It’s not the fault of the Weekly Worker, which can only print what it gets, but there are far too many three-page articles arguing about who said what in 1917, far too many reviews of books hardly anyone will read and far too little on present-day trade union conferences - which should be the real litmus test of what is going on in the organised working class, as well as the internal civil war in the Labour Party.
So, here’s my contribution to changing that, on the forthcoming Public and Commercial Services union conference. Its significance is twofold - it is being held just two weeks before the general election; and PCS is not affiliated to any political party. In May 2016 PCS debated three options - to immediately affiliate to Labour, to rule out affiliation, or to wait a year. After a full and fair debate, conference decided to wait a year to see the state of the Labour Party.
Over the following year we saw Momentum being greatly restricted from being any kind of movement to transform the Labour Party into a socialist organisation, as many members had envisaged. Mandatory reselection of the Parliamentary Labour Party traitors and saboteurs was quickly ruled out. Thousands of socialists have been barred from joining and the Weekly Worker has kept us informed of the witch-hunts being carried out by the Labour right, with not a word of protest from Corbyn and McDonnell - both even abandoned Ken Livingstone over spurious charges of anti-Semitism.
The PCS executive is dominated by the Socialist Party in England and Wales, with a few Socialist Workers Party and Scottish Socialist Party members, and PCS recently carried out a consultation with branches on the question of the relationship to Labour. No doubt to Mark Serwotka’s intense disappointment, two thirds of the branches responding were dead against PCS affiliation.
I think there are three reasons for this. Firstly, the culture of expected civil service neutrality has quite a hold - the belief that the job of civil servants is to implement the policies of the elected government. There must also be a fear that, were PCS to align itself to any political party, we will pay for this if that party is not the government. Secondly, the treatment of civil servants by the last Labour government, which brought in office closures, benefit sanctions, thousands of job cuts, outsourcing and privatisations. Thirdly, Corbyn isn’t the Labour Party and he (and his policies) will be attacked if Labour does not win the election. Most activists would only want to be affiliated to a Corbyn-led Labour Party.
That consultation result means PCS will not now be debating the question of affiliation. The NEC’s motion A57 reaffirms the policy of standing or supporting candidates in line with the principles endorsed by the 2012 membership ballot. But, since the NEC drafted that motion, there has been the announcement of the snap general election and the very recent agreement of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition not to stand on June 8. I now expect an NEC emergency motion!
However, my branch has already sent in an emergency motion informing members of the Labour manifesto pledges that are in our interests and calling on PCS to recommend that members consider voting Labour on June 8. The NEC may support my motion or may take a different stance. Either way, it will be a historic PCS conference debate.
I would not have moved that motion, were Corbyn not the leader and if his manifesto wasn’t so radical, compared to more recent Labour manifestos. I do not agree that any Labour government is better than any Tory government. I registered and paid to be a Corbyn supporter twice, but even I can see that this leftwing manifesto will be it for another generation if Labour loses on June 8. Every vote counts and PCS needs to do its bit and get a bit of working class consciousness. Most members I have spoken to have fallen for the ‘Corbyn is a weak leader and not prime minister material’ narrative of the Tories and mass media. We have to get the policies across.
My branch has also put in an emergency motion calling on the NEC to issue a letter of support for Ken Livingstone - opposing his suspension and calling on PCS to oppose the redefinition of anti-Semitism to include criticism of the Israeli state. This was thanks to the Weekly Worker’s articles and I can surely expect opposition from Alliance for Workers’ Liberty members at conference.
Talking of the AWL, they dominate the PCS faction called Independent Left and last year managed to get, I think, three seats on the NEC. This year they only got one candidate elected - they stood 16 candidates against the 30 of the SPEW-dominated Democracy Alliance - a pact between Left Unity and the PCS Democrats. The rightwing faction called ‘4the members’ are no more, so PCS is probably the only union where the NEC electoral contest is between left factions! ‘4themembers’ unsuccessfully challenged for president and vice-president. Four independents, including myself, came bottom - we had no factional electoral machine to deliver votes for us.
This year’s NEC elections had a lower turnout - just 8.3%. The left (of whatever faction) is not increasing their support amongst members. There has been no national industrial action involving major departments - the past two years has been devoted to keeping PCS in existence after the Tories withdrew check-off (members paying subscriptions via their wages). This forced us to sign every member up via direct debit and we lost 15% of members. But membership levels are now on the way up again.
On pay the NEC are not going for an industrial action ballot of the whole civil service. This might be because of the new anti-unions laws requiring a higher membership turnout and vote in support. The motion does, as usual for PCS, call for joined-up action with other unions.
One motion calls for disaffiliation from Abortion Rights. That will be very controversial and is hard to call. Motion A75 is about the EU referendum and the ramping up of racism, but seeks to redefine it. I am sick and tired of this disingenuous debate over Brexit, where groups like the SWP portray concern over unprecedented levels of immigration as being opposed to any immigration at all. In fact, polls show that 75% of people agree there has been too much immigration in recent years - 34% of black and minority ethnic people feel the same. Given all the major parties, including Labour under Corbyn, are in favour of more managed migration, that makes them racist, according to the SWP. So how can the SWP justify urging people to support Labour? Whenever I am at any left meeting where immigration comes up and I make this point I never get a reply.
However, I think the debates over supporting Labour and the supposed anti-Semitism in the party will make this a historic conference for a union not affiliated to Labour!
With great surprise I find myself writing to defend the SWP. Sarah Stewart was mistaken in reporting to the CPGB aggregate that “SWP delegates at last month’s conference of the National Union of Teachers had voted against a motion calling for NUT affiliation to Labour, which was as a result narrowly defeated” (‘What happens after June 8?’, May 11).
In fact, the motion in question sought not to affiliate - a bogus sense of political ‘independence’ is so deeply ingrained in the culture of the union that such a motion would have been heavily defeated - but merely to review the political fund in a way which considered the possibility of affiliation. This was still too much for the national executive, which submitted a wrecking amendment and gave various pearl-clutching speeches. The SWP spoke against the wrecking amendment and thus in support of the main motion - while, of course, making clear that they would not support immediate affiliation. Even SPEW had the right line, along with the AWL and Communist Party of Britain - not that these groups did anything to highlight the importance of this debate in their conference materials.
Unfortunately, the wrecking amendment was passed by 50.63% to 49.37%, but that was far closer than had been anticipated by those proposing the motion and represents something of an advance in political consciousness in the NUT.
Lars T Lih continues his falsification of the history of the Russian Revolution (‘All power to the soviets’, May 4). And it becomes clearer that he is seeking to defend the politics of Stalin, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Kalinin and rubbish those of Lenin and Trotsky.
The April theses are imbued with internationalism. That is why Lenin proposed to change the name of the party to the Communist Party and to form a new international. The Third Communist International, the Comintern, was proposed for the first time here, because the goal he sought was world revolution.
We would cite the foreword that Lenin wrote to Nikolai Bukharin’s Toward a theory of the imperialist state in 1915 and his own 1916 Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism as the two works that gave Lenin that fundamental understanding of the interconnectedness of the whole world economy, the struggle against imperialism as a truly global one and one which could not be won in a single country. That profound internationalism was the necessary theoretical preparation for the April theses that brought Lenin and Trotsky together theoretically and politically.
It is very telling that neither Lars T Lih nor Eric Blanc confuse this matter; theirs is a bogus international. The dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry - ie, a bourgeois revolution in Russia - would inspire workers’ revolution in advanced capitalist countries, which would then assist Russia to have a socialist revolution after a whole historic period of development. No, Lenin claimed, we must have our socialist revolution now because the class-consciousness of the Russian working class is international and constitutes a part of the world revolution. This is part of their quest to discredit Lenin and Trotsky and rehabilitate the rightist Bolshevik opponents of the great socialist revolution of October 1917.
And now for what is perhaps the biggest lie of all from Lars in ‘All power to the soviets!’ (April 20): “The reception of the April theses by party activists can be divided into three categories. First are the positions that were not controversial, because they expressed a Bolshevik consensus. The goal of soviet power was definitely one of these widely-shared positions, along with the imperialist nature of the war, no confidence in the provisional government, and rejections of ‘revolutionary defencism’. These positions - by far the most important - did not lead to any pushback. On the contrary.”
Oh, but the upper-cased section did lead to the mother and father of a ‘pushback’ because when Lenin returned in April he found Pravda under new editors - Kamenev, Stalin and MK Muranov. They had ousted Vyacheslav Molotov and Alexander Shlyapnikov, who had a strong anti-war position against the provisional government. The new editors produced their first edition on March 15 with strong “revolutionary defencist” support for the provisional government “insofar as it struggles against reaction or counterrevolution”.
They followed through this capitulationist line with a call for a unification conference with the internationalist wing of the Mensheviks. Kamenev’s first editorial said: “What purpose would it serve to speed things up, when things were already taking place at such a rapid pace?” and on March 15 wrote: “When army faces army, it would be the most insane policy to suggest to one of those armies to lay down its arms and go home. This would not be a policy of peace, but a policy of slavery, which would be rejected with disgust by a free people … While there is no peace the people must remain steadfastly at their posts, answering bullet with bullet and shell with shell.”
And that is outright political capitulation on the most crucial question of all for revolutionary Marxists: what attitude to take to our own imperialist bourgeoisie in war? Louis Proyect tells us that on March 16 Stalin wrote, “the slogan, ‘Down with the war,’ is useless”.
“Obviously”, says Proyect, “this position contrasted sharply with the views expressed by Lenin in his ‘Letters from afar’, and it is not surprising that Pravda published only the first of these and with numerous deletions at that. Among crucial phrases censored out was Lenin’s accusation that “those who advocate that the workers’ support the new government in the interests of the struggle against tsarist reaction (as do the Potresovs, Gvozdevs, Chkhenkelis and, in spite of all his inclinations, even Chkheidze [all Mensheviks]) are traitors to the workers, traitors to the cause of the proletariat [and] the cause of freedom.”
Kamenev and Stalin surely understood the target of his ire included them as well. So definitely a whopping lie here from Lars T.
In my next letter, I will deal with Kautsky in 1906 and the attempts by Zinoviev and Stalin to suppress the minutes of the Bolshevik conference of March 1917 before Lenin returned; and the devastating minutes of the meeting of Bolshevik central committee of November 1 1917, in which Lenin launched into a very angry denunciation of the treachery of Zinoviev and Kamenev and the ‘conciliators’, in which he accused them of treason. And Lars thinks this is “not controversial”?
In the 1937 introduction to his Stalin school of falsification, Trotsky assess Stalin’s position in this crucial period thus: “How did the present centrists and, above all, Stalin conduct themselves on this question? In the nature of things, Stalin was a centrist even at that time. He occupied a centrist position whenever he had to take an independent stand or to express his personal opinion. But this centrist stood in fear of Lenin. It is for this reason that there is virtually no political trace of Stalin during the most critical moments of the ideological struggle - from April 4 1917 up to the time Lenin fell ill.”
It is clear that Lenin and Trotsky led that revolutionary struggle and not Lars T’s pathetic conciliators, Zinoviev, Kamenev, Kalinin, Lunacharsky, Stalin et al.
Before sounding off, Ted Hankin would be well advised to actually read what is in front of his nose (Letters, May 11).
He quotes this paragraph of mine: “The end of oil was always a complete nonsense. So was peak oil, for that matter. In fact the whole thesis - that there is a certain amount of oil in the ground which will at some point begin to run out - takes no account of reserves, demand or price. Eg, if demand increases then one would expect the price to increase and that would make what are now totally unexploited or marginal fields viable. Exploration would also be stimulated and new sources discovered. Besides that you can make oil from a whole range of different substances - eg, tar sands, coal and methane - if you are prepared to pay the financial and environmental cost.”
He then says: “Conrad completely misunderstands the concept of ‘peak oil’, which argues not that oil is about to run out, but rather that cheap oil - ie, easily accessible oil upon which capitalism was built and upon which it depends - is finite and therefore will run out at some time.”
Well, quite clearly I know the difference between the “end of oil” and “peak oil”. That can be seen in the first two sentences quoted above. They are two distinct, but related, concepts. I was, of course, criticising Tony Greenstein’s hope that Middle Eastern oil would become so depleted that this would lead the US to lose interest in the region and thereby create the conditions for Palestinian liberation.
But, as I said in my ‘Failed recipe’ article, the “end of oil” is nonsense - and, yes, so is “peak oil”. As I noted, the Victorians worried themselves over “peak coal”. True, some pits became exhausted. But the idea that the coal industry has been run down because of “peak coal” is clearly an absurdity.
Ted Hankin seems to imagine that capitalism and the oil industry are synonymous. He writes that “capitalism was built” and “depends” on cheap, easily accessible oil. Would that include North Sea oil? Alaskan oil? Or only Saudi oil? And capitalism “built” on cheap oil? When does Ted Hankin think that capitalism began? In the 19th century? No, what capitalism was built upon, and what it depends on, is not this or that particular raw material. It is generalised wage-labour that is crucial.
He implies that capitalism will run into the sands some time in the 2050s because supposedly there will be less and less easily accessible, cheap oil. But - and this is the point - there will still be plenty of it in the ground. If the demand is there, it will be extracted … or substitutes found.
Hankin closes his letter by bluntly stating that “peak oil has absolutely nothing to do with Malthusianism”. Well, I am afraid to say that this just goes to show that he needs to do a little more reading. Malthus insisted that land, being finite, could only feed a certain number of people. But, as the Wikipedia article on Malthusianism explains, “Many models of resource depletion and scarcity are Malthusian in character: the rate of energy consumption will outstrip the ability to find and produce new energy sources, and so lead to a crisis.”
A couple of minor quibbles about the article on London’s toxic air, where Eddie Ford wrote: “… the most obvious way of cutting emissions is to end the private car as a means of urban transport and make public transport free. Alongside that there would need to be innovation: hybrid buses, electric taxis, vehicle pools, bringing work nearer through the provision of inner-city public housing, etc” (‘Standing idly by while Britain chokes’, May 11).
Firstly, London already has a fleet of 2,307 hybrid buses. (Not that anyone would notice.) Secondly, if the Weekly Worker isn’t taking unlikely backhanders from the motor lobby, it’s unclear what business it has advocating electric cars, or any cars at all. Auto industry electric vehicle green-washing will do little to reduce environmental pollution - and nothing to reduce road congestion, the road death and injury toll or the countless other public health problems that are inherent to car transportation.
Maggie Thatcher launched her ‘Big Bang’ in 1987, deregulating the financial sector and effectively privatising the money supply. Politicians could no longer be trusted with this responsibility because they kept using it to pledge more hospitals, more welfare and more social goods in order opportunistically to get elected.
Immediately the City of London and Wall Street became the centres of a global counterfeiting operation that was to infect every financial institution on the planet and which fuelled a consumer frenzy, the like of which history had never witnessed before. ‘Enlightened self-interest’ was supposed to prevent privateers from allowing the supply of money to get out of line with the demand and prevent the privateers from slaughtering the golden egg-laying goose. In reality, the bankers instantly set about building a Ponzi scheme of truly colossal proportions.
In 2008, just 21 years later, that scam collapsed, leaving the global financial system bankrupt and in tatters and making the boom a bust. The Big Bang quickly turned into the ‘Big Crunch’ and now the public money that had once been used to fund hospitals, schools, welfare and roads was being printed by the trillions in order to bail out the superrich and corporate creditors of ruined banking institutions. But states have not been able to cut spending quickly enough to make up for their loss of revenue and their own borrowing has spiralled as a result despite the eviscerating welfare cuts and eye-watering money printing that have taken place. Thatcher’s little scheme, which was supposed to inject new life into a stagnant, sclerotic and dying capitalist system, merely succeeded in killing it off.
Since then politics has been catching up with the decaying economic reality. Mass revolutionary upheavals have broken out across the planet in response to austerity, to be replaced by proto-fascist reaction that will no doubt give way again to an even more all-encompassing revolutionary movement and so on until there is a decisive battle between workers and capitalists for the future of society. The political-economic relations established after World War II and summed up as Pax Americana are unravelling fast, having now become an absolute fetter on capitalism’s further development. But there are no alternative political-economic relations available to capitalism that could possibly give it a new lease of life. This time the struggle is to the death.
Only two things can replace collapsing capitalist globalisation: world proletarian revolution or a new Dark Ages, from which our species is unlikely to escape with its life. Never has it been more true that the choice we face is - as was prophesied it must eventually be - between socialism or barbarism. Socialism or death.
About 15 years ago Leeds United went bankrupt and sold their ground, Elland Road, to a property business. The fans and the club have been paying for that mistake ever since. It has cost a small fortune in rents. It is like a private tax on supporters. Selling the ‘family silver’ is easy profit for the landlord class, but a disaster for ‘consumers’ - fans, students, patients and passengers, etc. We have all been screwed and we know it.
It is costing us a small fortune paying for the privatised gas, electricity, water, railways and postal services. Water is a basic monopoly yielding easy profits for the water barons. These profits are flowing abroad and mainly hidden in tax havens. We have to keep paying because we can’t do without water or indeed lots of the other stuff they own.
With a democratic revolution we can get it all back for free. But otherwise we have to pay. Labour is quite right not to include the cost of buying water back in their taxation and spending calculations. This is capital investment and, like all good capitalists, in planning to invest we have to borrow some or all of it. Donald Trump did not become a billionaire without massive borrowing.
But how much will the country need to take out a mortgage on all our reservoirs? We can’t take out a mortgage on a house until we know the price of the house. We cannot know the price of these water assets until Corbyn has been elected. One current estimate is £42 billion. But the actual price is unknowable, not least because if Corbyn is elected the price of water assets will drop. Shares in water will dive, as the owners try to run away with as much loot as they can stash in their pockets.
So I hope Leeds United will buy back its football ground and the country takes back its water assets. It is a price well worth paying. Otherwise we will continue to be screwed by the water mafia, who can’t believe their luck. But they are realists and know their licence to print money cannot go on forever and a day.
Now back to the self-appointed guardian angels of the water mafia. The Tories are appealing to voters with a simple three-point programme - Brexit, strengthening the crown, defending the union.
Brexit means Brexit: The Tories have grabbed the democratic mantle of the people’s Brexit champions. It is the one issue that enables May to transcend all policy debates. In a Brexit election she has all the Ukip votes and the Tory votes in the bag.
Republican socialists have to challenge this head on. We must make the case for a ‘democratic exit’ against Tory Brexit. England and Wales voted to leave. Scotland and Ireland, including Northern Ireland, voted to stay in the EU. Every democrat in England and Wales must champion the rights of Ireland and Scotland to self-determination against Tory Brexit.
All power to the crown: The Tories are running this election as a plebiscite on the “strong and stable” leadership of ‘president’ May. Plebiscites are the classic tool of populist authoritarian demagogues. Vote for me for strong leadership, which will crush the saboteurs. Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler and Erdoğan have all trod this path. In frightened societies ‘strong’ leaders are appealing.
May is one of the weakest, wobbly and opportunist leaders the Tories have ever had. Weak leaders are very dangerous because bullying is their modus operandi. If May wins her plebiscite she will be more ruthless in her use of the powerful levers of Britain’s elected dictatorship. The crown will deploy even more power against a feeble parliament and defenceless people.
Republican socialists oppose the drift into a Tory dictatorship. The more fundamental problem is that a failed ‘liberal democracy’ has, since the EU referendum, become a busted flush. We need a democratic revolution, not authoritarian populism and dictators’ plebiscites. If Corbyn doesn’t beat the Tories, or even if he does, the country will have to mobilise a mass movement for radical democratic change.
Defend the British union: In Scotland the Tories are fighting a militant unionist campaign. With the union, the British crown is “strong and stable”. Without it the UK’s broken ‘democracy’ is no more. The true state will prove that the British empire, the British union and British nationalism are not only dead, but finally buried.
Republican socialists in England and Wales must take a hard line against the Anglo-British chauvinists in our movement. The anti-democratic Acts of Union must be repealed immediately. It is not a matter of socialists in England sitting on our arses, hoping that Scotland and Ireland will do it. We must smash unionism by acting ourselves.
Left Unity and Rise
Twenty people attended a meeting on ‘Syndicalism and the great unrest’, organised by Wakefield Socialist History Group at the Red Shed in Wakefield on May 13.
The first speaker was Robin Stocks, author of Hidden heroes of Easter week. Robin spoke about his uncle’s brother, Eddie Collins - a miner, communist and syndicalist, who lived until the 1970s. He was instrumental in making Denby Main one of the best organised and most militant pits in Yorkshire. And he stayed true to syndicalist ideas and principles throughout his life.
The second speaker was Alan Brooke, co-author of Liberty or death. Alan spoke about EJB Allen, who lived at Honley near Huddersfield and who made a great contribution to the syndicalist upsurge between 1910 and 1914. Alan emphasised that EJB Allen wasn’t isolated in this respect. Industrial syndicalism was a “vibrant strand” deep rooted in the Colne Valley.
The final speaker was Rob Turnbull, the author of a new biography of Noah Ablett called Climbing Mount Sinai. Rob spoke of Ablett as the “ultimate organic intellectual” and said he had been one of the “most outstanding but controversial activists” in the south Wales coalfield in the years preceding World War I. Rob touched on all aspects of Ablett’s life - including his later descent into alcoholism.
There was also time for questions and a lively discussion.
The group’s next meeting is on Saturday July 1 at 1pm, again at the Red Shed, when the topic will be ‘Democracy unchained: towards a real democracy movement?’ All are welcome and there is no charge for admission.
Wakefield Socialist History Group
In an abstract universe (one in which anarchists and postmodernists sit feeding each other well-done marshmallows) defending Jeremy Corbyn’s pale shadow of left reformism fills us only with a desire to smack ourselves with kitchen cupboards.
But we’re living through an election campaign where increasingly the act of thinking has been banned. Even when Corbyn expresses a desire to deal with poverty he is treated as if he has started a George Galloway on Big brother tribute act. The look in the journalists’ eyes seems to suggest the substance of his campaign has been to lap milk out of John McDonnell’s pocket. Words are never neutral and we have become trapped in a whirl of concepts that only serve to mask reality. Middle England is a cage on British politics - nothing but the wet dream of centrists.
Defending Corbyn is a defence of the simplest of all ideas - the idea things could actually be different. This seems banal, but in a world where it is recommended that anyone mentioning taxing the rich should be sent to have their brain bleached with liquid aspiration, and any mention of Marxism is cause for a lobotomy, it seems the only way forward.
But at the same time sowing any illusions in left reformism is a road to despondency, so the idea of a ‘critical vote’ for Labour needs serious consideration. That is why the Psychedelic Bolsheviks will be spraying the walls of Sheffield with posters declaring: “It’s better to rub dog shit in your carpet than rub dog shit in your eye”. Corbyn should don his catsuit and endlessly move his bins, because this is a clear sign of his humanity.
We will be making a poetry-heavy defence of thinking on June 17 with our second annual day school from 12 noon onwards in Norfolk Park, Sheffield - six meetings over one long picnic in the park. We will consider CLR James, the migrant crisis, situationism v surrealism, the election, organisation and spontaneity in the wake of 1917 - all rounded off with some sweet, improvised music.