Dues issues

Sam Turner is full of idle advice and idle pub-room chatter, but his main beef is money (Letters, October 5). He even claims that the key question that divides the CPGB from the rest of the left is the “huge financial burden” placed on our membership. He writes of “bankrupting” comrades by demanding 10% of their wages. That puts off him and his brave-hearted friends from joining the CPGB. Oh dear.

Well, let us clear things up for comrade Turner and co. Our Draft rules state the following: “The Central Committee determines the level of membership dues. Dispensation can be negotiated in particular cases by the basic committees, but have to be ratified by the Central Committee.”

Certainly when it comes to the low-paid, students, unemployed, pensioners, etc, our normal practice is to accept a token sum. Well-off comrades are, though, yes, expected to donate 10% of their (net) income. That is very much open to negotiation, however: ie, a comrade might be a single parent with two young children, a hefty mortgage and loads of credit card debt.

We do not believe there is anything extraordinary in our approach. Devout Muslims, Jews and Christians pay tithes at that level: “A tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain or fruit, is the Lord’s, and is holy” (Leviticus xxvii:30). And, when it comes to CPGB MPs, councillors and elected labour movement officials, we are quite explicit: they would be expected to live on the average wage of a skilled worker and hand the balance over to the party.

Comrade Turner says that the CPGB is “essentially a Zoom discussion group and a website” and no different to the likes of “Why Marx, Talking about Socialism and RS21”. Errrr, no. The CPGB is a partyist project, united around a definite programme. We have an elected leadership, regular aggregates, committees, members and agreed rules. We operate according to the principles of democratic centralism: unity in action, freedom of criticism.

That means comrades have a right - even a duty - to raise political differences, including openly. But, crucially, we unite in actions, ranging from strike support and street protests to the various unity projects: the Socialist Labour Party, Socialist Alliance and even that abomination, Respect.

Take Left Unity. Four of our comrades were elected to its national committee, but rightly we ensured that the Communist Platform split because of a steadfast refusal by the majority to actively intervene in the Labour Party - that despite the election of Jeremy Corbyn and the influx of some 300,000 new members.

In the Labour Party our comrades worked under the banner of Labour Party Marxists and fought for a new, genuinely socialist clause four, the right for all left groups to affiliate and an unremitting war against the pro-capitalist right. We distributed many, many thousands of copies of Labour Party Marxists and produced Red Pages daily during Labour conferences. Our comrades also played a leading role in Labour Against the Witchhunt, which, of course, Sir Keir proscribed, along with Socialist Appeal, etc.

I could go on and on. But I shan’t. The point has been made. The CPGB is not “essentially a Zoom discussion group and a website”. The idea is just too silly.

Comrade Turner wants to know where the money goes. We are not going to present accounts or even give a rough breakdown to satisfy his curiosity. Suffice to say, we publish a weekly paper, produce books and pamphlets and run the annual Communist University in central London. As I write, our comrades have just vacated our BnB accommodation in Liverpool - once again we had a team working in and around the Labour conference. All that costs.

Finally, I ought to make it clear to comrade Turner and co that joining the CPGB is not a matter of merely wanting to join. Membership applications are accepted or rejected on the basis of their seriousness. We certainly take the payment of dues as axiomatic. Lenin famously proposed that a party member should be someone “who accepts the party’s programme and supports the party financially and by personal participation in one of the party’s organisations” (VI Lenin CW Vol 7, Moscow 1977, p242).

When we get someone writing to us just asking, ‘Have you got a branch in xxx and how much does it cost to join?’, we are inclined not to treat that as a serious membership application. Communists start with programme, politics, principles and proven consistency … not with convenience and bargain basement deals.

Jack Conrad

Within and around

In response to Mike Macnair’s letter I will focus on the example of Socialist Appeal, because I think it has important lessons to consider in terms of the approach of the CPGB.

In Mike’s talk at Communist University he likened Socialist Appeal’s communist turn to other previous turns by Workers Power, Socialist Resistance, etc towards popular movements as a tactical question of recruitment. As I argued, however, this is likely to have qualitatively different implications to that of turns towards the anti-globalisation or environmental movement, as it represents a turn towards those whose demands and interest are likely to be political rather than activist. In his recent letter, Mike again makes a comparison and this time to the Young Communist League, who Socialist Appeal are characterised as “imitating the stunt-imagery of” - again I would say this is a mischaracterisation, in particular in the way that matters: the implications.

Firstly, the current approach of Socialist Appeal predates the YCL shift, which gives it a different underpinning. It is ostensibly based off a 2013 survey that indicated wide support among young people for communist politics, motivating the leadership to recognise the potential in a turn in that direction. This was initially thrown off course by Corbynism, then returned in its current form after their expulsion from the Labour Party.

The YCL turn meanwhile can be understood more directly as a feature of the collapse of Corbynism and the carrying over of particular interpretations of Trotskyists as wreckers within Momentum, etc, influencing the symbolic embrace of Stalinist imagery and the language of vigilance - one of the key points here being that the YCL shift has represented a type of effort towards radicalism against the leadership of the Communist Party of Britain, whilst remaining contained within its wider political perspective.

The cases of Socialist Appeal and the YCL have clearly different implications for their organisations and leaderships - and this is evident when talking to their comrades and listening to their understandings of their own projects. These are differences which should clearly inform the approach of the CPGB, as each instance contains its own implications for how things may develop - implications that the CPGB surely should be directed at intensifying. Communist unity involves an interest in the particular development of left groups and their subsequent impact on the left as a whole, and particular pressure points may create developments, ruptures and transformations.

What I mean to highlight through this example is that the approach the CPGB takes towards engaging with the rest of the left needs developing. A more informed knowledge of developments on the left is required in order to make effective and focused interventions - and a more substantial engagement is also required, in particular, given (as it sounded like - I may be wrong) the engagement of the CPGB with Socialist Appeal during this turn has amounted to sending an email requesting a debate. I don’t think this is the basis from which to make informed and meaningful interventions.

A more active orientation towards the left in a real day-to-day way is part of what is needed (eg, attending events and discussing widely with others, engaging in joint activities like strike fundraising, etc). At the very least this would provide a richer knowledge from which to make developed analysis of the left. Further it would allow estimation of the particular pressure points to push at in particular contexts to advance the development of the left as a whole, and further still, it is precisely to be a living, breathing part of the left in this way which gives polemic traction and meaning. These are the conditions and form that actually encourage most people to engage meaningfully in discussion, allowing polemic to be understood then as a contribution to a movement of which we are a part, and guarding against detached, unmoored and distant critique.

I’m glad Mike ended his letter, though, by noting that it is “not immediately obvious” how to break through in the current circumstances and advance the project of communist unity - I agree. This appears, though, slightly different to the ending of his CU talk (ie, to continue “banging away” with the CPGB’s approach to ideological polemic). The implications certainly are different - if it is “not immediately obvious” how to go forward, then we are surely served best not by “banging away” with the same approach in the same form with no ready example of its meaningful success, but instead by an approach and process of questioning, humility, reflection, creativity and experimentation. This must be driven by open discussion of approach both within and around the CPGB, and informed by a wide and active engagement with the left as a whole.

Caitriona Rylance


Paul B Smith gives us a perfect example of how not to pursue communist unity (Letters, October 5). No, we don’t want at the outset to exclude comrades from organisations such as the Communist Party of Britain or other true believers in socialism in one country. This is for exactly the same reason we wouldn’t want to exclude or purge Trotskyists from this process.

Smith’s note reaches the very apogee of silliness when he talks of entryism in (which, surely, is a debased form of unity) and splitting organisations that he has a priori excluded from Marxist unity. People such as Smith really have learnt nothing from history and, in a supreme irony, actually end up sounding quite Stalinist when they talk about trends they don’t like in the workers’ movement.

I do appreciate Mike Macnair’s letter in response to my article in the same issue and his honest appreciation of the “logjam” of revolutionary politics at the present time. The comments he makes around the CPGB-PCC’s intervention in Left Unity and the Corbyn movement are interesting. I agree with the comrade about the objective difficulties of organising in the latter and that, in reality, the immediate political gains for Marxists were likely to have been slim. But what about the particular actions of the CPGB-PCC itself? After all, I don’t think it is much of a revelation that the organisation was in a fair degree of internal trouble, as the Corbyn movement began its disintegration in early 2020, and I wonder if the shock and isolation of the pandemic insulated the CPGB-PCC from further discord and disaffection.

In Left Unity, the CPGB-PCC organised a Communist Platform. This was mostly CPGB-PCC, but it did seemingly attempt to organise comrades outside the group and ran a series of open meetings. I was quite surprised with the Labour Party Marxists (LPM) enterprise (which had, of course, been founded long before the Corbyn movement) that the CPGB-PCC, to all intents and purposes, ran as a front. It seemed to function either as a mere subcommittee of the faction or an alternative badge for CPGB-PCC members who were working in the Labour Party. There was an attempt by some members to involve other Marxists in LPM in 2016, but this idea was quickly sat on by others.

LPM ended up as an unattractive and sterile front (apart from interventions at various Labour conferences, which seemed more effective), which had a poorly presented free broadsheet that often just rehashed Weekly Worker articles. This gave the impression of being a partially disconnected critique. In this situation, and as a false counterpoint to the overall direction of LPM, it appeared that some CPGB-PCC comrades (and not just one) had thrown themselves practically and emotionally overboard into the Corbyn movement in the sense of somehow wanting to improve and preserve it.

One example: when people started walking out of Labour in 2020, one CPGB-PCC comrade told me he had spent days on end arguing with leftists to stay inside Labour. On one level, it is reasonable to have a brief argument and generally propagandise against just walking out. But what struck me was his degree of emotional involvement in the Corbyn movement. And it was clear that this comrade was going to have literally no effect, as numbers of low-level members had begun voting with their feet. I thought similar things about the formation of the Labour Left Alliance, which seemed partially an attempt to preserve the tame and insipid Corbyn movement. But these responses were obviously surrogates for the ineffectiveness of LPM and, frankly, were not the tasks of communists.

As comrade Macnair says, the objective circumstances of clicktivism and Corbynism probably precluded any serious advance, but LPM wasn’t a widely admired enterprise on the revolutionary left and its nature as a front organisation for the CPGB-PCC meant it was an impediment to partyism. No, I wouldn’t have expected the CPGB-PCC to pick up thousands of Labour Party members, but I might have expected it to have influenced Marxists more generally in that arena and become a pole of attraction.

Comrade Macnair tells us that the CPGB-PCC has not lost confidence in its party conception. He adds that “we are in a somewhat different situation after a prolonged engagement with a left that appears to be in fairly severe political decline, relative to where it was in the middle 1990s - not in numbers or in fragmentation, but in decreased political education and increased tailism of mainstream bourgeois ideas”. I agree with this summation, but then it is not just an issue of the CPGB-PCC’s morality and sense of right in regard to partyism, but also a question of the toll those years of failure and defeat have taken on the group. This latter is immediately apparent to anyone outside the CPGB-PCC. Some comrades, such as Mike Macnair, wear those scars well, others less so.

In that context, I don’t accept that the CPGB-PCC faction can be the only organisational sieve or funnel for a future Communist Party. Comrades should collaborate with it, where appropriate, but when comrade Macnair asks me for positive proposals I have to reply, that is really up to the CPGB-PCC’s membership. Removing Jack Conrad from the membership ‘hotline’ would most probably be a positive move. But, beyond that, the CPGB-PCC itself needs to take ownership of its political destiny.

Lawrence Parker

Criticise Hamas

Moshé Machover made three assertions in his October 8 Communist Forum talk about the Hamas offensive that should not go unchallenged. One is that Hamas is a force for national liberation. Another is that progressives must “side with” it in its struggle against the Jewish state. A third is that criticising the group is verboten because it means supporting Zionism. All are false and pernicious and have no place in a Marxist organisation.

Hamas is not national in character. Rather it describes itself in its 1988 charter as a “universal organisation” dedicated to Muslim hegemony throughout the world. Its sectarianism therefore brings chaos, wherever it goes. In Syria, it supported cut-throat jihadis during the civil war led by al Qa’eda. In Egypt, its supporters began torching Christian churches as soon as it took power in 2012. In Palestine, as Machover conceded in his talk, its military operation will bring not liberation, but the opposite - ie, death and destruction, for the Palestinian masses.

While Marxists side with oppressed people and support without qualification their right of resistance and revolt, they do not side with rightwing organisations claiming to speak in the people’s name. Hamas is a profoundly reactionary movement that condemns the French and Russian revolutions and holds Jews responsible for both. It has not held an election in Gaza since 2006, it sent its thugs into the street to break up protests against poverty and unemployment in 2019, and it did the same when similar protests arose this summer. It constitutes a threat to workers on both sides of the divide. Marxists should no more support Hamas than they should support Islamist forces in, say, Mali, Niger or Burkina Faso.

Machover’s efforts to stifle criticism go contrary to the entire working class movement. The first duty of Marxists is to tell workers the truth, no matter how unpleasant or inconvenient it might be. This means telling Palestinian workers exactly what we think a short-lived Hamas ‘victory’ will mean. It’s not only our right, but our duty. Suppressing the truth about Hamas in any respect is nothing short of a betrayal.

Lenin is not an oracle whose words are holy writ. But his ‘Draft theses on nationalism’, written in 1920, laid the problem out quite clearly. A plank concerning the relationship between communists and the emerging national liberation movements of the day is particularly relevant. It stressed “the need for a determined struggle against attempts to give a communist colouring to bourgeois-democratic liberation trends in the backward countries” and added:

“... the Communist International should support bourgeois-democratic national movements in colonial and backward countries only on condition that, in these countries, the elements of future proletarian parties, which will be communist not only in name, are brought together and trained to understand their special tasks: ie, those of the struggle against the bourgeois-democratic movements within their own nations. The Communist International must enter into a temporary alliance with bourgeois democracy in the colonial and backward countries, but should not merge with it, and should under all circumstances uphold the independence of the proletarian movement even if it is in its most embryonic form ...”

Given that Lenin indicates elsewhere in the document that he regards the “struggle against pan-Islamism” to be a top priority, it’s questionable whether he would include Hamas in the bourgeois-democratic category at all, no matter how broadly defined. But even in the best of circumstances, his emphasis was on the importance of struggling against such movements and of maintaining strictest independence. This does not mean merely organisational independence, but political and ideological independence as well. While Marxists thus support bourgeois-democratic demands, they must also continually point out the difference between their methods and those of the national movements in question, between how they view colonialism and other such problems and how bourgeois nationalists see them instead.

Such principles are all-important, now that the entire region is plunging into war. Yet none of the CPGB leadership protested when Machover argued that criticism of Hamas was somehow a betrayal of the anti-Zionist struggle. Why?

Daniel Lazare
New York

Wet dreams

In his last letter (October 5) Andrew Northall claims the “indubitable reality that socialism was indeed built within the Soviet Union”. Stalin proclaimed socialism to be on its way in 1934 and then in November 1936 that “socialism has now been fully achieved in Russia”. Of course, the idea that what existed in the USSR in 1936 was socialism is not only the ridiculous, lying propaganda of the Stalinists, but also serves all anti-communist, imperialist propagandists: ‘If this is socialism, do you want to go there?’

What else was happening in that fateful year? To the absolute horror of the conservative bureaucracy in the USSR, a socialist revolution had broken out in Spain. Workers seized control of all workplaces and peasants seized control of the land, in what is wrongly termed the ‘anarchist revolution’. The overriding concern of Stalin and his apparatchiks in Spain was to return the factories to the capitalists and the land to the landlords, so they could forge a popular front with them against fascists, even though these capitalists had almost all fled in fear of the risen masses.

The political capitulation of the leadership to this popular front government is the story of why that revolution was lost. But, suffice to say, the Communist Party was on the right wing of the entire workers’ movement. In their determination to crush this revolution they assassinated anarchist, Trotskyist centrist and genuine Trotskyist revolutionary socialists. Stalin’s counterrevolution triumphed in May 1937.

The first Moscow trial - the ‘Trial of the 16’ (including Zinoviev and Kamenev), began in August 1936 as a direct consequence of the revolutionary uprising in Spain. These 16 had endured many months of torture both physical and physiological, including threats to shoot their families if they did not ‘confess’ to crimes they could not possibly have committed. Of the 1,966 delegates to the 17th Party Congress of January-February 1934, 1,108 were arrested and tried in secret - the Tukhachevsky Affair. Of 139 members of the central committee, 98 were arrested between 1936 and 1938, and executed - most without any due process whatsoever.

Leon Trotsky, as the implicit inheritor of the internationalist perspectives of world revolution from 1917, was the chief target in the Moscow trials, including the 1937 ‘Red Army trial’. The Red Army was led to victory by Trotsky, but Northall is too modest to inform us. Lenin said that there could be “no better Bolshevik” than Trotsky in September 1917 and Stalin praised him in 1918 as the principal organiser of the Bolshevik uprising.

One can only conclude from Northall’s letter that he has wet dreams of being able to murder all his political opponents like Stalin did. Getting his rocks off on mass executions without the KGB/NKVD secret police to help him is as foolish as you can get. I once heard Gerry Healy recount how Stalinists threw him in the fountain in Trafalgar Square for denouncing Stalin after Khrushchev’s secret speech in 1956. That’s about the best Northall can now hope for against his political opponents.

Gerry Downing
Socialist Fight

Schrödinger’s cat

Tony Clark states that “being does not determine consciousness, but influences it, so the Marxist position, which gives the greater power to being, is wrong. There is no quantum physicist that I know of who would disagree with me on this point” (Letters, September 28).

The nature of consciousness is not within the remit of quantum mechanics. The practice of quantum mechanics is not dependent upon a theory of the nature of consciousness. The outcome of quantum mechanical processes is not dependent upon consciousness. The reduction of a wave function occurs whether or not it is observed.

Erwin Schrödinger’s cat is alive or dead, irrespective of whether he has looked in the box. Schrödinger came up with his famous thought experiment in order to demonstrate the absurdity of the claim that a physical system would continue in a superposition if it was not observed.

Uranium atoms in the Earth have been decaying since before there were humans to observe them. A quantum wave function is an expression of our knowledge of a system, but it is not actually the system itself. We must not confuse our representations with actual physical reality.

Quantum mechanics has nothing to say about the relationship between being and consciousness.

John Wake