I assume there was typo in your report of the attendance “by an audience of nearly 500” at the packed ‘British politics at the crossroads’ meeting at Friends House in London (Weekly Worker October 30).

There were around 1,200 in attendance - the hall is advertised as seating 1,173.



Poor old Vince Mills - events move faster than his letters (Weekly Worker October 30).

Firstly John McAllion breaks with Labour the week his interview is published. For Weekly Worker readers not in Scotland, John is the leading figure on the Labour left in Scotland - a highly respected figure. And for the record, Vince, this is what he said at the Scottish Socialist Party rally and in an interview with the Herald afterwards: “I will never stand for or vote Labour again. I won’t join the SSP today, but it may be soon. A Labour conference where the delegates vote for foundation hospitals and give Blair a seven-minute standing ovation suggests either they or I are in the wrong party and I think it’s me”.

Yes, Vince, John may not have left Labour technically yet, but there is no doubt he has left it politically, as his statement at the rally makes clear: “The future of socialism in Scotland lies with the Scottish Socialist Party.” Now you can’t be much clearer than that!

As for George Galloway, he may well tell Vince to stay in and reclaim Labour, but this week he has declared publicly that he will be standing against Labour for the European elections in England, while in Scotland he will be backing the Scottish Socialist Party - hardly a ringing endorsement for Vince.

On the question of Kelvin Labour Party, I accept Vince’s point that they have 400 members compared to the SSP Kelvin branch of 200 members. But how striking is the truth that Kelvin is the most active constituency Labour Party branch in Glasgow, yet only has 400 members. Indeed at the very same Campaign for Socialism meeting where I counted 52 members present, Ian Davidson, MP for Pollock, pointed out that only three out of 10 Labour Parties in Glasgow had sent delegates to Labour’s annual conference, but George Galloway said that was because the other seven were moribund and their meetings inquorate.

Indeed this is the picture of Labour across Scotland (and England, I suspect). The only people keeping it alive in Scotland are the members who derive their income from Labour: ie, full-time councillors, trade union officials, MPs, MSPs, their staff, and the dwindling number of socialists like Vince, who in the face of all the facts still have illusions that they can reclaim Labour.

Finally on the question of political differences between us, I will be happy to debate these with Vince. Indeed let me write an article for his journal The Citizen, which I read regularly. After all, I used to be a member of the Campaign for Socialism before I was expelled from Labour.

I accept that there are socialists still in the Labour Party who believe that they can reclaim Labour for socialism. I think they are wrong, but let us work together where we can and debate our differences in a comradely fashion where we disagree. As they say, history will decide who is correct!


London SF

Only a few days ago my attention was drawn to an article, ‘Heavy-handed Socialist Workers Party’, describing the London assembly for the European Social Forum, held at the end of August (Weekly Worker September 4). I would like to clarify some points in the article, which refers to presumed positions of Rifondazione Comunista (PRC) within the movement and within the British left.

Comrade Anita Bressan, who is mentioned several times in the article, and comrade Mariangela from Manchester, who was also present at the meeting, are simply members of the Circolo Karl Marx of Rifondazione Comunista, in which they do not hold any position of responsibility. However, when members of the branch speak in public, they do so merely in their personal capacity, unless specifying otherwise. Whatever they may say or do is not to be interpreted as the official political line of the Circolo Karl Marx. If, as you mention in your article, Anita and Mariangela spoke at that meeting without clarifying their status and the basis upon which they intervened, clearly they made a mistake. Only the secretary of the Circolo or an officer, if delegated to do so, may speak in its name, as I believe is the practice in any other Communist Party.

If the account given in your paper is correct, then I must make it clear that the Circolo Karl Marx dissociates itself from many of the actions and statements of the two comrades mentioned earlier. Neither myself nor the officers of the Circolo stand by their positions. We welcome diversity and encourage discussions; however their stance is regarded as damaging to our image.

Anne Mc Shane and Alan Fox write in their article: “As is usual on these occasions, SWP comrades deigned not to identify themselves as such - although of course everybody knows that the SWP packs meetings of the mobilising committee. Mind you, the PRC comrades are hardly more forthcoming about their own allegiance.”

I shall not try to interpret these statements, but I wish to make it clear that Rifondazione Comunista has a political line which is as clear and transparent as its political relationships. We have contacts and relationships with all those - without exception - who fight against war, neoliberalism and capitalist globalisation. Rifondazione works with all those parties and organisations on the campaigning left which, like us, fight real social and political battles (and not therefore abstract ideological ones). I do not see any ambiguity in this.

Anne and Alan raised another point in their article. They wrote that “representatives of the London Social Forum ..., including PRC members, displayed an anarchistic disdain for democracy itself. They were against any votes being taken and wanted everything agreed ‘by consensus’”. I remind you that the ESF has a rule that decisions are taken by “consensus” and not by “vote”. You may not agree with it, but you cannot ignore that this is one of the constitutional rules of the social forums, not of the PRC. When you accept that you are part of a movement, you have to be coherent and accept the principles and the general line of that movement, and this is what Rifondazione does.

On the basis of the points covered so far, the statement in the article - “(Other SWP members privately expressed concern after the meeting about having gone too far.) Obviously, alienating the PRC is not a good thing” - becomes meaningless. As I have tried to explain, nobody has alienated anybody, because there was nothing to alienate. Also, it is obvious that it is not a branch such as our Circolo which can determine the foreign policy of the PRC, and therefore, even if Anita and Mariangela had expressed the policy of our Circolo - which, as explained, they did not - it would only have affected our Circolo, and not the PRC.

London SF
London SF

Aussie Socialist Alliance

Josh Fontes is to be thanked for opening up a debate about the nature of the anti-war movement down under (‘Splits and coalitions’, October 30). However, after a recent visit to Sydney, I can’t help but feel there is a hint too much of the ‘dispassionate observer’ in his article. While there are no innocents in this spat, I think ‘a pox on both your houses’ is the wrong slant to take.

My impression is that the split in the anti-war movement in Sydney has been engineered by an ‘official’ left bloc of sterile Stalinists in the Communist Party of Australia, elements of the union bureaucracy and the peaceniks of the cold war era. It is ironic that the Eurocommunists around personalities like Peter Murphy have joined in an unholy alliance with their former arch-enemies in the CPA. The Sydney Peace and Justice Coalition was formed at an invite-only meeting after ebbing away of the high tide of the movement in February. No prizes for guessing who wasn’t invited.

In response to being carved out of what seems to be a moribund Peace and Justice Coalition, the Democratic Socialist Party, the Socialist Alliance and other anti-war activists launched the Stop the War Coalition. Of course comrade Fontes is correct to argue that unity is better than disunity, but we need to lay blame where it is due.

The DSP, the main driving force of the Socialist Alliance in Australia, is perhaps wrongly accused of hiding the SA under a bushel during the anti-war movement. If anything, the DSP has been forced to hold back from ‘doing a Scotland’ with the SA in Australia by the sectarian hesitancy of its bloc partners, who fear being swallowed up by the DSP in any move to establish the SA along more partyist lines. And of course, given the zig-zag opportunist history of the DSP (from Trotskyism, to Gorbachevism, to a Stalinised ‘Leninism’), many on the Australian left distrust its albeit limited influence. Perhaps rightly so. However, at present there is no going around or ignoring this organisation. It needs to be positively and critically engaged with. Its role in the Socialist Alliance, particularly in contrast to the antics of the SWP in the UK, is generally healthy and in the right direction.

My criticisms of the DSP and its influence in the SA stem more from its leftist stance on the Labor Party and the all too familiar Panglossian ‘activism’ associated with most leftist sects. How they square the circle of going from the certainties of Cannonite rigidity to embracing a multi-tendency Marxist party is their concern, not mine.

Aussie Socialist Alliance
Aussie Socialist Alliance

Sydney coalition

Josh Fontes’s article on the Australian anti-war movement makes a principled stand in favour of unity and rightly criticises the division that has occurred since August. However, apart from an oblique reference to the split being on “familiar lines”, he makes no attempt to analyse why this split took place.

Ever since the war on Iraq began, certain elements allied with the Labor Party had been attempting to organise a split in the Sydney Walk Against the War group. While ‘No war on Iraq’ had been an acceptable slogan before the war began, after ‘our troops’ were in the field they wanted to tone down explicit opposition (seeing this as potentially ‘unsupportive’ of the troops), and focus on general appeals to international law and human rights.

This campaign took a number of twists and turns, with what became the Sydney Peace and Justice Coalition searching for ways to demonise the left (the socialist organisations and local campaign groups) and drum up support for their exclusion. The first opportunity came when police viciously attacked a high school anti-war demonstration in March organised by Books Not Bombs (which is closely aligned with the left). The ‘peace and justice’ types moved a motion (which was narrowly passed) condemning Books Not Bombs for organising a violent protest.

Next, they voted in WATW with the left to organise a demonstration in Sydney on Palm Sunday in April around the call for the US, Britain and Australia to get out of Iraq. However, they then did little to build the rally, leaving it entirely to the left groups. When the demonstration was (predictably) small, they argued that the left with its calls to ‘stop the war’ and ‘bring the troops home’ was out of touch with broader sentiment.

Finally, after Bush declared ‘major combat operations’ in Iraq to be complete, they declared a “new situation” to be in existence which called for moving beyond “simple sloganeering”. They said that calling for all troops to be withdrawn from Iraq would “leave the Iraqis isolated” and that the anti-war movement must now focus on calling for “stronger UN oversight” of the occupation of Iraq. Since the left opposed this, they argued, there was no choice but to split the organisation.

The left was totally opposed to splitting the coalition. In the last few meetings of WATW they called for unity to be maintained around the issues where there was agreement and diversity to be respected where there was not. In contrast, the right’s alternative to WATW was to be an invite-only group, where those wanting to affiliate had to agree not to carry out any anti-war activity without permission of the steering committee.

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans from the Democrats (similar to the Liberal-Democrats in the UK), referring to the call for unity with diversity, said: “Small groups can tolerate differences, but big coalitions do not have that luxury.” While the left certainly could have done better in its efforts to prevent the split, let’s place blame where blame is due: conservative bureaucrats who don’t want any potentially embarrassing ‘left cred’.

As for Fontes’s argument that the Socialist Alliance was sidelined in the anti-war movement, it is sufficient to note that the Sydney Peace and Justice Coalition, when it can bring itself to acknowledge the existence of the Stop the War Coalition, refers to it as the “Socialist Alliance-No War group”.

Sydney coalition
Sydney coalition


Your antipodean reporter gives a somewhat skewed version of divisions in the Australian anti-war movement, and also seems to trying to shove the situation of our Socialist Alliance into the template of your critique of the English situation.

The comrade rightly bemoans the split in Sydney, but fails to mention it is was initiated by the Stalinists and Laborites, and vigorously resisted by the Socialist Alliance and others, who were forced to form a separate Stop the War Coalition. A similar split has occurred in Perth, but in all other centres the coalitions that organised the massive February 15 actions remain extant, although the more liberal forces have tended to drop away.

In all these centres - including in Canberra, where Bush actually appeared - the recent demos were relatively small, so the result in Sydney can’t just be put down to the split. Confusion among liberal forces, especially in relation to the UN (the immediate excuse for the Sydney split) and the strength of Howard in the face of a dazed and confused Labor ‘opposition’, are much more important factors, which the small forces of the radical left can’t overcome through an act of will.

Comrade Fontes further claims that, as in the mother country, the Socialist Alliance was “sidelined” in the anti-war movement. Bullshit. SA speakers appeared on virtually every platform, apart from Sydney, where the united front with the Laborites and Stalinists, which the comrade apparently favoured, made this impossible. Our New South Wales state election campaign in the first months of the year was closely tied to anti-war work.

The Democratic Socialist Party has completely subordinated building itself to building the SA. The comrade briefly alludes to the fact that some affiliates are slowing down the partyist direction keenly desired by the SA majority, but his reportage gives the distorted impression that the situation here is very similar to that in England. Josh should pay attention to developments around Australia, as well as read the Weekly Worker, or he’ll sound like just another of the franchises of the ‘Pominterns’ that litter the far left here, inside and outside the SA.



In the time-honoured manner of sectarians under pressure, Clive Bradley and Sacha Ismail of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty open fire on the messenger because they really don’t like the news (Letters, October 30).

Specifically, both take umbrage to these words in Ian Donovan’s recent polemic against them: “While the AWL has never actually endorsed Shachtman’s support for the 1961 Bay of Pigs émigré invasion of Cuba, or his backing for US imperialism in Vietnam …” (‘“Zionist” AWL in turmoil’, October 23).

Pathetically, both comrades work themselves into a tizzy over this. In particular, Clive Bradley goes on to breathlessly construct a fantasy CPGB provocation where, at some point in the future, the Weekly Worker will transmute this idea into a “fabricated” quote from some AWLer - “a favoured technique of libel” of ours, apparently.

What accounts for this type of hysterical overreaction - a thoroughly distasteful aspect of the culture of our AWL comrades? After all, comrade Donovan’s article consisted of pretty mildly expressed analysis of the organisation’s drift towards the politics of first camp. Clearly, his offending words were meant to be taken as a warning - in the sense that the AWL has not crossed the class Rubicon yet, but the method of Shachtman tugs it in that direction. Not really that outrageous a slur - especially as AWLers themselves have been making more or less the same point.

In the July 23 issue of the AWL’s Solidarity, Mark Sandell penned an article titled ‘Is the AWL headed down the Shachtman road?’, which explicitly stated his fears that his organisation’s slogans during the Iraqi war “highlighted a drift in the politics of the AWL in the direction of lesser-evilism that has echoes of Shachtman’s political suicide”. The comrade even suggests that “the slippage into ‘lesser evil’ politics is not posed positively in what we say but rather in what we do not say”. In effect, his organisation was “soft on the US and UK invasion”, he concludes. Quite right.

Lastly, Clive casually states that I am a liar. That for totally nefarious reasons, I simply made up a comment by Martin Thomas (his self-definition as “a little bit Zionist”). Clive states this is “fabricated”. Nonsense. Martin said these words at a jointly organised public meeting of the CPGB, AWL and the Revolutionary Democratic Group, in a room packed full of members and supporters of all our organisations. Martin and I then had an argument about his shocking formulation in the pub downstairs from the meeting room - in full earshot of other AWLers, I recall.

But the real puzzle is why Clive thinks I would need to lie in order to make my point. After all, the leading figure in the AWL blithely characterises himself as a full-on Zionist. Comrade Thomas participated in the CPGB debate on October 26, where we gave comrade Matgamna a platform to defend his despicable position. Unlike comrade Ismail - who also took part - comrade Thomas said nothing to distance himself from Sean’s comments at this meeting.



I hesitate to add to the “libels” that Sacha Ismail and Clive Bradley allege, but their combined letters are disingenuous.

If it was just Martin Thomas on an off-day saying he was “a little bit Zionist” then Ismail and Bradley would have a point in denying that the AWL are Zionist. But Sean Matgamna, founder guru, has openly come out as a Zionist. And even if the previous pretence was maintained, the positions of the AWL over the previous years in accusing anti-Zionists of ‘left’ anti-semitism, opposing the Palestinian right of return (ie, supporting the ethnic purity of the Jewish state) and refusing to oppose the apartheid nature of Israel would be enough.

The pretence, however, continues. Clive Bradley asserts that nobody in the AWL “has endorsed ‘Zionism’ in the sense of one particular nationalism”. But of course Zionism isn’t just another form of nationalism. It is akin to saying that apartheid was also just another form of nationalism and thereby legitimate. Zionism is both a movement and a state whose ideological heritage owes more to the Nuremberg laws than the French Revolution.

British nationality and immigration laws are racist but, once someone has been accepted as a national, their level of benefits, their right to live in a particular area, their schooling, etc don’t depend on their colour or religion or ancestry. There is no ‘right of return’ dependent on being white or christian. There is no law saying that a black person who wants to marry a foreigner has to leave the country - unlike the new mixed-marriages law, which stipulates that Arab Israelis marrying Palestinians must emigrate.

This is why Sacha Ismail’s pretence that the AWL “do not support Israel’s racially exclusive citizenship laws (or other exclusivist institutions) any more than we support Britain’s” is meaningless. British citizenship depends on whether one’s parents were British citizens or born in the UK. It does not depend on whether one’s parents are christian or white or some other arbitrary factor. In practice they are racist and the way they are administered is racist, but black and Asian people do nonetheless qualify for British citizenship if they meet these criteria. The British state does not have as its founding principle the ‘ingathering of the exiles’.

In fact there is no Israeli nationality. There is no jewish, muslim, druze, etc nationality. Which other countries have no nationality which encompasses all their citizens? The reason is that Israeli Jews are held to be part of a wider Jewish nationality, which is the mirror image of the anti-semitic myth that all Jews, no matter where they live, are part of a separate nation/race.

In fact the AWL, by opposing the Palestinian right of return and saying nothing about a Jewish right of return - which allows someone like me to ‘return’, with all the benefits that Jewish ‘returnees’ are entitled to, whilst denying the same right to Palestinians born in Israel - are indeed supporting the racially exclusivist nature of Zionism. Zionism is meaningless if the Israeli state cannot achieve racial purity and ethnic cleansing via its immigration and citizenship laws. Hence its obsession with a Jewish demographic majority.

Where the CPGB goes wrong is in opposing the racism inherent in Zionism but accepting that, nonetheless, there is an Israeli Jewish nation, when Zionism itself makes no such claim. When today the bourgeois nationalist solution of two states is seen by many Palestinians as no longer achievable, because of the extent of colonisation in the West Bank and Gaza, it is futile to chase this mirage. Two states does nothing to deal with the source of the problem: the peculiar racial politics of Israel and its alliance with imperialism.

Instead socialists should support what we supported in South Africa: a unitary and democratic, secular state.


Anarcho record

Joe Wills says I “let the cat out of the bag” when he talks of how the Makhnoites “liberated” the towns (Letters, October 30).

This is because he “thought anarchists believed liberation was achieved by the workers themselves and not by bands of self-proclaimed revolutionaries”. Incredible! Does he not believe in solidarity between peasants and workers? Does he think that the Makhnoites should have left the workers of the cities to the whites? Or weaken the struggle against counterrevolution by ignoring its occupation of the cities?

Even more incredibly, he argues that I accept “that Makhno used dictatorial tactics during the civil war and [do] not contest the fact that the ‘Regional Congress of Peasants, Workers and Insurgents’ was undermined and belittled”. He says this is in “contradiction” to the Makhnoites encouraging soviet democracy and freedom of speech. However, he fails to note that I said that in the heat of battle, grassroots democracy was sometimes ignored.

The point is not whether violations of principle occur: it is whether such violations are built into the new system. He argues that this is “a mirror argument” of what I criticise Marxists for: “namely relying on the paternalistic and benevolent attitudes of one’s leaders rather than the inherent and spontaneous revolutionary nature of the working masses”. This is, of course, a total distortion of my argument and the facts.

He claims that I simply repeat what he “argued in the first place and the point McKay has been rebutting in all his responses”. What nonsense. The Makhnoites occasionally violated libertarian principles while, in the main, implementing and encouraging them. The Bolsheviks violated them from the start, moreover raising party dictatorship to a key ideological position. The Makhnoites called soviet congresses, the Bolsheviks disbanded them. The former encouraged free speech and organisation, the latter crushed both. But, apparently, both are the same because Makhno made a few arbitrary decisions!

Wills argues that “the politics of Marxism are no more to blame for Bolshevik Jacobinism than the politics of Bakuninism are for the bureaucratic degeneration of the Makhnovshchina”. Bakuninism? Anarchism is not “Bakuninism”. As for “bureaucratic degeneration”, well, clearly Wills knows little about the Makhnoite movement. Nor logic, if he equates party dictatorship, one-man management and the repression of working class protest with a few arbitrary decisions by Makhno (which, incidentally, the regional congresses held the army accountable for).

He tries to answer this issue by arguing that the Bolsheviks “led a popular insurgency against the state after building up huge support in the local soviets”. Yet he fails to note that by the spring of 1918, they had lost “the support of the majority of the organised working class” across Russia. In response to this, they gerrymandered soviets and disbanded, by force, any which were elected with non-Bolshevik majorities. This was before the start of “the appalling conditions of ‘civil war’”, which therefore cannot be blamed for it. The working class protested this usurpation of power. Mass strike waves took place throughout the civil war. The Bolshevik response was simple: state repression (including shooting strikers, arresting ‘ringleaders’, lockouts and martial law).

Nor did the Bolsheviks change from a “libertarian profile” to “rigid authoritarianism”. Lenin’s stated aim was party power. This was achieved. To maintain their authority, the Bolsheviks had to use authoritarian methods. They may have talked about (some) libertarian ideas before taking power, but, as Marx said, we must judge people by what they do, not what they say. Moreover, is Wills implying that Bolshevik ideology played no role in the decisions made? That seems unlikely, particularly seeing that leading Bolsheviks justified their policies in ideological terms. Or that the (statist) institutional framework the Bolsheviks operated in also had no effect on the evolution of their practice and ideology?

Wills blames Bolshevik authoritarianism on “the failure of social revolution in Europe”, yet the Bolsheviks were disbanding soviets and imposing one-man management long before this happened. He absolves the Bolshevik leadership for responsibility for its own actions by stating “the real cause” was “the failures and betrayals of the workers’ movement in Europe and elsewhere”. If all else fails, blame the workers, eh?

Wills says my comments on workers’ councils do “not differ from Marxism or early Bolshevism” and seem “rather to be the beginning of a break with anti-statism”. Funnily enough, I was paraphrasing comments Bakunin made before the Paris Commune applied the idea of imperative mandates (which Marx praised). So my comments signify consistent anti-statism, not a “break” from it. As for “early Bolshevism”, surely Wills knows that the Bolsheviks initially opposed the soviets in 1905 (the logic of that opposition was distinctly anti-democratic, although it helps explain what happened in 1918!)? And that the anarchists not only supported the soviets, but saw them as the framework of the free society (unlike the Bolsheviks)? The difference being, as the Makhnoites and the Bolsheviks show, anarchists mean it!

Anarcho record
Anarcho record