Debate on the Left: No Vote for Zionist New Labour!

Spartacists v CPGB/Weekly Worker

The 9th May article in the Weekly Worker on the online debate between the Spartacist League and the CPGB, Debating with Oehlerites ( , shows nothing so much as the rightward political evolution of the CPGB, as well as some contradictory and problematic aspects of the political evolution of the Spartacist tendency since the death of their founder-leader James Robertson in 2018. The WW polemic against today’s reformed Spartacists as ‘Ohlerites’ (akin to Hugo Ohler, a sectarian critic of the Trotskyist movement in the 1930s) is frankly absurd, as it has not been demonstrated that faced with a genuinely leftward moving opportunity in the Labour Party, such as actually existed in the recent past with the Corbyn movement, today’s Spartacist League would simply abstain and refuse to intervene.

Seems reasonable to us…

James Robertson, the US American leader of the Spartacists, died (aged over 90) right in the middle of Corbyn’s leadership, and even before his death the Spartacists were politically paralysed and engaging in an agonised and confused political soul-searching about aspects of his legacy. Particularly involving allegations of chauvinism against oppressed peoples, which just before his death were unconvincingly blamed on Joseph Seymour, one of his senior lieutenants, excusing Robertson himself. During the Corbyn project, the ‘new’ Spartacists did not yet exist, and it appears that the old group went into a state of political collapse and only re-emerged, in a somewhat contradictory and less-than-fully rational manner, in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic. That could be subject of another exploration, but it is not relevant here.

The point is that the SL’s involvement in TUSC is itself evidently proof that they are not Ohlerites. TUSC is itself a left-social democratic project – ‘Ohlerites’ would treat involvement in it as a heresy. Evidently the SL today see involvement in social democratic organisations as a valid tactic, their disagreement with the CPGB appears to be about which social-democratic trend to conduct political work within. In our view they are mistaken to see TUSC as the optimum milieu to conduct communist political work within today, as it is a project that, though it gets some semi-respectable votes in a few places, stands a lot of merely paper candidates that routinely get derisory votes and have done for many years.

Ridiculous CPGB polemic in favour of kissing the arse of genocidare “Sir Keir”.

It is a sterile project, dominated by what Mike MacNair accurately terms “sectarian purity politics combined with sub-reformism”. Without the RMT and the CPB, TUSC has long been a Socialist Party ‘front’ – and their sectarian boorishness and sub-reformism makes it deeply unappealing to those radicalised by the genocide in Gaza. Their policy statements on Gaza are very vague and bland, limited to ‘opposing’ the Israeli ‘war on Gaza’. Behind the scenes, the Socialist Party’s own statement after the October 7th prison break equated the two sides:

“Once again, in this new round of Israel-Palestine conflict, many civilians have already been killed and injured. The leaders of both sides have no hesitation in terrorising civilians whether it be the history of the Israeli state in Lebanon and Gaza or the Hamas leaders in their 7 October offensive. The killing of around 260 young people on Saturday at a ‘rave’ will not bring progress in the fight for liberation but was an attempt to terrorise the Israeli population, which can play into the hands of the ultra-right Israeli government.”

More recently, on 15th May, their article titled “Mass workers’ struggle can end slaughter in Gaza” put forward the following key demand as a ‘solution’ to the Palestinian liberation struggle:

“For an independent, socialist Palestinian state, alongside a socialist Israel, with guaranteed rights for all minorities, as part of the struggle for a socialist Middle East

For all its rhetoric, this is a caricature of a socialist programme, as Israel was created through the forcible expulsion of the indigenous Palestinian Arab people of Palestine, who are not a ‘minority’ anywhere, but the overwhelming, legitimate majority over the whole territory of Palestine from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. Such is the conservative bureaucratic politics in TUSC in practice that it is not difficult to confuse these statements on this with that of the British TUC after October 7th, such as:

“We unequivocally condemn the attacks by Hamas and their targeting of civilians in this recent escalation of violence. Nothing can justify such an attack.”


“Finally, we reiterate our support for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace that is consistent with international law and is based on a two-state solution, security for both Israel and Palestine, and which promotes equality and respect for human and labour rights.”

The policy of the Socialist Party, the main force (by far) in TUSC, is only a ‘socialist’ phrase or two different from that of the TUC! No wonder TUSC is considerably less inspiring and capable of mobilising struggles against oppression than was the Labour Party in the late 2010s under Corbyn’s leadership!

The Spartacist League of old used to excoriate, and even try to incite Irish Republicans against, anyone who would work with the Socialist Party in the late 1990s/early 2000s Socialist Alliance because their similar ‘both sides’-ism over Ireland meant softness on Ulster loyalism just as today on Zionism. Even though the old SL shared much of the SP’s ‘both sides’-ism over Ireland with their slogan ‘Not Green against Orange but Class against Class’, and their opposition to ‘forcible’ Irish reunification. They disguised that behind virulent sectarian provocations and idiocy, which they thankfully appear to have abandoned.   But TUSC, unlike the Socialist Alliance in the late 1990s/early 2000s, is a sterile SP front.

Entry into TUSC is a mistaken tactic, that quite likely has strategic and opportunist aspects to it. Better to give TUSC a degree of critical support from the outside and try to play a role in cohering something better as we are doing in the Socialist Labour Network. But the Spartacist League are quite right to refuse support for Labour in current circumstances under Starmer’s leadership and there is nothing ‘Ohlerite’ about that refusal.

Bourgeois Workers Parties: Concrete not Abstract

A bourgeois workers party, by its very nature, is a party with a class contradiction built into it, a party with two contradictory class poles, a proletarian element at the base, that may coexist with other elements, either oppressed groups that are not purely proletarian in composition, or elements of the petty-bourgeoisie who also make up part of the base of the party. And the other pole is the labour bureaucracy, initially connected to the bureaucracy of mass trade unions, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

As well as a pro-capitalist labour bureaucracy element, Labour also has an extensive political bureaucracy which has considerable autonomy in dealing with other sections of society, particularly elements of the ruling class. With the de-industrialisation and financialisation of imperialist countries such as Britain under the neoliberal paradigm since the 1970s, we also see that this semi-autonomous political bureaucratic element can grow and become complicit with elements of financial, as opposed to industrial, capital, and wander a long way from the traditional politics of the right-wing of the trade union bureaucracy.  Thus, we see Blairism, Starmerism, and the growth of neoconservative bourgeois politics in Labour, and not least an expanded role for Zionism.

As a bourgeois workers party, sometimes the proletarian pole within Labour is capable of fighting back, and in such periods critical support and entryism is appropriate, as in the Corbyn period. We in the Consistent Democrats, the main British Group affiliated to the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International, were then in Socialist Fight, which did engage in work within the Labour Party in that crucial period. If that opportunity arose again, we would do the same, though in current conditions that is unlikely. But it is difficult to call us ‘Ohlerites’ particularly given our work in the Socialist Labour Network, which is in part the continuity of Labour Against the Witchhunt (also the former Labour-In-Exile Network) and which organises a significant layer of the most advanced ex-Labour militants. We were pivotal in changing the policy of the SLN from one of neutrality in the war in Ukraine to one of critically supporting the struggle of the people of the Donbass, and the Russian side, against NATO’s Nazi proxy war.

In a period where the proletarian pole of Labour is driven back by the right-wing, and particularly today’s neoliberal, massively corrupt and bribed neoliberal/Blairite right-wing, in hock to Thatcherite privatisation, Zionism and the Israeli attempt to exterminate the people of Gaza, the Spartacist League are quite correct to agitate against voting for Starmer on the mass Palestine demonstrations. We would critically support that. Our criticism is that some of the literature the SL has put out about Gaza and October 7th has shown too much of a tendency to accept the demonisation of Hamas, who it is clear did not seek mass civilian casualties, as Scott Ritter correctly noted. We are also sharply critical of their failure to take sides with Russia and the people of Donbass in the current Ukrainian proxy war, which is another crucially important anti-imperialist struggle.

Not only are the SL absurdly characterised as ‘Ohlerites’. McNair is also quoted as arguing for:

“…fighting for working class unity requires the pursuit of the united front – including from above with rightwing leaders of the labour movement. We do not simply regard them as ‘social fascists’: ie, as untouchables. The SL’s claim that voting Labour is crossing class lines, or to vote for anybody who would back a Starmer government crosses class lines, argued comrade Macnair, is what Leon Trotsky dismissed as the ‘third period’ theory of Comintern.”

WW, op-cit

Here McNair resorts to Sean Matgamna-style dishonest demagogy.  “Third period” Stalinism was a cynical, bureaucratic pseudo-ultraleft policy formulated by the Soviet bureaucracy to obscure the Stalin faction’s previous rightist policy of conciliation of capitalism abroad and rich, exploiting peasants (kulaks) at home. These led to the destruction of the 1926-27 Chinese revolution and a 1928 kulak revolt that came close to overthrowing Soviet power. “Third period” Stalinism (1929-33) was not a reflection of the mood of an advanced part of the working class, it was a bureaucratic policy from above to fool the advanced working class. Completely unlike anything today.

If German Social Democracy, hypothetically speaking, had been directly complicit in Hitler’s (coming) genocide of Jews in the way that Starmer’s Zionist Labour Party is complicit in Israel’s  genocide of the Palestinians in Gaza (for which they are rightly hated), then the Stalinist epithet ‘social fascist’ might have had some justification. But in the actual historical situation that was impossible. In fact, the Stalinist bureaucratic policy of the ‘Third Period’ played a major role in sabotaging the united front of the German workers against Hitler’s Nazi movement that actually threatened such a genocide at the time. So, what is MacNair suggesting, that the left should form a ‘united front’ with Der Stűrmer to save the Palestinians from genocide? What the hell?

Starmer made it very clear that he supported Zionism, which now stands utterly exposed as the Nazism of today, “without qualification” as he grabbed for the Labour leadership after stabbing Corbyn in the back. Starmer is himself a genocidal racist, who rose to power in Labour with the support of Political Zionism and the Labour Friends of Israel, Jewish Labour Movement, etc, which as is visible to all now, is the hegemonic, open form of genocidal racism of today, which has the bulk of the imperialist ruling classes dancing to its tune. MacNair’s polemic is a damned insult against all those who suffered from the Zionist filth in Labour!

The polemic goes on. MacNair

“…in his response described the Spartacist position as ‘classic ultra-leftism’ of the sort attacked in Lenin’s Leftwing communism … it mistakes the mood of a section of the advanced part of the class for the mood of the broad masses. Yes, there is hatred of Starmer expressed by hundreds of thousands on Palestine demonstrations, but millions are supporting Labour in elections. They are not doing so under the illusion that Labour will bring socialism, or that it defends the fully independent interests of the working class. The illusion is that Labour will partially defend workers’ interests within the frame of the constitution and the nation.”

WW op-cit

CPGB support for Starmer: Another Capitulation to Zionism

This an example of rightward motion by the CPGB and softness on what Starmer represents politically. Lenin in Left Wing Communism attacked those ultraleft communists who refused on principle to support any candidates in bourgeois elections, and to stand communist candidates in such elections. The WW polemic is bizarre, as the Spartacist League apparently are standing a candidate under the TUSC banner in the upcoming election, and many others of those who oppose voting for Starmer are planning to stand, or support, independent leftist candidates themselves. It seems that for the CPGB, the epithet ‘Ohlerite’ is reserved for those who fail to kiss Starmer’s arse.

 This is shown by their respectful address to Starmer as “Sir Keir” in their coverage when the vernacular of those who have been through the mill of the Zionist witchhhunts in Labour is more often “Der Stűrmer”, “Kid Starver” or sometimes “Keith Stalin”. The absence of socialist or class illusions in Starmer’s Labour is because Starmer’s strategy is to win over alienated Tory voters by appearing to them as a slightly less deranged kind of Tory. That is why he excluded Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott from the parliamentary party, while welcoming in anti-immigrant scum like Natalie Elphicke. That is why Starmer can be opposed from the left by far-right Tory vermin like Suella Braverman (!!) when she called for an end to the two-child cap on child benefit, which Kid Starver is pledged to carry on with. That is why Starmer wraps his party up with the Union Jack to the point that his flag-shagging has become a sick joke and the object of hatred by those targeted by the far right.

But even more so, there is the overt Zionism of the Labour Party. In an earlier period, when Tony Blair was rising to become prime minister, and for the whole of the Blair/Brown government’s 13 years in power, the CPGB made a point about not calling for a vote to New Labour. They strongly opposed supporting New Labour in the 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2010 General Elections, because of new Labour’s overt Thatcherism, which was not some obscure point of doctrine but the whole basis of its attempt to win over Tory voters. They correctly opposed this because of what they called the “De-Labourisation of Labour”.  Now they call for votes for Starmer’s Labour and denounce as ‘Ohlerities’ those who refuse to snap to attention and vote for ‘Sir Keir’.

This is an index of their political softness on Zionism. The CPGB grandstands that

“Of course, the Spartacist League was nowhere to be seen in the 2015‑20 class war which raged inside the Labour Party. The CPGB, by contrast, through Labour Party Marxists, played a leading role in Labour Against the Witchhunt.”

WW op-cit

But their role was not so creditable as their braggadocio pretends. It would be justifiable to say that the CPGB turned Labour Against the Witchhunt, as originally conceived, into something that could justly be called Labour Against the Witchhunt (sic!). Under their stewardship, Labour Against the Witchhunt had its own witchhunts, some of which achieved national publicity, against those who were too consistent in their anti-Zionism, and analysed the material roots of the power of the Zionist lobby in Marxist terms.

Such as Socialist Fight, our political forerunner. who for our Marxist analysis of the Jewish question today were thrown out of Labour Against the Witchhunt by the CPGB and its then allies. Our comrade Gerry Downing was thrown out of the Labour Party after being denounced as a supposed ‘terrorist’ supporter by David Cameron and was then subjected to a prolonged witchhunt for supposed ‘anti-Semitism’ for referring to facts about the social weight of Zionist Jews in the ruling class, which are increasingly obvious today as one of the key driving forces of Western support for genocide and also repression in the imperialist countries against the pro-Palestine, anti-genocide student movement.

The CPGB originally lost the vote when the motion to purge SF was put to the meeting of LAW in December 2017, and SF stayed in. So WW declared a national mobilisation to throw us out, which they duly did, at an enlarged meeting in January 2018 where they ‘won’ by approximately two to one, having mobilised pro-imperialist pseudo-lefts like the supporters of Socialist Resistance, the British USFI group (now known as Anti-Capitalist Resistance), who are known for their support for the US/UK invasion of Libya in 2011, the reactionary US/Israel-sponsored jihadist war to overthrow Assad in Syria (which was foiled by Russia and Hizbullah), and now the NATO imperialist Nazi proxy war in Ukraine.

If you choose to block with such elements, it is purely accidental if you get a majority for a purge.  But a pro-Zionist, pro-imperialist witchhunt is what it was, and the rightward motion of the CPGB is shown today by their cynical deployment of the language of the Trotskyist movement against people who oppose their political softness on Starmer.

There is nothing orthodox Marxist or owing to the early Congresses of the revolutionary Comintern about the CPGB’s critique of the Spartacist League, as they claim. The CPGB reject the Comintern and the Russian Revolution itself as models for revolutionaries to seek to emulate.  As MacNair’s writings reveal, they prefer the politics of pre-1914 Karl Kautsky, the centrism that laid the basis for the destruction of the Second International and the necessity for a third. Their softness on Starmer and his genocidal Zionist Labour Party has deep roots in their own affinity for reformism and their fealty to the political method of Hal Draper, the ‘third camp’ theorist of later forms of pro-imperialist social democracy that have given the false impression that the Zionist neoconservatives had something to do with the Trotskyist movement.

They do not, but the politics of the CPGB and the Alliance for Workers Liberty, who the CPGB tried to fuse with in the early 2000s, have also a common root in the politics of Hal Draper, one of whose earliest tracts, titled How to defend Israel ( put a ‘socalist’ gloss on the Nakba of the Palestinians. Ironically, to a degree the Spartacists under Robertson’s also had roots in Shachtmanism, which seriously flawed their own politics on West Asia. But this debate had a left and a right, and it is useful for the left and political clarity to get a proper view and orientation of what the protagonists represent.