On June 18 two open-borderist comrades replied to my argument that the relaxation of border controls is pro-capitalist (Letters, June 11). Their common thread is that refusing to demand abolition of all border controls and cessation of all deportations reads migrant workers out of the working class. As I’ll show, the critique of open borderism hasn’t that implication.
Both letters correctly call for ending guest worker programmes, but the comrades apparently don’t see how contradictory their position is. Do they foresee organising migrant workers around the elimination of their jobs? Guest worker programmes must be abolished because they are inimical to the labour movement as a whole. Justification doesn’t require Alan Johnstone’s rationale - tortured and paternalistic - that migrant workers might be better off if the jobs weren’t available to them.
What the comrades deny is the permissibility, by the working class movement within its own ranks, of some forms of discrimination. The classic Marxist rebuttal is the 1880 French communist programme, whose measures regarding foreign workers were explicitly discriminatory. Perhaps comrades aren’t familiar with the demand contained in The programme of the Parti Ouvrier, drafted by Marx and Guesde and praised by Engels: “Legal prohibition of bosses employing foreign workers at a wage less than that of French workers.” This isn’t a minimum wage, which is demanded separately. It is express protection against wage undercutting by migrant workers.
For the sake of clarity, another example of properly discriminatory measures, child labour laws, should be recognised for what they are: a worthy prohibition of the employment of underage undercutters to benefit labour. The children (workers, too) didn’t always benefit from the ban on their employment. (Border controls are indeed different from these measures because they’re basic to statehood, and the working class - short of dual power - has no means of implementing state policy without allying with the capitalist state apparatus.)
To deflect the argument that open-borderists support the plutocracy, Alan distinguishes open borders from relaxation of controls. But supporting the mere relaxation of controls is implicit in the demand for open borders - itself neither realisable under modern capitalism nor the first priority under socialism.
Open borders are a necessary objective of the international socialist revolution. But to advocate open borders in the abstract without the necessary context of fundamentally changing the capitalist system is to advocate utopian reformism - which might take place in a few partial cases, where it has the permission of capitalism. But ‘partial’ open borders to select races is not open borders.
While the ‘open borders’ slogan is correct, we have to explain at the same time that the imperialist countries owe a debt to the countries of Africa and Latin America and must be willing to pay reparations, so that revolutionary governments in the imperialist countries would rapidly improve the standard of living of those in exploited countries. Most emigrants I have met do not want leave their own countries, but feel they have no alternative, because capitalism has failed them. There will be few emigrants when the people of Africa and Latin America have a decent diet and housing.
Marxists often advocate transitional slogans because they are ‘catchy’ and we want to be listened to. But then the connection between these slogans and the revolution (not a popular idea at the moment) is obscured by the failure to make revolution a real option. What is objectively necessary will not happen - there is no solution without revolution.
In response to Tony Roberts (Letters, June 25) supposedly in relation to my article on the Rolling Stones (‘Stoned and dethroned’, June 18), can I first of all apologise for being born in a village. I’ll try harder next time to be born somewhere much better.
I can certainly agree with Tony that pushing “well-written communist propaganda” through letterboxes has really shaken up the establishment in the past and I know there have been a number of questions asked in parliament about the practice. You see, as these leaflets drop down on doormats, they get added to all those free local papers and takeaway menus, and become a real fire risk. Naughty!
The one time in my life that I write about something genuinely popular - a rock group that has moved millions of so-called ordinary people (for better or for worse) over the course of many years - I get upbraided by some lefty who, judging by the immense charm and intellect on show in his letter, will have been lucky to have moved tens of people. Funny old world!
On the more serious letter from Maciej Zurowski, I agree with most of what he has written, but ultimately what he has got his knickers in a twist over are really only passing comments in the published piece. I think the song, ‘Salt of the earth’, from Beggars’ banquet is banal and the worse of the album. That is why I said it was “somewhat trite” - I was quoting the lyrics not in an approving sense, but as an example of silliness and inability to comprehend. “Say a prayer for the common foot soldier/Spare a thought for his back-breaking work” is obviously an example of profound distance. ‘Factory girl’ is much more ambiguous, as I think are ‘Street fighting man’ and ‘Jigsaw puzzle’. I actually made all this clearer in my original draft and went through the contradictions of the songs at much more length, but I trimmed this back so that the writing became more angular.
The real point I wanted to make in the broader scheme of the article is that some conception of the social world made an appearance with the Stones in the mid-1960s, but had faded out by the early 1970s, to be replaced by simple hedonism. I’m interested in the Stones in this regard because social commentary obviously wasn’t their thing at all, but there was a magnetic pull towards it that ends up in snide carping. It’s a great dialectic.
I actually couldn’t give a stuff about the lefty morality tale (which I kind of sense from Maciej), whether or not Jagger and Richards (or Ray Davies or whoever) looked down on the proles from a great height, etc. I’ve got great faith in people and I think they can take being mocked and insulted. I think it’s all profoundly entertaining and I much prefer the Dylan who implies everyone was grotesque, stupid and fucked up to the one who pats people on the head with trite old left nursery rhymes.
Having said that, I think it’s pretty obvious from the article that I’m no fan of what the Stones became after Brian Jones had died.
Hatfield Main has just announced it will close - the last pit to do so. It is devastating. Every miner in Britain had felt that at least we still have one working mine, and our race isn’t run yet - the fat lady hasn’t sung and maybe somehow someone will see the folly of closing down all our mines and basing the whole energy policy on nuclear and bliddy wind.
The government at the end of March doubled the tax on coal - so that it now accounts for something like two-thirds of the price - as a direct stick to hit the coal power station producers with. They responded by refusing to sign any contract with Hatfield, which wanted £55 per tonne for its coal. Drax power station will only pay the price per day, as it lands at the ports and so Hatfield could only have a contract if it guaranteed to be always lower than the price of the imports. With 12 million tonnes of Russian coal coming to Britain at below production costs in the search for foreign currency, and millions more coming from the USA (also at below the cost of production because of a massive energy glut over there), there is no way any British mine, no matter how efficient, could compete unsubsidised.
The government had offered £18 million to close the mine, but not a red cent to keep it in production. So we’re stuffed for entirely political reasons: it was a policy based upon class strategy initially, but now it is pure class hatred and vindictiveness. North Sea oil will be saved with tax relief and production grants, the frackers will get £1 billion in development aid and 60% tax exemption, nuclear power will be guaranteed a price of £92 per MGH (coal costs £24 per MGH without fossil fuel tax) and wind can write its own cheque. But coal? Class memories run deep and the Tories will never let us survive, even as the cheapest, longest-standing energy source.
Even after everything we’ve witnessed before and seen our mates go down one by one, this is still a very bitter and emotional blow, deeply felt by coal communities across Britain.
On another matter, let me correct your ad for the Durham Miners’ Gala on Saturday July 11. You need to be there for 8am (not 10am) to see all the bands and banners coming in. They start arriving at 8.15 and the best place to watch is down at the County Hotel, where all the labour movement big wigs will be on the balcony. If Weekly Worker readers want to parade with the Follonsby miners lodge banner - probably the most radical union banner in 100 years - meet us at Durham railway station between 8am, when we set up, and 8.30, when we move off. We are down the steps from the main entrance, across the road. We will be there with our band.
Unite for Corbyn
Dave Kirk of ‘Unite for Corbyn’ has sent this important circular to Unite members. I think it should be given the widest publicity.
“We are members of Unite who believe that our union should give its full backing to Jeremy Corbyn in the current contest for leader of the Labour Party. Jeremy is the only consistently pro-union, anti-austerity candidate and has a long track record of supporting workers in struggle. Many of his political positions match, or are close to, those of our union.
“We believe that, whatever the final result, a strong Corbyn campaign can help pull the national debate to the left, and help popularise pro-union and socialist politics inside the Labour Party and in society generally. We call on the executive council to endorse and agree for Unite to nominate Corbyn. It would be a serious mistake to support any other candidate, or to support no candidate.
“Surely it is time for us, as the largest Labour-affiliated union, to come out unambiguously in support of a candidate who has supported us time and time again, and whose politics most closely reflect the political aims of the trade union movement.”
Labour Party Marxists
The publication of almost identical reports in much of the national and international media around June 23 that a photograph taken by Nasa’s Curiosity Rover is that of an almost perfectly formed and symmetrical pyramid on Mars is rather extraordinary and could be very significant.
Ever since the Viking orbiters in 1976 took pictures of what appeared to be anomalous and potentially artificial structures in the Cydonia region of Mars and what appeared to be a large ‘face’ staring out into space from the surface, there has been considerable controversy and speculation about what these may be.
Although some claim they have seen pyramidal structures in these photographs, the old photographic technology, weather conditions on the surface and some odd treatments of the published pictures released by Nasa have meant the evidence has been very far from conclusive, and a lot of the speculation has been hijacked and massively inflated by new age conspiracy theorists.
It was virtually impossible to tell if what looked like heavily eroded and denuded pyramids were in fact perfectly natural mountains or other geological features. People have suggested the pictures of ‘the face’, a mile-long structure on the surface of Mars, are tricks of the light and shadow, or of the brain, or just natural geology. The more recent pictures do look very obscure and really could be anything.
But they do not explain the startling earlier images of ‘the face’, in which some have chosen to see Sphinx-like, Pharaohic or leonine features. To me, the enhanced versions, frames 35A72 and 70A13, appear to be of a simian-helmeted warrior, aggressive and hostile with bared teeth. Readers can take a look and judge and decide for themselves.
However, the latest Curiosity pictures of a pyramid seem remarkably clear, sharp, definitive and unambiguous and it is odd there are apparently no other pictures taken or released by Nasa. Although the feature is relatively small, it is possible it is just the tip of a much larger structure hidden in the sands, which might explain the protected perfect symmetry of the newly exposed structure.
I have been interested for a number of years in the thinking and speculation around Mars, and I hope I have kept as open-minded, objective and critical as possible. However, when I saw the Curiosity picture, I just thought, ‘Oh Jesus Christ - it all, or at least a lot of it, seems to be bloody true. How the hell have they managed to keep this quiet for so long?’
I was also aware the Russians have long had a special interest in Mars and in what Nasa was up to and what it may have discovered.
I am reminded of the dramatic announcement by Nasa on August 7 1996 that evidence of microorganisms on Mars had been found in a 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite in Antarctica, which had originated from Mars. Later that day, President Clinton hailed the event as historic and pledged Nasa “would search for answers and for knowledge which is as old as humanity itself, but essential to our people’s future”. Rather dramatic and odd language even then, given the largest microfossil was just 200 billionths of a metre in length. It seemed to be conveying a subtext to those in the know, but was baffling to the rest of us.
Curiously, the story seemed to simply fade away with no further announced developments, although the Catholic church was shaken for a while, as apparently life elsewhere than on Earth is counter to their entire belief system.
The Weekly Worker is a paper promoting Marxism and the concept of a mass Communist Party as the means through which the world’s working class will emancipate itself and the whole of humanity, so does the Mars story have any relevance to Marxism? Surely we need to have some understanding of our origin and our past, if we are to understand the present and to then shape and influence our future?
If indeed it does turn out there is evidence of a past civilisation on Mars, and which seems to share some common features and cultural history with some of our own ancient civilisations, the implications are breathtaking. Not least, a civilisation far in advance of our own today - a close, intimate connection with the human race on Earth itself, sharing lions, sphinxes and pyramids, and presumably therefore capable of interplanetary travel and communication.
This certainly would challenge the very basis of the Marxian materialist conception of history, and how it explains and describes the emergence and history of the human race and of human civilisation as we know it.
The Weekly Worker more than most left papers and groups also champions the need for the working class to understand who holds power and how they use it to maintain their own rule and privileges, and for the working class to learn and prepare to become a new ruling class, as a central part of the process through which it will emancipate itself and establish a classless, communist society.
The way the world’s dominant imperialist power, and home to the richest and most powerful members of the world’s capitalist and ruling classes, chooses to expend billions of dollars - wealth created by the world’s working classes - in space and planetary exploration, yet appears to be highly controlling and secretive in informing people of the real purpose of this enterprise, and in keeping secret some really extraordinary and potentially enlightening information about our origins, is a key aspect of their class rule.
Another aspect of that rule is the way selective facts and rumours are introduced into general circulation, and are then picked up and whipped up by conspiracy theorists, often with close but hidden links with secret state and permanent government institutions, which simultaneously filtrate key ideas, concepts and facts into the general subconsciousness, discredit them through feverish and outlandish speculation and conspiracy theories - exhausting and excluding the general working population, who have neither the time nor the inclination or information to sift through the vast volumes of verbiage and to try and work out what might be factual and what is guff.
I don’t know if the release of the latest pyramid picture was deliberate or accidental, but the reaction of the world’s media is instructive. There is the usual whipping up and discrediting of the theories and speculation of various obsessive internet-addicted fringe elements, yet a world weariness that the pictures are no great surprise, given all the softening up which has taken place over the past 40-50 years.
I hope I am not one of those mad conspiracy theorists falling for a line. I personally think at least 99% of the conspiracy theories in circulation are bunkum. On the source of the most famous, for example, I am very happy to believe that Lee Harvey Oswald was perfectly capable and probably did single-handedly assassinate president John F Kennedy in Dallas.
However, something in my bones, in my very being - and looking at the various pictures of ‘the face’ on Mars, and despite all the new age nonsense - tells me there is something very significant about the history of our very near neighbour, which is of profound importance to understanding the origin and future of the human race on Earth today.
Marxism is science applied to politics, economics and history, and based on facts and evidence. It should be open, challenging, creative and critical, capable of absorbing new information and discoveries, and integrating this into a modern understanding of the world today and providing a guide for action to change it.