Letters

Told you so

Many on the left are beginning to sound like Trotskyists now in their advice on entryism, consequent on the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. The concern now is how to relate to the working class and develop its consciousness from reformist to revolutionary. And despite their apparent leftism, the Greek, Spanish and French working class are also reformist in different ways to the British.

I hope that Left Unity members do join Labour and constitute a left there, but some seem to have burned their boats with class politics entirely; these include the intersectionality people of Socialist Resistance and their reactionary politics on Libya, Syria and Ukraine, and apologia for imperialism in general.

Workers Power and the CPGB will have fewer problems, having prepared their transition in articles over the last several months - WP will be able to junk the orientation to a new workers’ party relatively easily. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition will have great difficulty in making any orientation to Labour, because their leading group, the Socialist Party, are stuck with their now untenable insistence that Labour is no longer a bourgeois workers’ party, but a straight bourgeois party like the US Democrats. This will be almost impossible to reverse.

Socialist Appeal have just penned articles adopting the CWI position on Labour, and internationally the International Marxist Tendency have begun to reject entryism with some arguments about taking each country’s circumstances before deciding. Maybe they have not gone too far. Maybe they can blame it all on Rob Sewell, but it would be almost as difficult as the SP. Talk of getting your timing wrong, but then who foresaw the rise of Corbyn?

I would be amazed if the SWP entered Labour, but stranger things have happened. Certainly their instincts are to follow the latest leftist movement and their members are all three-pounders now, I hear.

But Socialist Fight can point to its consistent stance on this, with 19 journals over five years defending just this position from those who wrote off the working class and said Labour was no longer a field of struggle. A very small group, it is true, but we were demonstrably right on this question.

Gerry Downing
Socialist Fight

Frontrunner

Wonders will never cease! On July 29, thanks to pressure from below, Unison’s Labour Link national committee, which controls the union’s affiliated political fund and is not renowned for its leftwing bias, voted to back Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Party leader. Particular thanks are due to the Labour Representation Committee’s Andrew Berry, who ran an online campaign to back Corbyn during the committee’s rushed consultation period.

The union immediately emailed all of its Labour Link members - about one third of its total membership - with a one-click (no fee) sign-up to register to vote in the forthcoming election of Labour’s leader and deputy leader (and, for those in London, to select Labour’s mayoral candidate).

Although Corbyn is now the frontrunner, there is no room for complacency. All sorts of dirty tricks and media character assassination can be expected to prevent Labour being led by a tried and tested anti-war, anti-austerity, pro-trade union, socialist.

Those in the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party in England and Wales who say transforming the Labour Party is impossible should wake up and smell the coffee. A leftwing Labour leader pushed up from below will be an unprecedented development, opening the way towards making the party into an umbrella organisation for all trade unions and all working class and socialist organisations to affiliate.

Comrades on the left should also sign up for the Corbyn campaign at JeremyForLabour.com and help canvass existing party members, recruit new members and sign up new Labour supporters to maximise Jeremy’s vote. Those in London can get down to the Unite HQ (128 Theobalds Road, WC1X 8TN - Holborn tube) to do some phonebanking, on Monday to Thursday from 5.30pm to 8pm, and Saturdays from 11.30am to 2pm (email kat@jeremyforlabour.com).

Stan Keable
Labour Party Marxists

Unity

Unfortunately, Sheffield Central CLP decided at its latest monthly meeting on July 23 not to nominate a candidate for the leadership elections. Supporters of ‘the other three’ staged what looked like an organised attempt to stop Jeremy Corbyn receiving yet another branch nomination by appealing over and over again for “party unity”.

While the numerous officials and councillors were astute enough to refrain from criticising Corbyn, they generally struggled to make a good case for their preferred candidates and instead appealed to the 120 members and supporters in the room not to make any recommendation at all. Local MP Paul Blomfield set the tone when he claimed that “we should have had a debate on the future of the Labour Party first and then vote for a new leader”. He failed to mention that he had nominated Andy Burnham, so clearly he managed to make up his mind without such a ‘debate’.

So, while about 65 people voted not to nominate any candidate, there was a sizeable minority of about 45 who wanted to vote - and it was pretty clear whom they would have voted for. The mood in the room was excited (there were dozens of new and young members), but also pretty angry. A couple of days before, the parliamentary Labour Party had thoroughly messed up its vote on the so-called Welfare Reform Bill. Paul Blomfield was one of the spineless MPs abstaining in the vote. And he got his arse kicked for it.

He unsuccessfully tried to send the audience to sleep by rambling on for over 30 minutes about the wonderful committees he had joined in parliament and the ‘big conversations’ he had launched. “And we also organised a very successful visit to Westminster,” he gushed - though the single participant present in the room failed to mumble more than “yep” when pressed. He barely mentioned the welfare vote, once again referring to the need “for party unity”. In fact, “I was surprised when Harriett suggested that we should abstain”, because “personally, of course, I am opposed to the welfare cap”. Unfortunately, this opposition did not translate to him growing a spine.

The members in the room did not let him get away with it though. “Paul, you have to do better than that,” one woman said - “47 MPs managed to vote against the bill, so there was no unity anyway. Why weren’t you one of them?” Squirming in his seat, Blomfield tried to explain - and failed miserably. “We abstained because not all the things in the bill are bad. We support the increase in apprenticeships and the increased government reporting, for example.”

“But an abstention does nothing to show you support some things in the bill, does it?” he was asked. Five times he had to come back to the subject and, let’s just say, I don’t think he convinced anybody.

Later on he actually became a bit more honest. “We’re probably out of sync with normal people in our opposition to the welfare cap. It’s not the people in the rich areas who complain to me about welfare abuse. It’s those on the estates and the poorer areas. That shows me that we need to develop a modern vision of what the welfare state is.”

He deservedly was criticised for his position as “poll chasing” and being scared of the media backlash against Corbyn’s anti-austerity politics. Speaker after speaker from the floor warned against a continuation of “Tory-lite politics”. Though I must say that the supporters of Corbyn were not exactly inspiring either. One speaker centred his speech on the theme that “Jeremy is not an ultra-left loony”, claiming he is a staunch defender of “mainstream” Keynesian economic politics. A woman intervened to “dismiss the motion that Jeremy is unelectable”.

Every single person who spoke raised the issue of the 2020 elections and who could win it for Labour. Unfortunately, the bourgeois media has succeeded in making “opposition” sound like a bad word to most Labour Party members.

Christine Keene
Sheffield

Fenland Labour

Last Saturday I attended an open meeting for Labour Party “members, supporters and friends” in North-East Cambridgeshire at March Town Hall to discuss the leadership elections. There were about 45 people in attendance. There were several new faces I hadn’t seen before, including about a dozen people aged 30 and under.

After watching videos of the four candidates for leader and the five candidates for deputy, we had an hour and a half of discussion and debate. About a third of the meeting indicated their support for Jeremy Corbyn, another third supported Yvette Cooper, and the final third were undecided.

Many said that they didn’t care very much for Tony Blair’s intervention in the election campaign. There was no support for Andy Burnham or Liz Kendall. The general view of the meeting was that Labour needs to show clear blue water between Labour and the Tories, including concrete policies activists could use on the doorstep. Policies include the renationalisation of the railways; a large-scale council house building programme; rent controls; a £10 an hour minimum wage; and help for the thousands of self-employed who live in Fenland.

Last Saturday I attended an open meeting for Labour Party “members, supporters and friends” in North-East Cambridgeshire at March Town Hall to discuss the leadership elections. There were about 45 people in attendance. There were several new faces I hadn’t seen before, including about a dozen people aged 30 and under.

After watching videos of the four candidates for leader and the five candidates for deputy, we had an hour and a half of discussion and debate. About a third of the meeting indicated their support for Jeremy Corbyn, another third supported Yvette Cooper, and the final third were undecided.

Many said that they didn’t care very much for Tony Blair’s intervention in the election campaign. There was no support for Andy Burnham or Liz Kendall. The general view of the meeting was that Labour needs to show clear blue water between Labour and the Tories, including concrete policies activists could use on the doorstep. Policies include the renationalisation of the railways; a large-scale council house building programme; rent controls; a £10 an hour minimum wage; and help for the thousands of self-employed who live in Fenland.

Overall, it was a very good meeting. Hopefully, the Labour Party in Fenland will hold further open meetings every three to six months with leading Labour MPs as speakers.

John Smithee
Cambridgeshire

Teesside LU

Following up a launch event a couple of weeks ago, members of Left Unity formally established the Teesside branch at a meeting on July 28. This was attended by six paid-up members, plus nine other comrades interested in finding out more about the party. Only members took part in the decision-making.

We elected a branch secretary and a treasurer, and have written to LU’s membership and communication officer Simon Hardy to seek official recognition. We agreed to meet again on Tuesday September 8, with consideration of motions for national conference the main item of business. It was agreed that motions should be submitted five days before our meeting.

For updates on Teesside LU, please visit our blog at http://TeessideLU.tumblr.com; or follow us on Twitter (@TeessideLU) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/TeessideLeftUnity).

Steve Devey
Stockton-on-Tees

Personalised

We condemn the article published in the Weekly Worker attacking Left Unity activists in Leeds (‘Sectarian anti-sectarianism’, July 23). Such articles aim to publicly chastise and bully individuals who do not agree with the minority views of the CPGB. Personalised attacks on named individuals are misguided, disrespectful, and they are incompatible with the aims of Left Unity - these attacks must cease.

We unreservedly support Matthew Caygill’s right to put forward motions from his branch and wish to thank him for his hard work. No individual is accountable for a motion passed unanimously by all present at a well-attended branch meeting of Left Unity members. We congratulate those outward-looking, dedicated active members of Left Unity in Leeds such as Matthew, who seek to develop geographical branches local to their membership, through their commitment to furthering the aims of Left Unity.

The authors’ analysis of the Leeds members’ aggregate meeting, diminished in its legitimacy by the use of hearsay, would have us believe that without dual membership “there would be nobody left”. Members are to be condemned as “random” if we do not hold dual membership. Horror of horrors, there are many of us “random” members of Left Unity. All tendencies should, of course, expect to be heard. However, those so convinced that their priorities are greatest could ask themselves: exactly how much have I done to promote and widen the membership of Left Unity?

Kath Owen, Marc Renwick, Fran Belbin, Katy Day, Angela Dwyer, Rhea Ewen, Garth Frankland, Vin Hitchiner, Nick Jones, Liz Owens, Richard Owens, Laila P
Left Unity national council, Yorkshire and Humber, Left Unity Leeds North and East

Principled move

A ‘Unite against Isis and Islamophobia’ protest was held in Newcastle on Sunday July 26. The organisers were local Muslims who wanted to demonstrate their opposition to Isis as a terror group who do not represent Muslims or the Islam faith.

This caused much confusion on the left, who were afraid that it could fit in with pressure for Muslims to ‘justify’ themselves, and could also feed far-right (BNP, EDL, etc) ‘counter-jihadist’ propaganda. As it turned out, neither of these fears was justified - perhaps because of those leftists who discussed with and negotiated with the organisers rather than simply opposing the event.

For instance, the Revolutionary Community Group initially turned down an invitation to speak, but then sensibly approached the organisers to discuss their demands. They made a principled agreement as the basis to support the protest. This is a real example of the much-maligned ‘united front’-style tactic.

I disagree with the RCG politically - they seem to combine ‘ultra-left communism’ with abysmally opportunist support for left-over Stalinist and ‘progressive’/‘anti-imperialist’ regimes. As for their ‘economics’, don’t even go there! However, on this occasion they were absolutely correct. And the only group to make a principled move, as opposed to a so-called ‘principled stand’.

Alan Theasby
Middlesbrough

Bastards

Surely, as events over the past few weeks demonstrate beyond any doubt, if it weren’t for our own workers alongside their global migrant ilk, who both scurrilously and heinously are looking for work themselves, well, put quite simply, capitalism would run like clockwork.

Of course, I’m referring to those striking maritime union bastards in Calais (clearly and self-evidently being nothing but greedy and poisonous scum) and in turn to those many thousands upon thousands of Syrian, Palestinian, Somali, Ethiopian, Iraqi and other assorted migrants, those who are shacked up in their derelict and insanitary ghetto, over there on the other side of our razor-wire-defended border with mainland Europe.

Oh, and I ought to add to this list of the swine and scroungers primarily responsible for the ills of capitalism the sordidly decadent global bankers and myriad of other ‘mad money’ institutions. You know, those who were responsible for the 2008 financial crash and therefore the subsequently imposed - no, the anti-socially/anti-democratically inflicted - ‘austerity’ many of us now are obliged to suffer. Indeed, in my estimation, some of us are to suffer it ever more horrendously over the upcoming years or even months.

So, yes, without that now quite surprisingly long list of bastards, capitalism would run like clockwork; like that proverbial Swiss watch.

Bruno Kretzschmar
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Engels wrong

In a recent article, Jack Conrad attempted to defend Engels’ theory that there is a dialectic in nature, as well as reply to those who have thought to drive a wedge between Marx and Engels on this and other issues in Marxist philosophy (‘Humans, nature and dialectics’, May 7 2015).

In 2007, the Weekly Worker published an article of mine highly critical of dialectical materialism (‘Has history refuted dialectics?’, September 123 2007), to which Jack Conrad replied (‘Marxist thinking and Newtonian parallels’, March 6 2008). I do not want to reprise that debate - except where this latest article impacts on some of the issues that were raised back then.

As part of his attempt to show that Marx and Engels were of one mind on most things comrade Conrad had this to say: “Politically they almost formed a single personality. Some of what is presented under the name of Engels in the collected works comes, in fact, from the pen of Marx and vice versa. Eg, the chapter on economics in Anti-Dühring is written from material supplied by Marx (who helped plan the book as a whole, gathered other source material and read and approved the final manuscript).”

I have been unable to find anywhere where Marx says he “read and approved” Anti-Dühring; in fact, we know (because Engels told us) that Marx had this book read to him by his friend: “I read the whole manuscript to him before it was printed ...” (preface, Anti-Dühring). But, if Engels did in fact read this book to Marx (a claim he made only after Marx’s death, it is worth pointing out), it would have taken at least two-and-a-half days to complete (I timed myself reading one page of Anti-Dühring and made the calculation on that basis).

Can you imagine it? One wonders how often the ageing Marx must have nodded off, not fully realising the nature of what it was that some would later claim he endorsed!Anyway, why read this manuscript to Marx? Were his eyes and brain failing him? Moreover, since Marx had contributed a chapter, why didn’t Engels simply ask him to read the proofs? And, it is rather odd that Engels never claimed that he had read any of his other published work to Marx.

More importantly, Anti-Dühring contains several sections on mathematics, which few other than die-hard dialecticians will want to defend. Unlike Marx, Engels was neither competent nor knowledgeable in mathematics (as is relatively easy to show). If we insist that Marx agreed with every line read to him, then we are also forced to conclude that Marx, too, was an incompetent mathematician. Are supporters of ‘the dialectic’, who are competent in this area, prepared to admit this? If not, then the claim that Marx had this book read to him, and that he agreed with every word, cannot be sustained.

In which case, a major plank in the claim that Marx and Engels saw eye to eye about dialectical materialism will have to be rejected too. If Marx didn’t agree with these ‘mathematical’ passages, but said nothing about them in his letters, then Marx’s almost total silence about other ‘philosophical’ ideas that Engels was cooking up in Anti-Dühring (and in several letters and notebooks) assumes an entirely new light.

Of course, if it should turn out that Marx and Engels did see eye to eye on dialectical materialism, that would in no way affect its validity; it would, however, seriously compromise Marx’s scientific and intellectual stature.

Unfortunately, comrade Conrad doesn’t consider the arguments and evidence presented by critics of the view that Marx and Engels were of one mind, confining himself largely to generalities. There isn’t much that can be said in response other than to reply with yet more generalities, so I will devote the rest of this letter to examining issues raised by this attempt to defend Engels’ views on the dialectic in nature. Because of limitations of space, I will restrict my comments to the ‘first Law’, the “transformation of quantity into quality”.

Engels and Lenin had the following to say about this law:

“... the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa. For our purpose, we could express this by saying that in nature, in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case, qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or subtraction of matter or motion (so-called energy) ... Hence it is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion: ie, without quantitative alteration of the body concerned” (Engels in Dialectics of nature).

“The ‘nodal line of measure’ ... - transitions of quantity into quality ... Gradualness and leaps ... gradualness explains nothing without leaps” (Lenin in Philosophical notebooks).

However, we are never told how long these “nodes”/“leaps” are supposed to last, which means that what is supposed to be an ‘objective law’ is regularly applied by dialecticians in an entirely subjective manner. Even so, there are many things in nature that change smoothly with no “leap”/“node” anywhere in sight; think of melting metal, plastic, butter … Here, the change in ‘quality’ from solid to liquid is gradual and not at all sudden. When heated, metals, for instance, slowly soften and become liquid; there is no sudden “leap” from solid to liquid. So, the “nodal” aspect of this law is defective.

Some might want to appeal to exact melting points as clear examples of “nodal” change; however, this is what we read about the so-called amorphous solids (eg, glasses, gels and plastics): “Amorphous solids tend to soften slowly over a wide temperature range rather than having a well-defined melting point like a crystalline solid”. Furthermore, “Almost any substance can solidify in amorphous form if the liquid phase is cooled rapidly enough ...” (http://tinyurl.com/plcu88p). This must mean that “almost any substance” lacks a melting point if cooled in the above way. If so, there are countless non-“leap”-like changes in nature.

Note that I am not arguing that there are no sudden changes: only that not everything behaves this way. This means that this ‘law’ can’t be used to argue that the transformation from capitalism to socialism must be “nodal” - which is one of the main reasons dialecticians give for adopting it - for we have no idea whether or not this will be one of its many exceptions. Plainly, we could only appeal to this ‘law’ if it had no exceptions at all. This in turn means that the whole point of adopting this ‘law’ has now vanished (it is important to add that I certainly do not believe that the revolution will be gradual).

Moving on, Engels also forgot to tell us what he meant by “quality”; this means that subsequent dialecticians (again) regularly apply this law subjectively, appealing to it when and where it suits them, ignoring the many instances where it just does not work.

Of course, some theorists do make some attempt to define this term; here is what the Glossary at the Marxist Internet Encyclopedia, for instance, has to say about it: “Quality is an aspect of something by which it is what it is and not something else, and reflects that which is stable amidst variation. Quantity is an aspect of something which may change (become more or less) without the thing thereby becoming something else. Thus, if something changes to an extent that it is no longer the same kind of thing, this is a ‘qualitative change’…” (emphases added, www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/help/glossary.htm#quality).

Unfortunately, given this definition, many of the examples to which dialecticians themselves appeal (to illustrate this ‘law’) actually fail to do so. For instance, the most hackneyed example is that of water turning to ice or steam, when cooled or heated. But, given the above definition, this wouldn’t in fact be an example of qualitative change, since water as a solid, a liquid or a gas is still H2O - no “new kind of thing” has emerged. Quantitative addition or subtraction of energy doesn’t result in a qualitative change of the required sort; nothing substantially new has emerged. Indeed, when heated beyond its melting point, iron remains iron, even as a liquid; the same goes for all the other elements. Liquid nitrogen is no less nitrogen than its gaseous or solid forms are.

Furthermore, countless substances exist in a solid, liquid or gaseous state, so this can’t be what makes each of them “what it is and not something else”. What makes lead, for instance, lead is its atomic structure, and that remains the same whether or not it exists in a solid or liquid form. As such, it remains “the same kind of thing.”

Another widely quoted example is Mendeleyev’s table. However, Lenin had this to say: “What distinguishes the dialectical transition from the undialectical transition? The leap. The contradiction. The interruption of gradualness ...” (emphasis added, Philosophical notebooks). But that doesn’t happen in this case. Between each element in the table there is no gradual increase in sub-atomic particles, leading to a sudden change; there are only sudden changes as they are added!

For example, as one proton and one electron are added to hydrogen, it suddenly changes into helium. Hydrogen doesn’t slowly alter and then suddenly “leap” and become helium. The same is true of every other element in the periodic table. In that case, one of the best examples used to illustrate this ‘law’ in fact refutes it! Between the elements there is no “interruption [in] gradualness”. This isn’t a minor point either; as Lenin noted, this is precisely what distinguishes “the dialectical transition from the undialectical transition”.

Hence, Engels’s first ‘law’ is either defective from beginning to end or is hopelessly vague and confused. In which case, it is of no use in helping advance revolutionary theory, and so has no role to play in changing society.

High time we abandoned it.

Rosa Lichtenstein
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