In his article last week, Mike Macnair, a former Trotskyist, is determined to spread as much confusion as possible about Trotskyism, and the transitional programme and method, to justify his own conversion to the third-campism of the CPGB (‘Minimum programme again’, June 27).

He does acknowledge that that programme originated in the Comintern, in its 1921 Third Congress and the discussions in Germany on the disaster that was the ‘March action’ misadventure in 1921. The transitional programme (TP) was codified in the Fourth Congress of 1922, it was not a 1938 invention of Trotsky: he merely updated it for the new circumstance of the approaching World War II, which he correctly foresaw would bring revolutionary situations which genuine revolutionary socialists must prepare to lead.

It was wrong of the Comintern to expel Paul Levi for correctly criticising this ‘Bakuninist-influenced’ (anarchist) action in public, and neither Lenin nor Trotsky were then prepared to take on Béla Kun, Grigory Zinoviev and Karl Radek, the main targets of his criticisms. Levi wrote an introduction to Leon Trotsky’s Lessons of October in 1924 which now began to openly criticise the trio following the death of Lenin in January 1924.

The central motivation of the TP is there must be an organic connection between what demands we popularise in the working class and where we want to go: the socialist revolution to overthrow the capitalist state, take power and initiate a workers’ state. The minimum/maximum programme of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) put forward reformist, minimum demands to achieve advancements for the workers and envisaged the revolution as an event that would objectively unfold in its own good time without the need to politically prepare the vanguard of the masses to lead it by advanced propaganda, and the masses themselves by agitational demands. Macnair and all centrists and third-campists essentially follow this lead, guided by apologists for the SPD’s “pope of Marxism” (Lenin’s mocking term), Karl Kautsky, and Grigory Zinoviev, like Lars T Lih and Ben Lewis.

I have more respect for what Andrew Northall says about what’s wrong with the CPGB’s take on min/max demands than on Steve Freeman’s three-stage revolutionary theory, which lacks entirely any orientation to a socialist revolution apart from one which might come in its own good time irrespective of human agency. This is not to excuse Northall’s blind spot on the crimes of Joe Stalin; we would suggest if he had lived in the USSR under Stalin and made the arguments he is now making he would have been rewarded with a swift bullet in the back of the head because he had become a “Trotskyite-fascist”.

But it really is beyond the beyond for the third-campist, Macnair, to accuse me of … third campism: “I flag comrade Downing’s ‘anti-Pabloism’ both because he does so himself and because his account of why the Fourth International of 1938 failed rests - implicitly, if not openly - on the ‘anti-Pabloite’ mantra that ‘Stalinism is counterrevolutionary through and through’” (my emphasis).

I have never had such a position. This was Joe Hansen’s incorrect line against those who later became third-campists and then outright supporters of US imperialism over the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam: Max Shachtman and his followers. Stalinism is a counterrevolutionary political current, like Labourism and social democracy internationally, but they remain currents within the working class, so the “through and through” bit is false. Therefore, like the trade union bureaucracy (Trotsky compared Stalinism to a trade union bureaucracy which had taken state power), they are forced to carry out some progressive acts, in defence of the source of their own corrupt power and privileges. Hansen was later to switch this ultra-left characterisation to a rightist designation of Cuba’s leader, Fidel Castro, as “an unconscious Marxist” - an obvious contradiction in terms. This was also mainly the line also of the Pabloites in Europe, thus facilitating the unprincipled 1963 fusion.

That 1953 debate in the US SWP was over how to characterise the ‘buffer zone states’ in eastern Europe, which were under the control of Stalin via the Red Army. Initially these states remained capitalist (‘people’s states’) until late 1948, when some showed willingness to accept Marshall aid from the US. Then it was necessary to entirely expropriate the capitalist character of these states to block US intervention. Stalin founded deformed workers’ states (with a few problems in Yugoslavia and Albania) to directly control them to protect the USSR, as the cold war developed.

As another example we might take Cuba’s transformation into a deformed workers’ state after the defeat of the Jack Kennedy/CIA-organised Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961. In the 1966 International Committee Third World conference in London Gerry Healy’s Socialist Labour League continued to designate Cuba as a capitalist state “with a weak bourgeoisie” and Pierre Lambert of the French section of the International Communist Opposition had the line that it had a “shadow of the bourgeoisie”. James Robertson, the future leader of the Spartacist League, wittily observed that, “While the nationalisation in Algeria now amounts to some 15% of the economy, the Cuban economy is, in essence, entirely nationalised; China probably has more vestiges of its bourgeoisie. If the Cuban bourgeoisie is indeed ‘weak’ … one can only observe that it must be tired from its long swim to Miami, Florida.” An outraged Healy had him expelled from the conference for this spot-on piss-take.

But the real problem with Macnair’s line of attack on Trotskyism is to downplay and effectively dismiss the counterrevolutionary popular front alliances Stalin made with US/western imperialism and the ‘unpopular front’ with Nazi Germany from 1939 to 1941, primarily dedicated to murdering wholesale the revolutionary socialists, Trotskyists, in the USSR from 1934, and those members of the communists parties who genuinely sought ‘a new October’ in Germany, France, Italy, Greece, Vietnam and Algeria. In Greece, between October and December 1944, the National Civil Guard mounted a campaign of extermination against the Trotskyists. Throughout the country, its agents abducted, tortured and murdered militants. Dockers, metalworkers and teachers all suffered alike. “We killed more than 800 Trotskyists,” a member of its political bureau said.

Trotsky makes the point that if the Provisional Government had succeeded in assassinating Lenin before the October revolution in 1917 then that revolution would almost certainly have failed, as he himself did not have the authority that Lenin had in the central committee because of his previous anti-Bolshevism. Imperialist secret state forces assassinate working class leaders directly themselves and via their agents in rival political groups because they are acutely aware of the importance of certain figures in the political struggle. I would mention their role in the recent ‘troubles’ in Ireland and the assassination of figures like Seamus Costello and the Irish civil war assassinations of Republican leaders like Liam Mellows, doubtlessly on the guidance of the British state.

“How this bears on the present question is that comrade Downing explains the failure of the Trotskyists in 1939-48 merely ‘because the Stalinists and the imperialists had formed their popular fronts to defeat the revolution and assassinate the revolutionaries’,” Macnair writes. Don’t you like the contemptuous word, ‘merely’. It wouldn’t have made any difference if they had not been assassinated, because where they were, like in Britain, they still did not lead a revolution, he asserts, as if the global picture did not exist. This is also ignored in his debunking of Andrew Northall’s line.

Macnair writes, “What the communists in fact did at the second congress of Comintern in 1920 was the opposite. It was, in the Theses on the role of the communist party in the proletarian revolution, to theorise minority rule, on the basis that the working class as a class was necessarily represented by its ‘advanced part’, the party: so that the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ means the dictatorship of the party.”

This is also ignoring the international situation, the defeat of the revolution in Germany in October 1923 and the withering away of the soviets as democratic organs of workers’ power due to great mass disappointment that no help was coming from revolutions in the advanced countries and famine in 1921-22. Imperialist academics and Stalinists agree that Leninism inevitably led to Stalinism and equate the revolutionary action taken by the young Soviet state in its own defence, Kronstadt is most often cited, with the counterrevolutionary violence of the Stalinist bureaucracy, from 1929, escalating after Stalin’s murder of Sergei Kirov in 1934, because he had got a bigger standing ovation and more votes for the central committee at the 17th Congress of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) that year. Stalin murdered the majority of the delegates and central committee members during the great purges in revenge.

In footnote 18, Macnair asserts: “There was, in fact, some ‘religious cleansing’ of 26-county Protestants after partition: see R Bury Buried lives: the Protestants of southern Ireland Dublin 2017”. It is true that many Church of Ireland Protestants did emigrate to England and elsewhere, but the reason for that was that many were informers for the Black and Tans and auxiliaries, who immediately murdered the IRA men on the “information shared with the crown forces” - as a recent book coyly described their role. Tom Barry’s IRA in West Cork executed these informers and that, amazingly, enormously reduced the death rate of the IRA freedom fighters.

Finally, Macnair avoids many of my central arguments in my letter because he has no answers and hopes no-one will question him on it.

Gerry Downing
Socialist Fight

Good old SPGB

How eye-opening was Robin Cox’s letter in your last edition in response to Mike Macnair’s criticisms of the Socialist Party of Great Britain (June 27).

He was spot on in writing that “nothing more is required to institute full communism, once a significant majority of workers come to want and understand it”. He was quite right in stating that “those who bang on endlessly about the alleged need for some mythical transitional period are really only looking for an excuse to hang onto capitalism in the hopeful pretence that this might make them seem more pragmatic and plausible in the rough and tumble of capitalist politics”. As he wrote too, “you can’t have an alternative to capitalism unless the idea of such an alternative becomes widely circulated - unless you throw yourself into the whole business of ‘making socialists’, as William Morris put it”.

Apart from the SPGB, the only group seeming to want to put their energies into doing this are the newly emerged ‘Communist Future’ in Manchester, even though amongst them some residual attachment to the idea of ‘transitional’ reforms is still identifiable.

Howard Moss


John Smithee is a notorious extreme liberal posing as a communist - he wants us communists to legalise drug taking! (Letters, June 27).

It’s obvious that he is on dope himself. And it’s also obvious that we can expect communism to reflect, in some individual cases like Smithee, the degenerate aspects of bourgeois society. The truth is that, while drug taking may not harm some people, in other cases it may have disastrous, psychotic effects.

In a previous letter, Smithee argued that calling for a vote for Labour will serve to discredit communists. But he is the only one in Britain I see bringing discredit to the communists - similar to the extreme liberals posing as communists on the other side of the Atlantic, the American Spartacists. I have disagreements with Leninism on certain issues, but Lenin was correct to argue that the working class are spontaneously social democratic. In other words, a vote for the Labour Party, even when led by a rightwing leadership, is an unconscious vote for socialism.

Tony Clark
For Democratic Socialism

Well done, Carla

Excuse my irony, but surely I’m not alone in finding the output from Carla Roberts nothing short of scandalous - she routinely blends searingly accurate assessment with purposefully targeted light-heartedness: to add insult to injury, all in language that’s readily understandable by any reader, whatever happens to be their particular level of revolutionary ‘development’.

So can nobody from anywhere within the political-intellectual complex that is the Weekly Worker/CPGB get this person under control, where articles such as those risk leading the British working class to think for themselves rather than be allowed to continue unmolested in their utter horribleness? To be cunningly, thoroughly, heinously and extremely dangerously duped.

Something must be done to stop this nonsense, otherwise next thing we know the likes of Fiona Lali will jump ship from the Revolutionary Communist Party to join the ranks of the CPGB: and where can that all end, except with the surreal prospect of a consolidated Communist Party being developed as a genuine threat to our current super-exploitative, inevitably blood-drenched/rabidly warmongering global paradigm?

So, yes: prompt remedial action, please, aimed at Roberts and indeed all others of her dastardly type. Obviously not in any sense of applying Stalinist-modal ‘dictatorial’ control, but at least hopefully from those aware of how transcendence comes as part of all such precious new experience, in turn bringing irreversibly liberating growth.

Bruno Kretzschmar