Ignoring reality

Tony Greenstein sets himself the supremely difficult task in his most recent article of proving that Hamas is not anti-Semitic at all (‘Is Hamas anti-Semitic?’, January 18). Needless to say, he fails.

“If Hamas was anti-Semitic,” he begins, “then why, when Hamas was formed in 1988, did Israel continue to support it?” He quotes The Washington Post describing how “Israeli authorities actively enabled its rise”, plus a Wall Street Journal article saying the same thing - that “Israel helped to spawn Hamas.” His conclusion: Hamas cannot possibly be anti-Semitic because the Jewish state would never have backed it if it were.

Is he serious? As I’ve pointed out twice in recent months (‘A Jewish crisis’, November 2, and ‘Zionism needs anti-Semitism’, November 23), Zionism’s attitude toward anti-Semitism is ambiguous at the very least. The problem goes back to Theodor Herzl, the movement’s founder, who could never stop saying how much he liked anti-Semites because they agreed that Jews had no future in the diaspora. He lauded them in his 1896 pamphlet, The Jewish state, for “provid[ing] the requisite impetus” for Jews to go, and said: “They need only do what they did before, and then they will create a desire to emigrate where it did not previously exist, and strengthen it where it existed before.” He regarded Jews as “a people debased” and said that both sides would be so happy, once they moved to Palestine, that they “will pray for me in the synagogues and in the churches as well”. Not only would Jews be liberating themselves, he said, but they would be liberating Christians - “liberating them from us”.

So the fact that Israel initially backed Hamas does not mean that the organisation is free of anti-Semitism. All it shows is that the heirs of Herzl were once again making cynical use of anti-Semitism for their own ends.

Things get worse when Greenstein moves on to Hamas’s infamous 1988 covenant. He calls me a Zionist for being “obsessed” with it, even though, like most left apologists for Hamas, he’s equally obsessed with ignoring it. He quotes something called the Islamic Human Rights Commission to the effect that, even though the 1988 covenant contains “undeniably anti-Jewish elements”, it “was drafted by one member of the old Ikhwan movement [ie, the Muslim Brotherhood] and was released as Hamas’s charter without proper consultation within the organisation. Hamas is therefore stuck with it ...” He quotes Saednews, a Tabriz-based news agency, as saying that, even though the charter is “loaded with anti-Jewish rhetoric”, Hamas subsequently distanced itself from its own statement by “[e]mphasising that its struggle has been merely against Zionists and Zionism, not against the Jews and Judaism”.

This is hardly convincing. The IHRC is an Islamist organization that backed Abu Hamsa, the notorious imam of Finsbury Park, and Omar Abdelp-Rahman, the “blind sheik” convicted of bombing New York’s World Trade Center in 1993. Saednews describes itself on its website as “following the general policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran” – which, of course, backs Hamas to the hilt. So neither is trustworthy.

But if, as the two organisations imply, Hamas truly wishes to take back all it said about Jews in its founding document - that they are responsible for the French Revolution and two world wars, that they want to control the world, that they should be killed, etc - then the solution is easy. All it has to do is rescind the covenant and apologise for putting out such garbage in the first place.

But this is what Hamas pointedly refused to do when it issued a supplementary charter in 2017. As I recently noted (Letters, January 11), a top Hamas official named Mahmoud al-Zahar assured Reuters at the time that the 1988 covenant was as valid as ever and that “there is no contradiction between what we said in the [2017] document and the pledge we have made to god in our [original] charter”. So who’s right - Greenstein, who says the covenant is irrelevant, or Hamas, who says it’s not?

Greenstein is at his most absurd when he says that “October 7 was directed at Israelis not because they were Jewish” and offers as proof the fact that “many non-Jews (even Arabs) were victims”. But videos surfaced back in November of Hamas fighters screaming at a captured Israeli Arab on October 7 that he works for “the infidel Jews”, as they beat him and threaten to cut his throat (Times of Israel, November 9). The fact that Hamas is an equal-opportunity brutalizer hardly gets it off the hook.

Greenstein fills his article with so many ludicrous and nonsensical statements that it would take a book to refute them all. So suffice it to say that there is absolutely nothing pro-Zionist about pointing out that Hamas’s politics are reactionary and anti-Semitic, and that its actions on October 7 have resulted in an unparalleled disaster for the Palestinians. On the contrary, it’s obligatory. Marxists should shout the Leninist principle from the rooftops that bourgeois nationalism, Islamism, or whatnot can only lead to catastrophe, and that the only way to achieve national self-determination and equality is through international socialist revolution.

Greenstein’s refusal to face facts about Hamas renders him politically useless. He is determined to ignore reality, when the task is to change it.

Daniel Lazare
New York

Minimum demands

Is it anti-Semitic to deny Israelis (and Palestinians) their right to a minimum (ie, democratic republican) programme? The answer is uncertain. But this is the road that the CPGB’s ‘Theses on Israel-Gaza war and communist strategy’ has taken by ruling out a two-state solution, which “effectively falls at the same hurdle as the single-state solution”. Denying the people of Israel and Palestine their right to a minimum programme is surely discrimination. The CPGB would never tolerate here what they deny to Jewish workers in Israel and Palestine. (Weekly Worker January 25).

The theses argue against two states because “We cannot expect Israel, as presently constituted, to concede the territory necessary to create a viable Palestinian state. Without a serious transformation of the regional, and indeed global, balance of forces, any such solution will simply not happen. Benjamin Netanyahu has the virtue of making that abundantly clear.” Yes, the Israeli ruling class has ruled it out and will not budge. The British ruling class will not agree to a democratic republic here either.

The minimum (republican) programme is not ruled out because of the opposition of powerful ruling classes and the regional and global balance of forces. To argue that this programme is not relevant for Israel-Palestine alone is to descend towards the murky waters of Jewish exceptionalism. Is Israel so democratic that it has no need for a democratic republic?

If the two-state solution represents the minimum programme, then communism has taken a wrong turn. It is not simply that Netanyahu won’t allow it: more importantly, we should reject it regardless of the Israeli ruling class. The two-state solution is Zionist policy built on the 1948 partition of Palestine. It is no solution. It is an imperialist game for manipulating public opinion, whilst the Palestinian people suffer ethnic cleansing and the real threat of genocide. The thesis is far too tolerant of the two-states policy - the means by which the Labour Party, TUC and the major trade unions line up behind the policy of Zionism.

The only alternative minimum programme is ‘one state’ and the theses rule this out too. One state as a republican demand means one democratic, secular, federal republic of Israel-Palestine. The CPGB theses oppose one state and two states and thus the minimum programme as such. This essentially puts an equals sign between a Zionist policy and a democratic policy. Then, of course, there is no distinction between the Israeli nation and the Jewish ‘nation’, which is identified as the Hebrew nation. The Israeli nation is 80:20 Jewish and Palestinian Arab. Zionism defines Israel as a Jewish nation and Israeli democrats (ie, Jews and Arabs) must stand opposed to this and for a democratic secular deZionised Israeli republic.

Section 14 says: “The Palestinian national resistance movement cannot win by its own efforts alone.” This is true. But neither could the South African democratic movement win on its own without international solidarity. However, international solidarity is not a substitute for the South African masses or the Israeli-Palestinian masses taking up the fight for a democratic republic. Unfortunately the theses suggest the Jewish workers stand by their beds and salute the Arab socialist revolution. When it arrives, they will gain “the right to join an Arab socialist republic with the right to self-determination”.

Steve Freeman

No factions

Blimey! Some people are so addicted to their oppositional factions and sects, they really can’t imagine political life and activity without them! (Letters, January 25).

(Actually, no, Jack - I haven’t written a “string of letters on factions”. I was originally writing much more substantively on the subjects of a mass socialist/independent working class political formation and the relations between that and a much bigger, much more influential Communist Party. It is you and others who have, revealingly, chose to focus on the question of factions within a Communist Party).

There is a straight contradiction between Peter Manson’s definition of ‘factions’ and Jack Conrad’s. Peter suggests they are merely a grouping of like-minded individuals and certainly not as I described, having their own memberships, leaderships, policy platforms, aims and objectives, organisational disciplines, etc, separate from the party itself. Jack uses the example of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party as a prize example of a faction, who most certainly did have their own distinct membership, leadership, policy platform, aims and objectives, and organisational discipline.

Is Peter in favour of factions which are merely groupings of like-minded individuals, but opposed to them having their own membership, leadership, policy platforms, aims and objectives, organisational disciplines, etc? I suspect not, so his quote from Wikipedia is, I think, a bit of cover to try and soft-focus the real logic of factions.

Certainly, my description of factions fits exactly the real-life examples of the opposition factions in the former Communist Party of Great Britain, including the Communist Campaign Group, Straight Left, The Leninist (forerunner, although very different politically, to the current Weekly Worker group).

All three claimed to be the true advocates of Marxism-Leninism in this country and in the CPGB. All three claimed adherence to some previous historical versions of the CPGB and claimed they were merely trying to re-establish those in the then present. All three had their own internal logic and reasoning as to why they had organised into a faction - and I could understand and sympathise with some of those - but equally I could see then and now how the logic of factionalism ultimately destroyed the CPGB, as it would any Communist Party. All three were top-down organisations, parties or proto-parties within a party, and issued orders from the top to their factional foot soldiers on the front line. There was no internal democracy within any of them.

In branch meetings - the branch being the basic primary unit of the Communist Party - whenever a member of one of those factions spoke, moved a motion, etc, you knew damn well it was not coming from them as an individual, from their own experience, thoughts or intelligence, but they were merely acting on orders from on high. How was this not deeply offensive and insulting to the branch or a contravention of that branch’s democracy?

Fundamentally, this is about party democracy. It is not surprising that Trotskyists, liberals, social democrats, etc rail so bitterly and furiously against the basic working class discipline of abiding by democratically decided majority decisions, policies and actions. That is basically what democratic centralism and forbidding organised factions is all about.

Why form or join a faction? Surely in order to increase the collective power, influence and control that members of that faction can exert over the wider party. At whose expense is this increased power and influence obtained? From the majority of ordinary front-line members of the Communist Party who are not members of any faction, because they actually support and agree with the majority direction and leadership of the party. In that very clear way, factions are detrimental/antithetical to the democracy of the whole party, by, in effect, crowding out the democracy available to ordinary members in their branches and elected committees.

I did not equate the RSDLP and the Labour Party as similar sorts of broad working class political formation. I used the RSDLP and Labour Party as different types of examples, where Bolsheviks/communists have had to work in formations which included very many non-Bolsheviks/communists.

Yes, absolutely, the RSDLP at its Second Congress “committed itself to the revolutionary overthrow of tsarism” and the “dictatorship of the proletariat” (yes, obviously, completely different to the British Labour Party, which was founded for the purpose of obtaining parliamentary representation for the organised working class), but Jack concedes the very point that the RSDLP then split because very significant elements, Mensheviks and other non-Bolsheviks, did not agree to the practical, political and organisational implications of how to carry that out in practice.

Yes, the RSDLP committed itself on paper to revolution against the autocracy, to a “revolutionary democratic dictatorship of the working class and peasants”, which would grow into a dictatorship of the proletariat and socialism, but the basic problem was that significant sections of the RSDLP were in fact fundamentally opposed to both the direction of travel (revolutionary transformations in the direction of socialism), and the strategy for achieving them. As we well know from the example of the German Social Democratic Party, it was very common for many at that time to pay lip service to Marxism and socialism but in practice, in deeds and actions, they were antithetical to Marxism and socialism.

As Jack probably knows better than many of us, Lenin over the whole period of the inner-party struggles incurred a vast amount of time, capacity, energy and words, systematically, ruthlessly, painstakingly, effectively, decisively exposing the pretensions and the falsehoods of Mensheviks, social democrats, Trotsky, etc, who claimed they were Marxists, socialists and communists, but in actual fact and practice were working against the aims, objectives, strategy and tactics of the Bolsheviks/communists, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Was it really ideal or even satisfactory for the Bolsheviks to have to “work with Mensheviks in joint committees up to and after the October 1917 revolution”? A tactical and pragmatic necessity, yes, but surely far more ideal and effective to have operated as a single mass, democratic-centralist organisation.

Democratic centralism provides more than adequate opportunities for the party membership as a whole to democratically determine programme, policies, strategy, tactics and elected leadership bodies. Organised factions by definition are attempts to systematically subvert that basic operation of Communist Party democracy and therefore reduce democracy for the membership as a whole. Clearly, factions are sometimes a historical necessity - some members of such would argue that in the CPGB in the 1980s, and certainly for the Bolsheviks in the early 20th century. But they should never be seen as the ideal - something to be aimed for or constitutionally enshrined.

Andrew Northall


As a great admirer of Mike Macnair’s writings on revolutionary strategy and the need for communist regroupment, I have found the recent exchanges between comrades in the CPGB-PCC and Talking About Socialism to be deeply depressing. If this is the standard of engagement even between the relatively non-dogmatic, non-sectarian, forward-thinking parts of the left with a shared commitment to communist regroupment, then it feels like we may be doomed!

I wanted to take issue in particular with Macnair’s comments - in, for example, ‘Communist unity and its refuseniks’ (January 25) and ‘Taciturns offer nothing positive’ (January 11) about “diplomatic formulations”, “the principle of politeness” and similar - which seem deeply confused, if not disingenuous.

It seems that Macnair is using terms like “diplomatic methods” to conflate two completely different phenomena. His critiques of the “diplomatic” approaches of “programmatic fudging”, where substantive political differences are obscured for the sake of opportunistic convenience, are correct and important, but this seems to have little to do with the kind of “diplomacy” that TAS comrades are demanding from the CPGB-PCC.

What appears to be at issue is the basic “diplomacy” of manners, politeness, treating your interlocutors with respect as equals, engaging with the substance of their arguments instead of pursuing dismissive misrepresentations. This kind of “diplomacy” need not have anything to do with obscuring political differences, and any competent organiser knows that it is essential even to run an effective meeting - let alone to engineer a regroupment of the entire communist left! If the comrades of the CPGB-PCC are incapable of understanding this distinction or of practising this basic “diplomacy”, then it is no wonder that their group remains as small as it is, or that their efforts towards regroupment seem to go nowhere in spite of their theoretical cleverness.

While I agree that TAS ought to engage with and meet with comrades from the CPGB-PCC regardless, you need to stop misrepresenting them! It’s clear that their issue with you is not that they want to cover up their political disagreements, but basically that they think you have been talking down to them, misrepresenting them, and acting like dickheads! Is it so difficult to be the bigger sect and say, ‘I’m sorry we got off on the wrong foot. Let’s try to reset this discussion on a more respectful basis’? As an outside observer, it looks as if certain comrades in the CPGB-PCC are just using disingenuous theoretical mystifications about “diplomatic formulations” as an excuse to act like children. Nobody will want to talk to you if you insist on being rude and patronising to them! You can try to justify this with all the theoretical and pseudo-strategic verbiage that you like, but you will never succeed in organising anything.

For what it’s worth, I am part of an informal caucus within Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century (RS21), who have been avid readers of Macnair and of the Weekly Worker (and of the politically related Cosmonaut in the US), but one of the difficulties we have in convincing our other comrades to take this work seriously is that many of them regard groups like the CPGB-PCC as being nothing more than a bunch of miserable, sectarian old men, who are only interested in abstract and self-important polemicising, and who have no presence in the trade unions or social movements and no practical contributions to make to the ongoing class struggle - and consequently that they are simply not worth the effort and unpleasantness of engaging with.

Doubtless these are grossly unfair mischaracterisations rooted in prejudice and ignorance, but we would be much obliged if our comrades in the CPGB-PCC could make every effort to help us to combat these crude and offensive stereotypes.

By the way, Macnair describes RS21 as “basically an organisation based among students”. I’m not sure where he has got this idea from, except perhaps by incorrectly extrapolating from the composition of his local branch in Oxford a decade ago, when the organisation was founded, and (as far as I understand it) the Socialist Workers Party’s student group in Oxford defected en masse. Most of those comrades will have long since graduated!

I’m not sure that we keep comprehensive enough data to give a definitive answer, but to the best of my knowledge, students are only a very small proportion of RS21’s membership at present (and undergraduates are probably outnumbered by postgraduates and lecturers), we have no student societies, and no particular strategy for recruiting students (although we probably should work on one!).

Anecdotally I would say that much more of our recent recruitment has come from RS21’s engagement with the strike wave and with the Palestine solidarity movement - a lot of recent recruits (including myself) being basically radicalised ex-Corbynites, who left university long ago.

Archie Woodrow

Swedish justice

In his recent article Paul Demarty makes a passing reference to the accusations of rape against Julian Assange in Sweden (‘Grim fate awaits him’, January 18). Demarty correctly identifies this moment as the cue for the desertion of him by “the soft left”, including The Guardian and The New York Times. I should think that these charges have diminished his support across the whole ‘left’ and centrist population, as so many are prepared to accept that he is being attacked, and punished for telling the truth, but ‘maybe he’s not such a nice chap’.

Demarty says: “It seems we will never know if the Swedish charges amounted to anything; they have long been abandoned.” But Nils Melzer, who was the “United Nations special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” from 2016 until 2022, has produced a book on the subject: The trial of Julian Assange.

He was approached by Assange’s legal team to investigate the case, but, as he says in the introduction, “I was initially biased against Assange and even refused to get involved in his case.” Further on, when he was actually investigating, he looks back at this “hasty” and “judgmental” response and says: “I had been deceived by the same relentless and perfidious smear campaign against him, which is still ongoing today and aims to deflect public attention away from what this case is really about.” Quite.

Melzer looks in great detail at the whole attack on Assange, but I would suggest that maybe half of the book is about the attack based in Sweden. It goes into the accusations, how they were treated by the Swedish authorities and how they raised their head throughout his ordeal.

Assange was eventually charged with rape, but, as Melzer shows, this was after actions by the authorities - police and prosecutors - which were wildly at variance with the rules and regulations that were supposed to apply. Two women went to the police: they wanted Assange to have an HIV test after the consensual sex they had enjoyed. He was not willing to do that and they thought the police might help them to force the issue.

They were shocked when they were expected to back up charges of rape and Melzer had access to many email and other messages between them, where their concerns moved from HIV tests to their dismay at their apparent, or alleged, backing for these charges.

Assange hung around in Stockholm for a while for the police and prosecutors to do whatever, but after a few weeks he left. Charges were then brought to imply that here we had a fleeing criminal.

Similar shenanigans were employed in Britain over the many years that the charges were on or maybe off (“Don’t you dare get cold feet,” said the Crown Prosecution Service lawyer). One of these was the production in Sweden of ‘evidence’ that Assange and the two women had had sex, but this was never an issue. There was a torn condom, which apparently had no DNA from Assange or either of the women. Anything to pretend that there was an ongoing case.

As is fairly well known, Assange agreed to go to Sweden to face charges or investigation, as long as the authorities there guaranteed that he would not be extradited to the United States, as others had been before. This they were not willing to do, so Assange refused to go, and eventually sought sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy.

There have been many online accounts of the campaign against Assange - including some pointing out flaws in the Swedish charges, but I’ve seen nothing as thorough and meticulous as Melzer’s book. He covers the later developments - in the embassy, the show trials on extradition, etc - but the Swedish campaign in particular gives some indication of how low the bourgeoisie are prepared to go. And, yes, Assange has been and is being tortured.

This is true especially of the global hegemon, but backing that are the depths of its lapdogs - both political and mainstream media. Or, to quote a more eloquent observer, Melzer has written a “landmark book, the first by a senior international official to call out the criminality of western governments, and their craven media echoes, in the persecution of Julian Assange”. This is from the recently deceased John Pilger - it’s on the back cover of the book.

Julian Assange and Wikileaks told the world of bourgeois crimes and are paying a price. There have been many protests and rallies, but we need a mass communist party leading the working class to stop them committing those crimes.

Jim Nelson

Afghan poppies

The conflicts between Iran, Pakistan and separatist groups in their border regions may be exacerbated by the knock-on effects of poppy eradication in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s takeover.

Despite the international coalition’s efforts, a couple of years ago roughly 80% of the world’s illicit heroin came from poppies grown in Afghanistan. A global heroin shortage is setting in with the first full year of much reduced harvests - both Iran and Pakistan are likely to be alternative locations for poppy culture.

As in South America and south-east Asia, the chance to participate in the drugs trade will make it easier for extranational armed groups to fund themselves, while nation-states might seek to use conformity to international norms of drug prohibition as a pretext for political repression.

Jack William Grahl

Lurid claim

In his article, ‘A comedy of errors’ (January 25), Eddie Ford highlights the link between nuclear power and nuclear energy. Nuclear power is “inextricably linked to weapons of mass destruction”, according to the subheading, highlighting “the madness of nuclear power”.

A lurid claim and not accurate, because in Europe there are 12 countries without a nuclear weapons programme, but who have civil nuclear power. A further 14 countries around the world have a civil, but not military, nuclear programme, which is therefore not inextricably linked to weapons of mass destruction.

Paul Russell