The crises in the CPGB/Weekly Worker


30/03/2020 by socialistfight

From Jack Conrad and Mike Macnair via Comrade X to Karl Kautsky, Hal Draper, Lenin and Trotsky

By Gerry Downing

Jack Conrad
Mike Macnair

Real Reasons

As James P Cannon wrote, “In any dispute or resignation there’s the reason given, and the real reason”. This article is dedicated to seeking the latter. We will tackle here the report by WW editor Peter Manson on the CPGB Aggregate of March 7 in WW on March 12 and the questioning letters in WW March 19 from Ann McShane, David Harvey, Ted Crawford and John Smithee on the crisis in the CPGB and the resignation of Comrade X after her 20-year membership. In the midst of this crisis one meeting of the Communist Forum on Sundays at 5 pm in 1 march was set aside for Ben Lewis to expound on his defence of Karl Kautsky and his legacy. [1]

Of course the staging of this re-hash of the defence of the politics of Kautsky by Ben Lewis, Jack Conrad and Lars T Lih at this time was no accident; it was intimately connected with the crisis in the CPGB and pointed to the ‘true path’; Kautsky was the ideologue to follow, the correct politics of revolution and socialism were those of the CPGB’s ‘extreme democracy’ which follow from those of the Second international under the ‘extreme’ democrats’; August Bebel and Karl Kautsky, not those of the terrible Bolsheviks and the Third International under Lenin and Trotsky still less the Fourth International, yet to be reconstructed following its ideological collapse post WWII. We will see that the politics of the CPGB(Provisional CC) make the link between the degenerates Second International under Bebel and Kautsky and the degenerated Third International under Stalin, particularly after the adoption of the popular front as the class-collaboration guiding ideology after Dimitrov proclaimed it at the Seventh Congress in 1935. The defence of the historical dead-end of the Russian Revolution was a complete diversion from the tasks facing the global working class today, they believe. This outlook guided the CPGB leaders in their intervention in the Labour Left Alliance (LLA) Conference in Sheffield on February 22.

Ben Chacko

This perspective is obviously far closer to the Morning Star than to Lenin, despite the adulation from The Times, the famous Thunderer [2] who hailed its new editor in these thundering terms on 5 July 2015:

“Ben Chacko: A respectful rallying cry from the starry eyed Lenin … Ben Chacko is planning a revolution. It might not involve guillotines in Parliament Square or tanks on Pall Mall but be assured: if he gets his way then Britain will be a very different country. “We need a revolution in politics to overturn the power of private ownership,” he says. “That doesn’t mean you’d have people storming Buckingham Palace. It could be a revolution that is enacted by people in parliament as a result of a mass movement for change.” Chacko is serious about this. And as the newly appointed editor of the Morning Star, the house paper of Britain’s far left, he now has a serious platform. At 31, he is the paper’s youngest editor since William Rust, its founder” (our emphasis). [3]

So, what were the problems that initiated the split in the CPGB/LPM over the LLA conference? At first glance they seem to be trivial and almost personal; struggle over the order of business and how to run the conference and what constitution should be adopted. In line with CPGB’s religious adherence to the politics of the Second International as developed by Bebel and Kautsky they insist on a rigid differentiation between the minimum and maximum programmes. That is between reformist demands to advance the cause of the working class under capitalism and the maximum programme of full socialism after the working class has taken power and overthrown capitalism and begun to produce for the needs of the working class and all the oppressed and not for the profits of the capitalist.

There is no room for transitional demands; what programme will advance the struggle of the ‘grass roots’ to the next level? How do we encourage, and lead if we can, the struggles of the working class to partial economic victories in order to give them confidence in their own strength and so open them up for more radical and revolutionary perspectives as advanced by militants who understand the need for the revolutionary party? And here democratic, partial, reformist demands, as part of an all-round revolutionary programme, are not only allowed but mandatory. The Labour Party Marxists (LPM)/CPGB intervention in the LLA conference fell between the two minimum and maximum stools.

Gotha and Erfurt Programmes

The 1875 Gotha and 1891 Erfurt Programmes are the approximate ideals for them. As we wrote in 2017:

“Despite Marx’s repudiation of the Gotha programme in 1875, by 1891 clearly two revolutions with an historical stage between them are mooted at Erfurt and Engels, despite his critique of the draft, basically agreed to this. There were no soviets to provide the link between the political state and civil society and therefore no transitional demands to link the maximum and minimum. The Erfurt programme is understandable and arguably methodologically correct for its time and place. It did not inevitably lead to the August 4, 1914 betrayal of the leaders of German Social Democracy, but we really cannot ignore the world-historical changes then in train that produced the Russian Revolution or the effects of the negative experiences afterwards. The 20th century has not passed in vain; we cannot stuff the shit back in the horse – contrary to Eddie Murphy and Jack Conrad.” [4]

These world-historical changes were the unionisation of the most oppressed, often immigrant and women workers as exemplified by the Dockers’ Tanner strike in 1889 and the Bryant and Mays matchgirls strike in 1890-91, both British experiences but mirrored and supported globally at the time. This mass, international support forced the union leaders of the ‘aristocracy of labour’, the relatively privileged layers, to give mass support. This they did to appease their member’s solidarity instincts and reviving class conscious on a more advanced level following the defeat of the Chartist movement (1838 to 1857) and the Paris Commune of 1871. The defeat of this movement in turn led to the formation of the British Labour party, the world’s first bourgeois-workers’ party, on the one hand and to the 1905 Soviets on the other in the first, failed Russian Revolution.

As we wrote: 

“This is where Lenin traces back his understanding of revolutionary socialism to the Paris Commune of 1871 and asserts in such an inspiring manner his faith in the ability of the oppressed masses in France back then, and his then current faith in the Russian masses to make the revolution themselves, given the correct leadership. This he had fought for so determinedly since 1905. For that reason, he critically evaluated the Communards in 1871, what they got right and where they failed and noted the one issue that caused Marx and Engels to correct their Communist Manifesto of 1848. As Lenin recounts in that Chapter 3:

“On April 12, 1871, i.e., just at the time of the Commune, Marx wrote to Kugelmann: “The words, “to smash the bureaucratic-military machine”, briefly express the principal lesson of Marxism regarding the tasks of the proletariat during a revolution in relation to the state. And this is the lesson that has been not only completely ignored, but positively distorted by the prevailing, Kautskyite, “interpretation” of Marxism!” [5]

Here we have the two counterposed theories of revolution; the genuine one of Marx after the Paris Commune of 1871, which guided Lenin and Trotsky and the Bolsheviks in October of 1917, and that of the bogus counter-revolutionary one of socialism-through-parliament as championed by Bebel, Kautsky, the Morning Star (to the delight of The Thunderer) and the CPGB (Provisional CC).  Note that the smashing of the state is the work of the masses and that work is clearly only possible via the Soviets or equivalent mass organisations of the working class and all the oppressed which are centrally directed with an instantly recallable delegate structure, which Lenin retrospectively saw in embryo in 1871 in Paris, encountered in real life in 1905 and promoted so strongly in his April Theses only a few months after writing State and Revolution: “All power to the Soviets”.

What Lenin and the Bolsheviks proved about the nature of the state in October 1917 has again and again been proved in the negative, for instance by the smashing of the Spanish Revolution of 1936-39 (see Trotsky below) by the joint efforts of Stalinism and fascism (in preparation for their pact a few months later when that revolution was not yet cold in its grave). In more modern times the counter-revolution in Chile on the 11 November 1973 demonstrated this truth. Here foolish reformist Stalinist-inspired notions of introducing socialism peacefully through parliament with the working class and poor peasants as a stage army proved so disastrous. And back in 2015 Britain’s Pinochet, that serving general promoted and protected by The Thunderer, warned Corbyn what would happen to him if he tried to do it in Britain. But Corbyn had no intention of smashing the state in the Marx-Lenin-Trotskyist tradition so he conceded his role to that state without a whimper and came out in support of his own bitterest enemies within Labour and outside and knifed his own strongest supporters. Sir Keir Starmer will have no trouble knifing the remaining Corbynistas in the leadership and ranks of Labour; the mass movement that elevated him to the leadership in the first place.

The Bolshevik’s Rightists were to the left of Bebel, Kautsky and Plekhanov

We have recorded elsewhere the opposition of Kamenev, Muranov and Stalin to Lenin’s April Theses which swung the whole Bolshevik party, with those notable exceptions back then (Zinoviev was later to join this Right Opposition), towards the second, October revolution. [6] These rightists have their champions today in the theorists of Third Campism, Ben Lewis, Jack Conrad, Mike Macnair and Lars T Lih but trend further right, back to Kautsky and Plekhanov and the right opponents of the rightist in the Bolsheviks. The Bolshevik’s rightists were to the left of Bebel, Kautsky and Plekhanov. Moreover, the rightists in the Bolsheviks (apart from Stalin) admitted their errors as Trotsky recounts in his Stalin School of Falsification:

… At the joint Plenum of the Central Committee and the Central Control Commission of July 14 to July 23, 1926, Zinoviev said: “I have made many mistakes. But I consider two mistakes as my most important ones. My first mistake of 1917 is known to all of you … The second mistake I consider more dangerous because the first one was made under Lenin. The mistake of 1917 was corrected by Lenin and made good by us within a few days with the help of Lenin, but my mistake of 1923 consisted in …” …In this manner, Zinoviev admitted his mistake of 1923 (in waging a struggle against “Trotskyism” and even characterized it as much more dangerous than that of 1917 – when he opposed the October insurrection!).” [7]

So the CPBG/LPM oppositionists, whilst they still believe in the Kautskyite maximum programme (we suppose), did not see how it was correct to try to impose it on the conference and were left proposing a reformist minimum programme, correctly in the interests of mobilising the ‘grass roots’ and opposing the outright rightist wing of the conference. This right wing proclaimed itself in two motions, an open Brexit motion from Cheltenham LL, which “accepts the UK is leaving the European Union” and sought “to build a socialist vision of the UK outside the European Union” i.e. an English nationalist, isolationist orientation which even proposed a royal socialism under the Queen “a socialist vision of the UK” outside the EU. That’s right: not only ‘socialism in one country’, but royal socialism to boot, as Stan Keable pointed out. Unfortunately, this was carried by 63 votes For, 53 Against and 5 abstentions.

The second was a procedural motion from Dulwich LL, proposed by Glyn Secker (a leader of the Jewish Voice for Labour), which contained the following peach: “Unions may affiliate at branch, regional or national level, but they may not have delegates from branches within regions where their Region itself is affiliated. Affiliated trade union national offices are entitled to one delegate.” That means that on no account will we tolerate any independent rank and file challenges to the trade union bureaucracy. We must keep the masses in their boxes to keep capitalism safe from them via the trade union bureaucracy, the central defenders of the capitalist state in the workers’ movement. Fortunately, this was overwhelmingly defeated.

LPM’s Our Aims and Principles

Whilst rejecting these blatant rightist positions the CPGB/LPM proceeded in line with their leftist version of Joe Stalin’s British Road to Socialism (the sundry Grantites and all their splits now [SPEW, SA etc] have another leftist version of this) in Our Aims and Principles. Point 1 says their central aim “is to transform the Labour Party into an instrument for working class advance and international socialism”. And point 5: “The party must be refounded on the basis of a genuinely socialist programme as opposed to social democratic gradualism or bureaucratic statism”.

So, the vehicle for the achievement of socialism in Britain is the bourgeois-workers Labour party they think, and we must transform it into the instrument for so doing. And the CPGB’s aim of a ‘mass communist party’ then assumes the role of an added-on extra with no crucial role to play in overturning capitalism, via an insurrection or via parliament, other that as advisors to the Labour party leaders. And now, whilst rejecting: “Labour governments committed to managing the capitalist system and loyal to the existing constitutional order create disillusionment in the working class” (point 6) we come to the killer point of reformist illusions (which point 6 was supposed to dispel); point 7 asserts: “Labour should only consider forming a government when it has the active support of a clear majority of the population and has a realistic prospect of implementing a full socialist programme. This cannot be achieved in Britain in isolation from Europe and the rest of the world”.

These four points make clear that the road to socialism for the CPGB/LPM is via parliament led by a “refounded” Labour party, which must first win not just a majority in parliament but a majority of the proletariat who have been won over to revolutionary socialist class consciousness. And we must wait for this to happen not just in Britain but in the whole world! Revolutionary initiatives are thereby ruled out in circumstances like the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin or even the Cortonwood mass dispatch of pickets to other pits which kicked of the British miner’s strike in 1984. They should have waited for a majority vote many British socialist said of Dublin 1916 and infamously the Revolutionary Communist Party said of the miner’s strike in 1984. Some enthusiastic miners dubbed these scabs (now in the Brexit party) Ray Chadburn’s party (after the scab leader of the Nottingham miners) and some got slung in the canal for their scabby propaganda.

Point 8 decries “a British road to socialism” which previous points had implicitly endorsed but then correctly says that “a withdrawal from the European Union are therefore to be opposed” which seems to repudiate the CPGB’s neutralist line on Brexit. The rest of the points have correct demands which would be transitional if they were part of an integrated revolutionary programme. But they are not. And whilst it is always correct to fight for your full programme as you see it, when and how, what notes to play in what circumstances, are the elementary political skills necessary in the struggle to advance the class consciousness of the masses for revolution. It is NOT correct in these circumstances of historically low levels of class struggle in Britain and internationally (despite the inspiration of the French Gilet’s Jaunes) to demand that the LLA, or similar propaganda blocks, adopt that full programme as the basis of its struggles. And here lies the real problem which caused the split and Comrade X’s resignation.

These are the impossible foolish illusions of the Red Republicans of the 19th century who imagined that once the whole (male!) working class had the vote then socialism was inevitable. And these illusions were incorporated in a more sophisticated form in the Second International’s German Socialist Democracy by Bebel and Kautsky.

Karl Kautsky
Hal Draper

From Karl Kautsky to Hal Draper

The other great ideologue of all Third Campists like the CPGB after Karl Kautsky is Hal Draper. he is also the ideologue of the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), hence their failed fusion attempt. [8] There are many others like Draper’s present day adoring blogger Peoples War, who has posted, and expanded Chapter 4 of Draper’s book, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat from Marx to Lenin under the title, Lenin’s Revisionist “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”. All the following quotes from Draper are from that website. [9]

Here Draper sets out to expose Lenin as a complete theoretically backward dunderhead (compared to himself, of course). Apparently, he was not clear on the Dictatorship of the Proletariat from 1893. Lenin’s book The Renegade Kautsky is subtitled How Kautsky turned Marx into a common liberal. That is the task Hal Draper set himself in his book also. [10]  In February/March 1902 Draper tells us that Lenin misunderstood Marx and the term thus:

 “to refer only to the suppressive tasks of a workers’ government. His argument went as follows: if the (Russian) petty-bourgeoisie, including the peasantry, supported the proletariat in the revolution, then of course it would not need to be suppressed, and therefore a “dictatorship” could be dispensed with. This thought explains the following notes:

“… the concept of dictatorship is incompatible with positive recognition of the outside support for the proletariat. If we really knew positively that the petty-bourgeoisie will support the proletariat in the accomplishment of its, the proletariat’s, revolution it would be pointless to speak of a “dictatorship,” for we would then be fully guaranteed so overwhelming a majority that we could get on very well without a dictatorship (as the “critics” [Revisionists] would have us believe).

The next sentence tries (pathetically and unsuccessfully he might have added – GD) an interpretation of Marx:

“The recognition of the necessity for the dictatorship of the proletariat is most closely and inseparably bound up with the thesis of the Communist Manifesto that the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class.” This was a remarkable blunder. It was in the Manifesto, which indeed did assert that “the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class,” that Marx on the next page viewed the socialist movement as the “independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority.”

And here we have the scab’s charter. Because the overwhelming support of the majority for Draper and the CPGB can only be ascertained via and election to a bourgeois parliament defended by the state forces of the bourgeoisie, who will always defend democracy, we must stupidly and naively believe. Or at least we will be able to mobilise such mass support that the General Pinochets will respect out rights, ‘extreme democracy’ will triumph over reaction in this way, and in this way only.

But real life is different. The revolutionary wave occurs, the revolutionary situation develops, the seizure of power is on the agenda. To wait then, to hesitate in such moments leads to certain defeat. Thus, it was in 1916 in Ireland. My own father recounted the change in allegiance caused by the executions that followed the defeat of the uprising. He remembered a conversation in the kitchen of the draper shop in Kenmare as a child of 10 years where his mother and father expressed revulsion and total opposition to the British state’s murders. And his father had been a serving member of the Royal Irish Constabulary up to 1904; certainly, no republican. In contrast Arthur Henderson, the British Labour party leader, led the cheering in the House of Commons when the first Kilmainham executions were announced. And Ray Chadburn’s party scabbing above showed that when the moment for action came the best and most militant fighters embrace it and thereby win the majority when they see they are serious the about fight and the revolution.

Remember the magic moment of the French Revolution when it was within weeks of defeat, five invading armies were closing in and reactionary France was about to drown revolutionary France in blood yet again. Robespierre instituted the Reign of Terror and the enemies of the revolution was guillotined. The san culottes masses and the soldiers in the defending armies understood that Robespierre really meant revolution, they embraced it, the armed san culottes rushed to the front in the east, the soldiers turned and fought and won the field. One after another the other retreating armies turned and fought, the invading armies, whose soldiers were now sympathetic to a winning revolution, fled and the revolution and the modern world was secured. But hey, that was a big mistake in the eyes of Draper, Kautsky and all Third Campists. Maybe they should not have had a referendum but surely the Girondists should have been given a veto and then the revolution would have been legitimate!

Draper on Lenin’s ‘revisionism’.

And now Draper pours further scorn on Lenin and the revolution:

“At the end of Year One, Lenin spoke at an anniversary meeting where he sought to summarize the year: … this past year has been one of genuine proletarian dictatorship. This concept used to be mysterious book Latin, a mouthful of incomprehensible words. [Like ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’? — HD] Intellectuals sought an explanation of the concept in learned works, which only gave them a hazy notion of what the proletarian dictatorship was all about.”

So now, having conceded the right of violence to the counter-revolution alone, he even attacks Lenin’s mistaken ‘revolutionary-democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’, the bloc of two classes repudiated by his own April Theses, because it contains the word ‘dictatorship’. Of course, the consequences of Trotsky failing to defeat the White Armies would have been a brutal fascist dictatorship with millions of dead in Russia, but at least the Bolsheviks could appeal to The Thunderer that they were committed to ‘extreme democracy’. And Kautsky would have been vindicated and the liberation of oppressed humanity set back for generations.

Lenin was a philistine for triumphing in the revolution (again compared to himself, of course), Draper assures us:

“The only such learned work in existence was his own State and Revolution. This philistine passage continued as follows: The chief thing that stands to our credit during this past year is that we have translated these words from abstruse Latin into plain Russian. During this past year the working class has not been engaged in idle philosophizing, but in the practical work of creating and exercising a proletarian dictatorship…”

“The process of translation into “plain Russian” was that of burying the class meaning of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ under its police aspect. The next day, on November 7, he spoke to an anniversary rally of the Cheka staff, and told them: “The important thing for us is that Cheka is directly exercising the dictatorship of the proletariat…” Presumably the rest of the state was exercising it only indirectly.”

Oh dear, the Whites and their fascist Black Hundreds and the small section of the Menshevik and SR leadership who fought against the revolution were defeated and many executed. What a blow to ‘democracy’. The wrong people were getting killed, in Draper’s view. He continues with this bile:

“By the end of Year One, it was clear that Lenin was no longer using ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ to denote a workers’ state that was subject to the democratic rule of the working classes. It now meant a specially organized dictatorial regime, dictatorial in the sense that had become increasingly dominant, and increasingly counterposed to abstract democracy. We will see in the next chapter that a number of Bolshevik spokesmen carried this process of theoretical degeneration even further, thus facilitating (though certainly not causing) the social counterrevolution represented by Stalin.”

If only that jabbering idiot Lenin had had Hal Draper there to guide him from 1893 to 1917 and 1923, he might have led the Russian Revolution to victory” is the thought that came into my mind after reading this gibberish. Lenin made such simple mistakes, totally misunderstood Marx and had no idea how to forge a revolutionary programme and party. We live and learn with the likes of Hal Draper to teach us. Remind me what did this Shachtmanite Third Campist dilettante accomplish apart from great piles of anti-Communist propaganda? But then the overall message was clear. The Russian Revolution should have been defeated and global imperialism should not have been threatened in that way. He is not trying to find a better, peaceful, more ‘democratic’ way to socialism at all he is dedicated to preserving imperialist domination of the planet. He is a full-blown counterrevolutionary ideologue, serving the interests of his imperialist masters under the bogus guise of ‘extreme democracy’.

In December 1940 Trotsky explains these questions of Marxist theory:

“In May 1937 the workers of Catalonia rose not only without their own leadership but against it. The anarchist leaders – pathetic and contemptible bourgeois masquerading cheaply as revolutionists – have repeated hundreds of times in their press that had the CNT wanted to take power and set up their dictatorship in May, they could have done so without any difficulty. This time the anarchist leaders speak the unadulterated truth. The POUM leadership actually dragged at the tail of the CNT, only they covered up their policy with a different phraseology. It was thanks to this and this alone that the bourgeoisie succeeded in crushing the May uprising of the “immature” proletariat. One must understand exactly nothing in the sphere of the inter-relationships between the class and the party, between the masses and the leaders in order to repeat the hollow statement that the Spanish masses merely followed their leaders” [11]

Lars T Lih Lies about Kautsky

Lars T Lih, in his article in the Jacobin magazine of June 2019 makes the following claim:

“Karl Kautsky even deserves to be called the architect of the Bolshevik victory in October. Of course, I am not saying that Kautsky was necessarily the first to come up with these ideas or that the Bolsheviks did not arrive at them independently. But Kautsky gave authoritative endorsement to the key tactical ideas of Bolshevism, giving clarity and confidence to the Russians with an impact that is hard to overestimate. These ideas were set forth in specific writings much lauded by the Bolsheviks and used by them in polemics against the Menshevik “opportunists.” The same ideas led to their party’s victory in October and the ensuing civil war. Lenin and the Bolsheviks never rejected these ideas nor the writings in which Kautsky expressed them.” [12]

The last sentence in particular is an outright and easily demolished lie. As we wrote in Dispelling the Kautsky-Lewis myths on 9 March 2020, quoting Lenin’s letter to A.G. Shliapnikov in October 1914 in which he attacked on his own illusions, and we could add Trotsky’s illusions also:

“I hate and despise Kautsky now more than anyone, with his vile, dirty self-satisfied hypocrisy. Nothing has happened, so he says, principles have not been abandoned, everyone was entitled to defend his fatherland. It is internationalism, if you please, for the workers of all countries to shoot one another “in order to defend their fatherland”. Rosa Luxemburg was right when she wrote, long ago (1898? – GD), that Kautsky has the “subservience of a theoretician”— servility, in plainer language, servility to the majority of the Party, to opportunism. Just now there is nothing in the world more harmful and dangerous for the ideological independence of the proletariat than this rotten self– satisfaction and disgusting hypocrisy of Kautsky, who wants to smother and cover up everything, to tranquillise the awakened conscience of the workers by sophistries and pseudo-scientific chatter. If Kautsky succeeds in this, he will become the main representative of bourgeois corruption in the working-class movement.” [13]

It is clear from this that the absolute precondition for the victory of the Russian revolution was not learning the works of Kautsky but repudiating them, which task Lenin set himself immediately after August 1914 and which produced his classics; Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, consolidating and developing his internationalism and rejecting Kautsky explicitly in several well known passages. He produced The State and Revolution in great detail between the February and October revolutions. He never finished it because making the revolution was more important than writing about it. Again, he refuted Kautsky’s ideology. And finally, his Letters from Afar and his April Theses, consolidates the internationalism of the socialist revolution and turns the party away from Kautsky completely towards the second, socialist revolution. Kautsky is ideologically defeated then for all seriously revolutionists in practice. The post-revolutionary works, Lenin’s The Renegade Kautsky (many errors, says Jack Conrad) and Trotsky’s Terrorism and Communism (appalling book in its dismissal of ‘democracy’ says Jack Conrad) completed that ideological struggle. But we see we must fight it again in 2020 if the prospect of the socialist revolution on a global scale to be reopened.

Lenin’s The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, Preface. How Kautsky Turned Marx Into A Common Liberal

Here Lenin sets out in clear detail, the absolute counter-revolutionary servant of the bourgeoisie that Kautsky had become. That his present day adherents repeat his arguments today show that they have abandoned what ever adherence they had to revolutionary socialism:

“The fundamental question that Kautsky discusses in his pamphlet is that of the very essence of proletarian revolution, namely, the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is a question that is of the greatest importance for all countries, especially for the advanced ones, especially for those at war, and especially at the present time. One may say without fear of exaggeration that this is the key problem of the entire proletarian class struggle. It is, therefore, necessary to pay particular attention to it .

Kautsky formulates the question as follows: “The contrast between the two socialist trends” (i.e., the Bolsheviks and non-Bolsheviks) “is the contrast between two radically different methods: the dictatorial and the democratic” (p. 3).

Let us point out, in passing, that when calling the non-Bolsheviks in Russia, i.e., the Mensheviks and Socialist-Revolutionaries, socialists, Kautsky was guided by their name, that is, by a word, and not by the actual place they occupy in the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. What a wonderful understanding and application of Marxism! But more of this later.

For the moment we must deal with the main point, namely, with Kautsky’s great discovery of the “fundamental contrast” between “democratic and dictatorial methods”. That is the crux of the matter; that is the essence of Kautsky’s pamphlet. And that is such an awful theoretical muddle, such a complete renunciation of Marxism, that Kautsky, it must be confessed, has far excelled Bernstein.

The question of the dictatorship of the proletariat is a question of the relation of the proletarian state to the bourgeois state, of proletarian democracy to bourgeois democracy. One would think that this is as plain as a pikestaff. But Kautsky, like a schoolmaster who has become as dry as dust from quoting the same old textbooks on history, persistently turns his back on the twentieth century and his face to the eighteenth century, and for the hundredth time, in a number of paragraphs, in an incredibly tedious fashion chews the old cud over the relation of bourgeois democracy to absolutism and medievalism!

It sounds just like he were chewing rags in his sleep!

But this means he utterly fails to understand what is what! One cannot help smiling at Kautsky’s effort to make it appear that there are people who preach “contempt for democracy” (p. 11) and so forth. That is the sort of twaddle Kautsky uses to befog and confuse the issue, for he talks like the liberals, speaking of democracy in general, and not of bourgeois democracy; he even avoids using this precise, class term, and, instead, tries to speak about “presocialist” democracy. This windbag devotes almost one-third of his pamphlet, twenty pages out of sixty-three, to this twaddle, which is so agreeable to the bourgeoisie, for it is tantamount to embellishing bourgeois democracy, and obscures the question of the proletarian revolution.

But, after all, the title of Kautsky’s pamphlet is The Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Everybody knows that this is the very essence of Marx’s doctrine; and after a lot of irrelevant twaddle Kautsky was obliged to quote Marx’s words on the dictatorship of the proletariat.

But the way in which he the “Marxist” did it was simply farcical! Listen to this:

“This view” (which Kautsky dubs “contempt for democracy”) “rests upon a single word of Karl Marx’s”. This is what Kautsky literally says on page 20. And on page 60 the same thing is repeated even in the form that they (the Bolsheviks) “opportunely recalled the little word” (that is literally what he says—des Wörtchens!!) “about the dictatorship of the proletariat which Marx once used in 1875 in a letter”.

Here is Marx’s “little word”:

“Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.”[3]

First of all, to call this classical reasoning of Marx’s, which sums up the whole of his revolutionary teaching, “a single word” and even “a little word,” is an insult to and complete renunciation of Marxism. It must not be forgotten that Kautsky knows Marx almost by heart, and, judging by all he has written, he has in his desk, or in his head, a number of pigeon-holes in which all that was ever written by Marx is most carefully filed so as to be ready at hand for quotation. Kautsky must know that both Marx and Engels, in their letters as well as in their published works, repeatedly spoke about the dictatorship of the proletariat, before and especially after the Paris Commune. Kautsky must know that the formula “dictatorship of the proletariat” is merely a more historically concrete and scientifically exact formulation of the proletariat’s task of “smashing” the bourgeois state machine, about which both Marx and Engels, in summing up the experience of the Revolution of 1848, and, still more so, of 1871, spoke for forty years, between 1852 and 1891. [14]

We do not need to add to Lenin’s arguments here, Kautsky is a liar and a conscious distorter of Marx as is Hal Draper. The present-day adherents of Kautsky and Draper, Ben Lewis and Jack Conrad and Lars T Lih must deal with that.

Trotsky’s Terrorism and Communism:

Here is an extended extracted from Trotsky’s Terrorism and Communism which so disgusted Jack Conrad:

“But, even when applied to more advanced and cultured countries with established democratic traditions, there is absolutely no proof of the justice of Kautsky’s historical argument. As a matter of fact, the argument itself is not new. Once upon a time the Revisionists gave it a character more based on principle. They strove to prove that the growth of proletarian organizations under democratic conditions guaranteed the gradual and imperceptible – reformist and evolutionary – transition to Socialist society – without general strikes and risings, without the dictatorship of the proletariat.

“Kautsky, at that culminating period of his activity, showed that, in spite of the forms of democracy, the class contradictions of capitalist society grew deeper, and that this process must inevitably lead to a revolution and the conquest of power by the proletariat.

No one, of course, attempted to reckon up beforehand the number of victims that will be called for by the revolutionary insurrection of the proletariat, and by the regime of its dictatorship. But it was clear to all that the number of victims will vary with the strength of resistance of the propertied classes. If Kautsky desires to say in his book that a democratic upbringing has not weakened the class egoism of the bourgeoisie, this can be admitted without further parley.

If he wishes to add that the imperialist war, which broke out and continued for four years, in spite of democracy, brought about a degradation of morals and accustomed men to violent methods and action, and completely stripped the bourgeoisie of the last vestige of awkwardness in ordering the destruction of masses of humanity – here also he will be right.

All this is true on the face of it. But one has to struggle in real conditions. The contending forces are not proletarian and bourgeois manikins produced in the retort of Wagner-Kautsky, but a real proletariat against a real bourgeoisie, as they have emerged from the last imperialist slaughter.

In this fact of merciless civil war that is spreading over the whole world, Kautsky sees only the result of a fatal lapse from the “experienced tactics” of the Second International.

“In reality, since the time,” he writes, “that Marxism has dominated the Socialist movement, the latter, up to the world war, was, in spite of its great activities, preserved from great defeats. And the idea of insuring victory by means of terrorist domination had completely disappeared from its ranks.

“Much was contributed in this connection by the fact that, at the time when Marxism was the dominating Socialist teaching, democracy threw out firm roots in Western Europe, and began there to change from an end of the struggle to a trustworthy basis of political life.” (Page 145)

In this “formula of progress” there is not one atom of Marxism. The real process of the struggle of classes and their material conflicts has been lost in Marxist propaganda, which, thanks to the conditions of democracy, guarantees, forsooth, a painless transition to a new and “wiser” order. This is the most vulgar liberalism, a belated piece of rationalism in the spirit of the eighteenth century – with the difference that the ideas of Condorcet are replaced by a vulgarisation of the Communist Manifesto. All history resolves itself into an endless sheet of printed paper, and the centre of this “humane” process proves to be the well-worn writing table of Kautsky.

We are given as an example the working-class movement in the period of the Second International, which, going forward under the banner of Marxism, never sustained great defeats whenever it deliberately challenged them. But did not the whole working-class movement, the proletariat of the whole world, and with it the whole of human culture, sustain an incalculable defeat in August, 1914, when history cast up the accounts of all the forces and possibilities of the Socialist parties, amongst whom, we are told, the guiding role belonged to Marxism, “on the firm footing of democracy”? Those parties proved bankrupt. Those features of their previous work which Kautsky now wishes to render permanent – self-adaptation, repudiation of “illegal” activity, repudiation of the open fight, hopes placed in democracy as the road to a painless revolution – all these fell into dust. In their fear of defeat, holding back the masses from open conflict, dissolving the general strike discussions, the parties of the Second International were preparing their own terrifying defeat; for they were not able to move one finger to avert the greatest catastrophe in world history, the four years’ imperialist slaughter, which foreshadowed the violent character of the civil war. Truly, one has to put a wadded nightcap not only over one’s eyes, but over one’s nose and ears, to be able to-day, after the inglorious collapse of the Second International, after the disgraceful bankruptcy of its leading party – the German Social Democracy – after the bloody lunacy of the world slaughter and the gigantic sweep of the civil war, to set up in contrast to us, the profundity, the loyalty, the peacefulness and the sobriety of the Second International, the heritage of which we are still liquidating. [15]

Jack Conrad

Here is Jack Conrad, writing in Weekly Worker on 9 April 2018:

“Yet, because of national isolation, civil war, western intervention, economic sanctions, the sectionalism of the apparatus, etc, the regime in Soviet Russia did undergo a rapid degeneration. The rule of the proletariat and peasantry became the rule of the advanced part of the proletariat … and the narrowing continued to the point where eventually Stalin established his monocracy. Well before that, making the best of a desperate situation, Lenin, Bukharin, Zinoviev and above all Trotsky themselves counterposed dictatorship and democracy. The dictatorship of the proletariat – i.e., what supposedly existed in Russia – was held up as a shining example others should emulate. And, no matter how undemocratic, no matter how terroristic, no matter how inverted, no matter that workers and peasants were viciously exploited, the Soviet Union was pictured not as a historic dead-end, but as a higher social formation.

“The left still fails to treat democracy with the seriousness it deserves. E.g., under the rubric of the so-called ‘transitional method’ Trotsky’s latter-day followers – actually epigones – bank on routine, trade union-type demands rousing the masses and in essence tricking them into taking power. Such an economistic perspective has never worked, will never work, but it excuses the existence of the confessional sects, their endless splits over third-rate issues … and the continuation of those politics in the form of the countless sects of one. Sadly, unity in a party based on the minimum-maximum programme of Marxism has become an alien concept, a foreign land.”

“We in the CPGB are committed to a radical extension of democracy under capitalism. Abolition of the monarchy and House of Lords, a federal republic, disestablishment of the Church of England, proportional representation, replacing the standing army with a popular militia, etc. Such demands constitute a central plank of our minimum programme …. Nowhere do we envisage turning to referendums.

“… Despite its undoubted shortcomings, Parliamentarism, direct legislation by the people and social democracy retains its worth, not least because we have seen the entirely negative effects of referendum campaigns over recent years. In Northern Ireland the left fell in behind the 1998 Good Friday agreement – that though it constitutionally institutionalised the sectarian divide of the working class; in Scotland the working class split into two hostile camps over independence and the non-Labour left hopelessly collapsed into petty nationalism.” [16]

This passage makes it very clear that he has no understanding or regard for the Marxist theory of the state. “Abolition of the monarchy and House of Lords, a federal republic, disestablishment of the Church of England, proportional representation, replacing the standing army with a popular militia, etc … a minimum programme which we would carry out to the full in government before turning to the tasks of the maximum programme”. And naturally that unnamed serving general who got so upset at Corbyn’s weak, reformism programme, would never consider calling on all his other mates and do a Pinochet on that revolutionary government. And the masses have only a stage army role, they have not taken over the factories, challenged and begun to abolish private ownership in the means of production via that notorious transitional demand of ‘nationalism without compensation under workers’ control’. Best not do any of that, they might turn violent had hang a few capitalists they really hate, this would provoke the army to slaughter them and the revolutionary government sitting in Westiminster would be overthrown. What price ‘extreme democracy’ now? This really is cloud cuckoo land.

Mike Macnair

In this article on 7 May 2006 Mike Macnair describes Kautsky’s and we see, his own reformist road to socialism:

 “The Kautskyan centre’s solution to this problem was to build up the united workers’ party and its associated organisations (trade unions, etc) as an alternative centre of authority. This gradual process could find its expression in the electoral results of the workers’ party.

When it became clear that the workers’ party had a majority of the popular vote, the workers’ party would be justified in taking power away from the capitalists and implementing its minimum programme. If elections were rigged so that a popular majority did not produce a parliamentary majority, or legal or bureaucratic constitutional mechanisms were used to stop the workers’ party implementing its programme, the use of the strike weapon, force, etc would be justified.

In implementing its programme, however, in Kautsky’s view the workers’ party would use the existing state bureaucratic apparatus: this merely reflected the need of ‘modern society’ for professional administration. In this respect Kautsky in his most revolutionary phase had already broken from the democratic republicanism of Marx’s writings on the Commune and Critique of the Gotha programme and Engels’ arguments in Can Europe disarm?

The idea that political power can only be taken by a party or party coalition and that the resulting new state is necessarily a party-state does not, therefore, at all imply the tyrannous character of the party-state created in the Soviet Union and imitated in many other countries. This tyrannous character reflects the decision of the Bolsheviks (a) to create Bonapartist centralism within their party and (b) to use state repression (the ban on factions, etc) to resist the natural tendency of the party to split within the framework of the common party identification created by the new state form. Behind these decisions, as I argued before, is the fact that the Russian party-state created in 1918-21 was socially based on the peasantry. [17]

In this scenario Mike Macnair describers Kautsky’s reformist parliamentary road to socialism as endorsed by Joe Stalin in the British Road to Socialism in 1951. We are unsure if he endorses it until we come to the his assertion that this was “Kautsky in his most revolutionary phase” who had “broken from democratic republicanism of Marx’s writings on the Commune and Critique of the Gotha programme and Engels’ arguments in Can Europe disarm?”

Of course as we have seen above Marx’s writing on the Commune did the exact opposite thing, he had broken from his previous emphasis on defeating the old feudal state  in alliance with a section of the bourgeoisie to emphasise the permanent revolution after 1948, to emphasis the need to smash the bourgeois state and to emphasise the defence of the Ireland’s and by extension all colonies right to self-determination after the famous Irish Turn of 1870. In 1870 Karl Marx in his famous “Irish turn” analysed this phenomenon and suggested a solution:

After studying the Irish question for many years, I have come to the conclusion that the decisive blow against the English ruling classes (and it will be decisive for the workers’ movement all over the world) cannot be delivered in England but only in Ireland.

… The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he regards himself as a member of the ruling nation and consequently he becomes a tool of the English aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself. He cherishes religious, social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude towards him is much the same as that of the “poor whites” to the Negroes in the former slave states of the U.S.A. The Irishman pays him back with interest in his own money. He sees in the English worker both the accomplice and the stupid tool of the English rulers in Ireland.

And the “turn” was: “Previously I thought Ireland’s separation from England impossible. Now I think it inevitable” because, “any nation that oppresses another forges its own chains”. But the thinking was not taken seriously by the central Marxist party of the next forty years, the German Social Democrats (SPD). This party made fundamental concessions to its own imperialism such that it voted the war credits to the Kaiser on 4 August 1914 to pursue WWI, in the name of defending socialism and the working class, of course. [18]


[1] Dispelling the Kautsky myths, Ben Lewis, Weekly Worker, 06.03.2020,

[2] Sally Baker, September 30, 2006, The nickname The Thunderer was established in 1830. London society was in shock after the strange death of Lord Graves on February 7, 1830. He had been found dead in his room by his servants with his throat cut from ear to ear and two razors beside the candle, but with no sign of a suicide note.

[3] The Times, 5 July 2015, Ben Chacko: A respectful rallying cry from the starry eyed Lenin,

[4] Socialist Fight, Gerry Downing 11-1-2017, The April Theses and Permanent Revolution – Part 1,

[5] Lenin, The State and Revolution, Chapter 3: Experience of the Paris Commune of 1871. Marx’s Analysis,

[6] Gerry Downing, 24-08-2017, Falsifier of the History of the Russian Revolution: Lars T Lih1, Gerry Downing’s 4 letters to Weekly Worker,

[7] Trotsky, The Stalin School of Falsification,

[8] See, AWL resolution on CPGB/WW, posted by Martin Thomas, 9 October, 2002,

[9] Hal Draper, Lenin’s Revisionist “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”,

[10] Marx doesn’t sound so liberal here: “We have no compassion and we ask no compassion from you. When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror. But the royal terrorists, the terrorists by the grace of God and the law, are in practice brutal, disdainful, and mean, in theory cowardly, secretive, and deceitful, and in both respects disreputable.” Final Issue Neue Rheinische Zeitung May 1849, Suppression of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 301,

[11] Trotsky,December 1940, The Class, the Party and the Leadership, Why Was the Spanish Proletariat Defeated? [Questions of Marxist Theory],

[12] Lars T Lih, Jacobin 29-6-19, Karl Kautsky as Architect of the October Revolution, Lenin remained true to the tactical guidelines of Karl Kautsky after the latter had abandoned them,

[13] Op. cit. Dispelling the Kautsky-Lewis myths.

[14] Lenin, October-November 1918, The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky, How Kautsky Turned Marx Into A Common Liberal,

[15] Leon Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism, Chapter 2, The Dictatorship of the Proletariat,

[16] Jack Conrad, Weekly Worker, 9-4-2018, The EU referendum cleaved the working class into two hostile camps

Democracy, not referendums,

[17] Mike Macnair, Weekly Worker, 7-5-2006, The minimum platform and extreme democracy,

[18] Letters of Karl Marx, 9 April 1870, to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt In New York,

2 thoughts on “The crises in the CPGB/Weekly Worker

  1. raved says:

    Excellent! Especially liked the bit about the fake fuckers not being able, refusing to, see a revolution coming even if they fell over it. Let’s leave them lie-ing where they fall. What is SF’s position on the current global situation?

    Liked by 1 person

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