Four positions

The Left Unity national conference has given over the first day to debating whether to be or not to be. Left Unity is in essence a struggle between old Labourism and new republicanism. Labourism, reflecting the economism of the left in England, has been and remains by far the dominant tendency. It is the disguise which Trotskyists wear when trying to be populist. Now that Corbyn has pulled the rug from under LU, the forthcoming conference may look like a case of Labourites falling out. Not quite.

This week Nick Wrack says in The Project: “There is little point its continuation as a small party with policies indistinguishable from those of Corbyn.” True enough. But then he adds: “Unless LU were to turn itself into a party based on the principles and programme of Marxism, there is no reason to exist” - which is more or less the same conclusion as the CPGB.

If the Titanic doesn’t change course, it will hit an iceberg sooner or later. However, this is not the full set of sailing routes. Republican socialism has a different plan. Conference resolution 69 argues that Left Unity should continue to build as an independent working class party by realigning itself with Rise in Scotland. The resolution says that “LU has no future as a smaller, sectarian version of the Corbyn Labour Party and conference recognises we cannot continue on this basis for more than a temporary period.”

The resolution is about realignment. It is about changing direction before we hit the iceberg. It says: “Noting the rise of the democratic movement in Scotland during and after the referendum and the launch of Rise, Left Unity will work to reject Labour’s economism and seek to build an alliance with Rise around the politics of republicanism, internationalism, socialism and the environment”.

If LU survives this conference, the resolution says that, in order “to make the transition to an alternative on the basis of a radical democratic and social programme”, LU should “hold a special conference or national meeting in early 2016 …, where members can discuss and debate the transition to the new politics needed in response to the Corbyn victory”.

This realignment resolution is one of four basic positions identified in the resolutions. These are (1) liquidate, (2) affiliate, (3) carry on as before and (4) realign. These four boil down to three trends - right, centre and left - in the struggle between Labourism, which supports the social monarchy, and republicanism, which demands a social republic and an independent working class party to win that programme.

Corbyn’s victory is pulling many former Trotskyists to the right and this is defining the right wing of Left Unity. The harder right is throwing in the towel straightaway and the soft right wants to follow the slower route by trying (and failing) to become an affiliate of the Labour Party. The distinction between ‘liquidate’ and ‘affiliate’ is not about principle. Affiliation, when push comes to shove, is slower liquidation.

The call for LU to liquidate as a party is found on resolution 15 from comrades Green, Shaheen, Walker, Godfrey-Wood and Willig. The idea of affiliating to the Labour Party is found in resolutions 20 (Norwich), 23 (Haringey), 27 (Becker and Conrad), 70 (Lambeth) and 74 (Waltham Forest).

The Left Unity centre is identified with the idea of continuing to sail in the same direction. Resolution 48, from comrades Hudson and Burgin, urges LU to continue as an independent party. This stands against the liquidation of LU and should be supported critically. The fight for a new working class party independent of the Labour Party has to continue. But ‘full steam ahead’ is not a solution.

Left Unity has to turn to the left and realign itself with progressive democratic forces in Scotland. A left turn requires and demands that LU shifts its politics from social monarchy to social republic and makes a clear break with left unionism.

Just as the Labour Party has moved to the left, so LU must likewise turn to the left if the party is not to be run over by the Labour juggernaut. This is the message from the Scottish referendum to the left in England. So far the left in England has shown no sign of listening. Ears plugged up and eyes tight shut. Keep sailing towards that big white thing on the horizon - let’s hope it might be America!

Steve Freeman
Left Unity and Rise


The sheriff of Nottingham has spoken. Without any evidence, Ted Hankin, a member or ex-member of the Stalin Society, has accused me of giving uncritical support to Stalin (Letters, November 5).

Others have made similar unsupported claims, which end up in my wastepaper basket. They will remain there until these individuals can provide unfalsified evidence to prove their claims. For some reason these people confuse supporting Stalin in the struggle against Trotsky’s ultra-leftism with uncritical support for Stalin. My position has always been that no-one is above criticism. Thus, it is impossible for me to give uncritical support to anyone, which would be a totally unscientific attitude.

While falsely accusing me of uncritical support for Stalin, Ted gives uncritical support to Marx. Ted’s debating ploy is to claim that anyone who disagrees with Marx does not understand the doctrine. He also uses this tactic when he claims that I don’t understand the theory of peak oil - a theory which Ted and 99% of the Marxist left had never heard of until I brought it up in 2007. The theory is simple: global, conventional oil production reaches a maximum, or peak, which is sustained for a few years, followed by irreversible decline. Falling supply leads to rising prices and rising prices will destroy the economy, if no suitable replacement is found. Think of the German inflation in the 1920s.

I pointed out in my previous letter (October 29) that modern capitalism, M-C-M, was made possible by fossil fuels. Ted agrees, saying, “this is correct, but totally one-sided”. Perhaps he can explain how something can be correct, but totally one-sided. Not everything in life is either/or, but this one is. Either fossil fuels made modern capitalism possible or they did not - the same as ‘Either Monday follows Sunday or it does not’. Ted says that without international trade and the development of the productive forces fossil fuels would have remained underground. What I am saying is that the development of the productive forces and international trade - ie, modern capitalism - was made possible by fossil fuels. Ted makes reference to the discovery of oil, which didn’t have many uses at first. However, the industrial revolution was not originally based on oil, but coal.

Marxism erroneously teaches communists that it was the development of the productive forces which triggered the transition from feudalism to capitalism. The opposite was the case, in that what began the transition was not the development of the productive forces, as Marxism claims, but the decline of the productive forces under feudalism. For instance, the ground for the industrial revolution was laid in England when the main energy source, wood, became scarce due to the depletion of Britain’s forest, which led to the increasing use of coal and mining. When the mines became filled with water as they dug deeper, a means had to be devised to pump the water out, which eventually led to the steam pump, essentially a steam engine, which had other applications.

The development of the productive forces consolidated the transition from feudalism, but did not begin it. Political economy was a reaction to this process, but the classical economists and Marx ignored the fundamental role of the new form of energy, which was beginning to revolutionise production, only referring to it in passing.

Ted betrays his attitude to Marxism, which he claims I don’t understand, when he compares it to the natural laws discovered by Newton. But who would confuse Marxism with the natural laws of science other than one who had reduced Marxism to a religion?

Marx shared the 19th century money-centred view of the classical economists he critiqued. Marxism is the apotheosis of this view, which excludes the role of energy. This is why in the 2008 recession no Marxists were able to explain the crisis in terms of rising energy prices. Likewise, no Marxists related the demise of the Soviet Union to the collapse of Soviet oil prices - deliberately engineered by Reagan and Thatcher with the Saudis, who flooded the market with oil, lowering its price. With its roots in 19th century economics, Marxism is an obstacle to a scientific, energy-based understanding of society.

At the political level, it seems that Ted is opposed to the democratic rule of the people on the basis of socialism, as he takes objection to my use of the term ‘totalitarianism’, which he claims the CIA invented. The origins of this term, or whether it is accurate, is a matter of debate, but it is foolish to imply we shouldn’t use it because the other side came up with it first. Those who argue this should denounce Marx for subscribing to the labour theory of value which bourgeois economists used before him.

Finally, Ted calls on me to substantiate what he calls my hostility to Marxism, pompously declaring that he would welcome an intelligent and coherent attack on Marxism, but my continual sniping serves to make me appear a political dilettante. This is rich, considering it comes from someone who confuses the social sciences with Newtonian natural laws, and who feels no obligation to substantiate his uncritical agreement with so much Marxist doctrine. I have made my position clear: one of the reasons why Marxism is obsolete is because it teaches communists to believe that modern society resulted from money rather than the energy revolution.

We have all heard that money makes the world go round (M-C-M). This is not true: it is energy.

Tony Clark
Labour supporter


I have just read the article on Rome by Toby Abse (‘Scandals in the capital’, November 5). A fascinatingly clear insight into the political manoeuvring there, which led to the ousting of the mayor. I was on the edge of my seat.

If this was an article in Socialism Today we would get much of it taken up with some small leftwing group that had met with much approval and whose paper sale had raised €20 and sold six copies of Rome Socialist - proving that if only the trade union leaders would call for a general strike the capital would fall tomorrow to the Rome Socialist Party.

And then a reminder that 30 years ago the Milan Militant Socialists as part of the Italian Socialist Party had won power and built 4,000 houses and if it wasn’t for the treachery of the leadership of the Italian Socialist Party they would have built 4,000 more. And we get this on every page of The Socialist and almost every article. They are not giving their readers any focus. They are doing our heads in. They forget what socialist news should be all about. A comprehensive news light so that we can see the absolute reality. That’s the attraction of socialism.

The article by Toby Abse could easily be extended by him into a book on the current political scene in Rome. He paints a marvellous picture, with characters coming in with full life around them, as they actually are in reality. I was fascinated by this glimpse into Rome politics. He brings in the national leadership as well in a restrained manner in order for us to better understand the capital, which is the seat of government, so of national and international importance. With his type of mind, we can bring in the whole of Italy. It’s what I want socialist newspapers to be doing.

Too much narrow and small and ignorant-minded opinion is getting in the way in socialist newspapers, which stops us from seeing the world, which stops us from seeing our own country. We need a socialist reformation. With the Weekly Worker we have a chance of getting there. The Karl Kautsky archive article was sublime.

Elijah Traven


I said I was glad that the opponent of dialectical logic, Rosa Lichtenstein, had gone as far as praising historical materialism, because, of course, dialectical thinking is the starting point for it. However, she accuses me of not defining ‘quality’, which I did (Letters, November 5). She may not have taken this on board because, much to her distaste, I was quoting Hegel (but again only as a starting point).

Did Rosa know that Marx agreed with her that Hegel was mystical? Marx, however, put it like this: “The correct laws of the dialectic are already included in Hegel, albeit in mystical form. It is necessary to strip it of this form” (Letter to Dietzgen, 1876). Which Marx did, by adding new material through a critique of economics and politics, modifying concepts like objectification and further researching phenomena like the mode of production and the struggle of classes.

The system limits of the whole are, of course, those of the universe (or multiverse), but we can’t discuss that as a whole (too unwieldy): we can only isolate parts to study and then relate them to other parts. Still, the universe is a totality (what else is the Big Bang?) but made up of differences - things that connect, interact and modify. How else can we speak of it?

On qualitative change: something really new occurs only occasionally and due to an accumulation of additions or losses. Those able to perceive it - that is, animal life - can tell there’s been a change by the effects of the new thing on other things and the different uses to which it can be put. Why else do we need the concept of ‘new’?

The characterisation of such major change as a ‘leap’ is a metaphor and, like most metaphors, an imperfect analogy. A leap is an acceleration of change. In one field, like geology, a leap won’t have the same ‘duration’ as in others. How long did it take for a social and political crisis in tsarist Russia to become a revolutionary state and what was the ‘tipping point’? This is not to say that there exist foregone conclusions. As Sidney Hook put it, in distinguishing Marxism from Hegel’s closed system, “The extent, the strength and the rate of interaction between the polar elements within any situation depend upon the specific factors involved. They cannot be deduced from the general formula of dialectical movement” (From Hegel to Marx).

The new syntheses - these major changes - are such that they contain aspects of different parts which, when preserved, may remind us of the previous situation. Inside the Earth there is hot magma, molten rock, which was once on its surface, but is now found at the core, while its surface possesses a habitable atmosphere. The overall relationships have altered and one of the effects of this is that the planet can support life. The Soviet Union had a communist party and lacked the law of value, but due to an undemocratic centralism the working class was not in control.

I’d say that it’s evolution that forms the link (mediation, connection) between nature and the human/social dialectic. A process starts with interactive changes within the Big Bang, up to and including the combines that are planets, and producing in at least one spot the synthesis of hydrogen and oxygen known as water. Through that water there emerges the subsequent evolution of life on Earth, with an accumulation of changes distinguishing vegetable, then animal, form and the development of humans and their societies. Some details of this have yet to be discovered, but I submit that the process as a whole is one of new qualities emerging through interaction; new things displaying - for us interested humans - new sets of relationships, internal and external: dialectic.

Mike Belbin

Critical support

I was very interested to read Jim Creegan’s article on the supportability or otherwise of Bernie Sanders’ Democratic primary campaign (‘Democrats divided’, October 29).

Whilst I think that an overly dismissive tone poisons his appraisal of the senator’s chances (yes, Sanders is unlikely to win, but I for one wouldn’t bet against him with absolute confidence), the comrade’s contribution to the debate is useful. Certainly he is right to mock the apparent Committee for a Workers’ International notion that Sanders would be better placed running as an independent - ludicrous, considering that his run within the Democrat framework is precisely what has been giving him a platform to reach the electorate. Comrade Creegan also cast aspersions on Sanders’ much touted socialist credentials: also correct, since in reality he is a social democrat.

That said, I cannot agree with the idea that any of this automatically renders Sanders unsupportable. He represents a qualitative and quantifiable movement on the political spectrum, the likes of which has not been seen in America for some time. For that alone actual socialists should be looking to make hay whilst the sun shines - why not give him critical support, while at the same time explaining what we mean by socialism? At the same time, there should be no support whatsoever for that arch-statist, Hillary Clinton. And I don’t worry, as comrade Creegan does, about Sanders bowing out of the race to cheerlead for her. Just because we critically support the man does not mean we need to follow him over the cliff!

In any case the comrade is so busy arguing that Sanders can’t win, he never seriously engages with the possibility that he might. What then? If it is fanciful to suggest that a Sanders victory might stem the rightward tide, then the alternative would surely be the kind of civil war we have seen in Labour as of late. Creegan is right that the Democrats are a real obstacle to left politics in the US. However, the conclusion this should lead us to is that we should support Sanders - chaos amongst the Democrats is surely a pretty worthwhile consolation prize? Ultimately, the way forward for the left necessitates that the Democrats be replaced as the recipient of workers’ votes by a working class party. Giving critical support to a self-acclaimed socialist might help take us nearer that aim.

Tom Munday