Jack Conrad really can’t help himself. Instead of arguing for a united front of all those opposed to Nato’s war in Ukraine, he decides instead to indulge in a bout of sectarianism, painting the social-imperialist wing of the left as no better than the pro-Putin left, with only the CPGB adopting the correct position of ‘A plague on both your houses’.
His article, ‘Pro-Kremlin socialists’ (April 28), makes it clear who his real targets are: not those on the left who fall in behind their own ruling class, under the rubric of Ukrainian self-determination, but those who are opposed to the imperialist warmongers. And if this means bending the truth then that is a small price to pay for some sectarian polemics.
We are told that amongst those who “see something progressive in the Putin regime” is the Socialist Labour Network. That is news to me. The SLN has a very clear policy on the conflict and nothing in that policy gives any support whatsoever to Putin’s gangster anti-working class regime.
At our last all-members meeting we passed the following amongst a 16-point policy:
1. The Socialist Labour Network condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We call for an immediate ceasefire and for all Russian armed forces to immediately withdraw.
2. The working classes of Russia and Ukraine have nothing to gain from war and will pay the biggest price. Despite the terrible situation caused by the intensification of rival nationalisms, we support the building of unity among workers across national boundaries. The workers of Ukraine and Russia have common interests.
5. We stand in solidarity with those in Russia who have protested against the invasion, despite police repression. We support the building of a mass anti-war movement, including among Russian troops.
Point 16 stated: “We support the right of secession of the two breakaway republics, Donetsk and Luhansk, in the face of attacks on ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians.”
This was summed up in six bullet points, the last of which calls for “Unity of the workers of Russia and the Ukraine to overthrow their corrupt reactionary oppressors”. This is hardly the stuff of Putin hero worship, is it?
But perhaps Jack is referring to me? I should remind him that my view of Putin, who is a rightwing nationalist, has never changed. In my March 26 blog article, ‘The Ukraine war - who is responsible for the carnage?’, I stated: “We should also support, without hesitation, the anti-war protestors in Russia itself and condemn the repression by the gangster regime that Putin represents with his new law, imposing 15-year gaol sentences on those who contradict Russian propaganda.”
The subtitle of my blog was ‘Putin has fallen into the trap that Biden laid for him’. I remain of that opinion.
Maybe Jack is referring to my Weekly Worker article, ‘Pro-war socialists’ (April 21). I should remind Jack that the SLN is, as its name states, a network, not a democratic-centralist party. What I wrote was on my own behalf and not on behalf of the SLN. But Jack will not find in it anything that flatters the Putin regime.
However, the fact is that Russia has invaded Ukraine - or rather it has intervened in an already extant civil war. Russia’s intervention is clearly a defensive reaction to Nato’s expansionist aggression - a position I thought that the CPGB also adhered to.
Yes, I welcome the liberation of Mariupol from the tender grip of the neo-Nazi Azov battalion. And from the interviews I’ve seen with its residents, so do many of the people who have had to put up with these fascist thugs for the past eight years. There is little doubt that the rule of the Azov fascists has been a bloody one indeed for the inhabitants.
It is also the case that the Ukrainian military had been massing on the borders of the Donbas prior to February 24 with the intention of invading the two breakaway republics. It is my view that the people of those areas have the right to ask for the support of the Russian military against Zelensky’s fascist-inspired military. What Russia had no right to do was to attempt to capture Kyiv.
Jack Conrad informs us that the fascist “tail hardly wags the Ukrainian dog”. In that he is wrong. The United States has helped build up the fascist militias into a potent fighting force. A concerted campaign has been underway in the media to paint these neo-Nazis as having been depoliticised by their incorporation into Ukraine’s military.
I believe the opposite is the case. Where you have ideologically motivated fascists in a rightwing environment it is clear that it won’t be the fascists, but the less ideological rightwingers, who will be incorporated. However, there is very clear evidence that the fascist influence today in Ukraine is very significant.
All in all, not only is Jack’s article factually wrong, but it is a good example of wooden-headed sectarianism - which prefers marking out a distinctive position for the CPGB to trying to build a mass anti-war campaign. That is his choice. The real question is why he bothered to write it.
Gerry Downing of Socialist Fight has thoroughly misrepresented my talk and comments at the recent Online Communist Forum on the 1932 Kinder Scout mass trespass (Letters, April 28). Old habits die hard for Downing, who has an answer for everything, but insight into nothing.
Let us remind ourselves of his record on issues of accuracy and veracity. Downing has been caught out on these pages misattributing quotes to David Broder (March 11 2021) and myself (November 4 2021). René Gimpel also pointed out (December 2 2021) that in one of Downing’s notorious brain-dumps on ‘philosophy’, the latter wasn’t even sure what century various key philosophers were writing in. Hardly an inspiring record of literary activity. On top of this have been tiresome and pathetic attempts to pass slurs on me and other comrades as ‘Stalinist’.
In his latest pile of steaming horseshit, Downing alleges that I “asserted that there was serious opposition within the Communist Party (internationally?) to the third-period social-fascist ultra-leftism and he could produce documents to prove it”. I said nothing of the sort. I told the meeting that the CPGB had pruned back some of its ultra-leftism at the back end of the third period but made absolutely no mention of this as opposition, internationally or otherwise. On producing “documents”, Downing laughably suggested that I wanted to revive the “putrid history” of the CPGB, after I had spent some considerable time in the meeting suggesting we shouldn’t revive the many “warts” of the old party. I challenged Downing to find anything in my words or writing that suggested I wanted to simply revive the CPGB’s history without criticism. I made no reference to documents proving third-period opposition in the Comintern (other than in Downing’s fertile imagination).
Downing further alleges that “Lawrence’s talk, far more than his article, set out to prove that this [Kinder Scout mass trespass] was an exemplary class struggle action by the Young Communist League and CPGB in general”. Again, I said absolutely nothing of the sort. I remarked that I preferred the politics of the mass trespass of 1932 to the latter-day establishment recuperation of that event, but said that the tactics of those years represented a clear, economistic deformation of the CPGB’s politics in the 1920s. Therefore, in contradiction to Downing’s addled memory, I certainly did not portray this period “as a great militant time”. Exactly the opposite, in fact.
I am also accused with Jack Conrad of prettifying the “appalling treachery” of the popular front. Utter poppycock. In fact, all we did is deny Downing’s factually incorrect assertion that the CPGB simply turned away from the labour movement in the second half of the 1930s, given that it re-entered the Labour Party in that period and continued working in the trade unions. No-one had anything positive to say about the popular front; I only argued that it didn’t lead to the CPGB becoming truly ‘respectable’, because its ultimate loyalty to the Soviet Union meant that it could never be treated as an acceptable bloc partner by the likes of a Labour Party right wedded to the British state. Only in Downing’s weird brain does this equate to giving the popular front a big tick.
I apologise to Weekly Worker readers for having to waste time dealing with these sad inventions of a tired old man, terminally addicted to the dubious art of playing snooker with a rope.
Alive and kicking
I’m surprised that your contributor, James Harvey, didn’t contact the Labour Briefing editorial board for comment on his article, ‘Dead, not resting’, as Briefing is, in fact, very much alive and kicking. The printed copy will not be produced regularly, for a number of reasons - including our belief that visual media is where growth in communication is. However, the editorial board is continuing to develop Briefing’s great tradition, through Red Line TV.
Red Line TV is committed to developing a powerful, non-factional voice for those on the left. We believe that debate, information and dialogue are essential to our movement. Even though only eight or so weeks old, Red Line TV has already achieved viewing figures of over 1,000, with a great range of contributors - and a new web page about to be launched on the back of this unexpected success.
Quoting from journalist Asa Winstanley, Red Line is “just excellent broadcast journalism, full stop. The format is really dynamic and innovative”. Past programmes have covered a range of subjects including ‘Corbyn, where did it go wrong?’, ‘The war on the left’, ‘Inventions of race’, as well as trans rights and Ukraine. We’re improving with every show.
Red Lines’ next show, on Monday May 9 at 7pm, is ‘Reclaim the Earth’, looking at the environmental catastrophe. You can register for the show at us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUqf-uhqzgpEtzDu7OIA5-VMIEcChsY2xOd. There is no charge - we are sponsored by a growing number of patrons.
You can catch up with past programmes at www.youtube.com/channel/UCvgTk2li4VBf8qSbG_Pssng.
Wait for collapse
My reply to Andrew Northall’s letter (April 28) is that we should never forget the big picture - we need to start from there and then proceed to the details. In other words, starting from the big picture, I can say that there will be no move towards socialism in advanced capitalist countries like Britain and America until these countries face economic and political collapse. It is the collapse of capitalism which will lead to socialism in these countries. The collapse need not be total either - a partial collapse can do the trick, as long as it lasts long enough.
It is on the basis of this collapse that I argue that it is possible to win the Labour Party over to socialism. Another point is that there is no contradiction between doing that and the struggle for a mass communist party. But building a communist party should be done in such a way as not to split the working class.
The idea that the Labour Party can’t be won over to socialism, or that it would be difficult to do so, is an argument of ultra-left sectarianism. Karl Marx argued in the Communist manifesto that, in a serious crisis of the system, part of the ruling class will go over to the revolutionary class. He wrote: “Finally, in times when the class struggle nears the decisive hour, the process of dissolution going on within the ruling class - in fact within the whole range of old society - assumes such a violent, glaring character that a small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class, the class that holds the future in its hands ...”
If even a section of the ruling class will come over to socialism when capitalism collapses, we should not be putting forward the ultra-left argument that the Labour Party can’t be won over to socialism, or introduce it, given that the Labour Party already has one foot in the camp of socialism, as Corbyn’s election to the leadership showed. The other foot is in the capitalist camp and is now represented by the right. This is the real meaning of Lenin describing Labour as a bourgeois workers’ party. With one foot in socialism and the other in capitalism, all it will take to tip the balance towards socialism is the collapse of capitalism.
I disagree with the argument that the Labour Party can’t introduce socialism, which ignores the big picture. After the war Labour introduced the NHS. The NHS is socialism. They were able to introduce it due to the conditions prevailing at the time. And Clement Attlee wasn’t even particularly leftwing.
Also, the point comrade Northall makes about the defeat of Corbyn relates to detail rather than the big picture. What the Corbyn episode is telling us loudly and clearly is that the Labour Party can be won over to socialism. The role of Corbynism was that of an early warning system, telling us what is going to happen when capitalism collapses. To use ‘Hegelian speak’, Corbyn was the temporary show of essence in appearance before it withdrew.
If Boris Johnson and Liz Truss fail to provoke nuclear war as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it would be reasonable to assume that the impending decline of world oil production will trigger the collapse of global capitalism. The Labour Party would be finished if it failed to move towards socialism in this situation.
Campaigning for Democratic Socialism