The criticism of comrades

Party notes

Tom Delargy’s ironic letter (‘Scientific abuse’, printed alongside) aims to show that the use of terms perceived to be offensive serves to inhibit or even prevent the comradely exchange of views. Paradoxically, if anything, he proves the opposite.

If Mark Fischer or any other member of the CPGB were labelled a “scab”, a parliamentary cretin” or a “tool of Scottish nationalists” by any serious left critic or revolutionary group, they would be duty bound to examine carefully what was being alleged and consider whether there was any truth in the criticisms.

In fact comrade Delargy has - without a hint of irony - made just such an accusation. He stated that the CPGB’s call for an active boycott of Blair’s rigged referendum would be widely seen as a “scabbing operation”. An allegation of scabbing is an extremely serious charge, which demands a response. So because we respect the comrade’s point of view, we published his letter (see Weekly Worker August 14). Far from throwing up our hands in horror at the suggestion that our actions were akin to crossing a picket line of strikers, we patiently answered the points raised. To use comrade Delargy’s own mocking phrase, his accusation will “in no sense impede a continuation of constructive, comradely dialogue and fraternal debate”. We continue to engage with him polemically and to publish his opinions, including the latest ironic tirade.

For us what is important is the content of any criticism, not the terms in which it is expressed. Of course, if the comrade were in all seriousness to dub us ‘fascist’, then we would in all likelihood dismiss his remarks out of hand.

What then of the term ‘national socialist’? As comrade Blakiston points out (‘Innately superior’, below comrade Delargy’s letter), it had a precise and scientifically defined meaning long before Adolf Hitler adopted the phrase. The German fascists also took to using ‘socialism’ without the epithet (and JV Stalin used it to describe the Soviet Union). Is it suggested that the term ‘socialism’ itself should be abandoned because others have misused it? (In fact many on the left treat ‘communism’ in this way.)

So we do not accept that “‘national socialism’ is universally agreed to be a synonym for ‘Nazi’”. As we have pointed out many times, it encapsulates the reformist idea of establishing socialism in one country, or an ideology that combines nationalism with left rhetoric. The real point is - does Comrade Delargy really think he is accused of being a Nazi? In truth some comrades from Scottish Militant Labour are affecting outrage in order to avoid responding in a serious fashion to our criticisms. They know full well that we do not believe their opinions or strategy have anything at all to do with fascism. But it is so much easier to remain with the mainstream than to attempt to swim against the stream.

National aspirations in Scotland will spontaneously tend towards separatism unless we actively intervene. Far from being automatically socialistic or even progressive, nationalism in the context of present-day Britain has a reactionary content which outweighs the democratic nature of its opposition to the state. Revolutionaries must stand firm against the separatist tide, not adapt to it. Neither must they turn a deaf ear to the sincere warnings of friends.

The criticisms we make are those of comrades. Unlike some leading members of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, who in embarrassed silence refrain from criticising the nationalist turn of their SML co-thinkers for fear of upsetting them, we are not afraid of provoking irritation or anger. If that is what it takes to alert them to the danger, we are prepared to risk it.

Peter Manson