I am grateful for the responses from Jack Conrad, Ansell Eade and Tony Clark on the issue of factions within a genuine Communist Party, and for the tone in which they were made (Letters, January 11). It is fascinating - and revealing - these all focus on ‘factionalism’.
Coming from the mainstream orthodox Communist Party tradition, I find it completely obvious why factionalism is detrimental to the operation and functioning of a genuine Communist Party and antithetical to true democracy within such a party.
Of course, there are always different tendencies and trends within any Communist Party - especially if it is appropriately representative of the diversity of the working class in modern capitalist society - and it is important for these to be expressed and resolved openly and democratically. The correct operation of democratic centralism adequately allows for that.
But factions are something quite different. They have their own memberships, policy platforms, aims and objectives, organisational disciplines, etc, which are separate to, different from and most often opposed to the main party itself. Otherwise why organise into a faction?
Membership of a Communist Party and democracy within it (and democracy in general) carries both rights and obligations. One of the most basic is the duty to accept and carry out decisions made by the party, after having had ample opportunity to contribute to the democratic determination of such decisions.
In any democracy, yes, individuals and minorities have rights, but so too have democratic majorities. They include - having had the argument, debate and the votes - an expectation that minorities and individuals accept the decisions made by the party, work as disciplined members and knuckle down and carry out those decisions.
The existence of (by definition, opposition - or at the very least ‘dissident’) factions carries a very strong implication that members of such will not carry out those decisions. Sure, they may not defy explicitly, but the very existence and membership of such factions is in effect a continued open declaration they disagree with such decisions and so any lip service paid is to be taken very lightly indeed.
Jack describes the high degree of factionalism within the original Communist Party of Great Britain when he joined in the 1960s. I joined in the mid-1980s and fully recognise all that - except it was far worse, with a raging, multifaceted factional civil war in full swing, when rival factions knocked seven bells out of each other, at the expense of the party itself.
In my view, factionalism destroyed the CPGB and it is actually a superb example of how factionalism is detrimental to any genuine Communist Party. Yes, some members continued to work and be active in the wider working class movement, but the great majority of members’ and the party’s resources were completely devoted to fighting the internal factional war. This reflected itself in a massive decline in party membership, a dramatic loss of influence, indeed credibility, within the wider labour movement, and ultimately organisational liquidation.
Jack and Ansell ask if it is not possible for members of factions to advocate both their factional viewpoints and the party as a whole? And to work in the mass movement? I guess it is theoretically possible, but I have seen very little evidence of that in practice. The vast majority of evidence indicates the interest of the faction always takes precedence.
Open factionalism within a Communist Party, whether as a cause, symptom or both, is an indication it is experiencing extreme difficulties and an threat to its own existence. It is never a sign of it unifying, growing in influence or operating democratically.
Jack himself states the “Mensheviks were riven by factions”. Hardly a positive characterisation! He is unwise to ‘pray in aid’ of Kamenev and Bukharin in any argument on factions, given their own factional records in opposition within the Bolshevik/Communist Party and the extreme actions they ultimately undertook to undermine Soviet socialist state power to further their factional opposition to the Bolshevik majority within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Jack’s claim that the fragmentation and splitting within the Trotskyist movement is in any way comparable to what has happened within the communist movement is ludicrous. Even if we include the Maoists, over the past hundred years we are only talking single-figure numbers of actual splits or breakaways - a low single figure of parties or groups today claiming to be genuinely communist. We are talking literally of hundreds for the Trotskyists. No comparison whatsoever.
To answer Jack’s direct question over 1903, no, of course not, banning factions would not have ‘helped’ the Bolsheviks, but equally would probably not have wholly hindered them either.
He is again confusing two really basic issues: (a) Bolsheviks/communists operating in wider political and mass formations (eg, the RSDLP, the Labour Party), where, of course, they must operate in an organised and disciplined manner; (b) how the Bolshevik/Communist Party itself is organised to take and carry out decisions - which must also be in an organised and disciplined manner.
Democratic centralism is really quite simple. An ample range of democratic opportunities to express one’s view, in the branch, in the party press, in meetings, aggregates and formal congresses, both national and regional. Full opportunity to question or challenge others’ points of view, to seek to persuade others etc. An open, democratic vote to decide the issue. And then the whole party coming together to carry out those decisions. Factions prevent the latter from happening and actually crowd out and limit the democracy for the membership as a whole.
From the scientific perspective, the correctness or otherwise of decisions can most often only be tested in practice. If real life, concrete reality, actual experience and results - or lack of them - demonstrates such decisions are faulty, then the Party can reflect on that and adjust policy accordingly. If you have large swathes of the Party’s members through organised factions refusing to implement those decisions in the first place, how can you possibly arrive at a scientific assessment of their validity?
I think the basic problem is that Jack, his Weekly Worker group and the majority of writers to the paper have operated in oppositional sects and factions for so long they are addicted to them: they can’t possibly imagine political life without them.
They just can’t get their heads around the basic concept of being positively a member of a communist party, because as a communist you actually agree with the great majority of its positions and are not constantly trying to undermine the democratically elected leadership or trying to obtain martyrdom expulsions.
This is a recognition that you are part of an organised, disciplined collective and part of a tradition to which hundreds of thousands in this country alone have previously contributed their combined wisdom and experience. It is Communism versus Trotskyism, Bolshevism versus Menshevism.
When writing about factions within the Communist Party of Britain, I can see that Andrew Northall et al are clearly following that famous dictum of Oscar Wilde: “We should treat all the trivial things of life seriously, and all the serious things of life with sincere and studied triviality.
Readers will be getting bored of the endless corrections I make to Daniel Lazare’s pronouncements on Hamas, but in your last issue he was at it again (‘Showing exceptional weakness’, January 11). He keeps banging on about their founding charter being anti-Semitic. And what did they say in 1988? Back then Hamas had declared that the “Day of Judgment will not come about until Muslims fight Jews and kill them.”
He claims that the 2017 document does not supersede it. He backs this up with a claim about Mahmoud al-Zahar. Let’s just check what Dr al-Zahar actually said in 2017: “The pledge Hamas made before God was to liberate all of Palestine. The charter is the core of [Hamas’s] position and the mechanism of this position is the document.”
And what does the new ‘Document of general principles and policies’ say? Point 16 declares: “Hamas affirms that its conflict is with the Zionist project, not with the Jews because of their religion. Hamas does not wage a struggle against the Jews because they are Jewish, but wages a struggle against the Zionists who occupy Palestine. Yet, it is the Zionists who constantly identify Judaism and the Jews with their own colonial project and illegal entity.”
So not anti-Semitic at all. I asked a friend who was close to Hamas to explain their 1988 wording. He said that Israelis do not identify themselves to Palestinians as Zionists. They identify themselves as Jews. So Palestinians see them as Jews - not Zionists - hence the wording Hamas used initially. He said he had pointed out to Hamas leaders the difference between the two and convinced them they needed to clarify their position - hence the refinements and clarifications of the 2017 document.
Indeed, I personally know a few Jews - rabbis from the Neturei Karta - who have been welcomed by Hamas officials in Gaza. This is something that Lazare is clearly unaware of: that Hamas could welcome anti-Zionist Jews. But they do, because they have made clear their problem is with Zionism, not Jews.
One Democratic Palestine
In my previous letter (December 14) I pointed out: “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, ‘Far from pacified’ (December 7).”
In his response Lazare protests: “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” (Letters, January 11).
Lazare’s emphatic “at all” is disingenuous, as he persists in his studious silence on the key facts: the colonising essence of the Zionist project; the colonial nature of the conflict between the Israeli settler state and its colonised Palestinian subjects. He still sidesteps the fact that the relation between Israelis and Palestinians is one of colonial-national oppression.
I am puzzled as to what peculiar ideology lies behind Daniel Lazare’s prevarication. Perhaps some day he will come clean about it.
Focus on need
think it’s important to review the Hamas uprising of October 7 that’s touched upon in Daniel Lazare’s letter for the purpose of truth-seeking, and the dispelling of Zionist propaganda accounts which Lazare is all too willing to believe. What took place was a military operation led by Hamas, the major Palestinian resistance organisation.
Anything coming out of the Zionist government should obviously be taken with not a grain, but a bucket of salt - proven liars haven’t the slightest credibility. What do we know or what does the evidence suggest? October 7 was a very disciplined, professional, military action. Intelligence hardware appeared to be confiscated, military personnel and armed civilians were killed. Civilians and military people were captured for the purpose, apparently, of being exchanged for Palestinian political prisoners, held by the colonialist administration, who are routinely tortured and humiliated in perpetuity. It seems that the protection of the Al-Aqsa mosque was crucially important. It appears that Hamas had planned for a long, brutal, genocidal response by the Israeli occupation forces.
It’s not clear who was responsible for any terrorist acts that might have taken place. Zionist fabrications, which Lazare buys into, abound. The evidence points to many, if not most, of the civilians who were killed at the kibbutzim and music festival had come under fire by the Israeli security forces out of panic or calculated design (it’s reported that the date of the festival was changed at the last moment and Hamas couldn’t have known this). The ‘Hannibal directive’, part of the established Israeli military strategy, was a likely approach (refer to investigative reporting by Max Blumenthal among others). Additionally, Hamas (and whoever else that might have breached the wall) didn’t have the weaponry or equipment to lay waste to the scores of cars at the festival which Israel points to as somehow ‘proof’ of Hamas ‘atrocities’.
This figures into the assembly line of false narratives by this evil, Zionist state - the junior sidekick of American imperialism. The determination of the facts is essential, based on the evidence or what’s inferred from the evidence, not Lazare’s guesswork out of whole cloth that he uses to bash and undermine the Palestinian resistance movement.
It was predictable that Lazare would try to mimic and bolster the Zionist condemnation of Hamas for not “repealing” the 1988 charter. This is a red herring. The updated 2017 charter is a moderate and pragmatic document which should have been the basis for negotiations, but Israel has shown time and again that they are not interested in serious negotiations; why would they be interested when they can continue the usurpation of Arab land? If anyone should require conditions for negotiations it’s the aggrieved and dispossessed party - the Palestinian people and their representatives (for example, conditions such as the end to the violence and the end to settlement-building).
There’s no good reason for Hamas to accede to unreasonable, pre‑negotiation Zionist demands; in effect the Islamists would be prostrating themselves before the sadistic ‘god of Zionism’. For starters, Lazare should call for the Zionist regime to retract or “repeal” their phony charge against Hamas of the butchering and beheading of babies. Moreover, he should focus on what’s needed to rebuild the Palestinian left rather than keep whining about the imagined derelictions of Hamas, based on Zionist propaganda.
In a sea of Zionist, settler-colonial aggression over seven or eight decades, a one-day island of resistance in whatever form should not be the culprit for Lazare to obsess about, while the criminal, terrorist state of Zionist Israel currently carries out the mass destruction of the Palestinian people.