16 November 2004


Our esteemed foreign secretary has a joky letter in the Independent today denying that he was ever a Trotskyist (as Robert Fisk had erroneously claimed). "Whatever other frailties I may have (many)," he writes, "I have been consistent in my opposition to Trotskyism and the false consciousness it engenders. (I was first taught to spot a Trot at 50 yards in 1965 by Mr Bert Ramelson, Yorkshire industrial organiser of the Communist Party.)" And indeed, as a student politico Straw was very much part of the "Broad Left" of Labour leftists and CPers.

What's strange about the letter, however, is that Straw appends a postscript recommending Lenin's Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder as "a prescient warning about Trotskyist adventurism".

In fact, it's nothing of the sort. The target of Lenin's polemic was not Trotskyists — at the time the pamphlet was written in 1920, there were no Trotskyists and Trotsky himself was commissar of war in Lenin's government.

Rather he was attacking the left communists in Germany and Great Britain — Anton Pannekoek and Sylvia Pankhurst — who argued that communists should never participate in bourgeois parliaments or reformist trade unions. (Click here for the text of Left-Wing Communism.)

But none of this is what's really weird about Straw's recommendation of this particular Lenin tract. As well as ranting against the left communists, Left-Wing Communism is also excoriating about bourgeois parliaments, reformist trade unions and reformist socialist leaders in the west — "reactionaries and advocates of the worst kind of opportunism and social treachery".

Does Straw really mean to recommend this intemperate anti-democratic diatribe to readers of the Independent? Something tells me that his memory is failing — or that he has never actually read it. But you never know . . .

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