Split decision

Matthew Strupp’s letter, ‘How to unite?’ (December 15), responding to Ollie Hughes’s letter, ‘Centrism’ (November 24), about the dispute between the CPGB PCC and comrades from the Dutch Communistisch Platform, raised important questions about the possibility of effective unity. This response is personal, not a ‘PCC position’.

Comrade Hughes, beside self-criticising for positions he defended at the CPGB’s November 12 aggregate, reported criticisms on social media discussions of the majority view at that aggregate, and replied to them. The critics had argued that our objections to the Dutch comrades’ policy amounted to “proposing purity politics”. Comrade Hughes replied that the critics “fail to make the crucial distinction between purging the right as an offensive strategy and the defensive tactic of expelling unprincipled elements”.

Comrade Strupp then asks a series of questions: “when comrades think a defensive expulsion of unprincipled elements is necessary and how this differs from the ‘splitting as strategy’ that has led to the proliferation of dozens of far-left sects. I am also interested in what makes organisational separation from social-imperialists a higher priority than from ‘any old rightwinger’.”

And, “Is it necessary to expel those who make these arguments or is it only necessary to debate them (openly and with full force, not through secondary formulations) and defeat them in meetings, congresses, and conferences?”

In the first place, I think that comrade Hughes has slightly zig-zagged in his response to social media critics, from being insufficiently critical of the Communistisch Platform’s course of action in the unity discussions in De Socialisten (at the November CPGB aggregate), to constructing a schema of ‘offensive’ and ‘defensive’ splits which is unhelpful (in his letter).

The fundamental point of principle is that constructing a unity project on the basis of an agreement (express or implied) of “don’t talk about the war” - ie, that the unity project would not itself take a position about Nato’s proxy war on Russia in Ukraine - would be to create a waste of political space. This is a war to which the Netherlands government has made itself party: it has earmarked €2.5 billion in its 2023 budget for aid to Ukraine, including military aid, which is 50% of the Netherlands’ total defence budget and 89% of its federal education budget. How on earth could a political organisation be of any political use if it cannot decide, one way or another, on support for or opposition to the concrete war on which the government plans to spend this sort of money?

The present line of the Mandelite Fourth International organisations in Nato countries is one of support for the war policy of their own capitalist governments. Including the ideological cover of ‘national self-determination’ arguments, it is identical to the line of the pro-Entente social-chauvinists in 1914-18.

Comrade Hughes rightly says that “the CP comrades are correct that offensive purges of the right is illusory: the right will spontaneously regenerate, and, as we all know, relying on purging as a strategy places dangerous power in the hands of party bureaucrats”. But, as comrade Strupp in effect says, it is by no means clear that a definite line can be drawn between ‘offensive’ and ‘defensive’ splits.

The point here is, in my view, not that an immediate split is compulsory, but that an ‘agreement to disagree’ on such a central issue of politics - for or against our own capitalist state’s present war - is unacceptable.

If we step backwards to the underlying issues of principle, there are two: the need of the working class to be able to take collective decisions - within parties and through the open conflict of parties, and/or public factions; and the problem of how the capitalist class rules in day-to-day politics and the impact of these methods on the workers’ movement.

The working class needs to be able to take collective decisions for its collective actions. This is completely obvious in relation to trade unions, cooperatives, and so on, and equally true in relation to political action.

Denying members of an organisation the right to choose between competing options is to pre-empt collective decision-making. This can take a variety of forms. Premature splits, before the differences have been fully developed and discussed throughout the membership, is a common one - and one that can be committed both by leadership majorities engaging in factitious disciplinary proceedings, and by minorities which walk out when it becomes clear that they are minorities, in order to ‘deny legitimacy’ to a congress, etc. Bans on factions or on ‘permanent’ factions, and their necessary corollary, controls on horizontal communication independent of the apparatus, are equally common. But just as important (among a wide variety of devices) are: the use of procedural devices to prevent discussions or votes; insisting votes can only be ‘indicative’; rotten blocs and (going along with them) agreements to vote on the ‘general line’ of documents rather than on specific amendable texts; and diplomatic texts which conceal immediate disagreements behind high-level generalities.

Now to the question of how the capitalist class rules. It does so through capital in the money form: on the one hand, by the carrot of corruption of parliaments (or in non-parliamentary regimes, of senior officials) and of the courts (‘free market in legal services’); on the other, by the stick of the free movement of capital, leading to ‘capital flight’, and exchange rate and public finance crises, to coerce governments which get out of line.

The corruption side of the story has at its centre the role of advertising-funded media - and, in England, has had this at its centre since the early 1700s. The advertising-funded media stands, in relation to freedom of speech in public political discourse, as an equivalent to the right to bring a public address system into court or into parliament to drown out the arguments of your adversaries: to limit who and what can be heard in the interests of the political choices made by the advertisers in placing advertising with this or that media outlet.

In order to combat capitalist rule and defend its own interests at a level beyond the defensive ‘guerrilla struggle’ of strikes and so on, the working class needs its own media independent of the advertising industry - and its own independent political party.

But the capitalists can - as they have done with the social democracy - capture workers’ parties. The processes of capture commonly work through elected representatives, who become acculturated to bribe-taking and managerialism.

In this context, the right of the party to dissociate itself from individual representatives, officials, and other forms of ‘celebs’ promoted by the advertising-funded media, is important. If the party cannot sack or expel representatives or officials, it in effect gives up its right to exist independent of the advertising-funded media and thus of the capitalist class. There is, then, a difference between general purges and splits, on the one hand, and the use of individual disciplinary sanctions against elected representatives, etc, on the other.

It is merely inescapable that there is conflict and tension between, on the one hand, what the working class needs to take collective decisions, and, on the other hand, the capability of the capitalist class, through its normal mechanisms of rule through corruption, to capture workers’ organisations both large and small. There is a real and inherent risk that not using organisational measures against the state-loyalists (who, remember, will always be backed by the state and the media) will result in capitalist capture of the party. On the other hand, there is a real and inherent risk that using such measures will sterilise discussion and deny the membership, and hence the working class, the choice between competing options for action.

To return, now, from the abstract general principles to the concrete. We cannot escape the tension between the needs of working class decision processes and the needs of self-defence against capitalist capture of our organisations. Hence the question of what to do faced with a state-loyalist faction - or, as in the present Dutch situation, a unity process involving a group which has gone over to state-loyalism - has to be determined on a concrete assessment. The consequence is that there cannot be either a clear distinction between ‘offensive’ and ‘defensive’ splits, as comrade Hughes proposes, or general rules for when to split or expel and when not to, which comrade Strupp seems to ask for.

What the Dutch comrades have got wrong, I think, is not (necessarily) to fail to propose the exclusion of the Mandelite SAP from the unity process. Nor would it be a requirement to walk out if they made such a proposal and lost. It is rather that the formulations adopted by the De Socialisten conference do not draw sharp lines against support for one’s own state’s wars - posed very concretely in relation to this war, right now going on - but avoid the issue in favour of generalities.

Suppose that opposition to this war had been put to the vote and lost: it would not be obligatory on CP comrades to walk out. Suppose that it had won, and the SAP had declined to walk out: it would not be obligatory for CP comrades to demand that the SAP be expelled. These are all questions of tactics. What is not tactics but principle is the necessity of putting to the vote a clear line for a public position of De Socialisten. That is what the working class needs (so far as it can get access to the information) in order to choose between the counterposed lines of state-loyalism and communism.

Mike Macnair


Paul Demarty exaggerates the pressure on German youth to join the Hitler Youth (Hitler Jugend - HJ) or, perhaps, for that matter, the German League of Girls (Bund Deutscher Mädel - BDM) in his article last week (‘The sins of the father’ January 5).

One Barbara Gomm has written to The Guardian about the resistance of her father - then a teenager in Königsberg (Kaliningrad) - to his father’s pressure to join the HJ. That such pressure seemed necessary - whether for Nazi or merely prudential reasons - suggests that HJ membership was not in itself compulsory. This pressure, moreover, was unsuccessful.

Let us not let Joseph Ratzinger off the hook too easily.

Jack Fogarty

Crap project

I like Tina Werkmann’s article on the recent fall-out in the Labour Representation Committee (‘Unconscious cancel culture’ January 5) and her demolition of the managerial culture that infects all levels of the left. Previously, when I heard she was fronting up Red Line TV (which, to be blunt, I thought was a crap project and a waste of her abilities) for the LRC, I thought she had completely collapsed into soft Labour leftism, and I can now see I was wrong about that.

Nevertheless, I still think Tina is somewhat soft on people such as Graham Bash, who is nice enough on a personal level, but has terrible reformist politics, period. I know Tina was not particularly a fan of Labour Briefing under his stewardship, but she applauds Bash for his “sterling efforts to publish (slightly) opposing ideas”. Labour Briefing was a thoroughly eclectic gabble of short, pointless articles filled with silly platitudes. In that context, it really did not matter that there was a slight disjuncture between this or that article, because there was never any narrative thread that could possibly make sense of such differences as a debate. It would be an illuminating exercise to go through the Labour Briefing files and find just one article that was even worth reading. Maybe the LRC could run this as an exciting competition for past subscribers, to try and at least stir the corpse?

Tina also says: “I think [Bash] is by far the best and most principled politician on the official Labour left and I respect him hugely. Also, for his unusual ability to think about issues and sometimes even change his views - an attribute scarce on our dogma-bound left.” Now, admittedly, the field for the “best and most principled politician on the official Labour left” is not exactly packed right now, but really? Again, I must reiterate that I’m sure the comrade is a nice guy, but politically that isn’t my experience of him.

A few years ago, at Communist University 2019, Bash was challenged in discussion on the silly reformist mantra of the ‘next’ Labour government ‘taking the power’, etc. CPGB comrades pointed out that the mass Second International had well-known positions against socialist organisations forming governments to merely administer capitalism (ie, the lot of all Labour governments thus far). Comrade Bash got quite worked up about this and said (from my notes of the session), he “had never heard of such a thing”. And that’s the level of this kind of Labour leftist. They are not interested in learning or being challenged about such matters (even when something is 100% historically accurate).

This kind of defective politics sits at the root of why the LRC, Labour Briefing and the Zoom call currently masquerading as Red Line TV are such specious horseshit. By the way, if any comrades from Red Line TV are reading this, I am available to appear at short notice (although I don’t like missing ‘Homes under the hammer’).

Lawrence Parker

Iron wall

According to a recent letter in the Morning Star concerning the mental health system and police powers of arrest, the police can, under section 136 of the Mental Health Act remove a person from a public place who they deem to be suffering from a mental disorder to a ‘place of safety’, so that a joint mental health assessment can be conducted. They actually have the same power to remove you from your place of residence and that is likely where the majority of ‘arrests’ are made.

The police, it is said in the letter, are an important entry point into the mental health system. But should this be the case and, just as importantly, why is it the case? It suggests that the police are acting on information received - but the body responsible for this is not the police, but the mental health service, who request police attendance when the person in question refuses them access to their residence.

The majority of people sectioned do not go into psychiatric units willingly, as those units would prefer, as part of the pretence that they are part of the health service. With the police frog-marching you in, there is the suspicion that they are in fact detention centres for those seen as a threat to public and social order. Many if not most of those sectioned are locked up because their thinking and ideas do not correspond with the social conservatism imposed on the population at large. In this sense, they are rebellious and antagonistic towards social norms that govern everyday organisations.

This is an explanation why large number of those detained in psychiatric units are locked up against their will rather than going in willingly. Appeals against section 2 orders are often not heard until most of the 28 days are up - which suggests a lack of confidence by the authorities that they are holding people legally.

The general mass of people who are being emotionally wrecked by the capitalist (dis)order that reigns over us perpetually and who willingly seek help find themselves up against an iron wall of resistance by the mental health authorities, which is cemented by the strict rationing of beds within the mental health system. After all, capitalists who have crushed your hopes and dreams in the first place do not want you escaping from work into cushy rest centres, especially since overwhelming numbers are at their wits’ end. It would decimate the workforce whom capitalists depend on to keep profits flowing.

Let’s stop this cosy nonsense about the psychiatric system. It doesn’t exist to help you, but to preserve the social order and as an employment scam for tens of thousands of so-called professionals whose income and way of life is so attractive to capitalists.

Nothing in the capitalist order is done that doesn’t serve its purposes, and that includes the NHS, social services, schools, universities and so on. It’s time to blow up the thinking structures that chain us to an unnatural, criminal system of rule.

Elijah Traven


Will some of the Tory papers come over to Labour? Many did when Tony Blair seemed poised to defeat John Major in 1997 and now parts of the Conservative press seem to be warming to Keir Starmer.

A Times editorial on January 6 said, for instance, that, with Labour 20% ahead in the polls, Starmer is now a “plausible candidate” for prime minister. The paper added that he is “competent” and “serious”. He is “proud of king and country” and is clearly “in the mainstream of British politics”. The leader also welcomed his plans to devolve powers to local communities through a ‘Take Back Control’ bill and his promise not to reach for a “big government cheque book”. Rachel Reeves also got plaudits as an “able shadow chancellor”, who is willing to work in “partnership with the private sector”.

The concern for the Labour left should be that a government under Starmer will keep to a free-market status quo and do little to address inequality. No wonder The Times is so happy. But the Labour left has become so incredibly weak in such a short space of time.

Alan Stewart

Headline rant

Last week you falsely titled my letter ‘Only workers’ (January 5). This, as any intelligent person will note, is not a summary of my letter, but a caricature attack on it. You need to get your editorial act together.

Doubtless, many intellectuals in a Marxist party consider their ego to be a personal gift for the working class. It is not. It is an encumbrance that needs to be gotten rid of.

All of the great Marxists exhibited no ego. Some of the Bolshevik leaders did: eg, Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev, etc. Sadly, the tradition of egoistical intellectuals leading far-left parties in the UK is now very well entrenched.

Trotsky began to recognise the extent of the problem in the late 1930s. The 1939-40 faction fight in the Socialist Workers Party (US) was a precursor of the problems that the post-war boom would create, with the high incidence of university students entering the workforce in ‘western’ countries. Now it is also a problem in China too.

Sadly, the Weekly Worker appears to want to sweep the whole matter under the carpet. Your publication allows some to regularly write interminable tracts, which are of little value, whilst, on the other hand, you butcher my important letter, which should have been published under ‘Party and programme’.

I agree with your aim to build a Marxist party, but the CPGB remains a sectarian party run by egoistical intellectuals. You have demonstrated this latter link simply by publishing my butchered article as a letter with your own false and misleading title. A better title would be ‘No intellectuals with egos’, but, for you, this is too close to the bone - too revealing about the make-up of the CPGB leadership.

You will not build a Marxist party unless you sort out the problem of class composition that I have raised. Intellectuals naturally tend to think that they are right, and all others are wrong. This translates into sectarianism: intolerance of others, self-indulgence, etc.

Jack Bernard

For the bird

While Jack Bernard made some reasonable points last week, he was very ill-advised to provide extensive quotations from Leon Trotsky on the subject of personal egos and the ability and capacity to work in a disciplined way within a collective and disciplined Communist Party (Letters, January 5).

I think any quotations from Trotsky, let alone lengthy ones, are pretty pointless riven as they are with excess verbiage, inconsistencies, banalities and opportunism. But indirectly quoting him to the effect that “party-intellectuals retaining their ego are likely to be arrogant, obstinate, intolerant of others and self-indulgent - ie, basically lacking in self-discipline” really makes one laugh out loud.

This, presumably, is the same Trotsky who had such arrogance and contempt for his fellow members of the Bolshevik Party leadership and the party itself (during the relatively short period he was actually a member), he would ostentatiously read French novels during meetings of the central committee?

So much for “one must be able to relinquish one’s ego, then one becomes far more tolerant towards others”!

Trotsky was the ultimate egotist and the complete antithesis of any definition of the decent Communist Party member. Literally everything he said, wrote and did was about the self-aggrandisement of one Leon Trotsky. The notion he had any sort of understanding of, let alone commitment to, the working class or any concept of it truly being able to liberate and emancipate itself is for the birds.

One modern distillation of the complete absurdity of Trotsky and his entire life and approach are those individuals who think their ‘parties’ or sects of just one or two members are the workers’ vanguard, who will lead the dumb, dormant working class into their own specific version of some Bonapartist military dictatorship.

Trotsky is one dead Russian of whom we can say genuine partisans of the working class, of working class self-emancipation, have absolutely nothing to learn from and can safely ignore and forget as the ignominious failure he truly was.

Trotskyism is a disease which creates paranoia, delirium and severely distorted perceptions within the socialist left (it has hardly any real presence in genuine labour movement organisations). It manifests itself in insane infighting, factionalism, sectarianism, splitting and attacking the organisations and struggles of the working class. Genuine Marxism-Leninism and a large and influential Communist Party would be the truly effective antidote to this 20th century disease and accompanying irritants.

Andrew Northall