Left opposition

Your entertaining article on the February 3 Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition convention in Birmingham is rightly scathing about the state of the left (‘Farcical Labour Party mark two’, February 8). We agree it is split into umpteen “sects, grouplets and ‘parties’”, each “doing their own thing”, yet they are mostly pushing the same political programme which is a variant of Corbyn’s left Labourism. But what is the CPGB doing about it?

There is an urgent need for a strong, united, working class opposition to the Tories and Starmer’s Labour in the election. The left must join forces in a common electoral platform representing the interests of the working class. Tusc’s campaign draws a class line that is sorely needed. It provides a vehicle for working class opposition to Labour, while allowing participating groups the freedom to run their own independent campaigns.

Communist unity is a constant theme in your press. But what’s the point of it if you’re not prepared to fight for unity of the working class against Starmer in the election? Communist unity cannot be separated from the struggle to unite the working class against its class enemy. Your article criticises Tusc, sometimes along the same lines as we do, yet you put forward no proposal for working class opposition to Starmer. That makes you no different than the myriad other “sects, grouplets and ‘parties’” that your article decries.

As a way out of the present impasse of the left, we propose a public debate with you on the theme: what strategy for communists in the election? Even better, we should encourage other groups to participate in a panel discussion and debate our differences openly, all the while putting to the fore how to advance the interests of our class.

Our perspective is laid out in our February 9 leaflet, ‘Why the Spartacist League supports Tusc and why other groups should do the same’. It challenges the British bourgeoisie on ‘red line’ questions, saying:

1. Liberation of Palestine;

2. Down with Nato;

3. Expropriate the banks;

4. Citizenship for immigrants;

5. Down with the monarchy.

By sharply opposing the bourgeoisie on these questions, our programme also draws a line against the Labour and trade union lefts. At the Tusc convention we put forward amendments, one of which stated that we should only support left Labour candidates (eg, Zarah Sultana) if they oppose a Starmer government. By voting down that amendment, Tusc is keeping the door open to unity with those ‘lefts’ who will support a Starmer government. That gets to the core of our criticism of Tusc. Its aim is to breathe new life into Corbynism using the same “broad church” model of unity with the right wing as Corbyn did, with disastrous results.

Contrary to the letter published in the Weekly Worker (‘Tusc and Sparts’, February 15), our approach to the election does not contradict the description of Tusc in Workers Hammer (No251) as “an openly reformist ‘broad church’ electoral coalition, to revive the Corbyn movement, oblivious to the fact that Corbynism already proved its bankruptcy precisely because of its reformist, ‘broad church’ programme”. This political characterisation of Tusc is completely valid and we restated it at the convention. Our approach is to fight for communist politics inside Tusc. Our criticisms of it, including our amendments, if adopted, would strengthen Tusc as a vehicle for working class opposition to Starmer.

The working class is weak, atomised and demoralised as a result of the defeat of the strike wave. Unity of the class is of paramount importance for rebuilding its fighting capacity and preparing for future battles. The Weekly Worker is right to condemn the lack of unity and reformist illusions on the left. But are you prepared to do something to overcome these? Let’s at least debate the issue.

Eibhlin McColgan
Spartacist League

New Zoom series

Readers of the Weekly Worker might be interested in two new Zoom series that are being launched jointly by Why Marx? and the Labour Left Alliance on March 7. Our current series on ‘The History of Israel-Palestine’ has been hugely successful: the introductions have been of outstanding quality and many of them have found their way into the Weekly Worker. An average of 130 people have been attending our weekly meetings on Thursdays at 7pm; dozens more have been following the livestreams on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, while the edited videos have been watched by thousands.

We are hoping many of those - and perhaps even a few new faces - will join us on Zoom for the two new series that will run on alternate weeks. On March 7, we start the ‘Communist Culture Club’, which will run every two weeks and discuss not just new (and old!) films, podcasts and books, but also take a look at cultural questions in the broadest sense of the word. In our first session, for example, Roger Silverman will take a look at ‘Shakespeare from a Marxist perspective’, while actor Tam Dean Burn will give his impression of the opera, Marx in London!, that is currently playing in Glasgow and Edinburgh. We will also hear from Ben Lewis, who will (re-)acquaint the audience with the “radical roots” of International Women’s Day on March 8 and the role played by German communist Clara Zetkin.

In the following session on March 21, comrade Dan Lazare will discuss if socialists should reject Orwell, “just because the right love him”; Anne McShane will introduce the audience to the Palestinian poet and writer, Mourid Barghouti, while Tam Dean Burn will discuss “why the third Intifada will be cultural”. In future sessions, Chris Strafford and Cat Rylance will lead a discussion on ‘Why communists stand in elections’; Harry Paterson will explain ‘Why socialists shouldn’t be reverse snobs about opera’ and Simon Hannah asks, ‘Is the film In time the most Marxist film ever?’

We are still playing with the format and will adjust timings and introductions as necessary, so hopefully comrades will bear with us! We are very open to proposals for shorter or longer introductions, film reviews, discussions about your favourite book, etc. Please email proposals to info@whymarx.com.

From March 14, Ian Spencer will be presenting a bi-weekly series called ‘The ABC of Marxism’, in which we want to rediscover some of the basic ideas of Marx and Engels - and their political method. Too often, their work has been split up into economics, politics and philosophy, when clearly their ideas in these areas are deeply interlinked. We want to recombine those ideas and present them in a coherent and hopefully entertaining and thought-provoking manner, to help new generations discover just why Marx and Engels have been so important in our working class history. But we also want to reach the long-term socialists and communists with whom we’ve had such fruitful discussions about Marxism in our previous sessions. Discussing and sometimes arguing over their ideas in an open and democratic way is the best way to learn and perhaps reassess some of their work.

Comrade Spencer will start the series with a look at Marx’s and Engels’ crucial concept of the “working class as the gravedigger of capitalism”, in the context of the transition of feudalism to capitalism and how their ‘lived experience’ in Germany and England helped shape their ideas. The comrade has planned eight sessions, but who knows where the series takes us - we’ve been known to expand and adjust sessions according to the debates with the audience.

Sign up to both series to keep abreast with the timetables, etc, at www.whymarx.com/sessions.

Why Marx? and LLA


Comrade Andrew Northall has reverted back to anti-faction absolutism - he wants communists to ban factions in the party (Letters, February 15). Previously he argued that, although factions are clearly sometimes an historical necessity, they should not be aimed for or constitutionally enshrined (Letters, February 1). Now the comrade makes his position clear when he says bluntly: “They should not be permitted.”

According to Andrew, the correct application of democratic centralism on the basis of Marxism-Leninism (a theory and practice which collapsed in the former Soviet Union) allows members ample opportunities in their branches and on elected higher committees to influence and shape policy. In this fantasy world, Communist Party members always act as individuals in their effort to influence or change party policy. But we know that in real life people will have co-thinkers who seek to win over the party. That is the essence of a faction, not its organisational form.

Since factions produce and distribute their own material, informed party members will know what they stand for and can evaluate them on this basis. Like most things in life, they have a negative and a positive side. They can be disruptive, but who can deny that factions also sharpen your political wits, raising your consciousness to a higher level?

If factions are sometimes historically necessary, why should they be banned? Communists need not advocate factions, because having factions is not an ideal situation, but it may be necessary to form one - therefore formally banning them would be wrong. I certainly don’t advocate factions, but I would argue against banning them for the reason given previously by Andrew: they may be necessary at certain stages.

There has never been a case in history where a communist party had independently taken power on the basis of banning factions, and we can be certain that we will never be provided with an example of one. The automatic banning of factions in the party is a sign that the party is becoming bureaucratised. It is essentially a sign that a totalitarian leadership is taking over. Most of these bureaucrats are usually not candidates for leading communism to power. In Russia, the banning of factions came after the Bolsheviks won the civil war, and the revolution was victorious. But Andrew wants to ban factions before the revolution, and even before the communists have won over the working class. This simply leads to a bureaucratised party before, instead of after, the revolution and reduces the chances of such a party ever taking power independently. The two best examples of a communist party coming to power independently were the Bolsheviks and the Communist Party of China - and both had factions.

Lenin was not the origin of faction phobia. The Dictionary of political thought by Roger Scruton explains that “Fear of, and hostility towards, factions motivated much of the 16th and 17th century absolutism, and subsequent constitutionalism often had, as one of its aims, the stilling of faction through permanent procedures of balance and conciliation” (p164).

Faction phobia is clearly not new, and hostility towards them was behind much of the absolutism of the past - just as it is behind much of the totalitarian mindset today. Since the question of factions has a long political history, we should not be too surprised that this issue arose within the context of communism. Nor should we be surprised that it arose within Russian communism, given the political tradition of tsarist absolutism, which due to negative events found its reflection in communist ranks at the highest level. When Lenin banned factions he was simply reverting back to Russia’s political past, which was tsarist absolutism.

If we ban factions (although, as I have pointed out, Andrew previously told us they may sometimes be necessary), we give an important weapon to bourgeois counterrevolution in the party and socialist state. As communists, we don’t need to advocate factions, but we don’t need to ban them either. Why? Because sometimes they might be necessary.

Finally, Andrew says that I persistently assert that the Bolsheviks should not have made a revolution in 1917. This is not my view, and I have never argued it. What I argue is that Russia was not ready for the transition to socialism, and therefore Lenin was wrong to go over to Trotskyist-style ultra-leftism and start a socialist revolution. It was on this basis that Trotsky joined the party. The Bolsheviks should have led a radical democratic revolution in a united front with the other socialist parties on the basis of a mixed economy. Lenin’s New Economic Policy, originally promoted by Trotsky, was a late recognition that this strategy was correct.

When the Mensheviks pointed out that the Bolsheviks were stealing their policy, they were arrested. But they had contributed to their own fate by walking out of the soviets when the Bolsheviks seized power.

Tony Clark
For Democratic Socialism


Hannu Reime, the pedantic academic from Helsinki, objects to my characterisation of the Maidan events of 10 years ago as a “US-sponsored counterrevolutionary coup”, because there was no revolution and therefore there could be no counterrevolution.

Certainly neither “Viktor Yanukovych, the super-rich, super-corrupted then-president of Ukraine” (who was also democratically elected, he forgot to mention), nor Vladimir Putin were revolutionaries of any shape or form, I must agree. But they were never the main enemy: that remains US imperialism, and the Kiev regime is its proxy in the assault on the global south and all its enemies, as it tries to halt and reverse its historic declining grip on the world. Its aims of continuing to suck the lifeblood out of Africa, south-east Asia and all semi-colonial lands is now approaching World War III. Victoria Nuland’s “fuck the EU” and installing the US preferred candidate in power and the admitted $5 billion they spent in preparing and organising the Maidan coup might assist Hannu in working out the rights and wrongs of the conflict.

But, if we consult Wikipedia, we discover that there was indeed a revolution - the ‘Revolution of Dignity’, which triumphed magnificently. They were fighting “widespread government corruption and abuse of power, the influence of Russia and oligarchs, police brutality, human rights violations, and repressive anti-protest laws”. And there was a counterrevolution: “Pro-Russian, counterrevolutionary protests erupted in southern and eastern Ukraine. Russia occupied and then annexed Crimea, while armed pro-Russian separatists seized government buildings and proclaimed the independent states of Donetsk and Luhansk, sparking the Donbas war.”

Please do not mention the Odessa Trade Union House massacre of May 2 2014, where fascists killed at least 46 inside that building (relatives claim up to 100 were slaughtered), battering to death those who made it to the ground, whilst the police and army benignly looked on. The inhabitants of the Donbass did not need Putin to tell them that they had to defend themselves against the fascist onslaught.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of these great events on January 14 one Mark Estabrook has produced Euromaidan revolution volumes 1 and 2 - a snip at only £795! He gushes in praise of the “revolution”: “We should never forget these brave people. This book is about Kyiv, Ukraine (Maidan) [in] February 2014 … This book is a celebration of the Ukrainian people. God bless Ukraine!” - he finishes with a version of Stepan Bandera’s rallying cry.

But on the fifth anniversary of the Maidan events The Independent had a few words of caution about these events. On November 20 2018, Oliver Carroll reported from Kiev; “The protest ultimately chose its own, revolutionary path, and not every step along the way was beautiful. As Maidan moved to its more militaristic phase, the democratic ideals that motivated the original EU flag-waving activists to the streets often seemed far away. The flags, for a start, changed. In place of the yellow stars of Europe came the black and red of the Second World War anti-Soviet partisans, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army. While the nationalist militias that flew these flags may never have represented the majority of protestors, they were certainly its loudest and strongest. In the last weeks they were a key cog of the resistance. When, for example, protestors detained ‘titushki’, the Yanukovych-hired thugs who intimidated Kiev for weeks on end, the task of administering ‘justice’ was often handed to the rightwing radicals … In the months that followed, as a shell-shocked nation came to terms with its revolution, these nationalist groups claimed a chunk of the political vacuum. To this day, they continue to occupy key positions in and around government, and without clear popular legitimacy. The interior ministry’s links with the far right continue to be one of Maidan’s most troubling legacies.”

Al Jazeera informs us that the Azov regiment was founded by Andriy Biletsky, who merged the Patriot of Ukraine (founded in 2005) and the neo-Nazi Social National Assembly (2008). In 2010, Biletsky said Ukraine’s national purpose was to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade … against Semite-led Untermenschen [inferior races]”. The Ukrainian far-right fascists of the Azov Battalion, the Right Sector, etc politically dominate the Kiev armed forces. There are photographs of straight-arm Nazi salutes and of banners and tattoos sported by the Ukraine army, consisting of the swastikas, the Black Sun, etc.

Hannu Reime clearly does not know where lies revolution and where lies counterrevolution.

Gerry Downing
Socialist Fight

Not Galloway

Carla Roberts gives a good account of the discreditable shambles which the Rochdale by-election has become (‘Thou shalt not criticise Israel’, February 15). It is an indictment of the abysmal depths to which Labour under Starmer has sunk.

But Roberts goes on to call for a vote for George Galloway. As a former Galloway supporter, I have been saddened to see his political degeneration. At one time an articulate and courageous spokesperson against imperialism and Labour betrayals, Galloway has adopted a ragbag of positions, some of them openly reactionary.

Roberts does not mention the independent candidacy of Mark Coleman. Yet to me he looks like the only honest candidate in this swamp of corruption. As a supporter of Just Stop Oil, Coleman has gone to jail in pursuit of his principles, despite having serious health problems. He is campaigning against Labour’s betrayals, and especially against the fact that Starmer has now effectively become a climate-change denier.

Coleman is a clergyman - nobody’s perfect. But I would far sooner have someone guided by his moral principles to attack Labour’s rightward move than a self-proclaimed atheist willing to back Starmer and Islamophobia.

In my view the revolutionary left should give Coleman full practical support in terms of finance, leafleting, etc. A good vote for Coleman would be a warning shot to Starmer, and an encouragement to all those hoping to build a left alternative to Labour.

Ian Birchall
North London

No debate

Every year Harlow Labour councillors attend a Holocaust Memorial Day event, at which the holocaust and other genocides are remembered, yet the Labour East regional office of the Labour Party will not allow members of Harlow Labour Party to discuss a motion supporting the upholding of an international law - the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which came into being as a response to the holocaust.

The International Court of Justice has ruled that the state of Israel must take certain measures to avoid committing genocide in the war in the Gaza Strip. Israel has ignored this ruling and, given that the UK is providing both direct military assistance and weapons to the state of Israel, the British government could be found guilty of complicity in genocide.

I submitted a motion to Harlow Constituency Labour Party calling on Keir Starmer to demand that the government uses all the means at its disposal to ensure that Israel complies with the ruling by the International Court of Justice, and I was told that my motion was disallowed.

Since when was it controversial to discuss upholding the Genocide Convention? As far as I am aware, every political tendency across the political spectrum, from neoliberal conservatives to anarchist communists, is opposed to violating international humanitarian law. I am beginning to wonder if I have crossed over into a parallel universe.

The death toll in the Gaza Strip mounts by the day, and still the Labour prospective parliamentary candidate for Harlow keeps silent. If a politician is not prepared to speak out in support of measures to prevent genocide, then it must be asked whether he is actually a careerist devoid of any principles.

John Wake

Same clowns

If we mixed the red, white and blue, and the green, white and gold together, we in Ireland could all embrace that as our national flag. We could play Irish sports and ‘other’ sports on alternate days and that way we’d all be happy, right? The 99% of the other aspects of our shared culture like watching television and smartphone use, and driving and talking about the weather, etc, we could just keep the same.

We’re born into a society which conditions us to see ourselves as ‘either one or the other’. We’re conditioned to focus on the inconsequentials - like the colour of the flag, and the football team we support, for example. We may not realise that a change in the economic system would make a fundamental difference, or the change in the financial system. Just a change in the border.

Imagine having a maximum wage. That would be real change. The implications would revolutionise society. Now, it doesn’t mean everyone would be happy about this, but come on ...

Whether we are governed from Dublin or Westminster won’t make any difference. We’re still being governed by the same clowns who’ve helped legitimise the emperor’s new clothes.

Louis Shawcross
County Down

Mass party?

Sure, a tiny outfit of a few people will likely be unable to have much of an impact, but what do you mean by “mass party”? What would the criteria for joining such a party be?

Marx wrote that the dominant ideas are those of the ruling class. Would anything revolutionary ever be more than a small minority up to the eve of revolution? I think we certainly need a revolutionary party, but I hesitate to describe that as “mass” in any way. It is the class-conscious revolutionary vanguard, not a government in waiting, nor open to the entirety of the class, regardless of political perspective.

Ant Evans


Michael Roberts uses the “period after the launch of the ECB’s asset purchase programme in 2015” to demonstrate that the state of “the real economy” influences monetary conditions, and not vice versa (‘Isabel Schnabel’s last mile’, February 15).

But he seems to wilfully ignore the global financial crisis, which was the proximate cause of universal balance sheet weakness in the 2010s. Did the credit crisis and the failure of Lehman Bros cause a sudden change in the rate of profit or the productivity of labour? No, it was a monetary, financial and psychological shock, of the type whose pertinence to economic effects he dogmatically denies. 



Jack Grahl