Lesser evil

I was looking forward to the Weekly Worker after its holiday and it did not disappoint: a rigorous analysis and critique of everything that Corbyn and Corbynism proclaim and stand for - thank goodness.

Then there is the gently critical “We should be looking beyond the progressive rhetoric ... and thinking before we ... support ... an apparently lesser evil” from ‘Commissaress’ in the report on Communist University (‘Eight days of learning and debate’, September 3).

And I had felt the same - what was this hope that the mild energy of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign represented a genuine potential source of a beginning of the ‘refounding’ of Labour? And, given the party’s pro-capitalist stance at a deep level, what sort of hope is that anyway?

But, no, I realistically reminded myself: we need to bring together the energy of our class to achieve that end result, and it is necessary to work within Labour, as our present realistic start of ‘Project Refoundation’.

So I imagined myself, with this week’s Weekly Worker in hand, putting the question to Jeremy Corbyn during the meeting in Middlesbrough town hall (over 1,000 present): ‘Jeremy, will you ask every comrade here tonight to read this copy of Weekly Worker, and seriously consider the reasons why you do not represent any sort of new beginning for this Labour Party you love, but that if most of your audience actively takes on the critique found here, we can indeed make a start?’

Well? The atmosphere in that actual meeting was not exactly inquisitive - more one of simple interest in what exactly we have in Corbyn’s campaign, with a mild emotional commitment to some sort of ‘renewal of 45’; several dozen comrades were aware of, and opposed to Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership; three participants in the row behind me were seemingly unaware of the work capability assessment, let alone the assertion that some thousands of claimants had died within weeks of being found ‘fit for work’. We were a mixed bunch. Whether - even with fairly jargon-free, inspiring calls to work together, to build an active social movement facing the task of cohering a massive working class response - I would have drawn more than a slack handful of that apparently sympathetic audience, is very doubtful.

‘Commissaress’ reminded us all that “forming alliances with ... reformist movements ... has never worked.” Might she be correct? If she is, where might we put our energies next?

Tom Richardson


Just to elaborate on Eugene V Debs’ attitude to immigration and add to Stephen Diamond’s comments (Letters, August 13), Debs’ views developed from an anti-immigrant position to the one espoused later in life of inclusion - and this was not from Christian charity, but from what best advances the socialist cause. I think his ideas evolved from those of a trade union leader with vested sectional interests of his members to the broader ideals of a socialist spokesperson, representing all workers of all lands.

Debs inherited the prevailing prejudices of the American worker, reflected by the Know-Nothing Party of the time. He attacked the immigration agents as representatives of capital - “enemies of American working men” - who wished to “Chinaise the country” and he openly welcomed legislation that permitted the authorities to deport to their despot-cursed home the victims of these agents’ efforts.

Debs found the Italians even less desirable than the Chinese. “The Dago,” he claimed, “works for small pay, and lives far more like a savage or a wild beast, than the Chinese”. This Italian “fattens on garbage” and cares little for civilisation and is, therefore, able to underbid an American working man. Only in this way can the Italian appear industrious and Debs warned that Italy has millions of them to spare and they are coming.

Jews fared little better. When it was announced that the London Board of Guardians had instituted a programme to transfer Russian-Jewish immigrants to the United States, Debs claimed that that this would increase the already increasing hostility towards immigrants. Identifying these immigrants as “criminals and paupers”, Debs bemoaned the fact that most were able to “take up a permanent residence” and strongly advocated that “it was possible to end the infamous business”.

These early views of Debs changed from class experience, not charity, and made the unions and the socialist parties ever stronger, as the influence of the foreign-born sections of the International Workers of the World, Socialist Labour Party and Socialist Party shows. The positive possibilities were highlighted by that Irish immigrant, James Connolly, when he was a labour organiser active in America.

I’d rather not remark upon Stephen Diamond’s observation that “The migrants fleeing the class struggle in their native lands do not more deserve the largesse of the working class than those who stay behind, particularly when they remain to fight”, as it appears to condemn every migrant and settler from all across the world for the past several centuries - including, no doubt, his own antecedents and those of his friends, neighbours and work colleagues.

Alan Johnstone

Obesity denier

Nick Allen’s letter responding to my review of a book about obesity (‘The bitter taste of capitalism’, August 15) bizarrely opens with a defence of the way capitalism produces its sugar-laden foodstuffs (September 3).

He also appears to be an obesity epidemic denier, citing very low rates of childhood diabetes - despite the fact that in the US 30 million people have type-2 diabetes, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the same time he seems very satisfied with the food choices capitalism offers him. Going shopping with comrade Allen must be a treat - like accompanying Charlie on his first visit to the chocolate factory, as he marvels at the latest wonders cooked up by the Umpa-Lumpas. Yet for the rest of us there is no chocolate factory - only street after street of 24-hour Tescos and sadly in reality the Umpa-Lumpas turn out to be a handful of food conglomerates.

Yes, of course, there are fruits and vegetables available in Tesco, but to say that not to choose healthy food over processed, unhealthy food is simply down to individual choice or palate is to ignore many important factors - including billion-pound advertising industries that specialise in targeting children, cost and time … in short to ignore the state of life in a modern-day capitalist state. This ‘choice’ has nothing to do with workers being unable to distinguish between the benefits of a burger over a banana (neither of which is a healthy meal, by the way).

I work as a GP in a very deprived area, where there is a huge obesity problem and very high rates of type-2 diabetes, and unfortunately I regularly diagnose people in their 30s with diabetes. I don’t consider my patients’ obesity to be down to them being “dim”, as comrade Allen claims - in fact they are on the whole very insightful and intelligent people, most of whom (unlike comrade Allen) can see that there is more to overcoming obesity than someone enlightening them that they should eat less and exercise more.

James Linney


Sarah McDonald’s letter (August 13) contains absurd contradictions about the CPGB’s record of capitulation to Zionist pressure over the past year, and its willing participation, in its own small way, in the kind of witch-hunting of critics of Zionism that on a bigger scale is now being flung at Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign. I do sympathise with Sarah, as she has been given an unpleasant job to do: defending the indefensible.

Sarah criticises the disputes committee of Left Unity for rejecting the CPGB’s anathema against my Marxist views on the Jewish question as supposedly ‘anti-Semitic’, and accuses the DC of negligence and brushing this under the carpet. That this is nonsense is shown by Laurie McCauley’s praise for the same newly elected DC’s “political neutrality, initiative and plain old common sense” and their rejection of those using the DC to conduct “political battles or even … petty personal vendettas” (Letters, September 3). Sarah churlishly regrets that the DC rejected the CPGB PCC’s own political vendetta, which with characteristic cowardice and hypocrisy, it left to others to fight. Thankfully the DC had the sense to dismiss the false allegations against both Laurie and myself.

She makes it clear that the CPGB does not take either racism itself or its smears against me seriously at all. She writes: “rest assured, the complaint did not come from us” and “it is not our job to act as LU’s policemen”. Well, I’m sorry, comrades, but if you really do believe that my publications are promoting ‘racism’ within LU, the job of any responsible LU member is to do just that!

The attitude Sarah attributes to Salman Shaheen, who “apparently asked why we in the CP had not brought this to the attention of LU”, is very much to the point. If the CPGB seriously believed in their smear, or cared about ‘racism’, they would have made the complaint themselves. After all, they claim to be about providing ‘political leadership’ in LU.

They did not, because they do not care much about such things and in any case were well aware their allegations were based on a tissue of lies and would not stand up to scrutiny, as was subsequently proven. My views on the Jewish question have now been recognised as correct by Socialist Fight, and I am confident that they will gain much wider recognition on the left.

The CPGB’s anathema was a capitulation to Jewish chauvinism and anti-Arab racism during and after last year’s genocidal massacre of Arabs in Gaza by the Israeli state. Jack Conrad admitted, in an unguarded moment, that his motive for getting rid of me was cowardice. He could not stomach the possibility that, by associating with me and my views, the CPGB would be (falsely) accused of anti-Semitism.

Very revealing is the Conrad/Machover motion that signalled last year’s heresy-hunt in the CPGB, where my views were equated with “Proudhon and Bakunin” as supposedly indicative of “left anti-Semitism”. Those obscurantists were unable to quote even one fragment to demonstrate any similarity between my views and these ideologues of 19th century anarchism. However, it is easy to show my commonality with classical Marxists such as Karl Marx himself, Abram Leon and also Isaac Deutscher.

The CPGB have, under Conrad’s guidance, spent many years studying and assimilating the political views and methods of Hal Draper, the American Shachtmanite ideologue. Mike Macnair in his August 13 article, ‘Socialism from below: a delusion’ gave the game away when he noted Draper sometimes used “what Trotsky, in relation to the Moscow trials, called an ‘amalgam’: that he associates different and opposed political tendencies”. Furthermore, on so-called “left anti-Semitism”, he noted “the points Draper picked up on in 1960-66 about Proudhon’s or Bakunin’s anti-Semitism” as a distinctive aspect of Draper’s political physiognomy. Draper wrote an article branding Karl Marx’s famous essay, ‘On the Jewish question’, as an example of then-current ignorance and stereotypes about Jews - a criticism at odds with the praise for the materialist analysis in that essay by classical Marxists such as Leon and Deutscher. Jack Conrad, in his book, Fantastic reality,concurred with Draper on this (p58).

Conrad, with Moshé Machover in tow, acted as a pupil of Draper in the heresy-hunt in the Communist Platform, in evoking Draper’s material about Proudhon and Bakunin, and following Draper’s fondness of amalgams that Mike Macnair says were similar to those used in the Moscow trials.

Based on this method, the CPGB ran its own mini-version of a Moscow trial nearly a year ago. If Conrad had been more honest, his motion would have condemned me for echoing the ‘left anti-Semitism’ of Karl Marx and Abram Leon, not Proudhon and Bakunin. But then the anti-communist nature of the purge would have been obvious to even the most dull-witted CPGB supporter.

Regarding chauvinism on the left, Draper was one of the worst offenders. Take his 1948 essay, ‘How to defend Israel’, defending the Shachtmanites’ support for Israel in its so-called ‘war of independence’. Draper wrote: “If the Jews have the right to self-determination, what territory can they ‘self-determine themselves’ in without infringing upon the national rights of the Arab people? Is there any? Obviously none ...”

Let no-one accuse Draper of believing in equality of peoples. He was an unashamed Jewish chauvinist; well aware that supporting national oppression was the inevitable consequence of Israeli-Jewish “self-determination” through “infringing the national rights of the Arab people”. This is an apologist’s way of describing the massive pogrom, series of massacres and forcible expulsion of two-thirds of the Arab population of Palestine that constituted the Naqba.

This tradition gave birth to the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty as well as the CPGB’s pro-Zionist capitulations. Its Stalinophobia hides hypocrisy; it habitually engages in Stalinist techniques like Nazi-baiting others on the left. It produced more graduates, such as ex-AWLer James Bloodworth, the pungent Zionist chauvinist who has been prominent trying to witch-hunt Jeremy Corbyn over his bid for the Labour leadership. Bloodworth is the finished product of this type of politics.

But there is a continuum between Draper’s and Conrad’s methods and the more blatant expressions of pro-Zionist chauvinism at work today.

Ian Donovan
editorial board, Socialist Fight

Motions passed

The recently formed Teesside branch of Left Unity held its second meeting on Tuesday September 8. Although there were more apologies than attendees on this occasion, those present felt it important to get on with business, especially as all branch members had been invited to put forward motions for Left Unity’s national conference and several had been proposed.

Motions for an alternative constitution and code of conduct for Left Unity, as previously published in the Weekly Worker, were backed by the branch, along with one opposing imperialist intervention in other countries and another advocating the dissolution of the UK state’s standing army and its replacement by a people’s militia under democratic control.

Whilst there was much common ground on motions regarding the Labour Party and Greece, we ran out of time to formulate satisfactory amendments. A motion proposing an active boycott of the government’s referendum on the European Union fell.

Regarding progress on actions agreed at the last meeting, the branch secretary reported that he had written to LU’s national council seeking formal recognition of the branch and that an online discussion forum for branch members had also been established. The treasurer reported that he had obtained application forms to open a bank account.

Tribute was paid to LU member Martyn Littlefair, who died on August 14. Although Martyn had been unable to participate in the Teesside branch’s formation over the summer due to ill-health, the comrade had been a party member from its early days and he had a long history of actively supporting social justice and opposing austerity. The branch secretary had attended Martyn’s funeral on September 2.

For news from Teesside Left Unity, please follow us on Facebook or Twitter and bookmark our blog at http://TeessideLU.tumblr.com.

Steve Michael

Not subjective

By her reply to my letter on qualitative change Rosa Lichtenstein inspires a question: to be an objective law, must a quantity of changes making for a qualitative outcome always occur (Letters, August 13)?

No, a scientific law is not a command to nature (by God?), where simple prediction always comes true. Scientists now define it as an event that happens only in circumstances where all of certain mechanisms are present. As Roy Bhaskar has put it, “Causal laws then appear as the tendencies of natural kinds, realised under certain conditions.”

This is why I would agree with Rosa if she pointed out that the horse, for example, has hardly changed at all in 30 million years. Smaller, larger, stronger, fleeter - often through selective breeding - but not qualitatively a new animal. Whatever tendencies were present that might have developed in an opposite direction - maybe towards being a predator - they didn’t come into play. Dialectical thinking can live with minor change. Even Hegel noted that the Roman republic didn’t collapse in the face of Julius Caesar: the next progression, as it were. Another Caesar had to decide the struggle another way, given the balance of forces.

Are we mistaken though in observing when something is qualitatively new in form - water into steam, ape-like into human, revolution into Stalinism? I’d say this was “subjective” only if it failed to be the start - or the end, as in Darwin - of an in-depth investigation and explanation.

Mike Belbin