I want to warmly congratulate the Weekly Worker for the last edition of the paper - the Charlie solidarist edition. It stands in stark contrast to the utterly obnoxious capitulation of most of the left on this issue.
Groups like the Socialist Workers Party and Workers Power scratch the surface, while many others have totally lost the morality we ourselves are supposed to hold - they favour ‘defending’ and solidarising with medievalist, reactionary, sectarian jihadists: ‘Of course we condemn the murder, of course we defend freedom of speech, but …’ They don’t exactly say ‘Serves you right’, but the implication is that Charlie had it coming.
Let’s be clear what they are defending and what they are surrendering to here: jihadism, which they present as a sort of anti-imperialism! As against atheist, communist, anarchist piss-takers and the principle of free speech and civil liberties. They have become so embroiled in liberal ‘anti-racism’ that they are scared of their own shadows - ever ready to label anything racist, whether it is actually to do with race or not. Eddie Ford and more particularly Paul Demarty have nailed this firmly to the floor in their articles and shown that none of the cartoons are racist, though they offend rightwing and religious groups and particular ethnic groups on the basis of their religion, though not their race.
The ‘right’ not to be offended is a gag on freedom of speech and expression, and it has an echo in all that ‘safe space’ bollocks. It also follows hard on the heels of SWP demands that books like Mein Kampf ought not to be on sale to the public. Someone else - some censor - should decide on our behalf what is suitable for us to watch or read because they know what’s best for us and society.
It reminds me of my foolish youth when as a revolutionary socialist I was expelled from the Labour Party Young Socialists and was in the process of appeal. The issue came to the LPYS conference with a resolution from my branch calling for an end to bans and proscriptions and for my reinstatement. Peter Doyle, the national LPYS chair and prominent Militant supporter, declared: “Of course we’re against bans and proscriptions, but if David Douglass puts his head on the block he can expect to have it chopped off.” Thanks, comrade!
The same is evident here: yes, we’re for freedom of speech, but if you insist on using it, and you insult especially a non-white body, you can expect something to happen. If this is the left’s version of defending our own values of secularism, civil liberty and freedom of expression, I hope to god we never have to rely on it. No gods, no masters!
Keep on writing
First and foremost, congratulations on your article, ‘CIA roots of Islamist fundamentalism’ (January 15). It is the best I have read on this in more than a year, especially with the content regarding recent events in France.
I would like to share some ideas with you regarding a few points.
1. You wrote: “… in the absence of a revolutionary left, they signed up to the Islamists.” Thank you for raising this, but I wish you had expanded on it by giving historical examples. The west has been deposing revolutionary governments: nationalist in Egypt, social democrats in Iran, secularists in Iraq - and they are working on it in Syria.
2. One of the pillars of post-World War II US foreign policy was to surround the USSR with Islamic states to counter the godless Soviets. This is still a dominant policy in the region, even though the cold war is over.
3. The ahistorical understanding of contemporary events by populist and corporate media is the prevailing attitude, behaviour and thought process in the US and Europe. People in the Middle East and Africa (not to ignore Latin America) know, understand and feel the economic chokehold of the American empire and its European subsets.
4. The last point has to do with France’s racist society. France (not the majority of French people) is racist toward Africans, especially Algerians and Muslims. France is more racist than the US.
The question we should ask everybody is, how long will you remain inactive while you are being pushed around, ridiculed and deprived of your rights before you take action to say that you are a (hu)man?
Thanks again for writing a wonderful article. You keep on writing and I’ll keep on reading.
True and deep
Having just completed the task of finishing off my own little contribution to things, I’ve just managed to read Paul Demarty’s ‘Qui est Charlie?’ (January 15). I’m sure you don’t have any real need of my opinions, but nonetheless, I consider your article to be really excellent.
The detailed historical information you include and therefore the true and deep Marxist understanding it allows is, of course, a million kilometres above and beyond the level of most of the nonsense available elsewhere.
A local editorial regarding “the brutal murders of 12 French journalists” wrote: “Poking fun at a religion ... or at power in any form ... is a right all of us share.”
My observation is that, unfortunately, we are fed news stories that sympathise with the deaths of Nato soldiers and western citizenry, while demonising or dehumanising the lives of the local Muslim population in the targeted/attacked Middle Eastern region itself. I have been mulling over this topic and have some questions:
1. When our Nato forces have been using Tomahawk missiles, depleted uranium-tipped warheads, helicopter gunships, jet-fighter precision missiles, white phosphorus, cluster bombs and drone strikes, why is it that the devastation to Middle Eastern human life is not called ‘Nato terrorism’? I don’t see that kind of ‘devastating force’ being used against us in the west.
2. Is it freedom of speech when the millions of Middle Eastern deaths of Muslim citizens over the last 13 years by Nato/US forces gets minimal ‘mainstream’ press, radio and television coverage? Yet the mainstream press continually inundates us with the handful of deaths worldwide at the hands of ‘fundamentalist radicals’ (who often turn out to be just psychotic westerners), whose idea of responding to Nato terror is to use their own forms. Neither Nato leaders nor radicalised fundamentalists are serious about peace.
3. Are Nato forces really bringing ‘freedom and democracy’ to the Middle East, or are those who take us to war terrorising the entire region to create ‘regime change’ that favours the private interests of oil cartels, weapons manufacturers, military contractors and international bankers?
4. When these questions are not being asked locally or nationally, through the mainstream media, can we say we have freedom of speech? When ‘pro-war’ newscasts fuel hatred for Middle Eastern Muslims and show little empathy for the slaughter of the Middle Eastern citizenry by Nato forces, is that not keeping the topic within parameters which support further military aggression in the region?
Is this what Noam Chomsky called “manufacturing consent”, when radio, press and televised newscasts are used to garner support for further warfare? Is this what David Baldacci meant, in his novel The whole truth, when he called mainstream media agencies “perception management firms”?
This letter addresses two points from recent material in the Weekly Worker.
Tony Greenstein’s review of Shlomo Sand’s extended essay How I stopped being a Jew (January 8) is arrogant and ignorant. It accuses Sand of misunderstanding Zionism and Jewish identity. But in asserting that there is “no Israeli citizenship” for anyone who is not Jewish, Greenstein shows that he does not understand the basics of what Sand is attacking. This notion must be news to the 20% minority of Palestinian-Israelis, who are citizens, use Israeli passports and vote in elections.
The actual situation is that in internal identity documents, citizens are divided into ‘nationalities’ by ethnic (and sometimes even arbitrary) criteria. They are designated either as ‘Jew’ or ‘Arab’, or in cases that do not fit, sometimes absurd ‘nationalities’ like ‘Buddhist’, or even ‘unknown’. These exist in order to prevent an ‘Israeli’ nationality emerging. As is well known, Israel is designated as the state of the Jewish people everywhere, not just Israel. Therefore, a Jewish person born in London or New York, who has not claimed Israeli citizenship under the law of return, has more rights than a non-Jew born in Israel.
That is key to Sand’s renouncing of secular Jewish identity. That Greenstein can denounce him, while not understanding basic facts about this, shows Sand is not the ignorant one.
Sand’s understanding of the empty and chauvinistic essence of the secular Jewish identity today, and therefore Zionism, is not academic, or based on involvement in the flawed, chauvinistic British left, but from brutal experience. As an Israel Defence Forces conscript in the 1967 war and the conquest of Jerusalem and the West Bank, Sand witnessed fellow soldiers torturing an elderly Palestinian man to death. Such things are the starting point for profound radicalisation, outside of the experience of the western left, including purveyors of identity politics like Greenstein.
Greenstein admits that his original review (on his blog) of Sand’s essay smeared him, as earlier with Gilad Atzmon, as ‘anti-Semitic’. What kind of arrogant person would attempt to ‘review’ a publication he had not read on the basis of reports in a liberal Zionist newspaper like Ha’aretz?
His point about Sand’s supposed duty to renounce his academic tenure is idiotic. Sand’s work in terms of demolishing Zionism and “Jewish ideology”, in the words of Israel Shahak, is much more valuable to the Palestinian struggle than the popular-front boycott campaigns Greenstein excels in promoting.
The ideological confusion that results from Israeli misuse of the Nazi genocide as a propaganda weapon is the responsibility of the Israeli ruling class and no-one else. Greenstein, in smearing critics of Jewish ideology like Sand and Atzmon, who may or may not (in Sand’s case, not!) exhibit such ideological confusion, merely makes this debate more difficult, thereby helping Zionism demonise critics.
Greenstein admits that “Israel and Zionism” have “provided a new ideological basis for Jewish identity”, and that “most … Jews … define their Jewishness in relation to Israel”. Yet, while declaiming in formally Marxist terms that therefore “there is no longer any objective, material basis to Jewish identity”, he contradicts this by smearing those who renounce this identity, even while he admits it is hollow.
The “new” Jewish identity Greenstein admits is subscribed to by “most Jews” is an imperialist identity. The Jewish ideology sharply critiqued originally by Israel Shahak is an imperialist ideology. Greenstein’s promoting of an ‘alternative’ Jewish identity, based around the old east European Yiddish version, would be harmless utopianism if he did not devote himself to smearing those who renounce this imperialist identity outright.
Meanwhile, Peter Manson (Letters, January 15) claims incredulity at my claim that the CPGB has an exception to its policy of ‘open borders’ for the Palestinians who have been violently excluded from their own homeland, and quotes a set of theses of the CPGB from 2011 on the ‘right to return’: “this is a right of habitation decided upon individually, or by family group” as supposedly refuting my contention.
What is the meaning of the phrase “decided upon”? Does this mean by the individuals or family groups concerned? If so, the phrase is superfluous: those involved in migration obviously should decide this for themselves. Obviously this phrase has another meaning.
If this is “decided upon” by some third party, who ‘decides’ whether the return of specific “individuals” or “family groups” is compatible with “the right of the Israeli-Jewish nation to self-determination”, that is another matter. This implication is borne out by this sentence, which the ellipsis in Peter’s quote hides: “It is not a demand for a folk movement of the entire diaspora - which now inhabits not just Jordan, Kuwait, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, etc, but the US and many countries in western Europe too.”
So the right to return is qualified: subordinated to Israeli-Jewish ‘national rights’. The Palestinians were not expelled as individuals or families, but collectively as a people. Logically, this has to be the CPGB position, as the full right to return would mean that there would be a Palestinian Arab majority in Israel with the borders of 1948, making a Jewish state impossible. For any democrat, the right to return must be a collective right.
I increasingly wonder how seriously the leadership of Left Unity are taking their own political project. On January 19, Kate Hudson, our national secretary, was one of the two speakers at a packed meeting of about 200 people at Goldsmiths in Lewisham, organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Stop the War and the Green Party. The other speaker was Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party.
The meeting was primarily about campaigning against Trident replacement and nuclear weapons in general, and obviously comrade Hudson was there as general secretary of CND. I realise there can be a conflict of interest between a single-issue campaign, which seeks to build broad, cross-party alliances, and a political party, but the evening suggests that this will be unsustainable in the long run.
Whilst I would not question the Green Party’s genuine commitment to the cause of nuclear disarmament, it was quite obvious that Ms Bennett was there, in part at least, to build the Green Party and often referred to matters on which the Greens had policies with no direct connection to nuclear power or the arms industry. A Goldsmiths student union activist opened the question session by asking about both Brighton council and Ms Bennett’s view of socialism. Ms Bennett expressed her pride in the record of Brighton council and explained that, whilst she shared the views of socialists on a number of issues, she would not describe herself as a socialist.
Comrade Hudson was not only very friendly towards and supportive of Ms Bennett, but had a few favourable things to say about the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru. As far as I can remember, she not only endorsed their claims to be parties that opposed nuclear weapons, but also accepted their claim to be part of some sort of anti-austerity alliance - which is a rather more debatable, to say the least.
What she was absolutely silent about, for the entire hour and a half for which she was present, was the party she herself leads - Left Unity.
While it now seems unlikely we in LU will field more than half a dozen candidates, one might have expected a party leader addressing a large London audience to make at least a passing reference to our candidates in Hackney South and Lambeth Vauxhall, in whose constituencies it is perfectly conceivable that some of the audience live.
Simon Wells accuses the Public and Commercial Services national executive committee of patronising the membership in the decisions they say they need to make due to the union’s dire financial circumstances (‘Building the union is no lottery’, January 15).
To describe a 12-month suspension of NEC and departmental group elections (in order to save £600,000-£700,000) and which delegates at PCS conference in May can overturn as “disastrous” is rather over the top. PCS is one of only two unions that holds annual NEC elections (not every two years, as with most unions). So annual NEC elections are hardly the norm then across the movement? Less than 10% of PCS members (any better in other unions?) bother to vote. The 10% that do largely follow the recommendations of trusted local reps.
I have previously expressed my disagreement with the practice of PCS Left Unity (dominated by the Socialist Party in England and Wales) year on year forming an electoral pact with the PCS Democrats. The first time this was pursued, the reasoning given was it was necessary to keep the right from regaining control of the NEC, but in recent years the right wing have fallen apart, while the (ultra?) left - the breakaway faction from Left Unity, Independent Left, poll even fewer votes than the rightwing faction, ‘4themembers’. The ‘Democracy Alliance’ pact have swept the board every year and there was no evidence that any challengers have a hope of displacing them. So the allegation the NEC are suspending elections for 12 months to keep themselves in power seemed a nonsense - until very recently.
I attended a 40-plus meeting (advertised in the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’s Solidarity) of Manchester activists on January 17 to discuss a campaign against the decision to suspend elections. It seems a number of activists have left Left Unity and wish to pact with IL. Past voting figures then would suggest the most realistic and serious challenge to the Democracy Alliance could be from those to their left. At the meeting, I was the only one to present the NEC arguments and support giving them the benefit of the doubt on the grounds it was better to suspend elections than end up with a bankrupt union!
What would those intent on challenging the current NEC do any differently that would engender more membership support? That question wasn’t answered. Those blaming general secretary Mark Serwotka for the NEC decisions had a chance to oppose him in his recent re-election. No-one did. I heard that was actually debated by IL, but rejected. Some now wonder if that was the correct decision. There is some resentment against Mark for not keeping to his first election pledge to reduce his wages closer to that of members and donating some of his salary to the PCS fighting fund. He made an initial start, but gradually reduced his payments to nothing.
At the meeting most felt the NEC hadn’t provided financial evidence to branches (true) to support their contentions. It is also the case that at the May 2014 conference we were told PCS was in the black and that financial difficulties were absolutely not the driver for the proposed merger talks with Unite. The meeting also aired the view that PCS can save money using other methods - such as paying full-time officers less. The point was also made that if the NEC can suspend elections once, they can do so again.
The direct debit campaign, after enormous effort by activists and full-time officials, has achieved a sign-up rate of 70% in the home office. The overall average across PCS is, as Simon Wells stated, 30%. It is a big task, but the work continues and it is the number-one priority of PCS. Simon says having a prize of £1,200 to entice members to sign up is patronising, whereas the struggle should be politicised. Simon, it has been! PCS is making clear why check-off is being removed department by department.
It was a masterstroke of the Tories to withdraw check-off and then have reps (in their own time) and full-time officials running around chasing up every single member in their workplace. The government thinks we will not be able to do this and PCS, the most militant, political, fighting union, will be broken. Rather like the miners in 1984-85, with the rest of the unions watching from the sidelines. If we can defeat this attack, the prize will be a new bond between members and their union, a new layer of activists. There is some evidence previous non-members are joining during the sign-up campaign.
For many reps like myself we have branch AGMs coming up. We know there will be a huge debate at conference about the suspension of elections and have to decide who we believe. Are we really in such dire straits that spending £600,000 on elections will bankrupt us? Or is this a cynical excuse used to preserve an NEC facing a serious challenge from their left?
I think the credibility of those arguing the elections should go ahead will be proved by having a high sign-up rate in their branches. The more we reduce the financial crisis by May, the more it can be argued the elections should go ahead following conference.
Mike Macnair’s January 15 letter comes closer than his December 18 article (‘Fantasy history, fantasy Marx’) to the concrete issues with which I have been concerned in my writings on democratic revolution, the contradiction of capital and the issue of a political party for the left. It’s evidently possible that I have written on these issues poorly or at least unclearly. But that does not mean that I should be saddled with conventional misreadings of the Frankfurt School or Lukács.
If Adorno had a critique of Lukács, it was not against Lukács’s own (Marxist) critique of Weber, with which Adorno agreed. So no ‘Weberian Marxism’ there. Lukács and Adorno disagreed with Weber that capitalism was a wrong turn and dead end, beginning with the Protestant reformation and its ‘work ethic’, but followed Marx in considering capitalism as constrained revolution become self-contradictory, which is different. For Lukács and Adorno, Weber was counterrevolutionary. Was Weber a ‘bourgeois liberal’? Certainly not in the sense of Benjamin Franklin. For Weber, capitalism would continue “until the last ton of fossil fuel is burned up”. Not so for Lukács and Adorno, who continued to regard capitalism as ‘dialectical’ and subject to change and not one-dimensional.
Regarding my use of categories in the “Marxist” rather than “colloquial” sense, this doesn’t mean that Marx et al never used terms colloquially. But they did use them in specific and, to those unfamiliar, peculiar ways. One such category is ‘the state’, which Lenin, following Marx, defined strictly as “special bodies of armed men”. This does not mean the legislature, judiciary or even the government bureaucracy. In the Communist manifesto, Marx had characterised the state as the “committee for managing the affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”. But after 1848 the essence of the state was revealed to be rather “special bodies of armed men”.
Trotsky called the USSR under the Stalinised Communist Party a “police state”, and a “criminal” one at that - criminal against the revolution. Trotsky wrote that where there is a line for bread there must be police to maintain order. The “police” in question was the party’s own central control commission under Stalin. However, if the USSR is not regarded as a “police state”, then perhaps a gulag - a prison? The police state and its prisons are “Bonapartist” in Marx’s sense: counterrevolutionary, undemocratic and illiberal - politically repressive. It is a nihilistic travesty of bourgeois society.
To return to my primary thesis, to which Macnair has not yet responded, the question of revolutionary politics and capitalism, Rosa Luxemburg, in Reform or revolution (1900), pointed out that the state in the bourgeois epoch was the product of revolution, and continued to be informed in its action by the energy of that revolutionary origin. This was true in capitalism as well, and so affected politics.
If the Hegelian dialectic had become for Marx “ideological” by the mid-19th century, then this was due to capitalism, and not a ‘thought error’ by Hegel. What was once a bourgeois dialectic of freedom had become falsified in capitalism as a result of the industrial revolution. Marx indicated as early as the 1844 Economic and philosophic manuscripts that he was concerned with how the original bourgeois-revolutionary categories had been betrayed in capitalism - that is, since the industrial revolution - and that he was proceeding to critique such bourgeois categories “immanently”.
The problem with retrospective and hence anachronistic critiques of Hegel et al is that they neglect precisely this concrete, historical change in capitalism. So what was once a productive dialectic of freedom between the individual and the collective in society, or between liberty and equality or justice, became instead a destructive antinomy of unfreedom and crisis in 19th century capitalism. Such self-contradiction indicated for Marx and his followers a potential change originating from within bourgeois society, not outside it: still the bourgeois revolution’s struggle for liberal democracy, but in self-contradiction. This contradiction was for Marx expressed not only by communism, but in capitalist politics as well.
During the past 10 days I’ve ‘been through the mill’ a bit. I’m fully aware other people’s health problems can be a bit of a bore, but there are aspects of my experience that need to be shared.
For several days before Christmas, I’d become increasingly very short of breath, to a frightening extent. I was gasping for breath at the slightest exertion - like getting out of a chair and crossing the room.
The doctor I saw promptly sent me for blood tests and an X-ray and within 24 hours an “urgent cardiac referral” was promptly faxed to the county hospital. In fact, the following morning, a duty GP visited me at home and within the hour I was admitted to the Royal Sussex County Hospital via the accident and emergency department. The oedema from which I was suffering was cleared and, after a week, I’m back home - although not quite as fit as I’d hoped I’d be.
Now to the really worrying aspect of my experience. The first doctor at my medical centre had referred me on December 18, but hospital records claim the referral was made five days later (December 23) and that it was not received by the cardiac unit (within the hospital) until six days after that (December 29). There are many attempts to fabricate the records to make it appear targets are (almost) being met. It’s not the first time I’ve seen evidence suggesting the local hospital appears to be cooking the records to show prompter performance. It is my understanding that the organising of appointments is the responsibility of a ‘non-medical’ department and is in fact privatised.
More important, had I really been seen when I should have been, I’d not have arrived through A&E. It’s the system, not the service. Once in hospital, my care was really great.
Phil Kent has accused me of holding positions I never held in relation to Stalin, the issue of peak oil and reptilians (Letters, January 15). He also claims I am an elitist, because I believe in leadership.
Firstly, I never argued that Stalin’s victims “deserved to die” - I challenge Kent to prove otherwise. In passing, it’s interesting to note that following the demise of the Soviet Union, when Boris Yeltsin released the figures for individuals in Soviet prisons, these were lower than the USA. The capitalist media went silent.
Secondly, I never argued that rising oil prices would “soon” mean the end of capitalism. What I argued is that rising oil prices in the period of declining oil production, following the global peak, would lead to the collapse of capitalism, if no viable substitute for cheap oil was found. World oil production goes through three stages: rising production, peak and decline. We are still at the peak stage, when oil supply is at its maximum.
Thirdly, I never claimed that the future of humanity “may rest on the beneficence of extra-terrestrial reptiles”. I replied to Andrew Northall’s letter of December 18 and referred to the reptilian control theory, which argues that for thousands of years humanity has been controlled by a reptilian race, using their mixed reptile-human genetic bloodlines, who have oppressed and exploited humans, while claiming descent from the ‘gods’ and the divine right to rule by bloodline. Ancient and modern society is obsessed with reptilian, serpent and dragon themes, possibly due to this heritage. Even the flag of Wales has a dragon on it.
Most people have closed minds, depending on the issues. Mention the possibility of aliens secretly manipulating humanity behind the scenes and the shutters come down. Perhaps Kent should contemplate Einstein’s words: “If at first an idea does not sound absurd, there is no hope for it.”