Faction nonsence

Andrew Northall of Kettering and the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain is, if he is anything, consistent. The problem is that he is consistent in being wrong. Take the question of factions (Letters January 4 and going back to November 16 and doubtless many times before that).

Basically, he thinks factions are divisive, dangerous and should be banned. He argues that while there will be “different tendencies and trends”, to allow them to become “organised in any way” would mean that faction members “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.”

For him, the “whole point of a faction” is to try to win over the party “to the point of view - or even control - of that faction”. By definition, he says, that means putting the faction “above” the party. That, heaven save us, inevitably leads to “splits and breakaways”. This is how he explains Trotskyism in all its 57 varieties.

It is certainly true that the Russian Communist Party temporarily banned factions at its 10th Congress in March 8-16 1921. But this was supposed to be a temporary measure and was done under conditions of the Kronstadt revolt, peasant unrest and the danger of foreign invasion. Maybe this was a correct decision, though I doubt it. But what was definitely a wrong decision was generalising the ban on factions throughout the Communist International. A ban obviously thoroughly internalised by our Andrew.

Why do I think generalising the ban was mistaken? Well, for a start it prevented generations of communists, both official and unofficial, from learning the rich lessons of the Russian Revolution and its Russian Socialist Democratic Labour Party, which was, of course, rooted in the tradition of the Second International and the inspiration provided by German social democracy and its Erfurt programme.

As everyone knows the real foundation date of the RSDLP was 1902-03 and its 2nd Congress. The congress appeared, at the start, to be a triumph of the Iskra faction led by Lenin, Martov, Plekhanov, Axelrod and Zasulich. The economists were sent packing and the Bund walked. However the Iskra faction split into a majority (Bolsheviks) and a minority (Mensheviks).

Till 1912 the Bolsheviks operated as a faction. Yes, of course, Lenin and the Bolsheviks were very interested in fighting to win within the party. But did that mean that they failed to build the party or the mass movement, as implied by friend Northall? Hardly.

Both the main factions assumed mass proportions during and after the 1905 revolution. Even in 1912, when the Bolsheviks expelled the boycottists and liquidators and declared themselves the official leadership of the party with the Prague conference, there was no thought of banning factions. True, the Mensheviks were riven with all manner of factions, which ranged from near Bolsheviks to outright social imperialists. However the Bolsheviks too had their factions. Nikolai Bukharin’s comes to mind.

Indeed at the March 1917 all-Russia conference, their first since the fall of tsarism, delegates were asked by the chair, Lev Kamenev, to debate three factional positions vis-à-vis the Bolsheviks attitude towards the provisional government. There was a very small minority which wanted to support the provisional government. Most voted for critical support, that is support to the extent that the provisional government carried out the aims of the revolution (eg, peace, land and elections to a constituent assembly). In other words critical support was a tactic to expose the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries, who really wanted to support the provisional government.

This is the conference where Lenin read his famous April theses, first to his Bolshevik comrades and then to his Menshevik factional opponents. Note, while in Petrograd and Moscow the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks operated as separate organisations, that was not true in much of the country. There were joint Bolshevik-Menshevik committees in Siberia and the east. Of course, in June 1917 the Mezhraiontsy, including Trotsky, merged with the Bolsheviks (they continued to publish their own paper till September) and in October the Bolsheviks, in alliance with the Left Socialist Revolutionary Party, took power in the name of their soviet majority.

There is an obvious question to ask comrade Northall. Would the Bolsheviks have won if they had not formed themselves into a faction? Would they have done better if they had banned factions in 1903?

The monolithic party is a myth. The reality is that the Bolsheviks were a faction and fought as a faction.

Banning factions is, in fact, banning all factions but one: the leadership faction. That either dumbs down the membership to dumber than dumb (see the latest SWP pre-conference bulletins), or factions organise unofficially, even illegally. Does that prevent splits? No, of course not. On the contrary it guarantees splits. What differences might have been seriously debated, what differences might have been contained within, that is with minorities being given proportional representation on leading committees, who knows? But the claim that officially banning factions prevents splits and divisions is frankly risible.

When I joined the YCL-CPGB in the late 1960s there had already been a huge split over Hungary 1956. About a third of the membership resigned. That was followed by the anti-revisionist Maoists in the early 1960s and the Mao-Maoists in late 1960s. My YCL branch had gone with the Mao-Maoists just before I joined. The idea that Trotskyites are uniquely or especially prone to splits is nonsense.

I quickly discovered that the CPGB was riven with factions: Eurocommunists, McLennanites, Frenchites and Fergus Nicholson’s party within the party (later known as the Straight Leftists). The difference between them and The Leninist was that we alone declared ourselves a faction - and conducted an open political struggle for the Marxist programme, against the hidden, opportunist, factions, in the spirit of the Bolsheviks from 1903 onwards.

Comrade Northall’s own organisation comes from a split in the McLennan leadership faction and a merger with various splits, including Communist Liaison (Andrew Murray, Nick Wright, etc). Today the CPB has hidden factions. There is the Robert Griffiths leadership faction, which bans anything smacking of Stalin worship (to little or no effect). But there are, too, the Zionist faction around Mary Davis - with its hooks into the Morning Star - the Stalinite YCL-origins faction now slowly working its way into leading positions, and others besides. All struggle for influence and control. The problem is that apart from the official leadership they all do what they do hidden from view, out of sight, not least from Andrew Northall, the Weekly Worker’s resident CPB loyalist.

Jack Conrad

Faction again

Andrew Northall justifies a ban on factions by assuming that a group of people within a party putting forward a shared perspective will necessarily sacrifice the interests of that party if they do it openly (Letters, January 4).

But there’s an obvious contradiction in his argument: he assumes that, while communists in the workers’ movement can put the interests of the class before the sectional interests of their party when undertaking trade union activity, communists within the party itself can’t put their party’s interests ahead of their openly-declared faction.

To this extent, the ban on factions mirrors the perspective of those who oppose the presence of communists in mass socialist parties: since we will put the interests of our openly-declared party before the federal party, we should not be allowed to affiliate or join as individuals. Or, if we give up organising an open party and merely group around a journal or paper, it can be argued that an expression of a line independent to the federal party would also constitute harmful activity.

A ban on open factions is not a prerequisite for the practice of democratic centralism. The reality is that factions will exist in any organisation regardless of the rules. If people cannot discern factional ties, because they cannot be talked about openly, they are powerless to hold leaders to account.

Ansell Eade

Faction ban

The question of whether factions should be allowed in a future Communist Party is one of the most important questions that communists need to address. I think that comrade Andrew Northall should reconsider his view on this issue. There is no law which says that only Lenin, who started a socialist revolution in a predominantly backward country with the support of Trotsky, is the only one who can make up rules for the communist movement.

Lenin’s banning of factions in the Communist Party was at a time when he was making the transition from democratic socialism to totalitarianism. To think that factions, which is only another name for groupings of like-minded individuals, is opposed to democratic centralism is an argument against dialectical logic. In fact, democratic centralism - ie, freedom of debate and groupings, and unity in action in carrying out the majority line - was specifically designed to reconcile factional differences in the party. Factions don’t disappear because you ban them. They simply go underground.

The suppression of factions was the first step that Russian communism made towards totalitarianism, under the guidance of Lenin, albeit unwittingly. It was a perfect tool in the hands of the Soviet bureaucracy, which at the time had hardly changed since tsarist times in snatching power away from the working class. The left should support democratic socialism, not Orwell’s 1984. The totalitarian banning of factions is just as harmful as unprincipled factionalism. We all know that banning factions in the Communist Party didn’t stop the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Tony Clark
For Democratic Socialism

Hamas symmetry

Moshé Machover is angry about what I left out of an article about Hamas, Tony Greenstein is angry about what I put in, while Pete Gregson, chairman of a group calling itself One Democratic Palestine, is upset that I’m insufficiently critical of the Jews. Let me take them one at a time.

Machover is a man adrift. On October 8, he told an Online Communist Forum that he “sided with” Hamas. Perhaps chastened by the scale of atrocities, he wrote a few days later that Zionism cannot be overthrown without “the participation of the Israeli working class” and that “Hamas is leading away from this direction” (‘Oppression breeds resistance’, October 12). This was a bit of an understatement, given the savagery of the October 7 attack, but at least a sign that Machover has not entirely lost touch with reality. But now he’s indignant about an article I wrote (‘Far from pacified’, December 7) concerning the hopelessness of a military solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on anyone’s part - America’s, Israel’s or the Palestinians’.

As he put it in a letter on December 14, “Daniel Lazare is in denial. He is in denial of the colonising essence of the Zionist project; he is in denial of the colonial nature of the conflict between the Israeli settler state and its colonised Palestinian subjects; he is in denial of the vast disparity of power between the nuclear-armed oppressor and its victims; indeed, he is in denial that the relation between Israelis and Palestinians is one of colonial-national oppression. None of these facts are hinted at, let alone mentioned, in his article.”

But I’m not in denial at all. It goes without saying that Israel’s power eclipses that of Hamas, that it is an expansionist state, that it is Jewish-supremacist, and that the international proletariat must defend Palestinians against the Zionist onslaught. So Machover’s point about the asymmetrical nature of the conflict is correct.

But, if he were a better Marxist, he’d understand that symmetry can exist within an otherwise asymmetric framework. How else can we explain the striking ideological parallels between Likud and Hamas? The Netanyahu government has its Kahanist wing led by Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, whose ideology, as the World Socialist Web Site recently pointed out, is based on a “theology of revenge” against the non-Jewish world for permitting the holocaust to occur in the 1940s. Do unto them, in other words, what they have done unto us. If a revenge fantasy like this isn’t fascism, it’s exceedingly close.

But Hamas also has its revenge fantasies. “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious,” its founding document declares. “... In face of the Jews’ usurpation of Palestine, it is compulsory that the banner of jihad be raised.” Hamas’s 1988 covenant goes on:

“For a long time, the enemies have been planning, skilfully and with precision, for the achievement of what they have attained. They took into consideration the causes affecting the current of events. They strived to amass great and substantive material wealth which they devoted to the realisation of their dream. With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the communist revolution, and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there. With their money they formed secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions, and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests. With their money they were able to control imperialistic countries and instigate them to colonise many countries in order to enable them to exploit their resources and spread corruption there.”

What is this other than a theology of revenge against the forces of modernity, which Hamas, in its benighted way, equates with Judaism, Marxism and Jacobinism (not to mention Freemasons and Rotarians)? If this isn’t fascism, it’s only because fascism is a 20th century ideology, whereas the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is a part, is still stuck in the 7th.

Machover wants us to adopt a policy of hearing, seeing and speaking no evil concerning such parallels. Yet they exist regardless. If Zionism’s rightwing surge led to Kahanist pogroms in the West Bank, for instance, then Hamas’s equally rightwing politics led to an even more massive pogrom on October 7. What is wrong with pointing this essential symmetry out? How is it possible to write about the conflict in a halfway honest manner without discussing the ideological convergence between two otherwise bitter enemies?

Whereas Machover is a leftwing apologist for Hamas, Greenstein has turned himself into a cheerleader of an even more embarrassing sort. His whirlwind of an article (‘Not a religious war’, January 4) is filled with mini-lectures about various historical details that I supposedly get wrong, about the real nature of the war, and so on. Most are too ridiculous to go into, so let me concentrate on the real issue at hand, which is, of course, Hamas.

“Despite their demonisation by the Zionists, Hamas’s politics are not anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish,” Greenstein begins. “They hold to the traditional line of Islamic religious groups who make a distinction between Judaism and Zionism.” Really? If Greenstein had bothered to read the 1988 Hamas covenant, he would know that what it repeatedly emphasises throughout is that Judaism and Zionism are two sides of the same coin. “Their plan,” it says of the Zionists, “is embodied in the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ and their present conduct is the best proof of what we are saying” (article 32).

If this isn’t anti-Semitism, what is? Greenstein will no doubt reply that the covenant has been superseded by a seemingly more benign charter that Hamas issued in 2017. But it was not superseded at all, since Hamas pointedly refrained from repealing the old document. Indeed, Mahmoud al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas and still a member of the group’s senior leadership, assured a reporter that the 1988 covenant was as relevant as ever: “... there is no contradiction between what we said in the [2017] document and the pledge we have made to God in our [original] charter,” he told Reuters (May 10 2017). So we have no choice but to take al-Zahar at his word about Hamas’s arch-reactionary founding principles, even though comrade Greenstein clearly wishes he had held his tongue.

“The October 7 attack,” Greenstein goes on, “was an audacious attack on the Gaza division of the Israeli army - and it is becoming clear that many if not most of the Israeli civilian casualties were caused by the trigger-happy murderers of the Israeli army.” Yes, 10/7 “truthers” are hard at work trying to absolve Hamas of responsibility. But their efforts are no more impressive than in 2001, when they tried to absolve Saudi Arabia and al Qa’eda of responsibility and put the blame for 9/11 on Mossad instead.

Greenstein says that the fact that 85-year-old Yocheved Lifschitz shook hands with her captors before returning to Israel is evidence that she and other hostages were well treated. But others have had very different stories to tell, among them a Thai immigrant worker, who said that Jewish prisoners “were treated very harshly, sometimes they were beaten with electric cables” (VINnews, November 29). Why doesn’t Greenstein mention that?

Lifschitz later told the press that she met Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar face to face three or four days into her abduction. “I asked him how he wasn’t ashamed to do such a thing to people who for years support peace? He didn’t answer. He was quiet.” Lifschitz is obviously a racist colonialist pig for speaking in such a forthright manner. But she raises a question that should not be ignored, no matter how hard Greenstein might try.

Daniel Lazare
New York


Reading the letter of Talking About Socialism’s Will McMahon and Nick Wrack on socialist-communist unity, what does it matter if even only one person runs the CPGB PCC (‘Nothing positive to be gained’, January 4)?

The politics are better than the those of the Socialist Workers Party. We are entering a period of reaction and need to prepare.

Frank Kavanagh


As if made to order, certainly right on cue, in the very same edition as TAS’s criticisms are let loose around what’s considered to be Weekly Worker/CPGB’s arrogance alongside more generalised shutting out of any fresh ideas and other such dismissive hubris, a pretty much pristine iteration of that very same syndrome popped up within the fighting fund report from a certain Robbie Rix.

Those folk who find it far more desirable to access the paper through cyberspace are labelled as mere “starers” at screens, rather than the immeasurably more pure possessors of the physical printed edition - the fact clearly having become lost, somewhere along either fog-enshrouded or twisted lines of experience, how many of those selfsame derided and scorned then bring selected articles or letters from the paper to the attention of unlimited numbers of others, in attempts at development of their class and revolutionary consciousness (most poignantly, to anyone deemed open to the paper’s sophisticated and mature Marxist-Leninist solutions to this grandest-calibre horror show that surrounds us all).

Not to suggest there are any easy answers to those problems and truths raised by TAS, but its criticisms strike clear as a bell with those who, like myself, don’t find any existing organisations on offer to be fully convincing and consequently attractive. However, and as already alluded been to, in my book the Weekly Worker/CPGB comes categorically closest to that sought-out Marxian Nirvana!

Having said all that, the comrades at TAS fall down badly when it comes to entirely sensible and valid arguments made around the futility - in fact the sheer laughableness - of forming just another ‘Labour’ party being flat-out contradicted by their attitude around whether to form a new and separate party of “communism”. The most logical as well as most efficient pathway to be hacked out from that tangled undergrowth would be to fully engage with an already up-and-running WW/CPGB, even joining as an active member - ie, in order then to bring influence from within, to ‘steer’ things into what are seen as more vibrant directions, even with an aim of superseding its current main players.

In doing so, yet greater confusion to outsiders would be avoided, to potential new recruits, amongst other ingredients unquestionably required for the promotion and eventual establishment of a meaningful, potent socialist movement for purposes of conquering capitalism’s only evermore filthy paradigm.

Bruno Kretzschmar


In the Provisional Central Committee’s statement on the Israel-Gaza war (January 4) is this formulation: “Towards that end it is more than advisable to offer the Israeli-Jewish, the Hebrew nation, full national rights: ie, the right to join an Arab socialist republic and the right to self-determination up to and including the right to go it alone.”

This raises a query. The Marxist minimum-maximum programmatic method champions a minimum programme that can theoretically be achieved under capitalism, but the very act of it being put into practice by the working class means the ‘uninterrupted’ process to our maximum programme is underway. The reality is that the implementation of the minimum programme in fact requires working class rule: socialism. In that sense, it is not the bogus ‘transitional’ method, nor is it the mechanical stagism of Stalinism.

However, when it comes to Israel-Palestine, the CPGB PCC statement rejects both a single-state and a two-state settlement as minimum democratic demands. Instead, it proposes national rights for the Hebrew nation within an Arab socialist republic.

Therefore this minimum is not even ‘theoretically’ achievable under bourgeois rule. There seems to be a contradiction here. How do comrades account for this?

Martin Greenfield


In the obituary of James Creegan that appeared in the Weekly Worker edition of December 7, I mistakenly wrote that the League for a Revolutionary Party (LRP) participated in the smear campaign against Jim that was carried out by the Spartacist League, The International Bolshevik Tendency and the International Group.

This was not true. In fact I have since learned that the LRP was the victim of a similar smear campaign in which they were falsely accused by the Spartacist League of being scabs. My apologies for this factual error.

Alex Steiner