I was surprised to see Jack Conrad’s three-page article ostensibly in reply to my letter (‘The meaning of character’, June 30). Apart from some of the opening paragraphs being quite rude (I have obviously pressed some very sensitive buttons), there is quite a significant and blatant breach of personal confidentiality, which I think Jack and the Weekly Worker might want to reflect on if they are to be considered as genuine partisans of the labour movement and working class.
Jack’s source for one piece of alleged information is a website called ‘KeyWiki’, which is produced and edited by a Trevor Loudon - described on Wiki as a “far-right conspiracy theorist”. His website is intended to target and expose the “communist threat” to US interests and “democracy”. One of Loudon’s methods is to scour websites and social media to assemble personal information about his targets. I understand Jack wants to cause me personal and political embarrassment, but is that really a comradely way for him to behave and act? Maybe that’s the price to be paid for using my real name ...
I would like to respond on a number of specific points, please. First, I do owe the Weekly Worker group (WWG) an apology. Jack is quoting some sentences which are not in my pdf copy of the Draft programme dated 2010 that I assumed was the latest version. I now understand this version was subsequently updated and amended.
Jack’s outline of the WWG’s position on the character of the British revolution is really helpful and appreciated. I have to say there is a considerable overlap of Jack’s positions and those of the latest edition of the Communist Party of Britain’s programme, Britain’s road to socialism. There is obviously different language and differences of emphases and nuance, but a significant amount in common.
The reason I do not use the term ‘CPGB’ to describe Jack’s group is quite simply that it has absolutely no right whatsoever to that title, politically, organisationally or (less important in this discussion) legally. The Leninist, which is the predecessor to Jack’s current group, was a small entryist faction, consisting of some ex-members of the New Communist Party, and was viscerally hostile to the great majority of the history, tradition, record and programmes of the original Communist Party of Great Britain. Some of its positions were virtually Trotskyist.
It was patently absurd for a small faction of a handful of members who were unremittingly hostile to the CPGB to declare themselves to be the CPGB, when the CPGB itself was closed down in 1991. Precisely which parts of the old CPGB did The Leninist or the WWG ever identify with? A very small number of years after 1920 would be my estimate.
The term ‘Weekly Worker group’ is considerably more accurate than the Weekly Worker’s stupid and ignorant ‘The Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain’. It is completely absurd to claim that the CPB is in any way subordinate to the Star, or even that the Star is subordinate to the CPB. It is not a Communist Party newspaper. It is a leftwing, labour-movement, daily newspaper, owned and managed by its readers. It has a historical and current relationship with the Communist Party and its editorial position expresses the politics and approach of the BRS. It otherwise provides a platform for a range of left, democratic, socialist and communist news and views, and for debate and discussion between them. To the chagrin of some, even Trotskyists are given a platform.
The Communist Party of Britain, having established itself on the rules and programme of the CPGB in 1988, has an immeasurably greater claim to the history and tradition of the CPGB, both formally and in practice. As Jack frequently points out, the various editions of the CPB’s programme are very much in line with all the various editions of the post-war programme of the original CPGB, the British road to socialism. That for me is a strength, not a criticism - one of consistent application of the principles of Marxism-Leninism to British conditions.
On the Stalin question, I do hold that he was an immensely important leader of the Soviet Union and a very significant figure in developing the theory and practice of Marxism-Leninism, being leader of the world’s first socialist state and where socialism was successfully constructed. I think he was by far the best choice to be elected general secretary in 1922 and his great achievements in socialist construction, the war and post-war reconstruction, show he was head and shoulders above any potential alternative for most of this period.
In the early years, Trotsky, Bukharin, Kamenev, Zinoviev, etc would all have been complete disasters, as leaders and with regard to their various incoherent and contradictory policy programmes. The Soviet Union would have collapsed in ignominy in short order - either in the 1920s from crashing industrialisation and collectivisations before the economic bases of industry and agriculture had successfully been built up; or in the 1930s through an overturn of Soviet socialist state power by resuscitated landlords and capitalist classes and their political representatives on the basis of burgeoning private ownership capitalism in these sectors. Stalin, in my view, got the timing of the launch of industrialisation and collectivisation exactly right.
Potentially people like SM Kirov and the new Soviet generation of cadres he typified and in some ways represented, which emerged from the post-revolution struggles to build socialism in a hostile internal and external environment, could have provided successors to Stalin later in his time in office. Interestingly, it appeared that Stalin on a number of occasions, especially after the war, did want to retire and that the new leadership bodies, formed from the 19th Congress of the CPSU in 1952, showed strong indications of advanced succession planning, which, had they been actioned, might have avoided the near disaster of Lavrenty Beria becoming head of the party and of state, and subsequent factional battles, before Khrushchev was able to re-impose the authority and rule of the party.
Jack and the WWG are, of course, completely opposed to the notion that socialist construction took place in the USSR. Jack uses graphic gynaecological language to describe socialist construction - eg, an abortion, an ectopic formation, a freak society. Disgraceful and inappropriate language.
Of course, Stalin made errors and mistakes - some with severe consequences. But overall I do consider the balance sheet to be overwhelmingly positive. I have no hesitation in saying I agree with the balanced assessments made by the 20th and 22nd congresses of the CPSU, of the 24th Congress of the CPGB and with the equally balanced assessments in various editions of the BRS programme over the decades. I think I have been pretty clear on these matters across my varied correspondence to the Weekly Worker. Life is complex, rich in colour and diversity, not black or white.
Calling me a Stalinite or a Stalinist is a cheap shot quite frankly, and a wide miss at that. Unless anyone from the mainstream communist tradition is to be labelled a Stalinist - which would be rather ridiculous and would devalue the term of any real meaning, let alone impact. But it doesn’t really bother me, to be quite honest. I can think of worse - and better - labels.
On the question of parliaments and the vote, Jack is, I’m afraid, tilting at straw windmills. Of course, the vote and other democratic rights - such as rights to free speech, to organise, to demonstrate, to publish, to establish trade unions, political parties, mutuals, etc, various personal and collective liberties and freedoms - are vitally important and in fact the product of working class struggles.
We must fight to defend, strengthen and extend all these democratic rights wherever possible. They are extremely valuable in themselves, but also give us the necessary space and capacity to agitate, educate and organise for socialism. The very real limits of these rights under capitalism, revealed through struggle, help make the case for a fundamentally different and more democratic form of society - for socialism, the political and economic power of the working class, the rule of the majority. That is what I mean about the “potential role of bourgeois democracy in the socialist revolution”. Jack chose to assume I meant different in order to go off on one! More fool him.
It is not a “parliamentary road to socialism” to argue that in present conditions and circumstances one of our strategic aims should be to win the majority of the working class to socialism and communism and to try and elect a majority in national and local representative bodies. Jack advocates winning a communist majority in the House of Commons. The key point is that real power lies in, on the one hand, the state institutions and organs of capitalist rule and, on the other, in the working class, as a majority, as organised in trade unions, political parties, in our own representative bodies, formed in the course of struggle, and in the fact it is the working class which produces all the goods and services in society and all useful and necessary work.
The BRS argues clearly that the state power and rule of the working class must be replaced by the state power of the working class. Some state institutions can be taken over, others transformed, others replaced completely. I am not sure that Jack or the WWG are really saying anything significantly different.
I have just gotten around to reading Jack Conrad’s article. ‘Our own programme’ from the issue 1399 (June 16). The article gets off to a strong start, going over the history of the mass workers’ parties of the Second International and the evolution of the political programmes that they fought for. Arriving at the 1875 Gotha programme, Conrad denounces it, recaps Karl Marx’s well known critique of it … and changes the subject - back into well-trodden territory expounding the CPGB’s programme and contrasting it with (of course) the Socialist Workers Party.
If the Gotha unification congress was just an obscure footnote in the history of the German workers’ movement, then Conrad could be excused for parroting Marx’s view without question. It was not. Instead, the unification of two parties “of just a few thousand” under the Gotha programme was the push that launched a snowball effect of mass recruitment and membership. Within three years the unified party had hundreds of thousands of members, and the state was compelled to enact the anti-socialist laws to try to stop its rapid growth. In other words, the Gotha unification congress and other congresses modelled on it were what created the mass workers’ parties that Conrad praises at the beginning of his article.
With results like that, I think the political success of the Gotha programme should be examined more closely. Marx is right that the Lassallean theoretical foundations of its maximum programme are incoherent. However, he had far less to complain about - only an ‘appendix’ - in its minimum programme of reform demands. Furthermore, the most important decision of the congress was not listed in the programme at all - instead of the Lassallean practice of ‘labour monarchism’, the unified party would be built on, as Conrad advocates, internal democracy and the open expression of differences. This Marxist organisational model was worth conceding a few theoretical dogmas to the Lassalleans.
As Wilhelm Liebknecht recalled in his Marx memoir, “There were still certain prejudices to respect, and in the programme for union outlined by ourselves we had to submit to certain concessions ... Marx was highly incensed against me for a long time, but in the interest of the movement in Germany I had had no other choice. If it had been a question of sacrificing a principle, Marx certainly would have been right; but it was only a matter of yielding temporarily for the purpose of securing great tactical advantages for the party. And it cannot be called a sacrifice of principle when the sacrifice is made in the interest of principle. That I did not make a wrong calculation in this respect has been brilliantly demonstrated by the consequences and the successes ... Marx has finally acknowledged this. He was charmed by the progress of the party movement in Germany, and shortly before his death he said to me: ‘I am proud of the German labourers: without a doubt they are leading the international labour movement’.”
Instead of blindly attacking the unification programme of two parties of “just a few thousand”, maybe Jack Conrad, as leader of a party of just a few dozen, should follow Marx and learn a thing or two from its success.
To be clear
This is in response to a letter from David J Douglass in last week’s Weekly Worker. It is indeed important to be clear, so here is a fuller explanation of why coal and steel can, and certainly must, be divorced from their long marriage.
Iron ore (iron oxides) has to be reduced (ie, remove oxygen) to produce metallic iron. Current steel production requires several stages, from iron ore to steel billet. This is done mostly in blast furnaces using carbon (in the form of coke obtained from coal) to remove oxygen from iron oxides in iron ore, leaving molten iron and emitting carbon dioxide (CO2). The resultant pig iron has then to be further smelted to remove excess carbon, emitting more CO2, to produce raw steel. By these means, the worldwide steel industry is responsible for 7%-9% of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Steel Association.
However, carbon need not be used as the reducing agent in steel production. Indeed, gaseous hydrogen has proved a suitable substitute - it does the same job, but only produces the emission of water vapour without pollution. This hydrogen direct reduction (H-DR) technology to produce steel is already established at pilot level. Scrap iron can also be utilised in this process, unlike traditional smelting. In the meantime, current research suggests strongly that hydrogen-rich shaft furnace direct reduction technology can be a key transitional technology on the way to full H-DR.
Nothing is for nothing, however, and replacing coal with green hydrogen as feedstock is likely to drive up the price of steel by a third initially; whether carbon emission pricing is applied or not, the decreasing costs of renewable electricity required to produce hydrogen point toward hydrogen-based steelmaking being optimal. Green hydrogen for decarbonisation of the steel industry will, though, require 20% more renewable electricity beyond what is needed to replace current levels of fossil fuel electricity generation.
Steel products typically need to contain around 0.2% carbon. In terms of world crude steel production of around 2,000 million tonnes, that amounts to a great deal of carbon - around four million tonnes. But that tonnage still only equates to less than the annual coal output of Hungary, which is 32nd in the world rankings. By comparison, China mined 3,900 million tonnes of coal in 2020 - about half the world total.
But the carbon needed for raw steel does not have to be sourced from coal anyway; natural gas can easily provide it. Whichever fossil fuel were to be used, any CO2 waste product will have to be contained. Even for these relatively small quantities of CO2, carbon capture and storage (CCS) is unlikely to be practicable, thanks to the possibility of CO2 leakage over centuries from underground storage in grossly disturbed ground, mined from coal mines and drilled from oil and natural gas wells. No-one’s assurances to the contrary can be taken as good coin. Were CCS CO2 thus to be released from inevitably flawed reservoirs, it would be catastrophic for the Earth’s ecosystem. The only realistic possibility is therefore carbon capture and utilisation (CCU), with the construction industry and agriculture being the most likely end users of processed CO2.
The elephant in the room remains, however: given a societal, worldwide imperative to contain and massively reduce CO2 and other pollutants responsible for global warming, can capitalism even carry this out without dire consequences for humanity? Jack Conrad’s salutary Weekly Worker article, ‘Hadean to Capitalocene’ (October 7 2021) has already presented a framework to start answering this question. And Tam Dean Burn’s letter last week usefully references this article; such contributions must be part of discussions yet to emerge much more fully.
Finally, part of the Marxist environmental conversation must be to get to grips with how much steel, as well as concrete, tarmac and other construction inputs, are actually needed and thus what value to place on their production for socialised humanity. Answering questions of how we need more rail provision instead of constructing main roads and private cars, and drastically less long-distance trucking - these can ensure we fully live our lives in the centre of cities rather than commuting to workplaces there; and so on.
At the forefront of our struggle for socialism is the fight to halt capitalism’s rush to environmental disaster.
I didn’t quite know what to respond to in last week’s paper - what with the contrast between Don Hoskin’s imperfect grasping of the true significance of current events in Ukraine, as against imperialist apologists like Arthur ‘green shoots of recovery’ Bough, playing down of the conflict as some irrelevant little squabble between butchers (Letters, June 30). But I settled on Michael Roberts’ dismissal of David Graeber (‘Working long and hard’. June 30).
In the world of clickbait and woke culture we are way beyond Marx’s theory of alienation. Capitalism has become a deeply manipulative system - a system that teases and then denounces, then teases again, endlessly. It promises the earth, and always fails to deliver. It messes you about; it gets into your head, and then turns your own thoughts against you. You are turned into your own worst enemy; the greatest threat to you becomes you. But if you can’t trust your own thoughts, who can you trust?
In light of this, it is profoundly wrong to dismiss the work of David Graeber, especially on the very shaky grounds of what people answer in questionnaires. What we should be doing is engaging with Graeber, and where necessary correcting him. Graeber needs to be put on an objective footing and his work needs ridding of its subjectivist elements.
There are bullshit jobs, but jobs that are objectively bullshit (objectively from the standpoint of a rational and planned communist society). People who flip burgers at McDonalds are in bullshit jobs, those who work on algorithms to get us to click on a link are in bullshit jobs, those who work out where best to put the nappies in a supermarket, so as to maximise beer sales, are in bullshit jobs. Those involved in the production of ‘gimmick’ commodities that offer nothing but environmental destruction and biological degradation are in bullshit jobs. Those uber-eat drivers delivering low nutritional foods are in bullshit jobs.
I don’t care what the surveys say - I claim people know there is a mountain of bullshit, but probably suppress it for the sake of appearances. Or maybe they are too stuffed with low nutritional food to care one way or the other.
The very logic of the market proliferates bullshit jobs, while damaging human relations: technology creates a proliferation of directly intangible labour, which also proliferates the creation of bullshit jobs. That doesn’t mean all physical labour isn’t bullshit - quite the contrary. When a machine replaces a human, that work becomes bullshit, so technology has a dual effect: it renders more and more work bullshit, and proliferates bullshit jobs.
Graeber was onto something important about the direction of capitalism, and the trajectory of humanity. The analysis and development of Graeber’s ideas is an essential task for communists. Throwing it into the dustbin of history is intellectual vandalism - a poverty of thought and lack of awareness of what is concrete.
Rabbi on the road
As an apartheid state, Israel has no right to exist - no state that declares one ethnicity is superior to another has that right. But what will we put in its place, in our search for a new Palestine? This is something that needs discussing - two states vs one is the key to any future peace. And who better to posit plans but an Arab and a Jew?
So I am looking for support for our ‘Rabbi on the Road’ UK tour that we are planning for the first two weeks of September. I am bringing Anti-Zionist rabbi Dovid Weiss over from New York to address the theme of a world beyond Israel, while author and broadcaster Dr Azzam Tamimi will join him. There is more information about all this at
Dovid Weiss spoke fluently and passionately at the Al-Awda ‘Rising to Return’ conference in Manhattan in May (where I was also a speaker) about Israel and the harm it has done to the Palestinian people. And why, in religious terms, it has no right to exist.
Our plan is to travel around the UK to up to 15 cities: Edinburgh, Glasgow, Bradford, Dewsbury, Huddersfield, Leicester, London, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Coventry, Walsall, Manchester, Preston and
- finally - Liverpool. The idea is for the tour to climax there - just 10 days before the Labour conference opens - we need to influence Labour if we are to change the settled policy on Israel at Westminster.
I seek assistance with finding venues in these cities - synagogues, mosques or community venues, ideally seating 100 or more. If you can think of one in these towns, I’d like to hear from you. I am also looking for folk to help publicise the events by leafleting their cities in advance of the talks. The tour is only eight weeks away, so I need to move fast. If you can help, please email me at email@example.com
Campaign Against Bogus Antisemitism