On May 23 her majesty’s treasury produced an analysis on the immediate impact of leaving the European Union. It was shocking reading. In the event of an exit vote, the gross domestic product would fall by between 3.6% and 6%. This is a serious recession on any estimates. Average wages will fall by 2.8% or £780 a year and unemployment will rise by 500,000. This will increase poverty levels amongst the poorest sections of society.
Obviously, this is an attempt to bully the working class into voting to ‘remain’ in the EU. Should workers be frightened by the threats emanating from George Osborne, the treasury and the City of London into voting for dodgy Dave’s dirty little deal? Certainly not. With or without threats, workers should refuse point blank to support the Tory demands. Let them stew in their own juice.
However, it would be irresponsible to ignore the threat. It is credible. We don’t know whether these estimates are exaggerated. But it makes sense to think that capital and the City of London are planning to take revenge if we vote to leave. If there is an exit vote there will be retribution. The Tory government will enjoy imposing greater austerity and blaming us for bringing it on ourselves.
There is no way we can vote for exit. Workers have been promised more immigration controls, creating more division, encouraging greater racism and hence lower wages. Now we have been promised the additional ‘benefit’ of more unemployment and lower pay. Voting exit would be like pouring a pot of crap on your own head. Why would anybody do that?
This referendum is a fight between the Tories. Nothing good can come of it. We should not be turkeys voting for a blue Christmas. We should not be taken in by ‘parliamentary cretinism’, which thinks the vote is the only - or even the main - decider, rather than the class struggle. The day after the votes are counted the struggle will have to continue. If there is an exit vote the working class will be facing the attacks promised by HM treasury, the Bank of England and the City of London.
So it is sensible to prepare for this danger. Indeed it would be irresponsible for the working class not to plan for dealing with the attacks that will follow an exit vote. The working class movement will have to take strike action to defend ourselves. It would have to be generalised political strike action in the face of a general attack on the working class. A general strike is the only sensible and reasonable response to the Tory threats.
Left Unity and Rise
Johan Petter Andresen from Norway asks about your position on the European Union (Letters, January 14).
Presumably your organisation opposes the retaining by Britain of nuclear weapons and thus the replacement of Trident. Obviously you’re against the maintenance of any standing armed forces by any of our bourgeois governments on behalf of their innately ruthless and unflinchingly aggressive capitalist/imperialist state. Equally I assume you’re entirely antagonistic to the existence and therefore any prolonging of the proxy-imperialist and thus highly dangerous Nato.
However, if I understand these overall matters correctly, in stark contrast the CPGB regards UK membership of the EU as necessary, desirable and therefore to be tacitly supported until such time as we reach a stage of European-wide revolutionary consciousness and associated anti-establishment action that will allow the dismantling and replacement of what is, in its very essence, that ‘neocon-centric’ set-up and thus anti-working class gang of countries. Not to put too fine a point on things, those being the same countries and the self-same EU that will send Nato troops in support any UK government faced with a Marxist-Leninist-driven revolutionary takeover!
Once again, if correct in my understanding, it seems to me this is a massively confused and ridiculously contradictory position for you to take. Alongside a lack of any inspirational and uplifting ‘messaging’, this is not the stuff that will result in the building of an effective revolutionary movement via a truly communist party here in the modern-day UK.
Paul Demarty asked whether there had been any recent mention of Syriza on the Socialist Resistance website, as an example (‘Collective amnesia’, May 19). Coincidentally, among my holiday catch-up reading was an article by Alan Thornett, entitled ‘A debate opens up on Tsipras capitulation’ in the spring 2015 Socialist Resistance. It raises issues of relevance to debates and discussions within the communist movement and within the pages of the Weekly Worker.
I too was shocked at the speed and scale of the Syriza capitulation, especially following the resounding 61% referendum vote to reject the terms of the EU ‘deal’ - surely a substantial mass democratic basis for a programme and campaign of resistance and for pro-working class policies. I would note that, even before they were elected to office, the Greek Communist Party (KKE) subjected Syriza to the most devastating and harshest of critiques, arguing that this latest manifestation of social democracy would subject the Greek people to the most appalling and cruel betrayals. Many on the left in this country (and even some communists) winced at the ferocity of the KKE polemic and felt Syriza should be given a fair wind, that its election might stimulate the development of further and deeper left advances, and might potentially open up the road to socialism. I wonder if even the KKE predicted just how rapidly and completely Syriza would collapse and ‘transform’ into a respectable implementer of austerity.
Alan wheels out the tired and worn Trotskyist mantras that the failure of Syriza was a “collapse in leadership” and a “failure to prepare your supporters and your electoral base.”. I am not sure that is any way adequate as explanation or analysis.
Alan states elsewhere that “there is no guarantee that any party, or leadership, radical left or even revolutionary, will stay the course in such conditions of harsh and uncharted waters” and that this emphasises the “importance of the position such parties place on the key political issues involved and the ability of the party to hold its leadership to account in relation to such policy issues”. This seems to be a much more valid position. We may well face similar issues if and when a Corbyn/McDonnell government is ever elected in this country - although what stripe the leadership will be wearing then is anyone’s guess. It probably will not be revolutionary or even anti-capitalist, judging by (ex-Trotskyist) McDonnell’s recent remarks about “transforming capitalism”.
Syriza seemed to be a relatively democratic party, so it appears simplistic in the extreme to ascribe the collapse to “leadership capitulation” and not ask some very hard questions of the membership. Just 25 out of the 149 of the pre-September 2015 election Syriza MPs defected in opposition to the capitulation to form Popular Unity. Syriza nonetheless won 145 seats (including the 50-seat top-up), down slightly on previously. Popular Unity won only 2.86% of the vote.
Where was the Syriza membership in all this? Confused, misled, disarmed? Waiting for the ‘correct’ (Trotskyist!) leadership? This actually shows contempt for ‘the masses’ and their potential role and capacity to shape and change history. It seems to me that, despite the 61% ‘no’ vote in the referendum, the problem with Syriza was far wider than just its leadership, and extended to the majority of its membership and electoral base.
It is a characteristic of ‘bourgeois democracy’ that ‘bourgeois political parties’ (of which Syriza undoubtedly is and always was) tend to reflect rather than change prevailing values, prejudices and attitudes within the population. So the failure of Syriza is perhaps the failure of the revolutionary left to connect and engage with the mass of the population, rather than a ‘betrayal of leadership’.
In an interesting contribution in the same article, Alan argues that the situation in Greece “posed the possibility of a workers’ government. A government, though taking office with a parliamentary election, with capitalism still intact, that would act consistently in the interests of the working class, even if that meant taking actions in order to defend itself and implement its programme that would be contrary to the capitalist mode of production and take it in a socialist direction.”
I like this concept and find it a clearer, simpler and sharper formulation than, say, the Communist Party of Britain’s formulation of “a leftwing government at Westminster, based on a socialist, Labour, communist and progressive majority at the polls” (Britain’s road to socialism 2011). I find this far too woolly and clumsy and far from adequate, when we might be thinking of testing and challenging a future Corbyn/McDonnell government.
The old Communist Party of Great Britain’s 1977 BRS contained a clearer and more positive formulation of a left government, which would be defined by “its attitude to the class struggle and the respective classes. It would tackle the economic problems in the interests of the working people and in the process shift the balance of class forces against the big capitalists and their allies.”
Unfortunately, this positive formulation got caught up in the factional divisions in the 1980s, where opponents of the BRS and the concept of the Broad Democratic Alliance insisted that fighting for economic, political and social rights as intrinsically important and valuable in themselves was “revisionist” and “reformist” and the necessary alliance had to be defined (and restricted) as being “anti-monopoly”.
The subtlety and the dialectic of the 1977 BRS, where a progressive alliance was to be built and developed on the basis of pro-people and pro-working class policies and which addressed the progressive needs of people “which emerge out of areas of oppression not always directly connected with the relations of production”, was lost in the first versions of the BRS produced by the CPB.
The 1977 BRS and its defenders always recognised that “the monopolies are the main enemy in the way of democratic, economic and social progress” and “that the economic and class content of the Broad Democratic Alliance had to be anti-monopoly in character”. But the BDA should never be reduced to its economic and class content, and progressive forces are motivated by factors not directly related to economics and class, even though they may ultimately have a relationship with that base. It is astonishing in 2016 to think that such frankly hesitant concepts were so controversial in the 1980s and ultimately ripped the CPGB apart.
The concept of “democracy” encapsulates the revolutionary dialectic. As a positive concept, it has a very broad, even instinctive, appeal and can motivate very substantial sections of the population to defend and extend it, hundreds of thousands times more in number than those who are persuaded of Marxist ideas. We recognise, however, that democracy has a class content, in that real democracy must inevitably be limited, while a minority class controls most of economic, social and cultural life. The overthrow of that minority rule is a necessary, but not of itself a sufficient, condition to ensure the flowering of democracy in its fullest sense. The experience of the socialist countries has shown us that.
In the same way, emancipation along the lines of gender, race, ethnicity, nation, species, ecology, personal beliefs, age, ability/disability, lifestyle choices, etc, will ultimately require socialist revolution, but, unless these struggles are part of and distinctive in the revolution and in the future society, there is no guarantee that full and comprehensive emancipation will ever be achieved. They need to be part of the broad progressive alliance and coalition, but in their own right and distinctiveness, and not restricted or reduced to being “anti-monopoly”.
I think it is important in a ‘bourgeois democracy’ that socialists/communists/revolutionaries engage in the democratic process, both to defend democratic values, rights and institutions as valuable and important in themselves, and to extend them. Such rights and freedoms - limited and reversible as they are - also provide important space and opportunity for us to put our ideas forward and for them to be tested with the wider population.
The corollary is that it is right to express a view as to which, if any, candidates from ‘bourgeois’ parties are preferable, on any government to be formed from such parties, to consider standing in our own right in elections, and to seek to place demands on and pressure any government in office. Not to do so would be to abandon a vast amount of terrain to the ruling class and disconnect us from 95% of our class.
In the final part of his article, Alan goes on to blame “Eurocommunism” and “left Europeanism” as principal political factors behind Tsipras’s capitulation. This again repeats the ‘leadership betrayed the masses’ Trotskyist dogma. Alan gives a fair definition of ‘Eurocommunism’ by quoting one of its key developers, Santiago Carrillo of the Communist Party of Spain. It is instructive that the three communist parties most identified with Eurocommunism (those of Spain, France and Italy) had suffered the direct impact of fascism and Nazism, the complete destruction of bourgeois democratic norms and institutions, and the open terrorism and violence of the state.
Carrillo stated: “The aim was to elaborate a solid conception of democratising the apparatus of the state, transforming it into a valid tool for constructing a socialist society, without needing to destroy it radically by force.” This echoed Karl Marx in The civil war in France, when he said the task was to “convert universal suffrage from a means of deception into an instrument of emancipation”.
There is a basic political contradiction in Alan’s article. He earlier referred positively to the concept of a “workers’ government” elected “within capitalism”, its possibility in Greece, and the fact that it would have to work within the rules and institutions of capitalism - including, presumably, the institutions and norms of bourgeois democracy. No call here from Alan for the “overthrow and smashing of the parliamentary state”. Yet he separately ascribes the capitulation of Syriza to “Eurocommunism”, which he himself quotes (and defines) as aiming to “transform” the state in order to “construct a socialist society”. Was this ever part of Syriza’s programme? ‘If only’, one might say.
There is clearly a legitimate debate within the revolutionary left, broadly defined, as to how far a workers’ or a progressive left government could actually go in “democratising and transforming the capitalist state”, as to whether this could ever lead to its complete transformation, or would at some point raise the need for its dismantling and replacement by a “completely new and democratic working class state” (Engels, preface to Civil war in France).
My recent contact with Charley Allan, Labour Party member and Morning Star columnist, caused me strain. He wants to basically lie to people on the subject of immigration and pander to the Ukip analysis, which he suggests is widely accepted within the ‘working class’. I don’t accept this type of politics. What does it amount to for a start? Apart from mimicking the lies and deception of Ukip and the general media line, what is the actual structural outcome? There is no outcome. It’s just useless chatter. It doesn’t improve the situation for our domestic population.
What it actually is, is misdirection, keeping the subject on immigration when we should be focused on social chaos, which is the result of government malice and determination to impoverish millions of people. Whatever economic destruction is wreaked on our immigrant population is ultimately intended to be wreaked on our domestic population. We share the same interests as those from all other national communities. This is a government war against both the domestic population and our immigrant population.
By standing aside, whilst people in our communities are viciously targeted by the government and abused in the media, we are laying ourselves open to such a fate ourselves in the future. We must stand together with all our fellow citizens. An attack on one section of our communities is an attack on all of us. We are all immigrants. That’s our message, that’s our slogan.
I’m disappointed that we still have people like Phil Sharpe who venerate the Russian Revolution as “the one and only genuine proletarian revolution” (Letters, May 19). To justify this it becomes necessary to speculate upon the motives of the Bolsheviks in dissolving the Constituent Assembly and reach the conclusion it had nothing at all to do with the fact that they never gained a majority of seats! Plus, I thought it long established that the Bolsheviks had no intention of delivering ‘proletarian democracy’ to the soviets, with the historic record showing that the dismantling and emasculation of the soviets began within a matter of days of the Bolshevik seizure of power. But more pertinently, Phil Sharpe continues the Bolshevik tradition of redefining Marxian economics and distorting the vision of socialism.
Now let’s be clear, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, to which I belong, has its own differences with Hillel Ticktin (www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/video/did-trotsky-point-way-socialism), but its feet are set upon more firm Marxist ground than Phil.
Conventional economics defines itself as the study of the allocation of limited resources amongst competing wants, where these are greater than resources, and teaches that markets and prices arose as the best way to do this. In fact, since it assumes that human wants are infinite, it teaches that scarcity and markets and prices will always exist. For Phil the ‘hidden hand’ of the market will still determine what, where and how things will be produced and distributed. Any society which retains market mechanisms just can’t be regarded as socialist, at least not without violating the original, historical meaning of the word. Phil’s brand of market socialism (managed capitalism) has nothing to do with socialism as envisaged by Marx and Engels.
Once more we have someone purporting to be a socialist arguing that prices are required to evaluate externalities and the cost-benefit of various production processes - something they claim can only be determined by a prices system. Phil rejects the view that, given the abolition of capitalism, enough to satisfy people’s needs could be produced and that therefore a socialist society would not have to price or ration goods, but could implement the principle of ‘From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs’. Phil’s ‘socialism’ is the equivalent of a square circle.
Marxian socialism is based on associations of free individuals in a society with no commodity, no money, no wage labour, no state. Men and women will never be free from exploitation and oppression until all work is voluntary and access to all goods and services is free. This is a practical proposition now. Tinkering with administrative forms is of no use. Buying and selling must be abolished. The wage packet ‘permission to live’ must be abolished.
I’ll leave the final words to Hillel (about which I still possess some reservations over the methods on how to deal with any shortages):
“As Marx makes clear in the Gotha programme and elsewhere, value and so price and hence money is abolished under socialism. This does not necessarily mean that there may not be tokens used for items which are not yet in sufficient supply for all or may never be, like Mediterranean homes. The society will gradually distribute more and more goods on a free basis, beginning with those items which are communal because they are natural monopolies or so costly that they require the intervention of society to ensure provision like transport, housing, water and power” (Hillel H Ticktin Critique Vol 25, No1, 1997).
Despite being a long-time member of the Socialist Party and disliking a lot of your attitudes, I have been an on-off reader of the Weekly Worker for around 20 years - although lately I only glance through and read an occasional article. I don’t find your paper very inspiring any more. I say this, as I get the impression that your members still think it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Get real!
I find that my experience is common. I know a lot of people on the left in London. The standard line on the Weekly Worker these days is it ‘used to be entertaining, now not so good’. I suspect your web traffic and paid circulation is much more modest than in the past.
I used to read the paper from cover to cover because I wanted to know what was going on in the left (Socialist Labour Party, Socialist Alliance and so on). Sometimes I knew the information was suspect, but, in general, it was useful and informative. I also used to read it because I was interested in what the CPGB thought about X. You had a ‘Party notes’ column by Mark Fischer that threaded the key themes of the issue together. Often, I found it bloody annoying, but the bugger could write and did sum up your politics well. These days, it’s more difficult to deduce what your politics actually are.
That’s the problem with using one-man self-publicists, such as Tony Greenstein. These people have no interest in your broader politics and the quality of your paper suffers by giving them keynote articles (I was actually looking forward to reading Mark Fischer dissect the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty’s latest crap on anti-Semitism).
It’s obvious that you have been screwed over by the internet. Often there’s not a lot of point detailing what’s going on in the left, as it has already been picked over on the internet and social media. During the Socialist Workers Party’s recent crises you have been completely behind the curve and I didn’t bother reading much of your commentary.
Many leftwing events happen over the weekend. By the time you lot get your act together on the next Thursday/Friday, anything controversial has been digested by those of us who are interested. By the time your commentary becomes available it’s old news. You obviously have no clue about using the internet and social media alongside your printed material, although you’re not alone in that.
Being a retired printer, I have to say that the presentation of your paper is absolutely appalling. You’re not alone on the left on this, but you are the worst! The typography is so bad on occasions that my bifocals can’t cope! It might be an idea to tell your layout ‘artist’ that the point of laying out is to help the reader and draw them into the page, not to hammer the elements into submission so that they all look murdered. As for the pictures, who researches all this shit? The pictures are either irrelevant, downright weird or simply don’t relate to the story. I once read an article that said how it would be great to have full colour in the paper. I remember thinking it might be an idea if you knew how to use black and white to begin with.
It’s a shame, really. You once had one of the most visually striking papers on the left with The Leninist. It wasn’t bad for a bunch of tankies. With the Weekly Worker, your paper has no real sense of purpose any more, combined with an obvious lack of professionalisation (which Lenin was rather keen on). I hope you can improve, for your sakes.
The Red Party will hold its first convention on June 17-19, in which members will debate policy, tactics and strategy, ratify a constitution and programme, and hold elections for leading committees. The convention will be held via teleconference. Those who are interested in the project of uniting the American left into a communist party worthy of the name are invited to attend as observers.
For more information, see www.red-party.com.
It was inevitable that in summarising my full response to Mike Macnair, to comply with the space requirements for publication in the paper, I would leave some points poorly explained (‘Social democratic stepping stone’, May 19). I would encourage readers to read the full version, on my blog (http://bit.ly/boffywindmills). However, there are some aspects of the further edited summary, which I think directly conflict with even the summarised version I submitted, and which I would therefore like to clarify.
Firstly, at the start of the article you show a picture of an engineering shop with rows of industrial workers, with the caption, “Functioning capitalists”. This gives the wrong impression - that I was saying that all workers are functioning capitalists. All functioning capitalists are workers, but not all workers are functioning capitalists. To use Marx’s analogy, the functioning capitalist is like the conductor in an orchestra. Their function is to get the optimal performance out of instruments and musicians. Moreover, within socialised capital, all workers “from manager down to the last day-labourer”, as Marx puts it, become objectively the representatives of that socialised capital, and that is most apparent within the worker-owned cooperatives. However, even within such a cooperative, not every worker carries out the role of functioning capitalist, any more than in an orchestra every musician is a conductor!
A similar wrong impression is conveyed in relation to the division between industrial capital and interest-bearing capital. I was attempting to show that Mike’s division in this regard into industrial capital (in the shape of things like car factories) and financial capital (in the shape of banks, etc) was wrong. A bank can be just as much a socialised industrial capital as a car factory. A bank needs to accumulate capital as much as a car factory, and the extent to which accumulation is hindered by the payment of dividends to its shareholders affects it as much as such limitations affect a car factory. It is the division between the socialised industrial capital (which operates within the circuit of capital) that needs to accumulate capital, and the interest-bearing capital (which operates outside the circuit of capital), in the shape of shareholders, bondholders etc, which is the objective division of material interests that Marx describes, and which I was setting out.
So Marx writes: “These two forms - interest and profit of enterprise - exist only as opposites. Hence, they are not related to surplus value, of which they are but parts placed under different categories, heads or names, but rather to one another. It is because one portion of profit turns into interest that the other appears as profit of enterprise ... On the other hand, profit of enterprise is not related as an opposite to wage-labour, but only to interest ... Firstly, assuming the average profit to be given, the rate of the profit of enterprise is not determined by wages, but by the rate of interest. It is high or low in inverse proportion to it.”
But the wrong impression is given in the edited response which says: “Productive capital seeks to maximise the profit of the enterprise, whilst minimising rent, interest and taxes.” The phrase “profit of the enterprise” suggests only profit maximisation in the usual sense of the term, whereas I used the term “profit of enterprise”, which is the specific term that Marx develops to describe the particular type of revenue that accrues to industrial capital, only after the payment of rent, interest and taxes. In other words, after shareholders have been paid dividends, bondholders their coupon, banks their loan interest, corporate executives their stipends and so on. It is the revenue that becomes available to the socialised capital for use as capital accumulation.