Letters

Scare word

Honestly, when I saw ‘Labour Party Marxists’ outside the conference hall in Brighton I felt like crying.

I am a Labour Party member and a Jeremy Corbyn supporter who voted for him. But if you persist in your adolescent ego-trips none of what Jeremy is campaigning for will ever see the light of day. It’s a simple as that.

I don’t know what you mean by ‘Marxist’ - are you talking about Marx’s challenge to Hegelian idealism or the later historical materialist phase? Certainly, listening to one of you on the radio, it was clear that he didn’t know either.

It’s easy to build a psychological identity base on opposition - which is what you have done, but do you want change? The word ‘Marxist’ has negative connotations for millions of people, who don’t understand it. If you don’t go away, if you continue to give photo-opportunities to the Daily Mail, if you persist in attempting to attach yourself to a movement which has never been nor will ever be a Marxist one, you will ruin everything that has been achieved this summer.

Are you in this for your own ego or do you really want to see a fairer society? That’s the question you have to ask yourself now. The rightwing press will use the word ‘Marxist’ to scare millions of potential voters - and it will work.

We have the chance to initiate something really special here that will affect countless people’s lives in the real world. Please, please, I implore you, don’t mess it up. Join Labour, abolish your little flyer and let’s get on with it.

On your conscience be it.

James Quinn
email

Forward together

We had a lengthy discussion about Jeremy Corby’s victory in the Labour leadership election at the September Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition meeting. Everyone was enthused by his victory.

Rugby Tusc asked me to write to Rugby Labour Party to discuss ways we can work together on developments following Jeremy Corbyn’s election. I hope for a positive response.

Rugby Tusc also sent a resolution on this issue to the Tusc national conference, which took place last Saturday, September 26. The resolution called for us to continue to build Tusc, whilst opening discussions about political developments post-Corbyn at local level with Labour Party branches/constituency parties. It also called for liaison nationally with left-Labour organisations like the Labour Representation Committee - so Tusc will be talking to Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters inside the Labour Party both locally and nationally to see how we can move forward together. Only time will tell what that could lead to - it presents exciting possibilities.

The resolution from Rugby, which was passed unanimously, also agreed to encourage the rest of the left to support such left unity initiatives. Tusc’s national steering committee will now decide how best to do this. I am proud that Rugby Tusc has initiated policy which Tusc has then adopted nationally, especially on such a live and potentially game-changing political issue.

Speaker after speaker at conference spoke of the need to engage with the Labour left, whilst building Tusc and standing as many anti-cuts candidates as possible against any party or councillor who supports austerity. We have been doing that for five years. In that sense, nothing has changed.

However, Jeremy Corbyn’s victory has already enlivened politics in Britain, and we will relate to that. Hundreds of thousands of mostly young people have joined the Labour Party since the general election in May. 50,000 joined in the first seven days following Jeremy’s victory.

The support for Jeremy Corbyn shows there is growing opposition to austerity: this was a major plank of his leadership campaign. Tusc has always opposed all cuts, and, like Jeremy, we know there are alternatives to cutting public services and welfare benefits in order to reduce the deficit. We are excited by the prospect of working together with those inside and outside the Labour Party to rekindle the anti-cuts movement and prevent any further attacks on local services.

Pete McLaren
Rugby

LU radical shift

There has been some discussion on the official Left Unity Facebook page about the future of the organisation, which is not reflected or reported in the Weekly Worker. We can all agree that the rise and victory of Corbyn has shaken Labour’s tree and has had a knock-on effect.

At first sight, it leaves LU up the creek without a paddle. But not completely. To understand why, we need to go back to the founding conference of October 2013. At that time there were three strategic positions argued - variously identified as 1945 (Left Platform), 1917 (Socialist/Communist Platforms) and 1649 (Republican Socialist Platform). The 1945 strategy, reflected in Ken Loach’s film, The spirit of 45, overwhelmingly carried the day. LU set out to occupy the political space vacated by New Labour. This was a flawed perspective, as republican socialists and communists said at the time.

The rise of the Corbyn brand of social democracy has now made that option redundant. The ‘spirit of 45’ is alive in the Labour Party on a mass scale. Just as the Labour Party has made a radical shift and taken back its old territory, so LU has to make its own radical shift if it is to have a future. It cannot survive as a ‘party’ standing its own candidates against Labour on its present programme.

This does not mean, as the CPGB now suggests, that LU was a wasted effort. But a radical shift would mean going back to the debate at the founding conference, where the 1649 and 1917 options were on the table. Time has moved on. Jeremy Corbyn was once mad, bad and fringe, but is now mainstream. Left Unity has its own mad, bad, fringe elements, so what are they saying?

The Weekly Worker is not setting out all the options being debated. The CPGB has not so far recognised the Republican Socialist (1649) perspective. It is quite understandable to not want to acknowledge or publicise alternatives to your own views. Unfortunately, this has much in common with the Stalinist idea of liquidating ideas you don’t agree with rather than the Leninist idea of reporting honestly on the different politics as part of communist criticism. You can’t criticise what you don’t recognise.

The rise of Corbyn has highlighted the fault lines in UK politics - the crown v republic, unionism v anti-unionism, nationalism v internationalism - as I clearly pointed out in my Bermondsey general election campaign. This annoyed some Left Unity members, but it had the merit of highlighting the real political choices. And the 2015 Republican Socialist election programme is still valid and not about to collapse with the rise of Corbo-republicanism and the launch of Rise (Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism) in Scotland.

For Left Unity it is either a radical shift or it will slowly and steadily liquidate. For these reasons the November LU conference should be interesting.

Steve Freeman
LU republican socialist and anti-unionist

Obfuscations

Chris Cutrone’s reply to my recent article, ‘No to “Marxist” art’ (September 17) confirms my point re the obfuscations of post-war ‘philosophy’. But his letter (September 24) is helpful, in the sense that it highlights two important differences.

Firstly, Cutrone shows a misunderstanding of essentialism and, arguably, Marxism itself. Therefore he gets things the wrong way round! I do not “adjudicate Marxism on the basis of postmodernist categories, such as ‘essentialism versus anti-essentialism’, and ‘structuralism’, or ‘post-structuralism’”. On the contrary, I “adjudicate” the latter on the basis of Marxist categories, which are rooted in Marx’s essentialism.

This is how Marx approaches all phenomena. Of course, for him this centres on the development of the value form. But he could easily have applied this approach to art and culture (if he had time left over). This is where Adorno comes in; but over time, he loses sight of the whole - ie, base/superstructure - and ends up concentrating on the latter.

Essentialism is concerned with three basic aspects:

1. Essence, or the idea of entity - a thing’s essence consists of the characteristics which make it a particular kind of thing, which is capable of discovery, and the observation of its laws of behaviour.

2. Teleology - this is not a theory of a guiding intelligence; rather it is a theory of how “the real nature (essence) of a whole entity is to be identified; how its development from immature to mature and declining forms is to be explained in a law-like fashion”.

3. Telos - the form or condition “towards which an entity develops by its nature, unless its development is interrupted (either by external accident or… a nature which contains a constitutive contradiction” (my emphasis - see glossary to Scott Meikle’s book, Essentialism in the thought of Karl Marx).

Cf Hillel Ticktin’s approach to the value form and his related concept of decline and transition: under capitalism, the value form was able to realise its potential as a universal form over the whole of society. But now the value form - sans the social revolution - is being compelled to change into something else, although this is not good news for humans. It comes at the expense of humanity’s telos to realise its potential as a species being; as homo aestheticus.Given the fact that machines can deal with the necessities of life, such as making available food, clothing, shelter, education and leisure for all on an equitable basis, albeit in harmony with the rest of nature, life itself and our relations with our kind should become an end in itself; not a stultifying means to an end, as it is at present.

Atomism, on the other hand, which underpins structuralism/poststructuralism, vehemently denies “the very mention of essences”; since these are related to the concept of teology/telos; including the idea of accident and necessity. “Whereas it is only against a thing’s essence that we can chart its accidents, it is only from a thing’s essence or nature that the necessities in its line of genesis, development and decay arise … Althusser [was] a pretty thorough accidentalist himself …” (Meikle, p8).

To return to Adorno re art and culture, his theory of the rise of ‘the vulgar in art’, along with the rise of the culture industry during the post-war period - albeit under the American hegemon (for whom the door was opened by Stalinism: ie, from the moment it abandoned the necessity of the world revolution) - is consistent with Marx’s theory of the inevitable decline of art: ie, as long as capitalism continues to exist. (In this regard, in terms of defining the nature of the present epoch, there is a correspondence here between Ticktin and Adorno. Whereas the latter refers to late capitalism as the period of “administered capitalism”, the former refers to capitalist decline and transition, both in terms of the law of value, as well as a crisis of human culture.) What divides them is rational pessimism versus rational optimism!

The second important difference between Cutrone and myself (at least on the basis of his letter) is that he has overreacted to the poisonous legacy of Stalinism, whereby, in accordance with the diktat of ‘official communism’, art had to conform to the needs of the bureaucracy. As a result, he confuses the defence of artistic freedom with the freedom to critique this or that theory of what art is: ie, from a Marxist standpoint. For him, this is synonymous with those who set themselves up to “prescribe what a true - free - human culture would be”. Not so. Therefore, for fear of being too prescriptive, he seems to elide Marx/Adorno’s distinction between authentic art/art objects and the culture industry, which is market driven. The situation is not helped by postmodernism’s penchant for anti-art, as well as the latter’s cynical embrace of the commodity form.

As a result, Cutrone concludes his letter with a complete misreading of Trotsky’s Literature and revolution (1924). (The latter, by the way, offers a major contribution towards the development of a Marxist theory of art.) Consider what Trotsky actually says in this book. It includes a merciless attack on the writers of the Lef group, along with the Russian futurists, as a “closed-in circle of the intelligentsia”, who therefore wanted to deny the working class “the old literature”, whereas the latter still had to master Pushkin, “to absorb him, and so overcome him”, etc. Thus on this question, the sectarian writers of Lef were the first authoritarians, even before Stalin. Although it was not their intention, they also made the latter’s job to destroy artistic freedom easier, once he had established himself at the head of the bureaucracy.

But Trotsky’s criticism of the former in no way contradicts his later collaboration with André Breton, which led to the Manifesto: towards a free revolutionary art (1938). Written as a riposte to Stalinist repression of artistic freedom, it ends with this statement: “The independence of art - for the revolution. The revolution - for the complete liberation of art.” This is entirely consistent with “essentialism in the thought of Karl Marx”.

Rex Dunn
email

Mickey Mouse

Mike Belbin writes: “A scientific law is not a command to nature (by God?), where simple prediction always comes true” (Letters, September 10).

As I have pointed out, it is in fact impossible to decide if this ‘law’ ever works (even once!), since comrades like Mike studiously refuse to tell us what they mean by ‘quality’ or ‘leap’. In fact, we have yet to be told what the thermodynamic boundaries are to each ‘dialectical’ system, or what even constitutes a system, process or body - nor yet what ‘adding’ or ‘subtracting’ matter and motion amounts to. Elsewhere, I have accused this theory of promoting “Mickey Mouse science”. I fear Mike is intent on proving me right.

The rest of what Mike had to say doesn’t appear to be relevant to anything I argued, and it signally fails answer my objections to this ‘law’. The same is true, I am afraid to say, of Stephen Diamond’s reply:

“Dialectics ... is actually a theory about what constitutes a kind. It is a different kind of thing if it results from a discontinuous change ... But whether something is ‘qualitatively new in form’ is subjective ... Many of our supposed differences in kind turn out to represent continuously large quantitative differences” (Letters, September 17).

Once again, Stephen helps himself to the word ‘quality’ without even once attempting to tell us what he means by this word. He also introduces “discontinuous” - a term left annoyingly vague and ill-defined in his attempt to tell us what a “kind” is. Except Stephen does at least try to introduce some clarity: “To answer a question of Rosa Lichtenstein’s regarding the length of an interval constituting a ‘leap’, the transformation of quantity into quality is instantaneous.”

In fact, this merely replaces one vague term with another. How long is one of these ‘instants’? We are left in the dark. Again, this allows comrades like Stephen to apply what is supposed to be an ‘objective’ law in an entirely subjective manner.

It is also worth asking: is iron as a solid really a different “natural kind” from iron as a liquid? Again, what distinguishes different elements isn’t the state of matter they exhibit, but their atomic structure, which remains stable between these different states. So, even here, there is no change in ‘quality’.

Stephen ends with this thought:

“A theory of kinds that (undialectically) prioritises structure over of process is exactly the opposite of dialectics. That’s the theory Rosa polemicises against ...”

Well, no, that’s not what I am criticising; what I am polemicising against is the ‘Mickey Mouse’ nature of the entire dialectical materialist project, and the way it has been imposed on nature and society, based on the confused musings of a Christian and Hermetic mystic. Nothing Mike and Stephen have said convinces me that my criticisms were misguided.

Rosa Lichtenstein
email

Truth about Mars

I previously noted that in his article, ‘Mission Mars and the final frontier’, Jack Conrad repeated the standard line of the United States space agency, Nasa, that Mars is “dead”, with no “atmosphere, ... flora, fauna or running water” (December 11 2014).

On Monday September 28 Nasa announced its new beliefs: (1) that for millennia Mars was extremely Earth-like in atmosphere, climate and living conditions; (2) that it must have suffered some major catastrophic event or series of events to leave it in today’s more hostile and arid state; and (3) despite all that, there are large quantities of running water on the surface of Mars today. So Mars, our near planetary neighbour, has had all the same conditions not only for life, but for advanced life, either evolved or imported, almost exactly as the Earth.

One of the other stated beliefs of Nasa had been that water, an essential ingredient for life, was extremely rare in the universe, and probably only existed on Earth. Now it turns out the universe is metaphorically full of water, with extremely large quantities being detected not only in interstellar space, but in our own moon (!) and now on our close neighbour, Mars.

Knowledge of ourselves and our true place in the universe is revolutionary and we must use it as part of the comprehensive struggle to overthrow class-divided, decaying, rotting society, and all its controlling, parasitical, backward and reactionary elites, and to inaugurate a new, truly human civilisation on this planet: one based on communism, where we control and determine our own destiny.

Andrew Northall
Kettering