Letters

Stalinist?

I note Mike Macnair’s article criticising the Critique statement and appeal for a conference to discuss a new Marxist party (‘Fight where Marxists are’, July 13).

Mike attacks the statement for the lack of a “concrete political programme” - somewhat prematurely, given that this is an appeal to establish a Campaign for a Marxist Party. It is the start of a debate - we could hardly prescribe such things at the start of the process. This is one thing in fact that marks this out as different from the likes of the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party (CNWP), which insisted that participants in its founding conference sign up to a statement prepared by the Socialist Party.

The first point of the appeal is to state that any new organisation must be openly revolutionary - Marxists have to get away from the idea that they have to appear in public as a particularly zealous variety of reformist in order to attract support. Having been in the shadow of social democracy - particularly after 1945 - the main traditions of the left have failed to make the case for an alternative to capitalism, under conditions where this is easier than it has been for decades.

Mike quotes from Marx on the detail of what a Marxist party should be in favour of. I have no problem with that. But he then throws in the notion of “the working class taking political power in the form of the democratic republic”, which he contrasts to “revolutionary overthrow”, characterised as “Bakuninist”. This looks suspiciously like some form of two-stage revolution. Is the “democratic republic” a capitalist formation (I think it is) or one in which the working class has overthrown capital? If Mike is trying to smuggle in this key element of Stalinist politics, then we have a profound difference.

On the question raised by Mike of a ‘party line’ on science, I am amazed that he can infer this from the appeal; the actual intention is to take a serious approach to theory - unlike the sects, where the ‘line’ is repeated parrot-fashion and members do not develop as Marxists. The only comment I would make on Marxism and science personally is that we have to defend the idea, attributed to Engels, that the dialectic appears in nature.

The point on bureaucratic centralism and self-appointed elites is precisely that the same cliques have dominated some organisations for decades. Any organisation will have to fight to prevent the emergence of a self-perpetuating bureaucratic group, such as that which runs the Socialist Workers Party. While there is no way that a party operating under capitalism can escape the problem of bureaucracy, it can at least recognise the problem and work to combat it.

Mike attacks my omissions on the right of tendency and faction plus the right to publicly air differences - fair enough, this should be in the constitution of any healthy organisation. However, this is an appeal for the conference to start the process. We aren’t going to produce a huge document full of proposals that comrades have to sign up to in advance. The point of it is to raise the issue and we have succeeded in this.

Mike tries to defend the position of chasing the sects, principally the SWP, and taking part in Respect, with a sideline in the CNWP and so on. This is excused as carrying the fight to “where the Marxists are”. The problem with it is that most Marxists in Britain have long since left or been thrown out of these organisations. As the Weekly Worker has so helpfully pointed out, these days the SWP is so bad that it expels its members not for any particular difference, but even for posting up on the internet a record of a meeting addressed by a leading SWP member. Presumably they don’t want any independent record of what they have said in case they have to change their position. This fits with the appalling tradition in the SWP of training their members to take orders rather than think for themselves.

Combined with this is the fact that Respect is an alliance with the deeply reactionary Muslim Brotherhood in the form of the Muslim Association of Britain and is (correctly!) highly unpopular on the left, hence the “unpopular front”. The political sterility of the sects and the fact that the overwhelming majority of comrades who are seriously thinking about Marxism are not in these outfits means that “where the Marxists are” is not anywhere near Respect.

Mike peppers his criticism of the appeal with barbed comments about Trotskyism. He not only appears to be defending Stalinist ideas such as the ‘two-stage revolution’, but states that Stalinist outfits such as the Communist Party of Britain are worth debating with and have significant numbers of actual or potential Marxists. It is important to recognise that, for all the faults of the sects that have come from it, Trotskyism is the political inheritor of the revolutionary politics of 1917.

People coming from the Stalinist tradition have to acknowledge both the monstrous crimes of the Stalinists in the massacre of millions, including the revolutionary generation of 1917, and the mangling of Marxism into a code that served the interests of the Moscow bureaucracy. Mike seems to be trying to go away from his Trotskyist past and towards Stalinism.

I repeat our appeal for all those interested to attend our conference on November 4, the details of which are published in this paper. We believe this is absolutely the right time to raise the real need for a new party.

Matthew Jones

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Implacable?

Your paper’s reports of meetings such as the SWP’s Marxism event are useful, but I hope that the Weekly Worker also finds the time and space to review the organisation’s books such as John Rees’s recently published Imperialism and resistance.

Even before you get into the meat of the work, there is this suspicious, ticking package in the form of a dedication to George Galloway in the book’s acknowledgements section: Rees dubs him “simply the most implacable and eloquent opponent of imperialism that I know”.

Putting on record that a left social democrat - even one as currently troublesome as Galloway - is an “implacable” opponent of imperialism is a bit like handing Pat Bateman a carving knife. After all, how many times in the history of our movement have politicians from Galloway’s treacherous political trend stabbed the working class in the back?

Take your paper’s report of Galloway’s comments at the November 15 2005 Hackney Respect meeting (Weekly Worker November 17 2005). He characterised British imperialism’s role in the second great imperialist war as “our finest hour as a country”. Britain “stood alone” against the ravenous Kraut hordes, a collective “honour” that should puff out the chests of all Brits. If ‘we’ had not, Galloway added, then he would not have been standing in front of that Hackney rally: instead, it would been “someone speaking German”.

One of the synonyms for “implacable” in my dictionary is “irreconcilable”. Is Rees really telling the working class that Galloway’s politics could never be reconciled with imperialism?

Donald Hughes

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SWP ‘theory’

In last week’s Marxism coverage it was reported that speakers in the meeting on ‘Muslims and the left today’ were emphasising a classless “natural unity” between muslims and the ‘left’ . This was also the line that was coming up from the floor in the session on ‘The Bolsheviks and islam’.

The SWP’s Dave Crouch gave the introduction to this meeting, the main body of which was not too different from the presentation he gave at the CPGB’s Communist University two years ago. However, in his attempt to slam the rest of the left for being soft on, or even party to, islamophobia, he ignores our principled criticisms of the SWP’s approach and throws everyone in with his caricatures of the AWL and Eustonite positions. This is all to be expected, though. When was the last time the SWP honestly debated with critics to its left? It is far easier to knock down straw men.

What was more unexpected, to me at least, was the nonsense being spouted by a number of SWPers who spoke afterwards. These supposed Marxists were arguing that islam, indeed all religions, were basically the same as socialism. You see, in the end we all aim for “peace on earth” and any differences that people may point to are merely “semantic”, to quote one comrade. What sort of socialism she had in mind I shudder to think, but doubtless it isn’t the proletarian and scientific socialism outline by the Marx-Engels team. Another SWPer was impressed by the leaps and bounds made in terms of “equality” in Iran under the ayatollahs.

Comrade Crouch felt that he had to say something by way of a correction to these comments. He emphasised something that had been completely lost on his comrades contributing from the floor - that there were class divisions and a left and right within islam, just as within society as a whole. However, this message will no doubt be lost, as the SWP’s practice is based on exactly the opposite. Winning Respect councillors from the Lib Dems and even Tories, and support from the imams, is emphasised. A ‘theory’ that follows the practice is clearly developing in these comrades’ heads.

Dave Isaacson
West Yorkshire

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Apologist

Guy Maddox’s letter could have been written by any apologist for Blair, Bush or Olmert. What better proof could there be that the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and their sympathisers are in the imperialist camp? I heard the same nonsense being trotted out on Radio 4’s Any questions? by Poly Toynbee and Nigel Lawson.

Yes, Mr Maddox, “Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip last summer”. But it retained absolute military control over the area. Nothing moved in or out except with Israeli permission. Its economy was strangled, as exports were deliberately delayed and of course the tax on those exports was confiscated by Israel when the Palestinians had the temerity to vote for the very organisation that Israel helped create: ie, Hamas.

Despite Hamas being on ceasefire for 17 months, there were repeated raids into the strip to ‘capture’ (note: ‘kidnap’ only applies when Palestinians abduct Israelis) ‘suspects’. In the week preceding Israel’s latest bombardment a family of seven were killed on the beach by Israeli shelling, a family of nine were killed in another bombardment and in total over 30 civilians were killed in the month preceding the capture of Gilad Shalit.

Of course we expect the rightwing media and BBC to focus on the actions of the Palestinians and treat Israel’s actions as ‘retaliations’. What is amazing is that a so-called socialist can buy into this racist rhetoric. I can remember, when the NUM went on strike, the BBC repeatedly describing police brutality as ‘retaliations’ to the extent of reversing video footage to ‘prove’ the point. It is a sign of the utter degeneracy of AWL that it buys into this nonsense.

Gaza was turned by Israel into an open-air prison when Israel withdrew. It continues to hold thousands of Palestinian prisoners, 85% of whom have been tortured, according to the human rights organisation, Btselem. Tanya Reinhard, writing in Yediot Aharanot on June 21, describes one week of ‘restraint’, when thousands of artillery shells were fired into Gaza, killing over 30 civilians. This is the reality that Maddox defends.

Yes, I deliberately described Israel’s actions as a blitzkrieg. Those who use starvation, thirst and hunger as reprisals against civilians, who destroy water and electricity plants, are, in the words of the late Yehashayu Leibowitz, a distinguished religious philosopher and winner of the Israel Prize, Judaeo-Nazis. This was the description used by the late Israel Shahak, professor at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, about those religious Zionists who argue that Palestinians are no different to animals - ie, subhuman - because they have an animal soul.

Like the milk and water Fabian that he is, Maddox criticises Israel for its lack of “proportionality”. How many dead children are proportionate, I wonder? How many rocket attacks on Beirut are acceptable?

Yes, I want the state of Israel to be destroyed. It is a state whose primary purpose is to provide privileges for Jewish people at the expense of the Palestinians. It is an expansionist state which seeks the removal of the Palestinians from both Israel itself and the occupied territories in order to provide living space for the settlers. But unlike Maddox and other apologists for Israel I don’t confuse a state with those who live in it.

Maddox’s attempt to justify Zionist collaboration with the Nazis and assorted fascists by reference to the German Communist Party’s attempt to win over plebeian members of the National Socialists is ludicrous. The KPD’s appeasement of the Nazis flowed from their third position politics - eg, the fact that none of its Reichstag members were Jewish from 1930 onwards or its attacks on ‘Jewish’ capitalists. But Hitler wasn’t fooled for a moment and KPD activists were put in Dachau from the moment the Nazis took power.

The Zionist emissaries swanned around Nazi-occupied Europe organising kibbutzim and facilitating the emigration of their own cadre and no one else. The KPD, for all its sins, was part of the labour movement. Zionism was a movement of the most reactionary section of the Jewish bourgeoisie.

Tony Greenstein
Brighton

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Series win

I really enjoyed Tony Greenstein’s series on Zionism. We have to continue to go after both the Zionists (and their defenders, such as the AWL) and the revisionists.

David Walters
San Francisco

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Free detainees

Fourteen Algerians are currently facing possible deportation from Britain as ‘threats to national security’. Some are beginning to wonder which is worst - the military regime from which they fled or the ‘democratic’ one under which they now suffer. They include Mouloud Sihali, who entered Britain to evade Algerian military service. With five others of the 14, he was cleared of terrorism in the ‘ricin’ trial which ended in spring 2005.

Others were interned as ‘terrorist suspects’ under the anti-terrorism law of 2001. Now in their fifth year of detention without trial, they were moved from prison to control orders (partial house arrest) in spring 2005, after the law lords’ famous judgement that internment was incompatible with human rights law. Jailed again last summer under immigration law, all the 14 can be held in prison or under house arrest as long as deportation is being negotiated, perhaps for years. Their appeals against deportation go before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, a no-jury court which hears some evidence in secret, withholding it even from defendants.

Faced with a new form of indefinite detention without trial, one detainee attempted suicide in September. Two returned to Algeria ‘voluntarily’ in early June. Arrested on arrival, they were released within days, possibly thanks to Amnesty International intervention. One was told he will be summoned back to a police station shortly. They dare not say what happened to them whilst under arrest: criticism of the Algerian security forces can itself bring up to five years in jail.

Even the UK foreign office website notes that Algerian state security forces have been responsible for the enforced disappearances of at least 4,000 people, abductions, torture and extra-judicial killings in the last decade. To make deportations to Algeria compatible with the Human Rights Act, the British authorities had to ‘disappear’ the risk of torture. After months of talks, they failed to achieve a meaningful ‘memorandum of understanding’ with Algeria that the detainees in Britain, if returned, will not be ill-treated.

The ‘war on terror’ has occasioned an alarming bonhomie between a militarised regime and a supposedly democratic one. This is perhaps not surprising, given the common objectives of the two countries’ security machines. For the Algerian regime, the ‘war on terror’ is merely an extension of a 15-year civil war against its islamic opposition. By demonising the islamic ‘terrorist’ threat the Algerian government finds excuses for its repressive policies. By doing the same the British government has found an excuse to introduce house arrest and detention without charge. Are we seeing a gradual convergence between British and Algerian styles of justice?

Campacc (the Campaign against Criminalising Communities) continues to fight for justice for the detainees. Any readers who want to get involved can find more information, and a petition, on the Campacc website, www.campacc.org.uk. Campacc is demanding not only that the detainees not be returned to ill-treatment or even torture in their country of origin; they must also be allowed to know all the evidence against them and be given a chance to clear their names. A terrorist is never a terrorist until proven guilty in a proper court.

Anne Gray
Campacc

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