Archive for the ‘Stalinism’ Category
‘Straight Left” from Tankie Faction in the Communist Party of Great Britain to the Heart of the Labour Party.
“The hatred and contempt with which each side treats the others—as also the bewilderment and distress of the silent majority of Party loyalists—seems now to exceed that in the Labour Party at the height of Bennism. In the Eurocommunist camp, as then on the Labour Left, it is typically expressed in generational terms—‘Why don’t you just die?’ was the shout of one of the new wave ‘pluralists’ when, at a recent aggregate, an old-timer attempted to speak.
Whereas in previous Communist crises, such as those of 1939–40 or 1956, the factory branches remained solid or even increased in strength, while it was the ‘intellectuals’ who were then wracked by doubt, this time it is the industrial comrades who have been ready to put their Party loyalties in question. In their majority they seem to have rallied to the Morning Star. Trade unionists—‘white, male, middle-aged’, as they were recently characterized by the Party’s Industrial Organizer, after a week at the TUC—are no longer honoured in the Party but viewed with social and even sexual disgust.
As in other political formations of the Left, political disagreement has been exacerbated by sociological discomforts which it seems increasingly difficult for a unitary organization to contain, and although the outcome is different in the Communist and the Labour Party, it does not seem fanciful to discern the same fissiparous forces at work: a simultaneous break-up of both class and corporate loyalties.”
Raphael Samuel. The Lost World of British Communism. Part 3. New Left Review I/165, September-October 1987.
This, apparently, is the atmosphere that reigned in the party, the CPGB, that some of Jeremy Corbyn’s key staff, from Seumas Milne to the new deputy director of strategy and communications, Steve Howell, were involved with in their – relative – youth.
The faction, “Straight Left” appears to be a common tie,
The leading ideological force in the Straight Left faction was Fergus Nicholson, who had previously worked as the CPGB’s student organiser. According to Michael Mosbacher in Standpoint magazine, the faction was “a hard-line anti-reformist pro-Soviet faction within the Communist Party”. Unlike the leadership, they supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1979. They also thought the party should concentrate its work in Trade Unions , and not in social movements such as feminism and environmentalism.
Because the CPGB’s rules banned the formation of factional groups, SL operated in secret. Members of the faction contributed funds to the organisation through significant monthly donations, which helped fund the groups educational gatherings, often referred to as camping weekends. Its meetings were not publicly announced, and writers in their newspaper Straight Left and their theoretical magazine Communist wrote under pseudonyms like Nicholson, whose pen-name was “Harry Steel”. The Straight Left faction also produced anonymous bulletins to try to influence CPGB Congresses usually under the heading “Congress Truth”.
The faction produced a dissident internal pamphlet entitled “The Crisis in Our Communist Party – Cause, Effect and Cure”, which was distributed nationally but not under its name. This was authored (in all likelihood in conjunction with others), by veteran miner and communist Charlie Woods, who was expelled from the CPGB for putting his name to the publication.
The reason for the sudden interest?
After Jeremy Corbyn’s campaigns chief Simon Fletcher quit his role earlier this month, it was branded a victory for Seumas Milne. Fletcher was known to have clashed with Corbyn’s director of strategy and communications on a range of issues, including the EU. Now, in a sign things are moving further in Milne’s favour, Steve Howell has been appointed as deputy director of strategy and communications.
Happily, the pair are unlikely to clash over their political views anytime soon. They are old comrades who were both involved with Straight Left, the monthly journal in the Eighties that became associated with the ‘Stalinist’, pro-Soviet, anti-Eurocommunist faction that eventually split from the Communist Party of Great Britain. Described by Standpoint magazine as ‘a hard-line anti-reformist pro-Soviet faction within the Communist Party’, the Straight Left movement was also where Milne met Andrew Murray, the first chair of the Stop the War campaign who previously called for solidarity with North Korea.
Introducing Corbyn’s new spinner: the Straight Left comrade who is Mandelson’s old communist chum. (Steerpike. Spectator).
This was also immediately noticed on the left, provoking it must be said some jealousy on the part of former members of rival factions within the defunct Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).
Bob from Brockley posted,
Fletcher’s replacement is Steve Howell, brought in from a PR firm in South Wales. Howell has not been politically active for a while, as far as I can see, but does have history: like Milne and Andrew Murray he was active in the Stalinist faction Straight Left. Howell, then based in Sheffield, led its Yorkshire group. Their faction was called “the artists” – most of its key figures were Oxbridge types, in contrast to the salt of the earth workerists who led the main rival tankie faction, the Communist Campaign Group.
At that point in the 1980s, hardcore Stalinists (known as “tankies” for their support for the tanks sent in by the Soviets to crush dissent in its various satellites) were fighting to keep the Communist Party of Great Britain loyal to the memory of Uncle Joe Stalin, who was seen as something of an embarrassment by its Eurocommunist leadership. Straight Left sought to re-orient the party towards operating in the Labour Party and trade union movement.
Some of the denunciations of its tactics by rival Stalinists from the time are amusing, but also a bit sinister now it finally has achieved getting some of its activists into key positions in the Labour Party.
And this is about Straight Left’s strategy of covertly using the Labour Party rather than Communist Party as the vehicle for promoting Stalinism, a strategy the Leninist denounced as “liquidationism”:
Now the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty have offered their assessment.
Corbyn’s Leader’s Office is dominated by the former Guardian journalist Seumas Milne and by people close to Andrew Murray, chief of staff of the Unite union. Milne’s political formation was in the Stalinist sect “Straight Left”.
Another Straight Lefter was Andrew Murray… Milne, like Murray, is still a Stalinist. Writing for the Guardian, as he has done for many years, he puts his views in urbane double-negative form, but he is still a Stalinist… Operators used to snuggling into the established political and media machines, ideologically imbued with and trained over decades in ‘top-down’ politics, will not serve Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, and us well in opening up and revitalising the Labour Party” (Solidarity 382, 28 October 2015).
“Stalinist ideas were drilled into swathes of labour movements and the left in decades when activists could see the USSR (or Cuba, China, Albania) as practical examples of the alternative to capitalism. Today we have a more demoralised Stalinists and Stalinoids: while sometimes loud in denunciation of Tory misdeeds, they generally see no further in positive policy than what were only stepping stones for Stalinism in its heyday: economic nationalism, bureaucratic state-directed economic development…
The Article 50 fiasco, and the Labour leaders’ waffle about a “People’s Brexit”, cannot but have been shaped by nationalist anti-EU prejudices in the Stalinist-influenced left. Stalinist bureaucratic manipulation fits with the Blairite heritage: “policy development” means not debate in the rank and file leading up to conference decisions, but formulas handed down by clever people in the Leader’s Office. The office’s response to the Copeland by-election has been to get another “Straight Left” old-timer, Steve Howell, seconded from the PR company he now owns….
Martin Thomas. The dangers of Stalinism in Labour. Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.
Of particular interest are the claims about the EU, “Fletcher was known to have clashed with Corbyn’s director of strategy and communications on a range of issues, including the EU.” and “the Labour leaders’ waffle about a “People’s Brexit”.
This article, published by those Simon Fletcher is said to be close to (aka Socialist Action), which argues against the fantasy that there is a “People’s Brexit”, may help explain his departure.
There is no socialist or even ‘people’s Brexit’. Everyone operating in the UK will still be subject to the laws of the market. The problem will be that the market will suddenly be much smaller and less productive than the EU Single Market the UK has been participating in for the last 25 years. If the Tories continue to get their way, there will also be a stripping away of the workers’ environmental and consumer rights that were instituted under the EU’s ‘Social Chapter’. These have long been a Tory target for abolition in the UK. Post-Brexit, the economy will be operating behind a series of tariff and non-tariff barriers as others protect their markets. All of these will make the economy less competitive and will increase costs.
Of course, the pound could depreciate sharply again to offset these disadvantages, but this would lower living standards and real incomes even further. If currency devaluations alone were the answer then Britain would be an earthly paradise. In 1940 there were 5 US Dollars to the pound. Now there are 1.25. Over the same period the relative size of the UK in the world economy has shrunk dramatically in real terms, to less than one-third its proportion of world GDP, 2.3% now versus 7.3% in 1940.
There is a widespread notion on the right that Brexit will lead to ‘taking back control’ of the economy. Unfortunately, this is also shared by important sections of the left. It is a delusion. The 1930s saw a whole series of countries taking back control, in what might be called an early anti-globalisation movement. Although the authors of these policies are now widely and rightly derided their arguments will actually be very familiar.
It was said that other countries were taking our jobs, they are dumping their output on us causing our industries to fail and that those industries need protecting and government support, or state aid. Once we have done that, then we would be able to trade freely with the whole world. Of course, the more virulent version also included vile invective against foreigners, immigrants, Jews, gay men and others. When the economic policies went spectacularly wrong, the racist invective became policy.
The reason these policies failed spectacularly should be clear. Behind the protective barriers, costs rise, potential markets are closed off (especially as they respond with barriers of their own), industry becomes less not more productive, profits decline and workers are laid off. The economic crisis that ensued was finally resolved only by general rearmament.
Economics aside Milne, it is said, is equally no friend of the politics of the internationalist supporters of Another Europe is Possible.
And he has this in his file: Seumas Milne: Charlie Hebdo Had it Coming to them.
More detailed background:
Straight Left’s origins lie in the left pro-Soviet oppositions that emerged in the Communist Party of Great Britain in the 1960s. In this period, a definite ‘party within a party’ emerged, with figures such as Sid French, district secretary of Surrey CPGB, becoming key leaders. The general critique that emerged from this faction was a concern over the CPGB leadership distancing itself from the Soviet Union (such as around the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968) and other ‘socialist’ countries; a preference for a more ‘workerist’ identity (for example, the faction would have been happy with the CPGB’s paper remaining as the Daily Worker in 1966) and a concentration on workplaces/trade unions; and a sense that the party was squandering its resources in futile election contests and alienating the left of the Labour Party, with whom it was meant to be developing a close relationship on the British road to socialism (BRS), the CPGB programme. However, a significant part of the faction felt that the BRS was ‘reformist’ and ‘revisionist’ in all its guises from 1951, counter-posing a revolutionary path to the parliamentary road to socialism envisaged in the CPGB’s existing programme.
Read the rest of the article on A Hatful of History.
As Nationalist Left Backs ‘Opportunities’ offered by Leave there is no such thing as a “People’s Brexit”
Morning Star Follows Callinicos: Accepting Brexit is indispensable to offering an alternative to neoliberalism.
Announces as an ‘alternative fact’ the pro-Brexit Morning Star.
Corbyn vows post-Brexit Britain won’t benefit the corporate tax dodgers
LABOUR committed yesterday to ensure that people’s rights were protected in a post-Brexit Britain following the Supreme Court’s ruling that the government needs the vote of Parliament before triggering Article 50.
Leader Jeremy Corbyn said that Labour MPs would not frustrate kick-starting the two-year process to leave the EU, amid concerns expressed by members that doing so could lose Labour its safe seats and also a general election.
He added that the party wants to amend a final Bill so that PM Theresa May can be stopped from converting Britain into even more of a “bargain basement tax haven off the shores of Europe” in lowering corporation tax.
Corbyn makes no mention of a People’s Brexit.
He wants to limit the damage Brexit will cause.
The article continues, citing the hard right (and former IMG member) Kate Hoey, who appeared on platforms during the Referendum with Nigel Farage.
Labour Leave campaign’s Kate Hoey warned the opposition risked losing seats in next month’s parliamentary by-elections in Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central if it seeks to block Brexit.
She said: “It is time for Labour to support the government by voting for Article 50 and working together to ensure the United Kingdom enjoys the global opportunities Brexit provides.”
Labour Leave chairman John Mills said it was vital for Labour to support the referendum result if it wanted to win a general election.
He added: “If we continue to flap about on this issue instead of getting on with making a success of Brexit, the voters will not forgive us.”
Photo not in the Morning Star:
Hoey with friend.
Sabin then outlines the continued opposition to Brexit from the Liberals, the SNP and the Greens.
Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas confirmed she would vote against triggering Article 50 to kick-start the two-year process by March 31, which she described as an “artificial” timeframe that was set out by Ms May.
The Supreme Court ruling now means that the Tory government will be “exposed to the antiseptic of parliamentary scrutiny” — according to civil liberties group Liberty director Martha Spurrier.
She added: “This is not a political decision — it is our democracy in action.
In today’s Editorial the Morning Star declares that,
A Labour amendment pointing out the role of tax havens used by big business and many Tory supporters to dodge tax, and highlighting the need for investment in jobs, infrastructure, NHS, essential public services and so on can spark a major debate.
But we need a Labour Party — indeed a labour movement — united in ensuring that this is at the centre of discussions.
No individualist playing to the gallery, no preening in a TV studio during yet another “Corbyn must do better” backstabbing interview and no following SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens, Kenneth Clarke et al as they flounce into a sterile oppositionist posture.
The decision to leave the EU has been taken.
The question of whether a post-Brexit Britain will benefit tax-dodgers and big business or working people’s needs — our NHS, education, social care, council housebuilding, extended public ownership — confronts us all starkly.
It is a sad state of affairs when all this section of the left can offer as examples of how to benefit “working people’s needs” are measures (which will not pass Parliament) to limit the UK’s tax haven role and a call for investment in public services.
This is not quite as feeble as Alex Callinicos writing in the latest Socialist Worker,
The rebellion over Article 50 will simply add to the confusion at a moment when the Tories are beginning to get their act together.
May had the confidence to threaten last week to walk away from the negotiations with the rest of the EU because she thinks she has a new ally in Washington.
She hopes Donald Trump’s enthusiasm for Brexit and disdain for the EU will give her “global Britain” a powerful alternative in a free-market “Anglosphere”. Never mind that it’s quite unclear how this vision fits with Trump’s declaration in his inaugural speech that “protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”
The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reports that Trump “is planning a new deal for Britain”, involving closer financial and defence cooperation and fewer trade barriers.
Then will come a “full monty” state visit to Britain in the summer. According to one crony, “Trump has taken to calling Mrs May ‘my Maggie’ in private.”
No doubt there’s a lot of wishful thinking on both sides, if not pure fantasy. Nevertheless, May hopes to seize on Trump’s advent to office in the hope it can give Brexit a coherence that the pro-leave right has so far failed to provide.
In these circumstances it is completely irresponsible for EU supporters within Labour to start a fight over Article 50.
This isn’t just because it will allow the Tories and Ukip to portray Labour as anti-democratic and seek to tear away those of its supporters who voted to leave. Accepting Brexit is indispensable to offering an alternative to neoliberalism.
In other words, accepting the supposed return to British ‘sovereignty’, on the pro-business basis that the Tories (and UKIP) intend it to be, is a condition for …fighting the free-market.
We leave it to Callinicos and his mates to find a way to tally their ‘Marxist’ explanation of what lies behind May’s vision of a global Britain” a powerful alternative in a free-market “Anglosphere”. “and “Trump’s declaration in his inaugural speech that “protection will lead to great prosperity and strength” with all their previous rhetoric about neoliberalism. Which is by its essence opposed to ‘protectionism’.
In the meantime the ‘People’s Brexit’ leaves EU economic, employment and social rights hanging in the air, ready to be plucked down one by one by the Tories.
This is a different view from Another Europe is Possible.
The Supreme Court has ruled by 8-3 that Parliament will need to vote on Article 50 activation. Following the verdict, which also saw the Scottish government disappointed in its attempts to win a constitutional right to be consulted by the UK government, Another Europe is Possible, have called on MPs to be willing, if needs be, to vote against Article 50. We believe they must be willing to use this power to extract maximum concessions to protect key areas: the right to free movement with EU states, the future of science and innovation, ecological sustainability, workers’ protections, education, and human rights.
A spokesperson for Another Europe is Possible said:
“This ruling gives MPs the ability to determine what Brexit means. Politicians – and specifically Labour – must live up to their historic duty to protect the progressive elements of EU membership. That means proposing amendments to remain in the EEA – or to retain workers’ rights, freedom of movement, environmental protections, human rights, and science and education funding. Theresa May has no mandate for the harsh, chaotic form of Brexit she is pursuing, and MPs must ultimately be willing to vote against Article 50 if reasonable amendments do not pass.”
Sam Fowles, a law researcher at the University of London, said:
“This judgement gives ordinary people the chance, through our MPs, to hold the government accountable for Brexit negotiations. It’s now up to us and our MPs to take that chance. If the government can’t deliver the Brexit they promised in the referendum then we, the people, must have the chance to reject their deal. It’s up to our MPs to use the vote on Article 50 to make sure we get that chance.
“The referendum result doesn’t give anyone the right to ignore the UK’s unwritten constitution. The government can’t just do what it wants, when it wants.
On the defeat of the Scottish government’s case in relation to the Sewell convention, Fowles added:
“Although the court held that it could not enforce the Sewell Convention the government must respect it nevertheless. The Sewell Convention obliges the government to consult the devolved Parliaments on matters that concern them. If this government truly respects the people of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, then it will properly consult their elected Assembly’s on Article 50.”
Background: Another Europe is Possible declares,
It has now become crystal clear that the Brexit which Theresa May has planned would be a disaster for workers, farmers, businesses and public services like the NHS. The policies which the Prime Minister set out last week in her 12 point plan precisely conform to the vision which Another Europe is Possible warned would result from a Leave vote last year.
May has ripped up the numerous promises made by leading Leave campaign supporters – that Brexit would save the NHS, that we would not leave the single market, that Britons could continue to move and live wherever they want in Europe. This Government’s vision is rather of a deregulated, offshore financial haven, and a country closing its door to the world – with 3m EU citizens in the UK living in huge uncertainty. This represents a catastrophe for ordinary people.
In this context, we call on progressive parties to vote against Article 50, until we are offered an exit deal that meets the needs of the British people. The British electorate voted by 52% to 48% to leave the European Union. But this does not add up to a mandate for the type of jobs destroying hard Brexit that Theresa May wants. Numerous English and Welsh towns and cities backed Remain. So did Scotland and Northern Ireland. The hard Brexit the Tories are set on will not overcome these divisions. It will only further inflame them.
MPs only have one point of leverage over the terms of exit. And this comes when Article 50 is activated. Unless this leverage is used any democratic control over the terms of exit slips away. While Theresa May promised in her recent speech to bring the final deal back to Parliament, this amounts to setting a political trap. Parliament in that situation would be faced with a choice: either accept what will be – if Theresa May gets her way in Europe – a rotten deal, or crash out of the EU with no deal in place whatsoever. The government will put a revolver to the head of Parliament and force it to fall into line behind its disastrous deal.
We understand that the voice of those who voted Leave cannot be ignored. But it is clear that the Leave vote – which people made for many varied reasons – is now being used to justify the most regressive, far-reaching constitutional changes we have seen in generations. This does not represent the will of the majority. The Prime Minister’s refusal to involve the British people in her Exit strategy is a power grab. We demand a democratic constitutional process before any further power is taken from the people. Unless and until such a process is agreed, progressive politicians should refuse to cede further power to this government.
The ‘anti-Zionist’ Politics we Loathe.
Introduction: one of the things which intensely annoyed many people during the ‘Momentum’ debacle was this accusation against a small left wing group, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. That they hold, “Subtle support for imperialist wars, uncritical support for Israel and fanatical support for the European Union are amongst their policies.” (Laura Catriona Murray here).
If I think rightly the AWL has a sensitive attitude on the issue of the Middle East.
Some of their views chime with mine.
I am ‘anti-zionist’ in the sense that Hannah Arendt was: I am not a nationalist and far less somebody who would base politics on religion.
I am, to put it in a word, an internationalist.
I am Not an anti–Zionist who is obsessed with the issue.
I am somebody who grew up with the ‘Jewish community’ in North London. I would not even dream of defining the ‘Jewish community’ as ‘one’ voice or group, or define ‘their’ stand on Israel.
This is an important contribution to debate on the issue.
“Why Jews should join Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”
Workers’ Liberty member Daniel Randall spoke on a panel at Limmud, a Jewish cultural and educational conference, on a panel entitled “why Jews should join Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. The other speakers were Jon Lansman (Momentum), Anna Lawton (Labour Party member and Limmud 2017 chair), and Barnaby Raine (RS21). The session was chaired by Andrew Gilbert (London Jewish Forum and Labour Party member).
This is a slightly-edited version of Daniel’s speech at the session.
I’m Daniel Randall; I work on the underground in London, where I’m a rep for the RMT union. I’m also a member of the socialist group Workers’ Liberty; we’re a Trotskyist organisation, but a rather heterodox one. I should also say that I’m not currently a member of the Labour Party, having been expelled, twice, for my membership of Workers’ Liberty. So I’m speaking here somewhat as a Labour Party member “in exile”.
The title of this panel is “why Jews should join Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. I’m going to approach the issue slightly differently, because I’m not a communalist; I’m not a Zionist, or a Bundist, or nationalist or cultural autonomist of any other stripe. I don’t believe in a unitary “Jewish interest”, and I don’t believe there’s any essentialist, innate “Jewish characteristics” that ought to compel Jews to join Labour, or any other political party. Fundamentally, I think Jews should join the Labour Party if they support its foundational purpose: to represent in politics the interests of working class.
I should also say that I don’t believe there’s any such thing as “Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. The Labour Party belongs to its members, not to its leader, and has always been a politically contested space and a site of struggle. You might not like the current political composition of the leadership, for whatever reason, but if you believe in labour representation, you should be in the Labour Party.
But to say nothing more than that would be a missed opportunity, I think, so I will use the not-very-much time I have to say a bit more on what a Corbyn-led Labour Party might imply for the relationship between Jews and the left.
I think the Corbyn surge represents an opportunity to recompose and renew the left. Hundreds of thousands of young people, many of them new to politics and without the training and baggage of years spent organised under prevailing far-left common sense, good and bad, have become politicised, and some have become mobilised and active.
If you’re a Jewish leftist or labour movement activist who has felt uncomfortable with, or alienated by, the common sense that has prevailed on the left around certain issues, and I agree that there has been much to feel uncomfortable about, then the febrile political atmosphere created by the Corbyn surge represents an opportunity to challenge and change that common sense. You should get involved in and be part of those discussions, but that means making a commitment to attempt to see this political moment through, on its own terms.
Much has been said about Jeremy Corbyn’s personal, individual attitude to Israel/Palestine and antisemitism. On substantive questions of policy he has a much better position, in my view, than the one which has predominated on much of the far-left: he is for a two-state settlement, rather than the destruction of Israel, and against blanket boycotts of Israel. That puts him one up on much of the far-left.
His weaknesses on these issues, his historic softness on Hamas, for example, reflect the reality of him as a product of the existing left – a left characterised by Stalinist politics, and a “my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend” approach to international issues. But the new left in the Labour Party is bigger than Jeremy Corbyn himself and, as I’ve said, represents an opportunity to challenge those politics.
I think it’s also important for me to say here that the view that the entire far-left is institutionally antisemitic is a calumny, and I think some of the antisemitism scandals in Labour have been blown out of proportion and manipulated for factional ends, by figures on the right of the party.
Nevertheless, left antisemitism is a real and distinct phenomenon which needs a specific analysis and response. We don’t have time to say much here, but briefly, I think we can understand antisemitism on the left as a form of implied political hostility to Jews, distinct from the racialised antipathy of far-right antisemitism. This has its roots in the efforts by Stalinism, from the 1950s onward, to cynically conflate “Zionism” with imperialism, racism, and even fascism, which established a common sense which came to dominate even on the anti-Stalinist left. Only an analysis that understands the historical roots of left antisemitism, and which sets as its aim the renewal of the left, on a politically healthier basis, can meaningfully confront it. The required response is fundamentally political, rather than moralistic or administrative or bureaucratic; to be part of recomposing and renewing a movement you must first be part of the movement.
The key is a culture of open debate, discussion, and education, conducted in an atmosphere of free speech, on all sides. We’re not there yet; far from it. But I believe we have an opportunity to build a left that is characterised by those things, and if you believe in them too then I urge you to help shape it.
I will finish by offering a different, perhaps more fundamental set of reasons why Jews should join the Labour Party.
We live in a grossly unequal world, characterised by exploitation and oppression. Just in this country, one of the richest in the world, over 500,000 people use food banks. In 2016, nearly 200 employers were found to be paying less than the minimum wage – a wage which it is now widely acknowledged it too low to live on anyway. Various forms of social oppression persist, and ecological degradation continues. It’s a bleak picture. And against this backdrop, the wealth of the richest continues to skyrocket. The richest 1,000 in Britain have increased their wealth by 112% since 2009.
All of that is grotesque and obscene. It should offend you, “as Jews”, and as human beings. It should make you want to change it. The only way we can change it is on the basis of a movement based fundamentally, structurally, on the relationship and conflict that animates it all: class. That is what the Labour Party and wider labour movement is for. And if you believe that it is the mission of the labour movement to change the world, and you find the labour movement before you inadequate or deficient in some way, then it is your responsibility not to abandon it, but to help transform it.
As I said at the beginning of this speech, I don’t believe in any innate Jewish characteristics that ought to compel us in a particular direction. But perhaps there is something in our historical experience that can help us gain an understanding of why our world is organised in that way, and how it might be different. In his essay “The Non-Jewish Jew”, Isaac Deutscher explores why Jews have seemed to be over-represented in the ranks of the thinkers and organisers of the left. Considering various figures including Marx, Trotsky, and Luxemburg, he writes:
“Have they anything in common with one another? Have they perhaps impressed mankind’s thought so greatly because of their special ‘Jewish genius’? I do not believe in the exclusive genius of any race. Yet I think that in some ways they were very Jewish indeed. They had in themselves something of the quintessence of Jewish life and of the Jewish intellect. They were a priori exceptional in that as Jews they dwelt on the borderlines of various civilisations, religions, and national cultures.
“They were born and brought up on the borderlines of various epochs. Their minds matured where the most diverse cultural influences crossed and fertilised each other. They lived on the margins or in the nooks and crannies of their respective nations. They were each in society and yet not in it, of it and yet not of it. It was this that enabled them to rise in thought above their societies, above their nations, above their times and generations, and to strike out mentally into wide new horizons and far into the future.”
That is our history. We do the most honour to our heritage when we attempt to use that history and experience to go beyond our own experience, into perspectives for universal emancipation.
That is why you, as a Jew, should dedicate yourself to the struggle to change the world. That is why you should join the Labour Party.
Andrew Murray, Chair of the Stop the War Coalition, one-time Communist Party of Britain big-wig, and now a Labour Party member, recently wrote, “Stalinism and Trotskyism appear to be back in vogue.”
We understand these cards as selling like red-hot cakes amongst certain in vogue circles.
It is said that this image is already in the printing for the next batch of cards:
This is not being considered:
Welcome Comrade Murray!
The chief of staff of Unite’s leader, Len McCluskey, has left the Communist party to become a Labour member.
Reports the Guardian.
Andrew Murray, who last year said communism represented “a society worth working towards”, joined Labour’s ranks recently, a Unite spokesman said.
Murray, a former Morning Star journalist and longtime chair of Stop the War, said in a Guardian interview last year that his adherence to communism prevented him from joining Labour.
“All my children are in the Labour party,” he said. “One has been in the Labour party a long time; the other three are all there as a result of Jeremy’s surge. But no, I’m a member of the Communist party. That’s where I am. Communism still represents, in my view, a society worth working towards – albeit not by the methods of the 20th century, which failed.”
Last week Murray’s daughter, Laura, claimed that members of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and other Troyskyist groups were seeking to take control of Momentum, the grassroots organisation that supports the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, from its founder, Jon Lansman.
“Jeremy Corbyn will inevitably make one compromise or concession that isn’t ideologically pure enough for them, and they will abandon him and Labour altogether to turn Momentum into a rival leftwing party,” she wrote.
In her blog she further claimed that a row over the form of an internal voting structure at a meeting of Momentum’s national committee had ended in bullying and intimidation. She accused AWL members of bullying those whom they suspected of being “rightwing” or “alt-Stalinist” members.
“The argument that is being propagated by Lansman – and his media supporters Owen Jones and Paul Mason – is that Momentum minus the AWL would be totally fine. This is not true,” he wrote on his blog.
Angell added of Murray Sr’s conversion: “It’s more than regretful that Labour’s ability to attract previously staunch communists has not been able to counterbalance the loss of support in Sleaford, Richmond and national opinion polls.”
This is one of comrade Murray’s recent contribution to left debate.
Stalinism and Trotskyism appear to be back in vogue. Their shrouds are being waved — entryism here, a purge there — to terrify bystanders to the struggle over the future of the Labour Party, writes Andrew Murray.
“This illustrates the extent to which “dead Russians,” using the term slightly loosely, still hold the imagery and lexicon of the international left in thrall nearly a century after the October revolution.”
He continues on this site.
Far be it for me to suggest that Cde Murray has joined Labour to engage in the fray against the ‘Trotskyists’…..
The Dictator, the Revolution, the Machine. A Political Account of Joseph Stalin Tony McKenna. A Review.
The Dictator, the Revolution, the Machine. A Political Account of Joseph Stalin Tony McKenna. Sussex Academic Press.
“I recently read an interview featuring a cultural commentator of the left. Alongside the interview a photo appeared of this individual against a backdrop which featured an image of Joseph Stalin.” In the Preface to The Dictator the Revolution, the Machine, Tony McKenna observes in this, not uncommon, gesture, a “certain wry sympathy for Stalin’s political endeavours.” The Chair of no less than the Stop the War Coalition, Andrew Murray, has expressed such empathy on many occasions. For these people Stalin’s title of Generalissimo and Hero of the Soviet Union, awarded in June 1945, was due recognition for a leader prepared to “get his hands dirty” in defence of the USSR. This judgement, McKenna states, with appropriate severity, “does a great disservice to the millions Stalin had murdered” (Page xi).
This is a study that attempts to explain the “objective trajectory of Stalinism” in Marxist terms, and the course of a life that is full of “terrible darkness”. Its premise is that the original form of “the Soviet democracy remains the first form of democracy in human history which was not premised on some manner of class exploitation.”(Page 169) This “…fused the economic organs of society, the factories and the workplace with a political decision-making process where power flowed from the bottom-up. (Page vii) That it “abolished the capital-labour relation.” (Page 170) A bold effort, “drowned in blood”. And yet, “Most of all I wanted to challenge the assumption that Stalinist totalitarianism was the automatic and inevitable result of a revolution which mobilised the poorest in society”. (Page x)
McKenna considers, then, that “Stalinism represented the negation of the proletarian revolution”. Lenin stood for the emancipation of the working class “to be an act by the workers themselves” (Page 42) Nothing could be more clearly opposed to Stalin’s “overwhelming distrust – not only for the masses, but for the process of revolution itself” (Page 16) For those who recount the political conflicts of the early Soviet Union as a clash between a growing bureaucracy, and those, siding with Lenin who railed against administrative power and privilege, this is a decisive difference. Leninism was popular creative power; Stalinism was the rules and regulations, backed by repression, of the office.
This guiding contrast in The Dictator the Revolution, the Machine is not without problems. There is a different view, expressed by Rosa Luxemburg, that this was not, in practice, how Lenin’s ideology worked. To her Lenin had “a dangerous rigidity in argumentation, certain scholasticism in his political ideas, and a tendency to ignore the living embodiment of the masses, or even to coerce it into accepting preconceived tactical plans.”(1) There is the claim that, under Lenin’s aegis, there were “always various tendencies and groups within the Party, which was considered natural and normal.”(2) There is another picture of less than tolerant Bolshevik, as revealed in his years of exile of “ceaseless polemics with all those he considered philistines, pedants, whiners, sceptics, defeatists. (3) Or, more strongly that when with his hands on the levers of power these were not just arguments, “Lenin, as we have seen time and time again, could not assimilate opposition. It could only be overcome and destroyed. In place of complete creative freedom Lenin turned to a new discourse based on a completely opposite theme – iron proletarian discipline.”(4)
A recent biography of Stalin puts this more sharply, “assertions of a Bolshevik collective leadership predating Stalin’s ring hollow. Lenin’s secretariat took on an essentially limitless range of issues, setting a precedent, and no one did more than Lenin to establish a living example of one-man rule at the top. (When the other ‘collective leaders; disagreed with Lenin he threatened to expel them or, failing that, to quit the party and form a new one.” (5) One may contest this judgement. Others talk of ‘Stalin’s team’, a tightly bound group at the top- broadening some of McKenna’s focus on the General Secretary. In either case the legacy, however reshaped in new hands, from Lenin’s rule cannot be ignored. (6)
McKenna’s book does not however shirk from describing the mechanisms used to enforce this “iron discipline” during, and after, the Civil War. This was, above all, the work of the secret police, the Cheka. He defends, “out of military necessity”, “mass compulsion” “terror” was an absolute requirement in a context where a class or nation state is in the process of fighting for existence goes more or less without saying” (Page 29) But the “generalisation of terror to a social class carte blanche – and specifically the petty bourgeoisie…. the peasantry” “the bureaucracy was beginning to weave their theoretical rationale for its terrorisation for the very group whose surplus produce was integral to its survival..(Ibid) It used “indiscriminate force” against peasant or proletarians who “bridled against the increasingly coercive power and needs of the bureaucracy itself.” (Ibid)
According to Alexander Solzhenitsyn the Gulag Archipelago could not have built without the early sanction of these measures of compulsion. “In the first months of the October Revolution Lenin was already demanding decisive draconian measures to tighten up discipline” In December 1917, he suggested for consideration, confiscation of all property.. confinement in prison, dispatch to the front and forced labour for all who disobey the existing law.” (6) During the period of War Communism, Trotsky advocated ever tighter punishments, and the militarisation of labour (Terrorism and Communism: A Reply to Karl Kautsky 1920) He asserted that the dictatorship of the proletariat was able to make use of organized state power by the working class to crush its opponents and to pave the way for social transformation.
If every Cook could run the State, as envisaged in the State and Revolution, those who broke the rules risked more than admonishing in an acidic polemical article. The dissolution of the Constituent Assembly was the end of ‘formal’ democracy and its replacement by the ‘superior’ form of workplace rule. As experience rapidly showed, adversaries of ‘Soviet power’ from the right, the dissident left, and not all because of the violent opposition of the left Social Revolutionaries (Uprising 1918. Exclusion: Fifth Soviet Congress, 1918), the right and then the left Mensheviks and Anarchists, particularly those with suspect “class origins” (which began to be treated as a hereditary taint) were progressively excluded from the ‘democracy’ of the Soviets. The system was designed to be the opposite of ‘agonistic’ politics where open clashes between opposed views would be freely expressed.
Lenin’s Last Struggle.
Was Stalin’s hold on these reins of power inevitable? During Lenin’s later lifetime and following his death, disputes between bureaucrats – that is state employees – Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev, and Stalin, to cite some well-known names, continued. But already the shrinking of political freedom had caught up with the Party itself, as factions had been banned, and all dissent was suspect. There seemed to be an inevitability about further moves towards enforced unity – “discipline” – around One line One leader, on every single issue, economic, cultural, political, and ideological. Yet Moshe Lewin’s Lenin’s Last Struggle (1975) underlines the view that his Testament explicitly called for Stalin’s removal from office. Lewin claimed, “the use of constraint – let alone terror – is ostensibly excluded in establishing the foundations of a new society”. (8) This ‘tolerance’, at best putting up with people, was, as we seen, very limited. As McKenna narrates, not only was the Testament suppressed, and Stalin’s office confirmed, not to be, but also the range of forces allied with him, and the hesitations of his opponents, prevented even the document being discussed.
The Dictator the Revolution, the Machine is a passionate intervention into debates on these issues. The description of the full “shadow of totalitarianism”, Stalin’s 1930s Great Terror, and a thorough, searing, look at the Gulag, is outstanding. McKenna’s concluding hopes for a direct ‘utopian’ democracy that takes collective control of a socialised economy takes inspiration from the best side of the Soviet ideal. This review has argued that we cannot ignore, with Claude Lefort, and many others, the other side, the ‘temporary’ limitations on democratic expression sketched above. They cannot be ignored. They turned out to be the permanent basis for a totalitarian regime, and whatever form of erratic command economy one cares to call it. Perhaps truly universal – unblemished – inspiration cannot be found in the early years of the Russian Revolution. The all-too-ready use of force to resolve political issues played some part in the emergence of Stalinism. The means, exile, imprisonment, forced labour and killing, by which the “Pouvoir soviétique se déliverent des enemies”, (how Soviet power got rid of its enemies) are not foreign to the emergence of Stalin’s system of rule, warped by his own personality though it may have been. (9) We should also ensure that this blood-drenched tyranny is never repeated.
- Page 85. The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg. Edited by George Adler, Peter Hudis and Annelies Laschitza. 2011.
- Page 385. Let History Judge. Roy Medvedev. Spokesman. 1971.
- Page 110. Lars T. Lih. Rekation Books. 2011.
- Page 212. Christopher Read. Routledge 2005.
- Page 419. Stalin. Paradoxes of Power. 1878 – 1928. Stephan Kotin. Allen Lane. 2014.
- On Stalin’s team. Sheila Fitzpatrick. Princeton University Press. 2015.Pages 19 – 10. The Gulag Archipelago. Vol.2. Colins/Fontana. 1976.
- Page 134. Lenin’s Last Struggle. 1975.Un homme en trop. Réflexions sur l’Archipel du Gulag. Claude Lefort. New Edition. 2015 (1976)
The Dictator, The Revolution, the Machine: a Political Account of Joseph Stalin.
Tony McKenna is a bona fide public intellectual who contributes to Marxist journals without having any connections to academia or to the disorganized left. This gives his writing a freshness both in terms of political insight and literary panache. I first encountered his work in a collection of articles titled “Art, Literature and Culture From a Marxist Perspective” that reflected a familiarity with culture high and low and an ability to put works such as “The Walking Dead” into a broader political and social context. Was the popular AMC zombie show a good preparation for “The Dictator, The Revolution, the Machine: a Political Account of Joseph Stalin”, his latest book forthcoming from Sussex press? I’d like to think so.
Although I think that McKenna would be capable of turning a Unix instruction manual into compelling prose, the dead tyrant has spurred him to reach a higher level—one that is in inverse proportion to the degraded subject matter. At 186 pages, his study is both an excellent introduction to Stalin and Stalinism as well as one that gives any veteran radical well-acquainted with Soviet history some food for thought on the quandaries facing the left today. Drawing upon fifty or so books, including a number that leftist veterans would likely not be familiar with such as leading Soviet military leader Gregory Zhukov’s memoir, McKenna synthesizes it all into a highly readable and often dramatic whole with his own unique voice. It is a model of historiography and one that might be read for no other reason except learning how to write well. (McKenna is an editor and an aspiring novelist.)
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