Striking absence

Although I have circulated a public document outlining the position of motion two to supporters at the July 5 general meeting of the London Socialist Alliance, I do not intend to engage in a point-by-point response to the innumerable allegations made by various articles in the Weekly Worker. Having over the last 25 years been labelled a Trotskyist, a Stalinist, a Pabloite, a reformist and a centrist by a variety of political opponents, I have no particular concern about how the CPGB chooses to describe me.

I do however have one bone to pick with comrade Bridge. Comrade Bridge seeks to deliberately mislead your readers about the location of the “local meetings and pickets”, his absence from which I referred to in my intervention on July 5. Contrary to the impression implicitly conveyed by comrade Bridge, the meetings and pickets from which he was absent took place neither in Lewisham, where I work, nor in Earls Court, where I live, but in the borough of Camden, where comrade Bridge lives.

To be exact, they were in connection with the Camden libraries strike of February-May 1998, to which the ad-hoc committee of the LSA had given verbal and financial support at a meeting at which comrade Bridge was present. This heroic 11-week strike by 150 library workers, the overwhelming majority of whom had no previous experience of industrial action, against a New Labour council intent on draconian cuts in jobs and services, had widespread popular support in comrade Bridge’s own borough (9,000 residents signed a petition in support of the strikers) and, if it had been successful, would have had the potential to serve as an inspiring example to other local government workers threatened by the wage cuts and redundancies contemplated by New Labour councils throughout the London area; undoubtedly the substantive defeat in Camden paved the way for the subsequent Blairite offensive against the Islington housing workers in the neighbouring borough.

Moreover, the strike had political implications of another kind, because the hostility to Bickerstaffe and the Unison bureaucracy, who failed, like comrade Bridge, to appear on the picket line, underlined the lessons of the Hillingdon dispute of the need for a rank and file movement within the union. I believe that the failure of the LSA, as a collective, to intervene in this dispute was a serious mistake, of far greater significance than some comrades’ penchant for Sunday lunch or eating ice cream in the park.

As comrade Bridge is doubtless aware, there was no socialist challenge to New Labour in Camden at the May 1998 local election - if comrade Bridge had stood in his own ward in Hampstead on a platform centred on the library dispute, we might have built a Socialist Alliance in Camden by now.

Finally, I wish the Weekly Worker had given the same extensive coverage to the Camden library strike as it did the relatively small LSA meeting. Had it done so, its stated beliefs in socialism from below and the primacy of the self-activity of the workers themselves would have a lot more credibility.

Toby Abse

Offered a lift

As usual comrades from the CPGB don’t let the facts get in the way of a story. A few corrections are necessary to help clarify your hyperbole and calm comrade Mark Fischer’s rantings (‘Party notes’ Weekly Worker July 16).

Comrade Duncan Chapple’s private letter that you circulated and published, which I still have difficulty understanding, is not an ‘internal document’ of the SDG - we are not a Leninist organisation - simply the individual thoughts of a comrade, and has not even been discussed by the SDG.

The CPGB seems to relish publishing private letters from other socialists. It is a pity that this is not extended to publishing resignations letters from your own comrades. The theoretical [sic] flourishing of papers and letters seems to be becoming a ‘trade mark’ of the CPGB, and will serve as a timely reminder, if one were needed, that the CPGB, far from wanting to work with comrades in a fraternal and cooperative fashion to help build an alliance of socialists, sees its work as splitting groups and a party-building exercise for the CPGB. No wonder after two years of these antics comrades in Manchester had a bellyful!

The notion of ‘conspiracy, plots and intrigue’ all directed at excluding the CPGB is silly. Some of the comrades I have been encouraging to attend the meeting voted with the CPGB. I even offered a lift to Danny Hammill to the meeting, despite him spending half the time during our recent SA meeting phoning through his ‘copy’ to his editor.

Far from wanting to exclude CPGB members from the Alliance, I have been more than willing to change the day of our SA meetings in Lewisham to allow CPGB members to attend. Seeing the CPGB operate is the best demonstration of how not to take the Alliance forward. Rubgy and our autumn conference are likely to be equally educational.

Nick Long
Lewisham SA convenor

Sect petulance

I have been following the recent debate about whether or not to publish the resignation letters of the Scottish comrades.

When I left the CPGB (to join another, also very demanding, organisation, not retire into private life or treat mental health problems), my letter was published in the Weekly Worker, for all that I was apparently consigned to the “living dead”. What intrigues me is why the same right is not being extended to Mary Ward and Nick Clarke.

I have read Mark Fischer’s reasons for this. They are not convincing to me, although anyone at a CPGB seminar who refused to call the Soviet Union a hell on earth would probably not convince anyone else either. Mind you, these seminars are scarcely mass forums of the class, so even one person would not be an infinitesimally small part of the attendance.

The CPGB seems to have lost ground recently. I hope the rather striking denial of democratic rights to ex-members is not the petulance of a sect under siege.

Andrew MacKay

CPGB cesspit

Regarding Mark Fischer’s notes on Trotsky, ‘Frozen in dogma’ (Weekly Worker July 16). In paragraph one, Fischer writes that the “calumny heaped onto the head of this revolutionary should be rejected with contempt by all partisans of the working class”.

However, in paragraph 2 Fischer tells us that Trotsky (“this great intellect of the 20th century”) made no meaningful contribution to the development of Marxism and goes on, in paragraph three, to say that Trotsky was tactically inept and a mechanical thinker. More, he was a technocrat which made his followers prone to capitulation to Stalinism.

In pararaph four, Trotsky was, according to Fischer, superficial. Paragraph five, he is contradictory and weak-willed and offers only an immature analysis of events. From paragraph six on, Trotsky is held personally responsible for spawning sterile sectarianism, biblical sects and capitulators to social democracy.

That Fischer thinks it sufficient to simply spew out an endless stream of insults about one of the most heroic and brilliant revolutionaries of the 20th century without any evidence and that this character assassination will have any effect other than to expose Fischer himself as just another in a long line of Stalinist hatchet men, then he is very much mistaken.

Why doesn’t Fischer stick to politics? Because he cannot honestly demonstrate where Trotsky was wrong on anything except of course where Trotsky himself has done the leg-work for him. Character assassination based on wishful thinking always will be the method of Stalinism and its heirs in the CPGB, who believe that rebuilding a political cesspit is a worthy activity for working class militants.

If Fischer thinks Trotsky was wrong on any issue or in any part of his analysis let’s see a serious attempt to grapple with it. Show us where Trotsky broke from the scientific method of Marxism, where his analysis degenerated into rationalism and reflected a bourgeois idealist approach. Then tell us how he was able to be wrong on a Monday, right on a Tuesday and wrong again on a Wednesday, as all you hit-and-run eclectics seem to pray is the case.

Fischer, with these silly notes, has attempted to heap calumny onto the reputation of Trotsky and I can only agree that he deserves the contempt of “all partisans of the working class”.

YM Evans

By a thread

I would like to add to the recent contributions from Martin Blum and Don Preston following Tony Cliff’s turgid defence of his state capitalist thesis in Socialist Review. Critiquing Cliff is akin to shooting fish in a barrel. However, I believe both comrades Blum and Preston failed to make some relevant points.

Cliff is more or less correct to state that workers were “completely passive” during the collapse of 1989-1991. The August coup and its subsequent suppression by Yeltsin did not witness workers mobilising for one side or the other. That internecine struggle within the bureaucracy was solved militarily and with relatively little fuss. The failure of that half-hearted, poorly executed and politically confused coup marked the end of even token opposition within the bureaucracy to capitalist restoration.

Cliff claims that because the “same personnel ... who managed the economy, society and politics ... continued to be at the top ... there was not a qualitative change between the Stalinist regimes and what exists at present in Russia and eastern Europe”. He fails to note the contradiction when, later in the article, he discusses form and content, referring approvingly to Marx’s attack on Proudhon: “The container and the content are not the same.” As a good Marxist, Cliff is surely aware that most ‘bourgeois revolutions’ in Europe were carried out by existing ruling elites - Prussian junkers, et al - while his own theory contends that the ruling Communist Party under Stalin - surely the “same personnel” - carried out counterrevolution in Russia.

Mechanically - and stupidly - Cliff states that “workers would have defended a workers’ state in the same way that workers always defend their unions”. They refused to defend the Soviet state in 1991 (unfortunately for Cliff, Russian workers also failed to defend the revolution against Stalin and the rising bureaucracy) - therefore the Soviet Union was not socialist. And if it wasn’t socialist it must have been capitalist.

Out of wickedness I will quote a lovely piece of Cliffism: “As at present no one denies that the regime is capitalist, it follows that it was capitalist before.” If someone were to deny that the current regime was capitalist would Cliff change his theory? If we all denied the world was spherical and claimed it was in fact flat, would that make it true? What happened to critical analysis, Marxist or otherwise?

Cliff states that “the pressure of world capitalism forced the Stalinist regime to become more and more similar to that of world capitalism. The laws of motion of the economy were identical to those of world capitalism”. “More and more similar” becomes “identical” - how and when? Answers on a postcard, please.

Andy Hannah