In a letter in last week’s Weekly Worker Anne McShane takes issue with my report of the last CPGB members’ aggregate (‘Opportunism in matters of organisation’, October 26).
She focuses on a number of points of accuracy and my interpretation of the political tendencies implicit in some of the contributions made during the discussion on dues and communist unity. After both consulting my notes and listening to the recording of the meeting, I still believe that my report was an accurate reflection of what comrades said during the discussion.
As for the interpretation, that too stands, but the issues that have been raised in both Anne’s letter and at the meeting require further discussion and clarification, because they really do go far beyond issues of personal style or how we implement our draft rules on dues. For me the key issue here is about how we understand our central project of campaigning for, and building, a mass Communist Party with a revolutionary programme. It also means being clear on how we understand the nature of that partyist project and the concept of Marxist unity that underpins it.
This is all the more important at a time when all sorts of ‘communist unity’ and ‘left unity’ projects are being advanced, along with any number of new ‘parties’ and networks. Given the defeat of Corbynism and the rout of the official Labour left, these developments are perhaps inevitable. Moreover, many of the initiatives do seem to bear more than a passing resemblance to previous left unity projects, in that they take a broad-front form, in which ‘Marxists’ operate as a revolutionary minority, watering down their programme into the lowest common denominator of left Labourism to maintain ‘unity’ with wider layers of ex (continuing?) Corbynites. We’ve been here before and we know that doesn’t work: it certainly hasn’t succeeded in building a principled Marxist party.
All of this should be both common ground and common experience for the members and supporters of the CPGB. But for many of our wider periphery these are new experiences and so we need to go over old ground to explain to them how our partyist project differs even from those comrades who ostensibly support communist unity. The same is also true of former members and supporters of the CPGB who left us - often to become involved in such broad-front initiatives.
This is why the issue of barriers and boundaries is so crucial for building a serious campaign for a Communist Party. Our conception of a party is one based on full democracy and accountability, with freedom of discussion and criticism. It’s also one grounded in the members of the party accepting the party programme as a basis for common actions and political campaigns. Although this project is committed to the unity of all Marxists, with the basis of agreement being the revolutionary programme, by definition this commitment will be a real barrier to joining such a party for advocates of broad-front-style initiatives.
Our model for such a party is that of Bolshevism, as it developed before 1917 and as outlined in texts such as What is to be done? and One step forward, two steps back. Again this should be common ground, but all these bases of our politics need to be emphasised, because they shape how we orientate to broad left campaigns, such as the Labour Left Alliance or, as has occurred more recently, when we consider communist unity in more than just an abstract way by discussing the issue with comrades from Talking About Socialism or other groups.
This current experience brings us back to key points in our recent history, such as our intervention in the Corbyn movement, as well as our earlier participation in, for example, the Socialist Alliance, Respect and Left Unity. In those movements and initiatives we maintained the perspective of building a mass Communist Party and defended the partyist project without compromise or concessions to broad frontism. That is still the position, I believe, we should continue to take.
Tony Greenstein gets a remarkable number of things wrong in his letter of November 2. He says I “refrain from supporting the Palestinian struggle”, because I see it “as tainted by anti-Semitism”. He says I suffer from “Jewish exceptionalism” and adds that I know nothing “concerning the context in which Hamas arose and developed”. He says my criticism of David Miller - the academic sacked by Bristol University for declaring that Jews are “overrepresented” in the top rungs of British society - is “disgraceful”, because I fail to recognise that Miller was merely stating a simple sociological fact.
This is all nonsense. My letter of October 12, which he cites, clearly states that “Marxists side with oppressed people and support without qualification their right of resistance and revolt.” This is a straightforward call to support the Palestinian struggle against Zionist oppression. The charge of Jewish exceptionalism is incorrect, since I have always argued that Israel should be seen in a broader Middle East context, in which Zionist oppression is less sui generis than Palestinian nationalists would like to admit. (The parallels with regard to Syria, a country dominated by a religious minority that also can’t afford to let go, are particularly striking.)
With regard to Miller, comrade Greenstein seems to have a problem with basic English. Merriam-Webster, Collins, and Dictionary.com all define “overrepresentation” as excessive representation. If Miller was merely saying that a lot of Jews are in the top rungs, his statement would not be controversial. But saying that there are too many is. Large numbers of Asians can be found in STEM studies (ie, science, technology, engineering and maths) on US campuses. This is undeniable. But saying there are too many and their numbers should therefore be reduced is utterly reactionary.
Greenstein agrees that Hamas is reactionary, but says they “represent a large chunk of Palestinian society” regardless. But so what? Mussolini represented a large chunk of Italian society, but that didn’t make him any less destructive. Greenstein says he is “not aware that they [Hamas] supported jihadis in Syria and very much doubt that they supported either Isis or al Qaeda”. But they did support the rebels and in fact dispatched a small number of militants to fight alongside them. This not only put them on the same side as al Qa’eda, but the US and Israel too, which also backed the rebels in an effort to topple the Ba’athist government.
His statement that Hamas is “at pains to distinguish between Judaism and Zionism” is absurd. All he has to do is look up Hamas’s 1988 charter on the internet to see that it incorporates the language of classic anti-Semitism, complete with references to the notorious tsarist forgery known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and charges that the Jews caused the French and Russian revolutions and were also responsible for World Wars I and II. Hamas sees Zionism and the Jews as one and the same. So does Netanyahu.
In arguing that Marxists sided with rightwing groups like EOKA in Cyprus in the 1950s (the National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters, founded by an ultra-rightist named Georgios Grivas), he ignored the most important part of my letter, which was an extended quote from Lenin concerning the necessity of maintaining political distance from bourgeois anti-colonial forces. “The Communist International must enter into a temporary alliance with bourgeois democracy in the colonial and backward countries,” Lenin wrote in 1920, “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 ...” As I noted on October 12, “This does not mean merely organisational independence, but political and ideological independence as well.” In other words, Marxists should support the colonial masses, but not rightwing groups claiming to speak in their name, since they can only betray, weaken and undermine the popular struggle - something that Marxists should point out at every opportunity.
Greenstein is a textbook example of how to get this wrong. Within hours of the October 7 Hamas assault, he was using his blog to compare the offensive with the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in April 1943. “The Palestinian Resistance has undoubtedly killed many Israeli civilians,” he wrote, “but we have to remember that most Israelis are not only reserve soldiers, but they have given overwhelming support to the slaughter of Palestinians.” According to his pro-Hamas apologia, children, the elderly, and teenage concert-goers must all pay the price for the Israeli government’s crimes.
If Greenstein had been halfway honest, he would have pointed out an all-important difference with the 1943 Warsaw uprising, which is that the ghetto fighters had no intention whatsoever of slaughtering innocent civilians. On the contrary, their goal was to enlist them in the anti-fascist struggle. As the militants’ leftwing leadership put it in June 1942, when the war was at its darkest:
“... from the fjords of Norway to the suburbs of Paris, from the mountains of Serbia to the factories of Czechoslovakia, the liberation army is consolidating and growing. Within the limited possibilities of the ghettoes we must prepare the ground for a revolutionary Jewish deed. From Jewish pain and sufferings there must grow up the strength that, together with all the revolutionary forces in Europe and the backing of the Red Army, will rise to fight against Nazi slavery …” (Reuben Ainsztein The Warsaw Ghetto revolt, New York, 1979, pp28-29).
This is the language of liberation, not of bloody ethno-religious reprisals. So, while we should support Palestinian resistance, we should not support Hamas. The distinction may be too subtle for Greenstein to understand. But it is absolutely essential.
I was hugely saddened to see that you published Tony Greenstein’s attack on me, “Why the Palestine solidarity movement should have nothing to do with Peter Gregson” (Letters, November 2).
I am also deeply saddened that you have refused to publish the Consistent Democrats defence of me, though you have been asked to by Ian Donovan. Readers can find it at consistent-democrats.org - and they will see that 27 pro-Palestine activists have signed that.
But what really takes the biscuit is that, whilst Tony is telling others to boycott me, he himself is doing exactly the opposite. For he was the 17th to sign my open letter to the home secretary calling for Hamas to be removed from the proscribed list of terrorist bodies. So far 853 have signed and Tony has even given me permission to use his name to promote the open letter! So why is he telling others to boycott me, when he himself does not? Anyway, thankfully nobody is listening to Tony any more.
I am taking the petition to 10 Downing Street on December 5 at 10am, and notifying the media - if any Weekly Worker readers want to join me, that would be excellent news. I do not expect Suella Braverman to change government policy because a thousand people have proposed it, but I do want to start a debate about whether Hamas are terrorists or freedom fighters.
There has been a huge misinformation campaign around the numbers killed by Hamas on October 7; fighters on motorbikes with Kalashnikovs just do not have the resources to firebomb cars and demolish houses - for that you need Apache helicopters with Hellfire missiles and Merkava tanks. At least 50% of those who died were killed by Israel, using the ‘Hannibal’ directive - killing Israelis to get at a Palestinian fighter. There are numerous reports from Israelis confirming this.
If we can get the mainstream media to reflect that maybe Hamas are not the terrorists, then Israel’s carpet bombing can be seen for what it is - an attempt to wipe out a resistance movement; and probably occupy Gaza itself so that it can seize its gas reserves. We need to expose who the real terrorists are: the Israeli state, terrorising Palestinians for 75 years.
So please ignore Tony and join me in Whitehall on December 5.
One Democratic Palestine
Labour Party members across Britain are dismayed by Keir Starmer’s refusal to call for an end to the brutal collective punishment being inflicted upon the people of the Gaza Strip by the State of Israel.
In a radio interview on October 11 Starmer stated that “Israel has that right” - to cut off power and water to the Gaza Strip. In a television interview on October 12 shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry refused to condemn the cutting off of food, water and electricity. It is an outrage that the leadership of a party that describes itself as democratic socialist apparently endorses violations of the Geneva conventions.
The United Kingdom is capable of playing a major role in ending the current Palestine-Israel war. The UK is a permanent member of the United Nations security council. It is a key ally of the state of Israel, which it supplies with armaments, and with which it has signed an agreement on military cooperation. An Israeli arms manufacturer, Elbit, has a number of factories in Britain.
Keir Starmer ought to condemn the government’s support for the slaughter in the Gaza Strip and push for the UK to use all the levers at its disposal to secure an immediate ceasefire agreement. Leading members of the Labour Party, including frontbench MPs, the Labour leader in Scotland, the Labour mayors of London and Greater Manchester, and Labour groups on at least 20 councils, have issued statements calling for an immediate ceasefire. I hope that all Labour MPs and councillors will follow this example and call on Keir Starmer to demand a ceasefire and the immediate restoration of supplies of water, food, medicine, electricity and other necessities to the people of the Gaza Strip.
Labour Party councillors and ordinary members are resigning from the party in protest at Starmer’s position on this war, and such resignations led to the loss of the Labour majority on Oxford council. Many Labour voters have expressed visceral disgust at Starmer’s position on this issue, and have said that they will withhold their vote at the next election.
As a Labour Party member, I must say that I will not support the re-election of any Labour councillor or MP who will not condemn the killing of unarmed civilians and the denial of water, food and medicine to a civilian population in a war. Anyone who supports the violation of the international law laid out in the Geneva Conventions should not be a member of the Labour Party.
There was another good session at last Sunday’s Online Communist Forum, where we did, of course, discuss the bombardment of Gaza. This included some talk of a future that we might advocate.
It was based on the work of Moshé Machover, who has proposed that both ‘two-state’ and ‘one-state’ solutions simply reproduce the national divisions engineered by the empires after World War I. Rather, we should seek a union across the area - a federation that would at least embrace the working class of Palestine, Israel and Jordan or even be extended to Syria, Lebanon and the Sinai Peninsula. This could be described as the pan-Semite union, as the Semitic languages include Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, etc, and it need not be defined by religion.
Achieving this would by no means be easy, but it would be anti-imperialist and anti-exclusive. It should necessarily involve democratic structures of self-management and devolution, to offer all the peoples a chance to govern together. If we socialists cannot achieve this diverse unity tomorrow, we might at least persuade people that it’s an alternative to the current tragic antagonism.
I find myself conflicted by the front page of last week’s Weekly Worker (November 2). On the one hand, I understand that having orthodox rabbis on the front page, holding signs saying “Authentic rabbis always opposed Zionism and the state of Israel”, etc, makes a good picture. On the other hand, one of the other rabbis’ signs gives the game away: “Torah true Jews …”, it says at the top - and thereby somewhat offends me.
Communist Jews (like me) who consider themselves cultural rather than religious Jews, understand that these rabbis’ antipathy to Israel is not based on politics, but on deeply held religious beliefs - that Israel should not exist because the messiah has not appeared yet. (I’m assuming here that people will remember that religious Jews do not consider Jesus to have been the messiah. Religious Jews are still waiting …)
Using these men as poster boys for resistance against Israeli oppression rather pushes into the background the many non-religious Jewish groups, who have been demonstrating, speaking out and writing against the Israeli onslaught for months and sometimes years. It seems to me that using ‘the wrong sort of Jew’ to prove a point about Jewish political opposition to the Zionist state in some ways actually shows the opposite - and would confuse those who do not understand the differences within the Jewish community.
I speak of them as the ‘wrong sort of Jew’ because I abhor the way women and girls are treated in their communities, the inadequate schooling both boys and girls receive in religious schools, the fact that even in Israel itself those in the orthodox communities who might be opposed to Israel’s oppression in Gaza would still support the most rightwing of Netanyahu’s allies.
Our enemy’s enemy is not, as we all know, necessarily our friend. And I believe that should be borne in mind for future photo ops.
Jack Barnard’s article in defence of the transitional method is excellent in its details (‘Placing demands on Labour’, October 19). But in his response Jack Conrad reduces the article to the stuff in Wales, so he does not need to reply to the rest in any detail (‘Transition to nowhere’, November 2). And where he does tackle Jack Barnard’s dichotomy between maximum and minimum demands he references Lenin’s observations in his Collected works that it is “a utopia to think that we shall not be thrown back”.
But you will find a lot more that he ‘inadvertently’ seems to have missed. Immediately before that quote, embarrassingly for Jack, we find: “And here we come to the question of whether we should abolish the difference between the maximum and minimum programmes. Yes and no. I do not fear this abolition, because the viewpoint we held in summer should no longer exist. I said then, when we still had not taken power, that it was ‘too soon’, but now that we have taken power and tested it, it is not too soon. In place of the old programme we must now write a new programme of soviet power and not in any way reject the use of bourgeois parliamentarism” (my emphasis).
Paul Levi correctly identified that the reason was in the lack of transitional demands, a failure to recognise the fact that the class-consciousness of the working class was not yet receptive to a revolutionary insurrection, as the Bolsheviks recognised in July 1917 - despite demands from some ultra-lefts in the party for an insurrection then. Who can deny that it was the sophisticated application of the united front with Kerensky against Kornilov and Denikin that saved the revolution?
And Lenin follows the short quote Jack has given with: “It cannot be denied historically that Russia has created a soviet republic. We say that if ever we are thrown back, while not rejecting the use of bourgeois parliamentarism - if hostile class forces drive us to that old position - we shall aim at what has been gained by experience: at soviet power, at the soviet type of state, at the Paris Commune type of state. That must be expressed in the programme. In place of the minimum programme, we shall introduce the programme of soviet power. A definition of the new type of state must occupy an important place in our programme.”
Many of the minimum demands put forward by Jack are really transitional demands, as he is partially forced to acknowledge himself here: “In other words, fulfilling the minimum programme takes us to the threshold of the maximum programme, which is about the post-capitalist rule of the working class, international socialist revolution and the transition to a stateless, moneyless, classless communism.” But those words - “threshold” and “transition” - are Tr…Tr…Trotskyite stuff, Jack.
This second quote makes it clear that the reason for the dissolution of the Constituency Assembly was not just its Socialist Revolutionary domination with its peasant majority. Jack laments the might-have-been situation that the Left SRs could have won, had the selection process been fair, to take account of the latest sharp shift to the left of the peasantry. And then we could have had a ‘Russian road to socialism’ like Stalin’s 1951 British road to socialism via parliament, and all that shooting, bombing and killing could have been avoided via Jack’s “extreme democracy”. Well, no, says Lenin: we have created a “soviet republic”; we will still use “bourgeois parliamentarism”, the “old position”, if we are thrown back, but we now have a far more advanced form of democracy than bourgeois democracy: “soviet democracy”.
Jack says: “The idea of a programme which contains partial demands and partial struggles had already made its appearance at the 3rd Congress and seems to have originated with KPD leader Paul Levi before the disastrous failure of the 1921 March Action.”
And Daniel Gaido’s The origins of the transitional programme says: “The united-front tactic found its first formulation at the initiative of the Stuttgart metalworkers in December 1920, and became the official policy of the KPD with the publication of the ‘open letter’ of the Zentrale of the United Communist Party of Germany, drafted by Paul Levi, on January 8 1921.”
The 3rd Congress (June-July 1921) was primarily concerned with the reasons for the failure of the March action, so it was here that Levi’s initiative bore fruition. “To the masses” was the correct slogan in Germany in March 1921, together with the demand for a united front of all workers’ organisations against reaction, but the usual suspects, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin (the ‘troika’), refused to implement this correct approach in September 1923.
As for the absence of ‘democratic demands’, Jack cannot avoid displaying his absolute contempt for “undemocratic” revolutionary violence. In Trotsky’s Their morals and ours, he declares: “A slave-owner who through cunning and violence shackles a slave in chains, and a slave who through cunning or violence breaks the chains - let not the contemptible eunuchs tell us that they are equals before a court of morality!”
Not very PC there, Leon, but that is the point we were obliged to make about the Hamas outbreak on October 7 and it also applies to all uprisings of the working class and oppressed against global imperialism and its local proxy agents. We do not ‘condemn’ the massacres in Jamestown in 1609 of some 350 white settlers on native American lands, or Nat Turner’s 1831 slave uprising in Virginia, killing nearly 60 white people, mostly women and children. Or the Weenen South Africa massacre of 100 Boers in 1838, the Algerian FLN. the Mau Mau in Kenya or the IRA Kingsmill massacre of 15 Protestant workers in January 1976.
Jack asserts: “They counterposed (proletarian) dictatorship to (bourgeois) democracy ... and often treated democracy and socialism as opposites. Less so with Lenin, true, but more so with Trotsky - his dreadful Terrorism and communism (1920) being a praise song to rule by a revolutionary minority.”
So Lenin and Trotsky should not have made the revolution in October 1917, but waited for the (bourgeois) “democracy” of the Constituent Assembly. The bourgeoisie, after all, have the only real form of democracy, we must believe. The struggles of the working class via their trade unions and political parties have secured many democratic rights for themselves under capitalism. But this is not to be equated with the fraud of bourgeois democracy, where the working class and oppressed get to choose between alternative oppressors every four or five years. All these rights are now under severe threat internationally, as police states and possible fascist regimes loom. Starmer or Sunak is a poor choice, even if we do call for a Labour vote where no revolutionary alternative or serious centrist force with a mass base exists.
When Trotsky led the Red Army to victory against the counterrevolution of the fascistic whites and 14 invading imperialist-sponsored armies by any means necessary, he should not have won his great world uplifting victory for the working class and oppressed in the whole world, but should have allowed his army to be defeated in the name of ‘democracy’. He was worse than Lenin! We should have taken Lars T Lih’s advice and followed the man that Lenin refers to as “the sugary Kautsky” in his Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism.