Centrism confronted by Trotskyism at Communist University

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01/09/2019 by socialistfight

Socialist Fight sold £77.85 worth of litrature at CU 2019

From 17th to 24th August, several members and supporters of the Socialist Fight Group, mainly from London but also including a comrade of our tendency from Holland, comrade Wilhelm, attended and participated in Communist University. This is the annual summer discussion school of the group that puts out the Weekly Worker, which calls itself the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Originally among the most left-wing splits from Stalinism in the 1980s Cold War, for the past 20 years or so it has hovered on the brink of third-campism – in the early 2000s engaging in fusion talks with the Stalinophobic, pro-Zionist Alliance for Workers Liberty –  seemingly on the basis of a shared Stalinophobic hostility to the deformed workers’ states as well as a refusal to defend semi-colonies and side with movements within them who were in conflict with imperialist forces.

But it never could quite bring itself to move so decisively to the right as to embrace this form of political death. Instead of adopting the kind of hard right positions that the AWL is renowned for, the CPGB is notable for vacillating between leftist and rightist positions according to the prevailing political winds. The CPGB today is an example of left-centrism; a tendency that vacillates back and forth in the constricted political space between reformist and revolutionary politics.

Debate: Abstract and Concrete

In a period where many far left groups have either decisively moved to the right or declined to nothing, the CPGB/WW has maintained its organisation more or less intact and maintained a certain commitment to political and programmatic debate on the left – with limitations, as we shall see. It also has something of an abstract, academic and sometimes abstentionist and sectarian bent. It does not do what much of the left, including many decaying would-be Trotskyist groups do, that is, to seal itself off from hostile social forces and criticism by refusing to engage with other forces, or by overt displays of bureaucratism.

What it does do however is preserve itself from overall programmatic criticism through an abstentionism that hides half-heartedness about real engagement in political struggle via a spurious purism. It often tries to make itself appear equidistant from contending social and political forces, whether over Brexit, or Scottish independence, or even the Israel-Palestine question. Its leadership, centred on Jack Conrad, fears that too strident a position against reaction will in some way ‘help’ the same reaction.

This is one refrain we repeatedly heard throughout the week, for instance that outright opposition and an attempt to defeat Brexit, by Corbyn or the left in general, will lead to a landslide victory for Johnson’s Tories. They had a similar response in 2017, publishing dire predictions of a Tory landslide and were somewhat astonished when the ‘Corbyn surge’ took away Theresa May’s majority.

Another rightist position disguised as ‘purism’ was their insistence that social democratic parties such as Syriza or even today’s Corbyn-led Labour should not take power and be put to the test regarding their programme,  because inevitably they would betray and the movement be defeated. This produced a sharply critical response from Trotskyist-influenced people on the Labour left who were guests at CU, such as Graham Bash and Chris Knight, as bizarre abstentionism.

Centrism and Zionism

They are the same over the crucial question of Zionism and the Middle East. In fact, they began witchhunting others to their left even before the ‘anti-Semitism’ witchhunt which was the ruling class response to Jeremy Corbyn, began.

They purged our comrade Ian Donovan from the bloc they initiated within Left Unity in 2014, the Communist Platform, for stating provable facts: that the disproportionate representation of wealthy Jews within the Western ruling classes provides a social base for Zionist politics (which is hegemonic among Jewish bourgeois today).

This is the basis of potent Zionist factions in the ruling classes that dictate a barely-critical or often uncritical pro-Israel foreign policy among Western governments, together with potent attacks on the democratic rights of opponents of Zionism via the smear of ‘anti-Semitism’ in Western countries, very unlike the alliances that NATO allies such as the US, the UK, Germany etc. have with each other.

When our comrade Gerry Downing was purged from the Labour Party amid similar smears in 2016 they, and their ally Tony Greenstein, denounced him as a ‘fool’ for criticising the Jewish-Zionist lobby. They also purged us from Labour Against the Witchhunt (LAW) for ‘anti-Semitism’ on the same basis in 2018.

Yet they were mortified when noted Jewish anti-Zionist scholar-activist Norman Finkelstein defended our right to argue our views at Communist University in 2016, and published an essay that made the same points as ourselves about the social base of the Zionist lobby during the “Corbyn Mania” witchhunt in the summer of 2018. Tina Becker admitted that Finkelstein would ”have questions to answer” were he to apply to join LAW.

In the debate between Tony Greenstein and Moshe Machover on whether or not Israeli Jews are a nation, both participants denounced each other as akin to Climate Change deniers for failing to agree with the other’s arguments and observations. But regarding the social weight of Zionist Jews in the Western ruling classes, all of these people behave like Climate-Change deniers and worse.

Mentioning obvious, provable facts brings denunciation and flat denial that they mean anything. But as Marx said ‘facts are stubborn things’. Lenin’s observation that ‘the truth is always concrete’ is relevant here. As is Trotsky’s saying that the duty of revolutionists is to ‘say what is’.

This issue has haunted them ever since. The prominent role they and LAW have played in opposing the witchhunt notwithstanding, they cannot justify their record on Zionism openly and honestly. Examples of this are legion: for instance in Tower Hamlets in 2015 the CPGB supported the ousting of the twice-elected independent Muslim mayor, Lutfur Rahman, for ‘undue religious influence’ over the electorate.

The electorate was overruled in a racist judicial coup orchestrated by Tory Friend of Israel Eric Pickles, without any evidence of corruption that would stand up in court (Rahman was never even charged with any electoral offenses). The CPGB defended the Labour figure who replaced Rahman, one John Biggs, against ‘scurrilous’ charges of racism by Rahman, and cited that as a ground for supporting ousting Rahman! Yet four years later, articles appear in the Weekly Worker by Tony Greenstein complaining that the same John Biggs has banned a Palestine Solidarity bike ride in Tower Hamlets!

 When confronted with this political record, Jack Conrad and Mike McNair, two of their leading comrades, denied that they had ever taken this position. As indeed, in a session by Moshe Machover, Jack Conrad tried to deny that they had ever argued a ‘Two-States’ position on the Israel-Palestine question, or that they had ever had fusion discussions with the AWL on the basis of these kinds of positions. This is characteristic of centrist politics, a cavalier attitude to your own political history, a desire to obfuscate the record of your own political development.

Discussions at the break

A useful week for Trotskyists

At previous year’s Communist University events our comrades have been somewhat isolated and kept at arms-length by many participants. This was not true this time, partly a reflection of the modest growth of our own tendency; we were now the main organised dissenting group at the event and quite clearly criticising the CPGB from the left, from an orthodox Marxist position against their Kautsky/Draper/Lars T Lih influenced non-revolutionary positions. It is clear that there is a degree of recognition among both independents at CU, and some CPGB people themselves, that we are their orthodox Marxist critics.

This had both positive and negative expressions, as on the final Saturday Mike McNair struggled to defend a long denunciation of the Soviets in the Russian Revolution as in some way embodying a democratic deficit. 

He counterposed the so-far hypothetical situation where a workers’ party wins a parliamentary election and goes on, through abolishing the various undemocratic accoutrements, such as the Monarchy, House of Lords, Senates, Presidencies, etc. that all bourgeois regimes have attached to them, to call into being some rather unspecified form of working class democracy based on a single-chamber, recallable parliament.

To us, that sounds suspiciously like a variant of the Grant/Taaffe ‘Enabling Act’ road to socialism, except that the CPGB seem to reject nationalising the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy because of the internationalisation of the productive forces under globalised capitalism. It is debateable which perspective is worse.

On the other hand there were positive contributions from more left-wing CPGB supporters, such as Anne McShane’s excellent presentation on Women and the Russian Revolution on Friday morning, and James Harvey’s equally interesting final presentation on the German revolution of 1918-19. And there was some useful discussion in a fringe event by Alan Gibson of the Bolshevik Tendency on Extinction Rebellion and Climate Change.

All in all this was a positive experience for the Socialist Fight Group and a number of our supporters, who had never attended before, and we managed to exert some serious left-wing political pressure on these centrists, which is all to the good.

BT supporter Alan Gibson makes his case

One thought on “Centrism confronted by Trotskyism at Communist University

  1. I agree that the Communist University was a useful event, and point out that that it was my pro-Palestine, anti-Nazi-Zionism interventions that caused audible gasps of “horror” from the petty bourgeoisie in the witch-hunt discussion.
    Particularly notable overall were the continuing efforts by the CPGB-Weekly Worker to downplay any notion that the monopoly-imperialist system is in any kind of economic crisis, as opposed to the core Marxist-Leninist argument that global capitalism is a system of crisis; and, furthermore, that there are overwhelming signs that that crisis is degenerating into global trade war, financial catastrophe and shooting war.
    It is this looming catastrophe that dooms the US Empire, its sidekick British imperialism and the mad-dog Zionists to defeat and overthrow. It is a mark of the CPGB-Weekly Worker’s rotten anti-communism that their view of today’s economic circumstances is deliberately less alarming than Peter Oborne’s scared stupid view in the openly right-wing Daily Mail.
    Its is imperialism’s warmongering crisis that necessitates the world fight for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Hilariously, the CPGB-Weekly Worker crew cling to the middle-class Remain position of complacency by pretending that the EU offers the “route to socialism” by, through PR elections, eventually permitting votes that would allow an (impossibly achieved) majority socialist coalition in the EU parliament to waltz into power and proclaim an end to capitalism in Europe (“Just like that!” as Tommy Cooper would have said). Such democratic fetishism would be the death of all Marxist hope for workers – which is what the John Bridge-led academic poseurs want.

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