Jeremy Corbyn’s performance on the Andrew Marr show last weekend was a little embarrassing. He was unable to provide a clear answer to any question.
He has a very long track record of campaigning against nuclear weapons in all their aspects, and one might expect he would carry through some of what ought to be basic principles into his role as leader of the Labour Party and potential alternative prime minister.
I was not clear whether Mr Corbyn on Sunday was woefully under prepared, he had simply not thought through some of the basic issues, or if the vagueness was deliberate and intended to be ‘clever’.
With regard to what is apparently the first task of any new prime minister, which is to write and seal letters to each of the Trident submarine commanders instructing them what to do if they were cut off from the chain of command and it appeared the United Kingdom had been hit by a massive nuclear strike, Mr Corbyn eventually said he would ask them to follow orders!
Mr Corbyn could either have refused to comment on what he would write in such letters - the standard response from all previous prime ministers - or, if he was sticking to his non-nuclear principles, could have openly said the letters would (for example) instruct the submarine commander not to launch missiles, find a relatively neutral shore to ground or scuttle the submarine and hand themselves over to the relevant authorities.
On being asked whether he as prime minister would ever order the use of nuclear weapons, Mr Corbyn eventually stated he would never order a first strike. This, given his non-nuclear record, was extraordinary. Almost by definition, it appeared to imply he would be prepared to order a second, retaliatory strike.
Even one Neil Kinnock, when campaigning for the Labour leadership in 1983, stated in an interview with the then magazine New Socialist that he would never order the use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances. Obviously, he would never order a first strike, an appalling and dangerous escalation of any conflict, guaranteed to obtain massive nuclear retaliation. He also went on to say, correctly, a retaliatory nuclear response by the UK would be the most pointless and dreadful act of history, mass murder and revenge from the grave, and he simply would not do it. That position was principled, humane and rational.
Why can’t Mr Corbyn say something similar about nuclear weapons today? It wouldn’t necessarily conflict with current Labour party policy, which is to renew Trident. It would simply state that he as prime minister would never authorise the use of such weapons and would actively seek their decommissioning, but subject to the will of parliament and the people.
What really worries me is that the Labour party appears woefully unprepared to take electoral office, let alone to use that office to really take over and transform state power.
For people of my generation, the experience of Allende and Chile in 1973 was incredibly powerful and formative. Chile in the post-World War II years and up to the 1970s was often described as the Britain of South America, in that a peaceful, democratic road to socialism, unusually, appeared possible.
The coup d’état launched on September 11 1973, and the installation of a most brutal and murderous fascist military dictatorship, where tens of thousands of leftists, socialists, communists, democrats and generally progressive individuals were systematically identified, rounded up, imprisoned, tortured and many murdered or simply ‘disappeared’, well illustrated the true flipside of any apparently ‘democratic’ and ‘constitutional’ bourgeois state.
In the British Conservative Party, the rising new right backing Margaret Thatcher’s takeover of the leadership (some still around as MPs) were open admirers of Chile’s Pinochet, and regarded his actions as a brutal but necessary corrective purgative, to accompany his free market reforms.
If there had been that much-rumoured coup against Harold Wilson in the 1960s and 70s, there could be little doubt about what would have been done to enforce its rule. Perhaps we were ‘fortunate’ that Thatcher managed to win three general elections.
If a Labour government is elected on June 8, there are two main possibilities. One, it really does tax the rich and massively invests in public services and in productive industry, genuinely putting the interests of working people first. In which case, it will surely suffer the most severe reactionary response from the capitalist class and their state. We are unaware to date if Labour is even proposing reform of the state.
Two, it very quickly adapts itself to what is ‘realistic’ and ‘acceptable’ in terms of economic and financial policy and delivers a number of mild reforms deemed ‘affordable’ by the establishment, but very quickly slips into trying to show it can manage capitalism better than the Conservatives. That seems to be where shadow chancellor John McDonnell is at.
I do not believe that socialist revolution can be effected through parliament, but we are right to place demands and expectations on any political party and government claiming to represent the interests of the working class majority. Economic and financial policies designed to significantly improve the position of working people, accompanied by equally systematic efforts to democratise and transform the state apparatus.
Will we see this in the Labour manifesto?
Much quoted in the media, Brenda from Bristol says she is sick of elections. But it’s not elections the people of the UK are sick of; it’s politicians, particularly those from the main three parties, who have proven to be self-serving, lying, pathetic warmongers pissing up the back of big business.
Apart from a handful on the left of the Labour Party and some in the other parties, such as the Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru, hardly any in the main three parties can be trusted to make the country a truly better place. Even Ukip have some in their ranks whose heart is in the right place, if a little misguided with their views on immigration and socialism.
What a mess we are in. But it’s Jeremy Corbyn and his policies that will help the majority of ordinary people and reverse the redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich over the last 30 years, that I will be voting for. It’s a no-brainer.
It’s just a shame that those on the right of the Labour Party, stuck in a Blairite past, through their hatred of Corbyn, have probably put paid to any chance of Labour winning the election.
Further to the discussion between Moshé Machover (‘Palestine and Hebrew self-determination’, January 12) and Tony Greenstein (‘No self-determination’, April 20), it is often assumed that self-determination applies only to oppressed nations. This cannot be true since a given nation that is independent already, and is presumed to not possess a right to self-determination, may then be permitted to lose its independence. As such it would then become an oppressed nation and so there is no difference between the self-determination of an independent nation and one that is not, since they are both nations.
A further contradiction in the concept of self-determination relates to the definition of nation. The liberal methodology assumes that only independent nations are nations and so nations that are not independent are not nations by definition. As such the nations that are not independent are not nations and as such are not entitled to national self-determination. Such is the essence of a circular logic. The Zionist resort to such logic is to negate the concept of Palestinian nationhood and others will use the same argument to dismiss the Jewish self-definition of nationhood.
Next, if self-determination is a principle, then a given nation which is not an independent nation may determine the fate of any other nation that it considers to be in the confines of its self-conceived nation, which is not a nation by liberal definition. What a wonderful mess is conceived there.
The mess that is fostered by the so-called principle of self-determination only gives rise to the related concept of sovereignty, the absolute power to dictate the destiny of a parcel of land and its economy, otherwise known as the licence to kill and steal. Basically, that concept of self-determination lacks reciprocity and coherence.
As for the definition of the nation floated, one article also resorts to a Zionist definition from an Israel court that upholds the national definition of the Zionist state and so denies the existence of an Israel-Hebrew nation as if such a definition is somehow in support of the anti-Zionist position.
To consider that the Jewish Israelis are obliged to become Hebrew Palestinians is to confront any Palestinian with what the Israeli-Hebrews are considered to be, and you should know that they are not considered to be Palestinians. To insist upon the non-existence of the Israeli-Hebrew nation and their assimilation into a Palestinian nation, is to call for that which neither nation cares to support.
To avoid all such pitfalls one is obliged to conceive of the no-state solution, which leads to a federation of the related nations by means of the national-cultural autonomy of each nation concerned. Certainly, such a conception requires further elaboration and during my five months of work in Nablus, Palestine last year, and the three months so far this year, there is now a book entitled The Federation of the Kana’an which makes such a proposition a precise work.
In order to complete the Arabic translation with help from my friends, this work may be completed with a possible visa that I will need to apply for with Israel’s ministry of the interior. On my return from a visit to Nabatia-Petra in Jordan, the Israel border supervisor considered that I only merited a week-long visa. So much for sovereignty and so much for the so-called ‘Jewish state’. And so much for self-determination by the Zionist militias of 1948 and its Nakba, now 69 years stale.
Lars T Lih (‘All power to the soviets!’, April 20) continues his project of rewriting the history of the Russian revolution. His aim is to prove Lenin’s April theses were of no especial significance and there was no real disagreement within the Bolshevik party over it, it was really a continuation of ‘old Bolshevism’, and the right opposition of Stalin, Kamenev, Kalinin, etc was not capitulating to the provisional government and there was no coming together of Trotsky’s Permanent revolution and Lenin’s April theses. It was a wholly unnecessary document and it was not the indispensable theoretical and political conquest needed to consummate the great revolution. This is an ignoble exercise to which Lih has devoted his life for more than a decade, joined by acolytes like Eric Blanc and aided and abetted by the CPGB and John Riddell. His target is, of course, Trotskyism-Leninism, the continuity of Leninism as the theory of world revolution. He seeks to prove that this is just nonsense, no one really believed it then and no one in their right mind would believe it now.
Writing in 1937, in his introduction to his Stalin school of falsification, Trotsky identifies several stages in the rewriting of the history of the Russian revolution. This latest attempt to rehabilitate the right opposition is not just a historical debate. It began in 1923 when the right opposition triumvirate, led by Zinoviev and Kamenev, with Stalin the third and lesser figure, coalesced and then came to power after Lenin’s death in January 1924. But Stalin, as general secretary, concentrated his efforts on building up a base in the Bolsheviks by promotions and granting privileges to those sections who had lost faith in the future of the revolution and were now concentrating on careers and self-advancement. He became expert at rigging conferences. Zinoviev saw his position threatened by 1925 and realised his base in Petrograd was not enough to save him from Stalin. Trotsky tells us: “But already at the end of 1925, Zinoviev became frightened by the consequences of his own initiative and came over to the ranks of the opposition … In 1926, Zinoviev and Kamenev joined the (United) Opposition.”
Stalin then allied with the new right Bolshevik opposition led by Bukharin (who had flipped from ultra-left to right by then); “In the economic sphere, the theoretical weapons against Trotskyism were forged by Bukharin: “the underestimation of the peasantry,” “super-industrialisation”, writes Trotsky. Then he recounts the third rewrite: “In November 1927, Zinoviev and Kamenev turned to the path of capitulation. They were followed first by Piatakov, and then by Radek.”
During the period of the United Opposition - 1925-27 - Zinoviev revealed how they had planned the rewriting of the history of the revolution and the vilification of Trotsky. And the ruling clique had no shortage of party hacks to do their bidding after 1929, as Trotsky tells us: “They organise campaigns of vilification against Zinoviev who used to be their infallible authority, against Bukharin whom they used to acclaim as their leader, against Radek whom only yesterday they reverently cited in the struggle against Trotskyism.”
The fourth rewrite came with the expulsion of the right Bolsheviks led by Bukharin in 1929. “The fate of Bukharin is no less well known: the official champion of pure Leninism was soon proclaimed a ‘bourgeois liberal’, was later pardoned and is now in jail awaiting trial”, Trotsky tells us. Bukharin was immediately executed after this trial. As we know, by 1936-38 all these former allies of Stalin were executed in the great purges.
Lars cites a great ‘pioneer party historian’ writing in 1926: “In 1926, the pioneer party historian, Vladimir Nevsky, published the first substantial source-based history of Bolshevism. His book appeared in the brief interval after primary sources had been collected, but before Stalinist orthodoxy ended genuine historical debate.”
Of course, we have seen that by 1926 Soviet history was undergoing its second major rewrite; Nevsky was a rewriter for Zinoviev but not yet for Stalin. He doesn’t even merit a stub article in Wikipedia, such was his historical importance, and we don’t know his subsequent fate. Perhaps Lars can rectify this. Trotsky mentions another such professional rewriter of history:
“The deceased MN Pokrovsky must unquestionably be acknowledged as the most authoritative Soviet historian. For a number of years, he waged, with a vehemence peculiar to him, a struggle against my general views on the history of Russia and especially my conception of the October revolution ... The reign of his school was absolute. His textbooks or the textbooks of his disciples circulated in millions of copies. Shortly before his death, he was idolised as the lawgiver in the domain of scientific thought. But already in 1935, steps were taken suddenly and all the more drastically to review his heritage. In the course of a few months, Pokrovsky was completely cashiered, crushed and discredited.”
He was also executed. This was obviously the fifth major rewriting of history necessary to justify the great purges, which now revealed that without Stalin there would have been no Russian revolution, all the rest were traitors and/or agents of imperialism, apart from Lenin who had been safely iconised in his mausoleum. Lars builds on an ignoble tradition.
In a speech to the Petrograd city conference of Bolsheviks on April 14 1917, Lenin proclaimed that “Old Bolshevism must be discarded”. In a bizarre article in Weekly Worker (April 12), Jack Conrad, with a barely a nod to the April Theses or this particular speech, argues that the claim that Lenin broke with the Old Bolshevik perspective of “a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry” was one hatched by Trotsky after Lenin’s death. He insists that the Bolsheviks stuck to the idea of pushing the bourgeois-democratic revolution “to the end”, and that this implied that a substantial period of time might elapse between the consummation of this stage and the socialist stage. If this were the case, it’s impossible to understand why Lenin’s April Theses caused such a furore when they were published. Lev Kamenev, in an article entitled ‘Our Disagreements’, published the day after the April Theses, succinctly expressed the Old Bolshevik opposition: “As regards Lenin’s general schema, it is unacceptable to us, insofar as it proceeds from recognition that the bourgeois-democratic revolution is finished and counts on the rapid metamorphosis of this revolution into a socialist revolution”. Kamenev’s critique - which for a short while was endorsed by a majority of Bolsheviks - was spot-on. As Lenin himself explained to the city conference:
“The bourgeois revolution in Russia is completed insofar as power has come into the hands of the bourgeoisie. Here the ‘old Bolsheviks’ argue: ‘It is not completed - for there is no dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.’ But the Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies is that very dictatorship.”
Conrad talks much about a “revolutionary provisional government” - an idea absent from Lenin’s thinking at this time - and manages barely to say a word about his call for power to pass to the soviets. Yet the April Theses represent an astonishing démarche: “Not a parliamentary republic - to return to a parliamentary republic from the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies would be a retrograde step - but a republic of Soviets of Workers’, Agricultural Labourers’ and Peasants’ Deputies throughout the country, from top to bottom.” Conrad entirely misses the breath-taking radicalism of this demand. Lenin equated it with the creation of a ‘commune state’ in which police, army and bureaucracy would be abolished and the people armed. There were many reasons why Lenin became convinced that the soviets represented an embryonic dictatorship of the proletariat, notably his appreciation of the devastating economic and political impact of the World War I, his conviction that imperialism represented the highest stage of capitalism, and his belief that the Russian peasantry was splitting along class lines. Certainly, Conrad is correct to say that he didn’t think that socialism was on the agenda except on an international scale, but he was nevertheless hopeful that “this is the type of state under which it is possible to advance towards socialism”.
What is the attitude of revolutionary Marxism to mass economic migration?
Firstly, we are against it. Mass economic migration is one of the most miserable excrescences of late, dead and decaying, neo-liberal imperialist capitalism. Secondly, if we can stop it, we will. Thirdly, if we cannot stop it, then it is the duty of the labour movement to organise immigrant labour and to fight any attempt to divide and rule the labour movement along racial and religious lines.
However, since the 2008 economic catastrophe there are billions of workers now surplus to capitalist requirements. Even if the UK borders were hermetically sealed, there would already be a huge surplus of workers in Britain and, with robotisation in the west designed to make it competitive with China, once again millions more will join them.
These millions and billions of surplus workers worldwide are becoming a serious problem for capitalism, hence the growing authoritarianism around the world and the corporate capitalist and fascist attack on democracy. Capitalism has to do something dramatic with these people and it won’t be pretty. In fact, all that capitalism offers humanity now is a new dark ages and global conflagration that our species is unlikely to emerge from with its life. The choice really is between socialism and barbarism.
The available work has to be shared. There must be a regime of full-employment and a rapid reduction in the length of the working week without loss of pay. Only world proletarian revolution can transcend unravelling globalisation and dead capitalism. A world federation of sovereign socialist states cooperating to create a rational global economy that can take humanity on the next leg of its historical journey.
Repeal the Union
The Tories, UKIP, Liberal Democrats and Labour have all refused to recognise that Scotland voted, as did Northern Ireland, to remain in the EU. This is the one fact that every democrat, never mind socialist, should recognise and defend.
As socialists we should be campaigning for a Great Repeal Act. Not the one the Tories want for Europe, but the repeal of the 1707 Act of Union. At a stroke the Scottish parliament and people would secure their sovereignty and hence the right of the Scottish people to decide for themselves whether to remain in the EU and maintain free movement and existing workers rights or not. It is their decision. Only the Tories and the other English inspired chauvinist parties would deny it.
Repealing the Act of Union does not rule out any closer relationship with England. It does not as such preclude any decision to be part of a new republic. On the contrary political action from ‘England’ to end the Union makes genuine internationalism possible. Indeed it is a precondition for it. This is a policy for the international working class, not some opportunism designed to help Corbyn win the general election. It is too late for that. The die is already cast on Labour’s manifesto.
It seems like only yesterday that I stood as a Republican Socialist in Bermondsey and Old Southwark against Simon Hughes and Neil Coyle. Since Coyle won his seat he has become one of Jeremy Corbyn’s chief tormentors and back stabbers. I stood as the first anti-Unionist socialist candidate in England. I started my campaign in Glasgow, one of the best places to highlight the need for English anti-Unionism.
On May Day 2015 I launched the “Manifesto For Democracy” outside parliament calling for the Palace of Westminster to be closed down before it fell down. The democratic message was well received by those who heard it. But it wasn’t a vote winner. The opportunist politicians were fanning the flames of English chauvinism, not least Simon Hughes in his infamous article in the London Evening Standard. Cameron himself played the anti-Scottish card, a big factor in his victory.
The good people of Bermondsey did not support my campaign with their precious votes. I don’t blame them. Somebody claimed that Cameron got the most votes in England and I got the worst. I felt it was a neat juxtaposition of the past and the future. In a conservative country the past is way more popular than the future.
A year later the past was in the bin, no doubt making a small fortune for services rendered, only to be replaced by something even worse. I am pleased to report the future is making steady progress not least when Left Unity adopted an anti-Unionist stance.
Many more socialists have rejected the 1707 Act of Union. I am not surprised that one of Queen Anne’s vilest Acts is now hated and despised by anybody who has thought about it. There are hardly any communists and no real democrats left who don’t condemn it.
The 1707 Act of Union secured stability for the ruling class at home and the bloody profits from slavery abroad. Queen Anne abolished the Scottish parliament because she did not want it to be used as a platform for rebellious subjects. She wanted to secure the future of the monarchy as a protestant institution. All this was tied up by bribery and access to slave plantations in the West Indies.
This law was intended to make sure Scotland would never have self determination. Scotland would be welded to England ‘forever’. There was no getting away from it. Scotland could only be represented at Westminster where Scottish MPs would be a permanent minority. In 1998 the arrival of a Scottish parliament undermined the 1707 Act. It blew a hole in the great ship ‘Britannia’. Now we can see the water flooding in.
Left Unity and RISE