I have been following the kafuffle regarding a code of conduct for the Campaign for a Marxist Party with some interest, particularly as its proponent is Dave Spencer (Letters, April 17).
I am reminded of the shenanigans on the Socialist Alliance Democratic Platform’s email discussion list in January 2005 after the adoption of a code of conduct proposed by its moderator. This code of conduct, ostensibly designed to guarantee civility during political debate, was in fact used as a bludgeon and a gag against anyone perceived by the moderator to be ‘stepping out of line’.
List members, including yours truly, were censured, or “booted off” (to use the moderator’s actual words) because they had said something, or defended someone who said something, to which the moderator took exception. The reason given by the moderator was that they had violated the “list code of conduct”. In this case, the moderator’s reaction to criticism turned into a full-blown witch-hunt against anyone who dared question or criticise his excessive and arbitrary measures.
As one list member observed, “Rules of netiquette, codes of conduct, procedures, etc have been made up, interpreted, applied arbitrarily, inconsistently and in a partisan way by the sort of people who like doing that sort of thing (with or without the cover of ‘democracy’).”
In response, the moderator wrote: “You’re booted … Good riddance. The confirmatory poll will follow the one concerning TG [a list member who had already been excluded]. In detestation, JP.” It was reminiscent of a scene from Alice in Wonderland, with an ever more paranoid Red Queen barking “Off with his head!” every few minutes with increasing shrillness.
The moderator ignored a poll in which 90% of the voters supported the reinstatement of those expelled, and a poll with a similar majority calling for his replacement as moderator. He described the list members who voted against him and his arbitrary expulsions as “a mob”. The situation oddly resembled the present situation in Zimbabwe, when one of the polls mysteriously disappeared.
Indeed, it got to the point where the rogue moderator took the unjustifiable (for a socialist) step of writing to the employer of the list member he’d first expelled, allegedly because that member had sent ‘abusive’ emails to his private address.
The rogue moderator was none other than John Pearson. So it sets the alarm bells jangling when I hear about his loyal lieutenant, comrade Spencer, advocating the imposition of a code of conduct.
When Jack Conrad uses the phrase “bureaucratic socialism” he quite clearly means a freak society, not proletarian socialist in any form acceptable to Marxist theory. Comrade Paul B Smith chooses to interpret the phrase to mean something different (Letters, April 24). That is his privilege. But if he genuinely wants to understand the argument he needs to concentrate on what Conrad is actually saying and not knock down straw men.
There is no easy answer to how communist unity can be achieved. But comrade Smith, coming as he does from a Trotskyist background, will be only too well aware that attempts to make organisational unity dependent on theoretical agreement are doomed to failure. Communists simply do not agree on every theoretical question but there is no reason why that should prevent them accepting a common programme. The number of communist sects that present the working class with almost identical programmes while refusing to have anything to do with each other is legion and still multiplying, despite the fact that the left continues to shrink.
Comrade Smith does not say outright that he wants a party united around a confessional ideology, but his rejection of the principle that communists should unite around practice in effect leaves no other option.
Yes, Stalinism is an anti-working class ‘theory’. It is also an example of anti-working class practice. But I don’t accept that comrade Smith is a good judge of anything. He is much too inclined to distort the beliefs of others to further his case. I suppose if comrade Smith could prove to his own satisfaction that the CPGB were Stalinist, he would have no option but to call for our expulsion. After all, it’s in the rules. What a bureaucratic socialist mindset!
Anyone who looks at our Draft programme will see that it is based on a concrete view of Marxist essentials. My concern with the CMP as a project is that it seems to be a home for people who only want to sit around discussing theory but are showing no enthusiasm to unite in practice. Theory is both important and interesting and influences what we do; but of its nature it emphasises areas of disagreement, not unity.
I was disheartened to read that the majority of CPGB comrades voted against the motion from Nick Rogers at the last aggregate (‘Fascism and the left’, April 24).
Speaking frankly, the Provisional Central Committee’s resolution on fascism has little historical perspective with regard to Britain. There is an enormous amount of theorising about definitions of fascism in Germany and elsewhere and very little concrete to change my view - and doubtless the view of many others on the left - that the British National Party is indeed a fascist party and that one of the reasons they do not organise violence as often these days is precisely because generations of working people and political activists fought them off in the streets.
These pitched battles took place as recently as the mid-90s and I think it is incredibly naive of comrades to believe that the BNP has merely retreated to electoralist politics out of choice and not because they have been met at every stage of their violent behaviour by no-platforming and physical confrontations against them by members of the communities they tried to destroy and dedicated political activists.
Most recently, a number of Labour Party councillors, MPs, Respect Renewal, the SWP, trade union activists and residents of Hackney and Tower Hamlets no-platformed the BNP by campaigning against Hackney Gazette parent company Archant’s attempt to force the Gazette to run an ad by the BNP. We went to newsagents and spoke to the mostly Asian shopkeepers who pledged not to take orders for the Gazette if the ad ran, as well as working with NUJ members who worked at the Gazette and the East London Advertiser (another paper that was going to take the ad) and forced Archant to retreat - all in the course of one weekend.
I didn’t call or invite your comrades with regard to this campaign, even though a number of them live locally, because I am aware of your majority position. But let me ask you this: do you think the fact that so many people in the community responded immediately to the call to keep this ad out of Hackney is because none of us understand the true nature of the BNP and that we need more of a theoretical education on terms and definitions (as your now adopted line seems to suggest) or do you think it is perhaps because working people really do know what the BNP are about - that they are not just another rightwing party like the UK Independence Party and are in reality a violent fascist party?
While the comrades supporting the PCC resolution may feel they have won a victory, they must recognise that it is very small indeed. In fact, it is not even people like myself or other leftists that you have to convince with this view, but the people I have mentioned above - our neighbours, our co-workers and our local trade unionists - who have physically fought off the BNP and wouldn’t hesitate to do so again should the need arise. I doubt they will find an argument based on a theoretical definition of fascism that concludes the BNP does not technically fit this category to be more convincing than the reality of physical violence they have experienced first-hand, generation after generation.
I would urge CPGB comrades to continue the debate and reconsider their adopted position.
I have been reading the Weekly Worker for some time now and find the paper to be interesting and informative.
I found the recent piece on fascism to be useful, but question whether it’s correct not to regard the BNP as a fascist organisation. What about the existence of Combat 18 and its links with the BNP?
I agree that at the present time there is no mass fascist party due to the lack of an economic crisis in Britain. But this is not to say that, should the crisis deepen and the bourgeoisie is looking for a way to restore profitability, then fascism may be one tool. Another tool could be a military coup d’etat.
Vicky Thompson writes: “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” (Letters, April 24).
No, Vicky, communists don’t vote against government censorship of fascists because they believe in “free speech”. We do not recognise the right of free speech for fascists, because their speech is used to incite the murder of workers and their supporters. The sole reason why we oppose such censorship is because we know that such laws would be used against us communists, under the ostensible rationale that both communists and fascists are extremists and that censoring fascists and not communists would be tantamount to advocating communism. No free speech for fascists!
Civil service managers at the site where staff member Frank Swaine has been given permission to stand for the neo-Nazi British National Party have told the PCS union that “issuing critical leaflets or other messages to staff” about the BNP “would be unacceptable”. Elsewhere in the same letter they ask the union to raise the issue with managers if they believe Mr Swaine fails to adhere to the civil service code. In fact, the branch has already done so.
In a formal complaint the PCS asked that Frank Swaine be asked to dissociate himself from the statements by Nick Griffin that opposition should be met by “well directed fists and boots”, from the comments by the BNP’s former London organiser that rape was no more serious than force-feeding a woman chocolate cake, from those parts of the BNP’s constitution that bar non-whites from membership and from those parts of the 2007 manifesto that touch directly upon the child support agency’s responsibilities.
The management response did not answer any of the specific issues raised and simply said: “It is important to recognise that there is a clear distinction between a person’s private and sincerely held views and the department for work and pensions core values, especially the value of respecting people ... In the case you brought to my attention there has not been a breach of the standards of behaviour.” In fact, the standards of behaviour state, in so many words, that staff have a duty “to promote diversity in the communities in which they work”.
In this same site, the elected chair of the union has been sacked on a number of charges that the branch believe to be trumped up, and all of which relate to his union activity.
It is, of course, big and clever to sneer that the Communist Party of Britain’s candidates are not “household names” (‘Choosing between opportunists’, April 24).
Perhaps not, but do you imagine that Jack Conrad - or any other member of your own group - is a household name? For that matter, how many council candidates, no matter what party, are household names?
Cold war figures
I recently read Jack Conrad’s ‘Genesis of bureaucratic socialism’ series of articles from 1996-97. I have to apologise for my out-of-date response, but I feel the urge to point out some serious errors in your analysis.
Conrad writes: “Socialism is the scientific term for the transition to communism.” I have to agree with Hillel Ticktin here: “The fundamental aspect of a communist or socialist society (I make no distinction between the two) is that for the first time a society is planned by the associated producers themselves.”
After all, that statement is grounded more in Marxist theory than what you state. It’s true that Lenin spoke of “socialist construction”, but socialism as a whole wasn’t treated as a transition period, but as the lowest phase of a communist society. Meaning it’s already communism - communism ‘unfulfilled’. A close examination of the Critique of the Gotha programme would be useful here.
In part three of Conrad’s series - ‘Terror’ - there are ‘facts’ which are far from based on scientific research. This has, most of all, to do with your use as a major source of Robert Conquest. It is totally absurd and naive nowadays (after the opening of Soviet archives) to rely on him.
On the number of victims, you use the figure of 10-12 million. That is simply a cold war fabrication and isn’t grounded in any scientific data. In terms of victims one can bring it down to:
(1) gulag deaths (not executions): estimated at 1-1.5 million;
(2) executions ordered (about 700,000-800,000 from 1921 to 1953 - most (680,000) were carried out between 1937 and 1938;
(3) deportation deaths (200,000).
There is a debate as to whether we should add famine victims, but, leaving these aside, we get a figure of 2-2.5 million. However, that is still quite misleading. Yes, people died in gulags, but so do people in prisons every day. Stalin-period bureaucracy can be blamed for enlarging the gulag system from 1929 onwards and that indeed resulted in more deaths. But that’s not to claim that the bureaucracy was to blame for every single death that occurred anywhere in the Soviet Union during those years.
To use Conquest is to discredit your work of trying to provide a Marxist-based analysis of the Soviet Union.
Cold war figures
Cold war figures
Bob and Elvis
It needs to be said that the issue of Zimbabwe is the business of the left because in years past Mugabe was one of ours (‘How to break Mugabe’s grip’, April 17). This is how some of our movements turn out and we should learn from that.
These days there is a split on the international left about Mugabe and the last few years of crisis. It’s been difficult for many of us to come out against him. One thing is the politically unsavoury nature of major parts of the main opposition group’s platform. The Movement for Democratic Change is a somewhat plural party that favours freedom of speech and is supported by trade unions.
That’s the good news. But it’s also a neoliberal party that is generally in favour of limited privatisation and has received western backing. This is simply not a party that socialists would prefer to be rooting for, to say the least. Critically, it also came out against land reform.
With all of those reservations, I am damn pleased that the MDC has taken the parliament and - intentional delay aside - seems to have taken the presidency. Zanu-PF is an entrenched clique with an autocratic president that needs to be dislodged after 28 years in power.
Here’s to hoping the Zimbabwean people kick the corpse off the throne.
Bob and Elvis
Bob and Elvis
I was pleased to read that the target of an extra £500 a month in standing orders to pay for the commercial printing of the Weekly Worker has been reached.
The continued weekly production of a hard copy of the paper contrasts with the shift backwards by Socialist Worker in the USA to a fortnightly edition. The excuse given on its website was that the move to a fortnightly hard copy was to free up resources necessary to update its website on a daily basis.
The decision to seek the commercial printing of the Weekly Worker has been vindicated. The original target of £500 by July can be at least doubled.
The CPGB should discuss how the support and goodwill for the Weekly Worker can be used to improve the quality of the hard copy and also its website.