There was a minor, slightly amusing, fracas on Saturday afternoon at the LU conference. We were in the middle of voting when teller Ben Lewis (of the Communist Platform) stopped proceedings. One of the members was holding up six voting cards, he informed the chair. Surely that was not on?
Trying to use a block vote was none other than Leeds LU member Matthew Caygill, who revels in attacking the organised left within LU as “undemocratic” and “sectarian”. Five of his friends had left conference early to catch a cheap train back home and left their voting cards with comrade Caygill, who then attempted to vote for all of them.
This is, of course, the same Matthew Caygill who (together with his comrade Nick Jones) organised the division of Leeds Left Unity branch on purely political grounds. They found it “intolerable” to continue working with the handful of Workers Power members in Leeds and subsequently set up their own branch: Leeds North and East.
Caygill also initiated a conference motion (52), which, if successful, would have committed LU to a McCarthyite code of conduct, demanding that members of minority factions “do not promote the politics and practices of another organisation … in public, in branches, in the open social media”. Horrible, unacceptable, totally misdirected control-freakery. “A recipe for witch-hunts and a police regime”, as Jack Conrad described it quite rightly in last week’s Weekly Worker (‘Charting our future’, November 19). Conference did not get to the motion, but I am sure it would have been voted down by a large majority.
Of course, one can imagine how outraged the hypocritical Caygill and Jones would have been if WP or the Communist Platform had tried to pull a block vote. There is some confusion as to whether any of the people leaving had clarified their voting intentions with the standing orders committee: Caygill says they had, SOC member Roland Rance says they hadn’t and he would have advised against it, but Phil Pope says on Facebook: “I did suggest it would be OK if they got their proxy to come and identify them and if it was agreed by the chair and conference.” In the end, the “proxy” (Caygill) did not come to the SOC and conference certainly did not agree. Following howls of objections from all quarters, chair Simon Hardy ruled that Caygill could only cast one vote (the same as everyone else present).
Pulling this stunt did little to improve the democratic credentials of Caygill, Jones and others in this small political bloc. Earlier in the day, a point of order had to be raised against them. While the debate on the Labour Party was conducted in a relatively friendly and comradely manner, they thought it prudent to loudly clap and cheer when any of the motions they opposed were defeated. People in the audience started to complain, but Jones for one continued to clap defeated motions.
Finally a very annoyed Eve Turner, who can’t be accused of being on the revolutionary left of LU, raised a point of order to stop this uncomradely behaviour. The chair agreed.
Last weekend Left Unity conference took place in a fairly comradely spirit despite the strong views on either side of the debate. There is no doubt that the Corbyn movement has put real pressure on LU. Just as there is a sharpened left-right division within the Labour Party, so LU is divided. It is tug of war rather than a civil war.
Pulling to the right are those seeking to merge with the Corbo-movement. The right trend has been proposing various tactics, from resigning and joining the Labour Party to turning LU from a party into a network, to affiliating to Labour and no longer standing candidates. Pulling to the left are those who recognise that politics has moved in that direction. A left turn means sharpening the politics and programme and drawing a clear ideological differentiation between Labour and LU.
Conference saw a concealed struggle between Labour and Scotland, which ended with a good old British fudge. At the extreme-right end of the spectrum was the call for LU to become a pro-Labour network, securing about 10 votes. At the opposite end was a resolution calling for realignment with the new Rise party in Scotland, which gained 13 votes. The centre ground won the day by passing three resolutions with contradictory messages. Left Unity would carry on as an independent party. But it would not stand candidates against Labour. “Left Unity gives up its fight with Labour” was how the Daily Politics show headlined it.
In the last year the biggest challenge to the ruling class was in the Scottish referendum, which mobilised and politicised millions and shook the foundations of the state. The referendum had its extended impact on the result of the general election and the defeat of New Labour. It was the revolt against New Labour in Scotland by the working class in the ‘yes’ cities of Glasgow and Dundee that gave the Tories the opportunity to defeat Miliband in England.
So, instead of prime minister Miliband, we now have Jeremy Corbyn as leader of her majesty’s opposition. The bigger picture has not impinged on the thinking of Left Unity’s right wing. The strange aspect of the Left Unity conference was its focus on recent events in England in the Labour Party. Perhaps that reflects a conference where 95% or higher of delegates were from places such as London, Brighton, Wigan, Stockport, Leeds, Birmingham and Liverpool.
We have to look beyond the blinkered view of the English left. We have to dig deeper into the ideological foundations of Left Unity and re-evaluate the original politics. At the founding conference in 2013 there were three basic positions signalled by historical markers. First was Labourism, identified with the 1945 Labour government. The second was communism or Trotskyism, identified with the 1920 foundation of the CPGB. The third was the call for a republican socialist party, identified with 1649 and the Levellers and Diggers in the English revolution and the Commonwealth of England.
Left Unity rejected the Trotskyist-communist model for the idea of a militant working class politics forged around uniting democratic socialists (social democrats) and communists into one party. This idea has been called a ‘broad left’ or ‘halfway house’ party. In practical terms ‘communism’ is not the official ideology or programme of the party, but communists were free to organise their own platforms. So far, so good.
But then Left Unity combined this with the ideological foundations of Labourism and the ‘British road to socialism’, as represented by The spirit of 45 captured in Ken Loach’s film. The 1945 Labour government created a very British type of ‘socialism’, symbolised by the NHS, which is identified constitutionally as the social monarchy or Elizabethan welfare state. The Labour Party is not and has never been a republican party. It is loyal to the principles of constitutional monarchy and unionism.
Now, two years later, it should be clear that this 1945 plan has been torpedoed. First the Scottish referendum and the 2015 general election have seriously undermined the ‘British road to socialism’ and the very idea of resurrecting the British social monarchy. The general election wiped out Labour in Scotland. The Corbyn movement in the Labour Party has reclaimed the ‘spirit of 45’ and quite simply pulled the rug from under Left Unity’s feet. Hence LU is now facing an existential crisis of purpose as its right wing follow the logic of 1945 politics.
The Left Unity’s left wing has to re-evaluate, redesign and realign as a smaller organisation with stronger politics, from which renewed growth will inevitably come. If LU is not going to be pulled down Labour’s plughole, it has to make a sharp break with Labourism. Its survival depends on an ideological purge of all vestiges of Labourism: that is, social monarchism and left unionism. To put it simply, Left Unity has to become a republican socialist party. Scotland has turned the improbable into the possible.
Left Unity and Rise
There was an interesting debate in last week’s meeting of Teesside People’s Assembly, with an outcome I certainly didn’t expect.
The PA has called a national conference for December 5 and each branch is invited to submit a motion for debate at the conference. And so, given recent murmurs about armed-forces resistance to a Corbyn-led Labour government and the speculation about a military coup in Greece against a Syriza administration that had (initially) promised to end austerity policies, I proposed that the Teesside branch submit a motion advocating the abolition of the standing army and the formation of a people’s militia under democratic control.
I thought it was important to make the point that the capitalist class will never respect the democratic mandate of a government that attempts to implement an anti-austerity programme and socialist policies - even one elected with majority support. It will use all the means at its disposal - legal or otherwise - to defeat any policies that threaten its privileges and power.
I anticipated this would provoke an interesting debate in the meeting, but would find little support among comrades and ultimately lose out to the other motion on the table, which advocated union cooperatives as a means to strengthen ‘democracy at work’. That motion contained broadly supportable positions, but it was not all that different from the Teesside motion approved without dissent at the national conference in 2014 and therefore already People’s Assembly policy.
A dozen people attended our meeting, which is a slightly below average turnout, but sufficient for a decent meeting. Six were members of the Labour Party (though several had joined only recently), two in the Green Party, one Left Unity and one CPB. A couple were also supporters of Counterfire.
I explained how the people did not have genuine democratic control over the army and the police, and these would be used to undermine a left government seeking to end austerity and challenge capitalism. Much of the discussion focussed on whether the motion put forward stances more appropriate for a ‘pre-revolutionary’ situation than current circumstances and a reformist organisation like the People’s Assembly. However, the motion’s seconder and I argued that we ought to be arguing for what we thought would actually be necessary. Recent events in relation to Corbyn and Syriza had shown that even reformist programmes would face anti-democratic obstruction and threats from the state’s security apparatus.
The proposer of the alternative motion said he supported mine too and people actually changed their views during the debate. There was also some appreciation that it would be beneficial to have a debate at the conference rather than a boring consensus around everything.
In the end both motions were supported by overwhelming, albeit not unanimous, majorities. We then had to decide which one of the two proposals we wanted to go to conference and the standing army motion won by six votes to five.
I suspect that some of those involved in the People’s Assembly who emphasise a more social democratic approach will not be keen about this being on the conference agenda, especially as the motion calls for the policy, if adopted, to be included in any manifestos, ‘What we stand for’ statements or similar policy documents published by the PA. But we shall see what happens on December 5.
Not for profit
Comrade Nick Rogers’ article, ‘“Revolutions in value” and capitalist crisis’ (November 19), contains some interesting ideas on the subject. But I must correct him on one point. He attributes to me a proposition he calls “Machover’s proposition 4”: namely “Machover’s implicit conclusion … that the LTFRP cannot contribute to an explanation of capitalist crisis.”
I must disclaim this attribution. I neither stated nor implied any such proposition. In fact, the article to which Nick refers - ‘Saving labour or capital?’, October 6 2011 - was not about what he calls ‘LTFRP’ (law of the tendential fall in the rate of profit). This is evident from his explicit remark that he does not think that “LTFRP is intended to theoretically predict a long-term fall in the rate of profit”. Since my article contained a specific refutation of what I described explicitly as “the traditional Marxist theoretical argument claiming to prove that the average rate of profit has a long-term tendency to fall”, it cannot have been about what Nick calls ‘LTFRP’, which, as he tells us, makes no such prediction. We must have been talking about two different things, despite the verbal similarity.
By the way, my real view about the causes of the cyclic crises of capitalism - which does not contradict the one proposed by Nick - is explained in my article, ‘Too big not to fail’ (September 5 2013).
But a few days after the series of murderous attacks of November 13 took the lives of at least 129 people and gravely injured hundreds, the French government seized the opportunity to wrap itself in the collective shroud of the victims, while - hands on heart, eyes raised to heaven - imperialist rulers with the blood of millions on their hands proclaim a ‘war upon terror’.
It is important to examine in what these official state proclamations consist and who is their real target. The ‘state of emergency’ declared by president François Hollande ordered warrantless searches and seizure of any inhabitant of France, citizen or not. It authorised detention without indictment, formal charge, notification of family, timely recourse or the right to legal defence.
Its underlying political thrust was to target with arbitrary repression people or organisations opposed to the anti-working class policies of the rulers themselves. The state of emergency text banned private gatherings, public meetings, strikes, press conferences and rallies. The legislation, already prepared, was rushed through the lower house, where it passed with 551 votes to six with one abstention.
The major parliamentary groupings and parties, including the Socialist Party and the Greens, marched in lock-step support of this architecture of a police state. Every deputy of the Left Front voted for these measures. Listen to the instructive words of prime minister Manuel Valls: “This is the rapid answer of a democracy faced with barbarism - the effective response when faced with the ideology of chaos, providing the modern and effective tools with which to confront the terrorist threat.”
These words were invoked as well by Belgian prime minister Charles Michel, who called upon parliament to allow state authorities to create a “terror watch list”, with those targeted by the state compelled to wear ankle bracelets. Belgian authorities added mandatory registration of all passenger trains and planes to a steady expansion of warrantless searches.
Let us take a moment to go back in time and recall the words of the then under-secretary general of the United Nations, Martti Ahtisaari, who prepared a report on March 20 1991 on the effect upon Iraq of the most massive air bombardment in history. In a period of four weeks, the United States and its junior Nato partners used more explosive tonnages on Iraq, a relatively small nation of 17 million people, than in the entire seven years of World War II in Europe, north Africa and Asia.
In a language that conveys a dread and horror rare in bureaucratic reports, Ahtissari wrote: “Nothing that we had seen or read had quite prepared us for the particular form of devastation which has now befallen the country. The recent conflict has wrought near-apocalyptic results upon the economic infrastructure of what had been until January 1991 a highly urbanised and mechanised society.
“Now, most means of modern life support have been destroyed or rendered tenuous. Iraq has, for some time to come, been relegated to a pre-industrial age, but with all the disabilities of post-industrial dependency on an intensive use of energy and technology” (UN report S/22366).
The report describes the results of indiscriminate incineration through fuel air-bombs and weapons, which obliterated all means of sustenance for the civilian population of Iraq’s major cities. Reservoirs and water pipes disappeared in Iraq. Virtually all hygienic facilities were decimated. Electric power ceased, leaving Iraq without the means to restore it. Neither water nor sewage could be conveyed, as no pipelines remained, nor was there power to pump liquids.
Civilian communications were destroyed. Transportation for the population were obliterated, as were roads, bridges and tunnels. Iraq, dependent upon imported food, lacked the oil revenue with which to buy it. All refineries were reduced to rubble. As the grain and food sheds and warehouses were targeted and destroyed, there were simply no more foodstuffs to distribute.
The same was true of medicines, pharmaceutical products, bandages, antibiotics, general hospital supplies, surgical equipment, equipment for blood typing, blood supplies, anaesthesia and means of sterilisation, Medical treatment, as such, for the population came to an end.
The banking system was destroyed. No-one had the currency with which to buy whatever goods still existed. The irrigation systems in the countryside were obliterated. Organised agriculture, which depended upon them, ceased to exist in Iraq. The international sanctions, even before the bombardment, had cut off Iraq from pesticides, fertilisers, feed and animal vaccines. Thus, livestock had been subject to epidemic disease and were dying en masse.
Martii Ahtisaari wrote like a man in shock: “The Christian Aid Society of Great Britain calculated that at least 70,000 Iraqi children were killed in the air bombardment. Half of Iraq’s population is under 15. The disease and starvation so prevalent now in Iraq will claim hundreds of thousands of additional lives in the ensuing months.”
The Iraq of this era manifested virtually no religious conflict. Political organisation was not structured around religious affiliation. Sunni and Shia intermarried and shared public activity. The systematic devastation of Iraq and the fostering of ethnic and religious conflict was externally imposed. The imperial agenda for the region followed an imperial plan to divide each Middle Eastern nation in turn into its ethnic and religious components, based, as Abba Eban noted, upon the millet system of the Ottoman empire.
This plan was set out by Oded Yinon in a document entitled ‘A strategy for Israel in the 1980s’ and was taken up by US policymakers as a model for imposing imperial control. Nations were destroyed. Retrograde and fanatical religious factions were financed, armed and set into motion by imperial sponsors. Secular regimes from Syria to Libya were targeted for dismantling.
The real terrorists are in power today across Europe and in the United States. The wars they engender, and the maniacal religious factions they arm, sponsor and demonise in turn, serve primarily to terrorise working people from New York to London and from Paris to Berlin.
Contrary to what some on the left have claimed, Islamic State are not anti-imperialist. They didn’t become big in Iraq by fighting the invader, but by being the most brutal proponents of a vicious, sectarian civil war.
Bush’s illegal war facilitated IS. In Syria, where they really came to prominence, it is true that their massive boost came as a result of western hypocrisy, when Congress and parliament voted to turn its back on the Syrian revolution and ignore the mass, indescribably brutal slaughter of his own people by Assad in favour of rapprochement with Iran, despite having imposed years of sanctions to induce said revolution. But what did IS do with their new-found fame? They land-grabbed in those parts of Syria that had been liberated from Assad and, wherever they moved, they slaughtered revolutionaries, democrats, socialists, trade unionists, workers and minorities in the manner of the fascist shock troops of Mussolini in 20s Italy.
They most assuredly are anti-liberal, but they are definitely not anti-imperialist. To suggest that IS is some kind of response to imperialism, let alone a legitimate one, rather than a wannabe player, would be to suggest that Zionism is a justified reaction to the holocaust or that Nazi Germany was anti-imperialist. Their terrorist forays into the west are purely for domestic consumption as defenders of the faith, whilst dragging that faith through the mud and slaughtering Muslims on an industrial scale.
IS have thrived on the bogus anti-tyranny of western imperialism, but also on the bogus anti-imperialism of the left, half of which supports Assad against the revolution, while the other half supports the Islamists as some kind of understandable response to imperialist war.
It’s an endless debate, inside and outside the animalist movement, whether it’s acceptable to compare animal exploitation to the worst human injustices, such as slavery and the holocaust. Those who criticise such comparisons say they are appropriative, and, especially in the case of the slavery analogy, insensitive, as violence and oppression against marginalised people is generally preceded by dehumanisation.
This debate perhaps most came to the fore in 2003 and 2005, when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals launched high-profile campaigns making such comparisons. The national director of the Anti-Defamation League said the holocaust analogy was “outrageous, offensive and takes chutzpah to new heights”. In response to the slavery analogy, the director of the Intelligence Project with the Southern Poverty Law Centre said, “Black people in America have had quite enough of being compared to animals without PETA joining in.”
I’d like to address the question of whether such comparisons are appropriative in a manner of which we should disapprove. Recently, reading the work of James Baldwin, I was reminded that all movements compare themselves to struggles of time past - both to confer legitimacy on themselves and establish the urgency of their cause. For those not aware of Baldwin, he was the most celebrated black writer in the United States of the civil rights era. Toni Morrison could offer no higher praise of Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the recently-published and phenomenal Between the world and me, when she likened him to Baldwin.
In No name on the street, Baldwin’s 1972 book, Baldwin repeatedly compares the plight of black people to that of German Jews during the holocaust. Arguing that the number of young, black men dying in prison, the army or of drugs was not accidental, Baldwin said: “Americans will, of course, deny, with horror, that they are dreaming of anything like ‘the final solution’ - those Americans, that is, who are likely to be asked. What goes on in the great, vast, private hinterland of the American heart can only be guessed at by observing the way the country goes these days.”
Similarly, describing government repression against the Black Panthers, Baldwin said, “Now, exactly like the Germans at the time of the Third Reich, though innocent men are being harassed, jailed and murdered in all the northern cities, the citizens know nothing, and wish to know nothing, of what is happening around them.” Baldwin makes more of such analogies in the book, and a quick internet search reveals he did so frequently in other works as well.
These comparisons are, of course, appropriative, by the standards of those who take offence at such things. One can quibble with the accuracy of the analogies, but I don’t see anything wrong with Baldwin trying to make them. He’s establishing for the reader the utterly dire situation facing black people in the United States. Most leftists, I believe, don’t have a problem with such comparisons. It’s only when human suffering is compared to animal suffering that these analogies become truly objectionable.
As to whether comparisons between human injustice and animal exploitation are insensitive, all that can really be said is such comparisons are offensive only to those who, in opposition to everything we know about biology and evolution, believe humans are fundamentally different from animals. More simply, the only people offended by such comparisons are speciesists. And in the absence of Realpolitik concerns - which I don’t believe apply at the moment, given how little support animalists receive from the broader left - I don’t think there’s any reason we should cater to speciesists.
The truth is, we do enslave animals and they are suffering a holocaust at our hands. Over 65 billion land animals are slaughtered every year, according to Farm Animal Rights Movement. To put that in a bit of perspective, the Population Reference Bureau estimates only 107 billion humans have ever lived. So if no comparison should be made between animal and human suffering, it’s because the former is infinitely worse.
David Walter’s contribution to the energy debate was excellent and his understanding that everything relates to energy was spot on (Letters, November 19). However, I would like to say a few things about what may well be a misunderstanding on his part.
While agreeing with my criticism of Ted Hankin, David says he thinks this ‘chicken and egg’ argument over which came first - feudalism being done in by the development of the productive forces or the productive forces being allowed to develop because of feudalism - is overly scholastic. And “Tony misses the entire dialectic point that these two things are intertwined and they are both true.” Since I never discussed feudalism allowing the productive forces to develop, perhaps David can explain what he means. David is suggesting I do not understand the relationship between productive forces and relations of production in a Marxist way. If productive forces determine production relations, as Marxists claim, why does the ruling class need a state to enforce it, and without the state, how would they defend these exploitative relations?
No, relations of production are determined by the class which wields the sword. Surely people realise that without the state capitalism would disintegrate, so how can production relations be determined by productive forces?
While understanding the important role of energy, which puts him light years ahead of most Marxists, David then declares: “... quite honestly it doesn’t matter if Marx missed this or not”. Oh really? He claims that only if you have a doctrinaire interpretation of Marx does this matter. This is the same argument of Ted, who thinks that anyone who dares to criticise Marx doesn’t understand the doctrine.
On the one hand, David confesses that my point is 100% accurate and that the productive forces could not have advanced without fossil fuels and that energy really is the material base for the expansion of the productive forces. But, on the other hand, he says, if Marx was not aware of the issue this doesn’t matter. The British economist, William Stanley Jevons, writing at the same time as Marx, was aware of the role of energy in the development of society and even thought the depletion of coal would lead to the collapse of the industrial revolution - but Marx had no awareness of this issue and it doesn’t matter!
Marx thought modern capitalism was the result of the circulation of money, and this is why the political economy of Marxism contains no understanding of how fossil fuels made capitalism possible. Saying it doesn’t matter is like saying it doesn’t matter if the man who built the house forgot the foundations. Yet this is the doctrine which controls the minds of most communists, with the North Koreans possibly the only exception.
Unlike Marxists, the ruling class is aware of energy, because they have built a society based on cheap oil. Now their fear of peak oil has already driven them to invade a number of oil-relevant countries under the pretext of the ‘war on terror’.
The most important question to ask is what will happen when the cheap oil runs out. The best answer is to point out how an energy crisis led to the demise of feudalism. Unfortunately, trapped by Marxism, most communists are unaware of capitalism’s impending energy crisis. Those who have some awareness of this issue, like Ted, seem to think that Marxism is a magic talisman which can bring the oil back.
In and out
22 people attended a forum on Europe and the left held by Wakefield Socialist History Group on November 21. The aim was to debate how socialists should vote in the referendum.
There were four speakers covering a range of positions. Paul Bennett from the Socialist Party of Great Britain argued that “in and out of the EU” are “exactly the same”. It would make no difference to the life of the working class. Any differences would be “fairly marginal”. He advocated writing ‘socialism’ or ‘world socialism’ on the ballot paper. The real choice we should be interested in was between capitalism or socialism.
John Westmoreland from Counterfire said he was for ‘Brexit’ and for a “left campaign to get out of the EU”. The EU is a “neoliberal dictatorship”, not a democracy. The EU and Nato are wedded together. We need to “come out and build a real internationalism”.
Kevin Taylor from the Communist Workers Organisation stated that he was against the division of workers along national and transnational lines. The CWO stood for a global socialist society, where production is for need, not profit. Where the EU referendum was concerned, his advice was: “Don’t vote - organise instead”.
The final speaker, John Tummon, a member of the Republican Socialist Alliance, said he was for critical but unambiguous support for staying in. He backed Jeremy Corbyn’s position. We need to defend the rights of migrants and the right to free movement.
There then followed a lively question and discussion session which focused on various aspects of social protection and union/disability rights.
The group’s next event is a meeting on the Levellers and the Diggers on Saturday February 13 at 1pm in the Red Shed, Vicarage Street, Wakefield.
Wakefield Socialist History Group