Letters

Castro arse

Pauline Murphy’s paean of praise for Fidel Castro was pretty par for the descent of the left into mere cheerleaders for foreign dictators (Letters, December 8). However, her decision to link Castro’s regime to the Spanish civil war displayed a new level of chutzpah.

Castro’s dictatorship did have a close relationship to the Spanish revolution, but not to the defeated revolutionaries: to the fascist regime that defeated it. In the immediate aftermath of the successful Cuban revolution, Che Guevara was an honoured guest of the Caudillo, attending a bullfight at Franco’s personal invitation. Franco refused to take part in the blockade of Cuba during the missile crisis, and, when the old monster finally died in 1975, Castro ordered seven days of official mourning. A model of socialist solidarity, my arse!

By the way, Jack Conrad’s attempt to rubbish Adam Buick’s argument by rejecting Oistermann as “no Leninist, but a typical repentant Stalinite academic” smacks both as a bit of a ‘no true Scotsman’ argument, and also raises a few questions about the political origins of Jack Conrad and indeed the whole CPGB (PCC).

Darren Williams
SPGB

Inefficient

Robin Cox ignores the importance of class struggle for Marxism (Letters, December 1). Without successful class struggle in the form of proletarian revolution it will not be possible to create a socialist economy. This task has proved to be very difficult because of the durability of the domination of capital and the failure to develop effective revolutionary parties. Hence the attempt to realise this aim is what makes someone a dedicated Marxist. However, part of the struggle to overthrow capitalism involves discussion about what could be the most credible form of an alternative socialist society. Ultimately it will be democratic discussion, and not adherence to holy writ, that will decide the economic and political character of the future society.

It is completely dogmatic to maintain that support for market socialism makes a person a confused defender of the capitalist society we are aiming to abolish. Instead market socialism is based on the understanding that important aspects of capitalism will have to be integrated into the future society. These aspects include the role of prices, markets and wages. There is no iron law that means this situation will uphold the continuation of the domination of capital over labour. Instead industrial democracy will ensure that the role of the market is regulated in accordance with the objectives of developing socialism in terms of the role of social ownership and the realisation of material need.

In relation to the character of the October revolution Robin Cox ignores the dynamic role of the soviets. Their importance meant that a proletarian revolution, in economic conditions of the low level of development of the productive forces, could occur. However, it was recognised by the Bolsheviks that socialism could not be built without the advance of the international revolution. The impulse for this development was provided by the very success of the October revolution. In contrast, the Mensheviks, who effectively supported the orthodoxy of Kautsky, opposed the transformation of the soviets in revolutionary terms. Does Robin Cox support the political policy of the Mensheviks?

The October revolution did not correspond to the formal views of Marx. As Gramsci described this event, “it was a revolution against Marx’s Capital”. However, this does not make the revolution anti-Marxist. Instead it was an expression of a situation that Marx could not necessarily anticipate. (Although did Marx recognise future possibilities in his correspondence with the Russian Marxists about the peasant commune and the possibilities for socialism, via the role of European revolution?) Market socialism is another ‘revision’ of Marx that is not unprincipled. Instead it is based on the recognition that the lessons of the history of the USSR, and the conclusion that an over-centralised economy is inefficient.

In relation to Alan Johnstone’s comments (Letters, December 1), I am not trying to suggest that people are greedy if they miscalculate their needs in situations in which goods are allocated without resort to the price mechanism. Instead the point I am making is that people can make the most optimum rational decision about their needs if goods are distributed in terms of the role of the market, or as a result of the utilisation of the price mechanism. In actuality, without the role of prices goods will be rationed in order to ensure fair distribution. Many people used to the allocation of goods in terms of the market will consider this situation to be retrogressive. Alan Johnstone’s moralistic reference to conspicuous consumption seems to suggest that distribution could occur in authoritarian terms in his future socialist society.

Alan argues in favour of a society based on the allocation of ‘free things’. The problem is the maths do not add up. The material wealth utilised in order to create goods means that they have to be sold in order to recoup the expenditure of value used in production. This is a simple fact that opponents of market socialism do not explain. The Stalinist system could impose arbitrary prices because the workers were exploited in the process of production. In order to overcome these problems, the consumption of goods based on the role of the price mechanism enables a profit to be made under socialism.

The importance of industrial democracy means that the working class is not exploited within the process of production, because the alienating domination of capital has been overcome.

Phil Sharpe
email

Game on again

In her speech to the Tory conference Theresa May promised the Brexit revolution, which would bring power back to the UK. She declared “change is going to come” in what she described as a “quiet revolution”. The “roots of the revolution run deep” in Britain, because this was “a revolution in which millions of our fellow citizens stood up and said they were not prepared to be ignored any more” (Sunday Express October 5).

“All revolutions begin with a rejection of the old order, and the elites and institutions that preside over it,” says Jeremy Warner (The Daily Telegraph October 27). He asks, will the “Brexit revolution be Glorious or bloody”? Will it follow the French and Russian revolutions or “the profound but quiet change epitomised by Britain’s very own ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688”.

He concludes that “Brexit doesn’t match either of these two models. It is of altogether smaller magnitude. But as an act of rebellion against the established elites ... it is an historical rupture nonetheless and could still go either way.” So, yes, it too early to say what the outcome of the ‘Brexit revolution’ will be. For Warner, it depends on the fate of the governor of the Bank of England. He is still in his job and there is no sign of the peasants storming Threadneedle Street.

A great rebellion is not a revolution. It has shaken the ruling class and hence the institutions of the crown. It has divided the two major ruling class parties, Tories and Labour. I agree with Warner that it “could still go either way”. Under the slogan “Brexit means Brexit” the Tories moved very swiftly to take over the rebellion. With the promise of jam tomorrow, the UK would adopt a ‘new’ policy of aggressive free trade.

Boris Johnson, the Brexit foreign secretary, outlined the new liberal imperialism. Free markets, gunboats and high moral values are nothing new. After a speech in which he expressed his “profound concerns ... about the suffering of the people of Yemen” he went on to describe London as the “eighth emirate” and declared: “Britain is back east of Suez.” He promised £3 billion on military commitments in the Gulf over the next 10 years (Daily Mail December 9).

In 1649 Gerard Winstanley condemned the deceit and cunning of the counterrevolution: “O what mighty delusion do you, who are the powers of England, live in! That while you pretend to throw down that Norman yoke, and Babylonish power, and have promised to make the groaning people of England a Free People; yet you still lift up that Norman yoke, and slavish tyranny, and holds the people as much in bondage” (The true Levellers standard advanced).

There was only one outcome of the Tory referendum with potentially revolutionary implications: if Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales voted to remain in the European Union and England voted to leave. It did not quite happen, but it was near enough. England voted 53.4% and Wales voted 52.5% to leave. Scotland voted 62% and Northern Ireland voted 55.8% to remain.

This, and only this, result threatens the constitutional settlement of 1688-1707, on which the United Kingdom and the British empire were built. Until recently this has only been challenged from Ireland. The Irish revolution (1916-22) raised the long struggle for democracy to the level of a battle between the forces of the unionist crown and anti-unionist republicanism. In Northern Ireland (1968-1998) a campaign for civil rights and equality became a revolutionary struggle against unionism.

In the last 10 years Scotland has mounted its own assault on the union, culminating in the Scottish referendum in 2014. More than anybody the Tories instinctively understand the threat to the Tory state. So, while Theresa May promised to satisfy the great English rebellion, she “blasted divisive nationalists, such as the SNP”. She repeated her vow to keep the UK together in the face of Nicola Sturgeon’s threat to hold a second independence referendum. She said: “We are one United Kingdom - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I will always fight to preserve our historic union.”

It is possible, if not yet likely, that the great English rebellion will bring about the birth of the Scottish republic. Certainly ending the 1707 Act of Union is a revolutionary act against the United Kingdom and a democratic act after the EU referendum, when the Scottish people voted to remain. In 2014 Scotland’s democratic revolution was defeated perhaps for a decade or a generation. Now it is game on again.

After England voted out, we need a militant republican party ready to fight for Scotland’s republic. Such a party has to unite the progressive sections of the working class in Scotland and England. Recently Left Unity, largely based in England, adopted an anti-unionist position. Rise, a political alliance of Scottish anti-unionist socialists, has agreed to begin talks with Left Unity on possible cooperation. This is good news for those seeking a progressive, democratic and internationalist answer to the chauvinist ‘great English rebellion’.

Steve Freeman
Left Unity and Rise

Fascist Trump

Buried away deep in last week’s edition, Peter Manson reported that his comrade, Jack Conrad, believes it is “stupid” to describe Trump/Trumpism as being fascist/fascism (‘Grappling with new situation’, December 8). Well, with a large bucketload of anger chucked in for good luck, vehemently I disagree. And here are just some of the reasons why.

If it’s not fascist to sell, as well as glorify, to a disoriented and demoralised white working class electorate his official policies for running the USA on the basis of a mass victimisation and persecution of so-called ‘illegal’ low-wage Latinos/Latinas; if promising to ramp up the existing practice of running down and sometimes even gunning down young Mexicans and other central Americans isn’t fascism (namely, during their attempts to either breach or bypass the existing border fence); if it’s not fascist to remain entirely silent about (and thereby be wholly complicit in) the routine, not to say systematic, shooting dead by the ‘forces for law and order’ of African-American working class citizens in their own neighbourhoods; if pretending that he’s going to whiplash and corral Wall Street and the rest of America’s rampantly corrupt banking system, when essentially he’s their next protector or even rescuer is not Hitlerian in its nature; and, maybe even more to the point, if it ain’t brutally to the point of nihilistically fascistic to promise the ‘obliteration’ of foreign enemies ...

Well, to be absolutely clear and at the risk of causing offence to your comrade, Jack Conrad (or indeed anyone who shares his perspective): what the fuck else could any of that both horrendous and horrific stuff possibly be described or defined as, if not ‘fascism’ and ‘fascist’?

No doubt it wouldn’t be correct to do so in strictly Marxist-Leninist terms, by which I mean if abiding by its intellectually most ‘pure’ requirements. But I suggest anyone would have an extremely sticky task on their hands if they tried to justify that position and attitude to those on the receiving end of Trump’s nationalistic viciousness and corporate/capitalist brutality.

No shiny black jackboots in sight, no brown shirts being worn, of course; no concentration camps for wiping out the usefully and conveniently demonised (at least not yet). But surely Donald Trump as an individual is nothing other than the ghastly modern-day face of fascism; his Trumpism merely the modern-times methodology to be deployed by rabid rightwing politics - for the purposes of propping up a toxic, dehumanising and inevitably disintegrating capitalism (not to forget its core imperialistic needs).

Bruno Kretzschmar
email

I rest my case

I don’t understand why Jack Conrad seems unable to see what the point at issue is (Letters, December 8). It is not whether Marx distinguished between a “first” and a “higher” phase of communist society, but whether these two phases were different societies, as Lenin made them.

At one point Jack does concede: “So, yes, in 1913 Lenin used the word ‘socialism’ in the same way as Bebel. Well, that is only to be expected. It is not a matter of dispute. What Lenin did in State and revolution (1917) is highlight, dramatise, the distinction between the higher and lower phases by giving them two names. Returning to Marx’s preferred usage, he wrote about the higher phase as ‘communism’.”

But that wasn’t Marx’s preferred usage. He spoke of the “first phase” too being “communist society”. For him, the main difference between the two phases was over the system for distributing goods and services that could/would apply. Apart from that, both were phases of the same, communist society - ie, a classless, stateless, wageless society, with production directly for use.

This was not Lenin’s view. In State and revolution he envisaged the “first phase of communist society” as one where “All citizens are transformed into hired employees of the state, which consists of the armed workers. All citizens become employees and workers of a single nationwide state ‘syndicate’” [his emphasis]. That would be state capitalism, not any phase of communist society.

In quoting from that 1905 pamphlet by Dzhugashvili, Jack shoots himself in the foot, as a few pages earlier this is how “socialist society” is described:

“Future society will be socialist society. This means primarily, that there will be no classes in that society; there will be neither capitalists nor proletarians and, consequently, there will be no exploitation. In that society there will be only workers engaged in collective labour.

“Future society will be socialist society. This means also that, with the abolition of exploitation, commodity production and buying and selling will also be abolished and, therefore, there will be no room for buyers and sellers of labour-power, for employers and employed - there will be only free workers.

“Future society will be socialist society. This means, lastly, that in that society the abolition of wage labour will be accompanied by the complete abolition of the private ownership of the instruments and means of production; there will be neither poor proletarians nor rich capitalists - there will be only workers who collectively own all the land and minerals, all the forests, all the factories and mills, all the railways, etc.

“As you see, the main purpose of production in the future will be to satisfy the needs of society and not to produce goods for sale in order to increase the profits of the capitalists. Where there will be no room for commodity production, struggle for profits, etc.

“It is also clear that future production will be socialistically organised, highly developed production, which will take into account the needs of society and will produce as much as society needs. Here there will be no room, whether for scattered production, competition, crises or unemployment.

“Where there are no classes, where there are neither rich nor poor, there is no need for a state, there is no need either for political power, which oppresses the poor and protects the rich. Consequently, in socialist society there will be no need for the existence of political power.”

I rest my case.

Adam Buick
Socialist Party of Great Britain

1917-2017

… 1917 … 2017. Brexiteers, obsessed with things ‘continental’, think train times; British Bolshies know different.

The far left in Britain, communist and anarchist, isn’t unusual in being predictable in what it says and writes. With the big anniversary coming up, it would be a pity if we didn’t make the most of the retrospective and the prospective. But if proceedings, sadly, go to form then we may as well switch off, and instead just read the sort of trade magazine featured each week on Have I got news for you, the unforgettable Drain trader and, akin to the Comintern, Potato storage international.

So why not ask readers what they want for their anniversary? Why not do something daring? The other year, at a CPGB aggregate, some comrades thought the annual Communist University was getting a little stale and that the format needed changing. Then at the organisation’s annual general meeting this January there were misgivings about a perceived over-centralisation (Weekly Worker January 28). So why not loosen up a little? What’s there to lose?

Jack Conrad, in his talk on 1917 at the CU this August, spoke of the “need to get to the root of things”, “to re-examine 1917”. That means, in part, being grounded in the primary material or at least knowing the commentaries. A body of work that should be much better known is Don Filtzer’s four-volume study (with perhaps three to come) of what it was to work in the USSR. Why not review each book, and preface the series with either an interview of Don or ask him to write something, perhaps how his subsequent learning would alter what he published?

Other books that could be the bases of different series of articles are Teodor Shanin’s two-volume The roots of otherness: Russia’s turn of century, which could serve as context; Alexander Rabinowitch’s Petrograd trilogy; and Marcel Liebman’s summary, Leninism under Lenin. And, related to Rabinowitch and Filtzer, why not interview Simon Pirani or ask him for an article?

In terms of what communists in liberal democracies can learn from the Bolshevik experience, I have always wondered why it has had such an overwhelming hold on our political imagination. Yes, it did unleash, perhaps, the most important political process of class society, but instead of trotting out the usual fare we could, for example, re-examine Portugal 1974-76. It’s true it was the transition from a fascist dictatorship, but the society was much closer to our own than tsarist Russia.

Jara Handala
email

No fight

The Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is outraged that all parties represented on Warwickshire County Council, and so-called independent members, will either support, or do nothing to oppose, the £67 million cuts package being proposed by the ruling Tories.

These cuts will decimate services and mean over 200 redundancies. Rugby Tusc devised a simple strategy to prevent further cuts to local public services. We wrote to all 36 opposition-party and independent councillors suggesting that, if they really did oppose public spending cuts, as claimed, all they had to do was join together and use their numerical majority of 10 to defeat the Tory budget proposals.

Furthermore, we outlined an anti-cuts strategy that would work legally. We suggested they should: jointly move a motion that calls on the county council to use its reserves and, if necessary, the prudential borrowing powers that are available to local authorities, to avoid passing cuts on; and argue, this year and next, for a budget that meets the needs of the local community and join with other local councils to demand the government makes up the shortfall. Governments can be persuaded to change course if they perceive the policy as being unpopular enough to lose them votes.

This would not have been a difficult argument to pursue. It is not illegal to set a no-cuts budget, and councils can set legally balanced budgets that avoid cuts. Governments can find alternative ways to deal with deficits, including a wealth tax or improving ways of preventing tax evasion/avoidance. Austerity is a political choice.

Pete McLaren
Rugby Tusc