As a long-term Weekly Worker reader I would like to register my disappointment that the world-altering transition between Socialist Appeal and the launch of the Revolutionary Communist Party has barely been touched upon in the pages of your esteemed organ. I will rectify this now with a partial summary of their reasoning for this party turn and review of the first ever edition of The Communist (January 24).
First, a mention of the context, the public reasoning for this change. Revealingly, Socialist Appeal described the relaunch in an early December issue as “a fresh communist uniform to replace our well-worn socialist clothing”. A costume change clearly doesn’t justify an announcement that you have become a “party” surely, comrades?
The comrades have preempted my criticism and assure me that “The Communist is not a rebranding exercise”. In a moment worthy of the 1990s satirical TV show Brass eye, the comrades reveal the precise number of their group in an attempt to convince doubters that they are uniquely placed to lead the working class - “On the back of a bold recruitment drive and years of determination, the International Marxist Tendency has now reached 1,101 comrades in Britain.”
Let’s leave aside for a moment that it is bizarre to name a precise figure rather than say “more than 1,000 comrades”; and that the word “bold” is used very often in SA/RCP material, and is a standing joke in my union from years of SPEW/Socialist Alternative using it as a cover for any ideas of how to actually achieve victories - ‘bold leadership’ always being the answer. If we assume that Socialist Appeal were probably muddling along with around 200 comrades before their recent spate of recruitment (largely on university campuses), this is an impressive level of growth.
But they cannot seriously believe that just over 1,000 comrades can claim to form the party of the working class in Britain. The comrades claim that “it is time for a new revolutionary weapon”, but declaring a party is only an effective weapon in the class struggle if it represents a serious step forward in the political representation of the working class. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a successful fighting propaganda group for socialism (or ‘communism’, if they prefer, though I don’t see what has changed in their programme to justify such an assertion). To declare yourself the party of the working class with such a level of membership just smacks of unseriousness.
In a way I can very well see why the CPGB-PCC have not engaged especially closely with SA’s rebranding. To alter a name, to cynically rebrand as communist without changing their programme, to retain absurdities like nationalising the top 100 monopolies and pretending this is ‘communism’ is risible, so we are right to mock and I have done so too. However, in the same way you are receiving some pushback on your allegedly overly robust attitude to ‘Talking About Socialism’, there has to be a serious political assessment and engagement with any group which has grown fivefold over this current period.
I was sold a copy of The Communist No1 (no doubt a collector’s item for the future) by a young man in my workplace who joined the Labour Party under Starmer because he was too young to be really politically active under Corbyn - and had since moved left. Those of us who’ve been around the far left for a long time would do well to grasp just how heady it must be for a small group to suddenly find themselves in the position SA/RCP do with this level of sudden growth - when did the last such upsurge happen and what can we learn from it, other than simply remembering the mistakes of the Workers Revolutionary Party and Socialist Workers Party suddenly claiming to be parties? I’d be glad to hear from comrades within and without the CPGB-PCC on this.
On page 2 of their new paper, the comrades quote Lenin; “If we join forces to produce a common newspaper, this work will train and bring forward not only the most skilful propagandists, but the most capable organisers, the most talented political party leaders capable, at the right moment, of releasing the slogan for the decisive struggle and of taking the lead in that struggle.”
It should be obvious to members of this group that “join forces” in the context above should not refer merely to their own paltry 1,000 members, but to all the thousands of trained Marxists from whatever background currently active. The demand from the rest of us presumably should be; open your letters pages to proper discussion and debate, not necessarily as fully as the Weekly Worker, who openly allow RS21 members to denounce them as dickheads, but at least to the point where different views are expressed. The current message is “Forward to 1,400 members!” Talk about poverty of aspiration. A true Revolutionary Communist Party will be formed when a serious unity campaign of the actually existing organised Marxists can be launched. The sooner, the better.
I am glad to read that Archie Woodrow is “a great admirer of Mike Macnair’s writings on strategy” - I hope they’re useful to you, comrade (Letters, February 1). But he needs to be aware that my Revolutionary strategy book could never have been published without the character of the Weekly Worker as a paper of “Marxist polemic and Marxist unity” (emphasis added), of which he complains.
As Karl Marx wrote in 1842, “you cannot enjoy the advantages of a free press without putting up with its inconveniences. You cannot pluck the rose without its thorns!” The book originated as a series of articles in this paper polemicising with the 2006 debate on strategy in the French Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire and Alex Callinicos’s interventions in this debate. Both the Ligue and Callinicos would certainly have regarded the articles as “rude” if they had bothered to respond at all.
Majorities usually regard minority views as rude, condescending and “abstract and self-important polemicising”. This is just the normal left-bureaucratic or debating-society method. And the demand for “politeness” is in reality the same demand made by the Labour right against the left (compare my article, ‘Attempt to outlaw justified anger’, October 20 2016) - just on a smaller scale.
Obviously, we in this paper may get things wrong, and if we have got things wrong we are happy to be corrected. I am very glad to be told that RS21 is not a student-based organisation - I agree: that was my impression not just from Oxford, but from reports from elsewhere from the time of the split a decade ago. I am not persuaded that what we said about TAS is a “misrepresentation”, because comrades Wrack and McMahon in their response defend the bureaucratic method they used in Left Unity’s Socialist Platform, rather than indicating that they have any second thoughts about this operation.
A recent member of Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century casually throws around insults like “small”, and attributes to (presumably RS21) comrades the insults of “sectarian”, “abstract” and “no presence in the trade unions or social movements” (Letters, February 1). The writer says these are “grossly unfair mischaracterisations rooted in prejudice and ignorance”.
I have heard these insults for a long time from the SWP. So does the apple fall from the tree in respect of the allegedly “non-dogmatic, non-sectarian, forward-thinking” RS21?
Jon D White
Andrew Northall has modified his position on factions somewhat, but still focuses on the negative side. (Letters, February 1) The comrade is moving to a more dialectical position, away from the Orwellian-style totalitarianism, which Lenin mistakenly led the Soviet Communist Party into. Andrew is no longer arguing the absolutist anti-faction line.
Comrade Andrew concludes his letter thus: “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.”
This is an improvement on his previous stance. The comrade now recognises, correctly, in my view, that sometimes factions are an historical necessity - something no communist can deny at certain stages in the political struggle. Andrew points out, again correctly in my view, that they should never be seen as an ideal, or something to be aimed at or constitutionally enshrined. I am not aware of the Bolsheviks having a law enshrining factions, but they were allowed before 1921. It wasn’t positive developments that led Lenin to ban factions, but negative events.
Andrew needs to make clear whether he believes that factions should be allowed. The problem with his argument is that if the comrade believes that factions are sometimes historically necessary, but not allowed - that is to say, the right to form a faction is banned by the party - this means that, although it may be necessary at a certain stage to form a faction, the party constitution makes it illegal. Those who see the need to form a faction will have to break the rules of the party. If comrade Andrew found it necessary to form a faction, he would be exposing himself to possible expulsion from the party. My view is that there is no need for a law enshrining or banning factions.
This contradiction in Andrew’s argument can only lead to two results. Those who see the necessity to form a faction, when it is banned by the party, will either have to do so secretly, or will have to resign and form another party.
Where will it end, when one Communist Party gives birth to many more because factions are banned. Which is better: to have a single Communist Party with temporary factions, or separate communist parties which exist because the original party bans factions? Clearly banning factions can lead to the unnecessary proliferation of parties. But allowing factions doesn’t mean that we should view them as an ideal.
Comrade Andrew assumes that those who defend the right to form factions are addicted to them. But factions can play a positive or negative role, depending on the situation or which class interest they express. If you are on the left, in the debate about factions you simply need to address one simple issue, which is: what side do I support: democratic socialism or the totalitarian banning of factions.
If we support the totalitarian banning of factions, forcing them underground, or to split off and form separate parties, we would only have ourselves to blame for a divided communist movement. One of the reasons why so many Trotskyist sects exist is because they do not have a relaxed attitude to factions.
Andrew should take into account that the bourgeoisie can rule society through a Communist Party, something which Mao was fully aware of. Communist officials can turn into a privileged bureaucratic caste, alien to socialism. Stalin was aware of this too, but rejected Trotsky’s approach to the problem. It is stupid to think you can solve the problem of bureaucracy with a political revolution, as Trotskyism suggests. Trotsky’s solution was pure ultra-leftism.
The thing is, if you ban factions in a Communist Party and a bourgeois faction takes over, this plays right into their hands. The struggle for socialism is a struggle against the counterrevolutionary elements of the bourgeoisie inside and outside the party.
We can’t be certain that those who genuinely represent working class interests will always have the ascendancy in the Communist Party. It is for this reason why I argue that we should take a more relaxed attitude to factions. The fact that the Bolsheviks could without banning factions make a revolution - and then go on to defeat a counterrevolution, which had the backing of at least 14 capitalist powers - is a strong argument in favour of a more relaxed attitude to factions.
In reality, rather than a threat to party democracy, the ban on factions is the first step on the road to totalitarianism. We need to think about which interest the ban serves the most: the working class itself, or the conservative, bureaucratic elements in the party and socialist state.
For Democratic Socialism
By 1920 and the Second Congress of the Communist International Lenin was sounding very different from Stalin’s position on the national question in 1913:
“First, what is the most important, the fundamental idea of our theses? The distinction between oppressed and oppressor nations. We emphasise this distinction - in diametric contrast to the Second International and bourgeois democracy. In the epoch of imperialism, it is particularly important for the proletariat and the Communist International to establish the concrete economic facts.”
There is no doubt that from its Zionist roots to its foundation in 1948 the state of Israel was and is not an oppressed, but an oppressor, state. It is therefore not a genuine nation-state at all - simply an artificial imperialist outpost, just as Northern Ireland, Ukraine after the US-sponsored counterrevolutionary coup in 2014, the Confederate States before the US civil war were and are not genuine nation-states.
Israel is not just strategically backed by the US: in 1982 secretary of state general Alexander Haig described Israel as “the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk”. In October 1993, in his visit to Israel after October 7 Joe Biden stated: “I have long said, if Israel didn’t exist, we would have to invent it”. Back in 1986 Biden made a speech in the US Senate spelling out why the US backed Israel, “It is the best $3 billion investment we make. Were there not an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.”
So, whenever the fundamental interests of the US are at stake, Israel complies. Israel could not continue to exist without US arms, subsidies and favourable trade deals. This is the lesson of the war of 1956, when France and Britain allied with Israel to seize the Suez Canal and stop Egypt nationalising it. The US had far more effective financial means of subduing the third world (or ‘global south’, as it is known today) and the colonial era was over, Eisenhower ordered Israel, Britain and France to withdraw. They had to comply, thus openly acknowledging the US as the neo-colonial global hegemon - although this temporarily strengthened Khrushchev’s relationship with the colonial world in general.
The conflict between the ‘left’ of Zionism - David Ben-Gurion, the Histadrut (General Federation of Labour) and the Haganah - and the right fascistic elements in the Stern Gang and Irgun was only skin-deep, as evidenced by enthusiastic participation of all of them in the Nakba of 1947-48, in which some 15,000 Palestinians were murdered and 750,000 driven from their homes and land, which was immediately seized, stolen and granted to the invading Zionists.
The Stern Gang initially sought support from Hitler, then shamefully got it from Stalin after the Nazis, then Britain and France, and then the USA; it was always an imperialist project and outpost. The liberal mass media in the west openly designated Irgun as a terrorist organisation back in the 1940s; it was subsumed into the Israeli Defence Forces after 1948, along with the Stern Gang and the Haganah, just as the Azov Battalion and other fascist formations were integrated into the Ukraine army - in both cases politically dominating their armed forces.
The Histadrut founded the Haganah and so it was never a genuine trade union federation; it was a capitalist enterprise and owned many businesses and only accepted Palestinians as second-class members.
Although Hamas and the Houthis are reactionary on social issues, nevertheless they are fighting Israeli terror now, unlike the US/Israeli quisling, Mahmoud Abbas, and his bogus Palestinian Authority, which is openly collaborating with them. Hamas and the Houthis express the anger of the oppressed, so they deserve unconditional, but critical, support against Israel and US imperialism now.
The two-state solution is utterly reactionary. This would be a constantly bombed Bantustan for the Palestinians, and Israel would remain the unsinkable US aircraft carrier there.
The great demonstrations in the Arab street and throughout the world put these reactionary Arab regimes under great pressure and threaten revolutions. Only a defeat in a war with the risen neighbouring Arab states can begin to overcome the dominating 30% Ashkenazi, white, Israeli supremacist attitudes held by most of the Israeli working class - not only to the Palestinians, but also to the 60% majority Mizrahi Jews (who thereby justify their own oppression), Ethiopian Jews and other Jews of black and west-Asian descent and other black immigrants in Israel.
Although the South African case before the International Court of Justice is very welcome, we must point out that it did not make the elementary demand on Israel for a ceasefire now. Abolishing apartheid in Israel will not solve the oppression of the Palestinian and oppressed working class in the Israeli state. SA apartheid may be gone, but its Gini Coefficient shows it to be the most unequal country in the world: the black masses are now worse off than under apartheid. But Ramaphosa’s brother-in-law, Patrice Motsepe, is a billionaire - Ramaphosa himself is ‘only’ half a billionaire. Almost all leading black politicians in South Africa are millionaires - supported by the white apartheid ruling class in grateful appreciation for saving them from socialist revolution. Similarly many Hamas leaders are millionaires now.
Daniel Lazare says: “Marxists should shout the Leninist principle ... that bourgeois nationalism, Islamism ... can only lead to catastrophe” (Letters, February 1). I daresay he lacks knowledge about the relationship between the Bolsheviks and Islam, and I’m scratching my head about his “Leninist principle”. Further, I think Lazare is a centrist and bourgeois pacifist in socialist clothing, when it comes to the Palestine question.
The Bolsheviks understood the class loyalties of the Muslim organisations which they were involved with, and they understood that national self-determination - a bourgeois objective - could only be resolved by socialist class struggle; Lenin viewed socialist revolution in the east as completely linked to the capitalist situation in the west.
Ben Fowkes and Bülent Gökay in Unholy alliance: Muslims and communists write: “Bolshevik leaders issued a call for a ‘holy war’ against western imperialism. Lenin asserted that it was necessary to support Islamist movements under conditions in which they contested local ruling classes, colonial control, or both”. Grigory Zinoviev says to Muslim attendees at the Baku Congress of the Communist International in Azerbaijan in 1920: “Brothers, we summon you to a holy war, in the first place against British imperialism!”
In fact, there were some of Lenin’s comrades who thought he went too far with his support. But the Bolsheviks knew they had to try to influence, recruit, appeal to, etc the impoverished, oppressed Muslim masses who suffered under tsarist colonialism and any anti-imperialist, liberal nationalist forces which existed - the reason being that they strongly believed in national and religious freedom and wanted to advance the class struggle.
According to Lenin in 1909, “We are absolutely opposed to giving offence to religious conviction”, but they were fully aware of and ready to combat the reactionary aspects of religion. (Their intentions didn’t always translate to the political finesse necessary to secure the support of many Muslims, who were suspicious of Great Russian chauvinism.) Gilbert Achcar, Lebanese socialist academic and writer, says socialists shouldn’t mix religion and politics. I think the Bolsheviks accomplished this and were still able to bring large numbers of Muslims from central Asia into the socialist fold, many of whom helped win the civil war.
Interestingly, the (self-described Marxist) Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is part of the Palestinian resistance, has said in the past that the class struggle must wait for the difficult national issue to be solved. Initially, they saw no contradiction between Arab nationalism and socialism.
Lazare says: “… the only way to achieve national self-determination and equality is through international socialist revolution”. It sounds good, but this wasn’t on the agenda post-1917, as the Bolshevik revolutionaries had realised, and it’s not on the timetable now. We work with what we have - a Palestinian resistance movement led by Hamas, an Islamist, anti-colonialist organisation with reactionary characteristics (ie, their policy toward women; also their engagement with regional, reactionary leaders, etc - although this doesn’t necessarily mean that Hamas has no independent agency). Hamas and connected groups are under extreme, deadly attack by the Zionist Blitzkrieg and stormtroopers, but they are holding up courageously and valiantly with no appreciation coming from Daniel Lazare.
Writing in 2000, Khaled Hroub said the core problem for Hamas was “the multidimensional issue of usurpation of Palestinian land and the basic question is how to end the occupation. The notion of liberating Palestine has assumed greater importance than the general Islamic aspect” (International Socialist Review No78).
Lazare likes to blame Hamas for everything: for example, anti-Semitism. He should know that colonised people can despise their emasculating oppressors and this can take pernicious forms, while, typically, the colonialists claim victimhood. At the same time, to this day, the abhorrent label of ‘racist’ is lodged against dispossessed South African dissidents, just as ‘anti-Semite’ is used against anyone who resists the pathology of political Zionism: All meant to muzzle the political and social justice movements against colonialism.
The fact is, it’s the Zionists who conflate Zionism with Jewishness and this is what spawns anti-Semitism. The Zionists have destroyed or damaged 1,000 mosques in Gaza with their recent murderous rampage; isn’t it they who have waged a religious war? Why is hatred of Islam, ignored by Lazare, less important than any anti-Semitism which logically might exist in the national psyche of the subjugated colonised? I’m afraid that Marxist methodology doesn’t resonate in Lazare’s thinking.
For Lazare, Hamas is the overriding bogeyman - the symbol of evil who he has accused of every violent crime against humanity, right out of the Zionist playbook. His pastime is demonising Hamas, who I would guess he’d like to see defeated by settler-colonial Israel. He doesn’t want to be seen as pro-Zionist, as he indicates in his letter, but he continues to verbally assault and slander the Palestinian resistance movement mercilessly. He says Hamas is to blame for the “unparalleled disaster for the Palestinians”, but the Zionist state receives no mention as being the true cause of the catastrophic bloodletting which followed October 7 - a continuation of the atrocities which are fundamental to Zionism.
We salute the courageous and principled stance you take in Paul Demarty’s article, protesting the state ban on Hizb ut-Tahrir (‘First, they came for …’, January 25).
The government does indeed use the “thin end of the wedge” - unpopular and marginal organisations - to outlaw protest against the ongoing genocide in Gaza. The use of anti-terrorism legislation to ban HT, and arrest comrades of the CPGB-ML and the Revolutionary Communist Group is a dagger aimed at the workers’ movement, the left and anyone who opposes British foreign policy.
The principled stance you have taken is a good beginning. The next step would be to exert pressure on other organisations and individuals to follow suit and publicly defend targeted organisations. Ultimately, what is needed is common action by the workers’ movement in opposition to state repression. We hope to work with the CPGB towards this aim. After all, how can we ever talk about communist unity if the workers’ movement can’t even unite in its own self-defence?
Partisan Defence Committee
It is magnificent news that David Miller has won his industrial tribunal against Bristol University. He had been sacked for his anti-Zionist views, and commented after his victory, in a statement agreed with his lawyers:
“I am extremely pleased that the tribunal has concluded that I was unfairly and wrongfully dismissed by the University of Bristol. I am also very proud that we have managed to establish that anti-Zionist views qualify as a protected belief under the UK Equality Act. This was the most important reason for taking the case and I hope it will become a touchstone precedent in all the future battles that we face with the racist and genocidal ideology of Zionism and the movement to which it is attached.
“… I also want to note that this verdict is a massive vindication of the approach I have taken throughout this period, which is to say that a genocidal and maximalist ideology like Zionism can only be effectively confronted by a maximalist anti-Zionism. Apologies, debate and defensiveness of the sort illustrated by many on the left, and even in the Palestine Solidarity movement, will not work. The Zionist movement cannot be negotiated with. It must be defeated.”
In particular, the legal precedent that anti-Zionist views are a protected characteristic under British law is a real advance and conquest, and complements the previous victory won by Keith Henderson in a 2013 industrial tribunal that leftwing socialist beliefs are also such a protected characteristic under the same laws.
I would observe that David Miller’s victory is no thanks to some sections of the left, including Jewish Voice for Labour, the SWP and the Weekly Worker - who, even when David was waging his ultimately successful campaign, joined in the witch-hunting by denouncing him as ‘anti-Semitic’ for making factually correct statements about the material basis of Zionist social power in countries outside Israel. All of those attempted to scandalise him for the following observations in a tweet:
“1. Jews are not discriminated against. 2. They are overrepresented in Europe, North America and Latin America in positions of cultural, economic and political power. 3. They are therefore, in a position to discriminate against actually marginalised groups.”
While covering itself in a bourgeois-libertarian position of defending the supposed democratic rights of all racists, including even fascists, the Weekly Worker solidarised with the SWP’s own wretched attacks on David Miller thus:
“Socialist Worker offers good grounds to suppose that the tweet was anti-Semitic: eg, his words ‘lump together all Jews without any recognition of class or other differences. Miller targets Jews, not the actual ruling class, and plays on the idea of Jews as ultra-rich and manipulative’” (‘Anti-Semitism of useful idiots’, August 31 2023).
This is simply a smear and a non-sequitur - an example of liberal-moralist, Zionist-influenced prejudice on the part of the SWP, Weekly Worker and Jewish Voice for Labour, who make similar points.