Alexis Corbyn?

Chris Knight complains about my “terminology” (Letters, October 15), when I wrote: “Syriza was always going to become an agent of austerity, once it ‘took the power’ - as the British left foolishly urged it to do. It was just a question of how and when” (‘Managing a debt colony’, October 8).
Chris correctly states that “winning office in parliament is not - repeat, not - the same thing as conquering state power”. That is why I placed the offending phrase within quote marks - to indicate (not very successfully, obviously) its association with elements of the British left, rather than what I (or the CPGB) believe. So, yes, I readily acknowledge that “the formulation is plain wrong”!
However, Chris does identify a central point, which arises from our criticism of Syriza - if Tsipras was “always going to become an agent of austerity”, doesn’t that apply to a Corbyn-led Labour government too? I am afraid there is no getting away from this problem. To avoid it, it would be insufficient to mobilise the British working class in order to “confront the state, dismantle its institutions and translate office into power”, as Chris proposes. There can be no socialism (or even social democracy) in a single country - our aim must surely be a movement for power across the whole of the continent as a minimum.
So if Labour was elected in 2020 in the absence of mass mobilisation both in Britain and across Europe, it would certainly be our duty to warn of the likely consequences. However, it does not necessarily follow from this that we should refuse to call for a Labour victory or demand that Corbyn declines to take office.

Eddie Ford

Ready to govern?

There are many on the far left who, I suspect, don’t want to govern. But for those of us who actually want to institute progressive change, who do not enjoy the hipster’s satisfaction of existing on the periphery, governing is the eventual goal.

And yet, looking at the far left today, are we actually ready for such a thing? Frequently, I’m forced to conclude we aren’t. For instance, there are significant portions of us, who, despite our support for police and penal reform, are suspicious, if not avowedly hostile, to due process and freedom of speech. This might come as something of a shock for those of us aware the American Civil Liberties Union was founded by socialists and feminists. But it’s true.

Take what’s happening at Wesleyan University in the US. After the school paper published conservative criticism of the Black Lives Matter movement, the student government voted to consider cutting the publication’s funding. In response, the paper has been forced to appeal for donations, so as to retain its editorial independence. Similarly, when Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis published an article criticising “sexual paranoia” on college campuses, she was slapped with ‘title IX’ complaints. There are countless recent examples of leftwing students engaging in the no-platforming of potential speakers. Unfortunately, you can’t just chalk this up to youthful exuberance.

Socialist Worker is the publication of the International Socialist Organization, a group led by middle-aged people with children of their own. Prior to the summer of 2013, I was published on their website with some frequency. Every time I sent in an article or letter, it was generally posted. But after I mildly criticised the ISO’s slate-voting system in another outlet, their publication was suddenly closed to me. Over the past two years, I have probably sent the group an average of one letter or article a month. Nothing has shown up on their website.

As mentioned previously, this hostility to ‘bourgeois’ or ‘patriarchal’ freedoms extends to due process. Here’s Zerlina Maxwell arguing in the Washington Post against the presumption of innocence, after Rolling Stone’s 2014 story regarding an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia fell apart under scrutiny. “Many people (not least U-Va administrators) will be tempted to see this as a reminder that officials, reporters and the general public should hear both sides of the story and collect all the evidence before coming to a conclusion in rape cases,” Maxwell said. “In important ways, this is wrong. We should believe, as a matter of default, what an accuser says.” Anyone active on the far left knows this was and remains a common sentiment.

These sorts of positions, it should go without saying, are incredibly dangerous. To my mind, they mark the far left as unready to actually govern. As socialist Fredrik deBoer points out, the devaluing of freedom of speech and due process will inevitably be used against those on the far left themselves, when political tides turn. But, more importantly, freedom of speech and due process are values we should support for their own sake, strategic concerns aside.

I wouldn’t trust anyone to govern who believed otherwise.

Jon Hochschartner

Easy revolution

Reform or revolution? Why embark on the revolutionary road to socialism when it is easier to take the reformist road?

The failure of the Syriza government in Greece was a failure of reformism. What Syriza should and could have done was renounce all of Greek’s debts, reintroduce the drachma and nationalise all Greek banks. If Greece renounces its debts, it will no longer be able to continue with the euro, as this currency will simply leave the country and Greece cannot print its own euros.

But these measures must be accompanied by the arming of the workers - not simply to counteract the fascists of Golden Dawn, but to prepare for a seizure of state power by the workers, accompanied by the building of organs of popular power (soviets) to replace the powers of the police and judiciary following a revolutionary overthrow of the existing state power and these, its most crucial institutions.

Reformists want to reform the existing state rather than overthrow it. They erroneously believe that they can simply take control of the institutions of state power and change them. Let us recall what Lenin wrote on this matter in The state and revolution: “Marx’s idea is that the working class must break up, smash the ‘ready-made state machinery’, and not confine itself merely to laying hold of it.”

Roy Wall

Marxist place

With all due respect to Tony Clark, I think it is he who rather misses the point in relation to Labour Party Marxists (Letters, October 15). The idea that the Labour Party can never be won over to a Marxist perspective has no logical basis. I really don’t think that LPM are under the illusion that the rank and file will be belting out ‘The Internationale’ by the end of the week. The point, though, is to sow seeds, to plant ideas in the heads of itinerant leftwingers to argue political solutions that, they believe, will be shown to be correct in the fullness of time.

Take their rallying behind the reintroduction of deselection procedures - currently this seems to be beyond the pale for the right, and the Corbynite left has accommodated to their endless whining. I understand that LPM have argued for these measures on the basis that they are the only way to cement working class democracy within the party and that the Corbynites necessarily hurt themselves by not pursuing them with the utmost vigour. In the present climate this positions LPM as a lunatic, radical left faction - anathema to the small-c conservative Labour establishment that still dominates the party structures.

Give it time - if the Corbynites think that they can placate the right with conciliatory moves and kind words, they are in for a nasty surprise. I’m sure LPM would dearly like to tear up the Blairite weed before it’s allowed to regrow - they have no desire to see comrades’ time and energy wasted on a project that refuses to robustly defend itself on the back of some airy notion of political pacifism. That said, if a rightwing bloodletting does ensue (and it gets more likely day on day), it will be factions such as LPM that will be offering a means to actually respond in kind, to mitigate the damage - using in their case the insights of Marxist politics. That is why there is, and always will be, a place for Marxists in the Labour Party - it is only through offering alternatives to the dominant party paradigm that leftwing politics have any chance of surviving when the fightback comes.

As for the comrade’s brief dismissal of Marx - an attempt to do in 112 words what a army of rightwing scholars have failed to do in 150 years - I’m afraid it’s not the Marx I recognise. I could be wrong, but I’m fairly certain that Marx was well aware of the existence of money and labour before the advent of industrial capitalism became the dominant mode of production. That would seem like a rather large oversight for one of the most important thinkers in human history. I’m also not sure I recognise his complete opposition to “democratic rule”. Is comrade Clark talking about the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ - ie, the rule of the workers, the rule of the many? That sounds pretty demo(the people)-cratic(rule of) to me.

Tom Munday

Mention the war

The Wakefield Socialist History Group held a meeting on October 17 at the Red Shed on ‘The fall of Saigon: 40 years since the Vietnam war’.

The first speaker was Matthew Caygill, a lecturer at Leeds Beckett University who has taught a module on ‘Politics and culture in the era of the Vietnam war’. He is also a member of Left Unity and the Leeds-based Ford Maguire Society. Matthew said that the Vietnam war saw America “defeated and humiliated”. The defeat led to the “Vietnam syndrome”, whereby America was stymied around the world and Americans were loath for years to see their sons sent to fight wars abroad.

The second speaker was Stephen Wood. He is a local government worker and a member of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty who writes regularly for their Solidarity newspaper. Stephen gave an illuminating account of the anti-war movement in the United States. He spoke in particular about Students for a Democratic Society, who played a key role from 1962 to 1969 - including organising demonstrations and direct action - before fragmenting thereafter.

The final speaker was Michael Chant, general secretary of the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist). He was born near Wakefield and is also a well-known composer. Michael asserted the right of oppressed nations/peoples to independence and to determine their own path of socialist development, particularly where their sovereignty is threatened.

After the speeches, there followed questions and also a lively discussion.

The next group event is on Saturday November 21, when we will be discussing ‘Europe and the left: how should socialists vote in the referendum?’ The meeting is again at the Red Shed, Vicarage Street, Wakefield WF1, and starts at 1pm.

Alan Stewart
Wakefield Socialist History Group

More posh words

If I grasped the central subject matter and her main purpose correctly, Commissaress wished to point out to everyone both the horribly ‘excluding’ nature, as well as the strongly isolating consequences, of Marxism/Leninism opting to utilise “posh words” - (Letters, October 15).

To put this matter another way, that all being the case when the revolutionary movement preoccupies itself with the stratospherically highest - ie, the desert-like driest - intellectual levels of theory. That manner of operating and thereby of presenting itself via the often impenetrable academic aspects, considerations and principles of philosophy and theory is impenetrable to 99.9% of the population.

For my part, often and repeatedly I have asked myself over the years the following simple question. Does an ‘ordinary’ working person, or even a more literate and ‘better educated’ member of any free-thinking elements within the bourgeoisie, really need to understand the deepest philosophical details or the mind-bendingly unfathomable minutiae of Marxist philosophy and theory in order to hate, resent and reject capitalism/imperialism in all of its varied and extensive hideousness?

Human beings are holistic entities; we are creatures that function in the round. We are not simplistic, not black and white; on the contrary, we are a rainbow in prismatic spectrum. We are not a single and solitary atom or planet, but more like a constellation of stars: ‘mind, body and spirit’, etc. Of course, humanity is both governed and driven by the intellectual and the rational, but those factors are alloyed to powerful, productive and indeed highly desirable emotional/passionate elements of our make-up, our psyche - our state of being.

If the Marxist/Leninist movement - and specifically the Weekly Worker/CPGB - dismiss or ignore these fundamental facts, this fundamental nature of human beings, they will never gain traction with and thus appeal to the masses. Whether by masses we mean the working class or even the enlightened and progressive, socio-politically predisposed elements within the bourgeoisie plus its intelligentsia (or whatever other particular description anyone cares to come up with for people in fact precisely like myself).

Bruno Kretzschmar

Something else

Mike Belbin says that quality “makes something ... one thing rather than another …” (Letters, October 8). In that case, it can’t be a qualitative change when iron, for example, melts; it isn’t its state of matter, but its atomic structure, that makes iron “one thing rather than another”. The same is true of all the other elements, and the vast majority of compounds. Ice is no less H2O than water; ammonia is NH3 as a gas or a liquid.

Mike then changes his mind: “[A] difference of quality [is] that which alters the effects and uses of the thing ...” But this can’t be a difference in ‘quality’ according to the earlier definition - no wonder it was altered! Equivocations like this allow Mike to apply this ‘law’ in an entirely subjective manner, when and where it suits him.

Anyone who has practised genuine science knows the care and attention to detail that must be devoted by researchers, sometimes over many decades, if they want to alter even relatively minor areas of theory, let alone establish a new law. The concepts employed must be analytically sound, and the use of primary data is not only essential: it has to be precise, detailed, meticulously recorded, subject to public scrutiny and peer review.

In contrast, the Mickey Mouse science found in creationist literature is rightly treated with derision by scientists and Marxists alike. And yet, in the writings of dialecticians, we find little other than Mickey Mouse science: Engels published no original data, and what little evidence he offered would have been rejected as amateurish, had it appeared in an undergraduate essay, let alone a research paper. Compare his approach to scientific proof with Darwin’s, whose work is a model of clarity and original research. Engels failed to say what a ‘quality’ is - even Mike changed his mind on that one - or how long a ‘node’ is supposed to last. We aren’t informed, either, what the “addition of matter and energy” implies, nor what the thermodynamic boundaries are to the systems involved. We aren’t even told what constitutes a system, nor what counts as one ‘developing’! Supporting ‘evidence’ alone is considered; problem cases ignored.

When we compare this amateurish approach to evidence, proof and clarity with the opposite state of affairs in, say, historical materialism, the contrast is stark: in economics, history and politics, Marxists often display commendable attention to detail and admirable clarity, including page after page of facts, figures, tables, graphs, and analyses, all carefully researched and referenced. They also devote several pages - sometimes whole books - to analysing concepts like ‘ideology’, ‘mode of production’ and ‘alienation’,but hardly ever even so much as a single paragraph to ‘quality’ or ‘node’, let alone the other omissions noted above.

If an enemy of Marxism were to attack, say, our economic theory with an argumentative display that was as crassly amateurish or as evidentially challenged as the material dialecticians have assembled, we would rightly dismiss it as Mickey Mouse anti-Marxism.

Rosa Lichtenstein