In spite of all the evidence that I have put forward from Lars T Lih’s study, Lenin rediscovered, in particular, Carl Simmons doggedly insists on asserting that Karl Kautsky, VI Lenin, Lars Lih and I hold the working class “in disdain” by arguing that “the working class is ‘only capable of trade union consciousness’ without the intervention of the intelligentsia from without” (Letters, March 13). The problem for him, however, is that none of us actually argue this, whether in What is to be done?, Lenin rediscovered, the letters pages of this paper or the passage from the CPGB’s Draft programme I pointed him to by way of an explanation of how I understand the “from without” passage (and which he has revealingly ignored).
Like so many - too many - on the left today, comrade Simmons takes Lenin’s “from without” passage to mean “the workers have to receive the message from intellectuals”, because without these intellectuals the best they can achieve is trade union consciousness. But take a look at the offending Karl Kautsky passage quoted by Lenin. Kautsky maintains that “modern socialism” - ie, not socialism in general, but Marxism specifically - was invented by individual members of the intelligentsia (ie, Marx and Engels), who then communicate it to proletarians “who stand out due to their mental development” and who then “bring it into the class struggle” (that already exists “spontaneously” as a natural feature of class society), “where conditions allow”. How could Kautsky, and thus Lenin, be any more clear that “bringing into the class struggle from elsewhere” - ie, merging socialism and the workers’ movement - does not mean “workers have to get the message from intellectuals”?
In this understanding, intellectuals (particularly great ones) only come up with historical materialism, the theory of surplus value and so on, and everything else is due to proletarians telling other proletarians. This is just one of the many reasons for my “astounding claim” (why “astounding”?) that Trotsky’s later account does not fit with the sources from the time. Lenin and Kautsky are simply making the point that a rounded Marxist outlook, a deep sense of history and so on, do not emerge spontaneously in the elemental fight over wages and conditions that would occur in class society even if there was no such thing as Marxism. The fact that today “the works of Marx, Lenin and others [are] freely available on the internet” changes nothing in this regard, except for the fact that uploading material onto a website makes it much easier for us “social democrats” to bring the revolutionary Marxist message to the struggles of the workers’ movement than it was for previous revolutionaries, using hand-operated printing presses or other such equipment. Unfortunately, Web 2.0 does not obviate the need for revolutionary political parties, programmes, theory and so on.
Two other points on Lenin and comrade Simmons. There is a difference between an unsuccessful or clumsy formulation of a valid point, and making an invalid point in the heat of polemic. Lenin, as we have seen in the exchange with comrade Simmons thus far, admitted to the former, but never to the latter. In the quotes I have provided, Lenin is simply stating that in taking on the economists he was making a point that needs to be seen in context. Nor did Lenin think that his readers were confused at the time, because everybody was stressing the “other side” of the argument - not least Martov and Plekhanov. Comrade Simmons and I actually agree on this latter point.
Doubtless with the aim of discrediting my argument by appealing to the lazier reader, comrade Simmons then rolls out the bugbear of Joseph Stalin. I would point readers to Lars Lih’s discussion (pp657-58 of Lenin rediscovered) of what Stalin actually said about WITBD in 1905. Lih convincingly shows that Stalin did not think that intellectuals were needed to carry the revolutionary message and also that Lenin explicitly approved of the young Georgian activist’s defence of WITBD. Trotsky had to explain this away by saying that Lenin actually did not mean what he was saying here, but was merely seeking to encourage a keen young supporter.
To conclude, maybe we can briefly put the history to one side. Could comrade Simmons perhaps explain just how, by effectively banning the public airing of political discussion within their organisation, comrade Peter Taaffe and the Socialist Party are exhibiting faith in the capacity of working class people to assimilate complex political ideas and the shades and nuances of Marxism? Is this not more in keeping with the approach of Stalin in the 1930s than that of 1905?
I cannot escape the conclusion that there exists a nasty xenophobic undertone to Dave Vincent’s reply (Letters, March 13).
First, has Dave never heard of the Irish immigration to Scotland and in particular to the Lanarkshire coal pits? So the Lithuanians were indeed not the only immigrant population used as cheaper labour by the bosses. Indeed many encouraged the division and the bitter consequences are still felt today every time an Orange Walk takes place locally.
But, that aside, he writes: “[Lithuanians] joined unions in their own defence” (my emphasis). How’s that for a jaundiced interpretation? The local union sought them out to join for everybody’s mutual defence, Dave. He then goes on to claim that “many foreign workers coming here readily line up with the employers and Tories by denigrating the British unemployed as lazy and workshy”. Perhaps some do, but I hazard to guess that they are heavily outnumbered by native-born who are just as ready to point the finger at those on the so-called ‘Benefit Streets’ as shirkers.
Many years ago I would hear seasoned trade unionists justify pay differentials between women and male workers by claiming they worked only for pin-money and stole jobs from those who had families to raise. Dave’s argument proves to be little different from those against these earlier ‘interlopers’ into the labour market.
The plea that immigration controls should be imposed and certain foreigners excluded should have no place in a workers’ movement that is calling upon the exploited of all the world to unite for their emancipation. Any policy for the exclusion of other suffering wage-slaves is more consistent with the attitudes of the callous capitalist class rather than of the movement whose proud boast it is that it stands uncompromisingly for the oppressed and downtrodden of all the world. Immigrants have just as good a right to enter this country as British workers have in exiting it.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain will not sacrifice principle and jeopardise our goal for some immediate advantage. We will not spurn fellow workers lured here by the glimmer of hope that their burdens may be lightened by the promise of some improvement in conditions. If revolutionary socialism does not stand unflinchingly and uncompromisingly for the working class and for the exploited of all lands, then it stands for none and its claim is a false pretence.
If the Socialist Party risk losing support because we refuse to call for the border gates to be closed in the faces of our own brothers and sisters, we will be none the weaker for spurning such tactics to acquire false friends. All the votes gained would do us little good if our party ceases to be a revolutionary party, yielding to public opinion to modify our principles for the sake of popularity and membership numbers.
In the centenary year of when other supposed socialists abandoned the workers’ internationalism and embraced national chauvinism - with one group under HM Hyndman going as far to demonstrate their patriotic ardour by setting up a National ‘Socialist’ Party - we in the Socialist Party are the party of all workers, regardless of place of birth. We stand resolutely for world socialism and if this is too encompassing for some despite them paying lip-service to the claim - so be it. We shall leave them to their various national ‘socialisms’.
“Marx didn’t advocate open borders because at the time he wrote border controls didn’t exist. So no-one can definitively assert what he would have said then!” True enough (and fortunately for him nor was there any asylum-seekers legislation for political refugees), but Eleanor, his daughter, was particularly active in distributing the statement, “The voice of the aliens’, which I recommended as a read.
I will end with a quote from it: “To punish the alien worker for the sin of the native capitalist is like the man who struck the boy because he was not strong enough to strike his father.”
Socialist Party of Great Britain
FI and Ukraine
In relation to the comments by Mike Martin and Lawrence Humphries (Letters, March 13), I wish to make it abundantly clear that “Fourth International” in my letter the previous week was intended to be a reference to what used to be known as the United Secretariat and not to their own organisations.
I admit I assumed that the use by the international tendency of which Socialist Resistance is the British section of the self-description, “International Committee of the Fourth International”, in their statement on Ukraine meant that no other group now used the title that was once associated with the international tendency represented in Britain by first the Socialist Labour League and then the Workers Revolutionary Party. I apologise if I perpetuated a confusion generated, whether accidentally or deliberately, by the former USFI.
Lawrence knows me personally and also knows that I am well aware of Socialist Fight’s position on Ukraine, which is based on an intransigently anti-fascist stance which I wholeheartedly share. However, I am not sure if to describe the former USFI as “Mandelites” is fair to the late Ernest Mandel, whose record in the resistance during World War II cannot be faulted - it is very hard for me to imagine that a revolutionary Jewish fighter against Nazism would have supported the former USFI’s recent apologia for the latter-day followers of the Ukrainian fascist, Nazi collaborator and murderous anti- Semite, Stepan Bandera.
Finally, since the Weekly Worker does not claim to be what Jack Conrad still calls ‘Trotskyite’, I don’t agree that it is the role of the editor to adjudicate between competing claims to be the Fourth International (or even its International Committee).
Your tribute to Bob Crow was spoiled by the tart scolding that Crow faced a big contradiction, in that he “not only accepted such an inflated salary (£145,000), but attempted to justify it”, and arguing that full-time union officials should be on the “average wage of the members” (‘An intransigent fighter’, March 13).
Four in five new jobs are in sectors averaging under £16,640 for a 40-hour week. Working full-time on the £6.31 hourly minimum wage would gross just £13,124 and the rise in part-time jobs shows millions of workers can’t even earn that pittance (Office for National Statistics, 2014).
Is the Weekly Worker seriously arguing that union officials should not be paid the ‘rate for the job’ (ie, set by the membership and based on benchmarking for similar job roles), but salaries averaging under £16,640 per annum or less?
What is a legitimate expense? Will the editor advise on what clothing brand is acceptable to the workers? What car that an official drives? What lunch expense is to be swallowed? What nonsense. Let us leave such window dressing to the Trots!
Those on the left should ensure that those they employ are paid transparently, in line with the market rate, and ensure best value for money for their members. Crow fulfilled all those requirements, along with many others who are proud that their efforts better the terms and conditions that ensure workers get more than the ‘average’.
While the politics and analysis of The Leninist stand up rather well some 30 years later, I suppose it’s inevitable factual accuracies sometimes occurred. Such is the case with the article, ‘Three cardinal sins of opportunism’ (republished in Weekly Worker March 13), which misrepresents the stance of the National Union of Mineworkers’ Nottinghamshire area president, Ray Chadburn, during the strike.
In my recently published book on the strike in Nottinghamshire, Look back in anger: the miners’ strike in Nottinghamshire 30 years on, I look closely at the role played by all four of the Notts full-time officials and it’s clear you’ve done Chadburn a bit of a disservice. While he was certainly not part of the NUM’s Broad Left and was perceived by many, with no little justification, to be a rightwinger, the fact is he was 100% behind the strike, which led to the Union of Democratic Miners locking him out of his office, sacking him and then trying to evict him and his family from their NUM-owned home.
Chadburn also staunchly and consistently defended his colleague, Henry Richardson, the pro-strike area general secretary, against the sustained campaign of victimisation orchestrated by scab-herders and later UDM architects Roy Lynk and David Prendergast. There is a great deal of Chadburn’s record that bears criticism, but where the strike was concerned - despite his support for it being very much informed by both his lack of a fixed and consistent political ideology and his immersion in the murky deals and horse-trading of the professional trade union leader - he was firmly behind it and the striking Notts miners
In response to Daniel Harvey’s two recent articles on Venezuela, there are a couple of issues I would like to point out.
First, the majority of Venezuela’s adult population doesn’t have a working class background. It is imperative that the Bolibourgeoisie be ousted and liquidated as a class, but also necessary to recognise the revolutionary pragmatism of seeing through via communitarian populist fronts the political ascension of national or socioeconomic ‘patriotic’ elements of the petty bourgeoisie - a sort of petit-Bolibourgeoisie - for the urban and rural petty bourgeoisie do form the majority of the country’s adult population.
Turning to the violence, mainstream opposition has judged the colectivos to be “gangs” and “thugs”, just because they do perform paramilitary or paramilitia functions, all the while ignoring their own hypocrisy when it comes to police brutality. However, they “[blur] the lines between partisan activism and community service”, organise “bookshops, study groups, summer camps for children and coffee mornings for pensioners as genuine services to their communities” and run the odd “radio station, leftwing bookshop [...], internet cafe [or] veterinary clinic” (Reuters) in “[doubling] as neighbourhood organisations that run community improvement projects [and] as vigilante groups that intimidate political opponents” (The Guardian).
With a little more professional training in public safety, public order, and detective work, could the popular paramilitia character of the colectivos be an effective alternative to the bourgeois state’s police apparatus?
I have read with interest the ongoing discussion of the age of consent. One thing that has been absent thus far (at least explicitly) is any contribution from someone who has been the victim of sexual abuse, where the age of consent was an issue. I’m in a position to make such a contribution - though, as will become evident, it is a little more complicated than that, in part because of how long ago the events took place, and my age at the time.
I was a gay teenager in the 80s at the height of the Aids crisis and clause 28-centered hysterical homophobia. This, as well as a quite unrelated trauma going on in my family, made it very difficult for me to come to terms with my emerging sexuality. This resulted in my being groomed and then sexually abused, in the sense of inappropriate touching by a lecturer in his 40s when I was an undergraduate.
I suspect that this happened for several reasons: I responded all too well to the initial sympathetic attention because of being unwilling to be open about my sexuality, and because of the situation at home; the age of consent for gay male sex was still 21, which, along with the generally homophobic atmosphere, made any open discussion of anything related to sex difficult for me; this was the first time that I was aware of any clearly gay man, who I had any degree of positive social reaction to, showing any interest in me; no doubt things would not have developed the way that they did if I had been straight. None of this excuses a man much older than me who was in a position of trust in a hierarchy exploiting my all too evident vulnerability for his own gratification.
A couple of years after the event I did indicate to the university authorities in broad terms what had happened, though the result was a fudge designed mostly to prevent anything similar happening in future with this particular individual (which was, as far as it went, a welcome outcome), rather than any attempt to address my individual welfare. I have yet to take any further official steps about the issue, and my mental health and psycho-sexual functioning remain somewhat impaired, despite extensive psychotherapy.
It seems to me that the thoughtful and considered views of Ian Donovan on this issue (‘Don’t abolish: reform’, February 20) represent an attempt to plot a path between unhelpful levels of policing of young people’s sexuality, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the CPGB Draft programme’s current wording - “Alternative legislation to protect children from sexual abuse” - which is completely inadequate.
Of course, vitally important in this whole debate is the bullet point that immediately follows the one on the age of consent. This reads: “The extensive provision of education and counselling facilities on all sexual matters, free from moralistic judgement, is an essential prerequisite to enable youth to develop themselves in all areas of sexuality and reproduction.” Had this been in place both for me and for my abuser …
The remitting of the Communist Platform section on the ‘age of consent’ in favour of a debate in the pages of the Weekly Worker is deeply problematic.
Do you seriously think anyone can express openly, publicly and fully a view on why the ‘age of consent’ is inhuman repression and should be abolished? Do we live in a country free of sexual repression and murderous hysteria about ‘children’, some of whom are in their late teens? It is impossible to debate this question without the heavy hand of the law coming down hard and attracting state surveillance, press intrusion, phone taps, detention, blacklisting, assault or murder. Only those repeating the ‘child protection industry’ mantra, and extending its tentacles and financial rackets, are allowed public expression of their views.
I do not understand Ian Donovan’s problem with the wording of the CPGB policy (‘Don’t abolish: reform’, February 20) - unless he simply believes the state has the right and duty to impose an artificial age at which people are ‘capable’ of giving consent, regardless of when it’s actually given. The abolition of the British age of consent (because, of course, it’s different around Europe and the world, and even in Scotland to an extent) does not mean abolition of laws on rape.
Consent will still have to be consent, and not the result of force, coercion, bribery or fear. It will still have to be voluntarily given. The protection Ian is looking for will be covered by that.
There has been a useful exchange on the age of consent. Ian Donovan, for example, has expressed problems with this passage in the CPGB’s Draft programme: “Abolish age-of-consent laws. We recognise the right of individuals to enter into sexual relations they choose, provided this does not conflict with the rights of others. Alternative legislation to protect children from sexual abuse.”
In particular, comrade Donovan objects to the first sentence and instead proposes a system of positive proof of consent when someone over 16 enters into a sexual relationship with someone under 16. Whatever the exact details, it is clear that comrade Donovan, like us, actually advocates the abolition of the age-of-consent laws.
Let me explain our reasoning. We find it thoroughly objectionable that the state can criminalise young people when, say, one partner is 15 and the other is 17. Of course, such relationships are very common. Nevertheless, where there is a “marked discrepancy” between the ages then, yes, the idea of positive proof of consent is not a bad idea. Many European countries have ‘close in age’ exemptions. Eg, if the difference is less than three or four years, it is often deemed that there is no offence - Sweden, Switzerland, Slovenia, etc.
Crucially, however, we seek to empower young people through democratising the school system, grants, education and counselling in sexual and relationship matters, etc.
It ought to be stressed that we in the CPGB do not approve of adults using their positions of power to persuade young people into having sex. Eg, while it should not be a criminal matter, sex between university students and teachers should be considered unprofessional - a sacking offence.
I am writing in disgust at the total disregard in Iraq for the rights of women and girls, whose lives are to be further blighted by the proposal of the Ja’afari personal status law.
The proposed law, which is still to be voted on by Iraq’s parliament, will legalise paedophilia by allowing the marriage of nine-year-old girls, will prevent women from leaving their homes without their husband’s permission, and will also permit a husband the right of sexual gratification at his whim, in effect legalising rape. This law, if introduced, will also prevent a Muslim from marrying a non- Muslim. This will only add further tension to Iraq’s already fractured social fabric, which has been pushed to its limits since the USA and UK introduced ‘democracy’ to that country.
What has horrified both myself and numerous others is the silence which has come from Britain’s parliament, who, after all, were the first to decry the human rights abuses of Saddam Hussain, along with claiming that their invasion was to help champion the cause of women’s rights in Iraq. It is grotesque, that the UK is failing to utilise its influence over the Iraqi government to reverse its plan to create the world’s first pervert state, which, as most people are fully aware, was most generously funded by the US/UK taxpayer.
At the same time, the UK also need sto have some clarity and inform us, the electorate, what Britain’s political, military and diplomatic positions with the Iraqi government and its British-based institutions will be, should the US/UK-backed Iraqi government legalise both primary school-aged brides and rape.
Coffees on me
“If comrade Persson can locate any ‘curious sectariana’ in this week’s issue, then I will donate a tenner - 100 Swedish krona - to the Arbetarmakt fund and buy him a coffee when I next see him,” writes Ben Lewis (Letters, February 20), in response to a lazy jab of mine, saying the Weekly Worker was dedicated to “curious sectariana” (February 6).
The polemical edge was supposed to be directed at the letter I was responding to, not the Weekly Worker or CPGB. Unlike coffee, petty annoyance is evidently best served cold. But I’m happy to correct myself, and I apologise to comrade Lewis for falling back all too easily on routine dismissal of this publication. I still do doubt your project, but leftwing debate and, indeed, your seriousness deserve equally serious criticism rather than tired clichés.
I’ll keep hunting for “curious sectariana” - I actually do enjoy it. But I hereby accept defeat on this matter. Two sugars for our next fika (coffee break) - duly noted.
Just a short letter to wish the Communist Platform all the best at the coming Left Unity conference - a real inspiration to an old-timer like me. I enjoyed very much Jack Conrad’s use of Brecht at the last gathering and in a similar vein I have penned these lines that will hopefully inspire your comrades in their Left Unity work:
Our Communist Platform’s on the rise
Play a part and join the cry!
Our opponents, they lack some spine,
Encased in the reformist ball of twine.
Come now, comrades, conference calls.
Let’s knock down some mighty walls!
Our time is coming, just you see.
The Communist Platform is a growing tree!