Tom Munday suggests, absurdly, that the Bernie Sanders could “break the Democratic Party” - “think what an opportunity that would represent for the US working class” (‘Not out of it yet’, March 3).
The reality is that Sanders, the supposed ‘independent’, is running to bolster, not break, the Democratic Party - to shift it nominally a few steps to the left, so that it can appeal to the legions of working people and youth who are fed up with establishment politics as usual. He has made clear repeatedly since the start of his campaign that, once he loses at the nominating convention, he will support the Democratic candidate.
The only opportunity that Sanders’ campaign offers to the US working class is to engage in class collaboration with the liberal imperialist wing of the ruling class. Labels aside, Sanders is nothing more than a traditional liberal Democrat who hearkens back to the time before the party swung rightward, before capitalism’s long economic stagnation required a stepped-up attack on the working class. He imagines a moderately humanised capitalism that he labels socialism, downplays the racism that capitalism uses to divide the working class, and defends the basic interests of US (and Israeli) imperialism.
Jim Creegan argues - correctly in my view - that “the Sanders bid must be assessed in terms of what I regard as the main socialist objective in the electoral arena: the political independence of the working class from the twin parties of capitalism” (‘Possibilities and pitfalls’, February 25). There are quite a few US socialists who claim to agree with the goal, but who say that Sanders is building something that will outlast his campaign and be a step forward toward building an independent movement, even a working class one. Some claim that the momentum of the surprisingly large Sanders sentiment can be channelled, once Sanders loses the Democratic Party nomination, into existing independent campaigns - like that of the Green Party, whose liberal programme explicitly swears allegiance to capitalism.
But that claim is an illusion. The Sanders ‘movement’ is a mass phenomenon with genuine hopes of transforming America politics and gaining power and influence. The leftwing alternatives - socialist or just ‘progressive’ - are small-scale propaganda efforts that few will even hear of. If Hillary Clinton (or some other establishment Democrat, in case she founders under the weight of scandal) gets the nomination, then many Sandernistas are likely either to drop out of activism or reluctantly support the Democratic nominee as the lesser evil against, whatever reactionary the Republicans decide on.
The Sanders campaign has tapped into a vein of mass outrage against the expanding economic inequality in the US. But, in building a base inside the Democratic Party, his campaign is not promoting working class independence, but rather strengthening one of the two major parties of Wall Street and imperialism: that is, it is building the class enemy.
Reading comrade Alan Gibson’s letter (February 25), one gets a most peculiar idea of the principle of working class independence. It seems - as often it does with comrade Gibson and the various fragments of the Spartacist tradition in general - that working class independence is almost like a particularly awkward yoga position, that one can nevertheless get into with enough persistence in the face of external ridicule.
He complains that we recommend our American readers give critical support to Bernie Sanders, a “capitalist politician” - by which he seems to mean a politician belonging to a capitalist party, which is a fair enough description of Sanders. Yet he does not give any consideration to the surely not irrelevant fact that there is no independent party of the working class in the United States, which means that we have to fight for one.
This sort of problem was perfectly transparent to our forebears in the movement. Marx aggressively supported Abraham Lincoln in two American elections - why? Because Lincoln was the man most likely to destroy slavery - a necessary (though, as it turns out, hardly sufficient) condition for working class politics in the States. On top of that, it is worth mentioning the Bolsheviks’ electoral arrangements with the bourgeois-constitutionalist Cadets, and Lenin’s support for the 1916 Easter Rising, for which he was condemned by a thousand contemporary Alans. Marx and Lenin were not exhibiting any particular genius on these points - they merely understood that the working class does not become ‘for itself’ without a messy process of protracted struggle.
Sanders has done us the favour of demonstrating that ‘socialist’ is no longer a scary enough word in American politics to rule out a candidate in advance. He has also conveniently drawn a rough ‘class line’ between himself and Hillary Clinton by refusing corporate donations. This is, surely, an opportunity for communists to flesh out that picture, argue among the layers he has mobilised for a clearer and sharper picture of the class structure of society, and the need to overturn it, and most immediately the need not to go running back to Hillary when Sanders likely loses.
The most common misunderstanding of the ‘Spartacist tradition’ is that it is a straightforwardly Trotskyist tradition: in reality, the political positions of the Sparts, Alan’s International Bolshevik Tendency and so on owe a great deal more to ‘classic’ left communism, with a few ortho-Trot phrases grafted on. Alan’s letter, alas, is a typical example of the style.
It’s the system
Oliver Healey is wrong (Letters, March 3). Banks don’t have the “ability to create money”. They only have the ability to lend money. The illusion that they can “create money” arises from the modern definition of money as including bank loans. Obviously banks make loans, but to say this is ‘creating’ money is a misuse of the word, as the money banks lend already exists. It is what has been deposited with them and what they themselves have borrowed from the money market (ie, other banks and financial institutions) or a part of their capital.
Purchasing power is generated when goods and services are produced, as the income of those involved in it, as wages and profits (or, more accurately, surplus value), the counterpart of the value added in production. The total amount of money in an economy does not have to equal this, as money (whether physical or electronic) circulates and can be used for more than one transaction. Banks help circulate money. They do not create it.
Banks redistribute purchasing power by obtaining money from people and firms who don’t want to spend it for the time being and lending it to those who need it to spend on some project. Their income arises from the rate of interest they pay depositors and others they borrow from and the higher rate they charge those they lend to. They are basically financial intermediaries.
There are other errors in Oliver’s letter. Banks don’t fail because “they have only hard currency reserves of 3%”. These days, most banks - including those that haven’t failed and were never likely to - have cash reserves of much less than even this. Northern Rock and HBOS failed because, once the financial crisis broke, they could not renew (except at a higher rate than they were charging those they had lent to) the money they had borrowed from the money market to relend.
As to the proposal to require banks to “buy” the money to lend from the Bank of England, presumably with the funds they now get from depositors and the money market, this would just be a bureaucratic detour that would make no difference - unless, that is, the bank were to limit sales. Which in fact is what those who thought up this idea of so-called ‘100% reserve banking’ had in mind as a way of curbing bank overlending, which they held was the cause of booms that bust and result in a slump in production. They offer a purely monetary explanation of economic crises and slumps, whereas in fact these are caused by overproduction of real things, not by banks ‘creating’ too much money.
In any event, banking and monetary reform is not going to do anything to improve the position of wage and salary workers. That requires a political and social revolution from capitalism to a society of common ownership and democratic control, where banks would be redundant.
What about PLO?
I have read a number of articles on Israel, the Israel/Palestine conflict and the Palestine solidarity movement by Tony Greenstein in the Weekly Worker over a number of years.
While they were usually well written and contained some interesting and useful points and references, I for some reason felt there was something of a pointlessness about them, as they never seem to conclude with any solution or recommended direction of travel. Israel was variously castigated as bad, racist, violent and oppressive, especially to the Palestinians, but also to a degree in relation to its own citizens.
In his most recent article, ‘No backtracking on Palestine’ (March 3), I read that in 1982 Tony was an advocate of “a unitary, democratic, secular state covering the whole of Palestine” and, to make the position even clearer, “we did not support the ‘right to exist’ of the apartheid state of Israel”. This is the first time, I think, I have seen Tony be explicit on his proposed solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict, and it certainly provides a clarifying strategic perspective to his previous articles and comments.
I don’t want to misinterpret Tony’s current views, but from his comments later in the article, including “no-one in Israel seriously believes a two-state solution is possible”, the need to “oppose Zionist settler colonialism”, “partition - a two-state solution - is neither desirable nor feasible”, “the idea that Israel is going to withdraw over 600,000 settlers behind some imaginary green line is the stuff of dreams”, it seems clear Tony continues to advocate the effective abolition of the state of Israel and the creation of a unitary Palestinian state covering the whole territory of what between 1920 and 1948 was termed Mandatory Palestine.
I would be very interested to learn how Tony envisages this coming about. The violent overthrow and destruction of the state of Israel? Through insurrection and revolution? Carried out by the Palestinians alone or with significant Israeli support? Through external intervention and invasion? The democratic transformation of Israel into a unitary, inclusive and democratic state? A negotiated settlement between Israel and the principal representatives of the Palestinian people?
I would also be interested to know Tony’s views on the potential role of the Israeli working class and labour movement in any such change process, and also which current political, social and military forces in Israel, Palestine and in the wider region he thinks can play a significant role in this, and whether they currently share Tony’s strategic aim of a ‘one Palestinian state’ solution.
I am conscious, for example, of an article in the Morning Star of June 11 2015 by Hannah Amireh, member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, where she carefully, cogently and effectively weighs the pros and cons of the one- and two-state solutions, and concludes by advocating the two-state solution, as contained in the national programme of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
Surely the democratically formulated and expressed strategic perspectives of the representative structures of the Palestinian people should carry significant weight in the minds of those in the imperialist heartlands who genuinely wish to conduct effective and meaningful solidarity, and support and effect real change and progress in the Middle East?
Both Moshé Machover and my comrade, Gerry Downing, make a number of flawed arguments against the CPGB’s broadly correct ‘active boycott’ position in the current Euro referendum campaign.
Moshé’s key argument is: “The statement and the article studiously avoid the question as to which outcome of the referendum would be worse for the long-term interests of the working class and the struggle for socialism. In my opinion, exit from the European Union would be considerably worse: all the arguments for exit are overtly or covertly nationalist, while some of the arguments for staying in are internationalist.”
But it is not true that all of the arguments for Brexit are nationalist. One common argument on the far left for this position is that the EU is an imperialist bloc aimed at coordinating Europe’s imperialist powers and maximising their ability to exploit and oppress the workers and peasants of semi-colonial nations. There is considerable truth in this, but it is not decisive and does not make the dissolution of the EU a lesser evil, as, if the EU did not exist, other forms of imperialist bloc would necessarily be created to do the same thing. Imperialist capital has an organic tendency to form such blocs.
Moshé appears to reject key elements of Lenin’s understanding of imperialism. But Gerry Downing most certainly does not. Which makes the historical analogies that he uses to justify a ‘yes’ vote all the more puzzling:
“But surely we must not attempt in any way to confuse the Socialist United States of Europe with the present imperialist cabal that is the European Union? The United States of America was established in the War of Independence and maintained in the Civil War in revolutionary struggles. France’s internal customs borders were demolished along with the ancien régime by revolution in 1789-94. However, both Germany and Italy were unified from the top down basically by reactionary political movements after failed revolutions.”
The problem with this reasoning is twofold. All of the events referred to above, from the French revolution to the US Civil War, the Italian Risorgimento and the unification of Germany under Bismarck, involved the creation of nation-states. Even the USA is and always was a bourgeois nation-state, despite its peculiar federal structure. The creation of a genuine European federation, which some may call the ‘United States’ of Europe, would be the creation of a formation that would genuinely transcend the nation-state, which is a task for the proletariat, not the bourgeoisie.
The other significant point about this is that they all took place in the epoch of progressive capitalism. It is not true that Italian unification was carried out by a reactionary movement; there was a considerable revolutionary-democratic aspect and mass agitation to the creation of unified Italy, even if it did result in a constitutional monarchy, which was also true of the French Revolution of 1830.
If these unifications were created by reactionary movements, they can hardly have been supportable, even in the most critical sense. But in fact what happened is that part of the Junkers and Italian nobility were captured politically by the bourgeoisie and became its surrogates in the creation of nation-states by almost entirely military-bureaucratic means (in Germany) or with a mixture of the latter with some real revolutionary struggles and battles (in Italy).
Thus the dismissal of these movements as reactionary is too strong. They carried out progressive, bourgeois tasks in an epoch where capitalism was still progressive, while either ensuring the absence (in Germany) or only an attenuated occurrence (in Italy) of revolutionary elements and struggles, not least the independent struggle of the working class. That did not make them reactionary. They still inflicted defeats on the contemporary reaction, albeit by non-revolutionary means.
This is important to understanding why the EU is not more progressive, fundamentally, than its nationalist-imperialist opponents today. Capitalism today is dominated by an imperialist bourgeoisie, which threatens humanity with destruction, and is no longer a progressive social system. The EU at its core is imperialist. Its subjugation of Greece has the character of a semi-colonial-type capitalism being crushed by an imperialist bloc. We as Marxists cannot support the little England proponents of Brexit, as their programme is simply one of piloting imperialist Britain out of this particular imperialist bloc, and into other blocs of a similar type, but with different specifics. But a vote for the EU today is also a vote for a European imperialist bloc.
Different people on the left are reacting to different facets of this reality in an often one-sided way. Some are supporting Brexit in the mistaken belief that they are helping to prevent future occurrences of the Greek crime. Others are reacting, equally understandably, against the disgusting British imperialist and anti-migrant politics of the UK Independence Party and the Brexiters. This is a complex issue with many facets, and difficult for the left to analyse.
There are honest and decent subjective socialists on both sides of the argument, and no monopoly of socialist aspiration and integrity on either. But revolutionaries in imperialist countries have a responsibility above all to draw a line against all shades of imperialist politics, which is why in my view it is essential to support neither of the imperialist camps in this referendum. This is not abstentionism, but the only coherent way to draw the class line against imperialism in both of its currently contending forms.
Socialist Fight will be hosting a public debate on these questions this coming Sunday (March 13) at 1.30pm at the Cock Tavern, Phoenix Road, London NW1.
In the Scottish referendum the CPGB has a ‘no-abstain’ position. They argued for ‘no’, but called on people to abstain. Comrades like Sandy McBurney, Sarah McDonald and Moshé Machover were frustrated by this, because the CPGB did not back their anti-Scottish nationalism rhetoric with deeds.
‘Remain-abstain’ (or boycott) means arguing that, while it is currently in the interests of the working class to remain in the EU, workers should take an independent position and not vote for Cameron’s Dirty Little Deal or Brexit. Both options are reactionary, both damage the EU and the working class and both are part of the nationalist-inspired disintegration of the EU.
The idea that voting for Cameron’s deal will save the EU from disintegration is false. After seriously damaging Greece, threatening to kick Scotland out of the EU and the treatment of Syrian asylum-seekers we can see the EU is corrupted and busted. Voting ‘yes’ is not going to save it. The only thing that can save Europe from disintegration is the working class acting independently with its own programme.
Moshé (Machover) says it is a straight choice between ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ (Letters, March 3). That would be true if you took the whole issue out of the context of the class struggle and simply vote on an abstraction. But there are many possible outcomes, including a low turnout and a draw. In terms of real outcomes the best is a low turnout, with Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales voting to remain and England voting to leave. That is the only possible outcome taking the UK towards a democratic revolution.
The worst-case scenario is a high turnout and a big majority for ‘remain’. That will be great news for Cameron and bad news for housing, the NHS and Jeremy Corbyn. So the working class should let Cameron stew in his own juice. The lesson from Scotland is that Labour saved Cameron, committed political suicide and then got stuffed by Cameron. Now the Labour right has Corbyn’s head on the same chopping block.
Does this mean that we should get in the taxi with Farage, Johnson, Galloway, Morning Star and the Socialist Workers Party? And the queen is in that cab too! ‘Restore the social monarchy’ may be a programme for Ukip and the ‘Spirit of 45ers’, but definitely not for any republican.
In Scotland there was a massive referendum turnout because people could sense, feel and hear the drumbeat of democracy. This time they will smell the rotting corpse of reaction, the disintegration of the EU and the oppression of the Greek working class. If people don’t know who to believe, the bad smell will keep them away from the polling booth.
So we have to fight tooth and nail for a low turnout. I think we can win 50% of the voters. No votes for reaction and no votes for more reaction, because both damage the unity of the international working class. There is only one class that can halt the break-up of the EU and that is the independent industrial and political action by Europe’s only democratic class. Remain - yes, but on our terms, not theirs.
Left Unity and Rise
The big question for me is, will Barack Obama vacate the White House in January? Obama has served the Conspiracy well. His masters may still have need for him. We will have to wait and see.
One thing is certain - if they still have need for Obama, they will engineer a serious crisis. This will allow Obama to declare a state of emergency and continue to lead America for another four years, or for as long as the emergency lasts. A terrorist attack on America would certainly give the president all the excuse he needs.
2017 could may well see Obama still in the presidency, unless they decide otherwise.
I am the shop steward mentioned in your article, ‘Anti-Semitic smears employed by right’ (March 3). It says I complained against the left’s alleged “intimidation” and “bullying”, when it was the other way round: I was the Unite delegation leader and was trying to ensure Zac Harvey followed the union mandate to vote for James Elliot, the candidate backed by Momentum. But instead he cast the Unite vote, worth 50,000 due to electoral college rules, for Beckett, handing her the victory.