected 20th century … and its continuation into the 21st century, has not bothered to come up with explanations, is simply ridiculous.

What of the solution? In politics there is an endless chain, consisting of an infinite number of links. But “the whole art of politics” lies precisely in “finding and taking as firm a grip as we can” of the main link, the link which, if joined together, gives the “possessor the possession of the whole chain” (What is to be done 1902).5 Today the main link is unmistakably the party question. Without that recognition there can only be failure … heroic, tragic or, nowadays, mostly comic - the liquidationist merger of LIEN and LAW and the hopeless project of a yet another broad left being just the latest example of the comic descending into pure farce.

In attack mode, comrade Greenstein writes: “To imagine that we are in a revolutionary or pre-revolutionary situation is to engage in the politics of fantasy and wishful thinking.” Indeed it is … but I don’t do any such thing. For comrade Greenstein’s benefit, there has been no revolutionary situation in Britain at any time during the 20th century (including 1910-14, 1918-20, 1926, 1984-85). There are, of course, those anarchists, semi-anarchists and anarcho bureaucrats in our movement who believe that we live in revolutionary or pre-revolutionary conditions permanently (Georg Lukacs called it the “actuality of the revolution”6). Voluntarism is the inevitable result. If we artificially push this or that routine strike, protest movement or mass demonstration further and ever further, events supposedly accelerate to the point where soviets are formed and the whole state apparatus crumbles. Out of the social rubble steps the new order in all its glory and splendour. However, I am not one of those believers.

However, comrade Greenstein thinks I must be one of them. Why? Because I advocate the formation of a revolutionary party. His reasoning runs along these narrow gauge tramlines: revolutionary parties fit revolutionary and pre-revolutionary times and reformist parties (or movements) fit reformist times. Presumably, in times of reaction and counterrevolution we need a reactionary and countrevolutionary party. No, no, no, not even comrade Greenstein could argue that. But he does say that, when we are under attack from a right populist Johnson government, when trade union membership and struggles are at a low ebb, the formation of a revolutionary party is “impossible”. That what is needed, all that can realistically be achieved, is a broad left movement with extraordinarily limited 2017 and 2019 Labour manifesto aims and ambitions.

But the fact of the matter is that a revolutionary party does not depend on a revolutionary situation to justify its existence. If that was the case then there would have been no German SDP nor the RSDLP (I am using these two organisation as examples to bring out general laws). There was no revolutionary situation in 1875 Germany. Nor was there a revolutionary situation in Russia in 1883 when the Emancipation of Labour group was formed, nor in 1898 when the RSDLP was abortively formed, nor in 1903 when the RSDLP was really formed.

In point of fact, it could be argued - and I would strongly argue just this - that the formation of the Communist Party of Germany in December 1918, when there was a revolutionary situation, was too late. Waiting for a revolutionary situation before forming a revolutionary party more or less guarantees defeat … then and now. Cadres need to be trained, programmes agreed and tested, deep socials roots dug, class allies gained to establish a social majority, and the bonds of trust between the party leadership and the class firmly secured, so that we can confidently retreat as well as attack in a coordinated, disciplined and effective manner.

Revolutionary situations are, in fact, extraordinarily rare. It requires not just a refusal by the masses to be ruled in the old way. The ruling class must be unable to rule in the old way. In other words the ruling class is itself deeply divided and the whole, or key parts, of its state machine become unreliable to the point where rank and file, even top, personnel, go over to the side of the masses. Meanwhile, long before such a revolutionary situation arises, the revolutionary party educates, agitates and organises in what is a period of preparation. There is, after all, the minimum, the immediate, programme, which includes the fight for higher pay, better working conditions, environmental protection, opposing draconian laws and demanding far reaching social reforms and radical constitutional measures - such as the abolition of the monarchy and the second chamber, the election of judges, the replacement of the standing army by a popular militia, etc.

Nose

Quite frankly, arguing with comrade Greenstein over the 2017 general election is tedious and pretty pointless. But, well, I think the reason he bangs on and on about it is to establish his truly remarkable powers as a prophet, a sage. He has no need for opinion polls, local election results, historical studies and rubbish like that. All he needs is to step out of his Brighton and Hove front door and sniff the air and he instinctively knows the result of any general election (though, in fact, to be on the safe side he brilliantly predicts almost every possible outcome).

What we are meant to rely on is comrade Greenstein’s nose ... and not only when it comes to predicting general elections. Organise the working class into a political party, as shown by the Chartists and as theoretically generalised by the Marx-Engels team? Sniff, sniff, no, that’s impossible. Grasp the universal significance of Bolshevism and the October Revolution? Sniff, sniff, no, we don’t live in tsarist Russia and this isn’t 1917. He could add, if he really wants to stun us, that this is not 2021. Fight for a mass Communist Party because modern capitalism means ever increasing attacks on past gains, financialisation and offshoring production, desperate mass migrations, the new cold war with China and, with the climate crisis, absolute limits and the danger of civilisational collapse? Sniff, sniff, no, all that can be achieved is a broad left movement.

Comrade Greenstein has a trump card up his sleeve, though. It is our undeniable failure to establish a mass Communist Party. Here is how he presents his case:

Jack tells us that “we have a fully worked out strategy ... a twin-track approach”. And what is this wonderful strategy? “The main emphasis [is] on the struggle for a mass Communist Party.” Perhaps he can tell us how this strategy differs from their strategy for the past 30-plus years and how successful it has been. This is no strategy: it is at best an aspiration - or a fantasy.

There is no possibility of forming a mass revolutionary Communist Party today. We are not in 1917 or at the end of World War I. Marxism and class analysis is about taking the particular period we are in and understanding the relative strengths and weakness of both ourselves and our opponents. We have seen over 35 years of industrial quiet with a recomposition of the working class and the halving of trade union membership.

Well, comrade Greenstein, it is not 30-plus years, it is 40-plus years. We published the first edition of The Leninist in November 1981 (and there was, as a group, a pre-history as members of the Communist Party of Turkey). We had four founding comrades. Three have long gone. Recruits there have been. But far too few. We count membership in the tens not the millions. We are, to draw a parallel, still at the Liberation of Labour or Iskra stage. Whereas events in Russia were concentrated, moved at break-neck speed, just 30-plus years separating the formation of the first Marxist organisation and conquering state power, events in Britain over the last 40-plus years have moved far slower and with far less intensity, and certainly have not culminated in an earth-shattering finale. Indeed, there has been a general retreat, a decay. Back in 1990 Jack Conrad wrote about what he called a “period of reaction of a special type”.7 We were not going to be killed or sentenced to long years of imprisonment: we were going to be sidelined and dismissed as cranks and fantasists.

As comrade Greenstein himself endlessly repeats, there has been no successful working class revolution since 1917 (that is, a revolution which had the serious possibility of universalising itself). It is not only the CPGB that has failed - so has the entire socialist and working class movement globally. Comrade Greenstein might care to tell us what his “wonderful strategy” has produced. From what I can tell, it is a typical sect of one. No, if we date the origins of the modern working class movement from 1838 and Chartism, it is clear that we have all failed (following Marx and Engels, I take the overriding aim of the Chartists to be not its six immediate demands, but the “formation of the proletariat into a class, overthrow of bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by the proletariat”8).

Of course, that needs explanation - see above - but should the struggle for working class state power and human liberation now be abandoned because there has been a 180-year plus history of failure? No, capitalism still exists and, by definition, still relies on the exploitation of wage labour and nature. The central task of communists therefore remains that of forming the working class into a party - a mass Communist Party - and, at every point in the struggle, distinguishing ourselves only in bringing to the fore the common interests of the international working class, putting the whole before the part, and developing the clearest theoretical understanding of the required general line of march (summed up in our Draft programme).

But, no, comrade Greenstein is wedded to his realist broad left movement, which, even if it comes into existence, and that is doubtful, would represent an unmistakable case of capitalist realism, incapable of learning from the past, let alone envisioning the social transformation that is both historically overdue and urgently necessary. Hence, when comrade Greenstein tells us that the idea of establishing a mass Communist Party is for the next century, ie, “some time in the next 100 years” and, with equal certainty, that this project “simply isn’t serious politics”, I can only conclude that he is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

It is his politics that lack seriousness and realism. Does he really imagine capitalism lasting another 100 years before we have the means of putting an end to its despotic rule? Another 100 years of capitalist exploitation, wars and ecological destruction? What would remain? Surely, without realising socialism and beginning the global transition to communism well within the next 100 years there is a distinct danger of thermo-nuclear war and, if not that, total ecological breakdown. Or does comrade Greenstein seriously imagine that even a fully-fledged broad left party can halt, even reverse, the destructive logic of capital? Such a claim would be truly absurd and, in effect, would make you a common or garden left reformist, serving to lull people, to reconcile them to capitalism.

Labour

Let us now turn to the Labour Party specifically. This is how comrade Greenstein begins his argument:

Jack and the CPGB are misjudging the mood of those who have left or been expelled from the Labour Party. They are angry - but also politicised - by six years of trench warfare with the Labour right. It is our duty to ensure that they do not simply disappear. Hence why we are merging LAW and LIEN. Even Jack admits that “LAW has done very little, has been paralysed even”. Why then would he want to preserve it in its current form other than as a stage prop to parade at rallies?

Maybe comrade Greenstein is right about the those who have been expelled or who have merely left. But I doubt that things are so neat and simple. Some will have been politicised, ie, have gone towards a higher level of political consciousness. We get our steady trickle of membership inquiries. There is anger. Definitely. But there is an awful lot more by way of confusion and demoralisation. Frankly, we should not expect otherwise. But they won’t disappear. No, most will surely reappear. When conditions change. When we, the left, get our act together. But the idea, the suggestion, that we can scoop up 150,000 scattered hurt and burnt individuals at this moment in time is delusional. We cannot do it. Nor can comrade Greenstein’s disparate, politically backward, untrained, programmeless, 70 or 80 LAW-LIEN Zoom members.

What about this: “Even Jack” admits that “LAW has done very little, has been paralysed even”? Frankly, I am stunned. Shame on you comrade Greenstein. When it comes to polemics, we in the CPGB really do strive for honesty, for telling the truth. We try our damndest not to misrepresent. Why do anything else? The real problems are legion enough. Anything else is a waste of time. So when we spot one of our Weekly Worker journalists doing anything like this - and it happens - we criticise, correct, demand better. But comrade Greenstein operates under no such guidelines, no such restraints. He is a freelancer, does not operate as part of a disciplined communist collective.

No, this quote: “Even Jack” admits that “LAW has done very little, has been paralysed even”, is, in fact, cut and pasted from a passage defending LAW’s SC majority against “comrade Greenstein making [the] accusations of liquidationism”. The “LAW has done very little, has been paralysed even” stuff is irony, intended to refute comrade Greenstein’s case.

In order to leave not a shadow of doubt, read the quote in context:

[P]resumably working according to the motto, ‘Attack is the best form of defence’, we find comrade Greenstein himself making accusations of liquidationism …. This is simply childish. LAW has done very little, has been paralysed even, but despite this paralysis has maintained a professional looking website, gained members, picketed Labour Party HQ, organised Not the Forde Inquiry at the Resist event at this year’s [ie, 2021] Labour conference in Brighton. Of course, these actions have been organised with a range of others and not only LIEN (there was the Labour Left Alliance, Labour Campaign for Free Speech and Labour Party Marxists too). And all in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, social mixing restrictions and two lockdowns, remember.

So comrade Greenstein has either resorted to distortion, that, or he is, I expect, let us be generous, simply an inattentive reader.

The crucial question for comrade Greenstein is, “how we can adapt our tactics and strategy to meet the current circumstances of an unprecedented witch-hunt in the Labour Party and unify the thousands under attack by Starmer and Evans.” As far as he is concerned, we in the CPGB have “no answer other than build a mass Communist Party. Jack calls this a strategy. I call it a religious dogma masquerading as politics.”

Well let us start with strategy. Strategy concerns itself with class forces, internationally and within a given state, in the fight to achieve socialism. Hence, internationally, we recognise the centrality of working class unity under the banner of a global Communist Party. US imperialism remains the capitalist hegemon and is therefore the main counterrevolutionary force. Within Britain we fight for the unity of the working class under communist leadership, isolating, dividing, the capitalist class and winning over, or at least neutralising, the middle classes. That does not change when either Jeremy Corbyn or Sir Keir Starmer becomes leader of the Labour Party.

No, it is not strategy but tactics that change with the ups and downs of the struggle. The idea that we have only one offer, ie, a mass Communist Party, is surreal. The Communist Party is a strategic aim. But tactically we have promoted organisations such as Labour Party Marxists and LAW. Comrade Greenstein might remember LAW steering committee meetings with our comrades facing him in those Zoom squares. We also intervened in organisations such as the Labour Left Alliance. Our comrades supported the Jewish Voice for Labour counterdemonstration against the Enough is Enough anti-Corbyn Zionists in March 2018. Similarly we have regularly intervened at Labour Party conferences and supported initiatives such a Resist at The Rialto.

Because of tactical considerations we have supported Labour candidates in various elections; because of tactics we told our LAW steering committee members to resign; because of tactics we told our comrades on the LLA’s organising group to constitute themselves a distinct opposition faction. The same approach sees old slogans replaced by new slogans. Eg, ‘vote for Roger Silverman in Labour’s NEC election’ is clearly no longer of any relevance (he has been expelled). Our tactics serve, are subordinated to, our strategy.

So, comrade Greenstein’s claim that we have retreated into “fixed” formulations and slogans is belied by the facts (except when it comes to strategy).

Comrade Greenstein prides himself for posing what he considers awkward questions, such as:

whether the western working class today is capable of the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism when at the height of its industrial power. When class-consciousness was at a peak, they fought economic but not political battles, leaving the latter to a reformist Labour Party. Why should an atomised and deunionised working class fare any better today or tomorrow? To that Jack has no answers.

I think I have already shown that Jack Conrad has answers. So, the briefest reply to the above: can the working class overthrow capitalism today? No, of course not. Can the working class overthrow capitalism, not tomorrow, but in the future? Yes, of course. What other class, what other force can we seriously envisage? But what this ‘heretical’ line of questioning reveals about comrade Greenstein is a revisionist abandonment of class politics, the politics of the working class. All he has left is either third worldism or ethical socialism (or a combination of the two).

As damning evidence, let me present this paragraph:

Because capitalism is incapable of planning [untrue: think World War I and II] and is driven by profit and capital accumulation it is unable to deal with Covid [untrue: think of the Oxford-Astra Zenica not-for-profit vaccine which was developed at a truly amazing speed and then put into millions of arms by NHS workers]. It is also through global warming endangering the very existence of human civilisation. If the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism is not possible, then we have to look at alternative methods [my emphasis] of preventing human catastrophe. Socialists have to try and unify the disparate social movements into a force for change in a society and system that is producing climate disaster. Clinging to slogans and rigid doctrine [ie, Marxism] as a substitute for strategic thinking is a serious political mistake.

If you abandon, dismiss, the revolutionary potential of the working class in Europe and North America (and Japan?), then, frankly, you give up on socialism. Without winning the commanding heights of the capitalist world economy, attempts elsewhere are doomed to poverty, isolation, deformation and hollow pretence … and ultimately defeat or surrender (I take contemporary China as a complex, paradoxical, form of surrender).

And yet comrade Greenstein insists that forming a broad left socialist movement is crucial to generalising the fightback against the attacks of the Johnson government. Why his LAW-LIEN broad left formation will fare better than the other broad left formations we have seen over the years goes unanswered. Socialist Alliance, Respect, Scottish Socialist Party, Left Unity, Tusc - none have got anywhere. However, they proved to be very effective at watering down political principles, disorientating militants and engendering demoralisation. But no, this time it will all be different. It is through struggles against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill “that the fight for a mass socialist party of the working class can be born, not through parroting empty slogans.” Presumably though, this “mass socialist party of the working class” will be incapable of revolutionary action, presumably it will therefore limit is demands … especially if it stands in elections and aspires to form a government. We end up with a pointless broad left Labour Party mark two, which is entirely improbable when we still have the broad left Labour Party mark one, along with its several hundred thousand real members and millions of real trade union affiliates.

Comrade Greenstein claims that Jack Conrad dismisses “all attempts to unify the socialist left.” This is simply daft. Any attentive reader of the Weekly Worker will tell you otherwise. Take a look at the two editions of my pamphlet Towards a socialist alliance party (August and October 2001). We not only actively participated in the Socialist Alliance, Respect, Scottish Socialist Party, Left Unity and LLA. Apart from Respect, where we threw agitational bombs, we had comrades elected to the leadership bodies of all these organisations. However, what characterised our comrades was their unremitting fight for the Marxist programme as against broad-left opportunism.

Leaps

Comrade Greenstein is a determined gradualist: “You cannot from existing levels of consciousness and organisation leap to a revolutionary consciousness”, he declares. That, presumably, explains why he says this:

In the most bizarre section of his article Jack gives us a lesson in theoretical physics and cosmology, and analogies between Marxism and the laws of physics. Quite what bearing water turning to steam and the merits of the steady state and infinite expansion of the universe have to do with questions of revolution leaves me baffled. Leaving aside the controversies over the Big Bang and singularity, I am at a loss to see how the theory of quantum mechanics, whereby sub-atomic particles can only exist in certain energy levels, parallels the political process. Water is inanimate, whereas human beings are conscious.

Yes, he is baffled, bothered and bewildered. Comrade Greenstein is unable to grasp the universal significance of dialectics. As Engels explained, dialectics are “abstracted” from the history of nature and human society. Dialectics are “nothing but the most general laws” of “historical development, as well of thought itself.”9 So, at the most basic level, it is important to know that water, and matter in general, changes in terms of quality but also quantity. There are leaps between the solid, liquid and gaseous states of H2O. The same applies to ideas and theories. So, yes, I think we are all well aware that water does not have ideas or theories. It lacks consciousness. Comrade Greenstein’s killer point? But ideas and theories, such as the expanding universe, do not need to gradually evolve from ideas and theories of the solid state universe. Indeed, as I noted, there was, in physics, a leap from the one to the other paradigm. The same goes for politics. You can “from existing levels of consciousness and organisation leap to a revolutionary consciousness.”

I am not trying to categorically rule out gradual development: that would be stupid. Nor, then, do I rule out mid-points, stages, etc. All I am insisting upon is the leap. Hence my attempt to teach comrade Greenstein the ABC of dialectics … dismissed as “bizarre”. Oh, well.

Let me touch upon my contention that a mass Communist Party can only be built “top down”. And comrade Greenstein’s inevitable “we are not in 1917, with a small working class and a large peasantry” disagreement. A small working class and a mass peasantry has nothing to do with anything here. Marxist parties begin with Marxist theory and then build accordingly (theory developed outside the daily economic clash of employer-employees and the point of production). Even comrade Greenstein’s putative LAW-LIEN broad left socialist movement begins with a theory of a kind - even if it is thoroughly opportunistic.

Finally, when it comes to the Labour Party, there is comrade Greenstein’s casual, utterly incoherent, two-sentence dismissal of the Marxist category of the ‘bourgeois workers’ party’. Let me break his argument down into its four component parts: (1) It is “meaningless”; (2) It is a “slogan”; (3) It was “relevant a hundred years ago; (4) “[T]oday we are seeing the complete destruction of the Labour Party as a working class party.” So, a hundred years ago, ie, in 1922, this “slogan” was meaningful. But that is all it was, a slogan. Today, however, we are “seeing the complete destruction of the Labour Party as a working class party.” What a muddle. He might be right when it comes to today “seeing the complete destruction of the Labour Party as a working class party.” It is, for me, an open question that will be decided in the course of the class struggle, a class struggle which we have no intention of abandoning for the sake of a fragile lifeboat project. Suffice to say, if comrade Greenstein is right about the Labour Party being destroyed as a working class party today, the Marxist category of the bourgeois workers’ party cannot be “meaningless”. His logic is illogical. That is, unless he dismisses (and he does not) the influence of bourgeois ideas and bourgeois material interests exerted through not only the Fabian society but also the ILP, the PLP and the trade union bureaucracy.

Brexit

As a footnote, let me deal with Brexit. Comrade Greenstein says this:

In order to ‘prove’ his thesis that I have abandoned working class politics Jack accuses me of being merely “a mere tail of the bourgeois ‘remain’ campaign”. If this is true, then there is indeed substance to Jack’s criticisms. I am in effect being accused of having crossed class lines. The most honest thing to do would be to immediately resign as vice-president of Brighton and Hove Trades Council, since it is clear that I have one foot, if not both, in the camp of the bourgeoisie!

Comrade Greenstein, I don’t want you to resign from anything. Not even as vice-president of Brighton and Hove Trades Council. I just want you to learn, to reconsider, to think and rethink.

But, as the reader might well expect by now, there comes the counterattack: my accusations are “designed to divert attention from Jack’s own absence of anything to say.” Once again, hardly true. I will not go to the bother of counting the number of Weekly Worker articles written by myself on Europe, the EU, the 2016 referendum and Brexit (leave aside other CPGB writers). My own contributions, with all their faults, yes, but also their strategic clarity and consistency, will amount to more than a few, though not 150 in three years! Let me also mention Which road (1983, 1989, 1991), Europe: meeting the challenge of continental unity (2002) and Remarking Europe (2004). Either way, I most certainly do have something to say.


  1. T Greenstein ‘Not a liquidation?’ Weekly Worker December 9 2021: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1375/not-a-liquidation; ‘Self-declared heretic replies’ Weekly Worker January 6 2022: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1377/self-declared-heretic-replies.↩︎

  2. Macbeth act five, scene 5.↩︎

  3. J Conrad ‘Something serious needed’ Weekly Worker December 16 2021: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1376/something-serious-is-needed.↩︎

  4. B Pearce (trans) 1903: second ordinary congress of the RSDLP London 1978, p28.↩︎

  5. VI Lenin CW Vol 5, Moscow 1977, p502.↩︎

  6. www.marxists.org/archive/lukacs/works/1924/lenin/ch01.htm.↩︎

  7. The Leninist December 6 1990 - see J Conrad From October to August London 1992, p200.↩︎

  8. K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 6 New York NY 1976, p498.↩︎

  9. K Marx and F Engels CW Vol 25, London 1987, p356.↩︎