No to boycott

On April 18 I attended a rather interesting talk hosted by the Communist Culture Club on communists and elections. In the discussion, comrade Alan Story disagreed with the whole notion of communists running in elections, proposing as an alternative an active spoiled ballot campaign. He talked about a large layer of the left - now being led at least in part by the Democratic Socialists of America - as an example of this tactic being used effectively. I strongly disagree with both the general point being made and that the example provided supports his case.

Story isn’t speaking nonsense when he says that communist electoral campaigns resulting in tiny votes (and lost deposits in the case of British elections) can be demoralising. While there will generally be a core of committed activists eager to run such campaigns, running year after year to consistently gain only three-digit vote totals per constituency isn’t going to be the most inspiring use of an organisation’s time and resources. Part of this follows from the fact that communist politics don’t yet have a mass appeal in society, so, regardless of the number of canvassing hours put into a campaign, there is going to be a fairly low number of people who will vote for a communist in most cases.

Another part, however, can be addressed by a shifting of priorities - as Edmund Griffiths pointed out in ‘How we should contest’ (Weekly Worker March 7), left groups in recent history have a tendency to stand far more candidates than their size and resources would allow, blunting their ability to mount a major campaign in two or three areas for the sake of an organisation putting its name in front of as many eyes as possible. The inefficiency of this from a resources perspective can certainly blunt its effectiveness over time. Those limitations need not be the case if left groups were willing to think seriously about what to do differently, so I don’t think communists simply abandoning independent election campaigns is the answer.

Moreover, Story’s proposed alternative of an active spoiled ballot campaign runs into the same potential drawbacks as the current electoral model, without the few benefits that running candidates can provide. Logistically, a spoiled ballot campaign would require boots on the ground in the same way as an election campaign in order to attract significant support. And, while a spoiled ballot campaign does have the benefit that it can be done in any constituency, whereas communist candidates can only be voted for in the constituency they’re running in, without a significant campaign infrastructure the result will largely be the same - spoiled ballots running at a few hundred per constituency.

However, election campaigns allow communists to put their programme in front of voters and give groups an opportunity to explain how a communist would use their election to push that programme forward. It may not win a mass audience at this time, and some groups may camouflage their politics behind more ‘acceptable’ leftwing platitudes, but the opportunity to present a coherent alternative to capitalism and the rule of the bourgeoisie is there in a way that doesn’t quite exist in non-election periods. A spoiled ballot campaign, on the other hand, will by and large end up without much meaningful political content, aside from a register of dissatisfaction with the choices on offer. That doesn’t actually do much for the advancement of communist politics.

With this in mind, it is worth considering the ‘Michigan Uncommitted’ campaign that comrade Story used as an example of what he considered an effective spoiled ballot intervention. In my view, the reality of that campaign - and many of the similar campaigns that have been launched in other states - are actually more like a traditional US election campaign in terms of the politics they are putting forward. Part of this is due to the specifics of presidential primaries for the major parties - the people actually being voted for are delegates pledged to the candidate whose names they’re running under. Similarly, someone casting a vote for an ‘Uncommitted’ option will be contributing to the possibility of sending Uncommitted delegates to the Democrats’ national convention.

As for the politics of the Uncommitted campaigns, they are running specifically on a platform of Palestinian solidarity and opposition to the Biden administration’s support for Israel. These could be seen as insufficient from a communist perspective, but nevertheless are providing a clear platform for someone to vote for, rather than simply trying to get voters to cast an undifferentiated ‘none of the above’ vote.

As of writing, 27 Uncommitted delegates have been elected, and about a dozen more states have yet to hold their primaries, so there is the possibility of more. These delegates have an opportunity - assuming some coordination and political leadership, which an organisation like the DSA could take the lead on - to be a tribune for the Palestinian people and a potentially disruptive force at the convention, bringing some of the politics that will no doubt be expressed outside by protestors onto the floor of the convention itself.

In this way, despite the small numbers of Uncommitted delegates that will be attending, there is a chance for political agitation beyond the individual primary election itself that a spoiled ballot campaign is just not equipped to do - but a traditional election campaign at least could if it manages to win a seat here or there.

To end with another partial point of agreement with comrade Story, I also think that the Uncommitted campaign in the Democratic primaries has been inspiring and something we can learn from, and I am proud to have played a small role in the Uncommitted New Jersey campaign, as it has developed in the past month and a half. I do not think that it should be used to provide support for arguing against communists participating in elections with candidates and in favour of a spoiled ballot campaign. If anything, it is precisely the opposite.

Peter Moody
New Jersey

Vote for who?

My postal vote for the upcoming local elections arrived at the weekend. The council in Peterborough has been run by the Tories as either a majority or as the largest party since 2000. And it shows - not only in the steady running down of services and infrastructure, alongside increasing council tax (the maximum that could be imposed without a referendum in some cases), but also in the staggering ineptitude in planning and allocation of funds and investments.

Recently a split has taken place amongst the Tory group, which arguably started as a coup against the toxic council leader. This led to the creation of ‘Peterborough First’, made up almost exclusively of ex-Tories and therefore involved to a greater or lesser degree in the running of the city in the past years.

Despite comments in the local press about this disastrous legacy of the Tory-led council, the Labour group have not ruled out forming an agreement, presumably a formal coalition or confidence and supply agreement with ... Peterborough First!

Even considering some form of coalition before postal votes had appeared on doormats shows that locally Labour has no real plan, no concrete policies to offer the electorate - not even a manifesto on the website. It seems they’re simply relying on the anti-Tory mood to get them somewhere near power, and then sacrifice whatever platitudes they’ve offered to get it.

Perhaps the Labour group leaders have seen that many on the left in Peterborough have stated their intentions to vote Green, in protest at the state of the national Labour Party - specifically in regards to Gaza, the anti-Semitism campaign against Corbyn, and Starmer’s outsourcing of policy to the Tories. A case can be made for the use of gesture politics, or ‘lending your vote’; however, what it does show is the general weak state of the left.

Indeed, a case could be made for Peterborough being a microcosm of the national picture. The prospective parliamentary Labour candidate - parachuted in by HQ ahead of a popular local left candidate - is drifting on ambiguous, tedious and largely empty platitudes, which are deemed safe ground by Labour HQ, with a glaringly apparent lack of policies for the city or country. He too seems to be hoping that the anti-Tory mood will be enough to win him the seat.

So what are we to do, when there are no socialist (let alone communist) candidates in our local or indeed national elections, which are likely to take place later this year? Do we lend votes to the ‘least bad’ option? Do we abstain from voting? What do the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition or the Workers Party really represent and are they the option?

Following a very interesting aggregate meeting of the CPGB, where such questions, and more, were discussed, I look forward to the debates that are likely to take place in the pages of the Weekly Worker and at meetings around the country. Hopefully this leads to a rounded-out analysis of what elections are and can be; whether we participate and how; and how we incorporate that into building a mass communist party.

Carl Collins


I thought Jack Conrad’s article, ‘Two election tactics’, on the revolutionary strategy and tactics of the Bolsheviks from 1905 to 1917 - with a special focus on Bolshevik electoral strategy and tactics and how these were always subordinate to the “main task to develop the class consciousness and independent class organisation of the proletariat” - was absolutely excellent and Conrad at his best.

Although a little on the long side, it was top quality, extremely well researched, and will hopefully do a great deal to demonstrate what Bolshevism, which later became known as Leninism and then Marxism-Leninism, was genuinely all about: ie, both the independent and leading role of the working class; and the true emancipation of the working class and working masses through socialism.

Andrew Northall


Comrade Steve Bloom’s letter, headed ‘Republicanism’ (April 18), usefully draws our attention to his opposition role on the International Executive Committee of the (Mandelite) Fourth International (formerly Unified Secretariat of the Fourth International) in the mid-1980s to mid-2000s.

I was unaware of this when I was a member of the British section, the International Socialist Group, in 1986-93, probably because of the extent to which the part of the leadership that was in contact with the FI’s leading bodies did not feed information back into the section, except insofar as it suited their particular clique/faction interests. The point is an important one: we in the CPGB endeavour as far as possible to conduct debates in public; the FI’s method of privacy produces not just secrets from the class, but also secrets from the membership - and even secrets of the top leaders from the formal central committee.

That said, the polemic in my article (‘Deal with the arguments’, February 22) was not mainly about the 1980s-2000s, but that comrade Bloom’s argument for ‘anti-schematism’ was the common view of his and my own youth in the 1960s-70s USFI and its response - which he cited - to the Cuban revolution. And my article argued that this response can be seen from the subsequent history to have been false, and that ‘anti-schematism’ already produced false results in the period in which the FI majority pursued diluted Guevarism in the late 1960s-early 1970s, and in the period of the idea of the strategy of dual power and the ‘new mass vanguard’ developed after May 1968 in France, which reached a dead end in Portugal in 1974-76, before the mid-late 1980s turn to ‘parties not delimited between reform and revolution’. Comrade Bloom does not respond to these arguments, or to my point about scientific method, that “anti-schematism itself becomes an untestable or ‘unfalsifiable’ claim”.

Nor does his letter offer an answer to my argument that the mass-strike strategy or ‘strategy of dual power’, for which he relies on Rosa Luxemburg, and the insistence that it is wrong to make the political revolution the first step in the social revolution, are versions of Mikhail Bakunin’s critique of the ‘Marx party’ in 1869-71, and that this approach has been tested repeatedly by left groups and failed over and over again.

As to a “bourgeois-democratic republic”, there is an issue of substance between us, which deserves more in-depth argument than is possible in an exchange of letters. I think that the idea of “bourgeois democracy” is deeply misleading and prettifies the character of the capitalist rule-of-law regime, which is necessarily plutocratic-oligarchical. It often has monarchical elements (eg, the US presidency) and aristocratic ones (the judicial power), and only limited and subordinate democratic elements.

Finally, I hope that he will read Revolutionary strategy and criticise it so far as is necessary. But his decision to polemicise against the US Marxist Unity Group comrades in complete ignorance of the book is startling, given that, first, MUG explicitly uses the book as a point of reference. And secondly, comrade Bloom’s critique of MUG on the democratic republic is in part polemicising with Gil Shaeffer’s 2021 Cosmonaut article, ‘Democracy and socialism, the two edges of Marxism’s knife’, which in turn explicitly criticises the arguments of Revolutionary strategy.

The issue is the same point that I made at the beginning of my February 22 article about comrade Bloom’s claim that he was “unable to check or document” my oral comments about Rosa Luxemburg - which would be thrown up as the first result of a Google search on “Mike Macnair Rosa Luxemburg”. It is a sloppy method.

Mike Macnair

Corbyn film

The film about Jeremy Corbyn that Glastonbury festival tried to ban is now to be made available online. The documentary Oh Jeremy Corbyn - the big lie, which was launched in January 2023, claims that the former Labour leader was targeted by a coordinated campaign to undermine him, which it says included false accusations of anti-Semitism.

Narrated by Alexei Sayle - with contributions from film director Ken Loach, former Corbyn advisor Andrew Murray, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi of Jewish Voice for Labour and many others - the documentary was due to be screened at Glastonbury last year, but was dropped by the organisers after they were hit by an online smear campaign accusing the film itself of anti-Semitism.

After Glastonbury, the film was shown over 350 times in cinemas, halls, community centres and other venues across the country to thousands of people, despite attempts to suppress it. But the demand to see it is still growing, which is why we are now making the film freely available online, so that as many people as possible can see the truth about what happened to Jeremy Corbyn.

Events in Gaza have given the film a new significance. Given Jeremy Corbyn’s long-time support for the Palestinian cause, Britain’s response to events in Gaza would be very different if he’d been prime minister. No wonder that powerful people here and abroad wanted to ensure he never came close to entering 10 Downing Street.

The film is produced by award-winning, documentary maker Platform Films, which is now working on a follow-up production, Big lie II, which will focus on events in Palestine and their impact on British politics.

Platform Films has been making films since the 1980s and has produced programmes for the BBC and Channel Four. When it goes online, Oh Jeremy Corbyn will be added to Platform’s YouTube channel. Here viewers will find a unique archive of over 300 radical films about social, political and trade union issues, all of which are now freely available.

Oh Jeremy Corbyn - the big lie is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXvaWz4gpTc.

Norman Thomas
Platform Films