Letters

Dogmatism

I really have to take issue with Stan Keable’s comment: “That particular instance of fixed-category thinking - that Marxism and Labour must not mix - was formative for the dogmatism of the SPGB back in 1908, when it pulled out of the Second (Socialist) International, then led by Marxists, because the Labour Party had affiliated” (Letters, November 2).

In the first place, this is historically inaccurate. The SPGB never was in the Second International. According to David Perrin’s excellent book, The Socialist Party of Great Britain: politics, economics and Britain’s oldest socialist party, the SPGB despatched two observers to the Amsterdam congress of the International in 1904 (the year the party was formed) and, in that same year, washed its hands of that organisation on discovering that it was riddled with reformism and “organisational chaos” (p22). This was two years before the Labour Party was established! Subsequent events completely vindicated the SPGB’s approach to the Second International. With the outbreak of World War I, the organisation broke up with the different political parties comprising it going their separate ways to patriotically support their respective capitalist governments in that imperialist bloodbath.

Secondly, Stan raises the question of Marxists and the Labour Party. No doubt there are “Marxists” in the Labour Party, but the pertinent question to ask is - what on earth are they doing in the Labour Party? It is hardly “dogmatic” to ask such a question.

Sure, Jeremy Corbyn seems a decent sort of bloke you could happily sit down and share a pint with (even if I cringe at the cult of the personality that has been built up around him). But anyone who seriously believes the Labour Party has got anything, or ever had anything, to do with socialism, has to be seriously deluded - or else has a totally different definition of ‘socialism’ to what I have always known.

Indeed, for the Labour Party, ‘socialism’ seems to mean the kind of ‘socialism’ that prompted Sir William Harcourt, a liberal politician, to famously announce to the British parliament, while introducing the subject of death duties - he might just as well have been talking of the death of meaningful socialist discourse - in the budget of 1894, that “We are all socialists now”. It seems to be the kind of socialism that prompted Herbert Morrison, a Labour politician, to remark in a speech he gave to the pupils of Malvern College in 1944 that “more socialism was done by the Conservative Party, which opposed it, than by the Labour Party, which was in favour of it (The Times February 12 1944). It is not even the calculated obvious distortion of the original Marxian definition of socialism (as a synonym for a stateless, non-market communist society), which Lenin introduced and popularised when he defined socialism as a merely state-capitalist monopoly, made to serve the interests of the whole people (The impending catastrophe and how to combat it 1917). No, for the Labour Party, socialism means just some vague, wishy-washy and well-meaning way of running capitalism. Period.

The problem is, as the SPGB has tirelessly pointed out since its inception, that capitalism does not operate on the basis of sentiment, but in accordance with its own inner dynamic - its drive to accumulate capital out of surplus value in a system of ruthless market competition. Capitalism can only be operated in the interests of capital. Even the very reforms it implements, insofar as they benefit the workers, have also - and more importantly - to benefit the capitalists who finance these reforms (mainly through taxation). If not, such reforms will be withdrawn, watered down or simply ignored and honoured in the breach, as the case may be. Like water finding its own level, capitalism has a way of ensuring the interests of capital prevail

It is not the politicians that run capitalism, but capitalism that runs the politicians. The record speaks for itself. There is not a single obnoxious, anti-working class measure that the Tories have introduced that has not also been introduced in some form by Labour.

I find it truly astounding that the SPGB of all organisations should be accused of “dogmatism” for simply stating the completely verifiable, if unpalatable facts, of the matter. It’s time to turn the tables. It is time for those critics of the SPGB to look deeply into the mirror and to consider, for once, whether or not their own knee-jerk ripostes and oh-so-predictable jibes at the ‘Small Party of Good Boys’ are not themselves born out of an overweening dogmatism.

Robin Cox
email

Policing workers

Jim Brody asks readers to consider an important question. During the present period of a transition to socialism, what forms of organisation will “advance working class interests”? (Letters, November 2). His answer is the transformation of the British trade unions and the Labour Party (BTULP). These will be changed from organisations that - on behalf of the capitalist class - manage workers’ consciousness and activity within a national economy into “militant, fighting bodies” that believe in socialism.

Jim is surely correct that - within the limits of a declining capitalism - a Labour government would advance workers’ interests by ameliorating the harsher aspects of austerity. It might also restore some trade union rights and increase spending on health, education, transport, housing and small businesses.

However, I think - when he refers to advancing working class interests - Jim means something different from advances within the boundaries of bourgeois society. He mentions socialism as “a classless, moneyless, stateless society on a global scale”. It follows he thinks the BTULP can “advance working class interests” beyond the barriers of commodity fetishism, nationalism and social democracy.

I assume he means these organisations (once transformed) will facilitate the development of class-consciousness through the participation of groups and individuals that “openly describe themselves as ... ‘socialist’, ‘Marxist’ or ‘communist’”. I guess Jim thinks that this participation will lead workers to understand the only way they can advance their interests is to overthrow capitalism and establish socialism. Put differently, Jim thinks that critical support for the BTULP is a stage on the road to socialism.

My thinking is different from Jim’s. In previous letters to this newspaper I have argued that the BTULP represent the interests of a section of the ruling class. The argument is that, in order for capitalism to continue with the consent of a majority, the ruling class has to make political and economic concessions to the subordinate class. These concessions entail addressing workers’ needs and concerns.

Concessions are especially required during crises when the survival of the system is in question. Thus Keynes’ ideas of demand management arose during the depression of the 1930s. Modest reflation, through improving the standard of living of workers, coupled with the policing of workers’ expectations, is a ruling class strategy. The BTULP has been part of this for some time. The risk of a breach in commodity fetishism and the malfunctioning of the industrial reserve army of labour is worth taking if the working class can be coopted and divided along national and sectional lines.

I agree with Lenin, who argued that, when capitalism is in decline, trade unions lose their socialist dynamic and become a barrier to class-consciousness. The capitalist class has incorporated them as atomised units competing on a local, sectional or national scale to better their members’ interests. For example, despite the severity of the attacks on workers over the last 40 years, British trade unions refused to mobilise effective collective action. Their attachment and acquiescence to the ‘rule of law’ is evidence of how they continue to be an insuperable block to socialist political activity. Moreover the investment of their members’ contributions in financial markets has given them a bureaucratic structure that mimics that of commercial enterprises.

So what are the forms of organisation that can “advance the interests of the working class”?

Capital is organised globally - across nations. It follows that the future of workers’ organisations will be transnational in scope and multinational in composition. They will be open, democratic bodies that reach in influence beyond sectional, local or national barriers. They will be inclusive of allies - especially Marxist individuals, groups and parties. (The latter is a crucial ingredient missing from all contemporary workers’ organisations. The house-cleaning of the putrid stain of Stalinism on the working class has yet to be completed. Marxist education and propaganda are essential tools for this).

Organisations of the future will also recognise the centrality of productive labour. Productive workers preserve value and create surplus value. Without the exploitation of their labour-power there is no capital. Of special note are workers in the arms, energy and transport sectors, who during a revolutionary crisis have the power to permanently disable the repressive arm of the bourgeois state.

Finally, Labour is likely to form a government in the UK at a time when the ruling class is fragmenting and losing confidence in its ability to rule. The largest section of the class prefers austerity and will fight the slightest concession. The BTULP therefore has to prove both that concessions are limited and that they are effective in policing and controlling workers’ organisations and consciousness. This means intensifying political surveillance in order to atomise workers and socialists. I believe the present trend of expelling members who attend meetings of socialist organisations critical of the BTULP will grow. If the BTULP fails in this task, I have no doubt the state will intervene to complete it.

Paul B. Smith
Ormskirk

Free speech

In his speech at the 2017 Labour Party conference in Brighton, Jeremy Corbyn received a standing ovation when he stressed the importance of giving “real support to end the oppression of the Palestinian people, the 50-year occupation and illegal settlement expansion”. These words should give confidence to every member of the Labour Party who wants to take forward the struggle for justice in Palestine. Every mention of Palestine at this year’s conference was received with a standing ovation.

In this spirit, Camden Momentum hosted a successful public meeting, ‘Free speech on Palestine: no support for Israeli apartheid’, at a community centre in Belsize Park on October 26. The full meeting was recorded and will be made available online.

Over 100 people gathered to hear Salma Karmi-Ayyoub, a Palestinian lawyer and legal consultant to Al Haq (the independent Palestinian non-governmental human-rights organisation based in Ramallah, West Bank), discuss how the UK government’s new working definition of anti-Semitism, adopted in late 2016, has been used to chill free speech and deter forthright criticism of the state of Israel. Karmi-Ayyoub argued that this situation should be seen as an opportunity to raise the arguments of the Palestine solidarity movement. Campaigners for justice should not be intimidated into silence.

Emeritus professor Moshé Machover, an Israeli socialist and distinguished co-founder of Matzpen (a socialist and anti-Zionist organisation established in Israel), also spoke from the platform about his unjust, summary expulsion from the Labour Party. Machover, whose case won support from a number of Constituency Labour Parties and branches, thoroughly debunked the allegations that the Labour Party’s disputes unit made against him, and pointed to a number of logical inconsistencies in the government’s new definition of anti-Semitism.

Many Constituency Labour Parties and Labour Party branches passed resolutions in support of Machover. Camden Momentum also passed a resolution calling for his immediate reinstatement, and criticised Momentum’s leadership for making decisions about people of colour, LGBT people and people with disabilities without consultation.

Nana Asante, former Labour mayor of Harrow, spoke about the wider context of suspensions in the Labour Party, and her involvement in campaign groups working to establish due process and rein in Labour’s star chamber. Paul O’Brien, a member of Camden Momentum, spoke about his own experience of false allegations.

The organisers of the meeting made clear that they oppose racism in all its forms, including anti-Semitism, that it is not anti-Semitic to campaign for Palestinian human rights, it is not anti-Semitic to criticise the state of Israel’s apartheid policies, and it is not anti-Semitic to support the Palestinian call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel.

There were many Jewish people in the audience, including a number of Israelis, who were outspoken in their criticism of Israel. Many Jewish members of the audience also made clear that it is not anti-Semitic to criticise the political ideology of Zionism, which, like any other political ideology, can be supported or rejected and should be open to question.

Moreover, such discussion does not take place in a vacuum. The political reality for people of colour today has seen an alarming rise in violent attacks, with Muslim women often targeted. Since 1993, there have been over 500 BAME deaths in police custody, yet not one successful prosecution; people of colour are 17.5 times more likely than white people to be stopped and searched by the police, and three times more likely to be arrested. Black and immigrant women receive the lowest wages, and asylum-seekers are forced into destitution. The government’s ‘Prevent’ programme targets Muslim families, resulting in children being taken from their mothers. Yet anti-Semitism - and the huge publicity given to allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party - has become a focus, elevated above these widespread forms of racism.

Camden Momentum

Campaign on

Thank you to all the signatories of the open letter in defence of Moshé Machover. You have been part of a successful attempt to rein in the Labour Party hit squad, but much remains to be done. Moshé Machover has been reinstated in the Labour Party following nationwide outrage by party members - over 1,300 individual members signed an open letter deploring his exclusion and many party branches and constituencies passed resolutions calling for his reinstatement.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the letter he received (in the name of the party, but conceived and written by officials hostile to the Corbyn project) is grudging and petulant. It places all blame on Moshé for behaving in such a way that, in their words, “any reasonable person looking at the evidence available in public … would conclude that you have given support to at least one, if not both, of these organisations over a period of 10 years, including while you were a member of the Labour Party”. We remain of the view that “any reasonable person” would have asked him if that was the case instead of rushing to judgement. There is no hint of apology for accusing Moshé of being an anti-Semite - a hurtful and unwarranted suggestion.

They have the audacity to end their letter: “The party would like to urge you to take a cautionary approach towards any actions which appear to be clear prima facie breach of the party’s rules in order to avoid any future misunderstandings regarding your eligibility for membership of the Labour Party.” This continues a woeful practice of the party staffers insisting they were right, even when they fail to produce any evidence for suspension or exclusion. Many members who have not been found guilty of any misdemeanour have received letters which tell them that they remain under suspicion and are, in effect, ‘bound over to keep the peace’.

The campaign in support of Moshé will continue until there is full redress and the causes of this shambles have been eradicated.

Push your CLP to pass motions demanding: all the damaging insinuations of anti-Semitism must be publicly retracted; a full apology, as requested by Moshé, must be published; the whole system that allowed this travesty of justice, which has brought the party into disrepute, must be fully investigated and reformed; and those who instigated this damaging course of action held to account; all the recent expulsions and suspensions to be reviewed and must be revoked where there is no clear evidence of breach of rule.

There must be no more Labour Party kangaroo courts. The party should adopt trade union best practice on discipline of members: natural justice, not procedural unfairness based on prejudice. Moshé Machover must be the last to suffer this injustice.

The campaign to reinstate Moshé has been led by Free Speech on Israel (FSOI) and Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL). We hope that, if you have not already done so, you will sign up as a friend of FSOI (www.is.gd/FSOIfriend) and a member of JVL (www.jvl.org.uk). FSOI and JVL are changing the terms of debate about Palestine, Israel and anti-Semitism inside the Labour Party and in many other places, and can do more with your support.

Mike Cushman
FSOI & JVL

Deselect them

The Saudi war in Yemen rages on, and the Saudi civil war has now begun. Both are being armed to the teeth by the United Kingdom, with no concern as to the hands into which arms to the global nerve centre of Islamist terrorism might end up. When the British arming of the Saudi war in Yemen was last brought to the floor of the House of Commons, then anti-Corbyn Labour MPs ostentatiously abstained. But, since then, the hateful Michael Fallon has been forced from office, and it has been found that British-made cluster bombs were being used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Since as long ago as last December, that has been admitted by absolutely everyone.

Saudi Arabia is not poor. It is fabulously rich. Its British-made cluster bombs, in use in Yemen and soon (if not already) by Saudis against Saudis, are not from the 1980s. On this country’s absolutely toxic relationship with what is jointly the most repressive regime in the world, matched only by North Korea, Jeremy Corbyn has been right all along. The supply of British arms to Saudi Arabia needs to be brought back to the floor of the House of Commons as a matter of the utmost urgency.

The rather good Labour chief whip ought to publish in advance the list of MPs with leave of absence. For anyone else, abstention this time ought to mean deselection in due season, and universal moral revulsion with immediate effect. No such person ought to be re-elected. Therefore, no such person ought to be reselected.

David Lindsay
Co Durham

International

It seems to me that the main point of Lars T Lih’s supplement is that Trotsky, in Lessons of October (1924), misrepresented the positions taken within and outside the Bolsheviks about which policy had to be favoured in 1917 - a ‘democratic’ or a ‘socialist’ revolution.

Trotsky would seem to be contradicting his own position and avowing in the text of 1924 that in 1917 he demanded socialism in Russia: that is, socialism in one country. Can this be the Leon Trotsky that we are so familiar with, the one first and foremost identified with international revolution?

But who was it who did proclaim in 1917 that the choice in Russia was one between a bourgeois revolution and a socialist one? Not Trotsky or Lenin. Lenin, in the famous Tasks of the proletariat in the present revolution (‘April theses’), proposes this important distinction to the Bolsheviks: “It is not our immediate task to ‘introduce’ socialism, but only to bring social production and the distribution of products at once under the control of the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies” (italics in original). There is no demand here that the Bolsheviks should press for socialism in Russia: that is, in one country. Could he have meant, like Trotsky, that the socialist revolution is a process of international development?

However, the orthodox, dogmatic view up to 1917 was that Russia was so backward that it couldn’t have more than a bourgeois revolution (like the French) and, after that, a struggle for socialism. Lenin and Trotsky, on the other hand, had taken note of the international situation, amidst the war, as well as the condition of the Russian capitalist class and judged that a bourgeois revolution in Russia would be incomplete and be more than likely betrayed by those in power, because of the stage of the country’s development. It might even collapse - defeated by Germany or fall into a military dictatorship. In any case, following Marx, the realisation of communism is international. One example being that the advance of the proletariat and party in Russia might well help the German comrades make up their minds.

But does rejection of an unlikely bourgeois revolution, or nowadays ‘socialist’ self-sufficiency, mean we cannot press for democratic demands like workers’ control, gender equality, land nationalisation and an anti-imperialist foreign policy? No, these can be national, or transcontinental, policies inclining towards socialism, which itself can only be defined as global.

So does Trotsky’s later account in Lessons of October misrepresent the debate as one between calls for democratic demands and urging towards socialism? Early in chapter 2 Trotsky writes: “Lenin, even prior to 1905, gave expression to the peculiar character of the Russian Revolution in the formula, ‘the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry’ [the poorest peasants, that is]. This formula, in itself, as future development showed, could acquire meaning only as a stage towards the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the peasantry. Lenin’s formulation of the problem, revolutionary and dynamic through and through, was completely and irreconcilably counterposed to the Menshevik pattern, according to which Russia could pretend only to a repetition of the history of the advanced nations, with the bourgeoisie in power and the social democrats in opposition.”

Later in chapter 2, Trotsky comments: “The soviets had either to disappear entirely or to take real power into their hands. But they could not take power in the capacity of a democratic coalition of workers and peasants represented by different parties, but only as the dictatorship of the proletariat, directed by a single party and drawing after it the peasant masses, beginning with their semi-proletarian sections.”

In 1924 Trotsky had to assure his opponents that Lenin’s demand for workers’ control was not the same as the Mensheviks’ ‘democratic revolution’. It was “a socialist invasion of the workers’ state into the sphere of capitalist property rights”. But the internationalist knows that even an advance to proletarian rule is not socialism. A revolution is a dynamic process: you cannot fit it into an either-or and call a single country socialism.

Mike Belbin
email

No stopping us

The Russian Revolution shook the world, but it failed, claim the bourgeois celebrators of its 100th anniversary.

Back then capitalism still had sufficient energy and dynamism to defeat the European socialist revolution and contain the youthful Soviet Union. No mode of production disappears from history until it has completely exhausted all of its capacities and potential.

The result was the Stalinist degeneration of the revolution. Stalin was responsible for his own crimes, but western imperialism was responsible for Stalin. The blood is on its hands.

Nowadays, however, capitalism really has come to the end of its existence. Super-monopolised, stagnant and moribund, it threatens to take humankind back to a new dark ages, from which it is unlikely to escape with its life. Imperialism was the highest stage of capitalism, but Pax Americana and globalisation was the highest stage of imperialism. The law of diminishing returns has finally caught up with capitalism and there are no possible alternative political-economic arrangements available to it that could give it a new lease of life.

David Ellis
Leeds

Off the fence

The popular democratic movement in Catalonia which culminated in the declaration of the Catalan republic is not simply a Catalan or even a Spanish matter. It is part of battle for democracy across Europe and the wider world. This is a link made by author Liz Castro. She says: “with the establishment of the Catalan republic, we hope that the triumph of grassroots ... democratic process can be a precursor to a much more democratic Europe”.

The Catalan rebellion has the characteristics of a democratic revolution - the declaration of the republic, a provisional government, a process for a new constitution and rank-and-file ‘Committees for the Defence of the Referendum and the Republic’. But the revolution is unarmed and faces the might of the fully armed Spanish state. Already the republic has been overthrown by a counterrevolutionary coup by the Spanish state.

The class struggle between the Spanish ruling bourgeoisie and Catalan petty bourgeois nationalism - the kingdom versus the republic - is vital for the development of the revolutionary democratic working class. The vanguard of the working class is neither indifferent to the Catalan rebel republic nor sitting on the fence. On the contrary, the revolutionary working class takes sides with the republic against the (United) Kingdom of Spain.

Paul Demarty seems to criticise the Socialist Workers Party’s Alex Callinicos for “arguing that Spain retains its Francoist state core, that Rajoy’s Popular Party is the inheritor of the Franco regime” (‘Enough wishful thinking’, November 2). What is wrong with that? The Spanish monarchy was put on the throne to claim the mantle of ‘democracy’ for entry into the European Union, whilst retaining Franco’s police state apparatus. It was only with the attempt to hold a people’s referendum that the Spanish state revealed its true colours.

That the rebellion in Catalonia is not a ‘socialist revolution’ is a statement of the bleeding obvious. It is a democratic, republican revolution, more akin to the 1916 Easter uprising in Dublin. Lenin’s famous observation on the proclamation of the Irish republic was: “To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc - to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution” (‘The discussion on self-determination summed up’, July 1916).

Lenin saw the Irish uprising as a European event and this is how we should see the events in Catalonia. They are obviously connected to the democratic movement in Scotland and the unfinished business in Ireland. The people of Catalonia were inspired by the Scottish democratic movement, expressed in the 2014 referendum. They hoped they could go one better.

The SNP government wanted to keep the British monarchy and Bank of England. The Catalan movement embraced the republic, as their unionist opponents clung to the Spanish monarchy. Cameron thought he would win easily in Scotland and got a nasty shock before being rescued by Gordon Brown. The Spanish ‘Cameron’ knew the republic would win and was determined to stop it or disrupt it by all means necessary, including violence.

Paul Demarty makes a very important point. He says: “The long-distance left urges support for the ‘Catalan Republic’; but that republic exists largely in theory, and the local state apparatus is largely obeying the new direct rulers. To make the republic a reality, what is demanded is nothing less than the organisation of a militia or other armed force.”

On Demarty’s demand to arm the republic we can compare the Irish Republic in 1916 and the Kurdish referendum earlier this year. The Irish republic existed “largely in theory”, but had arms. It lacked popular support. The Catalan Republic has mass support amongst Catalan workers - not least Barcelona firefighters - but no militia and no weapons except those in the hands of the Catalan police. The Iraqi Kurds won their referendum and are backed up by the armed Peshmerga.

The Kingdom of Spain is opposed to the Catalan Republic, has declared it illegal and is determined to crush it with as much state violence as necessary. Without arms to defend the democratic revolution, it is, as Paul says, a very unequal contest unless the working class in the rest of Spain and Europe come to their aid. It is therefore time for every socialist and communist across Europe to come off the ‘self-determination’ fence and support the Catalan republic against the United Snakes of Spain.

Steve Freeman
Left Unity and Rise