Letters

Candidate cut

In his article, ‘Action requires organisation’ (September 17), Paul Demarty stated: “[The Socialist Party in England and Wales) also reaffirm their commitment to standing Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition candidates against pro-cuts Labour incumbents, which is almost certainly a tactical blunder under the circumstances - all the more so, given Tusc’s risible electoral performances thus far ...”

A tactical blunder? This is unbelievable. I hold no brief for the Socialist Party, but I am in Tusc. Despite the fact that we are an established and legitimate leftwing organisation, must Tusc now only stand where there are no Labour candidates? What have previous election results got to do with whether or not Tusc should stand candidates in future?

I’m flabbergasted that Demarty thinks that pro-cuts Labour candidates should not be challenged merely because they’re part of the sainted new Labour Party. Presumably all these socialists in the Labour Party should work and canvass for these pro-cuts Labour candidates even if there is also an anti-cuts/socialist candidate also standing?

Douglas Lowe
email

Hyperactivism

I attended a meeting organised by Cambridge Left Unity and Cambridge Left Forum last Thursday entitled ‘After Corbyn, where next for the left?’ On the platform were Luke Cooper, Maud from the People’s Assembly, Andrew Osborne of Unite and RS21, and a speaker each from Keep Our NHS Public and the Solidarity Federation.

Comrade Maud began by emphasising the need to oppose austerity, defend the NHS and benefits, and coordinate against the Tory political ideology. But she also said it was important to debate the alternative, because a criticism made about the People’s Assembly was that “we’re only against things”.

Andrew Osborne came out with the rather dubious statement that Corbyn got on the ballot because the Unite executive backed him and had made a threat (likely an empty one), to disaffiliate from the Labour Party. He pointed out that the state is not neutral and power for our class will not come through parliament - only through extra-parliamentary activity and taking to the streets can we achieve power: hyper-activism, in other words. Yes, that will show them.

The speaker from Keep Our NHS Public argued that NHS admin costs are rising and set to rise further. But Corbynomics was challenging modern monetary theory, she said. Comrade Luke Cooper introduced himself as an activist and said it was a happy moment that Corbyn won and attended the refugee demo. We are seeing a fracturing of the political landscape between left and right. Incredibly, he said Corbyn’s victory was a Podemos moment for Britain (just what we need!) and would strengthen the anti-capitalist movement.

A speaker from the anarcho-syndicalist Solidarity Federation said the state can only exist in a world divided by classes. He was for a classless society, based on ‘From each according to their need; to each according to their ability’. So far, so good. He then went on to say that what was needed was direct action - no political party can act on our behalf. The problem with this approach is that it overlooks the ephemeral nature of direct action campaigns and the need for organisation.

The Sol Fed’s second speaker said it was great Corbyn won, but correctly pointed out that if Labour won in 2020 and Corbyn was still the leader they would implement the good policies (debatable), but Britain would still be part of the capitalist system. There would be no real change through parliament - just look at Hollande in France or Syriza in Greece.

In the discussion, Tim Sykes, a Labour member and supporter of Yvette Cooper and Progress, said there was excitement on both the left and right of the party. Labour would stay behind Corbyn as long as he looks like he’s moving forward and away from policies unpopular with the right. After all, “the worst Labour government is better than the best Tory government”. Earlier he had told me the party was “full of Trots”.

A Green Party member said we must work towards a progressive alliance without specifying what that really meant and must not return to factionalism. Peace and goodwill for the ‘common good’ and all will be fine - talk about deluded. Comrade Olivier of the People’s Assembly made some valid points about holding Corbyn accountable to his principles within and without Labour, because he would be under pressure from the right to compromise on them. Deidre Murphy commented in response to Olivier that she’d known Corbyn politically for over 30 years and didn’t think he’ll compromise on his principles.

Jon Duveen mentioned the building of a social movement and posed the question, where do we go from here? It was necessary to get better communication between the groups and think about the policies that we can collectively agree on. Openly disagreeing in honest debate? Perish the thought. Mike, a new recruit to Labour, was battle-ready, making the point that those that had signed up to join could form a majority in their local CLP and fight the Labour right. Another comrade said he had previously never been involved in politics, but had now become politicised.

Owen Holland was sceptical about Labour ward meetings and campaigns, while comrade Clement remarked that although he signed up as a Labour supporter (but was prevented from voting by the Labour bureaucracy), a lot could be done outside Labour. He questioned comrade Cooper’s assessment of Labour as the new Podemos. He remarked that it wasn’t as simple as joining Labour: we need something “more ambitious and stable” (like a mass Communist Party?).

Finally, it was announced that there will be a pro-Corbyn victory party this weekend in the city centre.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad meeting. But it was dominated by the usual left approach, calling for more demonstrations, etc. In other words, no real direction other than just ‘doing stuff’ to oppose austerity.

Harry Cousins
Cambridge

Support Corbyn

The leaders of nine national trade unions which comprise the Trade Union Coordinating Group give full support to Jeremy Corbyn and fully back his appointment of John McDonnell as shadow chancellor.

The TUCG warmly welcomes the landslide election of Jeremy Corbyn as the new leader of the Labour Party, with the support of over one quarter of a million members and supporters. This represents a colossal mandate for Jeremy and for his anti-austerity programme opposing welfare cuts and the grotesque inequalities in our society. The TUCG welcomes the fact that Jeremy Corbyn will be a campaigning popular leader not cut off in Westminster but engaging with the millions of people who need our support.

In his first days in office, the new leader has already: addressed a march in favour of welcoming refugees; affirmed his resolute opposition to the draconian Tory Trade Union Bill; spoken out against the idea of a benefit cap; transformed prime minister’s questions from a public school pantomime into a real people’s parliament.

On Tuesday the TUCG were delighted to witness Jeremy become the first Labour leader at the TUC to give his support to workers currently on strike, as he expressed his solidarity with PCS workers on strike against privatisation at the National Gallery.

Corbyn should be warmly congratulated for putting together a broadly-based shadow cabinet team in which, for the first time, women are in a majority. The TUCG applaud the appointment of John McDonnell as shadow chancellor, signalling a welcome break from Labour’s failed ‘austerity-lite’ politics rejected at the last election, and ensuring there will be no damaging split between leader and shadow chancellor for opponents to exploit.

We condemn the vicious attacks being launched on Jeremy and his team at the behest of rich media barons, and remain confident that the basic truth of his message will continue to resonate with our members. We call on the wider labour movement to unite in defence of the new Corbyn leadership and ensure that we do everything possible to mobilise our full support in taking the attack to the Tories.

Trade Union Coordinating Group
email

Dim left

The moment Jeremy Corbyn won, I joined the Labour Party. Finally, policies that fought against the slow death of England that the Tories espoused. I support just about all the possible new ideas he’s putting forward, so why then do I find I so often disagree with my leftwing friends?

For example, why are people so upset with Hungary? Are they not just doing what they are supposed to do? It would have been much easier to let the refugees go straight to Germany. It hurts to see Hungary on the wrong side of a freedom of movement debate, because, as the first to open their borders in 1989 and allow their citizens into capitalist Europe, they started the greatest revolutions of our lifetime and their country has ever since been the symbol of freedom that the European Union is based on.

And why Germany? Why Britain? After all, when fleeing death, as long as you can survive, then surely anywhere will do for at least a while. The frenzy to get to certain places looks like madness, but only if you see them as refugees or asylum-seekers, not if you think on them as migrants, looking for a better life, not just a life.

And there’s nothing wrong with being a migrant. If you were only a few hundred miles from more prosperity you’d move down from Sunderland to London or take a dangerous boat trip across the Mediterranean. But this motivation is frowned upon, even though most people from aboard come here for that. The 1980s TV series that predicted this Armageddon of mass movement from the third world had armed men standing on the docks at Gibraltar waiting for the landing of thousands of migrants from Africa. It’s inevitable because we’ve been too slow to equal up wealth across the world. There doesn’t need to be a war to make this happen.

I think I must be ill-informed to have these ideas, just like most rightwingers are. For example, David Cameron actually said taking refugees wouldn’t solve the problem, as if anyone was asking him to solve the problem. They were asking him to relieve the symptoms. So I do hate being associated with the dim right wing, but there you go - maybe I’ll never make it as a leftwinger.

Dr Thomas Stockmann
email

Go home

Comrade Earl Gilman reminds me a bit of Jeremy Corbyn (Letters, September 17). For the latter, republicanism is a worthy ideal, but not something you actually fight for in the here and now - there are obviously more pressing priorities like renationalising the railways, and so on.

In the same way, comrade Earl Gilman appears to be a Platonic communist. Yes, the comrade believes in “open borders” - but only in the “future” socialist society, when the “standards of living in every country are similar”. Of course, that rather begs the question of why you would want to move if everything is so hunky-dory at home. But, anyway, until we arrive at socialism - please make it soon - we just have to accept that the world is a prison house of nations and states. People should stay put. To do anything else, according to the comrade, is to fall victim to the “humanitarian-social world view” that “accepts all immigrants because of their sad situation, whether or not they are really political refugees”. Like many bourgeois politicians and the press, the comrade subscribes to the ultimately artificial separation between refugees and ‘economic’ migrants - the former are tolerable under certain circumstances, but the latter should be turned away. A drain on the nation’s resources.

Indeed, for comrade Gilman, to advocate open borders at this moment in time can only lead to the “growth of fascist organisations”, presumably because an influx of migrants - foreigners - would spark a nationalist backlash. But if the borders were kept closed, we assume, fascist groups would have nothing to get upset about - hence problem solved, if we are to believe the comrade.

In reality though, comrade Gilman is not a communist at all - even if he does say he is a Marxist and not a social worker. This is made apparent by his idea of “temporary residence permits for immigrants” (presumably he means refugees), who would have to go home when “their countries return to normal”. Here we have a sort of utopian, or dystopian, national socialism - in which countries/nations are regarded as natural and eternal and workers are defined by their nationality, not class.

But for Marxists, at least real ones, there is a dialectical unity of means and ends - ie, means determines ends and ends determine means. Marx’s comment in the Communist manifesto that workers have no country, as “we cannot take from them what they have not got”, not only contains a profound truth - it also has an inescapable logic, when it comes to practice (or practical politics) in the here and now. Our class is an international class, which is a reflection - or product - of the fact that capitalism is an international system: always has been, always will be. There can be no ‘socialist’ hidey-holes or permanent ‘liberated zones’ in this or that part of the world.

Therefore, it is the central task of communists to organise the working class on the largest scale objectively possibly - which under present circumstances means building European-wide organisations that have the potential to constitute themselves as permanent parties of extreme opposition, with deep and organic roots in society: a society within a society, a state within a state, that prefigures or anticipates the future socialist society. In other words, unless we communists actively fight for open borders (and principled internationalism) in the here and now, it will never happen. Comrade Gilman’s means, such as forced repatriation of migrants when some bureaucrat deems their country of origin to be safe, can only produce anti-socialist ends.

Frankly, hostility to open borders is quite obscene - especially coming from the lips of a so-called Marxist - when we can plainly see on our television screens and smart phones that border controls kill; the division of the world into nations (or pseudo-nations) is only generating misery and suffering on an enormous scale. Committed as we are to universal human liberation, communists will redouble their efforts to abolish national borders - which by definition means defending and supporting the free movement of labour and in general the right of people to live and work in any country they wish.

By standing in total solidarity with our class brothers and sisters, no matter which country they come from, we come closer to positively transcending the global capitalist mode of production.

Eddie Ford
email

Shame on Karl

In regards to Earl Gilman’s advice, as a Marxist Karl Marx, along with other members of the First International, should have imposed conditions before they offered aid and assistance to the political refugees who fled to safety after the suppression of the Paris Commune.

Shame on Karl for behaving more like a social worker than a socialist (or should that be reversed?).

Alan Johnstone
email

Platonic

The Tories threaten to abolish workers’ trade unionism and the TUC threatens to abolish the Tory’s monarchy. One good threat deserves another. The Tories mobilise big business and public opinion against the unions. The TUC and Labour Party bring workers onto the streets to demand the end of the crown and a new republic. If these pigs could fly, Cameron wouldn’t be so cocky.

Unfortunately the TUC and the trade unions would never want to take revenge on the Tories by abolishing their sacred symbol of class rule. This would be even more shocking than the Labour Party electing Corbyn as its leader and refusing to sing, “God save our gracious queen”. One reason the monarchy is safe is because Labour is loyal to the crown and the Tory constitution.

The ruling class are not fearful that their attacks on trade unions will stir up a hornet’s nest of republican democracy. Kick the trade unions and you can be confident that they won’t kick back. The Tories pose a credible threat to trade union democracy. But the working class under the hegemony of Labour is not capable of posing a credible threat to the crown.

The monarchist Labour Party has its echo in Tusc. Many Tusc members claim to be republican, yet any party organisation living under a constitutional monarchy which ‘forgets’ to address this in its programme does not deserve to exist. Avoiding democracy is the essence of Tusc, not only in its own constitution, but in its views on the constitution of the state.

Opportunism ‘forgets’ principle, including democratic principles, for ‘success’. This is the rationale for Tusc, and reflects the economism of the trade union bureaucracy - nobody ever heard of the RMT union demanding the abolition of the constitutional monarchy. In politics, if not in affiliation, the RMT is part of the royal family of Labour. We are all wondering when the family rift will be healed and Tusc confined to the dustbin of history.

Of course, Corbo-republicanism has shaken up the pot. The Weekly Worker has pointed to the “platonic republicanism” which Left Unity adopted in its 2015 election manifesto. But the Weekly Worker has so far not distinguished this from militant republicanism. There are at least two key differences between moderate and militant republicanism. Militant republicanism not only demands the abolition of the Acts of Union, but an independent republican party.

An independent republican party is the political means of fighting for and winning a republic. It is the political army of the republic. It stands for the programme of the social republic, independent of all monarchist parties and semi-monarchist parties, such as the Labour Party and Tusc. For those with illusions in Left Unity, its republicanism is purely opportunistic and platonic.

LU is now finished as a Labourite party. Can it become a militant republican party of the working class? More pigs flying?

Steve Freeman
LU republican socialist and anti-unionist

Real symbol

Shahrokh Zamani, the brave and tireless fighter of the Iranian workers’ movement, has died in Gohar Dasht prison. The news was received with total disbelief and utter shock. In our view, whatever reasons the authorities may offer, the responsibility for his death lies completely with those who have imposed conditions of slavery on the workers of Iran and have taken away their rights to organise and struggle for a better life; and with those who throw honourable and valiant human beings such as Shahrokh Zamani into dungeons.

The shocking news of his death, without any prior history of illness, is not the first news of such a loss of life of a prisoner and, given the current conditions in the country’s jails, will not be the last. Although this untimely death will naturally appear suspicious to any unbiased person, even without any such suspicions the conditions in prisons, especially for worker activists and political prisoners, are already murderous enough for a thousand and one reasons - from microwave torture to unsuitable food, from inadequate sanitation to absence of medical care, from unhealthy living quarters to every kind of mental and psychological pressure.

Shahrokh Zamani had committed no crime other than defending the rights of his fellow workers. He had no official position, he had not defrauded anyone, he had not harmed anybody and he was not a partner to any thief or highway robber. He was a building worker and a member of the Committee for the Establishment of Independent Trade Unions, a member of the coordinating committee for restarting the Paint Workers Syndicate and its founding mentor.

He was thrown into jail in 2011 for defending workers’ rights, but for a brave fighter prison did not mean an end to struggles. In his almost five years of imprisonment, and from his two-man cell at Gohar Dasht prison, he never stopped until his last breath to struggle and fight for just causes. Jails, courts, repression and pressure from the security forces and jailers could not silence Shahrokh. He, with his unrivalled braveness and steadfastness, and without an iota of self-promotion, was the real symbol of Iranian workers’ resistance and struggle for liberation from oppression and exploitation.

The death of Shahrokh is an irreplaceable loss for his family and friends and for the workers’ movement as a whole. We are sincerely sorrowful for this great loss and declare our sympathies with his family, friends, his fellow prisoners and workers all over the country. But despite this unbearable pain, we will not retreat into our sorrow and we will turn his death into the banner of workers’ solidarity and unity.

We salute you, Shahrokh Zamani!

Workers’ committees
Iran

Dialectical leap

In his comment on my previous letter, Stephen Diamond raises the issue of how we discuss change and what a major, “discontinuous” change has to be (Letters, September 17). When do we apply the concept of a ‘dialectical leap’ to mark such a qualitative change? Are there in fact very few examples of these? According to Comrade Diamond, they don’t include the evolutionary transition from ape-like to human or the political one from Leninism to Stalinism, because “discontinuity of change and instantaneity of transformation [are] the key determinant of whether something really is ‘a different kind’”.

One of the points we do agree on is how to handle ‘impressions’ of change, though comrade Diamond doesn’t seem to think so. What I did say in my letter is that impressionistic thinking errs in being subjective “only if it failed to be the start … of an in-depth investigation and explanation” (September 9). Where else do we start? Seeing as we’re not instant appreciators of the totality and deep structures of things, we must start with guesses, brainwaves and even wishes, but then in the dialectical labour of knowledge we check, modify or discount our hypotheses - a process approved of by comrade Diamond.

I also said that “dialectical thinking can live with minor change” and gave the example of the horse - hardly altered over 30 million years. Yes, not every change is major. However, comrade Diamond asks, “Who is to say whether a tiny pony is qualitatively different in form from a huge dray horse?” A good question. As atheists, we can agree that it doesn’t matter at all to the multiverse whether a universe can support life, or to the cosmos whether one species on Earth survives or doesn’t. But it matters to the forms of life themselves, and to humans it may matter which form is the better to ride: the horse or the horse-fly. I think Stephen and I are not so far apart: we agree that not everything goes through a qualitative change. It’s just how we recognise this: to what or whom does it matter?

In defining dialectical thinking, Lenin takes change, great and small, as given - there are “opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature”, and this is “the key to the leaps, to the break in continuity, to the transformation into the opposite, to the destruction of the old and the emergence of the new”. So in all change there is discontinuity: the point is how much?

In ‘The part played by labour in the transition from ape to man’, Engels begins by offering “the decisive step in the transition” as not language, intelligence or even the reproduction of tools, but when a particular ape-like creature lost “the habit of using their hands to walk and adopted a more and more erect posture”.

Of course, this wasn’t the end of the story. As comrade Diamond considers the term ‘leap’ unfortunate - perhaps it is too instantaneous - maybe a better metaphor would be to refer to a dividing line, a term not so time-bound but still a clear demarcation, or a break, a joint, as in the fingers or leg, after which a different direction is discernible.

The ape that walked upright had its hands freed for various adventures, but didn’t become homo sapiens immediately. The upright posture - and subsequent loss of an external sign of sexual availability in females - did, however, provide a dividing line: a qualitative difference, for development in the future. This is not to say that humans lost all animal characteristics. In dialectical thinking it isn’t a case of either-or, but more or less.

This brings us to the difficulty of describing the Soviet Union. I am no believer in ‘state capitalism’, so let us forget that attempt at an either-or. Once again, comrade Diamond doubts that there was any great alteration here: “at no point did state power change hands”. Certainly no class power changed hands, the law of value remained absent (up until recently) and the Soviet Union was not bourgeois.

But power did change hands: society changed direction. In 1929 Stalin got the Politburo to exile Trotsky and the ‘left’, and by that November had removed Bukharin and others, the ‘right’, from leading positions. Party democracy had been replaced by the leadership of a faction. The subsequent five-year plan and later purges of further factional ‘enemies’ show that the state was now committed to a savage ‘modernisation’ (industrial nationalism), not world revolution, underneath all the rhetoric, with an elite that denied it was an elite. This was a model to be copied later by other nations backward in the world competition with imperialism.

The Stalinist original was nevertheless unstable, with the possibility that the balance of forces - the more or less - could reverse and capitalism return. And yet there had been a difference, just as there is a difference between republican democracy and fascism, despite them both being capitalist. Do such differences matter to us?

Mike Belbin
London

Phantasmagoria

Rex Dunn (‘No to “Marxist art”, September 17) replies to my letter on ‘Marxism and art’ (September 3) to invoke Adorno, but only partially and critically. And undialectically.

I think it is a mistake to try to adjudicate Marxism on the basis of postmodernist categories, such as ‘essentialism’ versus ‘anti-essentialism’ and ‘structuralism’ or ‘post-structuralism’. Marxism is none of these. They are too beholden to the new left’s concerns, and neglect the older, deeper history. Such antinomies of postmodernism are nonetheless potentially related to what Marx called the “phantasmagoria” of capitalism, in which cause and effect and means and ends become confused and reversed.

As Adorno wrote to Benjamin about capitalism, “The fetish character of the commodity is not a fact of consciousness; rather it is dialectical, in the eminent sense that it produces consciousness ... perfection of the commodity character in a Hegelian self-consciousness inaugurates the explosion of its phantasmagoria.”

While this may seem terribly abstract, it does say something about art and capitalism, as well as the struggle for socialism. Socialism is a symptom of capitalism, as is modern art. It is capitalism’s unrealised potential, necessarily distorted as it is constrained. But to regard that potential properly means returning to the bourgeois-emancipatory character of art in the modern world. It will appear ‘inhuman’.

While humans may have always made art, they did not always make art as an ‘end in itself’. Like production for its own sake, art for art’s sake is a bourgeois value, but one perverted by capitalism. Its ideal remains - as Dunn himself acknowledges with his vision of a socialist homo aestheticus.

So this is why it becomes necessary to follow modern art, as Adorno did, in an “immanently dialectical” method of “critique”. Adorno’s Aesthetic theory seems general and unsatisfactory because it remains a meta-theoretical statement that should have been unnecessary from the standpoint of his concrete critical essays on art and literature. Yet it was still necessary for him (to try) to write. Why?

Adorno’s concrete essays have apparently sometimes given the mistaken impression that he was a partisan for some art over others. Dialectical critique was mistaken for polemic. That’s why Adorno also sometimes appears to equivocate: the dialectic is lost.

That is the problem with the apparent oppositions of postmodernism that actually share something in common that is unacknowledged: that the antinomies of society in capitalism point beyond themselves. So does art.

Socialism will not mean returning to pre-bourgeois ‘art’, but fulfilling the freedom of art, announced, but betrayed and mocked, by bourgeois society in capitalism. That will mean going beyond art in capitalism, but in ways neither Aristotle nor Adorno nor Kant nor Hegel nor Marx himself - nor we ourselves - would quite recognise.

Adorno, like Trotsky, whose Literature and revolution (1924) and other writings on art and culture were profoundly inspirational for him, did not prescribe what a true - free - ‘human culture’ would be, but recognised the need to struggle in, through and beyond capitalism - beyond art - on the basis of capitalism, to make it possible.

Chris Cutrone
Platypus