01/12/2017 by Ian
Seek ‘Safe Space’ from real Anti-Imperialism/Anti-Zionism
It would seem absurd in the middle of a campaign against socialists in the Labour Party, for part of the left, itself under attack with suspensions and expulsions, to refuse to defend others and imply that some socialists really are worthy of expulsion. Such behaviour would surely be regarded as grotesque treachery by any class conscious worker.
Apparently three members of the Steering Committee of ‘Labour Against the Witchhunt’, an organisation that has held one national meeting (on October 21st) have decided that Socialist Fight, one of only two organised Marxist trends at the initial meeting, are to be excluded. A statement to this effect was published in the Weekly Worker of 23 November:
“Those, like the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, who promote the false anti-Semitism smear, who conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism and who promote the myth of left anti-Semitism, are not welcome in LAW.
Those, like Socialist Fight, who promote the ‘socialism of fools’- the view that imperialism’s support for Zionism and Israel is because of the influence of Jews – are also not welcome in LAW.” (Signed by Tony Greenstein, Stan Keable and Jackie Walker)
Aside from the anti-democratic nature of this decree – apparently we are to be excluded without any kind of hearing or democratic process, purely for our political views on the Israeli/Jewish question, which are caricatured and vulgarised in a manner worthy of the Zionist hacks who caricatured their own views (all three of these individuals are either suspended or expelled from the Labour Party themselves), there is a glaring contradiction between the two paragraphs above.
Apparently, the Alliance for Workers Liberty are excluded, not because of their actions: refusing to defend left-wingers, which would be correct and rational, but purely for the ideas from which those actions flow. This is no accidental formulation; if people were to be excluded from Labour against the Witchhunt for refusing to oppose the witchhunt, then surely these comrades would, on the basis of this statement, have to exclude themselves.
After all, by excluding expelled LP member Gerry Downing from LAW despite Socialist Fight’s firm defence of these three comrades, along with Moshe Machover, from the witchhunt, they are behaving no differently from the AWL; seeking to exclude from Labour socialists whose programmatic and political stance they oppose, contrary to the elementary working class maxim that “an injury to one is an injury to all”. Whatever anyone may say about the politics of Socialist Fight, we are the only tendency demanding a genuine united front defence campaign and the reinstatement of all socialists expelled from Labour
Left-wing anti-Semitism – a myth and an oxymoron
So apparently the AWL are unwelcome, not for their actions, which our intrepid three cannot quarrel with in principle judging by the above, but for their ideas. Conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, and thus believing in ‘left-wing anti-Semitism’ which is apparently a ‘myth’.
But if ‘left-wing anti-semitism’ is a ‘myth’, how come Socialist Fight is being excluded on the basis of the same myth? For two of the three signatories of the above statement are fellow-travellers of the Weekly Worker/CPGB, supporting its allied group in the Labour Party, known as Labour Party Marxists, as is comrade Keable, or a years-long sympathiser and contributor, as is comrade Greenstein. It is not clear where comrade Walker stands with regard to this, but she appears to concur with them in any case, so the question is abstract.
Consistency is not the CPGB’s strong suit. Their anathema against our analysis of the role of Jewish bourgeois in the diaspora in bolstering Israel’s strength in the older imperialist countries goes back to 2014, when one of our now-leading members was driven out of the CPGB-initiated ‘Communist Platform’ in Left Unity, before the Corbyn movement emerged. That anathema stated that our comrade had to be driven out because:
“Advocacy of anti-Semitic ideas is not the exclusive preserve of the far right … there is a left anti-Semitism too. Sadly that is still the case …. Anti-Semitism, especially its leftwing version, plays directly into the hands of the Israeli government” (http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1026/no-place-for-anti-semitism/)
So it seems that the ideological rationale by which CPGB fellow travellers seek to exclude AWL supporters from Labour Against the Witchhunt, is one that the CPGB are also guilty of. It is key to their rationale for purging Socialist Fight.
Aborting workers democracy
This exclusion decree from the CPGB’s fellow travellers has the name ‘Jack Conrad’ written all over it. It is his practice, in the past and now, to sabotage real political and programmatic debate on the left through bureaucratic tricks. His motion in the Communist Platform in 2014, quoted above, was designed to stop discussion of the document Draft Theses on the Jews and Modern Imperialism, submitted for debate within the Communist Platform during Israel’s Protective Edge massacre, which was later adopted by Socialist Fight. (https://socialistfight.com/2016/01/07/draft-theses-on-the-jews-and-modern-imperialism-by-ian-donovan-6-9-2014/) Characteristically, Conrad insisted that his anathema pre-empt discussion of the theses themselves.
This time around, the exclusion has a similar purpose: stopping the kind of principled political debate that a genuine United Front campaign should engage in to arm the workers movement politically against the Zionist/Blairite witchhunt. After we were bureaucratically excluded from the LAW Facebook group, to which we had been among the first subscribers, simply for defending our own views in a comprehensive article (now published at https://socialistfight.com/2017/11/19/anti-marxist-fulminations-in-labour-against-the-witchhunt-a-reply/), we submitted the following motion for the next LAW meeting:
“Labour against the Witchhunt endorses the thrust of the motion put by comrade Stan Keable before the Ravenscourt branch of Hammersmith CLP in November 2106, which demanded:
‘.. the immediate lifting of all of the suspensions and expulsions from Labour Party membership in any way connected to the ‘anti-Semitism’ smear campaign and witch-hunt. That includes Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone, Tony Greenstein, Gerry Downing and numerous other supporters of the Palestinian cause.’
“Membership of Labour Against the Witchhunt should be open to all those who adhere to the principles of this resolution, i.e. to Labour Party current members and victimised members who oppose the witchhunt root and branch. It should not be open to those, such as the Alliiance for Workers Liberty, who refuse to defend all these and others, such as Moshe Machover, who have been purged on the say-so of Zionists and/or Blarities. These are outside of the framework of Labour Against the Witchhunt by virtue of not really being opposed to the witchhunt.
“Provided this class line is observed, we follow the practice of freedom of political debate among LAW members. In particular we should uphold the norms that we advocate in the Labour Party itself, that “the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions” should not be grounds for exclusion.
“More generally, Labour against the Witchhunt considers that the current witchhunt, specifically the anti-Semitism smears, but also other facets of it, are only the latest in a long series of efforts by the right wing to purge all socialist and anti-imperialist voices from Labour. We demand the readmission of all current and past socialist, working class and oppressed minority expellees on condition that they are not currently involved in standing against official Labour candidates in elections.
“In that regard, we note that the most prominent victim of pro-Zionist, pro-imperialist witchhunting in the last historical period of Blairite domination, was George Galloway. His 2003 expulsion was an outrage, and the most prominent purge of a left-wing dissident since the expulsion of Konni Zilliacus MP at the height of post –WWII McCarthyism.
“We therefore publicly call for the reinstatement of George Galloway to full membership of the Labour Party forthwith, and resolve to write to him, given his prominence, to invite him to play the role of our honorary president.”
This is actually the advocacy of a democratic, confident and assertively anti-imperialist campaign, attempting to draw in George Galloway, among others, as the most prominent element on the mainstream Labour left purged for anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism. This perspective, which would likely draw in fresh forces from wider social layers sympathetic to the Palestinians, is not what the CPGB leadership have in mind.
This would be too ‘anti-imperialist’ for the CPGB, whose cowardice here is similar to their flinching over the witchhunt against Galloway over Iraq in 2003-04. We submitted our motion on 19 Nov. On 22 Nov we received the following communication from Stan Keable on behalf of the three-person rump steering group of LAW (Pete Firmin, the fourth member, had resigned due to difficulty in working with some of the others):
“You are excluded from the Labour Against the Witchhunt campaign
“Labour Against the Witchhunt (LAW) does not wish to be associated with the ‘socialism of fools’ espoused by Socialist Fight – the view that imperialism’s support for Zionism and Israel is because of the influence of a Jewish component of the capitalist class.
“You will therefore be excluded from membership of the campaign, from participation in its discussion forums and organizing meetings (but not from its public meetings).
“You will not be permitted to attend the December 2nd LAW meeting.
“Stan Keable, LAW Secretary”
The about-face of Stan Keable is quite startling for the unitiated. He was the author of the 2016 motion quoted earlier (http://labourpartymarxists.org.uk/motion-labour-party-anti-semitism-smear-and-witch-hunt/), which defended Gerry Downing and the other leftist comrades in a way that was posed as a matter of principle. LPM rightly denounced the bureaucracy, including people associated with Jeremy Corbyn’s office, for ruling this out of order. Now he is ruling our motion out of order, to prevent proper debate on the witchhunt, and to prevent LAW acting on the principles in his own motion.
This is centrist opportunism: “revolutionary in words, opportunist in deeds”. At the time of the purge of the Communist Platform , comrade Keable was not keen on what was happening and absented himself. This conduct is consistent with the principled motion he put at Ravenscourt. But this is the price of not confronting misleadership: you are eventually made complicit even if you are uneasy.
George Galloway in full anti-Zionist flood here.
Philo-Semitism and anti-Muslim bias
Crossing class lines is what this is about. The invitation to George Galloway proposed in our motion resonates with another time that the CPGB crossed class lines on issues involving a Zionist/Blairite witchhunt against anti-imperialists. As we pointed out in the Facebook group, in 2003 at the height of the Iraq war, when Galloway was smeared by the Daily Telegraph as being bribed by Saddam Hussein:
“They ran a back-page article, titled ‘Trial by Telegraph’ …, written by Dave Osler, which opined that Galloway was probably guilty of being in the pay of Saddam Hussein as the Telegraph alleged, and that ‘the left should lead the condemnation’. Galloway then successfully sued the Daily Telegraph for libel; and also won the subsequent appeal.”
Though they retreated from this under criticism internally and externally, they never fully accounted for it. Another manifestation was when Galloway was beaten by a Jewish extremist during the Gaza massacre in 2014. While they were purging consistent anti-Zionists from their milieu, along with the entire cowardly Labour left, they failed to condemn this savage beating of a left MP.
Their politics are marked by hostility to anti-imperialism, and a refusal to defend the democratic rights of Muslim peoples in struggles against imperialism abroad; they have even taken the wrong side in conflicts over democratic rights involving Muslim populations at home.
As imperialism engaged in its ‘war on terror’ since 2000, they have stridently polemicised against taking sides with countries and movements who come into conflict with imperialism and Zionism. This has been a point of honour for them, attacking ‘reactionary anti-imperialism’ and ‘reactionary anti-Zionism’: attacking resistance from Arab and Muslim masses led by either Islamic or secular regimes or movements that are not paragons of Western style ‘democracy’ and not prepared to passively accept the colonisation of Palestine.
The CPGB’s denounced those who supported Iraqi resistance against the 2003 invasion. As Eddie Ford, one of their mainstream writers stated:
“…it is proclaimed – with a certain warped logic – that organisations like the CPGB are guilty of a gross betrayal …. To make amends, and become a principled organisation again, the CPGB has to proclaim – ‘Victory to the Iraqi resistance!’ But of course the CPGB has no intention of adopting such a position, or muting our opposition to the political islamists and other reactionary anti-imperialists.” (http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/595/politics-of-despair-and-reactionary-anti-imperiali/)
Slightly more embarrassing, given their current alliance with Jewish anti-Zionists such as Tony Greenstein, was their refusal to take sides with Hamas when they were elected to government in 2006, and the following year overthrown in the West Bank in an Israeli backed coup by the collaborator Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. In a recent exchange with Socialist Fight about this, Tony Greenstein lamely said that:
“The allegation that the CPGB was neutral … when Abbas and Israel attempted to overthrow Hamas in Gaza does not accord with my recollection. ” (http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1175/letters/)
There is a problem with their online archive about this period. It does appear, if you peruse it, that they wrote nothing about this issue at the time. However, a careful search unearths Tony Greenstein himself complaining about the softness on Zionism of Jack Conrad in the following terms (only the second part of Conrad’s article appears available in their archive):
“Nor is it true that ‘Territorially Palestinian politics are cleaved between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah on the West Bank.’ This is a BBC-style simplification. The reality is that Fatah and the Palestinian authority on the West Bank are armed, trained and funded by the CIA and Israel. Hamas, despite their politics, are at least seen as standing up to the Zionist enemy…
“What is most disturbing about Conrad’s article is its conscious parodying of AWL attacks on the anti-imperialist left. If the CPGB wishes to join the AWL in its contempt for any principled opposition to national chauvinism and imperialism, then let it say so clearly and unambiguously.” (http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/749/beyond-zionism-or-continuing-zionism/)
This suggests that our recollection of their position is not only accurate but that Tony Greenstein was highly disturbed by it at the time.
Then there is their campaign ‘Hands of the People of Iran’ (HOPI) whose propaganda is carefully formulated so that in an imperialist attack on Iran, they would not be taking a side with Iran itself. That is the reason it is not simply called ‘Hands off Iran’: such a bald statement of defiance of imperialist threats is outside their centrist politics.
The CPGB has also gone along with attacks on Muslims at home. In May 2015, when the British state and Tories overruled Tower Hamlets voters, who had twice elected an independent Muslim mayor, Lutfur Rahman, overturned his election and banned him standing again, the CPGB refused to oppose this. They criticised Left Unity from the right, but were sufficiently shamefaced to keep this under wraps. In an email circular to their periphery, they wrote:
“…we now have a rerun of last year’s Tower Hamlets mayoral election to deal with after a high court decision against erstwhile mayor Lutfur Rahman. Many leftists are queueing up to defend poor Rahman, regrettably now including Left Unity, whose leadership has now decided to support Rabina Khan, Rahman’s anointed successor, in June’s election. (Notes for Action, 7 May 2015)
When that received a bad reception, they shifted to a paper endorsement of Rabina Khan, without denouncing the overthrow of the Mayor she was standing in place of!
“But under the circumstances of the present election in Tower Hamlets, the strongest possible vote for Rabina Khan is a vote against the austerity consensus – and a vote against the large-scale political corruption which is ignored in the attack on Tower Hamlets.” (http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1061/tower-hamlets-vote-rabina-khan/)
But while Rabina Khan’s opposition to austerity indeed made her supportable at that time, in true economistic fashion the CPGB evaded the issue of democracy: the racist, pro-Zionist, anti-Muslim coup against the Tower Hamlets Muslim electorate orchestrated by Conservative Friend of Israel Eric Pickles. That would mean they had to denounce the coup itself, which they did not.
A reluctance to defend the democratic rights of Arabs and Muslims oppressed by imperialism has been a constant of their politics for the last two decades. The reverse side of this is their indulgence of Jewish sensibilities and ‘left’ forms of Jewish communalism. In this, they are not fighting racism, as they sometimes, though not very coherently pretend. They are adapting to it. When the CPGB denounces so-called ‘anti-Semitism’ by their Trotskyist opponents, they are joined by the ruling class, which is also very concerned about ‘left anti-Semitism’ in the Labour Party.
This is rooted in an opportunistic adaptation to bourgeois ideology, where they exonerate the ruling class of racism while seemingly being only able to locate it on the left. Thus we see a more left-talking form of the ‘third camp’ ideology of the Alliance for Workers Liberty, which involves a programmatic harshness on the nationalism of oppressed minorities, and a softness on the nationalism and bigotry of oppressor groups and minorities.
Tony Greenstein and Moshe Machover, at the Communist University 2016, where Norman Finkelstein completely exposed their witch hunt of Socialist Fight.
Jews and Muslims
The CPGB’s bloc with Bundist-influenced Jewish socialists such as Tony Greenstein and Moshe Machover, who have played initiating or supporting roles in various Jews-only political campaigns, such as Jews Against Zionism, Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (JBiG) etc, only underlines this philo-semitic, Islamophobic bias. The purpose of these groups is to, by emphasising their Jewishness, to ‘kosher’ the Palestinian solidarity movement and parry the inevitable smears of anti-Semitism that Zionists throw at it.
These groups are founded on a key political opportunism. They tacitly accept a key Zionist notion that is hegemonic in today’s racist society: the notion of Jewish moral superiority: that anyone who opposes Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians is guilty of anti-Semitism until proven innocent.
This is a racist notion that needs to be fought, not conciliated with a Kosher-wash that brings with it an inevitable paternalism over Arabs by socialists with communal affinity with, even if countered by political antagonism towards, the Israeli- Jewish oppressors of the Palestinians and other Jewish trends abroad who give them support on a communal basis.
The CPGB excuses the nationalism of the oppressor with demagogy. Its fellow travellers accuse Socialist Fight of believing that “imperialism’s support for Zionism and Israel is because of the influence of a Jewish component of the capitalist class”.
It is factually demonstrable that there exists a Jewish component within the ruling classes of Western countries that exceeds by many times over the proportion of Jews in the general population, and that this part of the ruling class is overwhelmingly loyal to Israel. This does not determine the bare existence of a Western alliance with Israel.
What it does, however, is play an important role in transforming what would otherwise be a ‘normal’ relationship similar to that of the US, UK, Germany etc. with each other as NATO allies, into a servile relationship where states like the USA give barely critical support to Israeli atrocities against Palestinians that certainly do not accord with obvious US, UK etc. imperial interests. It also gives Zionism a social power to persecute critics of Israel in Western societies not possessed by any other allied state. Including in the British Labour Party…
This is an empirically obvious fact that has been noted by a wide range of observers, from a variety of standpoints, from Israeli dissidents like the late Israel Shahak and more recently Gilad Atzmon, to Marxists like ourselves, to Jewish diaspora dissidents like Norman Finkelstein, to even conservative US bourgeois observers like Mearsheimer and Walt. Even Charles Windsor once noticed it and drew attention to it in private correspondence, it seems.
Yet the CPGB and its allies deny that this phenomenon exists, and seek to deny workers democracy to those who draw attention to it. This is not an anti-racist struggle on their behalf, but a pandering to the nationalism and communalism of an oppressor people, as Jews have become today insofar as under Zionist leadership they manage to act collectively.
It is the flip-side of their anti-Muslim capitulations. Jews are the one people in the imperialist epoch that have comprehensively escaped from systematic oppression and joined the ranks of oppressor peoples in the imperialist world order. This is because the oppression that led to their persecution and attempted genocide in the mid-20th Century was rooted in feudal, not capitalist society.
Where once they were confined to impoverished ghettoes and overrepresented in prisons like the black population today, today the opposite is true. The formerly oppressed Jewish artisan-proletariat has disappeared, and Jews are now disproportionately represented in the upper reaches of the middle classes and indeed the ruling class itself. Anti-Semitism is now marginal and residual, and even though there is still a considerable Jewish liberalism, particularly in the US where the old oppression never really took root, racist Jews increasingly play a serious role in reactionary politics, particularly anti-Muslim agitation.
Contradictions of CPGB bloc with left-Bundists
Such observations are anathema to Jack Conrad (above). But oddly enough, they are not so outlandish to some of his more left-wing allies in this witchhunt, particularly comrade Greenstein. Indeed several of his pronouncements completely undermine the flimsy rationale that Conrad has constructed to justify his pandering to Jewish communalism and flinging smears about ‘anti-Semitism’ at Socialist Fight and anyone who may see truth in our ideas.
Tony Greenstein has repeatedly and correctly stated that he does not believe that there is such a thing as ‘left-wing anti-Semitism’. Indeed, that is undoubtedly why the LAW justification for excluding the AWL includes that statement about the ‘myth’ of left anti-Semitism. But the entire thrust of the CPGB’s own justification for its anathema against our politics is that it is an example of ‘left’ anti-Semitism. Thus Greenstein’s bloc with the CPGB on this is theoretically incestuous and politically unprincipled.
Then there is the question of the nature of anti-Semitism itself. As we noted earlier, at the first LAW meeting, Tony Greenstein, the CPGB, Jackie Walker and others voted down our amendment that defined anti-Semitism as “racist hostility to Jews as Jews” as opposed to the vague wording of the Brian Klug definition, which can easily be interpreted to deem criticism of ideologies adhered to by Jewish people, and of actions that flow from them, as anti-Semitic.
This is exactly the rationale used to witchhunt Socialist Fight supporters from LAW. In justifying our exclusion from the Facebook group, Tony Greenstein wrote to one of our people that:
“Although as I have often said you are not personally anti-Semitic the political argument you put forward is anti-Semitic by focussing on the ‘Jewish’ component of the US ruling class and using that to explain the US’s political support for Zionism and the Israeli state”
This distinction between ‘personal’ anti-Semitism and ‘political’ is nonsense. If you are talking about racism, then racism is as racism does. Racist politics are put into operation by racist individuals. Greenstein knows this, and cannot reconcile this contradiction in his reasoning. So he wavers on whether when he talks about anti-Semitism being synonymous with racism, he means it or not.
This he recently wrote:
“Anti-Semitism of course is a form of racism against Jews as individuals. It is not hatred or criticism of a state. You cannot be racist towards a state. States are not human beings they are the constructs of human beings” (http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/bogus-definition-of-anti-semitism_2.html)
And again, recently we find him saying:
“Absurdly they [the AWL – SF] argue that ‘left anti-Semitism’ is not racist! As I pointed out at a debate with Daniel Randall on the 15th September 2016, if it’s not racist it’s not anti-Semitic either! ” (http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/search?updated-max=2017-11-13T17:07:00Z&max-results=7&start=10&by-date=false)
And yet, at the 21 October meeting of Labour Against the Witchhunt, he and others voted down our amendment that would have had LAW define anti-Semitism as ‘racist hostility to Jews as Jews”, rejecting the addition of the word ‘racist’ to the Klug definition to clarify this very point. The purpose of this betrayal of what Greenstein is quoted as saying above is to preserve wriggle-room for his own opportunism, when the most contentious issues regarding Zionist influence in the imperialist countries are posed point blank. Thus he wrote to our comrade that the reason for our removal was that:
“Unfortunately, your presence on the list has become divisive”
“I don’t believe for one moment that either you or Gerry are anti-Semitic, but by focussing on the Jewish component of the ruling class, assuming that there is such an identifiable component, is crass, anti-Semitic and counterproductive.” (Facebook message)
This usage of ‘anti-Semitic ’ contradicts that quoted above, as synonymous with racism. The key words are ‘divisive’ and ‘counterproductive’. This is the language of opportunism. He concedes that there may be such a layer in the ruling class, but that it is ‘divisive’ and ‘counterproductive’ to talk about it.
Facts are facts. If it can be demonstrated factually that this layer exists, as we believe we have done, it is the duty of Marxists to analyse and draw the relevant conclusions. It is clear from this that Tony Greenstein suspects that we may be right, but is sacrificing workers democracy to political expediency as our case, given current sensibilities, is for him too difficult to make.
Greenstein is right that criticism of a state is not racist. Nor is criticism of a ruling class. Ruling classes create states to defend their interests. Nor part of a class, if it can be identified by material interests. The Jewish-Zionist component of the US and other Western ruling classes can be identified as having a material interest in the Israeli state by virtue of the Israeli Law of Return, which gives them citizenship rights in Israel. Since Israel is a bourgeois state that belongs to the capitalists who are its citizens, this unusual situation, which is collective, not incidental, means there is an overlap between the ruling class of Israel and other Western ruling classes, based on ethnic nationalism.
In the polemic cited above, Greenstein criticises the AWL for ““treat[ing] Zionism not as an ethno-nationalist settler colonial movement but as a legitimate form of nationalism”
Thus he concedes that the Zionist movement as it originated in the diaspora was an ethno-nationalist movement. Why then is it such a leap to describe the disaspora Western Jewish bourgeoisie that benefits from Israel’s Law of Return, and identifies with Israel, as driven by the same ethno-nationalism?
Greenstein ridicules the AWL for “criticis[ing Moshe] Machover for the ‘trope of Nazi-Zionist collaboration’” and then adds that “‘trope’ is a favoured word for Zionist dopes!” But here, Greenstein is behaving just like the AWL, opportunistically using another ‘trope’ (of ‘Jewish power’) to rule out a materialist analysis of the role of a Jewish-Zionist caste within the wider bourgeoisie, because it is ‘divisive’. Well, divisive or not, it exists! And it is a key mechanism in oppressing the Palestinians and making it more difficult to achieve the solidarity that black South Africans, for instance, benefitted from during the apartheid period.
Hal Draper and Joe Stalin in their younger days, third campism and bureaucratic reaction, seeming opposites but both a capitulation to imperialism in different ways coming together with the same ultimate political aim; anti-Trotskyism.
Anti-Trotskyist mélange of Draper and Stalin
The CPGB are sabotaging the potential of Labour against the Witchhunt to unite socialists in Labour against the witchhunt. They actually are trying to turn it into a confessional sect, in their own terms. We would actually have no objection to working even with the Alliance for Workers Liberty in a body like LAW, provided they were prepared to defend all victims of the Labour bureaucracy against the right. Of course, this is a big if. But ideological proscriptions, based on spurious smears, in a body whose purpose is to unite the left against a witchhunt, indeed amount to sectarian sabotage. Even more so when the ideological proscriptions are incoherent and self-contradictory, as demonstrated above.
So what drives the CPGB in this? Hostility to Trotskyism is deeply embedded within the political makeup of the CPGB’s guru, Jack Conrad. He has never fully broken from his Stalinist origins, and his enigmatic continuing to use the derogatory/diminutive form of ‘Trotskyist’, i.e. ‘Trotskyite’ is a symptom of this. Conrad’s politics are progammatically committed to a reformed bourgeois democracy, not Soviet democracy, as the stepping stone to his vision of socialism and communism.
This is, in fact, the point of contact between third-campism, the politics of Max Shachtman, Hal Draper, etc, and those of Stalinism. For while third-campists capitulated to bourgeois democracy and leaped to its defence in the Cold war against the ‘totalitarian’ Stalinist-ruled deformed and degenerated workers’ states, Stalinists also programmatically have defended bourgeois democracy against any extension of genuine proletarian dictatorship, at least since the degenerated Comintern adopted the popular front as part of its strategy.
Andres Nin of the POUM was probably the most famous victim of Stalinism’s murderous determination to make sure that the Spanish revolution kept within the class framework of bourgeois democracy, the epitome of Stalinist betrayal of the potential for workers revolution in the 1930s. Though Nin was actually a left-centrist, not a Trotskyist when he died, he was perceived as such by the GPU guardians of democratic capitalism.
It is this underlying, paradoxical affinity for bourgeois democracy common to third-campism and Stalinism that makes these two apparently very different trends not as far apart as they seem. And it is why it is easier for critical Stalinists, like Jack Conrad and his comrades, to embrace third-campism than to embrace revolutionary Trotskyism.
The barrier to this is permanent revolution, which demands independent working class forms of democracy based on workers organisations such as soviets, as the political form by which the dictatorship of the proletariat will be achieved both on a national scale and through the world revolution, in backward and advanced countries alike. Precise political forms may vary, but the independent class content of workers democracy will not.
The CPGB rejects this and looks instead to immature and incomplete manifestations of the dictatorship of the proletariat, such as the Paris Commune, which was a glorified city council in form, albeit with a different class content episodically, or Marx’s quite vague anticipations of proletarian dictatorship resembling a democratic republic. Thus they effectively reject the lessons of the Russian and European revolutionary wave after WWI.
And it is that antipathy to workers democracy that means trends such as the CPGB cannot defend workers democracy consistently, even though some of their insights have provided a useful counterbalance to the flaws of many post World War II Trotskyists particularly on the party question.
There is a connection between the CPGB’s Stalinoid past and its third-campist present and it is mediated concretely through questions involving the Middle East. In its post-Stalinist period, the CPGB fixed on Hal Draper as the centre of its reorientation away from Stalinism. And if we look back to the founding of the state of Israel, we find Hal Draper as a vocal critic of those in the Trotskyist movement who refused to back the Zionists in their war to defeat the British and the Palestinians. See “How to defend Israel”, (https://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1948/07/israel.htm). Meanwhile, in the same war on the ground, the Haganah forces were armed by Stalin via the new ‘peoples democracy’ in Czechoslovakia.
Here is the common ground that brings into proximity third-campist Stalinophobes, such as the AWL, and critical left Stalinists, such as the CPGB, against Trotskyism and in conciliation of Zionism. This was the basis for the fusion discussions between the AWL and the CPGB in the early 2000s, which were aborted because of secondary differences and contradictions, but could still at some point lead to another rapprochement, possibly after Sean Matgamna dies.
The CPGB’s promotion of Lars T Lih’s work on Bolshevism and the Russian Revolution is another example of the ideological affinity of their third-campism and their critical Stalinism. Lih is no Stalinist, but the effect of his revisionist history of Bolshevism and 1917 is to rehabilitate the revolutionary credentials of … Stalin, Zinoviev, and Kamenev, who were Trotsky’s antagonists for much of the period of the degeneration of the revolution, the 1925 Joint Opposition episode notwithstanding.
The figure who has world-historical significance in this is Stalin, of course, and it is somewhat strange that a re-examination of Bolshevism by a grouping of ex-Stalinist third campists should have the effect of burnishing the revolutionary reputation of Stalin himself. But then Lars T Lih is a left academic, not a revolutionary, and like Jack Conrad has no use for the programme of permanent revolution. Their preference for Lenin’s Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, with its essentially bourgeois-democratic perspective, over Permanent Revolution, is also a manifestation of this.
All this gives a more general, programmatic analysis for the concrete, visceral anti-Trotskyism of Jack Conrad that drives the CPGB over the class line to witchhunt others despite being the target of a witchhunt themselves. It is not unusual for those from the Stalinist milieu to engage in such degeneracy even when they are the targets themselves. But the Labour membership deserve better than these unprincipled politics and shenanigans.