Jack Conrad, “Resisting Socialism” and “The Holes in Trotsky’s Head”

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04/08/2018 by Ian

Leon Trotsky 1879-1940

Leon Trotsky

Recently Jack Conrad, the leader of the CPGB/Leninist group, penned an all-out attack on Trotskyism and the Transitional Programme. They refused to publish this reply from actual Trotskyists, which is hardly enormously surprising but does cast a certain light on their pretence to ‘open debate’.

We encourage serious socialists to compare our reply with their article, and note the obvious evasions and falsifications of reality in Conrad’s polemic. This is not even at the level of quote-chopping and falsifying texts; Conrad’s broad-brush polemic does not even rise to that level. It simply attributes to a range of different tendencies on the left positions that they simply do not hold and never had. Its a method of extreme ideological sloppiness and making things up as he goes along. This is the opposite of what is necessary today: political coherence, which really can only result from the most comprehensive debate around principled and programmatic questions, is essential for socialists. 

Jack Conrad’s attack on Trotskyism, whatever the opportunist and even reformist disintegration products of the Fourth International that exist today, comes from the right. In his eagerness to defend Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev, the nickname ‘Resisting Socialism’ which he attributes to critics of the miserable British USFI group Socialist Resistance, could equally even apply to Jack Conrad and the CPGB itself.

Jack is hostile above all to Permanent Revolution, which he considers ‘economistic’ because its programmatic aim is to economically expropriate the bourgeoisie in every country where there is a significant proletariat. This is expressed through his endorsement of Lars T Lih’s sophistry in defence of the proletarian-revolutionary credentials of Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev and their adherence to the pre-1917 ‘Democratic Dictatorship’ perspective of Lenin, which ruled out the creation of a proletarian dictatorship in Russia prior to a prolonged period of industrialisation under the rule of the ‘democratic’ bourgeoisie. As Lenin originally wrote:

“Marxists are absolutely convinced of the bourgeois character of the Russian revolution. What does this mean? It means that the democratic reforms in the political system and the social and economic reforms, which have become a necessity for Russia, do not in themselves imply the undermining of capitalism, the undermining of bourgeois rule; on the contrary, they will, for the first time, really clear the ground for a wide and rapid, European, and not Asiatic, development of capitalism; they will, for the first time, make it possible for the bourgeoisie to rule as a class …. the complete success of a peasant insurrection, even the redistribution of the whole of the land for the benefit of the peasants and in accordance with their desires (“Black Redistribution” or something of that kind), will not destroy capitalism at all, but will, on the contrary, give an impetus to its development and hasten the class disintegration of the peasantry itself.”

Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution, chapter 6, 1905


It is elementary to note the radical departure from this of Lenin in 1917, when he announced after the seizure of power, that “we will now proceed to construct the socialist order” as the immediate outcome of the revolution. By this Lenin did not mean ‘socialism in one country’, but rather a perspective that is irrevocably linked to the world revolution. It is also clear that Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev did not break with the previous position, a political failure that led Stalin to play no active role in the October Revolution and to Zinoviev and Kamenev  scabbing on the insurrection itself, denouncing it and revealing its date in Gorky’s paper, and narrowly escaping expulsion from the party on Lenin’s demand.  It is also natural from the point of view of political logic that Trotsky was the chair of the Military Revolutionary Committee that carried out the insurrection; natural because Trotsky had been arguing for a proletarian dictatorship as the embodiment of a revolutionary victory since the 1905 revolution, when he led the Petrograd Soviet.

Lars T Lih is not a revolutionary, but a petit-bourgeois reformist academic of a particular type that makes a living trying to poke holes in the perspectives of revolutionary Marxism. He is not that different from Stalinist academics who engaged in similar sophistry for decades trying to prove that Lenin ‘really’ endorsed the Stalinist programme of ‘socialism in one country’. He comes to bury Marxism, not re-arm it. His arguments are identical to that of Stalinists today such as the remnants of Roy Bull’s Economic and Philosophic Science Review group who Socialist Fight have recently had occasion to polemicise against.  Behind this is that Jack Conrad himself never broke from Stalinism.

At Communist University socials in years past, it was a standing joke that Jack would sing a rewritten verse of ‘Red Fly the Banners O’” that referred to the “holes in Trotsky’s head”.  This was not a joke, but a real indication of his political programme, of Resisting Trotskyism, and particular resisting any programme that attempts to link workers’ economic grievances to the need to establish a regime of workers councils, instead proposing a reformed capitalist regime, a democratic republic, etc.

It’s foolish that Jack attributes some kind of adherence to the Transitional Programme to the SWP. Anyone who has ever been in the SWP will know that SWP cadre openly sneer at the Transitional Programme and embrace a syndicalist practice which does not raise any programme in the mass organisations of the working class except for what militant reformist workers themselves are raising at a given time.  The likes of Socialist Resistance, on the other hand, have also abandoned the Transitional Programme in favour of promoting feminism, various kinds of nationalism and separatism among oppressed groups, and tailing after pro-imperialist ‘democratic’ movements who are often in reality the creatures of pro-imperialist fascists and jihadists in places like Syria and the Ukraine. They have capitulated to imperialism and reformism and have not a great deal to say to the new layers of young people who are becoming interested in Marxism.

Jack Conrad does not just reject Trotskyism and Permanent Revolution, in fact he rejects one of the key aspects of Lenin’s politics that he shared with Trotsky when he was alive, his firm anti-imperialism. Lenin and Trotsky both regarded it as a question of principle to take sides with dependent, semi-colonial peoples and nations who are attacked by imperialism. This is what underlies Jack Conrad’s attack on the SWP over Respect, which he absurdly both calls a ‘Popular Front’ and attributes to the SWP’s adherence to Trotsky’s Transitional Programme (!!).  He seems to be unaware that Trotsky in the Transitional Programme strongly denounced Popular Fronts.

But Respect was not a Popular Front or anything like it. For all its political weaknesses and rejection of the Transitional Programme, unlike the CPGB and the AWL, the SWP (and today’s Counterfire, whose leadership was the core of that of the SWP in the noughties) are not consistently third-campist. They are prepared at times to side with oppressed peoples, including Muslim peoples, who are in conflict with imperialism and that is to their credit. Respect was a kind of electoral version of an Anti-Imperialist United Front, formed by the SWP and George Galloway, and some individuals from Arab immigrant groups like MAB, when Galloway was purged from the Labour Party for taking a principled stance against the Iraq War and in support of Arab armed resistance. The CPGB did not and still does not support Arab and Muslim resistance to imperialism in the Middle East; in 2005 Respect at its conference adopted an official policy of defence of Iran against imperialism, a position that placed it to the left of the CPGB over what is a basic question of Leninism.

Jack Conrad is an anti-Trotskyist left Islamophobe, whose political concepts are an eclectic mixture of Stalinist anti-Trotskyism and the pro-imperialist, pro-Zionist politics of the likes of Hal Draper.  His Islamophobia is shown when he maliciously caricatures Respect on abortion: when it called for “A woman’s right to choose” in one of its manifestos, according to him, they meant the right to “wear the veil.” (!!)  What nonsense; this was clearly about women’s reproductive rights. Respect also had no great quarrel with the Blair government over gay rights; abolishing Section 28 and introducing and equal age of consent and civil partnerships were progressive measures which that government implemented and which both the SWP and Galloway were clearly in advance of the Blairites in demanding.

Conrad’s attack on Respect over this is just crude anti-Muslim stereotyping, and comes down to a reactionary attack on Respect for supposedly ‘pandering’ to Muslim sensibilities in the middle of a major war in which Muslim nations were  invaded by force and Muslims targeted for bigotry by the Blairised Labour Party government at home. No doubt there were elements of opportunism in the SWP’s conduct, but that pales somewhat before the CPGB’s Islamophobia and neutrality when Arabs and Muslims were under attack from imperialism.

One positive thing about the CPGB is their return to Lenin’s correct practice of allowing public debate of different trends in a would-be communist party. The post-WWI Comintern appears to have made some errors on this, which the Trotskyist movement did not correct and which played some role in its fragmentation after WWII, and the creation of sects. However, when Jack Conrad claims his outfit is no ‘confessional sect’ he is not being fully honest. His grouping is riddled with chauvinism and those to its left, who are unfortunate enough to join, tend to find themselves the victims of purges and censorship at the whim of Jack, driven by his own third campist prejudices against anti-imperialism and anti-Zionism. So there is a strong element of cant in his polemic over this; in practice the CPGB is confessionally Draperite and anti-imperialists are not welcome in ‘his’ party.

Ian Donovan

Socialist Fight.

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