Posts Tagged ‘Reformism’

Private Eye on Sunday Times’ Smear of Michael Foot as KGB Agent

October 3, 2018

The media this week has been full of the news about a book about the KGB defector, Oleg Gordievsky. Gordievsky was a high-ranking KGB officer, whose father was also a KGB officer, and who had been slated to be the next chief of the Soviet spy agency and secret police. When he defected, Gordievsky brought with him whole dossiers of KGB records, which were invaluable for ending the Cold War. However, Gordievsky himself was a self-admitted liar. And one of those lies was that the former leader of the Labour party, Michael Foot, was a KGB agent codenamed ‘Comrade Boot’.

This falsehood was published in 1995 by the Times, and was promptly answered by a libel action by Foot and a cover by Private Eye sending the whole thing up. Foot won the case, and the Eye also published an article taking apart the whole story and exposing the Times’ article for the libel it was.

Now with the publication of the new biography, the Sunday Times has decided to repeat the libel again. And Private Eye has responded again with another article effectively demolishing this sorry piece of gutter journalism. The piece was published in last fortnight’s Eye for the 21 September to 4 October 2018, and entitled ‘Shooting Yourself in the Foot’, and runs

<strong>”MI6 believed Michael Foot was paid Soviet informant,” a Times front-page headline announced last Saturday. “Truth about former Labour leader emerges 23 years after he sued Sunday Times for libel.” The editor of the Times, John Witherow, also published the Sunday Times story about the former Labour leader in 1995 – and is clearly still sore about the embarrassment and ridicule it earned him.

It’s not only the editor, it’s the same story-based entirely on a claim by former double agent Oleg Gordievsky that he once saw a KGB file marked “Agent Boot”, which apparently referred to Michael Foot. The only difference is that the previous version was taken from Gordievsky’s memoirs while the latest one comes from a new biography of the spy.

According to the Times, The book “presents the first corroboration by MI6 officers of the allegations made by the Soviet defector”. No it doesn’t, at least not in the normal meaning of corroboration, ie additional proof or confirmation. In 1995 the Sunday Times reported Gordievsky’s allegation that the KGB regarded Foot as an agent of influence; now the Times says some people in MI6 thought the Russians regarded him as an agent of influence. And why did they think that? Because, er, Gordievsky had told them so. In short, not a smidgin of supporting evidence has “emerged” since Witherow last ran the story.

At the time of the earlier farrago, the Sunday Times claimed that it was “based on interviews with Gordievsky and six other former KGB officers”. But it omitted to add that only Gordievsky believed in “Agent Boot”. Although the paper claimed that the London-based KGB colonel Mikhail Lyubimov had recruited Foot, Lyubimov himself promptly denied it.

So the allegations were not made by “the KGB”, as Witherow told his readers 23 years ago and again last Saturday. They came solely from a single ex-KGB man, Gordievsky – whose unreliability was officially confirmed in May 1995, just three months after the Sunday Times splash, by the then solicitor-general Sir Derek Spencer. Speaking on behalf of the government during an appeal by Michael Smith, who had been convicted of spying for the Russians, Spencer told the Lord Chief Justice that some boasts made by Gordievsky in his memoirs were “not correct”. He described one of Gordievsky’s claims, about identifying undercover KGB agents to his British controllers, as “another exaggeration”. As the judge observed: “He must have lied to everybody at one time or another.”

With just one witness to rely one, it’s no surprise that Witherow and the Sunday Times couldn’t defend a libel action against Foot. More surprising is that the editor is now repeating even the most egregious howlers from his previous debacle. According to the 1995 story, for instance, Foot regarded Moscow as “a beacon of world peace” until 1968, when the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia brought him “down to earth with a bump” and he ceased to be a fellow-traveler. Exactly the same narrative appeared in last Saturday’s Times. From the 1940s to the 1960s, it claimed, Foot was an “agent of influence” who could be “fed pro-Soviet ideas and reproduce them in articles and speeches” – but in 1968 he became “intensely critical of Moscow in the wake of the Prague Spring”. After that, his “enthusiasm for the Soviet Union appears to have waned”.

The claim that Foot was a pro-Soviet mouthpiece until 1968 is easily disproved. As long ago as 1946, a Labour MP wrote to Tribune complaining of the “jaundiced prejudice against Russia” in Foot’s articles. In 1948, soon after becoming Tribune’s editor, he published a leader attacking left-wingers who “are still gulled by the monstrous delusion that the Russians are the friends, not the enemies, of democratic socialism”. During the Soviet blockade of Berlin, he urged the West to “drive a land passage through the Russian zone against Russian resistance and if necessary by force of arms”.

When Ian Mikardo MP resigned from Tribune’s board of directors in protest at the editor’s anti-Soviet stance, Foot was unapologetic. “The Soviet leaders … believe as a matter of theory that the end of establishing Soviet Communism wherever they can justifies any means for its attainment,” he wrote. “They believe also as a matter of theory in secrecy, censorship, dictatorship and the ruthless annihilation of the rights of individuals.” And so it went on. When the Russian tanks crushed the Hungarian uprising in 1956, Foot was quick to condemn this “hideous outrage”.

Odd behavior for a man who, the Times alleges, wa sbeing paid to publicise “pro-Soviet ideas”. Why didn’t they ask for their money back. (p. 10).

Foot was right: the Soviet Union and the Communists were always hostile to democratic socialism, though Stalin used the existence of democratic socialist parties and other left-wing organisations to provide a spurious democratic justification for his transformation of their countries into Soviet satellites after the end of the Second World War. Stalin would amalgamate the Communist parties of the various countries the USSR had liberated with the largest left-wing party. This was usually the mainstream, democratic socialist under the pretext of reuniting the two forms of Socialism. Before the First World War in Germany and Italy, for example, there was only one socialist party, which included not only democratic socialists – reformists – but also radical Marxist revolutionaries. After the First World War, the radical Marxists split away from the reformist majority parties to form their countries’ Communist parties. In countries where the socialism was weak, Stalin amalgamated the Communists with the largest and most popular left-wing party, such as the various Peasants’ Parties. The new, umbrella Socialist party would then make a statement adopting Marxism-Leninism – the Communism of the Soviet Union – their official ideology, and the democratic socialists would find themselves purged and either executed or sent to the Gulags.

In the West there were some mainstream socialists, who really did believe that Stalin represented Socialism, such as the Fabians. But Foot, to his immense credit, clearly wasn’t one of them.

However, Maggie Thatcher hated socialism, because it came from the same ideological roots as Communism, and the Tory press in the 1980s was very quick to smear any Labour politician or activist as a potential traitor or agent of Moscow. Foot came in for particular abuse because of his support for CND and unilateral nuclear disarmament. It was therefore inevitable that one of the Tory papers would eventually smear him as a KGB agent.

As it stands, the Sunday Times has form on libeling people. As well as smearing Foot, it also libeled Mike as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. Since that article came out, the Sunset Times has repeated the smear and tried to back it up, and the Eye has published yet another tearing it to shreds.

The satirical rag has done an excellent job attacking the lies and falsehoods against Foot. Too bad that it also seems to have swallowed the lies and falsehoods about Jeremy Corbyn.


Friedrich Engels on the Difference between Socialism and Communism

June 19, 2016

Engels Communism Pamphlet

This morning I posted up a few extracts from Friedrich Engels’ Principles of Communism, published by Pluto Press. The Principles of Communism was the first draft of the Communist Manifesto. Unlike the Manifesto, it’s short – only about 20 pages or so, laying out the essence of Communism in the form of a catechism – short answers to particular questions.

Florence, one of the great commenters on this site, posted this remark in response to the piece:

Not having a copy of the Engels text to hand, I think many would be interested in his thoughts on how socialism and communism differ. It is at the heart of many misunderstandings at the moment!

This is a really big issue, and whole books have been written about the topic. Here’s what Engels says in the pamphlet:

24 How do Communists differ from Socialists?
The so-called Socialists are divided into three categories.

The first category consists of adherents of a feudal and patriarchal society which has already been destroyed, and is still daily being destroyed, by big industry and world trade and their creation, bourgeois society. This category concludes from the evils of existing society that feudal and patriarchal society must be restored because it was free of such evils. In one way or another all their proposals are directed to this end. This category of reactionary socialists, for all their seeming partisanship and their scalding tears for the misery of the proletariat, is nevertheless energetically opposed by the Communists for the following reasons:
(I) It strives for something which is entirely impossible.
(II) It seeks to establish the rule of the aristocracy, the guildmasters, the small producers, and their retinue of absolute or feudal monarchs, officials, soldiers and priests – a society which was, to be sure, free of the evils of present day society but which brought with it at least as many evils without even offering to the oppressed workers the prospect of liberation through a Communist revolution.
(III) As soon as the proletariat becomes revolutionary and Communist, these reactionary Socialists show their true colours by immediately making common cause with the bourgeoisie against the proletarians.

The second category consists of adherents of present-day society who have been frightened for its future by the evils to which it necessarily gives rise. What they want, therefore, is to maintain this society while getting rid of the evils which are an inherent part of it. To this end, some propose mere welfare measures while others come forward with grandiose systems of reform which under the pretence of reorganising society are in fact intended to preserve the foundations, and hence the life, of existing society. Communists must unremittingly struggle against these bourgeois socialists, because they work for the enemies of Communists and protect the society which Communists aim to overthrow.

Finally, the third category consists of democratic socialists who favour some of the same measures the Communists advocate, as described in question 18, not as part of the transition to Communism, however, but rather as measures which they believe will be sufficient to abolish the misery and the evils of present-day society. These democratic socialists are either proletarians who are not yet sufficiently clear about the conditions of the liberation of their class, or they are representatives of the petty bourgeoisie, a class which, prior to the achievement of democracy and the socialist measures to which it gives rise, has many interests in common with the proletariat. It follows that in moments of action the Communists will have to come to an understanding with these democratic Socialists, and in general to follow as far as possible a common policy with them, provided that these Socialists do not enter into the service of the ruling bourgeoisie and attack the Communists. It is clear that this form of co-operation in action does not exclude the discussion of differences.

From what I learned at College, there are a number of differences between Communism and Socialism, and there are a number of different forms of Socialism.
The main difference, which split the Socialist parties off from the Communists at the end of the 19th century, was over the question of whether a revolution was needed to bring about the power of the workers. Marx and Engels were part of the European revolutionary tradition, though they did not oppose fighting elections and in part of their writings looked forward to a peaceful transition to Socialism.

Reformist Socialists, such as Eduard Bernstein in the German Social Democrats, pointed out that instead of getting poorer as Marx and Engels had predicted, the European working class seemed to be becoming better off. He therefore recommended that the SPD should concentrate on fighting elections and promoting the interests of the workers that way, rather than on trying to bring down the system through revolution.

Communism also differs from Socialism generally in that it sees the essence of history as the struggle between succeeding classes. It sees the motor of history as being economic relationships, in which each classes creates in turn the class that eventually is destined to overthrow it. Thus feudalism and the rule of the aristocracy gave rise to bourgeois capitalism. This cleared away aristocratic rule and set about instituting democracy instead. The bourgeoisie in their turn created, through mechanisation and big business, the working class, who do not own the means of production, but merely work at the big machines owned by the factory masters. The working class are therefore the last class to be created by the process of Dialectal Materialism, and will overthrow the bourgeoisie and private property.

There’s also an exclusive emphasis on the role of the working class in the struggle to create a Socialist system. The working class are seen as the only genuinely progressive or revolutionary class, as opposed to the lower middle class or the peasants. This has been modified. For example, Mao based his revolution on the Chinese peasantry, and so significantly modified Marxism in this respect. As did the Russian revolutionaries, who brought about a Communist state in the Soviet Union, when most of the population were still peasants and the working class only constituted a small minority. Marx and Engels expected the first Socialist states to be in the industrialised nations of Western Europe, and were very doubtful about a Socialist revolution succeeding in the Russian Empire.

Marxists also believe in the transvaluation of values. That is, there is no objective, eternal set of moral values. Each society develops a system of morality appropriate for its time, based on the economic foundations of that society. Thus, while Marx is scathing about the exploitation of the poor, nowhere in his writing is there a moral condemnation of that exploitation.

His attitude is in marked contrast to other Socialists, who came to Socialism through religion and ethical considerations, such as some of the Fabians. Lenin and the Russian Communists were extremely sniffy about them, as Marxism considers that it gives an objective account of the origins of society and social change, in contrast to the subjective analysis based on morality of other forms of Socialism.

Communism also differs from other forms of Socialism in that it regards Socialism as merely a transitory period during which people will get so used to sharing, that eventually the state will wither away and something like anarchism will emerge instead.

Finally, Communism in practice has largely consisted in nearly total nationalisation and a one-party state, although China is now one of the major capitalist nations, and reforming, dissident Communists like Imre Nagy in Hungary and Anton Dubcek in Czechoslovakia, and also Mikhail Gorbachev, wished to replace the coercive Communist system of Stalinism with ‘Communism with a human face’, in which other parties would be permitted and the Communist party would have to fight elections like everyone else.

Herbert Spencer and the Equation of Collectivism, Socialism and Totalitarianism

February 24, 2016

The Libertarian Right in the American Republican party and the Conservatives over here tends to see Socialism as identical to Communism and collectivism. It’s why Obama has been loudly shouted down as a ‘Communist’ and ‘Nazi’ when he introduced Obamacare and the idea of a single-payer health system. Much of this comes from von Hayek, of course, and Ayn Rand, but it also goes further back to Herbert Spencer in the 19th century. Spencer was the founder of ‘Social Darwinism’, the attitude that state legislation to protect the weak was bad, because it stopped the operation of the Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ which would lead to the gradual emergence of a new, better, fitter, variety of humanity in the course of evolution. And according to G.C. Peden in British Economic and Social Policy, it was also Spencer who identified collectivism as socialism, and claimed that it aimed at the total ownership of the individual and their enslavement, instead of, as Socialists believe, their liberation. Peden states

In his On the Origin of Species, which also appeared in 1859, Darwin portrayed the natural world as one of ceaseless struggle which ensured, by natural selection, the survival of the fittest. It was possible, by analogy, to draw the conclusion that efforts to protect the weak at the expense of the strong would retard the natural evolution of society. Social Darwinism is now most commonly associated with Herbert Spencer, whose( Man Versus the State (1884) certainly made use of biological analogies and accepted that suffering was a necessary aspect of progress. Spencer also equated collectivism with socialism, and socialism with ‘slavery’, in the sense that society became the owner of the individual. P. 3).

Now Spencer does have a point, in that Communism and other totalitarian, collectivist states did enslave their citizens. However, that does not mean that collectivism and socialism are automatically totalitarian, or even forms of Communism. This does show how Victorian ideas have persisted in the transatlantic Right, most vociferously in the Republican party in America, but also very much over here in the attitudes of many Tories. It’s why the media pundits in the Land of the Free have accused Bernie Sanders of being a Communist, and why, for example, two Tory activists in one of the northern towns at one point decided it would be jolly japes to dress up as Red Army soldiers to bate the ruing Labour council. And it explains Margaret Thatcher, who gave a speech to the Tory faithful in Cheltenham in the 1990s attacking socialism as a nasty foreign import related to Communism. Historically, it is, but the attitudes can be very different, as you can tell from the way committed Communists hated and despised ‘Reformism’ and democratic socialism at every opportunity.

Blair, Mussolini, Neo-Liberalism and ‘The End of the Ideology’

March 4, 2014


Fascist Dictator Mussolini adopting typically grandiose posture

After the scrapping of Clause 4, the section of the Labour party’s constitution committing it to nationalisation, Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ government was hailed by many as the expression of the new pragmatism in politics. With ministers drawn from outside as well within the Labour party itself, New Labour was celebrated for its empirical approach to politics. Instead of following the dictates of ideology, the party was instead formulating policies and appointing personnel according to what worked. Just as Francis Fukuyama described the new political era ushered in by the Fall of Communism as the ‘end of history’, so there was a tendency to describe Blair’s government almost as the ‘end of ideology’. This type of rhetoric resembled some of the attitudes adopted by Mussolini’s Fascist dictatorship when it seized power in the 1920s.

19th and early 20th century Reformist Social Democrat politicians had believed that society and history proceeded by fixed laws, laws that were leading to the inevitable triumph of socialism. In their defence and advancements of socialism, the British Fabians, for example, who strenuously rejected Marx’s doctrine of the Class War, argued that Socialism was merely the continuation and expansion of existing government policies interfering with and regulating the economy. Sidney Webb, who with his wife, Beatrice, was one of the founders and leading Fabian intellectuals, wrote

The practical man, oblivious or contemptuous of any theory of the social organism or general principles of social organisation, has been forced, by the necessities of the time, into an ever-deepening collectivist channel. Socialism, of course, he still rejects and despises. The individualist town councillor will walk along the municipal pavement, lit by municipal gas, and cleansed by municipal brooms with municipal water, and seeing, by the municipal clock in the municipal market, that he is too early to meet his children coming from the municipal school, hard by the county lunatic asylum and municipal hospital, will use the national telegraph system to tell them not to walk through the municipal park, but come by the municipal tramway, to meet him in the municipal reading-room, by the municipal art gallery, museum, and library, where he intends to consult some of the national publications in order to prepare his next speech in the municipal town hall, in favour of the nationalisation of canals and the increase of Government control over the railway system. ‘Socialism, Sir,’ he will say, ‘Don’t waste the time of a practical man by your fantastic absurdities. Self-help, Sir, individual self-help, that’s what’s made our city what it is’.

Sydney Webb, Socialism in England, quoted in E.C. Midwinter, Victorian Social Reform (Longman: Harlow 1968) p. 94.

This idea of slow progress leading to the gradual victory of Socialism seemed to be shattered by the reality of the First World War. This seemed to show that all such ideologies of historical laws of gradual progress were wrong. To the activists and intellectuals that formed part of Mussolini’s Fascists, the War instead showed that history was made through will. As a result, Fascism vigorously promoted itself as the first movement that was no constrained by ideology or values. Some non-Fascist Italian intellectuals were initially favourable to them because of this. It seemed to look past the political stalemates that had occurred in the Italian parliament through the conflicts between the different political groups.

Adrian Lyttleton in his book The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy 1919-1929(London: George Weidenfeld and Nicholson Ltd 1987, describes the situation thus

The interventionist intellectuals conceived of the war as an assertion of will and energy in defiance of the supposed ‘laws’ of historical development. ‘The world war has destroyed the ideology of progress as a slow ordered succession of events and institutions … it has destroyed the bourgeois, reformist, evolutionist conception.’ In the postwar period, activism ceased to be merely an intellectual fashion and became a widespread state of mind. The confusion and dissatisfaction with all existing ideologies had become acute. While other parties appeared to deny the existence of a crisis of values, Fascism not only recognized by glorified it. Mussolini’s attitude of tough-minded pragmatism, his claim to have seen through and ‘transcended’ the old ideologies, appeal to may intellectuals. They celebrated Fascism as the end of ideology, as the first realistic political movement free from both moral and intellectual preconceptions, one in which practice would precede and form values instead of the other way round. Fascism taught the value of Negative Thinking. There were echoes here of Nietzsche’s ‘transvaluation of values’; the Fascist felt himself to be the superman freed from conventional moral restraints, and this helped him to act with confidence and ruthlessness. (p. 367).

Regardless of the rhetoric surrounding Blair’s government as indicating the end of ideology, Blair was not, unlike the Fascists, a moral nihilist. He did not reject all systems of morality nor celebrate force and violence. Indeed, he was always keen to promote some kind of moral reason for his actions and policies, some of which, like the invasion of Iraq, were indeed highly questionable. Nor can the Blair regime be seen as inaugurating the ‘end of ideology’. Blair’s New Labour did not reject ideology – it just rejected traditional socialism in favour of Neo-Liberalism. They still retained some belief in social justice and state interference in the economy for the good of society, but this was to be kept at a minimum. Following Thatcher, who gave her official endorsement of Blair when she met him at 10 Downing Street after his election, private enterprise was regarded as the foremost solution to the problems of the economy and society. This attitude has continued to inform politics after Blair’s departure. It underlies Brown’s management of the economy, and now, in a far purer and more extreme form, that of the Coalition.

I don’t, however, believe that the Neo-Liberal consensus has meant the end of ideology. The vast majority of the population, for example, do not want the privatisation of the NHS. Nor did they wish for the privatisation of the Post Office when this was mooted by New labour. Furthermore, as Mike has pointed out, there is considerable support for the renationalization of the railways and the utilities. What has changed is not so much the opinions of the electorate, but that of the governing political elites. And this is leading to a crisis of faith in politics. Increasing numbers are not voting, because they see little difference between the parties. These particularly include the young, the poor, the unemployed and disabled, who believe that there is no point in voting, as none of the parties are interesting in doing anything for them. This has not led to a revolt, whether of the Left, like the Communists, or the Right, like the Fascists. But it is corroding democracy in this country. If we are not careful, it will lead to the emergence of a managerial, technocratic elite, who govern without a mandate and whose policies do not reflect the will of the electorate, even more so than the Coalition at present.