Global defeat?

I agree with a good deal in comrade Mike Macnair’s article, ‘A communist appeal to Socialist Appeal’, but I cannot agree with the assertion that “From the perspective of 30 years on, it is now clear that, in spite of all their vices, the fall of the eastern bloc regimes was a massive defeat for the working class across the globe” (November 9).

The Stalinist regimes did all they could to suppress any kind of independent workers’ movement within their own borders, while subordinating them elsewhere to the foreign policy of the USSR and its satellites. This was not just a question of a few “vices”. The failure of Stalinism - typified not only by the nonsense of ‘socialism in one country’, but also by state ownership of the means of production and brutal authoritarianism being passed off as socialism (not communism) - is, after 30 years, still to be welcomed.

After all, it was the working class that made the system unviable. Denied the possibility of organising, politically and collectively, they resisted their oppression in the only way an atomised workforce can; by working badly. To assert that the collapse of the eastern bloc is a defeat would seem to imply that it was okay for the workers of those countries to simply endure.

To argue that the collapse of the most powerful base of Stalinism was a defeat would seem to suggest that there was an alternative, which is at odds with comrade Macnair’s acknowledgement that the “defeat may have been inevitable”. The political economy of the eastern bloc had no mature form and served only to discredit the entire communist project, as anyone who has had a conversation with someone who said ‘Then sod off to Russia, if you like it so much’ can attest.

From my own experience, the USSR was a horrible place to live because of the very nature of the system and not the Russian people. The only people I met there who called themselves communists were Great Russian chauvinists with a red veneer as thin as gold leaf.

That brutal repression was one of the few things that kept the powerful contradictions in the system in check is a testament to the fact that what passed for ideology was so far removed from reality that no-one believed it and, if anything, assumed its inversion to be closer to the truth. Tragically, experiencing capitalism is a prerequisite for learning the necessity of superseding it.

World revolution breaking out might, of course, have saved the working class of the eastern bloc from the grisly experience of capitalism, but, while the USSR and its satellites were still operating, what were the chances of that?



Ian Spencer
County Durham

Brittle polemic

Mike Macnair’s article, ‘Unity based on solid principles’ (November 2), evidences important points in practice, I think, on the question of political clarity.

In my previous letter (October 26), I raised the issue of political culture and suggested that a defensive political culture results, in practice, in the closing down of discussion, criticism, questioning, etc - and so a weakening of political clarity. The concern expressed by members of the CPGB has also been that we may lose political clarity, but from the other side: through self-censure of a different kind - being too afraid to upset others and so withholding criticism of them.

I agree, in principle, that anything which constrains the expression of difference will weaken the movement/organisation - although I think it is something of a false set-up. Firstly, sharp polemic and criticism which meaningfully clarifies difference is clearly possible without a culture of defensive, brittle and personal responses. Secondly, opportunistic self-censure (in which open expression of difference is discouraged on the basis that it appears disloyal, weak and disunited) is a very different thing to giving consideration as to how differences and criticism can be expressed in a way that encourages others to engage in this exchange rather than disengage.

In any case, though, the importance of the expression of difference and political clarity can be considered as some kind of starting point.

It is in this context, then, that I struggled to grapple with the approach to polemic Mike took in his article - an approach of variously misreading/misrepresenting the perspectives of others, inappropriately grouping them into ill-fitting wider categories, and then proceeding to dismiss them via these arbitrary categorisations.

As one brief example, from Mike’s article, nowhere did I argue that the CPGB “should move away from ideological polemic”, or agree to “avoid polemics” around “differences that divide the left”. I wouldn’t argue these things, because they are not what I believe. What I actually wrote (September 14) was: “… the approach of ideological polemic is absolutely fundamental to advancing Marxist unity - without this forming a core, the idea of unity easily becomes one of fudges and the illusion that if we all just got on and stopped focusing on our differences then we could come together as a whole.” So almost the complete opposite.

I don’t think this is an effective example of an approach, then, which promotes the exchange of perspectives and the clarification of political difference in practice, given that it is based, by and large, on things that have not actually been written or said by others.

Caitriona Rylance


Mike Macnair’s excellent article, ‘Aim for deZionisation’ (November 16), is in need of two minor corrections.

First, Mike states that “the origin of imperialist support for the Zionist project from the 1917 Balfour Declaration on” was “at first, attempts by the UK to keep control of the oil taps at the expense of France and Germany”. This, however, was less than half of the UK motivation. It is true that since 1913 (when First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill converted the British navy from coal to oil) control of oil was a major consideration for UK global strategy. But in 1917 control of the Suez Canal, securing a short sea route to India, was at least as important.

Second, Mike implies that the US “subsidises Israel … extensively”. This used to be the case quite a long time ago, but is no longer true. The annual US aid to Israel is in the order of $3.5 billion, virtually all of which is military. Israel’s annual GDP is in the order of $500 billion, and its annual state budget around $150 billion (all figures are before the current war against the Palestinians). So, in purely economic terms, US aid is a significant, but not critical, factor.

However, Israel does depend on the US in having access to certain crucial advanced weapons, in keeping ahead of all neighbouring states combined in conventional weapons, and in having a regional monopoly on nuclear weapons.

Moshé Machover

Zionist caste

The recent exchange, over several weeks, between Daniel Lazare and Tony Greenstein, brings out clearly the political weaknesses of both - rampant capitulation to Jewish-Zionist chauvinism by Lazare; a more distanced and residual softness by Tony, that periodically pollutes his much good material and often extremely courageous activities.

On one of the decisive issues - the pan-imperialist nature of Zionism, which is glaringly obvious today - Tony sides with Zionism, as personified by its apologist, Lazare, who is apoplectic when anyone touches the question of Zionism’s international dimension and the role of the Jewish-Zionist caste within the imperialist bourgeoisie, in cementing in place the cult of Zionism among them that is obvious today, with virtually universal support for the genocide of Palestinians among them.

It is worth noting that pre-war anti-Semitism was, in that sense, a lesser god, and unlike in Gaza today, the imperialist powers were not unified in support of Hitler’s genocide of the Jews. Today’s cult of Zionism largely derives from the widespread belief among the ideologues of neoliberalism that Jewish-Zionist neoliberal economists and ideologues - a whole gaggle of them most prominently led by Milton Friedman - saved the capitalist system itself from what seemed at the time to be a potentially deadly crisis in the 1970s.

As a semi-Zionist ideologue, Lazare slanders David Miller in characteristic manner by baldly stating that the mere observation that (mainly Zionist) Jews are ‘overrepresented’ in positions of property and power in this society implies that there should be some kind of pogrom against them. So we get this pathetic injunction to deny reality:

“As for Greenstein’s defence of Miller’s remark about Jews being ‘overrepresented in Europe, North America and Latin America in positions of cultural, economic and political power’, it’s absurd. Due to some lingering Bolshevik loyalty, he says the comment would be bad if applied to the Russian Revolution, in which the Jewish presence was indeed heavy. But as a lower-class enragé, he says it’s totally OK in terms of a despised media establishment, in which ‘Jews are prominent ... out of all proportion to their numbers in the population’.

“But ‘overrepresented’ doesn’t mean that that there are many Jews in high places. It means that there are too many and that their numbers should therefore be reduced. This is anti-Semitism plain and simple” (Letters, September 14).

This is rubbish. ‘Overrepresented’ means represented in ‘positions of power’ in excess of the representation of Jews among the population as a whole, particularly in the main imperialist countries. It has nothing to do with any effort to change that situation; it refers simply to the phenomenon of disproportionate representation itself.

It is obvious from this logic-chopping that Lazare does not deny that this disproportionate representation exists. His underlying message is: ‘Sure, this exists, but don’t dare talk about this overrepresentation, so as to avoid being accused of the dreaded “anti-Semitism”’. In other words, don’t talk about the material facts that Lazare, as a semi-Zionist, wants to hide, as that makes you fair game to be slandered as a ‘racist’ in his warped manner.

That is fundamentally anti-communist and racist in its thrust - anti-communist because of its presupposition that there are some facts (whose accuracy he does not dispute) that Marxists are not allowed to notice and analyse (which completely contradicts historical materialism, the most basic substrate of all genuine Marxist analysis). And racist, because the disproportionate representation of an oppressor group “in positions of cultural, economic and political power” means disproportionately less such political influence by their victims: the Palestinian people. So, Lazare’s real message is that ‘Jews are more important than Arabs, and anyone who points to disproportionate Jewish influence over western politics should shut up. And, as for Palestinians, fuck them, and let them be exterminated along with their children’. That’s the disgusting subtext of his argument, and that of all the other capitulators to Zionism (of various shades) who have made this wretched argument previously.

The only way he can justify this is with ‘arguments’ that echo the worst hackery of Stalinism and Zionism - which have a lot in common, of course, given that Stalin actually armed the Zionists in the 1948 war in pursuit of a popular front with an aspiring left-Zionist would-be president of the United States (Henry Wallace). The smear against genuine Trotskyists as pro-Nazi was always driven by popular frontism. But it’s funny that most of this kind of ‘Nazi’-baiting of anti-Zionists today seems to come from Zionist pseudo-lefts like the AWL, who are also allied with Nazi Banderite nationalists in Ukraine. To his credit, Lazare is sympathetic to the Donbass and Crimean people in this conflict. Which makes his Zionist apologetics seem incongruous (unless they are perhaps a bit Trumpian?).

Anyway, for Lazare, to notice that the disproportionate representation of Zionist Jews in the ruling classes of western Europe and North America gives Zionists a huge degree of power over the Palestinians - as is clearly visible now, as every North American and west European imperialist country has given its backing to this Zionist holocaust - is somehow equivalent to the Protocols of Zion.

But this tract said that Jewish capitalists were in league with Jewish communists to erect some kind of world tyranny over non-Jews. Completely at odds with that bizarre thesis, the bourgeois layer that became dominant among western (mainly Ashkenazi) Jews after the overwhelming bulk of the communist Jews were wiped out by the Nazis in the genocide during World War II has, by means of its own transplanted imperialist Israeli state in west Asia, become a full imperialist partner of the west in plundering the global south. If he wants to criticise my positions, he should try to refute this thesis. But he can’t, which is why with his pathetic ‘Nazi’ analogies he sounds like an amalgam of Andrei Vyshinsky and Wes Streeting.

Actually, in itself the overrepresentation of Jews in the ruling class means nothing. It is the overrepresentation of Zionists that is important. If Zionism did not exist, then it would have no more relevance than the overrepresentation of the Ismaili Muslim trend among promoters of horse-racing - a mere curiosity. However, in the real world, political Zionism is the overwhelmingly dominant trend among bourgeois Jews, so they approximate to the same thing. And the idea that Zionism is nothing to do with Jewishness in any shape or form, as promoted (at times) by Tony, is an evasion of the truth.

Of course, Zionism is a Jewish trend (though far from the only Jewish trend!). It is a movement to establish a Jewish-exclusivist imperialist state, which it has done. Only Jews are entitled by birthright to become citizens of that state: non-Jewish sympathisers, no matter how numerous and powerful, can only be fellow-travellers of that movement, which could not exist without a sufficient mass of actual Zionist Jews prepared to implement it. That is the whole point of David Miller’s point about overrepresentation of Jews in the ruling class. It is the primary driver of the Zionist lobby and its power.

Tony Greenstein (Letters, November 2) agrees with the semi-Zionist Lazare in ridiculing my position that there is a “pan-national” Jewish bourgeoisie. But the core of my thesis is that there is a pan-imperialist (and only in that limited sense pan-national) Jewish-Zionist bourgeois caste within the imperialist bourgeoisie, as well as a cult among that same imperialist bourgeoisie that virtually worships that caste as a class-conscious bourgeois vanguard. Yet Tony has himself admitted that one key difference between South African apartheid and Israel is that white-ruled South Africa never had anything remotely like the Israel lobby at its disposal.

The Israeli Law of Return gives all Jewish bourgeois citizenship rights in Israel, and a bourgeois ideological basis centred on a concept of exile and homecoming. This is designed to create loyalty to the Israeli state from Jews overseas; for Jewish bourgeois, it equally is designed to give them a class and communal interest in the Israeli bourgeois state. That was always the strategy of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideologues who founded Zionism as a movement to enhance the power of particularly the European Jewish bourgeoisie by giving them their ‘own’ transplanted imperialist state in the Middle East.

In doing so they transformed Jews from an oppressed population pre-World War II to an oppressor population today. Tony’s agreement with the semi-Zionist Lazare’s pathetic non-critique of my position and analysis, and denial of obvious reality, really indicates that his critique of Zionism is not as coherent and consistent as he thinks it is, in spite of his sterling work in many fields.

Ian Donovan
Consistent Democrats

Starmer’s Zionism

Carla Roberts’ letter raises important questions concerning how a real Communist Party is going to be reforged in Britain (November 16). She rightly castigates several organisations for their Corbyn-like programmes, but suggests that he gained support because “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”. Ambiguously, this leaves the suspicion that Carla shares illusions held by Corbynites. As CPGB comrades have stated, for a start, Corbyn would never have been allowed to become prime minister by the British state - that was Corbynite cloud cuckoo land.

And, from my understanding of the Stop Starmer campaign in his Holborn and St Pancras constituency, one of its aims is to expose Sir Keir for what he is: a rightwing anti-democrat. It reflects a currently pale, generalised opposition to the thoroughly bourgeois thrust of the Labour leadership as a whole. After all, like many such campaigns, the primary purpose of having a protest candidate at election time is to raise the political profile of the campaign - getting the candidate elected is a bonus. Even the present CPGB has put up election candidates in order to give its policies, agitation and propaganda a wider reach. As a tactic it has its merits, to be debated.

John Wake’s letter in the same issue chastises Starmer for opposing a ceasefire in Gaza. But this is naive. Why would someone who personally and politically supports Zionism be opposed to anything that Israeli-state Zionism is doing in Gaza? An article carried by Jewish News on February 14 2020 quoted Starmer as declaring: “I support Zionism without qualification.” Support for racism, of which Zionism is presently a virulent variety, has long been anathema for the labour movement. And, despite previous covertly racist and openly imperialist stances, Starmer must be the first leader of the party to have brazenly espoused a well-delineated, racist ideology. Now that Zionism powers the murder of thousands of innocents in Gaza (the world’s biggest ghetto since Warsaw), Starmer, the leadership and much of the Labour Party are squarely in the class enemy camp.

While undermining the real fight against anti-Semitic racism, the reactionary and revisionist definition of anti-Semitism now embraced by the Labour Party is pervasively, foully and wrongly attached to opposition to Israel or Zionism. It is chilling how some prominent Labour lefts have succumbed to Zionism’s pressure, especially as the Israel Defence Forces’ ethnic cleansing in Gaza is no better than Nazism: it is genocide.

In that same Jewish News article where Starmer boasted of supporting Zionism was the writer’s statement that previously he had been “criticised on Twitter after he declined to call himself a Zionist. Other contenders, Emily Thornberry, Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey, did.” Is this true? Long-Bailey was the great hope of Labour’s left in that leadership contest, after all. Did she call herself a Zionist, as the writer declares, or if not, when and where did her public correction appear?

Of course, the descent of Labour into overt racism in Zionist form is of a piece with the British bourgeoisie’s kowtowing to US imperialism, which encourages Israel in its killing spree in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, etc. Nonetheless, the Labour leadership remains complacent about war criminal Tony Blair’s triangulation approach: expecting most of the left to vote Labour no matter what. Is that now likely? The truth is out there, motivating hundreds of thousands of demonstrators on a weekly basis. Why should erstwhile Labour voters support a party that encourages Zionist mass murder?

Of course, Labour governments have sent British soldiers to kill overseas plenty of times, and now official Labour fully supports the murder of Palestinians by the Israeli proxies of its ruling class and the USA’s. The main thrust of British foreign policy is fear of US retribution. The Wilson Labour government failed to support the USA in Vietnam and was punished as a consequence. The USA withdrew international fiscal support in the 1970s, resulting in a floating pound and economic subservience - swiftly followed by a chastened political subservience, which has been the status quo ever since. In this way, Britain’s ruling class is perhaps even more obsequious towards the USA than Israel’s, which takes more to whip into line.

Labour under Starmer seeks office by outbidding on every reactionary front: support for Israel is one such touchstone. But Britain’s working class and democratic forces must not be recruited to this horror: communists must organise to counter the constant anti-democratic thrust of the bourgeoisie, including by the Labour misleaders in their misnamed party. Class traitors are destined to fall, but only by the organised rebellion and, ultimately, revolution of those they oppress.

It is a truism that those who support Israeli war crimes render themselves guilty of those crimes: and that includes Führer Starmer, his degraded Labour Party and its members - unless they revolt - who will all rightly be damned forever alongside Sunak’s Tories and the rest of the British ruling class detritus. However, damnation needs to be materialised in agitation, propaganda, organisation and unity in action: characteristics of a Communist Party worthy of the name.

Jim Moody

Sugary foam

On November 18, the Labour Left Alliance wrote an open letter, very short and extremely light on politics, to Socialist Appeal entitled ‘We need real communist unity’.

I don’t disagree with such sentiments obviously, but I am rather surprised to see an organisation such as the LLA coming out with such a statement, given that under its online constitution there is no mention of communism, the need for a Communist Party or even socialism. Rather it comes across as the usual Labour left ‘motherhood and apple pie’ of opposing nasty things, such as racism, and democratising the Labour Party.

I’m guessing that this is the work of a communist - or maybe even two or three, if we are being charitable - inside the LLA. I know that some LLA people have done, at times, valuable educational work, but I don’t think there should be any pretence that we are talking about hundreds of people here. So I question the methodology of approaching self-declared communists as ‘broad’ Labour leftists with organisations that have more than an element of ‘chocolate teapot’ about them. Surely, in this particular political instance (and not discounting any future need to focus on the Labour Party), it makes sense for communists to talk to one another as communists without any extraneous ‘broad’ trappings.

Even more disastrously, the LLA open letter fails to differentiate between a party, or proto-party, and a sect. When it talks of communist unity, it says: “The examples to follow for us in this respect are particularly the Bolshevik Party, the Communist Party of Great Britain in the early 1920s, as well as the Revolutionary Communist Party of 1944.” Really, comrades?

The CPGB represented the coming together of the advanced part of the British working class under the influence of the Russian Revolution and the Comintern, including the unity of various factional groups. The RCP (1944 vintage) was a semi-syndicalist sect of barely a few hundred that didn’t in fact manage to pull together all the adherents of Trotskyism in Britain. It was the product of an internationalised sect, the Fourth International, that was then in the process of becoming seriously disorientated, as the war was ending. The extreme liquidationism of some of its elements towards the Labour Party found reflection in the later politics of Ted Grant that Socialist Appeal and the International Marxist Tendency show some signs of breaking away from.

All historical formations have glaring errors, but I don’t think the RCP offers any positive lessons for communist unity and it is patently obvious that the example of the CPGB of the 1920s is the crucial one. In contrast to the LLA, I’d say forget all about the RCP and embark on a serious study of the CPGB as, in fact, some IMT members are starting to do.

Despite the LLA’s new-found insistence on communist unity, it’s impossible not to see in its open letter the bitter dregs of liquidationist politics underneath a sugary foam of sentiment.

Lawrence Parker