Chris Strafford writes that the Left List candidate at a recent hustings abdicated from her responsibility by leaving the platform instead of putting the arguments for socialist policies against neofascism (‘Left List no-platforms itself’, April 17).
Comrade Strafford went on to bemoan “that the christian church has been more likely to give succour to the far-right and fascist regimes than to oppose them”; yet it was Ian Craig, the christian democrat (Christian People’s Alliance/Christian Choice), who made a powerful rebuttal of the far right in his hustings speech, explicitly appealing for support “to stop the BNP”. What I am saying is that more opportunities for a united front against the far right exist than comrade Strafford implies.
His article overlooks the fact that the Judeo-christian tradition of ‘friendliness to the stranger’ forms the basis of communist and socialist morality. This is reflected in the churches’ ‘social doctrine’ of criticism of inequality and support for social justice and the redistribution of wealth. Of course, New Labour has abandoned these principles, largely for the neoliberal ‘trickle-down’ theory; yet, however rich the City gets, Londoners do not get proportionately wealthier.
The crisis of the left lies in its inwardness, sectarianism and unwillingness to see that the Judeo-christian tradition forms the moral basis of the call for solidarity and social justice, and hence the moral basis for socialism is buried in the foundations of our civilisation. As Kant says, whether we believe in god or not, to be moral means to act as if he does exist. The left needs to remake itself as a moral-political project.
The christian democrats are already talking about solidarity and social justice and the need to stop the far right by confronting them in debate. The potential is there for the CPGB to form a bloc with these progressive forces, sickened by the gradual return to a ‘Dickensian Britain’ since the 1980s and 1990s and win a parliamentary majority within our lifetime. We need to remake the case for socialism and restore the moral authority that rightly belongs to our tradition.
Steve Davies describes Jack Conrad’s book, Fantastic reality, as “a fundamentally flawed and wholly amateurish attempt to impose communist conclusions on the facts” (Weekly Worker April 17).
This, he asserts, is because Jack Conrad has not read the Qur’an in Qur’anic Arabic; and that the Qur’an cannot be understood through an English translation. This statement can only be attributable to Steve Davies’s “training in the study of religion” rather than any training which he might have in linguistics. I suspect that his claim has more to do with a spiritual rather than a scientific approach to religion.
It is, of course, quite reasonable for a researcher to learn about any religion via translations of its holy texts, as have Jack Conrad, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and many others. Jack Conrad et al have produced works on Marxism and the politics of religion by studying the texts produced by religions, and the history of the religions’ activities resulting from the various dogmas contained in these texts.
Steve Davies accuses the Weekly Worker editors of being “juvenile”. I would counter that his own critique borders on the infantile. Perhaps this is because he suffers from the puerile delusions of the religious.
The National Union of Students conference should not have proposed a ban on Redwatch - and the left was wrong to support it.
On the closing day of NUS conference 2008, a motion proposing to lobby the government for a ban of websites - including Redwatch, Noncewatch and Stormfront - was easily passed. I voted against it. Yes, as a militant anti-fascist, as a communist and as a keen advocate of ‘no platform’, I voted against it. I believe in freedom of speech; I do not believe in state censorship. The majority of the student left at conference supported this motion, in what I would argue shows a remarkable bout of short-sightedness.
To read the whole letter, visit the Communist Student Blog.
We should welcome the International Socialist Group’s decision to back the Green Party in the London mayoral elections (‘Green liquidationists snub Lindsey German’, April 17). With the break-up of Respect, the Greens are now the only viable party to the left of Labour. The Greens are necessarily anti-capitalist, whilst also recognising the ecological and human crises that have accompanied some former communist experiments.
Alan Morgan’s objection that the Greens are “petty bourgeois” is a phrase overused to the point of meaninglessness, with a somewhat inglorious history. For example, it was because Russia’s poor street traders were seen as petty bourgeois that they had their livelihoods wrenched away from them (Victor Serge gives a powerful account of this in his memoirs). Would Alan Morgan advocate the same happening in London?
I am writing to ask what is your view on the celebration of St George’s Day (April 23). I know that communists have respect for other cultural and national identities.
I think St George’s Day should be a national bank holiday for England and have proper celebrations all over our country, like we used to have many years ago. It should be celebrated by everyone who lives here in England. National days are bank holidays in every other country in the world.
The reason why a lot of people, especially socialists, are put off from acknowledging St George’s Day is because the far right have hijacked our national flag and made it into a flag of hate. That is why many who see the English flag or hear the word ‘English’ have this idea that it is related to fascism.
It is time everyone realised that the St George’s cross is not a racist or fascist flag, but a flag for all the people of England, just like any other flag of a nation in the world. These sick ‘white nationalists’ do not even know that St George was an Arab and a muslim. St George is the only saint acknowledged by both christianity and islam.
The reason St George replaced the former patron saint of England, St Edmund (who was English), was to unite all the people of England at the time: ie, the Romans and Anglo-Saxons of the south, together with the Scandinavians and the Vikings of the north. So, if St George could contribute to the multicultural England of that time, then he can definitely contribute to our multicultural England of the present day. By celebrating St George’s Day as ‘England Day’ we will be also celebrating the anniversary of England’s birth as a unified country since 956AD.
I see that the Communist Party advertised a St Patrick’s night event, so why not a St George’s night too, especially when we live in England?
The only political party officially calling for a St George’s Day bank holiday is the English Democrats Party, which is doing a great job removing racism and fascism from national pride. They have a London mayoral candidate, Matt O’Connor, who is famous for being the founder of Fathers 4 Justice.
Criticising those on the left who condemned the 1916 Easter uprising in Ireland as a ‘putsch’, Lenin outlined the possible different patterns of class forces involved in revolts in small nations and then wrote dismissively of these lefts: “Whoever calls such a rebellion a ‘putsch’ is either a hardened reactionary or a doctrinaire hopelessly incapable of envisaging a social revolution as a living phenomenon … So one army lines up in one place and says, ‘We are for socialism’, and another, somewhere else and says, ‘We are for imperialism’, and that will be a social revolution!” (VI Lenin CW Vol 22, pp355-56).
James Turley’s use of empty formulae such as “party-state institution”, “bourgeois-nationalist movement”, “Stalinist party” or “left-nationalist formation in the Soviet sphere” in response to my letter criticising his article ‘Sunshine Stalinism’ just repeats those earlier social democratic positions (Letters, April 3). They are no more correct than they were in Lenin’s time.
The Cuban revolution progressed through the formation and breaking of all sorts of class alliances both before and after January 1 1959 as the working class achieved and consolidated political hegemony. Turley’s approach remains as empty of any intellectual substance as any other social democratic critique of the Cuban revolution.
I would add that it also lacks any self-awareness: how is it that those who have achieved so little feel they have the authority or experience to condemn those who have achieved so much? It reflects how the likes of Turley have unfortunately been unable to shake off the imperialist culture in which they operate.
In her letter, Houzan Mahmoud of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq exposes the honour killings that have run rampant through Iraq (Letters, April 10). Lamentably, though, she conspicuously neglects to point out that these atrocities did not occur until after the imperialist invasion of Iraq led by the United States, which destabilised the country and opened the door for regional power-grabs by islamic fundamentalist militias.
Jack Conrad’s characterisation of Stalinism is inconsistent. He states of the former USSR that it was both “a freak society, not socialist” and a form of “bureaucratic socialism”.
The description of Stalinism as “bureaucratic socialism” is clearly a theoretical mistake. Stalinism was not socialist in any way. None of the features of a socialist society were present in the former Soviet Union. Workers were exploited. They alienated their labour-power. They had no control over the economic surplus. There was no planning. There was no social equality. There was no democracy. Women, Jews and other ethnic groups were oppressed. The population was atomised and large sections were incarcerated and slaughtered.
To state that the former USSR was a bureaucratic socialist state suggests not only that there was something progressive and pro-working class about it, but also that socialism in one country is a possibility if it is democratic. This is a form of utopian Stalinism.
How do we explain Jack Conrad’s inconsistency? It would be easy to attack him personally for his political history as an apologist for the USSR. Moreover, as a leading member of the Campaign for a Marxist Party, he could also be accused of betraying the third founding political principle. This states that no Marxist party “can do other than condemn the Stalinist current and seek to undo the damage done to Marxism by it”.
A position of moral or political condemnation would, however, be incorrect. The fact that Jack Conrad’s thinking on Stalinism is inconsistent is not the effect of a defect in his personality. An explanation can be found elsewhere. As a dedicated and sincere revolutionary, he is struggling to free his thinking from the damage Stalinism has done to it. This damage was deeply anti-theoretical.
A struggle for theoretical clarity is reflected in his ideas on party membership. He suggests this should be based on joint action, not on theory. Thus he states: “What the Soviet Union was or was not can be left for historians and theoreticians to argue over.”
Here he implies that prospective rank and file members would not be interested in differences of opinion amongst Marxists concerning the nature of the former Soviet Union. They would find them divisive and destructive of potential unity. Thus he states that making a theoretical understanding of Stalinism (such as state capitalism or a degenerate workers’ state) a “condition for membership is certainly utterly alien to our understanding of what constitutes a party”.
Whilst I agree that state capitalism and the degenerate workers’ state theory were false doctrines, they had some merit in that they were trying to clarify in workers’ minds that Stalinism was not a form of socialism. As such they helped serve the function of keeping Marxism alive as a theory in a hostile Stalinist environment. It would have been impossible for Marxism to have survived the disintegration of Stalinism if Marxists had argued uniformly and consistently that the Soviet Union was a form of socialism.
I therefore disagree with Jack Conrad that “membership [of a Marxist party] must not be based on agreement with this or that theoretician’s conclusions on the nature of the Soviet Union”. Obviously, any Marxist party would require members to accept and argue for the truth - that the former Soviet Union was not a form of socialism, irrespective of their differences over the detail of the scientific analysis of the regime.
It follows that, in order to grasp this truth and persuade others of it, some basic understanding of “this or that theoretician’s conclusions” is necessary. Study and education are therefore the most important forms of joint action required to build a campaign for a Marxist party.
I think it is significant that Andrew Northall confuses the anarchist critique of Leninism with that of “the bourgeoisie” (Letters, April 10). It shows that ignorance is no handicap for the dedicated ideologue. As for “pathological”, our critique is based on evidence which Northall simply ignores in favour of platitudes about “new forms of democracy” - the very soviets which the Bolsheviks gerrymandered and disbanded when they lost popular support!
Ironically, if Northall were better aware of anarchism, he would know that “workers’ councils ... sovereign general assemblies and committees of delegates elected and accountable at any time” had all been raised by Bakunin in the 1860s. Our critique of Leninism is precisely that in 1917 it was the party, not the working class, which “establish[ed] its own rule, its own power”!
Dan Read, in the same issue, claims that he has “stressed the need to trace the degeneration of the revolution in the actual material and social environment present at the time”. In reality, he has not, as the Bolshevik onslaught on soviet democracy began before the start of civil war in May 1918. In terms of the “social environment”, Russia experienced the same economic dislocations which every revolution has faced and, as such, anarchism’s predictions were proved correct. If Leninism cannot handle the inevitable, then it is best avoided.
Read dismisses Alan Johnstone’s summary, well supported by numerous experts, as “not a fully worked out argument. It is an accusation.” Obviously, Alan is limited to a letter, but the reference is provided. Read asks: “Which is more believable? That soviet democracy based on the industrial working class began to break down due to the disintegration of that class, or that nasty old Lenin was looking for an excuse to infringe on said democracy just because he thought it was a good idea? The answer should be obvious.” It is, if you are aware of the facts.
To quote an expert: “As discontent amongst workers became more and more difficult to ignore, Lenin … began to argue that the consciousness of the working class had deteriorated … workers had become ‘declassed’.” In fact, Lenin first formulated this “to justify a political clampdown” in response to rising working class protest rather than its lack (J Aves Workers against Lenin pp90, p18).
Another notes that, while the “working class had decreased in size and changed in composition”, in Moscow “the protest movement from late 1920 made clear that it was not a negligible force and that in an inchoate way it retained a vision of socialism which was not identified entirely with Bolshevik power … Lenin’s arguments on the declassing of the proletariat was more a way of avoiding this unpleasant truth than a real reflection of what remained … a substantial physical and ideological force” (R Sakwa Soviet communists in power p261).
As in 1918, the Bolsheviks responded to working class protest by state violence - although they had no need to disband soviets: these had long been gerrymandered and marginalised. A “haemorrhaging” class does not need martial law to keep it in line.
Read states that, “just as the head cannot live without the rest of the body, the upper tiers … could not live without the class”. Which reminds me of Serge’s comments that the masses “will be warped by the old regime, relatively uncultivated, often aware, torn by feelings and instincts inherited from the past”. And so “revolutionaries will have to take on the dictatorship without delay”, while the masses are “sympathising instinctively with the party and carrying out the menial tasks required by the revolution”. The party leaders think, the masses obey … with the Cheka at hand if they go on strike or vote the wrong way.
The notion that the (libertarian) socialist critique is that “the Bolsheviks were very bad people and did very bad things” says it all. Rather than look at the evidence we present, it is dismissed. I would say that “what should be a given for any Marxist” is to see whether the working class was capable of taking collective action under Bolshevik rule and when Bolshevik authoritarianism actually began. However, this is being rejected out of hand - probably for the good reason that the answers are inconvenient for Leninism.
Comrade Dave Spencer really is tying himself in knots in his efforts to excuse and justify threats of violence in the Campaign for a Marxist Party.
In his letter of April 3 he condoned John Pearson’s threat to “lamp” Lawrence Parker in this way: “… it is clear to me that John reacted to a deliberate provocation - the verbal abuse from Lawrence Parker …. The context was that the CPGB had declared open season on the [former] CMP committee … Lawrence Parker as a loyal CPGB member decided to join in the fun by verbally abusing the CMP committee.”
When I pointed out that it was Pearson who approached comrade Parker (during the lunch break of the November 24 2007 CMP conference) in order to threaten him and that comrade Parker is not a CPGB member in any case (Letters, April 10), comrade Spencer was forced to change his tune. No longer does he acknowledge that a threat was made and seek out a mitigating “context”. Now he complains that, “Usually, before the facts and assessment of the case are given, defendants are assumed to be innocent” (April 17).
We do indeed need to be sure that there was a threat, take into account the circumstances and, if it is established that the allegations are true, give the accused person the opportunity to withdraw, apologise and undertake not to repeat their behaviour. Failing that, there surely can be no alternative but to expel someone who has resorted to threats of violence as a means of settling disputes - and, what is more, is prepared to act on them.
So let me remind comrade Spencer of the “facts”, none of which have been contested, as far as I know. When the CMP conference resumed after the lunch break, CPGB national organiser Mark Fischer reported the Pearson-Parker incident to the meeting. Pearson did not deny he had threatened comrade Parker (for having referred to him as a “political idiot” in an e-list discussion), but stated that, in the absence of a ‘code of conduct’ which prohibits such terms, violence was only to be expected.
The following day Pearson emailed comrade Parker and repeated the threat, this time in writing: “I told you in private yesterday (stressing that it was indeed private) that I required to be taken off the list of people that you felt entitled to call ‘idiot’ in the course of what should be comradely discussion between communists and I warned you of the consequences if you did it again.”
Pearson continued: “You do not seem to grasp the meaning of ‘private’. Well, two can play that game.” He went on to threaten to reveal personal details about comrade Parker - details that, unlike menacing behaviour between communists, really are “private”.
In view of all this, the CMP committee appointed Hillel Ticktin, Moshé Machover and Sandy McBurney to investigate the complaint by comrade Parker. Comrade Ticktin wrote to Pearson on February 8 asking for his version of events: “The allegation is that you threatened to ‘lamp’ [Lawrence Parker] verbally and then wrote to him a letter in which you suggested that you would reveal circumstances that he would not want known, unless he ceased his criticism of you.”
The letter continued: “We are anxious to receive your version of events before deciding on the detailed procedure, if it is required ... If you feel that the description of events is incorrect or lacks context, we would be glad to receive your account.”
This seems to me to have been the correct manner of proceeding. Pearson was given the opportunity to deny the allegations, claim undue provocation or, if he saw fit to admit making violent threats, withdraw and apologise for them. Note that comrade Ticktin left open the possibility that there might be no need for any further procedure.
Pearson did none of those things. On the same day he replied: “My response to this Machiavellian manoeuvre that you are fronting for your new found unlikely political ally, John Bridge, leader of the CPGB, will be to publish an exposure of the longstanding dirty methods of your friends, which latterly included their setting up of myself through [Parker]. I will, of course, copy you in on my text as soon as it is ready for publication.”
All these exchanges have already been circulated within the CMP (the latter by Pearson himself), so comrade Spencer must be well aware of the underlying “facts”. The facts are that Pearson still stands by his threats and has refused to cooperate with the CMP committee.
So what does comrade Spencer think should happen next? Does he agree that Pearson was ‘set up’ by the CPGB and that it is acceptable to dismiss as a “Machiavellian manoeuvre” a legitimate attempt to investigate an allegation of threatened violence by one CMP member against another? And what about the rest of the so-called Trotskyist Tendency comrades, who recently elected Pearson as their convenor? Do they too condone his behaviour?
In the same week that the letters columns are taken up with the question of the threat of violence in the CMP, Jack Conrad is telling us about how the “humiliating” and “abortive” “halfway house projects are doomed to failure” (‘What sort of party do we need?’, April 10). If Jack Conrad possesses any sense of irony, he must surely appreciate the mocking laughter his words bring forth.
You don’t need to set up a campaign for a Marxist party to understand that, as the left becomes weaker, the number of sects proliferate. Whether inside or outside formal structures, the far left is congenitally unable to work together for the common cause of socialism. Indeed, anyone with a sense of history knows full well that groups on the far left manufacture disagreements in order to justify their own existence. That is certainly, at least in part, an explanation for the fact that the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty has become a pro-Zionist, pro-imperialist sect.
The reality is that the left has become weaker, not simply because of its own internal failings, but because of the objective situation. In the west, thousands, if not millions, of industrial workers have been replaced by service, home and other isolated and atomised workers. What was considered the proletariat was able to attain an economic and to a lesser extent political consciousness because of the nature of their work and how it threw them together against a common enemy. Today that simply doesn’t happen - which is why no strike movements since 1985 have in any way threatened the capitalist class.
In short, the question that Jack doesn’t even pose is whether or not it is possible any longer to talk about the revolutionary overthrow of the ruling class in the west when there doesn’t appear to be any force capable of so doing. The massed battalions of steelworkers, miners, shipyard workers have gone.
There is therefore a need for serious consideration about how best the far left can work together, in common organisations, in order to maximise its strength in areas such as the war, imperialism and, of course, economic attacks at home. If Jack Conrad rules out halfway houses, then what he is really saying is that it is all or nothing. The problem is that we are getting nothing rather than everything.
The Socialist Workers Party leadership has, if not consciously, understood this problem. Unfortunately, it hasn’t engaged in any debate over these crucial questions, not least with its own membership. Instead, it has used bureaucratic methods to keep control of its sect, whilst abandoning any form of class analysis and thereby transformed opportunism from a tactic to principle.
In fact, the CPGB has found that halfway houses are not such a bad thing. By forming Hands Off the People of Iran - and no-one doubts that it is its inspiration - it has drawn in political forces that it would otherwise be unable to work with on a consistent basis. The question is how to generalise from this.
No-one doubts that a revolutionary party leading the working class to a successful revolution worldwide would be an answer to the problems facing humanity. But there is unfortunately no sign, 200 years after the industrial revolution began, that the overthrow of capitalism is any nearer. Quite the contrary. So, instead of pretending and playing at revolutionary politics, it would be good if, just occasionally, we could recognise the elephant in the room and also seek to understand why the history of the left so far is one of utter failure.