With regards to the London May Day march, Phil Rudge seems troubled by the idea that the Weekly Worker may not "understand" the "determination" of embittered trade unionists/Labour Party members and disaffected anarcho-green youth "to search for something different". If so, says Phil, "we are in big trouble" (Letters Weekly Worker May 11).
Chin up, Phil - have no fear! In her article, Mary Godwin stated that "any spontaneous upsurge of opposition to capitalism must be welcomed by communists" and remarked that the hatred of the 'guerrilla gardeners' for the British establishment was "commendable". Commenting on the Rover workers, she also said: "Of course it is good that these workers are not taking the loss of their jobs lying down".
No aristocratic or Olympian dismissal of spontaneous movements then from the Weekly Worker - just an honest recognition that the May Day riot, if that was what it was, symbolised "the unprecedented weakness of the labour movement" and that as communists rather than economists or tailists we will not give the thumbs up to a spontaneous upsurge or ideology "once it begins to take on an anti-working class and anti-socialist agenda".
In the May 4 issue of Weekly Worker two articles restated the CPGB's position on 'anti-capitalists' and drugs.
The front page was reminiscent of your June 18 1999 coverage, equating anti-capitalist protests with "a reactionary agenda". This claim is false and insulting, as these demonstrations are fighting the common enemy of communists - an end to the present oppressive economic system and liberation of the majority.
A more positive viewpoint would be to acknowledge that 'green', direct action groups have moved left - eg, Reclaim the Streets' involvement with Liverpool dockers - and could provide both allies for communists/socialists and also another approach to class struggle. The SWP and SPEW appear to have recognised this, as they participated, aware that Livingstone-tailism is not the only form of militant activity.
Contradicting your opposition to the anarchists' "'anything goes' individualism", the article concerning drugs appears to advance this hypothesis - "We want the human individual to exercise full and real control", being the best example. However, what about the effect this may have on others, the environment or economic circumstances?
Communists should be fighting for the collective interest ('class for itself'). To do this we need to highlight that drugs subvert humanity from the struggle and also the lengths capitalism's oligarchy will go to in order to control every facet of production, distribution and exchange.
We take great exception to Mary Godwin's article on the front page of the Weekly Worker - 'Blair's police stop May Day march'(May 4). To us the article reeks of sectarian bile and is nothing but Stalinist tosh and generally the sort of muck we expect from the MI5 stooges at the Mail, Sun, and Sunday Times.
You accused the May Day anti-capitalist protest as being a reactionary shift. You guys must live in an upside-down world: the title of the protest puts all your Marxist-Leninist sect pathetic front groups to shame with these very sad reformist slogans that you know can never be fulfilled under a capitalist society, but you'd rather patronise the working class than tell them like it is because of your snobbish elitism.
You take issue with the slogan as "bereft of any class content". Well, you must be very thick because the bourgeois papers were under no such illusion. The action was called on International Workers Day (a fact every member of the population over 10 with half an ounce of brain knows) and only one slogan - abolish capitalism. There could be no back-sliding by any wet liberals out there. The demonstration could not be taken over by environmentalists, as they tried in Seattle, Washington.
The argument that Class War, and others of the class struggle, anarchist/libertarian/communist milieu, has had with the likes of Reclaim the Streets has greatly moved a small but mass movement strongly to the left when it was under the threat of being led by reactionary green forces. It shows the blindness of your tendencies that you cannot engage with these groups who are looking for ways to change society in a constructive way. Either it is not happening (your view) or you are more cannon fodder for the sup.
You accuse the event and therefore Class War, etc of not engaging with the organised working class. Well, first off - where the hell is it? Hanging out with a bunch of Stalinist old soaks doesn't seem too positive to us - not that the option is one or the other. There was a Class War banner on last year's May Day march as well as Class War paper-sellers at the recent Rover demo in the Midlands. The event was appealing, reasonably successfully, to the whole class - start throwing stones when you can organise a demonstration with a few thousands for communism (whichever sort) - then you can criticise the idea of a demonstration of 5,000 against capitalism - until then you should put up or shut up. As it was, we were attempting to join with the May Day rally (so there goes your charge again) but due to the lack of backbone and legalistic approach shown by the May Day march this was not possible.
As for your charge of lumpenism - are the only people acceptable on your demonstrations skilled manual workers? As revolutionaries we have to deal with the class the way it is, not the way we would like it to be; we are also trying to persuade people to be more positive with their lives - what's your solution? Have them all killed in labour camps? It seems to us that all those on the left that don't subscribe to communist bullying are considered as anarchist filth.
We would consider the spraying of graffiti on the Cenotaph as a bad move, but the burning of the union jack is not a winner either - something your organisation indulges in. You would rather spend your time backing a real reactionary opportunist like Ken Livingstone than back independent action. His voice was rather silent on the subject of police stopping your peaceful protest. Poor suckers.
Incidentally, we do have a member who knows your writer personally, and if she did put in an appearance at the May Day protest, she wasn't there for long.
The Jekyll and Hyde dual republican personality of Dave Craig is neatly illustrated in the article entitled 'Making Liz the last'.
The first half of his contribution is rational and factual in the mild manner of the university teacher. This is the reasonable Dr Jekyll reported on by the civilised Sarah McDonald in the previous issue of the Weekly Worker ('RCN debates nation', May 11). Readers will have noticed, however, the steep descent into the irrational, uncultured political low life of Mr Hyde in the second half of the article. There was after all, despite what was said at the May 6 Republican Communist Network meeting in Edinburgh, "circumstantial evidence" that Barry Biddulph did not agree with the slogans of the RCN. But, true to his alter ego, there was no evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, presented.
Appropriately enough, the RCN meeting was near the new town - well away from the old town where the uncivilised Mr Hyde was reputed to have terrified the locals with uncultured abuse. When the chair put it to Jekyll that there was no evidence that Barry Biddulph did not agree with the slogans of the Republican Communist Network, the good doctor/teacher remained silent. Another difficult moment was when the chair pointed out that the open letter from the Revolutionary Democratic Group to Barry Biddulph, demanding his resignation and condemning him for corresponding with Tom Delargy, seemed very nasty indeed.
But, let's face it, for Craig/Hyde, Barry Biddulph simply does not agree with the RCN slogans. This is because he is a pain in the arse. Why should the important Dave Craig have to deal with idiots like him and Brian Higgins? The RDG is for open democratic polemic, but these shits wanted to publicise their differences in "the press". The press? Was it The Guardian? The Daily Express? No, the Weekly Worker! Rave on, Dave.
The only useful political purpose served by the second part of Dave Craig's article is to expose his seriously flawed political method (Weekly Worker May 18). This article, which claims "to bring the politics out into the open", attacks the Communist Tendency and Barry Biddulph. Yet Craig suppresses the politics behind the disputes.
The CT has been quite clear from the start, as to the reason we committed ourselves to the Republican Communist Network. The complete failure of reformist and 'revolutionary' social democracy, or 'official' and 'dissident' (eg, Trotskyist) communism alike to develop a genuine human emancipatory communism is now quite clearly a material factor holding back the struggles of millions against imperialism's 'new world order'. Therefore, superficial attempts to deal with this failed legacy, whether by trying to recreate a Leninism for the new millennium, or reforge 'the Party', are a continuing block to meeting our current needs.
The CT believes that the audience the RCN should be seeking lies amongst those who are prepared to question orthodox Marxism, Leninism and Trotskyism. Whilst we welcome individuals who still retain independent and critical thought into the RCN from the political organisations of 'revolutionary' social democracy, we look initially more to those comrades Mary Ward has described as "represent[ing] years of experience and struggle; years of commitment and learning and, sadly, very often years of bitter experience borne out of the failures of the revolutionary left" (Republican Communist No1).
The RCN was consciously formed as a communist and republican organisation. None of the larger existing 'revolutionary' social democratic organisations - the SWP, Socialist Party, ISM, or AWL - have either of these words in their 'What we stand for' columns. Therefore, Craig's attempt to draw the 'non-communist', 'non-republican' AWL into the RCN goes a long way to demonstrate the shallowness of his own communist politics. The CT does not rule out debate and joint actions with AWL comrades whenever possible, but quite clearly the AWL's openly declared intention to create a new Labour Party puts it on a completely different political trajectory to that of an RCN trying to recreate a genuine communism and communist organisation today.
The RCN has not attempted to insist on declarations of ideological loyalty, as the RDG demands. If members feel that the debates organised under the agreed headings help towards seeking communist clarity and they are prepared to contribute in a comradely fashion and to pay membership dues they are welcome to join. From the viewpoint of the CT, Barry Biddulph has well demonstrated the relevance of his contributions and furthermore has argued his positions in a considered manner.
We call upon all those who are wanting to participate in the RCN's debates about how to create a human emancipatory communism to join and feel confident that there is indeed already widespread support for a 'revolutionary democracy and culture' which can help to marginalise the bad practices inherited from the 'revolutionary left'.
The CPGB's politics of utopian internationalism are taking a truly confused and dangerous turn as regards the recent occupations of plantations in Zimbabwe.
In Ian Donovan's article there are some extraordinary comments. Firstly he tries a very cheap trick - one which is used by bourgeois politicians constantly (Weekly Worker May 18). He conflates a movement with its leadership. The occupations were indeed orchestrated by the Zanu-PF government, but for comrade Donovan it is not worth asking how. Neither does Donovan ask who these "thugs" are. Such trivialities are obviously beneath him.
So, having plied us with conspiracy theories in which we see inexplicable, evil dictators controlling our destinies (no doubt with a helping hand from the Illuminati), it is now a small step to conflate the start of a process with the end of a process. Perhaps Ian can tell us who wishes to see the giant Zimbabwean plantations broken up into tiny parcels of land. Who would prevent collectivisation and why?
Ian's comments about "ethnic cleansing" are beneath contempt. Apparently there's a lot of it about, especially in the ungodly nether regions of the world.
The danger of all this is the lack of criticism of the Movement for Democratic Change. This is an organisation which calls for large-scale privatisation and the opening up of the economy to foreign investment. Zimbabwe will be fully exposed to the chilly winds of international capital. A victory for the MDC can only mean that workers' organisations are crushed as effective forces while public services are demolished. The tone of Donovan's article is reminiscent of the German Communist Party in 1933: "First Hitler, then us."
The confusion has its roots and they are in just what the CPGB envisage as an international socialist revolution in the epoch of global capital. Unlike the Bolsheviks they regard breaking a link in the capitalist chain as reactionary. Indeed, the CPGB's primary criticism of Mugabe, and Milosevic before him, are that they defend, to some extent, the gains of the working class rather than integrating into the world economy.
Last summer we saw the Weekly Worker declare the demolition of the Yugoslav economy as heralding some sort of revolutionary situation (we're still waiting for that one). Workers protesting against the WTO in Seattle were "backward", presumably because they dared worry about their jobs. Now we have "reactionary thugs" provoking a revolution. For the CPGB the transnational corporations are internationalist, while workers are nationalist. Defeats are victories and victories are defeats.
As always, I read Pat Strong's recent article with interest. Members of the Socialist Party have long suspected that Strong is not in fact a member of the SP, but a CPGB member, possibly Jack Conrad.
Strong's recent article provides more evidence of this. First of all he writes in his usual first-person style of a party council meeting of the Socialist Workers Party - something an SP member, of course, would not have attended - prompting one to think, if Strong writes of an SWP event he didn't attend as if he was there, what events (real or rumoured) in the SP has he given similar treatment to?
Strong writes: "Particularly vocal on this question [of the SWP's turn to electoralism] was comrade Chris Bambery, who . was self-critical and sincere in his insistence that the way forward for the SWP and the wider left was greater unity." No doubt Strong writes this to chastise the SP for its ambivalence towards the LSA and its suspicion of the SWP.
What is more interesting is what Strong, the supposed SP supporter, does not say. According to one SWP member at the meeting, who wrote of the event on an IS tendency opposition e-mail list, the leadership "lined up the troops for an all-out participation in the Socialist Alliances around the country. They talked about wiping out the SP and other 'hostile' forces. The SWP leadership proposed and was accepted [sic] - with very few nominal opponents at the meeting - to launch a national campaign to send all available members inside existent SAs and into organisations such as the SSP (Scotland). In those places where SAs do not exist, the membership has to launch them. There is opposition to this plan, but few dared to speak up at the meeting. Some of us [felt] that this sudden shift would confuse many of our members and sympathisers."
Now, if Strong were really an SP supporter would he really describe the SWP's desire of "wiping out the SP and other 'hostile' forces" as the expression of a "sincere" desire for left unity? This idea of "left unity" might fit with Jack Conrad's agenda of destroying the parties of the left and absorbing the remnants into the CPGB, but it is not consistent with the ideas held by anyone who is an actual supporter of the SP or left unity.
Perhaps you should give up the Pat Strong charade and polemicise against the SP openly rather than putting your words into the mouths of supposed SP members.
Martin Thomas of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty misses the whole thrust of my letter (Weekly Worker April 13) in his reply (May 18). The point is, are undemocratic methods acceptable in a socialist organisation? And if not, how do we make sure that the maximum democracy and consciousness-raising of the membership take place?
These are important questions because it seems to be finally dawning on the left groups that they have to work together - maybe in socialist alliances of one sort or another. There is talk of unity where since World War II there has only been talk of splits. Is this unity talk genuine or a tactic to get more members for their own organisation? This is not a cynical question, but an obvious one, asked by anyone who has had any contact with left groups.
Left groups have a poor tradition on democracy and open discussion. For example, whatever one says about Tony Cliff, he clearly believed that undemocratic practices were acceptable in a socialist organisation. We found the same in the Socialist Labour Party with Arthur Scargill.
In my letter I directed the questions at Sean Matgamna and the AWL. This was because the Weekly Worker reported that the CPGB were having discussions with the AWL and also that some CPGB members had misgivings because the AWL has a reputation for predatory fusions.
I referred to the largest of these fusions, which was with the Socialist Press group around Alan Thornett. This was because I was a member of pre-AWL at the time.
Martin Thomas says of this fusion that a split was inevitable and of course blames the other side. He seems to take it for granted that undemocratic methods were therefore acceptable to get rid of Alan Thornett and co - merely matters of cleanliness and efficiency. My argument was and still is that the membership should be involved in discussing disputes as a form of political education, not used in a witch hunt.
Martin states that the AWL recruited students in order to build a revolutionary organisation. Is it building a revolutionary organisation to use newly recruited students to expel members they did not know and could not hear because they were kept out of the conference? In my opinion that was the worst possible introduction to revolutionary politics.
A recent debate in the letter columns of the Weekly Worker has touched on the nature of Socialist Outlook, though pretty much in passing.
Dave Spencer said Socialist Outlook were "worse than Matgamna on democracy", while Martin Thomas says that "no-one would accuse Outlook of recruiting young people or practising open and rigorous theoretical self-criticism. But nor would anyone accuse them of having an overbearing, excessively forceful leadership."
I can add my own two cents to this debate, since I was expelled from Socialist Outlook in 1993 for declaring that I was a supporter of the CPGB. A little upsetting at the time, but looking back seven years later I now see that it was a bit like being excommunicated by a large marshmallow, which has become smaller and smaller as the years have gone by.
Socialist Outlook was and probably still is the most mediocre organisation on the British left. As Martin Thomas said, it could not attract young people, because the ethos of the group was lacking in dynamism; Socialist Outlook lacked self-confidence and so lacked the conviction to 'sell' itself to potential recruits. It was revolutionary in words and deeply social democratic in its few deeds, though in my opinion that is the prevailing illness on the British left.
When Socialist Outlook eventually disappears, it will not be with a bang, but with a whimper.
The latest issue of Spark, the SLP's ultra-Stalinite and incestuous youth journal, contained a pre May 4 'analysis' of the Greater London Assembly elections by Carlos Rule. In this article he writes that "anyone who has read the Weekly Worker will know that it is devoted almost in its entirety to denouncing the work of the Socialist Labour Party - this sounds like the activity of wreckers than of serious socialists" (No6 - undated).
Unsurprisingly, Carlos Rule would much prefer it if the Weekly Worker just shut up and allowed him to peddle the topsy-turvy, Orwellian big lie that the LSA is "a grouping of various Trotskyist outfits organised in an uneasy alliance based on one point of agreement: opposition to the genuine socialist policies of the SLP".
However, if the Weekly Worker journalists are "wreckers" then they stand in good company. Critics of Lenin constantly complained that his works were "devoted" to "denouncing" fellow socialists and other socialist factions and tendencies. Like Carlos Rule on the Weekly Worker, they too wanted Lenin to keep mum on such matters and concentrate instead on "serious" politics like routinely denouncing tsarism.
The Guardian's 'Weekend' magazine contains a relatively interesting profile of a British political 'leader' who is anti-euro, against the building of new houses on greenfield sites, supported the Stop the City demonstrations/riots and is opposed to GM foods. He is the 'leader' of a very small organisations who it would be "easy to dismiss" as "a political irrelevance", as The Guardian puts it.
The magazine also informs us that this leader's "answer" to "the future crisis in global capitalism is novel and direct: withdraw from the European Union, whatever the economic consequences, impose import controls, and then hope to rule through the following chaos" (May 20).
Arthur Scargill? No - the British National Party's Nick Griffin.
Comrade Dave Osler wishes that Jack Conrad would stop using the term 'bureaucratic socialism' - believing it associates the left and the socialist project in general with JV Stalin and the gulag. The Soviet Union was nothing to do with socialism, says Dave. So therefore we should use the much better term 'bureaucratic collectivism'. This keeps our socialism pure and true (Letters Weekly Worker May 4).
I think comrade Osler has slightly missed the point. As he has made abundantly clear, Jack Conrad uses the 'bureaucratic socialism' in a consciously oxymoronic fashion. That is, in a bid to capture the contradictory and paradoxical nature of the object (or phenomenon) under investigation - ie, the Soviet Union and hence, to some degree or another, all its imitators. Whether Dave likes it or not, the regimes of Stalin, Mao, Kim il-Sung, Hoxha, etc all ruled in the name of socialism and communism - not capitalism or fascism. These dictatorships over the proletariat represented the 'public' face of socialism and communism in the 20th century. Millions - not all of them mere fools or flunkies - looked towards these freak societies as some sort of model or inspiration for socialism. Even now a few still do. Trotskyites continue to insist that the Soviet Union was a 'degenerate workers' state'. We cannot duck this sticky fact, nor just hope that people will eventually forget.
What Jack Conrad is most definitely not saying - and comrade Osler is fully aware of this of course - is that the Soviet Union was essentially socialist but unfortunately slightly bureaucratic. Nor is it, as some have thought (either with hope or fear), a neo-Trotskyism that dare not speak its name.
After all, it is not as if Jack Conrad and the CPGB are being that startlingly innovative by using 'bureaucratic socialism' in the way they do. The works of Marx and Engels are literally crammed with oxymoronic formulations - "local communism", "feudal socialism", "clerical socialism", "bourgeois socialism", "Bismarckian socialism", "Prussian socialism", "monarchical socialism", "Bonapartist socialism", and so on. The label 'socialist' is not necessarily a seal of approval for Marx. On the contrary Dave must be aware that in the 1848 Communist manifesto, Marx and Engels warn of the dangers of "reactionary socialisms".
If it was OK for Marx and Engels to use paradoxical terms, then surely it must be OK for communists to do so in the year 2000 - as we survey the horrors inflicted on the 20th century by national socialist despots and their fellow travellers.
One of the greats
At a meeting in Marx House on May 20 Mary Davis spoke about her recent book Sylvia Pankhurst: a life in radical politics.
In the middle of her talk came a most interesting moment. Davis referred to the fact that Sylvia Pankhurst was expelled from the CPGB because she refused to stop publishing the Workers' Dreadnought. Davis paused pregnantly, and then said the CPGB decision seemed justified!
I said I thought it was important that someone had written a scholarly book on Sylvia Pankhurst, who must rank alongside Connolly and Maclean as one of the greatest revolutionaries of Britain and Ireland in the 20th century. But there was no need for Davis to be defensive about the expulsion of Pankhurst from the CPGB. Clearly the CPGB were wrong. The norms of democratic centralism require that factions and minorities be given free voice in the Party, and that was incompatible with the ultimatum given to her.
One of the greats
One of the greats
Please find enclosed a cheque for £20 for your fighting fund. I'd like to tell you I've taken to looking at your web site regularly and I do think your commitment to debate about key issues on the revolutionary left shines through and is very useful.
I don't agree with a lot of your arguments - I was a member of the SWP for a long time before dropping out in the mid-90s (partly because of the lack of debate!) and I still adhere to the theory of state capitalism and would consider myself in the SWP periphery. I don't really see any alternative to the SWP - partly because it is so big in relation to the rest, partly because of its theoretical roots.
However, the internal regime of the SWP and its characteristic form of rhetoric make it impossible for me to rejoin. I share your hopes for the LSA and its possible generalisation, and hope that the SWP will change through its involvement. I do think that if comrades engaged with the arguments in the Weekly Worker it would help.