Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Galloway Faces Strong Left Challenge as Communist League Silberman Stands for London Mayor.

with 15 comments

Silberman Threatens Galloway’s ‘left’ Mayor Campaign. 

The newshounds of the IBT had a scoop a few days ago.

Viva! Jonathan Silberman – Communist London Mayor hopeful dreams of Cuban revolution in Britain

Jonathan Silberman was a teenager when he and his friends sketched out their plan for global revolution – half a century later the factory worker and veteran Communist is still waiting.

But unlike so many other teenage revolutionaries, Silberman, 64, has not lost his zeal in the years in between. He is currently running for London mayor under the banner of the Communist League. He is a few days away from his annual trip to the Havana Book Fair as IBTimes UK meets him in a north London pub.

Ace-reporter Orlando Crowroft continues,

Founded in 1988, the Communist League grew out of one of many schisms in the British socialist left, remaining close to the American Socialist Worker’s Party (SWP) which, in typical fashion, is a mortal enemy of the UK party of the same name. Silberman is rarely seen without a several copies of the party’s magazine, the Militant, under his arm and a selection of books from US-based radical publishing house, Pathfinder.

The influence of this group, the Socialist Workers Party (US) on the British Communist League (Wikipedia)  is clear -in fact it derives from a  faction inside the International Marxist Group which was essential a branch of the American organisation with, how can I put it tactfully, certain ‘special’ characteristics of their own. Okay – a slightly cultish obnoxious  groupuscule.

…neither that nor the bloody authoritarian nightmare that the Soviet Union had become after Stalin served to change Silberman’s mind about revolution. There was a still a shining light for him in the form of Cuba which, even now, he defends as a true a socialist revolution. A fluent Spanish speaker, Silberman still visits Cuba annually and speaks glowingly about the country’s health care system and Che Guevara, the late revolutionary and global icon.

In truth much to admire in Jonathan.

I recall him in the International Marxist Group as a sensible (in IMG terms that is) and dedicated bloke. Despite being in a rival faction (Tendency ‘B’ – led by Livingstone’s economics Guru, John Ross), he was one of the few able to have a rational conversation with his opponents – in this case me. The drift to the US SWP is something I know little of, for the good reason I was living in France when this happened. His views on Cuba aside (although given the ‘new thinking’ that began in the 1980s from his group’s New York HQ and Jack Barnes it’s hard to ever  put Cuba to one side) he has lived the life of somebody who followed the “turn to industry” in all seriousness – working in factories.

Silberman sees trends that bode well for working class consciousness in this country and, to be fair, as a worker at a factory in Hertfordshire he actually comes into contact with workers on a daily basis – unlike the massed ranks of the radical London left, content to cheer the revolution from posh North London cafes.

Silberman spends the bulk of his Saturdays knocking on doors in working class housing estates, and finds the respondents receptive.

“I’ll tell you something interesting, it doesn’t matter if someone is Labour, Tory or Ukip. It makes no difference to their interest in our politics. Supporting Ukip doesn’t signify some big right wing ideology. I don’t think that there is a massive anti-immigrant sentiment in the working class,” he said.

Silberman, who visited Calais last year and believes in open borders, said that when people do express anti-immigration views he is often able to convince them that far from being divided from workers from abroad, they should be joining with them to fight for better pay and conditions.

“Our proposal is to use the unions to organise a real campaign to recruit workers, foreign-born workers, through militant struggle and through defence of our rights. Why don’t we fight for massive rise in the minimum wage that would benefit all workers? Why don’t we fight for more housing?” he said.

In the article Silberman professes not to know how many members the Communist League has. Which is surprising since I saw them at a TUC Demonstration a couple of years ago – around 7 – around a stall in Hyde Park. Somebody a lot more familiar with the group than I am  pointed them out by name. He suggested that perhaps there were a couple absent that day, no doubt drawn by the rival attractions of a Derby and Joan dance.

Despite the loyalty towards Cuba the SWP (US) is not universally loved, admired, or even given the time of the day by much of the left, anywhere.

Here are some of many accounts of the disputes which have left the ‘party’ with reportedly under 100 members: What happened to the SWP (U.S.)?: Recent memoirs stir discussion by Dayne Goodwin

Silberman stood in last year’s General Election in Hackney North, and got 102 votes, which if repeated across the country means that the Communist League had potentially  66,300 ballot papers.

 His election leaflet (view here) contained this comment,

Working Farmers – Allies of the Working Class Dairy farmers facing rising costs and cuts in the  price they get for milk have taken to the streets. Such struggles by family farmers should win the support of the workers movement.

United in struggle, workers and working farmers are stronger. And through struggle a revolutionary alliance of workers and farmers can be forged.

London farmers and revolutionary workers will no doubt respond this time round.




Written by Andrew Coates

January 27, 2016 at 1:44 pm

15 Responses

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  1. I’m pleased to see that a socialist (albeit one from an organisation that has gone from semi Trot to sort of Stalinist) is standing and I will no longer be voting for that rogue Galloway but I shall be voting for Silberman.

    It is as impossible for socialists to vote for the Business (reserve) candidate Khan, as it is to vote for the Business (1st Choice) candidate Goldsmith.

    Vote Communist League.

  2. If he actually stands and this is not the election equivalent of a meeting in Ipswich advertised with “Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis and Alain Krivine invited...”

    Andrew Coates

    January 27, 2016 at 5:44 pm

  3. For too long London’s dairy farmers have been ignored. Finally someone pays them attention!

  4. Yeah but they do have a record of standing in other elections although I would have thought the number of signatures needed and the deposit would be tough for them for such an election. .

    The leaflet comment about dairy farmers is silly and does show they unthinkingly copy the SWP (US). But to raise also shows the inanity of so many ‘Trots’ in the UK; it’s a very minor aside and to raise it is perhaps the equivalent of the Daily Mail saying ‘Corbyn – look at what he’s wearing!’

    It shows how childish are so many UK ‘Trots’ that Silberman’s candidature gets such remarks about farming rather than discussions about whether socialists should stand against Labour; can acolytes of the Cuban dictatorship be considered socialists, or other more substantive issues.

  5. There is a lot of literature about the way the SWP (US) has developed.

    For many English speaking Trotskyists the American SWP was, as you know Southpaw, very important, though less significant for the Tendance who has first and foremost looked to the European lefts.

    This, I hear is one starting point, though you probably already know about it:

    Who, or what, killed the US Socialist Workers Party?

    Sunday, May 20, 2012
    By Peter Boyle

    The Party, The Socialist Workers Party 1960-1988, Volume II: Interregnum, Decline and Collapse, 1973-1988, A Political Memoir
    By Barry Sheppard

    “In the 1960s and 1970s, the United States Socialist Workers Party (SWP) was one of the most promising socialist organisations in any imperialist country.

    Formed in the 1930s, it survived the isolating conservatism of the ’50s to play a key role in building many progressive movements, particularly the fight against the Vietnam War.

    But by the 1980s, the SWP was degenerating. It shrunk from several thousand active and engaged members to a tiny cult-like sect with no involvement in real struggles.

    Barry Sheppard was an SWP leader from 1960 to 1988. The first volume of his memoir covered 1960-1973, during which the SWP emerged from isolation to play a key role in the mass radicalisation of those years.

    The second volume continues the account of the SWP’s political interventions. It also describes and tries to explain the party’s degeneration.”


    Andrew Coates

    January 27, 2016 at 6:17 pm

  6. Well, if the Communist League were to ever be involved in a debate with Galloway, it would be interesting to see the subject of Israel come up.

    Here’s a headline from the SWP (US) “The Militant” from 2009.

    “Israel boycotts and divestment
    serve as cover for anti-Semitism ”

    “The character of these activities—aimed increasingly at Jewish-owned businesses—is part of the deepening pattern of Jew-baiting and anti-Semitism in the middle-class left worldwide. It should be opposed.

    At a February 10 panel discussion at Hunter College in New York, ISO leader Lichi D’Amelio appealed to students not to buy hummus produced by the company Sabra. After stating that the company gives money to the Israeli military, she also asserted that the chick-pea-based dip “is not even Jewish, but an Arab food.””


    The ISO (British SWP co thinkers) answered to this here –


    John R

    January 27, 2016 at 6:31 pm

  7. Southpawpunch – Sure. Or otherwise maybe you demonstrate a total absence of wit otherwise you’d have thought of some way to send me up rather than resort to the usual yawnsome preaching, Which is actually a political issue for the way the left fails to communicate to the plebs (or anyone, much).

  8. It’s certainly tragic the way the SWP (USA) has gone from being, maybe, the largest communist organisation in the world (if we discount those who may have had more numbers, but were opposition in a party) to what it is now.

    The answer to that – as the decline of the near any far Left organisation, or the inability of new ones to grow (at least in the UK or USA – why couldn’t Left Unity build fast against a Miliband LP?) is surely the paramount question of all.

    I wish I knew the answer. The one thing I do now is that no one else knows the answer either. It’s a shame the SWP (UK), Socialist party et al are not listed companies – I’m sure then investors would not let the self-perpetuating boards reproduce failure for decades and never successfully grow. They, and us al,l are failures despite their false claims to have a plan.

    I also wonder about these accounts by insiders about how particular incidents led to decline of a party. Sometimes that happens – you might be able to estimate how many SWPers (UK) left that party because of the Delta incident(s) but often I think a party just gets itself somewhere bad, like the decrepit old pub near me that once would have been trendy and popular but just didn’t adapt.

    The brewery sent someone in to totally revamp it last month and it is transformed (and now busy) but the Left has no-one to do such. The Militant of the SWP (USA) looks fossilised – articles that look like they were written in the 50s and you would imagine the paper would lie next to the ‘Readers Digest’ and ‘Senior Citizen Today’ in someone’s magazine rack.

    So I think it is that intangible ‘look and feel’ – what 20 yr old Cleveland young worker is going to be attracted to buy the Militant – can play more of a role than getting the right line on Cuba.

    This brings me on to the point about childishness. I sometimes read some of the big historical stuff that the Spartacists produce – e.g. Marx v Proudhon. It is thorough, and learned (and dealing with stuff that precedes their tendency towards Stalinism).

    Reading that ‘presentation’ you may well be surprised by them when you meet Sparts – by their method (which is what you see best in person) – nasty, ultra-aggressive to other Lefts and incapable of growth.

    This shows how you need to get both method AND presentation right to get people in the door.

    I don’t know what attracts people anymore than Canning does, but I think the C4 News / Newsnight presentation approach will do so more than the C5 News /The One Show approach that he might be seen to advocate

    What about the politics – I’d almost be cynical and say that is a secondary concern

  9. ‘know’ not ‘now’ – 1st line, para 3

  10. I do not understand what you are trying to say Southpaw. But on a lighter note the US SWP is a dying cult of few members and their followers in the UK are mad.


    January 27, 2016 at 8:13 pm

  11. Great Marxist analysis there – ‘they are mad’.

    Maybe ‘mad’ in the American sense as (near) no political tendency is irrational – it all makes sense, if only to them.

    Even the famous Posadist ‘flying saucer’ theory makes some initial sense – capitalism can only go so far and so ultra- advanced technology must necessarily be from and evidence of the existence of the next stage – socialist ‘red planets’

  12. That’s the problem though isn’t it Southpaw, ” it makes sense, if yonly to them” , however it makes no sense to simply parrot daft politics from another nation. What’s the Marxist term to describe such foolishness? I’ll continue to call the CL mad, foolish, sectarian, pointless and plain silly. What do you think of their real world politics?


    January 27, 2016 at 9:18 pm

  13. Re: SWP (US) and being barking mad.

    This is interesting, spotted by PF,

    “Free Dwight and Steven Hammond! Edtorial The Militant (SWP – US). January 25th)

    Working people should back the demand for the immediate release of cattle ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, sent back to federal prison after they already served their initial sentences for arson over fires set to protect their land. This and other issues brought to the fore in Harney County, Oregon, since the start of the year are important for workers and rural toilers across the country. ”

    “The Cuban Revolution set an example. After taking power in 1959, workers and farmers carried through a far-reaching land reform. Land there can’t be sold, and the right to use it is guaranteed to those who work it — gains that continue to this day. ”


    Wildlife Refuge Occupied in Protest of Oregon Ranchers’ Prison Terms.

    The occupation began after a demonstration on Saturday in support of Dwight Hammond, 73, and his son Steven Hammond, 46, who were to report to California prison after a federal judge ruled that the sentences they had served for arson were not long enough under federal law.

    Among the occupiers were Ammon and Ryan Bundy, two sons of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who became a symbol of anti-government sentiment in 2014, according to The Oregonian.


    The weeks-long armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge headquarters in Oregon suffered two major blows when protest leader Ammon Bundy was arrested and another key figure was killed.

    Bundy and several fellow occupiers were pulled over Tuesday on U.S. Highway 395, a law enforcement official said. According to The Oregonian, they were headed to the city of John Day, where they planned to participate in a community meeting set up by local residents.


    Andrew Coates

    January 28, 2016 at 12:50 pm

  14. Would have thought that if you were genuinely interested in social justice and development – Costa Rica (or perhaps Uruguay) would be more interesting examples of progress…despite the many problems they face. Both have pretty reasonable human rights records (despite having emerged from US backed dictatorships – similar to Cuba) and do better on basic development indicators than Cuba. The Cuba fascination seems to be more about cold-war nostalgia, left-wing identity politics and fiery rhetoric….As nice as the Cuban people are – I couldn’t imagine living there for more than a few weeks.

    alex ross

    January 28, 2016 at 4:14 pm

  15. Bolivia as well, for all his difficulties Evo Morales i=comes from and is part of a profoundly democratic movement of the left.

    Andrew Coates

    January 28, 2016 at 6:48 pm

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