Chris Cutrone’s letter of January 23 follows a pattern which also occurred in our previous exchange in 2011. I state that he is arguing on the basis of fantasy (or garbage) claims about history. He responds, not to the argument about history, but that his ‘history’ uses Marx’s method. I respond that he is not using Marx’s method. He replies by reasserting the original historical fantasy without answering either my objections to his claim to be following Marx’s method or my original objections to the ‘history’.
A ‘dialogue’ on these terms is a waste both of time and of the space in this letters column. I will reply more fully to the point worth arguing about in his original article - what concept of the alternative to capitalism? But there is no point in responding further to comrade Cutrone’s bizarre historical and Marxological dogmas.
Syriza not left
A reading of contributions to this newspaper shows that some people, including members of Left Unity and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, have adopted a characterisation advanced by the bourgeois media. This is that Syriza is a party of the left. If ‘leftwing’ means opposition to austerity, then this is correct. But if it means ‘socialist’, then Syriza is now moving to the right of social democracy. The latter is the doctrine that it is possible to manage capitalism in the interests of the working class.
It is true that both socialists and social democrats resist austerity, but this is for different reasons. Socialists mobilise against austerity because it weakens the basis for workers’ collective action. Austerity is a means of controlling workers through division, atomisation and demoralisation. In contrast, social democrats are against it because it promotes low productivity, underconsumption and poor growth. The latter is Syriza’s position.
In a recent article in the Financial Times (January 21), Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza, states that the aim of the party is to ensure “sustainable growth in the context of a social market society”. Syriza will do this by getting people back to work and maintaining a balanced budget. In other words, Syriza will try to assist rather than end the process of capital accumulation. Tsipras reassures investors that a Syriza government will pay back the public debt. Syriza, he maintains, is the only political party in Greece that can restore stability for investors. This means “putting the middle class back on its feet”.
These policies are neither anti-capitalist nor leftwing (if that means enabling the transition towards a classless society worldwide). Tsipras describes Syriza as a party with “no allegiance to the past”. What does this mean? Does it mean no allegiance to policies or ideas associated with the socialist or left social democratic past? Does it mean a pragmatic rejection of ideas such as the socialisation of the means of production; full employment and a shorter working week with no loss of pay; abolition of the wages system; a living income in or out of work; and free health, education, housing, transport and fuel? If the latter are part of Syriza’s past programmes, then Tsipras shows no allegiance to them. On the contrary, he adheres to the party’s Thessaloniki programme. This rejects the renationalisation of privatised companies, makes no mention of shortening the working day to reduce unemployment and gives no commitment to repealing the repressive labour legislation of previous governments.
A Greek comrade spoke at a meeting of Liverpool Against the Cuts this month. He warned those activists hopeful of a Syriza victory on January 25 that they should have no illusions in what the party can or will do. As Sandy McBurney tells us, we can learn much from the experience of the anti-austerity struggle in Greece (Letters, January 15). One lesson is that electorally-oriented socialist groups in the UK, such as Left Unity and Tusc, would be mistaken to model their politics on Syriza.
Marxists will no doubt retain a critical, independent perspective on Syriza. Hopefully, they have sufficient theoretical and empirical knowledge to resist contemporary pressures to become cheerleaders for another pro-capitalist party.
Paul B Smith
Syriza may have become the next government, but it will not be ‘taking power’ (‘Avoid the temptation of power’, January 22). Elections are passive theatrical contests, but real power does not change in the ballot box. Allende in Chile was leader of a government (also a minority) without power. The Chilean state apparatus from previous regimes - including the army, etc - was largely untouched.
For Marxists, taking power means destroying the previous apparatus. That’s sometimes called ‘revolution’. I see a revival of Allendist illusions. There were the embryos of soviets in Chile in 1973 called cordones industriales. It was important that they included workers who had even voted Christian Democrat (workers sometimes vote out of habit).
These Christian Democratic workers were to the left of the Chilean Communist Party, which opposed the cordones because they claimed they were ‘dual unionism’. Similarly, in the Spanish civil war, the coalition of parties in the Frente Popular was used as an alternative by the bourgeoisie to the workers’ and peasants’ councils to divert and finally defeat the Spanish revolution.
Unless Syriza arms the Greek working class and helps build soviet alternatives, it will just become a new, updated version of Allende’s Chile.
January 25 marked the ushering in of what is hoped to be the world’s first genuine, but non-dictatorship of the proletariat, ‘workers’ government’ since the Popular Front in Spain. However, January 25 also marked the ushering in of what the inter-war social democracy hoped to be the ‘labour revolution’.
Indeed, ever since discussions on ‘workers’ governments’ resurfaced, I can’t help but think why criticisms of this Comintern framework, such as those found in the Weekly Worker, did not compare it to what the renegade Kautsky wrote about coalition governments comprised predominantly of parliamentary ‘democratic socialist’ forces. This is something which not even Chile’s Salvador Allende had, but now which Greece’s Alexis Tsipras has, not least because of the efforts invested in service-oriented solidarity networks.
As a comrade told me, there is not just public support, but public pressure on the party to take responsibility. However, the political and economic conditions aren’t there for the push towards scrapping private property relations.
Coincidentally, this week also marks the ushering in of the world’s first communitarian populist front since the Chartist movement and Paris Commune of the ‘working class’ in Britain and France, respectively, with Syriza working with the anti-fascist, stridently anti-austerity, but right-populist Independent Greeks to break away from the class-collaborationism of popular fronts and sheer hypocrisy of united fronts.
So 97% of climate researchers are in agreement with a so-called Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (‘Business as usual’, January 22). The very word ‘intergovernmental’ is enough for me to take sides with the 3% that no outlet seems to give voice to. Who of us can trust anything to do with world governments? I’d wager also that not one of those 3% are funded by any government.
I disagree with Simon Wells and his weather clock that starts in the 19th century and disregards all climate history before it. The year 2014 may have been the warmest year in comparatively recent history, but what about before this? Extreme weather events are nothing new in recordable human history; mini-ice ages, stifling hot summers, drought, excessive rain, hail, wind and whatever else nature can throw at us. It’s happened throughout our existence and will continue to happen.
The present-day Sahara Desert only a few thousand years ago was a lush, subtropical rainforest. Or, far more recently, vineyards flourished as far north as Nottinghamshire in the middle ages. There is nothing remarkable in these events. Had the weather been cooling off these past few years, 97% of government-funded scientists would be convincing us about global cooling.
We need to concentrate on how to deal with our climate - not how to change it. We need to manage these spells of extremity, to accommodate a temperamental nature that we can never, ever tame - not blame our species for it.
John D Hill
Stockton on Tees
It is difficult to know how to react to Ian Donovan’s letter (January 22). To summarise the exchange so far, his original letter of January 8 claimed that (1) the CPGB supports the “territorial integrity” of “Zionist Israel”; and (2) we make an “exception” to the right of free movement in the case of expelled Palestinians.
I replied on January 15, stating that (1) we are for the abolition of “Zionist Israel” and (2) we support the “right of return” of all expelled Palestinians who wish to do so - I quoted the relevant thesis from our 2011 statement which spells this out.
But now Ian alleges that the words in the thesis have a hidden meaning and that our real, secretly held view is actually the opposite of what we state! He claims that the qualification - “this is a right of habitation decided upon individually, or by family group” - somehow negates that right. Ian must be the only person in the world who thinks that these words really mean that the right is actually to be decided upon not “individually, or by family group”, but by some undisclosed “third party”!
The reason why the qualification was inserted is that apologists for Zionism, including those on the ‘left’, make the absurd claim that any right of return would be forced upon the Palestinians. So the phrase is not “superfluous”. As Ian states, “those involved in migration obviously should decide this for themselves” - he could have added that they cannot be corralled into migrating if they do not wish to do so.
But at least our dear comrade seems to have dropped his claim about the CPGB’s alleged support for the “integrity” of “Zionist Israel”. Just don’t expect him to admit he was wrong and retract it.
Ian Donovan’s letter is as dishonest as it is vituperative. Apparently, I argue in my review of Shlomo Sand’s book How I stopped being a Jew that “there is ‘no Israeli citizenship’ for anyone who is not Jewish”. This would indeed be a serious and fundamental flaw - if there were any truth to it.
In my review I write: “Sand is an advocate of an Israeli/Hebrew nationalism which is devoid of any Jewishness and to which all citizens are equal members, be they Jewish or non-Jewish.”
I assume that Donovan understands the highlighted words. Further on I write concerning “identification with the state of Israel, which defines itself not as a state based upon its own citizens - Jewish or otherwise - but as a state which claims to represent all Jews …” I trust that even Donovan understands the reference to “or otherwise”.
Perhaps Donovan is referring to the sentence where, in respect of Jewish immigrants to Israel, I write that they “are in turn classified as a Jewish national (there is no Israeli citizenship, even though Sand refers to it on at least one occasion)”. It is obvious that this is a typo, and what I should have written was “there is no Israeli nationality”.
The whole of Donovan’s thesis is based on ignoring two very clear quotes and referring to a typographical error. If that makes him happy, so be it, but it makes debating with such a pedant pointless. I note his defence of the anti-Semitic Gilad Atzmon. Suffice to say that Atzmon criticises the book precisely because Sand has no truck with anti-Semitism.
Dave Vincent, in reply to my article about the PCS, thinks that I am being “over the top” in my description of the decision to suspend executive and departmental elections (Letters, January 22).
Comrade Vincent appears to imagine this is an either-or question. Either we suspend the elections or we end up with a bankrupt union. I don’t believe this is the case. In my article (‘Building the union is no lottery’, January 15), I suggested that the decision of the union was “disastrous”, because the leadership is not being open about the challenges it is facing. How are the members to know what is going on except through word of mouth, rumour and gossip? In the summer it appeared that the union was in a good state of health, but now we are told that to save money we have to suspend elections, and Dave Vincent upholds this despite his reservations. In a survey of some of the commentary on left blogs, I found the reaction to the decision was decidedly negative.
The union cannot switch democracy on and off at will just because the situation gets difficult. The leadership should be democratic and accountable to the members in their handling of the current crisis. It should also be honest to the membership in how to challenge government policy. This would provide the leadership with an opportunity to politicise the issue and to increase the number of subs.
As it stands, it appears that the leadership will be challenged at the upcoming annual delegate conference and probably defeated. This will split the union just at the time when it needs to be strong to oppose government policy.
I would like to thank Tony Clark for saving me time and effort.
Since reading his letter (January 22), I have opened my mind and instead of passing copies of our manifesto to workmates, friends and family, as I have over the years, in a bid to convince them that capitalism is the cause of their problems, I can now just tell them to watch an episode or two of the sci-fi television series V and tell them that this is nearer to the truth.
As I recall, comrade Tony Clark (Letters, January 22) is or used to be a member of the Stalin Society. They argued that Stalin was a genuine leader of the working class who acted in our interests. He killed fifth column enemies. So, except for occasional unavoidable errors, he killed those that needed to be killed. My claim that Tony Clark used to alibi Stalin’s murderous ways still stands.
And I remember his numerous letters to the Weekly Worker on peak oil. The rising price of oil indicated that capitalism could no longer hold the price of oil down because it couldn’t increase production except at excessive cost. In other words, oil production had already effectively peaked. Now he says we have entered the period of peak production and makes no reference to decline or impending disaster.
The comrade is as slippery as the biblical serpent. His intergalactic reptiles, like the gods of old, live in a magical place that can be imagined, but not touched, smelt or tasted, let alone seen. They have, of course, revealed themselves to somebody, somewhere, sometime, but never in a way that enables anyone to say with certainty that they must exist. They are not on the same footing as quarks, for instance. They exist fully only in the space created by the imagination of the faithful.
However, whatever the reality might be regarding the supernatural, the liberation of the working class and humanity as a whole is the job of the working class itself. We do not at all rely on secular gods or extra-terrestrial aliens.