I am amazed that the CPGB seem to have accepted a boycott position in relation to the forthcoming European Union referendum. This standpoint represents an unprincipled evasion. The only internationalist position is one which calls emphatically for a ‘yes’ vote.
Only in these terms can we uphold the solidarity of working people within the EU. The alternative is to accommodate to little Englandism or the acceptance of the creation of a semi-fascist state.
Eddie Ford writes: “As this paper has consistently argued, any deal that did not involve austerity would pose an enormous political risk for the euro leaders - Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy would want the same treatment; or, at the very least, the opposition parties would be demanding such treatment. And there is no way, either politically or economically, that Germany could afford to foot the bill” (‘Take it or leave it’, June 18).
It is no doubt correct that the conservative EU leaders like Angela Merkel can see no further than austerity as a means of dealing with the financial situation in Europe, and that is due to the limitations of their own ideological stance, and because practical politics, based upon national and even simply party interest, dictates it. But that does not make such a perspective identical with the interests of capital in Europe as a whole, still less a view that cannot be challenged within Europe by workers and workers’ parties. Surely, that is what Syriza’s and Podemos’s success has demonstrated, and what the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-austerity message is currently demonstrating.
A simple anti-austerity politics is not adequate. We need to present a socialist vision that demonstrates to workers an immediate practical alternative to it, but surely an opposition to austerity is a starting point - a necessary part of presenting such an alternative. I don’t think simply putting forward what amounts to a maximalist, ‘socialism or nothing’ perspective is, therefore, useful in such circumstances, particularly, as in the past, there have been plenty of occasions when capital itself has seen that austerity is a counterproductive policy.
What is more, the idea that only austerity, within the confines of capitalism, under current conditions is a viable solution for capital is quite clearly wrong. The US followed a policy of fiscal expansion after 2008, and has performed better than all other developed economies in the period since. It is why the majority of bourgeois economists themselves reject austerity as a viable solution.
Your statement quoted above is itself quite simply wrong in terms of Marxist economic analysis. The debts that exist, for Greece, Italy and other economies, amount to what Marx describes as “fictitious capital” - that is, they amount to claims on future revenues, produced by productive capital. They do not themselves consist of capital. In fact, for the reasons Marx describes, this fictitious capital acts as a drag on real, productive capital, precisely because its owners thereby claim a share via interest payments (dividends, bond coupon interest and so on) out of the surplus value, and thereby diminish the realised rate of profit, and potential for capital accumulation.
As Marx says, if all of this fictitious capital is destroyed, all of the debts thereby simply cancelled, it has not one iota of effect on the ability of the actual productive capital previously bought with such loans in being able to continue to pump out surplus value: in fact by cancelling the debt, it facilitates that process, by leaving more for accumulation.
What it does do is impact on the fictitious wealth of those money-lending capitalists who own the majority of the shares, bonds and so on, but, given that ultimately their ability (or as Marx points out the ability of those who pick up their shares and bonds on the cheap) to receive that future income depends on the accumulation of real, productive capital - even their longer-term interests are not really served by trying to squeeze blood out of a stone.
In terms of a Marxist economic analysis, there is absolutely no reason why the wiping away of the debts of Italy is in any way impossible, even within the rationale of capitalism, or why it would have anything other than a beneficial effect.
Tony Greenstein (Letters, June 18) suggests that, in my article ‘US imperialism and Israel’s role’ (June 11), I overstated the technological aspects of Israel’s contribution to US weaponry. He says that “Israel provides an electronic hot-house and it is more convenient to allow Israel to act as a scientific and electronic subcontractor, … [but] if it were necessary, the US could take back in-house much if not most of the scientific services that Israel presently renders.”
Tony is mistaken in thinking that Israel is as a mere “subcontractor”, providing useful but standard services, outsourced to it by the US to the latter’s specifications; and that these services could equally be performed “in-house”. Israel does not perform mere bespoke tasks pre-assigned to it by the US. Scientific and technological innovation - which is what Israel provides to the US military-industrial complex - does not work like this.
In reality, Israeli scientists and technologists invent and create, at their own initiative, original items of hi-tech hardware and software (some of which improve US products); these are then offered to the US. In some cases joint American-Israeli teams of scientists work on hi-tech projects. If the US were to stop using Israeli scientific expertise and technical innovations, it would be giving up a valuable resource. Moreover, Israel could then sell its inventions to another power. Why on earth would the US be interested in putting itself at such disadvantage?
It appears that Tony underestimates Israel’s original technological contribution to US lethal global domination.
I’m not all that surprised that I managed to upset Stuart King with my report on the London aggregate of Left Unity the other week (‘Standing in London’s elections’, June 11). He says that “no-one should be misled into thinking that the report … bore any relation to the truth” (Letters, June 18).
Crumbs, I thought to myself, having spent the entire meeting taking 2,500 words of near stenographic notes, what did I get wrong? Well apparently I was wrong in saying there were three broad groupings in the meeting: that is, those supporting the motion from Liz Davies et al calling on LU to stand in the Greater London Authority elections; those supporting an alliance with the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition for that purpose; and those who were against standing in the elections this time around. He says there were only two - those for standing and those against - and he doesn’t mention the Tusc supporters anywhere.
I’m willing to accept I may have got this or that detail of someone’s argument wrong - apologies to Oliver New if that is the case - but I do always try very hard to get things right in all of the reports I write for the Weekly Worker. I don’t think there is any point whatsoever in deliberately misrepresenting anyone’s argument. We all need to know what those who disagree with us are saying. However, I don’t think I just dreamt up the position of the Independent Socialist Network, Nick Wrack, Dave Landau and co that was expressed at the meeting.
He further goes on to say that the third position was actually that of the CPGB, which never put forward “their ‘partyist’ position of LU standing as LU alone, a failure revealing in itself”. I’m sorry, comrade, but it was us who put forward the amendment from Hackney, which did indeed talk about standing in the GLA elections as Left Unity (and for negotiations with other socialists to avoid clashes wherever possible), but was against standing under the Tusc umberella. We put forward our argument aiming to strengthen LU in the face of those who wanted either not to stand or turn us into an adjunct of a doomed Labour Party mark two project. We did in the end lend our support to the Liz Davies-Luke Cooper-Terry Conway motion despite our objections to its populism, in order to defeat the notion that contesting the elections was a waste of resources.
I agree that elections are a tactical issue. We need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of standing. Our motion made it clear that, while we should consider standing for mayor, LU should be opposed to the position of executive mayor itself. Elections are an excellent way of fighting for our positions. They usually give the party more publicity than can be bought by the same resources spent in another way. They also indicate that a party is serious about offering a consistent socialist challenge. On the other hand, what would not standing any candidates indicate? That LU is already dead, or at least dying?
It is true that Simon Hardy stood as a general election candidate in Vauxhall, and Lambeth LU ran a good campaign, which I supported. I went knocking on the doors and contributed to its funding. Simon did say how important he felt the EU vote will be in a couple of years time as well, so he hasn’t completely taken the John Rees-type movementist route yet. But I’m happy that the accusation of movementism has caused consternation, because it should.
For those who regularly attend branch meetings, as I do in Greenwich and Lewisham, it is obvious that LU is already an organisation dominated by activism. A good part of our meetings are given over to reports of local actions. There have been some attempts at political discussion, which has been welcome, but the reality is that in the wake of poor results and the general reaction against ‘divisive’ and ‘sectarian’ politics, there is a tendency to use activism to obscure differences. This sort of activism dominates all the various shades of the economistic left. I’ve criticised it in more depth in relation to Simon’s pamphlet, when he was the leader of the International Socialist Network (see ‘Organisation, consciousness and the knack of falling apart’ Weekly Worker December 4 2014).
In reality, the position of not standing in the GLA elections was a climbdown from political intervention. Elections were counterposed to campaigning on all sorts of issues - housing, migration, living wage, and so on - whereas in reality contesting elections allows you to raise those issues in a more rounded, joined-up way. My argument has never been that such campaigns are unworthy and should not be supported. But by themselves they can never transform LU into a real political force. LU’s problems are political, and connected to its orientation.
To describe this position as “passive propagandist” is just nonsense. As for Stuart’s other objections, I really think he should read what he is criticising a bit more carefully.
Sarah McDonald reported on Left Unity’s national council last week, saying, “Steve Freeman brought up Scottish independence (in the name of which he stood against the LU-endorsed candidate for Bermondsey, Kingsley Abrams in the general election)”.
It is true that I did support a ‘yes’ vote in last September’s referendum, which would have meant semi-independence under the British crown, as opposed to the present royal constitutional devolutionist dog’s dinner. However, I did not call for Scottish Independence in the 2015 Bermondsey election. I argued for the end of the 1707 Act of Union and indeed all the acts of union. It is the job of the English working class to abolish this act straightway. I stood therefore as an “anti-unionist”.
The Scottish working class is right not to wait on the English working class to wake up from its Tory-Labour unionist slumber, but set about continuing the task they began by voting ‘yes’ in the referendum. Whether the act is abolished by action in Scotland and/or England, the Scottish people will then establish their sovereign right to decide for themselves their future relationship with England.
The English left has been terrified by the propaganda of the British ruling class into either supporting the acts of union or taking a neutral stance, which is the next best thing from a unionist perspective. You might abstain in a referendum as a ‘tactic’, even if it was an error, but not on the fundamental issue of the anti-democratic 1707 Act of Union.
If I had a weakness, it was in not condemning the unionist Tusc-Left Unity candidates in Bermondsey and elsewhere. Fighting other socialist candidates was not the reason I stood in Bermondsey. It was to promote republican socialism against the Tories, Liberal Democrats and the ‘royalist party of the working class’. Now the election is over, I am free to condemn the left unionist parties.
The parochialism of the little England left, who dress up as British unionists on the British road to socialism, is incredible. These parties may be in favour of democracy and self-determination on the other side of the world, but not here. It is complete ignorance to think that Queen Anne’s bloody Act of Union is some progressive form of proletarian internationalism, which the CPGB and Sarah have to defend.
Left Unity and former candidate for Bermondsey
Left Unity members in Teesside held their first meet-up on June 17. Whilst only four of the 12 party members with TS postcodes were able to attend this informal gathering in a Middlesbrough pub, it was nevertheless useful to meet each other, learn about our political backgrounds and discuss the way forward for establishing a Teesside LU branch.
We have organised a public launch event for Thursday July 16 at 7.15pm in St Mary’s Centre, Middlesbrough. This meeting will be open to members and non-members, and will feature LU’s national nominating officer, Terry Conway, as guest speaker on the topic, ‘Why do we need Left Unity?’ We hope the open invitation will encourage comrades from a wide range of political groups to attend and generate a debate about LU and the future of the left.
We will be promoting the launch meeting by word of mouth, local social media forums and distributing leaflets at political meetings and actions in the run-up.
We agreed to follow up the launch event with an inaugural meeting on Tuesday July 28, at which we will formally declare the establishment of LU’s Teesside branch - hopefully with a few more members in attendance than were present on this occasion.
If you would like more information on LU in Teesside, please get in touch by emailing Teesside@leftunity.org.
Howard Phillips cites ‘Salt of the Earth’ from the Rolling Stones’ masterstroke Beggars banquet as an example of the album’s “flashes of social insight and empathy for the ‘common people’” (‘Stoned and dethroned’, June 18).
This is a widespread but serious misreading that takes lyrics such as “let’s drink to the hard working people” at face value. The crucial moment of the song is its bridge: “And when I look in the faceless crowd, a swirling mass of greys and black and white, they don’t look real to me. In fact they look so strange.” Rather than being a populist cheer to the working masses, ‘Salt of the Earth’ expresses the alienation of its author - by then a jet-setting member of Britain’s rock aristocracy - from the lower orders.
If the sarcasm of lines such as “Spare a thought for the stay-at-home voter” escapes Phillips, he might want to rewatch Mick Jagger’s empathetically grimacing performance of the tune in Rock ’n’ roll circus, a TV show he cites further in his review.
Beggars banquet, which flirts with ‘proletarian’ themes as well as revolutions and social change, was the Stones’ answer to the events of 1968. Favourable interpretations, such as the one advanced by Perry Anderson in the New Left Review at the time, identify a sense of doubt in the album's material: while supposedly broadly sympathetic to the aims of the left, Jagger expressed his impatience with the conservatism of the British working class in songs such as ‘Street fighting man’: the French might be in revolt, but “what can a poor boy do” in a “sleeping London town”?
My somewhat less generous reading of Jagger’s motives is informed not least by his own 1971 admission concerning ‘Salt of the Earth’: “The song is total cynicism. I’m saying those people haven’t any power and they never will have.” We could argue about other numbers from Beggars banquet - for instance, ‘Factory girl’, also cited in the review. Phillips might hear “social insight” and “empathy for the ‘common people’” in lines such as “waiting for a factory girl … and her knees are much too fat”, but I would argue they are just typical of Sir Mick Jagger’s lyrical treatment of women and other underlings.
What the fuck was ‘Stoned and dethroned’ all about? I thought for a moment I was reading the New Musical Express.
Is this a new tactic from the CPGB to encourage the youth of today to join the ranks of the left? Get some old Rolling Stones fan to bore them to death with tales of a bygone era lived in (wait for it) a village! Hardly a walk on the wild side, is it?
Shall we go round the local estates leafleting shit flats and houses to inform the working class that there is a viable alternative with well-written communist propaganda? No, we will get a fucking hippy to write articles on the pop world in the 60s and 70s and push them through letterboxes. Now that really would shake the establishment.