It is certainly interesting that Socialist Appeal/International Marxist Tendency wants to host a ‘convention’ of sorts to form a new Revolutionary Communist Party. While we have yet to see the details of this initiative, it does point to a certain wider shift in the political landscape and looks worthy of active engagement. After the defeat of the Corbyn movement, much of the left in Britain is desperately trying to find its political feet.
There have been numerous organisations that have sprung up recently, be they Transform, the For the Many Network or the newly ‘revived’ Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (the Socialist Party’s electoral front). Funnily enough, their political programmes are interchangeable and could be summed up as sub-Corbynism. They seem to believe that by simply holding up Corbyn’s programme (or a version thereof), the millions will flock to them. Well, they won’t. Just like the electorate in Holborn and St Pancras will not flock to whichever candidate is put up as part of the ridiculous ‘Stop Starmer’ campaign at the next general election.
Contrary to what these comrades believe, it was not Corbyn’s reformist and tame programme that made him so popular. It was, partially, his anti-establishment persona, but crucially the fact that he was the leader of the Labour Party - in other words, he could have actually done something, nationally, about some of the niceties in his programme. These new/old campaigns have no chance in hell. If any of them get their deposit back, I would be very surprised.
But ideas around Marxism and communism are experiencing a certain renaissance too. The Zoom education series, ‘Why Marx?’, has drawn in hundreds of participants, for example. The SA initiative looks like it might stand positively apart from the sub-Corbyn nonsense and also does not seem to be tainted with the neo-Stalinist tinge of the ‘communism’ of the Young Communist League and their somewhat childish nod to the anarcho-style ‘black bloc’.
So we should welcome SA’s initiative, vague as the details still are. It also gives the CPGB a further avenue for engagement with it - in addition to Mike Macnair’s very useful ‘A communist appeal to Socialist Appeal’ (November 9).
Why not put SA’s alleged commitment to the tradition of the Revolutionary Communist Party and the Bolsheviks to the test by applying to join the new formation as an organised faction/tendency/platform? After all, open factional battles in both organisations were routine and Iskra in particular carried many sharp arguments between the proponents of different factions and tendencies.
Such an active engagement would also allow the CPGB to make valuable arguments in terms of ‘what type of party’ and ‘what kind of programme’ a communist party needs. The Weekly Worker has done much valuable work re-examining the influence of German Social Democracy on Lenin and the Bolsheviks, for example - work that most SA members are probably unaware of. The CPGB has plenty to say on the need for a minimum-maximum programme, putting democratic political questions centre-stage and organising on the basis of democratic centralism (ie, freedom of debate and unity in action).
Should SA agree to such an approach, the CPGB/Weekly Worker could make some serious steps forward in educating hundreds of often young members in the real tradition of our communist history, as well as all those who would probably turn to the Weekly Worker to read about those developments.
And if - heaven forbid - this initiative turns out to be nothing more than a marketing strategy designed to simply enlarge the IMT sect, then the CPGB’s unsuccessful attempt to join will have done a great service to the workers’ movement by exposing it as such.
I am grateful to Mike Macnair (‘Unity based on solid principles’, November 2) for picking up and responding to some of the points I raised around socialist/communist unity (Letters, October 26). I also appreciate and respect the comradely tone he adopted. I think, however, he has misread significant parts of my letter (a later section was cut due to space in that edition, which might have added some clarity), or wrongly imputed what I was trying to get at in the published sections.
To be clear from the outset, I think it is beyond absurd that in 2023 the socialist and communist forces in this country are so divided and fragmented - and what few actual numbers are spread across so many groups, sects (call them what you like), many of which are pitifully small and irrelevant. Groups with memberships of just about double figures are simply not credible and are clearly fundamentally flawed in the ways they conduct themselves, their politics, organisation, or whatever. And ‘groups’ of one or two members who themselves split - including a regular correspondent to this paper - are beyond pathetic and in need of serious medical help.
So I very strongly agree and advocate the case for the bringing together of the majority of current socialist and communist groups, with a majority of their members and supporters, into something like the start of a unified and potentially mass (at least with the very clear aim and objective of becoming mass) socialist/communist party.
I agree with the majority of the words in the Wrack/McMahon statement (‘Getting in touch’. October 19), but I am asking, what is it about their initiative which may succeed, where others have patently failed? How will their call resonate among the more politically advanced layers of the working class where it needs to resonate? I do think there needs to be a concrete basis or grounding in the real labour movement, the current organised expression of the working class in this country.
Mike is simply wrong to ‘decode’ this as meaning “official lefts such as Labour MPs or trade union general secretaries” - I mean leaders with proven track records of struggle, genuine socialist politics and real leadership qualities. Yes, that may include a small handful of Labour MPs, some trade union gen secs, but I am thinking much, much wider than that - I am looking towards genuine ‘tribunes of the people’ - who may have formal office at various levels in the labour and wider movement, or may be highly visible and command genuine respect in their localities, in their workplaces and communities.
I wasn’t proposing to exclude Trotskyists from any such new formation. Mike’s third major quote from my letter was actually hinting very strongly that we must include the larger socialist groups, such as the Socialist Workers Party, Socialist Party in England and Wales, Socialist Appeal and others, as these currently have managed to attract and organise many of the best socialists and working class leaders within their ranks. What I was objecting to was an a priori exclusion of communists from any formation through the use of the pejorative term, ‘Stalinism’.
I am happy to repeat a comment I previously made that I think the majority of members and supporters of the Trotskyist parties and groups are good, decent socialists and comrades. It is just their underpinning ideology and some of their leaderships which stink.
Mike repeated a comment he has made before that the extremely fissile nature of Trotskyism (which I argue is completely inherent to it) is not unique and also applies to others, such as Maoism. I have no real interest or knowledge of Maoist groups (apart from, I think, the real Mao, would have regarded them with absolute contempt for their ridiculousness!), but I am not aware of there being that many Maoist breakaways or splits? Low single figures in this country, surely?
But, in any case, Mike is only able to reference Trotskyism and, to a much lesser extent, Maoism. I was explicitly referring to the mainstream communist tradition, where for the most part very significant differences and debates have occurred within this tradition, but have tended not to result in major splits or breakaways. The Sino-Soviet split and later the Eurocommunism phenomenon did result in some splits, with more than one Communist Party existing in some countries at some points - but there really is no comparison whatsoever with the international state and chaos of Trotskyism.
Mike omitted to include my reference to a bringing together within such a ‘mass’ socialist/communist party of the majority of current parties and groups as being on the basis of “the correct operation of democratic centralism”. So no concealing of political differences - historical, relevant or otherwise - but a clear democratic basis for open discussion and debate - and when democratic decisions are taken, including agreed actions, all are committed through that democracy (and that basic underpinning commitment to a mass socialist/communist party and the achievement of socialism/communism) to carrying out those decisions.
I do disagree that “permanent” (or any) factions are in any way compatible with genuine democratic centralism. Yes, there will be different tendencies and trends, but to allow these to become organised in any way would mean that members of those factions would start to put the interests of their faction above that of the party - as well as becoming more interested in faction fighting within the party, as opposed to building the party as a whole and the mass movement.
Mike is also wrong to interpret my use of “respect” as meaning “deference” and “subordination”. No, I used “respect” alongside “equality” in order to complement, not subvert, the latter. We have long and sometimes bitter differences and some bad histories between us. “Respect” in my sense of using it is meant to imply we fully acknowledge our respective histories, rivalries and some clashes of ego and personalities. It is not a code necessarily for “diplomatic”, meaning in Mike’s sense the covering up or concealing of those differences.
“Respect” for me means starting from the bases on which we (should) all agree, including the need to replace capitalism by socialism and then communism, the need for a mass socialist/communist party to help carry this out, and that it will be the conscious actions and the movement of millions which will carry out this historical endeavour. “Respect” basically means treating each other as comrades! Yes, we can have ferocious argument, debates, rows, etc. But we remain comrades and still united in our basic aims and objectives. Although I was not and could not have been a member at the time, I thought the experience of the Socialist Alliance in the early 2000s hinted at the art of the possible and practical.
We could envisage the political basis of a potential socialist/communist party as being that basic commitment to replace capitalism with socialism and mass democratic action to bring that about (definitely not committed to retaining the current constitutional order, as Mike might put it). That in itself sets very clear boundaries and excludes a lot of the chaff. I wouldn’t expect to see any of the existing parties or groups voluntarily dissolving themselves or merging with others. Not immediately anyway.
They could affiliate, retaining their distinct identities, traditions and contributions, alongside ideally at least some trade unions, trades councils, anti-cuts/anti-austerity campaigns and groups, progressive community groups and movements, etc. I would hope such a socialist/communist party would also have individual membership and all affiliated groups would encourage their members and supporters to take out such individual membership.
I would hope and expect the number of separate political parties and groups to reduce over time their collective priorities to focus on the building of the unified socialist/communist party.
Who knows? From this we may at least have a very good opportunity of building an SPD or RSDLP for the 21st century, rooted and representative of the whole of our diverse working class and people, including and especially its organised and leading sections, and capable of leading our class in our millions to sweep away this appalling, destructive, decadent capitalist system.
Gerry Downing’s attack on Jack Conrad is one of the worst pieces of ultra-leftism I have ever read (Letters, November 9). Downing’s reply deals with a number of issues and is very dishonest. In historical order he refers to the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917, the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly in early 1918, Lenin’s views on Soviet democracy, the Trotskyist transitional programme, Stalin and the British road to socialism. Downing also defends the right of the oppressed to massacre innocent people, including women and children.
While I argue that Marxism contains some fundamental flaws, it also contains views which to me are quite sound. One of these views is that communists must not seek to come to power in a backward society. In other words, a society should have reached a certain level of development before any bid for power is made. In Russia, where more than 80% of the population was formed by the peasantry, both Lenin and Trotsky broke this basic correct view of Marxism.
I say this view is correct in general, although there can be exceptions; for instance, when Mao took power in China, the Soviet Union already existed as an industrialised power which could aid the people of China. However, by taking power in a mostly backward society in the first place, based on a socialist agenda, Lenin and Trotsky effectively derailed the struggle for socialism. In other words, Lenin went over to classic Trotskyist ultra-leftism.
I am not saying the Bolsheviks should not have taken power: what I am saying is this should not have been done to start a socialist revolution. What Russia needed was a radical democratic revolution, which could have been achieved in a united front with the other socialist parties, but Lenin’s desire for power got the better of him with help from Trotsky. Ironically, Stalin had the more correct position before he went over to Lenin’s.
The other point Downing makes relating to the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly is quite laughable. Lenin dissolved it because it had an anti-Bolshevik majority - that’s the truth, whatever spin you put on it. Of course, Lenin’s view on the superiority of soviet democracy (the Russian term for democratic socialism) is true in principle, but the point is that he and Trotsky started a socialist revolution under economic and cultural conditions inimical to the soviet democracy which the revolution set up. This is why, with the defeat of the counterrevolution after the civil war, Lenin began his transition to totalitarianism - later called Stalinism by Trotsky when he lost power. The banning of factions in the party is hardly an advertisement for democratic socialism.
Trotsky’s ultra-leftism started with advocating a socialist revolution in a society which was materially and culturally immature, and this ultra-leftism continued with the promotion of the transitional programme, which has ensured that Trotskyists have mostly remained tiny sects. Trotsky argued incorrectly that transitional demands acted as a bridge between minimum and maximum demands. He criticised those who said there was no such bridge, who were, from a dialectical standpoint, correct to oppose the ‘bridge theory’.
For communists, there are only two sets of demands: minimum and maximum. Any demand, no matter how radical, which can be achieved within capitalism, is a minimum demand. Demands which require the removal of capitalism are maximum demands. Between the two there are no bridges, as Trotsky claimed and his followers still practise, who, like Trotsky, fail to grasp that the change from minimum to maximum demands is a dialectical leap, with no bridge in between. It is a sudden leap from quantity to quality, from reform to revolution.
Downing’s criticism of Stalin’s support for the British road to socialism is another example of his Trotskyist ultra-leftism. The truth is that socialism may or may not come to power through parliament in Britain. It is pure dogmatism to rule out that possibility, just as it is pure dogmatism to insist that a parliamentary road to socialism is the only option. One argument for a parliamentary transition in Britain would be a global energy crisis bringing about the collapse of capitalism, leading to important sections of the ruling class abandoning ship, as Marx argued was possible. With due respects to Downing, I say Stalin was not necessarily wrong about the BRS in 1951.
Another example of Downing’s ultra-leftism is that he defends the right of the oppressed to massacre innocent people, including women and children. This has nothing to do with socialism. This type of behaviour is usually associated with counterrevolution. Politically intelligent communists, who are never ultra-leftists, do not defend the right of oppressed people to massacre innocent people. Barbaric behaviour like this, no matter how people like Downing try to justify it, serves to strengthen counterrevolution. Anything which serves counterrevolution is bad. How does the massacre of innocent people, including women and children, serve the cause of the oppressed?
Another point I would like to make here is that certain Islamic groups or individuals are to the right of imperialism, and have hijacked Islam and provide the bourgeois state with an excuse to strengthen counterrevolution. In some cases individuals who carry out terrorist acts are stooges of the intelligence services, whose role is to give the state the pretext to introduce the police-fascism which Downing correctly warns against.
For Democratic Socialism
It has been claimed repeatedly - not just in the press, but by holders of the most distinguished offices of state - that the pro-Palestine protests we have seen in recent weeks are in fact “hate marches”. Some say that the Palestine solidarity movement is a hate movement.
When we enquire into the evidence on which these claims rest, we find that curated social media content is the only proof available: a picture of an objectionable sign; a video of objectionable conduct; and so forth. From this we are to infer that the marches are driven by hate and violence, but no rational person can agree with that conclusion.
First, an impartial observer will keep in mind that in any large gathering - certainly a gathering of hundreds of thousands of people - there is sure to be some mischief. Everybody knows this, and so the whole question is about the proportion of mischief in the gathering, not whether some examples of mischief can be found. Those supporters of Israel who treat social media content as proof of a pro-Palestine hate movement must accept that Israel’s supporters are also a hate movement, because examples of similar mischief can be found among them too. That is not to mention the massacre of civilians in Gaza that Israel’s supporters are facilitating.
Second, the available evidence indicates that the pro-Palestine marches have been overwhelmingly peaceful. The number of arrests has been minuscule in proportion to the number of people marching, and it is unlikely that every one of those arrests is justified. Supporters of Israel argue that the police are simply not performing enough arrests, and are allowing ‘crime’ to run rampant. But there is no credible evidence for this view - indeed, it depends on interpreting common slogans such as ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ in the least charitable way possible. No matter how often the slogans and their meaning are clarified, they are always construed as horribly as imagination allows.
The Palestine solidarity movement is not a hate movement. It is appalling that our political culture should require correction on such a simple point, when - right before our eyes - genocidal violence is being perpetrated by Israel with the assistance of our government. It is that hatred, and that violence, that should concern the vast majority of us - not the real or imagined offence caused by placards and chants.
I am a member of the Labour Party and I accuse Keir Starmer of bringing the party into disrepute by opposing a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip war.
Clause four, part three of the Labour Party rule book states that the party is committed to cooperating in the United Nations and other international bodies to secure peace. Keir Starmer is acting contrary to this commitment. Rather than urging the government of the UK to cooperate in the UN and other international bodies to secure peace in the Gaza Strip, Keir Starmer opposes a ceasefire. He has rejected the principles outlined in the rule book and instead supports the line taken by a Conservative government.
Furthermore, the arguments against a ceasefire in Mr Starmer’s speech at Chatham House on October 31 were embarrassingly poor. They were neither soundly based on facts nor intellectually coherent.
Labour voters have told me that they are so appalled by Mr Starmer’s position on this issue that they will not vote Labour while he is leader. I hope that the Labour Party will have the courage to discipline its own leader for damaging the reputation of the party.
Daniel Lazare can’t bring himself to say anything good about Hamas - an organisation which is the major manifestation of Palestinian resistance to the racist, ethno-supremacist Israeli Zionist state (Letters, November 9). Socialists have the task - indeed the obligation - to defend Hamas in any way possible without compromising socialist principles, because the Hamas armed insurgents are being subjected to annihilation by the second most lethal and destructive nation in the world, Israel (the first being the US).
There are numerous inaccuracies and distortions in Daniel Lazare’s letter. In the first place he indicates that Palestinian nationalists shouldn’t consider that Israeli oppression is “sui generis” in the Middle East: This evokes the timeworn Zionist accusation that to focus on Israel amounts to anti-Semitism, since it’s only one problematic country among many in the world and shouldn’t be singled out. This is dangerous denialism. The charge has always been false, especially in the wake of a new round of Israeli mass murder and atrocities. Israel - the demonic apartheid regime which wipes out with impunity entire families, funded by American tax dollars - is an expansionist, bloodthirsty rogue state and, with its nuclear arsenal, is an existential menace to the Middle East region and to the entire world.
I am offended by Lazare’s invocation and desecration of the memory of the Warsaw Ghetto martyrs by his use of the uprising to condemn the resistance of Palestinian mujahideen. Furthermore, Hamas hasn’t been found guilty of perpetrating “bloody ethno-religious reprisals” and to say that Tony Greenstein is an apologist for the killing of civilians is nonsensical.
After many decades of humiliation, summary executions, colonialist detention, plunder and extermination - there occurs the incipient resistance of a beaten down Palestinian population. To denounce their efforts, whether or not politically distorted in this historical moment, is not what a communist would do: it’s what a defeatist would do (and sometimes an arrogant one at that).
Lazare’s Vladimir Lenin quote is used to justify the view that a “reactionary” Hamas should be completely rejected and written off. This is a fallacious reading of Lenin’s words to suit Lazare’s flawed political perspective. Lenin supported anti-imperialist nationalist movements. He would have supported a principled defence of Hamas without the subordination of communist politics; he would have argued for a Marxist programme and aimed for a communist leadership of the Islamist resistance movement. The idea is not to isolate or exclude the Hamas resistance, but to envision it as part of a broad, mass movement for the liberation of Palestine.
Another problem with Lazare is that he repeats the usual Zionist claims regarding the 1988 Hamas charter and at the same time fails to acknowledge that it was updated in 2017. Either he’s ignorant of the newer publication or he cynically chooses to ignore it and erase it from the record. He will notice if he reads it that Hamas has evolved - it does not correspond to his groundless presumptions. Tony is correct: Hamas seeks to distinguish between Jews and Zionists (for example, this is mentioned in their 2017 Charter). Hamas doesn’t recognise the legitimacy of a Zionist Israel. And neither would reasonable people have expected that colonised Africans should have recognised the legitimacy of apartheid South Africa.
It’s necessary to defend Hamas, the primary Palestinian resistance organisation, as they are in the vanguard of resistance to a Zionist fascist onslaught by the nuclear-powered, American lapdog. Similarly, it was necessary to defend the Stalinist Soviet Union from the onslaught of Nazi fascism.
From the skies
In his article, ‘A curse on free speech’ (November 9), Paul Demarty salvages the notion of objective truth from somewhere where Louis Althusser would, perhaps, have preferred to leave it.
The statement, “because they are necessarily false, they must be defended by extra-rational means” (without indulging ourselves on a Quinean detour through the borderlands between the necessarily false and the contingently false), implies that true statements never need to be defended by extra-rational means.
Does this finally confirm that correct ideas do, in fact, drop from the skies?
Jack William Grahl
There can be no better example of where the basis - the inviolable priority - for capitalist societies lies than in how Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, is going on his official visit this week for “talks” with US president Joe Biden.
These talks that are being flagged up (most notably by Al Jazeera) as unlikely to be about anything other than trade “opportunities” around electric vehicles and the “downstreaming” of associated critical minerals (such as nickel) - Indonesia places itself as a primary producer for that sector in collaboration with enormous tranches of Chinese investment. All of which is taking place whilst, back in Widodo’s home country, highly animated and quite massive demonstrations are taking place in support of Palestinians - most especially in opposition to the current ‘genocidal’ onslaught by Israel upon Gazans, of course, taking place with full and long-standing US enablement - with its calculated connivance. In parallel to which, corporate executives and shareholders of the global military machine in the USA, UK and EU are nothing less than ecstatic at these latest opportunities for a bonanza in profits from their murderous outputs.
Throwing into that mix we have Indonesia planning to relocate 1.5 million residents of currently “overcrowded” Jakarta to a newly constructed capital city in the region of East Kalimantan (located on the supremely ‘biodiverse’ island of Borneo!), and here we have an absolutely perfect distillation of how capitalism offers nothing in terms of futurism other than a laughable ‘plugging of holes’ in a crumbling dam!