I am truly perplexed by the decision of the CPGB Provisional Central Committee on Tata (‘Nationalise Tata’, April 7). The decision calls for the nationalisation of Tata’s UK steel assets. It goes on to say: “We do not call for protectionism as a solution to the problem, which would merely be to export job losses onto workers elsewhere ...”
But, these two statements are not compatible. Nationalisation, in this context, is by definition protectionism. It is action by a nation-state to protect a failing capital against competition from other, more efficient capitals. The statement goes on to say: “... or for subsidies to Tata or to new private owners, which are merely an indirect form of protectionism.”
But nationalisation itself inevitably involves providing subsidies, and thereby provides such protectionism. The only way that subsidies could be avoided would be if Tata’s UK steel production suddenly became massively more efficient, as a consequence simply of nationalisation by the British capitalist state, so that it could undercut all other steel production on the global market. If Tata’s UK steel production continues on the same basis, merely in the hands of the British capitalist state, what does the CPGB think will happen to all of the steel it produces that currently cannot be sold profitably?
Either a nationalised British steel company would subsidise that production, by allowing the unsold stockpiles of steel to simply sit and rust, or else, rather like the state-supported Chinese steel production, it would be thrown on to global markets at a state-subsidised price.
So we now have a rather ridiculous situation whereby the CPGB calls on workers to vote for social democratic parties like Corbyn’s Labour Party, or Syriza, but then demands that when those parties are elected, they do not take office, because the social democratic policies they were elected on are anti-capitalist, and unachievable - certainly unachievable within the confines of a single country, like Britain. Yet the CPGB then calls on a Conservative government to implement those very same social democratic policies that the CPGB has just told us are anti-capitalist and unachievable!
I implore you to dedicate some of your pages to a clear-cut, merciless and thus savage exposure of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and sidekick John McDonnell’s utterly pathetic (not to say disgracefully treacherous) inability to kick a socialist ball into the gapingly open multiple goals provided by the following brand-new events.
1.The situation with the closure and sale of steelworks in both Port Talbot and Scunthorpe by Indian-based industrial conglomerate Tata. Indian tycoon Sanjeev Gupta’s Liberty House, plus Marc and Nathaniel Meyohas’s investment firm, Greybull, are being presented by the media as the only “rescuing heroes”; all accompanied by a chorus from Cameron’s markedly Old Etonian neocon gang, spouting forth nothing but perfect examples of bourgeois democracy’s unadulterated hypocrisy welded to cynical lies. Therein resides the pure irrelevance of any solution being provided via reformist ‘nationalisation’ - in other words, from within economies of individual nation-states that operate under the terms of capitalist globalisation - aka internationally owned and therefore ungovernable superexploitation!
2. The almost complete silence from Corbyn and his crew on the matter of the disgusting herding back to Turkey - and then onward to their country of origin - of migrants and refugees who have fled either in destitution or despair. All this under the terms of both an illegal and immoral lash-up by the protectionist/self-preservationist governments of the European Union
3. The absolutely complete silence from Corbyn surrounding the fact that a UK tribunal has just decided that (contrary to the Freedom of Information Act plus directives from the EU), His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales does not have to disclose any information whatsoever that we peasants and proles wish to obtain about the activities of his so-called ‘Duchy’ of Cornwall, and thereby can continue to have his feudal-style inherited wealth and widespread land ownership fully protected.
4. The oh so reasonable, but utterly mealy-mouthed, impotent and (yet again!) straightforwardly treacherous position of Corbyn and his Labour Party crew on the latest tiny, but nonetheless always helpful, lifting of a corner of the filthy and greasy capitalist carpet via the so-called Panama papers.
Peter Manson’s letter, while at least correctly stating that comrade Gerry Downing and myself are not “personally” anti-Semitic, nevertheless cringes in the face of the ideological witch-hunt being waged against Labour by pro-Zionist Tory and Blairite politicians, which the Labour leadership is showing major tendencies to capitulate to (April 7). His allegation that our forthright opposition to the dispossession of the Palestinians and exposure of the racist, ethnocentric politics of its supporters in western countries has “in no small way played into the right’s hands” is anti-Marxist in its logic.
That is how all capitulators to bourgeois politics and class-collaboration react to those who reject such politics. Manson says that our belief that Zionism, both in Israel and in terms of its bourgeois supporters in western countries, is a specifically Jewish ethnocentric - ie, racist - movement is “irrational”. It is irrational to consider that the overrepresentation of Jewish bourgeois among the ranks of American billionaires, relative to the Jewish population in general, is of any significance. Jews are only around 2% of the American population; the count of Jewish billionaires, according to some Jewish sources, is around 40%. It is easy to find both Jewish and anti-Semitic sources to corroborate each other about this. But comrade Manson thinks it is “irrational” to even consider that this plays any role in the formulation of imperialist policy towards the Palestinians.
He also considers Israel’s Law of Return irrelevant in this regard. This gives the right of Israeli citizenship to people of Jewish birth who have never lived in current Israeli territory, while denying the same to many Palestinians who were born there. Apparently, for Manson, this material fact is irrelevant and irrational to mention. I suppose he also thinks that the Marxist understanding of the state - that it is the collective executive body of the capitalists of the nation - is irrational too.
Therefore it is irrelevant to him that there is a significant and powerful layer of American bourgeois who have a material relationship not only with their own state, by virtue of being American bourgeois - and therefore a say in its operation that working class people, whether Jew or gentile, do not have - but who also are in a similar situation vis-à-vis the Israeli state, by being bourgeois citizens of that state and therefore being among its collective owners. This produces a somewhat unusual phenomenon of an overlap between parts of the ruling classes of separate imperialist states. Israel has similar relationships with the US and other less powerful imperialist countries. It should be recognised that imperialist policy is the result of a parallelogram of forces within each imperialist state. This overlapping layer, by means of its quasi-nationalist consciousness and its cohesion, plays an important role in determining imperialist policy - it punches above its weight in that regard.
Manson’s attitude is not to try to prove that these material facts are untrue. He cannot argue with them either empirically or in terms of Marxist theory. So he argues against it in similar terms to the ‘safe spaces’ crowd: ‘By criticising me, you are oppressing me’ - that is effectively his political response to this concrete materialist analysis of the interplay of the class nature of the state and a complex, problematic national question.
He writes: “As with all examples of racially or ethnically based discriminatory politics, this ‘theory’ is totally irrational. First of all, it assumes that all Jews - or, shall we say, the overwhelming majority of Jews within the ruling class - are outright Zionists. Even if we accept that the statistics Donovan quotes regarding Jewish ‘overrepresentation’ are correct (a big ‘if’), why does it follow that Jew = Zionist? There is a specific anti-Zionist trend within Judaism - amongst orthodox Jews, for instance. The most you can say is that Jews are more likely than not to be sympathetic to Israel - they certainly do not act as a powerful, disciplined, homogeneous force.”
There is so much wrong with this nonsense. First of all, there is the notion that merely pointing out the material facts about this amounts to “racially or ethnically based discriminatory politics”. So pointing out racial inequality is ‘racist’? What poppycock. These material facts give Jews an inordinate degree of power in the US vis-à-vis Arabs, Muslims and even American blacks. In fact, the underrepresentation of American blacks in the US ruling class is a key indication that US blacks are excluded from the benefits of capitalism (insofar as there are any), and therefore a specially oppressed layer within American society, Obama notwithstanding.
The idea that it is wrong to investigate and analyse questions of overrepresentation and underrepresentation in positions of class privilege implies that it is wrong to investigate questions of racial inequality in general. This indeed is the CPGB’s approach to racism, and how it comes about that they - and Peter Manson has been one of the key people arguing this - credit the bourgeoisie with purging itself of racism, in favour of an “anti-racist national chauvinism”, as the CPGB puts it. Even as non-whites continue to fill prisons in massive disproportion to their overall numbers in society, the CPGB attests that the bourgeoisie is now “anti-racist”. Why? Because they say so!
This approach means blindness to the real oppression of non-whites in the US - and the UK, for that matter - and the oppression of Palestinians, which is in part mandated by the unusual position achieved by Jews in the racial hierarchies in the advanced countries. Where principled Orthodox Jews act as active anti-Zionists, Marxist anti-Zionists will work with them in defence of the Palestinians. However, who knows of any such principled figures in the ruling class? Still less are there any principled, non-religious anti-Zionists among the ruling class. For very good reason - that is, that principled anti-Zionism belongs to the proletariat, and is part of its programme for anti-racism and human liberation. It is anathema to the bourgeoisie, whether Jewish or gentile. The Jewish-Zionist caste my theses describe is self-selected by ethnocentric politics, not ethnic origin per se. The clue is in the name!
As to whether the ruling class in general are stupid for supporting Zionist policies - well, no! They are carrying out their perceived class interest. But, unlike Peter Manson, we as Marxists do not believe that the bourgeoisie is a rational class. In fact, the imperialist bourgeoisie is bound to the nation-state and cannot break that association. However, a historical process involving two world wars has caused a revolutionary change in its attitude to the Jewish bourgeoisie. Prior to the Nazi genocide it regarded it in a very paranoid manner as pretty much a shill for the very strong, Jewish socialist-communist left. This was the source of the bizarre ideology of the Protocols of Zion - the ideological progenitor of Nazism. Nazi anti-Semitism was closely related to anti-communism. The elimination of much of the vanguard of the proletariat - including many revolutionary Jewish militants, who died in the genocide, whom we celebrate (including Abram Leon) - dissipated the basis for the anti-Semitic ideology of the Protocols among the bourgeoisie.
This has over time been replaced by something formally very dissimilar, but no less irrational - rampant philo-Semitism and pro-Zionism. The bourgeoisie, aware to some extent of its national limitations, sees the Jewish-Zionist grouping or caste within it as a far-seeing layer with a very old and deep bourgeois culture whose vision at least partially transcends the limitations of the national state. For a class that is well aware of its outlived character and the danger to its class rule from a resurgent working class, if such were to emerge politically, the Jewish-Zionist bourgeoisie is seen as a crucial asset of the bourgeois class itself.
Unlike Peter Manson, whose belief in the rationality of the bourgeoisie is truly cretinous, we do not believe that this philo-Semitic ideology is more rational than the anti-Semitism that preceded it. It does, however, mean that it is in our interests, as a class, to remove this additional asset of imperialism through subordinating the settler population of Israel to basic democracy - one person, one vote - and through the right to return of all exiled Palestinians. This would not only resolve an extremely poisonous national question: it would also remove the unifying focus of the Jewish-Zionist bourgeois caste in the imperialist countries, and lead to its assimilation into the various national bourgeoisies. Thus robbing the bourgeoisie of an important asset as a class.
The idea that this theory is in any way racist is preposterous. It is the opposition to it that is racist in its logic - by saying that the specific ethnocentric project of Zionism on the international level should not be subject to criticism. And it is the passive acceptance that the bourgeoisie in the imperialist countries, gentile and Jewish, is not racist and indeed anti-racist by the CPGB that really underlines why it is still a nationally limited, almost entirely lily-white sect after 35 years of political activity.
Gerry Downing complains that I do not support him in his fight against expulsion (Letters, April 7). Whilst I oppose the undemocratic way in which he was expelled, I cannot support someone who is advocating anti-Semitic or racist politics. He has said on Facebook that I am behaving in an “absolutely unprincipled manner” because I hope to get “a better hearing” for myself. It is a “cowardly and a pathetic grovel”.
I recognise that Downing has become a casualty of the Zionist attack on Corbyn. In normal times Ian Donovan’s crazy theories about the Jews and Zionism would have gone unnoticed. However, we do not live in normal times. Having made his bed, Gerry must lie in it.
It is irrelevant on a personal level whether or not I am expelled from the Labour Party. But on a political level it is crucial that the Zionists, as represented by the so-called Jewish Labour Movement (the overseas wing of the racist Israeli Labour Party), is not able to secure the expulsion of a Jewish anti-Zionist from the Labour Party. My expulsion will be a defeat for supporters of the Palestinians and anti-Zionists within the Labour Party. It will be a victory for the Zionist movement.
Gerry’s expulsion is barely mentioned by the Zionists, other than as ‘proof’ that the Labour Party has an anti-Semitism problem. Gerry’s antics have been of enormous help to the Zionist movement. Unsurprisingly I want to have nothing to do with his campaign against expulsion.
I am indebted to Peter Manson for his references to Ian Donovan’s ‘Draft theses on the Jews and modern imperialism’. I had not previously read them. They are not only anti-Semitic: they are total junk. Donovan simply doesn’t understand the origins of the Zionist movement, nor does he understand Abram Leon’s Jewish question: A Marxist interpretation. Donovan has distinguished himself by his support for Gilad Atzmon, who denies he is anti-Semitic. Perhaps either Gerry or Ian would tell us whether the following tweet from Atzmon - “I am not a Jew any more. I despise the Jew in me. I absolutely detest the Jew in you” - counts as anti-Semitism.
Donovan’s ‘Draft theses’ adopt Atzmon’s (and the Zionists’) argument that Israel is different from most settler-colonial states because it has no mother country. The logical corollary being that the ‘mother’ is the diaspora Jewish communities. This is a false reading of the relationship between Israel and diaspora Jews. The latter are subservient to the former, not the other way around.
Furthermore, it is a complete irrelevance. Britain once acted as the surrogate mother, while US imperialism does so today. All settler-colonial states - Israel is no exception - rebelled against their sponsors: South Africa in the Boer War, the Australians and Canadians with their determination to secure dominion status and, of course, the United States itself with the War of Independence.
Donovan believes that “The strong influence wielded by the organised Jewish community in the USA in support of all Israeli policies must be taken into account in order to explain the Middle East policies of American administrations.” This is completely wrong. The strongest supporters of Israel lie in the Christian Zionist and neo-conservative sections of the US bourgeoisie. There is a growing gulf opening up between American Jews and Zionism. To believe that the US ruling class would support Israel and shape its policies in the Middle East around the desires of the Jewish community, which as he says is numerically insignificant, can only lead in an anti-Semitic direction. How do they do it? How does this 2% of the US population wield such influence? His answer is clear: the massive overrepresentation of Jews amongst American billionaires.
Nor is it true, as Donovan claims, that “Zionism always was a quasi-national movement of the Jewish bourgeoisie”. The Jewish bourgeoisie opposed, not supported, Zionism up until the Balfour declaration of 1917. Herzl wrote the anti-Semitic essay, ‘Mauschel’, because of the opposition of the Rothschilds and Hirschs. The English Jewish bourgeoisie only came over to Zionism reluctantly, primarily as a means of avoiding Jewish German refugees coming to Britain. People like Neville Laski of the Board of Deputies and the Conjoint Committee were originally vehemently anti-Zionist. It was only in 1934 that he attended a Zionist Congress for the first time.
The legal right to Israeli citizenship, which Donovan places such emphasis on, is racist to the core, but it doesn’t explain the support of Jews for Israel. It is a way of strengthening the Zionist state via Jewish immigration. It is not a material factor in the support of the Jewish bourgeoisie for Zionism. Donovan asserts that “Jews are not a nation, but they have a pan-national bourgeoisie”. A bourgeoisie without a nation - or a working class, for that matter. This isn’t Marxism; it is fantasy.
Gerry Downing misunderstands Abram Leon. Leon makes it absolutely clear that the Jews’ “specific economic role ends precisely where modern capitalism begins” (The Jewish question: a Marxist interpretation, p182). Leon goes on to say that in the capitalist epoch “the people class has become differentiated socially” (p221). In short, the people-class ended with the end of feudalism. In eastern Europe, in his memorable phrase, “The Jewish masses find themselves wedged between the anvil of decaying feudalism and the hammer of rotting capitalism.” It was this that led to the growth of anti-Semitism in Poland and eastern Europe, as the Jews came into economic competition with the middle classes, as represented by the Endeks.
I would hope that Gerry realises, even now, that the bankrupt theory that his organisation has adopted has no basis in Marxism and can only lead in a reactionary direction. Where he goes is his choice, but he cannot expect me to follow him or support him.
The Irish Republican Prisoners Support Group strongly denounces the attacks in recent weeks against our comrade, Gerry Downing.
Gerry has been subjected to a barrage of false accusations of anti-Semitism. This slanderous label has been thrown from both right and so-called left of the political spectrum. The ruling class is using such charges not only to personally attack comrade Downing, but also to attack all those who dare to take up the struggle against imperialism and colonialism and its modern forms, such as Zionism.
There is no truth to these accusations. Gerry Downing has been a consistent anti-imperialist and anti-racist. It is those who brand him with the label of anti-Semitism who are the true racists, precisely because they defend colonialism, imperialism and Zionism!
The whole ruling class of British imperialism has united in this accusation, along with their defenders on the British left. Firstly, it was the arch-imperialist Etonian, David Cameron, but he was soon joined in spreading these lies by the representatives of British reformism in the Labour Party. They are using these lies as a pretext to begin a purge of the Labour Party of anyone who dares oppose Zionism and imperialism in general. True to their function, the Labour leaders defend imperialism and Zionism. Disgracefully, there are those on the left who in order to protect themselves from similar attacks have sought to line up with the ruling class to attack comrade Downing also.
We call on all people who genuinely oppose imperialism and Zionism to defend Gerry Downing against these lies and slanders. It is not just a personal attack, but an attack on all those who support the liberation of the Palestinian people from unprecedented Zionist oppression.
Irish Republican Prisoners Support Group
Eddie Ford’s piece on how to vote in the EU membership referendum on June 23 lacks a major dimension, in my opinion (‘Both sides are reactionary’, April 7).
While the article thoroughly identifies the theoretical and procedural issues involved, Eddie neglects the totality of what happens if ‘Brexiters’ win - a whirlwind of reaction, which has actual consequences in the lives of all of us, especially the working class, in areas of employment, benefits, ideology, street violence and intimidation from every quarter of reaction, state-security forces and far-right movements.
Eddie must know this well, yet fails to mention these real-life consequences. But Marxists must look at the ‘totality’ of any question for analysis, not merely the dry bones of conforming to formulae. So, while I can agree with all of his conclusions at the level of political ‘correctness’, at this stage of my consideration such agreement fails to persuade me not to vote ‘remain’, even if solely as a holding measure.
Some sort of major movement, even ‘merely’ to democratise the EU, will hardly be possible under the Brexiters, but maybe we might just manage to organise something under a ‘lesser-evil’ Tory government.
But this is a letter to sort out the ‘truths’ of this issue, and I will welcome any corrections to my way of thinking.
There are many good reasons why British socialists should actively boycott this referendum, as Eddie Ford advocates. The one which is the least commented upon concerns, as ever, the Irish question. The wording on the ballot will read: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
Under no circumstances should British workers give legitimacy to so rotten a geo-political entity as the United Kingdom. To give the boycott campaign a distinctly anti-imperialist focus, British socialists should raise the question of why the British ruling class has always been implacably opposed to an all-Irish independence referendum. So far, however, British left groups seem not to have noticed (or if they have noticed, seem not to care) that the forthcoming European referendum will have a decidedly colonial character.
As always with his writing, I enjoyed Michael Roberts’ stimulating review of two new books on imperialism, in which he refers to a tendency to a blind spot among Marxist economists to the phenomenon of super-exploitation - ie, workers being paid less in wages than the value of their labour power (‘North and south’, March 31). I’d like to suggest tentatively that this may have an origin deeply embedded in the Marxist tradition of the analysis of capitalism: I think it may lie in an element of the method of Capital, which it is possible to read as an (extremely extended) exposition of an argumentative/rhetorical point along the following lines.
Even if one takes the assumptions of the English classical economists (especially David Ricardo) as, for the sake of argument, true (which are ones that as a whole assume that capitalism is equitable, when seen as a purely abstract economic/mathematical system, in the absence of swindling, corruption, extra-economic coercion, etc); in particular, the assumption that all economic transactions are at a fair price, including the sale of labour; then, if one follows through the implications of their model more thoroughly than they themselves do (ie, fundamentally by adding the term ‘labour-power’ to the ‘calculations’ in order to account for where profit comes from), the system can in fact be demonstrated to be inequitable, when seen as a purely abstract economic/mathematical system, in the absence of swindling, corruption, extra-economic coercion, etc, and to involve the extraction of a surplus from the direct producers.
The fact that Marx is making this relatively abstract formal point does not, of course, mean that he is denying that something like superexploitation, enabled by extra-economic coercion, can exist, but merely that for the sake of his argument he is leaving it aside, in order to show that, even on the generous (to capitalism) assumptions about how capitalism functions, which the best bourgeois economists work with, the system can be demonstrated to be inequitable.
On another matter, I was able briefly to join my local junior doctors on their picket line this week, bearing gifts of biscuits and political propaganda in the form of past issues of Weekly Worker - in particular ones containing some of your excellent coverage of their dispute.
Michael Roberts is very Euro-American-centred. He sees the world through financial statistics. There is a world of art and literature beyond this and much of the best art and literature (culture, if you like) is coming from outside this narrow Euro-American centre. Population size brings power and feelings of hope, and progressive thinking inspires beauty and brings spirit.
His article isn’t of a grand size and height. It just moves sentence by sentence. I’m sure there is a degree of coherence, but he’s not as clever as he thinks. Beauty is where the heart lies. We are human beings bubbling over with feelings. I don’t sense he knows much about the people of the world, certainly not outside this Euro-America centre.
I like the Karl Kautsky articles (‘Kautsky on referenda’, March 31). He’s got a grand historical mind. I had never read anything of him before reading the Weekly Worker articles, though I had very much heard of him. I hope you keep on publishing articles by him.
I only give you my own opinion. I read Chinese novels and have read from all over the world. This is where the high intellect lies. Politics is mundane unless or until it hits a revolutionary vein. Everything suddenly changes. It’s what we need - fresh air and stormy weather.
We are living in a bogged-down country. It depresses the intellect. Academic stagnation has set in. What is it all about? What’s the vision? What’s the dream?
In respect of the Seumas Milne comments reported in the Weekly Worker, surely there’s a case for keeping much that is said in meetings private (‘Straight-talking left’, April 7)? Otherwise you will end up with less than candid views being expressed and small cliques operating in a clandestine manner, for fear of allowing their plans to reach the ears of their intended targets.
Ultimately, rather than opening up debate, the unfettered public reporting of all that is said leads to nothing controversial being said at meetings which your supporters attend and topics that could benefit from being discussed not being aired at all.
This would seem to be the opposite and an unintended consequence of the Weekly Worker’s desire for a more democratic discourse, but you are in danger of making a fetish out of reporting verbatim the discussions at meetings. For example, if it were ever to be the intention of the left to move to replace certain Labour MPs, surely it’s better to keep them guessing until the last minute rather than letting them know at the earliest opportunity.
At the end of the day, one would risk firing squads for revealing your side’s intention to attack the enemy at dawn during a war! The class war and fight for socialism is perhaps not yet at such a critical intensity, but how far do you go?