Centrist Politics and Dishonesty in Debate: The Self-Defeating Paradigm

The following exchange illustrates the pointless and self-defeating effect of political dishonesty in communist politics. In bourgeois, i.e. capitalist politics, the point of political activity is to bolster and defend the position of a small, exploiting minority, the owners of capitalist property, against the great mass of the population who have no such wealth. It is obvious that this kind of politics would necessarily be replete with corruption and mendacity, since the maintenance of injustice and social and economic inequality requires fooling the mass of the population to acquiesce in their own victimisation and exploitation. The only way to do this is by systematic lying, in order to create and promote myths, and also to create and maintain divisions among the working-class majority.

Communist politics, on the other hand, has truth as its only weapon. In order to understand the real situation, the mass of the population need to have a accurate picture of political, social and economic relations, which can only be developed over a long period by a political leadership that uses truth as its main weapon. Such a politics is fundamentally different from bourgeois politics. Whereas bourgeois politics promotes mystification and lies in the interest of a minority, communist politics must ruthlessly tear away mystification and expose all social lies. If a would-be communist organisation begins to engage in lying itself, it digs its own political grave, since the only basis on which it can garner and keep support on a healthy basis is through this process of exposing difficult truths.

A communist organisation will make mistakes, of course, and indeed it is through the honest and open correction of those mistakes that it develops the kind of active relationship with its own hoped-for working class base of support that can enable it to lead real struggles, and for that base to become a self-acting subject. By this I mean that the supporters of the communist party become the active element in pushing the movement forward, as opposed to in bourgeois politics where the party’s supporters are meant either to vote, or to hustle votes, every few years, and to remain passive supporters and recipients of the wisdom of the party elites for the rest of the time.

For the masses to come to regard the communist party as their weapon in struggle for a better society, for a social revolution, it has to be demonstrably the case that the party is able to correct its own errors openly and fearlessly. If communist organisations violate this, if they themselves engage in systematic falsehood and deception, they begin to transform into something else, into a political machine that reinforces passivity. This happened to the official Communist parties from the late 1920s onward, being pulled in that direction by the degeneration and decline of Soviet power in Russia. The result, in those cases where such parties already had mass support, is that they simply became transformed into another arm of bourgeois politics, and in most cases became limited in their aspirations to being junior partners in bourgeois popular front governments. Thus the revolutionary Communist International, founded as a result of the Russian Revolution of 1917, was turned into just another force propping up the status quo.

There is a dialectical interplay between objective developments in the class struggle, and advances or retreats of the subjective factor in the sense of a viable communist politics, its coming into being, or conversely its decline. The defeats of the working class, i.e. the defeats of actual revolutions, after the October revolution in the 1920s, led inescapably to the political decline of the Communist Parties, and the marginalisation of genuine revolutionary politics, its reduction to the preserve of an isolated and persecuted minority.

Today, we have a different situation, where as a result of further working class defeats resulting from Stalinism’s decline and final eclipse, we have witnessed the rise of neo-liberal capitalism to a temporary hegemony over politics. The previously marginalised revolutionary minority is still marginalised, and has thus far failed to get a handle on how to progress the aims of revolutionary socialism in the post-Stalinist world. We see the division of the ‘far left’ into warring, bureaucratic sects, such as the SWP and the Socialist Party, who seal off their members from real political thought and interaction with reality through often mindless activism, while competing for members through setting up rival, invariably reformist, campaigning front groups such as the multiplicity of rival organisations that aim to fight the Tory-Liberal coalition’s austerity cuts.

This sectarian warfare over members hides the fact that there is a huge gap between the reformist practice of these sects, and their revolutionary pretensions. As a result of such divisions, Marxist ideas become something abstract, a credo for the initiated, with the path of initiation into the select being ‘involvement’ in one or other campaign whose actual practice is strictly reformist. The counterposition of different sectified versions of Marxism is mediated therefore by a struggle to prove who can be the most effective reformists in practice.

Apparently counterposed to this in Britain is the project of the CPGB/Weekly Worker, which claims to be trying to unite the revolutionary left behind a genuine party project, in which all would-be Marxists ought to be, in theory at least, able to debate different analyses and programmatic positions in public, maintaining a unity in action over agreed campaigns and practical actions on the basis of the subordination of minorities to the majority. This should mean always preserving the right of minority views to struggle to win the majority through debate and discussion both in public and non-public forums.

This is, or should be, a step forward from the sectarian deformation of the left. However, it is not enough to merely adopt these norms, it is necessary to maintain a revolutionary programme and practice to carry things forward. The fact that the CPGB, though it has a widely read paper, is still a very marginal force on the British left, and has next to no support internationally, after being in existence for more than three decades, illustrates this. If there is a contradiction between the apparent adoption of revolutionary norms of organisation, and non-revolutionary politics, within such an organisation, that can only manifest itself in practices that contradict the most essential feature of a genuine revolutionary political trend: the careful safeguarding of truthfulness in relations with all left-wing political trends. If a communist organisation verifiably tells lies in response to criticism, then all the formally correct norms in the world cannot hide the fact that there is something terribly wrong with it.

What is wrong with the CPGB is the political virus of centrism, a contradiction between revolutionary words and reformist deeds and appetites in practice. The only way to hide such contradictions from the socialist public is ultimately by telling lies. The CPGB’s most obvious dereliction of Communist politics is on the question of imperialism – with its neutrality in many struggles where peoples, particularly in the Middle East and the Muslim world, fight back against the ruling classes of the West and their predatory armies. They are particularly subservient to bourgeois demonology when questions involving Israel and Jews, and their relations with Arabs and the Muslim world, are involved.  Through this ‘third camp’ politics, this neutrality, they have gained an audience among elements of the Jewish left, whose proclaimed opposition to Zionism and imperialism is limited by their own communal consciousness and desire to preserve space for some kind of exclusivist Jewish politics. That, and not ‘class politics’, is the driving force of much of their hostility to Arab ‘anti-imperialism’.

So when someone takes them at their word, and blocks with them on the basis of their claim to stand for the principled unity of Marxists, and to fight for genuine communist, consistently anti-imperialist positions, as I did in the Communist Platform of Left Unity last year, the contradiction between their communist words, and their fear of being branded as too radical and smeared as ‘anti-Semitic’ by the semi-communalist Jewish left, was stretched to breaking point. The background to this can be picked up by the article published by me last September, titled ‘Jack Conrad’s anti-Communist witchhunt‘, on how they contrived to break the bloc between myself and them that made up the Communist Platform of Left Unity.

Following on from this, there have been various exchanges between myself and their fellow travellers on the Jewish left, in the letters column of the Weekly Worker, on Zionism, Jewish identity politics, and questions relating to this. But more recently, I challenged the inconsistency of their claim to stand for abolition of all immigration controls on the one hand, and their equivocation at best, in applying this position of ‘open borders’ to the question of the right to return of Palestinian victims of ethnic cleansing to Israel. The exchanges continued over the last few weeks in the Weekly Worker letters page, here, here and here, finally concluding here when Peter Manson published an attack on me as a ‘pedant’ for my deconstruction of the evasions and caveats on the question of the ‘right to return’ in their 2011 Theses on the Palestine/Israel question (as well as a parallel attack from their fellow traveller Tony Greenstein for my exposure of his politically incompetent, hostile review of Shlomo Sand’s recent essay How I Stopped Being a Jew).

Manson refused to print my letter (item 1 below) replying to these feeble, evasive and ad-hominem attacks. So the following exchange ensued, which ended in Manson being literally lost for words, as he challenged me to produce ‘evidence’ for what he claimed were a whole number of false claims about the CPGB’s positions, and I produced a profusion of such evidence, including with extensive links to material on relevant websites from all sides of the disputed questions, regarding the CPGB’s attitude to the Palestinian question and free speech for all strands of militant anti-Zionists. With this background material, the exchange of letters with Manson speaks for itself, and illustrates clearly how dishonesty in supposedly communist politics not only undermines the integrity of communism, but it also simply does not pay.


1. Reply to attacks on my ‘pedantry’ in WW of 28 Jan – sent 1 Feb

Both Peter Manson and Tony Greenstein howl with outrage against my supposed ‘pedantry’ for taking seriously what they or their comrades actually write. In reality, they are desperately evading some elementary political points.

Tony Greenstein admits he included an elementary error in his vituperative and condemnatory review of Shlomo Sand’s recent essay ‘How I Stopped Being A Jew’ . He denounced Sand for not understanding that there was no ‘Israeli Citizenship’ (his words) for non-Jews. But he denounces me as a ‘pedant’ for pointing out the error, and elides various fragments of quotes and paraphrases of Sand’s views in his review to say that it should have been evident that he ‘really’ understood what he was talking about after all.

Sorry no. The ‘typo’ (not a spelling mistake!) was his responsibility alone. If he does not want to be pulled up on elementary errors in his tirades, he should not be so sloppy. Many of his tirades contain such howlers. He does not get pulled up on this since soft-Zionists defer to him because of liberal guilt over the Jewish question.

I don’t hold with such rubbish. His complaints are chutzpah, as in the old Jewish joke about the man who murdered his parents and then pleaded for clemency because he had become an orphan. The political points in my letter remain unaddressed because of Greenstein’s fake outrage about being pulled up for political incompetence.

Peter Manson’s evasions are no better. He insists that the CPGB really, really does stand for the right of return of Palestinian Arabs to Israel, and that the caveats in their thesis on this about how this right will be ‘decided’ by ‘individual or family group’ does not mean that some third party will decide on their right to return. He says that this formulation is to neutralise ‘arguments’ from apologists for Zionism, that Palestinians must not be ‘forced’ to return.

A cock-and-bull story. Zionists and their apologists do not complain about Palestinians being ‘forced’ to return to Israel, but rather about Israel being ‘forced’  to accept ‘too many’ Palestinians –  too many to maintain a state with a Jewish majority. They fear being outvoted, according to elementary democracy, if the victims of the massive ethnic cleansing that took place in 1947-8 and since were allowed to return.

As indeed they would! This underlines why the creation of an exclusivist Jewish state in an Arab majority country like Palestine is an outrage against democracy.

Peter’s nonsense about ‘forced’ return is pathetic sleight-of-hand. Readers will notice that he does not address the meaning of the damning, xenophobic sentence I quoted from the CPGB’s theses, which he has ignored twice now. This says of their version of the ‘right to return’:  “It is not a demand for a folk movement of the entire diaspora – which now inhabits not just Jordan, Kuwait, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, etc, but the US and many countries in western Europe too.”.

The meaning of this is pretty clear: “too many Arabs”. This is another attack on democracy, since Palestinians are a nation,  were ‘cleansed’ collectively as a nation, and have maintained that collectivity since through mass organisations committed to this right, not least the PLO and Hamas. If they wish to return collectively, they have every right to do so. Only capitulators to Zionism and the ideology of Jewish exclusivity could denounce this as does the CPGB’s theses.

If Peter Manson really does believe that the CPGB does stand for the unfettered Palestinian right of return, and opening Israel’s borders, should he not be demanding that the CPGB to repudiate the scandalous right-wing motion that they put, in the name of the Communist Platform, to Left Unity’s conference last Autumn, that denounced the demand for liberating Palestine “from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea”?

The implementation of the right of Palestinian return would also mean the implementation of liberation ‘from the River to the Sea’. The two are synonymous.

Actually this underlines the unprincipled nature of the bloc between Greenstein and the CPGB over these questions, as Greenstein claims to stand for the right to return and even recently falsely denounced Sand as being opposed to this right on the say-so of Ha’aretz, while indulging in an unholy alliance with opponents of the unfettered right to return to vilify its more consistent supporters. This is because of a shared defence of Jewish identity politics.

(In fact Sand clearly supports the right to return, but is very pessimistic about the possibility of it ever happening, as is clear from reading his work The Invention of the Land of Israel.)

This evasiveness, touchiness and complaints about ‘pedantry’ from those who demand clarity and consistency are characteristic of centrist politics: ‘revolutionary in words, opportunist in deeds’.

Ian Donovan

Communist Explorations


 2. Correspondence regarding the above letter.


EMail Ian Donovan to Peter Manson, on non-publication of the above letter (6 Feb)

Peter,

Was my letter ‘held over’ again?
Ian

EMail Peter Manson to Ian Donovan, 6 Feb

Not this time, Ian. In our view it’s not worth continuing this exchange.

I get the impression that you initially confused our position with that of the AWL. But when I pointed out that you made a mistake, instead of admitting your error, you kept on digging, ascribing meaning to phrases that they clearly don’t have.

Sorry, but it’s a waste of time continuing a polemic over a ‘CPGB position’ we don’t actually uphold.


Email Ian Donovan to Peter Manson, 6 Feb

Peter,

Not very confident of your position, are you?

You have three times failed to defend the most incriminating sentence in your ‘theses’, on which I based my original characterisation of your position, and each time you failed to do so. That is, the sentence that states of the ‘right to return’:

“It is not a demand for a folk movement of the entire diaspora – which now inhabits not just Jordan, Kuwait, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, etc, but the US and many countries in western Europe too.”.

If you cannot explain why this does not mean what I said it meant, i.e. that for you the Palestinian ‘right to return’ is subordinate to the Israel-Jewish ‘right to self-determination’, then in essence your position is only quantitatively different to that of the AWL. It shares the same fundamentals.

If you were confident of your views on this, you would be keen to humiliate me in print by putting your ‘convincing’ explanation to your readers.

If my understanding was so obviously silly, you would be very keen to point out its silliness.

But it isn’t, and you don’t have such an explanation ; that’s why you keep avoiding explaining this sentence that basically says “we can’t allow too many Arabs to return to Israel because that would destroy Israel”….

Anyway, in the interests of openness, this will be published and circulated…

Communist Greetings

Ian


Peter Manson to Ian Donovan, 6 Feb:

I am very confident of our position, but not so confident of your ability (willingness?) to understand it.

You are confusing two concepts: (1) The right to free movement, including the right to return; and (2) the “demand” that an entire people must return. We do not make such a demand – free movement means not only the right to migrate, but also the right not to do so.

To put things very simply, we uphold the right of all Palestinians to migrate to what is now Israel (free movement), but we do not demand a “folk movement of the entire diaspora” (unfree movement).

It really is so straightforward, I should not have to spell it out. But you insist on ascribing hidden meanings to our words. Take them at face value and argue with what we say, not what you imagine we have said. If you did that, you might even find you agree with us on this point.

Your insistence that, in the case of the Israeli nation, the right to self-determination conflicts with the Palestinian right of free movement reminds me of the Ukip position in relation to Britain: we cannot allow free movement across Europe because that conflicts with the right of Britain to ‘control its borders’. If 200 million people all came here, what would that mean for Britain’s ‘right to self-determination’?

The truth is, in practice there is no conflict, because ‘folk movements’ like that just don’t occur on such a scale –most people prefer to stay where they have sunk roots (eg, second-generation Palestinians in the US or Europe).

As you know, our position is that only an Arab revolution will be able to overthrow Zionism. But the settlement that follows will uphold the national rights of all the region’s peoples – Israeli as well as Palestinians, etc.


Ian Donovan to Peter Manson, 6 Feb

Peter,
Ok, that is a slight improvement on what you were saying earlier.

But it is a silly argument from you to justify your defensiveness and insecurity. You could have simply have said that in your original reply. But I wonder if that would have started a different argument with someone else? You are so touchy and irrational when dealing with criticism.

No-one is ‘demanding’ that an entire people must return if they do not want to. The idea that anyone wants, for malicious reasons, to force large numbers of people to re-uproot themselves is fantastic. It is demonology.

The real point, as I made earlier, is that Palestinians have mass organisations who have as their objective, the return of the refugees. Those organisations have enormous authority for that, and rightly so.

So the right to return is in that sense a collective right, not just an individual one. It is highly likely that if the right to return would be won, these organisations would organise this in a collective, organised manner. Not forcing people to return, of course, but doing so on the basis of national feeling and consciousness.

Self-determination of people’s generally applies to a situation where a particular national group is decisively preponderant in a given territory, and can separate in a democratic manner, preceded by a plebiscite in which the population can express its will and whose outcome will have real moral authority as the expression of a national will. But since you have now rejected plebiscites as a means of deciding these questions democratically, you may have a problem even understanding this point.

In any case, on that assumption, in the situation of 1947 when the UN partition plan for Palestine was put forward only about 10% of the territory of the British mandate would have been democratically separable as a Jewish state from the preponderant Arab population. That would not have been a viable territory and could not have made it as a state. The UN offered them 55% of the land, divided up in such a way that there was only a slight Jewish majority in the 55%. It was as ‘democratic’ a majority as the Protestant majority in Northern Ireland. A blatant land-grab.

But the Jews then seized 78%, and wanted more.

Given the growth of the populations since, and the fact that the Jewish ‘majority’ in Israel was produced by one of the most monstrous acts of ethnic cleansing in history, similar to the actions of Serb militias in Kosova, or even some of the lesser actions of the Nazis themselves, the idea that there can be a democratic ‘self-determination’ of the Israeli Jews is actually ridiculous.

And actually, as I have repeatedly pointed out, they do not have a national consciousness in any case.

Which makes their self-determination both objectively and subjectively impossible, within a framework of democracy and rejecting all that results from ethnic cleansing in the past.

The progressive solution to this problem is being put forward by the likes of Shlomo Sand, Gilad Atzmon and others. Renunciation of the secular Jewish identity, which is not a national identity but an empty, chauvinistic anomaly, and dissolution of the Jewish settler population into a common national entity with the Palestinians.

Your leadership has outlawed advocacy of that position within your ‘party project’, on the say so of Jewish-psuedo lefts who don’t even support your project themselves.

If that were not true, we would not be having this argument, or at least not in this form.

I note that you ran a advert for Gilad Atzmon’s meeting to defend his right to free speech in your events column in last weeks WW.

Good, that is a step forward. Running this alongside other labour movement and left events implies that this is in the same category. Which it is.

That completely contradicts your support for Greenstein’s campaign to stop Gilad’s performance at the ‘Raise your Banners’ event in Bradford a few years ago.

There has obviously been a shift. George Galloway’s public and positive engagement with Gilad has begun to built bridges between him and part of the left, which is important. So you now have to reckon with that fact, even in a rather odd and unacknowledged manner.

So, like centrists always do, you shift your position, but fail to acknowledge it openly and in a theorised way.

Which really begs the question: what is the difference between Greenstein’s and Machover’s campaigns against Atzmon, their witchhunts and slander against those who positively engage with him and his ideas, and the Zionist rabble threatening and abusing Galloway on Question Time last night?

Not much! That is a problem you will have to sort out. I will continue to inject coherent Marxist answers to these questions into your milieu, and into the wider left, and this problem will be sorted out one way or another in time.

You have made a serious error with your support for these Jewish chauvinists.

Communist Greetings

Ian


Peter Manson to Ian Donovan, 6 Feb:

Ian

Yet more false claims about the CPGB’s positions.

(a)    Referring to Sand and Atzmon: “Your leadership has outlawed advocacy of that position within your ‘party project …”

Not true, Ian. Where did you get that from?

(b)   Running an advert for an Atzmon meeting “contradicts your support for Greenstein’s campaign to stop Gilad’s performance at the ‘Raise your Banners’ event in Bradford a few years ago”.

Which “support”? We are generally against ‘no platform’-type campaigns and, although I don’t recall the event, I can’t see the CPGB supporting that one either.

These, of course, are added to your previous false statements.

(1)    We support the “territorial integrity” of “Zionist Israel”.

(2)    We make an “exception” to the right of free movement in the case of the Palestinians. When I quoted our agreed position to disprove this, you then tried to claim that when we said this should be “decided upon individually or by family group” these words contained a hidden, opposite meaning to what they actually said! You claimed we really meant that it should be decided upon by a “third party”!

(3)    Our support for Palestinian free movement is negated by our statement that this is “not a demand for a folk movement of the entire diaspora”. You confused “demand for a folk movement” (we don’t support that) with “demand for the right to free movement” (we do support that).

As I have previously pointed out, all this arises because you assumed we had an AWL-type position – and then tried to fit what we actually say into that false assumption. That resulted in two very silly letters – but at least I have saved you the embarrassment of a third!

What you say below about Israeli/Jewish identity is more serious (although I completely disagree with it). Withdraw the claims you know are false and then we can have a serious exchange, including in the paper.

In comradeship

Peter


Ian Donovan to Peter Manson, 7 Feb
Peter,

You write:

“Yet more false claims about the CPGB’s positions.

Referring to Sand and Atzmon: “Your leadership has outlawed advocacy of that position within your ‘party project …”

Not true, Ian. Where did you get that from?”

From your orchestrated driving out of myself from the Communist Platform for defending these views in September last year. Even though Sand’s positions on this had not been translated into English at that point, Atzmon’s had been so published years earlier. characterising himself as a “Hebrew-speaking Palestinian”. This was one of the key facets of what I was arguing, at the time: that his views were progressive.

Running an advert for an Atzmon meeting “contradicts your support for Greenstein’s campaign to stop Gilad’s performance at the ‘Raise your Banners’ event in Bradford a few years ago”.

Which “support”? We are generally against ‘no platform’-type campaigns and, although I don’t recall the event, I can’t see the CPGB supporting that one either.

You ran without comment material from Greenstein praising it, without dissociating yourself from it or criticising it in any way.

http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/897/no-room-for-anti-semites/

If you want to know what was actually involved, try this

http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/oy-vey-the-zionist-campaign-backfired-again.html?rq=Raise%20your%20banners

It is very clear than an attempt was made to cancel the concert, see here

http://www.gilad.co.uk/writings/truth-not-lies-about-gilad-atzmon.html?rq=Raise%20your%20banners:

And it is very clear that Greenstein was involved in this, apart from the fact that he admitted it in a letter replying to me in WW last year, here is very clear evidence of his working with the Zionist Hope not Hate movement to ‘No Platform’ Atzmon.

http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/atzmon-caught-using-bnp-material-to.html

If you can read this demented rubbish without getting a headache, I suggest you take note of the explicit calls to cancel Atzmon’s events. The tone is reminiscent of one of Stalin’s show trials. But then again, the Communist Platform meeting on 14 September 2014 was also rather like a Stalinist show trial, so you are no strangers to that…

You have also published, without comment, material praising Greenstein’s witchunting Atzmon’s and others with views along similar, not necessarily identical, lines in the Palestine Solidarity Movement.

http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/664/solidarity-and-swps-favourite-anti-semite/

You also published this article in the Weekly Worker by Tony Greenstein as one of the organisers picketing and seeking to no platform Gilad Atzmon when he spoke at the SWP bookshop in 2005.

http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/856/anti-zionist-holocaust-denier/

You may not be aware of this, but I was threatened with violence, by Greenstein, in writing (on UK Left Network list) for stating that I intended to go to this meeting [1]. I made a big fuss about this, and brought it to the attention of the SWP [2]. Greenstein was forced to apologise to me, also in writing [3], because he suddenly realised that in making such a threat, he was also implicitly threatening SWP members and was therefore in serious physical danger himself. This can all be verified by consulting the UK Left Network archives for May-June 2005 on GoogleGroups, which still exist.

Because you have published material supporting these positions from Greenstein without the slightest hint of disagreement with it, over several years, you bear political responsibility for it. Particularly as you clearly contrived to engineer my departure from the Communist Platform for criticising Greenstein’s rubbish.

These, of course, are added to your previous false statements.

1) We support the “territorial integrity” of “Zionist Israel”.

      2) We make an “exception” to the right of free movement in the case of the Palestinians. When I quoted our agreed position to disprove this, you then tried to claim that when we said this   should be “decided upon individually or by family group” these words contained a hidden, opposite meaning to what they actually said! You claimed we really meant that it should be decided upon by a “third party”!

3) Our support for Palestinian free movement is negated by our statement that this is “not a demand for a folk movement of the entire diaspora”. You confused “demand for a folk movement” (we don’t support that) with “demand for the right to free movement” (we do support that).

In the end, though, you are engaging in intellectual masturbation here. These statements are all reasonable deductions from your own self-contradictory and confusionist theses, and the fact is that even you were so embarrassed by the sentence disclaiming any notion that all the Palestinians should return, that it took you several weeks to think of a way to justify it. Otherwise, you would have made these points in your original reply to me, instead of replacing it with an ellipsis… first time, and then ignoring the point completely last week….

When talking about such questions, it is probably useful to ask yourself not how such formulations look to some sophist on the British left, but to, say, a Palestinian refugee.

Such a person would want to know whether you support their rights, meaning their national rights, or not. It is reasonable to conclude from your theses that you do not. Because the right to return is not just a matter of individual rights, but of collective rights. National rights are collective rights, and the right to return is a national right. The fact that you speak of them as individual or family rights, and are so keen to dissociate yourself from the idea of a collective exercise of those rights, suggests that you are equivocal about Palestinian national, collective rights, and don’t like the idea much.

Jewish rights are more important to you. That is a reasonable supposition from your windy theses, their pitch and overall emphasis. They are aimed at placating Jewish ‘left’ chauvinism, not in acting as a codification of the duty of Communists to act as a tribune of the oppressed.

This is borne out by your attack, at a motion at Left Unity Conference, on the demand for liberation of Palestine – “From the River to the Sea”. In fact, liberation “From the River to the Sea” is synonymous with the genuine exercise of the right to return. If it is not, then the right to return does not extend to the whole of this territorial space, and it is, again, qualified.

Sorry to be so ‘simplistic’, but that is the reality, shorn of confusionist ‘theses’ by pseudo-communist academics. I don’t trust weasel words, there are many disingenuous ways that fakers on the left can speak out of both sides of their mouths to different audiences, and muddy the waters, and your sophistry and double-talk does not fool me one bit.

“As I have previously pointed out, all this arises because you assumed we had an AWL-type position – and then tried to fit what we actually say into that false assumption. That resulted in two very silly letters – but at least I have saved you the embarrassment of a third!

What you say below about Israeli/Jewish identity is more serious (although I completely disagree with it). Withdraw the claims you know are false and then we can have a serious exchange, including in the paper.”

I don’t ‘assume’ you have similar positions to the AWL, I know it for a fact. In fact, at a meeting of the Communist Platform executive last year when I believe Gaza was still being bombed, Jack Conrad himself stated that the CPGB had more in common with the AWL than with my supposedly anti-Jewish politics. He told the truth there, only to lie about it, denying that he said that, to the Communist Platform meeting on 14 September. He knows he lied, and I am pretty sure from experience that others in the CPGB even now know that he tells lies when he feels it appropriate for political reasons.

Actually, I would rather be completely politically isolated than tell lies for bureaucratic reasons. Which is why I have been in so many disputes with bureaucratic leaderships in left groups. Several of them, including yourselves twice over. At least even if you are so isolated, your integrity is still intact, and thus there is hope for the future. There is little hope for those who do the converse. It is utterly pointless to do so. It undermines your entire purpose and mission in life as a communist.

Any objective person looking at this incident alone, knowing my reputation for leaving groups rather than swallow dishonesty, vs. his reputation for economy with the truth at times, could make an educated guess about who is telling the truth about that one.

The thrust of my critique stands, and I will fight you whether within WW or outside it. I take your proposition itself as a little morally and politically dodgy, conditioning ‘a serious exchange’ on withdrawal of criticisms you find objectionable. I am quite prepared to acknowledge that there can be nuances as to the way this is precisely expressed, but the thrust of the criticism stands, that your claim to stand for the right to return for the Palestinians is qualified and half-hearted, and contradicted by your refusal to see the right to return as a collective, national right, posing it on an individual level for fear of effectively ‘swamping’ the Israeli Jews if it were expressed collectively.

If you want a ‘serious exchange’, you could start by publishing the draft Theses on The Jews and Modern Imperialism, which I submitted to the Communist Platform in a completely principled manner last September, and which was not discussed because of lies, slanders and bureaucratic manoeuvers. You have had them in your hands for six months; you could have published them at any time and asked for political responses. Instead you published a ridiculous article equating the Marxist analysis contained within them with the politics of Adolf Hitler (!!!). Which does not damage me, any more than it does when you publish rubbish equating the politics of Tommy Sheridan with those of Heinrich Himmler [actually it was Mussolini, Goebells and Strasser – but no political difference]. It just makes you look silly, and quite mad.

Communist Greetings

Ian Donovan


Email Peter Manson to Ian Donovan, 7 Feb 2015

What a load of …!!!


Notes:

[1.] from Tony Greenstein: message 60803, UK Left Network list, 9 June 2005, directed at Ian Donovan:

“…There is no doubts about holocaust denial literature and if you have any sympathies with such stuff maybe you’d better let us know now….”

“The fact that Atzmon is Jewish is irrelevant. In fact he denies he is now Jewish and he is entitled to do so, since being Jewish is not a biological trait. What Atzmon is doing is giving support to a holocaust denier and distributing his rubbish. This is clearly something that can do damage to the Palestine Solidarity movement and if you were to break a picket line calling on people not to go to the talk then my attitude to you would be the same as to anyone who breaks picket lines.”

Clearly a threat of violence contained in the above message.

[2.] From Ian Donovan: message 60804, UK Left Network list, 9 June 2005, replying to Tony Greenstein:

“Really, come on then, lets hear your evidence that I have any ‘sympathy’ with Holocaust denial literature, then Tony. Contemptible shite.”

And while you are at it, I suggest you present your evidence that the SWP have ‘sympathy’ with such things. I suggest if you pitch your intervention in this manner you might just stand a very good chance of provoking a fight with someone, probably in the SWP. I wont come to your defence. This is what I was afraid of … getting involved with
some of the nuttier elements on the left who really just thirst to provoke some kind of incident. Fuck that.”

[3.] Apology from Tony Greenstein to Ian Donovan: Messsage 60827,  UK Left Network list, 10 June 2005

“I’ve already made it clear that I don’t believe that Ian is a supporter of holocaust denial stuff (or the SWP for that matter) and have sent him a personal apology. I was clearly thinking of something else when writing it!”

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6 comments

  1. Stephen Diamond

    This is a tangent, but I’m interested in the question of political lies, which you raise at the start. Specifically, is it really the case that political lies by communists are “self-defeating”? As my personal commitment to principled honesty is stronger than my commitment to communism, it would be nice to think the two are without contradiction. But your abstract deduction (paralleling Trotsky’s in Their Morals and Ours) falls short of proving that political lies are always self-defeating. [And surely honesty itself requires examining the question … honestly.]

    It seems fair to start with those communists who can least be accused of self-defeating practices, those who succeeded best: the Bolsheviks, and Lenin in particular. I have never been impressed that Lenin was a pillar of political honesty. First, you have the ease by which the Moscow Trials extracted false confessions, often rationalized by the confessors and necessary to Soviet security. This hardly suggests hard prior training in truth’s inviolability!

    Then, we get glimpses of Lenin’s practices in the internal struggle in Russian Social Democracy. Lunacharsky testifies that Lenin planned to adjust his position on the meaning of party rules based on which faction controlled the party apparatus. (This appeared in a letter to the Weekly Worker, a few issues previous.) Political lying as a matter of course!

    Then, after taking power, you had the bourgeois-democratic revolution in Turkey, which the party press universally inflated into a soviet-power situation. Those who knew the truth–and surely they were some, including Lenin and Trotsky–did not rein in the enthusiasm. Nor had they struggled to be completely honest with the masses about the instigation of Kronsdadt.

    And there’s the question of whether the Bolsheviks dealt honestly with Menshevik-controlled soviets.

    Of course, Lenin was more honest than a bourgeois politician. But I haven’t seen any evidence (not that I’m that much of an historian) to show that Lenin (as did Trotsky in his ethics book) elevated honesty into a political principle.

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  2. Ian

    Interesting contribution. When I was talking of lies being ‘self-defeating’, I was speaking from the point of view of the historic interests of communism, not from the point of view of short-term expediency. Obviously from that angle, lying can be and often is very effective. But such lies have the effect of undermining confidence in the honesty and truthfulness of the vanguard elements among the masses (or even among the sparser layers that support a smaller communist organisation), and over time, must have a corrosive impact.

    I am not sure that what Lunacharsky reported Lenin as saying was, per se, an example of such lying. Lenin considered the Mensheviks to be a destructive, anarchic force within the Russian socialist movement, as I understand it, and did not really hide that opinion. It is logical that he would not be keen for what he regarded as the revolutionary trend to submit to their discipline, but would be keen for them to be forced to submit if his revolutionary trend gained a majority. As long as this was politically theorised and explained to the party’s supporters (on both sides of the dispute), then there is no dishonesty here.

    In some way this prefigures the early Comintern’s positions on purging the nascent CP’s of reformist and centrist elements, which did involve ‘special’ rules that operated differently for different political currents, and openly so. The ’21 conditions’ document was hardly shy about proclaiming this principle to the world.

    The rest of these examples, including Kronstadt, do back up my point. The Bolsheviks did state things that were untrue about the Kronstadt insurgents, and that was (near) the beginning of a slippery slope. The atrophy of Soviet power (in the real sense, actual power of soviets or workers’ councils) was also a sign of the early onset of degeneration of the revolution. Elements of ‘revolutionary’ mendacity certainly did creep into Bolshevik practice at this point. Regarding Turkey, it is possible that even elements of wishful thinking and self-deception were involved here – there was certainly political unclarity and confusion as to the role of the bourgeoisie in ‘bourgeois-democratic’ style revolutions in backward countries.

    The Moscow purge trials – the culmination of the counter-revolution in my view – were the apogee of a long process of degeneration, part of which was of course linked to the monstrous growth of systematic lying to the working class. But this was hardly something that furthered the historic interests of the working class. Much the opposite.

    I don’t think Lenin felt it necessary to address this question of ‘truthfullness’ of communists while he was alive, for the simple reason that it was not in dispute prior to Stalinism. He did not live to see the full malignant flowering of Stalinism. He did address some of the phenomena of the early phases of the degeneration, but he also bore responsibility for some of that. Indeed, such were the conditions and choices, the contradiction between tasks objectively posed and resources available, that it is difficult to see how such responsibility could have been avoided. The CPGB’s Mike MacNair thinks that the Bolsheviks should have voluntarily relinquished power when this began to happen, but I wonder if this was even possible without a massacre of the Reds being the result?

    Trotsky was forced to address the question of truthfullness repeatedly in the 1930s, simply because of the growth of totalitarian lying. I think he more or less got that right, and lack of truthfulness does indeed undermine our goals as communists. It may not undermine other goals, but it does undermine those.

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  3. Stephen Diamond

    Yes, the question is whether lying to the masses ever promotes communist goals. Were long-term communist goals actually promoted by the misinformation following Kronstadt? If the strategy was to defend soviet power for as long as possible, maybe they were. I don’t know, but if not, then must also ask, why did Trotsky never admit the deceit? [Makes me wonder about “German gold.”]

    What I find relevant about the Moscow Trials is that the prosecutors reliably obtained false confessions. Apparently the defendants were often convinced that they would best serve the revolution by falsely admitting guilt. This seems an unlikely conclusion among comrades steeled in honesty as always the best revolutionary policy.

    What exactly constitutes lying to the masses? This isn’t even so clear. Lenin instructed communists to reach the workers in reactionary unions by any representations necessary. If it’s possible to see that the union tops aren’t the masses, it isn’t so obvious that communists are lying to the bosses rather than the masses when most of the workers would devour them if they new the truth. Infiltrating reactionary unions seems a species (at least according to Lenin) of justified political lying.

    Lenin privately told Lunacharsky his plan; according the the WW letter writer, Lenin never published anything admitting this policy. You can’t convincingly argue an interpretation of rules if you admit that you are special pleading for your faction. Lenin, moreover, took the rules very seriously.

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  4. Ian

    Lying to the masses about substantive political questions never promotes the overall goals of communism. Kronstadt in my view was a stage on the road to degeneration of the revolution, and hence the myths and lies that were promoted were damaging in this regard, not least to the authority of the Bolsheviks. However, there is no doubt that they did actually believe that they were promoting the aims of the revolution in this regard, and these falsehoods very quickly came to be believed – that is, they became myths. That is why Trotsky never admitted that there was deceit over Kronstadt.

    Whether this method played any role in the Moscow trials, I don’t know. Bukharin’s admission of guilt was deliberately constructed to be absurd, and a kind of parody of the genre. It is clear that the major role in extracting forced confessions was played by torture and threats against family members etc.

    Lying about matters of security is not lying to the masses about substantive politics. If there is a reactionary dictatorship, those who do not lie to it and its deluded supporters become victims very quickly.

    Regarding Lenin, I suspect that this apparent conflict between words and actions arose because rules formulated based on an assumption that all those they applied to had the same strategic aims, came to be applied in a situation where the parties incrementally developed opposing aims. It is the consciousness of this that evolved and changed over time. It only became fully conscious after 1914, with the collapse of the international. The fallacy that revolutionaries and opportunists could be bound by the same set of rules in one party was only exposed to the light of day by 1914. But it was an impossible task to fully comprehend this beforehand, and it appears that the actions Lenin was driven to contradicted the theoretical framework that he still accepted at that point.

    That is not lying, but it is a contradiction. It would only be lying if Lenin had been completely conscious of the full implications of his strategic differences with the Mensheviks in the earlier period. But he could not have been, because the full implications of reformism that pretended to be Marxist had not yet been demonstrated. Sometimes people fight on the basis of incomplete information and inadequate theory, and their actions thus contradict their words.

    Incidentally, there may have been an element of this involved over Kronstadt also.

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  5. Stephen Diamond

    Lying about matters of security is not lying to the masses about substantive politics. If there is a reactionary dictatorship, those who do not lie to it and its deluded supporters become victims very quickly.

    There are three possible answers above to why this security-related deception is permissible. 1) The deception isn’t substantive; 2) deluded supporters of reactionaries don’t count as “masses”; and 3) such deception is an existential necessity.

    But it often must be substantive; even if you lie only about your own politics, you often must elaborate; deceiving the deluded is lying, emphatically where the deluded are in the majority; and the argument that you have to lie to survive isn’t inherently better justification than the argument that you have to lie to win–and the two arguments are often inseparable.

    I think a concrete example might help bring more clarity, particularly since my example involves the CPGB, which has the practice of encouraging nascent supporters among their opponents to turn over internal documents for publication by WW. To accomplish this putatively democratic objective, the entryist (if that’s the right term) must obviously deceive both the leadership and the members about his or her sympathies. The CPGB also engaged in public deception about the very existence of the practice, which was denied by Conrad but was accidentally admitted by another comrade.

    This, it would seem, is lying to the masses, but no doubt Conrad sees it (and I’m inclined to think Lenin would agree) it as defending the a communist against the deluded supporters of the opponent centrist leadership (which itself is ultimately a prop for the capitalists).

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  6. Ian

    ” the argument that you have to lie to survive isn’t inherently better justification than the argument that you have to lie to win–and the two arguments are often inseparable”

    This is not such a fine distinction, as winning has more than one definition. If you break with your principles fundamentally in order to ‘win’, then what you actually ‘win’ will not be in accord with your historic aims. If you thus ‘win’, you are also losing therefore. The question is whether the people concerned still have the level of understanding and commitment to make that distinction.

    I do actually think that some of the methods used by the CPGB are counter-productive in that regard. There can be no prohibition on collaboration across organisational lines where there is political agreement, and hiding that collaboration from leaderships that habitually deal in a disloyal manner with critics (whether or not they break such rules) cannot be excluded either. The gratuitous publication of documents obtained in such a manner, prior to any bureaucratic attack on the dissidents, actually tends to cut short the differentiation in the ‘centrist’ organisations concerned.

    It is reasonable to suspect that the reason for such tactics is that the CPGB leadership fears to really ‘win’, as they themselves prefer life in a micro-sect to actually outgrowing that situation. Which is a way is a another form of centrist degeneration, the world of mutually antagonistic sects and confrontation can become quite comfortable, compared with real engagement with larger forces, which can be a bit like Russian Roulette,

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