At the Palestine Solidarity Campaign annual general meeting on January 23, I moved a motion on Prevent and the Counter-Terrorism Act 2015. The PCS executive had presented a motion on the Counter-Terrorism Act which failed to mention any details about the act or indeed Prevent. To call it pathetically weak would be an understatement. I therefore moved an alternative motion, which was seconded by Clayton Doyle of Manchester PSC. It was supported by both Brighton and Waltham Forest PSCs.
What were the PSC executive’s objections to our motion? Well, they objected to stating that Hamas, Hezbollah and the PKK weren’t terrorist. No-one, of course, believes that they are, but they spuriously suggested that, because the political wings weren’t proscribed, therefore everything was fine. But there have been government attempts to proscribe the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Terrorism is being redefined as essentially any armed group that the west opposes. There is no pretence at any objective definition. Thus it was sheer political cowardice.
The most amusing objection came to affiliating to Together Against Prevent. “We don’t know who they are. We don’t affiliate to any groups,” proclaimed Hugh Lanning. As I said in reply, if we don’t, then it’s about time we did. Who Together Against Prevent are can easily be found at http://togetheragainstprevent.org/supporters. There are three PSC branches, a couple of University and College Union branches and the National Union of Students affiliated, plus numerous community groups. It is true that there is a need for more trade union branches and unions, but that is where the PSC could help. Instead it chose, out of total political cowardice and inertia, to do nothing.
The irony is that the PSC’s main objective in the conference documentation was to “Build alliances for political action”, yet the reality is that the executive, which is dominated by Socialist Action and the Socialist League, is afraid of its own shadow and runs a mile from anything which is too controversial. Despite being nominally Marxist groups, in practice they are reformists of a particularly tepid kind.
I made a few comments about how we get the same action plan dressed up in a few contemporary events reappearing year after year. There is no attempt at critical self-assessment. The executive merely praises itself on a job well done and so we go on, repeating what we did the previous year.
I also spoke in the morning of the conference on the annual and action plans. They are basically a shopping list of the good and great. The problem is that there is no underlying political strategy, so the PSC’s propaganda is limited to a human rights agenda. The PSC does not have explicitly anti-Zionist politics and thus it has no analysis of the reasons why Palestinians are subjugated and the relationship between that and Zionism.The idea of asking itself where it went wrong and what it got right is alien to it.
Another problem is that the AGM as presently constituted is not able to get to grips with the specifics. There are no amendments to the action plan nor any real discussion of the minutiae. What is needed, as a minimum, is for the conference to break down into different groups to discuss different aspects of PSC’s work in the future. In other words, a radically different format from that which presently exists.
What was most interesting about Palestinian ‘ambassador’ Manuel Hassasian’s speech was his acceptance that two states are dead and his call for a unitary state in the whole of Palestine. Of course, this is not the official position of the quisling organisation, the Palestinian Authority, which he represents.
The PSC, however, is frightened of even discussing the question of a single state or the fact that two states is as dead as a dodo. Instead, for the sake of humouring MPs, it is wedded to the dead-in-the-water ‘two states solution’. For the same reasons it has no perspective on the wider Middle East, despite the fact that without change in the Arab east there is no possibility of change in Israel/Palestine itself.
In short it was, once again, a disappointing AGM.
The PSC is the largest solidarity organisation in Britain, with over 5,000 members. It should be spearheading the attack on Zionism in Britain. Instead it is content to put over a broad, but depoliticised ‘human rights’ agenda, on behalf of the Palestinians, to MPs and those in power. It avoids like the plague all political questions, such as the nature of the Jewish state and Zionism.
Those to the left of the PSC have been content to organise in direct action groups like the Boycott Israel Network. This is fine, but it also avoids the central problem of the PSC’s politics. It is appealing to a constituency of MPs, who are motivated not by human rights or justice, but by the foreign policy needs of the British state.
Back to cold war
In the face of the ongoing global economic crisis, with massive unemployment and a wage and welfare gap continuing to grow, the remnants of communist parties around the world see a chance of again becoming major, even leading, political forces. And the prime vehicle toward this goal is the trade union movement.
It is this that lies behind the decision of the Congress of South African Trade Unions to host the 17th congress of the World Federation of Trade Unions. Until this week, none of the other South African trade union federations nor the major international body, the International Trade Union Confederation, were aware of this decision.
ITUC general secretary Sharan Burrow has now sent a formal request to Cosatu to confirm whether the federation intends to host the WFTU congress. In previous statements, ITUC has made clear that it does not consider the WFTU to be a “genuine trade union organisation”, since it includes among its affiliates the state-sponsored unions of countries such as North Korea and Syria.
However, formal affiliation to the WFTU and closer links with that body have been on the cards for Cosatu for more than three years. In the wake of May Day rallies in 2012, South African Communist Party general secretary Blade Nzimande urged Cosatu to affiliate to the WFTU, which is led by George Mavrikos, a former Greek Communist Party MP. Nzimande maintained this would “advance the cause of national liberation and socialism in the world today”.
At the Cosatu congress later that year, several affiliates called for affiliation to the WFTU as an “anti-imperialist, class-based federation”. Significantly, one of the leading supporters of this position was the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, which was subsequently expelled from Cosatu.
The move to now host the WFTU congress again brings to the fore the ideological fragmentation that existed after World War II, where the WFTU became, to a large extent, the agent of Soviet foreign policy throughout the cold war period. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (now ITUC) was the largely United States and British-inspired response.
With the disintegration of the Soviet Union and its satellites in 1990, the WFTU all but collapsed. This was a time of triumphalism for one side in a politically bipolar world: the private-enterprise west had apparently finally dominated the state-centred east and these models were portrayed as the only alternatives available. Yet, on an economic level, both functioned on the same principle: competition. And this meant the accumulation of profit in order better to compete.
On the one side was the fusion of government and business - of state and capital; on the other, the economy was privately controlled, with the government at apparent arm’s length. In the east the trade unions became merely conveyor belts for party and state; in the west, they were, to varying degrees, independent of party, state and business, although wooed and put under pressure by all.
But the concept of freedom of association, of the right of workers to independently form and manage unions, remains the ITUC cornerstone, and sets it apart from the WFTU, which accepts that “worker states” should be supported by their trade unions.
These ideological differences that erupted after World War II saw, especially in Europe, the trade union movement split along political and even religious lines, with Christian, communist, social democrat and other federations coming into being. This is the antithesis of the principle that trade unions should unite workers internationally, irrespective of ethnic, gender, political or religious differences.
This principled view sees trade unions as the vast reserve army of the sellers of labour, providing primarily protection against the ravages of the free market, while also supplying the volunteers to political parties wishing to reform or completely change the system.
The debate has now been reopened, with the South African labour movement facing the prospect of being dragged back into the rigid sectarianism of the cold war. Will sense prevail or will the already weakened and fragmented movement continue to lose ground?
Immigration policy after achieving socialism is almost entirely ignored in the left’s great migration debate. Expressing the dominance of opportunism in all wings of the left, migration policy is based on impressions about how a restrictivist versus open-borders programme affects immediate class relations: does an open-borders programme promote solidarity or division, incite or undermine a rightist backlash, depress or increase wages?
But Marxists advance their core fighting programme, whether conceived as minimum or transitional, as constitutive of socialism. The fundamental issue should be migration policy under socialism. This is the issue that resolves the migration debate, because the most cursory appraisal informs Marxists that socialist migration policy will be subject to democratic planning by the working class and not disguised as the freedom to work wherever the wage slave ‘chooses’ in a labour market.
Trotsky’s socialist vision for nationalities articulates with a planned labour economy, not with open borders: “Once socialism has become master of our planet, or at least of its most important sections, it will have unimaginable resources in all domains. Human history has witnessed the epoch of great migrations on the basis of barbarism [we’re in such an epoch today - SD]. Socialism will open the possibility of great migrations on the basis of the most developed technique and culture. It goes without saying that what is here involved is not compulsory displacements - that is, the creation of new ghettos for certain nationalities - but displacements freely consented to, or rather demanded by, certain nationalities or parts of nationalities ... National topography will become a part of the planned economy. This is the grand historical perspective that I envisage.”
Not individuals working wherever they want, but the masses democratically controlling their collective future. Distinct national-territorial groupings determined by collective, not individual, decision-making. No forced assimilation of nationalities. National groupings continuing to exist for at least an epoch. Even under communism, when the nation-state withers away, we cannot foretell whether national groupings will arise. States will have withered away, but population distributions based on a distinct culture may continue to exist and, if they do, they will be subject to collective planning, not capitalist anarchy.
At stake is the communist versus anarchist vision. Conscious workers will demand socialism to control the terrible uncertainties that infect life under capitalism. Today, the uncertainties of mass migration come to the fore and most of the left stands for leaving the result ... to the market.
Control of migration under capitalism is always fraudulent. But the futility of capitalist restrictivism does not discourage Marxists from emblazoning the end of forced migration and forced assimilation on their revolutionary banner.
The debate over whether socialists should fight for or against the 1707 Act of Union in Left Unity has raised some significant issues. A comrade on social media has said, regarding the Scots and what I have put forward: “the position you are in effect advocating forces an independent Scotland upon them - something they do not want. It is this that you refuse to fully accept.”
The key words here are “force” and an “independent Scotland”. No socialist could give up on “force” unless they abandon class struggle and become a pacifist, libertarian Buddhist. Apologies for any hurt caused to this unfairly despised section of society.
All politics is about one class imposing its programme on society and hence on other classes, with our without democratic mandate. Even libertarian parties seek to ‘impose’ the principle of non-imposition on the people. Socialists are no different when it comes to imposing. We have a definite programme, even when we dispute its contents among ourselves, which we recognise requires the support of the majority of the working class.
However, when it comes to socialists deciding whether to support or oppose the Acts of Union, immigration controls or the trade union laws, we do not sub-contract this to public opinion. We do not say most people want immigration controls, so that will be our policy, so we cannot be accused of trying to ‘impose’ on the majority. That idea of policy formation by populist focus groups belongs in the Labour Party.
As socialists, therefore, we have to abandon the bogus principle of non-imposition and decide whether the Acts of Union are in the short and long-term interests of the working class. Having decided that, the party should fight to ‘impose’ this on society by winning a majority of the working class. The Acts of Union are a class question, not just a Scottish question, and the majority of the working class in the UK, to be won over, are in England.
The second issue is Scottish independence. The abolition of the monarchy, House of Lords and Acts of Union are policies for the working class throughout the UK, accepting that they imply the abolition of the UK as a political-constitutional entity. However, this does not mean imposing permanent independence on Ireland, Scotland or Wales. Marx himself saw that federalism and independence were possible solutions and he changed his mind over what to prioritise.
The Acts of Union may be abolished by a Scottish government or a UK government as a manifesto commitment, with or without a referendum. There was no referendum in 1916 when Irish republican socialists tried to abolish the Act of Union by force. But let us stick with the scenario of an elected UK government with a majority at Westminster.
Abolishing the Act of Union would in reality give Scotland the freedom to choose its future relations with England - either, for example, in a federal republic or as an independent republic. A federal republic which is not genuinely voluntary is worse than useless. We assume for the sake of argument continued membership of the European Union, with open borders, etc.
Abolishing the Act of Union ‘imposes’ on Scotland its sovereign right to decide its future relations with England. It would begin no more than a period of negotiation. The Scottish people would have the right to decide and negotiate its future without the interference of a British government threatening to take away everybody’s job or steal their currency.
The possibility of a federal republican outcome is much more likely in this scenario than a Scottish majority having to fight the British ruling class defending the Acts of Union using force if necessary. Only if this UK government was in favour of ‘English independence’ can it be claimed that independence was ‘imposed’ by the majority nation on the smaller nations. The resolution I proposed for last year’s LU conference does not call for English independence.
Left Unity and Rise
Under the bed
Whilst I agree with much of his article (‘Stay as money, face death as capital’, January 21), Hillel Ticktin claims there is $76 trillion of uninvested cash held by capitalists, yet there is no crisis of profitability and the rate of profit is 12%. How can this be?
I and, I suspect, anyone would not keep their wages in a tin under the bed if they could get a 12% return on investing it down at the local Coop bank. Rather, I suspect, he is wrong when he dismisses the Marxists who are pointing to the tendency of the rate of profit to fall as a reason for the current crises in capitalism. It is surely the fact that there is no return on their investment to be made that stops them from investing in new plant and machinery.
I wonder if the mainstream media in general and, arguably most nauseating of all, BBC News in particular would have fawned over the memory of the person they both repeatedly and incessantly described as an “inspirational genius” or suchlike, if the object of their adoration and generalised outpourings (namely the late David Bowie) had identically come up over the years with his works of pop music artistry, but rather than with song lyrics being written as actually they were, in both stark distinction and marked contrast the man had marketed, promoted and sold a hard leftist and thus highly disciplined/relentlessly focused Marxist-Leninist/Trotskyist revolutionary approach to society and culture and indeed politics?
Oh yes, indeed - notwithstanding the man’s undoubted and ground breaking music scene super-talent, in those wholly imagined circumstances I’ve just described, would such a fully enlightened performance, genuinely liberated and truly progressive stance have generated an equivalent stream of unquestioning/unmanaged admiration - a similar slew bordering upon monsoon of nostalgic veneration? No, definitely and certainly not!